It was on one of his regular walks in the woods that Joseph Fay thought of it. it had been a glorious summer. The sun had spent its worth on the rocks and each of them was blistering with shining heat. By a river, the spray of the rapids steamed into wisps on the hot stones on shore and bade Fay think of a broiling pot. It was a simple idea. Basic even. But, as always, Fay pictured the suffering he could visit upon McIntosh. And so, returning home, Fay went to town and purchased a large metal basin. It was reminiscent of the summers of his childhood. Smaller than he remembered them, but still that same familiar colour. Even the sound of the clang of it as he dropped it on the ground outside his house was an echo of those days years before.
He could tell by eye that it was the right size so he left it where it was and walked off to just inside the woods to find a clearing large enough. Arranging rocks in a ring, then gathering moss and twigs and wood, the thoughts of how McIntosh would soon feel swam in Joseph Fay’s mind. He decided there and then to bring a comfortable chair and apples to roast on the same fire. In less than an hour McIntosh was carrying pails of water into the woods to fill the tub. Perched on the ring of rocks and almost floating on the bale of kindling and wood beneath it, the basin loomed with a simple innocence that belied Fay’s intent.
The next morning Fay stood over McIntosh, sat in the tub. One simple injection woke him to his bath. Then, Fay began.
“Eli, you are filth. That is why I have decided to cleanse you.”
“Where am I, Joe?”
“Where is… ”
“Like I said, you’re filth, Eli. You need a good wash. In fact, you need a long hot bath.”
“I can’t remember what that feels like.”
“Well you will, soon. I promise.”
“Oh, thank you… ”
“Don’t mention it, Eli. How do you feel?”
“Still sleepy. But not sore.”
“What year is it now, joe?”
“You rest there, I’ll be while getting you ready.”
“But what… ”
“Easy now… you rest yours, Eli. Close your eye.”
And so, McIntosh closed his eye and leaned his head back to rest against the handle of the basin. The smell of the woods in summer filled the air and the morning’s heat was rising, McIntosh could feel it on the stretched scars that formed the mesh of material that had once been his face. The sounds of bird near and far singing to one another and the bristling gusts of wind humming in the branches overhead all formed that familiar tapestry of the warmer months of the year. It was soothing to McIntosh, of course, and even the clean mountain air itself seemed to rejuvenate his senses. Then, a whiff of smoke poisoned the gentle clam of McIntosh’s enjoyment. It wasn’t acrid or damp, but the clean and bright hope of a sweet summer’s day was chocked as the smoke bled into the moment and tore McIntosh away from his thoughts.
It was a familiar smell, one he knew, but hadn’t smelled in a long, long time. It was homely and almost gentle in its perfume, but when he realised the scent of campfire he snapped back to Fay who sat next to him in a deckchair smirking at him. That sight. Of Fay. Smirking like that. It sent chills up McIntosh’s spine. The malevolent leer that he wore was plane to see. It wasn’t a bath at all. He was going to cook him. He was going to boil him alive. He’d be scalded. Burned. Maybe he’d die. If only. Was it his last day? Had Joe finally given in to his want. He knew that Joe wanted to kill him only a shade less that he wanted him to stay alive and suffer.
“You know, Joe. I think of her often.”
“The FUCK did you just say to me?!”
“I said I think of her often.”
“You little… ”
“Especially at night… ”
“I’ll fucking… ”
“… when I’m cold I think of that night.”
“Not another wor… ”
“She was so small, Joseph.”
“Don’t you dar… ”
“Tiny, in fact.”
“YOU FUCKING CUN… ”
“You know, Joseph, I’ve probably thought of her more often than you have.”
“You are about to die, McIntosh.”
“I died long ago, Joseph. You saw to that. But that doesn’t mean I can’t think of her as often as I want.”
“This is it, Eli.”
Fay stood and slipped his hands around McIntosh’s throat and began to squeeze.
“She really was a pretty little thing.”
Fay then leaned on McIntosh, sliding hi guest’s face under the water. McIntosh smiled back at Fay and didn’t thrash or fight at all. Through the settle unbroken surface of the water Fay looked into McIntosh’s eye and saw joy, not fear. His own blood steamed in his veins as he finally finished the creature that took his little girls from the world. But as McIntosh turned purple, Fay saw a glint that showed no gloating, but thanks. Without a moment to spare Fay wrenched McIntosh’s body from the warm water. Snot and tears followed coughed and choking gasps.
“FUC-K YO-U J-OE!!”
“You won’t get me that easy, Eli. You were just being silly. I see that now.”
“I FUCKING KILLED YOU LITTLE BITCH AND I LOEVD EVERY SECOND OF IT!”
“Now, now, Eli. Don’t strain yourself.”
“WHAT KIND OF A FUCKING FATHER ARE YOU!? YOU CAN’T EVEN KILL YOU BABY’S KILLER!”
“I will, Eli. You know I will. As well you know that that day will not be for year yet. We have years of fun ahead of us.”
“Fuck you, Joe! Fuck! You!”
“Now, now. Sit back. The water is only warm. But soon you’ll be nice and toasty.”
Minute by minute the water become warmer. And warmer. Then hot. And hotter. Then very hot. Then too hot. Then the screams again. And the thrashing. The burning. Of skin. Of face. Of stumps. It was all encompassing. Every inch of McIntosh boiled and churned his mind with flames of water that no amount of squirming helped. It was incredible. Even for a man who had suffered so greatly in body and in mind it was unbearable. The freshly healed wounds no his should and robs felt as if they would burn. His skin felt like it was melting. His eye felt like it would and only then when his voice fell to a whimper did Joseph fay toss a pail of cold water over him.
The relief was momentous. For a few seconds McIntosh could breathe again. He gasped and heaved what air he could into his small body. He thanked his host for the reprieve but when he looked at him he was sitting back down and leering again with a demon’s eyes. McIntosh could feel it already. The one pail of water didn’t cool the whole basin and before he even had time to regain himself the heat rose up and trapped him again in a hell all his own. It was worse the second time. His body had been damaged so much the first time that the second scalding burned the wounds the first had established. Again McIntosh lost himself in the mirage of anguish that bled all but the last drops of life from him. The taste of blood in his throat climbed up into his mind and for the briefest moment a joy came alongside the thought that he might slip away into death’s hands. But another splash of cold water snapped him back to life.
He didn’t thank his host that second time. He didn’t even look at him. He just breathed as deeply as he could while he could. He knew what was coming. The sweet air was all the life he could hope for. Nothing more. For in second the worst of all pain drowned itself in his flesh. Without muscle under most of his skin the heat poured into his bones and his organs. This made McIntosh vomit a noxious mix of blood and bile that dyed the water a filthy purple-McIntosh and that was the sign that Fay had been hoping wouldn’t come too soon. As the spasms of McIntosh stomach wrenched his body Fay tossed two pails of cold water on him and then kicked the basin off of the fire. The steam obscured his view and the lack of screams obscured his perception, but when he saw McIntosh lying face down in on the ground in a still steaming puddle, Fay knew that he was in the worst shape he had ever seen him. A final splash of cold water sent McIntosh into shock and as he fell unconscious, mumbling into the soil for Fay to end him, Joseph Fay jabbed him with a shot that sprang him back to life. It did nothing for his pain, but the rush from it stopped him from falling asleep and possibly never awakening again.
To be continued…
© Stephen Fahey