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Overheard

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"And now...the weather."

Soft, sad guitar music spills sweetly from the speakers of the radio in Night Vale. It is a calm, clear night. The sad guitar music suits the mood. Overhead, the sky - mostly void, partially stars - is garnished with a crescent moon. The moon looks like a closed eye, lashes sweeping dark across the heavens. Night Vale sleeps, or prepares for sleep, or puts on black, close-fitting clothes and masks that obscure any recognizable features, or slumbers in an unending hibernation that recognizes neither night nor day but waits for a sign.

The weather plays on. There will be weather tomorrow, one way or another. The forecast is taupe shading to indigo later in the day, but perhaps there will be blood rains, or a dust storm, or a bright turquoise afternoon, or simply void. One way or another, something will happen, and there is nothing anyone can do to stop it happening, so you might as well be rested, Night Vale.

And then the weather fades out, and there are soft sounds of another kind entirely. These are quiet, intimate sounds: a slow inhalation, the unmistakable damp smack of lip against lip, the rustling of fabric, the squeak of a chair that should have been replaced three years ago due to the complete lack of lumbar support. The hush of two people who are utterly absorbed in one another.

A few people turn off their radios. Most do not. Out by the car lot, Old Woman Josie turns her radio up, and the angels shuffle to find seats in the crowded living room.

The rustling continues, and the squeaking, and the sounds of the breaths of the two people in the recording booth are coming faster now, as if their hearts are beating more and more rapidly. Perhaps the blood is rushing through their bodies, enlivening every nerve and sinew. Perhaps, in keeping with their speeding pulses, their skin is becoming ever more sensitive to each gentle brush and caress, until the joy of touching is nearly unbearable.

"Carlos," sighs the familiar voice on the radio, the voice that should be tucking Night Vale in, pulling up the metaphorical covers just as far as you like them, and giving you a careful kiss on the forehead.

"Cecil," says the other person, and Night Vale would know that voice anywhere, even if Cecil had not identified him by speaking his name. His voice is perfect. From the delight audible in the quiet sounds, it would seem that the way that he kisses is also perfect. Someone moans, still quietly, as if he couldn't help himself, as if the sensations he was feeling were just too much for his body to contain. It is impossible to say who set the moan free into the world. The moan sounded perfect, but then, everything about this seems perfect.

Night Vale Daily Journal editor Leann Hart did not turn off her radio. She listens as she showers, her soapy hands sliding over her own skin. She is not moaning, but perhaps soon, she will be. She makes a note to herself to focus less on her career as the editor of a no-longer-existent newspaper and more on her personal life as a nearly-young somewhat vibrant woman who doesn't want to see her opportunities dry up and blow away like everything else in the endless desert. Another moan comes from the radio and Leann Hart closes her eyes and pretends that her hands are someone else's hands, that someone desired has stepped into the shower with her to help her wash the sand from her hair and the sadness from her recent past.

Another moan. The red light on the radio tower blinks on and off, on and off, much more steadily than the accelerating heartbeats of the men inside the broadcast booth. The name "Carlos" is murmured, and the name "Cecil", and both names have become much more than signifiers for a man. They have become containers for a year's worth of longing, perhaps a lifetime's worth. The names, simple combinations of letters, hold contentment and desire and anticipation. It is as if some ritual is occurring at the radio station, and the names are part of some ancient chant that imbues them with infinite meanings and impossible significance. Something much more important is happening than a mere kiss. Something is awakening.

Teddy Williams finishes sweeping up the snack bar at the Desert Flower Bowling Alley and Arcade Fun Complex. He pours himself a light beer in a plastic cup. He sits in the cracked plastic swivel chair farthest from the display at lane five. He listens to the radio, and he drinks his beer, and he stares into the pin retrieval area, now boarded up. He thinks of what might have been and what never was and what never will be. He shakes his head. The display glows steadily. THEY ARE HERE, it says on every line. It will not change back. Teddy Williams gets up slowly and pours himself another beer. He turns off the radio. He covers his face with one hand.

The airwaves vibrate, oscillating faster. The quiet sounds are louder now, but no less intimate. The damp noises of kisses have become positively wet noises. The soft breaths are ragged and urgent. The microphone catches the noise of a zipper and a very surprised "Oh!" followed by a very contented and intrigued "Oh."

"Yes?" asks a perfect voice, and Night Vale shivers at the promise in the word. Leann Hart leans against the cool tile of her shower and lets the hot water spill down over her.

"Oh, yes," says the other voice. Even the Sheriff's Secret Police, waiting, watching, have stopped listening to anything but this. They shift in their uniforms, slightly hampered by the tight cloth that they wear with pride every other night. It is not a night for uniforms. It is a night for skin sleek against skin, a night when the wind from the desert brings the heady perfume of flowers, a night that intoxicates even as it soothes and terrifies. Old Woman Josie listens intently. The angels are eating popcorn. They try not to get any crumbs on the carpet, but they are bent forward, fixated on the speakers of the radio. John Peters, you know, the farmer, has surprised his wife by kissing the back of her neck as she closed the refrigerator. She goes to their bedroom and puts on a silk negligée she got for their honeymoon and never wore.

It is a night for passion. The wind whispers through the Whispering Forest and yes, we are all one, we are all caught up in this miracle. The radio waves bring us the sounds of someone else's bliss, and it is our bliss, and we are all listening together. Cecil's moans are the moans of Leann Hart and the Peterses. The hooded figures echo them, so that the town is filled with the audible evidence of a consummation so devoutly wished that it might have consumed an entire town. A wish is a dangerous thing, after all. But this is a wish come true, and that is more sweet than any other happening in the history of Night Vale. Cecil's ecstasy is transmitted out across the buildings of the town and the abandoned boardwalk of the Night Vale Harbor and Waterfront Recreation Area and the sand wastes and the scrub lands, picked up by who knows what receivers, heard by ears whose provenance we can only surmise.

