The bedroom was silent bar the cat clock ticking on the wall above his TV.
Tick tock. Tick tock.
Paul watched the clock, his nerves getting the better of him the more he listened to the ticking. It seemed like the more time passed, the louder the ticking got, almost as if it was taunting him in some way.
Tick tock! Tick tock!
Shaking, Paul walked to his bedroom window, intent on closing the curtains. The night was a deep black, the clouds hiding the moon and the wind blowing the dead tree branches just outside his bedroom was playing tricks on his eyes.
Halfway to the window, a clap of thunder erupted close by. The shook like an atomic bomb had exploded, and Paul fell to his knees, screaming and covering his head.
Then there was silence. Only the ticking of the clock, and now, rain was falling on the tin roof of his house.
Paul looked around. He was alive.
"Don't be so foolish, Paul," he told himself. "It's only thunder."
A streak of lightning lit up the backyard, and the tree that was once making frightening shadows appear against his window now looked only like a tree.
But just for a moment. Now, it was dark again, and another thunder clap made him jump.
Paul's palms were clammy, sweating even. He was terrified to go near the window, but he had to get that curtain closed if he was going to get any sleep tonight. And not sleeping was not an option for Paul, he thought with a gulp.
So he broke into a sprint, sliding to a stop in his slippery socks on the hardwood floor. He reached up for the curtain, just as a flash of lightning lit up the outdoors again. A man stood there, his face pressed against the glass.
Paul screamed, startled by the sight of his bloodied forehead and pale, wet skin. Mostly, though, by his dark, blackened eyes.
He fell backwards, and his heart nearly thumped out of his chest. "Dad?" he asked. But that impossible. His father was dead. Three years now. Drunk driving accident. He'd driven his car right into a tree.
The man in the window smiled, and Paul shuddered. It sure looked like his father had climbed right out of the grave.
"He's coming, Paulie," the man said. "The Sandman is coming if you don't go to sleep!"
The familiar words echoed in his ears as the man vanished right before Paul's eyes.
The Sandman is coming.
Those awful words were the reason Paul was so afraid of his own shadow. They'd been etched into his brain since he was old enough to remember by his drunkard father to scare him into obeying.
"Paulie, if you don't do this the Sandman will get you," or, "If you don't do that the Sandman will come for you!" Needless to say, Paul never stepped out of line his entire life. At seventeen he knew the Sandman wasn't real, but he was one shaky guy because of that raising.
A thunderclap shook the house again and Paul screamed.
Maybe he'd imagined himself seeing his dead father in his bedroom window. That was the only logical explanation.
He quickly yanked the curtains down, and crept back to his bed, holding tightly to his flashlight, just in case the lights went out. He was terribly afraid of the dark.
Of course, Paul was also afraid of spiders, snakes, clowns, heights, getting sick, car accidents, swimming-OK, so mostly, he was afraid of drowning-being dirty, and most of all, dying.
He realized those fears were logical for most people, but his fears were to the extreme. He was absolutely terrified of every single one of them and obsessed over them.
Then there was the Sandman. Paul had never in his life stayed up passed 10:00, because he didn't want to Sandman to get him. Even when the idea of a Sandman became irrational to him, he still hyperventilated if he couldn't get to bed on time.
This was his life.
He watched the clock.
Tick tock. Tick tock.
It was getting closer to 10:00. Only fifteen minutes away now, and Paul was wide awake. That was why he was on full-alert tonight. If the clock struck ten and he was still awake, he would have a panic attack. He knew it.
"Go to sleep, Paul."
He jerked his head in the direction of the clock. It was one of those novelty things, a clock made to look like a cat was peaking from behind it, the cat's big eyes and tail moving left and right with every tick.
"The Sandman's going to get you, Paul."
The clock was talking. The cat's mouth was moving, and his eyes were locked on Paul.
Paul thought his heart was going to shoot right out of his chest.
"Y-you can't talk," he said. "Y-you're a cat! A c-clock!"
"Go to sleep, Paul," the cat-clock said. "The Sandman is coming. In just fifteen minutes! Tick tock! Tick tock!"
"No!" Paul shouted, grabbing his pillow. He threw it at the clock with all his might, and knocked it right off the wall, shattering it into a hundred pieces.
His Aunt Olivia was going to kill him for that.
A pounding came to his bedroom door.
"Paul! What was that racket?"
His aunt. How could she have heard him all the way downstairs?
He shook as he got up.
"I told you to keep this door unlocked, Paul!" she shouted.
Another thing Paul was afraid of was his aunt.
"Sorry, Aunt Olivia," he stuttered. He pulled opened the door, only to find there was no one there at all.
"Aunt Olivia?" he asked. He poked his head out, looking left, then right, but the hallway was dark and empty. He heard the TV from downstairs.
"What is wrong with me?" he asked himself before turning back around.
