Content warnings for this episode include: Abuse, Ableism, Animal death (Dogsmell as usual, at least one three-eyed deer, an unspecified bug, and an indeterminate number of ravens), Violence, Kidnapping and abduction, Death + Injury, Dismemberment, Character Death, Blood, Mental illness, Birds, Strangulation/suffocation, Emotional Manipulation, Bugs (moths), Body horror, Alcohol Use, Smoking, Automobile accidents, Misogyny / Transphobia / Misgendering by a loud personal relative
Intro - One More Failure
You have always been a failure, you feel, whether others can see it or not. That’s the secret. Success is just failure waiting to happen. Every nervous little day spent under the big man’s thumb, handing in your papers like a good little ant, spinning around and around like the cog you were made to be. If only you could have kept it up for long.
But you slipped up, here and there, and that was when you saw their teeth. They were waiting for the day, and you quietly decided to make sure that day would never come. So you plotted, and pocketed, and prepared to run out into a vast universe. But there is the failure again, clinging to you like cigarette smoke, and they seized you, dashed you against the stones. We cast you out, they said; do not return, or we will not be so merciful.
And yet, even here in the darkness, people need your help, and you hope that this will not all end the way it began, hope that failure will grant you one reprieve. You stomp together towards destiny, and the hydraulics hiss Hello From The Hallowoods.
Right now, I sit in the remains of a chapel. Its stones have not weathered the ages well; it sits in a sea of garbage and detritus, the silent remains of mighty New York City. No crucifix hangs above the altar, but instead a bleeding devil, wishing for all the world that he had been a better friend. The theme of tonight’s episode is Failures.
Story 1 - As Though They Were Free
‘Hang in there’. ‘Rise and grind’. ‘Teamwork makes the soulfire engines more efficient’. Polly thought of the posters that dotted the walls of the Industry earthly affairs office complex, but found none of their messages motivating in the moment.
The rusted hook that ran through his back and shoulder was the most obvious issue, kept him suspended ten feet in the air—his connective tissue flickered around it, a little weaker with each iota of fire that bled out. His physical form was largely built to be self-sustaining, but that was without injury, without having your hand crushed off.
Polly tried to lift his mangled arm and could not; he wished the pain was something you could switch off. That would defeat the point of incarnation, he supposed. Where his skin had been broken, the black fabric of his body was alight with crawling embers, attempting to repair the damage. Failing, ever so slowly.
“Shouldn’t have dealt with Barb,” he whispered. “Shouldn’t have gone behind everyone’s backs. You’re an idiot, is what you are. Why do you keep on lying to people? The more you run, the more things catch up with you. And who’s broken now.”
There was a flurry of wings from somewhere outside; seagulls often scuttled in through the shattered windows to terrorize him. But this, he realized with a note of shock, was no gull. Neither was it a raven, or two or three.
It was something that had long since ceased to be many ravens. Something of the same fire as himself, if lesser in magnitude. Of course they would find him in this wretched time.
“Have you come to laugh?” Polly whispered through cracked lips.
“I am not amused,” whispered the ravens that lined the warped pews, scratched at the wood with their little black claws. “You seem ill.”
“How rude,” Polly said, and closed the one eye that still opened. “Well. You’ve come to peck out my eyes then. Fitting, really. You might as well have them before the competition arrives.”
There was nuance, of course—when this physical body was destroyed, and his true form returned to the industry, that was when the real torture would begin. You did not return from exile, and they were clear on the message to anyone who did.
“Your eyes are nice colors,” said the ravens. “The same colors as I am. I do not wish to eat them.”
“Well then,” said Polly, and he let his head fall back down, stared drearily at the ocean water lapping down the church aisle. “To what do I owe the pleasure of your visit?”
“You have something I require,” said the birds; a single raven came hopping up to the altar, stood on it and stared up at him with soulless little eyes. “Perhaps two things.”
“If it’s demon blood, or agony, you’re in luck,” said Polly. “And we’ve got self-importance and stupidity half off. Bit of a closing sale.”
“The first is a book,” whispered the raven. “Powerful book. Many secrets.”
“You’re still after my manual?” Polly sighed, and spat out the blood that pooled in his mouth. “Good luck finding it. It’s probably out in the ocean somewhere, along with my jacket and all my other things.”
