The bloodletting was just getting started when outside the operating room, in the locker where she’d stowed it, Ann’s cell began to ring.
“Umm,” she said, her hands up by her head as sterile procedures dictated. The roomful of doctors, nurses, and members of an ancient and powerful cult that she was supposed to pretend she didn’t know about all stared at her. “Sorry. That’s mine. Let’s just keep going.”
“Isn’t that the Parks Department ringtone?” asked the slender figure in the scarlet robes with a face Ann knew she must never look at.
“Nope,” Ann said.
“It is,” the less slender figure in the silver robes said. “I recognize it. Your phone plays ‘You’re My Best Friend’ by Queen when Leslie calls.”
“Though Queen is forbidden in Night Vale,” the figure in the scarlet robes said.
“Though Queen is forbidden,” the figure in the silver robes quickly agreed. They shot Ann a look as they said it though with something that one a more human face might have been considered a wry smile. Ann and the figure in silver robes both knew that the figure in scarlet robes listened to a Best of Queen album as they drove to work. The carpool lane revealed a lot of secrets.
“Leslie set that ringtone,” Ann said. “That wasn’t me, that was Leslie.”
“How surprising,” Dr. Milano muttered under his breath. Ann shot a warning look in his direction.
“You should pick up,” the figure in the black robes who looked and sounded like former president Gerald Ford but probably was not. “Your friend could need you.”
“It’s fine,” Ann said emphatically. The cell stopped ringing. After a pause it started again. “I’m here to do my job.”
“Your job isn’t everything,” the figure in the scarlet robes said. “You have to work at friendships or they will fall apart.”
“Are we going to cut out this guy’s second heart at some point?” Janice asked.
“I am in quite a lot of pain at the moment,” the patient added.
The figure in the black robes who wasn’t Gerald Ford raised their arms for silence. “Besides,” they said to Ann, “if you don’t pick up, she’ll just start calling us.”
The robed figures, the doctors, and several of the nurses all nodded. Janice didn’t, but that was because the patient on the table was currently going into cardiac arrest as one heart appeared to be sinking its newly grown fangs into its parasitic doppelganger and Janice was enough of a rookie nurse that she was still concerned about routine occurrences like that.
Ann raised her hands higher, this time in defeat. “Fine, fine. But you all should pick up her calls sometime,” she shot over her shoulder as she scrubbed out. “She just wants to help this city.”
Almost as one, everyone in the room shuddered at the thought.
The cell was still ringing by the time Ann made it to the locker, pulled it out, and put it to her ear. “Leslie? Leslie? What’s wrong?” Ann asked.
“Your life,” said the voice on the other end.
“April?” Ann snapped off her gloves and shoved them in the biohazard bin, next to the used opals bin, next to the bin where they put the old memories that they didn’t want to think about anymore. “Why are you calling from Leslie’s phone?”
“I’m not April. I’m you from the future telling you that all of your struggles to better yourself are meaningless.”
“Come on, April,” Ann said. “I just talked to me from the future last week and she said that our knitting classes really worked out.”
“Wow, that’s so much sadder than anything I could think of. We need you down at City Hall so you can stop Leslie from doing something stupid.”
Ann’s heart sunk—metaphorically, of course. “Oh God, what is she doing? Put her on the phone.”
“I can’t. She’s not here.”
Ann got the last of her surgical gear off her and rushed out into the hallway towards the exit. “Is she doing the thing that we told her not to ever, ever do?”
Ann dodged a gurney, several frantic nurses, a small girl with no face, and a concerned family thrashing and wailing as she rushed through the existential emergency department. “I thought you tied her down!”
“She got free. It’s not my fault, she’s still got those retractable claws from the pet shelter’s adoption day.”
“That’s not an excuse!” Ann fumbled in her pocket for a gold coin and pressed it into the open mouth of the silent, ever-staring doorkeeper to the hospital. It regarded her with a patience that spoke of centuries and eons which meant that it never moved particularly quickly to open the damn door. “Come on, Fred!” Ann said as it slowly reached one dusty hand to the glass door. “I’ll meet her there,” Ann told April as she danced from foot to foot as Fred slowly pressed open the door. “Maybe I can hit her with my car or something before anything bad happens.”
“That’s the spirit, Ann. You’re such a good friend.”
The door was finally open. “Yes, I am.” She slammed the phone shut (or, more accurately since it was a smart phone, slid the little bar from the left to the right, but she did it very angrily), bowed as quickly as she could to Fred while shooting him a death glare and sprinted out to her car.
