The Cabinet of Curiosities
Jar of eyes

The Sandman Cometh

A note from your Curators: Dear readers, we apologize that we neglected to post our usual introductory post at the beginning of this week, announcing the theme for this month’s stories. But you see, we have recently had great reason to celebrate, as all four of us met a particularly important deadline for a particularly precious project (that may or may not have something to do with this website you are now reading). And after we met said important deadline, we were in such a state of jubilation that apparently our brains melted and dripped out our ears, leaving us with nothing to govern our common sense but the copious amounts of celebratory cake we consumed.

So, we hope you’ll forgive our forgetfulness — and the tardiness of today’s story — and that you’ll enjoy August’s month of stories, all of which are re-tellings of fairy tales.

Curator Legrand’s story, which you’ll see below, is a re-telling of Hans Christian Andersen’s “Ole Lukøje,” which Curator Legrand thought was a very odd story indeed, and which she might have made even more odd in her re-telling (but neither version is as odd as the adventure during which she was first told the tale).


When Harvey goes to bed on Saturday night, his heart is black and hot. In general, he’s a good kid, but he’s suffered one too many indignities today, and thirteen-year-old boys have very little patience to begin with.

First of all, there’s the matter of the dolls. His eight-year-old sister Jessie left her dolls all over the floor after a morning of manic play with her friends from next door. Harvey stepped on them and tripped over them one too many times, and finally lost his temper and kicked one of them into the wall. Out of all the other soft, unbreakable dolls well within reach of his foot, he happened to kick the one with the porcelain face. It shattered, and Jessie’s been an inconsolable mess all day.

Secondly, there’s the matter of his parents. Did they reprimand Jessie for leaving her toys strewn about so irresponsibly? No, they didn’t. All they did was punish Harvey for committing the understandable and relatively minor crime of kicking a doll into a wall. The unfairness of it makes Harvey’s insides seethe.

And that leads to the third thing, which was Harvey not being able to go to the movies tonight with Dennis and Jordan and Enrique and Enrique’s dad, who is far cooler than Harvey’s dad will ever be. Harvey can’t go because he’s grounded. He’s grounded because he reacted like any sane person would after stepping on dolls that his little sister refuses to clean up.

There is no justice in the world tonight. That’s one of the primary thoughts on Harvey’s mind as he falls into a tempestuous sleep.

The other thought is this: “I hate them. I hate all three of them. I want to wake up in the morning and have the house to myself so they can’t annoy me ever again.”

(Oh, dear.)


Harvey wakes up in the morning to a blissfully quiet house. In fact, at first he thinks he might have woken up in the wrong house somehow, even though that makes no sense. He doesn’t hear his sister running around singing songs, he doesn’t hear his father banging dishes and pans around the kitchen, and he doesn’t hear his mother’s shows blaring on the television.

He falls back asleep, fantasizing that they’ve all decided to have mercy on him and spare him the chore of Sunday errands. He decides that when he wakes up in a couple of hours, he’ll clean the kitchen so that maybe his parents will lessen his punishment. He figures they’ll return well into the afternoon.

They don’t.


It’s been a long day for Harvey. He doesn’t understand where his family has gone. At first it’s wonderful, having the house to himself. He is able to clean the kitchen like a good son would do, and even has time after that to play some video games without Jessie running through the living room asking if she can play too.

He also has time to do his homework. And microwave himself a frozen dinner. And shoot hoops on the driveway after dark on a school night. It is at this point he remembers to look in the garage and realizes that his parents and Jessie haven’t gone to run errands—unless they’ve gone on foot, that is, which is unlikely.

Both cars are still parked in the garage.


Harvey is not sleeping well.

Before going to bed, he tried calling some friends of his parents, and also some of Jessie’s friends, to see if anyone knew where they had gone—but the phone didn’t work. That was odd; Harvey checked to make sure it was plugged in, and it was. But it wouldn’t dial a single number. Harvey searched for his parents’ cell phones and tried them, but they didn’t work either.

The television played nothing but static. Videos game worked, but not the television. The computer wouldn’t connect to the Internet. And, as Henry lay there before bed trying to quiet his mind, he realized with a creeping sense of dread that when he had been outside shooting hoops earlier, he hadn’t seen a single other living thing on his street—not a person, not a bird, not the DeRosarios’ fat cat.

