Under the Red Sky

Under the Red Sky (Joker) Part 15

It was not until I jolted awake for no apparent reason several hours later that I realized I had fallen asleep on the couch.

I cursed at myself for being so foolish, for being so damn tired. I rubbed the grit from the corners of my eyes, feeling the greasy residue of my once perfectly applied eyeliner. I remembered now why I had never bothered with makeup in the past.

I swallowed to find my throat dry and scratchy as I gazed out over the shadowy scene of my living room. And I nearly jumped out of my skin at what I saw.

I blinked rapidly to quickly rouse myself from my drowsy state.

It couldn’t be. It must be a dream, a trick of light, my crazed imagination. Anything but this this. I squinted through the darkness in disbelief, my heart pounding in my chest.

He was here. Sitting in the chair opposite me. Waiting, watching, those dark eyes glinting ominously. Orange light from the lamppost on the street bled in through the window, illuminating half of his painted face, as it had on the night before.

“It’s rude to stare.”

There. That proved it. This was no illusion, no play of light. This was a real nightmare. And I couldn’t wake up, not from reality.

But despite the anxiety bubbling in the pit of my stomach, I replied calmly keeping my voice as mellow and low as the breeze flowing in through the open window in the kitchen.

“I apologize. I’m not used to uninvited midnight visitors.”

To my great surprise, the Joker smiled, amused by my clever retort. For a moment, he stared at me, head tilted to the side as if he were studying an especially complicated piece of art work. I stared right back, watching him warily, trying to foresee his next move. But that was hard to do with such an unpredictable man.

His eyes flickered away from my face to glance around my living room. “Nice place you got here, Bijou,” he stated, leaping up from his seat.

I was surprised. He was quite agile despite his stiff, shuffling walk. I found myself attracted to it, but quickly pushed the feelings away, slightly disgusted.

I crossed my arms tightly over my chest and sat up straighter, as my eyes followed him around the room.

He picked his way through the devastation, as I had done so many times before. He kicked pieces of junk out of his path and I stifled a laugh as he tripped over the remains of my old telephone. He didn’t seem so dangerous right now. But I wasn’t about to let my guard down.

I looked on as he stumbled over to the front door and turned the small lock above the glass doorknob. There was a minute click and I scowled at him as he turned to smile cheekily at me.

“Now, was that so hard?” he teased, placing his hands on his hips like a mother who was scolding her child.

I stood, my knees jerking violently as I left my spot on the couch. I saw stars momentarily from getting up too fast but I blinked them away. “What is it you want now?”

My voice was steadfast and strong, and I hoped intimidating enough to get the answers I wanted.

The Joker rolled his eyes, faking a yawn. “Haven’t we been over this already? Boooring.”

He moved for the mouth of the hallway. I rushed to block his path and succeeded in doing so, placing an unyielding hand on either side of the doorframe. He stopped short, teetering on his ratty brown shoes. His smile vanished, replaced with a disgruntled frown that didn’t suit him. I realized then that he was a few inches taller than me.

He made to brush past me but I stopped him once more, holding him at arm’s length with a hand placed firmly on his chest.

“Answer me,” I commanded, glowering up at him unafraid.

There was a flash of anger in his eyes that anyone else would have missed. But it vanished as quickly as it appeared.

He raised his eyebrows, an odd light in those soot rimmed eyes. He looked down at himself and at my hand, at my fingers spread out over his green vest and the wildly pattered dress shirt beneath it. He seemed taken aback, almost impressed.

It was a fair guess that no had stood up to him like this before. But there was first time for everything.

My hand left his chest as he sighed loudly, giving in to my demands. I was astonished.

“Fine,” he groaned, turning around and stomping back into the living room like a small child who didn’t get his way. I watched as he neared the window to gaze down at the street below.

There was a brief moment of silence before he began.

“I tried to, uh…kill you. Last night,” he muttered, glancing over his shoulder to catch my reaction.

