Abby and Wendy - Episode 41

Illustration By Carlos Uribe

Illustration By Carlos Uribe


A thin white mist covered the land. The pale glow of the moon could hardly be seen. Abby saw it was the perfect time to be invisible, and enter the underground unseen. Still, she took every precaution in choosing her way to the back door of the churchyard. Drizzle was falling through the warm and humid air. She felt the key in her pants pocket as she surveyed the churchyard wall from the cornfield. Nothing moved. Without a sound she crossed the dirt path, unlocked the door, and stepped inside. Standing still, she heard the rain and the wind in the leaves. The click from locking the door was almost inaudible. Things were going perfectly.

Abby walked along the Birdwatchers’ Path to the cave of vines, and crawled inside. Gently pushing aside some branches, she found the narrow opening into the thicket of brambles and vines. She could barely see, but knew where she was going. In moments she touched the large flat stone covering the entrance to the underground.

A very faint murmuring had begun. As she pulled the stone aside, the murmuring increased. The darkness below was thick, and seemed almost infinite... She went in feet first so she could pull the stone back into place, but kept getting stuck. Her backpack was in the way. She took it off and pushed it under brambles and leaves. Saying a prayer, she slid down the hole and sealed the entrance with the rock. Claustrophobia overwhelmed her, but there was nothing to do but go on, sliding slowly down and down.

Finally, she reached the level path, and by feeling the dirt wall found the entrance to her small underground room. It seemed years since she had been there, but had been only a week ago. Groping blindly to the corner, she unwrapped the mapstick. The light gleamed with astonishing beauty and clarity. Abby saw the map of the underground in her mind, and knew it was a just tiny part of an inconceivably enormous world. The voices were suddenly louder. They seemed to be coming from a certain spot, somewhere below Hidden Valley.

But the voices were coming from other spots as well! Both louder and softer, bigger and smaller. It was a cacophony of sounds, totally confusing. Abby had no idea what to do, but in her heart, she felt that she must do something. Otherwise the voices would haunt her. Perhaps she could find her way back to the fork in the tunnel where Wendy had warned her. But perhaps Wendy was just warning her not to chase the voices. They had other big plans for that day.

Abby sat in the old chair, amazed that it didn’t collapse beneath her. Everything in that underground room looked a hundred years old. There is a quality about this place, she thought. The mapstick seems more powerful, my mind is working. Let’s see if I can find just one good clue. The mapstick will help me. What clues do I have? Voices coming from so many places, but one is the strongest. And that location may be the Root Cavern, with the writing on the walls and the colossal dreamstone sphere. Definitely a powerful spot. But I’ve been there and heard no voices. I didn’t sense the presence of what I’m dealing with today...

Her mind went blank. She heard the opening lines of the rhyme: When you go down under jutting stone
Following the way alone

In a flash she realized that it was a song. It had a tune she had heard before, probably a very long time ago. She repeated it in her mind. No instruments, just a voice, perhaps an old voice, telling stories. The rhyme is part of a story. Grandfather Walker! Sonny’s father! It must be him. The Young Warriors’ Club, long, long ago.

She knew that with luck she could catch the rest of the song. She let it play in her mind, feeling the words at her fingertips. And then:

When you go down under jutting stone Following the way alone
Very few have found the way
From the stream of ghosts back to open day

A warning everyone should know There is no safe way to go
The invisible door I’ll tell you true Depends on what’s inside of you

Look for the stone that’s on the wall
If you’re the one who hears the call
Don’t forget when the voices start
Take a look inside your heart
They come from the lake of broken hearts

Got it! Got it! Abby let it play over and over. Okay... now what does this tell me? Lots of things! It was a part of the Young Warriors Club. It was probably a part of a story that included the Ghost Girl. No one else explored underground. I was the only Queen of the Underworld. The voices must be really there, if Grandfather Walker made up that rhyme. No... he didn’t make it up. It was passed down to us from long ago.

This rhyme is advice from the ancient past. What can I learn? Well, the voices come from the Stream of Ghosts. It’s dangerous, very hard to return. There’s no safe way except the invisible door, and what happens next depends on what’s inside you. If you hear the call, look for the stone on the wall. That sounds like dreamstone, definitely a door. Maybe that’s a way. When the voices start, take a look inside your heart. They come from the lake of broken hearts. Okay... the voices have already begun. I hear the call from a place of broken hearts. I need to look inside my heart.

Abby immediately realized that she was living with a broken heart. She was jinxed and disappointed in love, and had very little confidence in her mission from Wendy. But without that mission she really had no life to live. She would be a failure, and it would be almost impossible to recover and begin again. Part of her was depressed most of the time.

Okay, that song is certainly meant for me. Do I hear the voices because I have a broken heart? And how will I get out of there? I want to do something and then come back. I’m certainly not looking to stay, so... I must not be completely depressed.

All right, what’s next? Hmm... I would like the best invisible door I can find, and that is the dreamstone sphere that Wendy showed me. It’s already helping me understand myself. I need to go back there, and with the help of the mapstick I can probably find it. I can see it on the map in my mind, I’m pretty sure. But I don’t have any time and energy to waste.Abby studied the map again, trying to be sure of her route. I don’t dare get lost! And even if I don’t get lost, I can’t endure the hours of hiking there and back. I want to be at my best. Maybe I should just get some sleep and do this tomorrow night. No. I can’t bear living like this.

She listened closely to the voices again. The sounds were in the shape of words and sentences, but she couldn’t understand anything. Wave after wave of gibberish washed over her. Even the emotional content was obscure. The result for Abby was truly frightening, nightmarish. I simply must deal with this. If I don’t confront it, I’ll be sucked into it.

The voice of the mapstick spoke in her mind: I’ll show you a shorter way, much shorter. Look at the map again.

She stared at the three-dimensional maze of caverns and tunnels, full of signs and signals whose meaning she could only guess. Certain caverns appeared with a bright light, and some like faint stars she could barely see. It was hard to keep track of the levels of her route. There were passageways that moved from one level to another. Some displayed a glittering light that Abby guessed were rivers.

Trust me, came the voice. Remember how I got you to Wendy’s garden? I know a way.

She felt that she had no choice but to have faith. If she rejected the voice of the mapstick, she would never find the source of the muttering. The incomprehensible voices would continue to pursue her. Her only course of action would be to flee to Wendy again for help.

I need to at least try, she told herself. If I can’t find the way I’ll return, or take the route to Wendy’s.

