HFTH - Episode 56 - Thorns



Content warnings for this episode include: Abuse, animal death (Dogsmell as usual), Violence, Kidnapping and abduction, Death + Injury, Strangulation/suffocation, Drowning, Emotional Manipulation, Body horror



Intro - In The Window

You have never been able to identify the plant that sits in your windowsill. Its family and genus are a mystery. You know only that it is beautiful, and that in your hands it has grown from a dried twig to great flowers and creeping vines. From the window you watch the fires burn across the city like a forest floor, and the elevator in your building will not come up to meet you, and you cannot find a way to get your chair down twelve flights of stairs.


The days that follow are desperate—you raid the empty apartments of your neighbors like roots searching for a little water. The food runs out quickly. You sit beside your plant, and feel the rain fall on your face, and the plant speaks your name. You watch as it grows from its pot, vines twisting around you, and it says that it will carry you now, and it is hungry, and hello from the Hallowoods.


Theme.


Right now, I’m standing in a conservatory. The forest outside these glass windows is wreathed in fog, and the hallways beyond are a dark briar path of their own, but this room of sun and blossom and fruit remains a solitary oasis. Outside and far below, students stumble out into the morning light. The theme of tonight’s episode is Thorns.



Story 1 - Secrets Like Cards

Clara stepped through the great brass doors of Downing Hill and breathed. The fresh air burned her lungs, as though she’d spent a month underwater, and the light glared bright in her glasses. She had little in the way of luggage to haul down the marble steps; they’d returned her compound bow, and her clothes and journals fit into a small wicker suitcase.


By the time she turned to wave goodbye to the librarian with her head of static, the doors had closed again. A whiff of wet dog on the breeze told her that her phantom hound had made it out too, and as a wisp of light Dogsmell bounded down the stairs and began to run in sweeping circles among the warped gardens and topiary that surrounded the library, stirring up the morning fog as it went.


There were three students waiting between the great stone lions, and she recognized them in part. It was strange to see their faces outside of the library. In the darkened lecture halls and winding shelves, everyone had an air of mystery. Standing bleary-eyed with their bags in hand, she realized how small they were.


“Hi everyone,” she said, stepping down between the lions and glancing around for a hint of Friday.


“Good morning,” mumbled Victoria, whose dark hair and mustache were equally silky despite the early hour.


“What time is it?” a boy named Arnold said. His tie was shorter in front than in back, and one side of his collar stuck up. He rubbed at his round eyes.


“Almost five,” Clara said, glancing at her watch—thankfully it had survived black rivers and the burning house of the Instrumentalist.


“I thought there would be more of us,” the third student said; was it Harrow? Clara couldn’t quite remember, they sat at the back of class and didn’t speak much. The all-black eyes were memorable though.


“Who here has been on this summer program before?” Clara said.


Victoria closed her eyes, and Harrow and Arnold exchanged nervous glances.


“I have,” a voice said from above, and Clara looked up to see Friday lying on the back of one of the stone lions. She slid off the side, and landed catlike on her feet. She’d changed to a pair of tall black boots and a cape coat to fend off the fresh air, Clara noted.


“Good morning Friday,” Clara said. Dogsmell rushed past her and off into the topiary. Good to get the zoomies out of the way, she thought.


“You really think so?” Friday said, leaning against the lion’s base, and Harrow inched away from her. “This morning marks the beginning of three weeks of misery.”


“What kind of misery?” Harrow whispered.


“Don’t listen to her,” Victoria said. “She’s trying to get in your head. Like always.”


“If it’s so miserable why’d you invite me?” Clara said. Arnold looked in confusion across the yard; she guessed he couldn’t see the wisp of a dog flashing across the grounds. Clara thought she could hear the twinkle of wind chimes from somewhere in the distance.


“They say it’s all about learning to control yourself,” Friday said, ignoring her question. “Harness your own little powers through meditation or bonding activities. But they don’t tell you about the tests.”


“Tests?” Harrow whispered, eyes wide. Friday shrugged.


“I’m sure it will be fine,” Clara said, and gave Friday as stern a look as she could muster. “This is a learning experience. I’m looking forward to it.”


“Sure you are,” Victoria muttered.


Clara was still pondering a response to that when Arnold screamed; a shrill cry that shook the air like the song of the monstrous frogs. Clara held her ears, and looked over to find him staring up into the trees, where a huge form loomed over them. Clara’s hands went immediately to her bow, and Dogsmell dashed in circles in front of the creature, yapping like distant thunder.


