Under the Red Sky

Under the Red Sky (Joker) Part 2

At 11:45, on the night of November 21, just one day after my mother’s funeral, I turned my rusty, coughing Volvo onto Luna Street and came face to face with my new home: the Lennon Apartment Complex.

I peered up skeptically at the seemingly decaying building, as my engine shut off with a horrible wheeze. I breathed out slowly, in the heat of my car, as my eyes swept over the place Sandra had recommended.

Her cheery voice s rang in my ears: Cheapest apartment you’ll find in Gotham!

Maybe I had misinterpreted her words. Her suggestion seemed more like a warning now.

“Just do it, Selena,” I murmured to myself, my tired eyes staring intently at the steering wheel. “Just get out of the car and walk up to the place. It’ll be fine.”

Never mind there were about three prostitutes on the corner giving my car the eye and four suspicious looking fellows giving them the eye as I drove by. And never mind I can practically smell the dust and rotting air radiating from apartment.

I licked my chapped lips quickly and ripped my keys from the ignition. My fingers grasped the cool metal of the door handle and with a noisy screech, the door swung open.
My foot met the pavement with a crunch of cold slush, and as I heaved myself from my ancient car, I cast a fleeting look at all of my possessions which had been carefully crammed into the back of my car.

I briefly worried what would become of them, if I left them here on the street for only a few mere moments while I stepped inside. Maybe the prostitutes will keep a glittered eye on them, I considered, smiling to myself.

But I did not cast any more glances at them, or at my things, as I quickly made my way up the gritty, stone steps of the Lennon Complex.

The bell chimed over the door as I shuffled in, my mousy brown hair blowing about my face as the wind picked up behind me.

The front room was deserted, and terribly messy. The air smelled of must and the lone light bulb, which hung from a wire coming down from the ceiling, cast a dim, rosy glow around the room.

To the right, there was ancient looking wooden staircase. My eyes ran up each rickety step until they reached the landing. There was a greenish tint to the place due to the flickering florescent lights overhead.

The wall to the left of me was occupied with a cluttered bookshelf, filled with random bits of paper and dust covered books, as well as a chipping, badly painted red desk no doubt belonging to the landlord. A tarnished copper bell sat idly on the muddled countertop, waiting for me.

Just as I was making my may toward the clutter and mess that hopefully held the keys to my apartment, a man appeared in the far left doorway from behind the desk.

He didn’t seem to notice me, as he scratched his unshaven face and ran a dirty hand across the front of his wife beater, which was stretched with the girth of his beer belly. His eyes were instead glued on what he held in his hand: a Playboy magazine.

The minute I caught sight of it I felt my face fill with color. I kept my eyes away from the dreaded thing as I approached the counter.

“Um…hi,” I murmured sheepishly, edging toward the cluttered mess of papers and keys. The man looked up suddenly, a wild look in his tired eyes, as if he had just realized, with a shock, that he was not alone with his magazine. With a flourish of glossy magazine pages, he hurriedly hid it behind his back. But the damage was done.

“Oh sorry,” he grumbled, bumping up against the desk in an attempt to make all appear normal. He shuffled his papers as a small amount of red appeared in his scruffy cheeks. He was embarrassed as well. “What can I help you with missy?”

I smiled meekly. “I’m the new tenant. Selena Kyle?”

The man, who I had established was the landowner, nodded repeatedly and moved about his desk, rummaging through his drawers and his scattered papers.

“Aha!” he exclaimed as he finally happened upon what he was searching for in his mess. He held up a small, iron key for me to see, smiling at it proudly like it was lost treasure. Then with a minute clink, he set it on the counter and slid it toward me.

“There you are. You’ll be in flat number nine” he mumbled, as I stepped forward to claim my key.

I thanked him with a nod of my head and pocketed the miniscule thing before I could lose it.

“Welcome to the Lennon Complex,” the landowner began, his voice suddenly becoming monotonous and robotic as if he had said the same thing on many previous occasions, “We hope that you find a comfortable and safe home here. Now, just because you move your stuff in here doesn’t mean this is your place. I, being the landlord, have some rules and regulations.”

I nodded him on, but he needed no consent from me.

“First off, the rent is sixty bucks and it’s due by the end of the month no exceptions. Second, use of drugs, narcotics, controlled substances, weapons, bombs of any kind are prohibited in the building. If you have any nasty habits take them outside.”

My eyes got slightly larger at his last statement. I was definitely not in Braidal anymore. The only person who smoked in the town was Charlotte and she had been addicted to the things since even before my mother and I took her in at age thirteen. Using, buying, or selling drugs was completely unheard of in my sleepy hometown.

“But I don’t think I’ll have any problems with you,” he went on, his gravelly voice scraping over the sound barriers of the lobby, “You look like a quiet one.”

I felt my face flush with embarrassment. I had heard it said so many times before. And I was so ashamed.

I nodded slowly, and my blue eyes wandered to the floor to stare at my feet. As usual.

