The Trail of Gemma Caulfield (Akre Island 2)

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Chapter 13

Once again Cassidy woke up before her alarm, and gave Simon’s shoulder a shake before climbing out of bed. Hallie was already downstairs, drinking a mug of tea far too quickly.

“What? I considered a travel mug,” she explained, as she placed her mug in the sink and picked up a small backpack. “But then I realized that I didn’t want to carry it with me, and I drank it. Yes, it was really hot. It might have been a mistake. Now let’s go.”

Hallie was bustling with energy, and despite how tired she was, Cassidy felt it rubbing off on her. Stepping out into the brisk night helped wake her up. It was snowing lightly, with big, beautiful flakes drifting gently through the air. When they reached the fields, Hallie ploughed through the snow first, then Cassidy followed her footsteps, and Simon did the same behind her. Their only plan was to go to the farmhouse’s old spot and wait to see if Gemma showed up again.

There were no footprints to follow other than their own from the night before, and even those were beginning to disappear in the new snowfall. Hallie led the way to the farmhouse, and then they all stood side by side, looking at an empty field.

Cassidy pulled the printed photos from her pocket and held them up to catch the moonlight. The one of Harriet with her parents in front of the farmhouse was at the top of the stack. “The forest used to come up closer,” she commented, into the silence of the snowy night. “I guess whoever owned the land afterwards cleared more of it for crops.”

“Parts of the house were additions Jerold made,” Hallie spoke up. “It wouldn’t have looked like that when Gemma lived here. I wonder if that confused her too, when she tried to visit.”

“Probably,” Simon said. “She wouldn’t have had any idea that time had passed. It’s disorienting.”

Hallie glanced at him around Cassidy. “Twenty years, huh?”

He nodded, his eyes still glued to the nothing in front of them. “Yep.”

“Weird.” Hallie tucked her hands into her pockets. Silence fell between them for a few minutes. Hallie was rocking from foot to foot, too energetic or excited to stand still. “I have an idea,” she said suddenly, and she walked forwards. She followed the indents in the snow that were their old footprints, until she was standing almost exactly where Simon had been when he stepped onto the stair. She swept one foot forward, hit nothing, and shrugged at Cassidy and Simon before turning back to the house. “Gemma? Are you there?”

Nothing happened.

Hallie waited a moment, then tried again. “Gemma? It’s Hallie. Are you there?”

Silence.

She sighed and turned around to walk back over to the others. But before she could take a step, her eyes locked onto something over Cassidy’s shoulder. Cassidy turned around, and caught Simon’s arm to get his attention.

Gemma was standing in the field. Cassidy thought she had gotten used to the girl appearing, but there was something creepy about a little girl standing silently in the middle of a dark field. She wasn’t sure what to do, either. Try to talk to her, hold up the pictures, Cassidy wasn’t sure what would be best.

And then Gemma disappeared. They heard the sound of feet crunching snow, even though none of them were moving. Footprints appeared, heading through the snow towards them. They stopped right in front of Cassidy. Even though Cassidy had expected it, she still jumped a little when the girl appeared before her. Her wide dark eyes were staring at the papers in Cassidy’s hand.

It took Cassidy a moment to find her voice. “Hello, Gemma,” she said as kindly and gently as she could. “We brought some photos, to show you.” The girl didn’t move, which was neither comforting or particularly concerning, given her usual behavior. Cassidy let go of Simon’s arm to hold the papers with both hands. “Here, look.” She turned the stack around, so Gemma could see the picture on top.

The girl gasped, and touched her fingers to the paper. “Jerold,” she said softly. “Harriet.”

“Yes,” Cassidy smiled. “And look at this one.” She shuffled the papers to show Gemma the photo of Harriet in the dress, the one where she looked almost exactly like Gemma. She let Gemma look at the photo for a moment before changing it again, to show her the one of Harriet holding a baby. “This is Wyatt,” she said.

“Jerold, Harriet, Wyatt,” Gemma recited.

“Yes, exactly. And here,” she flipped the family picture to the front, and pointed at the little girl. “This is Hallie. And this is her dad, Wyatt, and her grandmother – “

“Harriet,” Gemma interrupted.

“Yes.”

“Jerold?”

