Finding her way to the Safe Haven by accident was the relief that Dolly didn’t realize that she’d needed. In the last few days since she’d gone there, she felt revitalized. She couldn’t deny that part of this was a bit of the freedom it had given her. For the first time in over a decade, she hadn’t had to worry about connecting buses or getting out early enough so that she could make the trip that was going to be twice as long just because of how she had to get there and which places had a wheelchair ramp. For the first time since she’d lost the ability to walk, she was able to just go somewhere she wanted to be. It was a bit tricky to figure out how to get back but she was grateful that even that didn’t take too much effort. It was more of a trick to figure out how to get Trioxin back with her as he’d taken up a very comfortable spot next to Will, his focus on how to get at one of his spider legs. Had the last week not happened, she was well aware that this would probably be the crowning weird moment in her life. It was kinda surreal, after all, watching her cat lazily try to coax one of the spider paws down so he could hook it and sniff at it. When Will extended it up so that Trioxin couldn’t reach, he whined at it and made grumpy noises until he gave up the ghost and went back to sleep. Dolly couldn’t help feeling like the cat was taking this whole monsters being real thing better than she was.
It was still completely insane to her that she knew a human spider hybrid but after getting a chance to sit with him to just chat again, after a while, she didn’t even notice the spider legs or the mouth parts. That was until they inevitably began to twitch but even that was something that Will tended to handle without thinking too much about it. Dolly wondered if any of this was hurting him but he didn’t seem to be that affected by it unless he needed to stretch or if the cat was dead set on getting a hold of one of his spider legs to use it as a toy. Basically, he acted like he always did, babbling all the while about things that came to mind about a movie he saw or wanted to see or needed a refresher on or that he read about. Beneath the blue skin and the gold eyes and the extra limbs was still just an over enthusiastic horror nerd who was itching to talk her ear off about something he’d seen about five years ago and it was the worst movie he’d ever seen but he just loved it. In fact, now that his secret was out, he was even more of an unrestrained nerd because he didn’t have to guard himself around her about what he knew or how he knew it.
It also now helped to know that sometimes when he talked about the background of certain lost movies that they watched or about the creatures in them with some authority because he’d either met them or knew what they were. It was true that Dolly was still getting used to this but at the same time, it did make it easier to relax about his ability to fact check when he talked about certain things. It also helped that no matter how she tried to look at it, even though Will was a monster, he was still just her incredibly weird friend. Now if only she could get him to open up about why he was so terrified of fish movies, she would be happy. Well, maybe not. Before, she’d assumed that it was simply a little quirk or some kind of awkward phobia of his. She was now a lot more concerned that there was something far worse lurking unseen in the water that she didn’t know about.
Since she’d discovered Will’s secret and the truth about the Shadow, Dolly had been actively pushing that aspect of things down into the corners of her brain that she dare not think about. Knowing Will was a monster was okay because he was harmless. Knowing about the Shadow was less okay but she was able to do some damage to it, so it didn’t make her feel helpless. Knowing that there was a world of monsters out there that might come into their lives was too stressful to even consider. She wouldn’t do it. She had to get through this revelation with baby steps and some of those steps, she didn’t know if she would be able to take at all. She settled on the strategy that until she saw something, she wouldn’t believe it was real and then she could just move on with her life. And even Will said that most of the things that people saw in movies wasn’t anything like in real life and not all of it was even real. That was going to have to be good enough because there wasn’t enough alcohol in the world to numb her anxiety if she thought of all the films that she’d seen and the books that she’d read over the years and tried to parse out exactly what might be lurking in every shadow.
The bonus of this was that, even though deep down Dolly knew she was actually kind of terrified of everything she’d learned, she was killing it creatively lately. With the Shadow no longer making her life difficult, she found that she’d almost been over run by all the things that she wanted to do. She had energy to spare and ideas that just kept coming to the point where she couldn’t get to bed on time to save her life. And weirdly, even when she was rushing to try to get to bed sooner, she was finding that she was still not as dead as she expected the next day at work. It had been a blessing because she was basically caught up on what they’d been working on mostly and was even a little ahead of the game for some of the other films. The next script was done for the initial draft and she’d gone out and found about three more movies to review as they got ready for the coming of fall. The summer was going by quickly on them, as she knew it would, but she felt like she was racing along with it and actually keeping up. She’d even come up with a few ideas for the Halloween anniversary series of videos that they had started talking about and she was excited to get the others together to talk about it. She had some great ideas that she wanted to bounce off Stuart to get him thinking of the art direction and she already knew that Lydia would be able to come up with some great costume and set ideas too. Dolly was eager to get started on them save for two little problems that she was running into all week.
