Sam I Am

Sep. 11th, 2013 03:01 pm
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[personal profile] tikific
Title: Sam I Am
Fandom: Welcome to Night Vale
Author: tikific
Rating: PG-13
Characters/Pairings: Cecil/Carlos, Old Woman Josie, Intern Dana
Warnings: Cursing.
Word Count: 4400
Summary: Cecil and Carlos explore the forbidden cavern on the edge of Night Vale and encounter an old friend.
Notes: Besides Dr. Seuss, this one owes a debt to Miyazaki's masterful Sen to Chihiro no Kamikakushi (Spirited Away) as well as a tip of the hat to Risky Business (you'll know which scenes when you get to them).





“I do not like it, Sam I am.”

“None of us are named Samuel, Carlos.”

Carlos blinked up from his frenetically buzzing apparatus and found himself face to face with several of the other scientists.

“I think he's saying that he's named Sam,” another helpfully interjected.

“That's not his name. I've read his C.V.”

“It's a line. From a book,” Carlos explained.

Principles of Neuropsychology?”

“Uh. No. A kid's book.”

There was a somewhat bemused exchange of glances, some nudging of eyeglasses, tapping of pocket protectors. Night Vale was probably the most scientifically interesting spot in the U.S, maybe in the world. Thus, the plethora of individuals trained in empirical methodologies.

“You don't have children, Carlos,” said a scientist, fiddling with his slide rule.

Fucking scientists.

“No, I don't,” Carlos admitted.

More bemused stares. And eye rolls this time.

“We're going to Arby's. Get some curly fries. Wanna come?”

Carlos found himself sliding his thumb across the cell phone in his pocket. Ralph wore too much aftershave, and Al was always flustered and sweating. Not enough social skills in the lot to fill a thimble. “I think I'll pass.”

They nodded and milled out. “Gonna call you boyfriend?” Ralph teased back over his shoulder as Carlos brought out his phone.

“He's not my-” Carlos stopped himself. Getting angry just encouraged them. He waited until they were out of earshot, and hit the speed dial.

“Hey.”

“Hey!”

One word. That's all it took. And he was smiling again. He hopped up to sit on the lab bench, breathing deeply, pulling an old wooden stool over to rest his feet on. They could be quiet like this, when they were together, and he'd found to his delight that the companionable silences worked over the telephone as well.

“So, what's new?”

“Well, it's the helicopters again.” Even during personal calls Cecil's diction was precise as as an automated recording, but somehow, it went down like aged whiskey, smooth with just a little burn. Carlos found himself only half listening, instead tuning into the soothing timbre. “Old Woman Josie insists she's seen a fourth type. The City Council has denied any knowledge.”

“Josie? What do the angels say?”

A soft laugh. “You and I know, angels don't exist.”

Carlos heard himself chuckling.

“And you?”

He picked up his electrical instrument, fiddling with the dial. “I had a strange finding today.”

“Do tell.” He could imagine Cecil leaning forward, chin in hands, peering over his eyeglasses.

“The cavern? Up at the north end of town?”

“Up by the Dairy Queen? Where everybody's been seeing the purple blobby things?”

“That's the one. It's infinite.”

“Infinite? How infinite?”

Carlos grinned, teeth all lined up in neat rows. A Cecil question.

“I can hear your dry amusement, even over the phone. There are different sorts of infinities.”

“It's bigger than the known universe. If my instruments are right. What bugs me is I can't find anything wrong with my instruments.”

“That's really interesting.”

“I don't like it. I- I do not like it, Sam I am.”

There was a pause.

“What about in a house? With a mouse?”

Carlos slid off the counter and began to pace. “I do not like it here or there.”

“On a train? In a car? In an ancient cistern?”

It was Carlos's turn to pause. “What?”

Cecil was hunched over the phone now. Carlos could tell. “You'll take me with you?”

“When?”

“When you inevitably do something stupid but brave. I'm not going to sit there and narrate. I refuse.”

