From the New York Times bestselling authors of Welcome to Night Vale and It Devours! and the creators of the No. 1 podcast, comes a new novel set in the world of Night Vale and beyond.
I set your shoes on fire.
All of them. They’re in the trash can by the rental office. They’re still smoldering. The side of the plastic bin has melted away, and Stuart in apartment 413 has already made four calls to the super. He didn’t answer because I locked him in his bathroom, because I didn’t want the fire put out just yet.
It’s nice: the smell of burning. I used to not like it, as it reminded me of a particularly bad moment in my early life. But that was so many years ago, and now I enjoy the smell of burning. Burning anything: rubber, cloth, skin in small amounts, hair (definitely hair), even wood. A fireplace on a cool winter night. A campfire on a warm summer night. A house as a family of four flees, leaving behind everything they’ve ever owned to be consumed by flames. Plus, there’s true beauty in black ash quivering around bright orange edges. It’s art, Craig. I know you appreciate art.
Also, the birds are alarmed, and I find that funny.
You missed your date tonight because you couldn’t find your shoes, which is why I’m telling you now that they’re on fire in a quickly melting plastic bin. Then when you tried to rush to a shoe store, your car wouldn’t start because someone broke in and jammed glass shards into the ignition. Or at least that’s what the locksmith said when she came to investigate the problem.
“Who would do something like that?” You wanted her professional opinion. She only shrugged and said she’d have to replace the ignition switch, which would take a couple of days and cost four hundred dollars.
I suppose I could have used the glass shards to slash your tires to keep you from your date. It would have been cheaper for you, but it wouldn’t have been as beautiful. I don’t think you noticed the perfect arc of blood splatter across the floor mat when you cut your hand on the ignition. You screamed in pain, ignoring the beauty of your own nature. So, please take a moment to look out the window by the shower and appreciate the artwork I have created. I call it “Craig’s Impertinence” (multimedia: plastic, gasoline, and shoes). Ah, but you’re too busy moping.
You’ve been standing in that shower for ten minutes. I know, because I’m in here with you. A faceless old woman inches from your neck. You would feel my breath if I still breathed. I think it would be upsetting for you if you turned around. Better to let the water run over you. Better not to see. You haven’t even touched the soap. You look pathetic. Why? Because you missed a date with a woman who was pretty and shared similar loves and seemed genuinely interested in you? Or because when you went to try to reschedule with her she accused you of texting her an inappropriate photo, when in fact you did no such thing?
You can’t hear me. These are rhetorical questions, anyway. I don’t need a response. You wouldn’t even know to respond to me. After all, you don’t know I’m here, even after that one day a year ago when you passed by the living room and half noticed the strange new chandelier hanging from the ceiling, the one made from the twisted limbs and neck of an old woman, contorted into a shape like a spider. And then you thought, wait, what did I just see? And you backed up to find that the hanging old woman was gone. Almost certain she never was there. Probably you imagined her.
I can see why you’re upset. The woman you did not go on a date with is too. No one wants to have a first date cancel on them and then have that same date inexplicably text them a photo of a raccoon having its intestines gnawed out by a coyote.
I mean, I would want that. But I’ve never really been into dating (although it is true that once I was deeply in love), so I can only assume most women would not like that kind of behavior.
I forgot to mention, she received a text from you while you were trying to get your car fixed that included a photo of a coyote devouring a raccoon. The coyote’s fur was a glistening red about the mouth, its eyes golden like a cornfield. The raccoon’s neck is clearly broken, and its organs are pink and gray. I’m sure she was disgusted, but honestly, she’s made of similar materials. So are you, Craig.
I’m not sorry I sent her that photo using your phone. And you shouldn’t be either. It was a good photo—a discomforting reminder of Snowden’s secret, that man is matter. Did you ever read Catch-22? It’s a funny and sad book about moral hypocrisy and self-interest. My favorite part is how cold Snowden got when his small intestine unraveled from beneath his flak jacket.
That’s not a spoiler because that book’s been out for decades, and you should have read it by now. Plus you can’t even hear me.
You would have enjoyed your date with Giselle, I’m sure, but that’s not the point. The point is that Giselle wasn’t right for you. I know this because I’ve spent the past three nights in her home while she slept. I’ve skittered along the hallway stair behind her as she climbed, and I’ve burrowed into her trash to nap among the rotting things. She keeps her possessions quite organized. I like this about her. It made it easier for me to go through her photo albums, medical records, and diaries. I won’t go into specifics because that would be invasive. I’m not like that.
Giselle keeps a great deal of physical photos. She likes to look through them when she is feeling nostalgic or overwhelmed. I took a crafting knife and carved away the faces from the photos. I only did this to people who were not her parents or grandparents. I think family is important. Children are the most important. Have you thought about children, Craig?
Giselle does not seem interested in having children. She wants to go to law school and open her own firm. She wants to travel a lot too. And you don’t want that. Believe me. I’ve traveled enough for both of us. The world is awful. There is only flesh and illness out there. You’ll be fine right here in Night Vale.
Don’t worry. Giselle will find another person to date. They will travel and be selfish and not raise a family. They will never know the joy of raising a handsome, gentle, smart boy like you. And they won’t care. That’s good for them. I’m only saying you don’t want that. I know you, Craig. I know what is good for you, and this would not have been good.
