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HFTH - Episode 141 - Incidents

Content warnings for this episode include: Violence, Death + Injury, Blood, Dismemberment, Burning of a Corpse, Autopsy, Puppets, Birds, Imprisonment, Meat, Static (including sfx), Drowning, Body horror

The Interrogation - For Old Times' Sake

Darker than your dreams, and farther north than you remember, there is a forest where life and death meet. I have haunted your nightmares once before, dreamer; do you remember me? I wish it had not been so long. I wish it could have gone differently. I have been left alone a little while, and in these timeless hours before they return, I cannot help but look back. I wish you, for old times’ sake, a Hello from the Hallowoods.

Story 1 - What a Glorious Spring

Puck was not known by many, and not known well by anyone, and they liked it that way. If people did not know you existed, they could not guilt you into busy obligations. It was much better to be a shadow, gone as soon as their backs were turned. Then you could sneak out whenever you wanted and go foraging in all the far and rarely trodden gulches of the woods and look for pretty mushrooms. And so Puck did.

This part of the woods, Puck thought, was particularly splendid, which was to say it was not well-travelled. Too close to civilization and all those greasy hands would beat you to the good stuff or trample it underfoot without even noticing it. Too far out and you might not be able to walk back. Although Puck worried little about the woods; these trees, a hundred and fifty feet tall, black needles blooming into an oil slick of hidden colors, trunks thicker than Puck’s arms could reach from fingertip to fingertip, were not in the business of harming people unless you had it coming. And if there was one thing Puck held in reverence, it was the woods.

Puck sprinted up a moss-grown tree trunk that had fallen at an angle, their feet wrapped in certain fibrous leaves that made good moccasins and pouches, and perched at the top. Golden beams of sunlight filtered through the highest reaches of the pines, illuminating spores like snowflakes in the crisp morning air. Eyeless owls and gouging-shrikes echoed from far off. Ah. What a glorious spring it was shaping up to be.

And from the high perch on the trunk, they could see the forest underbrush spread out below. Puck could spot a darker patch where the forest grew too thick to shed any sunlight, and shadow blanketed the tangle of roots and creeping vines and pale saplings. Just the kind of place a mushroom would love. Puck leapt from the slope of the log, and spread their wings—if wings they could be called, filaments of a fine green lens that grew from their back and arms, and could glide a little if you caught the wind just right. Everyone had their gifts from the rain, after all.

Puck rolled to a stop in the shady patch of vines, hopped to their feet, and danced forward into the darkness. They meandered through the dim patch of great roots, eyes flitting from one alcove in the earth to the next, looking for anything wrinkly or spotted or purple, and finally came to a stop as the right kind of texture caught their eye. Except that the pale flesh protruding from the earth, clammy and dirt-dusted, did not belong to a mushroom, but a human hand, sticking out of the soil.

Puck glanced upwards, looking for predators but hearing nothing. They crept towards it slowly. Beyond the hand, there was a second, poking out of a bed of flowers a few meters away, and beyond that, a dark little cabin blanketed in thick layers of a shelf fungus in sunset reds. The door was shattered, wooden planks cracked down the middle, and smoke and light poured from within. The smell was sick and sweet and terrible.

Puck gulped, and thought about turning back, and pretending they had never seen anything, and looking for mushrooms somewhere else. But they plucked up the first hand, and the second, cleanly chopped mid-forearm as they were planted, and stuck them both in the large brown bag they would have carried a day’s haul in. And they crept forward for the cabin; Puck’s head was governed by logic but their feet by curiosity, which led to no end of trouble. Puck knocked on trouble’s splintered door, and then stepped through the hole in it, and their breakfast of mushrooms and bird eggs threatened to rise in their throat.