Cassidy looked through the stack for the first picture again and showed it to Gemma. She stared at it, and Cassidy noticed for the first time that she never blinked. Gemma stared at the photo for a long time. Cassidy began to worry that she had distracted the girl from what they had hoped to do that night—to find her. Just as she was starting to think about ways to bring it up without upsetting Gemma, the girl vanished.

Gemma’s footprints started moving again, and Cassidy stepped out of the way so the invisible girl could walk over to the invisible house. The footprints disappeared as she reached the area where the stairs had once been.

Cassidy tucked the papers into her pocket as the three of them settled down to watch the house. They didn’t have to watch for long. Only a minute or two had passed before Gemma appeared again, floating up in the air, seemingly yelling at someone they couldn’t see.

“She’s shown us this before,” Cassidy said, for Hallie. “This is when she fought with Jerold.”

Sure enough, after some more arm waving and yelling, Gemma rushed to mime putting boots on, and pushed open the invisible door. She ran down the steps, and this time when she hit the snow she didn’t disappear. She kept running.

Without a word they all chased after her. Running through the snow was exhausting, but ahead of them, Gemma seemed exhausted as well. She slowed down, and stumbled her way into the woods. When they came across the usual clearing, Gemma huddled against the base of a tree, sobbing into her arms. She hadn’t made a sound during the fight, but now they could hear her crying.

Hallie stepped forward, and was stopped by Simon’s arm. “I think this is still the memory,” he said softly.

So they waited, while the snow picked up. It nearly broke Cassidy’s heart to stand there and watch Gemma cry without trying to help her, and she could see the same pain on Simon and Hallie’s faces. Knowing what was to come didn’t make it any easier.

It might have been five minutes or half an hour later when Gemma raised her head, and looked around. She looked right through them, at the trees around them, and up at the sky. The storm, Cassidy realized. Then the girl shakily got to her feet and started walking.

Hallie and Cassidy both looked at Simon until he indicated that they could start following Gemma. How he knew, Cassidy didn’t know, but she trusted his judgement. They followed Simon as he followed Gemma, and he set their pace, keeping them a steady distance from the girl when she paused, sped up, or slowed down. Hallie carried their flashlight, which she carefully kept angled at the ground.

Gemma stopped again in another clearing, and Simon lead them a little closer than they had been while following her. Gemma was looking around wildly, like she had just realized she was lost. “Jerold,” she whispered. She wiped her eyes and huddled in on herself, shaking. According to the old accounts, the storm would have been worsening. Cassidy glanced up. It was hard to tell if it was snowing harder through the thick trees.

Gemma jumped to her feet suddenly. “Jerold? Jerold!” and she started running, just like the night before.

They barely managed to keep pace with her. She wasn’t running in the right direction, Cassidy thought, as she climbed over a fallen log. The girl yelled her brother’s name a few more times, like she was calling to him, not running from him.

They caught up to her suddenly when she tripped over something long gone, but she scrambled to her feet and kept running. They kept following her. Hallie, with the flashlight, had the easiest time of it, and pretty soon she was leading the group as Simon and Cassidy followed her.

Gemma was now moving more slowly, maybe with a bit of a limp from her fall. They kept pace with her more easily, while keeping back a little to give her space.

Then, with a shriek, Gemma disappeared. It wasn’t like before. Something was different. And Cassidy couldn’t figure out why. But Hallie rushed forward and Simon grabbed her. They both fell to the ground and the flashlight disappeared and everything clicked. Cassidy moved forward.

“Cassidy, careful,” Simon got to his feet slowly, and offered Hallie his hand to pull her up.

Cassidy stepped around them as carefully as she could, and grabbed the trunk of a thin sapling to steady herself as she leaned forward, and looked down. Down, at the flashlight, flickering weakly at the bottom of a deep ravine. The edge of the drop was both icy and camouflaged by a snowdrift. Simon had grabbed Hallie just before she’d gone over the edge herself.

Hallie was shaking, staring in horror at the drop she had almost fallen over. Simon was reaching for Cassidy’s hand, he wanted to pull her back from the edge. And Gemma – she was down there, standing off to the side, where the flashlight couldn’t quite reach her, and staring up at Cassidy with her huge eyes.

“Please find me,” she whispered, and she disappeared. Cassidy looked down a moment longer, then reached for Simon’s hand.

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