Under the Red Sky

Under the Red Sky (Joker) Part 27

“Into the sea, you and me. All those years and no one heard. I’ll show you in spring, it’s a treacherous thing. We missed you hissed the love cats. We missed you hissed the love cats.”

I sang brightly as I folded dress after dress into my ratty duffle bag, tapping the heel of my shoe on the chilly hardwood floor of my bedroom and pausing only to take a sip of milk from the glass on top of the dresser.

Licking the sweet cream from my lips, I peered down the hallway. The Joker sat against the wall like a little boy who’d been sent out of the classroom for being bad. His mood had improved considerably since we’d arrived. His dark eyes moved over the walls and he murmured quietly to himself, reading aloud what was written there.

Ms. Kitty was curled up on my blood stained pillows, grooming herself. She had made her usual entrance through the kitchen window. I had filled her bowl to the brim, only after smothering her with pets. The Joker had had a sneezing fit, cursing loudly as he did so. All in all, it was a lovely reunion.

The Lennon Complex was uncomfortably quiet. I could almost hear the snow falling against my window. No neighbors, no landlord. We were alone and yet, I felt there was something, someone else here with us. Our ghosts, maybe, whispering through the halls.

The Joker coughed suddenly and I was pulled out of my thoughts, to find he was standing the doorway.

“I must say, Bijou, you have a spark of lyrical genius,” he exclaimed, ambling into my bedroom. “Or madness. I really can’t tell the difference anymore.”

He laughed maniacally, collapsing onto my bed and making the metal springs scream. Ms. Kitty clicked angrily and leapt off the bed, hissing at the Joker before sauntering down the hall.

“Ah,” he sighed, paying no mind to the cat as he stretched out on the lumpy mattress, “Just as I remember it. Dreadfully uncomfortable. Though your company made it almost bearable.”

I laughed, turning away from him and moving to the dresser. I fished out a couple pairs of underwear and returned to the duffle bag.

“Oh, how come I haven’t seen you in those?” the Joker asked playfully, nodding to the lacy panties in my hand.

I cocked an eyebrow at him as I stuffed them away. “Does it really matter? They only wind up on the floor or tossed under the bed.”

He shrugged, propping himself up on his elbows. “Still. It would make for an interesting visual.”

I rolled my eyes to hide the smile on my face and turned to my closet for more clothes. The mattress shrieked wildly as he leapt up suddenly, faster than I thought possible, pulling me back brusquely.

I cackled madly as he growled into my neck, tickling my skin with rough kisses. I pretended to resist him, twisting in his grasp. But before I knew it I was kissing back, with more vigor than he. He laughed into the kiss, having gotten his way. It seemed we’d be spending more time in flat nine than originally planned…

But I abruptly broke away, hearing a knock at the door. The Joker, if he had heard anything, did not acknowledge it.

“Jack?” I murmured warily, gazing down the long hallway.

He moved down my neck. “Hmm?”

“There’s someone here”

“I don’t care,” he growled, tightening his arms around my waist.

I frowned, pushing at his chest. “No, stop it. This is serious. It could be the cops or something.”

He groaned irritably, but let go. “C’mon, Bijou. You think the cops are smart enough to find us? It’s probably some idiot Mormon or something. Here, let’s go scare him off.”

He grabbed my wrist and set down the hall, me trailing behind him. I yanked my arm out of his grip, huffing angrily. I felt the hair bristle on my head, standing on end the way it always did when I was heated. Or frightened. I tugged at the whip around my waist, ready to strike, as the Joker stomped into the living room.

“Silly Bijou,” he scolded, shaking his head at me, “Don’t be such a scaredy cat!” He gripped the doorknob and wrenched the door open, the hinges whining noisily.

And there, standing in the doorway, was Charlotte, suitcase in hand, a cigarette hanging limply from her chapped lips.

Her gaze snapped up from the floor to the Joker’s face, and her eyes immediately widened in shock and panic. “Holy shit,” she murmured, her bag dropping to the floor with a loud clunk. “What the fu-?"

She stopped suddenly, her eyes finding me. “Selina?”

