All Dressed Up With No Place To Go
The characters herein are the property of Thomas Harris. No copyright
infringement is intended.
The darkness that greeted her as the Mustang boomed into the driveway made her scowl with discontent. It wasn't to say that she expected the house to radiate in a flamboyant show of lights to see her return for the evening, but for the third consecutive night that week, Clarice Starling grumbled about her forgetfulness in not leaving a light on. In any retrospect, it was distinctively more pleasant to be received by at least some show of warmth and compassion than the cold reality that surrounded her every day.
It might have struck her as odd to experience such a strong repellence to darkness, but she was coming to understand that numerous encounters with a mad psychiatrist scarred her with the ability to diagnose odd behavioral turns. Of course, if the doctor himself were here, he would jump to analyze this newfound paranoia with a childhood trauma she undoubtedly covered in the many years it has taken to heal.
The thought gave Starling reason to snicker at herself as she slid out of the driver's seat, precariously locking the car and slamming the door shut. With a heavy sigh, she turned her eyes to the house ahead of her, wishing, not for the first time, that the duplex beside hers was not vacant. When Ardelia Mapp moved out a little over a year ago, she had not foreseen missing her roommate with such vigor. Others had since come and gone, never staying long enough to develop lasting friendships, none ever bothering.
Over the course of the past year, Starling shielded her displeasure with empty reassurance that she needed this seclusion. It was a smooth cover. After all, with the way the media jumped down her throat at every turn, it was nice to have privacy to turn to at the end of a day.
Smooth cover. Right.
In truth, Starling hated returning to an empty home perhaps even more than she hated going to work. It did little more than remind her how irreversibly complex her life was, and while she never expected anything to be a walk in the park, it was supposed to be easier than this.
Subtle reminders everywhere she went. How now brown cow. How doth the little crocodile improve his shining tail. And pour the waters of the Nile, on every golden scale. How cheer... how cheer... … How cheerfully he seems to grin, how neatly spreads his claws. And welcomes little fishes in, with gently smiling jaws.
Where had she heard that before? It didn't matter.
Yes, yes. It was *supposed* to be easier than this. It was *supposed* to be a lot of things.
But it wasn't. While she knew nothing ever was, it was a reality she preferred not to believe. At least during the day, she could occupy her mind with busywork that took her far from the events of the past few months. In returning to a job she loathed, Starling found it quite opportune to fill her day by inwardly jesting at those who irritated her. She suspected if she loved her job it would take little to distract her.
Activities that required minimal talent or patience often left her with large gaps of unoccupied time, and she was susceptible to forbidden daydreams and drifting desires.
As opposed to the Bureau that offered no free time, instead insisting on adding to the list. Building and building, piling and piling…over and over and over again.
In the months since her last encounter with Dr. Hannibal Lecter, the Bureau had done everything within its power to limit her voice without neatly snapping the line that managed to keep her in association with their all-powerful name. If that meant a desk full of paperwork intended for a low secretarial position, she would receive it. In many ways, Starling assumed they were trying to scare her away, or, at the very least, bore her to death. While she felt sure it would be easiest to leave and get the inevitable process behind her, she was not the sort of woman to shy from challenge, especially since they pushed her to such lengths. When the truth was, she would not be here if it weren't for their blindness, insensitivity, unwillingness to understand.
The darkness of her home was cold and overbearing. Starling regarded it with a sigh. What awaited her inside made her quiver with failed recognition. At very best, a board game, perhaps a sandwich but more probably a Chinese-take out number. While her days were inactive and dull, she still managed to return home with a familiar sense of fatigue, as though it took great energy to be bored all day.
Now, beginning the pace to the front door, Starling wondered exactly what he would say about this. Over-analysis. With a grim smile, she could nearly hear his voice, the calm questioning in regards to a probable conclusion.
("Were you ever afraid of the dark before, Clarice?")
She shook her head and began fumbling for her keys.
("Aren't we beyond lying to each other? Hmm? Think hard. Consider. Quid pro quo. I tell you things, you tell me things.
