Richard J. Meldrum

The April Featured Writer is Richard J. Meldrum

Feel free to email Richard at: meldrum@ryerson.ca


by Richard J. Meldrum

I was about to sit down for lunch when Eric burst through the door. “Boss! There’s something weird going on in Section B.”

“Can’t it wait until I finish my sandwich?”

“You should probably come now.”

I sighed and stood. Eric was new to the job, and prone to excitability. This was a cemetery, hardly the most exciting place in the world. Weird things didn’t happen here; whatever was bothering him was probably just some vandalism or kids messing around. Nothing I hadn’t seen a million times before.

I followed him to Section B. It was the oldest section of the cemetery, where the folk from the 70s and 80s were interred. It was well established, with mature trees and bushes giving the area a peaceful air. 

Eric was a few yards ahead of me. He pointed. “There, Boss. Look, someone’s sitting on a grave.”

There was indeed a figure sitting on a grave. It was a man of around fifty, dressed in a perfectly normal business suit. He was leaning back against the headstone, with his legs and feet on the grass. It was against municipal bylaws to sit on the graves.

I relaxed; this was unusual, but not unique. It was probably a relative, marking an anniversary or some such event. I knew, just by looking at him, that he would be easy to deal with. All it would take would be an air of authority. 

I walked up to the grave. The man looked up and said, “Morning, Tubby. I wondered when the staff would turn up to annoy me.”

I was annoyed, but decided to ignore the insult. “Excuse me, sir. Members of the public are only allowed to stand at the graveside.”

He smiled, showing crooked teeth. “I’m not moving. This is my grave, and I’m hardly in a condition to damage it.”

Great, I thought to myself. A nut job.

“Please move, sir.”


I tried a different approach, since the authority pitch clearly hadn’t worked. “Come on, Buddy, be a pal, just move along.”

“Go away. I’m waiting.”

I walked back to Eric. Let the authorities deal with him; I wasn’t paid enough to sort out crap like this. “Eric, keep an eye on him. I’m going to phone the cops.”


The police took about two hours to arrive. Eric and I hovered near the entrance to the section, hoping our unwelcome visitor would leave. He didn’t. 

When we saw the police car pull up at the main gate, I went over to meet him. The cop exited the car, pulled up his pants and adjusted his hat. He was a young man, probably in his early thirties. He had short, dark hair and a fresh face. His badge said Harris.

“Homeless?” Harris asked.

I shook my head. “Too well dressed.”

“Mental case?”

“I think so. He says it’s his grave; that he’s waiting. He won’t move.”

The cop sighed. “Oh, great. That’s all I need at the end of my shift. If he turns nasty, I have the handcuffs.”

“Aren’t you going to just talk to him?” I asked.

“Of course. That is always our first attempt.”                              

We headed over to the grave. I hoped the sight of a uniform would encourage the guy to leave, but he stayed put. 

The cop assumed a gruff, matter-of-fact attitude. “Okay, buddy. You’re trespassing. You’ll have to leave.”

“I can’t, I’m waiting.”

“There’s nothing here for you, Bud. Come with me, we’ll get you home. What’s your address?”

“Right here.”

I could tell that Harris was starting to lose patience. “Okay, Buddy, you’re giving me no other choice…let’s do this the hard way.”
Handcuffs in one hand, he reached with his other to grab the man, but his hand passed through the stranger’s arm. I could see Harris literally jump back a step.

“What the hell did I just see?” asked the cop. He stood there, then swiped at the stranger again. When his hand went through the man a second time, he backed off. “This is out of my league. I’m calling the chief.”

An hour later, the three of us stood round the grave, staring down at the man. There was me, Harris, and the police chief named Franklin. Eric had gone home; he wasn’t interested unless I was willing to pay him overtime. 

The man on the grave paid us no attention.

“Straight through his body, you say?” asked Franklin. He was older and balding. He was stout but not fat. He had that unmistakable air of authority that most people who have years of law enforcement behind them seem to portray.

