Abby and Wendy

Episode 24
AT THE PRE-SCHOOL

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Episode 23
AT THE PRE-SCHOOL
Illustration by Carlos Uribe
The following day was warm, with bright sunshine that made the temperature rise as the morning went on. Abby was up and out by eight o’clock, riding her bike to the Tod farmhouse to begin work at the pre-school. She was well aware that her status was unchanged. She was still a volunteer activity specialist, and could have arrived an hour later. But inside her heart she had become desperate, clinging to the possibility of this job as an anchor for her crazy life, something to keep her feet on the ground and give her a daily routine – and a paycheck – doing something she believed in.
Rose answered the door, gave her a big smile, and said, “What a surprise! Come in and help us prepare. By the way, this is a good week for you to get started. We treat it as the last week of the summer, like a vacation for the children, doing all fun things. Next week will be more like school.”
In the big playroom Rob was on the floor organizing piles of blocks and small toys. Despite having seen the room before, Abby was amazed by the variety of things all around her, from plants in the large east and south windows, to a guitar, a doll’s house, stuffed animals, small furniture, shelves with books and art materials, and countless small toys. Rob was picking out items from a scattered mess and arranging them in groups.
“Come, Abby, join in. You’ll help us get this activity going. We’re going to start ‘building a city’ again. You’ll catch on quick.”
It was obvious that each item had an area according to type. Abby began on the small figures, setting up potato heads, potato puffs, small dolls, action figures, soldiers, policemen, babies, movie and cartoon characters, a witch, an old man, mythological characters that might have been Artemis with a bow and arrows and Venus in a robe. In twenty minutes she organized perhaps fifty characters, including carvings by Phoebe’s father. Soon the toys formed a large circle on the wooden floor.
Kayla and her mother Ellen were the first to arrive. 
“Look, Abby’s here!” Kayla exclaimed, her high, thin voice full of surprise.
“You look great!” returned Abby. Yet she could see the changes, possibly due to Kayla’s bout with a high fever, or perhaps from her mother’s fear over the harassment related to the election for trustee. The thin, dark-haired girl seemed pale and anxious, as if afraid that this secure and loving world could vanish at any moment.
“I know we’re early,” Ellen told them, “but Kayla’s been up since dawn waiting to come.”
“She’ll help us get ready to build a city,” Rob said.
“Building a city, building a city…” murmured Kayla, and went down on her knees to inspect the toys. Ellen and Rose moved off to the side and conversed in low voices. Abby was sure Ellen wanted news of the Sunday service, the bishop’s sermon, and people’s reaction to the news. “Good move,” Rose told her. “Let everyone cope with it. You’re doing the right thing.”
The siblings, Jane and Franklyn, arrived together. “Whose turn is it?” Franklyn asked. “Can I go next?”
“We haven’t started,” Rob replied. “We’re still setting up. Wait ‘till everyone’s here.”
Jane asked Kayla about the flu. Rose anxiously pointed out that it hadn’t been the flu after all, just a 24-hour virus. Franklyn kept staring at Abby. His straight black hair was growing long, and he pushed it back behind his ears. Abby waved to him across the circle. The front door opened and shut, and Ned timidly approached the group. He sat next to Franklyn, and stared at Abby too. She waved again, unsure how to handle their attention.
“How did you get away?” Franklyn asked her. “Does your bike fly?”
“I don’t think so,” Abby said gently. “It might feel that way sometimes.”
“The grown-ups were talking about the picture on the phone, and whether the bike wheels were on the ground or not. I’ve been thinking about it all week.”
“Everyone was afraid,” added Ned in a voice so soft he could hardly be heard.
They were interrupted by Tiny and Lucy, who charged toward the group asking questions on the way. “Have you started yet? It looks like you started without us! When do we go?”
Abby realized that Rose was still talking to Ellen, and the parents must be opening the front door to drop their children off. The last to appear was Nancy. She stood timidly until Abby called her to take an open space by her side.
“We missed you and Kayla,” Nancy said. “Everyone was upset, for days!”
“But I’m okay, nothing to worry about.” Abby felt the children’s attention zooming around the group as they tried to be noticed or retreated in fear or lack of confidence.
‘I’m only a beginner at this,’ thought Abby. ‘Mistakes are easy, doing the right thing is hard.’

