The Ghost Girl - Episode 47

GEORGE & ABBY

Illustration By Lawrence Tate

Illustration By Lawrence Tate

Abby turned the key and opened the door a couple of feet. George stood in the doorway. A gleam from the moon, now high in the sky, shone on his face. Abby saw both hope and sadness in his eyes. She closed and locked the door behind her. “Follow me,” she whispered, and led George to the flat spot in the privet fort where they had met before. George’s face was now in shadow, hard to read. Abby sat with her hood up, almost invisible. They did not touch, but sat with tension in the air. “You know these men spying on the churchyard?” whispered George. “This is a different ball game than we started out with. The stakes have gone way up. I just want you to know.”
“I thought so.” Abby’s voice was low and almost inaudible. George had to move closer just to hear her. “But how do you know for sure?" she asked.
“Peabody actually introduced me to one of these… whatever you call them…” George searched for the right word.
“I call them stalkers,” said Abby.
“Yeah, stalkers. We had a little meeting in Peabody’s office. He wanted advice on whether one of these guys could just walk into the churchyard and take photos. His idea is that Tuck is mismanaging the church, and the Standard is going to publish a series on it. I told them Tuck would notice if they just came in taking pictures, and it might be offensive. So then Peabody wants me to do it! He especially wants shots of the abandoned building. I told him I wasn’t sure Tuck would allow me to do that, and Peabody said I don’t need permission, I’m a friend and no one will stop me. I told him I’d see, and he didn’t like that answer. ‘Do it!’ he said. ‘This is what we pay you for!’ It’s getting me stressed out, this spy game. And I overheard something… Morphy might make an offer to buy the churchyard and build offices right here where we’re sitting.”
“Oh no!” exclaimed Abby. She was stunned. “Thank God you came tonight! We’ve got to fix up that building in a hurry, and then you can take a few photos. Delay a few days! Maybe we can make things presentable.”
“And there’s more bad news,” George resumed. He was frowning, taking no pleasure in what he had to say. “They also want pictures of you, especially a good shot of you not working. ‘As embarrassing as possible,’ Peabody said. The stalker told us he’d tried but couldn’t get a good angle.”
Abby tried to be casual, saying: “That must have been when Jeremy brought the seeds and guitar and stuff…” She was nervous and stumbled over the words.
“Apparently Jeremy is working in the churchyard now,” George said.
Abby tried to maintain a low, even tone of voice. “Yeah,” she replied. “He’s a Protector. They’ve made fixing up the churchyard a priority. Chi Chi assigned Jeremy to work here. He even got Jim to give him time off from the gas station.”
“You know Jeremy has quit the band,” George told her. “I’m not sure I like all this.”
Abby was starting to panic, and changed the subject. “Guess who came back from Rivergate with me today? Ishmael, Isaiah, and Cali. They’re all moving into the greenhouse. And the concert is definitely on at Sara and Cali’s student rally!”
George finally smiled. “I know,” he said. “I’ve come straight from the greenhouse. Everyone was there tonight… except you. I mean it’s sad you couldn’t be there.”
“Oh, don’t worry about me,” said Abby, even though she did feel sad, and intensely curious. She looked up at George and smiled. “You can help me! Tell me what’s been going on. What’s everybody doing?”
“We’re practicing like mad. Almost six hours we’ve been at it. Phoebe says we have to be ready to play a week from Saturday. That’s going to be the first festival.”
“Hmmm… So things are good then?” she asked.
“It’s good in some ways. The band is getting real fans. I’m really proud of it… except… I’m not happy. This business of being a spy is getting in the way of what I’d really like to do… like go to your cottage and trade songs on the guitar.”
“George!” hissed Abby. “Think about the message you just brought me! And someone broke into the back window last night while I was away! Look, being a spy must be unbearable. I think you should quit. They’re devious, and powerful, and take revenge.”
George smiled in a ray of moonlight. “Tell me the truth now,” he said. “Am I right in thinking that my friends – like you, for instance – really, really need me to stick with it?”
“It’s true,” Abby had to admit. “Your news might save all of us. At least it gives us a chance.”
“We’re like soldiers,” George said. “What we’re doing seems to matter a lot… Look, I really should be going…”
“Be careful, George, please!”
“I learned it from you,” he said. “I’m invisible, as silent as a black cat.” He stood up. Abby followed him down the path to the iron door, and unlocked it.
“See you tomorrow night,” she whispered. They hugged as people do for a kiss on the cheek, but in the dark ending up kissing on the lips, just for a second. George turned and walked away.

The Ghost Girl - Episode 46

WAITING IN THE DARK

Illustration By Lawrence Tate

Illustration By Lawrence Tate

Back in the cottage, Abby made an omelet with fried finger beans and sliced potato squash. She was running low on provisions, and carefully thought through different options for visiting her forest garden and returning with the food she wanted, which would be more than she could possibly eat. She would have to go at night, and could never carry all the ripe fruits and vegetables and grains ready for harvest. And it would be more fun with another person…
Her thoughts returned to her 1PM date with George. ‘He likes me,’ she thought. ‘But I’m played out.’ With sudden clarity out of nowhere she realized she had no space for a boyfriend in her life. ‘I mean it’s so obvious,’ she told herself. ‘I’m like a soldier on a mission. George is a spy with a concealed identity. I’m stalked by strangers. I feel guilty and frightened if I hang out with Jeremy. He likes Phoebe and she likes him. And things probably won’t work out for them either. This being in a group on a mission business is a no-win situation for romance. I wish I could talk to Phoebe. She understands.’
Abby lay down to relax for a few minutes. Her thoughts trailed off into dream images…

‘Oh no! I’ve overslept. What about George? What time is it?’ She grabbed for her cell phone but it was gone. Jeremy was holding it for her. ‘Oh! I’ve been such a fool!’
She jumped up, changed into black clothing, and threw water on her face. ‘I’m going to get through this. I’ll wait for hours if necessary. If he’s gone I’ll get a message to him somehow. Who can help me? Jeremy can be a go-between.’
She grabbed the key to the churchyard back door, and climbed out the back window into the night. Faint light glimmered from an almost half moon rising low in the sky, throwing shadows across the churchyard. 
‘Let’s see, it’s how many days after the full moon? It was just last Friday or Saturday, less than a week ago. If the moon rises half an hour later every day, that means it would rise close to midnight tonight. I might be on time. Let’s do this right.’
She stood completely still. The crickets were making their droning sound. Nothing moved. The temperature had dropped, and the cool air felt wonderful. She put her hands in her pockets and walked silently behind the apple trees to the privet hedge, and crawled through the small opening next to the wall into the leaf pile. The damp leaves stuck to her hands and face and clothes, but made almost no noise. She glided down the small path by the wall to the iron door.
Nothing moved. The crickets droned on, but louder. She waited, and waited, her back against the wall, right next to the door. She concentrated on listening. It was amazing how many different sounds emerged over the course of an hour: a rustling of leaves, the hooting of an owl, the sad call of a bird she didn’t know, a faint movement among the vines… the owl hooted again. A cat yowled in the distance. A loud truck came and went on Bridge Avenue. Something that might have been a possum slowly threw a shadow on the grass. Voices in her mind told her she was too late. Another bird call came louder, like a warning. The eyes of a raccoon, bright in the moonlight, stared at Abby.
A faint tapping noise came from the iron door. It stopped. It came once more.
“George,” whispered Abby faintly.
“I’m here.”