“Do you need any help moving your things out of your car?”

The landlord’s question caught my attention. My eyes returned to his face.

“No. Thank you,” I murmured, suddenly remembering my things parked outside.

The man at the desk watched me curiously as I slowly backed toward the front door, his surprisingly skinny fingers moving over his stubble again.

“Are you sure? It’s a long way up to flat nine,” he went on, smiling at me and my weak protest.

“Yes, thank you. I’m sure. I don’t have all that much stuff anyway,” I replied, stumbling over the ragged carpet on the floor as I neared the door.

With a final blast of color in my cheeks and a few moments of mental cursing, I turned toward the door and awkwardly stumbled out the Lennon Complex to get my things.

And just as the door closed behind, over the squeak of its hinges, I could hear the landlord, laughing at me.

In my attempt to appear as an independent and highly capable woman (which was in fact the complete opposite of what I really was) by turning down the landlord’s offer of assistance, I had instead made an absolute idiot of myself.

In the half hour following my embarrassing two and half minutes talking to the landlord, I had trudged up and down the stairs under the weight of all my junk about a hundred times.

Not only that but for the most part, I had to endure the landlord, standing there, watching me, eating a sandwich and choking on his laughter. Several times he had offered me help, out of pity for the weakling climbing up and down his stairs. And once more, being the stupid, hard headed girl that I was, I had refused.

And so when I finally set the last box down on the chilly, hard wood floor of flat nine, I was exhausted and sweaty, despite the cold.

As I let out a long, dreary breath, my eyes swept over my new apartment.

With a flick of a switch the lamp, which hung from the ceiling, cast an unusually large amount of light over the room, illuminating all of its unexpected and quaint charm.

The walls were painted a light pink, though the paint was aged some, and was slightly browning. To the right of where I stood in the doorway was a small kitchen, consisting of a stove, a sink, a fridge, and a dishwasher. Above the sink was a little window, draped with lace curtains, with potted plants perched all along the windowsill.

I moved into the area directly in front of the door which held a few petite chairs and a worn, but spotless couch. My brow creased as I looked down at the random pieces of furniture. The movers and their truck didn’t arrive with my furniture until tomorrow. And this stuff definitely wasn’t mine.

“Must’ve been left behind,” I murmured to myself as I turned away to move on to another room.

The floor creaked under my ratty tennis shoes as I wandered down the hall to explore. At the end of the long walk, was another pink room, the only other room in the flat besides the kitchen, the living area with the couch and the chairs, which were conjoined, and a bathroom that I had found on my journey down the hall.

The room, I could only assume, was to be my bedroom, except it was void of one thing: a bed.

“The last owner was nice enough to leave some random furniture behind, but forgot to leave a bed,” I grumbled, annoyed, as I moved into the dainty area.

The bed at my old house was crap and I had purposefully left it behind in the hopes that I might luck out and find at least a base board here. I had unfortunately been wrong.

There were four windows lining the walls, with lace curtains, similar to one in the kitchen, drooping in front of the smudgy glass window panes.

On the wall to the left of me, I found something quite peculiar: the words Hello There spelt out in strange letters. It looked like a neon sign. It was turned off.

My eyes followed a long black cord that hung down from the words and grabbing a hold of it, I plugged it into an electrical outlet just below the sign. With a quick buzzing noise, the words lit up, sending florescent pink light streaming across the room.

I smiled at the letters momentarily, thinking what a great, girly touch it gave to the room, before moving farther into the now illuminated space.

Across the room from me, were a set of doors that were also painted that pinkish color. I swung the doors open and grinned happily at what I saw: the underside of a mattress.

I grasped the iron bars holding it in place and pulled. With a loud scream of metal, I discovered with delight, a foldout bed.

“I knew the last owner couldn’t leave me with nothing,” I announced happily, smiling to myself about my newest discovery.

But a large crash from the kitchen wiped the cheerfulness from my face.

I whipped around as the sound settled in the flat, my eyes wide and my face contorted with a startled expression. I left the room quietly, my footsteps fast paced as I walked toward the front room and the kitchen, which had been the source of the noise.

And there on the black and white checkered tile of the kitchen, was one of the potted plants I had spotted earlier reduced to nothing but broken terra cotta, soil, and seedling. And crouching in the mess, sniffing at the plant, was a stray black cat, its tail twitching back and forward, curiously.

I stared at the animal for a minute, perplexed, but as my eyes wandered back up to the sink, I realized how it had gotten in. The lace curtains above the rusty basin blew gently, as the night wind swept in through the open window.

I took a step closer to the scene of crime, and as the floor board whined under my foot, the cat raised her head and locked her yellow eyes with mine.

I froze, as if caught in the act of doing something bad. But then as I slowly remembered that I was about forty times larger than the animal on the floor, I shook my head slightly and quietly padded toward the cat.

