Lina: Written By Stephen Fahey – Part 1

It was seven years to the day since Lina died when Joseph completed medical school. He told the staff at St. James that he was going to travel. He had said all along that he wanted to help the less fortunate in abroad so it was no surprise to management when he handed in his notice. There was cake and tears and balloons. He didn’t linger but when he walked out the door of staff entrance that night he felt good for the first time since he could remember. And yet it was a fleeting happiness because as he started his car that feeling sparked out. He drove without thinking of the road, his mind filled with images of Eli McIntosh. He had been waiting all those years to see him and when he got home Joseph made the final preparations before collecting him. He cleaned his guest house one more time, having prepared lodgings for his guest. Everything was just right. It was perfect and he wasn’t going to let anything spoil McIntosh’s stay. Joseph’s old life as a carpenter had stood him in good stead. He had built the house for his wife Ola by himself over three summer, so it was no trouble for him to add the extra comforts for his guest. It only took a one weekend.

McIntosh awoke in the back of Joseph’s van as the trees outside the window loomed with a silence that was timeless. He was sluggish and hungry but there was water and sandwiches that Joseph had brought so he ate and watched the trees roll by and wondered. He had been away for so long that it felt as if everything was new. But there was a familiarity to the trees that was comforting. He couldn’t sleep even though he was so tired that his eyes stung, but the sandwiches were good and he did feel better after filling his stomach. It was hours before Joseph pulled off the main road onto the dirt track that led uphill to the holiday home. They had driven all day and as they pulled up at Park Castle, as Lina had named it, the doors opened and McIntosh stepped into the cool, pine scented evening. He walked to the cab at the front of the van but it was empty and locked shut so he turned to the house.

It was beautiful, nestled between two huge oak trees. There were four large windows along the front of the single storey home, one for each of the four main rooms of the property. A large carved wooden door with wrought iron hinges stood in the centre of the windows like a centurion on duty. The shale roof was tacked tight and neat and it was as if the house had grown out of the ground. McIntosh liked it, but as he looked it over a twig snapped in the bushes to his left and he remembered himself. Walking to where he had heard the twig snap he hunched over and raised his fists on instinct. His breathing tightened and his skin grew warmer and as he reached the bushes he couldn’t see any movement. It was getting dark and he was unfamiliar with the area so he backed away towards the van. Then everything went dark. Joseph Fay stood over him with a pounding heart – all the years of preparation having come to fruition at last. His hands were steady though as he dragged his guest into the house and dropped him on the kitchen floor. He opened the basement door then and dragged him down the wooden stairs to his lodgings.

A piercing headache burned through McIntosh’s skull as he awoke. Rubbing his neck he didn’t realise at first that he was in a room with no windows. The flush, hardwood walls hadn’t registered with his brain either, but when he stood he looked around he felt the shackle on his ankle pull tight. It was clean and new looking. Nickle plated, it glowed orange and yellow in the low wattage of the single lightbulb caged in one of the corners of where the two walls met the ceiling. And the chain on the shackle led out of a hole in the wall so he couldn’t see what it was tethered to. The only other item in the room was the single mattress along the length of one of the walls and a white button like a light switch was fitted in the centre of the wall above the mattress. It was warm in that alien place. The wood smelled new and there was a slight taste of glue in the air.

There was room enough to stand and lie down, but not much else. So he lay on the mattress and listened for any signs of life. He could hear his heart slow its gallop to a trot and the smell of glue seemed to fade. But as he lay there, staring at the wooden ceiling, he felt the familiar sting of incarceration. He had lived in a box like the one he found himself in then for so long that it seemed almost like home. But the silence was new. In prison there was never silence. There was always some footsteps or the breathing of the man in the next cell. So he lay there and listened to his own breathing. He couldn’t remember the last time that he had stopped and listened to himself like that. He wasn’t stupid, he knew that it was Joseph Fay that had brought him there. Part of him even thought that he deserved it. And there McIntosh stayed, muttering to himself until the light blinked out and he fell asleep.

