Abby and Wendy - Episode 31

THE PLOT THICKENS

Illustration By Carlos Uribe

Illustration By Carlos Uribe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Good,” Tiny replied with confidence.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abby and Wendy

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

Abby and Wendy - 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.

Ghost Girl - Episode 67

A WILD ESCAPE

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Illustration by Lawrence Tate
There was a frozen moment of shock and astonishment as people stared. The heavy door was open about a foot, and Abby was already sliding out into the raging wind. She ran to Tuck’s side door, and immediately began banging with her fist. Looking back she saw the menacing crowd spilling outside, looking her way. Hail with a mix of rain blew in her face. Suddenly Tuck opened his door and pulled her inside.
“Lock it!” she yelled. “Lock it!”
He turned the brass knob and the bolt slid into place. He looked her in the eye. “Listen,” came his voice, low in her ear. “I have word that Becky Scutter is winning the election. And Dr. Bear has warned me that Laura Palmer is calling for an audit of all finances and valuable possessions, including the treasures in our locked basement room. She has already demanded the key.”
Abby felt as if she’d been kicked in the stomach. She could hear banging on the door behind her.
“But don’t worry,” Tuck assured her. “I knew this was a possibility, so I removed your briefcase and that… other item, and hid them in my office. You should take them now anywhere you like. But for your sake, get them out of here. Come!”
He pulled her by the arm up the stairs and into his office. In one corner behind a few boxes of books he withdrew the mapstick and the briefcase, and handed them to Abby. She immediately took them and without a word ran down the stairs. 
Abby waited for a few seconds at the door. The banging had stopped. She listened carefully, but could only hear Tuck’s steps behind her. She turned the knob and opened it. The ferocious storm had increased over the last few minutes. The crowd had retreated indoors, perhaps to find another way to Tuck’s office behind the sanctuary. 
Only Sulay, Shannon, and Nico remained outside, hugging the wall to protect themselves from the storm. They waved to Abby, and Nico gave her a thumbs up. 
‘Well, somebody’s out here to help me,’ she muttered to herself.
In the back of her mind Abby had been anticipating this moment for a few days, and had a plan already in mind. Running to the tool shed she grabbed her jack knife and cut a few pieces of twine. Then she tied the briefcase to the rack over the back wheel of her bike, and tied the mapstick horizontally under the seat in several places. It stood out half a foot beyond the front and back wheels, but interfered very little with her ability to ride. The real danger, she knew, would be the slippery surface, but she would have to risk that. 
Her first idea was to go out the wrought iron door, but if a stalker was on duty there she would be alone and helpless. The front gate would put her immediately on Bridge Avenue, where the traffic was frozen. No one could follow her unless they too had a bike, or were a long distance sprinter.
So she rode toward the front gate, wishing she had goggles. It was almost impossible to see. Rain and hail blew in her face and began to soak her jacket, but she hardly felt it. Her adrenaline had given her all the courage and strength she needed. Her mind was crystal clear. Shannon, Nico , and Sulay were standing like soldiers, guarding the gate. Sulay raised her camera.
“Go!” yelled Nico. “Faster! Faster! Go! Go!”
Behind her voices were shouting, “There she is! Stop her!” 
Abby had the jump on her pursuers, but was now worried about stalkers watching from the windows of the Middletown Standard. And so she dared to put on speed despite the icy surface, and raced down the sidewalk and into the street. The wheels slipped on the melting hail and snow. It was almost impossible to control the bike. She felt sure the brakes would send her into a skid.
Very few pedestrians were out braving the storm. No one seemed interested in Abby. The traffic was just creeping along every once in a while. It was like biking on ice, but to her surprise her balance improved, and she had the strange sensation that the bike was steering itself.
Suddenly she heard someone yell, “There she is! Look!”

