That put a pall over the vacation and some of the guests discussed leaving for home.
Up to that point, their stay at Brown Mountain Beach had been both relaxing and enjoyable. The cabins, though roughly built, had electricity and the cool evenings were offset by warm and pleasant days. If it were not for the news of the horrifying murder of a young white girl in Morganton by a black man and the subsequent hunt in Western North Carolina, the rumors having reached them before the paper did, it would have been a perfectly relaxing stay.
They were just finishing breakfast when their peace was interrupted by the screams of a woman from one of the nearby cabins. Miss Hernandez leapt from her seat near the pavilion and ran towards the screaming, followed closely by Bricker. Rockefeller drew a tiny, semi-automatic pocket pistol and followed them. Felix, who had been serving them, followed close behind. Miss Fairfield was also on the way, her camera at ready.
â€œVirgil, get your gun,â€ Miss Edington said.
â€œI already got it, miss,â€ Virgil Thomas said.
â€œThatâ€™s good then,â€ she replied. â€œYou reckon we should go with them?â€
â€œItâ€™s up to you, Miss Suzanna.â€
â€œIâ€™m a little nervous. Maybe weâ€™ll stay here.â€
Near one of the cabins, they found a woman screaming hysterically while a young man tried to calm her. They recognized Mark and Angela Bailey. Nearby, their 12-year-old daughter, Tammy, stood, looking uncomfortable. They saw no sign of their young son Tommy.
â€œWhere is he?â€ Angela Bailey cried. â€œWhere is he? Oh God, where is he!?!â€
â€œWhat happened?â€ Miss Greene asked Mark Bailey.
â€œItâ€™s our son!â€ Bailey replied. â€œHeâ€™s gone!â€
He wiped the sweat from his brow.
â€œTommy is not completely normal â”€ heâ€™s an idiot savant and we try to keep a pretty close eye on him so he doesnâ€™t injure himself,â€ he said. â€œHeâ€™s mentally retarded and doesnâ€™t always know how to react to people or things. He bit a man just last year â€¦ and the boyâ€™s almost 11 years old. We always keep a close eye on him but I havenâ€™t seen him since breakfast, almost an hour ago. I thought his sister was watching him but she says she thought we were looking after him. Where could he be?â€
Mrs. Bailey continued to shriek and scream for her son as other guests walked over to the cabin.
â€œWhere was he last seen?â€ Rockefeller asked.
â€œI thought he was with his sister over there,â€ Bailey said.
Tammy Bailey looked nervous. About then, Miss Edington arrived on the scene with Virgil Thomas. Miss Hernandez looked around carefully, hoping to spot the child. There was no sign of him.
â€œIâ€™ve got to alert the authorities!â€ Bailey said. â€œIâ€™ve got to go look at him, but I canâ€™t leave my wife!â€
He seemed very distraught.
â€œIâ€™m afraid sheâ€™s going to go look for him!â€ he said. â€œSheâ€™s in a terrible state.â€
â€œMr. Bailey, you stay here,â€ Rockefeller said. â€œI have a gift for helping kids and I will find this boy.â€
Miss Edington pushed through to the group.
â€œLord have mercy,â€ she said. â€œAnother missing child.â€
â€œWell, thank you,â€ Bailey said to him. â€œThank you, Mr. Rockefeller, sir.â€
He turned to his wife.
â€œCalm down,â€ he said. â€œCalm down Angela.â€
Miss Greene left, hurrying back to her cabin to get a sedative for Mrs. Bailey. Miss Fairfield took photographs.
Rockefeller tucked his pistol away and knelt on one knee by little Tammy Bailey to get down to her level. Miss Edington looked on at the tender scene. Miss Fairfield took a photograph of the man talking to the little girl.
â€œHey, there, sweet-pea,â€ he said. â€œMy nameâ€™s Mr. William Rockefeller.â€
â€œI know,â€ Tammy replied.
â€œYes, of course you do. Iâ€™m here to help you and your family find your brother Tommy. If you could at least tell me where he was the last time you saw him, that would be a big help.â€
â€œWell, heâ€™s been talking, when he does talk, about the Brown Mountain lights all week.â€
â€œBrown Mountain lights?â€
â€œSomebody told him about the lights.â€
They had all heard stories that lights sometimes appeared above and around Brown Mountain. None of them had seen anything themselves though.
â€œApparently somebody told him about the lights and that they appear,â€ she went on. â€œAnd so â€¦ we havenâ€™t seen any all week and now mom and dad say weâ€™re going home tomorrow because of that girl that was killed. Um â€¦ well, weâ€™re supposed to go home tomorrow, because that girl that got killed up in Morganton.â€
â€œOf course,â€ Rockefeller said calmly. â€œOf course.â€
â€œUm â€¦â€ Tammy went on. â€œI saw him when we were in the cabin and â€¦ heâ€™s gone now. I donâ€™t know where he went. I thought mommy and daddy were watching him.
Miss Fairfield realized the little girl was not being completely honest. She thought the girl was actually lying outright about her parents.
â€œSo, you say heâ€™s towards the mountain,â€ Rockefeller said.
