The Magic Blue of the Sapphire Hotel

Submitted into Contest #79 in response to: Write about someone who decides it’s time to cut ties with a family member.... view prompt

31 comments

Drama Fantasy Fiction

Six-year-old Sannie Johnson knew she wasn’t special. Her mother told her. Her sisters told her. Her uncle told her. The hundreds of people who streamed by the tattered “Homeless” signs she and her mother held everyday told her. 


That’s why Sannie didn’t think she’d done anything special the day she noticed a dollar bill fall from the purse of a woman wearing a fur coat with a high collar outside the Sapphire Hotel. The woman swept through the hotel entrance, failing to notice the little girl who scurried from the shadows of the alley and plucked the bill from the murk of a sewer puddle. Her eyes widened as she studied the “1-0-0.” 


Sannie darted through the entrance, so intent on returning the money that she didn’t hear the doorman behind her shouting, “Hey you! Come back here!”


But the instant she stepped into the lobby, she stopped. The murmur of jazz from a grand piano floated around her. Sprays of flowers imported from the Amazon rainforest adorned the tables. Rings glinted off women’s fingers as they clinked glasses with men who sported silk ties and cufflinks. A grand staircase opened into the lobby. It was something else though that halted the child and left her staring, mouth agape. 


Outside, it had been a cold winter day with a sky so blue and sun so bright that Sannie had to squint. But inside, all color had faded to a world of grey. Everything and everyone were bathed in flat, colorless hues that reminded Sannie of a black-and-white TV show she’d once watched through a store window.


Everything, that is, except for a chandelier dripping with thousands of sapphires, speckling the room with cobalt shimmer. Sannie stared up at it until her neck was sore. When she lowered her head, she caught other flashes of glimmering blue – a single rose, water flowing down a fountain, an antique frame surrounding a mirror. 


Sannie couldn’t take her eyes off her reflection. In her world, mirrors were rare and she hadn’t seen herself - not like this - for years. She tried to pat down her braids like she’d seen her sister once do and scrubbed at a smudge on her forehead. Her hands disappeared inside the sleeves of her oversized coat – a man’s corduroy jacket a shelter volunteer had once given her.


She opened her mouth and stretched it with her fingers, giggling at the funny face reflected back. She waved her arms in the air and twirled around, staring at the mirror the whole time.


“Taxi!” she shouted to her reflection in a deep voice, imitating a man she’d seen leave the hotel earlier.  


As she peered more closely, Sannie noticed other people in the mirror. She turned around and realized a crowd had gathered around her, whispering and staring.


“My dear, are you well?” a heavyset woman asked, squinting over her glasses.


“Someone dropped this money,” Sannie said, waving the $100 bill. Her voice faltered. The coat sleeve fell back as she raised her hand and her right arm sparkled with the same blue glimmering in the chandelier, the rose, the frame and the water. She pulled back the other sleeve and saw that her left arm, too, shimmered. Sannie looked at the pale faces around her and heard snatches: “Her face”…”those eyes”….”even her hair.”


She peeked at the mirror again but saw nothing unusual in her reflection. Just the same little girl with flyway hair and a coat three sizes too big for her. As flat and grey as everyone else around her.


She held her hand in front of her face, looking directly at it and not at her reflection - sure enough, shimmering like a Caribbean Sea. 


An elderly man leaning on a cane, broke through the crowd and tottered to Sannie. He was smiling so warmly, that she couldn’t help but smile back.


“My dear, dear child,” the man said. “I am the owner of this hotel. This truly is a most extraordinary day.”


“Why am I blue?” Sannie asked.


“My dear, this building holds a deep magic that people come from all over the world to see. It selects only the most beautiful and precious things to imbue with its divine blue. Never –“ He turned to the crowd. “Never has this hotel found a human being worthy. Until today.”


The crowd murmured. He turned back to Sannie, face solemn.


“Child, what’s your name?”


“Sannie Johnson.”


“An extraordinary name for an extraordinary child. This is truly an extraordinary day,” he repeated. He tilted his head upward, looking toward the chandelier, and spoke to no one Sannie could see.  


“What do we do? She is but a child.”


