Please note: this story was provided by the author and published as is.
“From WSNC, it’s Ollie And The Outcasts!”
That’s the only part I can remember. But even then, the memory is fuzzy. Was it WSNC or WSNU? Was it Ollie “IE” or Olly with a “Y”?
The late-night, black-and-white sitcom about a ragtag group of five sailing the seas seemed as colorless in substance as the static on screen. It looked easy to forget. As though, by product of time and a million other shows, Ollie And The Outcasts would naturally be forgotten. Yet most call it a classic.
But despite the show’s “memorable” run, it was so obviously misremembered.
Several self-reported fans claim the show ran for numerous seasons, yet others say it never aired more than a pilot episode. Some claim it premiered in the late sixties, others the mid-seventies. And air times are split between Thursdays at 7:00, Mondays at 6:00, and Saturdays at 10:00.
Adding to the confusion is the fact that, publicly, there’s zero living evidence to prove that Ollie And The Outcasts ever even existed. Not a single catalog or channel guide has been found that lists its name, and the last supposed reruns were said to be aired during the early 2000’s, still in the internet’s infancy and long before anyone thought to document the soon-to-be media mystery.
And yet, most call it a classic.
As to why Ollie And The Outcasts has practically no digital footprint, several “theorists” suggest that the show was scrubbed from television following a nasty set of lawsuits. Specifically, the series might have been infringing on copyrighted material, as many of the show’s vague descriptions bear striking similarities to the more popular CBS series, Gilligan’s Island. However, if legal threats were made, they were all done under the table, since there are no court records to reflect on the matter.
I know all this because I’ve searched. I’ve asked these questions and more because the questions are the only thing keeping me company…
Today, naysayers excuse the show as but another example of the infamous “Mandela Effect”. Like the Berenstein Bears or Monopoly Man’s monocle, Ollie And The Outcasts has been deemed an artifact of collective false memory.
But even a false memory has to come from somewhere, right? Even if you want to say that they’re wrong, that people are mistaking say Gilligan’s Island for something else, even if you want to say that Ollie And The Outcasts doesn’t exist… how can you be sure what they saw wasn’t real?
Can something be real if it doesn’t exist?
Can it exist if it’s not real?
These are the questions I’ve been asking myself ever since my boyfriend disappeared, ever since we watched the show that doesn’t exist…
Ollie And The Outcasts…
~ ~ ~
Our trip was for a whole week. I was so excited that I was half ready to quit my job if they refused my PTO. But they didn’t, which meant I had six days in a cabin, away from the world and work, and alone with my boyfriend.
Sam and I had been going steady for five years, and while it wasn’t our anniversary, we felt a cabin trip would be best in December. A hot tub in the mountains, surrounded by snow, secluded, private. It was our kind of trip.
The cabin itself belonged to Sam’s Uncle Glenn. He rented it out mostly but was happy to give us the key for a free week-long getaway. All that was required of us was making the nearly six and half hour drive, marked in the end by a mountainous climb.
As I pulled to the top of the frozen porch, I was beginning to feel all my fatigue slipping in. But just then, Sam swept me up and into his arms. Normally I would have killed for Sam to be so romantic, but I saw through his act. We had talked about it for years but finally, after ample time to “test the waters,” we were both agreed and ready to get married. It was only a matter of time before the magical question, and the ideal timing of our vacation was not lost on either of us.
But Sam decided to make it into a game.
As to keep me guessing, Sam was constantly putting up the tell-tale signs of a proposal. Just before we left, he opened my car door, got down on one knee… and tied his shoe. I about slapped the smirk right off his face. Don’t get me wrong, it was a cute prank, but after the eighth “cute prank”, a girl meets her limit. I tried snarling through a smile as Sam carried me inside like some newlywed bride, but judging by his laugh, it only fueled the fire…
Though the heat had been off for some time, the cabin radiated comfort. Dark wooden textures flowed throughout the living room and into the open kitchen while amber details decorated the fur rugs and seasoned couch. The latter served as our coat check and invited pause to whatever busied us. Sam did not refuse and vaulted over the back, landing two heels on a cherrywood coffee table. With a shared sigh, he sank into the cushions cast by age.
I pulled off my boots, allowing the carpet to seep between my toes like wet sand. In time, I floated downstream, carried through the cabin by the perennial aroma of embers and apple cider. The bedroom was enticing, draped in more of that genuine fur that felt like you were cuddled with clouds. From across the room, I could feel the pillows massaging my neck.
