Despite Carlos' grandmother practically nailed in religious texts into Carlos' mind for years and years, he was an atheist.
His disbelief didn't come in the form of trauma or in a moment of revelation. It just happened. Looking back, Carlos knew he only went to church because his parents demanded it of him. He only read the Bible because his grandmother demanded it of him. He still celebrated Christmas, he kept his mother's heirloom of the crucifixion, but he didn't believe in any of it.
And though now he lived in Night Vale and has literally seen angels, ghost ships, and disappearing airplanes, he did not believe.
Bill left the corpse of his double laying right across Carlos. The head was turned towards him, the mouth slightly agape, eyes wide and dead. The small thin lines of dried blood running down the forehead was sickening to look at. Carlos forced himself to look away.
A part of him wondered what he would have done if Bill had just come to him. It was not as if Carlos had a giant Stay Away sign posted at his door. He was more than willing to answer questions. Maybe if Bill had come straight to Carlos with this inquiry instead of, y'know, bashing him over the head, then maybe Carlos could have done a couple of experimentations. Maybe he could have found a way to help Bill.
In the end, Carlos knew it wouldn't have mattered. It was obvious the fifteen years here has taken its toll on Bill's mind. Carlos was fifteen years too late to hlep.
Carlos slept. He thought he slept. Maybe he was just slipping in and out of consciousness from the head trauma. Sometimes he forgot where he was, and would kick out in alarm when he saw the corpse again.
He wondered how Cecil was faring. Did he suspect? Was he scared? Technically, Carlos was only missing for a few hours, that was not enough time to declare him as a missing person. Didn't that need like, twenty-four hours or something? Carlos didn't know. Maybe Cecil thought Carlos stood him up. That was a possibility.
Carlos bowed his head. He hoped Cecil didn't think that was a possibility.
The sudden opening of the basement door jerked Carlos out of his half-doze. He could barely register Bill stomping down the stairs. He was too tired, his head too heavy. His back hurt, his elbows felt like they fell off, and through the thin fabric of his trousers, Carlos could see his knee had swelled twice the size.
Bill kneeled down in front of him and whistled. "Gosh, look at you. You look like crap."
Carlos scowled at him.
"I would offer some water and maybe breakfast, but I am too eager to leave. Come on then. If you promise to be good, I'll buy you Burger King once we get out of here."
Carlos didn't even try to resist as Bill cut the tape. He didn't have the energy to fight back. Bill hauled him to his feet. Carlos groaned painfully, realizing his knee was not going to support his weight.
Bill, the muscled-man idiot, didn't notice and practically carried Carlos up the stairs.
He dragged Carlos out to the garage where the truck was waiting for them. The back was filled with furniture and little nicknacks. Despite his hatred for Night Vale, it was obvious Bill had built a life here.
Carlos was shoved into the passenger side of the truck. The pain in his knee was making his head dizzy and his bit down on his wrist to keep himself from being sick. All he wanted to do was go home.
Bill slipped into the driver's side. "Goodbye, ya stupid old house," he said as he pulled out of the garage and into the street. "I won't miss your stupid random holes, your bleeding mirrors, and the singing doorknobs."
Singing doorknobs was a new one. If Carlos wasn't half-scared out of his mind, he would have asked for more details.
They drove out of the neighborhood, onto the main road. Bill didn't bother asking Carlos to duck his head. Did he not care that people might be looking for Carlos? And as if Night Vale itself was answering his question, they passed a billboard that said in bold letters, "If you see something, say nothing."
Carlos groaned in his seat.
"Not enjoying the ride?" Bill said merrily. He reached for the radio. "How 'bout some music?"
"...and if anyone has any information, please call the radio station! Carlos, my precious Carlos, is out there somewhere and-"
Bill turned off the radio. "Nah, the silence is really good right now."
Carlos turned his head away to look out the window. Despite the circumstances, it was a beautiful day.
Twenty minutes later, they got to the edge of Night Vale. Bill stopped the truck right next to the Night Vale farewell sign (Why are you leaving? Please don't) and just stared at the single road leading out.
"There it is," he said. "After fifteen years, I am finally going to leave."
The road was empty of other cars. None were going, none were coming in. As far as Carlos could see, there was no barrier to stop them. No road spikes, no bumps, no blocks of any kind. The road carried on, disappearing into the distance.
With an insane giggle, Bill slammed down on the gas.
The truck surged forward and Carlos gripped the side panel to keep himself from crashing back into his seat. With a roar, the truck passed Night Vale's border and-
Carlos blinked. He didn't mean to, reflex and all that, but he must have missed something because they were right back in Night Vale. The truck was even facing in.
"No..." said Bill. He put the truck in reverse, stuck his head out the window as he slammed on the gas again.
This time, Carlos made a conscious effort to not blink. The wind from the opened window forced them shut. When he opened them, they were still inside Night Vale.
"NO!" cried Bill. "NO! This isn't how...!"
He tried again and again, putting the truck in reverse and in drive over and over. Nothing he did helped.
Eventually he stopped, put the truck in park and got out. He began screaming to the high heavens, "WHY? WHY ARE YOU DOING THIS? I JUST WANT TO GO HOME! LET ME GO HOME!"
He received no answer.
He ran a hand through his hair, looking wild and almost on the verge of crying when he suddenly looked back at the truck and saw Carlos.
Shit. Fuck. FUCK.
Carlos shoved the passenger door opened and tried to climb out. His knee wasn't having it and even with the adrenaline pumping through him, he collapsed. He forced himself to his feet, tried to limp away but Bill was already on him, grabbing him by the scruff of the neck, and putting him into a choke hold.
