Too Late, The Hero
By: Carl R. Merritt
It was another boring evening at the tomb, so boring in fact, that the guard, Captain Long himself, decided to use his radio to call in a few other members of the assault team to play some poker. Considering it was the boss who had made this request, no one refused. With any luck, he thought, Darlene and Bret will join in also! That foxy vampress has taken me for over three hundred dollars and this might just be my chance to get some of it back!
Less than a half hour later, Captain Long got his wish and more. Not only was the beautiful vampress now involved in the game, but the entire assault team and the town's top reporter, Charles Peterson, as well.
It was shaping up to be one hell of an evening. Sergeant Baker had brought along a box of cigars and three fifths of Jack Daniels. Three hours into the card game, both the cigars and whiskey were already mostly gone, with the reporter having done most of the drinking.
"I'm bettin' you ain't got nothin'!" Peterson stated, taking in Darlene's look of amusement. "You're thinking that since you can read everyone's minds, that we'll all be too afraid to bet against 'cha! Ha! Not me, Darlin'! In fact, I'm gonna raise you twenty!"
"Careful there, Mr. Peterson," Matt warned. "I've played poker with this gal more times than you can shake a stick at, and I'm telling you . . . she don't bluff." Matt was worried about Peterson. He'd lost a lot of money since he'd started feeling the effects of the alcohol and it looked like he was going to lose yet again. "I advise you to fold, sir."
"It's not gonna happen, son! I'm stickin' to my guns."
Darlene, a beautiful smile on her face as wide as the Mississippi, called the bet by tossing two ten dollar bills atop the rather large pile of money. The vampress then laid a Full House down unto the table. "I believe this beats your Straight, Charles," she said before Peterson had a chance to show his cards.
This had everyone at the poker table laughing so hard, they nearly went to tears.
Peterson, his mouth agape, simply raised his arms in frustration and said, "I don't get it! Okay, I know now that you don't bluff, but how do you always get the good cards? That has nothing to do with being a vampire, or reading minds!"
"Come now, Charles. If I told you all my secrets, how would I get my spending money?"
And this was true. No one really minded having Darlene beat them at poker all the time, because they all knew this was her only source of income. Being under constant threat from vampire hunters, Darlene could not go out and look for a job. Even when she went to the clubs and partied at night, she had to take someone with her for protection. This was usually her friend, Bret Talman, the ex-cop who now tended to her every need.
Charles Peterson was about to make another comment when suddenly, there was a brilliant flash of light over by the entrance to Abe's tomb. Since this was accompanied by a swirling array of stars, everyone at the table first assumed it was Abe, making another one of his "showy" appearances. No one thought too much about it. However, when the figure inside the array of light and stars solidified, they knew that they had made a very wrong assumption.
It was not Abe, but another ghoul.
This ghoul wore a brown robe just like Abe, and he was nothing more than a skeleton, just like Abe. In spite of this, it was very obvious from the first instant after the ghoul's arrival that this was not their trusted friend. For one thing, Abe usually doesn't trip and fall on his face the moment he solidifies. This one did.
"ER, SORRY," the strange ghoul said, picking himself up off the floor. "MY NAME IS ZACHARY BOSWELL. I'M LOOKING FOR CAPTAIN ABRAHAM WILKES. HAS ANYONE SEEN HIM?"
The arrival of the second ghoul and the fact that he had referred to Abe as "Captain Wilkes" soon had everyone at the poker table talking. No one had a chance to answer Zachary's question, for a few seconds after he had appeared, the ghoul vanished again. He had disappeared so suddenly, everyone just assumed it was their friend, Abe, who had somehow intervened.
"He must know him from the Civil War," Peterson stated, trying his best to shake off the affects of the alcohol. "How else would he have known he was once a captain?"
"You wrote all that up in one of your newspaper articles, remember?" This came from Marcia Lewis, who was now seriously considering going home to get some sleep. She had guard duty the following afternoon and if this new ghoul's sudden appearance was any indication of what her day was going to be like, she knew she was going to need all the rest she could get. "You've got to remember that article, don't you Mr. Peterson? It was right after Abe sent you back in time . . . uh, in his old body? Is that right?" Marcia had a difficult time thinking straight also. Not all of the Jack Daniels had been consumed by Charles.
"Oh, yeah! Okay! But still! The way this new ghoul said it! It sounded like he knew Abe back then!"
