The thing about it is, Barry McDonald says, he doesn't think he actually attracts weird and creepy phenomena. "But I do seek it out," he explains. "And if you seek out something long enough, you'll find it."
Back when he managed the Officers' Club at the old Lowry Air Force Base, he'd walk into the ballroom and contemplate the carpet. "It was red with black dots," Barry recalls. "As I stared at it, my mind would open up and focus. Then all of a sudden, the red would fall away and begin to glow. And then I'd see myself standing on these tiny black rods, just miles high...I've always been able to open my mind like that. Always without drugs. And when I write horror, I will live it. I will become it."
The smell here is putrid,
With the flesh of the dead.
The maggot filled mouths,
Of the corpses in this house.
Flies buzzing around,
The gore on the ground.
Screams of terror,
In the house of horror...
Barry lives in Commerce City with his wife, Janet, and two teenage kids. In a neighborhood of tidy, middle-class homes, his place stands out like a hearse among Hondas. Headstones poke through the front lawn. A horse skeleton hangs in a tree. A coffin leans on the porch. The living room walls, tables and shelves are festooned with skulls. "Just wait until we put up the Amityville Horror windows," he says. "We start planning for Halloween in January. We're going to have Surround Sound, a strobe light and, of course, the fog machine. That horse skeleton is going to be turned into a demon. I've got a female corpse on order from Hollywood, from the movie Poltergeist. And next year, we're getting a bunch of skeletons that are going to be covered in latex and turned into corpses. Heavily rotting corpses."
When he's not looking for creepy stuff, writing poetry, playing rhythm guitar in his oldies band, the Impalas, or tinkering with his '81 Cadillac Seville "Death Machine," Barry works as a supervisor for a customer-service firm in Thornton. But in his perfect world, he'd be the fourth member of the Lone Gunmen on the X-Files.
He is 36 years old, blonde, bespectacled, bright, polite and slightly geeky. During frog dissection in ninth-grade biology class, he was probably the first to dig in.
"You could say that," he admits.
Barry is sitting on the edge of his black living room couch, hands folded earnestly in his lap. If it weren't for the horned demon skull beside him on the coffee table, he could be selling life insurance. Or, in this case, death insurance.
He began writing poetry at age fourteen, but wasn't widely recognized as a poet until 1997, when his wife submitted a poem titled "Snow" to the International Library of Poetry in Maryland. The poem, as well as a sonnet called "Thunderstorm," won numerous awards from the association, including the Homer Diamond and Editor's Choice. The attention was nice, Barry says, but "nice" is not the impression he wants to give.
"I don't want to go down in history as the guy who wrote soft, mushy stuff," he says. "I want to write pure, unadulterated horror: The corpse that looks at you and rips its heart out."
To understand why, he says, you must begin with the Indian Ghost.
When he was growing up in rural Ohio, Barry would slip away into the woods behind his house and become lost in his imagination. If he was playing explorer, he became Indiana Jones. If he was playing warrior, he became Conan the Barbarian. When he was ten, Barry became an archaeologist. Every day for months on end, he excavated the land near his home on the Black River, "where the Indians hung out." He unearthed a collection of arrowheads, pottery shards, grinders, stone tools and weapons that eventually landed in a private museum. But there, in what might have been a burial site, he also unearthed a "Casper-the-friendly-ghost-type deal."
It arrived one night when Barry was curled up under the covers with a flashlight and a Stephen King novel. Suddenly, the bedsprings squeaked, and Barry felt the weight of someone beside him.
"I thought, 'Oh, man. Busted,'" he recalls. "My mom was really strict. When you went to bed, you went to bed. So I flipped off the covers, ready to take whatever she was going to give me, but there was no one there."
A few nights later, someone -- or something -- ripped the blankets from his bed. Then his dresser drawer shot across the room. Then the dolphin mobile on the ceiling spun wildly. Then footsteps scrambled down the hall. Then his bed lifted off the ground and broke.
"It scared the hell out of me, especially the drawer," Barry recalls. "Of course, no one believed me. They thought I was doing it. I'd be sitting there playing with my cousins, and a toy car would move across the room. I'd think, 'Okay. It's here.' But my cousins would freak out: 'Aunt Joan, Barry's doing it again. Make him stop!'"
But Barry didn't stop. Barry became obsessed. Barry became possessed. Barry became an authority on all things dead, buried and unburied.
"I was fascinated," he says. "I had to know if these entities actually existed."
So he joined a seminary.
Barry's parents were devout Italian Catholics who had a simple dream for their son: "Every Italian family has a priest, and I was going to be the priest in our family."
He attended Catholic School, became an altar boy and joined the Pontifical Institute of Missionaries and Evangelists at age fourteen. "I was a good little Catholic," he says.
But Barry was also Barry. And while at the seminary, he saw "one miracle, something I considered to be a miracle, and something that was either an extremely heavy hallucination or a ghost."
