The Trail of Gemma Caulfield (Akre Island 2)

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Chapter 6

Armed with new knowledge, they went back to the library the next day. Alice was pleased to see them again so soon and gave them permission to go visit the archive room. This time they ignored the computer entirely, and looked for some of the oldest boxes to pull from the shelves.

It didn’t take long to realize that each newspaper had a page at the end labelled Eastern Hamlet, and filled with various little stories. It narrowed their search down a bit. They flipped through every paper to the very back, skimmed the one page of news from East, and then went to the next paper. Most of the stories were about farming, or the occasional birth, marriage or death announcement. But nothing that seemed to match the ghost girl.

After about an hour, Cassidy noticed something. “Hey, Simon? I think you might have been right about East once having its own paper. Look…” she spread out two papers, dated only one day apart. “This one has the Eastern Hamlet page, this one doesn’t. And the earlier ones don’t seem to have one either.”

Simon looked across the table. “Looks like in 1950, they combined papers…” He turned back to the shelves, and after a moment pulled down the box for 1949. It took him a while to be able to grab the lid of the box and pop it off, and then flip gently through the stack of newspapers. “These are all the Akre Anchor. If East had a paper it doesn’t look like any copies were kept here.”

With amazing timing, Alice chose that moment to pop her head into the room. “How are you—” she paused, her eyes wide as she took in the spread of boxes and papers they were looking at. “Are you looking for something in particular?”

“Actually, yes,” Cassidy said. “We wanted to find out more about East. But there doesn’t seem to be much mention of it before 1950. Do you know if it had its own paper at any point?”

Alice looked surprised. “Let me think… There has been a section of our paper dedicated to East as long as I can remember. They certainly haven’t had a paper since I was a girl. Come to the front desk with me.”

Cassidy glanced at Simon, who nodded. “I’ll clean this up.”

“Thanks,” Cassidy smiled at him warmly before following Alice.

At the front desk, Alice settled down and typed something on her computer. After a few clicks, a smile spread across her face. “Yes, it looks like East had a paper of their own until 1950. We don’t have any copies here, but… they were made in a little shop in East that’s still open. Maybe they have some copies? I can give them a call if you’d like.”

“Yes please,” Cassidy said eagerly. She had begun to lose hope about finding out more about the girl, but now her hope was rekindled. This was a good sign. And they were planning to go to East, anyway.

Alice dialed, and a moment later began speaking. “Good morning! This is Alice Cleary from the Akre Library. Is this Hallie Page?” She flashed Cassidy a smile. “Excellent. I have a young woman here who is doing research into the history of Akre Island, and we were just looking up Eastern Hamlet’s old newspaper. I saw that your shop printed the paper while it was being made, and I wondered if you happened to have a collection of them. Yes. Oh perfect, thank you. She’ll be very happy to hear that. Of course,“ Alice offered the phone to Cassidy. “She would like to speak to you.”

Cassidy had to lean across the desk for the corded phone to reach her ear. “Hello?”

“Hello.” The voice on the other end of the phone sounded younger than Cassidy had expected. “If you’d like to see the papers, you’ll have to come here. As far as I know I have the only complete collection.”

“That’s not a problem at all, we were planning to visit East anyway,” Cassidy replied. “Is there any way we could visit this afternoon? Around 2:00?”

“Sure. We’re not typically open too late in the afternoon, but I live here, so you can definitely come visit. Is there anything in particular you’re looking for? I can get out some of the boxes.”

“Well…” Cassidy paused. “This may sound sort of odd, but it’s for a family history project I’m working on. I’m trying to find information about a girl who probably died when she was about ten. I don’t really have a date, but I think it was a long time ago.”

Hallie laughed. “All right, that doesn’t narrow it down at all. But I’ll see what I can do. I’ll see you this afternoon?”

“Absolutely, thank you so much,” Cassidy said, and they both hung up.

Alice took back the phone. “You’re going to East today? I didn’t think you had a car. George certainly didn’t have one out at the cottage.”

Cassidy’s excitement had blown right through that technicality. “Oh. Is it too far to walk?”

“It wouldn’t be too bad in the summer, I suppose.” Alice glanced at her watch. “I can drive you out during my lunch break, if you’d like.”

“Really? That would be so helpful. Oh, but we were hoping to spend a few days there. Is there a hotel or anything like that?”

“I don’t think you quite understand how small Eastern Hamlet is,” Alice laughed.

“Oh… well, maybe someone will have a room we can stay in. Or—” She was startled when Simon stepped up beside her, with her backpack slung over his shoulder. “Oh, guess what?“ She quickly filled him in on what they had discovered. By the end, Simon was smiling.

“Sounds promising. We just need to go home and pack a few things, and get something to eat, if that’s ok?”

Alice nodded. “My lunch break starts at 12:30. Meet me here and I’ll give you a drive. And if you don’t find a place to stay, I’ll give you my home phone number and I’ll come pick you up.”

“Thanks, Alice,” Cassidy said.

They went back to the cottage and packed a few things for the night, as well as what they would need for their trip into the woods to meet the ghost. They ate a quick lunch, and were back in town early enough for Cassidy to give her parents a call, before they met up with Alice.

It wasn’t a long drive, but it would have been a hard walk. Simon, half afraid of falling through the car, was sitting in the back concentrating as hard as possible on being solid. Cassidy sat up front. Alice asked her more about what she was doing in school, and how her mother was. Her mother had grown up on the island, and while she wasn’t friends with Alice they had definitely crossed paths often enough.

