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In the world of Altearth

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Ongoing 1152 Words

Chapter 1

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I stared up at the skyscraper, wondering what awaited me here in this strange, new place. I really didn't want to be in Sacramento, but I couldn't continue to sulk in my house in Indiana forever.

I sighed as Ella and Maria jostled me rushing toward the hotel. I hurried to join them at the crosswalk before the light changed. When I held out my hands to them, Maria hesitated before slipping hers into mine. Ella just ignored me.

I sighed again. Tweens.

At least, I hoped it was just that. If it wasn’t, then the girls were still processing what happened on the last trip.

I clamped down hard on that thought. That thought would lead to memories, and memories would lead to retraumatizing. I had stuff to do. I couldn’t spend our trip crying in a corner of the hotel room.

Entering the hotel, we all stopped at the sight of the lobby. A huge chandelier, hung with hundreds of crystals, hovered over a marble floor.

In the center, a stone wall towered over all our heads. Water gushed down, rippling over the stone's natural imperfections. The small pool at the bottom gurgled pleasantly, while a handful of small koi circled around.

The smell of flowers and expensive perfumes tickled my nose, contrasting with the low-level pollution odors that permeated the California coastal cities.

The low murmur of people in conversation washed over me. Two men in suits strode past, neatly moving around us without even glancing our way.

I moved over to the long counter nestled against the wall. Several people in uniforms bustled around, looking busy. I stepped up to one of the computers peeking over the edge of the counter. The young woman working on the machine clicked and tapped for several more seconds before looking up with a customer-service smile.

"How may I help you?"

I cleared my throat. "We have a reservation. I'm here for the conference on Herbalism."

The woman turned her attention to the computer, clicking as rapidly as she fired questions at me. I signed the agreement as she slid a folded paper with two keycards across the counter. "Enjoy your stay."

I nodded and crossed back over the marbled lobby to the front door. Joseph grinned at me over the luggage cart he was pushing through the electric double doors.

"This place is fancy!" he said. "I wonder what the mini-bar holds."

I scowled at him. "More debt than a student loan, is my guess. Let's get settled, then we can explore the city."

I turned to the girls who were still ogling the fountain and chandelier. "You figure out where the elevator is yet?" Maria nodded while Ella shrugged. I sighed. "Well, lead the way."

The three-bedroom suite was just as mind-boggling as the lobby, with a crystal studded accent wall greeting us at the door. We claimed our beds and unpacked quickly, then I dragged the kids away from the satellite cable TV and back to the rental car.

We found ourselves back on the highway heading north out of the city. I had heard wine country was this way, and I wanted to see some of it.

Joseph kept up a steady conversation of the goings on in the Indianapolis witchy community, and the girls alternately oohed and aahed, and rolled their eyes at my comments about the scenery.

Joseph and I were arguing about whether I had taken a wrong turn when we came upon a large group of people milling around the gated entrance to a large industrial building. The large conical cement structures nearby labelled the building as a nuclear power plant, and the signs held by many of the people said things like "Use your cranium, not uranium" and "Hell no, we won't glow."

I exchanged a glance with Joseph. "You may be right," I admitted. "It might have been a wrong turn."

He snorted, running his hand over his thinning blond hair. "You think?"

I glared at him. "Just for that, I'm stopping to ask directions." I pulled up close to the back edge of the protest group and rolled down the window.

A woman about 10 years older than me ran her eyes over our car and landed on each of our faces. Her dark hair was pulled back into a function-over-form ponytail, and her weathered skin spoke of a life of outdoorsy-ness.

She was dressed in worn but clean jeans and a cotton button-down with sturdy boots on her feet. It was the gleaming silver star at her throat that caught my eye, though.

She approached the car with a wary but open expression.

"Blessed be," I said awkwardly. I wasn't usually so forward with the Pagan jargon, but I figured her being more friendly wouldn't hurt.

She blinked as if surprised, then offered a reserved smile. "Merry meet, fellow travelers. What can I do for you?"

I offered her a smile of my own. "We seem to have taken an unexpected turn. What's going on here?"

The woman jutted her chin towards the building. "Ongoing safety concerns with the company. We want them to fix it or shut down. They don't want to spend the money."

I nodded. "Are they listening?"

The woman shrugged. "A bit. We have a meeting of sorts with the big-wigs tomorrow night. It could be the breakthrough we've been hoping for."

I nodded. "To be a fly on the wall for that..."

She shrugged. "You're welcome to attend. Anyone with an opinion or support for either side is invited." She smiled wryly. "Besides, it's catered, so we need some people who aren’t so tense that they can't eat."

I quickly calculated the seminar schedule and my own interest in the topic, then raised a questioning brow at Joseph. "You wanna?"

Joseph grinned. "I'm all for a cause. You know that." He shifted his attention to the woman. "Count us in."

The woman nodded. "I'm Isabel Johansson, the lead cat-herder for this rabble." She dug a card out of her pocket. "The location and times are all on the website, here, and you can email me with any questions."

I gave the woman our names, glancing at the card before handing it to Joseph. "I only have one question right now. Where's the Kingsford Vineyard?"

Isabel grinned. "Back down the road, take a left, first right. There's a sign, but it's kinda low and might be hidden in the grass if they haven't mown recently." She patted the door in a friendly gesture. "Try the chicken parm; it is fabulous. And I hope to see you tomorrow."

I waved as we pulled slowly away from the crowd. "Well, that was pleasant."

"And we get a free supper," Joseph added. “All around, it should be a great night.”

I grinned, but the dread bubbled in my stomach. “Should be” almost never seem to actually be these days.

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