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 57

ABBY SEES EVERYONE HAVING FUN, EXCEPT HER

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Illustration by Lawrence Tate


After the excitement of seeing the great gray owl, Abby led the group back to the open lawn to join the parents at the soccer exhibition. Phoebe had turned the area into a small soccer field. The children squeezed into the crowd to see the show. Abby saw three teenagers, Shannon, Nico, and Geo, standing as a triangle about ten feet apart juggling a soccer ball back and forth. Parents and teens were taking cell phone pictures, and a young girl took photos with a fancy camera right out on the field. ‘That’s got to be Nico and Geo’s new friend,’ thought Abby. ‘Named Sulay.’
The performers sent the ball around the triangle, one touch per player, and then moved forward and sent it around with their heads. Finally they moved back out again, all without letting the ball touch the ground. After a round of applause Shannon and Nico juggled back and forth, sending the ball as high as they could while still keeping control. The audience was fascinated, and willing to stand in the outrageous heat for a view of the spectacle.
Next on the agenda Phoebe put two teams of four players each on the field, both with two boys and two girls, for a little game that obviously had special rules. Small folding goals had been set up at either end. The teams played a game like keep-away, as Phoebe counted the passes up to ten, and then the team was allowed to shoot. Each team tried to maneuver the ball to draw the goalie out, and shoot low to an open goal. The game was set up for artistry and skill, with no slide tackles or long balls into the crowd. Phoebe stayed on the field as referee, but did not have to call a single foul. After about twenty minutes she blew her whistle to close the game, and put the youngest children on the field, including all those Abby had toured through the wild area on Birdwatchers’ Path. They were ecstatic to get their time on the field, and their parents were thrilled to see them. The most remarkable feature of the whole event – from Abby’s point of view – was the skill of the teenagers in making the game work for the younger children. The teens ran back and forth on the sidelines, sending loose balls back into a playable space, to the shrieks of delight from the children only 4-6 years old. At the first sign of overheating Phoebe ended the game, gathered the children for praise and thank you, and another group photo. ‘Amazing,’ thought Abby. ‘Look at all these happy kids. And it was all mostly run by teens!’
Reverend Tuck handed out endless cups of cold water, a very popular item. Both adults and children gathered around Sulay, the photographer-girl, to look at the stills and videos on her camera. Abby joined the group and heard parents ordering pictures of their children. ‘Well done!’ she thought.
She stood lost in thought for a minute, and then turned to the clean up chores going on around her. The first person she saw was Jeremy, carrying a table with Phoebe to the side door. She felt sure he was pretending not to notice her, and was immediately flooded with the emotions she had been trying to avoid: her disappointment, embarrassment, self-criticism, and anger, an almost intolerable mix of contradictory feelings. 
Her one effort with Jeremy to have fun and personal fulfillment had been a disaster. He was ignoring her. He had promised to deliver the extra bag of vegetables to her, but Abby didn’t expect it to happen. She was furious that he would come so close to her only to withdraw and flat-out leave her alone.
But she went through the motions of cleaning up, walking around picking up paper plates and cups and napkins, lemon cuke skins and peach pits. She saw Reverend Tuck and his group of responsible adults conferring together under a maple tree. Phoebe, Jeremy, Sara, Eddie, and Stephanie were all talking near the side door. Alison, Chi Chi, and their friends from Rivergate were already gone.
Abby felt alone. No one looked her way. In disgust and sorrow she turned back to her cottage and lay down in the stifling heat. The windows were open, and not a breeze blew.

