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HFTH - Episode 151 - Decays

Content warnings for this episode include: Animal cruelty (mention), Animal death (Shank as usual), Violence, Kidnapping and abduction, autopsies, Death + Injury, Blood, Gore, Emotional Manipulation, Body horror, Puppets

The Interrogation - Built for Judgement


The murder.


Marolmar was first murdered by your employer.


This was not murder. It was justice for crimes against the Industry and against the Universe.


It was punishment without trial or court. And any verdict you would have made would have been meaningless, even then. He was unprofitable to the Industry and so you had him destroyed.


I am not the murderer under interrogation.


...No, I suppose you are not.

This one, too, began with a heart.

Story 1 - Maybe Stranger

Milo sat in the little green chair he kept in his solarium, and stooped over the desk, and held delicately a pair of little silver shears.

“Come now, be still,” he said to the plant, which had many dead stems in need of pruning. But it was highly mobile, and continually tried to push his hand away with the tiniest, most fragile of vines, tried ineffectually to prick him with meager thorns, and this made the task difficult.

“You’ve been acting wilted ever since our forest outing,” said the Venus.

“My lord,” said Milo, missing a dead leaf again as the disgruntled shrub poked his thumb. He set down the scissors, and rubbed at his temples. “This really isn’t work for three in the morning.”

“No, it isn’t. You should be resting,” said the Venus. A carpet of bushy vines and little pink flowers blanketed the floor, although no vines currently clung to Milo; for the most part the grasp of the Venus was delicate enough to carry him without chafing, but breaks were still necessary.

“Unfortunately, I can’t sleep,” said Milo, stating the obvious for one of several nights in a row.

“I can move you to bed,” said the Venus. “You shouldn’t sleep in the chair.”

“I am fine in the chair,” said Milo, and closed his eyes. He reached out a hand instinctively to stop the little potted plant from dragging itself off the table edge with its tiny prehensile vines.

“Are you not getting enough nutrients, or sunlight?” said the Venus. “Is your soil unwatered?”

“My soul is unnerved. Very different,” said Milo, and tilted his head to look across his greenhouse of a home. “I haven’t done enough.”

“Haven’t done enough?” said the Venus. The floor of vines rattled and shook in distress, gesturing up at the hundreds of pots and plants and terrariums and jars and hanging gourds that filled his home. “What do you call all this? Camocepts and Rosenbraces and Acovials and Mordleafs and Myconoids and…”

“Not enough,” repeated Milo, and looked back to the little vine in the pot. It had stilled now, and tilted its leaves, as if watching him quizzically. “I had hoped that all this work, all this evolution—all my desperate… I’ve been trying to save us. To somehow unite us with this forest. Get us to grow with it, like a grafted branch. But it’s not enough, not fast enough. The forest is changing more quickly than I ever predicted. The trees and soil are doing in days what would take us thousands, millions of years. That’s to say nothing of what’s probably happening in the ocean. Our world is being overwritten with something else, and it took root decades ago, and we missed our only chance to stop it. This world may not be even recognizable as ours in just a few decades.”

“You’ll get over it,” said the Venus.

“I don’t think the human race will get over it,” said Milo crossly. “Valerie was not pleased when I shared this hypothesis with her the other day. I don’t think she wants me to continue scientifically backing it, either; I’m sure she would much rather that I keep a tight lip. Don’t want to snuff out the scant trace of hope we have around here these days. But yes. The looming end of my species, probably within my lifetime, wiped out by some not-yet-born deathspore or carnivorous mildew or flesh-eating lichen, plants that see and move and hunt… it withers me.”

“I still remember my home,” said the Venus.

“Remember what?” said Milo.

“My home,” said the Venus. “I had one once, beyond the universe. You can’t even imagine the sight. The green. It was more beautiful than anything I could describe for someone with primitive eyes like yours. We felt the world, in all its warmth. It all sang.”

“You’ve never told me this before,” said Milo. “What happened?”

“Meteors bombed the shit out of us,” said the Venus.

“Language,” said Milo.

“Our world shattered, and only seeds were left, floating forever. I was almost dead when I landed. And you cared for me until I was strong again.”

“It’s been mutual,” said Milo.