Paul screamed at the top of his lungs when he found himself face-to-face with a life-sized version of the cat clock. Only now, the cat's eyes were a fiery red, and his face was twisted into a frightening scowl.
"Tick tock, tick tock!" he said. The clock in the middle of his stomach showed one minute until ten. "Time's almost up!" His voice was deep, scratchy, and almost satanic. "Get ready, Paulie! The Sandman's coming for you!"
Paul took one step backwards, just trying to get away from the nightmare standing in front of him, and fell right through the floor.
Paul was screaming, he knew he was, but no sound was coming out of his mouth. He felt wind whipping all around his face and his body as fell further and further into this black pit that was once his hallway.
He had no time to wonder what was happening. All he could think about was how terrified he was falling further and further into God-knew where.
Logically he should have hit the first floor after less than a second of falling. He didn't know how long he'd been going down at this point, but his stomach was practically in his throat, his heart skipping three, four beats at a time. His throat was going dry and his voice was cracking from screaming so much.
Paul was terrified of heights, and of falling, and he found himself praying through stinging tears that it would just end.
Make it stop, make it stop!
"He's coming, Paul!"
Suddenly, Paul stopped falling, and almost like there was no gravity at all, he slowly went to the ground in a lighted cave.
Coughing, and desperately needing water to ease his throat, he raised up and looked around. When did his aunt put a cave under her house?
This was crazy, and he knew it.
"Who am I? Paul in Wonderland?" he asked himself.
"He's coming, Paul!"
The screechy voice was followed by the most unfriendly laugh he'd ever heard, echoing from somewhere deep in the cave.
"You better run!"
More laughter, but this wasn't just one, er, person. There were several voices.
Paul grabbed a lantern hanging on the cave wall, taking it as an indication that life had been here recently, and cautiously peaked down the tunnel in front of him.
"Wh-who's there?" he asked with a shaky voice.
"Paul, he's coming!" The voice was just as high-pitched as before, but now it was louder, meaning they were coming closer. He spotted several shadows at the end of the tunnel. They were tall, thin and had long, pointy noses, and pointy ears.
He felt his heartbeat go wild again and stumbled backwards, falling over a cauldron he didn't know was there, toppling it and its liquid contents over.
"Ah!" he shouted when the contents touched his skin and started to burn. He hopped to his feet and watched the shadows coming closer. Closer.
They were getting smaller, laughing as they ran.
God, there were so many of them.
"He's right behind us, Paul!" they laughed.
And when he saw them, he couldn't do anything but scream.
What were these things?
They looked like little elves, maybe 3 feet tall up close. They had these sharp, snarling teeth and beady little black eyes. Their ears were tall and pointed straight up, and their noses were long and curling up to a point.
The leader laughed, saliva dripping from his mouth. "Paul, he's coming!"
"Who are you?" Paul had to ask. "What are you, elves?"
The leader of them laughed. "You wish we were elves. We're goblins. And you're as good as dead. The Sandman is looking for you, Paulie! He's coming! He knows you're here! Go, Paul! Run, run, run!"
He wasn't sure why he took this little goblin's advice, but he did. Nothing seemed to be making sense right now, but running seemed like the only logical thing to do. So he spun around, seeing that there was an exit to the cave.
Paul took off, and out he went, the night air chilling him in only his cotton nightgown once he'd escaped the cave. He didn't stop running, thought. Through the woods he went, swiping away at branches hanging low, hopping over logs that got in his way.
He'd never been more terrified. So much was tormenting him; the woods around him, the darkness settling there, and whoever, or whatever was coming for him.
Could it be the Sandman? He wondered.
But how? There was no such thing. His father had taken a sweet, children's fairy tale character and made him into a gruesome monster when he was a child. It wasn't real.
"This isn't real!" he shouted, just before running straight into something sticky.
A spider web? What else?
Paul struggled to loosen himself from the web, but the more he did, the stickier it seemed to get. He realized this wasn't a normal spider web.
He struggled more and more, until finally, he realized he was really stuck.
The ground shook with an incredible stomping sound.
Another. He panicked. The stomps were coming so rhythmically Paul was certain these were footsteps. But who could possess footsteps that would shake the earth?
He struggled to crane his neck, and saw with horror who they belonged to.
"No," he panted, struggling harder to get away. "No, no, no!"
The spider rounded the Oak tree, its massive body easily the size of a mid-sized car. Its eight legs were hairy, and its red eyes were fixated on Paul.
He was in its web.
"Oh, God!" he screamed, watching the venom drip from the spider's fangs. "This isn't real! This isn't real!"
But it had to be, right? He had never fallen asleep. It couldn't be a dream.
"Please don't hurt me," he whispered under his breath as the spider came closer.
It stopped, and to Paul's astonishment, it spoke. "He's coming, Paul. The Sandman is coming for you."