I almost didn’t respond. The surprise of seeing her had rendered me speechless, had knocked the breath out of me like a blow to the stomach. I could only stare, my mind frantic to piece together a lie that could explain all of this.

“Selina?” she repeated, craning her neck to look at me, “Is that you?”

I shook myself, clearing my troubled mind and swallowing back the bile rising in the back of my throat. “Yes,” I choked on the words, “It’s me. Please, come in from the hallway.”

She glanced warily at the Joker but did as I asked, picking up her suitcase and shuffling into flat nine. The Joker slammed the door behind her, making her jump. He laughed at her and I shot him a glare, to which he responded with a dark, malevolent grin.

“Selina, what’s going on here?” she asked worriedly, unwinding the scarf from around her neck. “What’s happened to you?” She glanced around the apartment. “What happened to your place?” She jerked her thumb over shoulder at the Joker. “And who the fuck is that?”

“Charlotte,” I started, approaching her slowly, “Calm down. It’s alright-"

The Joker spoke up suddenly, stepping in between Charlotte and me, smiling down at her wickedly. “Everyone here knows who I am. Why don’t you, huh?”
He paused to rip the cigarette from her lips. He stomped it out furiously with the toe of his shoe. “And no smoking,” he growled, a black hatred filling his eyes.

He was thinking of Jeannie. I knew at once.

“She’s not from here,” I explained, nudging him out of the way slightly so I could see Charlotte. “She’s my cousin.”

The Joker rounded on me, an ugly sneer on his red lips. “Oh, goody! A family reunion. All we need is your dead mother and my wheezing wife and then it’ll be a party!”

“Shutup,” I hissed, “I didn’t know she was coming. If I had I would’ve never come back.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?” cried Charlotte indignantly.

I offered her a sympathetic smile, before turning back to the Joker.

“Now, how about we all calm down so we can discuss this like grown ups? Hmm?” I called, eyeing him sternly.

He scowled, his dark eyes flickering from my face to Charlotte’s and then back again. He licked his lip in that reptilian way and shook his head.

“Get rid of her,” he spat before trudging back down the hall. I heard a bang as the bedroom door slammed behind him.

I turned back to Charlotte, who had been watching this whole thing with wide, frightened eyes. She looked almost comical, her black hair tangled and blown every which way by the wind, her eyes the size of saucers.

I led her to the couch, sitting her down gently.

“Charlotte,” I began, “I know this’ll be hard for you to swallow. I-"

“I’ve read about him in the paper,” she mumbled, staring down at her lap. She looked up suddenly, lowering her voice to a whisper when she spoke as if he might hear her. “He’s crazy, Selina. He’s a murderer. He-"

I cut her off. “Look, Charlotte. This isn’t what you think.”

She scoffed. “This is exactly what I think. He’s kidnapped you, brainwashed you, something. And turned you into…” she trailed off, her eyes scanning over my face, my wild hair, my tattered dress. “A monster.”

I frowned, staring at her incredulously. “You sound like mother, you know. I was living a meaningless lie, Charlotte. Smothered by her condescension, so blind to how pathetic, how weak I was. I was an animal in a cage that was much too small. And I was mad. I have been for the longest time.

But only death can open one’s eyes. Something happened to me, Charlotte; something that I can’t explain. But I feel alive, I feel powerful now. He’s helped me, helped me realize what I could really be. So don’t you dare pity me. Just, please…try to understand. Understand that Selina Kyle is…gone. And that this is me now. This is the real me.”

She was quiet for a moment, staring at me. She touched my arm as if to make sure I was really there. As if to make sure I wasn’t like the ghosts living in the walls.

“You’re right,” she murmured finally, “That is hard to swallow.”

I smiled a small, sad smile. And she returned the gesture. “I guess that means staying with you for Christmas is a no.”

My eyebrows knit together. “Christmas?”

She nodded. “It’s only a couple days away. Where’ve you been, Seli-?”

She caught herself, and shook her head. She sighed, patting her thighs lightly, before standing up. She smiled down at me for a moment and suddenly looked much older than I remembered. It seemed I was not the only one who had changed. Charlotte had grown up some.

“I’m sorry, Charlotte. I really am.”

She smiled that smile again, the one that made my heart ache. “Don’t be. I trust you. This is your life after all. And you were always the sensible one.”

