Thunder grumbled through the tangle of thick black clouds pregnant with precipitation and drawn like a blanket across the heavens. The sky, unable to hold back its waters, let go saturating the earth below as if trying to cleanse every grievous sin of the insecure desert town.
The water beat furiously at Echo’s windshield. Inside he stirred from a restless sleep. Images of blood and fire clung to the edge of his mind unable to pursue him into the realm of consciousness. He snuffed out their remains grinding the heel of his hand into his eyes.
Echo looked around unable to see through the curtain of rain rolling down his windows. The night before came back to him in hazy flashes. It was difficult to discern which images were real and which were not. He had no memory of pulling over for the night.
The hammering rain against the steel body of his car drummed in time with the throbbing of his head. He caught a glimpse of himself in the rear view mirror. Two overlapping reflections stared back at him. One, the reflection of the person he had known all his life. The other, a reflection of the strange creature he had become the night before.
When he looked down at his arms he could only see the pale color of his skin and the black claws at his fingertips. He glanced between the mirror and his body confused as to what it all meant. The conversation with the spirit through his ghost box replayed itself in his mind. He wondered if his reflection confirmed what it had said, that sleepers could not see him.
He felt strangely calm. The whirlwind of emotions that had chased him into the night had dissipated leaving only a comforting numbness.
The unexpected return to Hanford, the foul run in with his former pastor, the woman in the mask, his brush with death, and the burning of his home all seemed connected. Fate had forced him to this moment, but why?
A rapping at his window caused him to jump out of his seat. His head hit the low hanging ceiling. A figure, blurred by the curtain of rain, stood outside. In his ruminations he had not noticed the tail lights glowing through his windshield.
Echo sat still. Again the figure knocked at the window. His heart beat wildly in his chest. Adrenaline coursed through his body. He looked at the van parked in front of him, then to the figure at the window. He wondered if he should ignore the intruder, peel out onto the road and make a run for it, or answer.
The knocking came again, louder and more impatient, accompanied by muffled shouts. Echo reached for the key in the ignition, turning it just enough to allow power to course through the vehicle. He hesitated a moment before rolling down the window.
“Shit man! Finally! Hey we found him! He’s good!” Ivan Rose, a stocky man, laughed and called over to the parked van.
Ivan’s smile was bright and warm. He crouched over, his shaggy brown hair wet and plastered to his face. He wore an old olive drab army jacket over a black t-shirt depicting an anime robot and loose fitting jeans that had once been several shades darker. His taste in fashion had not changed much over the years, and Echo was grateful to see a friendly familiar face.
“Ivan?” Echo asked.
“Dude! You lost weight, man. You look good!” There was an exuberant energy rolling off Ivan, but it was more than the excited reunion between old friends. It was powerful. Otherly.
“Look just follow us back to our place. We can help you. Why didn’t you call us when you got into town?”
“Wait. We? Who? How did you find me? How did you know I was here?”
Echo stuck his head out the window. A familiar bone thin hand, complete with a lit cigarette, extended coolly out the window before retreating back inside. Definitely his old friend Jack Curio.
They were surrounded by barren muddy fields in the middle of nowhere. The road was ten feet away from them. Bright flashes and roaring thunder exploded over head. Echo looked back to Ivan.
“How did you guys…”
“Just follow us. We’ll explain everything.”
Without waiting for agreement Ivan ran back to the van leaping over large muddy puddles. He knew Echo enough to trust them. Moments later both vehicles were on the road heading into town.