THE VALE OF MYSTERIES by Walt Doherty
“Nicholas,” LaCroix intoned (LaCroix never simply said something when he could add considerable drama to it), “as much as it pains me . . . ,” here he shivered, “I need to ask a favour.”
“Really? It’s about 8am and the sun’s up. You want me to go get you a Starbucks?”
“Disdain doesn’t become you. Are you sure you don’t want me to find a way to bring – “
“NO! And don’t discuss it anymore. It’s done, learn to live with it!” Nick said angrily.
LaCroix sighed. Ever since his son had regained his mortality he had become downright surly to his former sire, master, whatever the term. “Very well, but will you please hear me out?”
“Yes, sorry,” Nick said, a bit more calmly.”
“I need some help. This small radio station in the American Southwest wants to do a simulcast with CERK’s the NightCrawler. Someplace called Night Vale (http://commonplacebooks.com/). Apparently it receives my NightCrawler broadcasts which have become excessively popular at least locally. One of us has to go visit the place to see what arrangements need to be made. They’ve offered to cover all costs, so the CERK management is all for it.”
Nick had a look on his face that was both bemused and annoyed. It was his turn to sigh, which he did.
“Well, I suppose I owe you. And, besides," he brightened, "Natalie and I can make a romantic trip out of it. We haven’t had a chance to get away since the success of–“
“Please, Nicholas, do spare me the details of your lovely but mundane existence; just let me know if you can fill in for me. I can’t leave Toronto at the moment, nor, as you well know, can I conveniently make any daytime appearances.”
“Oh, Nick, that’s fantastic! I’d love to get out of town. Take you on a picnic. Think of the foods, the sun, the –“
Nick laughed, “Natalie, it’s really just a short business trip for LaCroix –“
“LaCroix! Oh, no. No, no, no, no. You know I don’t want anything to do with him. He nearly brought *me* over when the Lydoveuterine D treatments started working.”
“Oh, don’t worry. He’ll be 2000 miles away. And, he’s finally reconciled himself to the situation. Ha!” he laughed again, “as long as *you* don’t try to bring him back across as well.”
“As if," she said. "I’d as soon stake him.”
"You do have enough vacation time," Natalie asked, just to make sure.
"Nat, I've got enough time that if I shared it with everyone, the entire Division could take a week off."
"Tracy will be all right?"
"Of course," Nick replied, "She's not just a pretty face; she quite capable. Besides, Vachon will keep an eye on her." He chuckled.
Natalie gave him a slightly puzzled look, then added, "Do you think she knows what he is?"
"Oh, no," Nick said, "As good a detective as she is, that's a little outside her experience, don't you think?"
"Um, yes, but then *you* were a little outside my experience."
"Ha, there is that," Nick said smiling.
“How do we get there? It doesn’t seem to be on any map I can find,” said Natalie.
“Here,” replied Nick, “They sent this GPS unit that will direct us to the town. Apparently it’s a bit out of the way and hard to find even if you know where you’re going."
“I still think we ought to take my car. The amount of gas your Caddy guzzles, we’re going to have to stop every 50 miles and it’ll break the deBrabant Foundation’s bank,” said Natalie snarkly.
“Oh, come on now. It’s perfectly comfortable since I’d had it gone over, fixed the heater, repaired the air conditioner, and, since I won’t have to hide in the truck anymore, plenty of room for luggage!”
“Oh, you, fine then,” she said with just a little pout in her voice.
In the Caddy, driving to Night Vale, Natalie and Nick are talking about a number of things.
“This will be a good test of the Lydoveuterine. Nick. Just to test how long its effects last.”
“It’s not permanent?,” Nick said with more than just a trace of fear in his voice. “You said it was -–“
“Yes, I know, and I believe it, but it’s still somewhat experimental. Getting rid of the euphoric side effect really seems to have done double duty and cleared out that strange radical in your cells, but—
“But, there are other contributing factors.”
“Yes, and a main one seems to be the desire to become human again. Well,” she said as she sidled up to him as he was driving, “half the fun is going to be to trying things out.”