And so she set off down the warm dirt tunnel. A rat scurried out of the way. She passed by the trap door over her head to Sammy’s Coffee Shop. After a long walk downhill she was under the river. The clamoring voices grew louder and louder. But since she had made a decision, her mind was clear.

The tunnel opened up into the damp caverns with water dripping down from the ceiling, making shapes like icicles. Don’t miss the turn,came the voice. On your right.

At that moment there was a passageway on her right, one she remembered from her journey home with Chi Chi. But am I going all the way back toward the jutting stone, and then all the way to the Root Cavern, and then all the way back? I can’t do it. Of course not. There’s another way. You’ll see.
It’s hard for me to trust anything or anyone, Abby told the voice.

I am only a part of yourself, a part you need to listen to. And after you pass under the haunted house, watch for the hard-right turn.

The mapstick shone with great power, shedding a light that was soft, but illuminated everything down to the smallest detail. The slightly blue glow was easy on the eyes, not at all like a spotlight or the headlight of a car. It had the same illumination at the tip of her staff as it did on objects at a distance.

Abby found the right turn to another gentle tunnel cleared of stalagmites and stalactites, a way that must have been used by people long ago. The breeze began to smell like cool water.

I must be on the way to the river from Hidden Valley, a very difficult hike.

No, watch for a left turn. You’re going deep under the Horn. You’ve heard about it before. You’ll be there soon.

Ah! thought Abby. I’m not going to the Root Cavern. I’m going to the dreamstone mirror! I have indeed heard about it. Phoebe went there a few months ago, and I was so jealous. Oh, I can’t wait...

She almost missed the left turn. It was no more than a hole in the wall. Coming closer, she saw a level tunnel that suddenly seemed to end. Crawling slowly forward, she recited the Jutting Stone poem to prepare herself, and keep her mind off the terror of getting stuck, imprisoned far from rescue.

Suddenly the floor just ahead seemed to drop off into nowhere. Approaching it slowly, she saw a steep downhill climb, full of rock and clay. The ceiling was far above her. This level of the tunnel had collapsed long ago.

But Abby had climbed in places like this before. She used the staff, her other hand, both feet, and moved from one sitting position to another. It was arduous but safe. This can’t last forever. But it felt that way.

The avalanche finally leveled off, and she could walk. A few minutes went by. With the corner of her eye she saw what seemed to be a hole in the wall on her left. I recall you have to crawl into the Mirror Cave. Only two entrances, both of them terrible. But at least I’m almost there. Here we go.

On hands and knees with the mapstick leading the way, she crawled for about a hundred yards. With no transition the tunnel opened up into a glorious cavern. The mapstick shone across wide oval shape and a high ceiling. Gemstones shone with many colors like a thousand stars. It was breathtaking.

The voices were right next her, as if only a thin curtain separated her from an aimless mob, a million lost souls. But there was no sign of dreamstone on the ground level. She walked around the oval and stretched her cramped muscles. A couple of old wooden chairs and wooden crates made a few places to sit. Burnt out candles left wax on some chinks in the rock wall. And a giant piece of burlap covered a whole piece of the wall.

That’s over eight feet high, and twice as wide. What’s it doing there? She pulled back a corner and saw the smooth translucent blue of dreamstone, shining like a glowing planet in the light of the mapstick.

Oh my God. I have such little faith. Here it is! How do you get this covering off the wall? She put three crates on top of each other and inspected what turned out to be hooks in the rocky surface. She gently pulled the burlap, and it suddenly fell, exposing an immense dreamstone surface, flat and glowing like a mirror in the light.

Don’t look, she told herself. Get ready first. Powers that be, come and help me! Oh! Please let me do something good. Please, I promise, I’ll struggle to do good my life long.

There was a crate about ten feet from the giant dreamstone door looming in front of her. She sat down, took a deep breath, and raised her eyes.

Abby and Wendy - Episode 37

Episode 37

Song of the Raven.jpg

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

Abby and Wendy - Episode 35


Illustration By Carlos Uribe

Illustration By Carlos Uribe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lluvia laughed. “How did you know?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Of course you have. Can you remember?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“The Young Warriors’ Club?” asked Phoebe.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abby and Wendy - Episode 34


Illustration By Carlos Uribe

Illustration By Carlos Uribe

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

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

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

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

Abby turned and shook her outstretched hand.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abby and Wendy - Episode 30


Illustration By Carlos Uribe

Illustration By Carlos Uribe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abby and Wendy

Episode 27


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

Abby and Wendy


Episode 22
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.”

Ghost Girl - Episode 65



Illustration by Carlos Uribe

The audience clapped and cheered. The strangers determined to disrupt the show were now quiet. Isaiah stepped back as George stepped forward. The crowd hushed, waiting expectantly. George froze there like a statue, all alone. He began a series of chords in a minor key, and Ishmael followed with high, sad notes, a melody full of pain. 
George sang:
You know it’s hard, hard to keep on going
When it hurts so much to live
You know it takes so much more than
All you’ve got to give
Reach for me, reach for me ‘cause I’m all out of strength
Please show me the way, please show me the way

After two more verses and a solo the song ended on a quiet note and a moment of silence. People weren’t sure if it was over, or perhaps they were stunned by the raw feeling that came through the music. Then an ecstatic cheer broke out, with voices yelling encouragement. Abby realized her cheeks were wet with tears.
Before the cheering ended the band broke into a fast song, speeding along like a runaway avalanche with blazing high notes. Isaiah was dancing and playing tambourine. He began to sing:
I was blinded by the headlights, and I had nowhere to run
I was blinded by the headlights, and I had nowhere to run
The nightmare truck was coming, as wide as highway 61
I could see it in the distance, ten thousand wheels round the bend
I could see it in the distance, ten thousand wheels round the bend
Blockin’ out the moon and starlight, Oh Lord where’s it gonna end

