Night Vale takes care of its own. That's what sets your little town apart from places like Desert Bluffs (for shame, Desert Bluffs, for shame).
It's never seemed more important than it does now.
One night you end up at Old Woman Josie's, curled on her porch swing with your legs tucked up, crying into your knees. Erika is sitting next to you, rubbing your back patiently, waiting until you feel ready to talk. They're good at that. Salsa music plays in the kitchen and you can hear the squeak-squeak as Josie dances around her kitchen to the beat, clean rags on her feet. ("It's the only way I can get the floor to really shine, dear.")
The tears subside. Erika's hand is warm between your shoulderblades. "What happened?" they ask.
You wipe at your eyes with the cuff of your shirt. "I went to Ralph's to get some stuff for this sacrifice I'm doing on Friday and when I went to pay there were these two women in line behind me. I think my mom used to play bridge with them. They were talking in Weird Spanish and laughing and it was about me, Erika, and I couldn't take it anymore I couldn't stand hearing them laugh at me." You take a deep breath and rest your head on your knees. It's kind of good to talk about the whole thing, even if saying it out loud makes it feel... less. You can't quite get it right.
"You know, you're always welcome here," Erika says, and their hand moves up and around your shoulders into a gentle, friendly hug.
"I know." Your nose is running. You fumble awkwardly in your jeans pocket for a tissue. "But Erika it was so bad, I thought I was doing okay and then... I know they weren't really talking about me, but I was so sure and I couldn't stay there one second longer." It smells like cinnamon and baking bread.
A light breeze rustles by you, and if it weren't Erika you're sitting with you would expect a comment about how thinking that people at the grocery store are talking about you is paranoid and irrational.
Erika hums gently, like a cat's purr. "Miz Josie is making apple crumble tonight if you'd like to stay."
"I'd love to," you tell them, and it feels good to honestly want something.
"OK, so, your usual and a glass of prickly pear tea," says Nicodemus, before turning aside to whisper covertly into a pad of paper. He turns back to you. Today he has olive skin. It's a nice change from last week's vibrant purple. "What happened to you? I was expecting you last night."
You are practically a regular at Big Rico's on Tuesday nights, and being reminded of this fact makes you shift back in your sticky plastic seat. You don't like being notable in any way. "I didn't get out of the house yesterday."
"Oh." He nods in sympathy. "Time vortex? Chris and Estaban got caught in one of those yesterday too and I had to cover for them. Boy, that was a pain. Although I think most of town had run-ins with those time vortex thingies. Hardly anyone came in, and usually our Half-Off A Slice With Evidence Of Creeping Existential Paralysis deal is a huge hit on Tuesdays."
You don't really want to say the truth, but at the same time you do, just to see his reaction. "No, I... couldn't get out of bed." You spent the day staring at the ceiling for the most part. There was a lot of self-pity. Also, wishing that you could fall asleep and just stay that way for a millennium or two.
"I see. Well, at least you weren't stuck in a time vortex. Those things are the worst." He glances at the next table, where a being has been waving a limb for his attention for several minutes. "Look, I have to go. But I'm glad you're feeling better today, and that you came out for something to eat." He smiles, and then he is gone.
You are at the pharmacy, buying some painkillers for yourself and a sleep aid for the large crystalline spider who lives in your kitchen. The wailing of the infinite void next to the fridge has been keeping her awake, and your request to the City Council for an exorcism is still being processed.
The cashier totals up your items and pauses. "You're due for a refill on the escitalopram, uh, two months ago. Is there a time-travel issue, would you like to refill today, or...?"
"No refill, thanks." You get out your wallet to pay.
"You know, this may sound a little rude," the cashier says as he makes change, "but I'd say that was a good decision on your part. Escitalopram can interfere with the proper functioning of a bloodstone circle, did you know that? I didn't! Gosh, they should warn people about that before putting them on those powerful drugs. Do you want your receipt?"
"No receipt. Thank you."
"You're welcome." He smiles at you. "Remember though, we're closed on Sunday, because we technically don't exist then."
The depression comes and goes for the most part. Right now it is sitting on you like the low-grade fog that covers the waterfront. You always want to sleep but you can never quite drift off.
Tonight you end up at the Moonlite All-Nite. Their special on Wednesdays is cherry-flavored invisible pie, and you have always wanted to see what that looks like.
The prospect of talking to the waitress seems immense and insurmountable as you shut your car door and then walk inside. It's like there's a mountain sitting in your gut, even though mountains aren't, technically speaking, real. Maybe there's a whole range of them.
You sit down. You wait. Your waitress does not appear. You glance at the clock. Surely she should have been here by now? You actually feel hungry now, and you don't want to spoil that sensation.
You glance back at the table and there is a plate there. Also a fork. Neither were there before. You don't remember ordering the pie but evidently you did.
You make the first cut carefully, pressing down with the edge of your fork like performing a surgery. (You are glad that there was only a fork and no knife. Today sharp edges are just dangerous temptations.) It feels just like normal pie, and cautiously you put it to your mouth. You don't open your lips wide enough for the evident height of the pie and sticky filling gets everywhere.
It's good. The cherries are just a little sour, the crust buttery and flaky and perfect. It's not just good, it's delicious.
You cut out a second bite, and a piece of paper comes out of the pie (or rather the empty-looking air where your pie is). You pick it up. It is clean, not sticky at all.
DEAR RESIDENT, it says in scratchy, careful printing. WE ARE SORRY THAT YOU ARE FEELING "UNDER THE WEATHER". WE RECOMMEND YOU GET ON TOP OF THE WEATHER AS SOON AS POSSIBLE. FOR THIS WE ADVISE THAT, WHEN YOU GO HOME, YOU MAKE A SMALL SACRIFICE IN YOUR BLOODSTONE CIRCLE. WE HAVE ALWAYS FOUND ONE EGG TO BE COMPLETELY SATISFACTORY. WE HOPE YOU FEEL BETTER SOON.
There is a cheery addendum at the bottom:
ps since you have been voted "good citizen of the nite" here your pie is free have a good "nite"
Then there's a three-eyed smiley face. It reminds you of Juan, your old coworker. Before he was replaced by his alternate-dimension self, that is.
Your face feels oddly tight. You raise one hand to feel it. Maybe it's sand roach bites again.
You discover that you are smiling.
It's a nice feeling.
Night Vale is weird, you think sometimes. (Everywhere is weird. The fact of your existence is weird.)
But it's a good weird.