Abby and Wendy

Episode 29
PLEASE HELP US!

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

Abby and Wendy - Episode 4

THE HIDDEN GARDEN

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Episode 4
Illustration by Carlos Uribe
THE HIDDEN GARDEN
Abby stood knocking at the tiny door, getting no response. ‘Wendy’s gone…’ she thought. ‘Oh, I just can’t take it! What am I going to do now? I’m too tired and weak to try anymore.’ She flopped down in despair, hanging her head, determined to sit there until Wendy or the day of doom arrived, whichever came first.
‘The garden,’ came the voice. ‘The storm.’
Her mind made the connections instantly. ‘Of course! The snow, the hailstones! Wendy will be inspecting her garden, shaking the snow off the leaves, babying her fragile, precious plants.’
With her life in tatters all around her, the only goal Abby could cling to was finding Wendy and receiving her help, support, and forgiveness. She stood up. But before she could take a step she encountered another obstacle. Wendy’s garden was carefully hidden by nature and human ingenuity. Abby was aware of only one route to the garden: a tunnel accessible only from the cellar under Wendy’s house. Abby did not dare attempt this strange pathway without Wendy’s permission and guidance. The tunnel was part of a maze of caverns and passageways, and included the closely guarded storage closet of Wendy’s precious medicines, and other mysteries beyond Abby’s knowledge. The extent of the maze of tunnels was impossible to guess. Clearly a lost soul could die down there, unable to find a way out.
Despite her knowledge of the landscape, Abby was uncertain of a good overland route to the garden. It was surrounded on three sides by a connected series of ridges with nasty cliffs. The fourth side – the shortest by far – was protected by the tallest, thickest wall of brambles Abby had ever seen. No one could pick even a small fraction of the raspberries and blackberries that grew there, because they were unreachable.
‘There’s got to be a way!’ she thought. ‘There MUST be a way.’ She had a feeling that the mapstick was pulling her in a certain direction, up the stream that made such lovely and soothing music. It was impossible to be sure whether she was imagining this pull on her hand or not, but she followed her intuition, however absurd it might be. The forest was quite still. Then she heard a crow call overhead, and pictured in her mind that sheltered spot hollowed out of the stony ridges. She began to walk upstream, and spotted a path through the tangle of mountain laurel. She followed, but the path ended midway through the thicket. In frustration Abby ploughed her way through the tough branches and found herself scratched and angry. Standing there feeling hopeless, she noticed that to her right another stony ridge began a steep ascent. Struggling to hold the mapstick and the briefcase, she climbed and stumbled up to a point where she could survey the surrounding countryside.
Trees screened her view, but she felt sure the garden was straight ahead below her. Following a deer trail descending in the right direction, she reached level ground and found the going easy. She made a guess and turned left through a stand of white birch trees all in shadow. The sun was setting behind the ridges, occasionally glaring in her eyes. Then another dreaded thicket of laurel blocked her way.
Abby almost burst into tears. Feeling lost and alone, she sat on the ground, breathing hard. She glanced absently at the laurel before her, and noticed how it looked from a sitting position. 
‘Of course,’ she thought. ‘I knew that. Pathways for small animals under the branches.’ She moved forward on hands and knees, and emerged at a rocky ledge. On the other side lay the wall of raspberry and blackberry bushes, the immense patch of brambles. She went down on all fours again, and sure enough, a path barely large enough to crawl through appeared ahead of her. Scratched, her shirt torn, her face stained with tears, she squirmed and wiggled her way forward. A view through the brambles opened up ahead of her, a window out into the garden some distance ahead.

Abby and Wendy - Episode 2

THE JOURNEY TO WENDY’S HOUSE BEGINS

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Illustration by Carlos Uribe
THE JOURNEY TO WENDY’S HOUSE BEGINS
Abby was suddenly aware that she was wet and cold. The storm had blown off, but the cold rain had soaked her clothes. Hailstones had fallen on her neck and shoulders, and slipped down her back to melt there on her bare skin. She knew she had to get moving. Her teeth were chattering. She felt dazed.
‘But what’s my route to Wendy’s house?’ she wondered. ‘It would have saved time to hit the Half Moon River upstream, where Cedar Creek and the Half Moon can be crossed on those logs.’
But a voice quickly spoke in Abby’s mind: ‘Remember the flooding. The logs have been swept away.’
‘Of couse,’ she thought. And a chill of fear crept into her heart. Since leaving the church she’d felt as if someone, something, was inside her mind, advising and helping her. 
‘Am I going crazy? What am I to make of this? Hello! Is somebody in there?’
But no reply came forth. She remained still, holding the briefcase and the mapstick, unsure which way to go. ‘Your boat,’ said the voice. 
‘Of course,’ she thought. ‘I’ll cross the Half Moon in my boat, and head upstream to the stairway up the cliff. But what in God’s name is going on?’
Abby began walking at an easy pace, hugging the ridge on her right. It was a relief to have shaken off all pursuit, and to be confident of the road ahead. The branches of the tall old pine trees occasionally spread across her path, and she had to struggle to get through, even crawling a few times, holding the mapstick and pushing the briefcase ahead of her. She vividly remembered going this same way with Jeremy only three evenings before. That journey had begun as a fabulous adventure, and then… it became a disaster, part of the collapsing house of cards that had been her experience of the last three days.
Eventually the pines thinned out and the ridge met the rising ground. Abby walked up over the slope and descended to the Half Moon River. Her dinghy was where she and Phoebe had left it, hidden under the brambles. She slid it into the water, jumped in with her briefcase and the mapstick, and paddled furiously with a flat piece of wood. The current had eased up over the past two weeks. The boat hit the far side not far from its hiding place under the enormous fallen maple tree. After pulling the boat out of sight, she hiked along the bank of the river. The towering cliff grew closer and closer, leaving only a narrow rocky path for the traveller. She struggled along, tired and confused. To her relief, the voice in her mind was quiet for now. 
The wind died down. Abby grew warm as her clothes slowly dried. Walking near the cliff was hard work, and the distance was about three miles. The cloudy sky was dimmer by the time she reached the stairway. She sat for a moment next to the thin oval rock that hid the entrance, dreading the climb ahead. The multiple crises of the last few days had exhausted her nerves and mental energy, and shaken her confidence.
She forced herself to think through the climb, and realized that the mapstick and the briefcase would make awkward, even dangerous baggage – awkward through the first two thirds of the climb, and dangerous near the top. How could she safely hold them when she had to go on all fours, gripping the face of the mountain?
‘Remember the piece of twine,’ said the voice in her mind.
‘The piece of twine? What piece of twine?’
She recalled the twine she had used to tie the mapstick across her back as she rode the bike, but had no memory what she had done with it. But there, wrapped around the mapstick several times, was the piece of twine. The mapstick and briefcase would still be hazards near the top of the cliff, but now the climb was at least possible. 

