Abby and Wendy

Episode 28
A FOREST FOR THE PLAY CITY

39922600_2170515426322976_7314400794818641920_n.jpg


Abby was up early and riding to work by 8AM. The streets were calm. No one bothered her. When she knocked Rob opened the door and smiled. “I’m so happy you’re here early,” he said. “I’d like to mention a few things before the others arrive. First, I’m afraid Rose is not feeling well, and will not be able to work today. I fact she’s been ill for a few days, and has gone to her aunt’s house to rest. Tom Winkle will work as a parent volunteer. He’s done that before. Lucy will stay for the whole day, and things should work out for everyone.”
“I’m sorry Rose is not well.”
“It happens to everyone at one time or another. But let me quickly go over a few things before the children are here. First, we owe you at least thirty dollars for the plants you brought yesterday. The activity was splendid, and has given us a whole new direction for our group.”
Abby clapped her hands and then felt embarrassed by her own happiness. “I really appreciate it,” she said, “but Alison gave them to me for free.” 
“Please thank Alison for us, but I insist you take the money. You’ve been doing too much for nothing. It’s on my conscience. And we do need you here.”
The thought flashed through Abby’s mind to ask Rob about Rose’s harsh words and warning to avoid publicity, as if Abby could control the media. But she was so bewildered by Rose’s behavior that she didn’t mention it.
“Thank you so much,” she finally replied. “I hardly know what to say.”
“Okay, then,” Robe said, “now here’s the plan for the morning. I was just making a picnic lunch when you arrived. We’re taking a little walk today. Tom will guide us to the baby trees we’re looking for. Peanut butter and jelly, lemon cukes, and apples will give us a nice picnic.”
The morning went along beautifully. Tom led them through the back yard and a long apple orchard to the tall maple trees near High Street. The children were glad to be outside, and were very curious about the idea of transplanting baby trees. Tom brought a wheelbarrow full of pots and three hand trowels. The children begged for rides, but Rob said “No.” He insisted that this was a serious quest for real trees, not a game.
The land rose to a small hill as they walked along. Soon a view of the wetland, the forest, and the cliffs opened up in the clear air. Along High Street enormous old maple trees lined the road, set back about twenty yards, and shading a wide area. Tom asked the group to sit as he explained the activity. The three grown-ups would work with two or three children each, and scout around for very small trees growing in the shade of the splendid maples. Abby had seen the baby trees already.
The children would each carry a small pot. When they found a tree of the right size the adult would thrust the hand trowel around the tree and loosen it up, and each child would grip the ball of earth and roots, and gently lift it into the pot. The trees were only a few months old, and the pots about six inches deep. The activity went very quickly. All the children were delighted to hold their own tree. Tom, Rob, and Abby also found trees, so the group had ten altogether. They sat in the shade and ate lunch. The view of the river was beautiful. Later on they watered the trees, and placed them in the sunlight near the south window. They planned to move the whole play city across the room to join the trees and the new plants rooting in the wet soil.
Abby rode back down Grove Avenue to Hobart in high spirits. She could hardly believe her good luck. But as she began to get a view of the church her heart sank. A crowd was milling around the sidewalk in front of the churchyard gate. She was about to turn around and hide somewhere, when she recognized Sulay, Nico, Phoebe, and Officer Harley among the people there. Clearly they were blocking entry to a group of reporters standing with cameras and sound equipment.
'Oh no,' thought Abby.

Abby and Wendy

Episode 27
I’M SO TIRED OF BEING SCARED

39211718_2153346088039910_7444646605782777856_n.jpg


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

Abby and Wendy

Episode 26
CONFUSION AT THE PRE-SCHOOL

38804435_2138319152875937_7040294543173877760_n.jpg


Illustration by Carlos Uribe
Abby lay in bed thinking about the pre-school and the possible activities for tomorrow. In her opinion, the “building a city” activity had reached a confusing stage. A pretend flood had damaged the city. Sand, representing snow, was all over the place. Crumpled dried out leaves were scattered around. Kayla wanted a garden, and Franklyn wanted a forest. How could they proceed? The only idea that flashed through Abby’s mind was to make cuttings from indoor plants and root them in water or damp, loose soil. Perhaps a tray of small plants could serve as a garden of the decorative sort. Eventually the children could pot them and take them home, or let them grow in the sunny windows all winter.
As she lay there tossing and turning, she imagined digging up a few baby oak and maple saplings, and putting them in pots. These baby trees rarely get the sun and root space to grow tall under the massive oaks and maples, but that doesn’t prevent them from trying. Abby and the children could find a few of these very small but valiant trees, maybe just four or six inches high, and grow them as a forest next to the play city. Maybe Rose and Rob would see the educational value, and Abby would be respected. 
But there were two problems. She would have to buy and bring the indoor plants first thing in the morning. And Rose and Rob had not had the chance to weigh in on these ideas. ‘But if they don’t like the plan,’ Abby told herself, ‘we can just set the plants aside, and use them another time, or I’ll take them home. Nothing is lost.’
By 7:30 Abby was riding her bike to the garden center. She felt foolish. Why not wait a day and talk to Rose and Rob? But Abby didn’t feel good about continuing the “building a city” activity without a new twist to provide a clear direction. She foresaw chaos and irritation if they just continued with the city invaded by the blanket representing the river, covered with sand and leaves, and the children wanting to race their cars around broken houses. Abby had seen no sign that Rob had a solution to the problem.
Alison answered the door at the garden center, and was very willing to help. “We have what you need,” she said. “Your pick of several full, radiant hanging plants in the greenhouse. I recommend a philodendron and a wandering jew. And you’ll need some trays to plant the cuttings.” Alison could not tolerate the idea of Abby carrying the plants and trays on her bike, and insisted on driving her to the pre-school in the garden center van.
Abby made quite an entrance into the large children’s playroom, carrying a plant in each hand. The long, angular chains of leaves hung almost to the floor. Only Kayla and Ned had arrived so far. Abby cheerfully said hello and set the plants down carefully near the big windows at the side of the room. She quickly ran back to the doorstep and picked up the trays, each one filled with twenty-four squares designed to hold individual cuttings, and returned to the group. Kayla and Ned were touching the new plants, feasting their eyes on these fascinating new living things. 
Rose was waiting for Abby, and stood in front of her as she entered the room. “What’s this for, Abby?” Rose didn’t look too happy. 
“Umm… well…” Abby replied slowly, thinking fast to defend herself. “We were playing “building a city” and Kayla wanted a garden and Franklyn wanted a forest. So I remembered that we had discussed planting and gardening activities when I was interviewed."
“I see.” Rose was still frowning. “Please remember that we don’t like surprises. Ask permission for these ideas in the future.”
Abby felt like grabbing her plants and departing. She struggled to control herself. Suddenly Ned said, “Would it be okay if we make a garden?” The children had been listening to the conversation. Rob stood behind them, looking carefully at Rose. Abby remained silent, looking back and forth between her two bosses. Rob shrugged and opened his hands, as if to say, ‘Well? Are you going to give Ned an answer?” Abby instantly knew her bosses were in conflict. She saw an opportunity to change the dynamic, and looking Rose in the eye, apologized. “I’m sorry, I should have spoken to you. I’m sure it’s hard to understand the activity without seeing it yesterday.”
Rose didn’t like that statement either. She flashed an angry look at Rob, and he ignored her, saying, “Yes, Ned, we will certainly make a garden, and a forest too. Abby’s our activity specialist. Let’s see what plan she has in mind.”

