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HFTH - Episode 152 - Descents

Content warnings for this episode include: Animal death (Shank as usual), Suicidal ideation (mention), Violence, Death + Injury, Blood, Bugs, Body horror, Fires

The Interrogation - Containment


The heart was left in containment on the planet Earth.


Yes. But there were environmental factors. The heart was freed from the ice as the oceans warmed.


This should not have mattered. It was determined to be inert.


So I thought as well. But it was designed to be impenetrable to any form of sight; even mine.


Syrensyr does not make errors.


It was designed to deceive his senses. All of our senses.


Yet you determined this.


When its occupant allowed me to.

Story 1 - A Monster's Nature

The dawn had manifested as a thin red line that, in some places, separated the titanic shadows of the pines from the glimpses of dark sky overhead. It reminded Shelby of blood beading up to the surface of a very fine cut. She felt too light without the cleaver hanging at her side, and she was surprised to find that she missed its familiar weight. Not quite as much, of course, as she missed familiar Clementine.

She did not think about the path; her feet knew that she meant business and carried her onwards without hesitation. Getting around in the woods at large was a tricky process; many of the trees had roots that turned the landscape into a series of uphill and downhill climbs, and she was not sure that the route she remembered to the northern logfall was the most efficient. It was one thing when she and Clementine were hiking alone without too much in the way of urgency; it was another when a small crowd of unfriendly people were grumbling along behind her.

There was Mayor Valerie, who had stopped expressing her anxiety through outright statements and instead did it through a series of huffs and groans that Shelby found fascinating but distracting. Sheriff Virgil took longer to clamber up some of the root embankments than Shelby had known him to in past years. And behind him, Scout City’s four principal deputies. They were snarling dogs, the lot of them, and Shelby wondered if Clementine had passed her test, if she would have become like them eventually. Scout City had committees and volunteers for everything that could be resolved peacefully, de-escalated all that it could. Shelby wondered if that had made the deputies that much meaner. Shelby wondered that it was not a comfort to have them by her side, even when things had decidedly escalated.

There was, most importantly of all, Mr. Menken, drifting four feet over the forest floor like some ghostly little professor man, and behind him, the gargantuan plant that was the Venus, with its vines wrapped around him and drifting spider-like from one passing tree to the next. Its pink blooms were folded and focused, and offered no glimpses of the teeth within. Shelby had never liked it. Something about it eating meat when it had none of its own. She did not trust things without bones.

Looking back at Milo, suspended in the grasp of the Venus, she could not help but think of Mr. Greenstreet. Ducking into her shop. Choosing a cut of meat to bring home for supper with his husband. That conspiratorial twitch of his face which almost registered as a smile. Perhaps the only customer she had ever looked forward to visiting the shop, in fact.

Strung up over the forest floor on lengths of rusted cable. Meat himself.

She did not imagine that the pig had smiled, when he did it. When he hoisted each cable taut and wrapped them around the trunks of the trees. The pig had not smiled when he had brought the cleaver down upon her parents. He had not smiled when their blood painted the side of their wagon in perfect red arcs. She wondered if he had felt anything at all, beyond exertion. If he had gotten a kind of satisfaction from it. Maybe not even from the killing, but from the craftsmanship. She wondered if Mr. Greenstreet’s blood had still been fresh on the pig when she planted the knife in his back and shoved him into the abyss.

How had such a man come to exist?

It was tempting to think of him as a monster. But that would have been an excuse. It was in a monster’s nature to kill. A man should know better.

Her boots came to a stop on a muddy slope that overlooked the northern logfall. A sea of shattered pines, dark and untouched yet by the dawn light.

“Remember,” she said, and turned back to face the group. “The man that killed Mr. Greenstreet, who has been terrorizing us with these killings, may still be down there. He cut Clementine’s cable and dropped her further into the logfall; I attacked him, and put a knife in his rhomboid major, I think. He fell after her. I am not sure if he is dead.”