“I’m gonna do it,” Leslie had slurred at her last night after shotgunning three light beers and a can of whipped cream. “I’m gonna get us the Dog Park.”
“How about you do anything else?” Ann had suggested, or had intended to suggest, but Ann had about six of the extremely pink and mysterious drinks that Tom had blended up so what had actually come out of Ann’s mouth might have been something more like, “Yeah, oh my god, totally.” She’d revised that answer in the morning, of course, and April had been pretty enthusiastic about tying Leslie to a chair until the idea passed, but of course Leslie would still want it. Of course.
Ann just had to get there in time to stop her.
Ann did not get there in time to stop her.
With a feeling that the adults of Romeo and Juliet must have felt when they turned up at the tomb in the final act, as Ann ran out of her car towards the Dog Park, she could see that she was already too late. There was Leslie, hands switching between being planted firmly on her hips and wildly flapping about as she made what looked like a very passionate case to the City Council, there as a legion of robes and shadows and power who looked like they wanted to be anywhere else but here. One member looked like it was glancing Ann’s way so Ann dove into an impromptu combat roll a tree before they could see her.
Ann never claimed to have an abundance of pride.
“The people of Night Vale need a dog park!” Leslie was shouting at the hooded figures who were by now leaning as far back from her as they could without actually stepping/crawling/gliding away. “A real dog park. For real dogs or doglike creatures. Not the plastic bags that City Council keeps leaving in the pet shelter.”
“Those are real—” the teenage voice that occasionally served as the Council’s voice and a minor chaos deity started to say.
“Shut up, Pikitus, we know that it was a pack of wild dogs roaming through the streets last year,” Leslie snapped. “You can’t trick people into thinking dogs are plastic bags and plastic bags are dogs. You know why? Because dogs are adorable, Council members. Because dogs are adorable.” She was particularly emphatic on that last point, punctuating each word by slamming her fist into her other hand.
“Oh my god,” Ann said to herself. “She’s going to die.”
Ann was Leslie’s best friend. She’d been assigned to Leslie by City Council and everything. So Ann should definitely step in right now and stop her from getting murdered, but on the other hand, as a good counter argument, no, she shouldn’t because then Ann would get murdered too. Leslie wouldn’t want that. Yeah, Leslie definitely wouldn’t want that.
Fine, Ann was a coward, but give her a break. She was new(ish) to Night Vale, and newcomers didn’t live long in this town by being brave. Neither did oldcomers. In fact, no one should ever be brave ever. There was a reason Tamika Flynn was a hero and the rest of them were just here. And Ann was okay with that, she really was. But Leslie was about to die and, God, Ann would have to do something about that, wouldn’t she?
“And furthermore,” Leslie said while Ann scrambled for a plan (the words, “Flash your tits and run,” kept going through her head for some reason), “Puppies? Even more adorable. They should all be legal again because they’re super adorable. And they keep the raccoon population in check, and we’ve lived under the raccoons’ reign of terror too long. There’s only one reign of terror that we should be living under, and that is the rightfully and democratically elected reign of terror of City Hall. Did you vote for these raccoons? Did you?”
She stared at City Council until Greg Pikitus said hesitantly, “No?”
“Shut up, Pikitus. The raccoon situation is unbearable, Council members. We can’t just keep sending Andy out to infiltrate their gangs and take them down from the inside. They recognize him as human now. They took his left hand as trophy which, by the way, the Sheriff’s Secret Police has failed to replace as they promised. And sure, his pirate impression is hilarious, and, yes, he and his wife seem happier than ever, but watching Captain Surt Flaplin, the Pirate King, raid the children’s birthday parties at the Night Vale Community Pool is not what this community needs. This community needs a dog park. So.” Leslie held her arms out in a generally threatening gesture at the universe. “Let’s do this. Let’s tango. Let’s go. Let’s rock. Let’s rock with our, you know, you got the point. Also please send Andy a new hand, thank you.”
The pause that followed was the longest, most uncomfortable moment of Ann’s life this week, excluding that thing that Tom did with the dancing and the darkness of the night. (Ever since Night Vale, Ann found she had to disclaim her extreme statements a lot more.) Leslie looked as passionate and self-righteous as City Council looked vaguely embarrassed. Ann held her breath and tried not to hope for the best. This was a Thursday, after all, and the universe was statistically more likely to crush your hopes on a Thursday. Carlos the Scientist had talked about it on the radio just last week. “I don’t understand how it’s possible,” he’d said in the tone of voice most newcomers to Night Vale made their permanent accent for a while, a mixture of confusion and resignation to said confusion. “This is not something that should be real. But it is. So that’s, uh, that’s the Children’s Science Corner, I guess. How’s that, Cecil?”
