If you see something crawling across your floor in the dark, don’t worry. It’s probably just a tarantula. Welcome to Night Vale.
Listeners, in this fast paced world of community radio and local news, I think we’ve lost sight of the truly important thing. The individuals who make up our diverse community. So today, I want to try out a new segment I've put together called Citizen Spotlight, in which we will profile a randomly selected citizen, diving deep into who they are...and maybe discovering some things about ourselves along the way.
Here's an intro I'm working on for it:
Spotlights. Roving in the night. Hunting. Closing in. But everything is backwards. The night is hot and bright. The spotlights are deep and black. Everything they touch turns to darkness. They are searching for the light. They consume it.
That's a rough draft. I'm open to notes. Anyway, today’s inaugural spotlight was curated by closing my eyes and pointing in the phone book. And so, today we will talk about Sigrid Borg. She's a brand new citizen who has just arrived in Night Vale. I have here this classified dossier we had a team of heist experts (thanks Janice!) steal from the Hall of Public Records. The dossier says that Sigrid was relocated to Night Vale as part of a witness protection program and that Sigrid is not her real name, nor is she of the Scandinavian origin her name might suggest. Thus, all of the information we managed to obtain on Sigrid for this segment is fictional, created by a government software program to ensure her total anonymity, and in no way represents who she really is as a person. In all probability, it is in most ways the opposite of her true identity. But, for her safety, it's important that we all believe this made up biography is absolute fact. It is extremely, extremely important. She could be in great danger if anyone from the outside world started to doubt who she claimed to be.
We’ll get to our Citizen Spotlight momentarily, but first, as a way to make Sigrid feel more at home, I've asked other Night Vale citizens to reveal a dark secret that they’ve never shared. I will be reading those throughout today's broadcast.
The first comes from Susan Escobar, second grade teacher at Night Vale Elementary School. “One night I was at school late grading homework,” she writes, “and I heard strange sounds coming from the cafeteria. When I looked inside, I saw a giant mandala on the floor made entirely of frozen fish sticks. It seemed to be undulating and alive. When I blinked, it vanished. But every night I dream of flying toward a cloudless sky, and in the center of that sky is that fish stick mandala, and I wake before I reach it but each dream a little closer, and the night that I reach that mandala in my dream is the night I will die.”
Thanks Susan! Sounds fun.
Now, let’s talk about Sigrid.
Though new to town, Sigrid Borg was born in Night Vale and has lived here her entire life. Her parents were immigrants from the picturesque Swedish port city of Halmstad. She tries to go back at least once a year to visit her grandparents, a retired grade school teacher and a retired timber framer, who have a lovely cottage overlooking the mouth of the Nissan River, where it meets the North Sea. Sigrid has always been close with her grandparents, though in recent visits has become distressed at her grandmother's increased mental confusion and grandfather's drinking habits. She doesn't call them as often as she used to, and feels guilty about that. She is torn between the desire to take more responsibility for their health and well-being, and the desire to block the situation out of her mind completely as it has become a signifier of the irrevocable loss of her own childhood, and a direct confrontation with mortality itself. Sigrid's favorite food is smorgastarta, a Scandinavian layer cake that is made out of sandwiches and fish paste. Ask her to make it for your next big event! She has been carefully drilled by her witness protection handlers on the foods of her childhood, and has almost got the hang of making them although she has failed to acquire a taste for fish paste.
Some fun facts that you may not know about Sigrid, despite having lived in the same town with her all your lives: she has a degree in marine hauntology from an online university. She has a disorder that makes it impossible for her to sweat or cry. She has served on the board of the Sand Wastes Conservation Fund for six and a half years. She is deeply embedded into our community and way of life.
And now, another confession from a local resident about a dark secret. This one from my dear friend Earl Harlan. It reads: “On a Boy Scout training maneuver near the old dirt road, I witnessed the apparition of my ten year old self wearing the scout uniform of my youth. He trained with us all afternoon and I tried not to give him any preferential treatment. As the afternoon passed, new memories appeared in my mind of training at ten years old with a group of strangers, one of whom seemed familiar and stared at me constantly in horror.”
That’s adorable! Thanks, Earl!
Back to Citizen Spotlight.
Sigrid spent her childhood in the Hefty Sycamore Trailer Park, near downtown. She didn't have many friends. She was shy in school. One year she tried out for a solo in the school Holiday Pageant. For the audition, she sang a Flakey O's jingle that was very popular at the time, but no one took her seriously. They all thought she was making a joke. She apologized and faded back into the bleachers. She truly loved that jingle. It spoke to her soul. It made her feel something. She recorded it off the radio and listened to it often, rewinding and replaying it out at the picnic table on summer nights when the rest of her family was asleep. But she never listened to it again after the solo tryouts because it only brought back the sound of the other kids laughing, of her teacher's scolding voice lecturing the class to take themselves seriously or no one else would, and it made her feel ashamed. She eventually recorded over the tape with audio from a TV special about orphaned lion cubs but sometimes under the hungry sucking sounds of giant kittens drinking from baby bottles, she thought she could still hear the song.
In seventh grade, she finally made some friends during the unknown creature dissection unit in science class. She wasn't squeamish, and her ability to identify and extract misshapen internal organs without flinching made her an attractive lab partner. Everyone thought she was new in town because they had never noticed her before. She still has that effect on people.
