Dream Walker Novels
Stacy Torrence looked at the yellow house with a well-manicured front yard and a covered front porch. The GPS on her phone told her that this was the correct address. The house is perfect, she thought. The price for the rented bedroom was amazingly cheap. It was just what she needed, which was good because it was all she could afford. She turned off the engine of her VW Bug and opened the car door. Getting out of her car, she made her way towards the house, admiring the yellow and pink flowers that lined the sidewalk.
Stacy was about five foot four, with long brown hair and pretty green eyes. On campus people often would assume she was younger than she was because she was so short and thin. She would politely tell them she was twenty one and they would always be surprised. Maybe someday she would appreciate looking younger, but right now she was tired of people always assuming she was just a kid.
The porch of the yellow house had an old rocking chair off to the side in front of a big window. She put her hand in her pocket and gripped her travel sized mace spray as she came to the front door. Sure the place looked absolutely adorable, but you never can tell these days. There was no law that said serial killers didn’t own cute houses.
She knocked with her free hand. A few moments later an older woman opened the door. She looked to be in her sixties and was about Stacy’s height, maybe an inch shorter. She wasn’t a large woman, but she wasn’t thin either. Her outfit consisted of purple rimmed reading glasses on the edge of her nose, Bermuda shorts and a T-Shirt that read “Go ahead…Make My Day!” She smiled and asked “Can I help you?”
“Uh, Hi” Stacy said in a tentative voice. “I’m Stacy Torrence. Yes, I’m here about the room. I called about it yesterday.”
“Why yes, yes, of course, Sugar. Hi. My name is Mrs. Whitting,” the old woman replied in a soft southern accent extending her hand. Stacy thought she had a strong, firm grip for an old woman. “Come on in.”
The inside of the house was very plain. They walked through the front room to the kitchen in the back. It was a small kitchen with old oak colored cabinets and a round table with four chairs gathered around it. The window curtains were open letting in bright sunshine and revealing an even smaller back yard. Mrs. Whitting motioned for her to sit down in one of the chairs.
“Have a seat. Can I get you somethin’ to drink? Sweet tea or Lemonade?”
“Lemonade would be lovely, thank you.”
“Good choice. Can’t go wrong with lemonade.” The old woman hobbled over to the fridge and filled a mason jar with ice and lemonade. She placed it in front of Stacy and then sat across from her.
“So, where are you from, Miss Stacy?”
“Virginia. I grew up in a town called Gainesville.”
“Haven’t heard of it. Is it close to Washington D.C.?” the old woman politely asked.
“Uh, well, close enough to maybe commute if you had to, but it’s pretty far out there to tell you the truth. I liked growing up there. It was peaceful.”
“Hmm.” The old woman replied. “Well, what brings you out here to Tennessee?”
“I’m going to school at Middle Tennessee State University. I’ll be a junior this year. I was staying on campus, and I saw your advertisement and thought it might be nice to get away from dorm life. You know,” Stacy said. She had chosen MTSU because they had offered her a scholarship that would pay for her tuition and fees, but it didn’t cover room and board. She hoped Mrs. Whitting wouldn’t ask any more questions about it. She didn’t want to have to explain that she couldn’t afford to stay in the dorms anymore.
“So, you are wantin’ to rent a room. Well, I have a few rules you will have to be aware of. The first thing you need to know is that I don’t abide parties or drugs or noise. I may be old, but my hearin’ is excellent.”
“No problem” Stacy replied. “I am not one to party. All I do is work and go to school. I really won’t be much trouble.”
“And I am a very private person. I don’t have time for a bunch of questions, and I don’t particularly care to hear about who you are datin’ or what crisis you are dealin’ with. I prefer my space, if you know what I mean.”
“Sure. I totally understand.” This was fine with Stacy. She had such a crazy schedule with work and school, she didn’t have time to chit chat with a lonely old woman looking for companionship.
