Abby and Wendy

Episode 23

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

Abby and Wendy

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Episode 21
SARA INTERVIEWS ABBY, PART 2
“Children often know,” Abby said, “that the adults are making terrible mistakes. A child asked me the other day, ‘Will there be a war?’ A war could end it all. Children know that when we’re talking about war or climate change, we’re talking about their future, and whether they will have a future.”
“So,” asked Sara, “what have you, your friends, Reverend Tuck, done about this?”
“Well… one important thing is to take a close look at the gender problem. It affects not only our day to day relationships and social order, but also our beliefs, our view of the universe. It is important to remember that the earth is usually thought of as female, as Mother Earth.” Abby drank some water. She had found something to say, and decided to let it all out.
“In most communities and nations, the earth is not considered holy. People may argue the point, and of course there are significant exceptions, but actions speak louder than words. Let’s take a close look at the way we treat Mother Earth, and all the life that lives through her nourishment and protection. It’s not a pretty sight. Perhaps most people do not believe, or do not care, that it is a sin for us to destroy the future of life as we know it. It is also quite possible that a majority of people do care, but are powerless to act, because the wealthy who control the economy and the policy decisions are not willing to allow change. That is a remarkable fact when you think about it. And it doesn’t have to be that way. From a spiritual point of view -- as Reverend Tuck has pointed out – we see the earth declared good and holy in many scriptures. In the Bible we even have a holy female in heaven caring about the earth, but we never mention her.”
“I’m afraid,” Sara was struggling with this conversation, “I’m afraid many of us are not familiar with what you’re referring to.”
“In the Book of Proverbs, Wisdom, often called Sophia, is definitely a female, and is presented as a spirit calling on humans to care for life on earth and its future. Let me see if I can remember the exact words. It goes something like this.”
Abby stood up and raised her voice: “Wisdom is calling out as she stands by the crossroads and on every hill. She stands by the city gate where everyone enters, and she shouts: ‘I am calling out to each one of you!’”
Abby paused, and then said, “I should tell you how Wisdom introduces herself. She describes her history and motivations. ‘I was there,’ she says, ‘when the Lord put the heavens in place. I was there when he laid the foundations to support the earth. I was right beside the Lord, helping him plan and build. I made him happy each day and I was pleased with his world and pleased with its people.’”
Abby took a deep breath. “Do you see? The heavens and the earth are both holy. The Father in Heaven and Mother Earth are a part of one holy creation. And Wisdom or Sophia is a female doing all she can to make life on earth prosper… Do you see? This is family history, the divine family history. And later on the Bible says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent his son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through him.’ Do you see? The world is holy, is loved by God. Mother Earth is sacred.”
Abby looked at the camera and raised her voice. “There are four or five billion years for our children and all life to explore and evolve and grow up to care for our world. This is a way we can look at the universe. Our modern society has lost its way, has taken devastating wrong turns. Our spiritual traditions need to help with the rescue. Young people want to know: what kind of world are they inheriting? Are we destroying the world God has given us? Or can we grow up to our responsibility to pass along God’s gift to the life of the future?”
Abby stopped and looked at Sara. “I want to thank you and all your readers and listeners for the chance to speak.”
Sara looked at the camera and declared, “Ladies and gentlemen, all of you out there watching and listening to us, let me thank Abby Chapman for giving us her time and thoughts today. And let me announce that we will continue this story. It has just begun. Thank you for listening, reading, or watching us. We hope to see you soon.”

Sara and Abby looked at each other in shock. Neither one had expected the interview to go in this direction, and they had no idea if it would please anyone. Abby in particular was pessimistic. “I know that was… well, maybe something your boss will reject. I understand if he decides to keep it on the shelf.”
But Sara was not so sure. “Freddy might publish it. I think it’s well worth saying.”
“I hope so,” Abby replied.

Abby and Wendy

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

Abby and Wendy

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

Abby and Wendy

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Episode 17
THE JUNIOR PROTECTORS OF THE WOOD, Illustration by Carlos Uribe
Abby retreated to her cottage to recover from the shock of seeing Marcus. She could see him in her memory, casually putting his finger across his lips and making a “be quiet” sign. ‘What is he doing?’ she wondered. ‘Somehow he must be trying to help us.’
An hour later she stepped outside on her way to the meeting at the toy store. Marcus was gone. But there was Jeremy watering the marigolds at the front of the churchyard.
“Abby!” he shouted, and put his hand over his mouth, regretting his loud cry. He came toward her in embarrassment, not knowing what to say.
“The gardens are fabulous,” Abby said. “Thank you! I had no idea you would take over this work while I was gone. Coming to the Youth Council meeting tonight?”
“No, I wish I could. But my work has changed. After you disappeared, a stalker began shadowing me. Chi Chi cancelled all our assignments in the forest, and put Jim and me on full time work in the garage. They have us converting dozens of engines to run on biogas. I even make home visits and convert propane furnaces and hot water heaters. I’m now a full time biogas technician.”
“Wow!” Abby replied. “You see what that means, don’t you?”
“Well, I have a guess or two, but what’s your idea?”
“They’re using the last of the warm weather to prepare Middletown to run on biogas this winter. They must expect serious bad weather, and a fuel shortage, and are using it to introduce this renewable fuel to take the place of fracked gas.”
“Okay,” Jeremy said, “you know more than I do about it. But…” he looked at her with a smile, “you’ve got to admit I was right about some things.”
Abby’s eyes teared up. “Oh, Jeremy, forgive me… I do admit it. You saved us from a big mess. I owe you.”
“Oh, I’ve forgiven you already. Well, you’re due at the Youth Council meeting. Everyone’s talking about your return. But before you go, let me hand you this.” He pressed a note in her hand, and she slipped it into her back pocket. With a sudden panic she looked at her timer. ‘Oh my God! It’s 7:50!’ She bolted out the back door of the churchyard and entered the back door of the toy store. She looked into the storage room and saw a crowd of faces talking all at once. Sulay and Nico Shannon and Jasmin, Luis and Phoebe were all sitting around the table. Abby sat in the last chair. Everyone stared, not knowing where to begin.
“We were just wondering…” Phoebe said, “what we should call ourselves now. Who are we? Oh, we know we were the Youth Council, part of the church Community Council, last week. But after that crazy election at the church the Community Council is not meeting. We’re on our own.”
“But we’re all connected,” Sulay told them. “Phoebe was going through the plan for the trip to Evansville next weekend, and it includes all of us. But the band is called Thunder Rolling, the girls’ soccer team is the Half Moon Blue Demons, the boys’ team is the Half Moon Hurricanes, but we’re all connected, aren’t we? And what about Sammy and Reverend Tuck? And Stephanie and Sara? Aren’t they part of us? And what are we for? I have an idea, but I want to hear it from you.”
“Well… said Abby quietly, “in my own mind I call us the Junior Protectors of the Wood.”
“I never heard of it,” Nico said. “What’s that?”
“I can tell you some things,” returned Phoebe. “I grew up with the Protectors of the Wood meeting here in this store. I used to listen to the discussions from the loft up there when my parents thought I was sleeping. You all know some of the members. My parents, Reverend Tuck, Fred Peterson, Chi Chi and Alison from the garden center, Wyndaman the lawyer who worked with Shannon’s father to get Sammy out of jail. People from Rivergate that Abby knows. They would talk about saving the farms from take-over attempts from big corporations, adding land to the forest preserve, and protecting the forest from companies who want to set up mining operations there. They would talk about helping groups of people having a hard time, and helping small store owners maintain their businesses. Things like that.”
“But we really don’t do those things,” said Jasmin. “Maybe we should be…”
“Maybe I can help,” Abby interrupted. “The Protectors of the Wood began long, long ago, when some of my ancestors lived throughout the forest and farmed the River Valley. And I agree with Jasmin. We should be doing these things, and I hope that in some ways we already are. We helped save the toy store and Sammys Coffee Shop. We helped the farmers with the greenmarket in the courtyard and the churchyard. We helped Tuck when the church was in danger. We raised money for Rivergate after the flood. And I want you to know that my parents lived in the trailer park until an electrical fire burned them out, and I know this happened to many others. Maybe we should be helping them.”
“We should!” Nico burst out. “I know who they are.” 
“And we’re supporting Sara’s group, Students Against Fossil Fuels,” Abby continued. “We’re expanding all the time.”
“I knew this was good,” said Sulay. “I just knew it.”

