Abby and Wendy - Episode 38

THE STUDENTS AGAINST FOSSIL FUELS EVENT

Illustration By Carlos Uribe

Illustration By Carlos Uribe

Lluvia woke Phoebe and Abby at 7:15am. “Alex went out for breakfast treats,” she said. “He’s really trying to please you. We’re both hoping to see more of you.”

In ten minutes, the group crowded around the kitchen table, pouring coffee and eating bagels and egg salad, with sliced apples on the side. Isaiah seemed happy, looking forward to meeting Sharon on the River Queen at 10am.

Alex barely ate or talked at all, spending all his time sending and receiving messages. “I promised Sara and Amy we’ll meet them at Hamilton Hall twenty minutes. They want to have a meeting around the STAFF table on that hill overlooking the entrance. People are hyper.” The group hurried through their breakfast, gulped their coffee, and gave Isaiah hugs and encouragement. Alex was still answering texts. “It looks like the rain will hold off until evening,” he said. “Come on, let’s do this.”

A cool wind was blowing on a gray, overcast day. They hurried across the campus to a building far from the dormitories. A wide lawn and flower gardens surrounded this formal old building that used to be the university president’s mansion. Evansville College was about a hundred and fifty years old. Alex was taking his role as an activist and their host very seriously. He’s doing it all to impress Lluvia, thought Abby.Well, more power to them. I think I’m jealous.

They walked up a long path on rising ground, and suddenly found themselves on a small hill with a wide view of Hamilton Hall and the river beyond. Part way down the hill a convenient level spot was bustling with a crowd drinking coffee around a folding table. Students were talking, texting, and calling friends to get them out of bed. When they noticed Lluvia, Abby, Phoebe, and Alex everyone turned to stare. Phones disappeared. Sara called to them, and made introductions as they arrived.

“I know we all have questions for our guests,” she said. “We’d love to chat, but let’s put that off until after the event. We have details to cover... As I was saying, we’ll have five campus security to help us. Most of you know Little John, who will be the boss.” Sara turned to Abby, Phoebe, and Lluvia. “That’s John Little, head of security. He’s big and strong and in charge, so his presence should be enough to stop any disruptions. Sorry to say this over again, but our responsibility today is to actually have a discussion and make sure people can be heard and understood. So, we don’t want signs, chanting, and nasty comments. Please, point out disrupters to security, and they will do their job. We need this crowd to hear what the trustees are saying. If no one hears them, Professor Richardson’s reply will make no sense. Our goal is to become a part of the decision-making process. That will take winning the respect of the crowd, and the wide world through the press and social media. Any questions?”

Students and faculty had been arriving as Sara spoke. Reporters had come early and taken the space in front. A WBCS crew set up video cameras and sound equipment. Abby noticed older men in suits passing by a security guard into Hamilton Hall.

Alex spoke up. “After what you’ve said, I feel a bit guilty seeing our banner with my print hanging between those two trees. Shouldn’t we all avoid signs?”

“We’re sponsoring this event,” Sara replied. “We’ll answer questions, we have a first aid kit, we’ll be able to assign security. So, people need to know who we are and where we are.”

“Got it.”

Sara turned to Abby. “Having you here today is both an advantage and a disadvantage. I’m sure your presence will be noticed. People will want to talk to you, and some may want you to address the crowd... What would you like to do?”

Abby was sure of her answer. “I just want to be here and listen. I will not address the crowd or give interviews.”

“Good, very wise. I’m assigning Little John to stay with you as much as possible. Stand close to your friends, and be firm. Okay, it’s... almost 8:45. I see Professor Richardson and his colleagues over there. I’ll have to speak to them. Sometime soon I’ll have to open the event and introduce Jay Wellington, Dean of Students. Other questions?”

“What happened to Amy?” someone asked. “I don’t see her.”

“I’m not sure, but you know she always has a good reason for what she does... anything else? Well, talk to each other, feel free to bring up any questions later. There’ll be no rain, don’t worry. Give me your hand! Thanks everyone!” They all clustered together and slapped hands held high in the air like a sports team before the game.

Two students arrived with fresh coffee, apples, and bananas. Another arrived with bagels. The table became crowded. Time went by. STAFF members combed the area, reminding people to pick up any debris from their surroundings. After half an hour the crowd began to separate off into small groups. Some students were looking impatiently at the time, checking their email, texting, talking on their phones. A few were hurrying off to other appointments.

Sara sent her staff around promising a surprise in a few minutes. Ishmael, George, and Eddy carried instruments down to the stage, moved a few chairs aside, and set up a small amplifier. George tried out the microphone set up behind the podium. It was already turned on, clearly intended for the trustees to use when they were ready to explain their decisions.

The band made themselves at home and began to tune up. Students jostled for seats near the stage, and got back on their phones to call their friends. Sara appeared on the stage to say a few words.

“Friends, students, and faculty! We’ve been preparing for this event since last spring. Let’s not lose patience. We are determined to see this dialogue take place, right here, today. We’ll wait as long as necessary. Please remember, we’ve been hoping for years, decades, to see any progress on the climate crisis, species extinction, and the related issues that threaten the future of our world. So, stay right here and support our right to influence where the trustees invest our money. Do we want Evansville College to be dependent on an income that contributes to the destruction of our future?”

The crowd roared. Sara had caught their attention.

“And to make this waiting-time special for all of you, we have three members of the Thunder Rolling Band to play new songs, music you’ll be hearing for the first time.”

People clapped and cheered. Sara left the stage and Ishmael and George moved close together at the mike. Ishmael – smiling and waving to friends in the audience – said: “It’s great to be here! George and I just finished this song last week. This gathering today – and all our efforts – are small steps to deal with the global emergency. We wrote this song with that in mind. It’s called, We All Know Why.”

George played the chords, and Eddy found the rhythm on the conga drums. Ishmael joined in with a harsh, jabbing lead guitar solo. George began to sing:

We live near a river that goes roaring by
It’s in our streets and houses, sometimes people die Things have changed around here, things have changed, Do you know why?
You think our children gonna live here?
You oughta hear them cry

Our family’s on a farm that’s generations old
You know we’re proud to be here for a hundred years I’m told But now it’s strange, it never rains
Do you know why?
You think our children gonna live here?
Well you oughta hear them cry

Fishing for a living’s not an easy job I know We’ve been working at it for a century or more But now the fish are gone, they’re all gone
Do you know why?
You think our children gonna live here
Well you oughta hear them cry

This used to be a quiet town till the wild fires came Everyone is homeless now, we all feel the pain Everything’s changed, it’s strange
Do you know why?

You think our children gonna live here Don’t you hear them cry?

All over the world it’s been happening slow
But now it’s on our doorstep and everywhere we go
The slow death coming, it’s coming
And we all know why
Where you think our children gonna live now? Don’t you hear their cries?
Hear their cries
All over the world, hear their cries

During the song the huge double doors opened just a few feet, and out stepped a pale thin man in a dark suit. He looked over the crowd, listened for thirty seconds or so, and retreated back inside. Meanwhile the song ended. The audience was silent for a moment and then shouted for more. The band spoke a few words together, and George played a chord. Suddenly the doors opened wide. A handsome man in his thirties, wearing jeans and a brown sport jacket, quickly approached the microphone. Ishmael and George stepped aside. Eddy carried his drums off the stage.

The man gave a broad smile, thanked the band, and nodded to the audience. “Hello students, faculty, and guests! Most of you know me, I’m Jay Wellington, Dean of Students. Sorry for the delay.” He smiled again at the very large crowd, which had been growing over the past twenty minutes. “The trustees have asked me to make a request. It’s just a suggestion that might help us understand each other and work together. We realize that a discussion with so many people will be almost impossible, so we’re inviting one or two of you to speak to the board inside, and then report the substance of the conversation back to all of you. Perhaps one student and one faculty member would be appropriate? Sara, I know your group is sponsoring this... event? Rally? Perhaps you can choose a faculty member to accompany you to the discussion?”

Sara walked up to the microphone. Jay Wellington held his ground in front of the mike, forcing Sara to nudge him to the side. She stood so that she could address him and the audience at the same time.

She spoke slowly and clearly to absolute silence. “Jay, thanks for inviting me. We’ve gotten to know each other pretty well in the four meetings that were necessary to plan this... gathering. We call it a ‘gathering’ of students, faculty, and trustees. You’ll recall that we specifically planned to have a public... a public conversation that could be understood by anyone wishing to attend. Of course, we don’t expect our audience to all enter the discussion. But we did agree that they should be able to hear it and make their own judgement on the issues we are trying to resolve. We agreed that at least the executive committee of the trustees would actually appear and publicly announce their position. Then a faculty member and a student would have a chance to reply, followed by an opportunity for questions. Also, the trustees promised to hand out a written summary of their position. Hopefully we’ll see that before the meeting is over.”

Jay Wellington stepped away from the mike, motioning to Sara to have a few words on the side. But Sara held her ground, refusing a private conversation. The Dean returned to the mike, but had lost his smiling, affable manner. He couldn’t keep a note of anger out of his voice.

“I’m sorry you’re being so difficult. You know I’ve been doing my best to reconcile these very different... sometimes conflicting interests and goals. In situations like this a compromise may be the best we can do.”

As he paused there was an undertone of whispers and a shaking of heads from the audience. One voice shouted, “Let me get this straight. Who’s being difficult?”

Sara immediately chided her audience, reminding everyone of their commitment to civility and mutual respect. In the silence that followed Jay Wellington gave a weary sigh and shook his head. “I’ll do my best,” he said, but his voice implied a sense of hopelessness. He walked off.

Meanwhile Abby struggled with her own fears and conflicts. She longed to find a way to greet George and hopefully talk to him at least a little bit. Her intuition told her it would be nice for both of them. But she noticed people watching her, pointing, and making comments that she couldn’t quite hear. Fearing it was all in her mind, she was overjoyed when Little John, over six and a half feet tall and very formidable in his campus security uniform, moved over and stood next to her.

“Better stay with me,” he whispered.

She gave a sigh of relief. But still... she thought. It’s not just the crowd. There’s muttering like what I heard underground. Wendy warned me not to follow it... but why am I hearing it now, so far from the tunnels under Hidden Valley? I’ve got to get my mind off this!

But every time the Dean of Students spoke she could hear vague murmuring in the background, like a multitude of lost souls. I can’t take this! I’ve got to get out of here. The throng pressed in upon her as more and more people arrived, moving forward to hear what promised to be very riveting theater. Little John seemed to sense her nervousness, and patted her on the shoulder.

“Weird people arriving, but don’t worry,” he said. “I can handle it.” He held an oversize phone in his hand and occasionally spoke, giving instructions. Abby heard him say, “Yeah, send extras. Looks like something’s developing... Not sure, we’ll see.”

Her agony increased as the crowd waited for the next act. Finally, two security guards pulled open the enormous double doors, and four trustees in dark suits made their entrance. They barely glanced at the audience as they took seats behind the podium. Jay Wellington introduced them, but the murmuring inside Abby’s mind had become so loud that she couldn’t concentrate on their names. The Dean of Students stepped off the stage and began to talk to a group of professors that included Roberto Richardson.

The pale thin man rose and slowly seemed to float over to the mike. It was hard for Abby to guess his age. His thin hair seemed colorless. His features had no expression, manifested no emotion. His voice was flat, but his dark eyes darted around like little animals with a life of their own.

“I’m Bill Sandman, chair of our fiduciary committee. It’s our job to evaluate our investments and financial commitments, and do our best to fulfill the needs of Evansville College as presented to us by the administration and our executive chairman. Naturally, the financial security of the college is our highest priority.”

He paused, as if he expected some comment. “...our highest priority,” he went on. “My task is to make sure that we are faithful to the interests of this college. We cannot cede this responsibility to anyone. While we welcome the opportunity to listen to the ideas and recommendations of students and faculty, it remains our job, and our job alone, to make decisions to increase the endowment of Evansville College. But within those strict constraints there is some flexibility. I think you’ll find that Donald Irving, our investment advisor, can present opportunities for us to work together.”

No one clapped, or made any noise at all. People looked around as if confused or disoriented. Then a younger, more expensively dressed man rose from among the seated trustees, and walked confidently up to the microphone. He glanced at his watch and nodded to the crowd. “As Bill said, my area of expertise is the evaluation of our investments and the need, at times, to make changes. We have a substantial endowment, but our yearly expenses grow rapidly. We must be careful to generate an income that increases every year. Our scholarship fund, the salaries of our faculty, the maintenance of our physical plant, and the necessity of building dormitories as our college expands... I’m sure you can understand that fulfilling all these needs is not an easy task.

“I want you to know that we do consider environmental and moral issues when we invest. We already have restricted ourselves from new investments in fossil fuel corporations, as well as many enterprises with negative social impacts, such as the manufacture of assault rifles. Our annual report is available to the public for each year that passes. I must say we are proud of our strategies and our outcomes. After hearing from a faculty member and a student, I’ll be happy to take any questions, and hope we can share ideas for the benefit of all stakeholders in Evansville College.”

Bill Sandman walked over and joined his colleague at the mike. “Thank you, Donald, for all your help and years of service. Perhaps this would be a good moment to hear from a faculty member.” He nodded in to the group of professors and other staff. People in the crowd looked at each other in bewilderment, unable to believe that what they had heard was all that the trustees were offering. But Donald Irving took a seat, as Roberto Richardson said a few words to his colleagues. Then he spoke to George, who gave him a microphone attached to the amplifier used by the band.

“Please,” he said. “Bill or Donald, come back to the microphone. Let’s speak together and try to clarify this complicated subject. Hopefully we’ll make some progress.” The trustees hesitated and spoke in low undertones.

I can’t stand this! Abby was in a panic. What am I going to do? The murmuring and jabbering had grown louder, and become a wave of incomprehensible gibberish. She couldn’t tell what noise was coming from the audience and what was in her mind.

I’ve got to get out of here!

Donald Irving walked back to the mike, and Roberto joined him on the stage. “I understand that this is a confusing subject,” said Roberto in his most gentle manner. “I hope we can find a place to begin that we all agree on. I suggest that there are both objective facts and moral obligations facing all of us here at Evansville College. Let’s try to agree on these facts and obligations, and proceed from there.”

Roberto waited, as Donald Irving surveyed the crowd anxiously and looked at the trustees on either side of him and then at his audience. He gave a reply in a halting, uneven voice, full of long pauses:

“I think... we’ve already presented... the relevant facts and obligations. Our responsibilities and obligations to the needs of the college define this whole discussion. But perhaps... if there are questions... then...”

Roberto interrupted during another long pause. “Yes, thank you, we do have many questions. For example: Do you agree that the recent findings of the United Nations Intragovernmental Panel on Climate Change qualify as facts? If so, I hope we can agree that these findings create moral obligations for all of us.”

Donald Irving shook his head in frustration. “This line of questioning is really out of bounds. I have no expertise in science. It would be presumptuous, outside of my professional competence, to make a judgement on these findings. Any serious changes in our criteria to evaluate investments would have to come from the college president and the executive board.”

“Then perhaps we are speaking to the wrong people today. Are you saying that the climate crisis has no bearing on investments? Surely you will be examining the trends in energy technology in order to estimate future growth and returns on investment.”

“Yes, of course.” Donald was looking nervously at the trustees seated on both sides of the podium. Abby felt that he wanted one of his colleagues to rescue him from this loathsome predicament. “As I told you,” he continued, “we’ve already made a commitment to avoid further investments in fossil fuel corporations.”

“I understand. Was this commitment made for financial or ethical reasons?”

“Professor Richardson. I’m not here to be interrogated. I think the trustees have made their position quite clear. It’s time for you, representing students and faculty, to make your position clear.”

“Believe me,” the professor replied, “I understand that this is a stressful subject for all of us. I’m happy to change gears and speak directly to the audience. Thank you for your patience with my questions.”

Donald Irving nodded and sat in the row of chairs flanking the podium.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” began Roberto, “I want to thank all of you for your patience as well. I’ll present our position as briefly as I can.”

Staff and security were struggling to keep the audience quiet, as people tried to move around and talk to friends. Abby was aware that both students and adults were trying to approach her. Little John had engaged two other security guards to shield Abby. Lluvia and Phoebe politely but stubbornly warded off intruders. Feeling her heart beating and her breathing becoming a pant, she looked at the ground and met no one’s eyes.

Meanwhile, Roberto began his statement. “It’s very difficult for a complex community like Evansville College to make important decisions together when the participants are starting from different premises. The overwhelming majority of the students and faculty do accept the reports from the United Nations panel as facts and dire warnings. There is agreement among our most prominent scientific leaders that we have slightly more than ten years to make major changes in our global carbon footprint. If we fail at this task, irreversible changes will impact our globe, and change life on earth in devastating ways. I realize that there is a small minority who disagree, but if many doctors say that you have a dread disease and must make changes, and another doctor disagrees, you’ll probably make the changes to be on the safe side. And here the stakes are not just one person, not just one species, but all life on earth.”

The professor paused. The audience had become silent. No one moved.

“These scientific reports really exist. The research is real. The scientific community is real. We ignore them at our peril. These are facts. Now I’ll try to outline the moral issues. Here the discussion enters an area you can call spiritual, or religious. For example, there are social justice issues because – so far – climate change impacts poor countries and communities more than wealthy ones. The wealthy have a moral obligation to change this cruel and unfair crisis, and... they have the means to do so. Our various religions have strong words about our willingness – or lack thereof – to help those who suffer. Do the spiritual traditions of humanity matter? We ignore them at our peril.”

The audience clapped and cheered. Bill Sandman rose and spoke in Roberto’s ear. The professor stared off into the distance for a moment, and then said: “Bill tells me we’re running out of time. I don’t want to take any time that should be given to a speaker from the student body, so I’ll sum up our position. It is universally acknowledged that humans have created technology and power that can destroy all life. Do we have a moral obligation to life on earth? Do we have a moral obligation to the generations of humans, and of all species, waiting to be born? I believe we do. This moral and spiritual commitment must become the starting point for any discussion of investments, politics, and the decision-making process of any reputable organization, corporation, government, or institution. This is a universal challenge, affecting the way we live. It must be the first priority. After the collapse of civilization, what will our loyalty to Evansville College be worth?”

