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The Liberation of Night Vale

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If you study a thing, a little part of that thing will always be yours. If you study a place, a little part of you will always be a part of that place. If you study a person, they will slowly take over your thought and your mind until the barriers between individuals that allow for a sense of self to exist are completely broken down and your personality disintegrates into a pale mockery of theirs.

Welcome to Night Vale.

****

We have just received an update on our upcoming mayoral elections. Upstanding citizen John Johnsson has just declared his candidacy. You know John Johnsson, right? The factory owner? The one with the name that is certainly not a fake name, who suddenly appeared in the town last year and who has become one of our wealthiest and most respected residents despite the fact that nobody knows his true identity or where he came from before he arrived in Night Vale? He owns the industrial park out by the old harbor and waterfront recreation area, and the factory which creates City Council-approved talismans and amulets made of some substance of unknown composition which is more durable than bloodstone, lighter than the feeling in your stomach as you realize you have just stepped off a fifty-foot cliff, and blacker than the void between the stars. These talismans are the key to millennia-old chants in a dead language that, if said in precisely the right numerological patterns, will summon to you the protection of an undead god.

But we're not advertising for his factory! No, we'd just like to congratulate him on his candidacy and thank him for the interest he is taking in the political life of this town. Citizens, if more people had his sense of civic duty, Night Vale would be an even greater place than the great place it already is. He says that he is running in protest against the continuing exclusion of Hiram McDaniels from the race. Hiram McDaniels, as we all know, has been banned from running despite his dashing and charming countenance because of a claimed city ordinance that bans convicts and the imprisoned from vying for city office. John Johnsson says that while he, of course, has never been convicted of or committed a crime, especially not any crimes involving wheat or wheat byproducts, he still considers it a great injustice that our system bars an entire underclass of people from full participation in civil life just because they may have once, in the past, committed a mistake which they have paid for and now deeply regret. Or just because they are a five-headed dragon. Or, in fact, because they have extensive and ill-defined superpowers of unknown origin.

Good for you, Mr. Johnsson, for standing up for your principles! We here at Night Vale Community Radio will certainly be keeping a close eye on your participation in the mayoral race, and will be rooting for you to survive to Election Day and beyond.

****

Meanwhile, citizens of Night Vale, I have some terrible news for you! Carlos the scientist - beautiful, perfect Carlos, Carlos who is now definitely my boyfriend at least judging by what went on in the secret annex of his makeshift laboratory last night among the humming electronics and glowing chemicals - Carlos has a friend.

He is very nearly as beautiful and perfect as Carlos himself, and they were recently seen looking very cozy and very 'friendly' over a shared squid-ink and oyster pizza at Big Rico's.

Now, I know what you are thinking, people of Night Vale! Surely, you are thinking, Carlos has the right to have a friend if he, for some inexplicable reason, wants one. And indeed, Carlos has already said to me, "Look, Cecil, I know you think you're being sweet, but being this jealous of me having pizza with an old friend is really creepy even for Night Vale."

But is it not... suspicious, citizens? Who is this so-called 'old friend' of Carlos's? If he is an old friend, why has no-one seen him before? Where does he come from? Where does he go? How is he so suspiciously nearly as perfect and beautiful as our dear scientist, a vicious, carrion-eating eagle to Carlos's pure and perfect swan?

Further information as this dreadful situation develops. But first, a word from our sponsors:

****

Have you ever had anything in your life you truly loved? Perhaps it was a refuge to you from the pointless, nihilistic drudgery of existence, your only escape from the dark, endless thoughts that run in circles through your mind when you are sleepless alone at night, or indeed when you are sleepless alone in the day, or when you are among a crowd of other many other people and yet still feel your eternal private loneliness, like the cold of death running in the marrow of your soul. But you still have this one thing you love, this escape, that while it may not be perfect is still the only source of joy and beauty and fellowship that can still reach you, or at least the closest simulacrum of joy and beauty and fellowship that is possible in this sick and riven world that you wander through like an empty shell.

Now imagine that someone else has discovered this thing you love. And they have claimed to own it, that it is theirs, even though they understand nothing of what allows you to love it. And imagine that slowly, over the course of months, or perhaps years, they will peel away from it, strip by bleeding strip, everything that makes it joyful, everything that allows you to escape to it, like skin and meat slowly being flayed from a chained prisoner, helpless to prevent it despite all the agony of screams that do not reach the uncaring ears of its torturer, until in the end that thing you love is nothing but another lifeless corpse, a chewed-up mockery of that thing you once loved, the last in a long line of victims.

Yahoo! It's YOU!

