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HFTH - Episode 67 - Silences

Content warnings for this episode include: Abuse Mention (Hector), Animal death (Heidi as usual), Violence, Death + Injury, Blood, Birds, Body horror, Electrocution

Intro - Unknowable Colors

When they call for you, they do not use the right language or name, and you are not angry so much as weary. Is it worth taking on one more interaction to correct them? Have you not made yourself clear a thousand times over?

Still they call, and look for you, and beg for your response. You hope the silence speaks for itself, but theirs is a stubborn kind. Their beckonings echo throughout your head, deep in your fractal lair, and a scintillating light is born in your heart.

Here I am, you say, and claw your way through the prismatic walls of space, a child of unknowable colors. You called, and I have arrived; is this not what you wanted? You descend in nebulaic fire, scattering matter and dust in your wake. They realize too late that they had little idea who you were; never pictured such exquisite destruction. Flames in a thousand shades scatter their dwellings to the wind. The forest is dark around you, watching curious and afraid, and uses the right name as it bids you Hello From The Hallowoods.


Right now, I am in an impossibly small place—for there is almost no room to move in this box of metal and plastic, a coffin of tubing and regulatory machines. Inside is a girl who dreams with her eyes open, and she looks not upon the heart of Box Andromeda but upon a world of wonder. The theme of tonight’s episode is Silences.

Story 1 - Unheard Goodbyes

Danielle sat in a field of grass, listening to the wind. It carried the echoes of a voice—behind the colors and lights, it droned on like narration. She hoped she’d done the right thing in helping whoever that had been; the broadcaster who spoke in dream, who told her she could go anywhere, do anything. She had believed it, and now life was barrelling towards her at seventy miles an hour, closer with each passing day. Would Riot and her friends really be able to pull her out? Or save Valerie?

Still, she thought, this field isn’t really here. I’m unconscious in a box, and there’s a world outside with air that I’ve never breathed. The thought made her feel a little claustrophobic, as though the green expanse of grass and the sky above were two halves of a vice crushing down on her. I wish I could just enjoy this, she thought. It would make things easier.

She thought about her mother, whose face she had never really seen, who she had never touched since she and her brothers were taken from their mother’s Dreaming Pod and moved into their own, forced from crying into sleep so that her mother could hold them in an imaginary world. Time for me to return the favor, Danielle thought, one last time, and she breathed out, letting the field disappear into nothingness. It was time to make her goodbyes.

She went to visit her brothers first. Somehow they would be the easiest to start with, because she couldn’t really comprehend the idea of never seeing them again. She arrived in a treehouse the size of an apartment building, laden with slides and troves of found objects and secret passageways—the haunt of their mutual childhood.

“Hello?” Danielle said, finding herself in a round chamber near the top, with windows that sometimes looked out on forest or ocean or skyscrapers. “Guys? You here?”

“Think fast!” a voice called.

“Stop,” Danielle whispered, and the rustle of boards and movement became a dead silence. She turned to find an axe floating in the air mid-twirl. Beyond were her brothers, who appeared as matching characters from some cowboy story—she hadn’t been keeping up with the popular shows recently; she’d had the end of her dreaming life to occupy her mind. There was a time when she might have joined them in a matching set, but she liked the way she was perceived now.

She stepped away from the axe, and thought about what she’d like to say, to hear, and could not bring herself to find the right words. She walked up to her brothers, faces of actors, cheering silently from the door.

“I’m so sorry, guys,” she said. “Maybe someday I’ll be back. Or I’ll be able to help you. I’m going to miss you—I hope you’re happy while I’m gone.”

She gave each a pat on the shoulder, although she knew they would not remember the gesture or her words. It was safest like this, anyway—if the Botulus Corporation came knocking, none of them could be blamed for what she was about to do.

She peeled the treehouse away, let it fade back into lines of shadow, and made her way back to her house—a collection of large beige rooms that formed a larger, beige building. It was made from memories, she knew, but if you were going to dream up a house for yourself, why make it the same ugly one you lived in before?

