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A Carnival Comes to Town

The secret to a long life lies in how acutely you perceive time. Welcome to Night Vale.

A quiet caravan of flatbed trucks rolled into town last night. The trailers were unmarked, except by age and neglect. The trucks parked along Bandera Street, in an abandoned lot in the heart of the up-and-coming Abandoned Lot Neighborhood.

People we do not know emerged from the trucks and began to unload tall lights and heavy speakers. Perhaps many of you were jostled from slumber by the faint pulsing of music that sounded like music you know, even though it was music you had never heard. Perhaps you woke unaware there ever was sun, confused by your own consciousness, hearing the echoes of these unknown choruses, and found yourself singing along, mouthing familiar words placed in an unfamiliar order.

We do not know what these trucks have brought or what those within them intend. All I can say is you should not go near that abandoned lot on Bandera Street until we find out more. Which might take a while. It's a very busy day. We can't investigate every horrifying fleet of unmarked trucks. We've got more important things.

Like this voicemail from my boyfriend.

CARLOS:
"Hi Cecil.

I made so much progress today! Doug and some of the other members of the army of warriors who roam this otherworld desert took me to the top of the mountain, to the lighthouse up on it.

(Oh! I’m still stuck in the desert otherworld. How are you? I miss you.)

Anyway, they showed me the photos on the walls inside the lighthouse. One of the warriors, whose name is Alicia and who is not a woman or a man and who is Doug's partner and who has a dog and who is trying to make a new currency based on sand, walked me through the pictures. They were photos of living rooms and parks and lawns. Photos of Night Vale. I asked if Alicia took these photos, because they were good photos, colorful, well-composed, and alive.

Alicia shook their head "no," and the other warriors in the room pointed quietly back to the photos and I saw that they were literally alive. The people and all the other things that were not people moved in the photos. Blades of grass in the breeze. Small bees spiraling. A man refusing to smile. All within the confines of rough driftwood frames. Inside the lighthouse, you can see anywhere, although you cannot go to any of those wheres. And as I leave this message, I can see you Cecil. I’m watching you shave. It's cute how you pull your nose up like that, but you missed a spot.

I'm sorry I haven't had time to go looking for the doorway back to your dimension. I'm learning so many things though. I promise. I promise to return soon. This desert otherworld is just so scientifically interesting. Maybe the most scientifically interesting community I've ever been.

I love you. I'll try calling you again tonight. Is it even nighttime there? I’ve lost all sense of time."

CECIL:
So...I don’t know. All of that, and such. And now, the news.

The foundation is finally being laid for the new old Night Vale opera house. Old Woman Josie, was on hand for the ceremony. In fact she brought her own cement mixer and poured it herself. Several creatures claiming to be angels, wearing yellow and orange triangles - the logo of StrexCorp, now of course owned by these same creatures - were on hand to assist, but Josie kept slapping their many hands away when they attempted to help her with the heavy mixer and the strenuous work.

"I'm fine, Erika. I have this. Go get me some water," Josie said, wiping her shriveled brow with a green handkerchief. "I ain't that old," she said before adding "Hey you forgot to record Castle last night. Make yourself useful and double check the TiVo before I get home tonight."

One of the supposed angels, all of whom are named Erika, pointed out that Castle is in reruns and she could probably download the episodes she missed from iTunes. There was a long pause as Old Woman Josie stared at Erika in silence, concrete churning its dull pulsing hum, onlookers forgetting to exhale, a single drop of sweat rolling down one of Erika's seven cheekbones. And then Josie said "okay. whatever. Is the Chopped marathon on tonight?" and continued her pour.

The angel-like beings claim that StrexCorp is Night Vale's first angel-owned and angel-operated company. They claim this proudly and even placed it on their brochures and signs, despite the great risk of arrest and imprisonment for the felony of acknowledging the existence of angels.

Completion of the new old Night Vale opera house is scheduled for this coming spring. Many town residents are excited and confused over the return of this cultural landmark, as none of us know what an opera is. "Is it a type of deli?" asked one bystander, who shielded his eyes and asked not to be identified before dissipating into a black cloud and joining the rest of the cowardly air molecules.

“I heard opera is a virus you get from kissing,” said another bystander who was clearly former mayor Pamela Winchell wearing a fake mustache and clumsily altering her voice.

