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The Many, Many Lives of Frank Chen

The coldest temperature is absolute zero. The hottest temperature is 103 degrees Fahrenheit. Trust me, I took a hike in that once and it definitely is the hottest it can be. Welcome to Night Vale.

As you may remember, last fall a judgement was handed down against the Sheriff’s Secret Police and the City of Night Vale on behalf of the family of Frank Chen. Frank was murdered by an unknown perpetrator almost ten years ago, and the judge ruled that Night Vale must produce a living Frank Chen, exactly as he was the day he died, within one year, or ownership of the town of Night Vale will be handed in full to the Chen family.

A few months ago, the Sheriff’s Secret Police claimed to have successfully returned Frank Chen, but it turned out that they had only cloned him several times. This was ruled to not count, and so the Frank clones were released into the world to live their lives as they saw fit. Meanwhile, the deadline still hung over the town government and the Sheriff.

But today, Sheriff Sam made a surprise announcement. “We did it! For real this time,” said the Sheriff. “We have Frank Chen. Exactly as he was the day he died. So that’s taken care of. No biggie. But we did a great job and we should feel great about it.”

No sign of Frank at the press conference, so we will keep you updated as we know more.

But first a word from our sponsors.

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All parties gathered at the courthouse under the watchful eye of Judge Chaplin. Sheriff Sam wheeled forward a dolly with a canvas-draped shape on top that wriggled and made grunting sounds. The Chen family sat, looking suspiciously at Sam. Don Chen tapped his foot impatiently. Mei Chen poked her father, Norman Chen, and whispered something, to which the older Chen shook his head and rolled his eyes. Little Lyle Chen ran in circles, living out some story only he was aware of.

Sheriff Sam removed the canvas with a flourish and: there, in fact, was Frank Chen. His mouth had been covered to prevent him ruining the surprise, and once he was again able to talk he shouted “What in the world is going on? Who are all you people?” He looked over at the Chen family and his face creased in panic and concern. “Don? Is that you? Why do you look like that? You’re so old. Was I in a coma?”

Judge Rochelle Chaplin, her long face with dark serious lines about the eyes, said sternly to Sheriff Sam, “Explain yourself.” Judge Rochelle Chaplin is well liked because in her 8 years of service as our county’s only judge, she is always tough but fair.

Sheriff Sam explained that it was all quite simple. Working with staff from the Museum of Forbidden Technology, they had put together a time machine. Using the time machine, they had gone back 9 years and removed Frank Chen from his place and time, mere moments before his death. And so they fulfilled the judicial order, exactly as stated.

Judge Nathaniel Keaton, his cherubic face with a ghost of a mustache, said off-handedly to Frank Chen, “And is this, you know, true or whatever?” Judge Keaton is disliked because, in his 8 years of service as our county’s only judge, he is always equivocating and taking sides.

“I guess?” said Frank Chen. “Was I about to be murdered? That’s super scary, so I’m glad to be here. Is that little Mei?” he said. “You were five when I last saw you. Do you remember your Uncle?”

Despite herself, Mei ran forward and hugged Frank, and both began to cry. “It’s him!” Mei said. “I know it. It’s not a trick. It’s him! It’s him!”

Well, this is incredible. I can’t wait to talk this over with my boyfriend Carlos. He’s a scientist, you know, so he probably knows about time travel and any complications it can cause.

Sheriff Pamela Winchell nodded. “A job well done I’d say,” she did say. Then she opened a trapdoor in the courthouse floor and disappeared through it.

More on this, if there is more. Seems like this story might be finished.

Let’s have a look at the news.

Big changes afoot at the Moonlite All-Nite Diner. The new owner will be, oh hey, Steve Carlsberg. I love Steve! Always have. Just a great guy. He will be running the place along with his wife, Diane Crayton, and his stepson Josh. “I’ve always loved the Moonlite,” Steve said. “And now I am excited to run it as a family business with my new family. Don’t worry, all your favorites, including the famous Invisible Pancakes, will still be on the menu. And,” Steve continued, “you might see some new items, like my very own scones.” Oh my god, Steve makes the best scones. This is great news.

