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 36

AN UNUSUAL MEETING

Illustration By Carlos Uribe

Illustration By Carlos Uribe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They nodded.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abby and Wendy - Episode 34

GETTING READY TO GO

Illustration By Carlos Uribe

Illustration By Carlos Uribe

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

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

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

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

Abby turned and shook her outstretched hand.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abby and Wendy - Episode 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 32

#pleasehelpus

As Abby rode home after lunch, she thanked her lucky stars for another beautiful morning. Such good chemistry, she told herself. Now, just one more good day, and then this outrageously interesting weekend! Oh, please help us! She begged her angel to guide her. 

Back at the church another crowd, even larger than the day before, awaited her at the gate. Once again Officer Harley, Sulay, Nico, and Phoebe were defending the churchyard. Abby decided to take things very casually. 

“Hi, everyone. Coming through. Just a little space please. I live here.”

“Where do you work?” asked a voice.

“Please,” Abby said. “Yesterday I promised to consider planning another interview. I took your cards. But anyone who bothers me at work will never speak to me again.” 

She noticed one reporter ask Sulay, “Are you employed by the Evansville Record?”

“Bill, lay off,” came a female voice. Abby recognized Zoe from the day before. “She’s just a kid.”

“Yeah, but she’s news.”

“Hi, Zoe,” Abby exclaimed. “Good to see you. Officer Harley, thanks so much for helping us! I’ll be coming through with these three.” She pushed Sulay, Nico, and Phoebe toward the gate. Meanwhile Abby whispered a few words in Zoe’s ear: “You and Barry wait a few minutes, I’ll be back.” On her way through the gate half a dozen business cards were thrust into her hand.

They walked over to the bench. Phoebe opened the discussion: “I don’t know if this is wonderful or terrible or what, but we’ve got to talk about it.”

Abby’s heart made a leap. Oh, no, just when things were going so well…please, make it okay…

“Sulay, Nico,” Phoebe looked at them with a serious face, “Tell her all about it.”

Sulay was looking at the ground. “I didn’t mean to create a problem. I’ll erase it all if you want.”

“I didn’t say it wasa problem,” returned Phoebe. “In fact, I said it might be wonderful. I just don’t know, and we’ve got to alert Abby.” Phoebe looked sad, downcast. “Sulay, I don’t mean to make you feel bad. If it is a problem, I’m the most to blame! You asked me, and I gave you permission to create the blog. I encouraged you and Nico. None of us expected this to happen.”

Sulay was still looking at the ground. “All right,” she muttered. “I understand. It’s a lot of pressure. I’ll tell Abby.”

Ithink it’s fabulous,” Nico cut in. “I’m happy to talk about it.” He looked Abby in the eyes. “It’s all about #pleasehelpus… It went viral. It’s all over the place. And Sulay’s dad is mad because all these people are trying to talk to Sulay, and Sara is mad because she’s afraid it will bring a rowdy crowd and disrupters to the demonstration. So, whether it’s great or terrible, it’s been bad for Sulay, and I don’t think that’s fair. Phoebe and Sara both gave her permission. Her father did about a million dollars worth of business this morning. I actually had the idea for the blog in the first place. Look, Abby! Sulay is not doing stuff all by herself! We’re all in on this.”

“That’s very true, Nico. Thank you.” Phoebe hugged him. “You say it much better than I do.” Nico smiled and his eyes glistened.

Gradually Abby got a clear run-through of the story. After Abby’s escape from Middletown in the hail storm, Sulay – with Nico’s help – created a blog called SULAY AND NICO’S NEWS FROM MIDDLETOWN. They published the photos and videos that were used by Sara for the Evansville Record, plus narratives and photos the Record did not publish, such as photos and recordings of the band.

Sara, Cali, the band, and hundreds of others started sharing the material all over various platforms. Sara’s political blog and STAFF UNITED – the official outlet for Students Against Fossil Fuels – shared and referred people to NEWS FROM MIDDLETOWN. Cali’s blog – THE THUNDER ROLLING BAND – shared and referred people to News From Middletown. A video of a recent Thunder Rolling concert in the Evansville student center had reached thousands. The college radio show included music and interviews from the band and became a podcast. After Sara’s interview with Abby spread through the River Valley, Sulay and Nico’s creation became a monster of a news outlet.

And then, Sulay’s video of Abby’s words with the crowd of journalists the day before went viral. The whole group of blogs as well as personal accounts on social media began using the tag #pleasehelpus. And members of the Evansville College student body began using it to invite people to the demonstration. Sara and Amy, however, were firm in criticizing the term ‘demonstration’, and pleaded with everyone to use the term ‘gathering’. They wanted to advertise the event as a group of student and faculty advisors gathering to make the trustees aware of opinion on campus. But now it looked like the event had gotten out of control.

Abby was experiencing mental bottleneck syndrome, too much information to process. The voice in her mind said, You’ve still got Zoe and Barry over there. Catch them before it’s too late!The message was urgent.

Abby jumped up and walked to the gate. “I need to speak to these two,” she told Officer Harley. Other journalists complained. She took more cards, promising to get back to them. Zoe and Barry entered, and followed Abby to the bench. No introductions were necessary.

