Content warnings for this episode include: Animal death (Dogsmell as usual), Emotional Manipulation, Bugs, Spiders
Intro - White Noise
The radio crackles, and you come alive. It is the only voice you know that is like yours, fresh air in your lungs, light in the darkness where you dwell. Your mother tells you stories, and you watch the world through the lens of old television, but this sound is the only promise you have that there is still a world outside your little bunker. The sound of her voice is beautiful in the static.
You know the frequency at which to find her by heart; she haunts your thoughts in idle moments throughout the day. Long have you lived in your distant prisons—yours a concrete pit, hers a house of decay—but you fall asleep talking in the early hours, and in your dreams you walk freely on a beach with your hand in hers. The waves sound like white noise, interference washing over your mind, whispers that say Hello From The Hallowoods.
Right now, I’m standing where a tree used to be. Beneath me, the winds whistle, the rain falls heavy, and the air is filled with electricity. It is a lovely tempest, much like the one who walks beneath the pine boughs, wishing for all the world that someone would truly hear him. The theme of tonight’s episode is Radios.
Story 1 - No Gold Stars
The clouds loomed over the treetops like a grim teacher, checking your work for errors. Olivier was not afraid. The weather was his friend, and he never made mistakes.
“How did it feel to get kicked out of Downing Hill?” Riot asked. “That musta sucked.”
One. One mistake. One course-changing, life-ruining mistake. The blanket of wind scattered the rain around Olivier, keeping their cloak dry—it was almost grey with the weight of the embroidered storm.
“Well, obviously,” Olivier said. “Downing Hill is important—they’re going to save us. So they gave me tests, and I was good at them. Out here, it’s hard to know what I’m supposed to be doing.”
“Not throwing rain in my face is a good start,” Riot said.
Olivier reached out his hand, feeling the wind respond to his call, and the spirit of the weather shifted a little to the right.
Riot pushed past him, flashlight trained on the path ahead. She seemed even younger than Olivier, but she walked around like she owned the Scoutpost, and of course they all doted on her. That’s Riot, waking up after lunch. Oh I’m sure Riot will be around soon, she’s not usually on time. There goes Riot, lugging around a sword that she doesn’t know how to use.
No gold stars for Olivier, of course, who can pull the wind and lightning out of the sky. It was back to being second best, but this time none of the rules made sense. Olivier was clinging to a branch above a precipice, a last desperate grip on the world—this was his last chance, and if the Scoutpost rejected him, there would be nowhere else to fall. The only way he was going to climb out was to impress them.
“I think this is our antenna,” Riot said. Olivier stepped forward; sure enough, the wire strung through the trees led to a great fallen pine, and at the top thin metal branches jutted in all directions.
“Well, I guess we let them know that it’s down,” Olivier said, pulling his embroidered cloak around his shoulders.
“We’re supposed to get news from Webequie tonight,” Riot said. “The radio lady just said to put it back up high and plug it in. I think we can do it.”
“Do you know anything about radios?” Olivier said. Riot unbuckled a packet of tools from her belt, and began assaulting a metal bracket binding the antenna to the top of the pine.
“A little. Can you hold the light?” Riot said. Olivier stood silently for a moment, the flashlight in one hand, the wind in the other—trying to keep the rain off Riot’s work.
“You forget about them eventually,” Olivier said.
“What?” Riot grunted, pulling a bolt out from the bent bracket. She shifted to the other side of the tree, and Olivier glanced around the forest—he might have seen the flash of eyes, but there was no one visible in the darkness.
“Your parents,” Olivier continued. “After enough time they’re… abstract. Like something nice that you read about.”
Riot glared up at him, and Olivier winced. Another mistake.
“I’m not leaving her,” Riot said. “I’m not.” There was a thud as the antenna came free of the trunk. The base of the tree was damaged, Olivier noted—splintered as if by some impact, or the work of some very blunt tools.
“So you’re going to, what? Drive to California?”
“I’m not sure yet,” Riot said, looking down for a moment. “If I have to, then… maybe. Yeah. I can’t just sit here and pretend that she’s gone, or that it’ll be okay. Almost my whole life was spent with her, you know? It wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows, but I still want her here. And it’s my fault they got her in the first place. Besides, I did take down the Instrumentalist. Pretty sure I can handle it.”
“Pretty sure that was an old lady with a shotgun,” Olivier coughed.
“Oh you’re one to talk about Zelda,” Riot said, an eyebrow raised. “Now why don’t you Flying Delivery Service this up to a new tree?”
