"Dear pupils, are you ready to begin?"
This question was met with a cacophonic chord of assent that crescendoed quickly but was as quickly killed by a slight gesture from the teacher, a suave, swarthy man with a swirling night-shade cloak and a demonic pointed beard. The class sat in rapt attention as he spoke.
"Now, dear pupils, can anyone tell me the nature of a nightmare?"
"FEAR!" the crowd all shrieked in discordant accord. The teacher nodded, giving the merest hint of a pleased smile.
"That's right, dear pupils. Fear is our nature, our medium. You must inspire fear so great they will dread the night, dreams that keep them wakeful for years to come. You must search their beings for any speck of terror, then feed on it: in doing so you will grow more terrific, which in turn will inspire more fear. Such a beautiful cycle it is, no?
"Fear is our bread, our blood, our water, our wine, our work, our play; our song and our glory, our life. Obtain their fear - you will live. Gain their scorn, their laughter – fail in your task – and you will drift away as if you had never been, no more than the faint memory of some childish, irrational dream."
"What must we do to succeed?" demanded a horrid hairy goblin.
"It's not what you do that matters, dear pupils. It is the nameless fear you inspire. You could tell them jokes; offer them toys, so long as you kept the fear going.
"But have a care, dear pupils. A good nightmare, a true terror, will last you for nights of sleepless dread. If a bad dream yields to the first weak, judgmental rays of dawn, you should have to create a new one the next night, and the next, working ceaselessly for your fear: you should wear yourself into a shadow of nothing and vanish."
"How do we inspire this nameless fear?" breathed one mangled monstrosity.
"Do not worry about that, dear pupils. The groundwork is laid by great nightmares before you, who toiled day and night in the primal, untamed world of the mind to plant the things that first rude man must fear evermore.
"So event their descendants today fear death, the unknown, separation, ridicule, pain and sorrow. Anything they do not understand, they fear. Invoke any one of these ancient terrors, and they will protect and aid you."
"Protect us from what?" laughed a slithering demon. "What have we to fear?"
He grew subdued under the intent gaze of the teacher, looked away uncomfortably.
"Our ancient enemies. The teddy bear, that fierce protector. The light in the night, which has no place there. The greatest enemy of all, called only Mother."
"Mother!" The word was met with shrieks and howls. "Mother!" Slitted red eyes darted about the room, as though she was lurking in the shadows somewhere; several of the younger nightmares swooned in alarm. "If these ancient powers are appealed to, we have no chance."
Across the yard, the rusty shards of a great death-knell began to toll. The teacher stopped, listening intently.
"It is night in the world, dear pupils. It is our hour of reign. Go now; turn rest into wakeful agony, sleep into a time of torture, the gift of soothing night into an endless eternity of cursed hours. But remember, dear pupils," he hissed urgently as they swarmed past him, "never to kill them in their sleep. If they die in dreams, they will never wake again, never sleep again, never dream again, never fear again.
"And if there is no fear, what purpose have we?"