Abby and Wendy

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

Abby and Wendy

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Episode 11
THE ROOT CAVERN
Illustration by Carlos Uribe
Soon the tunnel was dry, and sloped upward. The way ahead expanded into a hallway. Abby was relieved to notice stalactites broken above their heads. Clearly humans had been maintaining this path. It must be good for something. The hallway grew wider and wider. Gemstones, minerals, and crystals of all kinds glistened around them. And the blue of dreamstone flashed among the rainbow of colors. Suddenly a walkway appeared ahead of them, a path defined by two seemingly endless rows of stalactites broken from the ceiling and laid out end to end. The cavern continued to expand until it was so enormous that Abby was completely overwhelmed. 
“I can’t believe it…” She stared about her. “That ceiling is like the sky! An army could assemble here. Look at the colors! Look at the dreamstone… Oh my God, this is why you were laughing at me. I have such little faith. I underestimate the universe at every turn…”
The light of the mapstick grew as they moved forward. Abby felt as if she were floating, a leaf blown on the wind. 
The walls were smooth for thirty feet or so, and then irregular with immense crystals and jutting rocks as the upper walls curving into an immense dome perhaps fifty or sixty feet above them. The smooth lower area as far as Abby could see was covered with reddish drawings like letters or tiny pictures with a meaning. There were stick figures, swirls, abstract shapes of all kinds, some recognizable to Abby from the carvings on the mapstick. She realized that the culture that created the drawings had also created the mapstick. 
A fork in the path became a curving stalactite-lined avenue making a circle around the entire cavern. They took the right-hand way. Abby was stunned by the continual multitude of dark red drawings on pale stone, outlined into countless squares and rectangles about two or three feet in length and width. She turned away, and gazed toward the middle of this cathedral-like space. A large gray stone platform, carved into the form of a circle, occupied the center of the cavern. Abby wandered hesitantly toward it. The glow of the mapstick shone brightly on the upper half of a highly polished sphere of dreamstone resting in a nest carved into the stone platform. This blue globe was perhaps six feet high, but only the top half was visible above the smooth surface of the gray rock. A circular stone bench closely surrounded the platform.
‘Oh my,’ thought Abby. ‘Is that something for me today?’
Wendy had continued walking along the avenue. Abby hurried to catch up. At the far end they arrived at a high stone table, like an altar as big as a car. The gray stone was hollowed out below, creating a space about four feet square. She noticed a deep hole, about the width of a finger, in the center of the table, surrounded by an ever-widening spiral design etched into the stone.
Wendy continued walking, and Abby followed. Only the soft padding of their footsteps and distant sound of rushing water echoed through the vast hallway. They completed the long circle and stopped back at the entrance. “So…” Abby was shocked by the strange echo of her voice. “I do feel ashamed to have doubted you – but what is this? What was it for? What should I do?”
“What it was for then, and what it’s for now, are the same… even though in times long past we would be many people, mostly young like yourself. This is the Root Cavern, a root of the World Tree, a place to see the vision stone and the flame rise from the table. But you have the mapstick to light your way. This cavern was mainly used for a coming-of-age ceremony, with young people looking in the stone and then adding drawings of their experience on the walls. This is something for you, if you wish it – your coming of age – changing from a child into a person with responsibility for our world. Hopefully you will see something that will guide you on the road ahead.”
Wendy paused. Abby was silent, in awe of the immensity and purpose of the cavern.
“Right now you must choose,” Wendy said. “I will fade into the background. If you choose to look into the stone and want to add your message to the wall, I have the red paint and the short brushes we use to draw.”
‘Maybe there is a road ahead for me,’ Abby thought. ‘Maybe I haven’t failed. I have to at least try.’ She nodded to Wendy and walked along the avenue again. She stared at the drawings, dismayed that she could not begin to understand them. The voice in her mind said, ‘Follow Wendy’s directions. There is only so much time.’ And so Abby walked around the central platform, coming closer and closer until she kneeled on the bench, and dared to look into the marvelous smooth sphere, like a planet before her. It glowed in the blue light of her staff, and seemed to draw her in.

Abby and Wendy

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Episode 6
THE MAPSTICK AND THE UNDERGROUND WORLD
Illustration by Carlos Uribe
“You must be hungry,” Wendy told her. “The crows are ready to eat. And you need to wash! Some ointment for those scratches! And clean clothes!”
Wendy put the wheelbarrow and tools in a shallow cave hollowed out of the side of the ridge, and picked up a small burlap bag. Abby walked back to grab the mapstick and the briefcase. She glanced at the old woman, wondering if she had noticed.
“Yes, yes, of course I see it,” Wendy replied in her irritable voice. “We’ll discuss it at length, but right now I’ll just say it’s good news.” And then she gave a rare smile.
Abby smiled back, and followed her to a crvice between two massive boulders in the stony ridge. The opening was low to the ground, and even Wendy had to duck to enter. Abby carried the mapstick and briefcase in one hand, while keeping the other above her head to warn her of jutting stones in the ceiling of the tunnel. As the darkness covered them the head of the mapstick again became a tiny moon, and the blue glow made every detail of the tunnel come alive. The air currents told her of other passages branching off to the right and left. Her eyesight improved as they walked on, until she could see the details of the tunnel as if the earth and stones had a light of their own. A picture of a vast maze of tunnels began to form in her mind. She sensed where they were, and where the passages were going. A distant, dream-like muttering of voices disturbed her vision for a moment, and was gone. ‘Did I really hear that?’ Abby wondered. ‘And if I did, what was it? Where did it come from?’
The picture became complex beyond belief, including several layers of tunnels and caverns, rivers, and streams. Some were tiny, some inconceivably vast, and some full of precious things beyond Abby’s imagination. This map grew in her mind like a tree putting down roots and raising branches all in a few minutes. She no longer had any difficulty following Wendy. In fact she already knew the way, and had no need to follow anyone.
It felt as if only a few minutes had passed when they emerged into a large cavern. The sound of rushing water filled the damp stone hallway, now luminous with the silvery blue glow. They crossed the open space and entered a small passageway with steps carved from the rock. It curved upward to the right. Feeling cramped in the narrow tunnel, Abby sighed gratefully when Wendy pushed open a wide trap door over their heads. They stepped up into Wendy’s workshop.
Abby had seen it countless times, but had never been initiated into the mysteries of the old woman’s secret art. Looking about with her habitual curiosity, Abby realized once again that she had very little understanding of how Wendy created her plant medicines. 
A short, very wide window was propped open, and extended horizontally along the back wall, letting the breeze and light of day into the room through a screen of thick vines. Above the window bundles of herbs hung from a rope running across the room like a clothesline. The second wall included shelves of books, and the third a dazzling display of masks, weavings, large diagrams, and maps. The fourth wall had a few shelves packed with containers of dried leaves, seeds, powdered herbs, and bark. And on the top shelf jars full of powder sparked in many colors, yellow, tan, deep red, and brown.
In the center of the room a squat black stove held a copper cauldron almost as large as the stove itself.
“You’ll need enough water to swim in,” Wendy said, and began to pump water from the sink through a rubber hose into the enormous copper pot. Then she turned dials on the stove to turn up a flame, and gathered soap, a towel, and clean clothes. Abby climbed a small stepladder and curled up in the cauldron. ‘Ahhh! I didn’t realize how cold I was. Ohhh!’ She washed, her body steaming in the cool air. After rinsing Wendy applied ointments to the cuts, bruises and scratches. And a few minutes later they were sitting in the front room near the wood burning stove. A few flames glittered through the metal door.
“We’re risking a little smoke for this special occasion,” said Wendy, putting another piece of wood on the fire. “I know I shouldn’t, but for your arrival I’m declaring a holiday.”
“You may not want to once you’ve heard my story,” returned Abby. “I have bad news.” She was staring at the fire with a tragic face.

