The Ghost Girl - Episode 30

SONNY WALKER

Illustration By Carlos Uribe

Illustration By Carlos Uribe

Isaiah and Ishmael rolled the two carts ashore and up the mud and stones to a lightly paved road extending along the shoreline. Immediately beyond lay a row of cottages with occasional low sheds that served as garages for small boats. The land soon became a steep hillside that rose to a flat plateau. Abby studied the landscape with passionate interest. This was the land of her childhood, seen only twice over the past decade, and not at all for six years. She watched a solitary figure moving along a path that wound its way down from the plateau. A man of medium height, very lean and dark skinned, came toward them. From his straight, firm posture Abby instantly recognized Sonny Walker. He waved and called to Isaiah and Ishmael, who waited for him. Cali and Sara were standing to the side in animated conversation, planning an event for the evening. Pastor Banks helped Sharon tidy up the boat and move it to the crowded dock. Abby felt very shy, and stood alone on the muddy ground.
Sonny turned and called her to join them. She felt close to tears. Somehow she had not anticipated so happy and emotional a moment. Sonny hugged her, complimented her appearance and her new reputation, and then gave news about the farm and the progress they had made since Abby learned there as a child. She realized that Sonny must be in his seventies, yet to her he looked the same as he was eight or ten years ago.
“Pecan trees, peanuts, two varieties of finger beans, a dozen revivals of the apples of the old days!” Sonny told her. “A new compost area producing our own biogas. Eight thriving bee colonies. Goats, a hundred chickens and a few milk cows on the West Isle.” Abby’s happiness beamed from her eyes and wide smile.
“You probably know these things already,” Sonny went on in a more confidential tone. “From what I hear, you should be teaching me!”
“You’re just being nice,” she replied. “I’m so eager to see what you’ve done! Do we have time for a visit now?” Sonny turned to Cali and said, “Abby and I will head up to the shanty. We’ve got a lot of catching up to do. Julia is at the Open Gate. Please tell her that her daughter is here.”
“Ah, of course!” Cali and Sara followed the group along the road up toward the bridge.
“Where’s my Dad?” asked Abby.
“He’s at the other end of the farm. I’ll tell Chris to bring him.”
The path climbed back and forth up the hillside. As the land leveled off they passed a small chicken coop and rows of tomatoes and basil. Just ahead, apple trees, corn and amaranth grew tall and blocked Abby’s view of the long field that covered most of the plateau. In a few more steps she saw Sonny’s cabin – what he called the shanty – looking neat and trim. “Solar panels! New door, windows, and siding!” she exclaimed. They entered into a combination kitchen, study, and bedroom, with a small second room to one side. The space was tiny but well organized. Light entered from windows on three sides. A man sat in front of a laptop computer at table running along one wall. He was surrounded by files, notebooks, a bookshelf, and an out of date telephone. Sonny introduced them, and Chris stood up to shake hands. He looked at her with obvious curiosity. “So you’re Abby! He said. “I heard you were on your way. It’s a pleasure to meet you!”
She had never seen Chris before, and was surprised that he had heard about her. He looked about thirty years old, with long messy light brown hair, and pale skin. He seemed frail, under-nourished. Abby thought he should go out in the sun and get some exercise.
Sonny put a kettle on the biogas stove. “Take a break, Chris. Let’s have some Breakfast Mixture together, and then you can walk up to the west end and bring Abby’s father back.
Soon they sat sipping tea at a small table just outside the door.

