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HFTH - Episode 58 - Enemies

Content warnings for this episode include: Emotional Abuse, Animal death (Dogsmell as usual), Suicide Mention, Violence, Kidnapping and abduction, Death + Injury, Blood, Mental illness, Misgendering, Drowning, Body horror

Intro - Gold Rush

He should have seen you coming. He turns from the man whose life he was ready to take, but too late—you are already inside his ribcage, and his blood is sweet like honey on your claws. You seize his neck in your teeth, inhale the unnatural flame of his soul as it leaves his shell. His fiery weapon falls from his hands as you tear him apart, pull his smoldering heart from the wreckage and feast.

Peace washes over you, fresh sunlight in your veins, and you smile. The man who remains—you recognize him as one from your city, although he does not recognize you like this—looks up in blood-spattered awe. He chokes away his astonishment to thank you. There is worship in his eyes, and you are all he sees. Much more lies in your gaze, though—the fire rippling on the surface of the lake beyond, and your home burning to ash and ember, and somewhere far away the heart of the world does not yet beat Hello From The Hallowoods.


Right now, I’m sitting on the forest floor next to five students. Four of them are very quiet, and when they look at each other, they do not see friends. Sitting across from us is a self-professed teacher, perhaps a greater threat to them than these woods. The theme of tonight’s episode is Enemies.

Story 1 - Other People's Blood

“Miss Winona,” Clara whispered. “How do we know if we’re doing it right?”

Winona opened one eye, and Clara could feel the rest of the summer class stare, possibly with the exception of Friday. Clara was not sure if Friday had even breathed in the last half hour.

“There is no grade for this, Clara,” Winona said. It felt strange not to be ‘Ms. Martin’ where Downing Hill’s staff was concerned. “It is an exercise. Now let’s try again.”

Clara folded her hands in her lap and shut her eyes. Right. The assignment was that there was no assignment. Sit still. Be still. Feel your essence or something.

She wondered if her father had been getting at something similar when he’d sit quiet in front of the fire. She thought he’d just been ignoring her mother coughing in the next room, but maybe he was somewhere else entirely, lost in thought—sitting next to some idyllic stream winding between black trees.

I lost you both so slowly, she thought, but leaving you happened so fast. If there’s any way to find you, any way to get you back, if you haven’t torn each other apart by now… it’s here, she thought. It’s in me.

Wandering again, she thought, and fixed her posture. Why can’t I do this right?

“Clara?” Winona said, without opening her wizened eyes.

“Yes ma’am?” Clara sighed. The sun was almost in her eyes now, peeking through the treetops and streaming across the forest floor.

“You’re thinking loudly,” Winona said. “Start by breathing. Focus on the movement in, the movement out.”

The class followed suit. Arnold whistled a little when he breathed, Clara noted. She couldn’t seem to ignore the bubbling stream behind them, or the odd chimes of the night-gaunt’s charms in the distance.

“Feel the weight of your body on the ground. Where the pressure falls on your bones. If anything hurts and where.”

“Nothing hurts for me,” Arnold whispered.

“I can fix that,” Friday murmured.

“Then, when you have looked through yourself in your entirety, I want you to ask… whose body is this? Who lives here? What do they want, more than anything else? You exist at the meeting point of your past—everything that you have done, everywhere you have been—and your future. The person who sits here right now is unique. They are powerful. And they are as complete as any person ever is.”

There was a sniff, and Clara looked over to find tears flowing down Victoria’s face.

“That’s it,” Winona said quietly. “Revelation.”

Yeah, Clara thought, and closed her eyes again. Revelation. Come on. Now’s the time. This is why you’re here.

Riot would have laughed, or made some unfortunate sound to break the silence, Clara thought. She missed Riot most in these…

“Let’s break for lunch,” Winona said, standing up. The rustle of her fabrics and the clink of the curved blade on her waist sounded thunderous after an hour spent trying not to breathe too loudly. The others rose gratefully, cracking their backs or stretching.

“What’s for lunch?” Arnold asked, bounding up to Winona as she walked away.

“It’s called ful medames,” Winona said. “Don’t make that face, you’ll like it.”

Clara remained on her patch of moss, watched as Victoria and Harrow dusted themselves off. Friday had, predictably, disappeared—it made sense to Clara that the girl could vanish so quickly in the shifting hallways of Downing Hill, but out here? She had to be crouching behind a tree somewhere closeby.

