Content warnings for this episode include: Abuse, Ableism, Animal death (Heidi as usual), Kidnapping and abduction, Death + Injury, Birds, Gun Mention, Violence, Emotional Manipulation, Body horror
Intro - Only Intention
You have no thoughts; not anymore. Only the intention remains. The fire of your soul dissipating; the echoes of your final scream, an almost-nothing upon which the harbingers hope and call and pray. But the intention was strong, and what you set in motion cannot now be stopped. You are a beating heart, a handless art, a voiceless whisper carried still by the winds.
Unfeeling. Unknowing. Unloving.
A machine devised in the realm between life and death, a craft cursed by tyrants and overlords. For what could they do, if you had lived? If you had seized the stars in your hands, set worlds and ages and aeons to spin, reborn and reborn and reborn again, burned souls as kindling for a new and emerald flame?
You do not know that your art lives on, and it changes and grows and innovates of its own accord, turns the forests black and twists what dwells beneath the pines. For a moment I see your shadow, festooned with life and crowned with many antlers, and I bid you hello from the world you created, Hello From The Hallowoods.
Right now I am sitting in an empty office chair. It is not often empty, but its inhabitant darts throughout the room, wandering and waving his hands as he speaks to his sedimentary partner of a journey. The theme of tonight’s episode is Horizons.
Story 1 - Lucky Penny
“Why don’t you walk me through what you think happened,” said Mr. Writingdesk, and Mr. Raven came wheeling back again, gesticulating to the array of box computers and radar detectors.
“What I think happened? The logs speak for themselves!” said Mr. Raven, and tried to compose himself. He was only going to get one opportunity to convince his brick of a companion, and he could not blow it by being obtuse.
“This afternoon, that same signal—the gigantic pile of specters and Zeddemore rays that passed us in that recreational vehicle—went flying back past us. Up a state line or two. Distinctly the other direction. I’ve been tracking it for miles now. Something is out there, Mr. Writingdesk, and it’s bigger than any CPE we’ve ever seen.”
“Well done,” said Mr. Writingdesk, and crossed his arms, and stared at Mr. Raven with those judgemental shining little eyes. “Do you want me to print you a certificate?”
Mr. Raven glanced around; the walls were papered with ‘employee of the month’, and his photo, a little older each time.
“Not this time,” Mr. Raven whispered, and stared back at Mr. Writingdesk urgently. “I think we need to go a-hunting.”
Mr. Writingdesk sighed, and rubbed at the pronounced bridge of his nose. “I knew it would happen eventually. You’ve lost your marbles again.”
“I assure you, Mr. Writingdesk, I am perfectly serious,” said Mr. Raven, and hopped up onto the desk in between them, perched on his knees, so that he could be eye-to-eye with the gigantic man.
“This is what we were trained for. We have a certified paranormal entity on our hands, perhaps the most important we’ve ever detected, and we’re about to let it slip through our fingers. What are we going to do if not this? Sit here staring at our menagerie until we starve out?”
“That’s exactly it,” said Mr. Writingdesk. “Now it might be different if Mr. Riddle was still with us. This was his area of specialty. Me on brawn, you on tech, and Mr. Riddle with the plan. But he’s sleeping in the lake now, and you and I have to tend to the CPE’s that are left.”
“Well,” Mr. Raven began, but a wrench had been thrown in the whirring propeller of his thoughts. “Not all of them require much care. CPE-4 is a mirror.”
“A mirror that eats your reflection,” said Mr. Writingdesk.
“My point is, it’s not going anywhere,” said Mr. Raven. “CPE-6 only eats every hundred years. You and I won’t be alive for next time no matter what happens.”
“Ugh,” Mr. Writingdesk sighed. “CPE-12 is trapped in an urn, I suppose.”
“Exactly,” Mr. Raven whispered, and wagged his eyebrows. “None of them have tried to escape in ages. I’m sure for a couple of weeks it would all be…”
“CPE-13,” said Mr. Writingdesk. Mr. Raven hesitated, and lost his train of thought.
“Fiddlesticks,” said Mr. Raven. “I suppose she’s in need of frequent upkeep.”
“Most certainly she is,” said Mr. Writingdesk. Unfeasible thoughts flew through Mr. Raven’s mind. Designing an automatic feeder. Giving the CPE a stockpile of supplies. Leaving Mr. Writingdesk to watch her. But none of them were safe enough to be a valid option.
Mr. Raven sighed, and pulled at the corner of his eyebrow, and moved to sit on the edge of the desk.
