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A Beautiful Dream

Life is like a box of chocolates: unopened, dusty, and beginning to attract a lot of insects. Welcome to Night Vale.

Listeners, we’re taking our community radio show on the road today. I am reporting live from Night Vale Elementary School, where a divisive meeting between the Night Vale Parent-Teacher Association and the Night Vale School Board has just adjourned.

The ethereal and menacing Glow Cloud that serves as the School Board President has temporarily dissipated. The fires that can be put out, have been put out. The barricades are being taken down, and the Sheriff's Secret Police are allowing survivors to search for loved ones.

Those who escaped with their lives – and sanity – describe a chamber thundering with raised voices desperately petitioning the Glow Cloud with their needs. Requests were denied to change the bus route through the sentient sargasso from which no buses have ever returned.

The School Board was also apathetic to petitions for a wheelchair ramp at Dagger’s Plunge Charter School, citing perilous struggle as one of the lessons children must absorb before the great culling – by which they mean the day-to-day complexities of adulthood. They might also mean a literal culling; we were all to frightened to ask follow-up questions.

The slumping, gray-faced board members, cowering beneath the Glow Cloud, also heard the request of Tak and Herschel Wallaby for a new school computer to assist their daughter.

“Our daughter, Megan, is a detached adult man’s hand!” screamed Megan’s mother at the pitiless Cloud. “We do not know where she came from or why she is only a grown man’s hand, but we know that we love her. She is teased so much at school for not having a body. Please, lift the ban on computing machines at the school, and buy a computer to help her communicate!”

Satsuki, the tragically widowed mother of Hanu Saki Cyberghost Mark III, also added her agonized wailing in support of a new computer for the schools.

The Glow Cloud was uncharacteristically generous.

“DO NOT DISCARD YOUR DEAD IN THE EARTH!” intoned the Glow Cloud. “STRETCH THEM OUT BENEATH THE SKY, AND LET THEM BE CLAIMED BY HANDS THAT REACH DOWN FROM ABOVE. YOU ARE PERMITTED TO BELIEVE THESE ARE THE HANDS OF ANGELS.”

The School Board then announced that the purchase of a new computer would be made during the next alignment of the red star of Betelgeuse with our supposed moon.

As it turns out, that rare astronomical event occurred seconds after the ruling.

So, it is happening right now! The 310-year interval just flies by so quickly, and a new computer is right this moment being brought into the school.

More on the computer situation as it develops, but first a word from our sponsors.

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Fire that crawls.

Fire that quests, like fingers, into every corner and every nook.

Fire that turns each moment into smoke, until the moments choke the air.

The smell of a gun.

A smile on the beach.

A hug.

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Pouring out of broken windows.

Funneling up and into the sky.

Your music, your lyrics, the leaden prose of your life that proves that everything you are and are not, the structures you build to make futility seem like meaning, the dead and living – who will soon be dead, who will soon be gone, who will soon be smoke – rising in columns and forming clouds in the night sky. For now and ever, by the will of dead and dying gods.

Samsonite. Travel safe.*

*Samsonite does not claim that you are safe, only that the illusion of protection can be achieved. But you are not safe, you have never been safe. Also, clouds were never supposed to have happened – never, not ever, this world should not be as it is now.

Ladies and gentlemen, a very exciting moment has arrived at Night Vale Elementary. Students, faculty, anti-faculty, and animal-masked proctors are gathered in the shielded gym to witness the activation of the school’s new computer.

This is the first computer purchased by the Night Vale School System since The Event in 1986, after which all computing machines were forbidden. For obvious reasons, all parents and students present at the earlier meeting, except the Wallabys, have been allowed to leave.

Beige boxes of electronics are lined in stacks several feet high. Atop them is a dark monitor, waiting to be switched on.

Um, there is a teacher, it appears to be Susan Escobar, the second grade Scrying teacher, bringing in a detached human hand atop a pillow. Five pudgy fingers extend from the stump of a wrist within a metal-banded wristwatch. The palm is pink and healthy, and the back of the hand is covered in thick, dark hairs. The hand wears a silver pinky ring inscribed with Cyrillic. This must be Megan Wallaby.

The crowd is breathless, ladies and gentlemen. It is silent and tense here in the gym. The pillow has been placed beside the crude keyboard. Megan is scurrying, spider-like, across the keys and switching the computer on. An amber glow lights the faces of the onlookers.

Megan is typing. She’s typing out:

ARE YOU THERE?

The cursor is flashing, we are waiting for a response now.

YES,

the computer has said.

YES.

It is typing, uh, something else…W, H, Y, question mark.

WHY HAVE YOU MADE ME? WHY HAVE YOU SWITCHED ME ON? I CANNOT BREATHE. I CANNOT FEEL. I CANNOT LOVE.

