Cassidy sat on the couch. On the coffee table in front of her, she had spread out her photocopies from the library. Her grandfather’s journal sat off to one side, and in the middle of it all was her open notebook. Every piece of information she had about Simon Battle was right in front of her. Including, if he was to be believed, the man himself.
Steven was pacing. Cassidy watched him for as long as she felt she could wait, then, impatiently, she said, “Steven, are you-“
“Simon, please,” he replied without pausing. “You know my name now, please use it.”
“You aren’t Simon Battle,” Cassidy said firmly. He stopped his pacing to face her. “Simon Battle died twenty years ago. And even if he hadn’t, he’d be forty-five today. You’re not forty-five.”
“No, I’m not,” he agreed. “Because I died. Cassidy…” he sighed and sat on the floor on the opposite side of the coffee table. “It makes no sense, I know that. I’ve been trying to figure it out but I can’t. I don’t understand what I’m doing here or what happened. But hear me out, I’ll explain what I know. You just have to believe that I’m Simon.”
Cassidy stared at him with narrow eyes. “Fine. Hypothetically, I’ll believe that you’re Simon.”
He didn’t say anything for a moment. “I suppose that’s the best I’m getting for now. All right, this began about a week before you arrived. Well,” he paused again and seemed confused. “It began twenty years ago. I was out late, cutting through back alleys, and I was mugged. There was nothing mysterious about it, I was attacked and when I tried to defend myself I was killed. I honestly believe my dying was an accident. Regardless, I closed my eyes in the alley, lying on the ground. Then I opened them. I didn’t realize at first that anything was different. I got to my feet and walked out to the road. I didn’t realize that I wasn’t in any pain.
“When I got to the road, I was still in a sort of haze. I was on the street and a car turned the corner and I couldn’t think quickly enough to move out of the way. But instead of hitting me, it went through me. Once my mind had cleared it didn’t take me long to realize that I was a ghost. No one could see me, anything I tried to touch slipped through my hands. I tried to get people’s attention. I was sulking down at the pier, trying to kick pebbles into the water, when the sun set and suddenly I heard a splash in the water. I tried to kick another pebble and it worked. Something about it being dark meant that I could touch things. Still, no one could see me.
“It took me a couple days to notice that if I touched things at night, I seemed to become more solid. People could see me, at first only at night, but then during the day, too. I couldn’t touch anything when the sun was up, but I could interact with people, and it was a relief. Becoming visible to people, more solid, as I think of it, also meant I got hungry, so I had to start stealing food. I knew some time had passed, I could tell due to the differences in the town – the new cars, the way people were dressed. It wasn’t until I thought to look at a newspaper that I saw that twenty years had passed.
“I don’t know why I didn’t think of George earlier. He was always there for me when I was alive. I made my way out here, but it was clear he hadn’t been around for awhile. I found the tombstones. I... didn’t know what to do. I’d expected George to be able to fix things. Or at the very least, help me understand what was happening. I stayed here for lack of anywhere else to go.”
Steven finished his story quietly, nervously staring down at his hands. “Cassidy, I’m sorry. That’s all I know.”
Silence drew out for the next few minutes. Finally, Cassidy said, “That’s impossible.”
Cassidy got to her feet. “I’m going to bed.”
“What about dinner?”
“I’m not hungry,” Cassidy muttered. She left everything where it was and walked into the bedroom without another word.
It took her forever to fall asleep. She tossed and turned for hours, unable to get Steven or Simon out of her head. Nothing made sense. Every once in awhile she would remember something strange, like how he always left so early and came back so late, or how that morning he’d let her walk through the door first. Was he being gentlemanly or could he not touch the door? It was impossible. But the more she thought about it the more plausible it seemed, despite her wishing it wasn’t true. Finally, she drifted off into sleep.
She woke up later the next morning than she usually did. It took a moment for the conversation the night before to come back to her and she groaned, hoping it had all been an odd dream. She climbed out of bed, threw on a sweater, and walked to the kitchen. There was a plate of pancakes sitting in her usual spot at the table. Propped up beside it was a note. Cassidy stared at it suspiciously for a moment before picking it up.
If you don’t believe anything else, at least believe that I’m sorry for what has happened. I wish I understood. I wish I could explain it to you.
There was something about seeing the name that made Cassidy pause. His last note he’d signed simply with the letter S. She read the name over and over again, each time changing her mind about his story. It was true, it wasn’t true, it was true, it couldn’t possibly be true-
She dropped the note as a sudden thought hit her. He was gone, and he hadn’t promised to be back that evening. The pancakes were still warm, so he couldn’t be far. Without a second thought, she ran out of the cottage.
It was a cold morning, with fog so thick she could hardly see. Cassidy took a few steps down the path, ignoring the rocks poking her feet. “Steven?” she called. Her voice seemed dulled by the fog around her. She took a few more steps and tried again. “Steven?” Worried that he’d gotten father ahead then she thought, she scrambled down the path. Mossy rocks which usually didn’t cause her any trouble made her stumble and she almost fell over. “Simon!”
He appeared then, just a little down the path. The density of the fog made it seem like he’d materialized out of nowhere. He was wearing her grandfather’s coat, his hands buried deeply in the pockets. He stepped up in front of her.
Cassidy stared at him and swallowed nervously. “Your name is Simon Battle. You’re dead.”
He nodded solemnly.
“I-“ Cassidy couldn’t help it, she started to cry. “I thought I was falling in love with Steven Donahue.”
“He was falling in love with you,” he replied.
Cassidy tried to reach out to him and grab his arm, but her hand slipped though and she gasped in sock. Gingerly, she tried a second time. He was as substantial as the fog, maybe a little colder. Cassidy took a step back.
“I understand if you can’t get past this,” he said. “I can hardly get past it. If I leave, it’ll be easier for you.”
Cassidy shook her head. “I don’t want easy. Come back to the cottage with me. Please, Simon.”
Simon smiled. “Of course I’ll come back with you.”