“Sheriff, this is Rufus - over!” “Yeah, go ahead, Rufus.” “Sheriff, I’m headed out to Quartzsite on that 904 call.” “Yeah? And?” the sheriff responded. “Well… I called dispatch, and they said there’s a Highway Patrol car involved in the incident.” Rufus waited several minutes, then realizing Sheriff Koontz wasn’t going to respond, he flips on the siren switch. The siren begins wailing as he sped off on Arizona 95 south toward Quartzsite.
Fred looks down at his cell phone buzzing away on the kitchen counter. The word Arty is flashing on the screen. He’s not in a very good mood right now. He and Judy just got into a big bruhaha, and she stormed out of the house. These fights have been more frequent lately. Judy began ‘secretly’ meeting with a woman she talked to one day several weeks ago on a call she made to Narcotics Anonymous. She’s been off the pain pills and booze. Her head has been the clearest in years, and she’s starting to assert herself more in her relationship with Fred.
Fred looks back at the phone again. The last thing he wants at this particular moment is to talk to that greasy-haired, low-life, Arty Mendez. ‘He probably needs me to do him a favor again.’ Koontz thinks to himself. “Arty, this isn’t a good time. This better be important!” “Um, ah, well… I think it might be sheriff.” There’s a long pause. “You still there, Arty?” “Ah, yes, sheriff, I am. I wanted to fill you in on something I ran across while reviewing some security footage.” “Was there a burglary somewhere?” Koontz asked. “Ah, no sheriff. I don’t think so.”
“Come on, Arty, are you going to get to the point or what?” the sheriff bellowed, now clearly losing patience with his caller. “Well, it’s the Jankins house on Lake Havasu sheriff. It wasn’t a break-in or anything like that. The alarm was disabled, but there were two people in the house. An older woman and a cop. They were in the kitchen talking when the woman just started making out with the cop. Then they went into the bedro--” Koontz cut Arty off. “Arty, you had better have a good reason for telling me about this. Otherwise, I’ll just figure you’re the creep I already know you are!”
“Sheriff, there’s no reason to get hostile.” “Then god damnit, get on with it, man!” the sheriff yelled into the phone. “Ok. Ok. I got it. Well, when I first saw the two in the kitchen, I wasn’t sure who it was, so I replayed the video a couple of times and listened to the audio.” “And?” the sheriff prodded him. “Well, sheriff, I think it’s best if you just listen to it yourself.” “And how to suppose I’ll do that?” Koontz asked. “I’ll text you the audio file,” Arty responded. No sooner had Arty said that than the sheriff’s phone rang out with the sound of an incoming text message. Ding! “Ok, I got Arty. I’ll have a listen. If I have any questions, I’ll call you back.” “Ok, sheriff… just don’t shoot the messenger…”, but the call disconnected before Arty could finish.
Rufus Thomas rolled up on the accident scene in front of the Quartzsite RV show parking lot. A large flatbed truck was still partially in flames. A fire truck was trying to extinguish the last remnants of the preceding inferno. He pulled in behind a couple of ambulances that had arrived on the scene and were parked on the opposite side of the road - about a hundred yards from the flames. He noticed two vehicles on the other side of the road, parked on the shoulder only yards away from the smoldering truck. It was a late model minivan and an Arizona Highway Patrol cruiser. The cruiser’s trunk was popped open. The two vehicles were badly charred but otherwise intact.
“Deputy, glad you’re here. We could use some help with traffic control. We need to keep people away from that burning truck. It was carrying flammable gas cylinders. One of those puppies could come shooting out or blow up at any moment,” a highway patrolman said. “What the hell happened here?” Rufus asked. “Not sure right now, but we’ve got one of our own in the back of that ambulance over there.” “Is he going to be, ok?” Rufus asked. “I don’t know. They’re working on him now. He’s hurt pretty bad from what I hear. Burned on his backside, you know. He saved a woman’s life when that truck exploded. He threw her to the ground and shielded her with his body from the explosion. The flames shot right over them. If he hadn’t acted quickly, she would have been a goner for sure! Now, if you don’t mind, we could use you down by those cones,” the patrolman said, pointing to some bright orange cones that were blocking off the highway.
Barry noticed he was back in the darkness once again. Except, this time, it was different. He ‘felt’ different. There was much less fear, at least for now. That ugly bastard ghost, or whatever the hell it was - it was pissed now. Really pissed! It stormed back and forth, back and forth in front of Barry. Its blackish-grey jagged smoke-like body fluttered with lights coming out of the various joints in its body when it walked. It was like Barry was looking at cracks in a large iron-ore smelter, the light flickering through the cracks from the burning inferno inside. The beast was talking to itself. When it occasionally spoke out loud, a bright luminescence poured from its mouth and lit the dark space where Barry could now see he was in a cave somewhere. The ceiling was crawling with bats!
Then the thought of what had just happened in the truck raced through Barry’s mind. He was in a truck. Yes, yes, he was. A man was fighting for control of the steering wheel cause that bastard ghost was trying the same thing he did had done to that schoolteacher. Except, this time, Barry wasn’t having any of it. He lunged at the ghost to try and push him away from the man - and it worked! Barry and the spirit had cascaded out of the truck and onto the concrete pavement. Barry cracks a smile as he remembers thinking, ‘I’m sure glad I’m a ghost because hitting that pavement at sixty miles per hour would have really hurt otherwise.’ Just then, the menace got right up into his face. Barry could smell its breath. Like dead rotting flesh and sewer gas all mixed into one. “You think you pretty cute, huh, Barry boy!” the evil presence bellowed. “I know whad’you thinking - but think again, buddy boy! I be ready for you next time.”
Barry’s momentary feeling of relief turns back to dread as he thinks to himself, ‘oh yeah, there’s going to be a next time, and there’s not a friggin thing I can do about it.’
To be continued…