"So you three are Troy and Abed in the Morning," Cecil exclaims, after the handshakes, gesturing the candidates towards the small cushions he's set around the bloodstone circle. They sit somewhat awkwardly, the two very handsome men in their lovely pastel business-casuals and the well-put-together young lady in her tailored skirt and jacket, but eventually get themselves arranged comfortably.
"Uh, well, I'm Troy, and this is Abed, and this is Annie," one of the very handsome young men says. "Annie's our manager-slash-producer."
"Oh!" Cecil looks at her again, but he doesn't see any evidence of mandibles, or of poisonous spines along her back. She must be a real professional, to maintain a human shape so well. "We haven't had producers around here in a while, ever since Station Management forced the previous producers to duel each other in gladiator matches, trying to weed out the weak ones."
Abed – whose face is birdlike in the most charming way, honestly – leaps on Cecil's assertion. "But wouldn't gladiator matches mean that the strongest, fastest producer would win out in the end?"
Cecil nods. "That was the idea, but unfortunately the last two killed each other in the final match and thus disqualified themselves for the position, which was limited to sentient animate candidates. Still!" he says brightly, "perhaps Annie would be able to kill both of their putrefying zombie forms and claim that position for herself!"
"Perhaps," Annie says slowly. She does have the look of someone proficient with a scythe.
"Anyhow, we're getting ahead of ourselves," Cecil says. "Any deathmatch trials would be administered by Sentient Animate Resources later on in the process, when you swear the blood-oaths and fill out your W-4s, and this is just an initial interview. Station Management asked me to meet with you, since they're unknowable, terrifying, probably tentacular shapes lurking and moaning behind a frosted glass door and we hope they will never emerge again, and because they always forget to ask about references."
At this, Troy brightens. His smile is truly breathtaking. "We have great references," he offers. "We did Troy and Abed in the Morning for Greendale Community College four years running, and the Dean will vouch for us."
"Excellent, excellent," Cecil agrees, looking over their paperwork.
"Though, uh, we should probably point out that it was an imaginary broadcast," Annie adds. She looks worried, but in such a professional and put-together manner that Cecil can't help but respect her more.
"Oh, that's wonderful! We were hoping to find someone with imaginary broadcasting experience. It's so rare nowadays! But you know, I got my start in imaginary radio."
Annie's eyebrows shoot up, but Troy and Abed only nod. "We developed quite a devoted following," Abed puts in.
"I don't doubt it, since you're both so very handsome and lovely," Cecil agrees. "I just cannot get over your little bowtie, Abed." Abed adjusts his bowtie proudly, and Troy nudges him gently with an elbow.
Annie looks worried again, though, so Cecil adds, carefully, "Don't worry, miss, I wouldn't dream of making a pass at your boyfriends. It's against Station Policy, and anyhow my Carlos wouldn't have it." He winks at her playfully, and she blushes a little.
"I, uh, we're – um." Then her face gets a determined set to it, and oh, Cecil can see how this woman would hold her own with any producer out there, whether she physically manifested her mandibles or no. "I hope that Night Vale Public Radio doesn't practice discriminatory hiring. I've been a lawyer, you know."
"Oh, no, all genders and sexualities and species and orientations towards the sun and moon are welcome at NVPR," Cecil hastens to explain, and all three of them relax visibly. "But just a moment, we are getting ahead of ourselves again. I haven't even asked you the standard questionnaire given to my by Station Management, as you can tell by the roaring sound that's beginning to emanate from their office down the hall, and I don't want to miss anything important, or wake up screaming in the night full of existential dread, do I?"
"I'm guessing no," Abed agrees. Cecil nods.
"So: first of all, how did you hear about the position?"
Annie and Abed both nudge Troy, who licks his lips fetchingly. "One night," he begins, his voice deepening, "a huge black raven flew in through our bedroom window and landed at the foot of the bed, digging its talons into the wood and cawing horribly." Cecil's breath catches in his throat; Troy really does have a gift for storytelling. "It made a sound that wasn't like a bird at all, but wasn't like a human either. We strained our ears to hear it, and covered our ears to block it out, but everything we did was futile since the terrible sound seemed to enter our bodies through our skin, echoing directly into our minds. Even though we didn't understand its language, even though we were overwhelmed by awe and dread, we all felt that we had been notified of an open position in community radio."
Cecil rubs his index finger against the end of a burnt and blackened piece of wood and presses a smudge to the little ticky-box on the form next to "demonic raven."
"Lovely. Are you, any of your relatives or bloodspawn, or your mirror-universe alternate selves, currently employed by NVPR, the Sheriff's Secret Police, the City Council, or Big Rico's Pizza?"