But now Harvey is asleep, tossing and turning as the remnants of these worries stew in his mind. He doesn’t see the man enter his room, quiet as shadow. The man is tall and thin and dark, with a crisp black suit and a spotless black umbrella. He leans on the umbrella and watches Harvey for a long time. He is smiling and waiting for Harvey to wake up.


When Harvey does wake up, it is in the middle of the night, and the first thing he sees is the man at his door, still and slender.

Harvey screams, and the man lets him. The man looks bored.

When Harvey is done screaming, the man says, “Have you finished?”

The question takes Harvey quite aback. He replies, “I guess.”

“Good.” The man approaches, his coattails trailing behind him like long black tongues. “I’ll make this simple. I have your family, and I’ll only bring them back if you do exactly as I say.”

Harvey is at first dumbstruck and then outraged. Remorse floods through him like a sick, cold tidal wave, and the man watching him seems to shudder, like he can feel Harvey’s emotion and finds it delicious.

“What do you mean you have them?” Harvey demands. “Where are they? And who are you?”

“I can’t tell you where they are. As for your second question, I have many names. I am Morpheus, I am Ole Lukøje, I am the Bringer of Dreams. You may call me the Sandman.”

With that, the Sandman bows. He cuts the air like a black scythe.

Harvey is fairly practical for a thirteen-year-old boy. He knows that such things as Sandmen don’t exist. And yet here is the Sandman, bowing before him. And here is his empty house, and here is the phone and the computer and the television that don’t work. And here is his empty street.

He balls his fists into his bedsheets. “You have my parents, and my sister.”

The Sandman inclines his head. “As I said.”


“Because I need your help.” A small smile curls across his face. “And now, so do they.”

Harvey draws a deep breath. He is terrified; he has never been especially brave. He is the boy who stands on the bank of the creek and watches the other boys swing on the rope into the water.

“What do I have to do?”

The Sandman takes a vial from his pocket and dips a gloved finger into it. “You must complete for me six tasks. If you succeed . . . ” He smears a grainy, rank-smelling tar over Harvey’s eyelids, sealing them shut. “ . . . you may be able to save your family.”

Harvey falls back onto the bed, as heavy and cold as a stone. A shiny substance plugs up his ears and mouth and nose and eyes. Still, though, his eyelids flutter. He is dreaming.

The Sandman settles onto the foot of Harvey’s bed, soft and sleek as a cat. He waits.


Harvey awakes in a jungle.

The air is ripe with the smells of rot and sweaty animal fur and tropical flowers. The air is so steamy that Harvey finds it difficult to breathe. He holds in his hand a sealed envelope, addressed in an immaculate hand to The One Who Waits.

A breath wafts across Harvey’s neck. He whirls, but no one is there. He feels cold, ghostly fingers on his shoulders. He slaps them away, but ends up only slapping himself.

Stop slapping yourself and listen to me, says the Sandman’s voice, deep inside Harvey’s head. With every word, that same cold breath caresses Harvey’s neck. This is your first task: Deliver this letter to The One Who Waits, who lives at the other end of the jungle. Do not stop for anything. Do not eat the fruit.

Then, just like that, the Sandman’s presence disappears. Harvey is alone.

None of this makes sense, but the letter in Harvey’s hand feels real enough, so he figures he should go along with this, just in case. Anyway, delivering a letter doesn’t sound so hard, and he’s not hungry, so avoiding fruit won’t be a problem.

But then Harvey begins to walk. The way is overgrown and dripping with moisture, and he notices that the branches hang heavy with fruit—at first just normal fruit like bananas and oranges, and although they are brightly colored, they don’t particularly tempt Henry. But then he sees mangoes and passion fruit, and kiwi and pineapples, and soon Henry is pushing aside piles of grapes and bushes laden with strawberries, and countless other unfamiliar fruits in yellows and blues and purples that brush against his face and arms. Their soft, fuzzy skins tickle his cheeks.

Their scents twist up his nose and make him feel faint. They smell increasingly delicious—tart and sweet, juicy and tender, and some of them smell like fruit but some of them smell like choice meat, and others like glazed pastries.

Soon, Harvey cannot help himself. He truly wasn’t hungry, but now his stomach twists painfully. He is frantic with craving. He plucks a bright red fruit from its branch and pops it into his mouth. He chews, and the fruit bursts; he swallows, and juice and seeds drip down his mouth. He feels, for a moment, the most satisfied he has ever felt.

