Abby and Wendy

Episode 25
A WARNING FROM REVEREND TUCK

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Illustration by Carlos Uribe
The leaves and sticks the children had collected made quite a mess on the playroom floor. Nancy began crumpling the leaves into small pieces and raining them down on the city of blocks. Ned asked if he could have a fireplace. When Rob agreed Ned collected a pile of sticks inside his house. Lucy decided that the sand was actually snow, and tossed it over the city until Rob asked if she wanted to start sweeping. Franklyn scowled at her for throwing sand on his house, and stood up. “It’s starting to rain!” he told them. “The river is starting to flood!” He wiggled the blue blanket representing the river so that it spread out, covering some streets and vehicles, and knocking over blocks. “We have to save the city!” shouted Jane, and pushed the blanket back.
Abby felt that they needed a change, and asked Rob if the group might like a song. He immediately agreed, and they sang every children’s song Abby knew until Rose announced soup and sandwiches were ready in the kitchen. Soon the parents began to arrive, and Abby rode off on her bike, wondering how the children’s activity might be improved tomorrow. The problem definitely needed some thought.
After picking the vegetables finally ripening in the church garden, Abby cooked a vegetable stew and wondered when her child-care papers might be approved by the state so that she could start getting paid. The sun was scorching. She stayed inside worrying until the day began to cool, and then she spent a couple of hours watering everything growing in the churchyard. The unusually dry weather was causing the leaves to fall early. Patches of grass were dry and brown.
Twilight was turning to dark as she finished her work. A full moon was rising, an enormous golden globe shining down.
“Ah, Abby, I’m glad to catch you for a moment.” It was Reverend Tuck gliding toward her, a shadowy presence in his dark clothes. “It’s a lovely moon,” he said. “And the yard is doing beautifully.” 
Abby knew something was on Tuck’s mind. “How’s the job at the pre-school?” he asked. 
“Well, it’s not really a job yet. I’m volunteering until the state approves my papers.”
“I thought so,” Tuck replied. “Please allow me to lend you this fifty dollars here.” He folded the bills into her hand. “I won’t take “no” for an answer. Just keep volunteering. It’s the best thing for you right now.”
“Oh! Thank you! But… why do you say, ‘right now’? Is something about to happen?”
“It’s this media attention,” Tuck replied. “I’d like to shield you from it as much as possible. If you’re working all the time you’ll stay out of trouble.”
“What kind of trouble do you expect?” Abby was forcing Tuck to come to the point.
“I told you this would happen,” Tuck said. “Many of the newspapers have been making your disappearance from the coffee shop into a shocking story. Remember how mad those journalists were? They’ve discovered that mysterious disappearances are popular. On television they’re interviewing people who swear you vanished. Those who are trying to push us out of this church and out of Middletown… they like to frighten people by making them believe that you are somehow supernatural, have some sort of magic. And our friends are interested in this sort of talk as well. So there’s a big audience for these stories, and I want you to stay away from it.”
“You and I both!” cried Abby.
“Okay then, listen carefully.” Tuck was whispering. “You simply must stay away from those underground tunnels. I’ll say it once and never mention it again. You risk arousing speculation about things that should be left alone. And it’s only going to get worse when that video of your interview with Sara comes out. You’ll have reporters and stalkers of all kinds. You’ll have to find ways of avoiding them. The best answer is to be working most of the time, and unavailable the rest. You hear me?”
Abby nodded. “I was thinking of being invisible this weekend. I’ll be gone from late Friday through Sunday evening.”
“That will start rumors of your disappearance again,” said Tuck, shaking his head.
“But I’m damned if I do and damned if I don’t! Staying here sounds awful. The bishop will preach some sort of follow-up to my video interview, and there will be a mob around the church. Let them argue with the bishop, or you.”
“You have a point. It might work if you leave quietly, with no incident, no story. Maybe the talk will die down.”
“I’m trying to be normal,” Abby said. “Normal people go away for the weekend sometimes.”
Tuck smiled. “Good… it’s a beautiful night. Take care.”
“And Reverend Tuck… thanks for the fifty dollars. I really need it.”
To her surprise he held out a fist, and she met it with her own.

