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“What do you think I have here?” said the Dream Man. “Do not be frightened, and you shall see a little mouse.” And then he held out his hand, in which lay a lovely little creature. “It has come to invite you to a wedding. Two little mice are going to be married to-night. They live under the floor of your mother’s storeroom, and that must be a fine dwelling place.”

“But how can I get through the little mouse-hole in the floor?” asked the little boy.

“Leave me to manage that,” said the Dream Man. “I will soon make you small enough.” And then he touched the boy with his magic wand, upon which he became smaller and smaller until at last he was no longer than a little finger. “Now you can borrow the dress of your tin soldier. I think it will just fit you. It looks well to wear a uniform when you go into company.”

“Yes, certainly,” said the boy, and in a moment he was dressed as neatly as the neatest of all tin soldiers.

“Will you be so good as to seat yourself in your mamma’s thimble,” said the little mouse, “that I may have the pleasure of drawing you to the wedding?”

“Will you really take so much trouble, young lady?” said he. And so in this way he rode to the mouse’s wedding.

First they went under the floor, and then through a long passage which was scarcely high enough to allow the thimble to drive under, and the whole passage was lit up with the light of rotten wood.

“Does it not smell delicious?” asked the mouse, as she drew him along. “The wall and the floor have been smeared with bacon rind; nothing could be nicer.”

Very soon they arrived at the bridal hall. On the right stood all the little lady mice, whispering and giggling as if they were making[158] game of each other. To the left were the gentlemen mice, stroking their whiskers with their forepaws. And in the center of the hall could be seen the bridal pair, standing side by side in a hollow cheese rind and kissing each other while all eyes were upon them.

More and more friends kept coming, till the mice were in danger of treading each other to death; for the bridal pair now stood in the doorway, and none could pass in or out.

The room had been rubbed over with bacon rind like the passage, which was all the refreshment offered to the guests. But for dessert a pea was passed around, on which a mouse had bitten the first letters of the names of the betrothed pair. This was something quite uncommon. All the mice said it was a very beautiful wedding, and that they had been very agreeably entertained.

After this Hjalmar returned home. He had certainly been in grand society, but he had been obliged to creep under a room and to make himself small enough to wear the uniform of a tin soldier.

Ole Lukøje by Hans Christian Andersen

***

At last it struck him that he would make the gloomy foreboding, that Coppelius would destroy his happiness in love, the subject of a poem. He represented himself and Clara as united by true love; but occasionally it seemed as though a black hand darted into their life, and tore away some newly-springing joy. At last, while they were standing at the altar, the hideous Coppelius appeared, and touched Clara’s lively eyes. They flashed into Nathaniel’s heart, like bleeding sparks, scorching and burning, when Coppelius caught him, and flung him into a flaming, fiery circle, which flew round with the swiftness of the stream, and carried him along with it, amid its roaring. The roar is like that of the hurricane, when it fiercely lashes the foaming waves, which, like black giants with white heads, rise up for the furious combat. But through the wild tumult he hears Clara’s voice: “Can you not, then, see me? Coppelius has deceived you. Those, indeed, were not my eyes, which so burned in your breast—they were glowing drops of your own heart’s blood. I have my eyes still—only look at them!” Nathaniel reflects: “That is Clara, and I am hers for ever!” Then it seems to him as though thought forcibly entered the fiery circle, which stands still, while the noise dully ceases in the dark abyss. Nathaniel looks into Clara’s eyes, but it is only death that, with Clara’s eyes, kindly looks on him.

The Sandman by T.A. Hoffman

The smell of incense was almost overpowering, a heady mix of orris and orange blossom that was unfamiliar and unwelcome. Clara pressed the back of her hand to her nose as she peered through the haze. Where am I? The strains of an orchestra rose unobtrusively above the chatter of the crowd, mingling with the chimes of laughter.

The room was ornately decorated, festooned with oversized white orchids and dripping with gaudy silver garlands. It was also packed full of people, each more glamorous than the last. All wore red, the traditional color of wedding parties in the higher echelons of Foxwept.