Then the jungle begins to quake around him. Starting nearest him, and then spreading out in waves, the plants shrivel and blacken, and turn to dust. Harvey hurries through them, the taste of the stolen fruit turning sour on his tongue. It seems to him that the dying branches grab for his feet as he runs. He tramples piles of rotting fruit that squelch between his toes. The ground is coming apart, a sliver of earthquake trailing his steps.

He emerges on the other side of the jungle just in time. The whole thing collapses behind him, and Harvey pants to catch his breath. That’s when he sees it: The envelope, fallen open in his hand. The letter inside it is sopping wet, black with ash, and the words written on the ruined paper drip off the paper and onto the ground, where they collect in steaming black puddles. The words left on the page are gibberish. The letter is unreadable.

Harvey feels a shadow fall over his face. He looks up and sees a tall, hooded figure standing at a black crossroads in a green field. The figure holds out its hand, which looks surprisingly human.

“Are you The One Who Waits?” asks Henry.

The figure nods, and Henry shoves the letter into its hand and closes his eyes.


Harvey wakes back in his bedroom and promptly gets sick on the floor. Apparently, the fruit did not agree with him.

The Sandman watches him, irritated. “You ate the fruit.”

“I couldn’t help it.”

“You ruined the letter.”

Harvey turns, afraid. “You didn’t say anything about delivering the letter intact. You just said deliver the letter, and I did.”

The Sandman’s mouth grows thin. “I suppose I shall have to be more specific in the future.”

“Where was that place?”

“There are many places you can’t access but I can. That was one of them.”

“And what exactly is all this that you’re making me do?”

“Does it matter? If you want your family back, you’ll perform my tasks regardless.”


“If I wanted to give you any more information,” says the Sandman smoothly, “I would do so. Don’t ask me pointless questions.”

He smears a fresh coat of tar across Harvey’s eyes, and Harvey falls back into his pillows for the second time.


Harvey is on a boat painted red and white, with silver sails that spread out like wings.

The air here is quiet and still, and the prow of the boat pushes through a thick black swamp littered with dead trees and alligator carcasses.

Harvey takes a step forward, and something crunches beneath his foot. He looks down and almost gags.

The deck of the boat is covered with the bodies of dead swans.

Find the princesses, the Sandman whispers from far away, his breath carrying the stench of the tar from his vial. One is the true princess; six are impostors. Find them and pick the right one.

Something terrible has happened here; that much is obvious to Harvey. He sees that the sky is shifting, full of malevolent clouds. He sees lightning on the horizon but hears no answering thunder. He sees thin houses built on stilts, rising up out of the water, and he calls out, hoping whoever lives there will help him find his way, but no one answers. The windows remain dark.

Harvey stands at the wheel and steers the boat for countless hours, until blisters form on his palms. It’s impossible to track the time; the light in the sky never changes. Finally, Harvey sees a black shape in the distance that looks castle-like, and princesses live in castles, so he decides to head that way.

He arrives at the gates of a castle made of stone and iron. At the gate stand seven identical figures—all in fearsome, spiked armor and voluminous cloaks. They wear helmets that resemble crowns and battle axes hang from their belts. In their hands they hold powdered cakes in the shape of pigs, offering them to Harvey for a taste.

Harvey climbs down from the boat and trudges across the barren beach to reach the princesses, for of course that’s who they are. As he walks, panic grows inside him. These princesses look exactly alike. He cannot see their faces. How is he to tell the real one from the impostors?

Harvey inspects them, licking his dry lips. He is nearly ready to give up when he notices that one of the cakes is different from the others: It is missing a bite-sized piece. It’s a risky guess, but Harvey decides that if he were surrounded by six impostors, he would want to do something to show he was the real Harvey. Perhaps, he thinks, the real princess managed to sneak a bite, and this was a sign.

There is nothing else to do. Harvey kneels in front of this princess and bows his head. “Your Highness,” he says, “you are the one true princess.”

From above and around him comes the sounds of sliding steel. He looks up in time to see the other six princesses unsheathe their axes. They let out inhuman shrieks. The true princess, the one Harvey has chosen, rips off her helmet, revealing a face so hard and beautiful that Harvey feels tears come to his eyes. She raises her axe to defend him, and Harvey turns away, shielding his face in her cloak.


