Content Warning: This episode may include themes of body horror, suicide, violence, drowning, and death.
Intro - No Arms
You have no arms or legs. You are only a body and a glimmer of thought. Your concerns are immediate and they fill you with terror—what will try to eat you from above? What will reach out with toothy jaws from below? You survive in the darkness, and new growth peels itself from your skin — now you have legs to kick and paddle. Now you have hands to grasp and feel. Your tail is disappearing as your thin limbs gain strength, and you are filled with the urge to rise. You break the surface of the water, and your glassy eyes look upon the sun. You fill your lungs with air, and your cries join a thousand siblings in a chorus that rolls across the black waters to say 'Hello from the Hallowoods'.
Right now, I’m standing on the muddy floor of a pond. Overhead a blanket of algae and water lilies turns the light green, signaling life and the dawn of spring. Around me are bones — the remains of many dreamers, hands folded peacefully as they sleep and wait. Their only companions are the writhing tadpoles, swimming from their ribs and nestling in their empty skulls. The theme of tonight’s episode is Frogs.
Story 1 - At First Sight
Nolan did not believe in love at first sight, but being invisible, he’d never had the opportunity. Sight was an important part of trust, he’d come to conclude, and it was hard to find friends or lovers when they could never really be sure you existed. They tended to get paranoid after a while. Were you following me yesterday, they’d ask? Did you watch me sleep last night? As though just because light passes through a person, they have nothing to do all day except creep around naked. The perks of going through life unseen were that you were hard to hurt. It came at the cost of any semblance of a normal life. He wouldn’t have to think about it much longer.
Footprints appeared, one after the other, in the wet mud beneath him. He watched them materialize with each step, and wondered what his feet must look like after walking so long—his heels felt calloused and rough, and the sharp rocks and sticks had long ceased to bother him. They were probably not pretty. He glanced across the surface of the pond ahead. Lily pads and soft green algae obscured much of its surface, but in the dark clear patches, no reflection looked back. He would not have recognized it as his, even if it did.
The sun was warm on his skin, and lifted his spirits as he walked across the winding banks and kicked in the cold shallows. The water went flying in waves, rainbows reflected in the droplets, and served as proof that he still existed. He’d spent more time than not wishing that he didn’t, but he was scared of trying to change that. Walking was easier—farther north, until the elements or the marshes or the awful things that lived in the trees brought his journey to a halt. He stepped through the green reeds near the shore, causing several disgruntled turtles to abandon a sunning spot on a fallen log.
“This is going to bring you good things in life,” his mother had told him, in a sun-dappled childhood room that would have appeared to be empty, “but it will bring you bad ones too. Your life is not going to be easy.”
Something rough wrapped around his ankle, and dragged him into the water. He scrambled backwards, fighting the force seizing him, and a dark glistening hand broke the water’s surface as it clung to his foot. Nolan kicked viciously into the water, and connected with something slippery. The grip on his leg relinquished, and Nolan backed away from the shore, but then the water was swelling up, rising in a huge form. Nolan tripped over a twisted root, but lay transfixed as the water poured from the mossy crests and gills of a towering man. His skin was ridged and green, and growths like fins hung from his arms and clung between his clawed fingers. He stepped out of the water, starting towards Nolan with a large webbed foot. His eyes burned with green light from the recesses of his angled face, and they were fixed directly on Nolan. Nolan did not move, staring back.
“You can see me?” He whispered.
The stranger stopped, the ridges along his neck writhing, and breath rasped in his mouth.
“You do not seem frightened.” He hissed.
“I’m not frightened—just surprised.” Nolan sat up slowly. “Nobody sees me.”
Water dripped from the stranger in rainbow droplets, but he did not come closer. Although his gaze remained fixed on Nolan, his severe face showed something like concern.
“I see you.” The creature rumbled. “Heat, cold. I see these things. Your body burns very bright.”
Nolan felt suddenly exposed, and covered up as much as he could.
“Are you going to kill me?” he asked.
The stranger knelt across from Nolan, green embers looking into Nolan’s eyes.
“Why aren’t you running?” he growled. “People run when they see me.”
“For me,” Nolan whispered, “they run when they don’t.”
“People are monsters.” The man shook his head, droplets flying from the fronds of his cheeks and chin. “You have no supplies. Are you hungry?”
Nolan hesitated, and nodded. “I haven’t eaten since yesterday. I wasn’t planning on a return trip.”
The man stood up, his rough green skin reflecting the sunlight, and offered a huge hand. Nolan took it, and was pulled to his feet. The fingertips felt rough, and clung to his skin.