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 22
TRYING TO BE NORMAL
That night Abby had trouble falling asleep. She was struggling to understand Wendy’s advice. “Just be normal,” Wendy had said. 
‘But what does that mean,’ Abby wondered. ‘How can I do that? What is normal these days? How can I even show up at tomorrow’s church service after that crazy fiasco over the election for trustee?’
But the following morning Abby forced herself to attend, and found Police Chief Santiago at one door and Officer Harley at the other, and a large but quiet and well-behaved crowd inside. Interviews and video cameras had been banned from the sanctuary. And most wonderful of all, Abby found herself surrounded by friends, seated on both sides and directly behind her. It was a relief to feel safe.
Of course the crowd was waiting to find out who won the election, and expected the bishop to make an announcement as soon as he was introduced. But his words disappointed almost everyone: “Nobody will learn who won today. Because nobody won.” He went on to explain that one candidate had withdrawn due to receiving threats. “The spiritual community functions by agreements,” he said. “But our congregation cannot agree on how to live as one community. Therefore we will struggle forward with only six trustees who are often divided. I believe we can all use a good lesson in how to live together.”
When the service came to a close Abby and her friends rose as a group. They hugged each other and spoke softly. A few others joined them with greetings and expressions of joy that Abby had safely returned. She was overwhelmed by this reception, and was close to tears of happiness. Not since childhood had she felt such a warm response from a group of people. Sara maneuvered through the crowd up to Abby’s ear, and said, “Come to Tuck’s office in twenty minutes. Important meeting.”
Abby nodded. ‘Oh my,’ she thought. ‘It’s about that interview. If they don’t like it, let them make it disappear. I can see why Wendy wants me to be normal. She means low profile. That will do for me.”
Back in the cottage she lay in bed and looked at the ceiling. She felt weak and dizzy, and began to dream. She was in a boat zooming down the Half Moon River, carried along by the flood as if she were on a rollercoaster flying through the sky.
Suddenly with a jerk she sat up. ‘I’m late!’ She ran to the front door of the church. Janet turned from her computer and said, “Hurry along, dear. They’re all in Reverend Tuck’s office.”
The door was a few inches open, and Abby peeked into the room. “There you are,” said Tuck. "Just in time. Please join us.” Sara, Freddy Baez, the bishop, and Tuck were seated around the long table. A television screen was set up at one end. 
“You know Freddy Baez, don’t you, Abby?” asked Tuck. Her mind was a blank.
“Of course,” Freddy replied. “We met after the concert at the coffee shop. Here, Abby, take this chair next to me.” Abby waved to Sara, as if to say, ‘What gives?’ Sara smiled and shrugged. ‘She’s not sure,’ thought Abby.
The bishop was the first to speak. “Let me thank you all for being here. I’m grateful and eager to get started. We must decide the future of Sara’s recent interview with Abby. Since everything is controversial these days, and the interview was recorded on church grounds, many will see Abby as speaking for Tuck and myself.” 
‘Look at his face,’ thought Abby. ‘His eyes are shining like stars.’
“Now of course,” the bishop continued, “the interview is important to Freddy as a newspaper editor, and to Sara as a friend and colleague of all of us. And it’s hard to overestimate the burden carried by Reverend Tuck, whose position here is controversial to say the least. So… I suggest we take a look at this video and talk it over.”
Everyone nodded. “Let me mention,” Freddy said, “that we have not edited out a single word of this interview. We would like to publish it as is.”
Tuck turned off the lights, and the group watched in silence. 
Afterwards, the bishop said, “Well? We know Freddy’s opinion. How about the rest of you?”
“I can’t help but notice,” Sara replied, “that you haven’t mentioned Abby yet.”
Abby was looking down at the table. The group turned to her and waited. She finally raised her head and said, “I’m sorry to cause such trouble to all you busy people. I knew I had to talk to a reporter at some point, and I really didn’t want to bring other people into the picture, so I handled it the way you see. But I realize that I’ve put all of you to a great deal of trouble. I won’t mind if we just erase the video and forget about it.”
“I appreciate that,” returned the bishop. “But for the sake of argument, let’s assume that we all want to publish it. What would you personally want to do?”
“I definitely want to publish it,” said Tuck. “It’s either that or retire early.”
“If Abby agrees, then I agree,” added Sara.
“I’m worried about Abby,” the bishop spoke softly. “Personally, I’m in favor of the video, but why should she carry the burden?”
“But all of you are not helping me decide!” Abby was almost shouting. “I ask you: Will it do good or bad? Will it help our world or harm it? I think I deserve an answer.”
“None of us can know for sure,” replied the bishop gently. “But it’s clear that we agree that it needs to be said. We will stand with you to the best of our ability.”

