HFTH - Episode 92 - Omens



Content warnings for this episode include: Self-harm, Ableism, Animal death (birds, rats and forest creatures, implied), Violence, Kidnapping and abduction, Death + Injury, Birds, Emotional Manipulation, Bugs, Body horror



Intro - End Of The Lane

The child at the end of the lane will not stop staring at you. At first you thought it was because of your hair or your disposition, or because you are new to the neighborhood. But you would expect a child's attention span to waver after a day or two; see him back to playing with friends. And yet every time you peer through the blinds, he is standing at the edge of the grass lot in front of his house, holding a ball, watching your window.


You do your best to ignore it; you take the dog on walks right past him, you wave and say hello. He says nothing, and his head swivels to watch you continually as you pass. One day his mother is outside with him; she does not look quite as accursed, but you suppose you can never know for sure. He's just shy, she says. Say hello, August.


Hello, he says at last. Hello From The Hallowoods.


Theme.


Right now, I sit in the nest of a great heron. It is formed of reeds and cat-of-nine-tails, and the heron takes refuge in its mangled wings as it sleepily watches its new domain. Beneath the water, all the corpses are sleeping but one. In the distance, two men sit in a small boat, and have all but forgotten that they are fishing, and have barely noticed that the dawn sky is red. The theme of tonight's episode is Omens.



Story 1 - The Heart Quickens

"I'm still not sure if it's a good idea for you to whittle your own arm," Jonah said, watching with concern. The rough black bark on the outside of Hector's new limb was carved with little patterns; crude outlines of Heidi and Jackie, and of Hector's motorcycle.


Hector half-smiled, and gestured to the appendage.


"I can't feel a thing. Besides, I think it's already growing over."


"Yeah, but it takes energy to heal," Jonah said, and turned his fishing rod over in his hands. "I'm not sure if that comes from me or from you."


"Alright. Just one last touch," Hector said, with the particular sigh he reserved for abandoning arguments.


Jonah raised an eyebrow, and watched as Hector produced a small knife—something he always seemed to have on his person—and with a few scrapes that made Jonah wince, chipped at the bark of his overgrown arm. He proffered the arm and knife both to Jonah.


"It just needs your initial," he said.


There was a small heart in the bark, with an 'H' and a plus sign and an open space in the middle.


"You're sure that doesn't hurt you?" Jonah said. Hector glanced down at the symbol.


"The arm? It's just dead wood, Jones. What that little heart means... probably hurts me more. Staying put ain't something I'm used to. I'm not a tree, I'm a scavenger. I run, and I pick what I can off the roadside, and if I stay put for too long it feels like the world's closing in.


At least, until now. I'm going to stay, this time. And we'll make this work. And I may still daydream, from time to time, about going someplace warm. But if it comes down to it, I'd rather face the cold with you."


Jonah nodded, and braced Hector's arm against his leg, put in a little 'J' where it belonged. Hector examined his handiwork and smiled, and tucked his sleeve down over the carving.


"You're a lot more sentimental than I would have guessed at first," Jonah said. "When you were dragging my corpse out of that big fish's mouth."


"Speaking of which, that thing is still out there," Hector said, and glanced up beyond Lurch Lake. "According to Huntington, the queen's a good few miles south. Seemed right at home in the new pond. But the fish in the lake... well, I expect the frogs will be back."


"I'm not so sure," Jonah said, and put his elbows on his knees. The boat rocked slightly in the gleaming water; pushed through banks of lilies. "I had a talk with one. Grug. He's the leader now, I think. I told him what would happen if he brought his folks back. He seemed to take it to heart."


"Didn't know you've had the time to learn Froglin," Hector said.


"I haven't," Jonah said, tried to think of words that could describe the experience. "It was like, we were just thinking to each other, and we understood. Came with the whole burning crown of the ages thing."


"It's a nice bit of headwear," Hector mused. "Can you pull that thing up on command?"