Harvey gasps awake in his bed. His sheets are soaked with sweat and cling to him like clammy fingers.

“Well?” The Sandman sounds bored, but his eyes are alight with interest. “What happened?”

“I found her.” Harvey is still catching his breath. “At least I think so. Her cake had a bite missing from it. That’s how I knew.”

“I’m not sure what cake you’re talking about,” says the Sandman, “but I’d know if you had failed. Don’t expect me to congratulate you, though.”

Harvey frowns. His ears are still ringing with the clash of swords, and he’s more than a little annoyed. “I don’t. I expect you to release my family after I win at your stupid games.”

The Sandman looks grave, and full of secrets. “They are not games. Don’t make the mistake of treating them as such, Harvey.”

Harvey shivers without knowing why. “Fine. Can we get on with it? I’ve got four tasks to go.”

A grin spreads across the Sandman’s face, a moonbeam cutting through clouds. He seals Harvey’s eyes shut for a third time, and Harvey slips back into darkness.


Harvey is being thrown against walls of rock.

At least, that’s what it feels like. He breathes salt and is shaking with cold. He struggles up to breathe and is pushed back under. Something throws him into somersaults through a thick, overwhelming heaviness.

He remembers, somewhere in the back of his mind, that he is asleep, that the Sandman is waiting patiently at the foot of his bed, but that doesn’t stop Harvey from feeling like he is about to die. He needs to breathe, he needs air, he needs ground under his feet—

He wakes up on a beach awash with sunlight. A white beach littered with shells and seaweed and the corpses of sea creatures washed ashore. He is sopping wet, and struggles to lift himself up and look around. Behind him stretches a great blue sea, sparkling and calm after a night of storms. Harvey coughs up ocean water. His stomach is burning.

Find the girl disguised as a bird, whispers the Sandman, his cold, faraway fingers wiping Harvey’s wet hair back from his eyes. Set her free. Avoid the Good Doctor.

This task makes the least amount of sense yet, but Harvey forces himself across the beach and into a meadow. At first there is nothing but grass, but then ruins appear—cottages and temples, bridges and towers. They are gray and crumbling, but still beautiful. There are roads and there is a market, and people milling about. Harvey hears them chattering and feels relieved. The chattering has a friendly sound to it. Perhaps he will actually have help this time.

But when Harvey gets closer, he notices something startling about the people in this ruined village: They have beaks.

They have feathers and clawed feet. They have wings and black beady eyes. Their faces are part human; there is human flesh there, and human teeth. But the human flesh transitions into black bird feathers, and the human teeth line yellow bird beaks instead of lips. The bird-people speak in disjointed words and rattling squawks. They neither fly nor walk but instead hop around, like they don’t know what to do with themselves. They seem unnatural, cobbled together.

At the center of the town is an enormous temple with a red tiled roof. Harvey sees a figure in white standing there, surveying the domain from a terrace. Harvey ducks his head and hurries into the shadows. Could that white figure be the Good Doctor? Whoever that is.

What has happened here? Harvey can’t know for sure, but he is a smart boy and constructs a hypothesis. Perhaps the Good Doctor isn’t so good at all. Perhaps he conducts experiments, crafting birds and people into bird-people.

The air smells like medicine and burnt feathers. Harvey doesn’t like it.

He hears a ruckus and peeks around the corner of a building. A crowd of bird-people gather in a circle. There are hen-people and duck-people and a giant gobbling turkey with the face of a man and clawed fingers.

They are making fun of someone—a small bird-person whose feathers don’t look quite right.

Harvey’s skin tingles. It is the girl disguised as a bird. He must free her. Though the Good Doctor watches from on high—surely that’s him, up on that terrace—Harvey must free this girl. The bullying bird-people are kicking the girl’s legs, pecking her skin. They are jeering at her, calling her stupid, calling her beautiful in a mocking fashion.

Harvey is filled with horror and rage. This place is not right. He rushes at the girl and grabs her arm, dislodging pasted-on feathers. He runs with her toward the ocean, a mob of bird-people at their heels. The bird-people are vicious. They peck with their beaks and tear with their human teeth. They curse Harvey and the girl. They call for the Good Doctor.

Looking back over his shoulder, Harvey sees that the terrace is empty.

