Forest of Dean, England
(Aydan Driscoll is an elderly man, with his most distinct feature being a large, greying handlebar mustache. His body is covered in black clothing, with nothing bright on it whatsoever. He carries an L74A1, known as a Remington 870 in the United States. He wears a headset, as do I, to keep outside music from his ears. We are communicating via radio. Driscoll is a member of the Faerie Ring Neutralization Unit (FRiNU) of the United Kingdom. Driscoll's job is to put up a perimeter around faerie rings to warn passersby of their presence, and to report their location for later destruction. Driscoll and I are standing on a hill covered in several right now.) Look at these: faerie rings. You know, for the longest, longest time these were just collections of mushrooms and toadstools. Can you imagine? I mean, I can. I lived back then. I assume you did, too. They were just folklore. I mean, they were real, but surrounded in folklore.
(Where exactly did you live?)
Can't tell from my accent? I don't blame you. I lived in a tiny town outside of Cardiff. You know, Wales? Yeah, the town was called Wight. Pretty ironic, since those things turned out to be real. Never actually met one, though, but I've heard of them.
(What did you do before The Rupture?)
Getting me back on track, eh? I was a policeman-still am, you could say. I didn't exactly take the job for noble intentions. I wanted the position for its prestige and respect. I used to work in Cardiff, and that was the only real way to stand out.
Move to Wight was the best decision I ever made. Small town, about five hundred people. Wight was an easy job, because everyone in Wight knew each other and was generally peaceable. Maybe I'd arrest the town drunk once a week, but he never really did anything too bad. Well, Wight was a small town. We tended to notice when things went... weird. It was surrounded by forests, untouched by the urban growth near the megalithic Cardiff. We lived right by Brecon Beacons, big national forest. Truthfully, small towns like Wight were hit the worst out of anywhere else. Cities typically survived, unless they were in a Dragon Zone. Even then they never got hit too badly, really. But it was the small, forest towns that were hurt the most. They were closest to the wild places.
(What happened in Wight?)
Well, several kids had disappeared. We should have been well aware when anyone went missing. We should have had suspects, but we didn't. It was almost like the kids just vanished. Honestly, the situation seemed like something out of a horror movie. It did, I'm honest! I think about seven went missing within a week. It was too many to be anything but foul play. And the idea that kids are usually kidnapped by a close relative didn't really hold up with this volume of disappearances. We were baffled. And I was assigned to this case-one third of the fifteen man police force was on it. The kids were between four and eight. Seven of them had disappeared. Two boys and five girls.
I was going to investigate the disappearance of a four year old girl named Cadi Roberts. Her mother-single lady-lived on the outskirts of Wight. The house was pretty, but small, and set atop a hill and draped with trees. Ms. Roberts greeted me at the door, and her eyes were red and puffy.
"Ma'am, I'm here to ask you some questions about your daughter," I told her. Fun fact: that's always the hardest part of my job. That first, business-like greeting to people clearly suffering from tragedy feels so callous and offensive. I never felt that way when I lived in Cardiff. Like I said, I just worked to be noticed. Maybe middle age and the small town melted my heart. Or maybe things are easier when you know the people you work for. Policeman is a public employee, you know. Ms. Roberts ran the grocer, and she was a nice lady.
"Please come in, Constable Driscoll," Ms. Roberts told me. I asked her when last she'd seen Cadi, and where, and if she noticed anything suspicious.
"Cadi vanished two days ago, Wednesday. I called when she wasn't in the backyard at nightfall. Cadi had gone out to play in the backyard. She didn't go into the woods, I know it. She always listened to me. She always-" Then Ms. Roberts broke down into sobs. If I was still a city constable, I would have just been mad that she was making my job harder. Instead, I offered Ms. Roberts a hanky and allowed her to cry. If she didn't cry, I would have been worried. In times of crisis, humanity is the most valuable commodity.
When she regained her composure, she continued. "I didn't really notice anything unusual. I mean, I think Cadi was more excited to play outside than usual, but that was probably just because she'd been cooped up most winter and the weather has just turned nice. Are you gonna find her?" I nodded.
"I promise I'll find her. I keep my promises. We're organizing a search for tonight. All of Wight will be out there searching for Cadi and the other kids, too. You're welcome to join, if you're up to it." Ms. Roberts told me she would join, and that it wasn't right to do nothing if she could help someone like herself. What a sweet woman. She didn't deserve this.
I was scrounging all around the town for leads about the missing kids. A family ripped apart... well, that happened to me when my mom died. Can't imagine what it'd be like to lose a kid. I questioned store owners, my friends, even random passersby about the missing kids. I was clutching at straws.
