Lina: Written By Stephen Fahey – Part 21

His metal limbs rattled off of one another. Cold sweat clung to him. The echoes of Lina’s whispers hung in the air. And the sadness, the awful true sadness, it lay slathered across everything. Then McIntosh sat up and saw his new clothes and bed and thought for a moment that life was comfortable. Not perfect like it had been before everything happened, but comfortable. Then he looked across his box and again saw a plate of bacon and toast which again he savaged it with greed.

It felt familiar, the food and clothes and bed. And that felt so good to McIntosh. He had not had a home in over thirty years. He had not slept on a real bed in as long and had not eaten bacon, let alone four days running, in even longer. The comfort and the jarring familiarity both washed over the maddening fear that had clawed its way into his soul. They drowned out the hope for death that had been following him as long he could remember. I was as if Fay had accepted him. And that acceptance meant everything to McIntosh. He wasn’t his own man. He’d never been his own man. But now, finally, despite his situation, he wanted to feel like he could be. Joseph Fay didn’t call him that day either, but McIntosh venture upstairs to check that Fay had not taken another bad spell. Unable to find Fay, McIntosh took some air and returned that evening to rest and then sleep in.

The following morning, McIntosh awoke and found no bacon waiting for him. At first he thought that it was nice while it had lasted but it seemed that he was no longer in Fay’s good graces. Then, the thought of his host having hurt himself or taken gravely ill flushed through McIntosh and he scrambled to check Park Castle. After a search of every room turned up nothing, McIntosh searched outside. Then, when his panic quelled, McIntosh sat in the door way at the front of the house and waited. Fay could be anywhere, hunting, hiking, getting supplies. There was no point in assuming the worst. And that is where McIntosh remained, sat, lonely, confused about what Fay actually thought of him.

Two days passed and no sign of Fay began to genuinely worry McIntosh. He hadn’t eaten in those two days because he didn’t want Fay to return and be annoyed. But on the third day, when hunger rose up and became too much, McIntosh scavenged some bread from a cupboard and felt guilty all afternoon. He was ashamed. He had never stolen anything in his life. He had never even broken the law except that one time. And he knew that Fay would have been disappointed in him.

But days continued without Joseph Fay until full moons came and went and McIntosh found himself living alone. He often wondered about Fay. He worried for him, fearful that he had been wounded or had died. It wasn’t freedom at all, having Park Castle all to himself. It was a struggle to survive without hands. He couldn’t barely feed himself, but foraging in the woods and the supplies Fay had stocked the house with enabled McIntosh to live a meagre existence for months on end.

In time, he came to think of himself as the master of Park Castle. Its sole inhabitant and it’s guardian. Whatever had happened to Joseph Fay, McIntosh had a life of his own. He could come and go as he pleased for the first time nearly thirty years. He ate when wanted to. He slept when he wanted to. And, eventually, he drank Fay’s scotch and whiskey. All of it. Night after night he poured himself a bowl of whiskey and lapped it up like a dog does water. He also read and marvelled at the greater world which had slipped past him all his life. Out beyond Park Castle there were far off mountains and islands and adventurers exploring them. There were beasts the like of which only a demon’s mind could concoct. Great cities and steppes. River like oceans and volcanoes. There were great herds and flocks. Endless forests and the deepest ravines. All of which he would never see, but to imagine them there in Fay’s lounge was enough for McIntosh.

Soon summer bled into winter and the harshness of life in the wilderness soaked into McIntosh’s bones. With no means of lighting a fire he resorted to filling his box with blankets and clothes and wedged himself and a book on his bed for days on end. Winter lasted months in the mountains and often McIntosh would go days without eating, but there moments when life seemed decent. Now and then he would realise that he hadn’t thought about Joseph Fay or Prison or little Lina for more than a day. And that lifted his spirits. He had been sullen and woeful for so many years, and then when Fay disappeared he found himself frightful and lonely. But then, as spring begged for the gifts of summer, with a heart that had thawed alongside the deep snow drifts, McIntosh felt human again. He didn’t think about the past at all. He just read and walked the woods and tried to live a good and proper life that he could be proud of. So often he would sit and watch the deer in the distance and the fireflies at night as they clouded near Park Castle. He would watch the clouds and the stars and feel connected to them. He would stand by the gorge and listen as the hollow echoes of the cavern below called out their secrets in a language no one understand.

