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A Blood Stone Carol

It’s winter and the weather’s freezing, quite appalling, you stay in, aloof.

But footsteps, yes, that’s someone creeping, crying, calling a stranger up upon your roof.

Welcome to Night Vale.

It’s the holidays, listeners, when the majority in this country celebrate how their experience of this season is defined as the default universal experience, while every other cultural group’s experience is expected to be in reaction and comparison to the majority’s experience. And if a person doesn’t wish to live in reaction to this default experience of the season, they are seen as hostile or belligerent merely for their wish to not participate in what is after all a celebration of the erasure of their culture under the dominant violence of another’s. All to say: Happy Blood Stone Day to those who celebrate it.

Now last year, your airwaves were unfortunately taken over by a horrible pirate broadcast, telling a story that was quite unfit for any listener’s ears. So I’d like to remediate that by telling a story of my own. A Night Vale holiday classic, one I’m sure all of you know. But isn’t there pleasure in hearing once again a story you could recite every word of? It is like visiting a friend.

Night Vale Community Radio presents to you, dear listener, A Blood Stone Carol.

Our story begins on the evening of Blood Stone Day Eve. A Mr. Scrooge was being quite horrid to his employees: underpaying them, shouting, some light flaying, etc. His employees howled their displeasure.

“Take it up with HR,” said Scrooge. This was his way of a joke, as HR had been cast into a pit several days before because they suggested perhaps there could be slightly less flaying in the office. Scrooge valued three things: 1. Himself, 2. His money, 3. Nothing else.

He went home from the office quite content with the way he had spent the day. He had made a good deal of money and a good deal of misery, and both seemed fair and right to him. His bed was made by a housekeeper he had never met, who came while he was at work and set everything in his home so it looked like no one had ever lived there. Signs of life bothered Scrooge.

So I guess it was good news that the person sitting at his kitchen table was dead. Mr. Marley, a business partner of Scrooge’s who had died some time before. And he looked it. His skin peeled and bubbled where there was skin left. The smell was tremendous.

“My god,” Scrooge said. “What is this?”

Marley turned toward him as best he could for he was wrapped in heavy chains, and he said, as best he could for his tongue was mostly missing: “You will be visited by three spirits.”

“I’ll be visited by what?”

Marley muttered “three spirits” again and then fell heavily to the floor, and rolled out of the kitchen awkwardly in his heavy chains. The smell lingered and Scrooge felt ill.

“Well, this won’t do,” Scrooge said. “I’m going right to bed and forgetting all of this.”

And so he did go right to bed. But hardly had he closed his eyes when he heard a noise. A gutteral slurping sound, like someone inhaling paste. Scrooge sat up, and looked about the room but it was as empty and dark and clean as before.

“Is someone there?” he shouted, knowing that the answer was no, and also that the answer was yes. There was no one there, but no one was there.

Stubborn, he closed his eyes, and tried to send himself determinedly to sleep. But no sooner did he try then he heard a whiffling sound quite near his ear, like loose lips flapping. His eyes snapped open. The room was still empty.

“Are you the first of these spirits?” Scrooge shouted. “Well, then show yourself.” And again, nothing, but a nothing that held weight. A nothing that was very much something in itself.

This time Scrooge decided he wouldn’t try to go to sleep. He would sit up in bed and wait out this so called spirit. If anything occured, his eyes would be open to see it.

Then he blinked.

When his eyes opened again, a microsecond later, there was a face inches from his face. The face was too close to perceive any details, except a sense of clammy paleness, of eyes that were wide but with no pupils, of a mouth that drooped sideways. Scrooge yelped and scrambled backward along the bed, but it was no good. The face stayed with him, still the exact same distance, nearly pressed up against his own. The face hooted at him, a bad joke of a voice, but Scrooge didn’t find it funny. He got out of bed, tried to escape, but the face was with him the entire time. No matter where he turned, no matter where he went, this yowling, hairless face hung in front of his own.

“What are you, spirit?” he cried. “What have you come to teach me?”

But this was the ghost of Blood Stone Day Past, and like the past, it was inescapable, but had no point, no lesson to impart. It merely was. The ghost moaned and he felt cold saliva spray over him. The face came even closer until their noses touched, and the face’s nose came apart like wet paper mache.

“Go away! Go away! Go away!” Scrooge cried, and it did go away. As quickly as it had come, the ghost had left. Scrooge had gained nothing from the encounter. In fact much had been taken from him.

Scrooge was speechless and breathless. And if he had breath, and if he had speech, what could he say? There were no words for what he had seen. He went and made himself some tea, but couldn’t find a way to swallow it. He kept feeling the nose dissolve against his nose, like marshy soil, like our memories as we age. Three spirits, Marley had said. How was he to face two more of them?

He went warily to his bed, waiting at any moment for a ghastly visage to swim toward him out of the shadows. But nothing came. He sat on the bed. Still nothing. He got in bed. Nothing. He closed his eyes. And opened his eyes. Nothing had come to his room.

Instead, he was no longer in his room. He got up, bewildered. His bed was now in a forest, dense enough that it was impossible to see more than a hundred feet in any direction, but sparse enough that it was well lit, although he could not see any sun in the sky. There was some detail about this place, other than his abrupt appearance in it, that was setting him on edge. He spun around, waiting for a devil to pounce on him from the underbrush, but it was silent. Hold on. It was silent. Absolutely so. That was what was making him nervous. There was no rustle of the trees. No call of birds. He had never felt so alone.