Abby and Wendy

Episode 23

AT THE PRE-SCHOOL
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Illustration by Carlos Uribe
The following day was warm, with bright sunshine that made the temperature rise as the morning went on. Abby was up and out by eight o’clock, riding her bike to the Tod farmhouse to begin work at the pre-school. She was well aware that her status was unchanged. She was still a volunteer activity specialist, and could have arrived an hour later. But inside her heart she had become desperate, clinging to the possibility of this job as an anchor for her crazy life, something to keep her feet on the ground and give her a daily routine – and a paycheck – doing something she believed in.
Rose answered the door, gave her a big smile, and said, “What a surprise! Come in and help us prepare. By the way, this is a good week for you to get started. We treat it as the last week of the summer, like a vacation for the children, doing all fun things. Next week will be more like school.”
In the big playroom Rob was on the floor organizing piles of blocks and small toys. Despite having seen the room before, Abby was amazed by the variety of things all around her, from plants in the large east and south windows, to a guitar, a doll’s house, stuffed animals, small furniture, shelves with books and art materials, and countless small toys. Rob was picking out items from a scattered mess and arranging them in groups.
“Come, Abby, join in. You’ll help us get this activity going. We’re going to start ‘building a city’ again. You’ll catch on quick.”
It was obvious that each item had an area according to type. Abby began on the small figures, setting up potato heads, potato puffs, small dolls, action figures, soldiers, policemen, babies, movie and cartoon characters, a witch, an old man, mythological characters that might have been Artemis with a bow and arrows and Venus in a robe. In twenty minutes she organized perhaps fifty characters, including carvings by Phoebe’s father. Soon the toys formed a large circle on the wooden floor.
Kayla and her mother Ellen were the first to arrive. 
“Look, Abby’s here!” Kayla exclaimed, her high, thin voice full of surprise.
“You look great!” returned Abby. Yet she could see the changes, possibly due to Kayla’s bout with a high fever, or perhaps from her mother’s fear over the harassment related to the election for trustee. The thin, dark-haired girl seemed pale and anxious, as if afraid that this secure and loving world could vanish at any moment.
“I know we’re early,” Ellen told them, “but Kayla’s been up since dawn waiting to come.”
“She’ll help us get ready to build a city,” Rob said.
“Building a city, building a city…” murmured Kayla, and went down on her knees to inspect the toys. Ellen and Rose moved off to the side and conversed in low voices. Abby was sure Ellen wanted news of the Sunday service, the bishop’s sermon, and people’s reaction to the news. “Good move,” Rose told her. “Let everyone cope with it. You’re doing the right thing.”
The siblings, Jane and Franklyn, arrived together. “Whose turn is it?” Franklyn asked. “Can I go next?”
“We haven’t started,” Rob replied. “We’re still setting up. Wait ‘till everyone’s here.”
Jane asked Kayla about the flu. Rose anxiously pointed out that it hadn’t been the flu after all, just a 24-hour virus. Franklyn kept staring at Abby. His straight black hair was growing long, and he pushed it back behind his ears. Abby waved to him across the circle. The front door opened and shut, and Ned timidly approached the group. He sat next to Franklyn, and stared at Abby too. She waved again, unsure how to handle their attention.
“How did you get away?” Franklyn asked her. “Does your bike fly?”
“I don’t think so,” Abby said gently. “It might feel that way sometimes.”
“The grown-ups were talking about the picture on the phone, and whether the bike wheels were on the ground or not. I’ve been thinking about it all week.”
“Everyone was afraid,” added Ned in a voice so soft he could hardly be heard.
They were interrupted by Tiny and Lucy, who charged toward the group asking questions on the way. “Have you started yet? It looks like you started without us! When do we go?”
Abby realized that Rose was still talking to Ellen, and the parents must be opening the front door to drop their children off. The last to appear was Nancy. She stood timidly until Abby called her to take an open space by her side.
“We missed you and Kayla,” Nancy said. “Everyone was upset, for days!”
“But I’m okay, nothing to worry about.” Abby felt the children’s attention zooming around the group as they tried to be noticed or retreated in fear or lack of confidence.
‘I’m only a beginner at this,’ thought Abby. ‘Mistakes are easy, doing the right thing is hard.’

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 20
SARA INTERVIEWS ABBY, PART I
Abby spent over an hour cleaning her cottage and organizing her things. ‘In these circumstances,’ she thought, ‘I’m glad to have very few things.’ She cleaned her sneakers and put on her light gray long sleeved button down shirt. Her black jeans didn’t reveal dirt. Then she brushed and combed her hair. Soon she was waiting in the meeting room for her guests. Her heart was beating uncomfortably fast. ‘How am I going to avoid saying anything about Wendy, and the forest, and my childhood, and dreamstone? Sara will want to know things I cannot discuss.’ Abby could not see a way through these problems.
Sara and three companions, carrying their equipment, made plenty of noise tromping down the stairs. “Ah, thanks for having us!” greeted Sara, overflowing with excitement and enthusiasm. She introduced her sound and camera people. They stood like soldiers waiting for orders. “We’ll set up anywhere you like,” Sara offered. 
“We’ll cross the yard and do the interview in the cottage,” Abby said.
“Oh, how nice of you!” Sara replied. “A great idea. But I must say, those poor journalists outside the gate are eaten up with jealously. But what can we do except keep out of their way?” As they crossed the yard they heard angry calls from the sidewalk. They avoided even a glance at the street, and squeezed into Abby’s tiny combination living room, kitchen, and bedroom. ‘It feels so small,’ Abby thought. ‘This is ridiculous.’ But they set up the equipment, tested the lighting and sound, and Sara began the interview.
“Today we have the good fortune to interview Abby Chapman in her cottage on the grounds of the Middletown United Church. Many of you have been following this story, and know the incidents and unusual conflicts that have received attention in the public eye. Today Abby invited us here to present her own thoughts on these recent events. Abby, thank you very much for the invitation.”
“It’s my pleasure, Sara. I’m glad to be able to talk about the questions people may have.”
“We understand that you just returned to the church yesterday. Many of our readers saw the photos of you fleeing down Bridge Avenue in a hailstorm last Sunday. Can you tell us why you escaped from town and hid over these last five days?”
“I’ll just say straight out that I was scared, frightened for my life. Some of you might remember that I was interviewed at the gate of this churchyard about four weeks ago, after I was attacked by a mob with burning branches just outside the forest. And I’ve been followed by private investigators over the past few weeks. I’m not ashamed to admit that this has been an agonizing experience.”
“Thank you for being so frank with us!” Sara exclaimed. “Perhaps you can shed light on why these incidents occurred. The public wonders what this violence is all about, and why it is aimed at you, and how it relates to this church.”
Abby struggled to find a reply. Finally she said, “Both of these events happened during strange, life-threatening storms, the kind we rarely see. The first storm led to dangerous flooding all along the river valley, as well as traffic accidents that made transportation impossible. The second storm occurred during the vote for trustee here at the church, and made it very difficult for anyone to leave. People could not go home. It’s understandable that these situations could cause fear and anger.”
“Yes,” agreed Sara. “Very understandable. But why was the violence was aimed at you?” Abby again struggled to reply. “I think there are a few reasons. I’m not sure I can explain them very well, and I don’t mean to say I’m certain of anyone’s motivations, but I will offer some possibilities. It was…oh, at least eight weeks ago that our church trustees submitted a proposal about climate change to the congregation for a vote. It was approved, but had no real consequences except to bring the conflict out in the open. The proposal declared the destruction of species and our environment to be a sin, and made support for the diversity of life and the health of our planet a special mission for our congregation. I was very moved by Reverend Tuck’s sermon on the subject, as were many of my friends. We wanted to find a way to make this mission real, actually do something, show that it matters. But we could see that the congregation – and indeed our whole country – is divided over this crisis. Our civilization has built up wealth and power through fossil fuel technology, and now we will have to do without it, or destroy ourselves. We are all a part of the problem, and bear responsibility. Fossil fuels are used in almost everything we do: heating our homes, driving cars, using plastics and fertilizers. It just goes on and on. And all those who have amassed fortunes and power through these fuels may have reasons to attack those who try to bring on change.”
“But how is this an issue for the church?” Sara asked.
“It’s all about children and the future," Abby said. "Is the earth basically a good gift of God or not? Apparently the sun will support life on earth for maybe four or five billion more years. I did the math. That’s maybe a hundred thousand times longer than humans have existed so far. Should we call supporting and preserving this future a sacred responsibility? Is it something we need to take seriously?”
(This interview will be continued next week.)

