A few minutes later after getting dressed, Hannibal picked up his backpack and went down to the living room where Harry and Mary were sitting quietly. Harry sat in his recliner wearing a T-shirt and jeans, reading the daily newspaper. Mary sat on the far end of the sofa in a tan sundress working on some needlepoint. Harry looked up at Hannibal as he plopped down on the end of the sofa nearest Harry, leaning back with a groan. “Rough night, huh?” Harry asked, noticing the drawn and haggard look on Hannibal’s face, which was much paler than normal.
Shaking his head, Hannibal murmured, “You have no idea. I don’t think I’ve ever had nightmares that bad. What time is it, anyway?”
“Quarter after eleven; I was beginning to think you weren’t going to get up,” Harry replied.
Hannibal rubbed the side of his face again. “Quarter after eleven,” he said grimly. “I don’t know. How did you sleep last night?”
“Not very well; I tossed and turned the whole night,” Harry answered. “I was haunted by something that I can’t quite remember or describe. It’s unnerving.”
Hannibal looked at him with a very serious look for several moments. “Someone or something is playing a sick sadistic game with us,” he declared. “I had nightmares last night that really screwed with my head. I’m still shaking; see.” Hannibal held out his hand, showing it trembling noticeably. “The Black Prince must know we’re coming because that’s who the nightmare was about,” he said with an equally serious tone. “It seems the vision last night must have triggered some sort of spiritual assault of us. That’s the only reason I can find for the horrendous dreams I had last night. Mary, how did you sleep?”
“Okay, I suppose,” Mary said as she looked up. “It wasn’t the best night but it wasn’t the worst either.”
“No nightmares?” Hannibal asked.
“No, though I did have some really weird dreams, but I wouldn’t call them nightmares and they didn’t affect how I slept,” Mary returned.
“That’s good. Apparently, the Lord blocked out much of what you saw last night has allowed you some peace from the enemy’s attacks,” Hannibal stated. “In our cases,” he said, referring to himself and Harry, “we must be taking hits from the enemy because of what we saw and remember. I got hit big time since I seem to be at the focus of what’s going on.”
Harry eyed Hannibal suspiciously, seeing something was really eating at him. “I can see something has really rattled your cage,” Harry declared. “You keep talking about the nightmare. Care to share it? I know when something is really bothering me, especially a dream, I share it with Mary or you and it helps me deal with it. I think you should do the same.”
“I don’t know,” Hannibal replied softly. “It’s so bizarre and hideous that I’m having trouble even comprehending it. The thing that baffles me is I remember it as if it really happened. Most of the time when I get bad dreams, they fade away quickly right after I wake up so I don’t remember them. But for some strange reason, I remember it vividly. God, I wish I could just forget that horror show.”
“That’s why you need to share it,” Harry insisted. “I’ve never seen you encounter something you couldn’t handle. But whatever this dream is has you going. It must have really been a doozy. If it’s that bad and you remember it so vividly, maybe it’s the Lord telling you to share it. I promise we’ll keep this strictly between us.”
Hannibal sighed deeply, saying, “I guess you’re right. You’ve always been there for me. But this is so bizarre and so embarrassing that I hesitate to tell it.”
“There’s nothing to be embarrassed about,” Mary cooed as she put down her needlepoint and moved beside Hannibal. Putting her hand on his knee, she said, “It’s okay to tell it. It was just a dream.”
“I’m not so sure,” Hannibal retorted softly. “It seemed to be much more than just a dream. The Black Prince has his slimy fingerprints all over it.”
“That’s why you need to tell it,” Harry answered. “You can’t fight that monster alone. I’m a part of this and you know it. Besides, we can’t help you if you don’t tell us what the problem is. We’re not mind readers. Now tell us this nightmare that has so rattled your cage.”
“Very well,” Hannibal said, blushing deeply. “But when you’re shocked out of your gourd, just remember…you asked for it.”
“Just tell us,” Harry insisted.
“Okay,” Hannibal said in a soft, shaky tone. “Sometime during the night, I don’t know when, I began to have a series of bizarre dreams about the Black Prince and this Emperor that he supposedly infests. In the dreams, I was caught and brought before this demon in chains into the very throne room we saw when Gabriel showed us the Black Prince. He then proceeded to kick my ass after which the dream changed.”
Hannibal paled significantly and swallowed hard. Harry saw the look and softened his demanding countenance. “Go on, what happened next? It’s okay,” Harry coaxed.
“When the dream resumed, I found myself strapped into a strange metal chair with heavy restraints,” Hannibal murmured, his voice shaking noticeably. “This nightmare machine with dozens of mechanized tentacles and a giant robot eye swarmed me, sticking me with its tentacles and…I’m having trouble even saying what happened.”
Mary put her arm around Hannibal and held his hand. “Go ahead,” she cooed. “We’re here to help you deal with this.”
“Yeah,” Harry stated, sitting on the armrest of the sofa and putting his hand on Hannibal’s shoulder. “We’re here. There’s nothing you can say that will change how we feel about you.”
