❯ Living in Gotham – Encounter 1 ( Chapter 2 )
[ T - Teen: Not suitable for readers under 13 ]
Once I spent a terrifying hour and fifty minutes with the Joker.
Despite the fact that I have discovered the key to a successful life in Gotham, (successful life being one where you don’t end up being held hostage, mugged, caught in crossfire, raped, or dead.) I still have “hazardous to your health” encounters.
The problem lies in the nature of light. While it escorts me around the city from the hours 7:00am to 7:00pm, it can’t necessarily go with me into buildings, narrow alleys or underground. And then there’s that pesky habit it has of all-together leaving when the sun goes down. In these cases, I find that the best defense is to internalize light as a state of mind, which mostly equates to street smarts, numbers and mace.
One particular afternoon, wrapped up thrill of being rushed down Main Street, I neglected to abide the aforementioned keys to success.
I found myself in front of the oldest theater in Gotham. Its architecture is sinister and grand in everyway. From the marble columns in the front, to the gargoyles that guard from their post on the roof, the building invites and discourages your entrance all at the same time.
The walls of the foyer were lined with framed and glittering announcements for various upcoming shows. At this moment a movie was just about to start, Northanger Abbey. Sign me up! So I’m a sucker for dead British writers, sue me.
Swift feet took me to the ticket kiosk.
“Are there any ticks left for Northanger Abbey?” I asked the young man behind the glass. He twisted his face into a quizzical look.
“Miss, you’ll be the only one in the theater. There are one thousand and five hundred tickets left.”
“Could I have one then?” It really wasn’t a question, but I was trying to be polite.
“Tell you what. Just go on in. I’m going to have to play it whether someone’s in there or not.”
“Thank you.” I smiled. I left the light and went on into the lobby, up a large red-carpeted staircase and entered a dark void that lead to the theater.
The guy at the kiosk was not exaggerating; I was the only person in what was at least fifteen hundred seat theater. What does anybody do when they find themselves in such a rarefied circumstance? I ran to the very middle row, and sat in the very center seat.
Everything in the theater was dark and quiet. The air was damp and perfectly still. And I sat perfectly still in the damp dark air, waiting to be bathed in flickering light from the silver screen.
My gaze landed on one of the only sources of light in the space, the neon green exit sign. Just as I was about to turn my attention back to the screen, the exit door abruptly opened, flooding bright light into the damp darkness and into my dilated eyes. Reflexively, I closed them and started to rub. I heard the door close. After the initial pain went way I opened them. It was dark again. My vision was full of green and red spots floating just far enough out of reach that I couldn’t swat them way.
The sound of footsteps distracted me from my green dot-destroying objective. A single set of feet walked all the way across the screen to the other side of the theater. They were quite for a moment before they moved up the right aisle. Once they reached what seemed like the middle, the steps turned into a shuffle, which to my confusion, headed right towards me. My suspicions were confirmed when I felt a body land itself in the chair to my immediate left.
By this time the green and red dots had mostly left and I could once again make out shapes and muted colors. I started to examine the person who had, out of one thousand four hundred and ninety-nine seats, chosen the one right next to me. I began looking at jeans, just regular everyday blue jeans. Then my eyes rose to meet a black leather belt with a simple silver buckle. A little further north was a white collared buttoned down shirt. My gaze reached the strangers face. It was a man. His skin was pale, really pale. His profile was dominated by a chin that jetted out nearly three inches, and a long narrow nose that almost ended in a hook. His mouth was twisted in what could only be described as a shit-eating grin. Finally, my eyes rested on green hair.
I took in a sharp breath that caught in my throat.
The Joker. I’m dead.
I was caught in an unabashed, jaw dropped, deer in headlight stare. The screen was now starting to flicker, only better illuminating the ghoulish figure next to me. I tried to turn my head back to the source of the erratic light, but the muscles in my neck were completely paralyzed. He turned his face towards me and gazed back with hollow eyes.
“Damn!” he spit out.
At the sound of his voice my body started to shake, and not a small little “I’m trying to hide the fear” shake, but big violent “I suffer from tremors” shake.
“In disguise and everything. I hate losing bets.” He slumped in to his seat.
“Disguise?” I had forgotten I had a voice, so my own question startled me.
“Yes, yes, yes!” He sulked in what seemed frustration. “Look at this ridiculous get up. I should be able to walk into the commissioner’s office unnoticed wearing this. I hardly recognize myself in the mirror when I put this on. Of course I often can’t recognize myself in the mirror.”
He paused for a moment. I was still shaking and gaping. Then in one swift movement he threw his left leg over his right, anchored his elbow into the armrest, and placed his chin on his fist. I jumped.
“What do you think?” He posed.
“Yes! About why my brilliant disguise didn’t work.”
For some unfathomable reason I had a spurt of courage.
“Do you think you might just have one of those faces that people seem to think they know?” It really wasn’t a question, but I was trying to be polite.
“What are you saying…exactly…?”
“Justthatyoumighthaveafamiliarface.” The spurt of courage was over.
“I can’t tell you how many times that’s happened to me.” He said in a very playful tone, and then in a much more sinister one, “I really cant.”
“Oh…well… you… you asked what I thought.”
“Your right, I did. Damn paparazzi. So what are we watching?”
“Wonderful! What’s it about?”
“Umm. It’s a period piece, based off the novel by Jane Austin. This young girl befriends a family that has mysterious circumstances around the mother’s death.”
“Interesting… do we see the mother die?”
“Ok… how does she die then?”
