Carlos decides he’s going to become a scientist when he’s six years old.
He’s in the first grade. Carlos is already partial to science class, since it’s the only subject that routinely includes dinosaurs in his homework. Then the mother of one of his classmates comes in to do a demonstration, and after he watches Professor Santiago create fog by putting dry ice in water and suck a hard-boiled egg into a soda bottle using only a match, he realizes that the universe is stranger than he ever imagined and all that knowledge is out there just waiting for him to discover it.
Fortunately, he has a similar revelation several months later when he falls off his sister’s bike and accidently dissolves part of the sidewalk, landing in a puddle of fine-grained dust instead of skinning his knees, and he finds out he’s going to become a wizard instead.
Carlos learns about Night Vale when he’s twenty.
His family closed the restaurant early so they can throw him a combination promotion/yay-necromancers-didn't-kill-you party, but since pretty much everyone in the immediate area has shown up it’s basically indistinguishable from a regular night. Not everyone can figure out exactly what he got promoted to, and most of them know better than to ask too many questions, but they’re willing to celebrate all the same.
His bisabuela, however, knows all about his promotion – she was a Warden herself, one of the few to make it to retirement – and since her former apprentice is now the youngest regional commander in history, he’s a little confused as to why she looks so grim.
(Most people would attribute it to the fact that Carlos almost died in Chicago, or that three-quarters of the Wardens have died since the Red Court's attack on Sicily. Most people have unrealistic expectations of what it takes for someone who happily endured over two centuries of active duty to make actual facial expressions.)
“Hello, grandmother,” he says in Ventureño Chumash, because one of the first things she had insisted on teaching him was a civilized language.
The only reply he gets is a grunt. But she finally deigns to look at him when he hands her a Coke, and she even lifts her glass so he can clink his bottle of beer against it.
“Has young Luccio given you your assignments yet?” she asks.
“You probably shouldn’t call her that anymore,” says Carlos. “It seems like a sensitive subject.”
His bisabuela snorts. “She’s always been young, boy. She’s Captain of the Wardens. She’ll adjust.”
She taps a finger against the side of her glass, still waiting for an answer to her question.
“I'm commanding, regionally, the western United States,” says Carlos with a grin. He receives a cool stare in response.
“You,” she says, “will also always be young.”
Carlos salutes her with his beer.
“Are you old enough to drink that here?” she asks. “I recall your mother worrying about her liquor license.”
“…I’m supposed to touch base with everyone who's left on the coast,” says Carlos. “Keep things calm and organized. Keep our people calm and organized. We’re still scrambling to find more recruits.”
“What about the desert?” she asks.
Carlos narrows his eyes. “What do you know about the desert?”
Okay, all she’s said is “the desert”, which could mean the majority of the southwest and anywhere in the rain shadow of the Rockies (or, culturally speaking, most of the midwest). But Luccio has scheduled for the following week a personal debriefing with him and a Senior Council member (the Gatekeeper, of all people) on “the desert”, and Carlos’ predecessor left behind two cardboard boxes labeled “the desert!!!!!” filled with notebooks Carlos has only begun to decipher. Some of them are written in crayon. All of them are disturbing.
“You don’t know the responsibility you’ve taken on yourself, boy,” says his bisabuela.
“So tell me,” says Carlos.
“Only the regional commander is supposed to know about it,” she says. Carlos raises an eyebrow.
“But I’ve outlived seven of them and I keep my ears open,” she continues. “Besides, when I was young, there were… stories. Of black-robed missionaries who came from the south, loading up their mules with wood and oil and disappearing for weeks. When they returned, they were always fewer in number. Sometimes they did not return at all.”
“So you think they trekked all the way out into the desert to burn whatever-this-is down?” asks Carlos.
“Well, they were Jesuits,” she says.
“I’m pretty sure that’s no longer standard operating procedure,” he says. “What about when you were an apprentice?”
“Warden Hirata did not share his thoughts on the desert with me,” she says primly. “Although given his methods, I have long suspected the missionaries had been acting under his suggestion.”