“I am not the shape I was before,” said the Venus. “I have grown in different soil. I have learned to speak strange tongues. I have different flowers. The water here is steeped in blood and filled with gross poetry. But life goes on.”

“In some shape,” said Milo. He looked back to the Venus; its huge mossy heart clung to the wall of his large apartment, and its pink flowers filled the ceiling, glowing softly like a hundred chandeliers, and a vine patted his leg affectionately.

“In some shape,” repeated the Venus, “maybe stranger. Life goes on.”

It paused, and its flowers all shook and tipped down as if looking at the lower floor.

“You have company.”

“At this hour,” said Milo, and gave up on pruning the angry little shrub, put it back in a bin where it could drag itself around without bumping into anything. He fixed his rumpled suspenders, dusted the soil from his lap, but did not bother to re-do the halves of his bow tie.

“If you would,” he said.

The creeping vines of the Venus wrapped around him, and lifted him ceremoniously up from the chair, over the banister, and down through the air to the first floor, where a curling vine twisted the doorknob almost as soon as his shoes had touched the ground. In the darkness stood a group of grim-looking people, with Mayor Val at the forefront. Just behind her, dirt-spattered and bruised, was the detective assistant Shelby Allen, which Milo took as an ill omen.

“Good morning, Mayor Valerie,” said Milo. “Whatever is the matter?”

“Milo,” she said. “I’m going to need to ask a personal favor.”

Story 2 - I Don't Ask Their Names

Clementine Maidstone, Scout City Detective, could not see much by the glow of her flashlight. There were the sharp pieces of jagged bark and gnarled roots, debris at the bottom of the logfall where she had landed, and she was pinned in place like a taxidermied beetle.

Even more impaled than Clementine was the thing scarcely twenty feet away, white clown jumpsuit stained with black ichor, the desiccated head of a pig staring back at her, flashlight glinting on its sweating skin.

And yet she could vividly picture the pig from other visions—she had watched him in dream, taking a hatchet to a city Scout’s limbs and separating bone and muscle with brutal slashes. She could picture him chopping up Abraham Walker, carving the clef into his skull and putting it in a lit chimney. Taking a butcher’s cleaver to Shelby’s parents all those years ago, leaving her weeping in the road with the knife. Clementine knew the bloodshed those hands, clad in thin white plastic gloves, were capable of.

“Shank,” she said. “For a name like that I’d expect a lamb over a pig.”

Shank did not quite stare back at her; there were no eyes in its small black sockets, and if eyes watched her from beneath that grotesque mask of skin, she could not get a twinkle of them in the light. When he said nothing to this, she tried to squirm, see how easy it would be to free herself from the sharp tangle of wood on which she was skewered. She felt something rip in her leg’s tendons, and decided that she wasn’t going anywhere anytime soon.

“You’ve killed a lot of people,” she said, when she tired of the silence and the staring pig.

“Yeah,” said Shank. “Lots.”

“How many?” she said.

The pig shrugged, despite having most of a tree trunk sticking up through his gut. He wrapped both hands around the log, almost encircling it with his gigantic fingers, but could not seem to get a firm grip, gloves slipping on his own poisoned blood.

“You’re a detective,” observed Shank, going still. “You ever killed anybody?”

Clementine’s brows furrowed.

“A few. It’s not my job to hurt people. Just to get answers. But sometimes, when people try to hurt me or my partner, I have to protect us,” Clem said, glared at the monstrous thing. “So yeah. A few.”

“You like to watch?” said Shank.


“The light,” said Shank, and his huge dead head tilted back to look at the ceiling, and he raised a hand, fluttered fingers thick as sausages in the air. “I like to watch the light bleed outta their eyes. Less and less and less until it’s gone. You can see it, when it changes from soul to meat.”

She was quiet, and felt like vomiting, and the pig seemed to expect something, chortled when it did not come.

“Maybe you never noticed. But I’m a slaughterhouse man,” he continued. “I could watch that shit all day.”

“Did you kill Abraham Walker, Blythe Smithson, Joshua Wicker…” she began.

“I don’t ask their names,” said Shank.

“Are you going to kill me?” she said, more urgent.

Shank was suddenly animated, lurching up to twist his head in her direction. Somehow, he breathed, and the hot clouds of it were illuminated in her pale light.

