Abby and Wendy - Episode 37


Episode 37

Song of the Raven.jpg

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

Abby and Wendy - Episode 36

AN UNUSUAL MEETING

Illustration By Carlos Uribe

Illustration By Carlos Uribe

Lluvia slowly steered the canoe toward the right bank. A wide view of Evansville opened up before their eyes. The river seemed to grow and spread out, creating space for many docks lining the shoreline. The tall buildings were all on the left side. On the right-hand side a long finger of parkland extended along the shoreline all the way from Half Moon. The Evansville College of Arts and Sciences was nestled among tall trees like a town of mostly low buildings. Beyond the college, Riverside Boulevard ran all the way to River City.       

Docks owned by the Parks Department and the College clustered together, creating a marina of boats, all quite small by ocean standards. The depth of the river was only about 5 to 8 feet, and varied radically with rainfall and the tide. No large yachts or ferryboats could safely navigate the river until the Maywood River joined the Half Moon a few miles downstream. At that point the river became wider, deeper, and crowded in a more urban landscape, climaxing at the great metropolis of River City.

Lluvia maneuvered the canoe along crowded docks to a separate, spacious area owned by the college. They tied the boat to cleats in the wooden platform and a young man in a college tee shirt gave them a hand up. Lluvia told him their business and departure time Sunday morning. He wanted student identification, and for a moment they were stuck, unsure what to do. 

Then they heard Abby’s name called, and Sara came rushing up the dock. She was obviously nervous and impatient. “Where have you been?”

“Sorry, sorry,” Phoebe answered. “An emergency, and my phone is gone. None of us have a phone. I’ll tell you more later.”

“Hi Bill,” Sara greeted the dock attendant. “They’re all with me, meeting in the energy building with Professor Richardson. He’ll approve it.”

“We picked up a stray boat,” Lluvia said. “It was floating free a mile upriver. Can you look for an owner?”

In a moment the three visitors and Sara were hurrying across a wide pathway onto the college campus. Old buildings, generally only two stories, were spread out among trees and lawns, and connected by flagstone paths. Abby had never seen anything like it. Wisteria grew up old stonewalls, and discreet signs were posted to guide visitors. The scene was calm and lovely in the early evening shadows. But Sara led them at a furious pace. Phoebe lagged behind, pulling her right leg stiffly forward.

Abby checked her timer. “Hey Sara,” she called. “It’s only 6:30.”

“We’ve reserved the private meeting room starting at six. Ricardo Richardson and a grad student and Freddy Baez are there already. We’ve made a dinner reservation for seven o’clock. This is a big deal. And we’re running out of time.” She’s the organizer, the mover and shaker,Abby told herself. Just follow along.

They practically ran through a maze of buildings where students walked in and out of dormitories and gathered in groups on the lawn. Cars full of arriving students and their luggage jammed the courtyard. Finally, Sara led the group to a modern one-story building with a picture window, glass doors, and wings built out from both sides. A limestone porch with benches and potted gardenias surrounded the main entrance. An elegant bronze sign read, ‘Energy in the Age of Climate Change’.

Groups on the benches said hello to Sara and stared as they hurried by, practically running down a carpeted hallway to wooden double doors. A quiet living room spread out before them. Lamps on poles, couches and easy chairs, bookshelves, paintings, and a sideboard of refreshments were scattered around a wide area. Three men stood to greet them.

Sara took charge. “Professor Richardson, Evansville Record editor Freddy Baez, and assistant professor Henry Tims, this is Abby, Phoebe, and…” Sara waited for the name.

“Lluvia,” Abby told them. They shook hands.

“Call me Ricardo, please. We’re here to talk as equals. Can I get you some coffee, wine, tea, club soda?” The visitors asked for coffee, and Ricardo served them himself. 

Freddy showed them to a long couch with a coffee table, and looked at his watch. “Can we delay dinner half an hour at least?” he asked Ricardo. “We need the time.”

“Henry, see if they can give us until 7:30. Tell them we apologize, but it’s important.”

Ricardo Richardson, the host and head of the department, wore a dark tailored suit and a pale blue tie. He was tall and lean, in his forties, brown skinned, with black hair cut very short. A gold ring with a small blue stone glowed on his right ring finger. Freddy Baez did not seem to be concerned about his appearance. He looked just the same to Abby as he had appeared in Reverend Tuck’s office: balding, in his fifties, needing a haircut around the ears, a bit overweight, wearing a shabby pale suit with no tie. He sipped his wine and glanced around impatiently.

