Showers aren't Supposed to be High-Contact Sports, & Cults shouldn't be allowed to have YouTube Channels
I sit cross-legged on one of the two beds in our room. The twins are enjoying some complimentary snacks we received in our suite for being invited panelists. We have free merchandise from the sponsors of HelixCon, as well as HelixCon gear such as the cap Wren now has on backwards on his head.
Scrolling through our YouTube channel, I bite my thumb intently as I watch the newest alert video of the con panel video posted’s views stagger up with each refresh. I just put the video up not five minutes ago. My stomach churns at the thought of it, because I don’t think I still can comprehend how many fans we do have in the building right now, how many people know and actually care for my monster. Who know our names. Who actually seem to love us for what we made, what we made out of an aggressive cathartic movement.
“Our twitter is blowing up, guys.” Doc says between chews of a Twizzler. He swallows and sits down on the edge of the bed that Mayday and I are going to share. He looks over his shoulder at me. “How is it on the YouTube end?”
“They still somehow love us.” I reply and give a slight smirk. I look back down and go back to mesmerizing the floor plan of the convention, where the Artist Alley, Dealer’s Room, and the Gamer’s Room are. Where the panels are being held. This hotel is connected to a convention center that’s used for all sorts of events in this town off the east coast, perfect location for sports and such because of the beach and then the overall expanse of room, both inside and out, for activities. The fact that it’s not compact makes me feel a bit less claustrophobic with all the people, but still, I really have no idea what to expect. Are they going to like what I have to say, or are they going to be confused? Are they going to like the movie’s direction or hate it? Are they going to see me in the monster? That’s what scares me the most. Like that weird girl in the lobby.
“Did you guys see that one girl in the lobby staring at us?”
“Yeah, she’s the reason you face-planted into TRIGGER, right?”
I give Wren a pointed look, he sticks out his tongue and I flip him off as he grins and takes a swig of soda. He lets out a large belch that I swear almost shakes the foundation of the hotel.
I put my laptop down and hug my knees to my chest, resting my chin on them. I feel sticky and gross from the outside and the slight anxiety attack from downstairs. I hope Mayday gets out of the shower soon so I can clean up.
“Yeah, I mean, she just kept staring, with these huge like,” I use my thumbs and index fingers to emphasize my eyes. “Dead, soulless eyes. She kept staring like she was trying to suck my soul out through them.”
“Are you sure you’re not overreacting?”
“Uh, no, no I don’t.”
“What did you say?!” Mayday comes to my rescue, and comes out of the bathroom and throws a small shampoo bottle at Wren, who just asked me that question. It bounces off his head with a hollow noise.
“OW! What the-did you use a whole bottle for your hair?!”
Mayday ignores him and sits down next to me. She wraps an arm over my shoulders and smells heavily like lavender and sunshine. I lean into the curve of my best friend’s arm, staring at Doc and Wren with a smirk. Mayday and I could kick their collective ass in a heartbeat, and they know it, especially Mayday.
“You know, people are as exhausted and grimy-feeling as we are after traveling to the conventions. Maybe if we all get cleaned up and go to get some real food, not the crap they keep eating, and then just relax, I’m sure we’ll feel so much better.”
I smile softly, but I still can’t shake the feeling that the girl was staring through me. That she was hungry, searching for her meal. I hug Mayday and then crawl off the bead and grab my duffle bag and head into the bathroom, locking the door behind me. I pull my sweatshirt over my head and look at me in the mirror. Cinnamon skin with dark brown freckles, dark circles under dark grey eyes, and messy dark brown hair. Darkness is as much a part of me as it is surrounding me. I take off the rest of my traveling clothes and step in the shower. I let the hot water burn and roll down my skin, and let it run over my face and my hair.
I try to let it all wash off and rinse me of the negativity. I scrub with the soap until my skin is pink. Each time I close my eyes, every blink, it alternates between the girl and then the cardboard cut out TRIGGER. I make the water go as hot as it can go, trying to combat the chill settling itself back in my bones. I keep my eyes closed, squeezed shut tight, until the images go hazy, and they’re just blur in my blinks. Ignore it. Ignore it. You’re with your friends, at a con, you are going to have fun. OK? OK.
