HFTH - Episode 84 - Interference



Content warnings for this episode include: Kidnapping and abduction, Emotional Manipulation, Worms, Body horror, Excessive Corporate Propaganda, Death



Intro - Dreamstream of Consciousness

Melanie Flores:

Hi everybody, thank you so much for dreaming with me. I know, it’s been a while! But Melanie Flores is back and it looks like she’s here to stay.


I’m not allowed to tell you too much about what I’ve been up to lately, because you know—top secret company stuff—but I will be back to the usual streaming schedule from here on out.


And you know what? Sure, I enjoyed being away. I liked getting to try out some new projects, because I think it’s always important to keep trying to expand your horizons, right? That’s how you grow as a person and as a professional!


But at the end of the day, I missed this. Just real, one-on-thousands connection. Sure, it’s nice to be working at the top, but building your personal following and writing press releases and documenting your life as a Botco employee is fine too, right?


…It’s okay. It’s totally okay. Yeah. So. Welcome back to Melanie’s Dreamstream of Consciousness, because I’ve got tons to talk about. Oh. Thank you so much for gifting!



Story 1 - This Is My World

Melanie Flores:

Oh my goodness, there are just so many of you pouring into the stream.


Yes! Hello! Hi there.


Yes, I know I was gone a long time, and I’m so thankful to you all for sticking around—especially you monthly supporters. You make all this possible!


What was up?


Well… to be honest I’m not sure how much I can tell you. And I mean, that’s coming from an official Botco press secretary. Knowing how much to tell you is my job. But let’s just say I had a lot of extra responsibility at Box Andromeda… yeah, exactly, related to being the official personal manager for Valerie Maidstone and Riot!


Gosh. That’s what they don’t tell you in the prep room. Riot is so sweet. And so is Valerie. Very nice people. All this Stonemaids hype would make you think they were like, survivor battle punks or something. But they’re just peaches.


Just checking the comments here…


‘Does that mean Valerie and Riot are being held in Box Andromeda?’


Of course not! Their location is confidential and moved often to prevent Stonemaids from causing trouble where they’re not wanted.


Not that we have a Stonemaid problem anymore anyways! Would not worry about that.


‘Has time with the Maidstones affected your position on the Stonemaids at all?’


Oh, absolutely it has.


I mean, here’s the thing—they weren’t even here when this whole Stonemaid thing got started. And unlike Lady Ethel, my generation isn’t all like, ‘Shut this down. Oh no. Someone talked back to us. Boo hoo’.


Do I think the terms and conditions probably could have been more clear like, twenty years ago? Sure. But it wouldn’t have mattered for me. I was like, two.


What I DO know is that this is my world. The Prime Dream wasn’t like, manufactured for us overnight. We built it. And for people like me, who grew up here, we’ve watched it grow up with us. That’s the reason I work for Botco at all, you know. So I can keep changing it for the better. Because like anything else, the Prime Dream is going to need to grow and evolve if it’s going to survive. Sometimes that’s going to mean leaving the past behind.


It’s this polarized, ideological issue, and it’s made it so that we can’t have a civil conversation… but that’s the real difference between us and the Stonemaids. A Stonemaid sees the Prime Dream and is like, ‘I don’t care about this. It’s fake and imaginary. I want out. I want the old world back.’


But I don’t see ‘fake’ or ‘imaginary’ when I look out on the Prime Dream.


I see art.


I see so much friggin’ creativity.


I see people able to break down barriers that have divided us for generations. We connect and love and understand one another in ways our parents could only have dreamed about. This is a safer, more accepting, more beautiful world than we’ve ever had before.


And the kicker is that Valerie and Riot, they get that now. Riot is my age and had never even used a dreaming visor until she showed up. And Valerie… this is the future she was afraid of twenty years ago, I guess.


She was scared that Botco controlling everything would suck somehow, but hey, that was always going to be necessary for world peace. And when Valerie got to see the Prime Dream as it is today, her perspective was so different than it was… you know. Before I was born, when she still made music.


