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HFTH - Episode 77 - Rebels

Content warnings for this episode include: Ableism, Violence, Death + Injury, Blood, Birds, Gun Mention, Torture (brief mention), Emotional Manipulation, Bugs, Worms, Body horror, as usual Al has no skin

Intro - Something Left

You hoped that the end of the world would bring a kind of catharsis. After all this war and hatred, the rallies and the revolutions, that all would be laid to necessary, if tragic, rest. And yet, there is still no sleep.

For others, perhaps, imprisoned within hundreds of great silver tombs, abstract mirrors that take a slice out of the horizon, a missing piece in the world wherever they stand. Rest for those who walked north under the spell of the first rains, or perished in the early devastation. But there is no rest for you.

It is not just because you refuse to die, or to sell your soul to the Botulus Corporation. It is because you still have hope, despite everything, that there is a future you can change. That the world is not worth giving up on, that if you fight hard enough there will be something left to care for. You do not fully understand the challenge you decree, but a thousand miles away, there is a forest that laughs at your destruction and sings Hello From The Hallowoods.


Right now, I’m sitting in a spruce tree. There are no ravens now. There is a crooked cottage in the distance, but unlike its former residents it could not escape the endless, rising lake, could not defy destiny and search for another future. The theme of tonight’s episode is Rebels.

Story 1 - Cleaning House

“She’s seen better days, but her bones are alright,” said Alice. She walked ahead of Nolan on long, uneven legs; although her coat covered much of her body, she walked on bare feet in the mud, and fireflies drifted behind her and lingered in her hair.

“Well?” Nolan said, stepping across the muddy yard after her. Old tire tracks were impressed across the surface, and every so often a plastic lawn flamingo peered from the overgrown brush, stained by rain and mud. “What’s the history?”

“It used to belong to one of Winona’s friends,” Alice said, stalking across the yard to examine the steps. Half of the house still clung to the shore, jutting out from the water at a slope. Beyond the first few rooms, it seemed to disappear into the lake bed, and the lake lapped at the dissolving siding. A screen door flapped idly in the breeze; the one behind it had a little painted sign that said ‘Duckworths’.

“It doesn’t look that inviting,” Nolan frowned. The flower boxes were overgrown with thorny pink flowers that blotted out the windows.

“Can you build a house for yourself with your hands, before winter?”

“Me? Build a house?” he said. “Probably not.”

“Then I expect you’ll have to make some compromises,” Alice said, leaning on the porch post with a wry smile on her withered face. “If you want a house with a garden, Nolan, you’re going to have to plant it yourself.”

Nolan stepped forward and approached the shore. A number of items had washed up onto the wet beach, and through the door he could see the water lapping at the floorboards of the hallway, papers and boxes drifting in the waves.

“There’s someone’s things here,” he remarked. Alice looked inside, and back in his general direction with a smile that almost made him forget he was invisible.

“I like when life brings you little treasures,” she said.

“Please tell me one of those little treasures isn’t a dead body,” Nolan said, and followed her up onto the porch, tested his weight against the doorframe, which creaked but held firm.

“No guarantees,” said Alice. “But if there are I’ll help you dispose of them.”

“Is that what you mean by compromises?” Nolan said, and stepped inside. The floor flexed a little beneath his feet, and staircases led to a loft upstairs and down into the water. He could see a shadow of a crowded living room, and a dark kitchen. Muddy boot-prints dotted the floor, and there was a hole punched through the wallpaper in the foyer. The water in the hallway carried photographs and knick knacks and toys for children.

“I thought a house half underwater would work well for you,” said Alice. “Given how you’ve described your amphibian lover.”

The thought had not quite occurred to Nolan, and he nodded. It was certainly a step up from the hole in the bank where he’d spent the first early days with Ricou. Here a bedroom was underwater, and the back porch opened into the lake below. It might feel homier for his partner, if he could fix it up, make it liveable somehow. Then again, that was mostly for his own benefit. Ricou liked to sleep at the bottom of lakes and grew moss in his fins, hygiene was low on his list of requirements.

“I’ll take it,” Nolan said.