I finish in the shower and step out. I pull on fresh clothes, grey tank top with a Wonder Woman logo faded on it and jean shorts. Unlike Mayday with her hair dryer, I just put the towel over my head and shake it all out. I pull the towel off of my head.
I see nothing.
I blink a few times.
“What the fuck?”
My heart starts to race a bit, and I clench my fists as my eyes shut tight. I open them again and in the dim light I see that behind me in the mirror are a bunch of red glowing dots-eyes. I jerk and yelp, slipping on some water and I slam my hands on the sink. My eyes train on the mirror, and all I see is this faint outline of me, my shoulders just below my ears. I blink, and the lights are on, and I am stunned. They were definitely just off. I’m alone in the bathroom. I definitely wasn’t alone in the bathroom. No. No. Don’t do this. No angry shapes. No floating eyeballs. Leave that to the creation, leave that to the internet. I mentally shove it out of my head. My head feels anchored to the floor.
There’s a knock on the door. I jump a foot in the air.
“DRU, I JUST MADE A JOKE ABOUT YOU FALLING IN THE TOILET PLEASE AFFIRM IF I HAVE POWERS OF PREMONITION.”
“I just slipped on some water on the floor, you ass!” I call back, my voice shakes slightly. This monster was my nightmare to begin with, and now my anxiety is getting the best of me. Great. Just great. I don’t need this right now. I quickly apply some make up and throw a towel on the floor, walking out into the room again. Doc is on his phone, Mayday on the bed using my laptop, and Wren is standing in front of me.
“My turn, move out the way!” He maneuvers around me and slams the door. I turn around and kick it before going to join Mayday on the bed.
“Remind me why we keep Wren around.”
“Because he and Doc come as a matching set, there’s no way around it.”
“I CAN HEAR YOU.” Wren’s voice shouts over the shower and through the bathroom door.
Mayday is staring intently at the laptop screen. I learn over her shoulder to see what she’s looking at. She’s still on youtube, the title of the video she’s viewing is TRIGGER FOLLOWERS.
“Ugh.” I always cringe at these sorts of videos. Some of them are full of second-hand embarrassment and I can’t stand to watch. Not to mention them fawning over something that I wanted to make as an escape with my friends really strikes some sort of nerve with me. Sometimes it’s manageable, other times it makes me want to hide out. “Not another one of these. Please don’t tell me they did another TRIGGER tea party.”
“No, this one is kinda…strange.”
“Stranger than the tea party?”
Mayday nods and restarts the video, turning the laptop so I can see the screen as well. I furrow my brow as it begins with a candle lit, empty room. It seems pretty similar to how we opened the first comic, actually. I remember writing the description and Mayday taking some creative liberty to make it even more creepy.
The camera pans down to a neon green, spray-painted circle on the ground surrounded by black candles in red glasses. It’s like Christmas, only for demons. A chill goes down my spine at just that shot. One by one, feet start stepping into the frame. All barefoot on this grimy cement floor. I don’t see a face, but one person kneels down on black jeaned knees. This person has a piece of white chalk, reaching towards the ground in the circle.
“It always was there, defending from the atrocities of society by taking weakness to gain strength. Picking off the weakest and leaving the husks of the strong.” A voice says from off-screen. “It was always there, honing in on survival, feeding off of the weak. The strong understand the shadows, the strong understand the darkness, and use it as an armor. He will guide us to a new world, where the empaths rule, where we feel all and see all and understand all.”
“Wren, hurry up in there!” Doc is off the phone and shouting through the bathroom door. “I need to shower real quick, too!”
“WHAT’S THE RUSH!?”
“I just got off of the phone with the people in charge of the HELIXcon youtube. They want to get footage for an intro video of the panel. They said to meet us down in the lobby in ten.”
