Carlos is building something. From the bed, Cecil can see bits of it scattered all over the desk, glittering blurrily under the lamp light. He raises his head and squints slightly, but the object refuses to come into focus.
Then Carlos says “Cecil” warm and soft, his lips brushing the back of Cecil’s neck, and Cecil forgets about everything else altogether.
And now, let’s take a look at traffic.
We’ve gotten several calls reporting that the Night Vale Clock Tower, with an ominous rumble, momentarily became visible in the middle of Route 800. Now, as the Clock Tower has been invisible ever since its construction, I am upset about this. We paid good money for an invisible Clock Tower, and this sudden appearance is just unacceptable. To whoever was in charge of the Clock Tower, remember: your name is written in blood somewhere in the City Council records, and we will find you.
Our sources then went on to say that exactly one minute after the Clock Tower flickered into view, it disappeared again. Now, it’s unclear whether it merely teleported away, as it usually does, or regained invisibility at the same time. If you or anyone you know can clarify this issue, we at Night Vale Community Radio would like to know.
Now, I’m going to admit to having a bit of personal interest in this matter, because Carlos has expressed interest in visiting the Clock Tower. As many of you know, it’s a bit awkward taking someone to the Clock Tower on a date only to find out that it’s already gone by the time you arrive. And then you look bad, like you just lured them there under false pretenses, and you can’t even say “No, I swear I felt its strange and indescribable vibrations just a half hour ago!” without sounding like a lying jerk.
So remember, if you somehow manage to see the Clock Tower, or more likely feel its subterranean and soul-shattering tones in your heart, call us! Or just hiss like a rabbit three times and wait for a helicopter to come pick you up.
Carlos likes to do a lot of things.
He has a radio that he’s taken apart and put back together. It can no longer tune in to the Night Vale Community Radio, but it does give off a staticky hum that’s quite pleasant to fall asleep to. Sometimes he’ll spend hours turning the knob in minute increments, listening for changes that Cecil can’t hear at all.
Other times, Carlos reads. Not all of them are municipally-approved books, but that’s understandable. After all, even long-time Night Vale citizens sometimes have trouble remembering if dictionaries are only allowed up to the entry “hemlock” or “hero”, or that all books whose title contain more than two Os are categorically banned. Besides, Cecil tells himself, the ban is mostly for people like Steve Carlsberg, who insist on using any scrap of information to back up their government conspiracy theories.
(Honestly, all government-related weather or plague distributions are clearly marked on the Community Calendar, and Steve Carlsberg should really know better by now.)
But Carlos, beautiful Carlos, sits up on his side of the bed and reads books like “A Brief History of Time” or “Sidelights on Relativity” and, in the absence of pens or other writing utensils, scribbles down notes in blood. (He lets Cecil take the finger into his mouth afterwards, press his tongue against the smear of blood and swipe it clean.)
(Sometimes Cecil offers up his own finger instead. Carlos bites his lip and carefully steadies his hand and jabs the pad of Cecil’s index finger, and it feels like a lightning strike, driving the breath from Cecil’s lungs; Carlos looks at him with wide, dark eyes before he writes down his note and then he kisses him, kisses him, kisses him.)
But more often these days, Carlos is bent over his desk, carefully slotting parts together to form something shining and round and ticking, and Cecil still has no idea what it is.
He doesn’t ask, even as Carlos talks less and shadows like bruises form around his eyes. Carlos, meanwhile, doesn’t mention it at all.
Mayor Pamela Winchell held a press conference today to address the large, seemingly bottomless rift that has begun to form in the Car Lot. Her statement, which she delivered with a thunderous frown, is that there is no rift forming in the Car Lot. One reporter tried to point out that old woman Josie’s house is currently hovering over the rift, presumably due to angelic intervention. Mayor Winchell then pointed at the reporter with a shaking finger, while repeating again, “There is no rift. Do not look at the ground. Do not look at the ground.”
The unfortunate reporter, according to others who were at the scene, then appeared to be vaporized, leaving behind only the terrible sound of a microphone rattling forlornly on the ground. The rest of the press conference disbanded before the Mayor could point at anybody else. “Do you know how easy it is to break these microphones?” said one reporter. “And they cost an arm and a leg to replace—I mean, metaphorically,” she added, her eyes desperately flicking back and forth in a pale, pale face.
So you heard the Mayor, everyone. The rift most definitely does not exist, and, accordingly, you cannot file an insurance claim if you left your car in the Car Lot, unaware that it would soon be swallowed by a merciless chasm yawning wide open like the mouth of a great, underground beast rising up from its centuries-long slumber. Sorry.
Carlos doesn’t talk much all through dinner. But just before they’re about to go to bed, he turns to Cecil and blurts out, “Something’s going on, Cecil. Something bad.”
“There’s always something going on,” Cecil says. “Have you checked the Community Calendar? I think there’s a town-wide exorcism on Thursday.”
“No, that’s not it.” Carlos shakes his head. There’s a curl of hair stuck to his temple, and Cecil reaches out to brush it free. “All these earthquakes. What happened at the Car Lot was because of a strike-slip fault, I’m sure of it.”
He looks out the window for a moment, into the dimly-lit distance. “I’m going to try to finish this tonight,” he says, nodding at the desk. “Would the light bother you? I can move out of the bedroom—”
“No, don’t,” Cecil says quickly. “It’ll be fine. Everyone learns how to sleep under the light of the looming moon early on, and the lamp’s much dimmer than that.”
“Ah,” Carlos says, and doesn’t sound convinced at all. “Well, good-night, Cecil.” He presses a quick kiss against Cecil’s jaw before sliding out of bed, and then Cecil’s alone under the covers looking at the tired set of Carlos’s shoulders; the lamp-light skims along Carlos’s head, tipping bright the edges of his (soft, lovely) hair.