â€œI donâ€™t know,â€ Tammy went on. â€œI donâ€™t know. I thought mommy and daddy were watching him.â€
Her lower lip started to quiver.
â€œBut heâ€™s been talking about the Brown Mountain light,â€ Rockefeller pressed.
â€œYes,â€ Tammy said. â€œYeah. Yes. He talked about it.â€
â€œOkay. Well, we are going to find your brother. I will promise you that.â€
He stood up.
â€œNigel! Alexe! Felix! With me!â€ Rockefeller said.
â€œMe too, right?â€ Miss Edington said.
She and Virgil Thomas followed them towards the river.
Miss Greene quickly returned with a syringe and applied a sedative to Mrs. Bailey. The woman calmed down and Miss Greene talked to her. She only learned they had left Tammy to watch Tommy directly after breakfast and she was terribly concerned as the boy was retarded. They had only left the boy alone for an hour but he was gone. She kept saying she had to go find the boy.
â€œItâ€™ll be okay,â€ Miss Greene said to her.
As Bailey took his wife into the cabin, Miss Greene went to see Tammy next. Miss Fairfield was still near the child, taking photographs of the surroundings.
â€œHey Tammy,â€ Miss Greene said. â€œSo, you and Tommy were playing?â€
â€œWe werenâ€™t playing,â€ Tammy said. â€œWe donâ€™t play. Tommy doesnâ€™t play. All he does is talk about numbers all the time.â€
â€œWhenâ€™s the last time you saw him?â€
â€œIt was a while ago when mommy and daddy were taking care of him.â€
â€œI thought you were watching him, Tammy. Tammy?â€
â€œBut your parents told you to watch him. Did you not hearâ”€?â€
The little girl burst into tears.
â€œItâ€™s all my fault!â€ she cried. â€œItâ€™s all my fault! Mommy and daddy told me we were leaving because of the bad man who killed the little girl in Morganton. I was mad because our vacation got cut short and I teased Tommy. I told him he would never see the Brown Mountain lights and then he - he left and I havenâ€™t seen him since and heâ€™s gone up on the mountain. Heâ€™s gonna die! Heâ€™s gonna die up there!â€
The child was bawling by then as Miss Greene tried to comfort her.
â€œItâ€™s okay,â€ she said. â€œTammy. Tammy.â€
She looked at Miss Fairfield.
â€œAll right,â€ she said. â€œTammy? Do you know how to get to the Brown Mountain lights, Tammy?â€
â€œNo, I donâ€™t know, I donâ€™t know!â€ Tammy wailed. â€œThey just say thereâ€™s Brown Mountain lights!â€
â€œDid Tommy know?â€
â€œI donâ€™t know! He went â€¦!â€
She pointed towards the mountain, which loomed over the river.
â€œI dunno!â€ she cried. â€œI dunno! I dunno!â€
â€œAll right, Tammy, I need you to focus,â€ Miss Greene said.
She asked about Tommy and Tammy calmed down a little, telling her he was an idiot savant who was mentally retarded. However, he could do anything with numbers. She told the woman if you dropped several dozen or even hundred things onto the floor, he would tell you exactly how many there were. She said he could do anything with math. He was always talking about math and she didnâ€™t understand any of it. He was always talking about numbers and saying numbers were everything, but he couldnâ€™t even tie his shoes. She said if Tommy was up on the mountain, he was going to die. Even she thought she could find her way back eventually, but she doubted Tommy would even know to head for lights at night to find a house or a town.
â€œItâ€™s all my fault,â€ she wailed. â€œItâ€™s all my fault! I was supposed to be watching out for my baby brother and now heâ€™s doing to die.â€
â€œIs there some sort of thing that you and Tommy talked about so that if we find him, we can get him to come back with us?â€ Miss Greene asked.
The girl looked at her blankly.
â€œNo,â€ she finally answered. â€œNot really.â€
The two children didnâ€™t seem to have much in common. She did suggest they tell him they knew where to find the Brown Mountain lights. She also said the boy was only 10 and she, looking at both of the women, told them to just pick him up and drag him back.
â€œHe might try to bite you â€¦ but he doesnâ€™t bite very hard,â€ she said.
â€œHe doesnâ€™t bite very hard!â€ Miss Fairfield said with a laugh.
â€œHeâ€™s bit me. He doesnâ€™t bite that hard. I bite harder.â€
â€œTammy, could you do me a big favor?â€ Miss Greene said. â€œCould you take care of your mom, please? Because your mom needs someone to look after her while I go find Tommy.â€
â€œOkay,â€ Tammy said.
She wandered into the cabin, sniffling.
Little liar, Miss Greene thought.
* * *
Rockefellerâ€™s group were almost entering Wilson creek when a bearded man stopped them. He was a large, solid man standing almost six feet tall. He had a full beard and mustache and wore rugged clothing. His hair was dirty brown and he had thick eyebrows.
â€œWhatâ€™s going on?â€ he asked in a thick southern accent.
â€œWeâ€™re going towards the Brown Mountain,â€ Rockefeller said.
