A dim light buzzed to life somewhere overhead. Dust swirled with the current of his out breath. The odor of rotting wood hung heavy, and the broken floorboards beneath him were cool against his flesh. With great effort Echo opened his eyes.
The light was soft like a street lamp raining its gentle glow on dark walkways. It pooled around Echo’s prone half naked body. Against painful protests he crawled to his hands and knees. He regretted it instantly as a tidal wave of nausea swept over him. The muscles in his stomach tightened, his body convulsed, he lurched forward uncontrollably retching a thick black bile onto the ground.
He winced against a sharp lancing pain striking the inside of his skull. It was as if something was inside his head using an axe in a desperate attempt to escape. He retched again voiding another tar like pool from his body. He sputtered and coughed, an acidic burning clung to the back of his throat.
Every joint and muscle in his body convulsed. His flesh tightened threatening to rip itself apart. An awful audible popping and cracking sounded in the darkness. His bones dislocating, breaking, and resetting themselves. His voice carried across the void in terrible screams like that of a man being slowly torn to pieces. Tears of blood streaked down his face as he wept in agony.
The light above shifted into a brilliant silver-white hue like that of the full moon offering her light to illuminate the traveler’s uncertain path. Echo’s already pale skin shimmered ghostly white under the light. His fingernails had thickened and extended into blackened claws. He wore only a silken hakama around his waist. His thick framed now lean and malnourished as he lay screaming for mercy.
As suddenly as it had all began the pain ceased leaving him gasping and weak. With slow deliberate motions he clamored clumsily to his feet breathing deep the heavy stagnant air. Beyond the pool of light an infinite void stretched out for eternity. Only he, the light, and the ground beneath his bare feet existed…and something else.
“Wh-what the hell is happening? Where am I?” His throat was raw; coarse from his tortured screams.
“Nothing is as it seems.” The silhouette of a young girl hovered just outside the light. Her voice was gentle. She glided softly into the light landing before Echo.
A leather mask resembling an owl hid her face. Her slender frame was adorned in an antiquated black dress with a broad white collar reminding him of long passed Puritans seeking freedom in the new world. Long raven locks fell around her shoulders. Her presence caused him to fall back several steps.
The scent of lush forests and night sky emanated from her pushing back the heavy stagnant air. Brilliant blades of grass, evening primroses, and night orchids sprung to life at her feet. The light surrounding the woman grew in intensity forcing him to shield his eyes.
“Who are you?” He trembled before her. Instinctively knowing her form was for his benefit. Something far beyond his comprehending lay within; he felt that even a mere glance of her true form would send him spiraling into an incomprehensible madness.
“If granted all of time, and access to the greatest of knowledge, you would never know me, Echo. Not in this form. Not in this life. But I know you. I know the line from which you were brought forth. My children who were scattered. Their blood is in you. Dormant. Quieted by ages of slaughter. Now I awaken its gifts in you.”
“Curiosity. Wonder. Because it amuses me. I am watching.” The woman leapt into the air, her form dispersing into a white mists reforming itself into a great white owl, disappearing as she flew into the light.
Echo awoke on the kitchen floor of his former home. The body of the officer was gone. Not even a trace of blood was to be found where Officer Wednesday had fallen. His father’s satchel was also missing.
A blistering heat roared through the house as flames licked every surface they could find. Thick black smoke smothered his breath and muted his vision. He grabbed the baseball bat beside him and crawled towards the sliding glass door leading to the backyard.
Choking on the thickening blanket of smoke Echo wrestled the wooden dowel wedged in the sliding glass door’s railing. His vision blurred warning him that he would lose consciousness soon. His fingers slipped from the dowel before he could find a grip. Twisting and tugging, racing against time, he tore the dowel free and forced his way outside into the wild grass.
The blaze quickly engulfed the house -a visual metaphor for the life once lived within. He ran through the yard and leapt the fence leading to the front of the house. There was no telling how long the fire had been raging, and he had no intention of sticking around to be fingered as an arson by the police.
Reaching his car jumped in and sped away. It was then he noticed the paleness of his skin and the blackened claws at the ends of his fingertips.