Content Warning: This episode may include themes of Abuse, Violence, Kidnapping and Abduction, Death + Injury, Blood, Religious Violence, Birds, Emotional Manipulation, Body horror, and Electrocution.
Intro - Sunday Service
“May the deep, the darkness, and the dawn dwell in your eyes”, the Vicar says. “And in yours, until the Hallowed Name is spoken on all tongues,” you reply with the rest of the congregation. The music of the piano stops as he continues.
He pulls the red fabric down from the altar, its crooked horns reaching for the stars. Immediately the room darkens, as though the shadows have grown to consume the light. “We greet the black eternity with open arms,” he says, and the candles go out.
The darkness which engulfs you is endless, and although you have not left your seat, you feel it pouring into your skin, seizing your heart and purifying your soul in the impossible void beyond all that is. You can only whisper a greeting as the tears roll down your face. ‘Hello’, you whisper. ‘Hello From the Hallowoods’.
Right now I’m sitting on the shoulder of a large metal suit. It contains a volume of black water, a set of human remains, and something that might once have been a soul. There’s a seagull on the other shoulder. Ahead of us walks a thin man in a floral jacket, and a woman who is more wolf than not. All three have laid eyes on one cosmic cathedral or another, and all three are emissaries of different holy lights. The theme of tonight’s episode is Temples.
Story 1 - How's Retirement?
For seemingly endless miles, the target had only been a glimmer of light in Polly’s mind, a twinkle in the right direction. But finally, now, it grew bright, and with every step forward he tried to remind himself that soon he’d be done with this whole troublesome business.
Arrive, snuff out the source as quickly as possible, collect and go home. Become wolf breakfast on the way out.
And yet, he kept fighting the urge to stop walking. To stand still and… do what? Stay with these two brutes a little longer? He wasn’t sure he wanted it to end, and that was hilarious. He had an office waiting for him; he was sure the paperwork had piled up in his absence. There was work to do, and yet here he was, wishing he could stop and smell the roses. Perhaps he was less mature than he thought.
“I hear something,” Yaretzi said, putting a somewhat clawed hand on his shoulder. “It’s loud. Coming closer.”
Polly glanced around—no great places to hide in the trees. Besides, all two thousand pounds of Mort’s bright red chrome were not easy to conceal. The undead bird on Mort’s shoulder squawked warily.
“Get ready, Mort,” Polly squinted at the sky, and readied his umbrella. “We may have company.”
Polly could not, if given a hundred guesses, have predicted what came sailing over the trees in the next moment.
It was a cherry-red sports car with flames streaming from its wheelhouses. At the wheel sat a grinning devil with broken horns and bandages over his eyes.
“Oh Reclaiming Fire help me,” Polly breathed, going pale. “It’s Barb.”
There were two others in the car, Polly realized as it descended through the air, flames fluttering away as it came to rest on the forest floor. A woman in an elegant black dress and cloak dismounted from the passenger seat—a thrall of Xyzikxyz, Polly would guess. There were stars in her eyes and blood on her breath. From the back seat rose a skeletal figure wrapped in flapping fabric and leather, and it hovered maliciously.
“Well if it isn’t little… Polly, was it?” Barb crowed, leaping out of his seat. He spread his palms wide, and Polly appreciated the red diamonds and hearts set into the black velvet of his jacket.
“Hello Barb,” Polly said. “How is retirement treating you?”
“Retirement?” Barb said, shaking his lapels. “Is that what we’re gonna call it? I was fired. You were there, along with half the rest of the Industry. Horns broken on the temple steps, eyes pulled out. The whole shebang. Heck of a nice retirement package. You were just a little intern back then, but hey, looks like you earned your wings after all.”
“I was trying to be pleasant,” Polly said. “You can’t act like you didn’t have it coming.”
“Bah. All worked out for the best. You’ve done some off-the-record things yourself, I’d bet. Who’re your new friends?”
Mort waved happily, and Yaretzi stepped forward, growling. The woman in black raised an eyebrow.
“What, you wanna eat old Barb’s heart out?” the devil sneered.
“You smell filthy,” Yaretzi spat. “Rancid. Like rotten meat.”
“You’d do well to keep your dog in check,” the woman in black said. “Starwolf blood burns so delightfully on the tongue. I’d fancy a taste about now.”
“Ladies, ladies, no need for a fight. We are here only to bid the dapper Mister Apollyon a warm Hallowoods welcome. Nothing more.”
“Hallowoods?” Polly looked the crowd over. If Barb was still ticking after all these years, who knew what was keeping him afloat—or how dangerous he was.
