As far back as Echo Basil McKinnon could remember Hanford had always been a small rural town digging deeper and deeper into itself looking for new life. A dissatisfied soul in desperate search of validation; desiring little more than to prove to everyone (especially to itself) that it was more than an irrelevant sleepy farm town buried in the middle of California’s deserts.
The town had an old soul, a beautiful twisted soul, and Echo could feel it. Somewhere deep down he knew a great evil writhed under the very soil of the entire Central Valley, but there was also light. A willingness in the heart of the Valley to fight its wicked nature. He saw this expressed no clearer than in Hanford where people drew together in an attempt to make their lives better.
The stench of cow shit permeated through the air burning thick and heavy in his nostrils. Triple digit temperatures were an unwelcome exchange for the cool and temperate Portland, Oregon weather he had grown accustomed to over the years. In the decade he had been away, he had forgotten how unbearable the summers were.
Echo pulled into the parking lot of Holy Fire Chapel. It was empty save a single sedan parked in the space reserved for the pastor. The church looked like a typical backwoods baptist church. A white washed tomb topped with high gray roofing. Stained glass windows depicting doves, crosses, and fire surrounded the building. A bell tower stretched towards the heavens in an attempt to touch God. The bland Puritan architecture sold the notion that it was a holy place, but Echo knew all too well neither God nor holiness inhabited building. He stepped out of his car and made his way towards the sanctuary entrance.
It felt strange walking through the main doors. He had been a janitor for his parish back home for many years; always entering through the service doors at the back of the cathedral. Goosebumps ran along his flesh as he stepped into the air conditioned sanctuary. The place reeked of cheap floral perfume, insincerity, and guilt. Several rows of cheap padded chairs faced the stage where an acrylic pulpit stood alongside an impressive array of instruments.
The outside of the church may have suggested traditional services, but the inside with its mounted flat screen LED televisions, top of the line sound mixing equipment and speaker system, and the neon back lit cross mounted over the stage screamed modern “spirit filled” worship. Nothing had changed. All flash and performance; smoke and mirrors meant to keep people entertained and coming back.
Echo looked up to see Pastor Joshua Lucas enter the sanctuary from a side door near the stage which led back towards the administrative offices. He remembered those offices well having been chastised and corrected many times in them.
“Pastor Lucas.” Echo’s response was cold and impersonal. He had no love for the man before him. He was further put off by the black slacks and 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 square-framed glasses, slicked-back black hair, and salt and pepper goatee screamed wolf. As off putting as it was, it also seemed strangely fitting. Echo had always known the pastor to be a con artist, and now he looked the part.
“I’m sorry for your loss. It’s terrible that we have to reunite under such…”
“No.” Echo cut Lucas short. He hated the dramatic show the pastor loved to put on. “This isn’t a reunion. I’m here to lay Mark to rest. And I’m only doing that because Father John insisted this may be the closure I’ve needed in my life. So, really, this isn’t about you or Mark.”
“Father? As in priest?” Pastor Lucas spoke as if he were saying the words “abortion” or “homosexual.” He studied Echo for a moment before continuing. “You’re not Catholic are you?”
“Why on earth would you stray so far?”
“Nope. I’m here to discuss Mark. That’s all. What do we need to do to get him buried and me back on the road?”
“Fine. I was just…”
“Mark. The funeral. What do you need?” Echo said.
“Still the same, huh? Ugly. Hateful. Abandoned your father, abandoned the church, abandoned the true Faith. You understand Hell’s fires…”
“Stop!” Echo’s voice rung out across the sanctuary reverberating off the walls. “You contacted me. You needed me. Remember? You insisted I come back. What do you need, or can I just go home?”
“Okay. Okay Echo. We’ll be civil for your father’s sake. We need to discuss funeral arrangements, worship song selections, flowers, bulletins; 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.”
“Wait. He was doing what?”
“We hoped you would honor your father’s wishes and sign over his house. It isn’t like you were going to move back there, and we would take care of everything – financial responsibilities, liquidation of assets, and such. That way you can just attend the funeral and go back to your life far away from all of us.”
“And if I don’t want to sign it over?”
“Look. It’s no secret you and your father had a broken relationship. You weren’t the example of a loving son…”
“You’re right. I was awful. His abuse had nothing to do with the brokenness of our relationship.”
“I’m not going to get into this again.” Pastor Lucas’s voice cracked. “We knew your father. Loved him. He wasn’t the monster you make him out to be. It is a damnable thing to throw such wild accusations around.”
“And we’re done. I’m going to be on my way. I assume he left you the key to the house.”
“The key. You can hand it over.”
“Don’t make this hard. I have the papers drawn up on my desk ready for your signature. We’re even prepared to pay you the sum of $50,000 for your troubles. If you make this hard, you won’t get that.”
“Well since you put it that way…give me the goddamn key.”
“You really should give me the key.”
“No. We’re going to honor your father’s wishes whether you like it or not.”
“Well the old man’s dead. His wishes really don’t mean shit here.”
“Josh I’ve known you long enough to know you’re up to something. Something smells dirty, and I don’t just mean the perfume and guilt wafting off these chairs. You may have a whole flock of brain dead sheep chomping at the bit to suck your dick and swallow whatever you give them, but I know better. You’re a fucking con. You’re not getting the house, I will get the key, and you can eat a fat dick. Cool?”
“What about the funeral arrangements?”
“The funeral is Saturday at five. You can come, but don’t expect to be allowed to speak. And if you make a scene, we’ll have you removed from the grounds.”
“So you didn’t need my help planning the funeral. You just needed a signature then?”
“Cool. I’ll be making a few calls. Have my key ready.”
Echo made his way towards the exit. Before he reached the doors Pastor Lucas called out.
“It didn’t have to be difficult. You could have made this easy on everyone.”
“Yeah, well, fuck you, Josh.”