The storm swept in over the course of the day, burying the footprints outside and piling up on the window sills. But it was cozy inside the cottage. Cassidy and Simon passed the afternoon talking, filling each other in on what had happened since their last letters. Cassidy made some notes about the things Simon was learning about his own abilities.
When they had met, Simon could already touch things at night and seemed perfectly normal. He got hungry, and tired, and he was solid. But during the day, while he looked normal, he was insubstantial—a fact he had easily kept from her until she researched an old story about a death twenty years earlier, and realized Simon was the man in the newspaper photo. Then he had told her the truth, about everything. It was confusing at first. Scary, but equally fascinating, which is why she had started her list of rules and observations.
She glanced down at it while Simon talked. Most of her notes came from other ghost stories they had read about. Cassidy’s great-uncle, Charles, had put together a book of Akre Island’s ghost stories, and while there were some similarities there were plenty of differences.
- can touch things at night – not during the day
- can have an effect on surroundings (Sam Keeper’s lighthouse)
- can speak (occasionally make other sounds instead of words – the screamer)
- can be seen at night and during the day
- may not be aware of each other (the brothers)
- seem to follow daily routine, repeated actions (Simon – different? Why?)
- may not know they are dead (Simon does)
- do not seem harmful
- some seem unaware of living people (or do they just ignore them because they don’t think they can interact?
– Courtney Crossing walking into the man – an accident?)
- Need to eat and sleep (Simon only example – because he is trying to be more solid?)
- Why these people in particular?
- Some only appear at certain times (Simon is different)
- choose to become more solid?
She quickly wrote another line.
- Snow – doesn’t count as the ground? Focus on touching it.
“If you walk around tonight, will you leave footprints?” Cassidy asked.
Simon nodded slowly. “I assume so. I feel alive at night. Touching things doesn’t take any concentration or thought, I can just do it. I imagine leaving footprints would be the same.”
“We should test it.”
He laughed. “Maybe when it isn’t the middle of the blizzard, we can test it.”
“Oh, right.” She flipped to a new page and started to doodle the snowman they had seen in the village. “It gets dark so much earlier than it did in the summer. So can you touch things as soon as the sun sets, or it that ability linked to an actual time?”
“As soon as the sun sets,” Simon said. “Which should be in… maybe half an hour.”
“Do you find it any easier to touch things the closer it gets to sunset?” Cassidy asked.
Simon laughed. “I forgot about how many questions you ask,” he teased, then paused to think. “Maybe a little bit. But I’m also just getting better at it, so it’s hard to tell exactly. Are you going to spend your whole vacation trying to solve the mystery of Simon Battle? Because I think we just need to be patient with it. I’m still working on it.”
“I know. It’s just so interesting,” Cassidy said. “One last question?”
He smiled indulgently. “Go ahead.”
“Have you noticed any other ghosts?”
“No, but I haven’t really been looking,” Simon said. “Mostly I’ve been here or making occasional trips into the village. Maybe if it’s nice later in the week we could hike out to Keeper’s Light. He’s the most consistent ghost. Or the most consistent story, I guess.”
“All right,” Cassidy agreed. She finally placed her notebook aside. “I love hiking in the winter. But you need a better coat first. Unless you can choose to not feel cold.”
Simon shrugged. “I’m not sure about that.”
It continued snowing. They ate an early dinner, which Simon cooked. They sat on the couch and talked; Cassidy snuggled up against his side with his arm over her shoulders. When Cassidy started to get tired, they put out the fire and piled blankets on the bed. It was nice to sleep in Simon’s arms again.
Cassidy woke up in the middle of the night, unsure of exactly why. It was so warm under the blankets, but she decided to risk the cold in order to get a drink. She slipped from Simon’s arms and climbed out of bed, cursing herself for not remembering to bring her water bottle into the bedroom. One of the blankets had shifted to the end of the bed, and Cassidy picked it up to drape over her shoulders as she walked out to the living room.
Her water bottle was on the coffee table. She picked it up, but it was empty. She started to head for the kitchen when the view out of the window caught her eye. It was beautiful outside. Bright moonlight cast blue shadows across the snow and sparkled on the ocean. Snow was still falling quite thickly. Cassidy found herself wondering yet again about Simon’s interaction with the snow. Certainly, he’d leave footprints at night.
She was still thinking about it when she walked through the cottage to the kitchen, aware of how her every step made the old wooden floor creak. She filled up her water bottle and paused to look out the window next to the front door. The view from the kitchen was of the hills, and the path that lead back towards the village. Her footprints stood out clearly in the bright light from the moon, heading over across the hills.
Cassidy took a drink from the water bottle, then closed it and returned to the bedroom. Simon hadn’t moved, and it was easy for her to crawl back onto the bed and snuggle in beside him again.