The Ghost Girl - Episode 29

THE ARRIVAL AT RIVERGATE

Illustration By Carlos Uribe

Illustration By Carlos Uribe

During the whole conversation Cali had been watching the water ahead, and now she yelled, “New current, branches in the Cedar current!”
Sharon steered rapidly about thirty degrees to the left, and that was enough to send the boat sliding downstream as they crossed the river. It was an eerie feeling, as if Sharon had lost control of the boat, but soon she straightened out their course near the left hand shore. “What’s that!” asked Sara, pointing upstream. The river had become two different colors, as muddy water entered from the right.
“It’s the first of two forks,” replied Cali. “That’s Cedar Creek coming in. See? In a minute we’ll go right on by. And wait till we go up the Snake just before we’re home. That’s a real sight.” Sara looked at Cali in admiration. “How did you learn all this? It’s quite a job. I have no idea how you and Sharon manage it.”
“I grew up with it,” answered Cali. “I used to be in Sharon’s Boat Club. She teaches teenagers, and promotes students to be captains. They run a ferry service with a lot of small boats.” They all stared as they passed the Cedar Creek coming in from the marsh. The view opened up. Instead of forest they saw tall pale grasses blowing in the cool wind. Thick gray clouds blocked the sun. Rain was in the air. They were startled as a great blue heron rose from a field of tall reeds, and flapped its enormous gray-blue wings. It slowly disappeared in the distance, heading upstream, flying low over the marsh. Abby noticed three turkey vultures – with their strange red heads and huge, motionless black wings – soar high above. Everyone was silent, watching the wild landscape. Smaller birds and pools of water dotted the grassland to their right.
“What’s that?” exclaimed Sara. “It’s like a giant insect with all those legs!”
“The Highway 71 Bridge,” said Cali. “Looks strange from here, doesn’t it? Kind of doesn’t belong. I think they brought the highway through here because it’s the only pass over the cliffs for miles.” Eight thick pillars held the giant highway as it crossed above the Half Moon River and at least a hundred yards of land on either side. ‘It would take a tsunami to wash that thing down,’ Abby thought. Soon they could hear the traffic – especially the many 18-wheelers – speeding above them.
“You can see the Snake coming in on the right up there.” Cali pointed ahead. “We head up it and dock on the left.” A wide sheet of sluggish water flowed in to join the Half Moon. The river at that point was almost like a small lake.
“And there’s Rivergate!” cried Cali.
Rivergate Island was shaped like a giant boat, with its bow coming to a point at the fork between the rivers. The land quickly rose to a narrow plateau. Abby could see up the lazy water of the Snake to Rivergate Bridge, a much lower two-lane version of the Highway 71 colossus. Even from a distance she saw the high water washing up on both sides to where the bridge hit the land. It was obvious why the bridge was closed. A few small boats were making the crossing from Rivergate to the highway access road and back.
The River Queen labored through the slow dark water. Sharon steered toward the shore as the island grew wider. At the curve of the river a long sand bar appeared, making a small harbor sheltered from the current. Hugging the bank on the left, Sharon brought the boat slowly into calm water. She put the motor into idle and coasted toward a dock, built like a long raft floating on barrels tied to the shore. Abby was amazed at the number of small boats crowding the dock and shoreline for at least a mile. Sharon turned sharply to the left, and slid gently into an empty space on the bank.
“We’re home!” called Sharon. “Thanks for your patience! For those coming back tomorrow, we leave at eight o’clock sharp.” The group cheered and shouted their thanks.

The Ghost Girl - Episode 28

HIGH WATER ON THE RIVER

Illustration By Carlos Uribe

Illustration By Carlos Uribe

They were all quiet, concentrating to see around each bend of the river. Suddenly Cali cried out, “Fallen tree, branches, strainer, hole on the right! Left, go left!” Abby saw white water appear near the right bank, a waterfall over a fallen tree. Large branches stretched to the opposite bank. Sharon was already turning across the current, and the boat slipped backward with alarming speed. Gradually she turned back upstream in the slower water on the left side. The boat struggled to make headway against the current moving around the tree and flooding the bank. “Coming ashore!” Sharon yelled. “Whew! That must have fallen a couple of hours ago.”
Cali took the bow rope and made ready to move. The boat slid on the sloping mud at the top of the bank. Cali jumped into knee-deep water and pulled the rope tight around a tree. The stern of the boat swung downstream. The rope and the friction on the mud held, and the River Queen was safe like a parked car. Sharon came forward and lowered the bow ramp. “Okay, everybody ashore!” she said. “No problem, just a little delay.”
The way forward was blocked by multiple branches reaching all the way above the bank ahead of them. Sharon grabbed a long-handled pruning cutter with razor sharp curved blades, and waded thigh deep into the water among the silvery leaves. One by one she cut through the branches, opening the way. When the passage was clear she teamed up with Isaiah to roll the heavy wagons off the boat and up the bank over rough ground. The empty boat now rode like a feather on top of the water. Sharon started her up again, Cali cast off the line, and the River Queen slowly moved over the shallow water through the opening. Sharon immediately slid the boat back into the mud. They rolled the wagons aboard, took their places again, and were off.

