A Christmas Revelation
copyright 2001, by
These characters were
created by Thomas
Harris. They are used herein without permission, but in the spirit
of admiration and respect. No infringement of copyright is intended, and
no profit, of any kind, is made by the creator, maintainer or contributors to
Feedback to Author
1 of 4 |
2 of 4 l
3 of 4 l
4 of 4
Paul Krendler was dead, to begin with. There was no doubt whatever about that. The register of his burial was signed by his wife, the head of the Justice Department, the undertaker, and the Chief Mourner. Though Clarice Starling saw it, she never signed it. Never cared to.
Paul Krendler was as dead as a doornail.
Starling had never been one to readily anticipate Christmas with open arms and a smile on her face; however, the seasonal blues were especially bad this year. December was long and dull, the approach and pass of her birthday doing little more than reminding her that she was a year older. A year older, and still no wedding band on her finger, no prospective husband to place one there, as it was. Her career, the scraping she managed to collect from the sidewalk, a name tarnished from numerous dealing with a psychopath that currently resided God-knows-where.
Snide nicknames and insults, the untrusting stare of her colleagues, sneers and jests, reminders and tidbits, headlines and old headlines...one would think this news would be old news, but those she associated with daily seemed determined to prove their ability to be easily amused.
Such tidings left her bitter. The false promise of impending happy-times only added to her dark complexion.
It was Christmas Eve, and Starling, rather than face an empty house and the bottom of a liquor bottle, was busying herself with work that she just as soon not do. The prospect of turning home tonight was not pleasant.
At around seven o'clock that evening, the phone at her workstation rang sharply. She was not in the mood to talk to anyone, thus ignored it for the first few rings. However, instead of following logic and simply giving up, it shrilled to persistence, convincing her that the caller knew she was at her station. Rather harshly, she picked up the phone and barked, "Yes?"
"Knew you were there."
In spite of herself, Starling cracked a smile, feeling her tense nerves begin to settle. "Hi, Ardelia," she greeted with a sigh. "'Tcha up to?"
"Well, considering I've placed all my energies on finding where you are for the past hour, I guess I'm at rest now. For Christ's sake, Starling, I thought work would be the last place for you tonight. Be there when yah don't have to? What's the matter with you?"
"Nothing to go home to, is there?"
"I see you're in one of those 'the cup is half full moods,'" Mapp remarked snidely. "Well, as I suspected you might be wallowing in self-pity this year, I thought I'd invite you over for Christmas supper."
Starling smiled tightly to herself, feeling the familiar pangs of jealousy knot in her stomach. In all her years of knowing Mapp, she never expected to envy her love life. But here they were at the most unlikely of ends. It was a great surprise when she announced that she was getting married, even more so when their first child was born. Though Starling never thought of herself as the family type, it did cause her to frown at her own stage in life whenever she thought of it. And though she knew her friend's intentions were noble, she was in no mood to reminded of her own failures and loneliness tomorrow.
"Thanks, 'Delia," she replied a minute later in a tone that clearly defined her refusal. "I'm just not up to it this year."
There was a snort on the other line. "Bah humbug to you, then."
Starling chortled appreciatively, leaning forward on her desk, work completely abandoned for the sake of good dialogue with her friend. Even if she wasn't going to join her family tomorrow, she might as well revel in what little contact was allowed now. Assuming a deeper tone, she added in sheer jest, "Any idiot who goes about with 'Merry Christmas' on his lips should be boiled with his own pudding and buried with a stake of holly through his heart."
"That sounds familiar," Mapp observed. "I'm sure you have a friend who wouldn't mind boiling such an idiot."
Just as easily as it was birthed, Starling's smile dissipated. One reminder was enough for tonight. Thinking of Dr. Lecter was the last thing she wanted to do. "I'd rather not discuss that."
"Why not?" Either Mapp didn't hear the note of dead seriousness in Starling's voice or she was choosing to ignore it. "Honestly, girl, I'd of thought you'd be grateful to Lecter for getting rid of Krendler for you."
"Honestly girl," Starling snapped, "I'd of thought motherhood would make you a bit more sensitive. Yeah, sure, I'm grateful. He did manage in distancing other assholes from me. They're afraid he's taking numbers, wherever he is, planning his next dinner party."
