“I had no idea!” Ivan was pacing back and forth in the room. His heavy boots sounding off the wooden floorboards.
“Me either. I can’t figure out why I didn’t sense it. No triggering alarms – nothing screaming in my head to look through the Veil.” Jack sat in an office chair facing towards the couch where an unconscious Echo slept. Behind him the vibrant glow from the computer monitor sitting on the oak desk cast a halo of light on the back of his head giving him an almost angelic appearance.
Ivan, who was now crouching next to Echo, chuckled to himself. The irony of the halo on someone known for dealing with unnatural evils was not lost on him. He turned again to inspect Echo’s hands. Ivan tapped at his claws. “Dude these claws are solid as fuck!”
“And long.” Jack noted. “Two…maybe two and a half inches?”
“What is he? I haven’t seen something like this before.”
“Like him.” Jack corrected. “And I don’t know. Why didn’t he tell us the part where he…”
“Don’t know, man. Maybe he’s still in denial, or shock, or something.”
“Would’ve helped to know. Could’ve broken the ward before he came in.”
Jack and Ivan looked at Echo through the Veil into a deeper reality that most of humanity had been shut off from. It was both a gift and curse. Discovered years prior on a road trip turned violent.
“We’re gonna need to fill up soon.”
Ivan looked up from his video game over at the fuel gauge. The indicator hovered just below a quarter of a tank. They had been on the road for almost six hours heading north on the I-5 accompanied by a soundtrack of deep growls and occult screams over an unconventional composition of distorted guitars and fast tempo drum rhythms.
Mount Shasta loomed over them along the interstate. A dormant volcano nervously watched with anticipation by scientist and apocalypse enthusiasts alike. Its highest point covered in snow defying the increasing heat of spring.
Evening was fast upon them and soon the day’s light would surrender to the darkness of night. A sign ahead indicated Mount Shasta City was only a few miles up the road.
“There. We’ll stop there.” Jack pointed to the sign as they drove past it.
“Awesome. Hopefully they have somewhere we can eat. These cheese puffs aren’t doing it for me, man.”
“As long as it isn’t McDonald’s, I don’t give a shit where we eat.”
The road hummed beneath their tires for several more miles, much longer than the five miles promised by the road sign. Eight miles in and Jack began to wonder if he had somehow missed the exit. He considered making an illegal U-turn on the vacant stretch of interstate until he saw a lonely California Highway Patrol car staked out on the side of the road hoping for a speeding car to whiz pass and break up the monotony of its shift.
Just keep going. He thought to himself.
Ivan stared down at his video game immersed in the 16-bit graphics of a classic fighting game. He imagined how cool it would be to have such extraordinary abilities to withstand a barrage of supernatural attacks and lash back with his own attacks -bending the very elements of heaven and earth to his will.
“Five miles my ass. There it is.”
Ivan paused his game and set it aside as Jack navigated the small car into the exit lane neglecting to use his turn signal. He cruised down a smooth quarter mile stretch before bringing the vehicle to a halt at a stop sign leading them into town.
“No signs. Left or right?” Jack looked down the road in either direction. There were no signs indicating where they might find a gas station or place to eat. As events would later unfold, Jack would recollect the lack of signs as a sign from the universe saying, turn the fuck around and drive fast and far away.
Ivan flipped a coin in the air, caught it, and slapped it down on the back of his hand. Heads. “Go left.”
“Left it is.”
The road snaked its way up the mountain through a forest of trees for another three miles until finally leading them to a quaint town. Locals filled the streets, bright balloons dotted the sky having made their escape from the careless hands of children, clowns carrying balloon animals and peddlers selling cheap glowing necklaces and bracelets walked through the crowd selling their wares. The smell of hotdogs, funnel cakes, and fried foods filled the air.
Jack followed the orange coned flashlights directing traffic until finally pulling into a nearby gas station.
“What the hell, dude?” Ivan watched kids and adults wearing ridiculous face painted figures and masquerade masks idly chattering and laughing making their way to and from the center of events.
“Hold off on food? Just get the gas an go?”
“Yup. I am gonna run in and drop a deuce, though.”
“You do you, man.” Jack got out of the car to pump gas while Ivan rushed towards the gas station’s mini mart.
Bells chimed against the glass doors announcing Ivan’s entrance. A heavy set balding man with a full grey beard and beady grey eyes was busy with a young couple at the counter. Walking down aisles stocked with mini sponge cakes, moon pies, and those mini donuts that tasted like they had been dipped in chocolate flavored wax, he finally found his way to the bathrooms towards the back of the store.
Ivan expected to find a filthy bathroom covered in graffiti and mold. Instead it was exceptionally clean and smelled of pine cleaner and bleach which he would soon defile. Finishing his business he washed his hands and left.
“I thought ya fell in. Were ’bout to send a search party fer ya.” The old man at the counter chuckled when he saw Ivan emerge from the bathroom.
“Nope. Just wanted to leave an impression you wouldn’t forget.”
“What can I get fer ya?”
“I’m good, man.”
“The restrooms are fer payin’ customers. Ya used it, whatcha buyin’?”
“Gas.” Ivan pointed outside towards the car parked next to the gas pump.
“Heh. Not how that works, son. Anyone can get gas. If yer in here, ya gotta buy.”
“Well I’m not gonna buy, but I have something for you.”
“Really now? What ya got fer me?” The man was suspicious and already irritated this young kid was refusing to make even a small purchase.
Ivan reached into the pocket of his jeans feigning to wrestle something out. When pulled out his hand he raised a middle finger at the man behind the counter. “Isn’t it lovely?”
“GIT THE HELL OUT OF MY STORE! DON’T COME BACK FER NOTHIN’! YA HEAR ME, BOY?” The man was irate. His face turned beet red bellowing at Ivan’s gesture. His thick country accent getting thicker as he shouted. “GO ON! GIT!”
Ivan laughed all the way out of the mini mart. Still wearing an ear to ear grin he got in the car and buckled up. His smile dropped immediately when he looked over at Jack who was leaning over and lightly thudding his forehead against the steering wheel.
“Fuck. Fuck. Fuuuuuuck.” Jack moaned in time with each thud of his against the steering wheel.
Jack looked up. “We can’t leave.”
“What? Why not?”
“Local yokel of a cop pulled up. I asked him what was the quickest way back onto the interstate. Dude says that all the exits have been closed for this fucking backwoods Spring Festival.”
“When? We just got here!”
“And they just closed them.”
“All of them?”
“All of them.”
“Fuck it, let’s just go.”
“I suggested that. That’s when he told me the whole bacon squad is out making sure the exits stay closed. So, unless you’re up for a high speed chase, we have to go to their only hotel.”
“I’m down for a chase.”
“Well I’m not. C’mon.” Jack started up the car and started towards the direction of the hotel the police officer had told him about. As they pulled away, Ivan looked over his shoulder to see the old cashier glaring at him from the storefront window. He was holding something in his hand, and Ivan could swear the old man’s eyes were missing.