Kevin R. Free is kissing him with hot lips. Tendrils of warmth flow out of the other man's mouth, curling around his face and it feels wonderful. He cannot remember the last time someone kissed him and when he tells Kevin this the other man laughs and strokes his face. Of course, he says, who knows what happened to you in Night Vale? I am so very sad for you. It must be awful to not be able to remember, but there is no need to dwell on the past dear Steve! You are here, in beautiful Desert Bluffs, with StrexCorp. And with me! This time Steve initiates the kiss and he thinks he must have kissed someone before for he seems to intuitively remember the right movements. Surely a novice would have been more awkward, confused and sloppy. A hand is brought to press against Kevin's chest and Steve notices he is even warmer the closer to his core one touches. Kevin burns literally like a flame. The pain sears at his hand and he watches the skin melt away upon contact and blood pool on Kevin's lap. He thinks of writing a thank you note to StrexCorp for the community distributed pain inhibitors. The night is cool and dark blue and Kevin is all confidence. He is in love with Kevin R. Free and he is in love with Desert Bluffs.
They move in together. There have been walks on the waterfront play space (although Steve wonders if it is terrible waste to pump water into a desert town for recreation, but Kevin assures him that it is all recycled to be as harmless to the planet as possible.) They adopt a dog, a StrexCorp laboratory reject named Scamp. He has no skin, but seems very happy. There has been kissing and cuddling and sex. Kevin is as wonderful in bed as he is at everything he does. Steve is always terribly burned after their lovemaking, but Kevin is gentle and loving as he nurses Steve back to health. StrexCorp medicine is amazing, but we can't have you dying on me. I'd be desolate. Steve agrees, he loves the pain, but he does not wish to die. He is blissfully happy. The residents of Desert Bluffs smile when they see the burn marks on his skin, the public baring of his dedication to Kevin and to their desert town. Steve Carlsberg may have come from Night Vale, but he is a Desert Bluffite through and through, they say. He will never leave. Steve can't help, but agree. He fits in so well. So he makes plans. He acquires a job, putting his writing skills to work as a columnist for the Desert Bluffs Daily paper. He has hopes for the future.
They fall into the rhythm of living together. In the mornings he and Kevin pick out who they should punish that day from the conveniently provided list of 'community betrayers' displayed on the StrexCorp electronic screen in each home. Kevin, ever dedicated to the public good, goes out hunting while Steve works on his articles and does the household chores. Around four o'clock Kevin returns. Standing triumphant in the doorway with a body slumped over his shoulder, draped with viscera and perhaps holding a dripping severed limb, Steve does not believe there can be anything more lovely. They eat a dinner Kevin makes from the carcass. The man is a wonder with a knife and Steve is awed by how well he can butcher, it is an intricate dance. No one can butcher better than Kevin, not even the town butcher.
Over the food they talk and the conversation is always interesting. Kevin knows everything about Desert Bluffs; StrexCorp sends the radio station all their surveillance footage from everywhere in town. Afterwards they may watch a little television or have sex or just sit outside on the porch and watch the children playing ball in the street, holding and hands and being content in each other's company. Kevin is due for his program by eight so they take Scamp with them as they walk to the station. Outside the building Kevin kisses him before he goes inside. Now alone, Steve may take Scamp to the dog park. There are always many people at the dog park, even this late at night. But at eight thirty all grow quiet as the Voice of Desert Bluffs begins his broadcast, cheerful utterances projecting out from the StrexCorp speakers that are installed in every room and on every street corner so the Voice of Desert Bluffs can be heard everywhere. It is always very informative and Steve can't help but feel proud.
Kevin does try to keep his personal life out of his broadcast, but on their anniversary he cannot help himself. I want you all to know why Steve Carlsberg is so great. We all love Desert Bluffs; we are brought up from cradle to grave to love our town. It is a crime to not love our town and StrexCorp knows that you are not taking your pills if you say do not love our town. But Steve was an outsider, that's right ladies and gentlemen he only started taking his pills less than a year ago. He had just come out of his coma then and we would not have known who he was if not for the Night Vale ID in his wallet. He was even suspicious of me back then, can you believe it? Yet, he could not help but become completely ensnared by the charms of our town. And while you may say 'who couldn't' we must still be proud of Steve for all the effort he has put into becoming a true member of our community. I love you. We love you. Kevin and Desert Bluffs love you, Steve Carlsberg.
According to the giant clock that adorns the StrexCorp headquarters in the town center it has now been two years since he and Kevin began their relationship. To Steve it feels no more than six months, but he must be wrong for the clock is always right. Don't worry, that's what happens when you're in love, his neighbors had said. After all, we trust in the clock, because StrexCorp has experts to make sure it is correct. Can you imagine what a terrible insult it would be to try and keep time by making your own timepiece? No, in our opinion if you did that the blinding you would receive would be well deserved. If you can't appreciate the luxury of time, which they work so very hard to make, you obviously don't deserve everything else StrexCorp gives us. And they have given us so much haven't they?
