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HFTH - Episode 4 - Bodies

Content Warning: This episode may include themes of body horror, death + injury, abuse, self-harm, homophobia, and blood.

Intro - Your Body Is A Temple

Your body is a temple, and you are its god. Are you pleased by its design? Every loose tapestry thread and flaw in the stone is sacred. If you are human, you have only one temple, and you will dwell in its halls and speak from its sanctum until the day your spirit leaves it. If you are not human—if you are older and greater and far more wicked—then your temple is infinite, a labyrinth of holy design, changing like the ocean and reborn like the stars. I am not a temple. I am a world of worship, and in my burning heart, the writing on the wall says this: Hello from the Hallowoods.

Right now, I’m peering in through a sixteenth-story window. The world looks different—it had not yet abandoned hope, and bright, oblivious minds talked of things like philosophy and democracy and expected to change history. History did change on this night, dreamers, and the rains that poured down on the earth were a cure and a hideous plague. The theme of tonight’s episode is bodies.

Story 1 - Let Me Sleep Forever

Dylan could not sleep, but the rain continued to fall. It seemed heavier than usual as it pattered against his window, black rivulets blurring the light of the city as they trickled down. He shifted to stare at the ceiling, but the fan gave him no peace either, spinning like his mind. Thunder shook his apartment, rolling in inevitable tides across the night. He swung his legs out of bed.

“Where are you going?” Ashley muttered darkly as he pulled out of her arms.

“Can’t sleep.” he said quietly, pulling on his clothes. “Going for a walk.”

“In the rain?” she groaned, but by the time he stepped out of the bedroom, she slumbered again.

Dylan passed the rain coat hanging in the parlor and walked out into the night. He got the feeling, somehow, that he wasn’t going to need it. He stepped into the storm, and was lovingly embraced by the wind. Rain poured down like the attention of a lover, and he raised his face and hands to the sky, letting it pool in his mouth and his palms. It filled his eyes with visions; wrote dark inscriptions on his tongue. A thought occurred to him with certainty. Soon he would rest.

He began to walk, and did not look back on the apartment building. He made no goodbyes. All he felt was tired, he thought, and all he wanted was to sleep. He was going to walk until he got home, and then he was going to sleep forever. He could think of nothing else.

The sun rose on silver towers, and the city was changed from the night before—in his personal essays he might have called it a revolution. He shied away from the fires burning in the street; they were too bright for his weary eyes. It was nearly night again when the highrises and overpasses and clusters of food vendors had faded into a singular highway. He followed beside it for some time, and many more suns spiralled across the sky, plunging him into brilliant starry nights. One star in particular drew him onward, and although the tread had vanished from his untied shoes and his clothes were tattered, he followed.

Eventually the star and the highway led in different directions, and he chose the star. He paid no mind to the tear of the earth on his feet. He pushed through empty fields, into thick brush and between the forest trees. He knew with certainty that soon, he would get to sleep. The rising and setting of the sun became a singular flicker in his vision, instantaneous and constant, serving no purpose except to draw him closer to his bed.

The urge to sleep was powerful, and he could barely keep his eyes open, and he knew that he was getting close. It was just trees, now, and had been for a long time, flying past him with blackened trunks and piercing green needles. The stars spun in great circles above him, spinning like his mind. He stepped through the last gateway of spruce branches and onto the shore of a lake. More of a pond, really, but the waters looked dark and soothing. A bedspread of lily pads and pale white flowers was laid out on its surface.

Dylan breathed a sigh of relief, and stepped into the water. He did not mind as it filled his nostrils and poured into his lungs, for the urge to breathe no longer troubled him. He closed his eyes in peaceful meditation as though saying a prayer before bed, and above him the golden light of many afternoons filtered through murky waters. Moss and pondweeds grew in the cracks between his ribs, acting as a hiding place for eels and little fish.

The waters grew cold and froze in winter, hiding him under their covers, and grew comfortable in the warmer weather, when he became a home to tadpoles and a cascade of white lily flowers. The flowers grew in a crown above his resting place, and he wondered if they would match his green eyes.

Let me sleep forever, he thought, until the suns stop rising. As the black rains fell on the surface of the lake above, Dylan closed his eyes, and fell asleep.

