Author’s Note: Thank you for checking out ‘The Memory of Simon Battle!’ This is a short novella, with sequels planned and on the way. It is also available for purchase if you’d like to support me (and see the illustrations!)
Water slapped rhythmically against the wooden dock’s supports. The dock shook gently as some slightly bigger waves crashed against the numerous boats and bumped them into the wood. People were spread around, on the dock, in the boats or on the shore. Most of them were fishermen who had just gotten back from a day’s work. Conversation hummed; idle talk of the weather or the mood of the ocean. Seagulls’ cries pierced the air as they flew overhead, hoping for scraps of food.
The wind caused it to be a little chilly down near the water. Cassidy Acres did up the buttons of her grey coat as she walked across the dock. She was glad of the footwear she had chosen earlier – the sandals she had stuffed into her bag would have been just a bit too cold, whereas the running shoes were perfect. If there was one way to make a bad first impression, it would have been to slip from the wood and into the shallow water below.
She stepped from the dock and onto the concrete pier. Cassidy let her eyes wander over the seaside portion of the village. There was a short wall to keep people from falling into the water, upon which a few children sat with fishing poles. A wide cobbled walkway ran alongside the wall. Facing onto the walkway were small buildings, each brightly painted a different colour. Most of them were two storeys, the bottoms of which were various shops. Cassidy half-expected to see a souvenir shop before remembering that the island wasn’t really a vacation spot.
Cassidy adjusted the straps of her backpack slightly, before pulling a folded piece of paper out from her coat pocket. Her name was scrawled across the front in her grandfather’s distinctive cursive. The letter was the last one her grandfather had sent her before his death a few months before. Cassidy’s mother had received a phone call the day after it had happened, giving her the bad news. He had died of natural causes. Unfortunately, the family had not been able to make it out to the remote island in time for the funeral.
Cassidy had made up her mind, as soon as the university year had finished in April, to visit the island and the cottage she had heard so much about. She had never been there, but whenever her grandfather had visited the mainland he had brought with him fantastic tales, as well as beautiful shells and stones rubbed smooth by the sea. As a child Cassidy had treasured the objects, and as she’d gotten older she still kept them on top of a dresser in her room. She could vividly remember sitting by his side as he described the island, the village, and his own cottage to her. She always had such a clear vision of it in her mind, and she was pleased to see that so far her imagination had been spot on.
She had another reason for wanting to visit. Early on, her grandfather’s tales had given her a dream of writing her own stories. Before she could read and write for herself, she would draw pictures and tell her mother what to write beneath them. Those particular stories were, as to be expected, always very simple and usually involved an animal. As she got older, she had steadily become more creative with her stories, and better at putting them into words. That summer, she wanted to really work on a story, and to complete it to the best of her abilities. For that, she decided, she needed the perfect setting. The remote island of her imagination seemed perfect, and even before the sad news of her grandfather’s passing, she had been harbouring plans to visit it. However, after the news, visiting the island had become something she didn’t only want to do, but she felt like she needed to do. She needed to see the place she imagined so often as a child.
Cassidy carefully unfolded the delicate note. She had read it so many times that the creases had become fuzzy and weak, and she had been so worried about tearing the letter that she had scanned it just in case it got ruined. The letter was a reply to one she had sent, telling her grandfather about her idea to visit the island. In it he had given her a vague set of directions in order to find the cottage from the village. She was sure she could have asked one of the villagers for directions, but following her grandfather’s words seemed more fitting.
My dear Cassidy,
I would be delighted if you came to visit me. It’s a shame your parents are so busy, or they could accompany you. I know that I’ve described the way to you many times, but now I’ll put it onto paper for you.
The cottage is not hard to find when you know the way. All you must do is walk North along the coast. When you reach the fork in the path, go right. Before long, you will see the cottage on top of a gentle hill. It probably sounds like a lot of walking to someone used to driving around in the city! I’ve always believed that the fresh air and the smell of the sea is the healthiest to breathe, it will do you good!
Take your time in the village. Remember the colourful paint I told you about when you were little? You once painted me a picture of what you thought the houses looked like! I know you’ll love the shops along the pier.
I still find it so hard to believe that you have almost completed your second year of university. It seems like only a week ago your mother was that age, and only yesterday you were born. Twenty years has gone by so quickly. You must have exams soon, good luck with them!
Give my love to your parents!
Cassidy folded the note and carefully placed it back in her pocket. As always, when reading the letter could hear in her grandfather’s warm, comforting voice. She had memorized the directions within the letter, but reading it again gave her the feeling of being welcomed to the island. It wasn’t a place strangers often visited, and she knew she had already drawn some confused glances.
She took a deep breath, as if to steady herself, and started walking. She could see the path she was meant to follow snaking along the coast to her right, but she wanted to stop at a few of the shops first. She needed to buy some food. A friendly looking bakery caught her eye, and the smell of fresh bread made her stomach grumble hungrily.
Inside, the shop was quaint and old-fashioned. There were shelves with different kinds of bread to her left, and to her right there was a counter covered in platters of cookies. At other end of the bakery there was a counter with an old cash register. Cassidy walked over to it, acutely aware of the shuffling sound of her steps in the quiet of the room.
Cassidy has just reached the counter when a door behind it opened and a plump woman stepped out. She was wearing an apron which was covered in flour, and she had her sleeves rolled up to her elbows as if she has just been working. She smiled pleasantly at Cassidy.
“And who are you? We don’t get many visitors ’round here.”