“I suppose that’s the end of it, then,” he sighed.
He looked up to Mr. Writingdesk, who had an unusual expression on his curmudgeonly face.
“We could take her with us,” said Mr. Writingdesk.
Mr. Raven raised his eyebrows. “Are you serious?”
“It if means that much to you, we can go,” said Mr. Writingdesk, and nodded. “We’ll take CPE-13 with us.”
“She’s deadly, Mr. Writingdesk. A born killer. She might escape,” Mr. Raven said, and kicked himself internally. Why did he always play devil’s advocate?
“Not very likely, based on what we know,” said Mr. Writingdesk. “Might be more prone to escape if we’re gone.”
“I… this… agh!” Mr. Raven did a leap for joy, and threw his arms around Mr. Writingdesk. “Thank you my friend.”
He realized he was still hanging on to the lumbersome man, and stepped back, dusted himself off, coughed.
“I’ll, ah. Let her know that she’s coming.”
Mr. Raven darted down the halls of flickering lights, made it to the elevator, and pressed the button repeatedly until the door closed. The array of little dials in silver and red did not denote floors, but rather holding cells in the concrete labyrinth of the CPE facility—once a salt mine, now an ark for the paranormal.
He scanned over the numbers, tried to think of any notable precautions they’d have to take. CPE 22 was in hibernation at the bottom of its tank, CPE 35 only existed when nobody was looking, so he’d have to put it within sight of CPE 16, which never blinked. But as far as he could recall, only 13 needed daily attention. Yes. A road trip might be alright.
He pushed the button, felt the elevator drop and crawl through the earth, shifting through the unlit passages until the doors finally hissed open. He stepped out, and crossed the half of the room with the monitors and equipment. Before he reached the glass wall of the containment cell, he noticed something small and shiny on the floor—picked up a little copper coin. Abraham Lincoln stared solemnly off to the side.
“How did this get down here?” he said. CPE-13 said nothing; if she had been singing, she had stopped by now. Mr. Writingdesk must have dropped it, nothing more. Mr. Raven stashed the penny in his pocket, and looked up to the entity.
It was a girl with red braids on either side of her face; she sat in the middle of her cell floor, surrounded by her bed and bookshelves and houseplants that bloomed despite the absence of sunlight. She was rolling dice on the rug, over and over again, not even looking at the rolls. She did that when she was nervous, and she was nervous whenever Mr. Raven visited.
“Snake eyes?” said Mr. Raven.
“Every time,” she replied. “Lucky guess.”
“CPE-13, I have some news for you,” said Mr. Raven, and the girl looked up.
“Did you find my sister?” she said, a spark of curious energy in her eyes that Mr. Raven rarely saw. He hated to extinguish it, but then again, not that much.
“I’m afraid not,” said Mr. Raven. “But this may still be exciting to you. Pack the suitcase beneath your bed with whatever you’d like to bring. We’re going on a road trip.”
Interlude 1 - No Time For Outrage
Do you notice the change? In your world, in your life, the landscape around you? Or did it come so slowly that there was no time for outrage, year after year of accepting the new abnormal?
There was change in storms and hurricanes, first, wildfires eradicating your forests. For years the pipelines and wells and quarries and dumping sites you built poisoned your rivers and lakes and coral reefs. Year by year, you lost your mountaintops and glaciers and the arctic dissolved into the sea, revealed secrets hidden for aeons beneath the ice.
All this was your doing. The rising waters, and the famines, and the wars might have ended things in their own way. They could have been averted. You had the time to change, and when you ran out of time to fix everything, you at least could have lessened what was to come.
How much ice would have been necessary to keep the heart of Marolmar frozen shut, I wonder? By the time the black rains fell, though, it was already lost.
Those thunderous black clouds, rolling across your horizons, they were not the end. The end was already written. They were the epilogue, the last page. Did you grieve, I wonder, because you thought the world was ending? Or were your tears of relief, because you could say it was no longer your fault?
So many were so tired already, tired of fighting, tired of making little changes without ever affecting the gigantic gears of your industries, and when the storm sang of sleep, they followed it north.
And so many were not prepared to fight, when your friends, your family, your neighbors were hallowed by the water, changed over days or over years, became unrecognizable to you as heralds of a new age.
If you are here, and you still dream, I congratulate you on surviving. On making it this far. Many have not, and we mourn them. Steel your soul for the days to come, for the sun is red, and the pines are dark, and the last paragraphs of your kind are being written.
We go now to one who is practicing his writing skills.