The Ghost Girl - Episode 45

TWO INVITATIONS FOR ABBY

Illustration By Carlos Uribe

Illustration By Carlos Uribe

Abby pushed herself out the door and tried to work off her energy by moving the potted plants and trays of seedlings to the spots in the garden she had chosen for them. Her thoughts continued to grapple with the implications of the minute holes drilled in her window. Someone had broken into her cottage the night before, and had done it in a very professional way.
Tuck appeared at his side door and called to her. “Give me a few minutes,” he said. She followed him up to his office, dreading another piece of bad news. 
“Both Glenda and George,” Tuck told her, “stopped by the front desk to see you. Since I’d left Janet with instructions not to allow visitors, they left you these notes.” He handed her two envelopes. “I hate to impose on you this way, but you really do need to get your own phone.”
Abby’s depression changed to a flash of anger. “Someone broke into my cottage last night, using quite a bit of skill. They could easily be eavesdropping on our phones.”
Tuck looked bitterly off into space. “I was afraid of that,” he said. “But I didn’t think they’d jump to such an extreme.”
“Why wouldn’t they go as far as they can?” Abby replied. Tuck turned white with a frozen expression on his face. Red blotches appeared on his cheeks. “I’m sorry,” he finally said. “I’ll need time to… digest the implications… It seems I’ve underestimated the dangers here.”
“I’m going through the same thing,” Abby said, as she rose and walked to the door. 
Back in the cottage she grabbed the note from George from her back pocket and read the scribbled words: 

Abby, why is your phone turned off? I’ve got news you
must hear right away. I’ll be at the back door at 1AM.
- George

She felt that George was taking too many risks, but she didn’t dare enter Scutter’s Market across the street and try to talk to him on the job. In fact she had no idea what to do, and grabbed Glenda’s note get her mind onto a different subject. She read:

Hi Abby, the interview with Rose and Rob is on for 6:30. Come to my house by 5, bring whatever ID and resume you may have. Tiny and I will go with you to the pre-school.
- Glenda

‘Resume?’ thought Abby. ‘I don’t have any resume, or even a computer to type it on. And it’s not as if there’s much to put on it.’ But she definitely wanted the job at the pre-school, and felt determined to try no matter how hopeless it seemed. She showered, found the most respectable clothes she owned, and hurried down Bridge Avenue, birth certificate and social security card in her pocket. ‘Rose and Rob are getting old,’ she said to herself. ‘That school runs 10 hours a day. Do they have anyone to help them?’
Glenda and Tiny were delighted to see her. Abby told them about her previous jobs and very brief child care experience, and Glenda typed the resume. 
They arrived at the Todd farmhouse at 6:30 sharp. Rob invited Tiny and Glenda to the playroom and Rose walked Abby to the children’s dining room, where they sat in chairs far too small for them. Abby found herself totally at ease. Rose’s questions all seemed to be an effort to find reasons to hire her. Abby make it clear that she was only looking for a morning job. The 8:30 to 1pm shift would be perfect. Her responsibilities at the church could not be neglected. When Rose discovered that Abby played the guitar she beamed and smiled, clapped her hands and said, “Oh, just what we need!”  
When they rejoined Glenda, Tiny, and Rob, Rose handed her the guitar, and everyone waited. Abby’s mind went blank. But then she thought of a few songs her father had taught her long ago. She hummed a tune to a few chords and launched into the signature song from the old Walt Disney TV show:

When you wish upon a star, makes no difference who you are
When you wish upon a star your dreams come true.

She sang it twice and then invited Tiny to sing with her. Tiny joined in with enthusiasm and Rose and Rob joined in too. Later on Abby explained that she used to run gardening activities for families at the Half Moon Florist, her previous employer. Rose invited her to try out gardening and music as a volunteer with the children for three mornings the coming week. They spent half an hour filling out paperwork, and Glenda drove Abby home. 
Everything had gone well, but Abby remembered that after the mob scene at the abandoned house – only a few days ago -- she had said in her TV interview that she was ‘living’ in the abandoned house. Suddenly she felt certain her paperwork would never be approved… but somewhere in her heart she still had hope. 
Then her thoughts shifted to her coming late-night meeting with George.

The Ghost Girl - Episode 43


HIDING THE MAPSTICK IN THE TREASURE ROOM

19024944_1552056391502219_6579794014048961552_o.jpg

Junior looked his watch. “I’ve only a few minutes, and then we’ve got to get you and the mapstick safely to the church.”
“But I still don’t understand,” Abby insisted. “How are we going to deal with dreamstone? We can’t make it public! That will only provoke greed, misunderstanding, fortune hunting…”
“Of course,” Junior interrupted. “None of us know how to handle this problem, except the way our ancestors have handled it for countless years. One of your main gifts – you and your friends in Middletown, -- has been to distract these fortune hunters, playing David to their Goliath. You and your friends have to continue on that path. It’s a crucial part of the overall plan.” Abby frowned and looked frustrated. “But… you want this new model, the Good Road, to be influential around the globe. This sounds like a plan to save the world! Isn’t that absurdly far-fetched, even grandiose? We’re just a bunch of kids.”
“Just remember one thing,” said Junior. “We are not alone. There are many doing the same thing, quietly and invisibly building the Good Road, hoping to link up with others before they get stomped out. You’re job is to reach out to them.”
“And how do I do that?” Abby muttered.
“Let’s say you start with the church activities. Save Reverend Tuck from defeat. Go to Evansville. Work with Sara and her political group. Help the band to expand their audience. And help Amy Zhi in secret. Link up with her professor and the climate change panel. All that is possible for you and your friends… Look, we don’t know what the ultimate fate of dreamstone will be, or should be. All we can do now is fulfill our responsibility as well as we can. As the Keeper of the Mapstick, your role will change. You’ll have to take it step by step. But right now we’ve got to head up Cemetery Lane to the church, where you will ask Tuck for a place to hide the mapstick. And I’m late for my meeting with our new agricultural cooperative.”
They walked out into the front display area of the garden center. Alison yelled from behind the counter, “Chi Chi is loading flats and pots of young plants into the van for Abby. He’s going to drive you.” They stepped out into the parking lot, where Chi Chi was waiting for them. He took the mapstick and carefully slid it behind the front seats. In a moment they were on their way.
Abby stared at the cargo behind her, where literally hundreds of plants were laid out, most in small cubicles, 24 per tray, and a few in large pots, the upper leaves against the roof of the van. Pulling up to the churchyard, Chi Chi said, “Unload the plants first, just leave them inside the gate on the grass.” They worked fast.
“Now,” Chi Chi whispered, “take that in the side door and find Tuck.” He was pointing at the mapstick. “And before we attract more attention, let’s go, Junior, we’re late.”
Abby had hardly ever seen Chi Chi so abrupt, but she had no time to think. She calmly walked her bundle of tools hiding the mapstick up the churchyard path and knocked on the side door. She knocked again, and again, and again, struggling not to look at the stalkers on the sidewalk behind her. Then she saw Tuck come out of the abandoned school building and up the path. “I hope you haven’t waited long,” he said, and turned a key in the door. “Why are you carrying all those tools? You look awfully serious.”
“I am serious,” returned Abby. “These tools conceal… an heirloom, given to me by my father. I need to keep it in the safest place you can think of.”
Tuck watched her expression carefully, and led her down the stairs to the large meeting room, now silent and empty. “I see you’re anxious about something. What’s wrong with putting it in your cottage?”
“You know these men across the street watch night and day. What will stop them from breaking into my cottage whenever I’m not there?”
“Is this something they would want?”
“I have reason to think so…” Abby whispered, “though I’m not sure what this thing is. But I am sure that the loss of it would be a catastrophe for me and those who care for me.”
“That serious…” muttered Tuck. “Wait here.” He headed up the stairs and returned moments later. They walked down a narrow stairway to a sub-basement Abby had never seen before. Behind old broken furniture, wooden chests, and other clutter, they arrived at a metal door. He took from his pocket a silver key. The long metal prong sprouted four evenly spaced wings, full of indentations and curves. He opened the door and flipped on a light. Abby gazed at a roomful of amazing objects. There were carved tables, ancient vestments and robes, statues, jeweled rings and necklaces, crosses on tall staffs, a huge chest of drawers, and two paintings framed in gold. One portrayed a woman in a crimson robe with arms outstretched, standing on a crescent moon. Another presented a crowned woman with a staff and wings, enthroned amidst a circle of angels. Her skin and dress were deep red.
“See that low table?” Tuck said. “Set it there, back near the wall.” Abby untied the tools and lifted the mapstick free of it’s wrapping. She realized that it was the first time she had ever held it alone, unconcealed. ‘How could it possibly be so light?” she wondered, and placed it on the table.

