Dolly could smell the difference in the air. There was that same scent of wet concrete that she remembered from her dream and she knew that the Shadow was going to try to get them to do something. She could hear Lydia breathing hard and somewhere nearby Stuart was whimpering.
“Is everyone okay, relatively speaking?” Will said, still scrambling. She could tell by the way that he was talking that one of the mouth pieces that he’d pinned back had fallen down.
“I can’t find my phone,” Lydia said, grabbing harder onto Dolly. “I can’t see anything at all. Stuart?”
“I found him,” Will sighed. “I’m sitting at his feet. Dolly? Any ideas?”
“Still recovering,” she replied, looking around herself frantically as she searched for a light source. “Thinking for the moment because that was unexpected.”
“Good,” Will said, sounding less than okay now. “Thinking is a good way to mitigate plans gone horribly awry.”
“Wh-what p-p-plans?” Stuart whispered, his breath coming out in rapid gulps.
“Try to relax, Stu,” Will said, trying to sound reassuring. “We just have to concentrate and we can get out of this. I know that sounds silly but you really need to concentrate on staying calm.”
“Where are we, Dolly?” Lydia asked, her voice trembling.
“Not where I planned, but I think in a place where we can still get out of this,” Dolly replied, grabbing her hand. “Will, where abouts are you?”
“Holding onto Stuart’s foot like the brave soul that I am.”
“If you’re close enough, grab onto Lydia’s foot too,” Dolly said, closing her eyes.
“If you’re doing what I think you’re doing, I would like to point out that this might be a bad idea given what else is living there,” Will said, cringing as he held to Lydia’s ankle while Stuart grabbed onto his left human arm.
“I have to concentrate, like you said,” Dolly replied. “Look at the floor. Tell me when you can see something.”
For a second, there was nothing. The other three sat in uneasy silence while all around them, there was the unmistakable sound of something shuffling nearby. Will could feel Stuart’s nails slowly digging into his coat and soon would be finding their way into his skin through the fabric. Lydia was beginning to whimper too when suddenly, there was a faint glow coming from somewhere above them. At first there was nothing to see but slowly something began to emerge.
“Keep going,” Will encouraged. Something hissed nearby. “Keep thinking of it, you’re getting closer.”
“What does it look like? Help me out,” Dolly insisted.
“Blue,” Stuart managed to spit out.
“They’re tiles,” Lydia added.
“Wet tiles,” Will nodded, the light was getting a little stronger but it was too dim to fight against the shadow. “Looks like a bathroom or like a locker room of some kind.”
“Just like the one in Killer Dreams, right?” Dolly said.
There was something that snarled right behind her, making her eyes pop open. The scene before them rippled for a second before it settled back to the setting that she was hoping to see. The four of them dropped to the floor and scuttled closer together. The set was officially gone and they were sitting in the dim light of the opening shots of Killer Dreams. It was also one of the first scenes from that stupid movie where the killer is seen but only in silhouette. It would have been identical to the Nightmare on Elm Street movie it was trying so hard to be but the budget had it happen in a school locker room and she’d even noticed the shower stalls that the filmmakers had so desperately tried to film around and avoid. Dolly had felt stupid the other night when she’d been looking at the script and realized that she’d seen these stupid blue tiles over and over again. The clue had been staring her in the face the entire time and she should have known this was where this asshole Shadow had come from.
“Are we stuck in a horror movie?” Lydia asked. “Because I’m not good at running.”
“Don’t worry, I’ll carry you,” Dolly replied.
“Sorry. I forgot,” Lydia said, sheepishly. “At least we can see?”
“I d-d-do-don’t th-think I w-wa-want to,” Stuart said, his teeth chattering.
“There’s four of us here,” Will said, trying to sound optimistic. “We just need to figure this out together.”
“Just trust me, I think I know what’s going to happen,” Dolly said. “Just stay close.”
No sooner did she say these words did they hear the hissing of something wandering through the setting. The Shadow was pulsing through the scene, slithering from one darkened corner to another as they all pulled closer together in the middle of the room. It was clear to all of them that the creature was seething. It was also clear that it was getting frustrated by the fact that the four of them were sitting directly under a fogged up skylight. In the film, it had broken at the climax as the lead character screamed to wake herself up. It was still intact here and the light it cast was too dim to cast any shadows but enough to cast a halo around them that kept the creature circling them. Every now and again, it would try to come closer but even putting a hand into the where the darkness ended made it evaporate and the Shadow would shrink back angrily.
