Abby and Wendy

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Episode 15
HIT THE GROUND RUNNING
Illustration by Carlos Uribe
Chi Chi slid back down the tunnel in the darkness. Abby saw a glimmering of moonlight ahead through leaves and plants. The scent of green growing things made her feel like weeping with joy. She crawled slowly onto the surface of the earth under a thick mass of vines and brambles, and pushed the heavy, flat stone back over the mouth of the tunnel. She covered it with leaves. The wild area of the churchyard was all around her.
She crept into the children’s cave of vines, and out onto Birdwatcher’s Path. The church loomed in the shadows of the half moon. Tuck’s office had a light on. Nothing moved. Abby walked slowly to the side door and knocked softly, and then once more. Slowly the door opened. There was Tuck in a bathrobe and slippers. He stared in disbelief, and pulled her inside.
“You don’t know how glad I am to see you! Come.” She followed him into the kitchen and set down her backpack. He studied her in the light. “Yes,” he muttered. “Food coming up.” He laid out apples, bread, cheese, cider, and began making an omelet. “I see you’ve had quite a journey. Please, wash! I know where that dirt comes from. And I see you know about that secret under our nasty brambles. Never mention it. Ask whatever you need for now and then go to sleep.”
Abby was already munching apple slices. “I need a plan for tomorrow,” she said. “Does anything prevent me from picking up where I left off? I mean, can I live here in the cottage rent free, work as the gardener, and hopefully work mornings at the pre-school?”
Tuck beamed a wide smile. “Yes! You can do all those things.”
“But how do all the problems stand? Is the bishop staying here, and the election on hold?”
Tuck nodded. “Yes, but the bishop is keeping his cards close to his vest. He says very little in public, except that the investigation may take a long time. But Abby…” Tuck’s voice became very serious. “I’ve had time to think, and look at this whole incredible situation. You may not have any idea, but you’ve become famous in this part of the world. You’re going to have to accept the consequences.”
“What? That’s ridiculous. I’ve done nothing but get in trouble.”
“Yes,” Tuck admitted, “you do draw a lot of attention. But you don’t start the problems. Thing just erupt around you.”
“But – what am I then? What can I do? Wendy wants me to just act normal.”
“What are you? You’re a mystery. And I completely agree with Wendy. You must calm things down, and avoid the press. Social media is a big thing around here now, and you’re all over it. You’ve become a hero to part of the public, and to another part… well, a sort of demon.”
Abby scowled. “I don’t even know why it’s happening. They’ll try to interview me. What am I going to say? I don’t want to be interviewed at all.”
“We’ll have to cross that bridge when we come to it. For now, you should know that the watchers across the street, the spies following you around, have all disappeared. There were photos of them in three newspapers. Your friends have devised a very effective deterrent to that problem. Marvelous for both of us. You can be free to visit people, and move around without fear.”
“Oh! Fantastic!”
“So get some sleep. Be normal. On with the show. We’ll talk again tomorrow.”
Abby walked over to the cottage feeling free as a bird. 
The following morning the sun was bright and warm through her window. ‘I want to visit the pre-school!’ she thought. ‘Every time I’ve seen the children it’s been good for all of us. Working at the pre-school is my only chance of being normal.’ Her alarm clock had run down days ago. ‘I need a watch. And I’ve got to pick up my bike where I hid it near Glenda’s house.’ Abby headed out the back door of the churchyard, and at Main Street took a right. Soon she was walking by the new Phones and More store. She studied the display in the window, and thought about Sulay, the daughter of the owner, whose photographs were so striking in the recent copy of the Evansville Record. ‘Maybe they have watches here,’ Abby thought, and walked in.
It was a narrow store with phones, electronic games, and accessories displayed behind glass. Sulay was on her knees with a spray bottle and a cloth, making the glass sparkle. As she looked up, her eyes did a double take, and she ran to give Abby a hug. ‘She barely knows me,’ Abby thought. ‘And her photos have changed my life.’
“Abby!” cried Sulay. A cell phone appeared in her hand. She stepped back and took a photo. Her thumbs suddenly worked like lightning for twenty seconds, and then her attention was all on Abby. “Oh, this is so exciting!” she exclaimed. “I can’t believe you’re back. Everyone will be so happy. They’ll be here in like, a minute.”
A well-dressed man, short and thin, appeared next to Sulay and waited to be introduced. Abby was sure he was Sulay’s father. He had the same straight black hair, wide dark eyes, and cheerful, somewhat mischievous smile.
“Abby, this is my father, Sai. Dad, this is Abby.” Sulay had suddenly become very formal. “I’m glad to meet you,” he said, and shook her hand. “I’ve heard so much about you. Is Sulay going to be working with you? A college internship of some kind?”
Sulay’s eyes opened wide in panic. “Da-ad! Abby just returned, practically this minute! She doesn’t know about it yet!”
“Oh,” her father repied calmly. “I’m sorry. I’m always getting things wrong. But – Abby, you look like a very nice person. I’m sure you’ll understand. I’m new to Middletown and Sulay’s new friends. It’s hard to keep up with her.” Abby was immediately sympathetic. “Please don’t feel bad. This is all new to me too. You should know how grateful I am to Sulay for her recent photos, and amazing ability to publish in a major newspaper!”