Henry Tims looked maybe 25 or 26 years old, very young for an assistant professor. He was short and light skinned, with wispy blond hair falling over his forehead, and a vulnerable baby face free of wrinkles. His jeans and pinstriped shirt were clean and ironed, giving him a bit of formality. 

“Yes, right away,” he said, and hurried out the door.

Abby and Phoebe were struggling to keep their eyes off the blue stone in Ricardo’s ring. It’s dreamstone, its dreamstone!Their thoughts were buzzing, and they met each other’s eyes with a look of elated recognition. Here’s someone on our side, they thought. Abby glanced at Lluvia and noticed her wide-eyed look. She knows.

Sara retreated to a corner of the room and made a quick phone call. She wore her usual uniform: STAFF tee shirt, jeans, and wide red headband. “Amy will be here in a minute,” she told them.

“Ah! Excellent.” Ricardo gave a sigh of relief. “Let me give all of you a chance to drink your coffee and relax.” He spoke slowly and gently, with the hint of a Spanish accent. “I want you to know how grateful we are to see you here on our home turf. It’s a tremendous favor. I know you’ve overcome obstacles to be here… you folks are under a microscope these days. But now we have a chance to put our minds together in hopes of a better future. This is a moment blessed by fate.”

Henry returned, nodded to Ricardo, and pulled up a chair.

“We’re just getting started,” his professor told him. He was silent for a minute as the young women drank coffee.

Well, well…thought Abby. Quite an introduction. She was determined to play her role with all the concentration at her command, and bring in Phoebe and Lluvia to offer all those things that she could not.

The door suddenly opened and Amy Zhi walked into the room. Sara hugged her, and introduced her to Lluvia and Phoebe. Amy waved to all and sat in an upholstered armchair to the side of the couch. Henry hurried to get her a cup of coffee. 

The professor met everyone’s eyes and began: “I think we’ve all done a good job of arranging this off-the-record meeting, and I think we can count on each other’s confidentiality.”

They nodded.

“Please bear with me while I give a brief description of our situation. We’ll be discussing renewable energy developments that are still in an early, fragile stage, but are becoming too prominent to ignore. As you know, tomorrow the Evansville Board of Trustees will be responding to our student/faculty declaration of climate change commitments. I realize that this document is technically open to change and negotiation. But most of us, including the trustees, are aware that we are drawing a red line, a firm position that we intend to implement with all the influence we can find.” 

He paused and drank from a glass of wine. “Okay, now here’s some news. We’ve obtained through the grapevine a summary of the trustees’ response. They will point out that not only our college, but also our city and state, are nowhere near ready to achieve %100 renewable energy. Therefore they – the trustees – will not promise to withdraw all fossil fuel related investments. They will say we are decades, thirty years at a minimum, from banishing fossil fuels from our economy. Therefore, they must continue to invest in enterprises that are currently essential to the welfare of our population, such as fossil fuel heat, transportation, electricity, fertilizer, plastic, and so on. We know that this argument is shared by many of the powers that be in our world, and could have merit, except that over the past thirty years they have done nothing except continue business as usual. And the business interests that the trustees represent have no wish to change, and are ignoring the perilous consequences of delay.”      

“Hurry it along, Ricardo!” interrupted Freddy Baez. “We’re from the news business, we’re used to rushing. And in twenty minutes we’re supposed to be eating dinner.”

“I understand, Freddy. But tonight, I don’t care if all the food is overcooked or stone cold. I’ve been waiting a long time for this day. Everyone will get a chance to say their piece.”

He took another swallow of wine. “In maybe ten years, with supporting policies like an escalating carbon taxes, regulations, and investments into solar and wind projects, electricity could be just about 90% renewable. But as we know all too well, our state and nation and most of the globe, do not have the political will to achieve anything drastic at the moment. We don’t have the batteries yet to store enough energy to get through days with no wind and winters with little sun. Without the invention of better batteries, generators will need to continue using natural gas at least part of the time. We don’t have the grid, the heating and cooking equipment, the cars and jet fuel and household appliances to move to 100% renewable, even with a carbon tax and enormous subsidies. And for all those places off the grid the situation is hopeless. Propane tanks populate the countryside like mushrooms. And world-wide, that adds up to an insurmountable problem…except for one thing. The problems look different if you include biogas.