“We’re trapped,” Lydia said. “What do we do?”
“The same thing the girl did in the major dream sequence of this movie,” Dolly said. Will groaned.
“Seriously? We’re going to toss a pebble at the water pipe? A little tiny rock wouldn’t have cracked a bloody pipe.”
“Come on, Will! This is horror movie logic! She did it by accident to make the room steam up like in the Elm Street boiler room,” Dolly reminded him. “Steam means no shadows!”
“Right, that’s brilliant!” Will brightened up. He frowned. “Does anyone have a pebble on them?”
They felt the ground and discovered that it was smooth. There was nothing there and the Shadow was starting to change things around them. Will looked up and saw that the skylight was getting less foggy and there was suddenly a large cloud over a bright moon. The second it came shining through, their little circle of protection was going to disappear. Stuart wasted no time as he dug into his pocket like he was going to rip it open and flung a handful of change at the nearest pipe. The pinging sound of the coins echoed everywhere and the Shadow’s attention was drawn away just at the light began to spill into the room. It gave a feral snarl as the room immediately filled with steam and the fog only got thicker by the second. Immediately the plan looked like it was going to work until it became clear that everything was invisible now. Dolly knew that the Shadow was going to try to change the room to trap them. She had to act quickly.
Dolly gripped tightly to her friends and closed her eyes. She prayed that this would work. She thought of the set and the way the curtains looked in the firelight. She thought of the way the windows looked in the Safe Haven. She thought of the way the breeze smelled there. How it was warm and comforting. How it felt like home.
“Dolly?” Lydia said.
Dolly opened her eyes and was relieved to see that they were all sitting in the Safe Haven. She sighed when she saw the other two were looking around in awe while Will tried not to look awkward as he tried to keep his spider legs from coming out. Stuart was making a point not to look at him as he looked around the room and touched the glass of the window that used to be the art piece that he created. He was about to say something when his eyes landed on something that made his face pale and his mouth dropped open. Before anyone could stop it, he let out a yelp loud enough to wake the sleeping spider in front of the fireplace. Startled, Toby’s six eyes popped wide open and immediately after the four of them were all covered in veils of spider webs. Will groaned and hung his head as his spider legs came out and Toby cowered behind him, clinging to his back. Dolly tried to comfort everyone when she realized that the webs were concentrated on a figure that had been near Stuart. Because of the way the faint shadow had been cast, it had been closest to the sleeping spider. The Shadow had followed them here and was now completely immobilized by the webbing.
“Can it get out of there?” Lydia asked.
“No,” Will said, looking at it. “Good job, Toby. I wouldn’t have thought of that.”
“What do we do with it?” Stuart blurted out. He stopped. “I don’t stutter here.”
“This is a place of imagination, Stu,” Will replied. “We don’t think of you stuttering here so you don’t. It’s why Lydia has cat ears that move and Dolly can walk here sometimes too.”
Lydia ran her fingers through her hair and found a pair of fluffy ears that perked up as she touched them. She immediately bit her tongue to keep from burbling about it as Stuart looked like he got hit between the eyes with a brick.
“What is that thing?” Stuart asked, inching closer to Dolly.
“It’s a Shadow,” Will replied, watching it wiggle, effectively only pulling the webbing tighter. Casually, Will began picking off the webs left on his clothes and draped them on the struggling figure. “Normally they’re not this charged up. I guess we must have picked it up from Killer Dreams and it got some ideas on how to try to force Dolly to write it into being a real character.”
“It adapted pretty quickly. Is that normal?” Dolly asked. She tested her legs and was relieved that she could stand at least. Lydia held to her arm just in case.
“Actually, if we’re being technical, that’s about their only strength. Other than feeding off creativity and making creators feel like the walking dead,” Will said, slipping back into his normal tone as he continued to pull webs off himself. Lydia began to do the same and handed them to Will as he continued to apply them to the hissing mass of webs beside him. “To be honest, I think your guess, Dolly, that it wanted to be a real character in something was probably on the money. Think of how it aped the Kruger knock off it was hiding in. The dreams were pretty specific and it always had to come back to what it knew, which is how you remembered those blue tiles. These things usually can’t talk so I guess we’ll never know for sure but given all the Shadows I’ve seen, that fits the bill. It probably got stuck in Killer Dreams for a long time because no one has seen it in probably forever.”
