Well, listeners, I have now boarded the subway. They do not appear to be taking Spanish dollars in return for tickets, but rather, sense-memories, so I am embarking on this trip no longer aware of what peaches taste like. I'll have to pick up some at the Raúl's after work.
In the meantime....
...oh, this is embarrassing! It appears the mobile broadcasting equipment is not connecting from within this tunnel, and I am effectively talking to myself.
At least it seems to be recording properly. I'll simply have to play this back as a report once I get home.
To continue. The car I boarded is clean and in good shape, except for what I presume are line maps and advertisements on the walls, which are scuffed and scratched. The only other passenger is a gentleman at the far end of the car. Let's see if I can get him to describe the contents for us.
Sir? Excuse me, sir...?
He appears to be asleep, and not inclined to wake up. Maybe we'll try again later.
The view outside the windows is...dark. Surprisingly, uniformly dark. Even in a tunnel, there's usually some kind of light, isn't there? Perhaps we have exited the tunnel and are in an open landscape that happens to be completely dark. Perhaps we are passing through the Void. It's a little hard to tell.
I'm going to stop recording now, and will return to you once there is something new to report.
Hello, listeners. Me again.
Strictly speaking, there is nothing new to report. We have made no stops. The scenery outside has not changed. My fellow passenger has not woken up. But all this nothing has been going on for just over four hours, which seems noteworthy in itself, if you catch my drift.
I sure hope the weather is still playing.
I can give an accurate report of the time because I have a watch — and not just any watch, but a watch that keeps accurate time. It was a one-month anniversary present from Carlos — my Carlos — my boyfriend Carlos — who, as you know, has made a long-term project out of studying the timepieces in our fair little town. He says this is the only true timepiece he's found all year.
I think some of his fellow experimental theologians might have been a little upset that he gave it away. It's the kind of thing they like to study too, I guess. But Carlos said he thought I might need it, and, what do you know? He was right!
I happen to have one other gift from Carlos with me right now. It's this wonderful scarf he got me for Christmas! He was afraid there wouldn't be much use for a scarf in the middle of the desert, but this subway car has air conditioning, so it's turning out to be very comfortable.
The next time we see each other, I'll have to tell him how useful his presents have been. Maybe tomorrow I'll swing by the chapel at lunch again.
If he doesn't drop by the station first, that is.
Listeners...? Cecil here.
Um, it has been almost eight hours, and I'm getting pretty tired. Not hungry or thirsty, oddly enough...which is a relief, since it's not clear when we will next stop at a station with a restroom. Or any station at all.
Anyway, this is just to let you know that I am going to try to catch a quick nap. These seats aren't the most comfortable for sleeping, but if I fold up my scarf from Carlos into a makeshift pillow, it should be hospitable enough to work with.
I'll be sure to sleep lightly, the way we used to do on stakeouts in the Boy Scouts, so I can wake up if we reach any stops.
It is the morning of my second day on the subway. We are pulling away from a station. I woke up as we pulled in, and stood eagerly at the doors to see where we had stopped, but it was clearly nowhere near Night Vale. The architecture was strange, almost Franchian, and there was a great body of water visible not far away.
I am still on this train. The gentleman at the other end of the car, though, he disembarked. I am now alone.
Come to think of it, his daemon wasn't with him either.
The weather has almost certainly ended by now. For the first time in my radio career, I have failed to finish a broadcast. My apologies, Night Vale. My apologies.
Station Management is probably in an awful mood by now.
Carlos is probably getting worried.
Or maybe not. After all, Carlos has access to the train schedules. He probably knows when I'll be getting back better than I do.
Listeners, I have been trying for the past three hours to go into four-eye. Distance four-eye is a difficult trick, but my Khoshekh and I have always had something of a knack for it, so if he was also trying to connect his senses with mine at any point during this endeavor, we should have at least been able to tell.
No luck yet. Not that I am getting discouraged! Rome wasn't built in a day, after all. It took at least a week.
I will try for a few more hours, then I'm going to take a stab at astral projection. Never did get the badge for that, but hey, I never had motivation quite like this, right?
It is the evening of the second day. I am having no more luck with astral projection than I did back when I was twelve.