â€œWell, whatâ€™s all the commotion?â€
â€œCommotion? Thereâ€™s a missing kid. Havenâ€™t you heard?â€
â€œWhat? No. I just saw a commotion, I came over.â€
â€œSome retarded boy just ran off.â€
â€œYou want some help. Jebediah. Jebediah Cooper.â€
He held out his hand and Rockefeller took it.
â€œIâ€™m kind of in a hurry, sir!â€ he said.
â€œAre ya armed?â€ Cooper said.
â€œOf course I am!â€
â€œAll right. Thereâ€™s some animals up here could be dangerous.â€
â€œIâ€™m worried about people here, not animals.â€
â€œOh,â€ Miss Hernandez said.
â€œWell, I got a gun in my cabin,â€ Cooper said. â€œI could come with ya.â€
â€œCâ€™mon then!â€ Rockefeller said.
Cooper ran back towards the cabins. Rockefeller and the others turned and waded across Wilson Creek where it was shallow, continuing towards the height of the mountain, a mile and a half or more away. They started looking around for any sign of tracks but no one saw anything. They followed Rockefeller towards the height.
* * *
Miss Fairfield and Miss Greene headed towards Wilson Creek but had lost sight of Rockefeller and his people after they had crossed the river. As the two women crossed, a bearded man run up to them. He had a hunting rifle over his shoulder.
â€œWhereâ€™d they go?â€ he asked them. â€œIâ€™m here to help find that child. They said there was a child missing?â€
â€œYes sir,â€ Miss Greene said. â€œTommy Bailey.â€
â€œCan I help you ladies?â€
â€œYeah, which way did they head?â€
â€œWho? Oh, they were crossing the river right here where yâ€™all are crossing. I donâ€™t see â€˜em though. I can come with ya. Are either of you armed?â€
Miss Greene opened her jacket and showed him the .38 revolver she carried on her at all times.
The three crossed the river and then discussed briefly which way Tommy Bailey might have gone. They spotted a way that looked like it headed up at an easy slope. Miss Greene suggested they go that way, guessing a child might do so.
They followed the easiest way upwards, though it meandered around through various thickets and clear areas.
* * *
â€œMiss Suzanna, is it smart to follow this gentleman?â€ Virgil Thomas said to the woman quietly. â€œDoes he know what heâ€™s doing?â€
â€œWell, he did save those children last time,â€ Miss Edington said.
â€œWell, luck is an amazing thing sometimes.â€
â€œWell, I donâ€™t know about you but I have a little more faith in Mr. Rockefeller.â€
Rockefeller led the way up the steep part of the mountain towards the peak. Felix followed behind him with Bricker just after him. Miss Hernandez was next followed by Miss Edington and Virgil Thomas. They had reached a spot possibly a thousand feet or more above the river, having travelled perhaps a mile from their starting place on the west side of Wilson Creek, most of them calling for Tommy.
Rockefeller, in the lead, took a step into some underbrush and, with a snap, a shiny metal bear trap slammed shut on his leg. He cried out in pain. Miss Edington ran up to the front of the group. There was a lot of blood.
â€œWho the hell set this up?â€ she said. â€œOh, excuse me.â€
Felix knelt beside the trap and tried to pull it open as Rockefeller grunted in pain.
â€œVirgil can you help these men get this open?â€ Miss Edington said.
Bricker had already joined Felix in trying to open up the trap and get it off Rockefellerâ€™s leg. The two managed to open up the device as Virgil came up to help. Rockefeller groaned as he pulled his leg free of the strange trap. Unlike most bear traps, with jagged metal jaws for clamping and breaking the leg of an animal, this one had long spines that met in a vicious clutch.
â€œFelix! Felix! Is it broken?â€ Rockefeller cried out.
â€œBrace yourself, sir,â€ Felix said calmly.
â€œIâ€™ll just grab some grass!â€ Rockefeller said sarcastically.
Felix felt the leg, examining it carefully. Virgil Thomas offered Rockefeller a stick.
â€œPut that in your mouth,â€ the black man said.
Rockefeller begrudgingly accepted it.
â€œThank you,â€ he said.
â€œIt doesnâ€™t appear to be broken, sir,â€ Felix said.
â€œOh, thank God,â€ Rockefeller said.
â€œIs anyone a doctor here?â€ Felix asked.
No one was.
â€œI did a little patching up during the War,â€ Virgil Thomas said.
Rockefeller nodded. Virgil Thomas looked at everyone, finally looked Miss Hernandez.
â€œRip me off a bit of that cloth off your jacket, there, please,â€ he said.
â€œBuy me a new jacket?â€ Miss Hernandez said to Rockefeller.
The man frowned.
â€œI bought you that jacket!â€ he said.
â€œBuy me another one?â€ she said.
Bricker walked over and ripped the sleeve off her jacket even as Rockefeller did the same thing. Virgil Thomas worked on binding the wound.
â€œFair wage is what I decide,â€ Rockefeller reminded Hernandez. â€œRemember that.â€
Virgil Thomas staunched the blood and bound the wound.
â€œBest I can do,â€ he finally muttered.
