Abby and Wendy - Episode 34

GETTING READY TO GO

Illustration By Carlos Uribe

Illustration By Carlos Uribe

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

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

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

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

Abby turned and shook her outstretched hand.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abby and Wendy - Episode 33

THE EARTH’S MAGIC

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Abby mulled over recent events as she ate a late lunch, and then she stared at the ceiling. I wish I knew what had happened to Rose. The mystery seemed just out of Abby’s reach. There were only a few options, and some of them were bad. First of all, Abby didn’t believe that Rose was sick. She hadn’t acted sick. She had acted strange, even threatening, in a cold, unemotional way. She was like a different person,thought Abby. And itseems clear that Rob was just not buying into whatever the problem was.

Could it be that Rose is the one who is threatened? the voice in her mind asked.

But how?Abby didn’t believe Rose’s remark about, ‘I’m not retiring’. Of course she wasn’t retiring. Abby was only working mornings, had no prospect of an administrative job, and had refused a full-time job. Already there was more work than Rose, Abby, and Rob could do comfortably. Tom Winkle was not looking for a job. He was a grandfather, fulfilling his role as a benevolent community member, and advising his son on the farm.

Perhaps something different is threatening Rose…

Abby recalled her mother’s words about Rose being her second cousin or something. Rose’s grandmother was… let’s see… the nanny for… Wendy and Chi Chi’s mother! Oh my God! And my great grandmother was the house manager. And they were sisters. Did they die in the tragedy? I don’t even know. But one thing for sure, Rose knows about this and is not mentioning it. But what could be threatening about it? I must speak to Wendy. Why didn’t I ask her before? Perhaps I can find Chi Chi…

Abby continued to obsess about this mystery as the evening shadows crossed the churchyard. A fear of walking to the garden center came over her. She wanted a clean get-away on the following day so passionately that she had become fanatically cautious. There was danger all around. Even if Chi Chi knew something, did it matter to find out immediately? Probably not. The Chi Chi meeting could be postponed.

It was time for a final watering of everything. The churchyard would be dry for the next four days. Monday evening would be Abby’s next chance to give the plants any water. The drought seemed likely to continue indefinitely.

 

Friday morning went much like the previous two days, except for an incident just before lunch that left Abby feeling that she’d made a serious mistake. Rose was absent again, and Tom Winkle continued to play a prominent role. The group began the day admiring their new creation. The play city, now with gardens and a forest in the bright sunlight, seemed even more beautiful and fascinating than the day before. The characters began to come alive.

Tension arose over the ownership of the treasure in the forest. The children had disagreements over what the treasure actually was, and what it was good for. After an hour of intense dialogue between many characters, the children agreed that the crystal ball in the wizard’s hand, the glass ball in the chest, and even the various multi-colored jewels, all could work magic. Yet what this magic consisted of remained a secret.

Finally, the dragon and the wizard were confronted by various invaders, who denied any wish to steal the treasure, but were desperate to know what it was, and what it could do. The nature of magic drew everyone’s attention. But the dragon (Franklyn had taken on this role) was totally unwilling to let anyone near the treasure. He maintained that he had no idea what it could do, but it was his job to keep intruders away. The wizard (played by Lucy) said she knew what the magic was, but it was too dangerous for ordinary people. This idea was unacceptable to the rest of the group, who crowded into the forest. The Good Fairy (played by Tiny) had to intervene from the sky above to stop the conflict, and make a compromise. Everyone would be allowed on look at the treasure. But still no clue was offered concerning the nature of magic.

This problem was still being debated when Kayla discovered a long earthworm escaping from the soil around a potted maple tree. All attention shifted to this remarkable worm. It stretched itself out four or five inches long, and moved out of the forest toward the city. Kayla stood up in shock, wondering what to do.

“Stop it! Stop it!” she cried.

