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A Door Ajar Part 1

Anxiety is just your body's way of telling you something really really terrible is about to happen. Welcome to Night Vale.

Three bodies were found behind the Pancake House this morning!

Sorry, I didn't mean to sound so chipper. It must be the coffee. I just started caffeine again. Do-over!

[same energy] Three bodies were found behind the Pancake House this morning! The cause of death has been identified as drowning. As you know, this is particularly unsettling because the Pancake House does not border any body of water, nor does any body of water exist in Night Vale. Saltwater and blobs of semi-animate clear jelly were found in the lungs of the victims, according to reports from coroner Lorelei Alvarez. Alvarez added that their clothing was salty to the taste.

The victims were discovered by a truck driver identified only as Enormous Jim, who pulled into the Pancake House parking lot around 6:30 this morning. “I knew something wasn't right,” Jim said in his statement to the Secret Police. “I felt warm all over and kinda tingly, and I thought the fly larvae had finally hatched in my hair. I got out of my truck and tried to swat the larvae but there was no larvae there, and I was sad because I missed its company. That's when I noticed what a beautiful sunrise we were having, so I stood and watched it for a while. You know that beautiful moment when you can't tell the difference between orange and violet and the clouds look like sleeping gods. And that's when I noticed those dead bodies lying by the wall.” Enormous Jim added, "It was a beautiful, noiseless sunrise. I wish the larvae could have seen it."

Jim's forehead was lined with sweat trails and his hands fluttered along his shirt buttons like clarinet keys. He explained in a shaky voice that he was hauling turnips from a farm in the south to a pulp factory in the north, where they would be turned into mulch and used to grow more turnips. He said he had a tight schedule to keep and that he had nothing to do with any of this. And since lying is illegal, the Sheriff's Secret Police released him from further questioning.

The victims have not yet been identified, but each held matching promotional coupons good for one free hotcake at the Pancake House. The coupons stated they could only be used once per table per visit. It is unclear whether the victims intended to sit at separate tables and pretend not to know each other in order to use all three coupons in the same visit. This is a developing story.

In related news, the Pancake House is having a grand reopening! It's been closed down since the sandstorm of '97 buried it under 200 tons of sand. It resurfaced in '08 full of scorpions, who reopened the diner under the name Arachnid Hut. It disappeared again in '09, after the scorpions filed Chapter 7.

No one could see the Pancake House anymore. But if they walked atop the seemingly plain dune, they would run into a hard surface that felt exactly like a wall. Teenagers who had scratched heart-swaddled initials into the invisible concrete blocks could still feel the impression of their etchings suspended in the nothingness, and the area continued to smell of hash browns for a radius of nearly a mile. Anyway, it's back, and under new, probably human ownership, and will hopefully be here to stay.

So many memories from that place. Back in the '90s, my friends and I would hang out there all night sometimes. There was a young woman who sat in the corner booth and analyzed people's dreams for a dollar. I once told her about this recurring nightmare I have where I'm a pineapple farmer but I have to grow each pineapple inside a glass bottle. And when the pineapples grow big, the bottles break, and I'm left standing in a field of broken glass. Sometimes when I woke up, I had little cuts all over the bottoms of my feet.

I don't remember what the woman said it means but I later found out that she was Nina Gordon, frontperson for alternative rock band Veruca Salt.

There was a lot of great memorabilia in the Pancake House, like old postcards and ceramic chickens with human fingers for eyes, and this cool antique jukebox that would automatically play Buddy Holly's "Everyday" whenever someone in town was about to die. I loved that place.

We've just received word from the coroner's office that more saltwater has been discovered, this time in the potholes near the controversial new roundabout in Old Town. Alvarez also found blobs of clear jelly floating there, similar to those found in the lungs of the drowning victims. Samples of these blobs were collected by a Girl Scouts splinter faction, known as The Onyx Fist, and brought to the Marine Biology Association for further examination.