â€œAll right,â€ Rockefeller said quietly.
The black man helped him up and had him put some weight on it. Bricker picked up the trap and examined it. It was made of some kind of bright, polished steel, almost like chrome. However, it had been concealed by leaves and detritus. A short chain led to a stake set into the ground. It wasnâ€™t very heavy and showed no sign of rust.
â€œHave you ever seen anything like that?â€ Miss Edington said.
Bricker leaned over and pulled the stake out of the ground. The ends of the stake had sharp metal barbs. It was strange-looking and only weighed a couple of pounds.
â€œAre there normally bears up here that we should be worried about if thereâ€™s traps?â€ Rockefeller asked Virgil Thomas.
â€œThere are black bears,â€ Virgil Thomas said. â€œI never heard about no traps.â€
â€œWeâ€™ve only got little black bears up here,â€ Miss Edington said. â€œWe donâ€™t have traps though. This is unusual. I never tried to catch a bear though.â€
â€œI do think that somebody else should probably take the lead,â€ Rockefeller said. â€œIâ€™ll have to lag behind. Felix, if youâ€™ll help me walk.â€
â€œOf course, sir,â€ Felix said.
â€œWeâ€™re going up the mountain,â€ Rockefeller said.
â€œIâ€™ll take the lead,â€ Bricker said.
He led them up the steep slope.
â€œCarry a stick and start poking in front of you while you walk,â€ Rockefeller advised him.
Bricker did so, slapping at the underbrush with the stick in the hope of triggering any more traps. Miss Edington lit a cigarette and smoked it as they walked.
* * *
Down below, Miss Greene, Miss Fairfield, and Cooper continued following the meandering easiest path around the side of Brown Mountain. After walking for perhaps a half hour, the women spotted a piece of white cloth on a bush. It was about four feet off the ground and the torn fabric looked relatively clean. They guessed it hadnâ€™t been there for very long. Jebediah had not noticed the scrap of cloth theyâ€™d found.
â€œDo you think this might be Tommyâ€™s?â€ Miss Fairfield asked, holding up the scrap of cloth. â€œI mean, itâ€™s a good bet, right?â€
â€œI dunno,â€ Cooper said. â€œIt could be anybody. Thereâ€™s a lot a hikers out here.â€
â€œWell, letâ€™s keep going,â€ Miss Greene said.
They first looked for tracks near the torn cloth but didnâ€™t find anything so they continued following the easiest route, hoping the child had gone that way. Somewhere up the mountain, they thought they heard someone calling â€œTommy!â€ Jebediah followed behind them, looking around, concerned.
* * *
Another half a mile and possibly 500 feet in altitude later, Rockefeller and his group passed over a wide section of rock and shale and continued heading towards the peak.
* * *
The easiest path brought Miss Greene and Miss Fairfield to a place a mile or so from Brown Mountain Beach where there was an actual cliff ahead of them. The hollow was boxed in and it didnâ€™t appear there was any easy way out except back the way theyâ€™d came or a climb up steep ground on either side. The area was rocky, though overgrown, and the cliff face ahead was covered in overgrowth as well. A carving was in the rock wall. It looked old and worn by the weather but, as they approached, they saw it formed a large circle some six feet in diameter. Symbols were carved inside of it, scattered seemingly at random.
â€œDamn it,â€ Jebediah said, looking around at the place they found themselves in.
The two women went to the wall and looked at it more closely. It left them both dumbfounded. They had never seen anything like it before in their lives.
* * *
Another half mile up the mountain from the rocky spot, the other group came across a cavernous ravine about 15 feet deep. At the bottom, a stream of clear water ran through it. The crevasse ran roughly from the northeast to the southwest and they found themselves on the south side of it. It was, perhaps, 20 feet across. The peak was less than a half mile away.
Miss Edington looked back down the hilly mountainside, wondering about the man who had offered to come with them back at Wilson Creek. There was no sign of him.
â€œI donâ€™t think that man has found us,â€ she said. â€œThe one who wanted to get his gun. I think weâ€™ve left him. You wanna go back for him?â€
â€œWeâ€™ve come too far now,â€ Rockefeller said. â€œWe canâ€™t go back. Heâ€™ll catch up. Iâ€™m sure of it. Just like the â€¦ other two â€¦ that we left.â€
â€œHe mightâ€™ve gotten caught in a bear trap, like you did.â€
â€œHopefully not. Hopefully not.â€
â€œI feel like we should go back and check on him.â€
Miss Rodriguez looked at her watch. It was nearly 10:00 in the morning.
â€œDoes anyone want to double back and go find him?â€ Rockefeller asked. â€œAnd tell him where weâ€™re going. Weâ€™re going to be going to the top of the hill. Thatâ€™s where we need to go.â€
â€œI can go if you want, sir,â€ Felix said.
â€œI need you here, Felix,â€ Rockefeller said.
â€œYes sir,â€ Felix said.
