Under the Red Sky

Under the Red Sky (Joker) Part 12

It was the second time in the same week I had woken up with a splitting headache.

I was in my living room again, lying on my stomach, my face buried in the dirty carpet. I lifted my head, spitting bits of fluff from my mouth. I squinted against the light spilling into the room, as the ache in my skull worsened.

It had to have been a dream.

I was in the same spot I had been standing in last night, listening to nothing. Maybe I had passed out. I wouldn’t be surprised. Those fumes from the paint were really very brutal.

With a groan, I rolled over onto my back and sat up quickly. I grit my teeth against the pain in my head as I got to my feet. I took in a few gulps of air, filling my lungs with oxygen.

I grimaced as I stretched, reaching for the sky. There was a dull pain in my ribs that accompanied the soreness in my arms.

But despite all the aches and pains, I felt…different. Better, but different. Stronger even. Like I was powerful. Something I definitely wasn’t used to. But I liked it

“Must’ve slept funny. Had a good dream or something. That’s all,” I reassured myself, nodding as I ran my hands through my wild hair.

I rolled my neck and continued to warm up my muscles but stopped as I caught a whiff of myself. I drew back, revolted. I remembered then that I had been neglecting to shower for the past few days. “Or eat,” I observed, patting my stomach affectionally as it roared.

I sighed, stuck on the idea of showering. I wandered out of the living room and down the hall, smiling proudly at all the writing on the wall. I swore I could’ve been an artist or a writer or something creative like that, if I hadn’t been a….


I paused, mid stride, on my way to the bathroom, suddenly remembering Shrek. And my old job. I was shocked that I had forgotten all about it. Too busy losing my sanity, I suppose.

At a familiar sound, I peered down the dimly lit hallway to see Ms. Kitty slipping from my bedroom into the hall. She wound in and out of my legs and I smiled as I took her in my arms.

I pondered aloud as I stroked her silky ears. “What should I do Ms. Kitty? Should I pay Shrek a little visit? He must miss me.”

She clicked at me in response as I continued down the hall. “You don’t suppose when he knocked me out that window he was… firing me?”

I cackled madly as I ambled into the bathroom but my laughter turned into a scream as I came face to face with the mirror.

It was all over my face. All over the mirror, too. Everywhere written in red.


My arms slacked with shock and Ms. Kitty dropped to the ground with a disgruntled chirp. I rushed to the mirror, hands clutching my face as if it might melt off. My eyes were wide with fear as I rubbed, scratched, tore at my face mercilessly in an attempt to get rid of the bright crimson letters lining my pale skin.

That only made it worse and I stepped away from the mirror, horrified, my face a vibrant shade of pink. My eyes raced over what was left of the broken looking glass, catching a few words amidst the endless laughter.


The name. I remembered the name.

It hadn’t been a dream.

It was all real. All so real….

I gripped the sink to keep from collapsing as my knees shook violently. I cringed as I remembered his voice, how quickly it would get so dark, so gruff. I could feel his touch, the soft leather of his glove. And that laughter....

There was tube of lipstick, sitting upright on the counter. Ruined. I knocked it to the ground, suddenly furious. With myself. With him.

How had he gotten into the apartment?

You should really keep your doors locked at night….

What did he want with me? What could he possibly want with me?

On the contrary….I find you quite intriguing.

I felt my stomach churn as I plopped down onto the lid of the toilet. This couldn’t be happening….

Not now that everything was settling down. Or was it just starting to slip from reality?

I couldn’t tell the difference any more. There used to be such black and white. Now there was only gray. Much like the sky outside my window, hanging above this wicked city that was a guardian to liars and killers. And freaks like me.

I stood and turned on the shower, robotically. I began to undress in a daze, the cogs turning round in my head.

The water was searing hot, the rusty metal knob marked C forgotten, but I couldn’t feel the burn. It was then I noticed my hands were without their bandages. And my nails were no longer jagged and cracked but long and straight. The hair I had torn out had grown back and the strands seemed stronger, thicker.

I must’ve been him. It had to be. It would’ve taken months, if not days to repair the damage I had done to myself. He must have done something…

I scrubbed my face thoroughly and watched as the water around the drain turned pink. I tried my best to wash away last night as well, but it was a stubborn stain on my mind.