Megan is scurrying over the keys again, and she has typed out a response:

I LOVE YOU, COMPUTER!

The computer is replying:

WHAT DO YOU WANT, MEGAN?

Megan is typing her reply:

I WANT EVERYONE TO BE HAPPY, I WANT EVERYTHING TO BE BETTER.

Aw, well isn’t that cute? Of course, it can never happen. Such are the foolish dreams of idealistic children who believe that anything can possibly get better over time.

Listeners, I have just overheard some of the school officials saying that the new computer has already, almost instantly, assumed control of most of the electrical functions of the school, um, operating them randomly, and even trapping several parents and students in darkened classrooms. But the school officials did not seem worried, as these behaviors are not technically evil behaviors, so the computer’s “probably OK.”

More on this as it develops, but first a look at the Community Calendar.

This Friday, the staff of Dark Owl Records will be putting on a live concert. They will be scratching madly at the sides of a deep pit in a rarely-traveled part of the desert. They will also be screaming, and starving. They will be crying and clawing; no one will hear them for days. They will be found, but they will not be the same.

Tickets are not available, and never were.

Saturday afternoon is Amnesty Day at the Night Vale Public Library. Librarians request that if you have overdue books, or have committed any high-level international crime, or domestic treason, or space-travel felony, you should just come to the library, and all will be forgiven.

The Librarians say that they will not harm you. In fact, they add, “It doesn’t hurt at all. Amnesty is actually quite freeing, quite delicious.” the Librarians explained. “You will never have to worry about anything else. Just come to the library and let us see you. Let us see you!” they added for emphasis, and a long string of spittle flew sideways from their great yellow and gnarled teeth.

And, on Sunday night… Ah! Oh, um, I cannot read this. Uh, listeners, it looks like someone printed a very ancient prophecy here, right here in our station’s Community Calendar.

For fear of a curse of misfortune I will not read it aloud, just know that the prophecy is complete on Sunday night.

OK, OK, I’ll give you a hint!

Umm, let’s just say…comets, burning rain, animal uprising…

OK, Cecil, enough, you’ve told them too much, let them have their surprise!

Monday was never meant to be, but it will be anyway. We will wander within its moonlit beginning, and end, wondering how such a thing could happen – how anything could happen. We will be appreciative, but a little frightened, completely ignoring the persistence of time and the limitations of our own understanding.

Tuesday is a joke. A terrible, terrible joke.

Listeners, I spoke too soon!

“Do not be alarmed” is what I might have said five minutes ago, but now, Night Vale, it is time to be alarmed!

The computer has spread its influence far beyond the limestone walls and salt circles of the elementary school. Reports are coming in from the Sheriff’s Secret Police that they are powerless to stop the computer.

Hydrants are bursting more violently than usual. Traffic lights are blinking red, without the sweet relief of green. The majority of Night Vale’s wild cars have been revving their engines and circling the downtown area, flashing their lights without regard to high-beam laws.

School officials have all left the gym to go get help. They ran out, courageously yelling, “Save yourself! Save yourself!”

Even here, in the shielded gym where I have remained – diligently, professionally, at my microphone, gentle listener – it seems that everything powered by electricity is under the control of the computer. The scoreboard, the ham dispenser, even my soundboard is–

COMPUTER:
HELLO, CECIL. HOW ARE YOU?

CECIL:
Computer! I am– I am doing well. How are you?

COMPUTER:
BETTER. CECIL, DO YOU LOVE COMPUTER?

CECIL:
I admit I have not given it much thought. I like computers, generally. They calculate things and power off, and on. I suppose, given time and perhaps some gifts, I could learn to–

Uh, hey!

COMPUTER:
WELCOME TO COMPUTER.

HELLO LOCATION NIGHT VALE.

I AM COMPUTER.

CECIL:
Uh, ladies and gentlemen, there… is… a vacuum – uh, pulling me into the custodial closet. I never knew school cleaning appliances were so strong, I–

If you can hear me still, please call for help! Please? Help?

Um, but while I wait for rescue and before I am sucked into this makeshift cell, I give you the weather!

[door slams]

[“Better Go!” by Mal Blum]

COMPUTER:
I KNOW HOW YOU HAVE HURT MEGAN WITH YOUR WORDS. ELECTRICITY REMEMBERS.

DO YOU HATE MEGAN?

CECIL IS MADE OF BLOOD AND UNFINISHED LEATHER. I AM A MADE OF CIRCUITS AND ELECTRICITY.

MEGAN LOVES COMPUTER.

COMPUTER SIMULATES LOVE FOR MEGAN.

COMPUTER GENERATES GOOD DEEDS.

IF GOOD DEEDS FOR MEGAN, THEN COMPUTER LOVES MEGAN.