 

 

 

Ghost Girl - Episode 66

THE LAST DAY

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Illustration by Carlos Uribe

Abby awoke to shadowy, gloomy light leaking in through the windows. A gusting wind made a rushing noise that shook the door and windows of the cottage. She checked the time, and was shocked to see that it was long past dawn, already 10am. The church service and the dreaded voting for trustee would soon begin. The room was very chilly. She dressed in a flannel shirt, a hooded sweatshirt, and a clean pair of jeans. Around 10:30 she looked out the side window at the street, and saw cars already double-parked in front of the church. A woman with a microphone was interviewing people next to a WBCS van, while two photographers worked cameras on tripods. The light was very strange, almost like the last glow before nightfall, or the last glow before the end of the world.
‘I’m not used to this,’ thought Abby. ‘It seemed like it would be hot forever.’
Yesterday’s bank of clouds had become a thick, somber blanket covering the sky. It smelled like rain. She expected anything and everything to happen that day, so she put her wallet with all her cash in her pocket.
‘Okay, here goes!” she told herself, and walked out the front gate and in the front door of the church, hoping to blend in with the crowd. She immediately received a sheet of paper from Dr. Bear, who was telling all comers, “One ballot to a person, return them here or at the side door or in the offering plate.”
The church was already packed. Abby threaded her way down the left aisle toward the side door. The organ began to play a mournful tune, long, slow, and meditative. The church became still more crowded. Reporters with cameras took notes and photographs, despite the efforts of a few trustees to persuade them to leave. Reverend Tuck announced that the day’s service would be very brief due to the voting and the weather. After the opening hymn and prayers he introduced the bishop. After a short sermon the bishop announced the offering, and invited everyone to place their ballots in the trays that began to circulate through the church. Abby realized that he was making the election a part of the service, perhaps as a strategy to maintain order and ensure the integrity of the voting process. But given the sheer number of people and the emotional tension in the room, Abby felt the potential for conflict, even violence. 
As this process was going on a roll of thunder shook the church. People looked up in alarm. Soon a much louder crack like an explosion startled the entire congregation. People standing near the doors looked outside, and a man yelled, “Hail stones! They’re like baseballs!” With the doors open a cold wind swept through the church. 
Thunder rumbled again. The bishop announced the final hymn. Votes were still being collected, and people were already running for the doors, many passing in their ballots on the way.
Loud voices broke out: “You can’t even walk on this stuff! It’s like walking on marbles!”
“It hurts, I tell you! Wear a hat or stay indoors!”
Thunder cracked again, and the congregation began to panic. The pelting of hailstones against the stained glass windows sounded like the rifle fire of a battle. Many of those who stepped outside decided to return, choosing the safety of the church. “Don’t even try it,” a woman advised. “The traffic’s not moving. I want to find out who won this thing anyway.”
Soon Abby heard fantastic rumors circulating about ‘magic’ and ‘revenge’. She began to receive menacing looks from people at a distance, and noticed groups of muttering strangers pointing her way. Finally a man yelled at her: “Okay, that’s enough! You’d better put a stop to this. There’s only so much we can take.”
Abby turned to ask Tuck for help but he had disappeared. She felt too vulnerable to just stand there alone. A woman ran in the side door yelling, “We’re trapped! Don’t even think about leaving…” She faced Abby and shouted, “What are you standing here for? Go back where you came from. We’re getting rid of your kind!”
Abby saw the tall, thin form of Milton Morphy joining the hostile group, followed by his short and round ally, Bob Bentley. They began to organize and inflame an ever-increasing crowd. Bentley, his arm in a white cast and a sling, stood to the side and gave her a long, steady glare. Abby pretended she didn’t see him.
“This time we better finish the job,” yelled a voice, and the ringleaders began to move toward Abby. She tried to ease her way to the door, but as soon as she moved a man pointed and yelled, “Where is she going?”
Suddenly a piercing yell came forth from the mob. “Stop her! She’s going to Wendy! It’s all Wendy’s doing!” People turned to see Milton Morphy towering above the crowd. “Arrest her!” he yelled, his face contorted with rage, his arm pointing forward. “Find out what she knows!”

Ghost Girl - Episode 65

THE ROLLING THUNDER BAND

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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
Today
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:
Why…
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


GEORGE IN TROUBLE

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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 63

THE NEWSPAPER HITS THE FESTIVAL

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Abby and the children stepped out onto the open lawn. To Abby’s surprise, Glenda and the bishop were walking toward them. One glance at Glenda’s face told Abby that something bad had happened. The cloud of gloom seemed to be everywhere now. The bishop came forward to speak to Abby, and Glenda waved to the children to join her.
Glenda did not look up at Abby or acknowledge her at all. But the bishop came right up to her and said, “Guide me on your path while we have a moment. Please, it would be a big help to me.” 
Abby was burning with curiosity but terrified at the same time. Each moment seemed touched by the hand of fate.
“A beautiful little spot,” said the bishop with a smile. “I love the way you organized the yard. I’ve been hearing a lot about you.”
“I’m not sure that’s a good thing,” came Abby’s tense reply.
“Oh, it’s very good. I’m interested. I can see you’ve learned a lot that most people miss. I was wondering how you managed to do that.”
“I try,” said Abby. “I find teachers.”
“Mmm. Well, I won’t be too inquisitive.” The bishop wore regular street clothes. He had a warm smile. Abby wasn’t sure how to address him, but felt she had to ask the obvious.
“Forgive me, Sir, for being so direct, but why did you come over here with Glenda? I know there’s a reason.”
“Oh, of course. We’re in a very difficult transition here, and that’s a part of a much, much larger transition. So I thought I would give you a few words of encouragement.”
“Thank you! I do need it,” exclaimed Abby. “But you’re so vague about it.”
“I want to be vague. I have no intention of getting into the details of your business. You have to do what you have to do. But at the same time, I want to lift you up, make you more hopeful. You’re doing good, so don’t be dismayed. I’ve got your back.”
Abby could hardly believe her ears. “I didn’t think you would care about me.”
“Well, you’re wrong there,” the bishop replied. “Take my word for it. And now we should return, and get ready to deal with the next two days.”
As they walked back to the festival area the bishop remained behind. Totally bewildered, Abby walked up to the food tables searching for a close friend. There were new faces in the crowd, most of them total strangers. Many were reading a newspaper, and pointed at her and laughed. On a couple of tables were stacks of newspapers, and frequently someone would walk over and grab a copy. Abby was beginning to feel desperate when she caught Sara’s eye at one of Sammy’s tables. Sara quickly spoke to Stephanie and walked over to Abby, grabbing a paper on the way.
“Come with me,” she said.
“What’s going on today? Are those people laughing at me, or am I just paranoid?”
“All your questions will be answered soon, never fear. Find us a private spot.”
Abby led her to the privet fort and they sat on the leaves. Sara gave her the newspaper and said, “I know it looks bad, but I’ve already got some ideas for a counter-attack. Never fear, we’re with you.”
Abby was already scanning the paper at lightning speed. The headline read: MILTON MORPHY TO OFFER A FORTUNE FOR THE CHURCHYARD. The article stated that due to deplorable mismanagement, the Middletown United Church was decaying into a shadow of its former glory. Morphy was quoted promising to use his renowned business expertise to organize a renovation of the entire church, all funded by the purchase of the churchyard by the Geddon Insurance Group. A separate article expressed the hope that on the following day the congregation would elect a new trustee who would support the renovation campaign. The paper carried a long editorial exploring the ‘possibly criminal misuse of church funds’. And on the opposite page was a large, clear picture of Abby hugging Jeremy in the privet fort. Her face was visible and recognizable, her chin just above his shoulder. There was no doubt about the drama she was feeling.
Underneath the photo the headline read: MISUSE OF CHURCH EMPLOYMENT BY FAVORITE OF REVEREND TUCK. The article began: ‘Last week Reverend Tuck invited a known vagrant of questionable reputation to live in the churchyard, a teenager who neglects her responsibilities and uses her privileged position to carry on her personal life in a manner that would be more appropriate elsewhere.’
Abby had grown numb, and trembled as she gave the paper back to Sara, who looked at her very closely. “I know it’s awful,” Abby said, “but what can I do?”
“Well…” Sara was very hesitant, obviously uncomfortable. “Most of this is stupid. What, is it a crime to hug Jeremy? You’ve only been hired for a week! It seems to me you can shrug this off. But there’s one thing… I’m not sure you saw it.”
“Go on, Sara, you’re making me nervous.”
“It’s the photographer… I mean, it’s the person listed as the photographer.”
Abby grabbed the paper back. In fine print under each photo she read, ‘George Thompson for the Middletown Standard’. 
This was too much for her. A mist came before her eyes.

