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Kerry Underwood stepped out of the car and into the cool Massachusetts' afternoon, the breeze tugging at her long, blond hair as she stared at the front of the Daydreamer Inn. Well, this looks quaint. Kerry chanced a glance up and down the street, noticing that the inn didn't quite fit with the rest of the town's look. If anything, the place seemed lost in time, unable to keep up with the modern world. It doesn't even look up-to-date on the building codes, she thought. She started to rethink her accommodations, but since this is where her sister stayed before she disappeared, Kerry determined to follow the same path.

Grabbing her bag from the back seat, she started toward the steps determined to see this through. As soon as she touched the first step, the front door eased open of its own volition. However, no one stood there holding it open, which sent a shiver down her back. She paused, staring for a moment as soft music filtered out the open door to reach her ears, drawing her to continue her ascent up the steps. She slung her luggage bag over her shoulder, gripping the strap tight, and started back up the steps doing her best to squelch the uneasy feeling churning in the pit of her stomach.

Kerry passed through the entrance and the soft flickering glow of flames from wall sconces, which seemed to be the only lighting in the place, suddenly replaced daylight. Whoever designed the inn positioned the torches all along the walls at ten-foot intervals, which cast a gentle light over a lobby that seemed to be furnished from the early 1800s. Why do I feel as if I stepped back in time?

She tightened her grip on her luggage and weaved her way through the lobby to the front desk, an old wooden construct with what appeared to be old mailboxes behind it with… Are those iron keys in the slots? Is this an inn or a dungeon?

From a door set behind the reception desk came the oddest-looking man with shoulder-length hair the color of sand. At first, Kerry thought he was a guest of the inn because he wore silk pajamas as if he just crawled out of bed. He didn't even have shoes on, but wore a simple pair of thick socks instead. Yet, instead of walking on to the stairs, he stepped up behind the desk and asked if he could help her find a room.

Kerry cocked an eyebrow at him. “I'm sorry, but you work here?"

The man smiled at her as he gave a slow nod. “It's worse than that, I'm afraid," he said, his speech slow and drawn out, almost as if the words trickled from his mouth instead of just flowing like normal people. “I actually own the Daydreamer Inn. I'm Mr. Sandman, but everyone calls me Sandie. Black Hollow's not huge on formalities. Have you come to enjoy our small town?"

Kerry could only stare a moment, his words not really making sense to her at first. Then she shook her head. Well, I guess if you own the place, you can wear whatever you want to work. She took a deep breath as she set her bag on the floor beside her. “Yes. My sister stayed here a few days ago and recommended I visit and check out Black Hollow. I think she even stayed at this inn."

The ancient-looking man smiled again as he nodded. “That would make sense as we're the only inn in town. Is she still here?"

Kerry wished she knew the answer to that. “I'm hoping so," she answered. “I've actually come to town to look for her. Seems she became so busy she stopped reaching back out. Maybe you can tell me if she's still staying here. Her name is Brandie Underwood. She was here looking for a new place to set up shop. She's a travel agent and is always looking for unique places to recommend to her clients."

The man cocked his head to the side, and Kerry had to force herself not to laugh as the movement reminded her of a turtle, it was so slow. “Miss Underwood is staying here. Although, I haven't seen her in a couple of days. She booked her room through the week, so I haven't thought anything of her absence. I don't always see the guests come and go, I'm afraid."

“Do you think I could have a room close to hers?" If Brandie hadn't checked out yet, then perhaps Kerry was worrying for nothing. Or perhaps, she wasn't worrying enough.

The elderly man reached behind him, searching the rows of slots until he pulled out an iron key. Turning back around, he continued to smile as he nodded. “It seems the room right next door to her is vacant. I'll show you the way." He moved toward the edge of the desk, more like he shuffled than actually walked.

Kerry groaned inwardly. At this pace, it would take her all day to get to her room. The man moved like an old Tim Conway skit on the Carol Burnett show.

“Follow me, please." He moved toward the stairs, a smile still creasing his weathered face.

Kerry looked around and noticed for the first time that there were no elevators. This place really needs to catch up with the times. She sighed as she shouldered her bag again and stepped in behind the older man, surrendering to the fact that her walk would be more arduous than she wished.

“We do have a few small rules at the Daydreamer Inn we need you to follow. Simple rules, really. I promise. You may have noticed we have little as far as technological amenities at the inn. We believe that people come here to rest, and we don't wish to disturb that desire. You'll find our quaint inn a quiet place of escape. We ask that you honor that as well. There is also a cellar that guests are forbidden to venture into as the dragon who lives down there craves his privacy. He helps heat the inn during the winter months, so I allow him to stay down there."

Kerry felt her eyebrows pop up as she stared at the man's back. He calls his furnace a dragon?

“We also request you don't open your windows for any reason, especially if you were to hear music. The banshees can be pranksters, and they really enjoy messing with those from out of town. You want to stay away from them if you know anything at all about banshees."

This just keeps getting better and better. I understand needing to have a gimmick for your business, but this guy is laying it on thick.

“Oh, and while our housekeepers, the sprites and brownies, are quite excellent at their jobs, they can be almost as tricky as the banshees. Just leave them some chocolate at night, and they'll leave you alone." He glanced at her over his shoulder, his grin even bigger. “Usually, that is."

She tried to smile back, but to be honest, his rules kind of gave her the creeps.

When they reached the door to her room, Sandie slipped the iron key into the hole and unlocked the door with a loud click. As he opened the door, he turned to Kerry, handing her the key. “Please enjoy your stay, and if for any reason you have trouble sleeping, just buzz the desk. I'm great at helping people drift away into dreamland." He nodded once more and then turned and headed back toward the stairs.

That wasn't creepy at all. Kerry watched as the man shuffled away, his feet barely lifting off the floor as he moved. I'm afraid to even ask how he helps people sleep.

With a shake of her head, she entered her room, shutting the door behind her. Dropping her bag on the floor, she took in the room. A giant bed sat in the middle of the eastern wall, resembling a mountain of marshmallows. Even the pillows were huge and fluffy. A nightstand sat on each side of the bed with a hurricane lamp for lighting. Against the window overlooking the town outside set a table with two overstuffed chairs with high backs, another hurricane lamp in the middle, and opposite the bed was an ancient-looking dresser with a tall mirror in the middle. Sandie was right about the lack of technology in the place. Not only was there no T.V., but there also wasn't even so much as a radio or coffee pot. Well, I didn't come here to watch television, anyway.

Kerry dragged her bag over to the bed, plopping it on top before digging inside and pulling out her laptop. Glancing around the table, she was relieved to find at least one electrical outlet. She didn't mind the motif of the place, but without power, she would have a hard time doing her research to find her sister. She felt bad about lying to the man who thought he was the Sandman, but if Brandie didn't tell him she was really an investigator, then Kerry would not give it away, either. There was no telling what Brandie had gotten into that caused her disappearance, and Kerry refused to tip her hand until she had some direction to search first.

Setting her laptop on the wooden table, she flipped it open and started her search. Now, what were you investigating, Brandie?

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