HFTH - Episode 46 - Teeth


Content Warning: This episode may include themes of Abuse, Animal death, Violence, Death + Injury, Blood, Transphobia, Homophobia, Guns, Strangulation, Misgendering, Emotional Manipulation, Body Horror, Consumption of Inedible Materials, Electrocution, Religious Violence, Evangelism, Character Death, and Teeth.


Intro - Little Sharp Things

All your life you have been mocked for your teeth—they are little, sharp things that stand too far apart in your mouth. If it were not the teeth, you try to remind yourself, it would be something else. But there is no escaping their cruelty, and one day you are cornered. Again they jeer, and one of them is waving his finger too close to your face, and a sudden, powerful feeling washes over you.


It is a realization that you will not be here long.


The others fade away over the years, and in time so do their words, and only you and your teeth remain. You get along better with them than you used to, and when you smile in the mirror, you feel no shame. In the end, you realize, there was nothing wrong with your teeth at all. They were a little different, and now the world is a little different too, for when you step outside, the pines are huge and sharp, and the words they carry are Hello From The Hallowoods.


Theme.


Right now, I’m looking down on the home of a man old beyond his years. The forest has grown in a thick wall around his house, constricting the sky above. There is one other up here, and they are showing him for the first time that they bite back. The theme of tonight’s episode is Teeth.



Story 1 - I Am The Thunderstorm

The day was dark, and Olivier hovered over the surface of the earth. You cannot stop me, they thought. I am the thunderstorm.


The weather flew around them in flurries, held their feet firmly in the sky, and responded to the call of their open hands, pouring across the night to form a titanic, howling, turning storm that blotted out the horizon and the starlight.


The eye, of course, the still center, had to be Solomon’s house. The night was a vengeful tempest, but the house had to stay dry.


The house had to burn.


Olivier winced as Solomon’s ghosts slithered out of the house like serpents, and struck down the man called Jonah. The shock was almost enough for Olivier to lose their grasp, but Jonah stood somehow over his own body. Covenant blood, Olivier wondered, or something worse?


Again, the ghosts struck, and again Jonah stood strong. Jonah made his final warning and walked away. This is it, Olivier thought. They had expected Solomon would refuse, and now…


Now the storm began. Olivier reached out, felt the electricity pulsing in the veins of the sky, and teased it out. The crackle of thunder was deafening, and a sharp fork of light connected with the roof of Solomon’s house, impossibly bright, lighting up the rain. Olivier laughed; Solomon was on his back far below, and the embers of the roof were stirring in the wind, and the hunting horns sounded in the forest beneath their feet.


It was one note, at first, a single call, but quickly it was joined by trumpet and whistle, bellowing beast and car horn, drum and primal scream. The Hallowoods had come together, and they were a mad orchestra of their own.


Solomon scuttled back into his house, and Olivier brought another fist down, pulling lightning out of the sky like Neptune. The crash sent sparks flying across Solomon’s porch. And then, in the sea of darkness beneath Olivier, there was light.


Headlights of the Scoutpost’s vehicles flashing on at once, spotlights that glared into heaven. Olivier could see the yellow jackets of the Scoutpost streaming through the woods towards the tunnel entrance, the only gap in the fortress of trees that surrounded Solomon’s house.


But there was more light, then, in less recognizable forms—green eyes that shone in the dark, a huge set of glowing antlers, flashes of fire and phosphorescent purple and yellow. The shapes crossing through the light were not just human, but shadows as deep as the night, toothy giants and nightmare animals, a horrifying collage pasted together from all of Olivier’s bad dreams.


And yet, they were together as one, a movement, a storm of rage and fear and determination. The most shocking thing of all was that Olivier was part of the storm, embraced by the horde as much as by the wind. Olivier had never felt part of a storm at Downing Hill.


They screamed into the night, joining the battle cry as it sounded, and pulled together strand after strand of lightning into Solomon’s windows.


That one’s for my record, they thought.


That one’s for wasting my life.


That one’s for replacing me.


That one’s for Friday.


And this one, Olivier thought, pulling the spirit of the sky into a crackling orb that hung in the air above Solomon’s house, a beacon, a miniature sun…


This one is for not respecting me. The wrong name, the wrong pronouns. You called me proud? This is proud.