Abby and Wendy

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

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

Abby and Wendy

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

Abby and Wendy

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

Abby and Wendy

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

Abby and Wendy

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

Abby and Wendy

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Episode 14
THE RETURN
Illustration by Carlos Uribe
The sun was sinking in the west when Abby and Chi Chi set out on their journey. Long shadows ran across the forest. The dark leaves of the copper beech trees rippled in a late afternoon wind. Wisps of cloud reflected the pink glow of the sun. Chi Chi led the way and Abby was glad to follow. She was relieved that he showed no sign of using this occasion to train her as a leader. Watching carefully every move he made, she intended to learn from him, but waste no time. She was in a hurry. 
They walked quickly through the stunning beauty of the beech woods to the underground entrance Abby and Wendy had taken before. The gray stone shelf projected from the cliff the same as it did before, but now it seemed to glow with meaning and value, like an old friend, a member of the family. The narrow tunnel underneath held no fear. Abby was enchanted by this clever arrangement designed by nature thousands or millions of years ago, yet young and alive today. And she knew that people who may have been her ancestors had treated this unique feature of the earth with care and secrecy, as a holy place of great value. She, Abby, had now inherited this responsibility in a dangerous world, where many people had no opportunity to understand this type of tradition and had no reason to respect it.
‘But perhaps,’ she thought, ‘I can lead a group who will understand and cherish it like I do. What about my friends? They will. And what about others, like Amy Zhi’s professor? And look at all the people of Rivergate! Look at all they’ve accomplished! Maybe this is a moment for a new vision – one that is incalculably old – to grow again in the world. I mean, right now it seems like we’ve all gone astray. Everyone craves a bit of hope and solid ground… and someone, something, to keep us from slipping off the edge into darkness.’
The mapstick began to shine a clean bright light in the narrow tunnel, and as they emerged into the first cavern the light burst into the wide space as if the stones themselves were glowing. The ancient path outlined by the broken stalactites was perfect for a couple to walk together. Chi Chi and Abby hurried along side by side.
Chi Chi showed the way to the underground Ghost River under Hidden Valley. They followed it under the Half Moon Cliffs to a low tunnel leading sharply to the left. 
Abby had been waiting for this stage of the trip, wanting to see their route under the Half Moon River. The narrow curving passage descended at a steep angle. Down they went. Abby found the way claustrophobic, exhausting, and totally bare of anything to relieve her feeling of oppression. The massive earth seemed to be bearing down on her spirits. Her breathing became irregular, as if she couldn’t get enough oxygen. She was thirsty and felt weak. They seemed to be moving in slow motion. And then… very faintly so that she could hardly trust her senses, she began to hear the murmuring of voices. The sound seemed to float on the thick air in waves. Pictures of shadowy shapes whining and moaning flashed across her eyes.
‘I’m dreaming!’ she thought. ‘I’m falling asleep as I walk. I can’t stop!’ 
And then a picture flashed by in a vivid dream of a vast low cave in almost complete darkness, full of shadowy human shapes without substance, murmuring in waves, lost in darkness. “Abby!” said Chi Chi. He stood face to face and shook her by the shoulders. “Abby! I’m here. Come out of it, you’re almost home.”
“Oh,” she cried, and hugged him. “Have you ever seen them? Moaning in the dark?”
“None of us are ready for that yet,” he replied. “Don’t get lost in there.” She shivered, unable to reply. “This news might help you,” he said. “In a short distance we’ll be under the churchyard. Do not speak or make noise of any kind. I will show you a little side room where you can wrap the mapstick and hide it. There’s even an ancient table and chair, and shelves there. The room is yours, a special hidden place, only for you. Ready, are you ready?”
Abby nodded. Chi Chi moved ahead, and pointed to a narrow side passage barely wide enough for one person to squeeze through. She found a tiny room that had reassuring signs of human convenience, a home-like atmosphere. There was a bookshelf with books, and an oil lamp on a small table. She wrapped the mapstick and slid it behind a corner post. Now she was in total darkness. Chi Chi pulled her slowly along. Soon they had to crawl forward, moving uphill. The sound of crickets grew louder and louder, until it seemed like a joyous song of the whole living world, a welcome home to Abby from mother nature, celebrating her arrival back to the wonderful, irreplaceable surface of the earth.