The Ghost Girl - Episode 42

BUILDING THE GOOD ROAD

Illustration By Lawrence Tate

Illustration By Lawrence Tate

Sharon pulled the lever and the bow of the boat sank to the ground, becoming an open ramp. “It you’re staying here, take all your stuff,” said Sharon. “The River Queen and the carts are going to Evansville.”
“Yeah, we’re going to sell the new vegetables at the college market,” Sara told Abby.
“Everybody over here in the shade,” called Sharon. “Come in close.” The group gathered round. “Thanks for the best ride ever! And one more thing,” Sharon added in a low tone. “This thing.” She touched Abby’s bundle. “Let’s all forget we ever saw it, unless you’re privately with each other. Got that?”
“I understand,” said Junior. “Of course.” All agreed, looking at each other and nodding. Lluvia came up close to Diego and mouthed a few words, totally in silence. Abby could read her lips saying “The Ghost Girl is the Keeper.”
“Okay,” said Sharon. “We’re off. On to Half Moon and Evansville.”
Sara called to Abby, “See you tomorrow at 5:30!” Abby waved, and then followed Junior around the garden center to a side door. He led her to Alison’s personal office and herb storage room. The shelves on three walls were full of glass jars of different sizes and shapes, containing leaves and powders and oils. A side table held a butcher block with knives and small utensils. Books and a window took up the fourth wall. A desk, computer and filing cabinets cluttered the central area. Abby set the mapstick carefully on the floor and took a seat. Wasting no time, Junior launched into a torrent of words: “I’ve only got about 45 minutes. We need to talk in a hurry. My Dad filled me in a little bit, and now I’m all yours.” Junior was restless, and paced around as he spoke.
“Nice job at the Open Gate,” began Abby. “I see you have a plan, like a military campaign. Suddenly I’m a part of it, but I don’t see all the pieces. Sonny acts like I’m supposed to know everything but I don’t. I’m having trouble with the big picture. How would you describe our major goal? How does it all fit together?”
“As you know,” Junior replied, “this is a long story. But I’m going to keep it brief. It’s obvious that Rivergate and Hidden Valley have in many ways a different way of life than the wide world around us. It almost seems like a freakish accident, but there it is. Undeniable. Now, it seemed for… maybe two hundred years or more, that the larger world of getting rich, with powerful organizations gathering the earth’s resources to amass huge fortunes, was the way of the future. We appeared to be a relic of the past. But as time went on the picture changed. And now… with every passing year we are more convinced we have a gift that the world needs, a bridge over the raging sea. The dark side of the pillaging of the earth has come to haunt us all, rich and poor, in every part of the world.” Abby was about to speak, but Junior raised his hand. “Okay, you know all that. But you aren’t thinking about the implications of it. Let me spell them out. You know the legend of the Good Road and the Bad Road. The Good Road was neglected, and has to be re-discovered and built again. Much of the world is on the Bad Road, and people are starting to panic. But they are unsure what to do, and tend to deny the problem, which only makes them more frightened and desperate. Our job is to expand the Good Road, build it up so that other people can join in. And many others – all over the world – are also struggling to build the Good Road, but we haven’t reached any critical mass yet. That’s because those who profit from the Bad Road have enormous power, and try to hide and destroy the Good Road. And if we show ourselves too openly, we risk getting stepped on, getting wiped out. So we have to grow quietly. We have to establish ourselves in a strong way before we get too much attention.”
“Okay,” said Abby. “I follow you. That’s one of my problems, understanding what has to be expanded and what has to be hidden.”
“Right. You will be in touch with many people, and will have a more central role as events start moving. So I’m going to outline what I call the package, with the key building blocks. The first key you already understand as well as I: widespread local agriculture using the art of seed saving, developing varieties of trees and plants adapted to the local climate that grow in harmony together and not only feed people, but provide energy and other materials throughout each particular area. We’ve made fabulous progress here, becoming stewards of the forest and thriving on it’s benefits, drawing in the local farms, spreading the best varieties of seed, teaching methods tested over hundreds, maybe thousands of years. And we’ve done this while eliminating fossil fuel completely. An essential part of our way is the art of composting. No long-term agriculture or renewable natural gas is possible without it. You are familiar with all this, but now we need to spread the knowledge, join with others to make this a global trend.”