Abby and Wendy - Episode 3

THE JOURNEY CONTINUES

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Illustration by Carlos Uribe
THE JOURNEY CONTINUES
Abby grabbed the tall oval rock, rolled it a few feet out of the narrow space between the boulder and cliff, and then squeezed through, pulling the rock back behind her. Holding the mapstick and briefcase to her right and left, she slipped sideways through the thin tunnel to the stairway up the rising crack in the cliff. It was not a real stairway, just rocks piled up in the long diagonal opening. It was not hard to climb, just exhausting. At the top Abby rested in a flat, concealed space, and then tied the mapstick diagonally across her back.
She took a deep breath and set out along the ledge that zigzagged up the rest of the cliff. Soon she was on all fours, clutching dwarf pine trees, rock, anything to get a hand-hold. Her right hand had to balance her progress while gripping the briefcase at the same time. Finally she crawled over gradual slope to level ground, and lay there a minute in relief.
Relentlessly pushing herself forward, she crawled into the trees to avoid being silhouetted on the cliff for any observer in the valley below. She sat and rested for a moment, untied the mapstick, and enjoyed holding it again in her hand. There was something so pleasing about the lightness of the staff. It felt like she could twirl it in her fingers like a baton. The crows circled overhead, calling their hello in rough voices. She knew she was close to home. 
Hurrying over the stony ridge covered with dwarf pine trees, she descended into a narrow valley thick with maples, pines and boulders. Then she hit a second, much smaller cliff, a sheer face of stone about thirty feet high. She walked along it for a moment, and cautiously looked behind her and listened carefully. The crows settled calmly on a nearby maple tree. There were clearly no intruders around.
She moved through the bushes to the point where one vertical edge of the cliff face extended beyond another. There she squeezed into a small opening, and climbed through a narrow crevice over rocks and stunted undergrowth. Soon the crevice closed over her head, and became a dark and cramped tunnel. Steps impressed in the dirt and stone made it easy for her to climb slowly in the dark. 
And yet… it wasn’t quite dark. A faint bluish glow illuminated some of the details around her. She noticed that the wrapping had slipped off the top of the mapstick, and it was shining like a tiny moon. That glow had met her eyes once before, in her father’s closet long ago. 
This is no dream. Or maybe it’s a dream that’s really happening.
In a minute or two she had to slip sideways through another narrow opening. With a feeling of panic she wondered if the end of the tunnel would be open, but turning the corner saw the golden light, and wriggled out under a thicket of bushes on a hillside. Standing behind a boulder, she caught her breath and listened to the faint music of the stream not far away. She brushed off her clothes, smoothed her hair, and walked down through a small, secluded valley.
The setting sun was broken into a thousand shadows by a great beech woods. The thick gray trunks burst into long silver branches reaching for the sky. Abby crossed a small stream and took a few strides up a hillside soft with countless years of leaves. On her right, almost covered by a mat of ivy, was a knoll that jutted out of the hill above the stream. She walked around to the uphill side. The knoll rose about thirty feet, all covered with stone, earth, grass, vines, and even small trees. At the very bottom was a green wooden rectangle, maybe three feet wide and four feet high, covered with ivy and wild plants growing high. It was the door to Wendy’s house.
Abby stood listening to the faint splashing of the water, and sent forth a silent prayer. Then she knocked. There was no reply. She knocked again, but heard nothing.
Wendy’s not here, came the voice inside her head.

Ghost Girl - Episode 67

A WILD ESCAPE

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Illustration by Lawrence Tate
There was a frozen moment of shock and astonishment as people stared. The heavy door was open about a foot, and Abby was already sliding out into the raging wind. She ran to Tuck’s side door, and immediately began banging with her fist. Looking back she saw the menacing crowd spilling outside, looking her way. Hail with a mix of rain blew in her face. Suddenly Tuck opened his door and pulled her inside.
“Lock it!” she yelled. “Lock it!”
He turned the brass knob and the bolt slid into place. He looked her in the eye. “Listen,” came his voice, low in her ear. “I have word that Becky Scutter is winning the election. And Dr. Bear has warned me that Laura Palmer is calling for an audit of all finances and valuable possessions, including the treasures in our locked basement room. She has already demanded the key.”
Abby felt as if she’d been kicked in the stomach. She could hear banging on the door behind her.
“But don’t worry,” Tuck assured her. “I knew this was a possibility, so I removed your briefcase and that… other item, and hid them in my office. You should take them now anywhere you like. But for your sake, get them out of here. Come!”
He pulled her by the arm up the stairs and into his office. In one corner behind a few boxes of books he withdrew the mapstick and the briefcase, and handed them to Abby. She immediately took them and without a word ran down the stairs. 
Abby waited for a few seconds at the door. The banging had stopped. She listened carefully, but could only hear Tuck’s steps behind her. She turned the knob and opened it. The ferocious storm had increased over the last few minutes. The crowd had retreated indoors, perhaps to find another way to Tuck’s office behind the sanctuary. 
Only Sulay, Shannon, and Nico remained outside, hugging the wall to protect themselves from the storm. They waved to Abby, and Nico gave her a thumbs up. 
‘Well, somebody’s out here to help me,’ she muttered to herself.
In the back of her mind Abby had been anticipating this moment for a few days, and had a plan already in mind. Running to the tool shed she grabbed her jack knife and cut a few pieces of twine. Then she tied the briefcase to the rack over the back wheel of her bike, and tied the mapstick horizontally under the seat in several places. It stood out half a foot beyond the front and back wheels, but interfered very little with her ability to ride. The real danger, she knew, would be the slippery surface, but she would have to risk that. 
Her first idea was to go out the wrought iron door, but if a stalker was on duty there she would be alone and helpless. The front gate would put her immediately on Bridge Avenue, where the traffic was frozen. No one could follow her unless they too had a bike, or were a long distance sprinter.
So she rode toward the front gate, wishing she had goggles. It was almost impossible to see. Rain and hail blew in her face and began to soak her jacket, but she hardly felt it. Her adrenaline had given her all the courage and strength she needed. Her mind was crystal clear. Shannon, Nico , and Sulay were standing like soldiers, guarding the gate. Sulay raised her camera.
“Go!” yelled Nico. “Faster! Faster! Go! Go!”
Behind her voices were shouting, “There she is! Stop her!” 
Abby had the jump on her pursuers, but was now worried about stalkers watching from the windows of the Middletown Standard. And so she dared to put on speed despite the icy surface, and raced down the sidewalk and into the street. The wheels slipped on the melting hail and snow. It was almost impossible to control the bike. She felt sure the brakes would send her into a skid.
Very few pedestrians were out braving the storm. No one seemed interested in Abby. The traffic was just creeping along every once in a while. It was like biking on ice, but to her surprise her balance improved, and she had the strange sensation that the bike was steering itself.
Suddenly she heard someone yell, “There she is! Look!”