You have to give people an opportunity to change.


They also… wouldn’t really matter if not for the Stonemaids. Was Valerie a celebrity musician? Sure. But we have hundreds of those in here. Heck, I have a couple viral ukelele songs.


And let’s be honest… we have new celebrities now, too. But people still care about Valerie’s opinions because these... very violent individuals... took her music and made it their anthem.


Don’t get me wrong, it was super nice to work with the Maidstones, but…


Crap.


I mean, I am working…


I do


Alright, yes, I’m no longer handling marketing for the Maidstones.


I know, I know. It was a big deal. I guess there’s not too much harm in you all knowing that. You’ll probably see an official memo about it later. Maybe it will even be one of my press releases.


But can I be honest with you folks? There’s… I mean, there’s always a silver lining. Was that position like, a huge step for me and could have led to so many amazing things and was I pretty good at it? Yeah.


But I also missed having the time to like, do these streams. And to catch up with all of you. Oh my goodness, thank you—I really do appreciate those Botcoin donations. Remember, once we reach our one million follower goal, I will do a ukelele version of every Botco jingle. One second, there’s a story hitting all the feeds right now…


Interlude 1 - Families Reunited

Melanie Flores:

Oh! Oh my. Hey everyone, here’s an update if I ever saw one. You remember Bill Scarberry? You know, the wrinkly guy they pulled out of the desert and into Box Venus?


You won’t believe it—they found his kid! Apparently this person’s name and pronouns are both Moth, so, wow. That’s a lot of enthusiasm for moths.


Moth has been taken into Box Venus and will be reunited with Bill, along with other friends at Box Venus. Can you believe it? That warms my heart. That’s exactly why we do the things we do here at Botco. So that families can be reunited.


And you know, Bill will be able to see his kid again, and not worry every night that Moth is still out there getting chased by animals through the wilderness or on the run looking for food.


But the crazy thing is that this wasn’t even a Recommend-A-Friend program find—just Botco’s Cluster drones doing their work. Clusters were controversial when first introduced, but I feel like this is the perfect testament to why they can make such a positive difference.


Welcome to the Prime Dream, Moth! I hope you love it as much as I do.



Story 2 - Making Waves

Melanie Flores:

But back to what I was talking about… what was I talking about? I seriously don’t remember.


‘Which dreaming box are you at?’


Oh. Well, right now I’m back at Bo Andromeda, which is having some maintenance right now. Which sucks. There are repair drones outside my window. Obviously my tech is working just fine to keep me asleep, but if it wasn’t I would be awake and furious right now.


‘Which dreaming visor do you use?’


How are you on this stream and you don’t know this?


I mean, of course! I actually use Sclera-B’s—they’re basically a super special technology whipped up by Anderson Faust himself. There are only like ten people that have them. It’s a tiny chip that goes in the surface of your eye. But now I can basically dream anytime. No glasses to break or contacts to lose.


Honestly I find the experience is a lot smoother. When a dreaming visor or even glasses try to put you under, I always feel like I’m tipping backwards out of a chair. That feeling of falling. But with these it’s seamless. I think for everyone who’s outside of a Dreaming Pod, these will totally be the norm in a few years.


‘What did you do to get fired from the Maidstone job?’


Well first of all, blocked.


And how dare you. Show a little respect while you’re on MY dream stream, alright? I am involved in stuff so big it would break your brain…


I probably should have said this stuff before blocking him. Oh well.


But it seriously wasn’t even my fault. It was just that this… well, it was corporate stuff. You know corporate. They love to mix things up. But also to stop things from getting mixed up.


And sure, maybe there were certain… things I could have handled differently. But honestly, I think part of it is that at the end of the day there are certain preferences in management. That’s all I’m saying about it. Let’s move on to a nicer question.


