Content warnings for this episode include: Abuse, Animal death (Dogsmell as usual), Suicide (implied), Violence, Kidnapping and abduction, Death + Injury, Blood, Religious Violence, Transphobia, Homophobia, Birds, Gun Mention, Strangulation/suffocation, Misgendering, Emotional Manipulation, Body horror, Car Crashes, Forced sedation, Isolation, Restraints, The Quilt being a skeleton wrapped in skin strips as usual
Intro - Always a Spirit
You were always a spirit. The difference is that before, you were wrapped in exhausted flesh, spent year by year beyond its means, and you clung desperately to that grim plane of life because it was all you knew. You do not regret that you stayed. That you tried every day to make the most of your brief time, unknowing what the darkness beyond it held. What else could you have done? When the storm called you North and offered you sleep, you denied it, and you marched to the ends of the earth under no one’s song but your own.
You have of course, died, all the same. Always above you there is the call of the sky, the yawning void of the heavens beckoning you up, into the forever. What sights might await you in that starlight? Perhaps that is the eternity that was promised; to travel into the night until the fire of your spirit itself burns away. But you can not bring yourself to go far. You cannot escape a forest you know well, a forest that thanks you with a Hello From The Hallowoods.
Right now I am not in a blizzard of titanic proportions, spinning wildly over the surface of a warped arctic circle, freezing the ocean into a frost-encrusted mantle to drive the shadow that lives there far into the depths, buy a few precious people a few precious moments at terrible cost.
No. I sit in a tree full of blossoms overlooking a garden feast. The day is bright, and no one knows yet the darkness that the future holds. The house beyond the garden is painted white, and no one knows yet the fire that will claim it. A boy sits beneath the trellis, although no one knows yet the name he has chosen. The theme of tonight’s episode is Haunts.
Story 1 - Falling Upwards
Percy was not opposed to parties in principle. He had been to two or three of them now, and although he’d felt a little awkward at each one, and the noise had been too loud and the music unfamiliar, he had enjoyed the smallest glimpse into the lives of other young adults his age, or more accurately, people who had been given the chance to be young.
It was more the company, he thought, that made a party worthwhile, and when the company was all family friends from former churches, it was bound to be extremely dry. And so he sat beneath the trellis, where there was a slim amount of shade to hide him from the heat of the Alabama sun.
“What are you doing over here?” whispered something evil in the wind. He looked over to find his mother approaching.
“Just… enjoying the lovely breeze,” he said.
“You should be socializing. Saying hello to people,” she said, a paper plate and a slice of cake in hand. She seemed to be holding it more for show than because she actually liked the taste. “They came to see you.”
“They came because they remember you from Church and none of them turn down any event with free food,” Percy mumbled.
“Speak up,” his mother replied. There was a glint in her dark eyes that told him she had heard him perfectly, but challenged him to say it again.
“None of my friends are here,” Percy said. “And you don’t even like any of these people.”
Percy’s mother frowned; the natural expression of her face.
“You’re being very rude,” she intoned. “Likely the influence of your so-called friends. These are good people, Christian people. Friends of your father.”
“Oh yeah, and where is he?” Percy said, and glared up at her. “You don’t have to say it. He’s busy, he’s always busy. The church has got him working on exciting volunteer opportunities. Jesus Christ, can we not just pretend to be a normal family for one day? For me?”
His mother knelt slowly next to him in her clinical white skirt; she dressed like a nurse even when she wasn’t in the hospital. She stared him right in the eyes, winced to see the anger on his face. She chewed on her lip for a moment, and sighed.
“Watch your tongue,” she said. “Your father wouldn’t tolerate that kind of foul language.”
She handed him the plate with the cake. Percy looked down, and accepted it. She remained there for a moment, hovering, purposeless.
“Fuck it,” she said. “It’s your party. You only get one day a year, for Christ’s sake. I’m going to banish these awful people from our backyard and then we’re going ice skating, how about that?”