Olivier brought the orb down into the roof, and splintered wood went flying into the wind as it turned his shingles into ash, charred and sizzled in the rafters, shining so bright Olivier could barely look at it. Below, Olivier could see the first of the combat scouts emerging into the yard, dashing over the gravel where Walt had fallen, and darting through the flower beds to circle Solomon’s house, spears at the ready.


Where was Solomon?


Olivier’s world turned painful as something collided with them, burning like lightning of its own. Olivier flipped through the air, pulling the weather tight around their feet and surging back. You picked the wrong day to mess with Olivier Song.


They paused, gathering electricity at their fingertips. There was a trace of light in the air—that ghostly hound. The Director’s new pet hovered on her broomstick in the storm beyond, rain pouring down her face and glasses in her shirt pocket.


“Sorry,” she yelled. “What’s going on?”


“Your new boss is going to get wiped off the face of the earth,” Olivier shouted, and the storm chuckled with thunder. “Tell the Director to add that to your record.”


“Not if I can help it,” Clara yelled back, and dove past Olivier over the wall of trees and into the clear air over Solomon’s house, and descended into the flaming roof. Olivier brushed themself off, and turned their attention back to the yard. The mob was closing in on Solomon’s house, and fire was beginning to light the early morning. Olivier pulled back the storm a few meters around Solomon’s house, let the wind stir to give the flame life.


After the storm was over, they knew, there would be a world to face. What were they supposed to do, to be, if not the shining star of the Downing Hill Arcane Program?


“I hope you’re proud of me,” Olivier said, to the Director, to their parents, to themself. And then there was a white flash from below, and the world erupted in terrible light.



Interlude 1 - Party Crashers

A localized storm warning is in effect today for about five miles in every direction from Solomon Reed’s house. Expect furious winds, and rain like tears shed for no reason. If you are in this radius, you will also notice that the woods are a little more lively than usual. Its denizens with great antlers, rows of sharp teeth, or eyes of unlit stars are gathering to witness or participate in the end of the Instrumentalist.


Some have invited themselves in the hope that there will be blood to drink and flesh to tear. If you’ve ever thrown a party, you know exactly the sort. The woods themselves, even, are drawn to that terrible house. Root and branch and needle scrape closer, and the wall of trees tightens its grip on the grounds; there are great echoes as the ground ward threatens to snap like lake ice in winter.


We go now to one caught in the rain.



Story 2 - Words For A Goodbye

Bern had a good sense for death.


It wasn’t a flash of cosmic knowledge or truth, or a grim omen standing by someone’s shoulder. It was just that sometimes, she said goodbye to someone, and there was this well of emotion in her chest that she couldn’t control, and she knew she had said it for the last time.


But now, as the scouts and the shadows themselves streamed around her into the black tunnel, and she said goodbye to Violet, she felt deeply that she would never get to say it again. She wondered for a moment if she should mention it, but instead admired Violet’s wrinkled face and grey curls for a moment longer, and kissed her, and unclipped her crossbow from her side.


“Be safe,” Violet whispered, her tired eyes gleaming in the headlights. The healers bustled around them, tending to Jonah as best they could; he sat exhausted on the truck bed. Hector stood beside him, but nodded to Bern and made for the entrance, his dogs close behind.


“Now go get him,” Violet said with a smile, and patted Bern’s cheek.


Bern had a hundred more things she wanted to say, but there was no time. She turned, and plunged behind Hector into the shadow.


The tunnel was dark and claustrophobic, and the roots of the forest seemed to creak and groan above them. She was pressed tight with the rest, scouts and unspeakable beasts shoulder-to-shoulder, clambering for the light.


And then they were out of the darkness and into the maelstrom. The wind whipped in her ears and tore apart the garden, and loose boards and earth were flying with the rain around the grounds.


A blazing sphere of lightning descended from the sky, setting Solomon’s roof on fire.


“He’s in the house,” a voice called beside her. She realized it was Hector, a rain-whipped hood over his head.


“We should have scouts in the back by now,” Bern called back. “He won’t escape.”


Bern tried not to get distracted as a stag the size of a double-decker bus stepped carefully past her, with antlers that glowed like the sun. Walt’s friends were here, and she wasn’t sure whether to be on guard against them too—but they had not harmed her scouts yet, and they too joined the assembly inside the grounds. A woman flew by on huge black wings, a man with gills and fins shoved past her and Hector, and behind them both there was a roar as Big Mikey squeezed through the tunnel and out into the flower beds.


Bern looked for Riot and Diggory—they were supposed to stay close!—but she couldn’t make them out in the crowd.