It’s been a long drive, I thought, we can unpack tomorrow.
I mumbled something to the other room.
“Mhmm,” Sam mumbled back.
My fingers graced the bed…
~ ~ ~
The days were met with no rush.
After we settled in, Sam fiddled with the fireplace, and I poked around the kitchen. Uncle Glenn had the place stocked for us, even leaving a few bottles of our favorite red wine. Though we hadn’t said anything, I suspected he knew what this vacation meant for the both of us.
Sam and I made dinners together, went on morning hikes, hung around the fire, and on more than one occasion helped ourselves to the outdoor hot tub.
One night we just sat out there, soaking in the wedding of warm water and winter wind. It was so quiet, you could hear the snow slipping off a tree from a mile away. A few times we saw the glimmering eyes of a raccoon or deer amble by, completely untroubled by the two strangers reposed in their backyard.
Out there, in the mountains, in the cabin, there was no schedule, there was no demand. It was just Sam and I, sharing each other’s world. And we loved it…
~ ~ ~
On the fourth day we were hit with a wave of snow…
It was enough snow to turn our morning hike into a morning dig, and enough snow to diffuse our hot tub into mild temperature dishwater. All that to say, it was shaping up to be an in-door kind of day. Which was a-ok with me.
Sam and I still made meals together and we passed the time by laying on the couch, nestled by the fire. I listened to one of my true crime podcasts while Sam played on his portable Switch. I made it halfway into my series before I began to fall asleep…
When I woke up, the room was flooded in a static glow with a scratchy hiss swimming around my ears. I squinted my eyes to see Sam, hunched over the coffee table, tinkering with some kind of box with wires. I stretched, rising to see that the box was an old CRT television set. Yanking the antenna in different directions, Sam huffed, hitting the hollow hunk of junk over the head.
“Where’d you find that?” I asked, rubbing sleep and static from my eyes.
Sam jumped and turned down a few dials, “Oh, sorry! Didn’t mean to wake you.”
“That’s alright,” I yawn, “I was waking up anyway. Is that your Uncle Glenn’s? It looks ancient.”
Sam nodded. “Yeah, I found it in the spare closet. Thought I’d try setting it up but…” he pulled a few cables and wiggled the antenna. The screen stared back, static unblinking.
“You’ll figure it out,” I said and got up to use the bathroom.
Out of the kitchen window I saw that it was night. Though, that was difficult to tell with so much snow pouring down. The view looked almost identical to the old TV screen, a chaotic mesh of black and white.
As I finished up in the bathroom, while washing my hands, I heard Sam yell, “YES!”
Like a boy scoring a touchdown, I thought.
The cabin was suddenly filled with the low quality murmur of vintage TV. No sooner did I hear a muffled somewhat familiar tune did Sam call out, “Oh my God… Babe! Get in here!”
The urgency in his voice brought me running. “What?! What is it?!”
“Look!” he said, pointing a finger so close to the TV that it was practically touching. I walked around the couch to get a better view and now the classical theme was unmistakable. At that same moment, a voice came alive.
“From WSNC, it’s Ollie And The Outcasts!”
Created by Danny Ingrassia
I almost couldn’t tell if it was the TV saying it or me. The memory was so strong, like the words to your favorite childhood song.
“Can you believe it?!” Sam asked. He was bouncing on the couch. “I used to watch this show all the time as a kid! I forgot it even existed!”
I echoed a faint nod, “Yeah… me too…”
Like Sam, my eyes were glued to the screen with ticklish wonder. I knew the show only by name but couldn’t help feeling lost between a sense of Deja-Vu and unplaced nostalgia. The intro continued to play, presenting a cast of characters I could almost name: Captain Henry Harlow, Jenny Joy, Rebecca Ruse, Frank Fellows, and Ollie Oleander…
Finally breaking from my trance, I turned towards Sam, “I didn’t know you watched this kind of stuff? It’s old, isn’t it?”
Sam’s eyes still ogled the screen like a kid staring down the pictures on an ice-cream truck. “Well, I… I didn’t really. I think it was just on when I came home from school sometimes.”
Again, I nodded, though I wasn’t sure what I was nodding to.
I sat down, next to Sam. He threw an arm over my shoulder and I a blanket over the two of us. It felt like we were settling in for a dream. It was easy, natural. Without words, we had just agreed that this was what we were going to do. This was what we were going to watch. Ollie And The Outcasts.
The intro was nearing its end, but the show was about to begin.
