My Demon’s Name is Barnum

📅 Published on July 2, 2022

“My Demon’s Name is Barnum”

Written by Alan McDaniels
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available


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My name is Darren Johnson.  I’m thirty-four years old.  I have wavy black hair, blue eyes, a shaven face, and no distinct details that would separate me from the crowd.  I work the night shift at a large office building doing housekeeping.  The small paychecks allow me to live day-by-day in my motel room on the outskirts of a beat-down city.  I’m just an average Joe, an everyday functioning citizen of society, except I battle with demons.

It all started almost five years ago when I received a call at work.  Back then, I was an up-and-coming attorney, passed the bar with flying colors, and had just landed an internship sort of deal with the largest firm in the city.  Then my phone rang.  It was four in the afternoon on a Friday.  We were talking about future cases and tying up loose ends.  The weekend would be ours a few moments from walking out the doors.  I answered the call without knowing that by doing so, I would forfeit any future I had. All my dreams would be flushed down the toilet like common filth.  It was the police.  My wife and two children were involved in a vehicular accident.  Conner P. Davis, a forty-three-year-old man with a loving wife and family of his own, was working overtime driving a truck.  From my understanding, this was common for him.  He worked as much as possible to provide for his family, shorting himself hours of sleep every day to ensure his family’s life was comfortable.  They tell me he was on shift for at least twelve hours that day.  Some argue it was more, regardless of his last day on shift.  Conner P. Davis fell asleep behind the wheel and jackknifed his semi, causing it to jerk wildly and then roll.  My wife was unfortunately ahead of Conner’s semi as it began to roll.  It was a disaster that ended horribly.

In short, no survivors.  I turned to the bottle at first, taking in the numbing liquid I would drown myself in.  I think that might have been how it started as if the bottle is a key that somehow manages to open a dark door within us, letting the monsters within slowly seep out and infect our minds.  I spent time in hospitals and psych wards and attempted to kill myself on three occasions.  None were successful.  At this point, I exist as a whisper among humanity.  Living day to day, night by night, hour by hour.  Don’t worry.  This isn’t my goodbye letter.  This is my battle for sanity.

“Shall we begin?” a smooth yet raspy voice asked.  It sounded as if he had several vocal cords, one belonging to a different person, and each time he spoke, they all chimed in and blended, causing this strange, comforting and terrifying sound.  I looked over to see a man just slightly taller than myself. He wore a three-piece black suit with a red tie.  His jacket was never buttoned; that way, the breeze could catch it, and you could catch a glimpse of the gold chain of a pocket watch sitting in his vest pocket.  He had several gold rings on his fingers and sported a ridiculous black top hat with a snake that I assumed to be stuffed wrapped around it.  He held a black cane in his right hand, the top of which that he clasped tightly around was a golden skull.  His dress shoes shined no matter if the sun was out or not.  His neatly trimmed nails were painted black to match the eyeliner under his eyes, allowing the yellow cat-like eyes he had to shine even more.  He had a strange symbol engraved on his forehead. However, I’ve never been able to identify it, and he won’t reveal its nature to me.

I walked down the street only to stop at a sizeable towering office building.  Due to my substance abuse issues and the time I spent doing macrame in the psych ward, I attend sessions with Dr. Fletcher.  His office was on the third floor of the building.  I had no idea what the others are.  I hadn’t paid much attention to it, honestly.  I dreaded these days.  I sat and talked about feelings, all while hiding the truth. What was the truth?  That I, Darren Johnson, had plummeted into a war with malicious entities bent on my undoing?  I didn’t tell him because I’ve never been fond of macrame.  Telling him this would ensure I go back, numbed by the drugs, unable to fight the demons when they crawl from my mind’s cracks and crevices and manifest themselves into our world only to be seen and acknowledged by yours indeed.  To think, it started on a seemingly normal Friday evening.

“I was wondering when you would arrive, Barnum,” I said, looking over.

He growled, displeased at the name I’ve given him.  Due to his outfit and how he carries himself, I adopted the name Barnum for him, as he reminds me of a circus’s ringmaster.  However, the entity finds this mocking and often expresses his hate towards the nickname.  He tells me to address him as a Friend.  Otherwise, he would take the name Enemy, and I would not like that alteration.  I normally ignore this request.  At this point, any move to end my suffering would be welcomed.  Therefore we are at a standstill.  After many nights of pressing Barnum’s buttons, I found he is limited to what he can do as if orders were given to mess with me but not eliminate me altogether.  Of course, I could be wrong, and he could be waiting to harvest my soul.  Perhaps I just need to ripen.

I smirked thinking of this.  Barnum scowled, pulling out his pocket watch and flipping it open.  He looked down and then tapped his wrist, reminding me of my appointment.

“I’m well aware,” I said, walking into the building, ignoring all those walking in and out, going about their normal lives as I headed to the elevator.  The doors began to close.  Stepping inside, Barnum looked around at the people as he licked his lips, as one would look at a prime rib.  He stood next to me, putting aside any notion of interfering with anyone other than myself.

“No cameras.  You could sneak a sip,” Barnum whispered, referring to the flask I keep in the pocket of my black jacket.  I listened as always and pulled it out, getting a mouthful of harsh, cheap whiskey.  I swallowed it down and let the burning fill my throat.  Once finished, I put the cap back on and stuff it away for another time.  I’m used to it at this point.

“Liquid courage to loosen the lips.  Perhaps we are to divulge our secrets today?” he asked, referring to himself.

“Not a chance, Barnum,” I said with a smile.

He scowled, then looked at me up and down.  “Why don’t you seek help?  Find solace in confession? Perhaps it would help unburden your soured soul.”

