The bullets leave the chamber faster than his ears can register the cacophonic bang resulting from breaking the sound barrier. How many shots are there? Two? Three? It's hard to tell. After the first one, all sound is dulled by his ringing ears and the realization of what he’s just done.
I shot a man.
He was a serial killer.
He had a family.
Half of which he killed and who knows
if the other half is going to make it.
Even while deafened, Will feels Garret Jacob Hobbs’ lead-ridden body hit the linoleum floor with a reverberating thud. Blood already oozing its way out through the threads of his shirt, dripping and pooling around the slackened body like melted ice cream on summer pavement. Or the coating of a candied apple. Sticky red but lacking in sweet decadence.
I did this. This is what a human life ending
looks like. This is what murder feels like.
It’s justice. It isn’t murder.
He can’t focus on that now, all that matters is stopping the bleeding from Hobbs’ daughter’s neck. Pressure on the wound. Wait for paramedics. Why won’t she stop bleeding? His hands fidget, shaking against her gasping throat. He’s literally holding her life in his hands when his eyes meet Hobbs’ again.
“See?” the man manages, barely above a whisper.
What is Will supposed to see? Other than what it’s like to feel like a murderer. To feel like a killer. To see the rushing panic in Abigail Hobbs’ eyes as her blood spatters the kitchen floor like an animal at slaughter. To feel like he is the butcher killing her as his slick with blood hands won’t stay put on her neck. But Hobbs has no answer. His eyes just go dull and his body slackens. Dead.
It was never his intention that anyone would die. Not Hobbs. Not his wife. And definitely not this young girl. He just wants to save her, save someone. God, there’s so much blood. Hannibal Lecter assists just in time as Will’s panic begins to set in at the notion that he’s going to fail her. His hands exacting, Hannibal calmly removes Will’s twitching fingers to place a palm over her bloody neck and securely holds it there until help can arrive. And he remains collected, stoic even, in opposition to Will who’s still having difficulty breathing at a regular rate.
If Hannibal wasn’t here...he shudders at the thought.
The EMTs take Abigail Hobbs away, her prognosis: better than dead. All Will can do is stare through his glasses speckled with the late Garret Jacob Hobbs’ blood. Like a dusty window looking into a dirty, evil world, one he didn’t want to see right then.
“You’ve blood on your hands, Will,” Hannibal’s voice echoes next to him, waking him from his stupor only to jab painfully at the guilt in his stomach.
Blood on my hands.
“Here,” Hannibal adds and presses a fresh wipe into his hand that he must have gotten from an EMT.
Right. Literally blood on my hands.
Wiping them does little to alleviate the strain in his gut, the uneasy feeling of illness wanting to creep its way out of his throat. He doesn’t feel clean but it’s nice to get the tacky substance off his fingers and out of the creases of his hands. He removes his glasses and swipes at the lenses but all that does is make it worse. It just smears the blood on his view of the flashing lights and rushing crime scene techs. All a very real reminder of the crime that transpired there.
It was murder. I can’t kid myself.
You were saving someone. You saved her
from him, didn't you? And others too.
Nice bedtime story...but it doesn’t
change what I am. What I did.
He won’t sleep well tonight. Or any night ever again, he thinks pessimistically. Yes, he gets into the minds of killers every day but he’s never actually...pulled the trigger. Two fingers of whiskey won’t be enough tonight.
Hannibal doesn’t stay much longer, opting to join Abigail on her ride to the hospital. He is a doctor but how he could help is beyond Will. This leaves him alone at the house of the Minnesota Shrike, surrounded by noise and bustling cops. Collecting evidence, making assumptions, commenting on the depravity of it all. But they don’t have to live with it in their heads every waking and sleeping moment.
I envy them their blissful ignorance.
But you saved someone today didn’t you?
Wasn’t that worth it, Will?
Mocked by my own thoughts.
