Caught In The Headlights – Noir Fiction Short Story for Hardcore Character Fans

I’ve been leaning a little toward noir fiction and fantasy lately in my short stories and am in the process of putting together a collection for publication.

I’ve always been drawn to hardcore characters, dark figures, and the slummy side of society.

There’s something heroic in the lives of those who suffer through their days to find meaning and struggle to carve out an existence in an otherwise hopeless world.

I can’t claim to be writing classic noir fiction or crime stories, but I’m trying to forge my own brand of hardcore characters who find fleeting glimpses of hope in their dreary days.

I plan to publish my short stories here first and then to put them together as a noir fiction collection for publication at a later time.

Here is the first story in my series.

Caught in the Headlights

Will had been drifting ever since high school from one small town to another, holding dead-end jobs for a couple of months until he would get fired for one reason or another, and then drinking himself into oblivion for several days before picking up again and finding something somewhere else.

He’d usually pick up a new girlfriend in each town, and if he was sly enough, he could sleep at their places while he was getting his stuff together and finding some local labor.

If things were going well, he’d keep on with them, but usually the girls would get sick of his bar-hopping and kick him out, so he’d rent a filthily-furnished apartment above one of the local bars, and just as long as it had a bed and a bathroom, it was fine for him.

His latest sojourne had landed him in Sanakawauk, where he was working at a local lumbermill and sleeping at his newest girl Mary’s apartment above the Land View Inn, a local tavern that served Miller and Miller Light on tap as well as a variety of frozen pizzas that they heated in a toaster oven behind the bar.

Mary bartended there most evenings, where Will met her one night after he had finished stacking wood all day at the yard. The only thing friendlier to him than that cold beer was her flirty smile, and when she asked him where he was from in her small-town drawl, he felt that he had finally found a town where he could fit in.

“Oh, I don’t know, here and there, but I think I finally found a place to call home.”

Mary laughed like a fish flapping out of water. “Where’s that?”

“Right here with you.”

Mary smiled at him again knowingly and twisted her shoulders to the side as she backed away to the cash register. Will noticed her large breast under her white mid-drift tank top. She wore jean shorts that were slightly torn and fringed at her thighs, and she tugged them down around her crotch as she counted dollars from the drawer. She swung around again and placed Will’s change next to his beer.

There was something about her to Will. She seemed like an uncharted treasure that had never been touched, here in some small town where nobody could appreciate her, working in a dive bar pouring drinks to old men who should go home to their wives.

She seemed untainted by being told by men how beautiful she was her whole life, like some big town girls, making her either the most humble woman in the world or just too innocent to realize the power she had over men, dressed as though the mere sight of her flesh wasn’t enough to drive them into a frenzy. There was danger in a girl like that, danger that she wasn’t even aware of, that city girls have learned to use to their advantage, but no, not this one, Will thought, she wasn’t even aware of her own powers.

“I’ll buy you a shot if you do one with me,” Will offered.


It didn’t take long for Will to move in with Mary. He had been staying at a local motel that had weekly rates, but he was sleeping at her apartment every night after closing down the bar anyway, so he just stopped paying the rent.

Will had fallen into one of his patterns again, a new town, a new girl, but this time it felt different. He really like being with Mary, and he had moved up to crew chief at the lumberyard, so at least he wasn’t only stacking piles all day.

It may have been the fact that she worked at the bar and fit so neatly into his lifestyle, but he felt like they had connected, and that at least if he were ever going to move again, he would want Mary to come with him.

Not that he was thinking about leaving again, but he never did think about it anyway, it just seemed to happen. He liked it here though, and he especially liked Mary.


One Saturday when Mary wasn’t working at the bar, she told Will about some party that was going on out in the mounds in the national forests.

“It’s a bunch of people I know from high school having a bonfire out in the woods. I really want you to go with me.”

Will didn’t really get along with other people, but he wanted to please Mary, so he agreed.

Mary changed into a loose dress that blew open to reveal various patches of her flesh as they drove on the county roads out to the party. She adjusted herself backwards on the seat ever so slightly and the wild breeze from her window filled her whole body, stretching open the seams of her hemming.

When they pulled down the dark dirt road toward the bonfire, Will could see only a few trucks and a group of what looked like mostly guys drinking beers and studying the flames that flung themselves upwardly in sparks toward the stars.

“Are you sure these are all of your friends? It just seems like a bunch of dudes to me.”

“I’m sure other people are coming. It’s just early.”

Will was hesitant, but Mary had wanted him to come, and they couldn’t really turn around now anyways.

They got out of the car, and Mary cooed loudly into the night.

The crowd crooned back like coyotes calling out to each other through the light of the moon.

Mary walked ahead up to them and Will followed behind her.

“Hey guys, what’chya doin'”

“Just getting the party started now that you’re here,” one of them in a red flannel jacket replied.

“Hey Derrick, everybody, this is Will. Will, this is everybody.”

“Oh, this is Will, nice to meet you, Will,” red flannel retorted sarcastically.

Everybody was quiet for a second, until Derrick laughed loudly and everybody laughed along with him.

Will sensed he had somehow been trapped, but he was blinded by the bonfire’s reflection off of Mary in the night, by the heat that caused her image to waver through the hot air.

“Come on, get this guy a beer,” Derrick shouted at one of the other guys. “He’s the new guy in town, right, let’s make him comfortable.