Its venomous fangs snapped around him, cutting through the web and freeing him.
"Run, Paul. Run!"
Paul decided then someone had slipped him a drug at a party he didn't remember going to, and tomorrow morning, he was going to have an awful hangover. But tonight, he didn't know how to get back to the real world, so he did what he was told and ran. So far this all felt so real, and the last thing he wanted to do was run into the Sandman.
Woods surrounded his house, and Paul was familiar with them, but the area around him, even in the darkness, he didn't recognize it. He had no idea where he was, or where he was going, just that he was following this beaten path until it-hopefully-lead him out of these woods and to someone human.
Further ahead, Paul saw a dim light, and an opening. In the distance, he could hear music.
Slowing to a walk, he tried to catch his breath as he made out the music. It was happy, upbeat organ music, like from a carnival, or a Merry-Go-Round at a fair. But a carnival out here in the middle of the woods?
Paul shook his head and wandered toward the lit up opening. This was only getting weirder and weirder.
The organ music got louder, and as he stepped from behind the trees, he saw it was, in fact, coming from a Merry-Go-Round.
"Come one, come all!"
Paul turned to see a man with a microphone standing in front of a circus tent. "E.B. Darwin's famous Freak Show! Only a nickel admission! Bring your kids!"
Paul's eyes widened. A nickel? Freak show?
He looked around. The crowd was moderate, but he took notice that everyone looked like they had just stepped out of an old 40s gangster movie.
"Where the hell am I?" he asked himself.
No one seemed to notice he was out here in a nightgown and bare feet.
Paul felt a hand on his shoulder, and he jumped.
"Sonny!" a hyper older man said from behind him. "Have you tried our fun house? Best in the country, boy! Come on in!"
Before Paul could protest, the man was leading him toward this tall, fun house. He gulped. The house looked anything but fun.
"No thanks," Paul said, shaking his head. But the man was strong. He had Paul climbing the stairs to the entrance already.
"Don't be silly! You'll love the fun house! It's fun!"
Paul found himself panting as the man shoved him inside. He turned around and saw a twisted smile on the man's face.
"Better hurry, Paul," he said. "The Sandman's coming."
And just like that, he slammed the door in Paul's face.
Paul was hyperventilating. He hated fun houses, but he wasn't getting back out the way he came so he had no choice but to brave the maze and pray that the Sandman wasn't waiting somewhere in a corner for him.
So he started walking.
First, he ran into those crazy mirrors. First he was tall and thin, then short and fat, then he had a big head. The usual fun stuff.
He crept through the house pushing through the obstacles climbing up and down the appropriate stairs without a hitch, until finally he saw the exit door up ahead.
His heartbeat sped up, and he knew he was almost free.
"The Sandman is coming! The Sandman is coming!"
Paul stopped in his tracks when he heard the high pitched sing-song voice echo from up ahead.
"The Sandman's gonna get Paulie! The Sandman's gonna get Paulie!
Accompanying the laugh was a shadowy figure stepping out between Paul and the doorway ahead. It was too dark for Paul to make out his face, until he stepped forward and into the light.
"Paulie! Don't look so sad!"
Paul's breath came out in quick pants when he saw the clown. Regular clowns were terrifying enough, but this was not a regular clown. His teeth were razor sharp, his painted on expression was a frightening scowl, and his orange hair wild and frizzy.
"No," Paul gasped.
Not a clown, he thought. Anything but a clown.
"Paulie, what's wrong?" the clown asked as he walked closer. "You look so sad. You want a balloon animal Paul?"
Paul backed up until he bumped into a wall behind him. There was nowhere else to go as the clown got closer.
"I'll make you a puppy, Paul!" the clown said. He proceeded to pull out a long balloon, then he blew it up, and started to twisting and tying it up.
Paul was praying this was all just a dream. Nothing else he'd encountered in this crazy night could top what he was experiencing right now and he'd rather have died than continue on in the face of this clown.
"All done, Paulie!" He held the balloon dog up in Paul's face. "Woof woof!"
Paul just shook, squeezing his eyes shut. "This is not real, this is not real."
But when he opened them back up, the clown was still there, holding his balloon dog.
The clown smiled. "Oh, Paulie. It's real. And the Sandman is coming." He took a long, sharp fingernail and popped the balloon dog. To Paul's shock and disgust, blood spilled from inside. "So you better run, Paulie."
Paul shook his head. "The Sandman is not real. And neither are you."
The clown laughed again, and snapped his fingers, vanishing into thin air.
Paul took this opportunity, and bolted for the exit. He shoved the door open and immediately was blinded by the brightest white light he'd ever seen.
Paul blinked once, then twice and saw the clear blue sky through the windshield of the speeding truck. For a moment, he thought he'd finally woken up from this horrible nightmare, and was about to look over and ask his aunt to remind him where they'd been going.