Abby and Wendy

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Episode 14
THE RETURN
Illustration by Carlos Uribe
The sun was sinking in the west when Abby and Chi Chi set out on their journey. Long shadows ran across the forest. The dark leaves of the copper beech trees rippled in a late afternoon wind. Wisps of cloud reflected the pink glow of the sun. Chi Chi led the way and Abby was glad to follow. She was relieved that he showed no sign of using this occasion to train her as a leader. Watching carefully every move he made, she intended to learn from him, but waste no time. She was in a hurry. 
They walked quickly through the stunning beauty of the beech woods to the underground entrance Abby and Wendy had taken before. The gray stone shelf projected from the cliff the same as it did before, but now it seemed to glow with meaning and value, like an old friend, a member of the family. The narrow tunnel underneath held no fear. Abby was enchanted by this clever arrangement designed by nature thousands or millions of years ago, yet young and alive today. And she knew that people who may have been her ancestors had treated this unique feature of the earth with care and secrecy, as a holy place of great value. She, Abby, had now inherited this responsibility in a dangerous world, where many people had no opportunity to understand this type of tradition and had no reason to respect it.
‘But perhaps,’ she thought, ‘I can lead a group who will understand and cherish it like I do. What about my friends? They will. And what about others, like Amy Zhi’s professor? And look at all the people of Rivergate! Look at all they’ve accomplished! Maybe this is a moment for a new vision – one that is incalculably old – to grow again in the world. I mean, right now it seems like we’ve all gone astray. Everyone craves a bit of hope and solid ground… and someone, something, to keep us from slipping off the edge into darkness.’
The mapstick began to shine a clean bright light in the narrow tunnel, and as they emerged into the first cavern the light burst into the wide space as if the stones themselves were glowing. The ancient path outlined by the broken stalactites was perfect for a couple to walk together. Chi Chi and Abby hurried along side by side.
Chi Chi showed the way to the underground Ghost River under Hidden Valley. They followed it under the Half Moon Cliffs to a low tunnel leading sharply to the left. 
Abby had been waiting for this stage of the trip, wanting to see their route under the Half Moon River. The narrow curving passage descended at a steep angle. Down they went. Abby found the way claustrophobic, exhausting, and totally bare of anything to relieve her feeling of oppression. The massive earth seemed to be bearing down on her spirits. Her breathing became irregular, as if she couldn’t get enough oxygen. She was thirsty and felt weak. They seemed to be moving in slow motion. And then… very faintly so that she could hardly trust her senses, she began to hear the murmuring of voices. The sound seemed to float on the thick air in waves. Pictures of shadowy shapes whining and moaning flashed across her eyes.
‘I’m dreaming!’ she thought. ‘I’m falling asleep as I walk. I can’t stop!’ 
And then a picture flashed by in a vivid dream of a vast low cave in almost complete darkness, full of shadowy human shapes without substance, murmuring in waves, lost in darkness. “Abby!” said Chi Chi. He stood face to face and shook her by the shoulders. “Abby! I’m here. Come out of it, you’re almost home.”
“Oh,” she cried, and hugged him. “Have you ever seen them? Moaning in the dark?”
“None of us are ready for that yet,” he replied. “Don’t get lost in there.” She shivered, unable to reply. “This news might help you,” he said. “In a short distance we’ll be under the churchyard. Do not speak or make noise of any kind. I will show you a little side room where you can wrap the mapstick and hide it. There’s even an ancient table and chair, and shelves there. The room is yours, a special hidden place, only for you. Ready, are you ready?”
Abby nodded. Chi Chi moved ahead, and pointed to a narrow side passage barely wide enough for one person to squeeze through. She found a tiny room that had reassuring signs of human convenience, a home-like atmosphere. There was a bookshelf with books, and an oil lamp on a small table. She wrapped the mapstick and slid it behind a corner post. Now she was in total darkness. Chi Chi pulled her slowly along. Soon they had to crawl forward, moving uphill. The sound of crickets grew louder and louder, until it seemed like a joyous song of the whole living world, a welcome home to Abby from mother nature, celebrating her arrival back to the wonderful, irreplaceable surface of the earth.