She smiled; he smiled back at her and took his right arm off the steering wheel and put it around her shoulder.
“What is this Night Vale place anyway?” Natalie asked.
“It seems like the NightCrawler is an institution there. LaCroix’s more popular than the Pope, if you can believe it.”
“I can; I don’t want to, but I can. Honestly, don’t people have anything else to listen to in the wee hours?”
Nick continued, “I need to check their equipment to see if they have the power, phone lines, whatever, to carry out a simulcast, Also, it sounds like their announcer, Cecil something, is a *big* fan of LaCroix.”
“Humph,” Natalie said, “No accounting for taste. What are their shows like?”
“A bit macabre. I listened to some re-runs over the Internet; it’s sort of like the NightCrawler on acid with a little Twilight Zone and Monty Python,” Nick said. “I should be able to pick their broadcast up on the car radio pretty soon and you can hear for yourself.”
“Sounds like – Well, it sounds like it could be fun, if it’s that strange,” Natalie said smiling slightly.
The two had stopped at a little desert town called Desert Bluffs which apparently is nearby Night Vale. Nick commented as they drove out of the place, “Look how rigid the street grid pattern is. Not very flexible. Seems regimented, don’t you think? A real company town.”
"Sunny, though," Natalie added.
They were pulling into Night Vale just at twilight. Appropriate, Nick thought.
As they turned down the main street, they saw that it was lined with the population as if they were waiting for a parade, complete with signs! “Welcome to Night Vale” “Night Vale Welcomes the NightCrawler”, with people shouting “hello”, and “welcome”.
Nick and Natalie, both a little surprised, waved as they drove. And as they drove up to the small hotel (right next to the Opera House), a small delegation of town officials approached them.
“Welcome, welcome, welcome,” said the Mayor (or the assistant vice mayor, it was never made clear what her position was). After a bit of small talk, Nick and Nat managed to beg off any more duties in order to get to their second floor hotel room.
“Oh, look, Nick,” said Natalie, “ a beautiful sunset out on the patio.”
Nick looked, then he looked out the window on the opposite side of the room. The sun was setting over there as well. “Uh, um,” he started to say something, but then saw he was looking at a dresser mirror. Still, he was sure it had been a window a moment before. Hmmmm.
“Let’s go down to the dining room, Nick. We should have some time to eat before you have to do anything.”
Nick had a puzzled look on his face, “Wasn’t there an elevator just over here on the left?”
“Yes, I’m sure it was,” said Natalie, “but the stairs are right here, and convenient. We can figure that out later.” And she took off toward the stairs; Nick followed.
As they seated themselves in the dining room, speakers overhead turned on and started broadcasting:
"I'm thinking about pain tonight. About what hurts us the most. Perhaps a gunshot wound, a severed limb, or maybe...emotional pain holds the deepest suffering of all. Pride shattered, broken dreams, lost love. Oh yes, the most painful things in the world are those mistakes of the heart, those mistakes we all make in the name of love."
(LaCroix, NightCrawler, http://gryffonslair.com/fk/lccerks2.html).
“Oh, that’s cheery,” said Natalie, “I’ve lost my appetite. Let’s just go to the station.”
“Fine,” said Nick, “let me stop at the restroom first.”
Natalie stood at the receptionist’s desk waiting for Nick, when she spotted him through the window outside starting to cross the street with someone. Before she could react, however, Nick tapped her on her shoulder, saying “Ready?”
Startled, she looked at him and sputtered, but then decided against saying anything. It must have been an illusion, she thought.
Then as they were crossing the street themselves, Natalie turned and looked back at the restaurant and thought she saw herself looking over at them. She shook her head, looked again, but there was nothing but the receptionist in the window there.
As Nick and Natalie approached the radio station, Nick commented that the sun appeared to be stuck in the sky. “Very pretty,” he said, “but does sunset usually last this long out here?”
They entered the radio station’s lobby, were greeted by a staff intern (who looked rather ghastly, half-dead in fact) who asked that they wait a few minutes. They agreed and sat in the comfortable lobby chairs.