The world was still stopped, vague impressions of clouds and trees frozen in the breeze, and her steps made no sound as she wandered the old scenes a last time, paid final respects to the undefined family portraits. She was a confused shape in all of them, painted by her parents’ troubled perceptions, features shifting with each glance. I wonder what my face looks like, Danielle thought. I suppose I really have no idea.

She found her father in his office, which was not beige, but the shade of grey created when you pull the rest of the color out of beige. His space was a noir detective’s office, sunlight casting streaks of light through thick blinds, and a typewriter sat quiet in front of him. He sat with his hands folded, a black-and-white picture of an author, hair a frizz of confusion.

“I don’t think you’d understand,” Danielle said quietly, and glanced at his page. Chapter 1, it said, with no title or words beneath. “But it’s not personal. I know you and mom did the best thing you could. I just need to get out of here.”

She gave him a hug, although she expected he’d never know it. She found her mother in the lawn, grass a perfect green that extended to the horizon like a golf course, playing with a dog that was distorted as if a photo of it had been taken at the wrong time. Memories were often like that. Her mom’s head was distorted as well; something about her had never come out quite right within the dream. It looked somewhat like a wasp’s face atop the body of a nuclear parent, and she couldn’t be entirely sure if those black eyes could see her walking across the yard. She wrapped her arms around her mother, and clung there for a moment.

“Goodbye, mom,” she whispered, and the world trembled around her as she wept into her mom’s apron. “I’ll see you again. I will.”

Almost done, she thought, and pulled the world around her again in search of a final farewell—her grandmother, who she found standing on a boardwalk that stretched off across a horizon of blue lakes and tall grass.

“Watching the birds, grandma Laura?” Danielle said; a stork was caught mid-flight in the air beyond. “This is the last time I’ll see you for a while. I just wanted to say goodbye.”

She approached, and found that her grandmother’s eyes were following her across the walkway. Danielle froze. That shouldn’t be possible. It never was. She let the world resume; the stork took to the air, and the sound of bird and frog and rippling water returned to her ears. She stared at her grandmother, who looked back and smiled.

“It’s been a while since you visited,” she said. “You’re going off somewhere?”

“You weren’t supposed to hear that,” Danielle said. “Or see that. I should go.”

“Are you going to disappear?” she said. “My sister did, you know, when she was about your age. I guess it runs in the family. That and the dreams.”

“You know about the dreams?” Danielle said, putting her hands on the railing. “I thought I was the only one.”

“I was never as gifted as your great-aunt Amaryllis,” she said. “Never caused as much trouble, either.”

“Do you have a little time to talk about it?” Danielle said, glancing around. She wondered if the birds and frogs were watching her.

“Stay with me a little while,” Grandma Laura said. “I can tell you what I remember. You’re in a hurry, aren’t you?”

“Not exactly,” Danielle said, and sighed, watched as a dragonfly drifted beneath through the lilies. “Just waiting on a friend.”

Interlude 1 - Eternal Journeys

America was once a busy country. Cities cast light that drowned out the stars, automobiles ran in eternal journeys, and trains blasted across the landscape.

Now all of these great engines of industry have gone quiet, and their rusting corpses dot this silent expanse. There are no more freight trains rolling across the deserts, and no traffic to raise a chorus in concrete. Wind, and the free songs of the summer wildlife, and beneath all the growing roots of black trees and obsidian groves are the new sounds of America, a silence bearing the whispers of a new age.

Unfortunately, Botulus Corporation Advertising methods survived to pollute the world with their sound, and their drones and carriers sail overhead like insects, a flicker of electric life that refuses to give in to the desolation of time. Their calls to action and marketing messages echo across the lower landscape of America still, hoping to reach any who still live and wander.

We go now to one who does not hear them.

Story 2 - Herald of Storms

“You told her what?” Jonah said. Rain pattered on the windows of their Scoutpost room.

“It just makes sense to me,” Hector said, leaning in the door and avoiding eye contact. “You want to stay here. I get that. But it’s falling apart. If you want there to be anything left, I think it’s you and I who have to make it happen.”

“They know what they’re doing, Hec,” Jonah said, sitting on the edge of their bed. “Violet and Bern fought to have a life up here, same as anyone else. They’ve dealt with the froglins for years. And they just convinced these Fort Freedom people to help us, no thanks to you apparently.”