A Girl Scout member, and apparent leader of The Onyx Fist, named Brandi Lantz said, “We knocked on the marine biologists' door and heard muffled shouts and loud crashes coming from inside. Then the blinds closed and the lights went out. When we forced our way in using telekinesis - I earned my Mountain Mover badge last year - we heard the back door slam shut. The only thing we found inside was a scribbled note that said 'closed for the day' but it was just lying on the floor, not posted anywhere.”

Brandi said her troop will not rest until they track and locate the missing biologists. Good luck, kids! We'll be waiting for your updates.

And now, traffic.

As I mentioned earlier, there is a controversial new traffic roundabout in Old Town. The problem is, no one knows how a roundabout works. If you go to the right when you should go to the left, your headlights explode. If you go left when you should go right, you get a phone call that one of your family members is in the hospital. If you hesitate, a stranger dies. And if you just keep going, you'll never stop. You'll never ever ever stop. You'll drive endlessly, aging at a steady rate, watching the terrain change, the seasons pass, and you'll wonder, have I ever stopped? Have I ever stood still, or slept, or sat in a chair that wasn't hurtling ceaselessly into the future? The emergency almonds you keep in the glove compartment can only sustain you for so long. What happens then? There's only like fifteen of them in an airline bag. You've never even been on a plane. Where did you get them? Are they safe to eat? They've been in there a really long time. Probably since you got the car. Maybe they came with the car. You've started to forget things like your name and where you bought this car. Was it at a dealership or from someone on Craigslist? Did you build the car yourself or manifest it with your mind? You find the owner's manual but you can't read it for some reason. It's either in another language or you've lost the ability to read. The letters rearrange themselves and fall off the page. Your leg is burning where the letter “L” has landed on your knee. L. You remember the letter L! At least there's that.

This has been traffic.

Update on the drowning story. The victims have been identified as the Treloar (pronounced "treh-LORR") family, who reportedly have not come out of their house in nine years. Annette, the adult daughter of the family, still has braces from when she was thirteen. She just never returned to the orthodontist to get them removed. It's possible that hotcakes from the Pancake House were the only thing she could eat anymore. Come to think of it, eleven years ago was the last time the Pancake House was open. There are no coincidences. Or everything is a coincidence. Or only some things are. Those are the three possibilities.

An independent consultant has determined that the saltwater samples are oceanic in nature. This has Secret Police investigators scrambling to find where the ocean is located. One of them suggested "North!" and the consultant began walking that direction. The investigators want to determine if the ocean is a continuing threat, and whether or not they're allowed under state and physical law to apprehend it on charges of manslaughter.

Law enforcement and volunteer search parties are forming to seek justice for the Treloars, although no one remembers ever interacting with them before. But everyone really cares a lot suddenly. The silver lining in events like these is the togetherness it brings to a community, right before the paranoia and blame-shifting sets in and divides it further into an ever-widening chasm. But let's just try to enjoy the unity while we have it.

Speaking of togetherness! It looks like Carlos has brought a picnic lunch for us to eat here at the station. What a nice surprise, hon. While I look into this basket of goodies, let's check in with the weather.

THE WEATHER: “Lake Full of Regrets” by Devine Carama featuring River Greene and Devin Roberts from the album Kingtucky.

So, that was weird.

Carlos came in, as I mentioned, with a lovely picnic lunch from the Ralphs deli counter. His hair was wet from the rain and there were water droplets on the tips of his eyelashes that made him look like a cute little cartoon forest animal.

The phone rang here in the station and it was one of Carlos's scientists, Mark, asking if Carlos was here. Carlos made wild hand gestures and shook his head vigorously, so I told Mark that he was not. When I asked Carlos what that was all about, he told me the scientists were putting together a group to locate clues about the phantom ocean and they wanted him to lead it.

I was confused. Didn't he want to lead it? Why didn't he want to talk to them? He's never refused a scientific call from a fellow scientist to do science before. He was behaving unscientifically. In fact, come to think of it, I was a surprised to see Carlos here at all – I figured with today's investigation, he would already be out in the field, and I wouldn't see him for days.

