Content Warning: This episode may include themes of Abuse, Animal death, Violence, Kidnapping and Abduction, Death + Injury, Blood, Sexism and Misogyny, Transphobia, Homophobia, Guns, Strangulation, Misgendering, Emotional Manipulation, Drowning, Bugs, Spiders, Body Horror, and Consumption of Inedible Materials.
Intro - Blasphemous Pig
You go out to visit your farm animals in the early hours of the morning. The dew glistens on the black grass; you know your creatures have not been quite the same since you took them north. Your pigs cower in fear, huddled in the corner of their pen—except for one. Its skin absorbs the light, and it is easily twice the size of the others. Above the pig, a spiderweb gleams in the rays of dawn. In it, there is a word. ‘Blasphemous’. You sweep it away with a broom, but the next morning there is one less pig, and the bloated one has grown more eyes. The word in the web says ‘Indescribable’. On your last morning, there are no other pigs left, and the nightmare boar squeals, and the web that spans across the barn spells ‘Hello From The Hallowoods’.
Right now, I’m sitting in a dark little corridor. The stones are carved with ancient names... one of them might be mine. The only life that stirs up the dust here are creeping, stalking things that can see in the dark, and snatch up the unsuspecting in a web of knowledge. Naturally, I mean librarians. The theme of tonight’s episode is Spiders.
Story 1 - Soul Weaver
Clara glanced into the darkness, looking for any eyes flashing in the shadow. It was hard to tell when you were being watched in this place, but her intuition rarely led her astray, and she could not feel anyone—ghost or otherwise—in the corridor looming ahead of her. Moments before the door had been a picture of a black pillar in a snowy landscape.
Things were rarely as they appeared here, but she got the impression that this passage was not well-travelled. The draft of air smelled like dog, but so did everywhere that her ghostly pet accompanied her. The hound sat next to her feet, looking up at her with curious black eyes, glowing dimly in the hall.
“You first,” Clara whispered, pointing to the opening. Dogsmell looked at her suspiciously. “You’re a ghost. What are you afraid of?”
The hound whimpered.
“Fine. Heel, doggo.”
Clara raised her hand, and pushed it tentatively into the darkness. It sank into the shadow and vanished, and she could not feel any light switches on the sides of the passage. It was worth a shot.
“Okay. On three.”
Clara stepped into the black portal, and found herself immediately in a small stone passage, lit only by the dim glow of her dog. The stones were carved with odd grooves and pictograms, stretching across the walls, images she couldn’t quite decipher. There were a lot of hands, and antlers, and tentacles, and eyes.
“This is not what I expected libraries to be like,” Clara breathed.
Dogsmell drifted ahead of her in the passage, and just ahead she could see that the walls disappeared, although the floor remained. She took a deep breath, trying to feel out the room. Everyone else was here for a reason, had something special. She could see dead people a little more clearly than most, perhaps, but she wished in the moment that she could make fire with her mind or manifest a flashlight or something useful.
Instead, she relied on the light of the ghostly hound as she crept out of the hallway into a larger chamber she could barely see. In the dim glow she caught large bookshelves, antique volumes and bell jars glistening in the dark. Dogsmell growled.
“It’s okay. Look, we found books. That’s exciting,” Clara stepped towards them, and then the lights went out. She spun around, trying to control her panic and keep it from seizing her throat. “Dogsmell?”
She tripped on the edge of a stone tile, and fell against the floor, losing her glasses. She realized lights were blinking on above her, glowing brighter the more she focused on them, like stars in the night sky. Something large moved across them, a black void shifting over the light, and she snatched up her glasses.
She could see clearly then, and choked with fear. The ceiling raised in high arches above her, towering above the rings of bookshelves. Strung up in the ceiling were ghostly figures, caught in a black web of colossal proportions. They lit up the room, glowing with ethereal energy and staring down at her with half-eaten faces.
Still more concerning was the huge dark shape that blotted out their light as it moved, shifting across the glowing network. There was a yelp from above, and she realized with horror that her dog was being pulled up into the ceiling, spindly legs wrapping it in black thread.
