Can a dead man reach out from the grave to exact revenge against those responsible for his death? Welcome to the concluding installment of a story that explores that possibility. If you've not done so, read the story from the beginning HERE.
Its bluish tints dancing and twinkling like stars the wraith came to rest floating only inches from his face. Steve smiled, for some reason he knew there was nothing to dread. Then it was gone!
"What the hell?" David said, a quizzical look on his face. He knelt beside George's unmoving form. He looked back at Steve and said, "Breathing ... he's still alive, but barely. A stroke?"
"He was afraid of something. He saw whatever it was coming at him," Agnes said.
"Saw what?" asked Catherine. "I didn't see anything. Did anyone of you see anything?"
To a person everyone, including Agnes, shook their heads. They were still shaken by the ordeal George had put them through ever since he'd arrived on the scene. There was a sense of relief etched on their faces.
"Maybe it was ... Eddie's ghost," Marjorie whispered. "Eddie got his revenge."
Steve turned and faced them, "If you haven't figured it out by now, I was working with Sam. I earned George's trust as part of our plan."
"Plan?" Tiffany interjected. "What plan? You mean you were a part of bringing out all our dirty little secrets?"
Steve nodded, "I just wanted the truth about Eddie's death to come out." It was Sam and George, each with their own agendas, who wanted to air the dirty laundry." He paced to right and continued, "It was George who wanted revenge. We didn't want anyone to be harmed."
Agnes was shaking her head sadly, "All those kids had to die? All because George wanted revenge for Eddie?"
"Steven ... Jack? What happened to Jack? Where is he? Is he ...?" Catherine implored of him.
"Sam is rushing him to hospital as we speak. I don't know how he is, sis."
"Sam was shot. We saw it happen," Marjorie said. "...And you David. He shot you too!"
"It might have been lost on you, but George swapped guns with David earlier," Steven said. "He thought he was going to frame David when he thought he shot me or Jack on the hillside. His shot grazed Charlie's arm instead. If you'll remember, the gun David was using was loaded with blanks."
"All of this ... All those deaths .. Because of our pact?" Hunter asked. "All because we ... I was concerned about ... My reputation and record?" He looked up at Steve with a repentant eye. "We were young and scared. We did the wrong thing. We made a mistake. Does that mean we have to die?"
"Hunter, it was I who wanted the truth of that night to be revealed. It wasn't fair to Eddie's family. I've had nightmares ever since that night."
David stepped forward and placed a hand on Steve's shoulder, "If you haven't guessed by now, I'm David ... Cooper. I'm Steve's little brother who supposedly drowned the night George, our father hung himself. My sister Catherine knows who I am."
Steve nodded at David, "You see, George was looking to avenge what he perceived to be a wrong done against him. Because he was obviously stark raving mad, we had to keep David's identity secret. Somehow he made enough connections with the good mayor and Hunter's father, to name two, that he learned about the circumstances around Eddie's death."
Tiffany rushed over to Mayor Alyson and forcibly yanked the diary from his grasp. He tried to grab it from her but she shoved him aside. "It was this god damned diary, wasn't it?"
Steve nodded, "Yes, that diary. When he read what was written in the diary, it made George's mission of revenge twofold. He decided he would get revenge for himself and for Eddie. As far as he was concerned, Eddie was his only son. Jack and I had betrayed him, thus we too were expendable."
"Then why did he trust you to help him, Steve?" Tiffany asked.
"He needed someone close to Sam. He wasn't sure what Sam was up to. He was afraid Sam would ruin his plans. I convinced him totally that I shared in his desire for revenge in Eddie's name."
A voice called out from beyond the stand of trees. It was Sam. When he was in their midst he said, "Jack's going to survive. He's in critical condition. He lost a lot of blood and he'll probably lose a lung, but he'll make it." He found Tiffany and added, "He wanted me to make sure you knew."
Sam looked upon the subdued George with wonder. His stare was returned by a glare of hatred. The look upon the man's face was one of someone who had been scared half to death.
Steve said to him, "Sam, I think all those ghosts got the better of him."
Sam looked at Charlie, "Well, we have one more thing to take care of before you do your thing and call for some backup." Sensing the surprise on some the faces he said, "Charlie here has been acting as an under cover witness. He's a detective for the Tennessee State Police Department."
