Simon wasn’t sure yet, but Cassidy had convinced herself that there was something ghostly about the footprints. It made more sense to her than someone else walking out to the cottage at night, through a snowstorm. She spent part of the afternoon flipping through her notes, and Charles’ book of ghost stories. There was no mention of ghosts specially associated with snow.
“Maybe it’s a newer ghost,” Simon suggested, sitting beside her at one point with two mugs of hot chocolate. “Charles wrote that book when, forty, fifty years ago?”
It was a good point. Cassidy had always associated ghosts as old, people who had died maybe hundreds of years ago. But Simon wasn’t like that, so maybe neither was this snow ghost. “Maybe,” she agreed thoughtfully. “So, we’ll have to go to the library to do some research.”
Simon smiled. “Right. Maybe you’ll find a thirty-year-old photo of Bertha.”
Cassidy laughed. “Bertha is not a ghost. She bakes bread all day.”
He shrugged. “Different rules for different people, right?”
“I firmly stand by that statement,” Cassidy said. “But Bertha is definitely not a ghost.”
Simon shrugged again and sipped his hot chocolate.
Cassidy sat up abruptly, wide awake. A quick glance at her phone told her it was just past two in the morning. She knew with sudden clarity that whatever had woken her up was the same thing that had woken her the night before, though she didn’t quite know what that was.
“Simon,” she shook his shoulder until he opened his eyes. He felt so normal and solid at night. “Come with me.” She wasn’t sure why she was whispering.
She climbed out of bed and pulled the blanket over her shoulders again. She grabbed her phone, wishing her pjs had a pocket. Simon tugged on a sweater and followed her into the living room. Outside, the snow had stopped falling, but clouds obscured the moon. Cassidy went to the kitchen. Outside the front door, the snow was still scuffed from their snowball fight. But beyond those—
Cassidy gasped. “Look.”
A winding trail of footprints started at the edge of the snow they had disturbed that morning, and headed back towards the hills. There was no other evidence that anyone had been there.
Cassidy wanted to follow them. She felt like she had to follow them, to solve this mystery. She tossed her blanket onto the kitchen table and went to the closet for her coat.
“Cassidy,” Simon sighed.
“You don’t think they’re strange?” she asked, as she pulled on her coat.
“They’re obviously strange.”
“You can’t be scared of ghosts when you are one.” Cassidy said that lightly, and slid on her boots.
“Fair enough.” He began to put on his coat as well, but by the time he got his boots on Cassidy was already out the door.
It was a very still night, so it wasn’t too cold. When they got to the beginning of the trail, Cassidy turned on her phone’s flashlight to get a better look at the tracks. They were small, and not very deep, but clearly human. She took a quick picture.
Simon was leaving footprints. Of course he was, it was the middle of the night. “Let’s follow them for a bit,” Cassidy said. “But walk beside them, so we don’t disturb them.” She started to plow through the snow on the right side of the tracks. Simon walked along the left side. Cassidy wasn’t sure what she expected to find, and neither was she prepared to go on a proper hike through the snow. But maybe if they saw where the tracks were heading, they could investigate the next day, properly dressed.
They crested the hill, and Cassidy froze except to throw her arm out and grab Simon’s sleeve. Ahead of them, in the dip between the two hills, a dark figure stood at the end of the trail. Cassidy’s curiosity gave away to a twinge of fear. This was a ghost. This was what it was like to see a ghost. Simon had never felt like this.
“Cassidy, your flashlight,” Simon said softy. He sounded just as shaken as she felt.
She lifted her phone to point her light towards the figure, but as soon as the light hit it, it vanished. She was equally relieved and disappointed, until she saw the footprints appearing in the fresh snow.
“It’s walking away,” she whispered.
Simon nodded. They watched the footprints head off to their left, towards the forest, until the trail disappeared into the trees. Cassidy tried to memorize the spot the tracks had led to. She had a hunch the footprints would be gone tomorrow.
