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Once Upon a Time

copyright 2001, by Diana Lecter

Disclaimer:    These characters were created by Thomas Harris.  They are used herein without permission, but in the spirit of admiration and respect.  No infringement of copyright is intended, and no profit, of any kind, is made by the creator, maintainer or contributors to this site.

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In the beginning…erm!

A long time ago in a galaxy far far away…erm!

Once upon a time there was an intellectually stimulating man who lived in a town of clones. Unlike his neighbors, he refused to wear the same clothes, read the same books, discuss the same horribly tedious topics, or even eat the same food. Instead of studying wielding or mechanics, he became the towns’ first and only psychiatrist. This was a man who hated normality, and did everything in his power to break from it. Instead of studying wielding or mechanics, he became the towns’ first and only psychiatrist.

The Normals, as they were called, feared hated irregularity. They decided to unite and banish the non-conformist to the woods, where he would surely die of starvation. However, he did not die. Instead, he made meals from peddlers and merchants that ventured in and out of the city, causing a mass decrease in the stock market and sending the Normals into terrible debt. He became a ghostly figure, one they only saw from the shadows and the figure of terror in the children.

They called him Hannibal the Cannibal.

Within time, Hannibal made due with his situation and found it most rewarding. He was never one to enjoy the company of others; therefore he built a mansion far into the woods and supplied it with things to his liking. Still, he lacked the fundamentals in food supplies, therefore he continued to prey on those entering and exiting the town that exiled him.

After a while, though, people wised up to the ways of Hannibal. They avoided passages that were located near his rumored residence, and thus, the discovery of cannibalized victims started to dwindle. Discouraged but not defeated, Hannibal contacted a local sorcerer who assisted in his troubles. He gave the power of life to many of the inanimate objects of his house and they serviced him by doing the hunting, the gardening, and the what have you.

Hannibal grew to hate the outside world. Everything he could possibly need was here with him, and he could not want for anything.


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


Raised in the Village of the Normals, Clarice Starling found her life to be exceedingly dull. No one seemed to appreciate her free spirit or will power that tended to do and say whatever it pleased. She kept room and board with her mentor, the local craftsman Jack Crawford. He had taken her in after her father’s untimely death, something many of the townspeople blamed on the ambiguous Hannibal the Cannibal.

Clarice was a very beautiful woman and many of the locals had asked for her hand in marriage, including the village idiot, Paul Krendler. After issuing many rejections, the Normals accused her of being IRREGULAR and the entire town turned its back on her welfare. All accept Jack Crawford of course.

One day, Crawford had to make a journey out of town to their neighboring village, The Village of the Technologically Advanced. Supposedly, this town had developed wonders such as televisions and radios. There were even reports of things called cars that were to put an end to horses and buggies.

It later turned out there was a misreading in the town’s title, and it was truly The Village of the Untechnologically Advanced. The Normals blamed the village idiot for blotching out the wording on the sign.

However it was, Crawford did not return for several days after the initial departure. Clarice, fearing the town would turn against her without his influence to protect her, decided to saddle her reliable steed, Hannah, and immediately commence a search.

Unlike those in the past, no one warned her of the looming Hannibal the Cannibal. If she disappeared, it was no skin off anyone’s nose.

The woods were dark and mysterious, but they intrigued Clarice in many ways. She had to wonder if Crawford hadn’t simply run off in some valiant attempt to escape the Normals, but she knew he would never leave her behind.

Intentionally.

A few hours into the investigation, Clarice still hadn’t come across any evidence that Crawford was lurking about, and even fewer bits of verification that one called Hannibal the Cannibal even existed.

She was prepared to turn back when Hannah neighed in complaint. The horse had a very defined sense of danger, and Clarice felt her heart pound furiously. She proceeded with caution, but that didn’t help. Minutes later, she found herself ten feet off the ground and in a net, swinging back and forth from a tree limb.

Clarice was not one to panic. Even though the situation seemed more or less helpless, she did not scream or whimper. Instead, she hung there in the dismal silence. Hannah galloped off for help, but she doubted even the clever stallion could lead others to this location.

The idea that others would come was likewise laughable.

Long into the hours of the night, Clarice waited. The air was cold and she feared lurking spiders, but otherwise, she was calm. Predators below watched her with yellow eyes, waiting for a chance to strike. Seeing as she was comfortably off the ground, they did not threaten her.

Before long, she found sleep.

When Clarice awoke, she was not in the netting. Instead, she found herself in a rather comfortable bed located in a generously sized room that held more sophistication than any place she had ever visited before. The bed was so comfortable she felt like falling asleep once more, but the curious turn of events convinced her to venture out in some attempt to locate where she was.

The dressing, she found, was stocked nicely with lovely outfits that she invited herself to borrow. Dressing in a robe and some slippers, Clarice wandered out of the comfy room and down an elaborately designed hall.

She had never seen a place so large. It was decorated magnificently, spaced with perfection and allowed enough light to see, but not so much as to blind.

Clarice decided that she was far from the Village of the Normals. Not one resident of that monotonous place could think up a home such as this.