“Where are you taking me?” gasps the girl. Her tied-on beak has fallen. Her feathers are flying off.

Harvey doesn’t have an answer for her. His legs carry them into the ocean, and they dive. Everything in him recoils at the idea of returning to the sea that nearly drowned him, but drowning is better than becoming these things that are chasing him.

Water fills his ears. He hears a man calling out on the shore. He feels rubber gloved hands reaching for him. He loses his hold on the girl’s hand and opens his mouth to call for her, but he is lost in blackness and foam.


Harvey wakes shivering. He is curled into a knot on his bed, but he still feels the churning of the water and the pinch of the Good Doctor’s seeking hands.

The Sandman sits quietly beside him, inspecting him. “Well? Is she freed?”

“I don’t know.” Harvey is distraught. “I took her into the ocean. There was nowhere else to go. Those bird-people were chasing us. I panicked.”

The Sandman nods. “I think that should be fine. She is a good swimmer. And the sea holds many secrets, some of which are escape routes.”

“What is that supposed to mean?” Harvey is reaching the end of his rope, but he is only halfway finished.

The Sandman cocks his head and regards Henry. The motion is too birdlike for Harvey to feel comfortable. He turns away.

“Whatever,” he says. “Never mind. Let’s just keep going.”

“You didn’t like seeing her there, did you? Seeing her trapped and bullied?”

“Of course I didn’t! It was wrong.” Harvey’s hands clench into fists. “She didn’t deserve that. No one does.”

The Sandman nods. “I see.” He is quiet for a long time. “Well, then.” He takes out his vial, and Harvey closes his eyes. He feels the cool brush of the Sandman’s fingers, and hears him whisper, “You are halfway there, Harvey.”


Harvey wakes up on a bed of moss in a church graveyard.

Bells are ringing, and the church windows are full of light. Harvey sits in the damp autumn wind and waits for the Sandman’s instructions. The air smells of rain.

Marry her.

That’s all the Sandman says, and Harvey is concerned: That instruction seems particularly ominous. But he doesn’t have a choice.

Ah, but you do.

Harvey is startled to hear the Sandman speak again, and he realizes the Sandman is right. Harvey does have a choice. He doesn’t have to go through these tasks. He can return home, and leave his family to their fate.

But he can’t do that. He’s a good kid, in general. He will do the right thing.

Even with that decided, what he finds inside the church nearly sends him running. It is a congregation of people, and a priest and a bride, and an organist playing Pachelbel’s Canon in D. Typical, except for the fact that the people in this church all wear masks. The masks are shaped like mouse faces, and are plain and plastic. It might have been a funny combination, in another situation: A group of dressed-up people wearing mouse masks. But the people stand up from their pews and turn to watch Harvey as he walks down the aisle.

A great terror seizes Harvey. Now that he is closer, he can see that the masks aren’t tied on; they are sewn on. They are sewn with ugly black stitches, plastic to skin, and the skin is raw and red.

Harvey steps up beside the bride. She takes his hand, and they are wed by the priest whose voice is muffled by his mask. The final step, the priest explains, is up to Harvey. A mask sits on the altar. It is for Harvey to wear.

Harvey is sweating. He cries out for the Sandman but doesn’t hear an answer. For several long seconds, he considers running.

Then, ashamed, he takes hold of the mask and holds it before his eyes. The mask jerks into place, and a sharp pain works its way around Harvey’s face, affixing the mask to his skull. It pierces and burns. He screams and drops to his knees. His bride pats him on the shoulder, soothing him. The priest leads a hymn.


Harvey wakes on the floor of his bedroom, scratching at his face. The Sandman kneels beside him and catches his wild arms before he can do any more damage.

“There, there.”

Harvey pushes him away. “You didn’t say I would have to do that. You said marry her, not sew a mask to my face!”

“The masking ritual is part of marriage ceremonies there.”

“There? There where?”

The Sandman sighs. “We’ve been over this, Harvey.”

“So, I’m married to some woman who wears a mouse mask in some place I can’t access unless you send me there. What does that even mean? What will happen to her now that she’s married me?”

“Well,” the Sandman says, smiling, “that will be interesting for you to find out someday, won’t it?”

“I hate you.” Harvey climbs back into bed. He is tired and weak. “I hate you for doing this to me.”

“Everyone hates me. But sometimes these things must be done.”

