HAUNTED UNDER THE STARS
Illustration by Lawrence Tate
After the Youth Council meeting and a short talk with Reverend Tuck, Abby walked back to her cottage with great hope and fear raging inside. She knew that the last six days – the entire time she had been living in the churchyard – had gone almost impossibly well. She could hardly believe the new opportunities that were opening up in her life, like miraculous gifts from her beloved guardian angel. Her horizons, her view of the future, had expanded as if she had been climbing an incredibly tall tree. Yet it was scary in the same way. A fall now would be a disaster. It was a long way down.
The moon was a narrow crescent, already setting way beyond Bridge Avenue, Highway 71, and the swamp, out in some mythic land where the moon goes each night.
Abby brought her flimsy old folding chair outside and relaxed to think over the day and the week. She was immediately reminded of sitting there on her first night in the churchyard, and dreaming of her vision as a child, the night the stars came to earth. The eerie feeling of another world intersecting with this one began to come over her, and she stood up to shake it off. The night seemed haunted with strange intuitions like shadows.
She began to walk around the yard, forcing herself to think through her achievements and the problems to come. The festival was still eight days away, but was already well organized. Phoebe’s plan was moving into place. The band was almost ready. Volunteers were scheduled to work on the abandoned building. The invitations, the vendors, the activities, the possibilities for raising money… the whole game plan was ready for action.
And just before the meeting Abby had heard that Glenda’s friend Ellen, Kayla’s mom, might run for trustee. Ellen and Reverend Tuck would have a talk before the church service tomorrow. Ellen had the kind of reputation that Abby thought would appeal to a majority of the congregation, just in time to be word-of-mouth news at Sunday’s churchyard gathering. Tuck had promised Sammy the job of catering the event, and had approved Phoebe’s plan to run a soccer exhibition, even though he obviously had no idea what that would look like.
Abby walked past the abandoned building to her new path through the living darkness of the wild area to the secret place. Faint noises rustled in the undergrowth, and the familiar owl hooted. The spot seemed magical, very precious. She thought again of the children’s claim that ‘grown-ups always ruin it’. With a shock she realized that this judgment was as true for the whole planet as it was for this tiny area in the churchyard. She imagined what Morphy would do with it. There could be no doubt that he would wipe out all plant and wild life, and build a new office building for his corporation, as if he didn’t have enough space in the 90 floor Geddon Tower in River City. And he would do this despite the abundance of buildings that could be renovated for the same purpose. It was all about domination, control, and revenge.
Yes, the stakes were so high in this trustee election that Abby began to shiver. Something was bound to happen. She knew Morphy would not let her projects go on unchallenged. No matter how small or insignificant they seemed, he clearly had his own view of the larger issues hidden underneath.
Abby walked back up the path. As she approached the abandoned building, her eye was caught by a faint flicker of light leaking through a boarded up window in the second story. She stopped and stared, and the light was gone. Walking on, she took up a position near the stone wall opposite the building, and patiently watched. A faint light flickered in another window – just for a second, but she was certain it had been there. She walked back and examined the front door. The padlock was in place. There seemed to be no way to climb in a window. Finally she walked out of the churchyard gate and circled around to the Old Stone Road side of the church. The entrance to the abandoned building was also padlocked on that side, and the lower windows were covered with plywood. But Abby noticed that the stone wall continued along the side of the building all the way to the street. It would be easy to stand on it and reach second story windows that were not boarded up.
On the way back Abby saw that a stalker had moved down the sidewalk, obviously to get a view of her on Old Stone Road. The situation was so obvious that Abby waved, but the stalker did not respond. Back in her cottage, feeling tired and depressed, her mind went on obsessing about the situation, examining the pros and cons of waking Tuck and searching the building. She rejected this idea. Any stalker would be gone by now, out the side window to the wall, and then jumping down into the lane and into the cornfield. It would take only a few seconds.
‘And what would a stalker be doing up there?’ she asked herself. ‘Taking pictures, of course. Their strategy would be to accuse Tuck of negligence and mismanagement, with a frame-up for financial crimes… and of course they’ll slander me as a witch with evil motivations.’ Abby shivered, unable to stop thinking. One thought stood out in her mind: they would surely act before the election.
She lay in bed tossing and turning, her mind repeating the same old thoughts…