At least, Percy liked to imagine, when he looked back on it, that was what she said. And sometimes he lingered there longer, imagined that she hopped up on the folding table and kicked over a gallon dispenser of the disgusting iced tea that his father liked, and shouted for all the guests to leave, the party was over. He imagined that they drove down to the dilapidated ice rink, cool inside despite the hundred-degree weather without, and that she followed him with trepidatious steps onto the ice, and he watched her smile in between terrified gasps as she rediscovered what it was like to fly.
He was not sure if it would have made it better when she took to locking him in his room later, she and his father falling prey to their own individual obsessions. When then the sedatives began, snuck into his food, and then the restraints, and then the silence. Finally she had her quiet house, and then there was that terrible sound of the thunder outside, and a call in the storm that he could not respond to, as much as he wished he could rise from his bed and walk.
A gunshot in the kitchen below took with it any hope that he would ever be rescued, and when his father returned—gone for weeks, or months, he could not remember, a rescue it could hardly be called. Yes, Percy had been untethered once before, although he had hovered over his body, unable to bring himself to leave the room, frightened of his own corpse drying out before his eyes, frightened more of the screaming void beyond his window.
He still remembered it; the green light of that cabinet glinting in the nameplate of the piano. He wrote the wrong name on the piano’s surface. Terrible things, he watched, as the collection grew, and his father, stronger and faster and meaner than he had ever been, brought his collection north. Percy was reborn in the light, pulled down from the gravitic void of the sky to forever be anchored to a weight he could never lift.
But others could lift it, and they did, when by chance a scavenging family found a moving van left temporarily unattended. His father had errands to run, finding a suitable home in the north to steal, somewhere close enough to attend the new seat of the Church. And in a flash, Percy was not confined to the darkness beneath his tarp, but the light of a glowing family in a small cabin in the lonely forest. There was nothing in him by then but misery, and he proclaimed it at each opportunity, needed to make it heard that he suffered. But his messages and his wrath did not help; in the end, he was left in the dark again, the house abandoned, the Alders moved on to friendlier abodes.
Pale eyes, peering in, hidden beneath a nest of thick dark hair. Fingers like knives, unruly teeth, skin scarred with wide stitches. Some monster in the woods outside, not the first to intrude, certainly not the last, and Percy lashed out. That was all that was left of him, now. Anger occasionally given an object. But then that creature had woken up, and listened, and called him by his name, and when begged to set fire to the piano.
How high Percy had flown, then, in the treetops, as the smoke billowed into the night. He remembered hovering for a moment, staring up at the stars, finally ready to go.
And yet, there was a single thread, however small, easy to snap with his hands if he chose, drifting down to a sliver of bone in a pocket in a jacket that said Diggory Graves on a little embroidered tag. And Percy had chosen, for the first time, not been forced, not guilted, certainly not bound to stay. He chose to stay, and the whirlwind that followed brought so much pain, maybe more than the darkness. He gained his father’s clothes and found his father and lost him again, said goodbye forever to his mother. Set fire to his old house where he had rotted. Burned the past away with cleansing fire until it had no hold on him.
But it was not just pain that the past had brought. It had brought wonderful joy, for the first time that he could remember. Laughing among his friends even if they could not hear him, spending time with them even if they could not see. Diggory, beautiful Diggory, dancing with them in darkness beneath a lake of swirling silt, lying with them in a field in the early morning making crowns of all the flowers, a shared embrace, a fiery kiss when he was solid enough to permit it. How could he ever doubt that he loved them, when their journeys had been so entwined?
How could he?
It had been beautiful. In so many places. Diggory had coaxed him out of a cabin of his own making, encouraged him to confront the world. To love himself as much as they loved him. What was it, then, that had gone wrong after that? Why hadn’t he earned a happily ever after after after?
Percy had sacrificed everything to get them home safe, only for Diggory to turn a few months later North and walk. He didn’t need to have come along, he knew, but how could he not? He did love them, he did, he did, it was the least he could do to show it. And he followed them as they walked over the edge of their personal precipice, and fell, and never stopped falling.
And Percy was falling now.
