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Flip, Flop, and Fly

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Joseph: I don't do that!

Antoinette: Well, no, you don't do that, but you do duck down and shout 'Hey! Balloons!' when there are none about. Your whole life is becoming obsessively balloonic, you know. Why do I have to hang from this bloody gas bag all day? Don't I mean anything to you?

--The Golden Age of Ballooning

 

Flip, Flop, and Fly

 

 

This is how much Carlos likes Megan Wallaby: He will let her pick the music. She rarely asks to change it. She likes hearing Cecil, who stuck up for her in front of the whole town despite having been sucked into a utility closet by a homicidal -- actually, you already know that story, never mind. Anyway, Megan likes Cecil, and likes his voice, but sometimes a one-year-old in the shape of an adult man's hand needs to hear Cibo Matto do "Know Your Chicken" on repeat for half an hour. 

Carlos gets that. He was once a kindergartner with a hand-me-down CD player and a battered copy of the soundtrack to The Empire Strikes Back.

Megan Wallaby should, by rights, be cute and baby-pink and chubby and adorable, but whatever force decreed that she be given the form of an adult man's hand really went all out on the details. She's got callouses and hairy knuckles and ridged fingernails, and Carlos sometimes wonders whether there's a dockworker somewhere who woke up one morning with a baby at the end of his wrist. Then he does everything he can to remove this image from his head, because no, dear God, no. Megan's also bright and sweet and (no pun intended) dexterous, despite being all of a year old, and Carlos finds that he rather adores her. 

She shouldn't actually function as a living organism. He has no idea at all how she stays alive and healthy, or is capable of thought or feeling, or even how she eats -- it seems rude to ask -- but there she is. He's also not sure why she's been enrolled in Night Vale Elementary school at the age of one, but it's done, and he has no power to change that. 

If Carlos turns his podphonething off during one of Cecil's live broadcasts so Megan can play a tune, or he can get five minutes’ silence to concentrate on a problem, it always resumes exactly where it left off when he powers it up again. If it's something the phone really thinks he needs to hear, it will jump out of its charge cradle -- which isn't actually plugged into any power source that he can find -- and buzz around on his desk until he switches it on. Of course, the phone's notion of what Carlos needs to hear, and Carlos' notion of what Carlos needs to hear are often very different things. The day’s Mission Grove Park table saw derby results. An ad for a premium cable drama that doesn’t actually exist. Cecil reminding him on air to buy milk. 

On the other hand, it plays new episodes of The King Biscuit Flower Hour, so ...neat. 

Carlos doesn't question any of this. Well, of course he questions it, but he can't frame the question in a properly scientific way. "What the hell?" doesn't really count. So, he lets it go for now. The phone was a gift from Cecil on their one-month anniversary, and Carlos won't risk disassembling it for mere curiosity’s sake. It has a serial number (usually all zeroes, sometimes a good start on pi), a functioning FIND MY PHONE app, and syncs to his laptop's music library, but he can't find any matching model number online, and the online boards that specialize in jailbreaking phones have no clue. He has a notion that opening the case would reveal no mechanical parts at all. Possibly he would find crushed insect casings, ground bloodstone, and a bit of silver and violet hair.

He is happy that Cecil is equally puzzled by the perfectly ordinary wristwatch Carlos gave him at the same time. 

All that aside, today, Carlos really, really, really wishes that Megan would ask to change the music.

Sadly, this is not possible.

For reasons known only to Cecil Palmer, a man Carlos is currently considering recommending for psychiatric evaluation, The Weather today is The Magic Flute. Carlos hates The Magic Flute, so very, very much. So much. A lot. A lot, he hates it. Unfortunately, he's lying on the floor, stunned, and there's nothing he can do to stop it. 

BULLET POINT: CHANGE MUSIC - MEGAN? 

From the tiny, distressed sounds he can't quite hear (and doesn't know how she makes), it seems that Megan wouldn't mind a change, either. Or the poor kid is worried he's dead. Or she'd just really like to not be on the ceiling. At the moment, Megan Wallaby is on the laboratory ceiling, inside Carlos' rarely-used IN basket, held aloft by a clutch of helium party balloons.

This had seemed like a good idea at the time.

"What would you like to do today?" Carlos had asked her when her dad, Tak, dropped her off after school. Sometimes she chats with whoever's around the lab. Sometimes she plays games on the tablet duct taped to Carlos' desk (watching her play Candy Train is truly epic), or draws, or feeds fruit to the tortoise. This time she adopted the posture that indicated pondering, then called up the voice to text keyboard on her tablet.

FLY? she tapped into it. "Fly?" echoed the voice module. It sounded like Stephen Hawking and Suzanne Ciani made a baby with adenoids.