A cloud of blue shimmer dropped from the chandelier and floated to the front desk.


The old man turned to Sannie.  


“Come, there is something we must look at together.”


Sannie followed him to the front desk. He huffed as he reached below and struggled to lift sapphire book, fiery blue against the lobby’s grey tones. Sannie stood on tiptoe to help steady the book which looked very nearly about to crash to the floor. With a final grunt, the elderly man heaved it onto the desk. Sannie climbed onto a stool he indicated with his cane and bent over pages that smelled of ocean breezes. 


The hotelier muttered to himself as he turned pages. Finally, he stopped, and turned to Sannie.


“Now, read that for yourself child.”


Sannie looked at the mass of lines and felt a rush of heat in her face.


“I can’t read,” she whispered. 


“No matter,” the man said. “All in good time, all in good time, child. Listen carefully.” And he read:


“Article 72, Section III: The Sapphire Hotel possesses the right to judge all visitors who enter the lobby. The Sapphire Hotel has the sole authority to deem them extraordinary or ordinary. Those who qualify as extraordinary will be invited to enter the hotel’s training program which, upon completion, will secure them a lifetime position as a Sapphire agent among the 22 hotel realms (see Article 6, Section V). Those deemed ordinary will be required to pay their bill and exit the premises.”


The elderly man sighed and turned his face upwards, addressing the empty air.


“But she’s so young. She has a family.”


A puff of blue sparkles erupted from the book and the hotelier nodded.


“Very well.”


He removed his glasses and turned to Sannie.


“Do you understand?”


Sannie was poking her forearm with her finger, transfixed by the blue hues that swirled and glittered on her skin.


The man cleared his throat.


“Sannie Johnson!”


She looked up.


“The Sapphire Hotel has deemed you extraordinary. As such, the hotel is asking you to join the team and lead missions throughout its universe.”


“Ex...tror….din -what?” Sannie stumbled as she tried to sound out the word she did not understand.


“Extraordinary. That means you are a special child - the most special to ever walk through these doors. Mission leaders have been discovered at other hotels, but never this one, and never – NEVER,” he looked to the chandelier, speaking loudly, “– so young.”


Sannie kept poking her arm as the hotelier continued.


“Now, these missions that you will lead are missions for Good. You will become like fire and like light. You will lead teams in this world and others to bring Light to Darkness, Good to Evil, and Hope to Despair.”


Sannie looked up at him.


“Will I fly?”


The man smiled.


“Why yes, you will. However, Sannie Johnson, you have to understand that once you come with us, you cannot return to this.” 


He waved his arm around the room.


“This room?”


“No. No, child. This life. Your friends, your family. That is the sacrifice required of the Sapphire Hotel – a commitment to your missions, to move ever forward, no turning back. Forever.”


“Forever,” Sannie repeated. “Forever” was a word she understood. 


“Forever” was the word her sister used when their father left. “Forever” was the word her mother sobbed the last time they were kicked out of a shelter. “Forever” was what the social worker said when Sannie threw the “Learn to Read” book at her. “Forever” meant always and never. 


She jumped off the stool.


“Be right right back!” she shouted as she ran through the lobby and out the hotel’s entrance, blue sparkles streaking behind her. 


She paused for a moment, blinking against the glare. After the greys of the hotel's interior, the colors of the city street hurt her eyes. She looked at her hands, and her shoulders sank as she saw the ordinary, everyday skin she had lived in for six years.


Sannie sprinted to the doorway of the abandoned theater next door, where her mother lay huddled under a grey blank.  


“Mama!” She shook her shoulder. “Mama!”


Her mother forced open one bloodshot eye. “Eh?”


“Mama! I’m going on a trip!” Yet, even as she said it, Sannie felt a strange sensation in her stomach, as though it had turned upside down and then dropped through the ground. She felt tears in her eyes and threw her arms around her mother. Right

then, she changed her mind. The magic blue and the elderly man felt strange and unfamiliar - far away. Too far away, like a dream. 


Her mother squirmed and pushed her. “Go away, girl,” she mumbled, turning to face the building and pulling the blanket up tighter around her shoulders.