Harvey lies back in bed, rigid as a board, full of anger. He refuses to acknowledge that the Sandman sounded sad, just then. He refuses to acknowledge anything but his own rage. It gives him strength.

“Twice more, Harvey,” says the Sandman, and soon Harvey’s eyes are cool with sleep.


Harvey is in an attic, sitting beside a dollhouse.

The attic window is dirty but ajar; a thin beam of sunlight shines on the dollhouse, illuminating its rooms, which look as though a storm has ripped through them. The doll furniture is upturned; the doll portraits have fallen from the walls.

The dolls themselves are scattered about, lying on their faces, straddling the roof, buried under sofas.

Put the dollhouse to rights, comes the Sandman’s voice, and the dolls back into their proper places.

Harvey breathes a sigh of relief. That does not sound so hard, compared to everything else, so he gets to work at once.

He takes out every doll and piece of furniture and sets them on the floor. The rooms empty, he takes a moment to inspect the dollhouse: five bedrooms, two bathrooms, a dining room, a kitchen, a parlor, a living room, a game room, an attic, a basement, a garage. Four floors altogether, counting the attic and basement.

A strange feeling comes over him as he begins putting the furniture back into place. He can’t know where the furniture is supposed to go, and yet he does. He feels it as a rightness that tugs his hands here and there—the sofa goes against the red wall in the living room; the desk goes in the green bedroom beside the fireplace.

The more furniture he replaces, the more familiar this dollhouse becomes. He feels that he has played with this dollhouse before, even though he knows that to be impossible. He feels that he has lived in this dollhouse before, which is even more impossible.

Harvey retrieves the first doll—the mother, he assumes. She has blond hair and is wearing a blue dress. He puts her in the living room, watching television. He puts the father in the kitchen, getting something to eat. He puts the brother at the top of the basement stairs.

Somehow, Harvey knows exactly where each doll should go. He matches them with their spots like magnets to magnets. He knows their names—the father, George; the mother, Pamela; the son, Herman. He knows their hopes and fears, which strikes him as odd; dolls don’t have hopes and fears.

The last doll is a small girl. Her name is Bertha, and Harvey knows she needs to go into the basement. He knows it like he knows two added to another two makes four. But when Harvey turns the tiny basement doorknob, he hears a scream.

It is the doll, Bertha. He knows it is Bertha’s scream, even though the sound is not coming from the doll; it’s coming from everywhere.

“Don’t make me go down there!” Bertha screams. She is terrified, and that makes Harvey terrified, because he can feel her fear like it’s his own. “Please, he’ll lock me in!”

He? Harvey turns to the brother doll, Herman. The markings of his face have rubbed off over time, but Harvey gets the feeling that Herman is a brute. Harvey pauses, uncertain. He knows Bertha’s place is in the basement, but he doesn’t want to put her there. But if he doesn’t put her there, he will fail in his task, and the Sandman will keep his family.

“Please, don’t do it,” sobs Bertha. She is a ghostly apparition before him, a small girl with braids and braces. “Please, don’t put me down there. He’ll lock me in, he’ll trap me. I hate being down there. It scares me!”

Harvey sees another apparition at the far end of the attic—Herman, the brother, full-sized and approaching fast.

“But you’re a doll!” Harvey protests. If they’re just dolls, it doesn’t matter where he puts them. Does it?

“Maybe to you, I’m a doll,” says Bertha, “but to me, I’m real! I wasn’t always like this! I didn’t always live here! Oh, please, please don’t do it!” Her hands are clasped, like she is praying to Harvey. He sees ghostly tears run down her cheeks.

Harvey considers it for a few more seconds. He could throw the Bertha doll into the basement and shut the tiny basement door. He could.

But he doesn’t. Bertha is too afraid, and Harvey is a good kid, in general. He grabs the Herman doll instead, and the Herman apparition, on the other side of the dollhouse, freezes.

“Put me down,” he says quietly.

Harvey stands. “No,” he says, though he is afraid, and throws the Herman doll out the attic window, into the sun.


Harvey awakes in his bedroom, crying. He finds the Sandman and falls to his knees.

“Please,” he chokes out, “please, don’t hurt my family. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t put the dolls back in their proper places. The girl doll, Bertha. She was scared. I couldn’t trap her in that basement. Herman was scaring her. The basement scares her. Please, please.”