“Way to go, Sharon!” yelled Isaiah, and the group showered her with compliments. 
Sara was madly scribbling in a small notebook she kept in her back pocket. “That was awesome!” she said breathlessly. “This is so cool! Everyone at school will be green with jealousy. I can’t believe I’m so lucky! Oh, thank you, thank you!” She scribbled more notes. Abby and Cali smiled at her ecstasy. “It is pretty cool,” Abby thought. “I’ve missed it so much, living in Ridgewood and sleepwalking through high school. I’ve got to fix up my dinghy and get a little motor, and maybe a sail!”
Sara looked up and said, “So Cali, tell me more about you and the band. You’re like their manager?” 
“No, nothing that important. I just do the media work, running the Facebook and Instagram accounts, advertising, linking up with people who want them to play.”
“What’s the name of the page, I’ve got to see this.”
“It’s all under our name, The Rolling Thunder Band – even though it’s not really a full band yet, but maybe George and Eddy will join. They’re talking about it.”
“How about Jeremy?” Abby asked.
“No, I think he’s too busy,” Cali answered. Abby remained silent, full of thoughts. Cali wanted to know what kind of gigs they’d been playing. “Well, of course the Open Gate in Rivergate, they play there all the time,” Cali said. “They were going to play at Sammy’s Coffee Shop, but that’s impossible now.” Sharon became very excited, and asked, “Do you think they might come to Evansville College to play? It would be at the end of August, outside in the courtyard. We’re inviting all students to a divestment rally to make the board of trustees take the college money out of fossil fuels. We’ve got an organization on campus, Students Against Fossil Fuels, called STAFF United. We’re going to pack the board room at the trustees meeting in September.”
“Oh, this is perfect!” Abby burst out. She’d been following every word. “It’s just what we need. Reverend Tuck is trying to get the same sort thing started with the church. Maybe we can work together.”
“We’d love to,” replied Sara, scribbling madly again. “Everyone keeps saying we’re in a bubble at college, and don’t reach regular people. Wait’ll they hear about this.”
“I’m sure the band will go for it,” said Cali with delight. “I tell you, these guys are ambitious. They have dreams of glory.”
“Like what?” asked Abby, deeply curious. 
“Oh, you know, they picture this big movement of people all over the world, needing a band to play music for the new era. Like a new anthem, a battle song for the way forward.”

The Ghost Girl - Episode 27

THE RIVER QUEEN

Illustration By Carlos Uribe

Illustration By Carlos Uribe

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

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

The Ghost Girl - Episode 26

THE GROUP HEARS OF THE THREE FURIES

Illustration By Carlos Uribe

Illustration By Carlos Uribe

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

The Ghost Girl - Episode 25

THE COUNCIL MAKES A PLAN

Illustration By Carlos Uribe

Illustration By Carlos Uribe

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

The Ghost Girl - Episode 24

THE JOURNALISM STUDENT ENTERS THE SCENE

Illustration By Carlos Uribe

Illustration By Carlos Uribe

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

The Ghost Girl - Episode 23

PLAIN TALK ABOUT THE PROBLEMS WE FACE

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

The Ghost Girl - Episode 22

THUNDER ROLLING

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“Thank you to everyone!” Pastor Banks said. “I’ve promised you some music before we open our discussion, so let’s hear it!”
The crowd gave another round of applause, as George walked over to Isaiah and Ishmael and plugged in the cord from his guitar. Isaiah made a spooky rattling sound with his tambourine, and nodded to Ishmael, who began to play a rolling melody on the bass notes. Isaiah looked at the crowd and spoke, his voice flowing with the music, saying: “We share more than we can ever know, so here we go!” Ishmael played the riff with greater volume. George joined in with some lead notes. Isaiah sang:

I woke up this morning it was dark bout half past three
A thousand miles of thunder clouds was hanging over me
You can say what you want, but a mighty wind is gonna blow
I don’t think it’s gonna stop just cause we say so

Batten down the hatches close the shutters lock the doors
Lightning’s gonna flash thunder’s gonna roar
I think we all hear that rumbling sound
Go out and listen, take a good look around

We see the water risen from the rivers and shores
Don’t think it’s gonna stop, it’s gonna rise some more
I hope you all hear me, hear me loud and clear
One of these days that water’s gonna roll in here

Ishmael took over with a guitar solo, and then Isaiah sang again, almost as a rap:

Tornados run across the plains, the hurricanes bring rain insane
The waves are sweepin over the land, who knows how long we can stand?
They tell me I’m makin it up, that I’m imagining things
But what’s that in the distance? Sounds like thunder rolling
Thunder rolling
Thunder rollinnnggg!
THUNDER ROLLINNGG!
THUNDER ROLLINNNNGGG!

The guitars and tambourine brought the song to a swift and smashing end. The audience looked stunned for a moment and then began to clap, and finally stood up and cheered. The musicians looked around the circle, surprised by the enthusiasm, and took a bow.

