The List

Breathe deep. Deeper than that. Get far below sea level and breathe. Breathe in a cave. Breathe in a deeper cave. Breathe deeper and deeper until you can’t find your way back. Welcome to Night Vale.

Some of you might remember, but most of you won’t, that you were given a list. Nearly two years ago you were given a list and told to memorize it. Exactly. Keep it safe so that, someday, it would keep you safe. Well, listeners, the Sheriff’s Secret Police would like me to inform you that the someday you’ve been waiting for is this day. This is the day in which you will need that list we gave you. Do you still have it? Do you remember it? Exactly? Are you safe? Are you safe?

Well, we will all find out soon enough. Good luck.

Harrison Kip, adjunct professor of archeology at Night Vale Community College, announced today that he has found something out in the desert. “Whoa,” he explained to no one, a dot in a vast landscape of sand and wind. “Oh man,” he continued, looking at the thing he found. He has declined so far to describe what he has found or offer any details or, for that matter, do anything but stare at whatever this thing he found was and continue saying things like “Wow,” and “They’re never going to believe this.”

We reached out to Sarah Sultan, president of the community college, for additional information, but she would not provide any, saying only that Harrison is on a private dig funded by a small group of anonymous sponsors.

She said, “Although I have never met them in person, I have spoken to the sponsors by telephone and they have our best interests at heart. I’m sure of it.” She added, “Plus they totally funded this dig thing, so what am I going to do, just start asking questions?”

A lone helicopter on a precautionary sweep of that expanse of the empty desert reported that Harrison is still kneeling over whatever it is he has found, explaining to himself in an unrecognizable language the incredible nature of whatever that thing is.

More on this, eventually, I guess, whatever.

The Greater Night Vale Medical Community, in conjunction with the mayor’s office, announced the new city-wide campaign for Meatless Mondays. Each week, in recognition of the immense impact of meat on the environment and public health, Meatless Mondays will be the days we all set aside to try not to be made of meat. We will all sit quietly and attempt to will ourselves into a state of inorganic bliss, seeking to turn our feeble bodies into metal, or silicon, or stone. When we fail to do this, as is likely according to the most recently issued laws of physics, we will all engage in a group Denouncing Circle to try to understand whose betrayal is causing the continued failure of this important day.

And now a look at traffic,

We are eternal. We will not last.

Obviously you know that when you die, the matter that is your matter will just become “matter”, no article attached. That matter will belong to any number of things. That matter is not you. That matter was never you.

We are eternal. We will not last.

But there is more to you than matter. When you die, you will not disappear until everyone who remembers you and whose actions are affected, however slightly, by your memory, until all of those people die and you are completely forgotten.

We are eternal. We will not last.

But even then you are not gone. Not until all the people who remember and are affected by those people who remembered and were affected by you are gone.

We will not last.

But even then you are not gone. Not until all the people who remember and are affected by those people who remembered and were affected by those people who and so on. And so on and on.

We are eternal.

You will persist, ever so faintly, ever so slightly, on into perpetuity, long after everything about you no longer matters.

Your life is so small, but, in the setting sun of this universe, its shadow is cast down through generation after generation, until it gets blurry, and hard to see, but still there, a breath of a wisp of a thread stretching out before you.

We are eternal, but we will not last.

There’s a fender-bender on Route 800 near exit 84B. Expect delays.

This has been traffic.

Update: We still aren’t sure exactly when or how you will need that list today. You remember the list right? You were given a list some time ago. You should have memorized it. If you didn’t, hmm. I mean, if you didn’t, wellllllll. I mean, If you didn’t, ermmmm. No one can make your destiny for you. Only you can make your destiny. Only you and the privileges you were born with and a whole lot of aimless, meaningless luck can make your destiny.

The Sheriff’s Secret Police are going around town, checking in with everyone, and seeing if they have the list memorized. If you don’t, they helpfully are shaking their heads and tsking and then saying “wow, you’re in trouble,” before leaving you to fend for yourself against whatever dangers this list would have protected you from.

