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HFTH - Episode 87 - Boxes

Content warnings for this episode include: Suicide attempt mention, Kidnapping and abduction, Death + Injury, Blood, Mental illness, Emotional Manipulation, Bugs, Body horror, medical life support, brain death/coma

Intro - Cardboard Fort

Your sibling has a fascination with boxes—thin paper stock, sometimes, but mostly corrugated cardboard. These fill their home, accumulate in closets and basement rooms. You step over them as you enter, try not to crush them as you walk. Your conversations are equally packaged. How are you, you ask, and the answer is always the same. You wonder, sometimes, if there is some subject, some unspoken truth that needs to be addressed—cut open like packing tape to reveal something necessary inside. Maybe next time, you think. Maybe next time.

You return one day to find no answer at the doorbell, no footsteps thumping when you call. You find your way in through the kitchen door, and something is different. The wayward garbage is gone, and you can see the flooring tiles for the first time in years. Your sibling is nowhere to be found. But in the living room where once you whiled away the hours, the boxes are all gathered, cobbled into a great cardboard fort. Parapets and vaults hint at deeper extents, and in its open gate is an impossible, yawning darkness. You can hear a sound ever so faintly, deep within, a whisper that says Hello From The Hallowoods.


Right now, I stand on the sky. Or at least, it is the sky at first glance—this smooth mirrored surface reflects the sunlight, helps to keep the inhabitants of this great structure cool despite the desert heat. Inside of this monolith are a million dark little coffins, and deep below me, one more is added to the collection. The theme of tonight’s episode is Boxes.

Story 1 - Hey Boxy

“Hi there,” said someone cheerful. “Good morning from the Botulus Corporation, and welcome to Box Venus.”

Moth opened moth’s eyes, and blinked a few times. It had been such a dark, dreamless abyss, a blessed relief, and only now was Moth starting to remember which of the many terrible things moth had dreamt were true.

“Where is Ray?” Moth said, but the sound was blurry, indistinct as if underwater. “What did you do to him?”

“We’ll talk with your friends, family, and loved ones very soon!” said the voice. “Let’s finish onboarding first.”

There was a light, then, as gentle as a sunrise on the horizon. The area immediately around Moth, as if carved out of its original landscape, was a backyard of dry gravel and a chain link fence; a few mismatched lawn chairs, and a garden of small plants on shelves beneath a plastic awning, red glistening strawberries.

There was no house beside it, no desert stretching out, no dusty street. There was, however, a silver cube the size of a human skull hovering in the middle of the yard, and it had a red eye that followed Moth’s movements.

“Hello!” said the cube, eye flashing. “I’m Boxy, your friendly guide to the dreaming experience. If you need help at any time, just say ‘hey Boxy!’”

Moth crumpled to moth’s knees—the gravel shifted and crunched beneath moth’s feet. The Cluster. It had pulled Moth in, and Ray… oh god, Ray…

“Hey Boxy,” Moth whispered, “I want to leave.”

“We recommend you finish onboarding before exploring the rest of the Prime Dream,” said the cube, little eye glowing bright with each syllable.

“I want to leave the Prime Dream. I want to go away from Box Venus,” Moth said. Moth reached out to touch the gravel, and found that Moth’s hand was nothing—not invisible, exactly, but unremembered. Existed in the sense that it was a hand, but moth’s gloves or tattoos or painted nails were indistinct, could have been anything the second Moth looked away.

“I’m sorry,” said Boxy. “Disembarking from Box Venus at this time is not permitted due to environmental safety concerns. If there is a place you wish to visit, we can add it to your Favorite Dreams, or see if it’s been made public in the Prime Dream! If there is a person you wish to see who is already a Botco Dreaming Plan customer, we can contact them in the Prime Dream. If there is a person you wish to see who is not yet a Botco customer, we can submit a Recommend A Friend Program Request. I do not see a Ray in your Dreaming Family. Do you want to submit a Recommend a Friend request for ‘Ray’?”