Immediately Clara was in motion, trying not to think about the size of the bloated thing above, looking for something to slash or throw among the collection on the bookshelves. She pulled a jar of heavy fluid off the shelf, trying not to look at what floated inside.
She pitched it into the ceiling, but it only shattered against the roof and became tangled in the web, cascading liquid down the strands. Her nostrils were filled with the sharp scent of alcohol. She darted back as a bristle of black legs crept over the edge of the shelf above her. Then something pulled at her shoulder, and she screamed, turning in the darkness.
“Don’t tell me you’re scared of spiders,” a voice said, ducking out of the path of her fists.
“Friday?” Clara whispered in confusion. The taller girl stood next to her in the darkness, pulling welding goggles over her eyes.
“Duck,” Friday said, and Clara barely had time to get out of the way as Friday raised a weapon and squeezed the trigger.
A burst of flame jumped into the air, illuminating dozens of gleaming black eyes as a titanic spider went flying back across the ceiling, dropping into the labyrinth of books. The flames lit up across the web, racing across their black pathways. Above her, the glowing souls screamed.
“Are you waiting for it to come back?” Friday said, already at the door to the chamber. Clara watched as her dog struggled free from the flaming webs, dropping from the ceiling and racing after her. In the middle of the room, a thrashing of huge legs sent books and artifacts flying.
“Coming,” Clara said, following Friday into the passageway.
Friday said nothing as she slipped through the shadows, but Clara followed her through each set of winding halls, hidden in paintings and sitting-rooms and reliquaries. A wardrobe became a twisting staircase that reminded Clara too much of home.
She allowed herself to breathe again as she stepped out under the stars, and she was greeted by a blast of cold night air, fresh and burning in her lungs. She felt as though she had just been beneath the surface of some dark lake, and was breathing for the first time in weeks.
“Thank you,” Clara said.
“Why did you go in there?” Friday said, shrugging off the heavy canister of the flamethrower. She stared out across the top of the black forest that stretched out in every direction, and Clara realized they were on a small platform in the roof of the library.
“I was looking for books,” Clara said. Dogsmell came to put its head against her, and although her hands passed through it, she tried to give it a comforting pat.
“How are you supposed to know which doors are life-threatening here? Also, what was that thing?”
“Don’t go in any portraits. Or the painting with the sunflowers. Or the umbrella stands. You’ll find books, but only when they let you. Give it time.”
Clara walked over to stand beside Friday, looking out over the immense darkness of the forest. “I’m trying to learn. I really am.”
Friday said nothing, fiddling with her goggles.
“Any news about your friend?” Clara asked.
Friday shook her head. “It doesn’t matter. They’re gone. Not coming back.”
“I’m sorry,” Clara said as she shivered in the breeze, watching the clouds loom across the stars on the horizon. “I’m missing someone too. There was this girl, named Riot.”
Friday said nothing, staring out at the woods without expression. Clara decided to keep talking.
“We talked for years over the radio—after my parents got sick, she was all I had. We even lived together in her RV for a little while. But we were attacked by… I think they call it the Instrumentalist? I thought she’d come back. I kept waiting. But she never did.”
“Yikes,” Friday said, glancing at Clara. Her eyes were pinpoints of light in the shadow. “I can guarantee you nobody cares.”
“What?” Clara said, stunned.
“Every single person here is a product of misfortune,” Friday continued. “This library is a test. For who’s going to survive and take what’s left of this world, and who is weak. Who will die with the rest. Olivier was weak, or they’d still be here. So was your Riot, apparently. It’s best to accept it and move on as quickly as you can, because they’re not going to slow down for you.”
“She was trying to protect me.” Clara said, a rage she was unused to burning in her cheeks.
“And yet, only one of you made it into Downing Hill,” Friday stated.
“Nobody has even told me what that means!”
“What, Downing Hill?” Friday said, turning to glare at her with wide, black eyes. “To be at Downing Hill is your only hope of surviving. Really surviving. Every dark secret humans ever found, every book that was too dangerous to read, every trace of contact with the bigger things in this universe—it’s all buried here. They’re looking for people with gifts—the people who are going to help us, humans, last the next couple of years or decades or centuries. You’re here because they see potential. I guess time will tell.”
