Submitted into Contest #203 in response to: Start your story in the middle of the action.... view prompt


Fiction Crime Horror

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

“Please don’t die.”

Freddie’s eyes were open but could not see. Her pupils were dilated to the extent that the greenish-gold color they once were had now all but disappeared.   

“Come back. Please come back.”

Freddie’s face turned slightly to the sound of Michael’s voice. Her lips quivered. Michael lowered his head.

“What is it?” he whispered, “I’m here.”

* * *

“Mike, we're over here!”

Michael Woodman, a fourth generation Phi Beta Kappa, was filling his party goblet from the house keg.  He'd been raised with tales regaled at family gatherings centering on the impact his family had made on the fraternity. Michael had also consistently been reminded of the structured life that awaited him upon graduation. His personal goal, therefore, along with acquiring the requisite degree, was to have as much fun as humanly possible.  

He wiped the excess foam from his upper lip and smeared it on his roommate Jason’s sleeve. Jason regarded Michael as though he were a fly in his beer.

“You done studying?”

Michael solemnly raised a hand in pledge.

“I swear.”

“That goes without saying. I won’t help you this time, so don’t ask.”

Michael drank deep and belched his reply, followed by gratuitous groans and guffaws from the group.

“That was one of your more intelligent statements,” Jason smirked.

Michael wrapped Jason’s head in a loose chokehold and lightly slapped his cheek. He planted a loud smack on Jason’s other cheek before releasing him.

“You’re a freak, Woodman, I swear.”

“You worry too much. There’ll be plenty of time for adulting down the road. Smell the stale smoke, beer and cat piss, son, before it’s too late.”

Michael’s olfactory observations were not far from reality. The frat house carpet had more worn spots and stains than the fraternity had members through the years. Two house cats controlled the roach population. After years of inconsistent ownership, they’d inevitably been fed more and cleaned less. Bozo and Tubbs had plenty of girth to show for it and the litter box could pretty well speak for itself.

Michael raised his goblet and bellowed. “A toast, Phi Beta Capocollo.”

The half dozen brethren raised a half dozen Solo cups. Jason reluctantly joined them after a nudge from Michael.   

“To cat piss and . . . hello. Who’s that with Ryan?” Michael looked stunned.

Jason got up. “My date’s here. Excuse me, fellas.” Jason looked at Michael pointedly.

“Best behavior. Especially you.”

 Michael stared after him. 

“What’s Ryan doing with her?”

Sean, alias Beer Pong King, explained. “That’s his sister visiting from Texas. Ryan fixed her up with Jason.”

“How come I didn’t know about it?”

“Well, I can’t imagine . . . hey, Ryan!”  

“Hi, guys. This is Frederique, my little sister.”

A thin girl dressed in black jeans with silver jewelry and green hair pushed Ryan playfully.

“It’s Freddie. And you had to add the ‘little’?”

Ryan pushed back.

“I don’t lie.”

The green-haired girl glanced at Jason.

“I suppose not.”

Jason smiled.

“The keg’s over there.”

“Lead the way.”

The two managed a path through the throng of partiers. A techno backbeat offered some detraction from the aging wallpaper and cracks poorly concealed by flags and posters.

As soon as they were out of earshot, Michael turned to Ryan.


Ryan, Texas-born with a cattleman’s ease, clapped a firm grip on Michael’s shoulder. 

“Well, it’s pretty simple, Mike. Nothing’s too good for my little sister and, in case you haven’t noticed, Jason’s a good guy.”

“Sure, yeah, but he’s doorknob dull. He's crocs and socks. I mean he’s, he’s. . .” Michael searched for the right words.

The table leaned in.

“. . . he's got no edge.”

Ryan smiled and patted Michael's back.

“Well, we can’t all be you, Mike.”

“Here, here!” The gang joined in.

 Michael gulped his beer.

“Got that right. Think I’ll get a refill.”

* * *

As Michael filled his goblet, he spied Jason and Freddie half-sitting behind a couch, chatting. He’d noticed that Freddie’s green hair made her eyes glow. They were a color he’d never seen before, mostly green but with something added that made them seem electric. 

He took his drink and moved to a quiet corner to consider his options. 

What would a girl like that see in a straitjacket like Jason? She’s sleek, she’s got style. She looks like she's headed to a White Snake concert. 