â€œWhat about you, Alexe?â€ Rockefeller said. â€œThink you could find your way back down and lead the others to where weâ€™re going?â€
â€œUh â€¦ well â€¦â€ Miss Hernandez said. â€œYes, letâ€™s do it. Iâ€™ll do it.â€
She headed back and Miss Edington and Virgil Thomas turned and followed her, though the black man turned before he left and gave Rockefeller a good hard look.
â€œYou be careful, Mr. Rockefeller,â€ he said.
He turned and left, giving Bricker a pat on the shoulder as he walked by the man.
The others continued along the crevasse, heading for the top of the mountain.
* * *
â€œWhat is this?â€ Miss Fairfield asked Cooper.
The man had been looking around for a way to climb out of the hollow they found themselves in.
â€œWhatâ€™s what?â€ he asked.
â€œThe circle thing,â€ she said.
â€œOh!â€ he said, seeming to notice it for the first time.
He looked at it a moment.
â€œWell â€¦â€ he finally said. â€œIunno. Old Indian writinâ€™ or something. Right? I ainâ€™t never seen nothing like this before. Itâ€™s old Indian writinâ€™ or something. Right? That ainâ€™t English. Thatâ€™s some kind oâ€™ jibber jabber. Some Indians lived here hundreds of years ago. I donâ€™t know.â€
â€œThatâ€™s interesting,â€ Miss Greene said. â€œTake a picture and then letâ€™s keep looking for this little boy.â€
Miss Fairfield took a photograph of the strange carving with her Kodak. Then they looked around for more tracks and this time Miss Fairfield found small footprints. They led up to the strange carving on the wall and then stopped. There was a bit of rock on the ground in front of the carved wall but the footprints ended in the dirt just before it. No tracks walked away from it. She pointed the prints out to Cooper and Miss Greene. The woman saw it but Cooper stared at the ground blankly.
â€œTommy likes numbers and symbols and stuff,â€ Miss Greene said. â€œYou think maybe he â€¦ could he climb this?â€
They looked up the nearly vertical wall of rock and realized no one could climb it without equipment. There were slopes on either side that could probably be climbed but it would be tough for a 10-year-old. They looked around the edges of the stone ground for signs of more tracks, but found nothing.
* * *
The group heading towards the top passed the crevasse, though they could hear water babbling below. Bricker peeked down and saw the water in the crevice came out of the mountain itself, from a low cave.
They eventually reached the peak, not far from where the crevasse ended. Through the trees, they could see the devastation to the north where the forest fire had raged some years before. The new growth was very green but it didnâ€™t look like the fire did any damage to Brown Mountain itself. Rockefeller thought, perhaps, they would have a clear view on top of the mountain and hadnâ€™t bargained with the trees that grew over the entirety of it. As the entire mountain was also covered in trees, getting to the top didnâ€™t give them quite the vantage point he was hoping for.
Bricker noticed a house some four miles away on another mountain to the north. He could barely make out the building peeking out of the trees.
He tried to climb a tree.
â€œNigel, what are you doing?â€ Rockefeller asked.
â€œWhat does it look like?â€ Bricker said.
â€œHe appears to be climbing a tree, sir,â€ Felix said.
Bricker slid down about four feet to the ground.
â€œNo, heâ€™s not,â€ Rockefeller said.
â€œI â€¦ think youâ€™re right sir,â€ Felix said. â€œIndeed, you are quite correct.â€
Bricker frowned and then climbed up like a monkey.
â€œAgain, what are you doing?â€ Rockefeller asked.
â€œThatâ€™s climbing sir,â€ Felix said.
Bricker got up about 30 feet on the pine tree and looked about as best he could. He didnâ€™t see any people or any movement on the mountain though the trees made seeing anything difficult.
â€œTommy!â€ Rockefeller yelled loudly.
* * *
As they crossed the shale on the way back down, Miss Hernandez suddenly started to slide as the stone beneath her started to move. She scrabbled to hold on but found herself sliding towards the edge of a cliff. Then she felt a giant hand grab her and drag her back over the sliding rock. Virgil Thomas stood her back up and frowned.
They continued down towards the camp.
* * *
Miss Fairfield reached forward and touched the strange carving on the cliff face. She only felt the cold stone of the mountain. Miss Greene noticed Cooper watching her. Miss Fairfield turned to the man.
â€œJebediah, you know this area â€¦â€ Miss Greene said.
â€œIâ€™m from Adako,â€ he said.
â€œIf we go around on either side of this and split up, is there a way we can meet at the top?â€ she said.
â€œYeah, I think so,â€ he replied. â€œItâ€™s not very far up there.â€
â€œAll right, I think we should split up, go either side, and meet at the top,â€ Miss Greene said.
They did so, Cooper following after Miss Fairfield. Miss Greene and Miss Fairfield were quickly together above the hollow. Cooper was slower, having difficulty making the climb. As the women waited for him at the top, Miss Greene looked around, trying to find tracks. She found nothing there and was convinced there were none.
â€œI think we should find the others and maybe tell them about it,â€ Miss Fairfield said.
â€œIâ€™m sure he didnâ€™t come up here,â€ Miss Greene said.