There was a note of defeat on the other line. "I can't talk you out of changing your mind, can I? You really going to spend Christmas by yourself?"
"I need some time to think."
"You know what I think? I think you think too much. Out of all the days to think, you choose Christmas. Bah!"
"Ardelia...what can I tell you? I'm just not in the spirit this year."
"Starling, if there's ever a year to be in the spirit, this is it. Look at all you've been through."
Closing her eyes, irritation climbing slowly, Starling clamped her teeth harshly on the inside of her cheek to defer the temptation to scream into the phone. Of all the faces of the past to surely visit her tonight, she didn't expect it to begin with Mapp's pestering. However, she could hardly cease the forage of images that were suddenly with her. She was seated at a lovely dinner table, unexpected elegance on the part of Paul Krendler. Now, she had time to wonder just how many 'personal touches' Dr. Lecter made to his comfort.
"Ardelia, thanks but no thanks. I'm going home."
"All right. Have it your way. Merry Christmas."
At that, she snickered. "Bah. Humbug."
And this time she meant it.
The quiet of her house was even more disturbing than was custom. Pouring herself a shot of brandy, Starling sighed and moved to her recliner. Though the room was cold, she made no attempt to ignite the fireplace. It seemed odd that she felt so fatigued after a week of inactivity, but then not odd at all, for it was the first genuine break from strenuous work she had had in ten years. The mechanics of the human body struck her as wondrous at times. During those blessed months of before the ugly raid, those days that she was constantly up to her ears in work, adrenaline pumping through her system like blood, Starling never experienced a yawn, or drowsiness, or general exhaustion at the end or beginning of any day. Now, though, now when she had the time to relax, when no one trusted her with the larger cases, when her very career dangled by a thread supported only by sympathizer Pearsall, she found herself battling with sleep every minute. Never before had she been so tired. Never before had she simply wanted to drop and drift away, preferably to never return.
Perhaps sitting there she did drift to sleep, for the next thing Starling was aware of was the distant sound of her doorbell ringing. This naturally struck her as odd, for no one ever visited her at night. When she glanced to the clock, she noted the hour was near midnight, and a tremor of fear raced up her spine.
Who, out of everyone she knew, would visit now?
That was a question she didn't want to answer. Starling paused in her climb from the chair, daring for whatever it was to betray itself. No carolers were singing, no car engine was humming, no force was knocking, and-
Ring, ring, ring.
It came again. Thrice.
Trembling, Starling forced herself to her feet. The hallway seemed much further away than she remembered, and when she finally stood in front of the door; she couldn't remember covering any of the required steps it took to arrive here. Again, she hesitated, listening.
Well of course he isn't going to make any noise! Open the door!
Starling heard her pulse pounding in her ears as her hand grasped the doorknob. There she held, vacillated, and finally brought it open, expecting a familiar stare, followed by his customary silky greeting. However, no one was there. She paused, frowned, looked from side to side before finally giving up. Must be some teenage prank.
Not three seconds after she closed the door did the bell ring again. Flustered and angry, Starling turned to it, reaching an angry hand to the knob. As her skin brushed contact, the noise intensified. Over and over, the bell rang incessantly, and she was forced to cover her ears with her hands. Instead of answering, she grumblingly accepted that the doorbell was malfunctioning, and ran back into the family room where she covered her head with one of her decorative pillows.
It continued like that for a few minutes, sound continuing to grow in strength despite her attempts to cover her ears. When Starling was sure she couldn't take it anymore, the ringing abruptly stopped, leaving silence that was filled only by the remnants of echoes. The sounds bounced off the walls, weakening, before finally falling dead.
But by this time, the ringing was the last thing on her mind.
Standing in the middle of the room was - who appeared to be - Evelda Drumgo. This was not the Evelda she remembered; the expression wasn't scowling, and her braided hair was pulled away from her face. Though she didn't exactly carry the appearance of a heavenly visitor - safely discarding the white robes and small gold harp - she did carry enough differentiation for Starling to admit that perhaps her wits were crumpling. It occurred to her that she wasn't as surprised as she should be, or frightened, to see a woman who strongly resembled someone she knew very well to be dead standing tangibly in her living room. That single factor was enough to convince her that she was dreaming.