The Sandman kneels and tilts up Harvey’s chin. “Ah,” he says, “but you did put the dolls in their proper places.” He wipes Harvey’s cheeks. “Some souls deserve to be thrown out, and you did that beautifully.”

Harvey sniffles, backing away. The Sandman is looking kindly at him, and somehow that’s the most disturbing thing of all. “You mean, you won’t hurt my family?”

“Not for that, no. In fact, if you had put Bertha in the basement, we would be having a very different conversation right now. You did right. But you do have one more task to complete.”

Harvey climbs back into bed. He is exhausted, but a little less so now that he has heard the Sandman’s approval. The kind words wrap around his heart, cushioning it.

“Sleep, Harvey,” whispers the Sandman. Lovingly, he seals Harvey’s eyes shut for the last time.


Harvey awakes in a village where it is almost midnight. In a few minutes, it will be Sunday.

The village lies nestled in a small valley between black mountains with jagged peaks, and the fields surrounding this village are on fire.

It is a cold, silver fire, so cold that it feels hot. Harvey shields his eyes from the brightness, stumbling through the door of the nearest building—a small cottage with a metal roof. He peeks out through his fingers, watching the chaos outside. Villagers run to and fro along the streets, shouting, grabbing items from their homes, abandoning their village for the hills. Harvey sees why: The silver fire is approaching the village’s outer road. Soon, it will devour every building.

“Harvey,” says a familiar voice, and Harvey turns, startled, for there, in a portrait hung on the wall, sits the Sandman in a high-backed red chair, twirling his black umbrella.

“What are you doing here? Why aren’t you talking to me in my head?”

The Sandman shrugs. “I like variation.”

“What do I have to do this time?”

The Sandman smiles, as if he appreciates how Harvey has come to accept his own mysterious ways. “The fire you see is no ordinary fire. It is star-fire. Find the fallen star and put it back in its proper place before it burns down this village.”

Harvey is aghast. “You mean, back into space?”

“Where else would a star go?”

“But that doesn’t make sense! How can I possibly do that?”

“That’s entirely up to you, Harvey.” The Sandman rises from his chair and walks out of the portrait frame without another word.

Harvey can’t waste any time. Though his mind refuses to accept what he is about to do, he rushes outside and into the wall of silver fire encroaching upon the village. It burns him; it feels like plunging into arctic waters. He can hardly open his eyes. He crawls like a blind baby on the ground, searching for the fallen star.

His hand lands upon a hard, cold stone, smooth as water. Harvey cracks open his eyes and sees a pulsing light, brighter even than the fire. It scalds his retinas, and he loses his sight. Where the star touches his palm, it brands his skin. But he holds tight to it anyway and stumbles through the village, trailing sparks behind him.

“Point me to the highest mountain,” he tells everyone he encounters, and with the villagers’ help, he finds his way to the base of a black mountain so tall that its peak seems to brush the moon.

Harvey begins to climb. He is burned and aching, and in so much pain that constant tears stream down his face. The salt inflames his wounds, but he soldiers on, because more painful than anything is the thought that if he fails, he will have failed his family.

He climbs, and he climbs. The air grows thinner, and Harvey’s breath turns to wheezing. He is cold, and he is hunted by mountain cats, but something seems to deflect them every time they pounce—maybe it’s a black umbrella being swung like an axe, or maybe it’s some kind of protective forcefield emanating from the star in Harvey’s hand. Who knows? Harvey doesn’t.

He reaches the icy slopes of the mountain peak, and can climb no farther. He looks up to the sky with eyes that can no longer see. He feels moonlight on his ruined skin. He reaches back, his brittle bones snapping, and throws the star into the sky as far as he can.

He collapses face-first into the snow.


Harvey is on trial.

He blinks, confused, trying to figure out why and how and where. But it’s true: He is in a courtroom, and he doesn’t recognize everyone on the jury, but he does see The One Who Waits and the one true princess, the girl disguised as a bird and his mouse-masked bride. He sees Bertha the doll, held in the lap of her girl-shaped soul.

“Sandman?” Harvey whispers, turning around and around. At least he can see now, and at least his skin is no longer burned. But he is full of fear. He has completed six tasks, but did he complete them well enough? He realizes that this is the end, that now he will learn the fate of his family.

