Somewhere in the subterranean world of our minds lies a shadowy attraction to wandering spirits, the undead and Satan. This place, beyond the familiar landscapes of our conscious thoughts, is not all harmless fun and scary children’s games. Dennis Morgan thought it was, and Dennis Morgan is dead.
I can’t help thinking that in a few months the fresh brown dirt in front of his brand new marble tombstone will soon be covered with a cold blanket of snow while his badly burned body slowly rots away in the privacy of a walnut box.
He was one of those kids who had to try everything or see everything before he believed anything anyone told him. It was this side of his personality that eventually carried him off -six feet beyond. Boys will be boys, I suppose.
It had been the last few weeks of school at the Jesuit High School both of our parents had sent us to and what our theology teacher taught us one Friday afternoon, not long ago, excited and intrigued both Dennis and me. No one was really paying attention to Father O’Grady as he told the class about spirits of the dead roaming the earth plane, unable to accept the fact that they were dead, except for the two of us. We were captivated.
According to Father O’Grady, the souls of some dead people refused to believe that they were no longer earthly entities. They either stayed in the vicinity of the place of their passing, constantly trying to prove to the living they were still around, or they quietly huddled in the decaying carcass of their previous selves.
Throughout the ages, the momentary glimmer of someone who has recently passed on has been reported near the death site, and occasionally, but far less frequently, and almost in an innocent child-like fashion, there has been reported the momentary re-animation of an almost assuredly dead corpse.
Dennis said he didn’t believe any of this (of course), and he wouldn’t unless he did something crazy enough to provoke the spirits to reveal themselves.
What Dennis told me he wanted to do, as we walked away from theology class, scared but challenged me to do something I would never have dreamed of doing myself. He wanted to dig up a newly filled grave. It was the beginning of June and the last few weeks of weather had been unseasonably warm.
A freshman named Bill Egan had been killed when he was hit by a newspaper van a few weeks earlier. Dennis decided he wanted to go to the cemetery that very night and look at the body. Egan’s parents were hyper-religious and Dennis had heard that the casket, at his father’s unexplainable demanding, had been placed directly in the soil. Being Friday night with nothing else to do, I agreed but was getting apprehensive about the whole idea.
I picked up Dennis around 7:30 that night, two shovels and a 12-pack of cold Genesee beer in the back seat of my car. We proceeded to Cobbs Hill Park to down a few before our excursion to White Haven Cemetery. We both decided that what we were about to do (necessarily) required the calming effects of alcohol.
The beer went down our throats as quickly and consistently as the sun went over the horizon, and before I knew it I was standing over Bill Egan’s grave with a six pack of beer in my stomach and a shovel in my hand. Excitement ran through my blood.
I had parked my car outside White Haven, we had thrown our shovels over the fence and then we climbed over it ourselves. We knew exactly where the grave was having been to the place for Egan’s funeral and, buzzing heavily from the beer, we began to dig into the freshly laid dirt.
The memory of what happened on that warm night two months ago will stay with me as long as I live. I’d say it took us a good two hours before we got down to the coffin. Dennis had been laughing now and then – wondering what the hell we were doing chasing spirits in a graveyard.
Finally, after we got all the dirt off of the top of the coffin, Dennis squatted down on the lower half and unlatched the upper half of the lid. “Well,” he said, “let’s see if Father O’Grady knows just what the hell he’s talking about.” That was the last thing Dennis Morgan ever said to me.
When he opened the top half of the coffin Bill Egan’s pale, zombie-like corpse, grinning from ear to ear sat up, as if on a spring, and wrapped his stiff pasty hands around the back of Dennis’ neck. Egan’s corpse was pulling Dennis inside the coffin with him. It was then that I blacked out.
Apparently, Dennis somehow escaped the grip of Bill Egan (or Egan incorporated himself into Dennis), climbed out of the grave and made it to the car. I had left the keys in it. A hundred feet from where I had parked it, the car was found wrapped around a large oak engulfed in flames. Dennis’ body was burned beyond recognition and the police related the accident to the empty beer cans in the back seat. I don’t agree.
Dennis had less to drink than I did, he was almost twice my size and he did most of the digging for those two hours. I know, somehow, the restless soul of Bill Egan caused that accident and pulled Dennis Morgan to the other side – beyond the silent oak.
I visit Dennis’ grave now and then, usually after I’ve been drinking to dull the memory, and I wonder if he’s accepted the fact that he’s dead. Last week the strangest thing happened while I was visiting his grave – about 50 yards from Bill Egan’s.
As I was looking down at his tombstone -lost in thought –I could have sworn I heard a voice, or should I say felt a voice, slither into my thoughts and in an almost comical way it asked, “Need a shovel?” …..I spun around quickly but no one was there.