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they called me the hyacinth girl.

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 they called me the hyacinth girl.

 

My pop’s got a gun. He keeps it by his bed, wherever that is that night. He don’t like noise unless it’s the tv, but he’s really not so bad about it. He’s just so dog-tired all the time. I try to creep around him, on tip-toes and stuff, when he’s sleeping. He’s got a shotgun and it’s propped up, its muzzle winks at me in the light. It sings to me, when I get tired too. It says nasty things in my ear and I fear. So I go to bed and stop thinking.

I should prolly start thinking again, though, cuz I got my grades back from school yesterday and Mrs. Stevens gave me a D in math. Mrs. Smith recommended me for counseling last year, but I never went. I don’t like people poking around where they shouldn’t. I wish everyone would leave me alone forever. I wish it could just be me and pop and fishing and dogs. We could get water dogs. I’m not gonna show pop my grades. He don’t gotta know, is the thing. It’s not a problem. He’s so dog-tired. I can’t disappoint him.

I love my pop. “Hey, sweetie,” he says to me every night when he gets home from work. “Hey, sweetie.” I love my pop cuz he loves me. I love everyone who loves me. I love dogs. Dogs love everybody. I saw someone hit a dog yesterday and it’s been going on and on in my mind, on loop. I don’t know why someone would do something like that. I don’t understand at all. I’m glad I don’t understand sick things like that.

I still cry when I think about it, though, and I’m crying about it now, because he hit a dog and that’s just plain awful. My pop huffs in his sleep. Mrs. Stevens doesn’t care that the girls make fun of me for not brushing my hair nice. I don’t got a hair brush. I don’t wanna look like them, anyways. Looking like them makes me feel weird. I’m real bad at math, but at least I’m no jerk. I don’t smack dogs. Little doggies, who only wanna love people.

“Wha’ou cryin’ ‘bout?” my pop rumbles across from me, his eyes slitted and winking in the light. Three stars shining at me.

“He’s bad,” I say, making myself small.

“Cryin’ ‘bout some boy?” my pop says, sighing and adjusting himself against his pillow. The tv splashes his silhouette with blues and whites around the edges. The gun hisses.

He ain’t wrong, though it makes me mad when he says stuff like that. It makes me feel squirmy inside, like there’s something wrong and mixed up with my insides, cuz it’s just wrong. Wrong. I dunno. I shrug at him. “I dunno,” I say. “Sorry, pop.”

“It’s fine, sweetie,” he says. “I’m goin’ back to bed now.”

“Kay,” I say.

He turns his back to me, snuffling as he pulls the blanket around his shoulders. I love my pop.

It makes me so upset, though, that man smacking that dog. I squeeze my eyes real tight and try not to think about nothing, but when I close my eyes, I just see that dog, I just see myself staring down at that dog, raising my arm up up above my head. I’m tall and lanky and sixteen, I got kicked out of the corner store for trying to buy cigs with a fake ID, fucking bullshit. Fucking bullshit, man. Fuck that shit. Fuckers. The gun winks at me, like we got a secret. Maybe we do. I could go find that boy, I think. I could go find him, with the gun, and make sure he never hits another fucking mutt just fucking shit dog, go the fuck away you friggin’ mutt, I don’t got time for this shit today, I just want my fucking cigs you

I know why he hit that dog.

-

“You see where my fingers fall when I hold this?” pop says, twisting his wrist this way and that with his hunting knife.

“Uh huh,” I say, craning my neck.

“That’s how you hold a huntin’ knife,” he says.

“Yup,” I say.

He holds it out for me, wraps my too-small fingers around the hilt and I feel ice water in my nervous system, fight or flight screaming to get outta dodge. My breath stutters in staccatos out of my teeth.

“You gotta cut up like this,” he says, voice puffing behind my ear as he moves my arm in a swooping motion.

My eyes are very dry. “Uh huh,” I say.

I love my pop because he loves me. My love’s grown more complicated with age, though. My love’s cooled to fear. “Now see that,” he says, nodding toward the boy on my bed. “You know how you got about that.”

“I do,” I say, shuddering. I can’t tell if I’m excited or repulsed. The boy is a poor excuse for a man, an over-sensitive catastrophe, disheveled and unshaven and hips too wide.

“She looks like you,” pop says to me. “Gonna use every part. Or it’s murder.”

“She does,” I say, my lip wobbling as I stand over him. “She does. She does.”

I wake up, choking and spitting, my heart hammering in my ears, soaked to the bone. Hobbs stands above me, knife poised. I garble out some sort of plea before the antlers gore him.

-

“What did you see,” Lecter says at our session.

“Nothing I understand,” I say.

-

Beverly comes to my office hours with coffee and past-date donuts. “They were half-price,” she says. I take them from her as she settles into the chair opposite.

“So you handed them off to me.”

“Shouldn’t waste them,” she says.

“Oh, no, that’d be a crime,” I murmur.

“So.” She leans forward, planting her elbows on the table. “About the Ripper.”

“What about him.” I hold the coffee up to my face to test the temperature.

“Jack has you on the case?”

“Of course,” I say, a bitterness and a pride battling in my ribcage, hammering at my sternum. “Who else can become serial killers?”

She rolls her eyes. “You don’t become a serial killer, Will. Jeez. Can you lighten up? We’re gonna catch this guy, I promise.”

“I become him,” I say, more to myself than her. An affirmation of the disgusting truth.

Beverly’s smile slips off. I think about how the skin on her face moves. I try not to think about skin any more than I have to. “If this is that bad for you, you should quit.”

“We have to catch him.”

She shrugs. “Just try to stay normal, alright? That’s what we all gotta do.”

I laugh, hollow and dry. “I’m not sure I know what normal is.”

“Normal for you,” she says, tipping a donut at me before biting it. “We all got balances, Graham.”

There’s a normalcy with Beverly, a normalcy that she affords for me, like coffee and stale donuts. I cling to that, cling to my life raft in the ocean, a measured sureness. She is part of my balance. I am no one’s.

I don’t know whether to thank her or tell her I don’t need her help.