“The father is emotionally abusive and drains her of the will to live.”
“Ooo, must take notes! I believe I read this years ago. I personally prefer the one where the insane wife is locked up in the attic, then sets the house on fire, and then jumps off the roof. Marvelous heroine.”
“You’re talking about Jane Eyre. You read classic literature?”
“Of course. I am sure that you’ve read all my doctors quotes in the papers about how I’m a genius. I find the British dames entertaining but my favorite is the Marquis de Sade.”
“I’m sorry, I’m confused. You, the Joker, read classic literature, and go to movies?”
“I read quite a bit. It’s really quite foolish not to, don’t you think? I watch a lot of movies too, just not in a theater. You know, with the adoring public, it’s very hard to live a normal life. So little girl… do you live in Gotham?”
“Yes.” This comment was stated plainly. If I did make it alive out of this encounter, I did not want a repeat visit.
“Where?” He cooed, face in a wide grin.
“I…I…I don’t want to tell you.” I closed my eye and just waited for the blow from the back of his hand. It didn’t come, so I opened my eyes.
“Fair enough. You haven’t lived in Gotham very long; you still have that sunny look to you. I’ll bet you’re from Metropolis, and you’re away from home for the very first time. Trying to see if Gotham fits you?”
“Something like that I guess.”
“How is it fitting so far?”
“Up till today pretty well.”
“Ummm. And what do you do here in Gotham?”
“I study, work.”
“At the university?”
“Do you do both things at the prestigious Gotham U? Are you going to make me pry for more information?”
“I’m sorry, I’m scared.”
“Mmm. Very good answer. And what exactly are you afraid of?”
“That you’re going to hurt me.”
“What do you mean exactly? Like I might rape and kill you.” He half whispered
“Well now that you’ve brought up the Marquis de Sade, yes… I guess.”
He sat back in his chair and watch the screen for a moment. Then he turned his body back towards me.
“If I decide to `hurt’ you’,” he put finger quotations around the word hurt, “in which order would you prefer the events to take place.”
I had never been posed a question like this before. I took some time before I answered. More from the shock of the question than not knowing the order in which I’d like to be raped and murdered.
“I would rather be killed, then raped. But I would prefer none of those things happen today… ever.” This was so weird.
“Tell you what little girl, you answer my questions cooperatively and honestly, and I won’t `hurt’ you, if you don’t, then I will `hurt’ in the agreed upon order. Pretty generous?”
“Do you do both things at the prestigious Gotham U?”
He raised his eyebrows.
“Nonononono… I don’t remember what we were talking about… remind me!”
I took a deep breath.
“Please remind me.”
“Do you study and work at the university?”
“Yes. I’m working on a doctorate in Psychology and I work at the developmental center on campus.”
“Developmental center… you mean children?”
“Yes. I work with three year olds.”
“Ahhh, children. They are the future. Any upcoming talent I should be looking out for?”
“Ummm…” I had to take a guess at what he meant. What came out was “I have a kid that likes to tear the legs off bugs. And I have another child that I think can’t feel pain. I’ve seen him get bit twice and he didn’t have any reaction. The bites drew blood.”
Apparently this was the information he wanted and he leaned in closer to me in a very interested way.
“Oh yes, congenital analgia. I’ve got some top people working on that for me. I’m predicting it will provided great strides in the fight against The Bat. Could you get me a sample of the child’s blood?” he asked in a complete dead pan.
“I don’t… no I could not get you a sample of one of my kids blood.”
“I suppose a name is out of the question?”
“Yes. That’s confidential.”
He raised his an eyebrow.
“And that has nothing to do with our deal right now. And besides I’m answering honestly.” I spat out at quickly as I could.
“Little girl… you should not be so rude. Especially when I’m being so kind.” He chide in a teasing tone.
“I’m sorry.” I didn’t know what else to say.
He sunk back in the chair, picked up his long gangly legs and draped them over the back of the seat in front of him.
“Lets watch the movie.” He said.
I finally turned my body from him and reluctantly watch the movie. At length the movie finished and at the ending credits The Joker stood up and stretched his arms straight up in the air making him look nearly seven foot tall. I stayed in my seat just waiting to see what would happen next.
After he finished he turn his back to the screen and leaned against the backrest he had previously used as an ottoman. He crossed his arms, and looked out in the back half of the theater.
“So little girl… I suppose this means that I might see you again someday at Arkham.”
“I guess its possible. I’ll probably end up doing an internship there. Most students do.”
“Yes.” He almost hissed. “Well this was fun. Here’s my card, contact me if you got to anther film again. I enjoyed this.”
He turned and walked way. I could not believe what my legs were doing but they were actually walking after him and before I could stop it my mouth said, “Wait!”
He stopped but didn’t turn around. I, in disbelief at my own actions continued.
“Out all these seats. Why did you sit right next to me?”
He turned his head over his shoulder and grind.
“I wanted to sit in the exact middle. By the way, your off by one.”
He turned around and chuckled all the way to the door with the exit sign above it. When he got to the door he turned in my direction.
“Good thing you cant count…” whatever threat he was going to say never passed through his lips as he broke into a cackle as he slipped out the door.
The moment the door softly clicked behind him the house lights went on. I looked down at the card that was still in my hand. It was a joker playing card. I grabbed my bag from the floor and walked out of the theater the way I had come in. I walked down the stairwell, out the lobby, and finally out of the marble foyer. The sunlight hit my face and I followed it all the way back to Cherry Street, closed my door behind me and exhaled.