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a crack in the heart where the fear shines out

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There is an eye watching over us, listeners. It hangs above in the moonless sky—yes i know, listeners, that thing up there, that looks like the moon, but that is not the moon—and the eye does not blink. It does not look outward, no, this is the eye that views our interior, our dreams, the deep cracks and crevices of our souls where we hide our darkest fears. It watches. And it records. 

And it’s British! Oh, it’s great to see that the Night Vale Tourism Board initiatives are working and that visitors aren’t being put off by our, ahem, TOTALLY NORMAL mortality rate. 

But anyway. To our new friend: Welcome… to Night Vale

The radio starts playing as Jon slides into town limits. It wakes him with a start, making him bang his knees on the seat in front of him. He slept most of the way there: one way ticket direct to Night Vale. He still can’t remember how he bought the ticket, just that he found himself in the bus depot with the deep indigo paper ticket crumpled in hand. 

This should have been more alarming to him than it was, but he had followed the instructions that Gerry had written in his cramped handwriting, before he had burned Gerry’s page and killed him for good. 

“If you want to know more about apocalypses,” Gerry said. “Night Vale’s… well, I was run out of town.” 

“Foreboding,” Jon had said.

“Oh, the people are perfectly nice,” Gerry had said. “But they’re more your lot than mine.” 

“You’re a page in a book,” Jon had said, and Gerry had laughed. It was a nice sound. A little rusty.

“I meant that they’re aligned with Beholding, mostly,” Gerry explained. “They’ve got an archive there.”

Before he had followed Gerry’s instructions, Jon had called the Usher Foundation, asking for details about who he should talk to. The representative said that Night Vale doesn’t usually take to outsiders. They said a scientist had gone there a number of years ago: Carlos, no last name, perhaps Jon should try and get his statement. 

“No last name?” Jon had said.

“We don’t know it,” the representative from the Usher Foundation said, and that was maybe what scared and intrigued Jon the most, because it meant that whatever archive was in Night Vale, it wasn’t affiliated with the Usher Foundation, or the Pu Songling Research Centre, or Jon’s own tether, the Magnus Institute. It meant there might be answers there, beyond what Elias was willing to give him, beyond what Gertrude had left behind. 

New information. Jon tried not to think about how the idea of it made him salivate. He wasn’t that far gone. 

The Usher Foundation offered to comp his travel costs, because “as head archivist of our sister institution, it’s the least we can do,” and Jon had stumbled over his thanks and was pressed into accepting. He wondered sourly if that was their plan in the first place. 

So then: the bus depot, the long ride and the missing time, the vague memory of long stretches of American highway almost like a dark lead line across a flat sea of grass, then red rock crags and desert, all of this interspersed with signs that said HELL IS REAL and XXX SWEET HOT GIRLS (NEXT EXIT) that made him wonder, idly, which of Smirke’s fourteen entities was responsible, and then he slipped into the black nothing of sleep. 

Jon was rudely awakened by the radio, and as he rubbed his bruised knee and his synapses woke up, the words flowing from the tape recorder coalesced for him: 

  1. This wasn’t the tape he had left in the tape recorder
  2. The voice was not familiar to him, it wasn’t one of  his archival assistants nor Gertrude nor any of the statement givers he had previously heard. 
  3. The voice was talking about him. 

Listeners, I have just received word that our new visitor—you know, the British one, with his soul unwillingly tethered to a non-euclidean facet of what we perceive to be human terror—is listening to our show! 

This is so exciting. As I’ve mentioned before, we don’t get a lot of tourists around here, and so it’s always nice to get opinions on the show from beyond our little community. Maybe he’ll come by the radio station! 

Oh, that reminds me of the second time my boyfriend, Carlos the scientist—and did I mention we’re moving in together?—and I met. He came to the station, and asked to see my radio booth because he was testing “for materials,” and I was so flustered by his perfect hair and strong jaw that I didn’t even offer him coffee, or put out any materials for him to test! Oh, it was so embarrassing, listeners, and he told us to evacuate, and I said “uh-huh,” because I was dazed by the dark pools of his eyes—

Oh what’s that, listeners? I’m getting a phone call… Oh! It’s Carlos! Hello? 

[Muffled talking noises]

Mm-hm. 