"Probably, but I'm not going to," Jonah said, and shivered, although the summer breeze was gentle. "I don't know enough about it yet. I lost control one time, and destroyed the Scoutpost. It's a lot.


And there's something you should know, as well... I think the next time I die, I'm going to stay that way for a while. There's someone on the other side now. A rat king. It can show me how to control this. So I won't hurt anyone else."


Hector seemed to breathe unsteady, clasped his wooden hand and his calloused one together.


"Right," Hector said.


"You don't have to do that," Jonah said, reached out to put a hand on Hector's knee, tried not to rock the canoe. "Bottle things up. What do you want to say?"


"I want some time," Hector said, and looked up; there was water in his dark eyes. "Some time with you. Before you go. A month. Maybe two. Is that alright?"


Jonah nodded. "Of course."


"Okay," Hector said, and sat up a little. "And also... promise me you'll come back. Because if you were kidnapped by the Fisher, or dragged under by a lake monster, or taken by the Faceless King... I'd walk. I'd build a trap. I'd hunt them down. And I'd find a way to bring you back home safe. But the places you go lately are places I can't follow. So I need you to keep on coming back to me."


Jonah leaned across the boat, and put his forehead against Hector's.


"Always."


"Be careful guys," a voice wheezed from one side of the boat, and Jonah looked over to see the dome of Big Mikey's head poking up from the water, dripping with mangled lily flowers.


"Big Mikey?" Jonah said. "They've been looking for you. I thought you hated swimming."


"It was the only place to hide," the mottled titan said. The breath from his nostrils flumed on the water. "The big duck is still over there waiting for me."


Jonah glanced to the pile of massive black feathers in the distant bank; the bird that Fort Freedom called Frogsticker seemed to be sleeping.


"I think it's okay," Jonah said. "It's calmed down now. You can go."


"Swimming isn't as scary as I thought," Big Mikey bubbled, and then looked down in horror as a spindly wet shape came crawling up his submerged body—bony hands pulled at him, and a screaming skull burst up from the surface of the lake.


"Sleep!" cried the skeleton, green eyes blazing like little bonfires. Jonah had never seen the pale corpse before, but assumed it was Democracy. "Sleep while you can! Mounting ecological factors. Inescapable crisis. The district votes lie uncounted!"


"Get off of me!" Big Mikey said, and sent Democracy flying with a huge hand. The waves almost toppled Jonah's boat, and Democracy splashed into the lake on the other side, and came to drift by the surface.


"Sorry sir," Jonah said, and watched as the dead prophet looked up at him, a crown of wet lilies on its decayed head.


"The heart of death quickens," said Democracy. "The end draws near, so very near. Sleep while you can, or die screaming."



Interlude 1 - Darker In The Glass

There is something in the water. I expect you have noticed it by now. If you have not, congratulations on your life free of troubles.


It was in the ocean first, collecting like an oil spill amidst disappearing ice flows, dispersed by currents and evaporated like the water itself, born in great shadowed thunderstorms upon the earth. The first rains were the most potent; the ambassadors of an age to come.


It would be easier to avoid if it were absolute. Pitch-black water is clearly not for consumption. But it is not. In small quantities, it is only a little darker in your glass, a little more mirror-like on the surface of the pond. And the effects are not often immediate or extreme. They are small, and grow over time.


If you drink water, and it is almost certain you do, it is not a question now of if you have been exposed. It is to how much, and how much longer you have before you begin to become stranger. We go now to one who does not drink.



Story 2 - A New Unkindness

The Omen flew for Downing Hill, albeit with long side trails and pinwheels each time a new thought occurred to it. It repeated the checklist.


Extend invitation to study to ghost boy, last work of the bone-carver. Check.


Collect Walter Pensive's books. Check. Ricou had not been home when the Omen returned to report their failure to fetch Invisible Nolan, so the Omen had surreptitiously helped themself.