Then, one day, while he sat at the kitchen table, McIntosh decided that he would walk to town. He knew that it would take days to get there, even for a health and able man, but the effort of it seemed an adventure in itself. He would be as the heroes in his books were. He would brave danger and attempt that which had never been accomplished. And so he packed a blanket and ventured out into the woods at dawn. The smell of summer was calling from the nearby future. It would come in just days and the anticipation of the sights and sounds of summer charged McIntosh with the strength of the men he so admired.

Each step was a declaration. Each an affirmation of the will of one man. There was nobody to stop him. Nobody to help him. It was all on him. And that was why he enjoyed it so much. As he staggered along, McIntosh talked to himself, narrating his guest like the authors in the books. He was the adventurer seeking out the lost city. He would face peril and defeat all the odds that were stacked against him. He would stumble, but he would not fail. For he was The Great McIntosh. That first night found McIntosh exhausted and doubtful of his abilities. He slumped down to lean against a tree and while he tried to guess how far he had walked that day he slipped into a clouded slumber of dreams and nightmares that seemed all too alike.

Wrapping himself in his blanket when he rose on the second morning, McIntosh staggered to the nearest stream and lay down to drink from it. He was lying flat on his stomach with his face in the water when he heard a growling nearby. It wasn’t like the growls he had heard before. It was a light and high pitched growl. He froze, his nose just an inch above the water. And then, slowly, he turned his head to see a bear cub stood some twenty feet away drinking from the stream. Behind the cub a sow stood lookout while her offspring drank. The wind was blowing from them towards McIntosh and he could smell them on the breeze. They were awful creatures, he thought. Huge and dangerous. Stinking and powerful. And he, without even the means to run, lay there next to them, hidden by sheer chance and the strange smallness of his body. He breathed as lightly as he could. Knowing that if the saw him he would be churned into a flesh coleslaw. But the sow turned and walked her cub away from McIntosh. Her great hulking mass pounding the sandy bank as she went.

McIntosh watched them as they splashed in the stream and walked out of sight. They seemed happy as they went, the cub clawing at its mother’s back paws. But then, when he felt it safe enough, McIntosh rolled onto his back and sat up, then staggered to away in the opposite direction. He’d never seen a bear before. He had heard them on walked with Fay, but he had never actually seen one, let alone at such close quarters. It was invigorating to have come so close to death. Having lived in perpetual danger for the majority of his life, then lived alone in peace for a season, to be reminded of the tremendous pounding ones heart is capable of left McIntosh shaking from the excitement. It was how he imagined the adventurers in the books felt. They fought wild animals with spears and rocks sometimes and they never seemed to be afraid. But there and then McIntosh knew that they would have felt what he was feeling. Such great creatures command so much respect that one cannot come into contact with one and not feel the surge of adrenaline he was feeling.

That feeling of kinship with his heroes swelled in McIntosh chest and emboldened him. He strode more broadly and with a vigour that left him when he was still a young man. He felt able for the world, proud of having made a life in the wilderness. Proud to have paid his debt. Glad that he still had some days left to live a life of his own before the inevitable and unending silence of death laid its hand upon him. That night he climbed into a tree, wrapped himself in his blanket and wedged him between the braches that he would not fall while he slept. He dreamed that night. Pleasant dreams of the faraway places he would never see. He dreamed of owning his own boat, the Faraway lady he would call her. And in her hull and on her deck he would sail the open ocean and find new island no man had ever set foot on. He would discover new birds and name them and he would fight the seas to stay alive and claim his life like a man.

Then, the next morning, McIntosh awoke naked in his box. He thought that he was dreaming. He couldn’t be in his box. He just couldn’t be. But then he tried to sit up on his left elbow and slumped down to his shoulder. He didn’t look. He just lay there and dreaded the thought that his one remaining elbow was gone. He had grown accustomed to using it as a hand of sorts, dragging things to himself and holding things with it. If it was gone then he lost his last shred of independence. After a deep breath McIntosh readied to hoist the weight of his metal limbs, then thrust himself upward onto his buttocks only to see that all of the metal limbs he had become familiar with were gone, as was his elbow and all but the barest stumps on all four of his limbs. He flopped back down onto his bed and realised that it wasn’t his bed, but a mattress.

