August 3, 2009
The Cemetery Keeper DisappearedRate this encounter: Mike James - Southern England - Summer of 2007
Two summers ago my wife was recovering from treatment for cancer and I got into the habit of taking a long walk every Sunday afternoon while she rested. I usually followed the same route, leaving the house and following several old Victorian streets out onto the seafront, and then walking a couple of miles along the beach before cutting back into town and towards home. This encounter occurred during one such walk.
It was a lovely, cool summer day with plenty of families enjoying themselves on the beach and dozens of boats out in the glittering water. When I reached the point at which I normally turned towards home, I felt quite annoyed, wishing that I could stay gazing out to sea a lot longer, but I wanted to go back to check on my wife and so reluctantly turned to head back inland. However, I decided that I would take a slight detour. The main road that I usually followed home had a side road leading off of it that I had never walked down, but which I knew formed a kind of L-shape which eventually reconnected with the curve of the main road. Despite living in the town for most of my life I had never explored it, simply because there was no real reason for me to go there, but now I wandered down, noticing older, Georgian houses, and some lovely gardens. As I walked a kind of dreamy feeling came over me as I felt that this little enclave was so near and yet so totally removed from the town around it, so peaceful and detached. Reaching the junction of the L-shape, I was amazed to discover an old cemetery which I had been previously completely unaware of. It is bizarre what things can be right under your nose which you know nothing about. I must have walked or driven down the main road thousands of times, yet never realized that this little cemetery existed just a hundred yards away. Still, I later discovered that it was virtually invisible from the main road, with only a tiny bit of the railing visible from the right angle, so perhaps it is not surprising.
The cemetery was well tended and a notice board on the gate explained that it had fallen into a bad state of repair but had recently been rescued by a group of volunteers. The board also told the history of the place, which was all new to me. Correctly, I found, the site should be called a graveyard as a church had once stood there with its graveyard behind it. About a hundred years ago the church had been demolished and the resulting free space used for more burials, resulting in the older graves being at the back of the site and the newer ones at the front. I decided that I had time for a quick look around. I was alone in the cemetery apart from a fairly old man who was cutting back some bushes in the older section -- I assumed a volunteer. Looking at the memorials of people who had died in the nineteen twenties and thirties I recognized a number of surnames, quite possibly distant relatives of people I had grown up with. I made a note of a few names so I could check later. Moving into the older section I began to feel strange. The graves here were usually dated in the mid nineteenth century, but I found that I could barely notice them. It was as though I had become completely detached from everything. There was no noise, no movement, as though only this one tiny patch of earth was real and nothing existed beyond it, nothing but a continual interplay of life and death. I broke out of the trance a little and looked up to see that the old man who was working on the bush had noticed me. He gave a friendly smile and went back to his work. I felt so odd, so detached, that I was overcome by a desire for conversation. I decided to approach the man and exchange a few comments before heading home. When I was about ten yards away from him I heard a noise to the right and glanced round to see a motorbike pass the cemetery gates. At the same moment my mind cleared and I seemed to come "back to normal." I turned to face the old man again and he was gone, as was the bush that he had been tending to. There was nowhere he could have hidden in the two seconds or so that I had looked away, and the bush had utterly vanished, there was just grass there now. I think I was shocked enough to be completely calm. There was simply no explanation other than either something paranormal or some fault in my own brain. I stood still for about five minutes, noticing that the previous feeling of strangeness had retreated into the background, and then began the walk home.
As I made my way out of the cemetery, for the first time in months, a great feeling of peace came over me. All that occurred two years ago now. My wife made a full recovery from the cancer but I still sometimes take a walk by myself on a Sunday, often dropping into the cemetery. Nothing unusual has happened since, but it is still a beautiful place. I have no idea what happened that day. Was it a ghost? A time slip of some kind? Or just my over anxious brain freaking out? In a way I don't really care; sometimes the experience is worth more than any explanation. For whatever the cause, I feel that I encountered something of the essence of life and death that afternoon, that power of change that permeates all things.