Olivier sized up the antenna for a moment. It was a metal bar five times Olivier’s height, and silver spokes jutted from it at odd angles. It looked heavy. He glanced up at Riot, who was staring expectantly.
“Sure,” Olivier said. “No problem.”
He closed his eyes, and tightened his grasp on the weather—pulling the weight of the storm to dwell beneath the metal bar, gathering wind to drive it into the air. Slowly but surely, he was lifting the antenna, and it rose precariously into the rain.
“You’re going to need to go up there too,” Olivier said slowly, trying not to lose his focus. “You’ve got the tools.”
Riot looked up at the pines, as if trying to figure which would be easiest to climb in the rain.
“I can get you up there too,” Olivier said.
“After last time? Not a chance,” Riot grunted, and jumped into the nearest pine, beginning to work her way up through the needles.
“I can do better when no one’s trying to choke me to death,” Olivier muttered, and chose a second target. He struggled for a moment, and the antenna wavered in the air as his feet lifted off the ground.
“Don’t you dare drop that,” Riot called, a few meters up.
“I’ve got it,” Olivier called back. He rose with the same delicate turbulence, rain streaking around him as he followed the antenna towards the treetops.
“I think we could do it,” Riot said, pulling herself up through the top layer of dark branches; the tree flexed slightly under her weight. Olivier stood in the empty sky, cape flapping in the breeze. The antenna rose up to their height, pressure on all sides keeping it aloft. He lifted his hands, bringing the base in towards the treetop.
“I’m sure we could,” Olivier said. “They haven’t seen what an Arcane Program student is capable of.”
“Mhm. And Diggory is like, super strong,” Riot said, driving the first bolt into the trunk. “We almost made it. Into Box Polaris, I mean. So we just… get down to Box Andromeda, and that’s what. A week of driving maybe?”
“A few days without stops,” Olivier said. “Finding gas would be a challenge. The roads will have deteriorated, probably barricades near cities. And I don’t think it’s as dense as this forest, but the black rains were something way back when.”
“Don’t think you can handle it?” Riot said, driving the last bolt tight.
“I didn’t say that,” Olivier said. “Of course I can handle it. If you can.”
Olivier let go of the wind, and the antenna clanked as it came to rest, rocking the tree top slightly before settling upright. Olivier glanced below, and a vein of lightning bled across the sky as he noticed a small herd of deer passing beneath them, three eyes each illuminated in the light.
He looked up to find Riot staring at him with a smile, and thunder rolled above the expanse of forest around them.
“Then it’s settled,” Riot said. “We’re going on a road trip.”
Interlude 1 - The Hallowoods Crackler
If you operate a HAM radio in the region now known as the Hallowoods, looking for life in the endless static, you will sometimes hear the slightest whisper of a voice between channels.
It has no call sign or radio etiquette. It does not greet or identify. It says ‘help me, help me’ at some hours. At others, it speaks of mountains that have no peak, forests from which you can never walk, villages swallowed by a black ocean, pines and spruce that burn with the phosphorescent colors of an ancient universe, and stars that look down on you with malice.
If you are very lucky, in the early hours of the morning, you may hear the Crackler sing. You might expect these to be frightening songs, but you would be surprised to find that they are gentle melodies, as often those who seek to comfort in a hopeless place may sing.
We go now to one who lives in a hopeless place.
Story 2 - Summer Program
“What’s the point of a summer break if there’s nowhere to go?” Clara said, examining the book in her hands. The printed banners of ‘Castles No Longer In Europe, by Arthur Cavelle’, seemed to drift slightly on the cover.
“I imagine it’s so the professors get a chance to recover,” Friday mused, a pair of dark braids and eyes in the shadows of the shelves. “Reducing students to ash or sucking out their souls has got to be exhausting.”
“Awfully critical for someone who’s carrying a soul-eating spider around like a baby,” Clara huffed, setting the book back on the shelf.
The spiderling was not much more than the size of an inkwell, and scuttled across Friday’s shoulder, a mess of black fur and grasping legs. A cluster of shining eyes peered up at Clara, and she shivered. Her own pet wasn’t allowed in the library-proper—the archivists complained the smell of dog would upset the books.
“Edgar is very polite,” Friday said, stroking the spider with a pallid finger. “I don’t think we’ll have to set him on fire.”
“I’m not sure what’s stranger,” Clara said, eyeing a painting which had been labelled ‘Dangerous! Do Not Stare’ after the most recent student disappearance. The figures inside watched her, as she felt the whole library did when her back was turned. “That the spider had babies, or seeing you show that you like something.”
“There are lots of things I like.”
“Name three,” Clara said. The shelves seemed to shift hungrily as she walked.
