As soon as Hjalmar was in bed Ole-Luk-Oie touched with his little magic wand all the furniture in the room, which immediately began to chatter. And each article talked only of itself.

Over the chest of drawers hung a large picture in a gilt frame, representing a landscape, with fine old trees, flowers in the grass, and a broad stream which flowed through the wood past several castles far out into the wild ocean.

Ole-Luk-Oie touched the picture with his magic wand, and immediately the birds began to sing, the branches of the trees rustled, and the clouds moved across the sky, casting their shadows on the landscape beneath them.

Then Ole-Luk-Oie lifted little Hjalmar up to the frame and placed his feet in the picture, on the high grass, and there he stood with the sun shining down upon him through the branches of the trees. He ran to the water and seated himself in a little boat which lay there, and which was painted red and white.[150]

The sails glittered like silver, and six swans, each with a golden circlet round its neck and a bright, blue star on its forehead, drew the boat past the green wood, where the trees talked of robbers and witches, and the flowers of beautiful little elves and fairies whose histories the butterflies had related to them.

Brilliant fish with scales like silver and gold swam after the boat, sometimes making a spring and splashing the water round them; while birds, red and blue, small and great, flew after him in two long lines. The gnats danced round them, and the cockchafers cried “Buzz, buzz.” They all wanted to follow Hjalmar, and all had some story to tell him. It was a most delightful sail.

Sometimes the forests were thick and dark, sometimes like a beautiful garden gay with sunshine and flowers; he passed great palaces of glass and of marble, and on the balconies stood princesses, whose faces were those of little girls whom Hjalmar knew well and had often played with. One of the little girls held out her hand, in which was a heart made of sugar, more beautiful than any confectioner ever sold. As Hjalmar sailed by he[152] caught hold of one side of the sugar heart and held it fast, and the princess held fast too, so that it broke in two pieces. Hjalmar had one piece and the princess the other, but Hjalmar’s was the larger.

At each castle stood little princes acting as sentinels. They presented arms and had golden swords and made it rain plums and tin soldiers, so that they must have been real princes.

Hjalmar continued to sail, sometimes through woods, sometimes as it were through large halls, and then by large cities. At last he came to the town where his nurse lived, who had carried him in her arms when he was a very little boy and had always been kind to him. She nodded and beckoned to him and then sang the little verses she had herself composed and sent to him:

How many, many hours I think on thee,
My own dear Hjalmar, still my pride and joy!
How have I hung delighted over thee,
Kissing thy rosy cheeks, my darling boy!

Thy first low accents it was mine to hear,
To-day my farewell words to thee shall fly.
Oh, may the Lord thy shield be ever near
And fit thee for a mansion in the sky!

And all the birds sang the same tune, the flowers danced on their stems, and the old trees nodded as if Ole-Luk-Oie had been telling them stories, as well.

Ole Lukøje by Hans Christian Andersen

She walked through tall grass along the edge of a lake, the leggy stalks catching and tugging at her hem. The sun shone down through the branches of the trees, and as the scent of baked marsh salt rose from under her feet, her heart was light. Damp stems licked at her hem and the soles of her feet like cool silk, pulling her down to the water’s edge.

On the shore of the lake floated a small red and white wooden boat with satin-silver sails, dipping up and down with the gentle waves. The color of the water seemed to shift with each undulation, first the pale calm of cerulean then a troubled indigo to the midnight of loss and Nate’s untidy hair. The boat was drawn by six shining white swans, each of which wore a plain golden crown and had a blue star painted on its forehead. As Clara’s toes touched the edge of the water, the swans dipped their heads low in greeting, their wings curved into a curtsy. As she returned a deep bow to the birds, they fluttered their wings in consternation, calming only once she’d straightened and again towered over them.

Pacified, they inclined their delicate heads back toward the boat and waited. Clara climbed in and settled onto the pile of soft cushions padding the benches and set sail, the gossamer reins sliding gently between her fingers.

As they crossed the lake, gold and silver fish followed them, leaping high over her head in glittering masses before plunging deeply into the onyx water without even a ripple. Crimson-red and peacock-blue birds of all sizes followed the boat in formation as though escorting Clara on her voyage, trailed by fantastical iridescent plumage that stretched across the sky behind them like a meteor shower.

Her journey seemed to last forever, yet when she reached the other side, only an instant had passed. On the far shore bloomed a garden full of flowers—burnt-orange celosia, coral-pink dianthus, canary daffodils, and roses in every color. The breeze carried their scents to the traveler, a heady aroma warmed by the sun and sharpened with spices.

Palaces of cool gray marble and glass rose beyond the bank, sunlight rising from their shining turrets in a shimmering haze. On the shore stood a row of princesses, each cradling one of the small sugar pigs that had been Nate’s favorite sweet when he was a child. All but one was dressed simply, in muted shades of fawn and dove gray, and as she watched, they crumbled the sugar between their fingers and let it fall into the water then licked the last bit of sweetness from their hands and turned away. Only one continued to face her, her expression haughty even through her lifeless eyes. She was resplendent in gold and pearl filigree, her auburn hair pulled tightly back from her face. As the boat got closer to shore, she stared Clara down then raised the sugar pig to her lips and bit off its head.

Clara had never seen her before, but Nate clearly had. Desire burned deep in Clara’s belly, the longing to peel back the layers of the unknown and sample the enigmatic poison underneath.

Then her face became Clara’s own, her dress of billowing white and dusted in pollen. The yearning in the pit of her stomach dissolved into a wish to see her smile, to hold her hand, to be near her in any way possible. Her heart was full to bursting, hope, happiness, and a profound sense of completion eclipsing everything else as the dream faded.

Clara, Dreaming by A.W. Cross