Josh, who is a shapeshifter, and took the form of a classic diner jukebox to celebrate the day, indicated that he is thrilled to be working with his new stepdad. “Yeah,” he said. “It’s cool or whatever. I mean, yeah, it’s fine. Or whatever.” Then he put on what he described as this super old song that he’s not sure anyone has heard of but he’s gotten into it because he loves the classics. And “Call Me Maybe” is indeed one of the best golden oldies.

You might see advertisements for the new ownership of the Moonlite all over town. Steve said he even bought billboards on the Purple Crystal Spire out in the sandwastes. I cannot wait to take my boyfriend out to have Invisible Pancakes. Mmm.mmm.

Meanwhile, Michelle Nguyen, owner of Tower Records, formerly Dark Owl Records before they were bought out by the wildly successful multinational record store conglomerate, is announcing an engagement to her girlfriend, oh that’s so sweet. Michelle says that she and Sarah Sultan, who is a fist sized sea rock, are ready to take the next step and want to do so with their entire community.

And so they would like me to announce on the air that they are inviting us all to a big party down at the Tower Records. There will be punch and snacks and any kind of music we want to play. “I always say,” Michelle said, “that the best music is the one that you love. So come and play me your own best music. I want to hear the songs that make you happy.”

In lieu of gifts, community members are asked to simply pay the couple’s rent and utility bills and other living expenses for the next 7 to 9 years.

Dana Cardinal, long time employee of Dark Owl and then Tower Records, expressed her happiness for the couple. “This is the only job I’ve ever had,” she said. “And I feel like it’s going to get even more fun.”

What a sweet little story. Nothing to look at too hard there.

Oh, an update on the case.

Judge Keaton has called everyone back into the courtroom. “I have received information from top scientists,” he said. (Those top scientists by the way, might be my boyfriend, no big deal.) The judge continued: “These top scientists have indicated to me that by moving Frank Chen out of the moment he is murdered, our timeline has been altered in countless ways, both small and large. For instance, I was never supposed to be a judge. In our previous timeline, I was a parking attendant, like Rochelle Chaplin in the municipal lot here,” the judge concluded.

Well, listeners, this is stunning news, but also explains some stuff. For instance, that every part of our reality felt wrong, nothing felt natural, my every instinct screamed against the tiniest details of my existence. And also that the biggest box office success in movie history was the recent film version of Cats directed by Barry Jenkins. That seemed super weird.

The judge has ordered the Sheriff’s Secret Police to return Frank Chen back to where he belongs, in his car a decade ago in the moments before he was going to be murdered. Frank himself protested, saying that this was tantamount to a death sentence, but the judge disagreed, pointing out that allowing history to happen the way it always happened is not the same as an execution and also waving his hand in the air dismissively while saying “ehhh”.

But Frank Chen would not take this quietly, and he sprinted from the courtroom before anyone could react. He was last seen getting into the time machine and disappearing. Well, maybe he changed his mind and went back to get murdered. We’ll know soon enough if history rights itself.

And now for the community calendar:

This Monday is the annual softball game with our friends in Desert Bluffs. This cordial area tradition is one of my personal highlights of the year, and one of the many ways we keep our relationship close with our favorite neighbors. No matter who wins, we all get a great game and a nice smile.

This Tuesday, the angels, tall, radiant beings who are all named Erika, are offering tours of the company they own. So if you want to tour the Nabisco factory, simply walk into the desert until you get unbearably thirsty and then just a little bit more, and you will arrive, either there or somewhere else.

Wednesday, our manager here at the station, Kareem, is throwing a little party to celebrate all of the Interns we’ve had over the years. “I was an intern myself,” Kareem said, “so I know how hard these unsung heroes work.” Every intern we’ve ever had, all of whom still live nearby and work in all sorts of exciting fields, are expected to join the celebration. Certainly I’m expecting them. You wouldn’t want to disappoint me, would you?

