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

Episode 18.jpg

Episode 18
A CRAZY SERIES OF EVENTS
Illustration by Carlos Uribe
Abby awoke to another hot and sunny day. Her blue jays were fussing outside the back window near the pyramid of woodchips and shredded leaves created by Chi Chi and Jeremy. She opened the window and threw them some pecans remaining from the bags of vegetables that she and Jeremy had gathered in their ill-fated trip to the forest. The blue jays swooped and squabbled, flashing their sky blue feathers with striking beauty.
After eating an apple and drinking a lemon cuke, Abby checked her timer. Almost nine o’clock. She had promised Stephanie that she would meet her about that time at Sammy’s. A cup of Sammy’s coffee was just what she wanted. And Abby felt that she needed to get back in touch with Stephanie, a very talented person whom she had hardly seen over the past few weeks. Abby had thought of a plan for Stephanie that would solve a number of problems.
Looking out the window over the sink as she drank a glass of water, Abby saw a group of people bunched around the churchyard gate. A WBCS television van was double parked behind them. ‘Oh no,’ she thought. ‘I was hoping to get through the day before seeing them. I simply must get my interview with Sara done before I face them. Maybe I can slip out the back.’
She threw on her clothes, and pocketed the key to the back door through the churchyard wall. Soon she was out the window with the blue jays, and threaded her way behind the apple trees to the wild area. After listening for a minute and hearing nothing alarming, she silently crept down to the door and stood with her back against the wall. She heard voices coming through the black bars.
“So how long should we stay?” asked a young man’s voice.
“They’ll text us if she comes out the front,” said an older man.
“Somehow I doubt she’ll talk to us.”
“I know, but they say a photo of her sneaking out the back would be worth an interview.”
“Right, I see. But they say she can appear and disappear.”
“You don’t believe that stuff, do you? It’s just one of the fantasies that people have. You know, stories about celebrities and famous people. It’s like a movie.”
“I don’t know. It seems more like real life to me.”
Abby was fascinated, but tore herself away and silently glided back up the path. As she approached her cottage she saw Tuck knocking her door. Staying out of the view from Bridge Avenue, she waved for him to meet her at the side of the cottage near the tool shed. 
“Ah, there you are,” said Tuck in a low voice. “I was going to warn you to stay out of sight.”
“They’re at the back door too,” Abby replied. “And I need to go to Sammy’s for an hour.”
“I don’t see how you’re going to do that,” Tuck told her. “Not unless you want to face that crew and get your photo all over.”
“I have my interview with Sara around one. I’ll face them afterward, and tell them one interview is enough. I’m finished.”
“So just stay inside now,” Tuck advised her.
“I have an idea. Give me the key to the side door to Old Stone Road.”
“Okay, but I don’t think it’s a good idea.” They walked to the side door of the church with photographers taking pictures from outside the gate. He gave her the key. Abby slipped out the side door and crept along the edge of the church and then along the alleyway between the buildings to the door to Old Stone Road. She turned the key and stepped out. Without a glance over to Bridge Avenue she quickly crossed the street to Stable Lane. She heard a yell behind her, but didn’t stop until she was inside the back door to Sammy’s Coffee Shop.
‘Whew,’ she thought. “Everything has to be a major production.’ She took a seat at an empty booth. Stephanie soon joined her, looking anxious. “I need to talk to you about something,” she said.
Just then a couple of photographers approached the table, taking shots and holding out a microphone. “Abby Chapman?” said the man with the mike. “Can we have a moment of your time? The public would like to know what happened in the church last week, and why you fled through the hailstorm during the election for trustee.”
Abby replied, “I think the photos that have been published answer those questions already, so can I have a few minutes to drink my morning coffee?”
Sammy squeezed in near Abby as she spoke, blocked the view of the photographers, and put his own face in front of the microphone. “I’m sorry,” he said. “Abby is here as our customer, and she has the right to eat in peace. I’ll ask you to wait outside.” They did not move, or react in any way. “Please,” Sammy continued, “go ahead and take my picture and record my voice. I stand on my right to protect this young lady from harassment. I think your public will agree with me.”
An older man in a suit waved to the others. They backed up and retreated out to the street without another word.