Alice nodded, and shrugged. “I like homes like this. Crowded. Walls covered in pictures. Too many chairs and plants and collections. Everything in here probably has a story the old owners might have told. Now it’s just for us to wonder.”

“What do I owe you?” Nolan said. “Do you even technically own this place?”

“I want you to pose for a few portraits,” Alice said, and leaned a hand against the wall.

“Am I… I am invisible to you, right?” Nolan said.

“Oh of course,” Alice said. “That’s what would make you so interesting to paint.”

There was a creak, and her hand fell through the wallpaper. She pulled it back demurely, but there was a writhing shape that caught the light as it scurried deeper inside the wall.

“There’s also shleps,” she said. “Lakeworms. But that will be true for any waterside house these days. Just make a lot of noise and they’ll go away on their own.”

“Lakeworms. Of course… do you think this ‘friend of Winona’s’ will be back for any of her things?” Nolan said, peeking around at the dark living room; a sofa that was still dry, an old radio, a shelf of books falling out onto the floor, families of porcelain flamingos and dogs and elephants.

“If she does, I’m sure she’d be happy to see someone else finding joy in this place,” Alice said.

“I guess so,” Nolan said. “Whoever lived here must have been quite a character. Can you imagine moving all this up here? I know if I’m headed away from everyone in the far north, I’m packing my birdcall clock and my picture frames.”

“I think living is an act of defiance,” said Alice, and fireflies drifted up from the collar of her coat, lit up the ceiling with a pale green light. “Every day you tell the universe, I’m still here. Don’t forget me. I have so much I’m going to change.”

“Is that what it’s like for you?” Nolan said, picking up pieces of a broken plate from the kitchen floor, and gathering them on the table. There was a little superglue in a tube, and he rearranged the fragments idly, looking for the way they fit together. “I think life is loud. And I’m kind of scared of it.”

“What’s it going to do?” Alice said, and lifted a picture from the wall to examine it; the light in her eyes flickered on a smiling family behind cracked glass. “Kill you? It’s doing that already. And even dying isn’t as bad as it’s cracked up to be. If you’re going to be here, you might as well enjoy it. Break a few rules. Stand up to it. Life’s bark is worse than its bite.”

“Maybe so,” Nolan said, and began to press the shards of the plate together, glued them in place for a moment, and looked up to the keeper of fireflies. “I guess it’s time for me to start cleaning house.”

Interlude 1 - Ongoing Battles

Can you hear the battles being fought for your future, dreamer? In Botulus Corporation conference rooms for new methods to market you a lifetime of controlled sleep. In dark rooms underground where others still choose to resist them, and dream of the world they once had. In the north, where the frogs rise from the lakes and turn their newly crafted tools towards those that trespass on their shores, and in the forest itself, which recognizes you no longer as master.

In the old sky of the early age, when a master artist touched brush to paper and set the universe on fire, wrapped universes in its primordial thrall. And truth be told, dreamers, all these battles are still ongoing, and I cannot say on whose side victory will land. I do not need to. Most have already been lost, for this world slips into a tormented and brilliant madness.

But there is one more battle, and it is yours, and you wage it each morning. You choose to rise from your bed instead of dream and wait for the end, and you spend your days beneath a cold sun, and search for a little hope out here where the world can still hurt you. I think this is brave.

We go now to one who is not brave yet.

Story 2 - Doppelganger Values

Riot Maidstone sat at the dining table of the RV, and stared at her double. She was like a reflection that was all wrong, moving of its own accord, scowling when she should have smiled. The reflection made notes in a battered leather-bound journal.

“I don’t want to be a doppelganger,” Riot said. “Change it.”

“Tough break,” said her reflection, scribbling away. “That’s what you are.”

“It’s riddle-duck-tionist,” she said.

“I think ‘reductive’ is the word you’re looking for,” said Olivier, holding their burned arm. Lady Ethel had said nothing about a blue-haired witch whose pronouns changed as fast as the weather they apparently controlled.

“Reductive how?” said her reflection, and rolled her eyes.

“Because it means I’m just like, a copy of you,” said Riot. “And I’m not. I’m me.”

“That’s why you’re Other Riot,” her reflection said, and went back to drawing. “Be thankful I’m even letting you use the name.”