“Can we go inside?” asked Zoe. I feel kind of exposed out here. Look, they’re taking our picture.”

“Right,” Abby replied. “Meet me at the door.” She speed walked around through the front door and opened the side door for the group. They made a circle of chairs in the basement meeting room. 

After a moment of silence, Abby turned to Zoe and Barry and said, “Please help us!” Everyone laughed. The tension all turned to laughter.

Barry, an older, gray-haired man in a wrinkled suit, was the first to recover. “Go ahead, tell us how we can help. And remember, we reach a large public. What are our marching orders?”

Abby, Phoebe, Sulay, and Nico came out with the whole story, or at least as much of it as they were comfortable telling. The two journalists asked questions, and then looked at each other and nodded. 

“Can I sum it up and see if you agree?” Zoe asked. Her voice was friendly. She seemed almost like a mentor or social worker. “That hashtag, #pleasehelpus… It has at least two meanings. You want help to make sure your Evansville trustees event doesn’t turn into a violent protest. You want the students to appear smart and reasonable. Barry and I think you have a good case to make, but you need a calm atmosphere to make it. Right?”

“Exactly,” answered Phoebe.

Zoe and Barry looked at each other again. Zoe nodded, and Barry said, “The second meaning is a little harder to explain, because you all seem to hiding something. Don’t protest. You probably have good reason for handling things the way you do. We get the impression that you have a very large agenda, with a lot of pieces to it. I finally got better understanding by seeing Abby’s interview. When she said that we need to save the world for the life to come, the five billion years for our children’s children’s children, it occurred to me that you are serious. You actually mean it, and expect to do something significant. Not just you, Abby, but all of you. I can see you’ve got quite a following. Now… just to make it short, I think on the one hand you need to keep your event calm and reasonable, but on the other hand you have an urgent message, and you believe we’re running out of time. So you need help in the sense that we all need help. This is a do or die moment for life as we know it. Please help us! Am I right?”

“You do your homework!” Phoebe exclaimed. “That’s it.”

 

 

Illustration By Carlos Uribe

Illustration By Carlos Uribe

Abby and Wendy - Episode 31

THE PLOT THICKENS

Illustration By Carlos Uribe

Illustration By Carlos Uribe

Rose was absent again at the pre-school the following day. Abby, Tom, and Rob helped the group move the play city and the forest to the sunny spot near the south windows. It was a lengthy task. The children expanded the city in the process, and added characters. Franklyn wanted a wizard to live in the forest. He also wondered if there were any bad guys there. Tiny reported that Emily, the daughter of the Good Fairy, had said there definitely were bad guys, but she wasn’t sure they were in the forest. Lucy said the bad guys always want to steal the treasure.

“Is there really a treasure?” asked Ned. “I’ve never seen it.”

“That doesn’t mean it isn’t there,” Lucy told him.

“This is our city,” Rob said. “It’s our story. Let me find a few more people you might want to live here.” He crossed the large room, rummaged in a wooden chest, and returned with a little metal wizard with a tall pointed hat, a cloak, a staff, and a clear glass crystal ball. Rob handed it to Franklyn, who stared at it in awe. “Look! The ball changes color!” And indeed, the transparent ball faintly shimmered with colors as it moved.

Rob opened his other hand and displayed a metal dragon with outstretched wings, standing on the edge of a treasure chest containing another glass ball, as well as tiny stones of different colors. The dragon may have been just landing, or just taking off. Rob handed it to Ned. The others gathered round to examine these delights.

Franklyn placed the wizard in the middle of the forest, and Ned moved the trees slightly to place the treasure there also. Jane wanted to know if the dragon was good or bad. The group disagreed on that subject. Tiny flew her witch into the forest and said that the witch was in charge of all of them.

Franklyn wasn’t sure, and asked her if the witch was good or bad.

“Good,” Tiny replied with confidence.

“Then who are the bad guys,” Franklyn wanted to know.

Rob again rummaged in the chest, and returned with an assortment of figures and set them out in a row. There were comic book heroes and villains, men in suits, a princess, and a hand carved figure of the Good Fairy, more than twice as tall as any other character.

“Do Robin Hood and his band live in the forest?” asked Ned.

“The Good Fairy says they do,” answered Tiny.

Rob took another trip to the wooden chest and returned with very small figures made of green felt with painted faces. Each wore the tell-tale green Robin Hood jacket and hat. And next to Robin Hood’s band Rob set out a series of gnomes clothed in brightly colored felt.

“Oooh!” said Kayla. “Can these be over here?” She placed the gnomes among the trees near her, and one next to her house. “This gnome is our guard,” she said.

“I know where the bad guys come from,” Lucy declared. “They come from town, and want to steal the treasure. Everyone needs to guard the treasure.”

This story developed for a whole hour. Rob found angels, more men in suits, and a policeman. Wonder Woman and Robin Hood’s band created a line of defense. Tiny placed the Good Fairy on a windowsill above the city, and made it clear that the Good Fairy was very aware of all happenings below, and could intervene whenever she wanted to. Jane insisted that there should be animals, including dogs, birds, cats, and raccoons.