Ricardo looked around the room. “That’s what we need to discuss tonight. We know that all organic material can produce biogas, mostly methane. We know that landfilled organic material gives off methane into the atmosphere where it becomes a greenhouse gas. We know that landfilling organic material is expensive. We know that biogas is much more environmentally friendly than burning wood and related materials. We know waste organic material can be collected from a village or a city or a farm. We know the production of biogas can be a local enterprise or a colossal industry. We know that fracking can be banned as soon as we have better batteries for electrical storage and biogas for furnaces, stoves, and generators. Millions of families already use it all over the world. And tonight, we need to talk about the little-known fact that biogas is used by thousands of households right here in the Half Moon Valley. How did this happen, given the political and business support for fossil fuels? Why can’t we study and discuss it?”

The participants looked at each other, but no one answered. Ricardo waited, and then went on: “We’ve discovered that one of our trustees, Herbert Irving, is alarmed that his Valley Fuels distribution network is losing customers. He’s already investigating the production of biogas by our Parks Department. We know he will convince the governor and his allies to close down that operation unless they meet very strong resistance. We know that Rivergate is already 100% renewable, and Half Moon maybe 50% renewable, and Middletown is rapidly getting into the act. Why can’t we replicate this process? Why can’t we argue that with intelligent biogas production – by intelligent, I mean refusing to grow crops for biofuels on land suitable for food crops, refusing to cut down forests… in other words, producing biogas only from waste, organic garbage, wood that is already being chipped by the Parks Department as a matter of ordinary maintenance, grasses grown on land with soil too poor for human food… Why can’t we study, publicize, and argue for intelligent biogas production?”

He looked at his watch. “Thank you for your patience. The ball is in your court.”

“We’ve got a problem among the students,” Sara replied. “They’re all fired up about Abby’s interview, the mysteries surrounding Middletown, the gender and spiritual issues… but… it seems that they don’t understand biogas very well. It’s not clean and pure like solar and wind. It burns and gives off carbon dioxide, just like fracked gas.”

“Mmmm…” Ricardo smiled. “Tell them the squirrels and the dogs and humans give off carbon dioxide. The tree that falls in the forest and turns into compost gives off carbon dioxide. Cow manure gives off carbon dioxide. But the fracked gas didn’t have to give off itscarbon dioxide. It’s been safely underground for millions of years, and could have stayed there, if we didn’t mine it and burn it. We’re adding carbon to the life cycle, carbon that has been sequestered for eons. That’s the problem. We should stick to our basic talking points: KEEP IT IN THE GROUND. BAN FOSSIL FUELS. And by the way, the organic material that produces biogas has a desirable byproduct: solid compost, pure and ready to use as fertilizer. It’s far better to make biogas out of organic material than to burn it.”

“It seems to me,” Sara retorted, “that you should get those professors in first year earth science to do a better job. The facts seem self-evident to you, but not to most other people.”

“Good point. Yes, a better education is essential. But that will take time, a year at a minimum. We need to act over the next couple of months.”

Freddy Baez leaned forward. “I’m sorry to say this, but you’re all on the wrong track. Sure, improve education, explain the issues, argue your case. But we’ve got hot news here, very hot. That interview with Abby… it’s gone around the world. The attention of the public is at a peak I’ve rarely seen. This wave of interest must be fed, or it will break and disappear. News items are stories. What story should we tell? I ask you, Abby… what story would you recommend?”

She had been waiting for this moment. Her mind was well prepared, the words on the tip of her tongue. “I agree we have to move fast. This public attention you’re talking about… it also includes the wrong kind of attention. It alerts our enemies, and they investigate and create their own story. That’s natural. They’re threatened. This Herbert Irving you mentioned who runs Valley Fuels, he’s losing money. Large parts of this whole system will lose wealth and power, and strike back. And fossil fuels are a cultural as well as an economic problem. The self-esteem of part of our population seems to be married to fossil fuels. If we don’t get our story out there in a powerful way, we’ll be crushed.”