The creature stood taller than the pines, with thick black fur and antlers that curled upwards like fishhooks. It had no eyes; only a jagged smile of teeth stretching from ear to batlike ear. Clara had seen it before, she realized—clawing its way over the fortress of trees that had once surrounded the Instrumentalist’s house, with a woman standing in its antlers raising a curved sword to a blood-red sky.


It was different now, though, she thought. Its antlers were hung with long strings of chimes and glittering charms, and a small hut was perched on the hump of its back, supported by a saddle of rough-hewn stilts.


There was a thumping behind her; Clara looked back to find Harrow pounding on the doors of Downing Hill. Ahead, the creature stepped through the trees and into the gnarled gardens, balancing delicately on pointed hooves. The chimes in its antlers rung with every step, casting delicate music into the air.


“Was this part of the trip last year?” Clara whispered. Friday shook her head slowly.


From a porch hanging off the side of the creature’s back, a ladder of rope and branches unfurled twenty feet to the ground. Standing above, there was a figure shrouded in purple fabrics, beckoning with a withered hand.


“Is that our summer instructor?” Arnold gasped, panting for breath at last.


“Obviously,” Victoria said, although she stared up with wide eyes and clutched her arms to her chest.


“Harrow, it’s okay,” Clara called back. “It’s our instructor!”


The cloaked figure above them made a gesture as if tapping on a watch. Clara hoisted her suitcase, and tightened the bow’s strap on her back, and looked to Friday.


“Shall we?”


“Be my guest.”


Clara stepped forward, waving Dogsmell over to her. The spectral dog came rushing to her side, ears trailing in the air.


“It’s okay, the big moose can’t hurt you,” she whispered, and hoped that the same was true for her. She was only as tall as its pointed foot, and although it had no eyes to watch her, she could barely look away from the huge clawed hand hanging beside the ladder.


She made a fist, and breathed deep, and tried to carry herself with her father’s stillness as she reached for the ladder. The rough branch held beneath her hand, and she threw her bag’s strap over her shoulders and began to climb.


The rope swung wildly with each shift of the great beast, and Clara could not help but marvel—what was this thing? Had it lived on the earth since time primordial, pulled from the center of the planet by a Downing Hill expedition? Or had it begun to walk since the world ended, changing like the frogs and the river snails? She paused for a moment near the top, long enough to reach out and feel the black fur in her hand, the movement of air in gigantic lungs.


She arrived at the top to find Downing Hill a little less monolithic, and a woman leaning on the railing in front of her, with a scarf around her head. The hut was made of rough-hewn trunks, jagged bark supporting small glass windows and a roof of branches.


“I remember you,” Clara said, as the other students congregated at the base of the ladder. “You were at the Instrumentalist’s house.”


The woman stared at her blankly, her intent hidden deep in the lines of her weathered face. Her eyes were like crystal balls, and they fixed on Clara with a little smile. “Must have been a different old woman and wandering night-gaunt. What are the odds?”


“Is that what this animal is?” Clara said. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to be rude. I’m Clara Martin.”


“Secrets are like cards, Clara Martin,” the woman said, and a smile cracked her face like dry soil. “Best to keep them until the right moment.”


Clara nodded, and tried not to show her confusion. She realized then that Friday was standing behind her, and the other three were clambering up, bags piling onto the narrow porch. Arnold was last, and rolled onto his back upon reaching the top.


“Three, four, five,” the woman said. “Perfect. Get that ladder up; we’ve got ground to cover.”


She turned, and began around the side of the porch.


“Miss?” Victoria called. “Who are you? What are we doing?”


The older woman looked back, leaning around the edge of the hut. There was a twinkle in her eye, and she tugged on a rope that trailed up into the antlers of the night-gaunt.


“We’re going to go do some learning! How exciting,” she said, and the platform shifted as the night-gaunt lumbered into the trees, and Downing Hill fell away into the fog. “And you can call me Winona.”



Interlude 1 - Ramblerose

A distinct lack of ecological oversight has had its effects on the Hallowoods and the world around it. Plants once deemed invasive grow rampant, spurred on by rains that ferment strange life. Wild buckthorn’s glistening black berries peer from the forest like clusters of eyes, thickets of dog-strangling vine shroud trees like barbed wire, and the rambler rose blooms not in pink but deep crimson.


Then again, what is an invasive species? A being that is not content with its given place in the world, that reaches out for new life and sustenance. A pity if the life that was before cannot adapt to the future, if they suffocate beneath our roots, if they starve beneath our feet.


