Content warnings for this episode include: Abuse, Animal death (Bert as usual, Topsy the ghost elephant), Violence, Kidnapping and abduction, Death + Injury, Blood, Sexism and misogyny, Needles, Birds, Gun Mention, Gunshots (including sfx), Strangulation/suffocation, Static (including sfx), Emotional Manipulation, Bugs, Body horror, Consumption of Inedible Materials, Alcohol Use
Intro - Parting Glance
The reflection in the mirror is not yours. It might have been, once, but your paths diverged long ago, and you are unrecognizable now.
You raise your left hand and they raise their right. You smile and they grimace. You dance and they writhe as if suffocating. There is nothing left that you share, except this: that each time you look into a mirror, they are there, staring back.
Would it not be easier for both of you if you went your separate ways, and lived your lives free of these fleeting glances? Left the reminders of your past, their future, to memory alone? Nonetheless, in each looking-glass and compact mirror and window pane, they find you the moment that you search for them.
One day you cover the mirror so that you will see them no more, avoid the silent confrontations altogether. It is almost a year before you pull the fabric away again, and half expect that shadow of a self to be there, as they always were.
But they are gone, and there is only your reflection, and a parting message in lipstick, backwards letters that spell Hello From The Hallowoods.
Right now, I am sitting in an imagined casino. The curtains have been pulled back from the windows to let the sun shine down the halls of dead gambling machines and moth-eaten card tables. And in the many reflective walls and mirror panels of the bar, three people sit in dream. The theme of tonight’s episode is Mirrors.
Story 1 - Your Lucky Day
Moth felt an unexpected sense of nostalgia to see the old commune again. In its best days, before they had to board up the windows, when the sun streamed in on makeshift gardens and libraries of books about insects and plants and the old world. It is only a memory, Moth had to remind mothself; born of me and Bill and Frances, and despite the smells of boiling fruit and tanning chemicals and sage, neither Dinah nor Fox are really here.
Fox and Dinah, as far as Moth knew, were still in the real place, which did not look so lovely now. Only a few miles away on a map, but a world away when it came to ever escaping Box Venus.
“I oughta slap you,” said Frances, and held her raspberry cosmo with hands that did not shake as much as moth remembered. “And I haven’t slapped anyone since Dexter Thunderberger said he’d marry my sister. I’ll say to you what I said to him. What the hell do you think you’re doing?”
“I’m sorry Frances,” said Moth, and held moth’s glass of water a little closer. Even the reflections in the glass seemed real. Moth hadn’t expected the Prime Dream to feel so much like waking life. Then again, the appearances were not all true to their dusty days on the streets of Vegas. Moth wore the wings of an emperor moth, and Frances was done up like a roller rink waitress, and moth’s father Bill had skin like ash and a head of grey hair dissolving into smoke.
“I know that apologies aren’t enough, Frances,” said Moth. “But I don’t know what else to say.”
“How about you say that Dinah’s in charge and not Fox,” Bill said, and looked to Moth with eyes like charcoal. “It would be nice to know not everyone is doomed.”
“It did seem like Dinah was handling things,” Moth nodded. “They were still at Lucky Day, so I guess the commune will go on for now. She wasn’t happy to see me.”
“Obviously,” Frances muttered.
“I didn’t mean for it to ruin everything,” Moth said quietly, and looked down. “What happened to you, Frances?”
“I got chased through the desert by one of those ad flies,” Frances sighed, and sipped her cosmopolitan, although the level did not seem to decrease. “I shot it. But it got me on the way out. Call us even.”
“I didn’t mean for them to go after everyone else,” said Moth, and looked up to Frances. Bill raised one of his smoldering eyebrows, and did not smile.
“Just me,” he said.
“You always told me they had medicine here,” moth said. “Among… a lot of terrible things. You needed help, and no one would even talk about it…”
“He was fine,” said Frances, and ate the decorative raspberries from her drink off of a flamingo-shaped stirrer. “A little under the weather is all. It’s called getting old.”