Nobody but Old Woman Josie and her mysterious friends know what opera is. Hopefully we'll all find out soon, Night Vale. Hopefully it's a good thing.

I have my doubts, though. I am sometimes more doubt than man.

The strangers at the abandoned lot have begun unloading the fleet of trucks, removing large metal cases from the trailers and assembling gargantuan machines covered in rust and the faint echo of bright color.

Residents of the Abandoned Lot District, who usually just talk hopefully about a day when they’ll be allowed to finally build homes, have reported hearing organ music and smelling deep fryers. They saw carnival workers carrying bags of strange candy and leading packs of unfamiliar, loping animals into the lot.

Many of the strangers wear large wigs and bright, painted faces. They carry foolish hats and mangled balloons.

Listeners, I know what this is, and it is not good! A carnival has come to our city, Night Vale. I do not even know how you can protect yourself from this wicked cultural affront to our community.

I reached out to the City Council, but I just got their voicemail, which was the Council saying in unison: "We're not here anymore. Good luck with whatever that is in the abandoned lot. If you'd like to scream or cry in horror, please do so at the tone."

So at least their voicemail is the usual one, but I don’t think we’ll get much help from them.

Night Vale.... I have only ever heard of carnivals. I never thought I would ever have to actually see one. No one knows what they will do in the face of catastrophe until they are in that face. And here I am, still not knowing what to do. A carnival! Oh all the mysterious lights in the sky! I do not know how this carnival found us, nor what they intend. But I am certain it is not good.

It is rumored that our neighbors in Pine Cliff once welcomed a traveling carnival. Pine Cliff is now inhabited only by ghosts, but I don’t actually know if that was related to the carnival at all. They might have been that way already.

And you know, there is a certain sweetness to the hastily-assembled rides, to the thought of eating air-blown pastel sugar, your boyfriend winning you a stuffed animal at the bird-mocking booth. Exchanging known quantities of fiat cash for meta-fiat paper coupons. Oh, it sounds just...it sounds just dreamy-

No! These wicked magicians of the midway. They must be using mind control to draw us in. Do not fall victim to-

holding hands hotly under the cool lights, the undulating swirl and discordant fugue of the merry-go-round about us. Carlos! Ah, Carlos! Let's go to the carniv-

No. Stop it. Cecil. No. Night Vale, avoid the carnival. Hide in your homes.

This Thursday at the Night Vale Public Library is the twice-annual Cleaning of Books. The Sheriff's Secret Police Super Secret Special Forces Unit will be on hand to subdue the librarians, who regularly attempt to not only undermine our city with dangerous books but also sink their sharp claws and pincers into library visitors before flying them off to eat or toy with or whatever it is they do to their victims.

The Cleaning of Books is our way of double checking that the librarians are keeping a clean stock of municipally approved books, such as the biography of Helen Hunt and all four of Dean Koontz's novels. Librarians are well-known for sneaking in books by dangerous authors. In 1988, two (TWO!) copies of Pride and Prejudice were found in Night Vale. No one knows quite how many people read these copies, but the ensuing riots inconvenienced hundreds and led to the current cleaning schedule.

Not everyone is in favor of this practice, though. New mayor Dana Cardinal issued a public rebuke of book cleaning.

The mayor admitted that while "books are pretty dangerous" and she "doesn't recommend them for everyone," we should concentrate more on protecting ourselves from the librarians themselves, who are the real danger.

Teenage book lover and heroic militia leader Tamika Flynn also offered her protest of this important event, saying "Books and libraries are dangerous, which is exactly why we should protect them. Librarians are conniving and vicious monsters but they also know how to recommend a good read. Their methods may be violent, but we must be willing to face great challenges in order to achieve great things.”

Tamika continued: “We will grow soft without books, Night Vale," as she waved her favorite copy of Helen DeWitt’s The Last Samurai, onlookers shielding their eyes from the forbidden tome.

I don't want to disagree too much with young Tamika. I respect her leadership and her vast knowledge of books, but not everyone is cut out for reading difficult literature. Perhaps we could split the difference. We could select just a few people in town who are allowed to read challenging books. That way the masses don't have to be exposed to complex ideas, and a small committee of trustworthy people like Tamika can tell us in a gentle way what those books say, very quietly so we don’t have to hear them. It'll be all the fun and simplicity of an intellectual oligarchy, but without all the awful reading.