The verses went on, becoming more frightening. “The wall of water’s coming, Lord give me your right hand!” The song came to a crashing end. The band hardly waited for the audience reaction as it rushed from one song to another. Abby was spellbound, listening closely to the words. She had hardly seen her friends in the band recently. Many of the songs were new, and gave her a very personal sense of what they were going through.
George stepped forward again, and sang to a Latin rhythm with Eddie on the congas:
I can’t seem to get you off my mind
You told me that you needed time
To commit your love-crime
As the moon, shines it light upon this room
Knowing that it’s sad but true, I can’t stop thinkin’ ‘bout you
I don’t wanna know where you been
I don’t wanna know what you’ve seen
I don’t wanna know what you done
As long, as long as you save me
Abby couldn’t listen anymore. Her mind was flashing back to her last conversation with George sitting on the leaves in the dark midnight. The song seemed to include words they had said to each other, in a way that made her open up a whole new avenue of self-criticism, one that she had been trying to keep at a distance all day. She accused herself of being deceptive, a hypocrite. ‘I failed to be the person I want to be,’ she told herself.
Meanwhile the temperature had been dropping fast, and the sun had set behind row after row of dark, swirling clouds. The departing sun gave a red glow to the storm, coming out over the valley like a sinister, poisonous fog.
An ominous bass line opened up the band’s theme song, coming on like the storm around them. Isaiah sang:
I woke up this morning it was dark ‘bout half past three
A thousand miles of thunderclouds was hangin’ over me
You can say what you want, but a mighty wind is gonna blow
I don’t think it’s gonna stop now, just ‘cause we say so

The song came to a menacing end. Isaiah thanked the audience, expressing deep gratitude on behalf of the band for the opportunity to play in such a fabulous place to such a wonderful audience. The wind picked up, and Abby realized that she was cold. Young people milled around the band, taking pictures, offering compliments, and talking to their friends. In a blur Abby helped put the tables away and pack up the remains of the outdoor coffee shop. No one came near to speak to her. She retreated to the cottage, her bare arms shivering. She closed the windows and lay under the blanket in the dark, and fell immediately into dreams.

Ghost Girl - Episode 64



Illustration by Carlos Uribe
Abby was stunned by the thought that George had taken the photos featured so prominently in the edition of the Middletown Standard, now being read throughout the festival. ‘How could George have taken that picture of me hugging Jeremy? He would have had to be up on the churchyard wall!’ 
Sara grabbed Abby by the shoulders and said, “Pull yourself together, girl! This is not all about you. Think what George must be feeling! He walked out of here an hour ago, and refused to speak to me and Jeremy. I’m worried about him. What can we do?”
“So you don’t think he took the photos?” asked Abby.
Sara stared at her in disgust. “Come on!” she exclaimed. “Are you out of your mind?”
‘Aha!” thought Abby. ‘She likes George. And I’m probably crazy to mistrust him.’
“I’m sorry,” Abby said, her eyes tearing up. “I’m not at my best. This is hard for me…”
Sara put her face in her hands. “I wish I could start over. It’s just that I’m worried. I thought you could shake this off. And this will hurt George very, very badly.”
“It’s true,” Abby replied. “What can we do? I’ve hardly seen him this last week. What’s he up to?”
“He spends most of his time at the greenhouse practicing with the band. He does his day job at Scutter’s, practices until late at night, drinks coffee, writes songs…”
“Do you think he’ll return for the concert?”
“I don’t know,” Sara replied, tears on her cheeks. “I should check the greenhouse and get him to come back. But the courage he’ll need to do it…” Sara shook her head.
“Do it!” Abby told her. “Go there now. We can’t just fold up and crawl into a corner.”
Sara hurried across the yard, and disappeared onto Bridge Avenue. Abby watched Phoebe referee the children’s soccer game, and ignored the people staring at her. The temperature had been dropping all afternoon, and now felt chilly as the breeze picked up. Dark clouds were massing over the Half Moon Cliffs.
Cali hurried through the gate and trotted over to a blue tarpaulin covering a pile of stuff behind the apple trees near the stone wall. Abby saw her uncover amplifiers, wires, and a jumble of other things. She ran over to help. A crowd quickly surrounded them as Cali organized the band’s equipment. People bombarded them with questions. “Where is the band? When are they going to begin? Why aren’t they here?”
Phoebe appeared saying she’d gotten a text saying they’re on the way. A few minutes later, Isaiah, Ishmael, George, Sara, Eddy, and Jeremy walked into the yard. George and Ishmael carried guitars, Isaiah a tambourine, and Eddy pulled a small wagon full of drums. A group of young teens followed with extension cords, and extra guitars. They ignored everyone, just plugging in and testing the sound. Abby especially watched George, but he avoided eye contact, and his face had no expression.
“Move back a bit please,” Isaiah said into the mike. “Thanks for waiting, we’ll get started now. People in front, please sit down, the grass is warm, no rain yet, make your selves comfortable.” Guitar notes and chords rang out. Eddy played a couple of beats, and Isaiah and the guitar players stepped forward into a line. The audience became very quiet. The dark clouds cut off the sun, and the twilight deepened.
“You’ve got a lotta nerve!” shouted a man in the back. A few people laughed nervously. “I’d be embarrassed to stand up there if I was you,” yelled someone else. “This whole place is an embarrassment!”
“Shut up!” yelled another voice in anger. George looked at the ground with a face of stone.
“We don’t need you in this town,” came the first voice again. “Go back where you came from.”
“Yeah! Back where you came from! Back where you came from!” A group of men were all chanting together. Abby could not recognize anyone, but she did notice Cali and the teenagers moving from angle to angle taking pictures. 
A young man moved toward the group. “I said, ‘shut up’!” he yelled harshly, as if he had lost all patience. The men were looking nervously at the teens with cell phones and cameras, and retreated back from the crowd.
Isaiah stepped forward in the middle of the band and said into the mike, “Ladies and gentlemen, I hope you don’t mind, but we’re going to let the music speak for itself tonight. Any questions you may have, please listen to the music. It’s all we’ve got to say.” He smiled at the audience and people cheered. Isaiah’s words worked like a charm, calming the crowd.
“We’re the Rolling Thunder Band!” he said. “And we’re all grateful to have this chance to play for you tonight!”