But she just smiles at me, sips her coffee, smiles at me, and I settle into that silence, that mutual companionship. I take a swig and reach for a chocolate glaze. We both know I’m saying thank you. And that’s enough, for now.

-

“He’s stuffy,” I say. “Snobby. You know.”

Alana smiles down at her fingers, knotted in her lap. She smells like fake pomegranate and cheap coffee. I think it's sweet, the artificial smell. “He’s certainly not your element, I know, Will.”

“He calculates,” I say.

“He’s a psychiatrist,” she says.

“No,” I say. “He’s a predator.”

Alana’s face falls. “Will,” she says.

“I don’t like him.”

She raised a hand to squeeze the bridge of her nose. “It doesn’t matter what you like, Will. Hannibal is the best therapist I’ve ever seen. And believe me, you need the best.”

“Oh, yeah,” I laugh. “Because you’d feel bad if a psycho like me were put up in an institution.”

“Why do you do that?” she says, face strained. “Why do you have to twist my words like that? Will, you know I don’t think that.”

But I think like that. I don’t say anything. I shrug.

“Oh, Will,” she says, frowning. Oh, Will. I think of my father and his frown. They are similar frowns. They just don’t know what to do with me. For a fleeting moment, I feel helpless with them, before it gives way to pity.

-

Abigail turns her cheek away from me when I come to her hospital bed. I can’t blame her. I killed her father. I killed him. Her father. I shot him with extreme prejudice. The cannibalistic pedophile serial killing fuck. I don’t see. I don’t want to see.

“Hi,” I say, hate the way my voice catches. I fumble with my jacket, sling it over the other arm. Fretting.

Her eyes peek back at me.

“I, uh.” I clear my throat. Feel my heart stutter when I see the bandage along her neck. Remember her blood spitting past my trembling fingers as I cradled her on the floor. “I brought you a book.”

“I already have books,” she says, voice soft and steel.

“Not this book,” I say, trying for an angle, any angle, to bring me into her life, to have her in my life, this girl I killed for, this girl I broke every rule for, intertwined, as her blood still coagulates between my fingers every night as I dream and wake. “It’s a poem book. Easy reading.”

“You read poetry,” she says.

“No,” I say. “I don’t really read at all. I just. I liked this book, when I was. Your age.”

“What kind of poet?” she says.

“Oh, lots,” I say, flipping through it. “Sandburg, Eliot, Angelou, all sorts.”

“I’ve already read those people,” she says.

“Then you’re a lot smarter than I was at your age, Abigail,” I say, setting it on the starched bed, beside her thigh.

I see her grin, a small, shy, broken thing. I ache with a terrible tenderness. There’s a part of myself that I keep warm for people like her, I suppose. My soft underbelly. My humanity. I can see us two, at my house, on a boat, fly-fishing in a river, as she tells me about all the poets she’s read.

Hobbs breaths against my arm, but I try to grasp this moment tight, her face. I want her to have a day where her smiles are no secrets. I want her to have a day where all of this horribleness is behind her. I want us to wade through a river together, for her line to get caught in the tree branches and her to curse like a sailor, free from severe concern.

I imagine if I had raised her, if I could take her home with me, and we could just stay bundled up by the river, our spines to the social world, as we shared in our commiseration and betrayal, showed each other our scars and reveled in companionship.

I just want her to be okay, I think, floundering in the miasma.

She’s flipping through the book now. “I haven’t read Yeats,” she admits.

“Yeats is good,” I say.

“Can’t be as good as Whitman.”

I shrug. “If you’re a Whitman fan, you’re a Whitman fan. I’m afraid I can’t console you, there.”

She arches a brow and it is not out of hate, it is not out of fear, it is not out of manipulation. I feel my cheeks splitting before I can help it. She arches her brow higher.

-

“Serial killers are, by principle, narcissists,” Beverly says, flicking at the protruding ribcage on the slab. “I bet he reads Tattlecrime.”

“Probably,” I snort.

“Which means he knows about you,” she says.

I pause, before shrugging, feeling a helpless chill creep over me. “So what if he does,” I say.

She turns, settling a hand on her hip. “Will.”

“What?”

“You’re a moron.”

I raise a brow, staring down at the body. I can see his gloved hands parting flesh like the red sea. “Tell me something I don’t know.”

“Jack’s gonna catch him,” she says. “And you’re our bloodhound. He won’t like that.”

“You sound paranoid,” I say. “That’s supposed to be me.”

She snickers for a moment, a raise of her lip, but her face falls back to a serious tone. “Just...don’t get in too deep.”

“Believe me,” I say, my hands tearing into Jessica Wood’s sternum, “that’s the last thing I want to do.”

-

I’m wiping down my face, looking up at my cracking mirror, eyes bleary, vision fuzzy around the edges. I feel as though I am dreaming now, and the dream was the reality. The mirror assaults me with judgment. A dead-eyed man stares back me. Hobbs. No. Not Hobbs.

“Who are you,” Will Graham says.

“Better,” the Ripper responds, drying his face. “Elevated.”

“Death,” Will Graham says. “Decay.”

“You mistake me,” the Ripper says.

I close my lips, wounded and amused. My eyes slide past the doorway, crooked in the light, toward my front door. The dogs crowd around the porch. I feel adrift, my anchor cut, my boat trudging through the Pacific. My shirt is damp and cooling against my chest. I think about trespassers. I don’t own a gun. I’d tear their throats out with my teeth, I suppose. The Ripper would like that. He’s meticulous. He’s a god among men. At least he thinks he is. Serial killers tend to be narcissists. He’s really not that special. He’s just smart. He wants me, and that’s why he’ll be caught. He knows he’s being stupid.

Hobbs creaks around my doorway. I should have torn his throat out with my teeth.

“You’re a shit dad,” I mutter.

Hobbs shrugs. I want to laugh, but it’s caught back in my throat, where the Ripper lies.

-

“Hannibal’s been seeing me,” Abigail says, voice light with forced nonchalance.

“Oh?” I say, attempting the same. She’s a better actor than me when it comes to this.

She knots her fingers together. “How did you know?” she says.

“Know what?” I say.

“About my...about me.”

“He was killing girls who looked like his daughter,” I said.