"Who are you?" Starling asked finally, standing from her couch and edging to the entryway door.
The Evelda apparition took a dramatic pause before it decided to comply, exerting a soundless breath as it did so. "In life, I was your nemesis. Your downfall. The reason this started for you. Don't you remember, Starling? Evelda Drumgo."
"I don't believe that. You're dead, then. I don't believe in ghosts."
"Yeah, well, neither did I. But how else would you explain me standing here?"
"That could account for a lot of things. I'm very tired today. I must be dreaming," Starling decided.
"Why do you doubt your senses?" the Evelda-apparition asked, cocking her head to one side.
"Because a little thing can affect them. A slight disorder of the stomach makes them cheat. You may be an undigested bit of beef, a blot of mustard, a crumb of cheese, a fragment of an underdone potato." Starling paused and frowned at herself, wondering why this sounded familiar, yet continued just the same. "There's more of gravy than of grave about you, whatever you are!"
The thing looked at her, slightly perplexed, but overall unaffected. With a simple shrug, it conceded. "I did not expect you to believe me, but I am here to inform you. You will be haunted by three spirits tonight."
"Haunted? I think I've had enough of that."
Evelda continued as though she hadn't heard her. "The first one will come when the clock tolls one...and the second at two...and so forth."
Starling frowned. "Where's the originality in that?"
"It's not my job to come up with new methods, Starling. I'm just the messenger."
"But...honestly! Aren't you all at risk for copyright infringement or something?"
"Like I said, it's not my place to worry about that shit. Besides," Evelda added thoughtfully, "I have a feeling if anyone was worried with copyright infringement, none of us would be here. Now, I'm leaving. Later, Starling."
Out of everything Starling had expected from this evening, it certainly wasn't to personally relive a timeless Christmas classic. As the specter of Evelda Drumgo faded into nothing, she blinked, sighed, and sat it recount the relayed information. Expect the first ghost at one, predictably. She assumed that would be the Ghost of Christmas Past. What was there to revisit? Had she fallen so drastically out of herself that she was now as bad as the mythical Ebenezer Scrooge? If so, she really didn't care. It was the first documented year since her childhood that she was willingly skipping the holiday, and this year it was more in preservation of her sanity. There simply didn't seem to be much to celebrate.
So if that was it...then screw it all. She didn't care. Christmas was simply a day, a holiday that is shared with family. She wasn't being unreasonable; she just wanted to be left alone. Come to think of it, she hadn't neglected to donate money to any charities (If they would rather die, they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population!), she wasn't underpaying some kind-hearted employee and refusing him the warmth of a fire as a child at home lay sick of a disease his family couldn't afford the antibiotics to. Starling was just a woman disenchanted with it all. This was the 'happiest time of the year.' Right. She bought that. The 'happiest time of the year' - falling coincidentally in the same window where most of the population sank into seasonal depression.
Ghost of Christmas Past, indeed.
Therefore, being truly skeptical, Starling went upstairs and climbed into bed, wondering if she could perhaps sleep through tomorrow.
Of course, seeing as this is a Christmas story, and a rather poor take off of the Christmas Carol, she couldn't possibly sleep through the next day. So, predictably at one am, Starling found herself awoken by the loud and abrupt chiming of a grandfather clock she didn't remember owning.
When she blinked her eyes and forced herself awake, Starling glanced at the figure at the end of her bed, blinked, then shot forward like a bat out of hell. There stood Paul Krendler, tangibly, the top of his head missing. Despite the awkwardness of his appearance, he looked rather alert and well together. Starling blinked again, this time in anger, and said rather forcefully, "What the flying fuck are you doing in my bedroom?"
"Enjoying the view you never gave me in life?"
"Get outta here!"
"Or you'll what?" Krendler sneered, pointing to his brain that was peaking out of his head. "Eat me?"
Starling's rage began to wither, and she exhaled deeply, shook her head, and studied him, eyes narrowing. "You're dead," she observed.
"Gee, Starling. You're quick. It's a wonder you never got advanced."
The ghost-Krendler was acting a lot like the real Krendler. Dead or alive, she didn't like him in her bedroom.