Ghost Girl - Episode 62



Illustration by Carlos Uribe
Abby awoke refreshed, with the morning sun shining against the front window. And then the worries of the day swept over her like a tidal wave. She jumped up and looked out into the yard. A swarm of volunteers were already setting up tables. People were carrying boxes of produce in the front gate. A breeze brought cool air into the cottage. The earth had been liberated from the fiery furnace. Abby hurried to get ready for the day.
Outside amid the bustle of activity her only desire was to fit in, to be an anonymous part of a team effort. She carried boxes, helped set up the food table, and gradually joined the coffee shop staff organizing an imitation of their normal indoor operation.
A busy hour later, Glenda, Tiny, and Kayla worked their way behind Sammy’s tables and approached Abby, who was so intent on making sandwiches that she didn’t see them. 
“Abby…” Glenda said in a hesitant voice. “I know there’s a lot to do… but we’re in a jam. The bishop is sitting with Ellen and Becky at the trustees’ table, talking to a crowd of people. I promised Ellen I would stick with her like glue… and the children have missed you all week, so…”
“I really want to take the children for a walk,” Abby replied.
Sammy overheard this conversation and joined in. “Go, Abby,” he said. “Shannon over there has been bugging me every day about getting a chance to work.”
Glenda handed Abby a shopping bag full of sandwiches and said the kids all needed lunch. And so Abby once again ended up with seven eager children who had been cooped up all week. They clustered around her, making suggestions and demands, wanting to do several things at once. 
“Who’s hungry?” Abby asked, and all instantly agreed on food. She led them back to the wild area, and they took seats near the wrought iron door. After Lucy had finished her sandwich, she looked up at Abby and declared, “The grown-ups are all worried today.”
She clearly expected a response, and Abby was caught off-guard.
“You’re just like the other grown-ups,” Lucy told her. “They won’t talk about it either. Even my grandfather says it’s none of my business.”
“Well,” Abby said, “maybe it isn’t.”
“But I overheard them talking,” returned Lucy. “They’re afraid Tuck will get fired. One of them said you’ll get fired too. That seems like our business.”
Abby stared, shocked that Lucy had hit the heart of the matter. “But Lucy,” she finally said, “you put me in a tough spot. If your grandfather doesn’t want to talk about it, don’t you think I should respect his wishes?”
“What a grown-up thing to say,” retorted Lucy. She turned to Tiny and said, “See, I tried to warn her and she doesn’t want to hear it. I told you so.”
“Emily said she’s worried about Dawn,” Tiny replied, referring to her imaginary characters. “Emily feels all by herself.”
“It’s no secret,” Kayla said. “The parents are worried about the trustees. They want my mother to win, but they’re afraid she won’t.”
“What are trustees?” asked Ned.
“They’re the ones who can fire Tuck,” Lucy replied.
“Nobody tells me anything,” said Ned. “Ever.”
“Why will they fire Abby?” asked Nancy. “I want her to stay.”
“Some grown-ups are crazy,” Lucy answered. “They don’t like good things. They don’t like good places. They don’t like good people. They might try to pretend, but they’re angry all the time. They hate life.”
Abby hurriedly jumped in and said, “I’m not sure it’s that simple.”
“Oh no?” Lucy replied. “Why not?”
“Sometimes it’s hard to tell good from bad, good people from bad people.”
“Yeah, and sometimes it’s easy too,” Lucy replied in a gloomy voice. In fact a cloud of gloom cast shadows on the faces of all the children. “All week Tiny and I were hoping…” Lucy went on, “hoping you would let us know about all this, and do something about it. Can’t you at least try? What about the bishop? Can’t you talk to him?”
“Emily says you have to talk to the bishop,” Tiny said. “Today.”
“I will if I can find him,” Abby assured them. “I’ll do it.”
“What’s an election?” asked Ned. “Why is that so important?”
“It’s where people vote,” Abby told him. “It’s like voting for a captain of a team, whether you want this person or that person.”
Jane had been hiding behind the other children, but suddenly she spoke up. “Can’t you be the captain of our team? Everyone will vote for you.”
“Emily says Abby is already the captain, but people don’t know it yet.” Tiny seemed very certain of her information.
“I’ll vote for you,” said Franklyn. “But if you’re already the captain, you’d better get moving. Everybody’s scared. Are you scared? I’m scared, and I don’t even know why.”
“I hear you, Franklyn,” returned Abby. “I’m scared too. But let’s see what happens next. You’ve all inspired me. Thanks to every one of you. I’ll give this a try.”
And they followed her out to the open lawn.

Ghost Girl - Episode 59



After Jeremy’s departure Abby retreated into her cottage to wait for her father. He had promised to arrive sometime that afternoon after his hospital appointment. Looking at herself in the mirror, she stared at her puffy eyes, the sign of her tears. ‘Dad will probably notice,’ she thought. ‘And Mom is coming later. I can’t let them get off on that subject. They'll pursue it like crazy and get Dad's blood pressure up. I’ve got to get him talking about the mapstick.’ 
Abby lay down, her thoughts going back to her discussion with her father in Sonny Walker’s orchard. She recalled the mapstick in tiny detail, the glow of the wood, the fine carved lines, the strange charisma of the six foot staff. 
The heat was ferocious. Abby filled two water bottles and moved a chair outside where she could wait. Soon her father appeared around the corner of the cottage. He was carrying a small briefcase. “Dad!” she called.
He hugged her. “It’s wonderful to see you! But I’m boiling over after walking up from the hospital. Give me some of that water. It’s too hot out here for humans.”
Abby led him to the Birdwatcher’s Path and into the shade of the wild area. They stopped in front of the cave of vines. “I know it seems kind of strange,” she whispered, “but I’m afraid we’ll be overheard in the cottage, or even back here. Let’s sit in the cave and talk softly. Very softly.”
Dennis stared at her in surprise, and then quietly slipped into the cave and sat cross-legged, his briefcase beside him. Abby sat close by, and said, “I know you must be wondering…”
He held up his hand. “No explanation needed,” he replied. “What I have to say deserves this much care and privacy. I’m relieved to see you know that. You’re making me proud, and giving me confidence we’re going in the right direction. So… where is the mapstick now?” Abby described Tuck’s special room for treasures. 
“You’ll have to put this in there as well,” he said, setting the briefcase between them. “In one way it’s more dangerous than the mapstick itself.” Dennis opened the case and withdrew two folders of paper. “I know Sonny has given you a lot of background on the mapstick, but one thing he doesn’t seem to know is what’s on these sheets of paper. You see, the mapstick really is a map. It took me years to figure it out, and now I will hand my discovery to you.” They were silent as Dennis organized his thoughts. “These papers the map as well as notes about the things I’ve guessed.
He opened the first folder and took out six sheets of paper, and laid them out in pairs on the uneven ground. “This is a very detailed rendering of maybe a third of the mapstick. We can’t fit the whole map where we’re sitting, but this will be enough to get you started. This drawing is done on a scale about twice the size of the mapstick. I’ve tried to copy every tiny mark, and had to use a magnifying glass to do it. At first it seemed incomprehensible, but gradually I began to notice a consistent method to the madness, and finally I became certain: this is a map of the caverns and tunnels under Hidden Valley and the surrounding plateau, with a few tunnels even crossing under the Half Moon River.”