“Why ruin a good thing?” I retorted, knowing my sarcasm would eat at the entity.

The doors opened, and I was greeted by the smell of the vanilla candles scattered about in the waiting room.

The floor was covered in a dark red carpet.  Several leather chairs were spread out for people with posters preaching motivation clinging to the white walls.  I stepped inside and walked over to the receptionist sitting behind her computer.

“Two-a-clock appointment,” I said, doing my best to sound upbeat, but ultimately I know it came more off as defeated.  “Mr. Johnson.”

She nodded and then began to speak.  She was nice enough.  Cute young woman with dirty blonde hair and blue eyes that still have hope for this world in them.  I believe her name was Kristy.  I couldn’t be certain.  She got me registered, and I walked over to one of the leather chairs, the one that’s next to the water cooler.  I always chose this one; however, I have no idea why.  I wasn’t thirsty.  Perhaps it just assured me no one else could sit next to me.

The standard clock on the wall ticked away slowly, telling me I still had five minutes until my session with Dr. Fletcher.

“She’s adorable,” Barnum said, appearing in a chair across from me.

I didn’t answer.  He did this to try and pry words from my lips, knowing that if I speak, it will be reported that I’m talking to myself.

I brushed his words off as he stared at her like a wolf would a lamb.  “It’s a shame, though.” I looked up, confused and almost spoke, fighting back.  I just raised a brow to show my confusion.  He had never made a remark about outsiders like that.

Barnum saw my unspoken question and smiled in acknowledgment.  “Her father beat her and her mother as a child, killed her mother, then himself.  She bounced to different foster homes until finding a nice godly couple.  All was well until she met David, the result of a male who is fond of the bottle as you are.  She thought she could save him.  How adorable!  He gets drunk and beats her.  Such a destructive pattern,” he said, ending with a relish grin.

I didn’t give any emotion in response.  Barnum enjoyed playing mind games.  This could have easily been an attempt to cause me to slip.

Barnum crossed his legs and tapped the golden skull at the end of his cane.  “She eventually will get pregnant by him and realize she has set herself and a child up for the same fate.  She will find peace in the emptiness of a bottle of sleeping pills.  It would’ve been a boy,” Barnum tutted.

I frowned, feeling anger develop within me.  Barnum sensed this and cackled.  I was about to shout something when the door to Dr. Fletcher’s office opened, and a man in a brown suit stepped out, looking at me.  He was an older man with white hair combed neatly and a trimmed yet long snow-white beard.  A pair of round glasses sitting on his rather large nose.  His skin was slightly brown, and his light hazel eyes told the world he was experienced.

“Ah, Mr. Johnson, right on time as always.  Please come in,” he said, waving a hand for me to step inside his office.

I looked over at the chair Barnum was sitting in to see him give me a wink before I rose and walked over.

Stepping into Dr. Fletcher’s office, I sat on the black leather couch pressed against the back wall.  He walked over to his large oak desk and took a seat.  He moved paperwork around until his fingers landed on my file.  He placed it on top and smiled at me.  “So then, tell me, how’s work?”

“It’s fine.  I wish I made more, but the job is easy enough,” I responded.

He picked up a pen and began taking notes, no doubt to add to my ever-growing file.

The sunlight shining through the windows providing us light began to fade out.  Dr. Fletcher frowned, hitting a switch behind him as an old light hummed and then flickered on.  “Must be due for some storms,” Dr. Fletcher remarked as he returned to his notepad.

“I don’t think he liked that,” Barnum sighed, pretending to be remorseful as he paced the room.  He stopped, looking over at the doctor’s paperwork, when I saw a flicker in his eyes.

“Juicy!” he cheered as if finding something good mixed in the doctor’s notes.

“Now, Mr. Johnson, I would like to address a concern I received from your employers,” he said as he turned the file to a new page.  Barnum looked over it as his smile widened and then swiftly faded.

“What!?” he growled, seemingly genuinely angry.

I tried to ignore that and focused on Dr. Fletcher.  “What concern is that?  I hadn’t done anything wrong.  I wasn’t even aware they contacted you,” I said, doing my best not to look over at Barnum, who was hunched over the desk reading.

“They’re sending you back!” Barnum growled.

My heart sank at the demon’s words.  Was he lying?  Before I could think about his statement, Dr. Fletcher chimed in.  “They saw you pacing and yelling as if you were arguing with someone.  I watched the footage myself, Darren.  Who are you seeing?” he asked, raising a brow.

I thought Barnum might be right.  I must’ve slipped and allowed Barnum to test me.  I fought to keep my fingers from trembling.

“It was nothing.  I was just venting,” I answered quickly, probably too quickly, judging how Dr. Fletcher looked at me.

“Now, Mr. Johnson, it would be best to be honest with me about what happened.  You can tell me.  You need to tell me,” he pressed, tapping his pen against the table slightly.

“Don’t say anything!” Barnum snapped, looking over at me.

I took a deep breath collecting my thoughts, “I was drunk.  I was having bad nightmares again and thought the drink would help.  I didn’t say anything because I don’t like the medication you gave me for sleep.  Makes me feel like a zombie,” I said, hoping this lie was believable.

Dr. Fletcher stared at me for a second, then nods, taking a moment to write in the file he has for me.  “I figured as much.  These dreams, what do they consist of?” he asked.

“Nice save, friend!” Barnum cheered, walking over, twirling his cane, slapping my shoulder.  I flinched a little under the weight of his slap but managed to play it off.

“The dreams are random, no reoccurring theme,” I said, rubbing the spot where Barnum hit me.  Every time he does, it burns slightly, not like pressing fire to the skin but as if the flames were allowed to lick my skin tenderly, painful but not overbearingly so.