And in a blink…
It was over.
“WoOow,” I yawned, and stretched, feeling totally like a pile of rocks. I looked over at the other end of the couch, towards Sam, to see if he was still awake. His eyes didn’t leave the TV, even as I nudged him with my foot.
“Hey, you want anything? Wine? Popcorn?”
His head tipped in some way of consent, so I made my escape into the kitchen.
Escape, I thought, why would I think “escape?”
I was rubbing my eyes the whole time. Normally they didn’t get this bad unless I was around a bunch of cat hair, but they were feeling drier than a desert.
Behind me, the show’s theme was on loop. It sounded like another episode was coming on. A marathon, I guessed. There was something about the song, the happy-go-lucky swing of the big band, that felt like a feather was tickling the edge of some memory. Again, came the oh so familiar:
“From WSNC, it’s Ollie And The Outcasts!”
I poured Sam and I two glasses of our favorite white wine and made a bowl of popcorn to share. Looking through the window, the weather outside was, as they say, frightful. I stood there for a moment, mourning over the hot tub that was now invisible under a milky, cold soup.
Slipping back into the living room, Sam was still. I propped the glass of wine into his hands. He looked at it, almost confused as to how it got there.
“You’re supposed to drink it,” I teased.
He bounced back with a smile and laughed, “Sorry, I- I zoned out for a moment.”
Sam set his glass on the table, still full, before the cast of five appeared on screen: Captain Harvey Harlow, Ginny Joy, Rebecca Rose, Frankie Fellows, and Ollie Oleanders…
Weird, how familiar those names were. Somehow, I knew them, but I didn’t. I mean, I couldn’t have. This was the first night I had ever seen the show. And yet, even watching that first episode, Ollie And The Outcasts was just as I remembered… but what did I remember?
Before I knew it, the next episode was coming on…
And the credits were rolling.
I was rubbing my eyes again. Damn, must be the old tube TV, I thought, Mom always said they were bad for your eyes. Or was that microwaves?
I looked over to Sam’s spot on the couch, but he was gone. Turning around, I found him by the kitchen window, looking outside, looking for something.
When did he get up?
“What are you doing?” I asked.
He kept angling his head around the dark window, occasionally turning to check the clock. But then he stopped, settled his gaze back into the storm, and asked, “How long have we been in this cabin?”
The question caught me off guard. My mind went blank, but I tried to answer, “Uhh, since morning.” I had to check my phone. Nine fifteen. Wasn’t that right?
Sam shook his head, “No. I mean how many days?”
I couldn’t tell if he was serious or trying to make a joke. “Four, I guess. Why?”
There was a long pause. Sam just stared out the window, squinting his eyes as if confirming the answer written outside. “Are you sure?” he asked.
“Yeah, I’m… sure. Why???”
There was an even longer pause and then a question that really threw me, “Are we married yet?” He was looking at me now.
Ohhh, I thought, now I get it. Here comes the quote, unquote “proposal”.
I feigned a laugh, but Sam wouldn’t smile. God if he thinks I’m going to fall for this again… I stomped towards the sink, pretending I was too busy washing my wine glass to play into his game. My drink was still full. “Sam, if this is one of your lame joke proposals, I’m not in the mood,” I said.
“So, we’re still- we’re only dating right now?” He sounded serious.
“Yeah, we’re only dating. What are you asking?!”
“I- I don’t know. I just had this weird…” His sentence trailed off in some meaningless gesture. He really was serious.
I tried dialing back my tone, “Are you alright? Do you want to talk or-?”
“No, no,” he said, “I’m… Sorry. I’m fine… Really.”
Sam was not fine. I knew him well enough to tell when he was covering for something, when he was trying to hide his emotions. I waited, silently, trying to coax out that part of him that wanted to speak.
“I think-” he began, but was immediately interrupted.
“From WSNU, it’s Olly And The Outcasts!”
We turned at the same time. It was like hearing a voice call your name. It turned an ear and made you listen. It caught an eye and made you watch.
Gently, I tugged on Sam’s arm. “Let’s just chill on the couch for a while. Maybe you’ll feel better?”
Sam held my hand like a railing. His gaze stretched between me and the TV but loosened slowly. Throwing on a weak smile, he followed my footsteps onto the couch.
What’s going on with him? I wondered. Maybe he was just nervous, or tired. Or maybe he was actually trying to propose but I screwed up the mood. What if he’s having second thoughts? What if we weren’t ready?
