Sitting in the break room alone, Dolly felt like she was weighted to the ground with lead bolts. Getting up this morning had been a special kind of hell. It didn’t help that the cat was after her all morning and would barely eat unless she sat near the bowl. Even then, he was so distracted, she was starting to get worried that he wouldn’t eat at all if she moved. There was nothing she wanted more than to just call in sick and say that she couldn’t come in today. She desperately needed to get some sleep but she knew that just wasn’t an option. Her budget was as tight as it could go and she couldn’t afford to take random days for nothing. Still, she knew before the end of the day, she was going to be dying to get back to bed. Already she knew that she was going to have a monster headache before too long and she could feel it building behind her eyes. She hoped that this was also to blame for the weird taste in her mouth. She woke up with it and could only hope it wasn’t a sign that she was getting sick.
Dolly looked down at the meager food that she had packed this morning for herself. There was nothing appealing about the carrots and the little bit of hummus that she had left in the bag and she couldn’t seem to will herself to eat them. She knew that she should be starving but she could only think about how much she didn’t want to be here today. She was grateful that her manager had allowed her to avoid cash duty but that hadn’t made the shift any shorter for her. She knew she’d been talking to people all day but she had no idea what she’d said. They were all just shopping for things that she didn’t really care about and she was ashamed to say that sometimes she actually forgot where things were, she was so tired. It was about the only time in her life that she was thankful for the general public thinking that her wheelchair made her immune to the English language because it made it that much easier to coast without having to talk to anyone.
A part of her wanted to be angry at Will for this but if she was being completely honest, she was actually kind of relieved to hear his voice last night. She knew that she’d had a nightmare last night, though she still couldn’t remember at all what it was about. Dolly knew that she was upset about something and when she woke up, she swore that she could almost pin point what it was. The claw to the arm from the cat had distracted her enough that the images, whatever they were, started fading before she could fully come awake. Then Will called and they were gone. She was grateful that he was okay and all, but she was getting concerned about him. She hoped that his pet was going to be okay but she had to admit that she was at a loss as to how to help him out. Even he seemed to be pretty in the dark on how to fix that one. Still, he was acting weird and it bothered her. It felt like there was more to this than some pet spider that she’d never heard of but she already knew her friend well enough to know that getting him to chat about anything other than horror films was a bit more like pulling teeth. She tried to force herself to relax about it. She would just have to accept that her friend was feeling a bit awkward and he was acting funny. The bigger problem was that weird was Will’s normal and it was hard to tell why she felt something was off about him. He’d never called her in the middle of the night before but, then again, he had called her to ask her random questions or make weird requests of her before. He was oblivious at the best of times but yesterday he was even more unaware of the outside world to the point where it even bothered Stuart. And he was worried about the moon all of the sudden? It was indeed difficult figure out exactly what it was that was different. Or particularly weirder for her friend, who seemed to be able to exist in a sea of social ineptitude without being even the slightest bit affected by it.
Dolly rubbed at her eyes and winced. She knew that she should just grab some painkillers for this before it got bad but she was always hesitant to do this at work. Even though her legs had been rendered useless more than a decade ago now, there were still some people who were convinced that she was susceptible to an addiction to painkillers that she hadn’t used in years and, in some cases, never used at all. It was weird because these people knew nothing about the incident that landed her in a wheelchair and a lot of people were usually okay with knowing as little as it was an accident. Dolly never spoke very frankly with anyone about what happened but, for reasons she was less than impressed by, she found that every now and again, odd day to day things would sudden trigger an urgent need in some select people around her to become “concerned” about things that she might be doing. Most of it was usually easy to contend with. Some of her coworkers were genuine in wanting to make sure that she was really okay, even if they had kind of annoying ways of going about saying that. Some people were just jerks and she’d long ago discovered that no matter what she tried to tell them or show them, they would assume that she was in her situation because of rotten life choices. Granted, a lot of those people would give her information on how to manage diabetes, as if they were giving her life tools she should have figured out already. At least with those people, she got the satisfaction of letting them know that even though she was heavy, she was in excellent health and she ate really healthy meals thank you very much. Then there were the saviour complex people who saw her as a project to make better. These people set out to become an important part of her life for the sole purpose of being the good guy of a story that played out differently in their mind than it did in reality. It was like somehow her existence was their key to being the protagonist in a John Hughes movie. Thankfully Dolly hadn’t had a lot of problems from that variety for a while now but she knew better than to be optimistic that they would leave her alone permanently. Her chair was like a beacon to them and all it would take to get someone started on that path was the belief that maybe she might be addicted to painkillers. Over the counter, easily obtained without a prescription painkillers that she had a full bottle of that was quickly approaching its expiry date. She groaned, wishing that she knew that she could just take something for this headache without worrying about having a discussion with a would-be hero for a cause she didn’t need.
“Heroes are often annoying at the best of times, my dear. This is why the other side tends to be so much more appealing after you get used to being here,” a soothing, unfamiliar voice sounded in the empty room. Dolly looked up to see the room had gone dark. She was still sitting at the table but across from her was a hooded figure. The person she faced smiled, a faint glimmer of flickering light glinting off sharpened teeth.