â€œShould we go back down?â€
â€œI donâ€™t think he went this way. So, I think we should, or at least Iâ€™m going to head back down â€¦ and try to pick up his trail somewhere lower.â€
â€œWell, itâ€™s true, if we go up with the others, weâ€™ll just spread out anyhow. So, we might as well just stick together.â€
They saw several people coming down from the top of the mountain, perhaps a quarter mile away. They called to them and got their attention. Then they climbed back down and started to backtrack Tommyâ€™s tracks, trying to follow the trail back. Shortly after that, Miss Edington, Miss Rodriguez, and Virgil Thomas arrived in the hollow.
â€œDid you find anything?â€ Miss Edington asked.
She saw the strange carvings on the wall and looked more closely at them.
â€œYeah, we found this piece of fabric,â€ Miss Fairfield said. â€œWe think it might have been Tommyâ€™s. And then we found these tracks here that led to this â€¦ wall.â€
â€œAnd thereâ€™s nothing up top,â€ Miss Greene said.
â€œNo tracks,â€ Miss Fairfield said.
Looking more closely at the symbols, Miss Edington realized they were not American Indian, or any other primitive culture she knew of. She also didnâ€™t recognize the magical writing as anything sheâ€™d ever studied in the vast occult library at her fatherâ€™s house. She stared at it.
â€œSuzanna, have you seen anything like this?â€ Miss Greene said.
â€œI donâ€™t know what this is,â€ Miss Edington replied. â€œBut itâ€™s nothing Iâ€™ve ever seen.â€
â€œWhy, thatâ€™s Indian,â€ Cooper said. â€œThatâ€™s Indian stuff.â€
â€œThatâ€™s not Indian. I have seen Indian in these books that I read at my daddyâ€™s place. Thatâ€™s not Indian.â€
â€œWhat else could it be?â€
â€œI donâ€™t know what it is, but it ainâ€™t Indian.â€
â€œAw. Look how old it is. Itâ€™s gotta be Indian.â€
â€œAinâ€™t no white people put this up here.â€
â€œWell, no, but â€¦ itâ€™s not Indian. I donâ€™t know what.â€
Cooper looked at her doubtfully, rolling his eyes. She didnâ€™t notice as she stared at the design.
â€œI donâ€™t want to sound crazy, but â€¦ magic?â€ she said.
â€œHow does that sound crazy?â€ Miss Hernandez said.
â€œMagic?â€ Miss Greene said.
She didnâ€™t think the woman was mad, but wondered if she was just ignorant. In fact, she seemed very calm.
â€œWhat do you know about magic?â€ she asked.
â€œI donâ€™t,â€ Miss Edington said, still staring at the wall. â€œI just read stories. I donâ€™t know anything about magic. I just know this ainâ€™t nothing that Iâ€™ve ever seen. This ainâ€™t no Indian.â€
â€œOkay â€¦ well â€¦â€ Miss Greene said.
Miss Fairfield was a little doubtful.
â€œWhat did you find, in your group up top?â€ Miss Greene asked.
â€œA bear trap, for one,â€ Miss Edington said.
â€œMr. Rockefeller stepped in a bear trap,â€ Virgil Thomas said.
â€œIs he okay!?!â€ both Miss Greene and Miss Fairfield said together.
â€œHeâ€™s all right,â€ Virgil Thomas said. â€œI saw to it as best I could and weâ€™ll get him a cleaned up better once he gets back to civilization.â€
â€œI have some pain killers,â€ Miss Greene said.
Miss Fairfield frowned, feeling she had missed a photo opportunity. Miss Edington, meanwhile, felt the wall around the strange symbols.
â€œHeâ€™ll be fine,â€ Virgil Thomas said. â€œHe would probably appreciate your pain killers.â€
Miss Edington picked at the solid rock wall, pulling dirt out of the carvings. It didnâ€™t move. Miss Hernandez kicked it solidly, stubbing her toe.
â€œNow what the Hell are you doing?â€ Miss Edington asked her. â€œThis is solid rock. Whatâ€™d you think was gonna happen?â€
â€œThatâ€™s what I thought might happen,â€ Miss Hernandez said.
Miss Edington looked more closely at the carvings and saw the cuts were very precise. She was unsure how they were cut but had no experience with stonecutting. She asked about the tracks and examined where they went to the wall. She looked around for a button or a way to open the strange carving as if it was a door.
Miss Fairfield and Miss Greene talked about backtracking Tommy Baileyâ€™s tracks and looking for tracks that might lead away from the trail. Miss Edington examined the carvings and thought about the Brown Mountain Lights. She had heard a few stories and folktales. They usually appeared at night and most often in the Fall around September or October. She tried to think like a child and look for patterns in the stone.
Miss Fairfield and Miss Greene started to backtrack the way the boy had come.
* * *
â€œNigel, do you see anything?â€ Rockefeller called to Bricker.
â€œNope,â€ the man replied. â€œNot a thing.â€
Felix had been looking down the mountain and didnâ€™t see anything either.
â€œI thought weâ€™d be able to see something if we were up here,â€ Rockefeller said.
â€œWell, I do see a house way over that way,â€ Bricker called.