“I’ll be damned if after all these years this thing is actually real,” Cole muttered, loud enough that she could hear it.

“Enough of that,” Virgil wheezed, and came up to stand beside her, turned back to the assembly. “If you do see this man, do not engage. Ignatius, Heather, you hear me? All attempts to apprehend this man for questioning are secondary to getting Clementine Maidstone out of here. This is a rescue evac, not an arrest. Once we’ve safely extracted her from the logfall, we’ll evaluate on how to proceed in the investigation. Shelby, you mentioned that he has a hideout down there of some kind?”

“There’s an old brick house, caught in the logfall,” Shelby nodded. “A butcher’s shop. We haven’t gotten close.”

“I would be most curious to see it,” said Oswin; the deputy of the Upper Trunk was veiled in a white shroud of netting that hung from the brim of their Scoutpost hat.

“Milo, what is going to be the best way to handle this where the Venus is concerned?” said Sheriff Virgil.

“Truth be told, the entire Venus may not be able to fit in tight spaces down there, and it would be unwieldy to try and carry me,” said Milo, and the large pink blooms of the plant that held him flickered open, and the great mass of its body lowered down to the ground, looking like nothing so much as an explosion of shrubbery. From it, long vines began snaking out across the mud.

“You will need to lead my vines,” said the Venus, in its horrendous imitation of human speech, “Down into the logfall. I will be able to hear you, but you must direct where I go.”

“I imagine that given enough time, the Venus could grow through every nook and cranny in the logfall and find Clementine that way,” said Milo, “but I assume we are trying to rescue her in an hour instead of in a week. So, guide her tendrils as far as you can, and then point her in the right direction. It should cut down the growing time required significantly.”

“Will do,” Shelby said, and began walking toward the long tree trunk that served as a bridge from the muddy shore into the valley of upended trees and broken foliage.

“Wait,” said Virgil. “There’s a plan here. Myself and Oswin will go down…”

“I’m going,” said Shelby.

“So am I,” said Mayor Val, who slid down the bank in her muddy combat boots and dusted off her jacket—her merit badges were affixed to a black leather rocker number rather than the usual Scout City yellow.

“I wanna see if this pig man is real,” said Cole, and followed after her.

“Cole,” Virgil said, and might have made some fuss about a change in plans, and whether it was Ignatius or Oswin or Heather that should have gone, but by then Shelby was already crossing the bridge into the darkness, a bushy green vine trailing at her ankles, and it was all that she could do not to burst into a run down the slick expanses of rotting wood as she returned to the abyss.”

Story 2 - One Door Closes

Valerie’s worn boots slipped every few steps as she descended the rotting bark into the logfall. Everywhere that she could catch with her flashlight was a reminder of the damage that the barkbeetles had done during their tenure infesting the forest. She would have thought the devastation was irreparable, that these graveyards of fallen trees eaten from the inside-out would be all that was left of the woods, but scarcely a few years later the pines seemed if anything even greater than before. She liked that kind of situation; when the record of your failures was erased.

Shelby moved quickly, tapping with her foot every so often to provide guidance to the rustling vine that trailed down the logs behind them, unspooling from the Venus high above like a neverending coil of rope. Cole carried the other light, and Shelby seemed not to need one at all, finding her way deeper into the darkness by memory.

“Careful,” said Cole, as she slipped a few feet from one log to the next, caught herself again. “Really the mayor of Scout City shouldn’t be down here.”

“She’s my daughter, Cole,” Val intoned, and continued on after Shelby, who had almost disappeared from sight ahead of them already. The snaking vine of the Venus crawling along the surface of the logs was her red thread, though.

“Right,” he said, and she did not like the way he said it. But they continued on, flashlights catching glimpses of deadly javelins of bark and hundred-foot drops into darkness. It might only have been minutes that passed, but it felt like longer, with Shelby’s dark silhouette ahead of them, until she found herself standing at a dead end—the log that they stood on terminated in another huge pine that had fallen against it, cut off any further egress. Shelby stood in front of it, staring up.