“There is no hurry to join the sleepers.” The stranger gestured over the dark surface of the pond. Points of green light shone from beneath the surface. “Stay with me for a while. I have food—and it has been a long time since I talked to someone.”
Nolan smiled. “I would like that. My name is Nolan.”
“I am Ricou.” The man grunted, and waded into the reeds. Nolan followed, feet splashing in the water.
“Your life is not going to be easy,” his mother had once said in an empty room, “but it will be good. Not everyone is going to understand you, and that’s alright. Look for the ones that do. Those are the best people, anyway.”
Nolan did not believe in love at first sight, but the bright eyes glancing back at him with curiosity and concern made him certain, for the first time in his life, that he existed.
Interlude 1 - Flood Warning
Dreamer, if you reside at Webequie First Nation, please be advised that heavy rains are expected to drive up water levels. The black rain may sting your skin and burn your eyes, and cause unusual alterations to your body and behavior. Beware of the creatures that will follow—dark bloated things with glassy eyes that lurk beneath the river water, croaking vile chants. They swim and grasp and swallow, and worship the bottom feeders of the cosmic depths, and rise like a corpulent tide to blot out the living.
This flood warning is active from 8AM Thursday to 3PM Saturday. Please plan accordingly. We go now to one who will not be saved by this warning or any other.
Story 2 - Lolgmololg!
“Lolg-mo-lolg. Lolg-mo-lolg.” The choir of throaty cries echoed around Jonah. Stupid frogs. Jonah could not see through the burlap sack, but he could imagine their smug toothy grins and blank eyes twinkling.
Jonah tried to think of things he liked. Being on the ocean, a cold light beer on a summer day, ma’s picnic sandwiches. The things he did not like kept creeping in, though—tumbling through infinite darkness, standing in pools of his own blood, and getting snatched by froglins. It was a stupid name for stupid creatures, and Jonah was the stupidest of all for getting strung up like a cod on a braided line. Most of the times he’d tried to change his ma’s ways he’d ended up regretting it, but this was a far-out case.
“Lolg-mo-lolg!” The chorus around him had grown wild and loud, and the stamping of feet and rattle of chains accompanied it. Finally, the little clawed hands gave up on carrying him and deposited him roughly onto a sharp bed of rocks. The bag was peeled from around his head, although they did not remove the cords cutting into his ankles and wrists. He winced at the sky, overcast but bright, and the wide, knobby heads of the froglins around him. They weren’t tall, but Jonah couldn’t get to his feet, and there was an array of sharp sticks and rusty metal spikes pointed his direction. You could get tetanus from one of those things, he thought.
“Lolgmololg!” A deeper voice bellowed from outside his field of vision, shaking the rocks with the power of its reverberation. The frog moving to stand above him was bigger than the others, skulls and bones caked with mud to its head in a fashion that Jonah didn’t much like. Its eyes were huge and red, and its many rows of teeth smelled like rotting flesh.
“Lolgmololg!” It thrummed again, and a thousand shrieks joined back in reply. “Lolgmololg!”
The claws were seizing him then, dragging and rolling him towards two things which he immediately tried to escape, but he could not writhe away from their prodding spikes and vicious little claws. The first thing was a twisted iron basket of some kind, whose use he could only guess at. The second was a black-looking lake, with massive ripples breaking against the rocky shore.
“Now listen here!” Jonah screamed as they forced him closer. They had not listened much so far. “I go with the Scoutpost, do ya hear? You don’t want to make them angry, or…”
He was cut short as the metal basket was forced over his head, forming a collar around his neck and bars across his face. He was tumbled over until his cage-encrusted head almost dipped into the water, and he shrieked as sharp pain stabbed through his palms and his calves. His bonds were freed, then, and he tried in vain to get to his feet, watching with horror as blood poured from his hands.
“Get back, get offa me, right now!” he yelled, trying to scare them back, and it seemed to work as they stepped away from him a little. The basket was awfully heavy, and a thick weight fell behind him. He reached back to feel a length of large chain.
He was yanked into the air then, pulled up by his neck, and clinging to the iron bars for support as the chain attached to the basket pulled taut. He swung helplessly across the dark pool of water, noticing now the scaffold of rough-hewn logs perched on the shore, and the large beam that several froglins worked in unison to cast him out to the water.
Violet isn’t going to like this at all, he thought, and then he hit the water with a heavy splash.
He tried to paddle with his bleeding hands, his slashed legs, but he could barely stay upright, and the basket weighed more with every link of chain that was let loose into the water. He could swear in the distance he could hear a dog barking—maybe more than one—and then he was beneath the water, holding his breath as he plummeted into cold and shadow.
