Miranda gazed at the ancient cedar tree soaring above her sky-blue electric car. A cool, rejuvenating scent wafted around her as her eyes traveled up the trunk and out the branches to the emerald web of needles. Behind her, a sign flapped as a gust of wind passed by. She turned and read the bold black letters: 2020: The Decade for Mastering Behavior through Neurochemicals. Above that, was the name Future Pharmaceutical and a red arrow pointing toward a massive grey structure that towered over a concrete entrance. She scanned the other buildings in the complex—each had a matching set of guards standing at attention in their camouflage uniforms. Miranda hesitated another minute, looking longingly at the hints of gold in the sky that promised a majestic sunset. Sighing, she turned away from the tree and sky and followed the other people marching toward the building.
Briefcases bumped against her legs as she slipped inside the conference center, squeezing into the line of people waiting to check in. The tall, white entry hall trembled with the vibrations of one-sided conversations as people wearing somber business suits and dresses shouted into their cell phones. The line shifted uneasily as people were distracted from their conversations by the need to pick up informational packets and badges. By the time Miranda arrived at the long tables, the name tags were in disarray. She searched several minutes, then decided her badge must have flown off to a more hospitable realm.
Spying a young woman wearing a staff badge, Miranda tentatively approached her. “Excuse me. I’m sorry to bother you, but I can’t find my name tag.”
The woman gave her an exasperated glance. “Did you pre-register?”
“Yes, but it was just four days ago. The guards at the gate had my name.”
“Of course they did or you wouldn’t have gotten this far. Name?”
She started to give it when she felt the wisp of a voice above her. She stole a quick peek over her shoulder, but feeling the intensity of the crowd overflowing the massive foyer, she assumed it had been nothing more than their turmoil that had touched her. Turning back to the woman, she said loudly, trying to be heard over the reverberating conversations, “My name’s Miranda Williams.”
“What company are you with?” The woman shouted back.
“None. I came on my own.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry, I didn’t recognize you.” The woman looked more attentively at her, leaning closer. “Which company do you own? Is it food or pharmaceutical?”
“Neither. I’m not with a company. I understood individuals could enroll in this conference.”
“Oh, yes, of course. You’ll need to go over to that table at the far end.” The woman waved in a vague direction, then turned away.
Miranda let herself be jostled through the crowd until she came out the other side. She noticed a small table where a young man was sitting, head bent, shifting through sheets of paper. “Excuse me, I’m trying to check in—as an individual. I’m not with a company. Is this the right place?”
The man looked up and smiled. “Yes it is. What’s your name, please?”
She gave her name again, biting her lip, and hoping for better results this time.
As he searched through several short lists, he began to shake his head. “That’s odd. I can’t seem to find you anywhere. When did you register?”
“Just four days ago.”
“Let me check another list.”
As she waited, Miranda again felt a presence above her, as though a cloud, trapped in the building, was searching for the sky. Tensing her brow and forming her thoughts clearly, she mentally sent a question into the realm beyond the physical world where her spirit-guide lived, :Adnarim, is that you? I came to the conference as you suggested. Will you tell me why I’m here now?:
“Ah, here you are!” exclaimed the young man, brandishing a large manila envelope in triumph. “Someone had you backwards. You were under ‘M’ instead of ‘W.’”
“Thank you.” She grabbed the heavy packet, grateful for any sign confirming that she was supposed to be at the conference.
The man held onto it, looking closely at the information identifying her. “You work at a hospice?”
Miranda nodded and tried to pull away, but he stood up, drawing closer to her.
“We don’t usually get people who work for hospice coming to these conferences. Are you here professionally or for personal interest?”
She hesitated, unsure which would lead to the least questions. She looked around, hoping someone would walk up and distract him, but everyone else seemed to be at the sign-in tables for company affiliations. Turning back, she shrugged and smiled. “It just sounded interesting.”
“How did you hear about it?”
He smiled at her, leaning closer. “We like to make sure everyone is satisfied with the conference. What specifically are you hoping to accomplish this weekend?”
Getting away from you, Miranda thought, keeping her smile firmly pasted on her face. She gave her envelope a sharp tug, dislodging it from the man’s grasp. “I’m sure I’ll enjoy it,” she told him as she stepped away from the table, sidestepping a group of determined women who swept by. She glanced back and noticed the man was making a note on a small pad. When he looked back up at her, her stomach twisted and she hurried to get farther away. Searching for an empty space from which to survey the gathering, she slipped down a corridor leading away from the main hall. She came to rest opposite a sign that showed a woman running through a field of flowers. Below the picture was the slogan: “Your happiness is our concern” followed by information about a new antidepressant drug.
As a herd of staff swarmed by, Miranda ducked her head, pretending to focus on the packet while listening for any response from Adnarim, her elusive guide. She felt energetic stirrings, which she again attributed to the intensity of the crowd. But from Adnarim there was a void that felt like standing alone in a crowded railway station, not knowing which train to take.