Abby and Wendy

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Episode 13
A VISIT FROM CHI CHI
Illustration by Carlos Uribe
Wendy watched Abby very carefully on the way back. As night fell they reached the little house in the hill. Abby was hungry for dinner but had no need to talk except to ask for more cider about five times. Her face seemed to be shining. After eating she fell asleep in her chair, and Wendy guided her to bed.
Abby spent the following morning staring at the stream flowing by below the hill. She pored over every detail of her experience – her journey, her vision, and her drawing. During the afternoon Abby opened her heart to Wendy, both her joy and her confusion. “Yesterday,” she said, “will be with me my whole life. But I still don’t know what to do with my life. I need news from Middletown. I’ve got to put my vision to work, but I don’t know if I’ll get the chance. I just want a chance to try!”
“I suspected as much,” Wendy replied. “I found Phoebe’s father and asked him to send Chi Chi here. He should arrive tomorrow morning.” Abby asked her for advice, and Wendy said, “You should continue as before. Do your gardening. Talk to Tuck. Do your pre-school job. Delay big decisions. Like your vision, start by listening. Do plenty of that!” But Abby only felt more confused and frustrated. “But why will they want me at the pre-school? People in Middletown hate me. Nothing is ever normal there.”
The following morning Abby woke to the sound of voices, and one of them was Chi Chi’s. She bounded out of bed, threw on her clothes, and instantly felt a surge of energy. In the kitchen Wendy and Chi Chi sat talking together over breakfast. “Ah!” Chi Chi said, “You look beautiful even in the morning.” 
“I’m so impatient to talk to you!” cried Abby. She pulled up a chair.
“There’s a lot to say,” he told her. “And there are… complications. Please don’t hear one or two things and go running off.” Abby promised to be patient. 
“Bishop Becket has refused to certify the election,” he announced. “He says there’s evidence of irregularities that will have to be investigated. And he’s staying at the church for now. It may take him a few weeks to arrive at a decision. In the meantime there will only be six trustees, so Tuck is safe for the moment.” Abby’s face lit up.
“And I’ve spoken with Tuck,” Chi Chi went on. “He’s not in such bad shape as you would imagine. He’s more worried about you than about himself. And your friends, the newspapers, the rumor mill, are so full of panic that you really should return with me and put this hysteria to rest. It’s been only three weeks since you appeared on television after being chased by a mob. And now it’s happened all over again. Cell phones have flooded our area, and your picture is spreading everywhere. This mystery intrigues people. Think about your friends, frantic to know your fate.”
Abby was torn between elation and guilt. “People actually care about me,” she whispered to herself. “I had no idea…” Chi Chi grabbed a newspaper from the side table and handed it to Abby. It was Tuesday’s edition from Evansville. A picture of her standing at the half opened door of the church, with Milton Morphy pointing at her and yelling, had made the front page. Threatening faces in a large group were advancing toward her. A very sensitive camera had caught the whole scene. She glanced at the name of the photographer. “Sulay!” she cried. “Oh, no wonder.”
“And there’s a video of the action too,” Chi Chi told her. “It’s online from Nico Flores.”
Her mind was in a whirl. She scanned the rest of the paper. There was a photo on page three of her riding her bike out of the churchyard with the mapstick tied across her back. She stared, aghast at the implications. Her mood crashed instantly. “What?” cried Abby. “I’m trying to hide the mapstick! Now it’s plastered all over town. Not just the town, but big cities too! Where am I going to hide it?”
Chi Chi looked at Abby with a very serious expression. “There is so much to talk over, and so little time. But here’s the main thing for now: There are passageways from Hidden Valley under the Half Moon River. One of them runs as far as the churchyard. And I promise to help you in any way I can.”
“How can that be a secret?” Abby gasped. “I can’t use that! People will find it and discover so many things. This doesn’t help me! I’m taking a walk. It’s all too much, I need to think.” She turned and headed toward the door.
“Remember,” yelled Wendy. “All you need to do right now is be as normal as possible.”
“Me?” Abby shouted back. “Normal? Sometimes I wish…” She fled the house and walked down to the stream. There she stared at the water and thought about her vision. “What does Wendy mean by normal?” she asked herself. “Well, my vision is saying, ‘don’t have answers or power. Just listen.’ So I should just follow the way events are moving.” After an hour of thought her blood cooled. She returned to Wendy and Chi Chi. “I’m ready to go,” Abby told them.

