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The 5 Stages of Grief

By Michael J Ritchie All Rights Reserved ©

Thriller / Horror


Dr. Fredrick Reichmann is a psychiatrist, a specialist in personality disorders. He’s been informed his wife and secretary have been murdered, his wife gruesomely. The news arrived after a taxing day of sessions with multiple difficult patients. Was one of them the killer? Assistant D. A., Chloe Tattershall, stared at the killer through the one-way mirror. It was her turn to watch from the observation room while the others searched the Doctor’s journals for clues – anything to prove it was all an act. She’d watched the sick-psycho talk jibber-jabber to no-one for five hours now, sitting there, barely moving, nodding and smiling, arching his eyebrows, staring at her even though she couldn’t be seen. Is it just a game? Are you playing me? Playing all of us? The questions ripped rapid-fire through her mind, then stopped in a shiver. Who’s questioning who?

Book 1, Denial / Chapter 1, Marcus

The waiting was the hardest part. Not the first few hours, they’d been easy – between the adrenaline surging through his body like a fast plunged speed-ball, the ecstasy of the last couple of day’s planning and finally the execution – they’d slipped by all but unnoticed. Of course, back then he could actually move, even if only a silent muscle-stretch to break the mold and get the blood running. Back then all he noticed was the excitement, the anticipation of impending release, like a junkie loading his fix or an orgasm long awaited, one that you’d been nurturing, holding off until you just couldn’t deny it any longer. Maybe even the first five or six hours had been like that as there were so many details to run over, nuances to reminisce. No, the waiting didn’t bother him much at all back then, but now, it was unbearable.

The cramps! No, cramp was not the right word. It did not do justice to the pain arching through his body, the pulsing, searing, throb of it becoming his singular focus, vying for every thought. He tried to imagine himself as Paul Newman in Cool Hand Luke or Steve McQueen in The Great Escape, when the villainous guys – the Germans, the Screws – threw them in ‘the box’. Later, he switched to Dustin Hoffman in Papillon, then any other hero of unfortunate circumstance he could think of, each an attempt to split the load, the mind-bending pain he was experiencing. It seemed to work for the first while, although reality would inevitably set in and his mind would be dragged, kicking and screaming, back to the present, the pain, the cramps. And I’ve only been like this a few hours. How long had Luke been in? Or Steve?

Knowing Dr. Reichmann could arrive any moment made his skin crawl as if tiny snakes wriggled just under the surface, slithering madly, trying to drive him out of his ever-loving mind, insane. The anticipation of the Doctor at long last opening the office door all but stopped his breath. He’d lost track of time hours ago, not daring the movement to look at his watch for fear of being noticed. He felt like he was fading in and out of consciousness, he fought to hold on. The anticipation of seeing the look on the Doctor’s face, the gratitude, was all that was left to carry him through the pain, the cramps.

Security arrived at the building around five while most of the people were either leaving for the evening or preparing to. It was a typical medical building, not too many floors, people coming and going, mostly going and either keeping to themselves or chattering like school girls on the last day before spring break. He hardly understood a word they said, his focus was on being forgettable. He’d easily strolled in, clear as day, like he belonged – watching them as they made their way down the generic halls and out the double glassed doors, skipping towards whatever groundhog-day lives they lived in their matchbox houses with their two and a half kids and their stupid fucking dog. It had been easy to walk into Dr. Reichmann’s vacated office without being noticed. And he’d been hiding, holding himself motionless, ever since.

He expected there would be security guards about. Of course he did, he wasn’t an idiot for Christ’s sakes. What he hadn’t planned for was having them bloody-well camped outside the office door and all damn night. He didn’t dare move, at least that’s what his mind kept screaming. He’d no idea how long the latest chant had been echoing inside his head: Cramps, security, pain, cramps, security, pain… a dry cackle escaped his lips, muffled immediately with his hand. He hoped the security guard hadn’t heard his jacket move, his breathing – God, this is terrifying! Exhilarating! No matter, it would all be worthwhile, even if he got caught and lived the rest of his days in hell or prison, it would all be worth it. He would gladly live a thousand tortures to see the gratefulness upon the Doctor’s face. After all, what good is a life without charity? He grinned, making crazy faces in the dark, wondering what he looked like – if he was scary, terrifying.