"Well, you were there, at least for a short time. Do you remember anything about this guy? This Zachary-Boswell-turned-ghoul?"
The reporter was so drunk, he barely remembered where he lived, much less something as trivial as a name that he might have heard all those months ago. His look of bewilderment conveyed that fact to the others quite well.
"I don't care if Charles remembers the name from the past or not," Captain Long announced. "I also think he knew Abe from the Civil War. But that's not my main concern. What I'm worried about is if this ghoul is going to cause trouble."
Sergeant Baker almost laughed at that remark, but kept his composure and simply said, "I think the biggest problem we're going to have with 'ole Zachary is teaching him to walk!" After the smirks and the nods of agreement subsided, the sergeant continued. "Like . . . how could an all-powerful ghoul stumble and fall that way? I mean . . . I thought . . . assumed I guess, that all ghouls were omnipotent, just like Abe!"
Marc Lamas, began wrapping on the table for attention. He took out his note pad and wrote: Are all people the same? Ghouls have to have different traits also!
"What the heck do you know, Marc?" Jake Anderson said in a clear voice. He had been the only one not drinking that night. "If you know so much about ghouls, how come you screwed up so bad with Abe a while back? How much longer is it until he gives you your voice back . . .five months, six?"
The look on Marc's face prompted Darlene to say something before a fight broke out. Reading Marc's mind, she saw that he was contemplating a reply that might cause quite a stir. "Uh, people . . . the captain is right. What we have to worry about now is how we're going to deal with Zachary in the unlikely event that he's here to cause trouble."
"Yeah, if he's here to give us a bad time, we've got our hands full. Ghouls can make the worst of enemies, you know." This came from Matt. He remembered the time when he and his old gang members had attempted to steal Abe's skeleton from inside the tomb. The rampage Abe went on to recover his mortal remains was still a very vivid image in his mind.
"Wait a minute," Captain Long said, catching on to something Darlene had said. Looking over to the lovely gal, he asked, "Why did you say 'unlikely' event? Do you know something the rest of us don't?"
The half bottle of whiskey Darlene had downed hadn't affected her speech or judgment as much as it would have a mortal, but still, she was feeling pretty good. So with Darlene, it was just natural that she reply with a silly comeback after someone left the door wide open like that. "Of course I know something the rest of you don't. For example, I know what my third grade teacher did after she caught me cheating on a test... " The look on the captain's face made Darlene decide to forget about making bad jokes and settle down to explain. "I read minds, Captain, so I know a lot of things the rest of you don't. But that doesn't have anything to do with how I know Zachary Boswell is going to be no trouble for us. Just look at him for Heaven's sake! He was incompetent to say the least! And from the way he bumbled his entrance, I'd say this is his very first appearance as a ghoul! What harm can he possibly do?"
"YOU'VE MADE A MISTAKE IN COMING BACK," Abe told the other ghoul. "THERE'S NO NEED FOR THIS. YOU MADE YOUR CHOICE IN THE NINETEENTH CENTURY. YOU MUST ACCEPT THE CONSEQUENCES. WHY DO YOU NOW WISH NOT TO DO SO, ZACHARY BOSWELL?" This little speech made Abe recall a nearly identical speech he had given the pregnant girl just a few weeks before. He only wished that he could help Zachary as easily as he had helped that girl.
"CALL ME ZACH, PLEASE. I LIKE IT BETTER," the smaller ghoul replied as he considered his answer. "FOR OVER A HUNDRED YEARS, I'VE BEEN DENIED TO LEAVE THE CONFINES OF THE VOID. YOU SEE, THE GUY UPSTAIRS KNOWS I'D BEEN A PRETTY GOOD GUY WHILE I WAS ALIVE AND THAT THE ONLY BIG MISTAKE WAS . . . WELL... "
"...WAS WHEN YOU DESERTED WHILE BEING SENT BACK TO GET REINFORCEMENTS. YOUR ENTIRE COMPANY WAS WIPED OUT AS A RESULT OF YOUR COWARDICE. YES . . . YOU MADE QUITE A NAME FOR YOURSELF BACK THEN, ZACH. EVEN I STILL HAVE SOME BAD FEELINGS ABOUT IT."
"BUT I WAS JUST SCARED! I DIDN'T LIKE THE WAR!"