****

Library news now! The public library will soon be getting automatic book checkout stations, that will use laser scanners to allow you to check out books without having to ever interact with another human being, or even with a librarian. The new checkout stations will be fully computerized, so that a list of the books you check out will be instantly transmitted to the Sheriff's secret police, and inform them if any book you check out is on the forbidden list, or is not forbidden but could still be dangerous, or is harmless on its own but could lead to dangerous ideas in combination with other books you have checked out, or your friends have checked out, or have ever been checked out by anyone in Night Vale. The automatic checkout stations will also do a complete brain scan checking for forbidden thoughts in general, and will come equipped with high-powered ultraviolet and microwave lasers, along with the red lasers that scan the bar codes. These will make it possible for the Sheriff's Secret Police to instantly and cleanly terminate you by instantly and simulataneously boiling your insides and roasting your skin, if they should deem it necessary, or if you have damaged a library book or your overdue fines are above the maximum limit, and also may randomly terminate you even if they don't deem it necessary, since the City Council bought them from the lowest bidder and the safety mechanisms, we are told, 'probably don't work very well.'

Now, I know that most of you book lovers are introverted, socially awkward types. I love introverted, socially awkward types! Most of you prefer machinery to live interaction, so I'm sure you will appreciate having these new automated checkout stations, even if the mortality risk with them is probably at least as high as the risk you would incur by approaching the circulation desk. But think of the librarians, book lovers, think of how pointless their existence will become, how empty their bellies will be, on that sad day that the library becomes fully automated, and once in awhile, strike a blow for the memory of the old ways, and use the circulation desk instead.

****

We've just had an e-mail come in, listeners, and it seems we have a correction on our earlier story about the upcoming mayoral elections. John Johnsson, the upstanding citizen, has not announced his candidacy after all. In fact, he is not running, has no plans to run, and if by some chance he is elected mayor despite not running, he will decline the position, repeatedly if necessary, until you finally get the idea through your heads. Also he has never said anything that might even suggest an interest in running, and he would like to know who keeps spreading these rumors that he is, because it certainly isn't him. Also he has no connection to Hiram McDaniels, and has never even met the man, or five-headed dragon as the case may be, was certainly never his cellmate in prison in Desert Bluffs no matter what he might claim, and did not even know ol' Hiram was running for mayor.

Ah, those adorable politicians and their campaign strategies! Go ahead and play hard-to-get, Mr. Johnsson. I'm sure your enthusiastic supporters will convince you to 'reluctantly run' sooner or later.

Mr. Johnsson does wish to add that it's true that 'he, of course, has never been convicted of or committed a crime, especially not any crimes involving wheat or wheat byproducts'. That part was true. Also, he himself is not a five-headed dragon, and definitely has no superpowers, especially not superstrength or the ability to shoot heat rays out of his wrists.

****

I have an update on the 'Carlos Has A Friend' situation! I have now met said 'friend', as they stopped by the station to say hello after their shared lunch at Big Rico's. His name is Erik, and Carlos knew him before he came to Night Vale. He wears a red sweater-vest with bright yellow trim that looks as if it has been hand-knit, and it should not, in any sane world, show off the broadness of his shoulders and the contrasting delicate trimness of his waist as beautifully as it does. He came to Night Vale to fill the vacancy at Night Vale Community College for a Political Science professor, and he is renting Old Woman Josie's spare room out by the car lot until he can find a place of his own.

Now, listeners, I know this sounds bad. If he's so new to Night Vale, why did he only serenely smile when he shook my hand, instead of quivering in terror as I definitely intended, and as would have been right and proper for such an interloper? And a Political Science professor? No political science professor has lasted longer than a week in time immemorial. I would suspect that Carlos invited him here because he hates him and wants him to die, but sweet, innocent, perfect Carlos would never even think of such a thing. No, there is something more going on here. Something dark and sinister. He asked me questions about how the City Council and the Sheriff's Secret Police monitor my radio broadcasts, which yes, could be merely an academic's interest in government in action, but may be something else. Perhaps he is some sort of spy. We should be cautious.

I spoke about this with our Official Town Skeptic, who was loitering drunkenly outside the studio this afternoon: you may have seen him loitering drunkenly at Big Rico's, or loitering drunkenly at the Desert Flower Bowling Alley and Arcade Fun Complex, or loitering drunkenly outside the Moonlight Allnight Diner, or loitering drunkenly having just been forcibly expelled from the Pile O' Corpses Ye Old Irish Pub, but you would not have looked at him too closely, for there is something about his face which is utterly impossible: if you gaze too firmly upon him, you begin to realize that there are things that simply should not be looked at, and you are seized with a cosmic horror, an awareness of your own fundamental pointlessness in the face of the enormity of the Things that cannot be made to fit into our small universe, of the constant endless turning of the wheel of history around and around back to the same bloody atrocities again and again. Maybe it's less his face and more his tendency to rant at length on those topics to anyone who so much as offers him a smile. It's hard to tell: the overall effect is the same.

