Authors: Cassidy Cayman
They cleared a spot and sat down across from one another, an awkward silence descending over them as she ground up the herbs she’d found growing in a well hidden part of the vegetable garden. Lachlan’s stash, no doubt, and she’d only taken enough for a few tries so as not to be caught.
“Should we change right now?” Shane asked, looking down at his flannel shirt, hunting jacket, and jeans.
She looked over her own clothes. “If we do it wrong, we’ll look weird if we change, but if we do it right, we’ll look weird if we keep these clothes on,” she said.
He groaned at her non-answer. “Let’s assume we’re going to do it right, and change.” He took his bag and dragged it behind a big tree. “Tell me when ye’re finished.”
She got out of her modern clothes and hurriedly scrambled into her dress, unable to get it all the way done up in the back, and hollered for him to come out. Shivering from being exposed to the chilly air for even a few moments, she wrapped herself in the thick wool shawl she found at the second hand shop in the village. It didn’t look like it was from any particular era, and its toasty warmth made her decide to take the chance and bring it.
When he came around the tree trunk, she had to grit her teeth to keep her jaw from dropping. Like any proper Scottish lass, she definitely appreciated a good looking man in a kilt, but she hadn’t expected Shane to look quite so spectacular.
“Oh my,” she said, tilting her head and making a motion for him to do a turn. He obliged her with a grin and made a passable, jaunty bow. “Catie won’t know what hit her when we show up.”
“I hope ye’re right,” he said, pulling his jacket closer. “Ye look nice yourself. I expected ye to look a bit mumsy, but ye actually look kind of … well, sexy, in all that wool.”
“Shut up,” she said, glad she’d asked Padma for a prettier dress.
Now she was embarrassed to ask him to help her button up. With a scowl, she finally turned her back to him and dropped the shawl. He rubbed his hands together vigorously to warm them before doing her up, then pulled her shawl back over her shoulders. He would do fine in the manners department against an eighteenth century lad, if he could keep his wicked mouth in line.
“How will we know if it worked?” he asked when they sat back down again.
“That’s the hardest part,” she said. “We’ll have to actually walk back to the castle to check.”
“This could take a bloody long time,” he sighed.
They were about a quarter mile into the woods. Not too far, but still a fair trek if they kept making mistakes. After a moment of frowning, he got up and rummaged in his bag, pulling out a length of string. He broke some off and tied it in a bow around a sapling.
“Look, if it doesna work, that bow will be the same. If we go backwards at all, it should be gone completely.”
She nodded at his surprisingly simple, yet brilliant idea. When she took out the list of instructions, her smile slid off her face. “Er, you recall we have to cut ourselves?” she asked, taking out the little scalpel she’d swiped from the clinic she did volunteer hours at. “It’s all sterile, so at least we’ll not get septic from it.”
He took it from her and sliced across the tip of his ring finger, squeezing a few drops onto the herbs. She winced, embarrassed when her hand shook as she took it back from him, and felt even worse when she hesitated like a ninny.
“Here, Mel,” he said softly, taking her hand and closing his own around it firmly. He made the tiniest jab in her finger and squeezed.
“Ah well, I feel stupid now,” she said when she barely felt it.
“Nothing stupid about not wanting to hurt yourself.” He looked down at their blood drops with distaste. “Carry on, I guess. I’ll do the singing bits.”
She smirked, grateful yet again to him. Her voice came out in a strangled rasp as she sounded out the words. Shane began singing, a little off key and sounding as nervous as she felt. Gripping the paper as if it were the only thing keeping her from certain death, she finished the spell and shut her eyes.
A moment passed and she opened one, then the other, to see Shane looking over her shoulder. She whirled around to see the bow still tied around the sapling. Nothing had changed.
“It didn’t work,” she said, not sure if the crushing feeling in her chest was relief or disappointment. “Did I do it wrong?”