“You didn’t strike me as the antisocial type.”

Michael looked up into green eyes that shone with gold flecks. He stood.

“I was just thinking about something.”

“You’re Jason’s roommate?”

“Guilty.” He glanced around. “Where’s Jason?”

“Beer pong in the game room. I’m about to join them. You?”

Michael almost got lost looking into green eyes; then stopped himself.

“I have to head back. I’ve got an exam.”

“You sure?”

No, not at all, not a bit, nuh-uh.

“Yeah, I better get going.”

“You planning on drinking that to help you concentrate?”

Michael raised the goblet in salute, and drank it down.

“Ahhh, helps me relax.” 

He turned and made a quick exit. He held the rising belch until he was well out of range of the girl he couldn’t seem to get out of his head.

* * *

“Since when did you acquire a conscience?”

Jason emerged from their bathroom wiping shaving cream off his face.

“I had work to do. Notice I’m not asking you for any favors.”

“Drop the act, Mike. I saw the way you looked at Freddie and apparently she noticed too. I spent more time talking about you than myself. I’m just surprised you didn’t stick around for the kill. Here.”

Jason slapped a napkin on Michael’s chest. Michael saw a phone number. He raised an eyebrow.

“Look, we just didn’t hit it off. Anyway, I got the impression when she asked if I’d give you that, she probably wouldn’t mind hearing from you.”

“Jason, you are a true gentleman. You didn’t have to deliver this. I doubt I would have.”

Jason turned away rolling his eyes.

“I take back everything I ever said about you.”

“Don’t hurt yourself."

Jason turned back.

“What about everything you’ve thought?”

“Don’t get greedy.

 * * *

Mama’s Kitchen was the only game in town for Italian food.   It wasn’t the most authentic but Michael was a regular and could count on the staff recognizing him. Michael had secured the best table for two, complete with red-checkered tablecloth and wine bottles dripping candle wax, placed near the main room but removed enough to feel intimate.

“The table all right?”

“I think you already know it is. What do you like here?”

Freddie was decked out in brown leather and green fishnets. Michael waited to catch her eye.

“The view.”

Freddie snorted; Michael laughed.

“So, tell me, what about you would lead Ryan to thinking that Jason would be a good . . . match?”

“My brother and I don't have much in common. He doesn’t really see me. And I tone down the real me around him and our folks.”

“Why not be yourself?”

“Because my mother cries and my father tells me to be more like Ryan. Then they make another drink.”

"I could tell by looking at you, you're something else."

"Can you see the part that's parched?"

"Apologies. What’ll it be, m’lady?”


“With or without a shot of venom.”

“You choose. And make that a double, pretty please.”

Michael signaled the waitress. He ordered two double Snakebites. While they waited, Freddie surveyed the menu and Michael surveyed her.

So, what is it about you I can't resist? It's there, it's undeniable. Well, whatever it is. . . 

Their drinks arrived. Michael looked into Freddie's eyes.

"Here's to what comes next."

Freddie's eyes widened, startled, for just a moment, then relaxed.

"To what's next."

Glasses clinked, Michael sipped; Freddie gulped a third of hers.

“Ryan told me about your Phi Beta Capocollo. Are you Italian?”

“Only the good parts.”

“And the others?”

“Who cares?”

“Your ancestors must be rolling in their graves.”


“Would that be considered underground irrigation?”

“Underground . . . well, then I guess that would make cremation crop burning?" 

Freddie raised a hand to her mouth and smiled. As her bracelets shifted, Michael thought he noticed a thin pink line across the inside of her wrist.

“I’m not used to this sort of banter. Most people don't keep up.”

"It all depends on the company you keep."

"Speaking of company, why does everyone here look gangster? Not that I mind."

"Lots of hungry mobsters come here.”


“I do carry the family ice pick.”

"I’d like to see that.”

"It's really sort of a joke."

"I'd still like to see it."

“I also have relatives in New Jersey.”

“You make it sound like it's mandatory.”

“It’s not far.”

“It happens to be my birthplace.”

“I thought you were from Texas.”

“In a prior life.”

“So, maybe you were a gun moll in another life.”

“And maybe that’s also why I enjoy getting loaded.”

“I really can’t understand why you and Jason didn’t hit it off.”