Among its sacred objects and religious symbols, the Pontifical Institute happened to have a golden chalice containing the blood of St. Stephen, who was boiled into martyrdom hundreds of years ago. The blood itself wasn't much to look at -- "just a hard, dry, black substance" -- so Barry never paid much attention to it. But then, after a special mass on the Feast of St. Stephen, Barry was asked to clean the altar.
"So I was cleaning the altar, and I look over at the cup," he recalls. "Then I notice that it was no longer a hard, black substance, but a red liquid. And it was bubbling!"
Barry reported the incident to seminary priests, who said the phenomenon was quite common: The blood of St. Stephen did have a habit of liquefying on his feast day.
"I was very impressed," Barry says.
While in the seminary, Barry fell ill, ran an extremely high fever and almost died.
"While I was lying there, a little boy walked up to me, surrounded by white light, and sat on the edge of the bed and kept me company," he recalls. "He was telling me, 'Things are going to be okay' and 'Things are going to be fine.' We actually had a nice long conversation. Then he walked off into where the showers were and disappeared. But there were no exits in there."
Later, Barry did some research and discovered that a boy saint -- he doesn't remember the name -- has been known to visit people who suffer from extreme fevers and have nice, long conversations with them. "I didn't know that prior to the fever," Barry notes. "So my mind would not have been able to tap into that subconsciously while it was happening. I found that very curious."
Some months after that, Barry found himself kneeling before a golden crucifix containing a splinter from the cross on which Jesus was crucified. "I was awestruck," Barry says. "I just knelt before the marble altar looking up at it. The next thing I knew, a priest was shaking me on the shoulder. I had managed to kneel there for twelve hours, through the entire night. They actually had to lift me up. I had to stay in bed the next day because I could barely walk."
Miracle? Hallucination? Too much coffee?
Barry had to know.
"The moment they pulled me up, I realized I was not going to be a priest," he says. "I needed to know why this had happened. I hated to kneel. Even for a few minutes. I was the loudest complainer. It was uncomfortable. Yet there I was, kneeling for twelve hours. I couldn't accept that just on faith."
So he became a ghostbuster.
By the time he turned eighteen, Barry had left home, left the seminary, joined the Air Force and landed at Lowry.
One night he was sitting at a bowling alley with a few buddies and a few pitchers of beer. Before long, the conversation turned toward "the creepy," and the four friends took an oath: "to investigate and find answers to the unknown."
"We thought, 'Leonard Nimoy can't be the only guy doing this,'" Barry recalls.
So they formed PARA 4 www.para4.dhs.org -- the Paranormal Activity Research Association -- which was basically four guys who loved beer, bowling and "the creepy." Barry and his buddies bought cameras, recorders, microphones and thermometers, and when they weren't on base, they'd "hang around cemeteries." There, Barry says, they saw "floating orbs" and "a full-bodied entity."
A year later, when Barry was stationed in Georgia, a reconstituted team saw something none of the members could explain. They'd decided to investigate an abandoned house where a father had gone berserk and, "between a shotgun and an ax," wiped out his family and killed himself.
The PARA 4 team arrived, cameras and thermometers in tow, and proceeded to break into the house. One of them jumped through a window, opened the door, then promptly jumped out. "He said, 'Screw this. Something is in there. Something just bit me!'" Barry recalls. "He lifted up his pants leg, and he had a ring around his leg that was just huge. He went and sat in the car. He was done for the night."
But the team pressed on, photographing "flashing lights," recording a voice that said, "You mad. Get out!" and taking temperature readings of "cold pockets" in the 90-degree heat. "We also found a nice, fresh black squirrel in a back room with no eyes," Barry says.
As the team finished up and prepared to leave, Barry noticed "a black mist" hovering above the house. "We tore out of there pretty fast," he says. "And all the way home, something was beating the crap out of the top of the car. When we got back to my trailer, it stopped. When we got out, there were claw marks on top and a substance like blood."
They told themselves that an animal had somehow climbed atop the car. But a few weeks later, while Barry and his friends kicked back on his couch, "a big orb of light floated through the living room and out the back window," he remembers.
"We all looked at each other. 'Did you see that?' 'Uh, yeah.' And that was the start of it."
Barry and Janet would be watching TV when they'd hear someone peeing in the bathroom, then flushing the toilet. But when they investigated, no one was there. They'd find pictures flipped over, cassette tapes arranged in geometrical patterns, alarm clocks hurled across the room. They'd hear what sounded like pots and pans falling from the cupboards and more peeing and flushing. "At least it was a clean ghost," Barry says.
One night, he and his wife were in the kitchen when Barry heard someone say, "Get out!"
Barry walked down the hall and to the bedroom where the voice had come from. "I opened the door, and everything in the room was just tossing around," he says. "My Beatles posters were flapping around on the walls, but there was no wind. I walked in the room, and not a hair on my head moved. Then I heard 'Get out!' And something shoved me."
The trailer began to convulse.