“Riot, Other Riot, please be pleasant,” said the one with the full-body stitches and arm tattoos. “You’ll upset Danielle.”

“Dude, I’m immobile, not a baby,” said Danielle, propped up in the front passenger seat. “And I’m enjoying the drama.”

“I’m not,” said Riot’s mother, glancing at her from the rearview mirror as she drove. The RV sailed across a landscape of brown shrubs and distant mountains; she could make out slivers of a deep blue lake on the horizon. “One daughter is enough to get on my nerves while I’m driving, let alone two of you.”

Riot sighed, and crossed her arms. ‘Two of you’. That was exactly what made her uncomfortable. Two of who?

Her reflection stuck out her tongue, and Riot tried to stomp on the other’s boot in return, which prompted a long breath, eyes closed, before the reflection continued to write.

“Are you deadly? And if so, on sight, within minutes, or if provoked?” her reflection said, consulting a sheet of paper at the back of the journal.

“On sight,” Riot said. “What are we doing again? Is this like a day planner?”

“It’s an Almanac,” her reflection growled. Touchy. “And it’s the main reason you’re alive right now. Can you be reasoned with? And if so, what do you value?”

“Do I have to do this stupid interview?” Riot sighed. Even the reporters and press secretaries at Botco had not been so infuriating.

“Look. This is Democracy,” her reflection said, and opened the book, slid it across the table. A skeleton illustrated in charcoal scratches simmered beneath flowers, and stared with eyes like little fires. Swift black handwriting filled a series of labels and descriptions around it.

“And here,” the reflection pointed, “you can see that he CAN be reasoned with. He values coffee. And that way he’ll wake up and tell you about his dreams.”

“Did you make this up?” Riot said, looking over the page.

“The skeleton?” said her reflection. “No, he’s real. And his dreams come true. He told my friend once that… well. They come true. My friend Walt wrote this book. Most of it. I don’t have a picture of him in there yet. I haven’t been able to get him quite right.”

“I could try,” Olivier said, speaking up. “If you like.”

Her reflection froze for a moment, contemplating, and Olivier watched her with a stupid wide-eyed expression. I may not have as much history as you, Riot thought, but I sure don’t have as many weaknesses either.

“Sure,” her reflection said. “You do faces better than I do. Anyways. Other Riot, can you be reasoned with?”

“Sure,” Riot muttered, and laid back in her seat. “Whatever. I can’t believe you’re trying to psych eval me for your imaginary monster book.”

“What do you value?” said her reflection, leaning forward with her elbows on the table, staring at her with familiar eyes.

“I…” Riot paused for a moment, and looked out the window, watched as the silent plains flashed by. It was a question she hadn’t thought often enough about, and somehow it made her feel hollower than any of the many barbs her reflection had thrown at her.

“I value my mom,” she said, and caught Valerie’s eye in the mirror. “And Ralph.”

Her reflection’s writing had stopped.

“Mom told you about Ralph?”

“Not exactly,” said Riot. “I met him. We talked.”

The way her reflection stared at her now was surprising—a sort of wide-eyed, blank stupor. Not so sharp now, huh?

“You’ve met dad?” her reflection said, and held the pencil in shaking hands. “He was just… there? In the dreaming box? What’s he like?”

“You haven’t met him, have you?” Riot said. It came flooding back to her now. Of course she hadn’t. Well. That’s something I have, then.

“I’ve seen pictures,” her reflection said, and held her arms close to her chest.

“Well, he’s nice. Maybe too nice. He kept trying to message me and it was like, relax, I only just met you,” Riot said.

“Right,” her reflection said, and looked as if she was going to cry. “What did he say? What did you guys talk about?”

“Basically just about my time at Box Andromeda,” Riot said. “And what it was like to live in a Dreaming Box. And how he like, met my mom and stuff. And get this, he got the flu or something, so he was like, I’ve got to meet Riot while I can, so that’s why he let the Reunion Organizers know where to find the bunker.”

There were two pairs of eyes staring at her now, and Riot remembered a little too late that her dad had asked her to keep some secrets.

“He what?” her reflection said, and the pencil in her hand snapped in half.

“He what?” Valerie roared from the front, and brought the RV to a screeching halt.