Abby and Wendy - Episode 34

GETTING READY TO GO

Illustration By Carlos Uribe

Illustration By Carlos Uribe

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

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

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

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

Abby turned and shook her outstretched hand.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abby and Wendy - Episode 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 - Episode 30

ABBY, PHOEBE, SULAY AND NICO MAKE A PLAN

Illustration By Carlos Uribe

Illustration By Carlos Uribe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abby and Wendy

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Episode 22
TRYING TO BE NORMAL
That night Abby had trouble falling asleep. She was struggling to understand Wendy’s advice. “Just be normal,” Wendy had said. 
‘But what does that mean,’ Abby wondered. ‘How can I do that? What is normal these days? How can I even show up at tomorrow’s church service after that crazy fiasco over the election for trustee?’
But the following morning Abby forced herself to attend, and found Police Chief Santiago at one door and Officer Harley at the other, and a large but quiet and well-behaved crowd inside. Interviews and video cameras had been banned from the sanctuary. And most wonderful of all, Abby found herself surrounded by friends, seated on both sides and directly behind her. It was a relief to feel safe.
Of course the crowd was waiting to find out who won the election, and expected the bishop to make an announcement as soon as he was introduced. But his words disappointed almost everyone: “Nobody will learn who won today. Because nobody won.” He went on to explain that one candidate had withdrawn due to receiving threats. “The spiritual community functions by agreements,” he said. “But our congregation cannot agree on how to live as one community. Therefore we will struggle forward with only six trustees who are often divided. I believe we can all use a good lesson in how to live together.”
When the service came to a close Abby and her friends rose as a group. They hugged each other and spoke softly. A few others joined them with greetings and expressions of joy that Abby had safely returned. She was overwhelmed by this reception, and was close to tears of happiness. Not since childhood had she felt such a warm response from a group of people. Sara maneuvered through the crowd up to Abby’s ear, and said, “Come to Tuck’s office in twenty minutes. Important meeting.”
Abby nodded. ‘Oh my,’ she thought. ‘It’s about that interview. If they don’t like it, let them make it disappear. I can see why Wendy wants me to be normal. She means low profile. That will do for me.”
Back in the cottage she lay in bed and looked at the ceiling. She felt weak and dizzy, and began to dream. She was in a boat zooming down the Half Moon River, carried along by the flood as if she were on a rollercoaster flying through the sky.
Suddenly with a jerk she sat up. ‘I’m late!’ She ran to the front door of the church. Janet turned from her computer and said, “Hurry along, dear. They’re all in Reverend Tuck’s office.”
The door was a few inches open, and Abby peeked into the room. “There you are,” said Tuck. "Just in time. Please join us.” Sara, Freddy Baez, the bishop, and Tuck were seated around the long table. A television screen was set up at one end. 
“You know Freddy Baez, don’t you, Abby?” asked Tuck. Her mind was a blank.
“Of course,” Freddy replied. “We met after the concert at the coffee shop. Here, Abby, take this chair next to me.” Abby waved to Sara, as if to say, ‘What gives?’ Sara smiled and shrugged. ‘She’s not sure,’ thought Abby.
The bishop was the first to speak. “Let me thank you all for being here. I’m grateful and eager to get started. We must decide the future of Sara’s recent interview with Abby. Since everything is controversial these days, and the interview was recorded on church grounds, many will see Abby as speaking for Tuck and myself.” 
‘Look at his face,’ thought Abby. ‘His eyes are shining like stars.’
“Now of course,” the bishop continued, “the interview is important to Freddy as a newspaper editor, and to Sara as a friend and colleague of all of us. And it’s hard to overestimate the burden carried by Reverend Tuck, whose position here is controversial to say the least. So… I suggest we take a look at this video and talk it over.”
Everyone nodded. “Let me mention,” Freddy said, “that we have not edited out a single word of this interview. We would like to publish it as is.”
Tuck turned off the lights, and the group watched in silence. 
Afterwards, the bishop said, “Well? We know Freddy’s opinion. How about the rest of you?”
“I can’t help but notice,” Sara replied, “that you haven’t mentioned Abby yet.”
Abby was looking down at the table. The group turned to her and waited. She finally raised her head and said, “I’m sorry to cause such trouble to all you busy people. I knew I had to talk to a reporter at some point, and I really didn’t want to bring other people into the picture, so I handled it the way you see. But I realize that I’ve put all of you to a great deal of trouble. I won’t mind if we just erase the video and forget about it.”
“I appreciate that,” returned the bishop. “But for the sake of argument, let’s assume that we all want to publish it. What would you personally want to do?”
“I definitely want to publish it,” said Tuck. “It’s either that or retire early.”
“If Abby agrees, then I agree,” added Sara.
“I’m worried about Abby,” the bishop spoke softly. “Personally, I’m in favor of the video, but why should she carry the burden?”
“But all of you are not helping me decide!” Abby was almost shouting. “I ask you: Will it do good or bad? Will it help our world or harm it? I think I deserve an answer.”
“None of us can know for sure,” replied the bishop gently. “But it’s clear that we agree that it needs to be said. We will stand with you to the best of our ability.”