Abby and Wendy

Episode 25
A WARNING FROM REVEREND TUCK

38297960_2127581960616323_713783024398893056_n.jpg


Illustration by Carlos Uribe
The leaves and sticks the children had collected made quite a mess on the playroom floor. Nancy began crumpling the leaves into small pieces and raining them down on the city of blocks. Ned asked if he could have a fireplace. When Rob agreed Ned collected a pile of sticks inside his house. Lucy decided that the sand was actually snow, and tossed it over the city until Rob asked if she wanted to start sweeping. Franklyn scowled at her for throwing sand on his house, and stood up. “It’s starting to rain!” he told them. “The river is starting to flood!” He wiggled the blue blanket representing the river so that it spread out, covering some streets and vehicles, and knocking over blocks. “We have to save the city!” shouted Jane, and pushed the blanket back.
Abby felt that they needed a change, and asked Rob if the group might like a song. He immediately agreed, and they sang every children’s song Abby knew until Rose announced soup and sandwiches were ready in the kitchen. Soon the parents began to arrive, and Abby rode off on her bike, wondering how the children’s activity might be improved tomorrow. The problem definitely needed some thought.
After picking the vegetables finally ripening in the church garden, Abby cooked a vegetable stew and wondered when her child-care papers might be approved by the state so that she could start getting paid. The sun was scorching. She stayed inside worrying until the day began to cool, and then she spent a couple of hours watering everything growing in the churchyard. The unusually dry weather was causing the leaves to fall early. Patches of grass were dry and brown.
Twilight was turning to dark as she finished her work. A full moon was rising, an enormous golden globe shining down.
“Ah, Abby, I’m glad to catch you for a moment.” It was Reverend Tuck gliding toward her, a shadowy presence in his dark clothes. “It’s a lovely moon,” he said. “And the yard is doing beautifully.” 
Abby knew something was on Tuck’s mind. “How’s the job at the pre-school?” he asked. 
“Well, it’s not really a job yet. I’m volunteering until the state approves my papers.”
“I thought so,” Tuck replied. “Please allow me to lend you this fifty dollars here.” He folded the bills into her hand. “I won’t take “no” for an answer. Just keep volunteering. It’s the best thing for you right now.”
“Oh! Thank you! But… why do you say, ‘right now’? Is something about to happen?”
“It’s this media attention,” Tuck replied. “I’d like to shield you from it as much as possible. If you’re working all the time you’ll stay out of trouble.”
“What kind of trouble do you expect?” Abby was forcing Tuck to come to the point.
“I told you this would happen,” Tuck said. “Many of the newspapers have been making your disappearance from the coffee shop into a shocking story. Remember how mad those journalists were? They’ve discovered that mysterious disappearances are popular. On television they’re interviewing people who swear you vanished. Those who are trying to push us out of this church and out of Middletown… they like to frighten people by making them believe that you are somehow supernatural, have some sort of magic. And our friends are interested in this sort of talk as well. So there’s a big audience for these stories, and I want you to stay away from it.”
“You and I both!” cried Abby.
“Okay then, listen carefully.” Tuck was whispering. “You simply must stay away from those underground tunnels. I’ll say it once and never mention it again. You risk arousing speculation about things that should be left alone. And it’s only going to get worse when that video of your interview with Sara comes out. You’ll have reporters and stalkers of all kinds. You’ll have to find ways of avoiding them. The best answer is to be working most of the time, and unavailable the rest. You hear me?”
Abby nodded. “I was thinking of being invisible this weekend. I’ll be gone from late Friday through Sunday evening.”
“That will start rumors of your disappearance again,” said Tuck, shaking his head.
“But I’m damned if I do and damned if I don’t! Staying here sounds awful. The bishop will preach some sort of follow-up to my video interview, and there will be a mob around the church. Let them argue with the bishop, or you.”
“You have a point. It might work if you leave quietly, with no incident, no story. Maybe the talk will die down.”
“I’m trying to be normal,” Abby said. “Normal people go away for the weekend sometimes.”
Tuck smiled. “Good… it’s a beautiful night. Take care.”
“And Reverend Tuck… thanks for the fifty dollars. I really need it.”
To her surprise he held out a fist, and she met it with her own.

Abby and Wendy

Episdoe 19.jpg

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

Abby and Wendy

Episode 17.jpg

 

Episode 17
THE JUNIOR PROTECTORS OF THE WOOD, Illustration by Carlos Uribe
Abby retreated to her cottage to recover from the shock of seeing Marcus. She could see him in her memory, casually putting his finger across his lips and making a “be quiet” sign. ‘What is he doing?’ she wondered. ‘Somehow he must be trying to help us.’
An hour later she stepped outside on her way to the meeting at the toy store. Marcus was gone. But there was Jeremy watering the marigolds at the front of the churchyard.
“Abby!” he shouted, and put his hand over his mouth, regretting his loud cry. He came toward her in embarrassment, not knowing what to say.
“The gardens are fabulous,” Abby said. “Thank you! I had no idea you would take over this work while I was gone. Coming to the Youth Council meeting tonight?”
“No, I wish I could. But my work has changed. After you disappeared, a stalker began shadowing me. Chi Chi cancelled all our assignments in the forest, and put Jim and me on full time work in the garage. They have us converting dozens of engines to run on biogas. I even make home visits and convert propane furnaces and hot water heaters. I’m now a full time biogas technician.”
“Wow!” Abby replied. “You see what that means, don’t you?”
“Well, I have a guess or two, but what’s your idea?”
“They’re using the last of the warm weather to prepare Middletown to run on biogas this winter. They must expect serious bad weather, and a fuel shortage, and are using it to introduce this renewable fuel to take the place of fracked gas.”
“Okay,” Jeremy said, “you know more than I do about it. But…” he looked at her with a smile, “you’ve got to admit I was right about some things.”
Abby’s eyes teared up. “Oh, Jeremy, forgive me… I do admit it. You saved us from a big mess. I owe you.”
“Oh, I’ve forgiven you already. Well, you’re due at the Youth Council meeting. Everyone’s talking about your return. But before you go, let me hand you this.” He pressed a note in her hand, and she slipped it into her back pocket. With a sudden panic she looked at her timer. ‘Oh my God! It’s 7:50!’ She bolted out the back door of the churchyard and entered the back door of the toy store. She looked into the storage room and saw a crowd of faces talking all at once. Sulay and Nico Shannon and Jasmin, Luis and Phoebe were all sitting around the table. Abby sat in the last chair. Everyone stared, not knowing where to begin.
“We were just wondering…” Phoebe said, “what we should call ourselves now. Who are we? Oh, we know we were the Youth Council, part of the church Community Council, last week. But after that crazy election at the church the Community Council is not meeting. We’re on our own.”
“But we’re all connected,” Sulay told them. “Phoebe was going through the plan for the trip to Evansville next weekend, and it includes all of us. But the band is called Thunder Rolling, the girls’ soccer team is the Half Moon Blue Demons, the boys’ team is the Half Moon Hurricanes, but we’re all connected, aren’t we? And what about Sammy and Reverend Tuck? And Stephanie and Sara? Aren’t they part of us? And what are we for? I have an idea, but I want to hear it from you.”
“Well… said Abby quietly, “in my own mind I call us the Junior Protectors of the Wood.”
“I never heard of it,” Nico said. “What’s that?”
“I can tell you some things,” returned Phoebe. “I grew up with the Protectors of the Wood meeting here in this store. I used to listen to the discussions from the loft up there when my parents thought I was sleeping. You all know some of the members. My parents, Reverend Tuck, Fred Peterson, Chi Chi and Alison from the garden center, Wyndaman the lawyer who worked with Shannon’s father to get Sammy out of jail. People from Rivergate that Abby knows. They would talk about saving the farms from take-over attempts from big corporations, adding land to the forest preserve, and protecting the forest from companies who want to set up mining operations there. They would talk about helping groups of people having a hard time, and helping small store owners maintain their businesses. Things like that.”
“But we really don’t do those things,” said Jasmin. “Maybe we should be…”
“Maybe I can help,” Abby interrupted. “The Protectors of the Wood began long, long ago, when some of my ancestors lived throughout the forest and farmed the River Valley. And I agree with Jasmin. We should be doing these things, and I hope that in some ways we already are. We helped save the toy store and Sammys Coffee Shop. We helped the farmers with the greenmarket in the courtyard and the churchyard. We helped Tuck when the church was in danger. We raised money for Rivergate after the flood. And I want you to know that my parents lived in the trailer park until an electrical fire burned them out, and I know this happened to many others. Maybe we should be helping them.”
“We should!” Nico burst out. “I know who they are.” 
“And we’re supporting Sara’s group, Students Against Fossil Fuels,” Abby continued. “We’re expanding all the time.”
“I knew this was good,” said Sulay. “I just knew it.”