“No,” said Moth. “No, don’t do that.”

The silver cube was quiet for a moment, and the leaves of the garden shifted in a wind that Moth could not feel.

“Are you ready to continue onboarding?” said Boxy.

Moth laid in the gravel, and tried to visualize what moth looked like right now—a cold face in a dark box, buried in the depths of an elaborate machine. Well and truly entombed; an insect pinned between glass and frame.

“I want to wake up,” said Moth. “I can’t stay here. I can’t.”

“Sensors indicate you may be feeling anxiety,” said Boxy. “Let’s work through those feelings together. On a scale of one to ten, with ten being severe to the point of paralysis, how would you rate your anxiety?”

“Hey Boxy,” moth said, and realized that moth was not breathing, “please stop talking.”

“Okay,” said Boxy. “Let’s continue with onboarding. Now a personal welcome to the Prime Dream.”

Moth tried to protest, but the sky behind Boxy was changing, color and light shining through the clouds to form a screen. A woman smiled like the horizon; glasses that Moth had grown up with on every tattered billboard.

“Hello, Moth,” said Lady Ethel Mallory. “Welcome to our happy dreaming family. I’m sure the journey wasn’t easy, but we are so glad to have you here with us at last.”

“Miss Mallory?” said Moth. “Please, I don’t want to be here—I made a mistake—”

“The Prime Dream is not just an inspiring new technology, but an entirely new way of life,” said the Lady. “It may feel overwhelming at first, but you’ll quickly become comfortable navigating in this brand-new world. That’s why we’ve started here—someplace you remember fondly. But there is so much more to the Prime Dream!”

Here the sky around her began to transform, revealed clusters of glowing orbs strung together like model molecules.

“The Prime Dream is a connected web of dreamscapes, ranging from real-life environments to the entirely imagined. You can go anywhere, like the Grand Canyon…”

The world peeled away in fragments around Moth, and suddenly moth was standing over an abyss of stone in red and orange, as if lit by a dozen sunsets.

“But you can also experience worlds from fiction, unique dreaming environments designed by the Botulus Corporation, a classic novel, a historical rendition of the Colosseum, and your very own memories. It’s all part of the Prime Dream, and it’s yours to explore.”

“Is my father alive?” said Moth. “His name is Bill.”

“But the easiest way to learn is with a friend,” said the Lady. She’s a recording, Moth thought. I wasn’t entirely sure. “So we’ll begin by introducing a close personal connection or family member to welcome you. Now remember, in order to access controls, navigation, favorite media, and other resources, just think ‘menu’ three times, or say ‘Hey Boxy’ to contact your adorable personal assistant. Or, if you’re deep in the dreaming experience, look for a Botulus Corporation Contact Terminal—there’s one in every dreamscape. I speak for all of us when I say, we’re glad you made it.”

Lady Ethel waved from heaven, and faded into the clouds.

“You wish your first guest to be Bill Scarberry, correct?” Boxy said, now hovering near the strawberries.

“Yes,” Moth said, sitting up. Moth’s body was taking shape, flickered with color in response to Moth’s thoughts. I want wings, moth thought, and found a pair immediately at their shoulders, fluffy and beautifully spotted. “I want to make sure he’s alright.”

“Finding Bill Scarberry,” Boxy said, and blinked several times. It was quieter than the desert itself. And then there was a figure standing in the garden—it was not as though he arrived, or suddenly appeared, but as though he had been there all along, and Moth could not remember a time without him.

He resembled Moth’s father, but his curly grey hair was all smoke, curling and pouring away from his skull, the back of his head a smoldering crater, and his eyes glinted like charcoal.

And yet, Moth recognized him immediately, and felt his arms around moth as moth drew close.

“Moth,” whispered Bill. “Welcome home.”

Interlude 1 - Package Delivery

If you need a package delivered, you have chosen a poor era for postage. If you work for the Botulus Corporation, it is easy enough—their drones and supply lines facilitate some transport between Dreaming Boxes, and sometimes they still make contact with local communities, providing goods in exchange for new customers.

