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.)

Abby and Wendy

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Episode 18
A CRAZY SERIES OF EVENTS
Illustration by Carlos Uribe
Abby awoke to another hot and sunny day. Her blue jays were fussing outside the back window near the pyramid of woodchips and shredded leaves created by Chi Chi and Jeremy. She opened the window and threw them some pecans remaining from the bags of vegetables that she and Jeremy had gathered in their ill-fated trip to the forest. The blue jays swooped and squabbled, flashing their sky blue feathers with striking beauty.
After eating an apple and drinking a lemon cuke, Abby checked her timer. Almost nine o’clock. She had promised Stephanie that she would meet her about that time at Sammy’s. A cup of Sammy’s coffee was just what she wanted. And Abby felt that she needed to get back in touch with Stephanie, a very talented person whom she had hardly seen over the past few weeks. Abby had thought of a plan for Stephanie that would solve a number of problems.
Looking out the window over the sink as she drank a glass of water, Abby saw a group of people bunched around the churchyard gate. A WBCS television van was double parked behind them. ‘Oh no,’ she thought. ‘I was hoping to get through the day before seeing them. I simply must get my interview with Sara done before I face them. Maybe I can slip out the back.’
She threw on her clothes, and pocketed the key to the back door through the churchyard wall. Soon she was out the window with the blue jays, and threaded her way behind the apple trees to the wild area. After listening for a minute and hearing nothing alarming, she silently crept down to the door and stood with her back against the wall. She heard voices coming through the black bars.
“So how long should we stay?” asked a young man’s voice.
“They’ll text us if she comes out the front,” said an older man.
“Somehow I doubt she’ll talk to us.”
“I know, but they say a photo of her sneaking out the back would be worth an interview.”
“Right, I see. But they say she can appear and disappear.”
“You don’t believe that stuff, do you? It’s just one of the fantasies that people have. You know, stories about celebrities and famous people. It’s like a movie.”
“I don’t know. It seems more like real life to me.”
Abby was fascinated, but tore herself away and silently glided back up the path. As she approached her cottage she saw Tuck knocking her door. Staying out of the view from Bridge Avenue, she waved for him to meet her at the side of the cottage near the tool shed. 
“Ah, there you are,” said Tuck in a low voice. “I was going to warn you to stay out of sight.”
“They’re at the back door too,” Abby replied. “And I need to go to Sammy’s for an hour.”
“I don’t see how you’re going to do that,” Tuck told her. “Not unless you want to face that crew and get your photo all over.”
“I have my interview with Sara around one. I’ll face them afterward, and tell them one interview is enough. I’m finished.”
“So just stay inside now,” Tuck advised her.
“I have an idea. Give me the key to the side door to Old Stone Road.”
“Okay, but I don’t think it’s a good idea.” They walked to the side door of the church with photographers taking pictures from outside the gate. He gave her the key. Abby slipped out the side door and crept along the edge of the church and then along the alleyway between the buildings to the door to Old Stone Road. She turned the key and stepped out. Without a glance over to Bridge Avenue she quickly crossed the street to Stable Lane. She heard a yell behind her, but didn’t stop until she was inside the back door to Sammy’s Coffee Shop.
‘Whew,’ she thought. “Everything has to be a major production.’ She took a seat at an empty booth. Stephanie soon joined her, looking anxious. “I need to talk to you about something,” she said.
Just then a couple of photographers approached the table, taking shots and holding out a microphone. “Abby Chapman?” said the man with the mike. “Can we have a moment of your time? The public would like to know what happened in the church last week, and why you fled through the hailstorm during the election for trustee.”
Abby replied, “I think the photos that have been published answer those questions already, so can I have a few minutes to drink my morning coffee?”
Sammy squeezed in near Abby as she spoke, blocked the view of the photographers, and put his own face in front of the microphone. “I’m sorry,” he said. “Abby is here as our customer, and she has the right to eat in peace. I’ll ask you to wait outside.” They did not move, or react in any way. “Please,” Sammy continued, “go ahead and take my picture and record my voice. I stand on my right to protect this young lady from harassment. I think your public will agree with me.”
An older man in a suit waved to the others. They backed up and retreated out to the street without another word.