Abby and Wendy

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Episode 8
SUPPER FOR ABBY, WENDY, AND THE CROWS
Illustration by Carlos Uribe
Abby thought for a few minutes, put a piece of kindling in the fire, and watched it flare up. Her mood was changing rapidly. Just thinking about telling her story to Phoebe put a whole different light on the situation. Suddenly Abby noticed that she was starving, and felt faint from lack of food. She drank her tea in large gulps. The crows began calling outside. Shadows were creeping into the room. The two small windows were dim. Wendy arose and pulled the dark curtains.
“So…” she said. “You and me and the crows all need our supper." She walked into the back room and returned with her bag from the garden. Spreading out newly washed greens, snap peas, finger beans, a few apples, rosemary and sage, Wendy proceeded to add everything to the stew bubbling on the stove. Wendy was stirred patiently with a long wooden spoon. 
Without moving or looking up, Abby said, “You know there’s something about you, too.”
“About me? Really?”
“When the mob was about to attack me in the church, and I was about to flee through the side door, Morphy stood up tall and screamed, ‘She’s going to Wendy!! It’s all Wendy’s doing. Arrest her!’”
“Arrest me?” Wendy laughed. “They won’t get far. No one knows where I live, and few have seen me in years. If need be, in minutes I can hide my house like a cave underground. And don’t worry, I would get plenty of warning. Let’s just leave it that way. Hmmff…” Wendy scoffed at the whole idea.
“I provoke these people,” Abby admitted. “I was afraid you would be mad.”
“I’m always mad, but never at you.”
Abby looked up and smiled. “But one more thing,” she said. “It’s at least possible that Morphy was referring to arresting me.”
“Arresting you! For what?”
“You know. Morphy wants to force me to lead them to you, flush you out of hiding. He’s got people believing we created these storms, that we’re a danger to all good citizens. They just make things up and feed the lies to people who are already angry and scared.”
“Hmm…” muttered Wendy. “Of course. It’s been going on since long before I was born. In fact, I was born in the midst of a mob burning us out of this beautiful valley. But we pulled a trick on them, and never left. We just went underground. That’s their fatal blind spot. They don’t see or understand what’s underground, because they’re too afraid of it. Tomorrow I’m going to show you a whole new world. Your strength is their weakness.”
Abby stared. “You’re getting my hopes up,” she said. “This better be good.”
The old woman laughed. “This better be good…. Indeed! Oh my!” She could not stop laughing.
“What’s so funny?”
“You know a lot,” replied Wendy. “But your imagination isn’t working properly. You should guess these things, but you haven’t a clue. Let’s just leave it there until tomorrow.”
Abby jumped up. “Now I’m curious! What is it?”
Wendy only smiled in reply, and Abby grew frustrated. “Come on, Wendy, you can’t tease me like that.”
“You have to see for yourself… and now it’s time to feed the crows.”
Wendy ladled out a small mountain of stew into a wooden bowl over two feet wide. After letting it cool, she carried it out the tiny door, and Abby – ducking low – followed her outside into the shadows, surrounded by the sound of the crickets with their late summer song. The light was fading in the forest. They walked to a group of four birch trees that created a rectangle together. About four feet off the ground a web of branches was tied between the trees. Wendy placed the bowl in the center of the web. It slid into place with perfect stability. The calling of crows began in the treetops. A large coal-black crow descended with wildly flapping wings and landed on Wendy’s long bony finger. “Yes, yes, my little baby,” crooned the old woman in a falsetto voice. “The king of the forest.” She made kissing noises, and the bird lowered his head as if he were bowing. Wendy caressed the feathers on the back of his neck and the top of his head. “How has it gone today?” she went on. “Have you been doing your job? Of course you have… protecting our dear forest from those nasty and destructive spies! My dear king!”
With a quick life of her hand Wendy sent the bird flapping into the air. He landed on a branch near the bowl, and began picking out morsels to eat. Soon he tipped his head back and let out three calls. Five or six more crows descended from the treetops, landed on the branches around the bowl, and began to feast.

Abby and Wendy

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Episode 5
THE SONG IN THE GARDEN
Illustration by Carlos Uribe
Abby could see the garden ahead of her as she crawled through the thick brambles. And then she heard the scratchy, sing-song voice of Wendy humming a tune. Abby froze and listened carefully, staring at a narrow view of the grass, a few tools, and the fruit trees beyond. Suddenly the tiny form of Wendy strolled by, her gray dress coming down near her ankles. The tune gradually became words that Abby could hear:

Time has flown by like the wind in the trees
Who knows where it comes from, where it’s going you can’t see
When you were a child, it seems like yesterday
The years have gone by like an afternoon at play
How do I long for your glowing face
Like a love that I have lost

Who can be the keeper of the world we love
Can it live forever in the life above?
Long ago you asked me, how can I know?
And when it’s all over, where does it go?
I just can’t leave it, to the winds of time
I will hold it in my heart
Wherever I may be down the line

Please give me peace
Before I’m torn apart
I’m just one of many
Living with an aching heart