If you have the ability to summon a demon, it will come at great personal cost, but you will save a fortune in postage, as they can cover a good bit of ground in an evening. Delivery methods will vary depending on the kind you have summoned—a lesser demon, such as one formed of ravens, is an optimal choice for flight speed.

And if you are the Church of the Hallowed Name, then your letter delivery is a mystery for the ages, but your messages will arrive precisely where they need to.

We go now to one who has been unhappily delivered.

Story 2 - Almost Perfectly, Too

My mind is full of splinters, thought Riot. They are jutting deeper each moment, breaking me apart—there is something buried inside. I am something old, something destroyed, something new. Because I am not supposed to remember this place, but deep down I know I have been here before, and I would rather be anywhere else in the world.

Glass tanks, dead and empty, behind glass windows. This box, transparent and cold, not so much a prison as an enclosure, surrounded by monitors. A display case. A microscope slide.

“I can’t reach it,” whispered the girl in the cell beside hers, and blue lightning sparked at Olivier’s fingertips, sputtered out in the air. “I can’t reach the Weather.”

“That’s because we’re inside,” Riot said, kicking idly at the glass wall. It barely flexed under her full weight.

“It shouldn’t matter,” said Olivier. “I should be able to feel it, out there, above. But I can’t.”

“Well,” said Riot. “I can’t reach my mom.”

“And whose fault is that?” Olivier said. The lab lights were dim, and Olivier’s dark eyes buzzed with blue light. “You led them to us. You knew the entire time. Is this what you wanted?”

“Yeah, I just really have a thing for terrariums,” Riot grunted. “No. This isn't what I wanted. I thought that things would go back to normal. I just wanted my mom back.”

“Well, if I had to guess,” Olivier muttered, “you’ve been replaced.”

The words sent a pang through Riot’s stomach. She stood up, slammed her palms against the glass wall between her and Olivier.

“Don’t say that,” she said. “Don’t you dare say that.”

“Oh, does that upset you?” Olivier said, standing up in her box, and coming to face Riot through the glass. “Sorry to tread on your feelings. But everyone I know is probably either dead or trapped, and I’m sorry, I really am, because the saddest part is that you led them right to Riot and Miss Maidstone, and they probably don’t even need you anymore.”

“Stop it!” Riot shrieked, and punched the glass. The impact split the skin on her knuckles, left a red smear on the greenish reflection. Olivier did not flinch, raised an eyebrow as she sucked on the new wound.

“I am Riot,” she grunted.

“You might have her face,” Olivier said. “But you are nothing like her.”

Riot’s hands shook, and she turned abruptly, sat down against the glass with her back to Olivier.

“Shut up,” she whispered.

“Where are we?” Olivier said. “You know all this Botco stuff. Where did they put us? The freaks of nature?”

“Someplace bad,” Riot whispered. “Someplace very bad.”

She squinted—in the shadows beyond the glass cells, beneath dark desks and gleaming monitors, something moved.

“There’s something here,” she said, rubbed at her nose.

“Like what?” Olivier said. “Your conscience?”

She shifted away from the thing in the darkness—it slunk through the shadow on the other side of the glass, a pair of glowing green eyes blinking.

“It’s an animal,” she whispered. “I don’t know all the animals. But it’s watching us.”

Olivier peered through the wall behind her, made an odd clicking noise with her tongue, and the creature emerged into the light—a cat, staring up from the shadow, with its tail up.

“Nimbus?” said Olivier, squatting down in her cell. “How on earth?”

The cat squinted at Riot, and Riot stared back. She felt a little thankful that there was glass in between them.

“What does it want?” said Riot. “It’s looking at me. Olivier, what does that mean?”

“Well, she probably wants treats,” said Olivier. “Or ear scratches.”

“Can it kill me?” said Riot.

“Have you never seen a cat before?” said Olivier.

She looked over as slowly as she could, shook her head.

“Well, Nimbus is friendly at least,” said Olivier. “Sorry kitty. Can’t play with you while we’re locked in here.”