More on this soon, as you desperately try to remember the list that was told to you, or even when it was told to you, and in what context. It is a very important list.

And now, a word from our sponsors.

An empty food bowl. An untouched water bowl. A silence in the house. A cage containing nothing. A feeling of unease that was once soothed by a joyous instinctual companionship.

We listen out our window and hear not a passing jangle. Not a “No” or a “Wait for me”.

Nothing meows. Nothing does. Absolutely nothing meows.

The night is so quiet that our thoughts are a clatter keeping us awake. In the distance, a dog doesn’t bark.

Petco: Where did the pets go?

Old Woman Josie told me over a round of bowling down at the Desert Flower that construction on the new Old Opera House is continuing along well. They have already completed the initial arches, the outer floodbanks, and the primary stables.

“Yep,” she said, holding her ball in preparation for her turn, “this town will soon have opera once again.”

“But what is opera,” everyone else in the league asked her. “Is it a kind of plant? Does it have rough, leathery skin?”

But she wouldn’t say anything more, and just let go of the ball which was then carried by a creature named Erika - who definitely wasn’t an angel - down the lane while Erika said “roll, roll, this is a ball rolling.” And then Erika kicked over all the pins while saying “crash, bam, the ball just hit all these pins and knocked them all over. Wow, what a shot.” Of course, none of us could legally acknowledge the existence of Erika, and so we had to let the strike stand uncontested.

And now an update on you.

Just now there was a man in a tan jacket, holding a deer skin suitcase, looking over your shoulder. You’re sure of it. Only you don’t quite remember it happening. It’s blurry and distant, like a dream you had when you were little, and now as an adult you can’t remember if it was a dream or something that actually happened to you.

But there was a man. There was a man, right? You grasp to recall but flail only at fragment and gap. He was looking over your shoulder with interest, a deer skin suitcase in his right hand. The suitcase was making a buzzing sound. Perhaps the man was too? You don’t remember.

None of this is real, you think. None of it happened. This is fiction. You are hearing a fictional story and this did not happen to you.

Still, you can’t shake the feeling that it did happen to you. That just moments ago you turned and over your shoulder was a man in a tan jacket, holding a deer skin suitcase. He might still be there now. You’re afraid to check. Or maybe you already checked and now can’t remember doing it. You turn to look. Nothing there. You turn back. Nothing there, you think with relief. Only now there is a question mark on it. Nothing there? Was there nothing there?

The man in the tan jacket spoke to you quite urgently about something. But what? He had a map. He was pointing at a place on the map. Now you don’t even know what area of the world the map depicted, let alone where he was pointing.

This is all a made-up story, you tell yourself. You decide to feel entertained by the made-up story I just told to you. And yet. And yet. You can’t shake the feeling, a feeling located just over your shoulder, that this made-up story might not be made-up at all.

Oh, oh my. Listeners, the sun is gone. It is not covered by a cloud. It has left. And we know that the sun is generally pretty brave, and only leaves when something very frightening indeed is in the area. What could have frightened the sun away? Now is the time, I’m sure. Now is the time you need to know the list. Try to remember. Did you write it down perhaps? Scramble around in the junk drawer in the kitchen, among take out menus that are years out of date and fliers for health clubs that you never joined. Try to find where you wrote down that list.

But too late. There is a growl that comes from everywhere. Some sort of shape descends from the sunless clouds, and a voice, like through a loudspeaker, tells us that now is the time to recite the list. Or else. This is it. If you don’t know, then you don’t know.

I know. At least that. I know. Did Carlos know? Thank the mysterious lights in the sky he wasn’t here. Who knows if his brain - so packed with science - would have let a few stray bits of language slip from his memory?

Listeners, those left to listen, I take you now, reciting the list, reciting for your very lives, to the weather.

