Night Vale is a very beautiful town, if you look at it with the correct eyes. Preferably compound eyes capable of picking up the infrared spectrum.
Some eyes are so incorrect so as to skip past it entirely, seeing nothing but sand and cacti and the occasional scorpion. For example, the eyes of the satellites employed by the US Government. "But," you might say, "satellites don't have eyes!" and I would say to you, oh ye of little faith: you have no way of knowing that.
Have you ever seen a US Government satellite? I doubt it. And on the off chance you have, you probably had no idea it was a US Government satellite. They've been making fully intelligent satellites for decades now, disguised as none other than perfectly ordinary humans. Shocking, I know.
Most eyes are neither completely correct nor completely incorrect. Eyes exist on a sort of Kinsey Scale of correctness/incorrectness, and there is also a small (but still significant) percentage of eyes in the population which are, shall we say, a-correct.
Eyes in the middle of the scale, twos and threes and fours, they see Night Vale in ways which, well, honestly? I don't know. It's all very relative. Even if you're a two on the Kinsey Eye Scale and so is your friend (whose name is Julie), how can you know that you're seeing the same thing? Everything outside of your mind is, after all, not really outside of your mind at all, but rather your brain's best attempt at a reconstruction of it, like wiped tapes of some old black-and-white programme reconstructed with telesnaps and illegally-recorded audio. What if for Julie, whose eyes are in every scientifically verifiable way identical to yours, purple is really orange, and vice versa? What if that large box on the corner, the one that says "Police Public Call Box", is really the colour of dead grass, and you only see it as a deep, beautiful blue because your brain colourised the telesnap incorrectly?
That box wasn't on the corner yesterday. I wonder if it's a marketing campaign of some sort?
Oh. Oh, dear. The large blue box on the corner, which wasn't here yesterday, is opening. A figure is stepping out. Oh, no! Two figures! A third! How many figures can fit inside of a box that size? It's large, but it doesn't look that large. I would almost say it's dimensionally transcendental, except of course that the City Council outlawed dimensionally transcendental technology years ago, after Euler's World War.
Oh, I'm really sorry, I should be more specific, shouldn't I? I'm working on that, you know, my Weird English teacher says my essays never have enough detail in them, and she hasn't given me a grade higher than ∑ this semester, not even when I spent ages rewriting my essays over a dozen times to give them more detail! I don't think she likes me very much, to be honest.
Anyway, when I say "figures", I of course don't mean hooded figures. That would be silly, after all, considering they don't exist, and we were instructed by the City Council to never, ever think about them or acknowledge them in any way. I'm a law-abiding citizen at least 98% of the time, and that last two per-cent is just because when I got my tonsils out last year I wasn't allowed to eat pizza for a week, so I couldn't have my mandatory slice of Big Rico's.
It was all fine, I mean the Sheriff's Secret Police gave me a pass and everything, and it probably wasn't even because my dad's on the SSPF! But I was sad I couldn't have my mandatory slice of Big Rico's. No one does a slice like Big Rico's. No one.
The figures look like pretty normal people, really. One of them has breasts and is wearing a really cute mini-skirt, and, wow, they've got bright orange hair! Or what my brain has reconstructed as if it was orange, as I personally experience orange, anyway. I've never seen a person with orange hair before, it's really cool.
Speaking of cool, one of the other figures is wearing a bow-tie! That's, like, the coolest thing ever. I love bow-ties. This figure has a tan jacket with leather elbow patches, heavy black work boots, and slightly-too-short trousers. They're shorter than the figure in the mini-skirt, and are flat chested. Their hair is not, unfortunately, orange, but I guess you can't have everything.
The third figure is very plain, with brown hair and jeans and a big nose and an even bigger hand. It's bigger than their head! Wait, wait, no. Their hand isn't bigger than their head, sorry, it's just that they're pointing at me. They're saying something to the other two figures, but I can't get a clear enough look at their mouth to tell what it is.
All three figures are looking at me now, and the one with the bow-tie is waving cheerfully. I look around, and the street is full of people, so I figure it can't be too dangerous to go closer to the figures—no, not figures, people.
"Hello!" the bow-tie-wearing person says. "I'm the Doctor! Wait, no, I'm the Doctor, not you… No, I'm very sure it's me actually, I've been going by that name for over a thousand years. What, you? But you're no older than fifteen! Oh, you're not—I see. Why are your parroting everything I say, then?"
"I'm practicing to be a radio host one day," I say proudly. "I'm not allowed to apply to become an intern at the radio station until I'm seventeen, but I asked Cecil Palmer and he said that practice makes perfect, and that that's how he learned to be so good at hosting the radio, and he's an expert so of course he would know."