Abby and Wendy

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Episode 21
SARA INTERVIEWS ABBY, PART 2
“Children often know,” Abby said, “that the adults are making terrible mistakes. A child asked me the other day, ‘Will there be a war?’ A war could end it all. Children know that when we’re talking about war or climate change, we’re talking about their future, and whether they will have a future.”
“So,” asked Sara, “what have you, your friends, Reverend Tuck, done about this?”
“Well… one important thing is to take a close look at the gender problem. It affects not only our day to day relationships and social order, but also our beliefs, our view of the universe. It is important to remember that the earth is usually thought of as female, as Mother Earth.” Abby drank some water. She had found something to say, and decided to let it all out.
“In most communities and nations, the earth is not considered holy. People may argue the point, and of course there are significant exceptions, but actions speak louder than words. Let’s take a close look at the way we treat Mother Earth, and all the life that lives through her nourishment and protection. It’s not a pretty sight. Perhaps most people do not believe, or do not care, that it is a sin for us to destroy the future of life as we know it. It is also quite possible that a majority of people do care, but are powerless to act, because the wealthy who control the economy and the policy decisions are not willing to allow change. That is a remarkable fact when you think about it. And it doesn’t have to be that way. From a spiritual point of view -- as Reverend Tuck has pointed out – we see the earth declared good and holy in many scriptures. In the Bible we even have a holy female in heaven caring about the earth, but we never mention her.”
“I’m afraid,” Sara was struggling with this conversation, “I’m afraid many of us are not familiar with what you’re referring to.”
“In the Book of Proverbs, Wisdom, often called Sophia, is definitely a female, and is presented as a spirit calling on humans to care for life on earth and its future. Let me see if I can remember the exact words. It goes something like this.”
Abby stood up and raised her voice: “Wisdom is calling out as she stands by the crossroads and on every hill. She stands by the city gate where everyone enters, and she shouts: ‘I am calling out to each one of you!’”
Abby paused, and then said, “I should tell you how Wisdom introduces herself. She describes her history and motivations. ‘I was there,’ she says, ‘when the Lord put the heavens in place. I was there when he laid the foundations to support the earth. I was right beside the Lord, helping him plan and build. I made him happy each day and I was pleased with his world and pleased with its people.’”
Abby took a deep breath. “Do you see? The heavens and the earth are both holy. The Father in Heaven and Mother Earth are a part of one holy creation. And Wisdom or Sophia is a female doing all she can to make life on earth prosper… Do you see? This is family history, the divine family history. And later on the Bible says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent his son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.’ Do you see? The world is holy, is loved by God. Mother Earth is sacred.”
Abby looked at the camera and raised her voice. “There are four or five billion years for our children and all life to explore and evolve and grow up to care for our world. This is a way we can look at the universe. Our modern society has lost its way, has taken devastating wrong turns. Our spiritual traditions need to help with the rescue. Young people want to know: what kind of world are they inheriting? Are we destroying the world God has given us? Or can we grow up to our responsibility to pass along God’s gift to the life of the future?”
Abby stopped and looked at Sara. “I want to thank you and all your readers and listeners for the chance to speak.”
Sara looked at the camera and declared, “Ladies and gentlemen, all of you out there watching and listening to us, let me thank Abby Chapman for giving us her time and thoughts today. And let me announce that we will continue this story. It has just begun. Thank you for listening, reading, or watching us. We hope to see you soon.”

Sara and Abby looked at each other in shock. Neither one had expected the interview to go in this direction, and they had no idea if it would please anyone. Abby in particular was pessimistic. “I know that was… well, maybe something your boss will reject. I understand if he decides to keep it on the shelf.”
But Sara was not so sure. “Freddy might publish it. I think it’s well worth saying.”
“I hope so,” Abby replied.

