HFTH - Episode 52 - Memories



Content warnings for this episode include: Death + Injury, Emotional Manipulation, Drowning



Intro - A Loathing Ocean

The memories that keep you up at night are not your own. They lurk beneath the surface of your recent past—but their friends are strangers to you, their home haunts you, and their words were never met by your ears.


You try to remember in the early hours of the morning—where did those memories end and your life begin? Who was that? Who were you? There is a bridge, you realize, between the old life and the new, long swallowed by the waves of the past, and never again will you cross it.


Your name and body and spirit have changed. You are not drowning, and the memories you make today are not buried in a loathing ocean. You hold the past like a seashell in your hands—it belonged to such a lonely thing—and return it to the waters of unremembered time. You walk now on the shore of dream, and the life ahead of you says Hello From The Hallowoods.


Theme.


Right now, I’m hiding in a little shelf of children’s books. They’ve kept the sick and infirmed of the Scoutpost company through a decade of disease. Some that thumbed through these sweet stories never walked again from these sunlit beds, and like the fables themselves haunt those who remain. The theme of tonight’s episode is Memories.



Story 1 - Whatever Form It Takes

“Stay still, Huntington,” Diggory said. “She is only trying to help.”


“I don’t need help,” the revenant grumbled, and Mrs. McGowan almost dropped her needle as Huntington flexed their sharp fingers. “It’s hardly a scrape.”


“At one time a creature like that kicked my arm off,” Diggory volunteered. “I did not enjoy that much.”


“Judging by your stitches, it got more than your arm,” Huntington said. Diggory frowned. “And whoever mended you must have been practicing with a shotgun in the other hand.”


“That’s uncalled for,” Percy said, appearing in the air like mist, and leaning towards the dead hunter. “Diggory’s lucky to be alive.”


“A situation I’m sure I might have helped with, had I been free,” a voice said from the door. Diggory glanced over to find Stitchery Pins, slender as a pair of shears and precise as a sewing machine.


“Mrs. McGowan, thank you for your help,” Stitchery continued. “But we can take care of our own maintenance.”


“If you’re sure,” the woman replied, putting her suture kit away. “But we are here if you need us, alright?”


Stitchery knelt beside the infirmary bed, producing a silver needle and a spool of black thread with a flourish. Huntington’s square chest was bare, and had been perforated by several sharp wedges—the hoof prints, Diggory knew, of the Griffocaughs. Their stuffing peered through the wounds, and symbols of black ink were inscribed on the inside of their skin.


“You fared much better than I did with them, at least,” Diggory said.


“It’s in my design,” Huntington noted, as Stitchery’s spindle fingers went to work, driving in stitches with a mechanical stillness. “You are not made for fighting, Diggory Graves.”


“No,” Diggory said, glancing at Percy; the lovely boy had drifted over to examine the shelves of children’s books. “I suppose not.”


“There we are,” Stitchery said, finishing the last suture and severing the thread with a sharp-edged fingertip. “Almost as good as new.”


Huntington flexed their chest; the stitches held.


“While you are both here,” Diggory said, “can I talk with you?”


“If it is important we may convene the family,” Stitchery said.


“What is it?” Huntington said, sitting up on the bedside, curious white eyes gleaming from under their shaggy black hair.


“Are you sure we should be talking about this with them?” Percy whispered, appearing again on Diggory’s shoulder.


“I think so,” Diggory said. “I will ask you two to keep a secret.”


“We have no secrets among us, Diggory,” Stitchery said.


“Except where Leyland buried that blasted bell,” Huntington said.


“Which we agreed should be a secret,” Stitchery said.


“Just… it cannot reach Violet or Bern until tomorrow,” Diggory said.


Both of the revenants looked to each other, and nodded. Diggory continued.


“Riot is leaving the Scoutpost tonight. She is going to Dreaming Box Andromeda in California to rescue her mother. She has asked Percy and I to go with her.”


“And will you?” Stitchery said.


“I am not sure,” said Diggory. “Riot is a good friend. Were it not for her, Solomon Reed might still be here to terrorize us, to take Percy away. And I… some part of me, the people I used to be… knew her mother. If I go to meet her, I may remember more about my purpose. About what lies in the North. Who I am.”