“People who were supposed to be here by now,” Hector said, looking up. His dogs lay next to each other on the floor, glancing between them expectantly. At least, the one that was alive did. He was never sure where Heidi’s clouded eyes were looking.

“Maybe they’re running late, in the storm,” Jonah said. There was a rumble of thunder from outside. “Or ran into froglins. We don’t know it’s anything bad yet.”

“We can’t rely on them,” Hector said. “You saw the way that Mrs. Wicker lady orders them around? I can’t stand that.”

“I would have liked Buck to stay,” Jonah conceded, crossing his arms. “I’m not sure he likes being at Fort Freedom, from what he said.”

“Sure,” Hector said. “Either way. We’re alone now, and we’ve got these frog men kicking in the doors.”

“And you think trying to—what? Hunt? Move?—their queen and that fish is going to fix this, rather than making it worse?” Jonah said.

“Yes,” Hector said, and nodded. The dogs looked back at Jonah.

“I wish you were lying,” Jonah sighed.

“Listen, Jones,” Hector said, coming to sit beside him, causing the mattress to sink in. “I wish this was one those situations where you stop thinking about it and it goes away. But it’s not. People like this, they… they don’t stop. You can ignore it, but it’ll get worse. And the quiet times make you think maybe it’s over, and things really are getting better, and you get your hopes up—and that’s when they crush you. Sometimes you can’t wait it out. Play the pacifist. Because one of those nights, sooner or later, you won’t be walking away.”

Jonah gave Hector’s hand a squeeze.

“I understand that. I do. But… I…”

Hector took Jonah’s hand in his, examining the folds and scars of his palm.

“I wish I could magically tell what people mean,” Hector said. “Would make it easier to understand you here.”

“There’s two things, really,” Jonah said. “This plan is dangerous. And it puts you and I at the front of everything. And I’m not sure what dying is doing to me, but it’s a permanent condition for you. I can’t lose you, Hec. I haven’t had you for long enough.”

Hector laid back, and Jonah joined him, staring up at the pine wood rafters.

“Don’t worry about me,” Hector said. “I can handle it.”

“The other thing…” Jonah sighed. “The last time I saw that big fish of theirs, I got lowered into the lake like a worm on a hook. I drowned, or that thing got me, and you hauled my body out. And I was lying there all grey and dead. I don’t want to do that again. Getting killed ain’t easy for me.”

“Me neither,” Hector said, and looked over at him, a head of black and grey hair amidst the blankets. “And I don’t like seeing you get hurt, even if you do come walking back. I’m not asking you to do that again. To go wherever it is you go. I’m just asking for your help. Fishing for bodies ain’t quite the same, and I don’t know the first thing about moving an animal that size.”

“Okay,” Jonah said, rolling to his side, and put a hand on Hector’s chest. “Do you have any idea what you’re going to do with this queen? Or are you just winging it like usual?”

“Hey now, I never wing things,” Hector half smiled, and tapped his temple. “Lots of quick math happening up here.”

“Calculated risks, then,” Jonah smiled, and dwelled for a moment in other thoughts. Lightning flashed in the distance, cast shadows across the bed.

“What’s wrong?” Hector said quietly.

“Nothing,” Jonah said, and laid on his back again.

“My magic brain tells me that’s a lie,” Hector said.

“How much would I have to change?” Jonah said. “Before you stopped loving me?”

Hector sighed, and looked up at the ceiling. “This again.”

“Sorry,” Jonah said. “It’s just on my mind. Every time I come back, I’m a little different. I have to be, right? Because my body—the one that gets killed—is still lying there. That was me. So what is this?”

He raised his hand. Each scar was in the right place over his knuckles.

“I wish I could be one or the other,” he said. “Alive or dead. I don’t know what it means to live this way.”

“You’re still here,” Hector said. “So I’m not complaining. Whatever this is, if it keeps us together, then I’m happy.”

Jonah sat up. “Why wasn’t that the truth?”

“It is,” Hector said quickly. “But I’m also concerned. And you know what? It’s not even because your eyes are green now, or you can make the stars change colors or tell when people are lying. It’s because it always seems to bother you lately. And I don’t know if it’s good or bad.”

