Barry looked around the room. This room. This house? It seemed very familiar, but something was off. For one thing, he could hear his mother talking in the kitchen. She was on the phone gabbing with her friend from the country club. How could this be? His mother had passed away seven years ago from cancer, yet that WAS her voice in the next room. Barry WAS standing in his living room, but not “his” living room - it’s was his dad’s living room, and his dad, John Jankins, was sitting in his Laz-Z-Boy smoking a cigar and watching Monday Night Football. At first, Barry felt a gleeful sense of nostalgia because he remembered sitting with his dad in that same chair watching MNF when he was a kid. His dad would give him sips of beer and laugh when Barry would get a little tipsy.
Then, like a cold burst of icy air coming through a just-opened door on a cold winter morning, a sudden cold shiver of negativity slammed Barry as his thoughts went back to what it was really like growing up in the Jankins household. Barry was an only child. He remembered his father always complaining about how unfortunate it was that they couldn’t have more kids - something about Barry’s childbirth complications. His dad wanted a big family, just like the one he grew up in back in Minnesota. To make matters worse, Barry was a skinny, awkward, introverted kid. He wasn’t very good at anything, at least not anything that would meet with his dad’s unconditional approval. It was always, “Son, you did ok, but you could have done better.”
As a young kid, people would say things about Barry like, “he’s so cute, he’s just a little dreamer,” but by the time he graduated from elementary school, it was clear that Barry Jankins had real problems with attention and focus. As a teenager, Barry began to have problems performing academically in school. Even worse, he was prone to these wild mood swings where he would be super happy for a while, followed by days of moodiness and depression. Once, a social worker at his middle school suggested that Barry get formally evaluated by a psychologist. Edna Jankins thought this was prudent, but Barry’s dad thought psychology was just a bunch of mumbo jumbo. John Jankins was a very proud man, and the thought of his only son being a mental case was more than he could stomach.
As Barry’s looked around the living room of the house he grew up in, his mind began to wander aimlessly from memory to memory. Then, the cellphone on the table next to his dad’s Laz-Z-Boy rang. His dad put the T.V. on mute and answered the call. It was Sheriff Fred Koontz. Barry could hear his voice clearly through the phone receiver even though he was several feet away. “Mr. Jankins, it’s Sheriff Fred Koontz of the La Paz County Sheriff’s Office. One of my deputies talked to a witness who is sure they saw Barry and some of his friends break into The New Hope Church this afternoon. They trashed the place, wrote stupid and hateful stuff all over the walls. Petty vandalism kind of activity. The pastor was very upset, but he told me if the kids come clean up their mess and someone pays for the damages – no charges will be filed.”
“Thanks for the heads-up, Sheriff, I’ll talk with my son, and we’ll get to the bottom of this ASAP! I appreciate you keeping this on the Q.T. I owe you one.” John pressed the END button on the phone and bolted straight up out of the Laz-Z-Boy. John Jankins was furious! His voice was shaking as he yelled out to his wife in the next room. “Edna, where is that damn kid?”
Edna poked her head through the swinging door from the kitchen, the phone receiver still held against her ear by an awkward head & shoulder tilt. “What’s going on, John?” she said inquisitively, as she told her friend she would have to call her back. John’s voice continued to rise, “It’s that damn boy! He’s got himself into trouble again, and this time it's serious. I don’t know what the hell is wrong with that kid. He’s been nothing but trouble since the day he was born.” Edna replied timidly, “John, what a terrible thing to say, you don’t really mean that “-- John cut her off before she could say another word. “Your goddamn right, I do mean it!” he shouted as he stormed off into his study.
Just then, Barry remembered what happened that day when he got home. He remembered his dad throwing him up against the wall in the kitchen when he walked in the door and Edna having to restrain her husband from punching Barry’s lights out. How his dad kept saying, “I wish you were never born! You’re going to be the death of your mother with all this nonsense.” Abruptly, a voice interrupted Barry’s train of thought. “Yeah, man! You was the death of your Mommy. So what…let’s git out of here and go have some fun.” Barry recognized the voice immediately and realized that it was the dark, evil presence he felt before in the cops’ car, except now it was right there - in the room with him.
