Once there lived a little girl named Serina, who simply would not go to sleep. Amanda, her mother, tried all manner of remedies to relax the young child. After a hot bath, she fed Serina warm milk just before bedtime, read fairy stories aloud, sang lullabies and even cooed as she rocked her precious little angel in her arms. But nothing worked.
Amanda kept this from her husband at first, for although he was a kindly man, Alrick was often preoccupied with his struggles to procure food and goods for his family, but the day had finally come when she felt he must know.
Alrick was at first upset that his wife had not informed him of the matter sooner but then he became ashamed that he had not noticed his daughter’s suffering himself.
When Alrick entered his daughter’s room, he found her sitting up in bed. She was pinching the skin of her arms to help her stay awake but stopped the moment she saw her father. The bruising on her arms accompanied by the dark crescents that ruined the emerald that once shone in her eyes nearly caused him to weep.
He sat on edge of the bed and asked, “Little one, why do you continue to refuse to lay your head upon your pillow?”
Serina was hesitant to answer but her father’s manner was gentle and soothing and eventually he coaxed the answer from her.
“The Night Mare,” she said.
“Is that all?” he smiled. “Everyone has nightmares, but they’re only dreams and dreams cannot hurt you.”
“No, Poppa, not a nightmare, the Night Mare!”
“Not a nightmare but a nightmare? I do not understand.”
Serina let out an exasperated sigh. “Every time I go to sleep, I draw the attention of a burning horse, the Night Mare and she talks to me.”
Alrick furrowed his brow. “And you have had this dream more than once?”
“What does she say?”
“She says that one day she will follow me back into the waking world and then all that is real would fade just like a dream,” Serina said, her eyes glimmering with tears.
Alrick lifted his daughter’s chin so that she met his eyes and softly said, “That will not happen.”
“How can you be sure?”
“Because I will sit watch as you sleep and if your burning horse dares to show its face, I will drive it back whence it came.” Alrick said in his deepest, most fatherly, protective voice. “Now, rest your troubled mind and sleep.”
“You promise to stay all night?” Serina asked.
“I have given you my pledge, young one. I shall not move from this spot,” Alrick said before letting out an exaggerated yawn which his daughter found to be quite contagious.
Amanda came into the room as Alrick began telling Serina a tale about the devilment stars got up to when they came out each night to play and Serina found that she could not fight the descent of sleep that was pooling on her eyelids and soon her chest rose and fell with the lightness of a spring breeze.
That peace, however, was short-lived for soon Serina’s sleep became fitful and both Alrick and Amanda tried their best to calm her but they became distracted by something. A sound, far off, like the whinny of a horse but distorted in a manner that shot cold fear down both their spines.
“No! Stay Away!” Serina cried out, still firmly held in sleep’s embrace. Amanda tried to grab Serina’s shoulders, to wake her, but her hands passed through her daughter as if she was made of mist.
Their little girl was vanishing right before their very eyes. Alrick reached out for his wife but she too began to vanish as well as the walls of the tiny bedroom and the house beyond.
The last thing Alrick saw, the very last thing his eyes beheld before he evaporated into nothingness, was the approach of a skeletal horse that had been set on fire. And he realized his error.
The Night Mare was indeed real and he and everything he knew would soon become the stuff of someone’s dream…if there was anyone left to dream it.