“Yessir. My hand went straight through.”

“So, he’s a ghost then,” scoffed Franklin. He turned to the man. “Hey, what’s your name?”

The man turned slightly toward us. “Can’t you read this headstone? It says Petersen.”

Franklin said, “I think Petersen is already in there. You’re not. Here, let me help you.”

Franklin reached to pull the man up, and his hand passed through. “Shit!” the chief cried, jumping back.

“Told you,” muttered Harris.

I expected to feel fear, or at the very least a chill running down my spine. Instead, I felt nothing.  He just looked so…ordinary…a man in a suit sitting on a grave, hardly the stuff of nightmares.

“He’s on private property. He’s been told to leave. He’s breaking the law,” I said.

The cop, Harris, spoke. “I don’t think trespassing laws apply to the dead.”

“But we can’t have him stay here,” I said. “Besides, it’s only late afternoon. The sun is still up. He can’t be a ghost. Ghosts don’t exist. I should know; I work in a cemetery.”

“When did he first appear?” Franklin asked.

“No idea. Eric spotted him this morning, but at this time of year, we only come into this section every few days. We’re mainly in the new area, digging graves.”

“Should we call in a priest?” asked Harris.

“For chrissakes, he’s not a ghost!” I yelled.

“Why can’t we just leave him alone?” Harris said.

The chief looked at the man on the grave. There was a distinct pause, then Franklin answered, “You’d have to be okay with the idea that he is trespassing in the cemetery.” He looked directly at me. “So, what do we do, then?”

There was another distinct pause. I thought I might as well carry on. “Why not just ask him what he wants?”

The police chief edged toward the mysterious man on the grave. “Excuse me sir. Is there anything you need? Anything we can do for you?”

The answer was sarcastic. “I’m glad you finally took the fat guy’s advice.”

Charming, I thought.

He told us his name was Terrence John Petersen. That was the name on the headstone. According to the engraving, he died in 1985, aged just fifty.

“Cancer,” he said, apparently reading our collective minds.

“So, why have you, um, returned?”

“I’m waiting for her.”

“Who is ‘her’?” asked Franklin.

“None of your business.”

There wasn’t much any of us could say to that. Petersen refused to divulge any further information. Eventually we left him alone. The police left, and I went back to my office.

Mavis phoned me the next day. We’d known each other since elementary school. She worked in the police office. She told me that Franklin had arrived back in the office furious, determined to find out what was going on with Petersen. 

Apparently, he’d set them all to work on his background.  They now knew about the parts that Petersen had refused to speak about. The dearly departed had been survived by his wife and two grown-up daughters. Mrs. Petersen had been a resident of the town for her entire life. She currently resided in the Sunset Villa rest home for the elderly. She was dying, terminal, no chance of recovery. 

It all fit together, even I could see that. Petersen had returned and was waiting for her. Waiting for her to die. 

Mrs. Petersen took her time dying. I carried on with my routine, kept in the loop by Mavis. Franklin  even visited Terence a couple of times, but I wasn’t allowed to participate. I didn’t know what they spoke about. Maybe it was about his wife’s condition. Maybe Franklin was still trying to get him to leave. Either way, Petersen stayed where he was.

I arrived at work one Tuesday morning to find Harris the cop standing in my office. He was clearly agitated. He brusquely ordered me to close the section, to tell any visitors there had been some sort of subsidence caused by an underground stream. 

He told me not to enter the area, to keep Eric out too. I guessed Mrs. Petersen was close to the end. The town worthies must have expected something was going to happen pretty soon. I suddenly felt butterflies in my stomach, after all these weeks of waiting, things were reaching a climax.

Despite my orders, I snuck in a few times during the next couple of days to watch him, to see if there was any change in his demeanor.

There wasn’t. He sat quietly on the grave, not moving. I thought I saw his lips move a few times, but I couldn’t hear what he said. Perhaps he was praying. I thought about approaching him, asking if he sensed his wife was near death. 

