“They say that imitation is the most sincere form of flattery. Too bad this disasterpiece of a film left the creators of a certain horror classic blushing so hard, they took the producers to court. That’s right, kittens, the big time studio actually took exception to the fact that this ragtag band of would-be filmmakers just wanted to borrow a few things from a super successful film franchise. Like the plot. And a good number of the characters. And the entire lore of the series. Well they sure proved that it was worth it to sue. I heard they got a whole fifteen dollars! Can some of you kittens spot some similarities to a movie you’ve seen in Killer Dreams?”
The woman speaking paused on a computer screen, her expression a mixture of double dog dare challenge and a little sarcastic flirtation. Such had become the trademark of the curvy, online horror hostess that was known as Dead Eye Dolly to the internet, just Dolly to her few friends, and Dahlia to the people she was either related to or had taken the time to read her name tag at work. The horror hostess was draped over a purple fainting couch and garbed in a black dress with a Wednesday Addams collar with beaded blood splatter patterns stitched onto it. Her legs were covered in stripped stockings and her feet had a pair of mary jane shoes with oversized bat bows on them. Her expressive eyes were lined with dark makeup and her lips were vibrant purple that matched the velvet of the set around her. By contrast, the woman who was watching herself on the screen was covered in a band t-shirt that had the sleeves cut off and most of the image on the front faded and a sweater that had been worn threadbare over it because the two shirts didn’t quite cover everything alone. Drinking her coffee out of a Camp Crystal Lake mug, this woman wore no makeup at all and had her hair pinned up in an “out of my face” style. Looking at the woman on the screen and the one watching her, it was difficult to believe they were the same person.
Dolly wasn’t bothered. She didn’t mind being the horror doll in the pretend set and the less glamorous version of herself at home. At least, she didn’t most of the time. Blinking away the eyestrain that normally came with editing, she glanced at the time on her computer to see that she had been at it for close to three hours now. It was not only close to bed time, it was also rather evident that she was quickly reaching the intelligence level of a potato. She leaned back in her chair and stretched out her back. Looking back at Dead Eye Dolly, she wished that she could walk into the illusion that she and her crew had so carefully crafted.
On the screen, and what everyone saw from week to week, was a lush scene of purple velvet draping the walls, high windows that looked out over a misty cemetery backdrop, an elegant marble fireplace and a fainting couch for her to lounge on while snacking on bloody popcorn during the creature feature of the week. This was the realm of the Witching Hour, her internet show that she’d been making for nearly four years now. The exact name of the land she had created was The Marble Gardens and her “house” was located in the very fancy Bone Orchard district where only the finest of dead were laid to rest. She’d worked hard to develop the setting over the years and the world itself was always expanding. Looking at it through the screen, Dolly felt like she could almost reach out and touch it. A part of her truly wished that she could. The Marble Gardens and her setting in the Bone Orchard were her spiritual home where it was always autumn and the mist never left the ground and the world seemed like it was always on the verge of another spooky night dripping in the scents of new fallen leaves, wood fires and a waft of candy on the breeze.
In reality, it was a storage locker with shitty purple velour tacked up with putty to hide the steel walls, the misty backdrop was a painting that her friend, Stuart, had done in high school, the window was made of spray painted cardboard and duct tape, and the fireplace was a disguised space heater that she’d managed to score on sale. The marble was just a few slabs of wood that had been painted to look expensive and the background inside of it was made to look dark enough on camera that it hid the fact that the space heater was hoisted up on a couple of cinder blocks that had been painted black. She was most proud of the fainting couch, which was really a very horrible garage sale find that she and Stuart had managed to Frankenstein into the right shape. With some foam, some leftover velour and a lot of spray paint and sealing spray, they’d managed to make look like something other than Grandma’s broken sofa. Even the bloody popcorn was just a prop that she’d made with Styrofoam and paint. She knew all of these things but she couldn’t help enjoying a few seconds of getting sucked into the fantasy. It was nice to pretend along with the audience that this really was a castle and she really was in a comfortable little spooky nook watching a bad movie.
About the only thing that was real about the scene, however, was the whole dead eye part of Dead Eye Dolly. The loss of her right eye was something she had debated about keeping a secret before she’d started making videos but she didn’t see how she could hide or avoid it. The prosthetic wasn’t really that big of a deal to her now. It had been almost ten years since she’d lost it but sometimes it still came up and she figured that it was best to head off the revelation at the pass. Besides, it was the horror community she was dealing with. If there was a group of people who were more likely to treat her so-called abnormality as something cool, it was the same group that enjoyed watching her make jokes about a crappy films. Sure enough, Dolly’s eye being fake was something people took notice of and it had gone over well with the tiny but seemingly dedicated audience she had managed to find. It had actually worked out better than she planned and eventually, she started telling all manner of stories about how her alter ego had lost the eye. Sometimes she even had people posting polls on their favorite eye story. She made a point to toss in a new one every month or so. It was great for her because it saved her the trouble of explaining how she really lost it. It also came with the added bonus that the attention on her fake eye took away any notice or interest about her very real and practically useless legs.