My childhood best friend Earl Harlan never had the knack for it either, but at least he could do it well enough to earn the badge. I am trying to remember if he had any tricks for it. Nothing is coming to mind.
If only I had brought my alethiometer! Foolish, shortsighted Cecil. All it would have taken is the Anchor, the Horse, and the Cauldron to ask how to get home. Or, swapping out the Cauldron for the Alpha-and-Omega, to get some idea of how long it's going to take.
There are new passengers on my car! They boarded at a stop in the middle of the night, which was also not Night Vale, though that is obvious enough just from the fact that these new arrivals have inhumanly long faces and speak only in musical notes.
They all appear friendly, but my efforts to communicate by whistling have fallen flat, if you'll pardon the pun. Oh well. It's nice to have the company again.
It is day three, by the way.
Day four. Still no luck with astral projection.
This morning I finally thought to press the emergency call button. The call was not answered. I'm not sure the button is hooked up, to be honest with you.
I have thought of several other things to try, but most of them require specialized ingredients, and where am I supposed to get fresh sage or eye of newt out here in what may or may not be the middle of the void?
I did at least remember to bring a pocketknife, so blood magic is still a possibility...if I can be sure I have all the runes correct from memory alone.
[eighteen minutes, four seconds of chanting in Modified Sumerian]
Listeners, according to the watch Carlos gave me, it is the evening of my seventh day on the subway. I have started marking off the days with tally marks carved into the wall at the back of my seat. The long-faced whistling passengers did not seem to approve of this public vandalism, but we are pulling away from the stop at which they got off, so I do not have to worry about their disapproval any longer.
Carlos and I had dinner plans tonight.
I'm so sorry, Carlos. I hope Khoshekh is with you. I hope he is reassuring you that I am still alive, and that I would come back and be with you if I could.
I miss you so much, Night Vale.
Your warm sunshine. Your beautiful streets. Your wonderful family-owned businesses and community get-togethers. Your vast, unknowable cosmic mysteries. Your byzantine structure of municipal regulations.
I miss free-scoop Sundays at the White Sands. I miss cheering while the Night Vale Scorpions crush that awful team from Desert Bluffs. I miss the sense of community in clearing away dead animals with your neighbors after the Glow Cloud passes over the block. I miss having a real bed to sleep in.
I do not miss the abominable dry scones of Steve Carlsberg. It's a good thing I'm not getting hungry in here, so I don't have to start thinking wistfully back on your miserable excuse for cooking, Steve.
It's only been...let me check my tally...two weeks and three days in here, but it feels like years.
Listeners — for whenever this tape is able to have listeners — it has been a month. Just thought I should make a note of that.
Usually there's at least one community shared dream per month, and I always get them. Even when I was on that vacation in Europe, I got them. But they don't seem to be reaching me in here.
I've never been away from my daemon this long.
Maybe you don't think that's a big deal, listeners — at least, not for someone like us. After all, if you know Khoshekh, you know he's a pretty cool customer. Not a big cuddler. But even my dear, aloof daemon needs to press himself against my heartbeat once in a while...and if we've been through a difficult or trying experience, of course we go straight to each other.
My arms...have been wrapped around this folded-up scarf for some time now. I don't know exactly how long. The watch is still working; I just haven't bothered to check.
It's the wrong shape, and it's too small.
Oh, gosh, listeners, what an exciting few days it has been!
I haven't had a chance to make a report since...hm, I guess the last one must have been the one from when I was pretty down, huh? I hope no one was worried too much. Things are looking much brighter now.
Let me backtrack. On the afternoon of my forty-third day on this subway, we made another stop, and the car was boarded by at least twenty puppies.
There was a lot of chasing, and wrestling, and warm furry bodies to snuggle with, and I had forgotten how good exercise feels, you know? I've been trying to get in a lot of pacing on a regular basis, but there hasn't been a single opportunity to run for your life in here, so I'm probably getting a bit out of shape.
It was so nice. A little ray of sunshine in this never-ending nightmare.
Anyway, the puppies just left — although how they could tell it was their stop, I have no idea — and I am completely wiped out, so I'm going to pass out now. Just had to get the hopeful news on record.