The cat turned suddenly, and was gone into the shadows of the lab, and a door hissed on the other side of the room.

“Hello, my dears,” said a voice that Riot almost recognized. She turned to find a short man, with glasses like magnifying lenses, and a widow’s peak in his slicked back black hair. He tapped his fingers together like the mandibles of a beetle. “Apologies for the crude accommodations, but it’s important to decontaminate you—and, ah, you’re quite destructive in your own ways.”

“Are you… are you Anderson?” said Riot. “Have we met?”

A mote of concern flashed across the man’s shiny face, and he scuttled closer, came to rest by a computer terminal.

“You remember me?” said Anderson. “That’s… unlikely. And unfortunate. Or have you been listening to my interviews on the Morning Hour, perhaps?”

“I’m sorry to interrupt two old friends,” said Olivier, “but I would appreciate an introduction.”

“Hello, subject B5,” said Anderson, turning to Olivier’s glass prison. “My name is Doctor Anderson Faust, special technologist for the Botulus Corporation. And I would like to offer you a chance to make yourself useful.”

Marketing - Licensing Agreements

Lady Ethel:

Here at Botco, we celebrate the many things that make you a special, unique individual. We encourage you to be truly yourself! With millions of memories, personality traits, and interests, no two people are the same. However, everyone needs a friend, and when our algorithms decide which dreamers you’ll encounter in your dreaming experience, we look at all these factors to find the most overlap possible. Have a fascination with butterflies? Know too much about dinosaurs or world war 2? Whether you dress in all black, or red, white and blue, there are people here who will love your style.

This is just one way we use the comprehensive data we collect to ensure that your dreaming experience is as customized to you as possible—because you have so much in common with other unique individuals! Your interests and activity also influence other parts of the dreaming experience, such as the ads you see on Botco Advertising surfaces.

It’s all to make sure your dreams are peaceful, pleasing, and happy every night in a row, and that whenever you need something, you already have it…

Story 2, Continued - Almost Perfectly, Too

What is unique about you, dreamer, is not defined in your interests or your hobbies or your attire. You are, however, the only one with your eyes, your thoughts, the experience of living your life. That, I think, is special.

We return now to the Other Riot Maidstone.

“Excuse me,” said Riot, interrupting Olivier. “I’m not supposed to be here. I’m supposed to be with my mom, and Lady Ethel. Maybe they got mixed up.”

“Oh, the wrong Riot is in just the right place,” said Anderson. His eyes were huge black points behind his coke-bottle glasses. “I wouldn’t trust anything Lady Ethel says. She’s not an ideal ally, you know. Or a very good friend.”

“You just killed or hurt all of my friends,” Olivier said, glaring from her cell. “Whatever you think I’m capable of… I can do so much more. If you set me free now, you don’t need to die. Otherwise, I will make it hurt.”

“You are a beautiful find,” replied Anderson, straightening up. “And I believe it. What we have on tape is incredible. I’ve worked with a number of unusual subjects, but few were quite so… dynamic. Imagine what you could do if you were harnessed properly. Imagine what you could do if you were pushed.”

Olivier’s composure changed—bristling like a storm on the horizon.

“So why am I here?” said Riot. “I don’t shoot lightning or anything. I just want to go.”

“You are the worst person I’ve ever met,” Olivier muttered.

“You are here, my dear, because like a prodigal child you’ve returned home. And despite your issues, you are a victory. A scientific miracle. Operation Wilson has been waiting in development for years, waiting for sufficient advancement and corporate approval. Truth be told, I expected far more failures before we reached a working subject. You were only the twenty-third.”

“Twenty-third?” Riot said, put her hands against the glass. “What do you mean?”

“Well, the twenty-third attempt to create a living duplicate of Riot Maidstone,” said Anderson. “Cloning would have been simple, but then we’d be waiting years for you to grow up. This is more complicated, and we have only limited understanding of the technology, so some trial and error was expected.”