Abby and Wendy

Episode 16.jpg

Episode 16
ONE SURPRISE AFTER ANOTHER
Illustration by Carlos Uribe
“I’ll be taking college courses at the end of the month,” Sulay told Abby. “My internship is with a newspaper… but the actual assignment is up to you.”
She looked at Abby with a pleading expression. “Sara Williams is my supervisor at the Evansville Record, and my courses are at Evansville College. I’m supposed to be your assistant.” She waited anxiously for a reply. 
“Oh, how wonderful!” Abby had no idea what she needed an assistant to do, but felt sure Sulay and Sara had a plan. “Maybe we can meet at Sammy’s a little later on, and discuss all this over coffee and a sandwich. I’ll have plenty of time by one o’clock.”
The front door suddenly opened and Phoebe and Nico burst into the store. “Abby!” shouted Phoebe. “Oh, Sulay, thanks for sending. Oh, how great to see you!” They hugged and talked a blue streak, interrupting each other constantly.
Abby finally rushed off to pick up her bike and ride to the pre-school to find out if her job would really begin the following day. 
By one o’clock she leaned her bike against the back of the coffee shop and entered. Sulay and Nico called her, and Abby joined them at a nearby booth. Soon they were deep in conversation. “There’s a lot to tell you,” said Nico, lowering his voice.
Sulay nodded. “It’s our job to bring you up to speed.” She looked at Nico. “You want to start?”
“Okay,” Nico began. “Abby, you remember my brother and I started working for Phoebe the night of the last concert when the watchers and police were hunting for you. We realized it wasn’t going to stop, so we met with Phoebe again after they reopened the stores. My father decided to keep Geo home at night, and I needed another partner. Sulay was showing me about cell phones, and she invented this idea of taking pictures of the stalkers. We could see how they were working, and knew they wouldn’t like their pictures online and in the newspaper. Phoebe began helping us. ‘Supervising us’, she calls it. She wants to protect you, and keep us out of trouble.”
He looked over at Sulay. “How was that?” he asked.
“Good. Very good. Abby, you can see that Nico and I have learned a lot. We’ve been spending time at the greenhouse with Sara and Stephanie and Cali, and we’re all working together. Sara made plans to use our photos, and we linked up a whole cluster of people, like students at Evansville College, fans of the band, kids around here and in Half Moon. And then when the storm hit and the mob chased you, our work grew like a miracle. Suddenly the Morphy people had a real setback. We realized you needed us. Everyone’s been worrying about you. Phoebe says you’re the most important person in the whole project!” Abby waited, not sure what to say.
“So Sara got me an internship at her newspaper,” continued Sulay, “because it fits in with her uncle’s plans. He really wants news about Middletown, and especially about you, Abby. Sara wants me to give her stories she can write. It’ll be so much fun! We never want it to end. It’s a good thing! Please say yes.” Sulay was blinking back tears.
“Yes,” said Abby hesitantly. “But no stories without my approval. Feel free to discuss anything with me.”
Nico clapped his hands. “Can I talk? I’ve got stuff Abby needs to know.” They nodded. “Since you’re going back to the church, you might have heard that the old stalkers are gone. But there’s a new one, with a new way of working.” 
Abby sighed. “I was afraid of that.”
“This new guy is different than the others. He’s about you’re age, and works for Scutter helping people carry their groceries and making deliveries. He watches the churchyard but pretends he doesn’t.”
“Oh,” cried Abby. “You two are fabulous! I’ll know what to look for.”

Later that day, Abby took a walk around the churchyard gardens to see how her plants had survived the storm. She avoided making a show of looking for stalkers or reporters, but finally glanced up at the street. Someone was sitting on a bench in front of the Middletown Standard office. Someone she knew…
‘Oh my God,’ she thought. ‘It can’t be!’ It was Marcus, her ex-boyfriend. She hadn’t seen him in months, but in her mind she still heard him yelling, “Stop! Stop!!” at the crowd that threatened to burn the abandoned house. Abby wanted the thank him, but didn’t dare. Marcus was looking casually to the side as if he didn’t see her, but she was sure that he had been watching her. He scratched the side of his face, and for a moment placed his index finger across his lips, clearly as a sign to be silent. She looked away and went on with her inspection of the flowers. Her heart was pounding.