I went to the hospital, the only one in Wight, and checked their medical records. Trying to find if any kids with injuries consistent with being lost in the woods for a few days. Nothing. Now, this is where things get kinda weird, though. Birth defects had occurred in about 50% of recent births; five out of ten children born in the last week, to be exact. Not stuff like, I don't know, hole-in-lungs disorder or a clubbed foot, but weird things like vestigial tails or horns or, and I'm not kidding, teeth like a shark. If this was an American movie, we'd be hopping all over accusing Big Business Inc. of dumping toxic waste or something. But there was nothing happening in the environment to cause these defects. These women who had these kids were all different, and in one case the child was part of a set of twins where the other kid came out perfectly normal! It was weird, but I didn't think that it was related at the time.
That night the entirety of Wight was crashing through Brecon, flashlights waving all around. If there was anything out there, we would have spooked them away. It was a foggy night, and visibility was kind of poor. It wasn't that great of a night for a search, honestly. My coworker, Constable Price, was the only person I was within sight of. We were going to turn every single stone over in this damn park if we needed to, to find these kids.
"Hey, Driscoll, look at this!" Constable Price shouted at me. He'd stopped and was just standing there in a clearing in the mist. I headed over towards him.
"What is it?" I asked him. I didn't really notice anything in the clearing, especially in the darkness. Constable Price shined his flashlight across the clearing. The beam fell across dozens and of mushrooms, of various shades and hues and colors. Some of the mushrooms didn't even look native to Wales-they were far too exotic. They looked to be growing in organized patterns and rings, as if someone had planted and tended to them.
"So what?" I asked irritably, unhappy about being held up by some mushrooms.
"So what? It's a faerie ring. No, no. A bunch of faerie rings!" Constable Price retorted. I shook my head. "Can't you feel the power here?" Now that he'd mentioned it, I could feel... something. I don't really know how to describe it. There was sort of a buzzing, in my bones. It seemed to boil my blood, and I could smell copper. The whole air just seemed to be waiting, shivering. I could feel a rhythm pulsing through me, stirring up a beat in my spirit. I just swayed to the nonexistent music. I forgot where I was. Can you believe that? I was just standing near these mushrooms and poof! I forgot everything except for the beat.
A hand laid itself on my shoulder. "Driscoll, are you good?" It was Constable Price, and he brought me back to reality. I nodded, and we left the faerie rings to their own agenda.
I couldn't get the faerie rings out of my head. When I was lying in my bed after the search, the music kept dancing through my body. It pulsed through my dreams. I was back in the clearing, dancing to the music amid all the toadstools. I spun, and pirouetted. I was magnificent. All to the beat. The beat that I can't describe. It wasn’t music like anything else. It was... I can't describe it. You just need to hear it to know it. I felt so happy in the dreams, like nothing mattered. You know, I still have the dreams, occasionally. They're not as intense, or vivid, but I still have them.
I woke up in the morning, feeling well rested. I was filled with desire to go back into the woods. I wanted to revisit the faerie rings. I washed up, and ate breakfast, and threw clothes on and set out into the still morning. It was really cold, and still kind of dark. It was the time right before the sun comes up, but after the moon and stars decided to leave. I walked through the forest, looking for the rings. I had no idea where they could be. I could feel them calling to me, but I couldn't tell from where.
As I walked through the forest, aimlessly searching the faerie rings which I craved, I heard something crashing through the woods. We don't really have bears in Wales-we have wolves-but this didn't sound like either. I cautiously approached the sound. I froze when I saw that it was coming from a person staggering through the woods. However, I noticed that it was a woman, in her late eighties. She wasn't dangerous, I don't think; she must have wandered away from her family. I approached the woman, and when she saw me she ran towards me and collapsed in my arms. She was weak, I realized. Exhausted. I noticed, then, that her clothes were ragged and too small.
"Who... who are you?" I asked her.
She breathed raggedly for a few moments before answering: "My name is Cadi. Cadi Roberts." Then she passed out.
(The missing girl? How?)
I didn't know how, either. Not at the moment, of course. I was just stuck with this old, old woman stuck in my arms. This old woman claiming to be a missing four-year old. I took this old lady to the hospital, the only hospital in Wight. Got her all situated. I asked the doctors if they had any clue who she was. They answered 'no,' every doctor and every nurse.
The faerie rings were out of my head. I wasn't being allured by them anymore. And I had a lead, weird as it was: a delirious, possibly demented, lost woman claiming to be Cadi Roberts. I stood watch over her bed all day long, and stood just outside her door whenever the doctors shooed me out. At, I don't know, midday she opened her eyes and spoke.
