I had no idea my run would spark an eerie mystery when I set out on Tuesday morning.
I set out for a small run around the observatory on what was a pleasant enough day and quite perfect for running; not too hot and not too cold. The observatory was situated at the side of a beautiful old cemetery, which dated all the way back to the seventeen-hundreds. As I ran, I distracted myself from the fatigue by reading some of the headstones, which were remarkably mixed in both age and style.
1923 – 1971
Beloved father of Michael
Rest in Peace
This was situated at the top of a small hill among a row of other headstones. Brian’s was looking older than even some of the ones that predated it; it was brown and murky, moss covering many of the engraved letters and had no flowers at its foot.
Further on a beautiful headstone in the shape of a large, white angel read:
1960 – 2019
A heart of gold stopped beating,
Her time on Earth was fleeting,
Her life was short but her love was broad,
Rest now in heav’n, under thy God
The next few I noticed had eroded to such a point that I couldn’t read the names. Only the years.
M h e r
1820 – 1896
Fa y f H n
1798 – 1880
And then I came across one that stopped my in my tracks.
It was a large, beautiful gold and black headstone with fresh flowers laid all around it. There was a picture of more flowers scattered around the edges of the stone itself, and the engraved writing read:
In loving memory of David Wilson
1954 – 2020
Taken too soon from his partner Jean, daughter Amy, and son Mike
Be at peace
I knew David. A little bit, anyway. His son Mike was a friend of mine. We had met at college and stayed friends long afterwards. His father had passed away quite suddenly and it had been really hard for all the family. I attended the funeral, hugged Mike and his sister and mother afterwards. Mike had put on a very brave face that day and had spoken some words about David. I admired him for it; he’d been close to his dad but remained composed during the eulogy while bringing many to tears.
Mike and I hadn’t spoken much since his father’s passing back in February, mostly due to the virus that had then plagued the world and kept us all mostly indoors for months. I wondered how he was doing, and decided that I’d send him a message when I got home.
I quickly showered after the run and got my phone out.
Hey Mike, how are you doing? How’s this whole lockdown business treating you? I was just out for a run around Backhill Cemetery there and I stumbled upon your dad’s headstone. Beautiful tribute to him, had no idea it was there. Hope you’re doing okay with it all.
Thinking nothing more of it, I started making myself some food. The run had made me quite hungry and more tired than usual, which was annoying considering how small a run it was. Did this mean I was getting less fit?
My phone buzzed. A message back from Mike.
Hey, thanks for the message. Yeah I’m doing fine, taking it a day at a time and that. Haha, I think you must have seen a ghost. My dad was cremated and his plaque is at the crematorium. Probably just another David Wilson. How are you doing?
A chill ran down my body. I read the message back again. My dad was cremated and his plaque is at the crematorium. Probably just another David Wilson.
But it couldn’t be another David Wilson. Another David Wilson who died this year, had a wife called Jean and two children named Amy and Mike? I tried to assess the likelihood of it. Could it be possible? I supposed it could… But it was highly unlikely.
I typed a message back to Mike. How old was your dad when he died?
The reply came a minute later: 66, why?
So, born in 1954?
Yeah. Why are you being weird?
At this point I started to wonder if I’d possibly misread the whole thing. Was I going crazy? I decided to go back to the grave and see it again. That way I could also make it clear to Mike that I hadn’t muddled anything up.
When I arrived at the grave again, I read the whole thing three more times, very carefully.
In loving memory of David Wilson
1954 – 2020
Taken too soon from his partner Jean, daughter Amy, and son Mike
Be at peace
I stared in disbelief. Taking my phone out I snapped a picture of it and sent it to Mike, who had viewed the message but didn’t write anything back for the entire length of time it took me to walk back home. About an hour later I got a message from him.
Is this a prank? Because if it is it’s really not funny.