“Where now?” said Valerie, looking around.

“This doesn’t… this wasn’t here,” she said. “This wasn’t here last time.”

“Let me guess, we’re lost,” said Cole.

“This is the right place,” Shelby said, glaring past Valerie at him.

“Clementine,” Valerie called. “Clem, can you hear me?”

She could hear each breath, each droplet of deep water, each rustle of the Venus growing and the rumble of the footsteps and voices high and distant above in the silence that followed.

And then there was a squeak, a far-off cry, words too muffled for Valerie to make out.

“Thank god,” she breathed. “Clem, we’re here, honey. We’re going to find you, alright? We’re here.”

Shelby knelt by the collapsed trunk and patted the vine of the Venus, and it drifted along her arm; the girl shuddered and directed it downward into the logfall, beneath the pass ahead of them.

“This might be as close as we’re going to get,” said Shelby. “She had fallen, down, in the chamber ahead of us. Try this way.”

“Clem, keep making noise, okay?” Valerie called. “The Venus is here; it’s going to pull you out.”

There was a sound from behind them; the plasticine rustle of leafy vines and the kind of high-pitched warble that accompanied the Venus’s stranger bouts of growth. Following the path of the first vine were twenty more, draping the logs as they rolled down towards them, a giant’s beanstalk growing upside down into the earth. Valerie tried to keep calm footing as the swarm of vines trailed past her feet, and followed the seeking line of the first into the darkness below, where deeper trunks and shards of jagged bark poked up like pit traps. Twenty green, leafy ropes stretched past her feet into the belly of the logfall, shaking and reverberating from time to time, pulling taut and proceeding, retracting individually. An eternity might have passed watching those verdant harpstrings.

And then they were, all at the same time, retracting, leaves and thorns flowing past her feet, and slowly a body was carried out of the darkness like a newborn baby wreathed in leaves. It was Clementine, with one arm seeping blood from beneath the green coiled grasp of the Venus, and a leg dangling in awful red strips below the knee, and a grin.

“Hey Shelbs,” said Clementine, and frowned. “Hi mom. I think I’m gonna need a band-aid.”

The Tapes - Clues

If you’re like me, paying attention is not your strong suit. Here are some things I try to keep an eye out for.

Footprints. Look everywhere. Sometimes where the forest underbrush has been trampled. Mud stains on floorboards.

Blood droplets. Trails. Anything to show you movement.

Furniture. Has it been shifted? What could have caused that? Again with the movement.

Were they with someone they trusted?

What would they have looked at in their last moment?

Was what happened to them personal?

Story 2, Continued - One Door Closes

Valerie knelt over Clementine in the dawn light; the Venus had elevated her out of the pit and to the muddy bank, and it was now clear just how much damage there had been. Her leg was broken, her arm mangled, flesh ripped apart by the fall into sharp bark below. And yet, somehow Clem was conscious, and not screaming horribly as Shelby meticulously bound each wound as best she could.

“This is broken,” Shelby was saying. “And this splint is not good or permanent, it’s just to stop you from damaging this further while we get you home.”

“I can walk, just let me try,” Clem grunted.

“I will carry you if I have to,” said Shelby.

“We will leave the carrying to the Venus,” said Valerie. “You need not to strain this further. Not until Mrs. McGowan can take a look at you.”

“I can offer use of a Rosenbrace once we’ve returned to Scout City,” chimed in Milo; the Venus was reconstituting itself, pulling in reels of new vines and separating any of the ones it had left behind in the logfall.

“Unless you’ve invented one that works on lab grown girl I don’t think that’ll help me much,” sighed Clementine, hands clasped on her chest as Shelby worked.

“Sure is convenient that only Shelby sees the pig man,” Cole muttered from somewhere behind her. “No secret lair to be seen. No evidence.”

