Abby and Wendy - Episode 38

THE LONG ROAD 

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“Hey Abby!” Phoebe turned to catch a glimpse of Abby’s face in the faint light. “You never mentioned all this fascinating stuff. I had no idea.” 

               “Yeah, but remember, I haven’t seen him in ten years.” 

“Isaiah and Ishmael know him too,” added Lluvia. “In fact, the whole band might be staying with Alex.” 

 They were walking along a wandering pathway bordered by thin metal posts holding chains, apparently set up to keep people off the lawn. Sculpted columns held lights throwing shadows across their path. Large stone buildings with arches and gothic decorations appeared across the lawn. Tall oak and maple trees obscured the view ahead. A thin curved moon like a boat sailed slowly across the sky. The campus was quiet, with murmuring voices and music in the background.  

 A wide arch appeared ahead of them, and then a short tunnel led off the campus to a narrow street lined with a row of very old brick houses. Lluvia stopped at one of these small one family dwellings, about five yards wide and two stories high. After a tiny front yard, three windows glowed in the night, one near the door and two above.  

               “Well, there are people here at least,” Abby said. 

 “Of course,” Lluvia replied. “It’s a big deal that we’re visiting. They’re waiting for us.” 

 “How do you know?” Abby sensed that Lluvia knew a lot more about this situation than she had let on. 

 Lluvia laughed. “We’re better organized than you think. We obey the phone rules, but Sharon brings messages back and forth. And I’m here often these days.”  

She knocked on the door, and knocked again. An acoustic guitar and voice suddenly stopped. 

“Yes?” came a voice. “Who is it?” 

“It’s me, Isaiah! Lluvia!” 

The door opened. Isaiah and Lluvia embraced. Abby glanced around at the mess in the small multi-purpose room. There were pizza boxes on the floor, two open duffel bags with loose clothing, a sleeping bag, books, two guitars and a drum set, and prints all over the walls. Isaiah pushed some books on the couch onto the floor, and moved a couple of folding chairs. 

“Please, have a seat,” he said. “Lluvia, Abby, Phoebe, sorry for the chaos here, and sorry to be the only one to welcome you. The others should be back… well, it’s hard to say. There’s a lot going on.” Isaiah raised a hand as if to dismiss the whole subject. “What about Alex?” asked Lluvia.  

“I thought he was at the gallery.” 

“Mmm… we were just there. In fact, we were supposed to meet him there.” 

“Welcome to Evansville College,” said Isaiah sarcastically.

There’s something sad in his eyes, thought Abby. “You don’t look too happy. Anything we can do?” Isaiah shrugged. 

Abby looked at Lluvia, who was speechless and seemed shocked. Clearly she had not expected this reception. Abby decided to pursue Isaiah, get him to open up. “I heard that song through the door,” she said. “I still hear it in my head. What song is that?” 

“Oh, just something I’ve been working on. I think I finished it.” 

“Let’s hear it.” 

“I’m a bad guitar player. I won’t do it justice.” 

“Through the door it sounded… well, powerful. I’m really interested.” Abby handed him a guitar. He’s depressed, she thought. Lonely, but more than that.

Isaiah played a few chords and hummed a melody, not a fast rhythm but not slow either. A very solemn tune. He began to sing: 

 

                       Take me up on the long road 

                      Where the heavens open wide 

                       I want to tell you just how much we care 

                      Won’t you listen to our cry 

                      Do you ever show your hand 

                      Can anyone ever know 

                      It’s all that we can do to crawl 

                       And it’s a long long way to go 

 

                       Climbing up the distant ladder 

                       Sometimes the heart’s the only guide 

                        I want you to know about the love we share 

                       I want you to see how hard we try 

                      Take one step at a time 

                       When you’re feeling so empty 

                       You’ve got to lose just to live 

                       I don’t see nothing here for free 

 

                       Can I do something for you 

                       Can you do something for me 

                       Cause it’s way after midnight 

                      And I can barely see 

                       Take me for a ride on your railroad 

                       Take me for a ride up to the sun 

                       I want to know the place where we go 

                       Where our lives are lost and won 

 

The song was over. There was a moment of silence. “Oooo…” murmured Lluvia.  

“Definitely… powerful,” repeated Abby. 

There was silence again. Finally, Lluvia said, “It’s about you, right? We’re your friends. Come on, let us in, what’s up?” 