Then there was a flash of light from within Solomon’s house, and a pounding line of drums shook the base of her skull. Violins pierced her ears, and Solomon’s orchestra grew heavy in her head. Hector grunted, eyes widening.


“What is that?”


“That’s Solomon,” Bern shouted. She realized then that the light exploding from the house was ghosts, burning bright in the storm with agonized faces, leaving shining trails in the rain.


They were awful to look at—injuries that Solomon had no doubt inflicted, turning pegs and strings and keys contorted with their bones. They rushed out from the house, a wave of death, and above them all rose Solomon, flicking his conductor’s wand to the rhythm of the awful orchestra. Spirits lifted him into the air, and he hovered over the smoldering roof, hair flying in the wind and glasses shining red in the firelight. A hoard of instruments were suspsended in the air beside him, more than Bern had ever seen in one place.


“You have done me a service,” he called, and he held his wand up, and the ghosts froze for a moment, inches away from her scouts. “Now I will not have to walk to the Scoutpost to claim your spirits.”


His hand fell, and the wave of ghosts bled into her scouts, and the screams began. Bern noticed one sail upwards into the night air, high above the wall of trees.


Run, Olivier, Bern thought, and turned back to watch as a ghost tore into one of her scouts, searing her with fingertips like fire pokers.


Where is Riot?


Bern realized, then, that there was a ghost staring at her, and gliding slowly in her direction. Its ribs were separated from its hips by thin strings, a terrible facsimile of a harp. Bulging eyes stared from a staunch face, and it slid closer in time with the music. Around her, the formation was broken, scouts scattering as they tried to avoid an enemy they could not hit.


The ghost ahead of her pulled out thick ropes from its middle, coils which hung in the air and flickered with light. Bern backed away and lifted her crossbow, firing a bolt. It sailed through the spirit, shattering a potted plant on Solomon’s porch.


The ghosts eyes opened wide, and it swung out a loop of its sickening strings. She felt it become real as it clung around her neck, and she clawed at it as she was yanked off her feet. Her crossbow flew from her hands, and the ghost dragged her back across the drive, scraping her elbows on the gravel. She felt for her side, grabbed a leather-wrapped handle, and dug Walt’s dagger into the noose around her neck.


There was a shriek from the ghost that stabbed her ears even worse than the orchestra, and the loop loosened and came flying back, carrying the knife out of her hands. She’d left an injury of some kind, a black gash of the night in its silvery form.


The ghost was on top of her, then, stooping down to face her, and the weight of its hands was incredible. Bern struggled, couldn’t kick it, couldn’t get her arms free.


“Come on then,” she spat. It wasn’t quite the end she’d pictured. “Get me.”


It glared at her in a way she’d experienced a few times throughout her life, full of a remorseless pity, and the spirit smiled with a mouth full of perfect teeth. The ghost squeezed, and her arms felt like they were on fire as its white-hot fingers dug into them. Bern screamed, and felt her vision go entirely red. Red is the color of beginnings, Bern thought, and the color of the end.



Marketing - Perfect Smile

Lady Ethel Mallory: Welcome back to marketing with Lady Ethel Mallory. At this point in the program, your braces should be removed and those pearly whites are ready for the world.


Why do teeth matter? You may be tempted to think that we live in a sophisticated world, dear employee, but nowhere is the cruelty of nature more apparent than in the world of business. Eat others or be eaten.


A smile is a threat, and a perfect smile is a weapon. When you bare your teeth at another, you are saying ‘kneel and expose your neck, or I will dine on your flesh’. That’s why I’m always smiling. And that’s why the world kneels.


Don’t worry, though. As a Botco marketing employee, you’re a winning animal. In this final segment of the course, we’ll...



Story 2, Continued - Words For A Goodbye

Imagine getting your teeth fixed. Imagine having teeth. Imagine being nothing but teeth, and a black hole of a throat pulling all life and light and matter into endless, infinite rows of teeth.


Maybe it’s best for you not to imagine these things, on second thought.


We return now to Bern Keene.


White. Not the pleasant kind, either, like the glow of sheer curtains on a Saturday afternoon. A painful light, the glare of the sun on the snow.


And then darkness, incredible shadow, but it was not entirely empty. There were screams, pained and terrible, and the pounding drive of an orchestra in full swing. Above her, there stood a ghost with organs like harp strings. It stared at the storm-filled sky, lightning flashing throughout his form, and his perfect teeth champed at a piece of metal in his mouth.