“I don’t know either,” Jonah said. “Of course it bothers me. I’ve seen things in the other place—I don’t even know how to put them into words that make sense. I see stars and weird signs in the sky, even during the day. And I don’t really know what’s next. What’s coming. If I ever… go too far… stop being Jonah Duckworth entirely. Would you please…”

“Absolutely not,” Hector said, and stood up. “Don’t think that way. It’s not going to happen.”

“You don’t know that,” Jonah said.

There was a sound of ringing bells, then, clamoring in the rain. The Scoutpost was up in alarm.

“Not now,” Jonah whispered. There was a sound like thunder, but more constant—a deep rumble from the forest beyond.

“Let’s help with whatever this is,” Hector grunted. “And when we’re done, we’ll take this to the frogs. And when that’s done, you and I are taking a week to rest. And when that’s done, we’re going to have the rest of our lives together. If you want. And they’ll be just fine.”

He nodded, more to himself than to Jonah, and his dogs followed him into the rain as he threw open the door.

Marketing - Advertising Ethics

It was my privilege to participate in early tests for the Prime Dream user experience, prior to public release. I can’t tell you how exhilarating my first moments spent in shared dream were for me—but beyond that, I saw opportunity. A chance at real, lasting happiness for every man, woman, child and nonconformer who closes their eyes to join our happy dreaming family.

It was especially important to me that we have no gaps in our user experience. No moment where you sit and feel bored. No time when you don’t know what to do next. The beauty of dream is that there are no transitions! If you want to be, you simply are. When one adventure is done, the next has already begun.

Whether you stay in your own dreamscape, or participate in our constructed environments, there is always something to do for a lifetime of content. After all, that is our hope. The customer has to remain satisfied until the day they…

Story 2, Continued - Herald of Storms

There are few beings that thrive in a state of constant distraction, and I cannot say any of them are the better for it. Let us take a moment, dreamer, to reflect on who you are and where you find yourself in the world. It’s a curious place, isn’t it? What are you thinking? What are you feeling? Where are you going from here?

I guarantee, Lady Ethel Mallory is not familiar with such reflective pauses.

We return now to Jonah Duckworth.

Walking outside to find the alarm bells ringing had become all too common, and yet the sound sent a chill through Jonah’s stomach colder than any Atlantic wind. When the Scoutpost alarms rang, people could die, and he worried most of all about the man with the grizzled black beard running ahead of him.

The rain made the world slick and dark, and his boots squeaked on the Scoutpost timbers as he followed Hector. Shouting voices and ringing bells filled the air, and beyond them was a greater sound, shouts which he recognized immediately, for he had drowned to their chorus.

Lolgmololg! Lolgmololg! Lolgmololg!

He froze for a moment, and Hector was charging into the storm across the fort’s upper walkways, words flying into the wind.

Hands like claws seized Jonah’s arm, and he spun to find his mother, who had donned one of the Scoutpost’s yellow rain hats.

“What’s going on?” she cried. “Jonah, what’s all this racket?”

“I don’t know, ma,” Jonah said. “You should stay inside; I’ll go see what’s wrong.”

“Keep telling me to stay inside and see where it gets you,” she said, and shot him a look that meant for a future quarrel. “Stay safe.”

She began to limp back across the ramparts, and Jonah turned his attention to the darkening sky, where clouds had begun to boil in a murky storm, thunder and the Froglin war song echoing over the Scoutpost walls.

And there, in a flash of lightning, it stood.

Painted against the roiling cloud was the great black head, the outstretched antlers like fishhooks, the wide smile of a Wandering Night-Gaunt.

There were shining strings hanging from its antlers, he noted as he followed Hector up a walkway to the platform above the Lurch Lake gate, where Bern was shouting orders. As he got closer, he realized they were not strings at all, but glinting chains, and bodies in whole or part hung at the ends, clad in scoutpost yellows. Scouts they had lost to the forest. The beast was eyeless, but gigantic ears twitched and pivoted towards them as it stepped forward, silent as a specter and as tall as the pines.