Story 2 - The Minutes
When the camp chairs were gathered around the Table of Freedom, or when the people of Fort Freedom filled the cafeteria, there were no chairs for Buck Silver. Even Rick did not want to portray the casual intimacy of sitting together in public, however he felt in private.
And so Buck had gotten into the habit of leaning in the corner by himself, enjoying the presence of others if not their attention, and presently he waited for the eighth member of the Scoutpost leadership to arrive.
“You going to just stand there?” said Zelda, and bumped out the chair beside her with her foot.
“I’m the last one?” he said, and glanced around the room.
“Yes. Take a seat,” said Violet, straightening her stack of papers at the head of the meeting table. “And thank you for agreeing to do the minutes.”
Buck shuffled over and found his seat, with Zelda beside him and a new acquaintance in a black jumpsuit at the end of the table. Her face had all the warmth of a frozen lake, a perpetual chill scowl.
“No problem, miss Keene,” he said, and gathered his own pen and papers on the table, and nodded to Bern across the table. “Miss Keene.”
“Let’s start with attendance,” Violet said, setting her papers down, and looking across the table at the people she’d assembled. “Name, rank, and a fun fact about yourself. Violet Keene, Torchbearer Scout, and I used to be quite the dancer in the Montreal nightclubs. I won’t be dancing anytime soon, now, though.”
“Bern, Torchbearer Scout, and my favorite candy is licorice,” said Bern beside her.
“Every time,” Violet muttered.
“Virgil Kane,” said a man with a goatee and ponytail from the other side of Zelda. “Trailblazer Scout. I almost got speared by a frog last week.”
“That’s a fact, but it’s not fun, exactly,” said Violet.
“Alright, well, I used to keep cattle,” he said, and raised a silver eyebrow. “And I’m pretty sure one night, out on the field, I shot a vampire.”
“That is also not fun, but let’s move along,” Violet sighed.
“Jonah, Fishing Scout,” said Jonah from across the table—more worry in the wrinkles of his eyes than Buck was used to. “And instead of a fun fact, I just want to say, I’m so sorry for how any of you were hurt, and…”
“Jonah, there is a time for heartfelt apologies but it’s after attendance,” Violet said. Buck crossed out part of his entry.
“I used to play ukulele for a band called the Happy Clams,” Jonah said.
“Hector, hunting Scout, or working on it anyways,” Hector grumbled beside him. “You never told me you were in a band.”
“Well, it wasn’t really a band,” said Jonah. “Just me and a few crewmates who got bored in our off hours and…”
Violet cleared her throat.
“Zelda Duckworth, Spaghetti Scout,” said Zelda. “May fun fact is that once we took little Jonah to Disney World, but he kept crying at all the people in suits. I kept saying, look! It’s your favorite character! But he was so scared of them that I left him in the hotel room with Dex and went on all the rides by myself. I miss roller coasters.”
Violet sighed, and looked up to the woman at the end of the table.
“Cindy Lockheart,” the woman said. “Not a Scout of any kind, although I was trained for wilderness survival. My fun fact is that I was MI6, and trained as an elite bodyguard for world leaders. I was deadliest in class.”
There were a few concerned looks, and then Buck felt a few eyes turn to him.
“Uh, Buck,” he said. “Still in the classes and such too, but I might be a Pioneer scout eventually. I’m not sure. My fun fact is, ah… I can play banjo. Used to be part of the worship team on Sundays.”
“We should play sometime,” said Jonah. “I bet we…”
“And that’s it for attendance,” said Violet quickly, and she flipped to a new sheet of paper. Buck was reminded of his duties and took up his pen again.
“Under ‘old business here’, I have a few things. First of all, the Froglin threat. Hector and Jonah, can you please reiterate what’s happening with them? The mendie in the camo vest won’t talk to me.”
“Well, I told the invading band to leave. Their leader understood me, I think,” said Jonah. Buck blinked. Jonah he regarded with all sorts of new awe lately. “So I hope things’ll be quieter now.”
“And for what it’s worth, Huntington and I moved the queen a couple miles down from her lake—it might buy us some time, if nothing else. Huntington thinks we should have killed her,” said Hector.
“Then woulda been the time,” mused Bern.
“I appreciate that you’ve tried to find a peaceful solution,” said Violet, “even if it’s hard to feel peaceful with them right now. I’d rather we didn’t fight any more wars around here.”
“There’s still something… this huge fish,” said Jonah. “It’s important to them. And it’s still out there. I don’t know that they’ll leave. Not entirely.”