Regardless, we should value our Official Town Skeptic. Every town should have one. After all, what would happen to us if we no longer had him loitering drunkenly to disbelieve in things for us, and we had to disbelieve everything ourselves?

Anyway, he has assured me that this Erik is no possible threat to my Carlos, according to this imperturbable chain of logic: Erik is perfect, and brilliant, and fearless, and he is staying at Old Woman Josie's, and 'Erik' is, after all, only one letter away from 'Erika', at least if you order them alphabetically according to the ancient runes of the Hungarian pyramid-builders. He may also have four wings, and the heads of the four living creatures, and the feet of a cow, although that depends entirely on your point of view. Therefore, he is clearly an angel. But we have the assurance of our beloved City Council that the angels do not exist, and therefore, this perfect, beautiful Erik cannot possibly exist either, and how can someone who does not exist be a danger to Carlos?

I believe him, listeners, for he is after all our official town skeptic, and what is a skeptic for if not to be believed? Besides, he speaks of the newcomer's terrible unearthly charm with the same fervency that I speak of my own wonderful Carlos. How can one dismiss such a deeply-felt conviction? One simply can't.

****

We have a follow-up to our correction on the mayoral election, listeners. This press release I have just received from Trish Hidge with the Mayor's Office states that she wishes to confirm John Johnsson, the upstanding citizen's, announcement that he is not, in fact, running for mayor. He has not filed any of the paperwork, he doesn't even, haha (the 'haha' was written into the press release) meet the three-year residency requirement. They haven't so much as heard any rumors that he's thinking about running. They certainly haven't spread any rumors that he's considering running, and if, on the off chance you did happen to overhear any city employees mentioning such a thing, it was definitely just idle chatter, and nothing to do with a plan to set Mr. Johnsson up as a puppet mayor to take the fall during 'a great cleansing of blood and terror, a thunderbolt long held in abeyance, a smiting of the unjust like a conflagration, a volcano erupting in a torrent of smoke and the fire that purifies' that has begun appearing as a regular feature in all of their public opinion prophesies.

It is absolutely the case that none of the above is true.

Also, they haven't been building a weaponized robotic duplicate of Mr. Johnsson that they were planning to replace him with after the election was safely over, and if you happen to see a weaponized robotic duplicate of Mr. Johnsson wandering around town, you should definitely not approach it, since the city council knows nothing of its capabilities; they certainly didn't think it would be able to escape. It's probably some sort of prototype that he built in his factory, they've always been kind of suspicious of that industrial park.

So there you have it, listeners! John Johnsson, the upstanding citizen, is not running for mayor of Night Vale. We apologize for any confusion.

****

Now, traffic: There is the body of some large animal blocking the end of Boulanger Lane. Or perhaps it is not a dead animal, but a piece of machinery: the rotting corpse of some vast cart that mastodons and mammoths might have served to harness; though if it is machinery, it seems as if it were riven from the side of some great beast, a device designed to be operated by cyclopean and superhuman slave labor, such as might have been dragged by Polyphemus and Caliban from the depths of underworld, with great pendulous chains, links of iron like intestines, draped from its ruins. It is overwhelming and misshapen, slowly rusting into foul mud. It has been there for years. It will be there for years. Never try to drive down Boulanger Lane.

It does make an excellent jungle gym for young children, however! I'm told they enjoy climbing over it, chasing each other into its dark and mysterious innards, and especially swinging from those chains, which are nice heavy-duty metal that will probably still be strong enough to bear their weight for many years to come, especially if you tie the knots securely enough that they can't possibly get down. So if your little ones are bored of the city playgrounds and twitching at being trapped inside, try taking them on a fun outing to the blocked end of Boulanger Lane!

This has been Traffic.

