Content Warning: This episode may include themes of Abuse, Animal Death, Violence, Kidnapping and Abduction, Death + Injury, Emotional Manipulation, Body Horror.
Intro - Young For A God
You are young, for a god. The Industry and the Black Eternity blazed in the heavens long before you awoke. You are a multitude of eyes wide with wonder, watching the universe in awe of all its color and motion and life. You may only be the watchdog, born to sit and to observe, but when you are with him you feel like a thousand galaxies on fire.
He makes you feel worthy, and when he shares his creations with you, you know your eyes are the only ones he trusts. How deeply you spiral into his impossible gravity, lost in the light of his smile and carried in the boughs of his celestial antlers. One day he writes you a song, the music of creation, the beating heart that turns the wheel of the age. It is all that he is, and that sweet melody of his spirit begins with the words 'Hello From The Hallowoods'.
Right now I am hovering in darkness. There is only one other person in this room and she is a nightmare herself—more by virtue of fashion sense than of any cosmic power. She’s devastated by some very inconvenient news. Outside, her assistant approaches, carrying news of her own, and a love song in a note in her pocket. The theme of tonight’s episode is Sonnets.
Story 1 - Where You Want To Be
Brooklyn hurried through the angular halls of Dreaming Box Polaris towards the Lady’s quarters, abandoning her usual sense of professionalism. She knocked on the door, and brushed out her skirt.
“Do not disturb me,” the Lady called from inside.
“I’m sorry,” Brooklyn gasped. “It’s important.”
The door slid open without a word, and Brooklyn stepped into the darkness beyond. The sunlight hurt the Lady’s eyes, she knew, and it was easier to dream without distractions anyway. The door slid shut behind her, locking her in with the shadow.
“This is a terrible time, Brooklyn, and my head hurts again.”
Brooklyn could feel the Lady shift in the shadow somewhere. Brooklyn gulped.
“You know how we kept a drone at the Scoutpost, just in case?”
The silence spoke for itself.
“We just got footage of Riot. She found her way back there, somehow. I don’t think she’s been with this Mister Reed at all.”
There was a long pause. “Alright.”
“I… I thought you’d be pleased. Should I send the reunion organizers in?”
Brooklyn shifted uncomfortably, leaning back against the wall. The shadow seemed to bristle with a life of its own. “I’m sorry Lady Ethel, I don’t understand. Don’t we need her?”
“When was the last time you checked your messages, Brooklyn? A little distracted, are we?”
Brooklyn felt for the glasses in her pocket, wrapped in the poem Marco had given her. She didn’t dare interrupt the conversation by checking her feeds now. The Lady continued.
“Oswald is replacing her. Riot. And he’s gotten Anderson to do it. That backstabbing beetle. And after everything we did at Box Aries too. I’m going to feed Anderson to his own experiments, I swear.”
“I see,” Brooklyn said, her head spinning. Her eyes were beginning to adjust, and she could make out a cluster of green lights in the shadow. “What does that mean for us?”
“Use your head, girl. It means we’re done here. Oswald has his pawn in place, the real Riot needs to stay buried now. We’re being called home. I waited too long. I thought I could get Oswald to sweat a little more, put more control in my hands. He’s changed the game again.”
“We could still go get her, if we have time. Would that change anything?”
“No,” the Lady said. “As far as Oswald knows she’s dead or equally lost. Best she stays that way. But. I suppose there’s no harm in making the most of this… situation. Who else knows about her location?”
“Just me, two drone techs down in Fifth, and… Marco.”
“Have them disposed of. That information lives with you and I now, understand?”
Brooklyn shuddered, and forced herself to speak up.
“I want to keep Marco. We can trust him.”
The room felt hungry, and she found herself clutching the note in her skirt pocket.
“Brooklyn—let me give you some advice. I used to be like you. Young. Pretty. If you are electric then people will always be magnetized to you. Don’t ever let them get in the way of your success. The moment you put anyone, anything over your goal, your purpose shifts. Your momentum dies. That’s not where you want to be.”
Brooklyn shook her head. Was this really happening? She had never gotten this much attention from the Lady in the full year she’d spent with her.
“I understand. I’m just…”
“You can keep him,” the Lady sighed. “But mark my words—if he causes me any trouble, you will both face the consequences.”
“Thank you. He won’t. I won’t,” Brooklyn breathed. “So… what do we do now?”
“Riot’s location stays a secret for now. And as far as Mister Reed goes, our business is nearly complete. He’s asked for a ridiculous set of instrument parts which are being shipped up soon, and a few other favors. In exchange, we get his method. That stays under wraps too. So in a few weeks, we pack up, go home, and you say nothing about our time here unless I tell you to say it.”