Thursday Louis [not Louie, but pronounced with the S at the end] Blasko is offering music lessons at the Guitar Center, which was never burned down. Not sure why I said that last bit. Just a reflex of some kind.

Friday night is the big game between the Night Vale Scorpions and the Pine Bluff Swamp Monsters. While the Night Vale team name is merely metaphorical, the Pine Bluff name, as you might suspect from the nature of that town, is a literal description, so it should be an exciting game.

And this Saturday is the annual Wheat and Wheat By-Products Fair in Grove Park.

This has been the community calendar.

Huh, I think our timeline might still be altered.

Sheriff Pamela Winchell has hastily thrown together a second time machine using spare parts from Jackie Fierro’s repair shop on Owl Tongue Circle. She has vowed to track down Frank Chen and set right this crooked present. While she moves through time, let us also move through time, albeit at normal speed and in the usual direction, by checking in on the weather.

[Weather: “Zoology“ by Funkrust Brass Band]

Frank Chen fled across time, and the Sheriff followed.

Frank went first to ancient Rome, where he was startled to see that all the white marble was garishly painted, and the great philosophers in their togas smelled human and ripe. It was all more real than he expected it to be, and he found it overwhelming. He spent thirteen years as a blacksmith before Sheriff Winchell caught up. He lost his pursuer during the eruption of Vesuvius and returned to the machine.

Next he moved to 2121, and found himself waist deep in warm water. He was on a street where the water lapped at the bottom floors of the buildings. A woman leaned out from a balcony, and eyed him as he sloshed along.

“Not from around here,” she said, with no question in her voice.

“Guess not,” he said. Behind him, somewhere, he heard the splash of Sheriff Winchell arriving. He knew he could not stay here, in the warm water as it rose.

“Stay safe,” she said to him.

“You too,” he said. A wave crashed into a kitchen, and a pot floated past him as he left.

Next he found himself on a grassland. It was evening, and he was alone. He had no way of knowing this, because he only ever saw a few miles radius, but he had arrived about a million years before anything that could be called a human had arrived on the scene of our history. Frank lived a few restful years there, scavenging and hunting, before he saw the flash of purple across the sky and knew that the Sheriff had caught up at last.

From there he went to the far future, a thousand years from now, when humanity had given up on the extraordinary natural spaceship we had thrived on for hundreds of thousands of years, and instead cast ourselves in cramped and fragile metal canisters rocketing through the stars, leaving our savaged home behind us. Frank joined an interstellar mission, saw the stars’ radiance without the dancing flicker of atmospheric disturbance, witnessed astonishing sights, but behind him always the spaceship containing Sheriff Winchell, who had joined the interstellar mission that left just after Frank’s.

Then he traveled to a town in Nebraska at the start of the 20th century, all cowboy hats and dirt streets. Frank Chen learned how to ride a horse, how to ranch. He never robbed a train or took part in a daring heist. He lived the quiet life that was most of the real Old West outside of the stories.

He made a brief visit to Constantinople in the year 600, but that turned out to be kind of a bummer, so he moved on real quick.

Frank Chen fled through time after time, exhausted and dizzy, living a thousand different roles, never finding a place where he belonged. And then he took one last blind turn through history and found himself in a pick-up truck that felt familiar. A five pronged shadow crept over the windshield and Frank had just a moment to think “now what curious thing is this?” before he was, at last, murdered, the way he always was meant to be.

I’ll have to check with Judge Chaplin and Sheriff Sam, but it does appear that time has righted itself in the wake of Frank’s murder. I think everything in our town is the way it used to be. Which is great. Because I cannot wait to take my husband and my son to the Moonlite All-Nite and have ourselves a big stack of Invisible Pancakes.

From my version of the truth, to yours.

Good Night, Night Vale. Good night.

Today’s proverb: Laughter is not even in the top five best medicines.

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