Interlude 1 - Walter Pensive's Groundskeeping

Dreamers, if you live in the Hallowoods, and you are mortal, you are advised not to interact with any being you believe not to be alive. You may find them asleep in soft ponds and marsh beds, singing quiet songs amid the frogs and thrushes. Sometimes they may exhibit frightening disfigurements, and walk across your lawn or become trapped in your garden shed—you must understand that revenants, the returned, do not perceive reality the way you do. Be gentle in your approach and conversation if you attempt it.

For professional removal of revenants from your premises, call Walter Pensive’s Groundskeeping. Walt may look weary in his battered coveralls, but he has many years of experience in dealing with dead things, both peaceful and otherwise. If you are wary of strangers, watch your driveway for a white hearse with a logo on the side. Walt accepts cash, check, scout coin, barter, strange artifacts from the old country, and hot meals. We go now to one who would cause Walt to hesitate in his profession.

Story 2 - Childhood Bed

Diggory Graves was not lonely, but they were not alone. They had walked many more miles since leaving the ruined house behind, and when they closed their eyes they could almost feel the heat of the burning piano. The scenery was beginning to look familiar, and Diggory was not sure if this was good. Certainly not good was the crackling that echoed through the forest as something large broke through the underbrush.

Diggory stood very still as it grew louder, and glanced around the moonlit clearing with blank white eyes.

They were caught by surprise as rotting wood and loose soil exploded from behind them, and they were thrown into a cluster of trees. Diggory rolled to their feet, brushing matted black hair from their face.

The creature in front of them was new to Diggory, with huge antlers covered in moss and spring flowers, yellowed incisors, and powerful hooves. It broke into the clearing, bleating triumphantly. Diggory spread their long black fingers like claws, and hissed at the earthy beast. A tumult of razor-sharp hooves fell on them from behind, and Diggory fell into the undergrowth as the second one emerged from the trees, beady eyes fixed on them.

Their arm was laying several feet away, black stitches broken and bone packed with cotton. The beasts shrieked and yabbered as they approached, baring their huge front teeth. “Interesting,” Diggory thought, “that I am made of so little.”

The clearing blazed suddenly with white, flickering light. The creatures bounced away yowling, quilled tails vanishing into the darkness beyond the trees as quickly as they had arrived. Diggory turned in confusion to find a boy standing several feet in the air above them, tattered clothes rippling in the night breeze, and the outlines of the trees visible through his glowing form.

“Percy?” Diggory whispered. The boy glared down at them with his dark, sullen eyes, and his lips were stitched together with thread as transparent as he was.

“I thought you were gone.” Diggory pulled themself up onto a fallen tree with their remaining hand, and wondered if the absence of pain was normal. “With the piano.”

The look in Percy’s eyes was soft as he descended to sit next to Diggory, hovering a few centimeters above the surface of the bark. With a pale finger, he pointed to Diggory’s pocket.

“Oh dear.” Diggory reached around awkwardly to fish out their only possession. They removed the bone-white shell of the piano key, holding it in their scarred palm. Diggory stared at it, mortified. “I am so sorry. I didn’t mean to keep you—I don’t know how any of this works. I’ll destroy it this instant.”

A slender hand spread over Diggory’s stitched one, fingertips sharing the same space, and Percy shook his head.

“Unless… this is alright?” Diggory paused, looking for guidance. Percy nodded, his dark eyes meeting Diggory’s. Diggory wondered how hideous they must look in this moment, with a tangled mass of dark hair hiding a face Diggory had not yet dared to uncover.

Feeling awkward, they stood up to recover their arm from the brush, examining the broken threads. It was strange to think this heavy, damp object was a part of them, and also that its absence did not trouble them much. When Diggory looked about, Percy was standing on the edge of the clearing, looking through the trees. Diggory stalked over to him, following his gaze.

In the distance, Diggory could see a large manor half-sunk into the marsh, jutting parapets and tangled metal fences. Wordlessly, they stepped through the trees, with Percy drifting through the air behind them. As they crossed the waters and winding banks and drew closer to the great iron fence, Diggory was overcome with a familiar dread.

The twisted front gates had a flourishing ‘M’ emblazoned on each side, and in that moment Diggory recognized the house, and then they were plummeting deep into a starless sky.

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Story 2, Continued - Childhood Bed

Dreamers, the continued interruptions of my broadcast are unacceptable. Dreams are ancient and they are sacred. They are an inappropriate platform for advertising. We return now to Diggory Graves.

