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Yours Fearfully

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The first letter is calm.

Dear sir/madam/being of indeterminate gender,

Firstly, I must state how much I admire your radio station, and how much I enjoy the nightly broadcasts. I have been intending to write in and express my appreciation for Night Vale radio for some time now- in particular, the program presented by a man I believe is named ‘Cecil Palmer’ is always informative and entertaining.

It has recently come to my attention that Cecil may have behaved in a manner you regard as unacceptable, and whilst this is upsetting to hear, I urge you to forgive him his mistakes and to allow his program- and existence- to continue.

The letter goes on to describe the benefits of keeping Cecil’s show on the air (and Cecil himself on the mortal plane) in some detail. The spelling and grammar are that of a man whose alcohol consumption in college came solely from his sugar-free peppermint mouthwash. It contains the phrase ‘in conclusion’ and words that would not look out of place in a high-level research journal. There are semi-colons. Carlos is very pleased with it.


The second letter is of a similar nature.

Dear sentient beings,

Whilst I trust you received my previous letter- I am confident I threw it into the correct firepit, as I checked the flame colour very carefully- I wanted to emphasise the importance of Cecil Palmer's show to the people of Night Vale.

There are, at a rough count, twelve and a half reasons given, with each reason being composed of a paragraph or so of writing. In classrooms across the globe, children would beat each other to death with tiny maces built from modelling clay and drawing pins if they felt it would allow them to attain that level of grammatical accuracy. There is a small typing error near the end- two words are combined into one, though the meaning is still clear. Carlos stacks the sheets together, joins them with a single staple through the top left-hand corner, and drives three miles above the speed limit on his way to the mail postage area.


The third letter begins as follows:

Dear station management,

I am sorry to continue bothering you, as I know your time on this planet is limited and valuable, but the most recent reports from Cecil Palmer seem to suggest that you remain uncertain as to whether or not you should renew his contract, and/or allow his heart to continue beating.

On a high shelf, an unappreciated-feeling thesaurus watches bitterly as the same word is used three times in two sentences, and wishes it was owned by a man who dealt with language rather than lab coats. Several of the reasons from the previous letter are repeated, but as sixteen new ones are listed, the secret police do not consider this a sign that resident Carlos has been bitten by the Repetition Marsupial, and, as such, do not place his house under quarantine for the time being.

The quality of the letter-writing would probably lead to a slight frown (and perhaps a wrinkling of the forehead) from a teacher who knows their student can do better. In particular, the confusion of ‘your’ and ‘you’re’ is not really to be expected from a fully literate adult, and the mandatory tri-paragraphly mention of the word ‘gammon’ has been missed out on two occasions. Carlos does not realise any of these things; or perhaps he does, and he is too busy to notice. He is, after all, mentally planning the fourth letter as he posts the third.


The fourth, fifth and six letters, when read in a row, are reminiscent of the gradual mental decline of a condemned man, locked in a dark, dank, windowless room with nothing for companionship other than his own putrid, lonely, stinking soul and the wet, slithering sounds of something malevolent moving in the darkness- or of a  person whose recent unemployment has led them to watch fourteen episodes of Jersey Shore in a row (it usually takes a trained expert to distinguish between the two).

Carlos leaves his engine running and his radio at full volume as he posts letter number seven. He is turning back towards the car when the soothing music of the weather section, which he had found even more bothersome than the new species of ant he discovered only a week previously (creatures that gain their nutrition by crawling through your lips in the dead of night and chewing on the edges of your tongue, leaving you with a faint metallic tang in your mouth and a lingering feeling of contamination), comes to an end.

“Did you write letters?” Cecil asks, his voice trembling. Carlos has never heard that kind of a tremor from someone with that sonorous a voice. “Then you should not do this anymore.”

Carlos considers this. He hears a sound that appears to have been lifted directly from Horror Movie Sound Effect Disc #3, followed by a shuddering half-sob from Cecil, and he decides that he does not have time to go home and return to his computer.

(There is, of course, a ban on the use of pens, pencils and paper, and so he writes letters eight, nine and ten on the backs of receipts using a stick of charcoal.)


Picture, if you will, a Jello mold. Make it a fun one- robot-shaped, perhaps. This is an educational section, but who’s to say learning can’t be fun?

You should now imagine taking a handful of caterpillars and pushing them into your mouth, champing them under your teeth and running your thick, drooling tongue over them, reducing their bodies to a twitching mass of bloody, hairy mush. In your visualisation, you should spit the caterpillars into the hollowed-out skull of an infant anteater (it is preferable if the anteater was first orphaned during an incident with a Browning .50 Caliber Machine Gun and another, slightly larger anteater, but the universe is nothing if not flexible).

Pour granulated sugar onto the caterpillars. Pour half a jar of mayonnaise onto the caterpillars. Pour a handful of children’s milk teeth onto the caterpillars. Set fire to the caterpillars and rub the flames onto your bare chest, cackling hysterically and singing a song from your childhood, one you had believed swallowed by the mists of time.