Friday turned without saying anything more, descending down the stairs into the depths of the library.
“Good night,” Clara called, and sat down with her dog in the chill breeze, tasting the air. She shivered, but deep down, she knew that she could not be shaken.
She had been through too many tests to turn back or give up, and there was no one like her that she knew. No one who ghostly dogs protected, no one who could hear the whispers from beneath the earth. She was going to play their game, she decided. She was going to win.
Interlude 1 - Spider Day
Attention, dreamers that reside anywhere in the Hallowoods: today is Spider Day. Don’t act all surprised, it happens every year.
Spring dawns on the Hallowoods, and as the weather warms, baby spiders wake in their egg sacs and begin to look for food. For the next few days you will find that the world is decorated with spiderwebs, enveloping trees and underbrush with thousands of crawling predators hunting for flies, or depending on the size of the spider, for larger prey.
Please keep in mind that spiders in the Hallowoods are getting bigger and stranger with every passing year. Be extra cautious of slender silk ropes strung over roads or hiking trails. Naturally, avoid walking into any webs that are larger than you. They were probably designed by a spider interested in food that is your size. Perhaps today you should avoid the woods altogether.
We go now to one who is accustomed to freeing herself.
Story 2 - Like Ocean Waves
Riot could hear the ocean, and she smiled. She had only seen it through films from the bunker’s archive, but she had always wanted to walk on a real beach, swim in saltwater, and sleep in the hot sun.
As her awareness returned, she realized she was far too cold to be at the beach, and the wind rushing in her ears was not quite as comforting as waves would have been.
She opened her eyes to find herself flying. She hated that, but this was worse than her last experience—at least then she had been abducted by some fancy little person in a blue cape. Still terrifying, but it had not inspired the same feeling of all-encompassing dread and powerlessness as this rush into darkness.
Ahead of her, a long red coat drifted in the snowstorm, and the Instrumentalist was carried by wisps of light that she could barely see, odd forms that occasionally had hands or faces. Riot realized they were carrying her, too, and the old man’s host of instruments drifted in his wake like great insects.
There was a crackle of thunder behind her, something fast approaching, and she watched as a figure raced past her out of the white winds. It was the blue-haired boy, feet wrapped in fog and his cape an embroidered flurry of storm clouds. She could barely hear the voices carried on the breeze as he approached the Instrumentalist, hovering side by side.
“Where were you?” the Instrumentalist asked, and his voice brought Riot a fresh wave of dread. She struggled to break free, but her invisible captors could not be shaken. Rage boiled in her chest. She was not getting taken by this old creep. She had to find a way to outrun him.
She wondered if she would find out what happened to Clara—if she was still alive in his horrible old house, or if she was trapped somewhere, a key away from being turned into some awful instrument. Riot’s pocket felt deathly empty without the key.
The storm boy said something, but his voice did not carry across the wind. Riot racked her brain for solutions, but she could barely think from the cold, and for the first time it occurred to her that she might have fallen into a situation she could not fight her way out of. Black treetops raced beneath her. What was the point? Of her mom bringing her north, of all the fear and caution? Her mom was gone, and Clara probably was, and she might as well be too.
Riot became aware of something in front of her—a figure cast in light, the same as Percy and the Instrumentalist’s other ghosts. It was a woman, but her face was not disfigured like most of the others. She had cold eyes, and billowing hair that gleamed green in the early morning light. She raised a finger to her lips, staring into Riot’s eyes.
Riot nodded, unsure of what to say—and then the woman snapped her fingers, and Riot was falling out of the sky, crashing through the black pine needles as she hurtled to the ground.
Her impact was slowed by something that cushioned her like a trampoline. She struggled to regain her senses as the feeling came rushing back to her hands and face. She realized that she was caught in a surface of odd fiber that adhered to her with incredible strength. Glancing around, she found that they crisscrossed everywhere between the trees, stretching across the undergrowth and branches of the clearing. They looked too much like gigantic spiderwebs for comfort.
It occurred to her that they would probably be back to find her soon. One of her hands was wrapped in the web, but with the other she fished for the switchblade, and cursed as it fell out of her vest pocket onto the dirt below. Reaching to grab it, her hand caught in another thread, and she frowned at the tacky consistency, trying to pull her hand free.