The audience cheered and clapped. In great agitation, Donald Irving rose and elbowed Roberto away from the mike. “I’m sorry, but I must bring some common sense to this dialogue. We also have an ethical obligation – right now, at this moment – to heat people’s homes, run a transportation system, put food on the table, run a university! All our myriad obligations do not disappear like magic because of a United Nations report. For example, our environmental groups on campus want to ban fracking. But we heat our dormitories and classrooms with fracked gas! And we have no solutions in place to banish fossil fuels, and will not have solutions for three decades at a minimum.”

“May I reply?” asked Roberto in a mild, very calm voice. “Yes, please do, if you can.”

“For the sake of discussion, let’s assume it will take three decades to become carbon free. No one is proposing banishing all fossil fuels tomorrow. We are proposing a path toward running our whole economy on renewable fuels. There are many options already in use that can be quickly expanded under the right conditions. Wind, solar, geothermal, and biogas come to mind immediately. We also need major changes in agricultural methods, and we need to expand forests and wild areas.”

Roberto looked over the audience. He seemed to stand up taller, and raised his voice: “We must begin to do these things now. We have wasted decades, and now we face an emergency. Let’s look at biogas for a minute. We know we can make fuel from organic waste, fuel that can substitute for fracked gas in important ways. Landfills of organic waste have a large carbon footprint because they emit methane into the atmosphere. We can take all that organic waste and make biogas and compost. It’s being done all over the world. Right now we pay to landfill the organic waste, and we allow the valuable methane to escape. We have the knowledge and expertise to do better. Why not invest in that?”

Roberto turned to the trustees to his right and left. “I’ve read the annual report of Evansville College. I estimate that about twenty percent of the endowment is invested in corporations that make money directly from mining and selling fossil fuels, and there are many more with an indirect relationship to fossil fuels. Why not sell those stocks and reinvest in renewable energy?”

Donald Irving eagerly took the mike. “Do you know,” he asked, “what would happen if all universities and pension funds followed your advice? I’m sure most of you have no idea. Such a policy would destroy our infrastructure. I would be fired for doing anything so stupid.”

“Okay... then as I understand it...” Roberto spoke softly, without hostility, “all the hundreds of endowments and pension funds that have already disinvested from the fossil fuel industry, or are doing so gradually, should already have bankrupted our country, even the whole globe. But that is not happening. Why do you think that is?”

Bill Sandman hurried to the mike again. In his flat voice, conveying no feeling at all, he said: “Thank you very much, Professor Richardson. We’re grateful for your ideas and suggestions. And now its time to hear from a student.”

The crowd was shocked. The trustee’s dismissal of Professor Richardson, a popular and respected faculty member, was unexpected and rude. But Sandman’s tone of voice was so void of any emotional cues that it was almost hypnotic. No one knew how to react. Abby struggled again with the endless sound of muttering, as if a million Bill Sandman’s were speaking.

Conversations broke out among small groups. The crowd expected Sara to take the stage, but the seconds flew by. Abby began to hear her own name, a sort of chant that grew in volume, and continued to grow until she fell into a major panic. She became aware of an argument between Little John and a woman. Turning her head, she saw Zoe pleading with Little John.

“Let me hear her,” Abby told him. “She’s with us!” Little John let her approach.

“It’s that Jerry Norris and a bunch of hired hands,” whispered Zoe. “They’re trying to create a mess, or make you look bad, or something. End this delay. Do something fast!”

Suddenly Sara joined them and said, “Abby, I’ve changed my mind. Please, go on stage and say something. You must, or we’ll have chaos. Just thank the crowd, tell them about the STAFF meeting tomorrow night in the student center. Thank Roberto. Even our friends are caught up in this outburst. You can’t walk out now, and I can’t fill your shoes. They want to see you.”

Abby put her face in her hands.

Sara leaned over and spoke in Abby’s ear. “This crowd is angry at the way the meeting is ending. They’re hoping for some inspiration. Come on, we’ll both go on stage.”

Abby had an idea. “Little John, Lluvia, wait for me right at those giant doors. After I speak we’ll escape through Hamilton Hall.”

Little John nodded. Abby rose and stepped up onto the stage. Sara took the mike and said, “We’re honored to welcome Abby Chapman to Evansville College, and to our student group. We hope to see her more often, and hope to visit her groups in Middletown and Rivergate.”

Sara looked at Abby.

A long round of applause rang out. Students raised their cell phones at arms length and snapped pictures. Oh, help me... thought Abby. I have no idea what I’m doing! She looked out on the vast crowd and saw friendly faces. The atmosphere became warm and welcoming. She found a few words that felt right.

“I’ve been wanting to come here for weeks.” Her voice rang out over the crowd, and all were silent. “So many here in Evansville have welcomed us, and we feel at home among you. And we’re eager to join you in events to come. I’m thinking particularly of the climate change conferences coming up in River City. I love it that we’re all living along the river, and I’ve dreamed of creating an armada of boats to travel to River City for the United Nations conferences. So, I hope we’ll be seeing a lot of each other. To the reporters and media people out there, I apologize for not granting interviews, but I’ve been overwhelmed and just need to be quiet for a while and stay with friends. We have others here today to represent Middletown and Rivergate.”

The crowd clapped and cheered. This was just the sort of thing they needed.

“So...” Abby continued, “our gratitude to all of you, and especially to Professor Richardson, STAFF members, the Thunder Rolling Band, and the trustees, for having the courage to work together and begin this conversation. I have just one request: Please continue this dialogue. I say this to all of you: Don’t give up. Remember: We’re all relatives.”

She bowed her head to thunderous applause, and then turned and joined Little John and Lluvia at the doorway. He escorted them inside and past the security guards. They hurried down a long hall paneled with dark wood.

Abby felt very secure with Lluvia and Little John. He clearly knew where he was going and what he wanted to do. Luvia was calm and seemed to be enjoying herself. They passed by a wide door that opened onto a large conference room. Paintings lined the walls. A well-dressed group including the trustees were talking and sampling an assortment of breakfast food on an enormous oval table. Abby glanced in and met the eyes of two women. Both were trustees of the United Church of Middletown. They froze in shock for a moment.

“Come on, come on!” hissed Lluvia. Abby tore herself away. They ran down the hall to catch up with Little John.

“Don’t stop like that,” he whispered.

They quickly descended two flights of stairs to a bare basement. He waited for them and asked, “Where do you want to go?”

Lluvia explained the way to Alex’s house. Little John unlocked a little used door and stepped outside. “The coast is clear,” he said.

He led them on small paths screened by trees, and soon they were off campus.

“Where are we?” Luvia asked.

“Let’s hurry,” he replied. “They might know about your house. Do you have the key?”

“No, but somebody might be there. If we’re locked out we’ll go straight to the dock. We’ll leave by boat.”

“Got it. I’ll keep anyone from following you right away by boat.”

Abby recognized the row of small brick houses. In a moment they rang Alex’s bell. He opened the door, they entered, and he closed it immediately. “They’re staked out in the archway across the street. What are you going to do?”

“Alex, this is Little John. He’ll escort us to Lluvia’s boat.”

“Ah! Excellent. Here’s your backpacks.” He looked at Abby. “I put something extra in yours.” He looked back at Lluvia and gave her a long hug. “Next Saturday,” he said. “Please come.”

She nodded happily.

“Come on,” Alex told them. They went out the back door, into a nearby yard, and came out on a back alley. Alex waved as the three fugitives continued almost at a run. In what seemed like no time at all they came out on the docks. Lluvia’s boat was now low in the water at low tide. She climbed down and started the electric motor. Soon they were quietly making their way upstream. Little John waved and gave them a thumbs up sign. They blew him kisses.

The Protectors of the Wood Eco-Fiction Adventure Series is an illustrated story of a group of teenagers who save the world from climate change. The themes include the power of relationships, realizing leadership, good versus evil, and the coming of age.

These teenagers find out who they are while dealing with the climate emergency and the conflicts that surround them in Middletown. The two main characters, Phoebe and Abby, work together to find solutions within their communities. 

The story begins with Phoebe coming home from college and discovering shocking changes threatening Middletown. A gigantic corporation threatens to destroy the land, legends, and heritage of her family and friends.

Phoebe and Abby unravel the secrets in their small town, and realize that they are all connected to a global conflict. They feel that all their hopes are in danger of being lost. They discover that they have the unique gift of seeing visions through DreamStone, a gem found deep under the vast forest preserve.

While searching for the secrets of DreamStone and their identities, Phoebe and Abby risk their lives to save the beautiful world around them called home.

Abby and Wendy - Episode 38

THE LONG ROAD 

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“Hey Abby!” Phoebe turned to catch a glimpse of Abby’s face in the faint light. “You never mentioned all this fascinating stuff. I had no idea.” 

               “Yeah, but remember, I haven’t seen him in ten years.” 

“Isaiah and Ishmael know him too,” added Lluvia. “In fact, the whole band might be staying with Alex.” 

 They were walking along a wandering pathway bordered by thin metal posts holding chains, apparently set up to keep people off the lawn. Sculpted columns held lights throwing shadows across their path. Large stone buildings with arches and gothic decorations appeared across the lawn. Tall oak and maple trees obscured the view ahead. A thin curved moon like a boat sailed slowly across the sky. The campus was quiet, with murmuring voices and music in the background.  

 A wide arch appeared ahead of them, and then a short tunnel led off the campus to a narrow street lined with a row of very old brick houses. Lluvia stopped at one of these small one family dwellings, about five yards wide and two stories high. After a tiny front yard, three windows glowed in the night, one near the door and two above.  

               “Well, there are people here at least,” Abby said. 

 “Of course,” Lluvia replied. “It’s a big deal that we’re visiting. They’re waiting for us.” 

 “How do you know?” Abby sensed that Lluvia knew a lot more about this situation than she had let on. 

 Lluvia laughed. “We’re better organized than you think. We obey the phone rules, but Sharon brings messages back and forth. And I’m here often these days.”  

She knocked on the door, and knocked again. An acoustic guitar and voice suddenly stopped. 

“Yes?” came a voice. “Who is it?” 

“It’s me, Isaiah! Lluvia!” 

The door opened. Isaiah and Lluvia embraced. Abby glanced around at the mess in the small multi-purpose room. There were pizza boxes on the floor, two open duffel bags with loose clothing, a sleeping bag, books, two guitars and a drum set, and prints all over the walls. Isaiah pushed some books on the couch onto the floor, and moved a couple of folding chairs. 

“Please, have a seat,” he said. “Lluvia, Abby, Phoebe, sorry for the chaos here, and sorry to be the only one to welcome you. The others should be back… well, it’s hard to say. There’s a lot going on.” Isaiah raised a hand as if to dismiss the whole subject. “What about Alex?” asked Lluvia.  

“I thought he was at the gallery.” 

“Mmm… we were just there. In fact, we were supposed to meet him there.” 

“Welcome to Evansville College,” said Isaiah sarcastically.

There’s something sad in his eyes, thought Abby. “You don’t look too happy. Anything we can do?” Isaiah shrugged. 

Abby looked at Lluvia, who was speechless and seemed shocked. Clearly she had not expected this reception. Abby decided to pursue Isaiah, get him to open up. “I heard that song through the door,” she said. “I still hear it in my head. What song is that?” 

“Oh, just something I’ve been working on. I think I finished it.” 

“Let’s hear it.” 

“I’m a bad guitar player. I won’t do it justice.” 

“Through the door it sounded… well, powerful. I’m really interested.” Abby handed him a guitar. He’s depressed, she thought. Lonely, but more than that.

Isaiah played a few chords and hummed a melody, not a fast rhythm but not slow either. A very solemn tune. He began to sing: 

 

                       Take me up on the long road 

                      Where the heavens open wide 

                       I want to tell you just how much we care 

                      Won’t you listen to our cry 

                      Do you ever show your hand 

                      Can anyone ever know 

                      It’s all that we can do to crawl 

                       And it’s a long long way to go 

 

                       Climbing up the distant ladder 

                       Sometimes the heart’s the only guide 

                        I want you to know about the love we share 

                       I want you to see how hard we try 

                      Take one step at a time 

                       When you’re feeling so empty 

                       You’ve got to lose just to live 

                       I don’t see nothing here for free 

 

                       Can I do something for you 

                       Can you do something for me 

                       Cause it’s way after midnight 

                      And I can barely see 

                       Take me for a ride on your railroad 

                       Take me for a ride up to the sun 

                       I want to know the place where we go 

                       Where our lives are lost and won 

 

The song was over. There was a moment of silence. “Oooo…” murmured Lluvia.  

“Definitely… powerful,” repeated Abby. 

There was silence again. Finally, Lluvia said, “It’s about you, right? We’re your friends. Come on, let us in, what’s up?” 

“I don’t want to talk about it. But… I know I have to… Okay, the big news is I’m catching Sharon’s boat early tomorrow. I’ll miss the big concert in the courtyard tomorrow night. I told Cali, but haven’t spoken to anyone else. Maybe Cali will find them.” 

“Something important must have happened.” Lluvia put her hand on his knee. “Come on, let us in.” 

“My mother’s sick. She’ll have some kind of procedure done on her eye tomorrow morning, and be in the hospital for a few days. I’m frightened for her.” They waited. 

“She got Sharon to find me and say I should act as pastor on 

Sunday in the church, unless Sonny wants to do it. In which case I should support Sonny and run Sunday school. Junior’s in River City for a meeting. He’s away more often than he’s home. And I am too!”  

Isaiah opened his arms as if pleading with them. “We’re deserting our responsibilities. I don’t like it here. Everyone is a kid, a mob of twenty-year olds looking for girlfriends or boyfriends, socializing like mad. There’s no one here like me. I’m not interested in assistant professors and college events. I’m thirty-four years old, and not making any money – though we are supposed to get paid for our radio concert – but I don’t care, they’ll give me my share later. And then they’ll go to River City for a show, but I won’t go. And… any moment they’ll walk in and I’ll spoil their evening, but I don’t care. I can’t do this any longer.” Lluvia hugged him. 

“They won’t even have time to practice the band without me!” Isaiah was almost yelling with frustration. “It’s such a mean thing I’m doing. You got to lose just to live.” He had tears in his eyes. 

“I think you’re doing the right thing,” Abby said. 

“Yeah,” Lluvia said softly. “It’s important to be pastor if they need you. These kids in Sunday school are important. How about Wednesday night at the Open Gate? Hundreds of people come every week. With Junior and Cali gone, who can run it? You have jobs to do.” 

“I do. I do. And I like my jobs. I like the band too, but I end up sitting around here, feeling out of place. My band and their friends are over ten years younger than me. These students are even younger. You should hear the stuff they talk about. Debating the end of the world. Dystopia, everything’s about dystopia. I hate these discussions. Let’s do something about it! They talk about Alex’s fire breathing dragon as if the end is near. And that dragon pouring out the flood…” – he motioned to a nearby print of The Ark on the wall – “you see it everywhere.”   

Lluvia backed up and gave Isaiah a stare. “Now don’t go overboard on me, that’s not fair. The Students Against Fossil Fuels are trying. You see STAFF shirts all over. We’ve just come from a meeting where we were all trying to do something. Alex isn’t predicting the end of the world. His Ark is about getting through the flood with all life. The dragon is just nature striking back against our mistakes. You must have heard Alex’s idea. He wants to give Students Against Fossil Fuels a new name: SAD, for Students Against Distopia.” 

“Mmm… I like that,” Isaiah replied. “But I’m not a student, and I’m not going to be one. How old are you, Lluvia?” 

“Why ask that? I’m twenty-two.” 

“See? That’s my point. You like Alex. You’re in a different stage of life. And you’re right, I know I’m being unfair, venting all this to you. I’ll get over it. At least now I know what I should be doing. The band will survive. They’ll figure it out.” 

Abby broke into the conversation. “You’re right. Don’t feel guilty. They’ll understand. And who can argue with your mother, your church, your community? Lluvia and I grew up there, went to Sunday school there. We would never be where we are without adults who cared.” 

Phoebe suddenly had a few words to say. “The band will survive. I know them. We’re on your side. Do what you need to do. Now, I’m going to clean up this place. How did it become such a mess? We’re staying here too.”  

Abby and Lluvia and Isaiah joined in.  

Cali and Alex arrived, and received a warm welcome from all. Abby and Alex embraced and stared at each other. Everyone felt a burst of energy and sat around the coffee table with several conversations going on at once. Cali did her best to relieve Isaiah’s anxieties. She had spoken to George, Eddy, and Ishmael. They were already making plans on the phone. Rain was predicted for the following evening, and Sara had received permission to move the concert indoors. In fact, explained Cali, they might be able to play in the beautiful old auditorium in Alexander Hall. That circular stone building was the most prestigious place for music on campus.  

Plus, Sara wanted Ishmael, Eddy, and George to show up early the following morning at the trustee event. “Sara’s afraid the trustees will delay presenting their position on disinvestment,” Cali explained. “People could get restless and annoyed. Sara wants the band to hold the crowd if that happens.”  

Nobody was mad at Isaiah; Cali was sure of that. The band would set up in Alexander Hall early in the afternoon, and could practice for hours. The concert would begin at 7pm.  

Alex offered beer, wine, coffee, or tea. Phoebe, Lluvia, and Abby were exhausted, and wanted peppermint tea and a place to sleep. Isaiah was packing his things in a duffel bag.  

“So where is everybody?” asked Isaiah.  

“Well, George and Ishmael are in Sara’s dorm,” Cali answered. “Eddie is somewhere with Stephanie, and I’m invited to a party and only stopped by to bring you the news.” 

I’ve got to say something, thought Abby. I need to know something! “Cali, wait a second. I haven’t seen George since that disaster in the churchyard. He hasn’t returned to Middletown since then. 

I need to know how he’s doing… It was so painful for him.” 

“Yeah, it was,” Cali replied softly, almost in a whisper. “But he likes it here. It’s kind of… well, liberating for him to be away from all that tension. He’s writing songs, gets along with Sara and her friends. He can’t stay in Sara’s dormitory forever, but so far it’s okay.” 