"NO ONE LIKED THE WAR! HOWEVER, MOST EVERYONE ELSE COULD BE RELIED UPON TO DO THEIR DUTY!" Abe was getting angry and he quickly forced himself to cool down. He wanted answers and losing his temper with this frightened entity was no way to get them. He asked, "WHAT IS YOUR PURPOSE? WHAT DO YOU HAVE TO ACCOMPLISH HERE ON EARTH, ZACH, BEFORE YOU ARE ALLOWED TO LEAVE PURGATORY?"
"THAT HASN'T BEEN MADE VERY CLEAR TO ME, CAPTAIN WILKES. ALL I KNOW IS, I'VE GOT TO SOMEHOW MAKE UP FOR THE LOSSES I CAUSED WHEN I DESERTED."
"AND JUST HOW DO YOU PLAN ON DOING THIS?"
Zachary contemplated all the ideas he had been thinking of once he had learned he could come back to Earth to redeem himself. He knew most of his sketchy ideas would probably just make a powerful entity like Abe laugh, however. So, knowing he was going to look foolish regardless of how he answered, Zach simply replied, "I DON'T KNOW."
Zachary Boswell spent the next few days searching the town of Moore's Lake for anyone that needed help. He used his new and for the most part, untested, powers to perform various acts of kindness for people. The trouble was, his good deeds weren't turning out as well as he had hoped.
Floating around the downtown area of Moore's Lake one afternoon, Zach noticed a man having difficulty with his car in one of the town's back alleys. As he was from the nineteenth century, these strange vehicles were all new to the ghoul, but Zach reasoned he could still use his immense powers to give aid in one form or another.
"HOW CAN I HELP YOU?" he asked the man as he neared the car.
The sight of Zachary startled the mere mortal. Like everyone else in Moore's Lake, he had heard of Abe, and how he used his unearthly powers to bring chaos to those that asked for assistance.
"Abe! No! I don't need any help! Stay away from me!"
"YOU ARE MISTAKEN. I AM NOT THE GHOUL YOU FEAR. MY NAME IS ZACH. HOW CAN I HELP?"
The man considered this for a few moments, and then seemed to come to a decision. The apprehension was still evident in his eyes as he replied, "Well, I was on my way to the bank a few buildings down when I got a flat tire. I must have run over a nail. Now I can't get the wheel off. The thing is rusted to the hub."
The immortal being stared at the strange vehicle for a few moments and came to the conclusion that he had no idea how to help the man, or for that matter, even what he was talking about. Zach noticed, of course, that one of the wheels wasn't the same shape as the others, but how to go about repairing it was beyond his comprehension. He just wasn't familiar with any sort of technology more recent than that of the Civil War era. In his day, wheels were made out of wood, not rubber. Zach asked, "JUST WHAT IS IT I CAN DO TO HELP?"
"If you're serious about helping, you can get that wheel off for me."
Shrugging, his bones under the brown cloak, Zachary raised his hand and, with only a diminutive portion of his power, sent out a charge of energy that engulfed the tire and wheel. It instantly tore off the automobile . . . right along with the hub, brake lines and a portion of the thick axle.
"GLAD I WAS ABLE TO BE OF SOME ASSISTANCE," Zach said as he floated away in search for someone else to help.
Alone now, the man stared at the wheel assembly at his feet and stood in shock over what the ghoul had done to the car. There was no way it was going to run now in anything less than a day. It would have to be towed to a repair shop. Maybe it would have been better if it had been Abe who came instead of that jerk!
Disgusted, the man opened his trunk so he could put his tools away. As he threw the jack and tire iron inside, his eyes fell upon an object that he had hoped to put to good use by now- a small Browning automatic.
A short time later, Zachary came across a young girl in a residential district. She was standing underneath an oak tree that was well over a hundred years old. She was crying.
"HOW CAN I HELP?" he asked.
The girl, perhaps seven years old, showed no fear whatsoever of the ghoul. If anything, she looked relieved to have someone offer to help her.
"My doll! My big brother threw it up in the tree!" she said, almost on the verge of tears.
"WHY WOULD HE DO THAT?" Zachary's heart went out to the little girl. He too, knew how older brothers could be.
"He doesn't like me playing with dolls. And he knows I can't climb the tree to get it!"
"STAND OVER BY THE HOUSE, LITTLE GIRL. I'LL GET YOUR DOLL FOR YOU!"