“Very good. I just have one more question if you don’t mind.” The old woman paused. “Pardon my asking, but you look a little young to be off on your own.” Something must have shown on Stacy’s face because Mrs. Whitting quickly continued. “Now, nothin’ wrong with that. One day you’ll be grateful that you’ve got that young look. Trust me. I feel like I’m only twenty five, but I look like I’m sixty. Anyways, what I was gonna ask is, are your parents ok with you living off on your own?”
Stacy looked down briefly. “My parents died when I was young,” she said. She hated talking about her parents. They were killed in a car accident on the interstate when she was in fourth grade. She didn’t have any other family that she knew of. A nice older couple from church had taken her in and raised her as their own. They had been pretty old at the time, and by her freshman year of college they had both passed away as well. They had left her their VW bug and she was very grateful for it, but she didn’t feel like she really had any family left.
“Oh, I’m sorry, Sugar. Well, I’m sure they are proud of you lookin’ down from heaven, with you continuin’ your education and all. I wish I had gone to college, but when I was growin’ up, well, let’s just say it wasn’t my thing.”
“It’s ok. I was raised by a sweet older couple from my church. They’re gone now, too, but I am very thankful they were there for me when I needed them.”
Mrs. Whitting took a sip of lemonade. “Well, you are welcome here. It’s not much, but I like to think it’s nice and cozy. Here, let me show you the room.”
She stood up and the two of them walked out of the kitchen towards the bedrooms. Mrs. Whitting turned to the left and opened the door. There was a good sized room with a bed and a dresser in it. A big window let in lots of sunlight. The walls were a faded yellow. “You are welcome to use the furniture if you’d like or I can have it taken out.”
“Its fine just the way it is. Thank you. This is great.” Stacy said as she walked in and looked around. “It’s just what I was looking for.” She sat on the bed. It was soft and comfortable.
“Well, the walls need new paint. I don’t particularly care what color. If you want, I’ll make you a deal. If you agree to paint the walls for me, I’ll wave the security deposit in return for your help. I’ll even let you choose the color.”
“Sounds good to me.” Stacy was surprised at her good fortune. She was relieved to know that she wouldn’t have to empty her meager savings to pay for the security deposit.
“Great. Then it’s settled. ” Mrs. Whitting smiled and extended her hand. Stacy stood up and they shook on it.
They left the bedroom and headed back towards the front of the house. As they walked out to the front porch, Stacy realized she was still carrying her jar of lemonade. The few sips she had taken were excellent, and it was a shame to waste it.
“Anyways, you sent me the renter’s application already and everythin’ looks in order. When were you thinkin’ ‘bout movin’ in?”
“Would this Friday be too soon?”
“Of course not, Dear. That’ll be just fine.” She produced a key from her pocket and handed it to her. “First month’s rent is due when you move in.”
“Great.” Stacy answered as she handed over the half empty Mason jar. “I really appreciate it. Thanks for the lemonade. I guess I will see you on Friday.”
They shook hands again, and Stacy turned and started walking towards her car. Ok, so the lady dresses a little odd, she thought, but she seemed very kind and sweet. Then she heard the old woman talking.
“You know, the end is a comin’. Don’t you know it. Not long now. Sure as the day is long.”
She turned around, but Mrs. Whitting was climbing up the stairs. She continued to talk to herself as she reached for the door.
“Not long now. Sure as gas follows beans. It’s a comin’. ”
Stacy slowly shook her head and got into her car. As she put the key in the ignition and turned it she couldn’t help but think that Mrs. Whitting was sweet, but a little weird.
Later that night, in a city four hours away, a man named Larry Jenkins was busy working at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, or the CDC. He wasn’t a scientist. When he heard the term gene splicing, the first thing that came to mind was cutting up vegetables. He was a fairly simple man, average height, with a dark complexion and very short grey curly hair. He had a deep voice and big hands that his momma used to tell him would one day do big things. Well, big things hadn’t panned out like he thought they would when he was younger, but he was content working as the night shift janitor at the CDC in Atlanta. It was good honest work that paid the bills. What more could a man ask for?
