Small Rituals, a short story by Andrew Scobie at Spillwords.com
Cristi Ursea

Small Rituals

Small Rituals

written by: Andrew Scobie

 

I have killed someone. That can never happen again.
As Martin walked towards his office building he made very sure to avoid every crack between the slabs of concrete pavement. He pulled down the brim of his hat over his face.
He stopped briefly before entering his place of work to cross himself with his right hand five times. He knew he would cross himself the same amount of times when he later left the office for the day, whenever that would be.
Evil comes in many forms. It is everywhere, always waiting to strike.
Inside the workplace he made some coffee from the coffee machine. He pulled two Styrofoam cups from the cup dispenser, selected a third cup and then replaced the other two back inside the funnel. He poured the coffee into his lucky third container and took a short sip. The coffee was dreadful, as usual. Upon reaching his office and desk, his work partner, Richard, pointed to a very large pile of papers on Martin’s desk. Martin noticed there were a similar amount of papers on Richard’s desk.
“That’s just the start of it,” said Richard, “There are twenty more boxes in the storeroom.”
“This will take a month,” Martin said.
“We have just over two weeks before it goes to trial,” Richard informed.
Martin sighed, removed his hat and coat and sat down at his desk. “What are we actually looking for?” he asked, with a touch of exasperation.
“Anything… something that will get the client off.”
“Didn’t the client ever hear of computers?”
“Unfortunately not. Old school,” Richard said with a nod.
Martin glanced at the first page of paper on his pile. “The client is a music fan,” he said, “he paid for front row seats to see Elton John.”
“The judge is an opera fan,” Richard replied, “the honourable Judge Marcus Bruce—hates modern music… it’s a judge-only trial. Simmons thought that might be his best chance.”
“Oh…” Martin knew that drawing Bruce as the trial judge was extreme bad luck. Back in the early part of the last century someone like Bruce would have been viewed as a ‘hanging judge’. “Simmons must have rocks in his head,” he thought aloud.
Richard, obviously overhearing Martin’s whisper, remarked, “Remember, Simmons is our lawyer boss… and also an idiot,” he added with a smile, “but then again, maybe he is a genius. If we find something worthwhile in these piles of paper a judge-only trial will have been a masterstroke.”
Martin nodded, though didn’t overly agree. He knew that the client, Ron Chalmers, had been charged with the murder and disappearance of his wife. It was a cold case. She had been missing for eight years. In a way, it reminded him of his own situation. His girlfriend of ten years, Susan, had gone overseas for a six months trip, said she wanted a break from the relationship. That was four years ago. She hadn’t been in contact with him for the last three years.
Martin wondered aloud, “How much evidence do the prosecution have, and how much is purely circumstantial?” He began to slowly turn his Styrofoam cup of half-empty, now cold coffee on the desk in a clockwise direction. After a count in his head of fifteen seconds, he stopped and began to turn the cup anti-clockwise for a further fifteen seconds.
Evil can be defeated.
“You have some really annoying habits.” Richard exhaled with frustration. “People are beginning to notice that, you know.”
“Just some small harmless rituals,” Martin said with a slight shrug.
I have to do them. If I don’t, someone will die.
“Circumstantial, I guess,” Richard finally replied to Martin’s rhetorical question. “That’s why Simmons went with the judge-only trial—jurors can be swayed by the media.”
Martin nodded absentmindedly. He looked at the small mountain of paper before him.
“Better get stuck in.”
Six hours later, with only some short toilet breaks, with repeated washing of his hands, plus breaks in that time to refill his coffee, Martin told Richard he was leaving for the day. He advised Richard that he had an appointment but would be back in early the next morning.
When Martin first studied law he held visions of himself standing in a courtroom winning some high profile case with a big C celebrity on trial: ‘It’s quite simple you see… and this footage of my client in Paris proves he was nowhere near the crime scene.’
Unfortunately, Martin soon discovered he wasn’t the ‘go-getter’ he thought he was. Being a common solicitor was much easier and, for the most part, a good deal less stressful. He wondered if his lack of ambition was one of the reasons why Susan never came back to him.

***

“How long have you been doing such things as repeatedly crossing yourself?” The woman looked youngish, at least younger than Martin.
“It started some years ago. I can’t actually remember when.”
The woman asked him if it worried him that he felt the need to perform the ‘rituals’ so often, and when he said he wasn’t sure about that either she enquired as to why he had made an appointment to see her.
“People have begun to notice. They might think I am strange.”
“Do you want to stop?”
“No. I don’t think I can.”
She asked him what feelings he had in his mind immediately before he felt an urge to perform the rituals and he replied honestly, that he was scared.
“If I don’t do them someone I know might die. They will die—I’m sure of it.”
She folded her hands and placed them underneath her chin.
“I can show you techniques to try, but it will take time, and you will have to want to stop. Are you willing to commit yourself in trying to end these rituals?”
“Yes,” said Martin, then involuntarily began to cross himself.
Evil is everywhere…

***

“Did you find anything yesterday?” Richard asked.
“What?”
“In your pile of papers… what else did you think I meant?”
“Oh… no, nothing. You?”
“The same.”
Both men, freshly armed with their cups of coffee commenced on their respective new piles of the papers.
“I think mine is bigger than yours,” Martin said.
“What?”
“Nothing,” Martin said with a smile. “By the way, what is this mention of the Rainbow Centre I keep seeing cropping up?”
“Just some meditation group Chalmers’ wife was a member of. Nothing of importance.”

