Chapter 2


Standing in the small graveyard that lie within earshot of the famous Chickamauga Battlefield, Tom Septer and his partner Dermot Loftus watched as an employee of Chickaoaks Cemetery raised a coffin inch-by-inch from its grave. Chickamauga was the Civil War’s second bloodiest battle, next to Gettysburg, and it was also the last time the Rebels would register victory over Union forces. Now they weren’t digging up the remains of some old Civil War hero, but rather a man that used to love participating in the town’s annual reenactments. The gray headstone read: “General Dale Caldwell Senior” 1939 – 2009.

Dermot’s flashlight cut through the darkness of the ancient burial ground as it guided a wide-eyed young man operating a small crane-like contraption, a kid in his late teens who had been working the literal graveyard shift. The engine hummed and pulleys squeaked as the machine pulled a mud-caked sarcophagus from the earth. An ornate cross was carved into the cherry-stained thick wood and below the cross was an artistically etched and colorful rendition of the Confederate flag.

An empty coffin wouldn’t change the mind of Tom Septer, if that’s what they found when they finally removed the lid; he was confident the corpse didn’t dig itself out from six feet under and skip through the cemetery gates. It would take a lot more to crack Septer’s shield of reason.

The fact that the nine witnesses that he and Dermot had interviewed earlier that day had provided precisely the same testimony, down to the most infinitesimal detail, still hadn’t convinced doubting Thomas. He knew the inquisitive method employed by SECTION ZERO would, per usual, shine strong to elucidate the truth.

After working for the FBI’s special paranormal investigations unit for nearly 15 years he had surprisingly failed to ever witness the supernatural, always seeming to arrive after all of these “miracles” occurred. He figured the explanation for his poor timing had less to do with his penchant for running late and more to do with the fact that all of the incidents – including the ghost stories, UFO sightings, alien kidnappings and crying Virgin-Mary statues - were one hundred percent bunk.

The only thing interesting about this current investigation was that SECTION ZERO was contacted directly by D.C.’s top brass, including senior officials from the Pentagon. Why in the world the Defense Department was interested in ghost sightings in a podunk town a stone’s throw away from where they filmed the movie Deliverance, Lord only knows.

The people they had interviewed earlier today were certainly convincing, he had to admit, as he reflected upon one of these discussions. Septer’s armpits and back had been drenched with sweat from getting baked in the afternoon sun as he and Dermot stood in the gravelly parking lot of Darrel’s, a greasy spoon restaurant that rested on the Tennessee / Georgia border. Sally, the owner’s daughter, had led them outside of the diner but some of the “riff-raff”, as she called them, had followed. Sally was the third witness that allegedly spotted the incarnate soul of Dale Caldwell Senior roaming through the ancient Chickamauga battlegrounds.

“Then he comes runnin through the battlefield a whoopin and a hollerin. We were thinkin it was just another prank by that silly son of a bitch Dale Junior,” Sally Herbert had said. “Uncle Dale was just put in the ground not more’n three days ago and his own son - to dress up like his dead daddy tryin to scare us and all."

Tom’s head snapped back, struck by the language of the young southern belle whom he noticed had a tooth missing from the right side of her mouth. Septer loathed himself and his Ivy League superiority for the way he judged folks down here. Little did this young gal know, he thought, that the GQ-looking jerk in her presence contemplated suicide on a daily basis. The best shrinks money could buy diagnosed Mr. Septer as an egomaniac with an inferiority complex - a lovely combination. Little did she know Septer was an angry alcoholic who, although he hadn’t drank in five years, hadn’t been to an AA meeting in two, which had turned him into what alcoholics refer to as a “dry drunk.” And although Tom never felt like drinking - he still despised being sober.

“Yup, Uncle Dale was wearin his great granddaddy’s uniform, like he was comin back to win this sucker,” said one Luke Jennings.

Luke was a lanky kid in his twenties who had been wearing a worn Caterpillar baseball hat that sat way too high atop his head for Septer’s taste. Tom assumed the “sucker” he was referring to was the Civil War. Tom also noted Dale wasn’t really his Uncle.

