Cassidy liked Hallie more and more as the afternoon turned into the evening. She was energetic and passionate and very interested in Cassidy’s fake family history project. Since it didn’t seem likely that they would find anything else about Gemma, Cassidy and Simon helped Hallie continue her own project of scanning all the old papers. It was repetitive work, so they spent a lot of time talking.
Hallie was twenty-eight, and she had inherited the shop from her parents who had moved to the main town about four years earlier. Page’s was an old building, one of the first to be built in Eastern Hamlet, along with the church. It used to be bigger. Now only the house part remained, but back when the store was first opened there had been another building attached to the side. This had held the original shop and the printing press. That part of the building had burned down before Hallie’s father had been born, and the first floor of the house had served as the shop ever since. The old printing press had been recovered and was in the basement, Hallie wished she had enough room upstairs to bring it up for display.
Cassidy told Hallie about where she lived, and her school, but mostly she told the story about how she travelled to Akre Island for the first time the previous summer, after her grandfather had died. Simon told her a shockingly accurate version of his own life story, aside from the part about dying and becoming a ghost. Cassidy could see why he trusted Hallie. She was separated from the main town, and young enough that she wouldn’t remember the other identical Simon who used to be around twenty years earlier. It was nice being able to call him Simon in front of somebody else.
When they started to get hungry, Simon insisted on buying food from Hallie’s store, to then cook for dinner. While he was off in the kitchen cooking, Cassidy and Hallie continued working on the papers.
“He’s pretty quiet, isn’t he?” Hallie commented, out of the blue. “Nice guy, though. He really didn’t have to cook dinner.”
Cassidy smiled. “That’s his way of thanking you,” she explained, remembering all the times he had cooked for her over the summer, to thank her for letting him stay in the cottage. “He’s a good cook.”
And he was. Hallie thoroughly enjoyed the pasta he made, and afterwards brought out a square of fudge for dessert. When they had finished eating, they went back to her office with mugs of hot chocolate, and got back to work. Cassidy kept her eyes out for anything that seemed remotely ghost like, and made notes.
Hallie decided that it was time to head to bed after the third time she noticed Cassidy yawning. They tidied up everything they had been working on before Hallie led them upstairs. “I mostly just sleep up here,” she explained. “I mean, the kitchen’s downstairs, and remodelling such an old building is just an insult, don’t you think? Here, you can stay in this room.” She tapped the door handle of the room closest to the staircase. “The washroom is right here, and that’s my room down the hall, if you need anything. I get up pretty early but come down tomorrow whenever you’d like. I’ll be around.”
“Thanks. Goodnight,” Cassidy said.
“Goodnight,” Hallie replied, flashing them a final smile before she walked down the hall.
Simon pushed open the door. It was a small room, but the bed looked comfortable. They quickly settled down for the night, and Cassidy set her phone’s alarm.
Once again she woke up before her alarm could go off, and she reached over to turn it off before shaking Simon’s shoulder. It felt weird sneaking out of Hallie’s house in the middle of the night, but there really wasn’t any other choice. They had promised Gemma they would meet her.
It was a dark, still night. Clouds covered most of the sky, but turning on flashlights when they were so close to buildings seemed like a bad idea. They walked a little farther away from the cluster, towards the trees.
“Do you think she’ll—”
Simon immediately shushed her. “Look,” he said, pointing farther along the tree line. They were hard to make out in the dark, but there was a trail of footprints there. Simon clicked on his flashlight, pointed it at the ground, and walked over to the tracks. They certainly looked like Gemma’s. They were the right size.
“I guess we follow them,” Cassidy said. The tracks lead into the trees. She looked the other way, trying to see where the tracks may have started, but it wasn’t clear. They just seemed to come from the fields.
Simon had already started walking into the woods. Cassidy followed him, trying to step in his tracks. Her mind was racing with thoughts of the story they had read about Gemma, and about Simon, and all ghosts, and if every mention of something ghost-like she had started to notice in the papers were real or not. Then she nearly walked into Simon.
She caught herself and leaned to look around him. Up ahead, in a small clearing, was Gemma. She appeared clearly, like she had the night before after Simon had spoken to her. She was facing them, her expression impassive.
Cassidy gave Simon a gentle nudge. “Go on.”
He tentatively walked closer to Gemma, and Cassidy followed him. “Hello,” he said gently. “I’m really happy to see you again. We think we might know who you are.”
The girl blinked at him.
