by Meg Grimm, the Story Spinner
After the disappearance of William Bailey in 1811, legends sprang up as they must.
In yesteryear, William was said to have been abducted by robbers and became an outlaw himself. Unsolved crimes were attributed to an elusive Bailey Gang.
The more macabre claimed handsome William was pushed from a ledge by a jealous comrade. Or he slipped. Either way, his restless spirit was said to haunt the sandstone cliffs until his bones might be found, blessed and buried.
Later tales attributed Bigfoot.
A vortex, concluded rock stackers.
Aliens, said the space watchers. Just look at the rock formations.
But in all that time, no one ever thought of faeries. Finally, two centuries after the incident, a new story emerged.
One afternoon, three teenage girls were hiking to William’s Peak. As they climbed the familiar trail to the lookout, Brianna Davis stopped.
“Do you hear that? Listen." She veered off the trail.
The youngest, Molly Hammond, strained her ears. “I don’t hear anything.”
“Me either. What is it?” asked Molly’s older sister, Emily.
Older Brianna and Emily were experienced hikers, but they had recently started to introduce young Molly to the vast trails of the nature park. Nevertheless, all three were perceptive to their surroundings, but only Brianna heard something unfamiliar that day.
“It’s music. Wind instruments,” she said over her shoulder, taking another step, and another. “It’s coming from-”
Just then, Brianna’s foot landed in a faerie ring. Not that she knew what a faerie ring was, but she was soon to find out.
Instantly, the faerie realm in an earthen circle of pebbles and mushrooms became visible to Brianna. Faeries were making merry, feasting and dancing in such frenzy that the girl could barely glimpse their long faces as they whizzed by.
Brianna’s eyes drew to the center of the mayhem. Standing taller than all the imps was a human man being pulled about. He wore a tattered cloth shirt and brown trousers held up by suspenders. He looked very dizzy. Brown curls flapped in his face as the wee folk spun him.
Brianna jumped back from the scene. It vanished just as it had appeared.
“Did you see that?”
Her friends were beside her now having come down the bank.
“See what?” asked Emily.
“You didn’t see that boy?”
The Hammond sisters exchanged a glance.
“Are you fooling with us?” Molly asked, the color draining from her face.
“Don’t try to scare us. It’s not funny,” said Emily. But she knew Brianna had never joked about seeing the ghost of William Bailey before.
According to the story, twenty-two-year-old William and his friends had frequented the area of the mountains where he vanished. Those with him that day had reported to authorities that they were traveling to the outcropping of rock overlooking the canyon. William was there as they walked along, but the next moment, he was gone without a trace. Everyone knew the story. There was even a plaque at the top of the peak that told it.
“He was...” Brianna replaced her foot in its previous spot within the circle. The spectacle reappeared. “There! There he is!” she cried, pointing.
As she did, the boy’s eyes met hers. She recoiled again. The faery feast vanished. Brianna’s friends still had not seen it.
“That’s enough,” Emily said. “Let’s go.”
But Brianna was catching on.
“It’s a circle,” she ventured thoughtfully. “Look.” She recognized the shape on the forest bed. “It’s all inside there.”
Emily grabbed her hand and tugged.
“Wait," Brianna said. "There’s little people, and they’re dancing to music!”
“We have to go. You’re scaring me.”
“I think I can reach him,” insisted Brianna, yanking free.
“Reach him? What are you talking about?”
Careful to keep one foot outside of the circle, Brianna stepped in as far as she could. She stretched out her hand for the young man in the middle of the swirling elves. He grasped it as a drowning man would take hold of a lifeboat oar. In a moment, she pulled him through the madness to the edge of the ring. He dropped down to the earth gasping, both of his feet still inside the circle. The pixies swarmed to their mysterious song but paid no mind to the two humans.
“Thank you, Miss,” he said, his chest heaving. “I do not know how much longer I could have done that.”
Brianna lowered to the ground next to him. “Can you see him now?”
Emily and Molly just stared at her.
“We don’t see anything,” Molly said in awe. “Is there really someone there? Is it William Bailey?”
“What’s your name?” Brianna asked.
“I am Will Bailey, son of Isaac Bailey. Pray, is my father still alive?”
He was not a ghost for she had touched him. Though Brianna wished to better understand what was happening before she had to tell William Bailey that all those he had ever known were dead and gone.
“Why don’t you come out of the circle?” she suggested. “My friends can see you, and we can all talk about it.”
He shook his head, eyeing her clothing. “Nay, it mayn’t be safe. Pray, what is the year?” When she hesitated, he said, “Miss, I beg thee.”
He looked so desperate she couldn’t help but tell him. “It’s 2010,” she said.
William's face fell. “Everyone is gone,” he whispered.
She gently touched his shoulder. “What happened to you? What is this place?”
He turned and took her hand. “Ye saved me, Miss. I am indebted to ye, but I fear I can do naught to repay it. This,” he nodded to the rocks that encircled them, “is a faery ring. Only someone from outside can pull me out, as ye have brought me thus far. There were no walls. No doors. ‘Twas a place with no end. They made me dance. 'Twas only an hour of this lunacy for me. If what ye say is true, ‘twas two hundred years in yer time. ‘Tis too late, I'm afeard. I am but dust beyond these stones.”
Brianna’s blood chilled. “You would turn to dust if you left the circle?”
“‘Tis not the worst fate.” He closed his eyes. “A worse fate would have been to dance like that for another two hundred years.”
“There has to be another way!”
“Fie! My father is gone. My life is gone. I am but grateful to have been delivered from the faeries. I pray ye take me from here now, and I will be at peace.”