“You are unique in that respect,” Stitchery said. “We were largely assembled by convenience. Your parts were all intentional. This North you dream of us in your design alone.”


“What do you mean, ‘who you are’?” Huntington said. “You are Diggory Graves. You are the undertaker. That is your design.”


“You all seem so sure of yourselves,” Diggory said. “I have not seen any of you question your identity or your life. You just are. I find myself full of questions. Who am I? What does it mean to be anything? I feel I am a shapeless piece of clay, or an unfeeling mist. Unsure of what form I should take in the world.”


“Perhaps Stitchery should crack you open, take a look at you,” Huntington said. “Perhaps your makeshift mender left a few threads loose.”


“Nothing of the sort,” Stitchery said. “We have had more time to become comfortable with ourselves. Diggory is very young still, Huntington. Be gentle.”


Huntington grunted, and Diggory felt like shedding a tear, although that was a rare occurrence.


“All of that to say,” Diggory said, “I think of this place as my home. Not just you, but the entire Scoutpost as my family. And if something happened while I was away, I could not forgive myself.”


“All of us are here to keep these people safe and provided for,” Stitchery said. “If that is your area of concern, you need not worry. They are in good hands.”


“Should I go with her, then?” Diggory asked.


“If it is a question of…” Stitchery began.


“Absolutely you should,” Huntington said, and stood up, pulling on their vest, and left the door open on their way out.


Stitchery sat for a moment with Diggory.


“It is not an easy life, Diggory, that we have been commissioned. So many voices. So many parts. If you find some way to peace, to making the memories quiet… do it. Without apology. Whatever form it takes. We will not inform the Scoutpost of your departure until after you have left. You have our word.”


“Thank you,” Percy said.


“Then I believe,” Diggory said, and stood up, “that we will be gone in the morning.”



Interlude 1 - Pensive Day

You might expect that the end of your species would cancel most holidays, but it is now more than ever that those who survive look to the past for the comfort of tradition. Even those at Fort Freedom can be bothered to celebrate their Easter and Independence Day, Christmas and Fall Festival.


The Church of the Hallowed Name of course has several holy days, all of which are unspeakable. Downing Hill Public Library has a Reading Week. The Froglins throw two celebrations per year—one to thank their queen for an abundance of tadpoles, and one to thank Lolgmololg for her blessings, if they can be so called.


The Scoutpost celebrates three solstices and an equinox, and as many religious holidays as requested by its residents. A little candle or an exchange of gifts to say, we did this last year and the year before, and if we are lucky, we will do it again. They have also introduced a new holiday—Pensive Day, to recognize bravery and understanding in their Scouts on the third Sunday of June. We go now to one observing Pensive Day correctly.



Story 2 - Goodbye, Scoutpost

Percy Reed lay on the ceiling, hands clasped behind his head. Both the rafters and the pull of gravity itself had no influence on his body, if a little light and electricity could be called a body at all. He examined his wrist—a single loop of piano wire drifting like a spider’s thread into the locket around the neck of a dark shape on the floor below.


“I don’t know if I’m ready,” Percy said. “It feels like we just got here. It’s the nicest home I’ve ever had—even if they don’t always see me.”


“I know,” Diggory said from the floor. Their voice was soothing—like the rumble of distant thunder, or rain on a rooftop. “I have never seen a world beyond these trees, except in my memory. I do not know what to expect.”


“What was it you said about walking?” Percy said. “You never know where you’re going, just that you go to good places? Something like that? Where do you feel like walking now?”


“Something still calls me from out there,” Diggory said, raising a long black finger to the door. “Hector says that the forest in the North is all wrong, and full of danger. And I think this… California?... is very far away in the wrong direction. But as long as I am with you, I never feel like I am walking away from home.”


Percy was quiet for a moment. He wished he could kick something, and it was a cruel sort of life that he couldn’t feel his own hand passing through his chest, much less any other object. Diggory could walk, and carry the locket, and that was well and good—but he’d be getting hauled around as long as he stayed in this half-life, only really able to watch others live in the world, shedding invisible tears for the rightfully dead.


“Are you alright, Percy?” Diggory whispered. “We can still say no to Riot, if that is what you need. I know these last months have been… heavy.”