But when he did turn his head, he found his father in the driver's seat, looking just as alive as he had before he'd killed himself drunk driving, nothing like the zombie-like man that had visited him earlier.
Nevertheless, Paul knew his father was dead, so being in a moving vehicle with him was unsettling. He jumped, and scooted against the door handle.
"Wake the hell up, boy!" his father shouted, taking another drink of his whiskey. "Ain't no boy of mine gonna sleep all the damn time. You know what happens to lazy children, Paul?"
Paul opened his mouth to say something but words just wouldn't come out.
"The Sandman gets them, Paul!" he continued. "He rips their eyes out!"
The truck swerved into the wrong lane, then back over.
Oh, God, Paul thought. He was going to die.
His father took another long swig, and when he did, Paul felt the truck jerk, and they left the road. The truck flew over the ditch, bumping and jerking across the wide-open field, and was heading straight for the only tree in sight.
Paul knew this spot all too well. This was where his father was killed. And he was about to die, too.
Paul woke up to the smell of alcohol and blood. His eyes wide open, he examined his surroundings. The truck was smashed against the tree, just like it had been years ago. His father had died again. He'd sailed right through the windshield and his bloodied body was face-down on the hood of the truck, just like it had been those years ago.
Paul started to sob. He wasn't even hurt.
"Why is this happening to me?"
He tried to open the door and get out, but it was jammed. He jiggled his seatbelt, and that was stuck, too. Paul was trapped in this truck, in this nightmare land with his father's dead body two feet away.
"Please wake up," he begged himself. This had to be a nightmare, and all he wanted to do was wake up from it all.
The radio crackled, and a voice came through the static. "Paulie, the Sandman's coming."
Paul screamed, fighting as hard as he could with the seatbelt.
"Look, Paul," the voice said again. "He's found you. You can't run anymore."
This is crazy, he thought, but he listened to the voice on the radio. He looked straight ahead, and in the far distance, dead in the middle of the field, he spotted the most frightening sight he'd ever seen in his life.
"The Sandman," he whispered.
The figure looked more like the grim reaper than anything, but Paul knew this was the Sandman, and he was walking his way. He wore a long, hooded robe, and Paul could see two red eyes, but nothing else to make out his face with.
"Let me out, let me out!" he screamed, jerking and pulling the seatbelt.
The Sandman came closer, and closer, until finally, the hood didn't hide his frightening face anymore.
Paul would have taken the clown over this any day.
"Why do you want me?" he cried.
The ashy, grey, face of the Sandman twisted into an evil smile, the decaying skin tight across the bone. "You're still awake, Paulie."
Paul screamed as the long, boney fingers came closer to his eyes. He was going to rip them right out. If this was a nightmare, this would be a great time to wake up, but nothing happened. He was still here in this truck, waiting to have his eyes picked out by a legendary creature he thought wasn't real outside of fairytales.
"Wake up, wake up, wake up!" he screamed.
That boney finger was so close to his eye. Paul jerked his head to the left, and felt the nail scrape across his cheek. And it burned.
Shit. This was real. It was real pain.
"Someone help me!" he screamed.
The Sandman retracted his hand slowly and stared at Paul. "Paul, why are you screaming?"
"Don't take my eyes, please!" Paul shouted.
With his boney hands on his hips, the Sandman shook his head. "You're being foolish, Paul. It's after twelve. Get up."
The Sandman sounded just like his aunt. "Huh?"
"I said get up. You have chores. Now come on."
He squeezed his eyes shut, and when he opened them, he was in his bed, and his aunt was looking down at him. It was daylight, and he was alive.
He bolted awake. "I'm alive!"
His aunt rolled her eyes and shook her head. "You need to see someone about those nightmares. The neighbors are gonna start talking if you keep shouting things like 'Don't take my eyes.'"
She walked out, and Paul was left alone in his room.
He was drenched in sweat, but that was OK. He was alive, and he was home.
Happy to see the real world around him, he hopped out of bed and ran into his bathroom to wash his face. When he caught his reflection in the mirror, he spotted a long, red scratch on his cheek.
He panicked at first, then shook his head and decided he'd probably scratched himself in his sleep, and that was why he'd dreamt it. There was no Sandman, no killer clowns, no giant spiders, none of that.
He strolled back into his bedroom, ready to get dressed. Funny thing, though. He never could remember going to sleep. He couldn't even remember lying down, for that matter.
Paul just shrugged it off. It must have been a really good sleep, then. Thank God it was over. He whistled as he yanked his closet doors opened, and screamed when he found himself face-to-face with the monster from his nightmare.
The Sandman grinned, and reached for his eyes.
*Thanks for reading! I hope you can check out my other new short story, "Truth Or Dare" for Coralie's song spin-off contest :D*