Early the following morning Joseph Fay arrived back at Park Castle exhausted. He showered and ate and made coffee, then sat on the saddle of the front door and watched the sun come up. He tried remember the last time that he had stopped to watch a sunrise. Ola used love them enough to rise early and soak up their beauty, but he had seldom joined her. He had regretted that since he had lost her. Those small things seemed huge to him then. Like elephants in his lap. Even the little squeal she used emit when he picked flowers for her seemed a song of angels he was barred from – a sorrowful betrayal on life’s behalf. But that morning, as the cool air of dawn whispered of the warmth of day, Joseph Fay sipped his coffee and imagined Ola standing over McIntosh where he had left him.
He pictured his beloved companion smiling and laughing as McIntosh struggled. And as he saw his wife then, he felt her love and adoration one more time. She had been so gentle and sweet in so many ways. But that side of her that scared even him was so final that he knew she would be joyous at the sight of her daughter’s killer in such a position. Fay had spent fifteen years deconstructing McIntosh’s mind and body up till then, but the day rising around him then marked a new punishment. It had been a year since he had last hurt McIntosh and the effort and attention to maintaining his guest’s health during his transformation had been the most work he had ever undertaken. He pictured McIntosh out there in the woods, stranded and alone. And that thought warmed Fay even more than the dawn sun. As he finished he coffee Joseph Fay pictured the sunrise on Ola’s face as she leered down at the thing that took the life of her baby.
As for McIntosh, when he next awoke, in the woods, he tried to move but found himself stuck fast in the soil beneath him. Straps held artificial limbs to the stumps of his legs and his arms and on the end of those prostheses were large metal rods driven into the ground and held aloft by a wires hanging from branch above him. It was summer and although the morning air was warm the freight in McIntosh overrode the sensation of heat that his skin should have felt. He tried to lift his right leg but it was wedged stiff in the ground and there was no give in it at all. Looking up and around himself he saw that on the branch of a tree that his new arms were connected to a wire lead around his chest led to the same branch. He hadn’t noticed it until then, but it prevented him from falling over. It was just stiff wire but it was strong enough to take the weight of his mangled body. There was little give it too, keeping him from leaning too in any direction.
He felt then like the scarecrows that his grandfather used have in the fields he had played in as a boy. Stiff and human, only not. He struggle with what energy he had, but there was not hope. And so, as the dawn reached up into midday, McIntosh tried again to move. His arms were heavy, but his legs stabilised him and he managed to get a rhythm going. It seemed for a time that there were hope that he could free himself. But he soon realised that even if he managed to free himself from the wires and lift his legs up out of the ground, then he would be forced to crawl on his prostheses and he wasn’t sure that that would be any safer than being tried up. If he fell he would never be able to get up again.
And so, hung up like some living ornament, McIntosh leaded stood for as long as he could, but that night his leg seized and he had to put his weight on the wire around his chest. It dug into his armpits and restricted his breathing, but it gave enough relief for his leg to relax. That first night he didn’t sleep for fear what lurks in the moonlit woods. There were sounds he recognised and sounds that were new and frightening to him, and all through the hours of darkness the balance of pain and fear tipped and swayed from minute to minute. Come morning McIntosh had no energy left to think or feel. He wasn’t even hungry, despite having not eaten since the previous morning. All he focus on was the occasional sound of the woods around him. His mind reeled a every cooing dove or rustling of leafs in the wind. Each second seemed to scream through time in an endless arch of dread. Then it came. From behind him.
A sheep walked around him to his front without looking up at him. Its calm demeanour terrifying the rattled mind of McIntosh. It grazed on the ground around where McIntosh’s legs posts were buried and as it neared him a scream soared through the trees and rushed the squirrels and birds from the foliage. The sight of anything near him was so traumatic that he terror surged inside his broken body and shook his senses into a stew of mindless fear. His wailing startled the sheep into bolting which left only the haggard, awkward frame of McIntosh trembling in the web of wire that cut into his flesh.
“Don’t cry, Eli. It’s ok. That big scary sheep is gone now.”
“J-Joe? Help me, Joe!”
“Oh no, Eli. I can’t do that. You know that, you silly billy.”
“Not at all. No need to… ”
“I’ll die here if you don’t hel… ”
“You’re not making any sense, Eli. You can’t trust yourself. You don’t know what’s best. I do. And I say that you’ll be just super. Have a rest now. You’ve earned it.”
“Joe. You FUCK! What the fuuu… ”
Fay’s words sank into McIntosh’s heart and the emotional overload of his situation fold him in on top of himself.
“Okay, Joe. I’m sorry, Joe.”
“That’s a good boy.”