“I haven’t heard a single war song this week,” said Virgil, and patted his own leg twice for emphasis. “I’ll take that as a good sign.”
“And our next item, the Scoutpost,” Violet continued. “Jonah, this… structure you’ve raised to replace our walls. Is it permanent? The walls around Solomon’s house came down quite quickly, you know…”
“I think it is,” Jonah said, and looked down—the floor itself was familiar pine boards, knotted in place by walls of grown roots. “I didn’t control it, exactly, or tell it to make every room or hold every window in place. It filled in the blanks by itself. If I really needed to, I think I could wake it up again, move things around, but I’ll be honest, I’m a little scared to do that again.”
“Maybe best you give it a rest,” Virgil noted. “Would hate for you to bend nature to your will if you weren’t feeling confident about it.”
“Best to leave nature to itself, maybe,” said Bern.
“Now there,” Violet interjected, “Jonah’s connection to this forest, for better or worse, helped keep us alive through the Fort Freedom and Froglin attacks. And even if it seemed catastrophic, we are better protected now. We have more space for farms, more shelter for new arrivals. I think we can make this new life work. But Jonah, forgive us if you do attract some strange looks—I think our entire community is grappling with the change, and the fact that it was brought on by one Fishing Scout. Anything else to add?”
“I’ve fixed up all my bee Boxes,” Bern said. “I hope they’ll come back now that the storms are over.”
“And hey, all you new Scouts looking to get some badges, I’m running a new defense class this week,” said Virgil, leaning his chair back on two legs. “We weren’t prepared as well as I woulda liked to be. I owe you all an apology for letting Fort Freedom in. They reminded me of our younger days, you know. I would have liked to think we were neighbors.”
“And Buck,” Violet said, and looked over to him, and Buck froze. “Do you think Fort Freedom will be back?”
“I don’t think so, if they can help it,” Buck said. “We were raised up to fear this forest. I think you showed ‘em why.”
“Good,” said Violet, and tapped her papers on the table. “Then I’m open to new business.”
“Excellent,” said Cindy from the end of the table, and she stood up and looked across them all. “I’m going to lead an expedition north.”
Marketing - See Myself Out
Testing, testing... like an idiot.
Oh I hate this. This portable rig Anderson made. It doesn’t have all the lights I’m used to, they’re in the wrong colors. I can’t tell if it’s even…
Botulus Corporation Guard: Go in! Now! Now!
I said give me time!
*the sound of a Botco taser rifle, screaming, thuds, several sickening twists in short succession*
Aw, you break so easily. I’m sorry. Fine. I’ve got what I need. You’ll want to clean this mess up!
I will be back. And when I am I want this place spotless, as if I’d never been gone.
No, get away. I will not be escorted from my dreaming box like some riffraff, like some outcast! I am a lady and I deserve a modicum of respect. I will see myself out…
Story 2, Continued - The Minutes
I had such hope—that Lady Ethel Mallory was silenced forever. At least her power has to be greatly diminished with that little thing for a broadcaster. One day, Ethel, the batteries will run out, and there will be no one to hear your voice except for me. And I will not be listening.
We return now to Buck Silver.
Buck watched a flurry of concerned expressions land on most of the faces around him, but no one responded.
“North?” Buck said at last. “Like into the woods? What’re ya wanting to see?”
“There is nothing up there that I want to see, but I must go regardless,” said Cindy, and folded her arms, seemed to fight herself to continue to speak.
“Twenty years ago, I married the Prime Minister of Canada, Rizwana Mirza. We had been watching with some concern as Botco bought out the government of the United States; they were so prepared when the Black Rains fell—the perfect solution for a disaster of unprecedented proportions.
It rained on our wedding day. My wife was not herself after that. She said a voice spoke in her thoughts, and she sought out advice in strange places—one of them not too far from here, with a woman named Irene Mend. She made bargains, I think, that she never revealed to me.
And she gathered her closest friends, adventurers and activists, people willing to risk their lives for a single mission: to put an end to the rains, and stop the heart of darkness she believed was causing this phenomenon. A year later, she said goodbye to me for the last time. She would not permit me to go with her, and I was loyal, as always, to her command.
But their mission was a failure. I find traces of each, save Barty, in our undead acquaintance Diggory Graves.
Rizwana never told me the details of her deal with Irene Mend, but I can only assume now it was that her remains, if she perished, might be used as material. Is it known if Irene is still alive?”
“She’s not,” said Bern. “The folks she made all live with us now.”
“Good,” Cindy nodded. “If she was alive, I’d kill her myself.”
