John left before first light, with the horses. He took Laura’s apron, David’s hat, and underclothes from Samantha. “A path forks south right before the hill we climbed,” he said. “I’ll go that way. There’s a nice camping spot along it not too far from the turn. I’ll make a fire and scent the ground with your clothes. It’ll look like we slept there last night. After that, I’ll rub your clothing on the bushes every little while. That should confuse the dogs.”
“Be careful,” Samantha said. “They will torture you if they catch you.”
“Don’t worry. I have friends nearby who will protect me. I’m more concerned about you.”
“Once you leave I’ll put up the barrier,” Samantha said.
“Are you strong enough to hold it against him, if he should find the entrance?” John asked, a worried line between his eyes.
“No. But Bethany and Terrance should arrive sometime today. He won’t find us until tomorrow at the earliest. Between the three of us, we can create a wall so thick he won’t even know it’s there.”
“Wish I could see it,” John said. “You’re well-stocked, with enough food for a month. May God’s blessing be upon all of you.”
“Go with God.”
As the day began, light filtered down into the cave from a long narrow crack in the roof next to the drawings. Laura and David watched, wide-eyed, as Samantha used a rock to draw a line across the entrance, and around the light-providing crack. She pulled hairs off each of their heads and set them along the lines. Then she chanted, a low guttural stream of unrecognizable words, finishing with “shield us, oh might spirits of the cave, Mother Earth, Father Sky, and the all-knowing, all-powerful nameless one.”
“Is she calling on the devil?” David asked his sister.
“No, little one,” Samantha answered for herself, having finished casting her spell. “That’s the one we call God. But, in truth, God is nameless, and also neither male nor female. We never call upon the dark one, for fear of turning evil.”
“It’s not true, then, what the priests say?” Laura asked.
“Only if magic is used to cause harm to the innocent.”
“What about Uncle Thomas?” David asked.
“Yes, well. It’s best not to speak of him in here. It calls him and weakens our protection.”
“Oh,” David said, in his little boy’s voice. Laura put her hand over his, and kissed his forehead. They were sitting on the floor, with their backs against the wall. He crawled into his sister’s lap. She hugged him tight.
“Listen up,” Samantha said. “We can’t leave until the exact moment Laura turns sixteen. You have to have magic to follow the golden thread that leads us into the future. The only reason David can come is because you, Laura, love him so very much, and he loves you. Love is a form of magic that even time cannot affect. However, as I am going to say until you can’t stand me, David will have to hold your foot the entire difficult journey. No matter what. If he lets go, he will be stuck in time at that spot in the web, and will remain there until he can navigate on his own.
“Traveling through time,” she continued, “is dangerous. Let me say that again. What we plan to do is dangerous, especially for the two of you because you have never been to the future. It’s a little easier for us to return to our own time.”
Laura interrupted. “You’re going to teach me what I need to know?”
“Of course. That is one reason we came here early. Now, sit back, and get comfortable. I’m going to create some of the future for you, so you can prepare.”
David crawled off of his sister’s lap. They snuggled up against the wall, under blankets. Samantha added wood to the fire and blew until it blazed strongly.
“Okay. The first thing is clothing. In modern England, people dress very differently from today. Most of us are not nearly as modest as you, though some are even more modest. You will see a great deal of variety. Like this,” she waved her hands in front of the fire, and a series of holograms appeared, of people dressed in many different outfits. They gasped at a woman in a bikini and a man in swimming trunks.
“They go out in public like that?” David asked.
“Yes, for swimming.”
A woman in a burka appeared. “We have many different religions,” Samantha said. “Some believe women have to wear these long robes and head coverings,” she waved her away. Next, she showed a three-piece suit, a mini-skirt, and women in pants and cropped tops. She showed sweaters and coats: “instead of shawls, we use these for warmth.”
Laura stared. She had never imagined such a riot of styles and colors. And she noticed something else. “The people,” she said. “They don’t look like us.”
“No, they come from all over the world.”
“The world? What do you mean?”
Samantha flipped her hands and the pictures disappeared. “The year you were born, a man sailed boats out into the ocean. And he sailed and sailed until he ran into land. Others followed and they eventually confirmed that we live on a large round planet. We call it the earth. It is our world. There are many other worlds out there. Let me show you.”
She began spreading her hands. As they opened, they filled with tiny stars. She picked up one and began spreading her hands again. The star grew huge, then small dots appeared around it. “That’s our sun, and we are here,” she picked up a tiny speck and placed it in Laura’s palm. It began expanding, until it filled Laura’s palm.
“That is our earth,” Samantha said. “Let’s examine it.”
“It’s mostly blue,” David said. “With some green and brown.”
“Yes. The blue is water. The green and brown are land.”
“Green for plants,” he said.
“Yes. So now, as you turn it around and look at it, you see distinct patches of land. We live here,” she picked up the ball and pointed. “Our skin is light, but our eyes are many different colors.”
“Laura’s look brown sometimes and green other times.”
“Yes, we call them hazel. Yours are bright green and so are mine. But John’s were blue and other people have brown eyes.”
“Right. Beatrice has brown eyes.”
“So the people who live here right now,” she pointed to southern Africa, look like this,” she waved her hands again at the air, and a crowd appeared. She showed Chinese and Native Americans, then concluded. “But in my time, everyone has mixed. We’ll talk about how after lunch.”
“Lunch? Did you mention lunch?” a man seemed to materialize slowly in front of their eyes. Laura stared, her eyes bugging out, not only at this feat, but also at his dark skin and wide nose. He looked just like the Africans in the hologram. Broad shouldered, but shorter than Samantha, he was nearly bald. He examined them with velvet brown eyes. His pants almost shocked Laura as much as his thick lips and frizzy hair. They had bright stripes going both up and down and across in bold oranges and greens on a white background. He wore a green sweater. Shiny black and white shoes finished the outfit.
“Terrence!” Samantha said, laughing. “Did you have to blind us? Look at those shoes!”
“Hey, I like these rags.”
“Here,” a high clear voice said.
They turned. A chubby woman with shoulder-length curly blond hair stepped off of a rock and walked towards them. She wore a tan skirt that came halfway down her calves, a long-sleeve green shirt and a dark green vest with a purple scarf. Stripped knee socks and sandals completed the outfit. Laura looked at her, amazed once again by the oddity of clothing these witches wore. Bethany had hazel eyes, just like her own, though they were set in a small round face with very pale skin. And, as this newest witch approached them, she seemed to shrink. She was a head shorter than the rest of them.
“Tiny, but powerful,” Bethany said, smiling sweetly, as if she’d read Laura’s thoughts.
“Hey, everyone,” Terrance said, interrupting. “I sense someone approaching. He isn’t close, yet, but he’s coming.”
“Is it Uncle Thomas?” David asked.
“Probably,” Samantha said. “Thomas is a dark one, who must be stopped. You two need to strengthen the barrier.”
Bethany and Terrence set to work, while Samantha disappeared down a passage at the back of the cave. She returned with food and drink. Handing her flashlight to Laura, she sent her and her brother into the passage to find tree slices that would serve as chairs.
Once everyone finished their tasks, the cave seemed safe and cozy, but the way Samantha and Terrance glanced at the openings made Laura certain they didn’t know if they could hold off her evil uncle long enough to get her and her brother to safety.