Scrape the ash and what remains of the mixture into the Jello mold. Top it up with raspberry Kool-Aid and the screaming of the unborn. Bake at 180 degrees in a pre-heated oven until completely frozen.

The above is as accurate a summary of how Station Management view humanity as it is possible to convey at this point in our timeline: confusing, messy, and smelling vaguely of raspberry.

Station Management’s decision to consume the life-force of Cecil Palmer is really less of a decision and more of a… happy coincidence. They felt like consuming some life force (you know how it is- you tell yourself ‘no, I’ll be good and have an apple and some rice cakes or something’, but even as your teeth break the surface of that shiny Royal Gala, the fruit tastes like the excuse you know it is, and sooner or later you’re right back to thinking about life force again) and Cecil Palmerjust happened to be there. They believe they may have eaten an intern at some point, but interns are little like cereal eaten out of the packet whilst standing up; they do not count.

Cecil has aggravated them, though they cannot quite remember why, and so they fling themselves down the corridors in their merry way, shattering the light bulbs and bringing seventeen dead bluebottles back to life. They can hear the shallow breathing and desperate whimpers of their next meal, and if they had lips, they would lick them.

They go to advance when, from the firepit mounted in the wall, a letter springs forward.

The letter does not hit them in the chest because that would require them to possess corporeal forms, but it has a similar effect. Station Management are confused. They have not seen paper before. They poke at it and it does not poke back, and so they consume it. Somewhere, a tree weeps.

They go to move on when a second letter hits- and then a third, and then a fourth. They let out a scream, the meaning of which does not have a description in any human tongue, and bend to examine the papers. Letter after letter after letter bursts through the fire pit, charred at the edges and smoking, but still fully legible.

Station Management snarl and rake at them, and the paper is sliced into a series of long strips as if being prepared for a Word Omelette (Word Omelettes™; Scrumptious and  Scholastic!). The ribbons float through the air around Station Management, a mixed-up blizzard of requests and demands and pleas.

One sliver reads:

know the show means a great deal to a lot of people

Another:

he’s stopped broadcasting what’s happening just tell me what’s happened

Another still:

ease please please just stop please don’t hurt him please

And:

Cecil is a valued member of Night Vale

And:

Without Cecil’s show, we would not know what was going on in the community

And, some of the handwritten pieces- barely legible-:

Cecil has never done anything wrong and he is a good man he meant no harm I can assure you Cecil would never harm anyone he’s a good man

he doesn’t deserve this

STOP STOP STOP

Station Management, of course, have long since transcended the use of written language as a communication tool, and so do not pay attention to any of this (in fact, the only reason they are able to communicate with radio station staff in any meaningful fashion is their employment of a team of monkeys, typewriters and some carefully calculated probabilities). They are annoyed by the papers, however- they make the place messy, and you don’t like a place to be messy, you know? It just makes you feel bad.

Station Management go to press on and consume Cecil Palmer, deciding that comfort eating is the best way to handle this upsetting change in circumstance, when a final piece of paper hits them in the chest. It is perforated down one side and looks to have been torn out of a notebook; indeed, one side of the sheet is completely covered in tiny, neat, handwritten calculations and observations, a carefully-laid out recording that- whilst obviously forbidden- clearly took hours of painstaking work.

The other side features thick black scrawl, so heavy it breaks the page in several places. In the maelstrom of paper swirling around Station Management, of all of the reasons to keep and to forgive and to spare Cecil, this is only one that remains un-shredded; just those three words in thick, black charcoal:

I love him

For Station Management, this is the last straw. Cleanliness is next to godliness, and as their niche in life is considerably higher than god-status, to dine in such putrid surroundings would be simply unacceptable.

The winds die down; the unearthly screaming stops. Slowly, Cecil peers out over his desk, his face white and his hands shaking. The walls have stopped pulsing, and the colours of the room are returning to their standard arrangement. Station Management go in search of a broom.


By the time Cecil is recovered enough to stand, Station Management have yanked up the corner of another dimension and swept the mess underneath it, glancing around guiltily but feeling relieved that the place looks better, at least.

When he next meets Carlos, Cecil remembers to ask about the work he knows Carlos has spent several weeks focusing on- something intensely physics-y, it was, with numbers and algebra and everything. Carlos’ response is evasive and stilted, and Cecil feels stupid; he must have gotten the details wrong. He changes the subject, asking if Carlos caught his last broadcast- he played an advert for Big Rico’s, Cecil explains, and talked about littering. There was some nastiness with station management too, he mentions briefly- but then Carlos tells him he did not catch the broadcast, and so he stops talking about that too.

They talk about other, safer things, and after Cecil says goodbye, Carlos stays sitting on the trunk of his car for a while. As he watches Cecil leave- and he’s safe, Cecil is good and safe- Carlos runs a hand through his hair and thinks to himself, absently, that Cecil was right; Telly really has ruined it.