The Whispering Forest (episode)

There is a thin semantic line separating weird and beautiful, and that line is covered in jellyfish. Welcome to Night Vale.

Ladies and gentlemen, several of you may have noticed the new forest that has formed just to the east of Night Vale. It’s hard to say how these dense, piney woods have cropped up in a vast desert waste-scape, nor how they have grown in only a couple of days, but these woods are encroaching quickly on our little town.

Botanists from Night Vale Community College said that this beautiful, lush woodland is called The Whispering Forest – and that, while lovely, should not be approached.

Officials from the Night Vale Parks Department agreed with this sentiment in a prepared statement wherein they just wrote the word “no” on a single piece of paper, but with hundreds of ‘O’s and maybe two dozen 'N’s, so it reads kind of like:

NNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNNOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!

Or maybe it’s more of an echo-y scream. It’s hard to say – they did not include stage directions in their press release.

What we do know is this: there is a Whispering Forest just outside of town, and it should not be approached under any circumstances.

The Night Vale School District announce that schools will be closed all of next week, because nothing really matters, and is anything even real? They cited the ever-widening night sky as the impetus for this decision.

“How can we place any importance on something so insignificant as math or spelling or history when the void has already swallowed our tiny existence? We are ants, crushed daily by the indifferent feet of the universe, and – it’s just no good anymore! We can’t carry on like this,” the School Board said, swigging on a bottle of table wine and bobbing their heads weakly.

The School Board president, an enormous Glow Cloud that drops animals from great heights and casts a looming fog of despair over all it covers, added, “Grovel, Mortals. Put your tongues to the soil and beg for your worthless lives!”

Some parents, of course, are very upset by the decision to close schools, saying that we can’t let the vast incomprehensibility of the unknowable universe stop us in our tracks. We have to keep pushing forward.

Treasurer of the Night Vale PTA Diane Crayton said, “School is a meaningful part of a child’s life, and to just shut it down because you’re scared of your own insignificance is ridiculous. See? I’m looking at the sky right now!” Creighton continued, “and I’m saying, 'You can’t hold me back, sky! I can do any– I can– I–’”

Crayton then stopped speaking, lowered her loosening fist to her side, and then sighed audibly.

She added, “Nothing is real, I don’t think. Whatever. Who cares?”

Then she stared back up at the sky, and a single tear zig-zagged down her right cheek as she mumbled something about trees having the right idea.

And now, a public service announcement:

The Night Vale Psychological Association, in conjunction with a Vague, Yet Menacing, Government Agency, has asked that all citizens start keeping dream journals.

Dream journals can be a spiritually satisfying exercise in understanding your unconscious mind, helping you to fully examine your being, and balance your emotions.

They also can be rife with useful data for government officials and corporate marketing executives.

Of course, dear listeners, many of you are saying, “Well, this sounds fantastic, Cecil, but how do you keep a dream journal?”

Good question!

I have kept one for years now, and I must say I agree with the NVPA on this. It seems hard, at first, because you have to get in the habit of writing first thing in the morning, and also because the City Council’s ban on all writing utensils is still in full effect. But once you learn how to create a makeshift non-pen out of a cocktail straw, some cotton, and any number of colorful municipal food pastes, you’ll be good to go!

In an effort to educate Night Vale citizens about dream journaling the NVPA has created this helpful how-to:

Step One: Find a foreign dictionary or hymnal. It is strongly preferred that you choose something in Russian or Ukrainian, but German will work too.

Step Two: Carve out several pages, creating a secret compartment in the book.

Step Three: Write down your dream in great detail the moment you wake up.

Step Four (and this is the most important step of all): Eat the paper you wrote the dream on, and then place a bird skeleton in the book.

Finally, bury the book near a magnolia or willow tree, and repeat each day.

The sooner you start this process, listeners, the sooner you can start actualizing your existence, exploring your inner self, and the sooner the Sheriff’s Secret Police can track down and arrest those vile miscreants who keep dreaming about horses.

More on The Whispering Forest:

Larry Leroy, out on the edge of town, said that he went out to The Whispering Forest this morning, just to see what all the fuss was about, and said that as he neared the woods’ edge, he felt a terrible sense of fear, and began to tremble and sweat.

But then he heard a small, un-gendered voice whisper, “You look so nice today, Larry. I like what you have done with your beard. And just look at that belt! Is that new?”

And of course, Larry’s beard is looking very good, listeners. He finally grew out his old goatee and stopped dying it black. It’s now a full, even blanket of soft-looking peppery wisdom, comforting his wise noble face. The forest is totally right!

So Larry said he entered the woods, and all his angst just melted away. He felt young and carefree in a way he’d never felt, and the woods told him they loved him.

“We love you, Larry,” The Whispering Forest reportedly whispered. “You are good, and you look good. Do you want to hang out more? Let’s hang out, and tell some jokes, and maybe play games! You are a good friend. Let us be friends.”

Larry said he wanted to stay, but that he remembered that he had cable TV, and didn’t want to miss anything just because there was some beautiful nature he’d never explored. So he went home to catch an Iron Chef America marathon.

So, listeners, it sounds like The Whispering Forest is actually pretty nice. I can’t imagine what all those academic types and bureaucratic pen-pushers were going on about. Larry made it sound like a really friendly place!

