From the journal of Dr. Edgar Burmingham, Psychologist and Paranormal Researcher.
[REDACTED] took the kids to her mother’s house in Vermont, and that’s for the best. Our bickering has gotten out of hand and some time apart will do us good. I haven’t been sleeping, and if I’m being honest, my moods have grown erratic. The other night I actually saw fear in her eyes after one of my outbursts, and it made me feel lower than low. That’s not who I am. I know who I am, what I’m capable of.
Plus, this (temporary) separation gives me more time to examine the tapes. Although…I don’t know how much more there is to examine. I’ve rewatched all of them dozens of times at this point. And my headaches are getting worse. And the nightmares. Just the other night I— well, never mind.
Background on the tapes: The tapes came my way courtesy of Mr. [REDACTED], who discovered them while cleaning out the basement of his late mother’s home in upstate New York. The VHS tapes — three in all — were stacked neatly in a small, water-damaged shoebox tucked off in a far corner of the unfinished basement. Each tape had one white label announcing a number — 1, 2, 3 — in red marker, and while Mr. [REDACTED] considered simply tossing them into the trash, he eventually popped the tape labeled 1 into his mother’s ancient video cassette player.
He immediately recognized what he was watching: Friends, the hit American sitcom created by David Crane and Marta Kauffman, which ran for 10 seasons on NBC between 1994 and 2004. Mr. [REDACTED] admitted to me that he wasn’t exactly well-versed on the show (“More of a Cheers fan,” he confided), so it took him more than a moment to realize something was very wrong.
He left the tape running in the background while he continued to clean out his dead mother’s home. However, when he turned his attention back to the screen at one point, he was horrified at what he was watching. His wife, Mrs. [REDACTED] stopped by the house later that day to help. Unlike Mr. [REDACTED], Mrs. [REDACTED] was very much a fan of Friends, having watched every single episode when it aired, and then having “binge-watched” them all again several times on Netflix (back when they were available on Netflix).
When shown random clips on the tape, Mrs. [REDACTED] immediately recognized that the footage was not from any episode of Friends that had ever aired. At first blush, Mrs. [REDACTED] thought they had stumbled on some sort of media goldmine — lost episodes of a wildly popular show. However, as they continued to watch they became more disturbed at what they were seeing. Mr. [REDACTED] reported that, eventually, he had to shut the TV off — at which point he and his wife became violently ill. They never made it past the first tape. Probably for the best.
After browsing the internet, Mr. and Mrs. [REDACTED] stumbled upon my personal website and contacted me about the tapes. I agreed to pay for the couple to ship the tapes to me, which they promptly did. I’ve tried several times since to contact them, but with no luck. The phone number they called me from has been disconnected and the email address Mr. [REDACTED] used is no longer active — any email I attempted to send bounced back undelivered.
The tapes themselves are unremarkable — they’re standard black Super-VHS (S-VHS) tapes, which gained popularity for consumer-level video recording usage. After purchasing a battered and well-used VHS player off of eBay I began to pore over the footage. I try not to make assumptions when I begin an investigation, but I confess that my initial thought was that this was some sort of elaborate hoax, if not concocted by Mr. and Mrs. [REDACTED] then by someone else (Mr. [REDACTED]’s mother, perhaps?).
I no longer feel that way.
Some background on Friends: Friends is an extremely popular American sitcom about six friends in their late 20s and early 30s who live in New York. The show is divorced from reality — the New York City the friends inhabit looks nothing like the real thing, and several of the friends dwell in apartments the size of grand ballrooms despite working low-paying jobs.
While not the most nuanced show, it has its charms. The friends consist of Rachel Greene (Jennifer Aniston), Monica Geller (Courteney Cox), Phoebe Buffay (Lisa Kudrow), Joey Tribbiani (Matt LeBlanc), Chandler Bing (Matthew Perry), and Ross Geller (David Schwimmer). Fans of the show all have their own individual favorite friend, but one thing seemingly everyone agrees on is that Ross is the worst of the bunch.