Wendy repeated the last verse several times. Abby realized that the song was intended specifically for her, to be heard at that moment. ‘Wendy knows I’m here,’ she thought. The words burned into her memory, and as time went on became her clearest, most emotional picture of Wendy’s love and life as Abby knew it. She hardly noticed the tears dripping onto her hands.
Abby pushed the mapstick and the briefcase ahead as she crawled out of the bramble patch. Wendy stood about twenty feet away, shaking the snow off finger bean vines growing up poles. She was pretending not to notice Abby. Having no patience for the game, Abby called, “Wendy! Wendyyy!”
“I see you, I see you,” came the familiar, grouchy voice. “No need to shout to the whole world.” Abby ran to her and cried, “Oh! I’m so glad to see you!”
“You gave me a surprise, my dear. Very few have come that close to me unawares in the forest. Impressive. The crows were treating you like family. Look, they’re coming down to greet us.” The band of six crows circled the garden, calling out in their harsh voices. They settled on a nearby branch and waited. 
“You had that song ready for me?” asked Abby, almost tearing up again.
“For some time now,” Wendy replied. I sing it often.”
Abby came forward and embraced Wendy, and cried into her gray hair, sobbing with relief. She mouthed the word, ‘mother’, to herself. The old woman smiled and patted her back and waited quietly, letting time go by. Finally Abby stepped back and looked at her without speaking. Wendy’s face was thinner and more wrinkled than before, her cheeks more hollow. She appeared to be chewing gum, though when she opened her moth small pieces of green leaves appeared in her teeth. Her large eyes were dark, and shone and glittered with surprising energy. The eyes had not changed. They had the same alert glow of life, missing nothing, eager to live, interested in everything. 
The light of day was fading. Shadows grew from the rows of trees and plants.
“I know, I know,” came Wendy’s cackling, sing-song voice. “You have much to say. Let’s go back and sit by the fire and drink tea.”

Ghost Girl - Episode 50

EMERGENCY PLANNING

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

Ghost Girl - Episode 34

THE BURDEN OF ABBY’S FATHER

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Illustration by Carlos Uribe
Abby sat there staring in amazement. Finally she said, “I can see what a burden that must be! What a loss! Your grandfather never had the chance to explain the mapstick. And it’s so… detailed, and so irregular, not like a plain design.”
“Yes,” replied her father. “I have memories and ideas about it. There was supposed to be a special ceremony when the mapstick was passed on, but the children were rushed to safety with no warning. Many links to the past were lost. But the main thing is that I promised my father I’d safely pass it on to my child, and over the past few months that promise has become more than I can bear. I wasn’t sure when… or even whether, I would see you again.”
Abby hung her head. “I’ve been foolish and selfish. How can I make it up to you?” Silent tears were on her cheeks.
“Your mother and I were foolish too, letting our lives be ruled by fear. But we have respect for the path you’ve taken, so let’s begin a new chapter. I want to pass the mapstick on to you today. I promised myself I would give it to you at the first opportunity.”
“What’s the matter, Dad? Why so fast, right at this moment?”
“I’ve been worried about this for years, feeling that I’ve let everyone down by having the staff without knowing it’s purpose. And now… I suppose you know I’ve had heart trouble. I have to set my life in order. But don’t worry! I’m much better. I know you’re the gardener for the church, and I’m already planning to visit and revive that ancient row of apple trees.”
“I’d love that. Please, anytime you want.”
Abby noticed Sonny with his glasses on, examining the stick inch by inch. Finally he looked up at Dennis and said, “Of course you’re right, much was lost in the Disaster. But I do recall them saying that your grandfather and great-grandfather had a special function in ceremonies…”
“Yes, an office or responsibility was passed down for generations.”
“I’m curious,” Sonny said, “when you and your wife moved recently to the trailer park, and then when Junior drove you here, how did you pack the mapstick? I mean, did you carry it out in the open, or hide it in some way?”
“I wrapped it just as you saw it,” Dennis replied, “but with more material. Then I surrounded it with garden tools, a few rakes and spades. Then I tied the bundle with rope and carried it like a long suitcase.”
Sonny nodded. “Well done! I understand.” He turned to Abby. “Let me ask you to guard this very carefully. Keep it secret in the safest place you can think of. It is a tremendous stroke of luck that it should appear now, at this moment, after all these years.”
“But… but…” Abby raised her hands for emphasis. “I’m the last person who should be keeping this! My cottage at the church will probably be searched tonight. I gave my seeds to Reverend Tuck so they wouldn’t be stolen. Men keep a watch on the churchyard night and day, and follow me everywhere they can!”
“Why?” cried Dennis. “What reason could there be?” He looked at Abby and Sonny in alarm.
“Be calm,” Sonny said quietly. “Abby is more important than you realize, and I’ll explain when we have time. But right now we have to make a plan for the mapstick. You’re quite right to be passing it forward to Abby.”
“But I have enough problems already!” Abby was almost shouting. “Why don’t you keep it? I’m sure you’ve got safe places. You’ll do a better job of discovering what it means than I will… Or give it to Wendy! She probably knows what it means already!”
“Keep your voice down,” said Sonny in a low tone. “That’s it… just slow down. No need to attract attention. For now we’ll lock it in my seed room, and you can stay there with it tonight. We’ll have time to think this through together. Okay?”
Abby took a deep breath and nodded reluctantly.

