The first weeks of October seemed to pass in the time that it took to blink and Dolly felt like it was slipping through her fingers all too fast. While there had been plenty that they’d managed to get done in all that time, there was also a shortage of time, it seemed to get anything else done. Working full time and trying to keep on top of it all was tiring enough but it was that much worse when it quickly became evident that they were all finding it difficult to do any of the promotion that they needed to get the word out about the show. Dolly was grateful for the slow trickle of views that they were getting anyway but it still seemed like every view was being fought for and it was barely more than the regular views that they got. Given that they had a marathon of content coming up for the 31st, Dolly knew they were going to have to get moving on that if they were going to get more attention for all their hard work. The biggest problem with that, aside from lack of time, was that no one in their group was all that good at this whole promotion thing.
Will was awkward and though he did great voice recordings, keeping him on topic was a challenge in itself. The few little promos that they had gotten him to do were great but Dolly had to spend nearly a week to get him to do it and it had taken easily four days to edit it all to make the recordings into something she could use. His infamous tangents always found their way into everything and at least one of their promo recordings had cut him off at about the twenty minute mark before it died. That had left Dolly with at least an hour or two’s worth of work trying to find a way to get a promo out of that. They also had the idea of some minor giveaways that might draw people in. Lydia had come up with great promotional materials in the form of plush monsters but she had barely any time to make them and given the restrictions that her parents had put on her, keeping anything furry around the house became immediately suspicious. So far, she’d only had time to make two and Toby had claimed one when no one was looking. It was currently lovingly nestled somewhere in his webbing in the Safe Haven and no one could stand the idea of taking his toy away from him. The one who’d had the most success with his attempts was Stuart, who’d designed some incredibly fun posters for the marathon and his art had been shared a few dozen times over social media. It wasn’t viral but it was getting the word out there. Unfortunately, it was also making the rounds sans credit sometimes as a cropped version emerged without his name nor the name of the web show. For her own work, Dolly had gone with him a few times to try to distribute more information about it locally but the only place that seemed to have any interest was the local comic book place. They’d even tried postering but mostly that had been a wash for Dolly as they struggled to find a place to park that would allow her wheelchair access to anywhere they wanted to go.
It seemed like they were going to have to just make the best of what they’d done when last week, Dolly got a random email from someone named Matt from another online channel. This had been a little weird seeing as they hadn’t heard of this new channel before but it seemed like it was a start up of a horror themed one. Apparently they seemed to be doing something right because when Dolly looked them up, they had a decent amount of subscribers but only very few videos. Matt sort of answered her questions in a follow up email about it by telling her that he and his friends had done a lot of pulling of friends and family to get the word out and they had a lot of people who knew about them but were having trouble making content. He asked if she wanted to do a crossover and Dolly was torn. Last week, she brought it up to the others to bring it to a vote. Obviously they couldn’t bring Will with them without it being suspicious. From what little she was able to get from Matt, it also looked like whoever was going to be there was at risk of being on camera and that meant that Lydia was better off not coming either. Dolly didn’t like excluding her friends but they all agreed that it wasn’t safe to bring Will and if something did take off with that many subscribers, there was no way to tell if Lydia’s parents would find out about it or not. If they did, that would immediately cut all her freedoms off and it wasn’t a risk they could take. That left Dolly and Stuart to go on their own. They had briefly tried to figure out a way to see if they could come to the set instead but considering the size of it, without slipping into the Safe Haven, they were limited. Matt didn’t say how many of them there were but he gave the impression that there was more than a few. Aside from that, Will had mentioned that there was some weird noises there at night more recently and when he checked, it wasn’t on the Safe Haven side of the rift. To be careful about things, they all decided to keep an eye on stuff and check the locks but it was best not to draw attention to their unit if they could avoid it.
It came down to the vote that everyone thought the crossover was a good idea but no one could figure out a way to make it so all four of them could attend together. They thought about trying to put Will in makeup but even trying to put it on had been a disaster. For one, his skin had changed enough that it wouldn’t stick no matter what they did to it. In the end, Toby became upset that he looked different and Dolly got covered in a fresh coat of webs for her troubles. And no matter what they thought of, there was no way to make sure that Lydia was going to be able to be a part of things without it making her anxious. That wasn’t going to be fun for her and it would show. Considering that they were new people, this wasn’t something that they wanted to bring to a first meeting so they had to just go with the next best thing.
Dolly didn’t like this and would have been happier if they could have found a way that was safe for them all to be doing this. For one, she felt like it was ripping off her friends. They were just as much a part of the show as she was and if she’d learned anything from their little experience with the Shadow, it was that they worked better together than they did when it was just her trying to figure things out alone. At least Stuart was there but it was making him nervous and that meant that she was going to be doing all the talking. Unfortunately, this was the other reason that she was kind of dreading this. She knew that she couldn’t refuse the opportunity to work with other people and if they got to be friends, they could even try to help incorporate Will into things and they could explain what was going on with Lydia in a safe way. The problem was that until that happened, if it did, they were stuck with her being their ambassador and it brought up some less than stellar insecurities that would bubble up from the past. It didn’t help that a lot of them were tied to the whole reason that she was in the wheelchair.