Intern Maureen has returned to our studio. She was swept away a few weeks back by an enormous gust of wind, and we thought her lost. We held services for her at the Rec Center. Her whole family was there. Many of her friends from Night Vale Community College came, or at least I assumed they were friends from school. They all had human bodies with coyote heads and they were eating armadillos out of a duffel bag. Huh. College kids.

Well, we were all glad to see Maureen come home safe. Or most of us. Her family seemed disappointed, this being the second time they've mourned her death in vain. They seemed emotionally exhausted, not angry. They told her this is the last time, Maureen. This is it. No more.

Anyway, today at work, Maureen's been doing research into carnivals, and according to her, carnivals need money to operate. If we do not want a carnival in town then we should just not give them our money, and the carnival will go away.

Maureen has also handed me a report saying, oh my... Night Vale, the carnival grounds have been completed.

A 40-foot tall wheel with empty compartments spins lazily in the hot sun as broken speakers sing cacophonous platitudes over simplistic chord progressions. Carnival workers are brandishing hammers next to a tower inscribed with ascending numbers and topped with an alarm bell.

Night Vale residents have gathered near the grounds but are not yet entering. A group of the carnival workers with white faces and bulbous noses and large shoes have opened the gates to the carnival grounds, and are cooing and beckoning our citizens to enter. These masked interlopers wish to sway you with broad toothy smiles, but they are nightmares, Night Vale. They are lies incarnate.

Remember that we are a great town. We are a great town that does not back down to grave danger. Are we not the same town that defeated a smiling god and a fascist corporatocracy and once! once! survived a street cleaning day??

I said earlier that I did not know what to do in the face of a catastrophe, but I was wrong, Night Vale, I was wrong. When I think only of myself, I am scared. But knowing I am with you, I am not scared. We are in this together. I have a community I can trust and love. There is no need to be frightened of treacherous outsiders.

Outsiders...wait, how did these outsiders get in? Night Vale is not so easily found, so how have they so easily found it?

Oh! Oh! The carnival gates have opened. All of Night Vale is there. Only I sit contained in my booth, helpless as usual. The carnival workers smile wider and wider and wider and wider. Breath is heard, loud and wet and without an obvious source, and the birds are gone. There is a fearful infinity of an instant.

I take you now, uncertain of what this next instant will bring, and none of you near a radio anyway, to the weather.

["Bremen" by PigPen Theatre Co]

The carnival has left. Night Vale citizens resisted entering the metal gates. They formed a semi-circle around the opening and shouted INTERLOPERS while pointing, as is our friendly, mandatory way of welcoming strangers.

Soon the painted people backed away, closing themselves into their miserable flatbed corral. They disassembled their mechanical monstrosities and drove them away.

Night Vale, en masse, waved fists and sticks and farm tools and cactuses and animal parts. Our citizens chanted curses upon the carnival.

The carnival employees, in their haste, left behind several artifacts of their attempted threat to our sanctity, our sanity. We found clear plastic bags filled with cheaply produced dolls. There was a large styrofoam-stuffed green and orange squirrel.

As the trucks drove away, proud and vigilant Night Vale civilians set the squirrel ablaze, that unholy totem of that unholy carnival. With the sun long gone, presumably scared away by the unexpected visitors, the happy fire of victory shone out to meet the taillights of the retreating trucks.

Witnesses heard the carnival perpetrators saying things like "run!" and "get out of here!" as they made their way to their trucks. Shouts of "what the hell is this town?" and

“where the hell are we?" and “this is definitely not Modesto” and "i think they're going to kill us Stacy! run!" were the verbal white flags, signaling our triumph as a town, as a proud community that stood for itself once again

And intern Maureen, who is....

Maureen you look upset. Are you upset? Is everything okay?

Maureen does not look happy, listeners. I'm not sure why Maureen is not happy about today’s victory she helped bring about. You are part of this Maureen. This victory is also yours.

[pause]

Maureen, do you not love victory over outsiders who mean us harm?

Maureen, do you...

Well, Maureen left the control booth. She just got up in a huff and left. Huh, teenagers, I guess.

Stay tuned next for people arguing about sports. Not on the radio, somewhere else. Somewhere and soon people will be arguing about sports. I don't know what's happening next on the radio. I never do.

And as always, good night Night Vale. Good night.

Today’s proverb: Say what you will about dance, but language is a limited form of expression.

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