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HFTH - Episode 113 - Others

Content warnings for this episode include: Abuse, Ableism, Animal death (birds, Heidi as usual, Beast as usual), Violence, Birds, Gun Mention, Emotional Manipulation, Religious Violence

Intro - Not Human

You are human, and they are not. You know the difference deeper than anything else. It is trouble enough that each day there are drones like black flies clustering in the air over your city, seeking anything that breathes so that they can pull you in and consume you. Was it also necessary for fate, you wonder, to include shambling dead that do much the same, friends and family and neighbors twisted terribly out of form, lost to their identity, lost to your memory?

You are human, and they are not anymore, you remind yourself, and so it must be if you are to keep your people safe. So it must be if one day the ones you love are no longer themselves, and reach out with twisted hand to harm you. So it must be, if you are to survive, long enough to journey to the end of the world, walk into a forest that bids you Hello From The Hallowoods.


Right now I am in a hallowed place. There are colors that only I can see, poetry written in every pine needle, on the underside of every leaf. The stars have turned from white to green, though by haze of the energy above or because there are different stars here, I cannot say. It is not that it is always night in this part of the forest; it is always night in the universe. You simply are not used to seeing it. And while one man walks away to speak with a king, his companions wait beneath the open window of the sky. The theme of tonight’s episode is Others.

Story 1 - What We Started

“I am sorry,” Diggory said. The lumbering shade stood a few feet off to her side, and the crunch of its footsteps made her ear twitch.

“Please don’t disturb me,” Cindy said. She lay on a black blanket, a barrier between her body and the undergrowth of the forest floor, which she had noticed curled around you if you sat too long. One more thing to hate about this wretched place. She peered through the scope of her sniper rifle at the staging ground a thousand feet away, a line that threaded perfectly through the groves of pines and less recognizable trees. “I need to concentrate.”

“I know. But if this does not go well, I fear I may not get a chance to say it,” Diggory said.

“Say what?”

“That I am sorry.”

“What, did you kill someone in our crew and absorb them?” Cindy mused.

“I am sorry for existing,” Diggory said.

Cindy sighed, and looked away from the scope. The revenant’s eyes were an unreadable white haze, but they stooped to sit against the trunk of a jagged tree beside her.

“I understand that it hurts for you to see me. I understand that you regret the circumstances; that your wife made a bargain with Irene Mend. I understand that it would be easier for you if she was gone entirely, and none of her lived on. I did not choose to be made. And if I could, I would be undone, let each of those people that I am made of live again. But it is not in my power. I wish it was. And I am sorry.”

Cindy frowned, and glanced through the scope again. Still nothing; the girl and the witch keeping an eye out a hundred feet from the target clearing. She sighed, and sat up a little, folded her hands in her lap.

“You’re not the one I want an apology from,” she said.

“I’m sorry?” Diggory said.

“I want to hear it from her,” Cindy said. “I’m sorry, Cindy, that I never told you that the price I paid for all my magical information was my flesh. I’m sorry, Cindy that I left you sleeping in our bed and I departed on an expedition without you because I didn’t care whether you wanted to risk your life with me or not. I’m sorry, Cindy that I left you alone for the next twenty years to fight tooth and nail against the entire world. That’s what I want to hear.”

Diggory frowned with Rizwana’s lips.

“I cannot give that to you,” Diggory said.

“I know,” Cindy said, and folded her arms around her knees, laid her head against them. “I think somehow I hope that when I finish this. The mission she died trying to do. That her spirit will see me. And she’ll say, you were right. I shouldn’t have done it alone.”

“Do you think she could be a ghost and a part of me at the same time?” Diggory said, brows furrowed.

“It’s not a literal hope,” she said. “It’s odd. Maybe it’s the part of you that’s her. But you seem more… intelligent, than the majority of your undead counterparts.”

“I have met others who are dead,” Diggory said. “I have learned something each time.”

“It’s not personal, is what I’m trying to say,” Cindy said. “Every day since she’s been gone, I’ve had to live in a world where my fellow humans are trying to market us into insanity and lock us away in silver boxes. A world where machines hunt on autopilot for my friends every day. And a world where at any time, someone could ingest just enough of the blackwater contagion to turn into something grossly unpleasant and try to eat you or rip you apart or digest you outside in. And when you bury them, your friends, they come crawling back to your door. Everything the Stonemaids are, Diggory, has been about trying to make the world what it used to be. Give people their freedom. Give them a world that is safe. And it is hard for me to look at you or Percy or Mort or that Mikey character and not see the faces of every Stonemaid I’ve ever lost.”