Ghost Girl - Episode 52



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…

Ghost Girl - Episode 13



Illustration by Carlos Uribe
"Is it really you? Oh, I'm so happy! I'm so happy!"
"Is everything okay?"
Abby nodded, locked the door, and beckoned them to follow. Up the narrow path they went in single file. As they entered the mulch pile the sky opened up and the moon shone on their faces. They sat down cross-legged on the dry leaves, making a small triangle. "Talk in whispers," Abby warned them. "The watchers are on duty all night across the street." They looked at each other, waiting for someone to begin.
"Phoebe," whispered Abby, "You saved my life last night. I owe you. I'll always remember the... the way you..." She was at a loss for words. Phoebe embraced her, and whispered in her ear, "It's okay. I wanted to do it. I would do it again."
"I'm your friend forever," Abby replied. It was something she had never said to anyone before. Then she became aware of George, looking on at this emotional scene and shifting away from the girls as if he were an intruder. She turned and pulled him closer by the shoulders, and hugged him. "George, I'm so glad to see you! But... aren't you taking a big risk coming here, with this business of being a spy? They'll take revenge like they've tried with me."
"That's one big reason we're here tonight," Phoebe cut in. "George, you tell it."
He looked at Abby and said, "You should know from the start that we're under pressure. We have to make decisions tonight."
"Go for it," said Abby.
"Well, this morning Peabody came up to me on the sidewalk and said we had to talk right away about what he called 'a very sensitive job'. So we crossed the street to his office, and he walked me into the back room. And who should be sitting there but Milton Morphy, the great robber baron himself! As soon as I sat down he just goes off in that angry voice, saying I betrayed him, sold photos to the enemy, can't be trusted, and they'll deal with me accordingly. I told him I'm not under any contract, and I'd earned ten times more money from The Evansville Record in one hour than I'd made from their newspaper over the last three months. Peabody got all frantic and told me I shouldn't talk to Milton that way, that it could hurt me forever, but Morphy just waved him off and said, 'No, no, I understand, I see the boy has ambitions. He wants to make money.' Then he came to the point and said he had an important job for me, where I could make more money than I'd ever had before."
George took a deep breath. 
"Go on, go on," whispered Abby.
"Morphy said there had been 'unfortunate misunderstandings' last night, and one of his colleagues had been hospitalized with a serious injury. He knew that Phoebe had hit him with a club and broke his arm, and said that she should be charged with assault and spend jail time. But then he added that some people in town had gotten 'a little hysterical'... so Phoebe may have thought she was defending herself. And now the police are trying to identify those people who became hysterical, the mob who thought magic had caused the storm and the car accidents and the blocking of the street, and went to that house in the forest in search of a witch." George saw he had all their attention.
So..." he went on, "Morphy said he'll make 'a little informal agreement', and let the whole thing alone if Phoebe and Tuck and Dr. Bear will also agree to do the same. Then he added, 'Nothing written, mind you! And if my name comes up at all you'll be very sorry, I promise you that!'
"It was really tense," George whispered. "I couldn't come up with a word to say. And Morphy just stares at me and says, 'Well, I'm waiting.'"

Ghost Girl - Episode 12



Illustration by Lawrence Tate

As soon as Geraldine was out the door, Abby opened her second note of the day. It read: 

Abby, Be There! The back door at 1PM tonight. More important than before. With Love and Hope,

She read both notes twice and then ripped them up and threw the pieces into the wood burning stove and lit them. “There’s got to be some danger for Phoebe to push me like this,” she thought. “It’s like waving a red flag and saying, ‘Look out, look out!’” 
Abby lay down on the bed and stared vacantly at the peeling paint on the ceiling. “I’ve got to get myself together and eat something,” she told herself. “I’ve lost my appetite again. I’m too jittery.” She stood up and paced the room, walking back and forth in the tiny space. “But at least I’m going to see Phoebe! I can’t wait. To think of how she helped me! She believes in me, no matter what I do. Now if only George and Jeremy and Stephanie and Eddy could come too. At least George! There must be some kind of threat.” 
Abby paced back and forth. “Oh! I’m sure they have news for me. Let’s get this new life going!” Finally she calmed down and ate a nut butter sandwich with a glass of apple cider. Then she set her alarm clock for 12:30 and lay down again. Soon her thoughts rushed along like the flow of a river. Pictures from the evening before at the haunted house came back to her. She re-lived the scene there in the dark with a crowd threatening Phoebe and her with torches, and the crazy firelight bending and shifting with the trees in the wind. Abby gasped, breathing rapidly, and sat up on the edge of the bed.“Definitely post-traumatic stress,” she told herself. “Geraldine was right about everything.” Then her thoughts turned into dreams.

The alarm clock rang in what seemed like a moment later. Abby threw cold water on her face, made a cup of Breakfast Mixture and drank it slowly. She felt good, relaxed but ready, eager for the coming adventure. The minutes ticked by. She put on her trademark dark jeans and long sleeved black tee shirt, and paced the room again. Finally she put the key in her pocket and climbed out the back window. She was fairly certain someone would still be watching from the bench across the street. A yellow moon shone in her face, and glimmered on the twisted and broken old apple trees and the high churchyard wall. Nothing moved. The night was still, the song of the crickets the only sound. She passed like a shadow behind the apple trees, and then crawled into a tiny opening at ground level between the hedge and the wall. Pushing up gently through the leaves, she rose into the mulch pile. She waited there and listened for a few minutes in silence. Then she brushed the leaves off her hair and clothes, and continued across the leaves and down Tiny’s path along the wall. In a moment she entered the secret place. Still no sound but the crickets. Abby slipped the key into the lock of the iron door, turned it with a faint click, and then leaned against the wall, listening patiently. In a few minutes she heard steps, the soft pat-pat of shoes on the ground. 
"There’s more than one person!” she thought. “I should have left the door locked!” She moved back a few steps along the wall, ready to run if necessary. The steps came closer, closer, and then stopped. Seconds ticked by. 
"Abby,” came a whisper. “Abby, are you there?” She knew instantly it was Phoebe’s voice! Abby opened the door, and Phoebe burst in with George on her heels, colliding with Abby in the dark. All three wore black, and could hardly see each other. "Phoebe! George!” 
"Abby!” They whispered to each other and embraced, all three at once.