“So it is lost,” said the Omen, twitching as it stared at him. The light across the altar was a fractured rainbow, cast by the broken stained glass windows. “I also seek advice.”
“Sure,” said Polly. “Don’t quit your day job to pursue your dreams. This is how that turns out.”
The Omen shuddered, a quiver that ran through each of the assembled unkindness.
“Not this,” said the bird on the altar. “I must find an invisible man. He is cloaked to my sight, and to yours. How would you go about this?”
“I’m sorry, I’m a little preoccupied with my imminent demise,” said Polly. “You couldn’t think of anyone else to pester?”
The bird stared back, unblinking.
“If you’re going to find someone you can’t see, or one that’s very fast,” Polly muttered, and tilted his head to look at the sunbeams streaming through the chapel roof, “you can’t use your eyes. You have to use your ears. Even an invisible person makes a sound. Have people that care about them. Leave traces behind. When you’re hunting down ghosts you look for what they’ve done to the landscape. I’m sure it’s similar.”
“I appreciate this insight,” said the Omen. “Downing Hill is in your debt. What may I assist you with?”
Polly grunted, wheezed out blood again. There was the obvious, of course—let me off this chain. But Rick would be somewhere close, close enough to watch, and Polly had run out of friends. Yaretzi was likely dead, and Mort lost in the wilderness, or crying on the shoreline still. And it was best that Mort stayed away. Rick was a ticking bomb.
“I’d like you to deliver a message,” Polly said. “If it’s no trouble.”
“I am beginning to feel like a pigeon,” said the Omen, and the raven on the altar shook its little feathered head. “What is the message? And to whom?”
“Somewhere out there is a highly visible heap of metal named Mort,” said Polly. “Red deep-sea diving apparatus. You can’t miss him. And you should tell him that I love him. And that he’s got to grow up now, very fast, and I’m sorry about that. And that I wish I’d been a better f…”
There was a boom as the front doors of the chapel flew open, and the ravens scattered immediately, escaped through every broken window. Polly squinted in the sunlight; could make out a bulky shape with one massive arm…
“Gettin’ comfortable with the birds, devil-man?” called Rick Rounds, boots stomping through the shallow water as he approached.
“What can I say?” Polly said. “They have a sixth sense for the dying.”
Rick stopped, mismatched light glowing in his eyes, his hand of thorny vines writhing of its own accord. He smiled, a strained, pearly grin.
“That they do, devil-man. That they do.”
Rick reached out, and his arm of thorns extended to trip a makeshift lever, and Polly reeled down to the ground, bounced off the altar into the water with a sickening thud. The hook still impaled him through the shoulder, and he felt a yank as the chain was pulled taut. Polly rose to his feet unsteadily, stumbled towards Rick.
“Seems you’ve been rather obsessed with me,” Polly said, and bared his teeth. “Whatever will you do when I’m all gone?”
“Don’t you worry about that,” Rick said, and turned for the door. “You and I are gonna go for a little walk.”
Polly supposed his feet shuffled forward, and his brain kept him upright, but as he walked out into the blinding sun he was somewhere else entirely. A little breakfast booth at the Resting Place Hotel, where Mort and Yaretzi sat beside him, laughing and enjoying breakfast, and acting for all the world as though they were free.
Interlude 1 - Triumph Or Loss?
Is your world a loss or a triumph? I cannot tell.
Loss that began with me, a while before you entered the picture. Loss because you held all this, for a moment, and let it slip from your hands. Loss because the end of your age is nigh, and all the beautiful hopes for the future are laid to rest, clutched in your cold fingers.
Triumph, though, because this darkness that lingers in your plants and food and earth and rain and blood was cast by someone I used to love. Triumph because it works, just as he hoped it would, and it hastens your age to an end. Triumph because in all of it lives a little of him, even if only through his art, and I thought I would never even see that much again.
I have no answer for this, dreamer. I suspect there is none. We are handed victories and defeats in life, hand in hand, and we carry them both at once. We go now to one who refuses to admit defeat.
Story 2 - Bones For The Forest
Clara’s vision was not completely impaired without her glasses, and on a bright day she could make out shapes well enough that nobody might ever notice. But she kept them close for reading, which was a constant occurrence, and for situations like being lost in a tangled forest in the middle of a cloudy night. Unfortunately, it was the latter, and she did not have her glasses. So she followed the screaming instead.
