Word count: 900
Notes: A while ago sholio gave the prompt "writing on skin". This... was supposed to be in response to that, but actually has very little to do with it.
Summary: In Night Vale, even writing has different rules. Equations come out differently, and spellings change, and all constants are in flux.
Also on AO3
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Letters from the outside world still find Carlos in Night Vale, though he never sees a postman. He can be walking down the street, and there will be a rustling in the air behind him and an envelope nestled into his pocket, white or brown and with his name written on it in ink. Other days he'll wake up to find them on the door mat, lined up neatly, or fanned on the tiny kitchen counter next to his favourite mug.
It scares him, when he stops to think about it; how he takes this as normal now. Letters find him because they have his name on; that's what letters do.
(Cecil, when he asked, diffidently, how the mail is delivered, expressed surprise. It delivers itself, he said, as if that should be obvious. And he went on to tell Carlos about the mail flocks one can encounter out in the sand wastes — pale and dun envelopes swooping and soaring on the air currents, alert for the bright, flashy circulars which prey on them, ripping and tearing them with plastic claws to steal their addresses and leave them as a pile of paper shreds.)
He is still surprised, though, that words from the outside world manage to find their way here, written as they are on factory-produced paper in ballpoint pen or typed and printed from a computer. He gets hit by small jolts of confusion as he reads them — I'd forgotten that professor, or Is it July already? or even I have a nephew?
Night Vale distorts. Night Vale takes things that he knows, that he believes with certainty through to his core, and twists them. Equations come out differently, and spellings change, and all constants are in flux. Clocks don't work but if he listens very, very carefully, sometimes he thinks he can hear the sun tick.
Carlos scribbles his scientific notes on the backs of envelopes using carefully-hoarded pencils and wonders what he'll do when they finally all wear down to nothing. He re-reads them later and the words seem to have changed in order or meaning or something although he can never quite remember how they were supposed to look.
"Do words stay in one place on paper?" he asks Cecil, more to see what Cecil will say than anything. It isn't a particularly scientific method, but it has its merits for all that.
Cecil blinks owlishly. The evening sky is a deep velvety indigo and they're sitting on the hood of Carlos's car, parked just beyond the Moonlight All-Night Diner where the town fades into desert and the desert takes over, perhaps forever. "It depends on the words," he says, after careful consideration. "And how they're used. I mean, can you imagine if the Mayor's press briefings changed after she embossed them? She'd be so angry."
"But some do?" Carlos presses. He's learnt to press because otherwise Cecil can wander onto half a hundred different topics while Carlos is still trying to draw the thread of the conversation back together.
Cecil doesn't mind. "Of course," he says. "It's a good thing, too. Some of the municipally-approved books would be very boring if the ending stayed the same. " He leans against Carlos, claiming one of his hands and entwining their fingers, thumb stroking the inside of Carlos's wrist and tracing the paths of his veins, which are invisible in the dusk.
It should worry Carlos. Writing should be immortal and unchanging: observations and results pinned like specimens to a page, building bricks and walls of evidence, eventually becoming insurmountable as enough words coalesce together in support of the same principle.
But what he breathes out is a sigh of relief, because he's thinking of the letters which find their way to him, and of course it's the words in the inked scraps of news which are changing, not the outside world, or his remembrances of the outside world. They shape themselves into events which never happened, erasing those which did.
(It's getting hard to remember what his off-campus apartment looks like, or his office, or the faces of his supervisors. Even his pictures of family are blurring, fading, images still similar but not quite, never quite the same.
Sometimes he has flashes of childhood memory which are wrong — he didn't go bowling at the Desert Flower Bowling Alley for his tenth birthday, of course he didn't, and he didn't kick a ball around the back of the car lot near Old Woman Josie's house for hours and hours on hot evenings after school. He knows this. But increasingly, when he's just falling asleep, he isn't sure.)
When they're lying against each other in Cecil's bed, the weather outside the window a soft sad song, Carlos thinks about constants, and wonders when he stopped assigning them so much weight. Here in Night Vale one just is, until one is not, and even those meanings scatter like wind-blown sand.
"What are you thinking?" Cecil whispers.
Carlos doesn't answer with his voice, but he traces words with his fingertip onto the smooth skin of Cecil's back. Thoughts, and observations, and then after a while, as Cecil makes soft noises of pleasure, fragments of forbidden poems.
The letters he draws are unseen but he can feel them changing all the same, becoming something else even as he writes. He wonders how fast they're changing him back.
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