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 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

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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 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 16.jpg

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

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

Ghost Girl - Episode 59

THE MAP OF THE UNDERGROUND

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THE MAP OF THE UNDERGROUND
After Jeremy’s departure Abby retreated into her cottage to wait for her father. He had promised to arrive sometime that afternoon after his hospital appointment. Looking at herself in the mirror, she stared at her puffy eyes, the sign of her tears. ‘Dad will probably notice,’ she thought. ‘And Mom is coming later. I can’t let them get off on that subject. They'll pursue it like crazy and get Dad's blood pressure up. I’ve got to get him talking about the mapstick.’ 
Abby lay down, her thoughts going back to her discussion with her father in Sonny Walker’s orchard. She recalled the mapstick in tiny detail, the glow of the wood, the fine carved lines, the strange charisma of the six foot staff. 
The heat was ferocious. Abby filled two water bottles and moved a chair outside where she could wait. Soon her father appeared around the corner of the cottage. He was carrying a small briefcase. “Dad!” she called.
He hugged her. “It’s wonderful to see you! But I’m boiling over after walking up from the hospital. Give me some of that water. It’s too hot out here for humans.”
Abby led him to the Birdwatcher’s Path and into the shade of the wild area. They stopped in front of the cave of vines. “I know it seems kind of strange,” she whispered, “but I’m afraid we’ll be overheard in the cottage, or even back here. Let’s sit in the cave and talk softly. Very softly.”
Dennis stared at her in surprise, and then quietly slipped into the cave and sat cross-legged, his briefcase beside him. Abby sat close by, and said, “I know you must be wondering…”
He held up his hand. “No explanation needed,” he replied. “What I have to say deserves this much care and privacy. I’m relieved to see you know that. You’re making me proud, and giving me confidence we’re going in the right direction. So… where is the mapstick now?” Abby described Tuck’s special room for treasures. 
“You’ll have to put this in there as well,” he said, setting the briefcase between them. “In one way it’s more dangerous than the mapstick itself.” Dennis opened the case and withdrew two folders of paper. “I know Sonny has given you a lot of background on the mapstick, but one thing he doesn’t seem to know is what’s on these sheets of paper. You see, the mapstick really is a map. It took me years to figure it out, and now I will hand my discovery to you.” They were silent as Dennis organized his thoughts. “These papers the map as well as notes about the things I’ve guessed.
He opened the first folder and took out six sheets of paper, and laid them out in pairs on the uneven ground. “This is a very detailed rendering of maybe a third of the mapstick. We can’t fit the whole map where we’re sitting, but this will be enough to get you started. This drawing is done on a scale about twice the size of the mapstick. I’ve tried to copy every tiny mark, and had to use a magnifying glass to do it. At first it seemed incomprehensible, but gradually I began to notice a consistent method to the madness, and finally I became certain: this is a map of the caverns and tunnels under Hidden Valley and the surrounding plateau, with a few tunnels even crossing under the Half Moon River.”

