May 1st, 1946
Craigh na Dun
At the young age of thirteen Amanda Mackenzie had not foreseen she would be dancing at a circle made of stones during her lifetime. But here she was, in the night of Beltane, climbing the steep hill towards them. Women of all ages gathered within the circle to face the menhir at the center. They looked at it in awe, a sense of worship evident in their faces, and Mandy wondered if they even understood the power encased within. Like all natural objects, it is said that stones contain mystical energy vibrations that, in some cases, can heal. But not these ones. These have the power to disrupt lives and families across centuries, to cause heartache without end and even bring death upon the least prepared.
One by one, the lanterns lit around the circle of women, their glow dissipating upwards into the moonless sky. They started moving in harmony to the beat of a song that was only in their heads, and Mandy felt herself pulled by the wave of motion around her. Despite not knowing the dance, her body seemed infused with a life of its own, and followed the others with fluid, graceful movements that brushed the warm air of the night. The light fabric of her dress flowed around her body at each turn, and the lantern in her hand felt like a comfortable anchor to reality, as the stones beckoned for her. The buzzing of what sounded like a hive of angry bees made her bones vibrate and her stomach turn with each step around the circle. But she fought those overwhelming sensations as hard as she could, focusing her mind while allowing her body to move freely.
And she went on, to bring out the sun into a new day, to honor the invisible divine connected to the earth, but most importantly, she danced with hope in her heart that somehow, she could convey a message across time to her family, letting them know she was alive, waiting for them.
The dance came gradually to an end, the motion diminished as the first rays of sun shone behind the silhouettes of the distant mountains and illuminated the stone at the center. And in that instant, the stones were silent, as if at peace for a moment in time, with no haunting calls from the other side.
The women walked down the hill, chatting merrily among themselves. Mandy was halfway down when she felt her unruly, curly hair loose on the wind. She turned around, marched back to the circle and found the fallen ribbon among the forget-me-nots, fully in bloom at this time of the year. Mandy then sat on the thick root of a nearby tree, and contemplated the scenery in front of her, though such peacefulness did not match the agony she felt inside.
A low buzzing began again, and she turned towards the lonely stone. It had been six months since she had last crossed it, and a blend of rage and fear bubbled within her at the memory of it.
Before that, she had been living a blissful life at the Ridge, two centuries ago. Back then, Mandy had seen war and peace unfold, but life within her family was always filled with love in spite of the external forces pulling them apart. And just as she thought her life would carry on uneventfully, everything changed.
Her grandda died, unexpectedly and much to their collective grief, most acutely to her grannie. It was a disrupting event in her young life, one Mandy had never thought possible, for she truly believed her grandda was invincible, incapable of dying. So, just before Mandy could overcome that pain, her father had urged all of them, Grannie included, to the stones and all the way back to a time she barely remembered.
Shortly after her grandda was gone, her father had explained, with a voice thick with unshed tears, that it was Grandda’s wish. Her father should take Grannie, and the rest of them, through the stones and to a safer place, for neither of them would ever be safe again in that time without his protection. The Ocracoke stone circle had been the obvious option for that, but Grannie had insisted they had to take Grandda back to Scotland, to rest forever in his beloved home. So, they journeyed across the Atlantic and made their way towards the Highlands of the 18th century for the last time in their lives.
Mandy noted then, that in the face of danger, normal people moved to another city, perhaps even to another country. Yet, her family was not normal, despite their appearance. They had to move to another time entirely. Once again, they hand plucked her from the world she had grown to know, and thrusted her into the unknown.
She had been livid ever since they left North Carolina, and the few words she said to her father were bitter and rooted in anger. Mandy had not meant them, for she loved her father dearly, but could not bring herself to dissolve the hurt she felt inside.
She was still mad at him on the day they arrived at Craigh na Dun, having said goodbye to her grandda for the last time. It was the morning of Samhain, a day of grief and relief, but also of fresh starts. The veil between this world and the next was so thin, that the spirits of the past were said to roam the earth once more, perhaps it was that veil that allowed them to travel.
Her mind was so filled with resentment towards her father’s choice, that once they arrived at the top of the hill, she ran towards the central stone in spite and disappeared before their eyes with him still on her mind.
It was painful, more so than she remembered as a child. Her whole body felt as if near combustion, bones and teeth on the verge of shattering. Her heart suffered the most, as it felt like it was being ripped in two. And when she landed on the other side, breathless and nauseated, she allowed herself to be carried into unconsciousness.
When Mandy came back to her senses, she was alone and unaware of when she was. It was late in the day, and the sun was setting. She felt odd that no one else had arrived yet, and as the hours passed, a sense of fear invaded her. Still, she remained alone.