“Do you remember?” Moth said, and turned to Bill, set down moth’s glass loudly. “The things you said to me? The people you hurt? You were never like that to me. Something was wrong, something that Fox’s herbs or Frances’ drugs weren’t going to fix. I thought that even if I wouldn’t be ever able to see you again, at least I’d know that you were okay. That they had cured you from whatever it was. That you were safe.”
Bill stared off into space; his eyes were dark and empty, and smoke trailed from his crater of a skull into the far reaches of the sunbeams above.
“Bill?” Moth said. “Dad?”
“He gets quiet like that sometimes,” Frances said, and set down her drink, leaned on the bar, looked at her reflection in the bar mirror. ‘It’s Your Lucky Day’ was painted on the surface in disintegrating letters. “Just give him a moment.”
“Have they been able to help you?” Moth said, and leaned in towards Bill. He did not turn to look at moth, did not look at anything. And then he smiled.
“Sorry,” he said. “What were we talking about?”
Moth stared at him a long moment, watched his fraying head.
“You’re still not alright, are you?” said Moth.
Bill frowned, and examined his glass—there was soot inside, as if someone had used it to suffocate a candle.
“I’m better than I was,” he said. “Or things have slowed down. I can see it now, sometimes, when I couldn’t before. How I’ve changed. That I am changing. But no, I don’t think it’s over.”
He lifted his glass, and came away with black marks on his lips.
“So it was for nothing, then,” Moth said, and waved to the empty casino. “All of this.”
“Now we get some time together,” said Bill. “That’s something, isn’t it? We don’t have to fight anymore. If… I don’t know what’s happening, Moth. But I’d rather deal with it with you by my side, rather than worrying that you’ve gotten caught by a road gang or the acid rain or the aliens. We have as long as it lasts.”
“I don’t want as long as it lasts,” Moth said, and found tears welling in moth’s eyes. “I want you to be alright. I want us to be alright. I don’t want you to die. Don’t you see? That’s why I did it. Why I called the flies and told them where to find you and that you needed help. If I was going to sit quietly and watch you disappear I could have done it out there. Anything is better than that. I don’t want you to die.”
Bill nodded, and put a hand of ash on Moth’s shoulder.
“I guess we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it,” he said.
“I miss Florida,” said Frances, looking out towards the window. “It’s all bridges. Bridges for miles. You can still see some of them, you know, when the tide is low.”
“I was talking about the bridge over the river Styx, Frances,” Bill said, sitting back on his barstool.
“I don’t know where that is,” Frances said, brows furrowed. “Tennessee?”
“Sure, Frances,” Bill sighed. “It’s in Tennessee.”
Moth scooted moth’s stool closer to Bill’s, and leaned moth’s head on his shoulder. His shrouded form was surprisingly soft, like felted wool.
“Can you tell me one of your conspiracy theories,” Moth said. “The aliens building the pyramids or something.”
“Oh hey now,” said Bill, and put an arm around Moth. “I never said that. I think the ancient Egyptians built the pyramids to talk to the aliens.”
“They’re rocks,” moth muttered. “Not radios.”
“Well this is where the alignment comes in,” Bill began, and Moth was not really listening to what came next. It was the tone, not the words, that was soothing. Moth could close moth’s eyes and forget that Moth was really lying in a metal box, inside of a bigger box that reflected the desert landscape.
Moth wondered if they stored dreaming pods from families next to each other. If Moth’s casket lay right next to Bill’s. If they were as close in real life as they dreamed that they were right now; sleeping quietly a few feet apart.
“...which was why they burned the Library of Alexandria, obviously,” Bill said.
“You used to have all sorts of theories about Dreaming Boxes,” said Moth. “Any of them turn out to be true?”
“We’ll see,” said Bill. “I haven’t made up my mind yet.”
“Took a while for the flies to get you, Moth,” said Frances, picking up her glass again. “Where did you go?”
“I… found a friend,” Moth said, and felt a fresh wave of sadness creep in.
“This friend end up in Box Venus too?” said Bill.
“No,” Moth said, and stared at moth’s own face in the bar mirror. It was just as moth imagined it, and yet somehow nothing at all, a shifting thought, a feeling as much as the dream itself. That’s the face of someone who leaves friends to die, Moth thought. If Ray was alive, he was not coming back, and moth could not blame him.