“I don’t want to talk about it. But… I know I have to… Okay, the big news is I’m catching Sharon’s boat early tomorrow. I’ll miss the big concert in the courtyard tomorrow night. I told Cali, but haven’t spoken to anyone else. Maybe Cali will find them.” 

“Something important must have happened.” Lluvia put her hand on his knee. “Come on, let us in.” 

“My mother’s sick. She’ll have some kind of procedure done on her eye tomorrow morning, and be in the hospital for a few days. I’m frightened for her.” They waited. 

“She got Sharon to find me and say I should act as pastor on 

Sunday in the church, unless Sonny wants to do it. In which case I should support Sonny and run Sunday school. Junior’s in River City for a meeting. He’s away more often than he’s home. And I am too!”  

Isaiah opened his arms as if pleading with them. “We’re deserting our responsibilities. I don’t like it here. Everyone is a kid, a mob of twenty-year olds looking for girlfriends or boyfriends, socializing like mad. There’s no one here like me. I’m not interested in assistant professors and college events. I’m thirty-four years old, and not making any money – though we are supposed to get paid for our radio concert – but I don’t care, they’ll give me my share later. And then they’ll go to River City for a show, but I won’t go. And… any moment they’ll walk in and I’ll spoil their evening, but I don’t care. I can’t do this any longer.” Lluvia hugged him. 

“They won’t even have time to practice the band without me!” Isaiah was almost yelling with frustration. “It’s such a mean thing I’m doing. You got to lose just to live.” He had tears in his eyes. 

“I think you’re doing the right thing,” Abby said. 

“Yeah,” Lluvia said softly. “It’s important to be pastor if they need you. These kids in Sunday school are important. How about Wednesday night at the Open Gate? Hundreds of people come every week. With Junior and Cali gone, who can run it? You have jobs to do.” 

“I do. I do. And I like my jobs. I like the band too, but I end up sitting around here, feeling out of place. My band and their friends are over ten years younger than me. These students are even younger. You should hear the stuff they talk about. Debating the end of the world. Dystopia, everything’s about dystopia. I hate these discussions. Let’s do something about it! They talk about Alex’s fire breathing dragon as if the end is near. And that dragon pouring out the flood…” – he motioned to a nearby print of The Ark on the wall – “you see it everywhere.”   

Lluvia backed up and gave Isaiah a stare. “Now don’t go overboard on me, that’s not fair. The Students Against Fossil Fuels are trying. You see STAFF shirts all over. We’ve just come from a meeting where we were all trying to do something. Alex isn’t predicting the end of the world. His Ark is about getting through the flood with all life. The dragon is just nature striking back against our mistakes. You must have heard Alex’s idea. He wants to give Students Against Fossil Fuels a new name: SAD, for Students Against Distopia.” 

“Mmm… I like that,” Isaiah replied. “But I’m not a student, and I’m not going to be one. How old are you, Lluvia?” 

“Why ask that? I’m twenty-two.” 

“See? That’s my point. You like Alex. You’re in a different stage of life. And you’re right, I know I’m being unfair, venting all this to you. I’ll get over it. At least now I know what I should be doing. The band will survive. They’ll figure it out.” 

Abby broke into the conversation. “You’re right. Don’t feel guilty. They’ll understand. And who can argue with your mother, your church, your community? Lluvia and I grew up there, went to Sunday school there. We would never be where we are without adults who cared.” 

Phoebe suddenly had a few words to say. “The band will survive. I know them. We’re on your side. Do what you need to do. Now, I’m going to clean up this place. How did it become such a mess? We’re staying here too.”  

Abby and Lluvia and Isaiah joined in.  

Cali and Alex arrived, and received a warm welcome from all. Abby and Alex embraced and stared at each other. Everyone felt a burst of energy and sat around the coffee table with several conversations going on at once. Cali did her best to relieve Isaiah’s anxieties. She had spoken to George, Eddy, and Ishmael. They were already making plans on the phone. Rain was predicted for the following evening, and Sara had received permission to move the concert indoors. In fact, explained Cali, they might be able to play in the beautiful old auditorium in Alexander Hall. That circular stone building was the most prestigious place for music on campus.  