For 10 seasons and 236 episodes, the Friends fall in and out of love with each other, and others, and navigate their daily lives in comical situations. I’ll admit that I never watched the show when it aired, but my wife was a fan, and so I showed her some of the footage. I know now that this was a mistake. What she saw made her incredibly uneasy and she ordered the tapes removed from our home. I told her I took them to my office at [REDACTED] University, but I confess here that that was a lie. They’re still in my home office, locked in my filing cabinet.
There are 10 episodes of what appears to be Friends stretched throughout the tapes Mr. [REDACTED] found, and through my research, I have indeed confirmed they never aired. I tracked down several cast and crew members of the show, including [REDACTED], [REDACTED], [REDACTED], [REDACTED], and David Schwimmer. While I took care never to mention the existence of the tapes themselves, I was able to confirm through several interviews that the tape content is unknown to anyone directly involved with the series.
Before each episode on the tapes starts, a title card of plain white letters appears announcing the name of the episode about to play, along with a timecode and a proclamation that the footage is a “Work in Progress” and “Not Final.”
This itself isn’t abnormal. Raw footage that’s sent around internally to a TV show’s production team often has these sorts of markings. It’s the footage that follows that’s disconcerting. Below, I have done my best to offer a brief recap of the episodes in the order they appear on the tapes.
The One Where Joey Gets Lost
This first episode is the most “normal” of the bunch, following out-of-work actor Joey as he gets lost in an Ikea store (the name of the store is never actually mentioned, but the layout and furniture within looks distinctly like Ikea). Joey and Phoebe head to Ikea to buy a new couch, but at some point during their excursion, the two get separated and Joey wanders the sprawling furniture store calling out Phoebe’s name with no luck.
The laugh track on the episode is slightly off, with the audience's laughter arriving a few seconds too long after the jokes. This is a possible editing glitch, and sometimes it’s barely perceptible.
The episode ends with Joey still trapped in Ikea after the store has shut down for the night. Here the footage cuts back to the apartment shared by Rachel and Monica. Phoebe is there, too, sitting on the couch and strumming her guitar. Chandler storms into the apartment and asks if anyone has seen Joey today. He seems both furious and genuinely concerned. All three women say no, even though Phoebe was clearly with Joey earlier in the episode.
“Good riddance!” Chandler suddenly says, at which point the laugh track explodes. The sound of laughter is so loud that the audio becomes fuzzy. It continues over the end credits.
While there’s no doubt a surreal quality to the footage of this episode, it’s not altogether abnormal. The same can’t be said for the episodes that follow.
The One with Special Guest Star Ted Bundy
In addition to the title card, this episode also flashes the words “Special Guest Star Ted Bundy as Himself” at the beginning in thick white text. This is, of course, impossible — Bundy, a notorious serial killer, was executed in the electric chair in 1989 at Florida State Prison, Bradford County, Florida, whereas the first episode of Friends didn’t premiere until 1994.
However, the person meant to be Ted Bundy looks identical to the real man. Is it an actor covered in heavy make-up? Or an actor who just genuinely looks like Bundy? He sounds like Bundy, too. I took snippets of the footage — completely out of context, and edited to remove any hint of the show Friends — to several experts in voice and facial recognition, and all told me they were 99.9% certain this was the real Ted Bundy.
Which, again, is impossible.
As the episode begins, Rachel has just clocked out at Central Perk, the coffee shop in New York City’s Greenwich Village where she works as a waitress. While walking home, she spots a man with a plaster cast on his arm trying to load a box into the back of his yellow 1968 Volkswagen Beetle.
Rachel asks if the man needs help, to which he replies yes with a big, warm grin on his face. It’s from this angle we see that the man is Ted Bundy, appearing as he did in the late 1970s.
When Rachel moves to help Bundy with the box he produces a crowbar — seemingly from thin air — and bashes her on the back of her head with it until she’s unconscious. It’s worth noting this scene is unfolding on what’s supposed to be a New York street (although obviously a set on some backlot) in broad daylight. Several extras playing New Yorkers walk by the scene of the attack but none of them acknowledge what’s going on. Nor does anyone intervene when Bundy produces a pair of handcuffs from his pocket, cuffs Rachel’s hands behind her back, and loads her into his car. A low, barely-audible laugh track accompanies this sequence.