The Ghost Girl - Episode 21

PASTOR BANKS SPEAKS TO THE COUNCIL

Illustration By Carlos Uribe

Illustration By Carlos Uribe

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

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

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

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

The Ghost Girl - Episode 20

THE COMMUNITY COUNCIL BEGINS

Illustration By Carlos Uribe

Illustration By Carlos Uribe

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

The Ghost Girl - Episode 19

A WARNING FROM THE CHIEF

Illustration By Carlos Uribe

Illustration By Carlos Uribe

By 4:30 Abby was knocking on Tuck’s door, and he opened right away. “I was just coming to get you,” he said. “This has become a bigger meeting than I thought. Chief Santiago brought Geraldine and Phoebe with him. They’re up in my office already.”
“Oh boy,” thought Abby. “Here we go. Why can’t things just calm down a little.”
Chief Santiago was already seated at the head of the conference table, with Dr. Bear and Phoebe on either side. They all rose for a warm hello with shaking of hands and hugs.
“Well, It’s nice to see you folks recovering,” said Chief Santiago. “As you know, it’s my job to clear up unanswered questions about the incident at the abandoned house. I think I’m aware of the basic sequence of events. Abby was living in that house, the mob arrives, Phoebe steps in to fight off a few people bearing burning logs or branches, Abby and Phoebe confront the mob, and then Tuck, Dr. Bear, and Jeremy arrive and the mob flees. Driving up the dirt road, I see their back as they run into the forest. Everyone agree with that?”
The chief looked around the table, and everyone nodded. He turned on a small pocket recorder. Abby wished this meeting were over already. “Now the surprising thing,” the chief continued, “is that not one of you has named or described any of that mob so far. Well, it’s time to go on the record. I’ll be recording this interview unless any of you wish to object. All right with you? Here we go then.”
He began by questioning Tuck and Geraldine, who both replied that they arrived in the dark only to see a crowd with torches on the lawn. The wind was gusting hard and the light was bad, and they could not be sure of recognizing anyone.
The chief then turned to Abby. She described peeking out the door and calling Phoebe to join her and flee through the back of the house. It was only at the last minute when she was sure that Phoebe would stand her ground that she stepped out, and the crowd was far back at that point.
“I’ve left you for last,” Tuck told Phoebe. “You had the best chance to see who was there. You followed them all the way from the church. You confronted them for, what?... At least ten minutes? Who was there?”
Abby was surprised by Phoebe’s composure. In a calm voice she explained that she had to follow the mob at a distance in complete darkness. The storm clouds had blanketed the moon and stars. She only stepped onto the porch when the house was threatened, and people backed away when she appeared ready to swing a heavy branch. Yes, she admitted, she did swing at one man carrying a burning log onto the porch, and yes, she thought she recognized voices and shapes in the shifting light. But she could not be certain, and would not swear by it. A court of law, she noted, is not the place to be guessing.
Chief Santiago was twisting the end of his grey moustache as he turned off the recorder. Wrinkles fanned out from the corners of his eyes as he squinted at the group. “Now if you don’t mind,” he said, “I’d like to give you some advice… No, more like a warning. Needless to say I don’t believe some portions of your testimony – now don’t interrupt!” He held up his palm and looked them in the eye. “I’m not asking for information, or trying to change anyone’s story. I regard you all as friends of mine, and I worry about your safety.”
He looked around the table again. They sat back in silence. “Yes, I do worry,” he continued. “And not only about you, but about all of us. The situation in this town – and in this state and country as a whole – resembles a cold war. It breaks out into violence only occasionally, but it’s heating up. And it’s a war between David and Goliath. When law enforcement and justice fail, the strong usually rule. They take advantage to the situation to get whatever they want. And the weak sufer, and lose what ever they have that the strong want. A billion dollars can buy a lot of power and privilege.”
He let this sink in. “So what’s my point?” he asked. “Just this: you’re all serious risks here. You’ve placed this battle beyond the reach of justice, and that means you’re on your own. Oh, I know you have your reasons, and they may be justified. But I hope you’ve got a plan and the ability to follow through. It’s not going to be easy.”
The chief waited for a moment in silence. “I don’t want to leave you with the impression that it’s just you. We’re all taking risks, all the time. Life is one big risk, but especially now.” He paused. “Any comments?”
No one replied.