Ghost Girl - Episode 58


FEAR AND TEARS

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Illustration by Carlos Uribe
In the morning a loud knock awoke Abby from a series of dreams. She sprang out of bed, threw on some clothes, and opened the door a crack. “Chi Chi!” she cried. “What is it?”
“You remember,” he said, “the compost project. We have the chipper here.” 
“I overslept. Give me five minutes.”
“No hurry,” he replied. “Just wanted to let you know we’re here.”
‘We,’ thought Abby. ‘He must be referring to that jerk Jeremy.’ Anger and disappointment flooded through her veins. She ate an apple and drank tea, trying to get into the right frame of mind for a morning of hard work in the heat. They would have to chip and shred a really large pile of branches and leaves, making a pyramid of woodchips behind her cottage. Then they would have to attach a wide plastic pipe to draw air from just above the floor of her cottage, running through the pile of woodchips, and reconnecting with the cottage just below the ceiling. In a few months, by the time the cold weather arrived, this system would heat Abby’s cottage. The pile of woodchips would generate the heat. It was a fascinating idea, but she was in no mood for it. 
Abby stepped outside as Jeremy was dragging branches and leaves on a wide sheet of burlap, and set them near Chi Chi who was working the chipper. 
After three hours in the blazing sun the sweat was pouring down their shirts. The pile of chips and the pipe were completed.
“It may not look like much now, but in November you will be amazed,” Chi Chi told Abby. “This isn’t only to help you. It’s to make a model of how things can be done.”
Out on the street they loaded the chipper onto a small trailer attached to the van. After Chi Chi drove off, Abby and Jeremy stood near each other, wondering what to say.
“Well, thanks Jeremy,” said Abby. “I’ll see you later.” She hadn’t intended to sound sarcastic, but she felt it come out that way. She turned to go.
“Wait,” he said. “Can we talk for a few minutes?”
“You know we’re not supposed to socialize one on one in the churchyard. You know we’re being watched. There’s one of those watchers across the street on the bench.”
“Just for a minute,” Jeremy pleaded. “We’ll walk back as if we’re working.”
She couldn’t say no, and they walked back to the mulch pile behind the high privet hedge. 
“I can see you’re mad at me,” Jeremy began. “What is it?”
“Is that really so hard to see?” Her anger was bubbling over. “You say you’ll follow me anywhere, but you don’t even say hello. You won’t kiss me, you don’t bring my stuff, you ignore me… all after practically saying that you love me.”
“I do love you. Really, I do. But think what would happen if we paired off. Everything we’re doing would fall apart.”
“But I’m supposed to think like that,” Abby replied. “That’s not how boys think. When a boy says that… you know, it means he doesn’t like her that much.”
“You’re wrong there,” Jeremy said with a smile. “I guess you could say I’m different. You don’t know how I feel about you. This thing we’ve got going is real. You’re the leader. Without you, we’re nothing. My job is to be… kind of like your lieutenant. Same with Phoebe, George, Stephanie, Eddie, and Sara. And Isaiah and Ishmael, and Cali too. We’re your staff.”
‘But what if I want a boyfriend?’ thought Abby.
“Boys can be wise sometimes,” Jeremy said softly. “Believe me, in my heart, in my own way, I love you.”
They fell into each other and embraced. They both knew they would not kiss, but they held each other tight. Abby closed her eyes, and they stood that way for a few seconds. Suddenly she heard two faint clicking sounds, followed by a brief scraping noise. Her eyes were now wide open, but there was nothing unusual to see. 
“Did you hear that?” she whispered, and took a few steps toward the wall. The leaf pile was so high that the top edge of the wall was only about two feet above her head. She pulled herself up and looked over into the wooded area and the cornfield beyond. The late summer branches and leaves were dense, hiding much of the ground. Nothing moved. Jeremy joined her, but noticed nothing. They jumped back onto the leaves.
Abby went down on her knees, lowered her head, and began to pound her fists into the leaves, crying and cursing in fury. Jeremy stared in horror. “Everytime…” she sobbed, “everytime I try to live a little… Everytime! Something bad happens.” She looked up at Jeremy, her face contorted with anguish and stained with tears. “I’m jinxed,” she said. “It’s always like this. I can’t stand it any more.” Despair was written on her face.
“You think it was a stalker,” Jeremy said.
“Well, don’t you think so? Didn’t you hear that sound?”
“I barely heard anything, maybe like something moving over stone.”
“They must have had a camera up there on the wall. Or perhaps I’m going crazy.” 
“No,” he replied, “I think you’re stressed out. It’s understandable.” He stood in thought for a minute and then said, “I should have understood all this without your telling me. My road has been too easy…” He shook his head. “There must be something I can do… I’ll take a hard job, the next one that comes up.”
They walked together out onto the open lawn, and saw a stalker standing near the gate. Without saying any further good-bye, they parted at the cottage. Abby went inside, and Jeremy walked out and down the street.

