Pushing her chair out into the early morning fog, the street outside was dimly lit and the bruise colored clouds were only starting to turn light enough to see. She breathed deep and enjoyed that this Saturday smelled of dead leaves and cold breezes. Autumn had come in full, seemingly all of the sudden. Dolly was certain that summer was clinging to the last threads of overstaying its welcome through the first weeks of September but the fall had come at last. The last heat wave of the year had been deceptive against the backdrop of falling orange leaves and flawless blue skies. If not for the Safe Haven, they might have all been drowned in their own sweat. It was a relief when the evenings began to bring the colder winds and the sun would finally sink into the horizon. Finally the first rains of the season came to cool things off and the chill came with them. Suddenly the smell of fresh grass and hot concrete was replaced by the wet smell of dead leaves and distant wood fires. Dolly thought it was kind of funny that the real world was suddenly so like the imaginary world that she and her friends spent so much time in.
The end of summer had been a bit of a difficult one for them all after all the discoveries they’d made. Finding out Will was actually part spider turned out to be the least of their concerns and, after a little while, it was also the least interesting part of their new reality. In fact, Dolly was grateful that only they knew about this because having to explain to anyone but her friends how she’d managed to excuse away the fact that she’d been friends with a lanky blue man with grey-ish gold eyes for a few years was a bit on the difficult side. In their slight defense, however, no one who had seen their show had called them out or mentioned how realistic Will looked, so it might be plausible that this could fool other people who seemed to believe monsters didn’t exist. At first, Dolly hadn’t known how to deal with it. It probably would have been a more difficult pill to swallow if they hadn’t just had a major scare with something that actually meant them harm. In truth, however, being friends with Will was easy because he was still the same guy that could tell you anything you wanted to know about obscure horror films from any given time or place. Comparing that to a sinister creature made of darkness that was trying to feed off their creative energies just made Will look even more like the eccentric nerd that he really was.
Stuart would be there soon. Since their discovery of everything last summer, he’d been the one Dolly was most worried about. In fact, she’d been mostly scared that he would run off on them and never come back. He’d been her friend ever since she moved here and it had been difficult to face down the possibility that her little hobby that allowed him an outlet for her art had turned into a nightmare world for him that he simply couldn’t be a part of. For a few weeks, it seemed like that might have been a real concern but then suddenly he turned a corner. In fact, he went from barely being able to deal with the idea of the Safe Haven and being alone with Will to actually asking to go there. It was true that he was still really nervous about the spidery bit and he was still utterly terrified of Toby, Will’s giant pet spider. That said, it had kind of surprised her to find him making a point to pick up everyone and come to the storage locker early so they could go to the Haven in plenty of time to get the shoot done after. Well, when she took the time to think of it, maybe it didn’t really surprise her that much.
The other two seemed to have had limited access to the Safe Haven but together, all four of them could enter and hang out there for a few hours at a time. It was no surprise at all that Lydia was in her glory there. She would come every week with a new set of ears or tail that she could use to make herself over into a different breed of half animal each time. Since her parents’ crack down on her supplies and their suspicions leading them to make her “get rid” of a lot of her cutesy animal props and fluffy things (most of them ending up in the back of the storage locker), this had been her dream come true. She could enter the Haven wearing a bright pink tail with stripped pink and black cat ears to match one day and be sporting a fox tail with cute fluffy cub ears in yellow the next and for a little while, she could live out her dream of being part fluffy stuffed animal. At one point, she even got a chance to play with Toby by making him chase her tail. Dolly swore that if not for the fact that they couldn’t sustain it, Lydia would have stayed there forever.
Meanwhile, Stuart was more reserved, even now, but Dolly couldn’t help noticing how much pressure it took off of him while he was there. They could talk and he never had to worry about stuttering at all. Even if Toby was in the room with them, his tongue never got tied up and he didn’t end up getting that look like his anxiety was slowly choking him. It might not have made him comfortable but it gave him a chance to be like anyone else for a few minutes at a time. It also gave him a lot of odd creatures and plants to look at and a lot to work on when he came back. The world of the Safe Haven wasn’t exactly like the real one and, in fact, when they bothered to poke around it, they found it could be quite different. The birds, as Will had mentioned before, were strange but they moved in odd ways too. Stuart was not only more able to communicate there, but he was also endlessly fascinated by everything. He would often take to his sketch pad that he’d started to carry with him everywhere. Dolly and Will had both noticed that only a few weeks of visiting had made it so that he would get less and less anxious when coming back to the real world. He stuttered still but it was less and it didn’t seem to erupt quite as easily. Dolly didn’t know for certain but she thought it might have been easier for him to come back after getting a break from the real world. At least in the Safe Haven, he was able to just be and that had to be a relief on some level.