The ghoul waited until the girl was out of the way before he let loose a bolt of energy from his bony fingers. It hit the branch that held the doll and both came tumbling to the ground. When Zachary motioned for the girl to come over and get her doll, he saw that she still wasn't happy. "NOW WHAT'S WRONG?"
"My big brother will just throw it up there again after you leave."
"NO . . . HE WON'T." The ghoul, with just a wave of his hand, made the tree disappear. In it's place was a gaping hole where the roots had once been so firmly embedded in the ground. Another wave of his hand filled in this hole with sod covered dirt. Having accomplished this good deed, Zachary then vanished amidst a beautiful array of stars.
" ... and that was just one instance! Did you hear about when he destroyed that tree a little later in the day? Over on Oak Street! He tore out the damned tree the street was named after! It was a hundred and fifty years old and had historical value! And Sergeant Baker had the nerve to say that it was only an old tree, for Heaven's sake! What kind of cops do you have on your force, Captain? 'Only an old tree!' he said! Humph! And if all that isn't enough, the crazy ghoul then thought he'd stop the fire hydrant over on Fifth Street from leaking by turning off all the water in the town! We're still trying to figure out how to get it back on! And what happens if there's a damned fire? I've got over thirty reports sitting on my desk right now . . . all of them concerning the activities of this 'Zachary Boswell' and I demand that you do something to put an end to all this!"
Captain Long had listened to the mayor's complaints and demands for over ten minutes, non-stop. By the end of the long, completely one-sided discussion, the captain wasn't even paying attention and hadn't noticed that the mayor had finished. He just continued to stand by his first floor window and stare out at the cars going by as they made their way through rush hour traffic.
"Are you listening to me, Long? I'm demanding that you do something!"
"And just what is it that you expect me to do, Mr. Mayor? He's just as powerful as Abe. Would you like me to send an officer out to arrest him?"
The sarcasm was not lost on the mayor. "Captain Long, I giving you an order to... "
" ...get one or more of my officers killed, Mr. Mayor, that's what the hell you're wanting! And that's something I'm not going to do! Look! There's no way in hell any human being is going to stop that guy! He's just too powerful! Now, if and when I think of something that might put an end to this, I'll handle it, but until then . . . get the hell out of my office!"
Jed Kangas ambled down the main street of Moore's Lake looking like the pauper he was. For more than a hundred years, he had never dressed any differently . . . couldn't dress any differently. The town's ghoul, formally known as Captain Abraham Wilkes, CSA, wouldn't allow it. Jed's sentence, after the mistake of making a request from the ghoul, was to live in poverty . . . forever. That was back in the Civil War, he thought, reaching down to the sidewalk to pick up someone's discarded cigarette butt. Jed knew he would have to save it for later, when he could find someone who would give him a light. Some things just never seem to change...
Jed had been away from Moore's Lake for nearly a year now, trying to put some distance between him and Abe, trying to escape the ghoul's influence. But it was no use. No one could elude the wrath of Abraham Wilkes. The last time Jed had been in town, he had tried to convince an extremely fat man not to see the ghoul, that it would be the worst mistake the guy could make. Of course, like everyone else Jed had tried to warn, it had done no good. What was that guy's name? Jessup? No, Jesse! That's it! Jesse Martin! He went to ask Abe if he would make him thin again!
Abe had made the man thin, all right. So thin, in fact, he had died some time later. Upon hearing this, Jed just shook his head in sadness and began making his way out of Virginia. That Jesse character . . . he was a good man, Jed thought. He bought me a meal, only one out of maybe ten people who have ever done that for me!
The poverty stricken man was wondering why he even bothered coming back to Moore's Lake. He had left the state roughly a month before Abe's pretentious ultimatum to the town and didn't know that the people who were born here were no longer allowed to leave the city limits. Jed also didn't know that the people were now more aware and open to the problems with having a ghoul run their lives. His original intention was simply to return and try to warn another potential victim of the ghoul before it was too late. Again, Jed didn't know that this was now prohibited also, that the penalty for such an act may be as extreme as death.
As he neared the corner of Third and Main, Jed noticed police sirens off in the distance and wondered if it had something to do with Abe. He decided to find out and turned in the direction of the sirens. Since Moore's Lake was such a small town, it didn't take him long to reach the scene. What Jed saw surprised him.