Falling upwards into the sky, wind roaring in every direction, snow pouring from heaven in endless cascades. No threads, no wires, nothing at all binding him to the earth, and suddenly he was terrified again, as frightened as he had been sitting over his own corpse. The sky was huge and hungry and endless, and he was a mote of dust, invisible, body-less, powerless. Adrift in the wind.
Oh no, he thought. I think I’ve destroyed myself. He was boundless in a world of bleary grey and green watercolor, and he had lost Diggory’s distinct shadow somewhere beneath the ice, flew in the wind high above. And not for the first time, he reached a crescendo, the height of the clouds, where the pull of the void of space above was strongest, and he hovered over the blizzard and the arctic ice. He was not ready to leave yet, not even now. He had unfinished business; he needed to find others, lead them to Diggory, free them from the ice. But a cold dread, if cold it could be called, pierced him.
It was over, he knew. He might float away from this. But Diggory would not. It was going to take all of them that stayed. The North would consume them. Diggory, for all their love, was one more obsession unto destruction. The days of sun were over, and for all the good they had done him, all the beauty he had found, it was not forever. He had clung to the first person who showed him kindness, and travelled terrified to leave their side, terrified of exactly this.
He was unmoored. And it had begun now, the decay. Ever so slight. Ever so subtle. No anchor to bind him to purpose, to center his spirit. He was fraying, like a sweater, and although the string was long, it would one day unravel him.
Even in the midst of eternal collapse, of burning out his own flame one iota of his soul at a time, he could not abandon them. Not yet. No matter how powerful the pull of the sky. No matter what the future was to bring now, or where their paths led, together or apart, he could not leave them beneath the ice. And so he focused, brought himself into perspective as much as he could.
Not just consciousness, drifting, but Percy Reed. A boy who did not get a childhood, a secret son, a grand piano, a harp, a metal tin in the shape of a young man he dreamed of being. One who loved, and was loved, and burned brightly with anger and fury and outrage for all the injustice that life had forced him to take.
Percy Reed stopped falling, and hovered in the storm, grounded by a singular purpose; to finish this, to get Diggory to safety, to face the end. His vision was not long, and so he flew in the storm, searching for any soul still wrapped in flesh, any friend of his still breathing that could help. He was surprised, then, when there was a light, not a quarter-mile below him but at his level in the sky, and he whirled in the blizzard to find a dog.
It had a long nose, and flowing wisps of ears, and eyes that were as abyssal as his. It bounded up to him with long steps in the drifting wind, and he froze as it circled around his phantasmal trousers before leaping up against him; he caught its paws as they passed through the field of his energy, and lowered; it lapped at his face with an intangible tongue.
Its ears drifted when he ran his hands through them, its fur rippled as if underwater, and he wrapped his arms around the hound’s neck, and wept, and his tears fell like lightning to the earth below, and he ignored the screaming void above and the dismal world beneath and the shadow that flew swiftly towards him from the far horizon, fleeing from the south, racing for the North.
Interlude 1 - Beauty in Brevity
Dreamer, if you are human, your kind did not know much of spirits when the world was still untouched by the black rains. If you meet an old ghost who repeats the same words and actions, responds only to certain routine, they are nearing the end of their meager bounty of fire, for even to exist intangible, in a plane much closer to mine, still consumes energy of a kind. All spirits one day burn out.
There were, of course, perversions of Marolmar’s work that find solutions to this. Three doors, three keys, into his deathless realm. I think he would have been aghast to see what your kind have done with them. But you cannot be blamed for knowing little about what comes next for your kind.
Until your world was quarantined, the majority of spirits were whisked swiftly away by the couriers of the Industry; sometimes their agents, but more often, their messenger-birds. In the Industry’s absence, certain parasites have flocked to a world still rich with fire, unphased by the contaminants that burn now within them.
If these tedious words have not made the prospect of death more comforting to you, know then only one thing: there is beauty in brevity.
We go now to one whose fire is dwindling.
Story 2 - Old Birds
Zelda sat in a chair, as she was prone to do. Her bones hurt most of the time now, and two days of sleeping in the truck and hiking through the woods and kicking open library doors and pacing through all those dusty coffinboard classrooms were catching up to her now more than ever.