While it wasn’t a exactly a secret, it was also not well known that Dahlia and thus Dead Eye Dolly were confined to a wheelchair most of the time. Even through ten years of physical therapy, she’d had very little success in getting very far without it. The difference was that while Dead Eye Dolly was an eccentric aristocrat who lazily commanded things to be brought to her on set, the real life Dolly was barely capable of moving further than a foot away from that broken couch on her crutches without assistance. She knew that it was just because tonight she was tired and dreading going to bed, but when she looked at the figured draped on the couch like she could just get up at a moment’s notice, she couldn’t deny that she envied her fictional self a little bit. She’d come to terms with the reality that she was stuck in but sometimes while she was editing, she wished that the fantasy was something she could touch, even just once.
And with that thought, Dolly decided that she’d had enough for another night. Ultimately, she loved Dead Eye Dolly and she was protective of her feelings about her character and the show she’d created around the personality. Over the past few years since she started doing this, she’d been very diligent about making sure that videos were fun to do and that she was enjoying the material. More importantly, she made a point to be herself on camera as much as she could. Everything was still scripted but it was written like she was talking to her friends. It was all conversations that she wished she got to have while she was watching some shitty horror movie by herself. She dressed up in mostly her own clothes and did her own makeup. These were all looks that she wanted to wear every day but couldn’t. In some ways, it felt like Dead Eye Dolly was more her than the person that her relatives and coworkers called Dahlia. If she was being completely honest with herself, it really was the person she wanted to be. Maybe it was even the person she felt like she actually was. It was certainly the version of herself that she loved the most and was happy that she got to express, even if it wasn’t something she could do all the time. She held on to these thoughts for the rest of the day when everyone called her Dahlia and talked to her like somehow the wheelchair she was in had impeded her ability to think for herself or do anything that might challenge a toddler.
Life every day was difficult when she thought of it like that but at the back of her mind, she knew that ultimately, she had her crew. If there were three people in the world that meant more to her than her merry band of misfits, she didn’t know any. Dolly hated to think of where she would be without them and even on her worst days, she still couldn’t deny that she loved making something magical with three of the weirdest, most awkward and best people she knew. When she had moved to this sleepy little nowhere town, she had come without any family, friends and, at the time, any hope of finding work that might be fulfilling at all. She’d managed to save up just enough to move there working three part time jobs and even then, it had been a strain on her resources. She had done all of it with the hope that she could finally escape the role of being “the fat girl in the wheelchair” and move on to be anyone else. She hadn’t counted on finding any friends here but that changed the day that she met as stuttering wreck of a young man who was better at stocking shelves than speaking to anyone.
Stuart was the first friend that she had made in years. It had been a friendship that was destined to happen if only because they had no one else. Stuart was the nervous kid who worked in the back of the store, usually trying to avoid any situation that would allow his anxiety make him into a ball of stammering half sentences. She liked Stuart because he didn’t talk to her like she was a lost four year old when she wheeled in. He liked her because he could stutter in front of her and she didn’t get impatient with him while he tried to make himself talk properly. Eventually, she was the only person he could talk to without stuttering and thus she became one of the only people he talked to at all. Eventually, they started hanging out together outside of work and one day, Dolly even managed to convince her very nervous friend to come to see a low budget horror film with her. Even though it wasn’t really his thing, Stuart had come along and ended up laughing at her commentary throughout the film. After, she introduced him to the world of horror hosts and their ability to make bad films funny and scary films more enjoyable. When Dolly confessed that she’d always wanted to do something like that, Stuart had been the one to suggest that the internet was full of options for things like a horror hosting show. Together, they began to pick away at a plan that eventually turned into The Witching Hour show and it became the outlet that both of them desperately needed. Suddenly Dolly didn’t have to feel like she was only ever going to be the “disabled person” in the room and Stuart had enough artwork and props to concentrate on that he was able to relax more.
While Stuart took care of most of the camera work and they worked on the set props together, Dolly had just had the dumb luck to find the other two members of her tiny crew. There was Lydia, one of very few cosplayers in town, who could seemingly figure out how to make anything she looked at. Lydia was the youngest person on their team and she had only graduated from high school about a year and a half ago. She’d initially hired Lydia as a means of just making the curtains and some of the other set dressings but when her budding designer had arrived wearing some strange concoction that she’d thrown together, all made by herself with no pattern, they couldn’t pass up the opportunity to work with her. It seemed like someone with such a happy go lucky personality would be able to make friends with anyone but Lydia was painfully shy when it came to getting past small talk and, thanks to some particularly well hidden interests, she remained a bit of a loner throughout most of her high school days and things hadn’t seemed to get much better afterwards. Dolly could only figure that it was because of this that her designer threw herself into any and all projects that were assigned to her with a kind of gusto that was both admirable and baffling. Any time she needed anything special or if one of them needed a costume to make the jokes work, Lydia was the sewing goddess that seemed to just produce it out of thin air within a few days. The arrangement worked well as Lydia was happy to work on the costumes for the show and was even happier that anything that Dolly didn’t need after or any excess material that they got was automatically hers for any project she wanted. Lydia was also more than a little happy that this was about the only job that she could happily wear whatever cat ears she wanted. Over the last couple of years, she’d even sometimes upgraded to wearing little tails but usually only on special occasions like her birthday or during certain holidays that she tended to like.