“I’m sorry,” said Moth. “I seem to ruin everything I try. But it’s always been that way.”
“It’s alright,” said Bill, and nodded in a wreath of smoke. “They were bound to get us one day. And hey, it’s shelter from the rain. If all of America’s doing it, I’ll manage.”
“Speak for yourself,” Frances sniffed, and set down her cosmopolitan, and looked over at them, and smiled like cracked earth. “I’m joining the Stonemaids.”
Interlude 1 - The Underside
I can tell you with confidence that there is nothing lurking in the mirror, waiting to reach out and get you, dreamer.
Most of the time.
But occasionally, these reflections serve as apertures into deep places, dimensions of crystal and fractured shadow, and what dwells there sometimes sees the light shining through, as a fish in some subterranean grotto might see a single beam of sunlight glowing high above.
It might swim upward to examine this rarity, this blessing, this novel freedom. It might go all the way up to the surface, and stare at its own reflection in the underside of the water. And it may just reach up to touch their own face, and reach out into naked air for the first time.
It is best for you, if you are human, not to meet things that live in other dimensions. They are scarcely as legible as a cave fish, and reflect colors you cannot see, and exist beyond the spectrum of your space and knowledge and light.
We go now to a reflection.
Story 2 - Bad Reflections
The Other Riot sat in her box, and watched. It was all she could do; the walls were smeared with blood from her own knuckles, but the thick glass still held. Past the maroon haze, past her own reflection, Olivier grunted as a needle the size of a hand pierced his arm, extended by a robotic arm from the ceiling of his cell.
“Now that’s interesting,” said Doctor Anderson Faust, who lounged on a lab chair nearby, one hand on a control panel, the other beneath his chin. “Most people put up quite a fuss. Hold still a moment now… there. Done. Does that hurt?”
“It does,” Olivier said, and held his arm as the arm carrying the needle retracted back into the ceiling. “But I’m used to pain. Are you?”
“Oh yes,” Anderson said, and looked up from his computer, and smiled broadly. “I think pain is a miracle. An uncharted scientific wilderness. One I’m curious to explore in more depth.”
A mechanical arm descended from the shadows of the ceiling outside, deposited a small vial of blood on a lab table, which Anderson tucked neatly in his coat pocket.
“What are you doing with that?” Olivier growled, eyes glinting with light in the darkness.
“Well, it’s for the collection,” Anderson said, and fixed his glasses. “But I might find something useful to do with it.”
“Are you making another clone?” said the Other Riot, and she stood up in her cell. She glared through the mist of her own blood, tried to make the little balding man in the chair uncomfortable.
“To call you a clone is to… well, it’s to call a particle collider a wheel,” Anderson said. “There is not a proper word for what you are yet. You’re the first successful example.”
“What do you mean?” Olivier said, and leaned against the back of his cell. “Scientists were making clones of pigs and things twenty years ago.”
“And caveman moved their carts, but they could not yet dream about the Higgs Boson,” Anderson said. Riot did not entirely follow.
“So what am I?” she said, and wiped a horizontal line in the stains to see him better, winced to move her wounded knuckles.
“You’re asking me, a scientist for a top-secret corporate lab, to talk about what I do?” Anderson said, eyebrows raised. “Gladly. Now obviously you don’t have an academic base of knowledge, so I’ll try to put this simply. Operation Wilson was not about cloning in the old-fashioned sense. The company did not have time to wait for you to grow up, and even then, you would not be Riot Maidstone. You would be made of her material. A poor copy. No, I’ve devised a better method. You are Riot as she was at her last haircut—there were samples all over the bunker. Age. Personality and all. Which is why, I expect, you’re so poorly adjusted.”
Riot put her hands on the wall, as if to push the glass wall down, and glared at the lab floor. She could not escape Riot Maidstone. That girl she was supposed to be and was exactly and never was at all. She didn’t even have the relief of being cut from the same canvas. She was the same painting, only missed the artist’s signature. Riot’s said ‘Valerie Maidstone’. Hers said ‘Anderson Faust’.