The Ghost Girl - Episode 41

HIGH WATER ON THE HALF MOON

Illustration By Carlos Uribe

Illustration By Carlos Uribe

The flooded river swerved around the fallen tree and over the bank, flowing through the edge of the forest. “Keep it slow and straight,” said Sharon. “That’s it, that’s it. See the cut branches? Just barely to the right of it. Fight the current pushing us to shore!”
Lluvia and Diego slanted their oars in the water to force the bow to the left, and the current began to swing the stern around to the right. “Let it go! Let it go!” screamed Sharon. The Caletas withdrew their oars. They heard the motor suddenly roar, and felt the boat shoot forward, rising up out of the water a few inches. Sharon used the new leverage to steer from the stern. They bore down upon the opening, brushed the branches just to their left, holding straight. They accelerated down the chute, and in seconds were in open water moving back to the center of the river.
Abby slapped Lluvia on the back and cheered. People gave each other high fives, and yelled compliments to Sharon, but she did not respond, keeping her eyes on the water ahead. “All right now, back to business,” she said. “Nice going, but watch the water. Slow us down a bit. Cali, watch carefully. I think we’ll take the left side of Rock Island and stay left past Ghost Point.”
“We’ll make it easy,” responded Diego.
Sharon had let the motor idle, but the coasting speed was fast. The Caletas gently held them back. “There’s Rock Island!” called Cali. The boat gradually moved to the left bank. “Kayak ahead!” yelled Cali. “It’s heading toward the Rock Island chute!”
After a few seconds of silence, Sharon yelled, “Fast to the right. Slow us down. Taking Rock Island on the right. We’ll run the Ghost Point bar!”
The Caletas worked their oars, straining their muscles against the raging current. The boat swung to the right, but the island seemed to be moving toward them very fast. Sharon gunned the motor and steered hard to the right. The stern swung downstream with a sickening slide. “Left, left!” she shouted. The bow turned downstream and the boat slowly straightened out. The motor went back into idle, and the River Queen missed the island to their left by twenty feet, coasting along safely.
‘I’ve never been this close to the Ghost River,’ thought Abby. She studied the bank to her right, and noticed Lluvia doing the same thing. The cliffs and waterline boulders suddenly became a low cave like the upper part of an open mouth. A stream of clear water issued forth into the Half Moon, pushing the boat away with the current. There was no splashing or white water at the cave mouth. The new current hit the Half Moon under water, and flowed mysteriously from a hidden source. The clear water was visible as it joined the Half Moon, and the drift carried them away from the dangerous rocks near the mouth. “Don’t stare!” yelled Sharon. “Slow us down a bit. A little more. We want to take the first bridge nice and easy, and keep slowing down to land just after the second bridge on the right. There won’t be much room to come ashore, but we’ll find a few feet of mud and grass. Cali, get ready with the rope. Junior, help her. Diego, take the stern rope. Jump out as soon as we hit land. Keep the stern from swinging.”
The boat lost speed, stayed safely in the center of the river, and passed under Bridge Avenue with no problem. The Caletas gently slanted toward the right bank, struggling to hold their paddles against the water. The boat lost more speed, wavering in the water. The motor idled, and they drifted uncertainly toward the right opening under the Cemetery Bridge. “Slower, more, more, closer to the right. Still more!”
They shaved the side of the opening under the bridge. The Caletas pushed on their oars, still slanting to the right.
“Hold on!” shouted Sharon. She gunned the motor in reverse. The side of the bow slid up the muddy bank and stuck with a jerk. Cali, Junior, and Diego leaped ashore as the stern swung downstream. Diego immediately circled the rope around a thin birch tree that leaned under the pressure.
“Everybody off fast,” came Sharon’s order. They scrambled into ankle deep water. Cali and Junior on the bow rope pulled the now much lighter River Queen up the bank. They heaved on the line in unison. “Again,” ordered Sharon. Finally they tied the rope to a willow tree, and rubbed their hands.
“Should have worn gloves,” said Cali.

The Ghost Girl - Episode 40

A WILD RIDE

Illustration by Carlos Uribe

Illustration by Carlos Uribe

“So,” Abby asked Sonny, “Just one more thing before I sleep. What did you mean when you said, ‘Isn’t that a coincidence’?
“We’re too tired to go into it. You and Sharon are in for a wild ride down the river tomorrow. Listen to that rain!”
“But I’m so curious!”
“All right, but what I say will only make you more curious, and it makes me curious too. When I mentioned that you are the custodian of the Young Warriors’ story, I recalled that traditionally, the person who holds the mapstick is called the Keeper of the Mapstick, or just the Keeper for short. That hard to define word, ‘keeper’, can also mean custodian or protector. You are now the Keeper. That’s all for tonight. Get some sleep!”
Sharon was already having breakfast with Sonny when Abby woke and dressed for the boat ride. She heard that Sara, Junior, Isaiah, Ishmael, and Cali would all be traveling with them. Sharon said, “It’s perfect weather. But wait ‘till you see the river. Very high water, almost flood level again. I wouldn’t even chance it, but we’ll have the Caletas with us. Abby’s mind caught an elusive memory. “River Girl and Explorer Boy!” she said. “They were in the Young Warriors Club when I was no more than 9 years old! Luvia and Diego Caleta.”
“You do remember,” said Sharon. “I’m so glad. You’re still the same girl even though you’re grown up, with responsibilities.”
“And I’ve got to pack in a few minutes!” said Abby in a panic. “Sonny, can I borrow a few garden tools, just some old rakes or spades you have around. And maybe a thin blanket.” He smiled at her in approval. “I’ve collected a few things already," he said, "just outside the door.” Abby and Sharon brought two rakes, a hoe, and an old spade and some clothesline into the seed room. Sonny threw them a flannel blanket. They spread it out on the floor and put the mapstick on one side. They rolled it up good and tight and then surrounded it with the tools, and tied them all together in a tight bundle. Sharon made a loop in the middle to carry it, and presented it to Abby. 
It was truly a beautiful day. From where they stood at the edge of the path they saw the sun sparkle on the endlessly moving water. Abby was trying to get used to carrying the mapstick. She felt so conspicuous, as if she were carrying a spear, something people would stare at. And her fears turned out to be well founded. As Cali, Sara, Isaiah, Ishmael, and Junior greeted her, their eyes kept shifting to her bundle. 
“Here, let me help you with that,” said Sharon. “I’ll find a good place for it on the River Queen. It’s high priority cargo.” Sharon raised her voice for the group to hear. Abby breathed a sigh of relief.
They all stepped into the boat, shouting hellos and finding places to sit. Lluvia and Diego each held the end seat on the two benches, and showed off the gleaming oars in their hands. Isaiah joined Sharon back in the cabin, and helped her tie the mapstick bundle along the floor flush with the side of the boat.
“Okay, cast off that line, Ishmael,” said Sharon. In a moment she backed out into the fast water, and turned downstream. The boat picked up speed, and in less than a minute moved past the island into the faster, clearer water of the Half Moon. Abby felt excitement surge through her body as they picked up speed. The boat raced through the pillars at the Highway 71 Bridge, and they tore past the marshland toward the cliffs on their right. “We’ll run the bar at Cedar Point,” yelled Sharon, obviously speaking to Lluvia and Diego, who were poised on either side, oars ready just above the water. “Then we’ll cross right and slow way down. Just below the big boulder there’s a tree down across the river from the left that I cut through on the right hand side yesterday. We had to unload, but today we just might go through. When you see it coming hug the right side and prepare to stop if necessary.”
“Canoe dead center!” screamed Cali. 
“I got it!” returned Sharon. “Stay well to the right, slow down a little.” Diego pushed his oar slowly underwater and the boat turned a bit. Lluvia pressed her oar into the rushing water a couple of feet deep like her brother’s. The boat seemed to rock as if a wave were passing under them from behind. “Okay, let up,” Sharon said. In seconds they passed a canoe with riders drifting down the river in the center. “Cindy!” yelled Cali and Lluvia, and waved. “Take the down tree on the right,” called Sharon. “It’s coming right up!”
“There’s the pourover on the down tree,” shouted Cali. “The water rises two feet!”
“More to the right!” ordered Sharon. “Slow, slow!” The engine was barely idling. The River Queen was drifting, held back by the oars plunged into the water. The Caletas struggled to hold them. The fast current threatened to bring the boat broadside. The fallen tree was just ahead. “Look at that water!” came Cali’s frantic voice. “Way over the bank among the trees! No landing room at all!”