“I cannot speak for the dead,” Diggory said. “But I worried for a while that no one would see past these.”

They ran a blackened fingertip across the stitches of their cheek.

“To see who I am beneath them. Or I worried that there was nothing beneath them, and I was empty. But the more time I have spent finding people like Percy. Finding friends. I have found myself as well. I understand that it may be too painful for you to interact with me, much. I do. But if you choose to, I think you and I can help each other. Because maybe it is what lives of her inside me, but I am called north. I am called to destroy that machine. To put an end to this great changing. In that, you and I are alike. And if you come to know me, I hope you will find that I am not Rizwana, or August, or Evelyn. I am Diggory Graves, and I have no choice but to remain so.”

Cindy stopped rubbing her temples, and gave them a slight nod.

“I’ll try,” she said. “I will. Let’s finish what we started.”

She forced the tears to remain in her eyes, and turned back to her rifle.

“Now. What’s taking our fisherman-diplomat so long?”

She lowered her eye to the scope, and caught a rustle in the far-off undergrowth; nearly pulled the trigger as a beast leaped from between two bushes, caught herself at the last moment. It was the decomposing German Shepherd that followed them around, and it dashed around the target area, jagged maw open as it ran.

And then, just behind it, prying the pines apart with its massive weight, was a creature much different than the one she’d been told to expect. No antlers, no hands, and it did have a face of sorts—the skull of a massive bear, tiny green eyes aglow, gigantic claws tearing through the greenery as it thundered out of the woods towards her.

Come on, she thought, still as a stone, finger on the trigger. Nothing I haven’t done a thousand times before.

Interlude 1 - Old Prejudice

In the early days of the Hallowoods, as the black rains gave birth to unnaturally thick groves of pines, wetland cultivated into a lake-filled forest, and the northern shores were obscured entirely, travellers brought many things. Their children, their partners, their close friends. Their weapons and equipment and stores of food. Their trucks and all-terrain vehicles and temporary shelters.

Their prejudices, unfortunately, they also brought with them. Those are a harder thing to leave at home; they cling to the shoulders and rarely announce themselves. They affect one thing and not another; they are illogical, unseen, must make themselves known before they can be unlearned.

But as they say, there is nothing like a few decades of solace and survival to make you reexamine your beliefs about the world, and in this place where the trees watch and the sky sings, all the boundaries of the earth are blurred more each passing year.

We go now to one familiar with prejudice.

Story 2 - How's Italy

“It’s ridiculous,” Marco said, and hooked his thumbs in his belt in a security guard kind of way. “We don’t work for the Botulus Corporation any more.”

“Be that as it may, some people have expressed concern about having you or Brooklyn on our planning committees,” Violet said, and looked apologetically between him and Brooklyn. Her burly wife stood behind her, and mirrored his posture.

“Marco, you don’t need to make this an issue,” Brooklyn breathed, and touched his elbow.

“I think it is an issue,” Marco said, and looked up to the old lady in charge. “Listen, just because we’re from a bit of a different, less survivory background, doesn’t mean we can’t help here. I mean, this is our home too now. We’d like to be a part of it. I can help on the security front, and Brooklyn is incredible at anything logistics.”

Bern raised an eyebrow, and Violet smiled faintly. “I appreciate both of your enthusiasm for getting involved with the Scoutpost leadership. But people are going to need a little time to adjust. According to your own testimony, Botco supplied our enemies with materials. They spied on us for months. And that’s to say nothing of the kidnapping of Riot and Valerie and Clementine’s situation. You can understand some hesitancy in putting some of Botco’s high level employees in charge here.”

“We are not Botco employees,” Brooklyn said, and stepped up beside him, crossed her arms. “And if the Lady ever finds me she’ll probably eat me alive. We have risked a lot to get here, and we’re not asking to be in charge of anything. We just want to help.”

“Like I said,” Violet sighed, and looked at the ground. “Give it time.”