[six hours, thirty-four minutes of near silence, except for the ongoing whoosh of the subway, faint sounds of tossing and turning, and the occasional bout of snores]
[fourteen minutes, forty-seven seconds of quiet crying]
[three minutes, three seconds of chanting in Modified Sumerian before the the tape ends]
Starting on a fresh tape, Night Vale. Didn't realize I had run through the last one so fast. Good thing that, as a professional, I always carry a few spares.
It is day fifty-one, and there is something going on outside the windows. Very hard to describe, listeners. It is a muted landscape, with the faint glow of some kind of town or village visible out the left side, and it is in rapid motion...but not the motion of flying by as you speed past. Rather, it appears as if the train is holding still in space, and rushing forward through time. The general contours of the landscape rise and fall, and that village...yes, it's definitely bigger than it was a minute ago.
The scenery is full of trees and hills. I believe there is water in the distance. There are more buildings and more people visible every minute. The buildings are a whole city. The people are....
Listeners, I think...I think they're having a war now.
I'm going to lie down and cover my head for a while, and pray that when I get up, the war is over.
It is eighteen minutes since I last stopped the tape. The same landscape — or one very much like it — is still visible out the windows.
They're not having a war any more.
They don't have a city any more either.
I want to go home. I want to go home. Why didn't I bring the alethiometer, or some bloodstones, or anything, stupid, stupid Ce—
[tape cuts off mid-word]
Day seventy-two, and I'm whispering because the car has new passengers. Two of them are human, or at least human-shaped, wearing elaborate wooden-and-feather masks that cover their heads. The other two are hawk-sized birds with human-shaped heads. They haven't attacked me or anything, but they got pretty intense when I tried to talk to them, so I think maybe it would be best to keep to myself for a while.
Now that I'm looking at them again, I think it might be only two passengers. I think the birds are daemons, or something very like daemons. I think —
I think they don't even like me whispering. More later.
The view outside is back to complete blackness. The car is empty again. The passengers with the masks just left, and I am glad, because between you and me, their possibly-daemons were creeping me out.
...That's all. Nothing else has happened. I have nothing to report.
Day one hundred and fourteen.
I am still counting. Because you, dear future listeners, and there will be future listeners, deserve that level of detail. You deserve all the help I can give you in reconstructing these events accurately.
My hair is not growing. Have I mentioned that? I think I said something months ago about how convenient it was not to have to shave, didn't I? But the cuts I've made when I try to do blood-based spells have all healed within a few days, so other biological processes are still working as normal.
What other information are you going to want to know? What further reporting should I be doing?
What would Carlos ask?
...Other than "Cecil, are you okay?" And "when are you coming home?"
I don't know, all right, I don't —
I'm so sorry, dear Carlos. I miss you so much.
Do you remember the first time we met?
I already knew about you, of course. The City Council keeps track of newly-arriving outsiders, and sends bulletins about you to the radio station. Did I ever tell you that it was their bulletin — sponsored by Big Rico's — that first described your hair as perfect? I didn't know yet. I hadn't seen you, I hadn't even looked you up. All I knew was the chapel you were renting, and the Council's description of you, and what you claimed to be.
Then I got to the town meeting, and there you were, and you were beautiful. Your hair — they hadn't undersold the hair, not a single lock of it — and your smile, and the way you glowed when you got sidetracked trying to explain to us all just why you find Rusakov particles so fascinating. Wonderful, excited Carlos. You were the brightest thing in the room.
And I love you so much, but Carlos, if you're listening to this...I want you to be happy, okay? If you've...moved on, if you've found someone else....
You know I'm alive out here somewhere, and Khoshekh must still be with you, but it's okay if that isn't enough. You deserve someone to kiss you, hold you, touch you in all the ways I used to, touch you in all the ways I would have if I'd gotten the chance.
If that's what you want! You always seemed so unhurried, so fulfilled just being kissed — and you didn't date at all for the better part of a decade, right? Maybe you'll just fall back into that pattern, and be satisfied with it.
But I'm not going to flatter myself that there's no one else in the world you could look at the way you used to look at me.
Gentle, thoughtful, loving Carlos....
Can you hear that? On the roof?