Abby and Wendy

31894860_1971092862931901_1481901456721182720_n-1.jpg

Episode 15
HIT THE GROUND RUNNING
Illustration by Carlos Uribe
Chi Chi slid back down the tunnel in the darkness. Abby saw a glimmering of moonlight ahead through leaves and plants. The scent of green growing things made her feel like weeping with joy. She crawled slowly onto the surface of the earth under a thick mass of vines and brambles, and pushed the heavy, flat stone back over the mouth of the tunnel. She covered it with leaves. The wild area of the churchyard was all around her.
She crept into the children’s cave of vines, and out onto Birdwatcher’s Path. The church loomed in the shadows of the half moon. Tuck’s office had a light on. Nothing moved. Abby walked slowly to the side door and knocked softly, and then once more. Slowly the door opened. There was Tuck in a bathrobe and slippers. He stared in disbelief, and pulled her inside.
“You don’t know how glad I am to see you! Come.” She followed him into the kitchen and set down her backpack. He studied her in the light. “Yes,” he muttered. “Food coming up.” He laid out apples, bread, cheese, cider, and began making an omelet. “I see you’ve had quite a journey. Please, wash! I know where that dirt comes from. And I see you know about that secret under our nasty brambles. Never mention it. Ask whatever you need for now and then go to sleep.”
Abby was already munching apple slices. “I need a plan for tomorrow,” she said. “Does anything prevent me from picking up where I left off? I mean, can I live here in the cottage rent free, work as the gardener, and hopefully work mornings at the pre-school?”
Tuck beamed a wide smile. “Yes! You can do all those things.”
“But how do all the problems stand? Is the bishop staying here, and the election on hold?”
Tuck nodded. “Yes, but the bishop is keeping his cards close to his vest. He says very little in public, except that the investigation may take a long time. But Abby…” Tuck’s voice became very serious. “I’ve had time to think, and look at this whole incredible situation. You may not have any idea, but you’ve become famous in this part of the world. You’re going to have to accept the consequences.”
“What? That’s ridiculous. I’ve done nothing but get in trouble.”
“Yes,” Tuck admitted, “you do draw a lot of attention. But you don’t start the problems. Thing just erupt around you.”
“But – what am I then? What can I do? Wendy wants me to just act normal.”
“What are you? You’re a mystery. And I completely agree with Wendy. You must calm things down, and avoid the press. Social media is a big thing around here now, and you’re all over it. You’ve become a hero to part of the public, and to another part… well, a sort of demon.”
Abby scowled. “I don’t even know why it’s happening. They’ll try to interview me. What am I going to say? I don’t want to be interviewed at all.”
“We’ll have to cross that bridge when we come to it. For now, you should know that the watchers across the street, the spies following you around, have all disappeared. There were photos of them in three newspapers. Your friends have devised a very effective deterrent to that problem. Marvelous for both of us. You can be free to visit people, and move around without fear.”
“Oh! Fantastic!”
“So get some sleep. Be normal. On with the show. We’ll talk again tomorrow.”
Abby walked over to the cottage feeling free as a bird. 
The following morning the sun was bright and warm through her window. ‘I want to visit the pre-school!’ she thought. ‘Every time I’ve seen the children it’s been good for all of us. Working at the pre-school is my only chance of being normal.’ Her alarm clock had run down days ago. ‘I need a watch. And I’ve got to pick up my bike where I hid it near Glenda’s house.’ Abby headed out the back door of the churchyard, and at Main Street took a right. Soon she was walking by the new Phones and More store. She studied the display in the window, and thought about Sulay, the daughter of the owner, whose photographs were so striking in the recent copy of the Evansville Record. ‘Maybe they have watches here,’ Abby thought, and walked in.
It was a narrow store with phones, electronic games, and accessories displayed behind glass. Sulay was on her knees with a spray bottle and a cloth, making the glass sparkle. As she looked up, her eyes did a double take, and she ran to give Abby a hug. ‘She barely knows me,’ Abby thought. ‘And her photos have changed my life.’
“Abby!” cried Sulay. A cell phone appeared in her hand. She stepped back and took a photo. Her thumbs suddenly worked like lightning for twenty seconds, and then her attention was all on Abby. “Oh, this is so exciting!” she exclaimed. “I can’t believe you’re back. Everyone will be so happy. They’ll be here in like, a minute.”
A well-dressed man, short and thin, appeared next to Sulay and waited to be introduced. Abby was sure he was Sulay’s father. He had the same straight black hair, wide dark eyes, and cheerful, somewhat mischievous smile.
“Abby, this is my father, Sai. Dad, this is Abby.” Sulay had suddenly become very formal. “I’m glad to meet you,” he said, and shook her hand. “I’ve heard so much about you. Is Sulay going to be working with you? A college internship of some kind?”
Sulay’s eyes opened wide in panic. “Da-ad! Abby just returned, practically this minute! She doesn’t know about it yet!”
“Oh,” her father repied calmly. “I’m sorry. I’m always getting things wrong. But – Abby, you look like a very nice person. I’m sure you’ll understand. I’m new to Middletown and Sulay’s new friends. It’s hard to keep up with her.” Abby was immediately sympathetic. “Please don’t feel bad. This is all new to me too. You should know how grateful I am to Sulay for her recent photos, and amazing ability to publish in a major newspaper!”

Abby and Wendy

31239480_1957319874309200_2964748967210857421_n.jpg

Episode 14
THE RETURN
Illustration by Carlos Uribe
The sun was sinking in the west when Abby and Chi Chi set out on their journey. Long shadows ran across the forest. The dark leaves of the copper beech trees rippled in a late afternoon wind. Wisps of cloud reflected the pink glow of the sun. Chi Chi led the way and Abby was glad to follow. She was relieved that he showed no sign of using this occasion to train her as a leader. Watching carefully every move he made, she intended to learn from him, but waste no time. She was in a hurry. 
They walked quickly through the stunning beauty of the beech woods to the underground entrance Abby and Wendy had taken before. The gray stone shelf projected from the cliff the same as it did before, but now it seemed to glow with meaning and value, like an old friend, a member of the family. The narrow tunnel underneath held no fear. Abby was enchanted by this clever arrangement designed by nature thousands or millions of years ago, yet young and alive today. And she knew that people who may have been her ancestors had treated this unique feature of the earth with care and secrecy, as a holy place of great value. She, Abby, had now inherited this responsibility in a dangerous world, where many people had no opportunity to understand this type of tradition and had no reason to respect it.
‘But perhaps,’ she thought, ‘I can lead a group who will understand and cherish it like I do. What about my friends? They will. And what about others, like Amy Zhi’s professor? And look at all the people of Rivergate! Look at all they’ve accomplished! Maybe this is a moment for a new vision – one that is incalculably old – to grow again in the world. I mean, right now it seems like we’ve all gone astray. Everyone craves a bit of hope and solid ground… and someone, something, to keep us from slipping off the edge into darkness.’
The mapstick began to shine a clean bright light in the narrow tunnel, and as they emerged into the first cavern the light burst into the wide space as if the stones themselves were glowing. The ancient path outlined by the broken stalactites was perfect for a couple to walk together. Chi Chi and Abby hurried along side by side.
Chi Chi showed the way to the underground Ghost River under Hidden Valley. They followed it under the Half Moon Cliffs to a low tunnel leading sharply to the left. 
Abby had been waiting for this stage of the trip, wanting to see their route under the Half Moon River. The narrow curving passage descended at a steep angle. Down they went. Abby found the way claustrophobic, exhausting, and totally bare of anything to relieve her feeling of oppression. The massive earth seemed to be bearing down on her spirits. Her breathing became irregular, as if she couldn’t get enough oxygen. She was thirsty and felt weak. They seemed to be moving in slow motion. And then… very faintly so that she could hardly trust her senses, she began to hear the murmuring of voices. The sound seemed to float on the thick air in waves. Pictures of shadowy shapes whining and moaning flashed across her eyes.
‘I’m dreaming!’ she thought. ‘I’m falling asleep as I walk. I can’t stop!’ 
And then a picture flashed by in a vivid dream of a vast low cave in almost complete darkness, full of shadowy human shapes without substance, murmuring in waves, lost in darkness. “Abby!” said Chi Chi. He stood face to face and shook her by the shoulders. “Abby! I’m here. Come out of it, you’re almost home.”
“Oh,” she cried, and hugged him. “Have you ever seen them? Moaning in the dark?”
“None of us are ready for that yet,” he replied. “Don’t get lost in there.” She shivered, unable to reply. “This news might help you,” he said. “In a short distance we’ll be under the churchyard. Do not speak or make noise of any kind. I will show you a little side room where you can wrap the mapstick and hide it. There’s even an ancient table and chair, and shelves there. The room is yours, a special hidden place, only for you. Ready, are you ready?”
Abby nodded. Chi Chi moved ahead, and pointed to a narrow side passage barely wide enough for one person to squeeze through. She found a tiny room that had reassuring signs of human convenience, a home-like atmosphere. There was a bookshelf with books, and an oil lamp on a small table. She wrapped the mapstick and slid it behind a corner post. Now she was in total darkness. Chi Chi pulled her slowly along. Soon they had to crawl forward, moving uphill. The sound of crickets grew louder and louder, until it seemed like a joyous song of the whole living world, a welcome home to Abby from mother nature, celebrating her arrival back to the wonderful, irreplaceable surface of the earth.