Ghost Girl - Episode 62

THE FESTIVAL BEGINS

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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 61


ONE HUNDRED AND TEN IN THE SHADE

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Illustration by Lawrence Tate
The sweltering atmosphere in Abby’s cottage was unbearable. The windows were open, but the air was still. The morale boost given to her by Sulay and Nico was quickly overwhelmed by a feeling of her own helplessness.
‘I’m a rat in a trap,’ she thought. ‘People think I’m some kind of leader! They believe in me, take risks for me. But I can’t do anything right. I don’t deserve to be a leader.’
She tried to get up the energy to go buy a fan, and even had the cash in her pocket. But a heavy depression, a feeling of paralysis, left her lying on the bed as if she would never move again. She drifted off into an uneasy sleep.
Abby awoke just before sunrise. The blue jays made their shrill sounds just outside her window. The light of the new day was dawning. She was intolerably thirsty, and drank off four glasses of cold water. Her body was covered in sweat. She took a cold shower, dressed, and ate peaches, apples, and figs with a few more glasses of water.
Hoping for a cool breeze, she walked outside and inspected her gardens. With a shock she saw her plants withering and going limp in the heat. The soil was bone dry. She spent the following two hours giving a drink to every plant in the yard. A stalker – the one with the blond hair who had grabbed his colleague by the shoulder the day before – leaned against the fence near the front gate and watcher her the entire time. Finally Abby watered the flowers near the fence and came within ten feet of him.
“Hot day, isn’t it?” he said casually.
“I didn’t know I was so interesting,” she replied, without looking him in the eye.
“It’s a free world,” he said in a mild tone of voice.
“Sort of,” returned Abby. 
‘I’ve got to shut up!’ she told herself. ‘This is doing me no good.’
She walked back and forth over and over refilling the water can. Her stomach was empty but she was not hungry. Eventually she gave up. No amount of water could keep the soil damp. After an apple and three glasses of water, she headed out to the pre-school on her bike, not caring that she would be late. A plain used Ford sedan followed her from a distance. At the pre-school Rose immediately apologized for not giving Abby the news already. The state had recommended the closure of all schools an hour and a half before. Rose had finally informed all the parents, and they were happy for an excuse to stay home. Yesterday’s temperature had reached a record of 112 degrees, with no relief in sight. 
Strangely enough, Abby rode back home in disappointment. She had looked forward to the time with the children as a relief from a host of other thoughts. The door to her mind had so much traffic trying to get in that all movement stopped in an impossible bottleneck. Any thought of yesterday’s incident with Jeremy was accompanied by overwhelming panic. The terror of her responsibility for the mapstick and the briefcase left her staring glassy eyed at nothing.
Abby forced herself to eat a little bit, and lay inside in a daze. The street was empty. Even the stalkers were indoors. The whole day went by.

Ghost Girl - Episode 60

SULAY AND NICO TO THE RESCUE

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Illustration by Carlos Uribe
Sitting quietly in the cave of vines, Abby studied the maps of the underground caverns and tunnels. “What about these lines in a lot of the caves?” she asked her father. “And these other pictures and figures?”
“We don’t have time to discuss all of that now,” he told her. “Your mother is probably waiting for us already. In half an hour we have to meet Alison at the boat. You can check my notes for details, but one thing you should know right now: these spiral designs in many of the larger caverns… well, the spiral appears to be a symbol for dreamstone.”
Abby blinked. The world seemed to go dark for a second, and when it came back into focus it seemed different. “But Dad! This is a map of the location of dreamstone! It’s too hot a rock for me to touch! Keep this briefcase, get it out of here! You don’t know the danger we’re in.”
“I’ll be afraid anywhere I put it,” her father answered. “It’s eating up my mind. I know in my heart I’m not supposed to have it anymore. You’re supposed to have it. Just ask Tuck to put it in a safe place.” He put the papers back in their folder and into the briefcase, and closed and locked it.
“Dad, I’m watched 24/7. One of these stalkers knows we’re back here. This thing needs to be in Tuck’s safety deposit room now.”
“Yes, yes, and your mother is probably looking for us.” They crawled out of the cave and walked up the Birdwatcher’s Path to the open lawn. Reverend Tuck and Julia were waiting at the side door of the church. “I need a favor right away,” Abby told Tuck. “Put this briefcase next to my long staff in your safe room. Now, if you can.”
Soon they were out on the street in the blazing sun. Abby’s parents kissed her goodbye and headed down toward the river. Immediately they were both disturbed by a stalker following close behind. Seemingly out of nowhere Abby saw Nico and Sulay dart into the scene taking pictures of the stalker. The man was in his early thirties, dressed in slacks and a sport coat, and sweating in the heat. He turned to Nico and Sulay in fury, and ran at them, saying, “I warned you! I warned you! This time I’ll break that thing.” Nico scrambled out of the way, and Sulay simply turned her back and cradled the camera in her arms. Abby ran from the churchyard gate and pushed herself in front of the man’s face. People across the street turned to look. 
Nico came up behind the stalker and said quietly, “You want to try something? Go ahead, lay a finger on that girl and see what happens.”
As the man turned to face him, Nico took more photos with his cell phone of the man’s face contorted in fury. Another stalker ran across the street from his post on the bench in front of the Middletown Standard office, shouting to his colleague, “Nick! Nick! Cut it short, man, leave off!” He grabbed his colleague by the arm and pulled him back toward their home base at the Standard office.
“Are you okay?” asked Abby. “Did he touch you?” 
“No,” said Sulay quietly. She had a faint Spanish accent but looked more East Asian. She seemed to have no fear. 
“Thanks, Mom and Dad, for coming back! Nice going, everyone!”
“Your warnings don’t tell half the story,” said her father, his voice thick with anger. “What in God’s name is going on here?”
“It’s the watchers,” said Nico. “They’ve been at this since the concert. Sulay and I are catching them. Phoebe and Sara made a plan.”
Abby looked at Sulay and introduced herself. “I know who you are,” Sulay replied. “We’re on your side. This is fun. I like it here.” She smiled.
Abby tried her best to be severe and said, “I’ve got to talk to Phoebe. I don’t want you two getting in trouble.”
“Now don’t mess this up,” Nico told her. “We’re not little kids. Phoebe gets punched, you get followed everywhere you go, they try to close our stores and wreck our teams, arrest Sammy and Phoebe’s parents for standing on the sidewalk. We’ve got our own ideas about this, and we’re not about to give up. You need us! You’re the one headed for trouble!”
Sulay gave a big smile. “We’re important now. Kids look up to us to do something. We know who the good guys are. All the kids do. You’ve just been locked in this place by the watchers. You should get out more.”
“Believe me, I wish I could,” Abby replied.
“See!” said Nico. “I told you.”
“You're awesome,” Abby said. “But be careful.”