The box was closed and there were no blankets or clothing anywhere inside it. He was totally exposed. As he lay there, the raw truth sank in. Fay was back. If he left at all. What was left of his own body was reduced to little more than a torso. He was like a swaddled child, unable to walk or even crawl. He wouldn’t see the town or the animals anymore. He was again subject to Fay’s whims. And then, once more, the pain of his existence swelled up in him and McIntosh sobbed. Unable to cry tears for the damage done to his face, his chest heaved and fell and he moaned incoherent gibberish to himself. Until, that is, he heard noise coming from upstairs.

He hadn’t heard the sound of another person in over a year so it was loud and alien to him. But worse still, that he so vulnerable, he mourned the little scratch of a life he had created over the last year. The noise came across the kitchen. Then it opened the basement door. Then walked down the stairs and then stopped just shy of the box.

“Is that you, Joe?”

“Yes, Eli. It’s me.”

“You’re alive!? I thought you were dead, Joe! Where have you been?”

“Never mind that, Eli. I see you made yourself at home.”

“I… yes, Joe. Sorry, Joe. I… I thought that I was stranded. You were gone for a year. I… ”

“What made you think I wasn’t going to return?”

“I didn’t, Joe. I… I just thought… ”

“You just thought?! You should have known better than that.”

“I’m sor… ”

“Silence! You left the house like a pig sty. You drank all my alcohol. You even tried to escape. I hope you see why I had to take the your limbs.”

“I kno… ”

“DO YOU?!”

“I… ”

“I SAID SILENCE!! I HAVE WORKED SO HARD FOR YOU! FEEDING YOU AND CLOTHING YOU AND THIS IS HOW YOU REPAY ME!? Well, Eli… no more.”

And with that, Joseph Fay slide open the box wall, crouched and walked in beside McIntosh’s mattress. Fay slung a length of rope down off of his shoulder and wrapped it around McIntosh body just under his armpits, then tightened it.

“I’m sorry, Joe! Really!”

Fay then let the slack run as he walked out of McIntosh’s box and when he stood in the centre of the basement he heaved on the rope which flipped McIntosh off of his mattress and onto the ground. Flat on his face and unable to right himself, McIntosh slid on his chest while Fay dragged him to the stairs. At the stair Fay let the rope go slack again and climbed to the top stair. Then, leering at McIntosh with dead eyes, he fed the rope through his hands one after the other, slowly, until the rope went taut and he took McIntosh’s weight. It wasn’t much. With no arms or legs and a withered frame McIntosh was easily dragged up the stairs, his face banging off of each of the corners of the wooden boards. The skin on his face broke open on the third step. His bottom front teeth bent inward and caught in McIntosh’s throat on the fifth step and as he reached the door to the kitchen, bloodied, confused and sore, McIntosh’s face stopped the toe Fays boot with a wet thud.

Able only to breath, and barely, McIntosh felt the coarse grit and thorns of the ground outside. Then the soft wet leaves of the forest floor soothed him, before the sound of the gorge came to his ears. It sounded even more powerful than it had before. The shuddering chorus of tireless water raging down into a chasm rolled through his chest. He could feel the chugging weight of tons of water collapsing each second as they threw themselves into the bleak unknown below. The sound drew him. As afraid as he was of it, so was he awed and curious and as if Fay had heard him think, he was dragged to it then hoisted up to the edge and lowered down into the darkness. The water crashed around him and while he felt panic in his blood he also felt a measure of release.

The cold wet spray and splashing froth pummelled his fragile body, forcing his head down and creating a pocket of air in front of his mouth from which McIntosh could gasp the occasional breath. He struggled and spun in the frigid shadow within the roaring chasm, the rope tight around his chest, holding his breath was painful on top of the panic and the cold and the fear. He didn’t know how it lasted. He didn’t care either. When he was in the chasm he was in hell, everything else was irrelevant when he was fighting every second just to live. Anything outside of that ceased to exist until such time as he was heaved up out of the darkness and dragged back to Park Castle.

To be continued…

© Stephen Fahey

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