There was a foot on the table, five-toed and filthy, and it ended before the knee. Another protruded from a boot towards the center of the room, and a great black stain mingled with mottled innards carpeted the floor. A torso sat politely in a rocking chair at the far side of the room, and in the fireplace, a head was burning. The fire was low, and the flesh gone from the face of the skull as if melted away, so that two black eye cavities and the nose holes and the patchwork grin shone through from beneath, like a white cap in a dark forest floor. And carved in the center of the skull was a symbol Puck recognized; the elaborate spiraling glyph that was written at the beginning of a page of music.

“Well,” said Puck. “Fuck.”

Story 2 - A New Case

Shelby Allen pressed her heavy cleaver through the flesh, pulled it in long slices until it burgeoned into soft pink cubes, blinked as her heart rate rose. Thump thump. Thump thump. The organs inside were louder. She thunked the cleaver to rest in the chopping block, and folded the cubes of meat into the clean waxed paper, strung the twine with firm hands, and let it bounce on the metal scale for a moment before she slid the parcel across the counter to Mr. Greenstreet.

“Have you heard the news?” he said in his conspiratorial low whisper as she peeled off her gloves and fished a pencil from her apron to add up his price. If there was news, Mr. Greenstreet would deliver it; he was worse than half of the nosy old ladies that came through. Or maybe it was that he seemed to like her more than they did; was less put off by her seldom-spoken nature or blood-spattered gloves or dead-inside stare. Shelby took the bait.


“Mushroom collector named Puck walks into the precinct this morning with a bag full of body parts,” said Mr. Greenstreet, and his weathered brows raised. “They’re not sure who it is yet.”

“I know Puck,” said Shelby, and took her handful of coins as Mr. Greenstreet slid them across. “Puck’s harmless.”

“Well, that’s for the pigs to decide, I suppose,” Mr. Greenstreet said, and waved his package as he stepped through the door to the jingle of the bell. “Thought that might interest you.”

Shelby sighed, and undid her apron, scrubbed her hands and arms, cleaned the cleaver. She was grateful for the running water; they were one of the few, but it had been deemed necessary for the sake of hygiene. She released her hair from its hair net to its usual dark bramble, placed the cleaver in its sheath at her hip, fetched her heavy dark coat by the door, and flipped the sign to ‘closed’ as she tromped out. Work was going to have to wait.

Of course something like this had to find her again, just when things were starting to even out. She stepped across the stone slabs that formed her alleyway and into the larger avenue, that great spiraling ramp of a street lined with storefronts, rising into the chill spring air. She descended, making her way down into the darker part of the great tree-city before reaching the precinct, which was grown from old bark, and thick, a foot at least, with a door of hard salvage iron. She rapped on it, and could see motion through the barred and marbled windows. A shutter in the door slid open, and a heavy lidded eye glared from beyond it.

“Shelby,” said the cop. “Skipping work again?”

“Let me in, Cole,” she said.

“This is police business,” he grunted.

“Virgil,” she called loudly. “Tell your kid to let me in.”

“Let her in, boy,” she heard Virgil say, and Cole glared daggers before the shutter closed. She slid in as soon as the heavy door cracked open.

The precinct was cluttered, with a low ceiling like much of the Lower Trunk, heavy with the weight of the city above. The desks were cluttered with rough-edged paper, and elaborate lengths of twine ran through pinned strings of evidence, across the walls and ceiling, and converged on the wall behind Virgil’s desk. The sheriff was a browned and weathered man, with a bun of silver hair pinned up and a curling mustache. His son, Cole, was a beast of burden with a mean eye, and he was more likely to spit in the streets than walk them. Both stared at her expectantly as she entered.

“Ten minutes,” Cole said under his breath.

Shelby pushed past him, hands in the pocket of her heavy coat, and made for the cell. Lichen-encrusted bars jutted from the raw wood bark of the floor, and Puck, a small-boned glimmer of a person, sat curled against the back wall with a blanket over their knees.

“What happened?” Shelby said. “Have they hurt you?”

“I didn’t do it,” Puck said, a little panic in their wide eyes, far apart on a birdish face. “I just found it. A body in the woods.”

“You have photos?” Shelby called.

“‘Bout the last of ‘em should be done processing,” said Virgil.