Abby and Wendy

30709432_1943881862319668_6457191693657675853_n.jpg

Episode 13
A VISIT FROM CHI CHI
Illustration by Carlos Uribe
Wendy watched Abby very carefully on the way back. As night fell they reached the little house in the hill. Abby was hungry for dinner but had no need to talk except to ask for more cider about five times. Her face seemed to be shining. After eating she fell asleep in her chair, and Wendy guided her to bed.
Abby spent the following morning staring at the stream flowing by below the hill. She pored over every detail of her experience – her journey, her vision, and her drawing. During the afternoon Abby opened her heart to Wendy, both her joy and her confusion. “Yesterday,” she said, “will be with me my whole life. But I still don’t know what to do with my life. I need news from Middletown. I’ve got to put my vision to work, but I don’t know if I’ll get the chance. I just want a chance to try!”
“I suspected as much,” Wendy replied. “I found Phoebe’s father and asked him to send Chi Chi here. He should arrive tomorrow morning.” Abby asked her for advice, and Wendy said, “You should continue as before. Do your gardening. Talk to Tuck. Do your pre-school job. Delay big decisions. Like your vision, start by listening. Do plenty of that!” But Abby only felt more confused and frustrated. “But why will they want me at the pre-school? People in Middletown hate me. Nothing is ever normal there.”
The following morning Abby woke to the sound of voices, and one of them was Chi Chi’s. She bounded out of bed, threw on her clothes, and instantly felt a surge of energy. In the kitchen Wendy and Chi Chi sat talking together over breakfast. “Ah!” Chi Chi said, “You look beautiful even in the morning.” 
“I’m so impatient to talk to you!” cried Abby. She pulled up a chair.
“There’s a lot to say,” he told her. “And there are… complications. Please don’t hear one or two things and go running off.” Abby promised to be patient. 
“Bishop Becket has refused to certify the election,” he announced. “He says there’s evidence of irregularities that will have to be investigated. And he’s staying at the church for now. It may take him a few weeks to arrive at a decision. In the meantime there will only be six trustees, so Tuck is safe for the moment.” Abby’s face lit up.
“And I’ve spoken with Tuck,” Chi Chi went on. “He’s not in such bad shape as you would imagine. He’s more worried about you than about himself. And your friends, the newspapers, the rumor mill, are so full of panic that you really should return with me and put this hysteria to rest. It’s been only three weeks since you appeared on television after being chased by a mob. And now it’s happened all over again. Cell phones have flooded our area, and your picture is spreading everywhere. This mystery intrigues people. Think about your friends, frantic to know your fate.”
Abby was torn between elation and guilt. “People actually care about me,” she whispered to herself. “I had no idea…” Chi Chi grabbed a newspaper from the side table and handed it to Abby. It was Tuesday’s edition from Evansville. A picture of her standing at the half opened door of the church, with Milton Morphy pointing at her and yelling, had made the front page. Threatening faces in a large group were advancing toward her. A very sensitive camera had caught the whole scene. She glanced at the name of the photographer. “Sulay!” she cried. “Oh, no wonder.”
“And there’s a video of the action too,” Chi Chi told her. “It’s online from Nico Flores.”
Her mind was in a whirl. She scanned the rest of the paper. There was a photo on page three of her riding her bike out of the churchyard with the mapstick tied across her back. She stared, aghast at the implications. Her mood crashed instantly. “What?” cried Abby. “I’m trying to hide the mapstick! Now it’s plastered all over town. Not just the town, but big cities too! Where am I going to hide it?”
Chi Chi looked at Abby with a very serious expression. “There is so much to talk over, and so little time. But here’s the main thing for now: There are passageways from Hidden Valley under the Half Moon River. One of them runs as far as the churchyard. And I promise to help you in any way I can.”
“How can that be a secret?” Abby gasped. “I can’t use that! People will find it and discover so many things. This doesn’t help me! I’m taking a walk. It’s all too much, I need to think.” She turned and headed toward the door.
“Remember,” yelled Wendy. “All you need to do right now is be as normal as possible.”
“Me?” Abby shouted back. “Normal? Sometimes I wish…” She fled the house and walked down to the stream. There she stared at the water and thought about her vision. “What does Wendy mean by normal?” she asked herself. “Well, my vision is saying, ‘don’t have answers or power. Just listen.’ So I should just follow the way events are moving.” After an hour of thought her blood cooled. She returned to Wendy and Chi Chi. “I’m ready to go,” Abby told them.

