Carlos’s third date with Cecil is not cancelled on account of the sandstorm, but there is a slight change of venue. Because, as Cecil breathlessly but cheerfully explains over the phone, his shoes are kind of soaked through with blood tonight, and also the Night Vale Pinkberry is partially submerged in debris, and that’s totally fourth date material.
(Carlos, who had been listening to Cecil’s broadcast from the lab, is already driving to the station when he gets the call. But when he tries to ask about the blood, Cecil just laughs in that self-deprecating way and says that’s what he gets for forgetting to bring his galoshes to a government-engineered weather event.)
Minutes later, Carlos picks up Cecil at the station. And before they drive off, Carlos catches Dana – or Dana’s doppelganger, that’s still not clear – winking at him as they drive off.
Carlos really needs to have a conversation with Cecil about literally broadcasting their plans to the entire town.
Cecil is barely in the car before he’s outlining his new plan for date night: takeout from the Moonlight All Night Diner and a quiet night in back in his place. Carlos, on the other hand, is still stuck on the blood-soaked shoes.
“We should go back to the lab, run some tests,” he says. His lab is actually a repurposed In-N-Out, but that’s beyond the point right now.
Cecil turns to him and smiles in that way that’s part-affectionate, part-condescending. “Carlos,” he says, over-pronouncing every syllable of his name, “if we lost our heads every time a mysterious vortex appeared in our places of business, nothing would ever get done around here.”
Typical Cecil. As usual, nothing seems to faze him. When the station was overrun with boa constrictors last week, Cecil provided up-to-the-minute updates to his faithful listeners, down to the visions that flitted through his oxygen-starved brain while one of the hungry serpents choked him out.
“There could still be adverse effects.” Carlos frowns. “Are you experiencing any headaches? Nausea? Weakness? Disorientation?”
Cecil, whose eyes had glazed over a bit in the middle of the past sentence, only responded, “Have you ever noticed how your voice sounds like a French dark chocolate truffle?”
Carlos is briefly tempted to note that in the ‘disorientation’ column, but on second thought, this is pretty normal for Cecil.
“All the same,” he says slowly, “if something feels off – more off than normal, that is – promise you’ll let me run some—”
As they pull up in front of the Moonlight All Night Diner, Carlos slams on the brakes. The partially-shuttered windows are caked in blood, and on the far left, a hand is pressed against the pane, sliding down and down until it drops out of sight.
Carlos freezes, his fingers locked against the steering wheel. Cecil glances over at him, concerned, then looks to the diner, searching for the cause of his distress.
His face goes blank, confused, as he studies the scene in front of him. Then he brightens. “Oh! Today’s pie is apple pecan!”
Cecil makes the call to the sheriff’s department, and Carlos overhears him lamenting to the dispatcher that he’s so embarrassed, this is so forward, that securing a scene for the Sheriff’s Secret Police is fifth date material, at least. And somehow, before the quarantine trucks arrive, Cecil darts into the diner and emerges with two slices of the apple pecan from the kitchen’s emergency skeleton crew.
Carlos, ever the gentleman, lets Cecil have both.
The date part of date night doesn’t last long. Within half an hour, Cecil is out cold on the arm of the couch after an unsuccessful attempt to ‘shut his eyes for a minute.’ The sun sets, an hour and seventeen minutes later than it should. And Carlos finds himself very much alone.
He shifts, nervous, deeper into Cecil’s voluminous couch cushions. Carlos lives in an apartment complex in what passes for Downtown Night Vale. He can always count on some noise – laughter, conversation, muffled screaming, or rhythmic bloodstone chanting. But Cecil lives in a small house down a long dirt road, with no neighbors but desert and stars and complete, enveloping silence.
Cecil’s ancient television set provides some light, at least, but hardly a comforting one. The sound is broken, and the only channel Cecil gets with any clarity is showing some children’s puppet show Carlos is pretty sure doesn’t actually exist.
After a couple minutes of watching the twisted felt faces onscreen, Carlos switches the television to static. Static is much better. Much brighter, at least.
And beyond the light of the TV, almost beyond the scope of his vision, Carlos sees broad shoulders and a bald head on the other side of the window, just before it shifts to the left and out of sight.
With a sharp gasp, Carlos reaches over and shakes Cecil. The self-professed hard-hitting journalist only makes an incoherent, interrogative sound without opening his eyes.
“Cecil,” Carlos hisses. “There’s a—there’s someone outside, Cecil. He was watching us.”
Cecil cracks an eye open now, looking faintly insulted. “Carlos,” he says, his voice slurred with exhaustion, “I may not be Night Vale’s most handsome and high-profile scientist, but I’m considered a bit of a local celebrity myself, you know. Of course there’s someone outside.”
And with that, he readjusts himself on the couch, his head settled comfortably on Carlos’s shoulder, and goes back to sleep.
Carlos is dumbstruck for a long moment, then quietly, he laughs. Because as Cecil explained to him during the first few weeks of their acquaintance, laughter is a great deal more healthy and productive than hysterical screaming.
It’s quiet in Cecil’s house, but Carlos knows he was mistaken before – it is not silent. He can hear everything now: the blood pounding through his ears, and the stars scraping against the sky. The hum of the overworked television set, the tick of a clock that is not real. And under the sound of their breathing, his and Cecil’s, Carlos hears the inhale and exhale of many more unseen lungs, hiding just out of sight, as if the entire house breathes with them.
Carlos cracks a wry smile, rests an arm around Cecil’s shoulders, and mutters, “Welcome to Night Vale.”