“Tried?” I repeated, feeling my face grow pale as my stomach churned.

“That syringe I stuck you with,” he explained, turning back to the window as he pantomimed shooting something into his arm, “was full of a deadly nerve toxin. Your heart was supposed to have stopped beating within the first few hours, post-injection.”

I felt my blood freeze in my veins and a swelling pain in my chest like my lungs were threatening to explode. I stepped from the entrance to the hallway, swaying slightly. My breath caught in my throat, as I stumbled toward the couch. Just in case I keeled over.

He had tried to kill me. Tried to make my heart stop beating. And I had…survived. Somehow I had escaped death for the second time, coming away from the experience with little or no harm. This was bizarre to say the least. And I was frightened by myself and by what I did not know.

“But,” the Joker began, pulling me from my thoughts. I had momentarily forgotten he was here. “When you showed up to Shrek’s little meeting this morning, I saw that my poison hadn’t worked. “

He spun away from the window, and in an instant, he was standing before me, this wild look in his dark eyes. “Why didn’t you die, Bijou?”

His question was fairly simple. But I did not have the answer.

“I haven’t the slightest idea,” I murmured, staring up at his scarred face. He should’ve been scary. Terrifying even. But I looked upon him with a calm interest. I was more unnerved by his actions rather than his appearance.

He licked his lip excitedly, grabbing me by the arms. I hardly took notice; his touch was so strangely gentle.

“Me neither,” he cried joyously, before bursting into a fit of giggles. He smacked me lightly on the cheek, his eyes watering from delight.

I gaped at him, terribly confused and mildly entertained. What could he possibly mean? This answered none of my questions. And suddenly I found myself very upset.

“Well, what the fuck is that supposed to mean?” I spat angrily, trying to free myself from his grasp only to have him hold me tighter.

“Language, kitten,” he muttered, slapping me again, harder this time, as his laughter faded, “Don’t worry. I have it all up here.” He let go of me momentarily to hold a finger to the side of his forehead. He grinned, showing me all of his yellow teeth.

I raised an eyebrow at him, my lip pulled up in a skeptical grimace. He was plotting, scheming. And he had every intention to include me in his little plans, whatever they were. Not that I had a choice.

“You are some kind of freak….” I whispered, more to myself than to him. But he caught it nonetheless. The Joker scowled comically, pushing out his red lips in an overly exaggerated pout.

“I know you are but what am I?” he exclaimed, in a sing song voice, as he yanked my ear painfully.

I gasped. “Hey, wha--"

As soon as I’d opened my mouth, he pressed his own onto it. I froze for a moment, feeling my skin get hot and prickly, before I tried desperately to pry him off without getting him angry. He wouldn’t budge. I breathed inwardly, giving up.

For someone with yellow teeth, he wasn’t too revolting. Above everything else, I could taste his lipstick. His distinctive smell bombarded my nose. Gasoline. And rain. And now the pungent scent of his white face paint.

Finally he moved away, smacking his lips as if savoring the taste. He clutched my face in his hands, gazing down at me, studying me. I breathed in relief when I found that he knife was no where to be seen.

“I know you, Bijou,” he began, his voice adopting an almost ordinary tone, “I know who you are. You’re just like me. A freak.”

I winced as he put extra emphasis on the last syllable, and he patted my face tenderly, shushing me like I was a fussy infant.

“But we’ll show them, won’t we?” he snarled, digging his thumbs into the ends of my lips. I stayed perfectly still as he pulled them up until he had forced a smile onto my face.

“Show them what?” I mumbled, despite the hands still gripping my cheeks.

“Think on it, kitten,” the Joker replied, smiling grimly, “It’ll all be very clear.”

He let go of me at last and shuffled back towards the front door. He unlocked it and wrenched it open, causing the hinges to shriek noisily in the quiet of the apartment. He peered over his shoulder at me, holding my gaze with those dark eyes.

“Just you wait, Bijou,” he called, as he clenched and unclenched his purple fists which hung down by his sides, “In a week or so, I’ll be all you got.”