The second anniversary dinner is at Di Ricardo and Steve is flattered that Kevin is taking him to the fanciest Italian restaurant in town. While they wait for their meal, he fills Kevin in on his misgivings about the passage of time. I believe the StrexCorp clock is wrong, he begins to say, but the next sentence falters in his throat as he is interrupted by the flashing of Kevin's eyes. The usual black voids fill with a staggeringly hostile light. In seconds the change is over and Steve wonders if he dreamt it, because Kevin is smiling. Dearest Steve you must be mistaken. Trust in StrexCorp. Trust in me. Tell me you trust in us? Steve nods. If he said yes then he would be lying. Someone long ago told him he should never lie. He wonders if it was his mother. He must have had a mother, back in Night Vale.
The name haunts him as he lays awake that night. He wonders if Kevin can hear his thoughts.
The next day they take their pills in the morning in full view of the camera, like always. Steve watches as Kevin changes into his best invisibility suit and straps his favorite machete to his back. Nothing beats a clean kill, he'd say, it's very humane. Kevin kisses Steve quickly before he leaves and the pills he has hidden under his tongue instead of swallowing are lumps of guilt and chemicals. The door clangs shut and Scamp paws at Steve's leg. He sits down in the chair and draws the dog onto his lap, eyeing the cameras in the living room warily. Scamp climbs up his chest and licks his mouth affectionately and Steve makes his move. The pills slide into the dog's mouth. Good dog.
He is hit with a flash of memory. There is a kitchen table and a woman with folded wings and grey skin stands behind it. She looks down at a piece of paper in her hands. Oh, darling it's beautiful. You know I think we're going to put it on the fridge for everybody to see! She licks the edge of the page and presses it against the refrigerator. The paper is burnt at the top, reading out 'I like Night Vale because . . .' Underneath, smeared coffee grounds having left prints on the page, is a picture of an all seeing eye and the words 'because it is my home, Steven Carlsberg, grade 1.'
The next day he gives his pills to Scamp again. The dog is lethargic and Kevin says something about taking him to the vet, but Steve is lost in another memory. A high school house party, festooned with festive Tesla coils. Outside he can hear the weather, a female vocalist rapping. He always preferred when the weather was instrumental; it was less distracting. But he likes her voice and he leans back against the wall, trying to grasp the lyrics over the howling of the music inside. They are in a language other than English and it reminds him that he still has two chapters in his Sumerian textbook to read. He smiles, knowing he is top in his class. Even without omniscience he is the brightest student in all of Night Vale. Steve Carlsberg has a good life and it occurs to him that he should celebrate it. He looks around and sees a girl standing shyly next to him; her leathery skin looks nice to the touch. So, he asks her to dance. She giggles and accepts. An hour later and he has his first real kiss. He knows he has never felt so alive in all his life than that moment with a nubile, cold body against him, the hot desert air on his neck, the spark of blue electricity over the walls and the faint beat of the weather outside.
He thinks he might cry when his mind returns to relative emptiness of his beige stucco house.
A pattern begins to form, for every pill he does not swallow a new memory is opened. He wants to drown in these memories and their vibrancy, the colors, the sounds. He had killed himself, he remembers, and now he wonders how he could have loved darkness so much when life had been filled with love and excitement and wonder.
He can't concentrate on Kevin's broadcasts anymore. Threads of Night Vale keep seeping into his mind: glow clouds, feral dogs, angels, lights above the Arby's. The moonlit flights upon his mothers back and looking down to see the crop circles in John Peter's imaginary cornfields. The first year he was allowed to go out alone with his friends where they hid from street cleaners in the old bloodstone factory. Climbing the invisible Clock Tower and feeling the crackle of lightning in your skin. Big Rico. Leann Hart. The City Council. Mayor Winchell. Teddy Williams. Earl Harlan and his torch for . . . Kevin? Kevin is not part of Night Vale. No, Cecil. He remembers a smooth, sonorous voice that does not come out of speakers, but floats through the air, invading one's very core. Cecil Baldwin. He hated him once. But now Steve Carlsberg thinks he would like to see the Voice of Night Vale again.
He begins to neglect his writing. He keeps his eyes closed as often as he can, so the images may play behind his eyelids. He feels his heart sink with disappointment as no thrilling fear comes into him from just walking down the street. He twitches often, instinctively wanting to run from some terror that does not exist here. Are you sick? Kevin asks. You seem manic. Should I call a doctor? Steve doesn't have the heart to tell him his discovery. He knows StrexCorp's pills kept these memories away. He undersands why, Night Vale is dangerous, but he knows he is part of it. He does not want StrexCorp anymore, but StrexCorp is Desert Bluffs. Steve knows he cannot stay here just as he knows Kevin could never leave. Kevin loves Desert Bluffs so very much. Kevin is Desert Bluffs and he, in his simple unremarkable humanoid body, is just as integral part of Night Vale as Hiram McDaniels, the five headed dragon. his unremarkableness was what made him remarkable among the varied residents of his hometown. There was no one exactly like him. That was the reason for his punishment, for not valuing his contribution to the diversity, in body and mind, of the community. Night Vale needed him and now Night Vale misses him.
So, with a heavy heart, one day he walks out into the desert. No one stops him. The StrexCorp employees that guard the road to the gate bow as he passes. We are sorry to see you go, Mr. Carlsberg. You know you may not ever return, Mr. Carlsberg.
Yes, I know.
He keeps walking. Behind him he hears a voice, the last sound he hears before he steps beyond the gate.
Goodbye, Steve Carlsberg. Goodbye from Desert Bluffs.
So Steve Carlsberg walked away from the one time he ever fell in love.