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HFTH - Episode 153 - Irregularities

Content warnings for this episode include: Abuse, Violence, Death + Injury, Chopping up the body of probably a very nice man into small pieces, Blood, Mental illness, Gun Mention, Suffocation, Emotional Manipulation, Body horror, Religious Violence, Puppets, Terminal Illness

The Interrogation - Containment


You were unaware until that point that the Garden of the End intended to return.




Why were you investigating this object?


To pay my respects.


For a criminal.


For a friend.


To pay your respects.


As I had many times before. But I was allowed to feel him this time, to sense his presence. His return was near at hand.



Story 1 - Flesh Printer Blues

“I hate this,” said Clem. “I can sit in a bed at home. When I got shot, Shelby just took it out with a knife and I was fine.”

“Tough cookies,” said Valerie. “I don’t know how you managed to never get a checkup all these years.”

I know how, and it has to do with your parenting style, thought Clem, but she did not need to damage her brain with the argument in addition to the present ruin she had brought to her body. Shelby sat beside her infirmary bed, a hand in Clem’s and yet a thousand miles away. Clem squeezed Shelby’s hand just to bring her back to the present.

“How long do we have to stay here,” Clem groaned.

“Until Doctor McGowan says you can leave,” Val sighed from her rocking chair in the corner. “I wouldn’t count on leaving here for a while, hon. It’s a miracle you’re alive.”

“I have a case,” said Clem.

“Not anymore,” said Valerie, and crossed her arms wearily.

Clem looked up at her sharply. “What do you mean?”

“Clementine, you almost died,” said Val, breath shallow. “You need to rest. You need to heal. That is the only thing you should be doing for the next month. You’re off the case. I don’t know why I let Vincent talk me into having you on it in the first place.”

“I’m not a child,” said Clem. “You can’t ground me.”

“I cannot sit around and watch you destroy yourself,” said Val, an eyebrow raised, and there was a sharpness that Clem remembered but so rarely saw. “I am the mayor, yes, but I am also your mother.”

“Funny that you never act like either,” Clem said.

The air was heavy for a moment.

“I’m… I’m going to see what Doctor McGowan says,” Val managed at last, and she rose from the chair and pushed hastily through the door out of the makeshift hospital room. Clem sighed, and sat back in bed, stared at the patterns in the grain of the grown wooden ceiling, the light streaming in through the curtains. There was so much sun here in the Upper Trunk, and yet she did not feel warm.

“You stopped them from going after Shank,” Shelby said, calm as an ice storm.

“Yeah,” Clem said. “Or at least delay it. I talked to him down there. We were in the dark together.”

“He… spoke to you?” Shelby said, dark eyes searching hers.

“I’m not saying that he hasn’t killed people, he definitely has…”, Clem began.

“My mom. My dad. Those people,” said Shelby.

“I know,” Clem said, and glanced down to their hands intertwined. “And a lot of others, I think. But he said he’s not the one carving the bodies with these music signs. Scaring us with this Instrumentalist stuff.”

“And you trust the man who murders whole families for fun?” said Shelby gravely. Clem chewed on her lip, brushed her thumb over the soft cold space between Shelby’s thumb and index finger.

“I’m not sure,” Clem lied. “But I thought it was concerning. There are a few explanations I’ve thought of.”

Shelby’s hand let go of hers, and Clem almost sobbed at that. She watched Shelby rise from the chair, and storm wordlessly for the door.

Shelby fetched something from a satchel by the door and came back to sit by the bed, notebook and a pen in hand, watching Clem attentively. Clem smiled, and winced.

“Always material for the next story,” said Clem. “We… don’t have to talk about this now. If you don’t want to.”

“I want to hear you,” said Shelby. “Someone has to keep the case alive even if you’re stuck here in infirmary.”

Clem went to cross her arms, remembered that she only had use of the one. “You’re hot when you’re on a mission.”

“What are the options?” Shelby said, clicking her pen.

“Right,” Clem said, sitting back. “He mentioned that he works with someone called the Witch. He said she lives in a mansion somewhere nearby, that she fixes broken people. It reminded me of what a friend of mine… Diggory… had going on. Or the other Mendies, for that matter. She could be manipulating Shank. Or he could be made by her, or have multiple soul-bits living in him or something.”

“Soul-bits,” said Shelby. “Theory one.”

“He could be affected by something else—he starts to kill, then the Ghost of Solomon Reed possesses him or something,” Clem continued.

“Two,” said Shelby.

“He could be lying completely and he is doing the Instrumentalist stuff, and making me think otherwise is just a sick game or a way to buy time or something,” Clem sighed. “Although I don’t know why he would have let me go if that was true.”