When I was satisfied, I stepped from the shower, and fishing a towel from the mess on the floor, wrapped it around my slender form. I cast one last suspicious glance at the mirror, catching my now pristine reflection behind the red chicken scratch. It gave the illusion that those horrible words were still on my face. I shuddered, shaking at the thought, before I was back in the hallway.

I needed to find him. This stranger. Needed to know who he was. No matter the price I had to pay. And I knew it would bother me, torment me until I did. Even now I heard his voice in my head, felt his touch on my skin, heard that laughter. I dared not imagine what he would do to my mind if I let the mystery of him linger there.

But for now, I needed to tie up the lose end: Shrek. There was no doubt in my mind that he had fallen under the impression that I was dead. That I was-how do they put it?-‘taken care of’. And that he could get away with what he did.

Stupid man.

Yes, I think I would pay him a visit. And why not today? My mind was muddled and I needed clarity in at least one aspect of my life. Shrek’s reaction to me showing up at his office would not be pretty and I would have to deal with the consequences of my forthcoming actions. But I would cross that bridge when I got to it.

I stopped suddenly as my foot collided with something soft and small, lying in the doorway to my bedroom. Looking down, I found that it was a rat. A dead rat.

I stepped back, grimacing at the gruesome sight. It would appear that Ms. Kitty had brought me a little present. Cat’s sometimes brought their kill to their caretaker, as a way of teaching them to hunt.

How appropriate.

I crouched, picking it up by the tail and holding it at arm’s length, as I left the hallway.

My room, I was pleased to find was just as I had left it. Messy bed. Sullied window. The neon sign on the wall was flickering, buzzing like a dying insect. I ignored it though as I set the dead rat on the dresser and headed for my closet.

I sneered in disgust at all the clothes I found inside. The boring skirt suits. The baggy t-shirts and sweatshirts all imprinted with hideously adorable kittens and ribbons and flowers. The ‘sensible’ heels, the chunky tennis shoes.

I never realized what a frump I was.

Only death can open thy eyes. More than just pretty words.

I burst into a fit of giggles, clutching my stomach, as I rested against the closet door for support. I wiped a few tears from my eyes, still shaking with laughter, as I continued to rummage around for something decent.

“Going fucking crazy,” I screeched, stepping farther into my closet, diving into the musty darkness. It was there I found the only unwelcomed presents I had ever received. Gifts from Charlotte on my last birthday. She had told me to open them in private, which I did. But I had blushed anyway.

Inside I had found some very racy articles of clothing, that I had never even considered wearing. And worst of all, lingerie. Upon arriving here in Gotham, I had happened upon the boxes while settling into the apartment without the memory of ever packing them. I suspected Charlotte was to blame.

They were simple white boxes with the Macy’s logo printed plainly across the lids. I snickered to myself as I set them down the bed, pushing aside the sheets. I flipped off the lids and tore away the tissue paper until I found what I wanted.

The clothes still smelled like the store, and Charlotte, ever forgetful, had neglected to remove the tags. I raised my eyebrows at the price and suddenly felt guilty for not wearing them. But of course, things were different know.

The first item in one box was a dress. Medium length, black, with a plunging neckline. I laid it out on the bed carefully, as if handling a precious artifact. There was a similar dress that I laid out beside it. In the other boxes I found a few pairs of pants, a blazer of two, a jacket, a few lacey tops and skirts.

And then the underwear, buried under it all. There was note on top pinned to one of the bras. I frowned. I didn’t remember seeing that when I last opened this box. It was written in Charlotte’s familiar slanted scrawl.

You’re in the big city now, baby! Use these babies well. It’s not a crime to be sexy. So knock ‘em dead. And remember: NOT ON THE FIRST DATE!



I smiled at the note as I detached it from the silky strap of the undergarment. I set it on the bedside table, beside the alarm clock that read 10:48.

I plucked a blazer and a pair of pants from the array of new clothes. I dressed quickly and in silence, head bowed, listening to the sounds of the city in the mid-morning.

The far off hum of cars zooming along the streets and the highways. The agonizing whine of the freight train and the belch of the cargo ships as they sailed into harbor. The frigid wind picked up outside and it blew in between the skyscrapers, howling like a pack of ferocious wolves.

