After breakfast the next morning, Miles was saying his farewells to everyone outside the Dining Hall. He had been to the Council Building before breakfast to meet Hugh who gave him the Amulets of Protection and Strength. Just one more farewell to make and he would be on his way; first to Woodtown for Amanda's car to drive; and then onto Forrest. Leaving Amanda for even a short time would not be easy. He'd never had to leave someone like this before. It was more painful than he'd ever thought possible. He led Amanda a little away from the others and hugged her tightly.
"Oh Miles," started Amanda but he silenced her with a kiss; a long but tender kiss.
When he finally ended the kiss Miles said, "I plan to reach Forrest tomorrow night. I'm taking a laptop computer with me and will be staying at a motel with internet access. I'll email Kevin after I arrive and give him a time for the next morning that I'll phone Sarah's house. Take Kevin or my father with you when you go to the house. Okay?"
"Okay. I'll miss you so dreadfully Miles even though I'm surrounded by caring people," said Amanda. "I love you."
"I love you Amanda and will return as quickly as I can," said Miles. "Believe."
"I do," said Amanda.
Miles reluctantly started away. Miles had made many trips for many reasons over the years. He smiled as he walked remembering that the last one brought Amanda into his life. It had never been difficult to go before. His life had changed so much. He let his mind go over all that he knew of the going-ons in Forrest which really wasn't very much. He wanted to be able to clear this up quickly. And not just so that he could return to Amanda, as important as that was. As upsetting as any case involving children would be, he realized his impending fatherhood made it moreso. And on top of all that, Kevin's sister was one of the missing. It had been several years since he'd seen Kevin's family. He knew they had planned a visit to the Whimsical Woods after Sarah had the baby and he'd looked forward to seeing them again. Now he'd be seeing them sooner but under such difficult circumstances. None of this made much sense at this point. He hoped he'd get some answers when he arrived.
The group he'd left behind outside the Dining Hall soon went their separate ways to carry out their activities for the day. Each couldn't help feeling concerned and worried.
Tristan and Belinda had waited for Geoff to say his goodbyes to Miles. This morning Geoff had breakfasted with his family instead of his friends. The three were now heading for their classes.
"What's going on?" asked Tristan.
"Your family all seem so sad and worried," said Belinda.
"They are," said Geoff. "Dad said Hugh doesn't want the whole settlement to know until things are all settled."
"You can trust us!" said Tristan.
They were nearly at the school, so Geoff said, "I know but there's not enough time to tell you now. Let's all meet by our oak tree at breaktime, ok?"
"Sure," said Tristan.
"Alright," agreed Belinda.
Hugh and Kevin left for the Council Building. Daniel accompanied the four women to the Gardens.
"I think I'll just take this first bench here," said Sarah with a smile, "and sit for a while. Please continue on. I'll be fine."
"If you are sure," Margaret said with a hint of concern in her voice.
"Yes, Mother, I'm sure. I just tire easily these days," reassured Sarah.
"We won't leave you long, Sarah," said Daniel as he took Margaret's hand.
"Thank you, Father," said Sarah.
Sarah watched the four walk away and noticed that they divided and went in separate directions; Amanda and her mother in one direction and her parents in another.
When Daniel and Margaret reached the lilac grove, they sat on a bench. Daniel put his arm around Margaret's shoulder and softly spoke, "He'll be alright, Margaret."
Maragaret smiled at him. "I know. But a mother worries. Funny, how the years away looks so flat now."
"Flat?" asked Daniel.
"It is the best word I can think of. Since coming back, there have been such highs and some lows. It's diificult in some ways adjusting to all the emotion but it is also a rebirth of sorts. It is said that you don't know what you have until you lose it. This shows me that one doesn't know what they've been missing until they've found it."
"That is true," said Daniel. "We had each other and our quest but we have so very much more now."
"Yes. It's not that I didn't think of Miles and Sarah when we were gone. I did. Everyday. But I trusted that they were okay and thought we would return to them soon," said Margaret.
"I know. If I'd known how long we'd be gone, I wouldn't have asked you to do it," said Daniel.