He reached for the instructions and silently mouthed the words. “I dinna think so, that’s how I would have said it as well. Let me try it this time.”
“I’m sorry,” she said, the crushing feeling getting worse at the defeated tone of his voice.
“Verra little is mastered on the first go,” he said, clearing his throat. “We’ll just keep trying.”
Shane grabbed her hand, alarming her and making her have second thoughts. Maybe they weren’t meant to go. Perhaps the spell not working was a sign. He was already saying the words and she began singing, a lullaby she sang to Mags when she was in charge of him. Would she get to see the dear little lad grow up? A gust of cold air blew over them, ruffling the herb pile. She hung onto Shane and squeezed her eyes closed once again.
She opened them to Shane looking down at her with a manic smile plastered across his face. He looked relieved when she blinked a few times and struggled to sit up.
“Something happened,” he said, voice tight. “The string’s gone. In fact, the wee tree’s gone as well.”
“Bloody hell, are you serious?”
She looked around. Things did seem slightly different. It was earlier in the day for one, that was clear, and where she thought the sapling with the bow was, there was now a much larger tree. Had they actually moved position?
“What do we do?” he asked excitedly, shaking her arm. “Do you think we actually did it?”
Her heart felt like it would climb out of her body and she stood up and took a few steps, breathing deeply. Not a single coherent thought could be found in her jumbled mind, and she looked up at the sky for answers. Shane breathed hard through his nose and she walked over and put her hand on his shoulder to calm him down so he wouldn’t hyperventilate. Acting out of instinct, and using her helpful nursing skills centered her.
“Let’s take a peek at the castle,” she suggested, patting him.
She hoped the walk back would clear their heads enough to come up with a plan, and she laughed a little as they trudged through the undergrowth. They’d covered every base in getting to the past, but hadn’t given a single thought to what they would do once they arrived.
The small, almost imperceptible differences threw her, and she got more excited with every step they took. Shane walked a few steps ahead of her, but kept glancing back, as if he was afraid she’d disappear, or maybe he was as anxious as she was about what they’d see when they reached sight of the castle.
A high pitched laugh and the sound of running feet halted them in their tracks and she quickly jumped behind a cluster of thorny berry bushes. Shane stood in the path like a deer caught in traffic before she reached out and grabbed his ankle. He dove behind the shrub and lay beside her. They both peered through the branches and waited.
The laughter grew louder and a young boy, about ten years old with wavy brown hair, burst from around a bend in the path and turned to holler, “You’ll never catch up, Goldie.”
A girl who was about a year or so younger made a liar out of him by flinging herself onto his back, nearly wrestling him to the ground.
“Mum said you need to stay with us, you wicked philanderer,” she said, her cheeks rosy from running, her long, bright red hair in a windswept tangle.
“You don’t even know what that word means. You need to stop sneak reading mum’s books,” he scoffed, thrashing around until she fell off him. She landed on her bottom with a hard thump, making Mellie wince in sympathy. The boy scowled at her weak attempt to hide her pain, and held out his hand to help her up, mumbling an apology. “You’re supposed to stay near Daisy, so you better run along.”
“You’re supposed to stay near both of us, Mags, so why are you running off into the woods?”
Mellie couldn’t help the gasp of shock that huffed out of her. That half-grown, running, teasing boy was fat little roly poly Magnus, who mostly only gurgled and gnawed on his toes?
Shane gripped her arm to get her to be quiet, but Magnus and the little girl heard, their eyes homing in on the berry bush.
“Oi, who’s there?” he called in a surprisingly self-assured voice. “If you’re a poacher, my uncle Lachlan will snap you in two.”
Mellie broke out in a violent attack of goosebumps, finally accepting what she saw. She turned to Shane, whose hanging jaw told her he had come to the same conclusion.
They’d gone into the future.