Abby And Wendy

30222134_1934136649960856_6490978390837721915_n.jpg

Episode 12
THE DREAMSTONE VISION
Illustration by Carlos Uribe
Abby found herself in a narrow passageway made of dirt and stones and the roots of trees. She felt like a mole or a badger, an animal comfortable underground. But she was exhausted, straining to climb the steep way upward. A glow of golden light blinked far ahead, and in moments she rose up out of the ground, mapstick in hand, into a beautiful field in bright sunlight.
The field was full of people of all kinds wandering here and there, people of all ages and every walk of life. Everyone seemed vaguely familiar, but she knew no one by name. At a distance, a gigantic tree rose to the sky, a beech tree with smooth gray bark, silver branches, and dark leaves – a tree much taller and broader than anything she had ever seen before. Enormous roots like thick, curving snakes spread out across the field and disappeared into the earth. She had no idea how deep these roots went, or how high the tree grew into the endless sky. But the field itself seemed to have borders. It was not infinite. White walls were visible far, far away. 
Abby became aware that the mass of people – buying and selling, walking and running, playing and working – were somehow in distress. Many seemed angry or afraid, late and in a hurry, sick and struggling in pain, or lost and unable to find their way home. Many fell into large angry throngs clearly in conflict with others. Children were shocked, timid, and miserable. Storm clouds obscured the sun. The wind picked up. She tried to approach people, asking them what the trouble was. Discussions began that she did not understand, but as she listened more people came forward, and soon Abby was surrounded by a crowd looking for answers. The pressure of so many trying to voice their anger and despair forced her to back up, and in fear she almost fled for her life. But some of those nearby gathered around to protect her. They gave her a little space, and allowed her to hold her ground.
As the day darkened with ominous clouds and a damp wind, the mapstick shone like a beacon that could be seen from a distance. Still more people moved closer, hoping to discover the secret of this eager gathering. Abby realized that listening was no longer enough. Something had to be done to organize the mob, or she and her small group of protectors would be trapped. On impulse she began to move toward the tree. Her group caught on immediately and fanned out to lead the followers along. But Abby saw that just approaching the tree would do no good because… what would happen when she reached it? She would be crushed, along with many others, as this desperate crowd fought their way forward, hoping for an answer to their despair. The people did not seem lost anymore. They actually had hope. They believed there was a goal, a destination, not far ahead. But Abby knew it wouldn’t be so easy.
So to buy time she headed off to the right side of the tree, as if they were going to walk on by. This move demoralized her following. They had hoped that arriving at the tree would end their search. The voice in her mind said, ‘You must go around, not too close and not too far away.’ And so she curved, and the vast throng curved with her, and still more people joined the march. For it had become a real march, a purposeful ever-increasing mass movement circumambulating the tree.
Suddenly Abby knew that the tree was the center of the world, the only way that people could tell where they were, and where they were going. She had to navigate their course around the tree, and move closer to its smooth, shining trunk and dark leaves. The tree could provide shelter and purpose to all, because as they marched the tree grew larger, and seemed not only the center of the world, but as big as the world, the protector and creator of meaning for all. The thought struck Abby with relief so intense that she burst into tears of happiness.

She felt herself in Wendy’s warm embrace, and wept on her shoulder. As she recovered Wendy handed her the bowl of paint and a brush, and led her to a stone along the wall where she could climb up and mark off a vacant square of the smooth surface. Blinking through tears she made signs with the brush that referred to her field of people, the tree, and the long march. It did not take long. In a daze of happiness they began the journey home.

Abby and Wendy

29790756_1926739127367275_7822425344324339751_n.jpg

Episode 11
THE ROOT CAVERN
Illustration by Carlos Uribe
Soon the tunnel was dry, and sloped upward. The way ahead expanded into a hallway. Abby was relieved to notice stalactites broken above their heads. Clearly humans had been maintaining this path. It must be good for something. The hallway grew wider and wider. Gemstones, minerals, and crystals of all kinds glistened around them. And the blue of dreamstone flashed among the rainbow of colors. Suddenly a walkway appeared ahead of them, a path defined by two seemingly endless rows of stalactites broken from the ceiling and laid out end to end. The cavern continued to expand until it was so enormous that Abby was completely overwhelmed. 
“I can’t believe it…” She stared about her. “That ceiling is like the sky! An army could assemble here. Look at the colors! Look at the dreamstone… Oh my God, this is why you were laughing at me. I have such little faith. I underestimate the universe at every turn…”
The light of the mapstick grew as they moved forward. Abby felt as if she were floating, a leaf blown on the wind. 
The walls were smooth for thirty feet or so, and then irregular with immense crystals and jutting rocks as the upper walls curving into an immense dome perhaps fifty or sixty feet above them. The smooth lower area as far as Abby could see was covered with reddish drawings like letters or tiny pictures with a meaning. There were stick figures, swirls, abstract shapes of all kinds, some recognizable to Abby from the carvings on the mapstick. She realized that the culture that created the drawings had also created the mapstick. 
A fork in the path became a curving stalactite-lined avenue making a circle around the entire cavern. They took the right-hand way. Abby was stunned by the continual multitude of dark red drawings on pale stone, outlined into countless squares and rectangles about two or three feet in length and width. She turned away, and gazed toward the middle of this cathedral-like space. A large gray stone platform, carved into the form of a circle, occupied the center of the cavern. Abby wandered hesitantly toward it. The glow of the mapstick shone brightly on the upper half of a highly polished sphere of dreamstone resting in a nest carved into the stone platform. This blue globe was perhaps six feet high, but only the top half was visible above the smooth surface of the gray rock. A circular stone bench closely surrounded the platform.
‘Oh my,’ thought Abby. ‘Is that something for me today?’
Wendy had continued walking along the avenue. Abby hurried to catch up. At the far end they arrived at a high stone table, like an altar as big as a car. The gray stone was hollowed out below, creating a space about four feet square. She noticed a deep hole, about the width of a finger, in the center of the table, surrounded by an ever-widening spiral design etched into the stone.
Wendy continued walking, and Abby followed. Only the soft padding of their footsteps and distant sound of rushing water echoed through the vast hallway. They completed the long circle and stopped back at the entrance. “So…” Abby was shocked by the strange echo of her voice. “I do feel ashamed to have doubted you – but what is this? What was it for? What should I do?”
“What it was for then, and what it’s for now, are the same… even though in times long past we would be many people, mostly young like yourself. This is the Root Cavern, a root of the World Tree, a place to see the vision stone and the flame rise from the table. But you have the mapstick to light your way. This cavern was mainly used for a coming-of-age ceremony, with young people looking in the stone and then adding drawings of their experience on the walls. This is something for you, if you wish it – your coming of age – changing from a child into a person with responsibility for our world. Hopefully you will see something that will guide you on the road ahead.”
Wendy paused. Abby was silent, in awe of the immensity and purpose of the cavern.
“Right now you must choose,” Wendy said. “I will fade into the background. If you choose to look into the stone and want to add your message to the wall, I have the red paint and the short brushes we use to draw.”
‘Maybe there is a road ahead for me,’ Abby thought. ‘Maybe I haven’t failed. I have to at least try.’ She nodded to Wendy and walked along the avenue again. She stared at the drawings, dismayed that she could not begin to understand them. The voice in her mind said, ‘Follow Wendy’s directions. There is only so much time.’ And so Abby walked around the central platform, coming closer and closer until she kneeled on the bench, and dared to look into the marvelous smooth sphere, like a planet before her. It glowed in the blue light of her staff, and seemed to draw her in.

