Josephine was torn from her thoughts when Alice started giggling. Josephine looked. William, the incredibly small miniature schnauzer, was trying, in vain, to scale the backrest of the limo chair. Up he would go…and back down he would slide. Again, and again, and again he would try and try and try. It wasn’t until the eighteenth attempt when he finally made it to the top. Once there he patrolled the top of the seat like a guard on duty.
Again Alice giggled as she watched the little dog go. For the second time that day Josephine had noticed a change in the former model. Her hair was not as wild as it had been before, her face was not as pale as it had been before, and she seemed far more at easy than Josephine had ever seen her before. Josephine was curious, sadly for the first time, about what really happened to Alice. How did she fall so far when she was so close to her goal as a model? She was curious, she wanted to know, but she didn’t know how to ask, at not without sounding insulting. So she remained sile
Josephine didn’t say a word the entire ride toward her apartment. Alice didn’t seem to mind William kept her entertained as he stubbornly, militantly kept his watch on the backseat palisades. When they pulled up to the apartments William jumped down on to the seat and leapt into Josephine’s open purse. She pulled it round her shoulder and opened the door.
Josephine stopped and back to face Alice. The former model had her hands clasped together and stared at her with wide hopeful eyes.
“I…I know it’s not my place to ask but…”
“Go on…”Josephine prodded.
“Could you…I…I mean would you mind……can you please bring your dog tomorrow?!”
Josephine was startled. Speechless. The child like enthusiasm had completely caught her off guard. That little dog had been a bigger effect on Alice than she would ever have expected. For a request like that Josephine didn’t have to think twice.
“Don’t worry,” she reassured. “He’ll be along.”
Alice clapped as a bright warm smile appeared on her face.
Josephine headed up to her apartment feeling just a little better about herself. In silence she rode the elevator up to her floor. She walked down the empty hallway right to her door. She had just taken her key out of her purse when William began to growl. It was that same unnaturally loud, unnaturally powerful growl that he had made earlier on at the studio.
The little dog glared at the door his teeth barred. Josephine felt her heart beat faster. Could someone have entered the apartment while she was away? Could the dog have sensed that something was wrong? Even though he’d never been to her apartment before? She wasn’t ready to call the police, still she would be cautious. Slowly she unlocked the door. Quietly she pushed the door ajar, just enough to peer through. That was all William needed. He jumped out of the purse and darted inside. She heard a clink, a clatter, a hiss, a growl, and something shatter.
Without a thought for her own safety Josephine charged headlong into her apartment. Vases and lamps were knocked over, carpets overturned, and paintings were now on the floor. She followed the carnage to the kitchen. William was on the floor growling at the window above the kitchen sink. Josephine saw it, but only for a moment. A dark shape sitting in the open kitchen window. Before she could get a good look it slithered out of sight.
Josephine rushed over to the window. Whatever it was, whatever had been in her home was gone. William trotted over to her side. She leaned over and lifted him into her arms. He nuzzled her face with affection. Again his presence calmed her. She had a late meal with her little friend she would call the apartment manager in the morning. She tried to call Willie once more. She hoped that she would hear Willie’s voice again, be able to share her thoughts and fears with him again. The phone was still disconnected. She thought about calling Willie’s mother. As far as she knew they still lived in the same house, she might be able to get him back on the phone. However it had been a long day and all she wanted to do was get to sleep. She took a long hot shower letting the warm water run over every part of her tired aching body. She dressed quickly and slipped right into bed. The moment her head hit the pillow she fell into a deep sleep.
Josephine sat at her breakfast nook, a steaming cup of coffee was on the table, her legs tucked beneath her. It was a calm morning, a quiet morning. She could hear the chirping of birds though the open kitchen window and the smell of sizzling bacon wafted in with the morning breeze.
BOOM, BOOM, BOOM!
Josephine slipped out of her chair and tumbled right on to the floor.
BOOM, BOOM, BOOM!
Her head ached, she had scrapped the edge of the table with her forehead. It took her a moment to realize what was going on. Someone was knocking on her front door.
BOOM, BOOM, BOOM!
Knocking really hard! She used the table to get back onto her feet and hurried over to the door. She opened the peep hole and peered outside. Though his long curly hair was matted, his clothes torn, and his face a mess of dirt and blood Josephine recognized him right away. She unlocked, unbolted, and through the door open. The young man tumbled into the doorway with barely the strength to stand.
“Willie?” She gasped as tears welled up in her eyes. “What are you doing here?! What’s happened to you?!”
“Had…had to come…” Willie gasped. “…had…had to warn you of the…the danger…”
For the second time that morning Josephine felt like she was falling. Willie’s legs collapsed and he fell right on to his knees.
