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Fantasy Urban Fantasy

Beth was always the “early to bed and early to rise” type of person. She didn’t do this for health or some kind of lifestyle philosophy. It was simply that she preferred the world of her dreams to anything the real world had to offer. 

Granted, it wasn’t all bad. Beth’s job took her to different places all over the city as a fire inspector. Her daylight hours were when most of the places she inspected were asleep: clubs were empty, restaurants only had a few lonely patrons, and she’d inspect the basements of offices to avoid interrupting the day-to-day of offices. Beth’s world was a place of nighttime, even when the sun was bright. Her dreams were where she felt most at home. 

Dropping her bag by the door, Beth dropped her keys on the counter and rubbed her eyes. She had four inspections today all over the city and she was happy to be back in an apartment where she didn’t have to think about fire alarms or smoke detectors. She wasn’t even that hungry, so she changed into her pajamas and climbed into bed to watch TV. Before long, she fell asleep with the remote in her hand. 

It was her favorite dream. It was in her city, but the dream started her outside a building that wasn’t there in reality. The tower of glass and bronze glowed with dusky, orange light. Beth marched forward with her head held high and pushed into the doors. The building was always the same, impossibly enormous on the inside with flying creatures floating overhead and a train on a rail that spiraled off into somewhere else. After a long day of following a strict checklist and confirming with her codebook, Beth enjoyed the impossible place. 

While the building was always the same, Beth never went to the same place in the building twice. She was always the only one there and she was somehow always in control over what she did. However, she never knew what was behind any door that she stumbled across. Tonight, she decided to go up to the fifteenth floor. Rather than trying to walk up the incredibly long spiral of the building, she stood at the bottom and willed a ride to the top. 

Beth stepped into a hot air balloon that glided down to the ground floor and brought her up to the fifteenth level of the building, pausing long enough for her to step out onto the landing. She meandered between the doors for a bit and settled on one of her usual doors. Opening the unlocked door, Beth took a step in and fell a few feet into the ocean, suddenly dipping far deeper below the surf. A giant sea turtle approached, gliding smoothly up to Beth and letting her grip its shell. Down here, she didn’t need to breathe or worry about the deep pressure of the ocean. She swam far in the depths alongside titanic whales and drifted in front of their massive eyes. The sea turtle went wherever she pleased but always found the most interesting things when she just let it drift. Eventually, the turtle brought her back to the surface by the door. Beth stepped through, hair immaculate and clothes perfectly dry, as she walked back into the impossible building. 

A flying stingray drifted by the fifteenth floor, moaning deeply as Beth looked out onto what she called the Gliding Menagerie. The animals ranged from the expected birds to elephants floundering with unfamiliar wings to creatures and vehicles that Beth didn’t think existed in the real world. The Gliding Menagerie was the centerpiece, but the experiences behind each door were what made Beth love this strange building so much. 

Leaning on the railing, Beth watched the Gliding Menagerie for a few minutes. Her gaze was captivated by a dragon gliding through the air, but she saw something that she’d never seen in the dream building before. Beth had seen dragons, alien planets, gorgeous ballrooms, and gardens that went on for miles. However, Beth had never seen another person her impossible dream building. 

The man was wearing a black suit and walking with a clipboard down the spiral that wound around the Gliding Menagerie. He had dark hair and a slim build and Beth thought she could see him talking to himself as he moved. 

“Hey!” Beth called out. 

The stranger in the dream jumped, so startled he nearly dropped his clipboard. He looked around, scanning the levels of the dream building until he locked eyes with Beth. “What are you doing here?”

“It’s my dream!” Beth yelled. “What are you doing here?” 

“I work here!”

Beth jolted awake in her bed and looked around. She was relieved that she was back in bed, but the fact that someone had somehow entered her dream world was unnerving. She didn’t think that she had seen the man before, but his surprised face was still clear in her head. She tried to think of where she’d seen him, but his face was a mystery. Despite her best efforts, she suffered through a dreamless sleep that almost seamlessly popped her into the following day. 

After checking in with her boss, Beth had a list of addresses that she needed to consult for the day. She parked downtown and decided that it was a nice enough day that she could walk to the first three locations. She walked a few blocks but staggered to a stop as she rounded the corner. The skyscraper was bigger than anything else surrounding it, a giant monolith of glass and brass. The glass reflected everything in perfect clarity and Beth could see the shapes of birds flying by and even the forms of people walking by it. With her heart pounding in her chest, Beth walked up to the front door and pushed it open. 