"C'mon," Bill hissed, dragging Carlos towards the border.
"NIGHT VALE," he screamed. "I GOT YOUR PRECIOUS CARLOS HERE. IF YOU LET ME LEAVE, I'LL LET HIM GO!"
Bill's large beefy arm was cutting off Carlos' air. He couldn't coordinate, couldn't think between the lack of air and his legs losing their footing every time Bill took a step. He had no idea when Bill finally stepped over the border. If Bill's cry of anguish was anything to go by, it was all in vain.
Bill threw Carlos aside, his screams echoing loudly in the empty space. On the ground, Carlos coughed harshly as he gasped for air. He tried to focus on getting his lungs full of air but a sharp kick to his ribs ruined that.
There were no words this time, no threats. Bill pummeled Carlos with kicks and punches, hitting him in the back, the stomach, the legs, the arms, the head and neck. He grabbed Carlos, hauled him to his feet, only to throw him down again. He did this two more times and on the third throw, a magnificent crack echoed loudly in Carlos' arm. He tried to scream but he had no air to do so.
Finally, Bill pulled out his knife. "Night Vale," he hissed. "I will kill him. Let me go and I'll leave him be. Can you hear me, you stupid fucking town?"
There was only wind.
Carlos couldn't get up. He couldn't drag himself away. He could do nothing except watch Bill come to finalization that he was going have to commit murder to make a point. Bill repositioned the hunting knife in his hand to a stabbing motion, and began walking towards Carlos.
Carlos didn't believe in angels. He didn't believe in God or heaven or hell. In some ways it was comforting to never question his existence, in other ways it was devastating. He preferred to have something he could prove, something he could touch and explain. For him, seeing was believing.
Carlos has seen angels. He believed in Night Vale.
With an agonizing sob, Carlos moved his broken arm over, to touch his other hand. He pressed down on his palm, right over where Old Woman Josie's angel had touched him and he prayed quietly,
There was a strange noise, unlike the constant ambiance vibrations thrumming through Night Vale. It was almost harmonic, like a million little voices singing all at once.
And standing right there, putting himself between Carlos and Bill, was none other than Saint Gabriel himself.
He looked exactly like the depictions Carlos saw in paintings and books. Tall, blond hair, blue-eyed man with a baby face. He wore a blue chest plate, gladiator-like sandals, and hovering just above his head was a shimmering, golden halo. His wings were spread out, so perfectly white and beautiful, Carlos nearly cried at the sight.
In Gabriel's right hand, he held a long dark spear. At the end of the spear, hanging among other trinkets like flakes of gold and bits of bone, was a Ninja Turtles keychain.
Bill stopped in his tracks, unsure if to drop the knife and fall to his knees. He looked to the knife, to Carlos, and then to the road leading out of Night Vale. His lips thinned as he came to a conclusion, and with the knife raised, he charged the angel.
The angel raised its hand, there was a flash of light, and Bill evaporated.
The knife dropped. His clothes fluttered quietly to the ground. He was gone forever.
Carlos didn't know if he should thank the angel or tremble in fear of its awesome powers. He was in too much pain to think rationally. "I-"
The angel held up a finger to indicate silence. Carlos shut his mouth, gulped, and watched in fascination as the angel kneeled down in front of him. The angel gently tapped Carlos on the forehead.
Heavy blackness filtered over his eyes. He felt himself falling, drifting away into a deep, warm void.
Cecil didn't want to let him go.
It was understandable. After everything that happened, Carlos didn't want to be let go. A great deal part of him simply wanted to turn around and walk away and never look back again.
But he needed to do this.
Slowly, Carlos detached himself from Cecil's warm embrace. Cecil reached out to him, wanting to draw him back in. He resisted, keeping his hands to himself.
Though the angel had healed Carlos of his injuries, there was a phantom pain echoing deep inside his bones. His skin felt too tight, his joints felt stiff and old. As he walked forward, he limped.
He was only a few feet away from the border from Night Vale.
Because there was no body to claim, Night Vale's Secret Police said Bill 'didn't exist' and they closed the case. Carlos supposed he could break into Bill's former house and try to find a piece of mail with Bill's full name on it and look him up on the internet.
For obvious reasons, Carlos threw that idea away.
Maybe Night Vale had a good reason in keeping Bill here. Maybe it didn't. Maybe there was something the both of them missed, and if they only taken the time to look for it, they could have come up with a solution. Maybe.
Carlos stopped a mere step away from the border. He looked back to Cecil, who was fiddling with his tie anxiously. Carlos turned back, held his breath, and stepped over the border.
This time he didn't blink.
Nothing happened. He was only a few inches away from the border, sure, but he wasn't transported back inside. So he took another step. And another step.
He kept walking till he was a good hundred feet away. Up ahead, he could see the road signs leading to the main highway.
It struck Carlos he could just leave right now. Keep walking and never return. This could be his only chance.
He glanced over and his shoulder and saw Cecil was standing right at the edge. He would only need to shuffle forward an inch to be officially outside of Night Vale. But he didn't do so much as that. He stayed dutifully inside the invisible line, still fiddling with this tie.
Cecil held out a hand. A silent invitation to come back. To him.
Carlos didn't even think twice about it. Maybe this was his only chance. Maybe Night Vale did like him, as Bill said. Maybe there was a bigger clue involved and Carlos could not see it. He didn't care. Grinning, he walked back to Cecil.
He never looked back once.