[More muffled talking noises] 

Mm- hmm. Okay. I love you too. 

Carlos has asked me to stop talking about our second meeting, because apparently Station Management is starting to grow restless, and that Intern Vincent has called him panicking, because apparently the new soundproofing maintenance installed last weekend is far more effective than any of us expected it to be. And I mean any of us. 

But back to our new friend. It appears that he is...trying to turn off the broadcast. He is pressing buttons? I believe those are buttons, on his tape recorder. He is pressing them harder now, and faster. Oh dear, I don’t think the plastic’s supposed to bend like that. 

He is… lowering the window. I believe he means to...yup, he’s winding up his arm to throw the tape recorder out into the sand wastes. Well I never! If he had problems with my reporting, then he could submit a complaint by delivery crow like any other citizen! This is—

#

The radio broadcast disappears into the desert. Jon is sweating—not from exertion, but from fear, droplets beading on his forehead. He wipes it with his shirt sleeve. Or maybe it’s just that this is the desert, and the air conditioning on the bus is beginning to strain. The scenery had been different, when he woke up—dry, parched soil, cracks in the earth. Lots of cacti. 

“I was listening to that,” someone says, leaning over the seat in front of him. “Why’d you throw it out the window?” 

“It wouldn’t turn off,” Jon says, hoarsely. His mouth is dry from sleep. The someone speaking to him is impossibly tall and radiates a black light. “Helen?” 

The stranger scrunches their face up. “What? No. I’m Erika.” 

“Oh,” Jon says, for lack of anything else to say. “Are you… with the Spiral?” 

Another face pops up from the other seat in front of him. “You should probably stop speaking to Erika, dear,” the old woman says, kindly. “We’re within town limits.” 

“What?” Jon says. 

“Angels don’t legally exist in Night Vale,” the old woman says again. “You don’t want the Sheriff’s Secret Police pulling you the moment you get off the bus—unless, of course, you’re interested in the free HBO, in which case I’m sure Erika would love to chat.” 

“Oh, so there are angels now,” Jon says, because that’s the part of the sentence he can comprehend. 

“There have always been angels,” the old woman says. 

“Right. Okay,” Jon says, because the last two years of his life have been horror upon horror culminating in the knowledge that there is only a vast and alien thing adjacent to their reality that desires only to taste their fear. In the world that Gerard described, in the world that Jon has lived, there is no room for angels. 

Erika smiles at him. Jon finds it ominous. He turns to the old woman instead, who is also smiling, looking perfectly benevolent. Jon can’t find it in himself to trust old ladies these days, not after learning about Gertrude. But Gertrude, for all her faults, was trying to save the world. So. 

“Can I take your statement?” he asks. “Both of you.” 

The old woman looks at him, and it was the sort of look that Jon remembered from his grandmother, every once in a while, the sort of steely-eyed judgment, as if he was being weighed and found wanting. “What’s a statement?” she says. 

“Er,” Jon says. “Like a recording?” He hadn’t expected them to say no. 

“On what tape recorder?” Erika asks. 

“Another one will turn up, they always do,” Jon says, resigned to the idea of it. Chucking the recorder out the window was only ever a temporary reprieve. 

“Like Cecil and his microphones,” the old woman says, nodding. “Well, I’ve been on NVCR enough, I don’t mind being on your podcast.” 

“It’s not a podcast!” Jon says. 

“So you say another tape recorder will turn up,” Erika says. “That means I can finish listening to Cecil’s show, then.” 

“Probably? I don’t know? Who’s Cecil?” Jon says, in rapid succession. 

“We were just listening to him, dear, that was his voice on the radio,” the old woman says. “He reports on everything going around town—Night Vale Community Radio. He’s a sweetheart.”

“Oh,” Jon says. “Does he report on every new person who comes into town?” 

“He reports on everything relevant,” the old woman says. “He’s a very thorough radio host.” 

“I like it best when he reports on his boyfriend,” Erika says, matter of factly. 

“Carlos, right?” Jon says, losing the thread of this conversation and clinging to the faint hope of extracting some information. Maybe the pair is of the Spiral. 

The old woman nods. “Yes, the scientist. Would you like a statement about him?”

Jon hesitates. He would like a statement. This Carlos sounds like the Carlos that the Usher Institute was speaking about. But a secondhand statement about Carlos is inferior to another thing. “Do you know his address?”  