The Ghost Girl - Episode 18

HARD WORK AND BAD NEWS

Illustration by Carlos Uribe

Illustration by Carlos Uribe

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

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

The Ghost Girl - Episode 17

IN REVEREND TUCK’S OFFICE

Illustration By Lawrence Tate

Illustration By Lawrence Tate

After Jeremy’s departure Abby made another nut butter and honey sandwich and drank a cup of Breakfast Mixture, hot and full of the flavor of bitter chocolate and mint. She realized that Tuck should know as soon as possible about their decision to refuse to press charges and appear in court over the assault on Phoebe and Abby at the haunted house.
“And I’ll call my parents too,” she thought. She had tried several times over the last two days to reassure them that she was okay, but had received no answer. In fact she hadn’t spoken to them for months, and her feelings of guilt -- and her constant self-criticism -- had been increasing every day.
Abby knocked on Tuck’s door for almost five minutes and was about to leave when he finally appeared. “Sorry,” he said. “I was in the middle of a phone call. What’s up?”
“I need to use the phone too,” she replied.”
“Get a cell phone as soon as you can. We have reception now all the way to the forest. That new Phones and More store on Main Street sells decent used phones.”
In Tuck’s office Abby sat behind his desk and looked out the window. The same two men lounged on a bench in front of the Middletown Standard office across the street. “They must be Morphy’s watchers,” she thought. “Are they really observing the churchyard 24/7? It’s hard to believe… this conflict is still heating up!”
“Reverend Tuck,” Abby said suddenly, “I need to tell you something.”
“Yes?” he said, taking a seat opposite her.
“I’ve been thinking it over, and I really can’t be certain who the men were – you know, the ones carrying the torches Saturday night. The light was crazy, and I was back behind the front door until the very end. And you should know that Geraldine and Phoebe can’t be sure either. I just don’t think Chief Santiago can bring any charges unless there’s some new development.”
“Well, well,” returned Tuck, “You young folks certainly know how to pick your battles.” He smiled. “Don’t forget, I was there too, and I can’t be sure who was there either.”
“And there’s more news I want to tell you,” Abby went on. “I hear that Phoebe and George and Jeremy – and probably Stephanie and Eddy and others – are coming to this council meeting tomorrow night. They want to join as permanent members with me, and we already have ideas.”
“I’m thrilled to hear it! But about these ideas… can I get any advance warning?”
“We’d like to plan fund-raising events for the church and Rivergate both. Maybe a series of festivals with music, food, children’s games, and a tour of the work going on in the churchyard once it’s ready for an audience.”
Tuck was speechless for a moment, and then exclaimed, “This is exactly what we need! We – meaning this church – need help even more than you know. Our finances have been an impossible challenge over the last five years. The Sunday offering pays only a fraction of our yearly budget. We depend upon grants and donations from the very wealthy for the rest. And you may be aware that people with money don’t like us. We usually don’t share the same goals.”
“But that’s what we all admire,” Abby said. “Your courage in the face of the powerful. We’re just copying you.”
Tuck laughed. “We’ll work together,” he said.
Abby dialed her parents’ number, and was answered by a voice recording. She gave Tuck a look of dismay. “It’s no longer a working number,” she told him. “I guess they’ve moved or something.” Her eyes shifted vacantly around the room, seeing nothing.
“I’ll help you,” returned Tuck, trying to make eye contact. “Don’t worry, I’ll find a forwarding address in a hurry. I’ve got the phone numbers and emails of hundreds of people. Promise me you won’t brood over this. I’ll speak to you as soon as I have news.”
Abby walked back to the cottage deep in thought. She lay down and stared into space.

The Ghost Girl - Episode 16

SEEDS AND HOT COMPOST

Abby awoke with a cool breeze coming through her window and golden sunlight shining on the floor. After a cup of Breakfast Mixture she walked outside and looked around – at the weather, the grass, the trees, the leaves and branches on the ground. She observed the open spaces that received sunlight, and the spaces in shadow. Soon she hammered a few sticks into the earth, marking off the corners of a garden that she would create in the coming week. The soil was hard-packed with stones, and needed fresh compost. Following this train of thought, Abby walked over to the mulch pile, the mountain of leaves contained in the privet hedge. She carved out a hole with her hands, and found a layer of damp leaves and sticks, mown grass and plants. Going deeper, the soil became a decomposing mixture. Worms slithered out of the way. Centipedes darted into hiding. And deeper still lay pure dark fluffy soil, the most nutritious food for plants on the planet.
“Yes!” said Abby to herself. “I thought so! Oh baby, the things we can do!”
“Abby!” called Jeremy, walking toward her. “I was afraid I’d missed you.”
“Jeremy! Are you coming from the haunted house? Did you find my things?”
“Yes and yes!” he replied. “No problem.”
“Oh, I’m so happy! Thank you, thank you, thank you!”

