The Trail of Gemma Caulfield (Akre Island 2)

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Chapter 4

Cassidy loved the town. Now that the storm had passed, it was cheery and bright. Sunlight made the snow sparkle and shimmer, decorations were still up from Christmas, and people were out and about. As she and Simon walked towards the library, she took pictures of the beautiful old buildings. Before she knew it, they were standing between two significant buildings. Significant to them, at least.

On their left was the library, a larger building than one might expect for a small town, next to a lovely park. On their right was a restaurant. The patio was covered in snow, and the outdoor tables and chairs were neatly stacked up. But the path to the front door was cleared, and icicles hung from the wooden sign that read ‘The Battleground’. It was the restaurant Simon’s family owned.

Simon was looking at it wistfully.

“Do you ever think about going in?” Cassidy asked gently.

He shrugged. “I don’t know how to explain this.”

Cassidy reached out for his hand, and smiled to herself when she caught it. “Let’s go to the library,” she said, giving him a tug.

Simon hesitated a little longer, than turned to follow her. They walked into the library hand in hand. It was very busy that afternoon. There were plenty of people browsing the shelves, while others were using the computers. A group of kids were sitting around a table covered with papers, a large board, glue and scissors. In the children’s section, a crowd of younger kids were gathered around a librarian reading a picture book out loud. The librarian was exactly who Cassidy wanted to talk to. Alice Cleary had helped her in the past. Since she was busy, Cassidy decided to look for a novel to borrow.

She and Simon wandered the shelves for about ten minutes before Alice had finished reading and another librarian took over. Alice settled down at the front desk and Cassidy carried over the book she had picked out with a smile.

“Good afternoon, Alice,” she said.

Alice blinked at her for a moment before recognition crossed her face. “Oh, Miss Acres! Cassie, was it?”

“Cassidy,” she corrected.

“Cassidy, right, of course. Welcome back to Akre Island. I suppose you’re on your holiday break.” Her eyes landed on Simon. “I recognize you, but your name escapes me.”

“Steven,” Simon said smoothly. “You probably saw me here with Cassidy last summer.”

Alice nodded. “Of course. Did you find something you liked?”

Cassidy handed over her book. “I’d like to take this out, and I was wondering if we could take a look at the newspaper records again.”

Alice smiled. “More research?”

“Yeah, but I’m looking for something a little different this time. Specifically, about something that happened in the winter.”

“I’m very curious about this story you’re working on,” Alice said. She scanned the book Cassidy had picked, printed out a receipt, and handed them both over to her. “Go ahead and take a look.”

“Thanks.” Cassidy tucked the book into her backpack, and led Simon through the library to the records room. It was a small room, with shelves full of boxes labelled with different years, one old computer, and an enormous photocopier. Cassidy put down her backpack and draped her coat over the back of a chair. “Ok. I can start looking for newer stories on the computer, and you can check the older papers?”

Simon nodded, already looking over the boxes. “When you were looking for stories about me, at least you had a date,” he pointed out. He tried to take down a box, but his fingers slipped through the handle. With a determined look he tried a second time and was more successful.

“Oh. Would the computer be easier for you to use?”

“I really doubt it.” Simon flashed her a smile. “Remember I died twenty years ago. I didn’t use computers very often.”

“This computer is probably twenty years old,” Cassidy teased, but she rolled over a chair and settled down in front of it. “Let me know if you need help.”

He put the box down and popped off the top. “It might go slowly, but I can handle this.”

Cassidy started looking through the records online, trying keywords to narrow down her search before giving up and just clicking through every recent newspaper from the winter to scan the headings. She glanced back at Simon once in awhile, who was slowly, but steadily, looking through the older papers.

The papers weren’t particularly hard to look through. It was only a small newspaper, with a couple pages of local news before a couple more with major stories from the rest of the world. Still, Cassidy was beginning to lose hope that they would find anything helpful when Simon spoke up. “Cassidy, I found something Charles wrote. It’s really short.”

“What?” She spun around and joined him at the table.

“Right here.” Simon trailed his finger along the line as he read,

MYSTERIOUS FOOTPRINTS APPEAR AROUND TOWN

Charles Acres

Overnight, footprints have appeared around town. The trails often lead nowhere, disappearing without a trace in the middle of a road or park. Clever prank or something more supernatural?

Everyone has heard of Sam Keeper. Could this be another legend to add to Akre Island’s long list of ghost stories?

In his free time Charles Acres is writing a book about Akre Island’s many ghost stories. He welcomes any personal experiences or mysterious tales.

The paper was old, and Cassidy carefully took it over to the photocopier. “So, this isn’t a new ghost,” she said, as she fiddled with the options. She read over the copy again quickly, then folded it and tucked it into her notebook. “You never met Charles, did you? He only passed away six or seven years ago.”