Ghost Girl Episode 8



Illustration by Lawrence Tate
“Let it live! Let it live! Let it live!” Finally the voice inside Abby moved her to tears. She began to sob, and put her face in her hands. Then she lay down, and soon was breathing easily. Her heart slowed and the tension in her arms evaporated. A delicious calm came over her whole body.

Loud, rapid knocking on the door woke her from a deep sleep. She opened the door, surprised to see Reverend Tuck looking embarrassed and tongue-tied. “I’m sorry to make such a noise,” he finally said. When you didn’t answer I worried that something might have scared you away. I know I’m late getting back to you.”
“Nothing like that,” returned Abby. “I was just sleeping.”
“Wonderful! I’m relieved to hear it. I know you’ve been through a lot.”
“Well, to tell you the truth, I have been worried. What time is it?”
“After 3 o’clock,” answered Tuck “The meeting took much longer than I expected. But everything worked out fine! Your position is approved by the Council. As soon as we get the paperwork done, you will be employed by this church, and your rent-free residence will be the payment for your work.”
Abby was speechless with happiness, and threw her arms around Reverend Tuck.
“Now, now!” he said, stepping back out of her embrace. “None of that. We do face difficulties, problems we must discuss. We have work to do. And I’m sure you need a good meal. I have a cold chicken, apples, and other food across the way, and you would do me a great favor by joining me.”
“Yes! I want to hear everything.” She followed Tuck through a side door of the enormous church building to the small dining room she had seen briefly the night before. Tuck did his best to welcome her, speaking non-stop from the nearby kitchen. He brought a tray piled with food and said, “Start right in, you must be starving! Eat!”
Abby could only pick at her food. She was following every word Tuck said. His talk was full of small anecdotes reassuring her that the people who mattered were supporting his decision to bring her into the church. But – though she was not ready to mention it – Abby had seen the crowd walk out of the church service only a few hours before. While those angry people were not close to being a majority of the congregation, they were numerous enough to be disruptive and make a public statement. And she’d heard Tuck’s sermon, and could tell that he was preparing to fight a dangerous battle over the coming weeks, months, perhaps years.

After a brief silence Abby said, “But I’m interested in hearing about these difficulties… you know… like you spoke about before.”
“Ah yes,” returned Tuck, “We’ll get to the hard part. You see, this stage of the game demands that you adapt to the dangers of our position. Always remember that some people will be looking for any opportunity to destroy our reputations. They’ll try to manufacture a scandal, exaggerate bad behavior of any sort. So please! Keep your distance from me, physically I mean. Don’t give anyone a reason to start rumors. You will be in a fishbowl, under a microscope. Keep a low profile. Be careful who you talk to, where you go, and what you say. Please, do not even leave the churchyard without telling me, and I want to approve any guests you may have.”
He paused and frowned. “I’m sorry to have to say these things… we are both in a vulnerable spot, and so are all our friends.”
Tuck was straining to find the right words, but Abby felt her energy and strength return. She was glad to have the bad news out on the table, though she suspected he was still hiding the worst of it. “I can take it,” she replied. “I’ve been under pressure for a long time.”
Tuck smiled and breathed a sigh of relief. “Well now,” he said, “that’s much better. Of course I know there’s more to you than meets the eye. I’ll begin by pointing out that you hide a lot more of your life than I do of mine. But all of us sharing this struggle have to be very good at keeping secrets… and so far, by the grace of God, we’ve been successful.”
Tuck leaned forward and continued quietly, “Though I will never refer to this except in absolute privacy, I believe you are Wendy’s… student?... disciple? Almost like a daughter? You know far more than I do about Wendy’s… what would you call it? Great enterprise? Grand project?”
“People already think I’m strange,” replied Abby. “Some are even afraid of me. Let’s not give anyone the idea that I know or represent Wendy.”
“I understand,” returned Tuck. “I’m a very careful man. But I must ask one question: Did Wendy send you here to me on purpose? Is that part of her plan, her mission? It will help me to know.”
“We agreed on it,” Abby said. “Yes.”
“Ah!” exclaimed Tuck. “This looks better and better.”

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Phoebe Breaks Through - Episode 24

Episode 24



Abby led the way along a stone wall – really just a pile of stones that went on and on in the strange silvery world of the forest night under the stars. As they walked downhill through a glade of maple trees the wall ended, and by the sudden coolness and smell in the air Phoebe knew the river was ahead. Suddenly she saw a smooth glimmering surface through the trees. Near the end of the downhill slope Phoebe’s foot slipped on the leaves and her knee gave way with a stabbing pain. Down she went, sliding into a giant old tree on the riverbank. The thick roots bruised and scraped her forehead, but it was her knee that worried her. 

“Are you okay?” Abby cried. “Please say you’re okay!”

“I think I’m all right,” answered Phoebe, but she knew it wasn’t true. Her knee wobbled like a loose table leg. Abby threw her arms around her. Phoebe smiled. “I’m really okay,” she said. “Let’s go.”

Abby led the way along the riverbank to an enormous old fallen tree, and pulled a very small boat, an old wooden dinghy, out from under the space made by the thick roots elevating the trunk of the tree. She slid it into the water.

“Go ahead, jump in,” she said. Phoebe limped carefully into the boat and sat in the bow. Abby handed her a flat piece of wood. “Paddle!” she hissed. “Paddle!” The boat picked up speed, heading toward the opposite bank at an angle. The water shimmered in the starlight. The twinkling sky opened up above them.

“Grab that branch,” came Abby’s urgent whisper, and the boat twisted in the current and slid sideways onto the bank.

After pulling the boat up the bank they sat and gazed at the water. The view before them seemed so spectacular, with the stars above and the stars reflected in the water. It seemed just like life, with the immensity outside and the immensity inside. There was something hypnotic and caressing about the dark and silvery water gleaming by, something so nourishing about the strange light, as if it were a kind of food with vitamins essential to life that you could rarely find. And so when you did find it you had to take out the time to fill up on it.

“I still don’t get it about tomorrow,” Phoebe said. “You’re taking too many risks.”

“Without some risk there’s no emergency.”

“Well, ‘fess up! How are you going to create this emergency?”

“Wendy’s helping me,” Abby answered.

“To do what?”

“I’m going to fly.”


They were silent for a long moment. The sweat dripped off their bodies.