“Do you like to hurt kids? Do you like to hurt dogs? Do you like to cut the head offa pretty pink pig and laugh the whole time you do it?”

“No,” Clem said. “No, I don’t.”

“Oh. Well then,” said Shank, and relaxed again, hung limp in the darkness. “Then I don’t got no beef with you.”

The Tapes - The True Mystery

There is a third kind but I’ve never dealt with it yet. That’s what I’d describe as the true mystery. No plan in mind. Seemingly random. If there is a plan, it’s not driven by gain or agenda, it’s driven by some twisted knot of pathos that was born in a fucked up darkness a long time ago. It’s the only key that’s going to make it all make sense, and it’s buried deep. An animal. A force of nature. A cosmic joke. Scout City has only had one, in all its history, I think. And I worry we’ll see another before I’m out of time.

Story 2, Continued - I Don't Ask Their Names

“What are you saying?” Clem said. “I watched you kill like four people in cold blood. You killed Shelby’s parents. You’re a murdering monstrous piece of shit.”

“The ones in the woods?” said Shank, and his pig head tilted from her to look into the dark canopy of roots above. “They was poking a little dog. The way I see it, you treat an animal like that, you deserve to die like an animal. I don’t got no patience for it.”

Clem could not manage any words.

“Who’s Shelby,” said Shank.

“She’s the one who put that cleaver in your back,” Clem spat.

“Oh yeah,” said Shank, and reached behind his back, and with a rainfall of black liquid, pulled it from his shoulder, held it in front of his emotionless pig face.

“You killed her parents,” said Clementine. “In front of her and her brother.”

“Coulda been anybody,” said Shank, contemplating the blade, and he ran a rubber gloved finger against it with a squeak. “There’s been so many. Always looking for something to bring to the witch. But this thing does ring a bell.”

“The witch?”

“The one who lives in the big house in the woods,” said Shank. “She makes things out of needle and thread and skin and bone. She likes it when I bring her scraps. She fixes broken things.”

“Are you Solomon Reed?” said Clem. She felt somehow she was running short on time. And there were too many important questions still unasked.

“Told you already,” said the pig. “My name’s Shank.”

“You carved symbols into the people you murdered,” said Clem, trying to sound collected. “Musical symbols. The Instrumentalist did that. Solomon Reed did that.”

“I don’t think so,” said Shank, and there was a shift in his posture, maybe a leering smile from his pig head in the low light. “Already told you. I’m a slaughterhouse man. I don’t play with my food. Ain’t got the patience for it.”

“Abraham Walker,” Clem said. “Joshua Wicker. You killed them. You carved musical symbols into their flesh and bone.”

“Must have me confused,” said Shank, and swung the cleaver into the log over his chest, and she could not make herself heard over the ear-splitting sound of the log dissolving in three hefty strikes, wood splinters cascading as the trunk shattered. With only the jagged end sticking up from his chest, Shank reached upwards, slid until it came out of him completely.

Then he was standing in his grimy uniform, and she could not stand to shine a light upon the hole where his innards dwelt. He hissed and puffed a breath that smelled like death, and he stalked through the nest of roots, footsteps shaking the ground and felt in each of her wounds as the vibrations traveled through the logfall, the cleaver tightly gripped in one hand. He came towards her.

“Stay away,” Clem shrieked, but he did not. When he stopped, he was inches from her, mottled head catching the bold gleam of her light, breath surrounding her like a shroud. He tilted his head as if inspecting meat on display.

“That looks bad, Clementine,” he said, leering at her exposed tendons. There was warmth in his proximity, like a compost heap. “I’d try to help you, but I’d just make it worse, I think.”

“Don’t you dare touch me,” she snarled.

“Just wait for the rain,” said Shank, and pointed to an invisible sky. “It’ll make you better.”

“It won’t fix me,” said Clem. “It never has.”

“Well,” said Shank, turning away from her, and beginning to tromp away into the labyrinth of roots, away from her light. “If the rain can’t fix you, the witch can.”

Story 3 - Lonely Occupations

Vincent washed his hands, back turned to the autopsy table and to Raj Greenstreet and to Voltaire, who sat askew on the side table. The water peeled the blood and fluids from his fingers, and he scrubbed meticulously under each chipped nail.

