HFTH - Episode 98 - Harvests



Content warnings for this episode include: Animal death (Heidi as usual), Kidnapping and abduction, Death + Injury, Blood, Emotional Manipulation, Body horror, Consumption of Inedible Materials (bad candy), Electrocution, Vomit (turn of phrase)




Intro - Rot And Song

You breathe in, but you do not breathe out. It was ever so slowly that you awoke, drinking in life from the soil around you, eyes opening to damp and darkness. It was gentle there, and safe; the nourishment of black earth filled with nutrient and rot and song.


But you could not rest. A stretching of the hand; the first twist of your head, fighting against the laborious weight of the soil. You might have given up then, and nestled beneath the impossible weight of the world above, and slept with eyes closed forever. But you are too curious for that. What is life for, if not to wake?


With a mighty lunge, you reach upward, seize at the air, blind your many eyes as you crawl up into the sun for the first time. In the field of gleaming black gourds around you, twisted vines spell again and again: Hello From The Hallowoods.


Theme.


Right now, I lurk inside of a large pumpkin. Like most of us, it has been carved with a face. Through its triangular eyes I see a world bathed in candlelight and strung with silken spiderwebs, and a cornucopia of food enjoyed rather than saved for winter. The theme of tonight’s episode is Harvests.



Story 1 - Two Hikers

Violet Keene had found, over the nearly seventy years of her life, few troubles that could not be reasoned with. Self-proclaimed warlords and barren masters could be swayed with a kind word or a slice of orange cake. Rival communities could become useful trading partners or be pressured into a ceasefire. Even towering monsters who would happily bite a scout in half could be coaxed with children’s books and a calm speaking tone.


It was numbers she had trouble with. The unfeeling, unchanging facts that were not so easily remedied. Bern excelled with those hard truths, and she suspected it was why they were so effective in tandem. And so Violet tried not to let panic rise in her fragile ribcage as she counted the food stores for the third time.


The canning and jarring had been on in full force, and the gardens infused with fresh soil yielded more than they might have expected for the lateness of the season, but try as she might, she could not get two facts to agree with each other: that winter was fast approaching, and they had far less food in reserve than the previous year, despite the rapid growth of their community.


Maybe Bern can make sense of it, she thought. Come up with a ration plan where we’d still be able to…


“How do I look?” said a voice beside her, and she looked up from the storehouse shelves to find Clementine standing in the door.


It was surprising how much a change of hair or fashion could set a person apart; although the girl had more than a passing resemblance to Riot, her new mullet and Scoutpost jacket made it easy to tell them apart. Even were it not for the outward appearance, Violet still found them distinct—Clementine was quieter than Riot at large, seemed to externalize her thoughts about the world a little less. Always seemed to be secretly evaluating how safe, how welcome she was in a room. And Violet tried to make her welcome, wherever possible.


“You look just like Valerie’s old magazine covers,” Violet said, and hoped it was the right connection to make. “The first ones. Really uncanny.”


Clem smiled, and Violet breathed a sigh of relief.


“You think so?” she said. “I wasn’t sure. I had to make up some of it—the chains for instance, and the spikes. Not that much stuff from their bunker is left, not even pictures…”


“Well, I remember those magazines well enough, and I think you look spot-on,” Violet smiled, and then pursed her lips. “Have you shown Valerie?”


“I’ll be seeing her later on,” Clem said, and hopped down a few steps into the cellar with its floor of packed earth. “With everybody. We’re going trick-or-treating. But I wanted to make sure it… was good.”


She stood there in the dim light with Violet for a moment, wrapped in a punk rock ensemble and ripped leggings, and Violet almost felt she was looking back through the years to her party days, the early-hour gatherings in hidden corners of Montreal’s gay village.


“What are you doing down here?” Clementine said, glancing around at the shelves of jars and bottles and supply boxes. “Anything I can help carry?”


“Yes,” Violet sighed, and waved a hand. “If you can take up two or three of the ciders—maybe just two. I was thinking they’d see use tonight. Keep everyone happy.”


Clem nodded, and hoisted a few large jugs into her arms, and paused again near the door.


“Is everything okay?” she said.


Violet sighed, and tried to seem genuine with her smile. Warm. Comforting.