Carlos thought for a moment, and looked around the room, pondering. Oh heck yeah. Piece of cake. He turned back to Megan and grinned. "How high?"

Megan jumped up and down like a demented spider, squeaking inaudibly, and the tablet lit up like a disco floor. 

BULLET POINT: GET MEGAN WALLABY OFF THE CEILING 

So, Carlos has two problems that need solving. He's not yet certain how to prioritize them, so he's using bullet points rather than a classic numerical outline, even though this offends his fastidious soul. He's now come up with a third: 

BULLET POINT: TRAVEL BACK IN TIME, BRING PISTOL, SHOOT WOLFGANG AMADEUS MOZART IN THE THROAT. (GRANDFATHER PARADOX? IDGAF.) 

Carlos is not a violent man, but he is a realistic one. This is, logically, the only way to shut The Magic Flute the goddamn hell up. He wonders if perhaps he's hit his head. 

Hearing The Magic Flute, to Carlos, is like being given an icepick lobotomy with a blunt carrot. Scientists are supposed to like Mozart because he's all mathy and formal, but Carlos would happily travel back to 1782 and strangle the fucker after Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, because as far as Carlos is concerned, anything after that is repetitive self plagiarism that causes Carlos literal physical pain. (Carlos may be a bit vague on Mozart's biographical details. He doesn't care. The only time he had to sit through Amadeus, he rooted for F. Murray Abraham.)

Carlos has his reasons. Oh, yes. Carlos was once forced to watch The Magic fucking Flute done by fucking marionettes in Salzburg during a student trip to Europe. It was their third week in, and everyone was growing increasingly cranky. The novelty of packing and moving every three days had worn off. They were all getting low on money, which necessitated having to go on the pre-planned group activities rather than hit the town on their own at night. He knew nothing about Mozart. He hated marionettes. Marionettes are, after all, basically little clown corpses hanging from strings. The theater was too dark and he was too exhausted (and, admittedly, hung over) to read the tiny English synopsis printed in the ten-language, single-sheet program. He had no idea what the marionettes were doing, but they were incredibly creepy and kept singing "Pap...pap....pap..." Carlos is still not sure if it actually happened or he merely dreamt it while asleep in his seat, but he remembers at one point a marionette parrot tried to hang itself. A parrot. A parrot that can fly. It was the closest he'd ever come to contemplating suicide himself. At least, the closest until the bus ride back to the student hostel, during which the driver tried to make them all sing "Edelweiss" because everyone knows Americans just adore The Sound of Music. The driver had wisely backed down when a violin student from Cedar Rapids had turned her CD player to earsplitting level and drowned him out with, of all things, Tubular Bells, and the ostensibly supervising adults had pelted the poor man with puppet theater programs folded into pointed missiles.

BULLET POINT: INVENT TIME TRAVEL (SEE PREVIOUS BULLET POINT)

This goal, Carlos understands, may be slightly unrealistic. But if it proves realizable, Carlos is willing to take the chance that Mozart might be a great-great-great-great grandparent, (though Beethoven would, based on looks, be a better bet). If Carlos has to erase himself from the timeline in order to take out The Magic Flute, he will absolutely do it. 

Unfortunately, Carlos can do nothing about either Megan or Mozart right now, because he is superglued facedown to the floor of his lab. 

BULLET POINT: DO NOT BE SUPERGLUED TO THE LAB FLOOR. THIS WILL ENABLE ME TO RESCUE MEGAN AND TURN OFF THE MUSIC. NOT NECESSARILY IN THAT ORDER. SORRY, MEGAN. 

Really, he'll settle for this. The whole time travel-murder thing is probably too ambitious and, now that he's taken a moment to think it over, somewhat immoral. It is also overshadowed by:

BULLET POINT: MAKE THE TORTOISE STOP CHEWING ON MY HAIR. I DO NOT LIKE THE TORTOISE CHEWING ON MY HAIR. 

There is a tortoise chewing on Carlos' hair. He's not angry with the tortoise. Not like he's angry with that dead prick Mozart. The tortoise is just another Night Valean fallen under the spell of Carlos' supposedly perfect hair. Or it might be trying to help him. Or it's hungry and not that bright. But the sensation of being chewed on is incredibly creepy, and Carlos worries that the tortoise will get hairballs if he succeeds in taking an actual bite and swallowing. Also, having a chunk of hair ripped out of his scalp will probably hurt. He doesn't want to test this hypothesis. Most importantly, if his hair is damaged in any way, Cecil will Have A Drama. Carlos is not in the mood for Cecil Having A Drama. And Carlos doesn't want to get tortoise rabies. The shots hurt like a bitch.

