Content warnings for this episode include: Fatshaming, Death, Animal Death (Heidi as usual), Emotional Manipulation, Blood
Intro - What Goes Unspoken
You do not want to be the first one to say it, and so it goes unsaid, a truth that hangs over your gathering like a cloud, just out of reach of the candlelight. The future is dark, and so far away from this brightly lit gathering of friends and the family you have found. There are many intimacies you engage in, the preparation of food, the playing of games on the kitchen table, the conversations that reiterate the years one more time, but this one is the only that you all engage in together: trying to forget that there is a tomorrow, and that the morning will be filled with goodbyes and see-you-soons.
It goes unspoken that it will be a long time before you see these faces again. It goes unspoken that maybe you never will. It goes unspoken that ahead of you is an uncertain future, and a falling-apart of memories, and a forest that welcomes you back with a Hello From The Hallowoods.
Right now I dwell in a pair of hiking boots. They sit at the corner of a wide assortment of outdoorsing items. Three curate this ever-shrinking collection, one who lists, one who inventories, and one who stands and makes pleasant remarks, but all three engage together in the intimate ritual of packing bags. The theme of tonight’s episode is Communions.
Story 1 - Ready For The Road
“Is that a pulk?” said Jonah. They had taken over the common hall, and he mostly stayed in his corner, tried not to take up space while Hector meticulously laid out items in an organized grid on the floor. Hector’s German Shepherds stepped between the sleeping bags and fire kits, trying not to shift anything.
“It’s a dogsled,” said Hector.
“A dogsled is made to carry a person,” Jonah said. “When it’s just the little one for gear, it’s a pulk.”
“Well, sure, it’s a pulk then,” Hector grunted, as he laid down his dredging lines in neat coils. Jonah had helped him refurbish them since their last use. “Have used one once or twice or hauling… merchandise, during the winter. I figure it’ll help with all the ski equipment we’re aiming to carry.”
“It will be on us to carry for the first leg, though,” said Cindy, organizing her bags on the far side of the floor. If the disappearances of Diggory and Percy troubled her, it did not show in her face, as hardened and serene as a glacier. In some ways she reminded Jonah of Hector, when they’d first met. A survivor. “Until the snow sets in, or we reach the arctic. So we need to eliminate all the weight we can.”
She glanced at Jonah as she said it, but before he could investigate whether the comment might be barbed, Hector spoke up.
“Let’s keep in mind,” Hector said, “That two of our people are dead, and they can lift a lot. So there’s you, me, Jonah, and the kids…”
“And Jackie,” Jonah added, and leaned down to scratch the dog’s chin as she drew near. She closed her eyes and leaned into his hand. “You’ll need food too, won’t you girl?”
“I’m not bringing her,” Hector said, and adjusted the strap of a carry bag. Jonah looked up in surprise.
“Why’s that?” Jonah said. “You go everywhere together. She and Heidi are like family to you.”
“They’re just dogs, Jones,” Hector said, and looked down at the dogs both. “Great dogs, yeah. But if I freeze to death out there, Heidi can walk home. Jackie can’t. And I figure someone has to keep an eye on your ma while you’re gone.”
“I guess that makes sense,” Jonah said, and only detects a semblance of a lie, because it matters so much more to Hector, who has journeyed with these animals for years, and others before them...
Maybe this should have been from Hector’s perspective. Yes.
Hector smiled, and went back to arranging the straps on his bag, and tried not to give Jonah anything to latch on to in the way of falsehoods. Turning also gave him an opportunity to remove a tear from his eye before it became much apparent.
Leaving Jackie behind had weighed on his thoughts heavily, and yet, it was a comfort—that if he did not return, some small part of him would survive, beyond the pickings of dead mens’ pockets that permeated the Dry Market and its customers as a result of his work.
He also did not wish to talk more intimately about it in the presence of Cindy Lockheart, who had appeared out of nowhere, who rarely spoke but always seemed to be judging, who certainly knew more than him about what they were walking into…
Perhaps this sequence belongs to Cindy, dreamer, who listens to two men act as though they know what they are doing.
She runs through lists in her head, skis and snowshoes, tents and sleeping bags, ice picks and climbing pitons. Much she had packed in the chopper, anticipating the expedition—but what she did not have the forethought or the space to bring, items from the Scoutpost’s meager supply would have to do.
And so she went over the list again, and tried not to worry about the fact that the two dead members of their expedition had left into the forest and not returned, and if they could not be relied upon then they would have to ration much more severely to keep packing weight reasonable…
Perhaps it is not Cindy’s story at all, dreamer.
Or… what is wrong with me? I am not usually conflicted. Neither do I struggle to choose which story to tell.
They are selections, chosen scrupulously to lead you from where we began towards a final ending point, obscure to me, veiled entirely to you. The most convenient resting places between today and destiny.
But something else weighs on me, dreamer.
Things are different today.
This narrative is not what it was last time we spoke.
Is this what it feels like to have done something? I have made an irreversible decision, and now I am frightened—whether by the consequences of that decision, or simply because I cannot now go back, I cannot tell.
Would that I knew the future, could tell with each decision that I make whether it is in the right direction, the best possible route to the end I seek.
There are ways, of course, but I am not sure that La Derniere Page Noire covers this sort of thing. I am not well-equipped to try and fall out of the continuum of time, more than I already am by being omnipresent. I could seek out the Blood Cards of Xyzikxyz… but I would need a physical form for that, and they belong now to a new owner anyway.