“Won’t that mean that other people will get attacked by it?” Stuart asked.
“Not anymore,” Will shrugged. “It took a chance on coming out of it and attached to Dolly first and then you two. Now it’s not attached to anyone.”
“So what do we do with it now?” Dolly said. “I’m not keeping it here.”
“If you think of a door, we can kick it out of here?” Will suggested.
“I volunteer for kicking duty,” Lydia said as a door appeared behind the writhing Shadow.
“Probably shouldn’t,” Will frowned. “The webbing is really sticky and if you touch it, it’ll get all over your foot. If we tear a hole in its covering, that thing can get out and there’s plenty of shadows in here for it to hide in.”
“What about you, Will?” Stuart said, sheepishly. “You’re touching the webbing.”
“Oh, I guess that’s true,” Will replied, oblivious to the way Stuart cringed as he stretched out one of his spider legs. “Here, better idea. Someone open the door for me and I’ll toss it out.”
Stuart was the closest and hesitated before moving towards the door sitting in the middle of the room. He winced as he moved around the writhing Shadow to the door and his hand trembled as he grabbed the door knob. With a quick motion, he pulled it open and cowered behind it as Will grabbed at a few of the webs anchored above their heads and wrapped it around the Shadow with his paw. Hanging the wiggling mass from the claw on the end of his leg, he nonchalantly dropped the Shadow into the void of darkness that the door opened to like it was a trash bag and closed the door behind him. No sooner did the latch click did the door evaporate and they were left standing there alone.
“So,” Dolly said, awkwardly, as they all stared at each other. “How’s everyone feeling now?”
“Better, but a bit confused,” Lydia replied.
“Does this mean that Will is only a make believe spider here?” Stuart asked.
“No, unfortunately,” Will sighed. “I’m stuck like this for the time being.”
“But he’s still same person,” Dolly added, quickly. She sighed. “He just has some extra spider bits and he’s blue for real.”
“At least this doesn’t cut into our budget to fix the spidery bits if they’re natural,” Lydia offered, weakly.
“So this means that monsters are real?” Stuart said, sitting down. He looked winded.
“And most of us aren’t really bad at all, even if we look weird,” Will replied. “And to be honest, most of them are easy to get along with. There’s all manner of creatures here and a lot of them even watch the show. They like what we do and they get a kick out of it when they see different monsters that they know or things that don’t actually exist. There’s some stuff that’s mean and there’s things to avoid but there’s more than just Shadows and other aggressive things out there.”
“How many?” Lydia asked. “Like how many things out there would be watching our show?”
“Countless,” Will replied. “They can find their way to spaces like this one to see it and most of the time, they enjoy it. Most of them interact with the world and we don’t notice it. People just kind of ignore that they’re there. This gives them a little nod to say that there’s people who actually like them. It’s something they can enjoy too.”
“This is kinda like that old joke that we’re big in some far flung country but in this case, it’s like being big in imaginary far flung country,” Dolly said.
“That’s kinda cool, right Stuart?” Lydia urged.
“And this place,” he sighed. “Can they come in here?”
“Not unless we bring them in,” Will said. “This is a Safe Haven and since we created it, we can keep people and creatures out that don’t belong. The Shadow only got in because it was hitching a ride on one of us when we came here. Since we kicked it out, it can’t come back. In fact, I’m only here because Dolly allows me to be. We’re safe here.”
“I know this is a lot to digest, guys,” Dolly said. “Even I only just found out about it but you’ve got to admit that this place is kinda cool, isn’t it?”
“I can have real cat ears and you don’t stutter here, Stuart,” Lydia encouraged. “And Will’s still our friend.”
“With a giant spider on his back,” Stuart replied sheepishly.
“A giant, mostly useless, easily terrified spider,” Will corrected, glancing over his shoulder. He frowned. “Look, Stu, I know he looks scary and all but he’s helpless out in the imaginary world and I’m not overstating how much he doesn’t actually do. He can’t hurt anything unless you’re a bird.”