Yes, it had been busy, and she let herself rest for a moment as the bonfire burned below, kept the winter chill out of the courtyard. Virgil Kane, ever the hero with his cowboy boots and his silly ponytail, had brought back Russell McGowan, a child who was in constant danger of being kidnapped it seemed. The McGowan family rejoiced, and those old sandbags Violet and Bern had approved a long-overdue feast and a big fire, which was enough to warm Zelda’s bones from her second-story perch on the Scoutpost ramps. People talked jovially below, and held mugs of steaming hot chocolate in their mittens, a rare delicacy.
Virgil looked up to her, and tipped his hat with a wink. She frowned back.
Everyone was happy, yes. Almost everyone. But not Zelda. Because Russell McGowan was home safe, and he had been missed, but Al had not come home, and no one was missing him at all. When the night began to drag on, and people stopped acknowledging the bitter old pelican of a woman sitting in her favorite chair on the ramparts, then she quietly rose, and stretched her old bones again, and disappeared.
She did not pack much that she had not already been carrying—her shotgun, yes, and she took a few extra bites in the way of some hard biscuits that had been forgotten in the kitchen, and an extra blanket in case she had to camp in the truck again. Thus ready to face all the dangers of the forest, she crept as gracefully as she could through the shadows on the outskirt of the Scoutpost’s welcoming fire, and made for the parking lot where their ramshackle collection of vehicles was kept.
There were few being maintained at this time, however, and fewer still with Virgil’s keys still sitting in the ignition. She had considered taking Jonah’s old rusty red truck, if it still worked, but she suspected that he would want it if he—when he—came back. And it would not be nearly as satisfying as the look on Virgil’s face when she stole his.
She crept around the side of Virgil’s truck, dark and gleaming in the cold moonlight, and almost leaped out of her boots; someone else had crept up on the other side, and jumped back, equally startled.
“Riot?” she managed. “I thought you were gone.”
“I’m Clementine,” said the girl. She had a mullet, and looked like she’d be beating around a strip mall more than surviving in the woods. Nevertheless, she was wearing her yellow Scoutpost jacket, and had a backpack full of gear. “Riot’s sister.”
“Right,” Zelda said, and shook her head. “Well scram. You shouldn’t be lurking around back here.”
Clementine nodded, eyes wide, and began to back off, but stopped after a few steps, near the hood of the truck.
“Please,” she said. “I need to go. My sister’s in danger. Danielle says so. I can’t tell her or the Scoutpost because they’ll try to stop me. I can’t tell my mom because she will leave and I will never see her again. And if my sister dies, it’ll destroy her too. I need to go. I need to bring her home. Please just let me take the truck, and no one needs to know.”
“You can’t steal Virgil’s truck,” Zelda said, and patted her shotgun absentmindedly. “I’m stealing it. And you’re not going to say squat.”
“Maybe we could go together,” she said, lingering, although she backed away a few more steps at the subtle threat. “They kept the ghost kid, Al, at Downing Hill, right? You’re going to try and get him back somehow? I can help you. I’m sneaky, and I’m pretty strong, and…”
“You’d only slow me down,” Zelda said, and leaned on the truck with one arm, felt a little tired. She was going to have to find her second wind; it promised to be a long night yet. “Turn around. Go back. Enjoy the fire and the cocoa and the food. And you never saw Grandma Zelda. And if I get chased, I’m going to blame you for it personally. And I will come back, dead or alive, to make it your problem. Are we clear?”
The girl nodded, tight-lipped, and at one more nod from Zelda bolted off across the lot of parked vehicles and back for the Scoutpost courtyards. Zelda smiled to herself, and pulled herself up into Virgil’s truck, and started it. There was no starting it quietly, of course, but she hoped that it would go unnoticed amidst the sound of the commotion—something you notice peripherally as your friend tells you a funny story, and you promptly forget you noticed at all. She rolled across the lot and down to the Scoutpost gates, so much larger and more formidable than the old rickety fort had been.