“Jason’s a nice guy.”


“I don't do nice.”

“So then what does that make me?”

“That makes you just what I'm looking for.”

“So, you’re an outlaw, stray dog kind of gal?”

“I don't really know what I am. Maybe I just want someone I can disappear with.”

“You do strike me as kind of a wild adventure.”

“The way I see it, nobody knows how long the adventure's gonna last. What I do know is women have their fair share of wild oats; rightly so.”

“How do you like yours?”

“I prefer mine overnight with banana, though I can enjoy a ripe peach, when they’re in season.”


“Where? We’re not in church, are we?”

“I’m not sure where we are but I know where I’d like to be right now.”

“How ‘bout we down these and you show me where that is.”

“Cin cin”

“Bottoms up.”

* * *

“Jason, where’s that son-of-a-bitch roommate of yours? I haven’t seen my sister in two days.  She’s not returning my texts and I’m about to round up a search party.”

“She strikes me as a pretty big girl, Ryan. I bet she can take care of herself.”

Ryan shot Jason a dirty look.

“Have you forgotten who she’s with? If anything happens to her, I swear . . .”

“Listen, Mike’s an asshole but I don’t think he’s a dangerous asshole. He was obviously smitten, and Freddie impressed me as someone who knows her mind. Took her no time at all to figure I wasn’t her type.”

“Yeah, sorry about that, Jason. I really thought . . .”

“Forget it. I’ll let you know if I hear from either of them, okay? And don’t worry; I’m sure they’re fine and we’ll be hearing from them soon.”

* * *

Michael was sure he’d gone blind.  He willed an eye open and felt a wave of terror rush over him.

I can’t see! Oh, Lord, I’m blind!

It didn't take long to realize it wasn’t his eyes that failed him; it was the fact he was in a motel closet with the door closed. In fact, he was curled up on the floor buck naked.

How did I . . .     

He discovered how small a space he was in when he tried moving. Everything hurt, from his hair down to his toes.

Somebody, please shoot me.

Michael heard a sound but couldn’t piece together in his mind what it could be.  The click of a lock and then the sound of a door opening and closing slowly registered. Footsteps.


The closet door opened, light flooded in, exposing Michael in all his pathetic glory.

“Think you can behave now?”

Michael slowly rolled over enough to look up and see Freddie. She looked fresh as a daisy, clean, clear-eyed and with a frosty expression that gave Michael a shiver.

“How . . . how . . .”

“Ugh, you stink. I’ll let you get yourself together.”

Freddie left him there and moved to a tiny table across from the bed.  The motel room looked like a bomb dropped.  The ragged carpet was littered with trash, empty gin bottles, food wrappers, a smashed table lamp. On the nightstand were scant remnants of cocaine and a crumpled, emptied bag of THC edibles. 

Michael felt he had to squint to keep his eyeballs from rolling out of his head. His mouth was a swamp. By the time he was on his feet, flashes of lightning in his head beat in time with stabs of pain and regret. He just made it to the toilet in time.

He was on his knees, mid-retch, when Freddie, with a look of disgust on her fresh face, came over to close the bathroom door.  

“Do you mind?”

When Michael had nothing left to purge, he moved slowly, testing, to see if he had the capacity to stand and make it over to the sink. He felt like porcelain hit by a train.


He ran water in the sink and allowed the shock of cold to revive him slightly. His stomach had calmed to the extent he felt he could risk a few sips. He rinsed his mouth and slowly took a bath towel off the rack, dried himself and then wrapped it around his waist.

Out of the corner of his eye, he caught sight of himself in the mirror and groaned.

On his face, from forehead to chin, written in bright green marker, were the words, “I am a dick.”

This is not wrong.

He tried scrubbing it off with a washcloth.


Michael emerged. He found Freddie sitting, her back facing him.

“Freddie, what did we do last night? Why did I wake up in a closet?”

“What makes you think you’re awake?”

Freddie turned and looked at Michael, only it wasn’t Freddie; it was a ghoul with milky-blue orbs for eyes, needles for teeth and flesh that melted away from its skull in rivets, revealing teams of worms and maggots.  A high pitched scream filled Michael’s head.