“Why did you bring me here?” Barry asked. “Just to show you that whatever you did before, it don’t mean shit anymore,“ the voice bellowed with a distinctly sarcastic tone. “Hey!! Remember that prick chem teacher you had in 10th grade?” it asked. Barry remembered that teacher, alright, Mr. Simmons. Some kids called him “Boil Man” because he had a terrible acne problem. He caught Barry cheating on his final and flunked him for THE ENTIRE SEMESTER! Barry had to go to summer school to keep from getting held back a grade level. The only girlfriend Barry had as a teenager dumped him that summer because he was ‘too busy with summer school.’ “What about him?” Barry asked. “Well, he’s comin’ back from La-La Land with his family right now out on the highway. Let’s go have some fun.”
Al Simmons pulled out of a rest area a few miles beyond the Ehrenberg Point of Entry on I-10. They had just crossed into Arizona from California and were almost home. Al goosed the big Chevy Suburban’s V-8 as they hit 85 mph in no time flat. His grown sons were dozing behind him in the back seat, and his wife was sleeping in the jump seat behind them. Their two pugs were settling in on the front passenger seat when all of a sudden, they both yelped loudly and scurried to the back of the SUV. It startled Al momentarily, but the pugs were a little high strung, so this behavior didn’t seem that unusual. He went back to listening to Hannity on Sirius/XM Fox News, except now there was this increasing static coming in over the front speaker of his Premium JBL Sound System. Al thought this was strange since satellite radio didn’t have the same reception issues as traditional radio. Also, a peculiar odor came from the passenger seat that he hadn’t noticed just a few minutes ago – sort of a combination of sulfur and men’s aftershave.
Al started fumbling with the fine-tuning dial on his radio, mistakenly thinking he could dial out the static when he began to hear a voice, faint and raspy at first but quickly growing louder. Then all of a sudden, he could make it out – “Hey B0il Man! You prick, where do ya think you’re going?” At the same time, he began to feel a noticeable tug to the right on the steering wheel of the big SUV. “This one’s for Barry!” the raspy voice shouted louder through the front speaker. At first, he thought it might be some kind of wheel alignment issue, but this was way more severe than that. He turned his attention away from the radio, as he was now seriously drifting to the right shoulder of the freeway. He couldn’t stop the hard tug on the steering wheel. He tried letting off the gas, but it seemed like the accelerator was stuck too. His right-side tires hit the rumble strips as the Suburban veered onto the shoulder. Thump! Thump! Thump! Thump!
The sound abruptly woke everyone up in the Chevy. “Al! What’s going on?” screamed his wife from the jump seat. “I don’t know,” Al yelled at the top of his lungs. “Something or someone is pulling on the steering wheel, and I can’t stop it.” His son chimed in, “What do you mean, someone, Dad? There’s no one up there with you.” Al replied, “Yes! I mean no, but the radio keeps saying something about a Barry or something” --just then, the SUV left the shoulder and went airborne. Traveling at well over 90 miles per hour, it careened down a steep ravine, flipping end-over-end several times before coming to rest against a massive boulder several hundred yards from the freeway tipped precariously on its side.
Barry and “his new friend” looked down on the wreck from the freeway shoulder. “Bam!! That’s what I’m talkin’ about, man!” the evil voice clamored loudly. A small part of Barry thought the teacher got what he deserved, just not this way! Sure, Barry had wanted to burn the teacher’s house down that summer after his girlfriend dumped him, but if he had really done it, he would have made sure no one was home first. There were innocent people in that SUV lying smashed down in the ravine. Then an ice-cold thought coursed through Barry like a frozen scalpel through hot flesh. Is this what it was going to be like - forever? Was this evil “thing” in charge of him, or could he somehow command it to do what he wanted it to do? Like, go away!!
He remembered the words again on the laptop screen when he was in the cop’s cruiser. Choose Wisely… What did that mean? Where did that come from? Could it help him make sense of this new reality? How could he find out?
To be continued…