Barnum sat beside me on the couch and lay his right leg over his left.  “After this, we should get drunk and go prowl the rat-filled streets of this carcass of a city,” Barnum whispered.

“Were they about your wife and children?” Dr. Fletcher. Asked.

Barnum uncrossed his legs, letting out a growl as he leaned forward.  My heart sank, and my eyes were wide in disbelief at the question.  I’ve expressed before not to bring them up as I had no desire to discuss them.

The light began to flicker as Dr. Fletcher looked up to examine it.

“I guess it’s about to blow.  I’ll have maintenance take a look at it,” he said.

I wrestled with my anger as I looked over at Barnum, who gave me a wicked wink letting me know he had something planned.  “Tell him not to bring them up again or else,” he warned.

I brushed it out of my mind.  He tends to do that.  Act as if he was on my side, but he was a leech sucking my spirit dry until I was nothing more than a numb husk.  He was succeeding.

“I don’t want to discuss them,” I said to Dr. Fletcher,  who was still watching the light above us flicker back and forth.

“Right, I remember that now,” he said, returning his attention to his notes.  “However, Darren, we need to talk about things that hurt us.  Otherwise, it is a slow death.”

“He is on a fast track to getting hurt,” Barnum growled.

“I understand your concern, but still, I do not wish to talk about it,” I said, my tone slightly forceful.

He scribbled something down as Barnum squinted his cat-like eyes.  “He is up to something,” Barnum hissed.

“Do you think you could save them, Darren?” he asked, not looking up from his notes.

I gasped.  Dr. Fletcher had never pushed these boundaries before.  I hated to say it, but Barnum was right.  He was up to something.  “Don’t,” I said, hoping to ward off further questions.

Barnum was digging his nails into the couch, his anger becoming more apparent.  “I’ll disembowel this prick for the both of us!” he snarled.

Dr. Fletcher looked back up to see the pain and hate written all too well on my face.  He gave me a comforting smile and then nodded.  “I see we are getting somewhere.  You see, Darren, your job has called me several times actually about your unusual behavior.  I believe you are putting up this wall to avoid any real confrontation.  I intend to knock this down.  In doing so, I believe we will truly reach a milestone in your treatment,” he said, giving me a reassuring nod.

“In all honesty, Dr. Fletcher, I have absolutely no idea what you are talking about.  While my nightmares may have caused me to turn more to the bottle than I would like, I still would not like to discuss them.  They are in the past, and that is where they remain.  Talking will not bring them back.  It will only resurrect pain.  If you wish to continue to our session, I ask that you steer away from your current course; otherwise, I will leave,” I said in a firm tone.

“When did you become a poet?  Such formal words, I love it!” Barnum cheered.

Dr. Fletcher, however, was not amused.  I could see this actually upset him, perhaps even challenged him as he flipped through his paperwork before landing on a form and holding it up for me to see.

“This form basically says you are not fit to be in society.  All I have to do is sign my name, and the police will arrive to take you back to Clear-Mind Care; I believe you loathe this place.  Often spoke about how much you hated macrame,” he said, ending with a smile.  His words were the equivalent of checkmate in a game of chess.  Was that all I was to him, a game?  Did he have such little regard for my life?  I felt my blood begin to boil.

“Let me kill him!” Barnum roared, clenching his cane tightly as he sat back, waiting for the word so he could pounce like a lion on a gazelle, eager to rip into his prey and relish the fresh kill.

“Now that I have your attention, Mr. Johnson, we should continue.  I understand this may be a hard subject to address, but I truly feel it has to be.  We must overcome your trauma.  This is the best course of action.  Despite your belief, I am only trying to help,” Dr. Fletcher said, laying the form back down on his desk.

“My wife and children are no concern to you or anyone else!  Let them rest!” I yelled, allowing my anger to seep out.

Dr. Fletcher responded rather calmly to my outburst as if he anticipated this.  “Tell me their names.” “Screw yourself!” I roared, feeling this overwhelming rage come over me.

“That’s right!  You tell him, friend!  This prick needs to be taught a lesson!” Barnum chimed in like a child.

“Elizabeth, Jacob, and Sarah,” Dr. Fletcher said flatly, looking at me as a coldness covered his hazel eyes and flickered off his glasses.

I wanted to scream and attack him, but I felt defeated.  Collapsing into the chair, I began to cry softly.  I hadn’t heard their names in what felt like a lifetime.  To have him speak them was the equivalent of shoving a red hot spear into my chest.  It felt like death, but sadly it would not take me from this prison of existence.

“You may accept defeat, but I don’t know such cowardice!” Barnum hissed, sitting his cane down and flexing his fingers as his black nails slowly transformed into dark claws, something you would find on a savage animal.

“You couldn’t save them, Darren.  Do you think this is what they would have wanted for you?” Dr. Fletcher asked.

I didn’t answer.  I laid back in the chair, nearly trembling.  I trembled.  I was unsure if I should cry, scream, fight, or flee.  The light began to flicker faster as Dr. Fletcher scowled.

“We may not be on the best terms, Darren, but I shall not allow anyone to harm you in such a fashion. That privilege is reserved for me and me alone,” Barnum said slowly, standing to his feet.

“Answer me, Mr. Johnson, or I shall contact the proper authorities and send you back,” Dr. Fletcher said.  His tone was harsh and cruel, not something anyone in his field should ever have.

“Leave me alone!” I yelled, balling my fists.

I could swear Dr. Fletcher found my outburst amusing as I saw him stifle a chuckle.  “No,” he answered flatly.

“Enough of this!” Barnum roared.