Ghost Girl - Episode 50

EMERGENCY PLANNING

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Illustration by Lawrence Tate
It seemed as if Abby’s head had hardly touched the pillow when the morning sun shone full on her face. ‘I’m supposed to be doing something…’ she thought. The memory of her late-night talk with George flooded back into her mind, and she quickly organized her immediate problems. 
‘Okay… George’s spying has exposed Morphy’s plot. All these stalkers are his investigators. They intend to assemble evidence of Reverend Tuck’s financial incompetence and use it in a newspaper campaign to support a trustee in the coming election who will vote to fire him, and sell the churchyard to Morphy’s business empire. I will then lose my job as gardener, and our whole community project will be destroyed. And this victory will bring Morphy a step closer to obtaining mining rights to the forest preserve. All my fears have come true… this is a disaster in the making. We have two weeks to do something…’
She dressed, drank tea, and was out the door. The sun was bright in the deep blue sky, a gorgeous day. She knocked a few times on the side door of the church, and Tuck appeared. His frown was not welcoming, but Abby was very motivated, and brushed his bad mood aside. “I need a few minutes of your time,” she said. “Right now, if possible.”
Tuck took in her serious expression and invited her up to his office. Abby took a seat at the long table. One end was covered with a mass of papers. “Let’s just avoid all that,” Tuck said, waving at the jumbled pile. Abby could see files, receipts and bills, lists of figures, notebooks, letters. ‘Oh my God,’ she thought. ‘Is this how he organizes the church finances? He needs someone like my mother!’
“Okay, what is it? I need to get back to this…” He motioned to the mess as if it were garbage. “I’ve neglected it for far too long.”
In a very flat, unemotional tone of voice Abby laid out the facts that George had discovered. Her news hit Tuck like a hammer. He stared at her, totally speechless. Then he put his face in his hands. 
“It might not be as bad as you think,” said Abby.
He looked up and shook his head. “No, it’s even worse than you can imagine. I should have asked for help long ago. And no one has volunteered to run for trustee against Becky Scutter. People are afraid.’
“First of all,” Abby replied, struggling to maintain her matter-of-fact manner, “I’ll find a candidate to run for trustee. Put that out of your mind. Second: we are capable of moving very fast. You should ask Terrence Williams to help you.”
“He’s a highly paid lawyer,” replied Tuck, “not an accountant.”
“I would certainly want him as my advisor,” returned Abby. “Third: How about asking Bishop Beckett for help?” 
Tuck grimaced. “It’s true he is a crucial ally, but he cannot hide this chaos from the trustees. It is possible that one or more of the trustees is hiding information from me. In that case he would intervene, but the issue is probably just my own mess.”
“I see…” Abby replied, her mind moving at lightning speed. “Fourth: Today we get Eddy and his father over here to give us at least the illusion that the abandoned building is about to be a construction site. Perhaps they can put up scaffolding.”
“Hmm… that’s a thought,” said Tuck, staring off into space. “Of course that will cost money we don’t have.” Abby’s thoughts were inspired, coming into her mind to solve every problem. “We’ll make the money,” she replied. “A week from today at the first festival. Phoebe already has the event laid out. We’ll fill in the details at the Youth Council meeting tonight.”
Tuck looked up and smiled. “You have no idea how much money we need,” he said. “But still, you’re giving me a little hope.”
“This is the kind of work my mother does,” said Abby, pointing at the chaos of papers. “I’m going to get her to volunteer. Now… time is short. It’s time to get to work.” Tuck laughed. “Okay, okay!” he said. “Go! I’ll do my best.”
Abby held her head high and walked out onto Bridge Avenue under the eyes of two stalkers on the bench across the street. They looked up but did not move. She headed down the street and into the coffee shop. Sammy was on the phone, Stephanie was making sandwiches, and Sara Williams was taking orders from a couple of booths full of people. In a few moments Abby explained that she wasn’t there to work because she had been hired by the pre-school, but… she desperately needed help. She persuaded Stephanie to ask her boyfriend Eddy to set up scaffolding, and reminded Sara of their meeting that evening. They were desperate for more information, but Abby said she couldn’t stay and quickly walked back out onto the sidewalk. One of the stalkers was standing nearby pretending to be interested in the toy store window. He turned toward her as she approached. She could feel his staring eyes, and stepped past him without a glance.