As if in a dream McIntosh woke in the woods looking up at blue sky. The smell of tree sap perked his mind as he blinked a slow, pained blink. Above him the wind swayed the treetops. They danced in unison and although there was a rustling of their leaves he was too confused to hear it. His throat was raw and he didn’t remember how he got there, but he sat up and looked around to see nothing but forest. His feet were bear and he had only a pair of jeans for clothing. It was brisk too, chilling him. Unused to the outdoors McIntosh hugged himself and walked in a random direction hoping for the best. He never enjoyed being out in nature, even in his youth. He had always felt uncomfortable in the woods and in the fields. He was a city boy and even as a man who lived in a concrete box for the last seven years he still didn’t enjoy the raw power of nature. His soles of his feet cut on rocks and thorns as he walked and soon he was warmed by the effort of his march, but over every hill there were just more hills and trees. When the sun reached its peak he had reached a valley where the was a river where he drank his fill. He felt the loneliness of his isolation then as he looked around and saw nothing but more wilderness.

Following the river, he grew more and more tired and as he wandered the sun dipped and night came and wrapped itself around him. And that was when the true sounds of nature began. There were strange squeaking noises in the air above his head and the fluttering of wings. There were rustles in the undergrowth every so often and in the sparse moonlight he had to feel his way on the slick rocks that lined the river. It was arduous and more than once he slipped and cut his hands and arms. So before dawn he lay down in long grass near the river and slipped into a light sleep from which he awoke with regularity during the night. The following day his cuts had scabbed and his bruises had ripened. He made his way along the river with his stomach twisting inside him with hunger. The cold had made its way into his bones and the cuts on his feet reopened as soon as he started walking again, so every step was a labour of pain. But still he went, aching and lost in body and mind. But then, in the distance he saw a solid streak of grey between the trees and a white flash of a truck as it hurtled along it.

In his gut, McIntosh felt new and able and he ran towards the road. It was a few hundred yards so he knew that he could make it. He leapt over rocks and ducked under branches, pumping his legs and throwing his arms out in front of himself as he tasted freedom. But there, not a hundred yards from the road, he tripped and twisted his ankle. Or least he felt like he had twisted it, but when he rolled over and sat up he looked down at this ankle and saw an arrow struck through it. The shock of it had hit him so hard that he didn’t feel the arrow in his flesh, but when he tried  to stand again the pain flooded him and he keeled over onto his back with a scream. The pain was clean, numbing his mind, but he still felt every sinew of his leg slither inside and writhe inside his body in an agony that was wretched. And then, as he bit down on his bottom lip Joseph stepped from the undergrowth and stood watching him with dead eyes and a crossbow slung across his back.

McIntosh could think of nothing and stared at Fay, his thick arms and broad shoulders looming over him in the afternoon sun. Neither man spoke as McIntosh squirmed in pain. Then Joseph walked to him and stood on the end of the crossbow bolt turning his guest onto his side and drawing a curdled whimper from him. Another truck raced by on the road, and still Joseph stood on the bolt, but as McIntosh started to pass out from the pain Joseph gave him a boot to the face and knocked him out clean. When Eli woke again he was sat at the kitchen table in Park Castle, his leg bandaged and Joseph stood at the hob with his back to him. Eli’s eyes darted around the room looking for a weapon and then to the door and when he tried to stand his ankle roared up at him from under the table. Then, as he pushed his chair back to inspect the wound, without turning around, Joseph spoke,

“I hope you like eggs, Eli.”

“What!?”

“I said, I hope you like eggs. I make the best scrambled eggs.”

“What am I doing here?”

“I have a secret ingredient, but I won’t tell you what it is. You’ll have to guess!”

“Why the fuck am I here!!?”

“Would you prefer coffee or orange juice?”

“Fuck you! I did my time!”

“They’re both fresh, Eli.”

“Go fuck yourself!”

“Now, now, Eli. I bandaged you up just fine. You’ll be ok. Don’t worry.”

“You’re fucking nuts, Fay! You can’t do this!!”

“Play nice, Eli. Or I’ll send you to your room.”

McIntosh looked at the table in front of him and struggle to see his position. He didn’t know anything about Joseph Fay except that he was a widower and a carpenter. He had heard that from his lawyer during the trial. But he had nothing else to go on. He was a big man, over six foot and seventeen stone at least. But he wasn’t without some refinements. The house was immaculate, everything in its place, and Fay was well groomed. There were hundreds of books on shelves that ran the length of the adjacent lounge and a gathering of whiskey decanters and cut glass tumblers situated on a table next to the shelving. On the walls of the lounge and kitchen were framed portraits of Lina, he recognised her, and a woman who must have been her mother. And through the rear windows of the lounge a tended garden sat patient and enticing.

“Here you are, Eli. Eat up.”

To be continued…

© Stephen Fahey

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