“Good. Run along now. I’ll see it to that… Marco, was it? Isn’t re-assigned when we get back. If he’s going to be kept alive, I need you to keep him close.”
“Thank you,” Brooklyn said, and the door slid open, and she stepped back into the light. For a moment she caught a glimpse of the Lady’s huge shape within the recesses of the room, and then the doors were shut, and she was in the hall.
She leaned against the wall for a few moments, and allowed the impact of the conversation to wash over her. Finally, she put on her glasses and walked away down the hall. There was going to be so much to do.
Interlude 1 - Date Night
Dreamer, it is often with the warm weather of spring that human hearts blossom, preparing once again for new summers of love and risking the eventual winters of loss. If you dwell in the Hallowoods and find yourself looking for places to take a romantic partner, there are many atmospheric locations to choose from.
For a nice evening picnic, visit Lurch Lake at sunset and watch the fireflies glow over the water, and the burning eyes of the Sleepers whispering beneath it. If the date goes really well you could both walk into the water together and leave this mortal world and its worries behind in favor of eternal rest. If it’s a casual thing, try the back corner at the Resting Place. They have card games.
And if you get to know someone best over a long hike, try walking straight into the Northmost woods, where you can admire the spinning skies and ethereal lights of impossible constellations, and utterly lose track of time. We go now to one who does not understand what romance means.
Story 2 - How To Write A Song
Diggory grasped the ball, careful not to pierce it with the edges of their fingertips, and launched it across the courtyard of the Scoutpost. The dog with the wide white eyes took off in excitement, racing after it.
“She really likes you,” Hector said, propped up against Jonah. Diggory had only learned their names recently. “It’s a good sign. She’s usually not too fond of strangers.”
“I think we understand each other,” Diggory said.
“Everyone seems nervous,” Jonah said, glancing around the court. “But it’s not because of us.”
“No,” Diggory said, throwing the ball again as Heidi brought it back. “We are planning a rescue. There is a boy at the house of Solomon Reed named Percy. He is my favorite person in the world. I am not sure what Walt intends for Solomon.”
“I might have seen him there,” Jonah said. “He… did he glow? I think he helped get me and my ma out of there.”
“How did you end up at Solomon’s house?” Hector glanced at Jonah, who eyed Diggory uncomfortably.
“I was… somewhere else. Somewhere between. The place we’ve talked about. But I couldn’t get out. I had to find a door, and it opened in that guy’s basement. That’s where ma was.”
“Was the doorway a cabinet?” Diggory asked.
“How did you know?”
“Percy told me. His father uses this to turn people into instruments.”
Jonah shivered. “I wish I didn’t know that.”
Diggory nodded. “Percy is bound to a single piano key. In the morning we go to bring him back, and perhaps, I am afraid, to kill his father.”
“His father, if I’m on the same page here,” Hector said, “is a man who lives in a walled fortress in the deep woods. Has some kinda crazy magical powers, I don’t know. Turns people into instruments. Has an army of ghosts and other things. And kills people for fun, or keeps them chained up in his basement for weeks. Sounds like him being gone is a good thing.”
“I’m sure it is,” Diggory said, taking the ball from Heidi again. She sat staring at him, a curious look on her warped face. “But I do not know how Percy will feel. His father is all that remains of his family.”
Jonah nodded, sitting up. “Sure. But family is what you make of it sometimes. Zelda’s not my real mom, but she stuck around. And Hector, do you…”
“Just the dogs,” Hector said, patting Jackie’s head under the table. “Never stuck around for long anywhere else.”
“Will you join us in the morning?” Diggory said, putting their hands on the table. “I know Walt is doing his best to make a plan, but we do not have much help. You have been in his house before, Jonah.”
Jonah and Hector traded glances nervously.
“I will,” Hector said. “A good night’s rest and I’ll be ready. What happened to your… Percy, to Zelda, it’s going to keep on happening unless someone stops this guy.”
“I’ll go too,” Jonah said, and Diggory found the light in his eyes oddly familiar. “I don’t know. Maybe I can help.”
“Hey, look what I got,” a voice said from behind Diggory, and they turned to find Riot approaching with the girl named Elena, who always had a skeptical look on her face, and full pockets in her dress. Riot was waving a small blade. “A new knife! Elena has like twenty of these.”
Elena smiled. “Pleasure doing business with you.”
“I’m sure that is comforting,” Diggory said. “Jonah and Hector have agreed to help rescue Percy tomorrow.”
