And As Always…
It's long past midnight in our quiet, sleepy little desert community, listeners. You should be asleep, instead of still awake, reading about being still awake. You should not be reading at all. Books are still technically illegal, as we all know. Reading occupies a legal gray area, but come on, you know you're taking advantage of a technicality.
Most of the other good citizens are asleep, as you peek in on them through the inherently voyeuristic medium of written narrative.
Koschek sleeps hovering in place four feet above the ground in the men's room, near the sink, because as a hovering eldritch cat-thing, he has no choice but to hover. Hovering is intrinsic to his nature, you might say.
In sleep, he chooses to defy his personal antigravity in the one way he can, by sleeping on his back, drooling, his purple tongue poking between his front fangs. He snores. A lot. But he's still kind of cute with his front paws tucked up under his chin, the coiled tendrils of his whiskers wrapped around them. He lies stretched out in the heat and light of imagined suns, twitching and dreaming.
Less cute is the way he sleeps with his hind legs sprawled towards the ceiling of the Nightvale Community Radio Station in a pose that would be indecent if he were a human instead of a hovering uncanny feline. It's hard to find veterinarians who still make house calls; and finding a vet who will come neuter a hovering tomcat-- well, let's just say that there will probably be yet more kittens in the station's future.
Speaking of kittens, Koschek's five levitating half grown kits sleep here too, curled above their little litter boxes at varying heights, in variations on poses such as “sleepy bread loaf” and “bonelessly using own butt as pillow.”
During daylight hours, Koschek acts towards his offspring as a tomcat does towards kittens, alternately pretending they don't exist, and flattening his ears in supreme disdain. In the last hours before dawn, though, the cleaning staff will arrive to find him stretched on his back to his full length, front paw just touching the face or shoulder of one of the two kits he can reach. His tail is often twined, by the barest crook of the tip, with the long tabby-striped tail of his nearest kitten. In sleep, he reaches across a distance they will never entirely cross, for connection with other living beings, with his kin.
Cecil used to sleep in his full size bed, under a hideous black and purple zigzag Afghan crocheted for him by Old Woman Josie. The afghan is intentionally purple and black in support of the local football team, the Spiderwolves. The old woman makes them in various sizes to sell at tailgate parties on game days. She gets one of the Erikas to donate the money to the Spiderwolves by the usual method of running up to a live spiderwolf den out in the sand flats, shoving the cash under the edge of the den’s trapdoor, and running away before the pack scents your blood.
Josie says that one of the angels, pardon, that is to say, one of the tall winged people who are all named Erika, held some of the skeins of yarn for her while she worked. There's no such thing as Erikas, as we all know, but something unusual may have occurred during the manufacturing process, because some of the purple strands of yarn glow faintly with a corsucating gleam like the Glow Cloud (all hail), or a bit like the moving lights in Radon Canyon, on moonless nights.
The bed is full size because that's the size of antique four poster that Cecil managed to club to death with an uprooted parking meter on last year's neighborhood street cleaning day, and neighborhood block party rummage sale during the biannual Running of the Antiques festival.
It's an older bed, seen some use. But some lemon Pledge got all the dried blood out of the joints of the wood frame. And after a touch of new varnish here and there, the deep chipped dents made by a parking meter swung like a barbarian’s mace with the adrenaline strength of primal animal terror barely show.
Cecil likes the bed because it's small enough that one person does not flounder lost in the middle of a desert-like expanse of mattress, so emphatically alone as they might be in a larger bed.
But full size is still a large enough bed to imply room to share with another person, so long as they are affectionate, able to fit their bodies around each other like the negative space between jigsaw puzzle pieces.
Also, it is always reassuring that his lovely antique bed is one more thing that, as so many beautiful things do, tried to destroy him, but could not. After all, as the old saying goes, if you love something, bludgeon it to death with a makeshift weapon before it can tear the quivering heart from the splintered, torn open wreckage of your chest.