She gave a little wave to Spudsy, an ill-tempered old bat who was on guard duty tonight, and importantly, whose allegiance could be bought with sewing supplies and a tiny porcelain christmas ornament in the shape of a flamingo. The surly woman did not wave back, but merely scanned the surrounding for threats, and pulled on the mechanism to get the doors to open a few feet—enough to inch the truck through, although not much more. Zelda waved again as she passed beneath the huge doorway, and out into the land of tree stumps and winding pines and towering snowy mountains beyond.
Marketing - Pigeon Bridge
I’m standing in the middle of a bridge. It’s taken so long to get here. I wouldn’t have thought of myself as the kind to enjoy long walks, hiking across the country with only what I can carry. Months ago I would have scoffed at the idea, and demanded a Botco carrier transport, probably.
I feel stronger. I felt strong when I was one of the leaders of the most powerful corporate entity in the world, but that was a different kind of strength. Then, I sat in the darkness and dined on delicacies and enforced my will through the power of others. A million underlings beneath my feet, eager to respond to my every whim. There is power in that. But now, my legs are powerful. They’ve carried me from one end of this country to the other. My arms are powerful. I’ve carried all my worldly things with them. My eyes don’t sting quite so much in the sunlight; my skin doesn’t curdle. I’m getting used to it. Living out here. I’ve never gone so long without dreaming.
This is Pigeon Bridge, ironically. And as soon as I step across this midway line, I will leave what used to be the United States of America and enter what used to be Canada. There’s still a walk ahead of me, quite a bit, but I’ll be in Ontario, technically. And in maybe two weeks, I’ll finally arrive at my friend’s house. That’s what I’m holding out for. A place to rest, where I can be myself. The only person who knows me outside of a Dreaming Box. I wonder if he’s channeling any ghosts these days. I hope he’s enjoying the organ, it was hard enough to get parts made for it. Terribly impractical instrument to want to play, but a price is a price.
*muffled screaming from off microphone*
Oh, forgive me. There was a little group of bandits trying to waylay people at the border. What are you, independent operatives? Stonemaid sympathizers? Sickening. You can go in the river.
*sound of a splash as a body is tumbled off the edge*
*muffled grunting from the remaining bandit*
Oh no, not you. You tried to hit me in the face. I know it doesn’t look like it, but they say the face is the most valuable asset you have as an influencer. So I’m going to have to remove yours…
Story 2, Continued - Old Birds
She is out of the Prime Dream. I suppose I could, if I really wanted, reach out in her nightmares. Inform her of what we all already know. That the contact she had in the North, whom she abandoned because of mounting dangers, succumbed to those dangers. But I’d like to let her put it together on her own. She has chosen her journey, and now she must walk it. Besides, I have no interest in knowing what lurks in her nightmares.
We return now to Zelda Duckworth.
Zelda had not done much driving farther north than the Scoutpost. Frankly, she’d had no interest in driving even that far, until Jonah conscripted her to community life. Always trying to look out for his ma, that boy. She stared at the starlit sky beyond her headlights as she drove, and wondered if he was out there. She’d come to accept that he was always coming back, it was just a matter of how far he’d gone, and how long it would take him.
But in some way, the little boy she knew was still alive, even if her son was an angel now. He lived in her memory, still ten years old and full of questions, and she remembered him without skin as much as with it. Couldn’t remember the difference between the basement that flooded in the spring and soaked all her boxes, and the one with all the pipes and wires. Hard to tell to which one belonged the dismal door of Dexter’s office, and which contained the harp that waited for pieces of her skull to decorate the sides.
Her thoughts drifted like the snow ahead of her, and she almost did not see the black van parked half on the road until it was one with the front of her truck.
There was a crunch that shuddered in her bones, and her head snapped forward into the violent cushion of an airbag, and the world skewed beneath her tires as Virgil’s truck spun around and off the edge of the road. Steam poured from the engine as a light sputter of snow felt on her windshield, and she laid her head back against the seat cushion, checked for blood but did not find any.
“Just my luck,” she croaked.
There was a shuffling of footsteps and muffled voices from outside her window, and despite her confusion she reached for her shotgun, held it at the ready. As she caught a person’s shadow in her wing mirror, she kicked open the door and leaned out with her weapon.
