For as tough a week as it had been, Dolly still couldn’t deny that it was good to get back to normal. For the first few days after the video had dropped, her inbox was absolutely flooded with emails of people who were trying to make fun of her or say something stupid and eventually, she couldn’t even look at it. She had even thought of cancelling everything to do with the Halloween shows for a few days and Stuart would have been happy to do it too. It was Will who had been the one to talk them back into trying to have fun again. He didn’t want these jerks to win out over their show and he’d been right. As much as it made them nervous, getting back into routine had been useful and better. The Safe Haven had made everyone feel a lot more comfortable in their own skin and it had done a world of good for Stuart, who had been more or less silent otherwise since they had started filming again. It gave him a space to just talk without feeling like he was hiccuping over his words but even then, it was tough for him. It was nice to see him relax and be more himself.
In private, Dolly had talked with Will a couple of times before their shoot today. He’d mentioned that the PranKingz were pretty much one trick ponies and their tricks were meant to devastate to the point of getting a rise out of their targets, usually only once. He’d watched a few more videos than she had and from what he’d seen, these assholes would set up a big prank to really humiliate someone and once it was done, they usually set out to find someone else to torment. He seemed pretty confident that this would be the case and if they just tried to move on, as much as the extra attention would be annoying, it would die down and they could go back to normal soon. Dolly had to admit that she wasn’t entirely convinced of this. After all, she’d been subject to this kind of bullying bullshit all her life, even before she lost the ability to walk. She knew a little too well how easily guys like that could turn from annoying jerks to outright villains when they got some ammunition that they enjoyed using. And there were few things that made them happier than tearing down a fat girl to make her life absolutely miserable. And she’d found out the hard way, too many times for her own liking, that ignoring them and “being the better person” was a good way to suffer in silence while the adults around her did nothing to stop how awful they made her life. She also knew that firing back only made these kinds of dickheads happier because now they knew, without a doubt, that they got to her. They had made her cry and now that they’d gotten blood, they would want more.
This was going to be tricky to figure out how to deal with it. Trickier still because it now involved the internet and a lot of other people had seen what they had to say and that meant that instead of a group of boys that could follow her in the hall of her high school, it was a legion of assholes all over the world. To pretend that this didn’t scare her on some level was an outright lie. After all, Will hadn’t been the only one to take a look at what these guys had been up to and she had noticed that most of their targets had gone on to either run off the internet entirely or they would close their social media channels entirely to avoid getting harassed anymore. Dolly didn’t know how to deal with this if they took her continuing on with her show as a challenge. She didn’t want to have to live in fear of a small group of people who could make a hornet’s nest of her inbox but at least they would go away eventually. The internet, on the other hand, had a longer memory and the prospect of getting people to hunt down any of them, especially Will, was terrifying.
“Dolly, are you okay?” Lydia said, quietly.
Dolly shook herself out of her moment that she was in and looked around. Stuart was quietly still taking down minor set decorations with Will but they were almost finished. She’d forgotten for a second that they weren’t in the Safe Haven. She smiled at her hands but she still felt cold inside.
“I’m okay, Lydia,” she replied, making sure to look at the floor. “It’s just been a long week, is all.”
“Those guys were jerks but you’ve got all of us,” Lydia said, encouragingly. She frowned. “I feel bad. I wish there was something more I could do to make you feel better.”
“Don’t worry about me, Lydia,” Dolly replied, sounding more like herself. “This will pass. I’m just thinking too much. And I should think about other things. I mean, Halloween is coming up, right?”
“We have more viewers than last year at this time and that counts for both sides,” Will chimed in. “And that was before that stupid video went up so at least we know that people are watching and they seem to be coming back to watch every week. Your monster jokes are good and there’s a few new creatures on the other side that I know are enjoying this a lot.”
“You talk about these other monsters and I wish we could see some of them sometime,” Lydia sighed. “I didn’t like the Shadow but some of the other ones sound pretty nice.”
“Some of them are,” Will shrugged. “Some aren’t but that’s like people too, right?”
“I suppose,” Dolly sighed, looking to Stuart who had silently finished taking down the rest of the set and sat with them now. She could tell by the expression on his face that this conversation was not pleasant for him. She frowned when she saw him avoiding looking at any of them. “You know, we’ve more or less got everything done for our Halloween stuff now. How would we all feel about maybe getting together just for fun sometime this week? We could brainstorm and think about some of the other stuff we want to do. I mean, Stuart, you had so many props that you were interested in making. Maybe we could try to find something that could fit some of those ideas?”
Before he could answer, there was a loud bang that came from somewhere outside of the storage unit. Collectively, they looked towards where it was coming from but there was nothing there that could have fallen. Will got up and wandered into the shadows to see if there was something else there. The rift, which was barely visible at the best of times to the other three, was open but it wasn’t reacting like it normally would. It was almost like it had opened because of the noise but Will couldn’t see how that could have done anything. He wondered if Dolly had been looking for an escape again to help Stuart but the rift slipped away like vapor only a couple of seconds later. He looked back to the others to see that none of them seemed to notice and were waiting on him.
“Everything is fine here,” he shrugged. “Maybe the wind is picking up out there?”
“Maybe,” Dolly replied. She looked at the others. “Were we wanting to discuss ideas next week? It can be on the weekend too. Just hanging out is fine too.”
“I would like to see what we come up with,” Lydia urged. She looked at Stuart. “Bring your sketches! If there’s anything fluffy in there, we can make it really cool looking. I even have some stuff here. I can bring fabric scraps and we can make first drafts of things.”
Stuart didn’t say anything but nodded. He sighed and continued to look at his shoes. Dolly wanted more than anything to get him into a space where he could talk but she could tell that something bigger was eating him and wondered if it was going to do any good. She looked to Will who seemed at a loss as well.
“Well, we don’t have much more to worry about here,” he said. “If you guys want to get out of here before dark, we can keep in touch and we’ll meet back here on Saturday morning to get ready for what we’re doing in November.”
“Come on, Stuart,” Lydia said, cheerfully. “It’s super close to Halloween and I got one of my customers to buy me some candy corn. I’ll bake cookies and we can all just have fun. Let’s make fun things!”
“I agree,” Dolly said, wheeling herself towards the door. “I haven’t come up with a stupid story about my glass eye in a while either so we can do something fun with that. I’ll bring some treats too and we can just have a brainstorming day with the four of us.”
Dolly had reached the door to the storage unit and felt her stomach do a flip when she saw a familiar face outside. Pacing up and down the small walk way between the storage units was the boy who had invited her to that awful prank last week, Matt. Before she could wheel back into the unit to the others, he spotted her and began to walk towards the door. Whatever anger or fear she had of the PranKingz coming for her was muted as she heard Will babbling about something to do with a dent in the back of the storage unit behind her. If Matt got any closer, he was going to see him for sure.