Syracuse, New York
Kara entered the dusty old attic and took it in. This was her grandmother Alice's domain when she was still alive, with the stacks of books and old boxes arranged just the way she preferred. Kara had avoided the attic while she was growing up, finding the endless stacks of books overwhelming.
Taking it in now, Kara could almost see Alice huddled in the corner chair, poring intently over one of her books about medieval history, straightening to give Kara a kind smile.
But Alice, as her grandmother insisted she call her by her first name, died two weeks ago, and as her only granddaughter and sole heir, it was up to Kara to sort through all of her belongings. She’d cleaned out Alice’s Craftsman-style home every day for the past two weeks and purposefully avoided the attic until now. It held too many memories; Alice’s presence infused every book, every box, every corner of the attic she’d spent so much time in.
Kara expelled a breath and stepped into the attic, squatting down on her haunches to begin the arduous task of clearing it out. The distant relatives who’d come to Alice’s funeral offered their help in clearing out Alice’s home, but Kara had refused. In a way, these were her final moments with her grandmother; so much of Alice lingered in this house even after her death.
Kara smiled as she picked up an old photo album, cringing as she flipped open to an old photo of herself. In the photo, she was fourteen, gangly and awkward, her braces visible as she smiled at the camera.
Kara placed the photo album into the “KEEP” box. Sentimental to a fault, she suspected Alice kept every single embarrassing photo of Kara’s embarrassing adolescent years.
Alice had stepped in to raise Kara after her mother’s death from cancer; Kara was eight at the time, an only child who'd never known her father. Alice was a young grandmother, only in her later forties when Kara came to live with her. She'd never married nor had children of her own. Alice often told Kara she believed fate brought Kara to her; she loved her as if she were her own child.
“I miss you, Alice,” Kara whispered, blinking back a wave of tears as she picked up a framed photo that lay beneath the photo album. It was one of Alice from her younger years; her blonde hair long and flowing, free of the gray that would eventually wind through it, the green eyes Kara had inherited bright and vivid, her lips turned up in that familiar half-smile she often wore.
Alice had been ill for some time with a heart condition, but her death still hit Kara hard, adding more misery to a decidedly crappy year. The magazine where she’d worked had laid her off from her job as an investigative reporter, a dying gig in an increasingly dying industry. Kara loved her job and was a full-fledged workaholic, throwing herself into every aspect of her job to the fault of everything else—including relationships. But Alice never criticized how much her granddaughter worked, even when such work caused her visits to decrease. Alice simply told her one Thanksgiving that there would come a day when work wouldn’t seem so important. Kara had tried not to roll her eyes, assuming Alice was referring to the magical moment when she’d meet her future husband—something Kara didn’t think would ever happen. Kara was twenty-nine and hadn't yet met anyone who piqued her interest as much as her job; her last boyfriend told her he felt as if she was cheating on him with her job, and it would always come first. Deep down, Kara suspected he was right.
Kara fanned herself with an old book, expelling a sigh. She’d only been out of work for a month but it seemed like ages. She couldn’t wait to find another job to throw herself into, something to distract herself from her grief.
Taking out her phone, Kara scrolled to an upbeat playlist to listen to while she continued to sort through Alice’s things. She made good progress for the next two hours, sorting stacks of books, journals and photo albums into the “KEEP” and “DO NOT KEEP” boxes until she reached the back corner of the attic.
There, she spotted a wooden chest sealed shut with a combination lock. Tucked away beneath several other boxes, it looked as if someone had tried to hide it away. Kara studied it, baffled. She may not have spent much time in the attic, but she didn’t recognize it at all.
Kara pulled the chest out of the corner, noticing a small note affixed to the top.
For my granddaughter Kara Forrester’s eyes only.
Her confusion deepened. Alice had mentioned nothing about this chest during her last few visits, and if anything valuable was inside, she hadn't included it her will.
Kara reached down to tear the note off the chest, flipping it around. Alice had scrawled another message.
Care Bear, if you’re reading this use the special password.
Kara couldn’t help but smile at her grandmother’s use of her childhood nickname, one she continued to use well into Kara’s teen years. As a teen, Kara hated the nickname, but now a wave of painful nostalgia washed over her. She'd do anything to hear Alice call her “Care Bear” again.
She looked down at the combination lock. She knew exactly what password Alice referred to. It was the date she’d come to live with Alice, a date Alice said had changed her life for the better.
June 12th, 1996. 6121996.
Kara turned the combination lock to the corresponding numbers of the date. As she spun the dial to the final number, it gave away and she opened the chest.
Surprise filled her as she gazed inside the chest; only an envelope and garment bag were nestled there. Her brow furrowing, Kara reached for the envelope.
She tore it open, removing a letter that was at least ten pages long. Kara leaned back against the wall to read.
I’ve been investigating a historical family mystery for some time; something I uncovered while researching our genealogy. In the spring of 1390, records indicate a fire occurred in the middle of the night during a clan conflict in the Scottish Highlands. A separate branch of our family died in this fire. I’ve only been able to find scant records about it, but it looks like the fire was purposeful and killed many; the perpetrators were never found. Our distant ancestors were just innocent bystanders.
Kara lowered the letter, rubbing her eyes. While this was tragic, she didn’t know how this letter warranted Alice locking it away with a note telling her it was for her eyes only.
She kept reading.
You know I can’t resist a good mystery—just like you, Care Bear. I began investigating this particular region in the Scottish Highlands around the time of this fire, and there were rumors of people vanishing—and appearing out of nowhere.
Kara stilled, but made herself keep reading.
I think I know the reason for those disappearances. Stay with me, sweetheart, because this is going to sound crazy. I believe time travel is real. And . . . I can’t tell you how I know this, but I believe you have the ability to travel through time.
Kara’s hands shook as she reread this part of the letter several times.
“Oh, Alice,” Kara whispered, lowering the letter and pressing her hand to her mouth. Alice had been logical to a fault; she didn’t believe in anything without hard evidence. She hated science fiction and anything under the fantasy umbrella.
Unease swirled through Kara’s gut. Alice’s mind had been clear to the very end; the doctors told her she was in no way cognitively impaired. It looked like the doctors were wrong.
Kara swallowed, forcing herself to keep reading.
I know what you’re thinking, Care Bear. That your grandmother has lost her marbles. Now, all I have as proof is hearsay and rumors. But I always trust my gut instinct and I want you to humor me. There are coordinates at the bottom of this letter; they’re in Scotland. In the garment bag there’s a dress that will suit where you’re going.
And if I’m not crazy and you are indeed pulled back through time—I’d like you to put those investigative skills of yours to use. I want you to solve this mystery and save the lives of our distant ancestors—and the countless others who died that spring.