“I still don’t know if I got the point of that,” Clara said.

“That’s not a surprise,” Victoria said, sitting against a fallen tree and beginning to sort her perfect hair into braids. “You’ve only been at Downing Hill for what, a few months?”

“What does that have to do with it?” Clara said. Victoria’s hair fell into line so obediently.

“We’ve been learning about what lives in us for our whole lives,” Victoria said. “I’d expect a lot of this program will be lost on you.”

“Most of us have been at Downing Hill as long as we can remember,” Harrow piped up. “You’re just getting started.”

“That’s what I said, Harrow,” Victoria said.

“Sorry,” Harrow said, shrinking into the shadow of a spruce.

“I thought this program was to help you ‘get in touch with your power’ or something,” Clara said. “So neither of you have figured yours out yet?”

Victoria paused for a moment, letting perfect braids fall on her shoulders. The sunlight practically glowed in her eyes, and she frowned.

“Honestly, other people’s personal business is none of yours. Just worry about your own blood,” she said, and smirked, and Clara thought for a moment that her teeth were sharp. “Especially if you’re hanging around Friday.”

“Friday’s not a vampire,” Clara said, and crossed her arms.

“How can you be sure?” Harrow whispered, a pair of wide black eyes staring.

“She’s nice, in her own way,” Clara said. “You all shut her out all the time.”

“Again,” Victoria said, and began walking away towards the night-gaunt sitting in the distance. “You haven’t been here long.”

“Barely any time at all,” Harrow added.

“Harrow!” Victoria called.

“Sorry,” the ghastly student hissed, and darted away in Victoria’s shadow.

Clara sighed, and tried a last time to close her eyes and be at peace with the world.

Stream, trickling, wind chimes, ringing, and who the hell was Victoria to…

Clara opened her eyes, and put on her glasses, and stood up. That was enough attunement for one day. In the distance, she could see Victoria and Harrow working their way up the rope ladder to reach the cabin. Clara turned the other direction; the sun beaming down through the tree canopy to shine on the stream.

Clara walked out to follow it, footsteps wandering over the moss and stones.

“Dogsmell,” she called softly, and felt the wisp of a dog gather by her side. She had that for comfort, at least, whenever she walked alone.

“Go find Friday,” she whispered, and the hound looked up for a moment with soot-spot eyes before traipsing off along the bank.

Clara followed the stream down a few minutes, hopping from one stone to the next, and spotted Friday kneeling on the riverbank where the stream opened up into a lake.

“Friday,” Clara called. “What did…”

Friday looked back to her with a finger to her lips, and then returned her attention to the lake.

Clara stepped closer, approaching the girl in black, and glanced around. Water as dark as ink spread in all directions, home to lush lilies and banks of white flowers.

“Did you see a fish?” Clara whispered.

“The water’s full of dead people,” Friday said, and pointed.

Clara squinted, and tried to block the sun’s glare on her glasses, and stepped back from the edge as soon as the waters became clear to her—there were little pinpoint lights beneath the surface, not reflections but green fires shining from the lake bed.

“What are those?” Clara said. Dogsmell curled around her legs.

“It happened after the rain,” Friday whispered, holding a hand too close to the water for comfort. “People got out of their beds, walked away from their jobs. They travelled north in crowds. They’d march until their feet were raw. Nothing could stop them. They went to sleep up here. If you’re very quiet you can hear them sing.”

Clara crept back up behind Friday, staring at the lake.

“They’re not ghosts,” Clara said. “Not like the ones I know at least.”

“It would be so easy,” Friday said. “To fall asleep. Plunk. No more worries. Would you miss me?”

“Don’t talk like that,” Clara said, putting a hand on Friday’s coat. “Of course I would.”

“I’m only teasing,” Friday said, looking up to her with a smile that didn’t quite belong on her face. “I’ve got a responsibility. And no one would feed Edgar.”

“I wish I had my broom,” Clara said, sitting down next to Friday on the rocks. “It would be nice to get space anytime I wanted. And I don’t feel any more… in tune or anything without it.”

“You let them take it?” Friday said. She reached beneath her cape coat to produce two objects that sparkled like obsidian—one was a spider the size of a softball; Edgar glanced up at Clara with too many eyes for a moment before scuttling back to safety. In Friday’s other hand was a dagger that defied the sunlight.

