How do I know it’s him? Well, do you know that “don’t forget leg day?” workout meme? Mario needs better friends to remind him of that. What he lacks in height, he makes up for in upper body strength. That gives him some… lopsided physique, although I’d never say that to his face. It makes his silhouette easy to recognize—
—even in a dark room, with only my flashlight for illumination, aimed at the floor roughly between Mrs. Ortega and where his feet come to a halt.
I can tell that he’s naked, but that’s not what makes fright run up my spine.
There’s something about his posture; the way he positively hulks in the doorway.
The Mario I know may be a somewhat testosterone-hungry powerlifter, but he’s also a funny goofball who has a lot more game because he’s charming than his looks. He’s the kind of guy old ladies want to be helped across the street by, and tourists hand him their cameras to take photos of them. Should Kelly or I need a spider or other creepy-crawly evicted, Mario traps them under a glass and safely escorts them outside to continue their scuttling life.
What lurks in that doorway is a predator.
I may not be the most observant person, but I’m not stupid.
I’m also not going to become victim number two—three, the nasty voice at the back of my mind supplies.
I track the flashlight beam upward. My brain registers details but I refuse to let them get to me—blood… defensive wounds… bruises—until I reach his face. His upper torso and the lower half of his face—same as his hands—are dark and slick with fluids. His eyes—dark, wide, and empty. There’s no white left around the irises. Several veins must have burst, tingeing everything red, with spidery, black cracks running through them.
He doesn’t scream. I don’t even see him tense.
One moment, he’s hulking inside the doorframe.
The next, he’s hurtling toward me, two hundred pounds of murderous hatred.
I feel very ill-equipped to deal with the situation.
Rather than try to turn around and run away—which I’m afraid might have been the end of Mrs. Ortega—I step aside, almost falling over a chair that’s lying on the floor.
Mario goes right by me, through the open door into the hallway.
As soon as I find my balance, I grab the door, slam it shut, and sag against it.
Outside, I hear heavy footfalls continue in a straight line, followed by a crash. He must have run straight on into my apartment, likely ending up knocking over my flimsy kitchen table.
With my fingers shaking so much that it takes me three tries to get the number right, I call 911.
I look up just as the call connects.
Instead of the expected “What’s your emergency?” I hear a pre-recorded message stating that all lines are occupied and someone will be right with me—the usual call-center BS.
Instead of the horror of sharing a room with a presumably dead female body, I find myself confronted with two very much alive ones, hungry eyes fixed on me in the bright glare still coming from my phone.