Marketing - Truth is Truth

Lady Ethel:

Hello dreamers, and welcome back to ‘Old Friends’, a Botco production. I’m Lady Ethel Mallory, and we have a very special guest tonight for an exclusive interview. Thanks to our ‘CheckMeOut’ initiative, the Botulus Corporation has systematically apprehended Stonemaid activists. Today we bring you one of the ringleaders of this movement, Dashiell Spade. Dashiell—can I call you Dash?—welcome to the show.

Dashiell Spade:

What’s the point of this? What are you playing at?

Lady Ethel:

Someone woke up on the wrong side of the bed this morning! Metaphorically, of course. Don’t worry, our Happy Dreaming Family, Dashiell here is safely contained in a top-secret rehabilitation facility…

Dashiell Spade:

Where you’ve been torturing me for the last two weeks.

Lady Ethel:

Our reconditioning programs must be very painful to you, I’m sure. It’s not easy to de-radicalize someone at the forefront of a violent movement.

Dashiell Spade:

We were never violent. That’s not part of…

Lady Ethel:

Tell that to the dreamers at Box Aries.

Dashiell Spade:

Stonemaid leadership had nothing to do with what happened at Box Aries. Our protests have been purely non-violent…

Lady Ethel:

Or the rampant destruction we’ve seen across the Prime Dream? Your movement has done irreparable damage to the dreamscapes experienced by millions.

Dashiell Spade:

None of this is real. You have to know that, deep down. Everything we think we have here is imaginary. Dreamed up. If we change a monument to send a message, it doesn’t hurt anyone.

Lady Ethel:

What is it that makes you think people want to read your messages? Why deface their memories, Dash?

Dashiell Spade:

Is the point of this to punish me? Try and make us look bad on your broadcast? It won’t work. There are hundreds of people out there. Thousands. Who think like us. You can’t lock away the truth.

Lady Ethel:

The point of this segment is to hear from the other side! So that we can all help each other understand. The truth looks different depending on your perspective.

Dashiell Spade:

Truth is truth. Not that you’d know much about that.

Lady Ethel:

And what is the truth, for the Stonemaid organization?

Dashiell Spade:

The truth is you’d cut this broadcast off in a second if I disagreed with you.

Lady Ethel:

That wouldn’t be in the interest of a good-faith discussion, Mister Spade, and good faith is all we have at Botco.

Dashiell Spade:

The truth is you lied to us. All of us.

Lady Ethel:

Let’s try to avoid hyperbole. Could you be more specific?

Dashiell Spade:

When we joined the Prime Dream, we came for different reasons. Economic crisis. To be with our families. Healthcare. Just to get out of the rain. But it was with the understanding that we would be allowed to opt out, when we wanted. To go back out and live again.

Lady Ethel:

The terms of service in your agreement—the one you signed when you first became a part of our Happy Dreaming Family?—were very clear on that complicated issue. You can’t blame us when you didn’t read the fine print.

Dashiell Spade:

It shouldn’t have been fine print. That you wouldn’t let us leave was buried a hundred and twenty pages in so that no one would know it until it was too late.

Lady Ethel:

Do you feel it’s too late for you, Dash? I don’t. Even after everything. I think we have to unite. To move forward together, so that we can build a happier future.

Dashiell Spade:

I don’t want to move forward with you. I want to leave.

Lady Ethel:

Leave how, Mister Spade? Step out of your local Dreaming Box? Do you see yourself being able to walk? To disconnect safely from the Prime Dream without the supervision of our health officers? To go out there to a wasted world and try to find food, find shelter, find water that isn’t poison?

Dashiell Spade:

That’s for me to find out. But it’s my choice. Because I’m alive. I get to make that choice.

Lady Ethel:

We have a responsibility to protect our customers. To protect you, Dash, from bad choices, as outlined by our agreement. I believe you deserve a chance at a good life...

Dashiell Spade:

So let me go. Let all of us go.

Lady Ethel:

…and you would die out there instantly.

Dashiell Spade:

I’d prefer it to this.

Lady Ethel:

You heard it here, Happy Dreaming Family. The uplifting message of the Stonemaid movement. Any closing thoughts, Dash?