“Ah, it’s what the locals call this place. I’ve set up some nice digs of my own, you know.”
“That’s nice. Well I hate to impose on your day, Barb—and we’ve got some time-sensitive business to attend to. Consider us welcomed. It was nice to see you, and I’m glad you’re doing so well after leaving the Industry.”
“Oh hold on now,” Barb said. “Indulge my curiosity. Last I heard big business called it wraps on earth. Contamination zone, yeah? So what’s the catch? Why’re you, ah, prowling around?”
“We’re going to visit the Souls,” Mort piped up. “And fight? I don’t really wanna fight.”
“It’s confidential,” Polly said. “I’m sure you understand.”
“Sounds like fun,” Barb said. “Sounds like a lot of work, too.”
“Excuse me for a second,” Polly said to Yaretzi and Mort. “Barb, with me.”
Polly stalked into the woods with his umbrella, and Barb followed. Mort and Yaretzi glared at Barb’s friends in the clearing behind them.
“What do you think you’re doing?” Polly said, as soon as they were out of sight. “You’ve got no jurisdiction here. I’m glad, I really am, that you didn’t just fade out, but I have a purpose here.”
“About that,” Barb grinned. “Purpose is a funny thing, ain’t it? I smelled something rotten in the Industry from the start. They’re using you, kid. They work you to the bone all your life, and when they’re done, they’ll toss you out with the trash.”
“That kind of talk is why you got fired.”
“They fired me to scare whelps like you,” Barb said, yanking off the bandages around his eyes. “Are you scared? Are you gonna behave and do whatever they say now that you seen what they did to old Barb? They made an example of me, but you don’t gotta be scared of them.”
Polly found himself growing angrier by the second. It was all so diabolically skewed. The industry was good—necessary, even. The foundation of the Economy of Souls. And every waking moment, Polly had been thinking about three things—how to succeed in his position, how to beat his competitors, and lastly, the price of failure.
“You’re pathetic,” Polly said. “I don’t know what you want with all this, but let me tell you, stay out of my way. This is official business.”
Polly turned away, but a grasping hand seized his shoulder.
“There’s something in you,” Barb hissed. “No Mary Sue from the Industry walks with two friggin’ revenants and a starwolf. Things can be different if you want them to be. I waited too long—I was afraid, just like you. All the plans were made—I stockpiled everything I needed to get out. I got ratted out, but you? Don’t let them ruin your life, kid. You deserve better.”
Polly whipped his umbrella up, pressing the pointed end beneath Barb’s chin and driving the old devil back.
“Touch my suit one more time and I’ll burn what’s left of you into a husk. My work is none of your business. If you’d cared about doing your job, you wouldn’t be… be…”
“Be what, kid? What am I?” Barb backed off, holding up his palms. “Outcast? Disgusting? Maimed, mutilated? Those are the words on your tongue, I know they are—but they’re not the words I’d choose. No. What comes to my mind is free.”
Barb kicked at the dirt, and shrugged. “Well. Nice to see a friendly face. Looks like I’m about out of time. I’ll stop holding you up.”
He waltzed back through the woods, and Polly followed after, glowering. Yaretzi and the Countess backed away from each other as Polly approached. Yaretzi’s claws and fangs were on full display, not a great sign. Mort, meanwhile, sat next to the car, staring at the patchwork specter, which had its mouth hanging open.
“Mort. Yaretzi. Time to go,” Polly said. “It was… nice to see you, Barb.”
“Anytime, kid,” Barb said, tipping his hat and climbing into his car. His friends followed.
“Oh!” Barb fished in his pocket suddenly, and threw a small object at Polly. Polly caught it in his hand; it was a golden key with a red leather tag attached. Fine gold print said ‘Room 17, the Resting Place Hotel’.
“In case you ever need a place to hang your pretty jacket,” Barb laughed, and the flaming car lifted into the air, whizzing across the treeline and out of sight.
“What an awful woman,” Yaretzi said. “I’m not sure if she was trying to kiss me or bite me.”
“Probably both,” Polly muttered.
“I like the Quilt. We’re friends now,” Mort said.
“I could hear your conversation,” Yaretzi said as they began to walk again. “Are you alright, Apollyon?”
Polly looked at her, a sudden rush of cold panic gripping his spirit. Her golden eyes watched his with concern.
“I’m fine. Let’s just get this over with,” Polly nodded, and kept walking.
