The weekend had been more of a wash than any of them had planned on. Stuart had managed to get Lydia all the way home but only just barely. He’d waited until she got inside before driving away and he had only just pulled out of the parking lot of the complex before he spotted her parents’ car. Their talk had gone poorly but thankfully they didn’t know that Stuart had driven her home or even that she’d been out at all. Still, she was being careful now and though they couldn’t exactly put her on a curfew, it did mean that she had to watch her time no matter where she was or what she was doing. For Dolly, that would have normally been a difficulty to figure out what she was going to do for filming but it seemed a little on the trite side now that she had an even bigger problem on her hands. The show, while still important to her, was something of a weird blip on her radar that occasionally went off. Her mind now was trying to stay focused on how to continue doing anything without getting stomped by the realization that one of her friends was a monster. Weirder still, he’d been the only reason that she had been okay after having to fight with another, more aggressive monster. Of course, she couldn’t think about this without getting blindsided by the truth that monsters were real. Last week, they were just things that were part of the movies she loved. This week, she was friends with one and she couldn’t afford to even be scared of him because Will was the only one who had any idea of what was going on.
Unfortunately, Will was also still exactly who he had been prior to her figuring out that he was part spider. He was tall, lanky, awkward and full of incredibly useful horror minutia. All these things were fine and the last one was especially important to her, but it would also have been nice if she’d found out that he had some kind of super power. Turns out that being part spider was more just his reality that had some irritating and sometimes difficult side effects, not unlike being in a wheelchair. None of those side effects made him good at fighting, however, and that was going to factor into their latest issue.
It was Tuesday night and she was grateful to be feeling more like herself but Dolly wasn’t fooled into thinking that this thing had gone away. She had seen enough movies to know that this could get her in trouble if she ignored it. She didn’t know what to do that didn’t feel silly now. Monsters were real. She couldn’t just pretend that things like work or an internet show weren’t kind of ridiculous when you thought of that. Still, she also couldn’t ignore the reality that work was a thing she needed to do and that even if it felt like it was a bit of a stupid thing to concentrate on, her internet show was the only outlet she had right now to feel anything but weirded out. That and she couldn’t ignore what it meant to Stuart and Lydia. She knew they both needed something else outside of their daily grind and it wasn’t like she could just tell them that she was taking a break for no reason at this point. They didn’t know about Will and she wasn’t about to give Stuart a heart attack or give Lydia another reason to worry about something in her life so she couldn’t exactly be honest about it. She knew she couldn’t keep it a secret forever but that also meant that they would have to figure out what to do eventually. Eventually would have to come later, though. Tonight, she needed to do something else other than worry.
Normally by now, she would be editing footage from the last shoot and trying to figure out if there was anything that she needed to fill gaps. Without any of that to contend with, she figured the only way to keep herself busy and keep from thinking too much was to script her voice over parts. Normally this was done after shoots on Saturday or Sunday but she couldn’t even bring herself to turn her computer on for nearly two days after what happened on Saturday. She was only really able to do it today because Trioxin was cuddling up on her lap and acting like himself for the most part. Aside from some casual clinginess, he was actually acting normal and that helped her stay calm. Now, if only it would give her any idea of where to start with the script, she would be happy.
The word processor was open and staring at her but she couldn’t make herself want to type anything. Dolly hated the look of it. She hated that she’d gotten home hours ago and still hadn’t laid down a single word on it. The blank screen just stared back are her stupidly, making its lack of words even more her problem. She was resentful of this but even more, she was confused at her own lack of interest in doing this. It wasn’t even that she couldn’t think of anything, though that certainly wasn’t helpful. It was that she just didn’t want to. She couldn’t make herself want to type. It was strange but it was also pissing her off. She didn’t want to be like this. She knew this was wasting time and even though she had way more important things to be worried about right now, this was about the only thing she could feasibly do. She couldn’t make Lydia’s parents respect her or let go of the restrictions they’d placed on her. She couldn’t make Stuart’s family pay more attention to how important his art was to making him comfortable in a world that usually terrified him. She couldn’t make it so that this Shadow thing hadn’t attacked her and tried to make her conform to what it wanted. All she could do was write about something that made her happy. If what Will said to her in her dream was true, maybe about the only thing she could do was make the imaginary home that she’d built in her mind a safe place for him and his spider. It wasn’t much but at least it was something.
Dolly knew that she was supposed to be doing the voice overs for the Kruger knock off but she instead began to type whatever came to her. Instead of worrying about making jokes, she began to describe the Safe Haven. She found that her frustration was fading away as she made herself really describe it in detail. Once she’d written a paragraph, she settled deeper in her chair with Trioxin in her lap and began to expand on the setting. She devoted entire lines to really bring out the sensory details. She described the curtains in heavy details, even going into the dust that coated the bottom. She described the age of the windows and how they rattled against the autumn wind. She described the way the light of the growing moon was slowly crawling along the stone floor, landing on the fainting couch. She described the crackle of the fireplace and how the warmth spread through the otherwise drafty room.
Dolly shivered. Idly, she wondered why it was so cold for the beginning of July, when she realized that she wasn’t sitting in a wheelchair anymore. She could hear the snapping of the flames in the fireplace. She looked over and realized that she was now in the Safe Haven and Will was staring at her, confused. He had a horror magazine in his hand that looked like it might have been at least a decade old.
“I’m dreaming?” she asked slowly.
“No,” Will replied, equally slow. He tucked his mouthparts aside to talk easier but didn’t bother to try to pin them up this time. “It’s almost eleven in the evening, though. I’m going to guess that you didn’t roll your way here on the bus.”