Why was Nate dreaming about a wedding? Whose wedding was it? Was he reliving one they’d already been to?

I hope not. Weddings were tedious enough in real life.

She glanced around at the men surrounding her. If she could recognize anyone, it might give her a clue. Inside, Nate’s nervousness grew, a sense that he would simply vanish, evaporating cell by cell in the heat of this celebratory inferno.  

On their side of the room, the women giggled and threw sparkly confetti over each other until they glittered, while the men stood stoically in midnight-black suits accentuated by bloody crimson, as though guarding a flock of particularly prized birds. Their movements seemed strangely exaggerated, their smiles too wide, their teeth too white, their fingers too long and grasping.

Clara glanced down at her hands, turning them over. Nate’s normal hands, the nails bitten to the quick, the scar on the back from when six-year-old Loth had brought a stray dog home.

A sigh burst from Nate’s chest as the crowd of women parted slightly, and Clara glimpsed a quantity of swirling white taffeta and chiffon, alternately smoothed and fluffed by the exotic creatures whirling around it.

The bride. A white rose in a sea of blood.

Clara stood on her tiptoes to get a better look. Nate’s anticipation squeezed her throat, making it hard to breathe. Many hands suddenly pressed into her back, pushing her forward into the center of the room. The men stepped back, giving her a wide berth, and all eyes focused on her.

The bridegroom. This was Nate’s wedding.

The bride approached her groom, flanked on both sides by giggling handmaidens. Her face was obscured by an elaborate ivory veil that hung to the floor over her demurely bowed head. Once next to Nate, she linked her arm with his and raised her covered face to the crowd.

The crowd pressed the couple forward. More and more people poured into the room until it was as full as a rabbit warren, the air stale and stifling. The bride and Nate had been pushed from the center of the throng to stand in front of the only exit; their guests were trapped.

Nate grasped the hem of his bride’s veil with shaking hands and lifted it, revealing her face. There was a swift intake of breath all around the room, murmurs of approval that rippled outward, turning into cheers by the time they reached the people against the walls.

It was the woman from his other dreams, the haughty beauty with auburn hair. She smiled at him, a smile devoid of any warmth or love, little more than a blood-red cut across her porcelain skin.

Nate was dreaming about marrying another woman.

Nausea gripped Clara’s stomach, both her and Nate’s. He was about to throw up, sickness and dread curling up from his stomach to leave a bitter, metallic taste in his mouth. And yet, a wild joy bubbled under the bitterness, a too-honeyed tang.

In fact, all the emotions rolling off him were contradictory and volatile. He was drawn to the other woman with the fervor of an acolyte, but this passion was rivaled by his fear of her. One minute, his heart soared to unimaginable heights, the next it plunged into deep, suffocating darkness.

Clara’s heart rose and fell, bled and beat with each of these sensations until she thought she could no longer bear it. Nate’s will, his ability to control himself, seemed to grow more tenuous, more insubstantial. Even in his dream he appeared to feel it, raising his hands to cover his eyes and uncover them again as the crowd surged around them.

His heart beat rapidly, a thunder in his chest that resonated through the wedding chamber as the crowd cheered and threw streamers and more confetti. Nate’s eyes bulged from his head and he clutched at his chest. His bride merely smiled, her face cool and composed as her husband-to-be fell to his knees by her side. He ripped open his shirt, as though escaping his clothes would end this spectacle.

Nate dropped his head and Clara stared at his chest. The tattoo over his heart was missing.

Had it been gone in the other dreams? She couldn’t remember—she hadn’t been looking for it.

When people dreamed, the smallest details about them were incorporated into their dreams whether they realized it or not. Even sickness and pain usually followed them, which was what Dreaming Life had been created to circumnavigate.

Nate’s tattoo should’ve been there, the three stars, shining and immortal, that represented him, Clara, and Lothair. What did its absence mean?

Agony twisted Nate’s mouth, an anguish that seared her very soul. His heart blazed its way out of his chest, the embers swirling around him and scorching his skin, and his bride tossed back her head and laughed with joy.

– Clara, Dreaming, A.W. Cross