I am standing on the seat now, holding the microphone up by the ceiling. It is very loud now. I am not entirely sure if this is what normal rain sounds like...you would know better than me, you who didn't grow up in a desert. You've probably heard so many different kinds of rain.
It makes me think of you. No matter where you've gone since I disappeared, you'll still think of me when the weather is hot and dry and kind of indie, won't you?
[six minutes, thirty-two seconds of unintelligible hooting, laughing, and a pounding bass beat]
Testing, testing, tryin' to make sure this thing still works....
Okay...played that back an' it's still recording. Goody.
My watch says...3:32 in th' afternoon, but it's not specific about the date, and I, hngh, lost track of time for a while there. I'm just gonna keep counting from th' last day I recorded, which was...one hundred and sixty-seven? If I'm counting this right? 'Pologies, listeners. My vision is still a lil' swimmy.
The car had passengers again. Whole crowd of 'em. Kinda like...small elephants, I guess? But without the long necks, or the, what's-it-called, th' dewclaws. An' they were from some kind of...party dimension, or somethin'.
They had a keg, is my point. Mmmm.
I know, I know...don't take drinks from strangers, y'don't know what they're gonna do. But I figure...what's to lose, right? Maybe it teleports me back t'you, Night Vale, if I'm super lucky. Maybe it shuts down my nervous system, if I'm....
Well. It didn't kill me, obviously, since here I am. But I have been real nice an' blind-drunk for...however long.
I think my body's still not needing a restroom...but this car smells real funny now, an' I can't really swear about much of anything that happened, so I dunno.
There's junk all over th' floor now. Torn-up napkins. Crumpled metal cans. The other end of th' car, there's, I guess, some kind of stain...wow, I would not go near that if you paid me. Don't care how many lunches it would get at Jorgé's Tacos. Some things are jus'...not worth it.
Could've gone with 'em, when they got off, last stop. They invited me. At least, I think they did. We, um, we communicated mostly in big gestures an' bro-slaps.
Couldn't go, though. Wasn't Night Vale. Have to get back to Night Vale.
They left me a plastic bowler hat. Wasn't that nice? A lil' big for my anatomy, but, eh, 's the thought that counts.
Mrrgh. I'm gonna put th' hat over my head an' lie down for a while.
I am starting to forget what my mother's voice sounded like.
That's probably not a subway thing. I had already gone many years without seeing her before I boarded. Likely, even if I had spent these past eight months in my beloved home, I would have forgotten at the same pace.
I still remember the voice of Old Woman Josie perfectly fine, for instance. And the growling, thrashing cry of Station Management. And the deep purrs of my Khoshekh. And the oaky tones in which my beloved Carlos would babble on when he was nervous. And the laughter of little Renée Carlsberg....
She must sound different now, though. She must be growing up so fast.
You better be taking good care of her, Steve. And please, in the name of the beams, find and recruit someone to teach her how to use apostrophes properly, because you are a disaster at it.
I still remember Mom's face, at least. I remember being allowed to braid her long white hair. I remember the notes she would leave in my lunch, and how much fun I had trying to decipher the runes. I remember when we were very small, how Khoshekh would turn into a bird and go flying with her daemon, practically getting swept away by the beating of his mighty wings.
I remember...some things I would rather forget, to be honest with you. But no family member is perfect, right? They become perfect when....
Excuse me, listeners. Something is happening. A shape is appearing in the middle of the car.
If it is a portal....
It is humanoid. It....
"Cecil! You can see me? Hear me?"
Yes! Dana, how did you get here? How can I —
Oh, I see.
Astral projection. You are not, strictly speaking, here at all.
"That's right, Cecil. But at least we can still talk! That is a step up from the last time our paths crossed. You were in your booth at the station. You looked much the same as you do now, perhaps with a few more lines around your eyes, and there was more white in your hair. I did not want to interrupt the broadcast...but it turned out not to matter, because you couldn't even tell I was there."
You saw a broadcast? Do you remember what I was talking about?
"I remember that the traffic signals were malfunctioning. The walk signs were all stuck on WALK, which is strange, because they don't have a signal that says WALK at all. I remember thinking it was very harmonious in theme, because walking was all I had been doing, out in a completely different desert."
