Echo’s eyes opened slowly to find Jack and Ivan staring at him while he lay on the couch. He sat up startled. He discerned a subtle glow to their eyes. A glow that could have been easily missed if something in him had not instinctively drawn his attention to it.
“Guys?” Echo said.
“What,” Jack paused to consider how to finish the question, “what happened to you?”
Echo let out a heavy sigh. The room felt heavy. He could feel blood rush to his face. He wrung his hands suddenly ashamed for having left out an important detail from the night before. With hesitation he told his friends about the vision of the void, the woman in the owl mask, and the painful transformation.
“Why didn’t you tell us?” Ivan asked.
“Because…I don’t know. It didn’t seem like either of you could see it. I was afraid you’d think I was crazy. I think I’m crazy, and the whole pastor stealing my house, being attacked by a cop, the convenient fire, and the talking with ghosts thing sounds crazy enough without the supernatural transformation. The whole story barely holds up, and this unravels everything.”
“You’re not crazy. Not completely, anyway.” Jack said. “Ivan and me, we can see. We didn’t before because we didn’t know to look, but we can see now.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, when something doesn’t quite fit with the natural paradigm, something about it scratches at our eyes; scrapes around in our brains. It’s like truth is beating on our skulls begging us to take a peek. And we can, and most of the time -to our regret and horror- we do. And we’re able to see beyond the bullshit, or Veil as most call it, and see the world as it really is.”
“But you didn’t set off any alarms.” Ivan added. “Which is really fucking weird.”
“What does that mean?” Echo asked.
“It means we don’t know. We don’t know why you didn’t trigger our weird alarms. We don’t know why nothing hinted that we should lift the Veil.” Jack said.
“Is that what you’re doing now? Is that why your eyes are glowing?”
“Yeah. Your eyes are glowing. It isn’t really noticeable, but it’s there.”
Jack and Ivan looked at each other for a moment.
“Mine, too?” Ivan asked.
“Yes. Both of you.”
“We don’t see any glowing. Weird.” Jack said.
“So, what am I?”
“Don’t know. We’ll try to figure it out. But first, I suppose, there are some things we need talk about.”
For several hours the three discussed the events of the last eleven years. Echo shared about his home in Oregon, and how he made a living as a janitor and a paranormal investigator for the Church. Jack and Ivan told Echo how they had stumbled across their abilities on a road trip gone wrong, how they could see through the Veil into the strange reality which hid in plain sight, and how they used these gifts to offer their services to the weird inhabitants which made Hanford home.
“So it’s all real?” Echo asked after they had finished catching up. “The games we played when we were kids. The stories. Lovecraft, Poe, the like, they were all on to something?”
“Kind of. Only if by accident.” Ivan answered. “There’s a reason folklore, fairytales, ghost stories, urban legends, resonate with us -people. It’s like deep down, written on our DNA, is this primordial knowledge that we’re not alone. That the world is bigger than we believe, and we’re not on top of the food chain. For some reason, who knows how long ago, we suppressed that knowledge. Maybe when we discovered fire and how to beat back the dark. Who knows.”
“What now?” Echo asked.
“First we have to attune you to the house. Can’t have you setting off wards and getting yourself killed. Where would be the fun in that? And I don’t want some owl woman knocking on the door to exact revenge for reasons we don’t even know yet. And you can’t piss off your old pastor if you’re dead.” Jack said.
“Attune me to the house?”
“Yeah,” Ivan began, “so, you may have triggered the ward coming down here. It’s meant to keep away unwanted visitors of the not-normal persuasion.”
“Oh. So I was unwanted?”
“No. Just not normal.”
“Well then I’m in perfect company. How do we attune me to the house?”
“We give you a name.”
“I have a name.”
“No shit. A new name.”
“I love my name. How many ‘Echo’s’ do you know?”
“Fucking hell. A name that only we know, that we can use in wards and rituals.”
“Like a stage name. I’ve always been partial to ‘Ivanna Tinkle.'”
“Let’s not.” Jack said.
“We already have one for you anyway.” Ivan continued. “Jack and I may have kept tabs on you while you were gone. Check up on you from time to time. Nothing too in depth. We’ve been curious if you’d ever come back. If you may have had gifts of your own. We talked about you staying with us if that were to happen.”
“It’s why you have a room up stairs.” Jack added.
“Awww, I love you guys.” Echo said with a cheesy grin.
“On second thought, I’ve always wanted an empty room. You know, one I could show visitors and be like, ‘and this is our grand empty room! It was going to house a friend, but he was too gushy.'” Jack retorted.