But the last item... the devil's spellbook. Lost. Ruined. In a suit-jacket pocket in the ocean. Maybe there would be a chance if the Omen was a different demon, formed of fish instead of birds, perhaps. Or if the suit-jacket was simply an article of clothing and not a hiding place for nowhere treasures. But as it was, their domain ended at the shore, and they could neither swim nor find a trace of the book.


They hoped two would be enough, and when they could avoid it no more, dove for the gleaming dome and ivory towers of the Downing Hill Public Library.


They entered through a gap in the rafters, and were pulled bird by bird into the otherspace within, the hungry current of reality that formed the inside of the library. The Omen wondered if everyone saw it as they did—walls all formed of twisted branches, lit with red fires, books and treasures hidden in the tangle. They plummeted through the great nest, straight to the darkness below—the bottom of the pit, the abyss where the Director schemed and sat in her little chair and denied love to the Omen.


They arrived on the floor, a barren room lined with scattered shelves of treasured books. The Director looked up as they arrived, tapped her fingers on her desk.


"Where were you?" the Director said. "You should have been back days ago."


"Much effort to complete tasks," crowed the Omen, bowing its little feathered heads. Dread was already setting in.


"So you have completed them," the Director said, sitting back a little. She squinted through her half-moon spectacles.


"The bone-carver's boy will ask his grandmother," the Omen said, hopping in bounds towards the Director's desk, scuttling across her shelves.


The Director tilted her head. "I told you to collect the drum."


"Ah. I see," the Omen paused. The Director tried to pick a bird to glare at, but could not. The Omen continued. "I assumed... since it is a child, a speaking child... you wished to invite the boy to the Arcane Program."


The Director breathed out like winter, and gave the Omen's soul frostbite.


"It is a useful artifact," she said. "Not a student. You think a shadow of a child in a toy drum could complete a single test in the Arcane Program?"


"I... was unsure," said the ravens.


"I need you to think," said the Director. "As you do things. I cannot give you a plan for every specific eventuality. Do you know what I sacrificed to summon you?"


"Yes," the Omen said, and shuddered with all their wings.


"If he arrives, I suppose it does not matter if he is stored on a shelf or in a classroom," the Director breathed, and sat up.


"I have also brought these," said the Omen, feeling hopeful, and leapt from their perches to take one form, and pulled Walt's books out of their nothing-space heart, and placed them neatly on the Director's desk in a stack. The Omen remained in its single form, watched expectantly. "Walter Pensive's collection."


The Director frowned, and her scrupulous hands flipped through the titles.


"These are the books you wished for, yes?" said the Omen, a little panic rising beneath its many wings.


"I thought there would be more. Anything of value," said the Director. "It appears he made the most of very little. There were of course books we could not let him access, for fear of his using them to hunt our other clients. It appears he managed posthumously in the end."


The Omen stared, beaks twitching.


"What's missing?" the Director said.


"I believe that is all," said the Omen. "The Library is complete."


The Director stared at it, and suddenly its resolve was like wet feathers.


"I searched all places for the devil book," the Omen said. "He has lost it. It is destroyed."


"I doubt that very much," said the Director. "If you cannot find what I need you to find, what other use do you have, my Omen?"


"I can look again," the Omen said. "I can return to the beaches. Perhaps the tides will bring it ashore."


"Do that," said the Director. "To read such a thing would destroy a mortal, and I have worked diligently to be ready for it. It is not a book; it is an arsenal, and Downing Hill will need such power for what is to come. But I have something that needs attending to first."


"Anything," said the Omen, and flapped the wings across its composite form. "What do you require?"


"I need you to locate the student named Friday Rescher," said the Director. "She's run away, and you must bring her home for me."


"Yes, Director," the Omen said. "I will not fail you."


"If you do," said the Director, and leaned on her desk, stared into its face of beaks and talons. "I will make a better demon. One who can do what needs to be done. Do I make myself clear?"


"Clearer than glass, clearer than ice, clearer than crystal and everything nice," said the Omen.


