A damask-rose dawn, hellish in its shocking pink, leached all the color from the stars as it spread across the sky. With the sun came bedtime. Down the throat went a Valium, chased by a cup of ice-cold Gatorade. The drowsiness came after, the muscles finally relaxed, tension dissipating, replaced by a soft sort of haze—if only for a moment. Turning off all the lights, even the pink neons, and the buttery yellow fairy lights, dousing the room with the cold thrumming air from the AC. Blackout shade lowered and curtains closed tightly. Finally, in the pitch black, it was time to get into bed.

Here, the fire consumed me.

Even with the icy air and the gulps of cold Gatorade, that fire burned through me, eating away at my bones until they felt brittle, as if I could snap with a touch. After an entire night of broadcasting on Gaminar, the streaming website that hosted my gaming channel, I felt weak and exhausted and overwhelmed from wearing the skin of a confident, bubbly girl who riffed off of negative feedback as if it was nothing.

But it wasn’t nothing.

It was everything.

Put some clothes on, slut.

Why is your smile so weird?

Did you get those scars on your wrists from cutting yourself for attention?

“Stop,” I whispered, covering my ears as if it would drown them out, but it did nothing. They were in my fucking head.

I wanted to sleep. I needed to sleep. I had work in six hours, and if I was going to make it through another day working for Duncan, the creepiest perv in all of West Hollywood, then I needed to keep it together and not be a zombie when I walked into his restaurant. He’d make a big show of pointing out everything wrong with me, too. Was my makeup too light? Too heavy? Why wasn’t my hair down? He liked it down; didn’t I remember him telling me so? Was my skirt fitting my tight body exactly as the employee handbook instructed? And was I still as athletic and toned as the day I’d been hired?

I just wanted to cry, but I didn’t have the time. Breakdown hour wasn’t until after work. Coming home, snapping open a can of beer, chugging it down to dull the sting of the tears. But it stung anyway. It always did.

And even though I tried not to cry, even though I did my best to just shut my eyes and go to sleep, the tears still trickled down my cheeks, wetting the pillow. I was stronger than this—and yet, I wasn’t.

Because even the hearts of lions are vulnerable when exposed.

My father used to call me Little Bird.

Little Bird with the hair raven-black, a sleek ripple in the calm ocean breeze; Little Bird with the little mouth, speaking gentle words in a voice soft as the cotton of the clouds; Little Bird of enormous eyes, the color of the bluest sky on a clear day by the ocean; Little Bird with the big dreams, a heart the size of the entire beach-side town, big enough to love everyone.

Little Bird still so little, only six years old when he clipped my wings.

He left.

Duncan was waiting for me. I kicked down the kickstand of my motorcycle and took off my helmet, eyeing him warily as he smoked a cigarette.

“Kindra,” he said, blowing out a puff of smoke. “Nice of you to finally grace us with your presence.”

I checked my watch. “I’m ten minutes early.”

“It’s just a figure of speech.”

It didn’t make any fucking sense, but whatever. He was my boss, and I needed this job, so I handled it the way I handled assholes on my stream chats: I smiled. It churned my guts and made me hate myself, but I was a girl from a small town who was trying to prove that she could make it out in the big city. I couldn’t go back with my tail between my legs. I just couldn’t.

I was a hostess at Duncan’s restaurant in WeHo. The dress code was, of course, ridiculous; tiny skirts, tight cropped collared shirts, unbuttoned almost all the way down, stockings, and high heels. The name of this magnificent restaurant? Knockers.

I knew what I was getting myself into when I applied. I knew the dress code. I’d even kind of known that the boss was kind of a creep. But I really, really, really needed the money, and Knockers paid their hostesses almost one and a half more than what the other restaurants in the area were paying. I guess if you want girls to trade their dignity for cash, you had to really give them something for it.

And I’d been parting with my dignity for a long fucking time.

“You need to unbutton one more button, Kindra,” Duncan said with a smirk.

Yeah, too long.

I undid the button as I made my way into the restaurant through the back door, almost running into Garrison, one of the line cooks. He grinned, easily maneuvering a tray of prepped vegetables around me.

“Trying to ruin a half hour’s hard work?” he called over his shoulder.


“Hey, chica,” said another voice from the kitchen. It was Rosa, another one of the line cooks. She was battering up some onion rings to fry.

“Rosa, hi,” I said, walking over to the employee lockers off to the back. I opened one and shoved my helmet in there.

