The video was up about two days later on a channel called PranKingz. It didn’t take long for her to find the group behind it, as they had a lot of decoy channels that they used. Turns out that they were a prank channel known for targeting other creators and making fun of them. They used their fake accounts to lure people in and sometimes made them do embarrassing things before they brought out the horns that had scared her and Stuart the other night. One of their victims was a small cooking show where they tricked the girl into cooking with dog feces. Another was a gamer that they convinced was playing a charity game that required him to reveal increasingly more personal information about himself. There were a lot of others. An independent author who did book reviews who got tricked into giving an interview on her book only to have them recut the interview to make it seem like she’d given herself a horrible review. A boy learning to play guitar had all the strings on his guitar cut in ways that hurt his fingers and he ended up crying on camera. And the latest video on their site was of her. Dolly had tried to avoid watching it but eventually curiosity had gotten to her and she regretted it immediately afterwards. She didn’t even watch it all the way through but thought of the things they said and did each time she felt the sting in the scrapes on her hands. She tried to tell herself that she didn’t care that much and it didn’t really get to her but it was humiliating and deep down, she couldn’t deny that. They hadn’t gotten much footage of her falling but what they got was made even more degrading when they added sound effects to it of the ground cracking under her. There was commentary from one of the guys who’d been laughing talking about how she was lucky she fell forward instead of backwards or she might have crushed Stuart. They made just as many mean comments about him and the way he dressed.
It was Wednesday night and there was still a lot to do before their horror marathon on Halloween. There was a lot left to edit still and even after the shows for Halloween were over, there was more to do. Dolly knew all this but it was hard to want to do anything. She tried to motivate herself but as the night wore on, what little she had managed to accomplish was all she could force herself to do. It was stupid because she wanted to do more. She wanted to push everything aside but tonight, she just felt too low to try. She hadn’t felt this way in a very long time and for the first time in about ten years, she remembered the way it felt to have someone look at her like she was just an object. She was just a stupid joke that no one would ever take seriously and the only thing she was good for was for other people to get a laugh at. She sniffled. The person who had once said those things to her was long gone and she would never welcome anyone like that back again. She knew none of this was true but it was hard to shove aside the fact that someone had made her feel like nothing again.
Trioxin climbed into her lap and meowed at her in the way he always did when he was distressed. Dolly wiped her face and picked him up in her arms. He immediately curled up against her and began to purr loudly as she sniffed. Maybe he didn’t fix anything but it was good to have a beautiful little fluffy thing near her. And truly, even if he wasn’t something that could protect her, he still made her feel safer just by having him there. The sound of his purring made her feel at least a little bit better but it was also making her pretty tired. Dolly glanced at the clock and saw that it was getting closer to midnight than she had thought. She decided that calling it an early night with the cat was likely the best remedy for a bad night anyway.
Dolly wheeled herself around the apartment, going about her routine in lethargic steps, making extra sure that she didn’t miss anything. She knew this feeling would pass but right now it felt all encompassing and it hurt. It didn’t help that using her walker, which she usually used around her home, was harder because of the way her hands stung when she put pressure on her palms. It didn’t make it easier to use the chair but she found that she ended up sitting still and was able to forget about it for longer. In a couple of days, she would heal and be able to go back to normal but for now, she hated everything associated with the cuts on her hands and just wanted to forget about them. She wanted to forget about everything. She finished turning off everything and headed to bed with the cat still purring on her lap. As she climbed into bed, Trioxin took a place near the top of her head and purred loudly as she laid down and tried to get comfortable. Dolly took a few last sniffles before closing her eyes and drifting off. She didn’t notice as the scene around her changed and she curled up against the chill of the fall air. The cat blinked happily as the bed beneath them turned to a fainting couch and the crackle of dull fire warmed his black fur. Dolly continued to sniff in her sleep, completely unaware that she’d come to the only place in the world that she felt whole and safe. Will looked over her and sighed with a small frown.
