Under the Red Sky

Under the Red Sky (Joker) Part 7


It was snowing again.

The millions of frozen white flakes falling from the black sky onto the sleeping city below gave the illusion of wonder. Even beauty.

But I knew better.

The slush crunched under my feet as I wandered into the alley, which ran adjacent to Shrek Tower.

Another meeting with Max. Just where I wanted to be on a Friday night.
I pondered. How quickly could I think up a plan for Shrek? I had forgotten to do my homework. Again.

I paused, a bitter frown crossing my face, as my eyes scaled the glassy building to my right.

Thirteen floors. It was merely a guesstimation. But I was usually right.

I craned my neck, searching for the spire in the darkness above. The building seemed to sway in the harsh wind and I giggled as I did the same.

Slightly dizzy, I went on my way, humming tunelessly.

But I had only gone a few steps when my eyes fell on something out of place, just several feet ahead of me, lying in the snow.

I walked on unfazed, curious almost. I figured I was scarier than anything I would meet in an alley. Around these parts anyway.

But my pace slowed as I drew near the dark mass on the ground, upon realizing that it wasn’t out of place at all. In fact, I thought it went nicely with the surrounding grime of the alley.

It was a body.

I crept closer, hardly a foot away, peering down and squinting through the gloom. I frowned, slightly disgusted.

It was woman.

Uh, sorry. She was a woman.

She lay sprawled in the snow, arms and legs bent at odd angles. A pool of red encircled her head like a halo, standing out starkly against her pale skin. A small trickle of blood ran down her chin.

My brow creased and I felt my makeup crack. My eyes wandered back up toward Shrek Tower, searching for a broken window. I found one on the thirteenth floor.

She must have jumped.

Or been pushed…

Wasn’t Shrek on the top floor?

I shook away the concern, repulsed that I felt an inkling of worry for this dead stranger. Whoever she was.

I kicked a small pile of snow her way showering her body with ice just to prove it.

I smiled, satisfied.

I moved to leave her for the rats when there was a commotion amidst the garbage and miscellaneous junk. I whipped around, startled, just in time to see a trashcan tip over on its side. The snow muted the crash, but the metal lid still rattled.

I raised an eyebrow, ears listening, my eyes searching the shadows. I shrugged, shoving my hands in my pockets.

“Just a cat,” I murmured, turning back to the body, to find I was spot on.

I watched in silence, slightly amused, as a black cat padded through the snow toward the woman’s body. It leapt up onto her chest, a dainty foot on each collar bone.

And I stared, open mouthed, as it bent its head close to the woman’s and placed a furry kiss on her cold lips, nuzzling its nose deep into her flesh.

Well… this is turning out to be a weird night. Weirder than usual anyway.

It was then I noticed that this cat was not alone. The alley was suddenly full of them, creeping through the snow toward the mysterious woman, ears laid back and tails twitching.

I observed, horror struck and near repulsed, as they swarmed about her like vultures. Meowing and pawing and crawling all over her body.

Silvery Siamese slithered over her slim form. Grey tabbies snuggled against the crooks of her arms and legs. Scraggly Toms gnawed on her fingers, wetting them with blood; others tore holes in her stockings and clawed at her skin.

They paid no mind to me, which was just dandy. But that didn’t stop the familiar tingling in my nose.


My sinuses exploded as several violent sneezes rang out in the alley, my spit flying a good five feet.

I cursed silently, sniffing and wiping my nose on my sleeve. Figures.

I terrified hundreds of people with merely a smile and a furry little nothing reduced me to a sniveling, sneezing fool. I had always been allergic to cats. It seemed those kinds of things did not fade with the loss of sanity.

The felines seemed to grow more frantic, more frenzied as the wind howled and their cries grew louder. More obnoxious.

What would the world be without a few less cats?

I smirked, hand reaching for the gun in my pocket, when I froze, my eyes on the woman.

She was twitching.

I blinked, my mind whirring away like a wind up toy, sparks threatening to fly.

She was dead…wasn’t she? The reddened snow did not lie. But then again…

It was wrong to assume (it makes an ass out of you and me. Get it? ASS? U? ME? HAHA!)

I laughed aloud, adding to the din that already filled the alley. But my mirth faded as the woman’s spasms worsened.

Her head jerked violently, her neck snapping left and then right. Her pale limbs convulsed, causing several kitties to scatter.

I drew near, leaning over her, truly fascinated.

And her eyes fluttered open.

I threw myself against the alley wall, alarmed and not wanting to be seen.

But though she had looked me full in the face with those white blue eyes, she saw without seeing.

Concealed and consumed by the shadows, I looked on as she slowly sat up, rising from the dead. Or so I presumed.

The woman was beautiful. There was really no denying it. But there was something…off about her. Something sinister.

The first cat to appear, the black one with the yellow eyes, crowded her lap and she grabbed it up, tucking it under her arm. Her stare remained blank and empty as she roughly stroked its velvety fur.

With unexpected elegance, she got to her feet, still clutching the cat. She still hadn’t blinked, her cold eyes unfocused, gazing at nothing.

The multitude of other cats had vanished. The air was so silent, you could almost hear the snow fall. And I watched from the darkness with interest as the woman turned on her heel and began to make her way out of the alley.

I followed, not a thought wasted on Shrek Tower or the man waiting on the thirteenth floor.

She led me down the backstreets, which surprised me, avoiding the roads busy with Friday night traffic and steering clear of the more populated venues. I didn’t think she’d be so careful. Could have fooled me with that vacant stare.

I was wary though. I gave her a good five yards, keeping my distance, but also keeping her in my sight.

She was graceful. Even for someone who had fell from the thirteenth floor of a building. She navigated the dark, dingy alleys and mounds of snow with poise, while I stumbled behind, cursing all the way.

It was a wonder that she did not hear me.

After a good twenty minutes of so, we took a left onto a familiar street. Luna Street.

I paused at the corner, as the woman floated on down the sidewalk toward an apartment building that I knew all to well. The Lennon Complex.

I should’ve known. I should’ve just let her walk off. I shouldn’t even have followed her here. Someone was bound to see me, now. And I was bound to remember….

I shut my eyes tight, blocking out the voices, the memories of her, the memories of flat number nine.

When I was safe from myself and my ghosts, I opened to my eyes to find the street deserted. Somewhere down the sidewalk, I heard a door slam. The woman must have gone inside.

Good! Now I can go…

But as much as I pleaded with myself to leave this dusty, barren part of town, something pulled me down the sidewalk, toward the mysterious woman and her cat and toward what I despised most: the past.

I came to rest under a streetlight, bathed completely in its orange glow. I crossed my arms tightly against the cold and leaned against the metal pole, tapping out a rhythm with the heel of my scuffed brown shoe.

I locked eyes with the two windows on the second floor that I knew belonged to flat nine.

How many times had I stood in this very spot while she called down to me from those windows for more cigarettes?
Too many times.

I ground my fingers into my eyes, smearing the black soot and grinding the memories to dust.

The snow fell and melted all around me. And I waited.