Before Mellie quite knew what she was about, she popped up to face Magnus, her goosebumps chilling her nearly to the bone as she took him in. His baby fat was gone without a trace, his small jaw set in a hard, brave line. His downy puffs of hair were replaced by a thick, unruly brown mop. In her time he hadn’t even had his first haircut yet. They must have heard wrong, but he looked so much like a small, unformed Sam that she had to believe it was him.
Shane looked like he was about to rise as well, and for whatever reason, she planted her foot on his back to keep him down. With barely a glance, she shook her head at him. It was bad enough she’d decided to show herself.
Before she could speak to reassure Magnus that she wasn’t a poacher or an enemy of any kind, his eyes went round and he turned his head curiously to the side. At her abrupt appearance, he’d grabbed the red-haired girl and swept her behind his back, but she poked her head around his arm.
“Auntie Mellie, what are you doing out here? And in those clothes?” she asked.
The girl narrowed her eyes and turned her head to the side, mimicking the boy, and it was with this gesture Mellie saw the resemblance and gasped. This girl had to be Evie’s new baby. Her unborn baby. An explosion of stars burst in front of her eyes and Shane grabbed her ankle. She glanced down to see his questioning face. What were they going to do now?
“Ah, hi kids,” she said, wrenching her ankle out of Shane’s grip and moving from behind the bush. “I was just visiting the historical camp.” She prayed the camp still existed in this time.
The children exchanged looks and eyed her some more, Magnus’s expression turning more suspicious.
“Your hair’s different,” he said.
More footsteps came crashing up the path and he rolled his eyes, shoving his sister in an irritated manner.
“Ye’re both dead meat,” a little girl with shoulder length black curls said fiercely when she appeared around the bend. “We’re supposed to stay together and ye’re always ditching me.”
She looked around six, all skinny arms and legs, with an elfish face and large dark blue eyes. There was no doubt who this child belonged to, she was the perfect melding of Lachlan and Piper. Mellie staggered two steps to the nearest tree and held on to keep from fainting.
“Shut it, Daisy,” Magnus said, dismissing her. “I told Goldie to stay with ye, so cry to her if ye’re going to cry.”
Goldie frowned at her brother’s harsh words and linked arms with Daisy, who’d just noticed Mellie gawping at her.
“Oh, hello, Auntie Mellie.” It was her turn to study her for a long moment. “What have ye done to your hair?”
She reached around and pulled on her long brown ponytail. Her hair had been the same since she was twelve. She needed to get rid of them, as much as she wanted to ply them with questions and hug them.
“I’m certain you children shouldn’t be traipsing about the forest by yourselves,” she said in what she hoped was an auntie voice.
Was she a cool auntie or a mean one? Did she take them shopping and drop them off at school? Her eyes prickled with tears, and she realized this was proof that she either came back to her own time, or they never made it back to the eighteenth century in the first place. That thought made her heart sink with disappointment. She wanted at least a shot at a change.
“Did you say you were going to the historical camp?” Magnus asked. “Can’t we go with you?” He patted his pockets and then turned to his sister. “Do you have the phone? Let’s call and ask if we can go.”
“No, you cannot go with me,” she said hurriedly, startling all three of them with her harsh tone. She pushed aside the little bit of heartbreak this caused. “Sorry, but I’m in a hurry. You best be getting on. And, er, don’t mention you saw me, will you?”
“Why not?” Daisy immediately asked. They all stared at her expectantly.
“It’s a surprise,” she said, thinking of the only surefire way to keep children quiet. “For your mums. So keep it zipped, aye?” She made shooing motions but they continued to stand there, a small wall of belligerent lip jutting and frowns.
“Are you lying to us?” Magnus asked.
Bugger. She thought she heard Shane rustle around and forced herself to keep her eyes from cutting to the shrub. First they’d noticed something off about her hair and now he was straight up accusing her of lying. She cursed his astute observational skills, and blamed it on Evie. Of course someone so paranoid would have a child like this.
“Magnus.” She crossed her fingers behind her back and prayed for forgiveness. “Would I ever lie to you?”