Content warnings for this episode include: Abuse, Animal death (a number of birds), Kidnapping and abduction, Death + Injury, Mental illness, Birds, Emotional Manipulation, Body horror
Intro - The Hole in the Lining
At first, you feel like you are learning a new language—clumsy and inordinate, unsure of your steps. When you say ‘stop’, the world stops, but you have yet to learn how to live in the silence. It took you years to discover how to travel; to break out of the fabric of your shining reality by pulling at its loose threads, and escape through the hole in the lining.
Now, though, you have reached heights you never thought possible. You lift away from the metal coffin where you dwell, far into the night air, with the lights of all the world spread out before you, a million dreams glittering like stars.
What is this spirit in you that allows you to soar? You relish the feeling of the cold expanse on your skin, the thoughtless void for all its empty splendor. It is beyond human, but then again, you have always been about breaking expectations. You rush for a mind far away, one dream bleeding into another, and fall into a nightmare that begins with Hello From The Hallowoods.
Right now, I’m sitting in a plastic office chair with three wheels. It dwells in a grey expanse of paneled rooms, lit only by harsh neons and the glow of box computers. Stacks of paper shift from their rightful domains to cover the desks and floor, and in the back corner, a very small light is blinking red. The theme of tonight’s episode is Signals.
Story 1 - A Small Red Light
Mister Raven was proud of his eyebrows. They were black and lustrous, with tasteful grey follicles, and they perched over the brim of his spectacles in a way he thought was dignified and mysterious, fitting to his title. Unfortunately, the only one around to appreciate them was Mr. Writingdesk, who lived up to his own moniker in being largely rectangular and oblivious to such fine cosmetic details.
“How is CPE-13?” Mr. Raven said as Mr. Writingdesk returned from the containment floor.
“Spooky as always,” said Mr. Writingdesk. “She’s been singing lately. I think it’s a good sign.”
“Hardly likely,” said Mr. Raven. “It’s a new behavior. It might have implications.”
“I think it’s what you’d call a form of self-expression,” Mr. Writingdesk said, and picked up a clipboard to document his visit. “People are more likely to show off their creative potential when they’re happy.”
“Or when they’re planning to kill you,” Mr. Raven sighed, and pulled at his eyebrow.
“What’s that sound?” Mr. Writingdesk said, looking across the office. Mr. Raven enjoyed the way the lights caught in those dark eyes.
“What sound?” Mr. Raven said, and glanced over their computer array—a myriad of whistling modems and quiet electric whispers.
“I do believe that’s the detector,” Mr. Writingdesk said, squeezing past Mr. Raven’s chair to move a stack of incident forms. Behind them, a little red light was blinking in a plastic box.
“How long has that been going off?” Mr. Writingdesk said.
Immediately, Mr. Raven had pulled up the signal application on a square computer whose white plastic had aged to a fine yellow.
“There’s so many machines in here, I didn’t notice,” Mr. Raven said. “Looks like only ten minutes ago. The paraspectogram is listing an incredible spike.”
Mr. Writingdesk leaned on the back of Mr. Raven’s chair to peer at the screen, and Mr. Raven could practically feel the breath on the back of his neck, and shivered.
“Those Zeddemore rays are way out of the spec zone,” Mr. Writingdesk rumbled. “Signal updates are getting stronger. They’re coming closer.”
Mr. Raven refreshed the distance parameter again. Another mile had dropped while they’d been speaking.
“It’s moving so fast,” he whispered, a sudden light of intent seizing him. “I’d guess up to two Class 2 specters. And what are all these?”
“Look like numbers to me,” Mr. Writingdesk said.
“It’s what the numbers mean that I’m interested in,” said Mr. Raven, refreshing the feed again. The mile count was dropping swiftly.
“Means we’ve got a broken paraspectogram,” said Mr. Writingdesk.
“Or a CPE beyond anything we’ve ever seen is bound straight for us,” Mr. Raven whispered.
“Either way,” Mr. Writingdesk sighed, and stood up. “We can’t leave the complex.”
Mr. Raven froze, and raised his eyebrows.
“I’d say this qualifies as an exemption. When have you ever seen readings like this?”