“Edgar the spider,” Friday said.
“My void knife.”
Friday paused a moment, as if clockwork was whirring under her porcelain face. Clara pointed to herself, eyebrows raised.
“Setting things on fire,” Friday said.
“Come on,” Clara groaned. “You have never once called me your friend, you know that?”
“Does that get under your skin?” Friday said. Clara gathered her armful of books and made for the front desk.
“It doesn’t bother me,” Clara said. “You can keep pretending you’re all cruel and mysterious. I won’t tell anyone.”
“O’Connor’s been reading Lord of the Flies lately,” Friday remarked. “I hope it gives him ideas for next semester.”
Clara studied the woman behind the reception counter—perfectly prim, with a grey suit that would have looked good on anyone, but her head was a missing piece in the puzzle of reality, a blaze of static where light should have rendered a face.
“These will be due in two weeks’ time,” she said. “Please have them back before the due date, or we will collect them.”
“Brenda,” Clara said. “Is your name Brenda?”
The librarian returned to her work without further comment, punching a series of index cards with a blood-red stamp.
“Not a Brenda,” Clara whispered. “But there’s got to be a person in there.”
“You should hope there isn’t,” Friday replied. “She’d be crazy by now.”
The door found Clara a moment later, two wooden panels that reminded her of the Rathbone House. She wondered if her parents were still there, roaming the grounds as much as they stalked in her dreams.
But they were out, then, into the grand hall with its painted ceiling and lit golden windows, and she was hit by the smell of a wet hound moments before the glowing dog appeared, nosing at her trousers and ears drifting in an ethereal breeze.
“Are you doing anything for the break?” Clara said, tucking the books into her bag.
“They’ve assigned me to the summer program for extra credit,” Friday sniffed. “Again. Typically it’s not for first-year students… but I have a feeling a seat just became available.”
A little excitement ran up Clara’s spine. She had nothing to go back to, really—a summer spent explaining to Riot why she was still in the Arcane Program held as much appeal as sinking into quicksand.
“Extra credit sounds great,” Clara said. “I assume that means a visit to O’Connor’s office.”
She looked over to find Friday gone, and shrugged. She reached down to pet Dogsmell, hand trailing through the hound’s misty head, and walked into the labyrinth of halls in search of the professor’s office.
Marketing - Blissful Silence
Welcome back to Marketing with Lady Ethel Mallory, Level Two. Let’s be honest, at least once in the last year you’ve thought, ‘what’s the point of marketing now?’ It’s alright to admit it. We all have these little questions at some point. Especially when Botco seems to be the only option. Long have the bones of every other megacorporation been bought and ground to dust in our manufacturing facilities, liquidated until no evidence remains. But that’s an ignorant way to look at marketing. We do so much more than just convince the customer to choose us over other options.
We’re not hungry for animal profit, us over them, eat or be eaten. Maybe once, but no longer. We are responsible for the conversion, knowing the thought and feeling and unspoken need behind every action the consumer takes. We determine if they are happy with the world we have created, if they are happy with their bodies, happy with their minds, happy with their status, happy with their friends.
They are hungry, and we must keep them just unsatisfied enough to chase the next carrot. We shape minds, sway the spirit of our nation, create controversy and campaign, conspiracy and cause, shift elections and movements in our favor. Now, more than ever, we must direct the feelings of our dreaming population if we want to ensure they remain loyal customers of our product, and part of our Happy Dreaming Family for the rest of their spending lifetimes...
Story 2, Continued - Summer Program
Why did it have to be dream? Couldn’t you have chosen a different medium for advertising and seminar and strange late-night propaganda? What happened to cave painting? Put up some billboards perhaps? Take over a public radio station? None of those would interfere with the magnitude of what I’m trying to accomplish.
We return now to Clara Martin.
The halls of Downing Hill were not a maze, but an interface, Clara had decided. If you wandered, you could walk forever among corridors of dusty wallpaper, doors and sublevels hidden in paintings and antique furniture—but if you knew what you were looking for, you could find it quickly.
O’connor’s office came to Clara as a set of magazines on a side table. Such scant articles and photographs had taught her much of what she knew about the world south of her parent’s empty mansion. She touched the cover of ‘The Alchemist’s Eye’, with features like ‘The Dark Truth Behind Pittsburgh Fire’ and ‘Ghost Car Haunts America’s Highways’. When she drew her hand away, she was sitting in a little waiting room outside of an open glass door.
“Come in,” the professor sighed. Clara blinked, and stepped into his office.
