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HFTH - Episode 157 - Delusions



Content warnings for this episode include: Beating a child (mentioned), Parental Abuse, Animal death (Shank as usual), Violence, Death + Injury, Blood, Mental illness, Gun Mention, Strangulation/suffocation, Emotional Manipulation, Body horror, Puppets


The Interrogation - Order

Nikignik

He was dreaming. I had never known him to dream. I had never known him to hold that much trust in the universe, dreamers.


Auditor

Who are you talking to?


Nikignik

But I had intervened so much by then. Gone through so much, on my own. I do not know why it is so hard to go back to the gentle past once you have come to terms with a new and terrible future.


Auditor

Let us return to our rubric.


Nikignik

And yet, there was a comfort in knowing I could blame all my troubles outward. This… there is no running now from what I have become. Now it is I that bear all my evils.


Auditor

Order.


Nikignik

What order? What clarity is there to be found in this madness?


Auditor

Order.


sounds of Nikignik in agony, again


Story 1 - Six More Words

Nikignik breathes and recovers


Buck wished for a storm. He had never in his life been out on the ocean, and ever since Little Mikey he had feared the water. But it would have broken some kind of tension to feel the waves heaving beneath him, to make the threat something you could see and feel in your bones. But instead, the threat was silent, and invisible, and the East Wind drifted in a silent miasma, and the sea was uncomfortably still, an endless black expanse rippling in every direction.


He asked Notoriety several questions as she piloted him back in the little shore boat to the East Wind, why she collected so many tattoos of words, and how did she come to be the first mate on the East Wind, but she did not respond to any of them. There was not even any wind to ease the silence. So he glared at the moon, and fancied that it was watching him in return, a huge pale eye studying all his secrets and lamentations.


He had gotten much talk out of Captain Eli Shaw of the Little David, but nothing useful, not the answers he needed. Whatever it was that hung above Captain Branston, and above the East Wind at large, it was still not much more than a shadow. But it was a shadow that Captain Branston had been expecting. What have you chosen to sacrifice, Buck thought, to buy us passage? How many of your list of passengers are really supposed to reach the shores of Europe?



When the shore boat had been hauled back to the deck of the East Wind, he was sure that Marco and Brooklyn were worried about him, and also that Captain Branston would be expecting him to check in regarding the latest dead nightwatch. But in the latter case, he was not sure that it was wise to talk to the dear old Captain without first attending other business, and in the former, that having his backup might send the wrong message to the task at hand. No. He had to find his man first.


When he finally found Dashiell Spade, it was beneath the decks. The rooms below were a great expanse of rusted metal hallways and rooms, and passengers in dark coats moved past him without speaking. He followed a thrumming sound that was different from the hum of the engines. The ceiling was low, and some of the taller passengers almost had to duck to fit within the large room at the heart of the ship. A floor of dirty black and white checkered tile spread out before him, and lights filtered through pieces of purple and green glass flashed as Valerie Maidstone crooned into a microphone. The impression was quite good, albeit for two things—that Valerie’s old music was often a rollicking scream, and this was a sultrier song fit for a nightclub, and that the real Valerie Maidstone had not clearly smoked as much blackwater herb as this one had.


Dashiell did not dance like the assembly of motley passengers, but sat at a high table to the side watching the Maidstone performance like a vulture. He was not the only one; Buck thought he recognized Sir Fen at another table nearby, looking drastically out of her element. A haze of smoke from an array of cigars and other implements hung in the air and clouded the room and Buck’s judgement . He moved through the standing or slowly gyrating members of the crowd, and came to stand over Dashiell’s table.


“Where were you,” muttered Mr. Spade, stubbing out the burning end of his cigar into an ashtray on the flimsy bar table. Buck took a seat across from him, with his back to Valerie. Intent as he was, he needed to rest his legs. “Captain Branston was looking for you. A nightwatch was found dead tonight.”


“I know. I was on board the Little David, asking some questions,” Buck said, leaning over to hear Mr. Spade just a bit better, trying to keep his own voice low. “He told me that you’d already been there, following up a line of inquiry.”


“Did you get anything useful out of him?” said Dashiell, watching Buck from beneath the brim of his hat. “If you did, it’s more than he gave me.”


“Likely not,” said Buck, and waved off an encroaching member of the bar staff. “Listen, Mr. Spade. I just want to be sure that neither of us are making moves that might fowl up the other’s investigation. Tripping over each other may provide the killer the opportunity they need to evade us.”


“You’ve forgotten the note we received, then,” said Dashiell, hands together on the table.


“May the best man win,” Buck said, and met the man’s gaze. “I hope you’re not treating this as a competition.”