“They shouldn’t be,” Percy said. “He was awful, and cruel, and he ruined everyone and everything that he touched. The house you found me in? I was there for years, hoping more than anything that I’d never see him again. Now I never will. I should be happy.”


“But you are not.”


“It’s not like I miss him? Like I want him to come back or something. I just… I wish it all could have been different. I could have been a normal kid, with normal parents who let me have friends and watch movies and wear the clothes I wanted. Instead I barely had a childhood, and then my bones were carved into a billion pieces, and I watched my dad die in front of me. I’m the last Reed ever. Like…”


“No one should have to have lived the life you have,” Diggory said.


“And what was wrong with him?” Percy said, sinking from the ceiling to hover in front of the window. The night lamps of the Scoutpost did little to outshine the stars. “What if the same thing is wrong with me?”


He looked back to find Diggory standing beside him—they moved so quietly.


“No part of you is wrong,” Diggory said. “Your father was a cruel man—my maker was by all accounts a terrible woman. We do carry what they have given us, we cannot escape that… but I like to think our lives are our own. I am, at least for now, defying that destiny to go help my friends. And you, Percy, can be anything you want. I will still be here for you.”


I wish it was that easy, Percy thought. “Thank you, Diggory.”


Diggory pulled the watch from their pocket—it had been found in one of Walt’s tool bags, and was missing a strap. Small green hands glowed in the dark.


“I believe it is time,” Diggory said. “Even if we have lost our parents, we may still reunite Riot with hers.”


“Let’s do that,” Percy nodded, and looked over their little room and its charcoal pictures of badgers a last time. “I’m ready.”


Diggory slipped out of the door without a sound, and Percy drifted behind—the night wind felt good, a slight disturbance across the field of his body. They crossed the yard, and passed the empty pit where the fire of the Spring Solstice had burned. There was a guard posted by the Lurch Lake barricade, and one certain to be in the lookout nest above. Diggory avoided both nicely, slipping from one shadow to the next, and Percy dimmed his light as much as possible.


Riot’s RV was waiting in the gravel lot among the other vehicles of the Scoutpost; the red paint of ‘RV-lution’ and the Stonemaiden logos looked black in the moonlight. They slipped past Bern’s green truck, Walter Pensive’s empty hearse, and Hector’s sidecar motorcycle, approaching the lightless windows. Percy could see Riot peek out from within, and with a light gust of wind, Olivier landed beside them too, a stuffed backpack on their shoulders.


“What is all that?” Riot hissed, cracking the window open.


“My things,” Olivier whispered. “I don’t know when we’ll be back.”


“What was all the stuff we packed then?” Riot said.


“My books,” Olivier said. “I want to read on the drive.”


“Jesus,” Riot said, and shrugged. “Get in. Diggory, you good to open the gates?”


Diggory nodded. “Of course.”


As Olivier stepped up into the vehicle, Percy followed Diggory over to the Scoutpost’s massive front doors. The wooden beams and metal bandings were almost fifteen feet high, but the system of locking bars to keep them closed didn’t seem too complicated. The mechanism shifted under Diggory’s pressure, and the gates cracked open.


“This is it,” said Percy.


“Goodbye, Scoutpost,” Diggory whispered.


There was a deep chuckle as the RV came to life, headlights lighting up the Scoutpost wall. That would get some attention, Percy thought, but by the time that the RV began to roll, the gates were half-open.


The warning bells sounded from the lookout’s nest, like the song of some wounded forest creature looking for its child. By that time, though, the RV was rolling quickly for the gate, and with a last push Diggory shoved the doors open.


If Percy had a heart or a throat left, they would have been together as he realized what stood on the outside—a star-filled sky, and an expanse of cut trunks, and Bern, standing in the center of the road with crossed arms.



Marketing - Shaped By The Past

Lady Ethel:

It was important to us as we developed the Prime Dream that the focus never strayed from our Happy Dreaming Family—that we did not fill the emptiness with our programming, but ensured that the lived experiences of every dreamer forms and shapes the fabric of our shared dreamscape. Some of our pre-made realms are fun to adventure in and explore—such as The World of Azuria, open now!—but the soul of our Prime Dream is born of your past.