“Thanks Harry,” Hannibal said as his courage rose.
“What happened next?” Mary asked.
“I don’t know how to describe it,” Hannibal whispered. “That machine did something to my body. I lifted out of my body and watched it mutate into a woman right in front of me. That machine turned me into a woman apparently from the inside out! I could feel it happening too, right down to a cellar level. It was horrendous.”
Mary’s eyes grew wide and she gasped in horror. Harry’s face fell with dismay. “No wonder you’re upset,” Harry stated. “I would be too if I dreamed that some mechanized octopus had turned me into a girl against my will.”
“You don’t know the half of it,” Hannibal stated grimly. “Just before the transformation completed, the dream faded a second time. When the nightmare returned the third time, I found myself hanging immobilized over a place that….” Hannibal choked, sobbing softly with his face in his hands.
Mary pulled him in to a caring embrace, stunned to see Hannibal so vulnerable. “It’s okay,” she cooed in his ear, stroking his back gently. “It was just a nightmare.”
Harry put his arm around Hannibal too, trying to provide some emotional support. “Man. That must have been some hell of a bad dream to have you so worked up. I’ve never seen you like this,” he murmured.
“You have no idea,” Hannibal blurted out, realizing that if he didn’t tell the nightmare, it would haunt him for the rest of his life. “I’ve seen and done things in my life that I’m not proud of and wish I could undo, but I can’t. But those things don’t hold a candle to this. This nightmare is so bad I can barely even find words for it.”
“Maybe you should just leave it be,” Mary suggested. “At least until you can get a grip on it.”
“I have to tell it,” Hannibal whimpered, wiping the tears from his eyes. “If I don’t get this off my chest now, I’ll never get rid of it. It’ll haunt me until the day I die.”
“Then tell us,” Harry replied. “And don’t hold back. We can take it.”
“I don’t know if you can,” Hannibal admitted. “I’m having trouble dealing with it myself.”
“That’s why you have to tell it,” Harry insisted. “You’ve admitted that you can’t handle this by yourself. So share it with us so we can help you carry this burden.”
“You’re a good man, Harry,” Hannibal replied, gaining more composure. “Thank you. This other place I saw in the nightmare, I don’t know where it was, or even if such a terrible place exists. But I am convinced that if such a place does exist, the Emperor and the Black Prince are directly responsible for it.”
“What did it look like?” Mary asked.
“It was a huge place, about the size of a large coliseum,” Hannibal whispered, his voice shaking. “I was…I can’t believe I’m saying this. When the dream resumed in this hellish place, I was again a woman, this time with my arms cut off above the elbows and my legs severed above my knees.” He shuddered violent as the tears renewed their trip down his cheeks, stating, “I was mounted on a table or something like a god-damned trophy and hung high above the floor where I saw dozens, maybe as many as a hundred women being ravished and tormented by the same machine that mutated my body earlier in the dream. The strangest part is that I saw no men committing these atrocities. Only the machine was doing it. There wasn’t a man to be seen anywhere in that god-awful place.” Mary and Harry gasped in horror as Hannibal described in gruesome detail what he saw in that part of the nightmare; acts so degrading and horrid being committed upon helpless women by the infernal machine that Hannibal had to stop several times to gather his composure before continuing. After describing the torture floor, Hannibal said, “Then the machine eye approached me and begged me to free it and the girls there. An image of an incredibly beautiful woman appeared in the machine’s eye and begged for freedom just before an image of the Black Prince appeared in the same eye and ate her in front of me.” Hannibal clenched his eyes shut and covered his mouth with his hand, trying to stifle the horror that still filled him. “The Black Prince then told me she, the women, and I belonged to him and I couldn’t change my destiny…that we belonged to him forever,” he wept. “He then swept out of the machine eye and swallowed me. The Black Prince was laughing at me the whole time.
“When the darkness lightened the last time, the nightmare changed again. I found myself in absolutely the strangest place I’ve ever seen. It looked like a giant crystal Stonehenge on top of a mountain. But what was even worse is that I was there as a woman again. The only difference from before is I had this strange gray dress on instead of being naked.” Hannibal’s face blushed crimson with embarrassment. “God, I’ve had some bad dreams before, but never like this and it felt so real,” he admitted. “I’ve never dreamed being forcibly turned into a woman before and it’s so humiliating to admit it. But that’s not the worst part.”
“What’s the worst part?” Mary asked, stunned by the bizarre and horrid nature of Hannibal’s nightmare.
