Today’s viral legend crosses the boundary between childhood dreams and adult nightmares. The original author is identified as “Tam Lin,” but since that name also applies to a character in Scottish folklore, we can probably assume the true author’s identity is still a mystery.
However, the context of this story is said to originate with a woman named “Abigail” (her true name has been withheld), who described a sad, lonely man named James. Abigail and James were engaged to be married once… but the relationship was broken off for undisclosed reasons. Abigail also revealed that she is unable to bear children, and was concerned this fact might have been a deciding factor; James told her he’d never been a father, and had always wanted to be. But there was something about the way he said it that gave her the impression he’d been lying.
Abigail never found out what secret James was concealing from her… but the way he sometimes stared at a blank wall, as if expecting something to appear there, or his strange wanderings through the house at all hours of the night, seemingly searching for someone or something unknown… those moments filled her with dread.
That’s where Abigail’s brief part of the story ends… and it’s here that “Tam Lin” picks up the speculative thread with the story of James, his son Daniel, and the horrifying night visitor many children know only as “The Sandman.”
James was in the habit each night of telling his young son Daniel to “Go to bed and wait for the Sandman.” Though he’d used the phrase many times, he never really thought about those words until, one morning at breakfast, Daniel asked his father what this unseen “Sandman” looked like.
“Nothing, really,” James told him, dismissing the expression as “just something people say.”
Neither of them mentioned it again… until the night James saw the figure standing silently next to Daniel’s bed.
Fearing his son’s room had been invaded by an intruder, James instinctively ran to Daniel’s defense… until he came closer and realized that what he was seeing was not a man. In fact, it looked only vaguely human.
It was pale, hairless and twisted, and its joints moved at impossible angles, jerking and twitching like a marionette as it turned to look directly at him.
Suppressing his abject terror long enough to rush to the bed and sweep Daniel up into his arms, James ran from the room and never looked back until he reached the hallway.
He dared a quick look back at the creature… but it did not pursue him. Instead, it lurched toward Daniel’s open bedroom window and disappeared into the night.
James reported the intrusion to the police, but when they arrived, he could not find a way to sensibly describe what he witnessed… that is, until Daniel spoke up, calmly describing the nocturnal visitor as “a man in a mask.”
This struck James as strange, since that description didn’t even come close to depicting the monstrosity he’d seen. Still, the doctors reported that Daniel was unhurt, and the boy didn’t seem to be in shock… so James finally accepted the notion that his own fear had somehow twisted his perception of an otherwise human intruder.
After spending several nights in a hotel while a full security system was installed (including new locks and iron bars on the windows), the pair returned to their home… and while James was apprehensive about the coming night, his son was strangely calm, completely comfortable with sleeping alone in his own bed.
Weeks passed without incident… until the day Daniel stopped talking.
No matter what he tried, James could not coax his son to speak to him. Another visit to the doctors revealed no apparent evidence of repressed trauma, but as in so many of these cases, they had no way of knowing for sure. “These things take time,” James was told.
Nevertheless, Daniel never broke his silence. The most his father could get out of him was a slow nod or shake of the head to yes-or-no questions. Nothing to cast light on what the boy had witnessed… or what that thing had done to him.
While waiting for the day his son would speak at last, James began to feel the growing sensation there was someone else in the house with them.
He saw nothing out of the ordinary, but he was convinced he could hear movements in the house at night… the sound of something large, slithering and sliding across the floorboards.
After weeks of Daniel’s silence, James was desperate to hear a trusted and familiar voice, so he called his mother. He hadn’t talked to her since before the intruder incident, and the news left her understandably disturbed; still, it was comforting to hear her.
But there was something about the phone signal that seemed wrong… another sound blended faintly with his mother’s voice.
“Is there anyone else on the line?” he asked her… and then he remembered he had called her cell phone.
So there really was someone else on the line… but on a phone inside James’s house.
There were two other phone extensions in the house, and James quickly raced to each of them… but both receivers were securely on the hook. Nevertheless, he was convinced someone had been listening to his conversation.
The following day he removed the other phones, and even sealed the jacks at both extensions.
All the while, Daniel remained calmly silent.
Having worked as a nurse’s assistant in the past, James used what experience he had to conduct general physical exams of his son on a regular basis. He didn’t expect to find anything out of the ordinary, but it gave him some peace of mind to know that Daniel was at least physically well.
That all changed on the day he checked Daniel’s pulse… and felt nothing. He tried multiple times, but felt no trace of a beat whatsoever. He put his ear to his son’s chest… and heard only silence.
It just wasn’t possible. Daniel was totally alert, and apart from his lack of speech, seemed physically normal. He even smiled and gave his dad a hug, apparently sensing his distress and trying to comfort him.
James now feared for his own sanity. He could still hear the mysterious nocturnal slithering noises throughout the house… but now they could be heard during the daytime as well. He was seeing visions now too — shadowy, shapeless things that seemed to track his every move, just out of the corner of his perception, disappearing when he tried to focus on them.