In the end I decided not to. I didn’t want to intrude on a personal moment. 

It was on a Thursday when Sunset Villas reported to Higgins that Mrs. Petersen had died the night before. Her will specified she was to be buried with her husband. Eric and I moved the digger, and opened up the grave, while Petersen stood at the side watching. 

He smiled at us. “She’s gone, isn’t she? I felt it when her soul left her body.”

“Yes, Mr. Petersen. She died yesterday.”

“I’m glad her suffering is over. And my vigil will be over soon. I’m sure you’ll be glad of that.”

I smiled. I’d gotten so used to him, I wondered if I’d actually miss him when he finally left us.

Mrs. Petersen was interred three days later. It was a cold but clear day. There were some serious misgivings about whether Petersen would be visible during her burial, but he wasn’t. 

There weren’t many mourners, just her immediate family and some elderly people from the town.  Neither Harris nor Franklin showed up. A total of six people really wasn’t much to mark someone’s passing. I was almost glad that Petersen was waiting for her.

He failed to appear after the interment was over and the mourners had left. I hardly dared to breathe. Was this it? Had Petersen left? 

It wasn’t until later that evening, when I was doing my final rounds, that I saw Petersen was back. I phoned Harris to let him know.

“I thought this nonsense was over!” Harris screamed into the phone. “Close the section again.  I’ll let the chief know. Shit, we’ll get a priest in. In the meantime, can you speak to the fellow, try to make him see sense?”

I walked over to the grave. Petersen looked up at me. “I know, Tubs. You expected me to be gone.”

“We all did.”

“She’s not here yet.”

I pointed to the fresh grave, with the wooden marker. He shook his head.

“I know her body is here, but she isn’t ready for the final journey. The transition to this plane takes time.”

“How long?”

“There’s no set time, it just happens. That’s why I wanted to be here before she passed. I guess I mistimed it. I ended coming here way too early. She was so ill; I’m amazed she hung on for so long. I kept speaking to her, persuading to come, but she wouldn’t. I didn’t want to leave, just in case I missed her.”

I didn’t reply. I didn’t want to know anymore about the afterlife. It was bad enough to know there actually was one. 

How would you feel if you got firsthand evidence of life after death? Imagine, all your dead relatives, waiting for you on the other side. It gave me the shivers, just thinking about it.

Petersen said, “I can feel her start to stir. She’ll be here soon.”

He closed his eyes. I left him alone. It was a private moment, not to be shared with a stranger.

I sat in my little office long after my shift had ended. I waited for a sign it was over.

I wondered how long it took to make the transition between life and death. How long had it taken my parents, my grandparents? What did it feel like? Did they know they were dead? 

Some things shouldn’t be thought about. These were some of them, but I couldn’t help myself. Now I knew there was an afterlife, things had changed. I wondered if I could continue working as a manager of a cemetery, knowing the spirits of the departed were all around me.

Evening fell, and darkness surrounded me. I continued to work at mindless paperwork, while all the time wondering when “she” would arrive. 

The wind suddenly picked up. It roared through the trees, whistled round the eaves of my little cabin. I heard the tools and other landscaping equipment fall over with a clatter. The windows rattled. I have to admit, I was spooked. But it didn’t last long, it was over almost as soon as it’d begun.

I ran out the office to the grave of Terrence John Petersen. She had arrived, and had they left together.

Richard J. Meldrum is an author and academic. Born in Scotland, he moved from the UK to Canada in 2010 to take up an academic position at a university in Toronto. 

He specializes in fiction that explores the world through a dark lens. His subject matter ranges from ghosts to serial killers and everything in-between. He has had over seventy short stories and drabbles published in a variety of anthologies, e-zines and websites, including Sirens Call Publications, Horrified Press, The Infernal Clock, Trembling with Fear, Smoking Pen Press, Darkhouse Books, and James Ward Kirk Fiction. He is an Affiliate Member of the Horror Writers Association.

You can find Richard HERE