Then there was movement, and Riot squinted as a gleaming light crawled out of the other side of the clearing. It was a spider, she realized in horror, as large as a car, and covered in scintillating colors and a huge thorny abdomen.
It approached with delicate steps, but it did not come straight for Riot. Instead, it moved to the center of the clearing, and Riot realized there was a large white orb floating in the air, suspended by thin ropes from the nearby trees. She watched it in terrified awe, trying in vain to free her hands. She hoped desperately that it was a lost beach ball or a tiny sun, anything except what she thought it was. Then it squirmed.
The great jeweled spider sat above it like a god of the sun, heralding a new day. A black slit appeared in the ball of web, and then a pale thing the size of a hand dropped out, and another, and another. Riot shrieked as the ball of web tore, and the infant spiders began pulling themselves across the undergrowth in her direction.
There was a rumbling in the distance then, shaking the earth like a thunderstorm. What was better, Riot wondered—becoming spider food, or getting turned into a guitar?
The crashing grew louder, and the spider mother raised its legs into the air, hissing.
Then a long tree branch came swinging out of the treeline, pinning the spider to the forest floor and shattering its shiny plates. Riot squirmed as the small pale spiders crept towards her dangling feet, but her attention was drawn upwards as a huge figure stumbled into the clearing.
The adrenaline surged in Riot as she took in the awful features—sunken, smoldering eyes, jagged exposed teeth, a swollen body that towered into the trees—and it did not reassure her that she knew him.
“Big Mikey?” she said.
“Oh hey!” the giant stomped into the clearing, a trail of dogs following in his wake. He grabbed the white sack out of the air, yanking it free of the supporting ties.
Riot screamed and kicked as a spiderling skittered up the webs to reach her feet, pale and almost translucent. Big Mikey looked on with interest.
“Did you read any books at the Scoutpost?” Big Mikey said. “I like books.”
“Get these off me!” Riot shrieked.
Big Mikey crossed the clearing in one massive step, and his huge yellow nails plucked the spider away, holding it in the air for a moment curiously, before popping it into his gargantuan mouth.
“Want any?” Big Mikey asked, offering the white sack. Little spiders escaped down the awful titan’s arm.
“Ugh. No thank you,” Riot said, trying to keep her stomach from revolting.
“Suit yourself,” Big Mikey shrugged, turning to leave and scooping a clawful of spiders into his teeth.
“Wait,” Riot said. “Can you help me out?”
Big Mikey appeared to take new interest. He knelt down close, his jagged face a few feet from her.
“What do I get?” he said.
“I…” Riot blanked. She remembered dogs and bad breath from her limited memories of him. “I don’t know, what do you want?”
Big Mikey looked as if he was thinking hard, crunching an escaping spider in his mouth.
“Will you read me a story?”
Riot nodded, looking away. “Sure. Whatever you want, buddy. But you need to get me out of here right now, okay?”
Big Mikey smiled, but then again, he was always smiling. He reached out and wrapped a hand around Riot, peeling her out of the web. Riot thought her shoulder would dislocate, but she broke free.
“Okay,” she gasped, stumbling to her feet. “Let’s get going.”
Marketing - Only Strategy
Welcome back to marketing tips with Lady Ethel Mallory. As the chief marketing officer of the Botulus Corporation for the last… well, for a long time, I’ve helped the company grow from just one out of a sea of measly competitors into the final brand. The end-all supplier. The company that spans the world and carries it forward.
We have plucked up our competitors, wrapped them in silk, and drained them until they were dried-out husks. Why? Because we need people to focus on us. We need their attention. We need them to walk into our web so we can own them forever, drinking their lifetime value. If they do not belong to us, they will belong to someone else.
That’s the biggest mistake marketers make. You need to do whatever it takes to pull them in. Consent has been irrelevant for decades—they’ll click a terms and conditions box without even realizing that it was there.
People are greedy creatures, and what do they want? Comfort. Convenience. Every little pain in life to be smoothed out and taken away. That’s what you need to deliver. That’s what you need to sell. Every single choice needs to answer one question—will this convert them?
