The Sandman

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"Those who dream by day are cognizant of many things that escape those who dream only at night."
—Edgar Allen Poe, "Eleanora"

"Go to bed and wait for the Sandman."

Even as it came out of James' mouth it seemed to him a strange thing to say, and he was not sure why he had, but for some reason it worked: Daniel went to bed.

The next morning, though, he asked: "What does the Sandman look like?"

James was making breakfast. Daniel sat at the table, short legs swinging under his chair. "Nothing, really," James said. "It's just an expression."

"What does it mean?"

"Just something people say." He put a plate of eggs in front of Daniel and kissed him on the top of his head. He thought that would be the end of it.

Until he saw the Sandman for himself.

He was getting ready for bed and stopped by Daniel's room to check on him while he slept, as he often did. It was such a routine precaution that when he saw a pale, naked man sitting on the edge of Daniel's bed, rocking back and forth, it took a moment for him to process what he was seeing.

He reacted the way any father would, of course: He ran into the room screaming, and for a moment he thought about attacking the intruder, but then the man on the bed turned, and that's when James saw that it wasn't really a man: It was a pale, slithery thing, hairless and warped, its joints turned the wrong way and its body out of shape with itself. When it moved it was like an insane marionette dancing on a stage.

James froze. The skittering thing watched him. He felt spreading warmth, and he realized he'd pissed his pants. Only when he remembered that Daniel was still there in bed, staring at the broken-shaped thing sitting a foot away, did he regain the courage to move. He grabbed Daniel and ran. In the hall he turned to see if the thing would follow them, but it didn't. For a moment it watched and then, moving like a stop-motion nightmare, it crawled to the window and jumped out, leaving only the billowing curtains to mark its passing.

James had trouble talking to the police. He reported a break-in, but when asked to describe the intruder he didn't know what to say. How could he make the ordinary man in the blue uniform sitting at his kitchen table while two of his colleagues searched the house understand a thing like he'd seen? He couldn't even understand it himself.

To make it worse, Daniel's memory did not correspond to James': He described an ordinary looking burglar. "A man in a mask," he said. James thought about it: Had it been a mask? No, it would had to have been a full costume, and an elaborate one, something like they would use for a movie. And that would not explain the way it moved...

But in the end he simply echoed his son's testimony: "A man in a mask," he said. "A burglar." The lie unsettled him almost as much as what had happened.

The doctors said Daniel wasn't hurt and showed no signs of molestation. James was relieved. They stayed at a motel for a couple nights until they felt ready to come home, and then James had a new security system installed, along with bars on the windows. He didn't like the sight of them in Daniel's room, but it seemed like the only thing to do.

James was frightened that first night back in the house, but Daniel, strangely, was not. When asked if he felt okay sleeping alone, he just said yes. In the end it was James who found himself wishing he were not sleeping alone. He was up all night listening for the sound of anything moving in the house. Although he had convinced himself that his memory was faulty and that it had been a normal (albeit probably deeply disturbed) man in his son's room, when he closed his eyes even for a moment he pictured bloodless skin and a twisted, inhuman face. He found himself wondering, why my house? Why my family? He knew, of course, that there didn't have to be a reason. But still, he wondered.

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