The sun was long gone, and she was cold and hungry when she decided to walk towards what she vaguely remembered was the nearest town. Then a series of events had unfolded, completely out of her control. Mandy found herself desperately trying to explain to the people that found her on the road who she was and where she lived, but no one believed her. It was only when she saw her childhood home with her own eyes, decaying and abandoned for decades, that it finally sunk in. She had not arrived at the time she was supposed to.
With nowhere to go, she was taken in by a lady in Inverness. Her kindness and quick wit reminded Mandy of her own grannie, and she felt a little more at ease.
The date on the paper headlines, 1946, seemed to mock her every day, and pulled her deeper into a swirl of longing for her family. In a sense, she felt this was her punishment for being a reckless child. Yet, Mrs. Graham was the only one that believed her, and in the middle of the night, whenever Mandy cried herself to sleep, she brushed a hand through her curls and soothed her loneliness. She was the one who brought her to the stones again, encouraging her to, if not going back to whenever her family was, at least to summon the sun into a new year of the wheel with them.
In the six months she spent in that time, no one had come looking for her. And that was why she came dancing to the stones, hoping they would come this time.
Mandy kept staring at the circle, contemplating if she could survive yet another journey, when her attention was caught by a rustle in the bushes. A face came into view and her heart nearly stopped altogether. She would know that face anywhere, those brown curls and light-colored eyes. Mandy wanted to move, but her body was paralyzed with shock. Pain, longing and fear rooted her to the ground, and she couldn’t do anything else than stare at the first person of her family she saw in a long time.
It was Grannie Claire, looking much younger than Mandy remembered, staring back at her with nothing more than curiosity. And soon after their eyes met in the briefest of moments, she was gone among the leaves and trees, leaving Mandy alone once more.
May 2nd, 1946
There were very few times in Mandy’s life when she had felt this anxious, as she stood in the corridor of Reverend Wakefield’s house. Her mind was still reeling from having seen her grannie at the stones the previous day, knowing quite well what it meant. And more persistently at the moment, her stockings were prickling her legs again. She adjusted them under the dress, and not for the first time, Mandy longed for the worn, wool fabrics she had grown up with, covering her body in a sense of familiar comfort.
She had not been allowed to accompany Mrs. Graham to the house before, but had imagined it all the same. Though reality was far from what she expected. The ceilings were high, the walls were made of polished wood and covered with portraits of people and places unknown to her. But perhaps its most striking feature were the large windows, which welcomed the rare sunlight into all the rooms she could see from where she stood.
Male voices came from the adjacent room, raised in intense conversation, and she leaned closer to listen.
I don’t know where she went and it’s been a whole day!
She couldn’t have gone far, Frank. We must keep searching.
Mandy was startled by the sudden appearance of Mrs. Graham at her side, holding a tray in her hands. “Mandy, be a dear and take this to Mr. Randall. It will do him good.”
The name rang a bell in her mind. “Why is that?”
“His wife, Claire, has been missing since yesterday.” Mrs. Graham added with a deep sigh, sad in its very essence.
Could it be that the man in the other room was her grannie’s first husband? It made sense; this was the year and place her grannie would travel unwillingly to the past, only to return two years later, pregnant with her own mother. Mandy knew the general outline of her family’s story from being told first hand, but there were blanks left intentionally, which she had only filled with the scattered conversations she heard behind closed doors. So, there was no surprise when the heat of curiosity rushed through her veins, about the prospect of meeting the man both her grannie and mother spoke so dearly about. And although she knew he had been dead, the idea that he was presently alive, just a short distance away, seemed difficult to conciliate.
Mandy entered the room with unsure steps, carefully balancing the tray in her hands. A whiff of Mint tickled her nose then, the scent evaporating from the hot cup and into the air. With a pang in her chest, Mandy remembered her grannie saying the herb got its name from a beautiful nymph, which had been transformed into a plant, one destined to grow in the shadows. For all purposes and fresh scented, besides healing and calming many aches, it was also supposed to bring protection and good luck. And she sincerely hoped it would help Mr. Randall.
He sat on a chair by the window, face hidden in his hands, sunlight and shadows equally playing on his slumped form.
“Some tea, Mr. Randall?” Mandy asked with a slight tremble in her voice.
“I don’t want tea!” he shouted, disrupting the silence of the room, scaring her effectively, and making the golden liquid within the cup sway dangerously close to the rim.
“I’m sorry,” he said shortly after, in a much calmer manner and looking at her for the first time. “I mean no disrespect.”
