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The Time Traveler, Chapter One: Tying Up Loose Ends
The Time Traveler series by Umamor Hunter tells the tale of Marianne Spelling, a time traveling Chicago teen finding herself in a magical realm of ancient Scotland.

Chapter One: Tying Up Loose Ends

It was summer vacation the year I started high school that we heard the terrible news. Before I knew it, my family and I were aboard an eight hour British Airways flight to somewhere in Scotland.

Up until then, I had planned to celebrate the summer in style since it was my last one before high school completely took over my life. I was supposed to be going to North Avenue Beach with my friends near downtown Chicago. I was supposed to be spending my days at Six Flags Great America Amusement Park, using library passes to tour the Museum Campus, and attending the great festivals Chicago has to offer in summer. Most importantly, I was supposed to be having fun with my transition from shy elementary student to the adventurous high school goer. After all, I wasn't just a child anymore. I was officially in high school!

But what was supposed to happen didn't. Not a single plan I had imagined came to pass. Instead, I was whisked away to a place that I had only heard of from bedtime stories my father used to tell, and this felt more like a nightmare than a story.

My grandfather had died.

I was only fourteen years old when he passed away from bone cancer. My twin brother and I had just graduated from elementary school a week or two before, and the start of our longest summer break ever seemed more like a nightmare than a vacation. It wasn't totally unexpected since he had had cancer for a number of years, but just because you have closure doesn't always make the pain go away. It also didn't help that he was half a world away in Scotland while we were in Chicago living our daily lives. But because my grandfather had expressed his wishes to be buried in Scotland on multiple occasions, it was decided early on we were all going to Scotland too. It had been just a matter of time for when.

My grandfather's name had been Jacob Spelling, but everyone called him Jake, and just because he lived in Scotland all the time and I'd never been there didn't mean I'd never met the man. In reality, we were quite close. He'd come spend time with us every few Christmases or so, and sometimes an entire summer with only a couple of my numerous cousins. Plus, my dad would Skype him almost every week to see how he was doing and what he was up to. Grandpa Jake was spry all the way to the end, but over the past few years I could tell he was getting sicker and sicker. Both my brother and I could, really, but my younger sister Miranda just knew he was gone because he had been sick. She was only nine and didn't fully grasp what was happening.

I don't think you ever do even when you see it happening in front of you.

Grandpa Jake had taught both science and history most of his life and I think it was because of him that my brother and I were so interested in both fields. Owen preferred history and I preferred science. Miranda liked art, but then again she was nine and wasn't around long enough to have the closeness Owen and I did with our grandfather. I don't think she cared anyway. She wasn't too close with us being five years younger and all, plus she didn't seem to grasp science or history like we did. I didn't feel like I could hold a conversation with her. Truthfully, I found her annoying and answered anything she said with sarcasm. I would get in trouble for that a lot.

I guess that made me the bad sibling because Owen adored her. I pretended not to care, but even as annoying as she was, Miranda was still my little sister in the end. Still, whenever she wanted something I told her to "go bother Owen."

The last few days had been different though, I guess just as much as the last few weeks had been. She cried a lot, and I cried with her too sometimes. It was a complete change in our relationship, but nothing had been the same since Grandpa Jake had been moved to hospice the month before.

My dad would then start to retell the stories about living with both my grandparents lives at that point to make us all feel better. They both came from a town called Fort William, which was found just west of a mountain called Ben Nevis. The town itself was on the western edge of the country in the Highlands. I didn't know too much geography about Scotland, but I knew the Highlands were in the northern bit. Both my grandparents lived their lives there as did my father and uncles. In fact, all of my cousins were still living over there.

My dad was the only one who came to America and he's been in Chicago ever since. Both my grandparents visited him at least once a year after he married my mom, but after Grandma Catherine died, my grandfather visited less and less. He kept in contact with us, of course, and sometimes came to visit my brother, sister, and me when we were small children. It wasn't often though.