"What are you doing here?" she demanded.
"Didn't Drumgo tell you?"
"*You're* the first ghost?"
"Again, a wonder you never got your advancement."
"Well, I can see there's nothing wrong with that brain of yours," Starling noted, indicating the crown of his head. "You're still not quick enough to think of a different insult in less than two minutes."
While this debate could have lasted into the next century, Krendler was evidently on a rather tight time schedule. He had to have Starling through her past in an hour, before the second ghost arrived. Knowing his nonexistent sense of punctuality, she vocally expressed her cynicism before asking him to excuse himself while she changed defensively into some jeans and a sweatshirt for their festivities.
"Ready?" Krendler asked impatiently as she emerged, clothed to the wazoo.
"Take my hand."
Starling arched a brow and shook her head.
"You have to hold onto me if we're going to get anywhere," he informed her unpleasantly, shooting a grin.
Challengingly, Starling shrugged and took hold of his rather flimsy clothing. "There. Proceed."
The last image she saw before the light flashed in her eyes was Krendler's annoyed expression. Starling suffered the disconcerting sensation of falling backward, back, back, back, only there was no end. Her stomach skipped and dived, and just when she was sure she was going to throw up, it stopped, and she lurched forward.
When the room stopped spinning, Starling found herself lying facedown on a concrete floor that looked as though it hadn't been cleaned in years. Grimacing, she sat up and dusted herself off, shivered a bit, and finally glanced to her surroundings.
It was the asylum, the asylum as she remembered it those ten years ago.
As this realization became into the light, all the other horrid details of this monstrous place came soaring back. The other inmates, the frantically moving Miggs, and at the end of the hall, she saw herself, seated across from the person she knew to be Dr. Lecter. Always through the glass.
Slightly unnerved, she turned to Krendler, whose state of mind, so to speak, had not improved with giant rewind they just accomplished. "Why are we here?" she demanded. "I thought we would be back in Virginia, watching some prior Christmas-"
"Oh please, Starling," Krendler sneered, rolling his eyes at her. "How boring."
"Then what are we doing here?!"
"I'm not supposed to tell you. Now come on; I wanna see what's being said between you and lover boy up there."
Starling would have smacked him if she thought it would do any good, but as it was, she understood that hitting an entity had little affect, and she didn't want to risk touching him.
Once she could see the doctor, ten years younger, she felt her breath stop and her heart skip a beat. Anxiety suddenly struck every nerve, and while his eyes remained on the shadow of her, that was likewise ten years younger, she whispered frantically to Krendler, "He can't see us, can he?"
"Nope. Shadows of the past, not redoing the past. Duh."
"It's been a while since I read 'A Christmas Carol,'" she fired back defensively. "I doubt you ever have."
"Shut up! I'm trying to listen."
Though the conversation unfolding was one Starling knew by heart, she unnerved to find herself rather eager to hear it again. Hear it, watch his expression, watch herself for reaction. It felt so bizarre, being in two places at once. As she watched herself twitch uncomfortably in the chair, she felt a shiver of familiarity shiver up her spine. She could recall every feeling she experienced that day. Every emotion, every stinging insight.
"Now then, tell me, what did Miggs say to you? Multiple Miggs in the next cell. He hissed at you. What did he say?"
"He said: 'I can smell your cunt.'"
Krendler, predictably, emitted a rich laugh. "Oh that's classic!"
"Wish you'd been smart enough to think of it?" Starling retorted narrowly. "Too bad you won't have the chance now."
He would have replied had the doctor not started to speak once more. Even in these, shadows as they were, he could hold attention of all present without much effort.
"I see. I, myself, cannot."
As Dr. Lecter started to investigate his air holes, Krendler found the time to turn to her once more and sneer, "Yeah, I'll bet he couldn't."
"Closer than you'll ever come, trust me."
"You use Evyan skin cream, and sometimes you wear L'Air du Temps, but not today.."
"Did you do all these drawings, Doctor?"
"Ah. That is the Duomo seen from the Belvedere. Do you know Florence?"
"Florence!" Krendler hissed. "Florence! He told you right there where he would go. God, Starling...forget what I said about advancement."