Ghost Girl - Episode 49

GEORGE AND ABBY

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GEORGE AND ABBY
Illustration by Lawrence Tate
Abby turned the key and opened the door a couple of feet. George stood in the doorway. A gleam from the moon, now high in the sky, shone on his face. Abby saw both hope and sadness in his eyes. She closed and locked the door behind her. “Follow me,” she whispered, and led George to the flat spot in the privet fort where they had met before. George’s face was now in shadow, hard to read. Abby sat with her hood up, almost invisible. They did not touch, but sat with tension in the air. “You know these men spying on the churchyard?” whispered George. “This is a different ball game than we started out with. The stakes have gone way up. I just want you to know.”
“I thought so.” Abby’s voice was low and almost inaudible. George had to move closer just to hear her. “But how do you know for sure?" she asked.
“Peabody actually introduced me to one of these… whatever you call them…” George searched for the right word.
“I call them stalkers,” said Abby.
“Yeah, stalkers. We had a little meeting in Peabody’s office. He wanted advice on whether one of these guys could just walk into the churchyard and take photos. His idea is that Tuck is mismanaging the church, and the Standard is going to publish a series on it. I told them Tuck would notice if they just came in taking pictures, and it might be offensive. So then Peabody wants me to do it! He especially wants shots of the abandoned building. I told him I wasn’t sure Tuck would allow me to do that, and Peabody said I don’t need permission, I’m a friend and no one will stop me. I told him I’d see, and he didn’t like that answer. ‘Do it!’ he said. ‘This is what we pay you for!’ It’s getting me stressed out, this spy game. And I overheard something… Morphy might make an offer to buy the churchyard and build offices right here where we’re sitting.”
“Oh no!” exclaimed Abby. She was stunned. “Thank God you came tonight! We’ve got to fix up that building in a hurry, and then you can take a few photos. Delay a few days! Maybe we can make things presentable.”
“And there’s more bad news,” George resumed. He was frowning, taking no pleasure in what he had to say. “They also want pictures of you, especially a good shot of you not working. ‘As embarrassing as possible,’ Peabody said. The stalker told us he’d tried but couldn’t get a good angle.”
Abby tried to be casual, saying: “That must have been when Jeremy brought the seeds and guitar and stuff…” She was nervous and stumbled over the words.
“Apparently Jeremy is working in the churchyard now,” George said.
Abby tried to maintain a low, even tone of voice. “Yeah,” she replied. “He’s a Protector. They’ve made fixing up the churchyard a priority. Chi Chi assigned Jeremy to work here. He even got Jim to give him time off from the gas station.”
“You know Jeremy has quit the band,” George told her. “I’m not sure I like all this.” 
Abby was starting to panic, and changed the subject. “Guess who came back from Rivergate with me today? Ishmael, Isaiah, and Cali. They’re all moving into the greenhouse. And the concert is definitely on at Sara and Cali’s student rally!”
George finally smiled. “I know,” he said. “I’ve come straight from the greenhouse. Everyone was there tonight… except you. I mean it’s sad you couldn’t be there.”
“Oh, don’t worry about me,” said Abby, even though she did feel sad, and intensely curious. She looked up at George and smiled. “You can help me! Tell me what’s been going on. What’s everybody doing?”
“We’re practicing like mad. Almost six hours we’ve been at it. Phoebe says we have to be ready to play a week from Saturday. That’s going to be the first festival.”
“Hmmm… So things are good then?” she asked.
“It’s good in some ways. The band is getting real fans. I’m really proud of it… except… I’m not happy. This business of being a spy is getting in the way of what I’d really like to do… like go to your cottage and trade songs on the guitar.”
“George!” hissed Abby. “Think about the message you just brought me! And someone broke into the back window last night while I was away! Look, being a spy must be unbearable. I think you should quit. They’re devious, and powerful, and take revenge.”
George smiled in a ray of moonlight. “Tell me the truth now,” he said. “Am I right in thinking that my friends – like you, for instance – really, really need me to stick with it?”
“It’s true,” Abby had to admit. “Your news might save all of us. At least it gives us a chance.”
“We’re like soldiers,” George said. “What we’re doing seems to matter a lot… Look, I really should be going…”
“Be careful, George, please!”
“I learned it from you,” he said. “I’m invisible, as silent as a black cat.” He stood up. Abby followed him down the path to the iron door, and unlocked it.
“See you tomorrow night,” she whispered. They hugged as people do for a kiss on the cheek, but in the dark ending up kissing on the lips, just for a second. George turned and walked away.

Ghost Girl - Episode 48

WAITING IN THE DARK

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

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

Ghost Girl - Episode 42

HIGH WATER ON THE HALF MOON

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

Ghost Girl - Episode 38

THE SHOW AT THE OPEN GATE

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Abby and Amy filled their plates and ate ravenously, without saying a word. They were glowing, and couldn’t wipe the smiles off their faces. Full to the brim, they sat back and looked around the room. A group of young men had set up a circle of drums, and began to play a few beats. Junior took the mike and announced, “Ladies and gentlemen, community and friends of Rivergate, welcome to our show! I’ve promised you a special presentation, and we’ll start with our own drum circle. Musicians, take it away…”
The drumming started as a low hum, and carried on for about ten minutes in almost hypnotic fashion. The music grew louder, and more varied, even jagged, rough and scary. Finally it settled into a single beat, and then the performers became silent one by one, until only two drummers played together, trading beats back and forth. Gradually all the drummers joined in for a climax, and then settled back into the hypnotic hum.
Suddenly electronic noise – some wild static – cut through the drumming and made an eerie music. Then a voice came over the mike as if a radio channel had just found a good connection: “With a breaking story from Rivergate – the town in the news – this is Stan Miller from WBCS in River City.”
The audience laughed. Abby realized that Cali was making the electronic noise, and Junior was imitating the voice of the famous newsman.
“Our whole great nation has seen photos of the recent storms and flooding throughout the Half Moon River Valley, and Governor Palmer has declared a state of emergency in Rivergate County and here in River City. Tonight we’ll focus on the island of Rivergate, where the only access road has been closed by damage to the Snake River Bridge, and the community is completely isolated. We have exclusive coverage from our reporter on the spot, Janet Rivera, coming to you live after a hazardous journey upriver by boat through another storm. Janet, are you there?”
Sara appeared behind the table and spoke into a second mike. “Yes Stan, I’m here in Rivergate at a large community meeting hall waiting for my interview with Sonny Walker, the County Executive and Mayor of Rivergate. We’ll have the latest news for our listening audience from the man himself… and here he is, Sonny Walker!”
The audience clapped and whistled. Sara began by saying, “Mayor Walker, we want to thank you for taking this time out from what must have been a very busy day.”
Sonny had taken Junior’s mike and answered, “It’s my pleasure, Janet. We need this opportunity to describe our situation to the wide world.”
“Okay, let’s get started! Please tell us how you’re handling this emergency.”
“Emergency? Actually, we don’t have any emergency that I know of…” 
Laughter broke out across the enormous room. Sara waited, and then said, “I mean the closing of the Snake River Bridge, the only road off this island. Surely that must be causing problems.”
“Well… that may be an emergency for the state government and the department of transportation. The bridge is part of the on-ramp to Highway 71, and is therefore part of the state highway system. How they are going to handle their responsibility is not clear at this point.”
“But how are you receiving food and other supplies, how are people getting to work and school? What about medical emergencies? Homes have been flooded. How are you accommodating the homeless?”
“I should start out by saying that this storm and flooding have caused no deaths or injuries in Rivergate County.” Clapping spread among the crowd. “No currently occupied homes were flooded. And should a medical emergency occur, we can take the patient to Middletown Hospital downstream by boat faster than an ambulance can get here and back. We have a ferry type of system running from early morning to late evening, taking residents ashore to the highway access road, where they can meet the Main street bus.”
“But what about food, fuel, and other essential supplies?”
“You may not be aware that we are a farming community, more self-sufficient than most places you’ll ever see. We have our own elementary school here on the island, and older students can use the ferry and catch the bus to Half Moon.”
“Amazing! There do seem to be serious misunderstandings in the news. I’m sure you’re aware that Governor Palmer announced on Monday that the state is prepared to evacuate Rivergate and find appropriate housing for all its residents. What is your response to his offer?”
“We can see nothing to justify the suffering this would cause for our citizens, people who own their own land. We are not in danger, and are no threat to anyone. There is no reason to burden the tax-paying public with a huge expense. This plan would not end an emergency, it would create an emergency for no reason.”
Loud cheers erupted across the room, and people stood up to clap. After a few minutes, Sara asked, “Why then are the governor and state officials considering this plan?”
“Well… I can only assume that they are not familiar with the real situation… perhaps relying on second hand news.”
Abby smiled to herself, thinking, ‘Oh how clever! Sonny is clever as a fox!’