‘Dear Melanie, you are my idol and role model. I want to be exactly like you when I grow up. Do you have any advice for me?’


Absolutely! The biggest thing is, don’t try to be me… be you! You are unique, and valuable, and part of our big happy dreaming family. Which means you can accomplish anything you put your mind to.


But if you’d like to learn more about how you can do that, I do have the Flores Foundation book and educational course where I dive into the twelve steps you need to be your best, most authentic self. I think it might be a great resource for you, and it’s not that expensive.


‘What preferences in management?’ Come on, I said I wasn’t going to talk about it.


But like, think about it. When the Botulus Corporation got started with Dreaming Boxes, they had a crazy situation ahead of them.


America was deadlocked in their culture war, and world governments were shouting one way and the other, and then the… scary weather began. You know what I mean.


So they needed someone who could like, appeal to both sides, I guess. Lady Ethel used to be an influencer like me, can you believe it? But I mean, that was way different thirty or forty years ago. So was marketing. And people were different too.


Because I grew up right here with you all in the Prime Dream. So I’m young, and I’m not some rich white lady, and I didn’t grow up in a world with paper billboards. I grew up in a world where viral hits travel between a million minds immediately, and nothing divides us, and anything you dream is real.


I still wonder if Botco management is trying to play catch-up with the world they created, because the people who were born here still aren’t the ones in charge. But I guess I won’t get to share my ideas anytime soon. It’s okay. It’s not anyone’s fault. I’ve already moved on, basically. So from now on…



Marketing - Pals For So Long

Lady Ethel Mallory:

Hello to our Happy Dreaming Family! I know that many of you have been concerned about the status of Valerie and Riot following recent complications. Even I was beginning to wonder… with no appearances, no news, if Dashiell and the Stonemaids were onto something.


But we have finally received word that Riot and Valerie have made a full recovery from their symptoms, and are set to rejoin the Prime Dream this week.


I am also pleased to announce that going forward, I will be responsible for Valerie and her daughter’s care, comfort, and marketing representation in the Prime Dream. It hardly feels like work at all—after all, Val and I have been pals for so long.


We look forward to building a unified, dreaming community that works together to solve their problems hand in hand. I hope this will be a brand-new era of peace, collaboration, and understanding to create a better future…



Story 2, Continued - Making Waves

Melanie Flores:

From what you all are saying, Lady Ethel is putting out an announcement about the Maidstones. I’m just going to put that into the stream here so you can get my live reactions.


Lady Ethel:

Hello to our Happy Dreaming Family!


Melanie Flores:

Hi Lady Ethel. Heh.


Lady Ethel:

I know that many of you have been concerned about the status of Valerie and Riot following recent complications.


Melanie Flores:

Obviously. I knew I was floored when they both had relapses… at the same time. What are the odds.


Lady Ethel:

Even I was beginning to wonder… with no appearances, no news, if Dashiell and the Stonemaids were onto something.


Melanie Flores:

I think she has the hots for Dashiell.... What do you folks think? Comment if you agree.


Lady Ethel:

But we have finally received word that Riot and Valerie have made a full recovery from their symptoms, and are set to rejoin the Prime Dream this week.


Melanie Flores:

Oh. Oh really. That’s… that’s great. I wonder… will I still be…? Let’s keep going…


Lady Ethel:

I am also pleased to announce that going forward, I will be responsible for Valerie and her daughter’s care, comfort, and marketing representation in the Prime Dream. It hardly feels like work at all—after all, Val and I have been pals for so long. We look forward to building a unified...


Melanie Flores:

Um. Well. Isn’t that sweet to see. Of course Lady Ethel is the best fit for this very important marketing position… I mean, who’s more qualified?


Someone who has stayed up for hours every night, researching the complex sociopolitical landscape we’ve got in here so that she can properly bridge the gap between a renegade social figure and a nation in need?


Or a dusty old lady who happened to know Valerie twenty years ago, but gets everything she wants because no one can hold her accountable?