The Ghost Girl - Episode 39

THE YOUNG WARRIORS CLUB

Illustration By Carlos Uribe

Illustration By Carlos Uribe

Sonny and Abby were silent for a moment, drinking tea and eating apple slices. “So…” Sonny resumed, “you want me to be more frank in telling you what I think. Right?”
“Yes.”
“Well, I think you conceal much more than I do. You’ve got a whole picture of what you’re doing that you hide from me, and in that picture are the answers to most of your questions. But you act like I should know more about that than you do.”
Abby stared. “Okay, I’ll bite. Tell me about it.”
“It’s your internal picture… actually it’s more than that. It has a larger reality around and beyond you.”
“What are you talking about?” Abby’s voice rose in frustration.
“Now don’t get all riled up. Let me just ask you… do you remember my father?”
“Of course. He was a part of Sunday School when I was little, maybe seven or eight.”
“And what did he do? I mean, in Sunday School, what was his role with you kids?”
“He ran the Young Warriors Club.”
“And what was that?”
Abby thought for a minute, eating apple slices to keep occupied. Something was very difficult about this line of questioning, but she struggled on. “Mostly he told stories,” she said. “About the Young Warriors Club.”
“But the stories weren’t directly about you and the other kids, were they?”
“No, of course not. They were about the characters, the young warriors, saving the world from evil. Bad people were eating the world, gobbling up forests, rivers, even other people and towns and cities. It was scary. I’ve sometimes thought they’d never allow stories like that nowadays.”
“So who were these characters? Where did they come from?”
“They came from all over. Some from over the ocean, some from the mountains, some from the other side of the world, some even started as bad people but turned out to be good. And they were named after places, like River Girl and Mountain Boy and Land-of-Snow and Over-the-Sea. River Girl, was from here, from Rivergate.
“And what did they do?”
“They banded together to save the world and the animals and the people… I can’t quite remember how they got started, but the Good Fairy helped them. She had some sort of magic. They did things in secret, and won over the hearts of people who were lost, following a bad road. The young warriors built a new road… or… at least they tried to… but – this is the hard part – your father died and the story was never finished.”
Abby tried to blink away the water that was filling her eyes. She was afraid to say more, but became so full of emotion that she couldn’t stop. “I waited every week in suspense, and thought about that story all the time! I just wanted to know how they would do it – or if they could – but suddenly… he died. No one could take his place. There never was anyone like your father. We never found out what happened next.”
“Yes, very true, and I should know… Okay, now bear with me, I know you’re upset. But you left out an important character… the Ghost Girl. Who was she? Where did she come from?”
“She was the daughter of the Good Fairy. She was from all over.” Abby’s eyes teared up again.
“Okay, now tell me, is this story over now? Or is it still going on?”
Abby was sobbing. “That’s not fair!” she cried. “You tricked me! I’ve never told anyone about this!”
“Oh, plenty of people know about it. Many remember. And you should answer my question. Is the story over now?”
“No! No, damn it! It’s just begun. You knew that already, but you had to drag it out of me, lay bare my secrets. Why?”
Sonny was quiet for a minute. Abby’s breathing gradually calmed down.
“I admit,” he said softly, “that I’m a manipulator at times, but you’re able to stand up for yourself. Why do you let me get away with it? I think it’s because I’m responding to your questions.”
“But it’s only a children’s story. I’m not from all over. I’m from here. I’m not the daughter of the Good Fairy, that’s all a fantasy.”
“I hear you. But you’re the one who remembers this in such a vivid way, you’re the one everybody teased – more than teased, I think – about being the Ghost Girl. You’ve carried this experience your whole life, beyond Rivergate to Half Moon High School to becoming Wendy’s apprentice and on to the Church of Middletown. It’s your big picture. And you know perfectly well that it’s not just a children’s story. My father took a legend – or maybe it’s more like a vision of the future – from long ago. He changed it a little to suit the times, what you kids would understand. And you’re making something of this story, or it’s making something of you, or both. You’re the servant of this story, or maybe the steward, or custodian, is a better word.”
Sonny stopped suddenly, gave himself a little shake, and opened his eyes wide. “No isn’t that a coincidence.” He paused, thinking.

The Ghost Girl - Episode 37

THE SHOW AT THE OPEN GATE

Illustration By Carlos Uribe

Illustration By Carlos Uribe

Abby and Amy filled their plates and ate ravenously, without saying a word. They were glowing, and couldn’t wipe the smiles off their faces. Full to the brim, they sat back and looked around the room. A group of young men had set up a circle of drums, and began to play a few beats. Junior took the mike and announced, “Ladies and gentlemen, community and friends of Rivergate, welcome to our show! I’ve promised you a special presentation, and we’ll start with our own drum circle. Musicians, take it away…”
The drumming started as a low hum, and carried on for about ten minutes in almost hypnotic fashion. The music grew louder, and more varied, even jagged, rough and scary. Finally it settled into a single beat, and then the performers became silent one by one, until only two drummers played together, trading beats back and forth. Gradually all the drummers joined in for a climax, and then settled back into the hypnotic hum.
Suddenly electronic noise – some wild static – cut through the drumming and made an eerie music. Then a voice came over the mike as if a radio channel had just found a good connection: “With a breaking story from Rivergate – the town in the news – this is Stan Miller from WBCS in River City.”
The audience laughed. Abby realized that Cali was making the electronic noise, and Junior was imitating the voice of the famous newsman.
“Our whole great nation has seen photos of the recent storms and flooding throughout the Half Moon River Valley, and Governor Palmer has declared a state of emergency in Rivergate County and here in River City. Tonight we’ll focus on the island of Rivergate, where the only access road has been closed by damage to the Snake River Bridge, and the community is completely isolated. We have exclusive coverage from our reporter on the spot, Janet Rivera, coming to you live after a hazardous journey upriver by boat through another storm. Janet, are you there?”
Sara appeared behind the table and spoke into a second mike. “Yes Stan, I’m here in Rivergate at a large community meeting hall waiting for my interview with Sonny Walker, the County Executive and Mayor of Rivergate. We’ll have the latest news for our listening audience from the man himself… and here he is, Sonny Walker!”
The audience clapped and whistled. Sara began by saying, “Mayor Walker, we want to thank you for taking this time out from what must have been a very busy day.”
Sonny had taken Junior’s mike and answered, “It’s my pleasure, Janet. We need this opportunity to describe our situation to the wide world.”
“Okay, let’s get started! Please tell us how you’re handling this emergency.”
“Emergency? Actually, we don’t have any emergency that I know of…”
Laughter broke out across the enormous room. Sara waited, and then said, “I mean the closing of the Snake River Bridge, the only road off this island. Surely that must be causing problems.”
“Well… that may be an emergency for the state government and the department of transportation. The bridge is part of the on-ramp to Highway 71, and is therefore part of the state highway system. How they are going to handle their responsibility is not clear at this point.”
“But how are you receiving food and other supplies, how are people getting to work and school? What about medical emergencies? Homes have been flooded. How are you accommodating the homeless?”
“I should start out by saying that this storm and flooding have caused no deaths or injuries in Rivergate County.” Clapping spread among the crowd. “No currently occupied homes were flooded. And should a medical emergency occur, we can take the patient to Middletown Hospital downstream by boat faster than an ambulance can get here and back. We have a ferry type of system running from early morning to late evening, taking residents ashore to the highway access road, where they can meet the Main street bus.”
“But what about food, fuel, and other essential supplies?”
“You may not be aware that we are a farming community, more self-sufficient than most places you’ll ever see. We have our own elementary school here on the island, and older students can use the ferry and catch the bus to Half Moon.”
“Amazing! There do seem to be serious misunderstandings in the news. I’m sure you’re aware that Governor Palmer announced on Monday that the state is prepared to evacuate Rivergate and find appropriate housing for all its residents. What is your response to his offer?”
“We can see nothing to justify the suffering this would cause for our citizens, people who own their own land. We are not in danger, and are no threat to anyone. There is no reason to burden the tax-paying public with a huge expense. This plan would not end an emergency, it would create an emergency for no reason.”
Loud cheers erupted across the room, and people stood up to clap. After a few minutes, Sara asked, “Why then are the governor and state officials considering this plan?”
“Well… I can only assume that they are not familiar with the real situation… perhaps relying on second hand news.”
Abby smiled to herself, thinking, ‘Oh how clever! Sonny is clever as a fox!’