And then he was gone, slamming the door behind him.

My knees gave out from beneath me and I collapsed on the couch, sinking into the ripped, yet comfortable cushions. I laid back like I had earlier, but I was far from sleep. My eyes were glazed as the last twenty minutes of so played out in my mind like a movie I had seen many times before. And I stared into the darkness until there was light pouring in from my window.

It must’ve have been a little after ten o’clock when I shook myself out of the daze I had fallen into.

I got up from the couch, my eyes still gazing at nothing. I scuttled over to the window to find that Gotham’s massive skyscrapers and streets and hundreds of other buildings had disappeared. A low heavy fog had settled over the entire city, shrouding it with gloom and uncertainty.

Much like my mind, I thought bitterly, as I pushed my tangled mess of hair away from my face. I tied it back again before letting my hands fall to sides. I looked down, surprised, as I remembered my whip.

I hadn’t even used it. My shoulders slumped and I groaned angrily, upset with myself.

I could’ve fought him off. Could’ve hurt him enough to leave me in peace. But something about the Joker made me lose my nerve. My mind was wiped nearly blank with his mere presence, just like the city outside my window that had vanished when the smog rolled in.

I sighed inwardly turning away from the window. I scowled down at the mess littering the floor of my living room.

I decided that I should get out of the apartment. Some time away would do me and my mind some good. I would go to the nearest library, wherever the hell that was. They were sure to have computers there and computers meant information. Information on the Joker.

They say keep your friends close, keep your enemies closer.

“Too close,” I muttered, remembering his lips on my own. I shuddered at the thought and headed to my bedroom to get decent.

As I began down the hallways, I saw that while he was here, the Joker had done the same. There were puddles of water here and there, brought in on his shoes from the melting snow outside. He probably had gotten bored waiting around for me to wake up and had taken a look around. I frowned, suddenly feeling violated.

I wondered if he had read any of what I wrote on the walls. If he had, he now knew more about me that he had let on.

I know you, Bijou.

I tried my best to put his words, his voice, his face from my mind as I got ready for the day ahead. But to no avail.


I arrived at the Gotham City Public Library by cab nearly thirty minutes later. I entered the enormous marble building and drew in a long breath as I headed for the section to the right of the doorway labeled MEDIA. I relished the musty smell of millions of books. It immediately calmed me.

I had spent a lot of time at the library in Braidal, when I wasn’t working at my mundane job. Though the selection was poor and the old woman who ran the place was constantly breathing down my neck, it was my escape. I plowed through books full of romance and adventure to get away from my dull, dreadful life.

“And now, I’ve walked right into one of Edgar Allen Poe’s novels,” I murmured, adjusting the purse strap on my shoulder.

A couple of teenagers shot me strange looks as I passed them in the CD aisle. I returned the gesture. It wasn’t like I was the one with all that black shit on my eyes listening to Tokio Motel or whatever the hell they were called.

You’re just talking to yourself, I thought idly as I reached the computers. I chose one in the corner, not wanting to attract attention to myself or my interests. But I still looked around guardedly as I typed ‘the Joker’ into the search bar.

I found plenty of articles similar to the one I had read yesterday in the paper. About the bank robberies. I gathered that he had worked with a bunch of nameless small timers. All of whom wound up dead, discovered at the scene.

Does not work well with others, I mused, smiling to myself.

After clicking through thousands of other links and narrowing my search again and again, I finally gave up. I leaned back in my chair, frustrated, my eyes tired from squinting at the computer screen.
The Joker was a mystery to the authorities and the papers. But obviously not to the underground world: the mobsters, the thieves, the killers. And Shrek. So what did he want with me?

There was no way of knowing if he refused to tell me.

“But we’ll show them, won’t we?”

‘We’ he had said. Why had he suddenly thought in pairs? It made my stomach turn just thinking about it.