“Everything is terrific,” she said. “Now go enjoy the night. Say hi to Valerie for me.”


Clem smiled, and darted up the stairs with the cider growlers in hand, and was gone. Violet followed her up a few moments later, using the hand rail to help compensate for her leg, which had not been cooperative since the bullet wound.


It was going to be alright, she promised herself. Somehow. They’d survived every winter since the end of the world, weathered those first devastating years when their community was just finding its way together. And yet, the seasons had consistently been extreme, and they had come to rely on their farms and gardens more than their old foraging, and they had so many new faces to feed…


She breathed in, tried to let the evening breeze clear her head as she stepped into the October twilight. Tomorrow, in the morning, she would raise the supply issue with Bern, put together a plan. For now, there was a celebration about to begin.


It was part Halloween, part harvest festival—most Scoutpost holidays tended to be an excuse for folks to celebrate whatever they pleased for the time of year. Tonight, candles in great weeping clusters gave off light in the great courtyard, and carved pumpkins and waxy gourds leered from banquet tables and porch steps. Strings of fabric in blacks and oranges streamed from the lookout towers, and remnants of massive silk cobwebs from the last Spider Day were stuck here and there.


The celebration had taken on a different meaning, she thought, than last year. The October prior it had been a kind of warning, a caution against the spooks and ghouls and ravenous things that lurked in the forest beyond, the dead that slept lightly, the flash of red and haunting cello in the forest.


This year, it was a welcome party, she felt, for the strangest neighbors that now lived in their midst. Seven people with skin in stitched-together patches and razor-tipped fingers had come to live among them. The spirit of a dead child haunted a little toy drum. The ghost of another dwelt in a silver mannequin. And a young person with hair the color of a cold dawn sky, whose eyes contained lightning and whose moods brought rainstorms and fog. Maybe it had all begun with Walt, who had first shown her that the sleeping skeletons in the lake were harmless if undisturbed.


But now, it was common knowledge that an undying fisherman could spin the stars and bend the forest itself to his will, that their grim hunter had a prosthetic of living wood, that a dead German Shepherd wandered the grounds of their fort. The very walls around them were grown of dark roots, raised up from the forest floor. For better or worse, they’d welcomed the strange right into their home, and it was a part of their community now, forever.


Am I going to rest peacefully when I’m gone, she wondered? Or is something unnatural going to happen to me, like everyone else in my life these days?


She found her way to her door—the green painted boards were the same, even if the frame was newly grown of living forest—and she stepped inside. The collection of books in unruly piles, the hanging portraits she’d painted of Scoutpost residents, the smell of coffee and muddy boots was the same too.


“So I figured it out,” Bern called from their little living room as she entered. “Not every kid is going to like caramel, so that will bring down the average slightly, but I figure that some folks I’d deem a little too old will be participating this year, which brings it back up. So we can allow a maximum of two caramels per kid that comes to the door. No exceptions.”


Violet might have made a trite remark, but in the moment, she found herself hoping that those same skills would carry them through the winter.


“Well I’m glad you’ve got that sorted,’ Violet said, and ambled around the corner to find her wife standing in shorts and a button-up. “Where’s your costume?”


“This is my costume,” Bern said, and looked up to her, and adjusted her bucket hat.


“I thought we were going as bear and hiker,” said Violet. “To match.”


“We are,” said Bern, brows furrowed. “I’m the hiker, right?”


“I call you 'Bernie Bear', and you’re bigger than me. You were definitely supposed to be the bear,” Violet said, and wrung her hands. “There’s going to be children at the door any minute—”


Bern set down a bowl of paper-wrapped candies, and came to face her in the hallway, arms crossed.


“I didn’t gather that,” Bern said. “It’s a bit late now to change, but I could try and find something bear-ish if it’s important to you. Is it?”


“No, it’s alright,” Violet sighed, and shook her head, tried not to let all the weight of the past year fall on something so stupid. “We can be two hikers.”


She felt her wife kiss her forehead, and two bear-like arms around her.


“It’s going to be alright,” Bern whispered, so quietly that she might not have said anything at all.


Violet nodded, and breathed in Bern’s coffee and honeycomb smell, and stuck her nose under Bern’s chin.