Even with Hannibal long gone down the road to whatever hospital awaited Abigail, Will feels like the psychiatrist is still there. Standing next to him. His eyes contemplative. His mouth slightly pursed as he composes a question in his mind. A deft hand adjusting the cuff of his suit.
“How do you feel, Will?”
He can almost hear his analytical psycho spiel for tomorrow. For when he inevitably drops by out of regret, or sadness, or whatever conglomeration of emotions beats him down in the night, just to get some of Hannibal’s insight. Advice on how to handle this...sickening feeling of guilt.
“I feel like shit, Dr. Lecter,” he finally answers, hours later while seated on his bed at home.
The shower did little to help. It hid the evidence of the crime but not the dirty feeling covering his mind, like an invisible veil clinging to his skin. Unseeable but the feeling lingers on his body with each step and breath. Even the dogs give him pitying whines as he drinks his nightcap. And then another. And then one more.
Anything to drown out the sounds of sirens like screams outside his windows. Anything to reduce his vision to blurs and base shapes instead of the very clear image of Hobbs staring him down. Asking him if he sees . Blood pouring out of each hole Will put in him. Ten holes. God he shot the man ten times before he went down. Above and beyond what was necessary to end him. He just couldn’t seem to stop.
Because I was afraid.
For myself. And others.
Is that so?
Perhaps part of you enjoyed it.
No. I couldn’t help it.
I couldn’t stop.
You couldn’t help yourself.
You wouldn’t stop.
They aren’t the same, Will.
Think about it more carefully
“Shut up, Doctor,” he grumbles, thinking the last line of thoughts sounds vaguely like him.
He drinks down another gulp, this time foregoing the glass altogether and taking the bottle by the neck. His head splits at the roaring sounds of more sirens and swirling vision. Alcohol probably makes it worse but at this point he has no other respite. His only hope as he tucks in is that the drink will allow sleep without a single thought in his head and that he’ll wake on a new day with only copious amounts of vomiting to look forward to.
He wouldn’t have to think about murderers. Or girls impaled on antlers. Or each of the deafening shots that went into Garret Jacob Hobbs. And most of all, he wouldn’t have to ruminate on the idea, the dubious notion, that only one of those voices could be right about how it felt to kill a man.
And he wasn’t entirely sure which one it was.
CHAPTER 1: The First Night
Fog. It's the only thing he sees upon waking. There’s so much of it. Thick enough to hide everything beyond a few feet. No shadows in the distance, just never ending fog, inserting a certain uneasiness in his body right down to his toes.
All color is gone as well. Nothing but greys and whites floating through the air. And now he realizes it’s not so much fog anymore as it is ashes or spores drifting through space to conceal all that is beyond. He wants to cover his mouth, to stop breathing it in, but figures it matters little. It’s not real.
Where am I dreaming?
A single step makes hardly a sound. The atmosphere feels muffled, so much so that even breathing feels muted. The ‘hello?’ from his mouth doesn’t seem to travel more than a yard and trying for a louder one gets much the same response. No sound from any direction.
His foot plunges down with a little splash. Looking shows water surrounding him, no more than foot deep. The fog doesn’t clear by much but enough that he can see where he is. The river. The one he always visits in his dreams when in need of relief. The familiarity brought him small comfort.
Sound begins to melt back into existence, slowly with a ripple at a time. Running water. Grumbling bedrock as he takes a step. The swish of water as his boots cut through the bend. Color returns only slightly to give the dirt and muck under the current a brown tint. The fog dissipates enough to show the bank of the river, thick with dark grasses and leafless shrubs.
Everything is colorless and dead. The comfort he felt from recognizing the place disappears and even more so when a bright new color catches his eye. A streaming line of red travels towards him in the water, small at first but growing in thickness and opacity as he goes to his knees to inspect closer. His fingers swirl through the water before he brings one to his lips with a lick.