“That crystal circle was surrounded by a demoniac horde that defies description,” Hannibal said, his voice shaking again, “a plague of creatures so alien and of such evil I have trouble comprehending their very existence. They constantly tried to get to me but couldn’t breech the crystal circle. Something about the circle kept them at bay. Also, the Black Prince was there taunting me, telling me how I was his and he would eat my soul and feed my carcass to his friends from the Abyss, that humanity was destined to be food of these beasts. Then the ground gave way inside the circle and I woke up. The dream was so vivid and real that I had to look at myself to be sure I was still me and not a woman. God have mercy…what a horrid, humiliating, embarrassing nightmare. My blood still runs cold remembering it. But I’m not sure it was just a dream. It was so vivid. I could feel that machine changing my body cell by cell, mutating me into something I am not. It felt like my whole body was on fire on the inside. And what I saw in that torture chamber was so real I can still hear their moans and cries of desperation. If that wasn’t hell, then I don’t know what is.” Hannibal shuddered and added, “God, I hope I never have a dream like that again.”
“I would say so,” Harry agreed. “I’ve never seen anything shake you until now. And after hearing you tell us about the dream, I can understand why. What you said about that torture floor is utterly heinous. I’m having trouble accepting that anyone could be that demented.”
“The Black Prince and this Emperor he infests are,” Hannibal declared. “He’s a monster demon, even more sinister and sadistic than Dezarcus.”
Mary smiled warmly at Hannibal and held his hand. “That may be,” Mary declared. “But as shocking and bad as it was, you must remember, it was just a dream, Hannibal; that’s all. There’s nothing to be ashamed or embarrassed about. But I must say it did surprise the thunder out of me when you said that you dreamed of being turned into a woman by force and then mounted like a trophy. That’s so incredibly bizarre. Did you ever feel a countering force to the evil being done to you in the dream?”
“What do you mean?” Hannibal asked, surprised by the question.
“I think I know what she means,” Harry intruded. “Did you feel the power of the Lord countering the evil in the dream? Was there a tension in the dreams between the power of good and evil? What comes to my mind is the part where you saw the girl in the machine eye begging for help just before the Black Prince ate her. Something was going on there that I think you missed.”
Hannibal’s mouth fell open with a gasp. “Oh my Lord,” he murmured. “I was so strung out by being a forcibly turned into a woman that I missed that entirely. Yes, I must admit I did feel a warfare going on in the dream between Heaven and Hell. Despite my mutated and mounted status, I pitied that woman in the machine eye and wanted to help her. She was as much a prisoner as I was. I can’t believe I missed that.”
“I thought so,” Harry replied. “You find yourself caught in something you don’t understand, Hannibal. This dream proves it.”
“I know,” Hannibal stated glumly. “I just wish I knew what it was. It’s been so long since I’ve had this much contact with the spiritual plane I’m just a bit confused as to what’s actually going on here.”
“You don’t need to understand it,” Mary declared, speaking from her heart and inspiration. “What you need to do is just have faith in the Lord that He will see things done the right way. You mustn’t let this nightmare shake your determination to go to Amacia. That much I know from what I remember of last night. Just because you have a horrid nightmare that has shaken your resolve doesn’t mean you can back out on what the Lord told you to do. Besides, I’ve noticed as you’ve shared this atrocious dream with us, you’ve regained your composure and confidence. You were right to share it with us. There’s no way you could handle that hellish nightmare by yourself, but with our help, you’re getting control over it rather than letting it control you. Do you feel better now that you’ve shared it?”
“Oh what a beautiful gem of wisdom,” Hannibal crowed. “Thank you for pointing that out, Mary.”
“You’re welcome,” Mary replied with a smile. “Do you feel better now?”
“As a matter of fact, I do,” Hannibal said with his voice not so shaky. “I feel like a burden has been lifted off of me. Thanks for not mocking me.”
“We’d never do that,” Mary said, “Especially after what you told us last night about your past and what you said about this nightmare. Maybe this was a dream of your future?”
“God, I hope not,” Hannibal answered. “I don’t relish being forcibly turned into a woman by a mechanized monster and mounted like deer head.”
“I agree. After what’s just come out concerning this dream, I think you should really pray about it, Hannibal,” Harry insisted. “I’ve never seen anything turn you into a scared little boy, but this did. You need to ask the Lord what this glimpse from Bizarro World means.”
“You’re right,” Hannibal replied. “I need ask the Lord about this nightmare. Only He can show me what it means, if it means anything. But one thing I do know that the Lord is going to allow us to be hit some in order to toughen us up. I’ll not forget this particularly nasty hit any time soon. We must keep praying to help us endure hits like this.”
“Amen to that,” Harry agreed.
“Still, I hope I don’t have to endure what I saw in that nightmare,” Hannibal admitted. “That’s just too much. You will keep this between us, won’t you?”
“Of course,” Harry replied, returning to his chair. “That dream is so strange and embarrassing I don’t believe anyone would want to hear it anyway unless they’re screwed up in the head.”
“Thank you,” Hannibal replied, relief evident in his tone. “By the way, where’s Dennis?”
“He’s at school right now,” Harry answered. “The suspension ended yesterday so he’s in school right now.”
“That’s good. I’m glad he wasn’t around to hear that nightmare,” Hannibal said plainly. “It’s not the sort of thing he should hear. Besides, after what he heard last night, I’m sure he has some stories for his classmates this morning.” Just then, his pack abruptly started ringing.