But he made no move, and neither did she.
“I am sorry,” he said after a moment. “I suppose I’m a bit afeard of dying, to tell ye the truth.”
“Stop!” she said aghast. “You don’t have to die. Maybe there’s more information about this sort of thing now. Let me find out.”
He gave her a slight smile. “Ye are right fierce, miss. Though I hope ye understand why I cannot accept yer offer. Ye must not leave before taking me out of this wretched ring, I beg ye. Time is bewitched here. Who knows but that ye would not be able to find me again?”
But Brianna would not hear it. “I won’t leave you, I promise. Just a moment.” She stood and turned to her friends.
The horror-stricken sisters had only been hearing her side of the conversation. Brianna filled them in on the details. “I can’t leave him,” she said. “Please go where you have internet and search faery rings. We can’t just let him die.”
Emily thought Brianna had gone mad or hoped she was even playing a prank, but Molly believed every word and felt she would faint of fright. In the end, both Hammond girls reluctantly agreed to Brianna’s request. What choice did they have?
“Pretty sure William Bailey is already dead,” muttered Emily as they walked away.
Later, when the sisters emerged from the dense forest into bright sunshine and twenty-first century life, it felt even more like a dream. Yet they had left Brianna in the middle of the woods alone, so dream or not, it was not over.
Meanwhile, Brianna stayed by William’s side for hours as they waited. They talked of their lives and what had been his plans for the future. She was not much younger than he as it turned out, and she liked the way he talked. Perhaps most of all, she liked the way he looked at her. In fact, by the time Emily and Molly Hammond returned at half-light, Brianna Davis had fallen in love.
Brianna listened to her friends’ solemn report. “We researched everything,” Emily told her. “That bit about turning to dust? That’s in a lot of stories. There’s no way to help him that we could find. I’m sorry.”
Thin streams of tears were trailing down Molly’s cheeks. “It’s just so sad, I can’t believe it,” lamented the youngest.
“Bri, listen,” Emily said, taking hold of the girl’s arm. “You should pull him out. If this is all true, let the man rest in peace. You can’t stay here anymore. It’s getting dark. And you wouldn’t want to leave him to the faeries. The stories are sinister. This isn’t something to toy with. We have to go. We shouldn’t be here.”
Brianna looked up into the treetops. A blanket of stars had unfolded above the enormous boulder named for the man who now sat at her feet. The man she would have to watch crumble to dust. All that he was would fall to pieces in a dark wood with no one left to remember him but her. It was more than she could bear. In the ring behind them, the faeries danced on.
“Brianna?” William stood up next to her. He was tall with a broad chest. Flecks of silver sparkled in his eyes. Brianna had never seen anyone more beautiful. Though William had not heard Emily’s words, Brianna’s face betrayed their message. If he still feared death, he did not show it now.
“Do not be afeard, dear Brianna,” he said softly. “‘Twas a fine way for me to spend my final hours. I regret only that I cannot walk ye home. Ye have my deepest gratitude, forever.”
Brianna looked upon him with wonderment as he took both of her hands in his, and with them, the ability to leave the enchanted ring.
Out of the corner of her eye, she caught sight of one of the soft, flat spaces tucked safely into the cliffs where many a camper had braved the dark nights, perhaps none as often as she. For a moment, she wondered what it might be like to live among the trees always, frolicking beneath starlight and hidden from the world. If there was any place to be trapped forever, this was it.
Brianna gave his hands a squeeze, feeling their warmth and life. As William moved to step over the barrier of tiny rocks, Brianna suddenly tripped forward as though being jerked. The Hammond girls recalled seeing their friend falling into the ring and vanishing before their eyes.
“Bri!” – they shrieked. Emily rushed to put one foot in the circle, but she saw nothing, for the ring was bewitched no more. The moment that Brianna had entered it, the faerie celebration ended. The sprites went on their way. The mushrooms melted. And the Hammond sisters were left bewildered in the twilight.
Some legends claim that William Bailey had gone insane during his time with the faeries and pulled Brianna into the ring. Some say that the two had planned it while they talked. But Brianna’s friends maintained that she never intended to pull him out once she learned the truth, and so she did the only thing she could.
When hikers stumble upon a rare faery ring in the mountains near William’s Peak, they try to catch a glimpse inside being ever mindful to keep one foot out. Some say they have seen the pair in one another’s embrace amid the faeries, where they will forever stay. They do not look sad or dizzy, but very happy indeed.
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*Faerie Rings: “Faeries often dance in circles in the grass, which are called faerie rings. Faerie rings mean danger for the human passerby. The faerie music can lead him toward the ring which, like a faerie kiss or faerie food and drink can lead to captivity forever in the world of Faerie. If a human steps into the ring he is compelled to join the faeries in their wild prancing. The dance might seem to last only minutes, or an hour or two, or even at most a whole night but in fact the normal duration would be seven years by our time and sometimes longer. The unfortunate captive can be rescued by a friend who, with the other holding his coat-tails, follows the faerie music, reaches into the ring (keeping one foot firmly outside) and pulls the dancer out.” – Faeries, Brian Freud and Alan Lee
*Fairy rings are the result of a single fungus growing in a patch of grass. Small threads sprout and spread out in a circle. The next year, the fruit (toadstools) form at the edges of the circle.
*William’s Peak – Inspired by Cooper’s Rock, WV, a series of sandstone cliffs above the Cheat River Gorge. The name “Cooper’s Rock” came from the legend of a fugitive who once hid near the overlook. The man was a cooper by trade, and he continued to make and sell barrels from his hideout.
Copyright by the author Meg Grimm.