Sweet
Caroline
by E.J. Fechenda
laundry and straighten up the house. The mid-afternoon sun warms the interior of her car, cheering her even more.

Caroline pulls into the driveway and notices the front door is ajar. That’s odd; she thinks and gathers up her purse.
Stepping up onto the porch, the hairs quiver on the back of her neck. She hesitates, pulls her cell phone out and dials
her husband. The call goes right to voicemail. With a resigned sigh, Caroline steps inside.

As her eyes adjust to the interior light she looks for anything unusual. The floor in the mudroom is cluttered with shoes.
The air smells faintly of waffles and syrup from breakfast and the fish tank gurgles in the twin’s room. So far so good,
she mutters and urges herself forward. She proceeds slowly into the kitchen. The chicken is still on the counter
defrosting. She walks down the hallway and jumps when the floorboards creak. The living room is undisturbed, right
down to the Matchbox cars scattered on the area rug. The bedrooms and home office reveal the same normalcy.
Caroline exhales slowly only then realizing she has been holding her breath the entire time. She checks the bathroom
and quickly whips back the shower curtain—nothing. Her breathing comes easier until she eyes the basement door. It
looms in front of her, daring her to enter.

Feeling ridiculous, but reassured at the same time, Caroline grabs the biggest knife out of the kitchen and marches
down into the basement. As the dim mustiness envelopes her, her footsteps falter. She flips on a light at the base of the
stairs which illuminates the entire area. All seems to be in order and Caroline wished she thought to bring the hamper
down with her. At least she would have saved a trip to the washing machine. Caroline laughs at herself and walks back
up the stairs.

Chalking the open door up to the morning haste, Caroline shakes off the unease. She makes a return trip to the
basement with an armful of dirty clothes and chuckles again at her fear, which she has apparently never outgrown.

With the washing machine thrumming below, Caroline starts to prep the chicken. She’s busy stuffing the bird when she
hears the floorboard in the hallway creak. She stops and listens, the hairs on her neck begin to rise again. Silence
follows the creak, so she shrugs her shoulders and continues fixing dinner. A few minutes later she is washing her hands
when she a loud thump echoes out from the bathroom. Her heart rate kicks up a notch and she reaches for the knife.

She creeps down the hall and stops in the doorway. She takes a deep breath and goes in, her weapon raised and ready.
The shower curtain moves and she can’t tell if she created a draft or if something else did. Once again she whips the
curtain back to reveal an empty bathtub, except for a shampoo bottle lying on its side by the drain.

A nervous laugh escapes her lips as she returns to the kitchen and places the knife back in the cutlery block. She moves
towards the refrigerator and the moment her back is turned, senses a presence behind her. Labored breathing, not her
own, fill the room and goose bumps erupt over her body. She turns around; the two second process feels like an
eternity. A man she has never seen before is standing less than a foot away. His size is formidable and she can’t see past
him. Stubble blankets his jaw, which is hanging open. Drool hangs off his lower lip, a shoestring of saliva. Rancid air hits
her nostrils when he exhales. One glimpse at his unfocused gray eyes tells Caroline that this man is not all there. Fear
begins to settle in her bones.

Something bright distracts her and she glances up at the source. It’s her knife, in his hand, glinting in the sunlight. She
tries to scream, but her mouth is too dry. She wants to run, but her legs refuse to cooperate. She thinks of her family
because she can’t warn them and they may soon share the same fate. This is her last thought as the stainless steel blade
slices through the air and plunges into her chest.