It's almost June 15th. Again.
Things tend to happen on June 15th. Cecil didn't pay much attention to the date the first time this rule came into effect – the day Carlos moved to Night Vale – but it struck him as significant when, exactly one year later, the events of the incident at the bowling alley took place, and Carlos nearly died, and when he didn't die he got together with Cecil instead.
But Cecil really started noticing it another year later, when – on the bright and sunny night of June 15th – they finally destroyed the Bloodstone in Desert Bluffs, and set in motion the events which led to the fall of Strexcorp and the liberation of the whole town.
And then, another year later, Night Vale was almost lost to the thrall of the second Bloodstone, and Cecil, Carlos and Kevin ended up on the First Infernal Plane. And it's best not to even think about the unpleasantness that followed, even though they won in the end.
And now… now another year has passed, and it's almost June 15th again. And no matter how many times Cecil tries to tell himself that everything is fine, he can't quite put a stop to the unease.
All is well in Night Vale. All is still strange, and existential, and terrifying in Night Vale, but in the usual way, and there's nothing to suggest that anything odd or unexpectedly dangerous is going to happen.
No ominous sightings. No strange psychic songs. No bizarre prophecies.
Everything, it seems, is fine.
It's late one evening when Cecil paces into Carlos' lab.
Right now, his brilliant scientist husband is working on something at one of the benches. Cecil isn't sure what it is, but it certainly does glow a lot, and no doubt it is highly scientific.
Kevin is here too, perched at one of the far benches. He's evidently been trying to read one of his many linguistics tomes, but is currently watching Carlos work in precisely the way he does when he needs distracting from something, and Cecil has a sneaking suspicion he knows what it is.
"Hey," he says to them both.
"Hey, you," Carlos replies, turning.
"How's it going?"
"Oh, it's going great," Carlos enthuses. "It hasn't destabilised at all this time! Everything's… well, fine," he adds, with a smile.
It's at this point that Cecil realises the words 'everything is fine' are written in block capitals on the chalkboard. When he gestures at it in confusion, Carlos in turn gestures to Kevin. "Kevin needed convincing," he explains.
"Convincing?" Cecil repeats.
"Yes," Kevin chips in. "Convincing. That everything is fine."
"Oh," Cecil says, as if he hasn't been dwelling on the same for days. "Because of the date?"
Kevin nods. "Yes. Because bad things happen on June 15th."
"Good things happen too, remember?" Carlos says. "I moved here on June 15th. And I got together with Cecil on June 15th. And we destroyed the Bloodstone on June 15th."
"Eventually, we did," Kevin replies. "And you two only got together after you almost died. And don't even get me started on what happened last year…"
His eyes go distant, and Cecil walks over to him immediately, putting a hand on his shoulder. "I know," he says, softly. "I know. But… this year will be different. This year…"
"…everything is fine?" Kevin tries.
"Exactly," Carlos agrees, pacing over too. "See? I even wrote it on the chalkboard. Everyone knows that you can trust something if it's written on a chalkboard."
"But… what if it isn't?" Kevin asks, softly. "What if..?"
"There's no reason to suggest anything bad is going to happen," Cecil insists, for his own benefit as much as Kevin's. "All the loose ends are tied up."
"I know," Kevin says, with a little sigh. "I just… can't stop worrying."
Cecil moves to stand behind him, sliding both arms around Kevin's shoulders and holding him close. "I know," he replies. "But it's OK. And even if something does happen, we have a very good track record at dealing with it."
"That is very true," Kevin concedes.
"And we have each other," Carlos adds, moving to put a hand on both of them.
"Oh yes," Cecil agrees, "we have each other."
It's the morning of June 15th.
After a relaxing and perfectly normal breakfast with Carlos, Cecil and Kevin have headed off to the radio station. Both of them have some work to do before their broadcast this afternoon, so they've gone in early.
When they arrive, they're greeted by their producer, Vanessa, who is just hanging up the phone in the reception area.
"Oh, hey you two," she says. "I have just had the weirdest phonecall."
"Something newsworthy?" Cecil asks at once.
"Possibly," Vanessa replies. "It was Diane Creighton. Apparently a whole bunch of billboards appeared overnight just down the road from her house. She tried asking the City Council what they mean, but the Council denied all knowledge, and for once she thinks they're telling the truth."
"How strange," Kevin agrees. "What do these billboards say?"
"Apparently they each show the same message," Vanessa says. "It simply reads 'everything is fine' in all-caps."
Cecil and Kevin both freeze.