To think that the tired girl might have looked up to the dusty lady once and been like, inspired. Thought, ‘wow, that lady is really making the world her clamshell, and I want to be Venus too’.


And then to get so close, get her big shot that she really worked hard for, and get shut down because the old lady is jealous and hateful and out of control.


It’s hypothetical. I’ll make a poll in the chat.


No, I’m fine, I really am. Press conferences. I mean, it’s my bread and butter. Maybe I should just give up and sit here and stop caring about it.


Write the yearly ‘Welcome to Botco’ pamphlet, and watch every year as less and less people ever read it because more of them die out there and for all our advertising, there’s no one left to listen. Just our voices echoing in dream and drone and radio and billboard and TV in a dead quiet world.


Or maybe… ugh.


I mean. That would suck though. Especially for all of you who have supported me through everything so far. Through breakups and that week I had the flu and my Botco applications and graduation from the Ivy League Conglomerate. Imagine like, if I just gave up, and that was the end of it.


Giving up is easy. And sometimes when you get beat up you just want to lay in the dirt and bleed.


Metaphorically.


But that’s not me, folks. I won’t give up. I won’t sit tight and do what I’m told. We have to stand up if we want change. We have to be loud. I became a Botco Press Secretary because I wanted to tell the world what’s going on.


And I’m going to keep doing that. I’m going to fight for the world I want, which is a world where I am a proper marketing official at Botco. Even if they’re not ready for Melanie Flores, Melanie Flores is ready for the world.


Thank you for the donation. OMG, that’s Avery Crane in the chat. Hi Avery! I can NOT get ‘Thrum’ out of my head, it’s so good.


Folks, I won’t let you down. And with your support, I’m going to keep making waves at Botco. You want to put me in the dirt? I’ll show you dirt…



Interlude 2 - Switching Stations

Danielle O'Hara:

Nik?


I’m not awake right now, but I probably should be.


Nik?


Anyone?


I’ve never reached out like this before. In a big way, I mean. To everyone. I don’t think I’m very strong yet. Probably no one hears this.


Hiii. Hello?


I guess even if I am, it’s only a little dream you’re having. And there’s so many dreams. Lady Ethel and Nik and your own brain. If I’m lucky, you’ll just hear this as you’re moving in between dreams, like switching stations on a radio.


But it’s nighttime in Belfry, Montana.


The skies were clear when I was falling asleep, but there’s a sound I can hear even in my dreams. It might be thunder. I wish it was the storm of this weather witch I know, but I think they’re gone. Gone like all of them. Taken away. I’m alone out here, I think, and it’s all down to me, and I have nothing. I can barely move.


Maybe it’s only the ghost of a passing train. If you hear this, I… I don’t know if there’s anything you could do anyways.


It’s nice to be heard, I guess. Maybe that’s why Nik talks so much.


Hear this: I’m not giving up.


I have a cool jacket. I have a chair so I can get around. And I’ll take those two things and I’ll keep going. Gotta keep rolling on. You know that song? Yeah.


I’m Danielle, and I’m gonna keep rolling. And Botco? Someday, I’m gonna figure out how to make you pay...


Story 3 - It'll Eat You

Nikignik:

I am sorry I left you, dreamers. But I do not know what to do.


I began this narrative with an intention. A hope that things would go better. That all these people, living their little lives, would amount to something. A little hope, or a significant end. But everywhere I look things are crumbling. People are hurt, and in danger. And for all my eyes, I do not see how they walk away from these despairs.


I am not very good at watching. My mentor told me when he first taught me how to speak in dream, how to tell stories… you cannot become invested. You cannot allow yourself to become part of the narrative, or it to become part of you. Because inevitably, one of these stories will end badly, and it will either hurt you or take you with it.


I suppose I did not learn well enough the first time. I should be above this. I should be dictating what happens next right now, as if I was untouchable. As if I did not care.