Abby and Wendy

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

Abby and Wendy

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

Abby and Wendy

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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.”

Abby and Wendy - Episode 3

THE JOURNEY CONTINUES

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

Ghost Girl - Episode 68

THE GREAT ESCAPE

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Illustration by Lawrence Tate
“Stop her! Stop her!” yelled several voices out of the gloom of wind and hail and snow. The traffic on Bridge Avenue was stalled. The surface was as slippery as a frozen lake, but Abby rode with more speed than anyone could run in that weather. To her amazement she felt more secure and balanced the faster she went. The bike felt as if it had risen an inch off the ground, and was gliding through the air. She made blind choices weaving in and out of the frozen traffic, but encountered no stray pedestrians or suddenly moving vehicles. A feeling of exhilaration overwhelmed her, a feeling of incredible happiness. The bike was choosing its route as if the driver could see the street from above. No one could catch her.
At the intersection a tow truck was making ready to haul a damaged car away. The nearby cars sat with engines idling. Abby raced through this congestion and in seconds took a wide right turn onto Main Street. She felt sure the bike would spin out as she leaned far to the right at top speed. But her balance was perfect. The tires somehow never slipped. She put on more speed up Main Street, planning to enter the forest at Glenda’s house. Without stopping or looking around she flew along and turned left on Oak Knoll Lane. The wind and hail were tapering off. In a moment she entered the forest on a path she knew well, and stopped for a second, looking back over the field. No one was there.

Abby was overwhelmed by the realization that something very unusual had happened. There was no way she could ride a bike like that in this weather. It had felt as if she were flying, but holding the road at the same time. The bike seemed to make its own decisions. It was more than strange, it was impossible. She stood there in shock for a few minutes. ‘It’s not just my imagination,’ she thought.
Finally her thoughts came back to the moment. No one appeared to be following her. Nothing moved on the street. She untied the mapstick and the briefcase, and stashed her bike in a thicket of mountain laurel. She took another look back and was horrified to see George appear, jogging along Main Street and looking over the field. He stopped and examined the ground where Abby had turned off onto Oak Knoll Lane. He looked back and then quickly jogged on, continuing past Penny’s house to the far side of the field. A car caught up with him, and the driver stopped to talk through his open window.
Her thoughts froze. Completely unable to understand the situation or take time to think about it, she picked up the mapstick and briefcase and plunged deep into the forest.

