The truth is out there.
But where is “there”? Where is “out”? Outside our hearts? Outside our minds? Outside the squishy sacs of meat and blood and bone we call ourselves? Is that there? If that is there, then where is here? Where am I? Where are any of us? And does the truth know that we are looking for it?
Welcome to Night Vale.
Dear listeners. Dear, dear listeners. It has been quite a week in Night Vale, hasn’t it? Quite a week indeed. I am referring, of course, to our recent visitors.
“What visitors, Cecil?” you may be asking yourself. “I did not see any visitors. I was not aware that anyone had visited our town.” Oh, but listeners, someone did. Two someones, in fact. They were a man and a woman. This is not unusual, that a man and a woman might be traveling together. But this particular man, and this particular woman--well, they were most unusual indeed.
But let me back up. Let me set the scene for you.
It all began on Thursday afternoon. I was in my home, preparing a meal for myself and Carlos--you know Carlos. He’s my boyfriend! Anyway, Carlos would be arriving soon, and the dinner was not yet prepared. I was attempting to make a recipe that I had not tried before, for a very exotic dish indeed: egg plant parmesan. Well, I had the ingredients all laid out before me. I had tomatoes to make the sauce, I had the parmesan cheese, I had the freshly ground black pepper, and I had the plant with all the ripe eggs on it.
Listeners, I had purchased this plant months and months ago. I had transferred it to a larger pot, and placed that pot on my front stoop, where it could get all the sunshine and neighborhood gossip that it would require to grow big and strong. And grow big and strong it did! Oh, how I had nurtured that plant. I had watered it regularly, I had pruned its tendrils, I had constructed elaborate miniature mind-control devices so that insects would be frightened of it. And it flourished, my egg plant. It had grown more than a dozen fresh brown eggs that I was about to harvest. Then I would crack the eggs into a bowl, add tomato sauce and parmesan cheese and freshly ground black pepper, and I would bake the egg plant parmesan in an Indian tandoori oven heated by ancient holy charcoal from Mesopotamia. Which, by the way, is on sale at Ralphs this week for only $12.99 per ton. I recommend stocking up while you can.
I was just about to pluck the eggs from the plant when there was a knock on my front door. “Who could this be?” I said to myself. “There is no one that should be knocking on my door. If only I had not needed to bring my egg plant inside from the front stoop. It would have frightened away any strangers.”
The knocking grew insistent, so I answered the door.
On my front stoop was a man, fairly nondescript. He was of average height, or perhaps a little taller, with brown hair. He wore a gray suit with a white shirt and blue and gray striped necktie. He had on black shoes that were older, a little scuffed, but in good repair. Over his left arm was slung a gray trench coat. In his left hand was an inexpensive briefcase. He did not wear a hat.
“Can I help you?” I asked the man.
“Maybe,” he said. “Are you Cecil Palmer?”
At this, I became suspicious.
“I don’t want to buy anything,” I told him. “Nothing at all. Unless you are selling toilet brushes. I could use a new toilet brush.”
“I’m Agent Mulder,” he said. “I’m with the Federal Bureau of Investigation.”
Well, listeners, you can guess what happened next. I laughed. Oh, how I laughed! Everyone knows there is no such thing as a Federal Bureau of Investigation. A Federal bureau would be approximately two hundred and twenty-five years old, and of course, nearly all bureaus lose their investigative skills after the age of seventy-five. Old Woman Josie has a Federal bureau in her bedroom that I have seen many times, and while it still holds all her camisoles and pantyhose, it has not investigated them in years.
Agent Mulder seemed unperturbed by my laughter. He held out a badge identifying himself as a Federal bureau.
“You look like a man,” I told this Agent Mulder. “You do not look like a piece of furniture.”
“I am a man,” he said, still unperturbed.
By now, a woman was standing by his side. She was petite, and had red hair. She, too, did not wear a hat.
“This is Agent Scully,” he said.
“Is she also a Federal bureau?”
Agent Scully looked perplexed by my question, but Agent Mulder shook his head. “She is with the bureau,” he told me. And I looked into my driveway, where they had parked their nondescript full-size rental car, but I did not see a bureau there either, and I did not think the trunk was large enough to hold one.
Several hours later, the egg plant parmesan eaten and partially digested, I found myself deeply confused.
By then, Carlos had arrived at my house. At first he was excited to meet the people who were furniture, but who were also not furniture. Agent Scully claimed to be a medical doctor, and while that is not science, Carlos was willing to play along with her.
