John Stephens

The December Chosen Writer is John Stephens

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by John Stephens

Gregory Thompson shut off the lawn mower as he finished cutting the last section of grass on the east side of the cemetery. He walked over to the passenger’s side of the pick-up truck, pulled out his water bottle and took a swig.

He wiped the sweat off his brow and surveyed the graves around him. Not for the first time in his two years as a cemetery groundskeeper, Greg was fascinated by the fact that every one of the “residents” had once been a living, breathing person.

Now, they were all dead, including his friend Mike Norton, who barely lived to see the age of twenty-one.

Greg’s thoughts turned to the day of the accident, fifteen years ago; the day that he would never fully get over…

“Earth to Greg Thompson,” he heard his co-worker, Bill Ward announce in a mock-intercom voice from the front of the truck.

“He’s currently having an out-of-body experience,” Greg responded in a trance-like voice, equally fabricated. “Would you like to leave a message?”

Bill chuckled. “You having one of your ‘spells’ again?

“Not this time. Just lost in thought,” Greg said. He knew that his co-worker was not making fun of him. His “spells” were a form of narcolepsy, thanks to an accident of his own. He eventually learned to joke about his condition.

Greg’s episodes of drowsiness were sometimes accompanied by dream-like images or hypnagogic hallucinations. These would occur just prior to losing consciousness. At first, these spells were alarming. This was bad enough, but when people got the impression that he was a drug addict or a lunatic, he would become livid with frustration.

Indeed, finding jobs had been rather trying since he had been refused by potential employers. Greg suspected, but could never prove, that he was being discriminated against because of his condition. Medication had proven to be ineffective.

Five minutes later, the two men resumed their work for another hour until their day was over.
Shortly after Bill went home and the tools and truck had been returned to the garage, Greg remained to take a last look around to see if anything had been left behind.

Of course, this “last look” was just an excuse to visit his friend’s grave, as he periodically did after quitting time.

Standing before the familiar tombstone now, Greg found himself wondering about Mike—not so much about their years together but more about what would have happened had he survived the accident, or had it never occurred.

Would they still be friends? Or would they have drifted apart simultaneously the way many relationships do? Would Mike have become a businessman? An artist? Would he have a wife and kids today or be a bachelor? Greg and his pal had never discussed career and family aspirations at length; it was their near future that was more important; summer employment, university applications, dating girls.  

From an existential point of view, Greg pondered the theory of Mike’s death as being a matter of fate. Would he have died anyway, of some other cause? Would someone else have died had Mike survived? Or was it a tragic, senseless loss, as Mike’s parents had understandably seen it?

For Mike’s family—and Greg—psychological counseling had been somewhat helpful. The passage of time had also played a role in the healing process.

But some wounds never entirely heal.

Greg’s ruminations were interrupted by a sudden rumbling from the sky. He looked up, expecting to see an airplane but there was none. He felt a gust of wind as the sun edged toward the horizon, tinting the western sky a brilliant yellow-red. He dimly heard the rustle of dried-up leaves blowing along the footpath.

The curious rumbling faded then ceased. The wind subsided to a gentle breeze.

Except for the drone of traffic in the distance, there was silence.

A self-consciousness overcame Greg. He felt as though he shouldn’t be at his workplace after hours. Indeed, he felt a presence observing him. He turned around; half expecting to see his supervisor telling him to go home but all he saw were the silent tombstones. 

And the fading daylight.        

He felt another gust of wind, this time without the rumbling. While not overwhelming, the current of air did not feel weather-related; it felt warm, as if it were coming from some sort of ventilation system.

Greg, feeling as if he were rooted to the spot where he stood, made a conscious effort to move forward. The strange wind continued as he caught a glimpse of undulating movement directly ahead of him. Greg wondered if he were having one of his spells. 

But this experience felt too real; it didn’t have the usual surreal quality that would overcome him whenever he passed out.


Greg snapped out of his trance. He was still at the cemetery; the wind had stopped. He was seated under a maple tree in almost complete darkness. He stood up, feeling his vertebrae crack and wondered how long he had been “out.” He chided himself for not bringing his smartphone to work. He began to walk to the footpath with the intention of going home but he gasped at what he saw.

Along the tombstone of his deceased friend was a large mound of soil.

His heart pounding, his legs trembling, Greg stumbled his way to the front of the grave to confirm that what he was seeing was real. An earthy odour filled his nostrils as he beheld an undeniably coffin-shaped hole in front of the headstone. 

