The world looked tiny so far below as Wren floated high in a hot-air balloon. This was a change of perspective for them; under one-and-a-half-meters tall, Wren was used to their neck becoming stiff from always looking up at people. Wren smiled, their light face glowing in the warm sun. They gasped at the tops of trees and birds flitting among them. They were having the time of their life.
As the balloon approached the mountaintop Wren watched the bundled skiers down the mountain and rising on the ski lifts. Wren was glad they opted for the hot-air balloon: more expensive, but much more fun.
They were safer up there, too, wrapped in thick, dreamy-soft rope to hold them tight in the basket, binding their short arms and legs in place. It kept them warm as the temperatures grew colder higher up, although it was little needed. Wren looked at the bright, deep, rippling blue sky, nary a cloud around. The weather was perfect, cold enough to ski but warm enough to stay comfortable.
As the air grew colder Wren pulled a knit cap over their fuzzy caramel hair. They’d bundle up skiing down the mountain in a soft, plush coat so tight it practically hugged them.
“We’re arriving at the mountain now,” the pretty balloon pilot said. At least, Wren thought she was pretty. She always seemed to stand in shadow. She was nice and friendly, guiding Wren as they floated to the mountain. When the balloon landed Wren thanked the pilot and left to ski.
In no time at all they sped down the snowy slopes, past towering trees. Wren had never skied before but it was so simple, they were a natural at it. They just stayed bundled up tight and were pulled in the direction they needed to go. The bright sun shone their path, but never so bright as to catch a glare in Wren’s eyes. They skied down the mountain like an effortless dream, turning on a snowbank, flying off a ramp and landing in a cushioned armchair in the resort cabin, wrapped up in a thick blanket with as much comfort as any bed.
Skiing was exciting, but nothing beat relaxing among friends in a warm cabin and sinking in a soft blanket. The balloon pilot—no, she was a waitress, but she looked similar. They were sisters? That was interesting, and so nice that they worked at the same place. She brought Wren a cup of hot cocoa. Wren snuggled into their blanket and cocoa and let the world melt around them. They relaxed deeper, sinking into warm softness, and they melted away . . .
Wren approached the hotel front doors. Palm trees, fountains, and beaches surrounded the building—predictable décor for an island hotel that, quite frankly, looked like a tourist trap. Wren hoped this would be worth the money. With the hotel’s slogan it had a lot to live up to.
The Dream Staycation Hotel. “Why wear yourself out traveling? Rest and relax in soft, pampered comfort while on exciting adventures in fantastic locales!”
Exactly how this was done wasn’t clear. Wren assumed some sort of virtual reality or holograms, especially with the price. Regardless, they needed a vacation and couldn’t spare any expense, and excitement while relaxing sounded perfect.
Wren adjusted their t-shirt. Back home they’d wear warm pants, but here they wore shorts—maybe they should have worn a skirt. They certainly weren’t built for warm weather, so compact they held in all their heat. They hoisted their suitcases and walked through the front entrance, disappointed it was almost as warm inside as out.
“Hello!” The rosy receptionist behind the marble front desk waved to Wren with a cheery smile. Her bright yellow outfit was buttoned tight, an azure circle arced below the loose turnover collar. “Welcome to the Dream Staycation Hotel! Do you have a reservation?”
“Yes, under Wren Huppe.”
In short order they confirmed Wren’s reservation. The receptionist smiled.
“All right, we have you in.” A scaly tail rose from behind the desk, holding a key card on a ring. Wren froze. “You’re in room 35B, on the right side, up one floor. Would you like a bellhop?” Those scales glimmered in the light, white and blue as the marble desk but shifting like beads, muscles curling and squeezing. Wren stayed frozen; the lamia frowned and leaned forward. “Are you okay?” Wren stared at the receptionist, pale. They shook their senses back.
“Sorry, I’m—I’m fine, I—you’re a lamia?”
The receptionist nodded. “Most of the employees here are lamias.”
Wren swallowed and breathed. They had nothing against lamias, really, but they freaked the small human out. All that tail, long and heavy, and she heard rumors . . . hypnotic eyes, squeezing tails, taking people away. Wren shivered. The idea of getting close to one scared them. Lamias were fine, really, Wren had never had trouble with any, but that didn’t mean . . . they wouldn’t.
Wren took a heavy breath, puffing their chest as if trying to push out sudden claustrophobia. They’d paid for this vacation, and they were going to get through it. They would just hole up in their room the entire time. Wren reached out, hand shaking, and took the key card without touching those rough, cold scales.
“Th-Thank you.” Wren shivered; the heat had little bearing now. “I’m fine, I don’t need a bellhop.” They picked up their luggage and headed to an elevator on the right. “I can find my room, don’t worry about me.” They stumbled as they glanced back at the receptionist several times until a safe distance away.
