Under the Red Sky

Under the Red Sky (Joker) Part 5

In the days that followed meeting my neighbor, Sebastian, and my brief phone call from Charlotte, I didn’t take me long to realize that blindly walking into the situation at hand was the second biggest mistake of my life.

The bitterly harsh whirlwind of the city swept me up like a dead leaf, and I spun in the mess that was my new life until I was dizzy and confused. And then it swept me up once more.

During the day I was working.

I awoke early, five-ish, because Mr. Shrek, as I had learned, wanted his scalding hot Starbucks at 6:30, the exact time when his shiny patent leather shoe slid into his lobby.

Once the coffee was in his hands, I returned to my desk and started my routine, a machine set on automatic: answer the phones, take messages, organize the files and paperwork Mr. Shrek had given Sylvia to do, refill his coffee, make copies, order lunch, make more coffee.



At six ‘o clock, I was free. But not until I was forced to watch Sylvia pack up at 5:45, her pale, dove-like hands floating around her work space, their fingers flapping like wings, taunting me.

She’d smile at me, her ruby lips pulled back in a shit eating grin. Don’t you wish you were me? Her blue eyes asked.

My own glazed over. Yes.

And in fact I did, for she was above me.

She got off work fifteen minutes earlier. She actually had a lunch break, which she spent out in the city with the other snooty, stylishly dressed secretaries from floors eleven and seven. Mr. Shrek called her by her real name.

He had unfortunately forgotten mine and had resorted to calling me whatever other S-names that came to mind.

I was too scared to object.

I didn’t see much of him anyway. He was always shut up in his office, like he had some sort of secret.

I asked Sylvia what he did, locked away in there, to which she tartly replied “Business.”

I dropped the subject and graced the lobby with my silence.

My evenings were, thankfully, quieter than my days.

I returned to the Lennon Complex around 7:30, just in time to bid good evening to my landlord, who always sat at his chipping, red desk with his newspaper and his sandwich. His smile was tired, but it was a smile nonetheless.

Sebastian always seemed to pop out of his own flat as I reached the door to my own. I could only guess that he had taken a liking to me, after just that furniture moving and all those awkward silences. Either that or he was lonely.

I only smiled shyly and gave him one word answers, attempting to shrug him off as he bombarded me with questions about my day.

I felt bad and maybe I should have been friendlier, but something about Sebastian kept me in a silent hesitation. I think it was because he was so genuinely nice. And the fact that he wanted me to speak.

I wasn’t used to this and quite frankly, it scared me.

So after I let myself into my apartment, I stood in the chilly living room and let the guilt burn away in my stomach until it was merely the dull ache of loneliness in the back of my throat that I was used to, before going through the motions.

Coat off, onto a hanger, into the closet. Move to the fridge, TV dinner in the microwave, wait.

I was never alone when I ate. Ms. Kitty kept me company, perched on the counter before her saucer of milk.

I had taken a liking to her and her bright, curious yellow eyes. She was quiet and listened when I talked, meowing occasionally as if she could actually understand.

I was ashamed to admit it, but I liked her more than the people I suddenly found in my life. I told her my troubles and she listened. I whispered my secrets and she didn’t pass judgment.

My nights were spent reading the Gotham Times to the light of the glowing, fluorescent pink sign in my room, my feet tucked beneath my thin sheets.

I was amazed I got the six hours of sleep that I did, what with the ever present search light burning in the sky and the news that I read in the paper.

As I ended each day, tucked neatly into bed like a small child, an itching, sickening anxiety slid over my skin and filled my stomach with the nauseating churn of rustled nerves as the bold, troubling head lines, equipped with sketchy pictures, ran through my mind like bullet trains.






Mr. Shrek was in the papers too. But he wasn’t in the business section.

No, his black and white photo and the couple paragraphs that went with it were usually featured in the first few pages. But I didn’t bother reading the articles. Their unsettling titles told me all I needed to know.




I wasn’t sure what to think of my new home. Or my new boss. The endless, inky pages of stories centering on this Batman character and on crime and clowns and suspicions of my boss didn’t necessarily make me feel welcome, or even safe.