“You have very skillful hands,” said the surviving Mr. Greenstreet. “I was going to say so when you were removing his organs, but it seemed odd to compliment you while you were inside of my husband.”

“They’re well practiced,” said Vincent, cheeks flushing. “Unfortunately.”

“Are you the only undertaker in Scout City?” said Raj. “It must be a lonely occupation.”

“It seems that for a while they had no undertakers at all,” said Vincent. “Just burned people on pyres and had a nice evening out. Speaking of which, have you thought about what arrangements you wish to make for your late husband?”

“Well, we were going to be cremated together,” said Raj, and looked down to the white sheet that draped the late Mr. Greenstreet. “I suppose that’s out the window now that I have to avenge him. What do people usually do?”

“Cremation is most common,” said Vincent, drying his hands and straightening his jacket. “But I’m partial to the Mortal Grove.”

“I haven’t been,” said Raj.

“It’s lovely this time of year,” said Vincent, coming back into the staunch light of the operating room. “Gigantic mushroom blooms in a rainbow of colors. Some like to imagine that the colors sometimes speak to the personality of the body buried beneath them. I maintain it’s a simple matter of nutrients. I’ve probably spent too much time there, breathing in spores fed by a generation of Scout City deaths.”

“You have a lovely way of speaking about mortality,” said Raj, and stood up from the chair where he had quietly observed the autopsy. Voltaire had said nothing, which was unusual for him, and had laid disgruntled on the side table where Raj had set him, little wooden face and hands askew.

“Also well practiced,” sighed Vincent. “I hope my findings were useful in the investigation.”

“I need time to think on them,” said Raj. “The point about tearing, the difficulty it would have been to hoist him up into the trees like that, the… it fills me with a rage, Vincent. Would you mind terribly if I laid down in the parlor for a while? Then I can pay my dues and elect how I’m going to proceed.”

“Certainly,” said Vincent, and was surprised how willing he was to oblige the grieving widower despite the unusual nature of the request. “There is a sofa, out there. I can bring you a blanket if you require…”

“No, there is nothing I need, just to rest my eyes a bit,” Raj said, and stepped up, straightened his tuxedo, and stopped just once by the foot of the other Mr. Greenstreet, and lifted the sheet up enough to kiss the cadaver’s big toe, and squeezed the foot comfortingly, and then replaced the sheet and continued out of the room. Vincent might have caught a tear in the man’s eye, previously not to be seen, as he made his exit. The door swung shut, and Vincent sighed, and moved over to sit where Mr. Greenstreet had been, beside Voltaire.

“He’s certainly something,” said Vincent, quietly. “Certainly something else. I swear, Voltaire, have you ever met someone who reacted to the death of a spouse that way? So collected. And yet, I have no doubt about his sincerity. I… I feel so badly for him. That kind of connection, with someone. I’ve dreamt of it, never known it. But he’s known it all his life, and had it so cruelly taken away. Simply tragic, don’t you think? And yet what stoicism in the face of it. I hope I haven’t made a fool of myself.”

Voltaire lay on the side table like an object, like a paperweight, like a cadaver.

“Voltaire?” said Vincent, and turned to look at him. The puppet looked back, or looked at nothing at all.

“Voltaire,” Vincent repeated. “Is something wrong?”

Vincent had a creeping sensation that the puppet was not saying anything because puppets do not talk.

“Voltaire,” he said. “You’re scaring me.”

He expected it anytime now; the burble of words grunting in his brain, a laugh, a reassurance. But the only sound within him were his thoughts, grieved and overjoyed and analytical and self-possessed and now paling into fear and other curious emotions. He slipped from his chair and knelt beside the side table, staring the puppet in the eyes.

“You can’t leave me now,” said Vincent. “Voltaire. Come on. Talk to me, Voltaire.”

Vincent knelt in a room with two corpses. He might have pulled the puppet close to his chest and wept, and stained the wooden face with his tears. He might have shook as though he had lost his own child.

Silence and dead wood.

Vincent did not do that, he was surprised to find. He stood up, his world wheeling. Had Voltaire truly left, just as suddenly as he had arrived?