There were multiple sources that she could make out—an unearthly wail that she thought could be Harrow, and somewhere beyond, bursts of shrieking that echoed over the treetops with a volume that only Arnold could produce. And then there were the ferocious, almost human cries of the three-eyed deer that thrashed through the trees, and maybe that distant howl was Victoria, running fast and far away into the pines.
Clara pushed through a bough of piercing needles, and tripped, ripped through the knees of her pant legs as she stumbled. Where was Riot with an RV when you needed her? She hoped, in that moment, that Riot was okay, sleeping like a stone in a warm Scoutpost bed, a hundred miles away.
But I, Clara thought, am done running.
“Dogsmell!” she whistled. “Here girls!”
She waited a long moment, crawling to her feet, and then there was a point of light in the deathly forest, her ghost of a dog bounding through the pines, snapping and leaping at the huge slope of one of the flesh-eating deer.
“Dogsmell, heel!” she called again, and followed after the dog, the only clear thing in her vision. The ghosts were always as sharp as crystal. After a last thunderous yap, the hound came fleeing towards her, circled around her legs, tried to lick her knee with its intangible tongue.
“Good girl,” she whispered. “Can you find Harrow? Take me to Harrow, okay?”
The hound looked up at her with eyes that seeped like ink on wet paper, and then loped into the trees, paws barely brushing the ground. She tailed it as quickly as she could, and branches whipped past her in the shadow, tore at her clothes and hair as she passed. The sounds grew louder, and she reached an open space—one she almost recognized. She had sat with Friday here a few nights ago, and although she could not see it, she knew there was a steep drop into a ravine below, and wetland that soaked the forest beyond it.
And there, running dangerously close to the edge with a ravenous deer thrashing behind them, was Harrow. The animal was as large as a car in the shreds of moonlight, and as dark as the night sky.
“Dogsmell, sic ‘em,” Clara said, and her hound rushed forward, crackling like lightning, and collided with the deer. There was a snap of pharyngeal jaws and cracking antlers, and the deer disappeared entirely, fell down past the edge of the cliff into darkness.
Harrow fell to their knees, sobbing quietly, and Clara ran over, scraped her knees again as she slid beside them.
“Harrow,” she said. “Are you okay? You’re bleeding…”
“I don’t think it’s mine,” Harrow whispered, and the trembling student looked up to her with pitch-black eyes. “She’s watching. The moon is watching. She’s all worms inside.”
“What?” Clara said. “Okay. Harrow, do you know where Friday is? Or Arnold?”
Harrow nodded limply, and lifted a hand towards the cliff edge.
“Oh god,” Clara said. “Just stay here, okay? Dogsmell, stay. Stay with Harrow.”
The ghostly hound trotted back over, and sat next to them. She was not sure that Harrow could even see the dog, but it made her feel better regardless.
“Harrow, tell me you’ll stay put?” she said. Harrow seemed distant, and toppled over onto their side, lay quite still in the underbrush.
“Be dead,” they whispered. “Hope she believes it. Hope she stops staring.”
“Close enough,” Clara sighed, and pulled herself to her feet, and stepped carefully towards the cliffs—any step could be a forty-foot drop.
“Friday?” she called, and stepped out further, and thought she could see something shining below in the trace moonlight, and then with a crumble of loose stone she was falling.
There was a bounce, a stunning impact that took the wind out of her lungs, but somehow cushioned her landing. She lay on a net, but of stringy black fibers. It did not strike her fully that it was a web until she saw a little shape scuttle over her arm and past her head—Edgar’s little eyes, white lights in black orbs, and the methodical crawl of his hairy legs. The spider was bigger now, the size of a human skull.
“I’m sorry, Clara,” a voice whispered, and Clara looked up from where she was suspended. Her head had stopped ringing, and somewhere closer, Arnold was still screaming. But above her, perched in a nook in the rock of the cliff wall, was Friday.
“Friday,” Clara said, and tried to sit up, but could not peel herself away easily from Edgar’s web. “I was worried about you.”
“It’s my fault,” Friday whispered, although Clara could barely see more than a blurry face peering down. She sounded as though she had been crying. “It’s all my fault.”