Quid pro quo. Yes or no?")
But there was nothing for him to betray. Take take take to his heart's content, but nothing to tell. After all, what question was worthy, now especially, of asking him?
So she thought hard, and again reached the same answer. Though a smile bore her face, Starling could feel the inward stir of disgust layered in her stomach. What a way to spend an evening. A nonexistent conversation with a fugitive to answer a simple inquiry of her determent to darkness. With some struggle, her key found its way into the lock.
("Oh really? Well, that is interesting. Even following your adventure into the Montana night, Clarice? You never experienced such dread when facing the dark again? In answering the screaming wail of the lambs?")
She paused, drew in a breath, and looked around. No, he wasn't behind her, lurking in shadows or bushes. Starling stood there as alone as she was a minute before. When, granted her limited discussion with the doctor, had she grown to know him so well?
That was simple enough. She never forgot a word he said, an insight he made, a look he portrayed. Not one.
("Yes, I thought so.")
Starling held herself still for a full ten seconds before allowing a humorless chuckle to escape her lips. Without further interruptions, even if they were internal, she pushed the door open and flipped on the interior light. Tender eyes blinked a few times in raw adjustment as the voice in her head returned mercilessly.
("Shall we consider the situation, eh, Clarice? You feared the darkness as a child, after losing the lamb to the hands of the rancher. Years pass and while you still hear the screams of those you can't protect, you face the unknown without a blink. Until now.")
Was it possible that he was just as insufferable, residing as Jiminy Cricket in her head as he was in the flesh?
Jiminy Cricket. Hah. She had to chuckle at that. Imagining Dr. Lecter singing, 'If You Wish Upon A Star' was sadly entertaining. Sadly for the content - entertaining for she could picture it successfully.
Yeah. Her life was a laugh riot. Hardy har har har.
All right. The basics. She wasn't afraid of the darkness until she lost something to it, long ago, the night of screaming lambs. Now, through the tiresome years of recuperation, through the alleged image of her maturity, and here she was again.
Over-achiever. Starling held her breath and rolled her eyes. This was stupid.
("No, no, no, no. You were doing fine.")
Releasing the breath awkwardly, she snickered at herself and shook her head. "Girl, you really know how to waste a Friday night," she complimented the dead air, wanting to fill the silence with the monotonous nature of her voice instead of allowing Dr. Lecter a chance. Even within her head, he was lethal and merciless, prodding every corner and angle for an answer to the most transverse questions.
However, Starling was far too reserved to plug her ears and scream, "LA! LA! LA!" at the top of her lungs. Therefore, when she stopped speaking, there was little she could do as the doctor's voice returned. Taunting her, imploring her.
("You lost *me* to the darkness recently, Clarice. Don't tell me you have forgotten so quickly.")
Anger and frustration flustered within her for the reference, though she had no one present to aim it at, which aggravated her further. It was difficult justifying her irritation with Dr. Lecter's voice, especially considering he was nowhere near.
Anywhere but here.
Hell. She didn't blame him.
How could she be angry with him over something she made him say in her subconscious? The very knowledge that he *would* say it, were he here, filled as an acceptable excuse. Fair? No. But whatever was these days?
Stumbling through the living quarters, Starling struggled to find the light switches. She suddenly felt plastered, something that surprised her, more or less since she gave up hard drinking after sleeping through an important test in college. Tonight, she hadn't touched anything. Perhaps it was simply the affects of a bad evening.
It didn't begin nor end there. Bad evening, bad day, bad week, bad month, bad year, bad ten years, and so on. The list would never end.
Sighing dejectedly, Starling sank into her armchair, hand immediately rising to caress her brow. One evening, all like the rest. With each passing day, the end seemed closer. The end to what, she was unsure. However, whatever it carried with it, she sensed its approach, its proximity. A mighty hunter stalking its prey, waiting for the calm before pouncing.
("And now, the end is here. And so I face the final curtain. My friend, I'll say it clear. I'll state my case, of which I'm certain…")
Starling rolled her eyes again and sat forward. If it wasn't one thing, it was the another.