“I haven’t, but I do see two options,” Mr. Writingdesk said, and leaned in the office doorway. “One being that it doesn’t know about us, in which case you and I are not equipped to try and contain whatever that is, being a decade out of practice and all. Option two, being the worse one, is that it does know about us, and if that’s the case we don’t want the Complex door open. No matter how you slice it, we’re sitting on a menagerie of CPE’s that would end the world at least two or three more times if let loose. And half of ‘em would starve if you and I got murked.”
“But Mr. Writingdesk,” Mr. Raven said, and perched on the edge of his chair. “We haven’t seen a signal like this in years. Not even in our containment days. Can’t we just take one tiny look at what’s coming?”
“I never thought I’d live to see the day you’d request an action which is specifically a safety policy violation,” Mr. Writingdesk said, and shook his head. “The doors stay shut.”
“We made the safety policies,” Mr. Raven pleaded. “Half of them anyway. I’m going up.”
Mr. Raven leaped from his chair, and went rummaging through the metal cabinets and footlockers for binoculars—so much gear from the old days, spectro-capture packs and para-meters collecting dust. He pulled out a pair of ecto-vision goggles and put them on along with a poltergeist-proof vest. He turned around to find Mr. Writingdesk taking up most of the doorway, arms crossed.
“Don’t you dare do this again,” Mr. Raven said.
“You cannot open the topside doors,” Mr. Writingdesk said. “I forbid it. We sealed this place for good reason.”
“Can you help me look for something?” Mr. Raven said. “I think your sense of adventure is somewhere around here.”
“I sometimes have trouble following your runaway train of thought,” Mr. Writingdesk said, eyes trained on Mr. Raven as he crept closer. “One minute you’re terrified of CPE-13 singing a little song. The next you want to crack open our front doors to say hello to the worst CPE we’ve heard of so far. You’re a rickety piece of furniture, Mr. Raven.”
“I am neither terrified nor rickety,” Mr. Raven said, raising his eyebrows in a way he hoped was imposing. “Cautious, of course. Because you and I risk our lives every day for the good of mankind. But I took this job because I wanted to know about the world beyond our own, just like you, and I refuse to let it pass us by!”
“Then you can watch it from the front door security camera,” Mr. Writingdesk said, and nodded as if the affair was settled, and left.
Mr. Raven stood with the goggles in his hands, listening to the blinking whistle of the paraspectrogram, and kicked at a stack of acquisition forms. He sank back at his computer chair, and pulled up the security feeds. The CPE’s paced in their containment units or swam in tanks or sat in neat glass boxes, Mr. Writingdesk stood guard by the front door, and one little square of light shone from the world outside. Mr. Raven tried to pivot the camera up a little, but could barely get a view of the road beyond the Complex.
He slumped in defeat for a moment, listening to the beep of the signal detector, and checked the distance counter one more time. Only two miles away now.
The pressure was constricting, and he hovered on the edge of action, contemplating flight. Beep. One mile.
Mr. Raven picked up the security phone, fingers trembling like talons, and put his voice through to the entry hall.
“Mr. Writingdesk!” he called. “CPE-13 has escaped its unit! Quick, down to the containment floor!”
“Not falling for that,” Mr. Writingdesk said.
Mr. Raven cursed, and hung up. He hovered for a moment before dashing out of the office, down the sterile white halls, and rose through the earth to reach the concrete entrance where Mr. Writingdesk stood in front of the door controls.
“Don’t try it,” Mr. Writingdesk said. “I’ve no great desire to patch you up later.”
“I want to see!” Mr. Raven cried, and ran for the burly man. His momentum was immediately absorbed by Mr. Writingdesk’s substantial arms, and he was swept into the air for a moment before being thrown back.
Mr. Raven smiled as a whirring of machinery began to grind. He’d managed to kick the control panel, and Mr. Writingdesk looked back in vain as the Complex doors swung open.
“What have you done?” said Mr. Writingdesk, backing away from the entrance. Mr. Raven said nothing, and pulled on his goggles, and watched with all the curiosity and horror of his younger days. He seized Mr. Writingdesk’s arm as a familiar panic began to settle on the base of his neck, and his senses returned.