Abby and Wendy

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Episode 18
A CRAZY SERIES OF EVENTS
Illustration by Carlos Uribe
Abby awoke to another hot and sunny day. Her blue jays were fussing outside the back window near the pyramid of woodchips and shredded leaves created by Chi Chi and Jeremy. She opened the window and threw them some pecans remaining from the bags of vegetables that she and Jeremy had gathered in their ill-fated trip to the forest. The blue jays swooped and squabbled, flashing their sky blue feathers with striking beauty.
After eating an apple and drinking a lemon cuke, Abby checked her timer. Almost nine o’clock. She had promised Stephanie that she would meet her about that time at Sammy’s. A cup of Sammy’s coffee was just what she wanted. And Abby felt that she needed to get back in touch with Stephanie, a very talented person whom she had hardly seen over the past few weeks. Abby had thought of a plan for Stephanie that would solve a number of problems.
Looking out the window over the sink as she drank a glass of water, Abby saw a group of people bunched around the churchyard gate. A WBCS television van was double parked behind them. ‘Oh no,’ she thought. ‘I was hoping to get through the day before seeing them. I simply must get my interview with Sara done before I face them. Maybe I can slip out the back.’
She threw on her clothes, and pocketed the key to the back door through the churchyard wall. Soon she was out the window with the blue jays, and threaded her way behind the apple trees to the wild area. After listening for a minute and hearing nothing alarming, she silently crept down to the door and stood with her back against the wall. She heard voices coming through the black bars.
“So how long should we stay?” asked a young man’s voice.
“They’ll text us if she comes out the front,” said an older man.
“Somehow I doubt she’ll talk to us.”
“I know, but they say a photo of her sneaking out the back would be worth an interview.”
“Right, I see. But they say she can appear and disappear.”
“You don’t believe that stuff, do you? It’s just one of the fantasies that people have. You know, stories about celebrities and famous people. It’s like a movie.”
“I don’t know. It seems more like real life to me.”
Abby was fascinated, but tore herself away and silently glided back up the path. As she approached her cottage she saw Tuck knocking her door. Staying out of the view from Bridge Avenue, she waved for him to meet her at the side of the cottage near the tool shed. 
“Ah, there you are,” said Tuck in a low voice. “I was going to warn you to stay out of sight.”
“They’re at the back door too,” Abby replied. “And I need to go to Sammy’s for an hour.”
“I don’t see how you’re going to do that,” Tuck told her. “Not unless you want to face that crew and get your photo all over.”
“I have my interview with Sara around one. I’ll face them afterward, and tell them one interview is enough. I’m finished.”
“So just stay inside now,” Tuck advised her.
“I have an idea. Give me the key to the side door to Old Stone Road.”
“Okay, but I don’t think it’s a good idea.” They walked to the side door of the church with photographers taking pictures from outside the gate. He gave her the key. Abby slipped out the side door and crept along the edge of the church and then along the alleyway between the buildings to the door to Old Stone Road. She turned the key and stepped out. Without a glance over to Bridge Avenue she quickly crossed the street to Stable Lane. She heard a yell behind her, but didn’t stop until she was inside the back door to Sammy’s Coffee Shop.
‘Whew,’ she thought. “Everything has to be a major production.’ She took a seat at an empty booth. Stephanie soon joined her, looking anxious. “I need to talk to you about something,” she said.
Just then a couple of photographers approached the table, taking shots and holding out a microphone. “Abby Chapman?” said the man with the mike. “Can we have a moment of your time? The public would like to know what happened in the church last week, and why you fled through the hailstorm during the election for trustee.”
Abby replied, “I think the photos that have been published answer those questions already, so can I have a few minutes to drink my morning coffee?”
Sammy squeezed in near Abby as she spoke, blocked the view of the photographers, and put his own face in front of the microphone. “I’m sorry,” he said. “Abby is here as our customer, and she has the right to eat in peace. I’ll ask you to wait outside.” They did not move, or react in any way. “Please,” Sammy continued, “go ahead and take my picture and record my voice. I stand on my right to protect this young lady from harassment. I think your public will agree with me.”
An older man in a suit waved to the others. They backed up and retreated out to the street without another word.