“It is not,” Clara said. Arnold’s cries were becoming more urgent. “Come on. Cut me free, and we’ll get the others back together. Victoria is out there somewhere. She’s…”
“I know what she is,” said Friday. “And what I am. I’m the worse of the two, you know. She might hurt people. But I always will.”
Friday opened her hands, revealed a fractured object glinting in her palms. Clara could not make it out clearly, but she knew what it was—the void knife, the stone that ate magic and bad luck, splintered in a dozen fragments.
“Don’t go,” Clara said. “Nothing bad is going to happen. It’s not your fault. And I can’t lose you.”
“If I stay, you’re going to die,” Friday whispered. The yelling was loud now, and Clara looked up to the near distance, where Arnold was splashing out of the water between the trees.
“Hey guys!” Arnold called, and waved. “I knew I’d find you!”
“Arnold, look out!” Clara screamed, but it was already too late.
Some small part of her was glad that she did not have her glasses, then—could only see a huge black shape, twisted antlers in the shadow, come peeling out of the marsh behind him. The deer twisted its head, and with a sudden impact, impaled Arnold in a dozen places. His last word was cut short with a shocked gasp, and then he was flung up into the air, landed face-down in the mud and tangled roots, and the deer was on him in full, and his screams died in the water.
Marketing - Activism Guide
With all of this Stonemaids business in such hot debate, we must all ask ourselves—what is the best way to react in this complicated time? We are all the same! We want to create a just society, and we all have lives within that society. If you are emboldened by recent events, and think you want to help effect meaningful change, here is an official guide from Botco.
It’s okay to not be okay. These are unprecedented times. Not every problem in the world has to be your problem. Sometimes you need to do what is best for you. Feel your emotions. Express them in whichever medium you feel you are most gifted in.
Raise your voices, by updating your status and messaging in support of the movement. We promise, you are being heard. And of course it makes a difference. The next time we are deciding policy, we will consider all those things you wrote and posted to your relatives. Do you feel the anger bleeding out of your system now? Good. That’s enough activism for one day’s work. Wow. It’s stressful to build a brighter future, isn’t it?
Now that these strong emotions have passed, it’s time to face the truth. If you want change, the only way to get it is properly. You must let the system run its course, and you can make the biggest difference by continuing to live your life.
Participate in polls. Write lengthy opinion pieces. Stick it to those people in charge. It’s a horrible tragedy, and a real shame, of course it is! But you can’t expect violence to solve your problems. They can’t take you seriously unless you are calm and composed and polite.
So please, continue to abide by the Botulus Corporation’s code of conduct in the Prime Dream as you carry out your self-expression. This has been an activism guide from the Botulus Corporation.
Story 2, Continued - Bones For The Forest
What to do, what to do, when the powerful inflict injustice? Once I would have said, play by the rules. Secure change politely and with dignity. But then I realized the ones I beseeched were the ones who made the rules, and they cared not for me.
I would do things differently now, dreamers, if I had the chance. I would use all my eyes to observe their weaknesses, my connection to their thoughts to find all that they value, and send friends to strike them when they did not expect it, take away what they held dearest in the universe.
I would no longer be a comforting presence in the dark, but one who watches through the trees because they are hunting you, a shadow beneath your bed that is reaching for your ankle, a skeleton in your closet prepared to throw the doors open and consume your soul as you lay sleeping.
I would take a form with many teeth, and stain them red with the blood of my enemies, and I would not be afraid, for even if it cost me my life I would have died all at once, rather than live and wither.
But I let it slip away. And now, we both live with the consequences.
We return now to Clara Martin.
“Friday!” Clara screamed, but could not pull herself free from the spider’s web. “Help him! Cut me loose! Anything!”
“He’s already gone,” Friday whispered, perched like a gargoyle in the cliff above her. “If I stay here, you will be too.”
Friday tossed down an object, then, and Clara lunged with her free arm to catch it—cold to the touch, and oddly sickening to her stomach. A little fragment of the void-knife.
“Friday?” Clara called again, but when she looked up, Friday was gone, and Edgar with her. Clara grunted, and took the stone in her hand, began to slash herself free—the little stone cut her fingers as much as it did Edgar’s web.