The Ghost Girl - Episode 36

ABBY AND AMY Z

Illustration By Lawrence Tate

Illustration By Lawrence Tate

As Abby and her mother were speaking, people kept arriving. Abby’s mother began looking around the crowd, and stared at the long line forming at the cafeteria. “They need me,” she said. “Margie’s been at it all day, and she’s too slow for this crowd.”
“Go, Mom!” said Abby. “I’m proud of you and Dad. It makes me happy to be here.” Her mother hugged her for a moment and dashed off.
‘Okay,’ thought Abby. ‘That went well. Now what?’ She felt someone approaching her, and turned to see Sara Williams. “Can we join you?” she asked.
“Yes, of course.”
“Abby, this is Amy. We’re at Evansville College together, and… we do so many things together! Amy needs to speak to you.” Abby stood up and shook hands with a young East Asian woman with glowing dark eyes and straight black hair that glistened in the light.
“I’ve only got a moment,” said Sara. “We have to practice our show for tonight. They’ve given me a part.”
“How exciting,” returned Abby. “What will you do?”
“You’ll see! Right now they’re calling me.” Sara hurried off.
Abby and Amy looked at each other, and pulled their chairs close together. “Okay, Amy, you have my full attention. We may only have a few minutes.” Abby was feeling nervous, and very curious.
“You may know,” began Amy in a low voice, “that I work a couple of days a week with the Parks Energy Project in Half Moon.”
“Oh!” exclaimed Abby. “Jeremy and I were just talking about it two days ago… Are you a supervisor there?”
“I’m only a student intern like Sara is at the Evansville Record. Sara’s a journalism major and I’m in Energy Science.”
“Energy Science…”
Amy leaned forward with a warm smile. “Actually my major is called ‘Energy Science in the Age of Climate Change’. It’s a new department, just four years old. You might have heard of our department head, Roberto Richardson. He’s well-known in this field.”
“No,” Abby replied, “I’m afraid I’m… pretty ignorant of the science involved. I’ve never been to college.”
“That’s okay, I understand. We’re not looking for another college type person, we’re looking for someone like you.”
“Really? Why? No one knows anything about me.”
Amy smiled to herself as if she was trying not to laugh. She looked into Abby’s eyes and said, “Let me say a few things quick.” She moved closer and kept her voice down. “I know Sara, I know Junior Walker and his father, I know Chi Chi, I know Jeremy, I know Isaiah, I know Freddy Baez of the Evansville Record, just to name a few. And I follow the news, so of course I know a lot about you. Just listen to our problem: I’m writing my thesis on the Energy Project, and my advisor is Roberto Richardson. He’s fascinated by what we’re doing, and wants to visit and know more. He’s an influential guy. For example, he’s a member of the United Nations climate change group, what they call the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. They have representatives from all over the world, and try to keep up with issues and solutions from every country, urban and rural, rich and poor. Roberto is in the middle of writing a paper with recommendations based on our Energy Project, using it as a model. He might make a presentation to the Panel.”
Abby felt the excitement tingle in her fingers. “That is amazing… I hardly know what to say… But why speak to me?”
“This is where it gets complicated. The Energy Project is based on a very special situation, one that neither Sara nor I fully understand. I’ve had to tell Roberto, and Sara has told her boss, not to create publicity about this, at least not yet.”
Abby looked at Amy with respect, and nodded. “A wise decision, I can only thank you…”
“First and foremost,” said Amy with passion in her voice, “We want to be your ally, a part of your group. We want to join what you’re doing, and understand the opportunities and dangers. Right now we are very cautious, knowing how little we know.”
Abby nodded. Her eyes sparkled. This conversation was opening up a new world. “I think this is wonderful. But I’m still not sure where I fit in. Why approach me?”
Amy pulled her chair right up to Abby and spoke in her ear. “Frankly, the people who understand this situation have asked me to speak to you.”
Abby stared in surprise. “Is this Friday evening good for you?" she asked. "Come early for our Youth Council Meeting. But you should know that I’m followed wherever I go. Oh, not here to Rivergate. They weren’t expecting me to leave by boat. But our church is watched day and night. Just so you’re aware of my situation.”
“Count me in!” exclaimed Amy.