Plus, Sara wanted Ishmael, Eddy, and George to show up early the following morning at the trustee event. “Sara’s afraid the trustees will delay presenting their position on disinvestment,” Cali explained. “People could get restless and annoyed. Sara wants the band to hold the crowd if that happens.”  

Nobody was mad at Isaiah; Cali was sure of that. The band would set up in Alexander Hall early in the afternoon, and could practice for hours. The concert would begin at 7pm.  

Alex offered beer, wine, coffee, or tea. Phoebe, Lluvia, and Abby were exhausted, and wanted peppermint tea and a place to sleep. Isaiah was packing his things in a duffel bag.  

“So where is everybody?” asked Isaiah.  

“Well, George and Ishmael are in Sara’s dorm,” Cali answered. “Eddie is somewhere with Stephanie, and I’m invited to a party and only stopped by to bring you the news.” 

I’ve got to say something, thought Abby. I need to know something! “Cali, wait a second. I haven’t seen George since that disaster in the churchyard. He hasn’t returned to Middletown since then. 

I need to know how he’s doing… It was so painful for him.” 

“Yeah, it was,” Cali replied softly, almost in a whisper. “But he likes it here. It’s kind of… well, liberating for him to be away from all that tension. He’s writing songs, gets along with Sara and her friends. He can’t stay in Sara’s dormitory forever, but so far it’s okay.” 

Abby breathed a sigh of relief. “Thanks, that really helps.” 

“It’s all okay,” Cali said. She headed out the door and said she’d be back in a couple of hours. There was a long silence.

Then Lluvia looked at Alex. “Where were you? We saw your gallery, but you didn’t show up.” 

“I’m sorry… I was at the big staff meeting. We’re organizing tomorrow’s…” He hesitated. “Event…gathering… demonstration? Who knows what it is, or how it will come off. Sara and Amy are desperate to give it some respectability and prestige. They asked everyone to act as security, speak to the campus police about any problems, intervene on people trying to disrupt. The meeting went on and on, but at least we have a plan. Staff will show at 8am and drink coffee, and greet people as they arrive. I’m not used to this sort of thing, but I’m doing my best. No banners, no signs allowed. We’re all supposed to wear STAFF t-shirts. Here, I’ve got a few to give you.” He reached into his backpack and handed out the shirts. 

“How exciting,” exclaimed Lluvia. “That’s wonderful… I’m so… proud of you. I can’t wait.” 

Alex smiled at her. “See, I’m not such an irresponsible, no-good, undisciplined…” 

“Now that’s unfair!” Lluvia retorted. “I never said those things.” 

Alex was surprised and immediately apologized. “Of course you didn’t. I was just thinking of what my sister used to call me, maybe even still calls me. I shouldn’t pin it on you. Please forgive me.” 

They hugged. Phoebe and Abby looked at each other and smiled, nodding at each other. They had guessed correctly. 

They drank their tea in silence. Alex looked around anxiously. “I know I haven’t been much of a host, but we do have a bed and two cots in the front room upstairs. Cali sleeps right here on the couch. George stays with Sara, Eddy stays with Stephanie, and Ishmael stays with friends I haven’t met yet. Isaiah and I have the back room. I hope that’s okay.” 

He looked from one to another. No one replied. “Please, we can change the arrangement if there’s a problem…” 

“No, of course not,” Abby said. “It’s all fine, please don’t worry, just wake us early. We’ll wear our new shirts and follow everything you do in the morning.” 

“I’m thrilled to be here!” exclaimed Phoebe. “Thank you, Alex!” 

Abby reached out and touched his hand. “Yes, and please don’t apologize. We’ll have a chance to catch up on the years gone by… maybe tomorrow afternoon?” 

“Oh, I’d love that, I’m so curious about all you’ve done. And by the way, I’ve got a print to give you tomorrow before you leave. I’d love to hear your reaction to it. I was thinking of you when I drew it. I don’t know what it means. It came out of a dream.” 

“I’d love to see it. And I loved your show. I even bought a print!” 

“You shouldn’t have done that! I’ll give you any print you like.” 

“That’s okay, I’m glad I bought it, and I’m eager to see whatever you want to give me.” 

“I’ve got to tell you,” Alex went on, “you’re famous here in Evansville. Everyone follows the news. You should know that people will try to interview you tomorrow.” 

“No, please! If anyone asks, just say I’m only here to listen. Tell the other staff.” Abby was very firm, and obviously worried. 