BULLET POINT: FIND OUT IF TORTOISE RABIES IS A REAL THING OR SOMETHING I JUST MADE UP OKAY I JUST MADE IT UP BUT THERE ARE PROBABLY ALL KINDS OF GERMS IN THAT THING'S MOUTH THAT I DON'T WANT ANYWHERE NEAR MY BLOODSTREAM 

Also: 

BULLET POINT: KILL CECIL PALMER 

Because really, this is all Cecil's fault. Cecil announced The Weather about 20 minutes ago, and The goddamned motherfucking Magic ball of shit holy cow this is really making me cuss Flute came out. 

Cecil probably has no idea how much Carlos hates The Magic Flute. It's not something that's come up in conversation. It's certainly not something he'd do to Carlos on purpose, at least not unless he's really got his Machiavelli on. But the damage is done and someone must pay. 

Cecil has eclectic taste in weather, it's true. Carlos isn't even certain that Cecil chooses The Weather. The Weather may in fact choose Cecil, the Night Valean equivalent of the thug life. Cecil's never shown much interest in classical music, apart from sometimes having Mars, Bringer of War as his morning alarm tone. He usually sleeps through it and Carlos has to poke him. While there has been Weather that Carlos would not mind smacking in the metaphorical face with a metaphorical rubber hose, it's always over after four minutes -- eight if it's some kind of 12-inch mix that may or may not exist in the outside world -- come to think of it, much of The Weather doesn't seem to exist in the outside world -- and Carlos can get on with his life. The Magic cockbiting shitfuck Flute, sadly, will not end for another six to eight days, subjective time, and so Cecil needs to die. 

Sorry, Cecil. 

BULLET POINT: CARLOS COULD NOT IN FACT HARM A HAIR ON CECIL'S HEAD (ON THE DAYS HE HAS HAIR). GODDAMMIT WILL NOTHING GO RIGHT TODAY? 

The best Carlos can hope for at the moment is that Mrs Wallaby will stop in early and rescue them. 

BULLET POINT: HELP WOULD BE REALLY GOOD. FOR EXAMPLE, MRS. WALLABY WILL BE HERE SOON. SHE COULD HELP. 

Carlos is not sure this is the best idea, since Mrs Wallaby may react badly to seeing her infant daughter trapped on the lab ceiling while the adult responsible for her wellbeing for an hour or so after school on odd days is pinned to the floor, being masticated by a tortoise, while Megan struggles to avoid being sucked into a vent or tangled in one of the ceiling fans. Do they have ceiling fans? Carlos can't remember, and he is fairly sure that sometimes bits of the building change for no reason. 

BULLET POINT: OUTSIDE HELP THAT IS NOT MRS. WALLABY WOULD BE BEST, SINCE I DON'T WANT TO GET IN TROUBLE WITH MRS. WALLABY WHO IS AFTER ALL A MOM AND MOMS ARE SCARY AND SHE MIGHT NOT LET MEGAN COME BACK ANY MORE.

Carlos feels bad that he cannot call Mrs. Wallaby "Herschel," which is after all her name. She's younger than Carlos, for God's sake. But he was brought up never to call a friend's parents by their first name, and he just...can't. 

BULLET POINT: WORSE, SHE WILL LAUGH AT US. SHE WILL TOTALLY LAUGH AT US.  

She will laugh at them, and she will be right to do so.

UPDATED BULLET POINT: OUTSIDE HELP FROM SOMEONE WHO ISN'T MRS. WALLABY. LIKE THAT TEAM OF SCIENTISTS I TECHNICALLY EMPLOY WHO ARE NEVER HERE WHEN I NEED THEM. JERKS.

Even though: 

BULLET POINT: THIS IS ALL THEIR FAULT 

Carlos' team are currently up in Radon Canyon, in hazmat suits, swapping out the filters in the radiation detection units and taking live readings and possibly driving off four-foot ants with metal poles. The ants aren't particularly dangerous. Even at that size, they're still ants, and not terribly bright or good at fighting things that aren't other ants. The time the ants tried dragging Brigid Fontaine down one of their holes was an anomaly -- she'd spilled a Coke on her suit, and smelled like something an ant would naturally want to drag down a hole -- and doomed to failure. Brigid, a bodybuilder, would never have fit down the hole. She was (and is) also an entomologist, and knew where to kick a giant ant and make it hurt. Once Brigid was freed, the team spent an hour taking photos with the ants and giving them Cokes. Yes, you've seen them on Tumblr or Facebook. No, they're not photoshopped. Not even the ones with various ants and scientists wearing a sombrero. 

"And why was there a sombrero in the van?" Carlos asked his team. 

They shuffled their feet and made muhno sounds. It's nature's way. Things just...turn up in vans. Sombreros. Fireworks. Beer. You just never know what you'll find in a science van. They're all still pissed that Carlos won't let them paint it like the Mystery Machine, or at least the A-Team's van, even though he's explained repeatedly that it's leased.