Ghost Girl - Episode 66

THE LAST DAY

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Illustration by Carlos Uribe

Abby awoke to shadowy, gloomy light leaking in through the windows. A gusting wind made a rushing noise that shook the door and windows of the cottage. She checked the time, and was shocked to see that it was long past dawn, already 10am. The church service and the dreaded voting for trustee would soon begin. The room was very chilly. She dressed in a flannel shirt, a hooded sweatshirt, and a clean pair of jeans. Around 10:30 she looked out the side window at the street, and saw cars already double-parked in front of the church. A woman with a microphone was interviewing people next to a WBCS van, while two photographers worked cameras on tripods. The light was very strange, almost like the last glow before nightfall, or the last glow before the end of the world.
‘I’m not used to this,’ thought Abby. ‘It seemed like it would be hot forever.’
Yesterday’s bank of clouds had become a thick, somber blanket covering the sky. It smelled like rain. She expected anything and everything to happen that day, so she put her wallet with all her cash in her pocket.
‘Okay, here goes!” she told herself, and walked out the front gate and in the front door of the church, hoping to blend in with the crowd. She immediately received a sheet of paper from Dr. Bear, who was telling all comers, “One ballot to a person, return them here or at the side door or in the offering plate.”
The church was already packed. Abby threaded her way down the left aisle toward the side door. The organ began to play a mournful tune, long, slow, and meditative. The church became still more crowded. Reporters with cameras took notes and photographs, despite the efforts of a few trustees to persuade them to leave. Reverend Tuck announced that the day’s service would be very brief due to the voting and the weather. After the opening hymn and prayers he introduced the bishop. After a short sermon the bishop announced the offering, and invited everyone to place their ballots in the trays that began to circulate through the church. Abby realized that he was making the election a part of the service, perhaps as a strategy to maintain order and ensure the integrity of the voting process. But given the sheer number of people and the emotional tension in the room, Abby felt the potential for conflict, even violence. 
As this process was going on a roll of thunder shook the church. People looked up in alarm. Soon a much louder crack like an explosion startled the entire congregation. People standing near the doors looked outside, and a man yelled, “Hail stones! They’re like baseballs!” With the doors open a cold wind swept through the church. 
Thunder rumbled again. The bishop announced the final hymn. Votes were still being collected, and people were already running for the doors, many passing in their ballots on the way.
Loud voices broke out: “You can’t even walk on this stuff! It’s like walking on marbles!”
“It hurts, I tell you! Wear a hat or stay indoors!”
Thunder cracked again, and the congregation began to panic. The pelting of hailstones against the stained glass windows sounded like the rifle fire of a battle. Many of those who stepped outside decided to return, choosing the safety of the church. “Don’t even try it,” a woman advised. “The traffic’s not moving. I want to find out who won this thing anyway.”
Soon Abby heard fantastic rumors circulating about ‘magic’ and ‘revenge’. She began to receive menacing looks from people at a distance, and noticed groups of muttering strangers pointing her way. Finally a man yelled at her: “Okay, that’s enough! You’d better put a stop to this. There’s only so much we can take.”
Abby turned to ask Tuck for help but he had disappeared. She felt too vulnerable to just stand there alone. A woman ran in the side door yelling, “We’re trapped! Don’t even think about leaving…” She faced Abby and shouted, “What are you standing here for? Go back where you came from. We’re getting rid of your kind!”
Abby saw the tall, thin form of Milton Morphy joining the hostile group, followed by his short and round ally, Bob Bentley. They began to organize and inflame an ever-increasing crowd. Bentley, his arm in a white cast and a sling, stood to the side and gave her a long, steady glare. Abby pretended she didn’t see him.
“This time we better finish the job,” yelled a voice, and the ringleaders began to move toward Abby. She tried to ease her way to the door, but as soon as she moved a man pointed and yelled, “Where is she going?”
Suddenly a piercing yell came forth from the mob. “Stop her! She’s going to Wendy! It’s all Wendy’s doing!” People turned to see Milton Morphy towering above the crowd. “Arrest her!” he yelled, his face contorted with rage, his arm pointing forward. “Find out what she knows!”

Ghost Girl - Episode 56


THE ANGRY WOMAN AND THE BISHOP

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Illustration by Lawrence Tate
Out on the lawn Abby and the children found that the group of parents and the bishop had been altered by three new arrivals, all middle-aged women. These three had gathered around the bishop, cutting him off from the parents. Two of the women were speaking to him in a confidential sort of way, coming so close that the bishop stepped back to keep his distance. 
The children flooded into the group of parents, excitedly talking of their discoveries and plans to gather food and return. The parents followed them to the crowded food tables and bought sandwiches, peaches, and lemon cukes. 
But as they returned toward the birdwatcher’s path Abby saw that the conversation between two of the women and the bishop had become very tense, even angry. As he retreated to avoid the discussion one of them raised her voice, and made hand gestures right up in the bishop’s face. She was well dressed and attractive, but her aggressive manner had an ugly side. 
An older woman, dressed in a style more appropriate for a hike in the woods, was standing alone, showing obvious signs of embarrassment. She hid her face behind her wide-brimmed hat.
The parents stopped to look, and the children began sharing out the food. Suddenly the angry woman shouted, “This cannot go on any longer! We are determined...” The woman turned around and saw Abby and her crowd of chattering children and parents. She gave Abby a furious glare.
‘Now that was definitely hostile,’ Abby thought. ‘That was hate and anger! I’m not just paranoid.’ She was certain that the three women were the trustees missing from their recent community council meeting. Chester Peterson had called them ‘The Three Furies of Middletown'.
Meanwhile the children finished their food in a just a few minutes, and began to get bored. Abby took their paper plates to the trash barrel, and led them down the Birdwatcher’s Path for another adventure. Tiny and Lucy suggested that they show the group the Secret Place, and even the path back up into the privet fort. They were so enthusiastic that Abby said, “We’ve got to sneak along like spies, making no noise.” At the corner near the wrought-iron door Abby pointed to the thick sections of the old tree arranged as seats, and the children scrambled to find a place. 
After a few minutes of silence Franklyn pointed and whispered, “Sparrows.” These plain, small birds were chattering on a cluster of young maple trees overgrown with vines. Ned pointed to the ground ahead of them and whispered, “Robin!” A red-breasted robin had appeared at the edge of the brush to hunt for worms in the soft open soil. It hopped, and pulled out a small worm, and retreated back into the brush. Some of the children gasped. “Crows,” whispered Jane, pointing above them. They all heard the familiar rough voices. And suddenly they heard a new voice among the trees: “coo, coo-ah, coo, coo.”
“Dove!” whispered Franklyn with excitement. As they tried to spy the dove a new voice entered the game: “It’s a mourning dove!” 
They looked behind them and there were the bishop and the woman in the wide-brimmed hat. “I hope you don’t mind,” said the woman, “if we play too.” The children stared at them in awe, as if they were visitors from another planet.
To Abby’s delight the voice of the owl, “Whoo, whoo,” broke the silence from somewhere ahead of them. The woman looked up, startled, and crept forward in great excitement, moving her head back and forth, stooping or standing on tiptoes, trying to get a better angle as she approached the thicket of brush and trees. She turned to the children and beckoned them forward. They all kneeled down, and she pointed up through the brush to an old broken oak tree, its upper half struck by lightening or decayed long ago, now with few branches left and covered in Virginia creeper. There on a horizontal branch, deep in the shadow of the vines, two yellow eyes shone forth. A shockingly large, dark and light gray striped body could barely be seen. The owl was about a yard tall, with a long tail. The children could hardly believe their eyes. None had ever seen anything like it. “A Great Gray Owl,” whispered the woman. “Count yourselves blessed, my children. The first I’ve ever seen.” 
Abby caught sight of the bird and silently backed out of the group to let the children move into her spot. She stumbled right into the legs of the bishop, and mouthed the words, “I’m sorry!”
He gave her a very warm and kindly smile. His eyes were brimming over with tears.