Sannie sat back on her heels, stared at the mound in front of her and stuck her thumb in her mouth, a habit no one had ever told her to break. 


She heard a noise behind her and turned to see the hotelier leaning on his cane, a cloud of the hotel’s blue sparkles shimmering and swirling around him.  


“You will stay, then, Sannie Johnson?” he asked.


She removed her thumb and looked up at him. The funny feeling had left her stomach. She looked directly into his eyes, shimmering with the sapphire blue.


“No. I want to go.”


He extended his hand and she grabbed it. In an instant, they were gone, leaving behind a wisp of blue that sparkled in the sun.


February 05, 2021 16:10

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31 comments

Kristin Neubauer
16:14 Feb 05, 2021

Author's note: First, I owe a lot of people reads and I will start this afternoon. This week has been crazier than usual, but I really didn't want miss another submission. Second, I'm not sure what is going on with this story. I didn't plan it out as I usually do, just making it up as I went along. It's a little quirky, a little traditional, a little happy, a little sad. Not really sure if the mash-up works, but I kept getting drawn to this idea of blue sparkles....no idea why. At least it is done, and that's something.

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19:23 Feb 05, 2021

This is a great story, Kristin! I like how you fit a bit of worldbuilding into a short story without info-dumping. It all felt very natural. Your use of color is interesting too - the magical, fun world is all grey, while the real world is full of color. It made me think of the Wizard of Oz, but opposite. I noticed that there are a lot of what I assumed are unintentional line breaks, so if you get a chance to edit those, it would make the story flow better.

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Kristin Neubauer
22:40 Feb 05, 2021

Thank you so much, Natalie! It was quite a departure from my usual process. This time, I just wrote and wrote, not going back to read it over until I finished. And then when I DID read it over, I was like, "Well, that's different. Where did the blue sparkles come from?" Maybe I'm subconsciously thinking of the ocean and warmer climates here in the dead of winter. And thank you for telling me about the line breaks! No idea what happened there - but I fixed them. Hope we see another story from you soon!

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Daniel R. Hayes
06:28 Mar 06, 2021

Hi Kristin, I thought this story came together very well. I really liked it. The way you included so many details was amazing. I also loved the characters and the way you wrote them. Great job :) There are so many great writers on here, and I think you are one of them. I love reading great stories like this and I think you're very talented. I think you stay pretty busy, so I'm really glad that you have time to write such beautiful stories. Keep up the great work.

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Kristin Neubauer
15:04 Mar 06, 2021

Thanks so much, Daniel - that's really kind of you to say. I have such fun writing and sharing and reading with the other authors on here. I can see where I have improved since I joined last year. I guess it's true what they say about the more you write the better you get. I've also noticed that it's becoming easier for me to think of ideas every week....I wonder if coming up with ideas is like a muscle. The more you do it, the easier it gets. I never thought it was, but may be it is. Thanks so much for reading and for your encouragin...

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Daniel R. Hayes
15:54 Mar 06, 2021

Your welcome Kristin. Most of my free time is spent learning how to be a better writer. One of the things I've learned over the past few months is that the more you write the better you get. Your absolutely right, it is like a muscle. The more you use it the better you will get. That's why I write more than one story a week. I haven't read all of your stories yet, but I want too because I think your very good. Your prose is amazing ;)

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Mango Chutney
05:18 Feb 11, 2021

Wow.. Very well written.. Loved reading your story

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Kristin Neubauer
21:31 Feb 12, 2021

Thank you so much - I really appreciate your taking the time to read and comment. I'm glad it worked for you!

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Philip Clayberg
23:08 Feb 10, 2021

This is a wonderful, wondrous, magical story. Thank you for writing it. You did a great job differentiating between the grey, dreary world outside the hotel and the wonderful, wondrous, magical world inside the hotel. You also made me really hopeful that there is a sequel to this story so that I can also read what happens next. I hope my list of editing comments will be helpful and not an annoyance. Here goes: shimmering like a Caribbean Sea. [I would change "a" to "the".] that she couldn’t help but smile back. [I learned a long tim...

