In the gloom of the pouring rain, under a dark and sullen sky, it was the more ominous side of Hanford which existed just outside Echo’s car. A haunted town where an uneasy dread settled over every empty street. A ghost town where the occasional blurred figure wandered along sidewalks replaying the dreadful patterns which kept them stagnant and stuck.
A pitiful stocky man trudged through the rain carrying plastic bags filled with newly bought knick knacks from the Hanford Mall. His eyes were hollow, his face expressionless. Echo knew him, did not know his name, but knew him. He had seen this man many times. He would meander in and out every shop in the mall making idle chatter with cashiers and floor managers. Repeating the process several times throughout the day.
The little man had drained many hours from Echo’s own life when he worked in one of those shops in the mall. He was a lonely, self-loathing, man hoping to find happiness and fulfillment in shiny trinkets and chit-chat. He was the embodiment of Hanford’s own insecurities.
The man was not an anomaly in the town. There were many more just like him. Ever on the quest for validation in the approval of others, lost in a downward spiral of self hate, and drowning in their own self pity.
As he watched the little man pass by his window, Echo felt pity for him, and those like him. His contempt for them had faded over the years. Maybe he had grown up, or maybe he saw a little of his younger self in them. Reaching out he held the rosary hanging from his rearview mirror and offered a silent prayer for the man walking in the rain.
The streets were familiar. In his youth he had travelled the whole town on foot many times over. He followed the white van south on 11th crossing Fargo, down Grangeville passed the Christian private school, until finally turning onto a residential area just off 12th Avenue.
They pulled up to an esoteric stone home reminiscent of an exaggerated storybook cottage. The house belonged more to the cliffs and pastures of medieval Ireland than adjacent to the large modern homes filling the neighborhood.
The lot on either side stood vacant, landscaped, and obviously purchased to provide a comfortable distance between the home and its neighbors. A weeping willow overlooked a small pond as standing stones, etched with archaic symbols, stood guard over the property throughout the landscape.
Echo parked beside the white van pausing for a moment to take in the beauty of the strange residence. It was a perfect fit for its equally strange inhabitants. Following Ivan and Jack’s lead, he stepped out of his car and walked alongside them to the front door.
“Welcome home.” Jack said. He shot a knowing grin to Echo as he unlocked the door and sarcastically ushered them all in with an exaggerated bow and over extension of his arm towards the home’s interior. “Abandon all hope, ye who enter.”