Everyone rises when the judge enters. The judge is handsome and strong, a god among men. He wears an unfamiliar silver uniform and a black velvet cloak. The judge’s aide, a bespectacled man, rips down a curtain at the far end of the room, behind which sit Harvey’s parents and his sister, Jessie. They are sitting, but they do not see him. They do not see anything at all.

Harvey lunges for them, but he has been bound to his chair. From the bench, the judge watches coldly.

“In the case of Harvey Black,” the girl disguised as a bird reads, “the jury has reached its verdict.”

“Wait!” Harvey struggles against his bindings. “I haven’t gotten to speak! I don’t have a lawyer! Can’t I ask some of the jurors to speak for me as witnesses? I helped them, I saved them! Ask the Sandman, he’ll tell you! Where is he?”

“There will be no more interruptions,” says the judge, his voice a terrible blend of thousands. “What is the verdict?”

“According to the testimony of the Sandman,” says the girl disguised as a bird, “Harvey Black has completed his tasks in a manner satisfying their accord.”

Harvey slumps back in his chair. “So my family is safe?”

“Perhaps,” intones the judge. “You have a choice now, Harvey. You can go home and wake up, and all this will have been a mere dream—but your family may or may not return with you.”

Harvey is outraged. “What do you mean? I did exactly what I was supposed to!”

“Or,” the judge continues, talking over Harvey’s cries, “you can stay here and work for the Sandman, and your family will be returned home safely, guaranteed.”

“Where is he? Bring him here! He promised, he promised!”

Everyone watches Harvey as he cries tears of betrayal and fear, alone on his chair. He cries for a long time, but when he raises his head next, his expression is one of determination.

“Fine,” he says, his voice clogged with sadness, “I’ll stay here. Let them go. Just let them go.”

In an instant, Harvey’s parents and sister vanish, and the judge’s face melts into a warm smile. His outer skin sheds, revealing a familiar figure: the sallow, dark-eyed Sandman, leaning on his umbrella.

“You’ve done well, Harvey,” says the Sandman, as the jury applauds. The Sandman’s voice is rough, and his eyes bright. “I am proud of you. You may go.”

Flabbergasted, Harvey says, “What? What do you mean? What just happened? You said—”

“I gave you a terrible choice—save yourself or save your family, and you chose the latter. Not many would have done that, Harvey. Not many would have kept Bertha out of the basement, or sewn a mask to his own face.” The Sandman approaches, and puts a hand on each of Harvey’s shoulders. Harvey’s chains crumble, releasing him. “You are special, Harvey. I chose well, and I thank you for proving me right.”

Harvey feels a strange warmth at having made the Sandman so proud, even though this man lies at the root of his recent troubles. “You said I could go. Are you telling the truth?”

“I always tell the truth, Harvey, even when it makes people uncomfortable to hear it.”

“Who are you?”

The Sandman holds out his hands. “I am Morpheus. I am the Bringer of Dreams. I am Ole Lukøje. I am the Old Storyteller, the Dreamwalker, the Sandman. I enter worlds only accessible through dreams, where I right wrongs and put chaos into order. I guide those who die in their sleep to the Lord of the Dead. I wrangle nightmares and coax peace into troubled hearts and coax trouble into hearts of the content. I am the balance of the universe.”

The Sandman crouches. His face is kindly, and Harvey cannot look away from those deep, dark eyes. “Someday, you will replace me, Harvey. You chose it, just now. I can’t change that. But I can do this much for you: I can give you what was not given me. I can give you your life first.”

He stands, and helps Harvey to his feet. “We’ll meet again, Harvey Black, when you’re old and wrinkled, and your heart slows in your sleep. We’ll meet again, and I will teach you everything I know. Until then—” The Sandman takes out the familiar vial.

“But wait!” Harvey says, throwing out his arm. He is suddenly sad to leave. He sees entire worlds in the Sandman’s endless eyes. He sees gods and monsters, dreams and death. He sees a lonely man.

But he cannot keep his eyes open, and soon he sees nothing at all.


Harvey wakes up to the smell of breakfast cooking downstairs, of his family chatting about their day. It is Sunday morning, and he remembers nothing of the previous night except falling asleep. He feels well-rested, and stretches in the sunlight.

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One Response to “The Sandman Cometh”

  1. mindy says:

    What a wonderful story. Just wonderful.

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