Abby breathed a sigh of relief. “Thanks, that really helps.” 

“It’s all okay,” Cali said. She headed out the door and said she’d be back in a couple of hours. There was a long silence.

Then Lluvia looked at Alex. “Where were you? We saw your gallery, but you didn’t show up.” 

“I’m sorry… I was at the big staff meeting. We’re organizing tomorrow’s…” He hesitated. “Event…gathering… demonstration? Who knows what it is, or how it will come off. Sara and Amy are desperate to give it some respectability and prestige. They asked everyone to act as security, speak to the campus police about any problems, intervene on people trying to disrupt. The meeting went on and on, but at least we have a plan. Staff will show at 8am and drink coffee, and greet people as they arrive. I’m not used to this sort of thing, but I’m doing my best. No banners, no signs allowed. We’re all supposed to wear STAFF t-shirts. Here, I’ve got a few to give you.” He reached into his backpack and handed out the shirts. 

“How exciting,” exclaimed Lluvia. “That’s wonderful… I’m so… proud of you. I can’t wait.” 

Alex smiled at her. “See, I’m not such an irresponsible, no-good, undisciplined…” 

“Now that’s unfair!” Lluvia retorted. “I never said those things.” 

Alex was surprised and immediately apologized. “Of course you didn’t. I was just thinking of what my sister used to call me, maybe even still calls me. I shouldn’t pin it on you. Please forgive me.” 

They hugged. Phoebe and Abby looked at each other and smiled, nodding at each other. They had guessed correctly. 

They drank their tea in silence. Alex looked around anxiously. “I know I haven’t been much of a host, but we do have a bed and two cots in the front room upstairs. Cali sleeps right here on the couch. George stays with Sara, Eddy stays with Stephanie, and Ishmael stays with friends I haven’t met yet. Isaiah and I have the back room. I hope that’s okay.” 

He looked from one to another. No one replied. “Please, we can change the arrangement if there’s a problem…” 

“No, of course not,” Abby said. “It’s all fine, please don’t worry, just wake us early. We’ll wear our new shirts and follow everything you do in the morning.” 

“I’m thrilled to be here!” exclaimed Phoebe. “Thank you, Alex!” 

Abby reached out and touched his hand. “Yes, and please don’t apologize. We’ll have a chance to catch up on the years gone by… maybe tomorrow afternoon?” 

“Oh, I’d love that, I’m so curious about all you’ve done. And by the way, I’ve got a print to give you tomorrow before you leave. I’d love to hear your reaction to it. I was thinking of you when I drew it. I don’t know what it means. It came out of a dream.” 

“I’d love to see it. And I loved your show. I even bought a print!” 

“You shouldn’t have done that! I’ll give you any print you like.” 

“That’s okay, I’m glad I bought it, and I’m eager to see whatever you want to give me.” 

“I’ve got to tell you,” Alex went on, “you’re famous here in Evansville. Everyone follows the news. You should know that people will try to interview you tomorrow.” 

“No, please! If anyone asks, just say I’m only here to listen. Tell the other staff.” Abby was very firm, and obviously worried. 

“Ah, I’m glad you mentioned it,” Alex replied. “I’ll bring it up early tomorrow. That’s the kind of thing Sara and Amy need to know. They’ll probably assign campus security to watch over you.” 

Please! thought Abby. I need to be invisible.  

Phoebe and Lluvia were looking at her. “We’ll stick with you,” Phoebe said.  

Abby and Wendy - Episode 37


Episode 37

Song of the Raven.jpg

Professor Richardson looked at Abby in surprise, and nodded. “So you’ve noticed that too! Yes, climate change denial is based on loyalty to a fossil fuel culture, and is related to some very explosive issues: ethnicity, race, heritage, some people’s sense of personal identity.”
“Yeah,” returned Freddy Baez with a weary sigh. “You mean white nationalism, the white power movement, a deeply rooted demon.”
Amy Zhi spoke for the first time. “It’s true. This is a dangerous moment. A lot of the work we’ve done over many years... it’s all up in the air now. Governor Palmer has approved my father’s ideas because they save money. The Parks Department more than pays for itself. But now the governor’s big donors don’t like what they see. We’ve been hiding in plain sight, but that era is over. We have to defend ourselves. My father could be fired. The biogas operation could be closed down, especially the part in Half Moon. The entire population of Rivergate could be driven out of their homes. We know what that means. The governor got a lot of pushback after the Sonny Walker interview, but I’m sure they haven’t given up. So I agree with Abby. We have to defend ourselves.”
Amy was dressed like Sara in a STAFF tee shirt and jeans. It’s like they’re they’re in uniform, thought Abby, soldiers ready for their orders.
Ricardo leaned forward, closer into the circle. “I’d like to get back to Freddy’s idea: We need a story. Perhaps I can help. Many of you know I have a chance to present our ideas at the coming United Nations conference. The preliminary gathering will be in River City in just a month. The conference itself, with representatives from over a hundred nations, will meet in River City in two months. I must present my paper and recommendations on Tuesday the 25th of September. I intend to be ready with an analysis of what we’ve accomplished, including the social, political, and economic assets and obstacles, as well as the technical problems. I need to visit locations where biogas is produced and have access to people and resources. Who works on your project? Who adapts cars and furnaces and stoves for biogas? How much does it cost? Is the supply reliable? What becomes of the compost? I’m in a rush just like the rest of you. And make no mistake; this will be a story, and we’ll all have to decide how to present it.”
Freddy’s brown eyes were full of fire. Abby had never seen his drive, his intensity before. “So, Abby,” he said. “Can we visit these biogas sites? Can we interview people, and run a series on the economics and legalities of the operation? Can we estimate the practical implications for our audience? It can’t be too abstract. We need on-the-ground details, personal stories.”
“To all of that, the answer is yes. Lluvia, Phoebe, and I are here to work with you, and help present Half Moon Park, Rivergate, the West Isle, and Fisher’s island as models of the way things can be done. You can talk to farmers in Middletown already producing their own biogas. And yes, you can talk to people who deliver fuel, adapt engines, and have to get paid for what they do.”
“Amy,” Freddy asked, “how does that sound for you?”
“It has to be done. But... you understand, my father will not participate. No interviews, no emails, no statements for the press. Don’t expect his office to reply. His position is that this effort is economic, not environmental. His office will say only one thing: Biogas saves the taxpayer money. The Parks and Sanitation Departments pay for themselves. That’s our strong suit, and it’s all you can expect from him.”
“I do believe,” returned Freddy, “that Amy has just given us a key element of the story. The people who make this possible are not rich for the most part. This project has blossomed without major corporations and vast incomes for executives. We’re talking about a local, grassroots industry that can be replicated. I think that storyline suits both Ricardo and myself.”
Ricardo refilled Freddy’s wine glass. They clinked glasses, and raised them to the whole group, who returned the toast with coffee cups.
In the silence that followed Lluvia spoke for the first time. Her voice was very quiet, and the group listened closely. “I volunteer to be a guide for any group wanting to see any part of our biogas, composting, and agricultural methods. I won’t volunteer for interviews, but I’ll find people who will volunteer. We can go to Rivergate, the West Isle, and Fisher’s Island. We can visit homes and collection sites, and look at boats, stoves, cars, trucks, and furnaces that run on biogas. But someone else will have to give permission and guide reporters visiting Half Moon Park.”
“Bennie Nimzowitsch is our Park Manager,” Amy told them. “Speak to him first, and he’ll ask for permission up the bureaucratic ladder. Ultimately the governor will have to give permission or not. There are pluses and minuses for him either way. We’ll just have to wait and see. But meanwhile, the Rivergate part of the story will be a wonderful place to start.”
Ricardo looked around the circle. “We’ve come a long way in less than an hour. I haven’t mentioned the Evansville part of the picture because we’ve got that covered. Mayor Ellis has been increasing purchases of biogas from the park system for seven years or so. Henry is familiar with the technology and the politics.” Ricardo nodded to the young assistant professor.
Henry thanked Ricardo and gave out his phone number and email address. “I’m eager to know all of you,” he said. “I’m doing my graduate thesis on this subject, and hope to visit your sites and include you in my research. This is a wonderful opportunity, and I’m very grateful.” He looked around the room with hesitant, vulnerable blue eyes, obviously pleading for acceptance.
Ricardo gave people a moment to reassure Henry, and then said, “I’m sure you’re all hungry. Let’s trade email addresses and move this train forward.”
Abby frowned. “There’s a problem. We’ve been warned not to carry cell phones. We’ve been warned of efforts to hack our phones and computers. So to reach Lluvia or anyone in Rivergate, call Sonny Walker’s secretary, named Chris. Sara, maybe you can help move this along.”
“I’m on it. This is my department. Don’t worry about a thing. But what about Sulay and Nico? Where do they fit in?”
Abby smiled. “Phoebe and I are supervising them. We need them in Middletown. But tomorrow morning they’ll be here with the soccer teams for the games in your stadium.” “Got it. I’ll find them. Keep the news coming.”
“I’ll know where they are,” Phoebe told her. “I’ll help you.”
No one spoke. People looked at each other, wondering if Phoebe’s words had concluded the meeting. But Ricardo leaned forward again. “I apologize, but I need to ask two more questions, and please, answer them any way you wish, or don’t answer them at all. First, I’m under pressure from my colleagues in other fields – history, anthropology, archeology. They want to know who could help them find sites to study and people to interview in Rivergate and the forest preserve. I tried to be polite and said I’d look into it, but I certainly have promised nothing. But now I ask: Can any of our professors interested in the history of the Half Moon Valley, or the archeology of the Valley, speak to any of you about any information you may have?”
“No,” replied Abby. “We are in no position to guide any such inquiry, and will prevent it if possible.”
“I thought so. Rest assured, I will offer nothing. And I’ll warn you if anything of the kind is moving forward.”
Abby gave him a smile. “Thank you. And be aware that the forest preserve is run by the state, and I believe will fall under the authority of Amy’s father. We’ve been protected so far.”
Amy nodded.
“Finally,” Ricardo went on, “I’m curious if there is an important reason why all of you...” he was looking at Abby, Phoebe, and Lluvia, “have suddenly made this generous offer to partner with us.”
The three glanced at each other. “I can think of one reason,” Phoebe said. “We’ve been through a lot of stress and trouble over the last two months. It’s been a shocking experience. We’ve had to learn to cope very fast.”
Ah! thought Abby. Go for it! Tell them.
“We’ve tried to do things that are really quite ordinary, like build a community around the stores in our town, offer activities that people might like, especially for teenagers. These are things I grew up doing, things I had considered normal, like having festivals, music concerts, a soccer league, listening to our local minister and supporting the mission of the church. But we’ve had to realize that we’re facing very powerful, wealthy, and determined enemies. Problems have opened up that have been hidden for decades. We’ve had to fight for basic community goals. Freddy has seen some of this. What Sara called the mysteries in Middletown have arisen around what I used to consider ordinary small- town events.
“Now... you could say that Reverend Tuck’s sermon, the one where he called climate change a sin... well, I do see that many people will regard that as threatening. But doing nothing about it is even more threatening. We’ve realized we have to fight a larger political battle. What I’m interested in is that battle. Middletown is a microcosm of the wide world. So I ask: What happens tomorrow morning? How can we contribute? How do we follow up? Can we get involved in events surrounding the United Nations conference? We’re opening up because circumstances are forcing us to get together and stand for something, or our world will become an unrecognizable nightmare.”
Sara clapped. “Please, all three of you! Tomorrow after the gathering at Hamilton Hall, our group will meet, discuss the day’s events, and plan for the future. You’re all invited. And please, help us at tomorrow’s event. It’s an effort to create dialogue and understanding between the trustees, students, and faculty. We want the trustees to share power with the college community, and not act like the students are children and the faculty are absent-minded professors, lost in abstract research. We’re in this together. And I’ll have to speak on your behalf, and present ideas from this meeting. But I don’t have the authority and respect to respond to the trustees’ presentation. Ricardo, that job can only be done by you. I wish we could help, but you know you’ll be on the spot.”
“Don’t apologize, Sara. I’ve been eager for this job for years. If only I can be on the spot a dozen more times in the next few months! What good is Evansville College, what good is being a professor, what good is having a new department called Energy in the Age of Climate Change? It’s time to plan, organize, speak up. It’s time to act.” He slammed the flat of his hand onto the table.
They all stared in surprise.
“Okay Ricardo!” cried Sara with a big smile. “We’re with you.”
Freddy rubbed his hands together. He had a gleam in his eye. “This is why I entered the news business! Are we all on board?”
“Yes! Of course! Absoluuuutly!” Their voices responded at once.
“Any more questions?”
No one spoke.
“Thank you all!” Ricardo stood up. “Let’s eat!”
Sara and Amy departed immediately after the meeting, saying they would grab a sandwich in the student center and eat with the organizers of tomorrow’s gathering. “Sorry to insist on that word, ‘gathering’,” Sara told them. “But a street demonstration and protest would be a disaster for us. We’re doing all we can to debate policy, backed up by a well-behaved crowd. We need the right kind of media attention.”
Amy pulled on her sleeve. “Come on! They’ll be finished before we get there!” And they were gone.
Lluvia, Phoebe, Abby, and Henry Tims took a table together in the luxury of the faculty dining room. Henry presented himself as their guide for the evening, and offered to escort them to the gallery. An hour later, Lluvia, Phoebe, Abby, and Henry Tims were walking past the college dormitories looking for a building known as the A.D. – short for Art Department. There they expected to meet Alex Johnson, who would give them a room for the night. “We’re just in time,” Henry told them. “The gallery closes at 9.” He led them through the glass door of a modern, very wide, two story building with enormous windows.
A few students were talking in the lobby. “It’s got nothing to do with modern art,” argued one voice. “It’s some kind of weird throw-back. I don’t know why they’re giving it any attention.”
“It’s gets attention because it’s relevant,” retorted another voice. “He raises conflicts. Gender, climate change, poverty, sex, religion...”
“You see all that? I don’t... and he can’t even draw. People just buy it because it’s cheap.” Henry led them into a clean white room with a polished hardwood floor, immaculate white walls, and a ten-foot ceiling with track lighting. Abby counted fourteen prints on thick white paper held on the walls at eye level with pushpins. They were all deep red or brown. A few were fairly small, but the majority were pictures about two by three feet printed on enormous sheets of paper. At the far end hung a tapestry about two and a half by three feet, showing an abstract female figure on a wavy background that reminded Abby of small prehistoric rock sculptures she had seen in some book in high school. Other abstract symbols appeared across the upper six inches.
On another wall she was not surprised to see the red print of Noah’s Ark that had been displayed on the Students Against Fossil Fuels banner. A dragon or snake ran across the top of the design, turned downward at the corner, and became a head vomiting the flood covering the bottom of the picture. The identical dragon appeared in the next, even larger print. But there it was spitting fire onto what looked like the skyline of River City. Fires were burning in many places. Figures were fleeing the nightmare.
“Well, what d’you think?” asked Lluvia.
“They look like visions,” murmured Abby, still staring. “Are these really by the Alex we used to know?”
“Aren’t we staying at his house tonight?” whispered Phoebe. “Is he here?”
Lluvia looked around. “Don’t see him. But he definitely invited us.”
“Look at this little design where the signature usually goes,” whispered Abby with a thrill in her voice.
“I’ve seen that before... Have you?”
“I’ve seen it in prints and weaving by Alex... but, I can’t think of anywhere else.” “Well... I have. I want one of these prints.”
Taking his role as their host seriously, Henry had not deserted them. He stood nearby talking to a woman behind a long table covered with prints. They joined him there and studied the artwork and the prices. The prints were very cheap as art prices go, at ten to forty dollars each.
“Just five more minutes,” announced the woman in charge. “If you want a print, now is the time.” She was making sales to a small line of visitors.
Abby actually had money in her pocket and wanted a very small brown print with four shapes side by side. The first might have been a tall and jagged piece of rock; the second was a naked man with this hands and head in a position of prayer; the third was a tree with a bird on an upper branch overlooking the man; and the fourth was made of three thick wavy lines that reminded her of water. There was something so pleading and vulnerable about the man that Abby’s heart went out to him. The print seemed to depict a beautiful but scary world.
“Would you like to buy it?” asked the woman.
“Not now,” Abby said. “I don’t want to fold it.”
“I’ll put it in a little tube for you. Just ten dollars.”
“Abby,” called Phoebe, standing near the door. “Alex has gone home. Henry will take us.” She quickly pulled out ten dollars and tucked the tube into her backpack.
“So you know the artist?” asked the woman.
Abby was about to run out the door to catch up with her friends, but could not resist the question. “I haven’t seen him in many years. How’s he doing? I’m amazed I can afford something here.”
“He sells a lot though. I’m Olivia.”
“I’m Abby. Sorry, got to run, my friends are leaving.”
She had turned her back when Olivia shouted after her, “You’re the Abby? From Middletown?”
“Just here for tomorrow’s event! Got to run.” And she was out the door.
Henry, Phoebe, and Lluvia were waiting in the lobby. “You bought one of those? Let’s see it!”
“Just ten dollars. I couldn’t resist it.” She pulled the 8x6 inch print out of the tube and displayed it.
“Yeah, I’ve seen those around,” Henry told them. “A few are quite popular. Kind of different than what you usually see.”
“So what’s this guy like?” Phoebe asked.
Lluvia was hesitant, but she replied: “He’s nice, but kind of obsessed with his artwork. But it looks like he’s selling some now, and that will ease him up a bit. When Diego and I took him and his sister back to Rivergate last year he hardly opened his mouth. He just stared around and drew on a sketchpad. He was kind of a loner then, but has friends now. He’s part of this group of activists. Hey, I know where we are, Henry. I’ve got it from here.”
“Great to meet all of you,” Henry said. “You know... before you go, I just want to tell you how glad I am that Ricardo is including me in this project. I’ll be teaming up with Sara to visit Middletown next week. And I’ll see you all tomorrow. Keep your fingers crossed and hope for a good event.” He held up a V sign and headed back toward the college.

