Content Warning: This episode may include themes of birds, drowning, kidnapping and abduction, death + injury, body horror, and abuse.
Intro - One Hundred Eyes
Darker than your dreams, and farther North than you remember, there is a forest where life and death meet. Ladies, gentlemen, and indescribable beings, I have not interrupted your nightmares before. I am the one who watches when you think no one is watching. I am in the shadow under your bed and I know each skeleton in your closet... you have so many skeletons in your closet. I see where you have been, and who you used to be, but I do not know where you are going. Where are you going? I am a guardian of all who dream. I am one hundred eyes in the dark. I am your loyal host, Nikignik, for the first and certainly not the last time, bidding you hello from the Hallowoods.
Right now, I’m sitting in a spruce tree. The ravens are avoiding me – they cannot see me, of course, but they know that I am here. They’re crooked little things, like the cottage in the distance, perched on the water’s edge. Unlike the ravens, the cottage cannot fly away from the endless, rising lake. The theme of tonight’s episode is Keys.
Story 1 - Yellow Boots
Jonah flashed the light nervously across the flooded basement as he waded into the murky depths. He had journeyed into many cold and unknown waters before, but few filled him with as much apprehension as this rippling pool, with papers and childhood possessions floating freely on the surface, obscuring what lay beneath. He knew what lived in the lake beyond, and had no desire to meet their ilk in these cramped quarters. On the other side of the submerged room, the narrow doorway loomed like the entrance to a crypt. His yellow boots slipped unpleasantly on the basement floor with every step, and he took the skeleton key out of his pocket, holding it close like a holy symbol.
“Jonah!” A shriek came from upstairs, and Jonah almost fumbled the key into the water.
“You about gave me a heart attack there, ma!” He shouted back.
“I made those little sandwiches you like, come and wash up!” the crowing voice returned.
“The water’s still coming up! I’m gonna get in dad’s study while I can.” Jonah hollered.
A career sitting next to an outboard motor had damaged his hearing almost as much as the years had damaged hers, so they did a lot of hollering these days. Still, he loved Zelda as much as he had loved his real mother, and her signature dish, picnic sandwiches with watercress, was the flavor of his childhood. There was no response from upstairs, and Jonah turned his sights back to the cramped door, and approached it with a cautious reverence.
He noticed with curiosity that the water was streaming into the study through the cracks in the doorframe, as though there was somewhere to go. He reached out to twist the rusted handle. Perhaps, like so many times before, it would open to reveal his dad stooped over his desk, ready to deliver a stern reprimand about the importance of his work and the irreparable damage that was caused every time he was disturbed.
Jonah had been reduced to tears many times by this conversation, but all these years later, he found some humor in it. His dad had only been a librarian, after all.
The door opened without resistance, and the water swept Jonah into the study. The bizarre illustrations and diagrams that suffocated the walls seemed more sinister by dim flashlight, and the skeletal writing desk sat abandoned. Books and papers had been strewn about as if by hurricane, and the water that was beginning to fill the room claimed them without mercy. Jonah’s attention, though, was taken by a central piece of furniture—a primeval cabinet sitting against the far wall.
It was carved with images that Jonah found greatly disturbing. Flowers, bones, and cresting waves were captured lifelike in the wooden panels, and seemed almost to change between the movements of his flashlight. He wasn’t sure he had ever seen it before, but he was filled with curiosity as he drew closer. Although the cabinet door was closed with a formidable lock, the dark waters surrounding it were seeping through the gaps in the frame into an unknown space beyond.
Jonah realized he was kneeling in front of the cabinet door, his hand wrapped around the ornate key, an antiquated thing with a crowned skull set into the handle. Had Zelda given him this when he started fishing out boxes this morning? Or had it always been in his pocket, waiting for this moment? He could not quite recall, and now he was lifting the key, allowing it to slide with a visceral shifting of mechanism into the lock. It twisted like a breaking neck, and the cabinet door peeled open.
Jonah peered into a black and rippling emptiness that seemed to stretch in all directions and felt as deep as the ocean itself. The fisherman’s instinct in him said that big things were lurking beneath the surface, twisting lazily with invisible movements as massive as the tides. Green light glimmered from beyond like sunlight through muddy water, and the melodies reaching his ears were sweeter than whale song. He crouched in the cabinet frame, transfixed, and barely noticed the torrent of water pouring around his body into the bottomless expanse.
He might have been empty of thought for an eternity, but eventually it occurred to him that lunch was probably ready, and he should wash up.