“I never had a childhood,” she reflected; Anderson turned back to his computers.
“I’m sorry,” Olivier said from the cell beside her, and looked at her with an infuriating pity.
“You may not have much of an adulthood either,” Anderson muttered, making an entry in a data processor. Riot looked up.
“What?” she said. “What did you say?”
“Well, a clone would be superior in that regard,” Anderson said, barely looking from the monitor as he worked on his entry. “Ideally it would have a functioning genetic code that can grow itself over time. But you’re a snapshot, really. Not meant for long-term use. Whether you age, how long you live are both data points I hope to collect from you. We’ll make these discoveries together.”
How can a cell so small hold such emptiness, she thought, and slumped to her knees.
“You seem worried, Anderson,” Olivier said. His single-note glare remained electric. “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing to do with the experiment data, thank heavens,” said Anderson, and looked to the lab door. “I betrayed a friend who was making herself intolerable, and I’m concerned she’ll respond in kind. So, I have to make sure I’m properly securing all my files and samples.”
“I don’t know,” Olivier said. “I think an electrical fire would suit this place.”
Something happened to the lights then; the sterile fluorescents and green glow of the computer screens were gone, and the Other Riot was in pitch darkness for half a second. Then power returned; dim red emergency lights, shining up from the floors and illuminating the exits.
Anderson seemed taken aback; wheeled his chair into the corner, and watched the door expectantly.
“Don’t get too excited now,” he said. “If I have to destroy evidence, that includes you both.”
“Olivier?” the Other Riot said calmly. “I know he’s hurt you. But if he dies, I want to be the one who kills him.”
“You are not in control of this situation,” Anderson mused, and reached out to flick several switches in the lab wall.
“Deal,” Olivier said, and put his hands on the glass. A static blue light leapt from his fingertips, arced around his cell, and wind lifted in his hair. Whatever they’d been using to dampen his connection to the Weather, it had died with the lights, and she took shelter in one corner of her cell.
There was a sound of rending metal from somewhere distant, and Anderson flipped a final switch and slid out a rack of curious devices from the wall—tools for examination or destruction, Riot could not tell. He took one into his hands like a pistol, with an array of silver cylinders stacked together like honeycomb.
The metal crashing was loud, now, and Olivier’s cell was filled with crackling light, and Other Riot turned to see the far door buckle and fly off its rails entirely. Standing in the doorway was a seven-foot nightmare with knives for hands, and behind them a strange woman in all black and night-vision goggles, and lastly a girl Riot knew intimately, as they shared a face and a life and a name.
“Hello. You are being rescued,” said Diggory.
“Not who I was expecting, actually, but no matter,” Anderson said, and politely leveled his weapon from the shadows. “Take one step into my laboratory and everyone without my genetic signature dies in agonizing pain. But I think possibly I’d like to see that. So go ahead. Come on in.”
Marketing - Conflicting Stereotypes
Lady Ethel Mallory:
Hello, my happy dreaming family. I speak to you today not as Botco’s chief marketing officer, but as a public figure and as a person whom you have known personally for decades. I am shocked and frankly, disappointed in some messaging that emerged yesterday from an interview between amateur influencer Melanie Flores and my longtime compatriot at the Botulus Corporation, Anderson Faust.
Believe me, I was surprised as you were to hear that I am a ‘Stonemaid sympathizer’, a master saboteur, and an intimidating, violet workplace presence.
Are you intimidated by me, Anderson? Or just by women in positions of power?
This interview lends to a stereotype of women in business as power-hungry, self-obsessed misanthropes that we at the Botulus Corporation have worked hard to rid our corporate culture of. Not hard enough, it seems.
I have struggled against conflicting stereotypes my entire career—I have been too strong, too weak, too mainstream, too ostentatious, too far left, too far right. But despite all the cries from my competitors, I have only ever been myself. And that drives weak little men and derivative fangirls absolutely mad.
