An excerpt from

Only the Strong

Corin could tell something was wrong. Her home had an energy. An aura. It was as if she could sense a disturbance in some type of force. She never understood why some people laughed in her face when she shared such feelings. A friend had once explained that it was in reference to some popular film, but Corin had never been interested in stories or games.


All she cared about was increasing her quality of life and furthering her own knowledge. At least,
those were the only two things she could allow herself to care about right now.

 

Her fiancé, Blake, had been boring her to tears lately, and she didn’t fully understand why. But that
was an issue to contemplate at a later date. All her brain power had been used up for today.

 

She slowed the Subaru in front of their jointly owned condo and whipped into their single reserved parking space, which Blake had insisted she use. He was always making nice little gestures like that. It made him hard to hate. And she didn’t really want to hate him. She simply wondered if Blake, soon-to-be doctor, was truly the man with whom she wanted to spend the rest of her life. Her doubt about him was hard to quantify. Blake looked great on paper. But there was something missing. Some spark that had either burned out or was never there to begin with.
 

Thoughts of Blake and their eventual nuptials filled her attention for the rest of the walk inside
and up the stairs to her condo. It was a two-bedroom unit, but all the dimensions had been shrunken down. It made her feel claustrophobic, as if it was one step above a cardboard box.

 

She pulled out her knife and released the spring-assisted blade before placing her key in the lock
and going inside. She shut the front door behind her without turning on the lights. Then she stood in the threshold, waiting, the knife up in a fighter’s stance.

 

She listened for sounds of an intruder, but the constant murmurs of the city around her made it hard to distinguish between the yuppies cackling at the bar around the corner and the slow, deliberate steps of a stalker.
 

Thirty seconds passed.
 

Forty-five.
 

She flipped on the lights.
 

One good thing about living in a shoebox was that you could look from left to right and pretty
much see the whole place. It made searching for an intruder easy. She scanned both bedrooms, checked the tiny kitchen and eating area. All clear.


But should she take it a step farther?
 

A voice that sounded an awful lot like her sister Samantha whispered, Don’t be an idiot. You’re just being paranoid over some stupid prank and a fake article. The whole thing was probably a trick to drive in ad revenue for a fake website. The same trick that all of those faux celebrity death articles capitalize on.


But still, Corin didn’t move.
 

Should she check the closets?
 

Samantha’s voice in her head replied, And then what? Under the kitchen table?
 

She wished Blake was there. He would have gladly checked the house for her. And, if the man in the skull mask was waiting in the shadows, Blake would die first, giving her a chance to escape.
 

Waiting a few breaths longer, she stuck the folding knife into her pocket. Refusing to give in to irrational fears, she threw her keys and purse onto the counter.
 

But, again, a small voice against the back of her neck told her to, Check the closets.
 

The skull face popped into her mind.
 

Pulling out her phone, she tried to check her Twitter account as if everything was normal.

 

Part of her subconscious whispered, Just get it over with. Like pulling off a band-aid.

“Ughhhh! Fine,” she said aloud.

 

Pulling out the knife and extending the cutting edge, she marched into her bedroom and ripped
open the closet door, ready to plunge the blade into Skullface’s chest.

 

Nothing jumped out at her.
 

She probed the depths but found no signs of life. Feeling like a frightened child, she moved to the
closet in the spare bedroom.

 

She tore open the door quickly, just as she had with her own closet, the knife leading the way, ready to bury itself into any terror that may lurk in the shadows.
 

But this time, as she pulled open the bi-fold door, a dark form erupted toward her. She didn’t even have time to scream before it was on top of her.