“He’s in the big warehouse in the science district, next to Big Rico’s pizza,” Erika says cheerfully. “Tell him we say hello!” 

“Sure,” Jon says. 

“Stop talking to Erika,” the old woman scolds. “What did I tell you about the secret police!” 

#

Statement of Jonathan Sims, Head Archivist of the Magnus Institute, regarding his arrival to the...town? City? Suburb? of Night Vale, dated…. July….er. I don’t know how long I was on the bus, actually. 

This town is strange. All small towns are strange, in their own way, their character decided by some accumulation of the inhabitants psyches, the way that they look at outsiders askance. Here in the desert, they’re even stranger. The hot sunlight reflecting off windows and creating wavering heat reflections off the asphalt, the sidewalks stretching long and languid and endless. This is not a town that invites outsiders. 

The secret police were waiting for me when I stepped off the bus, their faces masked by black balaclavas, their bodies like black leather monoliths. “Heard you were talkin’ to angels,” one of them said, and it was impossible to see which of them spoke. 

“What angels?” I said. 

They stared at me for a long moment. I felt sweat beading on my forehead. 

“Proceed,” one of them said. "Interloper," another of them hissed. Another of them stepped forward, and I felt like I couldn’t move. 

“You dropped this,” she said, and handed me the tape recorder I am speaking... on... now...

Jon gets three streets from the bus depot before the radio starts playing again, this time from his phone rather than his tape recorder. He trails off anyway, pressing pause on his own recording. It’s getting hard to talk, anyway, trying to walk and record in this heat. He’s not accustomed to the desert, he realizes. He hadn’t realized how taxing it would be, even when he tries to stick to the shaded side of the street. 

He braces himself for the radio to speak about him again, but the host—Cecil—seems mostly concerned with the pile-up on Route 22, where there are dark-robed cultists handing out Triple A brochures written on vellum and sparkly purple pen. Apparently the concerning part here is that pens are outlawed. 

After giving the screen one last glance at google maps, Jon shoves his phone in his pocket, deep as he can push it, to muffle the radio. He thinks he knows the way from here—a mile from the bus station he was dropped at, near enough that he thought walking would be better than trying to figure out the city bus system or getting a taxi. His encounters with Night Vale citizens have left him unnerved, like they’re speaking a dialect that he does not understand. 

He’s not scared yet, other than the fear that dogs his every step, that he tamps down because he needs to be functional, because he wants to understand, because the fear of others is interesting to him, even when it provokes a response in himself. 

The streets seem… normal, almost. Normal for the American southwest, Jon assumes, different from the east coast, but there are shops, traffic signs, pedestrians, cars. He can’t help the feeling that he is being watched, though, and the feeling grows as the sky starts to turn pink and orange and dark blue. Sunset. He fishes out his phone to check the time: it’s saying 11:32 AM. 

He’s maybe a little afraid, but he keeps walking. What else is there to do? At least the heat is cooling with nightfall. He now wishes he had brought a jacket. 

He passes a long stretch of streets that smell deliciously of espresso, where young men and women in aprons sit languidly on stoops and at counters, watching him with intense eyes that gleam in the growing dark. He walks quickly, and a few crosswalks away, he finds himself standing in front of BIG RICO’S PIZZA. 

The building next to it is a large brick warehouse with a heavy looking door. It has a sign on it that says “DANGER: SCIENCE.” 

Jon knocks on the door. It echoes. Someone calls a muffled Coming! , and he can hear footsteps approach. Jon braces himself mentally. Angels, old women, strange radio hosts, roving packs of baristas, secret police. He’s been in town for less than an hour—he doesn’t want to know what a scientist looks like in this town. 

The door swings open, revealing a slightly harried, handsome man with beautiful hair and glasses, wearing a lab coat on top of a collared shirt and khakis. 

“Yes?” the scientist says. “Can I help you?” 

“You’re...Carlos?” Jon says, guessing from the descriptions he’s received. 

Carlos nods. “Are you here about the plumbing?” 

“I’m from the Usher Foundation, well, technically the Magnus Institute, and—” Jon says, before Carlos cuts him off. 

“The Usher Foundation! That’s a name I haven’t heard in a while. Come in, I guess,” Carlos says, gesturing for Jon to step inside. 