That pillar of light would get closer, and they would kill whoever stood at the source, and the wolf would tear out his heart. That would be that, and everything would go back to normal. Back to the paperwork and the audits and the calculations, back to the break rooms and halls and office spaces that made up the belly of the Industry.
That was what he wanted, wasn’t it?
He shook his head. Of course it was. There was no choice anyways. He was Apollyon, an agent of Syrensyr, and this was what he was made to do.
Interlude 1 - Felt Different
Have you ever felt ‘different?’ That you are too outspoken and too yourself to fit in with the people around you? Are your eyes opened to the truths about the world that they refuse to acknowledge or accept?
If so, you are not alone. There is a community of like-minded people who understand you, believe in you, support you, and will join you in taking action against the evils that hold the world in their thrall.
This community, of course, is the Church of the Hallowed Name, and there is even a local chapter in the Hallowoods. Finally you can learn from elders in your beliefs—discover how deep the rabbit hole goes. All the lies about government and religion and god that have been spread across history will be dismantled, and you will finally see the truth. A world without sin, a world without lies, a world formed for a true god’s bidding... at least, according to its members.
We go now to one the Church would revere as a saint.
Story 2 - The Precipice
The road rolled in Jonah’s headlights hypnotically. So many thoughts were swimming in his head; he felt like he was in the middle of a fever dream. He’d spent so much time in that otherworldly place where the green fire burned in the sky and the black mountains stretched for eternity; had spent untold days knocking against the door in the mountainside, seeking exit or entrance to some other place, an escape from the doldrums.
Even now his eyes stung from reading the ancient hieroglyphs, studying the emerald stars. The stories and names that whispered in his mind were so utterly alien that he could not define them in words. And when that door in the mountain had finally opened, he found…
The basement of some old house.
His ma, his Zelda, starved and crumbled up on the floor.
He could still remember the thing in the darkness—human or not, he was not sure, all he remembered were the round glasses and the whistle of bone.
He’d seen people that glowed, and a voice screaming ‘run’. Had they been ghosts or afterimages? He’d carried Zelda up the stairs—she was so light in his arms—and found his truck parked outside. He couldn’t make any sense of it, all the events of the last weeks blurred together in a wild stream of nightmare and memory. But any effort to rationalize, to process would have to wait.
Zelda was in bad shape. He was trying to keep her talking, awake. Right now, his only goal was to get her to an infirmary bed at the Scoutpost as soon as possible. It had taken him far too long to find familiar roads, and it was dark now. He’d almost missed the injured person he’d passed on the side of the road, a mess of bloody contusions and sticky pine needles.
“Oh, there you are,” said Zelda. “You’re Solomon’s little child. Isn’t it late for you to be out playing?”
“Who’s Solomon, ma?” Jonah said. Probably some neighbor from the old days.
“Yeah, you mentioned Solomon just now.”
“Solomon is… oh. Oh, why’d you have to mention Solomon? Is he here?” Zelda began to cry.
“No, ma, no Solomon here. Just our guest. It’s all good.”
“Solomon kept me down there for so long,” Zelda muttered, leaning her head back against the headrest. “Thought I’d go crazy down there, watching that cabinet shake, watching that harp. He wanted my bones for the harp, Jonah. He wanted my bones. He had such nice children, all his children…”
Zelda peered at the rearview mirror, and suddenly began to scream. “It’s you! It’s you! Why are you here? Jonah, that’s the one who turned the lights out on me, they’d do it again…”
“Ma, calm down,” Jonah said, slowing down and looking back at the stranger. Their eyes watched him, and they muttered something under their breath.
“What’s your name? I’m Jonah.”
“Olivier,” the stranger said.
Zelda whimpered, almost falling out of her seat. “That one’s going to take me back…”
“My ma seems to think you’re with this… Solomon fella? You know anything about that?”
“...no. No.” They stuttered.
There was a flash of awareness in Jonah’s mind, and immediately, somehow, he knew it was a lie.
“Who is Solomon?” Jonah said, stopping the car and looking back.
“Cape’s all covered in clouds,” Zelda shivered. “Are you going to turn the lights out on me again?”
“I promise I don’t know what she’s talking about,” Olivier said. “She’s crazy.”
“Jonah,” Zelda cried, slamming her hands on the dashboard.
“Let’s talk about this outside the car,” Jonah said, switching it off. “I don’t want to upset her.”
“Please can we keep going?” Olivier said.
“Come on,” Jonah said, and clambered out. Olivier followed, and Jonah walked a few meters off the roadside.
“You do have those clouds on your cape,” Jonah said. “Which, no offense, is kind of a weird thing to wear out here. Have you met my ma before? What’s your story?”