The light flickered faster, now becoming erratic.  It exploded in a mix of sparks and tiny shards of glass.  Dr. Fletcher jerked back in his chair in shock as a cloud of smoke covered the room.  When it settled, I saw Barnum standing over him, looking down with a primal hunger I had never seen before.

“Hello, Doctor.  Ready for your next patient?” Barnum questioned, with a smile that could only be described as manic.

I normally ignored this type of behavior as Barnum has spoken to others, but none seemed to acknowledge his presence.  However, at this moment, I could see shock and fear on the doctor’s face. Could this be real?  Could Barnum have finally had enough and revealed his existence?

“W-Who are you!?” Dr. Fletcher asked in a trembling voice.

Barnum leaned in close as the walls themselves seemed to scream before tiny cracks developed within them, scattering about mimicking a spiderweb.

“Consider me Darren’s advocate.  We feel you’ve violated boundaries,” he cackled, eyeing the doctor hungrily.

Dr. Fletcher turned his frightened eyes to me, and I laughed in shock.  Barnum revealed himself to someone other than myself, and to nonetheless than the man who tried to throw me back into the loony bin.

“D-Darren, what is happening?” Dr. Fletcher trembled as Barnum licked his lips.

“Well, Dr. Fletcher, this is who I speak to.  Meet Barnum, the entity that haunts me so.  You’ve managed to offend him, and for that, I’m sorry,” I said calmly, not knowing what would happen next but embracing it regardless.  A smile formed on my face just at the thought that Barnum does exist and was not a figure of my depressive and twisted mind.

“What!?” Dr. Fletcher questioned, afraid to look over at the now snarling Barnum.

“See, Barnum is a demon.  He is normally just vindictive in nature, playing various mind games for amusement.  However, he found you to be offensive and intends to address this.  I don’t know what he will do.  This is something I haven’t seen before.  I wasn’t aware it was possible.”  I paused as I felt the small smirk grow on my face.  I turned my eyes to the trembling Dr. Fletcher cowering in his chair, looking at Barnum towering over him.  “I assume it will be unpleasant at best,” I add in an almost cocky tone.

“Call the police!” Dr. Fletcher begged, his body shaking, his skin a pale sheet of white.

“Yes!  Call for help as the wolf already nips at your neck!  The last words, spoken in terror, always delight me.  You mortals say the dumbest things when beckoned by death.”  Barnum groaned in delight as he grabbed the doctor by his collar, casting his yellow eyes up and down.  As Barnum pulled him from his seat effortlessly, I could hear the man whimper like a dying mutt.

“A man of education.  A life spent in books, ignoring the harsh reality that slowly engulfed you.  You will die as ignorant as an infant, unaware of the inner workings of the true vast darkness that you desperately hide from,” Barnum snarled.

Part of me wanted to stop this, but I accepted that we had reached a point of no return.  This was something put into motion by a higher being, and there was nothing I could do to stop this.  All I could do was watch in a mix of fear for the doctor and this primal delight as Barnum yanked him from his chair.

Dr. Fletcher screamed out as Barnum tossed his body through the window with a forceful shove.  The glass shattered with ease as I watched almost in slow motion as the horrified Dr. Fletcher extended his hands in hopes, in prayer, that I would save him.  I just sat back, timid in nature, as the sounds of his screams echoed out before fading in a loud thump as his carcass hit the unforgiving pavement below.

The silence that engulfed the room was indescribable as Barnum wiped the dust from his jacket.  “I hate macrame,” Barnum said, giving me a wink.

Normally, this is where we would end the story, wrapped in a nice red bow and finish with some fancy words.  However, this is not the end of this story, the authorities arrived, and Barnum retreated to whatever crevice he crawled from.  The murder of a genius, Dr. Fletcher had managed to impress several silver spoons and had quite the reputation.  Here I stood in his office, shattered glass and silence as his body rested three stories below on the concrete in a puddle of his blood and filth.  They slapped the cuffs on my wrist without hesitation.  I didn’t argue.  What would I even say?  Barnum did it.  He exists in my mind but somehow found a way to manifest and defend me by murdering Dr. Fletcher, only to disappear back to the depths of some hell I could manifest.  It wasn’t long before I was admitted to Clear-Mind Care.  I was on constant watch for several days, with various big bulky men in all white. They stared me down as I went about my routine of therapy groups, puddings, jello, and pill calls that would supply me with the drugs I needed for sleep.  Lawyers and law enforcement came to speak with me, but I refused to speak to any.  They said I was facing first-degree murder.  I didn’t care.  I knew too well that Barnum committed this heinous crime, and no jury or judge would believe me.  The only thing I craved now is my flask, but it has been confiscated like my freedom.

I sat in a group with seven other people, all wearing white and light blue attire provided by the facility. The leader was a dark-haired, blue-eyed woman named Claire.  She was beautiful, with a voice as sweet as pure honey but a look that said she had been through the worst of humanity.  Still, I admired her grace as she led the meeting.  It wasn’t an emotional attraction but more physical, just genetics telling me how we could produce prosperous offspring.

“Give me five minutes with her, and she’d beg,” Barnum said, appearing at my side for the first time in three months.

“Piss off,” I whispered angrily as he stared at her stroking his cane.

“I mean it, friend.  I would have her panting like a dog in heat.”  He paused, looking over at me casually.  “You could, too, if you listened to me once in a while.”

“You are the reason I am here.  Nice to see you again, Barnum.  I thought the police scared you off for good,” I said, trying my best to mock him.

He frowned, telling me the jab worked as he raised his right brow.  “You assume they could do anything but die in my presence?” He asked.

“Big talk for a man who ran away like a frightened child,” I hissed.

