-- the empty asphalt behind the roadblocks is chill and smells of peaches and overturned earth, as if the golden trumpets of chanterelle mushrooms, which cannot grow in our arid desert climate, were exploding from the cracked ground and bringing down a thousand walled towers. A chariot of fire shrieks as it descends from the void of heaven, borne aloft by a bevy four-headed, sixteen-winged angels. Distantly, the stars are singing. They sing the pleasure of the wide road and the endless desert. Go now. Paradise by the dashboard light waits for no one.
This has been Traffic.
I never turn off the radio, but my voice is slightly more difficult to hear while I go to the front door of my house to let you in. You are on the front porch, in a blue chambray shirt and a pair of jeans that, I have to say, fit you excellently, and the last fading light of the sun setting into Radon Canyon has set each perfect lock of your hair ablaze. Not literally ablaze. That would be uncomfortable.
You say, "Hello, Cecil," and I say, "Carlos," and nothing else, because sometimes around you I am not very suave and charming, like I always try to be while I am reading the news to all the citizens of our little burgh. But you smile at me and you come inside anyway. You sit on one of the chairs at the table in my kitchen's breakfast nook, having first taken care to spin it around and drape yourself backwards so you can watch me finish preparing dinner. This is the first meal I have made for you! I have procured the steaks which are on the grill from Laurence Haldane, who operates one of the trucks which sometimes drive through the vast sand wastes. He gave them to me free of charge, and assured me they have probably come from some sort of mammal. The salad I am making includes avocado and corn. I bought the corn at the Night Vale Green Market from John Peters. You know, the farmer? His imaginary corn crop has really come in nicely this year.
Wait. I've just been handed a note by Intern Suzy-Anne here in the studio. Turns out that these steaks aren't from a mammal after all! The Sheriff's Secret Police have just arrested Mr. Haldane on a charge of customs violation. It's illegal to import foodstuffs transdimensionally, Mr. Haldane! Everyone knows that. You ought to be ashamed of yourself.
Aren't we lucky, Carlos, that we'll get to eat these steaks? Hardly anyone else is going to get a chance to consume the flesh of a creature from a world fractionally askew from ours. I think I'll send Mr. Haldane a nice thank-you card to cheer him up while he's in indefinite detention.
We take our plates outside to the back deck. I have lit some candles, before you arrived, and they glimmer gently on the wooden slats of my picnic table. We sit down on the same side, ostensibly so that we can watch the rest of the sunset. My knee touches your knee. I think I am blushing, but it might be leftover heat from bending over the grill.
"This is awfully romantic," you say. "Though I'm still pretty sure there's supposed to be a clocktower where that shimmery bit of dunes is. If you go by the municipal map, and also the wind pattern in the sand." You take a big bite of your salad. I hope you're imagining the corn.
I've got you sitting next to me on my very own back deck, and we're watching a sunset. You're absolutely right: it is so romantic. While you tell me about wind velocities and I tell you about the unfortunate demise of the intern just before Suzy-Anne (all our condolences go out to the family and friends of Intern Tim! We're sure he is in a better place now. Stepping through a door opening onto a coruscating, unviewable landscape can only lead to a better place, right?) the sound of the weather wraps itself gently around us, a little tendril of broadcast sliding out the open kitchen window above our heads. The weather today has a great guitarist. I'm totally digging it.
This morning at a press conference, the City Council has strenuously recommended that all citizens of Night Vale contribute to the Night Vale Municipal Arts and Culture Fund, either in material goods or through the ritual commitment of soulstuff and spiritual energy. We here at Night Vale Community Radio thoroughly endorse this recommendation! We've been hearing rumors – well, we've been hearing rustling and the occasional earshattering shriek – from Station Management that if the Municipal Arts and Culture Fund doesn't make its quota this year we might have to have more fundraising drives of our own. And you remember what happened last time, don't you, listeners? Because I certainly do, and I really would prefer not to do that again.
"Did you pre-record your show tonight, Cecil?" you ask me.
"No," I say. "I never pre-record any of my shows. Radio is a living art. I like to be able to respond to events right as they happen, on the air! It adds verisimilitude and excitement."
"But you're right here," you say.
The scrublands are not as wide as the sand wastes, and they do not bring on an instantaneous dizzy superposition of our tiny selves with the vast empty scope of the merciless sky. They are also easy to get to! Just take a left from the alleyways behind most of the buildings in Old Town. Any left will do. The process of navigation in Night Vale is often dependent on where you desire to end up. Or where you end up because others have desired it for you.
Go walking in the scrublands. Walk for a long time. Eventually the sun will come back. We think. It always has before.
You have pinned my hand to the slats of the picnic table like you'd pin a small desert bird, a Gila Woodpecker for example, or a Blood Thrush – across the narrowest part of the neck. Your fingers are very firm against my wrist. I am definitely blushing now.