If you want to walk the streets of Chicago as it once stood, it is painted in the Prime Dream in a thousand voices and perspectives, millions of dreamers sharing city blocks and cozy apartments and sunsets and public squares in the early morning. When you walk or swim or fly into the Prime Dream, you become a part of a much greater whole—and a part of you lives in it always...



Story 2, Continued - Goodbye, Scoutpost

It strikes me as sad, dreamers—that now, so many of you sleep in the past, where the present cannot hurt you. I feel most for those who have been born in a Dreaming Box. All they have are memories of memories, a vision of the world refracted only through the eyes of those who have really seen it.


We return now to Percy Reed.


Percy swept in front of the approaching RV and lit up as brightly as he could, anxious for it to cease rolling. Bern squinted in the headlights, but did not move. The RV-Lution slid to a stop, and Riot wheeled down the driver’s window and leaned out.


“Bern, move it,” Riot called. “I’m not going to run you over, but like, I will drive around you very carefully.”


Diggory drew near, and Percy descended hesitantly as Bern raised a hand and came walking for the driver’s door of the RV.


“We’re not trying to stop you,” Bern said. “Much as we’d like to. But you’d get out of here one way or another. So we’re just here to say goodbye.”


“Oh,” Riot said. “That’s… nice. Who’s ‘we’?”


Violet walked around the corner of the wall, and there were others behind her—six black figures, wrapped in stitch marks and carrying red jugs in each clawed hand.


“You said you wouldn’t tell anyone,” Percy said, shining in the night air.


“They already knew,” the one named Leyland said. “And we also wished to say goodbye.”


“We’re going to miss you all,” Violet said. “Including you, Olivier, if you’re back in there somewhere.”


There was a shine of blue eyes in the darkness behind Riot.


“Thank you for welcoming us in here,” Percy said. “Both of you. I hope we’ll be back soon.”


“Wasn’t any trouble,” Bern said.


“Thank you also for my socks,” Diggory said. “And the clothes. And for giving us a home, for a little while.”


“You’re always welcome here,” Violet said, “and I want you to know that we think of you all as family. If you’d like this to be your home, it is. I know you’re hell-bent on going out there and doing something impossible, but if it doesn’t work, or even if it does, please come back. We want you back.”


Riot nodded, and rubbed at her eyes.


“This is for you all,” Violet added, gesturing to the Mendies and the gas cans they carried. “If you open the trunk there, we’d like to send you off with enough fuel to give you a head start.”


“I can’t take that,” Riot said. “That’s like half your supply.”


“We’ll rest easier knowing you’re safely on your way,” Bern said. Percy noticed Al, standing phantasmal and skinless on an inner Scoutpost balcony. Percy gave a goodbye wave, and Al waved back.


The RV door popped open, and Riot fell out to wrap her arms around Bern. “Thank you,” she said, muffled by Bern’s shoulder.


“I hope you find your mother,” Violet said. “And travel safe. As safe as you can.”


“I will do everything I can to bring them back in good health,” Diggory said, and approached their own family, who were placing the last tanks in the back of the RV with careful hands. “As for you all, I am glad I have come to know you as my family. I hope you will be happy here for a little while. Protect these people of the Scoutpost, please. They are my family too.”


“This is our home now,” said Leyland. “We’ll tend to it well.”


“Safe travels,” said Townsend.


“See you later,” said Huntington.


“Toodles,” said Cookery.


“Watch out for large insects!” said Floris.


“Until we meet again,” said Stitchery.


“Goodbye, Diggory Graves,” said Leyland.


“Goodbye, everyone,” Diggory said, and nodded as Huntington slammed the trunk shut.


“I’m sure you’re anxious to get going,” Violet was saying from the front, with Riot wrapped around her. “We’ll be thinking of you.”


“Which way are you headed?” Bern said.


“Shortest route we can,” Riot said. “Down from here—pass by Toronto, make for the border at Detroit.”


“Cities won’t be safe,” Bern said. “Camp outside of them when you can.”


“Got it,” Riot said, standing up straight. “Vi? Bern? I… I’ve never been able to find the right words to say thank you… for everything. Taking me in. Keeping me in the infirmary. Trying to help me get back home. And I still haven’t found the right words. Maybe when I get back. But thank you.”


She clambered up into the RV, and tugged the door shut.