"It was the best chance we knew of, then, for us to all be together here," said Margaret. "Under the same circumstances I'd have still done it."
Meantime, Amanda and Susannah had stopped to sit in the herb garden area.
As Daniel had done with Maraget, Susannah spoke to Amanda, "He'll be alright."
"I know Mama. I do. But I already miss him. To not hear from him till tomorrow evening will seem like forever," responded Amanda.
"I'm sure it will," sympathized Susannah. "Miles is a very special man. He will help them and hurry back to you."
Amanda smiled. "He certainly is and I am grateful everyday that he found me. He has given me more happiness than I'd have ever dreamt possible."
Sarah waited and reflected on her brother as she felt everyone's concern for him. She had no doubt that Miles could resolve this problem in Forrest. All those years, she had taken him for granted. She had been too wrapped up in her confusion and sorrow and guilt to recognize all that he did. It was only since returning to the faeryfolke, that she really started to appreciate him.
Sarah looked up and noticed the others were on their way back to her. Soon they were leaving the Gardens on their way to their homes.
Geoff paced as he waited for his friends by the oak tree even though it was really only a few minutes. When they were all three there they sat on the grass in the shade of the tree.
"So what is going on?" asked Tristan.
"Well," started Geoff, " Dad said Hugh doesn't want the whole settlement to know until it's all finished."
"We won't tell anyone," said Tristan.
"Of course not," added Belinda.
"Alright," said Geoff. "Uncle Miles is going to Forrest, the town by the Whispering Woods. There's been some faeryfolke children disappear while in the town."
"Oh my!" exclaimed Belinda.
"Wow!" said Tristan. "When? How? Why?"
"Over the last few days. First an 18 year old girl who happens to be my Aunt Jennifer. Whispering Woods is where my dad's family mostly live. I don't even know them but they were going to be coming to visit after the baby is born for the Naming Ceremony," said Geoff.
"Oh, Geoff, how awful," said Belinda. "I hope she's ok."
"Me too," agreed Tristan.
"That's one of the funny things about it. None of the parents have felt anything bad from the missing children. Next was a 12 year old boy and then a 9 year old girl. All of them faeryfolke," Geff told them.
"That does seem strange," said Belinda.
"Sure does," said Tristan.
Geoff continued, "They contacted the Council to see if they could send Miles to help. Uncle Miles has helped lots of faeryfolke in different places and he even knows some of the Outer World police forces. If anyone can solve it, it's my uncle."
"I wonder what happened. Do they think someone took them? A human?" asked Tristan.
"Probably someone took them. I heard Dad say that he didn't think it was a human because there's only faeryfolke kids missing. Also their parents would probably be feeling fear from them if it was a human that took them."
Geoff paused a moment before going on. "I don't really know much yet about other types of people than humans and faeryfolke. Uncle Miles mentioned an Imp that was playing jokes on Aunt Amanda before she knew about faeryfolke. What others are there?"
"Gosh, Geoff, there's lots," said Belinda. "Merpeople,Werewolves, Trolkes, Witches and Warlocks."
"And Griffords, Vampires, Grogres and Transderms and that is just a few really," said Tristan.
"Wow! Some of those I know are really scarey but what about the others?" asked Geoff.
"Don't believe everything you read in the Outer World, Geoff," said Belinda. "There are good and bad in all groups although the bad in some can be much more violent than the bad in some others."
"That's true," said said Tristan. "Humans have distorted things in their stories."
"Gee, I guess I've a lot to learn still. So Uncle Miles isn't in any danger then?" inquired Geoff.
"Well," hesitated Tristan.
"We can't really say that for sure," said Belinda. "Just that it might not be dangerous no matter who did it."
"Oh," said Geoff. "I think I understand. Hugh did give him Amulets of Protection to take with him."
"He'll be fine," said Belinda, givng Geoff's hand a gentle squeeze.
"Sure he will," agreed Tristan. "And back before you know it."
"Thank you," said Geoff softly.