It rushed upward, then, at a wave of the Director's hand, soared through the abyssal ceiling. Friday would be found. There was no other choice. They took a detour through the halls; saw students in the lobby returned from the Summer Program—Victoria, with a shining comb in her hair that the Omen very much wanted. Harrow, somewhat cracked. And one of Arnold's hands. What happened to the rest of him, the Omen wondered? The students glared after it as it passed, and for the first time, the Omen felt it deserved their loathing.


One last task. One chance for redemption, and they rushed out of the front doors into the forest sky beyond.



Marketing - Say Hi, Anderson

Melanie Flores:

Hi everybody, and thank you so much for dreaming in. It’s been a while since my last celebrity interview, but today I have a super important conversation to have with one of the Botulus’ Corporations most brilliant minds. You probably did a science fair project about him, but believe it or not he’s still alive, and he’s here today. Say hi, Anderson!


Anderson Faust:

Hello everyone, good evening. Thank you for having me on this broadcast of yours, Melanie. You know, I helped invent this technology. The ability to reach so many dreaming minds at once, and have them respond, is truly exciting. But that’s not what I’m here to talk about today.


I should preface this by saying… what I’m going to tell you will be shocking. It may change your idea of me, and of the Botulus Corporation, and of key members of our leadership team.


Melanie Flores:

That’s right, everyone. Today is a bit of a departure from my interviews. This is way more serious than favorite dogs or what sleep position is your favorite. Andy—can I call you Andy?—you were recently responsible for…


Anderson Faust:

Responsible in the metaphorical sense.


Melanie Flores:

Oh yes, let me be very clear. Members of our leadership team here at Botco made you do something. Forced you to play a part in a very unethical project. Isn’t that right?


Anderson Faust:

It pains my heart to say it, but you’re correct, miss.


Melanie Flores:

And just to be clear for our audience, something you would never have done on your own. But you didn’t have a choice.


Anderson Faust:

Of course not. But it’s always been important to me that I am perfectly transparent with the public, even when it means risk of retaliation from my superiors.


Melanie Flores:

Are you afraid you may be punished for sharing this information?


Anderson Faust:

It’s a risk I’m willing to take if it means our dreaming audience sleeps a little more easily. I know I will, with this terrible secret off my chest.


Melanie Flores:

Why don’t you tell us what happened, Andy?


Anderson Faust:

Of course. It began with Lady Ethel Mallory. She asked to meet with me privately… I assumed, just to talk about new features for our dreamers. But what she revealed to me shocked me to my core.


Melanie Flores:

Please keep talking. I’m on the edge of my seat. Not literally, because I’m asleep, but…


Anderson Faust:

Metaphorically. Yes. Well. She revealed to me that he had plans to… I can’t believe I’m about to say this. Plans to sabotage one of our dreaming boxes. And that if I didn’t provide her with the access codes she needed to do it, she would have me fired.


Melanie Flores:

Our Lady Ethel Mallory? Our dear precious Lady Ethel? The face of the Botulus Corporation? The heart of the country?


Anderson Faust:

That’s exactly what I thought too. But the truth is that she isn’t like she is on the broadcasts or the magazine covers or the television programs. She’s violent, and intimidating, and manipulates everyone around her.


Melanie Flores:

Yikes! Did she tell you why she would try to do such a terrible thing?


Anderson Faust:

This is going to be the hardest thing for you to hear.


Melanie Flores:

Can it get any worse?


Anderson Faust:

Believe it or not, Lady Ethel told me that she was working for the Stonemaids.


Melanie Flores:

OMG.


Anderson Faust:

And I have reason to believe she’ll do it again.


Melanie Flores:

‘Again?’ Are you saying she’s already gone through with this sabotage? Please be very specific.


Anderson Faust:

I am saying, Melanie Flores, that the tragic malfunction at Box Aries, and the disconnection of a million dreamers from the Prime Dream, was caused by Lady Ethel Mallory…



Story 2, Continued - A New Unkindness

*Nikignik cackles*


I would not want to be Lady Ethel Mallory. To crawl around, grotesque on my spindle legs, and ruin everything I touch and have a marketing degree.