Bundy drives Rachel to a wooded area somewhere in Upstate New York where he proceeds to strangle her to death. From here the episode turns into a series of montages, with Bundy returning to the secluded spot where Rachel’s body lies. Rachel shows signs of decomposition every time Bundy returns, although her famous haircut — dubbed “The Rachel” by the media — remains pristine. The episode ends with hikers finding Rachel’s skeleton.
The skeleton still has “The Rachel” haircut.
The One with the Empty Apartment
For 23 minutes the camera remains in a fixed position in the interior of Rachel and Monica’s apartment. The apartment is empty of people, and none of the characters appear during the 23 minutes of runtime.
In the background, through the apartment’s huge window, New York City can be seen engulfed in towering flames. There’s no laugh track, but soft, unsettling sobbing can be heard somewhere off-camera. The sobbing lasts the full 23 minutes.
The One Where Ross Has No Eyes
Curiously, this episode is exactly the same as the second episode of season 3, titled “The One Where No One’s Ready.” The original episode is what is referred to in TV parlance as a “bottle episode,” in which all the action takes place primarily in one location — the location, in this case, being the living room of Monica and Rachel’s apartment.
The episode on the tape unfolds identically to the episode that aired, with one distinct exception: the character of Ross has no eyes. Instead, it appears as if his eyes were recently scooped out of his head, leaving a pair of empty sockets that proceed to leak blood throughout the entire episode. None of the characters (including Ross) acknowledge this.
The One Where Monica Has to Clean Up
Monica is excited to throw a dinner party at the apartment she shares with Rachel. She busies herself cleaning the apartment and poring over a cookbook to make sure the meal she’s making is just right. None of the other friends are around for the first five minutes of the episode, which consists only of Monica moving about her tasks in the apartment.
Monica is interrupted by a knock on the door. The visitor is Richard, her ex-boyfriend, played by Tom Selleck (Note: I reached out to Selleck’s agent multiple times and never received a return call or email). Richard begs Monica to take him back but she refuses. The scene escalates into a physical altercation, with Richard growing furious, snarling and snapping his teeth at Monica. Just when it appears Richard has the upper hand, Monica grabs a frying pan off the stove and smashes it hard into the man’s skull. She does this repeatedly until Richard’s skull caves in on the left side at an impossible angle.
Alarmed at the mess she’s made, Monica rushes to clean up, fastidiously scrubbing the blood from the walls and floor of the kitchen with vigor. A montage unfolds with Monica dismembering Richard’s body with an electric carving knife. When done, she tosses the bloody remains off the balcony — although in her frantic hurry she kicks Richard’s head under the couch and does not realize it’s not included with the rest of the body parts she has just thrown away. At this point, the rest of the friends arrive, causing the studio audience to roar with applause.
“I’m starving!” Joey bellows as everyone sits down to eat. The friends begin chewing their food loudly to the point where the show’s soundtrack is nothing but chomping teeth gnawing at food. It is a feral, animal sound, and at one point, Chandler even growls while chewing, as if he were a wolf tearing apart a fresh kill. Meat juice dribbles down his chin and stains his shirt.
While all this happens, Richard’s dented, blood-drenched severed head rolls out from under the couch on its own accord. While the friends continue to chew loudly, Richard’s bloody head begins to chant: “Now we’ll see some teeth, now we’ll see some teeth, now we’ll see some teeth!” The chanting grows louder and louder — but not loud enough to drown out the sound of all that chewing.
As the chewing continues, the teeth in the friends’ mouths begin to fall out and clatter onto the porcelain plates. They don’t seem to notice and continue to eat, biting down on meat and vegetables with bloody gums.
“Now we’ll see some teeth!” Richard’s head continues to chant before the episode fades to black.
The One with the Broken Bones
In their shared apartment, Chandler and Joey are having an argument about how dirty the refrigerator has become. Chandler is angrily chastising Joey for letting the situation get out of hand while Joey is comically trying to downplay it.