The peculiar call of the void gripped his head as though it had hooks in his jaw, and he tried desperately to rid his mind of it, struggling to will himself back from the precipice inside the cabinet. He recalled the days spent on the water, struggling to survive in the face of endless storms. He still ached from the memories of clinging white-knuckled to the boat as it crested impossible waves, hoping that he had not already had his last tiny picnic sandwich with Zelda, or the final after-dinner conversation on the porch with his dad. With sudden clarity, Jonah knew that he could not follow the voices into the uncharted firmament.
Jonah stood up, resolutely, and as he did his yellow rubber boot slipped on the stony foundation, and the water rushing into the endless shadow was quick to seize him.
When Zelda peered down the staircase minutes later, a platter of picnic sandwiches in hand, the current had already pulled the cabinet door shut, and her panicked calls went unheard in the dark.
Interlude 1 - Mr. Friendly
Attention, dreamers: an opportunity for a rare wildlife sighting. If you reside in the Southeast Hallowoods, keep an eye out for Mr. Friendly, the squirrel.
Every night as you fall asleep you watch the tree branches shifting in the wind outside your window. They drift back and forth across the starry sky, withered arms reaching up from the earth. Tonight you notice a dark form nestled between them—it has the body of a man, with bony fingers, a long bushy tail, and eyes that glow like emeralds in the dark. His huge incisors crack bones like sunflower seeds, and he spends the summer months hoarding food for winter.
Sometimes the food still screams as it is dragged back to his stockpiles deep in the forest. Squirrels are very good climbers, so you may hear these stashes howling from inside great, rotted trees. He likes to climb up the branches outside your window and watch you as you sleep.
Don’t worry—like all squirrels, he can only hurt you if you notice that he is there. The incredible wildlife is just one part of the great natural beauty found in the Hallowoods. We go now to someone who does not know this.
Story 2 - A Little Embroidered Tag
Diggory Graves only knew three things. The first was that their name was Diggory Graves. They were alone when they awoke in the sunken manor, but the black jacket laid out nearby fit them perfectly, and it said ‘Property of Diggory Graves’ on a little embroidered tag. The spikes on the shoulders looked as vicious as Diggory felt.
The second was that they were dead. It had taken them some time to work that one out, but there were plenty of clues. The stitched-up scars that ran across their waist, around their wrists and up the back of their neck spoke to this, as did the lack of breathing or a pulse. They weren’t sure how this left them able to stumble along in the bleary daylight, but they felt if they questioned it too much, they might unravel completely.
The third was that they were looking for something. Had it been days or months since they had first started their gloomy march across the bogs and pine barrens? They had encountered a shed with broken windows and an overturned car consumed by rust, but neither of these satiated the deep hunger that was consuming Diggory. Ahead, between the trees, Diggory caught a glimpse of a house, and stopped in their tracks. Perhaps this was what they were looking for.
Diggory stalked soundlessly towards the cabin, brushing matted hair away from their gleaming white eyes. The sun was disappearing beyond the distant trees, and Diggory could see so much better at night. There was no light in the home’s lifeless windows.
With a wolf-like curiosity, Diggory hazarded the steps up to the front door, and gave it a cautious push with a blackened hand. The warped wood groaned as the door stretched open, and Diggory crept inside. The room around them was in decay, like the carcass of an animal sinking into the forest floor. A moth-eaten sofa was falling through buckled floorboards, and yellow wallpaper peeled from the beams like dead skin. As their eyes adjusted to the utter darkness, Diggory could see that the wall beneath was covered in ragged letters, burned over and over again. ‘Let me go, let me go, let me go’. The door slammed shut behind them.
Immediately Diggory spread their blackened claws and bared their rotted teeth in a snarl, and as they did, caught a glimpse of someone standing in the corner.
The boy was barely visible at first, a figure caught a little differently in the shadow. He stood menacing and still, and then began incredibly to glow, dim white light cascading around his figure. Diggory winced in the brightness as details materialized—the boy’s stiff collar and torn clothing, his drifting hair. His lips were stitched together with a rough thread, and his piercing eyes blazed in Diggory’s direction. Diggory stood captivated, and lowered their clawed hands, even as the boy became several feet closer without taking a step.
“Hello.” Diggory struggled, forcing air through dusty lungs. “My name is Diggory Graves.”
The boy stopped, casting flickering light across the ruins of the parlor. His eyes were smoldering shadows, and they met Diggory’s blank white gaze with unspeakable contempt. Diggory outstretched a scarred hand in greeting and whispered again. “It’s nice to meet you.”
