“Surprised!” Grayson typed in the caption box under the selfie he just posted. It was part of his “emotional expression” series of self-portraits he was posting on his blog, a reaction to a casting director who recently said his facial expressions weren’t subtle enough for on-camera work. Jerk.
The doorknob on his apartment door rattled. He clutched the phone in the palm of his hand and rose from the couch. It was too early for his roommate Elijiah to be back from the movie premiere.
Metal on metal clicks, a catch and the bolt sliding out of the lock. He tried to peer through the peephole but saw nothing but the reflection of his own eye.
“Elijiah?” No answer, just the sound of his own light, quick breathing.
The door handle turned, and Grayson put his hands out to hold it shut. But the force applied on the other side was too strong for him to counter. He watched helplessly as his feet slid back on the entryway linoleum and the door swung open.
Grayson didn’t recognize the man. Tall, shoulders as broad as Elijiah’s Prius, black hair and dark brown eyes. Good looking but too old to be Grayson’s type. One of Elijiah’s kinky daddies maybe?
Then Grayson saw the man’s fingers were curled around the handle of knife with a nasty curved tip.
Grayson was seriously under-armed and out of his weight class. He’d have to go for ingenuity. He grabbed his keys from the nearby table and rushed the man, aiming the sharp metal ends at his eyes. The man slammed his palm into Grayson’s shoulder, blasting the keys and the phone from his hands and onto the floor. Then, with a smooth, trained movement, he knocked his fist into Grayson’s jaw, caught him as he reeled back and dragged him to the couch. Grayson went limp against the cushions with fear while the man bound his hands and feet with zip ties.
Satisfied Grayson wasn’t going to move, the man picked up the phone and swiped at its screen. Knife in one hand, he held the phone up and the flash went off.
“You can call this picture ‘fear’,” the man said. “Should I post it?”
He turned the screen around to show Grayson a picture he hardly recognized of himself–eyes bulging, mouth gaping open, split lip starting to swell.
“You’re sick, ” Grayson spat.
The man leaned in, his curly black hair tickling Grayson’s nose and filling it with the smell of herbal shampoo. Grayson pulled his knees up, hoping to find enough leverage to connect with the man’s balls. Then a sharp pain bit into the underside of his forearm and his legs went slack.
Tears sprung to Grayson’s eyes as two drops of blood slid off the knife and onto the beige carpet.
“What do you want?”
The man held up the phone again and took another picture. “This one is called ‘pain.’” He showed Grayson the image–watery eyes, color drained from his face, lips pressed together tight. Grayson’s breathing was light and shallow, sticky blood pouring out of his arm. He struggled against the zip ties and fell onto his side.
“Now, now,” the man said, swiping at the phone. “You’ve already got five ‘likes’ from your friends for the fear photo.”
He peered at the screen closely. “In fact, Lisbeth says you are a brilliant actor.”
Grayson could see his blood streaking the sofa. He was already feeling light-headed. He squirmed and inched his way to the far side of the couch, trying to get enough distance between them to land a kick on the man’s abdomen before he could do any more harm.
So, let’s try the ‘pain’ one again. The first one wasn’t your best work.”
Grayson rolled on his spine and kicked out his feet into the man’s gut as hard as he could. The man grunted and stumbled backward against the kitchen counter. The knife went flying, hitting the flatscreen TV before falling to the carpet with a thud. Grayson fell from couch and reached for the knife, cutting the zip ties and placing the knife under the man’s chin.
“Who in the hell are you and what do you want?”
“Cool it, man. Cool it. Elijiah sent me. I’m Ryan from Actor’s School. He said you were trying to tap into your deepest feelings. He wanted me to help. He thought you might even find it a turn on.”
Grayson let the words sink in. Ryan from Actor’s School. Elijiah’s method actor friend he was always talking about.
Ryan smiled at him. “Fear is the real deal, isn’t it? Clears the mind.”
Grayson looked at the wound on his arm. Already the blood had stopped flowing. The cut wasn’t as deep as he thought, though it still burned.
Grayson felt the laughter in his belly first, shaking his core and then erupting from his swollen lips.