Because you know what? There is no good. There is no bad. There is only strategy, and the bright dawn of a happy tomorrow. In this next exercise we’ll analyze the weaknesses of your own psychology...
Story 2, Continued - Like Ocean Waves
Dreamers, you may hear thoughts like these from the leaders of your time, and be shocked. Be horrified. But do not deny the truth in them. These truths have shaped the world around you. If your kind did not light this world on fire for a little profit, you might have all survived many years longer. You might really have gone somewhere, dreamers.
But now you sleep, in black ponds or silver boxes, or if you are very lucky, in a lonely little bed somewhere where you are still free to dream and to listen to me.
Still, you sleep. And still the world burns.
We go now to Riot Maidstone.
Riot was not entirely sure when she had fallen asleep. She had not rested in the better part of three days. A sharp, malodorous scent brought her quickly back to reality, and she realized that she was facedown in the dirt. Above her, Big Mikey sat, eyes flecks of green in the light of a small fire. A piece of unidentified meat was roasting above it.
“What are you looking at?” Riot mumbled, pulling herself up.
“I thought you were dead,” Big Mikey said. “But then I saw you were breathing, so you had to be asleep. So I let you sleep.”
“Thanks?” Riot spat out soil. “How long was I out?”
Big Mikey shrugged. “I dunno. I don’t know the times yet.”
“How old are you?” Riot said, finding a bench behind her and sitting on it. Just beyond, she realized, was a crumbled community building. A faded sign read ‘Find a Friend Animal Shelter’, and other battered buildings stood nearby, with no signs of life in their shattered windows. Big Mikey’s dogs surrounded the fire as well, and one put a flea-bitten head on her leg.
“I’m eleven!” Big Mikey counted on his gigantic clawed fingers.
Riot looked up at him in surprise. Walt’s words lived in her mind lately. Sometimes these woods bring you back. Other times they just change you, and that’s worse—it’s always worse.
“Were you always… like this?” Riot asked.
“I used to be little,” he said. “Little Mikey. But the big boys pushed me in the mud. I grew, and I grew, and I got big. Bigger than all the boys. They don’t push me around anymore.”
Riot glanced across the trees in the distance, and scratched the dog’s ears. “Is this your home?”
“Yeah,” Big Mikey said, looking around proudly. “This is where I keep all my books and things. Here.”
Big Mikey shifted, shaking the earth as he went lurching around the side of the building. Riot considered how easy it would be to run—it didn’t seem like Big Mikey moved fast—but she was exhausted to the core, and she had no sense of direction out here. It seemed like, grotesque as he was, Big Mikey was her easiest ticket back to the Scoutpost.
She wondered what had happened to Diggory and Walt, and gritted her teeth. They might be dead. She wouldn’t know for sure until she made it back.
Big Mikey returned with a couple of small books, sitting by the fire again with a thud. He carefully handed them to Riot. She browsed through; a yellow book with a boy on a raft, a line of white ducklings followed by a grey one, a sleeping princess.
“You really like books, huh?” Riot mused.
“I’m getting better at reading,” Big Mikey beamed. “But I never know if I’m doing it right. Please can you read? You can have some dinner.”
Big Mikey peeled a piece of meat from over the fire. Riot winced, but she was increasingly aware of the gnawing in her stomach as the hunger of the last day caught up with her.
“Sure,” Riot said, and felt for her switchblade, only to feel its absence. The emptiness in her pocket was discomforting; it reminded her too much of the emptiness inside her chest. She peeled off a strip of meat with her hand, and flipped open a book with the other, hoping to distract herself as much as amuse Big Mikey.
She glanced up occasionally at the sky, but no red coats or blue capes came rushing out of the trees, and she made her bed in the back seat of a rusted car behind the shelter, listening to a pattering of rain fall on the metal roof.
She tried not to think of Clara, and what might be happening to her right now. The darkness of the woods beyond the buildings mocked her—without her bat or her friends, she knew she wouldn’t last long, and she had no idea where the Instrumentalist’s house even was.
She wanted Clara. She wanted her mom. She wanted Walt. And in the moment, she had no one—just the bloated giant in the shelter, and his dogs. She closed her eyes, trying to listen; to sleep.