It is surprisingly difficult to convince a team of scientists that keeping a four-foot ant, even just one, just the littlest one, it already has a name, Carlos (its name was Keith Moon), as a lab pet is a stupid idea. Especially when, deep down, you agree that Keith the giant ant would be the best pet ever. Giant ants are part of why Carlos got into science, for God's sake. Giant ants are part of why anyone gets into science. 

But whyyyyyyyy, Carlos? 

"Beee...cause...I...was gonna ask Megan Wallaby's parents if they thought Megan might want to hang out after school a day or two a week because we have actual science and non-homicidal computers she can use to communicate and maybe learn some stuff without getting shoved into a drinking fountain," Carlos suddenly decided, surprised that this was not only an good excuse but an excellent idea. Megan is smart and capable, he explains, but she is probably too small to fend off a four-foot radioactive ant, even an ant as admirable as Keith here. He doesn't have to explain why offering her downtime in a safe place away from the little bastards at Night Vale Elementary who make her life miserable is a good idea. They all grew up weird, one way or another. More than one of them has benefited from the ADA. They know the deal.

BULLET POINT: SOMEBODY NEEDS TO SHOW THESE LITTLE SO AND SO'S HOW REAL SCIENCE WORKS.

In any case, it wouldn't be the first time a schoolkid came to the lab. Often they do it on a dare, but it's a chance to show someone in Night Vale that he's not Frankenstein. Frankenstein was a surgeon, anyway, and Carlos doesn't have the training or equipment for that sort of thing, not until he gets a lot more free time and grant money. The kids are often disappointed by the absence of Tampering in God's Domain, but they already have the more secluded bits of Mission Grove Park and the Night Vale Zoo for that stuff. 

They're always impressed with the soda and Mentos thing. After giant ants, soda and Mentos are the second reason anyone gets into science. Their National Science Foundation grant auditor actually approves two cases of diet soda annually, in the name of Public Information Distribution.

Sometimes -- rarely -- they have a homework question, or need access to a computer terminal without braving the public library. Sometime they come in with queries that actually make him think for a moment. Tamika Flynn, for example, came in to ask about building catapults and trebuchets. Carlos told her that slings or bolos are easier to make and much more portable if she really wanted to "hunt birds." Her phrase. Start small, he told her. Work your way up.

She will, she said. She thanked him. Her smile was brilliant and a little frightening. She stopped at the book bin by the door and selected The Tin Drum, which should be well above her reading level, but Carlos remembered arguing with school librarians over which shelves he should have access to and only smiled to himself. He also remembered being forced to take a semester of Spanish, a language he was fucking fluent in, because Starkweather Junior-Senior had no mechanism in place to allow him to test out of it. His teacher, Senor Lomax, informed him that his name en espanol was "Charlie" and did not take kindly to being corrected when he got a word wrong.

When he told Cecil about Tamika's request later that night, Cecil laughed and laughed, but wouldn’t explain why. When Cecil, who never stopped talking, refuses to explain something, it sets off warning bells in Carlos’ head. But he didn’t figure it out until a few weeks later when, as they say in the movies, shit got real. 

In any case, Mr and Mrs Wallaby were thrilled with Carlos' proposal, and Keith Moon was returned to his home in Radon Canyon for one last photo opportunity. The scientists made a GOODBYE KEITH banner and they all wore Spongebob party hats over their radiation hoods. 

Somehow, mysteriously, his team found a very large desert tortoise on the drive back. It had been in distress, they said. They'd found it on its back, they said, baking in the sun, they said, and it was probably best to help it up and keep it around for a bit, just to make sure it was okay. And it has a name, Carlos: Voigt-Kampf. 

Carlos knew when to compromise. Voigt-Kampf was allowed to stay and do whatever it is tortoises do, though he was never as popular online as Keith. He was no trouble, apart from the occasional slippery patch on the linoleum, and made a good excuse to keep a supply of fresh fruit in the lab and get the team to eat something besides Andy Capp's Hot Fries and Zero Bars. They put a catflap -- well, tortoise flap -- in the back door so he could leave if he wanted, and also give Megan an emergency exit if the worst happened.

The lab had a plastic tub full of outdated tablets, laptops, netbooks, and smartphones (outdated if you need sheer number crunching power, though not if you need what amounts to a glorified Speak 'n Spell) that could be taped or hook-and-looped to Megan-accessible areas, and locked out of Night Vale's public wireless network in case her friend Computer decided to come looking for her. (This is scientifically impossible, since Computer is essentially dead without electricity, but Carlos is no fool.) She could read, or talk with a voice app, or play games or whatever she liked. They even gave the Wallabys a couple to take home. They seemed to have never heard of a tablet before, but Carlos knew better than to find that weird. He'd seen customers in the Moonlite All-Nite Diner pressing stylii into clay tablets, tapping on laptops, and clicking abacuses. Once he saw Cactus Jillie feeding Champ bites of invisible pie while pecking at a vintage 'portable' Commodore 64, body as big as a suitcase and soda-orange screen the size of an index card.