“I believe you,” she replied, just as quiet, and she smiled. “Now. Let’s hand out some candy.”




Interlude 1 - Autumn Has Arrived

Autumn has arrived in the Hallowoods, dreamers, while we have been absent. The trees that still bear leaves have turned from blackish-green to blackish-reds and oranges, and the wind peels their foliage away to reveal gnarled fingers of wood clawing at the sky. The pines are unchanged. They are evergreen, ever dark, ever listening. They have only dropped their pine cones to celebrate the season.


It is the time of harvests, and gathering all that the summer has brought in preparation for the cold to come—and although your planet has grown warmer overall, the winters remain temperamental, as curious and difficult to track as the new topography itself.


The gardens are empty and brown. The evenings grow earlier and the nights colder. And for the residents of Scoutpost Two, anticipation comes in two varieties—those who plan to leave on a northbound journey before the first frost, and those who intend to stay at home and weather it themselves.


We go now to one who avoids the horizon.



Story 2 - The Easy Part

The idea is the easy part, Riot thought; inspiration strikes bright and often, like lightning when Olivier is upset. It’s the doing that’s difficult. In her case, deciding to go as a knight for Halloween, because it was an excuse to carry her sword around, and because she liked any movie that had a dragon in it, and because she’d always wanted to see herself in armor. How hard could it be?


The answer was very, and her hands were covered in little cuts from trying to bend thin sheet metal into shape. But what was once a rusted bucket had become a half-decent helmet, and part of a rain gutter a pair of shoulder pads, a few feet of chain link fence over a black shirt to stand in for mail. Her costume was heavy, and awkward to move in, but nothing could dampen her excitement for the night.


Olivier, on the other hand, seemed to have no such struggles. If she was going to be a princess, she’d said, it was going to be period accurate, and Olivier had assembled her costume painstakingly over a few weeks. Frankly, it made Riot’s outfit look like garbage.


Olivier had embroidered a collar with flowers and birds with long tail feathers, had designed a veil that had once been mosquito netting. It required so much more patience than Riot was usually capable of committing. Nevertheless, it was together, a princess in five layers and a rusty bucket knight, that they descended the Scoutpost ramparts and made for the bonfire.


“I’m just going to warn you up front,” Riot said as she followed Olivier down. “I’m probably going to steal some of your candy.”


“Not very chivalrous,” Olivier sniffed.


“Sorry. I’m probably going to steal some of your candy, my lady,” Riot said with a mock bow.


“‘Your highness’,” Olivier said, and flicked a long sleeve. “‘Your grace’ is also appropriate.”


“Enjoying the royal treatment, are we?” Riot said, and nudged Olivier in the ribs as they reached the fire.


“It’s nice to get a little respect around here,” Olivier returned, with a tiny smile that was one of Riot’s favorites. She proffered her arm for Olivier to grab, and made sure to flex her bicep when it was accepted.


“Well then, your grace, allow me to escort you to the ball?”


“Lead on, good knight,” Olivier said, and might have blushed beneath the veil. Riot led through the crowd, careful not to trip anyone with the sword hanging off her waist. The Scoutpost halloween party was in full swing, and costumes of all kinds peeled around her—angels and devils, maids and politicians, pets and performers. There was one person on stilts dressed as a Wandering Night-Gaunt, which Riot thought was in excellent taste, and a kid with a red coat like the Instrumentalist, which Riot thought was exceptionally terrible.


In the midst of a cacophony of characters were two she recognized, waiting for them by the bonfire that blazed in the courtyard center. Her newfound sister Clementine was dressed like she was about to go on stage for Stonemaiden, and her dreaming friend Danielle was shrouded in a spiky black costume with lots of red beady eyes; Riot was not immediately sure what it represented. Danielle was testing out forearm crutches for the night, and they were painted to match.


“Danielle, what are you supposed to be? It’s very spooky,” Riot said as they joined up with the group.


“You like it? I’m what you’d call a nightmare personality,” Danielle said. It was not funny, and no one laughed. “Are you Sir Lancelot or something?”


“Does Sir Lancelot get to make out with the princesses?” Riot said, and jumped as Olivier put a hand on her shoulderpad and gave her a little static shock through the metal plate.


