Abby and Wendy - Episode 35

THE VOYAGE DOWN THE RIVER

Illustration By Carlos Uribe

Illustration By Carlos Uribe

Phoebe appeared from under the bridge and said in a whisper: “You’re still here. Thank you! Let’s go.”

“Abby in the bow, just behind the mast. Phoebe in the middle.” They jumped in, Lluvia pushed off, and the canoe was running with the current. “Take that paddle, nice and easy on the left. Watch carefully.”

A blue sail was wrapped tightly around the mast. The motor was not running. The boat drifted into the fast current in the center of the river. For a while no one spoke. The view of the rushing water, the Winkle Family farm, the hills and the cliffs in the distance… It was all enchanting. The light breeze and the roller coaster feel of the current stirred their blood. The dark water glittered in the setting sun. Abby felt the warm sun on her back. All was calm. Abby and Lluvia didn’t make any great effort, but just kept the canoe straight and clear of other small boats coming upriver near the bank. They had a brief view of the town of Half Moon on the left and the park and docks on the right, passed by a few more farms, and then entered a more suburban landscape.

“Sorry to be late,” said Phoebe. “We had a surprise.”

Abby turned her head to look at Phoebe’s face. She doesn’t seem too worried. “Tell us!”

“Zoe had news. One of the reporters from the River City Post – name of Jerry Norris – is known to moonlight for political campaigns. Its possible he’s employed by Confidential Investigations, a well-known creepy outfit that works for big money. The same people stalking you, Abby. Norris is short, thin-faced, blue eyed, pale, receding hairline, in his thirties. Goes around with a broad-shouldered guy. I remember them from the churchyard gate. We were standing there a long time with nothing to do but look at reporters. According to Zoe, Jerry Norris is the most likely ‘reporter who’s not a reporter’, to quote what Marcus told Nico. We’ll have to watch out for him at the event tomorrow.”

Abby was trying to concentrate on her job, looking for dangerous floating objects in the river. “Tell Sara,” she said.

Phoebe continued her story: “Later on, Sulay came bursting into the toy store. She pulled me into the back room and said Marcus had just come into Phones and More to buy a fancy new smart phone. When her father was occupied with another customer he whispered to Sulay: ‘Change all your passwords. Wipe your phones and start over’. She hung around him and made the sale, but that’s all he said that’s of interest to us.”

“Wow,” Abby exclaimed. “Go, Marcus! What did you do?”

“It was already 4:15. Sulay said she’d do her job for you and then find Nico and make security changes in their phones and computer. I ran down to their store and asked her father to wipe my phone and help me get started again. He thinks my phone is too old to be any good, but said he’d wipe it later today. He recommended a new one but I don’t have the money, and now I have no phone. Thank God I never use my computer. And I barely got to you in time. I was panicked I’d miss out.”

Abby looked at Lluvia. “It’s a good thing we have no phones or computers.”

Lluvia laughed. “How did you know?”

“Oh, Jeremy told me about the Phone Rules, and I just didn’t think you’d go in for all that media. You like to be secret, and aren’t afraid of being alone.”

“That’s me.” Lluvia wore a smile during the whole conversation, with her eyes on the water. “But I do want a taste of all of this new action. I’m really glad to see both of you. We know the big change is coming, and this weekend we’ll see for ourselves.”

“And I’m so relieved to be with you,” Abby said. “I really have no idea what I’m doing. Like, what’s the schedule? Where do we sleep? How do we handle this meeting tonight? Who will even show us where to go?”

Phoebe had been glancing back at Lluvia. “I’ve seen you before,” she said suddenly.

“Oh my God,” exclaimed Abby. “You don’t know each other! Phoebe, this is Lluvia!”

“Watch the water, Abby. Don’t turn around. We can hear you.”

“Oh, I’m such an idiot!” Abby muttered. “I was better at this when I was ten. I can’t even remember which of my friends know each other.”

But Lluvia and Phoebe were not listening. They were studying each other’s faces. Even Lluvia had taken her eyes off the water.

“I know I’ve seen you before…” murmured Phoebe. “Somewhere.” 

“Of course you have. Can you remember?”

“In the toy store. You buy paint… and brushes, every once in a while.”

Lluvia laughed. “Oh you do remember! And I remember you, and your mother and father. But I’ve seen them more recently… in Rivergate and the forest.”