Mandy first noticed the dark circles under his eyes, deep brown and tired, and then the hard manner in which his jaw was set. His features must be pleasant in other circumstances, Mandy though, but they were now strongly marked by anguish.
“I’ll have it then, thank you.”
There was a string of questions forming in the tip of her tongue at the very moment he took the cup from her hands, but none took form against the somber expression of the man in front of her. Besides, regardless of curiosity, any question she asked now, in this time, might raise suspicion, something her father had warned countless times.
“Your wife will come back.” Mandy blurted out with a certainty provided by the peculiar predicament of her existence. “Just don’t lose hope, Mr. Randall.”
He looked at her with a curious expression, hanging on to her words as if the last thread of hope was woven in them. To a large extent, she sympathized with him, his only family was gone, leaving him alone with a sort of pain that would only aggravate with time, deepening the lines on his face, until she finally came back.
Mandy could not handle his stare for much longer, a strong reflection of her own. With nothing else to say, she turned around and exited the room, leaving him to sink into his own misery again. She heard plates clinking against each other in the kitchen, but was not inclined to go there. Instead, she turned towards the door at the end of the corridor and stepped into the backyard.
The days had become noticeably longer and warmer, only interrupted by regular downpours. The soil was warm enough to prosper with both sun and rain, the grass had grown and the trees unfurled with green leaves. There was a small vegetable patch at the corner, delivering the first edibles of the season. She found a wooden bench to seat, closed her eyes, and inhaled the soothing scents bursting forth from the earth. The garden reminded her of home, and she felt tears breaking free from her lashes and rolling down her cheeks.
The silence was broken by the sounds of an engine, though not a real one. She opened her eyes and saw a little boy burst out of the flower bushes, holding a small airplane high above his head. He stopped abruptly.
“Who are you?” he asked promptly, manners forgotten in a brief moment of surprise.
“My name is Amanda Mackenzie, but everyone calls me Mandy.” she said gently, cleaning tracks of tears with the back of her hand.
His mouth opened slightly, eyes flashing with recognition of the last name, all suspicion melting away. “I’m Roger Wakefield. Pleased to meet ye.”
“I know who you are.” Mandy recognized those eyes and had missed them tremendously. While she knew them heavier and framed with wrinkles, they were now clear and innocent, although with the faintest beginnings of the emotions that would later characterize them.
“You look sad, Mandy. What happened?” he stepped closer and sat beside her on the bench, placing his toy carefully on the surface.
She eyed him for a moment, taking in his small size, round features, all the while yearning for his future tall frame and strong arms that enveloped her in strong embraces.
“I got lost from my parents, it was my fault, and they haven’t come to find me. Her bottom lip quivered and there was a prickling of fresh tears in her eyes. “I don’t think they ever will.”
“Can’t ye go look for them yerself?”
“I’m so afraid. I don’t think I can do it again.”
Roger sighed deeply, seemingly sympathizing with her. “My parents are not coming back and I miss them. I would do anything to find them, even if it was scary.”
Mandy remembered, belatedly, that he had lost both parents not so long ago, and he was now telling her, in the most candid manner possible, that she should not give into fear. If this boy, who will grow up to be the bravest man she knows, would be courageous enough to seek his parents no matter what, so could she. After all, she was made of the same material that he was.
“Ye should go find them, Mandy. I’m sure yer father is verra worried about ye.” he said gently, not even realizing the weight of his words, though it was a very early display of her father’s wisdom.
She leaned over, embraced him, and felt his small arms around her waist. It was good enough for now. “Thank you, Da.” she whispered.
By midafternoon, Mandy had returned to her temporary home in this time, feeling sad to abandon it, and just as determined to leave. She left a farewell note on Mrs. Graham’s tea table, and walked all the way to Craigh na Dun with a small bundle of belongings under her arm. The way was long and tiresome, but she persisted, propelled by her father’s words and the need to be with her family.
She reached the base of the hill before the sun completely set on the horizon that day, casting long shadows on the green hills surrounding Inverness. The climb was steep, but she would not falter.
There were footsteps coming from the end of the path, and a silhouette appeared above, framed by the stones in the circle.
“Mandy?” the human shape called for her and the image became gradually sharper against the sunrays. A woman. Tall, pale skin, long, curly hair. Red as the warmest fires of winter.
“Mama, mama,” Mandy cried and ran up the rest of the path to be caught by the waiting arms of her mother. She buried her face on her neck, her vision suddenly clouded by the red of her mother’s hair.
“I finally found you my darling.” Brianna exclaimed between tears herself, though joy was plain in her words. “Let’s go home, your father is waiting for us.”