Eliza heard through her online missing-persons collective that there was a mysterious cluster of child disappearances in a small Colorado town. She contacted her cousin Raina and soon all 5 of us were landing in Denver.
Raina rented a black Hummer and we drove to beautiful downtown Alma, CO, population 237. Upon parking near the ancient-looking hotel we disembarked and were promptly greeted by a smiling, cherubic child. Since that child was not missing, we backed away from it slowly until it ran away. Later, it would occur to us that we should have spoken to that child, but such is the wisdom of hindsight.
We did speak to a healthy woman that it turned out owned the Cloud Nine Diner across the street. Eliza started things off a little rocky with an ill-timed comment about the woman’s Halloween-themed outfit, but quickly made up for it by pretending to like food and promising we would stop by soon.
We headed inside to get our rooms squared away. Luke lingered outside smoking a cigarette, much to the obvious irritation of the mothers in the town square with their children. Had they known he was French Canadian, their irritation probably would have boiled over into loudly muttered passive aggression.
Our attempt to check in was temporarily blocked by Pete the night manager, who suddenly insisted they had no rooms available despite our reservation—upon seeing Naga. I placed a hand on his shoulder to give him a bone-crushing squeeze of reassurance, and soon we had three rooms available to us. It is always best if I have my own room; I do not sleep, I do not dream, but I do have memories and I like to drink. Sometimes that can result in extra room charges.
The hotel was very old and the rooms were decorated in what we agreed was a disturbing manner. Thinking that perhaps we’d arrived in or near the nexus of evil that was kidnapping the children of Alma, I investigated and indeed—there were cold spots and areas of shadow where none should exist. Before long we’d discovered a mysterious staircase up leading to a door marked “Employees Only.” I would have to check it out soon.
We all joined Luke downstairs and walked over to the Cloud Nine Diner. The owner, Anne, was initially happy that we’d come over as promised but looked confused and panicked when she saw Naga. It is very pleasant to have Naga around, as it really pulls a lot of attention away from my appearance. After assurances that he was not under any bizarre dietary restrictions, Anne went in back and started yelling orders out in Spanish to the cooks.
Raina spotted a local sitting at the counter, the man we’d seen cleaning up the town square once the children left. She walked up and engaged him in conversation, generating some information about the town, but also giving him the impression that she was a big-city slut come to have some small-town fun. She even agreed to meet him at some dance the town was having the next day. We extricated her before the man’s rising blood pressure could give him a stroke.
Anne returned with our food, which indeed reminded me of the solid peasant fare that I so enjoyed shortly after my awakening. Eliza engaged her in conversation and found out that the Sheriff was heading out early in the morning to look for Amy Green, the child who had most recently disappeared. Eliza told her we’d like to help, and Anne said she’d let the sheriff know.
We left the diner and Eliza and Raina retreated to their room while Luke, Naga and myself decided to see what was beyond that door. Our hope, I will admit, was that the three children were locked up in there, Flowers of the Attic style, and we could free them and go back to civilization promptly.
Luke stayed at the foot of the stairs to keep an eye out and run interference if necessary while Naga and I tried to pick the lock. I could not, and became frustrated, and quickly very angry. So I broke the lock and we went in. A storage room greeted us…and another mystery door. I was so sure the children were behind it that I barely tried to pick the lock before breaking it and pushing in.
An overwhelming smell enveloped us, causing us to lose all hope of finding the children. For we had stumbled upon the grow room of the proprietors. Rows of carefully tended, bushy and budding female marijuana plants grew healthily under lights. We’d made a big mistake.
At that point we heard Luke’s raised voice, and heavy footfalls on the stairs. Naga and I ran into the storage room; I was prepared to take the fall but Naga has many tricks, and he pulled a neat one out of his turban in the form of a spell that cloaked us with invisibility. It was a close thing, but Pete did not see us. Once he went into the grow room to count every crystal and bud we escaped down the stairs.