And then, you are alone. Just you, and the desert. You stop the car and get out. Pebbles crunch in the sand in response to your movement. The radio murmurs behind the closed doors of your car. The headlights illuminate only a few stray plants, and the wide dumb eyes of some nocturnal animal. Looking back, you see the bulge of light that is your Night Vale. The purple cloud, now floating over the heart of the city, reaches its tendrils in and out of buildings. You hear screams, and gunfire.
You open the trunk and lay one hand on the crate. It pulses with some kind of life. Still no ticking though. You look back. Several buildings are on fire. Crowds of people are floating in the air, held aloft by beams of light, and struggling feebly against power they cannot begin to understand. The ground shifts, like it was startled.
It’s so quiet, when it finally comes. You see the black car long before it arrives. it comes to a halt nearby and two men step out. You don’t run. Neither do they.
“How did you find me?” you ask.
“Everything you do is being broadcast on the radio for some reason. That made it pretty easy,” says one of the men, the one who isn’t tall.
“Yeah,” you say. “I see that now.”
“You have the item?” the man who is not tall asks.
You say nothing.
The man who is not tall signals the man who is not short, and he walks past you, looks into your trunk, and nods.
“Even easier,” says the man who is not tall.
There is an unexpected click. One of the rear doors of the black car has opened, and your fiancée has stepped out. Her eyes are wet, like it was the night you left. She does not appear to have aged, but then, you can’t actually remember how long it has been. Could it have been last week? Or was it ten years ago?
“Why?” she says. “Why? Why?”
You don’t know what to say.
The man who is not short steps up to you, puts a knife against your throat. Nobody says anything. Your fiancée shakes her head. Her eyes are empty, broken, gushing. The radio is saying all of this as it happens. You hear it dimly through the car door. You can’t stop smiling.
All at once, the consequences. All at once you are no longer free. It’s all coming back around, all at once. Life, bleary, washed-out, snaps back into focus. The red light on the tower still blinks in the distance and every message in this world has a meaning. It all makes sense and you are finally being punished. You can’t think of a time you have ever been happier.
Your fiancée abruptly gets back into the car. Neither of the men seem to notice her. One opens the crate with a couple of quick taps, and pulls out of it an intricate miniature house. The hours that must have been spent building it! Every detail is accounted for! Inside the house, you think you see for a moment lights and movement.
“Undamaged,” says the man who is not tall.
You beam at him. The knife presses harder against your throat, but it does not hurt. Your eyes wander up and you see above you the dark planet of awesome size perched in its sunless void, an invisible titan, all thick black forests and jagged mountains and deep, turbulent oceans. A monster. Spinning. Soundless. Forgotten.
It’s so close now. You see it just above you. Maybe even if you tried very hard, you could touch it. You reach up…
This has been your story. The radio moves onto other things: news, traffic, political opinions, and corrections to political opinions. But there was time, one day, one single day, in which it was only one story, a story about you. And you were pleased, because you always wanted to hear about yourself on the radio.
Good night, Night Vale. Good night.