The boy made no response, face contorted into a remorseless mask. Without taking a step, the boy moved closer to Diggory, and Diggory jolted back instinctively, bumping into something large and immobile. Whirling around, Diggory realized they were standing in front of a grand piano with keys as white as bone, each section of woodwork intricately carved. Diggory let out an agonized cry as every seam in their mind threatened to tear. Not now, not now, Diggory thought, as they were pulled into an utter darkness, with the ghastly boy standing over them, staring down with cruel and merciless eyes.
Marketing - Recommend A Friend
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Story 2, Continued - A Little Embroidered Tag
Dreamers, I apologize for the interruption in my broadcast. This series of nightmares is purely educational and no advertising was scheduled. We return now to Diggory Graves.
For a moment, Diggory was lost. They were a boy at a piano, learning how to play. He was distracted by the lady in the corner that nobody could see. They were a girl playing a keyboard, accompanied by friends on the drums and electric guitar. The illustration on the bass drum said ‘Stonemaiden’, and the crowd roared as she played the final note. They were a world leader on her wedding day, and her wife-to-be was breathtaking in a black suit, black like the piano on the terrace behind her, black like the storm clouds looming closer and closer in the sky. She’d known an outdoor wedding was a mistake.
When Diggory opened their eyes, the see-through boy was sitting on the floor, rocking back and forth. As Diggory sat up, the boy turned to look at them, and ichorous smoke no longer poured from his eyes—they looked pained, and sad. He pointed with transparent fingers at the piano, and Diggory noticed the boy’s wrists were circled with wire that trailed into nothingness. Diggory stood up to inspect, and in the center of the instrument, above the keys, tarnished gold letters were set into the wood.
“Persephone.” Diggory read, and the boy was standing next to them then, very close and shaking his head urgently. He put a finger in the middle of the word.
“Perse. E. Percy.” Diggory tried again, and the boy nodded, moving to sit on top of the piano.
He tracked Diggory’s every movement with his piercing eyes, and Diggory wondered if he was twenty years old or two hundred. Diggory reached out their hand, and found it playing a simple melody on the keys; a melody that Diggory did not recognize, but somehow it spoke things that Diggory could not express. Something stirred in the chasm of Diggory’s soul, and sparked warmth in the cold cavity of their chest.
“I’m sorry if I disturbed you, Percy. I’ve been walking—I have always been walking. I have not met anyone else. I am glad to meet you.”
Tremors of emotion crossed Percy’s face, and if the stitches in his mouth pained him, it seemed as though the absence of speech pained him more.
“Do those hurt?” Diggory said quietly, and wondered how they must appear to someone else, wrapped in spikes and leather, hair a tangled mess across their face. They raised a hand, stitched and scarred, each finger a blackened knife. “I can help. If you want.”
Sparks of white light welled in Percy’s eyes, and for a moment the anger in them was quiet.
Diggory reached out a finger, attentively, to Percy’s face, and Percy did not turn away. Where the claw would have brushed Percy’s lips and severed the binding threads, it pushed through Percy’s jaw, rippling in its surface like water. Diggory tried again, but the threads were as intangible as the boy, and Percy raised his hands gently to stop Diggory’s. They passed through Diggory’s wrist as Diggory gave up.
“You’re not quite here, are you?”
Percy pointed towards Diggory, then towards the piano. Urgently, the boy slammed his fist in his open palm, waiting for Diggory to interpret.
“You want me,” Diggory questioned slowly, “to break the piano?” Percy nodded, a strange relief crossing his face.
“What will that do?” Diggory was not sure they wanted the answer.
In response, the boy grabbed the coil of wire around his wrist and pulled on it. Light fled along its length from his body, illuminating it as it trailed in tangled circles across the floor and finally into the bowels of the piano.
“You can’t leave.” Diggory breathed, watching the coils pulse on the floor. “Breaking the piano will let you leave?”
The tired look on Percy’s face did not confirm this.
“You will be gone.” Diggory whispered.
The spectral boy simply repeated the crushing motion, and Diggory weighed this heavily. They were realizing with each passing minute that the all-consuming hunger within them was at peace in Percy’s presence. They could stay like this, Diggory thought, in the darkness of this house. They were timeless, ageless, dead and forever alive. They could stay here until the suns stopped rising, until every memory had returned to them and the emptiness within their chest was filled with warmth and life.
“Percy, I have been alone as long as I can remember. I did not know that I was alone until I met you, and I came to understand how impossibly lonely I have been. And I hoped, when I met you, that I would not be alone again.”
Electric tears sparked in Percy’s eyes as they turned away, and Diggory continued, hoping that their matted hair obscured the emotions on their face.
