My daughter once asked me where nightmares come from, so I told her the story my father told me and his father told him.
Long ago, there were no nightmares, only memories. Memories of the things men do and the things men see. Then sometime around the 5th Century, during the migration of Germanic tribes into what would become most of Western Europe, there was a Lord. And like many Lords of the time, he acquired land. He acquired this land the way everyone acquired land then, he conquered it.
It was in the aftermath of a particularly brutal battle, near the edges of a deep crevasse, that the Lord found a pale child wandering among the littered corpses. It was a girl, blackened by smoke and stained with the spattered blood of the fallen. She had dark eyes and a misshapen body with deformities that made even the bravest soldiers avoid her gaze and step from her path. Now this Lord was a generous one, loved by his men and his people, and he felt pity for this impish girl and he took her in, raising her within the confines of his castle.
He named the girl Nocturne for her dark eyes and her peculiar habit of avoiding sleep and staying up late into the night, seemingly for days and weeks at a time. Despite her appearance, Nocturne soon showed a Jesters talent for making the Lord and the neighboring aristocracy laugh and enjoy themselves at her stories, tales and tricks.
This Lord also had a handsome son, a Prince who would one day inherit the throne, the castle, and its lands. The Prince, like the others, also enjoyed the antics of this new girl who was always by his Fathers side, telling stories and riddles to delight the crowd. But each night, the Prince would watch as Nocturne would whisper into the Lords ear at days end, leaving the Prince to question this girl jester and the way his father seemed enthralled by such a grotesque and deformed comedienne who never seemed to sleep.
Soon, the Prince was of age and he prepared to leave the castle for his studies. He embraced his father tightly, knowing they would not see each other for years. As he rode away, leaving the only home he knew for the very first time, he glanced back at the castle and the people surrounding his waving Father. The last thing he saw before the castle slipped from view was Nocturne, there at his Fathers side, whispering her whispers in his ear.
The stories reached the Prince in the final year of his studies. They seemed fantastical at first and claimed that his Father had become a monster, a bane to his own land. It seemed the Lord had begun taxing his people harshly and imprisoning any who could not pay, condemning them to the bowels of the castle to await some form of trial and eventually, a horrible death. There were tales of lavish sin-fueled parties where the Lord would fly into rages at others, often baiting guests into heated debates, only to shackle them in chains for disobeying his view or command. Neighboring Lords and land-owners avoided the castle, fearing the tales of torture, and staying clear of the screams that lasted well into the night. And within each chilling account, what each witness never ceased to mention, was that the girl Nocturne was there, with her strange whispers for only the Lord’s ear. It seemed that Nocturne was either immune to the Dukes blood rage, or the very cause of it. Now, with this madness consuming his Father, the Prince was told that neighboring Lords were preparing to siege the castle and divide its lands among them. As the Prince rode quickly for home, he knew that any such battle would be short, since recent tales told that much of the castle had been abandoned and now only the Lord and Nocturne lived within its bloodied walls.
As the Prince neared the castle, he galloped past the villages he remembered as a young man. Once vibrant and alive, they were now shells of towns, filled with the starving, the desperate, and the dead. The castle road was littered with bloated corpses and the creek he once played in as a boy ran red with blood.
The Prince burst into the castle, sword drawn, and called for his Father. From a splintered bench in the corner of the throne room, the Lords feeble voice replied. The Prince’s Father was now thin, with sunken eyes and trembling hands, but he stood feebly and reached longingly for his son. The Prince embraced his Father and asked if the stories were true. The Lord nodded, shame washing over his pale face. The Prince gripped his sword tight and roared for Nocturne, vowing to end this damnable reign of madness. She appeared behind him, whispering a welcome to the Prince. She was seated on the Lord’s throne, her small crooked body dwarfed by the immense gilded chair. The Prince lunged at Nocturne but his sword was halted inches from her throat by the call of his Father, who cried NO.
In labored gasps, the weak Lord told his son that Nocturne was no girl, but a witch raised from Hell that day on the battlefield. It was her whispers, her foul and tiny voice in his ear that spread the madness, a rain of nightly tales of horror that he himself would in turn make real by day. The Lord said he kept Nocturne here in the castle, fearing that her tales, should they spread through the land, would inflict the very same horrors that happened here at his home. With this, the Lord gripped his sons hand and looked deeply into Nocturnes black eyes and let out his last cold breath. The Princes eyes filled with tears seeing his dead Father. As for Nocturne, she laughed. It was a tiny laugh, but a laugh that filled the Prince with rage. He stood and stared into that small witch’s eyes and in one swift motion he sank his sword through her down to its hilt. Nocturne’s laugh went silent and her eyes bulged black, dark blood seeping from her mouth. A watery, bubbling sound crept up from deep within her, traveling up her throat and past her bloodied lips. It was one last whisper. An evil sound that echoed throughout the castle, past its gates, past its lands and into our world.
Years went by, and the Prince was eventually killed in battle, the castle divided among the aristocracy. The tale of Nocturne, the Lord and the Prince was almost lost to time and the long shadows of a growing and aging Europe. But some still share the tale of the sleepless Nocturne, the girl who was something altogether not human, a creature beyond the grip of sleep, or night or day. For what the King said that day to his son was true. When Nocturne was killed, she was released from that castle and into the ether, adrift in the world. She is now free to whisper to more than just one old Lord. Her whispered stories and tales and riddles can now reach us all while we sleep. Gone are the Kings, Dukes and lands of old, now there are factories, industry, automobiles, and airplanes. But Nocturne remains, creeping silently into the bedrooms of men, of women, and especially of children. Like she did with that long dead Lord, she whispers into your ear while you sleep, and breathes vile tales of terror, of dread, of lifes poisons witnessed throughout her days on this Earth.
Maybe she’ll whisper in your ear, or maybe she already has. Because she, my dear daughter, She is where nightmares come from.
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