Dolly didn’t want to think of that right now. She wanted to think that this was going to go well. She wanted to think that maybe they would all find a little bit of recognition for their hard work and that maybe they could get a little attention to their marathon. Maybe, at the very least, they could branch out and make some new friends, even if they were just online. She forced herself to pay less attention to the fact that when she met these guys, they weren’t going to be meeting Dead Eye Dolly. They were going to be meeting her directly and out of costume. She wanted to hope that this wouldn’t be weird. After all, you get so used to seeing a version of someone online, it can be disappointing to see them outside of that form. Matt hadn’t said that he was that big of a fan but he had obviously seen a few shows so he knew what she looked like. She reminded herself that if that was the case, it probably wouldn’t be that big of a deal for him to be seeing her as just herself. Dolly had to force herself to think of something else. Anything that would help her avoid the one big fear that she really had. She could deal with almost anything except being looked at like the fat girl in the wheelchair. The show was often the only place that she knew that this wasn’t all she was in the eyes of the people who saw her and it was one of those things that she’d become very protective of. She knew that it wasn’t fair to assume that was all the people of this other channel would see but she hated that her guard was up anyway.
As they came closer to the meeting place, Dolly tried to push back against her insecurities. She didn’t want to upset Stuart, who was already trying to get into the right headspace to meet new people. She was proud of his attempts to cope with his anxiety and she didn’t want to stress him out with her own issues, most of which had less to do with the people she was meeting with and more to do with her own baggage. At least she hoped it was anyway. She didn’t say anything but Dolly felt almost like she was getting the same kind of watched feeling as she got before when she first found out about the Shadow. She’s secretly checked in with Will this morning to find out if he’d had any issues himself or if he noticed anything. With nothing really amiss, she was finding nothing to point to. She reassured herself that it was just paranoia. It was just getting used to new people and this should be a good thing. It should be.
As they pulled up, it was coming up on dusk and Dolly knew that Stuart wouldn’t be okay with this for long. She consoled herself that this would be a short meeting. Just enough time to get to know these people and find out what they were like. It was just a short meeting. It was all for the good of getting their work out there and it could be over soon. It wouldn’t take that long and she would be back with Trioxin and feeling better.
It only took less than five minute last time.
Dolly shrugged away the little voice in her head that had come out of hiding. She looked out the window to make sure that nothing showed on her face as Stuart pulled in. She hoped that he hadn’t seen that small break in her composure. She made her mind go silent as she focused on the young black man coming out to greet them. She smiled as he seemed friendly and he came around towards the car. Her smile began to slip when she noticed that he had a camera around his neck. They hadn’t talked about doing anything on this meeting and she didn’t have any costumes or anything ready. Stuart pulled into a shadowy parking lot and immediately, the feeling of being watched got worse. Dolly tried to tell herself that nothing was wrong but she was starting to lose her conviction on this. It must have shown on her face because the young black man immediately came forward and introduced himself.
“Hey guys, thanks for coming out,” he said. “I’m the one you’ve been chatting with, Matt. You’re Dolly, right? Is that Will?”
“Will’s a little under the weather and couldn’t make it,” she replied, shaking his hand through the car window. “This is Stuart. He’s responsible for all our prop designs and he does a lot of the camera work for us. Were you guys setting up to film?”
“Oh, don’t worry about that,” Matt said, frowning. “We might do something afterwards. It depends on the lighting. By the way, nice to meet you, Stuart.”
Stuart gave a nod and a wave and already, Dolly could tell that this wasn’t going to go well. She could also tell by Matt’s face that he was confused and Stuart was starting to get anxious.
“He’s just getting over the same cold that Will is and it hurts him to raise his voice,” Dolly said before Matt could ask.
“No worries,” Matt nodded. “Did you guys want to step out of the car? We could get you to have a seat inside and meet the rest of the guys.”
“Sure,” Dolly said, not feeling confident in this. “Just, it’s a little more complicated. We’ll come in shortly.”
“I just need some assistance,” she sighed. She looked around at the sidewalk. “Is there a wheelchair ramp around here?”
Matt’s face changed and suddenly he looked around like he was paranoid.
“Is something wrong?” Dolly asked, getting more suspicious.
“No, I just didn’t realize,” he replied, still looking around. “Hey, why don’t you guys stick around inside the car for a few while I see if there’s any ramp things around. Be back in a minute.”
Stuart sighed as Matt wandered off and looked down at the steering wheel.
“Th-tha-thank y-you,” he muttered, barely over a whisper.
“We can wait for him to come back and say you’re not feeling well enough after all,” Dolly sighed. “This was a mistake. I don’t know what to tell the others yet but I don’t think this is going to be worth the trouble. I’m sorry I got you to come along with this and stressed you out for nothing.”