“What are you doing now?” Elena asked, shooting a quizzical look to Hector. “Thought you were going to lie low for a while.”
“The Instrumentalist guy kidnapped Diggory’s boyfriend,” Riot said, picking her nails with the blade. “Who is a piano ghost named Percy. And also the creep’s son. And Walt is going to cut the Instrumentalist in half with a silver sword I hope. Just a normal day around here I guess.”
Elena seemed to think hard for a moment. “I think I know that ghost.”
Diggory stared at her. “You are familiar with Percy?”
Elena shrugged. “Was his, uh, mouth sewn shut? Liked to hide in dark corners?”
“That sounds like him.”
Elena nodded. “We had to leave that house because of him. He’d scare all my brothers. You always felt like someone else was in the room. Angry. I didn’t realize he was… well. I guess we were all just afraid.”
“I hope,” Diggory said, “you get the chance to know him better. You would find very little to be frightened of.”
“Be careful out there,” Elena said. “We’ve cleaned out a lot of houses after the Instrumentalist had been through them. There’s always a mess.”
“I hate these woods,” Hector grumbled. “Worst place on Earth.”
“Maybe we can move south someday,” Jonah said. “Take ma somewhere warm. By the ocean.”
Hector gave Jonah a look that Diggory couldn’t interpret.
“Diggory, can I talk with you? Alone?” Riot said.
“Of course,” Diggory said, standing up from the courtyard table. “See you tomorrow.”
Riot walked off towards one of the lookout towers, and Diggory followed, a bit nervous as the sun began to set. Tomorrow morning, they knew, everything was going to change. Hopefully, the next time the sun set, Percy would be back in their arms. Only the dawn would tell.
Marketing - The Slower Party
Lady Ethel Mallory: Welcome back to marketing with Lady Ethel Mallory. It’s too easy to think of marketing as a numbers game. But really, you are forming a relationship—carefully seducing your prospect, step by step. Like any relationship, it will always progress at the speed of the slower party.
You may want marriage today, for them to buy your product, become a lifelong customer, but you have to show them you want them. You have to shower gifts upon them, sing them love songs through social media feed and product placement and lead magnet. Give them valuable content as freely as you might give flowers.
Is your customer your valentine? Because you can unsubscribe to future notifications, but a relationship is difficult to end. Tie the threads of their life so intimately into yours that they’ll be afraid to look elsewhere. The more control they give you, the harder it will be for them to leave and that is exactly what you want. Botco is what you would call a 'sticky service'. If you want to get out, what are you willing to sacrifice? We love our customers and we are keeping them forever. There’s no escape from our adoration...
Story 2, Continued - How To Write A Song
Dreamers, I have not known much of human relationships. They seem clumsy and inordinate things. But even on the scale on which you understand them, I thought them much more than a marketing ploy or a bid for power. I wonder if Lady Ethel sees this, really. When her glasses are off, and she sits alone to think in the shadow. Does she have anyone at all? Perhaps we’ll investigate this sometime.
For now, we return to Diggory Graves.
Diggory ascended the ladder, sliding up onto the platform at the top of the lookout post. Riot sat in the corner with her arms around her knees, looking out on the forest.
“Is there something you wished to discuss?” Diggory asked, sitting down cross-legged.
“Walt’s not letting me go with you tomorrow. I keep trying to talk him into it. But he’s serious,” Riot said, rubbing at her eyes and streaking her eyeliner. “And I’m trying to decide if I’m going to stow away. But if I don’t… you’ll keep him safe, right?”
“Of course,” Diggory said. “I agree with Walt. We hope not to encounter Solomon at all—to wait until he is gone, and search the house. It may be dangerous, even so—the others like me. I do not know if they will be pleasant. You are making the right choice in staying. Is that all you wished to discuss?”
Riot paused. “Not just that. If you end up at his house, keep an eye out for Clara, would you? I don’t know if she’s alive or not, or turned into a banjo or something.”
“I hope that she is alright. You miss her as much as I miss Percy, I am sure. Do you feel less empty when she is there?”
Riot frowned. “Sure?”
Diggory fished in their pocket, and returned the little red music player. “Thank you for letting me listen. It was… comforting. I feel every song was stored in me, somewhere. It was good to let them surface.”
“You ever think about writing more songs?”
“I am not a songwriter.”
“If you write a song, then you are. And part of you used to be really good at it.”
“I do not remember how.”
“I mean, I could walk you through song structure and all that? But for now just start with words. Say how you really feel. You’re so quiet all the time, I think it would be good for you.”
Diggory looked down at their claws. “I could write a song for Percy.”