Abby and Wendy

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Episode 19
ANOTHER ENTRANCE TO THE UNDERGROUND
After the reporters left Sammy’s Coffee Shop, Stephanie and Abby had a chance to talk. Stephanie wanted to get involved in the new projects going on around her. Abby decided to come right to the point: “Okay, really quickly because this place is getting impossible, here's what I propose. Phoebe wants to attend the Evansville Students Against Climate Change rally at the trustees’ meeting a week from now, ten o’clock Saturday morning. But Luis and Phoebe already accepted an invitation for their U-14 soccer teams to play in a tournament in the college stadium. The teams and families make a big group, and Luis will be the only coach if Phoebe is at the rally. So…can you take her place and assist Luis with this soccer trip? Show the kids the campus. Get into the stadium early and warm up. Your Spanish will be a big help with the parents.”
“I have enough to get by. My father still speaks to me in Spanish.”
“So you’re a natural for this coaching job. You and Phoebe will have to be partners with Luis in this project.”
“I’ll talk to her and Luis today!” cried Stephanie. “Sammy will have to get someone to replace me in the coffee shop for practices with the girls’ team.” She pulled Abby across the table and gave her a hug. “All agreed! And now I’ll try to do you a big favor, and get you out of here. These reporters are probably waiting at both doors. Maybe Sammy has an idea.” As they approached the front door he came out from his spot behind the counter. They looked hopelessly at the crowd outside.
“I’d like to help, but what can I do?” he said. “You need a police escort, or a secret passageway.”
“Where did you get that idea?” asked Abby, feeling a rush of curiosity.
“Oh, for years I’ve wondered where that hole in the cellar goes to… probably nowhere, but sometimes I dream that it’s a passageway like those childhood mysteries I used to read. I loved those books. They always had secret tunnels…”
“Sammy! Please, show me this thing, I’ve got to see it!”
“No, you’re too daring, you’ll try something stupid.”
“Sammy, trust me on this. I know about that tunnel. I’ve been there.”
His eyes opened wider. “Well, I’ll be darned. I do believe you’re serious.” He grabbed an old key ring and led Abby through a door to the basement. They passed through a dusty room full of supplies, and descended a second flight of stairs. Sammy grabbed a flashlight. The beam of light exposed a small, slightly raised platform. He dusted it, removed the padlock, and slowly pulled up a heavy rectangle of old wood. The opening was a black hole. The smell rising with a current of air reminded Abby of the last part of her underground journey with Chi Chi. “Close this after me. I have an exit hidden in the churchyard. I’ll send someone back to tell you I’m okay. Just act like you have no idea about anything.”
“I’m good at that,” Sammy said with a laugh. 
Abby hit the floor of the tunnel with a soft thud. She had a quick and easy walk to the winding, narrow exit under the churchyard vines and brambles. The bright sunlight shocked her as she crawled out and found her way to Tuck’s side door. 
He opened and stared at Abby. “You’re a mess,” he said. “Get in here.” 
“Can I ask a big favor?”
Tuck waited, obviously irritated.
“Go to Sammy’s and tell him ‘All’s well’. Then order me a turkey and fried potato squash sandwich. I won’t have a chance to eat for hours. I’ll go down to the meeting room.” 
Tuck couldn’t help but laugh, and walked off muttering to himself.
Abby sat in the room and considered her coming interview with Sara. What would she be likely to ask? Would she ask for information Abby didn’t want to reveal?
Tuck returned, telling Abby about the angry and astonished group of reporters spreading rumors that Abby possessed magical powers. She asked him how to handle the interview, afraid Sara would want details about where Abby had been, and why people were hunting for her. And the mapstick was visible in many of the online pictures of Abby escaping the mob scene on her bike. How could Abby explain that? What about her hiding place with Wendy in the forest?
Tuck held up his hand. “If you’re fated to be in the spotlight, the next question should be: How can we turn that into a good thing? Let’s assume Sara will want a video interview with a variety of questions. You’ll have to be spontaneous. And you’ll have to do it alone. And you’ll have to do it in a warmer setting than this bare room. Something more personal, like your cottage. And somehow you’ll have to answer her questions without exposing others. Now… it might make sense for you to talk about spirituality, religion, and related matters.”
“You’re a genius,” Abby told him. “I won’t have to talk about other people.”
“And it doesn’t take a genius to see that you’d better clean up and arrange your cottage, if you intend to showcase that setting on television and social media, photos in the newspaper… And find some clean clothes.”
“Yes! Oh my God. I’m going.”