Ghost Girl - Episode 52

HAUNTED UNDER THE STARS

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Illustration by Lawrence Tate
After the Youth Council meeting and a short talk with Reverend Tuck, Abby walked back to her cottage with great hope and fear raging inside. She knew that the last six days – the entire time she had been living in the churchyard – had gone almost impossibly well. She could hardly believe the new opportunities that were opening up in her life, like miraculous gifts from her beloved guardian angel. Her horizons, her view of the future, had expanded as if she had been climbing an incredibly tall tree. Yet it was scary in the same way. A fall now would be a disaster. It was a long way down. 
The moon was a narrow crescent, already setting way beyond Bridge Avenue, Highway 71, and the swamp, out in some mythic land where the moon goes each night. 
Abby brought her flimsy old folding chair outside and relaxed to think over the day and the week. She was immediately reminded of sitting there on her first night in the churchyard, and dreaming of her vision as a child, the night the stars came to earth. The eerie feeling of another world intersecting with this one began to come over her, and she stood up to shake it off. The night seemed haunted with strange intuitions like shadows.
She began to walk around the yard, forcing herself to think through her achievements and the problems to come. The festival was still eight days away, but was already well organized. Phoebe’s plan was moving into place. The band was almost ready. Volunteers were scheduled to work on the abandoned building. The invitations, the vendors, the activities, the possibilities for raising money… the whole game plan was ready for action.
And just before the meeting Abby had heard that Glenda’s friend Ellen, Kayla’s mom, might run for trustee. Ellen and Reverend Tuck would have a talk before the church service tomorrow. Ellen had the kind of reputation that Abby thought would appeal to a majority of the congregation, just in time to be word-of-mouth news at Sunday’s churchyard gathering. Tuck had promised Sammy the job of catering the event, and had approved Phoebe’s plan to run a soccer exhibition, even though he obviously had no idea what that would look like.
Abby walked past the abandoned building to her new path through the living darkness of the wild area to the secret place. Faint noises rustled in the undergrowth, and the familiar owl hooted. The spot seemed magical, very precious. She thought again of the children’s claim that ‘grown-ups always ruin it’. With a shock she realized that this judgment was as true for the whole planet as it was for this tiny area in the churchyard. She imagined what Morphy would do with it. There could be no doubt that he would wipe out all plant and wild life, and build a new office building for his corporation, as if he didn’t have enough space in the 90 floor Geddon Tower in River City. And he would do this despite the abundance of buildings that could be renovated for the same purpose. It was all about domination, control, and revenge.
Yes, the stakes were so high in this trustee election that Abby began to shiver. Something was bound to happen. She knew Morphy would not let her projects go on unchallenged. No matter how small or insignificant they seemed, he clearly had his own view of the larger issues hidden underneath. 
Abby walked back up the path. As she approached the abandoned building, her eye was caught by a faint flicker of light leaking through a boarded up window in the second story. She stopped and stared, and the light was gone. Walking on, she took up a position near the stone wall opposite the building, and patiently watched. A faint light flickered in another window – just for a second, but she was certain it had been there. She walked back and examined the front door. The padlock was in place. There seemed to be no way to climb in a window. Finally she walked out of the churchyard gate and circled around to the Old Stone Road side of the church. The entrance to the abandoned building was also padlocked on that side, and the lower windows were covered with plywood. But Abby noticed that the stone wall continued along the side of the building all the way to the street. It would be easy to stand on it and reach second story windows that were not boarded up.
On the way back Abby saw that a stalker had moved down the sidewalk, obviously to get a view of her on Old Stone Road. The situation was so obvious that Abby waved, but the stalker did not respond. Back in her cottage, feeling tired and depressed, her mind went on obsessing about the situation, examining the pros and cons of waking Tuck and searching the building. She rejected this idea. Any stalker would be gone by now, out the side window to the wall, and then jumping down into the lane and into the cornfield. It would take only a few seconds. 
‘And what would a stalker be doing up there?’ she asked herself. ‘Taking pictures, of course. Their strategy would be to accuse Tuck of negligence and mismanagement, with a frame-up for financial crimes… and of course they’ll slander me as a witch with evil motivations.’ Abby shivered, unable to stop thinking. One thought stood out in her mind: they would surely act before the election.
She lay in bed tossing and turning, her mind repeating the same old thoughts…

Ghost Girl - Episode 47

TWO INVITATIONS FOR ABBY

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Illustration by Carlos Uribe
Abby pushed herself out the door and tried to work off her energy by moving the potted plants and trays of seedlings to the spots in the garden she had chosen for them. Her thoughts continued to grapple with the implications of the minute holes drilled in her window. Someone had broken into her cottage the night before, and had done it in a very professional way.
Tuck appeared at his side door and called to her. “Give me a few minutes,” he said. She followed him up to his office, dreading another piece of bad news. 
“Both Glenda and George,” Tuck told her, “stopped by the front desk to see you. Since I’d left Janet with instructions not to allow visitors, they left you these notes.” He handed her two envelopes. “I hate to impose on you this way, but you really do need to get your own phone.”
Abby’s depression changed to a flash of anger. “Someone broke into my cottage last night, using quite a bit of skill. They could easily be eavesdropping on our phones.”
Tuck looked bitterly off into space. “I was afraid of that,” he said. “But I didn’t think they’d jump to such an extreme.”
“Why wouldn’t they go as far as they can?” Abby replied. Tuck turned white with a frozen expression on his face. Red blotches appeared on his cheeks. “I’m sorry,” he finally said. “I’ll need time to… digest the implications… It seems I’ve underestimated the dangers here.”
“I’m going through the same thing,” Abby said, as she rose and walked to the door. 
Back in the cottage she grabbed the note from George from her back pocket and read the scribbled words: 

Abby, why is your phone turned off? I’ve got news you
must hear right away. I’ll be at the back door at 1AM.
- George

She felt that George was taking too many risks, but she didn’t dare enter Scutter’s Market across the street and try to talk to him on the job. In fact she had no idea what to do, and grabbed Glenda’s note get her mind onto a different subject. She read:

Hi Abby, the interview with Rose and Rob is on for 6:30. Come to my house by 5, bring whatever ID and resume you may have. Tiny and I will go with you to the pre-school.
- Glenda