"…everything is fine?" Cecil manages.
Vanessa nods. "Yes. Weird, huh?"
Cecil nods too. "Weird… yes," he agrees. "Have we put out an appeal for more information?"
"Oh yes," Vanessa replies. "I got the guys presenting the new morning show to mention it after their first cooking segment. Hopefully we should have something more concrete to report by the time you two are on-air."
It would definitely help if they did.
More and more of the billboards start to appear.
By midday, the station has had over two dozen calls, all reporting spontaneous billboard manifestation in both Night Vale and Desert Bluffs, with every board stating the same three words:
Everything is fine.
Is it? Is everything fine? Is all of this happening merely as a reminder of the fine-ness of things, or is it in fact evidence of things being decidedly not fine?
Cecil tries to keep insisting on the former, partly for his own benefit but mostly for Kevin's. His double is on edge the whole time, pacing about distractedly, his hand often resting on the hilt of his knife.
"It's going to be all right," Cecil insists, still trying to convince himself as much as Kevin.
"Is it, though?" Kevin replies. "It's June 15th. Bad things happen on June 15th. Bad things happen to us on June 15th."
Cecil steps in closer, hands on Kevin's waist, now attempting to make him stop pacing. "But those bad things always lead to something good. Even what happened last year."
Kevin's eyes are haunted, and Cecil pulls him in to hug, arms wrapped around his double. "He's dead, Kevin," he says, very softly, understanding more and more what Kevin is really worried about. "He's dead. You killed him yourself. You killed all of them. You won."
"I know," Kevin answers. "But… it doesn't stop the fear. The thoughts. The… possibilities."
"I know," Cecil echoes, and he does. Not all fear is rational, after all, but that doesn't mean it isn't genuine. "Just remember… even if the things you're thinking did happen, you're stronger now. And I'm stronger now. You know what I can do."
That makes Kevin give a little shiver of pleasure – which is exactly what Cecil was aiming for – and curl in closer. "I love you so much," he whispers.
"I love you too," Cecil replies. "Now… we should get going. It's almost broadcast time."
"Opportunity knocks. Opportunity knocks again."
"And then Opportunity apologises, because it got the wrong house. Now don't you wish you lived at number twenty-three?"
"Welcome to the Greater Night Vale and Desert Bluffs Metropolitan Area."
"Good afternoon, everyone," Kevin goes on, alone, with a spring in his voice that betrays nothing about how he's feeling, and Cecil still marvels at how effectively his double can do that. "Let's start with some news, shall we? People all across Night Vale and Desert Bluffs are reporting a spate of spontaneous billboard appearances, which has been going on since early this morning. There's no indication yet as to what's causing these manifestations, but every single board bears the same three words in all-caps: 'everything is fine'."
"We certainly hope that it is," Cecil picks up. "It would be good to be able to report that everything is fine, although at this point we are unable to confirm either way. The City Council released a statement earlier this afternoon, clarifying their complete lack of involvement in the appearance of the billboards, and reiterating their usual stance that citizens should stop knowing about things that are not meant for them, and concentrate on living mundane and unquestioning lives."
"Well, Cecil, I for one can't simply let a matter like this slide," Kevin replies. "If these billboards are a deliberate municipal or state installation, people have a right to know. And, if they aren't, further investigation is called for."
"It most certainly is," Cecil concurs. "So remember, listeners: keep calling in to the station with your observations and speculations, and we will attempt to solve this mystery together. And now… the community calendar."
Cecil looks up at Kevin, as the other man slips the right sheet of paper from the impeccably neat pile on the broadcast table. He still looks completely unflappable, and sounds completely unflappable, and it remains equal parts impressive and terrifying how he can do that.
"This Friday," Kevin starts out, "the staff of Dark Owl Records will be announcing what is expected to be in for the summer season. This will be done via a single post on an outdated social networking platform, the name of which has not been released. You wouldn't know what it is, anyway. You only use Facebook and Twitter and have no appreciation for the classics. But, for the select few who do, it should be an important and revelatory experience which will immediately cease to be spoken of, lest it become mainstream and uninteresting."
"Saturday is the annual book-cleaning at the Night Vale Public Library," Cecil goes on. "Extra security will be on hand to ensure none of the librarians are able to break free during the process, but all citizens are warned to be on high alert just in case. Remember, if you see a librarian, it's important to bear in mind that you are dead already, and not to waste your time – or secret police resources – by running, screaming, or shouting for help."