Ghost Girl - Episode 28

THE RIVER QUEEN

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Illustration by Carlos Uribe


As the community council meeting ended and people began to depart, Abby heard a familiar gruff voice behind her: “Do you have a moment?”
She turned to see Sammy smiling at her.
“I thought I might see you here,” he said, and handed her an envelope. “I calculate twenty hours of work… I hope that’s okay, we made a lot of money the nights you worked, and please, come and work at the coffee shop tomorrow if you can.”
“Oh!” she said in surprise, feeling the rather thick envelope. “What a relief! I’m broke right now. Thank you, thank you!” She gave him a hug.
“Let me know your plans, we’re reopening tomorrow.”
“Oh, I wish I could, but I’ll be gone for a day or two visiting my parents in Rivergate. But I’ll come by Thursday or Friday.”
“Don’t take too long now,” he said, and moved off to talk to Stephanie.
Phoebe pulled Abby to the side where they could not be overheard. “Please,” she said, “find out all you can about the real reason for this ‘relocation business’ Pastor Banks was talking about. The state and the corporations, what’s in it for them? I have a guess about that… something we should discuss.”
Abby stared into space for a moment and looked back at Phoebe. “Ah, you’re quick. I can guess too. I’ll get right back to you.”

The following morning early Abby rushed to pack a few things for her journey to Rivergate. It occurred to her that the watchers would certainly notice her departure, and could take the opportunity to search her cottage overnight. The lock on the front door was virtually worthless. The only thing among her few possessions that might interest the Morphy organization was her collection of seeds, so on her way out Abby stopped by Reverend Tuck’s office. He was fine with her plan to visit her parents, and took the bag of seeds to hold overnight. As Abby headed out the gate she noticed the eyes of two men on her. “Okay,” she thought. “I was right. They’ll follow me and see me leave in the boat.” She had to bite her tongue to keep from looking behind her. Like a soldier she marched down toward Main Street, and from a distance saw a group in front of the garden center. Isaiah, Pastor Banks, Ishmael, Cali, and Alison were already standing amid their bags and a wagon of some kind. “There’s my girl!” exclaimed Isaiah. She received hugs all around. 
One of those new super-compact cars sped into the parking lot and came to a stop, skidding on the gravel. Out jumped Sara Williams carrying a huge canvas bag, and ran over to the group. “Just on time,” said Isaiah. “Okay everyone, we’re off. Thank you again, Alison, you’re the best!” Pushing the wagon like an oversize shopping cart, he led the group across the street and down a path to the river’s edge. A few feet of open ground sloped down to the water, and a fair sized boat was aground there, it’s bow wedged into the mud. 
“The River Queen!” yelled Cali, and ran forward. “Sharon!” A tall dark skinned woman in a long-sleeved tee shirt and jeans stood there holding the bow line. Abby noticed she wore a cap identical to Cali’s, with the words Black Hills on the front.
The bow of the boat did not come a point, but formed a flat ramp that Sharon had lowered to the ground, enabling Isaiah to push the cart aboard. Everyone followed and sat on the side benches. Sharon raised the ramp, pushed the boat out into the river, and jumped aboard. In a moment the boat was heading upstream, hugging the shoreline where the current was slow. Soon they passed under the arch of the Main Street Bridge, struggling against the fast water, and then hugged the shoreline again. The branches of willow trees dripped right down to the river, forcing them to duck as they glided through. Pastor Banks sat behind the wheel with Sharon while Isaiah and Ishmael sat on a bench working on the lyrics to a song. Abby and Sara joined Cali leaning against the flat bow of the boat. Cali never took her eyes off the river ahead, and was constantly warning Sharon about floating branches, rocks, unusual currents,and oncoming boats. Abby studied the shoreline and was amazed by the high water, running over the bank and sweeping away anything in its path. They passed small boats on the way, shooting downstream in the center of the current. A man in a canoe yelled out, “Fallen tree, branches, hole on the right! Go left! Left!” In a second he was gone downstream. Cali stopped talking and focused on the water ahead.

