The soft glow of the moon illuminates the forest, rivers of black sky pouring like ink through the branches, the ground flickering and rising up to meet it. The sound of leaves rustling and branches snapping underfoot rises up around me like waves swelling in a storm, the sound enveloping me, a chorus of voices in harmony with the wind. I reach upwards, catching a pale feather, pristine and glorious as it lands lightly in my palm. I am entranced by it, by everything, and when the mist sweeps around me I feel as though I will be carried away, the crisp scent of hope drifting tantalisingly close, until I want the world to fall away, leaving only me and the trees. Flowers litter the edge of the path, lilting voices adding to the melody, swaying to the music and welcoming me into their midst. I don’t know what this place is or how I got there, but the leaves are like a bed of cotton as I fall into them, the air tasting like crisp, sweet sunshine and tart berries. In these moments, the world is vivid and beautiful, every colour bright and enchanting, sounds sweet and blissful, everything inviting me to sleep. Then I notice the strange thrumming sensation in the back of my mind, whispering that something is wrong. I look around. I am the bird now, trapped in the prison of branches, the voices too close and the scent overwhelming, ashes and flecks of fire drifting through the streams of black blood. Footsteps echo behind me, resounding in the air like boots striking stone, but I’m in a forest…

I concentrate, hard. If I could just do something… but I don’t have enough control for that. I curl up in a ball, expecting something to happen but not knowing what, closing my eyes and waiting for death, and suddenly – I’m awake.

The phantom of me, my dream – self, flickers away as the last memories of the nightmare fades, leaving me shaken but unsure of why. A drifting melody stirs the thoughts in my mind, but I just can’t remember what happened, the story dangling like a thread just out of reach. The pillow is soft against my cheek, the blankets warm and feathery, but I feel somehow out of place, and I realise I still haven’t opened my eyes. The darkness is comforting, the absence of contorted shadows and the ghostly half – light calming me, but the prickling sensation won’t go unless I ensure I am in bed, in my familiar room, and not still lying in the pile of leaves, the feather clutched in my hand. Or perhaps talons. I open one eye a fraction, and a gentle light seeps into my vision, but it feels blinding after being trapped in the dark for so long. I open both eyes, and come to my senses a moment later, the wardrobe and the door with the sign that reads ‘Ana’s Room’ wavering in my vision. I glance at my alarm clock. 6:00 AM. I groan, shifting in the warmth of the covers, unwilling to get up. But there’s plenty of stuff to do, and half an hour more won’t get me to sleep. I sit up, stretching, and fight the temptation to nestle back into the sheets, before slipping on fuzzy socks and sliding out of bed.

I stand up, muscles protesting as I shift towards the wardrobe. I reach for a towel and some clean clothes, ignoring the urge to lean against the wall and slide onto the floor, and just lie there until I have to go. A cold shower is all I need, I tell myself, the tiles of the bathroom cold against my bare feet as I step inside. But something is drawing me towards the wardrobe. I can feel a strange buzzing sensation, like an electric current searing through me, the sensation of cold water already trickling over my skin. The sound of running water floods my ears, but no one is awake yet. The prickling sensation has returned, currents flowing over my skin, excitement thrumming through my veins. I walk slowly over to the wardrobe, reaching through the wooden door, my fingers brushing against leaves. Could this be – no, I’m too awake for this – but it can’t be real either… the thought shimmers in my head. I felt awake a second ago, but this might just be another dream. I turn, just to check that everything is normal, and the wood hasn’t morphed into a monstrous – then I see that it has. Morphed, I mean. Not into a monster, but now the wall has disappeared, which is almost as perturbing, my room leading into a lush forest, sunlight scattered over the path and birds chirping excitedly. The wardrobe has transfigured into a crooked wooden door, directly on the path with nothing behind or in front of it. Just a dusty wooden door. Leading nowhere. What a brilliant, normal start to a day. I had thought the nightmare from earlier was bad enough. It was terrifying in a sort of subtle way. But this… is something else. I reach up to brush my fingers against the leaves of a magnificent oak, its trunk bending towards me like a lord bowing for a queen. The whole forest carries an air of grandeur, colours flecked across the leaves and the ground, trees painted golden brown in the sun, baked mud and crisp leaves beckoning me out of my comfortable room. The door is what draws me most, I just know I have to step inside. Those dreams where your phantom – self seems to know more than you do, and you just follow along – yeah, I’m in one of those now. I’m just walking towards the door because it calls me, voice high and melodious and standing out in sharp sweet notes against the background chorus of the forest. The delicious scent of maple and pine, bathed in the warmth of the sun tears something raw and unexpected from the depths of my soul, and it pulls me towards the doorway. The door closes behind me as I take a last step.

The forest blinks away, and I’m in an infinite white room. The floor, walls and ceiling are indistinguishable from one another, a soft light filling the space. Scattered throughout the space are thousands of identical doors, standing at varied angles yet exactly the same, as if they are reflected in countless mirrors. Smoke drifts through the bright chasm, lingering around each door, whispering secrets of the worlds behind them too quietly to hear. I step closer to a door near me, and the smell of salty ocean wafts beneath my nose, the caw of a seagull echoing in wind. Noticing a small silver plaque on the door, I peer at it, reading the name of the world behind it. Jeval. The name is unfamiliar. As I look around, the names appear on more of the doors, in the form of a sign hanging from it or a paper tucked beneath, the sound of crackling flame or bitter sobs or the smell of soft perfume or light shining from a keyhole all handing me vague hints as to what is behind them. Narnia. Snow collects around the doorframe. Fantastica. The faint roar of a dragon can be heard amidst swirling wind. Tanglefern. Voices speak a foreboding chant. Arawiya, Ketterdam, Hogwarts. My favourite stories, fragments from my imagination, flickers of dreams and unknown worlds begging me to explore. Opening one with the name Lunaria, I step inside, and feel myself falling. The world flashes before my eyes, and my surroundings, the world spread out below me, the jolt in my stomach, the scream falling back down my throat and choking me, the wind in my hair…

Everything feels strangely real. The realisation grips me a moment later. I have just walked through my dream and come out in an entirely different world.

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