“Ah, I’m glad you mentioned it,” Alex replied. “I’ll bring it up early tomorrow. That’s the kind of thing Sara and Amy need to know. They’ll probably assign campus security to watch over you.” 

Please! thought Abby. I need to be invisible.  

Phoebe and Lluvia were looking at her. “We’ll stick with you,” Phoebe said.  

Abby and Wendy - Episode 37


Episode 37

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

Abby and Wendy - Episode 35

THE VOYAGE DOWN THE RIVER

Illustration By Carlos Uribe

Illustration By Carlos Uribe

Phoebe appeared from under the bridge and said in a whisper: “You’re still here. Thank you! Let’s go.”

“Abby in the bow, just behind the mast. Phoebe in the middle.” They jumped in, Lluvia pushed off, and the canoe was running with the current. “Take that paddle, nice and easy on the left. Watch carefully.”

A blue sail was wrapped tightly around the mast. The motor was not running. The boat drifted into the fast current in the center of the river. For a while no one spoke. The view of the rushing water, the Winkle Family farm, the hills and the cliffs in the distance… It was all enchanting. The light breeze and the roller coaster feel of the current stirred their blood. The dark water glittered in the setting sun. Abby felt the warm sun on her back. All was calm. Abby and Lluvia didn’t make any great effort, but just kept the canoe straight and clear of other small boats coming upriver near the bank. They had a brief view of the town of Half Moon on the left and the park and docks on the right, passed by a few more farms, and then entered a more suburban landscape.

“Sorry to be late,” said Phoebe. “We had a surprise.”

Abby turned her head to look at Phoebe’s face. She doesn’t seem too worried. “Tell us!”

“Zoe had news. One of the reporters from the River City Post – name of Jerry Norris – is known to moonlight for political campaigns. Its possible he’s employed by Confidential Investigations, a well-known creepy outfit that works for big money. The same people stalking you, Abby. Norris is short, thin-faced, blue eyed, pale, receding hairline, in his thirties. Goes around with a broad-shouldered guy. I remember them from the churchyard gate. We were standing there a long time with nothing to do but look at reporters. According to Zoe, Jerry Norris is the most likely ‘reporter who’s not a reporter’, to quote what Marcus told Nico. We’ll have to watch out for him at the event tomorrow.”

Abby was trying to concentrate on her job, looking for dangerous floating objects in the river. “Tell Sara,” she said.

Phoebe continued her story: “Later on, Sulay came bursting into the toy store. She pulled me into the back room and said Marcus had just come into Phones and More to buy a fancy new smart phone. When her father was occupied with another customer he whispered to Sulay: ‘Change all your passwords. Wipe your phones and start over’. She hung around him and made the sale, but that’s all he said that’s of interest to us.”

“Wow,” Abby exclaimed. “Go, Marcus! What did you do?”

“It was already 4:15. Sulay said she’d do her job for you and then find Nico and make security changes in their phones and computer. I ran down to their store and asked her father to wipe my phone and help me get started again. He thinks my phone is too old to be any good, but said he’d wipe it later today. He recommended a new one but I don’t have the money, and now I have no phone. Thank God I never use my computer. And I barely got to you in time. I was panicked I’d miss out.”

Abby looked at Lluvia. “It’s a good thing we have no phones or computers.”

Lluvia laughed. “How did you know?”

“Oh, Jeremy told me about the Phone Rules, and I just didn’t think you’d go in for all that media. You like to be secret, and aren’t afraid of being alone.”

“That’s me.” Lluvia wore a smile during the whole conversation, with her eyes on the water. “But I do want a taste of all of this new action. I’m really glad to see both of you. We know the big change is coming, and this weekend we’ll see for ourselves.”

“And I’m so relieved to be with you,” Abby said. “I really have no idea what I’m doing. Like, what’s the schedule? Where do we sleep? How do we handle this meeting tonight? Who will even show us where to go?”

Phoebe had been glancing back at Lluvia. “I’ve seen you before,” she said suddenly.

“Oh my God,” exclaimed Abby. “You don’t know each other! Phoebe, this is Lluvia!”

“Watch the water, Abby. Don’t turn around. We can hear you.”

“Oh, I’m such an idiot!” Abby muttered. “I was better at this when I was ten. I can’t even remember which of my friends know each other.”