“I have to talk more than I already do to strangers?” I complain as I watch Mayday pause the video.
“I think they’re just going to ask us some questions and mash it together, nothing serious since we have the panel tomorrow.” Doc states, pulling his brother out of the bathroom, and then going in to shut the door behind him.
I cover my face with my hands for a moment, then drag my hands back to pull my fingers through my hair. My heart is fluttering at the thought, but I don’t think people believe me when I say I’m anxious and excited at the same time. My stories are loved, but they’re the kind of stories I wouldn’t normally create. Do they know how much of me I actually spat out to give them? Do they realize how dangerous it would be if TRIGGER is really out there? How dangerous it would be if my deepest fears and anxieties are coming true? Did they do this?
The laugh comes back and I sweat my shadow rakes claws down my back. I jump a little and stand, holding my laptop.
I stare back down at the laptop screen. There are dirty bare feet surrounding the circle. They look like they’re caked with a mix of dirt and something sticky and red. As I squint on and look at them in the flickering light, I realize it might be blood.
“Is that blood?”
Mayday bites her lower lip and furrows her brow. “That’s definitely blood.”
“What kind of dark net crap did you stumble upon on my laptop?” I try to joke, but the shadows are bothering me. The words in the video are bothering me. The whole thing is bothering me. “I thought empaths weren’t creepy. Aren’t we empaths? Am I creepy?”
Her eyes don’t leave the screen, “You did conjure up TRIGGER.”
“Okay, I didn’t ask to be reminded at this moment, but okay.” I roll my eyes and shake my head.
“Don’t worry, I still love you even with that brainchild from your nogin.”
Before I can retort, there is a loud, wet SMACK from the video. Both Mayday and I jump and shriek.
I immediately gag and Mabel curses at the screen, they dropped a sopping wet, bloodied, dead thing in the center of the circle. Freshly dead, there is blood pooling from it. I cover my mouth and nose with my hands and turn away. Mayday pauses the video and needs to take a breath.
“No. No no. Don’t play it. I’m done. I’m done thanks.” I get up and step away from the computer. I put my hands on my knees and take in a deep breath, one after the other. That’s something you just don’t expect, not at all.
Wren pulls his Pokemon Master since ’98 shirt over his head and then puts his new hat back on. “What are you ladies watching?”
“This weird video,” Mayday hits the spacebar, playing the video again, pushing the laptop further out into the comforter on the bed so it’s not as close. I stay on the opposite side of the screen.
“Don’t keep watching it.”
“What is it? A fan video?”
“There’s a dead chicken or something on screen, like fresh dead. It’s like a cult following thing.”
“Bruh, a cult is what I told you was the LAST thing I wanted out of this.” I complain, trying to not focus on the burning of the scratches I’m imagining on my back. I force myself to keep still as both Mayday and Wren lean over me.
“I mean, it can’t be, demonic sacrifice isn’t in TRIGGER’s origin story.”
“Maybe it’s a freaky promo video for a band or a cult most likely a cult definitely a cult.” I stare exasperatedly at Mayday. I don’t know how she can stand those visuals so much so. I can barely write the stuff I do without having to stop and watch a Disney movie or something. She’s basically a brainchild of Tim Burton.
“Stop watching the video!”
Mayday shrugs. “I want to know why they made it, and who made it.” She clicks and frowns. “This is the only video on this channel. The channel’s name is the same as the video. TRIGGER’S FOLLOWERS. That’s just weird. But, still, look at all the views. And the comments are about us and this being a movie promo that was leaked.”
“That would never happen anyway, even if this was something in the movie.” Wren interjects. “I keep it all on a hard drive. It won’t go out until after the panel, after our true fans see it.”
“Look at the description, it says ‘those who respect it, willingly enter the void.’”
“What the shit that is beyond creepy.” I blurt out, keeping my distance from the laptop. I feel myself teetering on the edge. I need to get away and breathe. They didn’t actually unleash the manifestation of all the love and glory and pain of TRIGGER from me and my friends and the fandom...right?