“Nobody move,” she called into the wind; it was colder here than the Scoutpost, and the chill soaked through her coat immediately and crawled in her bones.
“You alright miss?” said a big fellow. There was another behind him, smaller, up on the bank of the road.
“Stay back,” she said. “I’m going to get back on the road and I’m going to keep driving now.”
“Judging by the state of your vehicle, I’m not sure how well that’ll work for ya,” the gentleman said. She twitched, looked from the strangers to the front of her truck—Virgil’s truck—where the front left corner had been crumpled, shredded metal peeled back into the tire, hints of the internal components hanging out through the mangled gaps. Virgil was not going to forgive her for that, she knew.
“We’ve got a little camp here,” said the big fellow. “Do you need medical attention?”
“What are you doing?” said the smaller man, trying to get his friend’s attention. “She could be a spy from the Coven. She’s just clipped our van. Don’t invite her over like a playground friend.”
Nevertheless, she was making herself comfortable by a small fire twenty minutes later, wrapped in a grey blanket in the shadow of a large black SUV, which looked as though nothing had ever hit it at all. She chewed on a stick of jerky which she had been given, and speculated on the purpose of all the odd machines and briefcases of gadgetry she was surrounded by.
“You parked halfway on the road, what’s wrong with you,” she said.
“With respect, ma’am, haven’t seen another soul driving around up here,” said the big fellow. He was all bandaged up, on closer inspection. “My name’s Mr. Writingdesk. You can call him Mr. Raven. Who are you? Where are you bound?”
She chewed her jerky thoughtfully, and raised her eyebrows. “Well I’m Missus Cake. And I’m on my way to do something stupid. What about yourselves?”
“Similarly stupid,” said Mr. Writingdesk.
“Not stupid,” said Mr. Raven. He had a hooked nose and large eyebrows that flapped around like feathers whenever he became surprised or irritated, and a thin red line across his face that was still fresh. “You’ll have to forgive him, he’s still recovering from some recent injuries.”
“We’re looking to recover two young adults,” Mr. Writingdesk continued. “One with black braids, one with red. They’re our girls, you see. They’re missing. We know roughly where they’re bound…”
“For a library?” Zelda said. The two were silent, but exchanged a glance. She shrugged. “They’ve got my kid too. His name is Al. That’s what they do, they take people. They think they have all the power in the world. But I’m going to take him back. That’s what he needs. His Grandma. Not a bunch of cold professors poking and prodding him into something terrible.”
“That’s where our… girls are too,” said Mr. Raven, ending the silence. “We’ve picked the place up on our scanners; it’s not so much an abnormality as an event horizon.”
Zelda reached out her hand. Mr. Writingdesk put another piece of jerky in it. She gnawed on it hungrily.
“I’m not so sure,” said Mr. Writingdesk, drawing another wayward eyebrow from his companion. “Might be best to just let ‘em be. Perhaps this is what they want.”
“It’s not,” Zelda said. “You can’t trust them. That place poisons their minds, their thinking. If you care about them at all, you’ll bring them home, where they belong.”
“Quite right,” said Mr. Raven. Mr. Writingdesk sighed, and rubbed at the back of his head with his hands.
“Well, Mrs. Cake,” said Mr. Writingdesk, and looked out in the direction of the woods, where she knew far beyond stood two stone lions and a pit of darkness. “Then let's get our people home.”
Interlude 2 - Which Ghost?
Is he the ghost, or am I? I cannot decide, dreamer. On the one hand, he is the one who is dead. And yet, although he has been rendered into ash, he persists. In the patterns of the tree bark his name is written; in the whispering wind his name is sung. He is in the darkness of the lakes and the thoughts of the rain, his unfinished masterpiece is a portrait of himself. And in that way it could be said that he is the one haunting me.
And yet, who am I but an invisible specter, watching over all he has made? A phantom that refuses to journey into the great universe again, lingers eternal over his resting place? Perhaps that is all that is left of me; a shadow anchored to a forest of black pines, bearing witness long after my day is done. When will I move on? Will I ever?