Voigt-Kampf and Megan both got the run of the place. Megan had nothing to fear from tortoise assault because she could easily outrun him (when she wasn’t riding him). Voigt-Kampf was easy to feed, easy to clean, made little noise, and, after Carlos tripped on him for the third time, the scientists taped helium party balloons to the tortoise's shell that float just below eye level, so they always know where he is. Also, if they don't stop playing with the helium, he will remove the vending machines, do not test him. Carlos is still angry about the time they all got slightly plastered and wrote a PSA offering $5.00 to any member of the public willing to ring the doorbell of the nonexistent house in Desert Creek, then sent it into the radio station on the lab's official letterhead. They don’t test him. They like their Hot Fries. 

Carlos gives his staff a stern though probably unnecessary reminder that Megan is a human being, and they are not to treat her as a pet or toy. 

BULLET POINT: IT IS THE GODDAMN TORTOISE'S FAULT

 Cecil often mocks Carlos' lack of cooking ability, because Cecil doesn't quite get that the STEM track is not the track to good eatin'. Cecil has never had to live off ramen for a semester and would clutch his matching black pearls (metaphorical or literal, depending on his fashion choice on any given day) at the very idea of buying store brand soda. Threatening to take B-list junk food away from scientists is like threatening to withhold a beagle's biscuits. If beagles understood threats. They'd probably just wonder where biscuits had gone. It's not a great simile, never mind. 

In any case, Megan made her request, Voigt-Kampf's balloons were temporarily removed from his shell, and tied to the corners of Carlos' IN tray (when he'd finally found it on Brigid's chair, under a pile of back issues of Shindig). Megan hopped in and took a brief test flight a few inches off the desk to make sure the lift and balance were correct. Success! 

On the radio, Cecil finished the birth announcements. 

"Okay, before we try any higher," Carlos told Megan, "I would feel better if I put a little glue on the knots to hold them in place and make sure they don't come undone. Then we can try some free flying, okay? Maybe propulsion. We've got some of those little motorized hand fans somewhere." Everybody in Night Vale had a glove compartment full of little motorized hand fans. Usually they smelled faintly of leaked battery. 

Megan made the gesture that passed for a nod. 

Cecil made a speech about the miracle of life, assuming the very concept of life was not a collective delusion, and welcomed the newest, tiniest Night Vale citizens (as well as The Black Dauphin's latest, a dwarf hippopotamus christened Etienne-Marie) to this portion of their souls' long journey through the Void. "And now," he said, "With our youngest residents in mind, I give you...The Weather!" 

"Rockin'," Carlos told Megan, dug around in a drawer, and found three tubes of superglue gel. He absently tucked them in his lab coat pocket, thought, Did I just say 'rockin'' out loud?, suddenly realized that somewhere, some utter asshole was playing Mozart, and tripped over the unmarked tortoise. 

Carlos learned three things in that moment. 

First, the impact of a human torso on a linoleum floor is painful. Not as painful several dozen miniature rocket-powered projectiles to the face and chest, but still, pretty painful, and nearly as surprising. Worse, it's the kind of impact that you know immediately will hurt even more tomorrow, and worse the day after that. 

Second, superglue tubes are not well constructed, because who's going to do anything to suddenly put pressure on a small tube of glue except for, say, ANYONE USING IT TO DO ANYTHING EVER, and cannot withstand much beyond gentle fingertip force. Certainly not a 180 pound human body slamming into a hard floor. (Shoulda shelled out for the cushioning, he scolded himself, but they were on a tight budget when they'd moved in. This had changed now that they'd started publishing and patenting, but in the early days the lab looked as though it had been furnished with a high school drama club's rejects. Because it had. Thanks, Night Vale High!) This will, in fact, make the tubes pop like huge grapes and the glue will go everywhere. While he lay on the floor, stunned, he could feel it soak through his coat and shirt, a spray of tiny droplets covering half his face, and even a bit up one nostril. 

When he could move a little, he made the mistake of trying to wipe his face with his fingers. 

Third, superglue dries very, very quickly. 

So there he was, one hand stuck to his face, one stuck to the floor, and the top section of his coat, shirt, and chest quickly fusing to the lino. The cotton in his coat reacted to the cyanoacrylate in the glue and, for a frightening moment, generated heat and smoke. 