Abby and Wendy

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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.

Ghost Girl - Episode 68

THE GREAT ESCAPE

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Illustration by Lawrence Tate
“Stop her! Stop her!” yelled several voices out of the gloom of wind and hail and snow. The traffic on Bridge Avenue was stalled. The surface was as slippery as a frozen lake, but Abby rode with more speed than anyone could run in that weather. To her amazement she felt more secure and balanced the faster she went. The bike felt as if it had risen an inch off the ground, and was gliding through the air. She made blind choices weaving in and out of the frozen traffic, but encountered no stray pedestrians or suddenly moving vehicles. A feeling of exhilaration overwhelmed her, a feeling of incredible happiness. The bike was choosing its route as if the driver could see the street from above. No one could catch her.
At the intersection a tow truck was making ready to haul a damaged car away. The nearby cars sat with engines idling. Abby raced through this congestion and in seconds took a wide right turn onto Main Street. She felt sure the bike would spin out as she leaned far to the right at top speed. But her balance was perfect. The tires somehow never slipped. She put on more speed up Main Street, planning to enter the forest at Glenda’s house. Without stopping or looking around she flew along and turned left on Oak Knoll Lane. The wind and hail were tapering off. In a moment she entered the forest on a path she knew well, and stopped for a second, looking back over the field. No one was there.

Abby was overwhelmed by the realization that something very unusual had happened. There was no way she could ride a bike like that in this weather. It had felt as if she were flying, but holding the road at the same time. The bike seemed to make its own decisions. It was more than strange, it was impossible. She stood there in shock for a few minutes. ‘It’s not just my imagination,’ she thought.
Finally her thoughts came back to the moment. No one appeared to be following her. Nothing moved on the street. She untied the mapstick and the briefcase, and stashed her bike in a thicket of mountain laurel. She took another look back and was horrified to see George appear, jogging along Main Street and looking over the field. He stopped and examined the ground where Abby had turned off onto Oak Knoll Lane. He looked back and then quickly jogged on, continuing past Penny’s house to the far side of the field. A car caught up with him, and the driver stopped to talk through his open window.
Her thoughts froze. Completely unable to understand the situation or take time to think about it, she picked up the mapstick and briefcase and plunged deep into the forest.

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 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 48

WAITING IN THE DARK

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Illustration by Lawrence Tate
Back in the cottage, Abby made an omelet with fried finger beans and sliced potato squash. She was running low on provisions, and carefully thought through different options for visiting her forest garden and returning with the food she wanted, which would be more than she could possibly eat. She would have to go at night, and could never carry all the ripe fruits and vegetables and grains ready for harvest. And it would be more fun with another person…
Her thoughts returned to her 1PM date with George. ‘He likes me,’ she thought. ‘But I’m played out.’ With sudden clarity out of nowhere she realized she had no space for a boyfriend in her life. ‘I mean it’s so obvious,’ she told herself. ‘I’m like a soldier on a mission. George is a spy with a concealed identity. I’m stalked by strangers. I feel guilty and frightened if I hang out with Jeremy. He likes Phoebe and she likes him. And things probably won’t work out for them either. This being in a group on a mission business is a no-win situation for romance. I wish I could talk to Phoebe. She understands.’
Abby lay down to relax for a few minutes. Her thoughts trailed off into dream images…

‘Oh no! I’ve overslept. What about George? What time is it?’ She grabbed for her cell phone but it was gone. Jeremy was holding it for her. ‘Oh! I’ve been such a fool!’
She jumped up, changed into black clothing, and threw water on her face. ‘I’m going to get through this. I’ll wait for hours if necessary. If he’s gone I’ll get a message to him somehow. Who can help me? Jeremy can be a go-between.’
She grabbed the key to the churchyard back door, and climbed out the back window into the night. Faint light glimmered from an almost half moon rising low in the sky, throwing shadows across the churchyard. 
‘Let’s see, it’s how many days after the full moon? It was just last Friday or Saturday, less than a week ago. If the moon rises half an hour later every day, that means it would rise close to midnight tonight. I might be on time. Let’s do this right.’
She stood completely still. The crickets were making their droning sound. Nothing moved. The temperature had dropped, and the cool air felt wonderful. She put her hands in her pockets and walked silently behind the apple trees to the privet hedge, and crawled through the small opening next to the wall into the leaf pile. The damp leaves stuck to her hands and face and clothes, but made almost no noise. She glided down the small path by the wall to the iron door.
Nothing moved. The crickets droned on, but louder. She waited, and waited, her back against the wall, right next to the door. She concentrated on listening. It was amazing how many different sounds emerged over the course of an hour: a rustling of leaves, the hooting of an owl, the sad call of a bird she didn’t know, a faint movement among the vines… the owl hooted again. A cat yowled in the distance. A loud truck came and went on Bridge Avenue. Something that might have been a possum slowly threw a shadow on the grass. Voices in her mind told her she was too late. Another bird call came louder, like a warning. The eyes of a raccoon, bright in the moonlight, stared at Abby.
A faint tapping noise came from the iron door. It stopped. It came once more.
“George,” whispered Abby faintly.
“I’m here.”