"No. Though there is some concern that our mirror-universe alternate selves are trying to break through the interdimensional barrier and kill us in order to take over our lives," Abed answers promptly.
Cecil clucks his tongue in sympathy. "Well, I sure know how that is," he says. Abed looks pleased. "Are you currently wanted by the Sheriff's Secret Police or by any Vague Yet Menacing Government Agency?"
"Um, we've been followed by guys in leather balaclavas since we got into town," Annie replies. "Is that . . . normal?"
"They're just curious about our new visitors, I'm sure," Cecil smiles. "There's no cause for alarm unless you've done something wrong. Or unless it's the third Tuesday of the month, of course."
Troy starts counting days on his fingers, obviously relieved to find that it's the fourth Wednesday of the month (Cecil reminds himself to take Carlos to Free Sundae Day out at Fuzzy Jack's Ice Cream Parlor tomorrow). Annie gets a shrewd look on her face.
"What happens on the third Tuesday of the month?" she asks quickly. Cecil chuckles.
"Aren't you inquisitive! Quite the spirit of curiosity, yes, I must introduce you to my Carlos. He's the local scientist, you know. I bet you two would get on like two peas in a pod creature."
"Is he a Mad Scientist?" Abed asks immediately. "With the strange genetic experiments and big staticky hair and severed limbs all over his lab?"
Cecil purses his lips. "Carlos has lovely hair, and all of his limbs are attached," he says. Abed looks disappointed, but probably because he's never witnessed the perfection that is Carlos's hair. "And he's certainly not our Mad Scientist yet, he's only in his thirties! I haven't really asked him about his career goals, since we're not really that far along in our relationship." Carlos pauses to consider. "Though, I mean, maybe one day he'll want to be a Mad Scientist. We haven't had a good Mad Scientist in Night Vale in ages, not since that other fellow, the one who turned into a monster sometimes, left town."
Abed takes this all in. "All right. But I really think it would improve the town's appeal a lot if you had a Mad Scientist. With erlenmeyer flasks bubbling with green liquid, human-animal hybrids for pets, stuff like that. I was really surprised to find that you didn't, when the town offers so many other horror trope amenities."
Cecil sighs. "You're not wrong," he says, then glances back down at the form, remembering to smudge in their answers so far. "Let's see – have you ever been possessed by demons or otherwise had your body taken over by a force you couldn't control?"
The three of them glance at each other. "Um," Annie says eventually, "there was that Halloween party where we all lost time and woke up with human bite marks all over our bodies."
"Oh, well," Cecil laughs, "to be young again! But no demons?"
"No demons," Troy promises seriously. "My Grandma would whup us if we ever got taken over by demons."
"She sounds like a lovely woman," Cecil murmurs, smudging the form. "All right, last question on the form here: are you willing to submit to a background check and a bloodstone ritual swearing your eternal loyalty to Night Vale Public Radio?"
"Sure," Abed says easily. The other two nod their agreement.
"Great!" Cecil makes one more smudge, and the dull roar of Station Management down the hall fades to a soft screeching. "So now that we've got that out of the way and we are no longer at risk of incurring any fines for failure to complete paperwork, why don't you tell me about your show proposal."
Annie glances at Troy and Abed, who nod at her. "Well," she says, "We've been listening to NVPR for a while now, ever since we drove through that weird shimmery border in the Sand Wastes and started getting reception. And we just love your show, by the way." She offers him a sweet, genuine smile, so Cecil collects it carefully and offers it back to her. "But what we thought was that Night Vale doesn't really have a fun morning show."
"You know, interviews with local celebrities, tips and tricks for cooking or home improvement, entertainment news," Abed adds.
Cecil is smudging furiously on a blank piece of paper, a series of glyphs and symbols that he hopes he'll be able to decode later – his smudgewriting gets so sloppy when he's in a rush! He nods along with their list of proposed segments.
"All the fluffy stuff," he agrees. "Reviewing local events, tips on how to care for your bloodstone circle, the best animal sacrifices for weekend gatherings, that kind of thing."
"Right, sure," Troy says, after a moment. "And, uh. Entertainment news."
"How would you guys feel about doing film reviews for whatever's playing at the drive-in outside of town?" Cecil asks. "Though, fair warning, they only play black and white non-real Beatles films dubbed into Armenian and intercut with 50s French erotica."
" . . . that sounds amazing." Abed says, after a brief pause. Cecil looks up to smile at him, and Abed makes an attempt to smile back, widening his eyes and pulling his lips back from his teeth. Smiles are definitely the hardest expressions to master when you're loose in your skin, Cecil reflects.