“We’ll get this cleared up,” said Shelby, and meant it. “No one kills someone and then brings the body in pleading innocence.”

“Wouldn’t be the first time,” said Cole.

“Cole, please,” said Virgil, rousing from his desk like an elderly wolfhound. He went for the camocept, a brainy growth of mushroom covered in gleaming black beads, and removed the slip of paper from beneath it, added it to the stack. Shelby stepped away from the bars to thumb over the images that the mushroom had transcribed to the paper.

“The body was found in six pieces,” said Virgil, peering over her shoulder as she thumbed through the pictures, documenting the parts of the corpse laid out on the floorboards. She stopped at the last, a symbol imposed on a ruined skull.

“Painted?” she said.

“Etched,” said Virgil. “Left on display. Some creep wanted us to find this.”

The Tapes - First Thing

Alright. Here’s everything you need to know about being a detective in Scout City.

First thing is that it’s never easy. Big surprise. But I’m saying it at the start so that you can’t whine about it later. It’s a tough job and it’s a tough city. But you push through. You get through every hard day and you wake up and you do it again tomorrow. You do it because if you don’t, nobody will. You do it because they need you to. You do it because sometimes, just sometimes, you can actually help somebody. And who knows. In time, you might even do it because you’re good at it. We’ll see if you get that far.

Story 2, Continued - A New Case

Shelby did not run, but marched steadily down the sloped and winding paths of the west quarter, where the rising walls of the trunk gave way to the lower alleys and hollow residences of the Stumps. It was not a well-maintained neighborhood; the bark was wild and twisted and they had pests like three-foot bark beetles to deal with from time to time, but theirs was a low-rank occupation, and indeed one that Shelby could not afford to pursue full time, and not the sort that merited you a lofty burrow in the high city.

Shelby did not mind; she liked the quiet, where there were less people to gawk at her or pose a threat. She scrambled through the little green door of 116 Fisher Lane and up the rickety stairs, which groaned like a symphony of ghosts as she ascended and made for the office.

She threw the door open; the boss was busy at her desk, and clicked off recording on a little yellow tape recorder in expectation, and then looked disgusted, and then stooped over and hacked up something wet and bloody onto the floorboards.

“Christ,” said Shelby, hurrying over. “Are you okay? You’d better not be dying on me.”

“I’m fine, promise,” the boss coughed, and looked up to her with a stern glint in her eye. “What have I told you about knocking?”

“I think we have a case,” said Shelby, breathless.

Whatever ire the boss might have had dissipated; the tape recorder went down and she stood up from her chair. “For real?”

“It’s serious this time,” Shelby said, and closed the office door behind her, glancing down the stairwell by habit. She crossed the office to her habitual seat by the fire, and the boss crossed the room to stand by the low metal grate of the fireplace. The boss always looked young, indeed, Shelby had gradually surpassed her in age, but the way the boss lit up when there was a new case was the only time that she ever looked young in the eyes too.

“Tell me everything,” she said.

“You know Puck?” Shelby said. The boss blinked, flicking through a mental database and found wanting.


“Not surprised. Mushroom forager. Brings me truffles to resell at the shop from time to time. Sweet little thing.”

“Not too sweet I hope.”

“Walked into the precinct today with a body in a bag.”

“Must have been a small body.”

“In six pieces. Travel sized. Body was discovered in a cabin out by the old Watching Tree. Head burned to a skull in the fireplace. And get this, engraved with a symbol.”

The boss studied her, grey-blue eyes fixed like glass stormclouds. She fiddled with the threads of her yellow jacket, where the patches had been stripped off.

“You have a photo?” the boss said.

“Cole wouldn’t let me make copies. Vincent has the body at the morgue. I’ll draw you what I can remember.”

The boss produced pen and paper, and Shelby sketched out the symbol as best she could recall.

“It’s the music thing,” mused the boss, whose saxophone lay at rest by the window.

“What do you think?” said Shelby, after a moment of quiet.