Dashiell Spade:

Yeah, sure. You said that Valerie and Riot Maidstone had a ‘health issue’ and are offline again.

Lady Ethel:

It’s what I was told! I’m still in shock.

Dashiell Spade:

Yeah. No. They’ve escaped. They’re out. You don’t have them anymore.

Lady Ethel:

That’s ridiculous. And not at all funny; I am very invested in Valerie’s health.

Dashiell Spade:

Stonemaids, if you can hear this… Valerie is free. Riot is free. And we can be free too.

*static as he gets cut off*

Lady Ethel:

That was Dashiell Spade, of the Stonemaids, with some wild theories. Can you believe this is what the Stonemaids consider credible leadership? I expect Valerie Maidstone will be back on her feet in no time.

Unless… well.

If they don’t reappear soon, I will have to wonder. In some ways, we do rely so much on word from upper management. That’s the way the Stonemaid agenda works, dear Happy Dreaming Family. They plant little seeds of doubt. But for now, let’s assume the best. In our next segment, designer Kiki Flowers unveils her new summer collection…

Story 2, Continued - Doppelganger Values

I refuse to believe that any content Lady Ethel Mallory shares is anything but malevolent, and even the spontaneous reactions are to some degree calculated. I’m sorry dreamer. I don’t mean to ruin the illusion. Know that the nightmares you experience now are a pleasanter sort than the kind she returns Dashiell Spade to.

We return now to the Other Riot Maidstone.

“I thought it was me,” Riot’s reflection said, and Valerie turned around in her chair. “I left the bunker. Clara was in danger. I had a stupid argument with mom and I left. I gave us away.”

“Are you kidding me?” Valerie said. “For real? Ralph ratted us out?”

Riot turned pale; she felt she’d just open a can, although what kind of worms curled within, she was not sure.

“That’s what Ralph said,” she said. “But I mean, it was obvious. Reunion Organizers are for the Recommend a Friend program. Someone had to tip them off. Have neither of you read about Botco’s current outreach programs?”

“So it wasn’t my fault,” her reflection said, clutching her head in her hands as she began to cry.

“Aw. Honey,” her mom said, and climbed into the back, put her arms around Riot’s sobbing reflection. Will I ever get a hug from her again, Riot wondered?

“I wouldn’t go that far,” Riot shrugged. “Probably an RV driving away helped them find the right place. I wouldn’t have been that stupid.”

Her reflection looked up at her, and scrubbed away tears from a venomous glare. Valerie shot them both a concerned glance.

“If you were anything like me,” her reflection said. “You’d know exactly why I had to go. If I didn’t then Clara would probably be dead, and I would never have met Walt or killed the Instrumentalist, but you don’t know who any of those people are, do you? Because you’re some stranger with my face.

Don’t you dare pretend you even know my mom. You didn’t grow up in the same ten rooms as her. You didn’t fight about radio privileges. You didn’t eat the same frozen meals five hundred times. When you care about something it hurts. And you’ve never been hurt in your lab-grown life.”

“Riot,” Olivier said quietly, and put a hand on her reflection’s shoulder. Riot could feel tears too, hot and furious on her face.

“I don’t care?” Riot said. “They were looking for you. The Reunion Organizers. And there’s Contact Terminals everywhere you go. You could have come with mom when they picked her up. You could have been there this whole time. But you didn’t care and you left her alone. And if you had just grown up and gone with her, then they wouldn’t have had to make me.”

“I suspect this is not a conversation that is open to opinions…” the one with the stitches began.

“Not now, Diggory,” her reflection said, still glaring at Riot.

“Ev… Diggory,” Valerie sighed. She was crying as well, but offered no comfort. “What is it?”

The deathly goth looked to each of the Riots in turn, and nodded. “I did not know what I wanted, when I first woke and went walking. I did not fully know until I met Percy, and even then, I am still discovering this. Perhaps it is alright if the Other Riot is still finding this out for herself?”

“Not when everything she’s finding already belongs to me,” Riot’s reflection said, and stood up, and slammed her hands on the table. “Not when she’s taking what’s mine.”

