Don was elated as he walked home. He and Cassandra had come to a deeper understanding over their dinner. Or maybe he was the only one who had, realizing that for the first time in memory, he didn’t want to run away; he wanted to stay in this relationship, with this job. He wasn’t afraid of the future. He paused at the walkway to the trailer. Someone was at the door. Maybe one of Johnny’s co-workers didn’t realize he’d moved. Don introduced himself and asked if the guy were looking for Johnny. The man apologized, “Wrong house.”
“No problem,” Don said.
Monday morning, Don told an SR Assistant he was interested in moving to a FutureSim Living apartment. “Good,” she said, picking up the phone. “We can set you up with a realtor to sell your place.”
Don felt a bit nostalgic; he hadn’t considered selling the trailer. “Do I really need to sell it?” he asked.
“Suit yourself,” she replied, hanging up the phone. “I can give you the name of our rental agency.”
Friday evening, Don jogged past a rather odd-looking man chatting with one of his neighbor’s friends. Strange. He’d never seen that man in the neighborhood before, and he was a guy Don would definitely remember. However, there had been strange people walking around lately. Don continued his run, absorbed in pleasant thoughts and the energized feelings jogging gave him.
As he was heading home, Don passed the same man. Skinny, unnaturally so, with pasty-gray skin, and obviously trying to wear some sort of disguise. He gave Don goosebumps, and Don didn’t want to turn his back on the guy. He jogged slowly back to the trailer, listening the entire time for footsteps behind him.
When he got back inside, Don locked the door then made sure all the windows were closed and locked. Don wondered whether selling the place might be a good idea after all; the neighborhood was going downhill fast. He sat down on the couch to review the notes from the day, dozing off after only a few minutes. Don he awoke suddenly, the hair on the back of his neck raised, a cold and clammy feeling all around him.
Don quietly crept to the door. The strange man was there. Standing outside his door. Don felt slightly panicked and crept back to the far corner of the living room. He texted Cassandra, hoping the light from his phone wasn’t too bright. He was glad that he and Cassandra were going to Windenburg for the weekend. He’d have to ask Johnny if he’d seen the weirdo before.
However, Don was only reminded of the strange man Monday evening. He and Cassandra had spent most of the weekend dancing or discussing work. As much as Don wanted to spend time doing other, romantic, things, he understood Cassandra’s philosophy. Don fleetingly wondered if he were her first and only serious relationship as they cuddled on Johnny and Candy’s living room couch. Cassandra wanted to focus on her career for now; they were both still young enough that a family could wait. As Candy waddled through the living room, ready to burst, Don knew he didn’t want to risk an unexpected “bundle of joy.”
Don’s nightly jogs helped him keep his focus on work and off his romantic inclinations. He found that cold showers worked well, too. But the best cure was waiting outside his door. The creepy man was standing there again. Don hoped he hadn’t seen him, and then realized it was the guy Don thought was looking for Johnny.
He checked that the door was securely locked. Glad the guy hadn’t seen him, Don retreated to the bedroom and pushed the dresser in front of the door. He lay awake, afraid of what might happen if he fell asleep.
The next day was rough. Don drank a sleep replacement potion to get him through the morning, and decided to check in with Ned, the lab’s Assistant Director of the Gardens, during his lunch break. Ned cared for the cow-plants and was one of the most fearless sims Don knew. Don called through the locked enclosure. Ned tossed a brown-paper package into the cow-plant’s mouth and turned to Don. “Walk with me to the greenhouse, you look concerned,” he told Don.
Don explained what had been happening, trying to be as clear as possible.
“Well, what you are saying seems to be consistent with other reports. Strange-looking sims walking by and then stalking, especially between the hours of 2200 and 0300.
He typed some notes into his TAD. “Okay, when you get home tonight, make sure to lock all your doors and windows. We’re sending someone out right now to install security cameras, which will send a feed directly back to the labs.” Ned furrowed his brow. “Do you have a roommate?”
“No, he got married a few months ago and moved out.” Don was feeling alarmed now.
“Well, don’t worry about it. I’ve notified the Director, and you can go get some sleep now. If I were you, though, I’d keep an eye out. We’ve had reports of break-ins and –” Ned’s last works were drowned out by a voice on the intercom. He turned and left abruptly.
Don was able to get a good night’s sleep — rather a good day’s sleep. For the rest of the week, he slept during the day and worked on his formula at night. He still felt uneasy when the creeper stood outside his door like clockwork, concerned that he could get inside even though a security door and cameras had been installed.
The technicians had enabled his phone to access the security camera, and as Don watched the recordings, he was amazed to count at least three stalkers. What in the world did they want with him, Don wondered? Or was it Johnny and his stupid conspiracies that drew them to Slipshod Mesquite?
Don recorded the time and the appearances; he even assigned the stalkers identification codes. They always seemed to disappear as the sun rose. Don could only view the live stream of the security cameras and never seemed to catch them in the act of leaving. It was truly frightening, but as the weeks passed, Don became more angry than scared. He worked at the most powerful laboratory in the world and had resources available. These weirdos weren’t going to ruin his life. He was especially upset because Cassandra had told him of a new serum, and asked if she could stay the weekend — yes, she would be a final test subject, but there was (so far) a 100 percent success rate. She was ready to be fully involved with Don without concern of an unexpected “bundle of joy.”
“Woohoo!” exclaimed Don.
“Exactly,” blushed Cassandra.
Friday finally arrived and Don returned home to pack his bag for the weekend. He and Cassandra might not be able to stay at the trailer, but they could get away for a romantic weekend at Granite Falls. When Don walked up the steps, he wrinkled his nose. The whole place stank. Wreaths of garlic were hanging all around the trailer. He looked around; nobody was there, walked in and secured the door behind him. Don’s TAD vibrated. It had never gone off after work before. Don sat down in disbelief. He was being ordered to stay at home over the weekend. Ned wanted to test out his theory that the garlic would deter the stalkers. “Now these creeps are really starting to get me angry,” Don spoke aloud. “You hear that, stalkers? I’m ticked off!”
Don called Cassandra to let her know what was happening. She wanted to stay with him, but Don didn’t want to put her in any danger. “You go; we have already paid for a cabin, and I’ll stay here. They said they’ll teleport me to the labs if there is a break in.”
“I’m not going without you. I’ll let Candy know; I’m sure she and Johnny could use a little holiday. I’ll just stay at home. You’ll let me know if anything happens, promise?”
Don promised. He decided to omit the fact that Ned had told him to drink the sleep serum the field technicians had left on his nightstand at exactly 2000, and that it would knock him out for eight hours. Don knew all about the serum; he’d invented it, performing the final test two weeks prior. Ironically, he’d be the test subject before it went to the SDA. “Don?” Cassandra broke into his reverie, “are you still there?”
“I am, honey. Don’t worry. I’ll call you in the morning, and maybe we can go hiking around Oasis Springs — I can show you some beautiful places you’ve never seen. And I’ll even share some spots where I’ve found rare crystals.” Cassandra reluctantly agreed to the plan.