â€œA house!?!â€ Rockefeller said.
Bricker pointed to the north and there, on a mountaintop some four or five miles away, they could just make out the glint of plants and glass.
â€œI guess we should start heading down,â€ Rockefeller said. â€œRegroup with the others and see if theyâ€™ve found anything.â€
â€œYes sir,â€ Felix said. â€œWe can head back down. Should we continue calling for Tommy Bailey?â€
â€œGet down from that tree, Nigel!â€ Rockefeller called.
â€œShould we go down by a different path in case we get lucky and find the boy?â€ Felix asked. â€œOr should we head back the way we came, sir?â€
â€œWhat do you think, Nigel?â€ Rockefeller said. â€œYou probably have more tracking than we do.â€
Felix looked at the man. Nigel just looked at him as he climbed down.
â€œIâ€™m from London!â€ Bricker said. â€œIâ€™ve never been out here before.â€
â€œYou donâ€™t hunt over there in London?â€ Rockefeller said. â€œI thought you all were barbaric over there, still hunting for your food and stuff like that.â€
â€œYouâ€™re thinking France, sir,â€ Felix quipped.
â€œOh, of course! The French.â€
Bricker nodded at Felix.
â€œYou have to lead,â€ Rockefeller said to Bricker. â€œI canâ€™t lead. You have to lead.â€
â€œI guess we could head back and regroup for now,â€ Bricker said.
He led them down, still tapping the ground. They had just passed the area of exposed shale when Bricker saw some of the others in the hollow in the woods. He pointed them out.
â€œFelix, take me there,â€ Rockefeller said. â€œI need to sit down for a moment.â€
They made their way to the hollow where they found Miss Edington, Miss Fairfield, Miss Greene, Miss Hernandez, Virgil Thomas, and Cooper. As they headed down into the hollow, they found a tree with strange red mold.
â€œNigel!â€ Rockefeller said. â€œNigel! What is that?â€
He pointed it out.
â€œIt looks like mold, doesnâ€™t it?â€ Bricker said.
â€œGo-go get us some!â€ Rockefeller said.
Bricker looked at him.
â€œAll right, you take the stick and tap the ground so you donâ€™t get another bear trap,â€ Bricker said.
He went over and looked at the tree. It had a strange reddish mold or fungus that appeared to be disintegrating before his eyes. Bits of it crumbled to nothingness.
â€œItâ€™s mold, it is!â€ he called.
â€œNigel, what is it?â€ Rockefeller called back.
â€œItâ€™s just mold or fungus or something. I canâ€™t collect any of it. Itâ€™s just disappearing.â€
â€œDisappearing? You canâ€™t put some in your hand?â€
â€œI donâ€™t know what this is! Iâ€™m not touching it!â€
â€œFelix! Take me to the tree, Felix.â€
Felix helped Rockefeller to the tree. Rockefeller scraped some of the mold off with his hand.
â€œThatâ€™s how you do it, Nigel, right there,â€ he said, putting it in his pocket.
It had a strange, tingly feel to it.
Miss Edington climbed up.
â€œIs that you, Mr. Rockefeller?â€ she called as she climbed towards the man.
â€œThe one and only,â€ he said.
â€œWhatâ€™d you find up there? Yâ€™all are making quite a bit of commotion up there.â€
â€œFound some sort of moss over here and Nigel said he couldnâ€™t take it off the tree. I had to show him how it was done.â€
â€œMold, sir,â€ Felix said.
â€œMold,â€ Rockefeller said.
â€œMold?â€ Miss Edington said. â€œMoss?â€
â€œMold. Moss. Itâ€™s all the same out here.â€
â€œItâ€™s quite not, but â€¦ anyway.â€
â€œI donâ€™t get out much.â€
â€œGet down here.â€
They climbed down to the hollow as Miss Fairfield and Miss Greene walked back, having seen the rest of them. Rockefeller sat down on a rock and pulled out some of the strange, red mold.
â€œWhy are you touching that?â€ Miss Edington said.
â€œWeâ€™re touching some mold?â€ Miss Hernandez said.
â€œMr. Rockefeller, I donâ€™t know about you â€¦â€ Miss Edington said.
â€œRockefeller, let me see that leg,â€ Miss Greene said.
She examined the dressing and found that Virgil Thomas had done a good job with it. She looked it over as Miss Fairfield took a photograph. Miss Greene thought it looked very bad.
â€œWhy are you holding mold?â€ Miss Edington asked the man.
â€œBecause it looks interesting,â€ he said.
â€œJust â€˜cause it looks interestinâ€™ doesnâ€™t mean it isnâ€™t dangerous.â€
â€œYou ever seen red mold that disappears? Or at least Nigel says it disappears. I donâ€™t know.â€
He stared at the mold in his hand and saw that it was slowly decaying and crumbling away. It was almost like ice melting but not leaving any water behind. Miss Edington watched as well. It was quite unusual.
â€œMr. Rockefeller, I think you should put that down,â€ Miss Edington said. â€œI donâ€™t like it. Itâ€™s just disappearing. Thatâ€™s not natural. That looks like the devilâ€™s work.â€
â€œI wonder if this is one of those psychedelic plants?â€ he said.