Ghost Girl - Episode 33

ABBY’S FATHER AND THE MAPSTICK

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Illustration by Carlos Uribe
Her father held her by the shoulders and smiled. “You look beautiful!” he said. “Healthy, strong.” He was breathing hard after his climb up the hill.
“You look great too, Dad.” She studied his straight black hair, tan skin and clean face. “I’m so happy to see you!” But Abby was wondering why he was so out of breath. They stared at each other. ‘He’s lost weight,’ she thought. ‘His cheeks are hollow. And he probably thinks I’m too skinny. And could that be the mapstick he’s got?’
Chris stood on the side fussing with his new phone. “Hey,” he broke in, looking at Sonny. “It’s an email from the River City News! They’re asking you to comment on the bridge closing and Governor Palmer’s plan to relocate everyone.”
“Hmm,” Sonny muttered. “I’ve been expecting something like that. Invite them to send a reporter to visit us. Let someone tour the island, take pictures, and speak to me in person. In brief, state that we are fine the way we are. Let them come and see for themselves.”
“Got it,” said Chris, and walked into the shanty.
“And bring a pitcher of cider and mugs!” yelled Sonny, and turned to Abby and Dennis. “Take a seat,” he said, waving to the empty chairs. “Relax. Have a cup of cider with me.”
Abby and Sonny kept glancing at the faded green cloth wrapped around a thick pole that Dennis had leaned up against the table. “I recognize that old material,” Abby said. “At least I think I do. Is that the mapstick?”
Dennis untied a few pieces of twine and slowly unrolled a long strip of velvet-like fabric. A brown wooden staff appeared, over five feet high and six inches around. The wood looked smooth, almost polished. Intricate carving extended from top to bottom. 
‘I haven’t seen it in years,’ thought Abby. ‘Very strange for it to be here.’
Sonny was deep in thought. Time went by… Dennis could not sit still. He shifted in his chair, clasped and unclasped his hands, leaned back and leaned forward. Chris set a tray with cider and mugs on the table. Abby poured and passed the mugs around. 
“Junior wants me at the Open Gate,” Chris told them. “Something about tonight.”
“Go ahead,” returned Sonny. “We’ll meet you later.” Chris hurried off. 
Sonny looked at Dennis. “So…” he asked, “can I take a look at that?”
Dennis stood up and carefully handed him the staff. “It’s very precious to me, an old heirloom of my family.”
Sonny held it in both hands, and leaned over it, staring intently. Abby could not resist reaching out and gently touching the end closest to her. The surface was slightly rough, like very fine sandpaper. Up close in the shadow of her body, it glowed with a faintly bluish sheen. The carvings were deep and complex, covering the staff from top to bottom. A flood of memories from her childhood poured into her mind. Time went by slowly. Abby finally leaned back and asked, “Why do you have it here today? I’ve never seen it out in public before.”
“I’m so glad we have a chance to talk,” her father burst out, like water overflowing a dam. “Sorry to overwhelm you with this right away, but I need to get it off my mind. It’s been a hard couple of months. I’ve been sick, unsure where my life was going, unsure where you were. Everything seemed up in the air. And I found this,” – he touched the dark wood – “becoming a burden, like a heavy load on my back. It haunts me every day. You see… I have a responsibility, a promise I made to my father.”
Abby and Sonny waited in silence.
“You may remember things I told you when you were a child…” Dennis stopped and looked at her.
“I do remember being very, very curious. That staff is like nothing else I ever saw. I asked you about it many times.”
“Do you remember what I said?”
“Well, your father gave it to you, and he got it from his father, and it’s very old. Ancient, you said.”
“Anything else?”
“Just that it’s called the mapstick. And you weren’t certain what the carving means. Was there anything more?”
“There are details I may not have told you. About seventy-five years ago, my grandfather gave my father this staff. He was only ten years old, and was one of many children fleeing to safety in Rivergate on the day of the Great Disaster. My father promised to care for it and pass it on to one of his children, should anything happen to my grandfather. And my grandfather died later that day.”
Abby was stunned into silence.