Thus says the rambler rose with its thorny caress.


Thus says humankind, arriving on every new shore with malice.


Thus says the froglin court now, stretching their webbed hands across this forest to claim its lakes for their god of mud. How does it feel, dreamer, to watch the world slip from your grasp?


We go now to one with a limited grasp on the world.



Story 2 - The Blooming City

The worst part about being a ghost, Percy had decided, was that you could not pet cats. At best, he could wave the fur around like static electricity, but their newfound companion disliked this immensely, and made it apparent by hissing or clawing at Percy’s intangible hands.


“We could name it Evelyn,” Diggory said, sitting on the floor of the RV.


“Jesus, there’s so many cars,” Riot said from the wheel. “I’m vetoing any name that belonged to your people parts. Every time I think of the kitty I’ll think of a dead person, and then I’ll think of how you’re made out of their arms or feet, and I don’t like thinking about that.”


“Jezebel could be fun,” Percy said. It was hard to tell, sometimes, if people could hear him clearly.


“Why that name?” Diggory said.


“My dad would hate it,” Percy sighed. The world was too bright outside their windshield, sun reflecting off the highway as Riot navigated around wrecked vehicles.


“Nimbus,” Olivier said, petting the cat in their lap, and Riot laughed from the front seat.


“It’s so stupid-sounding,” Riot said. “Nimbus.”


“Well, cumulonimbus is a type of cloud, so I just thought…”


“Oh it’s Nimbus for sure,” Riot said, and brought the RV to a stop. She turned around in her chair. “Diggory, there’s like a million cars blocking the road ahead of us. Are you like, ‘move a car’ strong? Or just ‘fling Olivier into the bushes’ strong?”


Diggory looked at their hands, and flexed their fingers. Percy found a particular fascination in how the stitches shifted across Diggory’s palms. “I do not know. I have never tried to move a car.”


“I bet you could,” Percy said, sinking down to hover beside Diggory’s shoulder. “Let’s give it a try.”


Percy wondered if the world around him had always been ethereal, or if his perspective had changed after dying. The colors glowed like vintage photographs, and shapes passed into watercolor streaks after long enough—he sometimes had trouble finding horizons. Diggory, though, was a solid black streak in the world, a weight to hold Percy to the canvas.


Diggory stepped out onto the highway, and Percy drifted with them. Four lanes flowed like a concrete river through the heart of the city, and the world was bordered by huge grey buildings on all sides. Their windows looked out like empty eye sockets, overgrown with creeping vines.


“I thought things would be more destroyed, honestly,” Percy said, following Diggory across the highway. “No movie apocalypse is complete without some wrecked skyscrapers.”


“I suppose people just moved inside the Dreaming Boxes,” Diggory said. “Though from Walt’s stories, the days after the first rains led to much panic.”


“And worse things than panic, I think,” Percy said, eyeing the abandoned traffic. Some cars had crashed, and others appeared to have been left to sit, stretching out down the highway in tangled rows. “Let’s see that lift.”


Diggory laid their hands on the first vehicle, and their sharp fingers sunk into the metal. They pulled, and the van door came off its hinges. Diggory examined it for a moment, then tossed it to the side, and went back for the frame. They shuddered for a moment, and then Percy watched as they hoisted the vehicle over their head and sent it sailing across the asphalt, colliding with a concrete barrier on the side of the expressway.


“Wow,” Percy said. “You never told me one of your folks was a pro wrestler.”


Diggory looked back with their pure white eyes, and grinned, and threw a punch into a four-door sedan. It went spinning across the road, tires disintegrating as it travelled.


“You’re so good!” Percy said, and watched Diggory’s arms ripple as a third car went careening off the raised roadway, plummeting into the shadowed streets below with a satisfying crunch. It took him a moment to notice the movement beneath his hovering feet, and he looked through his toes to see little vines dotted with pink flowers creeping quickly across the pavement.


Curious, he thought—even in the Hallowoods, the undergrowth didn’t move that quickly. One of the flowers bloomed, then, and there was a cluster of tiny pieces inside. Pretty, he thought, until he realized they looked a lot like rows of teeth, going down in circles. Not so pretty, he thought.


“Diggory?” he called, and looked up to find the bridge wrapped in greenery—spiralling vines seizing the concrete dividers and the wrecked cars. Behind him, roots like cables encircled the RV, spiked leaves fluttering with impossible speed, and he could see Riot and Olivier inside, kicking against the doors.