“Honestly, I don’t know, I didn’t spend much time in Azuria. More of a cyberpunk girl,” Danielle said.


“I found the Cyber City kind of depressing though,” Clementine said, and scratched at her hair; Riot was fascinated by Clementine’s growing her hair out, as it let her know exactly how she would look if she ever stopped shaving it.


“Yeah, maybe,” Danielle shrugged, and all the bead eyes of her costume rattled. “But I liked the irony—Botco, you know, running a game world about fighting evil corporations. Missed the point completely.”


“I’ll be honest, I have no idea what you two are talking about,” Riot said, and stretched, although her armor restricted her movement a little. “Is everyone good for candy time? I’m ready for candy time.”


“Aren’t we waiting for Diggs and Percy?” Danielle said, and glanced up at her. Riot looked around, and shrugged.


“I think we should probably get started,” she said. “They’ve been… doing their own thing, lately. Maybe dead people don’t keep track of time very well.”


“It’s hard to be later for things than you are, yeah,” Clementine said, and crossed her arms. Riot frowned, and resisted the urge to give her a noogie.


“It wasn’t my fault tonight,” Riot said. “Her ladyship has a costume with a hundred parts.”


“And it looks lovely,” Danielle said, before Olivier could zap Riot again.


“It does. It was a lot of work,” Olivier said, and glanced around, as if looking for the undead duo. Riot could not spot them either in the courtyard or the ramparts above, although several of the other Mendies stalked in the crowd, helping with the ambience as much as with the operations.


“Alright,” Riot said, and grabbed the empty leather bag at her hip, and started for the first door. “Operation sugar rush begins now.”


There was one person watching her from the Scoutpost wall, as she walked, and she exchanged a glance—Cindy Lockheart, blonde and glacial, stared at her from one of the high ramparts, arms crossed.


I know, Riot thought. I know it’s soon. Just let me enjoy this. One night while everyone is still together, where no one’s life is in danger. Can you give me that?


Across the Scoutpost, Cindy turned, and vanished from sight. Riot grit her teeth. It was all ending too quickly.




Marketing - See Myself Out

Lady Ethel:

Welcome back to Marketing with Lady Ethel Mallory, and greetings from the Botulus Corporation.


Tonight I’d like to talk about the importance of consistency. As soon as their first interaction with your brand, customers are making up their mind about you—whether your color, your values, your value proposition are a match for their personality and lifestyle. And when you win their business, you have also won their heart. That kind of love for a brand is not to be taken lightly.


You should by no means change things willy-nilly after that—alter your branding, your message, your mission, and you risk losing their faith. Brand loyalty is like marriage. Change too much, and you might find yourself in the midst of a messy divorce.


For instance, if you’ve had one consistent spokesperson, the face of your company for thirty years, people would grow attached to her. Come to see her as important, reliable, always there. A comfort even in the company’s darkest days.


And so to throw her out, shove her away into the wilderness with only a suitcase and the portable dreamcaster she stole… it would be a huge mistake. A brand-destroying mistake.


And I promise you, Oswald, it will be...



Story 2, Continued - The Easy Part

What was that? It was like a sound that once annoyed me to hear. Yes. It used to blast across every dreaming mind in America like Fourth Of July fireworks. Loud. Inescapable. Insensitive. But now, it is so quiet. Only a few dreamers might even experience a disruption at all. And now it is gone entirely.


*Nikignik chuckles*


Mm.


We return now to Riot Maidstone.


When deciding what rations to prepare in the event of twenty years in a nuclear fallout shelter, Canadian Prime Minister Rizwana Mirza did not add much candy to the list. So when Riot went trick-or-treating around the ramparts and porches of the Scoutpost, visiting familiar faces that she had come to know, each dish was an exciting novelty.


On the first story, Zelda Duckworth gave out individually wrapped Christmas peppermints. Riot had taken a few shifts over the fall keeping her company. It was hard for her to believe sometimes that this wry old woman, with her birdlike face and frizzy hair, presently dressed like a duck, had once fired a shotgun into the back of the dread Instrumentalist and brought his reign of malice to an end.