"And next Monday is, of course, Liberation Day in Desert Bluffs," Kevin says, and though his voice is still unflappable, there's just the slightest flicker of emotion in his eyes at this. "The second anniversary of Desert Bluffs' liberation from Strexcorp's control will be celebrated with a memorial event at Liberation Plaza, followed by a parade. As before, everyone from Night Vale is welcome to join us on this most important day."
"It's going to be a good one," Cecil agrees. "I'm certainly looking forward to it."
Kevin reaches over the table and grips his hand at that, and smiles. "It's the most important day in the history of the Greater Metropolitan Area," he says. "So far, at least."
At this point, the door to the broadcast booth opens, and Intern Reginald steps in, handing Cecil a sheet of paper before hurrying back out.
"Some breaking news, listeners," Cecil says, aware of Kevin watching him intently as he speaks. "There are now over fifty of the inexplicable billboards reported across the Greater Metropolitan Area, and all are identical save for the one reported in Night Vale's Mission Grove Park. The message on this particular board, like the others, still reads 'everything is fine'; however, the board is not black and white but wholly covered in glitter, and so reflective that it is causing significant tailbacks on surrounding roads, due to the glare. Drivers are advised to avoid the area if at all possible."
"You want to watch out for that stuff," Kevin adds, a flicker of amusement in his eyes. "It gets everywhere."
And they should know. Last Christmas was experience enough.
"It really does," Cecil agrees, with a grin of his own; glad of the distraction. "And now… traffic. Imagine a road. Go on, imagine it. Yes, like that. Just like that. Except… it wasn't there yesterday. As far as you know, it wasn't there at any point before now. And yet, there it is: stretching out towards a horizon filled with mystery, and possibility, and obfuscation. Should you follow it? You don't know. You look, and you look, and with every passing moment the road seems to get longer, and more distant, but you're still standing in the middle of it; still standing and watching it vanish towards the horizon. Are you meant to take that road? Does it lead somewhere you want to go? Or is it merely an illusion, a mirage, meant to lead you away from the road you're already on, and into the false sunrise of a different life? Who knows? Who can say? Only you can. But… only if you take it. Only if you choose, before you know."
A beat. "This has been… traffic."
"And now, listeners," Kevin picks up, "let's get to some more local news. We've been getting various reports that the Great Trembling in Old Town is not, in fact, related to the municipal gasworks, and is in fact due to something far more significant that all residents should be aware of. The situation is–"
Kevin is cut off in mid-sentence by a sudden rumbling from outside. Still hyper-alert, his eyes go wide, and he pulls off his headset at once, hurrying to the window.
"One moment, listeners," Cecil says, quickly. "We interrupt this news bulletin to bring you… something else. Kevin, can you see what's going on out there?"
"It's another of those billboards," Kevin replies. "It's right in the centre of the road. And it's glowing…"
He draws his knife. "Enough is enough. I'm going to see just what is going on with these things…"
And, before Cecil can intervene, Kevin has yanked open the window and scrambled out through it.
"Uh… listeners, I'm not sure if you got all that, but I can tell you that there is another billboard right outside the radio station now, and that my double and co-host has just leapt out the window to investigate. We still have no idea who or what is causing all these billboards to appear, but it is my hope that…"
The rumbling gets louder and louder, and another billboard promptly materialises right through the studio; bisecting the table and leaving Cecil staring in shock at those three words.
Everything is fine.
"…listeners, if you can still hear me… let's go to the weather..!"
A click, a muffled shout from outside, a second of silence, and then – all at once – the whole world goes white.
Slowly, slowly, Cecil uncurls from where he's taken refuge under the broadcast table. Or, at least, under the half of the broadcast table that wasn't full of billboard. He stares up, blinking, trying to process what's just happened.
The billboard is gone, and the room is back the way it was; as if nothing ever happened. Cecil scrambles to his feet, hurrying over to the window at once.
"Kevin?" he calls, leaning out. "Kevin, are you OK?"
Kevin is standing in the middle of the road, staring upwards, knife still held at his side. He turns at the sound of his name, looking confused. "…It just… vanished," he says. "I ran up to it, and I shouted at it, and then it just… vanished."
"Oh," Cecil manages. "Do you think the shouting helped?"
"Well… no," Kevin admits. "I yelled 'does this look fine?' at it, but I was a little stressed so I think it came out in Unmodified Sumerian."
It is hard not to smile just slightly at this, because – removed from context – it's such a bizarre image. And because Cecil is very much relieved to see that Kevin is OK.
"Maybe they speak Unmodified Sumerian," he suggests.
