The headline was almost self-consciously subdued: “Killer had been ‘disturbed for a long time,’ says relative.” Just like that; no all-caps sensationalism, no promise of gory details to entice morbid readers. But, Will reasoned, this was a respectable publication, with a print circulation of 260,000 – an impressive number this far into the 21st century. No doubt the headline was selected by a stodgy editor determined to avoid sullying his respectable paper with clickbait or tabloid nonsense.
Not that the determination to maintain the dignity of the Fourth Estate was any consolation to Will. It was still his picture on the front page.
He had seen it in the break room that morning, before anyone else had had the chance to bring it to his attention. The moment he saw his own face, he turned away. Then, throughout the day, students and colleagues mentioned it to him, sometimes in a congratulatory way, which caused him particular chagrin. But after classes were over, after everyone had left for the day and Will was alone, he unfolded the paper and had a careful look. Around him were agents in navy-blue jackets with gold lettering on the back. Behind them, the house, which would soon become infamous, the stuff of legend among a certain kind of enthusiast – a house that would likely be bulldozed because no real estate agent would be able to sell it.
But there was something else in the photo, or rather, someone. Just behind the illuminated roof lights of the county sheriff’s SUV was a figure that looked remarkably like Hannibal Lecter. Dr. Lecter had accompanied Will to a couple of crime scenes, but definitely not that one. Will examined the photo more closely, but there was only so much he could do with a four-by-seven halftone image on newsprint.
After several minutes of fretting, Will decided that the smudge of beige and plaid could not actually be Dr. Lecter, that he was seeing things, as people saw the face of the devil in photos of smoke rising from burning buildings. He threw the paper in the trash and tried to forget about the whole stupid thing.
Alana came to visit him the following week, concerned about him as usual. She found him on the porch, playing with his dogs after their morning run. She took out her phone and snapped a picture, commenting afterwards, “You just looked so happy. I wanted you to see what your face looks like when you’re happy. I’ll bet you’ve never seen it. Here, I’ll text you the picture.”
Seconds later, Will’s phone bleeped, but he ignored it, since he knew it was just Alana’s text. He finished corralling the dogs back into the house, then had an awkward chat with her.
That night, he checked his phone. It was only then that he saw the thumbnail of Alana’s picture in her text. Surrounded by seven wagging tails and seven lolling tongues, he did look surprisingly content. He felt content around his dogs, but he had no idea it showed so clearly on his face.
When he tapped the picture to make it appear full-screen, he saw something else off to the right side: standing straight-backed and square-shouldered in front of the chair on the porch, watching Will and his dogs with a placid expression, was Hannibal Lecter. This time, Will knew Dr. Lecter had not been present when the photo was taken. And even if Alana were the sort of person who was inclined to cruel pranks involving photo manipulation, she would have had no time; she sent the picture right after she took it.
Will could not dismiss this oddity so easily as the newspaper photograph. He sat up in bed with his phone long after he’d turned the light out, zooming in on the details around Dr. Lecter, looking for inconsistencies that would give away a forgery. He could see none. He did find himself entranced, however, by Dr. Lecter’s expression. Even though he had not been there, had not actually interacted with Will at that moment, the look on Dr. Lecter’s face was so full of…affection. As though it gratified him to see Will frolicking with his dogs, indulging in the one thing that brought him joy.
At his next therapy session, Will brought up the crime scene photo that had been featured in the newspaper. “This is going to sound weird, because I’m already sure the answer is ‘No,’ but were you there, by any chance?”
“I was not,” Dr. Lecter said. “Why do you ask?”
Will now regretted throwing the paper away. He wished he had a copy of it to show Dr. Lecter. But he did have the picture Alana took.
“There’s something going on,” Will said. “It involves you, so I think you should know about it.” He pulled out his phone, and explained that Alana had taken a photo of him and sent it to him immediately, so there was no obvious culprit for the shenanigans. He showed Dr. Lecter the photo of him with the dogs. Dr. Lecter looked at the photograph for quite some time, but did not seem at all perturbed. In fact, he had nearly the same face as did the Dr. Lecter on the screen.
“That’s a lovely photograph. Dr. Bloom clearly has an eye for composition.”
“But what about this,” Will said, pointing.
“You in front of the chair,” Will snapped.
“There’s no one in front of that chair, Will. Do you see me there?”