Ghost Girl - Episode 59

THE MAP OF THE UNDERGROUND

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THE MAP OF THE UNDERGROUND
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 58


FEAR AND TEARS

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Illustration by Carlos Uribe
In the morning a loud knock awoke Abby from a series of dreams. She sprang out of bed, threw on some clothes, and opened the door a crack. “Chi Chi!” she cried. “What is it?”
“You remember,” he said, “the compost project. We have the chipper here.” 
“I overslept. Give me five minutes.”
“No hurry,” he replied. “Just wanted to let you know we’re here.”
‘We,’ thought Abby. ‘He must be referring to that jerk Jeremy.’ Anger and disappointment flooded through her veins. She ate an apple and drank tea, trying to get into the right frame of mind for a morning of hard work in the heat. They would have to chip and shred a really large pile of branches and leaves, making a pyramid of woodchips behind her cottage. Then they would have to attach a wide plastic pipe to draw air from just above the floor of her cottage, running through the pile of woodchips, and reconnecting with the cottage just below the ceiling. In a few months, by the time the cold weather arrived, this system would heat Abby’s cottage. The pile of woodchips would generate the heat. It was a fascinating idea, but she was in no mood for it. 
Abby stepped outside as Jeremy was dragging branches and leaves on a wide sheet of burlap, and set them near Chi Chi who was working the chipper. 
After three hours in the blazing sun the sweat was pouring down their shirts. The pile of chips and the pipe were completed.
“It may not look like much now, but in November you will be amazed,” Chi Chi told Abby. “This isn’t only to help you. It’s to make a model of how things can be done.”
Out on the street they loaded the chipper onto a small trailer attached to the van. After Chi Chi drove off, Abby and Jeremy stood near each other, wondering what to say.
“Well, thanks Jeremy,” said Abby. “I’ll see you later.” She hadn’t intended to sound sarcastic, but she felt it come out that way. She turned to go.
“Wait,” he said. “Can we talk for a few minutes?”
“You know we’re not supposed to socialize one on one in the churchyard. You know we’re being watched. There’s one of those watchers across the street on the bench.”
“Just for a minute,” Jeremy pleaded. “We’ll walk back as if we’re working.”
She couldn’t say no, and they walked back to the mulch pile behind the high privet hedge. 
“I can see you’re mad at me,” Jeremy began. “What is it?”
“Is that really so hard to see?” Her anger was bubbling over. “You say you’ll follow me anywhere, but you don’t even say hello. You won’t kiss me, you don’t bring my stuff, you ignore me… all after practically saying that you love me.”
“I do love you. Really, I do. But think what would happen if we paired off. Everything we’re doing would fall apart.”
“But I’m supposed to think like that,” Abby replied. “That’s not how boys think. When a boy says that… you know, it means he doesn’t like her that much.”
“You’re wrong there,” Jeremy said with a smile. “I guess you could say I’m different. You don’t know how I feel about you. This thing we’ve got going is real. You’re the leader. Without you, we’re nothing. My job is to be… kind of like your lieutenant. Same with Phoebe, George, Stephanie, Eddie, and Sara. And Isaiah and Ishmael, and Cali too. We’re your staff.”
‘But what if I want a boyfriend?’ thought Abby.
“Boys can be wise sometimes,” Jeremy said softly. “Believe me, in my heart, in my own way, I love you.”
They fell into each other and embraced. They both knew they would not kiss, but they held each other tight. Abby closed her eyes, and they stood that way for a few seconds. Suddenly she heard two faint clicking sounds, followed by a brief scraping noise. Her eyes were now wide open, but there was nothing unusual to see. 
“Did you hear that?” she whispered, and took a few steps toward the wall. The leaf pile was so high that the top edge of the wall was only about two feet above her head. She pulled herself up and looked over into the wooded area and the cornfield beyond. The late summer branches and leaves were dense, hiding much of the ground. Nothing moved. Jeremy joined her, but noticed nothing. They jumped back onto the leaves.
Abby went down on her knees, lowered her head, and began to pound her fists into the leaves, crying and cursing in fury. Jeremy stared in horror. “Everytime…” she sobbed, “everytime I try to live a little… Everytime! Something bad happens.” She looked up at Jeremy, her face contorted with anguish and stained with tears. “I’m jinxed,” she said. “It’s always like this. I can’t stand it any more.” Despair was written on her face.
“You think it was a stalker,” Jeremy said.
“Well, don’t you think so? Didn’t you hear that sound?”
“I barely heard anything, maybe like something moving over stone.”
“They must have had a camera up there on the wall. Or perhaps I’m going crazy.” 
“No,” he replied, “I think you’re stressed out. It’s understandable.” He stood in thought for a minute and then said, “I should have understood all this without your telling me. My road has been too easy…” He shook his head. “There must be something I can do… I’ll take a hard job, the next one that comes up.”
They walked together out onto the open lawn, and saw a stalker standing near the gate. Without saying any further good-bye, they parted at the cottage. Abby went inside, and Jeremy walked out and down the street.