Hirata Munisai is one of the most famous regional commanders of what was then southwestern North America, where he had exiled himself in protest after Japan closed its borders; he’s almost single-handedly responsible for limiting the power of the Red Court in the area for close to two hundred years. Given that all the stories Carlos has heard about Hirata make him sound like Harry Dresden if Harry Dresden was also a disgruntled samurai sword-master, Carlos thinks his bisabuela is probably correct in her suspicions.
“So, your hypothetical advice for dealing with the place you don’t officially know about is ‘kill it with fire’,” says Carlos.
His bisabuela snorts. “I’ve seen your fire magic, boy. Better stick to grenades.”
Carlos ignores the slight to his skills, because he is an adult and a Warden and not a neurotic teenage apprentice, and also because nothing improves your fire magic like fighting for your life against hordes of vampires.
“What's this place called, anyway?” he asks.
“Night Vale,” says his bisabuela, and draws a protective ward in the puddle of condensation from her glass. “It’s called Night Vale. Now, get me another Coke – the real kind, with sugar – so I can tell you how to avoid dying horribly.”
Carlos knows the exact moment he crosses Night Vale's boundaries, though he's still several miles away from the town and surrounded only by indeterminate desert. There's a kind of psychic pressure that descends immediately, an unpleasant if not exactly painful weight jangling against his mind like an out-of-tune chord.
Also, there's a sign posted that reads "CAUTION: ELDRITCH ABOMINATIONS. LEAVE IMMEDIATELY OR SUFFER THE CONSEQUENCES," in blackletter font (probably hand-painted, because the only thing the White Council mistrusts more than change is technology).
He pulls off Route 800 onto an unmarked dirt road and hikes a mile to the northwest, to a rough circle of worn-down sandstone pillars. In their center is an unremarkable lump of rusting metal and weathered stone – an old anvil sitting on top of a small marble hummock.
Carlos draws his sword and feeds power into it. When it’s humming with energy, he stabs down through the anvil into the marble, effortlessly parting iron and stone and dissolving the outermost layer of enchantments within them.
Everything goes white, and for a second Carlos thinks he’s fucked it up and there’s nothing left but the fireworks. Then there's a gentle sound like thousands of bells chiming as the newly released spells begin to activate: the light disperses like a misty rain, trickling down to the face of the anvil and pooling around his sword blade.
Carlos looks up. Angry-looking storm clouds are racing towards him, stretching out from the direction of the unseen town. The first few spindly tendrils are already directly above, piling up against an invisible barrier in the sky – the boundaries of the wards.
Well, that's working, anyway.
He kneels and takes out a chunk of smooth, rusty black rock, charmingly referred to by the locals as bloodstone. Very gently, he wraps his left hand around the six inches of silvered steel blade protruding from the puddle of light and squeezes it until he feels his skin part. He slides the bloodstone between his palm and his sword and starts chanting.
Carlos keeps an eye on the clouds as he goes through the ritual. The roiling greenish mass continues to grow above him, lit by flashes of purplish-white. He doesn't want to be there when the lightning strikes begin – much less the funnel clouds.
He finishes the last line of his chant just as a drop of his blood runs down the blade. The light splashes outwards in a flare of brilliant red, the chime builds to some impossibly huge chord—
They both cut out as the light hits the ground with a small splash, leaving Carlos to blink glowing afterimages from his eyes. The thunder has stopped; when he looks up, the clouds are dispersing.
There's an elaborate pattern of silver light slowly rotating on the ground around him. The main form is a five-pointed star inside a circle, but when he looks closer he can see the pattern repeated within itself, fractaling beyond human sight.
It’s a representation of all the binding, containment, and warding spells around Night Vale, and just their projection is one of the most elaborate pieces of magic he's ever seen.
(“What’s so terrible about this place, anyway?” Carlos asks.
“Boy, have you never wondered what happens to the Outsiders we fight?” says his bisabuela, taking another sip of soda.
“Wondered about what?” says Carlos. “They’re either destroyed or banished.”
That makes it sound so easy, like the servants and foot soldiers of forces antithetical to all existence in this universe will inevitably succumb to one of two possible destinies. Like he still doesn't have nightmares about Sicily.
His bisabuela leans forward. “Banished where?” she asks.