In the midst of this argument, some sort of unseen force starts breaking Chandler’s bones. First, his right arm pops out of its socket and bends the wrong way at the elbow, all of which is accompanied by a wet, crunching sound. Next, the fingers on his right hand begin bending back one by one, and then are twisted into corkscrew angles. The velocity of the action is so severe that we can see the fingernails on the hand fall off.
While all of this is happening, the argument about the refrigerator continues, and Chandler doesn’t even seem to notice what’s happening. Meanwhile, his left arm snaps backward with a sudden jolt of force. The action causes a compound fracture, with Chandler’s radius bone tearing through the flesh of his forearm and glistening beneath the set lights burning overhead.
Like Chandler, Joey also seems to ignore, or not notice, what’s happening, and still, the crunch and pop and smashing of bones continues. Some of Chandler’s ribs begin puncturing through his shirt. Both of his femur bones crack, causing the man to fall to the floor. And still, the argument continues. But whatever Chandler and Joey are saying to each other is now drowned out by the sound of all those breaking bones. (Note: at this point, I had to stop the tape and run to the bathroom to vomit. I am not squeamish by nature but the sounds alone made me feel extremely queasy; it was almost akin to a feeling of seasickness.)
On the floor, more and more of Chandler’s bones are shattered and blasted apart within the suit of his flesh. His body has become this malformed, misshapen thing. A bag of loose, bloody skin that continues to writhe, even as more broken bones keep stabbing their way out into the light. The floor beneath Chandler is soaked with blood and other bodily fluids.
“Can I possibly have any more broken bones?” Chandler suddenly asks with dry sarcasm. At this point, his jawbone cracks in half and pops completely out of his mouth. It clatters against the tile floor and then suddenly begins to move of its own accord. Several of Chandler’s teeth fall out of the broken jaw bone. Immediately after, small bisected legs — like the legs of a spider, or a crab — slither out of the holes where the teeth once were, resulting in the jaw scuttling across the floor and up the wall like some kind of bony insect. Chandler is still trying to talk, but as he has no jaw now, all his words are garbled and choked with blood. Joey inexplicably can still understand what Chandler is saying, though, and continues the argument.
The One Where the Void Is Growing, and It Still Calls To You
In Rachel and Monica’s apartment, Phoebe sits on the couch hugging herself, squeezing her body tight, and whispering: “You know what you did, you know what you did, you know what you did.” (Note: the whispering is so low that I had to turn the volume up on my TV to its highest point.)
Rachel and Ross enter the apartment, at which point Monica says: “Hey Pheebs, what’s up?”
“You know what you did,” Phoebe continues to whisper. Rachel and Ross either don’t hear her, or refuse to acknowledge her.
The apartment door bangs open and Joey comes in, grinning. “How you doin’?” he asks, then adds: “I have something I want to show you guys!” Here, he walks over to Rachel and Monica’s TV and turns it on. There’s static on the screen at first, but then the image becomes clear. The footage on the TV is the same footage the episode began with, with Phoebe rocking on the couch and whispering: “You know what you did, you know what you did, you know what you did.”
Ross and Rachel watch, transfixed. A single tear trickles down Rachel’s cheek. Phoebe, still on the couch, remains oblivious to her own visage on the TV screen. While the Phoebe on the couch continues to chant to herself, the Phoebe on the TV screen looks up and appears to be able to see the friends watching her.
“The void is growing,” TV Phoebe says. “And it still calls to you.”
“Turn it off!” Rachel suddenly shrieks, clawing at her own face with her fingernails, tearing her flesh, drawing blood. “Turn it off!”
“Wait, this is my big break!” Joey insists, even though at no point does he appear on the TV screen he’s watching.
“The void is growing. And it still calls to you,” TV Phoebe says again. The room grows dark, as if the lights have been turned down via a dimmer switch. Soon the only light is from the TV screen, which is now pulsating and bulging as if it were made of soft material (flesh? meat?) rather than glass.
(Note: While nothing else happens in this particular episode, this was the point where I had to take a break from my research upon my first run-through of the tapes. My head was throbbing and I felt chills all over my body, as if I were coming down with a fever. I crawled into bed and slept for 17 hours, at which point my wife finally woke me up, concerned.