Marketing - You Are Safe
Hello dreamers. I am Lady Ethel Mallory. We here at the Botulus Corporation take information very seriously—we know that you, our loyal clients, demand the truth. You may have seen some awful rumors lately—through people who claim to know you, to love you—that are simply untrue.
Here in the Dreaming Box you ARE completely safe. You are WELCOME. You are LOVED. You do not need to worry about the world outside, you don’t even need to THINK about it. Botulus Industries values your safety and comfort, and there will never be an interruption to your Dreaming Box experience. You never have to face that awful waking world again.
If you know anyone with a connection to Valerie Maidstone or her dissidents, please find a Botco contact terminal and report...
Story 2, Continued - Lolgmololg!
Be wary, dreamers—not every voice you hear in your dreams speaks truth, and many minds would profit from misleading you. We return now to Jonah Duckworth.
Jonah felt the pull of the heavy cage, and he was upside down as it sank. He tried in vain to get a grip on the chain, but pain stabbed through his palms. The water was as dark as the ink in his father’s study, and the last trace of light was disappearing from overhead. The chain reached what must have been the end of its length as he flipped again, and realized there was a darker shape still in the water. It drifted towards him lazily, and the breath burned like fire in his lungs as he screamed.
The shape continued to grow larger, batting towards him with motions like a fish, far greater in size than he had ever seen. A pair of green eyes flashed, impossibly far apart, and then another set, and another. They lit the depths of the lake with terrible light, and the long barbles and wide mouth of ridged teeth resembled a catfish of colossal proportions. It was looming towards Jonah, with the vicious curiosity that all fish approach their prey, and Jonah tried to hang still—it would be more prone to nibble at things that jerked and moved.
The pain in his lungs was incredible, and he screamed against his will, inhaling only water. It pushed into his throat, his lungs, and there was a jerk on the basket around his head. He was rising up again, he realized, away from the titanic fish, and it flapped its huge tail as he ascended. Its gigantic maw lifted towards him, and he lost all sight.
He found himself falling through an infinity of darkness and flickering green light, and there was no water in his lungs, but no air either, and it didn’t bother him.
“I hate this!” He screamed, spinning uncontrollably. Below him, something even larger than the fish loomed beneath the abyss, as though he was falling towards a planet of infinite shadow.
Jonah opened his eyes, the brightness of the day searing them. His hearing returned first, the high-pitched ring fading into the sound of dogs barking. Not the neighborhood variety, either, but a dog that means business. There were two german shepherds then, he could see, snapping at the frogs and driving them back from the stony beach towards muddy structures beyond.
Just in front of him, he realized, there were two bodies. One of them was a rugged man, with a black beard and jagged features, kneeling and applying CPR. The man lying beneath him, he realized, was Jonah. The pale corpse stared up with blank eyes, grey beard plastered against his face and throat, and blood streaming from his hands and legs.
The man gave another round, pressing against the other Jonah’s chest, putting his lips to the other Jonah’s mouth. Then, catching a glimpse of Jonah’s yellow boots, he looked up.
“Hi.” Jonah said, looking around awkwardly. There was still no sign of his good hat. “I think you can stop trying.”
The stranger looked between them in disbelief, shrugged, and stood up. He wiped his hands on the back of his jeans, and came back with a silver knife.
“You a sleeper?” He asked matter-of-factly, brandishing it and stepping over Jonah’s other body.
“I don’t think so.” Jonah said, patting himself down and noticing that his hands were not bleeding. The man turned away and shouted.
“Jackie! Heidi! Heel, girls!”
The dogs came bounding up, and Jonah couldn’t help but notice that one of them was Hallowed. It showed in the wide pale eyes, almost green, the lipless teeth, and the broken lurch of the dog’s back.
“You Zelda Duckworth’s boy?” The stranger grimaced, pulling a sharp-looking grappling line from his bag.
“Yes?” Jonah stuttered. “Who are you?”
“Keep up!” the stranger barked, already walking away. His dogs kept on either side of him, and Jonah darted after them with more speed than he could usually muster.
The froglins encroached, shrieking war cries that would have pierced Jonah’s ears if he still had all his hearing. The stranger pushed through them, and they backed away from his snarling dogs and his twirling hook. They wound through the muddy holes and towers of the froglin village, and then they were into the blood-marked trees beyond.
Then they were running, and the hunting cries shook the forest and echoed through the trees behind them.
“Lolgmololg! Lolgmololg! Lolgmololg!”
Interlude 2 - Miasmic Pools
Life is a curious thing—bubbling up in miasmic pools, clinging to itself helplessly until it becomes something more. Always the strangest permutations—bulbous eyes and slime-covered flesh, hatching from eggs or born screaming into the world.