Then I must make it back to Night Vale! Oh, Dana — I have no idea how you got unstuck in time like this, but thank you, thank you from the bottom of my heart.
"I've seen so many things, Cecil. I don't know if time is running out of order in the dimension I am in, or if I am just having really serious trouble with astral projection, but I keep ending up in the past. Or the future. Or the wrong world altogether. I have seen my own future self, back in my parents' home in Night Vale, though, so I know that one day I will make it home too."
That's wonderful news!
Have you — by any chance — have you seen Carlos?
"I saw him once! But I don't know what time it was for him. He and his daemon were in a hotel room, and outside the windows I could see a large city with many skyscrapers. He did not respond when I spoke to him. Perhaps he was just very focused on his work. It certainly made him look...upset. No, not upset. Frustrated."
I see. Well...thank you anyway. Thank you for telling me.
How are you doing? Is your journey going well?
"It's hard to tell. I think so. My daemon found me a few weeks ago, and everything seems much more promising with her around. She said E------- showed her the way to —"
"The Man in the Tan Jacket. I forgot, you can't keep track of his name. He's the one who taught me how to do astral projection, too. He says he believes in me. Of course, he could just be trying to be encouraging."
Or he could be doing some kind of misdirection. I don't trust that guy.
"You can trust him, Cecil! He loves Night Vale. He —"
Dana, I can no longer see or hear you, but if you are still here...please be safe, and well. And please, if you see them again, tell Carlos and Khoshekh that I love them?
One year, listeners. One year later.
The view outside the windows is spectacular tonight. Some kind of galactic swirls and spirals, dusted with millions of sparkling stars. Which is strange, because that's normally the kind of thing I can't see without Khoshekh's help. But it is here, and it is beautiful.
I wish you could see it, Night Vale. I wish you could study it, Carlos.
I am still holding the scarf you gave me, I....
[choking sound, tape cuts off]
Did the worlds ever exist at all?
Have I spent my whole life in this subway car, and created in my mind a vast landscape of people and histories to keep the silence, the loneliness, the inescapable terror of nothingness from closing in?
Is this mobile broadcasting equipment even real, or am I hallucinating it as a last-ditch effort to keep myself from the knowledge that I am talking to myself, and only to myself, and always have been?
You must admit, my brave and beautiful Carlos, that your existence seems very improbable. Even if someone as perfect as you did walk into a town that I lived in, what are the odds you would love someone like me, really? Oh, you were fascinated with me — I was a fascinating person in this fantasy life of mine, one of the most well-known figures in town, always saying things that caught your interest, that made you want to ask questions. But to be in love with me?
You are the strongest evidence that none of it was real.
Good news, listeners: At least something is real!
I have fellow-passengers again, here at the three-hundred-and-ninety-five-day mark. Two older adults and three younger, all with dark hair and brightly-colored butterfly daemons. They do not speak Spanish, but we are able to make some rudimentary communication.
[Four seconds of Cecil speaking Huizhou Chinese, including the word "hello".]
[multiple voices in chorus, strongly accented] "Hello!"
They have agreed to let me record while we talk about their world. I'll try to provide a translation later.
[Twenty-six minutes of conversation in Huzihou Chinese, before tape cuts out.]
Time once again for a fresh tape.
The passengers departed this morning, day four hundred and fourteen, but they left me a gift. A book made of bound wooden tablets with wax surfaces, into which are carved a set of fiendishly clever number puzzles, and a bone stylus with which to fill them out. Dare I hope that something will come of this, listeners? There are, after all, so many things one can do once you have a supply of wax and a bit of fresh bone....
Not that I am talking about any kind of secret witch-lore, of course. Why would I know how to do something like that?
If this is the last entry recorded, you will know that I have made it home.
Four hundred and twenty-nine days.
I'll be honest with you, listeners. I would have given up and stopped marking off time weeks ago, if it weren't for the fact that counting is a thing to do, and those can be in awfully short supply around here.
The subway is passing through another time-lapse war. There were bombs, last time I looked. I have not looked since. I have not had any more luck with astral projection or four-eye, either, even with the aid of certain procedures which are definitely not the well-guarded inheritance of Mom's people.
On the plus side, I'm really getting quite good at these number puzzles.
Four hundred and forty-four days.