“You said it, not me,” said Dashiell. Hands withdrawn. “Mr. Silver, last night we talked business as two fellow men who work in the same field. But do not think for a moment that we are partners on this case. I will pursue my line of inquiry and I trust you to do the same. And it may be that I will beat you to the punch.”


“I have no interest in punches,” said Buck. “Your demeanor towards me has shifted. I do not know why.”


“So you didn’t receive the second note, then,” said Mr. Spade.


“Second note? No, I did not,” said Buck, feebly.


“It was on the the body of the nightwatch killed hours ago. If you had been around to investigate, it, perhaps.”


Dashiell shrugged, and stood.


“Mr. Spade, I caution you heavily against this course of action,” said Buck. “You cannot play a killer’s game and expect to win. They have already won if you humor them. I urge you to collaborate with me on this. There will be another killing tomorrow night if not even sooner, I am sure. We can stop this together if we put our minds to it.”


“I have a feeling you’ve reeked of desperation your whole life, Mr. Silver,” said Mr. Spade. “I can’t fault you for it. I too have been a desperate man. I wish I could indulge you. But I’m afraid the circumstances have changed. There are stakes now, in this game, and I cannot afford to take risks. This is the last help you will receive from me. Until all this is done.”


Dashiell removed a folded piece of paper, spotted with a heavy red ink that had seeped through, and slapped it on the table, and disappeared into the crowd. Buck shook his head, and reached out, took the paper, unfolded it. Six words were inscribed with the blood of the second nightwatch.


“The winning prize: your daughter lives.”


Story 2 - He's Never Like This

“Vincent?” said the voice at the door. Vincent crouched on the other side, and looked over to Voltaire, who Vincent held up with one hand so that Voltaire’s little wooden shoes stood correctly on the floor.


“We talked about this, Vincent,” said Voltaire. “You can’t trust him.”


“No, I know that, but…”


“Vincent,” called the voice of Raj Greenstreet again, and there was another round of knocking. Vincent looked over to the closed door to the cold room; Shelby was in there guarding the body of the grotesque pig man the deputies had hauled back from the woods, and he was afraid she might hear if the commotion became too loud.


“Pretend you’re not home. He’ll go away,” said Voltaire.


“What if he finds out,” Vincent whispered. “What if he finds out what you… what we did, to his husband’s body.”


“You know how hard it is, to always be the one who solves your problems?” said Voltaire.


“I know, I know…” said Vincent.


“Don’t you let him in,” said Voltaire, and his little wooden head turned to look at trembling Vincent. Vincent put his hands to his face.


“He has a right to come in,” said Vincent. “His husband’s body is still here, he…”


The next volley of knocking began, a proper pounding against the door this time, and Vincent jolted to his feet, undid the bolt in a flash, and slid the door open before Raj could cause even more of a ruckus.


“Vincent,” said Raj. The man stood on the doorstep in surprise; sleepless bags hung beneath his twitching eyes.


“Hello, apologies for the wait,” said Vincent, and looked down to nudge Voltaire out of the doorway with his foot. “I was rather in the middle of something. I hope you haven’t been waiting long.”


“No trouble at all,” smiled Raj, and Vincent felt a shiver of warmth at that, and Raj stepped up, pushed past him gracefully into the parlor.


“I suppose you’re here to check on your husband,” Vincent said, and scooped up Voltaire and darted after Raj, trying to get between him and the door to the autopsy room.


“My late husband,” said Raj, pausing in the parlor. It felt to Vincent as though the man’s eyes contained a little of a sunlight that Vincent rarely exposed himself to. “Why would I do that? I know he’s in good hands. I came, truth be told, to check on you.”


“On me?” said Vincent.


“Vincent, get him out of here,” said Voltaire. “He’s going to find out. And then he’s going to hate you.”


“Yes, you’d seemed rather upset, and the way that things turned out…” Raj said, put his thumbs in the pockets of his perfectly neat trousers. “I was furious, Vincent. I wanted him to die. But somehow it’s slightly different when you’re lighting a flame, and when you’re responsible for the death of someone. I lit a flame, and now there’s another body here in your morgue.”


“Rest assured, from the sounds of it, your late husband was far from the only victim of this new Instrumentalist,” said Vincent. “You brought justice for many families.”


“Perhaps,” said Raj. “Anyway, that’s not really the point. The Coda seem to be good people, they really are. Most of them people who’ve lost someone to the Instrumentalist, back then or I suppose very recently. You’d be welcome there, if you’re in need of friends. You seemed disturbed afterwards, and I wanted to check on you. If you’re alright.”


“Right as rain,” Vincent said, although there was hardly a breath in his chest.


