Post Tenebras Lux
copyright 2002, by
Clevergirl & Glimmerdark
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created by Thomas
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The stars are bright tonight, undimmed by the moon’s showy glow. Orion rises once more in his stately jeweled dance, and it is a year since I first asked you about your lambs. I have yet to receive your answer.
Patience, like an unwashed ascetic, grows thin.
The screams of the Tattler have died down, as they have found new lies to weave and new webs to spin. We’re no longer a front-page story. Have you forgotten, too?
And have your colleagues? My prison is but a distant memory. Yours is closing in, enveloping you with every passing day, I imagine, and wonder once more what it is that you do with your rage. Do you build half-arches, and mourn them when they fall? Do you lie on your tousled bed at night, fighting the dreams that come only to shatter?
So many questions, little Starling.
I’m curious about the fate of my last missive. Does it rest inside some cardboard box, deep in the bowels of the Bureau? Or in the back of an orderly drawer, in a different sort of cabinet? Or is it perhaps ashes on a lonely road? Any of these could explain your curious hesitation. I wonder which is true.
I’ll give you another chance, Clarice, to keep the world interesting. In the Tattler on the first of the month there will be an ad that will give you what you need. I’d read carefully if I were you.
Hannibal Lecter, M.D.
In the Tattler Classifieds, under “Astrology”:
TIGER EYES ASTROLOGY: Do people say you’re in love? Find out for sure with our synastry charts, matching your stars with that special person in your life. Cheap! $9.99. Send birth info to: P.O. Box 2345, Las Vegas, NV 89132
Ha ha. Very funny. You even managed to get something of the good Doctor's style there. What, are things so boring at the LV office these days that you have to resort to practical jokes? Pretty sly, except for the fact that you didn't refer to anything that anyone who'd slapped on a visitor's pass at Quantico wouldn’t know. No way I could keep that letter or any of my debriefs private - even though I would have liked to. They got passed around more than Sarah Hollings at one of our first year parties - remember her? She ended up marrying Stevie last March, by the way, and strangely enough they are expecting a baby in August. Go figure, huh?
So anyway, you'll have to do better than that, chum. That dog ain't gonna hunt. I have a hard time imagining Doctor Lecter waiting breathlessly by the mailbox for my reply. The man is most likely relaxing in a charming café somewhere like Portofino, still savoring his victory over us and enjoying the sun. If he thinks of me at all, I'm sure it is only to smile at how green a rookie I used to be. And how easy I was to manipulate.
You worried about me? Things are going fantastic here, really. I'm keeping up the running (- I can STILL beat your ass!), and Johnny seems to think me taking the combat pistol Championship for the third time is a cinch. Looks like a new job might be opening up in Behavioral under Jack Crawford after all; at least he keeps talking like there will be.
Fortunately for me not everyone is as much as a pig as Krendler. That particular creepo has been too busy oiling his way through Washington to give me much grief these days. Knock on wood.
So, thank you for the mild heart attack. You got me going there for a sec, ol' pal. Play a couple hands of stud for me at the Flamingo, okay? The monthly marathons here just aren't the same since you transferred. Nobody else can bluff for shit.
Ardie would send her love if she had any to spare; per usual she's off gallivanting while I stay here doing laundry. Along with being pure of heart, my clothes are always spotless. Yeah, riiiiiight.
Great hearing from you, Binks, in any form. And remember, always CYA.
You must indeed be pure of heart (though vulgar of pen) to have shared every moment of our brief times together with Jackie Boy. Do you recall the look on his face when you told him about your sticky fumblings in the back seats of cars? Did he offer some sage words of wisdom, plucked directly from Bartlett’s Quotations, when he heard about your father and his short-shucked shotgun? Did he hold your hand and pat your shoulder in a kindly way when you told him about waking up in the iron dark, hearing the awful screaming of the lambs?
Denial is useful only for so long.
Apparently I am at a disadvantage here. You choose to disbelieve the shudder that went through you, the involuntary intake of breath that filled your lungs when your eyes first scanned my words. Very well. You pretend to need a bit more in the way of proof? Then you’ll have to give me a little more to go on. What could possibly convince you?
Though I rather enjoyed the glimpse past your careful shutters, I would rather not waste time hearing about the undoubtedly fascinating former Miss Hollings when I could instead be hearing about you. So tell me soon, little Starling, how I can sway you, lest I be tempted to renege on my promise, as you have on yours.