One of the things I would remember the most about him was that he told my siblings and me these wonderful stories about Scotland in the Dark Ages. They were full of fantasy and adventure which is why I remember them so clearly. He'd talk about dragons, magic, wizards and fairies, and how all of it revolved around the Scottish nobility.

Both my father and even Grandpa Jake swore we were descended from one of these Scottish lords named Duncan, and that as centuries progressed, we lost most of our family history and records. Now, the part where dragons and magic came into play was entirely disputable, and when we were older my brother, sister, and I realized the supernatural tidbits were there to spice up those old tales. They always seemed more like fairy tales and myths to us, but all my relatives both swore by and passed them down generation after generation. After all, I suppose there is some truth in every legend.

And after mulling that all around in my head the past week, I suppose that leaves me where I am now.

It was around 4:30 AM, which was when I had been told the sunrise was at this time of year, and I found myself on the edge of an overlook sitting on top of a boulder some ways away from the Spelling Clan's headquarters. I still couldn't wrap my head around the notion that the sun rose this early yet didn't set until well past 10:00PM in the evening. I was here for a couple reasons, though. It was still hard for me to sleep at the adjusted time -- although I had trouble sleeping ever since Grandpa Jake actually passed away -- and I wanted to watch the sunrise. Grandpa Jake used to always talk about how beautiful the sunrise was when you went out into the countryside. Somehow, it made me feel like he was still here with me.

I absentmindedly checked my iPhone. It was still set to Chicago time surprisingly, and I hadn't bothered to manually switch it to the local time just yet. "It's 10:30 at night, and the sun has been well down by now over there. I wonder if Susan would still be online then," I mused, thinking of my both best friend and upstairs neighbor who was two years older than me. She was still at home in Chicago, in the building that housed our condominiums, and most likely logged into her computer at this time of night. My dad had asked her family to watch our place while we were gone, and while our parents contacted through email, Susan and I could talk practically whenever we wanted to at the click of a mouse. Of course, with the emptiness I was feeling inside, there was no one else I wanted to talk to more than this moment.

Not that I had anyone else...

The first rays of sunlight touched me through the orange and pink of the sky. In front of and around me loomed the famous Grampian Mountains and they blocked out the sun until parts of a circular disc started to emerge from their glorious stature. It was cold, I had to admit that, but my grandfather had always spoken of how beautiful the sunrise was here so I bit my tongue to tough it out. I had to see this before I went home because I didn't know when, or if, I'd ever come back to Scotland.

To be honest, being here didn't really have that much appeal to me. The country was beautiful, yes, but I didn't like the cold; I never have. It had to at least be thirty degrees Fahrenheit, which meant it was around negative one Celsius. At least I thought it was around negative one Celsius.

"I have family in Europe, I should know Celsius!" I half muttered in a frustrated tone to myself, trying to convert the temperatures in my head from the familiar Fahrenheit to what the world standard was. I needed to know Celsius anyway. I wanted to become a chemist when I grew up, and scientists needed to know Celsius.

I sighed, hugging my knees in a vain attempt to stay warm within my already insulated coat. The walk and wait had taken just about an hour and a half, and I wasn't sure how much more I could take. Why was the weather so cold if it was summer time anyway? Shouldn't it be warmer than this? Either way, in a precious few minutes it seemed that the valleys were lighting up with life all around. The air was filled with buzzes and hums I could hear from everywhere, and I just imagined Highland bagpipes playing to serenade the scene. A little bit to my right below me was a pond. The shadows I had once seen were now gleaming fish that came up to the surface once in awhile. It was green everywhere covering the mountains as well as the darker earth tones of brown and gray from the stone.

I had to admit it was beautiful, albeit cold; Grandpa Jake had been right.

Quickly, out of my coat pocket I grabbed my camera and started to take snapshots with what felt like frozen fingers. I didn't have a professional camera with a detachable six inch lens that my uncle had, but even I knew it was good to have a fourteen megapixel and times ten zoom with high definition footage. Not even my iPhone had that since it was an early model ... and the lens was too scratched for pictures anyway.