‘Resume?’ thought Abby. ‘I don’t have any resume, or even a computer to type it on. And it’s not as if there’s much to put on it.’ But she definitely wanted the job at the pre-school, and felt determined to try no matter how hopeless it seemed. She showered, found the most respectable clothes she owned, and hurried down Bridge Avenue, birth certificate and social security card in her pocket. ‘Rose and Rob are getting old,’ she said to herself. ‘That school runs 10 hours a day. Do they have anyone to help them?’
Glenda and Tiny were delighted to see her. Abby told them about her previous jobs and very brief child care experience, and Glenda typed the resume. 
They arrived at the Todd farmhouse at 6:30 sharp. Rob invited Tiny and Glenda to the playroom and Rose walked Abby to the children’s dining room, where they sat in chairs far too small for them. Abby found herself totally at ease. Rose’s questions all seemed to be an effort to find reasons to hire her. Abby make it clear that she was only looking for a morning job. The 8:30 to 1pm shift would be perfect. Her responsibilities at the church could not be neglected. When Rose discovered that Abby played the guitar she beamed and smiled, clapped her hands and said, “Oh, just what we need!”  
When they rejoined Glenda, Tiny, and Rob, Rose handed her the guitar, and everyone waited. Abby’s mind went blank. But then she thought of a few songs her father had taught her long ago. She hummed a tune to a few chords and launched into the signature song from the old Walt Disney TV show:

When you wish upon a star, makes no difference who you are
When you wish upon a star your dreams come true.

She sang it twice and then invited Tiny to sing with her. Tiny joined in with enthusiasm and Rose and Rob joined in too. Later on Abby explained that she used to run gardening activities for families at the Half Moon Florist, her previous employer. Rose invited her to try out gardening and music as a volunteer with the children for three mornings the coming week. They spent half an hour filling out paperwork, and Glenda drove Abby home. 
Everything had gone well, but Abby remembered that after the mob scene at the abandoned house – only a few days ago -- she had said in her TV interview that she was ‘living’ in the abandoned house. Suddenly she felt certain her paperwork would never be approved… but somewhere in her heart she still had hope. 
Then her thoughts shifted to her coming late-night meeting with George.

Ghost Girl - Episode 46


THE COTTAGE WINDOW

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Illustration by Lawrence Tate
Before she left the church Abby repackaged her rolled blanket and garden tools to look exactly as they had before when they were hiding the mapstick. As she walked back through the churchyard she glanced across the street and saw a familiar stalker on a bench in front of the Middletown Standard office. Stopping near the shed – but still in view of the street – she unpacked her bundle and then stored the rakes and spade and hoe with the other tools, and threw the blanket and clothesline on a shelf. With a growing feeling of anxiety she walked over to the door. Her key turned smoothly, just as before. The lock showed no signs of tampering. Inside everything appeared completely normal. She checked her books, her clothes, her plans for the garden, the cabinets. Nothing seemed suspicious. 
‘What a surprise!’ she thought. ‘Maybe I’ve been a bit paranoid, overdoing this whole thing.’ She glanced out the kitchen window and the stalker was still sitting quietly as before. ‘Is that really one of the same men? I can’t be sure. They’re all in their 30s, dark sport jacket even on hot days, slacks. Could he just be waiting for somebody, and I’m making all this up? But there’s a few of them and they are all in similar uniform, sort of like a stock broker or financial advisor, but I’m sure they don’t work for Bentley next door.’
Abby began inspecting the cottage for any sign of intruders. She still couldn’t quite believe her intuition had been so far off base. The lock on the kitchen window was closed, looking just as before. She checked the two other windows on the other walls. Nothing appeared unusual. She even checked the tiny bathroom window that was too small for a normal man to climb through. Still nothing. Finally she entered the little room at the back that extended toward the churchyard wall. It too was locked. But she noticed a faint smudge on the windowsill. It had probably been there before. There was no reason for it to catch the eye. But to make sure she checked the floor around the window and saw a faint, thin brown line, only visible because it was dark against the pale plywood floor. She touched it and found a trace of dirt on her finger. She rubbed it, and felt a hint of moisture. It was definitely not dust. Her heart began to beat faster, and she was transformed into a bloodhound on the scent. She crawled along the floor and found one more faint line, curved like the side of a shoe. ‘Of course! It rain last night! There’s no way this was here before.’
Abby checked the lock on the window again, and this time she saw a barely visible scratch, an incredibly thin line of white on the dark metal of the switch of the lock. ‘But what good would that do anyone? Pressure there would only push the lock closed.’ She opened the lock and saw a similar minute scratch on the other side. Her eye was caught by a slight irregularity in the glass an inch or two away. There seemed to be an almost microscopic hole coming through the glass at a tight angle toward the lock. From straight ahead you would never notice it at all. She immediately looked in the same spot on the other side of the lock, and found an identical irregularity in the glass. Rubbing it with her finger, she could just barely feel it, and ran to a bowl of odds and ends in the kitchen cabinet. Returning with a safety pin, she probed the tiny holes. The pin could not enter them, but the holes were there.
‘Something made those scratches,’ she thought. ‘Someone opened and closed the lock. So much for being paranoid. I’m not being paranoid enough! What else did they do in here?’
Abby began searching the house again for anything strange, with her heart beating faster. The familiar signs of panic spread through her body. ‘This isn’t local people doing this,’ she thought. ‘This is done by strangers, hired professionals, expensive trained investigators!’ She glanced up at the benches in front of the office across the street, and once again saw a stalker there, pretending to read a newspaper. ‘It’s so obvious.’
Her life felt out of control.

