“Now pay attention,” said Ole-Luk-Oie in the evening, when Hjalmar was in bed, “and I will decorate the room.”

Immediately all the flowers in the flowerpots became large trees with long branches reaching to the ceiling and stretching along the walls, so that the whole room was like a greenhouse. All the branches were loaded with flowers, each flower as beautiful and as fragrant as a rose, and had any one tasted them he would have found them sweeter even than jam. The fruit glittered like gold, and there were cakes so full of plums that they were nearly bursting. It was incomparably beautiful.

At the same time sounded dismal moans from the table drawer in which lay Hjalmar’s schoolbooks.

“What can that be now?” said Ole-Luk-Oie, going to the table and pulling out the drawer.

It was a slate, in such distress because of a wrong figure in a sum that it had almost broken itself to pieces. The pencil pulled and tugged at its string as if it were a little dog that wanted to help but could not.

And then came a moan from Hjalmar’s copy book. Oh, it was quite terrible to hear! On each leaf stood a row of capital letters, every[148] one having a small letter by its side. This formed a copy. Under these were other letters, which Hjalmar had written; they fancied they looked like the copy, but they were mistaken, for they were leaning on one side as if they intended to fall over the pencil lines.

“See, this is the way you should hold yourselves,” said the copy. “Look here, you should slope thus, with a graceful curve.”

“Oh, we are very willing to do so,” said Hjalmar’s letters, “but we cannot, we are so wretchedly made.”

“You must be scratched out, then,” said Ole-Luk-Oie.

“Oh, no!” they cried, and then they stood up so gracefully that it was quite a pleasure to look at them.

“Now we must give up our stories, and exercise these letters,” said Ole-Luk-Oie. “One, two—one, two—” So he drilled them till they stood up gracefully and looked as beautiful as a copy could look. But after Ole-Luk-Oie was gone, and Hjalmar looked at them in the morning, they were as wretched and awkward as ever.

Ole Lukøje by Hans Christian Andersen

Clara opened her eyes. She lay on her back in a familiar bed in a familiar room. Nate’s room, from when he was a child—a young child, an abundance of brightly painted toys and tiny underpants strewn across the floor. Bunty had been slacking again.

She sat up slowly, trying to keep her movements measured and deliberate. Dreams, even recorded ones, were fragile, flighty things, and until she was sure she was in the throes of it, she had to be careful. So far, so good.

She pulled back the covers, revealing the white organza dress that was her uniform whenever she studied dreams. When Nate had gifted the dress program to her on the day she’d graduated, she hadn’t been able to wait to put it on.

Looking at her reflection in the mirror, she’d been taken aback. The color, the demure neckline, and the yards of flowing fabric that billowed behind her as she walked through the dreamscapes—it could’ve easily been mistaken for a wedding dress. And Nate had given it to her. For a few days afterward, she’d been shy around him, sure that the dress was the start of something. How could it not be? The man she was in love with had given her a dress fit for a bride. But Nate had been oblivious, and it hadn’t taken her long to conclude that everything about the dress was a fluke. Her first instinct had been to delete the program, but she hadn’t been able to make herself do it. Even if it was a scrap tossed unthinkingly at her, it was a gift from him all the same.

At first, she’d felt faintly ridiculous traipsing around various dreamscapes dressed like a princess on her wedding day, but over time, she’d gotten used to it, and now, it was like her talisman, her anchor, reminding her where she was when the dreams got too intense.

As her feet touched the floor, miniscule sprouts unfurled from the carpeting and the smell of damp earth permeated the room. Faster and faster, they multiplied, until the whole floor was blanketed with tiny green plants. The sprouts grew and flourished blossoming into a wall-to-wall bouquet of every kind and color of flower imaginable. The stems of the blooms stretched and thickened, dropping their petals to the floor as they burgeoned into slender trees with shining emerald leaves.

Sensations flowed through Clara—the sting of a first scraped knee, the thrill of staying up past bedtime, the tears after a fight with a beloved friend. With each new feeling, the forest around her grew denser and darker, forming a canopy overhead until she could see nothing but the trees. The scent of wet soil deepened, overlaid with the stronger smell of something long decayed.

The lush green leaves changed from the gold and orange of autumn to the last gasp of crimson before snowfall. Nate’s favorite time of year. Wonder surged through Clara, the pure awe that came from the open mind of a child.

But as the roomed darkened under the weight of the forest, the red leaves began to fall and Clara understood, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that she must gather every single leaf before it touched the ground. Frantically, she scrambled to catch them, holding her skirts out to receive them before all was lost. Thicker and thicker, they fell; it was an impossible task, one that would suffocate her. She would be buried beneath these leaves, her body to lie undiscovered beneath them until they rotted away.

She couldn’t do it. She wasn’t good enough, fast enough, smart enough. Leaves drifted down all around her, but her skirts stayed empty. Even as she reached out to pluck one from the air, it slipped through her fingers. Guilt gnawed at her with a chill as bitter as the coming winter. No matter what she did, how hard she tried, she wasn’t enough. She was helpless. Incapable. She was…

Clara, Dreaming by A.W. Cross