"You seem solid to me, Cecil," you say, which is pretty gratifying, as statements you've made go. "But I've been cataloguing perceptional and temporal anomalies, and it's possible that given the general state of physics in Night Vale, I could be wrong."
"You're not wrong," I say to you.
And then – ladies, gentlemen, and those who ascribe to neither category, and then – I lean in and I kiss your perfect mouth.
And now, if you'll excuse me a moment, a word from our sponsors.
You return to your home to find that everything you own has been replaced with an exact copy. You have also been replaced with an exact copy. The face in the mirror is your face. The spray of adorable freckles across the bridge of your nose is identical in shape and number to the spray of adorable freckles that was there this morning. Your melanin distribution is unchanged! You feel good about your selection of Coppertone sunscreen. Modern science is really very remarkable.
Coppertone. Protect your skin from harmful UVA and UVB rays, and also the rays that emerge unseen from the machines in the Night Vale Chamber of Commerce.
You are a little breathless when we stop kissing, and so am I. The sun has almost set, and the sand wastes are glowing a deep, throbbing red behind us. You have left one of your hands curled around the back of my neck, and I am so encouraged.
Shall I tell you what you saw, more than a year ago, when you were new, untouched as of yet, your perfect hair uncut?
Behind Cecil's even white teeth his mouth is black and tongueless, the same featureless obsidian as each of his eyes, like the sigil of a microphone. Beatific, he waves at you from the other side of the recording-booth glass. It is very natural to wave back, with the hand that isn't clutching your clipboard and your materials detector, which is going off like gangbusters. Your nerves and – perhaps, oh, perhaps even this early – your heart are also going off, a jangle of electrochemical impulses, exquisite and overwhelmingly loud. Naturally you feel fear. Fear is the common heritage of all citizens of Night Vale. And you are a citizen now – you've been a citizen since you called a town meeting! If not since slightly before.
During a commercial break, Cecil invites you inside the booth so that you can test his equipment. He says this slightly off-color phrase with an entirely straight face, which he hopes you find endearing, or at least respectful of your personal space. You clench your strong jaw, nervous. While you detect, bringing your blinking box close to the microphone and its tangle of wires which descend into the dark void beneath the desk, Cecil's voice tells you about the silent apparitions of the traffic and the new Pinkberry. Cecil's voice emerges from the radio without the benefit of Cecil opening his mouth. This is probably due to the magic of pre-recording, but you cannot be sure. Your materials detector screams like a thousandfold flight of baby birds, each one falling into that vast void into which the wires flow. This concerns you somewhat.
Cecil, in deference to your concern and to the perfection of you, dearest Carlos, does not point out that he is, as ever, unsure if the wires of his microphone are connected to anything at all.
When you tell him to evacuate the building, he reassures you that someone must remain to talk sweetly to the citizens of Night Vale. The obsidian holes that make up his face glittered so, and he meant: someone will always be here to speak to you. Always.
Perhaps this is why you came to me when your precious life was in danger.
I would like to think it is! That you saw, and even if you didn't understand, you wanted to. You're a scientist. Wanting to understand is what you do.
Even in a little desert community like ours, listeners, the weight of history and the secrets of time can seem like a heavy burden to bear. But if you can hear my voice tonight, coming to you live over the airwaves, let me remind you: Night Vale is a good place to live. If we obey the dictates of the City Council, and trust the instructions we receive by mind-scan from the black helicopters circling, protective, overhead, any harm that comes to us is only the harm we deserve. Any pain we feel is just the heritage of all mankind, and better for being shared. It's a beautiful night, dear listeners –
You use the hand that you've cupped behind my neck to pull me forward, and I end up a little bit in your lap, with my knees on either side of your hips and rather precariously balanced on the picnic table bench. Your eyes are very wide, and very dark, and not at all like the void inside the microphone, except that I think they might go on forever in much the same way.
You say, "You're broadcasting right now, aren't you," and you sound delighted.
How else would I be here with you? I say. Except by being the voice of Night Vale Community Radio, reaching out over the sand wastes forever –
I kiss you again to the sound of my own voice wrapping gently around us from the radio on the kitchen counter. You're a really enthusiastic kisser and you have a tongue. Neat.
-- over the sand wastes forever, and right here, right now with you --
The wind is picking up. The Night Vale Public Safety Commission would like to issue a warning: sandstorms and dimensional inversions can be expected from now until midnight. Send your children outside to watch!
-- perfect Carlos --
The angels who live with Old Woman Josie have reportedly been standing in the car park next to where she lives and slowly blinking on and off, in explosions of divine light --
-- with your lips under mine --
The Sheriff's Secret Police would appreciate your help in apprehending a fugitive last seen running towards the last known location of the Post Office, wearing a tinfoil hat --
-- just keep listening --
I will always lead you home.