Simon shook his head. “No. George talked about him sometimes, but we never crossed paths as far as I know. George and I never talked about ghosts. I don’t know if he was as interested in them as Charles was.”

Cassidy gave back the newspaper. “Let’s keep looking.”

They flipped through more of the papers from that year, and tried the following winter, but didn’t see any more mentions of ghosts or articles written Charles. Finally, the silence was interrupted by Cassidy’s stomach growling, and she sighed.

“It doesn’t look like we’ll find anything else today. Let’s swing by the bakery for lunch.” In the summer, she had once bought soup in ‘The Battleground’, but she didn’t want to bring that up so soon after their brief conversation about it.

“All right,” Simon agreed. They carefully packed everything up and were on their way within minutes. Cassidy stopped by the front desk to thank Alice, before they walked back out into the brisk air.

Bertha was pleased to see them, and gave them two delicious sandwiches. She even invited them to sit down in one of her backrooms and eat, while she bustled around baking. While Cassidy ate, she looked over the short passage Simon had found. Simon was watching Bertha carefully, only trying to take a bite when she wasn’t looking in his direction. The last thing he needed was for the sandwich to slip through his fingers while she was watching.

“Do you think that’s the only other time this happened?” she wondered. Glancing up, she realized Simon wasn’t paying her any attention, and followed his gaze to Bertha. Maybe Bertha would know something. “Oh, Bertha?”

Bertha looked up from the large bowl she was stirring. “Yes, dear?”

“Did you know Charles Acres?”

“Oh, Charlie? Of course I did,” Bertha said. “He was an interesting man. Not as sociable as old George, but quite friendly when you got him talking. He knew a lot about the island’s history.”

“He wrote a book about ghost stories,” Cassidy explained. “We just found his name in a newspaper. He wrote a little piece about mysterious footprints appearing around town.”

Bertha turned around. “Footprints? I think I remember my mother talking about that. It was quite the story when it happened. But I think most people just assumed it was a trick. Did Charlie think it was a ghost?”

“Um, yeah. It seems like it,” Cassidy said. “Do you believe in ghosts?”

Simon nearly dropped his sandwich.

Bertha nodded enthusiastically. “Of course I do! An old place like this is bound to have some ghosts. Every fisherman has seen Sam’s Light, after all. And the Screamer.” She shivered dramatically. “Every child knows about the Screamer. And sometimes I think my great grandmother, the original Bertha, is here helping me out.”

“Really? Have you seen her?”

Bertha shook her head. “No, no, but sometimes I feel like she’s here. Sometimes I know something, but I don’t know why I know it. Or it seems like something I can’t find has moved to be in plain sight. Maybe I’m imagining it, but I like to think it might be the original Bertha.”

“That’s lovely,” Cassidy agreed. She couldn’t help it, and made a few notes.

When they’d finished eating, Cassidy washed their dishes even though Bertha insisted that it wasn’t necessary. On the walk home, Cassidy kept thinking about what Bertha had said. It was clearly on Simon’s mind, too.

“I thought maybe if I was around another ghost I would know,” Simon spoke up, as they walked across the hills. “I didn’t feel anything at the bakery. But I didn’t feel anything last night, either.” He reached for her hand, and they connected. “Do you want to go visit George and Cassandra’s tombstones? We have at least an hour before it gets dark.”

Cassidy smiled. “That would be nice. Even without crampons.”

“I don’t need crampons,” he pointed out with a laugh.

The walk up to the gravestones was actually very easy with Simon’s help. While the ground was slippery for Cassidy, he was essentially standing on the dirt. He held her hand the whole time, helping her when she slid. Luckily the snow along the coast wasn’t deep.

The pair of tombstones were at a high point in the cliffs, overlooking the ocean and the cottage. As they approached, Cassidy took a picture of the stones as they stood in the undisturbed snow. It was a peaceful scene. Then she walked forward and stood in front of them, reading over the words. The first stone was older and worn, and belonged to her grandmother, Cassandra. The second was her grandfather’s.

Cassidy had not realized that Simon hadn’t followed her all the way to the stones until she turned around to see him holding up her phone. “What are you doing?”

“Taking a picture,” Simon said. “You looked forlorn and cold.”

It was something she had said to him in the summer, and she smiled. “Yeah, because it’s winter.”

“You looked beautiful,” Simon added, finally stepping up beside her. “Hi George, Cassandra,“ he addressed the stones casually. “Sorry it’s been a while since I visited. It’s just as beautiful up here as it is in the summer.” He draped an arm over Cassidy’s shoulders.

“It is,” Cassidy agreed, leaning into him. The wind was picking up and it was getting colder. But still, it was peaceful on the cliffs, listening to the waves below, and looking at the tombstones.

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