Abby And Wendy

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Episode 12
THE DREAMSTONE VISION
Illustration by Carlos Uribe
Abby found herself in a narrow passageway made of dirt and stones and the roots of trees. She felt like a mole or a badger, an animal comfortable underground. But she was exhausted, straining to climb the steep way upward. A glow of golden light blinked far ahead, and in moments she rose up out of the ground, mapstick in hand, into a beautiful field in bright sunlight.
The field was full of people of all kinds wandering here and there, people of all ages and every walk of life. Everyone seemed vaguely familiar, but she knew no one by name. At a distance, a gigantic tree rose to the sky, a beech tree with smooth gray bark, silver branches, and dark leaves – a tree much taller and broader than anything she had ever seen before. Enormous roots like thick, curving snakes spread out across the field and disappeared into the earth. She had no idea how deep these roots went, or how high the tree grew into the endless sky. But the field itself seemed to have borders. It was not infinite. White walls were visible far, far away. 
Abby became aware that the mass of people – buying and selling, walking and running, playing and working – were somehow in distress. Many seemed angry or afraid, late and in a hurry, sick and struggling in pain, or lost and unable to find their way home. Many fell into large angry throngs clearly in conflict with others. Children were shocked, timid, and miserable. Storm clouds obscured the sun. The wind picked up. She tried to approach people, asking them what the trouble was. Discussions began that she did not understand, but as she listened more people came forward, and soon Abby was surrounded by a crowd looking for answers. The pressure of so many trying to voice their anger and despair forced her to back up, and in fear she almost fled for her life. But some of those nearby gathered around to protect her. They gave her a little space, and allowed her to hold her ground.
As the day darkened with ominous clouds and a damp wind, the mapstick shone like a beacon that could be seen from a distance. Still more people moved closer, hoping to discover the secret of this eager gathering. Abby realized that listening was no longer enough. Something had to be done to organize the mob, or she and her small group of protectors would be trapped. On impulse she began to move toward the tree. Her group caught on immediately and fanned out to lead the followers along. But Abby saw that just approaching the tree would do no good because… what would happen when she reached it? She would be crushed, along with many others, as this desperate crowd fought their way forward, hoping for an answer to their despair. The people did not seem lost anymore. They actually had hope. They believed there was a goal, a destination, not far ahead. But Abby knew it wouldn’t be so easy.
So to buy time she headed off to the right side of the tree, as if they were going to walk on by. This move demoralized her following. They had hoped that arriving at the tree would end their search. The voice in her mind said, ‘You must go around, not too close and not too far away.’ And so she curved, and the vast throng curved with her, and still more people joined the march. For it had become a real march, a purposeful ever-increasing mass movement circumambulating the tree.
Suddenly Abby knew that the tree was the center of the world, the only way that people could tell where they were, and where they were going. She had to navigate their course around the tree, and move closer to its smooth, shining trunk and dark leaves. The tree could provide shelter and purpose to all, because as they marched the tree grew larger, and seemed not only the center of the world, but as big as the world, the protector and creator of meaning for all. The thought struck Abby with relief so intense that she burst into tears of happiness.