But Lluvia and Phoebe were not listening. They were studying each other’s faces. Even Lluvia had taken her eyes off the water.

“I know I’ve seen you before…” murmured Phoebe. “Somewhere.” 

“Of course you have. Can you remember?”

“In the toy store. You buy paint… and brushes, every once in a while.”

Lluvia laughed. “Oh you do remember! And I remember you, and your mother and father. But I’ve seen them more recently… in Rivergate and the forest.”

“Ah. You probably see my parents more than I do. Maybe you paint like my mother.”

“I’ve seen some of her work. But I’m not that kind of artist. I add detail to boats. Like names, and where they’re from. And sometimes fancy little extras. Some people want a lot of detail. We build boats and I ride them all over, taking people and supplies here and there, and fishing. Or just exploring.”

Lluvia glanced at Phoebe’s face again. “You play soccer. I’ve seen you in uniform, working in your store. And we read about your high school team.”

“I destroyed my knee in college this year. But now I coach.” Phoebe’s voice was not full of despair. She seemed to have accepted the fact.

Abby was listening, and trying to maintain her concentration on the water. But she wanted to watch the faces of her friends. Boats passed them going upstream, always close to the bank, and power boats passed them from behind. Lluvia’s canoe held the center of the river. Along the way various streams flowed into the Half Moon, and the river grew wider, and the number of boats increased.

“Are we going to sail?” asked Phoebe. “I’d love to try it.”

“Not today. We don’t need any help going with the current. I use the sail going upriver, and in the open water in the wetland. A few times we’ve gone all the way to the bay and the ocean.”

“I’m envious,” Phoebe said. “It’s different seeing things from the river.”

“Is it ever! I’m kind of addicted to seeing things from the river. But I’m not going to miss out on these new events. I have the feeling I’ll be involved somehow. Chi Chi told me about the meeting tonight, and some kind of event tomorrow.”

“And who’s going to meet us?” asked Abby. “Who will show us around? Where do we sleep?”

“Sara’s supposed to meet us at the dock,” answered Phoebe. “But I was going to text her when we got close, and now I can’t. I hope she shows up anyway.”

“I know my way around a little bit,” Lluvia told them. “I’ve delivered vegetables and biogas to Evansville more times than I can count. And I have a friend there. We’ll stay at his house tonight.”

“So who is it?” Abby almost turned around to see Lluvia’s face. “We’re curious!”

“I was going to surprise you, but I should tell you now. It’s Alex Johnson.”

“Alex… Alex Johnson… Alex and Lexa? You’re kidding me!”

“No, you’re just out of touch.” Lluvia spoke with a wide smile, her eyes on the water.

“Well, how did this happen? I was just thinking about them. About all of us in the Young Warriors’ Club.”

“The Young Warriors’ Club?” asked Phoebe.

“It was our Sunday school when we were children,” Abby explained. “I lost all my friends when I was ten and my family moved.”

You’ll be surprise to hear this,” Luvia said. “Not long after you left Rivergate, Lexa and Alex left too. Their parents had long been separated, and their mother died. Their father took them to River City where he lived. None of us had ever met him, and he had no interest in us. He just took Lexa and Alex and never came back. But then a year ago they showed up out of the blue! Well, Lexa and Alex did. Not the father. It turned out their father had died.”

“My head is spinning,” Abby said. If only I could see Lluvia’s face! she thought.

“Yeah, I’ve got a lot of news.” Lluvia obviously enjoyed surprising Abby. “We didn’t know it, but their father had been a part of some big real estate family, owning tons of property in River City and even in Evansville. Alex’s father left him a little house near the Evansville College campus, and money for his tuition, but otherwise Alex is broke, barely getting by. His father didn’t trust him or something. It’s complicated, and he doesn’t like talking about it. But we’re friends now and we’ll stay with him.”

“So how does he survive?” Phoebe was clearly interested, risking quick glances at Lluvia behind her.

“He’s an artist, and sells woodcut prints. You’ll see at least one of them. The students have adopted the image of Noah’s ark as a kind of insignia, like a badge of identity. I’ve brought some prints to Rivergate, and even up to students at Northern State, where Students Against Fossil Fuels is organizing.”