“Come on Willie…” Josephine she prodded as she tried to help him back on to his feet. “You’ve got to lie down before you fall down!”
With one arm under his shoulder she slowly guided him over to her bedroom. He stopped by the bedside and shook his head.
“Oh no, no, no…” Willie protested. “…that wouldn’t be right…I’m too dirty…”
Josephine groaned and shook her head.
“For Pete’s sake Willie! You traveled across the country to see me, and you’re badly hurt! A little dirt on the sheets is no big deal!”
Carefully she helped Willie into her bed. She leaned over him and brushed his hair from his eyes.
“When I said that I would come to see you…this was not what I had in mind.”
“That’s OK.” Josephine sighed as casually as she could fake. “It’s not that often that I get to have a man in my bed.”
His cheeks turned bright pink.
“You’re still so easy to get to!”
Willie tried to sit up in bed grimaced then sank back down again.
“Joe,” He whispered. “you’re in trouble…you’re in great danger!”
“Danger?” Josephine repeated the bravado gone. “What are you talking about?! What’s happened to you?!”
“It hurt…”He winced in pain taking quick shallow breaths. “It took a lot out of me just to get here!” He took a firm but gentle hold of her right hand and stared into her eyes. “Please believe me they’re in the city now. Believe me they’re after you!”
“Who?” Josephine exclaimed. “Who’s after me!?!”
It took a long painful moment for Willie to reply.
The incident at the studio, the break in at her apartment rushed back into her active memory. The shadowy figure that she’d seen over and over again. A cold chill went down her spine. It wasn’t just her imagination, or a coincidence. Someone was following her. Was the intruder at the studio one of these stalkers? Just what did they want with her anyway?
The birds fell silent, the temperature dropped, and the sky outside became as dark as night.
“Not much time now!” Willie gasped as he again winced in pain. “Dream stalkers! They call themselves Dream stalkers!”
Josephine heard a sound by the bedroom window. Like the rustling of dry leaves on a fall day. Slowly she turned around. Long thick inky tentacles of solid smoke were tumbling through her bedroom window. Miniature bolts of blue and white energy shot between them like lightning in a thunderstorm. It turned towards them growing as it came nearer. William tugged on her arm, she very nearly fell right on top of him. They were now face to face.
“Dream stalkers!” He desperately repeated “You must remember…they call themselves Dream stalkers!”
Josephine nodded. She glanced back. The black smoke was closer now.
“I’m…so sorry Joe.” Willie quickly added. “Sorry for doing this but it’s…the only thing I can think off…to protect you…”
“Sorry?” Josephine repeated. She turned to face Willie. “Sorry for wha…”
There was no way she could have anticipated it or responded. Willie, shy Willie, had jumped forward and kissed her. She felt his lips touch hers. Her heart rate jumped, and her temperature rose. The shock of the kiss, the flood of emotion broke the spell. Josephine blinked, gasped, and found herself back in her own bed. She sat up in bed and looked around the room. Willie was not there. William, the dog, stood by the foot of his bed.
She rubbed her eyes with both of her hands and sighed.
“It was just a dream. Just a dream.”
Slowly, reluctantly she got out of bed, got dressed and sat down at her little nook for a quick breakfast. It was still very early so the sun was not up yet, and unlike the dream it was still dark out. The window was open but no birds were chirping out there. Only the sounds of life in the city. Car strips from her plate, which he happily gobbled up.
“You wouldn’t try and steal a kiss would you William?”
The dog cocked its head to the right, as though in thought. Josephine glanced at her watch. It was time. The limo would be there soon. She finished her breakfast, scooped up William, placed him into her purse, and with that purse in hand she walked out the door.
As she had expected the limo was there waiting for her. Alice was overjoyed to see William again and the feeling seemed mutual. Carefully Alice lifted William onto the back of the seat and he began keeping his post.
“Thank you.” Alice said as she dabbed at her eyes. “I…don’t know what it is about that dog but…I haven’t felt this good in a long, long time.”
Josephine didn’t know what to say so she just smiled back.
They rode on in silence for a few minutes. Alice was the first to speak.
“I’m…worried about you dear.”
“Yesterday.” Alice added. “The man in the mask, you know.”
“Most people don’t believe me…” Alice continued. “But I have had more than my…share of stalkers…”
Alice’s lower lip quivered.
“Yes…” she sighed mournfully. “…like the accident.”
“I’m sorry!” Josephine quickly interjected. “I didn’t mean to…I mean it’s really not my place to…”
“Nobody really listens anymore.” Alice continued. “Not even my family. Everyone at the agency avoids me. They probably think I’m crazy…” she paused to stifle a little laugh. “…maybe I am!”