She backed away from the destroyed plant suddenly, frightened by my movement, and leaped up onto the counter. But before she could jump for the windowsill, I stuck out my fingers for her to smell, like my mother had taught me so many years ago.

“A cat can smell the innocence in you. If you are filled with bad intentions, she will run away. Remember that Selena.”

And as my pale, slender fingers, unfurled toward the small black creature on my kitchen counter, the cat seemed to relax.

I was silent as she came toward my hand, her noise directed at my outstretched fingers. I held my breath as she sniffed tentatively, all along my fingertips and my palm.

And then on discovering that I meant no harm, the cat pressed her warn head against my hand and invited me to come closer.

I exhaled slowly and smiled as she continued to push up against my hand.

“Now, see, Ms. Kitty. I’m not gunna hurt you,” I cooed, as my fingers stroked the little creature behind her ears. My smile widened as she began to purr very loudly, making her sound more like a motor boat than a cat.

“That’s a good kitty,” I murmured, petting her lightly on the head, before turning back to face the living room. The cat let out a cry of protest and I frowned as my eyes swept over the mess on the floor and at the mountain of boxes near the front door.

“I’ve got a lot of work to do,” I observed, as I unwrapped my scarf from around my neck and hung it on the back of the sofa. “Are you gunna help me, Ms. Kitty?”

I looked over my shoulder at the cat to check if she was still there just in time to see her shimmy her sleek, black body under the small open window, and jump from the windowsill outside onto the fire escape below.

I sighed, as I turned back around to the huge, time consuming task before me.“I guess not.”

Several hours later, after most of my necessities, such as clothes, toiletries, and sheets for the bed, had been unpacked, I lay in my new fold out bed, exhausted but still awake.

My eyes wandered to the digital clock I had set up on the floor, a bedside table not being one of the items the last tenant had left behind.

It read 3:15.

I shivered beneath the covers as I suddenly got a chill. I had not yet found the thermostat in my new home so I had no way of knowing if the A/C was turned on or not. All I knew was that I was freezing.

I rolled over to face the window, burying myself deep in the covers, and was distracted momentarily by a beam of light that was burning across the cloudy night sky, right outside my window.

I frowned as I continued to stare out the window at the thing in the sky. It looked like a search light. But weren’t those things usually moving all over the place, “searching” for something? Or someone?

I sat up with a sigh and left my thin sheets to get a better look at what was going on in Gotham city at this early hour of the morning. My feet grew cold instantly as I quietly padded over to the window, and as I pushed away the lace curtains, my breath fogged up the glass with warm air.

I wiped the cold window clean with my fingers and peered out through the grime at the city.

I was unsurprised to see it lit up with a million tiny, lights, all glowing different colors against the darkness of the night sky. I had suspected earlier, while driving into the city at around 10:00 last night, that Gotham would be one of those cities that never slept, but rather shone dully at all hours of the day and night.

But, as the view of the massive city got old, my gaze returned to the light beam that was still streaming out over the clouds.

It seemed to be coming from a certain location, somewhere to the far right of my apartment building.

I craned my neck to try and get a glimpse of the birth place of the light beam, but the only way I would be able to get a clear view would be if I opened the window and that was something I would not do. It was already so cold in here.

Instead, I turned my head and let my eyes follow the long stretch of white across the clouds to where it rested. I hadn’t noticed before but the light beam did come to a stop right over the city.

And there in the sky, illuminated against the clouds, was some kind of shape, some kind of signal.

Of what I could make out, the shape looked like it was that of some kind of strange animal. An animal with two fine tips for ears and long, broad wings that jutted out and ended in sharp points.

If I squinted my eyes, and tilted my head slightly, it looked like a bat.

But why in the Sam heck would someone be shining a light signal of a bat this early in the morning? Actually, who would do something like that at all?

I jumped suddenly and my face collided with the window as somewhere in the city, shrill, urgent police sirens went off. I groaned and I pulled away from the window, my hands covering my face, as off in the distance there was a rumble of an engine and a mad dog barking crazily.

The sirens grew steadily fainter, it seemed, as the cop cars drove farther from my apartment and my eyes moved back to the light beam in the sky.

“That things gunna keep me up all night,” I groaned, as I continued to massage where my forehead had collided with the glass.

Why did I always have to get hurt when I was startled?

I moved from the window, satisfied that I had half solved the mystery of the signal in the sky and filled with dread at the thought of having to get up and go to my first day at work with a huge knot on my forehead.

“Just great,” I sighed as I slid back under the covers and buried my face in my old, familiar pillow. “Mr. Shrek will just love that.”

I know. What a strange name. But he was to be my new boss.

Max Shrek. The richest, business tycoon in Gotham next to Bruce Wayne, whoever that was. Sandra Kelley had mentioned both of these men at our chance meeting, paying no mind to the fact that I had no idea who either of them were.

But I would know soon enough.

In fact, even though I wasn’t aware of it now, soon, I would know too much.

And in Gotham, that was never a good thing.