He was smart enough to hold his breath until the fumes dispersed. "Ow," he managed, grateful to not be on fire. For a change. 

Megan made a non-noise like frantic question marks. 

"It's okay," he managed. "I'm okay, honey, I just fell." Oh Christ if I'd put that on the balloon strings...! 

"!!!!!" 

"I'm fine. I promise. Are you okay?" 

"!!" Her non-voice was rising in position as well as pitch. Oh hell. He'd forgotten to weigh the basket down when he'd gone rummaging for the glue. Ohhhhhhhh double hell with a hat on. 

"Okay. You’ll be okay. I promise. Don't be scared. First, it's just Mozart. it sounds awful but can't actually hurt you. Second, even if you fall, WHICH YOU WON’T, you don't weigh much, and a fall from that height won't hurt you." Unless you get caught in the ceiling fan, or clench up and land on a knuckle, or jam the hell out of your fingers, or hit that big pointy thing we use to spike the utility bills, or fall into a culture or a Bunsen burner and oh shit I think I just killed Megan oh shit I JUST KILLED MEGAN oh shit oh shit calm down, Carlos she's fine she's fine. Do we have ceiling fans? I’m honestly not sure. If not, we should get some.

BULLET POINT: THIS IS YOUR OWN FAULT, CARLOS

He can't argue with that, and now he's back where he started. He has an explanation for everything (mainly that he is a giant doofus who should not be allowed near children because he either helps make them into little terrorists or gets them good and maimed, Wonka style).

Someone will turn up eventually, unless it's one of those days when everyone in Night Vale is frozen by fresh minty knockout gas (unlikely, since it's not fresh minty knockout gas day for another six to eight weeks, depending on when the City Council can hire the tents again). His sebaceous glands will produce enough oil to let him un-stick his face, eventually. This will hurt, especially if he gets impatient and starts pulling -- which he certainly will -- but it already hurts, so what's a few more welts and peels on top of the bruises?

His lab coat will never do science again, but Carlos is handy with a needle and thread. Maybe he can put a big SPIDERWOLVES patch over the melted bit and wear it to games, or cannibalize one of Cecils' old bowling jackets and convince him to join the league again. (Cecil thinks Carlos is afraid of the bowling alley, which is kind of adorable, but Carlos wouldn't mind giving it a try. The Desert Flower has pinball machines, and a real jukebox.)

Cecil will fuss over whatever patch of skin is ripped off his chest, and they'll both enjoy that.

The only thing he has no explanation for is The Magic Flute. Maybe it's the damn Glow Cloud inflicting culture on the town again, like the time it bestowed upon Night Vale, in its wisdom, a rain of caviar. This had ended both badly and violently, since Innsmouth's Famous American Caviar hatches if left exposed to oxygen for too long. Also, that shit tastes like fish eggs.

 

Finally, finally, finally, the front door swished, beeped, rattled, and opened. Carlos no longer cared who was rescuing them. He was in pain, bored, and needed to pee.

"Carlos? CARLOS?"

“Cecil?’ Oh thank you, God, the actual least humiliating rescuer. "Down he--AUGH!" Cecil tripped over him and fell to the floor. "Are you all right?"

"Are you? Why are you on the floor?

"How did you get here?"

"In my car."

"No, I mean..."

"You gave me one of those slidey cards."

"No, how did you know to..."

"Which nobody needs because everybody knows the entry code is 2001."

"What?"

"Oh. You're probably not supposed to know that everybody knows that. Forget I said it. Why are you on the floor?"

"Is Megan okay? Can you see her?"

Cecil looked around. "She's running around on the ceiling girders with a couple of balloons." He waved at her. "Hi, Megan!"

There was a pause.

"Megan Inez Wallaby, if you ever make that gesture at me again, I will tell your mother!"

"Good for you, Megan!" Carlos called. "She likes you, really," he told Cecil. “It’s just the music. The horrible, horrible music. Can you get her down?"

Cecil looked up again. "Not really, no.”

“Dang. Also, there is Mozart, and it is terrible.”

"Well, why don’t you turn it off, you silly man?"

"I AM GLUED TO THE MOTHERrrrrcaring floor, you stupid twwwwit."

"Oh. See, that's what I was asking. Was that so hard?" Cecil crouched and tilted his head so they could see each other. Cecil looked all cute and concerned, which made Carlos wanted to punch him less. "Are you hurt, dearest Car--OH MY GOD WHAT IS THE TORTOISE DOING TO YOUR HAIR?"

"I'm just stuck. And bruised. And mostly stuck. Could you move the tortoise please?"

Cecil gripped Voigt-Kampf by the shell and carried him across the room to a spot where he could do no more tonsorial damage. He returned to his former place at Carlos' side, and now his eyes were like lightning. "I've never liked him."