But as I lay beneath the tissue-like fabric of my bed sheets, my eyes tired but still wide, glued to the dirty glass of my bedroom window, night after night, I promised myself I wouldn’t run away. I had done enough of that.


I awoke with a jolt, the bed shrieking under me, as my reoccurring nightmare came to a terrifying climax. The morning sun streaming in from my window hit my face and my eyes snapped shut to block out the blinding light.

Turning my face away from the window, I let out a shaky breath, my mind racing, and I yelped in panic as my eyes landed on the digital alarm clock beside my bed.

The little red numbers smirked back. 6:11.

More than an hour late. Worse than dead. Dead and buried.

I threw the covers from my legs and leapt from the bed, ignoring the chilly floor beneath my feet. I rounded the corner for the bathroom.

“Damn,” I cursed silently, thwacking my elbow on the doorframe, but I put aside the pain shooting up my arm. Instead, I focused on undressing as fast as I could while simultaneously turning on the shower.

“Why do they even call it a funny bone?” I hissed, stumbling into the shower and grabbing up the soap. “It isn’t even funny. Nobody laughs at pain.”

I paused, mid-scrub.

Not necessarily true, I countered thoughtfully, returning to my bath.

Just look at America’s Funniest Home Videos. Their entire show is a montage of little kids hitting their dads in the…well…you know.

And besides, who was I to judge comedy?

I sighed wearily, stepping from the shower and grabbing a towel.

A dirty, useless clown could crack better jokes.


“Right. Makeup,” I said moving in front of the mirror above the sink, while tying back my wet hair. I was ready and set for this race against Time.

Too bad it had already won.

By the time I reached the office, it was nearly seven.

I didn’t bother to pick up Shrek’s coffee. I assumed, by now, Sylvia would have handled it. She was Shrek’s chief assistant after all.

This didn’t make me any less mortified, though, and as I crept off the elevator, I tried to glide through the lobby, as quietly as possible. I realized, with a smile, that I was in luck when I saw Sylvia’s desk was empty.

Probably in the restroom, I thought, but I wasted no time and rushed to my desk.

“Maybe she won’t say anything,” I said softly, half hopeful for once.

But as I removed my purse from my shoulder, ready to hide it from the non-existent thieves lurking around, a sour voice told me my optimism was foolish.

“You’re late.”

Sylvia entered from the far left of the lobby, near the elevators, a silver tray in her hands.

Of course. She was in the kitchen, which was conjoined with the lobby, hidden behind a stainless steel swinging door.
I cringed, a guilty look replacing the goofy smile on my face, as I watched her walk across the grand open space toward her desk.

“Sorry. I overslept,” I explained weakly, not realizing how unprofessional I sounded until after I had given my poor excuse.

But this city made stupid children out of all of us. I had learned to accept that.

I felt proud, though, that I had made it to the office at all. My horrible dream would’ve kept anyone in bed, rocking back and forth like a little baby.

But I had seen worse. So I went on.

Then again…I would feel better if I talked about it with someone.

Charlotte was probably still sleeping, back in comfy little Braidal. I envied her.

My only other option was one that required caution, but one that I approached nonetheless.

“Sylvia?” I murmured, from the grand lobby, my tiny voice dancing on the marble walls.

If she heard me, I didn’t know for she did not look up when I called her name, her face bowed, and her blue eyes focused on the silver tray upon her desk, her hands setting cups and saucers here and there.

“Would you mind if I told you about a dream-a nightmare really that I’ve been having lately? I-I feel as if I should tell someone about it.”

I tried again, my uncertain gaze on the several random objects on my desk: stapler, mug of pens, jumbled mess of paper clips.

A sharp “hmmm” was the only reply I got. I took it as a yes.

“Well,” I began, wetting my lips tentatively, “In the dream, I’m looking out over a lake of some sort, with dead trees all around. But the lake isn’t filled with water. It’s full of some kinds of thick, tar like liquid. And the entire scene is still for a while. No breeze, no movement in the muck. Not sound either.