Will was stunned to silence. How could he not see? This was not a blur that could be easily misinterpreted. It was clear as day.
Will refused to believe that Dr. Lecter didn’t see it. He would never suspect Dr. Lecter of playing tricks on him, but why would he deny what was astoundingly obvious?
Will asked to change the subject, and Dr. Lecter complied, with only the slightest apparent reluctance. They spent the rest of their session discussing the increasing pressure being put on Will by Jack Crawford.
The next time he saw Alana, Will showed her the picture on his phone. He watched Alana’s face for a reaction, but saw none; only more of the delight she expressed that day, when she’d seen him with the dogs. “You don’t see anything exceptional about this picture?” he said.
“No, it’s just an ordinary picture,” Alana replied. “Why?”
Will could not afford to let on to anyone else that he was seeing strange things, so all he said was, “Well, Dr. Lecter saw it, and he said you have a very good eye for composition.”
Alana laughed. “How nice of him to say. I took a photography class in high school. Must have learned something.”
In a panic, Will deleted the photo from his phone the moment Alana walked away.
Two weeks went by, and Will did not see Dr. Lecter in any other incongruous locations, so he began to forget about what had happened. He visited Dr. Lecter for another therapy session, and it was not brought up, so Will figured it could not have been that alarming, or else Dr. Lecter would have followed up about it. And anyway, he had been kept occupied by the new investigation that he’d been called in to consult on.
Something about the latest crime scene photos made him think of a quote he’d read in one of his old college textbooks, Extreme Killing. Even after a long day at Quantico, as soon as he got home, he went to his bookshelf to dig out the book. He stood there in front of the shelves, flipping through it, trying to find the relevant passage. When he looked up from the book, to the framed photos and knick-knacks that were at eye level, he was so startled that he uttered an involuntary “Oh God.”
One of the photos on the shelf was of Will with a few college acquaintances, showing off the trout they’d caught during a spring break fishing trip to the Gulf. Standing at the end of this row of young men, to Will’s immediate right, was Dr. Lecter, stone-faced, not in any way appearing to belong in the scene.
Will’s knees turned to water as he stared at the photo. He tried blinking, he tried turning away and looking back, but the photo remained the same, with Dr. Lecter in it.
Will tore himself away from the picture only so he could go to the opposite shelf, where, between two books, was a plain manila envelope full of old keepsake photos. Will had never gotten around to putting them into an album, just kept them stashed in the envelope for years, in case he had the time and inclination one day. He opened the envelope, dropped the stack into his hand, and began to flip through them.
Every photo that had him in it, Dr. Lecter could be seen in it as well. No matter the setting, no matter Will’s age in the photo, he was there. Sometimes he was some distance away, other times he was right behind or next to Will, one time even with a hand on his shoulder. At this sight, Will jumped, looking around frantically, as though Dr. Lecter might have been behind him right then.
Will dropped the photos, instantly consumed with the paralyzing certainty that he was not alone in his house. He forced himself to walk to the bed, under which was his personal revolver. He grabbed it and moved through each room of the house, but found nothing out of the ordinary.
He was struck by a sudden idea after opening the door to the hall closet upstairs. In one of the meticulously packed boxes in this closet was a videocassette. So far as Will was aware, it was the only video footage that existed of him. Someone had had a camcorder at a nephew’s birthday party, fifteen years ago, and his uncle had made several copies of the recording and mailed him one, perhaps to encourage him to keep in touch with the family. (It hadn’t worked.) Now, Will was glad he hadn’t had the heart to throw it out, but still he was in despair, for he had no VCR or television in the house.
With a sigh, he headed back downstairs, cassette in hand, and grabbed his keys. He could not wait until morning to see what was on the tape. He drove back to Quantico, then struggled alone in the dim corridors, trying to figure out where the A/V storage was. He hadn’t used anything but a projector and a laptop in his classroom for years, but he knew there must be a VCR somewhere, in case a videocassette turned up that needed to be viewed.
There was a single electrical outlet in the storage room, so Will needed only to unwind the cords from the tube TV and VCR perched on a dusty cart. He inserted the tape and pressed “Play.”
It was several minutes before he caught a glimpse of himself on screen. Unsurprisingly, he was seated in the corner, as far away as possible from the person with the video camera. But Dr. Lecter was unmistakably standing next to him, not still and stiff like in the photos, but with an affectionate hand on his shoulder.