Organic life is frankly, disgusting. Nevertheless, in curious ways, awful creatures can be capable of feeling that is greater than the sum of their parts, and the light that burns in them is the closest any of us may come to having a soul. We go now to one who is mostly soul.
Story 3 - A Dance In The Dark
A day had passed, and Percy had not spoken, and he was beginning to feel bad. The truth was he did not know what to say. The leather-wrapped tower that marched ahead of him looked much better with the haircut—short on the sides, long on the top. It would have been cute, in a past life, but every time Percy looked on Diggory’s sculpted face he wanted to cry, and he lost all his words.
Up ahead, the giant in the spiked leather jacket sat gracefully on the shore of a lake as dark as the night sky above. In its surface were caught a million points of starlight, and the all-seeing eye of the moon, and above the water fireflies swarmed like souls in search of an exit. Percy kept to himself, but descended to sit next to Diggory, or as best he could guess without pushing through the surface of the earth.
“Are you alright?” Diggory rasped quietly, milky eyes gazing upwards.
Percy nodded, tried to force out words. “Just thinking.”
“Thinking is good.” Diggory nodded, casting a glance at Percy. “I’ve had a lot of time to do it.”
The words came a little easier for Percy. Why did he feel so much more transparent when Diggory looked through him?
“You and me both.”
“Can I ask you a question?” Diggory spoke to no one in particular.
“Why are you tied to this?” Diggory plucked the shell of the piano key from their pocket, and it gleamed white in the moonlight. Percy shuddered. He could see the wire peeling from his wrist like an exposed vein, bleeding across the distance between them, trailing into the object in Diggory’s hands. Percy wondered how much Diggory could see—Percy’s world was always streaked and blurry, but Diggory was saturated with the deepest shadows, and their unseeing eyes looked at Percy with perfect winter clarity. The memories strung to the wire suffocated Percy like a cheap chest binder, and he tried to respond.
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
Diggory nodded, and replaced it carefully. The silence that followed was unbearable.
“What do you do for fun?” Percy asked grimly.
Diggory thought about this at length. “I like to walk.”
Diggory nodded towards the lake. “I like to go in the water. It’s pleasing.”
“Swimming. I never liked swimming.”
Diggory nodded quietly, sitting with their long arms wrapped around their knees. Percy felt a twinge of guilt. He had the chance, for the first time since he could remember, to be around someone else—someone whose skin seemed to not be all from the same person, granted, but someone who wasn’t afraid of transparent boys who lived in pianos.
Percy lifted up from the bank, lowering to the stones of the shore, letting his feet almost graze the ground. He looked back, and Diggory perked up, white eyes wide. Percy nodded towards the water. Diggory rose with the most excitement Percy had seen in them, bounding towards the lake.
Diggory splashed into the water, but did not float or paddle, sinking immediately under the surface. Percy watched in confusion, before following them under the water. He instinctively held his breath as he submerged, then realized there was no point. He did not fight the weight of the water, and simply cut through it. The wire around his wrist led somewhere deep below, and he increased the white glow radiating from his body until he could see comfortably.
Diggory stood on the bottom of the lake, surrounded by streaming weeds and water plants. Frogs and eels went scattering in all directions as Percy descended, clothes and hair rippling no more than usual. Diggory was looking upwards, and Percy followed their gaze. On the ceiling of the lake above, the green light of the fireflies shone like disco lights.
Percy came to stand on the lake bed next to Diggory. Poor thing. They had been alone since they were stitched together, it seemed like, and Percy felt he was awful company to have chosen. Keep walking, Diggory, he thought. Leave me behind.
“Do you know how to dance?” He said in Diggory’s mind. Diggory shook their head slowly.
“Here.” Percy drew close to Diggory, until his forehead was at the same level as their chin. He wrapped his light hands around Diggory’s, gesturing where they needed to move. He put one on Diggory’s waist and clasped the other intangibly, fingers meshed together.
“Follow my lead.” Percy whispered, stepping once, stepping back, stirring up silt with each move. The creatures of the lake danced in writhing patterns around them, and the starlight above shone down on the abyssal ballroom as the pair twirled together in darkness.
Outro - Frogs
Frogs. The life of a frog is not unlike our own. We start as little in the universe, a flickering of life in a cosmic pool. Then, we grow, and each stage surprises us, and yet in retrospect was the best way forward to becoming the creature we are. A heartbreak, a loss, a new set of legs, moving away from a dear friend, choosing what you love over what you know, growing lungs instead of gills. We face these transitions with the strength of living things, and the courage it takes to fight through existence until you rise from the water to leap in the daylight.
For whichever stage at which you find yourself, I am your loyal host Nikignik, waiting with understanding for your return to the Hallowoods.