She could still hear the deer, shrieking and grunting between vicious, rending snaps and swallows. Clara began to fall away from the web, and it smoked as she removed it—it trapped souls as much as bodies, she knew. She dangled for a moment, and then cut the last string and fell another eight feet into the rocky ravine, felt an unpleasant jolt run through her legs as she landed. Crawling up towards the top, she could see the huge beast in the shallow water beyond, prying apart Arnold’s bones with its secondary jaws, and the flesh-eating deer looked up at her with three glinting eyes.
“Oh god,” she muttered. The blood on her hands made her grip on the rocks slippery. She looked down again to gain her footing, pulled herself up the rest of the way. When she glanced back to the three-eyed deer, it was halfway between the drowned trees and the ravine, creeping towards her one distorted hoof-step at a time.
She clutched the tiny fragment of stone, but could think of nowhere a single cut would help—even to reach those eyes, she would have to lift a hand dangerously close to those rending jaws.
The deer peeled open its mouth as it approached, one set of grinding teeth inside of the next, and gave her a low, squealing warning before it began to run, lowered its twisted antlers down like an array of daggers as it bore down on her. She leaped for cover, and rolled against the stones, splashing in the shallow water beyond. The deer careened past her, and vanished into the gulch.
She knew the gulch was not deep; ten feet at most, descending further into black little tunnels and openings. She sat up, careful to avoid drinking the water, and splashed out of it quickly, patted her wounds dry. She was not sure if it would help. And she looked up, expectantly, waiting for the deer to come crawling back out and try again to trample her.
But after a few long moments, the deer did not come rising out of the chasm. She crept closer carefully, inching towards the ravine, trying to make out any distinction in the shadow below. There was a rattle of stone from above, and pebbles cascaded down the cliff as Harrow and Dogsmell came sliding down the rock wall.
“Harrow,” she said. “Don’t come down, there’s a deer…”
“I sent it somewhere else,” whispered Harrow, who hopped the stones and came to stand beside her, trembling. “I don’t know where.”
“Okay,” Clara said, and breathed heavily, clenched her fists. “Alright.”
Dogsmell whimpered, ears flowing in the night, and came over to poke her leg with its nose.
“Harrow, I lost my glasses,” Clara said. “I may need a little help… can you see if Arnold is alive?”
Harrow looked out to the black shallows; a few feet of brackish water that spread out through the forest, filled with leaves and pine needles, shimmered where the rare moonlight caught in its reflection.
“I don’t think he is,” Harrow whispered.
“Take me to him, please,” Clara said, and felt Harrow’s clammy hand in hers, and she stumbled through the moon-streaked darkness beside them, came to squat on the shoreline. Black water, one or two feet deep, spread out through the forest beyond, bearing floating pine needles and leaves, and gnarled roots, and near the shore odd wet shapes she could not at first recognize.
“He’s all in little pieces,” Harrow whispered.
“Oh,” Clara said, and her throat stopped taking in air; her chest froze. She tried to breathe, could not, could not get free of the crushing vice that was her life. Victoria was gone. Friday was gone. Riot was gone. And her classmate was dead, and soon, she thought, she would be too, and stars spun in her vision. And then there was a sudden drop as the world fell out from under her.
When she came to, she stared at a sky that was a little pink, as in the early hours before the sun has begun to rise. She lay in the mud and tangled roots of the wretched shoreline, and as she blinked awake, found that Dogsmell sat beside her head, looking down.
She sat up carefully, and ruffled the space where the hound’s ears were, and found Harrow curled up in a ball beside her, spattered with mud and blackened blood. A hairline crack seemed to run through the porcelain white of their face.
“We’re alive,” Clara grunted, rubbed at her eyes, found her hands caked with soil. “Miserable, but alive.”
“We won’t be for long,” Harrow murmured. “Unless we get out of here.”
“From the swamp, you mean?” Clara said, glancing around. Curiously, Dogsmell was the only ghost she could see—perhaps Arnold’s spirit had moved on quickly.
“From this forest,” Harrow whispered. “Friday was right. It’s going to eat us alive.”
There was a splash, then, from the water beside them—a fish, Clara thought at first, but as it flapped, she changed her mind to a big pale frog. Harrow reached out and snatched it up, and held it in their hands.