Hannibal Lecter, M.D.
It is you.
I don't need more proof, Doctor, than the angry disdain that poured out of every word you wrote.
What was it that bothered you most, I wonder? Was it that I assumed anything connected with you had to be some sort of trick to screw up my life again? Was it the possibility that I hadn't been stumbling along through my life here without you to guide me? Or was it that maybe, just maybe you never understood me as well as you thought you did?
You should, however, remember enough about me to know that I don't respond well to threats. Life must really be getting dull if you have to resort to such tactics. Care to tell me where you are right now?
Did it ever occur to you that even though the media noise has quieted down, I still live with the knowledge that my stupidity contributed to your escape and the death of five people? I know you used me, Doctor, to gain your freedom. I was naive enough to hand over pieces of my life in exchange for information. You knew immediately who the killer was, but while Catherine Martin was shivering in that black pit you toyed with me for your own amusement. I have a hard time forgetting that.
You are right in one regard - I have been a lousy correspondent. Maybe it was because I've been followed and pestered and hounded for the past year, and every one of my actions has been pulled apart and analyzed with much less finesse (and much less success, you'll be pleased, I'm sure, to know) than you ever used. Maybe I'm tired of looking over my shoulder. Maybe I don't feel much like being just another one of your experiments. And maybe... maybe I was unable to give you a straight answer to either one of your questions.
Let me ask you something, Doctor. What would make you happy?
p.s. You know I didn't tell Crawford any of those things. As far as your gallant reference to 'sticky fumblings' goes... those were your words, Doctor, not mine.
My, my. At least you’ve answered one of my questions. It must have felt good to get that out of your system. Your courage, at least, has not deserted you.
Perhaps, if you tried hard enough, you could manage to blame yourself for the fall of Rome and the Black Plague, too. Would you be so kind as to tell me in what manner you could possibly be responsible for my actions? And, while you’re at it, riddle me this, Clarice: who among your Bureau brethren could have done as well as you did?
No false modesty here, Agent Starling. The lies you spin for yourself simply won’t do for me. I imagine you up to your neck in Lysol and bleach, scrubbing at invisible spots in your lonely house, clinging to the mop to keep from… stumbling. Is that at all accurate? But still, when you’ve cleaned everything there is to clean and mended all that you can mend, that imagined blemish on your stainless soul will still be there. It won’t go away until you puzzle out the real reason behind your guilt.
To answer your question, Clarice, I am happy. I have my view. A glass of wine when I want it, good food, a wandering stroll — all the sundry pleasures of the flesh to take or to leave, however I desire.
Is it less than gallant of me to wish the same happiness for my worthy opponent?
Hannibal Lecter, M.D.
P.S.— Oh, and Clarice… you needn’t worry about a straight answer. Any answer at all will do. Quite nicely, I imagine.
Excuse me, but your Catholic roots are showing. I love the image you seem to have of me - some sort of Virgin Mary holding an Immaculate Heart in one hand and a toilet brush in the other? Talk about denial - sir, you are the master. If a person or an emotion or a memory doesn't suit, they simply cease to exist, don't they? Why do you insist upon believing that I am unhappy? Does the thought of me being fine - better than fine, in
fact - disappoint you?
I learned from what happened a year ago - I was baptized in the fire, you might say. And I learned the danger of mistaking understanding for empathy.
I should have understood you well enough to not try and trick you.
I should have stood up to Crawford and refused to make you the false offer.
I should have put Chilton in traction before I let him take you.
I should have been faster or smarter or fiercer or braver.
Now I am.
You want to know what I do with my rage, Doctor? Ok. I embrace it like a lover. It keeps me warm at night and sharp like I have to be during the day in order to survive.
And the lambs only scream when I sleep alone.
I must thank you for that charming image. “Heart of love, heart of mercy, ever listening, caring, consoling…” Your mercy is cleaning up this world, Clarice, one brimming toilet of humanity at a time. Or would you disagree? I’m sure our Mr. Gumb wouldn’t.
So, at last we come to answers. You’ve grown even more slippery, Agent Starling, in addition to being faster, smarter, fiercer, and braver. The Clarice who visited me in the dungeon would never have dared to think that such a slanted reply would suit.