Abby and Wendy

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Episode 17
THE JUNIOR PROTECTORS OF THE WOOD, Illustration by Carlos Uribe
Abby retreated to her cottage to recover from the shock of seeing Marcus. She could see him in her memory, casually putting his finger across his lips and making a “be quiet” sign. ‘What is he doing?’ she wondered. ‘Somehow he must be trying to help us.’
An hour later she stepped outside on her way to the meeting at the toy store. Marcus was gone. But there was Jeremy watering the marigolds at the front of the churchyard.
“Abby!” he shouted, and put his hand over his mouth, regretting his loud cry. He came toward her in embarrassment, not knowing what to say.
“The gardens are fabulous,” Abby said. “Thank you! I had no idea you would take over this work while I was gone. Coming to the Youth Council meeting tonight?”
“No, I wish I could. But my work has changed. After you disappeared, a stalker began shadowing me. Chi Chi cancelled all our assignments in the forest, and put Jim and me on full time work in the garage. They have us converting dozens of engines to run on biogas. I even make home visits and convert propane furnaces and hot water heaters. I’m now a full time biogas technician.”
“Wow!” Abby replied. “You see what that means, don’t you?”
“Well, I have a guess or two, but what’s your idea?”
“They’re using the last of the warm weather to prepare Middletown to run on biogas this winter. They must expect serious bad weather, and a fuel shortage, and are using it to introduce this renewable fuel to take the place of fracked gas.”
“Okay,” Jeremy said, “you know more than I do about it. But…” he looked at her with a smile, “you’ve got to admit I was right about some things.”
Abby’s eyes teared up. “Oh, Jeremy, forgive me… I do admit it. You saved us from a big mess. I owe you.”
“Oh, I’ve forgiven you already. Well, you’re due at the Youth Council meeting. Everyone’s talking about your return. But before you go, let me hand you this.” He pressed a note in her hand, and she slipped it into her back pocket. With a sudden panic she looked at her timer. ‘Oh my God! It’s 7:50!’ She bolted out the back door of the churchyard and entered the back door of the toy store. She looked into the storage room and saw a crowd of faces talking all at once. Sulay and Nico Shannon and Jasmin, Luis and Phoebe were all sitting around the table. Abby sat in the last chair. Everyone stared, not knowing where to begin.
“We were just wondering…” Phoebe said, “what we should call ourselves now. Who are we? Oh, we know we were the Youth Council, part of the church Community Council, last week. But after that crazy election at the church the Community Council is not meeting. We’re on our own.”
“But we’re all connected,” Sulay told them. “Phoebe was going through the plan for the trip to Evansville next weekend, and it includes all of us. But the band is called Thunder Rolling, the girls’ soccer team is the Half Moon Blue Demons, the boys’ team is the Half Moon Hurricanes, but we’re all connected, aren’t we? And what about Sammy and Reverend Tuck? And Stephanie and Sara? Aren’t they part of us? And what are we for? I have an idea, but I want to hear it from you.”
“Well… said Abby quietly, “in my own mind I call us the Junior Protectors of the Wood.”
“I never heard of it,” Nico said. “What’s that?”
“I can tell you some things,” returned Phoebe. “I grew up with the Protectors of the Wood meeting here in this store. I used to listen to the discussions from the loft up there when my parents thought I was sleeping. You all know some of the members. My parents, Reverend Tuck, Fred Peterson, Chi Chi and Alison from the garden center, Wyndaman the lawyer who worked with Shannon’s father to get Sammy out of jail. People from Rivergate that Abby knows. They would talk about saving the farms from take-over attempts from big corporations, adding land to the forest preserve, and protecting the forest from companies who want to set up mining operations there. They would talk about helping groups of people having a hard time, and helping small store owners maintain their businesses. Things like that.”
“But we really don’t do those things,” said Jasmin. “Maybe we should be…”
“Maybe I can help,” Abby interrupted. “The Protectors of the Wood began long, long ago, when some of my ancestors lived throughout the forest and farmed the River Valley. And I agree with Jasmin. We should be doing these things, and I hope that in some ways we already are. We helped save the toy store and Sammys Coffee Shop. We helped the farmers with the greenmarket in the courtyard and the churchyard. We helped Tuck when the church was in danger. We raised money for Rivergate after the flood. And I want you to know that my parents lived in the trailer park until an electrical fire burned them out, and I know this happened to many others. Maybe we should be helping them.”
“We should!” Nico burst out. “I know who they are.” 
“And we’re supporting Sara’s group, Students Against Fossil Fuels,” Abby continued. “We’re expanding all the time.”
“I knew this was good,” said Sulay. “I just knew it.”