Abby and Wendy

28958663_1894511007256754_1587462225931705377_n.jpg

Episode 9
THE UNDERGROUND WAY FROM THE DAWN OF TIME
Illustration by Carlos Uribe
Wendy rose early in the first light of dawn. Abby heard her walking around, but stayed in bed for an extra hour of sleep. Eventually Wendy held her shoulders and kissed her forehead. “Nooww… that’s enough sleep, even for you. Think of the breakfast I’ve prepared, and the fun we’ll have today! More than fun. Take my word for it. We’re blessed with such a day.”
Abby sat up and saw a pile of clothes next to her. “Wear something comfortable. The place we’re going may be cooler than you expect. This is not a hike in the sun on a summer’s day.” Breakfast included goat cheese and onion omelets with fried finger beans. Wendy had already packed a knapsack with food and sweaters.
The sun was bright as they stepped out the door. “Aren’t you forgetting something?” came the old woman’s voice behind her. Abby looked back, feeling defensive. “If I knew what we’re going to do, I might know what to bring.”
“So how did you get here?”
“I walked, of course, I know the way.”
Wendy’s dark eyes looked thoughtfully into Abby’s eyes. 
“Oh, I see," Abby replied. "That’s not quite true. I got scared and confused, and the mapstick helped me. Now I understand.” Abby walked back into the house to retrieve her staff. She unwound the velvet material and carried it in the open in all its glory. They climbed a gradual slope filled with ancient beech trees, tall and silver with thick trunks and smooth bark. At the top of the slope they came to a limestone ridge, about twenty feet high. Massive blocks of stone were piled together as if they had fallen from the sky.
“How are we going to climb that thing?” Abby asked.
“Who says we have to?”
Abby studied the ridge, and noticed a flat stone sticking out of the pile about four feet off the ground. It made a bit of a shelter she had never noticed before. Abby crawled under the rock. Immediately the mapstick began to shine, lighting up another six feet of space. The ceiling actually rose a couple of feet as they entered the small back room of this little house. “I wonder what we’re doing here?” Wendy asked.
“Okay, okay…” Abby sighed wearily. “I know what the game is. There’s something I’m not seeing.”
“If you say so.” Wendy replied with an innocent look.
“Oh stop it! This game is starting to annoy me.” In frustration Abby closely examined the walls of this claustrophobic little room. In the back left corner a very large and smooth egg-shaped stone stuck out from the wall. It didn’t quite fit the part of the wall it covered.
Abby set the mapstick aside, and put both hands on top of the stone and pulled. It rolled, revealing an empty hole about two feet square. "A narrow tunnel! But only big enough for a medium size dog!"
“What a surprise!” exclaimed Wendy.
“You’re laughing at me,” retorted Abby. “I suppose you can crawl in there.”
“You’re the leader today. That’s all I’m going to say.”
Abby sighed, feeling the panic attack growing inside her. ‘I’ll have to try it,’ she thought. ‘I’ll never be able to live with myself if I back out. I’d rather die than back out.’
She reached into the hole with the mapstick, and pushed it ahead of her. It shone more brightly every moment. Abby followed, and wriggled through the tiny hole, holding her arms ahead and moving like a snake. Her skinny form went through with unexpected ease. A moment later she stood up in a spectacular hallway, so large that the light of her staff could not reach the far end. A walkway outlined in stone ran down the middle of the hall. The pale, curving walls on the right and left seemed far away. Dripping stalactites like icicles six and seven feet long appeared near the edges, unexpectedly white in the light of the mapstick. Abby realized that the outline of the walkway was made of stalactites broken from the ceiling and laid down end to end. Clear surfaces on the curve of the walls and ceiling were adorned with artwork or writing in a deep red color. The walkway opened at intervals with paths running off to the right and left. 
She was tempted to wander around in amazement, but she was certain that Wendy planned a particular destination for this adventure, and this hallway did not seem like the final goal. Indeed, that final goal might be far off. The setup of the hallway appeared to be designed for a procession of people marching two by two, heading toward some incredible destination further underground.

Abby and Wendy

28660616_1886108648096990_971154351963010179_n.jpg

Episode 8
SUPPER FOR ABBY, WENDY, AND THE CROWS
Illustration by Carlos Uribe
Abby thought for a few minutes, put a piece of kindling in the fire, and watched it flare up. Her mood was changing rapidly. Just thinking about telling her story to Phoebe put a whole different light on the situation. Suddenly Abby noticed that she was starving, and felt faint from lack of food. She drank her tea in large gulps. The crows began calling outside. Shadows were creeping into the room. The two small windows were dim. Wendy arose and pulled the dark curtains.
“So…” she said. “You and me and the crows all need our supper." She walked into the back room and returned with her bag from the garden. Spreading out newly washed greens, snap peas, finger beans, a few apples, rosemary and sage, Wendy proceeded to add everything to the stew bubbling on the stove. Wendy was stirred patiently with a long wooden spoon. 
Without moving or looking up, Abby said, “You know there’s something about you, too.”
“About me? Really?”
“When the mob was about to attack me in the church, and I was about to flee through the side door, Morphy stood up tall and screamed, ‘She’s going to Wendy!! It’s all Wendy’s doing. Arrest her!’”
“Arrest me?” Wendy laughed. “They won’t get far. No one knows where I live, and few have seen me in years. If need be, in minutes I can hide my house like a cave underground. And don’t worry, I would get plenty of warning. Let’s just leave it that way. Hmmff…” Wendy scoffed at the whole idea.
“I provoke these people,” Abby admitted. “I was afraid you would be mad.”
“I’m always mad, but never at you.”
Abby looked up and smiled. “But one more thing,” she said. “It’s at least possible that Morphy was referring to arresting me.”
“Arresting you! For what?”
“You know. Morphy wants to force me to lead them to you, flush you out of hiding. He’s got people believing we created these storms, that we’re a danger to all good citizens. They just make things up and feed the lies to people who are already angry and scared.”
“Hmm…” muttered Wendy. “Of course. It’s been going on since long before I was born. In fact, I was born in the midst of a mob burning us out of this beautiful valley. But we pulled a trick on them, and never left. We just went underground. That’s their fatal blind spot. They don’t see or understand what’s underground, because they’re too afraid of it. Tomorrow I’m going to show you a whole new world. Your strength is their weakness.”
Abby stared. “You’re getting my hopes up,” she said. “This better be good.”
The old woman laughed. “This better be good…. Indeed! Oh my!” She could not stop laughing.
“What’s so funny?”
“You know a lot,” replied Wendy. “But your imagination isn’t working properly. You should guess these things, but you haven’t a clue. Let’s just leave it there until tomorrow.”
Abby jumped up. “Now I’m curious! What is it?”
Wendy only smiled in reply, and Abby grew frustrated. “Come on, Wendy, you can’t tease me like that.”
“You have to see for yourself… and now it’s time to feed the crows.”
Wendy ladled out a small mountain of stew into a wooden bowl over two feet wide. After letting it cool, she carried it out the tiny door, and Abby – ducking low – followed her outside into the shadows, surrounded by the sound of the crickets with their late summer song. The light was fading in the forest. They walked to a group of four birch trees that created a rectangle together. About four feet off the ground a web of branches was tied between the trees. Wendy placed the bowl in the center of the web. It slid into place with perfect stability. The calling of crows began in the treetops. A large coal-black crow descended with wildly flapping wings and landed on Wendy’s long bony finger. “Yes, yes, my little baby,” crooned the old woman in a falsetto voice. “The king of the forest.” She made kissing noises, and the bird lowered his head as if he were bowing. Wendy caressed the feathers on the back of his neck and the top of his head. “How has it gone today?” she went on. “Have you been doing your job? Of course you have… protecting our dear forest from those nasty and destructive spies! My dear king!”
With a quick life of her hand Wendy sent the bird flapping into the air. He landed on a branch near the bowl, and began picking out morsels to eat. Soon he tipped his head back and let out three calls. Five or six more crows descended from the treetops, landed on the branches around the bowl, and began to feast.