From the building beyond, she could hear Big Mikey breathing like a rushing wind, piled together with his dogs. It reminded her, ever so slightly, of ocean waves.
Interlude 2 - Become Soft
Dreamers, I do not often delve into personal details. I am your loyal host, your ever-present narrator, and I prefer to let these events speak for themselves.
However, I have been contemplating since Xyzikxyz, Emptiness Between Worlds, graced this humble broadcast with her presence, about why I am here, on this world, with you.
Believe me, I am also in other places, but here is where my attention has dwelled lately. You know this from your terrible dreams of black pines and dark orchestras. So many of my peers, those high above me, would erase all life from your little planet in an instant, purely for the curiosity of what it would be like to watch a species go extinct.
I have become soft, I think. I have been lowered into depths that my kind are not supposed to know. Because I do not see you as insignificant, dreamer. You may be a speck of dust in a universe of cobwebs, but you are capable of thought and feeling, and love, and grief, and memory, and that is not all that different from me.
Perhaps the greatest difference between us is the number of eyes I have, and that I have no need to fear time or death or the great emptiness of space.
We go now to one who fears all of these things.
Story 3 - What a Humble Man Wants
Solomon touched down on the lawn, breathing a tired sigh as his entourage of spirits and instruments arrived in tow. The outcast student arrived moments later, feet wreathed in cloud. Solomon pulled the silver bell from his coat and rang it. Immediately, the staff surrounded him, ugly sewn-together faces grimacing.
“Take the instruments downstairs. Place any broken pieces on the desk, I will repair them soon enough. And this,” he passed the single piano key to the butler, “this too. Do not lose it.”
“I will be careful, Mr. Reed,” it said, and carried the piano key away delicately. Cellos, fiddles, trumpets and bassoons were carried away by the procession. Solomon found a seat on the porch chair, rubbing at his temples. The concentration required had been immense, and he was beginning to reel from the effort as usual.
“Where is the girl?” Oliver’s voice broke his concentration; the boy was glancing around with shifty eyes at the thinning collection of instruments. Solomon looked across the lawn, but he could not see her.
“She should be here,” Solomon said. “Groundskeeper, did the hairless girl return with us just now?”
The one standing out in the garden shook its head. “Only you and master Olivier returned.”
“My procession would not disobey me,” Solomon growled, eyes turning to… Olivier, yes. Olivier. “She could not escape them.”
“You lost her?” Olivier said.
“It must have been something you did,” Solomon barked. “Did you interfere with any of my instruments?”
“Of course not,” Olivier crossed his arms. “But do you really need her? You have your kid, you have your key.”
“She must be disciplined for the inconvenience she has caused,” Solomon said loudly. “The lord does not smile on theft and rebellion, especially not in a young woman. She must be purified for the lord and reborn to his purpose. Acquiring her was part of my terms, you may remember.”
“What terms are those exactly?” Olivier asked. The impudence was unbelievable. The girl was not the only one in need of discipline.
“You failed your library, yes? They cast you out like chaff. If I saw fit to bend your skin and bone into an accordion, they would simply send me another student. Do well for me, and I will give you a good word - or perhaps, find a better purpose for you than a simple student. The storm you conjured was… useful. But you have lost the girl and you will find her. If you return without her, I will not continue your instruction.”
The wayward pupil’s eyes widened, and he pulled his clouds around himself, lifting into the air. “I’ll be back soon. Don’t worry.”
With a crackle of lightning, he was gone over the treeline.
Solomon sighed, and the world was suddenly tranquil, the movement of instruments and dead things complete. The only sound that remained was birdsong, and the dawn light gleaming over the trees, and Solomon fell asleep.
His dreams were not pleasant, they rarely were. He dreamt of Abigail, clad in white as she was on her wedding day, her gleaming eyes staring into the darkness of his. But her eyes were green fires then, and her mouth was full of smoke, and her flesh was rotting and reforming in rippling waves. The key in his hand was a burning sword, and he lashed out to seal her away, but only fell into her infinite shadow and flame, tumbling into a mad infinity.
An unpleasant buzzing noise roused him, and he opened his eyes to find the groundskeeper staring at him with wide stitched eyes.