“But that does not matter. This is a miserable place, and you deserve to be free of it.”
Percy looked up at them. Diggory nodded. “Show me what I have to do.”
Diggory Graves knew three things.
The first was that their name was Diggory Graves. They knew this because they’d introduced themself to a stranger that way, and it had fit them perfectly.
The second was that they were dead, on the outside. But something had stirred in them that they had not known they were capable of, and it felt very much like living.
The third was that they had found what they were looking for, and they had found it in the blazing light of a burning house and the joyful eyes of a dead spirit. Above them, the moon was huge and blood red in the sky, pulling them onwards into the night. Diggory held the gleaming white shell of a single piano key in their hand as they walked away from the inferno. When their memory finally unraveled, they hoped, they could hold it and recall the ghostly boy who danced on a flaming piano, and the first time they had known an absence of loneliness.
Interlude 2 - Waking Up
Dreamers everywhere are waking up. They know that the horrors of the night are almost over, and a red sun is rising on a new age.
Its light gleams on the still marshes of the Northern Hallowoods, where dreamers lie beneath the water wearing crowns of lily flowers. It reflects on the silver Dreaming Boxes in their cornfield wastelands. It calls on the black oceans, where old things sleep in forgotten trenches and dream of their once-proud kingdoms. Even as a distant point of light in an endless sea of light, it shines on the dreamers that make their nests in the rings of Saturn and those that have always been sleeping, hibernating in black holes and in the void beyond the stars.
Dreamers everywhere are waking up, because a red sun means death for some, and opportunity for others. As they wake, they look to the Hallowoods, where the red sun looms large in the sky, where the night is over at last, where it is morning. We go now to one who hates mornings.
Story 3 - Quiet, Riot
Riot was not happy that it was morning. It meant she had fallen asleep, and that could have been a deadly mistake. She cracked her neck, rubbed her buzz cut, picked up the spiked bat beside her, and listened. Great toads and crickets complained to the sunrise as usual, but there was no music. She breathed a sigh of relief, which turned into victorious laughter. She had done the impossible. She had outrun the Instrumentalist. If her mom could see her now, she’d apologize for trying to keep her in the bunker—and Clara was going to be so proud.
With a sudden realization she reached for the key in her jacket, took it in her hand to make sure it was real. It was an ornate skeleton key with a skull wearing a crown of flowers set into the hilt, and she whistled. Last night had been a real close scrape, that was for sure. She stood up in the shed, glancing out of its broken windows. No one to be seen, just the way she liked it.
She pulled apart the makeshift barricade from the door and stepped into the bright morning light, twirling the bat. The RV wasn’t too far away, and if she hurried she’d catch Clara still sleeping in the morning light. She was in the clear, and it felt like winning.
Then a long, deep cello note rose like a hunting horn from the forest, and a flight of birds took off from the trees, and then Riot was running as fast as she could. She darted between the pines in a mad rush, but a set of violins had joined the cello, screaming for blood, and the notes of a deathly piano were coming from somewhere beyond her line of vision. They were growing louder each passing second.
“Your music isn’t even good!” She shouted defiantly, and ducked behind a large tree, holding her breath. It was in her head now, and she couldn’t stop it—the percussions were rattling her skull, and a crowd of trumpets surrounded her. The orchestra was loud and it was close. She tried to quiet the drumming of her heart and her pounding lungs, and played the game where she pretended she didn’t exist.
Quiet, Riot. You’re nowhere, nowhere at all. There’s no music, there’s no fighting. There’s nothing, and you’re nothing.
The music’s great swells broke over her like an endless tide, but as quickly as they had ascended, they were gone. The echoes of the sound disappeared into the trees, its final notes whispering between the pines.
She sobbed for breath as she stepped out from the tree, and huge hands with fingers like violin scrolls reached from behind her, and Riot’s world was plunged rapidly into darkness.
Outro - Keys
Keys. There is much comfort to be found in keys. They have a familiar weight in the pocket, and they represent a guarantee—access to something hidden, or the safety of something you treasure, or that your home will still be the same when you come back to it. In other senses of the word, it is a note and an emotion in a wide spectrum of both.
Dreamers, today I have given you a key—a glimpse through the locked door of reality into a most important place and time. You may hold these memories in your pocket, appreciating their familiar weight, until one day you encounter the door they were designed to open. Dreams are powerful things—they signify truths we may not yet allow ourselves to believe. You may return now to your usual dreams—I suggest the one with the teeth. I enjoy the one with the teeth. For your nightmares now and future, I am your loyal host, Nikignik, waiting with anticipation for your return to the Hallowoods.