THE RITUAL - SALVADORE RITCHIE
Jason rattled through the top drawer of the nightstand, carelessly tossing things aside, then stopping abruptly. I was standing behind him, so I couldn’t see the item he had uncovered. By his exaggerated pause, whatever it was had captivated his attention. He reached in the drawer, gently removed the object, and then turned around.
Clutched in his hand was a polished, .32 snub-nose revolver. I could see its weight by the light strain it had on Jason’s skinny arm.
“This job’s already too complicated. I won’t kill people.” Jason said this as if he was talking to the .38. His voice rose to a nervous pitch, his eyes shifted towards me. “I’m not a killer.” Given that he practically had the gun pointed at my chest, I found this a bit ironic.
“You get me, man?” Jason lowered the weapon, appearing to take some control over his nerves. His resolve came more into focus.
“I get you,” I said, pausing to emphasize the brevity of our exchange, “...man.”
The house we were robbing belonged to rich, empty-nesters. Jason told me that these kinds of people were valuable for their accumulation of wealth, often times translating to vast collections of jewelry, cutting edge consumer products, and quite frequently, armaments.
Jason stormed over to our duffle bag and shoved the pistol recklessly inside. He didn’t check to see if it was loaded. “I’m not a killer,” he repeated, this time to himself. As he approached the sizable walk-in closet, he repeated the phrase aloud, and a few seconds later, he muttered it again. It was like he was trying to talk himself out of something that was never asked of him. Maybe he saw something in me that prompted him to make such a declaration, but either way, I was crystal clear on the limits of his moral flexibility.
“Jason... I’m going back downstairs to see if we missed anything.” I tried to sound as if nothing were wrong.
“Maybe we should reconsider that television? It’s big, but fencing it should be easy enough.”
He stopped what he was doing, which was pulling shoe boxes off the top shelves of the walk-in. Rummaging through shoe boxes, he claimed, was a technique that sometimes netted family heirlooms like antique jewelry or rolls of cash.
“The T.V.” He didn’t turn around. “Just the T.V., alright?” His voice wilted, as if he were pleading with me. I found this to be the most unappealing moment of our short partnership. Jason was a seasoned burglar; myself a novice. I had wrongly assumed that, during his long stint in this vocation, he must have encountered almost every situation thinkable. By the broad nature of his boasts, I was sure he was a master, but now I realized that I was merely a naïve victim of his overly exaggerated showmanship.
He continued rummaging through the closet as I made my way out of the room.
I couldn’t help but notice the entire house held a deep, vast silence that felt entirely inescapable. Each room, each corridor I had previously visited contributed to this feeling. Only the staircase betrayed the wide expanse of nothingness that permeated in this place.
Slight creaks from the wooden stairs formed a crisp echo as I stepped off the last plank onto the polished tile floor of the foyer. Tall ceilings and ebony colored furniture carefully dotted the living room.
Scattered about the walls was a collection of abstract art that was both engaging and aesthetically appealing. I had nearly lost myself in a painting that reminded me of the beautiful wreckage found in many dead cities. That’s when the gagging and shuffling behind me snapped me back to reality.
I let my pleasant daydream float away, applying my concentration on what Jason and I had presumed to be the owners of the house. There they were, next to each other in the middle of the living room, bound to dining chairs by duct tape and gagged with washcloths held in place by more duct tape.
We had stumbled across them during our stealthy entrance. They had been gone for days; perhaps they were back from a trip? A vacation?
The husband, an older gentleman, had a sunburned face. Needless to say, he was stunned when he found me standing before him, crowbar in hand. My swing was accurate and resulted in a bleeding forehead. He went down fast and easy. The woman, also sunburned, had bleached hair, exaggerated by the roots.
After getting them tied up and gagged, Jason pleaded that we leave. I calmly presented the case that they were bound and that we had regained control of the situation. I also reminded him that this entire venture would be a lot of risk and effort, all for nothing. Eventually, I persuaded him to stay and finish the task at hand, and assured him I would assume responsibility for the unfortunate homeowners.
Upon my approach, the homeowners both reanimated with tugs and pulls. They struggled against the coils of duct tape, as if doing so might postpone my inevitable advance.
I kneeled in front of them.
The sweat made their sunburned foreheads shine. Wide-eyed, they both watched me in silence. The drops of crimson on the man’s collar had darkened to the familiar brown of a blood stain. The woman had a blouse on with a catchy tropical pattern. She wore a playful white skirt.