Wren locked their room and looked it over. It was quiet, spacious, and they felt smaller than usual; they would fit on the bed several times over. They opened the mahogany closet, certainly big enough to hold a lamia, and examined every corner to make sure no snake was hiding to spring out when Wren dropped their defense. They checked the drawers, peered under the bed, glanced under the chairs, looked in the marble shower, in the sink, in the toilet, in the lamp, behind the trippy beach painting that looked like someone painted over it while on LSD—nothing.
Okay, I feel a little silly. A snake wouldn’t fit in a sink or behind a painting. Probably there’s no foul play. Probably. Still, I think I’ll stay in my room as much as possible.
Wren lay back on the bed. It was firm, even as they lay atop the comforter, but the closet held enough extra blankets to make it cozy for the night. Wren stared at the ceiling. They hadn’t seen anything like virtual reality headsets or hologram technology. Maybe it was in a special area and the hotel rooms were normal.
Okay. I’ll rest a bit, steel my nerves, and go ask about the adventure part of the hotel. I’ll try to find one of the human staff. If they have any. Oh no, what if they have a spider maid? Someone who makes cobwebs more than cleaning them!
Wren shoved that out of their mind and shut their eyes. It was a long trip. They felt weary. It was time to get started on the rest and relaxing. I can make a plan for what to do when I’m fresh.
Wren dozed . . .
They woke at a heavy softness rising over them. Wren smiled and settled into the snug comforter hugging them close. They frowned. I never pulled a comforter over me . . . Wren popped their eyes open. Something slid around them like coils, and—
Wren stared at the vanilla-cream-yellow snake tail wrapping around them. They felt the scales slide over as each loop curled around them. Their blood chilled colder than the snake’s scales. The lower loops weighed them down, and Wren lay immobile as the slithering tail squeezed their short arms and legs.
Oh, you’re awake, Mx.”
Wren glanced to the quiet—they guessed French—voice beside them. A lamia stood at the side of the bed with a bright smile, her caramel blonde hair tied in a bun. Her tight-buttoned uniform looked like the receptionist’s, but the sleeves had added blue stripes and the blue circle expanded to a spiral across the vest. Her smile dropped for a moment.
I do hope I haven’t startled you, but I thought I could prepare you while you slept.”
What?” Wren shouted. Prepare? Thoughts of being stewed by snakes ran through their mind.
For your Dream Staycation,” the lamia said. She bowed her head. “Euh, sorry. My name is Deni, and I’ll be taking you on your Dream Staycation today.”
No!” Wren squirmed in the growing coils as the tail settled around their shoulders, stroking their skin. “No, I don’t want this!”
I’m sorry,” Deni said, her voice lowered. “The guidelines state you must be fastened safely in case your dream becomes too vivid.” She lightened her voice. “But don’t worry, that rarely happens.” Wren shouted in protest; Deni’s eyes shifted as her smile wobbled and pitch rose. “Non, no, it never—I’ve never seen it happen—well I’m kind of new but—but I’m good at what I do—calmez—euh, please, calm down.”
Deni inhaled and looped her tail’s end snug around Wren’s chin and forehead. Wren stared at her, mind flashing between how gentle Deni’s hold felt and the terrifying prospect of being squeezed. They rationalized that it was silly to suspect an employee of the hotel, but thoughts of being dragged away to a pit of snakes forever flashed in their head. Some people liked this, right? It wasn’t intended to be malicious. But Wren didn’t like it!
Wren told their relaxed muscles and tingling skin that they didn’t like it! Deni’s tail felt—it felt . . . secure and cushiony and comforting, it was true.
I’m sorry, I was told some people are nervous their first time,” Deni said. “I’ll take it slowly.”
What?” Wren asked, trying to latch on to their panic. “Take what—slowly . . .?” Wren stared at Deni’s eyes, which flashed with a soft glow. Light pastel rings of colors like lemon cake, peach, and brown sugar rippled through Deni’s eyes like a fluffy pastry. Simply staring made Wren feel as if they sank into a soft cake. They still wanted out of the coils, but that felt less important than looking into Deni’s eyes.
Deni blinked, and Wren blinked after. The world looked blurry; as worried as Wren was, struggling against the lamia didn’t occur to them anymore.
Sorry, I’m sorry,” Deni said, eyes clenched. “I should have prepared better.”
Huh?” Wren’s question died on their lips as Deni opened her eyes full of swirling colors. Wren forgot they even asked a question as their thoughts turned fluffy. The colors rippled through their vision, blurring all the world but the lamia attendant. Deni smiled to Wren.
There you go, that’s nice, isn’t it? So soft and comfortable.” Deni leaned closer and softened her voice. “Just relax; you’re on vacation. Let me pamper you. It’s time to rest.”