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Kristin Neubauer
19:12 Feb 12, 2021

You are an excellent editor! I am embarrassed that so many errors got out there. I will incorporate them all in the original. Thank you so much for the kind words as well...I hadn't initially thought of a sequel, but people seem to like it....so maybe! If I can come up with a good trajectory. Thank you!

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Philip Clayberg
03:23 Feb 13, 2021

As I've told others on this website, I do wish I had space to say more about *why* I thought something didn't sound quite right to me and how it might be improved. But that would take even more screen space and I didn't want an editing comments section to be at least half as long as the short story itself. Glad I could help. Years ago, I wasn't anywhere *near* this good of an editor, to be honest. It took me a long time to get up to this level. Working as a transcriber for my mother (she translates German and French into English ... whe...

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09:28 Feb 08, 2021

You know how stories such as this end? Sannie finds the lady with the dollar bill and hands it to her. The lady laughs and gives it back to Sannie. Probably tells her that she's a good girl. Then Sannie runs back to her mother and they hug and everything just seems beautiful. This was different in every sense. Beautiful might just be the word. Not everyone would want to give back the money so, in that, we can tell that the little girl is special. I like that you don't tell us or spoon-feed us. We know it because we read it and grabbed it. I...

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Kristin Neubauer
19:29 Feb 09, 2021

Thanks so much, Abigail! And no worries at all on reading - you have a ton of people to read and you write so much aside from everything else you have going on! I always appreciate your feedback and critiques whenever a title catches your eye and you have the time. Yes, the story was definitely an odd one for me, but once I got rolling, I kind of had fun with it. I knew Sannie choosing to leave her mom would be bittersweet....but there was no way I was going to have her turn down that opportunity to go off and be extraordinary! Mom will...

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Nainika Gupta
02:51 Feb 11, 2021

Oh...my..word... Kristin, another poignant and pragmatic piece!! I absolutely loved that you made the main character homeless (not in a weird way) but it tied into the fact that she had a big heart and was, therefore, able to turn blue. The color scheme was amazing...the grey world that didn't give a hoot and the blue girl that loved and had a caring heart despite the odds. Amazing job, again, and say hi to your horse for me??!! :) -N

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Kristin Neubauer
19:23 Feb 12, 2021

Thank you so much! I'm sorry for my super-late reply.....I can't seem to catch up these days! And you bet - I'll give Frankie and Max carrots from you 😊 I really appreciate hearing your thoughts and comments....it was a different kind of story for me, but lots of fun!

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Nainika Gupta
19:26 Feb 12, 2021

No problem!! yessss :))) And it worked wonderfully!!

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16:12 Feb 09, 2021

This is amazing! It would definitely work as the first chapter to a children's book. Is that something you've considered? It is such a fresh and original idea and it works really well :)

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Kristin Neubauer
17:34 Feb 12, 2021

Hi Lizzy - I am so sorry to take so long to respond to your lovely comment. I've been spinning around like a Tasmanian Devil recently - crazy few weeks with work/school. Your comment made me all smiley and glowy! I hadn't - at first - been thinking about taking it forward. But after reading what you said, I am starting to turn some thoughts and ideas over in my head. Maybe I will! Thank you so much!!!

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Julie Ward
21:15 Feb 08, 2021

I just love this, Kristin! How you created this very traditional hotel as a facade for something unusual and magical. How you used Sannie's full name. How you made the world inside the hotel black and white, and gave the real world the color and life. The vintage, yet futuristic feel. So many things to love here. I was transported! I can absolutely see this being a book series for young readers - there are so many interesting directions the stories and characters could go!

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Kristin Neubauer
19:42 Feb 09, 2021

Thank you so much, Julie! That means a ton! It was sort of randomly assembled but I had fun doing it and I so wanted Sannie to take off on an extraordinary adventure. I may add to it down the road. I don't really have any clear ideas yet, but maybe when my mind has time to settle, something will come to me. Thank youuuuu!!!

