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The Strange Case of the Brown Mountain Lights Session One Part 2 - Missing Child

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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.

 

“Virgil, get your gun,†Miss Edington said.

 

“I already got it, miss,†Virgil Thomas said.

 

“That’s good then,†she replied. “You reckon we should go with them?â€

 

“It’s up to you, Miss Suzanna.â€

 

“I’m a little nervous. Maybe we’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.

 

“Where is he?†Angela Bailey cried. “Where is he? Oh God, where is he!?!â€

 

“What happened?†Miss Greene asked Mark Bailey.

 

“It’s our son!†Bailey replied. “He’s gone!â€

 

He wiped the sweat from his brow.

 

“Tommy is not completely normal ─ he’s an idiot savant and we try to keep a pretty close eye on him so he doesn’t injure himself,†he said. “He’s mentally retarded and doesn’t always know how to react to people or things. He bit a man just last year … and the boy’s almost 11 years old. We always keep a close eye on him but I haven’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.

 

“Where was he last seen?†Rockefeller asked.

 

“I thought he was with his sister over there,†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.

 

“I’ve got to alert the authorities!†Bailey said. “I’ve got to go look at him, but I can’t leave my wife!â€

 

He seemed very distraught.

 

“I’m afraid she’s going to go look for him!†he said. “She’s in a terrible state.â€

 

“Mr. Bailey, you stay here,†Rockefeller said. “I have a gift for helping kids and I will find this boy.â€

 

Miss Edington pushed through to the group.

 

“Lord have mercy,†she said. “Another missing child.â€

 

“Well, thank you,†Bailey said to him. “Thank you, Mr. Rockefeller, sir.â€

 

He turned to his wife.

 

“Calm down,†he said. “Calm 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.

 

“Hey, there, sweet-pea,†he said. “My name’s Mr. William Rockefeller.â€

 

“I know,†Tammy replied.

 

“Yes, of course you do. I’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€

 

“Well, he’s been talking, when he does talk, about the Brown Mountain lights all week.â€

 

“Brown Mountain lights?â€

 

“Somebody 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.

 

“Apparently somebody told him about the lights and that they appear,†she went on. “And so … we haven’t seen any all week and now mom and dad say we’re going home tomorrow because of that girl that was killed. Um … well, we’re supposed to go home tomorrow, because that girl that got killed up in Morganton.â€

 

“Of course,†Rockefeller said calmly. “Of course.â€

 

“Um …†Tammy went on. “I saw him when we were in the cabin and … he’s gone now. I don’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.

 

“So, you say he’s towards the mountain,†Rockefeller said.

 

“I don’t know,†Tammy went on. “I don’t know. I thought mommy and daddy were watching him.â€

 

Her lower lip started to quiver.

 

“But he’s been talking about the Brown Mountain light,†Rockefeller pressed.

 

“Yes,†Tammy said. “Yeah. Yes. He talked about it.â€

 

“Okay. Well, we are going to find your brother. I will promise you that.â€

 

He stood up.

 

“Nigel! Alexe! Felix! With me!†Rockefeller said.

 

“Me too, right?†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.

 

“It’ll be okay,†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.

 

“Hey Tammy,†Miss Greene said. “So, you and Tommy were playing?â€

 

“We weren’t playing,†Tammy said. “We don’t play. Tommy doesn’t play. All he does is talk about numbers all the time.â€

 

“When’s the last time you saw him?â€

 

“It was a while ago when mommy and daddy were taking care of him.â€

 

“I thought you were watching him, Tammy. Tammy?â€

 

“No.â€

 

“But your parents told you to watch him. Did you not hear─?â€

 

The little girl burst into tears.

 

“It’s all my fault!†she cried. “It’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 haven’t seen him since and he’s gone up on the mountain. He’s gonna die! He’s gonna die up there!â€

 

The child was bawling by then as Miss Greene tried to comfort her.