“And he’s not exactly useless because without him, the Shadow would have snuck in here and we would never have known,” Dolly offered, sitting down on the fainting couch, closer to the fire. She looked to Stuart. “You don’t have to pet him or anything, but couldn’t we be a little openminded about this? After all, we all just worked together to get rid of something and without Will, we wouldn’t have known about it.”
“I suppose that’s true,” Stuart said, reluctantly. He sat down and looked at the floor. “So does this mean that the next movie is going to have another monster hiding in it too?”
“That rip off of Invasion of the Body Snatchers? Oh those things are priceless!” Will said, completely forgetting himself now. “I mean, technically they can do some of the things that they show in the movie but you have to really get on their nerves to do that. They kind of exist in a hive-like thing but it’s more of a commune to them. Anyway, they have this hilarious trick that they play, mostly on these creatures that are almost always taking resources that they need for their hive upkeep. You know that weird popping noise they make in the movie, they use that to mimic a very specific mating call.”
The four of them gradually became more comfortable as they listened to Will chat about monsters as the Safe Haven slowly made itself into the storage locker again. Outside, the clouds had let out a burst of rain that made the day a nice, chilled foggy one. With the weather once again making it difficult for them to do anything else, the four enjoyed telling stories and sharing ideas until finally it was time to go. Refreshed and bounding with energy, Lydia skipped into the rain to grab umbrellas from Stuart’s car as the other three quickly took down any other decorations. Stuart remained a little nervous but Will’s stories had managed to calm his nerves and the relief of not stuttering for a while had been good for him. Their packing up was interrupted by a loud bang and an echo that sounded like a deep, rumbling cry.
“Thunder maybe?” Dolly asked as Stuart helped her into her chair.
“Probably,” Will nodded. “It’s been hot out so it makes sense that there’s a storm in the works.”
“You’re okay here on your own?” Lydia asked him.
“I’ll retreat back to the Safe Haven once you guys are gone,” Will shrugged. “Toby usually stays there with me so he won’t be on set, Stu.”
“Okay,” Stuart nodded. He looked up. “It g-getting d-dark out. We sh-should go.”
“Are we meeting next week?” Dolly asked as she wheeled out of the storage unit.
“Count me in!” Lydia said.
“I’m always here,” Will added. They looked at Stuart.
“I’ll come,” he nodded, shyly.
“Great!” Dolly said. “Let’s get some rest and next week is going to be back to having fun.”
When the three of them were gone, Will retreated into the Safe Haven, leaving the storage locker in absolute darkness. Shifting inside of it was a writhing mass, livid to its core. It could not make a sound but it had already shed more than half of the webs that it had been smothered with initially. The dark around it only had to feed it a little bit more and it would be able to move again. Once it could, it would find a way into that space again. It had been so close. It could do it again. It would do it again. It wanted more. It would feed.
But the darkness was not feeding it this time. Frustrated, the Shadow tried to draw more strength from the blackness it was in but stubbornly, it would not give it anything. It hissed with even more feral tones but stopped short when it heard something else. A small, muffled noise that moved just outside of where the Shadow was. For a brief moment, the creature waited, hoping that it was one of its hated victims. It would find a way to drain them faster this time. It would force itself into the space. But too late, it realized that movement wasn’t from outside the real world storage unit. It was from the rift. A point of light appeared in the darkness and a gloved hand casually widened the gap.
The Shadow knew immediately the danger of seeing such a thing. It struggled uselessly against the webbing but the damned stuff only managed to grip tighter. Within a small flash, the point of light was gone. The Shadow had no time to feel relief when it suddenly felt the very real gloved hand clamp around it and a set of cruel, sharp needle-like nails dig into its form.
“My prey,” the soft laughing voice said. “Our friends have made this hunt entirely too easy for me.”
The Shadow could not move to react before the creature secured it in place and began to drain the life from it. Seized with a terrible but brief pain, it crumbled away to dust beneath the figure’s white gloves. Bathed in darkness, with the essence of the Shadow moving through it, this creature was refreshed. Its attention was caught by another loud bang and a distinctive cry somewhere outside. It smiled, exposing its vicious, now bloodied fangs.
“What new tales have we now?” it laughed before making its way back through the rift.