Abby and Wendy - Episode 36

AN UNUSUAL MEETING

Illustration By Carlos Uribe

Illustration By Carlos Uribe

Lluvia slowly steered the canoe toward the right bank. A wide view of Evansville opened up before their eyes. The river seemed to grow and spread out, creating space for many docks lining the shoreline. The tall buildings were all on the left side. On the right-hand side a long finger of parkland extended along the shoreline all the way from Half Moon. The Evansville College of Arts and Sciences was nestled among tall trees like a town of mostly low buildings. Beyond the college, Riverside Boulevard ran all the way to River City.       

Docks owned by the Parks Department and the College clustered together, creating a marina of boats, all quite small by ocean standards. The depth of the river was only about 5 to 8 feet, and varied radically with rainfall and the tide. No large yachts or ferryboats could safely navigate the river until the Maywood River joined the Half Moon a few miles downstream. At that point the river became wider, deeper, and crowded in a more urban landscape, climaxing at the great metropolis of River City.

Lluvia maneuvered the canoe along crowded docks to a separate, spacious area owned by the college. They tied the boat to cleats in the wooden platform and a young man in a college tee shirt gave them a hand up. Lluvia told him their business and departure time Sunday morning. He wanted student identification, and for a moment they were stuck, unsure what to do. 

Then they heard Abby’s name called, and Sara came rushing up the dock. She was obviously nervous and impatient. “Where have you been?”

“Sorry, sorry,” Phoebe answered. “An emergency, and my phone is gone. None of us have a phone. I’ll tell you more later.”

“Hi Bill,” Sara greeted the dock attendant. “They’re all with me, meeting in the energy building with Professor Richardson. He’ll approve it.”

“We picked up a stray boat,” Lluvia said. “It was floating free a mile upriver. Can you look for an owner?”

In a moment the three visitors and Sara were hurrying across a wide pathway onto the college campus. Old buildings, generally only two stories, were spread out among trees and lawns, and connected by flagstone paths. Abby had never seen anything like it. Wisteria grew up old stonewalls, and discreet signs were posted to guide visitors. The scene was calm and lovely in the early evening shadows. But Sara led them at a furious pace. Phoebe lagged behind, pulling her right leg stiffly forward.

Abby checked her timer. “Hey Sara,” she called. “It’s only 6:30.”

“We’ve reserved the private meeting room starting at six. Ricardo Richardson and a grad student and Freddy Baez are there already. We’ve made a dinner reservation for seven o’clock. This is a big deal. And we’re running out of time.” She’s the organizer, the mover and shaker,Abby told herself. Just follow along.

They practically ran through a maze of buildings where students walked in and out of dormitories and gathered in groups on the lawn. Cars full of arriving students and their luggage jammed the courtyard. Finally, Sara led the group to a modern one-story building with a picture window, glass doors, and wings built out from both sides. A limestone porch with benches and potted gardenias surrounded the main entrance. An elegant bronze sign read, ‘Energy in the Age of Climate Change’.

Groups on the benches said hello to Sara and stared as they hurried by, practically running down a carpeted hallway to wooden double doors. A quiet living room spread out before them. Lamps on poles, couches and easy chairs, bookshelves, paintings, and a sideboard of refreshments were scattered around a wide area. Three men stood to greet them.

Sara took charge. “Professor Richardson, Evansville Record editor Freddy Baez, and assistant professor Henry Tims, this is Abby, Phoebe, and…” Sara waited for the name.

“Lluvia,” Abby told them. They shook hands.

“Call me Ricardo, please. We’re here to talk as equals. Can I get you some coffee, wine, tea, club soda?” The visitors asked for coffee, and Ricardo served them himself. 

Freddy showed them to a long couch with a coffee table, and looked at his watch. “Can we delay dinner half an hour at least?” he asked Ricardo. “We need the time.”

“Henry, see if they can give us until 7:30. Tell them we apologize, but it’s important.”

Ricardo Richardson, the host and head of the department, wore a dark tailored suit and a pale blue tie. He was tall and lean, in his forties, brown skinned, with black hair cut very short. A gold ring with a small blue stone glowed on his right ring finger. Freddy Baez did not seem to be concerned about his appearance. He looked just the same to Abby as he had appeared in Reverend Tuck’s office: balding, in his fifties, needing a haircut around the ears, a bit overweight, wearing a shabby pale suit with no tie. He sipped his wine and glanced around impatiently.

Henry Tims looked maybe 25 or 26 years old, very young for an assistant professor. He was short and light skinned, with wispy blond hair falling over his forehead, and a vulnerable baby face free of wrinkles. His jeans and pinstriped shirt were clean and ironed, giving him a bit of formality. 

“Yes, right away,” he said, and hurried out the door.

Abby and Phoebe were struggling to keep their eyes off the blue stone in Ricardo’s ring. It’s dreamstone, its dreamstone!Their thoughts were buzzing, and they met each other’s eyes with a look of elated recognition. Here’s someone on our side, they thought. Abby glanced at Lluvia and noticed her wide-eyed look. She knows.

Sara retreated to a corner of the room and made a quick phone call. She wore her usual uniform: STAFF tee shirt, jeans, and wide red headband. “Amy will be here in a minute,” she told them.

“Ah! Excellent.” Ricardo gave a sigh of relief. “Let me give all of you a chance to drink your coffee and relax.” He spoke slowly and gently, with the hint of a Spanish accent. “I want you to know how grateful we are to see you here on our home turf. It’s a tremendous favor. I know you’ve overcome obstacles to be here… you folks are under a microscope these days. But now we have a chance to put our minds together in hopes of a better future. This is a moment blessed by fate.”

Henry returned, nodded to Ricardo, and pulled up a chair.

“We’re just getting started,” his professor told him. He was silent for a minute as the young women drank coffee.

Well, well…thought Abby. Quite an introduction. She was determined to play her role with all the concentration at her command, and bring in Phoebe and Lluvia to offer all those things that she could not.

The door suddenly opened and Amy Zhi walked into the room. Sara hugged her, and introduced her to Lluvia and Phoebe. Amy waved to all and sat in an upholstered armchair to the side of the couch. Henry hurried to get her a cup of coffee. 

The professor met everyone’s eyes and began: “I think we’ve all done a good job of arranging this off-the-record meeting, and I think we can count on each other’s confidentiality.”

They nodded.

“Please bear with me while I give a brief description of our situation. We’ll be discussing renewable energy developments that are still in an early, fragile stage, but are becoming too prominent to ignore. As you know, tomorrow the Evansville Board of Trustees will be responding to our student/faculty declaration of climate change commitments. I realize that this document is technically open to change and negotiation. But most of us, including the trustees, are aware that we are drawing a red line, a firm position that we intend to implement with all the influence we can find.” 

He paused and drank from a glass of wine. “Okay, now here’s some news. We’ve obtained through the grapevine a summary of the trustees’ response. They will point out that not only our college, but also our city and state, are nowhere near ready to achieve %100 renewable energy. Therefore they – the trustees – will not promise to withdraw all fossil fuel related investments. They will say we are decades, thirty years at a minimum, from banishing fossil fuels from our economy. Therefore, they must continue to invest in enterprises that are currently essential to the welfare of our population, such as fossil fuel heat, transportation, electricity, fertilizer, plastic, and so on. We know that this argument is shared by many of the powers that be in our world, and could have merit, except that over the past thirty years they have done nothing except continue business as usual. And the business interests that the trustees represent have no wish to change, and are ignoring the perilous consequences of delay.”      

“Hurry it along, Ricardo!” interrupted Freddy Baez. “We’re from the news business, we’re used to rushing. And in twenty minutes we’re supposed to be eating dinner.”

“I understand, Freddy. But tonight, I don’t care if all the food is overcooked or stone cold. I’ve been waiting a long time for this day. Everyone will get a chance to say their piece.”

He took another swallow of wine. “In maybe ten years, with supporting policies like an escalating carbon taxes, regulations, and investments into solar and wind projects, electricity could be just about 90% renewable. But as we know all too well, our state and nation and most of the globe, do not have the political will to achieve anything drastic at the moment. We don’t have the batteries yet to store enough energy to get through days with no wind and winters with little sun. Without the invention of better batteries, generators will need to continue using natural gas at least part of the time. We don’t have the grid, the heating and cooking equipment, the cars and jet fuel and household appliances to move to 100% renewable, even with a carbon tax and enormous subsidies. And for all those places off the grid the situation is hopeless. Propane tanks populate the countryside like mushrooms. And world-wide, that adds up to an insurmountable problem…except for one thing. The problems look different if you include biogas.

Ricardo looked around the room. “That’s what we need to discuss tonight. We know that all organic material can produce biogas, mostly methane. We know that landfilled organic material gives off methane into the atmosphere where it becomes a greenhouse gas. We know that landfilling organic material is expensive. We know that biogas is much more environmentally friendly than burning wood and related materials. We know waste organic material can be collected from a village or a city or a farm. We know the production of biogas can be a local enterprise or a colossal industry. We know that fracking can be banned as soon as we have better batteries for electrical storage and biogas for furnaces, stoves, and generators. Millions of families already use it all over the world. And tonight, we need to talk about the little-known fact that biogas is used by thousands of households right here in the Half Moon Valley. How did this happen, given the political and business support for fossil fuels? Why can’t we study and discuss it?”

The participants looked at each other, but no one answered. Ricardo waited, and then went on: “We’ve discovered that one of our trustees, Herbert Irving, is alarmed that his Valley Fuels distribution network is losing customers. He’s already investigating the production of biogas by our Parks Department. We know he will convince the governor and his allies to close down that operation unless they meet very strong resistance. We know that Rivergate is already 100% renewable, and Half Moon maybe 50% renewable, and Middletown is rapidly getting into the act. Why can’t we replicate this process? Why can’t we argue that with intelligent biogas production – by intelligent, I mean refusing to grow crops for biofuels on land suitable for food crops, refusing to cut down forests… in other words, producing biogas only from waste, organic garbage, wood that is already being chipped by the Parks Department as a matter of ordinary maintenance, grasses grown on land with soil too poor for human food… Why can’t we study, publicize, and argue for intelligent biogas production?”

He looked at his watch. “Thank you for your patience. The ball is in your court.”

“We’ve got a problem among the students,” Sara replied. “They’re all fired up about Abby’s interview, the mysteries surrounding Middletown, the gender and spiritual issues… but… it seems that they don’t understand biogas very well. It’s not clean and pure like solar and wind. It burns and gives off carbon dioxide, just like fracked gas.”

“Mmmm…” Ricardo smiled. “Tell them the squirrels and the dogs and humans give off carbon dioxide. The tree that falls in the forest and turns into compost gives off carbon dioxide. Cow manure gives off carbon dioxide. But the fracked gas didn’t have to give off itscarbon dioxide. It’s been safely underground for millions of years, and could have stayed there, if we didn’t mine it and burn it. We’re adding carbon to the life cycle, carbon that has been sequestered for eons. That’s the problem. We should stick to our basic talking points: KEEP IT IN THE GROUND. BAN FOSSIL FUELS. And by the way, the organic material that produces biogas has a desirable byproduct: solid compost, pure and ready to use as fertilizer. It’s far better to make biogas out of organic material than to burn it.”

“It seems to me,” Sara retorted, “that you should get those professors in first year earth science to do a better job. The facts seem self-evident to you, but not to most other people.”

“Good point. Yes, a better education is essential. But that will take time, a year at a minimum. We need to act over the next couple of months.”

Freddy Baez leaned forward. “I’m sorry to say this, but you’re all on the wrong track. Sure, improve education, explain the issues, argue your case. But we’ve got hot news here, very hot. That interview with Abby… it’s gone around the world. The attention of the public is at a peak I’ve rarely seen. This wave of interest must be fed, or it will break and disappear. News items are stories. What story should we tell? I ask you, Abby… what story would you recommend?”

She had been waiting for this moment. Her mind was well prepared, the words on the tip of her tongue. “I agree we have to move fast. This public attention you’re talking about… it also includes the wrong kind of attention. It alerts our enemies, and they investigate and create their own story. That’s natural. They’re threatened. This Herbert Irving you mentioned who runs Valley Fuels, he’s losing money. Large parts of this whole system will lose wealth and power, and strike back. And fossil fuels are a cultural as well as an economic problem. The self-esteem of part of our population seems to be married to fossil fuels. If we don’t get our story out there in a powerful way, we’ll be crushed.”

Abby and Wendy - Episode 35

THE VOYAGE DOWN THE RIVER

Illustration By Carlos Uribe

Illustration By Carlos Uribe

Phoebe appeared from under the bridge and said in a whisper: “You’re still here. Thank you! Let’s go.”

“Abby in the bow, just behind the mast. Phoebe in the middle.” They jumped in, Lluvia pushed off, and the canoe was running with the current. “Take that paddle, nice and easy on the left. Watch carefully.”

A blue sail was wrapped tightly around the mast. The motor was not running. The boat drifted into the fast current in the center of the river. For a while no one spoke. The view of the rushing water, the Winkle Family farm, the hills and the cliffs in the distance… It was all enchanting. The light breeze and the roller coaster feel of the current stirred their blood. The dark water glittered in the setting sun. Abby felt the warm sun on her back. All was calm. Abby and Lluvia didn’t make any great effort, but just kept the canoe straight and clear of other small boats coming upriver near the bank. They had a brief view of the town of Half Moon on the left and the park and docks on the right, passed by a few more farms, and then entered a more suburban landscape.

“Sorry to be late,” said Phoebe. “We had a surprise.”

Abby turned her head to look at Phoebe’s face. She doesn’t seem too worried. “Tell us!”

“Zoe had news. One of the reporters from the River City Post – name of Jerry Norris – is known to moonlight for political campaigns. Its possible he’s employed by Confidential Investigations, a well-known creepy outfit that works for big money. The same people stalking you, Abby. Norris is short, thin-faced, blue eyed, pale, receding hairline, in his thirties. Goes around with a broad-shouldered guy. I remember them from the churchyard gate. We were standing there a long time with nothing to do but look at reporters. According to Zoe, Jerry Norris is the most likely ‘reporter who’s not a reporter’, to quote what Marcus told Nico. We’ll have to watch out for him at the event tomorrow.”

Abby was trying to concentrate on her job, looking for dangerous floating objects in the river. “Tell Sara,” she said.

Phoebe continued her story: “Later on, Sulay came bursting into the toy store. She pulled me into the back room and said Marcus had just come into Phones and More to buy a fancy new smart phone. When her father was occupied with another customer he whispered to Sulay: ‘Change all your passwords. Wipe your phones and start over’. She hung around him and made the sale, but that’s all he said that’s of interest to us.”

“Wow,” Abby exclaimed. “Go, Marcus! What did you do?”

“It was already 4:15. Sulay said she’d do her job for you and then find Nico and make security changes in their phones and computer. I ran down to their store and asked her father to wipe my phone and help me get started again. He thinks my phone is too old to be any good, but said he’d wipe it later today. He recommended a new one but I don’t have the money, and now I have no phone. Thank God I never use my computer. And I barely got to you in time. I was panicked I’d miss out.”

Abby looked at Lluvia. “It’s a good thing we have no phones or computers.”

Lluvia laughed. “How did you know?”

“Oh, Jeremy told me about the Phone Rules, and I just didn’t think you’d go in for all that media. You like to be secret, and aren’t afraid of being alone.”

“That’s me.” Lluvia wore a smile during the whole conversation, with her eyes on the water. “But I do want a taste of all of this new action. I’m really glad to see both of you. We know the big change is coming, and this weekend we’ll see for ourselves.”

“And I’m so relieved to be with you,” Abby said. “I really have no idea what I’m doing. Like, what’s the schedule? Where do we sleep? How do we handle this meeting tonight? Who will even show us where to go?”

Phoebe had been glancing back at Lluvia. “I’ve seen you before,” she said suddenly.

“Oh my God,” exclaimed Abby. “You don’t know each other! Phoebe, this is Lluvia!”

“Watch the water, Abby. Don’t turn around. We can hear you.”

“Oh, I’m such an idiot!” Abby muttered. “I was better at this when I was ten. I can’t even remember which of my friends know each other.”

But Lluvia and Phoebe were not listening. They were studying each other’s faces. Even Lluvia had taken her eyes off the water.

“I know I’ve seen you before…” murmured Phoebe. “Somewhere.” 

“Of course you have. Can you remember?”

“In the toy store. You buy paint… and brushes, every once in a while.”

Lluvia laughed. “Oh you do remember! And I remember you, and your mother and father. But I’ve seen them more recently… in Rivergate and the forest.”

“Ah. You probably see my parents more than I do. Maybe you paint like my mother.”

“I’ve seen some of her work. But I’m not that kind of artist. I add detail to boats. Like names, and where they’re from. And sometimes fancy little extras. Some people want a lot of detail. We build boats and I ride them all over, taking people and supplies here and there, and fishing. Or just exploring.”

Lluvia glanced at Phoebe’s face again. “You play soccer. I’ve seen you in uniform, working in your store. And we read about your high school team.”

“I destroyed my knee in college this year. But now I coach.” Phoebe’s voice was not full of despair. She seemed to have accepted the fact.

Abby was listening, and trying to maintain her concentration on the water. But she wanted to watch the faces of her friends. Boats passed them going upstream, always close to the bank, and power boats passed them from behind. Lluvia’s canoe held the center of the river. Along the way various streams flowed into the Half Moon, and the river grew wider, and the number of boats increased.

“Are we going to sail?” asked Phoebe. “I’d love to try it.”

“Not today. We don’t need any help going with the current. I use the sail going upriver, and in the open water in the wetland. A few times we’ve gone all the way to the bay and the ocean.”

“I’m envious,” Phoebe said. “It’s different seeing things from the river.”

“Is it ever! I’m kind of addicted to seeing things from the river. But I’m not going to miss out on these new events. I have the feeling I’ll be involved somehow. Chi Chi told me about the meeting tonight, and some kind of event tomorrow.”

“And who’s going to meet us?” asked Abby. “Who will show us around? Where do we sleep?”

“Sara’s supposed to meet us at the dock,” answered Phoebe. “But I was going to text her when we got close, and now I can’t. I hope she shows up anyway.”