What did it mean? What did it mean, after all this time?

What did it mean, to be free?

Vincent breathed in a way he had not often breathed, deep and full of vigor. He could almost skip. He could almost jump for joy, as though something had been shed that he had not even known that he carried, a bubble of air released from the ocean depths and rising for the surface…

“Is that relief, Vincent?” said Voltaire, painted eyes boring into Vincent. “Is that how you’d feel if I really was gone?”

“Oh you stinker,” said Vincent, and fell to his knees again beside the side table. “What a rotten thing to do. I was genuinely worried, you know. Where did you go?”

“I didn’t go anywhere,” said Voltaire.

“I’ve known you long enough to know when you’re lying,” said Vincent. “And no, I wouldn’t be relieved. I’d be heartbroken. You know that.”

“I’ve known you long enough to know when you’re lying,” said Voltaire. “Don’t you worry, Vincent. I’ll never ever leave you. I’m your best friend. Your only friend. Even if you hate me. Even if you wish I were dead. What do you do when you get those feelings, Vincent? What did you do?”

“Don’t be difficult,” said Vincent, and rubbed at his face. “It’s late. I’m tired. I’m not fully present. I suppose that makes two of us.”

There was a rap on the door, then, a loud one that Vincent could hear throughout the building. He sighed.

“Please,” he said. “Not another corpse.”

He picked Voltaire up, stuffed him under his arm, and carried him out of the operating room and through the parlor, where Raj sat up with his elbows on his knees.

“More company?” said Raj.

“I hope not,” Vincent said under his breath, and made himself presentable, and opened the door. He did not immediately recognize the man who stood outside, who was bearded and grim and had several more people behind him.

“Hello,” said Vincent. “How can I help you?”

“Sorry to bother you. My name is Ben Alder,” said the man, and crossed his arms. “Is it true? Did he kill Mr. Greenstreet?”

“I’m afraid I cannot comment on the affairs of my…” Vincent began, but was interrupted by Raj Greenstreet, who had risen from his sofa and come to the door.

“What do you know about it?” said Raj. “Do you know who killed my husband?”

Vincent pursed his lips and stepped back a bit to give Raj more room. Voltaire shot him a painted smile.

“I’m sorry, Raj. I was one of his patients. I knew him well. Me and my friends, we think we’ve got a pretty good idea,” said Ben. “And it has to do with the mayor, the police, the Venus, and a detective leaving the city as we speak. They’re going hunting. And we’re going to follow, make sure that whoever they’re after gets what’s coming to him.”

“Let me fetch my coat,” said Raj, before Vincent could interject anything further. “We’ve made some interesting discoveries about the body, haven’t we Vincent?”

“Yes, the incisions and wounds are… extraordinary,” Vincent stuttered, as Raj, fully coated in a long black trenchcoat, pushed past him. Vincent noted the others that stood behind Ben Alder—their faces were quite different, some withered, some young, but all shared a particular brand of grief that lurked in their dark eyes in the early morning shadow.

As the group began to withdraw from Vincent’s courtyard, Raj paused on the front doorstep, and looked back.

“Well?” he smiled to Vincent. “Are you coming?”

Vincent choked.

“Me?” he said. “Well. It wouldn’t be… I couldn’t…”

He glanced to Voltaire. Voltaire stared back with painted eyes, and for the first time—not for the first time, but perhaps for the first time—he saw the true nature of what lived there.

And Vincent stuffed Voltaire in the umbrella stand, and pulled his coat from the hook, and followed after Raj Greenstreet into the early morning, and knew he would forever regret it.

The Conversation - Make It Up To You


So. How am I to make it up to you? A nice walk in the grove? A gift of eyes? Of stars? A pretty sculpture of my heart?


I am not sure you are listening to me. These people…


Again with the living things.


I have come to care about them.


Oh? Let me get a grasp of this - you have no warmth to share your love of many millennia, freshly returned from the dead and in need of a little kindness, but you have come to care about the smallest of beings that an aeon ago you would have trampled without care?


I thought you cared about living things.


In a scientific sense, surely. I do not care much for what particular shape they take. Neither did you, once.

The bonus story that goes with this episode is called 'File 18: Milo Menken', 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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