In the middle of the street there was a ghoul, whom Jed wrongly assumed to be Abe. He was levitating an entire building, with cops all over the place just standing by helplessly watching the turmoil. In fear of their lives, all they could do was attempt to keep the crowd back. The ghoul was shaking the building violently as if he were trying to jostle it apart. Curious, Jed made his way over to the crowd.
"What's going on?" he asked the first person he neared.
"This new ghoul is tearing that business apart! That's what's happening! You blind, or something?"
New ghoul? That's not Abe over there? At first, Jed was skeptical, but after another look it became apparent that the strange entity was not Abe after all, but a different ghoul. Jed's clue was the ghoul's demeanor . . . it was all wrong. "Why?"
"Because the guy that owns it is going bankrupt and he made the mistake of telling the ghoul that he wished he could collect on the insurance," replied the bystander, not taking his eyes off the spectacle.
Clearly, the man didn't want to talk to Jed, at least not while all the excitement was happening. But as soon as it was over and the strange ghoul had left, Jed started in with the questions again. It wasn't long before he knew the whole situation with not only Zachary, the crazy ghoul . . . but all about Abe's ultimatum to the town as well. A plan then started to develop in Jed's mind.
So . . . anyone that warns someone away from the tomb will get punished, huh? Maybe even death? Jed didn't know quite how much of this to believe, but there was one other thing he was certain of . . . if this was indeed another ghoul, then maybe there was a small chance that he could somehow escape Abe's wrath, this eternal punishment of being in poverty.
Charles Peterson left his office in a foul mood. He had spent all day running back and forth from his office to the tomb in hopes of seeing his friend, Abe. But the old ghoul was not to be found. Charles had hoped that he could convince Abe to stop Zach from tearing up the town, to go back to wherever he came from and never return. Where in the hell is Abe, anyway? He certainly shows up fast enough if someone goes to his cave and asks for a wish! Why is he hiding now?
The reporter only lived a few blocks from his office. Like today, he walked to work most of the time. He was about halfway home when he heard someone cry out in fear from the next street over. It sounded like a woman. Having a good idea who was causing that woman to scream, Charles cut across a yard and ran as fast as his old legs would go. He knew he had to reach the scene before Zach finished whatever he was doing and left.
The instant Peterson reached the next street, he stopped in mid-stride and simply stared in astonishment. In all his years of life, he had never seen anything so absurd. In the middle of the street, there was a black rain cloud, perhaps thirty feet in diameter, hovering just a few yards off the ground. It was pouring out rain at an unbelievable rate and had miniature lightning bolts flashing in all directions. Directly under the cloud was Zach, his brown robe soaked through. In his hand was a drinking glass and he was using the falling rain water to fill it. The woman who had screamed was standing on the sidewalk, not moving a muscle. She just stood there staring at the ghoul with the back of one hand up to her mouth.
"Zach! What are you doing?!" Peterson asked, as he tried to hold back his laughter.
The ghoul didn't answer. He just held up one bony finger signaling that the reporter should wait a minute while he completed his task.
Curious, Peterson went over to the terrified woman and asked, "Lady, would you terribly mind telling me what this is all about?"
"I . . . I... "
"THE LADY SAID SHE WAS THIRSTY AND ASKED IF I COULD TURN THE WATER BACK ON," Zach replied, handing the full water glass over to the woman. "I DIDN'T KNOW HOW TO DO THAT EXACTLY, SO I DID THE NEXT BEST THING. I MADE IT RAIN!"
"You think that will help?" asked the reporter, still barely able to control himself and not laugh.
"I THINK SO, YES. I TURNED THE WATER OFF IN THE TOWN EARLIER TODAY TO STOP ALL THOSE STRANGE YELLOW DEVICES FROM LEAKING. I DID THAT BY EMPTYING THE TOWN'S WATER SUPPLY. THIS WILL HELP TO FILL IT BACK UP."
The town's water supply? Moore's Lake? The lake that supplied water to the underground springs? Just the though of the lake being dried up took the smile right off Peterson's face. He couldn't even begin to imagine how much rain would be needed to fill the lake back up again. Surely as God made little green apples . . . Zach couldn't be so naive to think this one small rain cloud would do any good.
"Uh, how did you come to that conclusion, Zach?"
"WHY, FROM WHAT I OVERHEARD YESTERDAY. DON'T THESE STRANGE HOLES IN YOUR STREETS CARRY THE WATER AWAY TO YOUR WATER SUPPLY?"