The claims in this interview are obviously an attempt to discredit my many years of work at the Botulus Corporation, at a time when I am lobbying for reform in our corporate hierarchy and new administrative power for my department…
Story 2, Continued - Bad Reflections
I, personally, am very interested in the workplace politics of the Botulus Corporation. One of these days, we may get someone in power who would turn all these dream advertising machines off. What a perfect future that would be.
We return now to the Other Riot.
“Diggory, move,” said Riot from behind them in the doorway.
“Did you hear what the little man said?” Diggory said. “I do not wish for you to die an agonizing death.”
“He’s bluffing,” Riot grunted. “Let me past!”
“I assure you, Miss Maidstone, I am not a bluffing sort of chap,” said Anderson, and glanced to the Other Riot and Olivier. “Subjects W23, B5. Behave, please. These are deadlier than a king cobra, and I’d prefer you lived for future research. You all at the door, back away, lie down, and wait for box security to arrive.”
“I’ll have you dead as soon as you pull the trigger,” said the woman in black, and the Other Riot could spot a silver pistol in her hands.
“I’d happily die protecting my life’s work,” said Anderson. “And you wouldn’t live to celebrate.”
“Please go away,” the Other Riot said, and stood up in her cell, pounded on the glass to get their attention. “He’ll do it. He really will.”
“I’m not leaving without Olivier,” said Riot from the door, and clutched her sword in her hands.
“I’ll give you three seconds,” said Anderson. “One.”
“Get clear,” Olivier said, and reached out to the sides of his cell; arcs of lightning rebounded inside of it, bristled along the surface, crackled sparks in the metal arms above.
“Two,” said Anderson.
“No!” the Other Riot shrieked, and threw herself at the glass one more time; felt the panel flex ever so slightly.
“Three,” said Anderson.
“Hold on there Anderson,” said a voice, and Anderson looked up past the makeshift rescuers, who also turned to look. A gigantic shadow loomed behind them, illuminated by the red emergency lights.
“Mister Botulus?” said Anderson.
The shadow grew larger, and drove the three in the hallway back into the room. Other Riot could only see so much through the walls of both her cell and Olivier’s, but she could make out a black brimmed hat, a red scarf, a smile that glinted in the emergency lighting.
“There’s been a reallotment of resources, Anderson,” said Mr. Botulus. “I was interested by your broadcast with Melanie the other day… we’re going to have to have a long talk. Things are changing up at this company. Do you have what you need from these two?”
He lifted an arm, too thin, towards her cell.
“I have my samples, yes,” Anderson said, and lowered his weapon. “What do you need with them, sir?”
“The boy wants them free,” said Mr. Botulus, and lifted another long thin arm behind him. “And right now the boy gets what he wants.”
The person that stood behind Oswald was not familiar to Riot. A boy, wearing trousers and an overlarge sweater, tousled hair, a dull locket around his neck. But there was no skin, no fabric; his body was sculpted of silver pieces, like an intricate piece of clockwork. His empty eyes shone with points of light, and his body reflected the emergency panels in a million fragments of red.
“Percy?” Diggory said quietly. “Is that you?”
“Hi there Diggory,” the boy in silver said, and moved forward with a few tapping steps. “I won’t need you to carry me anymore.”
There was an ear-splitting ring from outside the cell, a flash of light, and Riot looked to find the woman in black with her smoking pistol pointed at Mr. Botulus.
Mr. Botulus stood for a moment, wavered on his stick-thin legs.
And reached up with a third spindly hand, reached deep into the black slime of his forehead, and dug around until he peeled out a bullet, and flicked it to the ground like a cigarette stub.
“Cindy,” he said politely. “There is one reason I am not tearing each of your limbs off right now, and that is because Percy here has a good head for business. You and your undead friends, Riot, the weather child. You’re free to go. But Percy, after today our business is done. And if you cross my company again, well, I can’t guarantee any more goodwill.”
Anderson stood up, and stepped forward, a hand raised.
“Sir,” he smiled. “This is highly irregular of you. Are you sure that you want to just let these people…”
“Anderson, like I said, shifting priorities,” said Mr. Botulus. “I believe we have what we need for Operation Winston. I’m putting you in charge of that.”