Ghost Girl - Episode 27

THE GROUP HEARS OF THE THREE FURIES

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It seemed that the meeting was about to end, when suddenly Tom Winkle stood up and addressed the group. “Please, everyone, before we all depart I want to mention something that concerns us all. As a member of what is usually called our Church Council – really the elected Board of Trustees – I want to let you know that we have officially approved of Abby’s position as church gardener.” People clapped and shouted congratulations.
“And in case you’re not aware of it,” he continued, “our long-time friend Jean Garrison is planning to get married and retire from the Church Council in the middle of August, less than two weeks from now. We need a candidate to step forward and run for her position as trustee. I can’t tell you how important it is to elect someone who supports our effort. You should be aware that the Church Council has only seven members, and its decisions are binding on all of us unless overruled by our bishop, Richard Beckett.”
The group looked at Tom Winkle in surprise.
“He’s right,” said Geraldine with a weary sigh, as if she could hardly stand to discuss it. “Fred Peterson and I are also members of the Council, and have been surprised by our friend Jean’s sudden announcement. Of course we are very happy for her, and will host a party for her on Sunday August 2nd. But we want you to understand that a new trustee will have to be elected the following Sunday.”
No one spoke.
Abby was thinking, “Ah ha! The nightmare monster appears, terrifying the town.”
The silence went on. Finally Terrence Williams said, “Please forgive my questions, but I’m new here and need to understand how this works. Geraldine, I see that you and Fred and Tom are three of the trustees, and one member is leaving, so… who are the other three?”
Again there was silence. Abby noticed Tuck looking at the floor. He had grown pale, and picked nervously at his fingernails. Geraldine was clearly reluctant to reply, and looked anxiously to Tuck for help, but he would not meet her eyes.
“The other three members of the Board?” Geraldine finally said. “Yes, well… their names are Wilma Owens, Laura Irving, and Betty Palmer.”
Chester Peterson – Fred’s brother, who had been unusually quiet all evening – suddenly muttered sarcastically, “Meet the Three Furies of Middletown…”
Nervous laughter rippled across the group, and people looked to Geraldine for a reply.
“It is true,” she said, “that they disagree with many of the recent decisions of the Council.”
“To say the least,” added Chester.
“Okay…” said Terrence, “thanks for giving us a picture. But I have no idea who these people are – these are just names to me. I gather they are not here at this meeting.”
People noticed that Tuck had raised his head and was looking carefully at the group. “I think it’s getting late,” he said, in a voice so quiet that people had to be silent and listen. “There are children looking tired. We’ll discuss these things after this meeting for those who wish to stay. I’m just glad we’ve come so far in one evening… Okay, that’s it for tonight. Thanks to you all.”
Abby felt as if dark clouds had suddenly covered the sun, promising a storm on the way. The groups’s mood had changed dramatically over the last part of the conversation. People spoke privately in hushed tones, or gathered up their children to quickly depart. Tuck sat alone, approached by no one.
But Phoebe seemed unaffected by the change, and was surrounded by young volunteers, eager to meet on the coming Friday evening there in the church basement. She promised to hand out invitations on church stationary to all young people needing them for their parents. Sara Williams, Cali, and the band decided to begin their committees as part of Phoebe’s group. The spirit of the young people seemed to rise in defiance of the gloom of the adults.

