Graphic by Jeanine Lee
This is a story about them. This story about them is a tribute to a story about “Them,” spoken on the community radio of a town whose location is unknown; yet the town has people who live lives, and they all agreed at some point in history to call the town Nightvale.
Nightvale, for those who do not have the clearance of the sheriff’s secret police to know about it, is a town. It is a town with regular town things, like a dog park that is forbidden, a glow cloud that only occasionally drops dead animals on the townspeople, and of course, a community radio station. On the community radio show, the host, a handsome man, details the events and lives of what occurs in Nightvale, as all radio hosts do. However, this story is not about Nightvale. This story is a tribute to Nightvale. To avoid certain legal issues that may or may not involve a five-headed dragon, a faceless old woman and a man in a tan jacket, here is a link to Nightvale. Listen to Nightvale, hail the glow cloud, and read this story, this story that is a tribute to the community radio show.
This story is about them, a story similar to a story about you, or a story about us, even. But for now, only the story about them will be told.
They are not particularly short; however, they are not particularly not tall.
They are of a height that is not uncommon, but reasonably uncommon. They are not skinny, nor are they large. They are of a typical size for a person of their height. Their name is a name, composed of sounds that are produced from the movement of one’s mouth in a particular order. They have a face that is similar to the one that is currently reading this story.
They believe this story should be read out loud. They believe that, in whatever universe their story is being read, a universe where the entirety of their life is just a story, jotted down by some sleep-deprived, probably queer, most likely queer, definitely queer college student. . . it should be read out loud. They wonder why they want their story to be said out loud, but they know it is what they want.
They tell this story to their children, who, tucked into bed, with the safety of monsters under their mattresses, have asked their parent to tell them a story. This is their story, about how they survived a form of haunting. The worst kind of haunting, one that others would perceive as loving, caring, thoughtful even, a haunting that was socially acceptable. This is their story of how they had survived the wooing. As their eyes roll back into their head, exposing white pupiless eyes, they retell the horror they survived, that they, teeth snarling and eyes irises blood red, survived.
It began like any other day. They awoke to the usual sounds of birds singing their songs of war, claiming territory and the right to mate, in vicious, high-pitched tweets and chirps. They rolled out of bed and went to look in the mirror. They saw a face, similar to the face of the one who is reading this, and yawned, going about their daily rituals for getting ready. They dressed themself in clothes that were not tight but not loose, appropriate for work or a bar, and prepared to leave for their job. They liked their job. It was a job that had benefits and gave a steady enough stream of money for them to afford to live where they lived – a modest home that was neither big nor small, just enough for them and maybe one other person.
When they looked out the window they saw a man standing; he was not tall, with facial features common on men such as a nose, and lips, and even a pair of eyes – two whole eyes at that – and he had a large bouquet of blood red roses. They were taken aback by this, when they realized this man who was a height that was not short, like a stretched-out gnome, was someone they knew.
“Work maybe?” they mused to themself as they continued to peer through the slightly ajar window.
The man opened his mouth, and in a voice as harsh as gravel being poured into an ongoing garbage disposal, said:
“Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date.
Sometimes too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often his gold complexion dimm’d
And every fair from fair sometimes declines,
By chance, or nature’s changing course, untrimm’d…”
Before the man could utter more of these obscene words, these words of poetry that normally would bring joy to the person who is key to this story, the person whose face resembles the one currently reading, they closed the curtains.
How had that man found out where they lived? Why had he brought them roses, a flower put on the graves of those who are no longer with us? Was he here to threaten them? Were the words a display of his mastery of English, which would be used to instill fear?
They did not know. They did not want to know. They called into work that day and said they couldn’t make it. Sick, with some common cold they did not want to give everyone. Their boss, fearing a repeat of last year’s flesh-eating virus that only ate the skin on someone’s elbow, understood and gave them the week off.
The next days were the scariest of their life. Disturbing gifts of flowers and chocolates and sweetly arranged baskets of fruit kept showing up at their door. When they told a friend about this, he went on and on about how he wished someone brought him gifts.
“Gifts,” they mumbled to themselves as they barricaded their door and set up an observation booth from their window. They had boobytrapped their front yard and were sure they would not be receiving any more “gifts.”
They began their watch, ignoring the buzzing of their phone, assuming their friend was trying to reassure them they were being “charmed.” They waited day in and day out until it finally happened. The man appeared, bringing what appeared to be some form of small dog with him. Was the dog supposed to stand guard over their house? To make sure they didn’t leave? They would have none of it. As if on cue, the first trap was sprung: a loud bang scared off the dog. The man dropped to his knees, crawling on all fours, yet still in sight, and continued to push forward.
“Persistent,” they thought as they paint black lines on their face, preparing for war. One trap after another, the man kept moving forward, his clothes singed, his face dirty, and his mouth dry.
They looked at this man who was not tall, who had facial features common of men: lips and a nose and, dare they say it, two eyes. He had finally made it to the door, and they, the one whose face resembles the current readers’, knew they had no other choice but to face him head on. Armed with their family heirloom, a short, four-pronged wielding spear, they waited.
There was a soft knocking on their door. “Hello?” the name called in the voice that was unpleasant. “Hey. . .it’s Jim, Jim from work? You gave me your address and number, we went on that date, and you said you liked people to ‘charm and woo you how they did in fairytales.’ I read in a book this was how you charm people. Remember how we went on that date to Arby’s? About a month ago? You know, the one with the lights? Helllloooo? Anyone home?”
They tilted their head back and faintly remembered getting dinner with a man who was not tall, and that the man had been obsessed with fairytales. They also vaguely remembered telling this man they hated fairytales. They had told the man, in a completely sarcastic manner, that old-school wooing was the best kind of wooing. They thought their sarcasm had been reasonably understandable. They had held a large, multi-colored sign that read “I am being sarcastic, this is a joke, I am being sarcastic” in neon flashing letters, as was customary whenever anyone said anything sarcastic. Somehow, this man Jim had conflated the two.
“Oh,” they replied, feeling somewhat silly about having completely forgotten this man.
“Sorry, I don’t feel the same way. . . Thank you though, really can you ummm. . .leave now?” they ask in a voice slightly higher than usual.
The man sighed from behind the door and left. And in that moment, they knew their torment was over. They had survived this, this wooing, this charming, and they knew they would be a better person because of it.
As their eyes roll back into place, pupils once again becoming visible, their children look up at them in awe. Their parent had been a soldier and survived the horror that is being charmed, being wooed. As the songs of war chirping outside begin to soften, the children lie down to sleep, content their parent can protect them. Anyone who can survive a wooing can survive anything.