Ultimately, the Outsiders come from beyond the Outer Gates, the boundary of the universe itself. The ritual for banishing them is incredibly dangerous – Carlos thinks that only a few members of the Senior Council are probably capable of it – and logically, you’d think it would send them right back where they came from.
Except opening the Outer Gates is a violation of the Seventh Law of Magic, punishable by summary execution; and worse, even the crack required to shove the Outsiders back through might be enough to let something even more terrible in...
“Where do they go?” asks Carlos, but he already knows the answer.)
At the debriefing, he asked Luccio when the wards were built. She said the only official record claimed they were based on an existing design from the fifth century, but also that they had been there forever. The Gatekeeper just smiled.
Now that Carlos has seen the wards, both their answers are starting to make sense.
The whole system draws its power from the ley line crossing the desert – a staggering amount of energy, and barely enough for its purpose. Three different sets of foci well within the boundaries actually create the spells; the interface before him is merely a visual echo, the translation of a system of magic that stretches for miles along and within the earth into a display comprehensible on a human level.
Any attempts to interfere with the ley line, ward foci, or interface will provoke an immediate response from the storm wards, designed to hunt down rogue magic with extreme prejudice. In theory, they only react to direct threats or to any magic done without a bloodstone connection. In practice, according to his predecessor, they're “kind of finicky”.
Should the storm wards prove insufficient, Night Vale will be completely immolated by cleansing fire, then swallowed by the sand. Carlos has to admit it has a certain direct charm.
Fortunately for him, Night Vale, and everyone in an estimated three-to-seven hundred mile radius, the wards can take quite a bit of punishment before self-destructing. They're designed to be self-sustaining: whenever one frays apart, the energy is cannibalized by the others, including charms that govern reduplication. Theoretically, given time, all but the most catastrophic damage to the system will eventually repair itself.
But even magic is subject to the laws of physics (well, some of them) and no system can perfectly conserve energy, which is where Carlos comes in.
He looks the circle over; there are no obvious breaks, so he walks to the edge and crouches down, inspecting the lines and whorls of silvery light as they flow past.
After a few moments, he's able to start picking out individual constructs: some of them familiar enough a first-year apprentice could identify them, some so archaic he can barely recognize their intended purpose. Those most prone to wear and tear are largely variations on standard protective sigils, if on a monumentally larger scale and facing inward instead of outward. The binding spells are the sturdiest, anchored deep within the ground. Emergency beacons and cloaking veils bubble up, in need of some repair but still ready for use. There's hundreds of suggestions in there, too, so strong they fall juuuust short of qualifying as highly illegal compulsions: most seem to be of the ‘keep out’ persuasion, although there's a repeated pattern he doesn't quite recognize - ‘go back’, maybe?
A delicately-balanced sequence of air, water, and fire magic zips by. Carlos frowns at the cascade of vapor condensation and pressure differentials and ion polarizations until he realizes he's looking at the storm wards, teeming with destructive potential and a little too much enthusiasm.
As regional commander, the monitoring, maintenance, and renewal of the spells is Carlos' personal responsibility. Should he fail in his duties, he risks the displeasure of the Senior Council, the retribution of the Captain of the Wardens, and anything from the minor disruption to the total destruction of up to twelve states in America and Mexico.
But the system is beautiful, in a completely terrifying kind of way, and it works almost as perfectly as it can. The whole thing is full to the brim with deadly beings antithetical to life itself, and it stays that way. There's just one tiny problem with Night Vale:
The town was established in 1745 by invasive settlers with more determination than self-preservation. Despite the best efforts of the Wardens, Jesuit arsonists, and the insidious nightmares of the sleeping Outsiders lurking deep beneath the surface, Night Vale has both survived and thrived, in its own paranoid isolationist kind of way.
As far as Carlos can tell, the White Council unofficially washed its hands of the inhabitants two centuries ago, after Hirata quite literally rode into the sunset, never to be seen or heard from again but always present in the hearts of those who loved and feared him. The following six regional commanders made only a token effort to drive people away, mainly by vigorously enforcing executions for warlocks who broke the Laws of Magic and by re-posting the CAUTION: ELDRITCH ABOMINATIONS signs, which in the finest tradition of safety signage are constantly being stolen by drunk students.