Abby and Wendy

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Episode 16
ONE SURPRISE AFTER ANOTHER
Illustration by Carlos Uribe
“I’ll be taking college courses at the end of the month,” Sulay told Abby. “My internship is with a newspaper… but the actual assignment is up to you.”
She looked at Abby with a pleading expression. “Sara Williams is my supervisor at the Evansville Record, and my courses are at Evansville College. I’m supposed to be your assistant.” She waited anxiously for a reply. 
“Oh, how wonderful!” Abby had no idea what she needed an assistant to do, but felt sure Sulay and Sara had a plan. “Maybe we can meet at Sammy’s a little later on, and discuss all this over coffee and a sandwich. I’ll have plenty of time by one o’clock.”
The front door suddenly opened and Phoebe and Nico burst into the store. “Abby!” shouted Phoebe. “Oh, Sulay, thanks for sending. Oh, how great to see you!” They hugged and talked a blue streak, interrupting each other constantly.
Abby finally rushed off to pick up her bike and ride to the pre-school to find out if her job would really begin the following day. 
By one o’clock she leaned her bike against the back of the coffee shop and entered. Sulay and Nico called her, and Abby joined them at a nearby booth. Soon they were deep in conversation. “There’s a lot to tell you,” said Nico, lowering his voice.
Sulay nodded. “It’s our job to bring you up to speed.” She looked at Nico. “You want to start?”
“Okay,” Nico began. “Abby, you remember my brother and I started working for Phoebe the night of the last concert when the watchers and police were hunting for you. We realized it wasn’t going to stop, so we met with Phoebe again after they reopened the stores. My father decided to keep Geo home at night, and I needed another partner. Sulay was showing me about cell phones, and she invented this idea of taking pictures of the stalkers. We could see how they were working, and knew they wouldn’t like their pictures online and in the newspaper. Phoebe began helping us. ‘Supervising us’, she calls it. She wants to protect you, and keep us out of trouble.”
He looked over at Sulay. “How was that?” he asked.
“Good. Very good. Abby, you can see that Nico and I have learned a lot. We’ve been spending time at the greenhouse with Sara and Stephanie and Cali, and we’re all working together. Sara made plans to use our photos, and we linked up a whole cluster of people, like students at Evansville College, fans of the band, kids around here and in Half Moon. And then when the storm hit and the mob chased you, our work grew like a miracle. Suddenly the Morphy people had a real setback. We realized you needed us. Everyone’s been worrying about you. Phoebe says you’re the most important person in the whole project!” Abby waited, not sure what to say.
“So Sara got me an internship at her newspaper,” continued Sulay, “because it fits in with her uncle’s plans. He really wants news about Middletown, and especially about you, Abby. Sara wants me to give her stories she can write. It’ll be so much fun! We never want it to end. It’s a good thing! Please say yes.” Sulay was blinking back tears.
“Yes,” said Abby hesitantly. “But no stories without my approval. Feel free to discuss anything with me.”
Nico clapped his hands. “Can I talk? I’ve got stuff Abby needs to know.” They nodded. “Since you’re going back to the church, you might have heard that the old stalkers are gone. But there’s a new one, with a new way of working.” 
Abby sighed. “I was afraid of that.”
“This new guy is different than the others. He’s about you’re age, and works for Scutter helping people carry their groceries and making deliveries. He watches the churchyard but pretends he doesn’t.”
“Oh,” cried Abby. “You two are fabulous! I’ll know what to look for.”

Later that day, Abby took a walk around the churchyard gardens to see how her plants had survived the storm. She avoided making a show of looking for stalkers or reporters, but finally glanced up at the street. Someone was sitting on a bench in front of the Middletown Standard office. Someone she knew…
‘Oh my God,’ she thought. ‘It can’t be!’ It was Marcus, her ex-boyfriend. She hadn’t seen him in months, but in her mind she still heard him yelling, “Stop! Stop!!” at the crowd that threatened to burn the abandoned house. Abby wanted the thank him, but didn’t dare. Marcus was looking casually to the side as if he didn’t see her, but she was sure that he had been watching her. He scratched the side of his face, and for a moment placed his index finger across his lips, clearly as a sign to be silent. She looked away and went on with her inspection of the flowers. Her heart was pounding.

Abby and Wendy

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

Abby and Wendy

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

Abby and Wendy

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

Abby And Wendy

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

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

Abby and Wendy

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

Abby and Wendy

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

Abby and Wendy

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

Abby and Wendy

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