“How’d your night go, Kindra?” It was our chef, George. He was grinning as he helped Rosa catch up with her order.

“Good enough,” I said as I fixed my hair. Helmet head wasn’t exactly appealing to customers. I looked over my shoulder, catching Garrison’s eye as he walked back with a fresh box of vegetables from the fridge. Six months ago, by complete accident, he’d caught me streaming on Gaminar. It was my biggest secret—and he’d found out. I begged him to keep my secret, and I mean begged. If Duncan found out, he’d never let me live it down.

Garrison was a pretty sweet guy. He kept my secret.

It was lucky that besides Duncan, I had a pretty strong group of people to work with. They were kind to me, and at this stage of my life, it was the best I could hope for.

I checked my watch, clocked in, and headed into hell.

“You got ID, kid?”

A 12-pack of beers was on the counter. My eyes flicked to the cashier’s face. He looked dead serious.

“Henry, I come here like every other day. You know I’m twenty-one.”

“Barely,” he said, cracking a smile. “Show me anyway. I like your picture.”

I dug out my wallet from my back pocket, pulled out the ID, and slid it across the counter. He was right; it was a pretty good picture. Henry picked it up, examined it carefully, and turned it around.

“How do I know this ain’t a fake?”

I rolled my eyes. “Just ring me up, Henry. I’m tired.”

He chuckled, handing me my ID back, and then rang me up. I paid, thanked him, and carried my beer out the door. My apartment was a short walk from the liquor store, just half a block north. The smoky, polluted air of East Hollywood filled my nostrils as I walked. Sirens blared, loud music played from apartments and houses, and a handful of kids loitered by the bus stop. Some were skateboarding in the parking lot behind the bus stop, practicing their kickflips. Their expressions were determined and alive, youth bubbling in their veins. I hoped they went home to loving parents. I’d never had that, and I wanted it so badly for every last kid out there.

When I got home, I put half the beers in the fridge and put the other half, two Red Bulls, and three grape Gatorades with a bag of ice into a cooler, which I rolled over to my room. I cracked open my first beer, guzzled it down, and wiped my mouth with the back of my hand. The distinct taste of beer was on my breath, and the bubbles seemed stuck in my throat. I swallowed, grabbed another beer, and in a couple gulps, downed that one too. My eyes stung as they pricked with tears.

I was so sad.

I was so alone.

I was so fucked up.

I crushed the beer cans, swept them into a recycle bin, and went to the bathroom. There, I took a hot shower, letting out a hiss of relief when the hot water pounded down on my sore shoulders. I scrubbed myself down, scrubbing until there was nothing left to scrub and scrubbing even after that, almost as if I could wash away all the ugly things that stuck to me. The stench of cooking oil and the hungry stares of middle-aged men and bills and insurance and affording even the basic necessities—like beer. Yes, beer was a necessity for me. I wouldn’t have made it this far without it.

I blow-dried my hair once out of the shower and then spent forty minutes carefully applying my makeup. Impeccably applied it, actually. Soft, arching brows; sweet pastel pink lips; nude tones for my eyeshadow; dark liner; mascara for big, voluminous lashes. I fitted on my pastel pink wig, which was so realistic that you couldn’t tell it was a wig unless I told you. And lastly, the black lace rabbit ears.

By the time I was done, I had become her: The Void Bunny.

Just ten miles north of Santa Cruz, you’ll find the small, sleepy beachside town of Davenport. Blink, and you’ll miss it.

I’d grown up there with a great love and respect for the ocean; from the coastal bluffs where I’d watch migrating whales as they’d pass through Monterey Bay every winter, to the kites that soared from Waddell beach, to the elephant seals that nursed their young just north of town. To the sea glass scattered along the beaches, to the swing that hung from the foundation of a whaling wharf pier that no longer existed, and to the glow of Pigeon Point Lighthouse, always guiding the sick and tired home. From exploring Shark Fin Cove, to trailing through the tall grass and wildflowers each Spring; it was a childhood that sounded almost idyllic.

It could have been.

If Daddy hadn’t left, maybe my mother would not have hated me. Maybe she wouldn’t have blamed me for everything. Maybe she wouldn’t have done all those awful, horrible things she did to me.

Maybe someone would have loved me as much as I loved the ocean.

If only he hadn’t left.

My online presence wasn’t large.