“Going north isn’t as easy as you’d think,” said Jonah. “Not from here. The forest out there isn’t how it used to be.”
“It’s not what’s on a map, either,” said Hector, and rubbed his wooden hand on the table edge. “Even with the sea rise. The Hudson Bay Lowlands should end and meet the Hudson Bay, but it doesn’t. There’s forest that goes straight on. It’s undiscovered country…”
“It won’t matter much to a helicopter,” Cindy said.
“I’m not sure I’d recommend air travel either,” said Violet. “Not that we have much experience, but our old friend—a man named Walt—made some notes on a bit of a geographical anomaly here, called the Shuddering Peaks. They’re mountains, we think…”
“You think?” said Cindy.
“Well, sometimes they’re there, clear as day,” said Virgil. “And sometimes they ain’t, in a fashion ill-befitting for mountains.”
“But they wreak havoc on navigation equipment,” Violet said. “Walt spotted plane wrecks up in the heights. I’d think carefully before flying further north than this.”
“By chopper, by boat, on foot, I do not care,” said Cindy. “I will go, and I will finish what my wife died trying to accomplish. There is a chance that we can end this disaster. Walk back from the brink.”
“Whaddya mean?” said Buck. He felt some of this all was flying over his head, and wondered if all committee meetings were so dire. “What’s a brink?”
“I believe there is hope for the human species,” said Cindy, and folded her gloved hands. She sat down again, brows furrowed, staring intensely at one face after the other. “The Botulus Corporation is the only significant source of pollution. Forests and plant life have regrown. The climate has had twenty years to heal. And if we can disable, neutralize this alien threat in the arctic, we may survive this.”
“You’re sure that… whatever caused the rains was, it’s up there?” said Violet, an eyebrow raised.
“I’m staking my life on it,” Cindy stated.
“There’s more,” grunted Hector. His dogs sat outside, poked their noses in through the door. “If you’re going on foot, it’s not a cakewalk through the forest. Go much farther and compasses start working. You find yourself in doldrums—the stars tilt out of order. The trees turn colors like you’ve never seen. And there are things that live in that wild tangle that will tear you apart in a moment. I’ve seen them. Jonah was blood and gristle.”
“I came back,” Jonah added hesitantly. “I come back from anything. Cindy, what you’re talking about… you’re not crazy. I have a hard time explaining exactly how, but I’m connected to it.”
“To what?” Cindy said. “My wife’s death? Or the heart?”
“To the end,” Jonah said, and Buck glanced away to avoid eye contact with him. Jonah’s eyes had a curious gravity, a light in them like a meteor slowly approaching earth. “The beginning. The forest and where it comes from. The age that’s supposed to come after this one is done. I know a little, and I know where to get more answers, too.”
“Then you should come with me,” Cindy said quickly. “You can help me stop it.”
“I’m not sure if it can be stopped,” Jonah whispered.
“I am not sure either,” Cindy said. “But I know that at its current rate, we will see the population diminish completely, and all the work of the Stonemaids—to free people from the control of the Botulus Corporation—is for nothing if there is no world for them to return to. I am not the kind to die sleeping.”
“You will die,” said Hector. “There’s things in that forest that I couldn’t begin to hunt.”
“Mister Hector, if I become interested in your perceptions of my mortality I will ask you,” said Cindy sharply. “I appreciate your warnings. But if there is even a chance that I can ensure the survival of the whole human species, I will pursue it to any end I can.”
Violet nodded, and frowned as she looked around.
“Alright,” she said. “Give us a little time, miss Lockheart, to get our community back together. But we’ll send you off with whatever we can to make your journey easier. Anyone else have thoughts on this?”
“I do,” said Buck, and gulped, and stood up a little. “Growing up, they’d tell us at Fort Freedom that the rains were a judgement against us. God preparing for the final years, punishing the sinful with plague and famine, readying up for the big old battle of armageddon.
We prayed for a rapture, or that we’d be taken before it got any worse. And I don’t know that mortal beings can do much against God’n revelation, but if it’s a real thing out there, then real people can stop it. I believe that. I’m not sure I’d be the best pick to go with you—I just lived through one apocalypse, and I’d like to go to Virgil’s class and all. But if you go, for all it’s worth, I’ll pray for you.”
“Thank you, mister Silver,” Cindy said, and stood up, and turned to leave, and Buck made a note of her words in the minutes. “I hope you live to see this apocalypse end.”
Interlude 2 - The Forest Screams
Heh. Ah… well.