Abby and Wendy

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

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 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 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 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 49

GEORGE AND ABBY

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GEORGE AND ABBY
Illustration by Lawrence Tate
Abby turned the key and opened the door a couple of feet. George stood in the doorway. A gleam from the moon, now high in the sky, shone on his face. Abby saw both hope and sadness in his eyes. She closed and locked the door behind her. “Follow me,” she whispered, and led George to the flat spot in the privet fort where they had met before. George’s face was now in shadow, hard to read. Abby sat with her hood up, almost invisible. They did not touch, but sat with tension in the air. “You know these men spying on the churchyard?” whispered George. “This is a different ball game than we started out with. The stakes have gone way up. I just want you to know.”
“I thought so.” Abby’s voice was low and almost inaudible. George had to move closer just to hear her. “But how do you know for sure?" she asked.
“Peabody actually introduced me to one of these… whatever you call them…” George searched for the right word.
“I call them stalkers,” said Abby.
“Yeah, stalkers. We had a little meeting in Peabody’s office. He wanted advice on whether one of these guys could just walk into the churchyard and take photos. His idea is that Tuck is mismanaging the church, and the Standard is going to publish a series on it. I told them Tuck would notice if they just came in taking pictures, and it might be offensive. So then Peabody wants me to do it! He especially wants shots of the abandoned building. I told him I wasn’t sure Tuck would allow me to do that, and Peabody said I don’t need permission, I’m a friend and no one will stop me. I told him I’d see, and he didn’t like that answer. ‘Do it!’ he said. ‘This is what we pay you for!’ It’s getting me stressed out, this spy game. And I overheard something… Morphy might make an offer to buy the churchyard and build offices right here where we’re sitting.”
“Oh no!” exclaimed Abby. She was stunned. “Thank God you came tonight! We’ve got to fix up that building in a hurry, and then you can take a few photos. Delay a few days! Maybe we can make things presentable.”
“And there’s more bad news,” George resumed. He was frowning, taking no pleasure in what he had to say. “They also want pictures of you, especially a good shot of you not working. ‘As embarrassing as possible,’ Peabody said. The stalker told us he’d tried but couldn’t get a good angle.”
Abby tried to be casual, saying: “That must have been when Jeremy brought the seeds and guitar and stuff…” She was nervous and stumbled over the words.
“Apparently Jeremy is working in the churchyard now,” George said.
Abby tried to maintain a low, even tone of voice. “Yeah,” she replied. “He’s a Protector. They’ve made fixing up the churchyard a priority. Chi Chi assigned Jeremy to work here. He even got Jim to give him time off from the gas station.”
“You know Jeremy has quit the band,” George told her. “I’m not sure I like all this.” 
Abby was starting to panic, and changed the subject. “Guess who came back from Rivergate with me today? Ishmael, Isaiah, and Cali. They’re all moving into the greenhouse. And the concert is definitely on at Sara and Cali’s student rally!”
George finally smiled. “I know,” he said. “I’ve come straight from the greenhouse. Everyone was there tonight… except you. I mean it’s sad you couldn’t be there.”
“Oh, don’t worry about me,” said Abby, even though she did feel sad, and intensely curious. She looked up at George and smiled. “You can help me! Tell me what’s been going on. What’s everybody doing?”
“We’re practicing like mad. Almost six hours we’ve been at it. Phoebe says we have to be ready to play a week from Saturday. That’s going to be the first festival.”
“Hmmm… So things are good then?” she asked.
“It’s good in some ways. The band is getting real fans. I’m really proud of it… except… I’m not happy. This business of being a spy is getting in the way of what I’d really like to do… like go to your cottage and trade songs on the guitar.”
“George!” hissed Abby. “Think about the message you just brought me! And someone broke into the back window last night while I was away! Look, being a spy must be unbearable. I think you should quit. They’re devious, and powerful, and take revenge.”
George smiled in a ray of moonlight. “Tell me the truth now,” he said. “Am I right in thinking that my friends – like you, for instance – really, really need me to stick with it?”
“It’s true,” Abby had to admit. “Your news might save all of us. At least it gives us a chance.”
“We’re like soldiers,” George said. “What we’re doing seems to matter a lot… Look, I really should be going…”
“Be careful, George, please!”
“I learned it from you,” he said. “I’m invisible, as silent as a black cat.” He stood up. Abby followed him down the path to the iron door, and unlocked it.
“See you tomorrow night,” she whispered. They hugged as people do for a kiss on the cheek, but in the dark ending up kissing on the lips, just for a second. George turned and walked away.