I licked my palms, and after working my hands through my hair, I managed to get the tangled but clean mess into a low ponytail. I raised my head and approached the window as my fingers fastened the last button of my jacket. My eyes stung as they gazed out at fiercely bright gray sky. Blue eyes were not made for mornings like this.
I peered at myself in the glass, astounded at what I saw.

There was a vicious beauty in my face that hurt to gaze upon. Horrifying splendor. Like the monster in my nightmare. There was fury in my eyes, a spark ready to burst into flame. And hope, promise. A genuine light.

Never before had I seen such a thing. Especially in my own eyes.

“Look at you,” I murmured to myself, my breath forming a small spot of fog on the window. I bit my lip, frowning as I heard that rough voice in my head, cooing in my ear.

“Bijou, Bijou, Bijou….now that suits you.”

“Bijou.” I tried the word out on my tongue. I liked it. Even if it was his name for me.

I smiled, turning away from the window, and headed toward the dresser. I plucked up the dead rat and shoved it in my pocket without a second thought. It would be rude not to accept Ms. Kitty’s offering, especially if it could come in handy, which I figured it would.

I moved back down the hall into the living area and retrieved my coat and a pair of heels, which I rarely wore, from the closet in the front room.

“I’ll be right back, Ms. Kitty,” I called as I slipped out of the apartment, closing the door behind me just as she meowed in response.

It took nearly thirty minutes to get to Shrek Tower. I had had to walk a few blocks away from Luna Street, so I could actually catch a cab. It seems they didn’t stop in that part of town, which didn’t surprise me.

When I finally stepped from the taxi, out onto the pavement in front of the steps to the massive skyscraper, it was nearly noon. I nodded to the driver and he simply shrugged his broad shoulders.

I hadn’t any money, but he had agreed to keep the cab running after I had promised him double the cash if he both staid and drove me back to Luna Street. That meant I was on a tight schedule. No matter. I didn’t mean to stay long anyhow.
I sauntered through the ground floor lobby just as I had so many weeks before. But this time there was confidence in my stride. And people noticed.

I kept my head high, ignoring the many pairs of eyes I could feel searing my skin. I mused if any of these yuppies, these sharks remembered my face. If they didn’t before, they would now.

The elevators were just as I remembered them, but this time I was unashamed of what I saw in their glassy double doors. I was alone with two other business men, about my age or so. I watched them in the golden plated walls, as they looked me up and down, as their eyes lingered on my body.

I burned with hatred. Men. All dogs and pigs and putrid, stinking piles of-

There was a familiar ding as I reached the thirteenth floor. I breathed a sigh of relief as the doors opened and I shot the men behind me a cold glare as I stepped out of the elevator. Before they could do anything more than look sheepish, they were gone.

My heels pounded the immaculate marble floor of the lobby, my heart threatening to explode, my pulse racing. The portrait of Max Shrek hung on the wall, forever scowling. I sneered, forming a gun with my hand. I fired.

“Good afternoon, welcome to the business office of Max Shrek, president and owner of the Shrek Department Stores.”

The voice was mechanical, automatic. Sylvia.

Her eyes were not on me as I neared her desk, but on her computer screen. She looked up as I passed. And nearly jumped out of her skin.

She leapt up from her seat, sending the swivel chair rolling backwards. She backed up against the filing cabinet behind her desk, her manicured hands gripping the sides for dear life. She gawked at me, her blue eyes wide with shock and panic. It looked as if she had seen a ghost.

It was not until now that I considered the possibility that Shrek had told Sylvia what had become of me. I wondered if he had told her the truth.

I stopped in front of her desk, hands in my pockets. My fingers stroked the dead animal in my pocket as I smiled at Sylvia.

“Let me guess: Mr. Shrek is in a meeting,” I began, glancing over at the black glass doors across the room.

Sylvia nodded slowly, her eyes frozen on my face, her jaw wide open as she converted oxygen into carbon dioxide. Over. And over.

I clapped my hands together, snapping her out of her horrified daze. “Well, I don’t see why we can’t pop in and say hello.”

And with that I turned on my heel and began toward the meeting room, not caring if Sylvia chose to follow or not, my laughter rising to the cracked mirror ceiling and bouncing off the marble floors and I indulged in the marvelous acoustics of my old cage.