“You were talking in your sleep,” she told me.
“What did I say?” I asked, groggy and confused, and a little annoyed at having been roused from slumber.
“‘The void is growing,’” she recited. “‘And it still calls to you.’”)
The One with the Flies
Rachel, Monica, Phoebe, Ross, Chandler, and Joey have filled Rachel and Monica’s apartment with raw meat. There’s raw meat everywhere — carelessly strewn on the floor, nailed to the wall, covering tables and chairs. The red of the meat is bright to the extreme. It hurts my eyes.
The six friends stand directly in the middle of the room and look straight into the camera, saying nothing. They never blink. They never move. They don’t even seem to breathe. After a long silent beat, the raw meat begins to quiver and split apart, at which point hordes of buzzing flies come exploding out, filling the room, creating a thick, black, pulsating cloud. The friends do not react to the flies even as the insects begin to swarm about their bodies, covering them, making it appear as if the friends are wearing suits made of flies.
The first time I watched this episode, I started weeping uncontrollably and I cannot say why. I doubled over with something akin to grief, or heartbreak. I fell onto the floor, sobbing and biting my fist to keep the sounds of my sobs away from my wife and children.
They heard them anyway. They came into my office. They asked what was wrong. I started screaming at them; screaming that they should get the fuck out of my office. “Don’t ever come in here while I’m working!” I screamed from the floor. My wife ushered the children out. I continued to sob. I sobbed so hard I vomited all over myself.
The flies on the TV buzzed, and buzzed, and buzzed. I could not stop crying. I am crying as I type this. I can’t seem to stop.
The One Where I Cook My Family
This episode is different now. This was not here before. I swear it wasn’t. I swear.
The footage does not feature Rachel or Monica’s apartment, nor Joey or Chandler’s. Nor Central Perk. Nor Ross’ office. Nor any location glimpsed throughout the entire run of Friends. The footage is of my house. My kitchen. It’s my kitchen plain as day.
There’s the self-cleaning wall oven, which I can see is on. There’s the stainless steel range hood. There’s the large oval window that casts circular beams of bright light in the afternoon. The rolling kitchen cart, overloaded with spices and cookbooks we never really use. The pot rack chandelier with the copper Williams Sonoma cookware dangling from it like mutated metal fruit.
And there, simmering on the stovetop, is the large artichoke-colored enameled steel stockpot. The camera slowly zooms in and we can see (I can see) there is a human head floating in the pot, surrounded by cut-up carrots and celery. The flesh on the head has been boiled away to bone but the hair is still attached at the scalp, strands of it spilling over the side of the pot. The color is the pale red of my wife’s hair.
The camera pans to the oven door, and while it’s foggy and smeared with blood I can see the dismembered bodies of my children beyond that stained glass. I can see their little legs with scabby knees; their chubby little fingers; their faces locked in silent screams. I can somehow feel the heat of the oven radiating off the TV screen.
Somewhere off camera, I can hear someone laughing, then weeping, then screaming, then talking, softly to himself. I’d know that voice anywhere. It’s my voice. “So no one told you life was gonna be this way,” I whisper.
This isn’t real. This can’t be real. This is impossible. It’s as impossible as everything else on the tapes. My wife and children are fine. They’ve gone to my mother-in-law’s house. They are there, safe. I called my mother-in-law just now and, even though she claimed they weren’t there, and that she hadn’t heard from them in days, I know she’s lying. I know what’s real. I know who I am, what I’m capable of.
The stockpot starts to bubble over, the meaty, bloody water within running down the sides and hitting the flames, causing a sizzling sound.
The One Where Something Is at Your Door
One last tape. One last episode. The setting is familiar: your home.
And there you are, at the center of the screen, reading this.
And there’s something at the door.
It’s pounding, shaking the door in its frame.
There’s mad, gibbering laughter on the other side of that door. It is a sound that does not emanate from human vocal cords. Suddenly, it starts to sing: “I’ll be there for you…”
It wants to get in.
The void is growing, and it still calls to you.