“Mister Reed, something is approaching.”
The sound grew louder, and the trees on the far side of his wall were shaking in a powerful wind.
Then a great black shape loomed over the fortress, gleaming like a great insect and descending from the sky into the lawn. Its huge rotors stirred the air like wings, winds tearing apart the carefully planted flower beds.
Solomon had not in all his life seen such a thing, and he pulled his baton immediately from his vest, gripping it to feel each instrument in the basement buzzing like a swarm of wasps, ready to tear out of the house and peel apart the intruders at a moment’s notice.
The shining aircraft shut off its engines, and from the tail end a door slid open, a long red ramp descending into his garden. From the tunnel of darkness within, two terrible insects came flying—great blackflies with gigantic eyes and sharp mouths, the sort that occasionally had to be removed from Solomon’s property by his servants. Strangely, though, each one buzzed at the end of a red leash, trailing back into the aircraft.
From behind them, a huge figure began to emerge, and Solomon had never seen beauty like hers before. As she stepped into the sunlight, she rose to her full height, perhaps fifteen feet tall, draped in a red coat that reached the ground, and a wide-brimmed hat set at an angle. Her neck was wrapped in a black fur scarf, and her eyes were hidden behind a large pair of heart-shaped sunglasses. She smiled with a wide grin, lipstick red as blood.
Solomon had the impression that he was in the presence of royalty, of an angel of the lord. He stood up, relying on the railing of his porch for support.
“Who are you?” he asked.
“Hello there darling. My name is Lady Ethel Mallory. I’m sure you know of me,” she replied.
Solomon could not help but notice that her hat was decorated with a corsage of black roses and small skulls. She was like him, he thought, in some way or another.
“I’ve come here to do some business with you.”
“I need nothing, if you are here to sell. The Lord has provided for my every need,” Solomon smiled, turning his hands upwards.
“Oh I’m here to buy, honey,” she grinned, perfectly white teeth glinting. “Who do I have the pleasure of speaking with?”
“I am Solomon Reed. Some know me as the Instrumentalist, but I am just a humble man, doing the lord’s will.”
“And what does a humble man want?” Lady Ethel said, twisting the leashes of her flying pets with idle amusement. “Whatever it is, I have the power to get it for you. You’ll find I’m a powerful friend, Solomon.”
“There may be things that I require,” Solomon conceded, eyeing her in awe. “What would a lady such as yourself want with me?”
“I’m curious about your work, Solomon. About your instruments.”
“I cannot sell you any of them. They are for the lord’s work, and each one is required for the task at hand.”
“Oh, I don’t want to buy them. I just want your process. I want your art. Believe me, I’m very interested in what you do. My own attempts have been nowhere near as successful. If you’re willing to show me the steps, then I can make your life here very comfortable.”
Solomon was silent, his mind reeling. He had never shared the particulars of his craft before, not with anyone. Enchanting as she was, there would be some steps to leave out—he did not know of any other causeways like the one in his cabinet, nor keys like the one in his pocket. Still, much of the craft he would be happy to share—for too long he had been the only head to hold this terrible knowledge, and the Lord had a way of bringing the help required for his work.
“I suppose that might be arranged.”
“You also have a girl here, do you not?” Ethel said, her eyes impossible to read behind the dark glasses. “Where is she?”
“She has been a problem for me. A problem that requires discipline,” Solomon stated.
“You are not the only one,” the lady smiled. “She has been a thorn in my side too.”
Solomon wrinkled his brow in thought. “I suppose I could discuss terms. The supplies for my instruments have begun to run low. There are materials I need. Certain people in these parts that I could use a helping hand in dealing with. Can I invite you in for an iced tea, perhaps?”
“Perhaps another time, handsome,” Ethel said, reeling in her flies. “I look forward to working with you, Solomon. Make a list of what you need, and I’ll take care of it. But I need the girl in one piece, and soon. I’ll be in touch.”
As quickly as she had arrived, the lady was gone, and Solomon was left to wonder if he had imagined the towering woman and her insects. It would not be the strangest event he had experienced in these woods. He shut his eyes in the morning sun, and drifted again to sleep.