“I’m...” She swallows a lump in her torn up throat. I watch it disappear under her bandage. “I’m not his daughter.”

“You were,” I say.

She chews on her tongue. I want to tell her to stop that, it’s not good for her. I restrain myself. “You don’t think I’m disgusting.”

“No,” I say.

“They don’t call me Abigail, here.”

“I know,” I say.

She looks at me from under her lashes, her cheeks pale and tight.

There is something I should say. I cannot say it. I cannot reassure her in the ways I could. I smile at her, though, with an insurmountable tiredness she is familiar with, has felt, feels.

She doesn’t smile back.

-

“I. Don’t always know who I am,” I say, running a hand through my hair. I want to pace. I don’t. I want to punch something. Lecter’s smug face. I don’t. “I’m afraid I’ll lose myself and never find my way back, someday.”

“It is certainly possible this pure empathy of yours would have given you an unstable identity,” Lecter says, flipping through his notes. “You say you confuse your own body and name, Will? Has that...caused physical repercussions?”

“My transsexuality isn’t a symptom of my empathy,” I say, fingers sliding against the leather chair. I’m older now, much older than I used to be. Much more at peace with my skin. The implication doesn’t threaten me like it once would have.

Lecter notes something. “Likely not,” he says.

“I’ve always had sex dysphoria,” I say. “It’s constant. It doesn’t fluctuate or anything. It’s almost completely better, now. Treatment was effective. Honestly, Dr. Lecter, this is a very mundane problem, considering everything else we’re both dealing with.”

“Naturally,” he says, lips tugging. “Would you say hiding your status has caused any undue stress, however?”

“No,” I say. “It’s freeing. I don’t prefer people knowing.”

“Why?”

I crane my neck up, popping the vertebrae. “Keep this up and you’ll sound like an actual therapist,” I say. “...I just don’t feel like it’s anyone’s business. It’s not a huge part of my life.”

Lecter notes. “You are very solitary, Will,” he says.

“Yup,” I say. The Ripper’s murders play in the back of my skull. They itch, like bleach on my scalp. I rub at my jaw.

“You are post-transition?” Lecter says.

“Whatever the hell that means,” I say.

“You’re very on edge today, Will.”

“I have a penis,” I say.

Lecter doesn’t write anything down. He shifts his head on his neck, loosens his arms. “You find my line of questioning invasive, Will?”

“I find it needless.”

Lecter rubs his hands together, breaks whatever feeble eye contact I had initiated. I had been staring at his right ear. “I apologize,” he says. “I suppose it isn’t relevant.”

“Not to you,” I say. “And not to the Ripper.”

Lecter glances back up at me. “The case still bothers you,” he says.

“Bothers? It haunts me. He haunts me.”

He crosses his legs. “How so, Will?”

“I feel him, under my skin. We’re...” I rub at my temple, struggle with the abstract terror fluttering against my ribs. “We’re conjoined.”

“Conjoined,” Lecter says, voice lilting.

“One monster,” I say. “We’re the same. He wants to catch me. He thinks he already has. Maybe he’s right. But he’s gonna get caught.”

“You sound quite confident, Will. Why?”

“Because he knows he’ll have to draw me out,” I say, “but I don’t think he’s aware just how anti-social I am.”

-

“I really don’t want to get back to the Hobbs issue,” Price says, scrunching up his face at the corpse. It lies there, eyes yellow, skin sinking a little.

He reaches out to me. I blink, but it doesn’t leave. You can’t have her, I want to say. You can’t have her. She’s mine now. I won’t let anyone hurt her again. I’ll read her poetry and I’ll call her Abigail and she will be happy in a way you could never make her, you sick fuck.

See, he croaks. See.

I almost see, but it is too early. It is far too early. I do not see.

“Lecter wanted the body pulled out of morgue,” Beverly says, tapping along the edges of the metal slab.

I want to laugh, at that. Does he need closure, too? Because this isn’t the way to get it, Hobbs staring up at me, an accusation. I shot you six times, you sick fuck. I shot you and I shot you and I shot you.

I feel ill, thinking about it, but for a moment, for a moment, I feel righteous.

-

I hear it. Scratching. I move toward the living room. It grows and expands until I am standing before my chimney. Probably a raccoon.

And yet.

What if it’s stuck in there? What if it’s hurt? What if it isn’t a raccoon at all? I eye my scotch tumbler next to the couch, placed haphazardly on a stack of old newspapers. It’s the same height as I left it last night. I don’t think I’m drunk. I don’t feel drunk. I feel dead.

I reach for my phone.

-

I press my lips against her and her tongue reaps my teeth and gums, thrusting into my throat and spilling spit against my chin. She still smells like pomegranate. I feel empty and invaded. The draft from the hole in my wall pants against my back as her tongue chokes my anxiety back into my spine. Empty, empty, a gaping hole in my head and she bears down, wet and heavy against me.

I pull back.

“We shouldn’t do this,” Alana says. “I can’t be with you.”

“Because I’m unstable,” I say.

“Yes,” she says.

“I’m sure you would have phrased it nicer,” I say.

“Yes,” she says, eyes searching. “Will--”

“You should go,” I say.

She twists her lips down. “I just want you to be okay.”

Fucking my mouth isn’t going to make me okay, I almost say. I don’t. I feel dirty. I shouldn’t have kissed her. I feel like all my blood has left my body, like she sucked it all out.

“I didn’t mean to pressure you,” I say.

“You didn’t,” she says, words quick to reassure. “I... I wanted to. But we shouldn’t.”

“I know,” I say.

“I should go,” she says.

There’s a hole in my chimney. I stare at her as she steps back. She turns to leave. I lick my lips and taste pomegranate chapstick. I want to throw up.

-

“Will,” Lecter says, “it is a pleasant surprise, but a surprise nonetheless. Is something wrong?”

“I kissed Alana Bloom,” I say.

He cocks his head, eyes tracing along my face, searching. He looks like a hawk peering down at a shrew. Anger flares beneath my panic. I am disgusted with him. He has behaved out of line. I must correct him.

“Fucking my food,” I say.

Lecter blinks, taken aback. “Excuse me, Will?” he says, voice a few notes higher than usual in confusion. It might even be genuine.