Carlos stopped his pacing and looked towards the mouth of the cavern, hazy in the autumn twilight. He thought he saw something flitting around the entrance. One of Josie's angels?



“Eat them, eat them, here they are.”

Carlos chuckled into his eggs. Cecil had either cleverly employed food dye in cooking the scrambled eggs, or.... Well, given that Cecil had probably bought the ingredients locally, Carlos didn't really want to know.

“But don't chew with your mouth full,” Cecil chided. He was peering over his glasses, gentle smile on his face, softly blowing on his Night Vale Community Radio mug.

He was wearing Carlos's flannel shirt, and looked like he was being swallowed by a red plaid monster. It was too big for him, falling off one shoulder. And all kinds of adorable.

“Scientist,” explained Carlos around a mouthful of egg and toast. “Terrible people skills.”

Cecil brought a foot up to his chair, curling flannel-wrapped arms around a bare leg. Was he only wearing the shirt? This bore investigation. After Carlos had finished his breakfast.

“What did your mother tell you?” Cecil asked. His lashes were long. And quite pale.

“Study hard. Achieve. Don't dishonor the family.”

“What about, don't spray green eggs all over your boyfriend when you speak?”

Carlos scooted his chair back a fraction, nearly colliding with a bookshelf. Cecil's table was slightly too large for his cramped dining room, books and records and DVDs piled everywhere. For some reason – maybe Cecil's impish sense of humor – they were sitting at opposite ends, as far apart as possible, like a comedy duo.

He reached up over his shoulder and back-handed a book at random. The book fell open to a page about the Devil's Hoofprints. “You have a book about Night Vale?

Cecil strained his neck to peer at the opened book, batting away a tuft of bangs that strayed into his eyes. “That incident occurred in Devon. During the Nineteenth Century.”

“Oh.”

“They say it was a kangaroo. On the loose.”

Carlos skimmed the page. “So it was Night Vale.”

“No.” Cecil sipped his coffee. “If it had been here, it would have been the devil himself. Or maybe a pack of feral children.”

Feeling a shiver run down his spine, Cecil nodded and slipped the book aside. Using fork and toast, he scooped up the last bites of his eggs. They were a lurid green and utterly delicious.

Cecil was pretending to browse his newspaper. He still got the newsprint edition. “Soooo, what's in the cavern?” he asked with a studied casualness.

“Everything.”

“Everything?”

“Well, it's infinite. And I think birds are nesting there too. I can hear them fly.” Carlos was picking a thread of ham out of his back molars. Cecil waggled a chiding finger at him. “What is it this time, miho?”

“You're being a rude scientist again.”

“You stole my favorite shirt.”

Borrowed, I believe, is the operative term.”

It was Carlos's turn to lean forward. He brushed away his breakfast plate of eggs and loomed over the dining room table. “What if I want it back?”

Cecil grinned.



“Would you, could you, in the dark?”

Cecil's radio voice had picked up a weird echo in here. Carlos hadn't told Cecil this, but sometimes, just after he'd moved to Night Vale, he would turn on Cecil's radio show just before he fell asleep, letting the voice wash over him. Enfold him. When Cecil spoke, he was safe.

Carlos trained his flashlight around the pitch black cavern. He heard the sound of dripping water coming from somewhere, but so far had failed to locate the source. Who knew? In Night Vale? There was probably a water park at the end of this, complete with a giant slide.

They had sneaked right past the various warning signs, slipping underneath the yellow NO ENTRY tape the sheriff’s secret policemen had strung over the entrance.

He flicked the light over to Cecil who was, not surprisingly, looking his way. “So what's it like, being a scientist?”

“What's it like, breathing air?” He smiled apologetically, though he wasn't certain whether Cecil could see him. “I never really considered doing anything else.”

“You never wanted to dance ballet, ride horses, collect rune stones?”

“I guess not.”

“Do you get along with the other scientists?”