"Yes you do. You bring him strawberries."

"Never!" Cecil growled. "He's the Steve Carlsburg of turtles."

"He's not a turtle. Do you want to hear the story or not? Also, and this is very important, HELP ME."

"Is it going to end with me performing an emergency amputation?"

"No. It's not that kind of thing."

"Then yes, I do want to hear you, and of course I'll help."

“You’d help me anyway.”

“Well yes.”

So Carlos gave him the abridged, irritated version of the story.

Cecil looked pensive for a moment. "You promise I don't have to cut your arm off?"

"NO! Just..."

"Good. I'm never doing that again."

Don't ask. Do not ask. Carlos knew it would be a scout troop story, and they never ended well. "Just...find some scissors or something and cut my coat up the back and I think between the two of us we can get me off."

Their eyes met. Cecil started to giggle.

"Off the floor."

Cecil doubled over, cackling.

Now Carlos was giggling. It hurt the glued bits of his face. "Shut up."

"Oh all right." Cecil began rummaging through drawers. “Where are the scissors?”

"What on Earth is going on?"

Cecil was straddling Carlos's thighs from behind and holding a very large utility knife. He looked up to see Herschel Wallaby in the doorway. "Um. I promise this isn't what it looks like."

Herschel crossed her arms and stared at them for an unnerving moment. "It looks like Carlos is superglued to the floor and you're trying to cut him out of his coat."

"Hi, Mrs. Wallaby," Carlos told the floor.

"Hi Carlos," said Mrs Wallaby.

"Oh," said Cecil. "In that case, it's exactly what it looks like."

"Oh good. I won't interrupt, then. Megan, honey, you want down from there?" Herschel held out her hands.

With a silent Bwee! Megan leaped from a ceiling girder into her mother's arms, trailing two balloons.

Herschel caught her easily, and kissed her. "Good girl! I don't have to ask if you had fun today."

Megan ran up her arm and perched on top of her head like an excited hat.

Cecil finished slicing the jacket open, and peeled down as much of Carlos' sleeves as he could manage. "Okay, you sure you wanna do it this way?"

"I'm not getting any less stuck, I don't think you want to pour acetone on me, I’m absolutely certain I don’t want you pouring acetone on me, and I kind of need to...go."

 "Okay then." Cecil shifted position and got his arms around Carlos' waist.

 "Lift with your legs," Carlos reminded him.

 "I know to lift with my legs. Okay, on three?"

"On three," Carlos agreed. 

"Oh God," said Herschel, and looked away. Megan shifted position for a better view.

"One," said Cecil.

"Two...Herschel, I'm really, realAAAAAAAGHly sorry," Carlos said, as Cecil lifted him bodily and set him on his feet. "Oh, son of a biiiiscuit that wasn't three you never even got to three!" I called her Herschel! he thought. I’m such a grown-up!

"I figured it would hurt less." He looked over Carlos' shoulder. "Is that one of those giant bats at the window?"

Carlos actually turned to look. "Wh--" Cecil ripped the front half of his coat from his chest.

Herschel shrieked in sympathy pain, then burst out laughing.

Carlos shrieked even louder. "You FU--" then clutched at his face, and then at his chest, and then at his face again, and finally went into a sort of standing fetal curl. "It didn't. Oh God I hate you so much right now."

"No you don't. When I got my Disconcerting Situationist First Aid merit badge, that was exactly the sort of reaction we were told to expect from our subjects. Victims. PATIENTS."

Carlos looked up at Herschel. "I swear, this will probably never happen again."

She looked down at him. “Right now I’m just trying really hard not to make a ‘loco parentis’ pun.”

“Oh God no,” Carlos said weakly.

"It's 'victims,'” Herschel told Cecil. “I have that badge, too."

"Are you okay?" Cecil asked Carlos.

Carlos' hand snaked up, grabbed Cecil by the collar, and pulled his head down until they were eyeball to eyeball. "Why? Why do you do things? Why The Magic Flute? Why are you evil?"

"I was wondering that myself," said Herschel. "Doesn't seem like your sort of thing at all. I mean Mozart, I don't think you're evil. Carlos, stop strangling him."

"Thank you." Cecil pried crabbed fingers away from his collar and tie, and carefully checked Carlos' hair where Voigt-Kampf had gnawed it. Satisfied, he glared at the tortoise. "You are a very, very lucky reptile."

"Don't threaten my tortoise," Carlos chided.

"Are tortoises reptiles?" Mrs. Wallaby asked.

Cecil shook his head. "We just don't know." He kissed Carlos' chewed head. "You're fine."

"Yes," Carlos agreed drily. "Thank God my hair is untouched."