I let out a short laugh. “Not so sure, if that’s true anymore.”

She chuckled, moving to pick her suitcase up off the floor. “Well I better get going. I’m already starting to feel like a third wheel. Besides.. I met a guy this morning at some café. He asked me out to dinner. So, I won’t be completely alone tonight in this big, ugly city.”

“Oh?” I raised an eyebrow, happy for the light conversation between us. “What’s his name?”

She shrugged, smiling goofily. “I don’t know. Sebastian something…”

My heart skipped a beat at her words, my breath catching in my throat, as a large grin blossomed across my face. I felt suddenly full of laughter, full of sweet warm sound, full of numbing folly.

It’s a funny world we live in.

Charlotte stood with her back to the door, playing with the fringe on her scarf and swinging her suitcase gently in one hand. She knew and I knew. All that was left was goodbye.

“I love you Charlotte.”

She winked at me as she swung open the front door. “I love you too, stranger.”

She turned, stepping through the doorway. But she paused suddenly, looking back over her shoulder at me. “What does he call you?”


She smiled. “It suits you.”

And then just as quickly as she had come, she was gone. And I found myself standing alone amidst the mess, with the ghosts, a part of me wishing I could’ve left with her.

“Did she make like a tree and leave?”

I tore my eyes away from the door and settled my gaze at the mouth of the hallway, where the Joker slumped casually against the cracked door frame.

“Oh shutup,” I murmured, rising from the couch and pretending to adjust the whip at my waist so I wouldn’t have to look at him.

He said nothing, shrugging one shoulder. I noticed then that he had my glass of milk in his hand, now half empty.

“I’m not apologizing for yelling at you,” he grumbled.

“Good, fine, whatever. I don’t care.”
I made to get past him but he stopped me, placing a firm hand on my chest. I felt the strongest sense of déjà vu, but paid it no mind.

“Hey,” he muttered, searching my face with those brown eyes. He saw right through me and I hated it.

He didn’t say anything; he didn’t need to. He pulled me into him and I willingly buried my face in his dirty coat, breathing in his scent, pacifying myself, as I fought back the burning tears. I didn’t want to cry in front of him.

After a moment that seemed more like a millennium, he yanked at the ends of my tangled mess of hair, pulling away to look at me, his arms still around my waist.

“Now,” he smirked, softly butting heads with me, “Let’s go home. I hate this place.”

I smiled lazily as he handed me my bag. “I do too.”

He led the way to the door, Ms. Kitty on his heels. He looked down at her, sneering. “I don’t know why you think you’re coming with us. You won’t last a minute at my place. We’ve got dogs, big dogs.”

She meowed in response, glaring up at him with her yellow eyes as they wandered into the hall.

“Oh no, I’m serious. Big, big dogs…”

I heard no more as he rounded the corner and slipped from view. I moved to the door slowly, grabbing my coat from the closet and shrugging it on.

I turned, standing in the open doorway and I could see them.

Mother standing in the kitchen, lying across the counter. She waved her long pale fingers and a cigarette appeared in between them, out of thin air it seemed. She ran a freshly manicured hand through her auburn hair, bringing it to her lips and inhaling deeply.

And Jeannie on the couch, where I had been seated not moments ago. She watched me with heavy eyes, ringed with purple and gray, her yellow hair clinging to the sides of her waxen face. Her hands were folded on her bulging stomach, a cigarette held in between her yellowing fingers.

They opened their mouths slowly, parting their crinkled lips like massive fish gasping for air. And out came smoke. Thick, grey plumes, billowing up from their throats like chimney smoke and filling the room with haze. Their eyes rolled back into their skulls and they began to melt before my eyes, flesh dripping off their bones like ice cream on a waffle cone. They white teeth turned to ash in their mouths and they laughed, heaved, wheezed, choking on the ash.

I watched in horror, feeling the thick fog seep into my lungs, feeling it sting my eyes, feeling it swallow me whole….

I blinked and they were gone. And I found I was alone again. No one in the kitchen, no in the living room.

“Only ghosts,” I murmured with conviction, though I could not suppress a shudder as I turned out the lights and closed the door to flat nine.

For good.