Hazelnut. Mystify. Cuttlefish. Lark. Lurk. Rob-

["Upside Down World" by Paisley Rae]

Beat. Beat Beat. Beat. Bea….oh. Oh, I am still here. I am looking at my fingers. I am examining my limbs. I am placing one hand on my chest, like in the Chanted Blood Oaths we were forced to swear to the flag each morning as children, and I feel the circulation of air and fluid through my body, the simple machine of liquid dynamics and electrical impulse that sustains, through some ridiculous coincidence of physical law, the sentience through which I am speaking to you.

Everything seems to be in order. In that I am nervous and uncertain and feel an emptiness sometimes which can never be filled, which maybe shouldn’t be filled, and a sadness sometimes which wells up regardless of context or reason. So: everything perfectly in order. I’m fine.

We are, as a community, stepping out into the street. We are gathering in open places. I too am going. I too am stepping out into the street and gathering in open places. Here we all are in Mission Grove Park, and me among you speaking into this microphone, which, as always, I am uncertain is even connected to anything. But I don’t care either way, because I know I am connected to all of you now.

I have felt disconnected lately. My being has been split between the here and the now, and the there and the now. My relationship with Carlos currently exists within the idea of distance, within the concept of space, rather than in any specific place. And there have been moments where I have doubted my fellow citizens, or have felt perhaps even threatened by them. But that is not the case now in this moment, here in this park.

Diane Crayton is with her son Josh, who this morning is a meadowlark. I feel only love for them.

Jackie Fierro, from the pawn shop, is showing Frances Donaldson of the Antiques Mall a cool knife that someone pawned by running in, shouting “HIDE THIS” and running out. There is nothing not to trust and adore about this moment between fellow humans.

A cluster of hooded figures lurk along the corner of the park, pointing at various people, seeming to leer and laugh at the oblivious citizens. I am terrified of the hooded figures, but also comforted by their menace. I think they are even pointing now at me, whispering, and I have never felt more at home.

Janice - my young niece Janice - is here, joined with the rest of us in the park, along with her family whom I don’t like to talk about much, but whom I tolerate in all the requisite familial ways. Janice is with her friends Edmund and Megan and Patrice. She is waving to me. I am waving back. I am so glad she remembered the list. I am glad we all did.

There doesn’t seem to be a single person missing. I counted, and every single resident of Night Vale is in the park and doing fine.

We heave our shoulders to express release. We sigh to show others we are relieved. We all breathe once in unison, accidentally.

“Wilson,” says one of us to another. “How are things going, Wilson?”

“Oh, you know,” says the other, although he does not know. “How are things with you Amber?”

“Oh, good,” she says, and she is right, things are good.

And they both take the hand of the person they love, and Amber smiles at Wilson and Wilson smiles at Amber and everyone smiles at everyone and at everything and no one is ok, exactly, but we’re outside and we’re smiling and that is a kind of perfection of its own.

Oh! A Sheriff’s Secret Police representative arrives in the usual way, by rappelling from the sky and crashing into the middle of our happy huddle in a cloud of tear gas and flashing lights. As several people choke and disperse, the representative shouts to us that today was only a drill, that no one was in danger, that this was not actually the day we needed to know the list, although that day may someday come, is already coming, is imminent in the most general meaning of the word imminent, and that we are safe but that we are also in grave danger. “We are both at once and are thus free to fully enjoy our lives,” a representative shouts into a bullhorn from somewhere behind a line of armored vans.

So there you are listeners, all of you who have escaped the tear gas to listen to these words. We were safe all along. And we will stay safe until that time, sooner or later, but definitely always on its way, when we are not safe once again.

Stay tuned next for a surprised man shuffling papers frantically and saying “uh” into a mic he did not expect to be on.

Good night, Night Vale. Good night.

Today’s proverb: Beware of Greeks bearing gifts. Also beware of gifts of Greek bears. Gifted and bare Greeks are totally OK.

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