She’d heard nothing from her since she’d been browsing the web five days ago, searching for ideas on how to ecologically control garden pests. Her screen had gone blank, then the website announcing this conference had appeared. There had been a shimmer in the corner of the room, which had manifested as a tall golden-skinned woman in a burgundy shawl. Adnarim had emphatically instructed her to sign up for the weekend, then disappeared back into a swirl of tiny lights when Miranda tried to question her.
Despite repeated attempts by Miranda, her guide had offered no explanation as to why she should spend her entire weekend, away from home and Chris, just to listen to lectures on neuroscience. She didn’t even know if the reason for her being here had anything to do with the subject of the conference. Standing against the wall, she wondered if this was going to become another annoying treasure hunt: another book and folder incident, or BFI as Miranda had first named them. Most of the time, BFI ended up meaning a Big F-ing Irritation.
Fifteen years ago, when she first began conversing with guides, she tried to use their extrasensory awareness for practical purposes. One morning before leaving for hospice, where she worked as an administrator, she asked Adnarim if there was anything special she should remember to take with her. Her guide promptly told her to take a book on communication styles she’d borrowed from a board member. She dismissed the suggestion, informing Adnarim that the board meeting wasn’t for two days and she hadn’t finished reading it yet. Miranda repeated her request to know if there was anything else she should remember, but Adnarim continued emphasizing the book, which she didn’t take. As soon as she arrived at work the nursing director asked for the folder containing applications for the new RN position which Miranda had promised to bring that day. She was forced to drive home to retrieve the folder, annoyed at her guide for reminding her of the wrong item. After some frustrating hunting, she finally found the folder, underneath the book Adnarim had insisted she take. That first time set the tone for future help from her guides: valuable but irritatingly vague.
Standing against the wall, Miranda stared at the poster of the woman in the field of flowers. I wish my happiness was Adnarim’s concern. What does she want me to find here? I don’t have time for another BFI! Resisting the urge to throw the heavy envelope at the poster, she turned it over and started to open it. I guess I’d better start searching for clues on my own since she’s not going to help. Inside she discovered a name tag, a schedule of events, a list of companies participating in the conference, and a book-sized pamphlet entitled 2020: The Decade for Mastering Behavior through Neurochemicals.
She scanned the hundreds of respectably attired women and men now moving about the main hall, wondering how each of them fit into the theme of the conference. Some were standing stiffly next to displays of hors d'oeuvres and bountiful beverage tables. A few were conversing with other people, but most of them were still shouting into their cell phones. Looking at it this way isn’t going to show anything. Maybe Cat Vision will help me find that presence I felt earlier.
Growing up she was fascinated watching how the dogs and cats could always sense when someone was approaching the house, or when a family member was getting close to home. There didn’t seem to be any obvious clues the animals were receiving until Merawl, her feline guide, had taught her to use Cat Vision. Seeing with it was like stepping back from her eyes and raising a periscope from her heart. Her feelings came through as images integrated into the scene she was viewing, allowing her to perceive the strength and direction of energy connections and to be aware of things farther away than her vision could see.
Leaning back against the wall and trying to relax as much as possible, she looked around the room again, seeing it as a cat would see it. In addition to the physical objects and people, Cat Vision highlighted a mass of thin threads whipping about the large conference room. She could see slightly denser energy lines extending beyond the physical walls, illuminating how most of the participants were focused on talking to people outside the room. Underneath the conference chamber, the earth pulsated with connections thick and deep, like roots of trees. Above the earth, the people’s energy connections were like grey cotton candy: masses of thin strands but no substance. They were numerous enough that it made detecting any other energy sources above the ground difficult.
The planet is more alive here than the people are. But that’s no surprise. She returned to the information she had been given, skimming the pages of participants. She didn’t recognize the names, but the food and pharmaceutical companies they represented were familiar from everyday ads she encountered in magazines, television, and from the Internet. As she peered at the organizational biographies, still searching for clues as to why she was here, her stomach rumbled. Enticing aromas were drifting from the hors d'oeuvres tables reminding her that in order to get off early for the conference she had worked through lunch. Reluctantly she pinned on her name tag declaring that she was Miranda Williams from Whole Life Hospice in Whetherton, Washington. She was sure this information would mean nothing to anyone, except possibly to inform them that she lived close by. As she headed toward the expansive main hall, she noticed the light from the evening sun was painting red and gold murals on the cream-colored walls as it drifted through the windows arranged high above the circular room.
As she approached the crowds, she pasted on a smile and nodded to people as they glanced at her, scanning her badge of identity before returning to their conversations. Slipping past them, she filled a plate with small puffed pastries, and sculptured carrots and cucumbers. She stopped by the wine table and picked up a glass of sparkling water before finally emerging on the other side of the crowd. Looking around, she spied an unoccupied sofa near the back of the room and gratefully headed towards it. Carefully perching on the corner of the couch, arms drawn in, head down, Miranda munched on her delectables as she monitored the advance of two older people.