“Ralph told them where to find me,” Valerie muttered to herself, sitting down against the back of the passenger seat, staring at somewhere faraway. “That pig-faced, corn-scented slimeball told them where to find me!”

“Well, what can you expect from a guy who meets his long-lost daughter at a greasy spoon diner,” Danielle chimed from the front.

“How do you know that?” Riot said, looking up. “Wait, were you that waitress who spilled the coffee? ‘You’re not the real Riot?’”

“Well you’re not,” Danielle said.

“Danielle, how much did you know about the Riot thing?” Valerie said. “You couldn’t have told me sooner?”

Riot felt a pang through her chest. Did her mom regret the few peaceful weeks they’d gotten together? Those had been good, right? They were the best weeks of her life.

“I don’t want to interrupt,” Olivier said from the back corner of the RV bench. “But aren’t we trying to outrun Botco right now? Can someone keep driving?”

“I’m too tired,” Valerie said, looking withered all of a sudden. “I need to think about all of this.”

“I’ll drive,” Riot’s reflection mumbled, and climbed angrily into the front; the RV shook as the engine roared back into life. Riot wanted to say something comforting to her mom, tell her that she mattered, that she loved her, that she wished they could have spent more time in those clean white rooms where no one really bothered them. But Valerie turned away, and climbed into the loft bed, and hid away from the world.

Riot sighed, and curled up on her corner of the back bench, and stared out the window as the landscape began to roll away from her again, and she shivered.

“Here,” a voice said; Olivier, passing her a blanket. “Take this.”

“Thank you,” Riot said quietly, and wrapped it around her shoulders, curled against the wall where no one could see her cry.

“It’ll be okay,” Olivier whispered quietly, and glanced up from a sketchbook page. They were drawing someone’s wrinkled face; tired eyes with a sparkle of wry humor. “I know it’s a lot. It was a lot for me too, when I left home. It’ll be okay.”

Riot nodded, partly to the blue-haired witch, but mostly to herself. She watched Olivier’s steady hand as they completed the portrait, despite the rocking of the RV, almost meditative in its movements. Riot rubbed at her shoulder, where she could just feel the little chip beneath her skin, her only comfort. It was definitely going to be okay.

Interlude 2 - More Conservative

As you grow older, you become more conservative. For instance, in my younger years, I considered dabbling in omniscience. Now, the thought horrifies me. Can you imagine the burden? The infinite burden of knowing everything? Past and present and future, questions that have never been asked and answers that no one sought? The sheer weight would crush any sentient creature.

Even Zelkryzelk, the Omniscient, doesn’t keep that information in his head, but rather stores it all in the endless Grand Archives just for some fleeting semblance of sanity, and you can barely call that method a success. I don’t want the Nameless One crawling around in my labyrinth of a brain for eternity. No thank you. I have seen what omniscience can do, and I seek it no longer.

I will settle for my mere omnipresence, dreamer, and be happily everywhere at once, for that everywhere includes being with you. Call me an old relic, if you must, but at least I can still enjoy the linear movement of time. We go now to one who also has many eyes.

Story 3 - Bottlecap Soul

The Omen preferred long flights. There was something relaxing about the feeling of air beneath your wings, miles flying beneath you, deserts and mountains and forests turning like a globe under your claw feet. Windrustle was a creature comfort.

Not at all relaxing, however, was the scene to which the Omen returned. Many miles it had taken to cross the continent, to return from the dead sand barrens in which Olivier Song travelled. The Omen had been given tasks, after all, which must be completed before they returned home.

And what would happen when they did return to Downing Hill, they wondered? Would they call it home still? Nestle in their nest as if they had learned nothing? Did they have to return at all?

I wonder, thought the Omen, as the trees beneath them turned from vibrant green to black. What would happen if I flew away? Could she summon me still? Could she dismiss me into embers? The Omen shuddered to think of it, shivers down a hundred oily feathers. Later. For now, there was a job to do, and they were behind. Three jobs, three assignments, and best to start with the last. A boy made of light who dwelt in darkness.

The Omen circled like a hurricane of kites over the place they had last seen the bone-carver’s child—except last time they had visited, the little fort had possessed a back wall, and not been on fire, and there had been no gunfire in the air. There certainly had been no great fighter-birds hissing in the courtyard, screaming defiance and curses, and going to peck at big meaty giants. Tale of woe, tale of woe, all the lesser for it.