Ghost Girl - Episode 66

THE LAST DAY

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Illustration by Carlos Uribe

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

Ghost Girl - Episode 65

THE ROLLING THUNDER BAND

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Illustration by Carlos Uribe

The audience clapped and cheered. The strangers determined to disrupt the show were now quiet. Isaiah stepped back as George stepped forward. The crowd hushed, waiting expectantly. George froze there like a statue, all alone. He began a series of chords in a minor key, and Ishmael followed with high, sad notes, a melody full of pain. 
George sang:
You know it’s hard, hard to keep on going
When it hurts so much to live
You know it takes so much more than
All you’ve got to give
Reach for me, reach for me ‘cause I’m all out of strength
Today
Please show me the way, please show me the way

After two more verses and a solo the song ended on a quiet note and a moment of silence. People weren’t sure if it was over, or perhaps they were stunned by the raw feeling that came through the music. Then an ecstatic cheer broke out, with voices yelling encouragement. Abby realized her cheeks were wet with tears.
Before the cheering ended the band broke into a fast song, speeding along like a runaway avalanche with blazing high notes. Isaiah was dancing and playing tambourine. He began to sing:
I was blinded by the headlights, and I had nowhere to run
I was blinded by the headlights, and I had nowhere to run
The nightmare truck was coming, as wide as highway 61
I could see it in the distance, ten thousand wheels round the bend
I could see it in the distance, ten thousand wheels round the bend
Blockin’ out the moon and starlight, Oh Lord where’s it gonna end

The verses went on, becoming more frightening. “The wall of water’s coming, Lord give me your right hand!” The song came to a crashing end. The band hardly waited for the audience reaction as it rushed from one song to another. Abby was spellbound, listening closely to the words. She had hardly seen her friends in the band recently. Many of the songs were new, and gave her a very personal sense of what they were going through.
George stepped forward again, and sang to a Latin rhythm with Eddie on the congas:
Why…
I can’t seem to get you off my mind
You told me that you needed time
To commit your love-crime
As the moon, shines it light upon this room
Knowing that it’s sad but true, I can’t stop thinkin’ ‘bout you
I don’t wanna know where you been
I don’t wanna know what you’ve seen
I don’t wanna know what you done
As long, as long as you save me
Abby couldn’t listen anymore. Her mind was flashing back to her last conversation with George sitting on the leaves in the dark midnight. The song seemed to include words they had said to each other, in a way that made her open up a whole new avenue of self-criticism, one that she had been trying to keep at a distance all day. She accused herself of being deceptive, a hypocrite. ‘I failed to be the person I want to be,’ she told herself.
Meanwhile the temperature had been dropping fast, and the sun had set behind row after row of dark, swirling clouds. The departing sun gave a red glow to the storm, coming out over the valley like a sinister, poisonous fog.
An ominous bass line opened up the band’s theme song, coming on like the storm around them. Isaiah sang:
I woke up this morning it was dark ‘bout half past three
A thousand miles of thunderclouds was hangin’ over me
You can say what you want, but a mighty wind is gonna blow
I don’t think it’s gonna stop now, just ‘cause we say so

The song came to a menacing end. Isaiah thanked the audience, expressing deep gratitude on behalf of the band for the opportunity to play in such a fabulous place to such a wonderful audience. The wind picked up, and Abby realized that she was cold. Young people milled around the band, taking pictures, offering compliments, and talking to their friends. In a blur Abby helped put the tables away and pack up the remains of the outdoor coffee shop. No one came near to speak to her. She retreated to the cottage, her bare arms shivering. She closed the windows and lay under the blanket in the dark, and fell immediately into dreams.