He considered the question as they walked along. “Ralph wears some kind of really horrible aftershave. If you answer the telephone in our lab after he's been talking on it, you get cologne phone.”

He heard Cecil laughing, somewhere behind him in the darkness.

“Al is nearly always hyper about something. Colin is just … creepy. He stands there. And stares.”

There was a soft sound overhead, like the rustle of large, lush wings. Carlos pointed his flashlight around, but was unable to catch the rare bird, if that's what it was.

“I think it went this way,” he said, heading off in the direction of the sound. They were walking towards a dim light now. Perhaps the cavern opened up? But that was crazy, they were going deeper into the mountain.

But this is Night Vale, Carlos reminded himself. Mountains don’t exist.

“Hey, Cecil. You believe in caves, but not in mountains?”

“I never said I believed in caverns.”

Carlos was about to reply, but he had turned a corner and suddenly stopped short, Cecil nearly running into him.

The cavern had opened up. It was not infinite, not really, but it was pretty damned huge, pierced everywhere by giant stalagmites and stalactites, big and broad and high as columns. Carlos switched off his flashlight, scowling upwards, trying to divine the light source.

They were standing on a narrow ledge up above a vast underground lake. The cavern here was flooded, the reflective surface of the still water creating the illusion that the space was even more vast.

“How deep does it go?” asked Cecil as Carlos squatted down by margin of the ledge, taking readings from an instrument he’d pulled from his backpack.

Carlos gave the instrument whack on the side. He squinted at the digital readout, disbelieving what he was seeing. “There is no bottom. Well, at least according to this piece of shit meter.” Frustrated, he chucked it back into his pack. “I keep forgetting science doesn’t work here.”

“Have you considered that maybe it just works differently?” asked Cecil. Carlos shrugged. “Can we cross?”

“We obviously can't ford it on foot. Maybe we could bring a raft next time?” Carlos picked up a stone and tossed it down towards water. It didn’t so much sink as vanish without a trace, creating nary a ripple in the surface.

Carlos looked at Cecil. “Or ... maybe not,” said the radio host..

There was a soft, low sound, echoing from far away.

“Did you hear that?” Carlos stood up. “I swear, that was a train whistle.”

“It couldn’t be.”

Carlos rounded on Cecil, wry smile on his face. “Let me guess. Trains have been expressly forbidden by the City Council?”

“I was thinking it was more a factor of laying down tracks inside an infinite flooded cavern, but that works.”

“Wait, who’s that?” Carlos pointed towards a solitary figure walking down the ledge towards them. She appeared to be talking on a phone.

Carlos waved. “Hello!” he called, his cry bouncing and rebounding in the vast cavern. “Over here.” She continued chatting into the phone, ignoring them. “She looks familiar.”

Cecil, standing behind him, sucked in a breath.

She was now only a few yards away, still intent on her phone conversation. Carlos squinted at her. The dim light here made her look translucent, like a ghost. “Hey. I think it's the girl from the house that wasn’t there!”

And then she was upon them. “Hey!”

“Cecil,” she said. But she said it into the phone, ignoring the real Cecil.

The ghostly girl passed right through them, not losing a pace. Carlos shivered at the cold.

He pivoted just in time to see her walk right off the ledge.

And disappear.

“Cecil?” And then Carlos lunged. Cecil was smaller than him, and wiry, but surprisingly strong, and Carlos managed to hold onto him only with some difficulty. “Cecil!”

“Dana!” Cecil screamed. “DANA!”




“Would you, could you, with a goat?”

Carlos blinked. He had dozed off, slumped over the lab bench.

The goat bleated at him.

He sat up.

“Why is there a goat in my lab?”

“Shan Yang? I brought him,” said Old Woman Josie. “I thought it was appropriate.” She smiled, the edges of her face wrinkling merrily. She carefully poured the contents of a measuring cup into a cauldron bubbling over a Bunsen burner, and then flicked in handfuls of pepper, black and white. “Would you like some chicken soup? It’s good for what ails you.”