Now that Carlos is trapped-- that is, now that Carlos is on an inadvertently extended research trip through a vast desert plane that exists on the other side of an old oak door-- a door which exist devoid of context and unsupported in a field of imaginary corn belonging to John Peters-- you know, the farmer? Well, sufficient to say that while Carlos is away, lately Cecil sleeps sprawled on the couch in the living room, glasses askew, lulled into dreams by the subliminal messages encoded by a vague yet menacing secret government agency into the long standing favorite late show “Classic Static From Around The World.”
There is usually a bent paperback book facedown, opened across his knee. Sometimes he wakes to read a few sentences by the blinking green light of the microwave clock, flashing permanent midnight, 12:00… 12:00… 12:00… But Cecil never gets very far into the chapter. He keeps losing his place; can't ever seem to find the sentence he fell asleep while reading last. It is possible he has been reading and rereading the same two pages of chapter five over and over for weeks now without ever finding any of it familiar.
It's as if the words change slightly when he's not looking. Never enough to be obvious-- an adjective here, a subjunctive clause there-- just enough to give the opposite effect of deja vu; a persistent sense that you surely, surely must have been here before, turned this page, read this scene, but you don't remember any of this. Under the arrhythmic hiss of the static on the television, there is another whispery sound as if someone stroked their fingertips across the bent pages, across the back of Cecil's hand. No. Not that hand. The other one.
Every so often, the spotlights of the Sheriff's floating hover-office slant yellowy through the window blinds, creep up the leg of his Eternal Scout pajama bottoms, over his chest, across the restless flicker of moving eyes behind motionless lids.
The last couple of days, Cecil has taken to napping curled under his desk, the hideous purple and black afghan wrapped around his shoulders, head pillowed on a folded formal lab coat that Carlos left behind at the station while fleeing one of Station Management's periodic murderous rampages. His cat is here, after all, and his favorite Sheriff's secret police hidden microphones, his second best pencil, his mini fridge full of takeout from Big Rico’s pizza and violently poisonous yet appealing entrées from the weekly cooking segment of the show.
At times, the dull gray metal of the desk rattles as Management ululate their hissing shrieks, angry at being awoken by government scheduled earthquakes. The thin green carpet rumbles under his cheek with the silent shudders of the undulating earth. During those long minutes of an even longer night, Cecil curls into a tighter ball in his sleep, and remains motionless and quiet until the screaming stops, until the heaving ground is as still as a small planet hurtling out of control through an infinite and uncaring universe can ever be.
It might seem to some people, dear listeners, that this is not an environment conducive to restful sleep. Some might argue that huddling under a desk, curled on thin carpet, after hours in a building haunted by eldritch menacing entities, waiting out nightly tremors, is more appropriate for a restful session of trembling in fear and praying that death, when it finds you, will be prompt and perfunctory. True, and yet. Home is where you can always go to hide from the immense shadowy forces that are hunting you. Not always successfully, of course. But still. And by that definition, the small square space underneath the broadcast desk is as close to home as Cecil's going to get. For now.
There's an established procedure for when you run away from home. Things become fuzzier on what you should do when home-- the place, person, or things where your hearts are-- has run away from you.
Station Management may or may not sleep. They might have eyes, faceted and gleaming in the dim red light of their office. Or perhaps whatever they look out through is frosted like the blank windows of their office door, dull as milk glass, clouded with the grinding passage of innumerable ages. Perhaps they lie coiled around each other, staring at the swirling mists, restlessly writhing in a millennia long bout of insomnia. Likelier, they are still and cool ophidian shapes in the gloam, motionless as only a living being can become. The interns whisper that they lie long dead, bones dreaming a memory of uncanny flesh. None of these speculations can be confirmed. Only ill-defined shapes, moving in a baleful crimson mist, can be discerned through the fogged glass of management's door. Only wavering shrieks, reminiscent of the howl of sheet metal tearing, can be heard. It could very well be the ancient transdimensional demigod phrase for “Quit stealing the blanket. Old woman Josie made it for me, not you." It's a nice thought, anyway. Whatever lets you sleep at night, right?