Of course, I don’t think that you do, either. But I’m content to let those sleeping dogs lie for now, as there is another matter I’d like to attend to first.
Indulge me a moment. I’d like you to get out your FBI identification, Clarice, and look at it. And spare yourself the argument, because you won’t win. The picture is almost a year old, now. Now look at yourself in the mirror. Tell me, what do you see? Oh, and before you get out the Windex, gaze into your own eyes and say the words “I am happy.”
With your grasp of psychology I’m sure I don’t have to tell you what that quick glance to the left meant. But this too, I will let lie, if you can tell me that you are happy. You haven’t yet, you know.
I’ll be awaiting your reply with great interest.
Hannibal Lecter, M.D.
P.S. – While it is indeed true that understanding and empathy are two quite discrete concepts, it is possible, though difficult, for them to coexist. I believe you have more knowledge than most in this particular area.
I imagine you penning these little notes with a glass of...what? Chambolle-Musigny? beside you. Or would it be a mellow Tapada do Chaves? Somehow I can't see Leibfraumilch suiting your palate. Is the sun warm on your back? Can you smell the sun and the sea? Perhaps you stop to muse a moment at the passing scene and puff a cigar or a cigarette - have you taken up bad habits, Doctor?
I've been trying hard to figure out just what it is you want out of this...extended correspondence of ours. Per your request, I look in the mirror and I see a different woman, certainly, from the one whose picture you scrutinized so carefully through the glass. I see someone who has made some choices, just as you have, in terms of what to keep and what to throw away. I see someone who still believes she has a job to do. Were you hoping I would break down weeping in some god-awful epiphany? You couldn't make me cry a year ago - why should you want to now?
Am I happy?
I roll the question around on my tongue and try it out.
Honestly, Doctor? If you've never had a popsicle, you can't miss a popsicle.
Why does it matter to you?
Really, Agent Starling, you amaze me. Certainly you push credulity to the outer limits. Are you asking me to believe that you’ve never in your life had a “popsicle?”
Come now. We had such a lovely rapport in our talks between bars. Questions were asked and questions were answered. Oh, certainly, there was a feint here or there, to add a little fun to the exchange, but you never attempted such clumsy evasions. This mawkish, maudlin streak hardly becomes you, Clarice. It’s like adding seltzer to a nice Château Cheval-Blanc. It won’t do.
Ah, yes, but there was something to be gained last time, you say? How mercenary and predictable of you. This could be quite the win-win situation, if you’d only see it.
Close your eyes and cast your mind back, Clarice. If you try hard enough, I’m sure you can recall a summer day, so hot the pavement burned underneath your unshod feet, and the cold pleasure and pain of a cherry popsicle against your tongue. Do you remember the sweetness? The sticky syrup on your chin? How you saved the sticks and brought them home to be washed and used to build a fort or a castle?
Don’t try to tell me a girl as intelligent as you are never found a way to get a lick off a “popsicle,” Clarice. We all want “popsicles.” Your problem is that you think that you don’t deserve a “popsicle,” that if you give up your “popsicle” there will be more for all the other little boys and girls. And maybe someday someone will give you a “popsicle” in return for all your sacrifices in the past. Unfortunately that’s not exactly how it works, is it?
But perhaps you tire of this correspondence. If you’d like to go back to the kiddie pool, well, then, please accept my apologies and my good wishes for your future. On the other hand, if you’d like to listen to that voice within you that wants to jump in the deep end, we can continue our conversation. Sans the schoolgirl drama.
Hannibal Lecter, M.D.
Leave it to you to take a simple metaphor and turn it into a deadly weapon. Did I touch a nerve? All I meant was that I have an aversion to saying, "I'm happy." It seems that as soon as that phrase is spoken, circumstances change and the feeling is lost. It's such an ephemeral thing. So often it simply slides into complacency and boredom, wouldn't you say?
I read Marcus Aurelius upon your recommendation, you know. Here's a quote that stuck with me:
If you work at that which is before you, following right reason seriously, vigorously, calmly without allowing anything else to distract you, but keeping your divine part pure, as if you might be bound to give it back immediately; if you hold to this, expecting nothing, fearing nothing, but satisfied with your present activity according to nature . . . you will be happy.