#

CARLOS: Can I get you anything? Coffee? 

JON: Er, sure. Do you mind if I record? 

[Rustling, as if someone is rummaging around a bag. A quiet Aha!

CARLOS: I think it’s already recording. 

JON: Oh damn. It, er, does that. 

[Sounds of coffee being made, mugs clinking. A mumbled sit wherever , the sound of a chair scraping.] 

JON: You’re taking this all rather calmly. 

CARLOS: What? The arrival of a mysterious, mildly disheveled stranger at my doorstep seeking answers, who works for a mysterious academic organization with a respectable veneer? 

(bemused) JON: Well. Yes, that. 

CARLOS: That’s a Thursday, in this town. Except for when Thursday doesn’t exist for tax purposes, or we’re in the dot of the i in the Jeremy Bearimy. 

(even more bemused) JON: What? 

(laughing) CARLOS: Just a joke. I’ve been watching The Good Place with Cecil—anyway, time isn’t real in Night Vale. My point is that you’re no man in the tan jacket. 

JON: I don’t understand what anyone in this town is saying. 

CARLOS: Sorry. Cecil’s told me that I sometimes don’t communicate directly enough. Well, he says that scientists don’t talk directly, but I know he means me. Let me try again. My point is that I’ve been in your position, Jon. An outsider rolls into town in the late afternoon, bringing questions and no answers, confused by the locals and their seemingly-arbitrary customs, walking around with strange implements and instruments, lost and slowly becoming found. Are we talking about you, or me? 

JON: Ah. 

CARLOS: Hm. I didn’t mean to say all that. 

JON: It’s...a side effect. 

CARLOS: Of? 

JON: My… position, I suppose. At least I think it is. I’m not sure. I’m new at this, and not particularly good at it. Or well versed in well, any of it. But I’m trying to… fix things. Stop a potential apocalypse. Apocalypses, maybe? That’s why I’m in Night Vale, actually. I’m following up on a lead that there might be an archive here, that there might be some answers. 

CARLOS: You flew halfway around the world for that? 

JON: Well, the apocalypse! 

[Carlos laughing] 

JON: You’re not taking this very seriously. 

CARLOS: You never told me what you wanted. 

JON: You used to work for the Usher Institute. What happened? 

[Silence] 

CARLOS: Are you here to take me back? 

JON: They asked me to follow up on you. 

[Silence, growing radio static for a moment] 

CARLOS: I… don’t think I want to tell you. 

[Radio static growing louder] 

JON: Tell me. 

[RADIO STATIC IS PRACTICALLY DEAFENING] 

JON: Statement of Carlos the Scientist, former employee of the Usher Foundation, taken directly from subje—

SCR E ECH

—Listeners, multiple sources have confirmed to me that while I was distracted talking about the now twenty-car pileup on Route 22 and the ritual sacrificial pyre that the cultists are attempting to raise, with much chanting of “Glory to the Beams!” and passing out pamphlets, the tourist has visited Carlos’ workshop , and he is sitting in the break room and he is trying to get Carlos on his podcast! 

Listeners. I don’t ask you for much, but I ask for your forgiveness now, as I leave the recording booth in the capable hands of Intern Vincent to go into the field. 

ISOLATED FROM AN OTHERWISE INCOMPREHENSIBLE TAPE FILLED WITH STATIC AND WHAT SOUNDED LIKE THE BABBLING OF HUMAN VOICES DISCORDANTLY CRYING 

THE VOICE OF NIGHT VALE: He’s mine, Archivist! 

THE HEAD ARCHIVIST OF THE MAGNUS INSTITUTE: What are you? 

THE VOICE OF NIGHT VALE: YOU DON’T GET TO TOUCH HIM. 

[Audio incomprehensible from this point forward] 

#

Jon dreams of a dark planet, lit by no sun. 

He blinks, and the dark planet is now a massive eye, the same color as his own, and it is moving closer, and he feels the oppressive weight of being watched, the skin-peeling feeling of being known, and he can’t move away from the laser-focus of the eye’s gaze, and he is scared , now, properly scared, except as soon as he feels the fear it is melting away, replaced with an intense and uncomfortable curiosity , uncomfortable in how familiar it is, and the scene changes and he is the eye looking down on his now-small form, and—

Jon wakes up gasping. 