“Three,” Shelby said, and paused. “He let you go?”

“Or, we might have the wrong guy, completely,” Clem continued, unable to get off a train of thought. “I watched him kill three Scouts, and probably a fourth. He killed your parents. But that doesn’t account for everything—Mr. Greenstreet, Abraham Walker, the mark in Joshua Wicker.”

“Four,” said Shelby. “Has anyone mentioned to the Wickers yet that one of their sons is dead? That’s going to be bad.”

“I’ll pass that one on to Virgil or Cole,” Clem sighed. “Maybe talk with Vincent. See if he’s uncovered anything about Mr. Greenstreet that could help make sense of things.”

Shelby paused for a moment, rolling a sentence around in that beautiful cold head of hers, and she opened her mouth at last to speak, just the same moment that the doorway opened, and Val stepped in, brushing tears on her worn jeans. She was followed by the bushy bundle of red hair and worry lines that was Doctor McGowan.

“Well, doc, am I dying,” Clem said, and breathed out and was bored. She did not like the silence that followed, and she looked up. The good doctor clung to her clipboard with white knuckles.

“Clementine,” the woman said. “There’s no easy way to say all of this. You have multiple fractures. Torn muscles and ligaments. A concussion. Massive blood loss and hemorrhaging. Frankly, your physiology is like nothing I’ve ever seen. I see a lot of unusual growth in people from the Black Rains, but this is different. You have organs that I can’t identify. Most of their compounds don’t even seem to be organic. I’m told that you were… created, fully formed. I think you were produced, not grown, exactly. Which is good, because anyone who sustained this much damage with a body like mine would already be dead. But the injuries you’ve taken here… I don’t know how to operate on them. As far as I can tell, you’re not healing. Your organs are shutting down. At the current rate, I don’t know if you have more than a week to live.”

“...well crap,” said Clem. The pen rolled out of Shelby’s hands and fell on the floor. Clem looked over to her, and smiled apologetically. “I guess we’re going to have to solve this one fast.”

“The case is over,” said Valerie, and scrubbed at her eyes with her palms. “Mrs. McGowan cannot operate on you. Your body doesn’t respond to the black rain, so trying to use that curatively is out of the picture. I don’t know where Stitchery Pins is these days and I’m not sure they could help. None of Milo’s inventions have been able to stick to you, so we can’t graft you. So I’m taking you somewhere else. If none of our medicine here at the Scoutpost can fix you, someone else can.”

Clem watched her for a moment, reading her eyes.

“You’ve got to be kidding,” Clem said.

“They made you. They must know how to put you back together,” said Val. “We’re leaving for Box Polaris within the hour.”

“You hate Lady Ethel,” Clem said, suddenly pointed. “I hate her. She hates you. In what world does she help us?”

“We go way back,” said Valerie. “And she’s greedy. I’ll figure it out.”

“I’ll go get our things,” Shelby said, but Clem put a hand out.

“Babe,” Clem said. “I’m going to need you to take the case."

Story 2 - Post-Apocalyptic Prayer Warriors

Buck leaned against the wall by their little window. The cabin was not spacious; it was in fact a shipping container that had been retrofitted as a cabin. The stack of cabins moved with the ship ever so slightly, and it made him feel uneasy as they swayed across the dark Atlantic.

Brooklyn sat on an upper bunk, feet together and hands in her lap in a yoga stretch, while Marco stood over a desk, preparing a tea from their meager supplies. Hope poked her head out from underneath the bunks, where she had set up a fortification of pillows to defend her territory, and appointed Nighty the night-gaunt as a guard.

“There is, as far as I can guess, a beast on board this ship,” said Buck. “But whether it is a beast of nature or of psyche or of both, I have yet to determine. The mangled neck of the nightwatch says animal to me, but the note indicates a more sinister motive.”

“May the best man win,” said Marco. “What does that mean?”

“And a fish,” said Brooklyn, eyes closed.

“It’s a herring,” said Hope, from beneath the bed.

Buck glanced down to her.

“That is an excellent observation,” he said, and unfolded the blood-written note from his coat to examine it again. “A red herring, at that.”

“Could it be a logo?” said Brooklyn. “No, what’s it called. A call sign?”

“Or a clue,” said Marco.

“Everything is a clue, dad,” said Hope.

“I’m reminded of the sea-hunting exploits of Captain Shaw, the one who’s following us in the security ship,” said Buck. “He was also one of the few that knew I, and perhaps Mr. Spade, would be on board.”

“May the best man win,” said Brooklyn. “I wonder if the competition is between you and the killer, or you and Mr. Spade.”