“I think,” said the boss, and dropped suddenly onto Shelby’s lap, straddled her in the chair, and kissed her against the cushion. Shelby wasn’t good at it, and felt it must be like kissing a corpse, but Clem didn’t seem to mind.

“I think…” said the boss, and pushed her wolf cut back, and disembarked from Shelby to begin pulling files and folders and pens and string together on her desk and externalize the workings of her frantic mind. “I think we have a case.”

Story 3 - Like a Piano, Vincent

“Body appears to be male, relatively well developed and nourished, caucasian, between the ages of twenty-five and thirty-five,” said Vincent. His sleeves were rolled up, his fine suit jacket left on the corner chair. The pieces had been lain out on the cold table in the center of the room; if there was a chill, Vincent did not feel it. He paced around the body, taking in the general details.

“Body hair, dark. The hair of the head, absent due to the damage by fire. Face, likewise absent, which makes identification more difficult. Body has been severed into six pieces, with both hands removed midway through the ulna and radius, both feet removed midway through the fibula and tibia, head separated at the third cervical vertebrae, and the remainder of the arms, legs and torso in one piece.”

“Who are you talking to?” said Voltaire. Vincent looked up to glare at the ancient puppet, who returned the look with his unblinking painted eyes and hinged red-lipped mouth. Cloth arms and wooden hands dangled at his sides, and he sat sprawled irreverently on the far chair, tiny bow tie and a perpetually crooked grin.

“Myself, I suppose,” said Vincent, and turned back to his work. “Rigor mortis is fixed. Blood drained significantly.”

“Check out the fingernails,” said Voltaire.

Vincent sighed, and turned the detached hand over.

“Fingernails, surprisingly clean,” said Vincent, examining. “Dirt, but not blood. Foraging, perhaps. Whatever the struggle looked like, they did not get to fight back.”

“Got him too quick,” said Voltaire.

“Don’t be too hasty with conclusions,” sniffed Vincent, and turned his attention to the back side of the arm. “Bone appears to have been… hm. This is interesting.”

“Snapped clean, not fractured,” said Voltaire.

“I was getting to that,” said Vincent. He put his fingertips against the table, and his hands trembled as he opened his left eye and stared. It was always uncomfortable at first, but perversely he’d started to enjoy the sensation. The fungal orb that had overgrown his eye raised the delicate filaments of his false iris, and the threads stretched up from the surface of his eye towards the corpse, glinting with little golden lights at the ends, ridges peeling up to keep his eyelid from crushing the tiny fibers, which weaved in the air as they studied the body. He could see now with a dozen almost microscopic senses, heat, decay, decomposition.

“The bones were severed in a manner inconsistent with a stress fracture,” he said. “Tearing of the flesh. Very fine abrasion, clean lines. Like they were broken in one clean chop from a sharp weapon.”

“Or a really really nice saw,” said Voltaire.

“Don’t be grotesque,” said Vincent, eye tendrils twitching. “The strength required to sever bone like this must have been immense.”

“You’re missing the important part,” said Voltaire.

Vincent turned his attention to the charred skull, sitting by itself at the table.

“There appears to be a musical clef etched into the exposed bone of the skull,” said Vincent. “Given the scattered nature of the scar and the burn patterns, it seems likely that there was skin at the time. Skull is missing teeth, seemingly random order.”

“Black keys,” said Voltaire. Vincent shot him a look, but Voltaire stared with his painted eyes as usual. “Like a piano, Vincent.”

“Oh,” said Vincent. “How unusual. The question remains—who could have done all of this? Undoubtedly the most peculiar body that has come into this room in years...”

“Hey,” said Voltaire. “You ever heard of a guy called the Instrumentalist?”

The Conversation - Is That You?


Marolmar? Is that you?


Do you not recognize me, lover?


Of course I do.

The bonus story that goes with this episode is called 'File 13: Camocept', and is available on Because Hello From The Hallowoods is created without advertising or sponsors, we rely on patronage to make this show possible!


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