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.

Ghost Girl - Episode 46


THE COTTAGE WINDOW

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Illustration by Lawrence Tate
Before she left the church Abby repackaged her rolled blanket and garden tools to look exactly as they had before when they were hiding the mapstick. As she walked back through the churchyard she glanced across the street and saw a familiar stalker on a bench in front of the Middletown Standard office. Stopping near the shed – but still in view of the street – she unpacked her bundle and then stored the rakes and spade and hoe with the other tools, and threw the blanket and clothesline on a shelf. With a growing feeling of anxiety she walked over to the door. Her key turned smoothly, just as before. The lock showed no signs of tampering. Inside everything appeared completely normal. She checked her books, her clothes, her plans for the garden, the cabinets. Nothing seemed suspicious. 
‘What a surprise!’ she thought. ‘Maybe I’ve been a bit paranoid, overdoing this whole thing.’ She glanced out the kitchen window and the stalker was still sitting quietly as before. ‘Is that really one of the same men? I can’t be sure. They’re all in their 30s, dark sport jacket even on hot days, slacks. Could he just be waiting for somebody, and I’m making all this up? But there’s a few of them and they are all in similar uniform, sort of like a stock broker or financial advisor, but I’m sure they don’t work for Bentley next door.’
Abby began inspecting the cottage for any sign of intruders. She still couldn’t quite believe her intuition had been so far off base. The lock on the kitchen window was closed, looking just as before. She checked the two other windows on the other walls. Nothing appeared unusual. She even checked the tiny bathroom window that was too small for a normal man to climb through. Still nothing. Finally she entered the little room at the back that extended toward the churchyard wall. It too was locked. But she noticed a faint smudge on the windowsill. It had probably been there before. There was no reason for it to catch the eye. But to make sure she checked the floor around the window and saw a faint, thin brown line, only visible because it was dark against the pale plywood floor. She touched it and found a trace of dirt on her finger. She rubbed it, and felt a hint of moisture. It was definitely not dust. Her heart began to beat faster, and she was transformed into a bloodhound on the scent. She crawled along the floor and found one more faint line, curved like the side of a shoe. ‘Of course! It rain last night! There’s no way this was here before.’
Abby checked the lock on the window again, and this time she saw a barely visible scratch, an incredibly thin line of white on the dark metal of the switch of the lock. ‘But what good would that do anyone? Pressure there would only push the lock closed.’ She opened the lock and saw a similar minute scratch on the other side. Her eye was caught by a slight irregularity in the glass an inch or two away. There seemed to be an almost microscopic hole coming through the glass at a tight angle toward the lock. From straight ahead you would never notice it at all. She immediately looked in the same spot on the other side of the lock, and found an identical irregularity in the glass. Rubbing it with her finger, she could just barely feel it, and ran to a bowl of odds and ends in the kitchen cabinet. Returning with a safety pin, she probed the tiny holes. The pin could not enter them, but the holes were there.
‘Something made those scratches,’ she thought. ‘Someone opened and closed the lock. So much for being paranoid. I’m not being paranoid enough! What else did they do in here?’
Abby began searching the house again for anything strange, with her heart beating faster. The familiar signs of panic spread through her body. ‘This isn’t local people doing this,’ she thought. ‘This is done by strangers, hired professionals, expensive trained investigators!’ She glanced up at the benches in front of the office across the street, and once again saw a stalker there, pretending to read a newspaper. ‘It’s so obvious.’
Her life felt out of control.