I am not sure how to feel about that, dreamers. Yes, I enjoy humanity. I have no great interest in frogs. And I would even like, I think, to see you persist a little longer, even if you are in your final moments.
But that heart, the impossible machine that beats beneath the waters of your black oceans, the last masterwork of the Garden Of The End, the Changing Of The Age, the Spirit Of The Spring… can I see it destroyed? Would I allow it to be stilled, were I to have that choice?
Could I remain here without that sound, so distant and familiar? Could I listen to the forest scream, realizing that its lifeblood had been stemmed at the source?
Even if it was so that these little people could carry on? Would it be the end then, after all? What if the changing of the age is halted in its rhythm? I do not know. I am not sure I wish to know.
We go now to one whose life has been remade over and over and over again.
Story 3 - Close To Heaven
“Are you sure that’s comfortable for you?” Percy said. Danielle shifted in her chair, and chewed on a strand of her hair thoughtfully.
“Yeah it’s good,” she said. “The cushion definitely helps. I’d like to be on my feet eventually, but I think it’s going to be a little while until I’m ready for that. In the meantime, thanks for all the help.”
“It is the least we can do,” said Diggory, on the other side of the chair. “You have given Riot directions on how to infiltrate a Dreaming Box, and where to find you and Valerie. You disabled their defense systems and gave us the entry routes. Without you this journey would have been impossible; it is no burden to carry you a few steps of it.”
“Well, what can I say? I’m awesome that way,” Danielle smiled, and then looked a little more somber. “But seriously. When I left my Dreaming Pod I felt like I was dying. And I was so lucky to have you two waiting, helping me through it. I don’t think I could have left without you either. It’s going to be really hard for me, still. But I really feel like it’s going to be okay. I’m going to get stronger, and then I’ll kick life around like it’s no big deal.”
“I believe it,” said Percy, and sighed, flexed his silver hand. “I’ve been trapped too. I’m glad you got out. And you’re alive to see this place where people accept you. I think you have a lot to live for.”
“Thanks Percy,” she said. “Hey Diggory. I got you something. A little thank you gift for all the work. It’s in the bag.”
Diggory reached into the bag hanging off the back of Danielle’s chair, and pulled out a large black bundle.
“My jacket?” said Diggory.
“Isn’t it nice?” said Danielle. “They gave me this dorky new Scoutpost jacket, and I don’t really need two, so you can have yours back.”
“And you’ve already got patches,” said Percy. “What are those for?”
“Reading skills, creative writing, and saving all your friends with your psychic dream powers a bunch of times,” Danielle said.
“They have a badge for that?” said Diggory.
“I’m kidding,” Danielle whispered. “They give you one free with the jacket for self-esteem.”
“Well, even though you’re starting all these Scoutpost classes, if you need help with anything, just let us know,” Percy said, and watched Diggory put their jacket back on. Percy liked the way it fit, and the spikes on the shoulders.
“Trust me, I will,” Danielle said, and glanced up to a bell ringing below.
“Okay, I gotta go,” she said. “Miss Blum is running a Scoutpost History class and I need to see if there’s any old gossip I wanna know about.”
“Do you need…” Percy began, but Danielle shifted her wheels forward and went over the edge of the walkway, rolled down the ramp at a frightening pace, and zipped out into the courtyard below.
“I think she will fit in well here,” Diggory said, looking after her.
“Yeah,” Percy said, and twisted his head to see Al standing on the walkway across the Scoutpost court, watching him. Percy raised a silver hand and gave him a little wave, but Al did not return the gesture; he looked Percy up and down with his unreadable wide eyes and disappeared.
Percy was hit with an odd moment of confusion, or maybe guilt? Did it feel like a betrayal to Al, having the only other ghost in the Scoutpost gain a body like this, when Al was forever immaterial?
No, it’s alright, he told himself. I’m allowed to have this. I’ve suffered enough for it.
“Hey,” Percy said. “Can we go for a walk?”
“Of course,” Diggory said, and walked beside him down the ramp and through the great new gates of the Scoutpost, out towards Lurch Lake, a trail they had followed many times before. It was strange not to float automatically behind Diggory, to have feet that needed to touch the ground, to walk by moving one leg after the other rather than by drifting thought. Percy was still getting the hang of having a body again, the instincts of living movement coming back to him after decades without one.
“I have much I wanted to discuss with you,” Diggory said, once they were in the privacy of the trees. “Firstly, to say how very glad I am to have you back. To know that you are safe. To have you this close is a gift.”