“We’ll be back,” Percy said, hovering in the air above the Scoutpost’s old matrons. Diggory nodded to them both, and accepted a stiff hug from Violet before stepping around the RV for the rear door. Percy did not join them inside, but sat on the roof of the vehicle, waving a final goodbye to Violet and Bern, to Al, and to the rest of the strangers who had become for him a strange family and a strange home.


Then there was a roar from the RV, and it purred beneath Percy like a large beast as it tore through the Scoutpost gates and into the expanse of the forest and the world beyond, sailing between starlit pines and into the shadow of the early morning.



Interlude 2 - Remember In Reverse

When you wake first in the grove of starlight, in the orchard, you find yourself unformed, as though who you were was forgotten. To discover yourself is to remember in reverse. I entered this universe as an awakening of light and a cosmic calling, if you are human, then you are a little meat that makes a sound. For us both, it is only after we are already alive and a fair part of the way through it that we begin to ask, what do I want to be? What form do I take when I rise to the sun and walk into the world?


It is not even then, but much after—when we have gone into the world and understand how we flow through it—that we find the satisfaction in a name, in a type of presentation, a sort of existential consistency that we know is right. The culmination of what we have been, for all its grey wounds and sharp edges, and what we are now: incomplete until our last breath, but on a truer course. I have been alive longer than the heart of your world, and yet, it feels as though only now I have remembered how to live.


We go now to one also engaged in this activity.



Story 3 - Weird News

Riot was flying, and it felt good to fly. Freedom was exhilarating in her lungs, and the air whistled through her buzz cut. Beneath her, there was a sunny shoreline, and around her, there was an exultation of wind and seagulls, and whispers that said, ‘is that really Riot? Did we just see Riot Maidstone?’


Yes, she thought. This feels good. The Prime Dream seemed infinite, a shifting landscape washing from one mind into the next, a sea of memory, and she soared across its waves like an albatross, and loved the horizon.


There was a buzz from beside her bed, and she woke up with a start, and tugged the dreaming visor up a little. No matter how bright the seas were when she slept, they didn’t blind her like the cold morning sun. The light seemed out to get her specifically, beams shooting through the blinds to stab her in the eyes.


She looked around, but nobody was there. Good. She slid back down into the blankets and closed her eyes again; they were warm and dark and heavenly. She grunted loud enough for the personal assistant to blink on—a little silver cube by her beside, and a red eye looked up at her.


“Hello, Riot! Can I help you?” Boxy said.


“Breakfast,” Riot groaned from beneath the covers.


“What would you like for breakfast?”


“Whatever is fine,” Riot said. The cube blinked off again, thank god. She had almost fallen asleep when there was a knock at the door, yanking her back up to consciousness.


“There had better be orange juice,” she called.


“Oh of course!” a cheerful voice replied from the other side, and Riot sat up immediately, checked that she was wearing a shirt. An old Stonemaiden cover. Ironic. Sure enough, the door clicked open, and a breakfast tray emerged, followed closely by Melanie. There was a woman in a white coat behind her, and Riot shivered a little.


“Good morning, Riot,” Melanie said, and smiled. “This is doctor Burfield. She’s just here to check up on you.”


“Nice to meet you, Riot,” the doctor said, and showed her teeth. “You can call me Velma.”


“Couldn’t this wait until after breakfast?” Riot said, and the woman in white drifted towards the bed like a motherly ghost.


“It’s already noon,” Melanie said helpfully. The Burfield woman pulled Riot’s wrist from the covers—god, her hands were cold—and pressed her fingertips into Riot’s vein.


“Come on,” Riot said. “It’s been weeks. I’m fine.”


“You suffered quite a bit of exposure,” Doctor Burfield said with a voice that Riot hated. Too sweet. “We just want to make sure you’re alright.”


“I’d be more alright with breakfast,” Riot said as Melanie deposited the breakfast tray over her lap.


“You’ve been through so much,” Melanie said, and squeezed Riot’s other hand. She was more gentle than the doctor. “It must have been so hard for you.”


Doctor Burfield finished counting to sixty or a hundred or whatever nurses liked to count to, and nodded officially, and stood up.


“No fevers? Confusion? Loss of consciousness?” the doctor said.


