Fiction Thriller Suspense

This story contains themes or mentions of physical violence, gore, or abuse.

We broke into her house through the kitchen window after James said, “I can see it now. There’s no one in there.”

Inside, I learned that sounds are louder when you’re trespassing. I heard my blood moving; it raced all around my body and up into my head until my temples pounded to the beat of my rapid pulse; a hundred fists banging on taut drums. Thump. Thump. Thump. 

My mind, a place I’ve never understood, was always getting into accidents. James lit up the mustard yellow kitchen with a light fob as my thoughts crashed into each other. My body, a vehicle transporting a lost soul, followed him to the living room, where the laptop was. How was it that I was able to go deeper into her home when half a dozen voices in my head were screaming for me to leave? 

Four women lived in the house; four bitches is what James said. Lauren - she’s the one from my Poetry 202 class - had a MacBook Pro. I never thought I’d take it from her or that I’d commit a B&E, but my mom always said you are who you hang out with, and James was my leader. I worked part-time as a telemarketer for the Bay Area News Group (BANG), making minimum wage cold calling people at dinner time. It was miserable; that was part of it. The other part of it was that Lauren ignored me. She didn’t recognize that all of my poems were for her. She didn’t even notice that I existed. 

James didn’t go to SFSU like me, but I knew him because we went to the same high school for a little bit before he got kicked out for fighting. I guess we were friends. He was a waiter, but he wanted to sell weed. He told me girls like money and that if I sold weed with him, we would make a killing. I’d never sold weed, and now that I think of it, none of my weed dealers ever had women around, but it’s too late to change what we did now. 

 I followed Lauren home several times, so I knew where she lived and who she lived with: Mindy, a softball player; Ashley, a hot blonde and Anita, a nerd. You can find out a lot about people by stalking them. You have to understand - I was sick of being ignored by her - tired of being a sophomore and not getting laid - so when James told me that he had a connect who would give us money for laptops, I told him I knew where we could get some. James had it all mapped out; we’d steal all their electronics -whatever we could find - and with the money we’d get from the connect, we’d buy a pound of weed for $1,600. I didn’t ask further questions. All of it was my fault. 

The kitchen had linoleum flooring, but the rest of the house was carpeted. My feet felt sticky on the linoleum and quiet on the carpet, but that didn’t do anything to calm my nerves. Lauren’s MacBook Pro was on their cheap wooden coffee table. There were two black leather sofas and one of those fake plants you see at a dentist’s office in between them. I looked out a blindless window at the San Francisco fog, which turned night gray. 

James’s light fob lit up a small section of the room until we heard footsteps on the stairs, and he turned it off. I dropped to the floor, hiding between one of the sofas and the coffee table. James tip-toed underneath the stairs, so the girl coming down them couldn’t see him. When Anita got to the landing and turned the corner, James punched her in the face. Her body slammed into the wall behind her, and she collapsed to the floor. The sound was loud enough to wake the others.

I wanted to shout at him, “what the fuck are you doing?” but all I could do was hold my breath and watch. He grabbed her arms and dragged her limp body away from the stairs. She was wearing white flannel pajamas with black piping. Her nose was busted and bleeding. James dropped her a few feet from me, then got down on one knee and surveyed her face. 

“Here,” He said, handing me the laptop from the coffee table. 

I quickly put it in my backpack, “Let’s get outta here.” 

“Fuck that,” He said, his hand touching Anita’s left breast, “We need another laptop or an iPad.” 

We both stood up and looked around the living room, but there was only the TV; that wasn’t going to work.

“Stay here,” James ordered, “Don’t let her make a sound.”

He left me and ascended the creaky carpeted staircase. You have to understand that I didn’t want any of this to happen; we were just supposed to get the laptops and bolt. I didn’t want to be standing above Anita, watching her face turn black and blue. I panicked. One of the voices in my head told me to leave; the next one called me a pussy for having the thought. I couldn’t move; I held still, praying that everything would end soon. Another voice inside my head called me a fucking idiot; another a piece of shit; another an insecure fuck who’d just thrown his life away. For what? Because I was bitter that Lauren didn’t pay attention to me? Maybe if I had just said “hi,” she would have known who I was. 

I heard James scream in pain. He came running down the stairs in a wild fury. He was covering his eyes, shouting obscenities, and halfway down the staircase, he tripped. I saw him fall down five stairs and slam into the wall, leaving a shoulder-sized hole in it.

He’d been pepper sprayed.

“I can’t fucking see,” He shouted. 