“If this is about final marks, a ninety-seven is as good as you’re going to get,” he said. His eyes were peculiarly colorless, and his face scarred as if by too much sun. His lower leg was formed of golden bones today, and articulated toes clicked against the marble as he placed a book back on his shelves—it appeared to have a beetle on the binding.
“I’m actually here about the summer program,” Clara said, taking the seat in front of his desk.
“I didn’t announce any openings for that,” O’Connor said, sitting down with a sigh.
“But there is an opening,” Clara said.
O’Connor frowned. “Unfortunately, yes. Do you even know anything about this program? I would typically only recommend it for higher years.”
“Friday mentioned it,” Clara said.
“Of course,” he said, rubbing at his eyes. “Well. I suppose you’ve already been on some… dangerous errands… on the school’s behalf.”
He paused for a moment, chewing on a thought, and leaned across the desk a little.
“Just between you and I,” he said, “I would never have asked a first-year student to work with someone like the Instrumentalist. Purely the Director’s decision.”
“I got what she needed,” Clara said.
“Yes,” O’Connor said, shrugging. “The summer program is about practical application—honing your unique abilities. Less of the theory you’ve probably grown bored of in my classes. You’ll be outside the library for large portions of it. I suppose it’s nothing you can’t handle.”
“So I’m in?” Clara said.
“You are in,” he replied, and jotted her name on a lined sheet by his typewriter. “The last professor—Jeffery, were you here for Jeffery? Hm—seems to have made himself scarce. So, we’ve found a different instructor. I’m sure you’ll be introduced in a few days.”
“Thank you,” Clara said, standing up. “I’m sure it’ll be great.”
“Ms. Martin?” O’Connor said, and Clara paused at the door. He looked at her for a moment, and a storm seemed to pass in his white irises. “When I first met you, I told you that if you had potential, you would survive here. You have potential.”
“Thank you,” Clara said, trying not to show her burst of joy at those words.
“Even so, be careful of distractions,” he continued. “You still have some attachment to that girl at the Scoutpost, do you not?”
“She’s important to me,” Clara said. “We grew up talking on the radio—lots of late nights. She was the only person I knew. I’m allowed to have friends, right? But she won’t get in the way of my studies. I promise.”
By the time she finished speaking, she was in a sunlit hallway with wicker furniture. Her glowing hound looked up from where it was curled in the light.
“It’s always something with these people,” she said, and went off to find something for lunch. Her grades were going to see a bonus, she knew she would excel in the ‘practical applications’, and she’d get more time with Friday. It was going to be a good summer.
Interlude 2 - Old Songs
There are not so many listening to the stars on Earth as there used to be—space agencies and electric grids have fizzled out, and the great white eyes of your satellite receivers have been shattered beneath the weight of wind and time.
Even so, there are a few dreamers yet in Box Betelgeuse who turn their ears to the heavens, leave the channel open at night and search for messages in deep space.
They hear songs born of starlight and radiation, music that echoes in the emptiness and serenades the stellar nurseries and nebulaic expanses. Although the employees of the Botco Space Line do not know it, they hear us sing, sing of our old lost loves in the early days of the universe, of the great creations and destructions that we have witnessed over all time, the messages we send to say ‘I am still here’. They may not recognize the tune, but for a moment they appreciate the melody.
We go now to one who struggles to appreciate the songs in the static.
Story 3 - Chicagoland Coffins
“Can you turn the music down?” Moth yelled; the bass rattled moth’s skull, and every fly in the city could probably hear the electric guitar blazing. Between the constant watch for the shiny black drones and Ray’s driving, Moth was as stressed as usual, but at least moth had been able to sleep a little on the drive up.
“Aw, but I like this one,” Ray replied, his radio bar flashing green. “It’s a classic!”
Moth grabbed at the door for support as the automobile drifted around a corner, and sped towards the highway. In the distance, Moth could see a series of black columns on the horizon, the corpses of skyscrapers. Behind them, as large as the sky, was a Dreaming Box.
“The size of that thing,” Moth said.
“Well, ya need a heckuva coffin to hold all of Chicagoland,” Ray crackled. “Been a while since I was up this way, hasn’t changed a day.”
Trees with black leaves fled past the window, and Moth was beginning to spot electric poles and strip malls buried deep in the overgrowth.
“We’re about to reach city limits,” Ray said. “Where’s your uncle camping these days?”
“He has a house in Ravenswood Gardens,” Moth said. “It’s by Henry Park.”
“Oh, Henry Park,” Ray said. “I used to sit there while I memorized the name of every park in Chicago. Just tell me where to turn.”
“No need for the attitude,” Moth said, spreading out the map on the dashboard. “Stay on the fifty-five—we’ll exit to the fifty, bound north.”
