The Trail of Gemma Caulfield (Akre Island 2)

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Chapter 10

The next morning, they still hadn’t figured out exactly how to tell Hallie the truth. Cassidy had forgotten to set an alarm the evening before and had slept right through the night, which she took to mean Gemma didn’t want to see them. When they went downstairs, they asked Hallie if she knew where the old farm had been, and she said she had a bit of an idea but wasn’t sure. Since there was no way to explain how they knew without first telling her the truth, that conversation trailed off. So, they started working through the newspapers again. They talked about ghosts as they worked, but in a sort of hypothetical way, and continued to make notes of any stories they found that seemed slightly ghostly.

It was near noon when Hallie folded the top of one of the cardboard boxes back into place triumphantly and said, “Another box finished! Simon, can you grab that one—there, no, to the left. Yeah. Thanks.”

Cassidy glanced over from a paper she was looking at, just in time to see Simon reach for the box Hallie had requested, on the top shelf. She saw his fingers grab it, saw him slide it off of the shelf, and then saw it fall straight through his arms.

Hallie and Cassidy were on their feet in an instant. Simon stepped back from the mess of papers. “Sorry, sorry, it was heavier than I thought.”

“It’s fine,” Cassidy said quickly, stepping around the table to join him. She crouched and gently righted the box, then started to pick up the papers that had slid out of the top. It wasn’t really as big of as a mess as it could have been. “Hallie, everything looks fine.” She stacked the papers back in the box, and tried to pick it up, only to find that it really was very heavy. She looked up at Simon, who hadn’t moved, about to ask him if he could help pick up the other side of the box, when she realized he was looking across the table. Cassidy stood, to see Hallie standing on the other side of the table, her hands still on the box she had been packing up, and her eyes wide.

Hallie held up her hand before Cassidy could say anything. “I’m sorry, are you trying to tell me that that box was so heavy that it ripped through your arms like they were made of air?”

Cassidy blinked, and tried to sound confused. “What? Hallie, that’s—”

“Wait,” Hallie interrupted. “Oh my—Simon Battle. You never told me your last name. But my mom mentioned that you looked familiar at dinner. But you… Simon Battle died twenty years ago. Supposedly. But you’re definitely not in your forties. All this research into ghosts and that box going through you like that and—”

He took a deep breath. “Hallie—”

“No. Don’t try to say something that will make me think I’m crazy. I’m right, aren’t I? Somehow, you’re Simon Battle.”

He exchanged a somewhat panicked look with Cassidy. It was clear he didn’t know what to say. She offered him her hand and spoke for him.

“You’re right,” she said simply.

And Hallie, instead of looking angry or upset, just looked startled. Even though she was connecting those dots herself, it must have been a shock to hear it confirmed. “What?”
“Simon is a ghost,” Cassidy said, because getting straight to the truth of it seemed very important. “It doesn’t make any sense, and that’s part of why we’ve been doing all this research, to try to understand it all. At night he’s as real as we are, but during the day he has to work at being able to touch things. And he’s getting really good at it, just sometimes things slip through him.” But his hand in hers, at that moment, felt warm and solid, and she gave it a comforting squeeze.

“Simon Battle,” Hallie repeated, sitting heavily into her desk chair. “I was eight when you died.”

“I only told you my real name because I knew you wouldn’t recognize me,” Simon said, almost sheepishly. “Everyone I talk to in town thinks my name is Steven Donahue.”

“You’re just a ghost,” Hallie said. “Just like that?”

“Like Cassidy said, it doesn’t make any sense,” Simon said. “But we didn’t just come here to try to research more ghosts and get more information about me. We came because we saw Gemma, and she asked us for help.”

Hallie’s jaw dropped.

“We’re trying to help her, we just aren’t sure how,” Cassidy added. “We’ll tell you the whole story, about Simon and about Gemma. But let’s take a walk while we do it, OK?”

Hallie slowly nodded.

They told her everything as they walked out of the cluster of buildings that made up East, out into the fields, and to the place they thought the old farm might have been. The snowfall from two nights earlier had erased their tracks, so they couldn’t be certain of the exact location, but they got as close as possible.

“This is where she led us,” Cassidy explained, coming to a stop in the field. “And we watched her sort of mime out part of her day. She walked up some steps, then took off her boots, and walked around like she was doing some chores or talking to people. Then at the end we saw a fight, or what we guessed was a fight, and then she ran out.”

“Like grandma said,” Hallie said. All things considered, she had gotten on board with the fact that ghosts actually existed quite quickly, and now she crossed her arms and looked around the field. “I do think this is where the farm used to be. Grandma pointed the area out to me a few times. It was actually a really nice place, apparently. Simon, the lack of footprints is really weird.”

“Sorry,” he shrugged. “I haven’t figured out snow, yet.”

“But Gemma has?” Hallie said.

“Well, we’ve only seen her leave tracks at night,” Cassidy said. “Which sort of matches Simon, actually, if she becomes more solid like he does. But her tracks vanish by morning and his don’t. Also she died in the snow, so maybe she has some sort of link to it.”

“All right. So you saw her act out this fight. Then what happened?”

“That was it,” Simon said. “But before she showed us this, she asked us where her brother was. We started wondering if she just needed to meet with one of his descendants. Then we figured out that was you.”

Hallie nodded. “All right,” she repeated. “Tonight, we’ll all get up and we’ll all come out and talk to her. And then what, she’ll vanish?” She glanced at Simon. “Or she’ll come back to life, like you did?”

“We don’t know,” Simon admitted. “She’s the first other ghost we’ve ever talked to. But she definitely needs our help with something, so we’re helping her.”

“All right,” Hallie said again. “Let’s go back to the shop. I have to make a couple deliveries later this afternoon, there are a few farms farther out that I’ll do that for, and you guys can help me get their orders ready. Or you can try to help, if you can touch things,” she cast Simon another glance. “You really don’t touch things very often during the day, do you?”

“I make up for it by being able to cook dinner.”

Hallie smiled. “Ok, fair enough. You have been doing a good job at that. But how did you manage when we visited grandma? Or sat in the car?” she started walking back, stepping into her own footprints. “How do you wear clothes? Or eat? Do you even need to eat?”

Questions continued to pour out of her mouth as they walked back to the shop, and Simon, quite cheerfully, did his best to keep up with his answers. Cassidy followed them, realizing just how nice it was to share this secret with someone else.

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