“How much time exactly?” Marco said, and glanced to Brooklyn, half smiled. “Do you have trusting the big bad Botco secretaries penciled in for next Thursday? We might have plans.”

“I think she’s made her point,” Bern said, and stepped up beside her wife. Two on two, Marco thought. He was not sure he could beat Bern in a fight, though. She was meaner than he was. “Let it go. We can talk about it again next season.”

“You mentioned you were concerned about food supplies, if we were on the winter planning team I’m sure we could…” Marco began, but felt Brooklyn pulling on his arm.

“Like she said,” Brooklyn sighed. “Let it go.”

He nodded, and turned with her, left the Scoutpost leadership office. Bern gave him a familiar nod as he went out—the ‘don’t come back anytime soon’ nod, specifically. Day one security material.

“Are there any other communities of hardened apocalypse survivors we could try living in?” he said, and nodded to one of the sewn-together undead as it brushed mud from the walkways. It stared blankly at him as he passed. “I’m sensing some hostility here.”

“I wouldn’t say it’s hostility,” Brooklyn said, and shivered. The weather was chillier than either were used to. Maybe it was the latitude, much farther north than their usual California beaches. Or maybe it was the slow needle of the climate, ticking back towards normality year after year as nature healed from human hands, was cultivated by non-human ones. “But discomfort, absolutely.”

He shed his flannel and tucked it around her shoulders as they walked; kissed the back of her head in the process. “They didn’t exactly mention that in the Welcome to the Scoutpost Community intro pamphlet.”

“I’ll see about fixing that,” Brooklyn said, leading down the ramp. “When you enter the Scoutpost, please be ready for interrogation by a sexagenarian with a loaded crossbow.”

“Housing accommodations include a tacked-together shed complex and old bedding. Moths are complimentary, utilities not included,” Marco added.

“Oh wait, I forgot, I won’t be allowed to make pamphlets because former Botco employees might make the printing machine evil. Never mind then,” Brooklyn said, and paused in the courtyard. Marco looked up to find a few snowflakes drifting through the air.

“Do you want to watch the snow for a bit? I’m not sure I’m ready to be back in our room,” he said.

“Like, stand here in the cold?” Brooklyn said.

“Well, let’s find a better view,” Marco said, and began a walk towards one of the lookout towers that jutted up into the hazy sky. He gestured to the ladder. “Ladies first.”

“How convenient,” she said.

“For safety,” he said. “If you fall, I’ll catch you.”

She rolled her eyes, but stepped forward and began to climb. He followed after her, a few rungs at a time, waited for her to ascend. As she went up, she called down to him.

“Even so,” she said. “There aren’t a great host of other options. The nearest First Nations still intact is almost seventy miles away. We certainly won’t be welcome at Box Polaris.”

“What about the one they have beef with?” Marco called up. “Fort Chastity?”

“Fort Freedom,” Brooklyn said, and stopped on the ladder. “You know, I don’t actually know that much about them.”

“Maybe they’re nicer,” Marco said, and tapped her heel. “Keep climbing.”

Finally she reached the top, and he clambered through the trapdoor after her. He was confronted with a magnificent view—from the little platform with its shelter roof, one could see the massive wooden walls of the Scoutpost, its network of ramps and wooden walkways below, and the wide expanse of the forest beyond it, fading into white as the sprinkle of snow claimed the world.

He was also confronted with a slender man with a scrap of a mustache curled on the deck. The one named Buck sat up, and rubbed at his cheeks, which were wet and red.

“Sorry,” he said. “Promise I was lookin’ out, just resting my eyes for a moment…”

“Oh we’re not the lookout police,” Marco said. The platform was a bit cramped with three people, so he cozied himself beside Brooklyn. “Uh. But while you’re here, we were curious. What did you think of Fort Freedom?”

Marketing - Nevada

Lady Ethel:

I’ve done it!

I’ve finally arrived. A little worse for wear, but I’ve made it nonetheless. It’s alright. I’ll get a new hat, sometime, and… I’m sure there are other wretchedly large flies in the world. Come, Oswald.