Then there was Will. Towering over everyone at over six feet tall, Will had presented himself as a method actor who didn’t seem to know what that meant. It had been believable when he showed up in costume, his skin completely covered in some kind of metallic sheen that shone a blue-ish green silver and his monster face already done up. Since they had met, Dolly had never seen him out of costume. Ever. It was still a mystery as to how she’d been convinced to hire him. The videos had been going on for about a year and a half when she got a message from him to audition for the chance to work with her. His offer wasn’t that surprising at first. Dolly hadn’t exactly been the biggest thing to hit the internet but the regular posts were getting noticed and she had been getting requests to have people join. Some of them wanted a job and others wanted to take over the show. Most of them were just people who wanted to collaborate and more than half of those flaked out on her after two emails or less. Will was the only one who had treated it like a full on audition for a real cable show. She had initially turned him down and told him that there was so little money to be made, he was likely going to waste his time if he bothered. He’d been persistent, however, and after asking the other two, Dolly had let him try out. It seemed like pure madness when he walked in with that strange paint all over his skin and began to act out a scene only to interrupt himself when he noticed an inconsistency in one of her horror posters she’d had up in an earlier incarnation of the set. It turned out that Will was a master of horror films. He seemed to know almost everything about them but not in a pretentious way. He just seemed to love everything and all their conversations revolved around things he got excited over. Well, maybe, he didn’t necessarily love everything. Dolly thought it was kind of funny when he didn’t like something because it was so rare. Funny enough, it was on odd creature features usually too. While he was open to most films, about the only thing he absolutely would not watch under any circumstances was anything about killer fish of any kind. It was a shame because his body paint would lend itself to some pretty interesting mermaid interpretations but it was consistently a hard no from her friend about doing anything about aquatic life if she wanted him involved. It was a weird phobia to have for someone who pretended to have extra spider arms sometimes, but then again, Will was a pretty damn weird guy.
Settling back in her chair, Dolly finally pushed herself away from the desk and transferred to a more comfortable chair. Seeing that her attention was finally free from the computer, her black cat, Trioxin, took advantage of her new posture and made a quick bed of her lap. Dolly knew that she shouldn’t let him settle in because she was supposed to go to bed soon. It was already after midnight and she had to get up early tomorrow. Trioxin stretched up an eager paw to get her attention and Dolly smiled. She gave him a quick scritch under his chin before moving him off her lap and made the tedious rounds to get ready for bed. She turned off the computer last as if trying to convince herself that if she hoped hard enough, she wouldn’t have to go to work tomorrow after all. That she would magically find the means to really reach into the computer screen and find a way to be in the Marble Gardens. She was forced to give up the ghost finally at quarter to one when she hobbled over to the desk and shut it off before making her way to bed with the lights off.
As she crawled into her bed, Dolly fell quickly to sleep. As she drifted off deeper, no longer in danger of waking, Trioxin twitched in the deepening gloom as the apartment settled into the dark silence for the night. His tail shook and his wide green eyes darted around the shadows as he paced, waiting. He kept vigil at the doorway that she always left open a crack for him but continued to pace back and forth, watching down the hall at the monitor of the computer. There were no noises sounding throughout the building anymore and it was now well after the time when most would be up. The cat remained in his position, staring at the darkness at the end of the hallway. He seated himself but would not move and would not settle as he continued to wait. His tail twitched back and forth as he watched as finally, an hour after Dolly had fallen into REM sleep, the pin point of light came on in the centre of the monitor. Soundlessly, the dot became big enough to fit a small, gloved finger through. Trioxin’s ears went flat to his head as he watched. His tail thumped back and forth as his body lowered and then stayed deathly still, watching. The monitor’s light spread but was quickly obscured by the shadow of the arm that pulled the edges of the light out to accommodate more of the body quickly making its way through. The lanky figure moved gracefully into the room without disturbing a single thing. Done seamlessly and without a noise, the only thing that could be heard throughout the apartment was the sound of Trioxin’s warning chirps as the figure moved forward down the dark hall and stood in front of the cat, casting its long shadow over him. The cat made a feral noise and hissed as the figure stopped ten steps away from him.
“Such a bad kitty.”