Miles had made good time on this trip. It was 6 pm on the second day and he was checked into his motel room in Forrest. He'd stopped at a payphone earlier in the day to call Kevin. He wanted to have Kevin take Amanda into Woodtown so he could call her. Kevin, having gotten Hugh's permission, had suggested Miles phone her at the Council Building instead since they didn't yet know where the danger might lie. They had agreed to 6:30 for the call. After that Miles would meet the families. His police friend at Woodtown had arranged for the police of Forrest to tell the families to meet him at 7 pm. When he'd checked in with the police he found there'd been no additional missing children. Miles had noticed a large park just down the street a bit from the motel. It would be a good place to take the families to talk. He could make sure no humans were close enough to overhear them. He could also sit on the ground as he was wont to do. It always restored him physically, mentally and spiritually to feel the earth beneath him.
Finally, it was 6:30 and he dialed the Whimsical Woods Council Building.
"Hello?" he heard Kevin ask.
"Hello Kevin. Nothing to report yet. Please let me talk to Amanda," said Miles.
"Sure thing," responded Kevin and then he handed the phone to Amanda who had been waiting anxiously beside him.
"Hello Miles!" said Amanda in a voice that cracked with emotion. "You're ok. Right?"
"I'm fine Amanda," replied Miles. "I'll be meeting the families soon."
"Miles, I miss you so much. I love you so much."
"I love you too Amanda. I'll be there as soon as I possibly can."
"I know," said Amanda. "I'm so proud of you. I know you will settle this."
"Thank you, my love. Until we are together again, keep well and think of me often, " said Miles.
"You are always in my thoughts and in my heart. Keep safe and return soon," said Amanda.
"I will," said Miles and then he hung up the phone.
Miles had barely gone over the little information he had when there was a knock on his door. He opened it to see a police officer and three couples. Three couples whose anxiety was so strong it nearly overwhelmed him.
The police officer asked "Miles Greene?"
"Yes," replied Miles.
The policeman offered Miles his hand to shake. As the shook he said, "Nice to meet you. I'm Inspector Main. Sergeant Webster was very confident you could help us and we appreciate any help you can give."
After dropping Miles hand, he pointed to the couples introducing them. "These are Roland and Helen Mooney, parents of young Jade; Michael and Emma Croft, parents of Cullen; and lastly, Peter and Karen Meadows, parents of Jennifer."
After the hellos and handshakes were done, Miles spoke to Inspector Main, "Would it be alright if I spoke just to the parents for now?"
"Sure," replied the policeman. "I should get back to the station. You can reach me if you need me."
"Thank you," said Miles. "I'll be sure and let you know if I think of anything helpful to your case."
With that the group of faeryfolke were left alone.
"Perhaps we could go to the park down the street to talk," said Miles. "I can use some fresh air after being cooped up in a car so long."
"It is a nice spot," agreed Peter. "In fact the best in this town for us."
"You've been here several days now, haven't you?" Miles asked as the group set out walking toward the park.
"Yes," replied Karen. "Ever since Jennifer disappeared but we are growing weak. The park helps but isn't the same as being in the settlement."
"Not nearly enough greenspaces," said Michael.
"And the food is so full of preservatives," added Emma. "We have mainly eaten only fruits and vegetables from the farmer's market."
"We have found a place with herbal teas," said Helen. "They are good but not as good as our restorative teas."
"I've brought some teas with me," said Miles. "I'll give them to you after we talk."
There was a chorus of thank yous.
Then Helen came to an abrupt halt. "Jade! I feel her anxious and near!"
"Yes!" said Roland.
"Anxious? Not scared or hurt?" asked Miles.
"Worried, but no not frightened or hurt," said Helen.
"Let's continue on to the park," suggested Miles.
As the entered the parked, they heard a young voice yell, "Mommy! Daddy!"
As they turned in the direction of the voice, they saw a young girl running toward them. Helen and Roland ran ahead, met the girl and lifted her into a three-way hug.
The rest of the group soon caught up to them.
"This is Jade, I take it?" asked Miles smiling at the trio.
"Yes, it certainly is," said a relieved and happy Helen.
Jade whispered in her mother's ear. Helen smiled and said, "Jade meet Miles of the Whimsical Woods. He came to help us find you."