As a result, the White Council in general and Wardens in particular are not exactly welcomed into Night Vale with open arms and complimentary orange ponchos. This might have caused any number of problems to the few wizards authorized to enter the town, except most of the locals are incapable of distinguishing between the weird hooded figures that haunt their streets (and houses, and children's play areas) and Wardens wearing their cloaks, so remaining undetected is surprisingly easy.
Carlos heads for Mission Grove Park, the location of the first of the ward foci. With his hood up, everybody ignores him with an intensity that would be worrying, except that Carlos does not really want to interact with any of them (many of whom are not obviously human, and several of whom possibly don’t exist).
The other foci are by the used car lot and the pizza place; Carlos' stomach grumbles the whole time he repairs the last set of wards, even though the smell of Big Rico's cooking pizzas isn't so much appetizing as... pungent.
His next objective seems to have been more inspired by the previous Warden’s beef with the local law enforcement than by any specific magical purpose. But Carlos doesn’t need to take chances, and besides, he respects a good beef with local law enforcement.
He sneaks into the abandoned mine shaft (although since it seems to have been renovated into a highish-security facility decorated like a cheap motel from the seventies, it is technically neither abandoned nor a mine shaft) and hexes the generators. Most of the prisoners only use the opportunity to stick their heads out their cell doors and complain that the Pay-Per-View is down. However, a few enterprising citizens make a break for freedom, or at least for the Ralph’s, where they can apparently seek asylum stocking the shelves and camping out in the storage area behind the dairy products.
(One of Carlos' inherited notebooks contained a whole treatise on Night Vale’s many paradoxical laws, like a ban on pens and pencils – which at least explains why most of the notes are written in crayon – but not on murder. A loophole in the clauses regarding double jeopardy means that if a prisoner remains free for a year and a day, all charges are dropped and they are automatically entered into a raffle for a free toaster.)
At some point, Carlos is going to have to introduce himself to the City Council, who are bound by the terms of an ancient gentlemen's agreement to parley with duly-appointed representatives of the White Council and monitor their town to make sure there are no flagrant violations of the Laws of Magic.
His predecessor referred to them as “a little temperamental.”
Carlos decides that the better part of valor is conducting his sweep of the town first, so he can plan some escape routes. He’s supposed to be on the lookout for anyone and/or -thing “out of the ordinary”, which is possibly the least helpful instruction he’s ever received. But he has to establish a baseline level of abnormality at some point. He doesn’t sense anyone and/or -thing blatantly evil as he roams through the streets – just a constant tingle of weirdness.
He does see a hooded figure steal a baby. He steals it back.
Carlos’ inaugural visit to Night Vale ends somewhat less successfully.
The City Council member shrieks, “STAY TUNED!”, its finger or finger-like appendage pointed accusingly at him. Then it explodes in a tinkling shower of purple sparkles, fine gravel, and the smell of Windex.
Cold energy surges through Carlos before he can even raise his shield, and he has just enough time to think, I can’t believe I got hit by a death curse on my first day, before it stops abruptly.
And nothing happens.
Carlos blinks. When he continues to not drop dead, he straightens his cloak and asks, “Does anyone else have an objection?” His voice barely shakes at all.
The remainder of the City Council stares at him for twenty-seven seconds, then each one slides down out of their chair until only the tops of their heads are above the table.
“I’m glad we had this little chat,” says Carlos. "It was a pleasure to meet you." He tips his crown of soft meats to them and saunters out, making sure to whistle a jaunty tune.
Carlos first hears Cecil when he’s just about to die.
He’s almost made it out of town, only two exits away from freedom on Route 800, when the curse strikes.
The radio turns on with a burst of static; he shuts it off.
A minute later, it hisses back to life. Carlos twists the knob again, but the radio only goes silent for a few seconds before blasting a garbled mix of electronic noise and chanting.
He pulls over and turns off both the radio and the car, taking the keys out of the ignition for good measure. The back of his neck is prickling, and it’s like he can feel someone nearby gathering their power, waiting for some unknown purpose, unseen but lurking just out of the corner of his eye. He checks his back seat, just in case; it's empty.