Below the Night-Gaunt, froglins were peeling away, their war cries no longer needed to lead the gigantic beast as the Scoutpost’s alarms caught its attention. Loud noises, Jonah remembered.

It crossed the last stretch of the Lurch Lake trail in a matter of moments, and the wall of the Scoutpost shuddered and twisted as clawed hands the size of king crabs connected with the top of the wall.

The wood shivered and sheet metal buckled under the weight of the beast’s arms, and arrows flew from over Jonah’s head into the huge face, now so close to the ramparts. It shrieked as the barbs pierced its wet black fur, a sound that was shrill and painful, somewhere beyond the register of Jonah’s hearing. Scouts on either side of him held their hands to their ears and wailed. With a thrash, the Night-Gaunt twisted the top of the wall, and Jonah was suddenly aware of a number of things happening at once.

The Lurch Lake gate was collapsing entirely, sheet metal and support ripped free of the rest of the fort’s frame, and the upper rampart dissolved into boards as it began to fall.

Scouts, with rain flying from their spears and bows, backed away or tumbled off the edge as the thick claw of the Night-Gaunt swept across the top of the wall, seeking the first meal of the night.

Bern tried and failed to find her footing as the rampart disintegrated, and slid off the edge, plummeting thirty feet with the wreckage. Left behind her was Hector and his dogs, backing away too late as the night-gaunt reached for him.

Jonah moved faster than he thought he ever had, pushing past the scouts to pull Hector roughly past him and to the ground, away from the collapsing platform.

For a moment, he could watch the expression on Hector’s face lit by the lightning, changing from shock to thanks to horror.

Not again, Jonah thought, and with a sudden impact the world was moving at a furious speed, and huge fingers wrapped around his body and pulled him off the wall with incredible force.

Beneath his boots, he could see the gateway falling to pieces, burying those who had fallen in the debris. The dogs howled at him, and Hector fished in his bag for the right tool as Jonah felt the hot breath of the Night-Gaunt’s maw open behind him.

He closed his eyes. All the world was stars and flame; stars above, behind the storm, and flames in Hector and the dogs and the great beast lifting him towards its teeth. I know that fire, he thought.

“Enough,” he said, and opened his eyes, and the roar of the wind in his ears became a dead quiet, rain whipping past his face and grey beard. Teeth as big as pier boards stretched in front of him, and lightning crawled in the sky above, and the Night-Gaunt seemed to flinch.

“I am not going to die today,” he said, and his voice filled the quiet like thunder. The wind sent his hat flying, but in the moment he did not care—could not take his attention away from the gargantuan thing about to swallow him whole.

“This is not where you belong, little deer,” he said, and the Night-Gaunt’s nose flared, and its ears twitched and flattened. His voice was a storm of its own, and the Night-Gaunt shrieked back, breath flying in his jacket.

“Get along now!” he shouted, and the stars burned suddenly brighter like electric lights, and there was something in the beast then—fear or understanding, and a sudden convulsion. He thought for a moment it might throw him across the forest, but it let him down onto what was left of the Lurch Lake gate. Mud flew as a gigantic hoof lifted away from him, and another, and the Night-Gaunt stepped away towards Lurch Lake until it was just a shaking between the distant trees.

In the darkness of the forest beyond, he could see little eyes glowing—the frogs watched, and grimaced as their beast sought other prey. One had a crown of mud and bones, and Jonah’s eyes widened as it bounded thirty feet into darkness.

“I know you,” he said.

And then the world was noise and chaos, and Hector was shouting, and people rushed over to a blood-streaked Bern, and there was a hand caught in the wreckage of the gate, and there were so very many stars in the sky. Jonah could barely count them; they filled the world with white, and he fell off the wreckage of the rampart into a persistent darkness.

Interlude 2 - Bad Dream

I have known silences, dreamers. This may surprise you, for I am typically found in all places, watching countless lives and stories unfold, and otherwise I am talking with you. Nevertheless, there was silence in the Orchard, only the stellar wind moving in groves of stars. But not every quiet is the same, for that was full of joy and possibility.