It couldn’t be! Greg thought. Who the hell dug up Mike’s grave, and why?

He scanned the area for any signs of the recent exhumation; a back-hoe, shovels, the other groundskeepers. Vandals?

There were no signs of anything amiss.

He peered almost involuntarily into the open grave. He saw utter blackness in the hole. Terror threatened to overwhelm him; he expected a decaying corpse or skeleton to rise. Indeed, he felt as if he were in a horror movie. He had to be having a narcoleptic spell.   

He sighed, exhaling an unconsciously held breath. He retreated from the excavation. He had to report this— but to whom? 

Behind him, he heard a movement. Someone was coming. He wanted to bolt; to run away from the unnerving scene and from whoever was approaching. At the moment, he did not have the nerve to confront anyone who would desecrate Mike’s grave.

If he were having a spell, then he wanted to wake up.

Before he could act, however, he heard a groan; a low, guttural sound that seemed startlingly familiar. Greg finally turned around to see who was there. But it wasn’t his supervisor, Bill or any other of the groundskeeping staff.

Shambling in an unsteady gait was Mike Norton.

Clad in the same gray suit he was buried in, long ago, Greg’s deceased friend was miraculously—impossibly—among the living.

The shape continued to march rigidly and groaned again. The timbre of the voice was unmistakable; it was Mike’s.

What kind of voodoo is this? It couldn’t be!

Greg wanted to scream. He was terrified and felt himself sweating and shaking. His heart raced and he could hear it beating in his ears. His mouth was completely dry and when he tried to speak, it came out as a whisper.  “Mike? Michael Norton?”

The resurrected abomination did not seem to hear because there was no acknowledgement. Greg automatically stepped aside, allowing “Mike” to get by. Still overwhelmed with disbelief and fear, Greg somehow managed to follow as the walking corpse bumped into a tombstone, fell to the ground and groaned again. Lying face up, it continued its rigid walking movements, seemingly unaware that it had fallen.

With a decisiveness that surprised him, Greg took hold of the arms and pulled Mike up to his feet. He winced as he heard a series of cracking joints. He steadied Mike when his body nearly fell again. 

“Mike? It’s Greg Thompson. We were friends. Don’t you know me?” he asked plaintively, looking into the open but vacant eyes that seemed to stare right through him. Mike seemed to inhale hoarsely. He tried to walk through Greg, as though the rightfully living being weren’t there.

As Greg moved aside again, he felt a wave of renewed grief. Mike’s body was somehow alive, but it was not the friend he had known. This reincarnation had no will and was apparently oblivious to everything. His soul was gone.

But where did Mike’s soul go?

Overwhelmed, Greg collapsed as the narcolepsy overtook him once again. When he woke up, Mike was gone. Greg wondered, Was Mike ever really there at all?

Either way, Greg decided to take a leave of absence.


Neither Greg nor anyone else had detected the spacecraft that landed in the cemetery that night. The extra-terrestrials that had long been observing the planet known as “Earth” and its various life forms had finally tested their rejuvenation techniques. Organisms that have perished: plant life, primitive animals, and the ones known as “humans” were able to be revived, if conditions were right.

The extra-terrestrials were seeking Earth inhabitants to bring to their planet. 

Since removing living human specimens would be too revealing, only the dead had been chosen —those who would not be missed, like the one named “Mike” who was removed from the ground without anyone’s knowledge. The other human—the one named “Greg”—was not a worry because experience taught the aliens that his story would not be believed.

But there was one thing that the alien beings could not acquire: the essence of the humans that made them dynamic—the “soul.” Without the soul, the creatures had no will, no communication skills and no uniqueness.  Therefore, it was difficult to determine what they were actually like, before they died. 
In order to accomplish this, selecting live humans who could react to and appreciate a world beyond their own planet would be necessary, despite the risks.   
Soon, the selections would begin…

John Stephens is a freelance writer from Calgary, Alberta, Canada. He writes anecdotal and observational articles with a humorous spin. He also pens fictional short stories of suspense, unease and eerie situations.

His published articles have appeared in WestWord Magazine (Edmonton, Alberta); The Kerby News (Calgary, Alberta); and Ulterior Magazine (Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario).

He has a B.A. in Psychology at Concordia University 1992 (Montreal, Quebec, where he was born and raised).

He is a member of the Writers’ Guild of Alberta, and has completed the Creative Writing program offered by the Winghill Writing School (Ottawa, Ontario) in 2009.

John blogs at