He tried to run but his legs were cement. He fought until he could turn slightly, but no more. He realized he'd come face-to-face with the devil. The screaming increased until he suddenly felt warmth and wet. Looking down, there was the blood-soaked handle of an ice pick jutting from his stomach.

“Why? Why did you kill me, Michael? Why?”

* * *  

Michael thrashed and cried out. When he opened his eyes and saw Freddie, he stared at her with wild eyes.

“Stay away . . . oh, god.”

Freddie didn't move.  He looked closer.  Something was wrong. Michael moved the covers. Blood. They were both naked and covered with it. Michael's ice pick protruded from Freddie’s chest. 

When did what happen? And why?

Michael took Freddie’s face in both hands as tears came.  He whispered sincere pleas with urgency.

“Come back. Oh, please come back.”

Freddie’s face turned slightly to the sound of Michael’s voice. Her lips quivered. Michael lowered his head.

“What is it?” he whispered, “I’m here.”

She forced two sounds from the back of her throat, words Michael could just make out but could never be sure about.

“Thank . . . you.”

With that, her light went out and she was gone, the faint trace of a smile all that remained.

Michael sobbed like a child.

What does that mean? I don’t know what that means.

It took a moment between sobs for Michael to realize there was activity, lights and sirens. He heard movement, commanding voices shouting.

“Police! Come out with your hands up! Police!”

Michael covered his mouth with a bloody hand, squeezed tears from his eyes, set about moving out of bed.

“I’m . . . I’m coming out. Don’t . . . don’t . . .”

The door flew open with a bang. 


A policeman had his revolver fixed on Michael. Michael was sitting up with his face in hands, draped in bloody sheets. He moved carefully.  

“Can I, please . . . can I ask . . .”

Three more officers entered the room and trained their weapons on Michael.

Michael's hands formed weak fists under his chin. He looked up at the officers and whispered.

“Is this a dream?”

* * *

The scandal that had rocked the university took a long time to settle.  Jason was the last to speak to Ryan before he left to bury his sister and be with his family.

“I didn’t see anything like this coming. I never would have thought it possible.”

“I don't ever want to hear that psychopath's name. He held her against her will. I hope he burns in Hell.”

“I know that's what the text said. I mean, he had enough drugs in his system to kill a horse. I don’t see how. . .”

“Face it, Jason. There's only one sociopath we know who ever owned an ice pick. Christ, I can't talk about this.”

“Doesn’t matter. He’ll never see the light of day.”

“And neither will she.”

* * *

Michael was a model prisoner, not because he cared, but because he didn’t. He had minimal energy and moved sparingly. His mind did the opposite. It raced, it poked and it tortured.

At night, in his dreams, he put it all together. There was Freddie, on the edge of a precipice.  And there he was, holding the sharp edge of the family ice pick.  They’d met somewhere in the middle.

June 21, 2023 14:23

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Michał Przywara
21:17 Jun 21, 2023

Nice, dark story, which still pulls off a couple funny bits (looking at "then I guess that would make cremation crop burning?" :) That makes their meeting believable, and it also ups the impact of what happened. But even by the end, we don't know what *really* happened. Did she want to end it? Did he help? Or was that something his mind invented to ease his own guilt? It casts the dynamic between Freddie and her brother - and her family - in a very different light. They reject the real her. Perhaps that was pressure that was building up ov...


Susan Catucci
01:47 Jun 22, 2023

A wonderful analysis, Michal. I wanted there to be a few floating pieces so a reader could be torn as far as where the truth may actually lie. Is it smart or even practical to be so sure about anything? This is a great place to share our efforts, Michal, light, dark and everything in between. I always enjoy and appreciate what you have to say. Many thanks.


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Lily Finch
18:05 Jun 21, 2023

That is masterfully crafted Susan. What a mind you have for the dark and evils of the world. I like that. College Fraternity and their dates - turns deadly. Could have been ripped from the headlines. Nicely done. Michael and Freddie. Great tale. LF6


Susan Catucci
18:19 Jun 21, 2023

Wonderful - thanks, Lily. I have a slight case of the tweaks that I can't resist, but your words mean everything for me to hear at this point. The darks and evils will always be a fascination - to consider from afar, that is. :)


Lily Finch
21:39 Jun 21, 2023

I know so. Great evilnesss lurking. LF6


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Mary Bendickson
16:24 Jun 21, 2023

Wicked, wicked story telling. You are so masterful in whatever genre you take on.