Kevin actually blushes, and slips his knife away quickly. "Sorry," he says. "I realise I maybe overreacted. A bit."
Cecil holds out a hand, gesturing for Kevin to come back to the window. "It's all right," he says. "I was worried too. Even for round here, that was weird."
There's a moment when they're both hugging through the open window, and then Cecil adds, "you should probably come back in now."
Kevin laughs softly. "Probably," he concedes, and scrambles through; staring briefly at the studio as if expecting it to be different before seeming to relax.
They take their places at the broadcast table again, just in time for the end of the weather.
"Welcome back, listeners," Kevin starts out, as they go live. "First off, let me reassure you that I am OK. I am… fine. Maybe everything is fine. Either way, right now, I am fine. The billboard that appeared outside our studio is gone–"
"…and so is the one that appeared in our studio," Cecil adds.
Kevin blinks at him. "There was one in here too? Wow, that really is weird. Well, listeners, they're gone now, and the strange rumbling that accompanied them is gone too. We still don't know what caused any of this to happen, but… oh, hold on, listeners, Intern Reginald is back…"
And, having just stepped in, Intern Reginald hands Kevin a sheet of paper before withdrawing again.
"…Looks like we had a number of calls during the weather," Kevin goes on. "Apparently, people across the Greater Metropolitan Area are reporting that these mysterious billboards have vanished just as inexplicably as they appeared. And whilst I for one am glad to see them go, it does leave us with the question of why they were ever here to begin with."
"Perhaps they were just another municipal installation after all," Cecil suggests. "Or maybe they were another strange fact of life in this strange but wonderful place we call home."
Kevin smiles at him at that, reaching to hold his hand over the broadcast table.
"Maybe," he agrees. "And hey, by our standards, some might say they were actually pretty normal…"
Cecil smiles too. "You're not wrong. Hopefully this will be the last we see of those strange billboards, listeners, but please keep your calls coming in if you notice any left in town. We wouldn't want to miss some larger mystery, after all!"
"And perhaps we can all learn something from the message those billboards brought us," Kevin adds, a slightly distant look in his eyes. "Perhaps, for once, everything is fine, and we should all take a moment to enjoy that. To enjoy what it means. To enjoy the fact that this day… this day… is just a day. Just one more step in the journey of our lives."
Cecil grips Kevin's hand a little tighter. "Stay tuned next, listeners, for the latest episode of our hit drivetime show 'I Don't Know What It Is But It's Adorable!' And, until next time…"
"…goodnight, Greater Night Vale and Desert Bluffs Metropolitan Area," they intone, together. "Goodnight."
The two doubles have barely begun powering down the booth after their show when the door bursts open, and Carlos comes racing in.
"Are you both all right?!" he exclaims.
"Yes, of course, we're fine," Cecil insists, quickly, putting a hand on Carlos' arm in an attempt to calm him. And make him stand still.
"But… that rumbling, and the light…"
"It was just the billboards going back wherever they came from," Kevin replies. "It's OK now. Everything…"
He pauses, and smiles.
"…everything is fine."
"…Oh," Carlos says, and finally takes a breath. "Oh. Well. That's good. I was in town running errands, and I saw what was going on, and… I may have panicked a little."
Cecil pulls him in closer, putting a hand out to tug Kevin in as well. "I know," he says. "But it's OK. Kevin's right. Everything is fine."
It is, isn't it? Cecil has had his doubts all day – much as he's been trying to insist otherwise – but sometimes you just have to accept the evidence in front of you, whether it's small and subtle, or plastered on giant and sometimes glittering billboards all over town.
Sometimes… everything is just fine.
As they pull back from the hug, there's a soft yipping noise out in the corridor, followed by the sound of Vanessa cooing in delight. Seconds later, the door opens again, and Vanessa herself comes walking in, with Intern Maureen following along behind. There's something in Maureen's arms, but Cecil can't quite see what it is yet.
"You guys!" Vanessa enthuses. "You have to see this. It's adorable. Maybe we should include it in the show later…"
"Don't fuss him," Maureen insists, though she's grinning for once, and it's nice to see her in such a good mood. And then, Cecil sees why. They all see why.
There's a beagle puppy in Maureen's arms. The cutest, sweetest, most wonderfulest puppy in the whole world. Cecil has to concentrate hard not to go supersonic at the sight.
"This is my new puppy," Maureen tells them. "I knew you'd want to meet him, so I just had to bring him in."
"Awwwwwww," Cecil enthuses. "Who's a good boy?!"
TO BE CONTINUED…