 

“It’s okay,†she said. “Tammy. Tammy.â€

 

She looked at Miss Fairfield.

 

“All right,†she said. “Tammy? Do you know how to get to the Brown Mountain lights, Tammy?â€

 

“No, I don’t know, I don’t know!†Tammy wailed. “They just say there’s Brown Mountain lights!â€

 

“Did Tommy know?â€

 

“I don’t know! He went …!â€

 

She pointed towards the mountain, which loomed over the river.

 

“I dunno!†she cried. “I dunno! I dunno!â€

 

“All right, Tammy, I need you to focus,†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 didn’t understand any of it. He was always talking about numbers and saying numbers were everything, but he couldn’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.

 

“It’s all my fault,†she wailed. “It’s all my fault! I was supposed to be watching out for my baby brother and now he’s doing to die.â€

 

“Is 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?†Miss Greene asked.

 

The girl looked at her blankly.

 

“No,†she finally answered. “Not really.â€

 

The two children didn’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.

 

“He might try to bite you … but he doesn’t bite very hard,†she said.

 

“He doesn’t bite very hard!†Miss Fairfield said with a laugh.

 

“He’s bit me. He doesn’t bite that hard. I bite harder.â€

 

“Tammy, could you do me a big favor?†Miss Greene said. “Could you take care of your mom, please? Because your mom needs someone to look after her while I go find Tommy.â€

 

“Okay,†Tammy said.

 

She wandered into the cabin, sniffling.

 

Little liar, Miss Greene thought.

 

* * *

 

Rockefeller’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.

 

“What’s going on?†he asked in a thick southern accent.

 

“We’re going towards the Brown Mountain,†Rockefeller said.

 

“Well, what’s all the commotion?â€

 

“Commotion? There’s a missing kid. Haven’t you heard?â€

 

“What? No. I just saw a commotion, I came over.â€

 

“Some retarded boy just ran off.â€

 

“You want some help. Jebediah. Jebediah Cooper.â€

 

He held out his hand and Rockefeller took it.

 

“I’m kind of in a hurry, sir!†he said.

 

“Are ya armed?†Cooper said.

 

“Of course I am!â€

 

“All right. There’s some animals up here could be dangerous.â€

 

“I’m worried about people here, not animals.â€

 

“Oh,†Miss Hernandez said.

 

“Well, I got a gun in my cabin,†Cooper said. “I could come with ya.â€

 

“C’mon then!†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.

 

“Where’d they go?†he asked them. “I’m here to help find that child. They said there was a child missing?â€

 

“Yes sir,†Miss Greene said. “Tommy Bailey.â€

 

“Can I help you ladies?â€

 

“Yeah, which way did they head?â€

 

“Who? Oh, they were crossing the river right here where y’all are crossing. I don’t see ‘em though. I can come with ya. Are either of you armed?â€

 

“I am.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.

 

* * *

 

“Miss Suzanna, is it smart to follow this gentleman?†Virgil Thomas said to the woman quietly. “Does he know what he’s doing?â€

 

“Well, he did save those children last time,†Miss Edington said.

 

“Well, luck is an amazing thing sometimes.â€

 

“Well, I don’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.

 

“Who the hell set this up?†she said. “Oh, excuse me.â€

 

Felix knelt beside the trap and tried to pull it open as Rockefeller grunted in pain.

 

“Virgil can you help these men get this open?†Miss Edington said.

 

Bricker had already joined Felix in trying to open up the trap and get it off Rockefeller’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.

 

“Felix! Felix! Is it broken?†Rockefeller cried out.

 

“Brace yourself, sir,†Felix said calmly.

 

“I’ll just grab some grass!†Rockefeller said sarcastically.

 

Felix felt the leg, examining it carefully. Virgil Thomas offered Rockefeller a stick.

 

“Put that in your mouth,†the black man said.

 

Rockefeller begrudgingly accepted it.

 

“Thank you,†he said.