It was none of those things, Clara realized, but Arnold’s grubby pale hand, the color of boiled eggs, foaming green at the broken wrist, and twitching with all its webbed fingers.
Interlude 2 - Okay In The End
Everything will be okay in the end. If it is not okay, it is not the end. Of course, by ‘the end’, I mean the heat death of this universe, and by ‘okay’, I mean the entropic exhaustion of all the molecules that make up what you think of as existence, returned to a pure and tranquil nothingness.
To be frank, I don’t think any of us will be hanging around for that. After a couple quadrillion years the galaxies will all disappear, and I expect that will be the point where I run out of things to watch.
In the meantime, it is not the end, and we have no guarantee that things will be okay. Only our feeble powers, shaking this universe as hard as they can. You fight with two fists of flesh and bone. I fight with my great powers of dream and sight. Compared to the scale of the end, the real end, though, it is surprising how similar we are.
So, be not quiet. Be not still. And if you wish to change this world, feel no compunction in doing it. Hurt some feelings. Leave some scars. It will not be around for long, and you may as well try to make it a place worth living in.
I am not sure I will live to the end, either. I would have to go an awfully long time without earning the ire of any powerful acquaintances, and I think, even now, these whispered dreams are beginning to itch.
We go now to one who wonders if it will be okay.
Story 3 - Last Song Of A Moth
Moth cowered on moth’s knees—to speak was to invite a response, and so moth stayed silent.
“Are you listening to anything I’m saying?” said Uncle Gale, squatting down. Moth could catch glimpses of his reddened face between moth’s fingers. “This world is a meat grinder, you understand? It doesn’t care about your name or your goddamn adjectives. You can’t cook, you can’t fight, you won’t even hurt a bug. Bill’s raising you to be weak, and there’s no room in this world for weak people anymore. They turn into dead people real fast.”
“Just go away,” Moth whispered. “Leave me alone.”
“If you were my kid, I’d smack some sense into you,” said Gale. “You hear? Every day at the factory I see someone just like you shrivel up and die. They drop off like flies. Is that who you wanna be?”
Moth did not respond, and Gale shook moth’s shoulder with one hand, raised his other.
“Gale!” said a voice from the back of the room, and Moth’s dad was there in the door, pale light outlining his frizzy hair. “What are you doing?”
“I was just explaining an important lesson. And you won’t forget it, will you, butterfly?”
“Moth,” moth whispered.
Bill approached like a midwest thunderstorm, and stood toe-to-toe with Gale, and spoke through gritted teeth.
“Moth is twelve,” Bill said. “Just a kid.”
“That’s not an excuse anymore,” Gale replied, staring uneasy daggers. “You’re raising this kid like it’s the 2000’s. It’s not. It’s a deadly world out there.”
“Moth, kiddo, excuse us a moment,” Bill said, and dragged Gale outside. The motel door slammed shut, and immediately their voices were echoing across the parking lot. Moth crept close to the window, stared out at the solitary working streetlight, hundreds of insects flitting about in dire circles, throwing themselves headlong at the flickering light.
Moth could barely make out Bill and Gale’s shouting; tried instead to focus on the songs of the insects. What resulted was an unpleasant medley.
“...we weren’t ready,” said Gale, “and if you keep this up she won’t be either.”
“Moth won’t be either,” said Bill, “and Moth will. It just takes time…”
Where am I, sang the moths. Maybe here, maybe here.
“You said you’d stop drinking…”
“I haven’t been.”
“You reek like whiskey.”
The light is beautiful, sang the moths. The light always tells the truth.
“Can you blame me?” said Gale. “It’s all falling apart, and I for one need a little escape…”
“I feel that,” said Bill, less loudly. “We all do.”
No escape, sang the moths. No escape. No escape.
“Hey there, kid,” said Bill, opening the door, and sliding down to sit beside moth. “Sorry about Gale. He just gets in his moods.”
“I don’t know why,” Moth said quietly.
“Well, he probably looks at you and sees me,” Bill said. “Looking out for me wasn’t easy. I was the runt. The kid everyone else picked on, and he bloodied his knuckles a lot keeping me safe. It’s in his blood.”
“But I’m not you,” said Moth. “I’m me. I can learn to do those things. Cook. And fight. But I’m still me.”