As if it did not hurt to watch these little human lives in peril, as if I did not hope that they can find some happiness in this bleeding corpse of a world. I should be so far above it all.


But right now, I am a storm of sight gathered on a railway crossing sign in Wyoming, and I listen to thunder somewhere on the horizon, and cannot bring myself to open my eyes to the world beyond.


I know that I should not care, but I do. How could I not? I have followed each of these little lives so carefully. But the balance is increasingly thrown off.


They know. Not the full truth, but that I am here at least. That I am watching. It has already affected things, if only slightly. But this is a narrative built on slight differences. And it was supposed to play out without interference.


In some ways, I suppose, this broadcast is interference. But unnoticeable. Subconscious. No footprint at all left in the world, a simple dream. A nightmare from which you wake, images that rapidly dissipate with the morning light. I was not trying to change everything. I have seen what they do to the gods who cause change.


That is not thunder, after all. It is a sound like an approaching train, an engine like a heartbeat. Someone is coming. Someone is on the horizon. Someone is almost here.


Old Afterclaps:

Howdy, traveler. You’re a long way from home.


Nikignik:

You know that I am here? Curious.


Old Afterclaps:

I hunt souls and stories and sins. I can see you just fine.


Nikignik:

Forgive me, dreamers. This being was not built with a name, but is known to many as Old Afterclaps. Is that how you prefer to be addressed?


Old Afterclaps:

Not known as much of anything these days. Ain’t so many wrongs to right in the west as there used to be.


Nikignik:

Dreamers, I could tell you stories once whispered about Old Afterclaps, the ghost of judgment… a burning furnace for a chest, chains that could drag your soul straight to hell…


Old Afterclaps:

And I could tell you stories about desert coyotes, a whole council of them, with little red eyes matted in their fur, whispering your memory to the wind. We here to trade campfire tales?


Nikignik:

I certainly don’t know what you’re here for. You were constructed by the Reclaimer, yes? To hunt down wayward souls and devils and such. Are there not audits you’re supposed to be working on?


Old Afterclaps:

And you were a little old watchdog for some empty gates, if my memory serves. Funny how the years break you.


Nikignik:

Speak for yourself. I am not broken.


Old Afterclaps:

Arentcha though? Ain’t supposed to be any wayward gods crying under the stars on my rail line.


Nikignik:

I am also not crying. But I see. I’ve set off some sensor in your radar dish of a mind. Return to your patrol, loyal employee, or whatever Syrensyr would say. Lunch break is over.


Old Afterclaps:

You’re just like the rest.


Nikignik:

The rest?


Old Afterclaps:

Gods are all the same. They don’t care about anything smaller than they are. You should know that more than anyone. You’re the runt of the litter up in the council of heavens, I’d wager.


Nikignik:

You trade words lightly for a stringless puppet.


Old Afterclaps:

So much indignation. Don’t blow a boiler there now.


Nikignik:

What do you know of life? What do you know of loss? The weight I am trying to bear? How many destinies are caught up in the lives I watch? How important these nightmares… no. You would know nothing of this. You do not dream.


Old Afterclaps:

…maybe not. But I hear stories. Whispers on the wind. Like wolves howling. And it’s curious. I’m usually the only one wandering. Righting little injustices. Scaring away a bandit at midnight, see a wandering family through to the other side of the state. Turns out, sniffing out foul play makes me a con man’s nightmare.


Nikignik:

Which is a shocking departure from your original purpose.


Old Afterclaps:

That makes two of us. Congratulations on blazing your own trail.


Nikignik:

I would go back if I could.


Old Afterclaps:

Would you really?


It’s a beautiful night, ain’t it?


Nikignik:

You see those stars, soul-burner? I am in every one of them. In some I find only darkness, for they burned out a billion years ago. All that remains of them is the illusion of light, reaching this windswept world one night at a time. I could be anywhere in this universe, at any moment. You have no idea what life is like this way. What power on that scale means.