William stopped his patrol right beside Alice and gently nuzzled her hair.
“He’s a good dog.” Josephine added. Alice smiled and scratched the little Schnauzer behind the ears.
“I never saw the driver…” Alice continued. “He fled the scene…but that’s when I started to see them. My stalkers. They were always in shadow, I never saw their faces…if they were ever real.”
Alice sighed. William kept his post and did not move his gaze though was on the world outside the window.
“My therapist doesn’t believe me…don’t really blame him.” She looked down at the floor of the limo. “He calls them my “Dream Stalkers”. Waking dreams, fears and…”
“Wait!” Josephine interjected. “Wait!...What did he call them? Your therapist? What did he call your stalkers again?”
Alice hesitated, but just for a moment.
“Dream Stalkers.” Josephine repeated. “Dream stalkers.”
“It’s one of those weird internet…story myth…things.” Alice continued. “One of those things people keep seeing more and more of lately. Usually people who suffered some kind of trauma. I…don’t really understand it myself. My therapist just used as…a way of explaining my…condition.”
“Dream stalker.” Josephine repeated again. “I’ve…never heard of them…until recently that is.”
“Neither had I.” Alice added. “And from what I’ve heard about them I wish that I had never had heard about them at all.”
Josephine leaned forward in her chair and folded her hands across her lap. Though she didn’t want to show it, she was scared. The incident at the studio had made her uneasy, the break in at her apartment only made things worse, and the fact that Alice’s ideas now made some sense to her was truly frightening. Her more…sensible half was urging her to drop the whole thing then and there. It was just a series of unconnected freak events and the power of suggestion. Nothing more. Delve any further, the voice warned, and you’ll be babbling nonsense and manning a desk just like Alice.
On the other hand there was something that made her doubt her usual clear cut view of the world. It was the kiss. Why the kiss? It wasn’t something she could explain, not even to herself. It was so unlike Willie. Perhaps, she wondered that’s just why he did it. The shock was just what he needed to wake her. The goose bumps on his skin told her there was something more to it.
She thought about sharing her thoughts, dreams, and worries with Alice. She just wasn’t sure if she should. Yet.
The closer they got to the old theatre the more quickly William paced around the back seats of the limo.
“Keep an eye out for that…set director.” Alice whispered. “I’ve got a bad feeling about him.”
The limo pulled up in front of the old theatre. Josephine carefully finessed William into her purse and followed Alice out the door.
“There they are! There they are!” The stout man exclaimed as he rushed out to greet them.
He wore shorts that were even shorter than the one he wore the day before. He had another obnoxious shirt, and his ever present sunglasses were on his face.
“Busy, busy day!” The stout man gleefully announced. “Come on, come we need to get started!”
Josephine and Alice followed the set director into the lobby. They headed toward the auditorium. The receptionist looked up from her work, she hurried toward Josephine, and grasped her right hand with both hands.
“Such a pleasure to meet you!” The woman warmly announced with a strong British accent. “I’ve seen you work, and hope to see more!”
Josephine nodded. She felt something being pressed into her hand. Something that felt just like a piece of paper. The young receptionist nodded released Josephine and quickly headed back to her desk. Josephine slipped the wad of paper underneath her belt. They entered the auditorium. All cameras were centered around one of the smaller sets. The cast and crew stared at the two women when they caught sight of Josephine.
“Today we photograph…the origin story of The Blaze of Glory!”
The cast and crew clapped loudly.
“So I guess…no uniform today?” Josephine interjected.
“Not for the first half of the shoot.” The stout man confessed. “Your…outfit is waiting in your dressing room.”
Alice and Josephine knew the way well and this time were not escorted. Again Alice elected to remain outside of the dressing room. Inside the dressing room Josephine found a patrol officer’s uniform.
“So…” Josephine.” Thought aloud. “She was a police officer.”
Josephine placed her purse on the dressing room desk. She undressed and donned the police uniform. As she was slipping on the shoes she noticed a ball of paper on the floor. It was the one that the receptionist had given her. She carefully unrolled the ball. There was a square with a series of black and white squares within it. It was an image meant to be scanned and viewed with her cell phone. She snatched her cell phone from her purse and scanned the image. An image appeared on her cell phone. A skull and crossbones under which was written one word. Danger!
Josephine tossed the ball of paper into her purse. Could this have been a joke, she wondered, some kind of prank by the receptionist perhaps? Just a little something to worry her and trip her up at the photo shoot? But why? For what reason?
William poked his head out of the purse and stared at Josephine.
“Keep your eyes open!” Josephine playfully instructed. “I…I’ve got an uneasy feeling about the shoot today…”
“Come on,” Josephine sighed as she picked up her purse. “Let’s get this over with.”