It was also unclear where she had acquired her candy, but Riot scooped a few into her satchel with the acceptance that they were probably twenty years old, and potentially a little less potent than they used to be, which was not true of Zelda. Her son Jonah, who had become sort of a resident pariah or prophet depending on who you asked, waved from inside. The one named Hector did not wear a costume, but nodded in her direction without saying anything.


Violet and Bern’s costumes were not truly that different from what they always wore, as if about to start a walking tour. Nevertheless, Violet had made caramels and wrapped them in wax paper, and Bern slipped her a few coins of dark licorice from a supply that by now had to be running low.


They lingered there for a few moments, chatting; Clementine seemed to be closer to the old couple than Riot was—as though she’d sought out a different family to give Riot space. Or maybe it wasn’t about Riot at all; maybe Clem just needed space from the other Maidstones, to avoid becoming too much like either. Riot tried not to let it trouble her, especially when things with Clem were finally smoothing out a little.


Buck Silver was someone that Riot was still getting to know; he reminded her of herself a little, when she had first arrived at the Scoutpost and still felt like a tremendous burden rather than a family member. She tried to give him the impression, on the off occasions that they spoke, that he would still be welcome even if he wasn’t trying so hard to earn Scoutpost badges and fit in.


But he gardened, and worked long hours helping the prep cooks in the kitchens, and seemed happy enough to be here, so she didn’t worry too much. Each in their own time. He gave out little paper bags of caramel popcorn, and was dressed like some kind of Bible character. All those robes looked the same.


Marco and Brooklyn, Riot had not taken much of a liking to. It was possibly that the two had collectively helped Lady Ethel kidnap her mom, ruin her life, and spy on her for months. Riot was prepared to accept that people could change, and do better when surrounded by better circumstances, and sure, the duo had left Botco of their own accord. A fresh start.


Unfortunately for everyone involved, their new life involved a lot of public displays of affection, and Marco’s lovey-dovey way of talking to Brooklyn, and the little hand squeezes as if they were enacting some pioneer fantasy together made Riot want to vomit every time she saw them.


Maybe that was how people saw her and Olivier, but it was different when other people did it. But she didn’t detest them enough to turn down good candy, so she smiled, and nodded, and accepted a handful of candied orange peel.


Maybe Marco reminded her of how head-over-heels she had been for Clara, once, and Brooklyn was also bookish and beautiful and thoughtful in the same way that Clara was. That whole period of her life bothered Riot to think about, because Riot had been so stupidly attached, and then Clara ditched her to go fly off to wizard school, and she had never once written Riot a letter or come back to visit, and…


Riot couldn’t dwell on that. It would ruin her night.


Her mom was dressed like her old rock star days—she almost matched Clementine, and wasn’t giving out candy at all, but instead was sitting with a ukelele and would sing you a bit from any song you wanted. Riot thought this was a cop-out. But Clementine asked for a snippet of her song ‘Rotten House’, and sang along with the chorus, and Riot could not be mad. Riot had shared her MP3 player with Clem lately, and it was oddly comforting to see someone else go through the same loving discovery with her mother’s music as she had.


Virgil Kane was giving out handfuls of pecans, which the Scoutpost’s resident pathfinder also smelled like in general. He was dressed as a cowboy, which was not a far cry from the way he always dressed. It was his rotten kid, she realized, who was wearing an Instrumentalist coat, but by the time she had decided how she’d call him out on it, they were already moving on, and she didn’t feel like arguing with him tonight when she could be looting other candy dishes.


She kept an eye out for Percy and Diggory throughout the night. Of course she did. But she could not catch sight of them. Something was brewing there, she thought, and they spent a lot of time alone together. She was too tired from her own work to investigate in full—after all, the Scoutpost needed a groundskeeper. Still, she would have expected to run into them sooner or later, and she was surprised not to see them at the spooky dance, or at the bonfire as the gang got caramel apples on sticks.


Olivier excused herself for a few minutes, to go fix a ripped seam beneath her arm, and Clem and Danielle traded the candies they liked better in hushed tones. It was in that moment of temporary quiet that Cindy appeared like a vampire, stepped out of the bonfire smoke beside her. Her mother might have been close with Rizwana, but the Prime Minister’s wife treated them more like professionals than old friends.


“Enjoying yourself?” she said. Riot might have felt a winter chill beneath her armor.