â€œOh God!â€ Miss Hernandez said.
â€œMaybe you should lick it and find out,â€ Bricker quipped.
And I was attracted to this man at first? Miss Edington thought.
â€œFelix,â€ Miss Greene said, taking the man aside.
â€œYes, miss,â€ Felix said.
â€œWhat did you find at the top?â€
â€œNothing. There was a crevasse with water flowing through it and there was a loose place of shale, a bare place on the mountain, and, at the top, Mr. Bricker climbed a tree to look about and pointed us out a house thatâ€™s several miles away. I would doubt that little Tommy Bailey would be able to get there from here. If he even made it to the top of the mountain. We found no signs of tracks or the child. But we only did look over a very tiny portion of the mountain.â€
â€œDo you suppose you could convince Rockefeller to go to the doctor while we continue the search?â€
â€œMr. Rockefeller is a very strong-minded man. I will make every endeavor.â€
â€œMr. Rockefeller, why you still holding that mold?â€ Miss Edington said as Miss Greene and Felix returned.
Miss Greene asked Bricker to see the bear trap. It was very strange-looking, being very shiny and without a trace of rust or corrosion. The teeth were unusually sharp. There was blood upon it, however.
â€œCan I look at that trap?â€ Miss Greene said to him.
She examined the trap closely. It was unlike anything sheâ€™d ever seen.
â€œJebediah,â€ she said. â€œHave you ever seen anything like this?â€
â€œItâ€™s a trap,â€ Cooper said.
â€œWhat do you suppose itâ€™s set for?â€
â€œWhat? Ainâ€™t no traps up here.â€
â€œWell, Mr. Rockefeller apparently stepped in that one,â€ Miss Edington said.
â€œThere ainâ€™t supposed to be no traps,â€ Cooper said. â€œAinâ€™t no hunting up here.â€
â€œUh!â€ Rockefeller said.
â€œI mean, itâ€™s good-sized,â€ Cooper went on. â€œI guess you could get a coyote or something in it. Maybe a bear. If itâ€™s not too big.â€
â€œWell, I donâ€™t know about you, but Iâ€™ve never seen a bear trap like that,â€ Miss Edington said.
â€œWell, I sâ€™pose if youâ€™re rich, you can have â€˜em made any way ya want,â€ Cooper said.
â€œHm,â€ Miss Greene said.
â€œLook at it,â€ Cooper went on. â€œItâ€™s all silvery. Itâ€™s probably made by rich people.â€
â€œOkay, well, listen, Rockefeller,â€ Miss Greene said.
â€œWe found this piece of fabric,â€ Miss Fairfield said. â€œI think it might be the boyâ€™s. Found it on a bush. Back that way. Then we found these tracks, right here, that lead to this stone wall with these symbols.â€
â€œOh yeah!â€ Miss Edington said.
She walked back over to the cliff and looked more closely at the wall again.
â€œWhy donâ€™t you go back and talk to the parents?â€ Miss Greene said to Rockefeller.
â€œWhy would I go talk to the parents?â€ he asked.
â€œSo you can also get your leg looked at.â€
â€œWe havenâ€™t found the kid yet! Iâ€™m not going back until we find the kid.â€
â€œI gotta get the â€¦ I really care about the kid!â€
â€œListen, weâ€™re going to follow these here tracksâ”€â€
â€œAnd Iâ€™ll follow you.â€
â€œWell, you might be slowing us down.â€
Rockefeller looked at the tracks and saw they obviously led to the rock wall. If they were following them, they would be backtracking.
â€œI wonâ€™t slow you down,â€ he said.
â€œAll right,â€ she said. â€œWell â€¦â€
His leg ached but he could put weight on it.
â€œWell, here,â€ she said, taking several pills out of her pocket. â€œYou want some pain pills, at least?â€
â€œOf course!â€ he said.
He swallowed the pills and went over to look at the strange carvings on the wall. He couldnâ€™t make head nor tail of them.
â€œMr. Rockefeller,â€ Miss Edington said. â€œDo you know anything about this wall?â€
â€œThis rock formation right here?â€ he asked.
â€œI have no idea what it is, but â€¦â€
â€œI think she means the carvings, sir,â€ Felix said.
â€œIâ€™ve never seen symbols like this before,â€ Rockefeller said.
â€œThatâ€™s a shame,â€ Miss Edington said.
Rockefeller touched the wall and then pushed it without effect. He traced the carvings with his finger but nothing happened. He wanted to draw the wall but found no pencil or paper in his pockets. He frowned. Miss Greene started to backtrack Tommy Baileyâ€™s footprints so he followed her.
Miss Fairfield went to the wall and took a photograph of the strange carvings. Bricker noticed Cooper watching Miss Fairfield as she did so. Once she finished, he stared at the camera. Miss Edington continued to study the strange symbols on the wall. Miss Hernandez walked over to her and examined the cliff face. She shuffled around on the stone, feeling for anything out of the ordinary. She dug up some of the nearby dirt as well.
* * *