“Thank you, joe.”
“Don’t mention it, Eli. Now sleep. I’ll bring you home soon. If you’re good we’ll have iced cream.”
McIntosh fell into a sleep of dread and woe so powerful that Fay didn’t need to sedate him. He was simply unconscious. The weight of his torment was too much to let him wake from the nightmares that polluted his mind. And so, as he bled from the wire that cut into him, propped up on the stilt of metal, Joseph Fay removed the prostheses wrapped around McIntosh’s limbs and walked returned to his tent just a few yards away. He chuckled to himself, knowing the depths of suffering that his trickery and deceit would cause his guest. It was a calm night and as he drank the coffee he brewed over a small campfire he thought back to the day that Lina was born.
She was so small, but perfectly formed. A perfect little person who gurgled and smiled at him as if she already knew that he loved her. He remember feeling so strong and sure of himself. So free that he could never again be touched by any kind hurt. He held her that first day while Ola slept and he knew himself for the first time in his life. He knew life for the first time. And every day after that he was alive like he had always wanted to be. As Lina grew he grew alongside her. Becoming a better man. As she learned to walk he felt that he had reached the pinnacle of life, calm and utterly untouchable. But then, Joseph Fay stopped himself. The memories brought him to that day, as they always did, and he didn’t want to spoil the happy remembrances with the pain he suffered at loosing Lina. He always stopped himself there and busied himself when the pain encroached, feeling that he owed it to Ola and Lina, but knowing in himself that it was too much to bear.
Standing and walking off from his tent, Joseph Fay tossed the last of the coffee in his mug onto the forest floor and checked on McIntosh. He looked like some abomination, his contorted and twisted flesh warped into horrible shapes. And there, while he slept, dangling like a trapped animal, Fay looked upon him and viewed the man that took his little baby. He had removed so much of his body by then that almost didn’t look human. No face. No hands or feet. No genitals but for one testicle. Once leg and one arm entirely gone. His skin nearly all burned and cut and bruised. The wire chewing into him wouldn’t cut him open, but infection was a real possibility. Fay inspected it and wiped it down to help keep his guest from developing unwanted puss. Then McIntosh awoke and saw Fay watching him.
At first he didn’t notice that the prostheses had been removed and he just stared at Joseph Fay. He wanted to talk to him but he didn’t have the energy. He wanted to ask for food, but he knew that whatever he said Fay would keep babying him and ultimately deny his request. He had reached a point where he didn’t know himself anymore. He was completely and absolutely under Joseph Fay’s will. Then he looked down in resignation and saw that the stumps of his legs were exposed. His eye followed the flesh and saw that the metal he had though was connected to the prostheses was protruding from his stumps.
It was impossible. So his mind couldn’t make sense of it. You can’t just grew metal out of your body. It didn’t stand to reason. And so he stared at it totally incapable of think of anything but the metal and his stumps – shock and hunger broiling inside him in a molten heaving.
“Beautiful, aren’t they, Eli?”
A blank look was all McIntosh could muster.
“It’s my finest work. I had to keep you sedated for months while they healed. I grafted the metal to your bones.”
Tears fell from McIntosh’s face but still no words escaped his lips.
“I know. It’s a wonder that you didn’t die, but I kept them clean for you long enough for your skin to heal around the metal. Now we can play.”
McIntosh managed then to speak, but a meek whinge was all that came out of his mouth. He stared at Fay and watched as he walk away. Listening to his footsteps, McIntosh heard the rustle of cloth as his host crawled into a tent behind him and then the clank of metal sang out. Footsteps walked up behind him and fay stepped back into view, in his hand he held a metal rod similar to those implanted in McIntosh’s stumps.
“Like so, Eli.”
And with that, Joseph Fay called upon Lina’s memory and raised the rod above his head then swung it down with a father’s rage. The sound of metal on metal shattered the silence of night and chimed the bone in McIntosh’s right arm. The pain shot up his arm, into his shoulder, through his neck and into his mind where it blinded him to everything but it’s power. He froze stiff instantly, his eyes peeled open and fixed in front of him. It transported him to another place altogether. He did have a body there. He was just a cloud of pain floating freely. Then the jangling of metal on metal crawled from his mind, through his neck into his shoulder and just before it reached the stump of his arm Fay again smashed the rod down of McIntosh’s metal implant.
Again agony lifted him from himself. Again he went to a place of pure pain, worse even than being set on fire. And again he came back to Fay. Over and over metal sang until McIntosh was bathed in sweat. Exhausted and quivering, all of weight on the wire across his belly, Fay’s guest vomited and slipped into more nightmares.
To be continued…
© Stephen Fahey