Our Little Ritual

It was a ritual of sorts. We’d arrive home after a dog walk, and Scruffy would scratch at Mrs Hampton’s door. I’d open it and let him in. I’d return to my apartment, down the hall, after thirty minutes or so, I’d hear those scratches on mine, and I’d let him in. However, over the last week, I fell out with Edith.

We had this unwritten rule. She’d made it out to the shops once every two weeks, as that was all she could do. She’d bake me something nice, and I’d get her bread and milk twice a week. We didn’t speak to each other much though. Scruffy loved her dog Lilly, but today, I didn’t feel up to it.

“Come on Scruffs, we’re just going home,” I said, as we past the door. I didn’t leave her the milk and bread. He whined, wanting to see his friend.

I opened our door and shouted, “IN!”

Scruffy trotted over, his tail between his legs.

You see, last week, she had visitors, and the noise, it went on into the wee hours of the morning. I called her landline, she didn’t pick up. I knocked on the door, curiously at first. But I got more and more irate, until I bashed that door so hard, as if it was my sworn enemy. The visitors were gone now though. I wondered what I could have done to upset her so.

Scruffy led in his bed, and I felt a pang of guilt.

“Oh, come on boy,” I said, getting out of the armchair and feeling charitable.

His tail wagged happily, intrigued by this unexpected command.

We left the apartment, he went straight for her door and began to scratch. The anger fell away and a smile rose on my lips.

“Go on,” I said, opening Mrs Hampton’s door.

I returned to my living room and felt good about myself. It’s hard to stay mad at someone so frail.

Later, when I heard the scratches at my door, I went to the kitchen and picked up my loaf of bread, and the milk I had bought in the morning. I returned to let Scruffy in. As I opened the door, I dropped the groceries, the milk spilling all over the floor. Scruffy let go of was in his mouth and excitedly lapped up the milk.

I stared at the thing he had dropped. The leathery remains of an old woman’s hand.

I raced to Edith’s apartment, the door was now wide open. An acrid stench hit me as the damage to her home became clear. The place was ransacked. Lilly sat, wagging her tail, her mouth painted red with blood. That’s when I realised Edith wasn’t ignoring me. And Lilly didn’t look hungry at all.

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