Sitting back in her apartment, Dolly stretched and looked at the time. It wasn’t that late yet but it was getting on the verge of it. She knew that she could get through this last bit of editing if she powered through it. It was getting to the point where she was starting to slow down, though. If she took a break now, she wouldn’t bother starting again. Then again, if she did take her time, she would be pulling another late night and she’d been doing that a little too often these days. It was nothing like before during the Shadow attack but she didn’t know that she wanted to suffer that much at a job she already didn’t enjoy. She was also actively trying not to think about the Safe Haven.
Once the dust had settled a bit more, Dolly had noticed that she was able to slip there on her own easily. Sometimes, a little too easily. Will didn’t seem to mind the impromptu visits and sometimes it gave them a bit of a chance to chat in private about things that were bothering him but both of them couldn’t quite figure out how this had started to happen. After all, she was still the same person under it all. The Safe Haven had existed as long as the show had been running and that was coming on four years. In fact, Dolly had been dreaming about that set up for years before that even. During her rehabilitation and her training to use the walker and her eventual insistence on getting a chair so that she could at least enjoy some mobility, while all of that was happening, she’d been developing that place. Sometimes Will had found elements that she’d thought up but forgotten from those old days. It used to be her place that she was comfortable and free from everything that had made her feel so alien to her body for so long. Now that she’d come all this way, it was just her fun place. Her cherished Haven that had good memories in it and it was all the more exciting that she could touch it now. Still, it begged the question, what had changed? Immediately after the accident, she would have given anything to escape there and never come back. During her recovery and acceptance of her new life, she would have spent countless hours just feeling like the world wasn’t an uphill battle that she couldn’t climb alone. There was no shortage of want on her end to be there. Why was it suddenly so easy to get there now?
“You really have to stop that or one of these times you’re going to catch me in the bath,” Will said, sitting behind her. He was absently flipping the pages of a book she’d lent him.
“No offense but do you actually bathe?”
“I do,” he scoffed, minorly offended. He scrunched up his nose. “It’s more complicated than I would prefer but I do make the effort.”
“I’m glad,” Dolly said, turning around to face him. She tried her legs and was grateful that they were holding her. She knew better than to try her luck, however. She knew that she’d been tired earlier and that was enough to cause a fall if she wasn’t careful.
“So what brings you here tonight?”
“Believe it or not, trying not to think of this place,” she said, rolling her eyes. “I was working on the next video to go up and I was debating on whether I should finish it tonight.”
By now, Dolly noticed that there was something different about the room and realized that there was light glinting off something gold on the coffin table that her popcorn always sat on. It was an old fashioned radio that looked like one of those fancy ones from the 1920s with the wooden exterior and the art deco cut outs for the speakers. The dial looked brand new with a shiny brass ring around the glass and the needle was set to the low end of the scale.
Will had been excited to show them this radio when they were filming. In fact, he was also eager to show them that it worked quite well, even without being plugged in. He showed them that there were broadcasts all over the planes that he’d heard of and dialled into whatever he could find. This had been a bit of fun while he was looking for stations with cartoon characters who were acting almost like news broadcasters talking of new arrivals in the cartoon world or the goings on and developing of new tales, like new buildings going up in any city. The fun came to a halt when they happened upon a station where the person broadcasting was droning on about the different and most vague ways to avoid using any and all sexual language when influencing writers. Stuart had cringed and told us that it sounded too much like things his father might say and that had started to take them out of the Safe Haven for another day. It had been fun to experiment with but Dolly had more or less forgotten about it. She looked to Will, who frowned as he looked at the radio and sighed.
“Trying to find something to listen to?” she asked, sitting on the fainting couch. Will didn’t answer and seemed to be mulling something over. “Seriously, what’s up? You look like I caught you in the middle of something you’re ashamed of.”
“It’s not that,” Will replied, quietly. “It’s a little hard to explain. I was just looking for something that I don’t think I’ll find tonight.”
“Try me. What were you looking for?”
“Home,” Will frowned.
Dolly sighed. This had only come up sparingly since she’d found out the truth about Will. Otherwise, he usually kept pretty quiet about his background and most of what he told her was pretty vague. He never said anything of substance in front of the other two. When Dolly had asked him about why he didn’t confide in his friends, he admitted that he was mostly scared of making Stuart nervous but he was also worried about getting Lydia too excited about certain things that it was probably best if she didn’t know about. As much as Dolly wanted to argue that these were their friends, she was also aware that Stuart had been pretty nervous about this place until even just a month ago and Lydia would happily spend her life there if she could have. Both had their reasons for wanting to go there but Will needed to be in the Safe Haven. He’d done a good job of maintaining everything for them even without being asked. He almost never complained and he kept everything pretty tidy. He even made a point to clean the storage locker regularly for them. He’d been the one to tackle that weird dust problem they had after the Shadow incident and that stuff covered everything. It was only times like these that Dolly even realized that sometimes they just allowed his willingness to keep things clean and his long tangents about long lost movies cover up for how little he ever said about himself. It didn’t help that right now, she truly needed to know more about him because she figured that this home issue wasn’t something that was very easy to help with.