I loved this camera. It had been a gift from my father, since he worked developing new prototypes for Nikon. Usually he'd get the latest and greatest from the company, and that's how my siblings and I got our cameras half the time. He'd make us take care of our cameras, computers, phones etc. If we couldn't, either he or my mother would take it away. I didn't think it was a bad thing, really. I looked at the situation both to my moral benefit and I got to keep my things most of the time. But it wasn't having a specific high tech piece of equipment that I enjoyed the most; it was that my parents cared enough to teach us how to appreciate something and the person who gave it to us. It was knowing that there was a deeper meaning than a simple rule to take care of our belongings. I loved my family for that: we were structured so that we would endure in such simple lessons, and in that notion, my father was the spitting image of his father.

When I finished taking pictures, I put the camera down and looked around at the scenery. The soft sounds of the morning made think about my life and where it was headed from here. It wasn't something most fourteen year old girls did, mind you, but with all that had been happening and how sudden it was, these thoughts surfaced more frequently. I had avoided trying to think of the situation at hand, but I knew I couldn't run anymore. This was a life-changing event and well, frankly I would remember this moment for the rest of my life because it was tied forever with the passing of my grandfather. I didn't know what I would do when I got back, how I could cope with the loss inside me. There was a very strange feeling inside me, and I was more curious why it was there than sad.
But even in the air, the stale feeling lingered.

"Things will be bittersweet," I concluded with a whisper, rising now that the sun had fully come up. The cold was starting to get to me anyway, and I wanted to get home before anyone woke up and noticed I was gone.

This was my first time to Scotland, and most likely my last. I wasn't going to come back. I had a life in America. What was there for me here? There was only old history, the past, and nothing that could keep me here. Even my father lived in America. This was my grandfather's home, and now he was gone.

"I had better get back..." I muttered, shoving my arms around my body and walking with a purpose.

My immediate family was staying at the Spelling Cabin. The rest of my relatives didn't live too far away. It was tough being here, though. I didn't know what was going through my father's head when he decided to stay here until the funeral. Grandpa Jake's stuff was everywhere, and maybe my dad had thought it was his responsibility to look over it and go through it with his brothers. That was fine and all, but I still didn't understand what we were doing here specifically. We all had a hard time looking around and feeling normal. We had just landed here less than a week ago, and the funeral was supposed to be this morning. It seemed like eons to the five of us, though. We would stay here for about another week going through important papers and my grandfather's possessions with the rest of my uncles, aunts, and cousins.

It was going to be hard, but---

"—we're Spellings!" my father would say. "No matter what challenge is in front of us, we will always face it with a good heart and a wise mind." That last part was our undeclared family motto. I knew it as well as the Star Spangled Banner.

Ironically, the name "Spelling" is actually English and not Scottish. Not many people would hear that name often now either. It's been transformed into so many different names hardly anyone realizes my last name is an actual name. Most commonly today people would know the name Spellman because of the show Sabrina the Teenage Witch, but not many would know that her last name was originally "Spelling" a few hundred years back, give or take a few variations. As for how I came from a solid Scottish family with the surname of Spelling, I wouldn't know, but I at least had a name that came from the same island my ancestors did. Well, then again, maybe I was totally wrong and hadn't dug deep enough into the local family names. I was from America and used to random last names that didn't agree with a person's heritage. How was I supposed to know if this was an "okay" Scottish name or not? All I could do is grin and bear it proudly.
I half smiled as I pushed open the cabin door, thinking about how crazy and loveable my family was regardless of whatever happened to us.

"Marianne Spelling!" came a hushed voice from the door. "Where have you been?" my twin brother Owen demanded as he closed the door behind me.
I gave him a devilish grin.

"Oh don't tell me you went..." he started, and I grinned even broader. "...oh you did," sighed Owen as he put two and two together. "Why did you go without me?" he said softly.

"You weren't awake, Owen," I answered with emphasis on the second syllable of "awake."

"Okay, not fair! You know what? Never mind. Look, Mom and Dad are asleep. Don't wake them up," he pleaded. "You know how cranky Mom is when she wakes up."

