“Morning Ritual” by Jack Ryan
Mondays Are Murder features brand-new noir fiction modeled after our award-winning Noir Series. Each story is an original one, and each takes place in a distinct location. Our web model for the series has one more restraint: a 750-word limit. Sound like murder? It is. But so are Mondays.
This week, Jack Ryan’s morning drive home from work in St. Louis takes a haunting turn. Next week, Douglas Light journeys through the East Village and Chinatown, solving a mysterious morning one fact at a time.
The nurse pulled onto the outer road parallel to the interstate. The blue friendliness of the St. Luke’s sign radiated faintly in the dawn light as he accelerated before the red admonition of the emergency sign took over his view. He clicked off the malfunctioning turn signal. The morning traffic was light, almost nonexistent. He waited until he had reached forty-five miles an hour to remove his skull-and-bones do-rag, the first phase of his elaborate post-work ritual. All the nurses in telemetry wore do-rags. No one knew how the trend started, but it allowed the staff uncynical flair and seemed to put the patients at ease. At fifty miles an hour and fifty yards from the long on-ramp, he took both hands off the wheel in order to muss his hair and vigorously massage his scalp, back to front. The flesh alongside his left knee depressed against the wheel, holding it steady on the straight stretch toward the highway. He returned his hands just in time to steer the car on its left-leaning trajectory up off the earth to soar across the new flyover ramp with its view of the previous decade’s sprawl, suburban trees, and the houses’ pretensions at old age. He completed the swoop onto the far right-hand lane of the interstate and, engaging the turn signal once again, let out a low moan, terminating in a kind of vibrato. As he slid into the center lane, he killed the signal, nodded his head once, and felt a burst of electric energy surge down his body.
Red and blue lights flickered in his rearview mirror as a siren rushed to catch up. For a moment he thought of his wife out for her morning jog, and unbidden—the worst part of his morning ritual—he heard the squeal of brakes, felt the impact of the collision, saw her body twisted in a ditch, felt his horror as he drove away, furiously scanning for witnesses, issuing ragged breaths as he fought to stifle nausea and glee and panic, then the return later to the scene in an ambulance, her body lifted bloody upon a stretcher, the pronouncement of death, the weeping relatives and friends, the chilly funeral. He shook his head, sending a fresh cascade of chills through him. This, too, was part of the ritual, to banish belief in safety, to take refuge in uncertainty and dread as a stay against further calamity.
The ambulance, a supercharged Chevy van painted the customary white and red, surged past him in the far left lane. Its interior light gave a glimpse of a medic steadying herself amid swaying IV lines. For a moment he strayed into the same lane and thought of giving pursuit. But the nurse’s exit came up, and he had to swerve across four mercifully empty lanes in less than one eighth of a mile in order to avoid it. His brow was damp. He wiped it carefully with the crumpled do-rag.
As he reached his own exit, he briefly orbited a freshly-constructed roundabout, an unwelcome addition to his routine. The centrifugal force of the tight circle caused the dented right front fender to grind. Sweat from his armpit dropped to the slight bulge in his seatbelt-buckled abdomen. He gave out an involuntary animal sound. He fought the urge to speed down the narrow two-lane road, at whose end his two-story home stood, the functional center of a neatly planned cul-de-sac. His thumb depressed the garage-door opener and, as usual, he had timed his deceleration and the complete opening of the door perfectly. Everything would be just as it should be.
Inside her car still sat unused. Through the house door lay the kitchen. On the table rested the note—where it always did—reassuring him that she would be right back, that she loved him, that it was just a little run on her normal route. The usual routine.
JACK RYAN’s short fiction has appeared in Out of the Gutter, Suspense Magazine, Shotgun Honey, and MARGIN: Exploring Modern Magical Realism. His poems have appeared in River Styx and other magazines, and one is forthcoming in Gutter Book’s new anthology Noir Riot (2014). A collaborative venture, “Hothouse by the River,” introduced detective Ed Darvis and was produced in a limited letter-press edition by the University of Iowa School for the Book. Jack is currently looking for a publisher for his first novel featuring Ed Darvis, Allegiance under the Skin.
Would you like to submit a story to the Mondays Are Murder series? Here are the guidelines:
—Your story should be set in a distinct location of any neighborhood in any city, anywhere in the world, but it should be a story that could only be set in the neighborhood you chose.
—Include the neighborhood, city, state, and country next to your byline.
—Your story should be Noir. What is Noir? We’ll know it when we see it.
—Your story should not exceed 750 words.
—E-mail your submission [email protected] paste the story into the body of the email, and also attach it as a PDF file.
Posted: Jun 30, 2014
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