It was a terrible slumber of the most realistic nightmares for McIntosh. He was back in prison, on the call block, and in every other cell, little Lina stood at the bar leering at him. One by one they all began to whisper to him. He couldn’t make out what they were saying and many of them were barely visible in the dim light of the cellblock. They all whisper different things, but he could hear them all equally as if they were standing right in front of him. It was disorienting. Haunting. Chilling. But he bore it through his guilt. Worn down by the sound, he knelt at the bars of his cell and took the storm of whispers that grew into a mulch of noise so great that he couldn’t hardly bear the weight of it. And then, his head bowed in suffering, from behind him a child’s hand rested on his shoulder and startled him awake.
Snapping up to a seated position, the thin mattress in his box stuck to McIntosh’s bloodied back. He twist his shoulder from side to side and the cloth finally separated, but not before peeling what clots of blood had managed to form. His blood flowed and the air stung the wounds. His skin opened further when he stretched his spine and beneath those wounds the cracked and chipped bones stabbed at him from within. His whole back was bruised and around the wounds in particular the smears of dried blood matted with the dirt he had been dragged through after he had passed out.
“Joe must have been very happy with these cuts. Very happy. I bet he’s proud of me. He needs me. He does. Yeah. I help Joe. Eli in a good boy.”
“Is that you mumbling down there?”
“Oh, Joe. Hi, Joe. Yes. I was just talking to myself. Are you happy, Joe?”
“Shut up, Eli. Or I won’t give you your feed.”
Silence fell and the box wall slid open. There stood Joseph Fay, a bowl in one hand and a mug in the other. He put them down on the floor beside the mattress and walked backwards out of the box then hunkered down to watch his guests use his new hands for the first time. McIntosh plunged his cupped left paw into the bowl of sludge, but it was so thick that he had to trap the bowl against the side of the mattress to get enough leverage to scoop out some food for himself. Eventually he managed a gelatinous globule onto his paw and, pausing to admire his accomplishment, McIntosh fed himself for the first time in years.
Over and over the cupped paw spooned paste into a glad and hungry mouth. Fay watched with a fascination, glad to not have to handfeed his guest anymore, but annoyed that he was so apt at using the paw he had fitted to him. He wanted him to struggle more, but for that moment he was suitably satisfied. Then, growing brave, McIntosh turned his attention to the mug. The hook on his right hand was no use to him as he had no right elbow to bend to lift the mug to his mouth. His left paw was too large to fit into the mug too so he was at a loss as to what to do. Then, with thirst luring him, he pushed the mug forward and flopped onto his stomach to be low enough to the ground to purse his lips and slurp the top half of the water directly. Fay chuckled then laughed aloud as McIntosh rolled onto his side and tipped the mug with his left paw to try and drain the rest of the water into his waiting mouth.
“You look like a seal! I should have done this years ago!”
“… yes, Joe. Thank you, Joe. That was delicious! And that I made you laugh it was all the better, Joe. You’re so good to me.”
“So good to you what!?”
“Joe! So good to me, Joe! Sorry, Joe.”
“That’s right. And don’t you ever forget it.”
“I won’t, Joe. Sorry, Joe. I promise, Joe.”
“Right, you’re fed and I feel like a walk. But first. I had something for you.”
“Oh, Joe. A gift? For Me, Joe?”
“Oh yes, now come along.”
Outside Park Castle a few minutes later McIntosh wept the first tears of joy he had wept in over ten years. Lost for words, he accepted the long wooden staff with a notch in it a foot or so below the top of it. His hook fit into it and it enabled him to balance properly as he walked. It was the only gift he could ever remember receiving. Not to mention that it gave him a far greater range of motion, despite keeping his right arm rod elevated at all times.
To be continued…
© Stephen Fahey