He looked back to Diggory, and found a garden in full bloom—gigantic pink roses dotting a great mass of moss and vine, and in the center a bloom the size of a trampoline, with a writhing Diggory half swallowed in its petals.



Marketing - You Deserve Better

Lady Ethel:

Don’t think that I’ve forgotten you.


I thought I’d found a way to drown out your little bursts of static, stop you from interfering with my programming. No matter. I’ve got worse planned for you, you know. When I find you, Nikignik, whatever you are. I’m going to make you wish you were never born.


They say every rose has its thorns, and mine are deadly. Do you think I got where I am today by playing nice? I’m done with warnings. You must have no idea what our research and science divisions are capable of—the secrets we’ve learned. If you understood, you wouldn’t dare to continue transmitting in dream. Do you have a skull, Nikignik? I will reach into your eyes and peel it out of your head. The last thing your sleeping audience will hear are your screams.


I won’t tell you when. That would ruin the fun. So go ahead. Keep talking. See what happens. Is this little bout of propaganda worth your life? I’ll…



Story 2, Continued - The Blooming City

That’s enough of that. Did you hear that, dreamers? I’m shaken. Oh no. A marketing professional is irate. I am in all places at all times. That is power. My eyes are everywhere; my gaze crosses the universe in an instant. She is lucky that I only choose to continue this broadcast.


We return now to Percy Reed.


Percy did not speak, or think, or take the moment to weigh which direction to go. He had lost too many people. Diggory would not be the next. He was a spear of lightning, a holy fire, a destroying angel, and he struck with all that he was. He collided with the titanic flower, and white flooded his vision for a moment as crackling light poured across his world.


When color and shape returned to his sight, the huge petals were smoldering at the edges, and there was a terrible shriek as Diggory was ejected from the center of the hungry rose, and went sliding across the pavement. The burning plant teetered on the edge of the overpass, pulling its great vines back into its mass, and Percy rose up for a final blow.


“Whoa there!” a voice called, and Percy froze. Behind him, Diggory rose to their feet, and pushed their hair out of their face. From over the edge of the concrete barrier, a figure rose—small, and wearing corduroy, and wrapped in vines.


Percy sank back a little, checking to see that Diggory was alright. On the other side of the pileup, the RV clunked back down to earth.


“Sorry about that,” the stranger called, and turned to the great mass of growth that held him. “What was the rule we agreed on? Huh? Remember the rule?”


“Ask before eating,” the plant said from the greatest of its toothy flowers, with a voice that struck Percy as deeply wrong.


“That’s right,” the stranger continued, lifted closer by the vines wrapped around his legs. “Apologize to the people.”


“They set me on fire!” the plant protested, shaking off charred petals with a furious twist that shook the overpass. Percy drifted back to dwell beside Diggory.


“Are you alright?” Percy whispered.


“Yes,” Diggory said. “Are you?”


“Hey, garden face, get lost!” Riot shouted from beside them, and chucked a windshield wiper at the gigantic perennial. Olivier hovered over her, wind flying in their cape and a storm darkening in their eyes. The plant lurched back towards them all, vines piling in heaps on the highway, and paused a few meters away, still with the stranger held in its grasp.


“Sorry for eating you,” the plant said.


“That’s better, Venus,” the stranger continued. “Again, everyone, very sorry about that. No need for a fight here, you can roll right along.”


“Not so fast,” Riot said, coming to stand in front of Percy and Diggory, and held her sword in her hand. “What is that? Who are you? Was there a reason you just tried to make us fertilizer or is this just your nine to five?”


The stranger glanced to the living grove, and descended a little from the air to stand on the road, although the grasping vines did not leave his waist. The plant loomed over and around him, blocking out the sun. It seemed to stretch its flowered heads up to the light, new petals already creeping up to replace the ones Percy had destroyed.


“My name is Milo,” he said, raising his hands peaceably. “I’m a botanist, or used to be. This is the Venus—she’s not supposed to snack on travelers. Just wildlife.”


“How does one stop being a botanist?” Diggory whispered.


“Diggory. Giant plant monster. Focus,” Percy replied.


“Let me guess, you used the wrong potting soil?” Riot said.


“She’s one of a kind,” Milo said, and put his hands in his pockets. “We help each other out. I’m her eyes, she’s my transportation.”


“Well watch what you try and eat next time,” Olivier said; the lightning was not quite gone from their fingertips.


“The one I tried was disgusting,” the plant shrieked. “Cold and dry. Cold and dry!”