The Ghost Girl - Episode 34

A CONVERSATION IN THE RAIN

Illustration BY Carlos Uribe

Illustration BY Carlos Uribe

Sonny finished up their talk by telling Abby, “I’ll lock this in the seed room, and your bag too. It’s going to rain.” He gently picked up the mapstick and the small duffel bag and walked into the shanty.
“Can I have the privilege of giving you a little tour?” asked Dennis.
“I’d love that, Dad, let’s go while we still have time.”
Thick clouds covered the sky. An early twilight spread across the land. Abby and her father walked among the trees. She ate a few apples, and they discussed different varieties, old and new. But Dennis seemed preoccupied. In response to her questions he gave short answers, and finally none at all.
“What’s the matter, Dad?”
“Oh, there’s more to this story. I’m just debating how to tell you.” They stopped and looked at each other. A fine drizzle was in the air. Wisps of fog floated across the orchard.
“It’s okay,” Abby said softly. “I want to hear it.”
“Let me tell you a little history, maybe that’s the best way. You see, after we left Rivergate and moved to Ridgewood, your mother and I needed more money. I was promoted at Owen’s Apples and increased my hours, but soon I realized I didn’t like it. In fact I began to hate it.”
He put his hands in his pockets and hunched his shoulders. “Now don’t feel sorry for me,” Dennis continued. “Just listen… After only a few months I realized that I’d lost a dream. I’d always had a secret hope that someday I would grow an apple tree from seed – not grafting, mind you, but straight from seed – that would have fabulous new gifts. You know how unexpected these experiments are. The result is always a new variety but usually not worth growing for people. But I’ve always known that every once in a while a new seed comes up with entirely new, perfect virtues, a moment of grace, a miracle. At Owen’s Apples, as you can guess, I had no time to experiment. No one cared. They wouldn’t even allow me to try because it didn’t pay.”
Abby waited, knowing there was more. A strong breeze blew the drizzle into her face.
“In my heart, this loss of a dream was somehow related to the mapstick. I knew I had this great gift, but could do nothing with it, and it became an obsession. So I finally asked Wendy about it.”
Abby gasped. “You went to see her? But you didn’t get along, hadn’t spoken in years! Why didn’t you tell me?”
“Yes, yes, don’t rub it in. I’ve made terrible mistakes, I know. But after you started high school and began to stay away nights and lead a separate life that I knew little about, I had to do something. I searched her out. She was overjoyed to see me, and even said she’d been expecting me. I told her the problems that were eating away at my life, and she said a few things that I’d like to tell you now.” Abby waited, breathless with anticipation. She felt her heart moving, pounding in her breast.
“She said that I was already in fact growing a new shoot from a wild seed, a tree that could become an unexpected variety, a moment of grace. I knew as soon as she said this that the new tree… it was you. So I asked her about the mapstick. What does it mean, when should I give it to you, what should I say? Wendy told me I’d know when the time came, because you would come to me. I knew today was it.”
Abby felt tears rolling down her cheeks. She grabbed her father and hugged him, sobbing quietly. He finally stepped back and said, “And there’s more. Wendy talked about the mapstick. Did she ever mention this to you?”
“No, never.”
“She told me to wait for the right time, and I guess she did too.”
Abby heard a sound drifting on the wind, and realized it was someone calling. “Dennnniss! Abbbyyy! Where are youuu! Dennniss! Abbyyy!”
“It’s mom,” Abby said. They wiped the tears and rain from their faces and walked toward the sound. Abby ground her teeth. “I need to hear the rest of this,” she told herself.

The Ghost Girl - Episode 33


THE BURDEN OF ABBY’S FATHER

Illustration By Carlos Uribe

Illustration By Carlos Uribe

Abby sat there staring in amazement. Finally she said, “I can see what a burden that must be! What a loss! Your grandfather never had the chance to explain the mapstick. And it’s so… detailed, and so irregular, not like a plain design.”
“Yes,” replied her father. “I have memories and ideas about it. There was supposed to be a special ceremony when the mapstick was passed on, but the children were rushed to safety with no warning. Many links to the past were lost. But the main thing is that I promised my father I’d safely pass it on to my child, and over the past few months that promise has become more than I can bear. I wasn’t sure when… or even whether, I would see you again.”
Abby hung her head. “I’ve been foolish and selfish. How can I make it up to you?” Silent tears were on her cheeks.
“Your mother and I were foolish too, letting our lives be ruled by fear. But we have respect for the path you’ve taken, so let’s begin a new chapter. I want to pass the mapstick on to you today. I promised myself I would give it to you at the first opportunity.”
“What’s the matter, Dad? Why so fast, right at this moment?”
“I’ve been worried about this for years, feeling that I’ve let everyone down by having the staff without knowing it’s purpose. And now… I suppose you know I’ve had heart trouble. I have to set my life in order. But don’t worry! I’m much better. I know you’re the gardener for the church, and I’m already planning to visit and revive that ancient row of apple trees.”
“I’d love that. Please, anytime you want.”
Abby noticed Sonny with his glasses on, examining the stick inch by inch. Finally he looked up at Dennis and said, “Of course you’re right, much was lost in the Disaster. But I do recall them saying that your grandfather and great-grandfather had a special function in ceremonies…”
“Yes, an office or responsibility was passed down for generations.”
“I’m curious,” Sonny said, “when you and your wife moved recently to the trailer park, and then when Junior drove you here, how did you pack the mapstick? I mean, did you carry it out in the open, or hide it in some way?”
“I wrapped it just as you saw it,” Dennis replied, “but with more material. Then I surrounded it with garden tools, a few rakes and spades. Then I tied the bundle with rope and carried it like a long suitcase.”
Sonny nodded. “Well done! I understand.” He turned to Abby. “Let me ask you to guard this very carefully. Keep it secret in the safest place you can think of. It is a tremendous stroke of luck that it should appear now, at this moment, after all these years.”
“But… but…” Abby raised her hands for emphasis. “I’m the last person who should be keeping this! My cottage at the church will probably be searched tonight. I gave my seeds to Reverend Tuck so they wouldn’t be stolen. Men keep a watch on the churchyard night and day, and follow me everywhere they can!”
“Why?” cried Dennis. “What reason could there be?” He looked at Abby and Sonny in alarm.
“Be calm,” Sonny said quietly. “Abby is more important than you realize, and I’ll explain when we have time. But right now we have to make a plan for the mapstick. You’re quite right to be passing it forward to Abby.”
“But I have enough problems already!” Abby was almost shouting. “Why don’t you keep it? I’m sure you’ve got safe places. You’ll do a better job of discovering what it means than I will… Or give it to Wendy! She probably knows what it means already!”
“Keep your voice down,” said Sonny in a low tone. “That’s it… just slow down. No need to attract attention. For now we’ll lock it in my seed room, and you can stay there with it tonight. We’ll have time to think this through together. Okay?”
Abby took a deep breath and nodded reluctantly.