“Everything okay, Mr. Johnson?” Claire asked as my eyes caught hers, realizing I must’ve been speaking louder than I had intended.

“Yes, ma’am,” I said, lowering my gaze as Barnum chuckled.

“Coward,” he snuffed.

Barnum strutted around the group staring at each, studying them.  He paused at a middle-aged woman with black and gray hair cut short with a thick pair of glasses on her face.  I didn’t know her name nor why she was here, but she was often silent in the group besides muttering to herself on occasion.

“Your mother was right.  No one would love you…stay clear, Darren.  She murdered her last two husbands,” Barnum sneered, eyeing her as if she had a contagious disease.

He walked over to a heavier-set man with a short brown haircut, his eyes drooping with dark rings under them.

“Really, kids?  Sick prick, couldn’t find anyone in your own weight class?” he paused, eyeing the man. “Oh, I’m sorry, I guess beached whales are hard to find,” he added, sticking a forked tongue out at the man before walking past.

He passed a few more people before his eyes landed on Claire, “Please tell me you have daddy issues,” he said mockingly.  After staring at her, he cursed and rolled his cat-like eyes.  “Nope, just hoping to do something with a bottom-tier college degree.”  He sighed.

“Demons!” a voice shouted harshly.  Barnum and I looked over along with the rest of the group to see a young blonde-haired kid speak up, eyeing me.

“What was that, Aaron?” Claire asked as we studied him.

“He’s got demons.  Angels say slay it, or it will slay us,” he whimpered.

I raised a brow as the rest of the group set back on edge on the border of panic.  Claire tried to contain the situation by comforting him, but he began shaking his head frantically.

“Boy watched three of his friends kill themselves senior year prom.  Kid’s collateral damage,” Barnum said, twirling his cane.

“He whispers lies to you, sir, comes around when it suits his need.  Ignore the chaos cloaked in kindness, rid yourself of his presence, or we will all die in horrible ways,” Aaron pleaded.  He looked solely at me.

Claire waited for me to respond but saw my silence.  She nods at two security guards who came to collect a frantic Aaron in the back of the room.  I watched him scream and kick at them as they carried him away, Claire trying desperately to continue the group session, all eyes filled with worry settled on me.

It was late at night, maybe three o’clock when I lay in bed as Barnum paced back and forth in my four-by-twelve room.

“Kid has to go,” he kept saying over and over, waiting for my input.  “He saw me, friend.  This isn’t good.  We need to handle this and do it now.”

“Leave him be,” I groaned, begging for sleep, the medication not strong enough to pull me from Barnum’s grasp.

“No!” he roared in a collection of deep voices.  “This is to be handled swiftly and precisely.  Don’t worry, friend.  I know just what to do to handle this spy,” he finished.  His tone softening.

“Spy?” I asked almost drunkenly due to the effects of the sleeping pills.

“Don’t you see?  The angels want to ruin our fun and stop us before we can even start.  They send this sad excuse for a human to meddle in things beyond his comprehension.  They played a pawn against a queen, a foolish notion that we shall erase off the board,” he said, tapping the skull on his cane.

I shook my head, rolling over on the bed, covering my head.  “Let me sleep!” I growled angrily.

Barnum nodded.  “Yes, rest is good for the mind.  Allows us to recover and build strength.  Good thinking, friend, this boy shall see the wrath of a true demon tomorrow,” Barnum said before sitting in the corner, pressing his back against the wall.

I awoke earlier than I’d have liked, the sun barely poking behind the thick pine trees surrounding the facility, when an alarm rang out.  I sat in bed in a state of panic as I saw guards rushing past my room. It wasn’t until nearly ten in the morning when we were allowed to come out.  I learned from local gossip that Aaron had hung himself that night.  The guards found him collapsed on the floor, bed sheets still wrapped around his neck.  They must’ve given out only after he had already achieved his mission.

Barnum wasn’t around that day, making me wonder if he had a hand in it.  Still, the day went on as normal as one could go, breakfast, lunch, and dinner—meetings for anger, addiction, and insanity.  A collection of treatment and arts-and-crafts blended in a boring, numbing day at Clear-Mind Care.

It was three days until Barnum showed himself to me again.  I watched reruns on the outdated television when he appeared to be smoking in the day room.  I assumed it to be a cigarette.

“Miss me?” he asked, taking a puff only to blow the stale-smelling smoke in my face.

I waved it aside and shook my head.  “Like one would miss cancer,” I retorted.

“Horrible way to thank a friend,” he shrugged, taking another drag.

“Friend?  More like a tumor,” I shrugged.

He faked a gasp in shock as he walked closer to me on the couch.  “After all we’ve been through, I handled the doctor, the boy, and well…I listen to your ramblings.”

I looked at him, raising a brow, “You did it?  You killed Aaron?” I asked, almost in disbelief.

“I told you he needed to be taken care of.  You lack the balls to deal with such matters, so I did what any friend in my position would do.  I took care of our problem.”  He said he was doing me a favor as if I should be grateful.

“Our problem!?  You were the one freaking out.  I could care less what a child thinks!” I yelled, causing some of the guards and residents to glance over at me.

“Keep it down, friend.  We don’t want the syringe of silence, now do we?” he asked, referring to the medicine they gave hostile residents to calm them down.

“Piss off Barnum, the Circus of Hell is missing their clown!” I retoredt.

He scowled at me before walking off.  As he did, two guards approached me, and I complied calmly, spending the rest of the day in the padded room.

The next day I was in a one-on-one with Claire, her blue eyes studying me as I sat back, arms crossed in a cheap plastic chair.  “Who do you talk to?” she asked, staring at me suspiciously.