But then suddenly something breaks the surface. It’s a hand, with the whitest skin I’ve ever seen. It’s so white it’s almost glowing and it has long nails, the color of blood. It’s a woman’s hand. I don’t know how, but I can just tell and as I look on, more of her starts to emerge. Arms, a torso, legs too, all the same pearly white color. And she starts to crawl over the oily sewage toward me, where I stand on the shore. It’s a terrible sight, with arms and legs twisting about like she’s some sort of animal.”

I paused, the images of my dream running through my mind, horrifying me still. After a few moments, I went on.

“Her hair stands straight up, wild and drenched in the contents of the lake. And her eyes…her eyes are the clearest blue I have ever seen and the pupils are dilated with light, almost cat like.

Right before she reaches me, the dream dissolves away and I wake up, right before I can really see her. She’s familiar though. Like I’ve seen her before…” I trailed off, tearing my eyes from the growing collection of rubber bands on my desk to look at Sylvia who, to my great shock, was standing before my desk, serving tray in hand.

“What do you think it means?” I asked, wringing my cold hands absent mindedly.

Sylvia stared at me for a good long minute. “I think it means you should go bring Mr. Shrek and his guests their coffee.”

My chapped lips turned down in a frown, as I momentarily forgot my dream. “But Mr. Shrek said not to disturb him when he’s in a meeting.”

Sylvia smiled, her plum red lips pulling back over her ultra white teeth. The sight was so unfamiliar. “Oh silly, this isn’t just a meeting. Mr. Shrek is having a get together with friends and they’d love to be served their coffee, especially by a pretty secretary like yourself,” she added with a wink, “It’ll be fine.”

Before I could say a word or allow the color to drain from my cheeks, the tray was on my desk, the cups chattering on their saucers and the petite pitcher of milk rattling.

Sylvia stood back slightly as if admiring her work, that same smile on her face. I figured it was supposed to be friendly but it just made her look more menacing.

I stood shakily, the back of my knees causing the chair to screech along the marble floor.

I flinched.

Sylvia kept smiling.

I ran my sweaty palms on my navy skirt. “I don’t know, Sylvia. I-″
“Look at it this way,” she cut in, her voice increasing in its odd perkiness, “Mr. Shrek will appreciate you taking the initiative and who knows? Maybe he might reward you with an extra holiday, what with Christmas being just a few weeks away.”

I stared at Sylvia, my face nearly blank.

What was wrong with her? She was never this nice. At least not to me, anyway. Nor had she ever held this long a conversation with me. I had a nagging feeling that something was off, that there was something behind that Colgate commercial smile.

But Shrek’s gratitude and that extra vacation was the bait and I was a very hungry guppy.

I sighed inwardly and nodded, tucking a strand of limp hair behind my ear. “Okay then.”

I leaned forward over my desk, my eyes still on Sylvia.

It was little heavy but with a quiet grunt and a few clinks of porcelain, the tray was in my hands, held out a few feet in front of me to avoid splashing coffee on myself.

Stepping from behind my desk, I smiled gratefully and inclined my head to Sylvia, who was already headed back to her desk, her heels pounding the slick floor.

I frowned to myself, but started for the black glass doors, my own baby heels nearly muted.

Through the entrance and down the hall I went, my eyes on the tray, watching the bitter liquid and the milk slosh around dangerously in their cups. I tried my hardest not to spill any and I beamed proudly to myself as I reached the doors to the meeting room, the plaque on the wall shining in the rosy light.

I paused before going in, balancing the tray on one hand so I could straighten my clothes and my hair.

I had been working here for nearly two and a half weeks and I still felt like it was the first day.

“But it’s not the first day. Because that was a fiasco. No. This will be fine,” I whispered, acting as both mentor and student.

I could hear the sounds of an argument rising on the other side of the door.

Now would be a good time for a cup of coffee, I thought cheerfully and I took in a few shallow breaths before grabbing a hold of the door handle and stepping through the threshold.

Inside, I found the sight I was expecting-sort of.

An array of men sat around the table, lining the glossy edges, which was normal enough. But as their faces turned to look at me, I found that this was not your ordinary group of contentious businessmen.

And as I looked along the sides of the table, where Mr. Shrek’s “friends” were seated, I was shocked to find that I could put a name to nearly every face.

Because each of these men had their names in the Gotham Times.

Because each of these men was a crime lord.