“I’m happy about it too,” Percy said, and laughed a little. Diggory always did state the obvious. “I wasn’t a big fan of staying with Mr. Botulus forever.”
“This is another thing which I have been thinking about,” said Diggory, and stepped out from the trail, meandering through the woods, stalking with their buckle boots as delicately as a cat through the underbrush. “Mr. Botulus said you were good at business. We were kidnapped or injured by his drones, and yet you returned with him, with our freedom, with a new body of silver. What did he mean by that? What business did you do?”
“Well…” Percy said, and although it was unusual for him, could not compose words with any resemblance to the truth. “Nothing really. I guess I just reminded him of his son.”
“How so?” Diggory said, and tilted their head as they stepped through the pines. Percy followed close behind, trying to keep his silver jointed ankles from getting caught in tangles of weeds.
“Well, he and his son had kind of a bad relationship from what I gather,” he said. “And he was curious about ghosts, and about me, and I think maybe he was thinking of his son a little when he agreed to help me and my friends.”
“I see,” said Diggory. “And what is it like for you, to have this new body?”
“It’s strange,” Percy said, and almost fell over, snagged his metal sculpt of hair on a tree branch. “Those silver scissors were like cold fire, and this is my whole body, right? But it feels good. I have to keep reminding myself that metal doesn’t float. And that people can see me even when I’m not trying to be seen. They look at me, Diggory. They include me in conversations. It’s good.”
“Yet you still have your locket?” said Diggory. The locket with its hands crossed in prayer jingled around Percy’s metal neck as he walked. They had almost reached the top of a hill, now, a bluff that overlooked the Scoutpost and the forest canopy—where Walt’s pyre of stones was overgrown with black vines.
“Oh yeah,” Percy said. “Well apparently the old one was made of pewter. They’ve plated it now in silver—you can barely tell the difference. If I wanted to, I could just hold that, but… I worry people would see me as just like, a haunted necklace. I don’t want to be jewelry to them. I want to be Percy. And this was the best way I could see to make that happen.”
“If you are happy, then I am happy as well,” Diggory said, and put a fingertip on the locket, on Percy’s chest. Their dagger finger left a soft ringing sound against the metal. “It has been a busy summer for us, but I do not wish to overlook that you lost your parents. Do they still weigh heavily on your heart?”
“Less as time goes on,” Percy sighed, and leaned his silver head against Diggory’s jacket. He felt a fresh wave of anxiety—all that his father had represented, all that Solomon Reed had worked to create—Percy had just given it to Oswald Biggs Botulus. Was Mr. Botulus’ son also trapped? What if he did not want to return? Had he condemned him to the same fate as Percy?
“You seem troubled,” Diggory said, and Percy could feel Diggory’s touch gentle against his back.
“It just makes me sad to think about them,” Percy said quickly, and smiled. “I don’t want to be sad. I want to be happy. Because we’re all here, and we’re home again, and because I can finally feel you.”
“I am glad too,” Diggory whispered, and moved their lips to his forehead, and he ran a hand inside their jacket, rested it on Diggory’s chest. He could feel their stitches through their shirt.
“Are we going to be okay?” Percy whispered.
“Yes,” Diggory said, and looked off into the distance. There were mountains on the horizon, snow-capped and immense, almost as blue as the sky. When Percy looked back, Diggory was staring into his eyes.
“I think, Percy, that we are going to be fine.”
He felt a dagger finger trace his jaw, and Diggory kissed him, and every thought was gone from Percy’s mind except one, and it was that they were together, and it was as close to heaven as he had ever been.
Outro - Horizons
Each time I speak to you, dreamer, share a glimpse of what is happening somewhere, there is a different place where other stories are unfolding. I make selections. I curate. It would overwhelm you to attempt to understand what is happening simultaneously, in all places. It overwhelms me most of the time.
Somewhere beyond any comprehension of space and time, Barbatos sits in a waiting room lined with broken devils and demons. Some wail, some scream, and some have given up entirely as the screen displaying ticket numbers rarely changes. He smiles, and elbows the demon of fish beside him, and asks them to think of a card.
In Los Angeles, California, Oswald Biggs Botulus places a key into a cabinet and twists.
In San Francisco, Lady Ethel Mallory steps out of Dreaming Box Cassiopeia, and squints at the sunlight through heart-shaped sunglasses, and the silver doors slide shut behind her.
In Las Vegas, Fox and Dinah take comfort in a small meal. The great mirror walls of Box Venus cast a blinding glare across the ruins of the city, and they wonder some days if they should go to join Frances and Bill and Moth within. They try to ignore these thoughts more often than not.