The Ghost Girl - Episode 32

ABBY’S FATHER AND THE MAPSTICK

Illustration By Carlos Uribe

Illustration By Carlos Uribe

Her father held her by the shoulders and smiled. “You look beautiful!” he said. “Healthy, strong.” He was breathing hard after his climb up the hill.
“You look great too, Dad.” She studied his straight black hair, tan skin and clean face. “I’m so happy to see you!” But Abby was wondering why he was so out of breath. They stared at each other. ‘He’s lost weight,’ she thought. ‘His cheeks are hollow. And he probably thinks I’m too skinny. And could that be the mapstick he’s got?’
Chris stood on the side fussing with his new phone. “Hey,” he broke in, looking at Sonny. “It’s an email from the River City News! They’re asking you to comment on the bridge closing and Governor Palmer’s plan to relocate everyone.”
“Hmm,” Sonny muttered. “I’ve been expecting something like that. Invite them to send a reporter to visit us. Let someone tour the island, take pictures, and speak to me in person. In brief, state that we are fine the way we are. Let them come and see for themselves.”
“Got it,” said Chris, and walked into the shanty.
“And bring a pitcher of cider and mugs!” yelled Sonny, and turned to Abby and Dennis. “Take a seat,” he said, waving to the empty chairs. “Relax. Have a cup of cider with me.”
Abby and Sonny kept glancing at the faded green cloth wrapped around a thick pole that Dennis had leaned up against the table. “I recognize that old material,” Abby said. “At least I think I do. Is that the mapstick?”
Dennis untied a few pieces of twine and slowly unrolled a long strip of velvet-like fabric. A brown wooden staff appeared, over five feet high and six inches around. The wood looked smooth, almost polished. Intricate carving extended from top to bottom.
‘I haven’t seen it in years,’ thought Abby. ‘Very strange for it to be here.’
Sonny was deep in thought. Time went by… Dennis could not sit still. He shifted in his chair, clasped and unclasped his hands, leaned back and leaned forward. Chris set a tray with cider and mugs on the table. Abby poured and passed the mugs around.
“Junior wants me at the Open Gate,” Chris told them. “Something about tonight.”
“Go ahead,” returned Sonny. “We’ll meet you later.” Chris hurried off.
Sonny looked at Dennis. “So…” he asked, “can I take a look at that?”
Dennis stood up and carefully handed him the staff. “It’s very precious to me, an old heirloom of my family.”
Sonny held it in both hands, and leaned over it, staring intently. Abby could not resist reaching out and gently touching the end closest to her. The surface was slightly rough, like very fine sandpaper. Up close in the shadow of her body, it glowed with a faintly bluish sheen. The carvings were deep and complex, covering the staff from top to bottom. A flood of memories from her childhood poured into her mind. Time went by slowly. Abby finally leaned back and asked, “Why do you have it here today? I’ve never seen it out in public before.”
“I’m so glad we have a chance to talk,” her father burst out, like water overflowing a dam. “Sorry to overwhelm you with this right away, but I need to get it off my mind. It’s been a hard couple of months. I’ve been sick, unsure where my life was going, unsure where you were. Everything seemed up in the air. And I found this,” – he touched the dark wood – “becoming a burden, like a heavy load on my back. It haunts me every day. You see… I have a responsibility, a promise I made to my father.”
Abby and Sonny waited in silence.
“You may remember things I told you when you were a child…” Dennis stopped and looked at her.
“I do remember being very, very curious. That staff is like nothing else I ever saw. I asked you about it many times.”
“Do you remember what I said?”
“Well, your father gave it to you, and he got it from his father, and it’s very old. Ancient, you said.”
“Anything else?”
“Just that it’s called the mapstick. And you weren’t certain what the carving means. Was there anything more?”
“There are details I may not have told you. About seventy-five years ago, my grandfather gave my father this staff. He was only ten years old, and was one of many children fleeing to safety in Rivergate on the day of the Great Disaster. My father promised to care for it and pass it on to one of his children, should anything happen to my grandfather. And my grandfather died later that day.”
Abby was stunned into silence.

The Ghost Girl - Episode 31

SONNY TELLS THE REAL HISTORY

17022076_1417227648318428_4104384605443248548_n.jpg

As soon as Chris departed to find Abby’s father, Sonny said, “Abby, I’m sorry to rush this conversation, but we haven’t much time. You’re a leader in this group now. You’ve been hiding from it, but don’t try that with me! You won’t get back here often, so make good use of me now.”
Abby sat in silence for a moment, and finally said, “Yes, there are things I need to know… Pastor Banks said that the real challenge is not the closing of the bridge, but the pressure from the governor to abandon Rivergate altogether, this push to make us all ‘relocate’.”
Sonny’s eyes gleamed. “Aha! I see you’re coming to the point.” They were completely alone. “Of course you’re aware,” he began, “that a big organization backed by unbelievable wealth wants to mine and control dreamstone. We’ve recently learned that a Morphy shell company, Arma Resources, has quietly applied for mining rights in the forest preserve, and is lobbying full force in our state government. We have a mole in the middle of these secreet negotiations, and have found out many things.” His voice had fallen to a whisper.
“We now have the full text of the treaty made between the state government and our ancestors over two hundred years ago, giving us full title to all the land currently in the forest preserve and the wetland preserve, as well as parts of Ridgewood, and all of Middletown and Half Moon, stretching as far north as the Maywood River. In other words, most of the western river valley region.” Abby stared in amazement.
“We know that land was illegally sold to the Georgi family fifty years later, and they in turn sold off parts of it to the Owens family, who apparently swindled them out of most of the rest. Our people were then forced off the land, as you know, and forced to walk hundreds of miles to a barren countyside.”
Sonny looked out the windows, and went on: “But of course a remnant of us remained in Hidden Valley, the forest and the marsh. For many generations we worked quite well with the Georgi family, who were willing to learn. I’m sure you’re more familiar with this than I am, as Wendy and Chi Chi are part Georgi on their mother’s side. But then the tragedy of 1939 intervened – what we call the great disaster – with the burning of the dwellings in Hidden valley and the death of many. Those who escaped went into hiding, or fled to Rivergate and the West Isle… Okay, that’s all background, nothing new to you, but here’s the part you should consider very carefully.” Sonny paused to capture Abby’s full attention.
“Naturally the people of the river valley and the government bureaucracies had a problem on their hands. How could they justify such a crime, and make adjustments for the future? The Georgi family, believed by many to be witches, had all apparently burned to death. Incredible rumors and hysteria spread through the countryside. So the state absorbed Hidden Valley and the surrounding Georgi land into the forest preserve, and made Rivergate and the West Isle into a separate county. The powers-that-be spread a story of a tragic, accidental fire. Many people in all walks of life wanted to offer aid to the victims and make arrangements for the refugees. Now, the people of Hidden Valley were used to growing their own food. It was midsummer and the orchards and gardens were mostly unharmed. The government didn’t want the people to starve, so they made a hidden compromise. They gave all the residents of Rivergate County the right to harvest food from the former Georgi property. And here’s the most important point: We now know for sure that this right to harvest has no time limit. It was not given for a year or two but permanently. Only a handful of people have ever heard of this arrangement, and the rules have never been tested in court. No one has yet dared to expose the crimes of the past to a close examination, and thus we have been able to assume that the right to harvest includes the right to plant and cultivate, and a few of us have always resided in Hidden Valley, though that has always been a secret.”
Sonny leaned toward Abby and looked her in the eye. “But we are vulnerable to one potential catastrophe,” he said. “If we abandon Rivergate – if Rivergate County no longer has any residents – then our rights to Hidden Valley and the forest are gone, and all obstacles to selling mining rights to a Morphy company for a huge sum are cleared away.”
Abby was speechless. Sonny turned his head and listened. “I hear footsteps,” he said.
“Abby! Abby!” called her father. He was walking up the path from the river, carrying a long object like a pole wrapped in cloth. “Abby!” he shouted, and in a moment embraced her.

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 23

PLAIN TALK ABOUT THE PROBLEMS WE FACE

15894824_1348398485201345_1124862695503512742_n.jpg

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.