“Maybe I’ve made a mistake,” Mr. Raven said, breathing in the first unfiltered air he’d tasted in years. A tremendous roar echoed across the bright world outside.
There was a road, glinting in a lush field beyond the trees, and the roar reached a crescendo, the sound of a world on fire.
A red muscle car raced by, almost as fast as you could blink.
And then a boxy, 30-foot RV covered in graffiti.
And then the world was quiet.
After a moment, Mr. Writingdesk stepped up to the door and slammed his fist on the control panel, letting the heavy steel slide shut again.
“You happy now?” he grunted.
“Who the hell are those people?” Mr. Raven whispered.
Mr. Writingdesk looked up at the doors, and sighed. “Let’s hope we never find out.”
Interlude 1 - The Phantom Station
A warning to those who still drive the landscape of America: not every danger simply stalks in the night beyond your camp, or can be outrun by your speeding vehicle. Some dwell in your head, and begin their hunt when you cross their empty plains, that hypnotic world where there is only the highway ahead of you and the abyss of your thoughts.
You may believe you hear a radio station in the static, a buzzing voice that cuts through your music. It will begin with light conversation, answering questions that no one has asked, laughing without an audience. It draws your attention from the road.
It will not be content, however, to simply entertain you for long. It will invite one more caller, and you realize with some surprise that you are on the air. You have neither phone nor dial, but when you speak the crackling host replies. Tell me about yourself, it will say. Who are you? Where are you going? What is it that you want?
Do not answer. Do not let it into your thoughts, for if you do it will live there forever, and follow in your shadow until you one day come to rest. Hold off its temptations as long as you can. The Phantom Station gives nothing without cost.
We go now to one who needs to sleep.
Story 2 - Eyes of the Nation
“Be honest,” Marco sighed, an aerial view of Toronto’s blackened beach scrolling past his screen. “Did you tell her?”
“Of course not,” Brooklyn said. “I was trying to buy you time, like you asked. She must have checked in while she was with the Other Riot, which seems like a disaster to me.”
“I believe you,” Marco said. The grey images were beginning to blur together in his eyes, and he turned away for a moment. The monitor room was empty save for his lit computer, and Brooklyn pacing beside the window.
“Ugh, Marco,” Brooklyn said, stepping over to him and rubbing her temples. She sat against the edge of a desk beside him. “How did you lose them?”
“I tailed them all the way down to Toronto,” Marco said. “They stopped at a gas station or something, and I thought they were camping there for the night, so I slept for like an hour. When I woke up they were gone—must have changed locations again before resting. And I’ve been searching in Toronto ever since, but I can’t find them anywhere. There’s only so many roads that aren’t destroyed or piled up with cars, but even so it’s a huge city. I don’t know. I don’t know.”
“But you can set up the feed within your dreamscape, can’t you?” Brooklyn said.
“I don’t sleep with my helmet on,” Marco said. Brooklyn stared at him oddly.
“What do you mean? That’s how you access the Prime Dream. Do you use glasses or something?”
“I use the Prime Dream for work,” he said. “But I sleep the normal way. I don’t feel rested somehow if I’m working all night.”
“That may have cost us Riot, is all,” Brooklyn sighed.
“Why does she even care so much?” Marco said, and rubbed at his eyes; a headache gnawed on his skull. “I’m just a security guard. Why does she have me watching the daughter of a random rockstar 24/7? Especially when she’s already been… replaced. They’re going to die along the way, or get annihilated by a box defense grid at best. I’m just tired. And I don’t understand.”
“Working for the Lady means you don’t always get answers,” Brooklyn said, holding a clipboard close to her chest. “And what I’m going to say will sound kind of harsh, but I need you to hear me. You’ll have time for self-pity later. Right now, you have less than an hour until the Lady comes to check up on us, and we need to find Riot before then or bad things will happen. How can we do that?”
“I told you, I’ve scanned half the streets in Toronto,” Marco said. “I just don’t know where they could be hiding a vehicle that size.”
“What if they’re not in the city anymore?” Brooklyn said. “Where else would they be?”
Marco sighed, and swiveled back to the screen.