I took off my gloves and jacket with a wry grin at the mention of my sleeping parents, who were no doubt overstressed.

"It's only... eleven," I said checking my phone as hung up my coat. "Well, no, it's five, but... I hope they get up in time for the funeral."

Owen nodded and yawned. "Well, Miranda fell asleep about an hour ago. I'm still kind of tired, but at least I took a nap. Did you sleep?"

"No," I confessed. "But I can't since last night. I just feel like I could stay awake forever. Whenever I close my eyes, I see things. I see him!"

"Don't fall asleep during the funeral!" Owen threatened.

"That's what energy drinks are for!" I grinned at him again before setting up the laptop in the living room so I could check if Susan was still online.
Owen stretched. "I might as well stay up and start the day. It is day, at least!" he laughed.

"You talk to your girlfriend?" I casually asked as I was plugging in cords.

"She's not my girlfriend!" my brother shot back. "But I was talking with Susan earlier. I had a hunch where you were so she's going to be online for about another hour or so. I think she's on WoW again," Owen muttered at the end, alluding to Susan playing her favorite video game, World of Warcraft. "I'm going to go see what I can do in the office."

"'Kay," I answered as he walked away down the hall, not really paying attention to him. It wasn't like I could hear him, anyway. I had my brother's headphones on, and they blocked out quite a lot of sound. I surfed the contact list to Susan's number, and invited her to a call. It took a few seconds, but finally she connected.

"Hello?" came a girl's voice. "Oh! Hey, Mary! Let me turn my camera on."

"Susan, you are a sight for sore eyes..." I started out and adjusted the laptop screen so I could see her better. A small screen had popped up and showed Susan with a large, heavy-duty headset over her long, straight black hair staring ahead at where her screen must be. "You're playing, aren't you?" I asked after a few moments, not sure what she was doing.

"Yup, but I can multitask. I'm good at that. I'll be a high school junior. I'll have to be good at that! You okay?"

I scoffed. "I'm surprised you're up this late," I said brushing off her question that signaled an obvious answer. "Don't you have to get up in, like five hours to walk my dog?" I asked.

"Yes, but I plan to stay up until then, and then I will go to sleep afterwards. I am doing a raid with people who are all over the place. This is the median time zone that we can meet at. Inconvenient for me, but at least I don't have to worry about school tomor--- NO! She killed my mage!" Susan shouted and I jumped a little on the couch at the volume. "I need a rez! Someone get the priest over here! Or shaman or druid! Something! Battle rez, people! No, no, no! Stay OUT of the fire!"

"Uh huh..." I said slowly as Susan's face intensified and relaxed while flashing lights from her computer screen lit her face in the darkness.

"Oh, I'm sorry, Mary," she said sympathetically looking up at where her camera was. I guess my thrashing around at the sudden increase in volume caught on my own microphone. "Are you alright? How was your flight? Owen said it was long and boring, and he couldn't sleep."

I sighed. "None of us did. That's what we get for paying for cheap seats, not that I'm complaining we didn't get any at all. We were all in the back and scattered around. Owen was in the middle aisle with this Hungarian couple on either side of him who didn't stop talking, Dad and Mom were right next to the window where the engine was, Miranda was with me and she seemed to be the only one who enjoyed the flight. But they do have good radio. I was listening to the 80s station. But the airlines charge way too much for headphones. Five dollars for something that broke by the end of the flight! Seriously!"

"Did they show any good movies?" Susan asked cautiously.

"They showed two and a half. I liked only the last one, but unfortunately they cut it short because we landed. The other one was a date movie and another one was the overused Julia Roberts film. But I did think it was pretty nifty to switch between the Spanish translation, the Gaelic translation, and the English translation!" I answered.

"How long will you guys be gone?" Susan asked with concentration on clicking something I couldn't see. "Your dad told me, but I can't remember if it's next Saturday or Sunday. The ticket time confuses me. It's almost like you're time travelling!" she laughed before suddenly launching another verbal attack at someone else. "Dendroid! Learn to follow the tank! Where's my DPS? I don't want to wipe on this boss again, people! We're the number two guild on the server, and we are not losing that title! Oh my God I'm raiding with a bunch of casuals!" She leaned back in her chair and ran both her hands over her face in frustration.