"Where have you been, Jade?" asked Roland. "We looked everywhere."
Jade looked confused. "I've been here. I just fell asleep for a while."
Miles spotted a gazebo and suggested they all go there to sit and talk. Although he'd prefer to sit on the grass, it was a cool evening and he thought this would be better for the others. Once there he started with a question to Jade's parents.
"You were in the park when Jade went missing?" he asked.
"Yes," replied Roland.
"The same with Cullen," said his father, Michael.
"And Jennifer?" Miles asked.
"We were shopping but the park was our meeting place," answered Peter. "All faeryfolke use this park to rest and restore themselves."
Jade spoke up, "I wasn't missing!"
"Jade, sweetie," Helen spoke softly. "We've not seen you for over two days."
"Oh," whispered Jade and Helen hugged her more tightly. "Cullen and Jennifer, too?"
"Yes," said Michael. "Cullen the day before you and Jennifer the day before that."
"They were in my dream," said Jade.
"Oh?" encouraged Miles.
"It was a lovely place," said Jade. "Beautiful flowers and friendly animals. All the animals must have been enchanted because you could talk with them."
"Jade, do you remember what happened before you fell asleep?" asked Miles.
Jade's young face took on a look of concentration. "Mommy and Daddy were resting so I went exploring a little. There was this big, shaggy but sad looking dog. He wanted me to follow him into the woods. I got very sleepy and laid down by a tree."
"And you woke up in the same place?" asked Miles.
"Yes but when I went to see Mommy and Daddy, they weren't here."
"So you were worried?" asked Miles.
"Yes. Till I saw them enter the park," said Jade. "I was so happy to see them."
"So you only remember sleeping and having a pretty dream?"
"Uh huh. Oh! The dog was there when I woke up!" she said.
"He was?" asked Miles.
"Yep. I was so happy to see Mommy and Daddy I forgot," said Jade.
"That's ok," assured Miles.
"He gave me something," she said reaching into her pocket. "Here. I think it's for you."
Miles took the small round object from the girl. He recognized it immediately and understood much more.
"Jade, can you show me which tree?" he asked.
"Sure," said Jade.
"Good," he said smiling at the girl. Raising his eyes to the adults, he said, "It's getting quite dark and chilly. Why don't you all head back. I think I know now who is behind this but not why. I have a feeling I'll soon know that too."
"Will you be okay?" asked Peter.
"Yes. I'll be fine," replied Miles. "Be sure and contact Inspector Main and let him know Jade has been safely found. Tell him she is fine but tired and will talk to him in the morning."
"Oh! I'd not thought of that," said Roland. "What should she tell him?"
"Best to stick to the truth," said Miles. "Just that she went into the woods and fell asleep. They'll wonder about it but I feel that's all each of the children will be able to tell them so they'll just have to accept that the children have returned and they needn't spend resources on it any longer."
"You think Cullen and Jennifer will soon be safely returned too?" asked Emma.
"I do," said Miles. "Jade, show me the tree and then you can all be on your way."
Miles sat at the base of the big old tree that Jade had pointed out to him. Although only mid-March, this spot was quite warm. It would have been a very inviting spot for a tired child to rest and fall asleep.
"You can come out anytime Looster," called Miles. "I recognize your calling card."
A gold, glowing, floating mass appeared in front of Miles. "Thought you would," the mass seemed to say.
"What's this all about then?" asked Miles. "Why take the children? That's not like you."
"I need your help," was the reply.
"What has that to do with taking the children?" asked Miles.
"I knew you would be summoned here to help," came the answer.
"You could have just asked for my help without involving the children," said Miles.
"And how would I do that? You know I can not enter the faeryfolke settlements."
"That is true but there must be a better way."
"Perhaps but this one did work."
"So you were the big, shaggy, sad dog?" asked Miles.
"Yes. Not one of my favorite transformations but a good one around children. Really Miles, I thought you'd come after the first one since she was related to you."
"But her parents didn't call for my help. They tried to resolve it themselves," said Miles. "I can't help with something I know nothing of."
"Yes, I know."
"But I'm here now, so what is it you need help with?" asked Miles.