It was silent too when the Garden of the End was broken, and I was half a universe away, could not reach him in time, could only watch. They wanted it that way, I think. I do not know what I could have done, were I there, but I know it would have been rash and violent.

There was silence when his heart was stilled beneath the arctic ice, although it was not an organ in the way you have them—it was a creation, a gift, a cherished token of all that he was.

There is silence now, for the Council of Heavens will not speak of it at all, will not look me in the eye. It is like they pretend that it never happened, Dreamer.

Like it was all a bad dream, washed away by the sun.

Like there is not someone missing, someone whose laugh will never again grace the fields of starlight.

I was supposed to be better about this. This story I am sharing is not about me. It is about these others whom you have come to recognize, and it is in some clandestine way about you.

We go now to one who appreciates the quiet.

Story 3 - El Cosmico

Olivier Song had never been anywhere quite so quiet, or devoid of the Weather. In every direction around them, a blinding desolation stretched out to the horizon. It was like photos of the lunar landscape, except with a pure blue sky instead of blackness, and the occasional dried shrub or bleached tree to break up the grey stone.

The air was dry in his lungs, and he pulled what traces of the wind he could gather in a lazy circle to keep cool.

Beyond, parked across the barren field, were dozens of old campervans in pinks and teals and tangerines, paint stripped by the sun and sand. A sign with painted letters read ‘El Cosmico’.

“Quite the sight, ain’t it?” Ray’s voice crackled as the automobile rolled up beside him. The RV-Lution was parked in the midst of the van graveyard, and Riot picked her way through their pastel skeletons, scouting for parts that were remotely compatible. It had been determined by group discussion that it was too hot to leave Nimbus in the RV, and so the cat wandered through the yard of its own accord, examining tufts of stray grass or finding shade beneath the metal shells.

“What is this place?” Olivier said, crossing his arms.

“Campsite of sorts,” Ray said. “Used to be. Home for outcasts and beatniks from across the country. Imagine if I was in one of those clunkers.”

“Would have been convenient for us,” Olivier said. “I don’t suppose taking out your radio and sticking it in a bigger vehicle would do the trick?”

“The nerve,” Ray said, and spun his tires in the dirt. “My chassis is my pride and joy.”

“Ray, be nice,” Moth called, amidst a pile of beams that might once have held up a canvas tent. Moth was building a little fire, and had once again been trusted with making the best of the group’s meager food supply.

“There are buildings out that way,” Diggory said, stalking from a patch of grass by the road, a shadow against the flat horizon. The revenant lifted an arm to a cluster of structures nearby.

“I’d expect so,” Ray said. “Bit of a cross between an art exhibit and a town.”

“Sounds interesting,” Olivier said. “Why’d they put art out here in the desert?”

“Haven’t the foggiest,” the automobile said, headlights flickering. “It’s like any roadside attraction. It’s a reward for the trip.”

“I guess,” Olivier said, looking out over the rest of the group. “Well, maybe I’ll go explore a little.”

“Dinner will be ready in half an hour,” Moth called. Riot seemed to nod at Moth absentmindedly, but then again, she seemed to have a lot on her mind, and had barely thrown an insult or snarky comment Olivier’s way today. They were bound for Vegas, and then for Box Andromeda, faster than any of them had expected.

Soon, Olivier thought. It all goes down, and I can finally make myself useful.

Olivier raised a hand, and closed his eyes, and was wrapped in the breeze. It was harder to collect the Weather in force, but not impossible, and he stepped into the sky and flew for the town beyond.

The desert was dotted with crumbling adobe buildings, faded billboards featuring vintage americana, and comically small storefronts worn by the years. The wind was refreshing against his face, a reprieve from the heat and the stale air of the RV.

It was going to be okay, Olivier thought. He’d help Riot get her mom back, and after that… she’d be thankful. And nobody would kick him out again.

Olivier wondered what Riot’s mom was like, and whether she would like him.

A sound broke the silence of the landscape, a rustling in the air and flapping of wings, and he found a black dot growing larger on the horizon, sailing over the derelict train tracks.

Not you, he thought, not now, and reached into the sky. The Weather was far away, scattered to kinder climates, but Olivier pulled it urgently across the miles.