“Are you folks alright?” Milo asked, and pushed up his glasses. The vines bore him a little nearer to the group. Up close, there was a softness to his voice and face that Percy found familiar. “You don’t see many people rolling through here these days. We were just out for a walk.”


“Easy there buddy,” Riot said, shouldering her sword. “Call it a road trip.”


“Oh nice,” Milo said. “I’ve thought about leaving sometimes. But I find a lot to study around here.”


“I’m sure,” Olivier said, and touched down to the ground. “The city isn’t too dangerous?”


Milo glanced to the plant. “I think I’ve got my personal protection covered these days.”


“Excuse me,” Diggory said, stepping forward a little. “We are trying to pass through the city. I was going to try and move all these cars, but time is very important to us right now. Would you be willing to lift us over this jam of traffic?”


“I’m supposed to negotiate,” Riot said quietly to Diggory. Beyond, Milo smiled.


“We could give you a lift, absolutely.”


Percy watched as his companions loaded into the RV, and realized that Milo probably had not seen him at all. Maybe for the best—who knows how he’d respond to a ghost. The Venus plant lifted the RV almost effortlessly, and bore it aloft over the waves of traffic. Percy followed Milo closely; the little man was held aloft by the vines as the colossal plant crawled across the highway lanes.


“Hi,” Percy said quietly.


“Hello?” Milo said, looking around as the cars passed beneath them, and paused a moment in Percy’s direction. “Someone there?”


“I’m Percy,” he said, glowing a little brighter. “I’m with the others.”


“Hello Percy,” Milo said, brown hair fluttering in the breeze. “There’s a lot of ghosts in this city.”


“I’m… sure there are,” Percy continued. What must other ghosts be like, beyond the people his father had destroyed? “I had a quick question for you—I’m sorry if it’s too personal. But… are you trans?”


“Yes,” Milo frowned, and Percy felt immediately that he’d gone about it wrong. “Why do you ask?”


“I’ve just never met someone like me who was grown up,” Percy said. “I guess it’s… nice to see.”


Milo smiled, and nodded. “I wish I’d known more back when I was coming out. Then again, I don’t think I would have pictured myself babysitting this hungry sprout either.”


“Not a sprout!” the Venus shrieked. “You’re a sprout!”


“Thanks for the ride,” Percy said, and began to drift back towards the vine-encrusted RV. They were almost back to a clear stretch of road.


“Hey,” Milo said, as the RV was lowered gently to the pavement. “You’ve already done the hardest thing. Growing up looks different for everybody. Do what makes you happy, and don’t worry about the rest. That’s my philosophy.”


Percy nodded, and noticed that Riot was hanging out the driver’s side window.


“Thank you mister Milo!” she shouted.


“Don’t mention it,” Milo said, and the countless vines of the Venus peeled away from the RV and back into its mass. “Safe travels!”


Like that, Riot started up the RV, and it was rolling, and Percy was drifting in its wake until the polite little man and the house-sized pile of flowers were lost in the shadows of the highway.


Happy, Percy thought. What makes me happy? Happy is a distant thing when you’ve watched your parents die, when you’ve been robbed of your life, when you’re an afterthought on a string. He slid back through the RV’s rear wall, and found the others talking excitedly up front. Nimbus sat on the table, and looked up at him with round amber eyes. Percy sighed, and put out his hand.


The cat hesitated for a moment, then reached out its nose, and calmly received the smallest of zaps. We’ll see about happy, Percy thought, but this is a start.



Interlude 2 - Flowers of Fire

When I speak of fields of starlight or the orchard at the center of the universe, I do not speak of plants in the way you know them. My flowers are born of fire and stellar clouds, my forests are of burning suns and fathomless abyss. Life exists in endless variety throughout the universe, and much of it would defy your categorization, but there is little that lives on such a scale as I. I have, though, an appreciation for organic life now which I might not have before.


I never understood it, really, until I met the Garden of the End. He saw your level of life as an exquisite form of art, so many miniscule, immaculate details. A delicate balance, a drop of poison in every flower. The ways that life combines and grows and evolves, learns to defend itself from the universe outside, was of great interest to him, and perhaps it was his voice more than the words that caught my attention. Still, were it not for him, I doubt I would be speaking to you now.


We go now to one who is also growing.



Story 3 - Be Not Afraid

Rick Rounds felt the words pass through his mind like shards of glass—some smooth, clear, and cold; others caught with sharp edges and sliced clean through. Was the bulging face above him with the pinpoint green eyes dream or tormented reality? Did Mikey, with gnashing teeth and breath like the grave, speak to him of the devil?