"One of our young ones is in a bit of a predicament."
"Oh? And you think I can help?" asked Miles.
"It's really quite a simple problem. Just not one I can fix myself. It needs a human or someone that can pass as one."
"I see. That is one transformation your people have never been able to do," remarked Miles.
"True but then we've no real desire to anyways." The voice sounded just a bit snobbish to Miles.
"But now you need this half-human's help?" asked Miles. "What is the problem?"
"Youngsters can be so foolish! To become a kitten and prance up to a group of human children!"
"Hmmm. I think I see where this might be heading. Did one of the children 'adopt' the kitten?" asked Miles.
"Yes! And she has not let the animal out of her home. We can't transform so close to humans so he has been trapped there."
"You've been in communication?" asked Miles.
"Yes. You know you faeryfolke could probably develop your powers to telepathic communication if you worked at it." It was almost a sneer.
"Well, I think we are quite comfortable with what we have," responded Miles. "The kitten is well cared for?"
"From a human point of view, he's pampered! But he's not a kitten! He needs to be returned."
"So you want me to snatch a kitten away from a little girl?" asked Miles.
"Really Looster! Shall I just go up to the door and demand the animal?" asked Miles.
"Miles,please. I know you can come up with a better plan than that."
"Alright. Can you communicate with the animals in the local shelter?" asked Miles."Find out if there's a kitten there wanting to be pampered by a little girl?"
"Simple enough to do. Why?"
"Maybe if she's a kitten really wanting her she'll be happy to give up the one she has," explained Miles. "I can't just take the kitten away from her. Human children get quite attached to their pets."
"Fine. Meet me here in the morning, Miles. I'll tell you exactly which cat at the shelter to choose. When you set off for the girl's house, the boy will be returned here to awaken from his dream. We never harmed the faeryfolke children."
"Yes, I know," said Miles. "The lack of distress was confusing to their parents. It made me think it might be Grogres behind it since they are known to be gentle with children."
"Well they had the ability but I could not think why they would. You can transform into a Grogre, can't you?" asked Miles.
"Yes but why would anyone?!" The glow seemed to shudder.
Miles got up. "I'll see you in the morning then?"
"Good night Looster."
In the morning Miles was back by the big old tree that defied classification should anyone really happen to notice it there. But then it was only there when Looster needed it to be.
"Okay Looster, I've a bit of a plan but I don't know how believable I'll be," said Miles.
The gold glow returned but was less noticeable in the sunlight then it had been in the moonlight.
"What is the plan?"
"I've talked to Jennifer's parents," said Miles. "I'll say the kitten is hers and that they'd lost it in town the day before she disappeared. That they were back in town to look for the kitten when she disappeared. Being a stranger to town I couldn't very well claim it was my kitten."
"I see your point."
"But then there's the question of how I knew she has the kitten. I guess I'll just say I heard it but don't recall how. It's not a very good plan but all I've come up with," said Miles.
"They're only humans. They'll believe."
"Careful, Looster," Miles warned. "I'm part human myself as are some of the people I love. And if I wasn't, I wouldn't be able to help you now."
"Yes, well some things can't be helped I guess."
"I'm going to need a good description of this kitten if I'm suppose to be looking for it,"Miles said.
"Really Miles. Your faery powers will identify him."
"I know that Looster," said Miles. "But I can't very well go up to the house and tell them, 'I hear you have a kitten that is really a Transderm", can I?"
"Very well. Point taken. He's a golden color with a bit of white and green eyes."
"And did you find a suitable kitten at the shelter?" asked Miles.
"There were a few volunteers but I think the black and white one would be best. It has a very sweet disposition."
"Well then, I guess I just need to know the girl's name and address and I can get started," said Miles. "And you can bring back Cullen. You know this could have been resolved sooner if you'd have just talked to Jennifer's parents."
"Miles you really do not think I'd reveal myself to just any faeryfolke! I only talk to you because our paths have crossed in the past."
"Of course. What was I thinking? Us lowly types do have our uses though, do we not?" asked Miles.
"Only you Miles. Now the girl's name is Cindy Johnston and her house bears the number 124 on First Avenue."