“You know you love me.” Echo accused.
“He does.” Ivan added, ignoring the sideways glare Jack shot him, while he shuffled through an old wooden box. “Here we go.”
Ivan presented a smooth violet stone to Echo. On it was etched a rune resembling a crude staff, book, and fish. The stone felt warm in his hands, and seemed to vibrate slightly with energy. Everything about the stone, from its color to the strange etched mark, felt right. Holding it felt calming and familiar.
“What is it?” Echo asked looking up from the stone.
“You’re name.” Ivan said.
“What does it mean?”
“Weird. It feels…” Echo paused trying to find the appropriate description, but could only settle on, “…right.”
“It should. A lot went into crafting it. And now that we know you are a little more than you appear to be…”
“Not normal.” Echo interjected.
“Yes. Not normal. I can tweak the wards and attune you properly.”
Ivan left through a door in the back of the room. It was then Echo noticed two other doors leading out of the room.
“Where’s he going?” Echo asked Jack.
“To the elevator.”
“You have a fucking elevator? And we took the stairs?”
“Just kidding. Nah, he’s going to get his tools. Reset the wards. All that.”
“It his gift. Wards. Crafting. Messages. Who knows what else. We don’t really know the extent of what we can do. We’ve found people who’ve helped us hone our gifts along the way, give us insight to what we’re capable of, but we’re still learning.”
“What are you?”
“We’re wizards, Harry.” Jack teased. “As best as we can tell we’re human. Mages specifically. Benders and weavers of reality.”
“Not like in the books though. We can accomplish some pretty cool shit, but it takes a lot of work and effort. And reality is kind of a bitch. Every reality has its own set of rules that aren’t broken easily. It takes a toll to make with the magic. Too much, too big, without proper preparation or training, and it can go real bad, real fast. So we’re not running around throwing fireballs at people, or anything like that. We can do a lot here at the house, but that’s because it’s attuned to us. Our house, our rules. Mostly.”
“Are there a lot of mages?”
“No. Apparently it’s a really rare thing. Having two mages awaken at the same time in the same area is unheard of, as far as we know anyway.”
“Do you see through the Veil all the time?”
“No. We have to choose to look. There are signs that hint when something’s around that we should look at…usually…but it doesn’t really feel good doing it. It’s a pain you get used to, but a pain nonetheless. And some of the things that we see do a number on us. You still struggle with the rules of the world you were brought up in, and some things just stretch so far beyond those rules that it can push you towards the ledge of insanity. It’s no picnic, but we do what we can with what we have.”
“Do you think I could look through the Veil like you guys do?”
“I’m not sure you need to. From what you said that spirit told you, and how you describe seeing two reflections in the mirror, you may already be looking through the Veil. You just have to learn to focus on one reality over the other. It’s how some of the denizens of the Weird, as we like to call it, describe shifting between what they see.”
“Will it affect me the same way it affects you?”
“I don’t know, man. Whatever you are, you are part of the Weird in a more natural way than we are. We’re like adopted children, and you’re a long lost son returning home. It may also explain some of the…” Jack paused, his attention drawn to a forming thought.
“I might know how to start looking into what you are. At least where to put initial feelers. We need to start looking into beings that are either associated with spirits and the dead, or at least with beings that are known to associate with them. That should narrow the search.”
“What should I do about everything else? The funeral. The house.”
“It’s no accident that you’re back. All this has to tie in somewhere. We need to figure out how and where. Are you going to the funeral?”
“I don’t know.”
“You should. We’ll be your plus two.”
“You want to go?”
“Of course. How fun would it be to show up at the church full of people who probably hate you for any number of reasons with two creepy strangers? Plus that pastor will probably squirm when he sees you. C’mon. It will be fun!”
Ivan returned and walked throughout the room drawing strange symbols along the walls and floors. He spent a few minutes doing the same in the adjoining rooms. After a little while he rejoined Echo and Jack.
“All set.” Ivan said.
“That’s it?” Echo asked.
“That’s it. This is the heart of the house. Everything else will fall in line with it.”
“We’re going to a funeral!” Jack informed Ivan.
“What? Do I have to wear a tie?”
“No. I think it is a come as you are event.” A sly smile crept across Echo’s face. The idea of going to the funeral filled him with a mischievous glee. He wondered if he’d see Officer John.
“Let’s head up and get you settled in your room. I’ll make a couple of calls and get things rolling on figuring out what’s going on.” Jack said making his way toward the stairs.