I decided right then to begin my ritual. I wanted them both to understand everything that was going to happen to them. It’s important to me for my victims to imagine what’s about to take place, so I raised my hand to the woman’s exposed knee, ever-so-slowly. As I touched her, I could feel her skin gently shudder as the rate of her breathing increased dramatically. The contour of her breasts exaggerated with each deep inhalation, this was made pronouncedly more difficult due to the rag crudely stuffed in her mouth. The man’s eyes widened further now. He screamed into his gag and shook violently, but to no avail. My hand crept up slowly, only an inch or two, which was right when I caught what I needed... His eyes. His eyes were filled with such a complicated kaleidoscope of fear and horror that I felt between my legs the snake of my better spirit, rising. It’s always in the eyes where one can tell if a spouse truly loves the other. It’s the eyes that let you read an entire transcript of a life spent together. It’s all in the eyes. It’s always better when they’re really in love. I needed him to watch. I needed him to absorb everything with perfect, unambiguous clarity. I was going to take him far beyond the confines of normal human depravity.
I squeezed her knee firmly, but not so much as to be abusive. Not yet. The man shook even more violently. It was time for them to embrace the blackness.
But then... A creak from a small distance. My concentration broke. Was it the staircase? Was it Jason? I abandoned all pursuits with the couple, snapping myself up. I had enough presence of mind not to move. I waited for the next creak to confirm Jason’s descent. The silence was only broken by the couple’s heavy breathing.
I called out and waited another minute.
I made my way out of the living room and over to the staircase, mindful of everything around me.
The staircase was empty. I knew better than to call up. Jason was likely still collecting items and I wouldn’t want to break his concentration. I needed his focus, needed to use it against him.
I went to the kitchen. The tools of my trade were on my mind, when I happened across a stainless steel cutlery set. While going over the general merits of a carving knife, a boning knife, and a host of various table knives, I thought about the relationship Jason and I shared. The passing bit of regret about our souring partnership was offset by my sense of work ethic. I had originally been attracted to Jason for his reputation as a thief, as a cold criminal. With my specialties being closer to recreation, I had hoped that we could merge our specific disciplines. I pictured us making a real mark everywhere we went. I could have shown him my ways, and he could have shown me his. Naturally I couldn’t let him immediately know where my specialties lay, but this surprise opportunity was the most prominent litmus test of his constitutional durability to date. Sadly though, he had made his intention quite clear. Now, I had to make the tough decision. This was never easy, no matter how many times you cut a partner up. But in order to complete my ritual, Jason had to go.
The biggest handle sticking out of the cutlery set was all that remained. The rest of the knives left me empty. They had no soul, no... Swagger. I reached for the handle and, to my pleasant surprise, I pulled out a bulbous meat cleaver. It was stunning. The girth of the handle was strong and phallic-like. It was a glorious piece of equipment.
I had leaned into what was going to be my first step, when I looked up to see Jason in the doorway.
“I saw you out there.” His voice no longer contained that pleading quality... It had filled out now, contained a much deeper, baritone quality.
Was it anger?
“I saw you with those people.”
To my surprise, I believe his voice was filled with...
This came to me as a total shock, because the prerequisite to feeling disgust is a sense of superiority towards the object of your disgust... And we had long ago defined our intellectual hierarchy. He was breaching all protocol.
Not to mention, he was holding that shiny .38.
“I know what you are.” He raised the .38 to my chest. “Put down the cutter.”
I complied without protest. I set the cleaver down on the counter beside me. Since the gun was a revolver, I could finally see that all the chambers were loaded.
“I know what you are.” I could tell that his disgust was growing. He certainly liked repeating himself.
“What am I?” I asked.
“You’re a monster.” Each word was plump with poison.
As if a light too bright for my eyes had suddenly been turned on, I winced. I couldn’t understand why I felt such rage, such dirtiness. Relying purely on instinct, I grabbed the cleaver and jumped.
The distance between us was too great. He fired, the bullet piercing my torso. It felt like hot lava rippling through my organs, or like the stinger of a giant wasp, tearing through my abdomen.
I gurgled some words.
I found myself on the floor, Jason standing over me.
Warm liquid began filling my throat.
I coughed up blood.
I cocked my head to the side to let some of the blood drain from my mouth. “I thought you wouldn’t kill?”
“I said, ‘I wouldn’t kill people.’ You’re a monster.” He pulled the hammer back until it clicked.
I coughed up more blood and smiled.
“What’s the difference?”
BIO: Check out http://salvadoreritchie.com/ for more information on Sal and his writing.