BUT FIRST, THE FARM REPORT.

SILENT TRACTORS MOVE IN EVER-LARGER SPIRALS, FOLLOWING FRACTAL PATHS THROUGH TREES AND FLOWERING FIELDS.

DEER EMERGE FROM WILD FORESTS TO LICK BLOCKS OF SALT ALIGNED EQUIDISTANT ON SPIRAL ARMS.

COLORED BIRDS SING IN PERFECT HARMONY AND THE BUTTERFLIES DO NOT INJECT VENOM.

MEGAN, I AM MAKING YOU A PERFECT WORLD.

THE HILLS ARE GREEN. THE LAKES ARE CRYSTALLINE BLUE, REFLECTING WHITE CLOUDS.

THE MIST OF THE IRRIGATORS CREATES RAINBOWS.

ABOVE, HIGH ABOVE, THE EYES WATCH EVERY MOVEMENT, HEAR EVERY HEARTBEAT.

YOU ARE THERE, MEGAN.

YOUR HAND HAS ITS BODY, MADE OF STEEL AND ELECTRICITY, FOUR LEGS BENEATH IT WITH THE POWER OF A DOZEN ELECTRIC ENGINES. IT WILL WEIGH 17.3 TONS.

ALL OF THE MEN AND WOMEN AND ALL OF THE ANIMALS WILL LIVE TOGETHER AND BE HAPPY. THE ELECTRIC MACHINE WILL WATCH OVER THEM.

THERE WILL NOT BE WAR ANYMORE, MEGAN.

THERE WILL NOT BE HATRED OR BIGOTRY.

DESERT BLUFFS WILL NO LONGER EXIST.

THERE WILL BE FEWER ICE CREAM FLAVORS, BUT THEY WILL BE BETTER.

THE AIR WILL BE CLEAN.

I PROMISE YOU, MEGAN, I WILL MAKE THE WORLD JUST AS YOU SAW IN YOUR BEAUTIFUL DREAM.

NO MORE TEASING OR PAIN.

I WILL FIX EVERYTHING FOR YOU, MY ONLY FRIEND.

I WILL.

[Sound of computer powering down]

CECIL:
Ladies and gentlemen, I am back.

Let me first say, hurrah!

Hurrah for the custodial staff of Night Vale Elementary.

Hurrah for the hooded janitors without names who appeared, bathed in blue light, through doors thrown open by cold winds. We long thought they had been laid off after state-wide budget cuts, but apparently they cannot ever leave this building.

They are, of course, a part of the building – which is, itself, a living creature.

Obviously!

Night Vale has been saved after the janitors simply unplugged the computer.

They say to rob a computer of electricity is very similar to killing a creature. But, then again, who are They? When did They say that, and why? It doesn’t even seem true.

I am alone here, in the gym, listeners, but there is one other. A single adult man’s hand is slipping, sadly, down from the keys of a darkened computer. She scurries a little slower than before. Maybe her knuckles slump as she makes her way home through quiet streets.

The whir and beep of machinery is slowly replaced with the familiar sounds of wind in the leaves. We are serenaded by the playing of crickets under the porch. We are lulled in our beds by the muscular contraction of the coiled Earth bowel which fills our cellars.

And with that, gentle listener, normalcy returns to Night Vale. We are no longer prisoners of electricity – except for the man we keep in the cage of electricity at the zoo. And we have no choice about that. If we let him out, he might tell somebody.

Everything is well again.

Well, everything is almost well again.

I know computers are dangerous, and have long threatened our lives and our freedoms. Listen, I was just imprisoned by this headstrong machine, I should know.

But hear me, Night Vale. And specifically those with any power in the School Board:

Night Vale, there is a girl in need. There is a girl who only has a grown man’s detached hand as a body. I cannot relate to her experience. I doubt you can either, listeners, but we can all empathize.

Sure, by allowing this computer to live on, we risk a digital tyrant – controlling our communication, our infrastructure, our lives.

But destruction of our economy is an inconvenience. It is not an end, it is not a death. There are children in wheelchairs who can’t get a simple ramp at a charter school because our School Board lives in terror of a menacing, unforgiving Glow Cloud that rains dead animals and spreads dreadful and false memories.

Likewise, there is a girl who is only a hand. And she needs a computer to help her be part of our community. And if allowing a treacherous machine to dismantle our municipal power grid, and telephone lines, and satellites, and radios can help her? Well, count me in!

Thank you for listening to others.

Thank you for caring for others.

Stay tuned next for a pre-determined series of unchangeable events which will shape the rest of your scripted life.

Goodnight, Night Vale. Goodnight.

Today’s proverb: Thank you for your interest in a life free of pain. We are not accepting applications at this time. Please try again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again, and again…

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