She felt herself in Wendy’s warm embrace, and wept on her shoulder. As she recovered Wendy handed her the bowl of paint and a brush, and led her to a stone along the wall where she could climb up and mark off a vacant square of the smooth surface. Blinking through tears she made signs with the brush that referred to her field of people, the tree, and the long march. It did not take long. In a daze of happiness they began the journey home.

Abby and Wendy

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Episode 11
THE ROOT CAVERN
Illustration by Carlos Uribe
Soon the tunnel was dry, and sloped upward. The way ahead expanded into a hallway. Abby was relieved to notice stalactites broken above their heads. Clearly humans had been maintaining this path. It must be good for something. The hallway grew wider and wider. Gemstones, minerals, and crystals of all kinds glistened around them. And the blue of dreamstone flashed among the rainbow of colors. Suddenly a walkway appeared ahead of them, a path defined by two seemingly endless rows of stalactites broken from the ceiling and laid out end to end. The cavern continued to expand until it was so enormous that Abby was completely overwhelmed. 
“I can’t believe it…” She stared about her. “That ceiling is like the sky! An army could assemble here. Look at the colors! Look at the dreamstone… Oh my God, this is why you were laughing at me. I have such little faith. I underestimate the universe at every turn…”
The light of the mapstick grew as they moved forward. Abby felt as if she were floating, a leaf blown on the wind. 
The walls were smooth for thirty feet or so, and then irregular with immense crystals and jutting rocks as the upper walls curving into an immense dome perhaps fifty or sixty feet above them. The smooth lower area as far as Abby could see was covered with reddish drawings like letters or tiny pictures with a meaning. There were stick figures, swirls, abstract shapes of all kinds, some recognizable to Abby from the carvings on the mapstick. She realized that the culture that created the drawings had also created the mapstick. 
A fork in the path became a curving stalactite-lined avenue making a circle around the entire cavern. They took the right-hand way. Abby was stunned by the continual multitude of dark red drawings on pale stone, outlined into countless squares and rectangles about two or three feet in length and width. She turned away, and gazed toward the middle of this cathedral-like space. A large gray stone platform, carved into the form of a circle, occupied the center of the cavern. Abby wandered hesitantly toward it. The glow of the mapstick shone brightly on the upper half of a highly polished sphere of dreamstone resting in a nest carved into the stone platform. This blue globe was perhaps six feet high, but only the top half was visible above the smooth surface of the gray rock. A circular stone bench closely surrounded the platform.
‘Oh my,’ thought Abby. ‘Is that something for me today?’
Wendy had continued walking along the avenue. Abby hurried to catch up. At the far end they arrived at a high stone table, like an altar as big as a car. The gray stone was hollowed out below, creating a space about four feet square. She noticed a deep hole, about the width of a finger, in the center of the table, surrounded by an ever-widening spiral design etched into the stone.
Wendy continued walking, and Abby followed. Only the soft padding of their footsteps and distant sound of rushing water echoed through the vast hallway. They completed the long circle and stopped back at the entrance. “So…” Abby was shocked by the strange echo of her voice. “I do feel ashamed to have doubted you – but what is this? What was it for? What should I do?”
“What it was for then, and what it’s for now, are the same… even though in times long past we would be many people, mostly young like yourself. This is the Root Cavern, a root of the World Tree, a place to see the vision stone and the flame rise from the table. But you have the mapstick to light your way. This cavern was mainly used for a coming-of-age ceremony, with young people looking in the stone and then adding drawings of their experience on the walls. This is something for you, if you wish it – your coming of age – changing from a child into a person with responsibility for our world. Hopefully you will see something that will guide you on the road ahead.”
Wendy paused. Abby was silent, in awe of the immensity and purpose of the cavern.
“Right now you must choose,” Wendy said. “I will fade into the background. If you choose to look into the stone and want to add your message to the wall, I have the red paint and the short brushes we use to draw.”
‘Maybe there is a road ahead for me,’ Abby thought. ‘Maybe I haven’t failed. I have to at least try.’ She nodded to Wendy and walked along the avenue again. She stared at the drawings, dismayed that she could not begin to understand them. The voice in her mind said, ‘Follow Wendy’s directions. There is only so much time.’ And so Abby walked around the central platform, coming closer and closer until she kneeled on the bench, and dared to look into the marvelous smooth sphere, like a planet before her. It glowed in the blue light of her staff, and seemed to draw her in.