And you know what? I’m proud of myself. It’s been difficult, as you’ve heard. There have been ups and downs in my journey. Some days are easier than others. And some days, you grab a marketing drone and you wait for a few more days for a pickup that never comes. They’re ignoring me. But you know what? I’m ignoring them. I don’t need the Botulus Corporation to be Lady Ethel Mallory. I am someone who can do things on my own. Have journeys not related to corporate success. And today, my journey is complete.

I’ve reached Nevada. There’s a sign ahead of me that says ‘Welcome To Nevada. The Silver State’. It looks more beige to me. I suppose there’s more states to reach after this, but I’m trying not to think about that, because god has it taken forever to get to this one. Good job, Lady Ethel. What an accomplishment. What a thing to feel proud of.

Do you want to cross the line with me? Here. One step, and another and another and another, and another and another, and… there.

Goodbye, California.

Goodbye, Box Andromeda, and Box Orion, and Box Cassiopeia.

Goodbye Oswald.

*buzz of a giant fly*

Not you, Oswald. The real Oswald.

Goodbye forever.

Story 2, Continued - How's Italy

Sorry, Lady Ethel. We are already following our quota of people whose lives primarily involve walking to far-off destinations. No room for more! Check back in the indefinite future.

We return now to Marco Torres.

“Can’t recommend it,” Buck said, and looked between the both of them, scooted up to make as much room as he could. Even given the man’s demure frame, the three of their boots still crossed in the center of the platform. “You’re not here to check up on the lookouts?”

“We don’t seem to be allowed for work of any notable capacity around here,” Brooklyn sighed. Her breath condensed in little clouds.

“Why, what’s wrong with ya?” Buck said.

“Having worked for the Botulus Corporation,” Marco said.

“Big old Botco, ey? Yeah. I can feel ya. Folks still ain’t too keen on my bein’ from Fort Freedom.”

“There was a fight of some kind?” Marco said.

“A fight’s one way to put it,” Buck said, and raised his eyebrows. “Suffice it to say, my old gang came this way lookin’ to put an end to their way of life, and when it was all said and done, a buncha them were dead, the Scoutpost got turned into a tree, and now there’s big ol’ Frogsticker hangin’ out around Lurch Lake.”

“That thing terrifies me,” Brooklyn said.

“It probably knows about all the birds you’ve escorted to the Lady’s quarters,” Marco quipped, and regretted it as Brooklyn shuddered. “Here’s hoping herons don’t hold grudges.”

“I hear there’s a truce of some kind, now,” Brooklyn said, moving on. “Is that why you’re allowed to stay?”

“Oh no, I ain’t a part of them any more. Fort Freedom… them folks mean well, I’m sure. But they never meant well for me. When you’re havin’ a hard day walkin’, Fort Freedom says ‘keep up or you’re gone’. The Scoutpost says ‘what can we do to help you keep up’. I appreciate the difference. And Fort Freedom’s churchy folks. I ain’t sure I am so much lately.”

“Well, that’s that one off the list,” Marco sighed.

“How long have you been a lookout?” Brooklyn said.

“A week or two,” Buck said, and folded his hands. “I got shooed out of the kitchen duty by Chef Potts. Thought I’d find somethin’ else to keep the time. Don’t require too much time on my feet. And I do enjoy the view.”

“It’s a nice one,” Marco said, although he was looking at his companions and not the snow. The wind was a little colder, up here, and he had only a t-shirt for comfort, but he was not about to take his flannel back from Brooklyn.

“What about you, how’d you two end up here?” Buck said. The man had inquisitive eyes, Marco thought; the kind that saw a little more of the world than most paid attention to.

“Well, Marco and I worked with the Lady when she was deployed up here. That was how we met, and also our first introduction to the forest,” Brooklyn said.

“She’s that one with the glasses and such,” said Buck. “Fort Freedom wasn’t very fond of her. Thought she was Jezebel of revelation.”

“And a bad boss too,” Marco said. “We started to figure out that a lot of the work we’d been doing was… awful. Or helping other people to be awful, somehow. And the more we questioned that, the less welcome we were.”

“But you escaped,” Buck said. “A lot of people don’t. They sit there and they get comfortable with it. And after a while it stops bothering ‘em. I… I seen some terrible things, as a youngster. And they don’t sit right with me to this day. But the other boys at Fort Freedom, they sleep just fine.”