“I’m Cassidy Acres,” Cassidy replied a little shyly.
“Acres?” the woman squinted and seemed to look over Cassidy a little more. “That’s right, that’s who you remind me of. Old George Acres. You look a little like he did when he was younger. He had the same dark brown hair.”
Cassidy nodded, “Yes, he was my grandfather.”
“He was a very friendly man,” the baker replied. Her previously warm voice took on a tinge of sadness. “He came to the bakery almost every morning to buy some of my fresh bread,” she chuckled suddenly, “and then he’d give half of it to the seagulls! I was very sad to hear of his passing. Would you like to try the bread he liked?”
“Oh yes, please.”
The woman ducked to reach under her counter and brought up a loaf of bread sheathed is a piece of paper which said “Bertha’s Bakery”. The women slid the paper back a bit to reveal that the end of the loaf had already been cut off. She picked up a knife to shear off a thin slice, which she offered to Cassidy.
Cassidy took the piece of nibbled on the edge of it. “This is delicious,” she exclaimed.
The woman smiled. “Well, it’s better fresh. Would you like to take some more? It’s free, in memory of your grandfather.”
“Really? Thank you so much,” Cassidy replied. “Are you Bertha?”
The baker smiled and nodded. “But I’m not the original Bertha,” she explained as she started to wrap up the rest of the loaf of bread. “My great grandmother was the first Bertha, and she opened the bakery. My father named me after her, and hopefully one of my children will carry on the tradition. There should always be a Bertha in Bertha’s Bakery, after all.” She held the loaf out to Cassidy. “Is that all you need, dear?”
“I think so, for now,” Cassidy answered. “I’ll most likely be back in a few days once I’ve settled in.”
“How long will you be staying?” Bertha asked.
“I’m not sure yet. I’d like to stay for at least a month.”
“Then we’ll see each other very often,” Bertha smiled. “Now, you’ll need more than that to eat. A few doors down is Mr. Greenwood’s butchery, and next to that is Delia Burke’s shop, where you’ll find anything else you need. Produce and dairy from the farms, as well as things from the mainland.”
“Thank you very much,” Cassidy replied gratefully. She left the bakery, and following Bertha’s directions, very quickly found the butchery. Mr. Greenwood was not quite as welcoming as Bertha had been, but he said similar things about her grandfather. It only then dawned on Cassidy that since it was such a small island, probably anyone she talked to would remember her grandfather. She bought some slices of pork from Mr. Greenwood before moving onto the next little shop. Cassidy was proven right as Delia Burke also mentioned having known her grandfather. There, she bought some apples, and a few vegetables. After a moment of consideration, she also got some eggs, cheese and a carton of milk. As much as she wasn’t looking forward to carrying all the food to the cottage, she knew that when she had scrambled eggs the next morning she would appreciate her own effort.
Leaving the store with two plastic bags in hand, Cassidy began the walk along the coast. The path lead up a gentle incline, and when she reached the top Cassidy paused a moment to look back towards the village. She could see it all, and it was slightly larger than she’d always imagined. She reached the fork in the path a few minutes later.
Soon, hills spread out in front of her. Her legs brushed against the tall grass which grew on either side of the path, creating a gentle swishing noise. The sounds of crickets accompanied it, and occasionally Cassidy could hear waves crashing against the cliffs ahead of her. Finally, she saw the cottage.
It looked just like she had imagined. It was sitting on top of a small hill, surrounded by the sides of larger hills. To her left the hill gently sloped down to a sandy beach, which further ahead turned into tall cliffs. Weaving up the hill was a path bordered by logs. The whole hill was ringed with logs, in a sort of terracing that Cassidy knew her grandmother had long ago set up so that her flowers and vegetables could grow on flat ground. Though her grandfather had stopped taking such care over the gardens, they were still filled with blooming flowers, most of which were purple or white.
Cassidy worked her way up the path. She noticed that the smell of the sea was fading, and almost blocked out by the beautiful aroma of the flowers. As she walked, she looked about the scenery in awe. The location of the cottage provided a perfect view of the sunset. The sun was sinking closer and closer towards the ocean as if it wanted to go for a swim. The larger hills were green and lush, covered with the same tall grass and small bushes she had walked past before. There were a few trees scattered about, including some in her grandmother’s terracing.
When she got closer to the cottage, Cassidy started to take in every aspect of its appearance. Again, she found that her imagination had been nearly perfect. It was quite small, only one storey with a small basement. The walls were whitewashed aside for some of the visible beams and around the windows, which had been stained dark brown. There was a porch with two rocking chairs, a small table, and a bench. The door was dark brown as well, with a black, old fashioned knocker set in the centre of it. The steps and porch creaked as Cassidy stepped onto them. She put down her plastic bags to get the key to the cottage from her coat pocket.
The key was the same dark metal as the knocker, the lock and the doorknob. It was quite ornate, and Cassidy had loved it ever since her grandfather had shown it to her as a child. She slipped the key into the keyhole and twisted it, glad when she heard the lock click open. For some inexplicable reason, she had been half-afraid it wouldn’t fit. She pushed the door open slightly.
She picked up the two plastic bags and nudged the door open wider with her foot. It was dark inside the small cottage, so Cassidy was careful when walking in and putting down the bags. The light coming in through the windows and the open door was sufficient for that. She knew that, as unlikely as it seemed, her grandfather had had electricity running out to the old cottage. She saw the light switch next to the door and flicked it on.
She turned around to pick up her bags and screamed.