Abby and Wendy

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Episode 9
THE UNDERGROUND WAY FROM THE DAWN OF TIME
Illustration by Carlos Uribe
Wendy rose early in the first light of dawn. Abby heard her walking around, but stayed in bed for an extra hour of sleep. Eventually Wendy held her shoulders and kissed her forehead. “Nooww… that’s enough sleep, even for you. Think of the breakfast I’ve prepared, and the fun we’ll have today! More than fun. Take my word for it. We’re blessed with such a day.”
Abby sat up and saw a pile of clothes next to her. “Wear something comfortable. The place we’re going may be cooler than you expect. This is not a hike in the sun on a summer’s day.” Breakfast included goat cheese and onion omelets with fried finger beans. Wendy had already packed a knapsack with food and sweaters.
The sun was bright as they stepped out the door. “Aren’t you forgetting something?” came the old woman’s voice behind her. Abby looked back, feeling defensive. “If I knew what we’re going to do, I might know what to bring.”
“So how did you get here?”
“I walked, of course, I know the way.”
Wendy’s dark eyes looked thoughtfully into Abby’s eyes. 
“Oh, I see," Abby replied. "That’s not quite true. I got scared and confused, and the mapstick helped me. Now I understand.” Abby walked back into the house to retrieve her staff. She unwound the velvet material and carried it in the open in all its glory. They climbed a gradual slope filled with ancient beech trees, tall and silver with thick trunks and smooth bark. At the top of the slope they came to a limestone ridge, about twenty feet high. Massive blocks of stone were piled together as if they had fallen from the sky.
“How are we going to climb that thing?” Abby asked.
“Who says we have to?”
Abby studied the ridge, and noticed a flat stone sticking out of the pile about four feet off the ground. It made a bit of a shelter she had never noticed before. Abby crawled under the rock. Immediately the mapstick began to shine, lighting up another six feet of space. The ceiling actually rose a couple of feet as they entered the small back room of this little house. “I wonder what we’re doing here?” Wendy asked.
“Okay, okay…” Abby sighed wearily. “I know what the game is. There’s something I’m not seeing.”
“If you say so.” Wendy replied with an innocent look.
“Oh stop it! This game is starting to annoy me.” In frustration Abby closely examined the walls of this claustrophobic little room. In the back left corner a very large and smooth egg-shaped stone stuck out from the wall. It didn’t quite fit the part of the wall it covered.
Abby set the mapstick aside, and put both hands on top of the stone and pulled. It rolled, revealing an empty hole about two feet square. "A narrow tunnel! But only big enough for a medium size dog!"
“What a surprise!” exclaimed Wendy.
“You’re laughing at me,” retorted Abby. “I suppose you can crawl in there.”
“You’re the leader today. That’s all I’m going to say.”
Abby sighed, feeling the panic attack growing inside her. ‘I’ll have to try it,’ she thought. ‘I’ll never be able to live with myself if I back out. I’d rather die than back out.’
She reached into the hole with the mapstick, and pushed it ahead of her. It shone more brightly every moment. Abby followed, and wriggled through the tiny hole, holding her arms ahead and moving like a snake. Her skinny form went through with unexpected ease. A moment later she stood up in a spectacular hallway, so large that the light of her staff could not reach the far end. A walkway outlined in stone ran down the middle of the hall. The pale, curving walls on the right and left seemed far away. Dripping stalactites like icicles six and seven feet long appeared near the edges, unexpectedly white in the light of the mapstick. Abby realized that the outline of the walkway was made of stalactites broken from the ceiling and laid down end to end. Clear surfaces on the curve of the walls and ceiling were adorned with artwork or writing in a deep red color. The walkway opened at intervals with paths running off to the right and left. 
She was tempted to wander around in amazement, but she was certain that Wendy planned a particular destination for this adventure, and this hallway did not seem like the final goal. Indeed, that final goal might be far off. The setup of the hallway appeared to be designed for a procession of people marching two by two, heading toward some incredible destination further underground.