 

“It doesn’t appear to be broken, sir,†Felix said.

 

“Oh, thank God,†Rockefeller said.

 

“Is anyone a doctor here?†Felix asked.

 

No one was.

 

“I did a little patching up during the War,†Virgil Thomas said.

 

Rockefeller nodded. Virgil Thomas looked at everyone, finally looked Miss Hernandez.

 

“Rip me off a bit of that cloth off your jacket, there, please,†he said.

 

“Buy me a new jacket?†Miss Hernandez said to Rockefeller.

 

The man frowned.

 

“I bought you that jacket!†he said.

 

“Buy me another one?†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.

 

“Fair wage is what I decide,†Rockefeller reminded Hernandez. “Remember that.â€

 

Virgil Thomas staunched the blood and bound the wound.

 

“Best I can do,†he finally muttered.

 

“All right,†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 wasn’t very heavy and showed no sign of rust.

 

“Have you ever seen anything like that?†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.

 

“Are there normally bears up here that we should be worried about if there’s traps?†Rockefeller asked Virgil Thomas.

 

“There are black bears,†Virgil Thomas said. “I never heard about no traps.â€

 

“We’ve only got little black bears up here,†Miss Edington said. “We don’t have traps though. This is unusual. I never tried to catch a bear though.â€

 

“I do think that somebody else should probably take the lead,†Rockefeller said. “I’ll have to lag behind. Felix, if you’ll help me walk.â€

 

“Of course, sir,†Felix said.

 

“We’re going up the mountain,†Rockefeller said.

 

“I’ll take the lead,†Bricker said.

 

He led them up the steep slope.

 

“Carry a stick and start poking in front of you while you walk,†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 hadn’t been there for very long. Jebediah had not noticed the scrap of cloth they’d found.

 

“Do you think this might be Tommy’s?†Miss Fairfield asked, holding up the scrap of cloth. “I mean, it’s a good bet, right?â€

 

“I dunno,†Cooper said. “It could be anybody. There’s a lot a hikers out here.â€

 

“Well, let’s keep going,†Miss Greene said.

 

They first looked for tracks near the torn cloth but didn’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 “Tommy!†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 didn’t appear there was any easy way out except back the way they’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.

 

“Damn it,†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.

 

“I don’t think that man has found us,†she said. “The one who wanted to get his gun. I think we’ve left him. You wanna go back for him?â€

 

“We’ve come too far now,†Rockefeller said. “We can’t go back. He’ll catch up. I’m sure of it. Just like the … other two … that we left.â€

 

“He might’ve gotten caught in a bear trap, like you did.â€

 

“Hopefully not. Hopefully not.â€

 

“I 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.

 

“Does anyone want to double back and go find him?†Rockefeller asked. “And tell him where we’re going. We’re going to be going to the top of the hill. That’s where we need to go.â€

 

“I can go if you want, sir,†Felix said.

 

“I need you here, Felix,†Rockefeller said.

 

“Yes sir,†Felix said.

 

“What about you, Alexe?†Rockefeller said. “Think you could find your way back down and lead the others to where we’re going?â€

 

“Uh … well …†Miss Hernandez said. “Yes, let’s do it. I’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.

 

“You be careful, Mr. Rockefeller,†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.

 

* * *

 

“What is this?†Miss Fairfield asked Cooper.

 

The man had been looking around for a way to climb out of the hollow they found themselves in.

 

“What’s what?†he asked.

 

“The circle thing,†she said.

 

“Oh!†he said, seeming to notice it for the first time.

 

He looked at it a moment.

 

“Well …†he finally said. “Iunno. Old Indian writin’ or something. Right? I ain’t never seen nothing like this before. It’s old Indian writin’ or something. Right? That ain’t English. That’s some kind o’ jibber jabber. Some Indians lived here hundreds of years ago. I don’t know.â€

 

“That’s interesting,†Miss Greene said. “Take a picture and then let’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.