“Yeah. It’s a good time. Let me guess, your costume is… a secret agent?”


“Costumes are for children,” Cindy said. “I need an answer from you.”


“I’m… I’m still deciding,” Riot said, and suddenly felt quite stupid in her bucket helmet, when so much rode on the outcome of this conversation. “Can… can I have until tomorrow morning? I need to track down Diggory, and I haven’t seen them still.”


“I believe I saw them sneaking out with Percy earlier this evening,” Cindy said, and studied her as if examining a crystal for faults. “Are you afraid?”


“Me? Afraid? Never,” Riot said, although she wondered then if being fearless was immature in its own right. “It’s just a big decision. I’ve got a job here. I help people. And I’m not taking it lightly. I know that if I go with you on your big arctic journey… I might not come back.”


Cindy did not smile; simply nodded once.


“Good,” she said. “You understand the gravity of your decision.”


The former bodyguard began to walk off, and stopped a few steps away, looked over her shoulder.


“Tomorrow,” she said. “At eleven. I’ll expect an answer.”


Riot shivered again as Cindy left, and shook her head. Olivier was approaching again down the ramp, like a lady of the court down a sweeping staircase, a princess in a flowing twist of fabric.


Tomorrow, Riot thought. Then I’d better make tonight last as long as it can.




Interlude 2 - Beauty In The Wondering

Does it ever bother you, dreamer? The mystery of your own existence? Surely there are many among you that wonder what your place in the universe really is. Why you are here. How you came to exist. What grand scheme and profound answers must underscore your brief experience of living.


If the answers were disappointing, would you still want to know?


If the answers were magnificent, would it break your spirit even so to have a definite purpose, a rote beginning and a predestined end?


Or is it from the ability to choose the purpose of your life that you derive your zeal for it? That your meager years are a canvas upon which you paint whatever strikes you as a good use of color?


I could tell you, dreamer. Where your kind originated, and why. What place you are meant to serve in this grand cosmos. How important, or lack thereof, you are in the hierarchy of heavens.


But I think some things become more important than they were expected to be. I think sometimes it is best not to know the answers. We find beauty in the wondering.


We go now to one who knows very little.



Story 3 - Another Promise

Diggory Graves held three things dearly.


The first was their jacket. It was black leather, stitched and repaired by many hands, with long metal spikes on the shoulders. The most important part of it was not in the pockets, which contained a few rocks and a watch with no band and a walkie talkie, but the name tag, because it told them that their name was Diggory Graves, and they believed it.


The second was the Direction. Sometimes it pointed north; lately it always pointed north. But when they walked, they tended to end up going in a direction that turned out to be good, and found things along the way that made the journey worthwhile. They had resisted the direction for a few months, now, because it led inexorably towards the horizon, and they had not quite gotten enough of the here and now.


The third thing, here and now, was Percy Reed, who was not anything at all, but a brave spirit with puncture wounds in his lips and his father’s clothes. Currently, his ghost haunted a silver metal body sculpted as ornately as a marble god, and the detailed armature of his face rested neutral. It was Percy that they held onto, an arm around the boy’s silver shoulders, as they sat together in the boughs of a pine tree overlooking the Scoutpost and the forest beyond.


“We should return,” Diggory whispered at length. “The moon has arrived, and they will be tricking-treating soon.”


“Can we stay for a few more minutes?” Percy said. His metal face did not shift in expression, but it gleamed in the moonlight. Diggory was quiet for a moment.


“Have you ever been tricking-treating?”


“Trick-or-treating,” Percy mused. “And no, I haven’t. It really wasn’t allowed in the Reed household. Instead we did Harvest Fest at church, which was… not quite the same. It’s funny. We were so scared of ghosts and evil spirits being summoned, and now I’ve ended up as one.”


“You are not an evil spirit,” Diggory said. “You are a very good one.”


Percy said nothing, but laid his head against Diggory’s shoulder; it still took Diggory by surprise each time they were reminded of his physical weight.


“Something is wrong,” Diggory said. “What is it?”


“Nothing is wrong,” Percy whispered.


“You are usually quite keen on activities, and our friends,” Diggory said. “But you have been quieter lately. Are you avoiding the tricking and treating?”