Abby and Wendy

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Episode 8
SUPPER FOR ABBY, WENDY, AND THE CROWS
Illustration by Carlos Uribe
Abby thought for a few minutes, put a piece of kindling in the fire, and watched it flare up. Her mood was changing rapidly. Just thinking about telling her story to Phoebe put a whole different light on the situation. Suddenly Abby noticed that she was starving, and felt faint from lack of food. She drank her tea in large gulps. The crows began calling outside. Shadows were creeping into the room. The two small windows were dim. Wendy arose and pulled the dark curtains.
“So…” she said. “You and me and the crows all need our supper." She walked into the back room and returned with her bag from the garden. Spreading out newly washed greens, snap peas, finger beans, a few apples, rosemary and sage, Wendy proceeded to add everything to the stew bubbling on the stove. Wendy was stirred patiently with a long wooden spoon. 
Without moving or looking up, Abby said, “You know there’s something about you, too.”
“About me? Really?”
“When the mob was about to attack me in the church, and I was about to flee through the side door, Morphy stood up tall and screamed, ‘She’s going to Wendy!! It’s all Wendy’s doing. Arrest her!’”
“Arrest me?” Wendy laughed. “They won’t get far. No one knows where I live, and few have seen me in years. If need be, in minutes I can hide my house like a cave underground. And don’t worry, I would get plenty of warning. Let’s just leave it that way. Hmmff…” Wendy scoffed at the whole idea.
“I provoke these people,” Abby admitted. “I was afraid you would be mad.”
“I’m always mad, but never at you.”
Abby looked up and smiled. “But one more thing,” she said. “It’s at least possible that Morphy was referring to arresting me.”
“Arresting you! For what?”
“You know. Morphy wants to force me to lead them to you, flush you out of hiding. He’s got people believing we created these storms, that we’re a danger to all good citizens. They just make things up and feed the lies to people who are already angry and scared.”
“Hmm…” muttered Wendy. “Of course. It’s been going on since long before I was born. In fact, I was born in the midst of a mob burning us out of this beautiful valley. But we pulled a trick on them, and never left. We just went underground. That’s their fatal blind spot. They don’t see or understand what’s underground, because they’re too afraid of it. Tomorrow I’m going to show you a whole new world. Your strength is their weakness.”
Abby stared. “You’re getting my hopes up,” she said. “This better be good.”
The old woman laughed. “This better be good…. Indeed! Oh my!” She could not stop laughing.
“What’s so funny?”
“You know a lot,” replied Wendy. “But your imagination isn’t working properly. You should guess these things, but you haven’t a clue. Let’s just leave it there until tomorrow.”
Abby jumped up. “Now I’m curious! What is it?”
Wendy only smiled in reply, and Abby grew frustrated. “Come on, Wendy, you can’t tease me like that.”
“You have to see for yourself… and now it’s time to feed the crows.”
Wendy ladled out a small mountain of stew into a wooden bowl over two feet wide. After letting it cool, she carried it out the tiny door, and Abby – ducking low – followed her outside into the shadows, surrounded by the sound of the crickets with their late summer song. The light was fading in the forest. They walked to a group of four birch trees that created a rectangle together. About four feet off the ground a web of branches was tied between the trees. Wendy placed the bowl in the center of the web. It slid into place with perfect stability. The calling of crows began in the treetops. A large coal-black crow descended with wildly flapping wings and landed on Wendy’s long bony finger. “Yes, yes, my little baby,” crooned the old woman in a falsetto voice. “The king of the forest.” She made kissing noises, and the bird lowered his head as if he were bowing. Wendy caressed the feathers on the back of his neck and the top of his head. “How has it gone today?” she went on. “Have you been doing your job? Of course you have… protecting our dear forest from those nasty and destructive spies! My dear king!”
With a quick life of her hand Wendy sent the bird flapping into the air. He landed on a branch near the bowl, and began picking out morsels to eat. Soon he tipped his head back and let out three calls. Five or six more crows descended from the treetops, landed on the branches around the bowl, and began to feast.