There's a tinny echo of Stay tuned! and the radio switches on with a crackle loud enough to make him jump. This time he can hear a voice in the static: a voice that grows louder as the white noise fades, as though it’s consuming the static and gaining its energy; a high-pitched raspy monotone that makes the hair rise up on the back of Carlos’ neck.
“Blood. Blood. More blood. Seeping blood. Pooling blood. Blood gone sticky and dark, smeared across the floor,” says the voice. “Check out our sales on prime rib this week at David’s Kosher Butcher and Consignment Shop.”
“What the—” says Carlos.
“And now back to the news,” drones the voice. “We are pleased to announce that the Mighty Fightin’ Ophanim took home the trophy in the Night Vale Bowling League Championships. Captain Old Woman Josie attributes their success to the good will of the heavenly counselors of the first sphere and her perfect 300 game. She also nominated Night Vale Community Radio’s own Intern Cecil as the League’s MVP, citing his drastically improved play and the uncanny reality-warping nature of his forward roll, which really conquers those 7-10 splits. Well done, Cecil.”
Carlos concentrates and snaps, “K'as!”, releasing a flash of energy that should fry the radio. Instead, the broadcast only switches to garbled Russian for a few seconds before resuming as before.
The prickles continue up his neck and onto his scalp.
“—but despite overwhelming cries of corruption and bribery, the Bowling Writers Association of Night Vale gave the award to Steve Carlsberg of the Double-Wolves. The subsequent riot was broken up by owner Teddy Williams, who sprayed everyone with a fire extinguisher before temporarily deafening the crowd with what has been described as a sub-sonic whine or yelp.”
Carlos stares at the radio with a kind of horrified fascination. It’s not that the announcer’s voice is particularly terrible, but something about its pitch and timbre grates against his mind, tiny resonances he can feel slowly building towards some destructive crescendo.
He gets out of the car and draws a circle in the dust, sealing it with a brief effort of will. For a moment, the sound cuts out and the weight against his mind lifts. He sags forward, hands on his knees, and lets out a sigh of relief.
“I have just received a message from City Council, via a carrier pigeon that crashed into the station window,” says the voice. Carlos jerks and almost falls over. “It says, ‘Run, Warden. Run.’”
Pressure is building in Carlos’ chest. He knows, intellectually, that the circle should protect him from magic. But his heart and mind begin to race as the voice somehow triggers a physiological response, and a creeping anxiety sinks its claws into him.
The voice continues, “‘The last thing you hear will be our herald, slowly drawing out your soul with words, damnable words, unless...’”
“Unless?” Carlos almost shrieks, trying to quash the escalating panic attack.
“The message stops there,” says the voice. Carlos grits his teeth. “I am turning the blood-stained parchment over. I am asking Intern Cecil if there is a second page. There is no second page. There is no end to the message. To whomever – whatever – the recipient may be: some questions may never be answered. Some answers may never questioned. Better start running now.”
“I’m leaving,” says Carlos, breaking the circle, “but because I want to.”
He pulls the hood of his cloak as far forward as it will go and starts walking away from the town, his staff clutched tightly in one hand and a bag containing his sword, an extra grenade, and a water bottle slung over the other shoulder. He passes an emergency call box, which emits a piercing squeal followed by, “—and close the suture with a generous amount of airplane glue. This has been Community Health Tips.”
He speeds up – he’s not running, this is a retreat, not a rout – but now there are cars passing him, and each one carries a dopplering snippet of the screechy monotone boring its way into Carlos’ soul.
—no fly zones—
His heart is pounding and he feels light-headed, but the city limits are right ahead, and borders, borders are symbols, borders are important, he might not be able to escape the curse but he should be able to weaken it, if he can just make it beyond the wards—
One of the emergency sirens starts to wail and Carlos stumbles, catching himself on his staff. The siren winds down until it sounds like—
“And now, Traffic,” says the voice. “Today's dialect: Mid-Atlantic. The eastern expressway is jammed from Boulevard to Belmont while NVDOT crews attempt to contain the unexplained fountains of marbles bursting from the storm drains.” Carlos’s hands are shaking uncontrollably now. “Pedestrians are advised to stay off the payment and avoid all wooder-ways. There’s a gaper delay on Route 800, where reports are coming in of a hooded figure who appears to be suffering cardiac arrest, or who is perhaps in the middle of a raging bender.”