Intern-- I mean, Mayor-- Dana has a lovely art nouveau panic room bunker/boudoir accessible from a hidden door behind an empty bookshelf. Which, come to think of it, now that books are illegal, really should just be called a shelf. She sleeps there, restless, her feet moving under the satin bedspread, slowly, as if she walked a wide open space in her dreams. At times, she turns her head side to side, like someone looking for the source of a distant sound or faraway light. Often, her breathing will become slow but deep, not quite hard enough to be called panting. It's the way you'd have to breathe to pace yourself if you tried to climb one long steep slope, similar to hiking up a mountain. That is, if there were such a thing as mountains outside of fantasy art.
On Tuesdays, though, the City Council holds their weekly post-council meeting sleepover, which features traditional activities like truth or dare games played to the first death, gladiatorial pillow fights, and resharpening each other's talons on a chunk of the first bloodstone circle built by the founders of the town.
Dana knows she should stay, socialize, make some friends on the council. Unfortunately, she's never been one for such stereotypically girly activities like lethal secrets and talon honing. So, on Tuesdays,
(unless Tuesday has been cancelled due to traffic or a scheduling error,) Mayor Dana joins the anonymous crowd of huddlers in the pit in the vacant lot out back of the Ralph’s. People trail in, one or two at a time, usually around moonrise. Most huddlers are wearing the clothes they lay down to sleep in earlier in the evening. The preparedness-minded come wrapped in black plastic trash bags, sleeping bags, silk winding sheets, the untanned hides of spiderwolves-- whatever they could grab on short notice when the primal somnambulistic need to flee their house (or trailer, or spiderwolf burrow) struck them.
On Tuesdays, Dana sleeps cross-legged, chin on her chest, leaning back against a raw red dirt embankment, shoulder to shoulder with her fellow transients. Tonight is a Tuesday, so Dana wakes briefly as a cadaverously thin hooded figure on her left pulls the trailing hem of his long robe across her lap like a shared afghan. On her right, one of the Spiderwolves’ cheerleaders has brought her adorable life sized stuffed pteranodon body pillow. It's made from the iguana-like hide of one of the the avian predators that escaped from the time rift that opened in the basketball gym of the high school a couple years back. The cheerleader props the pillow between them, so they can both lean against it, and indirectly therefore, lean on each other. Dana used to wake each time another huddler joined the group. It intrigued her to look for common traits. Were there no overlapping factors among the miscellaneous reasons that brought them to the deep sandy pit in the abandoned lot? Eventually, Dana came to the understanding that they all, each one of them, shared one unifying trait. Each living being, or mysterious hooded enigma, shared a common need to periodically abandon the routine of their lives, their loves, their old comforting fears and their frightening, burdensome ambitions, to pack shoulder to shoulder, side by side, into a deep, dry pit with crumbling red dirt sides, and wait for tonight to become tomorrow.
Huddling was comforting because it was so very, very simple, Dana learned. Her responsibilities were reduced to finding a comfortable place to put her left elbow so as not to jab the huddler on that side of her in his awkwardly folded wing.
Her needs were reduced to pressing close into the crowd of breathing, shifting bodies to stay warm. Not necessarily comfortably warm; just warm enough to survive the chilly desert night.
Her hopes were simplified to the expectant anticipation of quite likely being fortunate enough to experience another sunrise.
On Tuesdays, Mayor Dana still sleeps intermittently, dozing and waking, drowsing off and waking again to find she is still there, still herself, still breathing, still, under the indifferent constellations of the infinite sky. Alone in her skin, singular and unique in her specific reasons for joining the huddle; yet united in their common, human or demi-human needs for warmth, company, and a place to go when you have no place you can go. She sleeps more deeply now on Tuesdays, in between brief awakenings, wrapped in the illusory comfort of numbers, with her fellow transients.
After all, on a long enough timeline, listeners, all of us are transients, temporary and in constant motion from our inception to our dissolution.
This has been the traffic report.
Carlos sleeps like his body is a car abandoned after joyriding teenagers have left the scene . He lies down wherever the latest burst of energy is finished with his corporeal form, wherever curiosity gets temporarily through with his awareness.
Sometimes he falls asleep leaning against a stack of driftwood beside one of the campfires lit by the enormous aimlessly wandering battalions of the nomadic army that inhabit this plain. Other times, he drifts off leaning back against a boulder up on the side of the one solitary mounta-- that is, up on the slopes of the unusually steep terrain near the lighthouse.