("My high is low. I'm dressed up with no place to go. And all I know, is I'm at the start of a pretty big downer…")
That made her chuckle slightly, and though she was not a fan of random songs running through her head, it was superior, at least for the sake of continued mental stability, than advice from a doctor that resided an undoubted ocean away.
The functions of the human subconscious are not at all patterned, therefore it cannot be said, in reflecting Dr. Lecter's ambiguous whereabouts, why she recalled that she had neglected to pick up the mail outside. Growling to herself, Starling sat forward, half-tempted to simply leave it for tomorrow. She had no desire to abandon the comfort -- so-called, as it was -- of home. How was it that a day of boredom sapped her of more energy than any of those assignments she told herself she enjoyed when she was considered a technical field agent? Either life was slowing to meet her, or she was getting lazy.
Perhaps life was lazily slowing to meet her. As it was, she didn't care to put too much thought into it. Instead, Starling fought to her feet, her muscles stretching heavily. Maybe it would be better to simply quit. Was the Bureau worth this? In growing up, she always learned to see to the end of all dedications. Having sacrificed more than a decade to an institution that clearly didn't care, she wondered if it was time to give in.
Such thoughts were treacherous. In an instant, Starling felt herself pushed against a metaphorical wall for her blasphemous thoughts, a dunce cap fitting squarely on her head. How dare she consider quitting?
"Starlings aren't quitters," the ghost of her father scolded.
In another time, perhaps, she would have taken that to heart. Obeyed, lived, done everything within her power to make daddy happy. But there came a time where she no longer cared, where it was no longer worth the effort. "No, no we're not," Starling observed in reply, opening the door once more as her eyes landed on the mailbox, set against a forage of silhouettes. It seemed so far away, and her body screamed its fatigue in protest. Smoothly defying it, she stepped outside and began the journey up her lonely drive. "We're not quitters," she continued, "we just wish we could be."
This was pitiful. In her prime, Starling reflected the ease at which she seized trophies for running marathons in preparation for the training courses at Quantico. She had ventured on assignments that required her to remain attentive and focused for well over forty-eight hours, only to report in the next day and turn to the exercise equipment before sleep ever became a priority. It didn't seem so long ago in many aspects, and reasonably, it shouldn't. After all, that was her definition before reacquainting herself with Dr. Lecter. The definition she allegedly portrayed now. It was hardly four months behind her.
Four months. Just four months. And yet, Starling continued to have these personal one-on-one sessions with the cannibalistic fugitive in her mind. It was simple that way. The dialogue she craved in secret was obtained without any measure of loyalty betrayed to those she had sworn her allegiance with. Her coworkers. Her colleagues. Her friends.
Query finally reached, Starling emitted another forlorn sigh as she opened the mailbox. It was far too dark to visibly make out its contents, but she saw something relative to her winning a grand sweepstakes and now being the heir to twenty five million dollars. She bristled her annoyance and ignored it, thumbing through the rest.
Bill. Bill. Bill. How did one person accumulate this many bills without actively using her credit card?
The last letter in the stack. Neither bill nor claim to wealth. She held her breath as her fingers delicately brushed the fine texture of the envelope, recognizing the fabric immediately. At that minute, time stilled for Special Agent Starling of the FBI as she delicately flipped the letter over to read the name standing proud on the front.
An elegant, brush script that she knew too well, spelling out one word in familiar appreciation.
She forgot she was holding her breath and released it hurriedly, producing a sound relative to a cry, though she wasn't sure if it was intentional. There was no question in her mind it was authentic -- doubting its origin was futile. Despite that, Starling shook her head in disbelief, not willing to grasp what she held very tangibly in her grasp. As she debated a sensible course of action, her astonishment soared, escalating to heights never before experienced until she emanated a heavy sigh. "This…this *can't* be happening," she decided, her thumb caressing the ink that spelled out her name proudly, boldly, in no attempt to disguise the identity of her correspondent. They were far beyond that, if they were ever there to begin with. "Again."