“I know my way around a little bit,” Lluvia told them. “I’ve delivered vegetables and biogas to Evansville more times than I can count. And I have a friend there. We’ll stay at his house tonight.”

“So who is it?” Abby almost turned around to see Lluvia’s face. “We’re curious!”

“I was going to surprise you, but I should tell you now. It’s Alex Johnson.”

“Alex… Alex Johnson… Alex and Lexa? You’re kidding me!”

“No, you’re just out of touch.” Lluvia spoke with a wide smile, her eyes on the water.

“Well, how did this happen? I was just thinking about them. About all of us in the Young Warriors’ Club.”

“The Young Warriors’ Club?” asked Phoebe.

“It was our Sunday school when we were children,” Abby explained. “I lost all my friends when I was ten and my family moved.”

You’ll be surprise to hear this,” Luvia said. “Not long after you left Rivergate, Lexa and Alex left too. Their parents had long been separated, and their mother died. Their father took them to River City where he lived. None of us had ever met him, and he had no interest in us. He just took Lexa and Alex and never came back. But then a year ago they showed up out of the blue! Well, Lexa and Alex did. Not the father. It turned out their father had died.”

“My head is spinning,” Abby said. If only I could see Lluvia’s face! she thought.

“Yeah, I’ve got a lot of news.” Lluvia obviously enjoyed surprising Abby. “We didn’t know it, but their father had been a part of some big real estate family, owning tons of property in River City and even in Evansville. Alex’s father left him a little house near the Evansville College campus, and money for his tuition, but otherwise Alex is broke, barely getting by. His father didn’t trust him or something. It’s complicated, and he doesn’t like talking about it. But we’re friends now and we’ll stay with him.”

“So how does he survive?” Phoebe was clearly interested, risking quick glances at Lluvia behind her.

“He’s an artist, and sells woodcut prints. You’ll see at least one of them. The students have adopted the image of Noah’s ark as a kind of insignia, like a badge of identity. I’ve brought some prints to Rivergate, and even up to students at Northern State, where Students Against Fossil Fuels is organizing.”

“I think I did see it from a distance at the churchyard festival. It was big like a flag.” Abby’s mind was racing, but her eyes still looked for obstacles in the water. “Hey! Something floating up ahead! Look. It’s… yes, a loose boat!”

A small dinghy was floating free on the current with no passengers. Lluvia and Abby maneuvered the canoe alongside. Phoebe managed to tie a line to the metal ring on the bow of the little white rowboat, and they began towing it along behind them.

“We’ll leave it at the college dock and see if they can find the owner. Otherwise it’s ours. Who needs a boat? You’d be surprised how often this happens.”

She’s so happy, Abby thought enviously. I wish I felt that way. Is happiness something you can learn?

I’d like a boat!” Phoebe exclaimed. “Can I have it? It almost like your boat, Abby.”

“I wish I had a chance to use mine. You take it, Phoebe. I’m jealous of the boat we’re in. I’d like to get a sail and a little motor like Lluvia’s got.”

“It’s yours, Phoebe, unless someone at the dock locates the owner. It’s good luck to find a boat. And Abby, I’ve got a special present for you, back on the West Isle. We’re going to get you fixed up good.”

“I can’t wait!... Hey, look, there’s Evansville. A few tall buildings and the bridge.”

Abby and Wendy - Episode 34

GETTING READY TO GO

Illustration By Carlos Uribe

Illustration By Carlos Uribe

After walking back from the pre-school, Abby found Officer Harley chatting with a woman at the churchyard gate. She must have been in her late 60s, with white hair, loose skin under her chin, and a formal wool skirt and jacket that seemed meant for a cooler day and a previous decade. No one else was nearby. Abby knew that Sulay, Phoebe, and Nico would be having lunch with Zoe, so she hadn’t expected them, but wondered what had happened to the crowd of previous days.

“I’m glad to see a quiet day,” she said.

“At last,” returned the officer. “May we have many more!”

Abby was about to walk through the gate when he said, “Abby, I’d like to introduce you to Mary Robinson. We go way back.”

Abby turned and shook her outstretched hand.

“She’s a real old school reporter,” Harley said. “Nothing at all like that pack of wolves we’ve seen the last few days.”

“Now, now, I’m sure they’re not that bad,” Mary said, raising her index finger as if teaching a lesson. “Some of those people are my friends. But I admit that I’ve been hoping to avoid the crowd.”

She turned to Abby. “One of my friends told me you were taking business cards the last couple of days, and I don’t want to miss out. I write about politics for the Fellsburg Star. I know we’re not from the valley, but Fellsburg is still the state capital.”

“I’m happy to take your card. But why are you interested?”

“I cover the governor and the wheeling and dealing in state government, and I like to understand things. I like to know what I’m talking about, but I’ve been making no progress on the Rivergate issue. Why is the governor trying to empty a perfectly decent small town? I paid a visit to Rivergate last Monday. I’d read the Sonny Walker interview in the Evansville Record, and a red light went on in my mind. I’m missing something here. So I went and talked to Sonny Walker myself. I can see he was telling the truth. They actually have adjusted to losing the bridge. There’s no emergency that I can see. But Sonny pretends to have no idea about the governor’s motivations. He actually claimed that the governor is just ill informed! I’m not taken in by that nonsense, and I’m sure Sonny isn’t either. I’m supposed to come up with an article on this subject, but no one will tell me what’s behind this story.”

“Why would you think I know anything about it?” Abby asked. I’ve talked too much for one day, she thought. I’m not getting into it now.

“Let me thank you for your patience. I know people bother you day after day, sometimes in truly frightening ways. But I must tell you, young lady, I do my homework. I know… you know… things that I need to know. I respect you, indeed I do. So I assume you’re doing your best, doing the right thing in awful circumstances. So please keep my card. If you ever want to talk to me I’ll be here in a couple of hours. I still get around. And please hear me when I say that I know things you need to know.” The woman raised her index finger again, looking at Abby with fierce blue eyes. “I would tell you these things straight out because I like you, but I have a job to do. So I’ll trade.”

Abby was unwilling to promise anything. “I appreciate your offer,” she said. “I’ll think about it.”

“Of course,” Mary said. “You’ll have to do your homework to have any trust in me. And you’ll also have to realize that you truly need information. I have that information.”

Abby didn’t know what to say. I might have that information already, but I’m not sure. Can I risk talking to her? Can I risk not talking to her?

“Thank you for the time, my dear. Don’t lose that card. One of these days you’ll need it. Bye now. Thanks for your time.” And Mary walked slowly to a nearby old jeep.

“I can’t believe she has a car like that!” Abby was bewildered. 

“She likes to get around in the snow or rain. She was here in the church when the hailstorm hit. You have to take Mary Robinson seriously. She’s helped people get elected, and helped put people in jail. We go way back.”

“I just want to thank you for all your help!” Abby realized that she had underestimated Officer Harley. “And please, this world looks very big and confusing to me. If you ever see that I’m making a mistake, don’t hesitate to tell me.”

“I’ll do that. You’re a nice kid with a lot on your shoulders. You’ve never had a reason to visit our station, but I’m sure you know we’re just down Main Street near Grove Avenue, next to the bank. The chief is always complaining that nobody ever tells him anything. Please stop by. You’ll be doing yourself a favor.”

She thanked him and walked her bike across the lawn to the cottage.

 

Abby couldn’t sit still. There were too many things to think about, so she got out the hoe and started in on the weeds. It was a job she didn’t like to do, because she had a weak spot for the weeds. In her opinion, weeds were perfectly good plants that nobody appreciates because they don’t understand them. This actually was Wendy’s firmly held view of the whole situation. The difference between Abby and her godmother was that Wendy knew the virtues of hundreds of wild plants, while Abby knew the virtues of only a few.

But people in this town expect an orderly churchyard,she thought for the hundredth time. They will take it out on Tuck and me if this place looks shabby to them. And I need something to do or I’ll worry myself into a panic.

So she started in on the pigweed, the galinsoga, and the mugwort growing between the rows of marigolds and snapdragons near the front fence. This was exactly the area that a pedestrian would notice.

Wendy told me galinsoga is called ‘quickweed’ because it will go to seed five times between May and September. It’s true, but I still like the plants, so vulnerable with those tiny white flowers, so easy to uproot. But you turn around and they are back again. Everything dies and is reborn. Kayla isn’t ready to think about that. I take it for granted. I assume it’s obvious, but of course it isn’t. So I put my foot in it, put the weight of this strange universe on that poor girl’s shoulders. What an idiot I am!

She moved on to the vegetable garden, and picked the last of the ripe vegetables. Abby knew perfectly well that she was starving. No breakfast, no lunch. She was losing weight in this stressful time. But she refused to go to Scutter’s, or up to Fred Peterson’s roadside market, or even to Sammy’s Coffee Shop.

I’m getting paranoid. I’ve got to get out of town.

She simmered another vegetable stew, ate the last of the cheese left from two weeks ago, and swallowed a lemon cuke from the garden. Feeling a little better, she lay down. 

It’s already 3:30. I meet Lluvia by 5! What am I going to bring? A few extra clothes… a jacket… a hat… a toothbrush. And I actually have money! That’s all I can think of. Be back here by Sunday. They’ll probably break into this place again. Thank God my seeds are still with Jeremy and Reverend Tuck, and my papers and dreamstone charm with Phoebe. I’ll carry my notebook of new songs with me, even though no one could possibly care. And of course Lluvia’s note will always be on me.

Abby began to dream of the river. She could see it going by, and feel the boat rocking on the waters and the excitement of being swept along. She just went with it, and suddenly saw Lluvia’s face.

Abby sat bolt upright. Her timer read 4:15. Just enough time to take a shower and pack a few things. By 4:25 she was ready to go, and paced the room for ten minutes, saying a prayer. Then she slipped out the back window into the late afternoon sun. Around behind the apple trees she crept, through the wild area, and up under the scaffolding to the alley opening onto Old Stone Road. It was 4:46. She stood near the wrought iron door in silence, looking for Sulay or Nico. Nothing moved on Old Stone Road.

At 4:50 she unlocked the door and stepped through, locked it behind her, and crossed the street. She didn’t hurry. She didn’t look around. Stable Lane, the alley behind the backyards of the toy store and the coffee shop, was deserted. It was too early for soccer. People were eating sandwiches at tables behind the coffee shop. Phoebe was nowhere to be seen. Abby didn’t stop, but took a quick left through the open lawn between two apartment buildings. She crossed Marie Place, and disappeared into the trees next to an enormous run-down old house. Bending to the right, she slipped into the trees near the Main Street Bridge, and went on through the willow trees bordering the river. 

Cemetery Bridge loomed ahead, showing the dark water running through a wide stone arch. The water was lower than usual. Abby hugged the edge of the river and crept under the bridge, sloshing through knee high water. A muddy bank appeared just ahead, screened by trees, with a few gravestones visible at a distance. It was a perfect spot for a small boat to secretly come ashore.

Abby waited impatiently. It was 5:02. Come on, Lluvia! Come on, Phoebe! The minutes seemed like hours. In a few seconds a canoe appeared out of the shadows, turned sharply, and slid up the muddy bank. Lluvia jumped out and pulled the side of the boat up the bank. She held the boat there as Abby embraced her, kissing her on the cheek, and mumbling, “Oh this is so wonderful!”

She looks so young, Abby thought, but she was a grade ahead of me. Lluvia’s black hair glistened. Her copper skin was chapped by the wind and sun. 

“What fun!” exclaimed Lluvia. “Jump in.”

“But Phoebe’s supposed to be here. Oh, I don’t know what to do… where could she be?”

And suddenly Phoebe waded out from under the bridge and said in a whisper, “You’re still here. I’m so happy… let’s go.”

Abby and Wendy - Episode 33

THE EARTH’S MAGIC

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Abby mulled over recent events as she ate a late lunch, and then she stared at the ceiling. I wish I knew what had happened to Rose. The mystery seemed just out of Abby’s reach. There were only a few options, and some of them were bad. First of all, Abby didn’t believe that Rose was sick. She hadn’t acted sick. She had acted strange, even threatening, in a cold, unemotional way. She was like a different person,thought Abby. And itseems clear that Rob was just not buying into whatever the problem was.

Could it be that Rose is the one who is threatened? the voice in her mind asked.

But how?Abby didn’t believe Rose’s remark about, ‘I’m not retiring’. Of course she wasn’t retiring. Abby was only working mornings, had no prospect of an administrative job, and had refused a full-time job. Already there was more work than Rose, Abby, and Rob could do comfortably. Tom Winkle was not looking for a job. He was a grandfather, fulfilling his role as a benevolent community member, and advising his son on the farm.

Perhaps something different is threatening Rose…

Abby recalled her mother’s words about Rose being her second cousin or something. Rose’s grandmother was… let’s see… the nanny for… Wendy and Chi Chi’s mother! Oh my God! And my great grandmother was the house manager. And they were sisters. Did they die in the tragedy? I don’t even know. But one thing for sure, Rose knows about this and is not mentioning it. But what could be threatening about it? I must speak to Wendy. Why didn’t I ask her before? Perhaps I can find Chi Chi…

Abby continued to obsess about this mystery as the evening shadows crossed the churchyard. A fear of walking to the garden center came over her. She wanted a clean get-away on the following day so passionately that she had become fanatically cautious. There was danger all around. Even if Chi Chi knew something, did it matter to find out immediately? Probably not. The Chi Chi meeting could be postponed.

It was time for a final watering of everything. The churchyard would be dry for the next four days. Monday evening would be Abby’s next chance to give the plants any water. The drought seemed likely to continue indefinitely.

 

Friday morning went much like the previous two days, except for an incident just before lunch that left Abby feeling that she’d made a serious mistake. Rose was absent again, and Tom Winkle continued to play a prominent role. The group began the day admiring their new creation. The play city, now with gardens and a forest in the bright sunlight, seemed even more beautiful and fascinating than the day before. The characters began to come alive.

Tension arose over the ownership of the treasure in the forest. The children had disagreements over what the treasure actually was, and what it was good for. After an hour of intense dialogue between many characters, the children agreed that the crystal ball in the wizard’s hand, the glass ball in the chest, and even the various multi-colored jewels, all could work magic. Yet what this magic consisted of remained a secret.

Finally, the dragon and the wizard were confronted by various invaders, who denied any wish to steal the treasure, but were desperate to know what it was, and what it could do. The nature of magic drew everyone’s attention. But the dragon (Franklyn had taken on this role) was totally unwilling to let anyone near the treasure. He maintained that he had no idea what it could do, but it was his job to keep intruders away. The wizard (played by Lucy) said she knew what the magic was, but it was too dangerous for ordinary people. This idea was unacceptable to the rest of the group, who crowded into the forest. The Good Fairy (played by Tiny) had to intervene from the sky above to stop the conflict, and make a compromise. Everyone would be allowed on look at the treasure. But still no clue was offered concerning the nature of magic.

This problem was still being debated when Kayla discovered a long earthworm escaping from the soil around a potted maple tree. All attention shifted to this remarkable worm. It stretched itself out four or five inches long, and moved out of the forest toward the city. Kayla stood up in shock, wondering what to do.

“Stop it! Stop it!” she cried.

Abby prevented Franklyn from grabbing the intruder, and declared that earthworms have a much lower temperature than humans, who are hot, almost 99 degrees. The touch of a human is burning to an earthworm. She laid down a piece of paper, and when the worm had crawled onto it she transferred it to a glass jar offered by Rob. Tom led a discussion about soil animals. Eventually the group decided to return the worm to its home back in the maple tree area.

After the short hike they released the worm into the loose soil where a baby maple tree had been the day before. The group was satisfied. But as the worm gratefully disappeared into the cool underground, Kayla stood up in alarm.

“Where is it going?” she asked. “How can anything live under there? Isn’t that a bad place?”

In a calm voice, Tom said, “No, it’s a good place for roots and soil animals. All plants and trees send roots into the soil.”

Kayla looked doubtful, but did not reply. Rob suggested they head back for lunch. On the way a discussion arose over what worms do, what they eat, and why they are good for the soil. As they approached the house Abby asked them to take a look at the three compost bins. Rob explained that they put their leftover or spoiled food in the first bin, and showed them the cornhusks and salad greens left over from the night before. Abby opened the second bin, and pointed out the worms and rolypolys and centipedes. Kayla was tall enough to see without help, and was fascinated, not so much by the worms as by the disintegration of what had formerly been food. She couldn’t believe that the materials in the first bin would actually turn into the decomposing materials in the second bin.

Abby then showed her the third bin, and Kayla was absolutely shocked to see dark soil. “It’s like magic!” she cried. “How could this happen?”

Abby explained that part of the earth’s magic is to turn plant and animal material back into soil. This is how the earth nourishes the life of the future. The children had questions.

“Do worms themselves turn back into soil?”

“What about birds?”

“Squirrels?”

“Yes,” Abby replied. “All plants and animals turn back into soil.”

Kayla was still staring in shock, and turned to Abby. “But… but…” She could hardly get the words out, “but what about people?”

Abby realized that she’d gotten in over her head, and looked to Rob and Tom Winkle. Rob drew his finger across his throat to silently tell Abby to shut up. Tom shrugged with a bewildered look. The children were all staring silently at Abby, waiting for a reply.

I’ve got to say something,she thought. They’ll be even more scared if I won’t answer the question. And it’s complicated! What about the soul? Can I tell them that this has been a running debate among humans since the dawn of time? Well, let’s be honest about bodies first.

“You know, Kayla, in some ways humans are related to animals.”

Kayla drew herself up as tall as she could stand. “I…” she said, “am not an animal!”

“I’m not saying you are,” Abby replied, struggling to keep her voice calm. “I’m just saying we’re all related.”

“I’m sorry,” Rob broke in. “I hate to interrupt, but we barely have time for lunch before the parents and the afternoon group will be arriving.”

In a few minutes everyone was eating sandwiches and seemed to have forgotten the major issue they had just been discussing. Kayla gave Abby a few thoughtful looks, but didn’t raise the subject again. When the parents arrived Rob took a few minutes on the side with Kayla’s mother. Abby was sure he was explaining the discussion of composting bodies.