“I warned you, Vincent,” said Voltaire. “I warned you what would happen.”


“Please, leave,” said Vincent.


“Pardon me?” said Raj.


“But did you listen to me? No,” said Voltaire.


“Please, leave,” said Vincent, backing away towards the autopsy room.


“I… I’m afraid I don’t understand,” said Raj. “I apologize if I’ve come at a bad time.”


“Yes,” said Vincent, “a very bad time.”


“I told you,” said Voltaire. “That someday there would be consequences.”


The Tapes - At Odds

Sometimes - it happens rarely, but sometimes - you’re going to be at odds with your own case. Justice and reason and order is going to say one thing. Your heart and your head is going to say another. Good detectives listen to the former. Good detectives don’t let emotion get in the way of cold hard fact. Good detectives understand that law is defined by the society, not by the individual.


Unfortunately, I’ve never been a good detective.


Story 2, Continued - He's Never Like This

Vincent first came to the realization that Voltaire was suddenly in motion. The puppet rolled across the floor as debris exploded out from the wall. Raj Greenstreet was there, still, hands covered in blood the way that Vincent’s were, and a bone saw clattered down not far from where Voltaire had fallen into the hallway, and a piece of the wall tile fell away in one large chunk and buried the puppet entirely.


Vincent breathed in dust and the copper scent of blood. His fungal eye ached terribly, and spots of purple and green flashed in his vision. It took him several blinks to make sure that what he was seeing, standing beyond him and Raj, in his parlor, was not some daydream or product of fever.


Shank stood on his own feet, brushing pieces of Vincent’s parlor wall away from him. He was wreathed in dust and splinters, skin charred by the fire, clothes singed, stench festering. The head of a pig, eyeless and garish, sitting squarely on brutish shoulders that strained the confines of a dissolving clown uniform. Shank looked back to them both, where they sat against the autopsy table.


“The Instrumentalist,” whispered Raj. Raj did not seem to dare move any more than Vincent.


Shank reached towards them and down, slowly, to pick up the bone saw that Voltaire had dropped. He inspected the large flat silver blade of it, as if checking the polish, and then shook the floor with each footstep as he trudged away, and walked through Vincent’s front door, splintering it the way he had splintered the wall.


“Shelby?” Vincent called, rising to his feet, knees shaking. He felt momentarily guilty that it was not Voltaire to whom he had called first.


“I’m alright,” said Miss Allen, and she emerged from the hole that Shank had left in the cold room—Vincent’s funeral parlor was half rubble now. “I’m not hurt. He’s…”


She looked up to see Shank disappear from sight, into the daylight, into Scout City.


“I should go,” she said, and began following through hastily, out the hole in Vincent’s door.


Vincent began to say several things at once, and could muster none of them, and instead knelt beside his autopsy table. Raj Greenstreet stared at him, and Vincent gestured to his hands.


“Are you alright?” said Vincent, glancing back to the puppet buried beneath the rubble. “I’m so sorry, Raj. He’s never been like this before. Never been quite like this. What did he do? Did he hurt you? Oh these look terrible…”


Raj’s hands, almost as old as Vincent’s, were torn with long, jagged marks, red wounds that dripped to stain Vincent’s white tiles. Vincent went for a bandage immediately, rummaging through a shelf’s contents and coming back to sit beside Raj a moment later, but Raj pulled his hands closer to his chest.


“What is wrong with you, Vincent?” he said.


“I’m sorry, I really am,” said Vincent. “We should get out of here, before he starts up again. I know he will.”


“Who are you talking about?” Raj said, a world of confusion finding its way to the surface. He followed Vincent’s gaze to the small pile of rubble in the hall. One of Voltaire’s little wooden shoes protruded from beneath it.


“Voltaire,” said Vincent. “He’s done terrible things, I know. I can’t believe he’s done this to you.”


“Vincent,” said Raj, and grasped Vincent’s trembling hands with his bleeding ones, and looked into Vincent’s eyes, searching for something buried. “Your puppet? Didn’t do anything to me. You did this. You attacked me moments ago. Do you really not remember?”


Story 3 - Tough Love

Shelby found herself standing at the door to 116 Fisher Lane of her own accord. She was, for a moment, not sure why she had not returned to the butcher shop, or to her own home, until she remembered that Cannibal had been left by herself inside for close to a day and was probably in need of food and cleaning. She went for her key, but found that the door was open already, and that made her nervous.


Nervous, in a world where Shank walked free in Scout City. What could be in Clementine’s apartment that was worse than that?