Ghost Girl - Episode 43


BUILDING THE GOOD ROAD

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Illustration by Lawrence Tate
Sharon pulled the lever and the bow of the boat sank to the ground, becoming an open ramp. “It you’re staying here, take all your stuff,” said Sharon. “The River Queen and the carts are going to Evansville.”
“Yeah, we’re going to sell the new vegetables at the college market,” Sara told Abby.
“Everybody over here in the shade,” called Sharon. “Come in close.” The group gathered round. “Thanks for the best ride ever! And one more thing,” Sharon added in a low tone. “This thing.” She touched Abby’s bundle. “Let’s all forget we ever saw it, unless you’re privately with each other. Got that?”
“I understand,” said Junior. “Of course.” All agreed, looking at each other and nodding. Lluvia came up close to Diego and mouthed a few words, totally in silence. Abby could read her lips saying “The Ghost Girl is the Keeper.”
“Okay,” said Sharon. “We’re off. On to Half Moon and Evansville.”
Sara called to Abby, “See you tomorrow at 5:30!” Abby waved, and then followed Junior around the garden center to a side door. He led her to Alison’s personal office and herb storage room. The shelves on three walls were full of glass jars of different sizes and shapes, containing leaves and powders and oils. A side table held a butcher block with knives and small utensils. Books and a window took up the fourth wall. A desk, computer and filing cabinets cluttered the central area. Abby set the mapstick carefully on the floor and took a seat. Wasting no time, Junior launched into a torrent of words: “I’ve only got about 45 minutes. We need to talk in a hurry. My Dad filled me in a little bit, and now I’m all yours.” Junior was restless, and paced around as he spoke.
“Nice job at the Open Gate,” began Abby. “I see you have a plan, like a military campaign. Suddenly I’m a part of it, but I don’t see all the pieces. Sonny acts like I’m supposed to know everything but I don’t. I’m having trouble with the big picture. How would you describe our major goal? How does it all fit together?”
“As you know,” Junior replied, “this is a long story. But I’m going to keep it brief. It’s obvious that Rivergate and Hidden Valley have in many ways a different way of life than the wide world around us. It almost seems like a freakish accident, but there it is. Undeniable. Now, it seemed for… maybe two hundred years or more, that the larger world of getting rich, with powerful organizations gathering the earth’s resources to amass huge fortunes, was the way of the future. We appeared to be a relic of the past. But as time went on the picture changed. And now… with every passing year we are more convinced we have a gift that the world needs, a bridge over the raging sea. The dark side of the pillaging of the earth has come to haunt us all, rich and poor, in every part of the world.” Abby was about to speak, but Junior raised his hand. “Okay, you know all that. But you aren’t thinking about the implications of it. Let me spell them out. You know the legend of the Good Road and the Bad Road. The Good Road was neglected, and has to be re-discovered and built again. Much of the world is on the Bad Road, and people are starting to panic. But they are unsure what to do, and tend to deny the problem, which only makes them more frightened and desperate. Our job is to expand the Good Road, build it up so that other people can join in. And many others – all over the world – are also struggling to build the Good Road, but we haven’t reached any critical mass yet. That’s because those who profit from the Bad Road have enormous power, and try to hide and destroy the Good Road. And if we show ourselves too openly, we risk getting stepped on, getting wiped out. So we have to grow quietly. We have to establish ourselves in a strong way before we get too much attention.”
“Okay,” said Abby. “I follow you. That’s one of my problems, understanding what has to be expanded and what has to be hidden.”
“Right. You will be in touch with many people, and will have a more central role as events start moving. So I’m going to outline what I call the package, with the key building blocks. The first key you already understand as well as I: widespread local agriculture using the art of seed saving, developing varieties of trees and plants adapted to the local climate that grow in harmony together and not only feed people, but provide energy and other materials throughout each particular area. We’ve made fabulous progress here, becoming stewards of the forest and thriving on it’s benefits, drawing in the local farms, spreading the best varieties of seed, teaching methods tested over hundreds, maybe thousands of years. And we’ve done this while eliminating fossil fuel completely. An essential part of our way is the art of composting. No long-term agriculture or renewable natural gas is possible without it. You are familiar with all this, but now we need to spread the knowledge, join with others to make this a global trend.”

Ghost Girl - Episode 41

A WILD RIDE

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Illustration by Carlos Uribe


“So,” Abby asked Sonny, “Just one more thing before I sleep. What did you mean when you said, ‘Isn’t that a coincidence’?
“We’re too tired to go into it. You and Sharon are in for a wild ride down the river tomorrow. Listen to that rain!”
“But I’m so curious!”
“All right, but what I say will only make you more curious, and it makes me curious too. When I mentioned that you are the custodian of the Young Warriors’ story, I recalled that traditionally, the person who holds the mapstick is called the Keeper of the Mapstick, or just the Keeper for short. That hard to define word, ‘keeper’, can also mean custodian or protector. You are now the Keeper. That’s all for tonight. Get some sleep!”
Sharon was already having breakfast with Sonny when Abby woke and dressed for the boat ride. She heard that Sara, Junior, Isaiah, Ishmael, and Cali would all be traveling with them. Sharon said, “It’s perfect weather. But wait ‘till you see the river. Very high water, almost flood level again. I wouldn’t even chance it, but we’ll have the Caletas with us. Abby’s mind caught an elusive memory. “River Girl and Explorer Boy!” she said. “They were in the Young Warriors Club when I was no more than 9 years old! Luvia and Diego Caleta.”
“You do remember,” said Sharon. “I’m so glad. You’re still the same girl even though you’re grown up, with responsibilities.”
“And I’ve got to pack in a few minutes!” said Abby in a panic. “Sonny, can I borrow a few garden tools, just some old rakes or spades you have around. And maybe a thin blanket.” He smiled at her in approval. “I’ve collected a few things already," he said, "just outside the door.” Abby and Sharon brought two rakes, a hoe, and an old spade and some clothesline into the seed room. Sonny threw them a flannel blanket. They spread it out on the floor and put the mapstick on one side. They rolled it up good and tight and then surrounded it with the tools, and tied them all together in a tight bundle. Sharon made a loop in the middle to carry it, and presented it to Abby. 
It was truly a beautiful day. From where they stood at the edge of the path they saw the sun sparkle on the endlessly moving water. Abby was trying to get used to carrying the mapstick. She felt so conspicuous, as if she were carrying a spear, something people would stare at. And her fears turned out to be well founded. As Cali, Sara, Isaiah, Ishmael, and Junior greeted her, their eyes kept shifting to her bundle. 
“Here, let me help you with that,” said Sharon. “I’ll find a good place for it on the River Queen. It’s high priority cargo.” Sharon raised her voice for the group to hear. Abby breathed a sigh of relief.
They all stepped into the boat, shouting hellos and finding places to sit. Lluvia and Diego each held the end seat on the two benches, and showed off the gleaming oars in their hands. Isaiah joined Sharon back in the cabin, and helped her tie the mapstick bundle along the floor flush with the side of the boat.
“Okay, cast off that line, Ishmael,” said Sharon. In a moment she backed out into the fast water, and turned downstream. The boat picked up speed, and in less than a minute moved past the island into the faster, clearer water of the Half Moon. Abby felt excitement surge through her body as they picked up speed. The boat raced through the pillars at the Highway 71 Bridge, and they tore past the marshland toward the cliffs on their right. “We’ll run the bar at Cedar Point,” yelled Sharon, obviously speaking to Lluvia and Diego, who were poised on either side, oars ready just above the water. “Then we’ll cross right and slow way down. Just below the big boulder there’s a tree down across the river from the left that I cut through on the right hand side yesterday. We had to unload, but today we just might go through. When you see it coming hug the right side and prepare to stop if necessary.”
“Canoe dead center!” screamed Cali. 
“I got it!” returned Sharon. “Stay well to the right, slow down a little.” Diego pushed his oar slowly underwater and the boat turned a bit. Lluvia pressed her oar into the rushing water a couple of feet deep like her brother’s. The boat seemed to rock as if a wave were passing under them from behind. “Okay, let up,” Sharon said. In seconds they passed a canoe with riders drifting down the river in the center. “Cindy!” yelled Cali and Lluvia, and waved. “Take the down tree on the right,” called Sharon. “It’s coming right up!”
“There’s the pourover on the down tree,” shouted Cali. “The water rises two feet!”
“More to the right!” ordered Sharon. “Slow, slow!” The engine was barely idling. The River Queen was drifting, held back by the oars plunged into the water. The Caletas struggled to hold them. The fast current threatened to bring the boat broadside. The fallen tree was just ahead. “Look at that water!” came Cali’s frantic voice. “Way over the bank among the trees! No landing room at all!”