"He also told me where to find Jame Gumb, if you were paying attention, dipshit," Starling observed, feeling a rush of liberation at having the freedom to call him whatever she desired without fear of being rude. "Belvedere, Ohio, remember?"
"Shut up! You're making me miss this!"
Indeed, in their bickering, they had missed some of the dialogue. Grudgingly, both averted their attention back to the scene in front of them.
"Why do you think he removes their skins, Agent Starling? Thrill me with your acumen."
"It excites him. Most serial killers keep some sort of trophies from their victims."
"No...no, you ate yours."
"Ouch," Krendler commented. "You're quick on the uptake."
Dr. Lecter had winked at her and was studying the questionnaire. Starling inwardly flinched. What was coming up had haunted her dreams for years, and though she didn't want to, she knew she had to hear it again. Even worse, she knew this would give Krendler the thrill of his...after-life.
Sure enough, here it came. "Oh, Agent Starling, you think you can dissect me with this blunt little tool?"
"No," came her amateur, unlearned reply. "I thought that your knowledge would-"
"You're sooo ambitious, aren't you...? You know what you look like to me, with your good bag and your cheap shoes? You look like a rube. A well-scrubbed, hustling rube, with a little taste... Good nutrition has given you some length of bone, but you're not more than one generation from poor white trash, are you, Agent Starling...? And that accent you're trying so desperately to shed: pure West Virginia. What was your father, dear? Was he a coal miner? Did he stink of the lamp? And oh, how quickly the boys found you! All those tedious, sticky fumblings, in the back seats of cars, while you could only dream of getting out, getting anywhere. Getting all the way to the F...B...I..."
Tears stung her eyes, as they had on multiple occasions, remembering those biting words. This was not helped with Krendler's sudden burst of laughter. Ignoring him, Starling instead swallowed her pain and averted her eyes to the shadow of herself for reaction. She was pleased to see herself holding her ground. It was as if she expected even *that* girl to burst into tears, even if she knew that wasn't what occurred. How glad she was that she walked away from Dr. Lecter dry-eyed.
Well, she thought, eying Miggs uncomfortably. So to speak.
"You see a lot, Doctor," she was saying. "But are you strong enough to point that high-powered perception at yourself? How about it, why don't you look at yourself and write down what you see? Maybe you're afraid to."
"Zinger!" hooted Krendler. "God Starling, you really are a bitch."
But she wasn't paying attention. Her eyes were captured in the surprised gaze of Dr. Lecter's pupils, and she felt herself, for the first time, reveling in the knowledge of what price such respect came at. He didn't issue it lightly. And this time, though the shadow of herself did, she didn't flinch when he slammed the food carrier back to her.
"A census taker once tried to test me. I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti."
"Tastified!" Krendler quipped as Dr. Lecter slurped.
Starling snorted and indicated the missing crown of his head once more. "You're not one to talk there, buddy."
"You fly back to school now, little Starling. Fly fly fly, fly fly fly..." And Lecter's back was to them. She watched as she stood, gathered her briefcase, and started back up the hallway.
And then here it came. Miggs's howling, rolling in agony on the cot. "I bit my wrist so I can die! ...Look at the blood!"
Aim. Set. Bullseye!
The only thing worse from watching it from this perspective was the uninhibited laughter from Krendler. Seriously, she thought he would bust a gut, but then remembered he was already dead, before likewise recalling that she wouldn't care, even if he weren't.
As Dr. Lecter yelled at her to come back (Starling watching her own face, remembering the thought that arose: What do I want this much?), she turned to Krendler and said, "Enough of this shit. What did that have to do with anything?"
Having recovered from his hysterics, the ghost sneered at her in a failed attempt to make her feel three-inches tall. "You're supposed to figure it out, Starling. Now come on. We gotta train to catch."
And as she saw herself running down the hallway, Starling felt the ground beneath her feet vanish once more. Then they were going forward. It was a short trip, and she found herself outside a cage in Memphis.
The dialogue was in precision. They arrived just in time to hear him say, "People will say we're in love."
"Ah, so I can finally see what went down here," Krendler said smugly. For years, he had accused her of performing for the doctor in order to obtain Buffalo Bill's identity. Starling looked at him with an arched brow and shrugged, knowing he would learn nothing outside what was already known.
