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.
I was rivetted to the spot as if enchanted. At the risk of being discovered, and as I plainly foresaw, of being severely punished, I remained with my head peeping through the curtain. My father received Coppelius with solemnity. “Now to our work!” cried the latter with a harsh, grating voice, as he flung off his coat. My father silently and gloomily drew off his night-gown, and both attired themselves in long black frocks. Whence they took these, I did not see.
My father opened the door of what I had always thought to be a cupboard, but I now saw that it was no cupboard, but rather a black hollow, in which there was a little hearth. Coppelius entered, and a blue flame began to crackle up on the hearth. All sorts of strange utensils lay around. Heavens!—As my old father now stooped down to the fire, he looked quite another man. A frightful convulsive pain seemed to have distorted his mild reverend features into a hideous repulsive diabolical countenance. He looked like Coppelius: the latter was brandishing red hot tongs, and with them taking shining masses busily out of the thick smoke, which he afterwards hammered.
It seemed to me, as if I saw human faces around without any eyes—but with deep holes instead. “Eyes here, eyes!” said Coppelius in a dull roaring voice. Overcome by the wildest terror, I shrieked out, and fell from my hiding place upon the floor. Coppelius seized me, and showing his teeth, bleated out, “Ah—little wretch,—little wretch!”—then dragging me up, he flung me on the hearth, where the fire began to singe my hair. “Now we have eyes enough—a pretty pair of child’s eyes.” Thus whispered Coppelius and taking out of the flame some red-hot grains with his fists, he was about to sprinkle them in my eyes.
My father upon this raised his hands in supplication, and cried: “Master, master, leave my Nathaniel his eyes!” Coppelius uttered a yelling laugh, and said: “Well let the lad have his eyes and cry his share in the world, but we will examine the mechanism of his hands and feet.” And then he seized me so forcibly that my joints cracked, and screwed off my hands and feet, and then put them on again, one here and the other there. “Every thing is not right here!—As good as it was—the old one has understood it!” So did Coppelius say, in a hissing, lisping tone, but all around me became black and dark, a sudden cramp darted through my bones and nerves—and I lost all feeling.
A gentle warm breath passed over my face; I woke as out of a sleep of death. My mother had been stooping over me. “Is the Sandman yet there?” I stammered. “No, no, my dear child, he has gone away long ago,—he will not hurt you!”—So said my mother, and she kissed and embraced her recovered darling.
Why should I weary you, my dear Lothaire! Why should I be so diffuse with details, when I have so much more to tell. Suffice it to say, that I had been discovered while watching, and ill-used by Coppelius. Agony and terror had brought on delirium and fever, of which I lay sick for several weeks. “Is the sandman still there?” That was my first sensible word and the sign of my amendment—my recovery. I can now only tell you, the most frightful moment in my juvenile years. Then you will be convinced that it is no fault of my eyes, that all to me seems colourless, but that a dark fatality has actually suspended over my life a gloomy veil of clouds, which I shall perhaps only tear away in death.
“Part of it was my father’s face, which had transformed from the kindly, gentle one I knew into something ugly—a mirror of that awful man’s. The other part was the contents of that case and what they were doing to it. Even now, it fills me with terror.” He wiped his palms on his thighs and shuddered.
Loth was balanced on the edge of the couch again, his hand over his mouth. His horrified expression was almost comical. Clara had never seen either of the two men so serious about anything. She shook her head in amusement. This day was turning out to be incredibly bizarre.
“The case was full of eyes. Eyeballs of every color, some in pairs, some alone in their little nest. And the item they’d hooked to the computer? Another eyeball. I don’t know what they were doing to it, but the iris convulsed wildly around the pupil while Coppelius just stood there with this crazy grin on his face.”
Okay, that was pretty appalling. Why had Nate never told them this story before?
“As soon as they knew I was there, Coppelius was on me. He dragged me kicking and screaming out of my hiding place and pinned me to the workstation. He tore the wires from the eye on the table and advanced on me, thrusting the needle-ends of the wires into my face. ‘Now we’ve got eyes—a beautiful pair of children’s eyes.’” Nate mimed jabbing the wires into an invisible face, his mouth contorted in a sneer, before glancing back up at his audience.
“My father grabbed him by the arm and pulled him away, begging him to leave me alone, to let me keep my eyes. At first Coppelius resisted, but then he laughed and…I don’t remember much of what happened next.” Nate’s gazed became fixed somewhere over their heads “They tell me I had a seizure of some kind. All I remember is pain, excruciating pain all through my body as though my nervous system was on fire. The next thing I knew, my mother was bending over me, kissing me, and telling me I was going to be okay.”
His brow creased. “Apparently, I’d been out of it for several weeks, and they hadn’t been sure I would recover—” He stopped and shook his head.
“I think I remember when that happened,” Loth said slowly. “Don’t you? He wasn’t able to come to our birthday party that year. His mother said he had some kind of fever.”
Clara did remember. She’d taken particular care choosing her birthday dress, something frillier than she normally liked; Nate always seemed drawn to that sort of ridiculous, ribbon-covered nonsense. Devastated when her mother told her Nate wasn’t coming, she’d gone to bed early, claiming a stomachache from too much cake.
“The first thing I asked my mother when I woke up was whether or not Coppelius was still there, only I called him the Sandman.” He grinned wryly. “She assured me that he was long gone, had left the city the night after my seizure. Obviously, I recovered, but it was during the time I slept that I became color-blind—something which the doctors haven’t been able to explain to this day. I also stopped dreaming. Ironic, when you consider our empire.” He took a deep breath and leaned back, his shoulders straight, as though the tension in him had eased.
“So now you know what’s been on my mind, Loth. I would’ve told you sooner, but it sounds crazy, doesn’t it?” Nate’s holographic eyes pleaded to the contrary.
It did sound crazy. But Nate wasn’t the type for melodrama. Whether it had happened like that or not, something had obviously made a significant impact on him.
“So he never—” But as she turned to her brother, Nate spoke again. His face was haunted, deep lines around his mouth aging him prematurely.
“And now I’m going to tell you something I’ve never told anyone. You can tell Clara, if you like, but only her.
“I’m going to tell you about my father’s murder.”