Mostly, he ends up scooping and shaping an inverse copy of the contours of his body into the light, loose sand of this vast empty desert plane. A hollow for his hip, a deeper hollow for his shoulder, a small heap of sand where his head will rest. If the night is warm, he often folds his lab cost under his head for a pillow, in unconscious synchronicity with Cecil. It's actually a surprisingly comfortable bed. Doug, the giant masked general of one division of the mysterious nomadic army, and Carlos's first real friend here, taught him this skill; how to turn the whole planet into his bed.
Early in their relationship, when Carlos and Cecil were lying around idly in the full size antique bed with, they'd found themselves wrestling playfully for more legroom. Carlos had joked about needing a bigger mattress.
“Well, sure,” Cecil had replied, amiable as he nearly always was, “Next antique hunting season, we'll try to catch a bigger one. Working together, I bet we can bag the really big game-- we're a good team!”
“Do they make anything bigger than king? Because a bed-hog like you needs the hugest mattress ever made,” Carlos remembered teasing his boyfriend. “What would you even call a bed that big? What's bigger than king? Emperor? Dictator? Tyrannical god-king?”
He was a scientist after all, and these were the kinds of questions science existed to resolve. Now, his bed was the sandy soil of the vast desert plain itself. Therefore it logically followed that his bed was the size of the desert. That was definitely much bigger than a king size bed! He'd have to remember to tell Cecil, next time he found a minute to call.
He often sleeps with his phone in his hand, warm and heavy and solid like something alive, his thumb pressed over the tiny green indicator glyph that always reassures him he still, even now, permanently has 97% battery left. Through an inexcusable yet unforeseeable oversight, his phone is the only scientific instrument he brought with him. It can record sounds, like the mysterious rumbling that intermittently shakes the desert, sending little plumes of sand slithering down the shallow dunes. It can record pictures, of scientific phenomena like the ever changing bestiary of new constellations that appears so clear and distant each dusk here. A whole new mythology to puzzle out, every single night. But most crucially, it can bring their voices together across the barrier of the space between them.
That's the most important scientific function of his phone, because what good is a scientist without a person they can report their findings to? What use are amazingly scientific breakthroughs if there is nobody who benefits. After all, the most important function of science is to provide comforting metaphors to help us go on with our lives in the face of the constant presence of paralysing, unanswerable mysteries.
Carlos is restless tonight, shifting position in his custom handcrafted bed of sand. It was always difficult to tell if it was too late to call Cecil from whatever time zone this transdimensional desert was in-- or too early, for that matter. Cecil often sounded so tired when Carlos called. Yet he usually made time to stay on the phone as long as Carlos wanted, sometimes even falling asleep with their phones to their ears.
Carlos wanted to call, if only he could figure out when he wouldn't be waking Cecil up in the middle of the night. He couldn't wait to tell his celebrity radio host boyfriend about his important scientific discovery; the next size up of bed, bigger than King, bigger than Emperor, was the precise size and shape of the endless rolling dunes of the desert between him and Cecil. As the discoverer of the new mattress size, Carlos of course had the right to name it. He'd decided it should be called "Lonely" size. At least, it was, if you slept in it by yourself.
Then again, Cecil would most likely point out (as was scientifically accurate) that Carlos technically *wasn't* sleeping by himself in his bed made from an entire endless desert. He was sharing the desert with several factions of a nomadic masked army, with the androgynous sergeant Alicia and hir dog. With Doug, the captain of the masked army. No, Cecil wouldn't like that at all.
Sharing a bed, no matter how unfathomably enormous, with an entire mysterious masked army, sounded pretty crowded, and possibly a touch risqué. Yet, (Carlos mentally noted for further study,) somehow it still felt lonely.
Then again, the scientist in him wondered, how does one define a bed? The edges of any given mattress should clearly be wherever one can draw the definitive border between “bed” versus “not bed,” as well as versus “definitely a covert agent of the Sheriff's secret police hiding under the box springs.”
