Can a dead man reach out from the grave to exact revenge against those responsible for his death? Welcome to installment number 32 of a story that explores that possibility. If you've not done so, read the story from the beginning HERE.
David glanced over his shoulder as they were being herded toward Eddie's grave. Steven and George were close behind them, watching their every move. He hung his head in bitter disappointment, stunned that Steven had betrayed them. He then glanced at the faces of those around him.
Catherine and Marjorie, their faces awash in tears were holding hands trying in vain to comfort the other. Hunter's face was one of bewilderment. Agnes Nolan was just staring straight ahead emotionless. Her lower lip trembling, Tiffany appeared to be broken and without spirit.
A few steps ahead of him was Charlie the policeman whom Sam had enlisted two days before Steven's return home. Of everyone present he knew the least. He knew little or nothing about the "deaths" of George and himself so long ago. He knew even less about Eddie's death and the events surrounding that night ten years earlier. He'd had no way of knowing that all those fatal accidents were in any way related to those tragedies of the past.
Next to Charlie was the mayor. He was no doubt deep in thought, scheming for a way to use George Cooper's return in a positive way. He had covered up any clues that might have suggested that Eddie Nolan had died in any way other than suicide. It was a repeat performance of the same actions he had taken concerning George's "suicide" and his own drowning.
He was replaying in his mind all that had happened up to that point. It had played out just as Sam had predicted. They would draw George into the open. The plan had been formulated five years ago when Sam had tracked down Steven up north in Pennsylvania. Sam, who had been laying low under the alias of Dobbs knew that George had not died and had returned to Soddy-Daisy. Of course, Sam also knew that he, George's son, had not drowned that night.
Sam had cornered the mayor and had coerced from him the truth about George's fate. The mayor had spilled his guts to Sam how he and Jameson had rescued George from the rope. The Mayor revealed how they'd rushed him to a doctor who owed him a marker. Cooper had then been taken to a physician across the state line into Kentucky, who had performed several operations to repair the damage to the man's throat and restore his ability to talk.
Jack's emotional attack on George and Hunter's unexpected rash move had given them the opportunity to act sooner than they had planned. Then things went wrong. Jack fell onto the pickax and would probably not live. In the ensuing scuffle Sam had taken a bullet into his midsection at point blank range. For all their efforts, George Cooper still maintained the upper hand.
A lump formed in David's throat as he watched George drag Sam's body face down away from the spot where he had fallen. It was Sam who had warned them of George Cooper's deadly plans for revenge. It was Sam who'd given them the strength and the courage to work together. He looked again upon them. Their resolve was gone. They were a defeated and helpless bunch.
Steve was fending off their angry stares by glaring back at the subdued prisoners. He let a loose a sigh of relief that none of them had made any further moves. He didn't relish the idea of shooting any of them. He stood alert as George bent over the late Dr. Jameson and began to drag the body away from the grave. He studied Hunter's face as the man's father was unceremoniously propped up against a tree. If Hunter felt any remorse it was not visible upon his face.
George disappeared behind the tree for a brief moment only to reemerge carrying four long handled spades. He strode up to the edge of the grave and dropped the tools onto the ground. Although the December air was cold he was perspiring heavily. He pulled the still-glowing jacket over his head and tossed it aside. "I don't think I'll be needing this any longer," he exclaimed. He nodded in Steve's direction.
"Okay people," Steve shouted. A sly grin stretched his mouth. He winked at them and patted the gun protruding from his waist. "It's time to meet Eddie's ghost."
He picked up the shovels and held one in front of Alyson, "Mr. Mayor, here's one for you." The man, obviously indignant opened his mouth but Steve raised his hand and exclaimed, "No speeches! Dig!"
Next he handed one to Charlie who snatched the tool in anger and moved over to the grave. Steve's eyes then met those of David and he tossed the implement to the younger man. As David turned to join the mayor by the grave Steve scanned the rest of the small group. Hunter rose and stepped forward and extended his hand for the remaining spade.
Steve shook his head and pulled the object next to his body, "Sorry, Hunter. We know you were so anxious to dig up Eddie before, but I've decided you can have the honors of opening the casket."
Catherine felt Steve's gaze rest upon her. He wouldn't, she thought. He wouldn't have his own sister do this terrible thing. Would he? She studied his face and noticed a curious smile as he nodded at her. He then did a curious thing. He placed his hand across his stomach to reveal that his index and middle fingers were crossed.
George moved beside him and patted him on the shoulder, "Ha! Nice touch putting your sister to work." Steve winced at his touch. Sure, he'd agree to help him, but he didn't have to like him.
The four who had been chosen to excavate the grave had to work in short shifts due to the struggle with the numerous large stones in the grave. Older and not having the stamina of the others, Mayor Alyson began to experience chest pains and was having trouble breathing. David volunteered to take the Mayor's shifts even if it meant doubling his own labor.
Nearly twenty minutes passed before David called out, "Almost there! I just hit something." He knelt down and brushed some loose earth away and said, "Yes, it's the casket."
Steve waved at Hunter, "Your turn, big guy."
Hunter avoided looking at Steve and ignored George standing above the exposed surface of the coffin. He jumped into the grave just vacated by David. He began shoveling away at the earth still Eddie's resting place. When enough of it had been exposed to his satisfaction he began to pry at the coffin's lid. When he felt the lid give a bit he exerted all of his strength and his full weight on the wooden handle of the spade. The handle suddenly snapped in half.
"Damn it!" Hunter snarled. Angry, he tossed the the two halves of the spade out of the grave. "Give me another shovel!" he yelled.
Her hands and arms aching Catherine lowered one of the shovels into the grave. She yelped in pain as the weight of it pressed against the blisters that had formed on her hands. She peered over the side as Hunter reached for it. It fell to his feet as she let it slip from her grip. Her eyes were frozen wide in horror and she screeched, "Oh my God!"
Hunter turned and gazed upon the lid where more of the earth had fallen away from its contoured surface. He ignored at first the sudden chill that seemed to encompass him as he fell to his knees and brushed away a thin layer of soil. For a moment he stared at a large opening in the coffin's lid. He then scrambled backward to the other end of the grave.
He moaned slightly and uttered, "Geezus!"
"What! ... What's going on down there?" George roared.
Hunter turned and looked up at him. There was a nervous undertone in his voice when he answered, "There's a big ... a large hole in the lid. It was smashed open." His words were greeted with only silence. "Geezus, George. It's empty!" he shouted. "The god damned coffin is empty!"
Hunter climbed out the grave and crawled on his knees until he was well clear of the grave. Catherine rushed to his side and clutched his head against her chest.
George was about to leap into the grave to see for himself but stood still when Hunter spoke once more, "I can't believe it! It was smashed open ... From the inside!"
( to be continued ... Echoes of Eddie - 33)