As of now, I could do nothing but wait. Wait for him to let me in on his plans, whatever they were. There was no forcing it out of him. But I supposed it was in his nature to be mysterious. Or ridiculous. Either one really.

I brought my hands back to the keyboard to begin another search, but my fingers only hovered over the keys.

If I was going to understand the Joker, I needed to understand myself first. Or rather, what was happening to me.

I thought back to the past few days.

I had been knocked out of a thirteenth floor window, only to land on the icy concrete in an alley below. I had hurt myself enough to leave several scars, if not to bring about permanent damage to my wellbeing. I had been given a drug that was supposed to stop my heart.

And yet, I was here, sitting in a library as if I was just another lonely woman with nothing else better to do.

I could hear things. Far off things in different places. Outside, inside. It was like sonar. Right now, the rustle of pages, some young girl reading her vampire novel to herself under her breath, and the undeniable sound of a couple smooching behind a bookshelf.

I could smell things too. I could tell one area in the city from another by the distinctive scent of the wind as it swept over the pavement. I could tell so much about a person now just by inhaling.

For instance, the man sitting two desks away from me was a chain smoker who owned a dog. Or two. And he had eaten a McMuffin for breakfast. Heavy on the bacon.

I thought about Ms. Kitty. I had always liked cats. They were low maintenance, easier to handle than dogs. No mess, no noise. I talked to Ms. Kitty, told her my secrets, my troubles. She listened and didn’t pass judgment.

I typed a single word into the search bar: cat.

The first site that came up was from Wikipedia, which held a variety of articles covering a cat’s etymology, anatomy, reproduction, grooming, blahblahblahblahblahblahblah.

And then finally, senses.

I found that cats possessed extremely sharp senses. Acute sight that allowed them to see at only one-sixth the light level required for human vision. Excellent hearing, the ability to detect a very broad range of frequencies. And a sense of smell about fourteen times as strong as a human’s.

I tried not to read too much into it. But it was inevitable.

With a sinking feeling, I started to connect the dots only to see that none of it made any sense. It was just a bunch of jumbled, squiggly lines pointing to one thing which was impossible.

That I, somehow, through the course of unexplained events, had developed…cat like abilities?

I exhaled loudly, rubbing my face furiously. The man with the bacon breath gave me a look, and then did a double take, letting his eyes linger on my face. And then on my chest, which was non existent.

I glared at him until he turned away, at which point I got up and left my computer, not bothering to exit out of the internet.

I glanced at the clock on the wall as I walked back into the main atrium of the library. It was nearly noon. I frowned, slightly concerned. I hadn’t realized I had spent so much time here. I left quickly.

As I stood out on the sidewalk, trying to hail a taxi, I remembered with an irritated growl that I had dinner with that Wayne guy this evening.

“Just great,” I muttered, when a yellow cab finally pulled up to the curb. I yanked open the door and slid into the backseat. “One more thing to worry about.”

“Tell me about it lady,” grumbled the driver, as he peered at me in his rearview mirror.

“Luna Street, please,” I sighed, pinching the bridge of my nose between my index finger and my thumb.

My entire life up until about four days ago had been painfully uneventful, save for my manipulative mother and my father’s accidental murder.

I had sped through middle school and high school, missed out on life, so I could stay in and study only to end up spending two brief years in the local community college. I learned no valuable skills which landed me at a Starbucks.

Then there was the temping offer. And my exasperatingly humdrum job at Shrek’s.

And Fate, by a vile serious of events, gave me all I really needed: a little push.
I had fallen down the rabbit hole, literally. And suddenly I found myself in this chillingly twisted wonderland. A stranger had shambled into my life, without warning, with his colorful clothes and his painted face.

But I welcomed this madness, enjoyed it even. Because it was breath of fresh air, like someone had opened a door in a stale, stuffy room.

For once in my life I felt strong, powerful. Beautiful even.

Selina Kyle had died. And I buried her with my old life, my old ways.

And I laughed now, smiled. Just like a Cheshire.