How the rain did pour down! Hjalmar could hear it in his sleep, and when Ole-Luk-Oie opened the window the water flowed quite up to the window sill. It had the appearance of a large lake outside, and a beautiful ship lay close to the house.
“Wilt thou sail with me to-night, little Hjalmar?” said Ole-Luk-Oie. “Then we shall see foreign countries, and thou shalt return here in the morning.”
All in a moment there stood Hjalmar, in his best clothes, on the deck of the noble ship, and immediately the weather became fine.
They sailed through the streets, round by the church, while on every side rolled the wide, great sea.
They sailed till the land disappeared, and then they saw a flock of storks who had left their own country and were traveling to warmer climates. The storks flew one behind another and had already been a long, long time on the wing.
One of them seemed so tired that his wings could scarcely carry him. He was soon left very far behind. At length he sank lower and lower, with outstretched wings, flapping them in vain, till his feet touched the rigging of the ship, and he slid from the sails to the deck and stood before them. Then a sailor boy caught him and put him in the henhouse with the fowls, the ducks, and the turkeys, while the poor stork stood quite bewildered among them.
“Just look at that fellow,” said the chickens.
Then the turkey cock puffed himself out as large as he could and inquired who he was, and the ducks waddled backwards, crying, “Quack, quack!”
The stork told them all about warm Africa—of the pyramids and of the ostrich, which, like a wild horse, runs across the desert. But the ducks did not understand what he said, and quacked amongst themselves, “We are all of the same opinion; namely, that he is stupid.”
“Yes, to be sure, he is stupid,” said the turkey cock, and gobbled.
Then the stork remained quite silent and thought of his home in Africa.
“Those are handsome thin legs of yours,” said the turkey cock. “What do they cost a yard?”
“Quack, quack, quack,” grinned the ducks; but the stork pretended not to hear.
“You may as well laugh,” said the turkey, “for that remark was rather witty, but perhaps it was above you. Ah, ah, is he not clever? He will be a great amusement to us while he remains here.” And then he gobbled, and the ducks quacked: “Gobble, gobble”; “Quack, quack!”
What a terrible uproar they made while they were having such fun among themselves!
Then Hjalmar went to the henhouse and, opening the door, called to the stork. He hopped out on the deck. He had rested himself now, and he looked happy and seemed as if he nodded to Hjalmar as if to thank him. Then he spread his wings and flew away to warmer countries, while the hens clucked, the ducks quacked, and the turkey cock’s head turned quite scarlet.
“To-morrow you shall be made into soup,” said Hjalmar to the fowls; and then he awoke and found himself lying in his little bed.
It was a wonderful journey which Ole-Luk-Oie had made him take this night.
– Ole Lukøje by Hans Christian Andersen
Clara opened her eyes. She stood in an unfamiliar room, near an open window. The room, though comfortable, was sparsely furnished, and an acrid smell of smoke marred the air, though the room itself showed no signs of damage. A cool, fresh breeze beckoned to Clara through the window, and she bent to breathe it deeply in.
The coolness of the air came from the water, which had risen at some point during the night to cover all the streets and the lawn, rising until it lapped against the house with barely a foot to spare before it came through the window. Tiny goldfish flitted about in the midnight-teal depths like curious stars. They nibbled at Clara’s fingertips and she laughed with joy, until a shadow fell over them and they darted away.
A long cherrywood boat pulled up next to the window, rowed by a dozen identical men. Eleven stared at her, their solemn faces crusted with salt, but the twelfth smiled and beckoned to Clara to board. Before she could decide, he was guiding her to a seat in the prow lined with embroidered cushions. The stylized eye of the Dreaming Life logo, stitched in glossy golden thread, pressed against her legs as the boatman shouted a command. They pulled away from the house with a cheer, breaking into song as they paddled between other celestial houses and into a great, open sea, dark and fathomless as the night sky.
Clara reclined against the soft pillows, a wave of calm contentment washing over her. The steady rhythm of the rowers soothed Clara, and she’d nearly dozed off when her boat was joined by a flock of pearl and onyx storks, the breadth of their wings appearing to cover the sky. Or were they in the water? The boat seemed to float in nothingness, neither sky, nor ocean, and yet onward the men rowed, their oars dipping gently into the heavenly ether. The great birds flew alongside in a line that stretched back, too far for Clara to see the end.
Under her gaze, one of the storks faltered and fell out of line. It spread its wings and wafted gently down, like a divine feather, to land next to Clara on the prow of the boat. The poor thing was exhausted, and Clara gathered it in her arms then placed it on the floor of the boat so it could rest. It lifted its face to hers then raised its wings, obscuring anything beyond.
The boat shuddered, and for a moment, even the nothingness disappeared. The rowers froze in place, their oars suspended uselessly in the air, their faces fixed in determined expressions.
Something was wrong. Dreams did not suddenly freeze like this, they—
The oars swung back and forth again, one rower shouting out the rhythm to the others. Cool, moist air bathed Clara’s face, wafting gently on her cheeks from the beating of the flock’s wings.
The stork on the floor of the boat had turned into a woman.
She rose to her feet, standing before Clara in all her glory. She wore nothing but the auburn hair falling loosely about her milky shoulders, and her green eyes shone, enraptured, as they gazed at Clara with a desire that made her gasp.
Something unfurled in Clara then, a dreamy warmth behind her eyes that flowed down through her body, heating her lips and curling around her heart. She gazed back at the angelic creature, awe holding her breathless. Fire rose deep in her belly, and her hands ached to explore the—
The woman Nate had feelings for. Passionate feelings. Feelings he didn’t have for Clara.
The woman smiled, a strange, slightly crooked smile, as though she was still learning how. The strangeness only made her more ethereal; perhaps Clara had been smiling the wrong way her entire life.
“Keep rowing! Faster!” The startling voice was Clara’s.
She turned from the woman to find that each of the rowers now wore her face, her body. Her expression was still determined, but with a new hardness that made her features callous, and her body was bent and twisted, the fingers around the oars too long and sharp.
Like fiends the Claras rowed, faster and faster, and icy dread rose from the pit of her stomach when she looked at their impish faces. She didn’t want to go where they were taking her. Her body shook, trying to rebel, to escape.
She had to get out, now.
The lovely woman laid a hand on Clara’s arm, and the warmth melted her panic, suffusing her with a sweet hope and offering her something even better—freedom. She reached out to Clara, and as their fingers touched, a pain so sublime it brought tears to Clara’s eyes split the skin on her back and she sprouted wings, every bit as grand as the storks above her. Clara and her savior took to the air, soaring high and away from both the line of storks and the boatful of Claras.
Her happiness rose with her.
That was what she truly wanted, had wanted all along. She just hadn’t known it.
– Clara, Dreaming by A.W. Cross