While his nephew unwrapped an elaborate Lego set in the foreground, Dr. Lecter knelt at Will’s side, his arm sliding around Will’s back, and he whispered something in Will’s ear. It was so stunningly intimate; long after the uncle with the camera zoomed in on the presents being unwrapped, Will continued to replay what he had just seen in his mind, his eyes glazing over. The moment it occurred to him that he could simply rewind the video and see it again, he did so. This time, what he saw was slightly different: Dr. Lecter now had both hands on Will’s shoulders, and leaned down to whisper to him.
Will fast-forwarded until he was on screen again. Now a cake was being cut. Will had waited until everyone else got a piece, took one for himself, and then, seeing that there were no more seats at the table, retreated to the bottom of the staircase that led to the dining room. He sat on the third stair from the bottom, and then suddenly, Dr. Lecter was there – he didn’t step in from outside the frame, he simply appeared. He cuddled Will, perhaps just slightly more than would be considered appropriate at a kid’s party. That was the end of the video.
Will drove back to Wolf Trap thinking only of the video, not of the photographs. The video was no less strange, but it had been so much more pleasant to watch. On the long, dark drive home, he tried to imagine how it would feel, to have Dr. Lecter’s hands on him like that, to feel the tickle of breath across his ear.
By the time he pulled into his driveway, it was nearly two in the morning. In five hours he’d be in the car again, going back to work. But he was too excited to sleep now. He undressed, put on some pajama bottoms, and got under the covers, but then just lay in bed, thinking about Dr. Lecter.
It occurred to him to try something. He threw the covers aside and turned the light on, then reached for his phone. He figured out how to select the reverse camera, and held up the phone as he reclined against the pillows. When he snapped the picture, there was an empty space next to him, but when he went back to his gallery look at it, Dr. Lecter was laying next to him in the bed, also shirtless, gazing reverently upon him.
Next, Will toggled the camera to video mode, and took about fifteen seconds of video of himself, from the same angle. When he went back to watch it, Dr. Lecter was there. Will watched himself doing all the things he remembered doing when he’d taken the video – looking anxiously to the side, scratching his beard, unsure of how to fill even fifteen seconds – but Dr. Lecter was snuggled up to him, nuzzling his face and neck, stroking his chest. Will put his own hand to his chest as he watched, and almost believed he could feel the memory of that hand.
Will took several more videos, each one longer than the last, and watched each one several times, until exhaustion finally got the better of him and he drifted off to sleep.
The following Thursday, Will drove to Dr. Lecter’s office, coaching himself to act “normal.” These things that Will had been seeing, the way they made him feel, they didn’t have anything to do with the real Dr. Lecter. Will would have to be careful of the things he said and did, so as not to give away any of the fantasies he’d been indulging in.
It wasn’t as difficult as he thought it would be. As soon as he got settled, the session turned quickly to the aftermath of a recently-resolved case that Will had been working on. They talked about it for most of the hour, and while at first Will found it tiresome that Dr. Lecter seemed to always want to go over these darkest moments of Will’s life, especially when he’d thought he was supposed to be trying to claw himself free of them, the time flew by. It turned out that he had a lot to say, and by the end he wished he had another hour. But he did have five minutes, so he used it to ask Dr. Lecter a favor:
“I know this sounds odd,” he said, taking out his phone, “and you can say no, but do you think I could take a picture, with you?” For days, Will had been dying of curiosity about what would result if he took a picture of himself that actually had Dr. Lecter in it. “It’s not for anything in particular,” he went on, “it’s just, ah…”
He trailed off, embarrassed, but Dr. Lecter replied cheerfully, “I don’t see why not.”
Will moved to where Dr. Lecter suggested they stand, for the best lighting. He held out his phone, got them both neatly in the frame, and pressed the button.
“Thanks,” he said, and clicked back to the gallery to see the result.
In the photo, where Dr. Lecter had been, there now stood next to Will a cadaverous monster. Its skin was so black, it appeared almost to be a void. A set of jagged antlers sprouted grimly from its head, rising out of the frame. Its black eyes had no pupil and no iris, but Will’s heart stopped with the certainty that they could see him, through the photograph. Its mouth was closed, which Will found to be the only comforting aspect of it, because it seemed like if the creature opened its mouth, it might end the world.
Will looked at Dr. Lecter, who was also examining the photo. “Ah,” Dr. Lecter said, “now that turned out quite well, didn’t it?”