“Ugh, that is gag-worthy clickbait.”
“But look at the views and the comments-“
Wren shuts my laptop, “Alright, chill. They don’t deserve any attention for taking our idea from the DNA, alright?”
Mayday scowls, and Wren rolls his eyes. He takes the remote and turns on the TV, sitting down on his and his brother’s bed, taking another twirler. I think out of all of us, he takes the over-the-top and almost copyright-infringing fan art to heart the most. Which is weird, but he is possessive about our creation, and I can’t blame him. We try to forget the video and start watching an episode of a shared favorite cartoon that is on. We quote the characters and the mood eases up a bit. Soon, Mayday is chucking a pillow at Wren and we all laugh.
Still, I look at my closed laptop warily. I have the urge to sage the entire room. Unfortunately, Uncle Lukas talked me out of it incase someone thought it was something else. Hell, I WISH I had some pot right now to calm me down.
Doc comes out of the bathroom, and claps his hands. He’s basically the ‘mom’ friend of the group, since both Mayday and I shouldn’t be trusted in actual directives. “Alright, kiddos, let’s go show some face.”
“And then can we goof off?”
“As long as you don’t set the place on fire.”
“Hey, ok, that only happened once.”
“It shouldn’t happen at all!”
Wren makes for the door behind Mayday and Doc. He shouts after them into the hallway.
“HEY, OK, IT WAS 3AM AND I FORGOT TO PUT WATER IN THE MAC N CHEESE. HONEST MISTAKE. RIGHT, DRU? CMON, SLOWPOKE!”
I glance at my laptop, knowing that that video is still there, paused, waiting. I pick up the laptop, keeping it closed, feeling like I’m holding a feral animal. Like this is the final connection of my mental pinboard with all the twine connecting the dots, that this is the catalyst to my fears of TRIGGER being real. I put my laptop to charge, and then follow my friends out of the room, out of the corner of my eye catching the shadows of the bathroom. I pull the door behind me shut, making sure it clicks.
We get to the lobby, and immediately a swarm of people in matching volunteer shirts are on us to bring us to the interview with the backdrop of the HELIXcon logo.
“Alright, so stand right there, in front of the tarp.” The host of this YouTube channel smiles at me as he takes me by the shoulders and jostles me as he sets me in between Mayday and Wren. Bright lights are trained on us and there is nowhere for me to hide from it. Oh, man. Excitement breeds with anxiety and turns into this hybrid that makes me feel like laughing or throwing up.
“Easy there, Dru, you look like a deer in the headlights.” Wren points at the playback screen facing us next to the camera. In the bright lights, the little versions of us blinking back look so small and vulnerable, but my eyes are the widest. They reflect the most light. Our shadows are creeping up the tarp behind us, they shift and waver, mine seems to be moving the most. I start to realize I’m hoping from foot to foot. I stop and turn up to look back at our shadows. Staring at the lights made orbs burn into my vision, and that makes sense with the colors in the shadows, right? It’s nothing else, there really is nothing else it could be.
I elbow Wren and turn back to face the front, but my stomach drops when I see them bringing another cardboard cut-out of TRIGGER. Oh, why do they have to do that? But, of course they would. No, please don’t bring this closer to me. No, please don’t do that. Keep it a least three feet left or right or in that trash can. I can’t stand looking at life sized things made out of cardboard, and this is no exception. This is definitely NO exception.
That’s why we’re here in these increasingly hotter lights. That’s why I have anxiety being here and not being able to delve into full con-mode, knowing that I am close enough to TRIGGER to be sucked back into it again. It having this name, it having this power, it only makes it stronger.
A bead of sweat rolls down the nape of my neck and down my back as they adjust the monster between Wren and I. I glance up at it. Did they have to make it life size to the point of it towering over me? I hunch over a bit more and startle at the microphone thrusted in my face.