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H L Mc Quaid
10:18 Feb 07, 2021

Hi Kristin, A whimsical story with ethereal elements. Unusual, and I enjoyed it. One very minor thing, I noticed a sentence with a number of sequential prepositional phrases: That’s why Sannie didn’t think she’d done anything special the day she noticed a dollar bill fall from the purse of a woman wearing a fur coat with a high collar outside the Sapphire Hotel You could either make some adjectives out some of them (or drop some completely). .....the day she she noticed a dollar bill fall from the purse of the woman wearing a high-collar...

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Kristin Neubauer
19:26 Feb 08, 2021

Thanks so much, Heather! As usual, you are right on with your edits....but I am late to reading and it's already been approved so I can't make the changes in this version now. Although I have in the original .... and that has tightened those lines up nicely. I was pulling bits and pieces of the story together while I was at work ... grabbing lulls between edits. I think that's why it was so unusual and kind of quirky and had that oddly specific line. I didn't really have time to think it through very clearly, but something came out in t...

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H L Mc Quaid
20:09 Feb 08, 2021

Hi Kirstin, I'm glad the suggestions were useful. :) I read some of the other comment threads where you said your method for writing this story was different than what you normally do--it seemed that you usually have a more structured approach (perhaps you outline a story idea or character development, or plot, and then 'fill in the gaps'), rather than just writing and see what happens? I'm curious how you approach writing short stories, as I've only been doing this for a few months (and frankly I just wing it) but I'm sure there's a better...

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Kristin Neubauer
19:06 Feb 09, 2021

Sorry for the slow reply - again! I have this tendency toward structure and meticulousness. I actually wish I were a lot looser! When the prompt comes out on Friday, I spend a day turning it over in my mind and settling on a story idea/plot/character. On Sunday, I start scribbling in a notebook - sometimes notes, sometimes bits of scenes or dialogue , sometimes (if I'm lucky) the story all nice and organized. I sit down at a computer on Wednesday and am usually trying to finish up Thursday night or on Friday. However, all of this comes...

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H L Mc Quaid
20:06 Feb 09, 2021

Wow, that's impressive. Managing a job and going to school, and being so disciplined about the craft of creative writing. I like the concept of an idea notebook, to jot down notes, scenes, dialogue. I've been thinking I should try to be more organised. The thing that takes me the longest is coming up with a few ideas for the story (to fit the prompt), before I find the one that intrigues me most. Once I have that core idea, I feel like the sculptor who sees a block of stone and works to reveal what's already there. Mind you, it can turn out ...

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Kristin Neubauer
17:38 Feb 12, 2021

Definitely! Sorry again for taking so long to respond. I love your "carving a block of stone" metaphor. I often wind up thinking that I wish I had one more week to work on the story....but even if I had two weeks, I'd still be thinking the same thing at the two week mark! I think the main thing is to keep on writing, make sure we enjoy the process and don't stress too much along the way!

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Josh C
04:02 Feb 06, 2021

A great read, as always. An interesting mix between heart warming and tear jerking. I'm happy for Sannie, but sad that the rest of her family get nothing. Out of curiosity, did the lady ever get 100 dollars back?

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Kristin Neubauer
18:49 Feb 06, 2021

Hah! Good observation! I forgot about the $100. I should probably find a way to wrap up that element. I’ll think about it. Thanks so much for the compliment. While I didn’t really think this plot through, I did want it to be kind of bittersweet. Very few things are black and white and I felt like achieving that in-between feeling was important here.

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Josh C
01:09 Feb 07, 2021

Fair enough! I thought the 100 dollars was part of the thing that made her special, since it would have been easy to take that back to the family otherwise. Well, I assume the lady didn't miss it if she was staying at such an upmarket hotel.

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Yolanda Wu
00:32 Feb 06, 2021

Ahh, this story was amazing, Kristin! I loved the whole vibe of it, there's something about it that made it feel sort of vintage, maybe it was because you mentioned 'black and white movies'. I could just picture all the blue sparkles, and the beautiful message at the core of the story. That a little girl who was told she was nothing special would be labelled by the hotel as 'extraordinary'. Like Natalie said, I think the little bits were world-building in the story was great, and the ending left me wanting so much more. I want to read about ...

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Arwen Dove
21:35 Apr 26, 2021

This is amazing!

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