"Banging under the floor," Barry remembers. "Banging on the ceiling. Walls flexing like they were breathing. The lid to a brand-new jar of peanuts coming unscrewed and shooting across the room."
The couple bolted and didn't return home for four days. And when they did, they brought PARA 4 members with them. Again, the trailer erupted into "total horror-house stuff."
This time the McDonalds left for good, leaving everything except a few armloads of clothes behind in the trailer.
About a month later, the man who'd rented the trailer walked up to Barry with a question: "You're going to think I'm totally psycho," he said, "but when you lived over here, did anything weird happen?'"
After that, Janet laid down the law: No more playing in cemeteries. So Barry left the service, returned to Colorado and became a UFO hunter.
SUFOIT -- the Scientific Unidentified Flying Object Identification Team -- consisted of Barry and another guy who liked beer, bowling and UFOs (but easy on the beer).
"We're totally serious. Our whole mission is to prove what can be proven -- and if it's a hoax, to come out and say it's a hoax," Barry says. "My wife thought UFOs would be safer. Little did she know there were abductions."
Barry and his buddy bought more cameras, more microphones, more recorders and more computer equipment and proceeded to "lay out at night in cold fields." There they saw "numerous lights," "an orange globe flying over Denver" and "a classic saucer-shaped object."
"Anyone could see these things if they spent as much time with their heads up in the sky as I have," Barry explains. "Almost everybody has seen a UFO at one time and not known it. Me, I know it. But we've never seen any little green men -- or little gray men. Yet."
He and his team, which has grown and gone international (the Web site is at sufoit.com), Barry says, also spent considerable time researching a secret military base above Boulder called "Vortex" -- "I've never found it, but I'd love to be escorted off" -- as well as the fabled Area 51.
"Which is no longer in Nevada," Barry notes. "It's now by Salida, which is the UFO capital of the world. Salida is an ancient Indian word meaning 'gateway.' Hmmm. I wonder why?"
For Barry, no conspiracy is too elaborate. No theory is too theoretical. And although SUFOIT leaves the alien Elvis sightings to the National Enquirer, no call goes unanswered.
Not long ago, for example, Barry handled this dispatch: "A big, huge, multi-lighted, multi-colored, monstrous UFO" had been seen "hovering low over Thornton."
"So I shot out of here at like five in the morning," Barry recalls. "And I'm thinking, oh, shit. This is it! This is going to bust the top off of this. It's flying over neighborhoods. There's just no way everyone in the world is not seeing this. I'm breaking speed limits to catch this thing. My heart was racing."
When he finally pulled under the craft, Barry gasped.
"Have you ever seen that UFO-shaped hot-air balloon?" he asks. "They had that bad boy all lit up, too. Damn, it was pretty. I just sat there and thought, 'You bastards.' Yeah, I pretty much keep that one to myself now."
So what does this have to do with poetry?
"Not a damn thing," says Barry. "That's Barry."
Barry, who also stumbled upon the nesting place of Ohio's Big Foot, "The Grassman." Barry, who also discovered crop circles near his home in Ohio. Barry, who also heard the wailing of La Llorona in Pueblo. Barry, whose life also sounds a little too close to the first season of the X-Files.
"I eat, breathe and drink the supernatural and the unknown," he says. "The pyramids. Stonehenge. Witches. Wizards. Heaven. Hell. The mysteries of the Bible. Mars. Anything out of the norm. It all sort of bleeds together."
Which is another way of saying that Barry is pretty much a ten-year-old boy in a 36-year-old man's body. And every year at Halloween, he lets it all hang out.
"You've got it," he says.
Barry can't explain his fascination with "the creepy" any more than he can explain his urge to create. Something will bubble up inside him and he'll pick up a guitar, a sketch pad, a socket wrench or a toy skull and work himself into a "creative freakout." But eventually Janet -- who's relented on her cemetery ban but still monitors Barry's obsessions -- will steer him away from the freakout and back to his computer. "Sit. Chill out. Write," she'll say.
And he'll write poetry -- but not just any poetry. As soon as he touches the keyboard, he's back in the Lowry Officers' Club. "My mind opens up and it's like I'm watching a movie," he says.
A scary movie that he describes on a Web site, screams-of-terror.dhs.org, which offers a collection of Barry's poetry and short stories, as well as the work of other writers, both famous and infamous. Barry hopes the project will spark an Edgar Allen Poe revival and show the literary establishment that gore can also be art. "If I can give people a chill, then I've done my job," he says.
Barry also hopes the site will help launch his works in progress, including a novel called Natas (that's Satan spelled backward), an anthology of ghost tales called Haunted Colorado and a CD of his readings. In the meantime, though, Barry will continue to play in cemeteries, lie around in cold fields, dig graves in the front yard and wonder who -- or what -- calls his house each night at 6:50 p.m.
"There it is again," he says. "It's been going on for months."
"And whenever we answer it, there's no one on the other end."
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"The line is just, like...dead."
"Weird," Barry says. "Don't you think?"