"The Gwyllion have a wonderful home. More magical than anything here. I want to go back there, mommy." She didn't exactly look at me, or anything, as she spoke. She was glazed over. Her words disturbed me. Gwyllion? I thought I'd misheard her.
(Excuse me, but what exactly is a 'Gwyllion?')
Welsh term for faerie. We call them Gwyllion, Tylwyth Teg, Ellyllon. You know, it's kind of like how you Americans call them 'Bigfoot' and the Canadians call them 'Sasquatch.' Gwyllions aren't anything different than continental faeries. And, naturally, I was surprised by the words spoken by... by Cadi. I thought she was delirious; I knew she couldn't really have seen the Gwyllion.
I called in a nurse, to check on the lady. The nurse gave me some medical jargon which all boiled down to 'she's doing fine' and left us. I told the old lady I had to go, and she stopped me.
"Where are you going, mister? I want to see mommy." She was focusing right at me, eyes boring right through me.
"I'm going to go get your mommy. I promise."
I intended to keep the promise, but not before looking up information about the Gwyllion. I grew up in Wales, but I didn't know the defining lore and legends. Most people didn't really know the specifics of faeries or monsters or what-have-you. And it was amazing that I could just go home and look up whatever I wanted about the Gwyllion on the computer! My old nature is shining through.
What I learned about the Gwyllion was quite unsettling. I knew a bit about the faerie rings, right. They say that faerie rings are filled with entrancing music, and they hypnotize whoever enters them. That... that had happened to me! I had the music from the faerie rings still in my head. I knew all that before I researched the rings, though. But I never realized that time passes impossibly fast-or slow-in a faerie ring. One minute in there could be an eternity out here, or maybe vice-versa. Everything was falling into place. A perfect explanation. Or a perfect coincidence, hopefully. And then there were the changelings.
According to... to legend, faeries-the Gwyllion-sometimes steal human babies. And they, they, they-um-replace them. With changelings. Faerie babies. Like human children, but... but wrong. You Americans never had to deal with these... these things. But it's terrible, for a woman to have her child stolen away by the Gwyllion and have it replaced by a monster! It's terrible! It's vile, it's repulsive! And it was happening in Wight. The birth defects must have stemmed from changelings. That was a reasonable explanation. I couldn't believe, at the time, that I determined that to be a reasonable explanation. I decided to return to the hospital, to Cadi. I didn't want her to have to be alone. She was just a little girl, after all.
I asked Cadi about where she came from. "I was in the yard, and little people appeared. I'd seen them before, but always from far away. They didn't look like me or like you, and they were kind of scary. But they were singing a pretty song, and I decided to follow them. I followed them into the forest, and they took me to a circle of pretty and colorful mushrooms. And they sang even louder and prettier! We danced in that circle; we danced and danced for so long. Whenever I got hungry they would bring me food and drinks. The and drinks tasted better than anything else, better than cake and candy and ice cream. And I danced and danced, until the music stopped and the little people disappeared. I left the ring, and I was scared because I felt strange. I wanted my mommy. I... I want my mommy. I miss my mommy." Cadi started crying as she finished her story. I knew then without a shadow of a doubt that the Gwyllion were real. I didn't know then about the scope of what was happening, but I knew something was happening. I left Cadi's room again, and told her once more that I'd get her mother.
I was very quiet as I brought Ms. Roberts to see her little girl-who had become elderly due to the twisted magic of the Gwyllion. I couldn't explain that to her. Ms. Roberts just kept crying and crying-tears of joy-as we approached the hospital. She babbled dozens and dozens of 'thank you's as we walked.
When we entered Cadi's room, Ms. Roberts froze. My heart fell. She was going to accuse me of playing some cruel, cruel joke on her. Cadi looked up from her bed, and a smile-the warmest, happiest smile ever-spread across her face. Ms. Roberts' face twitched, and slowly transformed into a smile. It was a bittersweet smile, full of conflicting emotions. But it was a smile. Ms. Roberts approached Cadi and threw her arms around her. The two's embrace seemed infectious; I wanted to hug someone.
"I love you, my daughter," I heard Ms. Roberts whisper. Mothers have the instinctual ability to always recognize their children, I guess. I mean, I guess I want to think that that's true. It makes me feel good.
"Thank you, Constable Driscoll," Ms. Roberts told me.
I nodded, and told her: "I always keep my promises."
Written by WhitleyTheMountain