“I think I did see it from a distance at the churchyard festival. It was big like a flag.” Abby’s mind was racing, but her eyes still looked for obstacles in the water. “Hey! Something floating up ahead! Look. It’s… yes, a loose boat!”

A small dinghy was floating free on the current with no passengers. Lluvia and Abby maneuvered the canoe alongside. Phoebe managed to tie a line to the metal ring on the bow of the little white rowboat, and they began towing it along behind them.

“We’ll leave it at the college dock and see if they can find the owner. Otherwise it’s ours. Who needs a boat? You’d be surprised how often this happens.”

She’s so happy, Abby thought enviously. I wish I felt that way. Is happiness something you can learn?

I’d like a boat!” Phoebe exclaimed. “Can I have it? It almost like your boat, Abby.”

“I wish I had a chance to use mine. You take it, Phoebe. I’m jealous of the boat we’re in. I’d like to get a sail and a little motor like Lluvia’s got.”

“It’s yours, Phoebe, unless someone at the dock locates the owner. It’s good luck to find a boat. And Abby, I’ve got a special present for you, back on the West Isle. We’re going to get you fixed up good.”

“I can’t wait!... Hey, look, there’s Evansville. A few tall buildings and the bridge.”

Abby and Wendy - Episode 34

GETTING READY TO GO

Illustration By Carlos Uribe

Illustration By Carlos Uribe

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

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

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

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

Abby turned and shook her outstretched hand.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abby and Wendy - Episode 33

THE EARTH’S MAGIC

IMG_7074.jpg

Abby mulled over recent events as she ate a late lunch, and then she stared at the ceiling. I wish I knew what had happened to Rose. The mystery seemed just out of Abby’s reach. There were only a few options, and some of them were bad. First of all, Abby didn’t believe that Rose was sick. She hadn’t acted sick. She had acted strange, even threatening, in a cold, unemotional way. She was like a different person,thought Abby. And itseems clear that Rob was just not buying into whatever the problem was.

Could it be that Rose is the one who is threatened? the voice in her mind asked.

But how?Abby didn’t believe Rose’s remark about, ‘I’m not retiring’. Of course she wasn’t retiring. Abby was only working mornings, had no prospect of an administrative job, and had refused a full-time job. Already there was more work than Rose, Abby, and Rob could do comfortably. Tom Winkle was not looking for a job. He was a grandfather, fulfilling his role as a benevolent community member, and advising his son on the farm.

Perhaps something different is threatening Rose…

Abby recalled her mother’s words about Rose being her second cousin or something. Rose’s grandmother was… let’s see… the nanny for… Wendy and Chi Chi’s mother! Oh my God! And my great grandmother was the house manager. And they were sisters. Did they die in the tragedy? I don’t even know. But one thing for sure, Rose knows about this and is not mentioning it. But what could be threatening about it? I must speak to Wendy. Why didn’t I ask her before? Perhaps I can find Chi Chi…

Abby continued to obsess about this mystery as the evening shadows crossed the churchyard. A fear of walking to the garden center came over her. She wanted a clean get-away on the following day so passionately that she had become fanatically cautious. There was danger all around. Even if Chi Chi knew something, did it matter to find out immediately? Probably not. The Chi Chi meeting could be postponed.

It was time for a final watering of everything. The churchyard would be dry for the next four days. Monday evening would be Abby’s next chance to give the plants any water. The drought seemed likely to continue indefinitely.

 

Friday morning went much like the previous two days, except for an incident just before lunch that left Abby feeling that she’d made a serious mistake. Rose was absent again, and Tom Winkle continued to play a prominent role. The group began the day admiring their new creation. The play city, now with gardens and a forest in the bright sunlight, seemed even more beautiful and fascinating than the day before. The characters began to come alive.

Tension arose over the ownership of the treasure in the forest. The children had disagreements over what the treasure actually was, and what it was good for. After an hour of intense dialogue between many characters, the children agreed that the crystal ball in the wizard’s hand, the glass ball in the chest, and even the various multi-colored jewels, all could work magic. Yet what this magic consisted of remained a secret.

