Violent trembling seized her limbs as Laina ascended the final steps to her floor. Terror amplified each scuff of her boot sole. She gripped the banister’s corner and squeezed the peeling surface until it threatened to slice into her palm. With hard swallow, she leaned from the stairwell. Darkness veiled the halls in either direction, except for the elevator’s faltering light. Silence buzzed in her strained ears as she ventured away from the landing.
She aimed the mace canister in furtive directions around her as she walked toward her hallway. A faint thump repeated in the corridor. As she neared the elevator wing, the sound clarified. Laina crept toward the wavering light and peered around the corner. Her floor number blinked above the elevator as it yawned to expose its inner glow. After a moment, the opening shrank to thud at a gap in the center.
Something’s stuck in the door.
Laina scanned the dim halls–floors and walls to either side loomed motionless as crypts. She turned into the wing and approached the drumming threshold.
Thump. Her breath froze, hovering in her nostrils and stinging her chest with each step toward the next beat. Thump.
She arrived as the steel facade closed around the upturned sole of a sneaker. The door retracted to display a young woman’s blood-spattered body splaying limbs akimbo across the elevator floor. Except for one leg stretched to position her foot in the closing doors.
Laina gasped. The irony-sweet odors bored through her senses. Her stomach lurched. She clamped a hand over nose and mouth and darted from the wing. The left half of the corridor remained clear to the door of her apartment. She glanced toward the stairwell. A shadowy figure loomed at the end of hall. A butcher knife blade glinted in the landing’s faint glow. He approached and waved it like a condutor’s baton in rhythm with his whistling.
Ashes, ashes … We all fall down.
Laina raced toward her apartment. Heavy footsteps whomped through the corridor behind her. Her quaking hands rattled the keys. She skidded to a stop in front of her door. The pounding boots neared.
Don’t look up.
She jimmied the key into the lock and fumbled her knob open. With a jerk, she yanked the toothy metal clump out of the handle. The serrated edges clawed into her grip. She whisked inside and turned to slam the door on a masked stranger wearing a carved, maniacal sneer. The knob twisted, clacking its hasp. She leaned her weight against the surface as it pressed inward. The panels ground against her shoulder. She dug her boots against the floor and lunged hard into the door. As soon as the hasp clicked, she flipped the bolt and twisted all the locks.
The knob twisted vigorously. Pounding thundered at the outer surface. The door shook, threatening to burst from its frame.
Laina backed away from the threshold. She dumped her purse on the floor and drew out her cell phone. Jerking at each whomp, her fingers struggled to point steady at the numbers.
“9-1-1. What’s your emergency?”
Her throat constricted her voice into a squeak. “Somebody’s dead. I think I might be next.”