“If not, then we’re limited to what our other drones have seen, and most of those are automated,” he said. “We may have no visibility at all, and by now they could be anywhere in hundreds of miles.”
“But they would have crossed the border,” Brooklyn said. “We know that much. And if they did then the Ambassador Bridge is one of the biggest crossing points. Is there a way to look at incident reports, unusual sightings, that kind of thing within that area?”
“You’ve got a good head on your shoulders, for a secretary,” Marco said.
“Secretary is my job title,” she said. “But I get paid to solve problems.”
The litany of drones with unusual motion reports across Ohio came down to a collection of hundreds of camera feeds, and he panned down through the list. A sparking telephone pole, a plastic bag caught in the wind, a wandering fox had caught their unseeing eyes.
“I don’t know what to expect if we don’t find her,” Brooklyn said. “The Lady can be cruel, and each of her other firings have been… unpleasant. Just try not to aggravate her, and only answer what she asks. It might help.”
“She does have a certain reputation,” Marco sighed. “When I first got the assignment to come work with your department, I just hoped it would never be me.”
“I hoped for that too,” Brooklyn said.
Someone hurling a stone at an ad drone, a distorted reflection in a glass window, a highway sign collapsing in the wind.
“Maybe I can resign,” Marco said.
“Resign?” Brooklyn said, and came to stand over his shoulder. “And do what?”
“I’m sure living out there would be better than whatever punishment Lady Ethel is thinking up,” he said.
“There’s too much red tape,” Brooklyn said, and shook her head. “No one walks away from Botco. Just keep looking. Please.”
“It’s not going to happen in an hour,” Marco said, giving the stream a wide scroll; dozens of cameras flashed by, strange images frozen in time. “This is like looking for a needle in a…”
An image caught his eye, and he turned back to expand the report screen, examining the text.
“Weapon discharge,” he muttered. “By a Cluster drone.”
“Seems like that would happen often,” Brooklyn said, leaning on his shoulder.
“Not at altitude,” he said, and with a click was looking through the Cluster’s eyes, a night ago. A blurry shape followed behind its turbines, growing closer, and light burst into the frame. Marco froze the picture. There was a young person hanging in the night air, a cloak spread behind them like wings, and light bursting from their hands.
“That’s the lightning kid,” Marco said.
“Where was this?” Brooklyn said.
“Toledo, Ohio,” Marco muttered, and watched the footage play out—the Cluster deployed a laser deterrent, and the kid fell away from the camera, and the Cluster made a lazy circle back towards its original target. He peered back through the drone’s history then, and minutes earlier, there they were.
“That’s them,” Brooklyn said. “That’s the RV.”
As the Cluster landed to complete its ad tag, the spraypainted RV was parked behind a red vintage car on the road, and coming out of the darkness with a sword in hand was Riot.
“We found her,” Brooklyn breathed. “She hit a Cluster with a sword? Jesus.”
“We found where she was,” Marco said. “This was yesterday. Let’s try and find where she is now.”
He should have begun scrolling through the Toledo area drones in a radius, looking for snippets of vehicle movement, he knew, but a moment of curiosity drove him to check the Cluster’s live feed. As directed by its program, it was still following the potential customer’s vehicle after the ad tag.
“Now that’s what we needed,” he breathed, and leaned back in his chair, and smiled. The Cluster was a half-mile up, and in the distance below, a red convertible drove followed by a 30-foot RV.
“Thank god,” Brooklyn whispered, and Marco felt her hands in his hair for a moment, and her chin on his forehead. She jerked up suddenly, looking down at him.
“The Lady is here,” she said. “Let’s hope this is enough.”
Marketing - Advertising Choices
When building out consumer programming, there are several key directives you should follow. No more than fifty percent of your content should be promotional. Whether you sell or educate, always entertain. And make sure that everything you touch speaks on behalf of your brand.
Flood the market with your content. Users have short attention spans, so you must capture interest immediately and hold it with value. However, the most critical part of consumer choice is the illusion of choice. What show to watch, what music to listen to, which dreamscape to explore all live within our platform. We may be behind every stage, but as long as they have the option to swap out one avenue for another, they are content to stay.