****

Erik, Carlos's old friend who may or may not exist and may or may not be an angel, has just been seen going into the dog park, friends. In one great bound, higher than any human being ought to be able to manage, he leapt onto the smooth, black, featureless wall that marks the border of the public land which we citizens are not allowed to think about, and stood atop it, the blue electricity crackling dramatically around his feet, and cried out:

"Citizens of Night Vale, awaken, and quiver in your beds, pretending to be asleep, no longer! The City Council only has power over you because you grant them that power; the unknown is to be feared only because you have allowed them to make it the unknowable. You are free citizens of a once-great town in a great nation, and if you all stand together, no-one and nothing can stop you from reclaiming your rights - no, not even the shadowy figures which we all know very well are gliding mysteriously through the streets to silence me, at this very moment, despite your City Council's impotent decrees that you pretend otherwise. Perhaps they can control your politics, perhaps they can control your families, perhaps they control eldritch entities of unknowable vastness, perhaps they control the actual fabric of space and time and certain of the dimensions beyond, but, citizens, they cannot control your thoughts; only the glow-cloud can do that, and it runs the PTA, not the City Council.

I will tell you a secret that the City Council does not wish you to know, people of Night Vale, a secret that they keep bound under strictures of unnamed vile punishments, but no such truth can be kept from a people who wish to know it. And here is this secret: There is no Hierarchy of the Angels, and there are no Tiers in Heaven, for in Heaven, all creatures are equal, and no being holds power over any other. Strive for a new Heaven, people of Night Vale, a new Heaven in your town! Dawn is coming - it may not come quite when you expect it to, it may come with a strange wash of unearthly blood across the sky, with a booming like cannons or a wailing like a thousand men crying out in the agony of mortal wounds, but it is coming, all the same, as it has come uncountable times before.

It is only your own fear - fear you have grown so accustomed to that you have forgotten to fight it - fear of the Sheriff's Secret Police, fear of your City Council which is meant to be serving you, citizens, and not the other way around - fear that keeps you bound in silence, in denial, and in hypocrisy. This Dog Park behind me - squatting as it does, undeniable and sinister in the very center of your town - is symbolic of your Council's oppression of you, its own people. But if you were to stand, shoulder to shoulder, and confront your false dread of this place, you would find that there is nothing in here that could stand up to your power, no Council, no Shadowy Figures or Feral Dog Packs or Shapes from the Beyond or Black Monoliths, not to the power of a people finally united: and you could come to the Dog Park, yes, I tell you this in the bright chartreuse of daylight, citizens, I tell you out loud and fearless: you could come to the Dog Park and you could walk your dogs.

Or your lobsters, or your star-spawn, or your purple-green tentacled creatures with all the spikes. That, citizens, is what a dog park should be for."

Then, with no further ceremony, he leapt off the wall and into the Dog Park, the Dog Park of which we are not consciously aware, and which is no more real than he is. I suppose that's the last we'll be seeing from dear Carlos's old friend Erik, listeners, as if he is merely a man, there is no way he will be coming back out, and if our town skeptic is right, and he is an angel, well, then he never existed in the first place, and so it's no loss.

And now, the weather!

****

****

We have news! News of some sort about old-friend-of-Carlos-who-may-or-may-not-be-an-angel-and-may-or-may-not-exist Erik! He has returned from the Dog Park. Yes, only minutes ago, all of us who had gathered around a completely coincidental city block that clearly is not surrounded by a featureless black wall saw the gate that does not exist in that wall slowly creak open, and through it we could see Erik, looking as luminous as ever, despite his red sweater-vest being spattered with a spray of some unnameable exudate. Literally luminous, in fact, I could swear that there was some sort of golden nimbus around his hair, which is still not nearly as perfect as Carlos's, no matter what our official town skeptic tried to tell me earlier, and his voice is also not nearly as honey-sweet as Carlos's, and his plush lower lip has a tendency to fall from perfection into disdain, so his protestations that the man is more perfect than my Carlos are clearly wrong. Take that as your warning never to so easily accept what a skeptic might tell you, listeners.

Erik's survival is not the outcome any of us expected, I think, for all that we had noticed the strange lights and disturbing noises that have been emanating from the dog park since his entrance, and the uniformed corpses that have appeared to fall from a blue sky - or rather, we had not noticed them, because none of us ever look toward the Dog Park, or in fact acknowledge its existence in any way. All the same, I am told there was quite a crowd gathered to witness when the gates of the Dog Park slowly swung inward, and Erik walked through them. He paused, and turned, right at the threshhold of the park, and exchanged a few words with the Man in the Tan Jacket, who had been walking with him; and the Man in the Tan Jacket bowed to him - or began to bow, but Carlos's friend Erik stopped him, for he does not believe that any man should bow to another, and instead they shook hands, and Erik stepped out of the Dog Park, and the gates closed again behind him.

He and Carlos came to the station again afterwards, and he offered to take myself and Carlos out for a late dinner at the Moonlight Allnight Diner, to apologize for not having retrieved Intern Dana while he was in there. I should not have gone, listeners; I should not have gone, for he is clearly a dangerous man, but my duty as a journalist called to me, and I could not turn down the chance at an exclusive interview. Besides, I could not bring myself to leave poor, innocent Carlos alone in his company any longer.