Anderson’s eyes widened, and he moved quickly over to his computer panels, keyed in a set of directions, and the glass box around Olivier folded up into the ceiling.
The other Riot felt like a statue, could not compel herself to move as Olivir climbed down into Riot’s embrace, as a seven-foot corpse and a walking ghost exchanged meaningful stares, as a glaring agent holstered her pistol.
The other Riot sat down in her cell.
They weren’t there for her.
Why would they be?
She had sold them out, after all. And they had the friend, the daughter that they had come for. They didn’t need her. She glanced over to find a cat sitting in the cell with her; it padded across the bloodstained floor, eyes glowing softly, and climbed into her lap. Maybe cats did that, she thought, and buried her face in its fur, and cried.
She looked up after a moment to find Percy on the other side of the glass, with a silver hand raised in her direction.
“Her too,” Percy said.
“Now that subject is not as easy to replace…” Anderson began, a hand raised.
“Anderson?” said the tower of glistening darkness that was Mr. Botulus. “Let her out.”
Anderson sighed, and with a second sequence, the bloodstained glass retreated, and Riot was breathing fresh air. She handed the cat down to Percy, who held it in his silver-sleeved arms, and the plates of his face shifted in an uncanny smile.
She found a hand offered to her—the real Riot, looking up in the red light.
“Hey,” said Riot, and seemed to steel herself somehow. “Just so you know. I wasn’t going to leave you.”
“Hi,” said the Other Riot, and wiped at her nose with her arm. “Maybe you should have.”
She slid down the pedestal to the ground, and paused, lifted the sleeve of her Stonemaiden shirt to bare her shoulder.
“Before I go,” she said, and gestured to the small bump where a tracking chip still lay, told Anderson and Lady Ethel where to find her. “This lump, right here? I’m going to need this out.”
Riot looked to Diggory, who frowned. Riot looked back to her, and took her arm gently in identical hands, and lifted the point of her sword.
“I’ll try and make this quick,” said Riot.
It was, and a small metal pellet fell to the floor of the lab, left a dark trail as it rolled in a circle, and her arm was getting wrapped in a strip pulled from her shirt, and their group was backing quickly through the halls, leaving the twisted founder and her watching father in the blinking emergency lights of the lab.
In the dim red lights, flashing as they ran, you might not have known which Riot was which, if either of them were made more or less worthy, which one had betrayed who, who deserved their mother’s love. Just two girls and a thousand reflections in the silver corridors of Box Atlas, stretching in every direction. And then they were into the glaring light of the world beyond, and Riot’s life began in full.
Interlude 2 - Contiguous Mass
You are not formed of one creature, but rather an infinitude of smaller organisms, coalesced and replicating to form a contiguous mass.
This is why Indescribable life is rarely so simple as a single physical form—the sheer scale of our universe, the power almost limitless of which we are born, the vast energy that makes up a being beyond time and space and matter—when we create bodies, they are temporary and manifold and many, changing shape with a moment’s thought, barely able to contain the expanse within, boiling and seething with features.
Once enough personality has developed, you may notice a few recurring themes—mine are historically covered in eyes, for instance—but to maintain a stable form that encompasses all of our complexity would be like assigning a body to a hurricane, to a supernova, to a black hole.
I am careful in my choices of form, dreamers, when I take one. I do not wish to drive your fragile minds to madness when you behold me. Many of my peers are not so considerate.
We go now to one whose form is ever-changing.
Story 3 - Different Truths
“What did I tell you?” Yaretzi said, and looked over the expanse of ethereal lights. “Patience is often rewarded.”
“Yes, yes,” Polly sniffed. “Snap up all those delicious I-told-you-sos. But if this turns out to be deadly or otherwise unpleasant, it’s on you and your trust in vampiric secret dealers.”
“You worry too much,” Yaretzi yawned. “Look at Mort. He is enjoying this evening.”
They had returned, on her insistence, to the beach where the Count had told her to visit—where the salvaged remains of Coney Island rusted into the junkyard shore. And sure enough, with time and starlight, a carnival had arrived—one formed of spectral tents and wandering spirits, shining lights and crowing announcers. Attendants with long-dead painted faces sang and juggled and walked on stilts, and a great elephant trailing lengths of broken cable wandered through the midst of the tents. A flashing sign high over the entrance pronounced the madness ‘The Big Top’. Mort did not seem to mind the grotesqueness as he lumbered from attraction to attraction, Bert flapping raucously behind him.