“I’ve never met her in my life. I don’t know anything about your mom.” Olivier said, bloodstained in the darkness.
More lies, Jonah felt. They were obvious to him somehow, deep down.
“Kid, I know you’re lying. Tell me the truth. This Solomon—is he the one who’s been keeping my mom in his basement? What do you know about that?”
Olivier backed away, flashes of desperation crossing their face.
“I didn’t want to do it,” they said quietly. “It was all him. I was just there.”
“He’s going to take us back!” Zelda cried, opening the passenger door and slipping out. “Let’s go Jonah, before he finds us!”
“Listen, Olivier, I don’t want to…”
“To leave me out here?” Olivier said. “Don’t worry about it. You know, I… Doesn’t matter. This is my only shot and if I don’t bring your mom back then I have nothing, nothing at all. Sorry about this.”
Jonah felt a sheet of rain come on suddenly, as if carried by hurricane winds.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Jonah said. “We need to…”
He didn’t get to finish his sentence, because suddenly there was lightning in Olivier’s eyes and in the sky, and there was a flash of white.
Marketing - The New Church
Lady Ethel Mallory: Welcome back to another session of marketing tips with Lady Ethel Mallory. Once upon a time, the church was the sanctimonious gathering place of this country. Where soldiers and wives and founding fathers alike bowed their heads to pray, but most importantly, to remind themselves of their community. As time went on, we found more glamorous places to gather—spirituality with a little more sparkle.
Shopping malls and movie theaters, theme parks and casinos. Houses of worship for the modern man and woman. We gather together for two reasons—for community, and to remind ourselves that we are good people in a bad world.
The Dreaming Box is the new church of America. The modern basilica, the cathedral of the future. We enable people to connect with themselves, with each other, and stand in the light of their saints.We pray for the sinners trapped outside, but we love our congregation. And when the offering dish is passed around...
Story 2, Continued - The Precipice
Temples have always been interesting places, dreamers. I like the ones in my honor, even if there are relatively few of those. Flattering, if misguided. I never saw the appeal in gaining mortal followers—I’m not as political as my peers. Still, it’s nice to hear your name spoken once in a while.
We return now to Jonah Duckworth.
There was a flash of white in Olivier’s eyes, and their fingertips crackled with what looked like bands of electricity, and Jonah ducked out of the way as an arc lashed out to shatter a tree behind him.
“Mister Reed needs Zelda,” Olivier screamed, “and I have to get her back. It’s the only way this works. I have to. I’m sorry.”
Jonah fell to the dirt as he jumped away from another volley, and the rain came down harder, pounding against his head. He stared blankly. It seemed impossible that Olivier was playing the weather like music, but he had seen so many impossible things. A surge of rage—and at the same time, an impossible sense of peace, washed over him, and he realized that he was speaking.
“No,” Jonah said, and his voice cracked like thunder, and the clearing blazed suddenly with green light. Flame, he realized, pouring from his eyes.
“I have walked to the edge of death itself and stared into the precipice,” Jonah said, and the words were unfamiliar on his tongue. The ground trembled, pine needles shaking against the forest floor. Olivier’s eyes grew wide as they stared in shock, and the lightning died in their hands. Overhead, the stars seemed to spin wildly.
“I have stood at the Temple of the End and gazed upon the sepulcher of a dead god, I have looked upon the Runes that Wrote The Changing of the Ages and histories that predate life in this universe,” Jonah cried. “I know the name of the Black Eternity, I have seen faceless kings and She Who Lurks Beneath. I have lost the man that I love. I will not lose my ma. Not now. Not to you.”
There was a flurry of blue as Olivier scrabbled backwards, fear in their eyes, and disappeared into the woods. Jonah reeled as the light faded, and the stars stopped spinning, and he realized that Zelda was lying in a heap by the roadside. He hurried over to her, gasping.
“Ma, are you okay?” he said. She was breathing, but only in shallow gasps. “Let’s get you out of here, okay?”
He carefully lifted her back into the truck, and sped away, flying down the night road. The Scoutpost had to be getting close, and then he could rest… try to fathom what was happening to him, to everything that he knew. He tried to put the thoughts from his mind, and focus on the road. Drive, Jonah, he thought. Just drive.
Interlude 2 - Distant Kazanth
If you were going to embark on a pilgrimage to the holy sites of the universe, there are a few I would recommend. Naturally I am fond of the Temple of the End in Marolmar’s World, but doors to this place are usually locked or difficult to open.