I’ve been such a fool! She told herself. I really don’t know what I’m doing. I’m not ready for this job. Why can’t I just shut up?

As Abby prepared to leave, Tom approached her. “Don’t take it too hard. Children see squirrels decomposing on the road, they see their grandparents buried. And as for the human soul, you were right to leave that to the parents. Don’t take it too hard.”

She thanked him with deep emotion, but couldn’t rid herself of the feeling that she’d made a terrible mistake. Kayla – and who knows how many of us – are not ready for this subject. But why did I have to be the one to raise the issue? I’m sorry, Kayla!

Abby and Wendy - Episode 32

#pleasehelpus

As Abby rode home after lunch, she thanked her lucky stars for another beautiful morning. Such good chemistry, she told herself. Now, just one more good day, and then this outrageously interesting weekend! Oh, please help us! She begged her angel to guide her. 

Back at the church another crowd, even larger than the day before, awaited her at the gate. Once again Officer Harley, Sulay, Nico, and Phoebe were defending the churchyard. Abby decided to take things very casually. 

“Hi, everyone. Coming through. Just a little space please. I live here.”

“Where do you work?” asked a voice.

“Please,” Abby said. “Yesterday I promised to consider planning another interview. I took your cards. But anyone who bothers me at work will never speak to me again.” 

She noticed one reporter ask Sulay, “Are you employed by the Evansville Record?”

“Bill, lay off,” came a female voice. Abby recognized Zoe from the day before. “She’s just a kid.”

“Yeah, but she’s news.”

“Hi, Zoe,” Abby exclaimed. “Good to see you. Officer Harley, thanks so much for helping us! I’ll be coming through with these three.” She pushed Sulay, Nico, and Phoebe toward the gate. Meanwhile Abby whispered a few words in Zoe’s ear: “You and Barry wait a few minutes, I’ll be back.” On her way through the gate half a dozen business cards were thrust into her hand.

They walked over to the bench. Phoebe opened the discussion: “I don’t know if this is wonderful or terrible or what, but we’ve got to talk about it.”

Abby’s heart made a leap. Oh, no, just when things were going so well…please, make it okay…

“Sulay, Nico,” Phoebe looked at them with a serious face, “Tell her all about it.”

Sulay was looking at the ground. “I didn’t mean to create a problem. I’ll erase it all if you want.”

“I didn’t say it wasa problem,” returned Phoebe. “In fact, I said it might be wonderful. I just don’t know, and we’ve got to alert Abby.” Phoebe looked sad, downcast. “Sulay, I don’t mean to make you feel bad. If it is a problem, I’m the most to blame! You asked me, and I gave you permission to create the blog. I encouraged you and Nico. None of us expected this to happen.”

Sulay was still looking at the ground. “All right,” she muttered. “I understand. It’s a lot of pressure. I’ll tell Abby.”

Ithink it’s fabulous,” Nico cut in. “I’m happy to talk about it.” He looked Abby in the eyes. “It’s all about #pleasehelpus… It went viral. It’s all over the place. And Sulay’s dad is mad because all these people are trying to talk to Sulay, and Sara is mad because she’s afraid it will bring a rowdy crowd and disrupters to the demonstration. So, whether it’s great or terrible, it’s been bad for Sulay, and I don’t think that’s fair. Phoebe and Sara both gave her permission. Her father did about a million dollars worth of business this morning. I actually had the idea for the blog in the first place. Look, Abby! Sulay is not doing stuff all by herself! We’re all in on this.”

“That’s very true, Nico. Thank you.” Phoebe hugged him. “You say it much better than I do.” Nico smiled and his eyes glistened.

Gradually Abby got a clear run-through of the story. After Abby’s escape from Middletown in the hail storm, Sulay – with Nico’s help – created a blog called SULAY AND NICO’S NEWS FROM MIDDLETOWN. They published the photos and videos that were used by Sara for the Evansville Record, plus narratives and photos the Record did not publish, such as photos and recordings of the band.

Sara, Cali, the band, and hundreds of others started sharing the material all over various platforms. Sara’s political blog and STAFF UNITED – the official outlet for Students Against Fossil Fuels – shared and referred people to NEWS FROM MIDDLETOWN. Cali’s blog – THE THUNDER ROLLING BAND – shared and referred people to News From Middletown. A video of a recent Thunder Rolling concert in the Evansville student center had reached thousands. The college radio show included music and interviews from the band and became a podcast. After Sara’s interview with Abby spread through the River Valley, Sulay and Nico’s creation became a monster of a news outlet.

And then, Sulay’s video of Abby’s words with the crowd of journalists the day before went viral. The whole group of blogs as well as personal accounts on social media began using the tag #pleasehelpus. And members of the Evansville College student body began using it to invite people to the demonstration. Sara and Amy, however, were firm in criticizing the term ‘demonstration’, and pleaded with everyone to use the term ‘gathering’. They wanted to advertise the event as a group of student and faculty advisors gathering to make the trustees aware of opinion on campus. But now it looked like the event had gotten out of control.

Abby was experiencing mental bottleneck syndrome, too much information to process. The voice in her mind said, You’ve still got Zoe and Barry over there. Catch them before it’s too late!The message was urgent.

Abby jumped up and walked to the gate. “I need to speak to these two,” she told Officer Harley. Other journalists complained. She took more cards, promising to get back to them. Zoe and Barry entered, and followed Abby to the bench. No introductions were necessary.

“Can we go inside?” asked Zoe. I feel kind of exposed out here. Look, they’re taking our picture.”

“Right,” Abby replied. “Meet me at the door.” She speed walked around through the front door and opened the side door for the group. They made a circle of chairs in the basement meeting room. 

After a moment of silence, Abby turned to Zoe and Barry and said, “Please help us!” Everyone laughed. The tension all turned to laughter.

Barry, an older, gray-haired man in a wrinkled suit, was the first to recover. “Go ahead, tell us how we can help. And remember, we reach a large public. What are our marching orders?”

Abby, Phoebe, Sulay, and Nico came out with the whole story, or at least as much of it as they were comfortable telling. The two journalists asked questions, and then looked at each other and nodded. 

“Can I sum it up and see if you agree?” Zoe asked. Her voice was friendly. She seemed almost like a mentor or social worker. “That hashtag, #pleasehelpus… It has at least two meanings. You want help to make sure your Evansville trustees event doesn’t turn into a violent protest. You want the students to appear smart and reasonable. Barry and I think you have a good case to make, but you need a calm atmosphere to make it. Right?”

“Exactly,” answered Phoebe.

Zoe and Barry looked at each other again. Zoe nodded, and Barry said, “The second meaning is a little harder to explain, because you all seem to hiding something. Don’t protest. You probably have good reason for handling things the way you do. We get the impression that you have a very large agenda, with a lot of pieces to it. I finally got better understanding by seeing Abby’s interview. When she said that we need to save the world for the life to come, the five billion years for our children’s children’s children, it occurred to me that you are serious. You actually mean it, and expect to do something significant. Not just you, Abby, but all of you. I can see you’ve got quite a following. Now… just to make it short, I think on the one hand you need to keep your event calm and reasonable, but on the other hand you have an urgent message, and you believe we’re running out of time. So you need help in the sense that we all need help. This is a do or die moment for life as we know it. Please help us! Am I right?”

“You do your homework!” Phoebe exclaimed. “That’s it.”

 

 

Illustration By Carlos Uribe

Illustration By Carlos Uribe

Abby and Wendy - Episode 31

THE PLOT THICKENS

Illustration By Carlos Uribe

Illustration By Carlos Uribe

Rose was absent again at the pre-school the following day. Abby, Tom, and Rob helped the group move the play city and the forest to the sunny spot near the south windows. It was a lengthy task. The children expanded the city in the process, and added characters. Franklyn wanted a wizard to live in the forest. He also wondered if there were any bad guys there. Tiny reported that Emily, the daughter of the Good Fairy, had said there definitely were bad guys, but she wasn’t sure they were in the forest. Lucy said the bad guys always want to steal the treasure.

“Is there really a treasure?” asked Ned. “I’ve never seen it.”

“That doesn’t mean it isn’t there,” Lucy told him.

“This is our city,” Rob said. “It’s our story. Let me find a few more people you might want to live here.” He crossed the large room, rummaged in a wooden chest, and returned with a little metal wizard with a tall pointed hat, a cloak, a staff, and a clear glass crystal ball. Rob handed it to Franklyn, who stared at it in awe. “Look! The ball changes color!” And indeed, the transparent ball faintly shimmered with colors as it moved.

Rob opened his other hand and displayed a metal dragon with outstretched wings, standing on the edge of a treasure chest containing another glass ball, as well as tiny stones of different colors. The dragon may have been just landing, or just taking off. Rob handed it to Ned. The others gathered round to examine these delights.

Franklyn placed the wizard in the middle of the forest, and Ned moved the trees slightly to place the treasure there also. Jane wanted to know if the dragon was good or bad. The group disagreed on that subject. Tiny flew her witch into the forest and said that the witch was in charge of all of them.

Franklyn wasn’t sure, and asked her if the witch was good or bad.

“Good,” Tiny replied with confidence.

“Then who are the bad guys,” Franklyn wanted to know.

Rob again rummaged in the chest, and returned with an assortment of figures and set them out in a row. There were comic book heroes and villains, men in suits, a princess, and a hand carved figure of the Good Fairy, more than twice as tall as any other character.

“Do Robin Hood and his band live in the forest?” asked Ned.

“The Good Fairy says they do,” answered Tiny.

Rob took another trip to the wooden chest and returned with very small figures made of green felt with painted faces. Each wore the tell-tale green Robin Hood jacket and hat. And next to Robin Hood’s band Rob set out a series of gnomes clothed in brightly colored felt.

“Oooh!” said Kayla. “Can these be over here?” She placed the gnomes among the trees near her, and one next to her house. “This gnome is our guard,” she said.

“I know where the bad guys come from,” Lucy declared. “They come from town, and want to steal the treasure. Everyone needs to guard the treasure.”

This story developed for a whole hour. Rob found angels, more men in suits, and a policeman. Wonder Woman and Robin Hood’s band created a line of defense. Tiny placed the Good Fairy on a windowsill above the city, and made it clear that the Good Fairy was very aware of all happenings below, and could intervene whenever she wanted to. Jane insisted that there should be animals, including dogs, birds, cats, and raccoons.

“Can we have an owl?” asked Ned. Rob found a small, very beautiful gray owl with wide brown eyes. 

“I want to see the owl again!” Kayla burst out. “In the churchyard. Just like that one.”

“Can we go to the Secret Place?” Tiny asked, looking straight at Abby.

She hesitated, looked at Rob, and then replied, “It’s too far to go there today. But perhaps we can go outside and try to be very quiet and see animals.”

“Wonderful idea,” said Tom. “I know where woodchucks and raccoons live.”

The group’s enthusiasm reached a fever pitch. Rob found a pair of binoculars and promised each child a chance to see things far away. Tom led the group out to explore.

Abby and Wendy - Episode 30

ABBY, PHOEBE, SULAY AND NICO MAKE A PLAN

Illustration By Carlos Uribe

Illustration By Carlos Uribe

“I’ll be happy to take your business cards and get back to you,” Abby told the reporters. “But remember, we all want to be treated with respect, not viewed as devils. Please help us!”

Abby realized that Phoebe, Sulay, and Nico were kneeling around her, taking pictures. Sulay had her fancy video camera. The reporters continued to shout questions from the sidewalk, and Officer Harley tried to disperse the crowd. Two reporters insisted on their right to stand there, and Harley stayed at the gate.

Abby sat on the grass just in front of the bench, facing her three friends. They were now far enough from the street to speak softly and not be heard. “Go Abby!” said Sulay. “Nice job.”

“Yeah,” added Phoebe. “You might have won a few friends among that group. We need friends.”

“And we got good pictures too,” Nico said. “If any of them get nasty we know who they are.”

Abby looked over at the sidewalk thoughtfully. “I don’t think this crowd was nasty. They’re just trying to do their job. Our real enemies are not those people, and if they get aggressive it’s just pressure from their bosses. But I’m still concerned about stalkers, and maybe a reporter or two who wants a big scoop of some kind.”

“So how do we plan out this weekend?” asked Phoebe. “Stephanie told me I’m going with you!” She found it hard to keep her voice down. “What are the details?”

“I need the help of all three of you this Friday,” Abby said.

“I hope so,” returned Nico. “The last couple of days have been boring. What can we do?”

Abby took a quick look around and was satisfied that no one was nearby. “On Friday afternoon – 5pm to be exact – Phoebe and I need to meet a boat on the near side of the Half Moon just beyond Cemetery Bridge. We must not be photographed or bothered. We need a clean get-away.”

“Oh, I can’t wait,” said Phoebe, very pleased with this conversation.

“But your idea might be a little shaky,” Sulay told Abby.

“Let us help you,” added Phoebe. “What’s the plan so far?”

“It ispretty shaky. Sulay is right. I was thinking of going out the door between the church and the old school building to Old Stone Road, and crossing the street to Stable Lane. Part way down, almost opposite the back door of Sammy’s, there’s a gap between the buildings right across Marie Place. Then if you bend right there’s trees near the Main Street Bridge, and all along the River to Cemetery Bridge. The water is low, and Phoebe and I can walk under it to the far side.”

After some discussion they hammered out a strategy. At 4:50 Sulay would leave Sammy’s front door and walk up to the corner of Bridge Avenue and Old Stone Road. Nico would leave by the back door and wait at the alley near the back wall of the churchyard. If they spotted anything suspicious, either one could walk past the wrought iron door from Old Stone Road to the churchyard. Abby would be waiting there, and could be warned with a signal. A slight shake of the head would do. Meanwhile, Phoebe could stand on the back steps of the toy store and signal Abby if the coast was clear. If all went well Phoebe would follow Abby at a distance and warn her if they were followed. 

“The plan depends on timing,” Phoebe pointed out. “We don’t want Sulay, Nico, or me loitering around for twenty minutes looking nervous. At 4:50, Abby must step out onto Old Stone Road and cross immediately.”

Nico and Sulay looked at each other with raised eyebrows. “That’s right,” Sulay told him. “We have the same idea. If Abby is followed, we’ll go after the stalker and take pictures. They get scared when we take their pictures now. Some of those guys probably lost their stalker jobs once their faces got shared all over.”

Phoebe agreed. “It looks good to me. Nico?”

“We got it. Perfect. It’s like a plan for a free kick in soccer. Everyone moves in sync.”

“If I’m not there, Abby, just go. I can get a ride on Saturday morning.”

Abby hugged her, and slapped hands with Sulay and Nico. The group parted in high spirits. The sidewalk was clear.

Abby and Wendy

Episode 29
PLEASE HELP US!

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Illustration by Carlos Uribe
As Abby arrived on her bicycle a crowd was milling around the sidewalk in front of the churchyard gate. Police officer Harley and Phoebe, Sulay, and Nico were blocking the entrance. Abby was almost at the sidewalk when people recognized her. Microphones and questions immediately surrounded her. 
“Will you be giving the sermon in church tomorrow? Have the bishop and Reverend Tuck approved the views expressed in your interview? Why have you chosen the Evansville Record and journalist Sara Williams as your only contact in the media world?”
Abby kept her mouth shut, but suddenly she had an idea. “Sara is not my only contact,” she said. “Let me introduce Sulay and Nico. As you’ll notice, they’ve been taking photos as we stand here, and they may publish them in tomorrow’s news. So I suggest that we all treat each other with respect, since the public will see how we behave. I hope you haven’t been giving Officer Harley here a difficult time.”
“Okay so far,” said the easy-going policeman.
“Do you mean these kids?” asked a tall young reporter. “Did they take the video in the hailstorm? I’ll interview them.” Abby put her finger across her lips and Sulay and Nico remained silent, still taking pictures. Soon everyone was taking pictures of everyone else. Abby took advantage of the extra space to bring her bike up to the gate. Nico opened it, and she slipped through. Two reporters tried to follow, but Officer Harley blocked the way. Abby requested that Sulay, Phoebe, and Nico be allowed to follow her, and he let them pass.
One older, quiet reporter asked, “Can I have one question? I’m not your enemy, you know.” There was something in his voice that Abby found irresistible, and she turned back to listen. “I’m Barry Lipton, and this is Zoe Collins. We’re from the River City News.” They leaned on the fence to come closer to her. The cameras clicked.
“Okay, one question," Abby told him. "Thanks for being so polite.”
Zoe, a young woman in her mid-twenties, leaned over a bit more and said, “We’re really interested in what you’re doing, but we don’t understand it. Can you help us report this story accurately? I know some people take a negative attitude and twist events to look bad, but it won’t help you to avoid even sympathetic reporters.”
Abby came closer and said, “Right now I’m just trying to make a living, but it’s very hard under these circumstances. If everyone would be nicer I’d be happy to talk.”
“Please,” Zoe said, “take this opportunity to say whatever you like.”
“I’m not even twenty years old yet. I need to work to live. But I also want to have some influence in this world. I want to work with people to make things better. Let me ask you, does your world look dangerous, fragile, basically in a lot of trouble these days?”
“Yes, absolutely, we can’t agree more. But what kinds of things are you doing, what do you recommend?”
“I tried to begin talking about that in the Evansville Record interview. We want to help the church change with the time, involve young people, raise money, talk in an honest way about climate change. But these things are hard to do without dealing with the way we see the world, our purpose here, our attitudes toward the earth and the future and each other. Are the earth and our life here basically good? Is it our responsibility to pass on a bright future to the next generation? Do we care how we treat our home and the millions of life forms that live here too? Is the earth holy, sacred, or is everything sacred only somewhere else? Are we part of a larger purpose that we can understand and talk about? These questions have to be raised if we are to heal the terrible wounds and fears and destructive behavior in our world today. I know this sounds trite, maybe too obvious to be interesting…
“No, no,” Zoe replied. “It’s very interesting. Sara Williams promised her audience another interview with you. Could you allow Barry and I to be there and represent River City and the questions of our public?”
“I’d have to think about it. I’m not absolutely sure I’ll do another interview, but I’d be happy to take your card and get back to you.”
About a dozen hands suddenly reached out with cards, and Abby took them all. “I’ll do my best to set something up. My friends and I don’t mean to favor anyone, but you can understand, we’ve been through some very frightening experiences. We all want to be treated with respect, not viewed as devils. Please help us!”