Carlos stretched and shuffled over to the pot. The soup was fragrant. “You’re not really here,” he told Josie, sniffing at the soup. “And neither is the goat.”

The goat bleated in protest. “I am here. Although I’m not certain about you. Come try. It’s egg drop.” She dipped a ladle into the soup and scooped some soup into a delicate china bowl for Carlos.

He hopped up on the lab bench, scraping over a chair to rest his feet on. Well, if a dream grandma was going to make him soup, he might as well enjoy it.

“What are you doing here so late, going without your dinner?” she asked as she served herself a bowl.

“I promised Cecil I’d investigate how to find his intern,” said Carlos, slurping up soup. He hadn’t realized how hungry he’d gotten. “Dana. But I don’t know why I promised him that. I guess I didn’t want him to jump into the cavern and disappear. I really have no fucking clue what I'm doing.” He upturned the bowl into his mouth, not even bothering with the spoon, savoring the last sips.

“Seconds?” asked Josie. Carlos eagerly held out his bowl.

“So, what exactly are you doing here, Josie?” he asked, patting the goat, which had gone back to chewing on some hay.

Josie dipped the ladle into the cauldron. “I was brought here. Many years ago, now. Before you were born. I was meant to be a bride. He had emigrated before me. A successful doctor. But come to find, he was already engaged. She was a pretty thing. But, American. Needless to say, his family didn’t care for the match.” She handed the bowl off to Carlos.

“Did you marry him anyway?”

“Yes, of course. But he was never really mine. Not like my angels.”

“That … wasn’t exactly what I was asking,” Carlos admitted.

“No, but it’s what you needed to know. Why did you come?”

“Opportunity,” said Carlos, spooning up more soup. “Or so my father said. My parents, they were both doctors, and they wanted me to get a good education.”

“So your family moved?”

“Not my whole family. Just us: my parents and me. They left my grandmother behind. She was a little stuck in the past. She was the town curandera, if you know what that is.”

“A healer.”

“More like a witch doctor. At least according to my father. She used to read to me. Nonsense books, nothing my father ever approved of. There was one … it was the first book I ever read in English.”

“So it was all nonsense?”

“Is that a rhetorical question?”

There was a soft sound, like feathers, sifting through air. Carlos looked up, but there was nothing to see but harsh incandescent lights. He reached down to pat the goat, but it was gone. As was Josie. And he was all alone in the lab.

He extracted his cell phone from his lab coat pocket and hit the speed dial.

“Cecil? Is there any way I can get entry to the children’s section at the Public Library?”




Would you, could you, in a boat?

Carlos sat back inside the full scale replica of a pirate ship, happily reading a picture book.

This wasn’t the Night Vale Public Library, which had unfortunately been burned to the ground again last night, but rather the Private Library branch, constructed by the billionaire, Marcus Vansten, for the express use of Marcus Vansten. At some point however the grizzled veterans of the Night Vale Summer Reading Program had conducted a raid on the children’s section, and Vansten seemed reluctant to shoo them out, perhaps because, like authentic pirates, they all carried razor-sharp cutlasses. Carlos appreciated the historical authenticity.

A couple of the blankly staring child messengers had gathered there as well. Carlos tried his best to ignore them. They made the hair on his arms stand up when they passed, silent and hollow-eyed.

You could occasionally catch sight of Vansten, through the porthole, as he wandered around naked through the stacks, cradling an upside-down biography of Sean Penn.

Carlos re-shelved his book and, deep in thought, bade farewell to the students (who greeted him with a hearty, “ARRRR!”) and made his way out of the library. He felt a chill wind on his face when he exited the door, and a spot of dampness hit his face, tickling his cheek. He stopped short and looked around, stunned. Night Vale was covered in a light, crisp snowfall.

Which was odd, considering it was the middle of the summer.

He was just as surprised to see that someone or something (given that this was Night Vale, probably the latter) had left fresh tracks in the snow. Carlos wasn’t by any measure a tracker, but he thought it resembled the footprints of a small mammal, like a fox or rabbit.