I felt like I was sitting beside a stranger. Sam didn’t feel like Sam. He was more than off, he was… different.
I tried to think of something else, something to say, small talk. My hands were running circles over the cushioned fabric. The mindless distraction was comforting at first but quickly the silence weighed in. Soon I found myself sinking into a nervous tic, the maelstrom pattern swallowing me under the deep blue couch.
“We should thank him for the couch!” I stammered. The unformed thought flew out my mouth so suddenly. “I mean, the couch and cabin. Everything. We should find some way to thank your Uncle Glenn.”
Sam looked at me, puzzled, “You mean my Uncle Steve?”
On came the cast of five.
Captain Harry Harlow, Jenny Joyce, Rebecca Ruth, Freddy Fellows, and Olly OLeander…
Was Olly always spelt with a “Y”? Or was it “IE”? No. I told myself I was wrong, that I was only flustered about Sam.
I looked over at him. The couch never felt so long. Something was wrong with him. Was he mad at me? I just wished I knew what was going on. The smart idea would have been to turn off the TV and talk it out.
We just needed to turn it off and…
The screen went black.
I barely caught myself from falling over. The pain throbbing through my head had knocked me down. It was like a sudden hangover or an instant concussion. All I could hear was static buzzing in my head. The TV, I could barely look at it.
God my eyes hurt!
It took me another minute before I could see anything. My hands, the couch, then the black-lit screen slowly came into focus. That’s when I realized Sam was gone.
I got up and stumbled towards the light switch. Everything was still a bit blurry, both in my eyes and my head. Was I drunk?
I had quite a few drinks- no, no I hadn’t had a single glass of wine this whole night.
I don’t know why that thought scared me so much, but I instantly tried thinking of something else. Sam. I needed to find Sam.
He wasn’t in the living room, though my eyes kept pulling towards the dark burgundy couch for a reason I didn’t know. He wasn’t in the kitchen either. I checked the bedroom, bathroom, nothing. I was panicking. Where the hell did he go!?
It was then that I turned towards the old CRT TV and noticed a little blinking light. The screen was still black, but the jittery lines of static told me something was playing. The blinking light was in the shape of a play button, and shone from beneath the screen, from the built-in VCR.
VCR? That wasn’t- Weren’t there antennas on this TV? Where did they-
The lines of static flashed a few times and suddenly a bright white name appeared on screen. And it spelt…
A hand CRASHED against the window!
I ran through the kitchen and opened the backdoor. A foot of snow blew inside with Sam right behind. But after a single step, he collapsed onto the floor, shaking violently. His skin was almost blue and he was covered in snow, but he wasn’t wearing his coat. He wasn’t even wearing his boots!
I wanted to curse at him. I was so mad, so scared and confused. But I couldn’t think about that right now. I had to get him warm.
I ran for the first blanket I could find, wrapping Sam with the maple, fur rug, and began dragging him closer to the fireplace. But where?! Where was the fireplace?!
Sam began muttering, “It’sss nnnottt sssupposssed to sssnow I- I- In spring.”
What was he talking about?
“Babe it’s not spring,” I reminded him, “It’s November.”
I felt like biting my tongue. Suddenly, the logical side of my brain took over and opened my phone. January 13th, 8:03 PM.
No, no, no. I threw the phone away. I had to focus on Sam.
I got him out of his frozen pajamas and set him on the couch.
“I’ll be right back. I’m going to go look for a heater,” I said and left to scavenge the closet.
What the hell? What the HELL!? My nerves were so fried I could barely stand. What the hell was going on?! How did Sam get outside without me noticing? Why was he outside?! And why was nothing like how I remembered?! My hands were shaking and on total autopilot but had uncovered a bulky-looking space heater.
Why was Sam not how I remembered?
This last thought arrived just as I was pulling the heater free. Something was wrong with Sam. He’d been acting so strange so suddenly. And when I brought him in, I could have sworn his hair…
Again, I shook off the thought and started dragging the heavy heater into the living room. I was barely around the corner when I heard it…
“From WSNU, it’s Olly And The Outcasts!”
“TURN IT OFF!” I shouted and dropped everything. I don’t know what came over me. Maybe it was the stress or maybe it was my subconscious, but I wouldn’t- couldn’t watch that show for another second.
Sam was just sitting there, eyes wide and locked on the screen. He looked like a zombie or statue. Without looking, I ran behind the TV and pulled the cord. Instantly, Sam shot up with a spam. I thought he might have been going into shock, so I ran over to grab him, but he pushed me away.