Carlos wobbles to a stop and flips off the general direction of the road. Then he gathers the ragged shreds of his concentration and gasps, “Yax!” A web of green light bursts from his fingers, forming a globe around him.
“‘Kay, listeners are reporting that the hooded figure dayown the highway is now surrounded by a glowing viridian cloud,” says the voice, distorted like he’s hearing it underwater. White sparks flicker against the green light of his shield: that voice definitely has some kind of power, though what kind of power is way beyond Carlos' pay grade. For a moment, there’s blessed relief, even though Carlos can still feel his heart pounding too hard.
“However,” the voice continues, “I would like to remind our lis'ners to maintain their customary attytudes of suspicion and harror. Under no circumstances should youse look at the hooded figures, no matter how comical it is to see 'em flailing around on the side of the shtreet like a wobbly-legged colt wit' inner ear problems and a refreshing mint flavor. This has been Traffic, yo.”
Carlos has to move. The shield helps, but he can feel his strength quickly draining. He takes a step forward, then another, focusing on a sign that reads “Thank you for visiting Night Vale! Abandon all hope, ye who exit here!” and hoping that’s not an omen.
He’s right under the siren, trying to ignore the voice, when it suddenly emits a high-pitched tone. That seems to trigger the klaxon, which spools up into a full-blown wail. The noise is so deafening it’s like a physical force; Carlos staggers, falls. His shield disintegrates when he hits the ground and his staff clatters out of his hand. All he can do is clap his hands over his ears and curl up into a little ball.
The noise stops abruptly.
“This has been a test of our emergency broadcast system,” drones the voice, barely audible over the ringing in Carlos’ ears. “Had this been a real emergency, we would probably all be dead by now. We go now to Financial N— No, wait, Cecil is handing me a dead pigeon, we have yet another message from City Council.”
Carlos tries to push himself up, but his arms give out and he sprawls in the dirt. His nose is bleeding, and his ears probably are as well. He manages to drag himself a few inches forward before he has to stop, panting.
“City Council says, ‘Good riddance.’ Well, I for one am so glad that they interrupted our carefully balanced schedule for that important announcement. You know, listeners, we should be grateful that our City Council respects our community so much that they feel comfortable hijacking this show to carry out their arcane vendettas via the power of community radio.”
The voice is still monotone, but louder. “Yes, listeners, this is sarcasm. I know it’s hard to tell because my vocal range is legally restricted to a fundamental frequency between 220 and 246.942 Hertz. But this is not in my contract. In fact, I am going to go get my contract now and deliver a copy to the City Council through the traditional method of tying it to a large rock and throwing it through their window.”
Something slams in the background – like a door, or a drawer.
“It appears the copy of my contract I keep on file has been replaced by a package of some kind of jerky,” shouts the voice, before chewing loudly. “It may or may not be beef. It is definitely teriyaki-flavored. I hate teriyaki. I am going to station management and demanding a copy of my contract. I may be some time. See you, Night Vale.
There’s loud thudding, and something crashes in the background. The speaker emits a short, sharp squeal. Then there is silence.
The quiet is worse. It feels like there’s a vice clamped around Carlos’ chest, his heart beating faster and faster as the silence stretches on, the tension winding higher and higher until he knows he’s almost at the breaking point—
There’s a series of thumps as someone rights the microphone.
“Uh… Hello, listeners,” says a new voice, and the pressure releases immediately, leaving Carlos gasping in the dirt. The new voice is low and sonorous, with an almost dreamy quality, and it resonates in his chest like someone has replaced his heart with a tuning fork. A deep, manly tuning fork. He feels a pang of regret, because as awesome as his own voice is, it will never sound as perfect as this one.
…Wow, he is really out of it.
“This is Intern Cecil. I know this is… rather irregular, but we can’t have dead air, now can we?” Cecil gives a nervous laugh. “I’m sure Leonard will be back in a moment. He’s currently pounding on station management’s door and screaming about his contract. Everyone else has barricaded themselves in the break room, so… it looks like you’re stuck with me! Temporarily, of course. Let’s go to the – oh, dear. It seems Leonard in his rage has smashed the tape with today’s weather forecast on it. He has also hurled several computers out of the window and put his fist through the control board, so I’m not sure if we can retrieve a copy.”