“A-are you su-su-sure?” Stuart sighed, looking at the space where Matt had been.
Dolly was about to answer when she paused at the sight of something shining in the shadows. She immediately worried that she was seeing the figure from before come back but it was too still for that. There was something about the way the light was hitting this object that made her feel awkward. Even though it wasn’t moving, she swore it was alive. For a split second, she wondered if this was a trick of some kind of a part of her really wanted to see if it was that Shadow or not. She didn’t know why she was drawn to it but she couldn’t help her curiosity.
“A-are you o-o-okay?”
“I’m fine but I thought I saw something in the shadows over there,” Dolly sighed. “Looks a bit like an animal. Do you see anything over there?”
Stuart reluctantly looked over and sighed.
“L-l-lo-looks li-like r-r-re-flec-” he stopped in frustration.
“It’s okay, Stuart,” Dolly frowned. “You’re probably right. It’s probably just the reflectors on someone’s bike or something like that.”
“Maybe a little,” she admitted. “Is it okay if we get out of the car for a second? I don’t want to go into the shadows or anything to find it. I just want to see if it blinks or moves. It’s harder to see through the glass.”
Stuart didn’t answer right away. He frowned and looked down at the steering wheel.
“You can say no, Stuart,” she encouraged. “I won’t be upset if you say this makes you too uncomfortable. I know you’re already having a hard time and that’s okay. I understand and so will the others if you want to leave.”
“J-ju-ju-just one l-l-lo-look be-fore w-we g-go,” he nodded.
He frowned again before getting out of the car. Dolly felt bad and wanted to tell him that she was certain that they probably should just go but she couldn’t deny that she just had to know. She had to see that it really was just someone’s bike or something on a pole or something. Stuart opened the door for her and she frowned too, wishing that they hadn’t made this trip after all. He helped her to stand and she used the car to help hold her up as they looked around the area. Carefully, leaning heavily on Stuart, they shuffled a short few steps away from the car, standing in the empty parking lot and looking for traces of life anywhere.
The night air was getting cooler and around them, the street lights were starting to come on. Dusk had settled and the wind through the trees was getting a bite to it in the same way that it felt in the Safe Haven. She wanted to be there now and she could almost bet that Stuart wanted to go too. She was almost tempted to say that they should go visit Will but if they did, it would be full dark by the time they left and Stuart only had use of the car for so long. All around them, the leaves made the sound of scraping along the concrete of the sidewalk and the rustle of the wind shook those that were still on branches but there was little else to hear. Dolly and Stuart both looked beyond the shadows that had gotten deeper but already, she knew this was a fool’s errand. It was clearer now seeing it in the twilight that there was nothing in the trees. She thought for sure that there was something out there but now that she was directly looking at the shadowy area, she could see that there was nothing there at all. She looked to Stuart who shrugged and looked down at the ground. Dolly resigned with a sigh and Stuart began to help her steady herself so she could move back to the car. Just as she was about to take her first step, they heard a sound close by. For a split second, it almost seemed like the same rustling of the leaves but everything around them had gone eerily quiet. Dolly looked to Stuart to see he noticed something off too.
For a moment, Dolly felt almost like she was falling into the Safe Haven but this place felt different. There was something more menacing about it. A feeling like everything around her was more unstable. She looked around but Stuart didn’t seem to be reacting. In fact, he seemed to be reacting slower than usual. It felt almost like being in a nightmare as she saw him motioning to do something but his movements all looked slow and labored, like he was moving through water. She felt a chill run through her and watched as the shadows got deeper. She waited, trying to see if that same shape would come out at her. She listened for the hiss of that angry form that had tormented them last summer. Instead, she noticed the twin reflections staring at her. They were definitely eyes and they were moving at a regular pace while the rest of the world slowed down. They blinked at her and she could sense that there was something curious near her. There was something that wanted to know more. It was trying to reach her and she could almost feel it pulling. It felt like if she listened just a second longer, she could hear it talking to her. She would know the words and be able to respond.
The moment was broken by a loud, shattering sound of an obnoxious horn that started Stuart so badly that Dolly slipped from his grasp. A bunch of bright lights came flooding over the parking lot as she lost her balance and came down hard on the ground before Stuart could catch her. Scraping both her hands on the ground, Dolly heard the chorus of laughter around them as a group of boys came out with cameras. She had to bite her tongue to keep from reacting as Stuart struggled to get her back up, using his back to shield her as the small group came in closer. Somewhere beyond the lights and the laughter and the sound of mocking horns was a single voice calling the words stop filming, she can’t walk. No one did stop as the pair struggled to get back into the car but a lone figure hung his head shamefully as they finally managed to get Dolly into the car and Stuart wasted no time in getting himself behind the driver’s seat. As they pulled away, leaving the laughing boys behind, Matt tried get their attention, to no avail. With the bright lights still going and the boys recovering from their joke, no one noticed the pair of eyes watching the boys. A snarl reached the lips of its owner but it soon turned to a smile as it vanished into the new night, now decided on its new prey.