The odor of cow shit assaulted his senses as he stepped out of his car into the blazing summer heat of the small desert town. Through his boots he could feel the pavement threaten to ignite into flames. It was a stark contrast to the cool and temperate Portland, Oregon weather he had grown accustomed to over the years.
Hanford, California; home. He hadn’t set foot in town for over a decade and would have been completely at peace if he never had to return at all, but he had returned. His father, Mark, had committed suicide, and Echo Basil McKinnon returned only to attend the funeral, settle his father’s affairs, and get the hell out of town as soon as possible.
Hanford held all manner of painful memories, and it was only at the insistence of his priest that he had come back at all. Father John had chuckled at Echo’s suggestion of letting the dead bury the dead. In the end, Father John had won the debate by reminding him of the importance of mercy, forgiveness, and redemption.
He removed his coat, tossed it unceremoniously into his car, and walked towards the sanctuary doors of his father’s church.
Holy Fire Chapel looked like a typical backwoods baptist church. The building was painted white and topped with a stone-grey roof. Stained glass windows depicting doves, crosses, and fire -favored holy symbols of the non-denominational sect- surrounded the building. The bell tower stretched towards the sky in a vain attempt to touch the face of God. Despite the bland Protestant architecture’s proclaiming itself a holy place, Echo knew all too well that neither God nor holiness inhabited this forsaken church.
Goosebumps ran the length of his flesh in the chilled air of the well ventilated sanctuary. The place reeked of cheap floral perfume, insincerity, and guilt. Several rows of cheap padded chairs faced the stage where a Plexiglas pulpit stood alongside an impressive array of instruments.
The outside of the church may have suggested traditional worship, but the inside of the building with its mounted flat screen LED televisions, up-to-date sound mixing equipment, top of the line speaker system, and neon back lit cross mounted over the stage screamed modern “spirit filled” worship.
Nothing had changed since Echo had escaped the bondage of Holy Fire Chapel. All flash and performance; smoke and mirrors meant to keep people entertained and coming back to give their hard earned cash as an offering to the church and its charismatic pastor.
Echo looked up from his journey down old and familiar memories to see Pastor Joshua Lucas enter the sanctuary from a side door near the stage which lead back towards the administrative office and council meeting rooms.
“Pastor Lucas.” Echo’s response was cold and impersonal. There was no love between him and this man who stood before him. He was further put off by the black slacks and black clergy collared shirt the pastor had taken to wearing; a far cry from the jeans and Hawaiian shirts he used to wear from the pulpit.
The man’s black hipster square-framed glasses, slicked-back black hair, and salt and pepper goatee screamed wolf. As off putting as this appearance was, it seemed proper and fitting to Echo. He had always known the pastor to be a con artist, and now he looked the part. A charismatic cult leader.
“Oh Echo, I am so sorry for your loss. It is terrible that we should have to reunite under such…”
“Stop. I’m here only at the insistence of my priest. Father John thinks this,” Echo paused to consider the appropriate phrasing, “this situation a prime opportunity to find proper closure for old relationships in my life. I disagree, but Father John was persistent.”
“Priest? Father?” Pastor Lucas repeated the words as if he was saying “abortion” or “homosexual.” He studied Echo for a moment before continuing.
“Are you Catholic?”
“Why on earth would you stray so far?”
“Pastor Lucas. This is not for discussion. I am here about Mark. What do you need from me?”
“Fine. I’m sorry. I didn’t meant to…”
“Pastor Lucas. Mark. The funeral. What do you need?” Echo was growing incredibly frustrated and impatient. He had no desire to engage this man in an hours long discussion catching up, debating theology, or dealing with the man trying to win him over with fake smiles and a false show of Christian love.
“Still the same hateful Echo, I see. Abandoned your father who you disrespectfully call by his first name, abandoned your church who loved you despite your short comings, and abandoned the true Faith.”
“Enough!” Echo’s voice rung out powerfully across the sanctuary reverberating off the walls. “You contacted me. You said you needed me to settle the old man’s affairs. Remember? You insisted that I come down and do right by my father; remember that? Now, I’ll ask one more time, and if you can’t answer, I swear I’ll hop in my car and drive back home. Now, what do you need of me?”
“Okay. Okay Echo. We’ll be civil for your father’s sake. We need to discuss funeral arrangements, worship song selections, flowers, bulletin set up; the usual. Also, your father had been working closely with Anthony…”
“Yes, he was in the process of naming us the inheritors of his home.”
“We hoped that you would honor your father’s wishes and sign over his home to the church. It isn’t like you were going to move back there, and we would make sure to take care of everything – financial responsibilities, liquidation of assets, and such. That way all you would have to do is attend the funeral, then you can go back to your life far away from all of us.”
“Wait, what? Why? I’m the only remaining member of my family. Shouldn’t I at least have the right to decide what happens to the house and all that?”
“Look. It is no secret you and your father had a broken relationship. You weren’t the example of a loving son…”
“You’re right. Him beating the shit out of me and my mother had nothing to do with it. I’m the bad guy for not allowing him to continue to abuse me after my mother chose to leave this life.”
“I’m not going to get into this again.” Pastor Lucas voice cracked and rose sternly. It wasn’t like him to break character and lose his sense of calm and reason. “We all knew your father. Loved him dearly. We all know that he would never do the things you claimed. It is an unChristian and horrible thing to throw such wild accusations around. We get it, you need attention…”
“The fucking key. Give me the house key. I know you have it.”
“Don’t make this hard. I have the papers drawn up on my desk ready for your signature. We are even prepared to pay you the sum of $50,000 for your troubles. If you make this hard, you won’t get that. We’ll lock this matter up in the courts, and beat you out by pure financial stamina.”
“Give. Me. The. Fucking. Key.”
“Alright then. We’re done here.”
“The funeral is Saturday -5 p.m. You may come, but don’t expect to be allowed to speak.”
“I don’t know who the fuck you think you are. I’m Mark’s son. Whether you like it or not, I get the final say in these matters. Not you – his con artist of a pastor. Expect a call soon, and have my key ready.”
Echo turned and stormed toward the exit. Before he reached the wooden door Pastor Lucas called out.
“You’ll regret this. It didn’t have to be difficult. You could have just cooperated. Maybe later when you realize the hopelessness of your foolishness, and you call to apologize, I might reconsider offering you the easy way out.”
“Fuck you, Josh.”