“Oh, sorry, did the weather wake you? It’s going to be thunderstormy tomorrow, can’t help that.” 

Jon catalogues the current situation: headache, what sounds like… quiet rock music, in the background, something soft underneath him, a blanket on top of him, the voice from the radio very near his head. Jon’s eyes snap open. He scrambles to sit up, kicking the blanket into disarray. 

Cecil leans back. “Whoops! Wow, you’re jumpy!” 

Jon’s eyes dart around the room, glancing down at himself back up at Cecil. “Where am I? Where did you take me?” 

“You’re in my office,” Cecil explains. “After our little disagreement, I took you back here. The Secret Police wanted to bring you in for questioning, and also me for questioning, but I smoothed everything over and explained that it was just a little shop talk between radio professionals—although really, a podcast —and that I would be taking you back to the station to show you around.” 

“Not a podcast,” Jon says absently, preoccupied by looking around. The office looks… like a normal office. There are windows, and a large desk with an antique microphone sitting proudly in front of the desk chair, along with a computer at least two generations out of date and some sound mixing equipment. Lots of wires. The couch he’s sitting on is a little threadbare, but not uncomfortable. The blanket is proudly emblazoned with NVCR in black across blue. 

It reminds him of the archives. For a moment, he’s achingly homesick for the basement offices that he usually spends most of his time in. His desk and his chair and the assistants—except maybe not as they are now , but the archives before. When Sasha still existed, and Tim didn’t hate him, and Martin… well, actually, Martin’s never been anything but nice to him, which Jon, in retrospect, probably didn’t deserve. When he didn’t know Melanie or Basira or Daisy, when Georgie and him hadn’t talked in years—although that’s a welcome change, he supposes, being able to talk with her again. He misses being able to discount the statements, though. He misses not being scared. 

Cecil looks mild-mannered and cheerful, and it’s almost enough to make Jon forget their first encounter, but he tells himself that he can’t forget: Cecil is enough a person to come to his boyfriend’s rescue. Cecil is enough… something else, where he was able to mentally overwhelm Jon, and Jon can’t let down his guard now. “What happened?” Jon asks, pushing the blanket aside. 

“Well really ,” Cecil says. “You can’t just go interrogating people’s boyfriends. It’s rude, and there’s a monopoly on interrogations by the City Council, which outsourced ‘general interrogative activities’ to the Night Vale Green Market Co-op, so unless you’re a government contractor, mister, you can’t just go probing important members of the community’s brains like that.” 

“I wasn’t probing ,” Jon protests. “I was just asking him some questions! He used to work for the organization I work for.” 

“ There is no such thing as just a question ,” Cecil intones, in what Jon now realizes is his radio voice. “Every question invites answers , and knowledge is the most dangerous weapon of all. You should know that by now.” 

He leans forward, and Jon flinches on instinct, but Cecil just picks up the tape recorder wedged in the seat next to Jon and presses the Stop button decisively. Jon swallows. 

“Sorry,” Jon says weakly. “Would you believe it if I said I have no idea how that got there?” 

Cecil examines the tape recorder, walking away from Jon and sitting back in his office chair. “Well, there’s always growing pains. I remember manifesting notepads everywhere, gee Cecil, how embarrassing! ” 

Jon stares at Cecil. Cecil beams back. 

“You’re like me,” Jon says. “You’re the archivist for...this town. Whatever archive it holds.” 

“If you’re wanting the archives, they’re under City Hall,” Cecil says, helpfully. “But you have to make sure to bring a flashlight with you, and a waterproof cloak.” 

“You’re avoiding the question. How are you avoiding the question? What are you?” 

Cecil’s smile turns to something sharper. His eyes seem to change color, but Jon can’t remember what color they were before, and suddenly Cecil doesn’t look so much like an everyman as much as he does an everyman , the friendly face next to you, jotting scribbles down on his notepad, the sympathetic face asking questions across the coffee table, the man on the radio telling you about the latest disaster in such hypnotic tones that you are paralyzed despite your fear. 

When Cecil speaks again, his mouth doesn’t move. His voice comes out of the antique silver microphone. 