“You kept your void-knife?” Clara said.

“It’s mine,” Friday shrugged. “And I can’t be without it, anyway. If you really need your broom I bet you could reach it. These things are good listeners.”

“How did you do with the exercise? Because I needed a flying broom escape by the end of that,” Clara said.

“I don’t understand why they keep sending me here,” Friday said quietly, and dipped the heel of her boot in the water. A tadpole flapped away beneath the ripples, and in a flash was seized by a small fish. “If I ‘achieve my potential’, I’d be lucky, and the Director would be dead. Burn down the whole library, probably. They said I don’t try hard enough, but they don’t know what they’re asking for.”

There was something furtive in Friday’s expression, and Clara committed it to memory, and poked Friday’s shoulder, trying for a more cheerful tack.

“Maybe I could see more ghosts. Or get them to show up when I wanted. Have any weird grandmothers you want to talk to? I…”

Clara was stabbed by a realization, and she sighed. “I’m so sorry. Um. Also. I don’t know if you can talk to your mom the way she is? Or if she can really talk? But anytime you want to see her, I can try and…”

“Stay away from her,” Friday said, and Clara glanced up to find her chewing on her lip. A dark emotion seemed to linger on her face for a second, before giving way to a new mischief.

“But here’s something for you, Clara. I don’t think our camp counsellor is what she says she is. I don’t think she’s from Downing Hill at all.”

Clara hesitated a moment, looking around, before the smile faded from her face. “You’re not joking, are you?”

Friday slid her knife of shadow up her sleeve, and hopped up.

“Don’t worry,” she said. “If she pulls anything, I’ll make her into one more ghost for you to play with.”

“Friday,” Clara said, dashing after her as Friday disappeared between the shadowed trees. “You can’t just say something like that and then walk away. Friday!”

Interlude 1 - Act of Violence

The end of your world was not an act of violence. No war was waged to blot out your sunlight, no great battle fought for the future of your civilization. It was quiet, and gentle in its way, a descent ever so slowly into silence. It is already too late to change anything, you thought, and by the time you realized you could change, it was too late.

Rising temperature, rising water, rising clouds black from the ocean to blanket your nations and lay them down to rest. I cannot bear the sight any longer, you said, and shut your eyes—beneath still waters with the blessing of the end, or in the shining expanse of artificial dream, a nothingness in technicolor.

Know this, if you dream and are human. The life that is to come holds no malice. It opens its eyes to the sunlight. It wakes from the emptiness to find a world made new. Hold your dead and your weapons and your hatred. It is not their fault that they were born to inherit the world you abandoned.

We go now to one who does not yet sleep.

Story 2 - Thicker Than Water

If blood is thicker than water, Moth thought, I wish I could have the water instead. It was all around moth, in aquaponic pools and filters and farming tanks, vats of dark fish and blooming produce. Blood was, inescapably, around moth as well. Uncle Gale had a voice that could be heard through any wall and aunt Darla—ex-aunt? Re-aunted?—Regardless of her auntly status, Darla was always one thing and it was too close.

“Do moth need any help with that box?” she asked.

“That’s… not how language works,” Moth said. “I’ve got this one.”

In moth’s arms was bundled lettuce of some kind—bushy and huge and heavier than you’d expect. The leaves were purple at the base, almost black, and curled up into frilly edges. Tomatoes glistened deep crimson, shining cucumbers and peppers and watercress. Moth had tried to avoid too much snacking on the produce of Glass City Farms, but after weeks of scavenged food, Moth was enjoying anything fresh.

“Where is my box twelve,” Gale’s voice echoed, and Moth rounded the corner to the entrance hall a moment later.

“Right here,” Moth said.

“You double-checked the list?” Gale said, glancing over the box and reaching in to re-arrange the goods.

“It’s all there,” Moth said. “Should be ready to go.”

Gale picked up the box and carried it through the front doors—through a crack in the window barricade, Moth could see a group of people in a battered pickup receive it. Relatives or road family, Moth wondered? Moth could not say much about choosing to travel with strange companions. Still, there seemed to be a steady stream of clients and travellers pulling up to Glass City. It was surprising who was left to putter around Toledo after the end of the world.

“What are you waiting for, a promotion?” Gale said, coming back inside. “Go help Darla pack orders.”

“That’s done,” Moth said. “I had something to show you. I think it’s important.”