Ghost Girl - Episode 28

THE RIVER QUEEN

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Illustration by Carlos Uribe


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

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

Ghost Girl - Episode 27

THE GROUP HEARS OF THE THREE FURIES

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

Ghost Girl - Episode 26

THE COUNCIL MAKES A PLAN

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Illustration by Carlos Uribe
Suddenly Shannon, captain of Phoebe’s soccer team, raised her voice. “Hey everyone! I’m only fourteen, but Reverend Tuck invited us, so can I say something?”
“Please!” replied Tuck. “Let’s hear it!”
Quiet settled over the group. Shannon managed to get a few words out. “Well… you know, we’ve said a lot of things so far, but what are we actually going to do? My friends and I want to do stuff, get a chance to be somebody…” 
“She’s right,” boomed Fred Peterson. “It’s late, and we don’t want to lose this chance to get organized. Sammy, what do you suggest? For many of us older folks wanting some changes, you’ve been our hero. How did you get the new energy going?”
Sammy looked up at the crowd and thought for a second. “Mmmm… well, mainly I just wanted to do it. I’m an old man, and want to do something to be proud of before I die. So I took some risks, and Gilligan did too, with the concerts, the greenmarket, the soccer field, giving the kids leadership to do things. I’m a careful man, but I thought to myself, I’m being a little too careful, too afraid, and time is going by. Phoebe helped me get started. And then other young people jumped in, and pretty soon they had this whole new world going on before our eyes.”
“I get it,” replied the old farmer. “So Phoebe, say something. You’re kind of famous now, and deserve every bit of it. We’re glad to see you here and staying out of trouble.”
Abby was thinking, ‘Yes, yes! Now we’re going to get this moving!’
Phoebe stood up, looking much better than a few days before. Her bruises were only visible from close up, with small bandages covering the stitches. “Well,” she said, “I’m not any sort of expert, but one thing I do know: It’s so much better to work than sit around feeling depressed.”
Everyone smiled. All were quiet, waiting for more.
“People have made great suggestions, and I think we just need to put them together. What if we run fairs on Saturdays in the churchyard? It will take us a couple of weeks to get ready, and then we could run five or six fairs before it gets cold. Each one could be a benefit for the causes we’ve talked about so far. The first one could be for Rivergate, the second for fixing up the church building, the third about the movement to stop climate change, the fourth maybe a harvest festival.”
Isaiah had been whispering to Ishmael, George, and Eddy, and then he said, “Our band will play for free. We hope we can bring a large audience to the fairs.”
“We want jobs,” said Shannon, and the other teenagers clapped and made loud remarks.
Phoebe jumped back in, saying, “Are you all aware that the concerts and the greenmarket are banned from the toy store and the coffee shop? I’m not sure why that is -- probably complaints from the usual group -- but it sure fits in with our plans for the churchyard. The greenmarket and the concerts need a new place to open. But it won’t work unless everyone helps to make these events big, really crowded. We can’t count on large donations, so we need lots of people. And that’s our strength.”
“I volunteer Phoebe to lead the Youth Council,” declared Shannon. “And I’ll help her.”

Ghost Girl - Episode 25

THE JOURNALISM STUDENT ENTERS THE SCENE

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Illustration by Carlos Uribe
Terrence Williams, standing behind the circle with his daughter Shannon, spoke next: “My daughter and I live in Half Moon and are new to this church, but I want to say that we love what we see. You’ve got something good going on in this town, something we believe in. I’m a lawyer with a few connections, I manage my daughter’s soccer team that has been practicing behind the toy store and the coffee shop, and we will do all we can to support this group.”
The children began cheering as if they were watching their sports team win the big game.
“I’d also like to introduce my niece, Sara Williams, a journalism student from Evansville College. She may be able to present our story to the public in a more accurate way than… some other newspapers…” Laughter broke out around the group, but Terrence went right on, saying, “She may be able to reach out to people by telling the truth. Go ahead, stand up, Sara, let the people know who you are.” He waved to his niece, the new girl sitting next to Stephanie.
Sara rose as people waved to her and said hello. “Hi everyone,” she replied, “I’m doing an internship with Stephanie’s uncle, Freddy Baez, at the Evansville record. You may have seen his article and photos in yesterday’s paper. He’s asked me to follow developments here and write articles for the Record. I’m very interested in all that you’re doing, and I want to win support for the projects planned by this council.” She looked people in the eye and smiled. Her Afro hair-cut was tied up in a red bandana, and her face seemed to glow with enthusiasm. “I’ll be here often over the coming school year and I’m excited to meet everyone.”
People clapped again and a few stood up to shake her hand. Side conversations began to expand around the room, but Terrence had not finished. “One last thing I’d like to say! I think we should ask Phoebe and Gilligan and Sammy and their friends how they’ve been able to draw such crowds and help their stores prosper for all of us, despite the obstacles the powerful have thrown in their way.”
The eyes of the group moved to Phoebe and Gilligan. Suddenly someone yelled, “Hey! Sammy’s here too!” Cheers and yells, questions and comments erupted across the circle as everyone turned to Sammy, who was standing quietly near the door. The crowd gave him a standing ovation. “How’d you get out of jail?” someone yelled. “Is the coffee shop reopened? Congratulations to Sammy!”
The old man had tears in his eyes and waved his hand. “Terrence,” he said, “you and Wyndaman and the other lawyers… and Stephanie, you and your uncle at the Evansville Record, all deserve the credit. We'll be open for business tomorrow.”
“That goes for us too!” cried Gilligan from the other side of the circle. “The toy store will be open, same time, same place.”
Again cheers rang out. Some of the children and teens yelled, “What about the soccer field? What about us?”
“Yes!” Phoebe had to raise her voice to be heard. “Luis and I opened the field today for a couple of hours, and everything will continue as before. Shannon, Nico, Hoel and Geo ran over to talk to Phoebe, and people began to speak in small groups about the news.

