Lena Castillo shivers as she cowers behind the sofa that she demanded for her makeshift dressing room. The black-haired actress was preparing to go on stage when the killings began and six other celebrities had barged into her room. She recognizes Paige and Chace Morel from going to a few of their concerts and the towering Grayson Hezward was an old boyfriend. She scowls at the action star that she cheated on after he cheated on her with a masseuse. He pays her very little attention from his hiding place behind the overturned table. The other two intruders were introduced to her as Brian Chambers and Kenneth Boyd. Neither of them impressed her with Brian nervously pulling at his black hair and Kenneth looking like he was offended to be in her presence. After quickly telling her about the chaos outside, everyone had worked to barricade the door and take up various hiding places. It had been hours since anybody had spoken beyond the muttered whispers between Paige and Chace. From the few words that Lena could catch, Chace was not happy about being at the convention and was accusing Paige of killing his career by wanting to focus on her acting.
“It’s getting quiet out there,” Grayson says as she steps out from behind the table.
“The show is probably over,” Kenneth claims with a yawn. “I have to admit that they went all out with this prank. Though, I think they went over the top. It became really obvious that this whole thing was fake within the first ten minutes.”
“Are you insane?” Brian hisses, crawling out from under a chair. “You saw people getting their heads ripped off. One of the bodies even spurted blood on you, but you still think this is a prank.”
“It was ketchup,” Kenneth contends, pointing at the red splotch on his blue shirt.
“Shut up!” Grayson snaps, fighting the urge to knock their heads together. “We should find a way out of the building.”
“You saw that the doors are locked,” Chace says, fiddling with the cuff of his shirt. “I think we should stay here where we know it’s safe.”
“I like that idea,” Brain announces, raising his hand as if someone had asked him to vote.
“Drama actors,” Grayson mutters under his breath. “It might be safer here for now, but we’re screwed if we get trapped in here. There are enough things around the room that we can use as weapons. Just help me clear the door.”
Lena watches Grayson, Chace, and Kenneth begin taking down the large pile of furniture while Brian sits on a chair like a chastised toddler. She is sure that the cowardly actor is watching his life flash before his eyes. Watching Brian sit and whimper to himself, Lena already knows who she is going to sacrifice if she needs time to escape. It wasn’t a nice thought, but she had no intention of dying in the hotel. She is still deep in thought when she feels a gentle tug on her sleeve and turns to see Paige standing next to her. The young girl is obviously scared and there are signs that something had tried to grab her before she made it to the room. Still, the thin blonde was keeping her composure better than most of the guys.
“I didn’t get to introduce myself. I’m Paige Morel,” the girl says, extending her hand to the mildly amused actress. “Thank you for letting all of us hide in here. I know you didn’t like that we barged in without explaining ourselves, but we were all very scared and needed to calm down.”
“It was nothing,” Lena nonchalantly says with a shrug. “I was wondering what was going on outside and I was about to leave the room and check when you came in. So, all of you probably saved my life. It’s strange to hear that random people have started going on killing sprees.”
“It’s bizarre,” Paige emphatically agrees. “One moment they were friendly and happy people then they just snapped. I almost didn’t make it when a group of people tackled me, but Grayson helped me out. I’m glad he’s with us.”
“Gray is definitely strong and good to have in a fight,” Lena says, trying to hide the venom that she still holds for the large man. “So, why are you at the convention? This is typically for movies and television shows, so I wouldn’t expect to find a singer sitting in on a panel.”
“I’m not on a panel,” Paige admits, her cheeks turning red. “I came here to meet people and make some contacts to start an acting career. My brother does modeling when we aren’t touring, so I thought I would do some acting. You probably heard that he isn’t happy about it because he thinks I’ll become a big actress and leave him behind.”
“That does tend to happen,” Lena interjects, hoping the girl will stop talking about her personal problems. “Before you start telling me that you would never betray your brother, you have to realize something. You can keep your music going at the same time as your acting, but you will have to work the scheduling together. Eventually, your brother will feel like he isn’t that important because everything will have to be worked around your schedule. Fights will break out and you will be forced to decide between staying with your brother or following your acting career and a smaller solo music career.”
Paige stares at Lena, her mouth opening and closing without making any noise. “I . . . I thank you for being honest, but I’m sure I can find a way to do it all. It’s rather cruel to think that I have to abandon my older brother in order to reach my own goals. Family simply doesn’t do that to family.”