Zach then pointed off in the distance towards what he was referring to. When Peterson saw what the ghoul was pointing to, despite the dire circumstances and all his will power . . . he began laughing.
"Zach, that's a water tower, for God's sake! That doesn't supply our water, that just provides the pressure for it! Is that what you drained earlier?"
After receiving a nod from the ghoul, Peterson reached in his pocket for his cell phone. He called the City Engineers and told them what the problem was so they could pump in a fresh supply of water to the tower. Finishing the call and placing his phone back in his pocket, Peterson knew now that the town's water would start pumping again within a few hours.
"Come on, Zach. Walk with me back to my home. We've got to have a talk."
Sitting with their feet propped up on the railing of the reporter's front porch an hour later, Peterson and Zach were still into some heavy discussions. They talked mostly about Zach's "mission" and how he could best accomplish making up for his past error. Then, after a while, the topic had changed to the Civil War. Having lived that life for a short time inside Abe's mortal body, Peterson found this subject interesting to say the least.
"YOU KNOW, CHARLES, DURING THE WAR, I ALWAYS HAD THIS DREAM THAT I WOULD BE A HERO... "
"Too late for that now, my friend. I'm afraid the best you can hope for now is making up for being a coward."
"BUT HOW? EVERYTHING I DO TURNS OUT WRONG!"
"Have some faith, my friend. Have some faith. Sometimes things happen for the strangest reasons."
A couple hours after first seeing Zachary, Jed was sitting on a park bench trying to decide how he should put his plans into action. First, he had to somehow contact this new ghoul, Zachary Boswell. He knew that would be his best choice, to try and convince the ghoul to undo Abe's punishment, possibly even speak to Abe on his behalf. However, if that didn't work, then Jed had to do something more drastic. He had to start warning people not to make requests of the ghoul. With Abe's ultimatum riding over the town, that just might be the ticket to Jed's salvation.
But how long might that take? It's not like people go to see Abe every day... A week? A month? There was also another matter that slightly concerned Jed. Surely in his case, Abe's penalty for warning someone would be death. But would Abe do it quickly, or would the ghoul make the death linger...
Not that it really matters! In the end, the outcome will be exactly what I've been wanting all these years! After more than a century and a half of roaming around this world, most of that time always searching for food, Jed had seen enough . . . lived long enough. His only wish now was that he be allowed to die. How long must I pay for a single mistake?
A commotion up the street distracted Jed from his thoughts. Looking to see what it was, Jed was delighted to see Zachary Boswell. Good intentions or not, his very presence around town now had people running for their lives.
Jed ran towards his possible salvation.
"Zachary!" he called out. "Zachary! I need your help!"
The ghoul saw Jed running his way and was delighted that someone was asking for his assistance. He thought this may be his one chance to do some good . . . without screwing up again. "WHAT'S THE PROBLEM?" Zach asked.
After hearing what Jed had to say a few minutes later, Zachary was eager to help. The thought that he may be making another mistake just never occurred to him. "SURE. I THINK I CAN UNTO WHAT CAPTAIN WILKES HAS DONE TO YOU! I BELIEVE ALL I HAVE TO DO IS... "
The new voice thundered over the neighborhood like cannon fire, and scared both Jed and Zachary. They turned to see Abe floating just a few yards away.
"THIS MORTAL'S PROBLEM IS NOT YOUR CONCERN, ZACHARY BOSWELL. DO NOT INTERFERE," Abe said, his voice holding enough venom to kill. "HE HAS A PRICE TO PAY AND HE WILL NOT BE RELEASED UNTIL I SAY."
"No! Zach said he would help me! You can't just... "
With a slight movement of his skeletal right hand, Abe silenced the mortal. A few moments later, after appearing to deliberate on some matter, Abe made another slight gesture and Jed Kangas was gone.
"WHAT HAVE YOU DONE WITH HIM?" Zachary asked. "I HOPE YOU DIDN'T HURT HIM."
"I TRANSPORTED HIM TO THE OTHER SIDE OF TOWN. BY THE TIME HE RETURNS, YOU WILL BE GONE."
By this time, Charles Peterson and Captain Long had arrived on the scene and were making their way toward the two ghouls. However, they stopped dead in their tracks when Abe gave them a look that told them not to butt in on the conversation.