“I don’t know,” I say. “I think I need a brain scan.”

“A brain scan?”

“I cut a hole in my wall because I was hearing noises.”

Lecter turns toward his counter, wiping it down. It looks clean. I wonder how long he’s been wiping it down. He has standards. “What kinds of noises?” he says.

“An animal,” I say, my head itching, my eyes burning. I feel cold, but my palms are perspiring. I must smell like shit. Lecter can’t appreciate that.

“You hallucinated it?” he says.

“I don’t know,” I bite out, clenching my eyes shut, my pulse echoing in my head.

“Will--” distance and fuzzy

pop changin the channel to let’s make a deal on saturdays cuz we got time while he’s lookin for work again and again her mouth on mine a big fat slug slipping past my lips and pounding against the door of my teeth let me in let me in poor damn raccoon or whatever the fuck it was a stag a deer a hunter a ripper

-

I see light when Lecter lifts my eyelid. “You should probably put on some pants.”

“Wha.”

“Pants,” he says. “I’d recommend them. You just had a seizure, Will.”

“A shur.”

“Yes, a seizure. You collapsed and started shuddering. You’re lucky I was here, Will. You could have seriously hurt yourself.”

“Pants?”

I can see him now, solidifying in my view. “I undressed you,” he says.

The light is too bright. I stare at him through slitted eyes. “Why.”

“You soiled yourself,” he says.

I shift, feeling a rickety mattress beneath me. My bed. “You drove?”

“Yes, I drove you home. You’re in no state to drive, as it is, Will.”

“Car?”

“I took yours. I hope you won’t mind me staying the night.”

But I do.

Lecter undressed me because I pissed myself. He should have left me in my piss. I don’t need Lecter perverting on me too. Not that Alana was. I just. I don’t feel right. About anything. Lecter is a predator. I hate being vulnerable. Like this, I hate being this kind of vulnerable. I feel like he’ll absorb me into him if I’m not careful. It’s irrational, and yet.

And yet.

I sit up, unsure of the proportions of my own body for a moment, my arms coming onto the mattress sooner than I expected them to, my knees bending quicker at the knee. Lecter watches this with his reptile eyes. I want to bare my teeth at him, Miriam Lass caught in my gums. I want him to fear me and love me and worship me.

“I need a brain scan,” I say, fiddling with the blanket.

“I’m looking into that, yes,” Lecter says.

“Don’t undress me again,” I say. “Ever.”

He inclines his head. He likes to feel control over me. He likes to have it, even more. It makes hysteria bubble in my gut. “I apologize, Will,” he says. “I wasn’t sure what to do in the situation.”

I know he is lying, I feel his lie in his bones, which are my bones.

I bare my teeth at him and he smiles.

-

“I had a seizure,” I say, hands too tight, too steady around my coffee. It burns the skin of my palms.

“Holy shit,” Beverly says. “Did you go to a doctor?”

“I was with a doctor. Dr. Lecter.”

“What’d he do? Are you going to the hospital or something?”

“No,” I say, licking my lips and still tasting the Godforsaken fake pomegranate flavor. “He drove me home and took off my pants because I pissed myself. Then he stayed the night and made me some weird meat stew thing. I think he called it gumbo, but it wasn’t. It didn’t taste anything like gumbo.”

“Weird,” she says.

“I know,” I say. “It really wasn’t gumbo.”

“Well, I mean ‘weird’ to everything else too.”

“Yeah, it was all really weird.” I think about telling her about Alana, but shame curls against the base of my spine. I don’t know why.

“Lecter’s kind of creepy,” Beverly says.

“I think he loves me,” I say.

She cranes her neck to look at my face. I avoid her eyes. “What makes you say that?”

Consumption, I want to say. I don’t. I know I’ll sound crazy if I do. Even to Beverly, I’ll sound crazy. I feel very alone. My bones ache. I rub my face, feel the drag of stubble on the pads of my fingers, and sigh. “I don’t know,” I say. “I don’t know.”

-

“People think I’m crazy,” Abigail says, fiddling with her scarf. It’s thin and paisley pink, little cornflowers dotting it. “They think I murdered those girls.”

“They’re morons,” I say. “They’re assholes.”

Her lips quirk. “I don’t think you’re supposed to say those words to me.”

“You’re old enough,” I say. “And it’s true. They are. You aren’t your father.”

“I’ve started reading more Eliot,” she says.

“Yeah?” I say.

“But I think I’m going to move on to Yeats. I’ve never read Yeats.”

“Yeats is good,” I say.

“Is he?” she says, eyes here and close and not distant at all. I have her attention. I have her safe.

“I think so,” I say. “He’s kind of creepy, though. Obsessed with a girl, I think. I read him a long time ago.”

“Will you read me some?” she says.

I say yes before I can ever think to say no.

-

“You’re human,” I spit at the Ripper, blood coating my teeth, my own blood but it feels like the blood of Miriam Lass, spinning a fine flavor of iron and vomit across my sophisticated palate.

He wants me. I want him. I hiss and spit and tear at the walls of my kitchen, pots and pans clattering. A cook. He’s a cook. A gourmet. I see it in my mind’s eye, how he prepares his dishes, an artist, an animal in its habitat, an atom in its element. Everything slots into place and he moves me along. We dance, conjoined, whether by birth or experimentation, I do not know, I just know we are joined tightly, be it by flesh or string.

At the end, all I’m left with is burnt catfish sprinkled with lemon juice and thyme. It tastes awful.

-

“What if,” Lecter says idly--and it’s never good when he says things idly, that means they’re very calculated risks and I hate calculated--tapping his pencil against his pad, “you were, so to say, trapped in the mind of a killer? Have you considered this risk, Will?”

I shrug my shoulders, frowning, before his words trickle into my brain. I freeze.

“You’re saying I could...become the Ripper?”

Lecter shrugs in turn. “Possibly,” he says. “It’s merely a thought experiment, Will.”

“I’m not the Ripper,” I say, but it’s stuck in there, like gum under a desk. I can’t shake it. My breath comes heavy.

Lecter leans in, folding his hands. “Who are you?”