“That’s more like it,” Ray said, and the gas pedal clunked down as the automobile revved down the dark highway.
Moth kept an eye on the sky as they entered a never-ending labyrinth of suburbs. Windows were dark or missing entirely, and yards had long grown to choke out their crumbled houses. There were plants in Vegas, of course, but there was less rain to affect the palms and desert shrubs.
Moth had never seen a world quite as lost.
“Where are we going, Moth?” Ray chimed.
“Oh. Right on Irving Park,” Moth said, watching an apartment building sail by. “Do you think there are still lots of people here?”
“There’s people everywhere you go, Moth. That’s the world,” Ray said. “Certainly most of ‘em have gone and shacked up with Lady Ethel, but I’d bet there’s some kinda community left here. You’re uncle’s gotta have four for euchre, after all.”
“Turn here,” Moth said.
They left the throughway, descending into the neighborhood’s constricting streets.
“You seen any flies?” Ray buzzed, driving in the middle of the road. The driver’s side seat leaned forward a few degrees.
“None so far,” Moth said, putting on moth’s glasses. “They’re not all we have to worry about— my Uncle could be a little jumpy. This is the house.”
Ray rolled to a stop, and Moth opened the door and stepped out. The road was cracked by roots, and a set of loose porch boards led up to a decaying home. There was no light in the dust-caked windows.
“Not even a goodbye for dear old Ray?” the automobile said.
“I’m not sure if he’s here,” Moth said, putting a boot on the steps. The other houses were identical save for the theme of the yard decorations, stretching off until the street became a forest. In the grey sky, the sun glared off Box Aquarius, calling Moth like a beacon.
Moth raised a hand from beneath moth’s cloak, and rapped on the door. “Uncle Gale?”
There was a sound from a few blocks away—the wind rustling a garbage can, perhaps, but no garrulous laugh or greeting. Moth tried the handle, and felt the door give way. Moth cast a concerned glance back at the muscle car, and stepped into the shadow.
The windows inside had been boarded, and the only light streamed in from behind Moth. The walls were still crammed with picture frames, smiles and faces out of date, and although the pets were long gone, the smell remained in the carpet.
“I’m not hearing a loving reunion,” Ray called from the radio.
“He’s not here,” Moth called back.
“Alright,” Ray blared. “Come on back. Maybe he’s down at the corner store for cigarettes and menthol.”
Moth peered into the dining room—the table was burdened with a heap of sparkling clutter, papers and journals in precarious stacks, lengths of string which had collected on the wall like a spiderweb of clues, a radio as big as a microwave. Its screens were lifeless, but Moth picked up the journal beside it, checking for recent entries.
Records of conversations—some early ones that Moth recognized.
‘Called Bill. Groused about power. Kid is going by Moth now. Maybe I should change my name to Tarantula. Keep up with the times.’
“Nice,” Moth muttered, flipping to the last pages. “Now, why did you stop talking to us?”
‘Newest from the flies is making it impossible to live out here—Last night at the house. Tried to call Bill, couldn’t get him. Headed to Darla.’
There was a honk from outside which caused Moth to jump before plucking up the journal and flying for the door. Ray was doing donuts in the street, stirring up white plumes of smoke, and a heavy vibration filled the air.
“We gotta beat it, kid!” Ray said, and Moth ran towards the automobile, sliding into the passenger’s side. By the time Moth could slam the door shut, Ray was already racing down the lane. Behind them, Moth could see a shape in the smoke, a pair of huge eyes flashing like blood moons.
“He’s gone to get back with my aunt Darla in Toledo,” Moth shouted.
“Toledo it is,” Ray said, drifting around a corner and into the park streets. There was a thrum from behind them—the sound of rotors or gigantic wings. “Where do I turn?”
Outro - Radios
Radios. Just as I speak to you in nightmare, dearest dreamers, my voice carrying across inches or miles or light years to arrive in your subconscious, so humans have built a device to speak despite distance. They are in short supply now that earth’s civilization has largely fallen, but a few survive in the Hallowoods, nestled in bunkers or drafty bedrooms of centennial homes, the prize of survivors and survivalists alike.
There is power in hearing word from the world beyond—it tells you that there is still a world left to speak. In the same way, know that even as I share these stories, a voice in the darkness, that there is a world left, and people worth hearing stories about, and I will see them through until the final moment, until the static washes over this world and drowns it in silence, and we return to other programming. Until then, I am your loyal host Nikignik, twirling the world around my finger as I wait for your return to the Hallowoods.
The bonus story that goes with this episode is called 'How To Get By', 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!