I just wanted to make a note of that. It's a fun number, listeners. Numbers. Fun.
You cannot possibly grasp the depths to which I miss television.
Did I ever mention the humming sphere of light that's been riding along with me?
Yeah, that's the little musical noise in the background. It got on about a month ago, I think. Forgot to note the exact date, sorry. Can't tell if it's ever tried to communicate, or what it's thinking about me, or if it sees me at all.
It's not very interesting company, but at least the humming is pretty. Soothing to fall asleep to.
I've been thinking of you a lot again lately, Carlos.
You in the desert, brilliant under the heat, taking readings with that complicated equipment of yours which I am not remotely qualified to describe. You beside me in the car, ducking toward me for a good-night kiss with those perfect lips. You in front of an audience, caught up in explaining some new discovery, so earnest and eager. You in bed, in a soft cotton pajama-type chapel coat, with darling Isaña rolled up on her cushion in the basket beside you.
Does she sleep in a basket? Her range is long enough that she wouldn't need to sleep in the bed with you, but maybe that's what you like anyway.
Khoshekh had a basket, but he hardly ever slept in it. I was always finding him in shelves, or on top of high cupboards, or under the bureau, or rolled up in the sink...when he slept at home at all. He was so flexible, it seemed like he could squeeze himself into almost anything.
Dear Khoshekh. What are you doing these days? Has Josie been taking care of you? If anyone will know what to do for you, she will.
I haven't felt you in any serious pain. You must not have been attacked or harmed while I've been in here. Unless we're now so far apart that the feeling wouldn't have made it across our connection...but I would rather not think about that, if it's all right.
It still isn't as bad as when I was torn away from you. Nothing could be as bad as that.
...which is a secret process, but I guess it hardly matters if I mention it on tape, since no one is ever going to listen.
And we made it through that, didn't we? Hardly got out of bed for a week, didn't go back to school for a month, but we made it. Old Woman Josie made all the tea we could drink, Mom brought us lots of ice cream, and Earl came over every afternoon. We played all that Scrabble and Monopoly. Has Carlos told you how the version of Monopoly he gets in the US doesn't mention Marcus Vansten or bloodstone circles at all? How exotic, right?
We were talking about having some kind of game night at some point. Not a date, but a get-together with more than just the two of us, because some of these games tend to stall and go on forever if you only have two people....
We learned that as kids, right, Khoshekh? We must have. I don't remember having those kind of stalled games with Earl, but if it was just the two of us, then logically....
Or was there someone else with us? Some other childhood friend I've forgotten about? Or been re-educated to erase all awareness of?
You would help me remember. I miss you. I need you.
I did make a record of it last year when we had all the puppies, right?
If we pass by another puppy dimension, I'm getting off this train. It can't be any harder to get back to Night Vale from there than here, and at least it'll make it easier to remember, along the way, that a reality outside of myself exists.
It does, doesn't it?
Five hundred and nineteen days.
I just spent half an hour counting up all these stupid tally marks to tell you that. Subway maintenance is being very lax, letting me get away with all this vandalism and not stepping in once. You hear that, guys? I am defacing your property! Come and get me!
And I could do worse. See these lovely seats, with their cloth cushions? Now see this pocketknife? If you don't come and drag me off to detention with the Sheriff's secret police right now, say goodbye to what I assume are carefully market-tested bland patterns!
All right, you asked for it!
[five minutes, twenty-four seconds of fabric tearing, threads snapping]
[heavy breathing] Yeah, that's right. That'll...show you. Yeah.
The humming sphere of energy just departed, into a world that was so searingly hot I couldn't even bear to get near the doors until the train pulled away from the station.
I hope it enjoys its destination, wherever it is. Whatever it is.
Five hundred and some days. Let me double-check.
[brisk, mumbled counting]
Five hundred and fifty-eight.
Dammit, I missed commemorating the five hundred and fifty-five mark.
The windows are hot to the touch. I'm going to lie down for a while and try to dream of snow.
Five hundred and ninety-four days. Half past six in the afternoon, if you want to know.
I can't remember what Carlos smells like.
I paid a sense-memory to get in here in the first place, but it wasn't that, was it? I wouldn't have given up a single shred of memory about Carlos. Not even for a second.