Abby and Wendy

Episode 28
A FOREST FOR THE PLAY CITY

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Abby was up early and riding to work by 8AM. The streets were calm. No one bothered her. When she knocked Rob opened the door and smiled. “I’m so happy you’re here early,” he said. “I’d like to mention a few things before the others arrive. First, I’m afraid Rose is not feeling well, and will not be able to work today. I fact she’s been ill for a few days, and has gone to her aunt’s house to rest. Tom Winkle will work as a parent volunteer. He’s done that before. Lucy will stay for the whole day, and things should work out for everyone.”
“I’m sorry Rose is not well.”
“It happens to everyone at one time or another. But let me quickly go over a few things before the children are here. First, we owe you at least thirty dollars for the plants you brought yesterday. The activity was splendid, and has given us a whole new direction for our group.”
Abby clapped her hands and then felt embarrassed by her own happiness. “I really appreciate it,” she said, “but Alison gave them to me for free.” 
“Please thank Alison for us, but I insist you take the money. You’ve been doing too much for nothing. It’s on my conscience. And we do need you here.”
The thought flashed through Abby’s mind to ask Rob about Rose’s harsh words and warning to avoid publicity, as if Abby could control the media. But she was so bewildered by Rose’s behavior that she didn’t mention it.
“Thank you so much,” she finally replied. “I hardly know what to say.”
“Okay, then,” Robe said, “now here’s the plan for the morning. I was just making a picnic lunch when you arrived. We’re taking a little walk today. Tom will guide us to the baby trees we’re looking for. Peanut butter and jelly, lemon cukes, and apples will give us a nice picnic.”
The morning went along beautifully. Tom led them through the back yard and a long apple orchard to the tall maple trees near High Street. The children were glad to be outside, and were very curious about the idea of transplanting baby trees. Tom brought a wheelbarrow full of pots and three hand trowels. The children begged for rides, but Rob said “No.” He insisted that this was a serious quest for real trees, not a game.
The land rose to a small hill as they walked along. Soon a view of the wetland, the forest, and the cliffs opened up in the clear air. Along High Street enormous old maple trees lined the road, set back about twenty yards, and shading a wide area. Tom asked the group to sit as he explained the activity. The three grown-ups would work with two or three children each, and scout around for very small trees growing in the shade of the splendid maples. Abby had seen the baby trees already.
The children would each carry a small pot. When they found a tree of the right size the adult would thrust the hand trowel around the tree and loosen it up, and each child would grip the ball of earth and roots, and gently lift it into the pot. The trees were only a few months old, and the pots about six inches deep. The activity went very quickly. All the children were delighted to hold their own tree. Tom, Rob, and Abby also found trees, so the group had ten altogether. They sat in the shade and ate lunch. The view of the river was beautiful. Later on they watered the trees, and placed them in the sunlight near the south window. They planned to move the whole play city across the room to join the trees and the new plants rooting in the wet soil.
Abby rode back down Grove Avenue to Hobart in high spirits. She could hardly believe her good luck. But as she began to get a view of the church her heart sank. A crowd was milling around the sidewalk in front of the churchyard gate. She was about to turn around and hide somewhere, when she recognized Sulay, Nico, Phoebe, and Officer Harley among the people there. Clearly they were blocking entry to a group of reporters standing with cameras and sound equipment.
'Oh no,' thought Abby.

Abby and Wendy

Episode 27
I’M SO TIRED OF BEING SCARED

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Abby pulled herself together and invited Nancy to check out the plants. Rob announced that Abby would help the children make gardens and a forest to go with the play city. “Tell us, Abby,” he said. “How do we begin?” The children’s eyes all turned to her.
“Will it be okay if we all dig some soil and get our hands dirty?” she asked. 
A chorus of voices agreed. Abby noticed that Ned and Nancy were unsure, so she said no one had to dig if they didn’t want to. 
Carrying the trays for the plants they trooped out the back door to the mulch pile. The children gathered round as Abby pushed leaves aside and opened up a hole to the dark earth. Lucy pointed, yelling, “A worm! A centipede!”
“Let me see, let me see!” shouted others. 
“The soil animals don’t want us to touch them,” Abby said. “We only look at them and let them hide from us. They are good for the soil and good for plants.” 
They began scooping out handfuls of the rich deep brown earth and filling the trays. All seven children took a turn. Abby decided to hurry the process along, and asked Rob to bring the plants and a pair of scissors outside. He nodded and hurried back to the house. 
Abby asked for volunteers to bring the trays out onto the open grass. Six children raised their hands, and helped each other carry the three trays of soil. Ned followed along with Abby. 
“You don’t want to carry a tray?” she said very softly.
Ned turned to her. “I might spill. Then you’d be mad.”
“No, I won’t be mad. I promise.”
“The others think I’m stupid.” Ned’s voice was hopeless, as if his problems had been going on a long time.
“Everyone worries about that,” Abby told him. “Watch. One of them will spill, and I won’t be mad. No one is stupid. And no one is perfect all the time.”
As if on cue, a corner of a tray slipped out of Tiny’s hand, the flimsy plastic tray bent, and soil began spilling out onto the grass.
They met Rob on the open lawn. The plants looked glorious in the sun, now shining high in the cloudless sky. Birds were singing, and a warm breeze was blowing. Abby described the way the wandering jew and the philodendron grew in long chains divided into links by places where roots could grow. She made a few cuttings and passed them around. “See those tiny roots? If they are in wet soil, a new plant will grow.”
The rest of the morning ran smoothly. They left the trays outside, brushed off their clothes, and went inside to wash. Then they organized places for their gardens. Rob explained that the gardens were for the whole city. No one could own a tray for one house alone. They cleaned up most of the sand and leaves, rebuilt the houses, and went back outside to retrieve the trays. Rob congratulated them on their success. Abby played songs again until lunchtime.
As the children ate Rob took charge, and Rose signaled Abby to follow her into another room. ‘I’m so tired of being scared,’ she thought. ‘Every time one of these adults wants to talk to me alone, I go into a panic. I’m sick of it.’
Rose led her into a small living room with books and couches. “We have only a minute,” Rose told her. “I want to apologize. I shouldn’t have tried to bring up these issues this morning. That was my fault. It’s one of our primary rules not to discuss disagreements with parents or children present.”
Abby tried to feel sympathetic, but she felt no warmth in Rose’s apology. In fact, Rose seemed nervous, even frightened. Abby wondered why, and was unable to speak.
“That being said,” Rose went on, “I want to make it clear that Rob and I will take the lead on planning, purchasing materials, and dealing with any behavior problems.”
“Yes, I hear you, I certainly won’t do that again.” Abby could hardly get the words out.
Then Rose frowned and looked off into space. “And… I must tell you that there were more articles about you in the newspaper yesterday. I must request that you put a stop to this… bad publicity. It may cause problems for the school.” Rose could not look Abby in the eyes.
‘She can’t really believe I control the newpapers!’ thought Abby.
Rose stood up. “Unless you have any questions, we should be getting back to the group.”
In the kitchen Tom Winkle had joined Rob and the children. “I know just the spot!” Tom was saying. “Tomorrow will be another clear day, and I’ve got a wheelbarrow and plastic pots by the hundred.”
“Fabulous…” Rob was obviously thrilled. “It looks like we’ve got our forest!”

Abby and Wendy

Episode 26
CONFUSION AT THE PRE-SCHOOL

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Illustration by Carlos Uribe
Abby lay in bed thinking about the pre-school and the possible activities for tomorrow. In her opinion, the “building a city” activity had reached a confusing stage. A pretend flood had damaged the city. Sand, representing snow, was all over the place. Crumpled dried out leaves were scattered around. Kayla wanted a garden, and Franklyn wanted a forest. How could they proceed? The only idea that flashed through Abby’s mind was to make cuttings from indoor plants and root them in water or damp, loose soil. Perhaps a tray of small plants could serve as a garden of the decorative sort. Eventually the children could pot them and take them home, or let them grow in the sunny windows all winter.
As she lay there tossing and turning, she imagined digging up a few baby oak and maple saplings, and putting them in pots. These baby trees rarely get the sun and root space to grow tall under the massive oaks and maples, but that doesn’t prevent them from trying. Abby and the children could find a few of these very small but valiant trees, maybe just four or six inches high, and grow them as a forest next to the play city. Maybe Rose and Rob would see the educational value, and Abby would be respected. 
But there were two problems. She would have to buy and bring the indoor plants first thing in the morning. And Rose and Rob had not had the chance to weigh in on these ideas. ‘But if they don’t like the plan,’ Abby told herself, ‘we can just set the plants aside, and use them another time, or I’ll take them home. Nothing is lost.’
By 7:30 Abby was riding her bike to the garden center. She felt foolish. Why not wait a day and talk to Rose and Rob? But Abby didn’t feel good about continuing the “building a city” activity without a new twist to provide a clear direction. She foresaw chaos and irritation if they just continued with the city invaded by the blanket representing the river, covered with sand and leaves, and the children wanting to race their cars around broken houses. Abby had seen no sign that Rob had a solution to the problem.
Alison answered the door at the garden center, and was very willing to help. “We have what you need,” she said. “Your pick of several full, radiant hanging plants in the greenhouse. I recommend a philodendron and a wandering jew. And you’ll need some trays to plant the cuttings.” Alison could not tolerate the idea of Abby carrying the plants and trays on her bike, and insisted on driving her to the pre-school in the garden center van.
Abby made quite an entrance into the large children’s playroom, carrying a plant in each hand. The long, angular chains of leaves hung almost to the floor. Only Kayla and Ned had arrived so far. Abby cheerfully said hello and set the plants down carefully near the big windows at the side of the room. She quickly ran back to the doorstep and picked up the trays, each one filled with twenty-four squares designed to hold individual cuttings, and returned to the group. Kayla and Ned were touching the new plants, feasting their eyes on these fascinating new living things. 
Rose was waiting for Abby, and stood in front of her as she entered the room. “What’s this for, Abby?” Rose didn’t look too happy. 
“Umm… well…” Abby replied slowly, thinking fast to defend herself. “We were playing “building a city” and Kayla wanted a garden and Franklyn wanted a forest. So I remembered that we had discussed planting and gardening activities when I was interviewed."
“I see.” Rose was still frowning. “Please remember that we don’t like surprises. Ask permission for these ideas in the future.”
Abby felt like grabbing her plants and departing. She struggled to control herself. Suddenly Ned said, “Would it be okay if we make a garden?” The children had been listening to the conversation. Rob stood behind them, looking carefully at Rose. Abby remained silent, looking back and forth between her two bosses. Rob shrugged and opened his hands, as if to say, ‘Well? Are you going to give Ned an answer?” Abby instantly knew her bosses were in conflict. She saw an opportunity to change the dynamic, and looking Rose in the eye, apologized. “I’m sorry, I should have spoken to you. I’m sure it’s hard to understand the activity without seeing it yesterday.”
Rose didn’t like that statement either. She flashed an angry look at Rob, and he ignored her, saying, “Yes, Ned, we will certainly make a garden, and a forest too. Abby’s our activity specialist. Let’s see what plan she has in mind.”

Abby and Wendy

Episode 25
A WARNING FROM REVEREND TUCK

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Illustration by Carlos Uribe
The leaves and sticks the children had collected made quite a mess on the playroom floor. Nancy began crumpling the leaves into small pieces and raining them down on the city of blocks. Ned asked if he could have a fireplace. When Rob agreed Ned collected a pile of sticks inside his house. Lucy decided that the sand was actually snow, and tossed it over the city until Rob asked if she wanted to start sweeping. Franklyn scowled at her for throwing sand on his house, and stood up. “It’s starting to rain!” he told them. “The river is starting to flood!” He wiggled the blue blanket representing the river so that it spread out, covering some streets and vehicles, and knocking over blocks. “We have to save the city!” shouted Jane, and pushed the blanket back.
Abby felt that they needed a change, and asked Rob if the group might like a song. He immediately agreed, and they sang every children’s song Abby knew until Rose announced soup and sandwiches were ready in the kitchen. Soon the parents began to arrive, and Abby rode off on her bike, wondering how the children’s activity might be improved tomorrow. The problem definitely needed some thought.
After picking the vegetables finally ripening in the church garden, Abby cooked a vegetable stew and wondered when her child-care papers might be approved by the state so that she could start getting paid. The sun was scorching. She stayed inside worrying until the day began to cool, and then she spent a couple of hours watering everything growing in the churchyard. The unusually dry weather was causing the leaves to fall early. Patches of grass were dry and brown.
Twilight was turning to dark as she finished her work. A full moon was rising, an enormous golden globe shining down.
“Ah, Abby, I’m glad to catch you for a moment.” It was Reverend Tuck gliding toward her, a shadowy presence in his dark clothes. “It’s a lovely moon,” he said. “And the yard is doing beautifully.” 
Abby knew something was on Tuck’s mind. “How’s the job at the pre-school?” he asked. 
“Well, it’s not really a job yet. I’m volunteering until the state approves my papers.”
“I thought so,” Tuck replied. “Please allow me to lend you this fifty dollars here.” He folded the bills into her hand. “I won’t take “no” for an answer. Just keep volunteering. It’s the best thing for you right now.”
“Oh! Thank you! But… why do you say, ‘right now’? Is something about to happen?”
“It’s this media attention,” Tuck replied. “I’d like to shield you from it as much as possible. If you’re working all the time you’ll stay out of trouble.”
“What kind of trouble do you expect?” Abby was forcing Tuck to come to the point.
“I told you this would happen,” Tuck said. “Many of the newspapers have been making your disappearance from the coffee shop into a shocking story. Remember how mad those journalists were? They’ve discovered that mysterious disappearances are popular. On television they’re interviewing people who swear you vanished. Those who are trying to push us out of this church and out of Middletown… they like to frighten people by making them believe that you are somehow supernatural, have some sort of magic. And our friends are interested in this sort of talk as well. So there’s a big audience for these stories, and I want you to stay away from it.”
“You and I both!” cried Abby.
“Okay then, listen carefully.” Tuck was whispering. “You simply must stay away from those underground tunnels. I’ll say it once and never mention it again. You risk arousing speculation about things that should be left alone. And it’s only going to get worse when that video of your interview with Sara comes out. You’ll have reporters and stalkers of all kinds. You’ll have to find ways of avoiding them. The best answer is to be working most of the time, and unavailable the rest. You hear me?”
Abby nodded. “I was thinking of being invisible this weekend. I’ll be gone from late Friday through Sunday evening.”
“That will start rumors of your disappearance again,” said Tuck, shaking his head.
“But I’m damned if I do and damned if I don’t! Staying here sounds awful. The bishop will preach some sort of follow-up to my video interview, and there will be a mob around the church. Let them argue with the bishop, or you.”
“You have a point. It might work if you leave quietly, with no incident, no story. Maybe the talk will die down.”
“I’m trying to be normal,” Abby said. “Normal people go away for the weekend sometimes.”
Tuck smiled. “Good… it’s a beautiful night. Take care.”
“And Reverend Tuck… thanks for the fifty dollars. I really need it.”
To her surprise he held out a fist, and she met it with her own.

Abby and Wendy

Episode 24
AT THE PRE-SCHOOL

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Episode 23
AT THE PRE-SCHOOL
Illustration by Carlos Uribe
The following day was warm, with bright sunshine that made the temperature rise as the morning went on. Abby was up and out by eight o’clock, riding her bike to the Tod farmhouse to begin work at the pre-school. She was well aware that her status was unchanged. She was still a volunteer activity specialist, and could have arrived an hour later. But inside her heart she had become desperate, clinging to the possibility of this job as an anchor for her crazy life, something to keep her feet on the ground and give her a daily routine – and a paycheck – doing something she believed in.
Rose answered the door, gave her a big smile, and said, “What a surprise! Come in and help us prepare. By the way, this is a good week for you to get started. We treat it as the last week of the summer, like a vacation for the children, doing all fun things. Next week will be more like school.”
In the big playroom Rob was on the floor organizing piles of blocks and small toys. Despite having seen the room before, Abby was amazed by the variety of things all around her, from plants in the large east and south windows, to a guitar, a doll’s house, stuffed animals, small furniture, shelves with books and art materials, and countless small toys. Rob was picking out items from a scattered mess and arranging them in groups.
“Come, Abby, join in. You’ll help us get this activity going. We’re going to start ‘building a city’ again. You’ll catch on quick.”
It was obvious that each item had an area according to type. Abby began on the small figures, setting up potato heads, potato puffs, small dolls, action figures, soldiers, policemen, babies, movie and cartoon characters, a witch, an old man, mythological characters that might have been Artemis with a bow and arrows and Venus in a robe. In twenty minutes she organized perhaps fifty characters, including carvings by Phoebe’s father. Soon the toys formed a large circle on the wooden floor.
Kayla and her mother Ellen were the first to arrive. 
“Look, Abby’s here!” Kayla exclaimed, her high, thin voice full of surprise.
“You look great!” returned Abby. Yet she could see the changes, possibly due to Kayla’s bout with a high fever, or perhaps from her mother’s fear over the harassment related to the election for trustee. The thin, dark-haired girl seemed pale and anxious, as if afraid that this secure and loving world could vanish at any moment.
“I know we’re early,” Ellen told them, “but Kayla’s been up since dawn waiting to come.”
“She’ll help us get ready to build a city,” Rob said.
“Building a city, building a city…” murmured Kayla, and went down on her knees to inspect the toys. Ellen and Rose moved off to the side and conversed in low voices. Abby was sure Ellen wanted news of the Sunday service, the bishop’s sermon, and people’s reaction to the news. “Good move,” Rose told her. “Let everyone cope with it. You’re doing the right thing.”
The siblings, Jane and Franklyn, arrived together. “Whose turn is it?” Franklyn asked. “Can I go next?”
“We haven’t started,” Rob replied. “We’re still setting up. Wait ‘till everyone’s here.”
Jane asked Kayla about the flu. Rose anxiously pointed out that it hadn’t been the flu after all, just a 24-hour virus. Franklyn kept staring at Abby. His straight black hair was growing long, and he pushed it back behind his ears. Abby waved to him across the circle. The front door opened and shut, and Ned timidly approached the group. He sat next to Franklyn, and stared at Abby too. She waved again, unsure how to handle their attention.
“How did you get away?” Franklyn asked her. “Does your bike fly?”
“I don’t think so,” Abby said gently. “It might feel that way sometimes.”
“The grown-ups were talking about the picture on the phone, and whether the bike wheels were on the ground or not. I’ve been thinking about it all week.”
“Everyone was afraid,” added Ned in a voice so soft he could hardly be heard.
They were interrupted by Tiny and Lucy, who charged toward the group asking questions on the way. “Have you started yet? It looks like you started without us! When do we go?”
Abby realized that Rose was still talking to Ellen, and the parents must be opening the front door to drop their children off. The last to appear was Nancy. She stood timidly until Abby called her to take an open space by her side.
“We missed you and Kayla,” Nancy said. “Everyone was upset, for days!”
“But I’m okay, nothing to worry about.” Abby felt the children’s attention zooming around the group as they tried to be noticed or retreated in fear or lack of confidence.
‘I’m only a beginner at this,’ thought Abby. ‘Mistakes are easy, doing the right thing is hard.’