A prank? As if I’d do something like this! I felt a little bit insulted by Mike’s message but then tried to put myself in his shoes. He’d just been sent an impossible image – his father’s headstone in a cemetery, implying he was buried there. Beautiful flowers surrounding the grave, placed there by some unknown person or people. All the while, his father’s remains had been burned and a tribute was erected in the crematorium. This must have been blowing his mind!
I replied: It’s not a prank, I promise. Do you fancy a trip up there? You can see for yourself.
Mike met me there that night, just before the sun began to set. We met at the gates and walked up towards the location of David’s grave. The cemetery was quiet, and so were we as we walked through a thin air of foreboding. A light spitter of rain had begun to fall but the night was warm enough.
‘It’s just up here,’ I said, and pointed towards the location of the headstone. As I did, I spotted a hooded figure standing at David’s grave. Even just going by the person’s pose they looked sombre as they stood there. They were wearing a yellow raincoat and keeping a hand to the hood to stop it from blowing over.
‘Mike...’ I began, and stopped in my tracks. ‘There’s someone there.’
Mike looked up towards where I had pointed. ‘Is that the grave? Where that person is?’
I nodded before Mike set off quickly towards the grave. ‘Hey! You! Wait a minute!’
I didn’t know if the figure had spotted Mike or if they had just come to the natural end of their visit, but they started to move away from the grave. I quickened my pace to catch up with Mike who strode forwards with determination.
When we arrived at the grave the person was gone. Mike stared at the headstone with a look of shock on his face. He leaned forwards and touched it softly, as though trying to learn something of where it had come from, and who had put it there.
‘This is so weird,’ Mike said, turning to look at me. ‘This must be for him. But it also can’t be.’
‘I know,’ I said. And I wished I had more to say but the mystery had been puzzling me all day.
‘I wish we’d caught whoever that was a minute ago.’ Mike’s face changed to a look one would have when arriving at a conclusion of some sort. ‘I know what to do,’ he said.
There was a small building that we hoped was some official premises for the cemetery. Arriving there we found that it was indeed a small office that was just closing for the night. The manager, a small middle-aged man with large glasses and a balding head was the last to be leaving.
‘I’m afraid I can’t give out information like that,’ the manager said. ‘It’s against data protection.’
‘But that’s my father’s name on the stone,’ Mike argued. ‘David Wilson. I’m named on the stone too, Mike Wilson. Here, I can show you some ID.’
‘You are a Mike Wilson, yes,’ the manager agreed as he was pulling a shutter down over the main door. ‘But we have on record the one person who is to be contacted in regards to Mr David Wilson’s headstone and I’m afraid it’s not you, so I can’t discuss it with you. I’m sorry, I cannot tell you the name of the person who bought the place for Mr Wilson.’
The manager firmly but politely wished us a good night and walked away down the cemetery’s path as the last light of the sun began to disappear. Mike turned once more to me.
‘Well, there’s only one thing for it,’ he said. ‘I’ll have to dig up the grave.’
Alarmed, I placed a hand on my friend’s shoulder. ‘Don’t be rash. Can you imagine the trouble you’d be in if you were caught? And what if you did find your dad there? What part of the mystery would be solved for you? I’ve got a better idea.’
The grave was certainly looked after. Those flowers were fresh and the grave obviously had at least one visitor now and then. I told Mike that since I lived really close to the cemetery, I would keep an eye out and watch for any more visitors. He seemed somewhat calmed by this and I detected no more hint of a plan to go grave digging.
For the next few days I made sure to either run or walk past David Wilson’s grave. On the days I ran I planned a route that would go past it two or three times and when I walked I did so slowly, looking around for someone wearing a yellow raincoat as I went.
On the day I saw the person again, I’d decided to sit on a bench and read my book. The first few minutes had gone by quickly and I paid more attention to the grave than Agatha Christie, but when the book started to get really engaging I lost my focus on the grave and was swept away by The Secret of Chimneys instead.
When I glanced up from my book I saw her. Yes, it was definitely a she. A woman who looked to be in her early sixties. This time the yellow raincoat was missing, but I knew it had to have been her. I closed my book and slowly approached the grave of David Wilson.