“Time is the problem,” Cecil hears Carlos mumble, and the ticking sound is louder than ever before. It bores into Cecil’s ears as he drifts off to sleep.
Listeners, I’ve just received a note from the Sheriff’s Secret Police.
At least, I think it was them, as they are the only organization who use notes printed on heavy cardstock and marked with terrifying runes, and cause them to materialize right under the station microphone as I am talking on it.
Anyway, the Secret Police would like everyone to note that they will be making an arrest today for, and I quote, “exploring those questions which must not be asked nor answered.” They’re not going to tell you who it is, of course, because then the wrongdoer could simply skip out of town and die a parched, miserable death in the vast desert. “Only the vultures will be there to peck at your bleached skull,” the Secret Police explained, “and where’s the fun in that?”
So if you have the feeling that a vague yet menacing government agency is closing in on you and that there is no longer hope for you in this life, don’t worry! It’s just the Secret Police, and they’ll soon put an end to your misery with tranquilizer guns. And remember, if you ever wake up in a darkened van with duct tape over your mouth and your hands cuffed together, do not struggle. Do not give the handcuffs any reason to eat you.
Cecil comes home to a bright “Thank you for your cooperation!” sticker greeting him from the front door, the Sheriff’s Secret Police logo emblazoned on one corner.
Inside, Carlos’s lab coats are missing from the coat hooks. Bits of seismograph paper stick out from a pile of ash on the coffee table. On the sofa, where Carlos usually sits, there’s only a shiny pamphlet titled, “Don’t Panic: how to act when your loved one is taken from you.”
Cecil puts his head between his knees, takes slow, careful breaths, and reads all of the helpful tips in bulleted lists.
Then, he panics.
In current news, I’m pleased to report that the PTA voted to replace all metal detectors with—
You know what, I’m sorry, I just...have to talk about something for a moment. I’m sure many of you have woken up one morning from a drugged sleep, certain that you will never see anyone you love, or indeed the sunlight, ever again. But please remember: if you can hear this, or even if you cannot right now, the atmosphere is carrying the vibration of my voice in all directions, but yours especially; and you cannot die as long as — I need you to — I will find—
We take you to the weather.
Cecil only means to stop at home for his mine shaft exploring kit from his long-gone Boy Scout past. Then he hears his refrigerator ticking and has to open the door.
Inside, nestled between a beaker of gelatinous fluid and a half-empty carton of orange juice, is the thing Carlos was building. Cecil lifts it out carefully, his palms flush against the cold metal casing and looks, really looks at it for the first time.
It’s a clock.
Rather, it looks like a clock, but the hour and minute hands are twirling erratically around, while the second hand is holding quiveringly somewhere to the left. And when Cecil turns around, the second hand moves, too, always pointing in the same direction.
It is, Cecil realizes, pointing toward the Abandoned Mine Shaft.
“Carlos,” Cecil breathes, and sets off.
The further Cecil gets out of town, the harder it is to walk. This has a bit to do with the sand that drifts up to Cecil’s ankles, and a lot to do with the tremors which had started inconspicuously but are now rattling his teeth.
Cecil looked back into town once, just in time to see the neon sign of the Moonlite All-Nite Diner tilt precariously sideways, and hasn’t looked back since; but that doesn’t stop him from hearing the great cracking sounds seemingly coming from everywhere. Below his very feet the ground shakes and shakes and shakes, until his knees feel like jelly and he can hardly breathe.
And Carlos is somewhere out there, in the Abandoned Mine Shaft, which might collapse and then—
Cecil keeps walking. The clock in his hand points steadily ahead.
“Carlos isn’t dead,” Cecil tells himself, over and over again, past the sand in his throat and into the murky light of the evening. “He’s not.”
And sometimes he says, too, “I’m not dead. Not yet.”
After an indeterminable period of grayness, two things happen at once:
there’s a loud, crackling rumble, and the Clock Tower topples to the ground before his eyes, hard enough that his jaw clicks shut;
(At least, it looks like it should be the Clock Tower, as it is a large tower with a clock attached to the top, even though it’s not invisible. Night Vale does not have two clock towers.)
(The clock face is shattered, something green-grey oozing out of the cracks.)
and Cecil spots the dark entrance to the Mine Shaft for a second before the sand whips into his vision, with a lone figure in a bloodied lab coat standing in it, and it’s Carlos, it has to be— and Cecil runs, stumbles, falls his way to Carlos, gasping.
“Oh my God, Cecil,” Carlos says, kneeling down and carefully touching his face. “You’re here.”
“I had to find you,” Cecil says helplessly, leaning into the warmth that is Carlos. “They took you, and I had to—”
“No, don’t you see?” Carlos says. “Look,” and he takes the clock gently from Cecil’s hands, “I did this — I built a real clock.”
Cecil looks at the clock, which is now ticking placidly away. “I...don’t understand.”
“I told you once that time was wrong in Night Vale,” Carlos says. “A clock in Night Vale is a paradox, Cecil. It’s changing reality.”
Cecil sits up to look outside. At some point, the earthquakes have died away, the shifting sands settled once again. But the wreckage of the clock tower has just...disappeared, and where there should be visible the tall Brownstone Spire and maybe, out at the edge of town, Larry Leroy’s house, there’s only a void, painful to look at and growing before his eyes.
“But—Night Vale,” Cecil says shakily. “Everything?”
“I’m sorry,” Carlos says.
Cecil turns to look at Carlos, wild-eyed. “And what about you?” he asks. “Are you—”
Carlos smiles, very soft, the smile that Cecil fell in love with such a long time ago. He leans forward, hands warm on Cecil’s face, kisses him until his eyes flutter shut, until they’re both out of breath, says, “I’m just as real as you are,” and Cecil