Abby and Wendy

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Episode 6
THE MAPSTICK AND THE UNDERGROUND WORLD
Illustration by Carlos Uribe
“You must be hungry,” Wendy told her. “The crows are ready to eat. And you need to wash! Some ointment for those scratches! And clean clothes!”
Wendy put the wheelbarrow and tools in a shallow cave hollowed out of the side of the ridge, and picked up a small burlap bag. Abby walked back to grab the mapstick and the briefcase. She glanced at the old woman, wondering if she had noticed.
“Yes, yes, of course I see it,” Wendy replied in her irritable voice. “We’ll discuss it at length, but right now I’ll just say it’s good news.” And then she gave a rare smile.
Abby smiled back, and followed her to a crvice between two massive boulders in the stony ridge. The opening was low to the ground, and even Wendy had to duck to enter. Abby carried the mapstick and briefcase in one hand, while keeping the other above her head to warn her of jutting stones in the ceiling of the tunnel. As the darkness covered them the head of the mapstick again became a tiny moon, and the blue glow made every detail of the tunnel come alive. The air currents told her of other passages branching off to the right and left. Her eyesight improved as they walked on, until she could see the details of the tunnel as if the earth and stones had a light of their own. A picture of a vast maze of tunnels began to form in her mind. She sensed where they were, and where the passages were going. A distant, dream-like muttering of voices disturbed her vision for a moment, and was gone. ‘Did I really hear that?’ Abby wondered. ‘And if I did, what was it? Where did it come from?’
The picture became complex beyond belief, including several layers of tunnels and caverns, rivers, and streams. Some were tiny, some inconceivably vast, and some full of precious things beyond Abby’s imagination. This map grew in her mind like a tree putting down roots and raising branches all in a few minutes. She no longer had any difficulty following Wendy. In fact she already knew the way, and had no need to follow anyone.
It felt as if only a few minutes had passed when they emerged into a large cavern. The sound of rushing water filled the damp stone hallway, now luminous with the silvery blue glow. They crossed the open space and entered a small passageway with steps carved from the rock. It curved upward to the right. Feeling cramped in the narrow tunnel, Abby sighed gratefully when Wendy pushed open a wide trap door over their heads. They stepped up into Wendy’s workshop.
Abby had seen it countless times, but had never been initiated into the mysteries of the old woman’s secret art. Looking about with her habitual curiosity, Abby realized once again that she had very little understanding of how Wendy created her plant medicines. 
A short, very wide window was propped open, and extended horizontally along the back wall, letting the breeze and light of day into the room through a screen of thick vines. Above the window bundles of herbs hung from a rope running across the room like a clothesline. The second wall included shelves of books, and the third a dazzling display of masks, weavings, large diagrams, and maps. The fourth wall had a few shelves packed with containers of dried leaves, seeds, powdered herbs, and bark. And on the top shelf jars full of powder sparked in many colors, yellow, tan, deep red, and brown.
In the center of the room a squat black stove held a copper cauldron almost as large as the stove itself.
“You’ll need enough water to swim in,” Wendy said, and began to pump water from the sink through a rubber hose into the enormous copper pot. Then she turned dials on the stove to turn up a flame, and gathered soap, a towel, and clean clothes. Abby climbed a small stepladder and curled up in the cauldron. ‘Ahhh! I didn’t realize how cold I was. Ohhh!’ She washed, her body steaming in the cool air. After rinsing Wendy applied ointments to the cuts, bruises and scratches. And a few minutes later they were sitting in the front room near the wood burning stove. A few flames glittered through the metal door.
“We’re risking a little smoke for this special occasion,” said Wendy, putting another piece of wood on the fire. “I know I shouldn’t, but for your arrival I’m declaring a holiday.”
“You may not want to once you’ve heard my story,” returned Abby. “I have bad news.” She was staring at the fire with a tragic face.