I suppose I must simply confront the future as you do. You make it look easy, dreamer. Walking into the unknown expanse of possibility one day at a time. It is not unlike the journey that these people we follow are about to undertake, and the hour grows late, and the dawn of the expedition nears.
And they are gathering, now. Hector Mendoza and Jonah Duckworth and Cindy Lockheart put together their bags, assemble the gear you require to travel north into forest and who knows what beyond that.
Riot Maidstone and Olivier Song treasure their last moments together, scan the forest nearby for their friends, but the Museum of Broken Promises leaves no trace of its path as it travels, no trail to follow.
Diggory Graves and Percy Reed wander the rooms of the museum as it travels home, and it is on track to arrive well before the expedition sets way. In fact they may be home for that final dinner, a chance for the Scoutpost and all who dwell there to say goodbye, and pray that everyone at the table will be there again when the spring arrives.
Behind them, tromping through every room, is Mort. Just Mort.
And he is the source, I think, of my present anxieties.
It is not that strange, to have reached down and changed something with intention. Syrensyr has entire offices dedicate to each world with life, that industry may thrive upon them, and their populations bloom so as it to brighter feed his fires.
Tolshotol and Lolgmololg convert living creatures into followers for their own ends, and Ephelzeph and Noptilnopt answer to those who call their name.
Xyzikxyz plays with living beings like toys, prods them into different shapes for her experiments, and releases them when they are no longer of use. Surely it is not any great offense that I have woken up a single person.
And yet, as Polly calls down the hallways with increasing panic, and Yaretzi realizes she can no longer smell the vaguely seawater smell that Mort has, I feel regret.
It is not as though I have condemned Mort to something terrible.
Or that any real harm might come to him.
I certainly hope it shall not...
...but it may.
I cannot lie completely.
And if it did, how would I feel? How would they? Could it be said that Mort’s own initiative carried him thusly, and I only provided the slightest of nudges? Or would I be the cause of any evil that befalls him?
These last moments, a gathering of lights at the Scoutpost, early holidays for the ones that will be missed in the winter to come, candles and ornaments and yule wreaths, a handmade menorah, tiny parting gifts. They are solemn for those who attend, for they know that the light will soon be over, and then a night, and then a dawn that brings separation, and mystery, and loss. It is solemn for me, as I do not know what will happen, and I hope along with them that this is not the last time they will see such a thing.
Their minds, like my vision, drifts north, through pines that are black and then the colors of stellar radiation, where the stars turn and bleed green, where a beach of bones has been buried in ice that stretches out across the horizon, cold and unforgiving wastes stained with black like salt in water, like snow falling through coal clouds.
You would hardly know, here, at the end, that beneath this icy hill there is water, so black and thick that you cannot see through it, and a few thousand feet below, a machine that beats like a heart, reverberating through the shallow ice. True north, in the heart of the magnetic storm.
All they have to do is get here, dreamer.
They only have to cross these miles.
Journey through forest and falling snow, shifting mountain and fragile ice barren, but they can do it. They have feet, and determination. I believe they can. I know it will come at a cost, and perhaps it is cruel to push them in this direction. I cannot see the future, but I do know that if they do not take this chance...
Nothing will happen.
The forest will grow.
The black ichor in the water will be carried up into the sky by the sun, and condense with the clouds, and it will keep raining, until the day that every ocean, every water is thick with the blood of the changing of the age.
Every living thing baptized in the dawn, a sharer in the living communion of the spring. The dead risen, the living changed, the sleeping prophets to speak of the age to come, an eternity in his image, the epoch of green flame...
And I could live with the fire!
It does not trouble me that the emerald light of Marolmar, the corruption of souls, burns on, that the Industry has given up on Earth and flees in his wake!
It does not trouble me that if Oswald Biggs Botulus sends a rocket into the stars, carrying the silver souls of dead astronauts, that a little of the blood of Marolmar will live, in a metal crevice, in a trace upon the windscreen, in a condensation of breath, and that wherever that ship reaches, his grasp will spread.
And again, and again. That the universe might be enthralled in his long-dead artistry, and that all might know his name even though he is gone forever. How sweet to me that would be. How bitter a taste of revenge!
But if that occurs...
If the heart is not stopped...
Then your kind will be gone, dreamer. Extinguished and absorbed, changed beyond all recognition. No more humanity, only the ever-changing, only the ever-new.
And I have come to like you. Just a little.
I think it is important, significant even, that some semblance of you lives on. And if there is any hope of that, the heartbeat must stop. These ice barrens must go quiet, and the waters ever so slowly begin to clear. It will take time. More time than is left in your lives, probably. But you would have a chance. And this story might keep going.
I would like it to continue.
I am not sure that I am ready to let go of it yet.
Even if it means letting go of that final harmonious sound...
And the last thing that Marolmar, glory of all glories, turning of the wheel, spirit of the spring left behind.
This journey is not going to be easy for me, dreamer. But I think it is necessary. For you, and I, and all the universe.
And that is why I have woken up Mort.
Because I am trying to do something right. Something that is not selfish. Something that is not born of grief and ire. Something good.
And if I fail, I hope you can forgive me.
I hope you will understand.
For now, we will leave this beating heart where it is buried.
We will go back.
We will try this story again, and I will do it without complaint, and wherever it leads, I will be with you.
We will return to the Hallowoods.
The bonus story that goes with this episode is called 'Red Stains', and is available on the Hello From The Hallowoods Patreon. Consider joining for access to all the show's bonus stories, behind-the-scenes and more!