When you create content for Botco, you must remember that we provide a home for an incredibly diverse user group. Classic marketing and value-based messaging apply for our older generations; irony and deprecation for our millennial users.
Generation Z prefers user-generated content and advertising indistinguishable from entertainment. However, no advertising method is more effective than the one which our Dreaming Generation loves—subconscious influence within their dreamscapes. It is likely that as the Prime Dream’s culture continues to evolve, exciting new marketing opportunities will be…
Story 2, Continued - Eyes of the Nation
You may say, Nikignik, are you not yourself marketing by broadcasting for your mysterious ends? Who are you to judge Lady Ethel Mallory’s persistent efforts?
I judge. I judge very much.
Then again, if you listen to these messages in your nightmares, dreamers, and hear my voice echo in your thoughts, then you are somewhat resistant to marketing.
We return now to Marco Torres.
“You were given one task,” the Lady said, as her two great flies crawled across the wall behind her. The carcasses of several birds were splayed against the grey boardroom panels, and her pets feasted. Marco hoped he would not be the next victim of their jagged hooks and mouthparts.
“Yes, Lady Ethel,” he said.
“And yet you lost them and did not inform me,” she continued, looming over the conference table.
“I hoped to have it fixed quickly, ma’am,” he said.
“You hoped I would not learn about your incompetence,” the Lady said; too many teeth flashed in the pale light. There were no windows in Box Cassiopeia, he had noticed, and her chair was sized for her to sit comfortably, wreathed in a red coat and black fur scarf. Her wide-brimmed hat touched the ceiling less in these vaulted chambers, and made him feel as small as an insect beneath her gaze.
“Yes ma’am,” he said again.
“And thanks to you I’ve been embarrassed in front of a vital contact,” she hissed.
“Can I ask a question, my lady?” Brooklyn said, from the corner of the meeting room.
“I’m not finished,” Lady Ethel said. “Marco, answer this next question like your life depends on it. Have you found the real Riot?”
“Yes ma’am,” he said, and gestured to the wall-mounted screen. The Cluster’s feed came up; the red car and the RV sped along the highway at sunset, casting long shadows across the fields. The Lady leaned in to see, although the crimson frown did not leave her face.
“Who is that with them?”
“It appears one of our Clusters locked on to this vehicle in Chicago,” Marco said, “and followed it over to Toledo. It tagged the driver, and shortly after that met up with Riot’s group. They’ve been driving together all day.”
“And they’re still bound for us?” Lady Ethel said.
“They appear to be driving south,” Marco said.
“We have less presence in the southern United States,” Brooklyn said. “It may be an evasive tactic.”
“So how much time do we have?” Lady Ethel said.
“If they keep up at the current speed, around four or five days,” Marco said. “Maybe less if they drive nights.”
“Four days,” the Lady sighed. “Who else knows about this?”
“No one that I’m aware of,” Marco said. “This was an automated drone—I took the liberty of removing the support department’s access. I think you, I and Brooklyn are the only ones who know.”
“Keep it that way,” the Lady said, putting a hand to the side of her glasses. “Something else I wonder is, who’s giving them information? They should have no idea where Valerie is being stored.”
“We know they botched a break-in at Box Polaris,” Brooklyn said. “Which we’ve managed to keep quiet, erase footage, that whole affair. Maybe they’re not coming for Box Andromeda. Maybe they think she’s here with us at Cassiopeia.”
“That would actually make things easier,” Lady Ethel said. One of her flies fluttered from the wall to circle around the conference room, before returning to a new bird.
“Lady, can I ask why you chose to share this information with the Other Riot?” Brooklyn said, relaxing her grip on her clipboard.
The Lady smiled, a grin as wide as her skull. “Apparently I’m the only one who’s shown the poor thing a shred of honesty. It’s all she’ll get for now, of course, but I think it’s enough to turn her against Melanie. A little bit of truth is powerful for changing minds. If she’s not going to be my project for now, I can at least make sure she won’t play her part in Melanie’s games.”
“Aren’t you worried that she’ll interfere?” Marco said, looking up as politely as he could at her expansive face.