Riot smiled, leaning back. “When you find him, I’m sure he’d like it.”
“I have a strange question,” Diggory said.
“I’ve got a strange answer.”
“What is love supposed to feel like?”
Riot quirked an eyebrow.
“Hm. I think it’s kind of different for everyone? I love Clara, and it… it burns me. Like, I want her, I want to be with her, I’m dying without her, and I can’t control it. But I look at Violet and Bern and they’re like, just quietly holding hands and drinking coffee, and I guess that’s love for them. I don’t know. It’s a stupid feeling.”
“I see,” Diggory said.
“Are you okay?” Riot asked.
“I do not think so. I hope desperately that Percy is alright, that he has not been hurt or unbound, somehow. That is all I can think about, but I am also… perplexed. I am made of Evelyn Fry, songwriter, and so many others with their own paths. I feel… at odds with myself. Because I am still sitting here, and I do not know which path I am supposed to walk.”
“I bet that’s tough,” Riot nodded. “Just focus on tomorrow. Go from there.”
“I’ll do that.”
“Look,” Riot said, peering over the edge of the platform. Walt and the older woman—Winona—were standing close on the northern rampart, looking out on the woods.
“They’ve been talking for hours,” Riot squinted. “I’m going to go bother him.”
“Alright,” Diggory said. “I’m going to sit for a while.”
Riot shrugged, and slipped down the ladder, and was gone. Diggory waited a moment, and pulled a small pad of paper and a pencil from their pocket. The words they wrote did not rhyme, or fit together particularly well, but it kept their mind from racing as the red sun began to set on the forest, and the first stars began to twinkle in the sky. In the morning, they hoped, they would feel complete again.
Interlude 2 - Fading Like An Anthem
Love songs have never been my talent, dreamers, and anything I have written would surely drive you to madness if you heard it. Your kind is not well-equipped to handle songs of creation, melodies that echo in the rings of planets and in the depths of black holes. Nevertheless, songs can be powerful. They embody spirit and motion in ways that words alone cannot.
And strangely enough, whenever I lurk in these woods, in these black pines and emerald nights, they sing to me. Perhaps it is just the echoes of who he was, fading out like the end of an anthem into silence. And if I am very still, I hear his heart, still beating high above the arctic circle, pumping indescribable blood into your water. I could spend an eternity listening to that sound.
They don’t remember him well, you understand. I don’t think they saw all that he was, a creator, a musician. Someone who would write love songs.
We go now to an amateur songwriter.
Story 3 - Official Assistant
Riot crept up the ramp to the outer wall, hoping not to alert Walt to her approach until she was in eavesdropping distance.
He leaned against the edge, one arm wrapped tightly in black fabric. He hadn’t let her see the wound from Mr. Friendly, but she guessed it wasn’t good.
Winona stood beside him—she was a weird one, Riot had decided. She always stood with a bit of a hunch, and her colorful headscarf and billowy clothes seemed to conceal a lot of secrets. Plus, Riot usually avoided anyone who seemed to stare into her soul.
“...a little rest,” Walt was saying, and turned to look at Riot as she drew near. There was an odd smile on his face, and water in his eyes.
“Oh hey there, sport. Was about to come looking for ya.”
“What are you guys talking about?” Riot asked, bouncing up next to Walt. Walt and Winona exchanged a long look.
“Just friendly conversation,” he said. “Winona, it’s been nice chattin’ with you. If I don’t catch you before tomorrow, well.”
“I’ll see you off,” Winona said. “I need to go pay Hector. If I’d known Zelda was his—boyfriend’s stepmother?—I might not have offered to pay him so much, but a deal’s a deal. Sleep well tonight, Walt.”
Winona smiled crookedly, and was gone in a twist of purple textiles.
“Well you two seem to have hit it off,” Riot smirked.
Walt reached underneath his baseball cap, pushing back his thinning hair. “Yeah, she’s something else. What a lady. Says she’s another one of them ace-hexuals, what are the odds?”
“You, uh, interested?” Riot grinned.
“I could get to know her better, that’s for sure,” Walt winced.
“You said you were looking for me? So what’s up?”
“Yeah, I’ve got something for you,” he said, and headed down from the wall.
“How’s your arm?” Riot asked as they crossed the inner courts, making for the parking lot.
“Been better to be honest. Do yourself a favor out here. Don’t get bit by squirrels.”
They reached his white hearse, the ‘Walter Pensive’s Groundskeeping’ logo rusting in the evening light. He swung open the back doors and pulled out a large object in a black bag.
“Is that what I think it is?”
“If you think it’s a guitar, then yeah.”
