The next morning McIntosh woke in an unfamiliar place. It was bright and comfortable and warm. There were framed picture of flowers on the wall and curtains on a window. A blanket was laid across him and beneath him he felt the softness of a bed. Then he recognised Lina’s old bedroom. It was wrong for him to be there, he thought. He was defiling the sanctuary that Fay had kept untouched for decades. Why would Fay put him in there now? He must have. McIntosh couldn’t remember going to bed the previous night. Then he realised that he couldn’t remember the any of the previous day.
Unable to move, McIntosh looked around little Lina’s room. She would have stayed there only a few times, living in the city but visiting Park Castle during the summer months. It was innocent, the childish wallpaper, the dolls lined up on the dresser, the pink bedclothes. He felt worse then than he ever had. She had had her whole life in front of her and he had snatched it away. He was in the place where she would have felt safest. Him, the man that had ended her life so, so early. Of all people, his presence was least welcome there. He could almost hear Ola’s cursing him for soiling such a pure place. He tortured himself with his guilt, amplified by his being in that holy room.
Fay left him there for hours. Each minute of it a trauma that McIntosh visited upon himself. Traumas that he promised himself he would never let heal. He was a monster. Unworthy. But there he lay. Positioned by Fay to feel the wrath of his own guilt. So sad were those hours that when Fay entered the room several hours later McIntosh begged him to put him back into his box in the basement.
“Joe, please, Joe. It’s wrong for me to be here. Please. Pout me anywhere but here. I’ll sleep in the rain. Or on the mountaintop again. Please. Joe, please. I beg you, Joe. I beg you, please. I’ve done enough damage. Joe, please. Joe… ”
“But Joe, please. Please, Joe. This is so wrong. I can’t stay here. I beg you. Please, anywhere but here. Anywhere. Please!”
“Joe, I’ll do anything you want. Just take me away from this sanctuary. I had no right. It’s not fair to Lina… ”
“DON’T YOU FUCKING SAY HER NAME! NEVER IN YOUR LIFE SAY HER NAME!!
“Please, I’m sorry, Joe. But please. Please, take me out of here, Joe.”
“Hush now, Eli. Everything is going to be alright. Don’t be afraid.”
“Easy now. Easy.”
“Sleep now, Eli. Sleep. That’s a good boy.”
“Joe, I… ”
Stroking McIntosh’s head and hushing him, Joseph Fay stayed with his guest until he fell back asleep. Standing over McIntosh, Fay had a shudder of memory wherein Lina was sleeping in that bed. She smiled up at him when he woke her with pancakes. That clear and beautiful smile that she had stolen from her mother always melted Fay’s heart. But as soon as her image came, it went. And McIntosh remained. Grotesque and lumpy. Skin scared all over after so many burns and cuts and beating. He was a disgusting creature to look at and there, in the bed of the girl he killed, he was the demon of Fay’s nightmares. He was the devil and all his horrid minions. He was death itself snoozing in Lina’s bed.
Removing his hand from McIntosh’s scalp, Fay stared at him and wept. The sacrifice he made to make McIntosh torture himself was too much. For nearly forty years he had preserved her bedroom like a shrine. And there in front of him the beast himself lay sound asleep and comfortable. It was a violation. A crime in itself that even McIntosh had not wanted. But that was to relieve himself. Not out of some sense of right and wrong. Fay felt justified. But it hurt him more than it did McIntosh.
It was winter when Fay had first put his guest in Lina’s bed. Summer came and went and winter came again and went again and still McIntosh lay there surrounded by the last remnants of the happiness he had stolen away from world. He had been confined to that temple of youth and life for two years and in that time he had been untouched by Joseph Fay. Never once was he made suffer any physical pain. He had even put on some weight and become used to his body. It was a mirage of time, those years. But McIntosh kept himself sane by living in wait for the day that Fay would tear him from his Lina’s sanctum and continue to destroy his body with torture. Every day and night McIntosh hoped to be taken to the woods and beaten unconscious. Or hung in the gorge. Or set alight. Anything to end his presence in that sacred place.
But it never came. Month after month Joseph Fay came to McIntosh each day and read to him. He fed him and nursed him. Almost caring for him. It was the only time in McIntosh’s life that someone even seemed to care about him. And that made it all the more painful. Laid there, knowing that his continuing presence worsened his sins and also extinguished his ability to redeem himself, McIntosh’s mind withered. Long before, he had been of sound mind and, even when his perception of duty to the Fay family warped his innate sense of self, McIntosh remained able. But in those later years, caged by Lina’s fanciful playthings and her father’s surgical expertise, he began to gibber to himself.
He never mumbled when Fay came to him. He never even spoke during his visits. But when he was left alone he hummed and rambled nonsensical sentences just so he could hear someone’s voice. It was always the same topic. Lina, of course. How she never deserved what had happened. Or how perfect the world was before she died. Always it was about Lina and how wrong what he had does was. Always he reaffirmed his guilt. Always.
To be continued…
© Stephen Fahey