 

“Tommy likes numbers and symbols and stuff,†Miss Greene said. “You think maybe he … 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 didn’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 hadn’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 didn’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.

 

“Nigel, what are you doing?†Rockefeller asked.

 

“What does it look like?†Bricker said.

 

“He appears to be climbing a tree, sir,†Felix said.

 

Bricker slid down about four feet to the ground.

 

“No, he’s not,†Rockefeller said.

 

“I … think you’re right sir,†Felix said. “Indeed, you are quite correct.â€

 

Bricker frowned and then climbed up like a monkey.

 

“Again, what are you doing?†Rockefeller asked.

 

“That’s climbing sir,†Felix said.

 

Bricker got up about 30 feet on the pine tree and looked about as best he could. He didn’t see any people or any movement on the mountain though the trees made seeing anything difficult.

 

“Tommy!†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.

 

“Jebediah, you know this area …†Miss Greene said.

 

“I’m from Adako,†he said.

 

“If we go around on either side of this and split up, is there a way we can meet at the top?†she said.

 

“Yeah, I think so,†he replied. “It’s not very far up there.â€

 

“All right, I think we should split up, go either side, and meet at the top,†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.

 

“I think we should find the others and maybe tell them about it,†Miss Fairfield said.

 

“I’m sure he didn’t come up here,†Miss Greene said.

 

“Should we go back down?â€

 

“I don’t think he went this way. So, I think we should, or at least I’m going to head back down … and try to pick up his trail somewhere lower.â€

 

“Well, it’s true, if we go up with the others, we’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 Tommy’s tracks, trying to follow the trail back. Shortly after that, Miss Edington, Miss Rodriguez, and Virgil Thomas arrived in the hollow.

 

“Did you find anything?†Miss Edington asked.

 

She saw the strange carvings on the wall and looked more closely at them.

 

“Yeah, we found this piece of fabric,†Miss Fairfield said. “We think it might have been Tommy’s. And then we found these tracks here that led to this … wall.â€

 

“And there’s nothing up top,†Miss Greene said.

 

“No tracks,†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 didn’t recognize the magical writing as anything she’d ever studied in the vast occult library at her father’s house. She stared at it.

 

“Suzanna, have you seen anything like this?†Miss Greene said.

 

“I don’t know what this is,†Miss Edington replied. “But it’s nothing I’ve ever seen.â€

 

“Why, that’s Indian,†Cooper said. “That’s Indian stuff.â€

 

“That’s not Indian. I have seen Indian in these books that I read at my daddy’s place. That’s not Indian.â€

 

“What else could it be?â€

 

“I don’t know what it is, but it ain’t Indian.â€

 

“Aw. Look how old it is. It’s gotta be Indian.â€

 

“Well─â€

 

“Ain’t no white people put this up here.â€

 

“Well, no, but … it’s not Indian. I don’t know what.â€

 

Cooper looked at her doubtfully, rolling his eyes. She didn’t notice as she stared at the design.

 

“I don’t want to sound crazy, but … magic?†she said.

 

“How does that sound crazy?†Miss Hernandez said.

 

“Magic?†Miss Greene said.

 

She didn’t think the woman was mad, but wondered if she was just ignorant. In fact, she seemed very calm.

 

“What do you know about magic?†she asked.

 

“I don’t,†Miss Edington said, still staring at the wall. “I just read stories. I don’t know anything about magic. I just know this ain’t nothing that I’ve ever seen. This ain’t no Indian.â€

 

“Okay … well …†Miss Greene said.

 

Miss Fairfield was a little doubtful.

 

“What did you find, in your group up top?†Miss Greene asked.

 

“A bear trap, for one,†Miss Edington said.

 

“Mr. Rockefeller stepped in a bear trap,†Virgil Thomas said.

 

“Is he okay!?!†both Miss Greene and Miss Fairfield said together.