Every night he made his rounds emptying the trash in the various offices and doing some light cleaning. Some nights if he had a little extra time, he would pull out the vacuum, but he was always careful not to disturb the piles of papers on the researchers’ desks. He had a coworker who had been fired because he tried to straighten up a pile of loose papers on someone’s desk. That was several years ago, but everyone had gotten the message loud and clear. You don’t mess with the researchers’ papers.
Larry was going through his usual routine cleaning from room to room and emptying the trash bins when he noticed something that didn’t seem right. There was a light on in one of the researcher’s offices. It was odd because all the lights were on timed sensors so by this late at night, they should have automatically turned off. After all, it was well past midnight. He tried the door, and it was locked. So he knocked politely.
“Anyone in there? Cleaning service.”
There was no answer. So, using his master key, he unlocked the door and was shocked at what he saw. There was a man lying on the floor, his chair tipped over behind him.
Larry immediately went to the man’s side and rolled him over. The unconscious man was still breathing and seemed ok. He must have recently fallen because his eyes slowly focused and he seemed confused.
“Easy there friend. You Ok?” he asked the researcher.
The groggy man slowly sat up. His eyes cleared and he shook his head.
“I must have fallen asleep or something. Guess I need to be more careful working late nights,” the man replied. He looked to be in his mid-fifties, probably not much older than Larry himself was. He was a thin man, wore glasses and was going bald.
“Here, let me help you up.” The older janitor helped the researcher back into his chair. “My name is Larry.”
“Thanks. My name is John. Dr. John Stevens.”
“Dr. Stevens.” Larry said. “You sure you are ok? You want me to call an ambulance or someone?”
“Oh no. No really, I’m fine. Just working too hard. Must have dozed off. Got a big project I am working on with a…well, a really tight deadline if you know what I mean.”
Larry didn’t know what he meant, but he nodded sympathetically. Now that the doctor was sitting up he was looking more normal, and Larry was already thinking about the rest of his shift and the work that was waiting for him.
“Ok man. Let me grab your trash, and I’ll be out of your way.”
“Thanks.” Dr. Stevens replied.
Larry went around the desk and grabbed the trash can. He carried it back out to his cart and emptied it in the large trash container, then brought it back in.
“So, why are you here so late?” asked Larry in a friendly way. He wasn’t used to seeing anyone there after hours.
“Oh, I’m working on a personal project. Can’t do it during regular business hours. Kind of a hobby of mine I guess you could say.”
Dr. Stevens seemed nervous. He almost seemed like he was trying to hide something; like he had been caught driving his parent’s car when they were out of town.
That’s odd, thought Larry. He wondered why Dr. Stevens seemed to be acting like he was guilty of something. Since 9/11 everyone was more vigilant about strange behavior; anyone could go off the deep end. Larry knew that where they worked, there was access to some pretty nasty stuff. He had been subjected to all kinds of security screening in order to get this job, and he knew about the dangerous diseases that were kept there. No one wanted one of those samples ending up in an envelope and sent to someone’s least favorite congressman or politician.
His suspicions must have shown on his face. Dr. Stevens immediately smiled and seemed more at ease. “Now, it’s nothing to worry about. Really. It’s just quieter here than at home, so I thought I could do my thinking better here. Not a big deal, right Larry?”
Larry chided himself quietly. Dr. Stevens seemed like a nice enough guy. Not everyone is a terrorist despite what the right wing lunatics would have you believe. This guy probably just wanted some quiet time at work away from home.
“Sure. I get it. No worries, Doc.” Larry returned the empty trash to its place under the desk. Thinking about the rest of the work that still waited for him, he decided he needed to get moving. If this guy wants to work late on a personal hobby, then let him. No skin off his back.
With that, he turned and left Dr. Stevens to his work. As the door closed, and when he was sure he was alone, Dr. Stevens let out a sigh of relief. This was the first time he had passed out at work. Time was running out. He had to work harder. He had to work faster. If he was going to save his own life, he would need to find a way to compress years of research into a few short months.