"Then you heard his confession to the murders," Catherine said. She smiled as he produced a small recording device from beneath his shirt.
"We'll also be reviewing some improprieties involving both Mr. Cooper's death and that of Eddie Nolan's death. Falsifying death reports is crime also." He looked over at Mayor Alyson and said to him, "I trust, Mr. Mayor that you have a good attorney."
Agnes stepped between Sam and Steve and asked, "Does this mean you're going to put Eddie back where he belongs?"
"Yes, Agnes. I think Eddie's been restless for too long."
Steve frowned, "My nightmares weren't because of Eddie's death that night." He lowered his head, "We wanted to protect him, to spare him the indignity of having George violate his rest." He looked up and faced them, "Five years ago Sam and I removed Eddie's body from his grave. We placed his body in another grave."
Marjorie seemed to be horrified at the thought,"But, why?"
Sam tried to smile as he answered, "Because we knew it was what George was planning to do. We decided that when George opened the grave ... It should be empty. It played into his whole scheme about ghosts. We even smashed a hole in the coffin lid from the inside to make it look like ... Eddie broke out."
Steve spoke again, "I was sick when we were opening the grave. For the past five years, I've having a nightmare. Eddie's hand ... His decayed hand was reaching out and grabbing me ... Pulling me in there with him." He paused and choke back a lump that had formed in his throat, "Even though I felt Sam and I were doing the right thing, for the right reasons, It's been eating at me ever since."
Agnes pulled hard on Steve's arm, "Where did you put him. I've never noticed any fresh graves all these years."
"Where else? Sam replied, "But in an empty grave?"
Agnes, in spite of her anguish had to stifle a laugh, "You don't mean ...?"
"Yep," Steve said. "In the one grave George wouldn't touch. His own grave."
"NO!" The hoarse voice nearby startled them. Although weakened by a stroke, George was very much alive and had been listening to their every word.
After retrieving a couple of shovels from the grave that had already been disturbed, Sam and Steve set about at their solemn task and began to open the grave marked "George Cooper." For reasons they themselves couldn't fathom everyone gathered around where Sam and Steve labored.
After a half hour they began pulling the coffin from the ground. Agnes was fumbling through her pocket book looking for something. Finally she produced a photograph. She handed it to Steve. It was a close up picture from the funeral of Eddie's body lying in state within the coffin. Steve choked back some tears as he looked at the face of his old best friend. Although his glasses were obviously missing, he looked good in the shiny black suit.
"Steven," she said, "I believe that the dead can come back. I believe Eddie came back to make things right."
His discomfort at her remark evident, Steve smiled and placed his arm around her shoulder. "Perhaps. Perhaps in this case, you may be right."
"I wish to say goodbye to him again, Sam. Please open the coffin so I can look upon my son for the last time."
She ignored their protests and insisted that she wanted the coffin opened. Sam complied and began to pry the lid open. There was an otherworldly protest of the scraping metal and the shovel against the casket lid. Finally there was a gush of air and the lid separated from its seal.
She seemed not to be bothered by the acrid aroma of the corpse within. In the pale moonlight the body seemed peaceful and at rest. Despite the decay of ten years, there seemed to be smile on what remained of the mummified lips.
Steve had not wanted to see the body but was compelled to turn and look into the coffin nonetheless. All seemed to be right with Agnes as she knelt in silent prayer. Steve stiffened in fear. His body was trembling.
He walked away seeking a place to be alone with his thoughts. Even as Sam and the others removed the broken coffin from the first grave and finally returned Eddie to where he belonged, Steve kept his distance. He didn't know if he should be afraid, relieved or forgiven. He chanced a furtive glance in Agnes' direction. She returned his glance with a nod and a smile. She knew. Her lips were moving and although he couldn't hear her words he knew that she was saying, "Eddie forgives you."
He was still clutching the photograph from Eddie's funeral. He didn't need to look at it again. He didn't need to see the black suit. He didn't need to see that he was interred without his glasses.
It would forever be etched in his mind as he looked upon Eddie when Agnes was praying for him. He looked at peace in his favorite blue suit. Even though they were broken, he looked more natural wearing his glasses.