Suggested by: Ryan Howard
Name: Lily Reese
Place: She can't recall, yet she feels like she should...
Time: Every time she falls asleep...
Object: She has a small unique key around her neck...
"The Enchanted Staircase"
When She Was Just A Girl, Lily Reese spent many hours out-of-doors. Inside the house, one required stockings and pinafores and behaving like a prim young lady, even at the tender, burgeoning age of seven.
Outside, though, the grass begged to tickle the space between her toes, the wind tossed her loose skirts and long about... And the magic staircase took her to parts unknown.
It wasn't a natural feature of the landscape; as far as she could tell, Lily was the only person who could see it and climb it. Climb she did, from it's ethereal beginnings to the hazy fog at the top. There, she would experience what she called "The Second Storey", as if the real world was just the ground floor of an enormous celestial house. Lily recalled her early forays into this dimension so vastly different from the way everyone thought the world ought to function.
She Expected The World to always remain the same when she traveled up the stairs, but no matter how many times she climbed, it was always different. Sometimes, she clambered about the clouds with flocks of gryphons or a herd of pegasi. Other times, the top of the stairs led to a door that looked like it belonged on the inside of a house, and the minute she set foot on the tiled floor, the house sort of sprouted up around her, and she sat to have tea with the Fae folk. Still other times, it was a whole forest of trees that gently caught her in their boughs, and she could climb to her heart's content, and the branches would bear her safely for miles on end. Lily climbed the stairs to a giant's castle, a small island in a vast ocean, a magic carnival, and a great many other places. But there was one place she always managed to find when she didn't particularly want to; it was a place that made her feel strange, like a sense of dread, fondness, and regret rolled all into one.
It Flew Away From Her Reach whenever she tried to interact with it. One moment she would be gallivanting with fauns, and the next minute, all sound and movement died as she arrived in the empty, silent room. After a few times of The Room catching her, she began to notice changes, further details that she could never be sure had been there the whole time or suddenly manifested for some reason; now there stood a wooden chest in the corner, but it was locked tight; now there was a window, but all she could see through it were clouds.
She'd Run Away In Her Sleep to The Room most often, as her psyche puzzled over what it could mean. It progressed to the point where Lily felt that she really ought to know what The Room meant; it seemed so familiar after dreaming of it every night for three months that Lily wondered if she had actually been to The Room before; she struggled, trying every method she knew to bring back the memories, if they even existed—but nothing worked.
One day, Lily talked with a mermaid who offered what sounded like a plausible solution.
"The room could very well be a pathway to yet another world, one that you have not visited yet." She drifted lazily on the surface as she spoke. "It may be showing the limits of the Second Storey—but who is to say there isn't another storey beyond that one?" She flipped around to gaze right at the young girl, "What if it leads to Paradise?"
Lily sighed. "There's just as much chance that it won't," she pointed out. "I don't want to get into trouble for prying where I am not meant to be."
The mermaid bobbed her head, and a few starfish slipped out and crept away under the surface of the water. "It is a part of the Second Storey, which has allowed you to enter time and again, when nearly nobody else could. I believe the chest will open for you when the time is right. But it won't do it on its own." She produced a clam from the satchel hanging over her shoulder. "Here, take this with you. It will unlock the box when you are ready. All you will need to do is dream of it again, for this is a dream-key and only works when you’re asleep, not when you’re climbing the stairs." She handed Lily a small, unique key, which looked like it had been formed by the clam itself. The mermaid smiled and waved as she rejoined her pod. “You do not need to fear what is within that chest, Lily. I believe it might help you understand more of what possibilities your life could hold.”
Lily stood alone on the cleft of rock overlooking the lagoon. She hung the strange key next to the locket on the chain around her neck and descended the stairs to rejoin her family once more.
To Dream of Paradise, Lily needed only to fall asleep under the blanket of glow-in-the-dark stars decorating her bedroom ceiling. Sure enough, she stood in The Room once more—but this time, she felt something different. It was as if The Room somehow perceived that she had not fallen in this time, but had departed intentionally, expectantly, and the entire shape of it was changed. Now, instead of an empty room, Lily had to navigate a maze of tall, nondescript boxes and mysterious furniture wrapped in dust-cloths. She found the chest, but this time, she could see no keyhole. What had gone wrong? Lily awoke—dejected and disappointed.
Every Time She Closed Her Eyes, she saw The Room—not the empty one full of possibilities, but one full of dashed hopes and false destinations. Over time, she began to notice the staircase changing as well. One day, it appeared in the middle of the pond, it’s concrete steps emerging from the murky depths among lily pads and marsh grasses. Old, withered vines covered its surface. Lily watched her feet carefully as she trekked through the shallow water, the mermaid’s key still thumping against her chest. She climbed the old, withered steps with much less eagerness. She was tired now; not much older, but the cares of the world had worn away at her, the fast pace of real time leaving her further and further behind.
Finally, with her last ounce of strength, she reached the top. This time, instead of an open land, there stood a door—a door that was the exact shape of the chest she had sought, with the keyhole right where it should be underneath the knob. Trembling, Lily produced the key and inserted it into the lock. It turned easily, with a muted click. The door swung open and she caught her breath.
The mermaid was right about the door's destination; This Could Be Paradise, she thought.
Lily knew she would never have to leave it and ascend the steps ever again.
Also in this series:
Crossover Parts: "Rendezvous" (SM 6/SL 2) "The Viking and the Lore-Master" (SM 9/SL 4)
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