“To each their own,” Lena replies, flashing a friendly smile. “It looks like the boys are about to clear the door, which means we’re about to move. Excuse me while I hit the bathroom for a few minutes.”
Lena turns away before Paige can say anything and goes into the small bathroom that she had built in the room. She locks the door and turns on the loud fan to give her a small sense of privacy. Closing the toilet lid, she sits down and stares at the ceiling tiles. Having not seen any of the carnage outside, she isn’t sure what she should believe. She is sure that Brian is overreacting and Kenneth is being a jerk, but the sense she got from the others was that a lot of people were killed. A selfish survivor since childhood, Lena begins thinking about the usefulness of her companions. Kenneth and Brian were nothing more than fodder to be thrown to the enemy if they need a distraction. Grayson was strong enough to fight his way out of a situation, but she would sacrifice him in an instant if it meant she would live. Her opinion on Paige and Chace were that they seemed nice, so she might be inclined to help them if they were in trouble. It would have to be a situation where she could help them and still survive, but the siblings were in a better spot with Lena than the others.
“If only there was a way to get out of here alone,” Lena whispers, leaning back on the toilet and crossing her arms.
A choked cry of fear gets trapped in Lena’s throat when she looks up to see a shadowy head sticking through the wall. The shadow’s long hair hangs down, so that the winding tresses nearly touch the stunned actress’s nose. Slender arms push through the wall and press against it as the feminine shadow finishes entering the bathroom. It drifts to the ground where it stands in front of Lena and leans forward so that their faces almost touch. Lena is tempted to reach out to the shadow, but she thinks it is better to remain cautious.
“What the hell are you?” she asks in a low voice. The shadow’s head turns upside down as it examines her, so she assumes that the creature is mute. “You haven’t attacked me yet, which is a good sign. I can’t believe I’m talking to a shadow. Maybe I’m just going crazy and seeing things. The exhaust fan is messing with the light and my eyes are playing tricks on me. I could have even fallen asleep and this is a dream.”
The shadow hops into the air and gently lands in a crouch on the sink. Its hand drifts through Lena’s head and she feels a rippling wave of power run through her body. The shadow’s touch is cold and alien, but she can feel a comforting strength from the creature. It is a strength that Lena senses can make her feel invincible.
“Can you help me get out of here?” Lena asks with a grin. The shadow nods slowly and opens its arms for a hug. “If you try to do something to me, I will make sure you pay. Nobody fucks with Lena Castillo.”
The shadow cocks its head in curiosity at Lena’s words as the woman steps into the cold hug. Lena can feel the shadow sink beneath her skin and churn like a roiling river. At first, she can only sense the strength that the shadow has given her. It is a clear idea that she is stronger, faster, and more durable than a normal human being. Lena examines herself in the mirror and presses against her skin to reveal a black swirl just under her surface. A chilling voice begins talking to her, but she ignores its requests to kill everyone in the other room. She can tell that the shadow is surprised at the resistance that she puts up when it tries to convince her that she needs to kill the others.
“All in good time,” Lena coos, turning away from the mirror. “This will be more fun if we spread the killing out.”
Lena fixes her hair before unlocking the door and stepping out of the bathroom. She is surprised to find that the room is empty and several blunt objects have been taken. The shadow begins cursing at her, which causes her to roll her eyes. She begins looking for something to take with her in case she finds the others. It would be suspicious if they found her wandering around without a weapon. She is about to pull the extendable handle out of her suitcase when the door opens and Grayson steps inside.
“Thank god you’re safe, Lena,” he says, panting and sweating from his sudden exertion. “I thought everyone was with us when we left and then Paige told me that you were in the bathroom. They are waiting down the hallway in a closet. I told them to stay there while I came back for you.”
“That’s so noble and kind of you,” she says, her voice dripping with venom. “I almost forgot what a cheating bastard you are.”
“This is not the time or place,” Grayson calmly argues. “Besides, you cheated on me with two directors and a half of your costars. I may have made the first mistake, but you retaliated by becoming a slut. That’s all on your head.”
Lena backhands Grayson and sends him crashing against the wall. “Don’t you dare blame me for everything. I gave you a taste of your own medicine and I know you cheated on me more than once. I’m sure you had a whore at every movie set just begging for you to give her what was supposed to be mine.”