They walked to the tool shed and Jeremy pulled Abby’s bike, sleeping bag, guitar case, and backpack out from behind the canvas and set them on the grass. With a trembling hand she unzipped the backpack and poured an overflowing pile of seed packets onto the unrolled sleeping bag. They both sat down to examine them. Each packet was just a sheet of paper folded into a sort of envelope, and filled with seeds.
“That’s amazing,” Jeremy told her. “There must be at least fifty of them.”
“More than that,” returned Abby. “At least a hundred.”
Jeremy picked out an envelope at random and read the name scrawled on paper. “What’s Old N. Amaranth?” he asked.
Abby hesitated, and finally said, “That’s a very special variety, passed down over… thousands of years. It’s named for the people who lived in the forest. They were a part of the Half Moon People, those who farmed this area long ago.” Abby’s eyes glittered. She glanced up at Jeremy, and felt both pleased and distressed that he was attending to her every word. 
“I’d so like to know more,” he said. “In a way it’s a part of my new education, my studies in the forest. And maybe, just maybe, I could teach you some things too.”
“And what might those things be?” asked Abby with a smile.
Jeremy looked away in confusion, blushing around the neck and cheek.
“Oh!!” thought Abby. “I didn’t realize it would sound like that!” Looking down to ease his embarrassment, she wondered if she’d done it on purpose, and worried that these feelings could soon lead to conflicts.
But Jeremy quickly resumed his normal air of passionate intellectual interest and emotional detachment. “Well,” he said, “I realize you know almost everything about plants and trees. But just as an example, how’re you gonna heat this place?”
“I do have the wood burning stove,” Abby replied.
“That cabin isn’t even insulated. You’ll be freezing on a cold night unless you wake up and feed the fire. Your pipes will freeze and break.”
“So spell it out for me,” returned Abby. “What are you thinking?”
“Hot compost,” replied Jeremy. “All we would need would be a chipper. I think you’ve got enough wood and leaves and greens to make a compost pile, say eight by eight by six. We’ll run a plastic pipe from your cabin at floor level, up through the pile, and turning back into the cabin at ceiling level. The pipe will suck out cold air, heat it as it runs up through the compost, and send it back inside as warm air.”
“Who’s teaching you?” asked Abby.
“It’s the Energy Project in the forest.”
“Let’s try it,” said Abby, clapping her hands. “I’ll learn from you, and I’ll teach you about gardening. God knows I need help. How much time do you have?”
“Whoa, that’s a problem. I really want to do it, but give me a day to think about my job and talk to Jim. And then there’s the band.” Jeremy looked off into the distance. “Very hard choices,” he said.

Illustration By Carlos Uribe

Illustration By Carlos Uribe

The Ghost Girl - Episode 15

THE THREE MAKE A PLAN

Illustration By Carlos Uribe

Illustration By Carlos Uribe

A rushing noise came from a distance, and then the trees swayed in the wind. Wispy clouds passed over the moon. The weather was changing.
“I’m glad you’re coming out so strong!” Phoebe told Abby. “We’ll all follow you. By the way, Jeremy and Stephanie and Eddie already begged me to avoid the whole mess. They say the most expensive lawyer always wins. And I’ve certainly got other things I want to do! We need to reopen the toy store and the coffee shop and the soccer fields, and get some kind of leadership going on around here. People actually look up to us! They follow what we’re doing. We have a responsibility.” Her voice scraped and cracked from the constant whispering. Abby’s heart went out to her, expressing such emotion with her face still black and blue.