“What do you think I am, Jon? What do you think you are? ” 

The words spill out of Jon’s mouth without any hesitation, before he can stop himself. “I don’t know anymore. I think… that I’m a monster. No, I’m becoming a monster, and I am trying to stop the end of the world in the hands of the Stranger, and I am afraid , both of failure and of walking down this path I was forced to travel on, and with every step I take my…. god , my entity, the Eye takes more out of out of me, and I don’t know what it is replacing in return.” 

Jon forces himself to shut his mouth. It takes physical effort, and the muscles in his jaw hurt with the effort of holding them shut. He glares at Cecil, who is watching him avidly. 

Cecil grins. “Huh, neat!” he says, this time with his mouth. 

“What?” Jon says, the spell broken and his mouth able to move freely again. 

“Oh, nothing,” Cecil says, and now he’s back to being a man-shaped-man in a man’s body. “Just wasn’t sure how much you knew, and how much it would be safe to give you—I knew what you were , but I didn’t know what you believed about yourself, and, let me guess, now you’re about to ask me again about what I am?” 

“Maybe,” Jon says, trying not to sound defensive. 

“And you’d ask me what’s wrong with Night Vale—which, rude , we are quite proud of our little desert community here!” 

“Maybe,” Jon says again, failing to sound defensive. 

“Well, there’s…” Cecil spins around in his chair to look at the computer. “Only thirty seconds left on the weather, and, hm, it is history week again, so how about this—” 

Cecil glances back and grins. His voice echoes from the microphone. 

“How do you feel about my broadcasting a statement?” 

JON: Statement of Cecil Palmer, recorded direct from subject, broadcast simultaneously on subject’s radio program—

CECIL: Not my radio program, Night Vale Community Radio

JON: Sorry, Night Vale Community Radio, July er…

CECIL: 28th

JON: Right, July 28th, 2018. Regarding his nature, and the nature of Night Vale. Statement taken directly—

CECIL: Statement given directly by— 

JON: Oh would you just let me record! 

CECIL: Accuracy is important! That’s one of the first things a reporter learns. This is being broadcast live, Jon.  

JON: (Sighs) Fine, statement given directly by subject. Now can you start? 

CECIL: Welcome back, listeners. I hope you have not missed the dulcet tones of my voice. 

[in the background, Jon snorts] 

(unphased) CECIL: We have a guest in the studio, listeners. Well, we have always had a guest in the studio, just as we always have a guest in all of our homes—shoutout to the Faceless Old Woman! But I mean to say that i have had a specific guest in the studio with me today, who has asked me about my career and home. 

CECIL: The tourist and I have resolved our professional differences, and I am happy to report that he is sitting–no, now he’s standing—behind me as we record. I’ve agreed to answer his questions, listeners, or at least as many of his questions as I feel like answering, or until station management begins to voice its upset. Fortunately, I’ve got intern Alessandra keeping an eye on things, and she’s agreed to give me the signal—the signal being repeated hooting and hollering—if things get a little too... energetic outside. 

CECIL: And to the family of Vincent Lee, we regret to inform you that your son was lost in the line of community radio duty, having forgotten to read the manual before using the copy machine. He will be missed, and never forgotten. Now, to answer my guest’s questions, we go back to—

JON: Sorry, what? Your intern died? Died died

CECIL: Well, the copy machine is very temperamental. 

(incredulous) JON: No, wait. He died , like, half an hour ago, and you’re just on the radio again? You have a new intern already? 

CECIL: It’s a very competitive program, Jon. There’s always more applicants—I was an intern myself, once, and it’s a great stepping stone in a young person’s career if they survive it—

JON: If? 

CECIL: An intern’s life is dangerous. Life, as a whole, is dangerous. Surviving is not a given but an if. 

[Silence] 

CECIL: You look like you have questions. Listeners, my guest is standing over me right now. He mostly looks confused, and tired, and like has spent a long time with too little sleep and too much worry. And he looks angry. But not a hot anger, more like an anger like banked coals, or the anger of simmering water, formless and directed only by the vessel it is in. 

JON: It’s—no. I don’t have a question. Well, I have a lot of questions, but, nevermind. Go on. 

CECIL: No, go ahead! Ask. 

JON: Alright, fine! I just don’t understand how you, well, how you have a boyfriend! 