“I-- I--” I blink, sweat beading on my forehead. “I will never confuse myself with the Ripper. I’m not the Ripper.”

He presses a hand against my shoulder and I feel the pressure dive into my bones. “Will,” he says, voice low. Reverent. Reverent for what? What game is he playing? What is he doing?

I am his altar, I see. Altar for what? What does he sacrifice across my back? Whose bones lie, touching bone to bone, bones with my bones? My skeleton lies. It makes me sweat. Lecter can smell it on me.

“Will, it’s a simple thought experiment. Forgive me.”

I close my eyes and will myself.

-

Students at the lectures are taking more notes, now. I can’t say why. I know why, but I can’t say.

Hobbs. The Ripper. My “success,” if you will call it that. I wouldn’t.

“He was killing girls,” I say. “Does anyone know why he was killing girls, who looked like his child?”

Five hands raise. I call on none of them. I know their answers and they are wrong. I think of Abigail’s deer eyes, as she cuts up me. Reopening me. Replacing me. Crawling into my skin and I into hers, we share each other in the misalignment of our stars. We cast our lots and we lose and we dash our heads across the rocks and weep.

“He was trying to recreate his daughter,” I say. “It was an act of sacrifice, an act of devotion. Killers are not always motivated by violence.”

I wonder if Abigail could truly have been recreated in her own image, what would have happened then. But I do not see and I do not want to see, so I don’t think about it very much.

-

Alana gives me tea at my lunch time. “You need less caffeine,” she says.

I sip and taste chapstick on the lip of the cup. I almost gag. It’s chamomile. I wouldn’t have chamomile at lunch. It’s strange on my tongue.

“Will, I’m concerned.”

“About what,” I say.

“I heard you had a seizure a few nights ago.”

I shrug. “Dr. Lecter is handling it.”

“I’m sure.” She’s quiet, fiddling with her coffee cup. “Will.”

I can feel what she’s going to ask me. I don’t want her to ask me. I feel it in her skin, because it’s my skin too. I blink back, reign myself in. I want to be me. I don’t want to say yes.

“About that night,” she says. “I want you to know that I might have been a little swift in judgment. I mean, I’m not your psychologist.”

“I was too,” I say. “I shouldn’t have kissed you.”

She chews at her lip and says nothing.

Good, I think. I’m glad I can render someone speechless with my words and not my tongue. I take a swig of chamomile. “Let’s just drop it, okay? I want to be your friend,” I say with some measure of sincerity.

“Okay,” she says.

I drink my chamomile and watch her tear at the cardboard lining of her cup. I feel a warm righteousness in my chest.

-

“You should really just try to prescribe me anti-psychotics and get this over with,” I say.

“I am not your therapist, Will,” he says.

“Then what’s this?” I swing an arm out, gesturing at the awkward space between us, my fingers tracing the pattern of the carpet on demand. “You’re counseling me.”

“No, we are having conversations. As friends,” he says and I feel the corner of his neatly packaged, starched and pressed voice rumple. I want to feel triumph. I know he is only calculating.

I twist my neck toward the window. “I’m not your friend, Dr. Lecter.”

He shifts, his lips spasm. I see myself through his eyes and am aware I am seeing myself, the true me, as an object he cannot obtain. No. Worse. She didn’t go the way she was supposed to, did she? He’s like her. And this was a misstep. There’s a danger to him, but a beauty, a self-awareness that reveals the world’s source code to him, unfurling itself like a flower, if only he would see it. We are alike, beasts of burden, the only difference is that I have thrown off my yoke, I have conquered my masters, I have put the pigs back on the chopping block. And you could join me. You were made for me. If only you would get too close.

I pull back, blinking. I take off my glasses and wipe at them with my shirt. “Ahm,” I say.

I incline my head. “Will?”

“I’m Will,” I say.

“You are,” I say.

I've dipped too heavy, I realize vaguely, the thought cotton. “My name?” I say.

“You are Will Graham. It’s currently--” I check my watch, tugging the cuff back into place when I look back up. “--5:06 pm, and you’re in Baltimore, Maryland.”

I shake my head, chewing at my cheek. “You know,” I say.

“I know what?” I say.

“You know what I’ve done,” I say. “You just need to unlock it.”

“Excuse me, Will?” I say, shifting to plant both feet on the carpet. It gives a more serious, authoritative presence. He is hallucinating now, but I haven’t induced anything. Unless he isn’t hallucinating. But then what is this. I am curious. I am interested.

I run a hand through my hair, groaning. “Stop,” I say. “I’m not. Stable. Right now? Am I? Stable?”

I tap my fingers against the upholstery of the armchair. I’m finding myself out of my depth, if only for a second. It’s humiliating and exhilarating in one. It’s a different type of hunt.

Hunt.

I rub my skull, bending over my knees.

“Will?”

“I think I’m going to throw up,” I say, reaching my fist into my mouth, past my teeth. My skin tastes like salt and destruction. Pomegranate chapstick.

“Just a moment, Will. Allow me to get you a waste-bin.”

“I understand,” I gasp, air whipping through my throat as my stomach roils.

“Understand what, Will?”

Tin bumps against my shoes. My wet hand darts out to grab his wrist, his fingers clenched around the rim. “The Ripper,” I say.

I feel him cock his head above me. My neck creaks with the motion. “Really,” he says.

I vomit against the trashcan, cheek pressed against his fist.

-

“You’ve been...off, lately,” Alana says, fiddling with the lid of her coffee.

I shrug. I want to have a helmet that can box all my thoughts inside me. Self-contained. I want to be alone, forever. “I’m not sure I can trust myself,” I say.

She glances up at me. “Will,” she says. “What’s wrong?”

“I’m... I don’t want to go to Hannibal Lecter anymore.”

“Why?”

I start tearing the label off my coke bottle. My jaw aches. I’ve been clenching it. I hadn’t noticed. “Do you ever... I don’t know how to say this.”

Her hand touches my quaking wrist, stilling my motions. I feel frozen in place whenever Alana touches me, like a deer in shock. Deer.

I feel nauseous.

“Will,” she says, voice low. “I’m your friend. Whatever happens, I believe you.”