“I’m not really sure what we’re doing here,” Brooklyn sighed, and tucked her arms inside of Marco’s flannel like a blanket. “Except that it’s the one place on the continent that Botco doesn’t care to reach. The one place where we can make a life for ourselves.”

“I always wanted to travel,” Buck said. “Go to some far-off places. Like Italy. Loved pictures of Italy in the books. You reckon the Italians are alright?”

Marco and Brooklyn exchanged glances.

“Well,” Marco said, “to be honest I doubt it. But I’m not entirely sure. The rest of the world didn’t all hop on the Botco Train like the USA did.”

“Botco avoided anywhere that they couldn’t buy out the government,” Brooklyn said. “And when the rains fell, Botco stopped laying new infrastructure. But maybe. Who knows. We could go to Italy sometime.”

“Let me know if you do,” Buck said, and stared out over the forest. “I could do with a change of scenery.”

“You and me both, bud,” Marco said, and leaned back against the platform rail, watched the snow float down out of space. “A warm beach sounds perfect right now.”

Interlude 2 - All Things Indescribable

I have spoken at length of many of my peers in the Council of Heavens. Of Syrensyr, Reclaimer of Fire, Tolshotol Who Guards A Thousand Suns, and Xyzikxyz, Emptiness Between Worlds. I have spoken briefly of the Endless Storm, and Who Walks Unseen, and The Omniscient One. The Crown of Decay that is set upon all worlds, and Dreaming All That Is whose slumber keeps the universe in existence, and the Black Eternity that lurks where no star dares burn.

And there are some who feel they deserve to be a part of the Council but spend too much time wallowing around in mud to be more than a public embarrassment who shall go unnamed. There are some who abandon their positions and use their powers for mysterious ends, sending messages from insignificant worlds to all things that dream across this universe.

Do not think, however, that just because I have only mentioned these that there is a small quantity of Indescribable Life. The Council assigns domains to a select few, a roster that rarely changes. But the only unifying thread of Indescribable Life, as I describe it to you, is that to fully comprehend its nature would cause you to instantly lose grasp of your own size or place in the universe, and ruin the rest of your days with knowledge of the vast unknown above. The number of organisms that meet that description are as numerous as the stars themselves, and many of them closer than you think.

We go now to a describable being.

Story 3 - Don't Go

“So things are going okay so far?” Clementine said, hands folded beneath her chin.

“Mostly yeah, it sounds like it,” Danielle said. She leaned against the table in front of her chair, and took a pair of scissors to a number of dried leaves, which had been assigned to her instead of precious paper. “They ran into that Mikey thing a little ways in, but he’s left by now. I tried last night, but I couldn’t get a hold of Riot. Maybe she didn’t sleep. Not sure I want to know.”

“You’re keeping Violet and Bern updated with all of this, right?” Clementine said. Danielle’s leaves were transforming into little stick figures and unidentifiable animals, snip by snip.

“Well, all the important details,” Danielle said, and set what might have been a dog or a bear down. “Worried about Riot?”

“Honestly, not as much,” Clementine said. “Riot can probably handle herself. But I just wanted to know anything I should tell mom.”

“Well if I get any more juicy gossip from Riot’s dreams, I’ll share,” Danielle said. “Do you think this looks like a cat?”

“I thought it was a squirrel,” Clementine said. “What are these for exactly?”

“Listen dude. Not all of us are so lucky as to come out of a tube fully formed and perfect. I was stuck from birthing pod to Dreaming Pod and I am just now developing fine motor skills. I’m just having fun,” Danielle said, and frowned. “Crap. That does look like a squirrel. Maybe it’s the tail…”

Clementine glanced up to her mom’s door across the Scoutpost courtyard, and noticed that it was ajar. Little snowflakes were drifting down from above, melting as they touched the ground.

“Hang on,” Clementine said. “I’m going to go check in on mom. I’ll be back later.”

“Take this bunny for good luck,” Danielle said.

Clementine accepted the cut birch leaf, although it more resembled a cloud than a rabbit. She made her way up the ramparts, and pushed gently on her mom’s door. She could hear objects being moved and rattled inside.

“Mom?” she said. “Is everything okay?”

Her mother’s hair was frenzied and frayed, and she stood over the bed, where a backpack adorned with band pins was half-full of clothing. She turned to glance at Clementine.