“That’s not true,” Clem called, and sat up, and was promptly pushed back down by Shelby. Cole, Virgil, the other deputies glanced up from their circle of conversation. “The pig’s name is Shank. He’s alive. He was down there with me. Shelby is not a liar.”

“He’s alive,” Shelby intoned, tying off the bandages around Clem’s leg. Valerie winced.

“Yeah,” Clem said. “There’s stuff we need to talk about. This… this is gonna get complicated.”

“We do,” Shelby nodded. “When he came back, it was from killing Mr. Greenstreet.”

“Mr. Greenstreet?” Clem said, several looks that Valerie could half interpret flashing across her face. “I’m… I’m sorry, Shelbs.”

“And if I haven’t killed him, then my job isn’t done,” Shelby continued, glaring up to the logfall.

“I know one way to root out a rat,” said deputy Ignatius, and he snapped his fingers, and a circle of flame drifted above his fingertips.

“I don’t think that’s a good idea,” said Clem, sitting up again; Valerie moved to support her shoulder. “Seriously. I think we need to regroup. I need access to my files…”

“Clem,” said Sheriff Virgil, and he came to kneel beside them both. “Look at yourself. You need to rest. You need to heal up. We can handle the case, alright? It’s not worth more than your life here.”

“It might be,” said Clem, and in a low voice, “I’m not sure that Shank is responsible here.”

“You’re saying he didn’t kill those four Scouts?” said Virgil, an eyebrow raised at Shelby.

“No, he did, but…” Clementine began.

“What are you saying?” Cole said, looming up behind his father, arms crossed. “The killer is down there. We have all of our deputies here. We can end this.”

Shelby was quiet as a stone, hands clenched tight.

“Everyone, please,” Clem said. “Trust me. We do not want to move on this guy yet. We’re missing something.”

Virgil pursed his lips beneath his weighty mustache.

“Valerie,” Clem said, looking over to her, imploring. It reminded her of a conversation they had had, once, being begged not to leave.

“Virgil, stand down,” Valerie said.

“Alright,” said Virgil, and he sighed, and stood up, cracked his back.

“Shame,” frowned Ignatius, and the flame at his fingertips dissipated.

“He killed Mr. Greenstreet,” said the burly deputy Heather, glancing sadly back to the logfall.

“All things in good time,” sighed Oswin.

Cole said nothing at all, only grunted at his father before storming back across the bank away from the logfall.

“I hope your intuition is right on this one, Clem,” said Virgil, tipping his hat. “Or we might be letting our one chance to catch this bastard slip by. Valerie, if it’s alright with you, we’ll keep this place on stakeout. See if he comes or goes. Any other information we can gather.”

“Alright,” Valerie said, giving him a warning look. “Just keep your deputies under control. The rest of us will return to Scout City.”

“If you’re ready,” Milo said; the Venus rose behind him on a hundred writhing vines, flowers grinning. It seethed across the earth, and took a gentle hold of Clementine, and lifted her much the same as its partner.

Valerie followed close behind Shelby, trailing the Venus as it ambled back through the titanic trees.

“You were incredible,” Valerie said to Shelby, watching the tangle of leaves stride along ahead of them. “You ran all this way. If it hadn’t been for that… who knows what might have happened.”

“She lied,” said Shelby, who neither smiled nor frowned. “She told me she was fine. She’s not fine.”

“No, she’s not,” Valerie said, wincing. “But I promise, I’m not going to stop until she is.”

Story 3 - The Burning Vengeance of Raj Greenstreet

“What the merry hell is a pig man?” said Raj Greenstreet. He leaned against the trunk of a massive pine, and observed the logfall stretching out below them.

“Not completely sure,” said Ben Alder, bearded and burly. They peeked from the great leaves of the underbrush, watched Scout City’s deputies meander in circles as they discussed what to do in the absence of the mayor. “We’ve suspected that someone was out here, murdering people for a while. Abraham Walker. Scouts going missing, one by one. He’s down there. That’s what they’re talking about. Whether to deal with him, or keep it a secret.”