"BUT ABE, I WAS GOING TO DO GOOD! THIS MIGHT HAVE BEEN WHAT I NEEDED TO DO TO REDEEM MYSELF! WHAT AM I GOING TO DO NOW?"
"NOTHING, ZACHARY BOSWELL. YOU HAVE ALREADY ACCOMPLISHED WHAT YOU NEEDED TO DO TO MEET YOUR GOALS. YOUR TIME ON THIS EARTH IS AT AN END."
"I . . . I DON'T UNDERSTAND," was all Zach could say.
Abe was getting bored with the entire ordeal. Never one for much small talk, the ghoul was not looking forward to explaining everything to Zachary. Glancing over at Charles Peterson and Captain Long, an idea came to him.
"I JUST DON'T UNDERSTAND," Zach repeated, frustration, fear and defeat all evident in his voice.
"I HAVE JUST GIVEN THE TWO MORTALS ALL THE INFORMATION, ZACHARY. THEY WILL INFORM YOU."
"Zach, let me explain," Peterson said as he and Captain Long approached the two ghouls.
"I WISH SOMEONE WOULD. THIS IS BECOMING TO CONFUSING TO ME."
Smiling, the reporter decided to tell Zachary the good news as quickly as possible. He could tell the poor ghoul was not only depressed, but afraid of what might possibly happen next.
"Zach, you've already accomplished enough good to make up for your past mistakes. Everything you've done since arriving in Moore's Lake has had an impact on future events. Take that little girl and her doll for instance. That tree you tore out of the ground would have fallen on her house next week after a lightning strike, killing the girl's parents. She would have been orphaned and never would have received the proper upbringing needed for her to eventually become the mayor of Moore's Lake. Remember the man who you 'helped' in the alley by tearing apart his car? That man was going to rob a bank that was just around the corner, kill everyone inside, and ship the money to terrorists overseas, which would have ultimately been responsible for killing dozens of more people. The building you tore apart also affected the future, Zach. A week from now, thanks to your intervention, the company that insures that building is going to come under investigation. It will be determined that their entire operation is a front for organized crime. The money that insurance company would have raised over the next decade would have bought enough drugs to tear apart the lives of everyone in Moore's Lake - twice over." The was more, but Charles saw no need to go on. He knew that Zachary understood the situation completely.
"SO WHAT HAPPENS NOW?" the ghoul asked.
"YOUR SPIRIT WILL BE RELEASED FROM THE CONFINES OF PURGATORY," Abe replied.
"Does that mean he'll be leaving Moore's Lake?" the captain asked, anxious for all the trouble in his town to come to an end. "And if so, when?"
Abe looked up toward the heavens for an answer. A few moments later he told the captain, "NOW."
As if on cue, Zach's skeletal body began to slowly fade away. Before disappearing completely, he just managed to say, "GOODBYE. I'LL NEVER FORGET WHAT EVERYONE HERE HAS DONE FOR ME. SOMEDAY I'LL RETURN THE FAVOR. I PROMISE!"
Then he was gone.
Captain Long shot a worried look over to Peterson, then Abe. He asked the ghoul, "Uh, Abe . . . when Zach 'returns' the favor . . . is that going to be anything I'm gonna have to worry about?"
"IT WON'T DO YOU ANY GOOD TO WORRY, CAPTAIN LONG. YOU WON'T BE ABLE TO DO ANYTHING ABOUT IT ANYWAY." Then, with a small laugh, Abe vanished also.
A short while later, a lone figure sat on a park bench near the spot where Zach had departed back to the spirit world. He was sitting with his head hanging down . . . depressed . . . his eyes on the verge of watering. Jed Kangas was once again wondering about his future as he searched the pockets of his tattered jacket in hopes of finding a cigarette butt. Of course, his pockets were empty.
He could see no hope . . . no future at all except for the one for which he was destined. Thanks to Abe's intervention, Jed would most likely remain cold, penniless and homeless . . . for all eternity.
Author's Note: Due to high demand, this story was posted without the benefit of being edited. Sorry, but so many readers were checking to see if "Too Late, The Hero" was up every day, I didn't want to blow out my bandwidth again.
With the next story, the gore and gut-wrenching terror returns to Abe's Tomb with the introduction of Athena, a beautiful vampress who comes to Moore's Lake with only one goal in mind . . . to make a victim of every mortal she encounters.
(Wanna see more? Click HERE.)
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E-Mail the author at: CarlMerritt@compuserve.com