All across the town, listeners sit quivering by their radios, swept up in a rush of feeling they had almost forgotten. They are remembering now, by themselves and with others. Old flames are rekindled. New sparks are struck, and catch, and blaze up. Night Vale is remembering, and it wonders how it had ever forgotten. The wind smells of mud and honey and something else. Steve Carlsberg smells gasoline. The Faceless Old Woman who lives in your home smells orange juice. Carlos' scientists smell lavender chewing gum. Inside the confines of the forbidden dog park, intern Dana smells blood and cinnamon, and she smiles.

Cecil's cries of joy ring out across the town, resonating in every pane of glass. Even the moon seems to blink, startled in its setting of mostly void, partially stars. Larry Leroy, out on the edge of town, wakes up with a start, his heart pounding. Old Woman Josie smiles. The angels sigh and murmur to each other. Walter Kincaid, president of the community group Soundproof Night Vale, drafts a letter of protest, but all that the paper says is "Dear Most Feared and Most Highly Revered and Esteemed City Council, I am writing to..."

"It's all right," Carlos says. His voice is soothing. The chair squeaks. Cecil murmurs something too low for the microphone to catch. Carlos laughs quietly and says something back. The town waits, a little breathless. City Comptroller Waynetta Barnett adjusts the antenna of her radio.

"Please, let me," Cecil says. There is another sound of zippers. Someone gasps, and it is perfect. More rustling, more murmuring. Now Carlos is moaning, and it is a noise full of such sweet abandon that it is a wonder that molecules can still hold together, that objects still keep their form rather than melting into one blissful whole. Night Vale's most beloved outsider slides toward ecstasy and Night Vale slides with him, ready to follow him over the edge. Frances Donaldson, the tall woman with the green eyes who manages the antiques mall, presses closer to her lover, a short woman with brown eyes who works in the lab next door to Big Rico's. They are gasping as skin slides against skin, and on the radio, Carlos is gasping too, and the thrill of it shimmers through the air. The whole town shivers. The whole town waits, on the very precipice of something. And then. Fireworks. Metaphorical fireworks, but no less real for all that. If the sounds from the radio were visible, they would be bright splashes of color across the sky, no longer mostly void, partially stars, but instead mostly brilliance, mostly light, mostly joy.

And then. Rapid breath slowing. Wet sounds of kissing merely damp and contented. The town's pulse slowing and slowing as the wind brushes over it, bringing again the smell of mud and honey and something very special. And then two very satisfied sighs, sighed in unison, and one startled squeak from the chair.

"Oh! OH. Listeners. I am sorry about this. I am so very sorry, listeners. You see, during the break, I had a special guest in the studio with me, and it seems that we got a little distracted. Isn't it fortunate that all children in Night Vale between the ages of zero and eighteen cannot hear from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m., except in case of emergencies? The City Council was wise to make this law - it protects our children from having trouble sleeping because a monster is clawing audibly through their closet door, scraping sliver after sliver from the flimsy wood, and it keeps them from overhearing any dark deeds. Not that this deed you may have overheard was dark, listeners, oh no, quite the contrary. It was a wonderful deed, full of affection and consensual caressing. This deed, if a child were to overhear it, would only convince them that life is worth living, and that love is a precious and beautiful thing, when that love is mutual and freely given."

"That's probably fine, Cecil," Carlos says gently.

"Listeners, you may have guessed that my special guest is Carlos, the scientist. Brave Carlos, who ventured down to the underground city at great peril to his own life, only to be nearly killed, only to be snatched from the jaws of death by the Apache Tracker, may he and his racist and appropriative costumes rest in peace. Carlos was consulting me on the subject of...of...well, listeners, I seem to have forgotten just what he needed to talk to me about."

"Us," Carlos says, and there is fondness in his voice. "I wanted to talk about us, Cecil."

"Yes. Well. I hope you got all the information you needed about us, Carlos."

"I did," Carlos says, and now he sounds amused. The microphone crackles, the chair squeaks, and suddenly Carlos sounds louder, as if he has taken control of the recording booth.

"To all of you out there," he says, "from both of us in here, I apologize if that wasn't what you were expecting to hear on your radio tonight. But I think you'll understand, Night Vale. I've only been here a little over a year, but in that time, I've seen things. I've heard things. I may have done things that I'm glad I can't remember. And Cecil - Cecil makes all of that okay. And I think it's the same for all of you out there, Night Vale. He tells you the stories of yourselves and somehow we all come out better in the telling.

All I can promise is to do my best by him, Night Vale, just like I'm trying to do my best by you. So, listeners, I'll take him home and let you sleep, and I hope that all our dreams are sweet tonight. I know mine will be. Good night, Night Vale."

Cecil clears his throat. "Thank you, Carlos. That was lovely. Stay tuned, dear listeners, for a special three-hour performance of the Unpleasant Symphony, featuring Bertrand Mueller on nail clippers and Ximena Martinez in a virtuoso display of chalkboard screeches. And to all those of you out there who retain your hearing after ten p.m., my sincerest apologies. I can't promise it won't happen again, but we'll try to keep it out of the recording booth, at least when the On Air light is clearly lit. Good night, Night Vale. Good night."