Lina: Written By Stephen Fahey – Part 27

And so, one morning, in the wilderness, surrounded by a great fur coat, Eli Fay awoke overlooking a valley he had never seen before. He couldn’t see his body but every inch of it was covered in scared, molten skin. He itched all over as his skin had tightened, but the view was so captivating that being unable scratch himself didn’t bother him. It was the farthest that McIntosh had seen since he was in his twenties. And that day he was into his sixties. There were clouds that seemed closed enough to touch had he the arms to reach out. The trees below were no doubt enormous, but up there they were almost flush with the ground. But for their colours and the sunlight capping them he would have thought them just another patch of grass or earth. There was a wind, not a breeze, but a wind up there. He felt it on his face and almost wept for his loss. He would have loved to have still had hair to feel the wind in it. But still the view kept McIntosh from his pain. The birds flew below him. Smoke from cabins petered out into nothing so far down the mountain that it seemed they weren’t even trying. The roads entwined themselves through the land, slithering around the feet of other peaks that themselves seemed small in comparison to McIntosh’s own perch. Then McIntosh noticed the snow. He was sat on an outcrop of rock but beneath that wart of stone snow had bathed the mountaintop in a sheen of pearly light. The other peak didn’t have such a glory as their crown, no, only his mountain had that.

In the farthest reaches the horizon rumbled with a storm that blackened the sky as it crawled low along the ground. But from the heavens McIntosh felt no rain, he saw only the flashes of light as the clouds condensed into bright glimmers of blue glares that crackled even from such a distance. It was not unlike a dream, only McIntosh felt the wind and the air in his lungs. Then to his side, footsteps. Crunching footsteps. They were sure but calm.

“Good morning, Eli.”

“Joe?”

“Don’t try to move. You’re not fully healed yet so you could tear your scars.”

“O-okay, Joe.”

“Do you like the view, Eli.”

“I do. It’s so vast.”

“I like it too. So did my Girls.”

“I… I can see forever from up here, Joe.”

“I know, Eli. I know.”

“Why did you bring me here?”

“What do you mean?”

“What are you going to do to me, Joe?”

“Now where would the fun in that be?”

“We are old men. Will you never let me go?”

“Oh, Eli. Never.”

“What more can you do to me?”

“Is that a challenge?”

“Certainly not. But I am just a bag of bones now. You have reduced me to nothing.”

“There is a lot more that I can do to you yet. And a lot more that I will too.”

“Joe… ”

“I know, Eli. Believe me, I know. But you know too why I am keeping you alive.”

“Yes, Joe.”

 “You don’t actually want me to kill you, do you?”

“”Oh no, Joe. Please no.”

“Why? Say it!”

“Because I must suffer for the rest of my life.”

“Why?”

“Because I killed you little girl and you your vengeance is more powerful than the law.”

“Yes, Eli.”

“I… ”

“Yes?”

“I… eh, don’t suppose my apology means anything… ”

“No, it doesn’t. You’ll never worm your way out of this.”

“Not to escape. I know that I must be punished. It’s right that you continue.”

“So?”

“I still want you to know that I am sorry. Even though I know I’ll never escape my punishment.”

“Fuck you, Eli.”

“Yes, Joe.”

With that, Joseph Fay turned and walked away, leaving McIntosh nestled in his fur atop the outcrop, perched at an angle only a ladder could reach. That high up, day lasted longer. He would get to see the night come from across the land and when it did come he would face it alone.

The cold on that spring night but it wasn’t as bad as McIntosh had thought it would be. On the peak, wrapped in fur, the rock behind him half sheltering him from the wind, all was relatively calm. The stars above were unobstructed by the clouds that lingered in the valleys below and their light was to McIntosh a splendid temperate gift from God. He could see the tops of the clouds and patches of earth in the gaps between them. It was as if the sky had become an ocean. There were no boats though of course, only the waves of silver and white and grey. And he alone was privy to such beauty. He alone could enjoy the eerie pleasure of such a sight. Then to his side, footsteps. Crunching footsteps. Calm again but heavier.

McIntosh called out to Fay but no reply came. Again he shouted out, louder, but again nothing, just the footsteps. Then the smell struck him. That disgusting stench of sweat and dung and rotting meat. McIntosh held his breath but it was too late. His visitor had found him. The roar was exceptional, louder still than any thing that McIntosh had heard in all his life. It screamed at him and all that McIntosh could do was look at it. It’s huge jaws that seem wide enough to swallow him whole. It’s teeth a long as a man’s fingers. Its eyes were small though, but still, they gleamed with a curious murder in them. It stood then on its hind legs and reached up the boulder on which McIntosh was propped. But it could not reach him. He was set too high up by at least five feet.

The bear tried again and again but all its efforts were futile. Its claws took chunks of the rock away and sparked once, illuminating the bears face in the dim starlight. McIntosh shook with fear, but with no arms or legs even to kick or punch there was nothing for him to do but look at it while it looked at him. He saw its hunger, thought it possible to thrust his head enough to sway out over the lip of his perch and give himself to the bear. But in that same moment little Lina came to him and whisper to him to stay.

So frail and helpless, McIntosh knew he wouldn’t be able to endure much more. Even if he kept alive another five or ten years then he would die of infirmity or age. His body had become so sad a shell that he couldn’t serve any other propose than to be throttled or burned. Even too much punishment could kill him. And his mind had already been broken so many times that the only thing he was sure of was that he owed Fay his life. He had wronged the world itself by taking the life of a child. He had to pay for the rest of his life. And should that mean he would be tortured every moment of those remaining years then so be it. he had to relinquish himself to Fay’s will.

When the bear tired of its struggle it wandered off, but the image of it stayed with McIntosh. He knew then that he could have ended his own life. But the fact remained and overruled even death – he was not his own man, but his host’s. A part of McIntosh did die that night. The last shred of hope for some life of his own beyond Park Castle and Joseph Fay. He took into himself his own duty. That same duty that had faded in its importance to him when he lived alone for that one year. He chose his suffering. He consumed it as it consumed him. He was no longer human. He was an object on which the more heinous suffering should be inflicted.

To be continued…

© Stephen Fahey

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