Clock parts, watch parts, parts he wasn’t too sure belonged to what lay scattered across the table in the quaint yet strangely ominous living room of the house he occupied in Night Vale. (He called it a house because it didn’t feel like a home. It would feel like a home soon enough, but Carlos didn't know that yet.)
It seemed to him that no matter how many paintings of calming oceans or scientific charts he put up on the walls, he couldn't shake the feeling that there was something else living here with him. But this feeling was of no concern to him right now, and it hadn't been for nearly a week.
His focus had lay on the watches, the clocks, and the weird gelatinous grey lumps inside the watches and clocks for something close to five days now. That was one hundred and twenty hours. That was seven thousand and two hundred minutes. That was four hundred and thirty two thousand seconds. And yet, the answer to this particular riddle wrapped in an enigma lay before him still lay unanswered.
It was most likely lost in some rip in the space-time continuum, he told himself with only a hint of sarcasm because at this point, it was probably true. He had joked about it earlier in the day to old woman Josie. She merely stared at him blankly and after a moment asked whether or not he thought angels liked butter on their popcorn or not. He fumbled for something to say, dropped the notebook he was carrying, and she gave him a dissapproving stare and shake of her hand before presumably walking back home. Or maybe to buy the butter.
One of the many gelatinous grey lumps sitting on the living room table seemed to be boring holes into his forehead. It felt as if it was staring at him, it was watching him, it was studying him.
No, he said out loud, staring pointedly at the lump with a frown set on his lips, I’m the scientist. I do the studying.
It changed nothing. The lump stared harder, Carlos averted his eyes, defeated.
He ran a hand through his hair with frustration, momentarily caught off guard when his fingers were met with empty air, and remembered that yes, he cut his hair the other day.
He had to stop forgetting such simple things.
He was getting off-track, he realized. This wasn’t about his hair or the fact that because he cut it he was much better able to deal with the heat in this strange desert town. It was about the clocks, it was about time, and it was about the fact that the clocks were not real. The clocks weren't real! What did that mean for time? Did time flow naturally here? Did time exist without clocks, he wondered late into the previous night, staring up at the ceiling in his bedroom that was stacked with unpacked boxes of scientific equipment and worn books. The anxiety fosterd from lacking an answer seemed to be boring its own hole into him.
The tiny screwdriver in his hand, the handle a weird shade of purple (the owner of the store had pointedly told him he only ever sold purple screwdrivers), was covered in the gelatinous substance from where he had been poking and prodding the lump, hoping for some sort of reaction.
There was none. There hadn't been one all week. The lumps hadn't even tried to snap at him. You know, having teeth and all... Carlos shook his head.
This was a problem, he decided. A big problem. A huge problem. People needed to be informed. This had the potential to be a national crisis.
Frantically, he picked up his phone and opened the contacts. There was only one.
He hit the call button before he had a chance to ponder why Cecil, the local radio host, was the only number programmed into his phone.
And if he had a chance to ponder that, he would have pondered when the number got into his phone, and just how it got there. If he tried to recall either event, he would be unable to. But, thankfully, none of that was of a concern. What mattered was that Cecil would be able to inform the townsfolk that the clocks were not, and would probably never be, real.
The phone rang, he chewed his nails, and he was met with the recorded voice of Cecil Baldwin informing him that he was unavailable. A quick glance at the clock told Carlos he was probably on-air.
He left a voicemail. Cecil had to check his calls during commercials, right?
(Did the station even have commercials? He should probably listen to Cecil's show one of these days.)
"Cecil. Sorry to bother you. I need you to get the word out that clocks in Night Vale are not real. I have not found a single real clock. I have disassembled several watches and clocks this week and all of them are hollow inside. No gears, no crystal, no battery or power source. Some of them actually contain a gelatinous grey lump that seems to be growing hair and .. teeth. I need to know if all clocks are this way, Cecil. This is ver—" The movement of something outside his house caught his attention. Carlos froze.
"…There’s something at my door, Cecil. I … I need to go, okay? I’ll call you back in … Well, I don’t know."
He clicked the phone shut, but clutched it in his hand firmly, ready to use it as a weapon, but knowing, as a scientist, he was not fit to fight off anyone … or anything. The most he could do was shout equations out at his opponent until they became bored enough to leave. Swallowing thickly, he got up and sort of half-crouch walked to the front window. He hoped it was stealthy, but doubted it was. His heart pounded in his chest and it seemed to him loud enough to wake the whole town.
The blinds were pulled down, but he opened them a crack, enough to catch a glimpse. Knowing what was there was better than not, he figured.
That, and well, no matter the danger a scientist could not quench their curiosity it seemed.
Squinting through the crack in his blinds, he noted there was a man standing outside his front door. He was wearing a jacket that looked far too heavy to be able to wear comfortably in the desert, and in his hand was clutched a suitcase of some sort. It was too dark to distinguish any features, and Carlos wondered if the man was some sort of late night door-to-door salesman. In this town, he wouldn't have been surprised to find such a thing.
Momentarily, Carlos debated opening the door, but another cursory glance at the man’s face. Or, well, uh, facial area, anyway, bought on another pang of anxiety and fear. Without thinking much of it, he clicked the redial button on the phone.
Once again, he was met with the recorded voice of Cecil Baldin.
(For some bizarre reason he would later ponder, this recording was different from the first.)
He left another voicemail. If he was going to die here, someone may as well have a description - however vague - of the killer.
"There’s a man in a jacket holding a leather suitcase outside my door, Cecil. He’s not knocking. He’s just standing in front of my door. I can’t make out his face. I’m peering through a crack in the living room blinds. I—" The man in the heavy jacket and hat turned, and though Carlos could not see his eyes, he was certain they were making eye contact. He sucked in a breath, his heart pounded harder. "Oh no, he saw me." Carlos hung up then felt more alone than he had previously, wished he hadn't hung up the phone.
Trying to break eye contact, he failed, his breath quickening and he wondered what the protocol was for a situation like this. Was there a protocol? Carlos hated when there wasn’t a protocol to go with something. He liked things neat and ordered and organized and controlled. He very much liked things controlled, and this was far from controlled. This whole town is far from controlled, he thought inanely - though correctly so).
The man in the jacket took a step toward the window, Carlos sucked in another breath, and then—
He found himself sitting back on his living room couch, phone still clutched in his hand, but had no real memory of what had just occurred. His head felt fuzzy and the urge to sleep was rising quickly. The gelatinous grey lump continued to stare at him with the indignation that only a gelatinous grey lump could. A glance around his living room showed minor shifts in where things had been placed, and he had the vague impression that someone - or something - had been here recently, but he couldn't remember who, or what.
Blinking, confused, Carlos glanced down at his phone and noted that he had called Cecil twice in the past ten minutes. What was he doing again?
Oh, right. The clocks weren’t real.
It seemed to him now that meeting Cecil in person was probably a better plan. He hit redial for the third time that night.
He was met with the voicemail for the third time that night.
"Sorry about that, Cecil. I forget what I was doing. I think somebody came over, but I don’t remember who or what for. Anyway, I need to meet you. Are you free tomorrow afternoon? You have a contact number for the mayor and someone with the police, right? It’s important that I find them. And again, can you get the word out on your radio show about the clocks?"