“We’re working a case that started in Michigan,” said Agent Mulder.
Now, listeners, I know what you’re thinking. Mic--mitch--Mitchigan is not a real place. We all know that. But Carlos and I chose to humor the people who were furniture, but who were also not furniture, and pretend that Mitchigan existed, even though it does not. But then Agent Mulder showed us a picture. The picture that had brought them to Night Vale.
“We’re looking for information on this man,” he said. And he showed me a picture of Michael Sandero.
“I don’t know who that is,” said Carlos, but I recognized the second head.
And the first head.
Listeners, it had grown back.
I explained that Michael Sandero had been the quarterback for the local high school football team, though he had not been seen much since graduation, as he had left us for the university of that place that does not exist.
“He didn’t have two heads,” said Agent Mulder, “and then he began feeling some pain in his neck. One day he woke up and there was a second head.”
“Is it the same one he had before?” I asked.
This caused the people who were furniture, but who were also not furniture, a great deal of consternation.
Agent Scully leaned forward, eagerly. “What do you mean, the same one he had before?” she asked.
“The same one he had before his mother had it amputated,” I said.
Agent Scully shook her head. She had only one head. I explained to her that Michael Sandero had been struck by a bolt of sentient lightning the summer before the season of his junior year, and...you know what, you all know the story, I don’t have to explain it to you.
“That’s scientifically impossible,” said Agent Scully.
“What,” he asked, “do you know about science?
So she said, “I’m a medical doctor.”
Carlos scoffed. “Medicine is not science,” he said.
“Of course medicine is science,” said Agent Scully.
“Medicine is not science,” Carlos told her. “I should know,” he said. “I am a scientist.”
Listeners, I am going to put my recap of the evening on hold here. You could not even imagine the argument in which Carlos and the woman who was furniture, but who was also not furniture, engaged in, regarding what counted as science. It was so loud and lasted so long that by the end of it, even the faceless old woman who secretly lives in your home was watching them.
I will tell you the end of this tale.
But first, the weather.
Well, that. That was. I don’t know what that weather was. That is the kind of weather I do not believe exists.
But back to our story.
Carlos eventually took the agents who were furniture, but who were also not furniture, to his laboratory, so that he could show them what science was. I accompanied them. As we drove to Carlos’s laboratory, Agent Mulder peppered us with questions about ourselves, and about Night Vale. Needless to say, we refused to answer most of them. You never know when someone is listening. Someone like the sheriff’s secret police.
Agent Scully interrupted him. “Mulder,” she said, pointing out of the window, “I don’t like the looks of that weather.”
“Oh, that,” I said, sticking my own head out of the window. “That’s just the president of the school board.” All hail the glow cloud.
The agents seemed perplexed at this. They looked at me as though I had a second head.
“Look,” I told them, getting back to the matter at hand. “Look. Did Michael Sandero tell you, in English, that he was from Night Vale?”
“No,” said Agent Mulder. “He told us in Swahili. It’s very difficult to find a Swahili translator on short notice in Michigan.”
“Using which head?” I asked.
“The old one,” said Agent Scully.
This was interesting news. For, by their logic, Michael Sandero’s old head was, in fact, his new head. And his old head only spoke Russian.
“He just kept insisting that someone needed to renew his library books,” said Agent Mulder.
An hour later, we were no closer to solving the mystery of the reappearance of Michael Sandero’s original head. Carlos and Agent Scully had fallen into another argument about science. I won’t bore you with the details.
Agent Mulder seemed bored by the argument too, so I offered to take him on a tour of the radio station. He said he was impressed by the viscera and the blood and the pictures of teeth, but I think he might have just been saying that to be polite. He carefully petted Khoshekh. He seemed to be enjoying himself.
Listeners, I wish I could give you a satisfactory ending to this story. But I cannot. Agent Scully stormed from Carlos’s laboratory early the next morning. The question of what science is had still not been resolved.
Agent Scully, in fact, stormed right back to their rental car, and right out of Night Vale, vowing to find a scientific explanation for all of it.
But Agent Mulder?
Agent Mulder is still with us.
Listeners, he says he likes it here. He says he feels at home here. He says he is thinking of staying.
For the time being, he is staying in my spare bedroom. He is there now. I watched him carefully as he placed his clean socks in the bureau. I did not sense any particular affinity between them.
I got Michael Sandero’s cell phone number from his mother, and I called him. I couldn’t understand anything he said, of course, since I speak neither Russian nor Swahili. But it was good to hear his voice.
Until next time.
Good night, Night Vale. Good night.