Ghost Girl - Episode 23


PLAIN TALK ABOUT THE PROBLEMS WE FACE

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Illustration by Carlos Uribe


Reverend Tuck gave thanks to the band and said he hoped to see them again often. Soon the crowd resumed their seats, waiting for the discussion to begin. People began whispering questions and comments to each other, and the murmuring spread around the circle. Finally, tall bearded Fred Peterson, standing with his wife outside the circle, spoke like a prophet come in from the wilderness: 
“I agree with all that has been said so far. But the devil is in the details, so I’d like to risk some plain talk about the problems we face.”
The murmuring stopped.
“I think many of you are wondering why these floods are growing all along the Half Moon Valley, and why Rivergate and many other places are so vulnerable. I’d also like to give my opinion on why our church school building has been abandoned and needs repair, and what we can do to fix these problems.”
The tall farmer had their attention.
“I have relatives in Rivergate, and have studied the weather like any farmer for forty years, and I can tell you that our weather patterns have changed. The warm wind from the south brings a lot more moisture up into the forest preserve, and these storms and thunderheads are pushed west along the barrier of the Half Moon Cliffs toward the wetlands. Sometimes these storms come right over into Middletown, but mostly the clouds veer off into the wetlands, hit the cooler air from the north, and leave their moisture there. Yes, we got a bad storm here last Saturday, but it rained four times that amount up the Snake and Half Moon rivers. I drove some of my workers back to the trailer park yesterday, and Highway 71 was closed as trucks brought in tons of gravel to protect the edge of the highway from the rising water. I hear over the radio that streets in Evansville and River City were flooded on Monday. So the rising water affects the entire valley. The people with money and organization, such as our state government and the large corporations, have for years been pretending that this problem is simply not happening, or will somehow go away. But as they just said in the song, ‘one of these days that water’s gonna flow in here'.”
The crowd gave this speech a round of applause, but Fred Peterson wasn’t finished yet.
“And I’ve got one more thing to say. It used to be that the fortunate and wealthy families in Half Moon and Middletown generously supported our church and its building maintenance, its programs, and its charity to the needy. But that support has diminished over the years. And now – as our campaign to fight climate change grows – the rich and their supporters are running their own campaign to boycott donations to this church. We can expect that boycott to continue as long as we insist that climate change is an urgent moral issue for us all. And I say to you, do not expect help from the wealthy for either our church or for Rivergate. That group thinks people in Rivergate County should just move away, the sooner the better, and they hope that our minister here and folks like me would disappear as well.”
Fred Peterson took a deep breath. “We’ve seen this struggle coming for years, and most of us have been afraid to say publicly what we all know to be the case. But I think those days are over. We’ve got to take action now just to survive and live with our own consciences… Thanks for your attention, I’m here to help in any way I can.”
The farmer towered over the circle, his face both serious and sad. 
“Hear! Hear!” shouted someone, amidst the clapping and cheers.

Ghost Girl - Episode 19


A WARNING FROM THE CHIEF

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Illustration by Carlos Uribe


By 4:30 Abby was knocking on Tuck’s door, and he opened right away. “I was just coming to get you,” he said. “This has become a bigger meeting than I thought. Chief Santiago brought Geraldine and Phoebe with him. They’re up in my office already.”
“Oh boy,” thought Abby. “Here we go. Why can’t things just calm down a little.”
Chief Santiago was already seated at the head of the conference table, with Dr. Bear and Phoebe on either side. They all rose for a warm hello with shaking of hands and hugs.
“Well, It’s nice to see you folks recovering,” said Chief Santiago. “As you know, it’s my job to clear up unanswered questions about the incident at the abandoned house. I think I’m aware of the basic sequence of events. Abby was living in that house, the mob arrives, Phoebe steps in to fight off a few people bearing burning logs or branches, Abby and Phoebe confront the mob, and then Tuck, Dr. Bear, and Jeremy arrive and the mob flees. Driving up the dirt road, I see their back as they run into the forest. Everyone agree with that?”
The chief looked around the table, and everyone nodded. He turned on a small pocket recorder. Abby wished this meeting were over already. “Now the surprising thing,” the chief continued, “is that not one of you has named or described any of that mob so far. Well, it’s time to go on the record. I’ll be recording this interview unless any of you wish to object. All right with you? Here we go then.”
He began by questioning Tuck and Geraldine, who both replied that they arrived in the dark only to see a crowd with torches on the lawn. The wind was gusting hard and the light was bad, and they could not be sure of recognizing anyone.
The chief then turned to Abby. She described peeking out the door and calling Phoebe to join her and flee through the back of the house. It was only at the last minute when she was sure that Phoebe would stand her ground that she stepped out, and the crowd was far back at that point. 
“I’ve left you for last,” Tuck told Phoebe. “You had the best chance to see who was there. You followed them all the way from the church. You confronted them for, what?... At least ten minutes? Who was there?”
Abby was surprised by Phoebe’s composure. In a calm voice she explained that she had to follow the mob at a distance in complete darkness. The storm clouds had blanketed the moon and stars. She only stepped onto the porch when the house was threatened, and people backed away when she appeared ready to swing a heavy branch. Yes, she admitted, she did swing at one man carrying a burning log onto the porch, and yes, she thought she recognized voices and shapes in the shifting light. But she could not be certain, and would not swear by it. A court of law, she noted, is not the place to be guessing.
Chief Santiago was twisting the end of his grey moustache as he turned off the recorder. Wrinkles fanned out from the corners of his eyes as he squinted at the group. “Now if you don’t mind,” he said, “I’d like to give you some advice… No, more like a warning. Needless to say I don’t believe some portions of your testimony – now don’t interrupt!” He held up his palm and looked them in the eye. “I’m not asking for information, or trying to change anyone’s story. I regard you all as friends of mine, and I worry about your safety.”
He looked around the table again. They sat back in silence. “Yes, I do worry,” he continued. “And not only about you, but about all of us. The situation in this town – and in this state and country as a whole – resembles a cold war. It breaks out into violence only occasionally, but it’s heating up. And it’s a war between David and Goliath. When law enforcement and justice fail, the strong usually rule. They take advantage to the situation to get whatever they want. And the weak sufer, and lose what ever they have that the strong want. A billion dollars can buy a lot of power and privilege.”
He let this sink in. “So what’s my point?” he asked. “Just this: you’re all serious risks here. You’ve placed this battle beyond the reach of justice, and that means you’re on your own. Oh, I know you have your reasons, and they may be justified. But I hope you’ve got a plan and the ability to follow through. It’s not going to be easy.”
The chief waited for a moment in silence. “I don’t want to leave you with the impression that it’s just you. We’re all taking risks, all the time. Life is one big risk, but especially now.” He paused. “Any comments?”
No one replied.