He would have to select the perfect moment as timing was critical. Would he tell the Doctor when he arrived, first-thing, like a morning cup of coffee and the newspaper? Spring it on him like a Jack-in-the-Box? No, not Jack, Jack sounded too proper, too Catholic, like the Kennedys or Mel Gibson.

Marcus in the Box! He stifled a giggle at the thought, the movement of his arm, the sleeve of his jacket sounding like a jet landing inside of his mind. He held still as a rabbit, waiting for the first sign of danger. He slowed his heart while his ears, his mind, searched for the slightest sound or air movement. One, two, three – slowly – four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, ten, he let himself breath, measured at first, easing into it that he not break the silence. Marcus in the Box would not work. It had almost gotten him caught.

Perfect timing was essential. Nothing was worse than telling a story or joke then carefully springing the punch-line only to find you hadn’t told it at the perfect time or they hadn’t been paying attention so didn’t laugh, didn’t “get it.” Stupid fucks! Would it have killed any of you to listen? To pay attention? This time he covered his mouth before the amusement escaped his lips, keeping the snigger to himself, locked carefully in his mind as the good Doctor had taught him, the irony getting the best of him.

Was that a sound? Is it him? He listened to the jingle at the door while holding his breath and willing his heart to slow its beating so he could make out the sound. He waited, listened, counted, one, two, three, four – slow it down Marcus – five, six, seven – slower – eight, nine, ten. He held his breath listening with every hair, every pore. It must have been a guard, his mind playing tricks on him.

Timing. No, springing it on him first-thing wouldn’t get the reaction he was hoping for, now that he thought it out. The Doctor might get too startled, maybe spill his coffee or something and that would ruin the whole surprise. He had to pick a better time, the perfect time. Think Marcus – think!

I’ve got to narrow it down. Hearing that phrase, the Doctor’s words spoken in his mind as if he were beside him, counseling him, brought him joy elating his body, his senses. You see Dr. Reichmann. I have been listening. Marcus grinned.

Tell him while he’s alone? Or spring it on him while he’s with a patient? His grin increased, shrinking much of his face. He was impressed with himself for thinking it out like Dr. Reichmann taught him, going through the questions. He could tell by the wet metal smell, that blood smell that filled his nose back deep where he could sense it in his brain. It depends on who the patient is. Right? He felt euphoria, if euphoria meant some incredible event, some time-melting moment in life where it slows to liquid, gets thick, irresistible. Does it mean the same for everyone? He doubted it. People threw important words around like nickels now-a-days. Sorry, love – they had no meaning as far as he was concerned as one or the other was tossed into every other sentence, like a favorite song, ruined forever by overplay. For Marcus, it was when the Doctor agreed with him, congratulated him for coming up with the right answer. That’s when elation came. And he knew the Doctor would be proud of him for this – this thinking through a problem, working it out on his own with thought rather than emotion, reaction.

Marcus dug into the pocket of his favorite faded jeans pulling out the folded piece of paper he’d tucked away earlier, for safety. He hadn’t known why at the time, but instinct or intuition had told him to grab it at the last moment. Or was it the Doctor? He paused, trying to remember. He could never get the three of them straight. Even so, he put that dilemma aside with more important things to focus on.

Paper in hand, he unfolded it slowly, the least sound making him stop, count to ten. The process took longer than expected, patiently counting each fold set free, all the while holding his breath, slowing the pace of his heart. He would pause and listen after each making certain there were no shadow sounds, then reestablish his heart-rate and breathing in a calm and soothing pattern, then the next fold. Four in all – not too many, not too few – the perfect size for his pants pocket, comfortable, and the paper didn’t become too creased or wrinkled. He liked that, keeping things organized, orderly, neat and tidy when possible.

Life was a cauldron of contradiction. So confusing, complicated, people never saying what they mean, colluding their words into mixed signals, hidden agendas. Why didn’t people just say what they meant? Why did they lie? Why are they so mean to me – to the Doctor?

A cool gust ruffled the unfolded paper in his hands. Had the Doctor arrived? How had he missed hearing the door? He held his breath, slowed his heart, waited as motionless as stone listening for any sound, the least wisp of air to tell him what he already knew.

He counted one, two, three, four, five, six…

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1. Book 1, Denial / Chapter 1, Marcus
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