[Silence, but this time with a different energy] 

CECIL: Well, there comes a time in every man’s life, when he sees a handsome scientist—

JON: Not like that! I mean like… I don’t understand how you are what you are and still...still have love? Still be capable of love? You’re the same as whatever I am, you’re more powerful than what I am, I’m pretty sure you’re also of the Eye, and you seem happy with it, which, great! Great for you! Great that you're having a great time! But how on earth does that square with having a boyfriend? 

[Silence, with a third, entirely distinct energy] 

CECIL: In the immortal words of one of the quintessential dance tunes from the 1990s performed by Haddaway, “What is love? Baby don’t hurt me.” 

CECIL: What is love, listeners? What is it about the nature of love that makes the threat of harm so integral to its existence? If we were to pry open the human heart from its delicate cage and carefully carve into it with a scalpel, we would find no evidence of love. If I were to open my skull and scoop out the throbbing electric fat-and-protein jello that we call a brain, there would be no evidence of the feeling I have when Carlos smiles at me. 

CECIL: And it was because of that love that when Carlos lay in Lane Five of the Desert Flower Bowling Alley and Arcade Fun Complex,  when Carlos dove into the featureless black cubes that made up the condos, when Carlos was stranded in the desert otherworld, only reachable by call, text, or tumblr message, that I was afraid. That Carlos, perfectly imperfect Carlos, would be gone, only to exist in my memory, and that no amount of watching could save him. Love is not the antithesis of fear, listeners. It is the preamble to it. 

CECIL: I broadcast these words to you at their pre-appointed times because I love Night Vale, just as many of you, sweet citizens, love Night Vale. And I broadcast because I fear for Night Vale. I fear, in the non-immortal words of my past self, for anyone caught between what they know and what they don’t yet know that they don’t know.

CECIL: The tragedy of our lives is that we are alive, and that our lives are so fleeting , the soap bubble of existence on top of a cruel and uncaring dimension full of untold horrors that invade our dreams and waking nightmares. But like a soap bubble, our lives are iridescent , and it is because of that fragility that they are. 

CECIL: Do you have someone to hold at night? Pull them close, and fear for when they are gone. Be thankful you have someone to fear for. 

CECIL: Wow. We have gone way over time, sorry listeners! I can see Intern Alessandra hooting and hollering, but unfortunately, it was impossible to hear them through the thick, soundproof glass separating my office from the rest of the station. Still, better not make Station Management angrier! Stay tuned next for the sounds of fifteen horse hooves stamping in perfect rhythm. 

Cecil hits a button on the switchboard and then spins out of his chair, dashing to the door and flinging it open, which fills the room with some sort of inhuman moaning that is coming from the hallway. Jon flinches when he hears it, jarred out of the almost fugue state that the broadcast had put him in. He feels pretty bad now, about what he asked—about how he asked. Cecil scares him. But Cecil is still a person. Just like Jon is still a person, he hopes. 

“SORRY THE BROADCAST RAN LATE!” Cecil yells down the hall. “NOT ALESSANDRA’S FAULT! MY BAD!” 

More inhuman moaning. 

“YES I KNOW, LOOK, I’LL JUST BORROW SOME MINUTES FROM SATURDAY’S BROADCAST, IT’LL BE FINE! ” 

A low grumbling that quickly subsides. Cecil waves a hand at what is presumably Intern Alessandra, who is leaning against the wall trying to catch her breath. “Good work today, Alessandra! Take the rest of the night off!” 

Alessandra looks up and smiles at Cecil. “Thanks, boss—by the way, your boyfriend called during the broadcast.” 

“Oh, I better call him back, thanks for the heads up,” Cecil says, walking back to the office where Jon is now looking at the bookcases, pretending that he wasn’t watching Cecil just a few seconds ago. There are old paperbacks, cassette tapes, lots of neatly labeled CDs. 

“We never got to your original questions, but you know, the broadcast goes where it wants to go,” Cecil says, apologetically. 

“No, you were… very helpful,” Jon says, and finds himself meaning it completely. It feels like he’s been given a truth, but he’s not sure quite what. “I’m sorry I, er, blew up at you. That was very unprofessional.” 

Cecil waves a hand. “I asked, didn’t I? And, hey—now I get to ask. So I’m guessing you’re single?” He’s grinning, like he’s Georgie, teasing him about his lack of romantic prospects, or Tim giving him shit, back when they were both in Research. As if he’s not a radio-voiced avatar of fear. 