Natalie looked out the windows and down the street, where she saw a sixteen foot tall, five headed dragon walking along the street. She gulped, turned toward Nick, poked him in the arm, and pointed out the window. “Oh” he said simply. After all, what can you saw about a sixteen foot tall, five headed dragon, other than the fact that it did not disappear when looked at a second time.
The intern, noticing their surprised looks, said, “Oh, that’s just Hiram. Hiram McDaniels. He’s the chef at the hotel restaurant. He’s pretty good, but he tends to burn things with his breath – Oh, here’s Cecil, our announcer.”
Cecil greeted them and took them into the inner folds of the station and explained a bit about Night Vale. They didn't have a chance to think any more about Hiram!
As they left the station, Cecil told them not to take the subway. They looked somewhat puzzled. Cecil told them it only goes to Desert Bluffs, but no one who has gone down into it has ever returned (Oh, they never returned, no, they’ve never returned, and their fates are still unlearned, they may ride forever 'neath the streets of Night Vale . . . [Apologies to the Kingston Trio]).
Natalie turned to Nick and said, “Why would a town this small have a subway? Nick, does this place strike you as a little strange?”
“Uh, now that you mention it, um, yes,”
Later, after having eaten at a small café between the radio station and the hotel, Nick awoke in the middle of the night with severe cramps. Natalie did not feel all that well herself.
She looked Nick over with her medical eye and told him that it looked like his appendix might burst.
“It can’t burst, Natalie, it’d repair itself immediately even if it did – Oh, wait a minute”
“Yeah, ‘wait a minute’. We need to get you to the hospital. I assume this benighted town has one. Let me ask the night clerk.”
Later in one of the emergency rooms, Nick said to Natalie, “That doctor looks just like Ben Casey.”
“?” she said.
“Oh, Yeah, my memory isn’t what it was, but I remember some things: he was a TV doctor in the nineteen sixties.
“Oh, my, Natalie, I’m soooo hungry.” He looked directly at Natalie’s throat, his eyes were turning golden.
“Nick, you’re reverting. Let me run and get my supplies –“
“Wait, there’s no need Ms. Lambert,” Ben Casey (or at least the doctor who looked like him) said. “We found what was troubling your friend, and we’ve fixed it. He had this strange chemical in his system that was preventing his vampire nature from coming out and repairing things.”
Natalie stuttered, “V-, v-, vampire?”
“Oh, Yes,” said the doctor. “We had this happen before. This Hungarian Count was passing through and we needed to help repair his anatomy. We've treated vampires, werewolves, people with imaginary diseases, diseases for imaginary people.
"You’re very lucky, young man. Otherwise, you might have been doomed to stay human. But as I’ve said, we’ve corrected that permanently, so you won’t have to worry anymore. And we’ve got a box of blood packs that should hold you over for a while. Your insurance company ought to cover it, so, no problem. You can leave anytime, you’re o.k. now.
Natalie’s mouth hung open, Nick looked bewildered. Nick said to her before she could speak, “Come on, let’s get the Caddy, and get out of here. You can give me a physical later, we need to leave”. She just nodded in agreement, and they practically ran to the hotel, got their things, and got to the Caddy.
“Oh my, Natalie. Do you think all your work and my efforts have been turned on their head?"
“No idea, Nick, but that your incisors dropped down when you saw the blood. We’ll just have to wait till we get back to Toronto so I can run some tests.
“Uh, Nick," Natalie said hesitantly, "you don’t think this was a plot by LaCroix . . .”
“I wouldn’t put it past him, Nat, but this seems to be outside his realm of knowledge, even for him.”
“Well, I know what to tell LaCroix,” said Nick, and paused.
“Yes,” said Natalie, looking at him expectantly.
“If Night Vale and CERK want to do a simulcast, the Night Vale guys are going to have to come to Toronto,” he said firmly.
Natalie nodded in agreement, and then laughed lightly.
It was Nick’s turn to look at her expectantly.
“Oh, just think what fun it would be to introduce LaCroix to Hiram!”
“That’s not funny,” Nick said, but he was smiling.
“Let’s get out of this place,” he said. And, they left as quickly as they could.