“Well. What do you want to do first?” Polly said, and glanced around. “It’s as grand a carnival as I think you’re going to get these days.”
“It is a lovely carnival,” Yaretzi said, and admired the passing specters—a sword swallower who seemed to have sneezed during the performance, and a contortionist who tumbled through the air on tangled limbs. They saddened her a little—stuck here, instead of passing on to other realms, or being reborn in some beautiful form without memory of violence. But then again, they seemed to be enjoying themselves. “What is the hall of illusions?”
“Let’s find out,” Polly said, and accepted a flower from a remorseful spirit with oversized shoes. “Lead on.”
The outside of the tent glittered like fireflies, and a jester of sorts with long striped sleeves beckoned them towards the entry curtains. Yaretzi was the first to enter, and found herself in darkness, a deep coolness that reminded her of her sleeping-barrow. Polly was close behind, and then the shadow shone like rippling water; she could see reflections of herself from distant angles, a round brown face she had almost forgotten. Polly admired himself in his reflection; straightened his lapels.
“Is now a good time to talk about it?” she said. Each mirror was eight feet tall, and there were many paths through them. She walked slowly, descended into a labyrinth of Yaretzis.
“As good a time as any,” said Polly, following in her shadow. “I think we’ve spent enough time running from it.”
“Good,” she said, and stopped at a mirror that did not reflect her correctly. It made her wider than she was. “So. What will we do now?”
“I’ve been thinking about that,” said Polly, and tapped his souvenir umbrella at a disappointing reflection. “I think it’s up to us. We won’t be able to run and find a life for ourselves. We’re going to have to build something. From the ground up.”
“Hm,” Yaretzi said. The mirrors now were a little more strange; depicted her enshrined like a hero, a warrior, a priest. “What would you like to build, Apollyon?”
“Well, if Barb is gone, it means two things,” said Polly. “One, I need to go find where he’s hidden the rest of my stash of souls, so I expect we’ll want to return north. Two, I believe the Resting Place will have gone back to being a figment of his imagination, which means a whole live-in community of his is looking for a place to stay.”
“Such as the Countess,” Yaretzi said. Polly smiled.
“Well, and many others. And I don’t think it would be so bad, to make a home that others could share.”
“I suppose that was a hope,” Yaretzi said. She was small, human, but her reflection in the mirror was a great wolf, as black and all-devouring as the night sky.
Polly’s was quite different, behind her; a being of flame and fury, an apocalypse unleashed like wildfire, a crown prince of eternity.
“The likenesses aren’t very good,” Polly said. “That one’s got the face all wrong.”
“They are different truths,” said Yaretzi, and put her hand against the mirror; a great black claw met hers on the other side, and the mirror rippled until the reflection vanished entirely; left her own face staring back. “But is our truth one where a demon and a hunter of demons take their undead ward and go start a hotel?”
“Not just any hotel,” Polly said, and the flame of his horns lit up, sparkled in a thousand mirrors like a sea of fire, and he smiled. “If I’m going to do it, it’s going to be a work of art.”
Outro - Mirrors
Mirrors. Reflections can be at times uncomfortable—reminders of a physical form sometimes disingenuous to our spirit. But a mirror cannot tell you about yourself, spirit or otherwise. It is dead glass, and you are a living being, as immutable as starlight and as impossible to define as beauty.
You will never look upon yourself as kindly as those that love you. They do not see your insecurities and needs; your blemishes and cracks. They see the corner of a smile. A joyous laugh. A brightness of the eyes and a quickening of the spirit. And sometimes, too much of themselves. These, too, a mirror cannot capture. Gaze upon your reflection, if you will, but know it ill defines you.
In every mirror and reflection, I am your loyal host Nikignik, watching backwards for your return to the Hallowoods.
The bonus story that goes with this episode is called 'Three Times, 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!