The Omen blinked in panic, and descended quickly, falling through the clouds of black smoke. Keep an eye on the child, the Director had said. Likely for later acquisition. How displeased she would be if the child was no more, had come to harm because the Omen had snuck away to talk to the weather witch. They dived faster through the whirlwind of flame, and began their search. Sound erupted in all directions around them, blood spilled and weapons flashing light. This is a bad place to be a child, thought the Omen.

And yet, the child was shiny like a bottle cap, and glinted from a room high up in the wall. The Omen spiralled away from the smoke, and flew through a little window one bird at a time. They piled into the darkness, collecting in a single formshape, and stood in the shadow. Two boys sat in the back corner of the room, behind a pile of box radios and other electric buzzmachines.

“Hello,” said the Omen. “I am the Omen.”

“I’m Russell McGowan,” one of the boys said, little wet eyes in the darkness. “Are you going to kill me?”

“I am not talking to you,” the Omen said. “I speak to the spirit.”

“Me?” a voice said, and the ghostlight boy was a little brighter. His skinfleshdrum was tucked in Russell’s arms. His body was like the moon: glowing white and skinless.

“Yes,” said the Omen. “Do you have a name, what’s in a name?”

“My name is Al,” said Al. “Are you a person? Or a bird? Or a lot of birds?”

“Yes,” said the Omen. “I have come to speak to you about education.”

The room was rattled, then, by an impact that shook the walls. Sawdust drifted down from the ceiling.

“I don’t know if you know this,” whispered Russell. “But we’re kind of under attack right now.”

“I am not speaking to you, boy with skin,” the Omen croaked, and lit up with fire. Its furnace heart beat beneath its feathers, lit up the room with a little light. “You are not relevant to my task.”

“What are you here for?” said Al. “Can you help me? My new grandma is out there and I’m worried about her.”

“Education is very important,” said the Omen. “And you are important, to the Director. If you were just a drum, we would take it and put it in our collection. But because you are a boy, we must approach differently. The right axe for the right tree, the right tool for the job.”

“I don’t know what you’re trying to say,” said Al. “I wish I could pet you. But I go to school right here at the Scoutpost. And I have my friend Russell. And my grandma Zelda.”

There was an impact on the door, then, and the lock splintered into metal pieces that skittered across the floor. A man looked up; he wore a camouflage pattern hat, and carried a rifle in his hands. He glanced across the darkness, and laid eyes upon the omen, and stared in shock for a moment.

“We are busy,” said the Omen, turning to him.

He said nothing, but raised his gun with trembling hands, and pointed it at the Omen from the doorway.

The Omen reached up one many-taloned hand, and drew their fist shut, and spoke a dark obscenity. The man’s body seized first, as though his skin was drying out into shriveled paper, and fire burst from his eyes and mouth as he crumbled inwards, and eventually collapsed into black coals and dust.

The Omen turned their attention back to the boys in the corner, who stared in shock. Russell wept, and Al stared with wide eyes, skeletal jaw hanging open

“Have you ever considered,” said the Omen, “becoming a student at the Downing Hill Public Library?”

Outro - Rebels

Rebels. When you wake from this nightmare of mine, dreamer, you will rub your eyes and wonder for a moment at the fleeting images in your mind. Black pines. Green stars. Strange names. You dream about these things much of late, but you cannot yet remember the specifics when they are past you. Not yet. That is the way of dreams. That is why I will keep speaking each night, until you remember me in the morning.

When you wake, you will be faced with a choice. To return to sleep, and close your eyes to the sunlight. To leave the world to spin on its own, to wait for the end. I understand, dreamer, and I understand well. You are tired.

But I hope you will rise. I hope you will rise into the morning and scream to a slumbering world that you are alive. I hope you will knock this planet off its course and send it spinning into hope and light and redemption. Some will complain for your noise, dreamer, but their children will thank you.

Until you wake, I am your loyal host Nikignik, waiting rebelliously for your return to the Hallowoods.

The bonus story that goes with this episode is called 'Green Light', 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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