The Dream-City of Distant Kazanth is beautiful for all its labyrinths and shrines. I don’t like that it’s filled with cats, though.
The Grand Archives of Zelkryzelk contains the original texts for many religions—and several preserved deities, too.
There is a Temple to the All-Seeing One on a distant moon called Elgerous. They did a nice job with it, could have used more eyes.
And of course, buried in the center of the universe is… well, it transcends language and thought. Imagine it as a shady tree on a sun-dappled afternoon. It is where we Indescribables first find each other, open our eyes to the light and sit for hours, learning about who and what we are. It’s worth a visit.
We go now to a most terrible acolyte.
Story 3 - The Organ
“Thank you for meeting with me, Vicar,” Solomon said. They walked in the afternoon light across the grounds of the church; the new hall gleamed with sleek wood.
“Always happy to meet with you my friend,” the Vicar said. “Our conversations about the faith are always elevating. Our congregation has been brightened by your time as our Instrumentalist.”
“Of course,” Solomon said. “Today I do not ask for talk of the faith, but of planning for the church. I have a use for the old chapel I would like you to consider.”
They approached the chapel—a crooked stone building set into the earth on the far side of the church grounds. It was too close to the wall; although the barriers could not be seen with the naked eye, they prohibited the trees from growing any closer. Solomon had used the same protections for his own property, and enjoyed a clear lawn since.
“I’ve been wondering what to do with it,” the Vicar said. “Let’s step inside.”
The Vicar was a small man, but he pressed open the doors with surprising ease. Inside, old pews sat in rows, and sunbeams streamed in through the stained glass panels depicting the Trinity, casting light on a simple stone altar.
“Here,” Solomon said, unrolling his papers across the altar. The Vicar took a moment to examine them, and smirked.
“A piano was not enough for you?”
“The piano you have found is sufficient, of course. But an instrument to please the Lord? To truly strike awe into the hearts of those who hear it? I think it would be well-received by our congregation. Certainly for the special services.”
The Vicar rubbed at his chin, eyes flicking up. “There is more to this than just an instrument of worship, I would assume.”
Solomon nodded. “As you know, my work for the church has led to much crafting on my part—my instruments have grown in number and quality over the years. But what I have learned from the church, I must return to the church. This will not be just an instrument, Vicar, you are correct. It will be a weapon of apocalyptic power. A strength which we need deeply in these Hallowed woods.”
The Vicar frowned, brushing a cobweb from his red robes. “And where would you find the materials for this?”
“Materials or souls?”
“I have done some business which will provide me with the parts—metal, the lead pipes, the frame—these will be supplied. The souls…”
Solomon paused, looking up at the trinity. Father, son, and holy spirit; deep, darkness and the dawn. Names change, but the purpose had always been true.
“These will come from that encampment they call the Scoutpost. They have long been an affront to our beliefs, a mockery of the church. I will burn that place to the ground, Vicar, and the souls of those willful sinners will be purified and put to new purpose for the service of the church.”
The Vicar smiled pleasantly, and folded his hands.
“An excellent choice. Well, Instrumentalist, the hall is yours. You may commence your building, when it is outside of service hours.”
“Good. Well. May the deep, the darkness, and the dawn dwell in your eyes.”
“And in yours, until the Hallowed Name is spoken on all tongues.”
The Vicar departed into the afternoon light, and Solomon sat down on the dais, staring at the back wall of the chapel. He could already see the pipes, where they would fit. Beautiful—a master work, this would be. Finally he would have a test of his craft.
Outro - Temples
Temples. A house of worship. I think the question is, why do you need a house for that? Worship, in whatever form it takes, lives in your mind, and is rather unaffected by the quality of the ceiling above you. I have to tread carefully here. Some of my peers thrive on worship—they feed on adoration and sometimes their followers.
But ask yourself—just because something lives in the stars, does it deserve your love? Because it is bigger than you, and breathes holy fire, does it deserve your fear or respect? You are just as alive as any other organism, whether you call it animal or god. We are all finding ourselves in this vast universe still. Worship who or what you will, but know that in the end, they will not save you.
And save you from what?
What are you afraid of?
All things, coming to a close, fading into nothingness?
Even they, like dying stars, like crumbling planets, will one day be gone. Forever watching until there is nothing left to watch, I am your loyal host Nikignik, waiting for time out of mind for your return to the Hallowoods.
The bonus story that goes with this episode is called 'The Gates', and is available on the Hello From The Hallowoods Patreon. Consider joining for access to all the show's bonus stories, behind-the-scenes and more!