Dear listeners...I am feeling better than I have in quite some time.
Let me start at the beginning. This morning — day six hundred and twenty-six — two new passengers boarded the train, from a world that was dim and featureless. A man and a woman, humanoid, with no daemons. They both had thinning hair and lined faces, but looked strong and healthy, and their faces shone so brightly when each looked at the other: so glad to be together that at first they hardly noticed I was there.
Seeing them together turned the dull ache in my heart of missing Carlos into a sharp, roaring pain. I tried to curl up in my seat and not make any undue noise, but in time they saw that I was quite upset, and were gracious enough to offer their company.
They sat beside me. We spoke English; their accents were unfamiliar, but I understood well enough. They were kind.
I told them about my home, and my friends, and the beloved Carlos I left behind almost two years ago. I told them how Dana, if it was truly Dana and not a hallucination, predicted that I would return home one day, but how you, my Carlos, might or might not have been long gone.
The woman said there might be a way to reach you, to leave my body behind and communicate with you, even across the worlds. But when we spoke about it in detail, it turned out she was talking about what we call astral projection, and I had to explain that I've been trying to learn since I was a child, with no luck yet.
So instead they asked if I wanted to talk about you. And I did.
I told them about times you were brave, at risk to your own life, and other times you put yourself in danger out of sheer determination to learn. I told them how you were cute when you worried, and irresistible when you laughed. I told them how you showed me things, amazing things I never realized the universe held. I told them how you were so honest by nature, but how you were learning to lie and manipulate, little by little.
They said you sounded wonderful. They said it was so clear how much I loved you, and why. The man was the quieter of the two, less ready with his words, but he said you sounded like the best kind of scholar, and she agreed. Oh — I showed them the scarf! Both their worlds have a Harvard, it turns out, and they've both worked with scholars, so that basically makes them experts on the subject.
Neither of them told me you would surely still be waiting when I got home. They don't know you well enough to make promises like that.
But they said you might. Loves have waited longer. They said not to lose hope.
And even if the worst has happened...even if you've died while I was away, and didn't make it back this time...there's no law that says you have to pass on through the world of the dead before I get there.
It is late now by my watch, but must have been later still for my new co-passengers, because they have gone to sleep. What luck I didn't destroy all the seats in that fit of destructive violence a couple of months ago, huh, listeners? They are leaning on each other's shoulders. It doesn't look like it should be comfortable, but their faces are so peaceful.
I asked, earlier, if they could read the station maps over the subway doors. Neither of them was familiar with the script, but the woman copied the runes down carefully onto one of my wax tablets. I am beginning to translate them now.
Ngh...'s th' middle of th' night, but that's when we stopped.
Beautiful landscape outside. Soft, bright, woodland-y. Little rushing streams. Long-throated flowers on th' threes.
The man and woman wished me all the luck in th' worlds and disembarked, hand in hand. Watched 'em step through the door, called thanks, waved a sleepy goodbye. Then the doors slid closed and I looked out the window...no sign of 'em.
Wonder what that was all 'bout.
Eh. Whoever they are, wherever they went...I am glad they are together. Somebody ought to be.
Day six hundred and twenty-seven.
I have spent most of the day translating these runes.
If I am correct — and, oh, how I pray that I am — central Night Vale is in another three stops.
I can wait for three stops. However many years it takes.
Dana, you must be almost eighteen by now. Your daemon will have settled, surely. I wonder what you turned out to be.
Renée, how's middle school? I hope you're studying hard, and practicing your aim regularly. I hope Steve has stopped trying to contribute to your bake sales by now.
Are there still experimental theologians in Night Vale? Any of the same ones, or a whole new round? Have you done what you were prophesied to do? Have you made any more exciting theological breakthroughs?
Is Carlos still with you?
How's the bowling league, Old Woman Josie? Are you still playing host to those tall friends of yours? I hope you've stayed in town. With me and Mom both gone, maybe you've decided to fly back to your clan...but it's so hard to imagine a Night Vale without you.
It's downright impossible to imagine Night Vale without a Voice, so...whoever you are that's filling my chair, I hope you're proving equal to the pivotal task of hosting a community radio show. Because if you aren't, I will have you out of that booth so fast it'll make your head spin.