Oh! A fox. It was definitely a fox.

“But where's the box?” he asked himself.

The tracks ran down the sidewalk outside the library, and then disappeared around a corner. Wrapping his lab coat more tightly around himself, and leaning into the breeze, Carlos followed. It trailed all over town, but somehow he knew where he was headed, and wasn't surprised to find himself in the neighborhood of the radio station. The footprints trailed off down the stairs of the nearby station for Night Vale's ill-fated subway line. Carlos stood for a moment, watching the tracks meander underneath the various KEEP OUT and ENTRY FORBIDDEN signs the City Council had posted. The snow had shifted to a wet rain, and as he stood there, it washed the phantom trail into the sewers.

“A train. A train in the rain.”

He strode up to the entrance and stared prying at the boards nailed over the door, straining with his bare hands. Frustrated, he grabbed one of the NO ENTRY signs, pulled off the stake, and used that as a pry bar. The boards popped off, one and then another, and another.

He paused, out of breath, his fingernails shredded.

Behind him, he heard a rustle.

Cecil was standing there, sopping wet, rain dripping down into his eyes. His face was an accusation.

“Cecil….”

“I told you: I’m not going to sit there, holding a trophy. Not this time.”

Carlos started to speak, hoping to offer an explanation. But then he stopped himself, and instead, extended his hand.

Cecil took it, and, together, they descended the stairs to the subway.

“What's it like?” Carlos asked.

“What was it like before? Not like this!”

There was the soft rustle, like a vast, secret hoard of insects moving out of the way. They alit on a subway platform, or at least what looked very much like a subway platform. There were a few other individuals here, but they were shadowy, and seemed out of focus. A little like Dana had appeared, Carlos thought.

There was a whistle: lost and lonely. And then a rumbling sound, and a faint tremor underneath their feet. A headlight shown out of the darkness of the tunnel.

And then a subway car was in front of them, the doors sliding open with a whisper.

“Here we go.”

Holding their breath, they stepped across the smooth metal threshold, and were off, acceleration turned to constant motion. The train passed through a series of dark, nameless tunnels. The faint, blurry commuters shuffled on and off at each station, until there were few other passengers in their car.

And then, without warning, the train passed out of the darkness, and into the light.

Carlos stared out the window. The tracks had emerged from a tunnel and now scudded across a vast, still lake, reflecting nothing but the deep blue sky and clouds as white as cigarette ash. The train glided along, occasionally stopping at some of the many weird islands that dotted the lake. One had mushrooms growing tall as trees. Another contained nothing but a high water tower, and a dizzy vertical ladder ascending it.

One island was shrouded in a thick forest cover. Something that had been lurking in the corner of the car debarked there, scuttling along on many thin legs, disappearing into the underbrush.

Cecil and Carlos were alone in the car when it reached the last station. Not knowing what else to do, they got off. The doors shut with a whoosh, and the train reversed itself, gliding away.

“Where to now?” Cecil asked.

“Follow the goat.”

“What goat?”

Carlos pointed. Shan Yang stood there, contentedly chewing his cud. Carlos motioned to him, and the goat turned around and ambled off up a dirt path.

“This is not going to involve mountains, is it?” asked Cecil as they picked their way after the goat. “You know how I feel about mountains.”

As it turned out, the pathway ended on the opposite side of the island, which was bounded by sheer, sandstone cliffs. The goat stopped just at the foot of a majestic, lone camphor tree, which stood near the edge.

There was a rope ladder leading upwards. “In a tree?” asked Carlos.

“Would not, could not, in a tree. Not in a car. Not on a boat. Not on an inflamed dirigible.”

Carlos started to climb the ladder. “Your town's version of the book is a little different from what I remember.”

“Your childhood is never what you think it was,” said Cecil, following him up. There was a platform nailed into one of the broad branches, as if someone had started to build a tree house, and then, afflicted with an inchoate melancholy, abandoned the project. They spent some time sitting there, staring out across the cliffs, and the strange, radiant-winged birds who nested there.