 

“He’s all right,†Virgil Thomas said. “I saw to it as best I could and we’ll get him a cleaned up better once he gets back to civilization.â€

 

“I have some pain killers,†Miss Greene said.

 

Miss Fairfield frowned, feeling she had missed a photo opportunity. Miss Edington, meanwhile, felt the wall around the strange symbols.

 

“He’ll be fine,†Virgil Thomas said. “He would probably appreciate your pain killers.â€

 

Miss Edington picked at the solid rock wall, pulling dirt out of the carvings. It didn’t move. Miss Hernandez kicked it solidly, stubbing her toe.

 

“Now what the Hell are you doing?†Miss Edington asked her. “This is solid rock. What’d you think was gonna happen?â€

 

“That’s what I thought might happen,†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 Bailey’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.

 

* * *

 

“Nigel, do you see anything?†Rockefeller called to Bricker.

 

“Nope,†the man replied. “Not a thing.â€

 

Felix had been looking down the mountain and didn’t see anything either.

 

“I thought we’d be able to see something if we were up here,†Rockefeller said.

 

“Well, I do see a house way over that way,†Bricker called.

 

“A house!?!†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.

 

“I guess we should start heading down,†Rockefeller said. “Regroup with the others and see if they’ve found anything.â€

 

“Yes sir,†Felix said. “We can head back down. Should we continue calling for Tommy Bailey?â€

 

“Get down from that tree, Nigel!†Rockefeller called.

 

“Should we go down by a different path in case we get lucky and find the boy?†Felix asked. “Or should we head back the way we came, sir?â€

 

“What do you think, Nigel?†Rockefeller said. “You probably have more tracking than we do.â€

 

Felix looked at the man. Nigel just looked at him as he climbed down.

 

“I’m from London!†Bricker said. “I’ve never been out here before.â€

 

“You don’t hunt over there in London?†Rockefeller said. “I thought you all were barbaric over there, still hunting for your food and stuff like that.â€

 

“You’re thinking France, sir,†Felix quipped.

 

“Oh, of course! The French.â€

 

Bricker nodded at Felix.

 

“You have to lead,†Rockefeller said to Bricker. “I can’t lead. You have to lead.â€

 

“I guess we could head back and regroup for now,†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.

 

“Felix, take me there,†Rockefeller said. “I 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.

 

“Nigel!†Rockefeller said. “Nigel! What is that?â€

 

He pointed it out.

 

“It looks like mold, doesn’t it?†Bricker said.

 

“Go-go get us some!†Rockefeller said.

 

Bricker looked at him.

 

“All right, you take the stick and tap the ground so you don’t get another bear trap,†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.

 

“It’s mold, it is!†he called.

 

“Nigel, what is it?†Rockefeller called back.

 

“It’s just mold or fungus or something. I can’t collect any of it. It’s just disappearing.â€

 

“Disappearing? You can’t put some in your hand?â€

 

“I don’t know what this is! I’m not touching it!â€

 

“Felix! Take me to the tree, Felix.â€

 

Felix helped Rockefeller to the tree. Rockefeller scraped some of the mold off with his hand.

 

“That’s how you do it, Nigel, right there,†he said, putting it in his pocket.

 

It had a strange, tingly feel to it.

 

Miss Edington climbed up.

 

“Is that you, Mr. Rockefeller?†she called as she climbed towards the man.

 

“The one and only,†he said.

 

“What’d you find up there? Y’all are making quite a bit of commotion up there.â€

 

“Found some sort of moss over here and Nigel said he couldn’t take it off the tree. I had to show him how it was done.â€

 

“What?â€

 

“Mold, sir,†Felix said.

 

“Mold,†Rockefeller said.

 

“Mold?†Miss Edington said. “Moss?â€

 

“Mold. Moss. It’s all the same out here.â€

 

“It’s quite not, but … anyway.â€

 

“I don’t get out much.â€

 

“Get 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.

 

“Why are you touching that?†Miss Edington said.