She woke up to the smell of breakfast, and smiled to herself. It was exactly like it had been in the summer, when she would wake up smelling pancakes, bacon or eggs. And then she would walk into the kitchen to find the food laid out and a note from ‘Steven’, signed simply with an S, about how he was going to be away the whole day. Cassidy still wasn’t sure what he had done with all that time.
She climbed out of bed and draped the same blanket over her shoulders. A fire was already crackling, warming the living room. In the kitchen, Simon was standing next to the stove, gently stirring a frying pan of eggs. Outside, the snow had slowed considerably.
“Good morning,” Simon said as she stepped into the kitchen. “I made tea.”
“Thanks.” Cassidy settled down at the table and cupped her hands around the warm mug. “It looks nice outside. I want to look at the snowshoes this morning, and then maybe we can go for a walk?”
“I’ve never used snowshoes,” Simon admitted. He scraped eggs onto two plates and brought them over to the table.
“They’re fun. Sort of tricky to get used to, but I’ll help you.” Cassidy dug into the food. “Mmm, these are delicious. Thanks.”
Simon smiled. “What do we do if I just sink through the snowshoes, and the snow, to stand on the actual ground.”
“I guess that’s why this will be a good test,” Cassidy said.
After they had washed the dishes, she went to the basement to pull out the snowshoes. They were old, and shaped like tennis rackets. Back home she was used to using the more modern, metal and plastic kind. These older ones were bigger, and didn’t have the nice teeth for walking on ice. But they were so much more picturesque. She brought them upstairs, and while Simon looked them over curiously, she packed her backpack for a short walk. Two water bottles, an extra hat, scarf and pair of mittens Simon found in a box in the closet and a couple of granola bars.
Simon also found Cassidy’s grandfather’s winter coat, tucked against one side of the closet. It was big on him, but at least it would keep him warmer than the leather coat. Soon, they were stepping out onto the porch. Cassidy gently placed the snowshoes down and started to strap them to her feet. After a pause Simon copied her.
Cassidy was hoping to visit her grandparents’ tombstones, but didn’t want to risk the slippery path near the water with the snowshoes. “We need crampons,” she said out loud.
“Those spikes mountain climbers wear,” Cassidy explained. “If we were going to go visit the tombstones.”
“Oh.” Simon finished with the straps and stood up. “Well, so far so good. But if they’re anything like my clothes now that they’re attached to me they’ll go straight through the snow, too.”
Cassidy stepped off of the porch and took a few tentative steps across the snow. The snowshoes were much wider than she was used to. “Well, come on. Give it a shot.”
He stepped in her tracks. He got down from the porch without a problem, and then stood beside her on the snow. He barely had time to smile at her before suddenly dropping through the snow. It went up to his knees. “I guess that answers that question.”
Cassidy laughed. “You had it for a second. Try again.”
Simon had to step back onto the porch to try it again. Again, he succeeded very briefly. When Cassidy laughed again, he successfully picked up a handful of snow and tossed it at her.
“Hey! How did you do that?”
“I have more practice with my hands touching things,” he pointed out, scooping up another handful of snow.
Cassidy ducked when he tossed it and awkwardly ran a few steps farther away. “OK. Come get me, then,” she taunted, scooping up her own snow and packing it into a loose ball.
With that, trying to walk anywhere went forgotten and a snowball fight broke out. It didn’t help that Cassidy kept almost tripping over the snowshoes, or that Simon walked through the snow like it wasn’t even there. When they eventually got tired, Cassidy was damp and chilly, while Simon looked like the snow had never touched him. Cassidy unstrapped the snowshoes and sat down on the porch, watching as Simon tried again to stand on the snow.
The area in front of the cottage was now crisscrossed with her huge snowshoe prints, and one place where she had fallen over. Something suddenly occurred to her, and Cassidy’s eyes darted towards the trail to the village. It was pristine.
He was standing on the snow, but the second he looked up he fell through it again. “Yes?”
“Last night I got up, and I saw footprints along the path. Now they’re gone.”
“It’s been snowing all day,” he said distractedly, trying to stand once again.
“I know. But I saw them in the middle of the night, after it had already been snowing for hours,” she explained. “So, they weren’t my footprints.”
Simon froze, and looked at her again. He didn’t fall through that time. “So, whose were they?”
“I don’t know. I didn’t think anything of it at the time, but they weren’t mine from earlier. They looked too fresh.”
“Do you think someone came out here?”
Cassidy shivered, partially from the cold, partially from something else. “I don’t know. But the last time anything weird happened to me around here, it was you.”
Simon gestured at his feet, and in drawing attention to them realized he was standing on the snow, and slipped through it. “I can’t leave footprints.”
“I saw them at night. And it doesn’t seem like everyone has the same rules. Right?”
Simon paused thoughtfully. Cassidy could almost see the thoughts flickering across his face. Finally, he looked towards the hills, and the seemingly untouched snow, and he nodded. “Right.”