THE SECRET PLACE
At that moment came a knock on the door. “Yes, come in!” yelled Tuck.
The door opened part way and a gray-haired woman leaned into the room. “I’m sorry to bother you, but Glenda Trimble with Tiny and Lucy insist on seeing Abby.”
“Yes!” cried Abby.
“Ah,” replied Tuck. “Send them in! Thank you so much, Janet.”
Suddenly Tiny burst into the room, scanned it in a microsecond, saw Abby and shrieked, “Abby, Abby!” running to her with outstretched arms. “Abbyyy!”
Abby embraced Tiny and lifted her up, swinging her through the air. Lucy Winkle immediately followed, and stood taking in the whole room with surprising composure for a five year old. Glenda entered rather timidly, clutching a briefcase and looking apologetically at Reverend Tuck. “I didn’t realize we’d be interrupting…”
“Not at all, not at all,” replied Tuck.
“We saw you on TV,” Tiny told Abby breathlessly.
“Oh! I was worried about that,” Abby replied. “I hope it didn’t scare you.”
“You’re famous,” Lucy announced.
“Me? Not so. I’m nobody.”
“Yes so!” returned Lucy. “You stopped the cars and escaped from the men. My Grandpa said so.”
Abby smiled. “Okay! It must be true then. Do you think they’ll leave me alone now?”
The words popped out of Abby’s mouth without thinking. She immediately regretted it.
“I don’t know,” replied Lucy with a frown. “Tiny said they’re after you.”
“No one’s going to bother me here,” Abby tried to reassure her. “Let’s… take a walk in the churchyard. It’s still a nice afternoon."
“Yes!” cried Lucy. “We want to explore.”
“Can I interrupt for a second?” asked Glenda. “I’ve got a research paper due tomorrow. I got nothing done this weekend, so I brought some work with me. Is it okay if you explore without me?”
And so as Glenda worked in the cottage, Tiny, Lucy, and Abby walked out into the glow of the setting sun. The shadows stretched across long grass, wild plants, fallen branches, and leaves. There were dark corners and shifting light as the breeze blew. The yard had been neglected for years. “No wonder they need a gardener,” Abby thought.
“Dawn wants to go this way,” announced Tiny. Abby and Lucy were familiar with Tiny’s apparently imaginary characters, Dawn the Good Fairy and Emily her daughter. Tiny often spoke of them as if they were actually there to talk to.
She led the way past the row of apple trees toward the back of the churchyard. Soon they reached an enormous privet hedge, almost eight feet tall. Tiny followed the hedge part way across the yard, and then turned left as the hedge ran down toward the back wall. Suddenly an entrance with an arched roof of privet branches opened into the oldest and largest mulch pile Abby had ever seen. An area about twenty-five feet square was full of a hill of leaves about six feet high in the middle. The children laughed and ran about, jumping and throwing leaves in the air. Tiny inspected the edges of their fortress of leaves. “Dawn wants to go this way,” she said, and pointed to a narrow opening where the privet hedge met the churchyard wall. Walking slowly, they passed the upended roots of an old fallen tree, thickly overgrown with Virginia creeper and poison ivy. They slid along the wall past raspberry bushes with sharp thorns, and suddenly emerged onto a small open slope that descended gently to the back wall. An old wrought-iron door led to the dirt road and cornfield beyond.
“Ah!” thought Abby. “This is where I’m supposed to meet Phoebe tonight!”
Lucy and Tiny ran a few steps to the door and found it locked. Abby joined them, and ran her fingers across the upper edge of the doorframe, and found a long silver key among the dust and crumbled fragments of leaves. She slipped the key into her pocket. “Awesome job exploring, girls!” exclaimed Abby. She waved her hand at the small concealed space, a special place all their own. The children’s eyes glowed with excitement and satisfaction.