Thus, this conversation proved amusing, simply for Krendler's disappointed expression. It wasn't until Pembry and Boyle were dragging her away that Starling became apprehensive. She heard Dr. Lecter call back for her, saw herself running for her case file, and even then, standing from the side, out of sight, she felt herself shiver with the touch they shared.
And before she could recollect herself and gloat at Krendler, they were headed forward again. This time, they traveled far, far enough for her to speculate that they were not revisiting any more memories from his custody.
No, the next and last place they stopped was achingly familiar. It was only a few months in her past.
Unfortunately, they arrived too late for her to witness the actual sawing of Krendler's head, but watching his dumbfound expression left her with a sensation quite unlike that her shadow was sharing. Instead, Starling started laughing, started, and couldn't stop. It was so deliciously rich!
"Who's Clarice?" the shadow-Krendler asked, increasing her hysterics.
"Agent Starling, Paul. If you can't keep up with the conversation, you better not join in at all."
"I must admit," she said to Krendler, who was fuming, touching the top of his head now as if he only just realized it wasn't there. "This is rather enjoyable. Gives me new perspective."
"Given the chance, you would deny me my life, wouldn't you?"
"Not your life."
Starling felt her insides churn. This was something else she didn't care to remember.
"My freedom, just that, you'd take that from me? And if you did, would they have you back, do you think? The FBI? Those people you despise almost as much as they despise you? Would they give you a medal, Clarice, do you think? Would you have it professionally framed and hang it on your wall was a reminder of your courage and incorruptibility?" A beat, a sad smile, and for the first time, she felt herself ache. "All you would need for that, Clarice, is a mirror."
The expression on his face tugged at her heartstrings, something she hadn't expected. She suddenly felt very cold, very alone. Remorse inevitably set in, and Starling thought she might start to cry, had Krendler's shadow not interrupted.
"I had plans for that smart mouth but there ain't no way I'm gonna hire...yous now..."
And just like that, she was laughing again. The expression on the Krendler beside her was enough to keep her giggling for the next decade. Instead, she found herself whisked quickly to the kitchen. Inside, she saw herself pressed against the refrigerator. Starling had to regulate her breathing, knowing her guide would go nuts over the next part. Oddly, this she approached without trepidation.
She saw the look on her face and had the sudden desire to march over to herself and slap her silly.
"I came halfway around the world to watch you run, Clarice. Let me run, hmm?"
"How touching," Krendler commented, trying to regain dignity. But she wasn't paying attention.
Starling watched as she lunged forward again and was wrestled back. Her hair disappeared into the refrigerator door, and her breath hitched in her throat.
"Tell me, Clarice...would you ever say to me, stop? If you loved me, you'd stop?"
"Not in a thousand years."
Starling's stomach churned. The disconcerting temptation to hit her shadow struck her again, though she avoided it. Why should she lash out at the truth, especially if it was a truth she still believed in?
"Not in a thousand years?" He leaned in close. "That's my girl."
The commentary that Dr. Lecter's kiss arose from Krendler went ignored. Instead, Starling watched herself cuff him, watched the events that followed with a flinch, and shuddered. It wasn't until the shadow of the doctor had hurried out of the room that she realized she was crying. This disturbed her more than anything she had seen tonight, for she didn't know herself to shed tears often. The source of these tears terrified her, and while her guide jested at her, she didn't hear him. All she knew was she was crying, aching, and there was nothing she could do about it.
When the teasing finally stopped and her outburst calmed, Starling breathed slowly and opened her eyes. She was surrounded in the warmth of her room, dressed in jeans and a sweatshirt but enveloped in her blankets.
Hot tears skated down her cheeks, and she angrily brushed them away.
"Fool!" she hissed at herself. "Getting worked up over nothing! It was a dream! Go back to sleep!"
In the minutes that followed, emitting deep breaths, she calmed and reclined on the mattress. Her thoughts jumbled, though she didn't dare try to justify why she would have reacted so violently, even if it were a dream. All she wanted to do was sleep and forget, sleep and forget.
Then the clock chimed two.
Part 1 of 4
copyright 2001, by
Feedback to Author
1 of 4 |
2 of 4 l
3 of 4 l
4 of 4