Ghost Girl - Episode 23


PLAIN TALK ABOUT THE PROBLEMS WE FACE

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Illustration by Carlos Uribe


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

Ghost Girl - Episode 21

PASTOR BANKS SPEAKS TO THE COUNCIL

Illustration by Carlos Uribe

Illustration by Carlos Uribe


“Ladies and gentlemen!” declared Reverend Tuck in a loud voice. People broke off their conversations and found seats in a circle. “Tonight we are inviting our whole community – really everyone who wants to work with us – to take part in planning and running a series of activities and fundraising events in our churchyard. Pastor Banks and her sons are with us to present the emergency needs in Rivergate, and we here in Middletown have pressing needs as well. We plan to create events, raise money, and make a real contribution to our community and our world.”
“That’s a big agenda for a little ragtag bunch like us,” said Tom Winkle. “Let’s get to the practical stuff.”
Tuck smiled and looked around the circle. “I promise not to waste your time! Let me start by introducing Pastor Banks.”

People clapped and turned their eyes to the pastor. She was already standing, tall and elegant and formal. “I’m happy to be here,” she began, “and grateful to see so many people of good will. We want to express our support and admiration to all of you for making the struggle against climate change a moral commitment for this church. Some of you are probably aware that our town has been threatened over the last few years by the rising water levels in of the rivers and the wetlands. Rivergate is on the other side of the highway, virtually an island between the Half Moon and Snake rivers, accessible by car only over the Snake River Bridge. That bridge has been closed since early Sunday morning. Basic maintenance of the bridge has been neglected for years, and now the river has damaged the supports for the bridge on both sides. Our state officials are finding ways to avoid paying for repairs, and this dispute will go on for months.

The pastor paused and made eye contact with many in the audience, and resumed in a louder voice: “But I want you to understand that our primary problem is not with the bridge and the repairs. We’ve seen the flooding coming and have already made adjustments, difficult though they may be. We can survive while we pressure the state over the funding. The emergency that brings us here tonight is the effort by our state government and several large corporations, to force us to abandon our homes in Rivergate and the surrounding islands. Such a tragedy would involve breaking up our community and scattering to any shelter people can find. The governor has suggested that the state pay nothing for the bridge, but spend money helping us ‘relocate’. He calls this a ‘humanitarian solution’. We know they are motivated by other reasons that they do not wish to discuss. And now this damage to the bridge is their ideal excuse to move us out. But I am here to say that our community will fight any effort to force us off our land.”

Pastor Banks paused again to look around the room. There was total silence as people waited for her to continue: 
“I’m not here to ask any one to feel sorry for us, though there is a long and painful history of injustice and ‘relocations’ that our ancestors have endured over hundreds of years. But we do need your help in crucial ways, and you need ours just as much. It is time now for us to be partners, and agree that in the long run we are in the same boat. Our whole world is threatened, and though we may survive, our children and our children’s children may not. ‘Relocations’ due to climate change are already occurring for millions of people, and who knows who may be next. So we hope to work together, doing things that may at times seem small, but millions of small things will make a better world that we will pass on to our children, knowing we have done our best.”
Pastor Banks bowed her head.
“Yes, yes!” came the deep voice of Fred Peterson. The crowd began to clap and cheer

Ghost Girl - Episode 20

THE COMMUNITY COUNCIL BEGINS

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Illustration by Carlos Uribe