Ghost Girl - Episode 55

THE CAVE-HOUSE

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Illustration by Carlos Uribe
As the church service ended Abby grew anxious about the coming event in the churchyard. She followed the closely packed crowd to the side door, all the while looking for her friends, and feeling lost and alone. People were getting hot and irritated in the bottleneck at the exit. Suddenly Abby felt a tug on her shirt from behind, and turned to see Glenda carrying Tiny. “Oh am I happy to see you,” said Glenda in a low tone. “I promised to stick close to Ellen now that she’s running for trustee and has to… figure out what to say to people. She needs help. And Tiny and Kayla will get bored.”
“We want to explore,” announced Tiny. “Kayla and Lucy and I want to see everything!”
Abby was delighted. Tiny’s plan suited her perfectly. Glenda joined Ellen at the crowded tables of food and coffee, where Sammy, Stephanie, and Ellie were rushing to serve Sammy’s usual food. Abby and Tiny walked over toward the Birdwatchers’ Path sign. They waited in the open under the dazzling sunlight, giving anyone the opportunity to join them. Ellen immediately sent Kayla running toward them across the grass. Tom Winkle and Lucy approached more slowly. Tom said, “Lucy tells me you’re going to give the children a tour today. ‘An explore,’ she calls it.”
“That’s right,” replied Abby, pleased that she could offer something positive to this – from her point of view – extremely stressful event.
“Now you might not be aware…” said Tom with his gentle voice, “that some of Lucy and Tiny’s friends have been talking about you all week. They see each other every day at the pre-school, and at Sunday School as well. Is it true you’re going to be running activities at the pre-school?” Tom smiled, creating a feeling of calm and confidence in Abby, like the steadying influence of a benevolent grandfather.
“Well, I’m only volunteering three days a week to start with,” Abby said. From the corner of her eye she saw a large group heading her way.
“Ah, here they come,” Tom announced. “The whole class.” He waved to them and said, “Please join us!” Four young children and a mix of adults arrived. Abby was introduced to Jane, Nancy, Franklyn, Ned, and the parents. The children immediately clustered together, all talking at once. They clearly had a plan of what they wanted to do. Abby heard the words, ‘secret place,’ several times. Tom was trying to explain the situation to the parents.
And to make things still more complicated, the bishop was walking toward them across the lawn. He had exchanged his elaborate outfit for dark pants, shirt, and hat. Abby immediately knew who he was, but many in the group did not recognize him. He introduced himself to each person in a mild-mannered way, going down on one knee to shake hands with each child. Soon the bishop and the parents were discussing the Sunday School and their various connections to the church. The children quickly became bored and began to pester Abby. The bishop observed the situation and said, “Please go ahead, we’ll wait here for you.” 
And in a moment Abby and her following moved down the path into the cool shadows. They walked softly to the wall and turned left into the wild area. Tiny was pointing up the little path to the cave of vines. She looked to Abby for an okay signal, and then led them to the cave entrance. The children gathered around, examining the interior. Lucy stooped down and crawled on hands and knees to the far end of the cave. Meanwhile Abby and the other children all crowded inside. “It’s like the cave-house!” proclaimed Tiny. “It’s our house here at the church.”
“Look how much we can spy,” said Lucy, looking through the vines at the adults on the lawn. Abby replied: “I’ve got an idea. Instead of looking for people, let’s look for animals. I’ve seen about ten kinds of birds here, and heard an owl. And I saw a rabbit come out onto the grass. But animals are usually very quiet, and we won’t see them unless we are quiet too.”
“Emily says Dawn can see all animals and people,” Tiny told them, referring to her imaginary characters.
“I’ve seen a rabbit,” said Franklyn. “And in the swamp we saw a heron, and three deer from a distance.” Jane announced: “Lots of times I’ve seen vultures and raccoons when we visit my uncle.” In a low voice, almost a whisper, Nancy said, “Twice I saw a rat. In River City.” All were silent for a few minutes, and then Ned whispered, “There’s a cardinal.” The beautiful red bird jumped from one tiny branch or vine to another, only ten feet away. Then a group of sparrows began to fuss in another direction. And high above the crows gave their rough call from the tops of the maple trees. 
“We should bring snacks here,” said Lucy. “We have a dining room nearby, at the secret entrance.”
“Would it be all right for us to see that?” asked Ned in a very timid voice, as if he greatly feared that the answer would be ‘No’. 
“Of course!” replied Abby. “Whenever you’re ready.”
“Let’s get food and bring it back here!” exclaimed Tiny. The whole group agreed in excitement, and immediately scrambled out of the cave and followed Abby up the path.

