This was different.
Somewhere outside the tent, a wailing melody like wind whipping through a pipe organ droned. He felt, suddenly, on the threshold of a new world, one hidden at an infinite distance; yet now, only steps away.
The thought made Garty’s heart begin to race. Had the rumors been true? Could this really and truly be a gateway he now stood before? Could he pass through it and stand in the dark jungle on the other side?
But something was wrong. As the wailing melody grew louder--and he began to question what sort of trouble he’d stumbled into--a deep, unsettling fear grew inside him. What had he been told? There’d been admonishments. Talk of dangers, of sights best left unseen. The melody was behind him now and he turned and the tent was a vast open expanse; he could no longer see the canvas flap that was the back of his tent, only dirt and dimness. He felt very small. The light outside seemed to flicker, like candlelight, and there were large things moving, casting shadows on the canvas wall closest to him. He bent and picked up the jar sitting in the sand, instinctively aware it was somehow important to what was now happening--to where he was--that if the world began to bend and grow, he might lose it, and in doing so lose his way home.
“It once belonged to my grandfather.”
Garty spun around, just as a figure emerged from the shadows of the tent opening. It stood, looking at him calmly--draped in robes like wriggling mist, hairless head brushing the tent’s ceiling; skin pale, bluish. Its voice was wise and level, and seemed, to Garty, somehow ominous, like a judge who, without emotion or remorse, might pass a death sentence on a horrified and innocent man.
“A collectable, that’s all it really is now. Nothing but another trinket to mark the passing of history.” The observer smiled. “A simple vessel for the last of the Etho, which I finally have within my grasp.”
“The shadow. The Etho. The bubbling muck dredged from the depths, from the first ages of my world.”
Garty looked down at the jar; the liquid within seemed to writhe, tinged an iridescent green; the polished interior shimmered; for a moment, he thought he could see faces--half-formed and wailing--sloshing about in the bottom.
“It has some amazing properties. One of which is to break the surface of the real, to allow members of The Order, of which I am a member, to reach your world. It is not the only means we have, of course, but most of our methods are lost to us now, their purveyors either dead or dying. There were once those with innate abilities, if they could be trained properly, if they had the discipline...”
“What do you want with me?” Garty interrupted.
The observer stopped, turning his eyes to Garty. He smiled again. “My apologies. I forget where I am sometimes. Are you ready?”
“You did it in ignorance?” the observer asked. “Using the Etho?”
“It’s happened before,” the observer sighed. “But you’ll have to come with me. We have places for people like you.”
“What sort of places?”
“Oh, it’ll be dark, but there’s no point resisting.”
The observer stepped aside. The opening in the tent gaped, the darkness filled with movement, things that wriggled just outside the feeble reach of the light.
“And you can’t be allowed to keep the jar, I’m afraid.” The observer stepped forward, reaching his hand out. “I’ve waited too long to finally hold my grandfather’s jar, to have the power of the Etho at my disposal.”
Garty took a step backwards. “Wait--” He tried to think what to do. His mind was a dull sludge inside his skull. This was a nightmare. There had to be a way to wake himself, to sober himself from this horrible trip.
The observer grinned at him. “It’ll be hard for you at first, but once your sanity breaks, once the fragile shell of your skull cracks and the gray yolk leaks between your ears..." He shrugged. "You’ll find a way to cope; they always do.”
“No,” Garty said. “Please.” He glanced behind him, but there was nothing back that way. There was nowhere for him to run. He was backed into a corner. He shook his head, blinked furiously, trying to awaken.