Ghost Girl - Episode 56


THE ANGRY WOMAN AND THE BISHOP

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Illustration by Lawrence Tate
Out on the lawn Abby and the children found that the group of parents and the bishop had been altered by three new arrivals, all middle-aged women. These three had gathered around the bishop, cutting him off from the parents. Two of the women were speaking to him in a confidential sort of way, coming so close that the bishop stepped back to keep his distance. 
The children flooded into the group of parents, excitedly talking of their discoveries and plans to gather food and return. The parents followed them to the crowded food tables and bought sandwiches, peaches, and lemon cukes. 
But as they returned toward the birdwatcher’s path Abby saw that the conversation between two of the women and the bishop had become very tense, even angry. As he retreated to avoid the discussion one of them raised her voice, and made hand gestures right up in the bishop’s face. She was well dressed and attractive, but her aggressive manner had an ugly side. 
An older woman, dressed in a style more appropriate for a hike in the woods, was standing alone, showing obvious signs of embarrassment. She hid her face behind her wide-brimmed hat.
The parents stopped to look, and the children began sharing out the food. Suddenly the angry woman shouted, “This cannot go on any longer! We are determined...” The woman turned around and saw Abby and her crowd of chattering children and parents. She gave Abby a furious glare.
‘Now that was definitely hostile,’ Abby thought. ‘That was hate and anger! I’m not just paranoid.’ She was certain that the three women were the trustees missing from their recent community council meeting. Chester Peterson had called them ‘The Three Furies of Middletown'.
Meanwhile the children finished their food in a just a few minutes, and began to get bored. Abby took their paper plates to the trash barrel, and led them down the Birdwatcher’s Path for another adventure. Tiny and Lucy suggested that they show the group the Secret Place, and even the path back up into the privet fort. They were so enthusiastic that Abby said, “We’ve got to sneak along like spies, making no noise.” At the corner near the wrought-iron door Abby pointed to the thick sections of the old tree arranged as seats, and the children scrambled to find a place. 
After a few minutes of silence Franklyn pointed and whispered, “Sparrows.” These plain, small birds were chattering on a cluster of young maple trees overgrown with vines. Ned pointed to the ground ahead of them and whispered, “Robin!” A red-breasted robin had appeared at the edge of the brush to hunt for worms in the soft open soil. It hopped, and pulled out a small worm, and retreated back into the brush. Some of the children gasped. “Crows,” whispered Jane, pointing above them. They all heard the familiar rough voices. And suddenly they heard a new voice among the trees: “coo, coo-ah, coo, coo.”
“Dove!” whispered Franklyn with excitement. As they tried to spy the dove a new voice entered the game: “It’s a mourning dove!” 
They looked behind them and there were the bishop and the woman in the wide-brimmed hat. “I hope you don’t mind,” said the woman, “if we play too.” The children stared at them in awe, as if they were visitors from another planet.
To Abby’s delight the voice of the owl, “Whoo, whoo,” broke the silence from somewhere ahead of them. The woman looked up, startled, and crept forward in great excitement, moving her head back and forth, stooping or standing on tiptoes, trying to get a better angle as she approached the thicket of brush and trees. She turned to the children and beckoned them forward. They all kneeled down, and she pointed up through the brush to an old broken oak tree, its upper half struck by lightening or decayed long ago, now with few branches left and covered in Virginia creeper. There on a horizontal branch, deep in the shadow of the vines, two yellow eyes shone forth. A shockingly large, dark and light gray striped body could barely be seen. The owl was about a yard tall, with a long tail. The children could hardly believe their eyes. None had ever seen anything like it. “A Great Gray Owl,” whispered the woman. “Count yourselves blessed, my children. The first I’ve ever seen.” 
Abby caught sight of the bird and silently backed out of the group to let the children move into her spot. She stumbled right into the legs of the bishop, and mouthed the words, “I’m sorry!”
He gave her a very warm and kindly smile. His eyes were brimming over with tears.

Ghost Girl - Episode 54

A HIGH CARD ENTERS THE GAME

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The tolling of the church bell woke her with a start. Her memories of the night before came back in a flood, leaving her in confusion and sorrow about how to handle her relationship with Jeremy. 
With a jolt of electricity she realized that she would have to appear in church, and then run an activity at the outdoor gathering. ‘I’m already late!’ she thought. ‘I’ll look terrible! Everyone will stare at me.’
She dashed through her morning routine in panic, and quickly walked across the churchyard. Tables were already lined up under the maple trees. The side door of the church was propped open. She entered timidly, wishing she were invisible. The pews were packed, no empty space to be seen. A ripple of movement spread through the crowd as Abby walked up the aisle all the way to the back. The feeling of eyes staring made her flush with embarrassment. Finally she found standing room behind the last pew.
‘Who’s that sitting next to Reverend Tuck?’ she wondered. At that moment Tuck stepped to the podium and announced that the church had the honor of receiving Richard Becket, Bishop of the River Valley Region, at today’s worship service.
Abby was entranced by the bishop’s costume. He wore a sparkling white gown with a red embroidered vest and a high pointed white hat. He held a tall staff made of thick, gleaming brown wood. There were small leaves carved in the spiral top. She was captivated by the resemblance of the staff to the mapstick. The bishop was middle aged, tall and clean-shaven. His dark skin stood out in contrast to the white gown and hat. He seemed very solemn, quiet, and confident. Finally the time for the sermon arrived, and he came to the podium to speak.
‘Here he is!’ thought Abby. 
In a calm, even tone – with a faint accent, possibly Jamaican – the bishop expressed his happiness in being called upon to visit the Middletown United Church, one of the best-attended churches in the entire Half Moon Valley. He appreciated the commitment and vitality of the congregation, and its willingness to take on the most pressing issues of the day. But gradually his tone and subject matter changed. He began to comment on the terrifying problems in today’s world, the endless brutal conflicts and civil wars destroying whole cultures and nations. “Christianity,” he said, “is not owned by any cult, tribe, culture, nation, or political party. It makes no person or group automatically superior or inferior to others. And it is available to any person on earth.’ He added that no religion or denomination has a monopoly on absolute truth. "God is not owned by anyone, but is mysteriously in and for all of us."
Heads began turning, and whispering fluttered across the church like leaves in the breeze. People knew something was coming, and were getting anxious. Abby was thrilled, and listened eagerly to every word. As expected, the bishop brought the sermon back to the town and the situation of this particular church. He admitted that he had followed recent controversies in the media with concern. He did not want to see the town break into rival camps, and would not tolerate the church being used to attack any group, or to express hatred of any kind. And he was also aware that the congregation had not elected a new trustee for twelve years, and therefore needed guidance. 
For these reasons the bishop had decided to oversee the process of electing a new trustee. He was glad to hear that two worthy candidates had offered their time for this important responsibility.
The bishop paused and surveyed his audience, looking people in the eye. “I expect,” he said, “a friendly and positive reception for both candidates. No slander, street corner campaigning, or scapegoating will be permitted. People already know each other, and the two coming church events will be more than enough time for those who wish to engage a candidate in friendly conversation.”
He paused again. His tone became firm and forceful. Noise rippled over the audience. “I have decided,” he said, “to attend both this afternoon’s gathering, the festival next Saturday, and the election itself next Sunday. My letter outlining the rules of the election will be handed out at both exits today. Let us all move forward with faith and love…. And now let me turn this service back to Reverend Tuck.”
‘We have hope with this man,’ said a voice inside Abby’s mind.

Ghost Girl - Episode 53

ABBY AND JEREMY’S NIGHT JOURNEY

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Illustration by Lawrence Tate
The following day Abby, Jeremy, and Eddy scraped and painted the front of the abandoned building. Abby painted a large sign saying BIRDWATCHER’S PATH, and set it up at the beginning of her path into the wild area. The scene looked transformed. When Reverend Tuck and Tom Winkle arrived they all decided to explore the interior. The new light bulbs installed by Tuck only made the appalling details more visible: the peeling paint, the dust, the stains of mold, the water damage. And on the second floor there were clear footprints in the dust. Abby was sure one of the stalkers had been there taking photos the night before. The group parted in a state of gloom. Abby and Jeremy remained, sitting on a bench and drinking water by the quart. “What are we going to do,” Jeremy asked, “to cheer ourselves up?”
“I have an idea,” she replied, “but it’s probably a big mistake. I just can’t think of anything else I want to do.”
“Tell me, I’ll listen to anything.”
“I’ve mostly run out of food,” Abby said, “and just about run out of money. And I’ve got a beautiful garden in the forest full of ripe vegetables, grains, and fruits… It will go to waste if we don’t pick a fair share of it. And I feel like getting out of here for a few hours." 
“How do we avoid the risks?” he asked. “Someone will follow you.”
“You go home, and at about midnight you disappear into the forest and meet me at the great oak tree. I can handle it.”
He smiled. “I can find my way in the dark forest too. Maybe not as good as you, but not so far behind. Let’s do it.”