When East appeared in a valley, Cassidy finally understood just how small it was. It was a smattering of buildings around a beautiful old church, with some farmhouses spread farther out. It wasn’t hard to find Hallie’s shop, a little general store simply called “Page’s”.

They said goodbye to Alice, promised to call if they needed anything, and stepped through the front door of the store. It was one of those old-fashioned stores that had clearly once been a regular house. In front of the door was a staircase leading upstairs, and another one heading to a basement, with ropes hooked across both of them. To the left, what had probably originally been a living room was filled with shelves of nearly everything Cassidy could imagine the people of East needed—food, cooking supplies, cleaning supplies, books, and a little display for the Akre Anchor.

Hallie appeared without warning from another room. She was a young woman, maybe in her late twenties. “We didn’t introduce ourselves over the phone. I’m Hallie,“ she held out her hand.

Cassidy shook it. “Cassidy. And this is—”

“Simon,” Simon interrupted, with his real name, and he too shook Hallie’s hand.

“Nice to meet you.“ Hallie waved for them to follow her down a narrow hallway, into a room at the back of the house that looked very much like the archive room at the library. “So, I cleared the table for you.“ She paused to pat a scanner. “I’ve been trying to scan everything in my spare time. I know most people don’t care much about an old local paper, but history is worth preserving, right? Too bad I didn’t have more of it done. I did do a quick search of the ones I do have scanned, just with some keywords. And I found a few things about children dying. What kind of family history project is this, anyway?”

“Oh. My last name is Acres,” Cassidy explained. “We were a pretty big family on the island.”

Hallie nodded. “Yes, in town. I don’t think we ever had any of the Acres family living in East.”

“Oh, well, you know how it is,” Cassidy said, assuming Hallie would understand. “You just sort of get sucked into reading about different things and all of a sudden the project is much bigger than you expected.”

Hallie nodded again, more enthusiastically. “Oh, absolutely! So, I can help unless a customer comes in. Tell me more about what we’re looking for.”

“All we know comes from a story, actually,” Simon said. “Cassidy’s great-uncle was a bit of a local historian, and he wrote about a story he had heard of a girl who died in the winter.” That was stretching the truth a bit, but it was as good an answer as anything Cassidy would have thought up. “There weren’t really any more details about what happened to her. But apparently, she appeared as a ghost, leaving footprints in the snow.”

“Interesting…” Hallie nodded thoughtfully. “And she is supposed to have lived in East?”

“That’s what the story said,” Simon agreed.

“All right. Let’s divide and conquer then,” Hallie said. “I’ll take a closer look through the papers I’ve scanned, for deaths or anything about ghosts or footprints. You take the boxes. Just be gentle, these papers are old.”

They fell silent as they got to work. They were interrupted a few times by a tinkling bell from the front door, and Hallie went to talk to a customer. One time she came back with three mugs of tea and a plate of cookies. A few times, one of them would find something interesting and speak up, and Cassidy made notes. Not just about stories that matched the girl’s description, but about anything ghost related.

It was Hallie who found the most promising article. “Local girl lost in snowstorm,” she read out loud. She paused then, her eyes scanning the article. “Oh, Cass, this sounds good. Hold on…“

Very slowly, the printer came to life, and printed out the page Hallie had found. Cassidy took it as soon as she could. The lettering was tight and hard to read, and the date at the top of the paper said December 4, 1902.

“Local girl lost in snowstorm,” she read.


Time is running out for Gemma Caulfield, the young girl who went missing on Tuesday. When she did not return home from a walk in the forest, her father and brother followed her trail until the storm had erased her footprints. Everyone able is asked to report to the church today at twelve o’clock, to conduct a search.

“Is there anything else?” Cassidy asked. “Over the next couple of days?”

Hallie clicked through the next few issues of the paper. “I don’t see anything,” she said finally. “I guess if the whole hamlet was out looking for her, they would all know if it had been a success or not. So maybe they, wait… Here, a week later. It isn’t even a proper notice. She’s just listed underneath the name of a man who passed away from old age. Poor girl.”

“This must be her,” Cassidy passed the paper to Simon. “The part about her footprints disappearing in the snow matches that ghost story we heard. Gemma Caulfield. Maybe we—” She cut herself off, staring at Simon.

He met her gaze and nodded, but didn’t say anything.

“Um, Hallie,“ Cassidy abruptly changed topic. “Simon and I were hoping to stay in East for a few days. Do you know if there’s any place we could stay?”

“You can stay here,” Hallie said without hesitation. “I’ve got an extra room upstairs. But why do you want to stay?”

“I would love to look around a bit,” Cassidy explained. “And maybe if we keep digging around, we can find out more about Gemma. And, I would love to help you scan some of these papers.”

“Oh.” Hallie smiled. “Yeah, sure. I don’t know if you’ll find out more about poor Gemma, but you’re welcome to help with the papers. I’ll just—hold on.” The bell had jingled again, and she walked out.

Simon tucked the printed sheet into Cassidy’s notebook. “I didn’t think we’d find her.”

“I know. I was starting to get worried.” Cassidy stepped closer, and tentatively slipped her arms around his waist. He was solid. “Now we just have to hope she can find us tonight.”

Simon nodded. “Gemma Caulfield,” he said softly.

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