It was one thing to see giant butterflies or dragons in dreams, but in what Beth was used to as the real world, it was shocking. The building’s spiral twisted upward and Beth got lost in trying to follow the passageway up to the top of the building. The Gliding Menagerie was floating overhead when a familiar voice called out to her. “You! Don’t go anywhere! Just…stay there!” 

Beth waited, watching the outline of a man rushing down to the bottom of the spiral. He was still wearing his suit and finally got to the base of the building, out of breath, but still holding his clipboard. He adjusted his tie a little and took a few breaths to collect himself. “Hi…”

“Hi,” Beth looked around. “What is this place?” 

“The Dream Bureau…”

“The Dream Bureau?” 

“Exactly,” the man said, “capital ‘D’ and a capital ‘B’, in case you were wondering. Sorry, we didn’t know you worked here.” 

“I…no, I’m a fire inspector!” 

“Fire dreams aren’t uncommon,” the man said. “Call me Ted, by the way. Thanks for asking.” 

“Sorry, Ted,” Beth said, “what do you mean I work here?” 

“Only people who work here can come in here,” Ted explained. “Dreaming, not dreaming, it doesn’t matter. There’s a lot of security to make sure no one abuses the distribution system.” 

“So…you’re a dream distributor?” 

“Correct.” 

“For everyone?” 

“Well, as many people as I can manage,” Ted said. “Come on, I’ll give you a tour.” 

“So, I…work here now?” 

“Well, it’d be awkward if you didn’t. We’ve been very understaffed recently…very little hope to go around and we’ve had a serious uptick in daydreaming recently. Let me walk you through the whole process, maybe that’ll clear things up?” 

“I doubt it, but feel free to try.” 

“Thank you,” Ted adjusted his tie and started walking up the spiral. “So, this is the Dream Bureau. We work on making sure that all dreams are distributed properly. They’re made in the basement, but we make sure that the dreams get to people by taking them to their dreams.” 

“And the flying animals?” 

“You must not have been up to the highest floors,” Ted said. “There’s a whole zoo up there. So, each of these rooms is a specific setting. I’ll get you a map at some point, but you catch on pretty quick. We got things like fourth-grade classroom…”

Ted opened a door and revealed a classroom with desks and a chalkboard. The whole scene seemed to be a perfect match with Beth’s fourth-grade classroom before Ted closed the door and moved onto the next one. 

“This one is grandma’s house…” Ted said.

“Why do they all look like my places from my life?”

“Oh, that happens for everyone,” Ted said. “The human brain fills in the rest. The ones further upstairs are a little less specific like that…Saturn’s Rings are really neat if you have a spare minute to explore.” 

“And we take people here?” 

“Not quite,” Ted reached to his waist and picked up a small baggie full of glowing marbles. “These are just daydreams, so they aren’t as important to get on time. That’s the nature of daydreams, but we’re on a crunch time for the night dreams.” 

“Are those people?” 

“More like…walkie talkies,” Ted said. “You get a list at the beginning of your shift and a sack of dream marbles. You gotta arrange each room and drop a marble in each one. And before you go thinking it’s all work, don’t worry, when it’s daydream time and most of the city is awake, we get full run of the place.”

“So we just distribute dreams for the city?” 

“And a few surrounding small towns. I couldn’t imagine getting dreams to everyone in the world from this one building?” Ted laughed. “I’d be begging upper management for a fleet of assistants.” 

“How do you get someone in a dream?” 

“Uh,” Ted consulted his clipboard for a minute, looking at the list of names and dreams on the page. “Ah-ha! Here we go. So, we take a marble…run it over the dream and dreamer…then we toss the marble in and the system does the rest.”

Ted went through the actions as he narrated the process. When he dropped the marble into a room—a facsimile of the local mall—the marble disappeared in a puff of smoke, turning into a woman walking through the mall with shopping bags hanging off her arms. Ted closed the door and nodded. “She’s a regular daydreamer…retail job.”

“And I get to work here?” 

“If you want,” Ted nodded. “Nightshift is a little busier, but it’s…well a dream job. So, are you interested in starting? We might just start you on the night shift for the time being, but once you quit your regular job, I could use some company for daydream shift.” 

“Does it pay?” Beth asked. “If I’m gonna quit my job, I need to know I can still make rent.”

Ted laughed and patted Beth’s shoulder. “Well, food and housing are taken care of—just above the zoo. As for money? It’s more than you can dream.”

July 20, 2021 22:47

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