Mrs. Wallaby, apparently the only sane person in the room, fetched the FIRST AID kit from its spot above the book bin and handed it to Cecil. "You got the Mundane First Aid badge, right?"

"Earl Harlan did, so I can fake it. Also there are instructions printed on most of this stuff."

"I'm really sorry," Carlos told Mrs Wallaby again. "You're taking this very well."

"What, this?" She looked up at the ceiling, where the remaining balloons was drifting toward a (mercifully closed) skylight, the IN tray dangling uselessly.

When did we get skylights? Carlos thought.

"This is nothing," Mrs Wallaby said. "Tak and I left her alone in the living room once, asleep in her crib, and when we came back two minutes later, she was riding the ceiling fan like a carousel. I still don't know how she got up there. We've had to bolt all the air vent grilles to the walls, and get rid of the rolling window blinds. Once we had to call a plumber to get her out of...actually you don't want to hear that one."

Cecil and Carlos shook their heads in unison. They really didn't.

“If you’re all right, I’ll leave you two to...patch up, before Tak’s slow cooker explodes. I trust that thing a lot less than I do you.” She made for the door, Megan waving a goodbye finger, then turned back to them with her hand on the knob. “Did you guys know that when Amelia Earhart was seven or so, she built a rollercoaster in her backyard?"

"Really?" said Carlos.

"Neat!" said Cecil.

"Yup." Herschel pointed at the small creature perched atop her head. "I for one can't wait."

Cecil had covered him with enough band-aids, tape, and Bactine to weatherproof a Volkswagen Microbus. "You're really okay?" He asked for the hundredth time, probing a bandaged cheekbone.

“Ow.” Carlos smacked his hand away, then gave him a peck on the cheek. "Yeah. Cecil, you never said -- how did you even know to come here?"

"Oh, that’s perfectly simple. I--OH SHIT THE MAGIC FLUTE IS ALMOST OVER GOTTA GO!" Cecil bolted for the exit, skidding on the linoleum.

Carlos got to his feet and trailed after him. "GO GO GO! ALSO YOU'RE BRINGING HOME DINNER!" He waved to Cecil from the door.

Cecil fumbled with his car keys. “OF COURSE!”

“AND YOU’RE NOT DONE COMFORTING ME!” Then he said, "Ow." His face hurt.

"DON’T TELL ME MY JOB!" Cecil fairly leapt into his car and peeled out of the parking lot, as though he'd suddenly found himself in an episode of The Rockford Files. He'd make it back to the station in plenty of time if he caught one of the glow arrows. Or maybe Mozart would just carry on Mozarting until Cecil was back in his booth. God knows Carlos wouldn't know the difference.

Carlos watched him go, sighed, turned to pick up the first aid box and put it away, and tripped on the tortoise again.

"Oh, son of a bitch." He lay there a while to catch his breath, and because it seemed, at the moment, to be the safest place for him.

 

He listened to the music for a while, recognizing a passage he hadn’t heard in decades. I didn’t dream the part about the suicidal parrot, he thought. I’d always kind of hoped I had.

"Goodness, dear listeners, that was a bit more Weather than I'd planned on. Which only shows that plans are tricky things, and the Weather, in or out of the studio, can never truly be predicted. Sometimes you get sunshine on a cloudy day. Or when it's meant to be cold outside, you get the month of May. Some days you hope for maybe a little toytown techno, or Big Joe Turner, but fate drops ninety minutes of suicidal Italian parrots in your lap, and there's nothing you can do, other than be grateful it was an abridged version. If any of our newest citizens are still awake out there -- salut, Etienne-Marie -- well, this is something for them to keep in mind as they build their lives. The world is full of pretty things that screech horribly, and odd-looking things that show themselves to be little miracles if you only bother to take a closer look. As for me, I've just spent half an hour peeling the most intelligent man in our little city off a linoleum floor, thanks to an unplanned mishap involving superglue and gravity. I plan not to allow him to forget this anytime soon. After this broadcast, I plan to bring him pizza and watch while he tapes balloons to a tortoise. Which, I've just been informed by text message, are reptiles. Tortoises, that is. Not pizzas. Good to know. Also, order extra cheese. We'll see how any of these plans work out.

"Listeners, I assure you this all made sense at the time. Sometimes sense dissolves away, fading like music, or plans, and we can only pretend that we understand.

"There's probably a lesson for us all here, but right now my producer, Daniel, is tapping his watch and staring at me in that special way of his..." Cecil gave Daniel his best fuck you, corporo-droid smile. "...to remind me to tell you to stay tuned for a special live broadcast from Okinawa of four hours of the sound of a smoke-filled pachinko parlor...and that it's time for me to say good night, Night Vale.

"Good Night, Night Vale."