Diggory was a woman, watching through the window of the sedan as it rolled through the large iron gates. The estate must have cost a fortune to build this far north, and she had no idea what to expect. It came gently to a stop outside of the manor, and she stepped out, wincing in the daylight. An elderly woman sat on the front porch in a rocking chair, embroidering on a small piece of fabric, and set it aside as her guest drew near. She stood up in welcome, and ignored the slender brown hand that was offered, going instead for a hug. She was thin, but sharp, and winked with an empty eye.

“I love listening to you speak,” her voice crackled close, “I tune in to every press release. You have such beautiful lips, and what a marvelous mind for getting things done. A true gift, that mind.”

“Thank you.” Was the only response the younger woman could manage. The embroidery caught her eye; unfinished gold letters on a black tag that spelled ‘Property of Dig-’.

Diggory opened their eyes to Percy’s face looking down, concerned. Every seam in their mind threatened to tear, but Diggory sat up, and Percy held up two fingers in a silent question.

“I know, I’m sorry. I get lost, sometimes.” Diggory whispered. “This place—I remember it. I woke up here.”

Percy nodded, gazing over the fallen manor in a new light. Together, they entered the gate, treading soundlessly towards the front door, which hung broken on its hinges. A rotted rocking chair sat on the front porch. Diggory stepped through the door, appraising the moldering wallpaper and decaying floors.

How long had it been since waking up? Their first memories were hazy, but they traced a familiar path through its winding corridors and cavernous rooms. As they plunged deeper into the house Percy hung behind them, peeking around corners and examining broken pictures. Diggory ascended several sets of stairs whose red velvet covering had disintegrated, in search of something they could not express.

At the top of the last set, the floorboards were buckled and the roof seemed unsteady in its place. At the end of the hall, an open door was lit with moonlight.

“Percy,” Diggory whispered, “I do not remember what is in that room. I only remember that I am afraid of it. You don’t have to come with me.”

Percy glanced at them in confusion, passing his own hand through his chest a few times.

“I suppose there’s not much that could harm you. Good.”

Diggory tried not to meet the ghost’s eyes as they crept along the hall, leather boots tearing the worm-eaten carpet, and stepped through the door. The room was large, and huge windows were set into the slanted roof, only colorful shards remaining in their frames. Tables and shelves lined every wall, stacked with books and reels of wire and panels of stained glass, sets of large jars and a sewing machine with a foot pedal. In the center of the room, cast in the moonlight from the empty window, was a great table, seven feet long and made of marble.

Diggory stumbled forward, in awe, dropping their detached arm and placing a hand on the cold surface. It is always strange to return to your childhood bed.

Diggory looked over at Percy, who was standing in front of the jar collection. Through the reflections Diggory could see twisted specimens suspended in each one, sleeping forever in a murky brine. Percy turned, and held up a silver pair of scissors, small and gilded in the shape of a heron.

“You can hold those?” Diggory stepped closer, as Percy inspected them curiously. Instead of passing through their fingertips, the scissors remained firmly in their grasp, snapped when their fingers moved. Percy’s eyes were wide with excitement, and before Diggory could stop him, he pressed the scissor blade against his palm. Darkness welled in the glowing white surface of his hand, dripping like ichor into the air. Trembling, Percy raised the blades to his lips.

“Here,” Diggory interjected, raising their hand. “Let me.”

Percy held the scissors protectively for a moment, but relented, handing them over. With their remaining hand Diggory took them, raising the metal blades. The blunt edge pressed against Percy’s spectral flesh, resisted when they touched his form. Ever so carefully, Diggory caught the transparent threads and severed each one, pulling them out with the expertise of a seamstress. Percy winced with electric tears as the stitches slid out, and when they were free, Percy spoke.

“Thanks,” he breathed, “thank you.”

Percy said little as Diggory found sewing supplies and mended their fallen arm, piecing themself back together. Diggory pulled the final stitches through, and Percy rose up to the stone slab, cold scissors in hand.

“This needs help.” Percy spoke at last, raising the cold blades to Diggory’s thick hair, and placing a hand of imperceptible weight on their chest. “I used to do this. Let me.”

It was hard to read Percy, but Diggory held perfectly still as the scissors went to work, letting the knots and tangles fall to the stone table, and snipping away the veil of darkness that hid their face, exposing their pale eyes and black poised lips to the moonlight.

Diggory Graves was not lonely, and they were not alone. It was a strange experience for them, and although the walk was silent, the presence was comforting. They walked in the morning light away from the house, leaving the mansion for new memories, and Diggory thought this was good.