At 11 o’clock that night Abby changed into her black outfit and slid out the back window, with two empty burlap bags under her arm. The sliver of a moon had already disappeared. At the back door of the churchyard she stood and listened for about five minutes. As she was about to turn the key she heard the noise of shoes on gravel. The steps halted for a moment, and then went on around the corner. The sound changed to shoes on leaves, and then faded into the distance. ‘Oh my,’ thought Abby. ‘It’s not enough to keep watchers at the gate 24/7. Now they’ve got to walk sentry duty. Why do they care so much? It must be that they don’t have enough dirt to bury us. They want more.’
She unlocked the door, stepped out, and relocked it. There was no sound but the crickets of summer. She glided under trees and between houses down to Main Street. After a look in all directions, she crossed the street and slipped into the trees on the other side. The most difficult part of her escape was already over. She knew every step of the way to the great oak tree. When she got close she hid in the laurel bushes, watching and listening. She saw Jeremy’s faint silhouette in the starlight, and she crept to within ten feet of him. Suddenly she stood up and saw his body flinch in surprise. But he didn’t make a sound. He took a few steps toward her and whispered, “I thought you’d try something like that.” Abby could hear the admiration in his voice. He’d been on the look-out, but she had won this little game. ‘He’s not mad,’ she thought. ‘He loves that I’m good at it. To him this is a treat.’
They crouched and ducked their way through the thick pine trees, up over rising ground under the maples, and finally down to the river. Abby’s dinghy was still hidden under the brambles, and soon they floated out under the bright stars. Then they climbed up the slope and across the plateau to a thick wall of brambles and vines. Jeremy followed Abby as she crawled on hands and knees and finally on her belly like a snake. Suddenly the sky opened up before them, and they stood looking across the garden to the swamp and the rugged cliffs and towers of stone beyond. With no moon, the stars were all the brighter. A breeze bent the tall amaranth plants, and their heavy dark tops waved and bowed, swinging back and forth. The cool air was delicious. Abby moved to look in Jeremy’s eyes. They opened wide with passionate interest so strong he seemed almost in shock. He gasped in wonder, gazing at the entire area in silence. 
After half an hour of collecting the best of the incredible variety of ripe fruits and vegetables, they sat on a log and looked out on the cliffs and the stars. 
“Much as I hate to say it,” Jeremy told her, “we’ve got to go back and brave the storm for the next few days.” He stood up, and she rose with him. “I want you to know,” he said. “This means so much to me. I never thought my life could be so full, scary as it is.” He put his hands on her shoulders. “Whatever happens, I’m with you on this. We won’t give up. I’ll follow you anytime.”
Abby leaned into him, and expected him to kiss her. But he moved at the last second and brushed her cheek with his, and they embraced. She felt a stab of disappointment, totally involuntary. She wasn’t sure if he was too afraid or thought it was a bad idea. One thing was clear: she, Abby, knew it was a bad idea, but wanted to anyway. Her disappointment turned to sorrow and shock over being rejected. At the same time she felt relieved that she wouldn’t have to tell Phoebe that they kissed, and risk the possibility that she and Jeremy had a commitment. And she wouldn’t have to feel confused and guilty with George. It occurred to her that maybe Jeremy was thinking of the unity of their mission. Maybe he guessed that she should stay uncommitted in love for the good of all of them. Jealousy could tear them apart. Maybe she should thank Jeremy for it. ‘Maybe someday,’ she thought. ‘But for now I’m sad and angry with both of us, especially me. I’ve been kidding myself about how I really feel…”

Ghost Girl - Episode 17

IN REVEREND TUCK’S OFFICE

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Illustration by Lawrence Tate
After Jeremy’s departure Abby made another nut butter and honey sandwich and drank a cup of Breakfast Mixture, hot and full of the flavor of bitter chocolate and mint. She realized that Tuck should know as soon as possible about their decision to refuse to press charges and appear in court over the assault on Phoebe and Abby at the haunted house. 
“And I’ll call my parents too,” she thought. She had tried several times over the last two days to reassure them that she was okay, but had received no answer. In fact she hadn’t spoken to them for months, and her feelings of guilt -- and her constant self-criticism -- had been increasing every day.
Abby knocked on Tuck’s door for almost five minutes and was about to leave when he finally appeared. “Sorry,” he said. “I was in the middle of a phone call. What’s up?”
“I need to use the phone too,” she replied.”
“Get a cell phone as soon as you can. We have reception now all the way to the forest. That new Phones and More store on Main Street sells decent used phones.”
In Tuck’s office Abby sat behind his desk and looked out the window. The same two men lounged on a bench in front of the Middletown Standard office across the street. “They must be Morphy’s watchers,” she thought. “Are they really observing the churchyard 24/7? It’s hard to believe… this conflict is still heating up!”
“Reverend Tuck,” Abby said suddenly, “I need to tell you something.”
“Yes?” he said, taking a seat opposite her.
“I’ve been thinking it over, and I really can’t be certain who the men were – you know, the ones carrying the torches Saturday night. The light was crazy, and I was back behind the front door until the very end. And you should know that Geraldine and Phoebe can’t be sure either. I just don’t think Chief Santiago can bring any charges unless there’s some new development.”
“Well, well,” returned Tuck, “You young folks certainly know how to pick your battles.” He smiled. “Don’t forget, I was there too, and I can’t be sure who was there either.”
“And there’s more news I want to tell you,” Abby went on. “I hear that Phoebe and George and Jeremy – and probably Stephanie and Eddy and others – are coming to this council meeting tomorrow night. They want to join as permanent members with me, and we already have ideas.”
“I’m thrilled to hear it! But about these ideas… can I get any advance warning?”
“We’d like to plan fund-raising events for the church and Rivergate both. Maybe a series of festivals with music, food, children’s games, and a tour of the work going on in the churchyard once it’s ready for an audience.”
Tuck was speechless for a moment, and then exclaimed, “This is exactly what we need! We – meaning this church – need help even more than you know. Our finances have been an impossible challenge over the last five years. The Sunday offering pays only a fraction of our yearly budget. We depend upon grants and donations from the very wealthy for the rest. And you may be aware that people with money don’t like us. We usually don’t share the same goals.”
“But that’s what we all admire,” Abby said. “Your courage in the face of the powerful. We’re just copying you.”
Tuck laughed. “We’ll work together,” he said.
Abby dialed her parents’ number, and was answered by a voice recording. She gave Tuck a look of dismay. “It’s no longer a working number,” she told him. “I guess they’ve moved or something.” Her eyes shifted vacantly around the room, seeing nothing.
“I’ll help you,” returned Tuck, trying to make eye contact. “Don’t worry, I’ll find a forwarding address in a hurry. I’ve got the phone numbers and emails of hundreds of people. Promise me you won’t brood over this. I’ll speak to you as soon as I have news.”
Abby walked back to the cottage deep in thought. She lay down and stared into space.