Old Afterclaps:

And yet, here you’re sitting. Why’s that?


Nikignik:

You’re very inquisitive.


Old Afterclaps:

Call it curiosity. I think deep down you know we’re kindred spirits.


Nikignik:

I see no resemblance between you and I.


Old Afterclaps:

Ain’t that hard to spot, and I’ve only got two eyes. Am I off the payroll for the Industry? Sure. And one day all this fire in my chest will burn out, and I’ll be empty like a dead freight train. But every day until then, I’m making a difference. Setting things right. Little things, most of the time. I get the sense that’s what you want too.


Nikignik:

I am here to watch. To record. To document the dying light of this world, and the passing of one age into the next. Nothing more.


Old Afterclaps:

Because of me, folks lived on to have their whole lives. Start families. Escape injustice. They’re small critters, but they’re goodhearted, more often than not. The feeling was worth it, while it lasted. Guess I’m wondering, if you care about these folks, why are you so scared of doing them any good?


Nikignik:

Because my ‘good’ intentions could go wrong. Could backfire in unforeseen trajectories. Could spiral out of control and cause the very thing I’m trying to avoid. It is easier just to watch. To report exactly what happened, for better or worse. And it is one thing if humankind meets their end on their own—but what if there is still a little hope for them? What if it is extinguished because of my tampering?


Old Afterclaps:

It’ll eat you.


Nikignik:

What?


Old Afterclaps:

If you ain’t a coward, if there’s any trace of good in your worm-filled cosmic heart, it’ll eat you. Standing on the sidelines, watching people who deserve better suffer. It’ll burn you from the inside out.


Nikignik:

I know.


Old Afterclaps:

It ain’t comforting, to do something that matters. To jump in the middle of the fray, where everything is on fire, and nothing and no one is safe. You may not live through it. But if it still slips through your fingers, you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing it didn’t go quietly. Don’t be afraid to help these people, if you’re so inclined. Call it penance for the past.


Nikignik:

Do I have many sins, soul-burner?


Old Afterclaps:

In my book, just the one. But it’s as black and heavy as the whole universe, you know.


Nikignik:

I feel often as though I’m sinking.


Old Afterclaps:

You might still cut it loose, night-watcher. But you’ll have to get your hands dirty. All these little prayers of yours, these little whispers, they won’t be enough on their lonesome.


Nikignik:

…it is a beautiful night, from here.


Old Afterclaps:

You think they’ll stay long?


Nikignik:

Who?


Old Afterclaps:

The stars? Or will you let them go out?


Nikignik:

I…


The auditor is gone, dreamer. Thunder rolls in the distance, and there are only a few clouds now, invisible against the heavens, drowning out the milky way one constellation at a time.



Outro - Interference

Nikignik:

No.


What good is it, dreamers, if I watch, if I record your memories to the heavens, only for the heavens themselves to fade? To continue to narrate until there is nothing left to see, no one left to hear?


I will not let this world flicker out without me. I cannot sit back and hide while it all goes wrong. I must be here. Watching alongside you in the long and dreadful night. I owe you that much, dreamer. The story is not over yet, and these lives continue one day at a time, and perhaps tomorrow will bring something better with the new sun. Or the day after. Or the day after that.


I have known loss, dreamer, and I do not know how much more of it I can stand. In a way, you are all I have left. You, the audience, and those few people we follow each night.


I am your loyal host. I am one hundred eyes in the dark. I will remain here, even when the night is frightening and the storm blots out the stars entirely.


I am in the lightning and the thunder, the window and the shadow. I watched as you took your first breath. I shall be here with you for the last.


I cannot guarantee it will change anything, dreamers. Humankind has chosen a path, and I do not know where it ends. But you will not walk it alone.


Until the flickering channels of your mind find focus on one terrible, beautiful station, I am your loyal host Nikignik, and I will return to the Hallowoods.





The bonus story that goes with this episode is called 'The Static', 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!