“You didn’t see a goddamn thing,” said Sally as she swung her head and shot a sneer at Luke.
Luke volleyed his own look of disgust and shook his head. He cast is eyes on the ground and kicked a pile of rocks, stuck his hands in his pocket, turned, and then slinked his way back into the restaurant.

“Anyways…me and my husband Ethan...well um, we was neckin on the old battlefield,” Sally said sheepishly, and she pressed her fingers against her lips with an impish grin. "But when we saw Uncle Dale, I thought the resemblance was too dang eerie - there was no way that Dale Junior coulda pulled this one off.”

As Tom studied Sally's expression he came to the conclusion that her face was actually fairly attractive despite a mouth that sprayed abusive language like a garden sprinkler. Throw her into an A4 Audi with a skintight dress, put a Kate Spade purse in one hand, latte in the other, and she’d fit right into the Manhattan Sex-and-the-City crowd.

“Might you elaborate for us on that ma’am? What made it so eerie?” Dermot asked in his smooth lace-curtain Irish brogue.

“Well, first of all, the white hair. Junior shaves his head bald and I woulda have spotted a rug in a second. Plus, I highly doubt Junior’s acne problem went away overnight.”

“How close did you get to him?” asked Dermot.

“Uncle Dale musta come within ten feet of us-”

“Did he look at you? Did he say anything?”

“Yup, right after he passed us he looked back and I swore he spotted me. His eyes glowed a bright ugly unholy green I tell ya....and he mumbled something, but it sounded like nonsense – or some language that I ain’t never heard.”

“Do you have any idea as to the whereabouts of Dale Junior?”

“No sir. If he did pull off a prank like that he’s probably hidin out hopefully in shame…if it wasn’t a prank….wherever he is he’s likely scared to death.”

Tom sighed - he had had enough.

“Well thank you Ms. Herbert," Tom said, wearing a stilted smile, "here’s my number if you have any other information that could help us."

Tom handed Sally his card and Dermot stepped forward, softly clasping her hand with both of his.

“Yes, lass, let us know. If it is Dale Junior, we’ll try to be making sure this doesn’t happen again. Folks must leave the dead to their peace. And like you said, if it isn’t a prank…” Dermot said, trailing off.

Dermot had put on a more sympathetic air, Tom thought, than he ever could have mustered. There was always an immediate bond between true believers.

And now Dermot the true believer and Tom the skeptic waited with bated breath as the teenager removed the lid from the wooden box that was originally intended to be Uncle Dale's final resting place. Both men stepped forward gingerly and leaned over to see what lay inside, as Dermot illuminated the interior of the casket with his flashlight. It was bare. Tom felt a chill shoot up his spine. Despite what he had thought earlier, actually seeing the empty coffin was a bit of a shock.

Tom's paralysis was broken when he caught something moving out of the corner of his eye. He turned his head and saw the shadow of a figure darting behind a mausoleum fifty yards away. Dermot and Tom quickly drew their pistols and began walking towards the massive granite monument while the young worker trembled, hiding behind Uncle Dale's tombstone.

As Dermot and Tom crept around either side of the monument, Septer's heart raced and he tried to hold his breath and not make a sound. He pressed his back against the mausoleum wall, listening for any movements. He took a deep breath and spun to see what was behind the crypt. Nothing. Tom looked Dermot in the eyes who simply shrugged, then he heard a rustling sound coming from behind him which caused the hair on the back of his neck to stand straight up.

“Over there,” Dermot whispered while pointing over Septer’s shoulder.

He spun around and saw him - a man was running towards a cluster of trees in the middle of the cemetery. Tom's adrenaline soared as he and Dermot gave chase. The unknown voyeur skidded to a halt in front of one of the old oaks, jumped onto its trunk, and expertly scaled it, disappearing into its leaves and branches. Tom and Dermot stopped running when they were within 20 yards of the stranger's hiding place. Tom spotted the man perched on one of the highest branches, with most of his face hidden by leaves except for eyes that were pinned open that peered out and gave Tom a shiver. Septer shook off the fear and stepped forward with his gun pointed right between the man's unblinking orbs.

“This is the FBI. Please come down slowly with your arms up...we mean no harm,” Tom called out.