On his way out the door Police Chief Santiago told Abby, Phoebe, Reverend Tuck, and Geraldine that there was a bright side to recent events. “You’ll be glad to hear that the toy store and the coffee shop will reopen soon, perhaps even tomorrow. The Department of Health has ruled that neither store is a danger to the public, or has done anything illegal.”
They clapped and cheered. “However,” the Chief went on, “they will not allow the greenmarket in the courtyard or the concerts in the coffee shop to continue, due to complaints from the public… so called. It’s not like the town voted. But there you have it. I know you have a church meeting coming up, so I’ll be on my way. Please give my regrets, I’d love to stay, but some people may get the wrong idea. You understand.” In a moment he was out the door.
Geraldine was the first to speak: “Thank God for Daniel Santiago, a real public servant. I love that man… you know what I mean.” Abby and Phoebe laughed. Tuck took a deep breath and reminded them anxiously that they had another complicated meeting coming up. “We probably have guests from Rivergate in the basement already,” he said.
They followed him down to the large recreation room, and could hear the voices of a crowd from a distance. On entering Abby saw a dozen people she knew at a glance. Isaiah Banks was nearby talking to a young woman in a baseball cap. He quickly pulled Abby aside and said, “There’s something you should know right away. Join us, Cali! Meet Abby and tell her your news.”
Abby recalled Isaiah’s habit of being everyone’s parent or uncle or older brother, even for people twice his age. He had a kind of charisma Abby remembered from her childhood, the ability to bring people together and reach out to those needing help. “He must be 25 now, and probably organized this meeting,” Abby thought. She hadn’t seen him for eight years. 
Cali barely came up to the tall, thin Isaiah’s shoulder. She had short hair and a multi-colored baseball cap with the words BLACK HILLS written on the front. “Okay!” Cali burst out. “So I was leaving the house today and got introduced to the new people who’ve taken one of the rooms, and they are your parents!” Abby stared, speechless with relief. “They looked fine and everything,” Cali reassured her. “We talked for a few minutes.”
“But how do you know they’re my parents?”
“Because Sonny introduced them and said they are.”
“Sonny Walker? Are they living with him?”
“Well, sort of. Sonny takes care of a couple of houses near his land. He organizes people to clean them up and let’s people move in. It’s kind of a shared situation. Sonny grows food, they share a kitchen, like that. But Sonny doesn’t live there, he sleeps in the shanty.
“Oh! Thank you, thank you!” Abby clapped her hands. “I’ve got to visit right away.”
Abby embraced Cali, who smiled and blushed. 
“They asked me to speak to you,” Cali went on. “They had tears when Sonny said you’re here at the church.”
“I’ve got to see them! How did you all get here tonight?” 
Cali and Isaiah looked at each other. “The Snake River Bridge is closed as of two days ago,” Isaiah said. “We had to take the boat.”
“The boat! To Middletown? Oh! Tell me about it.”
“Well,” Isaiah continued, “it seems like Sonny foresaw all this flooding, because his daughter and him went to River City a few weeks ago and bought a used river launch, a flat bottomed old aluminum boat with a decent motor. You remember his daughter Sharon – she’s right over there – always a nut about boats and fishing and exploring the swamp. When the high water came she started taking ten people to their jobs Middletown and Half Moon and back in the evening. She brings supplies too. A lot of other people have been ferrying three or four customers at a time across the Snake to the highway ramp.”
“Wow,” said Abby, a little dazed. “I shouldn’t be so surprised. This problem has been growing for years. They’re always moving the docks to higher ground.”
“At first,” Isaiah said, “it just seemed like us poor folks in ‘Swamptown’, as they call us, were getting the short end of the stick again. But then we realized that this is a bigger problem… it includes everyone! That’s our message here tonight.”
“We can all see it more clearly now,” Abby said. “Can I come back to Rivergate with you tomorrow?”
“Of course,” Isaiah replied. “It costs $10, but we got you covered.”