“She can barely speak without bursting into tears; she’s hardly in a position to make a difference,” the Lady said. “And if I maneuver correctly I’ll get control of her too, anyway. When the real deal shows up, we’ll apply our leverage.”
“So,” Brooklyn said, a tremor of caution in her voice. “What’s next?”
A bird came loose from the wall, and hit the ground with a wet thud. The flies took to the air and drifted above the Lady. She folded her gloved hands, and frowned.
“Now,” she said. “We’ve got our work cut out for us in these next four days.”
Interlude 2 - The Unseen Road
Why, you may wonder, do I continue to infest your nightmares? What began as a twisted circle of life in the northern woods now crawls across the continent, and you dream not of gloomy pine valleys but of the barren highways of America.
Nikignik, you may think, where is this story going? When will it end? How many more strangers will you feature in my dreams?
The road is not yet finished, dreamer, and our destination is yet many miles away. If I told you what we were driving towards, I think you would turn back, ask to dream of pleasanter things until the end comes.
In truth, I do not know where precisely the end will find us, for I am a master of sight but not of the future. Tens of billions of eyes hope to see the morning, but I have looked on just as many sunsets. The many presents will converge one day into a single future, and that is why, for all who dream, I will continue to disturb you.
We go now to one who worries about the road.
Story 3 - The Long Way Round
“You’re sure you’ll be alright?” Riot said, squinting at Diggory. The revenant gripped the wheel of the RV, adjusting it gently as the yellow strips of the night road slid beneath them.
“It appears one of my past selves was a good driver,” Diggory said.
“And you haven’t gotten any of those fainting things recently?” Riot said.
“Less so now,” Diggory said. “They are not so severe as before, like images in my head.”
“So like normal memories then,” Riot said. “Percy, please wake me up if there’s trouble.”
“I will,” Percy said, and Riot caught a glimpse of the ghostly boy, half beside Diggory and half out of the vehicle. “You should get some rest, Riot.”
“Oh I plan to,” Riot said, and climbed out of the front cabin. “You two behave yourselves.”
Her back ached from days of sitting, and she stretched as she entered the back of the RV. It would be such a relief if Diggory could drive for a few shifts; her brain felt numb, and she missed the songs on her MP3 player. The only music she had now was on the CD’s she’d found in Walt’s hearse, the same songs they’d blasted the night they tried to hunt the Instrumentalist.
“How are you doing back here?” she said, looking up to the RV’s table. In the cushioned benches, Olivier and Moth were lounging with a scattering of pencils and paper. “Doing art classes?”
“Just talking,” Olivier said, penciling in some details on a portrait. “I was telling Moth about the Instrumentalist and your mom and stuff. Why we’re here.”
“I’ll be honest, I didn’t realize your mom was a celebrity,” Moth said, a little pair of red spectacles and a black coat. A tattoo of a death’s head moth peeked from moth’s tank top, and smaller swarms of ink blanketed moth’s arms. Nimbus sat in Moth’s lap, toying with the corner of moth’s coat.
“I don’t think she’s been a celebrity for a while now,” Riot said. “But thanks.”
She peeked over Olivier’s shoulder—a girl with braids glared from the page, captured in dark charcoal.
“That’s really good, Ollie,” she said. “Who is it?”
Olivier sighed. “No one. Just a friend from school.”
“Must be weird to still go to school,” Moth said, scratching behind the cat’s ears. “We had a little commune or something in Vegas. People taught me things they knew—I liked bugs, entomology especially. As you may have noticed.”
“It was one of two options,” Riot said. “How are you feeling, Moth?”
“Trying not to sleep,” Moth said, tired eyes hiding behind the red glass. “But otherwise, I’m quite alright.”
“I can’t tell if you’re really okay or just being polite,” Riot said.
“Really… I am,” Moth said, frowning.
“Okay. Cool. I’m going to lie down for a little while,” Riot said.
“Sleep well,” Olivier said, going back to the drawing.
Riot tried to think of a reply that sounded cool, and after a moment turned and hauled herself up into the loft bed without answering at all.