“Or Mr. Spade and someone; let us not grow so far in ego so as to forget that my presence here might be incidental,” said Buck, and turned his eye to the little window, and the grim and cloudy sky that hovered past the raindrops. “But I suspect it to be a battle of wits. And if so, I need to win urgently, because I fear each round will be played in blood.”

There was a rap on the door, and Buck started for the door, but Marco cut ahead of him, gesturing him back. Hope slid back into her fort beneath the bunks, and Brooklyn found her way back into shoes and her coat. Marco waited until the group had composed themselves for company, and then opened the door. Buck could not see from within who he was talking to; could only hear a voice that was airy and faltering.

“Hello,” said Marco.

“I seek the man named Silver,” someone said.

“Can I inquire as to who you are?” said Marco, and glanced over to Buck, who raised his eyebrows expectantly. “Mr. Silver is very busy with his work, you understand.”

“The murder of the night watchman, yes?” said the voice. “I am Sir Fen, of the Knights of Saint Loris. I bring information that may aid thee. There is a monster aboard this vessel, and it is in all of our interests to see it slain.”

The Tapes - Let Them Love You

Remember, you’re only human, and humans come with bias. It’s unfortunate but it happens. We love tribalism. We love drawing boundaries. We love making rules. And we love comfort. Safety. Security. When the case gets to its worst, every ounce of you is going to be screaming, let someone in. Tell them how you feel. Let them support you. Let them love you.

You can’t let it happen.

Story 2, Continued - Post-Apocalyptic Prayer Warriors

Sir Fen held the cup with both her hands as if it was the holy grail and she had never had tea before. She was wrapped in a dark robe, with hints of a silver armor beneath its folds, and a pommel in the shape of a crucifix jutted from the scabbard she had placed by her side. An interesting choice, Buck thought, to kill with Christ. Her skin was dark, her hooded face framed by braids. There was something curious about her eyes; the color bled into white crescents that cradled her pupils and made her seem like nothing so much as a ruffled owl, taking shelter from the storm outside.

“And so we journeyed across New York to arrive at the City of Liberty,” she said. “In the end our mission will continue in Europe, to test the purity of our faith and liberate the lands across the ocean of their tribulations. But our first mission, the reason we are on board this vessel, is to slay a great evil.”

“Is that what your order spends their time doing most days?” said Buck.

“Yes,” said Sir Fen.

“What qualifies as evil, exactly,” said Brooklyn, who had donned her glasses, inscribed her notes. Sir Fen looked to her curiously.

“That which is touched by the holy rains, and the nature of its sin is revealed by God,” she said.

“Anyone can be affected by blackwater,” said Marco. Buck shot him a glance, so as not to scare off the quarry.

“He who is free of sin shall walk through the purifying rain, and drink of it unharmed, but for those who harbor sin and unrepentance it shall be made clear upon their flesh the nature of their iniquities,” recited Sir Fen. “This is the doctrine of our order.”

“You came here with information for us,” Buck sighed, trying to let the past settle quietly within himself again. “The… monster, that your order is hunting. What do you know about it? You suspect it is what killed the night watchman?”

“Its mark is upon his corpse and upon this ship,” said Sir Fen, wide-eyed. “It is an ancient creature whose power has long been felt by our order. It takes on the guise of a human, at times, but just beneath the surface is a repugnant beast that feasts on our vital essence.”

“Lady Ethel Mallory,” muttered Marco.

“Preach,” muttered Brooklyn.

“Please,” Buck said, and his assistants quieted, and he returned his attention to the knight. “Sir Fen, what is it that your saint thinks we can assist you with?”

“We know the stench of evil aboard this vessel, but we do not know whose face it is wearing,” said Sir Fen, and set aside her tea, and clasped her gloved hands. “We beg thee, Sir Silver, reveal which among our passengers intends to drag us to this watery hell, and all of our swords will be at your side, and the blessing of Saint Loris upon you.”

Buck exchanged glances with his team. Brooklyn’s said, don’t trust her as far as you can throw her. Marco said, I can throw her if you need me to. Sir Fen seemed to take their silence as a response, and frowned.

“But perhaps it is beyond your ability to grant,” she began.

“Send my regards to your saint,” said Buck, and stood from the bed, and glanced to the window, and the red warning lights that now illuminated the mists beyond. “And let her know that I’m on the case.”

Story 3 - Forgiveness, A Soliloquy

Vincent found himself standing outside his own doorway in the late hours of the morning, breathing heavily. The world spun in a sunlit nightmare of light, his fungal eye pulsed with illuminating sensations, and his heart throbbed faster than his chest could contain. He patted his leg to dry his hand and felt his keys in his trousers, pulled them free, unlocked the front door, and he pushed into his parlor, and shut the door, and slumped down against it.