Ghost Girl - Episode 40

THE YOUNG WARRIORS CLUB

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Illustration by Carlos Uribe


Sonny and Abby were silent for a moment, drinking tea and eating apple slices. “So…” Sonny resumed, “you want me to be more frank in telling you what I think. Right?”
“Yes.”
“Well, I think you conceal much more than I do. You’ve got a whole picture of what you’re doing that you hide from me, and in that picture are the answers to most of your questions. But you act like I should know more about that than you do.”
Abby stared. “Okay, I’ll bite. Tell me about it.”
“It’s your internal picture… actually it’s more than that. It has a larger reality around and beyond you.”
“What are you talking about?” Abby’s voice rose in frustration.
“Now don’t get all riled up. Let me just ask you… do you remember my father?”
“Of course. He was a part of Sunday School when I was little, maybe seven or eight.”
“And what did he do? I mean, in Sunday School, what was his role with you kids?”
“He ran the Young Warriors Club.”
“And what was that?”
Abby thought for a minute, eating apple slices to keep occupied. Something was very difficult about this line of questioning, but she struggled on. “Mostly he told stories,” she said. “About the Young Warriors Club.”
“But the stories weren’t directly about you and the other kids, were they?”
“No, of course not. They were about the characters, the young warriors, saving the world from evil. Bad people were eating the world, gobbling up forests, rivers, even other people and towns and cities. It was scary. I’ve sometimes thought they’d never allow stories like that nowadays.”
“So who were these characters? Where did they come from?”
“They came from all over. Some from over the ocean, some from the mountains, some from the other side of the world, some even started as bad people but turned out to be good. And they were named after places, like River Girl and Mountain Boy and Land-of-Snow and Over-the-Sea. River Girl, was from here, from Rivergate.
“And what did they do?”
“They banded together to save the world and the animals and the people… I can’t quite remember how they got started, but the Good Fairy helped them. She had some sort of magic. They did things in secret, and won over the hearts of people who were lost, following a bad road. The young warriors built a new road… or… at least they tried to… but – this is the hard part – your father died and the story was never finished.”
Abby tried to blink away the water that was filling her eyes. She was afraid to say more, but became so full of emotion that she couldn’t stop. “I waited every week in suspense, and thought about that story all the time! I just wanted to know how they would do it – or if they could – but suddenly… he died. No one could take his place. There never was anyone like your father. We never found out what happened next.”
“Yes, very true, and I should know… Okay, now bear with me, I know you’re upset. But you left out an important character… the Ghost Girl. Who was she? Where did she come from?”
“She was the daughter of the Good Fairy. She was from all over.” Abby’s eyes teared up again.
“Okay, now tell me, is this story over now? Or is it still going on?”
Abby was sobbing. “That’s not fair!” she cried. “You tricked me! I’ve never told anyone about this!”
“Oh, plenty of people know about it. Many remember. And you should answer my question. Is the story over now?”
“No! No, damn it! It’s just begun. You knew that already, but you had to drag it out of me, lay bare my secrets. Why?”
Sonny was quiet for a minute. Abby’s breathing gradually calmed down.
“I admit,” he said softly, “that I’m a manipulator at times, but you’re able to stand up for yourself. Why do you let me get away with it? I think it’s because I’m responding to your questions.”
“But it’s only a children’s story. I’m not from all over. I’m from here. I’m not the daughter of the Good Fairy, that’s all a fantasy.”
“I hear you. But you’re the one who remembers this in such a vivid way, you’re the one everybody teased – more than teased, I think – about being the Ghost Girl. You’ve carried this experience your whole life, beyond Rivergate to Half Moon High School to becoming Wendy’s apprentice and on to the Church of Middletown. It’s your big picture. And you know perfectly well that it’s not just a children’s story. My father took a legend – or maybe it’s more like a vision of the future – from long ago. He changed it a little to suit the times, what you kids would understand. And you’re making something of this story, or it’s making something of you, or both. You’re the servant of this story, or maybe the steward, or custodian, is a better word.”
Sonny stopped suddenly, gave himself a little shake, and opened his eyes wide. “No isn’t that a coincidence.” He paused, thinking.

Ghost Girl - Episode 39

ABBY AND SONNY TALK IT OUT

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Illustration by Carlos Uribe
After the show at the Open Gate was over, Abby and Sonny walked through a hard rain back to the shanty. As Abby dried off Sonny put water on to boil. 
“Some mint tea? Lemon balm, peppermint, spearmint?”
“I’ll go for the peppermint,” Abby told him, taking a seat at the small kitchen table. “Quite a day!” she said. “You, my parents, Amy somebody -- a friend of Sara’s -- then your show… it’s a lot to take in.”
Sonny sliced an apple and slid the plate in front of Abby, and then gave her a long look.
“What’s that look about?” she asked, staring back at him.
“Amy somebody? That’s all you know?”
“Hey, nobody tells my anything. Should I know her?”
“Yes, you should. We’ve got more to talk about than I thought.”
“Well, who is she?”
“That’s Amy Zhi, daughter of the State Parks Commissioner. She’s our line of communication with her father. It’s a delicate matter. Very important to all of us, and very fragile. It takes some careful management.”
“Ah,” Abby replied. “Mmm… I see.”
“I know we’re both tired, and I’m not sure where to begin. You start us off.”
“Okay… I’ve been thinking…” Abby looked up at Sonny with a frown on her lips and frustration in her eyes. “The thing is… you’ll ask me a bunch of questions when you already know the answers. Let’s say I ask you why Amy comes to me with news about the Energy Project, and the United Nations, no less! And then schedules a meeting with me, Sara, and her to talk about what her professor should be allowed to reveal in his presentation to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change… Or maybe I ask you why I should be the one to hide and protect the mapstick. You know the answers. You sent Amy to me. But you won’t just tell me, you’ll turn it all around as if I know the answers.”
Sonny put two mugs of steaming tea on the table and took a seat. The room was warm, but Abby shivered with wet feet and exhaustion.
Sonny smiled, the light dancing in his eyes. “I was going to say the same thing to you! Because you do know most of the answers already. Well, maybe that’s not quite true. We do need this talk, all joking aside. I promise to be as frank and straight with you as I can.”
“Okay! Here we go. Did you send Amy to me?”
“Yes.”
“Why me?”
“Think about my options. I can’t send her to someone who only knows Rivergate, and has no role in the outside world. But obviously I can’t recommend anyone who doesn’t know Rivergate either. And this crucial job demands being in regular communication with a core group of people, because this project will grow and change rapidly, and will have to be micromanaged. Can I do that? Who can do that?”
“I’ll bet you let Sara make a recording of your interview, and said she could let Freddy Baez print it in the Evansville Record, with some minor modifications.”
“I not only said she could, I asked her to get it done right away.”
“Okay, so I meet with Sara and Amy in a couple of days. They want me to discuss what can be said publicly about the Energy Project. But you already gave permission for all this publicity.”
“Good observation. But remember, she only has my permission to print my recorded words and her questions. You should notice one important thing. Did I mention fuel? She asked me about it, but did I answer? How did I treat the question about why the governor is pushing this so called ‘relocation’ plan? Think carefully about what I said, and didn’t say.”
Abby took a few swallows of warm tea. “Mmm… Maybe you’re right about that.”
“I know I’m right about that.”
“Okay, but you’re still acting like I’m in charge of something here, a leader of… what Tuck calls our enterprise. I’m not the leader.”
“Who is?”
“Well, you adults. You and Wendy and Chi Chi and their father and Tuck, people like that.”
“Are they familiar with both Rivergate and you young people, like Sara Williams? Are they going to reach out to hundreds, maybe thousands of young people? And who created that public relations masterpiece last weekend? Don’t tell me that occurred all by itself.”
Abby laughed. “Okay, you got me. But on my level Phoebe is more important than me. She’s running the Youth Council. Sara’s got the job at the newspaper. Amy has the connection to the climate change panel. The band will develop fans.”
“All these people are important. But who will guide them? Do they talk often with me? Or any of these adults you named? You’re young, but you’re learning fast.”

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!’