“Like I said, I’m fine.”


“Velma, do you have everything you need?” Melanie said.


“I think she’s in good shape,” said the doctor. “I’ll leave you two to it.”


Melanie waited for the doctor to leave, and turned back to Riot. It was hard to look away from Melanie; her hair was all in spirals that danced around on her shoulders when she moved.


“How are you feeling? For real,” Melanie asked.


“A little weird,” Riot said, peeling a donut out of a plastic wrapper. “The Prime Dream is cool. I’ve been having fun with that.”


“Oh for sure,” Melanie said.


“What?” Riot said. “You made a face.”


“Well, you’re new to the Prime Dream, and there’s so much there to explore. It’s got to be very exciting,” Melanie said, and sat in a chair by the bedside. The sunbeams lit up the back of her head like a halo. “I’ve grown up in it, so. I’m always looking for ways to improve. The next evolution, you know?”


“Gotcha,” Riot said. The orange juice burned on her tongue. “And then there’s like… the whole memory thing. Mom keeps acting weird because of it? She’ll be like ‘what do you mean you don’t remember our millionth curry dinner together’ and it’s like… sorry mom. Not my fault. Mental condition. She thinks you whacked my head when you picked me up or something.”


“I can explain it to her again if you’d like,” Melanie said, and put her sneakers up on Riot’s bed. There was a small black point in the whites of her eyes—contact lenses instead of a visor, Riot thought.


“I don’t think it would help,” Riot said, and started on a small bowl of fruit pieces as vibrant as neon lights. “She’ll get used to it.”


“Just want to make sure you’re taken care of,” Melanie said, and nudged Riot’s leg with her shoe. “Also, I’ve got weird news for you.”


“What’s ‘weird news’?”


“Your dad has been asking to see you.”


Riot froze for a moment, and a piece of cantaloupe fell off her fork.


“What do you mean ‘my dad’?”


“Well, he’s been here. Like, ‘prime dream’ here—I think he’s in Box Pisces?—anyway. Apparently he tipped off the Botco Reunion Organizers about where to find you. And just in time honestly. Now that you’re back and safe, he’d like to talk to you.”


Riot put down her fork. “I’m sorry… what?”


“‘What’ for what part? I just need to know like, do you want to meet him? It’s okay if not. You can say no.”


“No, I… I think I would,” Riot said. There had been almost nothing about him in her old journals—thank goodness they’d gotten those from her mom’s bunker, or she’d have nothing to go on at all.


“Alright. I’ll get my people to chat with his people. Book you a lunch or something this week,” Melanie said.


“Make it a dinner,” Riot said, and poked her tray away. “I don’t know anything about him.”


“I’m sure it’ll be a nice catch-up then,” Melanie said, and lifted the tray away. “But if you’re uncomfortable at any time, you let me know.”


“Cool,” Riot said. “Can I go back to sleep now?”


“Of course,” Melanie said, and made for the door. “Sleep tight now.”


She closed the door on her way out, and Riot turned to look at the window. Nope; still too bright. There was that buzz again; a fly landed on the piece of cantaloupe beneath the edge of the bed. She watched it rub its little hands together for a moment, and then slipped down beneath the covers again, and fished for her dreaming visor. There was darkness, and then a million colors. Riot smiled, and fell asleep.




Outro - Memories

Memories. We decide to keep so few of them—countless days lost to the grey soil of time, almost as though they never happened at all. A set of flickering colors from when you were young, a few shining moments, a couple of dark places you wish you could forget—they are all that we carry with us, really, when the carbon and the dust is gone. The things that mattered so much to us—feeling and passion and excitement and grief and loss and numbness—washed away.


Perhaps it is for the best that we bury the past. Perhaps it is a blessing to forget, if it lets us smile again in the moment.


Your head holds less of the past than mine, but my life has been longer than you can comprehend, and I will be making memories when you comprehend no more. Centuries and dark millenia will pass, the light of your sun will rejoin the emptiness between worlds, and I will forget who I was today. But I promise, I will remember you. I will remember this little world and the life you lived upon it. Until memory itself is undone, I am your loyal host Nikignik, waiting mnemonically for your return to the Hallowoods.




The bonus story that goes with this episode is called 'Black Eye', 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!