Wren twitched as Deni’s tail shuffled around them. Most of Wren’s thoughts pushing against the hypnosis were those panicking over the thick coils, but those softly settled from how gentle the lamia’s tail held them, how velvety her scales were. She wasn’t threatening Wren. She was giving them a cushiony bed, holding and squeezing them in a perfect, pliant hug. Wren was on vacation. They wanted comfort. They wanted to be pampered. Why should they be worried how . . . ?
Deni giggled as Wren’s eyes fluttered shut. Wren raised their drooping eyelids to keep staring at the attendant’s beautiful eyes, every color seeping through their head like a massage.
That’s much better now, isn’t it?” Deni asked. “Do I need to move any coils to make you more comfortable?”
Don’t . . .” Wren’s instinct was to tell her to not coil them at all, but that thought trailed away. Their growing trance only cultivated content thoughts. “Don’t move . . .” Wren’s lips twitched into a smile. The heavy coils dropped them deeper, deep into a restful bed, deeper than they’d ever slept. Wren’s few awake thoughts settled into the hypnotic spell like their body settled into the coils, wondering how they ever thought lamias could be bad.
Wonderful,” Deni said. “I’m glad you’ve been able to relax into this.” She inhaled, coming closer, her voice dropping towards a whisper. “Now, deeper . . . Sink down into a deep trance, let me take hold of your imagination.” She snuggled her tail like a secure blanket around Wren. “Let my voice take you on a trip, down, deeper, darker, sinking . . . down to the very bottom.”
Wren sighed out the rest of their tension, lax in Deni’s coils as their mind sank full into her spell. Every word of the lamia orchestrated Wren’s thoughts.
Now follow my voice,” Deni said. “Follow my voice on a journey . . . As you begin to rise . . . Rise into the sky . . . The ground shrinking below you, the clouds coming to meet you as you float up in a soaring hot-air balloon, watching the sights far below . . .”
Wren awoke from the melting of the warm cabin into the warm coils of the lamia attendant in the hotel. Deni whispered words of waking to Wren, gradually raising to a normal volume as Wren rose to consciousness. They looked at Deni, who smiled and stood up.
“How was your Dream Staycation?” Deni asked. Wren stared at her with eyes wide.
“That was wonderful,” Wren said in firm awe. They felt completely refreshed after that. Wren felt like they had expended their energy all while restoring it. Relaxed and invigorated at the same time, they could do anything!
“I’m very glad to hear it,” Deni said with a bow of her head. She pulled her tail off Wren, gently sliding around them as each loop receded one-by-one. Wren tingled at the weight sliding over their body and held the end of Deni’s soft tail.
“Wait, can we—er, can I have . . . another session?” Wren wasn’t sure what the right words were, but they wanted more. Deni nodded.
“Mm-hmm. I can give you another trip soon,” Deni said, “but our policy is to have time between sessions. It can be taxing and stiffening to remain coiled and still for so long, so it’s best for you to take some time to stretch and enjoy our hotel’s other amenities.”
As Deni pulled away the last of her tail Wren cleared their throat. “All right, that makes sense.” They sat on the bed’s edge and looked at Deni. They rubbed their arm and looked aside. “Did you stand next to the bed the whole time?”
“Yes,” Deni said. She smiled and glanced away for a moment. “I verbally guided you throughout your Dream Staycation, and I watched over you to make sure you remained safe.”
Wren blushed and looked at the bed. “Couldn’t you, um, lie down on the bed next to me?” Wren couldn’t believe what they were saying. The thought of Deni resting next to them and whispering tales of a vacation tingled their brain and body.
Deni put a hand to her mouth and laughed, turning away. She seemed to redden a little. “Oh. Well. Yes, actually, though there is concern some might see it as . . . inconvenant? Improper, perhaps, bien que—euh, even though we are separated by my tail.”
Wren scrunched their face. “Wait, but your tail is part of your body and you had that wrapped all over me.”
“Oh!” Deni blushed stronger. “But that’s seen in the way of using one’s hands to massage another. It’s a professional part of the job. Once we’re lying next to each other, though . . . Euh.” Deni looked at Wren, fidgeting. “S’il te—Please don’t think I would try to take advantage of our closeness were you to allow it. But you are required to speak with an administrator and fill out a form to approve it. I can show you to the administrator offices if you’d like.”
Wren smiled. “Yeah. I’d like you to get to rest like I did.”
Deni smiled. “I couldn’t get anywhere near the level of rest you get with our Dream Staycations, but the idea of lying down while working is attractive. I’ll show you to the administrator offices.”
Wren lounged in a beach chair, watching the rolling ocean waves as the sky warmed into swirling dusk colors. A lamia waitress approached them with a drink on a tray.
“Here is your drink, monsieurdemoiselle,” she said. “Are you enjoying your Dream Staycation?”
Wren smiled to Deni. “I am, very much. Come on, sit and enjoy this beautiful sunset with me.” Deni smiled and nodded. They clinked glasses together. “It’s a sunset as beautiful as your eyes.”
Deni giggled. “It’s a sunset my eyes have made for you.”
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