Abby and Wendy

27656947_1848007485240440_8883258186671342105_n.jpg

Episode 5
THE SONG IN THE GARDEN
Illustration by Carlos Uribe
Abby could see the garden ahead of her as she crawled through the thick brambles. And then she heard the scratchy, sing-song voice of Wendy humming a tune. Abby froze and listened carefully, staring at a narrow view of the grass, a few tools, and the fruit trees beyond. Suddenly the tiny form of Wendy strolled by, her gray dress coming down near her ankles. The tune gradually became words that Abby could hear:

Time has flown by like the wind in the trees
Who knows where it comes from, where it’s going you can’t see
When you were a child, it seems like yesterday
The years have gone by like an afternoon at play
How do I long for your glowing face
Like a love that I have lost

Who can be the keeper of the world we love
Can it live forever in the life above?
Long ago you asked me, how can I know?
And when it’s all over, where does it go?
I just can’t leave it, to the winds of time
I will hold it in my heart
Wherever I may be down the line

Please give me peace
Before I’m torn apart
I’m just one of many
Living with an aching heart


Wendy repeated the last verse several times. Abby realized that the song was intended specifically for her, to be heard at that moment. ‘Wendy knows I’m here,’ she thought. The words burned into her memory, and as time went on became her clearest, most emotional picture of Wendy’s love and life as Abby knew it. She hardly noticed the tears dripping onto her hands.
Abby pushed the mapstick and the briefcase ahead as she crawled out of the bramble patch. Wendy stood about twenty feet away, shaking the snow off finger bean vines growing up poles. She was pretending not to notice Abby. Having no patience for the game, Abby called, “Wendy! Wendyyy!”
“I see you, I see you,” came the familiar, grouchy voice. “No need to shout to the whole world.” Abby ran to her and cried, “Oh! I’m so glad to see you!”
“You gave me a surprise, my dear. Very few have come that close to me unawares in the forest. Impressive. The crows were treating you like family. Look, they’re coming down to greet us.” The band of six crows circled the garden, calling out in their harsh voices. They settled on a nearby branch and waited. 
“You had that song ready for me?” asked Abby, almost tearing up again.
“For some time now,” Wendy replied. I sing it often.”
Abby came forward and embraced Wendy, and cried into her gray hair, sobbing with relief. She mouthed the word, ‘mother’, to herself. The old woman smiled and patted her back and waited quietly, letting time go by. Finally Abby stepped back and looked at her without speaking. Wendy’s face was thinner and more wrinkled than before, her cheeks more hollow. She appeared to be chewing gum, though when she opened her moth small pieces of green leaves appeared in her teeth. Her large eyes were dark, and shone and glittered with surprising energy. The eyes had not changed. They had the same alert glow of life, missing nothing, eager to live, interested in everything. 
The light of day was fading. Shadows grew from the rows of trees and plants.
“I know, I know,” came Wendy’s cackling, sing-song voice. “You have much to say. Let’s go back and sit by the fire and drink tea.”

Abby And Wendy - Episode 1

Dear Protectors of the Wood fans: In this episode we begin Protectors of the Wood #4, Abby and Wendy. To check out the story so far see our website www.protectorsofthewood.com Thanks to all for your support and interest in our group of misfit teenagers working to save the world from climate change.

INTO THE FOREST

25487380_1791860970855092_6089412944392284169_o.jpg


Illustration by Carlos Uribe


Abby plunged blindly into the forest, hardly caring where she was going. Her only wish was to put distance between herself and the stalkers she had seen talking to George on Main Street. But carrying the mapstick and the briefcase hindered her progress, forcing her toward wide openings in the brush and making her avoid crawling under brambles, thus eliminating many of her normal methods of escape.
After a short time she became aware of an instinct urging her to bend her course to the left. ‘But why?’ she wondered. ‘Ah, because I’m leaving tracks and making noise. The pine forest will solve both problems.’
She found the space to run up a slippery slope into the dense expanse of pine trees that covered the land all the way to the ridge about a mile ahead. Ducking low under the branches, she entered the shadow of the thick trees, and began walking on a cushion of brown pine needles. The snow had hardly touched this protected ground. She moved quickly, without a sound, leaving no tracks. Near the rocky face of the high ridge, she stopped and went down on one knee, listening intently and studying the way she had come. The only sound was her desperate panting, and the pounding of her heart.
As her breathing returned to normal she had a chance to think. ‘Was George trying to follow me? Yes, he looked at the tracks of my bike leading up Oak Knoll Lane and into the field. Was he helping the stalkers? Apparently he was. They arrived in a car and spoke to him. And yet, after George saw my tracks he jogged forward for a minute or two. When the car arrived he was at the end of the field, a fair distance from the tracks. Thus the stalkers were led away from my path. Unless, of course, George walked back to show them. But then why didn’t he just wait for the car at the tracks? Why run ahead at all? Perhaps George concealed my escape. I wish I’d had the courage to wait and see what he did.'
Pushing these thoughts aside, she tried to make sense of her incredible race by bicycle through the hailstorm. Her bike – at high speed -- had found a safe route through icy streets packed with frozen traffic. The bike seemed to drive itself, giving her a feeling of complete security, and almost ecstatic happiness. ‘Did something impossible happen? Why? How?’
Abby had no idea. ‘Am I going crazy? It’s the strangest thing… I can’t believe it.’
She forced her attention onto other issues that demanded immediate attention, and became aware of a feeling of despair, a darkness of anguish lurking behind her every thought.
‘I’m free. It looks like I’m not being followed. Then what’s the problem? That is so obvious! It’s just too painful… The horrible truth is… I’ve failed. My mission for Wendy is in ruins, totally, with no hope of redemption. The trust that people have placed in me has been in vain. I can’t see any way around it. I’ve failed through my own mistakes. I’ve been foolish, unworthy of Wendy’s trust.'
Tears began to flow down her cheeks.
‘I’ll have to tell Wendy about it. Today. In three hours or so, I’ll have to hand her this crushing disappointment. I’ll have to retire at the age of nineteen! Maybe I’ll find some work in Sonny’s garden. Maybe I’ll help Lluvia and Diego with the Boat Club. Maybe I’ll become a boat pilot like Sharon, and ferry people up and down the Half Moon River, and explore the swamp and catch fish. But whatever, my grand mission is over. It was a long shot anyway, too grandiose to be true. I’m really nothing special. Just an ordinary crazy girl trying to grow up. And yet… there are a few things that are hard to explain… but no time for that now. Wendy will know the answers.’

Ghost Girl - Episode 67

A WILD ESCAPE

24130523_1765154753525714_5737649175190462051_o.jpg


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