“Ah. You probably see my parents more than I do. Maybe you paint like my mother.”

“I’ve seen some of her work. But I’m not that kind of artist. I add detail to boats. Like names, and where they’re from. And sometimes fancy little extras. Some people want a lot of detail. We build boats and I ride them all over, taking people and supplies here and there, and fishing. Or just exploring.”

Lluvia glanced at Phoebe’s face again. “You play soccer. I’ve seen you in uniform, working in your store. And we read about your high school team.”

“I destroyed my knee in college this year. But now I coach.” Phoebe’s voice was not full of despair. She seemed to have accepted the fact.

Abby was listening, and trying to maintain her concentration on the water. But she wanted to watch the faces of her friends. Boats passed them going upstream, always close to the bank, and power boats passed them from behind. Lluvia’s canoe held the center of the river. Along the way various streams flowed into the Half Moon, and the river grew wider, and the number of boats increased.

“Are we going to sail?” asked Phoebe. “I’d love to try it.”

“Not today. We don’t need any help going with the current. I use the sail going upriver, and in the open water in the wetland. A few times we’ve gone all the way to the bay and the ocean.”

“I’m envious,” Phoebe said. “It’s different seeing things from the river.”

“Is it ever! I’m kind of addicted to seeing things from the river. But I’m not going to miss out on these new events. I have the feeling I’ll be involved somehow. Chi Chi told me about the meeting tonight, and some kind of event tomorrow.”

“And who’s going to meet us?” asked Abby. “Who will show us around? Where do we sleep?”

“Sara’s supposed to meet us at the dock,” answered Phoebe. “But I was going to text her when we got close, and now I can’t. I hope she shows up anyway.”

“I know my way around a little bit,” Lluvia told them. “I’ve delivered vegetables and biogas to Evansville more times than I can count. And I have a friend there. We’ll stay at his house tonight.”

“So who is it?” Abby almost turned around to see Lluvia’s face. “We’re curious!”

“I was going to surprise you, but I should tell you now. It’s Alex Johnson.”

“Alex… Alex Johnson… Alex and Lexa? You’re kidding me!”

“No, you’re just out of touch.” Lluvia spoke with a wide smile, her eyes on the water.

“Well, how did this happen? I was just thinking about them. About all of us in the Young Warriors’ Club.”

“The Young Warriors’ Club?” asked Phoebe.

“It was our Sunday school when we were children,” Abby explained. “I lost all my friends when I was ten and my family moved.”

You’ll be surprise to hear this,” Luvia said. “Not long after you left Rivergate, Lexa and Alex left too. Their parents had long been separated, and their mother died. Their father took them to River City where he lived. None of us had ever met him, and he had no interest in us. He just took Lexa and Alex and never came back. But then a year ago they showed up out of the blue! Well, Lexa and Alex did. Not the father. It turned out their father had died.”

“My head is spinning,” Abby said. If only I could see Lluvia’s face! she thought.

“Yeah, I’ve got a lot of news.” Lluvia obviously enjoyed surprising Abby. “We didn’t know it, but their father had been a part of some big real estate family, owning tons of property in River City and even in Evansville. Alex’s father left him a little house near the Evansville College campus, and money for his tuition, but otherwise Alex is broke, barely getting by. His father didn’t trust him or something. It’s complicated, and he doesn’t like talking about it. But we’re friends now and we’ll stay with him.”

“So how does he survive?” Phoebe was clearly interested, risking quick glances at Lluvia behind her.

“He’s an artist, and sells woodcut prints. You’ll see at least one of them. The students have adopted the image of Noah’s ark as a kind of insignia, like a badge of identity. I’ve brought some prints to Rivergate, and even up to students at Northern State, where Students Against Fossil Fuels is organizing.”

“I think I did see it from a distance at the churchyard festival. It was big like a flag.” Abby’s mind was racing, but her eyes still looked for obstacles in the water. “Hey! Something floating up ahead! Look. It’s… yes, a loose boat!”

A small dinghy was floating free on the current with no passengers. Lluvia and Abby maneuvered the canoe alongside. Phoebe managed to tie a line to the metal ring on the bow of the little white rowboat, and they began towing it along behind them.

“We’ll leave it at the college dock and see if they can find the owner. Otherwise it’s ours. Who needs a boat? You’d be surprised how often this happens.”