At just under five hundred followers on Twitter, and around the same on Gaminar, I could pull in at least 25-40 views on a stream on a good day. Friday nights like these were usually good days; most of the people who watched me were online, chilling at home, getting high or getting drunk, and watching me play video games as I entertained them. I’d just changed into my tiny black chemise and had pulled on the thigh-high sheer stockings. This was a part of my persona. Because I wasn’t me right now.

I was The Void Bunny.

She’s been a work in progress for the last seven months. Before her, I’d just been a gamer girl who’d come home after a long day, get the PC going, and then play games for hours until sleep would claim me. Now, I was making a little money off doing the same thing—but I couldn’t have done it as me. For just under fifteen years, I’d been beachgirl0304, the little girl from Davenport whose Gamertag was embarrassing, but I’d had it so long that it had just kind of stuck. No one wanted to watch that girl.

TheVoidBunny was created, but it wasn’t just a username. It was an entire personality. She was everything I wasn’t: bubbly, confident, smart, sexy, and talented. When I put on her skin, I could almost pretend we were the same person. She was someone who the Gaminar community was beginning to recognize, someone who was slowly making it in the streaming world. She played all the games I used to avoid. Outlast, Resident Evil, Until Dawn, Dead Space, Bioshock, The Last of Us. You get the picture. If it gets your blood pumping, scares you, or disturbs you, you can expect her to stream it.

Tonight, a new game had just been released.

Moondusk Hollow, a gothic-themed management simulation game that had been on my radar ever since it had been announced. It was set in a cute little 16-bit fantasy world that was dark, creepy, and adorable as hell. You inherited your own little castle from a long-lost relative, and then you were thrown into a world of building your own civilization, along with going on quests to mine for dark artifacts to continue the storyline and defeat an evil wizard. I’d been watching all the game trailers, getting amped up with every new release.

Finally, I’d get to play it. I had no idea, as I began to download the game, that my life was about to change forever.

“How you guys doin’ tonight?”

[felony265] sup bunny!

[uwuYAS] <3333

[staffsgt1987] Moondusk Hollow tonight, buns?

My three regulars, always ready in the chat. I shot the webcam a dazzling smile.

“Hey Felony, Yas, and Sgt! Yes, it’s finally Moondusk Hollow night! It’s already downloaded and ready to start. Let me just switch the screens around a little.”

[galagirl has joined the chat]

[anonymous has joined the chat]

[simpdudejk has joined the chat]

[galagirl] hey babe!!! It’s Gala from twitter! Saw your tweet. cant wait to see you play MDH!

[anonymous has joined the chat]

“Hey, Gala! I am so excited! And welcome to everyone else,” I said, using the software to arrange the window with my face on the bottom right corner of the screen. As it went live, some cheering emoticons went through my chat. I loved when my community got into the games I played. It made it easier to let loose and play.

Moondusk Hollow! Welcome player! Choose your save file.

[simpdudejk has donated $5!]

[galagirl has donated $9]

[uwuYAS has donated $3]

“You guys are so sweet,” I said, smiling as I picked the first save file and named it ‘TVB’ for TheVoidBunny. These donations were hopefully going to be paying for some of the bills I was late on. I really needed to stop spending all my money on alcohol.

[uwuYAS] love uuuuuu! lets goooo!

[anonymous has joined the chat]

[anonymous] slut

It felt like an icepick had just been rammed into my chest. Slut. My tiny black chemise and thigh-high stockings were just clothes. They weren’t an advertisement for how many people I’d slept with.

[uwuYAS] fuck off anon

[galagirl] anonymous is a pussy! cowardly asshole

[simpdudejk] wow wtf man. not cool. GTFO

[staffsgt1987] Get the F out of here Annie!

[anonymous] make me bitch

[anonymous has been kicked from the chat]

“Booted,” I said, and sat back, trying my best to look smug. Smug was better than hurt. I couldn’t ban anonymous users, but I could kick them from my chat for any reason. It wasn’t a lot of power, but it helped keep my chat clean and enjoyable for my regulars. With the anonymous user gone, I could almost pretend that it had never happened. My night was still young, and I could get through this.

[staffsgt1987 has donated $25]

[simpdudejk has matched staffsgt1987’s donation of $25]

[felony265] that was wild lol

[felony265 has donated $60]

[felony265] I was gonna spread that out tonight but you looked like you needed a smile, bunny

If I wasn’t The Void Bunny right now, I probably would have been crying, but TVB didn’t cry; she pouted, and those pouts got her donations. As the donations poured in, I let a small smile form on my lips.