“Let me guess, we’ve got too many lamps,” Gale grunted.

“This way,” Moth said, and ignored him in favor of fluttering through the walkways and passing by farm workers, over to a tank in the back corner of the warehouse. Gale arrived a few moments afterwards, his sledgehammer at his side.

“Look,” Moth said, and pointed into the pool. Gale leered over the edge. There were fewer fish in this one darting beneath the water.

“Fish,” Gale said. “I’ve got news for you. There’s fish in the other tanks too. It’s how the farm works.”

“Not the fish,” Moth whispered, and pointed to a dark shape in the bottom corner of the metal tank. “That. What is that?”

Gale stooped a little closer to the water, and dipped his hammer into the pool. Moth peered over the edge, watching it descend.

Then Gale’s sledgehammer tapped the shape, and immediately it became a swarm of writhing barbels and shattered fins, thrashing beneath the water. Moth expected a shout, an alarm, a cry for help, but Gale yanked his hammer out of the water, carrying the thing that wasn’t a fish with it, as its tendrils wrapped around the steel head.

With a swift impact, Gale brought his hammer down on the concrete floor of the Farm. Moth trembled, and felt a twinge at moth’s jaw as the shape transformed from vaguely fish into scattered remains, the last flickers of movement dying out.

“Darla, would you add that to the compost,” Gale said, and Moth realized the woman had appeared again behind them.

“Sure thing,” Darla said, fetching a trowel from the wall and kneeling to scoop up the remains.

“What was that?” Moth said.

Gale looked at Moth, and shrugged, his battered face betraying as much emotion as his cold leather jacket.

“Fish went bad,” he said. “It happens.”

“It happens?” Moth said. “Isn’t that… the bad water, that does that to an animal?”

Moth looked across the farm. Pipes. Pipes everywhere. From the rain barrels to the reservoir to the fish tanks to the hydroponic bays.

“We need to clean it all,” Moth said. “It’s connected. None of it is safe.”

There was a glance from one of the workers a few pools down, and Moth looked back to find a glare on Gale’s face which made moth shudder; his knuckles tightened on the hammer handle.

“Enough,” he said, before lowering his tone. “Come with me.”

Moth watched as he stormed off across the farm floor, and Moth hesitated a moment before following him into his office, a room which had once been themed after a beach, if the paint on the walls was any indicator. He had barely shut the door when he whirled around, and Moth almost fell backwards into the desk.

“You do not say things like that to me, in front of my staff,” he said. “Do you want everyone to panic? Business to close? All these hardworking people back on the streets? Is that what you want?”

“None of that,” Moth said, tugging at moth’s gloves. “I just thought that… this is serious, isn’t it? When an animal turns like that? Doesn’t that mean the water is bad?”

“Bill really did shelter you,” Gale said, pressing a fist to his brow. “What, you want a little plastic bottle? Because that’s all gone up here. What we do have is water from the sky. There’s no chemtrails or alien rays or mutant serums…”

“That fish had two heads,” Moth said. “You don’t think that’s a problem?”

“It’s life,” Gale said, and glanced at Darla as she pushed into the office. “In case my brother never told you, it’s the real world we live in.”

“I’m sorry moth had to see that,” Darla said. “Gale, you shouldn’t have done that in front of them.”

“I’m sorry,” Moth said, mustering up as much of a voice as moth could. “Did I miss the part where this is normal? If your water has turned black then everything that comes out of this farm—everyone here, the crops, the fish, the chutney is all bad, isn’t it?”

“Bad’s a bad word,” Darla said solemnly, and put a hand on Gale’s shoulder. Moth noticed a pale frenzy on his face, and a trembling hand on his hammer’s shaft. “Gale, go cool off.”

He left without a word, and Darla shook her head.

“Why’d moth have to go and do that,” she said. “He’s going to break something.”

“Am I wrong?” Moth said, sitting against the desk. “What am I missing, aunt Darla?”

“All…” Darla began, and there was a crash from somewhere outside. She coughed, and continued. “All the water is bad water. It comes in the rain. Filters don’t help. Neither does boiling. So you just get used to it. It’s worse some seasons than others. I guess you don’t see much rain down in Vegas.”

“All those families,” Moth whispered. Twelve boxes today, twelve vehicles flashed in moth’s mind. “Do they know?”

Darla shrugged, and opened the door. “They should. It’s just common sense.”