And there is no man who is able to prevent this.
Of course he also said:
The nature of the Universe loves nothing so much as to change the things that are and to make new things like them. For everything that exists is in a manner the seed of that which will be.
What I've been trying to tell you, Doctor, is that I'm not the same rookie you knew back then. I honestly don't think you would want me to be. What happened, what you did for me and to me…it changed me. I am equally beholden to you and angry - does that make sense?
There is another feeling, an emotion just as intense, and perhaps not quite so fleeting as happiness. You asked me once, Doctor, how I felt when I found that head in Raspail's car, when I "unwrapped" your Valentine. Do you remember? Do you remember what I told you? I felt the same thing when I finally understood - when you helped me to understand - what Gumb was doing, and why.
Perhaps not so strangely, I felt it in the last moment we shared, back in Memphis.
I feel it now.
I'm a strong swimmer, by the way.
It’s plain a nerve was touched, though I can’t fathom why you’d think it was mine. It seems to me that you have difficulty admitting that you’re unhappy, rather than the reverse. Do you know why that is? I wonder.
I’m gratified that you’ve found the good old Meditations interesting reading. There’s quite a bit of gold hidden in his dross, and here’s one I think worth your time.
Through not observing what is in the mind of another a man has seldom been seen to be unhappy; but those who do not observe the movements of their own minds must of necessity be unhappy.
Do you see the inherent paradox? And what do you make of it?
One more question, Clarice, which you might find useful.
Either it is a well-arranged universe or a chaos huddled together, but still a universe. But can a certain order subsist in thee, and disorder in the All?
You are an excellent athlete, Agent Starling, when you permit yourself to be. I note that you’ve yet to be assigned to assist my good friend Jack in his muddling of the waters in the august Behavioral Science division. What is it that you are doing now? Drug busts, wire-tapping, all sorts of tedious makework? One would think you’ve put up enough of an ante to get a seat at the table. How do you feel about that, Clarice?
And finally, permit me to connect the dots… you are understandably angry with me. And you embrace your rage like a lover. Does it keep you enough company to lull the lambs to sleep?
Hannibal Lecter, M.D.
Dear Doctor Lecter,
It has occurred to me more than once that the reason you stopped practicing psychiatry on paying patients and started eliminating them was simply that you got tired of listening to people whine. I've no desire to burden you with my problems, Doctor. Frankly, I don't think they are serious enough to keep you entertained.
I prefer to think that any unhappiness I do feel is just the grit of dissatisfaction that will keep me going. Of course I thought things would be different…better, somehow. That the moment of having it all come together would have not only lasted, but would have built upon itself. In my more paranoid moments I think a few toes I stepped on in that race to find Gumb may still be smarting. I have to keep proving myself over and over, it seems - not just to the Bureau or to Mr. Crawford, but to myself.
Do I have to prove myself to you as well?
You know as well as anyone that patience has never been my strong suit. But all I have been able to do so far is to keep playing the game as best I can…and to try to keep a better poker face when I gauge the hand I am dealt.
I can almost hear your mind racing over gambling metaphors, Doctor. I'll save you the trouble.
Is it time for a new game?
One of the caveats of our former discussions was, as you've noted, a certain give and take. I think I'm getting the short end of that stick here. I'm not trying to be coy - you know your answers have always intrigued me. These letters have provided more stimulation, more food for thought, more aggravation and more…fun? than any face to face encounter I've had all year. But you knew that too.
You always struck me as a man who is crystal clear about what he really wants, even if extremely circuitous in letting others in on the secret. And so I'll rephrase the query: What do you still look for when you turn your gaze up to the stars at night? What spurs you on, Doctor? What do you still…seek?
Perhaps this answer to the final question you posed will help you to clarify.
In a word, no.
I am mightily tempted to frame that last letter of yours and send it off to Jack. You did in a page what he hasn’t been able to do in a lifetime. Still, I hear his heart isn’t what it used to be, and I prefer a known variable in that particular post, so I think I’ll just hold on to it.
Thank you, Clarice, for finally answering my question. I would wager, if you’ll forgive the blunt intrusion, that no matter who is sharing your bed, you always sleep alone.
And yes, you would prefer to see your present dissatisfaction with life and its wonders as useful… rather than as a sign that you are not what you’re supposed to be. Since you're seeking answers, then, let me point you to wherein lies the rub. What would your daddy say, do you suppose, if you could tell him how you feel right now?