Ghost Girl - Episode 14

A BIG DECISION

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Illustration by Carlos Uribe
A BIG DECISION
“So we’ve got to decide tonight,” George told them.
“Wow!” whispered Abby. “What do you make of it? Can we trust Morphy at all? I mean, we know what his big plan is, and he’s not going to stop.”
“That’s what I say,” muttered Phoebe.
“I’ve thought it over word by word,” replied George. “Of course he hasn’t changed his plan. He’s cold and angry, and when he talks his hand moves like a karate chop. He’s not giving an inch out of good will. But he is a trained lawyer and super successful business man, rich beyond anything we can conceive of. He didn’t get there by beating his head against a brick wall. It’s clear he sees this situation as a setback and wants to retreat. If he thought there was anything to be gained by attacking us he would have done so. Our only question is this: will we also lose by attacking?”
“You know,” Abby burst out in a loud whisper, “Geraldine asked me some hard questions just a few hours ago. Do we want to spend the next couple of years tied up in court, and probably accomplish nothing? A lot of people will get hurt. And this community council meeting event the day after tomorrow has got me thinking. I spent the first ten years of my life in Rivergate. I remember Pastor Banks. And most of the people in Rivergate are descendents of families driven out of Hidden Valley at the time the old Georgi house were burned.”
“Whoa!” whispered Phoebe. “I’m beginning to understand.”
Abby leaned forward. “Now, you probably don’t know that the haunted house where I was living used to be a Georgi house, a place where the family stayed during the winter to be near town. Do we want all this coming out at a trial? Given our mission as it stands, I don’t think we do, not at all.”
Abby’s voice was rushing along when suddenly they heard the sound of a breaking stick, an unmistakable snap. The noise seemed to come over the churchyard wall. They all froze, listening. Very faintly, Abby heard a crunching noise, like steps.
“What was that?” asked George in a faint whisper. “Am I imagining things?”
They waited. The voice of an owl seemed to enter the conversation. The whoo! Whoo! call seemed almost on top of them.
“Could someone have heard us?” whispered Phoebe.
“Noise could carry outside the wall,” answered Abby, “but I don’t think anyone could make out our words from there.” She tried to shake off her fears. “Look, let’s finish up. I’m in favor of accepting the agreement.” She turned to Phoebe. “I don’t want you charged with assault. Period. Do we want you struggling with this? We’ve got other more interesting and useful things to do. Plus, I think you both know why I don’t want attention focused on the events in Hidden Valley. I mean, that’s what we’re protecting. That’s what the Protectors of the Wood do! And people in Rivergate have reason to be scared. They’ve suffered horribly in the past and are coming to us now as their homes get flooded. We’ve got a lot to lose too…”
“I agree with Abby,” George whispered. “I already thought so but now I’m sure.”
They looked at Phoebe, who was quietly biting her lip. “I’m so grateful,” she whispered. “I love you both.”
www.protectorsofthewood.com

Ghost Girl - Episode 11

WHEN WOULD BE A BETTER TIME THAN NOW TO BEGIN?

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Illustration by Lawrence Tate

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

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