Or perhaps you are the ghost, dreamer. You are the one dwelling in the shell of a planet you used to own, lurk in the bones of something once living. You walk here, and wake to the morning, and go about your day, but you know as well as I do that the age is beginning to forget you. The things that are coming may not notice you here at all.
We go now to one who has changed with the age.
Story 3 - Death From the Mountain
Ricou was cold, although cold no longer held the pain for him that it used to. The winters spent sleeping in the bottom of a lake bed made you rather numb to it, over time, and his skin was thicker now than it used to be, and his physiology more sluggish. His companion, however, had no benefits that Ricou knew of except that he had been walking around barefoot in the elements for most of his adult life. It was odd to see Nolan bundled in a coat that Ricou could see with his normal vision; it had taken some wrestling to get him into it at all. The invisible man liked to remain invisible when they travelled, and was paranoid about danger when he wasn’t.
“It’s strange to be coming back here,” said Nolan. The pair of snow pants and thick coat trudged a few paces behind him, walking in Ricou’s footsteps as they climbed the hills of snow.
“Strange?” said Ricou, and identified a crag of rock in the drifting snowflakes ahead of them. They were quite close now. “Yes, I suppose it might be.”
“There are just some painful memories attached to these mountains,” Nolan said. “It’s hard not to think about that period when we’re back here, even if we’re literally here to grab all the things from it for our new house together.”
“I understand,” said Ricou. “I was not my best when I lived here. It may be hard to unsee me in this way.”
“It’s not all bad,” Nolan said. “I did enjoy it, for a few weeks. And we have got to stop in the hot springs before we go back.”
“Oh yes,” said Ricou, and turned back to reach out a webbed hand. Nolan took his. “We will make the most of it while we are here.”
Nolan walked up beside him, and hand in hand, they crested the bank to a familiar plateau. A little cabin sat in the rocky expanse. It was older, Ricou thought, than Walter Pensive, but needless to say it was that gentle groundskeeper who had found it and refurbished it and stored his books there. Who had lent Ricou the spare key, so to speak, in case he ever was able to escape from Barb’s twisted thumb. On the far side of the cliff edge, a jet of warm water cut through the large rocks, pouring steam into the snow-driven air just before a waterfall spouted down into an expanse below.
He had walked with Nolan across the plateau, almost to the cabin, when he felt the invisible man pat him on the shoulder.
“Ricou,” he whispered. “Look.”
Ricou looked up to see a familiar face, approaching in the distance, down the snowy slopes that ascended high into the cloud-drenched regions above. There was little of the face to see, really, a row of dry teeth in a skull entirely wrapped in fraying bandages, tattered wisps drifting behind in ribbons. It was an angel of brown parchment, a deadly tangle of bone and mummified skin.
Yes, Ricou knew the Quilt; it had been there for many of Barb’s morbid little card games. Its skeletal feet floated off the ground, and its twiglike arms held an object that seemed larger and heavier—a man, with a torn cable-knit sweater and heavy boots and a dark beard. As it floated near like a specter of death, carrying a soul into the afterlife, the Quilt opened its mouth, and Ricou frowned as a screeching feedback filled his mind, laced with words only he could hear.
“...help...” said the Quilt, “...help him...”
Outro - Haunts
Haunts. Does it frighten you, dreamer, to know you can never escape the end? These daily struggles are just days, and your achievements one after the other will not extend them. You are choosing how to mark the time of your life in increments. They will pass, moment by moment, and then you will be gone. All humanity passes this way. In time, all gods pass this way.
But we leave behind a legacy, if we are lucky. A forest that watches and listens and sings. Life that twists into divine forms. How do you wish your spirit to be remembered? What echoes of your life do you wish them to pass on? You will haunt the lives of everyone you have touched, dreamer, and they will remember you, and remember you to others.
I create this message, and it is Marolmar’s legacy, for I speak of his forest, and it is my legacy, for it is I who speak. When I am gone, I wonder, will anyone still dream of a hundred burning eyes in the dark? Will anyone remember that I was your loyal host, waiting narratively for your return to the Hallowoods.
The bonus story that goes with this episode is called 'Before It Goes Down' 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!