I sighed, having gone down this route before.  Rolling my eyes carelessly, I shrugged.  “It doesn’t matter, drop it and move on,” I said.

“It matters to me, Mr. Johnson.  I only want to help,” she said in a soft tone.

“Definitely has daddy issues!” Barnum said cheerfully, nudging my shoulder.

I cast an eye over to see him sitting beside me.  I pretended to look out the window so Claire wouldn’t notice.

“You can leave once you complete your treatment, you know,” she said in hopes of getting me to engage in conversation.

“They blame me for Dr. Fletcher’s death.  I’ll never leave.”  I shrugged.  I normally scoffed in amusement, which is out of character for me, but I found the obvious lie humorous.


o you not think you are responsible?” she asked.

“Does it actually matter what I think?  If only you could see what I saw, you would know I’m not the villain but a victim of an unworldly circumstance,” I said casually.  Being here had drained me more mentally than Barnum could ever have hoped to do.  I stopped caring what other people think.  I would just shuffle around this world as a ghost until the end of my days.  I was okay with this.  It was better than sitting in a rotting room watching static on the television, waiting to go back to work at the dawn of night just to mop floors.

She stared at me for a minute as Barnum leaned forward, looking at me with a face of worry, the first time I had seen this.  “What are you doing, friend?” he asked nervously.

I ignored him, waiting for Claire to speak.

She looked at me silently for a moment contemplating the words to speak.  After a few seconds of silence, she parted her cherry red lips.  “You spoke of someone named Barnum.  Who is he?”

Barnum howled in delight like a wolf standing from his chair.  “She knows my name!  Maybe she wants to become more friendly!” he cheered.

“Imaginary friend, leave it at that,” I said with a shrug.

“I’m far more than that.  I could show Claire wonders.  I’m talking Heaven and Hell here!  Pleasure and pain!” he said, panting like a dog.

“Would it be okay to tell you what I thought, honestly?” she asked politely.

I nodded as Barnum took his seat, eager to hear what she was about to say.

“I think the death of your family has caused you a great deal of grief.  Grief can manifest into strange things if gone unchecked.  I feel you acted out of anger and then felt such remorse that you created this character to do your bidding for you.  Someone to take the blame when you act out and things get out of hand,” she said.

“Pretty and smart.  I’ll ruin her,” Barnum sneered.

“I appreciate your concern and acknowledge your remark.  However, what I battle is beyond anyone’s help,” I said calmly.

“Nice way to say screw off,” Barnum added.

“The man with demons!” a voice shouted, causing us to look over to see the middle-aged woman with thick glasses entering the common room.

“Mrs. Campbell, I will talk to you shortly.  Please go to the day-room for now,” Claire said.

Barnum raised a brow looking over at me, “Black widow is here,” he sighed.  “Woman knows how to kill a mood, if you know what I’m saying.”  He finished by giving me a devilish grin.

“He killed Aaron.  He will come for the rest of us!” she said before fleeing.

Claire apologized and then returned her attention to me.  Barnum let out a deep sigh, then stood up, stretching.

“Time for a stroll,” he said as he walked out.  I wanted to call out to him but knew this would only lead to more problems.

I watched him exit as Claire began to speak.  “Tell me about this Barnum character,” she said.

I rolled my eyes exhausted already.  “He is a demon, wearing ridiculous clothing, sporting a top hat and a sadistic attitude,” I said, not really caring if she believed me or not.

“Have you spoken to a priest about this?” she asked, throwing me a curve ball question.

I raised a brow and couldn’t help but laugh at such a question.  Before I could answer, she leaned in.

“I take that as a no.”

“Well, of course not.  I don’t define myself as a religious man,” I responded.

She looked more confused now.  “But you defined Barnum as a demon.  How can he exist as such if you are not religious?” she asked.

“Good question.  How does a bird fly or a fish swim?  How does one bad day tie into others?  How does a man fall asleep behind the wheel and take out other families?  It just does, it just happens, and Barnum just exists,” I said coldly, shrugging.

Before she could retort, I heard a scream ring out in the hallway outside the common room.  Claire and I exchanged looks before we both jumped and ran towards the door.

Outside we are greeted by several residents and guards hovering over a body lying on the floor.  As I examined the corpse, I realized it was Mrs. Campbell.  She was lying on her stomach with her throat crudely gashed open, blood pooling out.

“I guess Barnum didn’t like her,” I said coldly as Claire gave me a frightening glare.

The rest of the day was spent on lock-down.  The guards delivered trays to rooms and confined everyone inside.  No talking, no groups, no nothing.  We sat in silence.  Even Barnum refused to show, leaving me truly isolated with my thoughts.

The next day my door never opened.  I paced back and forth, watching others move about, but for some reason, I was not allowed to exit my room.  Frustrated as the guards brought me breakfast but refused to acknowledge my existence.  If not for Barnum appearing after I finished my breakfast, I would have begun to go mad.

“Cat lady is taken care of,” he said casually as I sat against the cold white wall.

“She was no threat,” I said, not looking over at the demon lying back on my bed.

“Of course not, more of an annoyance.  I hate to be bothered,” he responded.

“Then why even show up?” I asked, now looking over at him stretched out on the bed picking at his nails.

“For you, friend, I’m always here even when you don’t want me to be,” he said with a smile.

“Lucky me,” I sighed, exhausted.

The small rectangular slot of my door, where they usually used hand trays, popped open.  I looked over in surprise as a black leather-bound Bible sat on top.  Both Barnum and I stared in confusion as I rose to my feet and walked over.  I picked it up and opened it to find a note inside.  It wasn’t signed, but I knew who wrote it.  Staring at it, I felt a smile spread across my face.  “I believe you.  It’s time you take care of your pest problem,” it read.