For one, it was seemingly impossible to get this stupid knock off Kruger review done. For some reason, it was just dragging and every time she thought that she was almost finished, something else came up. She had finished the script but when she’d first started editing, she was first getting tired. Will told her that this was probably when the Shadow had started its little reign of terror and that had slowed things down. It was initially supposed to be the next review to go up but they’d had to use a back up because it just wasn’t ready. The next round of edits on the filming had been forced to pause because she needed to reshoot a whole bunch because she looked so tired on set. That had made things even more difficult. Then there was the issues with the sound. Then there was the issues of the video quality. Then there was the issues with getting the energy to edit everything when she did have the entire review together. They had another back up review in line just in case and Dolly was grateful because it was looking like they were going to need it again. Even though most of the review was finished, the ending now had magically been lost and she could not find any of the recordings of it and any of the audio that had been used for the end of the film was gone too. At least it would be an easy replacement to reshoot but that was leading into the second issue that she’d come across.
Lydia had been the first to call and tell them that she was having a hell of a time getting out of bed. She had said that it was likely just a little cold or something but leading on through the week, she was still finding that she couldn’t do anything but sleep. This had been understandable to a degree. Lydia always got a little bit on the worried side when her parents would come visit and that did tend to tire her out a lot. Still, it only usually lasted a day and Dolly had started to get a little worried. This worry got worse when Stuart texted her to tell her that this week was a no go for him either. When she’d coaxed him to call her, he could not get his stuttering under control for anything. He’d been having nightmares every night to the point where he couldn’t sleep and he was such a ball of anxiety that he’d even had to miss work a few times. He was also sleeping a lot in the day which was not like him at all and Dolly was starting to get a sinking feeling about this. It was difficult to have both of them sick at the same time but it was that they were getting so anxious and tired that was really making her wonder what was going on. Stuart didn’t normally get that worked up and Lydia hadn’t been this sick in all the time Dolly had known her.
“The hunt is on,” a familiar, hissing voice said behind her.
Startled, Dolly turned in time to see Trioxin hiss at a figure seated across from the fire in the Safe Haven. Will was nowhere to be found and she knew that she was awake. Oxy kept his ears back and his tail switching back and forth as he trotted to Dolly and sat in her lap. His wide green eyes fixed on the figure and didn’t move.
“Who are you?” Dolly asked, cautiously. “How are you here?”
“Oh how proud we shall be,” the hooded figure said, the fire light glinting off the toothy smile. It looked over at Trioxin and smiled. “They are so gorgeous here. And a fierce ally, you have made. When the war is ripe, he will fare very well. Our family will be honored by your contributions.”
“Where is Will? How did you get here?”
“He is asleep for now. Where he belongs in such times,” the figure gestured to the darkness. “You and I, we cannot be parted now. Even if we could, you’ve become far too interesting to me. To us. Our common enemy has brought out the potential in you.”
“I’m assuming you’re talking about the Shadow?”
“It clings still to the hope of weakening you,” the hissing voice insisted. It laughed maliciously. “You proved to be too much for its pathetic tricks. It takes its new targets to play.”
“How do I stop it?”
“Why bother?” the figure shrugged, casually. “Every bit it drains from them, it gives you more time to build your strength. It believes that it gains but every bit it takes, it loses just as quickly. You will be so much stronger soon and it will return. It will be perfect to trap then. Perfect to feed from.”
“They’re my friends,” Dolly said, sternly. “I have to help them. I’m going to find a way.”
“A waste,” the figure snorted dismissively. “Still, not a completely lost opportunity. If you truly wish to keep this figment in its place, bring it back to the beginning and the rain will do the rest. Let that be your first lesson.”
As soon as the figure stopped talking, the fire burst with a large blue flame and they were plunged into darkness before Dolly could blink. She gasped only to find herself sitting in front of her computer, staring at the script for the review for Killer Dreams.