He began to dissolve into pieces, traces of light, and was gone in a gust of rain. A silver bullet shell fell to the earth, and where he had been there was only Hector, with his flintlock raised.


“You alright?” Hector called, and both of his dogs were standing over Bern then. She pushed their noses out of her face and took Hector’s rough hand, and he hauled her to her feet.


“Thanks,” Bern said. Hector only nodded in response, and they turned to face the night. The world around them was chaos—a rainstorm whipped at Bern’s face, turbulent winds carried soil and loose shingles, and a swarm of ghosts had descended on the living. Big Mikey screeched, swatting at spirits which clung to him like ants, and scouts were falling around her one by one as glowing claws dug into their faces and minds and souls.


There was a high, piercing note, then, and the wind dropped instantly. The lightning stopped, and the clear pillar of air around Solomon’s house vanished entirely. The rain fell hard, then, and the fire on Solomon’s rooftop went out.


Above it all hung the Instrumentalist, his red coat soaked by the rain, and his instruments jolted and shook with every sweep of his wand, in time with the music in Bern’s head.


“Turn my own ward against me, eh?” he cried. Bern looked for Olivier in the sky, but could no longer see them hovering over the wall of pines. She cursed, and picked up her crossbow, aiming it at Solomon.


“Give it up, Solomon!” she called. “You can end this right now!”


Solomon began to sink, the spirits whirling around his feet bearing him down almost to the ruined roof of his house.


“I intend to,” he said. “Don’t you see this is for your own good?”


He flicked his wrist, and a spirit came sailing through the storm, with a forehead full of tuning pegs. Bern tossed her body to the side, coming down hard in the garden mud. She groaned; pain jolted through her shoulder. That was going to make it difficult to aim.


“You most of all,” Solomon said, looking down at her from the air. “You have led them all here, have you not? All these years spent running. Did you think the lord would not find you here? That you could escape your sin? He has put me here to remind you all that the wages of sin is death.”


He directed his conductor’s wand with decisive force towards Bern, and she thought about the right words for a goodbye. These things always came too late, and she was never happy with how they turned out anyways.


How’s this for a goodbye, she thought, and rolled up to face Solomon, and as his specters closed in on her, she let a bolt fly through the night.


Solomon raised up a hand to summon a spirit, but he moved too late, and he cried out as the bolt struck true. Bern stepped up and stood her ground as he wheeled back around, and the bolt was stuck in his shoulder. He snarled, and yanked it free. Big mistake, Bern thought. That’s a broadhead.


She glanced to the ghosts around her, which hung in the air only a few feet away, and Solomon drew back his wand with renewed frenzy.


“Dad, stop,” a voice echoed in her head, and in the storm above her, Percy shone like a spotlight, pierced by the rain as if by many arrows.


“Daughter,” Solomon said, freezing, and the spirits across the grounds became still, the orchestra drawing out into quiet violins.


Bern was not alone, she realized; a person made of smoke was by her side, a woman wrapped in shadow on her other. All things she’d never have dreamt would dwell in this forest, now looking up together at the Instrumentalist and his son.


“You said you would listen. That you would try to understand,” Solomon said. His eyes were green fires behind his glasses.


“I did,” Percy said, his whispers in Bern’s mind. “I understand. I know that you’re afraid. Of other people, or of God, or the world out there. But I’ve been out there. I know these people. And I have never seen anything so good. Please stop hurting them. Please.”


Solomon stood in the darkness, spirits with gnashing teeth swirling around his feet like cherubim. His hands seemed to tremble, and Bern hoped the wand would drop from his bony fingers.


“I am not afraid,” he said. “For although I walk in the Valley of the Shadow of Death, I shall fear no evil. He who loves his life will lose it, but he who hates his life in this world will gain life eternal! Do not worry, my beloved daughter... you all will gain eternal life this morning.”


Solomon swung his arm, and the wand fell, and the host of his unholy heaven fell again on the Scoutpost, and the screams that followed were a terrible symphony.



Interlude 2 - Those With Many Teeth

Space is a hungry thing, dreamers, and it is filled with many teeth. I don’t recommend visiting if you can help it. I know you once had great dreams of reaching the stars—even now, a dozen Botco employees drift in orbit—but I think your fate was sealed early on. You did well, for not really having any help.


Sure, Syrensyr pulled some strings, but no one gave you wings that float in the void, or turned you into tardigrades, or put your brains in eternal preservation for the empty voyage. You only have one face, and actual jelly eyes.