Ghost Girl - Episode 18


HARD WORK AND BAD NEWS

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Illustration by Carlos Uribe
After a little lunch Abby turned her attention to the vegetable garden. She loosened up the soil with a spade and removed many of the stones. It was hot, tiring work, and she dripped with sweat. But the stones, both large and small, made a useful and attractive border. She was admiring her progress when Tuck appeared at the side door. His expression set her on guard. He walked slowly, reluctantly, with a frown. “Uh oh!” she thought. “I’ve done something wrong. Probably sitting too long socializing with Jeremy. But it was fun! I enjoyed it! I’m sick of these rules already.”
“Got a minute?” asked Tuck. “We need to have a little talk.”
“No,” thought Abby. “I don’t want to have any sort of little talk!” But she smothered her anger and followed him through the side door to his little dining room. Abby watched Tuck with fear, noticing that he didn’t want to have this conversation any more than she did.
“Abby, I must tell you that I’ve received news that is… well, unsettling. I’ve learned that your parents moved last week to the Cliff Views Trailer Park. Then on Saturday morning their trailer was damaged by a fire. But they received no injuries at all! Don’t worry! It seems the fire began in the wiring of the trailer, in no way your parents’ fault. And they were given a new trailer immediately at no cost.”
Tuck paused, and Abby was sure he was coming to the difficult part. “Now the trouble is… I haven’t been able to locate them. Your parents never moved into the new trailer. I’ve been told they were picked up with their belongings by an old gray truck, and left Saturday evening before the storm. That’s all we know at present.”
Tuck waited for Abby to respond. “It’s so hard for them,” she muttered. “Always trouble and worry.”
“Do you have any idea where they may have gone?” Tuck asked. “Any relatives nearby?”
“My father has relatives in Rivergate. An uncle and cousins.”
“Ah!” exclaimed Tuck. “It seems providential that a delegation from Rivergate is coming here in just two hours. Pastor Banks and her youth council will be here soon after five.”
“You’ll recall I grew up in Rivergate until I was ten. I learned gardening from my dad’s uncle, Sonny Walker. I hope he’s still alive.” Abby stood up. She wanted to be alone and think and clean up before the council meeting.
“One more thing,” said Tuck. “Chief Santiago is coming to speak to both of us in an hour. He wants us to give him a formal statement about the events of last Saturday night.”
“Oh no!” she thought, totally unsure where such a discussion would lead. She told Tuck she would be ready and returned to her cottage.

She hurried to take a shower in the tiny cottage bathroom. She hadn’t had time to clean it and found it depressing. The shower curtain was slimy when wet. There was a long rip on one side and water leaked onto the plywood floor. The soap smelled bad, like some awful perfume.
“Washing in the stream was better than this!” she muttered to herself. “And I’ve really got to get some money! I want my own soap and my own food. I want to visit my garden and take food home. I want to go to Sammy’s and drink coffee and laugh with somebody. This business of having a mission can be a pain. And I miss Wendy already. At least before I could go see her whenever I wanted. Now I’m like imprisoned in this place, watched whatever I do! And for what? To save the world? How could I be such an idiot? I’m some kind of megalomaniac, thinking I’m a super hero who actually matters. But it’s all a stupid dream, even though the world really does need saving.”
Abby was working herself up into a major fit of temper, and forced herself to lie down. Her heart was pounding, and every few seconds she felt she would burst apart. Then one of Wendy’s songs came back to her, like a prayer when you feel stupid and useless. “Even Wendy feels this way,” Abby told herself. “Even Wendy walks through darkness. It’s part of what we do. Part of how the world is made. For millions of years we are returning home, and ‘the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.’ This looks like a real turning point. Powers that be, come and help me!”

Ghost Girl - Episode 11

WHEN WOULD BE A BETTER TIME THAN NOW TO BEGIN?

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Illustration by Lawrence Tate

After Glenda, Tiny, and Lucy had departed, Abby knocked on the side door of the church to request the use of Reverend Tuck’s phone. She had not spoken to her parents for weeks, and felt sure they had seen her on TV News and were afraid and worried. But the number rang fifteen times with no answer.
Coming back to the cottage in the dim light Abby was startled by a dark shape at the door. In a few seconds she recognized the reassuring silhouette of Geraldine.
“Hello, dear,” said Geraldine softly. “I’m glad to catch you. I have presents from your friends, and I wouldn’t want them to go to waste.”
As they entered Abby asked if she could stay for a few minutes.
“Of course, I’d be happy to. And here’s part of a smoked salmon, a loaf of Penny’s bread, and another note for you!” She set the bag on the countertop. “Now, tell me about your day? How are you feeling?” Geraldine took a seat, and looked carefully at Abby across the table.
“There’s a couple of things…." Abby said. "Remember you said this morning that if I need to talk to let you know? Well, I could really use your help now.”
“Go right ahead, dear, this is a good moment for me. I don’t have to be anywhere.”
“I was behind the door listening at the service this morning, and I heard you read from the Bible, and heard Reverend Tuck’s sermon, and I was… well, both happy and frightened. I mean, I admire your courage, but wasn’t it all a bit provocative for such a day? I mean, on my first day here at the church, for you and Tuck to proclaim the daughter of God, and for Tuck to mention the burning of the old Hidden Valley houses with some of my ancestors in them… and to invite Pastor Banks from Rivergate… well, it kind of brings the long war out in the open, doesn’t it?”
Geraldine nodded. “I appreciate your confiding in me,” she said. “You see, I never knew until this moment that you had ancestors living in Hidden Valley in the early 1940s. That was back before I was born. But I did know that the population of Hidden Valley fled to Rivergate at that time.”
“But… how did you know that?”
“I’ve been there often in the course of my work, making home visits to families with children recovering from operations and illnesses.” Geraldine paused and caught Abby’s eye. “You may not remember, but you were one of them.”
Tears came to Abby’s eyes. “I’ve never forgotten! And I know I never thanked you. It’s just hard to mention it…”
“I understand, dear.” Geraldine held her hand. “You thanked me with your eyes. You communicated more than you know.”
They were silent for a moment.
Geraldine continued, saying, “Your parents never discussed their history or family of origin with me, and I never asked. But I’ve been well-aware that most of the Rivergate people are at least partly descended from the original inhabitants of Hidden Valley. It was their land, as was the entire Half Moon Valley once upon a time. The people from Hidden Valley stayed far longer in their ancestral home than most of the Half Moon People. But after that lunatic mob from Middletown burned the houses and barns – a whole small town, really – most of the people fled to Rivergate, where their relatives already lived.”
“People don’t talk about this,” muttered Abby. 
“Oh yes they do, as you well know.”
“But I have good reason to be afraid,” cried Abby. “Look what happened to my father’s parents and to so many others! We moved off to Ridgewood to hide from all this, but it won’t stay hidden! And now here I am in the middle of it, stirring up the town to violence.”
“Now now! Don’t take that all on yourself," Geraldine replied. "You didn’t start the violence. Even when you were young, people could see a spiritual quality about you. You used to have a nickname, do you remember?”
“You mean ‘the Ghost Girl’? That was just to tease me. I was sick and pale and thin as a ghost. People thought I was half-dead already.”
“Ghost is another name for spirit. You have a glow about you, and a particular destiny is pulling you along.”
Abby burst into tears. “I can’t bear to have people know all this.”