And it was as he thought this that he saw in the distance a figure. The figure was tall, and gray and shaped like a human, mostly. It had a wide mouth, and it was screaming, but Scrooge couldn’t hear it. He wanted no part of whatever this figure represented and turned to run. But when he turned the figure was there too. Absolutely still. Absolutely silent. And screaming in mortal terror.

Scrooge did not know how he knew it was terror, only that he knew. Fear was thick in the air. He could taste it on his tongue. This figure was terrified, and it was still, and it was silent. Scrooge set his back straight and remembered who he was, an important business man after all, a powerful man that caused other men to wither and quake, so he walked toward the figure. But he was not able to approach it. No matter how far he went into the forest, the figure remained in the distance. Its limbs were splayed. It was dozens of feet tall. Its mouth was wide. It was screaming. And there was no sound at all.

Finally, Scrooge couldn’t take it. He screamed back. And that’s when he found he could make no sound either. There they were, the figure and him. They were both terrified. And neither of them could make even the smallest squeak, even the tiniest whisper of fear. Without release, the fear had nowhere to go, and it prowled Scrooge’s ribcage, a wild animal seething in captivity. If he could, Scrooge would have torn it out of his chest, but he couldn’t. He could only stand there, and face the figure of the Ghost of Blood Stone Day Present, and both of them could scream silently.

After hours of this, perhaps even days, he found he was back in his bedroom, yet no time had passed at all. Scrooge wept. He was envious of the ghosts, whose job it was to haunt. He no longer wanted to be himself, whose job it was to be haunted. He muttered as he wept, a mutter of envy: “Wish I were dead. Oh, I wish I were dead.” From outside, the sound of the weather seemed to echo his words.

["Draggin' Me Down" by Travis Love Benson ft. Yo! The Moon]

Scrooge lay in bed, shivering, waiting for the visit from the third spirit. Given what he had experienced so far, he had to believe that the spirits had saved the most terrible for last, and he could not imagine what hideous phantom would gather itself in the darkness. He kept his eyes closed and awaited cold breath on his ear, or a dry finger caressing his cheek, but nothing came. The tension was enormous and he felt his stomach tighten. In fact, he became quite nauseous. He put a hand on his stomach, an instinctual gesture to calm his own body, and one that was utterly futile. It is as though his abdomen were an altar, and his placating hand an offering placed by a condemned man. The offering would not be accepted. The man would remain condemned.

Scrooge felt within his abdomen a movement, and realized he was feeling the clenching of his intestines, seized by the terrible feeling within him. They tightened and released, tightened and released, and he could feel the strange twitching of them. He became aware all at once that this coiled creature lived within him and could at any time turn against him. This awareness, and the dread still hanging over him about the approaching spirit, brought with it a wave of panic. With the panic, came dizziness. Now his stomach lurched, and his intestines clenched, and his head swam. He did not feel in control of any part of himself. How could it be this awful and the ghost was yet to even appear to him?

Scrooge shambled up out of bed, and moved blindly through the malevolent darkness to the bathroom. He kneeled before the toilet, a pitiful supplicant. But nothing came. Relief would not be so easy as a purge. This feeling waltzed in him, it took him, and he was not in control of his body. His feet felt numb. Had his feet felt numb this entire time, or was that a new symptom?

He stumbled up and to the mirror, and saw himself. And here was the final horror for him: He looked no different. The same face, the same flesh, the same hair. His eyes were his eyes, only with the light of panic in them. And in that moment he knew, and in knowing, he despaired. There was no third spirit coming for him. There was only the failure and strangeness of his own body. This truly was the Ghost of Blood Stone Day Yet To Come. For as the years passed his body would drift farther and farther from his own conception of it. It would rebel and he would suffer strange torments that would alter his life and the doctors would furrow their brow and be unable to diagnose anything, because the symptoms would be too diffuse. “You’re just getting older,” the doctors would say to him, and he would scream “But this isn’t my body. I want my body back.” But it was his body. And like all bodies, it would not remain loyal.

His intestines writhed harder, and his tongue felt thick, and he didn’t know if he was breathing, and his hands were also numb, and then he was falling, and then he was gone.

Elsewhere children slept. Elsewhere the religious prayed and the non-religious wished. Elsewhere sleepers dreamed. Elsewhere there was a near infinite multitude of lived experience, of which we each only get to live one.

The next morning it was Blood Stone Day. Scrooge awoke, and stood stiffly from the bathroom floor. He went to the window. Tiny Tim was there in the street, bent backward and jittering, as Tiny Tim did. All around Tim, the people of Night Vale went about their preparations for Blood Stone Day dinner. Scrooge didn’t see them. He watched Tiny Tim shake and shake, bending farther and farther backward. He watched Tim. Tim shook.

And so ends the story of Scrooge. There is nothing to learn from this story. Most stories have nothing to teach us.

It’s winter, dear and frightful listeners. The days are hot and the nights are cold, and I hope you have someone out there who cares for you. And if you don’t, then know that I care for you. And know that you are never truly alone. For in the darkness, there are always others with you, whether you like it or not. Don’t open your eyes unless you want to see them.

Have a happy Blood Stone Day, and good night, Night Vale. Good night.

Today’s proverb: The universe contains, among other things, black holes, vast clouds of gas and light, a planet made of diamond, and your tiny body.

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