Screwing up my courage with all my might, I cautiously peeped out. The Sandman was standing before my father in the middle of the room, the light of the candles shone full upon his face. The Sandman, the fearful Sandman, was the old advocate Coppelius, who had often dined with us.

But the most hideous form could not have inspired me with deeper horror than this very Coppelius. Imagine a large broad-shouldered man, with a head disproportionately big, a face the colour of yellow ochre, a pair of gray bushy eyebrows, from beneath which a pair of green cat’s eyes sparkled with the most penetrating lustre, and with a large nose curved over his upper lip. His wry mouth was often twisted into a malicious laugh, when a couple of dark red spots appeared upon his cheeks, and a strange hissing sound was heard through his compressed teeth.

Coppelius always appeared in an ashen-gray coat, cut in old-fashioned style, with waistcoat and breeches of the same colour, while his stockings were black, and his shoes adorned with buckles set with precious stones. The little peruke scarcely reached further than the crown of his head, the curls stood high above his large red ears, and a broad hair-bag projected stiffly from his neck, so that the silver buckle which fastened his folded cravat might be plainly seen.

The whole figure was hideous and repulsive, but most disgusting to us children were his coarse brown hairy fists; indeed, we did not like to eat what he had touched with them. This he had remarked, and it was his delight, under some pretext or other, to touch a piece of cake, or some nice fruit, that our kind mother might privately have put in our plate, in order that we, with tears in our eyes, might, from disgust and abhorrence, no longer be able to enjoy the treat intended for us.

He acted in the same manner on holidays, when my father gave us a little glass of sweet wine. Then would he swiftly draw his fist over it, or perhaps he would even raise the glass to his blue lips, and laugh most devilishly, when we could only express our indignation by soft sobs. He always called us the little beasts, we dared not utter a sound when he was present, and we heartily cursed the ugly, unkind man, who deliberately marred our slightest pleasures.

My mother seemed to hate the repulsive Coppelius as much as we did, since as soon as he showed himself her liveliness, her free and cheerful mind was changed into a gloomy solemnity. My father conducted himself towards him, as though he was a superior being, whose bad manners were to be tolerated, and who was to be kept in good humour at any rate. He need only give the slightest hint, and the favourite dishes were cooked, and the choicest wines served.

When I now saw this Coppelius, the frightful and terrific thought took possession of my soul, that indeed no one but he could be the Sandman. But the Sandman was no longer that bugbear of a nurse’s tale, who provided the owl’s nest in the half-moon with children’s eyes,—no, he was a hideous spectral monster, who, wherever he appeared, brought with him grief, want, and destruction—temporal and eternal.

The Sandman, E. T. A. Hoffman

Anyway, I got it into my mind that I was going to find out who this mysterious visitor was and what he and my father were up to—so one day, when the cigars came out and I knew a visit was inevitable, I crept into the lab and hid.” He leaned forward again, his voice dropping to a whisper, as though he were still afraid of being found out.

Nate sneaking around in his father’s lab? Now that she could imagine. Throughout their childhood, Nate and Loth had constantly been in trouble for going where they shouldn’t. Not that Clara had been innocent, of course, but she’d been careful not to get caught.

Sure enough, the visitor came, and he and my father retreated to the lab. When I was sure they wouldn’t be able to see me from my hiding place, I gathered up all my courage and peered out—and nearly wet myself, because I knew exactly who he was.”

Loth showed some interest at last and perched on the edge of couch. “Oh, here comes the good stuff. Who do you think it was?”

“Just be quiet and he’ll tell you.” As though Nate had heard her, he took a dramatic pause before continuing.

It was Coppelius, the same old bastard who used to come over for dinner every month. My mother couldn’t stand him. And of course, from that moment on, the Sandman and Coppelius became inseparable in my mind. His appearance certainly didn’t help. He was large and heavy, his skin a jaundiced yellow with flaming red cheeks, glittering green cat’s eyes, a big nose, overhung by even bigger bushy gray eyebrows…in fact, he was entirely gray aside from his face, clothes and all. And he made this whistling noise between his teeth that used to make my hair stand on end.”

Loth snorted. “Sounds like a male version of Arienne. I’m sure she frightens small children all the time.” He rolled his shoulders and settled back against the couch arm. “I actually remember Nate telling me about this guy before…apparently, he used to torture them at those meals by touching their food with his hairy, disgusting hands. It used to drive Sadie to tears.”

Everything drives Sadie to tears. But that’s what comes from being a spoiled brat.

The day Sadie moved to the other side of the vast Blackmoth Republic had been a great day for Clara, who couldn’t stand Nate’s delicate, simpering sister. “I wish I’d known that. I’d have been poking her food with both hands.”

“Ah, you’re just jealous because she’s perfect.” If by perfect, Loth meant that she looked like a porcelain doll, was willfully ignorant, and charmingly stupid with laughter that pealed like bells and made Clara want to fill her ears with sand, then yes, she was perfect.

“Can I go on?”

“Of course.” Loth gestured magnanimously and reclined again.

My mother hated him, turning from a cheerful, vivacious woman into stone the moment he stepped through the door. Father treated him as an honored guest, and Coppelius made sure to milk that for all it was worth. Fancy dinners, expensive wine, you name it.” Nate shook his head in disgust.

Clara, Dreaming, A.W. Cross