He set it on the grass and unzipped the bag, revealing a gleaming red electric guitar with a white pickguard.
“Oh she’s beautiful,” Riot said, eyes wide.
“Hasn’t seen as much use as it should,” Walt said. “Used to make Daphne listen to my tunes. I was terrible. Always thought I’d pick it up again—and hey, an instrument’s not a bad thing to have for the end of the world—but I never found it in me to play since. I don’t know. Inspiration dried up. Anyways, it occurs to me that it will most definitely see good use with you. So. Guitar’s yours.”
“I can’t take this, Walt,” Riot breathed. It was a beautiful instrument—almost as nice as some that her mom had kept—but it was a gift she’d never be able to repay.
“No use arguing,” Walt said, plucking it up with his good arm, and trying clumsily to tune it. Riot gave in to temptation.
“Here, let me.”
She took it gently in her hands, adjusting the strings by ear, admiring the way they buzzed and breathed.
“One other thing,” Walt said. “I don’t really see you joining in on Violet’s gardening classes—Bern’s hunters, maybe. But I’d like to invite you to become my official assistant.”
“First of all, yes. But also I’m basically like, already your assistant.”
“No, official assistant, see. It’s different. Now you get a hat,” he grinned, producing a battered white ballcap with his logo, and placing it on Riot’s head. She pushed it to one side—it felt better askew.
“And last but not least, keys to the wagon. Might even let you drive it one of these days.”
Riot took the fob in her hand, holding it close.
“Walt, I… I’ll do my best.” Tears welled in her eyes, and she wasn’t sure why.
“You’d better,” he laughed. “Job market’s competitive these days.”
Riot sat for a moment against the back bumper of the hearse, a guitar in her lap, the uniform hat on her head.
“So can your assistant come help you kill the Instrumentalist tomorrow?”
“Whoah there, kill’s a strong word. We don’t kill. We remove, we mediate. Violence is a last resort in these woods. Unfortunately, I think violence is what it’s come to with Mr. Reed.” Walt reached past Riot into the hearse, drawing out his silver sword and a cloth, and beginning to polish it with his good hand.
“Doesn’t answer my question, Walt.”
“The answer is no. Keep in mind, we’re gonna wait until he leaves the place, go on in. But if it does come to a fight, well. Bern and me, we’ve got less years to lose. And Diggory is a little less fragile than most of us.”
“Hector and Jonah are going too.” Riot grumbled.
“Oh good,” Walt sighed. “Point is, you’ve dealt with a lot. Three times you’ve brushed with this man, and he’s wanted to kill you. Three times you’ve made it back safe. You can only toss the dice so many times before you get a bad roll. Just for once, let us take care of it.”
Riot set the guitar carefully aside, choking up. “Is it going to be okay?”
“Sure, kid,” Walt said, and seemed surprised as she put her forehead against his shoulder, trying not to cry.
“I know when you lose people, that’s what you start to expect. But we’re gonna come rolling back tomorrow morning, with one creepy ghost boy, and whatever else comes of it. You’ll see. It’ll be alright.”
Riot nodded, and sniffed, and pulled herself together. “Okay. Good.”
She rubbed at her nose. “Well, You’re taking this.”
She pulled a pin from her vest and put it in his hand. “This is for good luck.”
He turned it over, grinning. “That an authentic Stonemaiden pin? From Riot Maidstone herself? Now that’s a collector’s item.”
He pinned it proudly to his battered coveralls. “How’s that look?”
Riot smiled. “If you practiced a little more you’d be ready for the band.”
Walt stowed the sword away, and nodded towards the Scoutpost’s inner court. “Alright, assistant. Time for Ol’ Walt to get some sleep. Big day tomorrow.”
“Yeah,” Riot said, and followed him in as the stars began to shine in the sky above. Was Clara up there somehow, she wondered? Would she hear the songs Riot whispered under her breath? She lay awake in her bed for hours, and only realized she had fallen asleep when she was disturbed by the sound of engines starting in the early darkness.
Outro - Sonnets
Sonnets. As much as it is necessary for humans to express themselves in creation, it is perhaps sweetest when you turn these gifts to each other. A scribbled piece of art, a few scratches of song, these carry more significance for you than their material quality alone. These little acts of intimate appreciation, I think, speak to your potential.
Unfortunately humans are, like the beings that exist above them, complicated, and just as easily these old melodies and symbols become memories, little more than a reminder of what joys the past once held. Until your last lyrics, dreamers, I am your loyal host, Nikignik, waiting longingly for your return to the Hallowoods.
The bonus story that goes with this episode is called 'Blood Dawn', 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!