“Gah!” I gasp and stammer apologizes as I swat the microphone and it clatters to the floor. “Ah, damnit, sorry, sorry, caught off guard. Gosh, I’m sorry, I didn’t break it, did I? I’m so sorry-“
“Dru, it’s fine!” Mayday puts a hand on my back, and smiles reassuringly. “Let’s finish this up and leave it here for some pizza, ok?”
I take in a deep breath, so deep I’m sure a vertebrae pops back into place, and then nods. “Thanks, Mayday.”
“Are you guys ready?”
I nod, trying to ignore the presence behind me. I smile and look at the camera, seeing all of our smiling, seemingly excited faces, staring back at us.
“Alrighty,” The host comes onto the screen. “We are here with the team behind the newest sensation hitting the nation, TRIGGER!”
There is laughter, there is banter, and I actually formulate full sentences that aren’t rambling on and on. On the screen of us all talking, I see motion behind me. I clench the mic harder and avert my eyes when one of those red eyes seems to wink.
I barely remember what was said and I excuse myself to use the bathroom. People stop and stare, starting to recognize me, and I pull the hood up on my jacket halfway through the walk, and shoulder my way into the restroom to keep my fists jammed into my pockets. My skin is getting static-y, electric. I’m actually afraid to touch metal.
There is a thunderstorm brewing inside of my head, ready to burst and crackle and sear me. I take in a deep breath, and then another. I go into the stall and go to the bathroom and then come back out to wash my hands. I scrub them clean, my mind starting to clear. I shake my hands free of extra water and pull my hood back down, feeling a bit better. I even manage an actual smile without the gnawing at my stomach.
I did it, I gave a bit of a talk that I’ve been preparing for the past month, that I’ve almost decided not to be a part of. But, at least, even with the little hiccup of me almost yeeting a microphone. Even with my eyes playing with me.
It’s not real, it can’t be real. It seriously, really, cannot be. No matter how much evidence I have, I’m just burning out. That’s it, I’m tired and still reeling from everything and the long drive and I just need to eat. That’s it, it’s not real. TRIGGER isn’t out there, lurking...waiting-
“Stop it, Dru.” I shake my head, scratching at my scalp. I shake it once again, for good measure to seattle my brain around. Cross a few wires back to normal. I stare hard at my reflection. “You’ve got this, it’s not there, it’s not coming. You know this, you are safe.”
I just need to take it as it is. I need to listen to my empty promises to myself, at least for now. I need more time. I need to stop letting it all get to me. I need food.
I turn around and go to leave, and someone enters the bathroom and I hit hard into them. It’s almost like a brick wall. I stagger back and take a breath. I look up at the person, and my blood runs cold.
The girl with the dead doll’s eyes from earlier is staring back at me.
We’re at a standoff, me and this girl with x-ray vision specs for eyes. I can’t look away from her, her jaw is set so tight it looks like it’s about to pop. There are lines in her forehead and in the corners of her eyes, completely clashing with the rest of her youthful appearance. She can’t be more than sixteen years old.
“Oh, uh, sorry? Excuse me?”
I take a step back and then realize that the exit is behind her. Her eyes are bloodshot, the white popping out with the dark circles around them. What does she want from me, my soul? She blinks once, the first time I’ve seen her blink, as the thought flits through my mind. I visibly flinch. Does she want my soul? Was that her way of acknowledging it? A twist in my stomach aches with familiarity. I don’t know her, I don’t know her face, but the way she’s acting is familiar. Is she on drugs? Is she a psychopath?
“Sorry. Sorry, I need to, sorry.” I step to the left, then skid back to the right, and then quickly push past her and back out. I glance back at the bathroom, shaking my head, and hurry to get back to my friends. As I speed towards them, I feel something like fingers graze the back of my sweatshirt. I pick up the pace and almost barrel into Wren as I come up and try to skid to a halt.
“Whoa! Where’s the fire?”
I take in a breath and look behind me, my back burning where they grazed my shirt. No one is staring at me. Nothing is there. But, for some odd reason, I feel like I’m dragging something along with me as we make our way out.