No, space was made for the intangible, the ascended, those with many teeth, and those unspeakable things dwell freely between the stars. Before you go to meet them, it would be best to work out your own appetites for destruction first.


We go now to one who has the hunger of the stars.



Story 3 - Death Is A Hungry Wolf

Yaretzi grinned, and let her tongue hang from the side of her mouth. The stellar winds felt like she had always hoped they would—utterly freeing, joy incarnate. She always thought, though, that she would grace them alone. Instead, there was a demon at her side, peeling the dimensions asunder with his cane, and a revenant at her other, and she was going to kill a master of darkness.


She emerged from the space between existence and found herself in a living room. The rug was messy, and a wooden bookcase was open on hinges, and a silver hand in a glass box sat on the table.


“What is this place?” she growled, looking for the nearest person to tear in half.


“Not going to matter in a minute,” Polly smiled, his horns burning bright as a point of fire began to glow at the end of his cane. “Close your eyes, Mort.”


“I don’t know how,” Mort said, and then a ring of fire appeared around them, and rushed outwards in an explosion like the heart of a star.


Yaretzi laughed in the blaze, pictures and books went up immediately in cinders, windows shattered and support beams buckled, and the very timbers of the house screamed and threatened to give way as the flame seized them.


“Let’s go find the old death-dodger,” Polly said, tapping his cane on the ground, and skipped through the fire and out the front door. Yaretzi bounded after him, and Mort went tromping behind.


She found herself in a chaotic scene; a crowd of people much like the Resting Place regulars were thrashing around, and spectral figures of light flowed through the air, screaming and lashing out with sharp fingers. Above her, the last of a rainstorm had fallen, and the clouds were beginning to open into the morning sky.


“Can I help them?” Mort asked, eyes burning within his bobbing skull. He pointed with his claw to the ghosts, several of which had piled on top of some poor soul in a yellow jacket.


“That’s what you’re for, Mort,” Polly said. “Among other things. Go get ‘em.”


Mort stomped out, and Yaretzi had to stare for a moment. He dashed into the fray, seizing a ghost in his hand—and it stuck. He yanked it away from the collapsed human, and it shattered into fragments of light as he pulled it free. Immediately he caught the silvery strings of another in his claw, and twisted like an alligator’s death roll. The strings cracked into particles, and a tortured soul screamed and disappeared into the rain.


Yaretzi wiped a proud tear from her eye, and turned to the old scarecrow himself. Polly was already in the air above her, flame burning at the bottoms of his dress shoes. The house had become a pillar of fire, towering into the night despite the rain.


“Back again, Devil?” the old man’s voice echoed like awful music in her ears.


“And feeling better than ever!” Polly crowed, tossing a small inferno from the head of his cane.


The old man hid his face as the fire crackled around him, and he roared at Polly before looking around, a wave of horror overtaking his face. “My instruments!”


The music in Yaretzi’s ears grew dissonant as violins warped and drums buckled and brass melted in the heat. The old man waved his hand, and flew back from the house, dozens of instruments sailing through the air behind him.


This was Yaretzi’s time, she thought, and she leaped to the roof, and from there went to lope across the grounds. The sun’s light, even its first rays, felt like god on her skin, gold in her blood, the power of the stars burning in her lungs.


She had killed many demons, and although this one did not smell like smoke and deep flame, he would be no different.


She dashed towards him in huge bounds, claws and teeth reaching for his blood. The old man screamed and fell from the sky as her claws found purchase in his skin. With her family by her side, she could do anything. She was death. She was Yaretzi.



Outro - Teeth

Teeth. Grinding, unpleasant little things, and the more you think about them, the more uncomfortable they become. Pains in our teeth are personal, and they fester like our souls—jab us with pain when we least expect it. Both get worse from a lack of care, the enamel of our of spirits worn away, cavities growing black in our hearts. In the end, sometimes all that is left is extraction—to cut out the offending hurt and remove its roots.


There is an empty feeling, for a while, when we take the pliers to our pasts, but time will find us eating and breathing and singing again with all our old joy.


I do not miss having teeth. It was always unpleasant.


Forever hungry, a hound of the night, a guard dog threatening any who would disturb your dreams, I am your loyal host Nikignik, waiting orthodontically for your return to the Hallowoods.




The bonus story that goes with this episode is called 'Rightful Time', 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!