Moth sat in the paper-strewn office, staring at the painted waves until moth stopped shaking. A tumult of thoughts fluttered in moth’s mind, but the one that resounded the most was simple. I cannot stay.

Marketing - Where Fear Lives

Lady Ethel:

Welcome back to marketing with Lady Ethel Mallory. When it comes to motivating people, you need to be mindful of what makes them move. Here’s a hint—it’s rarely altruism. We bless those kind souls who wake up in the morning on the right side of the bed, who want to make the world a better place in whatever inane way they define it, who think no one should want and everyone should take up therapeutic painting.

But most people are motivated by self-interest: what about me? What about what I want? And at the root of self-interest is fear. What if I don’t get what I want? Attach a name to fear. Give it a face.

Those people are trying to take what’s mine. They’re going to stop me from getting what I want. Where fear lives, motivation will follow. That’s how you stir the lumbering populace of a country to engage with your campaign. That’s how you move mountains. That’s how you usher in an entire country to buy a lifetime service. In this exercise, name your greatest fear. Then, look for a way to utilize…

Story 2, Continued - Thicker Than Water

Run, dreamer, from the faceless horde that chases you. They scheme and plot to take all you have. Run faster! By the time you are drained of your life and energy and thought, you may realize that no one was there at all—only your reflection, and the people you crushed as you fled.

We return now to Moth Scarberry.

If you’re out there, dad, Moth thought, wish me luck. Moth wondered for a moment about the ethics of what moth was taking—a blanket from Darla, plastic cutlery from the break room, a small clock shaped like a frog—but decided it was fair. I’m still your brother’s kid, Moth thought, and that’s worth a blanket at least. I won’t take anything else from you now.

Although it was dark, Moth put on the little red sunglasses. They were comforting, somehow, like putting on goggles before trying to escape from enemy lines.

Time to fly, Moth thought, and stepped out into the hall. At the end, it opened into a walkway that wrapped around the farm floor, lit only by the quiet blue lights of the aquaponic pools. What else is wrong that grows here, Moth thought, and began to move. Every squeak of Moth’s boots on the metal walkway seemed like an alarm bell, but Moth hurried along and arrived at the stairwell.

There were footsteps from somewhere nearby, Moth realized—at three in the morning, no less? When silence came again, Moth descended, trying to step as lightly as possible down each flight.

There was a voice, Moth noticed halfway down—Gale was talking somewhere, probably farther away than he sounded. Just a few more steps, Moth thought. You can do this.

Moth pressed on, and suddenly found mothself at the bottom of the stairs. Moth could barely see the indigo blue of the night sky through the cracks in the window barricades, and the glimmering locks and deadbolts of the reinforced front door.

Behind Moth, only a glass wall lay between moth and the farm floor, glistening pools full of awful mystery in the darkness. Goodbye fish, moth thought, and good riddance.

With a final spiraling leap, Moth reached the front door. Footsteps were growing louder—a croak told moth that Darla was awake too. Moth glanced around; were they coming moth’s way? There was nowhere to hide, only the armored door ahead.

Be brave, thought Moth, and with a flurry of clicks Moth unlocked the door and fled into the night.

The sky swirled in an adrenaline-fueled rush, and the few remaining lights of Toledo glistened on the surface of the distant Dreaming Box. Anywhere, Moth thought. Anywhere from here. There were no buzzing flies on Moth’s tail now, and yet Moth felt just the same as the night moth had met Ray—lost, running and praying for wings.

“Moth!” a voice shouted, and rendered Moth’s thoughts into frantic fragments. Moth began to run, feet falling over asphalt and rubble, dashing for the opening in the chain link fence at the edge of the parking lot. Moth glanced over moth’s shoulder and saw for a moment Gale’s squat silhouette in the door of Glass City Farms, hammer in his hands.

No going back, Moth thought, and dashed past the fence. The landscape around Moth was a mystery—a long highway that stretched out towards the city proper in one direction, and plunged into the darkness in the other, only the pinpoint shine of Detroit. Scattered buildings caught in a dark treeline nearby seemed to offer no easy sanctuary—but then, in the distance, there was a bright and gleaming light.

Moth stood transfixed for a moment, watching it flicker and shine. A moment was all it took, and a crushing weight collided with Moth’s shoulder.

Moth shrieked, and collapsed, and rolled down the side of the highway bank. A shape stood above moth, blotting out the stars. It was Gale, hammer in hand, his eyes like green lamps in the dark.

