Cover Artist: Regonym
Beta Listener: Fire Juggler
"I think it says we should go right. What do you think?"
"Well, if you'd show me the map, I might have an opinion about it."
You step closer to Cecil in order to get a better look at the map in his hands. It makes no more sense to you now than it did two days ago, when you first saw it. Two days ago when things had still made some sort of sense. At least, you think it was two days ago, but you can't really be sure.
"So where are we?"
"Right here." You look at the place Cecil's pointing at, and you don't think about how he's both holding on to the map and pointing at it at the same time. There's nothing to distinguish that particular spot on what Cecil keeps calling a map, from any of the rest of it. You try to focus on that place, but almost against your will your eyes keep getting drawn to the right of it where...
"That's the void," Cecil tells you. You knew that, you think, he didn't need to tell you. It doesn't make much sense, but then nothing on the map...
"Do you have to narrate everything" you burst out suddenly, and avoid thinking about what Cecil just said. "Cecil!"
It's only been a short while since Parade Day, since you heard that horrible ending to Cecil's show and knew that the worst had come true. At least, you think it hasn't been very long. At least… you haven't slept since then.
You haven't been dealing too well, you know that. Cecil had been so convincing in his belief that it'd all turn out for the best, that you'd almost forgotten that it might not. Now you're snapping at Cecil, because he's dealing with the stress in a way that unnerves you. You've never heard him like this when he's not on air, and it's making you nervous.
"No, I'm sorry. I know this can't be easy for you either."
Cecil hasn't said anything about what happened, and you haven't asked. You keep telling yourself that it's not the time, you might even be right.
You still don't know how Cecil got away.
Cecil nods. "I've never missed a show. It's in my contract."
You shake your head slightly, you should have guessed. "So where are we going?"
"I'm not sure."
That's not the answer you were expecting, you probably should have been. But Cecil has seemed so sure about this emergency back-up plan of his, that it's a shock to suddenly realise he doesn't know where you're going. "So how can you tell which way we should go?"
Cecil shakes the map a bit, like it should make the answer obvious. You're not in the mood to find Cecil quite as endearing as usual, but you pinch the bridge of your nose, and swallow the words you'd regret later.
"I just… know."
You close your eyes for a moment and take a deep breath. "Then, I think we should go right."
You don't have much choice, without Cecil you'd be lost here.
"Well, if you think so." Cecil folds the map and puts it back inside the emergency backpack you'd packed together, before Parade Day. Cecil picks it up and you realise there's nothing for you to do. There's no backpack for you to carry.
It finally occurs to you how strange it is that you'd only packed one bag. You don't want to think about what it means that before going to work that last time, Cecil had given you the backpack and told you to meet him in the Sand Wastes. In case.
In case of what he never said, but of course you knew.
You want to ask Cecil about it. But in this moment you're stuck somewhere in a gray desert, and you know you can't. Not now. So you follow Cecil as the two of you make what seems like an entirely arbitrary right turn, and head towards nothing at all, just slightly left of a white, low hanging moon.
After a moment you hurry to catch up with Cecil, and take his hand. You walk on, in silence.
Broom in hand Sally shoos the spider toward the right corner – she can't have cobwebs in the wrong places after all – as she watches the men sitting at the table with Jack. They remind her of Sandy Claws in a way. She stops and cocks her head, and the spider scurries away, mostly unnoticed – she'll tell it off again, if it doesn't spin its webs in the right place this time.
No, she's wrong about them. She narrows her eyes a bit and there it is again, just at the corner of her eye. One of the men at least might fit into Halloween Town after all. She doesn't think that they're going to stay though.
"There was nothing I could do," one of the men says with a hollow voice. "I did everything I could and no one would…" She can see the two men clutching at each other's hands, as they sit next to each other, on chairs just a bit too narrow for them.
"It's not your fault," the other man says.
They seem so serious in face of Jack's enthusiasm. It's just the way Jack is, always fascinated by new things, always so quick to forget that anything ever went wrong. It's the way he has to be.
(She loves every Jack. The kind, the helpful, the terrifying. She can't help it now.)
"How did you get away?" Jack asks and Sally thinks, for a moment, that that's not the right question to ask. She catches the look on one of the men's faces – the one with hair so lustrous she wants to shake some dust into it, maybe a cobweb or two, to make it seem more natural – and she knows then that it's a question that had to be asked. Who else to ask it, if not Jack?
"Intern Jeremy." The answer is followed by a sad little smile. "He was very brave."
"I'm sorry," the other man says almost immediately, but Sally thinks his words are no less sincere for it. "I know you liked Jeremy, especially after Khoshekh…"
She's stopped even pretending to sweep some time ago, now she's only holding the broom. In the quiet that follows they all turn to look at her, with something that looks like expectancy.
"Oh, I'm sorry," Jack says before she has time to decide she's being a bad hostess. "I really should have introduced you."
"This is Sally, my bride to be," he tells the two men. Those words are still so new that they make her smile with pride every time, and she beams happily at the two strangers. "Sally, this is Cecil and Carlos. They're visiting us from Night Vale."
She's never heard of Night Vale, but there's so many things she's never heard of. She puts the broom away and shakes their hands. "It's very nice to meet you," she tells them. "We so rarely get strangers into town."
When she shakes hands with the one called Carlos – wearing a white coat that says things about him Sally has a hard time believing – she can see it in his eyes. Here's a man that's seen too much. She can feel her smile turn sad, and she aches with all the sympathy inside her.
"You must be hungry, coming all that way," she says. "I can make you something."
"No, we're fine. We don't want to be of any trouble," Carlos answers politely, but with a worried look on his face.
"Well it's not trouble at all," she smiles back at him, and the worried look on his face only grows stronger.
She leaves the men at the table, and hurries to the kitchen. She hums quietly to herself while she takes care to assemble something simple, that she thinks will not make that worried look on Carlos' face any worse, but then who knows about strangers like these and what foreign foods they're used to.
She takes the tray of food – no deadly nightshade for this scientist – and continues humming gently as she walks back to where the others are sitting. There's no need to cock her head or squint her eyes, to see that things have changed.
The room is quiet, save her gentle humming, and the sound settles badly into the quiet gloom.
"Thank you," Carlos says, as she serves them the food. His voice is quieter now, and he doesn't look up at her at all.
"Thank you," Cecil echoes cheerfully. His teeth glisten inside a broad smile.
She can see that they're not holding hands anymore.
"Are you sure you won't stay?" Jack asks. "We really wouldn't mind, would we Sally?"
She just shakes her head, already knowing what the answer will be.
"We really have to get back to Night Vale," Cecil answers, his eyes shining with purpose. She wonders, for a moment, what she missed while she was in the kitchen. Not that she needs to know, she could already see it inside him, before.
She watches them eat, as Jack and Cecil cheerfully discuss things, starting from their respective pets and ending up at things Sally prefers not to think about. She wishes the strangers would leave, and let things settle back the way they should be – she feels guilty about the thought, and tries to shake it away. It clings on to her, and refuses to vanish completely.
Carlos picks at his food and doesn't say anything.
She picks up after them as they prepare to leave. There are thanks, and some promises of visiting that she thinks will not be kept. And Sally feels relieved, she frowns at herself, but the feeling persists.
Before they leave, she snags the sleeve of Carlos' bright white coat – maybe just to spite herself, maybe because of the sympathy she feels for him – and pulls him a step away from the others.
"Believe in him." He looks at her with eyes that make her hug him and whisper: "It's too late for anything else."
She thinks he understands.
She takes Jack's hand as they stand outside and wave their visitors goodbye. Jack turns to smile at her, and she smiles back.