Meanwhile, the unconscious Jim Corrigan himself saw all that Doctor Fate had seen in the landscape of his mind, and now he lingered on a scene from his past. It was 1939 in the city of Cliffland, and a younger James Corrigan was dancing with a lovely girl in a costly gown. She was vibrant and charming, and all he saw in the world at that moment revolved around her eyes and her smile.
“Miss Winston, I do believe folks are going to start talking about us if the heiress and the cop keep being seen out in polite society,” he said.
Clarice grinned impishly. “Let them talk. It’ll be like one of those screwball comedies from the movies.”
Jim altered his voice slightly. “I do a pretty fair Gable.”
Clarice feigned bewilderment. “Gable? I thought you were doing Lombard.”
They kissed, and Jim remembered his thoughts on that long ago night. What is a mug like me doing with a doll like Clarice? Her old man could buy the whole town, while I’m just getting by on a cop’s pay, he had thought.
Yet his amazement was really centered more around his hidden desires. He really wanted this romance to succeed. He hoped Clarice could defy her family and settle down with him happily in some improbable yet wonderful way. He held her closely and inhaled the sweet jasmine scent she used on her hair. He could float away on that fragrance and forget everything else.
Then that smell turned into the aroma of beef stew as the kindly face of his landlady Mrs. Lonnigan appeared and held out a steaming pot of the stuff. “Now, Mr. Corrigan, you must eat. All the bad men out there will have to wait while you eat a bit. I made it special for you, my best boarder,” she had said in her lilting voice.
Jim had taken the stew eagerly and had spent time talking to the lonely widow. She was more like a mother to him than merely a woman who rented rooms. He valued her affection, and she relished his attention. “Mrs. L, you are the finest cook this side of the Atlantic. In fact, I just bet you’d take the prize against any of those French chefs over the pond, too,” he had replied.
However, these memories faded as the harsh voice of Gat Benson tore into his mind like a razor. The harsh voice and ugly features of the gangster loomed over the happy faces and blotted out everything but the flash of his gun as Jim fell and the sickening splash as he was tossed into Lake Erie by the evil thug.
“So long, Corrigan! Give our regards to the mackerels!” laughed the gang boss as though this was all happening for the first time and not in February, 1940.
Jim felt constrained, and he wished once more for a chance to be with Clarice. Then darkness covered his dreams, and he knew no more.
Doctor Fate found himself in such darkness, too. “His mind is weakening. The drug is clouding his senses. I fear we may lose him!” He spread wide his arms, and his amulet blazed out again to reveal one spark of light in the distance. “Onward — we must revive that flickering ember before Corrigan is no more,” he said.
Corrigan groaned and saw light as the Voice called to him again and gave him the offer that changed his afterlife forever. “YOUR MISSION ON EARTH IS UNFINISHED. YOU SHALL REMAIN EARTHBOUND, BATTLING CRIME ON YOUR WORLD WITH SUPERNATURAL POWERS, UNTIL ALL VESTIGES OF IT ARE GONE.”
Those words, or at least that basic idea, had flamed through his mind like a wildfire. He had felt the words almost physically and had been all too eager to accept. Then, like a modern-day Lazarus, he walked again. As the Spectre he saved Clarice, punished Benson, and went on to fight countless other foes, like Rhami, Bandar, and Zor. It was odd how that last name now gave him chills. Zor! The evil wizard whom he had defeated again and again seemed more vital and real to his drugged mind than any other villain.
“Yes, Corrigan, that’s right — I’m coming back for you! It’s not over between us by a long shot!” laughed the dark figure.
November, 1940: He saw a round table and several smiling men dressed in colorful garb — the Justice Society of America. His allies, his peers, his friends were assembled for their first meeting. He was swapping tales with them, and he enjoyed it. For the first time since his death had cost him the companionship of other mortals, he knew friendship.
If only this feeling would last. I need them to help me keep my humanity. Clarice can only give so much. I can’t deprive her of a life with a living lover. I have to break it off. I have to make her leave me, he had thought with an ache in his heart.
Then, not all that much later, Clarice walked out in tears and anger. He watched with pain that amazed him. “A dead man with a broken heart. That’s rich,” he muttered as he stood there and died what felt like a second death.
“I had to end it. I hated to hurt her, but how could she become my widow before we were wed? She has to find someone new, and this is the only way that loyal girl would leave me. I had to hurt her. I’m a big man! Should feel real proud!”