“And I’m going to need your help,” whispered Abby. “We’re beginning a new campaign at the community council meeting on Tuesday. It’s more important than you know… there’s dangerous issues just two weeks down the road. Please come.”
“We already plan to be there,” George replied. “All of us. And I know Ishmael Banks – the pastor’s son – from hanging around the Half Moon Music Center. He’s the best guitarist I’ve ever heard, and he’s younger than me. And they’ve got a mission too. The bridge to their town is flooded out!”
Abby leaned forward and whispered, “I need your help on one more problem.”
“Tell us,” returned George. “What can we do?”
“Tuck doesn’t let me out of here yet, so I need someone to go to the haunted house for me. I could sneak out but that house will be watched and I’ll be followed. But I need a few things that are hopefully still there. On the second floor in the room just to the right of the stairs there’s a hole in the sheet rock. Reach along the wall to your left and you’ll find a backpack full of small packets of seeds. I need them very, very badly.”
“Got it,” replied George, taking notes.
“And if you’ll reach back there to the right you’ll feel my guitar in a canvas case. I need that too.”
“You play guitar?” asked George in amazement.
“A little bit,” Abby shyly replied. “Just for myself. But I’ll show you sometime.”
“That would be… I mean I would love that.” He was clearly thrilled.
“Oh!” Abby went back to her previous train of thought. “In my basement room – Phoebe will tell you where it is – my sleeping bag is there. I’m going to need it. And under the collapsed back porch is my bike. I know it’s a lot to ask… but I would be very grateful.”
“I’ll do it,” said George.
Phoebe shook her head. “George, I know it’s a pain, but you shouldn’t be seen collecting this stuff and riding back into the churchyard. In a way we’ve been successful by not appearing to be a group. You’ve convinced them that you’re mainly interested in money and moving up in the world, and have no other goals or loyalties. They can work with that. They understand making money and moving up in the world. But as soon as they see you’re all about being tight with us, your opportunities as a spy will be over, and they’ll take revenge. You might need to quit this spy thing soon...”
Abby cut in, saying: “Tuck has stressed these rules to me over and over: no friends in the cottage, no anything that could be photographed and used against us. Tuck is scared. He could lose his job. The old school building looks abandoned, and the church must be broke. And an election for the board of trustees is coming up in two weeks! We’ve got to help raise money for the church and Rivergate both. Don’t forget, I was born in Rivergate, I have relatives and childhood friends there. They are my people by birth.”
Phoebe and George waited quietly. This was a side of Abby they had only seen from a distance, and it had given Abby a cloak of mystery. But now they were seeing her heart close at hand.

“Why don’t we ask Jeremy to pick up Abby’s things?” suggested Phoebe. “No one thinks he’s close with Abby, and he doesn’t work in town where he’s easily watched.”
“I’m fine with that,” whispered Abby. “But remember: this new agreement with Morphy won’t stop them from following us, trying to learn our secrets, and taking pictures they can try to put a spin on. They want Tuck and I out of here. They want the whole town and mining rights in the forest. They’re looking at the kind of money that’s got them foaming at the mouth.”
“None of us will forget,” Phoebe said, and put her arms around them. Their eyes were used to the dark. They could see each other’s faces beaming in the moonlight. Abby led them back down Tiny’s path and unlocked the iron door. Phoebe and George disappeared into the night.

The Ghost Girl - Episode 14


A BIG DECISION

Illustration By Carlos Uribe

Illustration By Carlos Uribe

“So we’ve got to decide tonight,” George told them.
“Wow!” whispered Abby. “What do you make of it? Can we trust Morphy at all? I mean, we know what his big plan is, and he’s not going to stop.”
“That’s what I say,” muttered Phoebe.
“I’ve thought it over word by word,” replied George. “Of course he hasn’t changed his plan. He’s cold and angry, and when he talks his hand moves like a karate chop. He’s not giving an inch out of good will. But he is a trained lawyer and super successful business man, rich beyond anything we can conceive of. He didn’t get there by beating his head against a brick wall. It’s clear he sees this situation as a setback and wants to retreat. If he thought there was anything to be gained by attacking us he would have done so. Our only question is this: will we also lose by attacking?”
“You know,” Abby burst out in a loud whisper, “Geraldine asked me some hard questions just a few hours ago. Do we want to spend the next couple of years tied up in court, and probably accomplish nothing? A lot of people will get hurt. And this community council meeting event the day after tomorrow has got me thinking. I spent the first ten years of my life in Rivergate. I remember Pastor Banks. And most of the people in Rivergate are descendents of families driven out of Hidden Valley at the time the old Georgi house were burned.”
“Whoa!” whispered Phoebe. “I’m beginning to understand.”
Abby leaned forward. “Now, you probably don’t know that the haunted house where I was living used to be a Georgi house, a place where the family stayed during the winter to be near town. Do we want all this coming out at a trial? Given our mission as it stands, I don’t think we do, not at all.”
Abby’s voice was rushing along when suddenly they heard the sound of a breaking stick, an unmistakable snap. The noise seemed to come over the churchyard wall. They all froze, listening. Very faintly, Abby heard a crunching noise, like steps.
“What was that?” asked George in a faint whisper. “Am I imagining things?”
They waited. The voice of an owl seemed to enter the conversation. The whoo! Whoo! call seemed almost on top of them.
“Could someone have heard us?” whispered Phoebe.
“Noise could carry outside the wall,” answered Abby, “but I don’t think anyone could make out our words from there.” She tried to shake off her fears. “Look, let’s finish up. I’m in favor of accepting the agreement.” She turned to Phoebe. “I don’t want you charged with assault. Period. Do we want you struggling with this? We’ve got other more interesting and useful things to do. Plus, I think you both know why I don’t want attention focused on the events in Hidden Valley. I mean, that’s what we’re protecting. That’s what the Protectors of the Wood do! And people in Rivergate have reason to be scared. They’ve suffered horribly in the past and are coming to us now as their homes get flooded. We’ve got a lot to lose too…”
“I agree with Abby,” George whispered. “I already thought so but now I’m sure.”
They looked at Phoebe, who was quietly biting her lip. “I’m so grateful,” she whispered. “I love you both.”
www.protectorsofthewood.com

