The Lights Above the Arby's
A Welcome to Night Vale taking Carlos’ point of view of the aftermath of the attack of the tiny city under lane 5. That, and a certain radio host. Cecilos. —————————————————————————————

Carlos didn’t know how he felt.

The blood still seeping through his shirt was a minor distraction as his fingers traced the curve of his car bonnet, one hand limply holding his cell phone. Glowing softly, his words stared at the sky, slowly dimming before turning to black. ‘Come to the Arby’s,’ they read. A little vague perhaps, but the recipient would surely turn up all the sooner for it.

Somehow, Carlos couldn’t focus on the events of the day. A man had died for him - a racist embarrassment, to be sure, but still a man. It ought to have eaten him heart and soul.

Instead his mind was drawn to the local radio host.

Cecil’s constant gushing. How he had called five times yesterday, each attempt at making conversation more unintelligible than the last, finally ending with a “neat!” screeched out of the speakers. Carlos had ignored him after that.

There was the phone calls. There was the way he constantly had to reiterate that he was not gay to his colleagues; the way they raised their eyebrows and looked doubtful whenever it was mentioned. Even when he turned off the radio they would make sure to inform him of Cecil’s words, to the point that he had stopped listening altogether. The radio had playing loudly in the bowling alley. Everybody heard the host’s breakdown, had looked at Carlos with expectant eyes and just a hint of judgement. At the time, he had wished the voice would disappear.

Now it felt as though the man would never arrive.

Red paint warmed under his palms, the hood of the car slightly chilled below him. The weather played in the distance, something sweet and meaningful, far from some of the bizarre tracks the other scientists favoured. A man was approaching in the distance. Judging by the speed at which his figure grew, he was running.

Suddenly, Carlos became very self-conscious, feeling the sticky gore on his shirt more acutely than before, noticing the ache of his wounds for the first time since his escape from the tiny city. His hair was a tangled mess. Cecil’s was not dissimilar as he arrived, breathless, at the car lot. White locks shone in the alien lights above and the weak street lamps, brow lightly covered in sweat. So great was his haste, his headphones were around his neck, wire trailing down his side. Fear and joy were mixed into his expression as he stood motionless.

It surprised the scientist that he knew Cecil’s face so well. Often he had looked longer than was necessary, moving his gaze once he realised what he was doing. Indeed, such fear had never been there before. It was a stark contrast to the normal adoring stare that Cecil favoured.

Cecil walked over, features carefully schooled into neutrality. “What is it? Wha— what danger are we in? What mystery needs to be explored?”

The scientist winced. Naturally Cecil had come to expect the least of everything - after a year of distant conversations held for not-personal-reasons, there was no reason that the radio host would expect anything less. Even so it cut deeply, the fact that Carlos had so obviously held him at an arms length all this time. So he made sure to keep his voice warm as he spoke.

"Nothing. After everything that happened…I just wanted to see you.”

This was the right thing to say. Cecil stuttered out an ‘oh’, voice little more than a tremble in the night. A strange contrast to his rich, oaky tones that sang out from the radio on a daily basis, something oddly wondrous and unique, his words were measured and fearful. Looking up, Carlos thought about the lights above the Arby’s. They seemed threatening at first, and probably would again by tomorrow evening. For now they were beautiful and cozy. Maybe that was all they ever would be.

“I used to think it was setting at the wrong time,” Carlos mused aloud, registering the confusion from Cecil in the silence and directing his gaze towards the sun, “but then I realised that time doesn’t work in Night Vale, and that none of the clocks are real. Sometimes things seem so strange, or malevolent, and then you find that, underneath, it was something else altogether. Something pure, and innocent.”

It was a metaphor for Cecil, but he didn’t have to know that.

Sitting on the hood of his car, with the stars shining brighter than should have been possible, the uncertainty he had around the voice of Night Vale slowly drained away. Cecil had been more forward than most, for sure. His bizarre omniscience had been concerning, off putting almost, and Carlos wouldn’t apologize for his worry. What he would apologize for was his refusal to give the man a chance. It should not have taken him nearly dying to bother looking beyond the obvious. Cecil loved him more than any of the girlfriends of his past ever had - Carlos could see that now; he could appreciate it for what it was as the broadcaster joined him at his side.

Slyly, his hand slipped onto Cecil’s knee. The reward for this was a broad smile and a warm head on his shoulder, partnered with a gentle sigh.

Soft hair tickled his neck, one crop dancing against his ear. A heavy headphone pressed into his side. Warmth seeped into him, out of him, from his hand and his shoulder. Music floated out of the bowling alley still, just out of hearing range.

Something fluttered within the scientist’s chest, an unfamiliar warmth and comfort. Reason stated that it was just a mix of chemicals, a fact of life, nothing special whatsoever. Almost everyone experienced the feeling. This once though, he wanted to believe it was a miracle rather than science. For once, science was the boring explanation. He understood what all the fuss was about, as he traced the otherworldly glowing far above. Carlos smiled.

He understood the lights above the Arby’s.

Carlos:
Hoy conocí a Chavela Vargas.
Extraordinaria, lesbiana, es más, se me antojó eróticamente.
No sé si ella sintió lo que yo. Pero creo que es una mujer lo bastante liberal,que si me lo pide, no dudaría un segundo en desnudarme ante ella. ¿Cuántas veces no se te antoja un acostón y ya?
Ella repito, es erótica.
¿Acaso es un regalo que el cielo me envía?
Frida K.

-Carta de Frida Kahlo a Carlos Pellicer