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 10

THE GROWN-UPS ALWAYS RUIN IT

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Illustration by Carlos Uribe
Abby, Tiny, and Lucy gazed at the lovely new place they had discovered.
“Awesome job exploring, girls!” exclaimed Abby. “Look what you found!”
The space was shaped as a triangle, with the stone walls covering two sides and the long fallen tree covering the third. Abby was amazed that the gigantic old maple tree had never been removed. The result was a virtually impassable cocoon of vines, young maple trees, and thorny brambles. As the slope of the yard received less sun in the shadow of the wall, smaller plants and herbs grew, until in the corner by the door only some thin grasses covered the ground. Except for the locked door to the outside world, only the narrow path from the privet fort provided an entrance to this hidden domain. They walked along the back wall and found a pile of branches and short sections of the fallen tree. Years ago someone must have cut it off the wall. Abby rolled three circular pieces to the open space near the door to serve as seats, and then rolled a larger piece to serve as a table. They sat down to consider their stunning success.

After surveying the scene in silence, Lucy said, “We need to bring cups and cider.”
“And chocolate,” added Tiny.
“It’s a secret place, only for us,” said Lucy, looking at the others to emphasize her words.
“Can we tell Glenda?” asked Abby.
“Only Glenda,” said Lucy generously.
“I have a few friends who help me,” said Abby. “They know how to keep secrets.”
“Phoebe is one of them,” said Lucy.
“How do you know?”
“Chester said that Abby and Phoebe won the day.”
“Dawn said that Phoebe’s okay,” said Tiny.
“That’s all right then,” conceded Lucy. But she turned to Abby and laid down the law, saying, “You and your friends have to promise to not let them ruin it.”
“What do you mean? Who’s going to ruin it?”
“You know, they always ruin it. The grown-ups don’t like these places. They never let them be. You’ve got to promise!”
“Whew!” whistled Abby. “That’s a tall order. I’m supposed to be the gardener here. They’re going to want me to clean up this place.”
“See! See!” returned Lucy. “They never understand! Never! You can’t say anything to them! What good are you and your friends? I thought you were on our side.”
“Dawn says she wants you to promise," declared Tiny. "Where’s Emily going to play? That’s what Dawn wants to know. Someday Dawn’s coming to Middletown, and Emily is going to play here.”
“Oh my,” muttered Abby, “this is all more serious than I thought.” Some water in her eyes ran onto her cheeks as she shook her head. “I wonder what Reverend Tuck will think if I tell him we can’t touch this…”
“Well, maybe you can touch it,” said Lucy, willing to compromise a little. “But you can’t ruin it.”
“Okay, hopefully we can manage that. I promise to do my best. And my friends will promise too, I know they will. We already promised to protect the forest.”
“That’s what Chester said,” Lucy told them.
“But I need you girls to understand,” warned Abby, “I am not the king of the world. Sometimes I have to change my plans. Like for instance I notice a lot of poison ivy over there. Do we want children to play here and get poison ivy?”
“No!” They exclaimed. 
“And what if they want a path to this door so people can walk through and see the birds? But I promise to do the very best I can to protect this place and make the world as good as I can.”
Lucy looked at Tiny, and Tiny nodded. “Okay,” said Lucy. “That’s fair.”
Deep shadows were growing around them. Mosquitoes and fireflies roamed around them. Abby jumped up and said, “What will Glenda think? It’s getting dark. She’ll have no idea where we are.”
And in almost no time they were filing out of the privet fort and walking to the cottage door.

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.

Phoebe Breaks Through - Episode 29

Episode 29

THE STORM BREAKS

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As Phoebe and Jeremy stood in the back of the church they listened to the talk of people moving down the aisle. “I can’t believe this is happening,” an old man said. “It’s this strange new weather. There was nothing like it in the old days.”

Another voice added, “Did you see that thing in the sky? That weird dark thing…”

An angry man exclaimed, “It’s revenge for what they did to Sammy and the Hoods!”