“Can we have an owl?” asked Ned. Rob found a small, very beautiful gray owl with wide brown eyes. 

“I want to see the owl again!” Kayla burst out. “In the churchyard. Just like that one.”

“Can we go to the Secret Place?” Tiny asked, looking straight at Abby.

She hesitated, looked at Rob, and then replied, “It’s too far to go there today. But perhaps we can go outside and try to be very quiet and see animals.”

“Wonderful idea,” said Tom. “I know where woodchucks and raccoons live.”

The group’s enthusiasm reached a fever pitch. Rob found a pair of binoculars and promised each child a chance to see things far away. Tom led the group out to explore.

Abby and Wendy - Episode 30

ABBY, PHOEBE, SULAY AND NICO MAKE A PLAN

Illustration By Carlos Uribe

Illustration By Carlos Uribe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abby and Wendy

Episode 29
PLEASE HELP US!

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Illustration by Carlos Uribe
As Abby arrived on her bicycle a crowd was milling around the sidewalk in front of the churchyard gate. Police officer Harley and Phoebe, Sulay, and Nico were blocking the entrance. Abby was almost at the sidewalk when people recognized her. Microphones and questions immediately surrounded her. 
“Will you be giving the sermon in church tomorrow? Have the bishop and Reverend Tuck approved the views expressed in your interview? Why have you chosen the Evansville Record and journalist Sara Williams as your only contact in the media world?”
Abby kept her mouth shut, but suddenly she had an idea. “Sara is not my only contact,” she said. “Let me introduce Sulay and Nico. As you’ll notice, they’ve been taking photos as we stand here, and they may publish them in tomorrow’s news. So I suggest that we all treat each other with respect, since the public will see how we behave. I hope you haven’t been giving Officer Harley here a difficult time.”
“Okay so far,” said the easy-going policeman.
“Do you mean these kids?” asked a tall young reporter. “Did they take the video in the hailstorm? I’ll interview them.” Abby put her finger across her lips and Sulay and Nico remained silent, still taking pictures. Soon everyone was taking pictures of everyone else. Abby took advantage of the extra space to bring her bike up to the gate. Nico opened it, and she slipped through. Two reporters tried to follow, but Officer Harley blocked the way. Abby requested that Sulay, Phoebe, and Nico be allowed to follow her, and he let them pass.
One older, quiet reporter asked, “Can I have one question? I’m not your enemy, you know.” There was something in his voice that Abby found irresistible, and she turned back to listen. “I’m Barry Lipton, and this is Zoe Collins. We’re from the River City News.” They leaned on the fence to come closer to her. The cameras clicked.
“Okay, one question," Abby told him. "Thanks for being so polite.”
Zoe, a young woman in her mid-twenties, leaned over a bit more and said, “We’re really interested in what you’re doing, but we don’t understand it. Can you help us report this story accurately? I know some people take a negative attitude and twist events to look bad, but it won’t help you to avoid even sympathetic reporters.”
Abby came closer and said, “Right now I’m just trying to make a living, but it’s very hard under these circumstances. If everyone would be nicer I’d be happy to talk.”
“Please,” Zoe said, “take this opportunity to say whatever you like.”
“I’m not even twenty years old yet. I need to work to live. But I also want to have some influence in this world. I want to work with people to make things better. Let me ask you, does your world look dangerous, fragile, basically in a lot of trouble these days?”
“Yes, absolutely, we can’t agree more. But what kinds of things are you doing, what do you recommend?”
“I tried to begin talking about that in the Evansville Record interview. We want to help the church change with the time, involve young people, raise money, talk in an honest way about climate change. But these things are hard to do without dealing with the way we see the world, our purpose here, our attitudes toward the earth and the future and each other. Are the earth and our life here basically good? Is it our responsibility to pass on a bright future to the next generation? Do we care how we treat our home and the millions of life forms that live here too? Is the earth holy, sacred, or is everything sacred only somewhere else? Are we part of a larger purpose that we can understand and talk about? These questions have to be raised if we are to heal the terrible wounds and fears and destructive behavior in our world today. I know this sounds trite, maybe too obvious to be interesting…
“No, no,” Zoe replied. “It’s very interesting. Sara Williams promised her audience another interview with you. Could you allow Barry and I to be there and represent River City and the questions of our public?”
“I’d have to think about it. I’m not absolutely sure I’ll do another interview, but I’d be happy to take your card and get back to you.”
About a dozen hands suddenly reached out with cards, and Abby took them all. “I’ll do my best to set something up. My friends and I don’t mean to favor anyone, but you can understand, we’ve been through some very frightening experiences. We all want to be treated with respect, not viewed as devils. Please help us!”

Abby and Wendy

Episode 28
A FOREST FOR THE PLAY CITY

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

Abby and Wendy

Episode 25
A WARNING FROM REVEREND TUCK

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

Abby and Wendy

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

Abby and Wendy

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

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

Abby and Wendy

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

Abby and Wendy

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