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Fantasy Speculative Urban Fantasy

Where can you go to get cotton candy straight off a tree? The same place where you can fly, breathe underwater, and have conversations with mutant fish. Your dreams. Or at least, Keely Branshaw’s dreams. She was always a unique child with a vivid imagination, and she had a flair for being dramatic that made recess quite the experience for the other children. She never failed to make up a good story, whether it was racing polar bears across the tundra or taking a hippocampus (at the time, she just called it a water horse) deep under the sea. She never failed to be the most interesting child on the playground. That was how she met her best friend Xana, who thought her quirks made her best friend material. The novelty of her peculiarities (such as having imaginary friends) quickly wore off by junior high, and only Xana still thought she was the coolest person to exist. Only Xana didn’t judge her for having an imaginary friend. Only Xana made her feel like she wasn’t what everyone else called “weird.” Keely did her best to appear normal in front of everyone that wasn’t Xana (even her own family) and soon believed everything they said about the weird oddities in her life, such as an imaginary friend that she still dreamed of to this day. 

It was the same thing every night. She would be walking down the sidewalk when a rush of air startles her, and she stumbles off the concrete to where she found herself directly in front of a crooked building with a lopsided sign that read “Welcome to the Crooked Hotel” in cheery caligraphy. The letters were a blaring contrast against the shabby color of the walls peeling brown paint and revealing the brick underneath. The most peculiar thing about the building was the fact that it was entirely normal. Too normal. So normal that Keely would find herself mesmerized by its ordinariness against the strange environment of the dream world. How could she resist going inside? When Keely did, the sight was always the same. Her imaginary friend she grew up with (they grew up just as she did by aging) would be waiting for her inside with a bright smile and a cheery wave. They would be someone different every time she saw them. Sometimes male. Sometimes female. One time they looked like a painting by Picasso. But she always knew them by their bright green eyes. She would smile, and the dream would end as soon as she said their name, “Nym Raventime.” 

Then she would wake up, startled and confused. It was the same every night, with the dream never going further than the simple greeting between them. There was a time when Nym Raventime was with her everywhere she went and would be the first person (even before Xana) that she would tell everything. Now it seemed strange to her that she had been so reliant on an imaginary person. There was a time when she would tell Xana every detail of the world that invaded her dreams, from the cotton candy trees to the pastel-colored crows. She would share every little detail with her best friend. Now an adult, Keely remembered less and less about the world that would be in her dreams. If you asked her mother, she would tell you that this was a good sign. It was a good thing. It meant that Keely was putting the “imaginary nonsense” behind her and interacting with real people for a change. So you can imagine her surprise when she was walking down the sidewalk, just as in her dream, she came upon the most unusual sight. Standing five stories high was an abandoned hotel with peeling brown paint that revealed the brick underneath. The foundation had tilted the building to where it was now standing crooked. 

You can imagine her surprise at seeing such a sight. Imagine how surprised she was to find the sign that read “The Crooked Hotel” hanging lopsided over the entranceway. The only difference between this real sign and the one from her dream was the faded letters that had traded places with the colorful ones. Keely was puzzled. How could she dream of a place she never saw before? Keely came to the only logical conclusion. She had walked by this place once and didn’t register it in her mind. Dreams were a way of digging exploring emotions through the subconscious. Keely thought that explanation provided a reasonable conclusion to this strange coincidence. 

She ran a hand over the sign, brushing away the cobwebs and dust to reveal the faded letters. She could still see the colorful caligraphy vividly in her mind. Perhaps she could find more information on the hotel. She got out her phone and typed the name into the search engine, but none of the options provided didn’t match the hotel standing before her. Perhaps it was a hidden treasure of the town from decades ago and was now left to be filed away in forgotten town history. Keely decided at that moment that her only option was to enter the building and see for herself what lay inside. She could see the smiling face of her childhood “imaginary” friend, and the memory made her feel more at ease. Keely pinched her arm to remind herself that this was not a dream. With one last reminder that she was, in fact, awake, Keely entered the building, pushing through the creaking door and brushing away the cobwebs that draped along the entryway. 

For a moment, she felt at ease in the thought that her dreams were her subconscious taking hold of this random landmark that she never quite registered. Now that she saw inside, it would no doubt vanish from her dreams. She took in the sight of the front room with a dusted-over counter that was in the shape of a U and held an office door back behind it. The nameplate had been rusted over and too caked with grim for Keely to read the name. The lobby held old chairs and tables covered with sheets which reminded Keely of playing “ghosts” as a child with sheets draped over her head. The stairs had a faded but still elegant carpet that branched off into staircases with iron railings. She closed her eyes and, for a moment, found herself within her dream. Remembering the soft scent of lilac that greeted her when she entered helped take her back within that moment. She could see the bright wallpaper with the checkered red and blue pattern that matched the chairs and tables painted in alternating shades of red and blue. Tables and chairs were arranged around the lobby, where dozens of guests were laughing and mingling. A cart off to the right held various pastries and coffees, all of which made Keely hungry just smelling. The scent of cinnamon mingled with scents of mint, honey, and watermelon, creating a mouth-watering aroma that was enough to draw Keely into the memory and make her never want to leave. She could hear the gentle hum of music playing throughout the room, creating a backdrop to the chatter of the guests. The carpeted stairs were a brilliant red and created a stunning offset to the iron railings. Then she saw a familiar face sitting at a table, waving her over with a bright grin and a happy call of her name. With a sigh, she could almost believe she was there. 

She opened her eyes and found the scene from her dream transpiring before her, unfolding as if washing away the reality and replacing it with the dream world. Standing before her with a wide grin and bright eyes was the familiar face that she longed to be real since she was a child. She reached out and took their hand that felt as real as her hand did as they twined their fingers with her own. And just like that, she found her dream to be more real than it ever felt before. She smiled, and despite knowing that the dream would no doubt soon come to an end, she pushed away thoughts of reality and greeted her friend, “Nym Raventime.” 

July 22, 2021 19:36

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