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

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

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

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?”

Ghost Girl Episode 8

NEWS FROM REVEREND TUCK

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Illustration by Lawrence Tate
“Let it live! Let it live! Let it live!” Finally the voice inside Abby moved her to tears. She began to sob, and put her face in her hands. Then she lay down, and soon was breathing easily. Her heart slowed and the tension in her arms evaporated. A delicious calm came over her whole body.

Loud, rapid knocking on the door woke her from a deep sleep. She opened the door, surprised to see Reverend Tuck looking embarrassed and tongue-tied. “I’m sorry to make such a noise,” he finally said. When you didn’t answer I worried that something might have scared you away. I know I’m late getting back to you.”
“Nothing like that,” returned Abby. “I was just sleeping.”
“Wonderful! I’m relieved to hear it. I know you’ve been through a lot.”
“Well, to tell you the truth, I have been worried. What time is it?”
“After 3 o’clock,” answered Tuck “The meeting took much longer than I expected. But everything worked out fine! Your position is approved by the Council. As soon as we get the paperwork done, you will be employed by this church, and your rent-free residence will be the payment for your work.”
Abby was speechless with happiness, and threw her arms around Reverend Tuck.
“Now, now!” he said, stepping back out of her embrace. “None of that. We do face difficulties, problems we must discuss. We have work to do. And I’m sure you need a good meal. I have a cold chicken, apples, and other food across the way, and you would do me a great favor by joining me.”
“Yes! I want to hear everything.” She followed Tuck through a side door of the enormous church building to the small dining room she had seen briefly the night before. Tuck did his best to welcome her, speaking non-stop from the nearby kitchen. He brought a tray piled with food and said, “Start right in, you must be starving! Eat!”
Abby could only pick at her food. She was following every word Tuck said. His talk was full of small anecdotes reassuring her that the people who mattered were supporting his decision to bring her into the church. But – though she was not ready to mention it – Abby had seen the crowd walk out of the church service only a few hours before. While those angry people were not close to being a majority of the congregation, they were numerous enough to be disruptive and make a public statement. And she’d heard Tuck’s sermon, and could tell that he was preparing to fight a dangerous battle over the coming weeks, months, perhaps years.

After a brief silence Abby said, “But I’m interested in hearing about these difficulties… you know… like you spoke about before.”
“Ah yes,” returned Tuck, “We’ll get to the hard part. You see, this stage of the game demands that you adapt to the dangers of our position. Always remember that some people will be looking for any opportunity to destroy our reputations. They’ll try to manufacture a scandal, exaggerate bad behavior of any sort. So please! Keep your distance from me, physically I mean. Don’t give anyone a reason to start rumors. You will be in a fishbowl, under a microscope. Keep a low profile. Be careful who you talk to, where you go, and what you say. Please, do not even leave the churchyard without telling me, and I want to approve any guests you may have.”
He paused and frowned. “I’m sorry to have to say these things… we are both in a vulnerable spot, and so are all our friends.”
Tuck was straining to find the right words, but Abby felt her energy and strength return. She was glad to have the bad news out on the table, though she suspected he was still hiding the worst of it. “I can take it,” she replied. “I’ve been under pressure for a long time.”
Tuck smiled and breathed a sigh of relief. “Well now,” he said, “that’s much better. Of course I know there’s more to you than meets the eye. I’ll begin by pointing out that you hide a lot more of your life than I do of mine. But all of us sharing this struggle have to be very good at keeping secrets… and so far, by the grace of God, we’ve been successful.”
Tuck leaned forward and continued quietly, “Though I will never refer to this except in absolute privacy, I believe you are Wendy’s… student?... disciple? Almost like a daughter? You know far more than I do about Wendy’s… what would you call it? Great enterprise? Grand project?”
“People already think I’m strange,” replied Abby. “Some are even afraid of me. Let’s not give anyone the idea that I know or represent Wendy.”
“I understand,” returned Tuck. “I’m a very careful man. But I must ask one question: Did Wendy send you here to me on purpose? Is that part of her plan, her mission? It will help me to know.”
“We agreed on it,” Abby said. “Yes.”
“Ah!” exclaimed Tuck. “This looks better and better.”

