(1100 words) It was evening on a cold, windy New Year’s Eve as Stephen Stein made his way along the drab downtown high street. There were few people about and the shops were closing or closed. Stein caught a glimpse of himself reflected in a dark store window. A wild mop of straggly grey hair, a thick beard of matching grey with touches of white, a black greatcoat, stained and smelly, and heavy brown boots, scuffed by hundreds of hours of tramping the streets. Stein adjusted an incongruous chequered yellow scarf at his neck, brand new, it even had the price tag – thirty pounds. He’d found it in a bin, put out for collection. Now he rolled it and put it in a pocket in case someone had second thoughts and came looking for it. “Hi Stevie boy, Happy New Year!” It was Robbie, the owner of the laundromat, a genuinely kind-hearted guy and one of the only people in this small town full of small-minded people who’d give him the time of day. Stein pulled his gaze away from the window and his eyes glinted at the twenty-pound note held out to him.
Boxes, special boxes, lie at the bottom of my locked filing cabinet. Deposited there are letters and cards collected throughout my life. From grandparents, school-friends, parents, lovers, wives, children, more lovers, more children. Since the invention of e-mail though, they’ve been few and far between.
Tonight it’s New Year’s Eve 2027 and there’s a very special box of letters I want to look at. But first there’s something I have to do - The Ritual.