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55 9 ~ Emily “Use the back entrance,” Pippa told me. As we approached the purpling shadow of Forest Park, my hands tightened on the steering wheel until the knuckles blanched. I already regretted agreeing to Pippa ’s cockamamie request. Lighten up, I tried telling myself, borrowing the voice and inflection from Anna, who often criticized me for being too uptight. This is no big deal, just stopping by the park on the way home from a medical appointment, right? And the probation officer expected Pippa to be late, so at most, I was just bending the rules a little, right? Then why was I terrified? Following Pippa’s instructions, I parked in front of the last house on the street, just down from the massive arched gate. The park is vast, hundreds of acres bordering the city to the south. As we left the car, I pointed to Pippa’s ankle. “We have to watch the time. So that thing doesn’t have a conniption fit.” She threw me a quick look, but I saw it. Pippa was perfectly aware of the time. “They closed this entrance to cars a few years ago,” Pippa said. “Follow me.” We walked under the arch and into the forest, silent and still under heavy clouds. Single file along the path for about ten minutes, until we reached a section of older trees, bereft of undergrowth. Our footsteps crunched on the frozen mix of last year’s leaves and pine cones. This was a cold, cold place. The trail dead-ended at a wall of rhododendron bushes. Now what? The hedge was vast, unbroken, twice our height and stretched as far as I could see in both directions . But Pippa guided me through a narrow cut and we were inside the thick green tangle. We emerged onto a wide track bordered on both sides by the shrubs. The shiny leaves drooped like giant teardrops. Smaller paths forked off, some leading to small clearings. “I never knew this place existed,” I said. 56 ~ House Arrest “Francie showed us. It was designed as a nature trail for blind people,” Pippa said. “The funds ran out and the project was abandoned, but the bushes kept growing.” “It’s a maze. Don’t you ever get lost?” Pippa shook her head. “Francie taught us every inch. She grew up in this neighborhood , worked for a school ecology program that used the park for winter survival classes. If you ever come here with her, you’ll see. She’ll rattle off the names of plants like striped pipsipsua and winged euonymus.” “That’s not too likely,” I said. Pippa looked at me with that feline head tilt. “Me coming here with Francie.” “I guess not. Watch out here.” We half-slid down a steep hill into a gully with an odd, flat bottom. A perfect circle of flat stones ringed a central fireplace. Around us, the forest formed a natural amphitheater, open to the pewter sky. “We’re here.” Pippa sat, brushed the leaves off the flat-topped stone next to her, and patted it, looking at me. So I sat. “What is this place?” “It’s the Sacred Dingle.” She must be kidding. I wanted to snicker, but locked the laughter inside my cheeks so I wouldn’t offend her. “Sacred what?” Pippa gave me this look, almost a grin, as if she knew exactly how dumb it sounded . “Dingle. It means a gully,” she said. “That’s what folks around here call it.” “Okay. Dingle.” I looked hard at Pippa, but I felt my voice soften. “Tell me. We don’t have much time.” Pippa squeezed her eyes tight. “This is our holy place. We have our most important rituals here, like the Night of the Teardrop in June, when we remember the world’s pain and yearning. And the winter solstice.” She paused. “This is where Abby died.” I touched her arm. I wanted to say something, but she kept talking. “We try to live in harmony with the natural world. We treat each other well. We harbor no hate, even for those who despise us.” Pippa shook her head. “I know it sounds like some simple-minded Sunday school teacher telling first graders about the Golden Rule.” Then she looked at me, her face heavy. “I don’t know if I can do this.” “Please. Go on.” I wanted to hear. “Okay, last solstice. It snowed hard all day, but in the early evening it...


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MARC Record
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