Clementine. Clementine could not be home yet. She did not know if it would take days or weeks for the Botulus Corporation to fix her, but it had to be a while yet. And yet she could not help but hope, just a little, that Clem would be there as she always was, pacing behind her desk or playing the saxophone, that nothing in the world had gone wrong. Shelby twisted the handle and shut the door behind her. The foyer inside was covered with shreds of something that might once have been a newspaper.


“Hello?” a voice called from upstairs, one that was familiar, but in the wrong place. The beagle, Cannibal, came bounding down the stairs, rolled down the last few after a misstep on her limited number of paws, and came up to greet her, yipping and sniffing at her boots. Shelby half smiled, although she did not kneel to greet the dog in return. Her attention was diverted upwards, to where Mulder stood halfway up the stairs to the top apartment.


“Oh thank god,” he said. “I wasn’t sure where you were. Something’s wrong, isn’t it? I can tell when things are wrong.”


“Yes,” said Shelby, and she shuffled past Cannibal, stepped out of her heavy mud boots, and only made it as far as the stairs before she fell, came to sit on the first few steps. Mulder descended quickly to take her arm, sit beside her. She set her crossbow down with a clatter.


“Whoah now,” he said. “Really. Are you hurt? Did you get shot or something? What’s going on?”


“It’s.. it’s everything,” she said. Words, thoughts, struggled to arrange themselves. Maybe that was the lack of sleep finally making itself known. “Clementine’s hurt. She might die. Mayor Val’s taken her out of the city, to Box Polaris. She’s going to see if the Botulus Corporation can help. And in the meantime, I’m in charge of the case and it’s all slipping away and it’s all going wrong.”


“She’ll be okay,” said Mulder. “She will. You know Mayor Val. She doesn’t stop until she gets what she wants. But it must be pretty serious.”


Shelby nodded. “It is. We were in the northern logfall, investigating. The Instrumentalist… the lead brought us to the pig man.”


Mulder went quiet and still, paler than usual.


“I saw the headlines,” he said. “What happened?”


“I’m not sure. We got sidetracked—Clementine got stuck down there and I went for help. There was a fire. He’s…”


“He’s dead,” said Mulder. “Isn’t he?”


Shelby was quiet for a moment.


“Mulder,” she said. “I need to talk with you. About mom and dad.”


“They’d be proud,” said Mulder. “I know they would be. That you’ve worked so hard for so long to avenge them.”


“Mulder,” she said. “Did they ever hurt us?”


He leaned to search her face for some emotion. She had none to offer.


“Why are you asking this?” he said quietly.


“Did they beat us?” she said, and chewed on the inside of her cheek until it bled. “Did they love us at all?”


“Of course they loved us,” he said. “They disciplined us. It’s not the same. Sometimes the people that love you hurt you. But they do it for your own good. It’s to make you better. Because you wouldn’t learn without it. They wouldn’t have been loving parents if they didn’t parent us. You know that.”


“I guess,” said Shelby, drinking iron.


“Who told you this?” he said. “Why are we talking about this now?”


“I talked with him,” she said. “Shank. The pig. He spoke to me.”


“About our parents,” said Mulder.


“Yes.”


“Is he dead?” her brother said.


She said nothing.


“Please, Shelby, tell me he’s dead,” he continued. “Tell me you pulled the trigger. Please tell me you didn’t let him get in your head. He killed our parents in cold blood. He took them from us. You’ve been waiting your whole life to make this right.”


“I let him go,” Shelby said, and her head sank into her hands. “I don’t know why. I should have, Mulder. I should have. But some small part of me believed him. I let him go.”


She felt him withdraw before he even moved; felt some coldness come between them. He took his hand away from her shoulder, and moved away from her ever so slightly, as much as he could do on the narrow stair.


“You let him go,” he said. “The man with our mom and dad’s blood on his hands.”


“I’m sorry,” she said. “We were at Vincent’s morgue, and I just couldn’t. He walked out like nothing even happened.”


“You… you don’t need to be sorry to me,” he said, standing, and he descended the last few steps, leaned his elbow against the door, his face tucked against it. “It’s not over. We can still fix this. But you let him go. Here. In Scout City. And now the entire city is going to pay.”


The Conversation - Petty Moss and Earth

Marolmar

You would let the one being in this universe that loves you die for the sake of some world of petty moss and earth?


Nikignik

I am… I am trying to think. I know this much, I cannot allow you to wake. Not here. Not now. There can be no spring.


Marolmar

Awfully set on that, aren’t you.


Nikignik

More than you know.


Marolmar

Clearly.


The bonus story that goes with this episode is called 'File 4: The Coda', and is available on Patreon.com/hallowoods. Because Hello From The Hallowoods is created without advertising or sponsors, we rely on patronage to make this show possible!




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