At other times he saw Buck, but he could never cry out loud enough to get his attention, or Mrs. Wicker, damning him with a victorious little smile. All the friends he thought he’d had at Fort Freedom, people he’d grown up with… the only one left was the one he’d left in the bog.


“...without denying that there are forces on earth greater than our meager understanding,” Mikey was saying, a little book in a hand the size of a tombstone, “and that any thing we have met which is too great for our senses we call angel or devil, god or titan…”


His hand. Something was wrong with his hand. Rick tried to pull the world around him, stop the ceiling from swimming, twist it all so he could see. Mikey’s face turned out of view, and in its place there was a black branch, covered with little white flowers and twisted thorns.


The flowers were breathing, pulsing with a heartbeat that did not come from his chest, but somewhere deep below him. The branch sat on rippling sheets like a piece of art, and Rick could barely breathe, did not want it to respond—anything for it to be only a branch. Move, he thought.


The branch twisted apart at the end, and Rick sobbed. Grasp, he thought, and the long thorns flexed like the bones of a hand.


Not mine, he thought, not mine. Get away from me. Get out of me.


“...and they do not come empty-handed, or with a rod of justice, but with gifts…” Mikey’s voice echoed. I’m sorry Mikey, he thought. I should have jumped in to get you. Or maybe I did jump in. Maybe I’m drowning now.


Yes, that was probably it. The world was all dark, and quiet, as though the heavens were very far away. Rick sighed with relief, and found that he could get no air into his lungs. That’s what happens when you drown, he thought. You don’t need to breathe anymore.


But it was not just darkness, he realized. There was a fire, burning orange light beneath his feet, rising from the depths. No, he thought. Not now. I’m not done yet, devil-man. This isn’t the end for Rick Rounds! But he could not feel his feet, could not kick for the surface, could not escape from the flames of hell bubbling up around him.


The devil arrived.


His face was different, Rick thought—older, meaner. There was no fire on his forehead but hell itself was in his eyes.


“I been waiting for you,” Rick said.


“Rick Rounds, I presume,” the devil replied.


“...motives indiscernible, perhaps unknowable, to those on our level, but they hold sway across centuries of…” Mikey’s voice said from somewhere above the water.


“That’s right,” Rick said. “You didn’t forget.”


“You are not well, Rick Rounds,” the devil smiled, and there was ruin and brimstone in the lines of his face. “You’re infected with the most hideous plague in the universe. Left in this state, your pitiful body is going to be bent into madness, or you’ll die in the process.”


“I’m already dead,” Rick said. His hand of bone would not move—the downside of drowning. The one made of forest, though, came to his call.


“Not quite,” the devil said. “Not yet. Not if you and I can come to an arrangement.”


“Are you the devil?” Rick said. “I’ve met him. And you’ve got a different air about you.”


“I’m someone with a vested interest in seeing the devil die,” the stranger said.


“You’re an angel,” Rick gasped.


“Whatever appeases you,” the angel said. “Be not afraid. I’d like to give you a second chance at life, Rick Rounds.”


“I want that,” Rick said. The darkness flowed around him, and the devil was closer then, staring into his eyes. “I ain’t done. I got so much to do.”


“Nothing you will ever do compares to the importance of the mission I am giving you now,” the angel said. “I will provide you the weapons you need. I will keep you from death’s hungry doors. But you must find the devil. You must take his cane, for it is really a sword. And you must destroy him. Do we have an accord?”


The angel’s hand was outstretched, waiting for a shake. Rick stood for a moment in the darkness; the light of the world glimmered above. Please, lord, he thought, let me come up for air.


“I can do that,” Rick said, and raised his hand of thorns to meet the angel’s. “Just tell me where to find him.”



Outro - Thorns

Thorns. Rare is the beauty that does not also sting. I have known little sweetness that came without a taste of bitter loss. For every story I tell, there is eventually an ending; every eye I look through will one day shut. The greatest joys I have known live only in my memory, and have long returned to the earth like withered roots.


Even so, we are living things. We are sturdy, with forms that can take a little pain, and hold a little sorrow, to account for the pleasure and the joy that we will know in the journey. Sweet is the rose while it blooms, and better to face the thorns than to have never known its beauty. When I dissolve at last into starlight, and my countless eyes close forever, I will at least go with the knowledge that I did not waste my aeons in cold slumber, but was painfully, gloriously awake.


Until the thorns become a crown of flowers, I am your loyal host Nikignik, waiting vexatiously for your return to the Hallowoods.



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