The Ghost Girl - Episode 13

GEORGE TELLS HIS STORY

14560179_1228143477226847_348174280439509276_o.jpg

"Is it really you? Oh, I'm so happy! I'm so happy!"
"Is everything okay?"
Abby nodded, locked the door, and beckoned them to follow. Up the narrow path they went in single file. As they entered the mulch pile the sky opened up and the moon shone on their faces. They sat down cross-legged on the dry leaves, making a small triangle. "Talk in whispers," Abby warned them. "The watchers are on duty all night across the street." They looked at each other, waiting for someone to begin.
"Phoebe," whispered Abby, "You saved my life last night. I owe you. I'll always remember the... the way you..." She was at a loss for words. Phoebe embraced her, and whispered in her ear, "It's okay. I wanted to do it. I would do it again."
"I'm your friend forever," Abby replied. It was something she had never said to anyone before. Then she became aware of George, looking on at this emotional scene and shifting away from the girls as if he were an intruder. She turned and pulled him closer by the shoulders, and hugged him. "George, I'm so glad to see you! But... aren't you taking a big risk coming here, with this business of being a spy? They'll take revenge like they've tried with me."
"That's one big reason we're here tonight," Phoebe cut in. "George, you tell it."
He looked at Abby and said, "You should know from the start that we're under pressure. We have to make decisions tonight."
"Go for it," said Abby.
"Well, this morning Peabody came up to me on the sidewalk and said we had to talk right away about what he called 'a very sensitive job'. So we crossed the street to his office, and he walked me into the back room. And who should be sitting there but Milton Morphy, the great robber baron himself! As soon as I sat down he just goes off in that angry voice, saying I betrayed him, sold photos to the enemy, can't be trusted, and they'll deal with me accordingly. I told him I'm not under any contract, and I'd earned ten times more money from The Evansville Record in one hour than I'd made from their newspaper over the last three months. Peabody got all frantic and told me I shouldn't talk to Milton that way, that it could hurt me forever, but Morphy just waved him off and said, 'No, no, I understand, I see the boy has ambitions. He wants to make money.' Then he came to the point and said he had an important job for me, where I could make more money than I'd ever had before."
George took a deep breath. 
"Go on, go on," whispered Abby.
"Morphy said there had been 'unfortunate misunderstandings' last night, and one of his colleagues had been hospitalized with a serious injury. He knew that Phoebe had hit him with a club and broke his arm, and said that she should be charged with assault and spend jail time. But then he added that some people in town had gotten 'a little hysterical'... so Phoebe may have thought she was defending herself. And now the police are trying to identify those people who became hysterical, the mob who thought magic had caused the storm and the car accidents and the blocking of the street, and went to that house in the forest in search of a witch." George saw he had all their attention.
So..." he went on, "Morphy said he'll make 'a little informal agreement', and let the whole thing alone if Phoebe and Tuck and Dr. Bear will also agree to do the same. Then he added, 'Nothing written, mind you! And if my name comes up at all you'll be very sorry, I promise you that!'
"It was really tense," George whispered. "I couldn't come up with a word to say. And Morphy just stares at me and says, 'Well, I'm waiting.'"

The Ghost Girl Blog - Episode 12

A SECRET MEETING

Illustration By Lawrence Tate

Illustration By Lawrence Tate

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

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

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

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

The Ghost Girl Blog - Episode 11

WHEN WOULD BE A BETTER TIME THAN NOW TO BEGIN?

Illustrations By Lawrence Tate

Illustrations By Lawrence Tate

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

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