They found her in the fairy ring. She was lying on her back, her body shrouded in soft dappled light, her head propped on a backpack. She’d been there all night. Her parents, when they found her, were only comforted by the fact that she was far from any busy street. They had worried all night that she had been kidnapped or mauled by some mountain lion. Instead, they found the preschooler lying on the forest floor, eyes closed, clutching a tattered Barbie doll. Encircling her were a dozen enormous Redwood trees, giants holding some ancient council of which she was their leader. As the parents approached, the girl slowly opened her eyes and rolled onto her side.
“Where have you been?” the young mother asked, stepping inside the ring. She knelt down and grasped the small child by the shoulders. “Where have you been all night?”
Soft tears were flowing down the mother’s face as she pulled the little girl into a hug. The father squatted next to them.
“I was here, Mommy… with them,” said the girl pointing upward.
“With whom? The mother asked incredulously.
“With the fairies,” the girl said peering across her mother’s arm at her father. “The fairies like to play here, so I came to see.”
The mother looked at the father, who had now come closer to the two. His pale face was accented by the dark circles under his sleepless eyes.
“We’ve missed you so much, sweet pea. Daddy is so glad to see you. We are so glad you are safe,” he said and placed his hand on her little arm.
They crouched there together in the fairy circle for a long while, holding their daughter, crying soft tears of relief and regret. After some time, the dad stood and gathered the little girl with the Barbie into his arms.
“Let’s be getting home now,” he said.
The mother stood and gripped the small backpack from the middle of the ring. It was the same purple backpack the girl had received from her aunt last May, only the left strap buckle had broken. With some effort, the mother slid the pack over her right shoulder and started home on the path behind her husband. Quietly, both girl and Barbie, stared back toward the tree cluster as they retreated from that place.
Now, no one quite understood how the little four year old managed to walk around the neighbor’s pond, across the steep ditch and over two busy streets to that ring of trees two miles away. The small family, glad to have their child, did not speak of it on their way home.
At the house, distracted by several bunches of flowers at the front door, the mother dropped the purple pack to grab the house keys from her pocket. Her husband was in the driveway, still holding the now sleepy girl and speaking happily to several curious neighbors. The mother opened the door and walked inside. It had been an exhausting 24 hours, filled with horrifying thoughts and urgent pleas with neighbors for help. She sat down on a couch and rested her head against a pillow. This will be a quiet moment to calm down, she thought.
Not 20 minutes later, the mother was startled awake.
“Mommy, my backpack!” The flush girl held out the violet colored bag with the broken strap. The mother sat up and rubbed her eyes. There, she noticed that on the front side of the pack was an image of a colorful garden fairy, standing against an enormous tree, a fern embellishing its face.
“Yes. Your backpack,” the mother replied. “The fairy backpack.”