Abby prevented Franklyn from grabbing the intruder, and declared that earthworms have a much lower temperature than humans, who are hot, almost 99 degrees. The touch of a human is burning to an earthworm. She laid down a piece of paper, and when the worm had crawled onto it she transferred it to a glass jar offered by Rob. Tom led a discussion about soil animals. Eventually the group decided to return the worm to its home back in the maple tree area.

After the short hike they released the worm into the loose soil where a baby maple tree had been the day before. The group was satisfied. But as the worm gratefully disappeared into the cool underground, Kayla stood up in alarm.

“Where is it going?” she asked. “How can anything live under there? Isn’t that a bad place?”

In a calm voice, Tom said, “No, it’s a good place for roots and soil animals. All plants and trees send roots into the soil.”

Kayla looked doubtful, but did not reply. Rob suggested they head back for lunch. On the way a discussion arose over what worms do, what they eat, and why they are good for the soil. As they approached the house Abby asked them to take a look at the three compost bins. Rob explained that they put their leftover or spoiled food in the first bin, and showed them the cornhusks and salad greens left over from the night before. Abby opened the second bin, and pointed out the worms and rolypolys and centipedes. Kayla was tall enough to see without help, and was fascinated, not so much by the worms as by the disintegration of what had formerly been food. She couldn’t believe that the materials in the first bin would actually turn into the decomposing materials in the second bin.

Abby then showed her the third bin, and Kayla was absolutely shocked to see dark soil. “It’s like magic!” she cried. “How could this happen?”

Abby explained that part of the earth’s magic is to turn plant and animal material back into soil. This is how the earth nourishes the life of the future. The children had questions.

“Do worms themselves turn back into soil?”

“What about birds?”

“Squirrels?”

“Yes,” Abby replied. “All plants and animals turn back into soil.”

Kayla was still staring in shock, and turned to Abby. “But… but…” She could hardly get the words out, “but what about people?”

Abby realized that she’d gotten in over her head, and looked to Rob and Tom Winkle. Rob drew his finger across his throat to silently tell Abby to shut up. Tom shrugged with a bewildered look. The children were all staring silently at Abby, waiting for a reply.

I’ve got to say something,she thought. They’ll be even more scared if I won’t answer the question. And it’s complicated! What about the soul? Can I tell them that this has been a running debate among humans since the dawn of time? Well, let’s be honest about bodies first.

“You know, Kayla, in some ways humans are related to animals.”

Kayla drew herself up as tall as she could stand. “I…” she said, “am not an animal!”

“I’m not saying you are,” Abby replied, struggling to keep her voice calm. “I’m just saying we’re all related.”

“I’m sorry,” Rob broke in. “I hate to interrupt, but we barely have time for lunch before the parents and the afternoon group will be arriving.”

In a few minutes everyone was eating sandwiches and seemed to have forgotten the major issue they had just been discussing. Kayla gave Abby a few thoughtful looks, but didn’t raise the subject again. When the parents arrived Rob took a few minutes on the side with Kayla’s mother. Abby was sure he was explaining the discussion of composting bodies.

I’ve been such a fool! She told herself. I really don’t know what I’m doing. I’m not ready for this job. Why can’t I just shut up?

As Abby prepared to leave, Tom approached her. “Don’t take it too hard. Children see squirrels decomposing on the road, they see their grandparents buried. And as for the human soul, you were right to leave that to the parents. Don’t take it too hard.”

She thanked him with deep emotion, but couldn’t rid herself of the feeling that she’d made a terrible mistake. Kayla – and who knows how many of us – are not ready for this subject. But why did I have to be the one to raise the issue? I’m sorry, Kayla!

Abby and Wendy - Episode 32

#pleasehelpus

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

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

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

“Where do you work?” asked a voice.

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

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

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

“Yeah, but she’s news.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Exactly,” answered Phoebe.

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

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

 

 

Illustration By Carlos Uribe

Illustration By Carlos Uribe

Abby and Wendy - Episode 30

ABBY, PHOEBE, SULAY AND NICO MAKE A PLAN

Illustration By Carlos Uribe

Illustration By Carlos Uribe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abby and Wendy

Episode 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 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.