He was sweating around the edges of his department store suit. From the crease across his back I suspected he had bought the jacket for our meeting. For me.
“I’m sorry, Mr Reynolds,” I wasn’t going to address him by his first name, despite his insistence, “but we have been through all the proper approvals, and no one has complained.” I spread my hands widely. I am generous. “I wish I could do more. You are not related to the deceased in question?”
I peered at the paperwork. No, Reynolds, and his grubby kid had nothing to do with the relocation of Timothy Green’s grave.
“Well, no, we’re not.” He glanced at his daughter, an unblinking girl of maybe six or seven. “But you see, Michael, my girl here plays in that graveyard, and she’s struck up a bit of a friendship with,” he faltered, “with little Timmy’s ghost.”
I was speechless, and he seized the opportunity.
“I know it sounds mad, but Timmy’s her best friend. I don’t know how she’ll cope if you take him away. Also,” he confided, “the ghosts aren’t happy about it either. You might own the land but you don’t own their dead bodies.”
“Mr Reynolds,” I said, as evenly as I could, “the Rosewood Estates development is going ahead.” I stood. “We’re out of time. Would you like some sweets?” I proffered a small bag of company mints to the girl, who continued to stare at me.
Mr Reynolds patted her on the shoulder.
“Time to go,” he said. The girl followed him to the door, where she paused for a moment. When she spoke, her voice was low and surprisingly mature.
“A storm’s coming,” she said. “Be careful, Michael.”
There must have been a change in the air, because at that moment a chill wrapped around me, and I couldn’t shake it off for some time.
In the weeks leading up to excavation we were dogged by setbacks. Key staff resigned without warning, heavy rains pushed back our start, and our CEO wondered aloud if someone had hexed us. No one laughed.
The night before excavation, I had an unusual dream. I was in a coffin and shovels kept hitting my casket. I began shouting to let them know that I was still alive, but the sharp blades of the shovels sliced through towards my face. I woke screaming.
The team assembled in the morning to officially open the site for work. I gave my usual speech and went to make a ceremonial dig into the ground. As I lifted the shovel, something caught my eye.
A small, pale, boy with almost white hair, was peeking around a gravestone.
“Hey, get him out of here!” I signalled to the guys. “This is supposed to be a closed site. It’s not safe!”
The boy smiled at me, and sat cross-legged on the grave.
A bead of cold sweat ran down the back of my neck.
“Someone get him out of here!”
“Can’t see anyone, Mike.” A couple of the guys stood beside me, craning their necks. “You seeing ghosts?”
I pressed my palms into my eyes for a moment. My legs were suddenly trembling, and I fought the urge to scream. Taking a long shaky breath I looked again, to see not just one child, but ten—twenty—of them, all pale and white haired, all sitting cross-legged on the graves.
“There!” I pointed. “There! The children!”
My secretary touched my arm.
“Michael, are you feeling okay?” she said softly. “Do you want to sit down?”
“No, I don’t want to bloody sit down! I want those children to go! Get out of here! All of you!” I shook her off. I shook them all off. Until I couldn’t, and they were driving me to hospital.
“I’m not crazy!” I kept saying. “It’s what that man, Reynolds, was saying. There are ghosts here! They won’t let us move them.”
The creeping chill was inside my bones by this point, and the shaking had spread throughout my body until my teeth were chattering in my head.
They called it a psychotic episode, and said I needed time off. Rosewood Estates was put on hold until we could find a new team, but we all knew it was dead in the water. No one wanted to do it, and remaining staff were moved to new projects. The cemetery would sit paused and untouched. I imagined its pale children crouched there, holding their collective breaths.
I drove past it once, the graveyard. I pulled over, not daring to go inside, and I saw a little girl there—a filthy thing in shorts and a t-shirt. She was sitting alone, talking to herself, and then she suddenly whirled around, and stared at me. I’d know those eyes anywhere. The Reynolds girl smiled briefly and gave me a thumbs up.
I slowly raised my hand, and it might have been the light—it must have been the light—but for a second it looked as if there was a little boy with her, waving back at me.