Geraldine waited for Abby to recover, and then began again: “So, can you see now that post-traumatic stress is not just my excuse to keep people from bothering you? It goes way, way back. The people of Rivergate suffer as a group. And the mob of murderers from Middletown suffer from it even more, but in a different way. Their consciences eat them up. The stain of guilt is upon them, even if it’s the guilt of their ancestors. And I think you’re aware that most of humanity suffers from this, all over the world. In a frenzy we are destroying the very world we live in. We’re in the process of destroying ourselves.”
“I know, I know,” Abby murmured, her head in her hands.
“That is why Reverend Tuck and I are going public with the Sophia scriptures you heard this morning. We feel that a call is going out to all people to change, to live differently, to love the earth and save this world for their children and the life to come. When would be a better time than now to begin?”

Ghost Girl - Episode 6

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE CHALLENGE OF OUR TIME illustration by Carlos Uribe

Ghost Girl - Episode 3

Episode 3
YOUR MISSION HANGS BY A THREAD

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Abby found herself watching a small, very bright sphere approaching them from above. The golden light was surrounded by sparks or tiny flames, and grew so bright that Abby had to close her eyes. When she looked again a third being stood before her, with a body covered by a golden film. Within the light was the shadow of a very expressive, almost seductive face.

“We are all overjoyed to see you,” exclaimed the red being, and then bowed with the others. “If you have advice from above we sorely need it!”
“I am bringing a message of both hope and fear,” said the new arrival, looking steadily at Wendy. The tiny golden flames flickered and grew around that beautiful head.
“Please,” replied Wendy. “Tell us. I have no secrets.”
The being stared at Wendy as if no one else existed, and declared, “This much I know with certainty: your mission hangs by a thread. The Adversary is free and active, more determined than ever to prove this long experiment a failure – here on earth above all! Whatever help we have provided, humans have not stepped up to the challenge. Over the coming ten years the crisis will come like a flood, and if the tide does not turn, the destruction will become irreversible. But you have a chance of success. Follow through with your plan – your whole plan, mind you – and do not be thrown off course by anyone or anything. I bring you this message: ‘Take courage,’ they said. ‘You are our beloved daughter. This is your hour!’”

Wendy’s face remained hidden in shadow, and with hardly a pause the messenger added in a different tone of voice, looking at the countless lights in the wide circle: “We are taking great risks here. Our presence will be discovered.”
“Do not fear,” replied Wendy. “I am nearly invisible, one of many humans, nothing special. And we are now finished here, my purpose is complete. I am very grateful to all of you.”
“Just a word before we go!” For the first time the green being’s powerful voice rang out, addressing Wendy. “I have served you across the heart-breaking years, and shared your hopes and labors here on earth. My power is limited – the work ahead will need the hand of the Hidden One to succeed. But all I can do is yours.”
Then the green being turned to Abby and spoke: “Little one, I hear an unspoken request in this meeting, and my answer is yes. I will be your guardian.” The strange face looked at Abby and expressed a complexity of identity and emotion that she would know forever, and left her speechless. ‘He will be my inner friend,’ thought Abby.
“Call on me from your heart. You know me.” The being turned back to Wendy and said, “Is that what you had in mind?”
Wendy’s eyes blinked and glistened. She bowed, concealing her tears. “More than I can say,” she answered, trying to control her voice.
In the next moment Abby saw the throng of lights recede into the night sky, back among the swirling billions, the perhaps infinite lights in the vast and mysterious cosmos. All but the green being, who disappeared into the forest.

Abby’s dream-vision ended there. The next thing she remembered was waking in the hospital, breathing through a respirator. Her desperately anxious parents were sitting nearby. She was a very skinny ten year old with chronic asthma, recovering from pneumonia.

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

THE GHOST GIRL (Book III) 

by John KixMiller

Phoebe Breaks Through - Episode 29

Episode 29

THE STORM BREAKS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What are we waiting for?”

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

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

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

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

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

“This is it,” he nodded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by John KixMiller

The Storm Breaks illustration

by Lawrence Tate

Learn More About Phoebe And The Players In Middletown! 

www.protectorsofthewood.com

Phoebe Breaks Through - Episode 28

Episode 28

ABBY’S PLAN MOVES FORWARD

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Phoebe and Geraldine scanned the crowd on Bridge Avenue in amazement. Geraldine leaned over and spoke softly in Phoebe’s ear: “Maybe this is something you understand better than me.”

“Maybe it is…” replied Phoebe. “But I don’t know what to do.” She spotted Jeremy on the street looking frantically through the groups of people. He saw her and came up close to be heard without yelling. 

“Any idea what’s going on?” he asked. They looked at each other. Phoebe couldn’t speak. “A car backed up into a bus on Main Street and blocked the intersection,” said Jeremy. “And that truck up there stops traffic the other way. But there’s something else… People are starting to panic. They think the cars are somehow stopped by the storm. I heard one man claim the traffic is frozen by magic.”