“Ungrateful,” he said. “That’s what you are. We took you in. We gave you our food. A way to make yourself useful. And what do you do? You disrespect us and you steal and you run.”

He planted his hammer in the grass by moth’s head, and moth struggled to pull away, couldn’t move with the shoulder. Red and white spasmed in Moth’s vision.

“You lied,” Gale said, kneeling down—his eyes were lanterns, and Moth couldn’t look away. “When you said Bill went to get help. What did you do to my brother?”

How do you know that, Moth wanted to say, or what are you talking about, or is this really the time? It’s good I don’t have wings, Moth thought, I’d have lost one completely. Moth might have said all of those things or none of them out loud; moth could barely breathe, could not hear Gale clearly as he spoke.

“...won’t be a problem again,” Gale was saying, and his hammer head was lifting.

I always pictured I’d die in the forest, Moth thought, where the mushrooms can cover me like a blanket. Not on the side of the highway in Toledo.

There was a bright flash—of pain from Moth’s side, of a hammer glinting in a bright light, of a sudden thud as Gale went flying out of moth’s vision.

In his stead, there was a fender, and a glorious light, so bright Moth could barely see, so heavenly Moth could not look away.

“You alright there, kiddo?” the automobile said.

“It’s so bright,” Moth whispered.

“Speak up, kid, I can’t hear you. Listen, we need to go. There’s traffic inbound on road and airway, things are about to get hairy…”

“Ray,” Moth said, and the white began to wash out Moth’s vision, spilling across the night sky like water.

“Listen, kid. I can’t get you off the ground. Can you stand up? The door’s right here. You just have to get in.”

“Blood,” Moth said. Blood was what ran through Moth’s vision, and there was a roaring engine, and a buzz that shook Moth’s bones, and everything was red and shining white, and the light overtook Moth completely.

Interlude 2 - A Thousand Swords

I have no need of a sword, for I cannot wield it. When incarnate, I am only a little fur and teeth and vulnerable eyes. It is for this reason, then, that I do not hold in my heart great vengeance. What can you do against family? Although they are neither caring nor kind, they are all that I have.

They bicker amongst themselves, certainly, as much as any quarrel I could name. Squabbles for resources and dominion that probably mean nothing to them—a little way to pass the time—and yet they do not hesitate to enlist life to their causes, sending their agents to battle like toys on a game board. Is that how they felt, I wonder, when they drew their weapons against…

No. We are past that. I have come to terms with it all. I must be bigger. I must take the healthy road forward. That is the past, and for all my eyes I cannot touch it, could not change it for a thousand swords.

We go now to a weapon.

Story 3 - Lady Bugeyes, Please Get It Together

You’re not the real Riot.

Every word was weird if you really focused on it. You’re. Not. The. Real. Riot. Was anybody the real anybody? Real? What did it mean to be real? She flipped the phrase over in her head like a guitar pick between her fingers.

“Are you currently experiencing discomfort?” said the little silver box on her nightstand. “I can select one of our calming dream programs for you.”

“Boxy, am I the real Riot?” she asked from the window, where she had cocooned herself in her comforter.

“Would you like me to call you ‘the real Riot’? This will replace your current nickname,” said Boxy.

“Go to sleep, Boxy,” Riot said, and the little box’s eye blinked out.

Riot sat for a few minutes, staring through the glass at the rolling world beyond. What if I wasn’t, she thought? What would that mean? Is someone out there with my skin, my body? Some stranger, some weird dissociative episode made real? Or was that girl in my dream just trying to wig me out?

“I’m the real Riot,” she whispered to the dark horizon, breath fogging up the glass. “I’ll fight you for it.”

That’s it, she thought. I’ve totally lost the plot. She pulled up her blanket and waddled out of her room, ambling down the hall. The shining tile was cold on her feet; needs more carpet, this place, she thought. She stopped at the doorway a few halls down. A combat drone perched on either side like huge insects, fascinating objects that gleamed opalescent black and purple. Their rotor wings were folded away, and soulless orb eyes gave her reflection a big head.

“Can I see my mom,” she said. The drones did not respond, and she pushed open the door.

“Riot?” her mom said, as Riot tromped in. The head of the bed was raised, and her mom slid a guitar to the side as Riot entered. “You okay, honey?”