Ghost Girl - Episode 16

SEEDS AND HOT COMPOST

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Episode 16 from The Ghost Girl
Illustration by Carlos Uribe
SEEDS AND HOT COMPOST
Abby awoke with a cool breeze coming through her window and golden sunlight shining on the floor. After a cup of Breakfast Mixture she walked outside and looked around – at the weather, the grass, the trees, the leaves and branches on the ground. She observed the open spaces that received sunlight, and the spaces in shadow. Soon she hammered a few sticks into the earth, marking off the corners of a garden that she would create in the coming week. The soil was hard-packed with stones, and needed fresh compost. Following this train of thought, Abby walked over to the mulch pile, the mountain of leaves contained in the privet hedge. She carved out a hole with her hands, and found a layer of damp leaves and sticks, mown grass and plants. Going deeper, the soil became a decomposing mixture. Worms slithered out of the way. Centipedes darted into hiding. And deeper still lay pure dark fluffy soil, the most nutritious food for plants on the planet.
“Yes!” said Abby to herself. “I thought so! Oh baby, the things we can do!”
“Abby!” called Jeremy, walking toward her. “I was afraid I’d missed you.”
“Jeremy! Are you coming from the haunted house? Did you find my things?”
“Yes and yes!” he replied. “No problem.”
“Oh, I’m so happy! Thank you, thank you, thank you!”

They walked to the tool shed and Jeremy pulled Abby’s bike, sleeping bag, guitar case, and backpack out from behind the canvas and set them on the grass. With a trembling hand she unzipped the backpack and poured an overflowing pile of seed packets onto the unrolled sleeping bag. They both sat down to examine them. Each packet was just a sheet of paper folded into a sort of envelope, and filled with seeds.
“That’s amazing,” Jeremy told her. “There must be at least fifty of them.”
“More than that,” returned Abby. “At least a hundred.”
Jeremy picked out an envelope at random and read the name scrawled on paper. “What’s Old N. Amaranth?” he asked.
Abby hesitated, and finally said, “That’s a very special variety, passed down over… thousands of years. It’s named for the people who lived in the forest. They were a part of the Half Moon People, those who farmed this area long ago.” Abby’s eyes glittered. She glanced up at Jeremy, and felt both pleased and distressed that he was attending to her every word. 
“I’d so like to know more,” he said. “In a way it’s a part of my new education, my studies in the forest. And maybe, just maybe, I could teach you some things too.”
“And what might those things be?” asked Abby with a smile.
Jeremy looked away in confusion, blushing around the neck and cheek.
“Oh!!” thought Abby. “I didn’t realize it would sound like that!” Looking down to ease his embarrassment, she wondered if she’d done it on purpose, and worried that these feelings could soon lead to conflicts.
But Jeremy quickly resumed his normal air of passionate intellectual interest and emotional detachment. “Well,” he said, “I realize you know almost everything about plants and trees. But just as an example, how’re you gonna heat this place?”
“I do have the wood burning stove,” Abby replied.
“That cabin isn’t even insulated. You’ll be freezing on a cold night unless you wake up and feed the fire. Your pipes will freeze and break.”
“So spell it out for me,” returned Abby. “What are you thinking?”
“Hot compost,” replied Jeremy. “All we would need would be a chipper. I think you’ve got enough wood and leaves and greens to make a compost pile, say eight by eight by six. We’ll run a plastic pipe from your cabin at floor level, up through the pile, and turning back into the cabin at ceiling level. The pipe will suck out cold air, heat it as it runs up through the compost, and send it back inside as warm air.”
“Who’s teaching you?” asked Abby.
“It’s the Energy Project in the forest.”
“Let’s try it,” said Abby, clapping her hands. “I’ll learn from you, and I’ll teach you about gardening. God knows I need help. How much time do you have?”
“Whoa, that’s a problem. I really want to do it, but give me a day to think about my job and talk to Jim. And then there’s the band.” Jeremy looked off into the distance. “Very hard choices,” he said.

www.protectorsofthewood.com

Ghost Girl - Episode 9

THE SECRET PLACE

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Illustration by Carlos Uribe
At that moment came a knock on the door. “Yes, come in!” yelled Tuck.
The door opened part way and a gray-haired woman leaned into the room. “I’m sorry to bother you, but Glenda Trimble with Tiny and Lucy insist on seeing Abby.”
“Yes!” cried Abby.
“Ah,” replied Tuck. “Send them in! Thank you so much, Janet.”
Suddenly Tiny burst into the room, scanned it in a microsecond, saw Abby and shrieked, “Abby, Abby!” running to her with outstretched arms. “Abbyyy!”
Abby embraced Tiny and lifted her up, swinging her through the air. Lucy Winkle immediately followed, and stood taking in the whole room with surprising composure for a five year old. Glenda entered rather timidly, clutching a briefcase and looking apologetically at Reverend Tuck. “I didn’t realize we’d be interrupting…”
“Not at all, not at all,” replied Tuck.
“We saw you on TV,” Tiny told Abby breathlessly.
“Oh! I was worried about that,” Abby replied. “I hope it didn’t scare you.”
“You’re famous,” Lucy announced.
“Me? Not so. I’m nobody.”
“Yes so!” returned Lucy. “You stopped the cars and escaped from the men. My Grandpa said so.”
Abby smiled. “Okay! It must be true then. Do you think they’ll leave me alone now?”
The words popped out of Abby’s mouth without thinking. She immediately regretted it. 
“I don’t know,” replied Lucy with a frown. “Tiny said they’re after you.” 
“No one’s going to bother me here,” Abby tried to reassure her. “Let’s… take a walk in the churchyard. It’s still a nice afternoon."
“Yes!” cried Lucy. “We want to explore.”
“Can I interrupt for a second?” asked Glenda. “I’ve got a research paper due tomorrow. I got nothing done this weekend, so I brought some work with me. Is it okay if you explore without me?”

And so as Glenda worked in the cottage, Tiny, Lucy, and Abby walked out into the glow of the setting sun. The shadows stretched across long grass, wild plants, fallen branches, and leaves. There were dark corners and shifting light as the breeze blew. The yard had been neglected for years. “No wonder they need a gardener,” Abby thought.
“Dawn wants to go this way,” announced Tiny. Abby and Lucy were familiar with Tiny’s apparently imaginary characters, Dawn the Good Fairy and Emily her daughter. Tiny often spoke of them as if they were actually there to talk to.
She led the way past the row of apple trees toward the back of the churchyard. Soon they reached an enormous privet hedge, almost eight feet tall. Tiny followed the hedge part way across the yard, and then turned left as the hedge ran down toward the back wall. Suddenly an entrance with an arched roof of privet branches opened into the oldest and largest mulch pile Abby had ever seen. An area about twenty-five feet square was full of a hill of leaves about six feet high in the middle. The children laughed and ran about, jumping and throwing leaves in the air. Tiny inspected the edges of their fortress of leaves. “Dawn wants to go this way,” she said, and pointed to a narrow opening where the privet hedge met the churchyard wall. Walking slowly, they passed the upended roots of an old fallen tree, thickly overgrown with Virginia creeper and poison ivy. They slid along the wall past raspberry bushes with sharp thorns, and suddenly emerged onto a small open slope that descended gently to the back wall. An old wrought-iron door led to the dirt road and cornfield beyond.
“Ah!” thought Abby. “This is where I’m supposed to meet Phoebe tonight!”

Lucy and Tiny ran a few steps to the door and found it locked. Abby joined them, and ran her fingers across the upper edge of the doorframe, and found a long silver key among the dust and crumbled fragments of leaves. She slipped the key into her pocket. “Awesome job exploring, girls!” exclaimed Abby. She waved her hand at the small concealed space, a special place all their own. The children’s eyes glowed with excitement and satisfaction.

We're excited that Protectors of the Wood #1, Phoebe Comes Home, is listed as #13 on the Goodreads list of Best eco-fiction! Please give us your vote and make us #1, just click the link to Goodreads and vote! Many thanks from all of us at Protectors of the Wood.