“I shouldn’t have told you.”

“How are you going to do that?”

“Okay. Wendy has a broom like a pole with a spirit in it. She flies. I’m going to try it.”

“But why don’t other people do that?”

“Wendy is special,” Abby told her. “You should see the things that she can do.”

“I can’t believe it,” cried Phoebe in frustration.

“So don’t believe it… But you know, Wendy thinks dreamstone has been around for thousands of years. That explains a lot if you think about it.”

“But flying will be horrible. No one will ever let you alone after that. They’ll bring in police and scientists and reporters and God knows what…”

“Don’t you see,” Abby calmly replied, “Even if they did, there’d be nothing to find. It’s called soul-travelling. And it will be late dusk. They won’t get a clear view of me, and few will believe it.”

“But how can you be so sure?”

“It’s all happened before. I tell you, the world is full of bizarre things. They even have photos of them, but nobody believes it. Wendy’s been doing it for years. It’s happened since there were people on earth, usually in dreams. In fact, Wendy told me that you looked into dreamstone. Did you fly?”

Phoebe was shocked to hear that Abby knew. “But that was a dream,” Phoebe replied. 

“Are you sure? Did it feel real? Wasn’t I there?”

“Yes,” whispered Phoebe.

“So can we go ahead and do this together? Please?” Abby was begging.

“I’m definitely absolutely for certain coming with you, no matter what,” Phoebe told her fiercely. “Nothing will stop me.”

Abby put her face in her hands. Her body shook with sobs.


And The Upcoming...GHOST GIRL (Book III) 

by John KixMiller

Across The Forest By Night illustration

by Carlos Uribe

Learn More About Phoebe And The Players In Middletown!

Phoebe Breaks Through - Episode 8

Episode 8



Phoebe tried to help as George, Jeremy, Eddie and many friends talked and packed up their instruments and sound system. Ecstasy was in the air. Sammy had invited the band to play again in a week, so the experience would go on! But Phoebe did not share in the general delight. She was haunted by worries about Abby, and unsure of the status of Stephanie and her friends. Were any of them attached to any of the boys? It seemed likely.

George took a moment to publically thank Phoebe, and she decided to stay around. Stephanie and Eddy both had cars and carried the group to the gas station office for a little celebration. But Phoebe became very irritated with Jeremy for ignoring her. When Stephanie had to leave early, Phoebe decided to take the ride back home.

As they drove out of the gas station Stephanie wasted no time with small talk. “Why didn’t you stay?” she asked. “Live a little. Your work too much.”

“How about you,” returned Phoebe. “You were having fun.”

“Well, I’ll be honest with you. Eddie and I have a date. We’re going to a little spot…”

“I’m happy for you. I understand things better now.”

Stephanie replied with some heat: “Yeah, well, there are some things I don’t understand. I thought you liked Jeremy, but you two treat each other like enemies.”

“I don’t understand him any better than you do,” Phoebe blurted out. 

“Jeremy likes you, I hope you know.”

Phoebe raised her voice and was almost yelling: “We were close! You don’t know the things we’ve done together. And now he acts like I don’t exist.”

Stephanie looked her in the eye and said, “He thinks you’re in love with George. He’s stepping aside to let the two of you figure it out. You’re a couple of fools in my opinion. Wake up!”

Phoebe was so stunned she couldn't speak. Stephanie stopped the car in the field opposite Phoebe's house.

“Stephanie, I had no idea… It’s such a shock.”

“A good one, I hope.”

Phoebe smiled. “Yes… very good.”

“Can I ask for a favor then? I hate my job at Hickory Securities. The place is creepy. Do you know Bentley, the owner, and his friends? They try to flirt with me, and they’re old and creepy. That tall guy Milton Morphy is like the leader of them all. Even Bentley bows down to him.” 

“I should have warned you months ago,” returned Phoebe. “It’s worse than creepy. They’re trying to take over the town. We’re secretly organizing against that group. But pretend you don’t know, it’s dangerous.”

“Please," said Stephanie, "I need a new job, like tomorrow. Something like yours.”

“I had kind of promised that to Abby…”

“Abby Chapman? I’ve heard them mention her at the office like I’m not supposed to hear. What’s she got to do with all this?”

“A lot. Stephanie, let me fill you in on a few things.”

“Not now, I’ve gotta go.”

“One more thought. Doesn’t Sammy need another employee already?”

“Put in a good word for me. I’ll take that job. I’m outa here.”

Phoebe jumped out onto the field, and Stephanie burned rubber as she roared off.

And The Upcoming...GHOST GIRL (Book III) 
by John KixMiller

After The Concert illustration
by Carlos Uribe

Learn More About Phoebe And The Players In Middletown!


Phoebe Breaks Through - Episode 5

Episode 5


Mario -- head of the Half Moon United Soccer Club and Phoebe’s former coach -- strolled into the toy store courtyard looking for a favor.
“I need your help,” he told her. “Our game spreads among the young people but we cannot keep up. Will you coach my Under-14 girls’ team?”
“I’m so glad to see you!” exclaimed Phoebe. “But I’ve got a job, more than full time, and don’t have a car.”
“When is your day off?”
“I’m afraid to tell you. Monday.”
“At least meet the team,” begged Mario. “We need a meeting place to get the players and parents organized for the new year. Remember the adults who were already too busy who helped you? Now it’s your turn.”
“It’s true, Mario. God knows you were there for me when I needed you most. Go ahead, invite your team to the store.”

Late Monday afternoon, Phoebe set up about twenty-five chairs in the main room of the toy store, and then went outside to wait in the courtyard. Soon a group walked up the sidewalk and looked through the gate. A tall, thin, very dark-skinned man in an elegant summer suit asked, “Team meeting for the Blue Demons?”
Phoebe welcomed them, and met Terrence Williams and his daughter Shannon, and Jorge and Maria Luna and their daughter Marisol. Family groups arrived one after another. Luis, older brother to Jasmine, began passing a soccer ball with the players. Finally Mario arrived and the parents assembled inside the store. The teenagers began exploring. Suddenly Luis yelled from the back door, “Hey, check out this backyard! We can play here!” In a moment the players and most of their siblings exited the back and disappeared. 
“I’d better follow them,” said Phoebe to Mario. “You join the parents.”