Riot looked down at her shoes; she could hear her own heartbeat like a resounding drum in her head.

“You… manufactured me,” she said.

“And almost perfectly, too,” Anderson smiled.

“How can you do that? Just make a terrible version of someone else?” Olivier said, watching from her cell. Riot wished she had privacy; wished she could talk to Anderson alone. She scrubbed the tears from her face.

“With a lot of intelligence, and a little luck,” said Anderson. “In the future, who knows? It could be a kind of eternal life. The possibilities are fascinating.”

“I’m not just a duplicate,” said Riot. “I’m Riot Maidstone. I have a mom and dad. I’m not like anyone else. I’m me. I’m better.”

Anderson tapped the side of his glasses, seeming as if for a moment stunned, and then his clarity returned.

“I’m making a note of that. See, that’s one of the things we’ll need to iron out, eventually,” he said. “I told them you weren’t ready. But they were keen on getting Valerie compliant as quickly as possible. Really you needed more memory work, more conditioning. A secure sense of self. I’ll be sure to fix that in the next iteration.”

“You’re making more Riots?” Olivier said. Riot felt suddenly untethered, an animal in a corner, a deer staring down lights on the road.

“Oh heavens no. Riot Maidstone wouldn’t have been my first choice for a subject,” said Anderson. “But it’s a compromise for the sake of science. Now that they’re through with you, I can study, and gather the information I need to produce results for better projects.”

“No,” Riot said, and kicked the glass, grit her teeth at the pain in her toes, felt heat rising to her cheeks. “This isn’t what I’m for. I… I just want my mom, I want to be with my family…”

“In a way, you already are,” Anderson said, and folded his bony hands. “I care for all my projects deeply.”

“My dad’s name is Ralph,” said Riot. “My mom is Valerie. And I am Riot. I’m getting back to them. I have to…”

Anderson sighed, and stood up from the monitor, and tapped the side of his glasses again.

“A bit disappointing,” he said. “In nature, you know, life adapts. It grows to avoid death. People are supposed to do the same. But you’re stuck on this, too much to think about anything else. I’ve made a note for the next iteration. And as for you, subject B5, are you going to be useful?”

“I’ve been useful,” said Olivier, and the blue traces of lightning crackling at her fingertips lit up the recesses of the room. Riot could not see the cat anywhere. “To so many people. I have burned myself out. Changed everything about who I am. I have been pushed, again and again and again, and I’m done. From here on out I’m taking care of myself, and my friends. I don’t need you. And I will get out of here and get my friends back. I’ve done it once before. I can do it again.”

“That. There. It’s one of my favorite things to see,” said Anderson, poised by the door. “That sudden burst of energy when a subject realizes it’s been caged. I find the despondency that sets in less interesting.”

“Why did you make me?” Riot said, and Anderson glanced back to her—she connected for a moment with the dark spirit lurking behind those glasses. He seemed to weigh her question before shrugging it off.

“Why does one do anything?” he said. “Rats look for friendship and darkness. Beetles chew on fruit and dead flesh. And I push the boundaries of modern science. Not for fame, or salary, or even power. But for the thrill of advancing our species one twist further in the maze.”

There was a hiss of the pneumatic doors, and she was alone again with Olivier, two glass boxes in a crowd of blinking monitors and dials and darkness.

Riot slumped down to the floor, laid on her side. She could feel Olivier’s eyes on her.

“Why didn’t you say yes?” she said. “You could get out of here, probably. Go make sure it’s always sunny somewhere.”

“Because I’ve done it already,” Olivier said, sinking down to sit against the glass. “And whatever happens, I’m not going to be anyone’s pawn anymore. Besides, even though you probably deserve it… I know what you’re going through, I Think. And I don’t want to leave you here to get dissected or something.”

“Why not?” she said, face buried in her arms. “I ruined everything for all of you.”

“I don’t know,” Olivier said quietly, and she thought she could hear a rumble of thunder, however faint and distant. “Maybe you remind me of someone I know.”