I’m going to send intern Richard out there, and see what else we can learn about this fascinating new addition to our landscape.

And now a look at the Community Calendar:

Monday is the opening of the new exhibit at the Children’s Science Museum. The exhibit is called “The Moon is a Lie!” It explores how the moon is a government-created myth to keep us all from knowing about the ancient alien machinery that controls the oceans. In the Hands-On Learning Room, children will be able to make their own moons out of styrofoam and aggressive propaganda – just like the Masons did!

Tuesday, Buddy Holly returns to Dark Owl Records. There will be no performance, or book signing, and no one will see him. He will just…hover over music lovers’ shoulders and disapprove of their misguided musical tastes. Incorrect shoppers will receive a bout of uncontrolled sobbing and a horrifying chill up their spine from the legendary rock 'n’ roller himself.

Thursday is Recycling Pickup Day. Paper goes in blue bags, plastic in clear, and any teeth you have lost because of last week’s public water mishap should be gently placed in a wooden box and set afire.

Friday, at the Night Vale Recreation Center, are cooking classes for beginners. Amateur chefs can learn about knife skills, the basics of baking, and a seminar about whether or not deer feel pain or are just sad.

Saturday afternoon is a secret parade. You will know where and when it is if and when you are chosen to see its secret floats and hear its secret songs.

Sunday is the day we decided last fall we would clean up around here. You promised! We need to clean up, OK? And that’s this Sunday. Don’t make other plans, you always do that! You are always doing that!

And now, a word from our sponsor.

You cannot see. You grope around wildly as your footing is also unstable. You feel a thin liquid filling your shoes. It is not water; you can tell.

A pungent smell of brine, or anxiety. Your hands strike something solid. A wall, you think. It is soft, leathery, but also wet. You keep your hands to the surface and it is moving in and out, like it is breathing. No. More like…spasms.

You hear a dull rumble from above; a gurgle from below. You still see nothing.

The walls jerk back, quickly. You lose your balance and slide down to the floor, which is the same surface, but now the liquid is sloshing past you. Something grabs your leg. Something is grabbing your leg! You are being pulled down!

You cannot see which way. Madness!

Which way, madness?

You scream, but no sound comes from your stubborn lips, your impudent throat.

You reach…for what, you do not know. Only that you reach.

A blinding flash, a moment of understanding. You are in an empty storeroom, tied to a chair. There are others, but they are hooded and limp.

You recall this living nightmare. You take comfort in its familiar pain.

You smell fermentation and can hear a dull, unending beeping. Someone shouts in a language you do not know. You love your family. You love them!

Welcome to Red Lobster. Come see what’s fresh today.

More on The Whispering Forest:

Intern Richard called to say the woods are stunning, and the moment he arrived, they were so welcoming.

“Richard, you have lovely green eyes. I can’t believe I just noticed them! That shirt really brings out those piercing gems. You also have nice soft hands. Do you play guitar? Would you like to play guitar? Do you like music?” the Forest apparently whispered.

Richard reported to me that he wanted to stay in the Forest, but I told him that he still has intern tasks to do here at the radio station, like filing ad contracts and renaming the wingless insects, but he insisted on staying.

Richard told me that his feet started itching at first, then tingling – a very pleasant tingle. He then noticed gray-brown patches forming along his feet and legs and he couldn’t move, and Richard assured me that this was exactly what he wanted, but I have already sent for help.

Ladies and gentlemen, for your safety, please stay away from The Whispering Forest. Do not listen to its hollow compliments, its sappy flattery. Learn from Larry Leroy. Stay inside and watch television! There is no reason to go explore nature. No reason!

So, as I try to find out what has happened to our station intern, let us go to the weather.

[“Winifred” by Seth Boyer]

Well, listeners, there’s good news and bad news from The Whispering Forest.

The bad news is that intern Richard – as we know him – is lost to us forever. As are the dozens of first responders, concerned citizens, and curious nature lovers who all went to The Whispering Forest today.

To the family of Richard, let me say I am terribly sorry for your loss. He was an excellent intern, and he will be missed.

The good news is that none of those we lost today are technically dead. According to Simone Rigadeau, from the Earth Sciences building at Night Vale Community College, The Whispering Forest is a place where we can all plunge our feet and hands into the cool, soft soil, allowing our fingers and toes to grow and spiral into the earth, quickly and deeply intertwining with themselves, each other, snaking in and through a complex organic network to become one.

In The Whispering Forest, everyone is one. Everything.

They share each other now.

I know Simone is only a transient who lives in an unused storage closet in the Earth Sciences building and not an actual scientist, but I thought that was a beautiful story, and it brought some meaning to the otherwise meaningless life of an intern.

So…rest easy, Night Vale, knowing that we have lost no one today. They have gained each other. They share the soul of The Whispering Forest now, and we will have them, always.

Or…at least however long trees live, which I think is fairly long…I’m not really sure. I had a hamster as a child and it died in, like, two weeks, so meh! What do I know?

Stay tuned next for the sound of a rapidly beating heart.

As always, goodnight, Night Vale. Goodnight.

Today’s proverb: If you love someone, set them free. Set them free now. This is the police, and we have you surrounded.

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