Finally, the dragon and the wizard were confronted by various invaders, who denied any wish to steal the treasure, but were desperate to know what it was, and what it could do. The nature of magic drew everyone’s attention. But the dragon (Franklyn had taken on this role) was totally unwilling to let anyone near the treasure. He maintained that he had no idea what it could do, but it was his job to keep intruders away. The wizard (played by Lucy) said she knew what the magic was, but it was too dangerous for ordinary people. This idea was unacceptable to the rest of the group, who crowded into the forest. The Good Fairy (played by Tiny) had to intervene from the sky above to stop the conflict, and make a compromise. Everyone would be allowed on look at the treasure. But still no clue was offered concerning the nature of magic.

This problem was still being debated when Kayla discovered a long earthworm escaping from the soil around a potted maple tree. All attention shifted to this remarkable worm. It stretched itself out four or five inches long, and moved out of the forest toward the city. Kayla stood up in shock, wondering what to do.

“Stop it! Stop it!” she cried.

Abby prevented Franklyn from grabbing the intruder, and declared that earthworms have a much lower temperature than humans, who are hot, almost 99 degrees. The touch of a human is burning to an earthworm. She laid down a piece of paper, and when the worm had crawled onto it she transferred it to a glass jar offered by Rob. Tom led a discussion about soil animals. Eventually the group decided to return the worm to its home back in the maple tree area.

After the short hike they released the worm into the loose soil where a baby maple tree had been the day before. The group was satisfied. But as the worm gratefully disappeared into the cool underground, Kayla stood up in alarm.

“Where is it going?” she asked. “How can anything live under there? Isn’t that a bad place?”

In a calm voice, Tom said, “No, it’s a good place for roots and soil animals. All plants and trees send roots into the soil.”

Kayla looked doubtful, but did not reply. Rob suggested they head back for lunch. On the way a discussion arose over what worms do, what they eat, and why they are good for the soil. As they approached the house Abby asked them to take a look at the three compost bins. Rob explained that they put their leftover or spoiled food in the first bin, and showed them the cornhusks and salad greens left over from the night before. Abby opened the second bin, and pointed out the worms and rolypolys and centipedes. Kayla was tall enough to see without help, and was fascinated, not so much by the worms as by the disintegration of what had formerly been food. She couldn’t believe that the materials in the first bin would actually turn into the decomposing materials in the second bin.

Abby then showed her the third bin, and Kayla was absolutely shocked to see dark soil. “It’s like magic!” she cried. “How could this happen?”

Abby explained that part of the earth’s magic is to turn plant and animal material back into soil. This is how the earth nourishes the life of the future. The children had questions.

“Do worms themselves turn back into soil?”

“What about birds?”

“Squirrels?”

“Yes,” Abby replied. “All plants and animals turn back into soil.”

Kayla was still staring in shock, and turned to Abby. “But… but…” She could hardly get the words out, “but what about people?”

Abby realized that she’d gotten in over her head, and looked to Rob and Tom Winkle. Rob drew his finger across his throat to silently tell Abby to shut up. Tom shrugged with a bewildered look. The children were all staring silently at Abby, waiting for a reply.

I’ve got to say something,she thought. They’ll be even more scared if I won’t answer the question. And it’s complicated! What about the soul? Can I tell them that this has been a running debate among humans since the dawn of time? Well, let’s be honest about bodies first.

“You know, Kayla, in some ways humans are related to animals.”

Kayla drew herself up as tall as she could stand. “I…” she said, “am not an animal!”

“I’m not saying you are,” Abby replied, struggling to keep her voice calm. “I’m just saying we’re all related.”

“I’m sorry,” Rob broke in. “I hate to interrupt, but we barely have time for lunch before the parents and the afternoon group will be arriving.”

In a few minutes everyone was eating sandwiches and seemed to have forgotten the major issue they had just been discussing. Kayla gave Abby a few thoughtful looks, but didn’t raise the subject again. When the parents arrived Rob took a few minutes on the side with Kayla’s mother. Abby was sure he was explaining the discussion of composting bodies.

I’ve been such a fool! She told herself. I really don’t know what I’m doing. I’m not ready for this job. Why can’t I just shut up?

As Abby prepared to leave, Tom approached her. “Don’t take it too hard. Children see squirrels decomposing on the road, they see their grandparents buried. And as for the human soul, you were right to leave that to the parents. Don’t take it too hard.”

She thanked him with deep emotion, but couldn’t rid herself of the feeling that she’d made a terrible mistake. Kayla – and who knows how many of us – are not ready for this subject. But why did I have to be the one to raise the issue? I’m sorry, Kayla!

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