Abby and Wendy

Episode 23

AT THE PRE-SCHOOL
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Illustration by Carlos Uribe
The following day was warm, with bright sunshine that made the temperature rise as the morning went on. Abby was up and out by eight o’clock, riding her bike to the Tod farmhouse to begin work at the pre-school. She was well aware that her status was unchanged. She was still a volunteer activity specialist, and could have arrived an hour later. But inside her heart she had become desperate, clinging to the possibility of this job as an anchor for her crazy life, something to keep her feet on the ground and give her a daily routine – and a paycheck – doing something she believed in.
Rose answered the door, gave her a big smile, and said, “What a surprise! Come in and help us prepare. By the way, this is a good week for you to get started. We treat it as the last week of the summer, like a vacation for the children, doing all fun things. Next week will be more like school.”
In the big playroom Rob was on the floor organizing piles of blocks and small toys. Despite having seen the room before, Abby was amazed by the variety of things all around her, from plants in the large east and south windows, to a guitar, a doll’s house, stuffed animals, small furniture, shelves with books and art materials, and countless small toys. Rob was picking out items from a scattered mess and arranging them in groups.
“Come, Abby, join in. You’ll help us get this activity going. We’re going to start ‘building a city’ again. You’ll catch on quick.”
It was obvious that each item had an area according to type. Abby began on the small figures, setting up potato heads, potato puffs, small dolls, action figures, soldiers, policemen, babies, movie and cartoon characters, a witch, an old man, mythological characters that might have been Artemis with a bow and arrows and Venus in a robe. In twenty minutes she organized perhaps fifty characters, including carvings by Phoebe’s father. Soon the toys formed a large circle on the wooden floor.
Kayla and her mother Ellen were the first to arrive. 
“Look, Abby’s here!” Kayla exclaimed, her high, thin voice full of surprise.
“You look great!” returned Abby. Yet she could see the changes, possibly due to Kayla’s bout with a high fever, or perhaps from her mother’s fear over the harassment related to the election for trustee. The thin, dark-haired girl seemed pale and anxious, as if afraid that this secure and loving world could vanish at any moment.
“I know we’re early,” Ellen told them, “but Kayla’s been up since dawn waiting to come.”
“She’ll help us get ready to build a city,” Rob said.
“Building a city, building a city…” murmured Kayla, and went down on her knees to inspect the toys. Ellen and Rose moved off to the side and conversed in low voices. Abby was sure Ellen wanted news of the Sunday service, the bishop’s sermon, and people’s reaction to the news. “Good move,” Rose told her. “Let everyone cope with it. You’re doing the right thing.”
The siblings, Jane and Franklyn, arrived together. “Whose turn is it?” Franklyn asked. “Can I go next?”
“We haven’t started,” Rob replied. “We’re still setting up. Wait ‘till everyone’s here.”
Jane asked Kayla about the flu. Rose anxiously pointed out that it hadn’t been the flu after all, just a 24-hour virus. Franklyn kept staring at Abby. His straight black hair was growing long, and he pushed it back behind his ears. Abby waved to him across the circle. The front door opened and shut, and Ned timidly approached the group. He sat next to Franklyn, and stared at Abby too. She waved again, unsure how to handle their attention.
“How did you get away?” Franklyn asked her. “Does your bike fly?”
“I don’t think so,” Abby said gently. “It might feel that way sometimes.”
“The grown-ups were talking about the picture on the phone, and whether the bike wheels were on the ground or not. I’ve been thinking about it all week.”
“Everyone was afraid,” added Ned in a voice so soft he could hardly be heard.
They were interrupted by Tiny and Lucy, who charged toward the group asking questions on the way. “Have you started yet? It looks like you started without us! When do we go?”
Abby realized that Rose was still talking to Ellen, and the parents must be opening the front door to drop their children off. The last to appear was Nancy. She stood timidly until Abby called her to take an open space by her side.
“We missed you and Kayla,” Nancy said. “Everyone was upset, for days!”
“But I’m okay, nothing to worry about.” Abby felt the children’s attention zooming around the group as they tried to be noticed or retreated in fear or lack of confidence.
‘I’m only a beginner at this,’ thought Abby. ‘Mistakes are easy, doing the right thing is hard.’

Abby and Wendy

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Episode 22
TRYING TO BE NORMAL
That night Abby had trouble falling asleep. She was struggling to understand Wendy’s advice. “Just be normal,” Wendy had said. 
‘But what does that mean,’ Abby wondered. ‘How can I do that? What is normal these days? How can I even show up at tomorrow’s church service after that crazy fiasco over the election for trustee?’
But the following morning Abby forced herself to attend, and found Police Chief Santiago at one door and Officer Harley at the other, and a large but quiet and well-behaved crowd inside. Interviews and video cameras had been banned from the sanctuary. And most wonderful of all, Abby found herself surrounded by friends, seated on both sides and directly behind her. It was a relief to feel safe.
Of course the crowd was waiting to find out who won the election, and expected the bishop to make an announcement as soon as he was introduced. But his words disappointed almost everyone: “Nobody will learn who won today. Because nobody won.” He went on to explain that one candidate had withdrawn due to receiving threats. “The spiritual community functions by agreements,” he said. “But our congregation cannot agree on how to live as one community. Therefore we will struggle forward with only six trustees who are often divided. I believe we can all use a good lesson in how to live together.”
When the service came to a close Abby and her friends rose as a group. They hugged each other and spoke softly. A few others joined them with greetings and expressions of joy that Abby had safely returned. She was overwhelmed by this reception, and was close to tears of happiness. Not since childhood had she felt such a warm response from a group of people. Sara maneuvered through the crowd up to Abby’s ear, and said, “Come to Tuck’s office in twenty minutes. Important meeting.”
Abby nodded. ‘Oh my,’ she thought. ‘It’s about that interview. If they don’t like it, let them make it disappear. I can see why Wendy wants me to be normal. She means low profile. That will do for me.”
Back in the cottage she lay in bed and looked at the ceiling. She felt weak and dizzy, and began to dream. She was in a boat zooming down the Half Moon River, carried along by the flood as if she were on a rollercoaster flying through the sky.
Suddenly with a jerk she sat up. ‘I’m late!’ She ran to the front door of the church. Janet turned from her computer and said, “Hurry along, dear. They’re all in Reverend Tuck’s office.”
The door was a few inches open, and Abby peeked into the room. “There you are,” said Tuck. "Just in time. Please join us.” Sara, Freddy Baez, the bishop, and Tuck were seated around the long table. A television screen was set up at one end. 
“You know Freddy Baez, don’t you, Abby?” asked Tuck. Her mind was a blank.
“Of course,” Freddy replied. “We met after the concert at the coffee shop. Here, Abby, take this chair next to me.” Abby waved to Sara, as if to say, ‘What gives?’ Sara smiled and shrugged. ‘She’s not sure,’ thought Abby.
The bishop was the first to speak. “Let me thank you all for being here. I’m grateful and eager to get started. We must decide the future of Sara’s recent interview with Abby. Since everything is controversial these days, and the interview was recorded on church grounds, many will see Abby as speaking for Tuck and myself.” 
‘Look at his face,’ thought Abby. ‘His eyes are shining like stars.’
“Now of course,” the bishop continued, “the interview is important to Freddy as a newspaper editor, and to Sara as a friend and colleague of all of us. And it’s hard to overestimate the burden carried by Reverend Tuck, whose position here is controversial to say the least. So… I suggest we take a look at this video and talk it over.”
Everyone nodded. “Let me mention,” Freddy said, “that we have not edited out a single word of this interview. We would like to publish it as is.”
Tuck turned off the lights, and the group watched in silence. 
Afterwards, the bishop said, “Well? We know Freddy’s opinion. How about the rest of you?”
“I can’t help but notice,” Sara replied, “that you haven’t mentioned Abby yet.”
Abby was looking down at the table. The group turned to her and waited. She finally raised her head and said, “I’m sorry to cause such trouble to all you busy people. I knew I had to talk to a reporter at some point, and I really didn’t want to bring other people into the picture, so I handled it the way you see. But I realize that I’ve put all of you to a great deal of trouble. I won’t mind if we just erase the video and forget about it.”
“I appreciate that,” returned the bishop. “But for the sake of argument, let’s assume that we all want to publish it. What would you personally want to do?”
“I definitely want to publish it,” said Tuck. “It’s either that or retire early.”
“If Abby agrees, then I agree,” added Sara.
“I’m worried about Abby,” the bishop spoke softly. “Personally, I’m in favor of the video, but why should she carry the burden?”
“But all of you are not helping me decide!” Abby was almost shouting. “I ask you: Will it do good or bad? Will it help our world or harm it? I think I deserve an answer.”
“None of us can know for sure,” replied the bishop gently. “But it’s clear that we agree that it needs to be said. We will stand with you to the best of our ability.”

Abby and Wendy

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Episode 21
SARA INTERVIEWS ABBY, PART 2
“Children often know,” Abby said, “that the adults are making terrible mistakes. A child asked me the other day, ‘Will there be a war?’ A war could end it all. Children know that when we’re talking about war or climate change, we’re talking about their future, and whether they will have a future.”
“So,” asked Sara, “what have you, your friends, Reverend Tuck, done about this?”
“Well… one important thing is to take a close look at the gender problem. It affects not only our day to day relationships and social order, but also our beliefs, our view of the universe. It is important to remember that the earth is usually thought of as female, as Mother Earth.” Abby drank some water. She had found something to say, and decided to let it all out.
“In most communities and nations, the earth is not considered holy. People may argue the point, and of course there are significant exceptions, but actions speak louder than words. Let’s take a close look at the way we treat Mother Earth, and all the life that lives through her nourishment and protection. It’s not a pretty sight. Perhaps most people do not believe, or do not care, that it is a sin for us to destroy the future of life as we know it. It is also quite possible that a majority of people do care, but are powerless to act, because the wealthy who control the economy and the policy decisions are not willing to allow change. That is a remarkable fact when you think about it. And it doesn’t have to be that way. From a spiritual point of view -- as Reverend Tuck has pointed out – we see the earth declared good and holy in many scriptures. In the Bible we even have a holy female in heaven caring about the earth, but we never mention her.”
“I’m afraid,” Sara was struggling with this conversation, “I’m afraid many of us are not familiar with what you’re referring to.”
“In the Book of Proverbs, Wisdom, often called Sophia, is definitely a female, and is presented as a spirit calling on humans to care for life on earth and its future. Let me see if I can remember the exact words. It goes something like this.”
Abby stood up and raised her voice: “Wisdom is calling out as she stands by the crossroads and on every hill. She stands by the city gate where everyone enters, and she shouts: ‘I am calling out to each one of you!’”
Abby paused, and then said, “I should tell you how Wisdom introduces herself. She describes her history and motivations. ‘I was there,’ she says, ‘when the Lord put the heavens in place. I was there when he laid the foundations to support the earth. I was right beside the Lord, helping him plan and build. I made him happy each day and I was pleased with his world and pleased with its people.’”
Abby took a deep breath. “Do you see? The heavens and the earth are both holy. The Father in Heaven and Mother Earth are a part of one holy creation. And Wisdom or Sophia is a female doing all she can to make life on earth prosper… Do you see? This is family history, the divine family history. And later on the Bible says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent his son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.’ Do you see? The world is holy, is loved by God. Mother Earth is sacred.”
Abby looked at the camera and raised her voice. “There are four or five billion years for our children and all life to explore and evolve and grow up to care for our world. This is a way we can look at the universe. Our modern society has lost its way, has taken devastating wrong turns. Our spiritual traditions need to help with the rescue. Young people want to know: what kind of world are they inheriting? Are we destroying the world God has given us? Or can we grow up to our responsibility to pass along God’s gift to the life of the future?”
Abby stopped and looked at Sara. “I want to thank you and all your readers and listeners for the chance to speak.”
Sara looked at the camera and declared, “Ladies and gentlemen, all of you out there watching and listening to us, let me thank Abby Chapman for giving us her time and thoughts today. And let me announce that we will continue this story. It has just begun. Thank you for listening, reading, or watching us. We hope to see you soon.”

Sara and Abby looked at each other in shock. Neither one had expected the interview to go in this direction, and they had no idea if it would please anyone. Abby in particular was pessimistic. “I know that was… well, maybe something your boss will reject. I understand if he decides to keep it on the shelf.”
But Sara was not so sure. “Freddy might publish it. I think it’s well worth saying.”
“I hope so,” Abby replied.

Abby and Wendy

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Episode 20
SARA INTERVIEWS ABBY, PART I
Abby spent over an hour cleaning her cottage and organizing her things. ‘In these circumstances,’ she thought, ‘I’m glad to have very few things.’ She cleaned her sneakers and put on her light gray long sleeved button down shirt. Her black jeans didn’t reveal dirt. Then she brushed and combed her hair. Soon she was waiting in the meeting room for her guests. Her heart was beating uncomfortably fast. ‘How am I going to avoid saying anything about Wendy, and the forest, and my childhood, and dreamstone? Sara will want to know things I cannot discuss.’ Abby could not see a way through these problems.
Sara and three companions, carrying their equipment, made plenty of noise tromping down the stairs. “Ah, thanks for having us!” greeted Sara, overflowing with excitement and enthusiasm. She introduced her sound and camera people. They stood like soldiers waiting for orders. “We’ll set up anywhere you like,” Sara offered. 
“We’ll cross the yard and do the interview in the cottage,” Abby said.
“Oh, how nice of you!” Sara replied. “A great idea. But I must say, those poor journalists outside the gate are eaten up with jealously. But what can we do except keep out of their way?” As they crossed the yard they heard angry calls from the sidewalk. They avoided even a glance at the street, and squeezed into Abby’s tiny combination living room, kitchen, and bedroom. ‘It feels so small,’ Abby thought. ‘This is ridiculous.’ But they set up the equipment, tested the lighting and sound, and Sara began the interview.
“Today we have the good fortune to interview Abby Chapman in her cottage on the grounds of the Middletown United Church. Many of you have been following this story, and know the incidents and unusual conflicts that have received attention in the public eye. Today Abby invited us here to present her own thoughts on these recent events. Abby, thank you very much for the invitation.”
“It’s my pleasure, Sara. I’m glad to be able to talk about the questions people may have.”
“We understand that you just returned to the church yesterday. Many of our readers saw the photos of you fleeing down Bridge Avenue in a hailstorm last Sunday. Can you tell us why you escaped from town and hid over these last five days?”
“I’ll just say straight out that I was scared, frightened for my life. Some of you might remember that I was interviewed at the gate of this churchyard about four weeks ago, after I was attacked by a mob with burning branches just outside the forest. And I’ve been followed by private investigators over the past few weeks. I’m not ashamed to admit that this has been an agonizing experience.”
“Thank you for being so frank with us!” Sara exclaimed. “Perhaps you can shed light on why these incidents occurred. The public wonders what this violence is all about, and why it is aimed at you, and how it relates to this church.”
Abby struggled to find a reply. Finally she said, “Both of these events happened during strange, life-threatening storms, the kind we rarely see. The first storm led to dangerous flooding all along the river valley, as well as traffic accidents that made transportation impossible. The second storm occurred during the vote for trustee here at the church, and made it very difficult for anyone to leave. People could not go home. It’s understandable that these situations could cause fear and anger.”
“Yes,” agreed Sara. “Very understandable. But why was the violence was aimed at you?” Abby again struggled to reply. “I think there are a few reasons. I’m not sure I can explain them very well, and I don’t mean to say I’m certain of anyone’s motivations, but I will offer some possibilities. It was…oh, at least eight weeks ago that our church trustees submitted a proposal about climate change to the congregation for a vote. It was approved, but had no real consequences except to bring the conflict out in the open. The proposal declared the destruction of species and our environment to be a sin, and made support for the diversity of life and the health of our planet a special mission for our congregation. I was very moved by Reverend Tuck’s sermon on the subject, as were many of my friends. We wanted to find a way to make this mission real, actually do something, show that it matters. But we could see that the congregation – and indeed our whole country – is divided over this crisis. Our civilization has built up wealth and power through fossil fuel technology, and now we will have to do without it, or destroy ourselves. We are all a part of the problem, and bear responsibility. Fossil fuels are used in almost everything we do: heating our homes, driving cars, using plastics and fertilizers. It just goes on and on. And all those who have amassed fortunes and power through these fuels may have reasons to attack those who try to bring on change.”
“But how is this an issue for the church?” Sara asked.
“It’s all about children and the future," Abby said. "Is the earth basically a good gift of God or not? Apparently the sun will support life on earth for maybe four or five billion more years. I did the math. That’s maybe a hundred thousand times longer than humans have existed so far. Should we call supporting and preserving this future a sacred responsibility? Is it something we need to take seriously?”
(This interview will be continued next week.)