 

“We’re touching some mold?†Miss Hernandez said.

 

“Mr. Rockefeller, I don’t know about you …†Miss Edington said.

 

“Rockefeller, let me see that leg,†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.

 

“Why are you holding mold?†Miss Edington asked the man.

 

“Because it looks interesting,†he said.

 

“Just ‘cause it looks interestin’ doesn’t mean it isn’t dangerous.â€

 

“You ever seen red mold that disappears? Or at least Nigel says it disappears. I don’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.

 

“Mr. Rockefeller, I think you should put that down,†Miss Edington said. “I don’t like it. It’s just disappearing. That’s not natural. That looks like the devil’s work.â€

 

“I wonder if this is one of those psychedelic plants?†he said.

 

“Oh God!†Miss Hernandez said.

 

“Maybe you should lick it and find out,†Bricker quipped.

 

And I was attracted to this man at first? Miss Edington thought.

 

“Felix,†Miss Greene said, taking the man aside.

 

“Yes, miss,†Felix said.

 

“What did you find at the top?â€

 

“Nothing. 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 that’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€

 

“Do you suppose you could convince Rockefeller to go to the doctor while we continue the search?â€

 

“Mr. Rockefeller is a very strong-minded man. I will make every endeavor.â€

 

“Mr. Rockefeller, why you still holding that mold?†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.

 

“Can I look at that trap?†Miss Greene said to him.

 

She examined the trap closely. It was unlike anything she’d ever seen.

 

“Jebediah,†she said. “Have you ever seen anything like this?â€

 

“It’s a trap,†Cooper said.

 

“What do you suppose it’s set for?â€

 

“What? Ain’t no traps up here.â€

 

“Well, Mr. Rockefeller apparently stepped in that one,†Miss Edington said.

 

“There ain’t supposed to be no traps,†Cooper said. “Ain’t no hunting up here.â€

 

“Uh!†Rockefeller said.

 

“I mean, it’s good-sized,†Cooper went on. “I guess you could get a coyote or something in it. Maybe a bear. If it’s not too big.â€

 

“Well, I don’t know about you, but I’ve never seen a bear trap like that,†Miss Edington said.

 

“Well, I s’pose if you’re rich, you can have ‘em made any way ya want,†Cooper said.

 

“Hm,†Miss Greene said.

 

“Look at it,†Cooper went on. “It’s all silvery. It’s probably made by rich people.â€

 

“Okay, well, listen, Rockefeller,†Miss Greene said.

 

“We found this piece of fabric,†Miss Fairfield said. “I think it might be the boy’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€

 

“Oh yeah!†Miss Edington said.

 

She walked back over to the cliff and looked more closely at the wall again.

 

“Why don’t you go back and talk to the parents?†Miss Greene said to Rockefeller.

 

“Why would I go talk to the parents?†he asked.

 

“So you can also get your leg looked at.â€

 

“We haven’t found the kid yet! I’m not going back until we find the kid.â€

 

“Well …â€

 

“I gotta get the … I really care about the kid!â€

 

“Listen, we’re going to follow these here tracks─â€

 

“And I’ll follow you.â€

 

“Well, 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.

 

“I won’t slow you down,†he said.

 

“All right,†she said. “Well …â€

 

His leg ached but he could put weight on it.

 

“Well, here,†she said, taking several pills out of her pocket. “You want some pain pills, at least?â€

 

“Of course!†he said.

 

He swallowed the pills and went over to look at the strange carvings on the wall. He couldn’t make head nor tail of them.

 

“Mr. Rockefeller,†Miss Edington said. “Do you know anything about this wall?â€

 

“This rock formation right here?†he asked.

 

“I have no idea what it is, but …â€

 

“I think she means the carvings, sir,†Felix said.

 

“I’ve never seen symbols like this before,†Rockefeller said.

 

“That’s a shame,†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 Bailey’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.

 

* * *


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