As she continued her expedition though the hallways, peering into open rooms but never entering, Clarice adapted the persistent feeling that she was being followed. However, every time she motioned to confirm this theory, the hall behind her was vacant. Soon, she decided that it was her nerves and ignored the premonition.

It was then that the relative silence of the home was disturbed. A very smooth, soft, elegant voice emitted from behind her with a pleasant, “Good evening.”

Clarice gasped and turned around to be greeted with the most intelligent eyes she had ever seen, pigmented in maroon. The face and body that belonged to the eyes was likewise the epitome of stylishness. Clarice felt herself weaken at first, but her senses overrode it and she nodded in kind, acknowledging him as the master of the house.

“Hello,” she replied.

“Do forgive me for alarming you,” he returned, offering no explanation of how she came to arrive there.

Clarice pursed her lips, suddenly remembering the reason of her journey. “Umm…if you don’t mind…where am I?”

“Far into the woods, I assure you.”

“How…how did I come to be here?”

“My servants brought you in from the netting. My esteemed apologies for that.” His eyes implored hers. “May I ask what lured you so deep into the woods? They do say a madman lurks about. These are dangerous parts.”

Clarice smiled in kind. “I’m really in no disposition to believe in the boogey man…Mr…?”

“Lecter,” he said, returning her smile. The sight of this man’s teeth made her shiver a bit. “Dr. Lecter.”

She nodded. “Dr. Lecter. I am Clarice Starling, unfortunate resident of the Village of the Normals. I was searching for my friend, Mr. Crawford who seems to have lost himself in the woods when I…ended up here…”

“Jack Crawford?”

Her heart soared with hope. “Yes! Oh please tell me…do you know where he is?”

“Downstairs,” Dr. Lecter responded calmly.

Clarice’s eyes widened. “Downstairs?!” she repeated. “What’s he doing downstairs!?”

“I’m not sure what he told you prior to leaving, but whatever it is, you obviously remain ignorant. His intentions on his escapade were to find me…which he did…however ill-fated things turned out to be…”

Clarice blinked and took a cautious step backward. “Why would he be looking for you…?”

Dr. Lecter smiled. “My dear, don’t you know? I am the illustrious Hannibal and the Cannibal, and Jack Crawford doesn’t think too well of me.”

For a minute, Clarice didn’t know if she should scream and sprint in the other direction, or remain perfectly still. Ever since childhood, she had been told terrible stories of this man, how he gobbled up children and had no sense of ethics.

“What…do you plan to do with him?” she asked in a small voice. “Nothing short of what he would do to me, let me assure you,” Dr. Lecter replied casually. “Jack has had something of a grudge against me for quite a while. I think it might be based on my will to escape your pretentious little town while he remains trapped within it. Either way, he wants me dead.”

Clarice heard herself swallow hard. “So…you’re going to kill him?”

“Torture first. Killing by modern advancements really has become, ironically, outdated.”

“But…but…”

“I took you in simply because I am not as monstrous as I might appear,” Dr. Lecter said, answering her question before she could ask it. “Far be it for me to leave you helplessly suspended with no one to save you. You can fly back to your little town now, Little Starling. Fly, fly, fly…” With that, he turned and began to idle away, seemingly having lost his interest.

Clarice was panicked. The idea that this man thought he had the right to just but in and do as he pleased was quite frustrating. She had to save Jack Crawford, and the overall idea of returning to the Village of the Normals was unappealing.

Besides, how could she go back there in knowing her mentor was here?

“Wait!” she called after him. A breath of silence encircled her as he turned to face her. “…Take me instead.”

Apparently, she had surprised him. With a blink, he retorted an astound, “Pardon?”

“You heard me. Release Jack Crawford and I’ll stay here in his place…”

Dr. Lecter turned to face her fully, the look of shock having not dissipated, his tone still astonished. “You would do that?”

“Yes.”

Dr. Lecter seemed to go deep into thought, but a few seconds later, he nodded his approval. “Very well. You may return to your room now.” With that, he turned and walked away, the darkness of the residence swallowing him whole.

Clarice, frightened for the first time, though not consumed with regret, shivered and walked back to the chamber he had designated for her. There she sat by the window and watched as a bewildered Jack Crawford was released.

She wondered how Dr. Lecter might torture her first. Hot oil, drawn and quartered…which ever, it didn’t occur to her to mind. The satisfaction in knowing she had done the right thing overwhelmed any thoughts that might suggest lament.

When Dr. Lecter returned, she was sure it was to send her to her first torture session. Instead, he motioned to the wardrobe that sat directly in front of her bed. “Please,” he said, “indulge as much as you want. I’ll expect you downstairs for dinner in an hour.”

He wouldn’t say more.


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~


The days passed with no remorse. Every morning when he awoke her, she was sure it was to begin some form of anguish, but customarily, it was to announce breakfast. Despite popular belief, he did not feed solely on human flesh. In fact, she had not eaten a single meal here that she couldn’t identify.

Clarice didn’t live in fear of Dr. Lecter, but she knew to respect and not underestimate what he was capable of. She spoke only when spoken to, and addressed him courteously as Dr. Lecter, never venturing her luck at calling him by his given name.