Susan Catucci
17:20 Jun 21, 2023

You are wonderful, Mary. I'm actually making some last minute revisions with this one, so I invite you to take another gander at it in a day or so. It won't be drastically changed, but a tweak here and there. You really warm my heart!


Mary Bendickson
17:26 Jun 21, 2023

Mine is a little different this week, too. Still wondering if it needs a little tweaking.


Susan Catucci
17:31 Jun 21, 2023

It's like painting - when is it really finished! Sometimes I pull the trigger too soon and then read, alter, read, alter, read . . . you know how it goes. An artist's dilemma. :)


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Russell Mickler
05:36 Jun 27, 2023

Hi Susan! Horror, eh? Okay, lay it on me. Liked the opening! Immediately escalates the tension. I guess it wouldn't be a horror without drinking college kids. Liked "Michael's olfactory observations..." para. Goblet? Archiac for your setting, no? Snort - sleek and style = Whitesnake? (the band's name was(?) one word) Holy crap ... The para, "Freddie left him...", very descriptive, helping to paint a scene, followed by the ghoul with milky-blue orbs ... nice! I think the ambiguity at the end makes for a good stroke of storytelling. A go...


Susan Catucci
14:25 Jun 27, 2023

Whitesnake! (c-r-i-n-g-e) The goblet I snitched from Project X - a Roman symbol of decadence. You're not wrong. Wanna be my editor? Hope you enjoyed around the ride but for the itty-bitty glitches. Thanks much for reading!


Russell Mickler
14:55 Jun 27, 2023

Laugh - I only caught it because I am of the ... ahem, _age_ , Whitesnake was a thing :) hehe And yes, come to think of it, I bet you might see a "goblet" in a frat party, right? Hehe Of course I did. Always great to read your stuff, Susan - R


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Laurel Hanson
19:45 Jun 24, 2023

Wow, this is intense. You've got a gripping start (well, middle I guess, per the prompt), and then go back to a really well-developed, natural feeling frat situation with fantastic dialogue. Freddie is immediately intriguing and there's just a lot of character development going on here to get the reader where you are taking them. Which is definitely a surprise, but also not unexpected, given the simmering sense of something on the verge of happening. Great, great job!


Susan Catucci
21:33 Jun 24, 2023

Hi Laurel! I'm so glad you enjoyed the ride. I'm still tweaking because it keeps prodding, this would be better, use this word instead. I'll be very glad when it's taken out of my hands so I'll stop fretting over it like a new mom. I appreciated more than I can say the "surprise but not unexpected" - I was hoping for that reaction and from you, it definitely counts. Wonderful to hear from you, thank you so much. :)


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Delbert Griffith
22:55 Jun 23, 2023

Wonderfully dark horror, mixed with some humor and a lot of very good dialogue. The cremation-crop burning line was epic. The questions left unanswered are what make this tale so intriguing. Like Shakespeare, you leave it to the reader to fill in the blanks - or, in my case, ask unanswerable questions. THIS is how you write a horror tale in 3k words or less. Great, great stuff, my friend. I hope I see more like this in future. Cheers!


Susan Catucci
23:02 Jun 23, 2023

Hahaha! You know, Del, with you to look to for the best sort of literary mind for an assist, I have a realistic hope to see more like this, too. Cheers back!


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Wally Schmidt
15:01 Jun 23, 2023

Love the banter between Jason and Mike, quintessential roomate stuff and you really picked up on that vibe. And then we wander over into a Girl with the Dragon Tatoo vibe followed by sheer horror and confusion. This is so well written it might-just might- convert me to being a horror fan. Really good stuff here.


Susan Catucci
16:34 Jun 23, 2023

You just made my day, Wally - I can't imagine more encouraging feedback. I think horror done right can be just as effective and pleasurable as any genre, especially if it says something beyond BOO and leaves you thanking your lucky stars that you're you! Seriously, thanks so much!


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J. D. Lair
00:52 Jun 22, 2023

Holy shit! What a lovely grizzly tale. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Thank you!


Susan Catucci
01:50 Jun 22, 2023

A pleasure, J.D. In my book, a "holy shit" is up there with a win and somehow $250 is reduced to chump change. A thousand thanks.


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