I listen to a lot of audio fiction, and there is no podcast bigger right now than Welcome to Night Vale. Clearly the rest of the world doesn’t need me to tell them about Night Vale (since they’re, yanno, more downloaded than This American Life). But too bad, I’m going to tell you about them anyway.
Welcome to Night Vale is the greatest thing of all time, ever. FACT.
I actually learned about Night Vale first by following them on twitter. They would just send these random, awesomely strange tweets, such as:
If at first you don’t succeed, then you will have alerted them to your presence. It is important that you at first succeed.
— Night Vale podcast (@NightValeRadio) June 6, 2014
So here’s fear in a handful of dust. And, uh, here’s my shelf of Xbox games. Let’s see, what else? I already showed you the fear dust right?
— Night Vale podcast (@NightValeRadio) May 14, 2014
Most of the fiction podcasts I listen to follow the same formula: host intro, short story, host outtro. Night Vale is…something different. It’s more like an old radio show, where each episode builds into the next one. The writing is stellar. Anything mentioned in an episode is highly likely to show up again and again in subsequent episodes.
Night Vale is an interesting place. It’s sort of like every episode of the X-Files were true, and everybody knew it, so it wasn’t even worth remarking upon. It’s Orwell meets Lovecraft, and your host Cecil just reports on the daily ins and outs, traffic reports, weather reports, and community calendar. There are Vague, Yet Menacing, Government Agencies, secret police, Lovecraftian hooded figures on the city council, angels, a literal five headed dragon running for mayor, and sentient glowing clouds.
In their own words:
WELCOME TO NIGHT VALE is a twice-monthly podcast in the style of community updates for the small desert town of Night Vale, featuring local weather, news, announcements from the Sheriff’s Secret Police, mysterious lights in the night sky, dark hooded figures with unknowable powers, and cultural events.
Turn on your radio and hide.
Thank god for Night Vale community radio. How else would we know the dangers of the summer reading program? Who else would inform us on the awful goings on in Desert Bluffs? Remind us not to go to (or think about) the dog park? How would we know where to hide on street cleaning day?
My favorite parts are the ads. Just to give you a taste:
You cannot see.
You grope around wildly as your footing is also unstable.
You feel a thin liquid filling in your shoes.
It is not water, you can tell.
A pungent smell of brine or anxiety. Your hand strikes something solid – a wall, you think. It is soft, leathery, but also wet. You keep your hands to the surface and it’s moving in and out, like it is breathing. No. More like spasms.
You hear a dull rumble from above, a gurgle from below, you still see nothing. The walls jerk back quickly, you lose your balance and slide down to the floor which is the same surface, but now the liquid is sloshing past you, something grabs your leg. Something is grabbing your leg, you are being pulled down you cannot see which way madness. Which way madness. You scream but no sound comes from your stubborn lips, your impudent throat. You reach. For what, you do not know, only that you reach. A blinding flash. A moment of understanding. You are in an empty store room, tied to a chair.
There are others, but they are hooded and limp. You recall this living nightmare, you take comfort in its familiar pain. You smell fermentation and can hear a dull unending beeping. Someone shouts in a language you do not know.You love your family. You. Love. Them.
Welcome to Red Lobster.
Come see what’s fresh today!
And, one for Subway:
A thousand ways in, no way out. Eat fresh. Eat so terribly, terribly fresh. Terribly, awesomely, gruesomely, terrifyingly fresh.
Got a home improvement project? Need help?
Having feelings? Strange feelings? Feelings you’ve never felt?
Is your body filled with hot blood, waving curves of sinew, and skin? Can you feel all that blood? Is it even your blood? How can you be sure?
Are you dizzy from it all, all of this? What are your hands doing?
Where are your hands now? Where have they been? Where are they going? Where are you going?
Have you ever broken the surface of something with a hammer? Ever channeled sublime thought into sandpaper? Ever wanted to touch something because you feel things, because touch is the only sense you trust?
What is trust? Is making a thing proof that you exist? Is fixing a thing proof that you have transcended mortality? History?
Feel things? Feel things?
You can do it. We can help. The Home Depot.