But Carlos's mattress of late was, technically, the entire Earth-- which as a sphere, has no boundaries, or at least no edges. He was forced therefore to admit that he was probably sharing a bed with most of the population of the planet. Even if Carlos was sleeping in the same bed as Doug the giant masked soldier, well, so what? So was Cecil. So was everyone else in the universe. Actually, that crucial scientific revelation meant that Carlos and Cecil were also, via the same technicality, sleeping in the same planet sized bed.
If so, Carlos thought, hey were in good company, sleeping alongside Josie and her flock of guardian Erikas, with Intern Maureen, or Hector, or whichever Intern the NightVale community radio station had hired lately. Alongside a literal five headed dragon, the entire city council, Mayor Dana and the huddlers in the vacant lot, with a great itinerant masked army, with Tamika Flynn and her crack team of trained militant bibliophiles… along with the whole town of Nightvale, really. Which made it feel much less lonely after all, and more like a giant impromptu sleepover party that many of the guests didn't yet know they were attending.
Ever since this important scientific breakthrough, Carlos sleeps much better. After he finds a reasonable spot for a rest, after he arranges his makeshift bed, he now habitually wishes his fellow sleepers restful sleep and useful dreams.
“Goodnight, shifting stars,” he says, to the gradually changing constellations overhead. “Goodnight mysterious lighthouse, up there on the side of what could potentially be an actual mountain.” He rolls onto his side, his phone screen lighting his face the exact same way the small lights we humans kindle to push the eternal night back a few inches always have done.
Carlos's phone screen background image is of a man who is so blond his hair is almost white, whose irises behind his rectangular wire rimmed glasses are so violet as to seem almost black. He’s wearing a white button up dress shirt with the sleeves rolled up to the elbow, a charcoal gray vest, no tie.
Typical Cecil, Carlos thinks, fondly. He probably started the day with a very handsome and nicely coordinated necktie,s something that complemented the rich indigo and woad blues of his blood compact tattoo glyphs. His forearm tattoos were most likely covered by the shirt when he arrived at the station, his sleeves neatly rolled down, cuffs buttoned.
As the eventful news day goes on, Carlos's celebrity boyfriend has a tendency to literally roll up his sleeves, dive into his work and really get his hands dirty. Or bloody, or ichor-y, depending on circumstances.
By lunch, he's often taken off the very nice ties that Carlos buys him, to use as a makeshift garrote to strangle an invading doppelganger, or to make a tourniquet for an injured intern bitten by an escaped librarian. Or to bandage a wounded station cat, hurt in a fight with a Strex-pet.
Speaking of cats, in the small glowing phone picture, Koschek sprawls draped across Cecil's shoulders like a particularly irascible and dangerous scarf. He lies, chin on his front paws. True, he's bandaged from shoulders to hips and missing the last two inches of his prehensile tentacular tail, but clearly is healing well. The team of combat exoveterinarians were even able to save five of his six eyes, though he will likely always have a rakish scar across his brow and left cheek.
The image is pale, overexposed as if it was taken using too much flash. Actually it was snapped by a station intern during the recent spell of bad weather in Nightvale, you remember, that really bright day when the universe was being rent asunder by a beautiful, terrible light that shone through the thin fabric of reality to illuminate the great grinding coils of the inner workings of the universe? So, you know, not the best lighting for a digital cell phone camera picture.
“Goodnight, piercing and terrible radiant light, wherever you are,” Carlos mumbles, half asleep, safely surrounded by the distant, but not too distant, campfires of the vast nomadic army in their wooden masks. “G’nite, Koschek,” he yawns, rubbing his thumb across the tomcat's face, with his handsome long curling whiskers, and five luminous silver eyes. “Good night, Cecil,” he slurs, half adrift in sleep, “I hope we find a way for you to visit, soon.” He snuggles deeper into the sandy hollow of his planet sized mattress.
“Hm. What is it Cecil always says?” Carlos mutters, near inaudibly. “Oh. Right. Goodnight, Nightvale. Goodnight.”
Next up; the imperceptibly vast sound of one sleeping heartbeat of the incomprehensibly complex organism comprised by the sum existence of all beings, living, inanimate, or imaginary.
This show’s weather (inside the writer's head, anyway) was “Your Ghost,” by Kristen Hersch.
You can view radar and satellite maps of the weather at: https://youtu.be/ZfW4-nP2G1Q