He said since everyone else was out on search parties, it was the perfect time to go to the Ralphs, because there wouldn't be a line. I mean, that is sound scientific reasoning but something struck me about it as, I don't know, just off. I don't want to say he was lying. Carlos doesn't lie. Besides, lying is illegal. But it seemed like there was something he wasn't telling me. Something that was bothering him. I asked him if there was anything he wanted to talk about and he just said he had to go get the car washed, and he left without even finishing his three bean salad. He loves that salad, made with his three favorite beans: garbanzo, kidney, and jelly.

I know it might not sound like a big deal. And maybe he was just having a moment. We all have moods, sometimes out of nowhere. Maybe I'm the one in a weird mood. I'm probably just being overly sensitive. I'm sure nothing is really wrong. Not actually. Anyway, let's just move on. Everything is fine. It's fine!

(Maybe I should go off caffeine again.)

You know what though? I really can't shake this feeling. Nina Gordon, former frontperson for Veruca Salt, once told me that the subconscious is a powerful force. Maybe it's all in my subconscious. Maybe if things are too good for too long, and you think about it too hard, it can start to make you nervous. And then maybe you can't take the pressure of waiting for things to go wrong, and you start inventing problems just so you can have control over them. But you have to think about whatever can go wrong. Otherwise, you're lazily enjoying a sunrise and dreaming of free hotcakes and suddenly you're drowning in a waterless parking lot before you even know what hit you.

This is silly. I'm just going to call him.

Okay. Ringing. Ringing. No answer. Not unusual. Not really. He's probably at the car wash, like he said. Which can be very hypnotic. Sometimes you find yourself caught up in the rhythmic dance of the foaming brush. You wake up in the parking lot hours later, missing your wallet and part of your shirt, dry-mouthed and trying to remember how many teeth you have.

Ah good! I've just been handed some breaking news to distract me! Oh. This is actually just a press release for the grand reopening of the Pancake House. Well, a press release is definitely a form of breaking news. They are announcing their new weekly menu specials. Quote:

"We here at the Pancake House acknowledge that time is circular, like a roundabout, not an unfathomable endless line with no beginning or end. We like repetition. It's comforting. We know what's behind us and what's ahead and what will come again. It means there are certain truths, no matter what else may happen. In honor of our innate preference for cyclical thinking, we can guarantee that every Monday, fluffy omelets will be on special. Every Tuesday, we will have corned beef hash. No matter what happens, there will be liver and onions on Wednesday. You can lose your job and have your car repossessed on Thursday and still know that there will be chicken fingers on special that night, like clockwork. We often think of Friday as being better than other days. For this reason, if something bad happens on a Friday, it can be particularly disappointing. You won't be disappointed by our ham patties. They are consistent and dependable. Saturday, we are here for you with liver and onions again. On Sundays, you can rely on our fried eggs and toast points. They will provide you with unwavering support, even if something really bad happens. Even if you don't know what you're doing at all anymore. Even if all the buildings suddenly seem slanted to the right by a few degrees and everything that used to look yellow now smells yellow. You can always come to the Pancake House. No matter what happens."

Well, that's a nice sentiment. It also has a coupon attached here. Good for one free hotcake. One per table per visit. That's very nice.

I'm just going to try and call Carlos again.

Straight to voicemail this time. Well, that happens. Everything's fine. He always forgets to charge his phone. I tease him about it. I like to buy him different novelty phone chargers and hide them in his jacket and car and in his shoes and lunch bag, but he still forgets. He has a very busy mind. Maybe he doesn't like me to tease him so much. Maybe I’m overthinking. Maybe it’s too much coffee.

Maybe I'll head down to the pancake house for dinner. It's Thursday. Let's see...Chicken fingers. Or there's always the hotcake coupon. Maybe I'll see some of you down there. That would be nice. Or maybe you already have plans. Which is totally fine too. I'll just see you some other time. It's no big deal. Everything's fine. I need more coffee.

Stay tuned next for the sound of someone distracting you while you're driving and then yelling that you missed the turn.

Goodnight, Night Vale. Goodnight.

Today’s proverb: Bite your tongue. Fun, right?

A Story of Love and Horror, Part 3: “Frances”
Transcripts Next:
A Door Ajar Part 2