Anyway, that bridge is burned now, I suppose. Along with your shoes. You’ll never hear from her again.
Nope. I was wrong. She just texted back. You’re missing this while you’re brooding in the shower, Craig.
WTF is wrong with you? she writes.
You two are done. Before you ever even got started.
Another text. Please don’t contact me again. Please.
Okay, what I read initially as anger is probably fear. You scared her, Craig. We scared her.
I’m going over to her place now to block your number on her phone, so she doesn’t have to deal with the emotional devastation of getting some mumbly apology text from you.
Done. She looks in bad shape. All her lights are out and she’s sitting on the edge of her couch staring at nothing. Then for a moment she saw a flicker of me beside her, a crooked figure with no face. And she screamed. She is so dramatic about everything. You are better off.
Maybe this is a bad time to bring this up, but you need to pay your credit card bill. It’s maxed out, and you’ve missed the past two due dates. And the thing is—and this is going to sound selfish, because it is—but your Netflix account got suspended, and I was only halfway through season three of Cheers.
The laugh track is a bit off-putting, but it’s still a good show. I really love the plot twist that Norm’s nagging wife, Vera, turns out to have been dead for ten years, and Norm has kept her memory alive by continuing a fictional narrative about her. Sam and Diane knew that Vera wasn’t really alive and that Norm was delusional, but in episode seven, when they go to check in on Norm, they find him cuddled up next to her decayed corpse and reading her Lord Byron’s “The First Kiss of Love,” and he’s crying. The stench is unbearable, but less unbearable than the brutal truth of the moment.
My point is, I didn’t get to finish watching Cheers because you’re behind on your credit card payments. I need you to deal with that.
Also you’re wasting water standing in the shower for so long. Stop brooding, or I will run one of my jagged yellow fingernails along the back of your neck.
Your father used to brood all the time. Drove your mother crazy. He had a lot of stress and would come home crying. He would sit in his car, parked along a curb a block away, just breathing and sobbing, and breathing some more, until his eyes and cheeks were clear of their red lines.
Your mother thought he had depression. He did not. It’s dangerous to do that to people, you know? Diagnose them with a mental health condition if you’re not a doctor? I secretly live in everyone’s home, and I have seen people coping (and not coping) with depression. Your father, Donald, did not have depression.
He had a difficult time coming to terms with his cancer, and eventually his body gave out. Lots of men in your family died young, but your father, comparatively, lived a long life. He got to see his forty-fifth birthday. He got to raise a son: you. When you were little, he called you Big Man. And then when you grew up—and you certainly grew up: six-foot-three, a quarter-foot taller than your own dad, by the age of fifteen—he called you Little Guy.
He loved you and cared for you like the father he never had. Your paternal grandfather, Jacob, died when your dad was only seven years old. But Jacob had been in a coma for four years before that, after the hunting accident that ripped away nearly half of his skull. He was carrying his shotgun carelessly. He tripped and the gun went off, as did a good portion of his head. The spray of blood really was beautiful, but I suspect you wouldn’t have appreciated it then either. People so rarely take the time to appreciate what is around them.
Donald wanted you to have a loving father. Someone to teach you to ride a bike, to read, to be respectful to others, to be creative.
You were terrible at guitar. To be fair, so was your father, but the important thing was that it was something you could be terrible at together. And you’ve always loved music, even if you can’t play a single instrument. Donald was a good and giving father. He loved you.
Having a father who loves you is so important. I know this well.
You’re watching your diet, and this is good. I want you to be healthy. And you are. I took some of your blood the other night while you were sleeping. (Sorry I couldn’t find a syringe and ended up using a knife from Rome that I’ve carried with me for a very long time.) I took your blood to the Night Vale General Hospital and surreptitiously replaced Harrison Kip’s sample. Your blood work came back perfect. Apparently this was good news for Harrison too. He and his doctor were so amazed that his extraordinarily high hemoglobin count came back normal for once.
Your father’s early death haunts you, I’m sure. That’s normal. And I’m glad you are health-conscious because of it. Your father’s body was filled with so many artificial chemicals and carcinogens over the years, his cancers (and they were many) were a product of personal choices, not genetics.
I’m old. Older than you can imagine. Probably older than I can imagine, and I have met nearly everyone in your family tree, going back well over a century. There’s very little cancer there, rest assured.
Of course, you can’t hear or see me, and I’m fine with that, because I’d prefer you stay on your healthy path. But really, please work on your finances. Pay that credit card bill. I want you to take care of yourself because I think you’re a nice man, Craig. I’ve known you your whole life, and you have a beautiful heart. You care so much for your friends, your family, and even the people less fortunate than you. You had only three hundred dollars in your account last Christmas, and yet you still donated two hundred to Doctors Without Borders.
It’s hard not to like you, Craig. I want to help you live a good life, raise a good family, to teach your future son to love and respect his children. It’s what your father would have wanted, what all fathers should want.
But please. The water in the shower is starting to run cold, and anyway the firetrucks just arrived about the pile of burning shoes. Hurry and dry off so you can see the art I made for you.
Craig, I’m not going anywhere. You are part of my story, a story that started more than two hundred years ago on an estate by the sea. It is a long story, but don’t worry. We have so much time still left.