The sun had begun to set. Carlos, of course, had no idea what time it was, nor how long they'd been there: time worked differently here, as it did in Night Vale. They heard her before they saw her, feet crunching the gravel on the path, soft voice fracturing the air.

“Dana!” Cecil was off the platform and halfway down the rope ladder, leaping down the final rungs. “Dana!”

As she had done before, the intern ignored him, instead muttering into the cell phone that was constantly at her ear. And as she had done before, she brushed right through him, stalking towards the edge of the sheer cliff.

“Dana-” Cecil stopped when Carlos grabbed him, forcing something into his hand.

Cecil frantically thumbed buttons on Carlos’s cell phone. “Dana!”

Dana stopped, just at the edge of the cliff.

She turned, though she did not look towards either Cecil or Carlos, her eyes fixed on a point somewhere in the unknowable distance.

“Cecil?” she said into the phone.

“Dana!”

“Yes, I must have missed your calls, Cecil. I'm so glad I caught you. I need to tell you something. Something very important.”

“Tell me what, Dana?” Carlos hovered close to Cecil now, both of them hanging on Dana's every word.

“No, I don't think you already know. It's something wonderful! I entered a cave, and walked through a mysterious cavern. There I met an old woman. She fed me soup. It tasted wonderful.”

“Was it Old Woman Josie?” Carlos asked.

“No,” said Dana. “It was chicken soup. She told me. She told me what's going to happen!”

But it was no longer Dana talking. Now, in the dim light, she appeared to be one of the mute messenger children.

“What is it, Dana?” asked Cecil. “What's going to happen?”

And now she was the Apache Tracker, complete with racist headdress. “They've picked me. I'm worthy.” She was the man in the tan jacket, briefcase buzzing with flies.

“Who's picked you?”

A fetus. Mayor Winchell. The City Council. “Yes, that's right.” A dandelion. An elephant.

“Who, Dana?”

A gust of wind. The goat. “I'm going to join them. I've never been so happy. Go! Tell everybody! Tell them for me.”

Cecil clutched the phone. “I'll tell them. I'll tell them, Dana.”

“Thank you! Goodbye, Cecil. Goodbye!”

A fluttering sound, like the soft beat of great wings.

And then they were alone again.

“Goodbye, Dana,” said Cecil, snapping the phone shut and handing it back to Carlos.

They stood there, for a time.

“I thought those didn't exist?”

“Neither do mountains.” Carlos looked at Cecil, eyebrow raised. “Well, at least according to the City Council,” Cecil allowed.

Carlos started to smile, perfect teeth white in the early evening dark.

Far in the distance, a train whistled, low and lonely.

“Shall we see if we can make it in time for the last train out?” asked Carlos, extending a hand. Cecil took it, and then picked their way back down the path to find the train standing silently at the station.

They found a seat together, Carlos with his arm around Cecil, Cecil resting his head on Carlos's shoulder, swaying as their carriage swayed, being borne away, all in the dark. “Do you think she's happy?” asked Cecil, peering up, over his glasses, and looking so terribly young.

Carlos gently kissed his forehead. “Are any of us?” He tugged at the fabric of Cecil's sleeve. “Still wearing my shirt?”

Borrowing.”

“What if I want it back. Now?”

Cecil blinked at him.

“Not on a train?” asked Carlos, feeling a faint trace of disappointment.

Suddenly, Carlos had a lap full of radio host. “Yes. On a train.”

Carlos kissed him, but then, after a moment shooed him off. “One minute,” he cautioned as the train slowed down for the next station. Carlos grabbed a scientific journal from his pack, rolled it up, and swatted at the corner of their carriage. Something scuttled out of the corner, and dashed out through the open doors.

The doors slammed shut. Cecil extended his hand, and pulled Carlos down on top of him, staring long and hard into his eyes.

And the train hurtled on, casting its reflection over the still water.
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