“Not that we don’t want you here or that we would ever want to lose you, but is there a way you could go home eventually?” Dolly offered. “Even temporarily?”
“That place isn’t that hard to get to but once you’re there, it’s almost impossible to leave,” Will replied, looking wistfully at the radio. “When I left, I didn’t look like this. I looked like a normal human being with some minor spots that looked weird if you looked too long. If I went back now, they wouldn’t let me leave. That’s the blessing and the curse of that place.”
“How would it be a blessing?”
“It’s like a place that seems to catch the people who fall through the cracks,” he said, fidgeting with one of his spider paws. “It catches all the misfits and the forgotten. It cradles them and keeps them safe from the world. It was the place I felt safest but even then, I knew things were changing. Then something really went rotten and getting out became scary for some and impossible for others. I slipped through the cracks then and I know I can’t go back. Not right now. Maybe never. But I miss it so much. I miss the part that used to be good. There was a part that used to be beautiful and I really just want to see it again. Even just once.”
“And the radio reminded you of this?” Dolly frowned. “Was it something you heard?”
“Promise me you won’t say anything to the other two,” Will said, leaning forward. He sighed and looked around. “I know that sounds ominous but there’s stuff that they can’t know about, especially Lydia.”
“For now, I’ll give my word but what’s going on, Will?”
“I know, I know,” Will replied, letting go of his spider paw. “I know this sounds odd and a bit bad but I worry about it because if she looks for it, she’s one of those people who might be able to find it.”
“A big one,” he nodded. “Maybe even a permanent one. It’s not always that easy to get through anymore but that wouldn’t stop someone from trying and if they knew what to look for or what to do, finding it would be the least of their troubles. This place exists in the same way the Safe Haven does, so finding the way in isn’t through some kind of road or area or anything. If there’s enough trees in her back yard, she could find it. And if she did, she would be forced to stay.”
“And the radio is going to tell her how to get there?”
“Someone on a mystery station mentioned it the other day,” Will said, quietly. “It was a pirate signal from somewhere so I don’t know if I’ll ever find it again. I imagine that they move because they just kind of appeared the other night completely at random. They started talking about a bunch of stuff I didn’t know much about but then they mentioned things about my home. The person didn’t say it by name because who ever it is that does the broadcast knows better. All it takes to get the word out is to let someone see the name or hear it and the doors will open.”
“So if they didn’t say the name, how do you know it was your home?” Dolly sighed.
“It was what this person said,” Will frowned again. “It was in what they were saying was going on somewhere. None of it was good. Sounds like the things I left haven’t gotten better and even though some of the people that I was trying to help got out, the ones that are still there are having some bigger troubles than usual. I know that it might not be my home and I can’t know for certain but it sure sounds like it. And I know it’s bad to miss that kind of thing but I miss the whole package. I like this place too. I like being here with you guys but it’s hard to be away and harder still when things right now remind me of that place.”
“I get why you’re being protective of this place,” Dolly said. “I wish there was more I could do to help you.”
“Well, having company kinda helps,” Will admitted. “It’s the difference between thinking about it and missing home and being able to be nostalgic, you know?”
“You can’t tell me about your home, then?” Dolly offered. “Or just the name?”
“Well, maybe I could tell you a little,” he confessed. “As long as the name stays a secret, I think we should be okay. And really there’s some stuff that I want to share. Things that felt like magic and when the wind blows here and I smell the leaves and fireplaces, I feel it all over again.”
“If that’s the case, tell me a little bit,” Dolly encouraged him. “Maybe we can incorporate some of those elements here.”
That was all the invitation that Will needed to tell her more. The picture he painted was still vague but it was enough to give her an idea. He filled her mind with the smell of autumn leaves gathering in swampy ditches and burning wood in the distance. He told her of the golden sunlight of the afternoon that would fade and grew orange like burnished copper at sunset. He told her of forests teeming with wolves and haunted streets that had curious figures that would only surface in some of the oldest buildings after dark. When she returned to her apartment and put herself to bed, she slept soundly with Trioxin by her side, her mind fluttering with images from this lost place. She smiled in her sleep as the unnamed town whispered to her in her dreams, filling in the cracks that Will had deliberately left out. It would not yet reveal its name. It would let her fall in love with it first. Home could wait for now. It was nothing, if not patient.