She’s leaned in toward me, conspirators, us two. She smells like instant coffee and pomegranate chapstick. It makes my heart hurt. It makes me blood run cold. “I just. I feel like he’s... I think he’s done something, but I can’t trust myself. I can’t trust myself to know if what I think is real or...or what.”

“Hannibal told me you were acting strange,” she says. “He says you’re struggling differentiating yourself from the people you talk to.”

“Sometimes,” I say. “But...but not really. Not you or Jack or Beverly or...anyone, really.”

“I don’t understand,” she says.

“I empathize with violence,” I say, letting my words ease out slow.

“That’s not true, Will.”

“I do,” I say. “I empathize with everything, everyone. But I fall hard and fast into violence. The other stuff just comes through. I see your eyes and you leak into me. Violence sucks me in. It claims me. Like he claims me.”

“Who?”

“The Ripper.”

Alana looks down at her drink, her lips pouting to let out a sigh. She looks ragged once the breath leaves her. I don’t let myself read any deeper. I don’t want to. I’m too tired of my own emotions. “Will,” she starts, letting it hang in the air.

“I think Hannibal Lecter is the Ripper,” I say.

Alana stares at me, her brow slowly furrowing together.

“Forget it,” I say, waving my hand. “Forget it, just. I’m...” I laugh through my teeth, my bones shaking with loathing and fear.

“You should tell him about this,” she says. “Jesus, Will, I’m so sorry you’re so mixed up. I’ll tell Jack to lay off you.”

“No,” I say. “I’m... Fine. I’m fine. Really. Just a weird dream, yesterday.” It felt like a dream, anyways. It feels more and more like a dream the more I say about it. It feels absurd and pathetic. Lights dot the corners of my vision. I feel ill. Maybe that’s the pomegranate. You all invade me. I am just a receptacle, is that right? A manifestation of all of you, not even good enough to be a mirror, no, I am your emotional trashcan.

And I and the Ripper kiss every night before bed, is that right? I can feel his teeth on my throat every morning, tearing it out as Abigail cuts up my abdomen, they both meet somewhere in the middle. Hannibal and Abigail, devouring me.

“I’m fine,” I tell Alana. “Forget I said anything. Don’t tell Jack. I can handle it.”

“Okay,” she says. I smell her fake pomegranate and think of her devouring me, too.

-

Therapy with Hannibal Lecter takes on a new edge. Maybe I made it all up. Maybe that whole episode was a big misunderstanding, but emotional truth triumphs in the mind and I am terrified. I am caught in his web, the Ripper’s web. This should be a chess match between like minds, but I am ill-educated and emotionally volatile. He has stolen all of my knights and bishops. I can only march forward along the board, into his waiting mouth.

He touches me more, his influence slung over my shoulders, brushing against my knee, a hand on my lower back. He lords his power over me. I let him. I don’t know what else to do. I see his Wounded Man on the drafting table and my eyes are very dry. He has us all wrapped up, immobile in the face of his godhood. Oh, Ripper.

He wants to kiss me. I feel it. He wants to eat me, too. He wants to eat my heart, my brain. He isn’t sure which one he would like to eat first. The heart, I would like to suggest. Please, the heart. I know you say the brain, but at least respect my one wish. The heart, please.

He will use every part of me, fashion leather out of my skin, tableware from my bone, stuff a pillow with my hair. Will he feed my dogs? Will he care enough to think of them?

“Will,” the Ripper says with his calm voice. I wonder how calm he is when he kills. Is he meticulous, or does he reveal himself, petal by petal? I suppose it is terrifying. All beauty is a subset of terror. He will eat me.

“Yeah,” I say.

“You seem to be elsewhere, lately.”

“My head,” I say.

“Ah.”

“I should get a brain scan,” I say.

“I’m still looking into it,” he says, tempered calculation in his words. He isn’t and he won’t be.

Eat my heart first, Hannibal. Eat my heart first. It will surely poison you with all of the hatred it holds for you. We will be like Shakespearean lovers. Your dagger in my chest, my poison in your mouth. We deserve each other.

“I promise you, Will,” he says, with sincerity. “I only want what’s best for you.”

-

Abigail has read through all of Yeats and now she’s on Blake. She’s read The Tyger before but now she traces over the words with her fingers, smoothing the page down, petting over the slight raising of the paper. When I visit her, she’s read it several times over. She can recite it to me now. She’s still very sallow, but she looks stronger. Surer.

“Am I the lamb?” she says.

“I’m not sure,” I say. “I think you’re the tyger.”

She has such wide, bright eyes. “What makes you say that?”

“You’re a survivor,” I say, honest. “God made the tyger and He made the lamb.”

“The tyger hunts and the lamb dies,” she says.

“The lamb suffers,” I say. “He dies for our sins.”

“Then you’re the lamb,” she says.

“Am I?”

“But you’re a wrathful lamb,” she continues, rubbing against the page. “You’re a Revelation lamb. You’re waiting to burst out of your person skin.”

Those are Lecter words coming from her lips. I feel cold.

“You’re a wrathful martyr,” she says. “You shoot a gun.”

Six shots into his chest. I feel cold.

“But you’re still a martyr. And we eat of your flesh and drink of your blood--”

“Abigail,” I say, quiet, forced gentle.

She startles at her own name, fingers jittering to grasp at her hospital blanket. “I’m not the tyger,” she says, voice small. “And that’s not my name.”

“Your name’s Abigail, you told me it was Abigail,” I say.

“Not on my hospital papers,” she says. “And not in my therapy group.”

“Well, you’re Abigail to me.”

She begins rubbing at the page again. “The tyger’s going to eat you. He told me.”

I lay my hand on hers and she recoils.

I am adrift.

-

“You feel obligated to Abigail,” Lecter says.

“Of course,” I say, bumping my fingers over the spines of his books. Italian, German, some Slavic language. I understand nothing.

“You feel as a father would toward her.”

I swallow a lump, thinking of her blood spurting against my shirt, the way it stuck to me. “Yeah.”

I can feel Lecter unfold himself behind me. A predator. Hannibal Lecter, Chesapeake Ripper. “An excuse to carry on your legacy, Will?”

“No,” I say. “No more than anyone else.”

“But nevertheless, you feel obligated.”