Ghost Girl - Episode 18


HARD WORK AND BAD NEWS

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Illustration by Carlos Uribe
After a little lunch Abby turned her attention to the vegetable garden. She loosened up the soil with a spade and removed many of the stones. It was hot, tiring work, and she dripped with sweat. But the stones, both large and small, made a useful and attractive border. She was admiring her progress when Tuck appeared at the side door. His expression set her on guard. He walked slowly, reluctantly, with a frown. “Uh oh!” she thought. “I’ve done something wrong. Probably sitting too long socializing with Jeremy. But it was fun! I enjoyed it! I’m sick of these rules already.”
“Got a minute?” asked Tuck. “We need to have a little talk.”
“No,” thought Abby. “I don’t want to have any sort of little talk!” But she smothered her anger and followed him through the side door to his little dining room. Abby watched Tuck with fear, noticing that he didn’t want to have this conversation any more than she did.
“Abby, I must tell you that I’ve received news that is… well, unsettling. I’ve learned that your parents moved last week to the Cliff Views Trailer Park. Then on Saturday morning their trailer was damaged by a fire. But they received no injuries at all! Don’t worry! It seems the fire began in the wiring of the trailer, in no way your parents’ fault. And they were given a new trailer immediately at no cost.”
Tuck paused, and Abby was sure he was coming to the difficult part. “Now the trouble is… I haven’t been able to locate them. Your parents never moved into the new trailer. I’ve been told they were picked up with their belongings by an old gray truck, and left Saturday evening before the storm. That’s all we know at present.”
Tuck waited for Abby to respond. “It’s so hard for them,” she muttered. “Always trouble and worry.”
“Do you have any idea where they may have gone?” Tuck asked. “Any relatives nearby?”
“My father has relatives in Rivergate. An uncle and cousins.”
“Ah!” exclaimed Tuck. “It seems providential that a delegation from Rivergate is coming here in just two hours. Pastor Banks and her youth council will be here soon after five.”
“You’ll recall I grew up in Rivergate until I was ten. I learned gardening from my dad’s uncle, Sonny Walker. I hope he’s still alive.” Abby stood up. She wanted to be alone and think and clean up before the council meeting.
“One more thing,” said Tuck. “Chief Santiago is coming to speak to both of us in an hour. He wants us to give him a formal statement about the events of last Saturday night.”
“Oh no!” she thought, totally unsure where such a discussion would lead. She told Tuck she would be ready and returned to her cottage.

She hurried to take a shower in the tiny cottage bathroom. She hadn’t had time to clean it and found it depressing. The shower curtain was slimy when wet. There was a long rip on one side and water leaked onto the plywood floor. The soap smelled bad, like some awful perfume.
“Washing in the stream was better than this!” she muttered to herself. “And I’ve really got to get some money! I want my own soap and my own food. I want to visit my garden and take food home. I want to go to Sammy’s and drink coffee and laugh with somebody. This business of having a mission can be a pain. And I miss Wendy already. At least before I could go see her whenever I wanted. Now I’m like imprisoned in this place, watched whatever I do! And for what? To save the world? How could I be such an idiot? I’m some kind of megalomaniac, thinking I’m a super hero who actually matters. But it’s all a stupid dream, even though the world really does need saving.”
Abby was working herself up into a major fit of temper, and forced herself to lie down. Her heart was pounding, and every few seconds she felt she would burst apart. Then one of Wendy’s songs came back to her, like a prayer when you feel stupid and useless. “Even Wendy feels this way,” Abby told herself. “Even Wendy walks through darkness. It’s part of what we do. Part of how the world is made. For millions of years we are returning home, and ‘the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.’ This looks like a real turning point. Powers that be, come and help me!”

Ghost Girl - Episode 12

A SECRET MEETING

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Illustration by Lawrence Tate

As soon as Geraldine was out the door, Abby opened her second note of the day. It read: 

Abby, Be There! The back door at 1PM tonight. More important than before. With Love and Hope,
Phoebe

She read both notes twice and then ripped them up and threw the pieces into the wood burning stove and lit them. “There’s got to be some danger for Phoebe to push me like this,” she thought. “It’s like waving a red flag and saying, ‘Look out, look out!’” 
Abby lay down on the bed and stared vacantly at the peeling paint on the ceiling. “I’ve got to get myself together and eat something,” she told herself. “I’ve lost my appetite again. I’m too jittery.” She stood up and paced the room, walking back and forth in the tiny space. “But at least I’m going to see Phoebe! I can’t wait. To think of how she helped me! She believes in me, no matter what I do. Now if only George and Jeremy and Stephanie and Eddy could come too. At least George! There must be some kind of threat.” 
Abby paced back and forth. “Oh! I’m sure they have news for me. Let’s get this new life going!” Finally she calmed down and ate a nut butter sandwich with a glass of apple cider. Then she set her alarm clock for 12:30 and lay down again. Soon her thoughts rushed along like the flow of a river. Pictures from the evening before at the haunted house came back to her. She re-lived the scene there in the dark with a crowd threatening Phoebe and her with torches, and the crazy firelight bending and shifting with the trees in the wind. Abby gasped, breathing rapidly, and sat up on the edge of the bed.“Definitely post-traumatic stress,” she told herself. “Geraldine was right about everything.” Then her thoughts turned into dreams.