Doctor Fate frowned as that part of him that was still in the hospital room saw Corrigan twitch in pain. “We must hurry, or he will be lost!” said Inza.
Now, Jim shuddered and heard orders being barked out by a soldier. He was one, too. It was 1945, and he had been given enough of a physical form to serve in the U.S. Army during the war. He wanted to fight. He wanted to serve his country. Fighting was a way to forget the losses he’d suffered. Now it was ending, and he was free to do — what?
Oddly, he felt nothing. The elation of victory and the anger because of the horrors so many had suffered during Hitler’s war all seemed oddly remote. He felt as if he was watching someone else’s life play out. It was also someone that he didn’t much care about or like.
Then there was the shrill laugh of Azmodus and there was the chill of the tomb. Those sensations lasted all too long before light streamed in, and he found himself again. He was just Jim once more, and he was young again. And he found love again.
His wife and his daughters filled his mind and then, faintly, after a glimpse of red skies and clouds of antimatter, he was with the Spectre once more, but he was not truly hosting the ghost any longer. Death threatened his family, and the spirit of Gat Benson seemed to live anew until a flaming car erased everything but his pain and a relief like morning after a long night’s storm. He had his family and his freedom, and he was happy.
Then, the Voice spoke:
“JIM CORRIGAN. I OFFER YOU LIFE ANEW. YOU DESERVE YOUR FREEDOM, BUT IT MUST END FOR THE GREATER GOOD. THE SPECTRE MAY BECOME THE VERY THING HE FIGHTS WITHOUT YOUR HUMANITY TO ANCHOR AND GUIDE HIS WRATH. THE DRUG WILL END YOUR LIFE, AND YOU WILL KNOW PEACE — UNLESS YOU ACCEPT THE MANTLE ONCE MORE AND THUS GAIN LIFE AND A MISSION ANEW.”
Jim said, “My family! I’d rather be Spectre again than lose them! Is there no middle ground? Please!”
The Voice said, “TIS SO. YOU SHALL BE THE SPECTRE, BUT YOUR WILL SHALL GOVERN HIS RAGE, AND YOUR COMPASSION SHALL CALM HIS DESIRE FOR VENGEANCE.”
Jim fell into the light and blinked until he saw his wife and children and the Nelsons. “Jim, my love! Thank goodness! We feared we had lost you!” cried Andrea Corrigan. Jim took his wife’s hand and smiled as his daughters leaned closer and kissed him.
“Daddy, Daddy! I want to show you my new ballet!” cried Libby.
Diana said, “I want to show you my curve ball!”
He laughed and gave thanks that he had so much. Dr. Nelson nodded as Jim caught his eye. It was partially your light that brought me back, old buddy, thought Jim.
Later, as the happy family prepared to depart from the hospital, Jim stopped short. “Girls, give me a few minutes. I’ll be right out,” he said, rushing silently back to a door that he had passed minutes ago. He saw a weary old man weeping over a frail but lovely old woman in a hospital bed.
He heard a doctor whisper to a nurse. “She hasn’t got long. I think it’s a matter of minutes.”
The nurse nodded sadly. “With the Alzheimer’s she’s had for so long, she has already been lost to her poor husband for years, anyway.”
The husband gently held his wife’s hand and said, “Oh, my dear. You’ve given me so many happy years, but how I wish I could say goodbye to the girl I loved. If only that terrible disease had not separated us!”
Jim heard and saw it all and silently reached out with his thoughts. Please, if I may not change her time to go, then allow me to restore her for the minutes she has left, he prayed. His hand touched her as his unseen and now-spectral form walked the room.
She opened her watery eyes, and a bright light seemed to shine within them. “Harvey? Why are you crying?” she said. “I’m here. ‘Don’t make me all soggy!’ Remember, that was your line anytime I’d get weepy.”
Harvey Jones gasped and gazed at his dying wife with amazement. He was losing her, but at least he could truly part with the capable and loving wife he had believed forever lost to him due to Alzheimer’s disease. “Oh, Clarice!” he said tearfully.
An unseen Jim exited the room as Clarice Winston Jones and her husband said their goodbyes. Being in this particular hospital and having the power to do some good when Clarice needed it and was here, too, didn’t just happen by chance. Things do work out for the best, sometimes. I’m going to make that the case from now on, even with far less power than the Spectre has been used to having, he thought as he joined his own family.