Cassidy had been right. That morning, they had woken up to see their own footprints heading over the hill, with a gap between them where the ghost’s tracks should have been. Cassidy briefly wondered why Simon’s hadn’t disappeared as well, but chalked it up to the ‘different rules for different people’ theory. Besides, Simon was activity trying to become solid again, which might have made a difference.
After breakfast, Cassidy once again packed up her backpack for a short walk. The snow was pretty deep, and while the night before she had chosen to not wear snowshoes, being wet up to her knees wasn’t something she wanted to deal with again. Simon decided to try his again, as well.
They made their way across the snow. Cassidy walked on top of the snow, supported by the snowshoes. Simon walked through it for the most part, except a few times when suddenly he would become more solid and his snowshoes would be stuck under the snow. Cassidy laughed every time it happened.
“This is the place,” Cassidy said confidently, when they reached the tree line. There was a particular small tree she had used for a marker, one which was still covered in dry dead leaves while everything else was bare. She stepped into the trees, where there was considerably less snow. “Let’s leave the snowshoes here.”
They leaned the snowshoes up against a tree, then turned to the forest. It was beautiful in the snow, and quiet. They were far enough from the ocean that they couldn’t hear the waves crashing against the shore.
“I don’t know if we’ll find anything,” Simon said. “Given the track disappeared.”
“I know. But maybe we can figure out where it was going. Or make a more educated guess, at least.” Cassidy started walking through the trees. “Even if we don’t, it’s pretty.” She took out her phone for a picture.
“It is,” Simon agreed, trailing after her.
They found a lot of things, and although it was all interesting, none of it applied to their mystery. They found plenty of animal tracks, and the scene of what looked like a fight between a bird and squirrel, with tuffs of fur and drops of blood spread over the disturbed snow. Once, a bird popped out of the bushes and startled them both. The woods were teeming with wildlife. But there was nothing ghostly.
Cassidy didn’t completely forget what they were looking for, but it was fun to simply explore with Simon. She took plenty of pictures, and imagined ways she could describe winter in her writing projects—the muffled crunch of their feet in the snow, the way the cold air felt when she took a deep breath, when the wind blew snow from the trees and it melted against her cheeks.
They took a break on a tall rock, brushing off the snow and taking a seat to eat their granola bars. Cassidy chewed thoughtful as she gazed around at the forest. At least their own footprints, or hers, mostly, would help lead them back to their snowshoes. Cassidy took out her notebook, rested it on her knee, and started to write down the bits of descriptive lines she had thought of.
Simon was actually managing to eat, and once Cassidy started writing, he draped an arm over her shoulders.
Cassidy flashed him a smile. “You’re definitely better with your hands than your feet.”
He chuckled and nodded. “Yeah. So, this ghost. Where do you think he was going? The first thing I did when I realized what was going on was go to the cottage, to talk to George.”
“A place you felt safe,” Cassidy said, “I was thinking about that, to. But if this ghost is older than you, maybe he’s already tried that. Maybe now he’s trying to show us something.” She tapped her notebook with her pen. “Or… maybe he died around here somewhere.”
“Maybe both. Or neither. He vanished last night. If he was trying to show us something, he could have been more helpful about it.”
“He vanished, sure. But he still left footprints. Well, left them last night. Maybe we need to keep following them next time,” Cassidy said. “Do you think two o’clock is important?” Her fingers were starting to get cold, but she flipped to a new page and started a new list.
-Appears at night (2:00?)
-Leaves footprints that disappear during the day
“I think finding out more about him will help,” Cassidy said. “Maybe if we know his name, we’ll be able to call to him. Or even just find out other places he might have been seen. Maybe there’s some sort of connection we can figure out. And tonight, if he shows up again, we can try following the tracks.”
“All right,” Simon agreed. “We should start heading back, then. Let’s get lunch in town.”