But I especially would not want to be her tonight.


We return now to the Omen.




The Omen could not find Friday.


It was unusual for them, not to be able to find someone. They looked for a corpse once named Friday, but could find that neither—not in the many miles that made up the dark forest of their home.


They wheeled in the sky, high above the forest canopy, a firestorm of furious thought. What had the devil said about finding the invisible? To look for the trails they left? The marks imprinted on the world?


The Omen searched for something else—for things gone wrong. Insects caught underfoot. Small animals picked up unawares by larger predators. Falling trees. Baby birds plummeting from their nests. Cold breezes on warm afternoons. A trail of bad luck leading in a singular direction across the woods.


And there, like a beacon of unpleasantness, came the feeling, and they knew which way to fly.


It took a few minutes to reach her hiding place, for she had strayed far from the library indeed. They coalesced into one form and landed on the forest floor, a blanket of needles beneath sweeping pine trees. The trees were littered with bones and skulls and antlers. Some were affixed to branches with hanging garlands of herbs and dried flowers. Someone was sending a message which roughly translated to 'leave me alone'.


The Omen could see nothing else, however. They felt a thrum of energy in the empty forest ahead of them, and the trail of misfortune stopped dead in a clearing and went no further.


The Omen considered calling out her name, but thought twice of it. Best to know what they were flying into. They lifted a hand, and from it detached a single raven, peeled out of the shadow of their body.


And as a single raven, the Omen flew forward, and felt for a moment as though it was going to fly into another window. But then the feeling was past, and the bird was through an invisible barrier and into a hidden place beyond.


They flapped high, enough to stay out of sight as they surveyed the secret landscape.


There was a small village—a dozen little huts, built of forest debris and strung with lines of flowers and acorn shells and bones. There was a smell, also; the appetizing scent of dead flesh overpowered by flower and sage and cinnamon.


A dark stream ran through the center of the clearing, and from it sprung a great tree, filled with empty holes like missing eyes, and its twisted branches were bent over like a kneeling prophet.


The Omen was not alone. There were other ravens, not born of fire or shadow, congregating in a great unkindness, building nests in which to hide things that sparkled and shone. The Omen resolved not to become distracted with petty thievery, not when their future was on the line. And lesser birds never had much interesting to say.


There were people in the village, lurking in doorways, baking in slabstone kitchens and working dark little gardens. No kind of uniform that the Omen could tell; one wore patchwork dyed fabrics, one wore brown leather flight gear, another, the Omen shuddered to see, was clad in raven feathers.


And there, sitting in the roots of the prophet tree, was Friday.


The Omen felt a leap of exhilaration, and swung across the rooftops, seeking a closer look. Friday sat between two other women—one younger, one older—whom the Omen did not recognize. The Soul Weaver spiderling nestled in her hands. They had pulled apart Friday's braids; were weaving them back together in an intricate bun filled with little bones and black flowers.


This did not terrify the Omen. What did, however was that something unnatural rested on Friday's face. A smile.


The Omen felt a cold spark of recognition in their flaming heart.


She was happy.


She had run away. And found in her flight a home.


The Omen pivoted towards her, and then flew up again, took another gliding loop around the tree. Do it, they thought. You have no choice.


"Hey hey!" said one of the ravens on the tree.


"Not now!" said the Omen. "Shut up! Thinking!"


Could they drag her back? That girl who had set all the mousetraps for them so artfully to avoid? That girl who left out shiny tacks and nails for the Omen to collect from chairs and floors? That girl who buried rats and little birds in the Downing Hill gardens so that the Omen could dig them up and steal their bones?


Could they pull her away from the first of her smiles they had ever seen? She was as free now as the Omen wished to be, and no one but the Omen could find her.


I will not do it, realized the Omen. I cannot. I am bad at being a demon. But I cannot do it.


