III. December 13, 1862

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"Miss! Miss!"

A chorus of children's voices echoes in my ears, and when I open my eyes, I'm surrounded by tall pine trees, their high branches haunting against the clear night sky. I spin around, trying to gain my bearings, and I trip over a branch, nearly falling on my face. When I hold my arms out to catch myself, Sage's black hoodie is gone, replaced by long, white, puffy sleeves with ruffles around the wrists. My heaving breaths hang in the air as a cloud as I reach up and brush my hand over my shoulder, feeling what seems to be a wool cape covering a long, sweeping skirt and stark white apron.

"Oh, dear God," I whisper, touching the bonnet on my head.

A tug on my skirt pulls my gaze toward the ground, where a child of no more than six years old stands looking up at me, his dark eyes wide and his deep brown skin covered in a sheen of dirt. "Where are we going?"

My mouth moves without my brain saying, "I—I don't—"

"You said we were going to wait here for a second until the others caught up to us. Where are they?" a little girl cries, the tight twists on either side of her head shaking as she shivers against the cold.

"I'm sure they will be here any minute," I say in what I hope is a reassuring voice, but my words don't comfort the rest of the children gathered around us.

"We have to make it to the free states, Miss. My momma said we do not have time to waste," the tallest of the children says, her pigtail braids swishing back and forth as she shakes her head.

The free states. I'm in the Civil War. Shit.

"All right, all right, don't worry; we'll make it." My voice is higher than usual, and my skin prickles with panic.

"Miss!"

A deeper voice calls to me from behind and I turn to a tall, broad-shouldered man with umber skin and caramel colored eyes that shine in the starlight.

"Oh, thank God," I murmur, rushing toward him. "Please help me; I have no idea what I'm supposed to be doing."

He places a hand on my shoulder and squeezes, looking at me like I've lost my mind. "Miss, you have been traveling this route for days," he slowly says, as if he were talking to the youngest child in my group. "You have to run and make it to the West Virginia/Pennsylvania border by dawn. You still have a little way to go." He looks around and lowers his voice. "Groups of bounty hunters patrol this area, so you need to move fast." He thrusts a satchel into my hands. "Here are some provisions for the last leg of your journey. You have our gratitude; now our children will have a chance to be free."

With trembling hands, I place the satchel across my body, and the little boy next to me laces his finger with mine.

"Remember to keep north. You will find a safe house just on the other side of this forest," the older man says with a bow of his head. "Now you must go. The Lord be with you."

The children follow me in an organized line; there's no doubt that they've been bound together in chains before. They're so young, so full of quiet wonder as we move through the forest. Hope remains a driving force in each of them.

We have to stop several times for the smaller children to rest their aching legs and for countless bathroom breaks. And every delay has me on edge. The man said bounty hunters will search the area; I can't let these children get caught. It doesn't matter that they are just kids. The punishment for running will be harsh...perhaps death.

"Come on. Let's keep moving. The sooner we get there, the sooner you guys can take an actual break and play." I'm met with bright smiles and gleaming eyes; they are ecstatic at the new possibility.

We trudge along, and the children fall quiet, only whispering exchanges every once in a while. As we crunch our way through the dead grass, I allow myself a moment to think.

And my first thought is simple: What in the fresh hell is going on?

Yesterday was weird enough, waking up on a bridge in Tennessee in 1996, especially when I live in Arizona...in 2020. I'd been certain that was just some crazy dream, but now...it's happened again. How is this possible? Nothing makes sense, but I know one thing: I helped to save Kyle's life yesterday, and no matter how "real" this is or isn't, these children's lives are in my hands now. So, I have to do my best to save them in whatever reality this is.

"Miss?"

I look down at the little boy who is holding my hand and smile. "Please. Call me Rylan."

He pulls on my hand until I'm forced to bend at the waist, and he whispers in my ear, "Miss Rylan...I think I heard somethin' behind us."

My heart stops for a moment, but the blood rushes through my ears when I turn to look over my shoulder.

Moonlight illuminates a man on a horse, and even with the distance between us, I can make out a gray wool coat.

I've taken enough history classes to know the Confederates wore gray.

I turn to the six children in my care and whisper one word: run.

I turn to the six children in my care and whisper one word: run

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