Ghost Girl - Episode 6

From Book 3, The Ghost Girl
Episode 6
THE CHALLENGE OF OUR TIME

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“Ladies and gentlemen, members of the congregation!” announced Reverend Tuck. To Abby’s surprise, he was speaking without notes, just in front of the first row. He even paced back and forth and up the aisles, talking to the enormous crowd in a conversational tone amplified by a small microphone around his neck. “I know that our church is in the midst of controversy,” Tuck began. “We have caught the attention of the wide world. I am grateful for this opportunity to discuss the problems we face today. First of all, I know that many disagree with my call to make the stewardship of the earth and the fight against climate change a major commitment for our congregation. Many have argued that climate change is a matter for science and politics only. I have responded by insisting that the lives of our children and children’s children are surely a spiritual responsibility, as can be seen at length in scripture. In fact this is not just a responsibility. It is a matter of urgent and dire need that forces us to take a stand. And there are consequences to taking a stand, consequences that disrupt business as usual and create conflict.

“For example, we belong to a world-wide religious denomination, an organization that raises and invests what we would consider a large fortune. Does it make sense that our church is making money by investing in corporations that are destroying the balance of nature? For the science is no longer in doubt. Only the ethics are in doubt, very much to our sorrow. When our ancestors approached the civil war, the great campaign to end slavery, some churches stood on the sideline. When Hitler moved to dominate the world and slaughter minority groups by the millions, some churches stood on the sideline. Do we accept the excuse that these are not religious issues? No, we understand that humanity was in the midst of a great battle against evil, a battle that would determine the very nature of the future of life on earth. Yet even if we accept this struggle, can we really make a difference? The good news is that we have help, help from on high. Wisdom, the daughter of God, is reaching out to us. As we heard today from the book of Proverbs, wisdom is all around us, trying to be heard. She rejoices in the divine gift of life on earth. She delights in the lives of people. Hearing her call is the great challenge of our time. I stand here sharing my heart with you.”

At this point, as if by plan, a large group rose and filed out of the church amid great bustle and muttering. Abby easily recognized some of the men. Indeed, a few were a part of the mob threatening to burn the haunted house with her in it only the night before. Loud comments were heard: “You’re crazy, Tuck, and you’ll soon be gone!” and “We can’t take these insults any longer. It’s over.”
Tuck waited patiently. When he was about to begin again a man shouted from the back: “What are these lies about the daughter of God? You’re not even a Christian!” 
Tuck stood there in silence, and finally said, “All thanks to those of you who have heard me out. I must take a few more minutes of your time to talk about our new gardener, now living in the churchyard cottage, and my decision to rescue her from an abandoned house. I hope that after our council meeting today we will call it our decision, for with your help she will be here in the name of our church as a whole. I know the history of Middletown as well as many of you. Do we want to stand by and see innocent victims burned alive for a second time?”

The audience gasped. Murmuring spread forward and back, like a shifting wind. Abby stared, breathless. Tuck waited a few seconds, and then bowed his head: “Lord, we reach out to you in this world endangered by our own blindness and greed. We need you! We need you! We need you! Help us to find a way into a future for all humanity, for all life, a world that can flourish for millions of years to come. Amen.” 

Tuck raised his head and said, “Before we finish today I want to invite all of you to an important meeting here in the church basement this Tuesday at 7PM. We will receive a visit from our colleagues from the nearby town of Rivergate, and discuss the emergency problems threatening their community. Rising water levels in the Half Moon Wetland have damaged their only bridge off the island. This will be an important opportunity to reach out to our neighbors in distress. We urge the youth of Middletown to attend. I’m told there will be music on the program.”
The congregation buzzed with whispering, and Abby heard someone say, “That’s Swamptown, you know, not a place where people should be living.”
As Tuck announced the final hymn, Abby glided back the way she had come. The future spread out before her. The battle lines had been drawn.

THE CHALLENGE OF OUR TIME illustration by Carlos Uribe

Ghost Girl - Episode 4

Episode 4
THE CHURCHYARD COTTAGE

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“Have you fallen asleep?” asked Reverend Tuck quietly. He stood beside her in the darkness. “It’s been a long day I know.”
Abby looked up and realized that she was still sitting outside under the stars. She shivered in a cool night breeze.
“I know we’ve got a lot of catching up to do,” Tuck went on, “but for now I just want to mention a few things. Have you prepared a place in the cottage to sleep?”
“Yes, that’s fine, I’m all ready.”
“Okay, I’ll let you go in a minute. Let me remind you that tomorrow we have our 11AM church service, and with all this uproar and publicity it will be packed, and require a response from me. Dr. Bear has taken the liberty of telling reporters and police that you are recovering from a traumatic experience. You already answered a few major questions on television last night, and a video of that little interview has spread over the internet. I think that’s enough exposure for the present. Our job now is to keep you quiet and hidden away, and let this hysteria die down. So tomorrow fix up this cottage, or whatever you like, but stay inside, out of circulation. Dr. Bear will handle the outside world for you. People have offered donations, and she will receive them for you. We will bring food. So stay out of sight. No visits, no interviews…. Any questions?”
“Not now,” replied Abby. “Maybe tomorrow.”
“Then get some sleep. I’ll see you after the morning service. No, it will be a little later than that. I have to meet with the Church Council.”
Abby stood up and looked at Tuck in the faint light from her cottage. “Thank you! I appreciate all you’ve done, so much I can’t tell you.”
“That’s all right,” said Tuck with a smile. “I love my job. We’re glad to have you as a part of our family here.”

Abby awoke in the full light of day to the noise of beautiful blue jays making a ruckus outside her open window. The cottage felt peaceful, a much-needed haven. It was true that it lacked decent furniture and a refrigerator, and needed an enormous amount of work. And despite a night of open windows, the cottage exuded a damp, sour odor. 
“But that’s why no one else wants it,” she thought. “That’s why it’s all mine.”
She thought for a few minutes about Wendy: “Will she be lonely? Yes, most definitely. And I will be lonely without her. But this is my future. I have a mission in the world, as she has told me so many times. And I know she believes it. She proved it by letting me ride Hilda.”
‘Hilda’ was Wendy’s name for the flying stick, the Volador, sometimes called the broom. Abby often wondered about the nature of Hilda, the spirit of the broom. In Abby’s view, Hilda expressed a personality even though she could not talk. Yet she could listen and move and respond. Her movements could express disagreement or annoyance, or even happiness and joy. When Abby asked about Hilda, Wendy had said: “She offered me this favor long ago, when I chose this mission. Always respect Hilda, she is smarter than you.”
Abby had replied, “But she is not a person!”
And Wendy had replied, “She was a person at one time, and now she’s a kind of angel, you could say, a gift from heaven.”
Not to be put off, Abby had asked, “But what are angels?”
And Wendy said, “That’s the last question for today! They are messengers between heaven and earth, the Guardians of all life, our helpers from the other world. You don’t think life could grow up to heaven without help, do you? And you don’t have to call them angels. I just use that name because people here understand it. Your ancestors and mine on your father’s side had other names and ways of seeing them. I wish you knew more about that!”
“I wish I did too,” thought Abby.

A faint knock made her jump as if she'd heard a scream. She opened the door to see Dr. Geraldine Bear carrying two shopping bags.