“Well, considering I was mostly living between my ex-girlfriend’s apartment and the spare room in my workplace,” Jon says dryly. 

“Ouch,” Cecil says with feeling. “Well, just remember that most people appreciate honesty, forthrightness, and not being ‘stalked over the radio,’ according to Carlos, but whatever .” 

“I’ll… keep that in mind,” Jon says. He’s not going to tell Cecil that the closest thing he has to a romance right now is the fact that Georgie is still talking to him. Maybe Martin...No. Martin’s just nice to everyone, paranoid, losing-their-mind archivists included. He wouldn’t deserve Martin anyway. 

“Anyway, I’ve gotta call Carlos back, but feel free to look around the station, listen to some old tapes. There’s probably the information you want somewhere. ” 

“Sure,” Jon says, mostly for lack of anything else to say. 

Statement of Jonathan Sims, Head Archivist of the Magnus Institute, regarding what I have learned from the archives at Night Vale Community Radio, dated July 28, 2018. Not for archiving. 

JON: The archives here are… well, it’s not exactly an archive, and more like Cecil’s haphazard collection of old recordings, transcripts, and research. He at least saved the electronic files in clearly labeled folders...TOWN HISTORY is one of them. As is MY PERSONAL LIFE and… JAWS FANFICTION. I didn’t open that last one. 

JON: The records and transcripts in TOWN HISTORY speak of a settlement that has existed in this location for thousands of years, as far back as 4000 B.C. Cave paintings outside of town depict “dark, inhuman, shimmering shapes” which watched the inhabitants from a distance, never moving closer or further away, but their presence always felt, as if there was someone watching, constantly. 

(dryly) JON: Reminds me of the Archives. It sounds like the Eye has had a foothold here since...maybe the dawn of civilization, although 4000 B.C. is as far back as Cecil knows about. Night Vale, in its current incarnation, has only existed since 1745—it failed to be colonized four times before that, something about the area driving people off, but the fifth group stayed, and the town grew like a weed. 

JON: There’s something strange about the descriptions of Night Vale in here, and the descriptions of the events. It’s like the town is in… some sort of perpetual apocalypse. As if the entities are all manifesting themselves here, but only within town borders. But the birth rate, according to these records, and the population, both of these increase decade over decade, ever since the town’s incorporation. 

JON: As if the apocalypse is just a stone in the stream of everyone’s lives, something they can easily divert around. 

JON: And there’s no record of… rituals. Well, there are records of rituals, of all varying types, but none of them succeed. No mention of Smirke's classifications either. Either someone stops them in time, or they’re reversed, or the ritual is completed and all the participants cheer and go home and the world does not change. 

JON: I don’t know what this means. I don’t know what any of this means. And… I don’t have time to read through all of these, right now.  But Gerry was right, this detour was valuable. I’ll ask Cecil for a copy on a thumb drive, maybe? Or for him to send me an email with a zip file. 

JON: He’s...given me a lot to think about. 

JON: ...I also don’t understand why Cecil’s statements record digitally, and all of mine have to be on a tape recorder! Whatever. Statement ends. 

Jon puts his tape recorder down and sighs. Rubs his eyes with the back of his hand and leans back in the desk chair. Every answer just leads to more questions, it feels like. He looks out the door and into the hallway. Cecil is pacing, with his phone to his ear. He’s talking, and smiling. 

Fear and love. The small moments in between the larger crises. The soap bubble skin that we all pretend can stand up to the void. Something to hold onto. 

Jon feels a quiet pang of envy, and swallows it down. He drums his fingers against the desk. He takes out his own phone, and opens up the messages—(2) NEW MESSAGES in his inbox. One is a picture of the Admiral from Georgie, which he appreciates dearly. The other is a text from Martin. 

MARTIN: how’s the detour? 

JON: Informative. Not at all what I expected. 

He doesn’t expect a response, because the text is from a few hours ago, and, well, timezones. But not even thirty seconds later: 

MARTIN: coming home soon, then? 

MARTIN: back to london i mean! 

Jon’s mouth twitches upward in what he would under no circumstances call a smile. 

JON: Yeah. I’ll be back soon.