[sounds of a crowd]
Listeners, I hope you can hear me over this noise!
I am squeezed into a seat here in the corner, with the mobile broadcasting equipment tucked behind my feet. I can't get to my tally of days right now, but I believe it was in the six-eighty, six-ninety range.
Anyway, we just stopped at an underground station that was full of people, and at least a hundred of them tried to cram into this car. One of them tried to bring his bike, too. I mean, rude! A rush-hour subway needs to prioritize room for the humans, and parahumans, and other persons of human intelligence, not some guy's giant bicycle.
...And the guy next to me has his backpack half in my lap. Excuse me, sir — excuse me — would you move, please? Some of us are trying to take up only as much space as —
Oh, sure, yell at me, and not that kid with her music turned up so loud I can hear it from the other side of the car.
Let us hope that rush hour in this dimension doesn't last too many days.
And, um, I think I hear a woman complaining on her cell phone about all the destroyed seats, so let us hope nobody comes along and impounds these tapes as evidence.
How is she even getting cell reception down here?
All right, all right, I —
[two minutes, twelve seconds of group howling]
Testing, testing. I dearly hope this is recording, because I want to be able to overwrite all the racket on the last half of this poor tape.
Okay, we seem to be in business! What a relief.
So obviously we went through a tunnel there, as you could have guessed by the way we started howling. The good news is, it was a success; the void did not follow us in, none of the knifelike claws that scrabbled at our windows managed to shatter them, and we reached a stop, where most of that awful horde of people cleared out. Unfortunately, in the process I have lost track of time, again. It is 3:26 in the morning. What morning, I cannot say.
This is day seven hundred and three of days I have recorded. That does not count the unknowable span of time within the tunnel, the days between when I flung this watch away from me in a furious spasm of grief and when I whispered gentle apologies as I retrieved it, and those blessed weeks I got to pass in companionable drunkenness, back when I had companions with drinks.
At least I have room to stretch again. There is more trash on the floor than ever, but the only other figures in seats are handful of tiny people riding a carriage strapped to the back of an adorable dog, a couple of jackal-headed women talking to each other in what sounds like Double Arabic, and what is either a sleeping person in a huge fur coat or a sleeping creature that is huge and furry.
I am going to pace for a while now. Get the blood flowing. If indeed my blood has been flowing normally at all for the past couple of years. It's hard to tell.
The windows of the car are cold to the touch.
One of the jackal-headed women has explained to me that we are driving through a great field of ice. There is frost feathering along the corners of the windows. Drifts of snow blow past our tracks.
I am chilly, listeners. My scarf is bundled warmly around my neck and chin, but it is not enough.
I am going to ask the personage with all the fur, which may or may not be a coat, if they will share.
[Forty-eight seconds of quiet breathing.]
...I'm sorry, listeners. I thought I had something to say, but it seems I do not.
[A further three minutes, seven seconds of quiet.]
Was I ever this tired when I lived in Night Vale? So thoroughly, unshakably, constantly tired?
I remember having more energy. But I remember so many things. The sight of fireworks going off in a clear night sky. The taste of Old Woman Josie's scones. The sharp warning pinch of my daemon's claws. The silky softness of Carlos's hair curling around my fingers. It all feels so much like a long dream.
I can't remember what your eyes look like, Carlos.
I should have made Khoshekh help me look at you for so much longer, until I had memorized every detail. Every fleck of color in your eyes, the curl of every eyelash, every subtle variation of the warm browns on your dark, delicate skin.
I should have done so many things.
The car is slowing!
We are approaching a station. An underground station. It may be my station.
If the runes are correct...if I am not being a hopeless fool, letting myself get lost in wishful thinking....
I don't even remember what the station looked like when I first boarded this damnable train. I spent less than a minute observing it, so eager was I to move further in, to get the real scoop about what subway travel itself was like.
And of course, it may have been remodeled over these past years.
So much of you may have been remodeled, my beloved long-lost town. I can only imagine how it will feel to set foot in you again after so long away. But any difference will be worth it. All I want is to return to Night Vale. At any price.
Please be Night Vale.
Please be Night Vale.
Please be home.