Simon was a few steps away now. “Is your name Gemma?”
Her eyes widened, and then she vanished.
Simon stepped forward, “Wait—”
Cassidy caught Simon’s arm, “Wait,” she said, almost in unison. “I think you just startled her. Look at her footprints.” The footprints had taken a few steps away to the edge of the clearing, but the last tracks were tucked behind a tree. Cassidy could almost imagine the little girl huddled there. She took a step around Simon. “Gemma? We want to help you. Please come out.” Nothing happened, but Cassidy was sure the girl was still there listening, and she was sure about her name. “We know you got lost in the woods, and there was a storm. I can’t imagine how scary that must have been. But now you’re here, and you can talk to us. We’ll help you.”
The girl flickered and became visible again. She peeked around the tree, but didn’t move any closer. “How do you know?”
It took Cassidy a moment to understand that she had actually heard the girl’s voice. It was so quiet, and airy, like the wind was trying to whisper.
“We read about what happened in the newspaper,” Cassidy explained. “Everyone tried to find you.”
Gemma shook her head. “Did not find me,” she whispered.
“I know they couldn’t find you,” Cassidy said gently. “I’m so sorry.”
Simon moved forward carefully and crouched beside Cassidy. “Did you want to show us something?”
Gemma looked at him, and finally stepped out from behind the tree. “Ghost,” she said simply.
“Yes, I am,” Simon said. “That’s why we want to help you.”
“Help me,” she echoed softly. She reached up to twirl her fingers through the hair at the end of her braids. “Help me. Gerald?”
Simon looked like he was about to correct her, but Cassidy gestured for him to stop. Gemma wasn’t talking about Simon. “Is that your brother?” she guessed. The article had mentioned a brother.
Gemma nodded. “Where is he?”
“I don’t know,” Cassidy said. “Are you looking for him?”
The girl didn’t seem to have heard; she was still looking at Simon.
“Gemma,” he said. “What did you want to show us?”
The girl looked a little startled to hear her name again. She turned and started to walk away, but she didn’t turn invisible. Cassidy and Simon exchanged a glance and started following her. She was walking straight back the way her trail had led them in the first place. They cleared the forest, and she kept walking, through the middle of a field.
Cassidy shivered and pulled her scarf up over her nose. If possible, the night was getting colder and darker. Simon, a few steps ahead, paused and offered his hand back to her. She smiled under her scarf and took his hand. They continued following Gemma.
The girl finally stopped in the middle of a field. She looked over her shoulder at them, then took a step up and walked on the air. She seemed to grab something invisible, and then-
“She’s opening a door,” Cassidy said. She let go of Simon’s hand to move closer. Sure enough, the girl was now making the motion for closing a door. Then she sat, in the air, and her hands started to unlace her boots. But when she pulled, the boot on her foot stayed in place, even though she continued miming placing the boot aside. “She stepped up onto a porch,” Cassidy guessed, “and now she’s inside. Her family must have had a house here.”
“This is what she wanted to show us?” Simon had also gotten closer. They watched as Gemma walked around, and occasionally paused and seemed to be talking to people.
Cassidy pulled out the map she still had in her pocket, and flipped it over. Simon held the flashlight for her while she tried to draw out a sort of floorplan of the house. She got distracted with her drawing, and stopped watching Gemma. Then the light dipped and pointed at the ground.
She glanced up. Gemma was screaming at someone, gesturing and pointing. She ran to the front door, shoved boots onto her feet, and burst through the invisible door. As soon as her feet touched the snow she disappeared.
For a moment, Cassidy and Simon just stared, hoping she would reappear, or at least a trail of footprints would snake across the field. But nothing happened. And then, as they watched, the wind picked up and even Gemma’s footprints disappeared, just leaving theirs.
“That’s why she got lost,” Cassidy guessed. “She fought with someone, maybe her brother? And then ran off into the woods. And then… what if she was so angry that she hid from her father and brother when they tried to find her?”
Simon nodded slowly.
“How are we supposed to find her brother?” Cassidy continued. “This was over a hundred years ago. There’s no way he’s still alive.”
“No,” Simon agreed. “But not being alive apparently doesn’t stop people from showing up on Akre Island.”
Cassidy slipped the map and pencil back into her pocket, and took Simon’s hand. “Let’s go. I think she’s done showing us things tonight. We’ll have to try again tomorrow after we do some research.”
Simon nodded again, and they started the walk back to East and Page’s.