Interlude 2 - Broken Seals

Contrary to popular belief, there are some seals that should never be broken. To open the Grand Archives of Zelkryzelk is to plummet into omniscience, and the usual annoying madness that goes with it, if not used carefully.

There is the Pain Puzzle of Xyzikxyz, which can beckon her void-winged thralls from the shadows anywhere. It is currently being used as a desk ornament at Downing hill. It is the same place, coincidentally, where great malevolence is bound in a painting of a field of sunflowers.

Some boxes hold the dead, such as the stony tombs where spores of Rothogroth were planted to preserve the memory of the buried. Or the great obsidian mausoleums, almost invisible in the darkness between stars, which keep the bones of gods long dead.

There are entire civilizations entombed in elaborate monoliths, their remains bathed in the radiation of an angry cosmos. And there is the Temple of the End, where an engine was sealed away, a masterwork never to be displayed, bound in ice for eternity… or so they hoped.

We go now to one who listens to a heartbeat.

Story 3 - The Soul Electric

Percy had spent much of his life in dark rooms, but this was not one of them. It was dim, circular, ringed with a black upholstered bench all the way around. He had tried immediately to get through the walls, but for the first time he could not—a layer deep there was something solid to his touch, and it burnt like cool fire against his hand. He could not escape; he was alone with the person in the center of the room.

The person lay in something not unlike a Dreaming Pod, except the lid was glass so you could see inside, and it was tilted up towards the ceiling. Wires and cables drifted upwards in a tangle, and there was a man in his middle years sleeping inside. He was a little sallowed, but his hair was neat and his face shaved. His chest inflated and deflated mechanically, and he was strapped to his bed—it reminded Percy of his own restraints; the bed he had died in.

“Hi there,” Percy said, floating up closer, trying to be loud enough and bright enough that it might cause the sleeping man to stir.

“He can’t hear you,” said a voice, and Percy turned to find a dark door open behind him. The stranger stayed back, as if trying to keep out of the dim light, but shadows no longer concealed much for Percy. He wished they did, in that moment. The stranger was frightening; a corpulent head sat on a neckless body. The stranger had huge compound eyes bubbling from his skull, and his lips had peeled back to reveal a smile of exposed teeth. Thick black hairs bristled here and there from the folds of his head, and two thin legs and four sticklike arms protruded from his pinstripe suit.

“I wish he could,” the stranger continued. “Hear us, I mean. I’d almost like to think that he can. But there’s no brain activity. No nothing. God left the lights on on his way out.”

“Who is he?” Percy said, glancing between the stranger and the figure in the bed—the lights on the ceiling cast him dramatically, like a painted martyr.

“He’s my son,” said the stranger, and leaned against the wall with two segmented hands. “Harold. Not sure what got into him. He was a happy kid, growing up. I wanted him to have it better than I did.”

“I’m Percy,” said Percy, hovering in the light, unsure of where to go. He thought about moving for the hall behind the stranger, but then again, he could only go so far without the necklace containing his bone fragment, which sat on the bench.

“Oswald,” said the stranger. It set off old memories for Percy—the suit, the voice. Mr. Botulus himself, changed somehow since the age of TV advertisements and front page news.

“What happened to him?” Percy said, looking for any flicker of movement in Harold’s eyes.

“I don’t know for certain,” said Oswald, and folded his segmented hands, stepped into the room. “If there was something he didn’t talk about. If he got low and felt like there was no way out. If I’d known, whatever it was, we could have made it alright. Found the best therapist in the world. But he tried to end his life, and got unlucky. Or lucky, I guess. If he was found ten minutes later he’d be dead, the whitecoats tell me. But now he isn’t dead. Just empty.”

“I’m sorry,” said Percy. The man with the multifaceted eyes waved his hand.

“It’s not your fault. It’s mine. I can run the greatest company on earth but not keep my own son safe and happy. I’d trade it around in a heartbeat.”

“I’d like to say something,” Percy said. “But I don’t want to be rude.”

“No, please.”