“Mhm,” Riot said, sitting down on the foot of the bed. The room was messier—sheets of paper taped to the walls, a rack for the guitar to the side. The dreaming visor laid abandoned on the nightstand.

“What’s up?” her mom said, folding her arms and nudging Riot with her foot.

“Just feel weird,” Riot said.

“I bet,” her mom said. “Who knows what they’re putting in the food here. If you start growing extra eyeballs you let me know.”

“I wish,” Riot said. “I could be like, a superhero. Lady Bugeyes.”

“You’d always win at ping pong,” her mom added.

“I could read music and watch the strings at the same time,” Riot said.

“You’re not supposed to watch the strings,” her mom said, closing her eyes and laying back into the pillows. “You’re just supposed to feel it. The instrument is like a part of you, after a while. You don’t even think about it.”

“What if I don’t feel it?” Riot said.

“Are we still talking about Lady Bugeyes?” her mom said, opening an eye. “If it’s about your playing, well, it’ll just take a little getting used to before it feels natural again. Even if you’re out of practice, your motor memory is insane. It’ll come back to you.”

If these are my muscles at all, Riot thought. Which me do you know? Why can’t I remember what came before?

“I’ll keep practicing,” Riot said. “Until it feels like me again.”

“Good girl,” her mom said. “But don’t get into music. Some army of marketing cronies will have you do Botco covers of my songs. You’ll ruin my reunion tour.”

“I don’t know,” Riot smiled, and pinched her mom’s foot. “‘Stonemaiden But Cooler’ has a nice ring to it.”

“Pfft. As if.”

“Mom, I have some big-ish news,” Riot said. Her mom opened both eyes and sat up a little.

“They’re not taking you away, are they?”

“No,” Riot said. “Nothing like that. But—and I’m sorry if this is weird—I met Ralph.”

“Ralph?” her mom said, sitting up straight. “You met him? Is he okay? Is he still weird?”

“He was fine,” Riot said. “I just can’t believe that’s who you…”

“Got busy with? I know. I’m not sure what happened there.”

“Ew. No. Dated. That’s what I was going to say. Dated,” Riot said. “I thought you were a lesbian.”

Her mom shrugged. “It’s hard to put labels on things sometimes. It’s like trying to pick a genre. ‘Lesbian Plus Ralph’ didn’t fit on the buttons.”

“Point is, I met my dad, and that’s really weird,” Riot said. “Especially because I can’t remember if you told me like, anything about him?”

“Not a lot,” her mom said, eying her with a familiar concern. “Honestly the last year before we went to the bunker was hell because of him, and I hated his guts for like ten years. But I guess we all wound up here eventually. I’m glad he’s not dead, I guess.”

“Yeah,” Riot said, and decided not to mention his apparent swift-approaching demise just yet. Maybe he’d get a chance to tell her himself.

The door flew open then, and Riot jolted upright. Melanie was standing with a wide smile on her face and a slightly frenzied look in her eyes.

“Riot,” she said. “Sorry that this is so sudden, but can I steal you for a min?”

“Sure,” Riot said. “Even two if you like.”

“Great,” Melanie said, holding the door open. Riot nodded to her mom as she shuffled out, blanket in tow.

“Bye honey,” her mom said, a tremor in her voice.

Riot ambled after Melanie in the hall, and the press secretary tapped quickly ahead of her.

“What’s the rush?” Riot said.

“For a start, we need to get you dressed,” Melanie said, turning to her, and glancing around the hall. “Apparently, we’re getting a surprise visit from Lady Ethel Mallory.”

Outro - Enemies

Enemies. It is an easy lie, a tempting belief, that life exists only to survive. Although that is why life evolves, it exists to be alive. To live for the sake of living, and to experience everything there is within the confines of our first light and our final darkness. To love and to lose, to embrace others and be embraced, to care for those who cannot possibly repay you, to whisper a story into the darkness when there is no other comfort to be had.

What is an enemy, then, but one whose fear for food, for thirst, for safety, for acceptance, reigns over kindness. Perhaps the greatest fear of all is of being purposeless—that if no one stands in the sky to tell you how to be, that you have no reason to be at all.

You are alive. That is purpose, and in embracing it you may find not enemies but fellow travellers, falling alongside you back into dust.

Until all your enemies have fallen, I am your loyal host Nikignik, waiting antagonistically for your return to the Hallowoods.

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


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