"Well then, this might work," Cecil says. At their happy expressions, including Abed's continued face-grimace, he adds, "Though of course I can't speak for Station Management. In fact I'm not sure that anyone can; I think they have extra vocal chords, so. But this is very encouraging!" He taps on the smudged paper.
"Before we go, can I just ask – " Annie begins, pulling a notebook out of her bag, along with – it looks like some kind of –
"Is that a pen?" Cecil gasps. Annie freezes, eyes wide, glancing between Cecil and the short stick in her hand.
"Yes?" she replies. Abed and Troy smile and nudge her frantically with their elbows.
"They're illegal here, Annie," Troy mutters, "jeez."
"Yeah, jeez, Annie, c'mon," Abed agrees.
"What? I can't – but – I like pens!" She looks down mournfully at the one in her hand, which does look like it has a comfortable grip and easy action. It also appears to be filled with purple ink, and has one of those little plastic monsters at the end of it, and you know, Cecil really does wish sometimes that – no!
"Evil!" Cecil cries, then calms himself. "I mean, your partners are right, Annie, writing implements are illegal in Night Vale, for very sound reasons. But if you've been here less than 30 days you still have time to get rid of your contraband." He frowns. "Oh, goodness, I really ought to introduce you to my Carlos. He's been here less than two years, and knows how hard it is to adjust to all the municipal regulations."
"Does that mean we get the job?" Troy interjects. Cecil winks at him, which he can't help, because Troy is such a delightfully beautiful person, and anyhow Cecil will make it up to Carlos later.
"Don't get ahead of yourselves! But I will be putting in a strong recommendation for you three with Station Management."
At that they all whoop and high-five for a moment, before realizing that radio professionals probably don't whoop and high-five during job interviews. Cecil really does think that their young energy and lack of blood parasites will be just what the station needs.
"If you're hired, or if you're wanted for another interview, you'll receive an envelope shoved under your door. It will reek of cilantro and copper, and may burn your fingers if you touch it too soon after it arrives. If you've been turned down for an interview, people in white latex masks will surround you and begin a series of chants to curse your families."
Annie nods briskly. "You'll be in touch," she summarizes. Cecil is impressed; most outsiders take longer than that to adjust to Night Vale's quirky and old-fashioned small-town way of doing things. She stands up, as if to leave, but Cecil gestures at her to sit back down.
"We still have to sign, silly," he says, and she kneels on her cushion again slowly.
Cecil pulls out his best blood-ritual knife and hands it to Abed. "One or two drops will do," he cautions.
Abed pricks his fingertip with the knife and allows Cecil to squeeze his finger until it drips twice onto the bloodstones, which receive the payment with a bright glow.
"They like you!" Cecil grins.
Abed turns to Troy and Annie with the knife, who both look a little pale.
"You do it, Abed," Troy says, holding out his finger and squeezing his eyes closed.
"Yeah, you do it," Annie echoes, doing the same. Abed carefully cuts them both on the fingertip and Cecil drips their blood down too. The circle glows again, brighter on each subsequent drop, which is a very good sign.
"And me," Cecil says, spilling a little of his blood to close the interview ritual. "All hail Sentient Animate Resources," he intones three times. Then he gets to his feet and brushes off his slacks.
"So if you have no other questions, Intern Helen will see you out," he says, gesturing them to the door.
"Actually, do you know of anywhere good to eat in town?" Abed asks. "We tried the taco place, but the sign on the door said it was . . . "
"Temporarily Temporally Relocated," Annie supplies.
Cecil bites his lip, considering. "Tell you what," he says, "why don't you all come with me to Big Rico's. I'm meeting my Carlos, and you haven't had a slice until you've been sliced at Big Rico's."
They glance at each other. "That means pizza, right?" Troy asks carefully.
"Gluten-free pizza," Cecil specifies.
Annie brightens. "Oh, that's perfect, I've been trying to avoid wheat."
"Very wise of you," Cecil agrees. "What with the poisonous snakes and all."
They follow him out of the station and down the street, walking towards Carlos's lab and the glowing, malevolent neon of the Big Rico's Pizza sign. As they go, Annie adeptly skips over a small interdimensional portal in the sidewalk, Abed – apparently instinctively – reaches out and knocks three times on the brick wall of the Night Vale Credit Union in order to ward off money-eaters, and Troy nods and smiles at one of the Erikas who happens to be walking by, all three of its heads sporting adorable new knit caps.
Cecil has a feeling that these newcomers are going to fit in just fine.