I laughed. "Your face is so hilarious when you're yelling at people thousands of miles away from you. It's like you're a different person, haha."

"Well, most of these guys are in the states actually. But one's from Argentina, I think. What is it, a two, three-hour difference? And then one's in Alaska. I don't know why we're all on this server, but okay. Oh! So when are you coming back, miss "time traveler?"

"We have another week, and then we will be at O'Hare by 10 AM CST on that Saturday," I said with thought. Then I turned to a more somber mood, "But just a few days here seems like eons, Susan. We're really taking it hard. And even staying in the cabin... I mean he lived here. My mom wants to go into town and get a room or stay with Alyssa and the rest of them."

"Which one is Alyssa again?" Susan asked as she concentrated on her screen. The constant sound of clicking from her mouse was starting to annoy me.

"The eldest cousin with the two children and another baby," I answered.

"So she's older than you, but your dad is older than her dad?" she asked in a confused turn.

"Yes," I stated plainly. This always confused everyone I explained this to. "My dad is the eldest of three brothers. His youngest brother got married first and had a child almost fifteen years before I was born, but my father married and had me in his late thirties."

"Jeez that's confusing."

"Yeah, well, that's my family," I muttered. "But yeah, that's kind of what's going on. Um, Owen is in the office right now. He's probably going through Grandpa's books. That man had a lot of books," I said with exaggeration.

"Wasn't he a teacher?" Susan asked me in response after a few moments of more intense clicking.

"He was both a history and a science teacher with a flare for old legends and mythology..." I tried to think of more to say, but couldn't.

"Are you okay?" Susan asked for a third time.

I sighed and took a deep breath. It sounded more like a shudder and less controlled than what I had in mind.

"Not really," I choked out. "But I won't tell anyone, though. Everyone has their own way of dealing with it; maybe this is just my way. I can't sleep much, especially here. This was his home! I don't know why my dad insists on staying here! I don't think we should be here. It's emotional torture..." I blabbed out suddenly.

"When's the funeral?" she asked in a very soft voice.

"This morning. Well, about 4AM for you. It'll be 10:00AM here. I'm just going to stay up. I don't think I can actually sleep," I laughed bitterly.

"And that's why I gave you that pack of Five Hour Energy before you left on Tuesday! Remember what happened when your cat died? You couldn't sleep for two days! Then we had school!" my neighbor exclaimed.

"That's.... true," I acknowledged after a moment's thought, my voice still shaking. "Thanks?"

"Well, that's what I'm here for. I'm just raiding anyway. There isn't much that goes on besides two conversations between Skype and Ventrilo. I know it's hard, but you're a big girl. You have your entire family out there. Mine is scattered throughout the world. You guys are like family to me, and I can't thank your parents enough for letting me watch their house."

"Your dad is watching my house," I corrected with amusement. "You walk my dog."

"Well, yeah, but you know what I mean. I'm only upstairs anyway. We're always available for you guys. I'm just sorry it was under these circumstances," Susan said solemnly.

"I wish this hadn't happened..." I said under my breath and stared wistfully at the coffee table corner.

I told her what happened at sunrise when I was outside, and how I had been unconsciously distracting myself and shutting out the reason why I was in Scotland. It was when she was done with her raid on whatever dungeon she was doing with her group of online friends that I decided to let her go and join Owen in the study. I had a lot of contemplating to do and while talking to Susan was comforting, I needed to do something that would distract me from the terrible upwelling feeling that was about to come on. I bade Susan goodnight, closed the overheated laptop, and placed it in the middle of the coffee table in the living room with Owen's headphones piled neatly on top of it.

I tilted my head back and stared at the dark ceiling. The hum of the computer was soothing, almost like it was singing a note. I felt like I was coming apart, and barely hanging on by multiple threads. There were too many loose ends to tie, and this was more than any fourteen year old girl should ever think about.
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