“Don’t you?” I say.

Lecter pauses, behind me. I know he’s moving his head. Contained even when invisible. His act is seamless. But I see. I see.

“Yes,” he says. “I do.”

“There you have it,” I say.

“She’s our child, Will,” he says.

Part of me squirms away at that, just like he wants me to. The thought that Lecter has given me a child disgusts me. “She’s an orphan,” I say. “And she’s hurting. The last thing she needs is...”

“What, Will?”

The Ripper, I think and the thought terrifies me in the way a child is terrified. Everything grows new shadows, new teeth.

Hannibal smiles.

-

Abigail has dead eyes when I see her with Hannibal.

-

“Are you okay?” Beverly says, coffees in hand. “You seem off.”

“I am off,” I say. “I’m becoming the Ripper.”

She huffs, taken aback, peering at me with curiosity. “Literally or...?”

“I’m not sure,” I say. “I think I see him, now, but I see him in everyday people, people who are respected. Trusted. Loved.”

“You have a hunch?”

“I do,” I say.

She waves her cup, lips pulling in a facial shrug. “You’re the one with the superpower. I say investigate it.”

“That’s a little dangerous,” I say.

“It’s what I’d do.”

“I know,” I say, an affection for her bluntness heavy in my ribs. “I’m too smart to do that, though.”

She rolls her eyes and shoves me. “Whatever, Sherlock. Sitting on it and crying isn't gonna get results though.”

“I know,” I say and grin, despite myself.

-

She knows.

-

I see a future for us, me and Hannibal. I see a future where I clean and he cooks. He wants me for an attack dog. He thinks he already owns me. The Ripper’s Bride. His happy husband. Ready for a kill and a quick fuck, with Chopin and fine dining as the backdrop. I’ve peeled back his skin and thoroughly dissected his motive. It is evil. He is simply evil. He is the wendigo, the devil, Mephistopheles begging me to let him drag me into Hell with him forever and ever.

Part of me wants to go.

It’s curiosity, for the most part. What that side of the world is like when someone’s truly living it in the flesh. But I know, very well, what that side of the world is like.

The rest of the want is owed to loneliness.

It’s easy to lose myself in him, though, and that isn’t companionship. It’s not the kind of companionship I need and it shouldn’t be the sort I want. I want a quiet cabin, a wife, some kids, a lot of dogs. I want something simple and sweet. But I also want Hannibal. Some part of me, the antlers that break out of my bones, aches for him. How would he kill me, I wonder.

He is inhuman when he kills, something greater than human. A god among men. I’m not sure if my thoughts or my thoughts of the Ripper’s thoughts come out.

I’ll tell Jack about him. He knows this. He knows I’ll tell Jack. I have no other recourse of action. I must. It is either marriage or divorce, for us. I cannot wed a wendigo. He was so banal before he squirmed into my head. He’ll kill me, when I tell. Maybe before. It all depends on his tenderness for me. It is a tenderness. He holds me in his heart, some part of me, his idea of me. What I could be. He wants to give birth to me. He is in the throes of labor pains and it makes him stupid.

A vile beast. I’ll tell Jack. I’ll call him this week. I’ll tell him. I’ll say, “Jack. I know who the Ripper is. I know the satan who walks among men. And his name is Hannibal Lecter, friend of the FBI, friend of Alans Bloom, friend of Jack Crawford, confidant of Will Graham.” I’ll tell him. Before it’s too late, I’ll tell him. Either way, I’ll die. And if I don’t die, I’ll still die. The Ripper wants me. He’ll have me, in whatever way he chooses. On a plate or on a hospital bed or in a grave. However he’ll have me.

I’ll call Jack.

-

Hobbs stares at me, an accusation, dead eyes seeing up at me from the sink. Stainless steel. I choke and acquiesce. My throat burns, I feel ill, everything is on fire, my neurons Rome, Hobbs playing the fiddle. Not Hobbs. But who else. I heave and choke, my throat convulsing, blood whining in my ears, the click of my dogs pacing about the house, a rising mass in my gullet, fleshy and fine, oozing up my system until the fire is my eyes and ears and I heave again.

My ribs creak against the counter, my air flies out into the sink with indigestion, a fleck in the sink, materializing itself before my eyes.

My head aches.

Winston’s tail bumps against my knees.

Materializing, my muddy calves rub together and dirt is scraped off, like another layer of skin being pulled back and removed. I am contained and cocooned. Sweating. Wet. Noah’s flood. Boat motors on the Bayou.

My design stares up at me.

Hobbs.

My breath hitches and I vomit again, a thin string of bile and saliva dribbling past my lips. “Oh,” I moan, my tone all wrong, broken and horrid, it is her voice, and she is staring down at her becoming but it is too muddy, flaking off, and she dissolves into the ocean.

Hobbs.

You’ve got to be kidding me, I want to scream, but I have nothing left, there is no piece of me to lay to rest, only bile and dry heaves. “Oh,” I say again, “oh oh.”

Abigail Hobbs.

I throw up again, my throat flaming and too tight, spasming around reality. My design. Things move at different speeds, my throat so fast, my breath so slow, the colors all slide into each other, my sink floods and drains, I am ill.

Abigail, Abigail, oh, Abigail.

I lay my head down against the sink, the coolness draining my skin. I close my eyes against it, I think of how I am Will Graham, it is 7:10 AM and I am in Wolf Trap, Virginia. I open my eyes.

I call Jack.

-

I overhear Hannibal talking to Jack, pressing the blanket further around my shoulders. Jack keeps craning his neck to stare at me. Hannibal keeps taking a shuffle to hide me. They must be wrapping up, because Hannibal turns back toward me. I grab at his arm and watch him flinch. “Did I become?” I say.

“Become?” Hannibal says, his voice wavering.

“Did I...did I...her?”

“Oh, good Will,” Hannibal says, his hands settling above my shoulders. The wendigo pants hot and heavy into my open mouth. “Oh, Will. Oh, I am so sorry.”

I cling to his arm, cling to my coffin in the ocean, my white whale long gone. I wish I were dead.

