I want to start off by saying that if you want an answer at the end, prepare to be disappointed. There isn't one and I don't think there will ever be.
I was an intern at Nickelodeon Studios for a year back in 2005 for my degree in animation. I wasn't paid, of course, but most internships aren't. It did have some perks beyond education, though. To adults, it might not seem like a big one, but most kids at the time would have shit themselves over it.
Since I worked directly with the editors and animators, I got to view new episodes of cartoons days before they were aired.
I'll get right to the point without giving too unnecessary details. They had very recently made the Spongebob movie and the entire staff was somewhat sapped of creativity. It took them a little longer to start up the new season, sure, but the delay actually lasted longer for more upsetting reasons related to the season four premiere.
Two other interns and I were in the editing room along with the lead animators and sound editors for the final cut. We received the copy that was supposed to be "Fear of a Krabby Patty," and gathered around the screen to watch.
Now, given that everything isn't finalized at that point, animators often put up a mock title card as a joke with phony, often times lewd, titles like "How Sex Doesn't Work" instead of "Rock-a-by Bialve," the episode where Spongebob and Patrick adopt a baby Sea Scallop. There's nothing particularly funny except for a few work-related chuckles.
When we saw the title card "Squidward's Suicide," we didn't think it was anything more than a morbid joke. One of the interns did a small throat laugh at it. The happy-go-lucky music played as normal.
The story began as many of them do: Squidward was practicing his clarinet, hitting a few sour notes like usual. We hear Spongebob laughing outside and Squidward stops, yelling at him to keep it down. He mentioned something about a concert that night he needed to practice for.
Spongebob complies and goes to see Sandy with Patrick. The bubbles splash screen comes up and it has cut to the ending of Squidward's concert. This is where things begin to seem off, in a bad way.
While playing, a few frames repeat themselves and the sound doesn't. At this point, sound is synched up with the animation, so that isn't very common. When he stops playing, the sound finishes as if the skip never happened, too. There's a slight murmuring in the crowd before everyone begins to boo him.
This wasn't the normal cartoon booing that's common in the show. You could clearly hear malice in it. Squidward was in full frama nd looked visibly afraid. The shot cut to the crowd, with Spongebob in center frame. He, too, is booing. It was very much unlike him. However, that wasn't the oddest thing.
The oddest thing was that everyone had hyper-realistic eyes. They were very detailed. They weren't shots of real people's eyes, but something a bit more real than CGI. The pupils were red, too. Some of us looked at each other, obviously confused, but since we weren't the writers we didn't question its appeal to children...yet.
The shot cuts to Squidward as he sat on the edge of his bed, looking forlorn. The view out of his porthole window was of a night sky, so it probably wasn't very long after the concert.
At this point, there was no sound. There was LITERALLY no sound. There wasn't even feedback from the speakers in the room. It was as if the speakers were turned off, though their status showed them working perfectly.
Squidward simply sat there, blinking, in this silence for about thirty seconds until he began to sof softly. He put his tentacles over his eyes and cried quietly for a full minute more, all the while a sound in the background slowly growing from nothing to barely audible. It sounded like a slight breeze through a forest.
The screen slowly began to zoom in on his face. By slowly, I mean it was only noticeable if you look at shots ten seconds apart side by side. His sobbing got louder and louder, more full of hurt and anger.
The screen twitched for a split second, as if it twisted in on itself, before returning to normal. The wind-through-the-trees sound slowly got louder and louder - more severe, too - as if a storm was brewing somewhere.
The eerie part was that this sound and Squidward's sobbing sounded real. It was as if the sound wasn't coming from the speakers, but as if the speakers were holes the sound was coming through from the other side. As good quality as the studio likes to have, they don't purchase the equipment to be good enough to produce sound of that quality.
Below the sound of the wind and sobbing was something that sounded like faint laughing. It came at odd intervals and never lasted more than a second, so you had a hard time pinning it. After 30 seconds of this, the screen blurred and twitched vilently as something flashed over the screen like a subliminal image.
The lead animation editor paused and rewound frame by frame. What was saw was horrible.
It was a still photo of a dead child. He couldn't have been more than six years old. His face was mangled and bloodied. One eye was popped out and dnagling over his upturned face. he was naked, down to his underwear, and his stomach was crudely cut open with his entrails lying beside him.