“Oh yeah,” said Valerie. “Everything’s cool. You can shut the door, please.”

Clementine remained in the doorway, looked down over the clothing assortment.

“What are you packing for?”

Valerie’s weak smile changed into a grimace, and she set down the little radio in her hands, looked over the bed.

“I think I’m fucked up as a parent,” she said.

Clementine said nothing, but she stepped inside, and closed the door behind her.

“I can’t help it,” Valerie said. “When I had Riot I was alone. Taking care of a baby in a bomb shelter. I didn’t have any other moms around. Ralph was out of the picture. No one taught me how.”

“What’s the backpack for?” Clementine said.

Valerie sighed, and turned to sit on the bed, folded a scarf in her hands.

“I’m going to go after Riot,” she said.

Clementine blinked, although she’d already suspected as much.

“Any particular reason?” she said.

“Because you know how it went when she left,” Valerie said, and put her head in her hands. “I was so angry that she’d leave. And it’s not fair to her, to be angry. But the first time she left, I got captured by my self-proclaimed arch nemesis and tortured and manipulated for months. And then she came and got me out of there, which… is incredible. Impossible. But now she’s left again, and I… I just wanted it to last longer. Being together.”

“You’re worried she won’t come back?” Clementine said, arms crossed. She leaned against the wooden wall.

“I’m worried she’ll think I hate her,” Valerie said. “And what if she dies out there and thinks I hate her? I should have gone with her. I should have gone with the expedition. When Rizwana gave me the bunker, it was because she was going out on her mission with Evie, and Evie wouldn’t let me go because of the baby. This could have been my thing too. I should have gone with her.”

“Please don’t go,” Clementine said. Valerie looked up. The fact that she’d said it surprised Clementine as much as anyone, but she cleared her throat, and continued talking.

“Yeah, not talking to her for the week before she left was pretty messed up, and I know that hurt her,” Clementine said. Valerie winced. “But you can apologize when she gets back. Danielle’s checking in on her almost every night. And she knows more about this forest’s nasty creatures than almost anyone.”

“Something could happen to her,” Valerie said. “You can’t tell me that nothing could go wrong. Everything could go wrong. The place they’re going killed my best friend and got her sewn up into a very polite punk monster. What if that was the last time I saw her?”

“I need you here,” Clementine said, and looked down at the floor. “I know things between us are kind of weird right now. I feel like deep down I’ll never be worth as much as Riot to you, and I’m okay with that. I’m kind of not sure I want to be. But I don’t feel like I’m done getting to know you, yet. Getting to know me. And if Riot is walking out there and not coming back, I don’t think it does anybody any good for you to join her doing it.”

Valerie thumbed a tear from her eye, and set the scarf down; she’d folded and refolded it several times.

“It’s not fair,” she mumbled. “I’m going to fail one of my daughters no matter what I do.”

“I think that’s just how parenting works,” Clementine said, and stepped across the room, came to sit beside her mom on the side of the bed. “I’m worried about her too. But she’ll get back home safe. And you’ll get the chance to apologize. It won’t be like the bunker.”

“I hope not,” Valerie breathed, and shifted her backpack down onto the floor. “You’re wise beyond your year, Clementine.”

“Thanks,” Clementine said, and leaned her head on Valerie’s shoulder, and watched the snow fall through the little pane of glass. “I got it from the best.”

Outro - Others

Others. How simple it would be if we only had ourselves to worry about. Proceed through the universe beholding nature’s wonders, and soliloquize only to the unlistening stars, and spend time undisturbed while pursuing questions like ‘who am I?’ and ‘why am I alone capable of thought?’ and ‘what new hobbies shall I invent?’

But alas, we are not alone in this jaunt of life, and the actions we take send ripples through the lives of others like stones skipped across a dark pool. Their paths, too, circle often around to us, and throw us off our intended course without thought or ill intention.

How to live alongside our brethren and form any kind of peace with them? How to fulfill yourself and those around you at once? How to thwart the laws of physics to only give and never take? These are questions for you to worry about. My own aspirations are much larger, and hope to ensure the presence of others at all. Here when all other voices are silenced, I am your loyal host Nikignik, waiting supplementally for your return to the Hallowoods.

The bonus story that goes with this episode is called 'The Other Side' 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!


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