-

Alana still smells like pomegranate and instant coffee. She smells like fornication and decay. I remember her tongue, I think about biting it off. I am a wendigo now, I am a wild thing, the Ripper was right, I have become. I am him. We are conjoined, one beast. I can taste what he tastes, in the back of my throat.

She’s fucking him. What did he say about fucking his food. Disgusting. Bestial. I can’t, but he can. Then again there are types in this world, aren’t there? Those who reap and those who are reaped. I am reaped. I am a supplier, not a consumer. The Ripper consumes. I am his eyes, he is my stomach. Hannibal.

Hannibal.

I am meek and I am mild. Alana appraises me. “You ate Abraham Hobbs,” she says.

“I don’t know,” I say.

“His ear came out of your throat, Will.”

And your tongue slithered down there. Did you taste her, preemptively?

I blink the Ripper out of my eyes. Thinking about Abigail sitting in my stomach makes me sick. They should check my stool samples, but I haven’t been able to shit in days. My whole body’s in knots. I loved Abigail. I would never hurt her, in any way. I loved her. She was a newborn deer, fidgety and flighty, too smart for her own good. A survivor. She was going to make it. She was going to be okay. I couldn’t have. I.

Alana raps on the desk. “Will. Now’s not the time.”

I look up from the table, tugging at my cuffs. Her eyes have no give. I want to wipe my face. I can’t reach my face. I hate this. “Is she dead?” I whisper, voice clogged.

“Yes. You killed him. And ate him.”

I look back at the table.

Alana leans forward. “You probably became Hobbs, Will. You’re even talking like him. We could work an insanity plea for you.”

“I wasn’t Hobbs,” I say, squeezing my eyes shut, feeling a new headache coming on. “I wasn’t, I was... Something isn’t right with all of this, Alana.”

“Hannibal told me you were struggling with an unstable identity. He says it’s in your medical records.”

“That’s what he told you?” I say, huffing at the absurdity of my own stupidity around Hannibal. The Ripper. “Really?”

Her eyes dart to the side. “Among other things.”

“I suppose he told you I fuck my dogs, while we’re at it.”

“Jesus, Will, no. He’s a professional, not a slanderer.” She makes a face, trying to will herself to say what she thinks she needs to say. “Will, I think you’ve done some rather extreme things that warrant that diagnosis.”

He told her. I want to laugh at her, at her discomfort. She is pathetic. Her people are strange, backwards sorts who only know how to kill and fuck, I think for an irrational second. Us versus them, they ate you alive, Abigail, they used your bones for their death sculptures like the case of ‘78, I think for a bitter second. Then I calm. I am older now, I am smarter now, less sensitive to bullshit.

She is tense along the line of her shoulders, all the way down to her fingers. Her eyes dart about discreetly, trying to catch my give. I have no give, Alana Bloom. Did you taste woman when you licked my mouth? Did you catch a whiff of cunt? No, you stupid animal. You plundered me with the natural law.

“Hannibal Lecter is the Ripper,” I say, "and he has framed me.”

“Oh, Will,” she says, smiling sadly, stuttering over my name. Oh, Will. Oh, Will. Her smile leaves a stain on my eyelids.

-

Beverly stares at me, helpless. She wants to save me. I want her to save me. I want someone to save me. Anyone but Hannibal. Anything but Hannibal. He did this to me. He turned me into this. If he turned me at all. This all feels too surreal.

I suppose Beverly knows too, knows what Alana knows, knows what Jack knows, knows what Freddie Lounds and all her readers know. She makes no indication. I make it for her.

“I didn’t kill Abigail Hobbs,” I say. “But I am a transsexual. That part’s true.”

“Jesus, Will,” she says. “You should have investigated the Ripper.”

“Probably,” I say. “But then I’d be dead, instead of in jail.”

“The Ripper wouldn’t kill you,” she says. “Not yet. He needs you. You’d probably still be in jail. With evidence.”

“I’d be worse,” I say. “He eats them, he’ll eat me.”

“I’ll get to the bottom of this,” she says. “I’ll get you acquitted.”

“You’ll save me,” I say.

“Yes,” she says.

“Don’t die,” I say.

“Not really planning on it,” she says. She lays a hand on mine, leaning across the table. “Hang in there, alright? We’ll get this bastard.”

We exchange fake smiles. I am grateful that she cares enough to fake.

-

Hannibal is all frowns and concern in the questioning room. His fake genuine shit.

“You told Alana Bloom that I’m transsexual,” I say.

“I told her about your unstable history,” he says.

“Unstable, Hannibal?” I say. “I got seven doctors’ pledges on my stability. Four GRS therapists. You had to have seen that.”

“I did,” he says.

“A little bit too sadistic, I think. It's unseemly. You’re lacking finesse in that department.”

He shrugs, smiling blithely.

“I think you’re a shithead,” I say. “And a cannibalistic serial killer. I can feel your skin over mine. My murder suit over my person suit. It’s pathetic.”

“I’m sorry you think that, Will.”

I see between his teeth when he speaks, I see decay and the wendigo. It slithers out to greet me.

“You love me,” I say.

Hannibal taps his fingers on the table.

“You have a funny way of showing it,” I say.

He continues to tap, face revealing nothing. This is Hannibal at his least natural.

“You’ve done it before,” I say. “Loved like this. It was stumbling, though. You had to make do. With me, you can have all your theatrics. Congratulations.”

“I hope you receive the treatment you need, Will,” he says, laying his hand over mine, a careful warmth enveloping me up to the right wrist. I see the lines of his devotion in the hesitant squeeze of his fingers. It is clumsy and raw. He leaks into my heart. My heart, he must eat my heart first.

-

I am adrift.

-

I can no longer walk into the maw of Hannibal Lecter. I am a frail, brittle creature on stalk legs, a newborn calf, a lamb, a fawn. I must become. I must establish my wrath.

For Abigail.

I have to become what he wants me to become, if I am ever going to catch him. I have to let him catch me first, I have to let him win. I have to play dead.

My name is Will Graham. It is 5:06 AM and I am in Baltimore, Maryland.

I have turned his idle game into a coping mechanism. I have turned my coping mechanism into a weapon. I have laid my bread crumbs. I will never lose myself again.

I am ready for him.