This was the second night that Dolly had accidentally come here in her sleep. Will initially thought that he would keep it to himself but it was becoming clear that his friend was in need of comfort in more ways than he initially thought. She was putting up a front for the others and he already knew that but it was telling on her. Even Toby had noticed and had taken to watching her last night from his web, trying to figure out how to get close without having to get close to Trioxin. Will didn’t know how long she was there but was grateful not to find any torn spider legs or cat fur in the morning when he woke. If Trioxin was anxious last night, he seemed more at ease this time and Toby, for as cowardly as he normally was, seemed to get a little more brave as he ventured forward. Will watched, hoping that this wouldn’t result in him having to worry about separating the two to let his friend sleep.
Dolly had texted him about everything when she got home and they had both checked up on Stuart to see that he was okay but he was clearly feeling stung by the incident too. Will had done some digging for the two of them with what he could find and ended up discovering that there was a lot more to this prank channel than they knew. Even from what Dolly had told him, there was a lot that she hadn’t uncovered yet and he was in the uncomfortable position of trying to figure out what would be helpful and what wouldn’t. There were four people behind it but from what he could tell, there was only really one instigator. The “man with the plan” as he liked to bill himself on the channel, was a boy called Blair. From what Will could tell from his searches was that this kid of barely more than twenty was very well known on social media and online forums under a slew of different names and all for the same antics. Insults, jokes taken too far and more pranks that were designed to make people look stupid, Blair was the type of kid that Will used to like selling finger traps to when he was still working in the curio shop. He was the type of kid that thought everyone was a joke and no one was safe from his cruelty. Most of the time, if an unsuspecting victim couldn’t be found, Will was less than surprised and impressed to find that their main target was the guy that had contacted Dolly in the first place, Matt. From what little Dolly had been able to tell him about, Will had gathered from context that Matt had known this was going to be a prank but it sounded a bit like he’d been trying to get a way around it when he heard about the wheelchair. Will didn’t know if it was going to make her feel better in the end to know this but it might be worth bringing up if she was this upset. Maybe it would make her feel like not everything in the world was out to make fun of her.
The wind rustled outside and the draft felt closer to him to the point where he felt like he might have left the window open. It sparked him as strange and Will thought to check to see if the fire but starting to get lower but the warmth of the flames was still carrying on the breeze. The flickering was still fairly bright. Still he shivered as the wind began to howl outside and he thought it might be a storm coming in. Given how Dolly was feeling, that might yet be possibility. As he thought to check the horizon to see if the moon was still out, he felt his body get heavier. He blinked and realized that he was getting tired. This seemed odd. He wasn’t tired a minute ago. Still, he couldn’t deny that he was getting sleepier by the second and his ability to concentrate was getting more difficult. If he could have paid better attention, he might have noticed that Toby was cringing and carefully getting closer to him. He also might have noticed that sound humming on the breeze that was whipping through the Safe Haven now, echoing lightly off the stone walls and making him even more drowsy. Toby hopped down from his web to watch as Will instinctively climbed on the chair he regularly sat in during the show and nodded off to sleep. Even Trioxin was passed out and purring next to Dolly who was out cold as well.
The Safe Haven was silent save for the crackle of the fire and the hum coming from a mystery figure that had been observing from the shadows all evening. Toby watched with large, fearful eyes as the figure emerged from its hiding place, its measured footsteps making no sound as it entered into the middle of the room. It slithered like the Shadow had but it was a corporeal creature that now stood across from where Dolly slept. Toby skittered closer to her now, one eye watching the cat but the rest fixed on the predator that was standing in their midst. With careful, soft taps, Toby tried to wake Dolly but she was completely lost in her sleepy trance. Toby cowered behind her sleeping form when another shadowy figure appeared behind the first one. He looked to Will and back to Dolly before watching as the silent newcomer approached the creature in front of him.