The witches took turns teaching the two children about cars, trains, and airplanes. They introduced electricity and all of the gadgets that ran on it. They told them about germs, vaccines, and DNA.
Laura’s head spun with the strange information. Most of it seemed impossible, the figments of her guides’ imaginations. As the days passed, and they seemed safe in the cave, she grew restless. Her mind stopped absorbing the stories. She could barely sit and pretend to pay attention. David, used to toiling in the fields from dawn to dusk, found it impossible. The witches used magic to create a jungle gym, but it wasn’t enough. David jiggled and danced, interrupting constantly to show them handstands or tell a bad joke.
“We need fresh air and exercise,” Terrence said on their fourth morning.
“You’re right,” Samantha said. “Let’s turn off all magic and take down the barrier.”
“Won’t Uncle feel it come down?” David asked.
“He shouldn’t. It’s inside the safe zone.”
As soon as the barrier dropped, Terrence and Samantha waved their arms in the air. “Oh, good, he followed John,” Terrence said. “Thomas is way south of here.”
“How do you know?” Laura asked.
“Your uncle’s been using magic,” Samantha said. “We feel it in the web.”
She refused to explain any further, instead shooing everyone outside. They climbed a path to the top of the cliff. Mist prevented them from seeing much, but an open almost flat area provided a playground. Laura and David chased each other until they both dropped on the ground laughing. They returned to the cave much happier than when they’d left.
“We have to do that every day,” Bethany said.
“I don’t know if we can,” Samantha cautioned. “Thomas has many spies. One of them might see us out there. Even if they don’t, he’ll eventually realize he took the wrong trail and double-back.”
Later, as Laura and David studied cell phones and computers, Terrence interrupted their lesson. “Someone is approaching,” he said. “I feel whoever it is pressing against the barrier.”
“A mile, maybe? He’s moving fast.”
“Be quiet everyone. The barrier stops magic and light, but sound can sometimes pass through. Maybe he’s just walking on the path, going north,” Bethany said, “and will keep going.”
The cave grew eerily silent. A visible bulge formed in the barrier. Then it slowly emptied out. When Terrence was certain the intruder was far enough away, he let out his breath and said: “That’s no witch: it’s a reptile and he’s tracking us. He followed this morning’s trail up the cliff, but he’ll return.”
Terrence ran his hand over the spot where the bulge had formed. “Interesting,” he said. “He’s distraught. He’s worried about Laura and David.”
“Let me see,” Bethany crowded next to him and slipped a hand outside the barrier. “He loves you,” she pointed to Laura.
“Matthew?” Laura started towards them. “Let me out! I have to find him.”
“No, Laura,” Samantha stopped her. “Let him go for the moment.”
“He’s dangerous,” Terrence said. “What if her uncle is watching him?”
“Matthew will come right into the mouth of the cave, looking for her,” Bethany said, pointing out the obvious. “We’ll need to bring him inside or else he’ll camp nearby, trying to figure out where the kids went. That’ll lead Thomas to us for sure.”
“Damn,” Samantha said. “This makes our escape all that more complicated. I haven’t even started teaching Laura the magic she needs to pull herself through the web. Her birthday is still a week away. We can’t leave until then.”
Laura’s mind filled with questions during this rapid discussion. “Why can’t you take us through time now?” she asked.
“Why did you call Matthew a reptile?” David asked.
“Sit,” Samantha ordered.
“There are only two ways to go through the web. You either have to be a witch, or you have to hold onto someone who loves you. To go forward in time, you have to be led by a witch who has been to the future. That’s why we’re here. We’re your guides.”
“And you can’t double yourself. So, for example, you can’t go back in time and save your parents right before their deaths, because you were alive then.”
“And you can’t go to a time in the future where you have already been,” Laura said.
“Right. When we go forward in time we’ll arrive an instant after we left.”
“It just works that way.”
“What about reptiles?”
Samantha sighed. “You want to take this one, Beth?”
“Sure,” Bethany replied, and pulled her seat next to Laura.
“You see, honey,” she explained. “A long time ago, beings came to our earth from another planet. They interbred with humans, but they retained some of their original characteristics. Some more than others. Samantha told you about DNA and genes.”
Laura nodded, “but I didn’t believe her.”
“You will. Anyway, your friend out there has some of this alien DNA. We call them Reptiles or Lizards, because the ones with a lot of the DNA are born with tails and scales.”
“Matthew doesn’t have either of those,” Laura insisted.
“Maybe not, but he smells like a lizard to Terrence and me. That’s where it gets difficult. Reptiles and witches don’t mix. Reptiles want to destroy all life on the earth beside themselves. Witches want to save it.”
“That’s not Matthew!” Laura said. “I’ve known him since we were tiny children. His parents worked for mine.”
“Matthew is our friend,” David said.
“Well, we’re about to find out,” Terrence announced. “He’s headed back our way.”
Samantha sighed. “Make a tiny hole and pull him past the barrier, then seal it immediately. Damn,” she added. “I thought this would be so easy. No doubt Thomas has a tracker on this guy. He’ll know when he enters the cave.”
“What do we do?” Bethany asked.
“We might have to attempt a passage before Laura transforms.”
“We need reinforcement. I’m going forward,” Bethany said.
“You’re right. Tell the council what happened. Maybe they will know what to do.”
Terrence said: “We need someone to add a second barrier, so Thomas can’t get close to this one.”
“And someone to bring the kids through time,” Bethany added.
“Donny for the first, Padma for the second,” Samantha said. “Go fast, before this Matthew guy arrives.”
Bethany fussed with a little pouch hanging from her chest, muttered a few words under her breath, and stepped up into the air as if she were climbing an invisible staircase. As she did, she began vaporizing. Before Laura could blink her eyes, Bethany had vanished.