It's odd he admits but not out of the ordinary. He’s had worse dreams, making this relatively tame. No sooner does he shrug it off that something new makes it’s way down the river with the blood. Perfectly cut portions of meat floating down the stream. And now the river grows thicker, more copious with blood. Whatever it is, it’s coming from up river.
He steps forward, sloshing through the rapid current. With each step the water becomes thicker and more crimson the further he goes until the viscosity is much like blood. It sticks to and stains his pants, sick splashes flinging speckles of red to his fingertips.
On the bank he sees creatures stopping for a drink. Deer bending their heads to the surface and drinking up the ‘water’. They don’t take notice of him or the morbid contents of their drink, only raising their heads on occasion to take in their surroundings, blood dripping from their maws. It’s unsettling to say the least and only now does the strangeness of it all began to affect Will.
A new sound alerts him to something upstream. Chopping noises. The kerplunk of something tossed into the water. A content humming. Coming out of the fog, a table comes into focus with a man standing at it. His body leaning over a large mass splayed out and bloody. Once he’s close enough to see, it’s enough to sicken him.
Garret Jacob Hobbs.
He cuts into the corpse of a young girl, not unlike his daughter. Hair clinging to her neck where she was bled dry. Limbs limp and hanging off the table edge with muscle sections expertly removed. Eyes open with her last begging plea of fear etched on her pretty face. The poor girl slaughtered like a common animal.
Hobbs looks up, noticing Will's approach, and gives him a smile. He gestures for Will to come closer. To see. And Will feels compelled to acquiesce, his feet stepping forward automatically.
But as he approaches he sees a mound. A pile of bodies behind Hobbs, stripped of nearly all the usable flesh. More girls, but these have something written in all caps, carved deep into them. 'NOT HER’.
“Abigail…” Will remembers her name with a whisper. “They’re not Abigail…”
Garrett Jacob Hobbs suddenly hunches over the body he's working on with a frustrated huff, his energy no longer inviting at the realization that the girl in front of him really isn't her. Isn't the one he wants to carve. He stabs violently down hard into the carcass. His anger at Will palpable for reminding him of this. His hand clutches tight on the handle of the blade, the other grips hard on the table edge as his anger shakes his tense body.
The sirens start again, sudden and sharp, buckling Will down to the ground. He scrambles to protect his hearing. God he can feel the blood rushing to his ears and pouring out from between his fingers. The water churns by their feet and the table darkens to a stark maroon, like it’s being painted with blood. But that isn't what has Will's eyes. The water behind Hobbs bubbles at first like a pot on the boil but it blackens to that of an oily tar pit.
And something rises out of it…
Hobbs doesn't turn. He can't see. The horns rising out of the murky depths. Inky ooze dripping thick off each point of the antlers. A solemn face with eyes solid black just like the rest of his thin starved looking body.
Even with all the noise in his ears and his inability to think clearly Will’s body tells him exactly what to think of this new creature. His skin is riddled with goosebumps, his heart thumps hard in his chest, his legs beg him to run.
Dangerous. Not safe here.
It steps closer and Will begs his legs to move. Another step brings more screams in his mind, some of them his own, shouting for him to run. The louder it got the further down Will's head went, shaking in pain and fear, until it nearly touches the thick bloody water.
Would the water dull the sharp sirens and screams? Could he drown himself in blood and avoid the wrath of this--monster? What happens if one dies in a dream?
Dizziness and nausea overwhelm him before he can look up to see how close it is. He falls forward with a sick splash, choking on the poisoned river…
With a gasp Will shoots up out of his bed. Coughing and wheezing, he tries to expel the blood not in his lungs, eventually resulting in him bending over the sink heaving up nothing but booze and bile.
How are you feeling, Will?
He takes a deep breath, expecting another expulsion but nothing arrives. After a few more relaxing breaths he spits, rinses his mouth and the sink, and looks at himself in the mirror.
“Alive,” he sighed. “I feel alive, Doctor”