The light in the cave made Laura cover her eyes after the darkness of the web. She peaked through her fingers. Had she changed seasons? It felt like full summer; warm and bright.
Samantha giggled. “Electric lights and heat,” she explained. “I told you about that.”
Laura slowly opened her fingers, letting her eyes adjust a little at a time. She hadn’t believed her teachers, when they’d told her about the marvels of this time, but the blazing light was real.
Matthew let go of her heel and stood. He took her hand. They stared in wonder. Couches and armchairs lined the walls, with end tables and foot stools. The center of the room held tables and chairs. Laura recognized those things as furniture, but they looked vastly different from the wooden pieces they had known all of their life.
The bustling hub of witches they’d grown used to in the nineteenth century had vanished. The cave stood empty except for one witch watching moving pictures on a flat device over in the corner. Television, Laura recalled from her lessons, but it looked more like magic to her than any spell she had learned in her week of instruction.
“David is at school,” Samantha said. “Come, we need to get you into modern clothing.”
Laura ignored her, mesmerized by the flickering images and sounds coming from the television.
Samantha grabbed her arm and pulled her down the passage into the next cave. The curtained bathing areas had become walled enclosures with doors and signs with pictures. Laura couldn’t believe the smoothness of the walls. She stopped, again, gawking.
“Come on,” Samantha said. “We don’t have time to waste. This is the women’s side, with the sign that has a skirt.”
It didn’t look like any skirt Laura had ever seen, but she nodded and entered the room.
“Here,” Samantha said, tossing clothes at her. “Might as well put you into your first underthings and trousers.”
Laura stared in horror at the outfit. She didn’t even know how to put it on. “Can’t I wear a dress?” she asked.
“I won’t feel comfortable in men’s clothes. They aren’t suitable.”
“Give up the modesty act,” Samantha said, sharply. “If you want a dress, you can wear this,” she opened a drawer and threw a skirt at Laura.
Laura held it up in front of her. “It doesn’t even come to my knees.”
“That’s right. Remember all of those pictures I showed you? You need to look like a normal, modern, teenager, so it’s one or the other.”
“Bethany wears long dresses.”
“Bethany is thirty-five. Look,” Samantha sat on a chair, “I’m taking you to meet the council. They need to know that you can adapt. Otherwise, they will find someone else.”
“For what? Why did you bring me here?”
“For a big job. The biggest ever. The council will tell you all about it.”
“What if I don’t want to do it?”
“You still need to adapt if you want to thrive in this day and age. Get dressed, and let’s go.”
“Turn around,” Laura insisted. She might wear these outlandish things, but she couldn’t possibly let anyone see her changing. She pulled on the underpants. “Umm,” she said, looking at the bra. “What do I do with this?”
Samantha explained its use.
Laura tried it on. It felt horribly restricting, but at least it covered her breasts. She held up the pants, and shook her head. Someday, but not yet. She pulled on the skirt, figured out the zipper with a little instruction from Samantha, and added one of the long sleeve T-shirts . “Okay,” she said.
Samantha turned to look at her. From the light in her eyes, Laura knew she had made the right choice, though she felt naked. “What a perfect fit! Let’s get some shoes on you and a jumper and get out of here.” She rummaged around in a closet. “Hmm, these? No, how about?” she handed a couple of pairs of boots to Laura. “Try them on.”
Laura couldn’t get either pair on her feet.
“Oh, your feet are bigger than I realized. Well, let’s see,” Samantha tossed one pair after another aside until she found what she wanted. “Here,” she said.
Laura looked at the delicate brown pumps. “They seem awfully fragile,” she said, uncertain if such a lacy-looking pair of shoes would tolerate a long walk of any kind.
“That’s okay. We will be in the car most of the way.”
“Yay!” Laura forgot about the shoes and clapped her hands. Robert had shown her and Matthew holograms of cars, racing down asphalt roads. She and Matthew had wanted to try one, but that had been impossible two hundred years ago. She hadn’t expected to ride in one so soon.
“Finally, something gets you looking to the future,” Samantha said, rather dryly.
Laura blushed. She took a deep breath. She could do this. She knew she could. She had taken care of David on her own, hadn’t she? Learning new ways had to be easy compared to getting beaten for leaving spots on floors she’d spent hours scrubbing, or going to bed hungry night after night, listening to David crying.
Samantha interrupted her memories of those first months after her parents’ murders. “Let’s try a little makeup,” she said.
Laura squared her shoulders. She sat on the bench Samantha indicated and lifted her face to the mirror. Samantha showed her the choices and explained the process. She wanted to protest that only women of the night wore these things, but she didn’t say a word. She bravely accepted the little bit of blush, lipstick, and eyeshadow that Samantha applied to her face. Then she watched Samantha apply her own makeup.
“One more thing,” Samantha said. “The toilet.” She showed her the stall, and the way it worked. It struck Laura as more magic. Why on earth did these witches need her, if they had these amazing devices?
Matthew meanwhile, had changed into jeans and a black T-shirt, plus tennis shoes and socks. He gawked at Laura. She tried to cover her legs with her hands, but he merely nodded and smiled. “You look great,” he said.
Hearing this, Laura wondered if Matthew would adapt more easily than her. She squared her shoulders again and promised herself she would never blink at the strange ways of these people.
“Matthew,” Samantha said. “You have to stay here.”
“No,” Laura said. She reached for his hand. “I am not leaving without him. Not after coming all this way.”
“Look,” Samantha said. “I know this is all very strange, but you have to trust that I know what I am doing.”
Laura looked at her with puppy eyes, hoping to change her mind.
Samantha sighed and appeared frustrated. “We can’t take Matthew right now. Remember that spell that lets you understand and speak any language?”
Samantha nodded. “Modern English differs hugely from the language you speak. Matthew has to learn it before he can safely travel. He will sound like a Shakespeare play to everyone, which will make them think he has something wrong with his mind.”
“Huh?” What was she talking about? Shakes who?
“Never mind. We have witches coming to teach Matthew, starting tomorrow. I promise you will see each other next Sunday. Okay?”
Matthew gripped Laura’s arm. “I’m not letting her leave unless you promise that she will be okay,” he said.
Samantha explained the plan. She would drive Laura to York, where she would join David. They would live with a family of witches that had gone through years of training to learn how to raise them. “You have to trust me,” she said. “I hate to separate you, but they can’t host you.”
“Can’t, or won’t?” Laura asked, defiantly. She did not like this arrangement. Matthew couldn’t stay in the cave all day long. What was outside? Would he be in danger? What was wrong with these witches, that they couldn’t host another person?
Samantha read her mind. “They can’t train him. Matthew will do well here. We’re in a remote national forest. Hardly anyone visits it, and certainly not at this time of year. He can walk around outside all he wants. Stop worrying.”
Matthew let go of his sweetheart’s arm, very reluctantly. He smiled uncertainly at her.
She smiled weakly back. “I love you,” she said.
“One more thing,” Samantha said. “You have to carry these at all times.” She reached into her pocketbook and retrieved a dark blue booklet for each of them. “We’ve made you American citizens.” She explained that their accents would remain, even once their English improved. It would make more sense for them to come from the United States, a different country. It would also explain their sudden appearance.