We're excited that Protectors of the Wood #1, Phoebe Comes Home, is listed as #13 on the Goodreads list of Best eco-fiction! Please give us your vote and make us #1, just click the link to Goodreads and vote! Many thanks from all of us at Protectors of the Wood.

Ghost Girl Episode 7


THE PRAYER OF ALL LIFE

Heart of the Earth composed by John Kixmiller and sung by Tamara Kachelmeier

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THE PRAYER OF ALL LIFE, illustration by Carlos Uribe
Back in the tiny churchyard cottage, Abby’s mind was flooded with too many questions to think clearly. She needed someone to talk to. Suddenly she felt very alone and scared, practically imprisoned in the churchyard, isolated from her friends. She began to pace around the room, disturbed by a feeling that she was missing something. With a sudden inspiration she remembered the envelope from the grocery bag brought by Geraldine, and her hand flew to her pocket. There it was, plain and small and thin, with her name written boldly on the front in pencil. She tore it open and discovered a note from Phoebe. Feeling her heart pounding, she read:

Abby -- I miss you already! I’d like to give you time to get settled, but things have come up that we should talk about right away. As you know, Tuck is not allowing us in the churchyard, and you will be watched and followed wherever you go. The men from that mob last night are likely to be pretty nervous about the outcome of all this. I’m sure George wants to see you, but I think it’s too risky for him. But I will come to the back door of the churchyard, tonight at 1AM. I’ll continue to send notes through Geraldine, who is very cooperative.
With Love and Hope,
Phoebe

“Ah!” thought Abby with relief. “That helps. But why does Phoebe need to see me so badly? And why is it especially dangerous for George?” She began to pace around the tiny cottage like a caged animal. “And where is Reverend Tuck?” she wondered. “This Church Council meeting seems to be going on for a long time.”
Abby recalled everything she knew about the Church Council. The picture that came to mind was not reassuring. The Council would be voting, maybe at that very moment, on whether or not to allow her to be the church gardener and live in the cottage rent-free. She had moved heaven and earth to achieve this change, and was already planning the gardens and orchards she would plant, a dazzling array of vegetables, fruits, and flowers, all from Wendy’s seeds and cuttings.
“My seeds! Oh my God, I don’t have my seeds!” She remembered in a panic that her seeds were carefully hidden behind a decaying sheet rock wall on the second floor of the haunted house. Her guitar and whistles were back there too. And her bike was under the floorboards of the broken porch. Abby felt certain that the haunted house would be thoroughly searched sometime soon, if it had not happened already. Her seeds had been carefully chosen over years of planting in Wendy’s gardens. They were an irreplaceable treasure. Worrying frantically about the council meeting and her prized possessions, Abby could not sit still, and felt her heart race. The loss of her new home would leave her with nowhere to go. It was all more than she could bear.
“Help me! Help me!” In her thoughts she called out, looking for the voice of her inner friend, the green being from her vision. 

Thumbing through her copy of Black Elk Speaks, she was reminded of a strange idea that had grown in her heart since childhood. Many times she had been moved to tears by the words near the end of the book, the part where Black Elk says, “And I, to whom so great a vision was given in my youth – you see me now a pitiful old man who has done nothing, for the nation’s hoop is broken and scattered. There is no center any longer, and the sacred tree is dead.”
And then Abby turned to his last words in the book, where Black Elk prays from a mountaintop, crying aloud:
“It may be that some little root of the sacred tree still lives. Nourish it then, that it may leaf and bloom and fill with singing birds… In sorrow I am sending a feeble voice, O Six Powers of the World. Hear me in my sorrow, for I may never call again. O make my people live!”