In the spring of that year, someone asked her to the junior high dance. The theme was “heat death of the universe”. The boys spent a lot of time licking the crepe paper decorations to dye their tongues bright colors and impress the girls. The girls were not impressed but laughed anyway. Sigrid's date tried to lick her hand to see if the dye would come off on her skin. This caused Sigrid to feel a surge of strange tingling panic and she fled to the bathroom for thirty minutes. Her friends eventually found her and dragged her back into the gym. She danced with them for the rest of the night, hiding from the boys with the blue tongues. There were bountiful crops that year. Some say this was not a coincidence. Some say the junior high dance is a sacred crop fertility ritual outlined in the town charter, but kept secret from the children who participate. When the dance was canceled in the following years due to the crepe paper dye related poisoning incident, Night Vale experienced extreme drought and locust plagues. Some say this too was not a coincidence.
A quick bulletin board reminder, the reinstated junior high dance is coming up! May all you young citizens make lush and plentiful memories, and have a cornucopia of fun.
More Citizen Spotlight soon, but first, the weather.
["Try Try Try" by Rachael Sage]
Another secret confession. What a treat. This one comes from iconic local celebrity and recent donut food truck entrepreneur Lee Marvin. It says “There is a void. Within that void, a light. Within that light, a hand. Within that hand, a movement. Within that movement, a potential. Within that potential, everything that ever was.” Thank you Lee, and of course, a happy 30th birthday to you today.
Citizen Spotlight time.
In high school, Sigrid's left hand started to itch below the pinky finger. A small lump appeared, which grew slowly over time. She became self conscious about this and wore bulky sweatshirts with long sleeves pulled over her hands, which was luckily a fashionable look then. The nurse at the health clinic assured her that it was nothing to be concerned about, but it kept growing. Eventually it took the shape of what appeared to be a second, smaller pinky finger. She was even able to wiggle it if she concentrated very hard. As you may know, the Hefty Sycamore Trailer Park was built on the dried up shores of the old pesticide waste river, and Sigrid's father felt there might be some connection between this and the extra finger. They decided to relocate.
They moved into a two-story house by the train tracks, a fixer-upper that shook on its foundation twice a day when the train came through, and once or twice erratically every night when the secret night trains passed with their nameless and unspeakable cargoes. Sigrid's parents began to fight often, never having the money to fix up the fixer-upper, and they both spent as much time as possible away from home. Sigrid had a complicated relationship with her extra finger at this point, partially blaming it for the rift in her parents' relationship. Once when Sigrid was alone in the house, she heard something creeping up the stairs. She hummed the Flaky-Os jingle till she couldn't hear it anymore and then she started spending a lot of time away from home also.
There was a small group of kids who hung out around the train tracks at night, so she started hanging out with them to avoid going home. They liked to smoke cigarettes and light off fireworks and dare each other to look at the secret night trains, although none of them ever did, as they all knew that to look at one of those trains meant an instant and painful death. They would talk and gossip about kids and teachers she'd never heard of before and she began to wonder if they even went to her school.
When she was hanging out with them, she would often glance up at the dark windows of her own empty house, just down the tracks, and see movement behind the glass, or soft white eyes staring out. During one of these moments, while she looked at the house, all her friends disappeared and she found herself alone on the tracks, no sign of the teenagers that had been there mere seconds before. She never saw those kids again, but she often heard their voices and portable radios on the wind, and she spent her evenings wandering up and down the tracks looking for them.
At the end of senior year, the high school yearbook featured fun awards for each student, voted on by the class. Smartest Girl and Tallest Boy and Most Likely to Survive a Mass Extinction Event and Best Smile. Every single student received a commemorative award except for Sigrid. It wasn't intentional or out of spite. Everyone forgot that she existed. She was inexplicably absent during every school picture day throughout the years, never participated in any extracurricular activities, didn't speak up in class, got average grades, and ate lunch alone, which some say contributed to her lack of memorability. But she was there, and is here, and always has been.
She belongs here. It's totally normal to forget someone you know, but you do in fact know her. Some of you know her very well. One time you went thrift store shopping together and she picked out a jacket for you that was too big but she said it looked great on you. It was fuzzy, and resembled furniture upholstery, royal blue with gold stripes. The lining was ripped. She bought it for you.
You found that old jacket recently, royal blue with gold stripes. You put it on. It almost fits now. You felt something that you hadn't felt before, sticking against your ribs. Tucked into the ripped lining. You reached inside and you pulled out a piece of notebook paper, folded into a hard little square. It was from Sigrid. It described a thing that she shouldn't have seen and couldn't speak about. It instructed you to burn the note immediately, and you did. It instructed you to never acknowledge to her that you even received it. You can never tell anyone what the note said.
If you do run into Sigrid, remember that she is a real person filled with blood and misshapen internal organs just like you and me. Everything I have told you about her is completely true. None of it is technically true but it was crafted by state of the art technology to evoke a range of one to four feelings in the listener. And, as we all know, feelings are real, and truth is in the mind of the beholder, and The Beholder lives out in the scorched orchard under the floorboards of the old cherry picking shack.
Stay tuned next for a mysterious distress signal that requires urgent action but is impossible to locate.
On behalf of everyone here at Night Vale Community Radio, welcome to your new town, Sigrid, the town where you have lived your entire life.
And to everyone else, goodnight, Night Vale. Goodnight.
Today’s proverb: Be yourself. As if you had any choice in the matter.
Summer 2017, Night Vale, USA