In Marfa, Texas, fairy lights drift over the desert at night. No one knows why.
On the I-75 between Knoxville and Chattanooga, Tennessee, the Phantom Station speaks to a traveller weary from the road. They leave their car, and all other trace of their life, by the roadside.
In Toledo, Ohio, Gale Scarberry returns to work at Glass City Farms, but Darla watches him closely. She knows that something is wrong with him, but is it worth saying, she wonders? Are any of us who we used to be?
In Loveland, Ohio, Monty Lee organizes a fresh batch of donuts in the display case, and greets three new customers—a small man with jet black eyebrows, and a man so large he barely fits in the door, and a girl with red braids.
In the House On The Rock, in Wisconsin, Ray the Automobile feels conscious enough to view his surroundings. He is missing tires, and his transmission is shot, and he is in a great vaulted room beneath the ground styled like the main street of a small town, and surrounded by the husks of other automobiles. The one made of knives, the one piecing him back together, is a welcome sight.
On the shores where New York City drowned, Rick Rounds, abandoned by gods and devils sits and watches the sea. He plucks them off now and again, but his arm blooms with little flowers. Nearby, although he does not know it, he is surveyed by a headless guide and their eternal steed, for they know threats to the forest when they see one.
At the Destiny Mall in Syracuse, New York, the Count and his cavalcade return from a long ride. The goods they have gathered from this most recent jaunt across the country will sell well, and keep his cavalcade entertained, but he finds himself distracted. Something is wrong, and he cannot ignore it much longer.
In Toronto, Ontario, Milo wonders where a few strangers that passed through came from, and where they call home, and whether they ever made it to where they were going, and whether there might be interesting plant specimens found outside the city. The Venus discourages this line of thought. The Venus would like to be the most interesting plant in Milo’s dissertations.
In Fort Freedom, Ontario, Mrs. Wicker wakes in the night to find a letter beside her bed. She has never received a letter at Fort Freedom. She opens it to find an invitation from an institution she did not know existed; it is to join the congregation of the Church of the Hallowed Name.
In the Moormire of the Southern Hallowoods, the lights of the Grand Crossroads Hotel burn brightly, and bring the attention of lost souls from miles away. They find a gentler establishment than they used to, and although the management is a little flustered, the quality of the small soaps is elaborately perfumed and the sheets feel like heaven in satin.
In the Northern Hallowoods, at what was formerly the Duckworth house, a woman filled with fireflies paints a portrait of two—a green-finned man, and one that no one can see, and the lake and the cold mountains beyond.
In the Blackwood Coven, hidden by charm and ward against many prying eyes, Friday Rescher is watched by a frightened unkindness of ravens, and speaks with a woman named Amelia Abbott, who has much wisdom to share, and word of Downing Hill.
At the Downing Hill Public Library, a girl flying on a broomstick returns with new resolve. She has only one choice ahead of her, she feels, and she must rise to protect those she holds dear. Within the library, in a room by herself, a girl with a golden comb stares at her arm, and focuses, and watches as her fingers grow long and sharp, before returning again to their usual state.
In the forest beyond, a wandering night-gaunt travels with a cabin upon its back. Winona sits in the center of the floor, three cards ahead of her. She is afraid to turn them over.
At Scoutpost Two, a great many people dream about the future, and hope it holds less pain for them than the past, and that they will all survive the winter that is fast approaching. Even now, in the warm summer winds, there are already the first currents of a chill autumn, and eyes are turning North for what lies beyond the mountains, beyond the northmost woods, what bleeds in the heart of the world.
I see all of this, all of the time, dreamer. I think I will close my eyes for a moment, and although I do not dream, I have so much to dwell on. On moving on. On taking action. On what I used to be. On what I am becoming. No matter what, dreamer, know that I am your loyal host Nikignik, bidding you a safe journey, wherever your roads take you, and that someday you return to the Hallowoods. *Credits* Melanie Flores:
Hi again everybody, it’s your favorite press secretary Melanie—except guess what? I’m not a press secretary anymore! I’m Botco’s new Chief Marketing Officer!
I know!!!! If you’re excited, you should know that I’m at least three times more excited than that.
Thank you to everyone who’s supported me on this difficult journey. It was only possible because you believed in me, and it feels so incredible to finally have made it. This is where I wanted to be. So stay tuned, because I’m going to shake some things up around here…
The bonus story that goes with this episode is called 'Reunion', 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!