“You guys are honestly the best,” I said, clicking Start on the game. “Let’s get into this, shall we?”

The community continued to talk in the chat while I was instructed to make my avatar. I created a 16-bit version of The Void Bunny, minus the bunny ears. There weren’t any headbands or hats available—yet. I hoped there would be some bunny ears later in the game. Stardew Valley had a cute mouse that sold hats later in the game; maybe Moondusk Hollow would have something similar.

[galagirl] I heard a rumor that the game dev Wade Deckard is going through Gaminar giving out large donations to the players! maybe he’ll come here!

Wade Deckard.

I’d heard of the game developer. He was mysterious, hardly had an online presence outside of a Twitter he only used to promote the game, and had apparently coded the entire game by himself before partnering up with Heylo Games, a publisher who provided him with more devs to expand the game and spiff it up for release. There was no background information available on Wade Deckard anywhere, and to this day, no one has even seen a picture of him. He’d participated in a Reddit AMA a week ago, and he mostly seemed like an average, nice guy. He’d only answered the questions about the game and had ignored all the personal ones.

Mysterious, indeed.

“Maybe,” I mused. “He’ll probably go to the bigger streamers.”

[galagirl] you’re a queen babe!! someday you’ll be one of them <3

“We’ll see,” I said, smiling. The game finally began. The home screen switched to a cut scene, showing a king and queen dueling against an evil dark force, wielding their light to fight his darkness. The darkness overpowered them both, leaving them crippled—and then dead. The evil force laughed, daring someone, anyone, to defeat him. He ghosted into a dark forest, disappearing to a tower in the distance.

The scene cut to The Void Bunny’s character setting up a display in a grocery store. She sighed, and a thought bubble popped up.

“I wish I wasn’t stuck at this dead-end job.”

Well, that was certainly relatable.

The Void Bunny continued stacking what looked like toilet paper rolls in a pyramid. Just then, a man in a black suit holding a briefcase walked into the store. He saw her and jumped, an exclamation mark appearing in his speech bubble.

“You must be the one, the only, TVB!”

I watched as the man in the suit informed The Void Bunny that she had just inherited a castle in a distant land. Along with the castle, she’d inherited a tremendous amount of land, making her instantly a powerful landlord. And since she was the next living kin, she was also now a queen!

“You must go at once! Your people need you!” the man said in his bubble.

The Void Bunny jumped up and down, hearts in her eyes. She was excited. No more dead-end job. Now she was the queen of her own castle.

[galagirl] omg this game is so cute

“Right?” I said, grinning. It was freaking adorable. The art style was similar to Stardew Valley, all cute pixels, but gothic and dark as it switched to The Void Bunny arriving by horse-drawn carriage to her creepy castle. Lightning was striking and thunder rumbled.

[anonymous has joined the chat]

[anonymous has joined the chat]

[anonymous has joined the chat]

[knightvest1 has joined the chat]

[anonymous has joined the chat]

[anonymous has joined the chat]

[daveyjonesl has joined the chat]

[anonymous has joined the chat]

People suddenly swarmed into the chat. Like, hundreds. The chat was blowing up.

“What the heck? Is someone doing a raid? It’s kind of early,” I said, checking my watch. Raids were when streamers sent their fans to another streamer after they were ready to sign off. I’d been raided a few times before, but never in the hundreds. And it was only 8 PM. Most streamers were just starting out at this time on Friday nights.

[uwuYAS] I just checked Twitter! Wade Deckard is on the move! He just tweeted your handle, bunny!!!

[WDeckard has joined the chat]

[knightvest1] WDeckard is Wade Deckard, guys! He’s here to DONATE!!!

I was stunned, my heart pulsing in the center of my chest. What the fuck was happening?

[WDeckard has donated $1000]

The chat went wild.

A thousand dollars? That was almost my fucking rent!

[WDeckard] Enjoying the game?

“Y-Yes,” I said breathlessly.

[WDeckard has donated $2000]

There were 5,000 viewers now. I’d had 109 once by sheer luck because of a raid, but never this. My hands clammed up, and my chest ached in fear. This was fucking terrifying. The Void Bunny mask was slipping, and I wasn’t even bothering to hold onto it. I was hyperventilating.