She’s so happy, Abby thought enviously. I wish I felt that way. Is happiness something you can learn?

I’d like a boat!” Phoebe exclaimed. “Can I have it? It almost like your boat, Abby.”

“I wish I had a chance to use mine. You take it, Phoebe. I’m jealous of the boat we’re in. I’d like to get a sail and a little motor like Lluvia’s got.”

“It’s yours, Phoebe, unless someone at the dock locates the owner. It’s good luck to find a boat. And Abby, I’ve got a special present for you, back on the West Isle. We’re going to get you fixed up good.”

“I can’t wait!... Hey, look, there’s Evansville. A few tall buildings and the bridge.”

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

IMG_7074.jpg

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 31

THE PLOT THICKENS

Illustration By Carlos Uribe

Illustration By Carlos Uribe

Rose was absent again at the pre-school the following day. Abby, Tom, and Rob helped the group move the play city and the forest to the sunny spot near the south windows. It was a lengthy task. The children expanded the city in the process, and added characters. Franklyn wanted a wizard to live in the forest. He also wondered if there were any bad guys there. Tiny reported that Emily, the daughter of the Good Fairy, had said there definitely were bad guys, but she wasn’t sure they were in the forest. Lucy said the bad guys always want to steal the treasure.

“Is there really a treasure?” asked Ned. “I’ve never seen it.”

“That doesn’t mean it isn’t there,” Lucy told him.

“This is our city,” Rob said. “It’s our story. Let me find a few more people you might want to live here.” He crossed the large room, rummaged in a wooden chest, and returned with a little metal wizard with a tall pointed hat, a cloak, a staff, and a clear glass crystal ball. Rob handed it to Franklyn, who stared at it in awe. “Look! The ball changes color!” And indeed, the transparent ball faintly shimmered with colors as it moved.

Rob opened his other hand and displayed a metal dragon with outstretched wings, standing on the edge of a treasure chest containing another glass ball, as well as tiny stones of different colors. The dragon may have been just landing, or just taking off. Rob handed it to Ned. The others gathered round to examine these delights.

Franklyn placed the wizard in the middle of the forest, and Ned moved the trees slightly to place the treasure there also. Jane wanted to know if the dragon was good or bad. The group disagreed on that subject. Tiny flew her witch into the forest and said that the witch was in charge of all of them.

Franklyn wasn’t sure, and asked her if the witch was good or bad.

“Good,” Tiny replied with confidence.

“Then who are the bad guys,” Franklyn wanted to know.

Rob again rummaged in the chest, and returned with an assortment of figures and set them out in a row. There were comic book heroes and villains, men in suits, a princess, and a hand carved figure of the Good Fairy, more than twice as tall as any other character.

“Do Robin Hood and his band live in the forest?” asked Ned.

“The Good Fairy says they do,” answered Tiny.

Rob took another trip to the wooden chest and returned with very small figures made of green felt with painted faces. Each wore the tell-tale green Robin Hood jacket and hat. And next to Robin Hood’s band Rob set out a series of gnomes clothed in brightly colored felt.

“Oooh!” said Kayla. “Can these be over here?” She placed the gnomes among the trees near her, and one next to her house. “This gnome is our guard,” she said.

“I know where the bad guys come from,” Lucy declared. “They come from town, and want to steal the treasure. Everyone needs to guard the treasure.”

This story developed for a whole hour. Rob found angels, more men in suits, and a policeman. Wonder Woman and Robin Hood’s band created a line of defense. Tiny placed the Good Fairy on a windowsill above the city, and made it clear that the Good Fairy was very aware of all happenings below, and could intervene whenever she wanted to. Jane insisted that there should be animals, including dogs, birds, cats, and raccoons.

“Can we have an owl?” asked Ned. Rob found a small, very beautiful gray owl with wide brown eyes. 

“I want to see the owl again!” Kayla burst out. “In the churchyard. Just like that one.”

“Can we go to the Secret Place?” Tiny asked, looking straight at Abby.

She hesitated, looked at Rob, and then replied, “It’s too far to go there today. But perhaps we can go outside and try to be very quiet and see animals.”

“Wonderful idea,” said Tom. “I know where woodchucks and raccoons live.”

The group’s enthusiasm reached a fever pitch. Rob found a pair of binoculars and promised each child a chance to see things far away. Tom led the group out to explore.

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 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.”