The alarm clock rang in what seemed like a moment later. Abby threw cold water on her face, made a cup of Breakfast Mixture and drank it slowly. She felt good, relaxed but ready, eager for the coming adventure. The minutes ticked by. She put on her trademark dark jeans and long sleeved black tee shirt, and paced the room again. Finally she put the key in her pocket and climbed out the back window. She was fairly certain someone would still be watching from the bench across the street. A yellow moon shone in her face, and glimmered on the twisted and broken old apple trees and the high churchyard wall. Nothing moved. The night was still, the song of the crickets the only sound. She passed like a shadow behind the apple trees, and then crawled into a tiny opening at ground level between the hedge and the wall. Pushing up gently through the leaves, she rose into the mulch pile. She waited there and listened for a few minutes in silence. Then she brushed the leaves off her hair and clothes, and continued across the leaves and down Tiny’s path along the wall. In a moment she entered the secret place. Still no sound but the crickets. Abby slipped the key into the lock of the iron door, turned it with a faint click, and then leaned against the wall, listening patiently. In a few minutes she heard steps, the soft pat-pat of shoes on the ground. 
"There’s more than one person!” she thought. “I should have left the door locked!” She moved back a few steps along the wall, ready to run if necessary. The steps came closer, closer, and then stopped. Seconds ticked by. 
"Abby,” came a whisper. “Abby, are you there?” She knew instantly it was Phoebe’s voice! Abby opened the door, and Phoebe burst in with George on her heels, colliding with Abby in the dark. All three wore black, and could hardly see each other. "Phoebe! George!” 
"Abby!” They whispered to each other and embraced, all three at once.

Ghost Girl - Episode 11

WHEN WOULD BE A BETTER TIME THAN NOW TO BEGIN?

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Illustration by Lawrence Tate

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

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

Ghost Girl Episode 8

NEWS FROM REVEREND TUCK

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

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

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

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

Ghost Girl Episode 7


THE PRAYER OF ALL LIFE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Ghost Girl - Episode 4

Episode 4
THE CHURCHYARD COTTAGE

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“Have you fallen asleep?” asked Reverend Tuck quietly. He stood beside her in the darkness. “It’s been a long day I know.”
Abby looked up and realized that she was still sitting outside under the stars. She shivered in a cool night breeze.
“I know we’ve got a lot of catching up to do,” Tuck went on, “but for now I just want to mention a few things. Have you prepared a place in the cottage to sleep?”
“Yes, that’s fine, I’m all ready.”
“Okay, I’ll let you go in a minute. Let me remind you that tomorrow we have our 11AM church service, and with all this uproar and publicity it will be packed, and require a response from me. Dr. Bear has taken the liberty of telling reporters and police that you are recovering from a traumatic experience. You already answered a few major questions on television last night, and a video of that little interview has spread over the internet. I think that’s enough exposure for the present. Our job now is to keep you quiet and hidden away, and let this hysteria die down. So tomorrow fix up this cottage, or whatever you like, but stay inside, out of circulation. Dr. Bear will handle the outside world for you. People have offered donations, and she will receive them for you. We will bring food. So stay out of sight. No visits, no interviews…. Any questions?”
“Not now,” replied Abby. “Maybe tomorrow.”
“Then get some sleep. I’ll see you after the morning service. No, it will be a little later than that. I have to meet with the Church Council.”
Abby stood up and looked at Tuck in the faint light from her cottage. “Thank you! I appreciate all you’ve done, so much I can’t tell you.”
“That’s all right,” said Tuck with a smile. “I love my job. We’re glad to have you as a part of our family here.”

Abby awoke in the full light of day to the noise of beautiful blue jays making a ruckus outside her open window. The cottage felt peaceful, a much-needed haven. It was true that it lacked decent furniture and a refrigerator, and needed an enormous amount of work. And despite a night of open windows, the cottage exuded a damp, sour odor. 
“But that’s why no one else wants it,” she thought. “That’s why it’s all mine.”
She thought for a few minutes about Wendy: “Will she be lonely? Yes, most definitely. And I will be lonely without her. But this is my future. I have a mission in the world, as she has told me so many times. And I know she believes it. She proved it by letting me ride Hilda.”
‘Hilda’ was Wendy’s name for the flying stick, the Volador, sometimes called the broom. Abby often wondered about the nature of Hilda, the spirit of the broom. In Abby’s view, Hilda expressed a personality even though she could not talk. Yet she could listen and move and respond. Her movements could express disagreement or annoyance, or even happiness and joy. When Abby asked about Hilda, Wendy had said: “She offered me this favor long ago, when I chose this mission. Always respect Hilda, she is smarter than you.”
Abby had replied, “But she is not a person!”
And Wendy had replied, “She was a person at one time, and now she’s a kind of angel, you could say, a gift from heaven.”
Not to be put off, Abby had asked, “But what are angels?”
And Wendy said, “That’s the last question for today! They are messengers between heaven and earth, the Guardians of all life, our helpers from the other world. You don’t think life could grow up to heaven without help, do you? And you don’t have to call them angels. I just use that name because people here understand it. Your ancestors and mine on your father’s side had other names and ways of seeing them. I wish you knew more about that!”
“I wish I did too,” thought Abby.

A faint knock made her jump as if she'd heard a scream. She opened the door to see Dr. Geraldine Bear carrying two shopping bags.