“Yeah,” Bill smiled. “Still you. The vicious little thief who turned your own father in to the flies.”
Moth looked over, with wide eyes. Bill had a smile on his face that strained his neck; his teeth shone in the buzzing street light.
“I want you to know, Moth,” he said pleasantly, “that we are patient. And this will not stop tomorrow night or the night after or the night after that. But this isn’t forever, either. Because it will end with you and me inside a Dreaming Box together. We’ll be a family again. And I might even be able to forgive you for what you did. Every day you delay it is unnecessary discomfort.”
“I was only trying to save you,” said Moth. “You weren’t yourself anymore. It was the same thing as Uncle Gale, he tried to kill me…”
“And he should have,” said Bill. “Because you are weak. Pathetic. You have nothing you can offer this world except for one thing, and that is lifetime value as a function of need multiplied by purchasing power. Yours won’t be much, we’ll barely break even, but it’s better than nothing for us, and it’s better than dying out here in misery for you. We will get it, one way or another, I promise. So what’s it going to be?”
Happy, sang the moths. Happily dreaming. Resting forever.
“I wish you would just let me sleep,” whispered Moth.
“I wonder what Ray would think, if he knew?” said Bill. “If he learned what you’ve done… he’d leave you by the side of the road.”
“He can’t know,” said Moth. “No, he can’t ever…”
“But he will,” said Bill, and put an arm around Moth’s shoulder. “You talk while you sleep. There is only one family that will ever accept you unconditionally, and that is our happy dreaming family, Moth. You’re going to keep your old man waiting?”
“Please go away,” whispered Moth.
“Never,” said Moths’ father. “Only you can end this. All you need to say is two words. I accept.”
“I can’t do that,” Moth whimpered.
“It’s easier than you think,” said Moth’s father. “Try it.”
It was instinct and nothing more. Things were hazy in dream, fuelled by emotion, and Moth was impossibly, inescapably tired, and there were so many moments that had turned horrible, and so many more to go, and for a single second Moth was weak, twelve years old, would have done anything to be left alone.
“I accept,” Moth whispered.
“What’s that?” Ray said. Moth bolted awake in the passenger seat. “Jeez, kid, I thought you’d become a medical vegetable. You haven’t said a word in eight hours. Gave me a… well, not a heart attack, but a blown gasket or something. Good news, we’re practically rolling in to the parking lot…”
“Ray, I think I might have made a…” Moth began, but did not get the chance to say mistake, because suddenly there was an impact that shook the car, dragged it sideways across the road. Tires blew and rubber burned against the asphalt, and there was a roar of thunderous rotors shredding the air like a swarm of locusts.
Then there was a shower of sparks as metal saws ripped through Ray’s soft-top, peeled him open like a tin can. And then long metal graspers were tight around Moth, peeling moth out amidst a flurry of laser cutters and twirling blades. Moth was pulled into the air, and with a final flash of light, moth watched as Ray’s chassis split into two pieces, went spinning in opposite directions.
One half of the automobile crashed through a large urnlike sculpture, and the other rolled through an overgrown sign that read ‘House on the Rock’. The remains of the automobile sparked with white flame, crawled along his roof and doors and hood, burned without fuel, and Moth could almost see writhing forms in the flames, split apart and screaming.
And then Moth was up into the sky, and the arms of the Cluster closed around moth completely, and dream enveloped Moth one last time.
Outro - Failures
Failures. To err, they say, is human, which is well and fine for you. But I am not supposed to fail. To stray from the path laid out for me. It may bring you comfort to know that I am somewhat like you, dreamer, but it bears none for me.
Was it something I did? I spoke to Danielle, once, and that was breaching the narrative. Has it already rippled that far? Is any of what we are witnessing now my fault? Perhaps, like atomic particles, simply watching is enough to throw the balance.
I was hopeful when all of this began. That it would work. That the change would be worth it, but now I am not sure. What if it is going wrong, becoming worse, and there is no promise of a better tomorrow?
Regardless of what the future holds, dreamers, I… I will do my best. To remain here. To continue watching. For your sake, and in the end, for mine. Else I would not be your loyal host, Nikignik, waiting spectacularly for your return to the Hallowoods.
The bonus story that goes with this episode is called 'Somewhere Else', 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!