Ghost Girl - Episode 42

HIGH WATER ON THE HALF MOON

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HIGH WATER ON THE HALF MOON
Illustration by Carlos Uribe
The flooded river swerved around the fallen tree and over the bank, flowing through the edge of the forest. “Keep it slow and straight,” said Sharon. “That’s it, that’s it. See the cut branches? Just barely to the right of it. Fight the current pushing us to shore!”
Lluvia and Diego slanted their oars in the water to force the bow to the left, and the current began to swing the stern around to the right. “Let it go! Let it go!” screamed Sharon. The Caletas withdrew their oars. They heard the motor suddenly roar, and felt the boat shoot forward, rising up out of the water a few inches. Sharon used the new leverage to steer from the stern. They bore down upon the opening, brushed the branches just to their left, holding straight. They accelerated down the chute, and in seconds were in open water moving back to the center of the river.
Abby slapped Lluvia on the back and cheered. People gave each other high fives, and yelled compliments to Sharon, but she did not respond, keeping her eyes on the water ahead. “All right now, back to business,” she said. “Nice going, but watch the water. Slow us down a bit. Cali, watch carefully. I think we’ll take the left side of Rock Island and stay left past Ghost Point.”
“We’ll make it easy,” responded Diego.
Sharon had let the motor idle, but the coasting speed was fast. The Caletas gently held them back. “There’s Rock Island!” called Cali. The boat gradually moved to the left bank. “Kayak ahead!” yelled Cali. “It’s heading toward the Rock Island chute!”
After a few seconds of silence, Sharon yelled, “Fast to the right. Slow us down. Taking Rock Island on the right. We’ll run the Ghost Point bar!”
The Caletas worked their oars, straining their muscles against the raging current. The boat swung to the right, but the island seemed to be moving toward them very fast. Sharon gunned the motor and steered hard to the right. The stern swung downstream with a sickening slide. “Left, left!” she shouted. The bow turned downstream and the boat slowly straightened out. The motor went back into idle, and the River Queen missed the island to their left by twenty feet, coasting along safely.
‘I’ve never been this close to the Ghost River,’ thought Abby. She studied the bank to her right, and noticed Lluvia doing the same thing. The cliffs and waterline boulders suddenly became a low cave like the upper part of an open mouth. A stream of clear water issued forth into the Half Moon, pushing the boat away with the current. There was no splashing or white water at the cave mouth. The new current hit the Half Moon under water, and flowed mysteriously from a hidden source. The clear water was visible as it joined the Half Moon, and the drift carried them away from the dangerous rocks near the mouth. “Don’t stare!” yelled Sharon. “Slow us down a bit. A little more. We want to take the first bridge nice and easy, and keep slowing down to land just after the second bridge on the right. There won’t be much room to come ashore, but we’ll find a few feet of mud and grass. Cali, get ready with the rope. Junior, help her. Diego, take the stern rope. Jump out as soon as we hit land. Keep the stern from swinging.”
The boat lost speed, stayed safely in the center of the river, and passed under Bridge Avenue with no problem. The Caletas gently slanted toward the right bank, struggling to hold their paddles against the water. The boat lost more speed, wavering in the water. The motor idled, and they drifted uncertainly toward the right opening under the Cemetery Bridge. “Slower, more, more, closer to the right. Still more!”
They shaved the side of the opening under the bridge. The Caletas pushed on their oars, still slanting to the right. 
“Hold on!” shouted Sharon. She gunned the motor in reverse. The side of the bow slid up the muddy bank and stuck with a jerk. Cali, Junior, and Diego leaped ashore as the stern swung downstream. Diego immediately circled the rope around a thin birch tree that leaned under the pressure. 
“Everybody off fast,” came Sharon’s order. They scrambled into ankle deep water. Cali and Junior on the bow rope pulled the now much lighter River Queen up the bank. They heaved on the line in unison. “Again,” ordered Sharon. Finally they tied the rope to a willow tree, and rubbed their hands.
“Should have worn gloves,” said Cali.

Ghost Girl - Episode 30

THE ARRIVAL AT RIVERGATE

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Illustration by Carlos Uribe
During the whole conversation Cali had been watching the water ahead, and now she yelled, “New current, branches in the Cedar current!”
Sharon steered rapidly about thirty degrees to the left, and that was enough to send the boat sliding downstream as they crossed the river. It was an eerie feeling, as if Sharon had lost control of the boat, but soon she straightened out their course near the left hand shore. “What’s that!” asked Sara, pointing upstream. The river had become two different colors, as muddy water entered from the right. 
“It’s the first of two forks,” replied Cali. “That’s Cedar Creek coming in. See? In a minute we’ll go right on by. And wait till we go up the Snake just before we’re home. That’s a real sight.” Sara looked at Cali in admiration. “How did you learn all this? It’s quite a job. I have no idea how you and Sharon manage it.”
“I grew up with it,” answered Cali. “I used to be in Sharon’s Boat Club. She teaches teenagers, and promotes students to be captains. They run a ferry service with a lot of small boats.” They all stared as they passed the Cedar Creek coming in from the marsh. The view opened up. Instead of forest they saw tall pale grasses blowing in the cool wind. Thick gray clouds blocked the sun. Rain was in the air. They were startled as a great blue heron rose from a field of tall reeds, and flapped its enormous gray-blue wings. It slowly disappeared in the distance, heading upstream, flying low over the marsh. Abby noticed three turkey vultures – with their strange red heads and huge, motionless black wings – soar high above. Everyone was silent, watching the wild landscape. Smaller birds and pools of water dotted the grassland to their right. 
“What’s that?” exclaimed Sara. “It’s like a giant insect with all those legs!”
“The Highway 71 Bridge,” said Cali. “Looks strange from here, doesn’t it? Kind of doesn’t belong. I think they brought the highway through here because it’s the only pass over the cliffs for miles.” Eight thick pillars held the giant highway as it crossed above the Half Moon River and at least a hundred yards of land on either side. ‘It would take a tsunami to wash that thing down,’ Abby thought. Soon they could hear the traffic – especially the many 18-wheelers – speeding above them.
“You can see the Snake coming in on the right up there.” Cali pointed ahead. “We head up it and dock on the left.” A wide sheet of sluggish water flowed in to join the Half Moon. The river at that point was almost like a small lake. 
“And there’s Rivergate!” cried Cali.
Rivergate Island was shaped like a giant boat, with its bow coming to a point at the fork between the rivers. The land quickly rose to a narrow plateau. Abby could see up the lazy water of the Snake to Rivergate Bridge, a much lower two-lane version of the Highway 71 colossus. Even from a distance she saw the high water washing up on both sides to where the bridge hit the land. It was obvious why the bridge was closed. A few small boats were making the crossing from Rivergate to the highway access road and back.
The River Queen labored through the slow dark water. Sharon steered toward the shore as the island grew wider. At the curve of the river a long sand bar appeared, making a small harbor sheltered from the current. Hugging the bank on the left, Sharon brought the boat slowly into calm water. She put the motor into idle and coasted toward a dock, built like a long raft floating on barrels tied to the shore. Abby was amazed at the number of small boats crowding the dock and shoreline for at least a mile. Sharon turned sharply to the left, and slid gently into an empty space on the bank.
“We’re home!” called Sharon. “Thanks for your patience! For those coming back tomorrow, we leave at eight o’clock sharp.” The group cheered and shouted their thanks.