Stupid, she thought, and lay in her bed, listening to Olivier’s hushed library tones and Moth’s ever-polite replies, a kind of soothing background noise blending with the hum of the tires.
Sleep found her suddenly, and she sat on a familiar log by a dark pool. Lurch Lake sparkled in the sunlight, lily pads and grass a robe of splendor across its surface.
“You gotta wonder what pollywogs are thinking,” a voice beside her was saying. She glanced over to find a familiar face staring at the water, with a distant look in his eye. “Every so often they gotta sprout new legs or lose their tail or something and think ‘well, that’s it. I’m done growing. This is me now.’ If I was a frog, I’d always be wondering, is this it? Or am I going to change again?”
“Yeah,” Riot said, and tried to choke back her sadness with a smile. Best not to let him know. “I saw something pretty cool today. A talking car. I bet you’d love that.”
“Well now,” Walt said, and took off his hat, fixing his matted grey hair. He turned to look at her, and she found he was missing his eye, just the way they’d brought him back. A single tiny frog lived in the socket, throat swelling as it breathed. “A talkin’ car? That’s real out there, kid. Look at you go.”
“I don’t know if I’m doing it right, Walt,” Riot sobbed, the feeling overwhelming her suddenly. It was going to color her dream, she knew, but she couldn’t help it.
“I miss you so much. And I wish you were here, because you’d say something that would make it almost okay. We left the Scoutpost and everyone behind, and it’s just us, and it feels like every little thing I do matters, and I don’t know if it’s right.”
Walt looked back to the lake, the frog in his eye giving a little croak.
“You don’t got all your legs yet,” he said. “It’d be silly to worry about jumping. Just swim as far as you can. You’ll get your lungs when you need them. Look, there goes one now.”
He pointed to the lake, and Riot followed his gaze to find a shape emerging from the water—a head with a crown of white flowers. This was no burning-eyed skeleton, though, but a face she recognized.
“Why are all your dreams so wet?” Danielle said, lake weed dripping from her hair. “I came to check in on you. How’s it going?”
“It’s kind of okay,” Riot said. “We’re in the USA now. And we met someone who can help us get to you—he knows the roads a little better. It’ll still be a few days. How is my mom? How are you?”
“Your mom is freaking me out,” Danielle said. “She’s supposed to make some kind of announcement along with… the other Riot. I think it’ll be about the Stonemaids, telling them to stand down. The dream Riot is acting really weird. I’ll tell you about it when you get here.”
“Can you let my mom know?” Riot said. “That we’re close? And that I love her?”
“I’ll do my best,” Danielle said, emerging from the water. Walt stared at her without recognition.
“An old friend,” Riot said, and with a thought, scattered his memory to the sunlit air, rising like smoke. Danielle sat beside Riot on the log, water pouring off of her dress.
“There is one other thing,” she said.
“What is it?”
“They’re doing this big psych eval for everyone. I’ve managed to avoid it until now, but I don’t think I’ll be able to hide much longer. Especially not if I keep sneaking out of the Prime Dream to talk to people. I don’t know what they’d do if they found out I can break the dreamscape, but I bet it’s not shrug it off and send me home.”
“Okay,” Riot said. “So… what can we do?”
Danielle sighed, and pushed her hair away from her face.
“When you come to box Andromeda to get your mom,” she said. “I want you to take me with you.”
Outro - Signals
Signals. In our own ways, dreamers, we cast our voices into the universe, looking for someone to hear us. We hope that by an acknowledgement of our sound that we will know that we are not alone, that we exist, that we mattered if for a moment.
Our messages, though, echo once through the universe and disappear—and even these words, caught in your waking thoughts, will fade from your memory with the morning. Why, then, do we turn our lips to the stars?
It is in the nature of life to wish to live. To leave a mark on the surface of this existence, however small. To speak or sing or scream while our lungs still hold air, to hear ourselves echo in the void until all breath fades, to hope that someone listens and replies in kind. In that, dreamer, you and I are the same, and just as you commit my voice to your fleeting memory, I commit yours to mine.
Until we are both forever silent, I am your loyal host Nikignik, waiting statically for your return to the Hallowoods.
The bonus story that goes with this episode is called 'Spring Chicken', 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!