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The mourning crowd stood in a silent circle as the reverend took his place beside the coffin. He looked around to make sure that all the guests were present before clearing his throat to speak.
"Ladies and gentlemen, we gather here today to mourn the loss of our friend, Mr. Michael Douglas."
"Amen," the crowd murmured in unison.
"God full of mercy who dwells on high, grant perfect rest on the wings of Your Divine Presence in the lofty heights of the holy and pure who shine as the brightness of the heavens to the soul of Michael Douglas, who has gone to his eternal rest as all his family and friends pray for the elevation of his soul. His resting place shall be in the Garden of Eden. Therefore, the Master of Mercy will care for him under the protection of His wings for all time, and bind his soul in the bond of everlasting life. God is his inheritance and he will rest in peace and let us say Amen."
At this point the reverend stopped, knowing that it was time for the family and friends of Mr. Douglas to offer their final blessings to their loved one.
After a short pause, a tall, slender blonde came out from the crowd. She was wearing a long black coat and a pair of white pants, and her eyes were red and puffy from crying. Kneeling down before the coffin, she closed her eyes and whispered a short prayer.
The reverend waited patiently.
After a few moments, the blonde stood up and turned to face the crowd. "My name is Marian Steward. I am Michael's fiancée."
Her voice was trembling slightly as she spoke. "Michael was the sweetest man I've ever met. When I lost my job and my own family turned their backs on me, it was Michael who took me in. I owe everything to him—my job, my dignity, and the very meaning of my life. Our love shall not end with death, Michael, for sooner or later we shall be reunited in the Kingdom of our Lord."
The sound of sobbing could now be heard from within the crowd, and a few women began to wipe their faces with handkerchiefs.
The second person to come out was an elderly man in oily overalls. He looked at least 70 years old, but nonetheless sturdy. He walked to the coffin in three long strides, and nodded at the reverend in acknowledgement before turning to speak.
"Y’all know me—I'm Michael's uncle," he said. "Michael'd been helping out on my farm for a couple o' years before he went to work for the local paper. He was an honest and hard-working young man. I'd hired a dozen workers after he left, but none were even close to him. Boys like him are a rare breed nowadays—may the Lord bless him." He turned and walked back into the crowd without another word.
"Where are Michael's parents? Why aren't they here?" a woman standing at the back of the crowd asked her companion in a whisper.
"Alice, what's wrong with your head? Michael's parents died years ago."
"Ouch! How silly of me! Poor boy."
She was about to say something else when an old gentleman turned and gave her a hard look—no gossiping at the funeral, lady.
The reverend waited for awhile. He looked up at the gathered crowd and asked: "Is there anyone else who'd like to speak?"
He was about to commence the next step when a tiny, hesitant voice asked: "May I speak too, sir?"
The revered smiled warmly. "Of course. Go ahead, child."
The paperboy shuffled to the front, looking around nervously as he went. After what seemed like a long time, he finally found his courage.
"Hello, misters," he said timidly. "I'm Jack—Jack Anderson. I work at the same newspaper office as Mr. Michael did. When I first began working the boss told me to go n' sell papers, but I couldn't, 'cause I'm too embarrassed to yell. Mr. Michael came by n' showed me how to do it. He taught me for a whole week, coming to check on me whenever he had time. I just wanna say thank you."
The boy was blushing terribly by the time he returned to the crowd, but the mourners all smiled and encouraged him. Marian, the fiancée, wrapped her scarf around the boy's shoulder and stroked his hair gently.
The reverend nodded. "Very well. Now we may open the coffin."
Several hooded figures approached the crowd carrying a struggling young man by the arms. The mourners hurried away to make way for them.
The reverend motioned for the lid of the empty coffin to be opened. The young man looked into the shallow depth of the pit and screamed.
Marian rushed to his side. "Be brave, Michael," she said through fits of sobs. "We're all with you."
"I don't want to die!"
“It's for the best. Your soul will be with God soon, and sooner or later I will join you in heaven.” Tears flowed from her eyes as she turned away and buried her face in her palms.
"I don't want to—"
But it was too late for him. The hooded men tied him with chains before cramming him, screaming and kicking, into the open coffin. The lid was shut and nailed in. The coffin was lowered into the pit, and the workers began shoveling to fill the pit.
After the sound of pounding and screaming died away, the hooded men joined the mourners in their circle. The reverend crossed his fingers in pious prayer.
"The kindness of Michael Douglas will not be forgotten. May our Lord take this sacrifice, and bestow upon us peace, happiness and prosperity. Amen."
"Amen!" the mourners said in unison.