“Pest!?” Barnum growled.

I took the Bible and sat back down, flipping through the pages, not reading anything.  Just the act alone was enough to cause Barnum to fume.  “She thinks she’s clever!  Vindictive winch!” he snarled.

“Leave her alone, Barnum.  I mean it!” I growled, resting my head against the wall.

“Don’t you worry, friend, I have this under control.  She wants to play well.  This is just my game!” he cooed.

I looked over, seeing him tapping his finger on the skull of his cane.  “I mean it, Barnum.  She is off-limits.  Let her go.”

He stared at me in frustration, “Fine.  As you wish, friend.” The rest of the day went by slowly, lunch then dinner.  Meatloaf and mashed potatoes with a side of dry carrots.  I ate it regardless, and before I knew it, I went from watching Barnum pace back and forth to nodding off.  When I awoke, it was late.  The moon was high in the sky, shining through my small window.  I looked around for Barnum, but he wasn’t there.  I began to worry about Claire until I heard a chuckle from the corner of the room.  I looked over to see Barnum sitting down, twirling his cane.

“Nice nap?” he asked, casting his yellow eyes at me.

“No more talking.  Sleep now,” I said, shuffling to my small mattress.  He didn’t argue as I fell back asleep, and nightmares didn’t plague me for the first time in a long time.

When I awoke, my door was open.  I was allowed freedom.  Walking out, I made my way to the mess hall, where we were fed breakfast.  I saw people whispering to one another, looking over at me in line. I was used to this.  I was Clear-Mind’s horror story.  It didn’t bother me any.  It made it easier to go about my day.  I didn’t have to shoo any unwanted company away.  They were all too afraid of my presence.  It was nice giving me a sense of power.

“She was so young.” a voice said, almost choking on the words.  I looked over at two people talking in line, I didn’t know them to the point of names, but I had seen them walking about before.

“This place won’t be the same without her.  Poor thing shouldn’t have worked herself so much,” one of the individuals responded.

“I’m sorry, who?” I asked, beginning to feel a sense of fear rise within me.

The two, an overweight male and a beat-down woman, looked at me.  “Doctor Claire/  She had an accident last night on the way home.  Say her brakes failed, ran into a tree.  Died on impact,” the male said, shaking his head.

“it’s not right.  Someone so nice and sweet doesn’t deserve that death,” the woman added as the two moved forward in the line.

My heart sank distraughtly.  I looked over, fighting back the tears.  I wanted confirmation of something I already knew.  At the back of the mess hall, I could see Barnum eyeing different people, mocking them without their knowledge.  He stood there grinning, giving me a sadistic wink and tapping the skull on his cane.  Once our eyes met, it was as if he already knew.

“You’re unbelievable!” I roared, dropping my tray and storming over.

Barnum looked around nervously, “Careful, friend.  Lots of eyes,” he said, pressing his claw-like finger to his lips.

“You won’t let anyone live!  You murder anyone who dares speak to me!?  I’m beginning to think you are afraid I’ll talk to anyone other than you.  Are you that desperate?  That lonely?  That scared!?  Acts like a wolf but is no more than slug who slithered from hell!” I roared.

He frowned, straightening his form.  “I fear nothing!” he said in a deep, growl tone.

“Lies, you preach lies.  You’re terrified I’ll find someone else and leave you alone.  What, is Hell short on friends?  Don’t tell me you’re an outcast being bullied!” I scoffed as Barnum began growling in anger.

“What’s the matter, Barnum?  They hate your top hat, or is it your makeup?” I mocked.  “Not so much a demon as reject.”

I began pacing other residents staring in suspense as I took each step.  My eyes trained on Barnum with his head low.  “Be careful what you say, friend.  You don’t want to turn on me,” he snarled.

“Dr. Fletcher, Aaron, Mrs. Campbell, and now Claire.  Who’s next?” I asked, eyeing him.

“Your tone, Darren, mind it,” he warned.

I could hear the sound of stomping footsteps, alerting me that guards were in route.

“You call me a coward!?  You take out anyone who dared speak to me!  You’re a reject, an outcast, a fool!” I yelled.  I feel hands grab my arms as I’m dragged back.

“Tell me, Barnum!  Tell me what you want!” I demanded as I was dragged away.

Barnum looked up, and I could see a sense of sadness in his yellow eyes for the first time.  “I just want a friend.”

The next several days were in isolation, in a padded room with a bed and a toilet.  Not even Barnum would visit me.  The guards said nothing as they dropped off trays.  I was alone.  I should rejoice that I was spared Barnum’s rantings, but instead, I found myself ironically sad.

The door opened.  A man in a black suit stepped in.  He sported a trimmed goatee and harsh brown eyes.  His haircut was one you would see on a marine.  His presence demanded respect as he walked into my room.

“They say you’re insane,” he said with a firm, deep voice.  He held a tablet in his right hand while flexing the fingers of his left as if trying to crack his knuckles, as if being in a room with me caused him tremendous rage.

“Is that the gossip?” I asked, looking up, my eyes bloodshot from a lack of sleep.

“Who am I speaking to?” he asked.

I was confused, “Did you not research your clients?  Darren Johnson,” I responded, becoming annoyed already.

“So this Barnum character is not in control at the moment?” he asked, raising a brow.

“At the moment?  I laughed.  More like never, I run this show.  He just plays games on the sideline.” The man frowned, pulling up the tablet and scrolling through something.  “Several deaths speak otherwise.” “You can’t put that on me,” I shrugged.

“Is that how you truly feel?” He asked, taking a few steps closer.

“It does not matter how I feel about it.  I had no control in the matter.  Barnum killed them,” I responded.