The woman stayed fixed on the grave, and as I drew closer I saw that she had a genuine grief in her face. She didn’t see me approach, so I spoke softly.
She looked around and half-smiled. The rest of her face showed a shallow anxiety.
‘Sorry,’ she said. ‘Do I know you?’
‘I don’t think so,’ I said. ‘But I think we may have known someone in common.’ I indicated towards David’s headstone.
‘Ah,’ she said. ‘Yes. Maybe.’
‘How did you know your David?’ I asked.
‘My David?’ she chuckled. ‘Yes, he was supposed to be mine. David and I were lovers, but he had his heart set on another woman.’
I probably couldn’t hide the surprise and disgust in my face. And when I spoke I would have made my feelings clear towards this woman. ‘No! David? David was cheating on Jean?’
The woman drew a deep breath and sighed. ‘I am Jean.’
Utterly confused, I could only look at this woman standing in front of me in puzzlement.
‘I know, I know,’ she said. ‘You must be confused. Let’s sit down a while and talk.’
She walked slowly towards the bench that I had previously been reading on and I sat with her there in the warmth of the afternoon sun.
‘My name is Jean,’ she said. ‘The same as his other partner. The woman he married. I was with David for three years before I found out he had been seeing her. I was disgusted. Something about her having the same name as me made it worse. We split up, of course, and then he married Jean. The other Jean.’
‘I can’t believe it,’ I said. ‘David was always a friendly guy. Really funny. He’s my friend’s father.’
‘Mike?’ Jean asked. ‘Or Amy?’
‘Both, I suppose,’ I said. ‘But mostly Mike. I met him when we studied together.’
‘From what I hear they’re very good kids,’ Jean said. ‘Well, they’re not kids any more.’
‘They were heartbroken when he died,’ I said. ‘Taken away too soon. Cancer. But you probably know that already. Mike said that when David was in hospital they gave him a crutch to help him walk and he picked it up and started pretending it was a flute. He was in high spirits until the very end.’
‘Never smoked, never drank,’ Jean said, and then scoffed. ‘As far as I know, I suppose.’
‘How do you know about them?’ I asked. ‘Mike and Amy, I mean?’
‘Oh, life is funny,’ Jean said. ‘David and I splitting didn’t mean the end for us. A few weeks after I found out about the cheating I discovered I was pregnant.’
‘Mike and Amy have another sibling?’ I said with disbelief.
‘They did,’ Jean said. ‘I miscarried.’
‘Oh,’ I said with sadness. ‘Oh, I’m really sorry.’
‘I had told David about the pregnancy,’ Jean said. ‘He decided he was going to be there for what was to be his first child. He said he was going to tell his girlfriend about me but was just working up the courage. I’m not sure he really ever was. He had lied so much up until this point. As the years went on David and I continued to have mutual friend-of-friends and I heard much about what was going on with him. I heard about his marriage, his children, and of course, his death.’
I paused a moment, trying to take all of this in. It seemed so unreal.
‘So David’s body...’ I started.
‘It was cremated,’ Jean said. ‘I bought the plot here for the headstone but nothing was buried. I paid extra for it.’
‘Why?’ I asked.
Jean drew in another long breath before speaking. ‘I was never able to fully let go of the pain that David had caused me. And for me to lose his baby but for him to go on to have this other life with other children… it stung me. I never looked Jean up to tell her about me and David. I didn’t want the children to be hurt. But that pain never went away. When I heard of his passing I thought about having the headstone made in the hopes that perhaps someone he knew would find it and discover his secret. That way I didn’t need to be too involved.’
‘You could have just found Jean and told her,’ I said.
‘Yes,’ Jean agreed. ‘But I rather thought I was past all the drama in my life.’
I didn’t fully understand this. My head was swimming with what felt like a million thoughts.
‘Are you going to tell Mike?’ she asked.
I looked at her. I’d made my mind up about that. When I told her what I intended to do she nodded in understanding.
Later that day, Mike called me. ‘Have you found out anything about the headstone?’ he asked.