The storm of wings was closer now, approaching rapidly. Olivier lifted a hand up towards it, and thought about the envy, and the games, and the cruel tricks, and a bolt of lightning left his fingers and arced through the air. It connected with the onslaught of ravens first, and with a nearby billboard; bulbs and rusted metal denoting ‘Motel Thunderbird’ exploded in a flurry of sparks as it collapsed.

Olivier fell from the sky, following the ugly birds to the ground, cloak flapping around his shoulders. His hands tingled from the energy, and his feet crunched in the gravel as he landed.

“What do you want?” he hissed.

The ravens lay on their backs, stretching their smoldering wings in shock. Some began to hop back up to their feet, looking up at Olivier with glistening eyes.

“We only came to talk,” the Omen crowed. Fire branched between their bodies like static electricity, righting them and restoring their iridescent feathers.

“You came to gloat,” Olivier said, and his fingers sparked with light, even as a surge of terrible hope seized his heart. “Unless the Director sent you to look for me?”

“She did not,” the Omen said, and the last of the ravens bent back into shape, and the birds began to hop towards each other, culminating in a singular black shape that began to rise from the dust. Feathers and wings and black talons formed a hint of a face. “We sought you of our own accord.”

“So to gloat, then,” Olivier said. “Well, you won. I’m gone. And they’ll never let me back in the library again. If it makes you happy, I’ve been through hell these last few months.”

“It does not make me happy,” said the person made of glistening eyes. The sun shone on their feathers in green and black and purple. “I am dismayed to hear this.”

“What?” Olivier said. The fallen sign let another volley of sparks loose.

“You were cast out of Downing Hill,” the ravens said. “Have you found this enjoyable?”

“If you’re being sarcastic right now, I can’t tell,” Olivier said.

“I thought the library would be better with you gone,” said the ravens, beaks clicking open across the Omen’s body as it took a step towards him. “But it was not. Downing Hill is worse in your absence. And I wonder… is it better outside, in the pines, in the pines?”

“There’s no pines here,” Olivier said, glancing around at the flat horizon, punctuated only by twisted fence and desert shrubs. “Are you thinking of leaving the library? Is that what this is about?”

The ravens made no reply, and simply stared.

“Downing Hill was my home,” Olivier said. “I grew up there. It was all I had. My classes and my things and my friends. But no matter what, I had someone there to tell me what to do, and whether I was doing it right. And I was good at those things. You know what it’s like, to feel important that way.”

The Omen nodded with a head of ravens, and Olivier relaxed a little, his attention shifting to the sky, where clouds had finally begun to gather.

“It’s not like that out here. No one tells you what to do. You have to figure it out for yourself. And I miss Downing Hill some days. But I’ve found other friends. And other things I can do. Things a test couldn’t have prepared me for. I’ve had to learn how to live all over again, Omen. And if you leave Downing Hill, it won’t be easy. But I guess it could be whatever you wanted it to be.”

“I do not know what I want to be,” the ravens said. “I was summoned for Downing Hill. For the Director. But she will not smile on us.”

“Even if she does,” Olivier said, “it won’t be forever. It’s not worth it.”

The ravens nodded, and thunder rumbled in the sky with Olivier’s thoughts, and the tears he found in his eyes were sprinkling from the clouds above. The Omen burst into an unkindness of ravens and took to the sky, rising into the storm, and Olivier watched until they had vanished entirely beyond the horizon.

Outro - Silences

Silences. We appreciate all too little these moments of peace we are given, and then the noise of life resumes, and they are gone.

Your silences, of course, might last for an hour, and mine a couple of thousand years, but nevertheless in the stillness there is a voice of significance—your own. Your thoughts and feelings, the uncomfortable truth of who you are sits within you, and is loud in the quiet.

Silence is coming, dreamers, following a brief flash of great calamity, and I do not know if all the noise in the universe will be enough to keep it at bay. Only time, I think, will tell, and if these little broadcasts of dream are not enough to end the silence their echoes will at least remember your stories.

Until the final silence begins, I am your loyal host, Nikignik, waiting quietly for your return to the Hallowoods.

The bonus story that goes with this episode is called 'No Garden', 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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