“The beast killed my husband,” said Raj, and thought again of the sorry state in which they’d found Raoul, and added it to the tally of some future outpouring of rage. “I hope the only thing they’re discussing is how best to administer vengeance on Scout City’s behalf.”

“Perhaps they are afraid,” said Vincent, speaking up. “I’ve done some research on the Instrumentalist’s methods. I wasn’t sure, initially, about everything. But this—the only thing curious is how much strength would be required to lift bodies, string up a corpse that high. Perhaps they are afraid that they might incur his wrath further, if his spirit has survived somehow.”

“Can’t say I know much about the Instrumentalist,” said a voice behind Raj, and he looked over to find a young man, cheeks and eyes sullen before his time, an uninspiring mop of dark hair. “But I know about the pig man. When I and my sister were young, when we were headed for Scout City, he killed our parents. Scout City did nothing about it then. They’ve let him live all this time. And they’re still doing nothing.”

Raj, Ben, and several of the other members of the assembled band withdrew a few steps into the underbrush as deputies Cole and Ignatius passed by not too far off, making some kind of patrol around the edge of the logfall.

“The question is,” said Ben Alder, “how prepared are we to make sure these new Instrumentalist killings end here today?”

“If Scout City refuses to avenge my husband, then I will do it myself,” said Raj. “Are you alright Vincent? You seem nervous.”

“I… this is perhaps more than I was expecting,” said Vincent. “I was curious to see more about the man who has been putting all of these bodies in my morgue. Whether this is really the Instrumentalist himself. But I am not a killer.”

“It’s alright. You don’t have to look,” said Raj, whose inner fire was a righteous blaze. Of course Vincent had that kind of sensitivity to him. It was not a bad thing, but for Raj, the principle that guided him was to see this through. Once he slowed down, once he allowed the truth to catch up with him, there was no guarantee he would survive the onslaught. “How do we kill him?”

“Well,” said Ben, and he gestured up to the rest of his band; its aggrieved members began to empty their satchels, reveal torches, fabric, cans of fuel. “We burned the Instrumentalist’s house once before.”

The flames were beautiful, Raj thought, minutes later as the smoke began to rise, and then the inferno began to climb into the air above the logfall, and the dead trunks lit with embers as though carved with ancient runes. And the shouts of the Scout City deputies could not stop them now; could not halt the advance of the fire racing across the top of the logfall, descending into its unseen depths, burning the evils out of its inner darkness.

And there, in the center, he could see him. The little dark shape of a man, crawling from the pit, shambling across the burning logs, clothes sizzling, wearing the head of a pig, squealing in some abject terror.

This is how I feel on the inside, thought Raj. You have taken everything from me, everything worth staying for. Do you feel it? The heat dissolving your flesh, rending your particles into ash and carbon one agonizing moment at a time? This is what you have done to me.

Raj found himself smiling, as the silhouette vanished again from sight in the flame, and glanced down to a frowning Vincent, who clung to a nearby tree, like a skeleton forgotten in the woods. Raj sighed, and turned back to watch the flame rage, and for the first time since his husband had perished, wept, and really wept, and his screams could not be heard over the roar of the flame that burned in the heart of the forest.

The Conversation - If


Rest assured, when I rise, life on this world will not only go on, it will thrive. Its transformation will be complete. You thought it took beautiful shapes before? Just wait until I’m through. I’ll have so much for you to watch, Nikignik, and when we’re done here then I want your eyes on the universe, because I’m going to fill it with spectacular lights.






If you rise. The one named Diggory Graves might wake from their slumber and place their hand upon the heart, and siphon its energy. Or the charges in their hand might go off and damage this shell you dwell in.


You would not let that come to pass.




The bonus story that goes with this episode is called 'File 23: Ignatius Thorpe', 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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