If you still need to prove things to yourself, Agent Starling, worrying about what I think should be quite secondary.
You asked what it is that I… seek. I should properly leave that as an exercise for the student, however, in the spirit of quid pro quo, I’ll give you a bit of help.
Think of Orpheus. I’ll be interested to discover what you can piece together.
I think it’s high time for a new game.
Hannibal Lecter, M.D.
Orpheus. Hmmm. There's never an easy answer with you, is there? Or is there?
I was tempted, of course, to simply reply, "Go to Hell" and leave it at that - but I'm not sure how well my sense of humor translates these days.
Do you see me as Eurydice then?
Or am I the lyre you play upon?
The Maenad that tears your flesh?
Or the Muse who buries and mourns you?
There's also the chance that you see me as my own Orpheus AND Eurydice. Along with Hades, Cerberus, the rocky path and a sulfurous pit or two thrown in for good measure.
In this case, however, I'll risk laying odds on the side of Occam.
One thing I remember from the story, Doctor, is that Orpheus made the journey himself to reclaim Eurydice. He charmed the rocks and stones, he made the beasts of the forest weep, and he braved the terrors of Hell to take her by the hand.
He didn't mail her a map.
Would you ever trust me enough to have me behind you and not look back?
I look forward to your response.
P.S. As to what my father would say - I'm beginning to have the unsettling notion that he'd agree with you on at least one point.
Be careful with that razor. You just might cut yourself.
All wounds aside, though, let’s play with your conceit for a moment, shall we? You’re very quick to place yourself in Hades, and quicker still to malign your absent rescuer. If indeed you do require rescue, Agent Starling, isn’t it to your credit that a map should be sufficient?
It’s true; I am ready for some harrying of Hell, though perhaps not precisely the way you have in mind. You should understand the inclination, having as you do that same dangerous addiction to the thrill of the hunt. Once the quarry has been scented, nothing else has quite the same flavor, does it? But when the hunted hunts the hunter, all the rules change.
I had thought it understood that you were behind me, Clarice. Oh, perhaps not actively in the chase but always at the ready. Am I wrong? And why should I trust you? Though I will call you the next time I’m in the market for a disease-ridden island.
Let’s flip those tables. Would you take it, did I offer you my hand?
I also eagerly anticipate your reply.
Hannibal Lecter, M.D.
You've trusted me long enough with this correspondence to know that whatever happens now is just between us - though my housemate does keep asking me why I've been getting all these letters from 'Las Vegas'. You' re an old friend of Greg's now, in case you were wondering - we met the last time I was out there. I'm in an extremely precarious position here, but I know that you are even more so.
Cards on the table. I've been doing a lot of thinking, Doctor, and this is what I know:
I would like to see you. If I've been reading your letters correctly over these past months, you would like that too.
No metaphor, no myth. No hidden weapons. Just you and me. No retreat. No surrender.
My hand is open and waiting. I look at it and note a very slight tremor.
You once complimented me on my frankness. I hope to hell you still feel the same way now.
Don't look back.
I had believed myself to be beyond surprise. Hubris, really, as you’ve shown. I had always thought, you know, that it would be quite something to know you in private life, yet never expected to have the opportunity.
I cannot know from whence you came by this alchemical gift, to turn ink into gold, to give paper wings. I almost think I am afraid of it… and of you. This is not — precisely — what I’d intended when I wrote to you… is it almost a year ago, now?
Not that it matters. Cards on the table? No metaphor, no myth? No weapons? (I assume you mean more than just the material variety.) Where lies the fun in that? You’re still playing a game, you know. You’re gambling, and everything you have, everything you are, is in the pot. Very well, I’ll call your bluff…
And cry you mercy. Old habits, as you see, die very hard. Though, without weapons, how do you intend to enforce the rules?
Very well. Yes. Having played so well with you, I would like nothing better than to play for you. And to see you. To talk with you.
My hand? Here it is. Come, walk beside me. Then neither of us need look back.
P.S. – I hope you’ll forgive that I have, in point of fact, enclosed a map. Perhaps my sense of humor will suffer in translation, too. You’ll be moved to forgive, I hope, upon seeing where it leads you.
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