She stood on the back steps and watched Luis organize the group. It wasn’t a large space, just barely big enough to practice in. Two goals were improvised by moving rocks. Luis began to referee a small-sided game, with a team waiting on the side to play the winner. In minutes the teams were playing as if they’d grown up there. Phoebe sat and watched for half an hour before she made her decision.

As a game ended she called, “Wait everyone. Please! Come over here for a minute. I’m not sure if you know, but Mario has asked me to be your coach this year.”
“Yeah, he told us,” said Jasmine.
“I said no, but after seeing you I’ve changed my mind. That is, if you’ll practice here two evenings a week, and if Luis will help me.”
“I like it here,” said Luis. “But I can’t come all the time.”
“Let’s go for it,” said Shannon. “This is going to be fun.”
In a moment they all agreed.

And The Upcoming...GHOST GIRL (Book III) 
by John KixMiller

The Soccer Players Come To The Toy Store, illustration
by Carlos Uribe
Learn More About Phoebe And The Players In Middletown!

Phoebe Breaks Through - Episode 4

Episode 4

PBT_Episode 4.jpg

After speaking with Reverend Tuck, Phoebe began to regret that she’d lost contact with George and Jeremy, and decided to find ways to encourage them. She attended their first concert at Sammy’s Coffee Shop, but to her surprise, discovered that they had cancelled at the last minute. Late in the evening, she hiked out to the gas station to see if they were practicing there.

She rapped on the glass door and pushed it open. 
“Phoebe!” cried George, jumping up and staring.
“What, am I a ghost?” she asked. “Didn’t you expect me?”
George and Jeremy exchanged looks. “No,” George replied, “we certainly didn’t. You’ve been negative about what we’re doing all along.”
“I really do like you guys,” returned Phoebe. “I was stupid to have a bad attitude about the concert.”
“Well, that’s good to hear,” said Jeremy with an edge of sarcasm. “But you’re too late. We’ve given up the whole plan.”
“Yeah,” agreed George. “We’ve got problems you don’t understand at all. I don’t like the music I used to play, but that’s all people expect of me. They don’t like what I’m doing now. My songs are sad, it’s that simple.”
“But I like what you’re doing now,” protested Jeremy.
“Can I hear one of these new songs?” asked Phoebe.
“Oh, what’s the use,” muttered George.
“Look,” declared Phoebe. “I’m serious. If I’m impressed, I’ll be your producer and promoter. We’re going to pull off a beautiful event.”
“Well…” said George, his eyes wide with surprise. “What do you think, Jeremy?”
They grabbed a couple of acoustic guitars and launched into a mournful melody. George began to sing:

My world’s closing in on me
It’s gotten so that I can’t see
My star no more, my god no more
Of these closing doors.
I don’t know what to say
But my thoughts just won’t play
Like they used to in my mind
And I sit here and sigh
Just wasting my time

After another verse and a guitar solo, the melody ended. They looked up at Phoebe. She clapped and said, “That got my attention. Everyone feels that way sometimes. We just need a variety of songs, some percussion, and a couple of amplifiers. It’s gonna be crowded, with people on the sidewalk. They’ve got to be able to hear these songs. And there’s just a week to get ready. Sammy has rescheduled you guys for next Friday night."

And The Upcoming...GHOST GIRL (Book III) 
by John KixMiller

Phoebe Helps George And Jermey Make A Plan illustration
by Carlos Uribe
Learn More About Phoebe And The Players In Middletown!

Phoebe Breaks Through - Episode 3

Episode 3


Dusk was turning into dark in Middletown by the time Phoebe left the toy store and walked to the churchyard. She saw Reverend Tuck’s pale face and white collar at a bench near the stained glass window. 
“I know you have important questions,” said Tuck. “Start anywhere you want.”
“Jeremy and I went into the forest and met the old man. I told him I know I'm supposed to do something in life, but I can't find a way forward. He took me to a huge piece of dreamstone, and looking into it, I had a vision of an old woman coming up out the ground, and I was following Her. But I don't understand what it means, and the old man told me to speak to you."

“Maybe my story will help you,” answered Tuck. “You know, many years ago we learned that chemicals used by industry were opening huge holes in the upper atmosphere, allowing radiation to enter and damage human skin. At that time, I had a cancerous tumor removed from my face. It never came back, but for me, it was a crisis that never ended. I could see that since we can destroy nature, we must become the stewards of our world, responsible for it’s fate. Since then, climate change has grown into an emergency, and I realized that the earth is something we have to treasure and fight for. And during this time I joined your parents and others in the Protectors of the Wood, and learned the significance of dreamstone.”

“I need to know about that,” said Phoebe.
“I looked into dreamstone twice some years ago," answered Tuck, "and each time I saw disasters: landscapes turning to deserts, floods, things too terrible to describe. All hope left me. I felt sick all the time. And then I saw Her – not in a dreamstone vision, by the way, but I awoke one night with a dream in mind in every detail. It changed my life.” Tuck’s voice fell to a whisper. The wind rose and made a rushing noise in the leaves.

“Others had seen Her in the stone, but I had been denied that vision, and was desperate for an answer. In my dream, I was out walking in the forest, looking for Her. I saw a dark spot in a stone ridge, and going closer, I found the opening to a cave.”
Tuck turned and looked at Phoebe. “And then I heard a high, broken voice, and pictured an old woman. 

‘There you are,’ she said. ‘What took you so long?’
“’I’m lost,’ I replied. 
“’Listen,’ she said. ‘I have a message for you. Let the world know I am here not only for people, but for all life, for there can be no human beings without the teeming life around you and inside you. Nothing is too small, nothing is useless, nothing is dead. For heaven is here on earth, and the earth is a part of the city of God…’
“And there was more, much more,” Tuck declared.
“Go on,” begged Phoebe.
“She said, 'I am Nature’s champion, her guardian from of old, and her ally in her current sufferings. I am the one who has never ceased her work from the beginning of time. And now, in this crisis, I am asking for YOUR help! Join my labors! All of you who can hear me, the great and the small! Life on earth, your mother who encloses you in this world, needs your help!’
“And her voice rose as she said this!” Tuck said. “Her voice seemed to echo out on the mountainside and in the valley below! I have given her words a name: The Call of Sophia. SHE is calling. SHE is calling each and every one of us.”
There was silence in the churchyard as Tuck paused.

And The Upcoming...GHOST GIRL (Book III) 
by John KixMiller

Phoebe Hears About Reverand Tuck's Dream illustration
by Carlos Uribe

Learn More About Phoebe And The Players In Middletown!