I lept over Anita’s body to grab James and help him escape out the front door, but right when I got to him, Mindy was there with a baseball bat. She swung it at both of us and hit James on the top of his back so that he stumbled forward into me, and we both fell backward and smashed into the coffee table. The hoodie I had used to cover my head dropped down, exposing my face, and before I did anything else, I pulled it back over my head and cinched it shut, leaving only a small hole for me to see through. The next thing I knew, Mindy was above us, wielding the bat like an ax, trying to break my skull. James tackled her onto the carpet. His eyes were rash-red red and watering. She screamed, and he shouted back, then grabbed her hair and slammed her head into the carpet until she went unconscious. 

“Fucking, bitch,” He yelled.

I pushed myself up off the floor to run toward the front door but was tripped; Anita had kicked my feet out from underneath me. She yelled for the other girls in the house to call the police.

My hand was bleeding from the splintered wooden table, but I didn’t have time to pay attention to the pain. I kicked Anita so she couldn’t get me again, then got up off the floor and ran to James, who had one hand over his face and the other feeling in front of him like a blind person. 

“Come on,” I shouted as I took his hand.

 The lights came on, and I spun around to see Lauren and Ashely at the bottom of the stairs. Ashley pointed pepper spray at us, and Lauren had her cell phone in her hand. I made the mistake of looking at her in the eyes; it almost seemed like she recognized me, but how could she? We’d never made eye contact before. 

The operator came in loud and clear on speaker phone, “911, how may I direct your call?” 

I pulled James by his arm, sprinting to the front door, which was locked. It took me several seconds to figure out the deadbolt and swing the door open. James practically pushed me over when we finally got outside. By then, Lauren had already given the operator their address. We ran for our lives, as fast as we could, toward Lake Merced Blvd.

James still couldn’t see, so I had to keep hold of his arm, and I almost got us killed crossing the intersection. The whole time we ran, James bitched that his eyes were on fire and that we were fucked. The voices in my head agreed: we were fucked. When we got to the Lake Merced concrete bridge, we collapsed to the ground to catch our breath and figure out our next move. The fog was more like mist then, or maybe it was just sweat on our faces. We heaved and sucked in air as we slumped against the side of the bridge, trying to stay in its shadows.

“What now?” I asked. 

“D’you have the laptop?”


“Dump it.” 


“They’re going to track that shit, dump it.” 

I unzipped my backpack and took out Lauren’s MacBook Pro. How many times had I seen her use it over the last two semesters? I had a piece of her in my hands, and it felt like the greatest betrayal. I threw it off the bridge into the lake. In the distance, I thought I saw the flicker of police sirens heading toward the girl’s home on Arballo Dr. 

“Fuck,” James said as he rubbed his eyes some more. 

I sank back to the ground. James started talking to me about what we should do next, but I couldn’t pay attention. All I heard was my rapid pulse - a beat for every mistake I’ve ever made; hundreds of them. Thump. Thump. Thump. 

July 01, 2022 03:53

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Zack Powell
19:31 Jul 05, 2022

Of your stories that I've had a chance to read, this is probably my second favorite (after Big Girl). I said it last time that gritty realism is my favorite genre, so this ticked all my boxes. I love seeing what fictional people do when they're pushed to these kinds of extremes. Great read, Scott. The prose was wonderful, as always. I'm a huge fan of your straightforward writing style - blunt, honest, tell-it-like-it-is. The fight scene was especially well done. I can't write one to save my life, so I respect the way you were able to give a...


Scott Skinner
04:10 Jul 07, 2022

Thank you for the kind words - I'm glad you liked it. I enjoy writing that 'gritty realism' the most so will continue to work at it. I hear you about the challenge of writing fight scenes - it's like how much is too much and how much is too little? Can anyone follow this?! It's reassuring to hear you felt the momentum was good in this area. Thanks again!


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Michał Przywara
19:20 Jul 01, 2022

A very intense read! It starts with a good, relatively calm part, and we get some backstory. It's calm, but it's tense, because they're not supposed to be there. But then when things go wrong, it's like a dam was burst and the action surges out in a rush. I like the second guessing the narrator does, though during the burglary was probably too late for it. Particularly "Maybe if I had just said “hi,” she would have known who I was." It seems like he committed to this crime in an emotional moment, and in retrospect he realizes there better ...


Scott Skinner
23:21 Jul 01, 2022

Tags have been updated! Thank you for the comments. I'm trying to get better at writing action so I'm glad that this one felt like a surge when it got going.


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