“Who are you?” Dolly whispered, looking around trying to figure out what happened to the break room. The figured across from her laughed.
“No need to look for heroes here,” the figure said. The voice was vaguely feminine but it was hard to tell. It was so hard to hear it all of the sudden. There was white noise coming from somewhere. “We are connected now, you and I. Like a family of sorts. Not quite a plan that I – that we – saw coming but life is full of surprises like that. Family is always so full of surprises we never count on.”
“Yeah, well I haven’t spoken to most of mine in about ten years so I think I’ll pass on this reunion,” Dolly said, casually reaching for the pushrims of her chair. She was surprised to find that she was sitting in an armchair instead. She looked up again and the table from the break room was gone and the figure was closer.
“You’re clever enough for this game but I fear it shouldn’t last long,” the figure sighed. It smiled to itself but turned its head away towards something else in the shadows. “A pity. In a different moment, this might have been a battle of some great substance but that is not to be. You must pay attention now because something comes closer than it has ever been before. It believes itself to be bold but it is foolish. It thinks that it won’t be found. It has been and doesn’t realize it yet. Of course, all of this is simply information to you right now. You haven’t had time to wake to it yet and it appears as though one of our ‘family’ has seen fit to keep you sleeping. Perhaps a better option. It would be a shame to waste such a delicious game and you’ll make such a delightful player still.”
“I’m dreaming,” Dolly sighed, half to herself. She looked around at the shadows dancing around the room and realized that she was sitting in her set but it wasn’t an act this time. The flames in the fireplace were real and dancing on stone walls with high arched windows. The velvet curtains fluttered from a true breeze that swirled around her now. She shivered when she felt it waft through the drafty room and the smell of rain on wet stone was coming through strong. For a dream, this was more intense than she was used to. Dolly could only shake her head and look at the figure who was sitting across from her where Will normally sat during the show. “I get it. I know what’s happening. I’m suffering from a really bad headache and because I didn’t eat properly, I’m stuck dreaming about how I wish my set had comfortable chairs and weird cryptic messages from people in hoods. You, and this and everything here is just indigestion brought on by hunger that I’m going to feel when I wake up.”
“Oh you’ll be hungry soon, my dear,” the figure said, a slight hiss coming through now. “You’ll know everything and soon. I admit that I was livid at first. To think of all the secrets you’ve yet to see and how they might have been wasted on the careless glut of humanity but I know now. I was wrong and I see that in you now. There’s so much more for you to see. So much for you to learn. You will wake and rise and on that day, we’ll speak again. Alas, you’re not the only one who hungers. The feast isn’t ready but you can play yet. Learn. Hunger. Play now.”
The last syllable hung in the air like the mist seeping in from the now open windows. Dolly felt the cold wrap around her but she wasn’t uncomfortable. Instead of shivering, she felt something like a warmth inside and immediately, she knew this was what the figure had meant. She looked across to see the person in the hood was gone but what they said remained, ringing in her ears. She felt the hunger, only an echo of what it could be but it was still coming on strong. She leaned back in the chair and felt it spread throughout her body. She felt it in the pit of her chest and with each beat of her heart, she felt something she could only describe as a need emerging. She needed to be in the dark. She needed to be able to touch those shadows and feel them all around her. There was something deeper to this and she knew that it wouldn’t come out yet but she knew she needed something she could not describe. For one, very intense moment, she felt it run through her body like an electric shock. From her scalp to the tips of her toes that she couldn’t usually feel, Dolly felt the beginning of that urge of hunger only to have it swept away in an instant. She gasped, unsure if she was relieved that it was over or if she wanted it back immediately.
Dolly yelped in surprise and turned to look at where the noise had come from. She squinted at the brightness of the lights and realized that she was still sitting in the break room. Instead of the hooded figure that she had been expecting to see, she saw one of her confused managers looking at her funny. She groaned internally when she saw the look of confusion starting to turn to the familiar concern that she hated so much. Dolly cleared her throat and checked her phone to see that her break was almost finished.
“Are you okay, Dahlia?”
“Perfectly fine,” she shrugged. “Just ended up getting a little tired is all. I’m fine now.”
“Are you sure?” her manager replied, clearly not convinced. “You’ve been acting a little bit off all day. Is there something going on at home? Anything we should be concerned about?”
Dolly knew this conversation could land her in trouble and she had to bite her tongue to keep from replying in annoyance. She’d long ago learned that being sarcastic only tended to get her into more hot water than it was worth. Still, she didn’t want to deal with this and certainly not when it came to the company she worked for and their “concerns”. Checking a portion of her dignity aside, she forced herself to rely on her most hated excuse that she reserved for moments like these.
“Oh it’s fine Carol,” Dolly said, making herself sound sincere. “It’s just tiring pushing the wheels all day, you know. Sometimes I just get a little sleepy but it always passes.”
“Well, if that’s the case, maybe you should just stick closer to the back area of the store today.”
Dolly wondered if her managers would ever put two and two together at any point and realize that she had no problems pushing herself around and was probably stronger than most of the boys on staff there. Still, if treating her like a dainty, easily fatigued flower child was going to get her stationed where there were less customers and everyone who did wander to the back usually already knew where to find what they were looking for, she would be willing to take their misconceptions as a bonus this time.