He could have been describing Leslie Knope. She was the most impossible thing in this town. Mostly it seemed impossible that she wasn’t dead yet.
“The dog park,” the City Council said as one, their voices a horrible cacophony that made Ann’s skin want to rip itself off and run away, “is forbidden to dogs.”
“Well, duh doy,” Leslie said.
So right now, option A for Ann’s Desperate Plan to Save Leslie From Her Own Bad Choices involving chucking the rock at Ann’s feet at Leslie’s head. Maybe if Leslie was physically incapable of speaking due to unconsciousness or maybe just searing pain, that would smooth everything over. But just as Ann was seriously considering following through on this, the City Council did a strange thing. All the members looked at each other. And then they shrugged. “The dog park is off limits. Make your own.”
“Well, double duh—wait, what?”
“Wait, what?” Ann echoed.
“The empty lot by Rico’s,” City Council said lazily. “We were going to turn it into a bloodrune site, but, eh, we’ve already got like eighteen of those, and bloodrunes are sooooooo passé these days anyway. Cursed amulets—that’s where it’s at.” They shrugged again and it looked like simultaneously like crows around a body flapping their wings and like a group of middle-aged bureaucrats who just wanted to get to lunch. “Make the lot a dog park if you want.”
Leslie closed her gaping mouth and looked around like she still wanted to fight something but wasn’t sure what to fight about. “Before I say yes—”
“Leslie! Just say yes!” Ann shouted before she could stop herself. Everyone as one turned to look at her. Her body still nine-tenths behind a tree, Ann smiled tightly, waved, and wished that she was dead so she wouldn’t get murdered.
“Ann, my sweet beach sunset, makes a good point,” Leslie said. “Also, hi, Ann!”
“Hi, Leslie!” Ann said back because even if she did want to crawl into the ground and never come out again, it was hard to ignore that much positivity when it was all aimed in your direction.
“You look so great!” Leslie said.
“Thanks!” Ann replied. “I got a haircut.”
“Ann, the inches of your hair on the floor of Hair Today are the prettiest inches of hair in this town.”
Ann beamed, remembered City Council, and stopped.
Leslie turned back to the Council now. “Before I accept your generous deal, I need to sort some things out. Will you lift the ban on dogs and doglike creatures?”
The City Council looked at each other again. “Just say yes,” came one small voice in the back. “I haven’t eaten since like ten.”
“I’m counting that as a legal binding resolution,” Leslie said quickly. “Also can we get a hand?”
“Will any hand do?” asked City Council.
“I know I should say no because this is how you guys get us,” Leslie said, “but Andy did some serious damage to himself last week when he tried to blow his nose so, yes, we’ll take any hand that is not from an employee of the Parks department or a nonhuman species or evil.”
“And then you will be happy?” City Council asked.
“Until the next problem!” Leslie laughed. No one else did.
“Very well,” City Council said as the sky grew darker around them. “The pact is sealed.”
Ten minutes later, when the Council had scuttled off and the mess had mostly been taken care of, Ann came out from behind her tree and joined Leslie sitting on the bench, cradling Greg Pikitus’s hand like a baby. “So do you feel bad about this at all?” Ann asked.
“Nope!” she said happily. “Hey, Pikitus, try vandalizing with just one hand!” She cackled triumphantly.
“That’s pretty dark,” Ann said. Leslie just grinned and held the hand up until Ann rolled her eyes and, smiling, high-fived it. “I thought they were going to kill you.”
“Nah,” Leslie said. “Also yeah, that was a serious possibility. But the people deserve a dog park, Ann. They deserve a dog park.”
They sat quickly for a moment and thought about the improbability of survival. Every moment of every day was a chance to die, and the only surety of the world was that sooner or later one of those moments would come for you. But that couldn’t stop you from living, Ann thought as she sat on the bench with her best friend. That couldn’t stop you from fighting to make life better.
“We need to sew that hand onto Andy like right now or it’s just going to be a dead mass of flesh,” Ann said.
“Yup, that just occurred to me,” Leslie said.