Thoughts of what had happened to her father ran through her head, but over the course of the weeks of her stay, Clarice found it exceedingly difficult to put him at blame for any of her misfortune. At night, she thought about him often, wondering what did happen, and if the man who was now her caregiver had any part.

Clarice learned long ago never to listen to rumors.

As time passed, she became more and more comfortable with the situation presented. She found herself laughing with him, enjoying their discussions over dinner as well as arguing quietly over which book to read before turning in for bed. The servants, curious creatures composed of everyday household appliances, were also a joy to converse with, always very kind and complimentary.

The man the Village of the Normals spent most of their time fearing was no reason to fear at all. Clarice soon lost count of how many weeks she spent within the walls of the residence, and found even further that she didn’t care. It was nice here, so much nicer than her own home.

One afternoon, Dr. Lecter told her he had something special planned for that evening, and that she should be ready by six o’clock. Always one to oblige, Clarice agreed and retreated to her room when five rolled around. She didn’t require that much time to prepare, but enjoyed the minutes of privacy for personal reflection.

When she made the decent downstairs in one of the loveliest gowns in her wardrobe, she was greeted by the debonair appearance of the doctor. He looked fantastic, reminding her of her initial impression of him before his true identity was revealed.

“You look lovely, Clarice,” he complimented, offering his arm as he led them to the main dining room.

“Thank you,” she replied, feeling compelled to remark on his own astounding attire but not knowing how to word it. She decided to leave the matter unattended.

When they entered the dining room, Clarice was greeted with pleasant smells, and the first human being she had seen besides Dr. Lecter since her arrangement to stay with him.

Most curiously, it was the village idiot, Paul Krendler. He had a bandana tied around his head and looked misplaced, as though he hadn’t the faintest idea who he was.

“Do sit down,” Dr. Lecter encouraged.

Clarice obliged and sat without question. It wasn’t until Dr. Lecter sat without comment on the third party that she decided to ask. “Dr. Lecter…why—”

“Ah yes. Mr. Krendler here was sent by the village as a scout to locate you, my dear. Apparently, Jack Crawford has a bigger mouth than I credited him, and an even smaller brain. Paul here fell into a trap very similar to the one that brought you here,” Dr. Lecter said, splaying his napkin in his lap. “Upon retrieval, he made a terribly rude comment that simply could not go ignored.”

“What did he say?”

“Best left unsaid. Needless to say, he doesn’t care much for you.” Dr. Lecter motioned for his servant candles to pour the wine, a fine Chianti.

Dr. Lecter raised his glass. “A toast…to absent friends.”

“To absent friends,” she repeated before drinking.

“Now then,” he continued, standing. “For the main course.”

The main course turned out to be the prefrontal lobes of Paul Krendler’s brain. Clarice thought it appalling, but knew better than to object. She had never cared for him, anyway. Dr. Lecter sautéed and seasoned, placing it on a plate before her with several appetizing sides.

Much to both their amazement, she ate. Not only did she eat without complaint, she asked for seconds.

She wondered, after they were finished, how it came to be that the village idiot’s brain was actually quite scrumptious.

Her actions seemed to please Dr. Lecter immensely, for he stood with a wide smile and asked for her hand in a dance. Always one to oblige, Clarice accepted.

The music, curiously, was performed by a teapot that sang a beautiful rendition of ‘Beauty and the Beast.’

After the dance, Dr. Lecter took her to the balcony. He mused thoughtfully.

“Clarice,” he said after a long minute. “You’re free to leave.”

She blinked. “What?”

“I will no longer hold you here…you have proven something to me that I thought not possible.” He turned to smile at her. “You are different, little Starling, be proud of that trait. Not only that, you’re accepting and seem to see what others don’t, what they wish not to see. I cannot feasibly hold a spirit like yours forever.” He turned to gaze at the stars.

Clarice was beyond shocked. Never had it occurred to her that she might be granted freedom one day, leaving without so much as a scar to commemorate her time here. It was bizarre to think that she was rewarded for being herself, especially after spending so much time enduring the abuse that not being a labeled Normal meant.

“I don’t want to leave,” she said a minute later.

Again, he was astonished. She liked shocking him like that, figuring she was the only person who could.

“You’re foolish, Clarice,” he said at last.

“Foolish to want to stay where I’m accepted, where I can be me, where I’m surrounded by someone with at least some intelligence? I don’t think so. I’d be foolish to go back to where they shun the thought of difference and idealism. What’s left for me back there?” Clarice felt overwhelmed, and suddenly panicked with the idea that she might be sent away, lest he not want her here.

For a long minute, he didn’t speak, merely looked at her with his unmoving maroon pupils.

Finally, he smiled. “You’re welcome to then, my dear. Stay as long as you want. Here with me.”

For some reason, the moment was significant enough to document with a kiss. It turned out the kiss was the first of many.

Soon people forgot about Clarice Starling, lost in the woods, presumed victim of Hannibal the Cannibal. They were ironically correct, yet horribly wrong at the same time.

After a time, Dr. Lecter and Clarice married and moved from the woods to a lovely resort in Buenos Aires. Neither were missed, nor did they miss what they left behind.


The End

copyright 2001, by Diana Lecter

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