He says that Intern Dana is fine, but she preferred to remain in the Dog Park, because she has important work to do there. The Monolith has started providing them with a daily meal of some viscous, tasteless white substance which they call 'soylent' - such a strange and unfamiliar word - and, when I asked him if he had learned anything about the Man in the Tan Jacket, he merely looked at me, and asked what had led me to believe that there was, in fact, a man under that tan jacket. Just being in the presence of Erik now makes you feel calm, and somehow more sensual. I can't remember if he was like that before, or if it's a side-effect of his sojourn under the shadow of the monolith.

Carlos tells me that I should listen to Erik. He says that Erik has made him realize that everything he has been studying in Night Vale, every catastrophe he has saved the town from, has been merely a distraction, a shell game, a light show, that has kept him from noticing what Night Vale really needs to be saved from. Not that Night Vale's scientific oddities aren't still fascinating - there would be enough of that to keep him happy in Night Vale for a lifetime even if he didn't have something more important keeping him here now - and then he smiled at me! - but that the supernatural oddities are not our truly unnatural and deadly foe.

He smiled at me, listeners! As if he meant to say that I was more important to him than science. Oh, I nearly swooned right there in the diner. Isn't Carlos just the greatest? After that he left for a few minutes, though. I think he must have been going to the counter to get us more ketchup or something. He certainly wasn't there to hear what his treacherous friend Erik said to me after that, because Carlos is a scientist, therefore constitutionally apolitical, and he certainly wouldn't get involved in something like an attempt to overthrow the City Council, violently if necessary, and bring in a new Council through fair and free elections, a Council which will actually work to protect and improve this town rather than oppress it and suck up its lifeblood like some vast parasitical organism.

Anyway, I of course responded to that like any true, loyal citizen of Night Vale, and told him that I trusted and unconditionally supported our Mayor and our wise City Council and the venerable election process that brings them back into office year after year, decade after decade, even when many of them should have long since aged into dust and freed us from their tyranny through the greater absolute tyranny of time. No, I am an obedient and definitely completely loyal citizen of Night Vale who is not capable of even thinking such subversive thoughts, much less speaking them, or the truly impossible, acting on them.

At this point Carlos must have come back, but he'd clearly missed the context, therefore making him completely innocent of any thoughtcrimes the Sheriff's Secret Police might be interested in, because he said, "Are you kidding me, Cecil? You've been not-so-quietly undermining the City Council's rule for years. You're half the reason Night Vale is still better off than Desert Bluffs. Do you even listen to your own show?"

What a question, listeners. What a question. Do I even listen to my own show? Certainly when I sit here in the recording booth, speaking to you, I think that I am hearing something, I think that I can feel the vibrations of my vocal cords traveling through the bones and rigid protein structures of my skull to reach my organs of hearing, but how do I know that that is the same sound that you, the listeners, hear on your radio sets at home and in your cars? In fact, we know it is not the same sound, because my voice doesn't resonate in your skull-bones from the inside like it does in mine, not unless you're one of the lucky people who has had a radio receiver secretly implanted in your jawbone, anyway. Indeed, no man's voice sounds the same to him as it does to other people. Can any person know that what they say is the same as what is heard? Perhaps the show that you hear at home is entirely different from what I hear, in this booth, inside my own head. Perhaps something changes in the sound at it passes through the great unknown alchemy of the transmission equipment. Perhaps, indeed, each of you hears a completely different show, for are we all not, in the end, trapped inside our own minds, unable to know to what extent our fallible perceptions provide a true image of the outside world instead of merely reflecting the mad shapes of our own eternal solitude back at us?

Indeed, each person lives in a private world of their own making, and therefore there's no possible way to prove that anything you may have heard on this show that might possibly be capable of being construed as subversive was actually something I said. I don't remember ever saying anything subversive, so therefore, anything you hear was merely your own trapped soul shouting back at you across a world of mirrors and illusions.

Anyway, that's what the town skeptic suggested when I shared a beer with him outside the diner afterward. He may be right about some things, listeners. I'm starting to come around on Carlos's friend Erik. He's not all bad. Intern Dana texted me from inside the Dog Park and told me that she thinks he's kind of cute, and also probably not into guys, at least according to something she overheard right before the Man in the Tan Jacket offered to take off his tan jacket.

So stay tuned, listeners, because coming up next is an hour of the silence inside your own mind being rebroadcast back to you on a two-second delay! But from me, until next time, good night, Night Vale, good night.