“Magic…?” murmured Phoebe.

Geraldine looked carefully at them, from one to the other. The lightening flashed again, and Geraldine looked up, startled. “Now what was that?” she exclaimed, pointing toward the gathering storm. They stared out toward the cliffs, but could see nothing against the bank of clouds marching over the valley.

The lightening flashed again, and for a moment Phoebe saw a dark wavering form, like an unbelievably huge crow. Others had seen it too, and were pointing. The thunder crashed, and out of the storm clouds Phoebe saw a dark figure riding a sort of pole arrive low in the air. This apparition flew a quick, jagged course, and there was an uneven, high-pitched sound of screeching. It might have been laughter. Phoebe glimpsed a pale face, and knew it was Abby. Thunder rumbled again, and Phoebe lost the vision in the enveloping darkness.

Silence prevailed for a few moments. Someone screamed – and then everyone seemed to be talking a once. The crowd grew, and wild rumors spread. Scutter appeared on the sidewalk, asking for news. The tall, thin form of Milton Morphy soon joined him, stooping low to whisper in his ear. Scutter listened, and then remarked in a loud voice, “I knew something like this would happen! I knew it!”

“What should I do now?” thought Phoebe. “Run for Tuck? Or the haunted house? Not yet. It’s not a rescue yet.”

Geraldine turned to Phoebe and Jeremy and said, “This group needs to calm down or they’ll start doing harm.”

“Where’s Reverend Tuck?” asked Jeremy. “Isn’t this something…”

“That’s it!” interrupted Geraldine with great urgency. “We’ve got to get this group into the church. Come on!” And she began telling groups of people, passers-by, anyone she encountered, that there would soon be a meeting in the church. The word spread like wildfire. Within minutes the crowd – like an enormous swarm of bees – began to move toward the wide church door.

Phoebe and Jeremy were swept into the swarm and through the door into the large, dim cavern, lit only by faint chandeliers high above them. Once inside Phoebe gripped Jeremy by the hand and took refuge against the back wall near the door.

He looked at her questioningly. “Got a plan?” he whispered into her ear. 

“I do,” she said. “You’ll see.”

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

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

by John KixMiller

Abby’s Plan Moves Forward illustration

by Carlos Uribe

Learn More About Phoebe And The Players In Middletown! 

www.protectorsofthewood.com

Phoebe Breaks Through - Episode 14

Episode 14

EVERYWHERE I GO

 

Later that day, Gilligan told Phoebe that he would close the backyard to soccer unless he could obtain insurance for accidents. Phoebe sat in on a meeting between Sammy and William Wyndaman, the lawyer for the Protectors of the Wood Foundation. Wyndaman doubted that they could get insurance, but advised them to rent the property to a soccer club whose teams -- including those currently practicing behind the stores -- would be insured. He also urged them to invite respected adults to the Friday night concert, such as journalists, lawyers, and teachers, who might serve as witnesses in case of harassment.

As Phoebe’s girls’ team arrived for practice, she saw Shannon, daughter of team manager, Terrence Williams, step out of a large SUV. She yelled to Shannon to ask her father to wait. “I need help,” Phoebe told him. “Some kind of trouble?” asked Terrence. He wore a well-tailored suit and tie, and his dark skin and pale Panama hat looked very handsome. Phoebe explained the situation.

“Afraid of somebody?” asked Terrence. “Is this the Morphy business? I’m a lawyer in real estate, and I hear things. I’m happy to help.”

“Then get Mario, our club director, here by 3 tomorrow afternoon to rent the backyards for a dollar a month. And be here Friday night to watch for some sort of frame-up.”

“It’s all too believable,” Terrence muttered. “I want my daughter to play here. I want those kids to have their little concert, damn it! Why can’t people leave well enough alone? You find a decent thing and somebody wants to smash it! I’ll be here.”

As the soccer practice ended in the dark, Jeremy arrived and drove Phoebe to the gas station. “I need your help with something,” Phoebe said.

“I need yours!” Jeremy returned. “Have you heard that George is staying with me now? And the lead-up to this concert is getting unbelievably tense.”

“I understand,” said Phoebe with a sigh. “We feel like a triangle, try to clear it up, and then George moves in. And you should know I’ve promised Sammy I’ll deal with security for the concert. I’ll need a team of staff to help me.”

Jeremy pulled into the gas station and parked. They could hear the music throbbing and whining as they walked into the office. The room was a mess, with clothes and books and papers everywhere. George and Eddy were working on a song. Jeremy picked up his guitar and played a chord. “How does that go?” he asked.

“George finished it,” said Eddy. “We might play it on Friday.”

“It’s called EVERYWHERE I GO,” said George. “Capo up three frets. First two lines are C, E minor, F, F minor. Like this…” They began to play. George became very irritable. “Come on!” he yelled. “We’ve only got one more day!” He corrected Jeremy again and again. “I don’t know why I’m like this,” he moaned in frustration.

“Don’t worry about it,” returned Eddy. “If we have fun everyone else will too.”

They began again.

“Who could that song be about?” Phoebe asked herself. “Me, Abby… ? But he wants me to love him, even if we’re not together.”

“Wonderful!” exclaimed Eddy. “Let's do it that way on Friday!”

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

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

by John KixMiller

"Everywhere I Go" YouTube video illustration

by Carlos Uribe

Learn More About Phoebe And The Players In Middletown!

www.protectorsofthewood.com