"I'm on my way," said Miles.
Soon after Miles left a boy appeared sleeping at the base of the tree with a big shaggy dog watching over him. He woke slowly and arose to stretch. Looking around he realized he was in the woods at the edge of the park and made his way into the open. The dog watched him go and witnessed his parents entering the park. Satisfied he turned into a golden glow and was assimilated into the tree.
Miles entered the park with the kitten tucked inside his jacket. It had gone fairly smoothly really. Although Cindy was reluctant to part with the golden kitten, her parents were quite glad to see him go. It seems he'd not been the best behaved house guest. Miles chuckled at the stories the parents told. The black and white kitten really was quite sweet and much more deserving of the pampering little Cindy was anxious to bestow. Miles reached the tree and sat on the ground leaning against it.
"I know you see me Looster," he said. "Here's your wayward youngster."
Miles took the kitten from his jacket and placed it on the ground just as Looster's golden glow appeared. He heard Looster speak in a tongue he didn't know to the kitten who transformed into a much smaller neon glowing mass. Looster continued to speak and the small one floated to the tree and was absorbed into it. Although Miles didn't know the language, he knew a scolding when he heard one. He thought it ended with the equivalent of "Go to your room!".
"Thank you Miles. The girl will be returned shortly and then we and our 'tree' will be gone."
"Looster, I don't mind helping if you need me but please don't use this method of contacting me again," said Miles.
"And what would you suggest?"
"Although I'm sure you have a far superior setup than the human's internet," started Miles.
"We certainly do!"
Unfazed by the interruption, Miles continued, "but I'm sure you can use it if you wish too."
"Well then you can contact me through email," said Miles. "It would be much quicker and won't cause any trouble."
"Trouble? The faery children were given a special treat!"
"Don't try that with me," said Miles. "Their parents were very concerned. Surely you can understand that."
"I suppose. But humans are so unpredictable I had no idea what might happen. They knew their children were safe."
"The didn't 'know'," said Miles. "They hoped but they didn't really know anything for sure."
"Perhaps. I do think he learnt a lesson from this. He really didn't like being dressed in her doll's clothes."
Miles saw the glimmer shake as if it were enjoying a belly-deep laugh.
"I'll wait here for Jennifer's return and take her to her parents after she awakes," said Miles.
"As you like. Goodbye Miles."
Looster sank into the tree and a sleeping young woman appeared at the base. Miles hunched down and gently shook her shoulder, "Jennifer, wake up. It's time to go home."
Jennifer opened her eyes; closed them; shook her head; and opened them again. "Miles! What are you doing here?"
Miles stood up and offered Jennifer a hand to help her to her feet saying, "I'm taking you to your parents."
"Why was I sleeping there?" she asked.
"It's a rather long story," said Miles. "How about we wait till we meet with your parents and the others. Are you alright?"
"I'm fine," answered Jennifer. "It was very strange though. I had lovely dreams. I even saw a couple of the children from the settlement."
As they approached the motel, Jennifer's parents were rushing to greet them. Miles watched as Peter and Karen fussed and Jennifer protested that she was fine. He would fuss even more if it was his daughter he thought smiling.
Soon they joined the other faeryfolke children and parents in front of the motel.
"We'll have to contact Inspector Main so that he can see you've all returned safely and close his file although I doubt we'll be able to satisfy many of his questions," said Miles. "All we really can say is that the children have been found safely and as far as they know they only drifted off to sleep and have no recall beyond that."
"That is the truth," said Peter. "With just a few omissions."
"I find it's best to stick with the truth as far as possible," said Miles."We'll need to head in different directions out of town though after and then double back if need be to reach the Whispering Woods. The Inspector knows I'm related to you by marriage Peter and Karen so I'll go with you."
"With any luck we should make it there before the evening meal," said Michael.
"That would be nice," said Emma.
"After the meal, I'll give my report to your Council should any of you wish to attend," said Miles."I'll just go to my room now to phone the Inspector and then the Whimsical Woods to let Kevin know things are settled."
The members of the group nodded to Miles, smiling as he turned and left them.
[Whimsical Woods Index]