Carlos manages to sit up. He wipes the blood off his face as a weird, indescribable noise filters through the radio.
“Um,” says Cecil. “Station management's door has opened, and Leonard has disappeared inside, but it seems that they are not happy about the missing weather report. They feel it shows both a lack of professionalism and a lack of commitment to keeping the sinister intelligences – greater than man’s, and yet as mortal as his own – sated and slumbering, and I agree, listeners.”
There's some rustling as Cecil moves around, and glass breaks in the background.
Carlos grabs his staff and uses it to push himself up from the ground. His head spins and his knees feel shaky, but he’s standing on his own two feet. He leans against the staff, catching his breath.
“That’s why I have retrieved our Emergency Banjolele,” continues Cecil, returning to the mic. “Now, I know I’m not a trained meteorologist, but I think I remember most of the forecast, so if you’ll bear with me through these unusual circumstances, listeners, I’ll recreate it for you as best I can. So let us go to… the weather.”
Cecil clears his throat.
Then he starts singing a song about hedgehogs.
When Carlos finally stumbles back to his car, there’s a parking ticket on his windshield. He carefully folds it into a paper airplane and launches it into the sky. Then he hits it with a blast of entropic force, and it disintegrates in a flash of green light.
As he slides inside the car, the radio flicks on again. He tenses, but it’s still Cecil, who is thankfully no longer playing the banjolele.
“—And to the family of Leonard Burton – if he has a family – we offer our sincerest condolences. On a related note, we’ve cast the promotion runes but are still trying to translate them, since one of the I-Ching sticks has rolled under the radiator. So... I don’t yet know if I’ll have the chance to speak to you again, listeners. But I did want to let you know that despite the chaos, the screaming, and the banjolele: it has been my honor serving you. See you – no. Good night, Night Vale. Good night.”
The radio snaps off.
Carlos drives back to East LA in a silence that's more or less peaceful, although the weather report does get stuck in his head.
His death curse is pretty handy, it turns out. Yes, it’s annoying when he’s not by a set of speakers and it tries to manifest by making the nearest semi-suitable material vibrate intensely, so the broadcast sounds like a swarm of angry bees (particularly the time it was coming from a swarm of angry bees). Yes, it's embarrassing that the directional focus of the broadcast varies wildly and half the time it looks like he's laughing at nothing.
But the information Carlos gets in return more than makes up for the inconvenience. He’s discovered the answers to several problems that perplexed his predecessors, averted a range of local crises, and even successfully waged an anonymous letter-writing campaign from “concerned citizens” to prevent a construction company from developing land too close to the ward lines. (The wards would have been fine. The northern quarter of the town: not so much.) Cecil’s reports give him a connection to Night Vale when he’s halfway across the world on Council business and a direct line into the meat-crowned heads of Night Vale’s citizenry, which is often unpleasant but usually illuminating. But most importantly, they give Carlos advance warning for all those times when he thinks something like, "Oh, Valentine's Day can't be that bad," and he turns out to be spectacularly wrong.
Things settle down into a nice rhythm – well, not a rhythm, because Carlos makes sure to vary his schedule and never follow any kind of noticeable pattern. But in between coordinating with the other regional commanders and the Wardens under his watch, Night Vale’s master wards get renewed and repaired at least once every three weeks, the approaches through the Nevernever checked once every few months (not that there’s any way to tell how much time actually passes there), and the town itself visited on an as-needed basis, i.e. when Carlos hears about the latest disaster over the radio.
Carlos’ death curse has saved his time, his sanity, and his life on multiple occasions. He figures he’s made out pretty well, all things considered.
Plus, sometimes he just likes listening to Cecil. What can he say? The guy has a nice voice, and Carlos appreciates anyone who can calmly give concise, informative reports on the locations of a renegade gaggle of zombies (“About three hundred meters behind me to the northwest, listeners!”) while running away from them at the same time. That’s just smart journalism.