“Mr. Johnson, would you be surprised to know I have footage to prove otherwise?” he asked.

I looked up at him, intrigued.  “You have footage?  Actual footage?” “I do,” he said calmly.

“Then please, indulge me,” I said, offering a hand out.

The man looked at me for a moment before turning the tablet around so I could see.  It was an office area.  After a few moments, I could identify the place.  It was Dr. Fletcher’s office.  There I stood with Dr. Fletcher across from me.  It appeared we exchanged words and then…and then…I walked over and pushed him out the window.  My jaw dropped.  It wasn’t possible.  I never left the couch.  Barnum did this!  The stranger could see my frustration as he changed to another video.  It shows me sneaking down the hallway at Clear-Mind.  I entered another room and was out of sight for several minutes before I exited, seemingly exhausted.

“That was Aaron Calloway’s room the night he was thought to have hung himself.  We have reason to believe you murdered him,” he said as I stood there in disbelief, my jaw slacked.

I didn’t have a response to this.  He switched to another video where I could see myself walking out of the common room that I shared with Claire.  I walked out and headed down a hallway running up behind Mrs. Campbell.  I pulled something small that shimmered on camera and pressed it to her throat.  In an instant, I saw myself pull my hand back as blood spilled out and a gasping, panicked Mrs. Campbell collapsed onto the floor.  Tears filled my eyes as I shook my head.  He turned to a final video showing me sneaking out a window into the parking lot.  I moved swiftly, fiddling with a blue car parked near the building.  After a few moments, I retreated inside, and after the man fast-forwarded, I could see Claire walk over to the same car I had messed with and drive off.

“You cut her brakes, Mr. Johnson.  I have you responsible for four deaths.  Normally we would strap you down, but there is a pattern here I believe I can snap.”

“I…I didn’t do that,” I whimpered.

“That would be the pattern I speak of, this Barnum character.  I believe you’ve manifested him ever since you wrecked.”

“Wrecked?  I never wrecked,” I said, looking up as a few tears trickled down my cheeks.

“Then explain the strange scar on your forehead.  You received it from the collision when your head smacked the steering wheel.  Mr. Johnson, you were involved in a vehicular accident with a semi-truck six years ago.  You swerved to avoid a direct collision but still hit the guard rail and ended up rolling your vehicle.  It was a nasty wreck that resulted in the death of your wife and two children.  You were the sole survivor,” he said flatly as if this was nothing to him but simple words of little impact.

“Lies!  I was at work!” I yelled, standing to my feet, causing him to take a step back.

“No, Mr. Johnson, you were drunk.  You stated you had just left a family gathering and admitted you had several drinks before the incident.”

“You liar!  How dare you come in here and try to feed me such a tale!  I won’t fall for it!” I yelled, my fist clenched, ready to fight.

“It’s true, friend,” a remorseful voice chimed in.

I look over to see Barnum walking over for the first time, a sense of remorse about him.

“What?” I ask in disbelief.

“I wanted to shelter you from the sick sadness of it all.  It didn’t seem fair.  Call it fate or God.  It is cruel nonetheless.  You lost everything and developed such hate that anyone who got too close…well, let’s just say they saw the worst in you.”  He sighed as if he had just released the crushing weight of a burden.

“I didn’t do it,” I whimpered.

“Who are you talking to, Mr. Johnson?” The man asked, looking around my room.

“No, not fully at least, but you played a major role in it, friend.  However, there is still hope,” Barnum said, resting a hand on my shoulder.

“What hope is there!?  I killed my family!  I’m damned!” I yelled, tears falling freely.

“You don’t have to face this reality.  I can take your place.  Rid you of your sorrow.  Think of it like a rest, a peaceful sleep that you never have to awaken from,” Barnum said.

“It can’t be that simple,” I cried.

“But it is.  Let me take the wheel, friend.  It’s time you slept,” Barnum reassured.

“Mr. Johnson, are you all right?  Should I call someone?” The man asked, looking at me cautiously.

I blinked, flexing my fingers.  A smile spread wide on my face, placing fear into the man standing just beyond the threshold of my door.  I walked calmly over to him; then, in a swift motion, I slammed the door shut, leaving the two of us to stare at one another.  His eyes were riddled with fear, while mine was more of hunger.  I wiggled my fingers as he clutched the tablet for dear life.

Breaking the silence, I parted my still smiling lips and spoke.  “Darren is sleeping now.  Best not to wake him.  You may, my new friend, call me Barnum.  Oh, such wonders I have to reveal!” I sneer with a coo.

The man stumbled back, slumping into the door.  I withdrew a small razor blade from my waistband and slashed out furiously.  His body shook, sinking to the floor as he desperately clasped the left side of his face.  The razor sliced through the flesh of his cheek, revealing the top row of his white teeth. Blood pooled at his hands that tried to cover the wound.  I used the fresh warm blood to paint the flesh under my eyes as I began to howl.  I looked over at the mirror above the toilet and saw the scar on my forehead separating Darren and me.  While he refused to acknowledge the birth of something greater than himself, I embraced it.  If not for that faithful night of the accident, if not for this scar on our forehead, I would not exist, and this grayish world would be all the duller.  Yet, I am alive and in control, and I will bring some color and flare back into this world!  Hearing the sounds of footsteps rushing towards us with the now blaring alarm overhead like a cloud cracking wide with thunder warning everyone of the storm to come, I am that storm.  I.  Am. Barnum.  The ringmaster of your nightmares, and my time is now!

Rating: 10.00/10. From 1 vote.
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available

Written by Alan McDaniels
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

🔔 More stories from author: Alan McDaniels

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