That evening Martin arrived home at his two bedroom terrace he had once shared with Susan. His cat came to greet him. Martin had an urge to cross himself but tried to fight it off. He attempted to fill his mind with happy thoughts. That is what the councillor had said, a part of the ‘techniques’.
“Stupid woman…” He quickly crossed himself, but only twice instead of the usual full five. He opened a can of cat food and fed his cat, then frantically washed his hands at the kitchen basin.
Richard and he had yet to find anything of real substance in the piles of paperwork. He considered it may be a waste of time.
He walked out to the backyard to collect yesterday’s washing. Along the clothes line were three rows of pegs in perfect coloured symmetry: red, blue and white. He removed a shirt from the line and replaced the red pegs that had been securing it, back into their proper orderly place.

***

“It says here that Chalmers was voluntarily discharged from the army.”
“We know that,” Richard said.
“It says, ‘medical reasons’. Perhaps he had PTSD?”
“Hmm… could be handy. Put it aside. Just in case we need to plead mental incapacity.”
Martin asked Richard if he thought Ron Chalmers had actually killed his wife. Richard simply shrugged, as if the question was irrelevant. Martin mentioned how he hadn’t heard from Susan in three years. Do people sometimes just disappear, for whatever reason? Richard said that the world these days is a small place.
“You haven’t been looking for Susan,” Richard said. “The police have been trying to track down Chalmers’ wife for the last eight years. It’s different.”
“Susan could be dead.” Martin crossed himself.
Evil, evil… everywhere.
“Anything is possible…” Richard took a sip of coffee and picked up another sheet of paper.

***

Three days of shifting piles of paper later Martin arrived home at his terrace. There was a letter in his mailbox. He brought it inside and tossed it on the kitchen bench. He fed his cat and replaced her water, then cooked some pasta for dinner. He then washed his hands for ten minutes. Later, as he was eating the pasta he thought about the letter. He retrieved it from the kitchen bench, examined it and sighed: his name and address on the front of the envelope in the familiar bad handwriting; his handwriting. He waved his arms manically and threw the letter across the room, then frantically crossed himself five times.
Evil, evil, evil, evil.

***

“Did you read the letter I told you to send to yourself?”
Martin remained silent.
The woman continued to watch him.
“No… I’m sorry. It was too hard to read.”
The woman exhaled deeply. “I did explain to you that this will only work if you are willing to commit yourself.”
“I thought that sending myself a sympathy card was just plain silly.” Martin placed his hands on his head.
“Do you have an urge at this moment to cross yourself?”
Martin slowly nodded.
“Good. You are resisting. Go home tonight and read the card.”

***

“Bingo!”
“What is it?” Richard asked. He rose from his seat and walked towards Martin’s desk.
“Chalmers took out life insurance policies for him and his wife.”
“Crap,” Richard said with a frown. “That doesn’t help us at all.”
“Yes it does.” Martin waved the sheet of paper in the air. “He cancelled his wife’s policy six months before she disappeared.”
Richard clapped his hands together. “Nice one.”

***

“Did you read the letter?”
“I killed her, you know.”
The woman eyed Martin suspiciously. “Whom did you kill?”
“My girlfriend, Susan… if I had of told her not to go overseas she would still be here.”
“How do you know she’s dead?”
Martin remained silent.
The woman smiled. “You don’t know if she’s dead, do you?”
Martin shook his head.
“Did you read the letter?”
“Yes, I read the bloody letter!” Martin said angrily.
The woman shuffled some papers on her desk. “Good,” she said. “We’re making progress.”
“I wish I was dead.”
“But you’re not, and now you have to send yourself another letter. This time you need to tell yourself that you forgive yourself.” The woman handed him a pen and a sheet of paper.
“You’re killing me.”
“You will be fine,” the woman said. “We are making real progress.”

***

Five days later, Richard said, “Simmons was happy with that one you found the other day. Now we have two more days to finish going through the rest of it.”
“I’m not sure if that will be entirely necessary,” Martin said. “I think Chalmers’ wife is alive, just like Susan must be. I think she is… sometimes people simply move on, and Chalmers’ wife is definitely still alive.”
“How can you be so sure?”
“I was thinking about it last night. Sometimes people disappear for a reason. I did some research.”
“And?”
“The Rainbow Centre, Richard… it’s nothing to do with meditation, even though Chalmers obviously thought that was the case. It’s a strange religious sect. They have branches all around the world, even here. Tell Simmons to check it out. I think Chalmers’ wife found herself religion. They have a huge compound up north. The cops may very well find many of their missing people right there.”
“Well, well. You’re a champion, Martin.”
Richard’s beaming smile evidenced his growing jubilation. He pushed the current pile of papers on his desk onto the floor, then paused.
“God, Martin, I hope she is up there.”
“I’m very confident.” At that moment Martin had a thought to cross himself, though the urge was weaker than it had been for longer than he could remember. “You should always have pleasant thoughts,” he said. “And be nice to yourself… forgive yourself, even if you haven’t done anything wrong…”
Once again Richard smiled at his friend.
“Whatever, Martin… as long as we still get paid.”

Andrew Scobie

Andrew Scobie

Andrew Scobie is an Australian writer and poet.
Andrew Scobie

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