“What is this? Where am I?!” he yelled.
“Sam, it’s okay! You’re okay! You were out in the cold, but I brought you ins-”
“What are you talking about?! How- Where AM I?!”
“Sam, this is your uncle’s cabin we-”
“Stop calling me that! I’m not Sam! Who are you?!”
I didn’t know what to say…
I didn’t know what to do…
I just stood there, confused, staring at his hair. Brown. It was brown. So why did I think it was supposed to be blond??? He was Sam, wasn’t he? His face, his voice, it was all so familiar but now… he was different. He wasn’t my Sam, he wasn’t even a Sam anymore. Before I could say anything, Sam or whoever started putting on boots and a coat.
“Where are you going?” I asked.
He looked at me and I could feel both our hearts racing. “This isn’t right,” he said. “This isn’t right…”
Without a second word he stepped outside, into the storm. I called out and begged him to come back. I ran after him, not even bothering to put on extra layers. Snow whipped at my face and climbed up to my knees. My whole body was stinging in the cold, but I was only focused on Sam.
“SAM!” My voice was buried under the wind. His silhouette faded into black…
~ ~ ~
Of course, the trip was cut short.
I tried searching for Sam again, first, after I put on some clothes. But the storm obscured everything, and I was forced to wait until morning. In the meantime, I tried calling his cell, but the strangest thing was his number was gone from my phone. I tried dialing it from memory but- I couldn’t remember! Calling the police was my second thought but it would have taken them hours to get up there and even then, they were likely to excuse the whole incident as some domestic dispute. Well come morning Sam wasn’t there and his tracks were covered by snow. I did end up calling the police, but the response was just as I expected, “He’s an adult. He’s free to do as he chooses.”
And that’s fine, whatever, if Sam actually chose to leave me then I guess I can live with that. Maybe I was seriously blind to some of the issues going on in our relationship, but I mean we were usually the kind of couple to talk things out as soon as they came up. But what I can’t explain is everything that came after.
When I got back home, the first thing I had to do was contact Sam’s Uncle. If Sam was missing, his family needed to know. Except, Sam didn’t have any family…
He had family, or at least I thought he did, but Sam’s “Uncle Steve” was my Uncle Steve. I mean, I know he is. Or I knew he wasn’t? Everything in my life, everything about Sam felt rearranged. And I don’t know for certain what changed or how, I’ve only managed to pick up pieces of a memory. But that memory doesn’t add up with the facts.
Everyone tells me I went to the cabin alone, in January, that my uncle let me stay there so I could unwind and get away from work. Sam’s luggage, everything he owned, even his internet profile just vanished. It was gone just like how Sam was gone…
Apparently, I’ve been single for the last five years. That shouldn’t surprise me, that’s what I remember. But even still, Sam’s face, his voice, his humor, it’s there like the tune to a forgotten song or the characters to an old TV show. I just don’t know if they exist. I don’t know if they were real…
I did a lot of digging into Ollie And The Outcasts. It was that show that did this, I know it was. I don’t know if anyone’s had the same experience as me but there were a few things I learned. For one thing, there was a user online who said they vaguely remember watching Ollie And The Outcasts as a kid. Except when they did, it was a bit different from how everyone describes. They remember the show being paired with some kind of “the-making-of” type documentary. They said there was even an interview with the show’s creator and that his name was “Oswald Vegas” or something. Anyway, there’s this line he says, and it’s the only line this user can remember, and it went something like, “Art is transformative. And there’s no greater art than film. Now with television in nearly every home, we hold the power to change the world. The question now is what will we make of it?”
I tried looking up this “Oswald Vegas,” but if that really is his name he was about as elusive as his show. Which brings me to my second point. Apparently, there are rumors of Ollie And The Outcasts existing on a tape… No one knows how many there are, if there are any at all, or where to find them, but I thought back to the cabin.
I could have sworn Sam found the show only by channel surfing. I don’t remember getting up to mess with the TV, but then, just before Sam disappeared, there was that VCR. I don’t know if it was always there and I just didn’t notice, but there was something playing before that show came on. Maybe whatever caused Sam to disappear also created that VHS player. And maybe there’s something inside…
It’s been a year since our trip and Sam hasn’t come back… I’ve asked my uncle if I could stay at his cabin for the week. I’m going to pull out that old TV, the one with the VCR. Who knows, maybe if I try and if I’m lucky, I can go back to how it was before…
Sam, if you’re out there, just know I didn’t forget you…