“I’m terribly sorry, Voltaire,” he said quietly. “You were right. I shouldn’t have gone. It was… it was all so frightening. Mister Greenstreet wasn’t what I thought at all. And I…”

He looked over to the umbrella stand beside him, and some string was pulled and a trap door opened beneath his heart.

Voltaire was not there.

“Voltaire?” he said.

There should have been carved wooden shoes and sticklike wooden legs pushing from the top of the umbrella stand, where he had left him. But there were only umbrellas.

“Well, well,” said Voltaire, voice reverberating beneath Vincent’s skull. “Look who comes crawling back.”

Vincent’s vision spasmed with dark and green spots. He looked down the hallway; the light was on in his autopsy room at the end of the hall, and the door open a crack that cast a long beam of light almost to his feet.

“I don’t know what I was thinking,” Vincent said. “I wasn’t thinking. He seemed so charming. But the fire, Voltaire. He lit a wildfire in the woods, he might have killed someone. He wasn’t what I thought at all.”

“Say it,” said Voltaire.

“Say what?” said Vincent.

Nothing came, but something interrupted the light. Something rolled past the crack in the door.

“Say it, Vincent,” Voltaire repeated.

“He never cared about me,” said Vincent, sadly and at last.

“No,” said Voltaire, and something else rolled across the floor in the room beyond. “He didn’t. When will you finally understand that I’m the only one who cares about you?”

It had felt so free, briefly, flying through the woods, Raj Greenstreet leading him on, in some adventure wildly out of Vincent’s character. Dreams. Illusions. Of course it hadn’t been real. It was too good to be true.

Something fell and clattered, metal instead of wet this time across the tile of the autopsy room. Vincent leaned forward, and began to crawl, one shuddering step at a time, towards the light.

“Voltaire?” he said. “What are you doing?”

“Nothing,” said Voltaire. “What are you doing, Vincent?”

He inched closer and closer to the door, squinted in the bright light of the autopsy room. He could only see the tile from his vantage point, but something had tracked red droplets in an arc across the floor.

“I was wrong to leave you,” said Vincent, mouthing the words like a prayer. “I was wrong to put you in the umbrella stand so cruelly. I know I don’t appreciate you enough, all that you do for me. I know I don’t show you enough thanks for our friendship. I know I don’t, Voltaire, I don’t mean to. I can just be such a thoughtless beast sometimes, Voltaire, so dreadfully ungrateful.”

“Oh Vincent,” said Voltaire. “I should just leave. You’d like that, wouldn’t you. I can’t keep letting you hurt me like this.”

“This is the last time, I promise,” said Vincent, tears rolling down his face, the knees of his satin trousers on carpet. “I’ll be better. I will. I won’t forget my lesson.”

“I’m trusting you, Vincent,” said Voltaire. Vincent pressed his hands to the door.

As it cracked open, he noticed first that an object sat on the floor beside him; it was a human hand, punctured through the wrist, neatly separated from the arm. Vincent stared at it, twitching.

“Voltaire,” he breathed.

“This is the last time that I forgive you,” said Voltaire, somewhere above him, on the autopsy table.

“Voltaire, what have you done,” Vincent whispered.

“Haven’t done nothin’, Vincent,” said Voltaire. “Why, what have you?”

Vincent’s hands were stained with blood, and beyond the hand what appeared to be a knee sat in the corner of the room, like an unattended playground ball. And Vincent rose to his feet, trembling, and as he did got a sight of Voltaire, who sat on the autopsy table quite still, with a surgical saw in his lap and painted face spattered red. Across the table, in over a dozen pieces, was the body of the late Mr. Greenstreet, once punctured by wires, now a disassembled puppet himself.

“Voltaire,” Vincent said. His head reeled, and his eye was screaming, and his vision was a rotten rainbow of color. He coughed, and suffocated, and stumbled back towards the door.

“Just remember,” said Voltaire, “Next time I might really lose my temper. What do you say, Vincent? What do you say when a friend forgives you?”

“Thank you,” Vincent sobbed. “Thank you.”

The Conversation - Wretched


I am not sure of anything now.


Are you threatening me? I don’t understand. Why this change and angst from you? I thought you would be happy to see me. I thought you would be overjoyed.


Does it bother you? That I dote on you no longer?


I never required anything from you. I simply don’t understand your sudden wretched mood.


You are the one who made me wretched.

The bonus story that goes with this episode is called 'File 29: Lady Ethel Mallory', 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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