And what will become of me, thought the Omen? I return empty-clawed and the Director uses my feathers for pillow stuffing. Woe and shame, woe and shame, I have nothing to my name.


Unless, thought the Omen. Friday is missing. The Omen could be missing too. And in missing, be happy. Be free.


One place, the Omen thought, with a final circle high over the tree, where the Director cannot see me.


"Hey hey!" cried the raven below.


"Hey hey!" cried the Omen, and descended into the tree, hopped up onto a twisting branch with the other raven.


"No stealing!" said the strange raven. It was a common greeting.


"No thieving!" said the Omen. "Make nest home?"


"Make nest home," confirmed the raven. "Welcome home."


"Home," said the Omen, and shed a single fiery tear. "Home."



Interlude 2 - Messages In The Stars

There are messages written in the stars. Not any for you, though. I hate to disappoint, but no one with the power to alter the cosmos cares about humankind. Different economies of scale entirely. Do you write messages in the dirt for the worms to read? Even if you did, they could not comprehend what forms meaning for you.


But I enjoy hearing them, from time to time. Most of them are far out of date, or rather dull. A great many only say "this star is protected by Tolshotol, Who Guards A Thousand Suns. Attempt to move it and be destroyed by the Light Of All Days".


I like the quiet ones. A few sing 'Xyzikxyz and Nikignik were here'. Those were good times. There is a star that sings 'please come home'. Who was it meant for? I do not know. It predates even my vision. But the ones I care for the most, naturally, are the poems. He wrote them for me, you know. Burning in the songs of stars. I do not visit them often now. To hear them puts me in a sad place, and if I enter another thousands-year depression I will never get anything done.


We go now to a treasure trove of memories.



Story 3 - Another Happy Customer

Elena groaned, and put her head on the side of the moving van; 'Alder's Odds And Ends' was painted in block letters above. They were out of coffee and she was feeling its absence, especially since it was up to her to set up for the market. She took a breath, and rolled up the sliding door.


The beach of grey stones around her was still empty; she liked to show up earlier than her father did, make sure she got the best spot. Sometimes she thought she could still spot the last flashes of the Wet Market in the receding water of the lake.


But there, in the reflection of an ornate oval mirror, she could see a huge black shape parked near the forest behind her, and a slightly smaller form looming close behind.


"I have a knife!" she shrieked, and wheeled around. It was an understatement.


The person standing on the beach beside her van was huge, easily ten feet tall, with legs and arms too thin for his suit. He wore dark glasses, and a red scarf, and a black brimmed hat obscured much of his face. Where she could see his skin, it was grey and patchy and dotted with bristly black hairs as if badly shaved. He waved a black-gloved hand.


"I'm sorry if I frightened you," he said. "I think you have something I need."


"That's our specialty," she said, backing away into the fender of the moving van. "Market's not open until eight."


"Well I've come a hell of a long way, and I'm in a bit of a hurry," said the stranger. He did not reach into his jacket; rather a third glove reached out from his vest and produced a stick of metal, which he took in his second hand, and extended to her. "I'm willing to pay extra for your time. Mine is certainly valuable."


Elena glanced both ways nervously, and then reached out to accept the bar from the stranger, inspected it for marks. She'd have to test it to be sure, but it read as sterling. She tucked it into her apron pocket, and dusted her hands, and stared up at the hallowed man's chromatic glasses.


"Alright, I'll bite. How can I help you, mister..."


"Biggs," the stranger said, and grinned; a smile of tombstone teeth that seemed to encompass the entire width of his square face.


"Uh huh. Like the Dreaming Box guy," she said.


"Yeah," said Mr. Biggs. "Like that. You've taken some things from the house of one Solomon Reed."


Elena gulped. She should never have let her father haul that stuff out of the earth; bad wares attracted bad customers.


"Keen on making some instruments, are you?"


"Hardly," said Mr. Biggs, and squatted a little, trying to see inside the truck. "What did you find?"