He took to patrolling the house in the darkest hours, trying to catch a glimpse of the thing he’d seen in Daniel’s room that fateful night.
He became convinced that he could sense the presence of the creature, clinging to the ceiling like a spider, scuttling out of his view when he entered a room, waiting to drop on him when he was unprepared. But a thorough sweep of every corner of the house turned up absolutely nothing.
Until he heard a sound from Daniel’s room. A voice. Daniel’s voice. His son was talking at last.
James rushed to his son’s bed, finding him sitting up, awake and alert… and silent once again.
An exhaustive search of the boy’s room turned up nothing out of the ordinary, and no trace of an intruder. Finally convinced he had only been imagining things again, James went to examine his son and see if he could get him to speak up again.
That’s when he discovered, to his absolute horror, that both of Daniel’s ears were missing.
He saw no signs of physical harm to the boy… there was simply blank flesh where his ears should have been. As if he’d been born without them.
Half-mad with panic and despair, James scooped up his son — who again made no sound and appeared perfectly calm — and dashed out of the room, not sure what he would do next, but determined to find some kind of help.
He stopped short when he saw the horrible man-sized thing standing in the hallway.
“Dad-ee,” came Daniel’s voice. It took a second to tear his eyes from the horror before them, but he finally looked down at his son.
“Dad-ee,” came the voice again. But it was not coming from his son’s lips.
It was coming from that thing which stood before him.
“Go away,” James told it, barely managing to speak above a whisper. “Leave my family alone.”
“But I am… your family,” it said.
“Who are you?” James asked.
“Someone… who came to visit,” it said, its voice suddenly deepening and becoming hoarse.
“Why?” was all he could think to ask.
“I had… something you wanted.”
“All I want is for you to leave,” James said, summoning all the authority he could muster. “Leave, and never come back.”
In response, it began to ask him questions: “Who… is Daniel’s mother? “How old… is Daniel?” All the while, the voice was becoming more strained… less human.
“Stop asking me these things,” James shouted at it. But the questions continued:
“When is… Daniel’s birthday?” it asked. “What is… his middle name? What was… his first word?”
He screamed at the thing to shut up, to leave them alone… but then the realization struck him: he didn’t know the answers to any of those questions.
Then, after a long pause, it spoke again… this time, almost a whisper:
“You were… alone,” it said. “You wanted… a son… so I… made one… for you.”
James could feel his sanity slipping from him as he asked: “Made out of what?”
“Out of… myself,” it answered. “But now… I need him back.”
Quaking in horror, James felt Daniel shift in his arms, He looked down to his calm, gentle face to see that the boy’s eyes were closed tightly.
“Danny, open your eyes,” he asked him.
He responded by clenching his eyes shut even tighter.
“Please, Danny,” he begged. “Just open your eyes and look at me.”
But Daniel refused to comply.
James shouted at him: “Danny, open your eyes! Open your eyes!”
Finally, the boy relented, and his eyelids lifted.
James knew in the pit of his stomach what he would see… but he still couldn’t accept the truth of what was before him.
Daniel’s eyes were gone. Behind the lids were deep, bloodless, empty cavities.
“He is coming back,” the thing rasped. “To be part of me… again.”
“No…” James pleaded, his voice choked with tears. “You can’t do this… give him back to me.”
“I cannot,” it answered. “It has been… too long… I warned you… this would happen.”
Cursing at the thing, shouting denials, James began babbling incoherently. But it replied in the same whispering rasp:
“I warned you… he could not exist forever,” it said. “But you… you do not remember… you… can only remember… what I want you to. You forget… all the times… we have talked.”
While it spoke, Daniel was literally withering away in his father’s arms. His hair fell in chunks from his scalp, dissolving in the air. His body shrank, collapsing on itself, finally turning to dust… and even the dust faded. James was left cradling an empty pile of clothes… and then even those finally dissolved into nothingness.
Half-blinded by fear and anguish, James could just barely perceive that Daniel’s room — and everything in it — had vanished as well.
“Why did you do this?” James whispered, sinking to the floor.
“It was… what you wanted,” it said. “And I learned… so much.”
“This is impossible!” James countered desperately. “People will ask, people will wonder… the police, the hospitals, the neighbors…”
“They… have already… forgotten,” it answered calmly. “They only… remembered… what I wanted them to… just like you.”
He asked it another question, suspecting that he already knew the answer.
“Will I remember him?”
“You can try… but your mind… will fail you. Everything he was… is part of me… again.”
“Then why even tell me?” James whispered to no one in particular.
He sat in a heap on the floor, staring into space. He could hear the thing approaching him, but he didn’t care anymore… even when he felt its cold, clammy hand on his shoulder.
“Because,” it rasped, “a father… should know.”
And with that… the Sandman was gone.