Interlude 2 - We Are Lights

There is a degree of reckoning that occurs when you find yourself in the possession of a physical body. For some it is a lesser struggle than others, but there are few who look at their reflection in still water and like what they see. For many, their body does not agree at all with who they are, or it does not correspond to those that they see, and this causes them great distress.

It took me much time to come to terms with my forms—for although I have many eyes, I am lesser in strength and beauty than my peers. I do not care. I am nothing. I am everything. I am blood and moonlight, I am madness and shadow. I reveal deep secrets and know hidden truths. I am unique and I am proud of who I am. I am one hundred eyes in the dark.

Accept yourself without hesitation.

Love yourself ferociously.

Protect yourself from harm, for there is value in your eyes and in your thoughts. Change your appearance if you will, but the light in you is already a great treasure, for lights are all that we are in the end.

We go now to one whose light is flickering.

Story 3 - Bloody Boots

Jonah tumbled through the darkness between life and death, and realized that he had lost his hat. He had screamed until he could scream no longer, and now he gasped for air as he fell freely into an eternity of shadow and flashing green light. The panic changed to curiosity, and his grey beard fluttered in the wind as he spun through space.

If this was heaven, there was less music than he had expected, and if this was hell, then it wasn’t that bad. He had always envisioned the afterlife as a tranquil pond by which he could sit and fish in the afternoon sun, and possibly hold hands with a soul mate he pictured as a hairy man. Every pastor he’d spoken to had frowned on that particular detail.

The green light was brighter now, crackling like lightning around him and through him, and his bones blazed with electricity and fire. He screamed, and the void burned white.

Then he found himself squinting at the sunlight, lying on a muddy shore. He looked around; he had his yellow boots, but there was no sign of his hat. He sat up, head throbbing, and pulled his legs out of the black water. He rubbed at his temples. Had he been dreaming? It was the most painful nightmare he could remember. Must have been that he’d gotten into dad’s old whiskey after helping Zelda move. That would explain the headache.

He rose unsteady to his feet and stretched. Zelda would be missing him by now. If he could get a handle on where he was, he’d go let her know he was alright. The navigator in him pointed which way to go, but he stopped as he noticed two large black eyes watching him from beneath the water, and a smile of needle-point teeth spread wide. Jonah bolted as fast as his legs could carry him, but the huge Fisher was faster as it bounded out of the water, reaching out to seize him with its human-like hands, and he felt their five-point claws rip into his flesh. He cried out as the great teeth closed around his ribs, and then all went dark.

Jonah opened his eyes to watch the shadow and green lights flicker by, and spat a curse as his terror changed into confusion. He fell again through the abyss, and thought he could make out a shape in the emptiness, distant but impossibly large. And then the green light burned bright, and he could not see.

His vision returned more quickly this time. The scene was the same, but the sun was no longer young, and hung low in the sky. Blood filled the muddy pools around him, and it took him several minutes to process that he was standing with his yellow rain boots in the middle of it. There were dog tracks too, making a beeline across the grisly scene.

Jonah spun around incredulously. He had died here moments ago. He was sure of it.

He felt his chest and sides for the hideous wounds the Fisher had inflicted, but they were unharmed and fuzzy as usual. After patting himself down and finding himself not Fisher food, he settled on a course of action, and sprinted into the forest, trampling through the underbrush. The thought pounding in his mind was not how to get home, but how far away he could get from the pools of his own blood as quickly as possible. The sun disappeared over the trees, and in the twilight, Jonah began to regain his senses, even as he had completely lost his sense of direction.

Walking between two twisted trees, he tripped hard. He freed his boot from a wire that was strung between them, but by then the sack had been looped over his head. Reverberating shrieks went up around him, and tiny webbed claws dragged him into the forest.

Outro - Bodies

Bodies. They are curious things. For humans they are typically comforting, as long as there is someone inside—but as soon as life leaves it, they become an object of terror. The body did not change. The face is still as if sleeping. Humans are ill-equipped to confront their own mortality. They live their brief lives attempting as much as they can to forget the endless expanse of the universe around them, and how small they are in comparison to it, and that one day soon they will not be anything in comparison to it.

Dreamers, enjoy your body while you are still able to use it. And if anyone seeks to make you feel badly for the body you have, set them on fire and bury them deep in the earth. It is the fire that burns in you they should be worried about. Wreathed in fire and covered in eyes, I am your host, Nikignik, waiting with warmest regards for your return to the Hallowoods.


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