"Well, let's see here," she said, and turned to the van. She pulled things out and tossed them into a crate as she spoke. "We have tools here, wood carving instruments. Hard to come by these days. Books, only a little burned, which is impressive considering the state of the house. Some knicknacks. Little bell, here. This looks like a hand in a glass box."


She turned to find Mr. Biggs with his hand raised.


"I'll take it all," he said. "But that's what I'm after."


She knew what he was pointing to before she looked; towards the back of the van, behind the mirror and a chandelier and the ladders and the portable crane, there was a big piece of furniture—a cabinet that seemed to shed just a trace of green light, until she wiped away the crust from her eyes.


"You're in luck," she said. "Was going to be the first day on the market today—woodwork like that? You just don't see it up here. The angels and the devils and such, really exquisite craftsmanship. Despite, ah, you know. The man's reputation. I can tell you, it won't come cheap."


"Do I strike you as someone who is cheap, Miss Alder?" said Mr. Biggs.


She looked up at the incongruously large man, who loomed close like a mountain of death. He must have read her name from the van. Inside her apron pocket, she gripped one of her knives, and thought about how high she'd have to jump to get at his eye.


"I'm not sure what you strike me as," she said. "But of course not. You seem like a classy collector, who wants only the best. And that's what we stock at Alder's Odds and Ends."


"You can save me the sales spiel," he said, and stepped forward, and waved her aside. "May I?"


She began to protest, but he reached into the van, and lifted with two hands the piece of furniture it took her and her father all afternoon to load. Mr. Biggs set the cabinet down on the rocky beach.


"Breathtaking," he said.


"You'll want this," Elena said, and reached into her apron, presented him with the key. It had a skull set into the ironwork. "Don't sleep with it by you, though. Not sure if it's lead or what, but you'll have strange dreams."


"Believe me, Miss Alder, I am used to strange dreams," smiled Mr. Biggs, and plucked the key from her fingers, held it up to the sky with a calculating eye. "Very much worth the trip."


"Right," said Elena, setting the last of the Instrumentalist haul into the crate. "So how do you want to pay?"


"However you want," said Mr. Biggs, and took a big breath of air. "What do you people use these days? Plastic dollars? Collectible trading cards? It's been a while since I was out."


"Papermoney, precious metals," she said. "Everything except Scoutcoin right now."


"Done," said Mr. Biggs; another hand appeared inside his coat, and he dropped several wrapped bundles of paper bills, three more sticks of silver, and a silver cartridge she recognized as a Botcoin credit. She looked up at him.


"Who are you?" she said.


"Just a happy customer. Which is what we all are, in the end," said Mr. Biggs, and he tucked the cabinet like a briefcase under one arm, the crate under the other, and he looked out towards the lake.


"I love that," he said. "The dawn. Makes you feel important. There's a dawn coming for us too, Miss Alder, and I hope you'll be there to thank me for it."


He turned to her a last time, and a third hand reached out of his vest and tipped his hat—his scalp beneath was grey and blotched—and he walked away across the beach and into the morning.


"I hate this job," she said, and breathed a sigh of relief, and slid the back of the moving van shut, and picked up her newfound riches from the shore. If her father asked, she had absolutely made quota for the morning, and she was ready for a day off.



Outro - Omens

Omens. Four ravens fly overhead from your left; a black cat crosses your path. The trees ahead of you are dark, and a red sun rises over the spruce and pine and tamarack. There is no bird song, save for a single magpie. These are not signs that something ill is bound for you. They are indicators that you are walking into the forest.


And the forest knows you, for it is always watching—sees you very briefly, in between the passing of the seaosns, for it is concerned with far longer spans of life than yours. It thinks of growth, and nourishment and frost and fire and fountain. When you cross beneath its branches, it wishes you no unkindness, and its omens are of coming home.


Until the thirteenth hour, I am your loyal host, Nikignik, waiting in broken mirrors for your return to the Hallowoods.



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