He was lying on some pavement. The most upsetting part was there was the shadow of the photographer visible. There was no cripe tape, no evidence bags or markers, and the angle was completely off for a shot designed to be evidence. It would seem the photographer was the person responsible for the child's death.
We were, of course, mortified. However, we pressed on, hoping it was just a sick joke. The screen flipped back to Squidward, still sobing. He was louder than before and only half of his body was in the frame. There was no what appeared to be blood running down his face from his eyes.
The blood was also done in a hyper-realistic style. It looked as if you touched it, you'd get blood on your fingers. The wind sounded as if it were a gale blowing through a forest. There were even snapping sounds of branches.
The laughing, a deep baritone, lasted longer and came more frequently. After about twenty seconds, the screen again twisted and showed another single-frame photo.
The editor was reluctant to go back, as we all were, but we knew he had to. This time, the photo was that of what appeared a little girl no older than the first child. She was lying on her stomach, her barrettes in a pool of blood next to her. Her left eye, too, was popped out and she was naked except for underpants. Her entrails were piled on top of her above a crude cut along her back.
Again, the body on the street and the photographer's shadow was visible. It was very similar in shape and size to the first. I had to choke back vomit and one intern, the only female in the room, ran out.
The show resumed. About five seconds after this second photo, all sound stopped like it was when this scene started. Squidward put his tentacles down and his eyes were done in a hyper-realistic style like the others in the beginning of the episode.
They were bleeding, bloodshot and pulsating. He stared at the screen, as if watching the viewer. After ten seconds, he started sobbing. This time, he wasn't covering his eyes at all.
The sound was piercing and loud. The most fear-inducing part of all of this was his sobbing. It was mixed in with screams. Tears and blood were dripping down Squidward's face at a heavy rate.
The wind sound came back and so did the deep-voiced laughing. The next still photo lasted for a good five frames. The animator was able to stop it on the fourth and backed up.
This time, the photo was of a boy about the same age as other children, but the scene was different. The entrails were just being pulled out from a stomach wound by a large hand. The boy's right eye was popped and dangling with blood trickling down it. The animator proceeded. The next was different, though we couldn't tell how.
He went to the next after that, and it was the same thing. He went back to the first and played them quicker. I lost it, vomiting on the floor. The animating and sound editors were gasping at the screen.
The file frames were not as if they were five different photos. They were played out as if they were frames from a video. We saw the hand slowly lift out the guts, we saw the kid's eyes focus on it, and we even saw two frames of him beginning to blink.
The lead sound editor told us to stop. He had to call in the creator to see it. Mr. Hillenburg arrived within fifteen minutes. He was confused as to why he was called down there, so the editor continued the episode.
Once the few frames were shown, all sound again stopped. Squidward was staring at the viewer, his entire face in the frame, for about three seconds. The shot quickly panned out and that deep voice said, "DO IT." The next thing we see is a shotgun in Squidward's hands.
He immediately puts the gun in his mouth and pulls the trigger. Realistic blood and brain matter splattered the wall and bed behind him. He flies back from the force. The last five seconds of the episode show his body on the bed, on his side, with one eye dangling on what's left of his head above the floor, staring blankly at it. The episode ends there.
Mr. Hillenburg was obviously angry about it. He demanded to know what the hell was going on. Most people left the room at that point, so it was just a handful of us to watch it again. Viewing the episode twice only served to imprint the entirety of it into my mind and caused me horrible nightmares. I'm sorry I stayed.
The only theory we could think of was that someone in the chain from the drawing studio to here edited the file. The CTO was called into analyze when it happened. The analysis of the file did show it was edited over by new material.
However, the timestamp of it happening was a mere 24 seconds before we began viewing it. All equipment involved was examined for foreign software and hardware, as well as glitches - as if the time stamp may have glitched and showed the wrong time - but everything checked out fine.
We don't know what happened and, to this day, nobody does. There was a police investigation due to the nature of the photos, but nothing came of it. No child seen was identified and no clues were gathered from the data involved or physical clues in the photos.
I never believed in unexplainable phenomena before, but now that I've seen it for myself...if something happens and I can't prove anything about it beyond anecdotal evidence, I think twice about things.
When I was in 9th Grade I fought the toughest kid in school, and lost badly. I knew I’d lose, he knew I’d lose, the whole school knew I’d lose — But I fought that motherfucker anyway.
That’s about all you really need to know about me.