The bow-tied person—the Doctor—nods, taking this in. They have a weird face, like it doesn't want you to look at it too closely.
"Oy," says the Doctor, "I do not have a weird face!"
"You actually kind of do," the jeans-wearing person starts, but the mini-skirted figure talks over him.
"What do you mean it's like his face doesn't want you to look at it?" they say sharply. "Faces don't do that!"
"Oh, are your pronouns he/him/his, then?" I ask the Doctor, who makes an "ish" motion with their left hand.
"I don't really care about gendered pronouns too much," they say. "My language hasn't got them. Pronouns, that is, not genders. We have genders. Or, some of us, anyway."
I nod thoughtfully, and turn back to the mini-skirted person. "You must not have met very many faces," I say. "Some of them are shy, you know! I've even met one face who was agoraphobic!"
The mini-skirted person makes a weird face at me. Unlike the Doctor's, their face itself isn't odd, only the expression on it is odd. "Faces," they say, "can't be agoraphobic. They're faces."
"Oh, your eyes are a-correct, aren't they!" I gasp. "Oh my gosh, I'm sorry! I shouldn't have assumed, that was terribly rude of me." I bite my lip in trepidation. "You guys are new in town, right? End of the week is in just a couple of hours, so you'll need to have your mandatory slice of Big Rico's if you don't want to be taken in by the Sheriff's Secret Police."
The mini-skirted person and the jeans-wearing person gape at me. They must be from very far away, if they don't know how a democracy works.
"I was just on my way there now," I continue, "do you want to come with me? The bill's on me."
The mini-skirted person almost looks about to turn me down, but the Doctor nods gratefully. "Yeah," they say, "I think we do."
A few minutes later, we're all sitting down in a booth at Big Rico's. The three newcomers are reading the plastic-coated menus, the mini-skirted one (whose name and pronouns turn out to be Amy and she/her/hers, respectively) and the jeans-wearing one (Rory, he/him/his) occasionally commenting on the oddest things.
"Wait," says Rory, "why is everything gluten-free?"
I frown at him in confusion. "Well, you wouldn't want to eat poisonous snakes, would you?"
"No, but I don't see what that has to do with anything—"
"The flour turned into poisonous snakes," I explain. "After we got all the snakes out, the City Council outlawed flour, just in case."
He stares at me for a moment, but then goes back to reading the menu.
Rather than look at the menu—I have it memorised—I look at the Doctor, peering at them and their weird face, and I finally realise what's off about it. "Why do you wear a perception filter?" I ask them. "Are you self-conscious?"
Amy frowns at the Doctor. "Perception filter? Like what the fish lady had?"
The Doctor stares down at the menu awkwardly. "I don't exactly look human," they say, finally.
"Well why didn't you just come out and say that, Raggedy Man?" Amy says with a fond sort of anger. "We know you're alien, why should we care if you look like it?"
"I've just gotten in the habit," the Doctor mutters, "and the shimmer isn't that uncomfortable, really."
That's the wrong thing for them to have said, apparently, because Amy goes fully maternal then, going on about how if it hurt at all, they shouldn't wear it, and that she'd accept them no matter what they looked like. The Doctor is in something of a corner, unable to argue against taking off the perception filter without fighting what Amy'd said.
The waitress comes up to the booth; she's a friend of mine from school.
"Hey, Suzie," I say with a flirtatious grin. "Four slices of squid pizza, please."
If the newcomers are going to be too busy with their personal issues to decide what they want, I fully reserve the right to order for them. It's my money, anyway.
By the time Suzie comes back with the pizza, Amy's convinced the Doctor to take off their perception filter, and they're really very pretty underneath it, with six shiny blue-green eyes and pale orange skin. They hold their pizza with two thin tentacles the colour of autumn leaves, and they hold both Amy's and Rory's hands, their extra-jointed fingers intertwined with those of their human friends'.
"You know," says the Doctor, "usually there are people screaming by now," and it takes me a second to realise they're talking about their appearance.
I take a sip of my soda. "Nah," I say, "not here in Night Vale. Everybody's different, except when we're all the same, and that's exactly how it should be."
Rory frowns at that. He frowns at most things I say, it's really kind of cute. Like a confused paper bag. "'Except when we're all the same'?" he repeats. "How does that work?"
"Well, you know the saying, 'you are what you eat'," I say lightly. "We all eat Big Rico's once a week. We're all Big Rico's once a week, and Big Rico's is us."
"…ah," Rory says, a bit weakly, looking down at his half-eaten pizza. "And this is…?"
"Squid," I say encouragingly.