“Where’s the police?” asked someone else. “Either they arrest her, or we’ll do something ourselves. We’ve got a right to protect this town, just like they did in the old days.”

“That’s crazy talk!” responded another man. “No one knows who’s doing anything!”

“Yeah? Think a bit,” said the angry man. “The dead end house!”

At the front of the church Reverend Tuck rose up and raised his open hands. “People of Middletown!” he exclaimed. The talk died down. “I am offering this church for a town meeting, in an effort to come together as a community. There are many problems that none of us can solve alone…”

“If you get punched, you punch back!” yelled a voice.

“I’ll ask you not to speak unless called upon,” returned Tuck. A number of hands shot up. “Officer Harley!”

The policeman, well known and respected, stood up and said, “Reverend Tuck, it seems to me that people are getting carried away over nothing, calling the clouds a witch and the storm a magic spell. I think everyone should calm down and go home.”

“We can’t go home,” yelled a man. “We’re trapped here!”

Another man stood up and said, “It’s revenge, I tell you! The police arrest Sammy and the Hoods, and what happens? This freak storm comes of the forest, all the traffic freezes, and something flies over the town laughing at us!”

“Yeah,” screamed another voice as many stood up to see. “And we know who she is, and where she is!”

“What are we waiting for?”

“Back on the dirt road. The dead end house!”

“Please, please, everyone,” yelled Tuck. “You’re not thinking straight. Listen to me.”

But many people were already standing, and some were moving toward the aisles.

Reverend Tuck was shouting, but a throng of people stormed from the church. As others saw they followed to check out the action. Phoebe realized that her moment to join Abby at the haunted house had come.

“Jeremy!” she said. “Get Tuck and follow to the haunted house as fast as you can.”

“This is it,” he nodded.

Phoebe limped out into the dim and strangely quiet street. The crowd was already half a block down Bridge Avenue. The cars and trucks were dark and still, as if the street were a parking lot. Frightened and angry people were hanging around hoping that this bizarre dream would soon come to an end. Thunder rumbled in the distance. Thick clouds raced across the sky.

Phoebe loped along with all the speed she could manage on her injured knee. Soon she crossed the bridge, gaining on the group ahead. Their numbers kept diminishing, as stragglers came walking back toward town. Phoebe moved up close, desperately looking for a way to arrive at the door of the haunted house before the crowd. The wind was rising, and made a roaring noise like a train in the distance.

Suddenly the open lawn and the house loomed up before them in the darkness. Phoebe slipped through to the right along the fringe of trees, and grabbed part of a branch along the way. 

“We’ve gotta have some light for this work,” yelled a voice. “You weren’t here last night so you don’t know.” They began piling up the branches and sticks that covered the lawn. Soon the flames leaped up, swirling in a gust of wind. The thunder cracked again, very close by. Finally the lead man approached the broken porch with a burning branch like a torch. 

“Where is Reverend Tuck,” thought Phoebe in a panic.

The wind whipped the bonfire into a frenzy. The flames danced and roared.

“We can’t wait all night,” howled the lead man. “Come out if you know what’s good for you! Last chance!”

Phoebe stepped out onto the broken porch, and stood there silently, ready to defend the half opened door. Abby’s urgent whisper hissed in the darkness behind her. “Phoebe! Come back through the door!”

But the man was already close by, with others behind him. “Aha!” he yelled. 

Suddenly Reverend Tuck ran into the space between the crowd and the porch. He raised his hand and roared, “Go back, or you’ll regret it the rest of your lives!”

A bolt of lightening flashed, and the long-awaited rain poured down in sheets. The crowd turned and fled. Thunder shook the earth.

PHOEBE COMES HOME (Book I) 
PHOEBE BREAKS THROUGH (Book II)

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

by John KixMiller

The Storm Breaks illustration

by Lawrence Tate

Learn More About Phoebe And The Players In Middletown! 

www.protectorsofthewood.com