Stuart pulled up to her building and as Dolly came closer, she could see Lydia in the back seat already. She had that excited air about her as she bounded out, wearing a new pair of very fluffy blue and purple ears with a big white tail with pale blue stripes running through it.
“It looks like it might rain again today,” she said, excitedly, as she helped Dolly out of her chair. “It’s gonna smell just like home when we get back! It’ll be like we don’t have to leave.”
“Except for having to do the shoot this afternoon,” Stuart added, helping to fold the wheelchair while Lydia helped Dolly into the passenger seat.
“Thankfully we’re killing it right now,” Dolly smiled as they got back in and made themselves comfortable. “We’ve got so much done already, we’ll be set for the anniversary shows. As long as I can edit that fast, that is.”
“There’s plenty of time before the end of the month,” Lydia encouraged as she got comfortable and put on her seat belt.
“Good thing,” Stuart sighed. “I need to get working on the props for the werewolf shoot. We’re doing that next weekend, right?”
“That’s right,” Dolly nodded. “Don’t worry, though. We have a decent amount of footage for that one already and that one is going to be in the last week anyway when we do those longer shows. It’ll all get done.”
“I have such cute fur for that project,” Lydia said, excitedly. “I even brought a sample today. I can’t wait to show Will!”
“Well I guess we shouldn’t keep him waiting,” Dolly smiled as they pulled away.
The sky began to brighten a bit more as they drove the short distance to the storage locker but the clouds were still heavy and grey. Dolly didn’t say anything but she was grateful that days like this cast almost no shadows. She wasn’t afraid anymore. Not much anyway. Having Trioxin with her helped a lot when she was at home and being with her friends helped even more. Still, in the quieter hours, it was disturbing to think that all this had been happening and if not for one small creature that had chosen to attack them, she would never have known. It was harder to think of these things knowing that there were other creatures out there. Will had said as much though she got a sense that he kept a lot to himself still. She assumed that it was to keep Stuart from getting scared because they all knew he was nervous just knowing about Will and the Shadow that had come for them. If she was being honest with herself, however, she couldn’t deny that it made her nervous too. She trusted Will but she didn’t like that she knew that he was keeping things back. She had talked to him since the Shadow incident and in private, he’d admitted that there had been other incidents that they knew nothing about. He stressed that it wasn’t that often really but it had been a few times that creatures had come out of the dark to try to find a way into the Safe Haven and their target was usually either him or Dolly. Seeing as the other two weren’t on screen during the show, they weren’t as well known and it meant that anything that wanted to come for them weren’t really going to necessarily even know about Stuart or Lydia. While that was comforting in some ways, it was also a little distressing that Dolly knew that she was someone that they could fixate on. She knew that could happen even in real life without monsters but that made it feel a bit more unnerving.
These thoughts were muted as they pulled into the parking lot of the storage units and came to a stop in front of theirs. Lydia had taken to calling this place home these days and Dolly could hardly blame her. Even Stuart tended to brighten up more than usual when he came here. For whatever reservations they had about this new reality of theirs, it was undeniable how comforting it was to be able to come here and enjoy sitting with their friend and knowing that above all things, they were safe. Lydia could enjoy her harmless love of furry things. Stuart could rest easy and know he wouldn’t stutter. Dolly could even walk sometimes and she could see out of both eyes. And Will could just be himself. He was always excited to show them new things that he knew about the Safe Haven and even when it was weird, he could tell them about the things he’d learned there and some of the more interesting elements of being a monster. Sometimes he even told them of what it was like for him as a normal human and if not for the topic and the person telling them, it would be like any other group of people. That alone made this place feel just like a home none of them had but for a few hours, it felt like it could last forever.
As they pulled open the door to the storage unit, the set was already beginning to change. The velour curtain and covering for her fainting couch had already started to turn to velvet and the breeze from the outside was suddenly tinged with that same smell of camp fire and spice that only seemed to exist in the Safe Haven. The fireplace was already roaring before they’d closed the door to the real world and Will waved to them as he pinned back his mouth pieces. He tossed something off to the shadows to keep Toby occupied while they made themselves at home and sat in his usual spot as Dolly enjoyed stretching her legs for the first time in a week.
“I’ve got a bit of a surprise for you guys this week,” Will said, as she sat down on her fainting couch. Lydia perked up. “But first, tell me what’s going on with the moon these days. Things on this end have been weird.”
“What does weird mean for a world of monsters?” Stuart asked, genuinely confused.
“Kind of hard to explain but I’ll give you guys a run down,” Will began.
They settled in for a while, knowing that this was going to take a long time but that was fine. They were comfortable and Will was excited. This story would probably be a good one.