Each time Abby read these words, she thought of the urgent sadness in the eyes of the green being, her earth angel, and she imagined that Black Elk and the angel were the same being, that an angel had been born as Black Elk, and became an angel again when he died, a guardian of souls, and of all life. And his vision, his dream of helping the sacred tree to live – that dream was not dead, but was fought for by angels, and lived in the heart of humans. Wendy had taught Abby that this is the prayer of all life.

“Let it live! Let it live! Let it live!” came the voice, surging with fierce energy inside her. 

We're excited that Protectors of the Wood #1, Phoebe Comes Home, is listed as #13 on the Goodreads list of Best eco-fiction! Please give us your vote and make us #1, just click the link to Goodreads and vote! Many thanks from all of us at Protectors of the Wood.

Ghost Girl - Episode 6

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE CHALLENGE OF OUR TIME illustration by Carlos Uribe

Ghost Girl - Episode 2

Episode 2
THE GUARDIANS OF THIS WORLD

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They arrived in a large meadow Abby had never seen before or since – a meadow like a great cathedral between rows of tall trees with branches arching above like a vault.
“Wendy, what’s going to happen?” Abby asked in fear.
The Guardians are coming,” Wendy replied. “The Guardians of this world.”
The stars came down as many spheres of searing light, a throng that assembled around the meadow in a vast circle. Abby could distinguish some of their features by shades of shadow amid the radiant glow of their bodies. They were strikingly beautiful, pulsing with color and a sort of musical hum, the uncanny melody.

One of these glorious beings stepped forward, bright with a reddish light even to the hair and skin. Another entered from behind Abby and stood next to the first. This second being presented a radically different appearance, with skin a dark green color, and a smooth head that came to a point like certain kinds of fish. The body was partly covered with clothing like leaves in autumn, and glowed with a greenish glimmer. Abby risked taking a look at the glistening eyes, and found them staring back with great urgency and sorrow. Wendy appeared dim, frail, and tiny amidst these beings from the sky, and Abby felt even smaller and totally useless. Her whole body was shivering. “What am I doing here?” she wondered over and over.

The being with the red glow advanced even closer, and Abby saw a face so beautiful she felt her heart jump. The pupils of the eyes sparkled with an intensity of life and color she could hardly endure. 
“Yes?” asked the being in a warm voice with an undertone of anxiety. “As you see, we have come.”
“I am forever grateful,” said Wendy in her broken voice. “I present one of the young warriors, as you have foreseen.”
“Their future leader?”
“No, for they will have many leaders. She will be their representative to you.”
“Why do we need such a person?” asked the being. The sparkling eyes gave Abby a piercing look that made her turn away.
“My work draws to a close in the coming years,” replied Wendy. “But the transformation on earth will go on for a long time, nearly a century. Trust me, this meeting will prove important for all of us.”
Abby shuddered. “Her work draws to a close?” she thought frantically. “No! I need her!”
“We shall see…” said the being, conveying uncertainty and doubt. The glowing eyes of the multitude were riveted on Abby, and she felt her heart racing. “Yes,” said the being, who had stared long at Abby. “She has the talent, if it develops. Dreamstone will help her.”
“So… You will know her,” said Wendy.

“I will,” said the red being. Then he raised his voice: “But tell us! Your long labors draw to a close? Yet the most important things are left undone! You stay in retreat and do not cooperate with Teresa!” The being paused as if to control the anxiety pouring out, and the voice became sad. “You have given complete devotion to this work, yet you have accomplished very little given the need. Yes, yes, we know you have potential and strength in reserve…”
The red being paused, staring at Wendy, and then said in a tone of fierce warning: “But we also know that this great era of time is coming to the crisis, and you do not seem ready! Eons of development are in danger. The outcome is shrouded in darkness!”
“I chose the dark path on purpose,” replied Wendy, her voice uneven and frail. “I am hidden until the end, but that does not mean I am unready. And never forget that I cannot force people and events. I must inspire them. People are as free as ourselves to choose their path.”

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

THE GHOST GIRL (Book III) 

by John KixMiller