“How did you get so strong?” he asks in a daze.
“Good point,” Lena mentions, awkwardly cocking her head to the side. “I only needed you for your strength. If I’m stronger than you then I have no use for you. I’ll tell the others that we never found each other. It isn’t like any of them will come back here to look for you. Even if they did, none of them would believe I killed you.”
Lena grabs Grayson by the throat and slams him against the wall. Due to his height, she is unable to get his feet off the ground. She ignores his fists battering her arm and side as she climbs onto a chair and stands on the arms. Pressing Grayson against the wall, Lena tightens her grip and watches his eyes bulge. He struggles for a full minute before she starts to get bored and try to think of a quicker way to kill him. With a cruel smile, she pushes him against the wall until cracks begin to form. As soon as Grayson’s eyes lock on her face, Lena backhands him in the shoulder with all of her unearthly strength. His body tears at the neck and sails across the room, landing in a corner. She casually tosses his head over her shoulder as she steps off the chair.
“I should clean up,” Lena mentions, staring at her blood-soaked hands. She rushes to the bathroom to clean her hands and grabs her jacket to cover her bloody shirt.
Stepping into the hallway, she can see a few bodies scattered about in each direction. She finds a path of several bloody shoeprints that leads down the hallway toward a closet. Lena presses her ear to the door and can hear the sound of people breathing. She moves away and messes up her hair to make it look like she has been running. Making a small series of whimpers, she begins rapidly knocking on the door. She can hear a voice cry out in fear and she assumes it is Brian. The thought of killing the coward is quickly pushed from her mind, so she can continue her act of being scared.
“Are you in there guys?” she asks, her voice quivering. “You guys left me behind and I saw shoeprints leading here. Please let me in if you’re in there.”
“Keep the noise down,” Brian whispers as he cracks the door open. “We heard a group of people wander by a few minutes ago. Where’s Grayson?”
“I thought he was with you,” Lena replies, slipping into the closet and looking confused at the question.
“Grayson went back for you,” Paige mentions as she tightly grips a curling iron that Lena remembers having bought in London. “He told us to wait for him to come back with you, but I don’t know what we’re supposed to do now.”
Kenneth clears his throat and scratches his back with the chair leg he is carrying. “He probably found the people running this, so he is going to show up as one of our attackers. You know how it works with these pranks. Anyone who stumbles onto the truth is turned into a pawn of the manipulators. We should go on without him and wait for the point in the game where we have to kill him.”
“You have to be bullshitting yourself,” Chace mutters under his breath.
“I know exactly what is going on here,” Kenneth claims with a pompous smile. “This is a game that was put together for the entire convention with a handful of people left in the dark. We are being videotaped, so they can put together some primetime special. I guarantee that after a few more hours, we will be greeted by a man in a suit and handed release forms.”
“Then, shouldn’t we try to stay on camera,” Lena innocently says. “If it’s a prank then we are wasting precious minutes of camera time in this closet. If it’s fake then we are giving the killers a chance to corner us.”
“Without Grayson, we don’t have a leader,” Paige points out. “I’m not going to be in the lead.”
“Same here,” the three men say in unison.
“Well, don’t look at me,” Lena laughs, holding her hands out to show that she’s unarmed. “I say Brian takes the lead.”
“Wh . . . wa . . . No!” the shuddering man replies.
Lena places a comforting hand on Brian’s shoulder and stares into his eyes. “You’re perfect for the job. You are so wired and nervous that you are paying attention to everything around you. Your senses must be very acute right now, so you can sense trouble before the rest of us who are calmer. Once we see you running for a hiding place, we can follow your example and retreat. It makes more sense than putting you in the back where you can run away from danger without the rest of us knowing.”
“I’m not sure I agree with you,” Chace quietly admits. “Brian is more likely to wet himself and lead us into danger. He isn’t thinking rationally, if he’s thinking at all.”
“That’s why he’s perfect to put in front of us,” Kenneth chimes in with a friendly smile.
“Can you back me up, Paige?” her brother asks.
“Well, they have a point that Brian isn’t much use in the back where he can run away before the rest of us see trouble,” Paige timidly answers. “Still, you are right that we shouldn’t depend on him like a real leader. Maybe, and I hate saying this, we can use Brian like a canary in a coal mine.”
“It’s settled. Brian leads,” Lena announces as she pushes him out the door.