Barry’s eyes scanned the room in front of him. He strained to make out details as a soft grey fog filled the space. He wasn’t sure if it was something in the air, or maybe his eyes needed to clear. He rubbed his eyes gently, but the thin grey smoke remained. This place looked familiar - very familiar. He noticed a large French tapestry adorning the wall above an overstuffed sectional on one side of the room. On the other side, sitting on top of an antique curio table was a miniature suit of armor, just like the one his dad had won in a poker game. A flicker of light caught his attention, and he turned to focus on the other end of the massive living space. The light was coming from a big-screen television. He could make out that someone was sitting in front of the TV in an oversized leather La-Z-Boy recliner.
As he stepped toward the light, his legs felt like they weighed a thousand pounds each. He smelled a familiar odor. Liver and onions! Yuck! There’s no mistaking the foul scent of that culinary combination but wait...What the hell? Just then, he could hear his mother talking in the kitchen. She was on the phone gabbing with her friend Doris 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!
Then it hit Barry with a whack. He was standing in his parents' living room at some time in the past. He grew up in this living room, and John Jankins, his father, was sitting in his Laz-Z-Boy smoking a cigar and watching Monday Night Football. For a split second, Barry felt a gleeful sense of nostalgia, remembering how they would sit 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 winter morning, a sudden shiver of reality jerked Barry’s thoughts back into what it was really like growing up in Jankins household.
Barry was an only child. His father frequently complained about how unfortunate it was that they couldn’t have more kids - something about childbirth complications. That disappointed his dad greatly since he had wanted a big family. To make matters worse, it seemed that Barry was a continual source of disappointment to his father. Growing up, Barry was a skinny, awkward, introverted kid. He wasn’t very good at anything, at least nothing that would meet with his dad’s unconditional approval. It was always, “Son, you did ok, but you could have done better.”
Barry also had developmental problems. As a youngster, 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 young Barry struggled with mood, attention, and focus issues. As a teenager, Barry began to perform poorly in school. Even worse, he was prone to wild mood swings. One day he would be super happy, followed by days of moodiness and depression. All of this led to numerous incidents of Barry acting out impulsively and sometimes destructively.
Once, a social worker at his middle school suggested that Barry be formally evaluated by a psychologist. Edna Jankins thought this was a great idea, but Barry’s dad thought psychology was just a bunch of mumbo jumbo. Discipline was the only thing Barry needed, and his father was always more than willing to dish that out. John Jankins was a very proud man, and the thought of people thinking his son was a mental case was just more than he could stomach.
All at once, the grey mist covering the room coalesced into a frightening form that seemed to engulf Barry. He briefly gasped for air. Just then, the cellphone on the table next to his dad’s La-Z-Boy rang. His dad put the T.V. on mute and answered the call. It was Sheriff Fred Koontz. Barry could clearly hear the sheriff’s voice 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 informed me that someone called the sheriff’s office to report a local church break-in. A witness was 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. Mostly petty vandalism kind of stuff. The pastor was very upset, but he said if the kids come clean up their mess and someone pays for the damages – he won’t press any charges.”
“Thanks for the heads-up, Sheriff Koontz. I’ll call the pastor and make arrangements to pay for the damages. I’ll send my son over there to clean up as soon as he gets home, and I’d appreciate it if you’d keep this as quiet as you can. I’ll owe you one.” Before the sheriff could reply, John pressed the END button on the phone and bolted straight up out of the La-Z-Boy. He was furious! He began shaking violently 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. “What’s going on, John?” as she told her friend she would have to call her back. “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.” “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 mean it!” he shouted and stormed off into his study.
Barry remembered what happened that day when he got home. He remembered his dad throwing him up against the kitchen wall when he tried to sneak into the house through the back. He remembered how his mom had to restrain his dad from punching his 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.”
As Barry began berating himself mentally, a chilling voice abruptly interrupted his 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 remembered it as the dark, evil presence he felt earlier when he was in the back of the cop car. Except now it was right here - in the room with him, and he realized this thing was orchestrating what he was now seeing.
“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 sadistic tone. The words seem to come out of a rough opening in the fuzzy grey mass, from what looked like a head when it talked. Instead of teeth, though, it looked like there were razor knives in its mouth. Barry could see what looked like a hot flame getting ready to leap out of its mouth when it spoke.
“Hey!! Remember that prick chemistry teacher you had in 10th grade?” the shadowy grey spirit shouted. Barry remembered that teacher, alright, Mr. Simmons. Some kids called him “Boil Man” because he had this terrible acne problem. He caught Barry cheating on his final exam and flunked him! Barry had to go to summer school to make up that class. The only thing close to being called a girlfriend that 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!!” Suffocating darkness fell over Barry as he felt himself being transported to some other location.
Al Simmons had just pulled out of a rest area a few miles beyond the Ehrenberg Point of Entry on the I-10. They had just crossed into Arizona from California, and they were almost home. Al goosed the big Chevy Suburban’s V-8 as they hit the speed limit in no time flat. His grown sons were dozing behind him in the back seat, and his wife was snoring loudly in the jump seat behind them. Their two pugs began settling in on the front passenger seat when all of a sudden, the two canines 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 static coming in through the front speaker of his Premium JBL Sound System. This was strange since satellite radio didn’t have the same reception issues as traditional AM or FM radio. Then he smelled a peculiar odor coming from the front passenger seat that hadn’t been there just a few minutes ago – sort of a combination of sulfur and men’s aftershave.
Al fumbled with the fine-tuning dial on his radio, 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 clearly – “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 growling voice shouted over and over again 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 because 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 someone was pushing down on his foot, preventing him from letting up on the accelerator pedal. The right-side tires started hitting the rumble strips as the Suburban veered onto the shoulder. Thump! Thump! Thump! Thump!
The sound abruptly woke everyone in the Chevy. “Al! What’s going on?” screamed his wife from the jump seat. “I don’t know,” Al replied nervously. “Something or someone is pulling on the steering wheel, and I can’t stop it.” One of his son’s frantically chimed in, “What do you mean, someone, Dad? There’s no one up there with you, is there?” Al replied, “No! I mean, yes, 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, the big Chevy 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 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 briefly thought about burning the teacher’s house down that summer. Especially after his girlfriend dumped him, but he would have made sure no one was home first if he had done it.
There were innocent people in that SUV lying smashed down in the ravine. Then a shivering thought cut through Barry like a hot scalpel through tender flesh. Is this what it’s going to be like - forever? Barry had come to the realization that he was indeed dead. He knew that now, and this was maybe some sort of afterlife. 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 get help to rid himself of this evil specter?
To be continued…