One of them reached into a cooler and handed Will and Mary each a Busch. Mary popped hers heartily and began drinking before turning to Will.

“Come on, Will, aren’t you going to drink your beer.”

Will popped his top and had a sip, and one of the guys turned up the music and everybody seemed to return to drinking in the night.

“Mary, maybe we should just go,” Will said softly to Mary. “Who is that guy anyway?”

“Oh, he’s just my old boyfriend, but we’re still all friends, don’t worry, let’s just hang around and have a few beers. What else are you going to do?”

Will would have rather been alone with her, but he stayed. He didn’t want to turn around and leave now anyway, not just because Mary’s old boyfriend had been there. Maybe she was right, things would be fine. Besides, it was nice out here, the fire, the trees, the sky, it was all so calming, so free, the smoke drifted into the wide open, it traveled where it wanted, whispering under the leaves before hanging on the horizon over the reflection of a quiet lake.

It was beautiful here, and Will wanted to stay forever, even if it wasn’t safe for him, he didn’t care, he was done running away from his past, and he wanted to face it one way or another.


Will had a few beers. He began to relax, and after cracking open his next can, he put his arm around Mary and pulled her tightly by his side.

“So Derrick,” he announced loudly, “I hear you and Mary used to be a thing. Well, I just wanted to let you know that we’re dating now, so your days are over, and I ain’t going anywhere.”

The guy closest to the radio suddenly turned down the volume and they all stared at Derrick.

“What the fuck did you say to me,” Derrick stood up closer into the fire staring at Will.

“You heard me. I said Mary’s my girl now and I ain’t going anywhere, so you better get used to it.”

In his focus on Derrick, Will never saw the punch coming at the side of his face from one of the group.

“Who you talking to bitch you fucking city prick coming around here talking shit.”

Will never saw his initial attacker’s face, but he soon felt the kicks of the group as the others came down on him, and all he could do was cover his head and absorb the blows.

“Stop, you’re killing him,” Mary screamed out.

As the group hesitated at her shrieking, Will jumped up and punching through Derrick’s face, plunged through the group and started running toward his car.

He heard their shouts and stampeding footsteps as they chased after him, and they were so close when he reached his car that Will kept running on down the dirt road back out toward the highway.

“Keep running you pussy,” he heard the puncher shout out as their footsteps died in the distance. “We’ll just take it out on your car.”

Will turned his head around as he continued running, but Derrick didn’t stop pursuing him, so he kept running, knowing the group would not be far behind him if he stopped.

Will reached into his pants for the pocket knife that he always carried, because he never knew when he might need it. He kept running with the closed knife tightly gripped in his hand until he reached the highway at the end of the dirt road, where he finally stopped and turned around.

He was out of breath and couldn’t keep going, the highway was dark and there was nowhere to escape, and even if he kept running, he knew Derrick would follow, he was the type of guy who would never stop, so he had to face him.

Derrick slowed his running to a jog as he approached Will.

“What do you want. Just go back to your camp fire.”

“Hey, you started this, asshole, now you got to finish.”

Derrick kept moving closer, so Will slid open his knife blade with one hand behind his back like he had practiced for situations just like this.

“Stay away from me, I don’t want nothing to do with you.”

“It’s too late for that.”

Derrick lunged toward him, and at that instant, Will lashed forward with the knife into his gut and twisted it upwardly under his ribs reaching with the tip of the blade toward his heart.

Will held Derrick against him momentarily while Derrick clutched back onto him, and after standing still together for a moment, they released each other and Derrick stuttered backwards.

Derrick turned and started stumbling away from Will, towards the highway, slowly, steadily, trying to get away, and as he stepped onto the black pavement, Will stood there watching him from the dark dirt side road that led into the forest, and he saw the oncoming headlights filling the opening in the trees, shining onto his red flannel shirt, getting brighter and brighter on his body until the velocity of the truck thumped into his body and lifted him up into the air toward the stars before slamming him down onto the pavement.

“Oh my god,” Mary screamed, “Derrick.”

Her and the rest of the group ran past Will in the dark. They ran out onto the highway into the red tailights of the pickup that had screached to a halt with its tires still smoking on the asphalt.

Will stood there watching them surrounding the dark body on the road, all of them in a circle around him, Mary crying and kneeling by Derrick’s side.

He turned around into the dark road, still clutching the knife in his hand. He started walking away from the highway and back into the forest. Maybe he could escape there, just blend into the wide open and escape forever, never looking back.

Will walked past his car, he kept walking further into the darkness, and he thought that surely the forest must end, must have another side where civilization starts again.

He reached a lake shortly after the road ended and stood looking out over the directionless water, swirling in the moonlight, gripping the bloody knife in his hand.

It was the knife his father had given him for a graduation present, shortly before he idled to death in their garage. “There’s nothing in life a good pocket knife can’t get you out of,” he had told him.

Will tossed the knife out into the night arching up toward the moon before it plunged back down and broke through the glistening surface of the lake. He then turned around and ran back to his car.

Will started the ignition and tore around heading toward the highway, spitting gravel and ripping past the scene of all the crimes of his past.

Thank you so much for reading. Please feel free to leave your feedback if it pleases you.


  1. JJ says

    I liked it. I would have had Will and Derrick fighting into the highway and then have the truck appear to hit Derrick. There are so many places that this story could have gone and it could have been much longer. But overall it was well worth the read.


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