“I’m not avoiding it,” Percy said, and might have shrugged if his mannequin had the range of motion for it. “I just… feel like time with you is important right now.”


“Before we meet with the others?” Diggory said.


“I think you know what I mean,” Percy said, and turned a little, so that Diggory could see his face. His clockwork eyes did not quite make eye contact.


“I think I do,” Diggory said. “I know you worry about the expedition. And what danger we may encounter. But you and I will be alright. We will be together. And we will make it home again, so that we may continue our gentle life in peace. I promise.”


Percy looked up to them, and his metal expression was hard to read; Diggory almost wished that they could see his face of silver light instead. But he put a hand on Diggory’s cheek, and kissed their forehead.


“Thank you,” he whispered. “I needed to hear that.”


Diggory glanced up to the forest—there was a shaking in the pine boughs in which they sat. At first they thought it might be a stampede of griffocaughs, but they could hear no braying cries. They thought then that perhaps something was happening to Jonah, to Scoutpost Two, and perhaps the wall of trees that surrounded it was collapsing, but in the distance its towers stood lit by lamplight, tall as ever.


And then they looked out, past Lurch Lake, and caught sight of it—a huge shape, racing through the trees, a flash of great chitinous legs and gleaming domes and windows and golden edges.


“What is that?” Percy whispered. It was bearing through the forest, pines bending to either side as it shook the earth.


“I believe that is a friend of mine,” Diggory said, although they watched with some concern as the museum approached like a runaway train.


“That thing is your friend?” Percy said, tension rising; he moved to sit up, half-stood on the pine branch.


“Its proprietor is,” Diggory said, eyes widening. “It might be coming for me. I think perhaps you should return to the Scoutpost.”


“I’m not going anywhere,” Percy said. “What do you mean, coming for you?”


The museum was looming close now, a train of art deco buildings with glittering skylights and glinting edges, with massive legs treading beneath it, like a crab carrying an ornate shell.


“I am not sure if you are allowed there,” Diggory said. “It is a curious place…”


“If we go anywhere, we go together,” Percy said, and grabbed Diggory’s arm. The museum was beneath them, then, rolling past their tree, with gilded railings and balconies sailing below.


“Allow me,” Diggory said, and picked up Percy—he was lighter than Diggory expected, but then again, things were rarely heavy for Diggory—and they jumped thirty feet to land on an upper floor’s balustrade. They set Percy down, and glanced over the forest below. The balcony on which they stood had a few doors leading inwards, and one of them opened promptly with a chime. A figure in a long brown coat, a corduroy vest, and dark glasses obscuring a head of frilled fungal shelves stepped out into the night.


“Percy, this is Mx. Morell,” said Diggory. “The proprietor of this museum.”


“Diggory, what is going on?” Percy hissed, the lenses of his mechanical eyes wide.


“Mx. Morell, this is Percy,” Diggory called. “He is… dear to me. Why have you sought me out this evening?”


“Hello, Percy—I’m acquainted with your story, believe it or not,” Mx. Morell called as they puttered across the balcony towards them, and came to stop a few paces away, glasses glinting in the moonlight.


“Pleased to see you again, Diggory. I’m here on some unfortunate business, I’m afraid.”


Here Mx. Morell took out a cloth, wiped at their forehead, and smiled apologetically.


“You see, I’ve been sent here to kill you.”



Outro - Harvests

Harvests. Good things come to those who wait. But also, the early bird gets the worm, so it seems your adages are undecided as to whom good things go: those who hasten, and leap on each new writhing opportunity, or those who make the most of the journey.


I suggest you proceed at a comfortable pace, and what is good will find you regardless, blooming wherever you have watered the soil and nurtured it to life. It can take time, months of thankless barren fields, before you see the first hints of green rise through the soil. If you stay, you will find that the fields grow full with the seasons, and there is a bounty to harvest.


But if you travel, and dance from one field to the next, you will carry soil and seeds with you on the undersides of your boots, sprinkle them from your pockets, and leave a few flowers behind wherever you walk.


I am taking my time with this, although the reward remains to be seen. Tending to you dutifully, I am your loyal host Nikignik, welcoming you back every year to the Hallowoods.





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