The tree's branches shook as the man squirmed and a small cackle came from the tree that escalated into fiendish giggling. But the laughing stopped abruptly and was supplanted by dead silence. The quietude was broken by spastic uncontrollable sobbing. This guy was more of a manic-depressive than he was, Tom thought, and then his heart leaped into his throat when the man produced a handgun.

“Get down!” Septer yelled to Dermot.

They immediately dove behind a large stone tablet. Both of them laid on their stomachs awaiting gunfire, but none came and they didn't hear anything except their own panting. Tom sat up with his back to the stone and decided to hazard a glance at the armed mystery man. The shadowy figure maneuvered - apparently in an effort to find a more comfortable position from which to operate. The man dropped his head and looked straight down at the ground. Septer again heard the faint sound of crying that ended with a noise that amounted to a half-laugh, half-cry. The man tilted his head toward the heavens and emitted an inexorable string of raspy gibberish.

"Qualis artifex pereo," the man said, repeating the same words, "...qualis artifex ...pereoooo..."

"What is he mumbling?" Septer asked in a hushed tone.

"Bloody hell if I know. It sure isn't Gaelic," Dermot responded.

Dermot's brow creased as he listened to the man's incantation.

"This may sound crazy, but back home in Galway, in my hometown Ballinasloe we had to go to Latin Mass once a month at St. Michael's. Old school Catholicism. I was an altar boy for five years and didn't learn a lick of the Latin...,"

"This is a great tale Dermot, don't think I want to hear you quoting Angela's Ashes right now," Tom said.

"The point is that I'm more than willing ta bet our weeping tree dweller here is utterin the ancient tongue," Dermot said, his brogue always grew thicker when he got excited.

"I'm sure Latin is practically a second language down here," Septer said as he screwed up his face in exasperation.

Dermot frisked himself, producing a pad and pen, and began scribbling.

"I can barely hear the man and am sure he's massacring the language himself with that twang, but it sounds like this, now doesn't it?"

Dermot showed Tom the note which contained the following words: quailus artfax pereo. Tom gave Dermot two quick nods concurring, as Dermot's dictation of the man's mad droning appeared phonetically accurate at the least.

"Only thing I can decipher is one word: 'pereo'. From what I recall it means 'perish' in Latin. Lots of words like that in Catholic sermons, trying to scare the hell outta us sinners."

Tom stuck his head out to see what their target in the tree was up to and watched as the man deliberately placed the barrel of the gun into his mouth. Tom's heart froze.

“N-no!” Septer yelled.

Tom stood up and began running towards the tree, but the man pulled the trigger before Septer could get another word out and a loud bang echoed through the cemetery. Tom cringed as he saw the back of the man’s head violently open up. The body bounced off the trunk and then sat upright on a branch while its head flailed lifelessly. It rocked back and forth like a weeble wobble and then stilled for an entire second before finally tipping and crashing to the ground with a thud.

“Jesus Christ,” Dermot said.

Tom and Dermot sprang up from the ground and rushed to the body. Tom winced and held his stomach from seeing the hole in the back of the man’s skull, some chunks of his head went missing while others hung from tree limbs like bloody ornaments - what Tom thought Jeffrey Dahmer’s Christmas tree must have looked like.

Moonbeams lit up the man’s alabaster pate and Tom noticed the man's dome was void of any hair, which gave him pause as he realized something.

“He’s bald,” Tom gasped.

Septer dropped to his knees and rolled the warm corpse over frantically. The young man was indeed bald, but even more shocking was the fact that pimples dominated his forehead and cheeks, more than they should on a man in his mid-30s.

“It’s Dale Junior,” Tom said flatly.

Dermot was silent, crouching, with his wrist to his chin, seemingly trying to contemplate what all this meant.

“Tom, do you happen to recollect anything from Junior’s file, or do you remember anyone we’ve interviewed so far ever intimate that Junior was some type of peace-nik?”

Tom was on his knees still soaking up the bloody scene, in near shock, wondering why Junior took his own life. He shook his head when Dermot's question finally registered.

“No...why?” Septer asked.

Dermot then raised one of the corpse's hands to show Tom that a symbol had been crudely carved into the flesh of Junior's palm. It was a round circle that contained within it what originally was the emblem for nuclear disarmament. Nowadays, of course, it has taken on a broader meaning and is recognized around the world by most people as the peace symbol.
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