“I didn’t,” she said, somewhat sheepishly. “I was trying to write something tonight to figure things out in my head. I guess I figured I would rather be here.”
“And you brought the cat,” Will noted.
Dolly looked down and realized that Trioxin was still happily purring in her lap.
“It’s where he usually sits when I work,” Dolly replied. “Is Toby going to be okay with him being here?”
“He caught some variety of bird this morning so he’s going to be preoccupied for a few days at this rate,” Will shrugged. “The birds here are weird. They look like normal birds until you look at their faces. Like they don’t look like birds anymore and they have some weird spines. Toby just spits them out.”
“Does he?” Dolly said, at a loss for anything to add.
“Right, topic at hand,” Will sighed, putting down the magazine. “How did you get here again? Like I know that you created this place but you usually have to be in proximity of a rift to be able to make the jump over. Even seasoned creators usually can’t do it. Not that you aren’t. I mean, you’ve been writing for longer than you’ve been doing the show and I know I’ve found some things in here that are older than the show but still.”
“You’re talking in jargon again, Will. Why don’t we unpack what you just said?”
“A rift is a place where things between the imaginary world and the real one can overlap and with some skill, usually creators can make their way into one or the other,” Will explained coming closer now. “They aren’t uncommon. Imagination and reality crash into each other all the time. There’s temporary ones in places like pop up carnivals or cosplay conventions and ones that tend to stay fixed like certain places in Disneyland or studios where they film things for an extended period of time. Most of those things don’t change for a long time so the rift becomes more stable and easier to move through.”
“Do you know all this because you are part of that world?”
“Like I said, I was human once,” Will replied. He frowned. “I found a stable rift a long time ago. Like I said, creators are good at navigating them but they don’t usually do much but pop in and out again. Most people don’t really even realize they’ve even done it and creators are more likely to just get inspired and end up building the world from a distance. Most people can’t stay there for extended bits of time. There’s reasons, though mostly its propaganda crap to keep people from living there permanently. I don’t know enough about the politics behind everything but I would imagine there’s a few people there that might want to keep too many creative types from overstaying instead of just creating and building the world from here. That’s the unspoken understanding. Whether it’s a school play or the Magic Kingdom, creators come in to stay for a spell and then they go home and make the imaginary world better.”
“So did you get in through Disneyland when you found your way into the imaginary world?” Dolly asked.
“No,” Will sulked. “This place that I found was different because you didn’t have to be a creator to end up there. You could stay for years and if you didn’t make trouble, no one was the wiser. But something happened there and eventually no one could leave. It’s very strange now and I think it’s getting more dangerous to be there. It’s unstable.”
“More dangerous than a monster trying to convince me to let it in by pretending to torture my cat?” Dolly frowned, scritching Trioxin as he purred.
“That was weird for sure,” Will replied. “Shadows can do some major damage in larger numbers but typically they’re kinda more like pests. Most of them are parasitic but they’re kinda more like mosquitoes. They tend to be more active in the summer because of the longer hours of daylight and they don’t typically show up much in the winter except around any area where people have a lot of garish light displays. Shadows, in the typical sense, are creatures that have no real form of their own. Think underdeveloped characters or background creatures that no one cares about. They feed off people and drain them of their energy when they hitch a ride around. Creative types are their typical targets because they get more out of that and if they end up getting into something like a moment in a book or a scene in a movie, they can pass a lot further. But they aren’t usually this aggressive that they might attack more than once.”
“So it wants something specific then,” Dolly sighed. “Maybe it just wants to be a real boy, as the story goes.”
“Not gonna happen,” Will shrugged. “Even if that is what it wants, no one can make that happen. Not anyone on this side of things and no one should be doing that one the other side either.”
“Why couldn’t it happen on this side?”
“For the most part, no matter what side we are, what we are is what we stay,” Will said, stretching out one of his spider legs. “We don’t change on this side without it being a disaster on some level unless the person doing the changing has something really powerful facilitating it or they have a very high pain threshold. On the other side, it’s a not a whole lot easier. Some things are shapeshifters but ultimately, they have a base form that they are. Shadows can shapeshift a bit but, like I said, they don’t have much of a form to go off. They have some kind of limited personality but they just function off their baser wants and needs. The reality of it is that they don’t have much to work off of. Most of them can’t speak except to mimic what other creatures say. They don’t have even a real sense of who they are and without a foundation, there’s nothing to build. They can’t offer a creator anything to work with so they can’t be full characters and they can’t wander in this world freely. And even if someone could or would do that, there’s some steep prices to be paid for it.”
“What kind of price?”
“There’s a lot you don’t count on because once it starts, you can’t control it,” Will sighed. “Ask me how I know. No one told me that this was going to end in blue skin and mouth bits that get in the way. Or other things.”
“Like what other things?” Dolly said, raising her eyebrows.
“Nothing you have to worry about,” he said, dismissively. “Dietary things that are both gross and uncomfortable. Besides, this doesn’t help with our Shadow business.”
“You really think it’ll come back?”
“I don’t know, to be honest,” Will frowned. “I hope not. Maybe the fact that you could hurt it was enough to scare it off. For most things, that would do the trick, especially if they’re like the Shadows. This one did seem pretty willful, though. Not sure where it picked that up but it definitely has a lingering sense of desire. It might not have the smarts for it but understands want pretty well.”
This revelation sat between them like a heavy stone as they both tried to console themselves. Still, both knew that this was strange and neither of them felt like this was going to be okay. Not until they figured out how to show their unwanted guest the door.