“You run Botco, right? You had me and my friends kidnapped. You hurt Diggory. The one with the stitches? And if they’re not okay, I will burn this whole place to the ground.”

“Yes, I run Botco,” said Oswald, and waved as if explaining the weather. “And yes, we’ve got your people—they’re off in different places. Department requests. You travel with an interesting crew. Right now they’re where they’re the most valuable.”

“And I’m most valuable here?” Percy probed.

“Absolutely,” said Oswald, sitting down a few feet away from Percy’s locket. “Now I don’t profess to be an expert on the human spirit. But you are living proof of the soul. And if I have a second chance to make things right with my boy, well, I’d do anything.”

“It’s not good,” Percy said. “I’m sorry. That wasn’t very eloquent. But being like this… it’s miserable. To be invisible most of the time. To be moved around only by other people. To live with the knowledge that the hundred pounds of flesh that you had is rotting away somewhere. Not being able to help when the people you love get hurt.”

“You would rather be dead?” said Oswald, mildly curious.

“I… well. Once, I wished for that,” Percy said. “Now I’m not so sure.”

“Because?” said Oswald. “What’s keeping you here, Percy?”

“Diggory,” said Percy. “I met someone named Diggory. And they reminded me that sometimes things get better. The friends you’ve hurt? They’re the only reason I’m sticking around. Why I haven’t left.”

“That’s all I want for Harold,” said Oswald.

“I don’t say this to be mean,” Percy said, hovering down closer to Oswald’s warped face. “But if he wanted to get away from you… maybe it’s better to let him go. Besides, I can’t bring people back to life or anything. Being a ghost isn’t contagious.”

Oswald nodded, and with one stick-thin arm reached into his coat, and pulled out a bundle of papers and books tied with red string. Percy stared at it for a few moments,, before the pieces became familiar. Weathered bindings that had sat on shelves he knew, and papers once scattered across desks that haunted him, and crimson cord for repairing torn band uniforms.

“Where did you get that?” Percy whispered.

“It’s incomplete,” said Oswald. “There are some steps here—essential reading. But other things have been omitted, I know, to stop it from being really useful. All I need from you is a description. How this happened to you. How you became stable. I’ll compare notes.”

“He’s dead,” Percy said. “My father is dead and all this should have died with him. It should have burned. No one else should ever be trapped like I am.”

“He won’t be,” said Oswald, raised three of his skeletal hands. “If Harold wakes up and all he wants to do is kick the bucket, well, I won’t stop him. But at least he’ll know that I love him. And that I said goodbye. And if he stays around, well, we’ve got technology. We’ll build a body he can move, he’ll fit right in. Things will be better. And I’ll be here for him like I wasn’t back then.”

“What happens to me?” Percy said quietly. “To my friends?”

“If you help me with this? Whatever you want,” said Oswald. “Make a list and I’ll make it happen.”

“Really?” said Percy. “After all the work to find us? You’d let us go?”

“Percy, I run the world. You seriously think that any of you matter to me beyond getting my son back?” Oswald said, and stared intently at Percy for a few long moments. Percy looked down, and back to the sleeping man, felt the steady beat of his heart vibrate in the air.

“Well,” he said. “To start with, you’re going to need a cabinet.”

Outro - Boxes

Boxes. Do they bring you comfort, dreamer? I dwell in dimension and starlight, and no vessel could ever contain my memories. My possessions are the universe itself, and the stories dreamt within it. But for your kind, you prefer a kind of control. You put your family in a box to keep them safe from the weather; your things into chests and cabinets and shelves, and even when your life ends, into a box you go.

Unless you are set on fire.

Unless you lie on the forest floor, and the winters leave your bones to gleam in the passing summers.

Unless you run wildly through life, outrunning the ceiling, the walls that rise around you, and you fight for a moment in the wind.

You were not born for a packaged life, and beyond its walls there is a round horizon, calling for you. Until every box is opened, I am your loyal host NIkignik, waiting trapezoidally for your return to the Hallowoods.

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