Ghost Girl - Episode 64


GEORGE IN TROUBLE

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Illustration by Carlos Uribe
Abby was stunned by the thought that George had taken the photos featured so prominently in the edition of the Middletown Standard, now being read throughout the festival. ‘How could George have taken that picture of me hugging Jeremy? He would have had to be up on the churchyard wall!’ 
Sara grabbed Abby by the shoulders and said, “Pull yourself together, girl! This is not all about you. Think what George must be feeling! He walked out of here an hour ago, and refused to speak to me and Jeremy. I’m worried about him. What can we do?”
“So you don’t think he took the photos?” asked Abby.
Sara stared at her in disgust. “Come on!” she exclaimed. “Are you out of your mind?”
‘Aha!” thought Abby. ‘She likes George. And I’m probably crazy to mistrust him.’
“I’m sorry,” Abby said, her eyes tearing up. “I’m not at my best. This is hard for me…”
Sara put her face in her hands. “I wish I could start over. It’s just that I’m worried. I thought you could shake this off. And this will hurt George very, very badly.”
“It’s true,” Abby replied. “What can we do? I’ve hardly seen him this last week. What’s he up to?”
“He spends most of his time at the greenhouse practicing with the band. He does his day job at Scutter’s, practices until late at night, drinks coffee, writes songs…”
“Do you think he’ll return for the concert?”
“I don’t know,” Sara replied, tears on her cheeks. “I should check the greenhouse and get him to come back. But the courage he’ll need to do it…” Sara shook her head.
“Do it!” Abby told her. “Go there now. We can’t just fold up and crawl into a corner.”
Sara hurried across the yard, and disappeared onto Bridge Avenue. Abby watched Phoebe referee the children’s soccer game, and ignored the people staring at her. The temperature had been dropping all afternoon, and now felt chilly as the breeze picked up. Dark clouds were massing over the Half Moon Cliffs.
Cali hurried through the gate and trotted over to a blue tarpaulin covering a pile of stuff behind the apple trees near the stone wall. Abby saw her uncover amplifiers, wires, and a jumble of other things. She ran over to help. A crowd quickly surrounded them as Cali organized the band’s equipment. People bombarded them with questions. “Where is the band? When are they going to begin? Why aren’t they here?”
Phoebe appeared saying she’d gotten a text saying they’re on the way. A few minutes later, Isaiah, Ishmael, George, Sara, Eddy, and Jeremy walked into the yard. George and Ishmael carried guitars, Isaiah a tambourine, and Eddy pulled a small wagon full of drums. A group of young teens followed with extension cords, and extra guitars. They ignored everyone, just plugging in and testing the sound. Abby especially watched George, but he avoided eye contact, and his face had no expression.
“Move back a bit please,” Isaiah said into the mike. “Thanks for waiting, we’ll get started now. People in front, please sit down, the grass is warm, no rain yet, make your selves comfortable.” Guitar notes and chords rang out. Eddy played a couple of beats, and Isaiah and the guitar players stepped forward into a line. The audience became very quiet. The dark clouds cut off the sun, and the twilight deepened.
“You’ve got a lotta nerve!” shouted a man in the back. A few people laughed nervously. “I’d be embarrassed to stand up there if I was you,” yelled someone else. “This whole place is an embarrassment!”
“Shut up!” yelled another voice in anger. George looked at the ground with a face of stone.
“We don’t need you in this town,” came the first voice again. “Go back where you came from.”
“Yeah! Back where you came from! Back where you came from!” A group of men were all chanting together. Abby could not recognize anyone, but she did notice Cali and the teenagers moving from angle to angle taking pictures. 
A young man moved toward the group. “I said, ‘shut up’!” he yelled harshly, as if he had lost all patience. The men were looking nervously at the teens with cell phones and cameras, and retreated back from the crowd.
Isaiah stepped forward in the middle of the band and said into the mike, “Ladies and gentlemen, I hope you don’t mind, but we’re going to let the music speak for itself tonight. Any questions you may have, please listen to the music. It’s all we’ve got to say.” He smiled at the audience and people cheered. Isaiah’s words worked like a charm, calming the crowd.
“We’re the Rolling Thunder Band!” he said. “And we’re all grateful to have this chance to play for you tonight!”