WARNING: Contains Disturbing Imagery. Discretion is advised.
This work is a fan-made story based on characters from DC Comics
It’s always the same nightmare. Every goddamned November. An echoing shot, a scream, a gunman fleeing, wailing sobs and ambulances. Every. Damned. November.
Thomas Wayne sat up on the edge of his bed. The bruises he sustained from the night before made his skin look like a Jackson Pollock painting. His muscles ached as much as his head. He slammed a fist on the alarm clock’s “off” button - anything to stop the buzzing that made his temples throb. His bedroom filled with a silence that seemed to hum. The late sunlight shone through gaps in his thick curtains. Composing himself, he got up and shuffled to the adjoining bathroom. He dragged out every task - filling each motion with a deeply hesitant pause. Shaving alone took almost a full hour and the shower ran cold for ten minutes before he resigned to get out. Despite a full nine hours of sleep, his eyes had large dark shadows and he longed to just sleep for the next week. Maybe all of the past ten years would end up being a dream all along.
Fully dressed in a funeral-black suit, Thomas emerged from his bedroom and walked through to the kitchen of his mansion. Three generations it had been in his family as they flourished as the most influential family in all of Gotham. For the better part of a decade now, he wished he lived in a one bedroom in the slums. At least then he might have his family again.
“Good afternoon, Mr. Wayne,” said Alfred. The grey-haired Englishman came over and handed his employer a glass of water. Two alka seltzer tablets fizzed at the bottom. “Your dinner is prepared and waiting in the dining room. Is there anything else you require this evening?” Thomas shook his head and downed the glass of water in one swallow.
“No, Alfred. Thank you. You’re off for the night. Go enjoy yourself.”
“Very well, sir. Thank you, sir.” Alfred went to the door but paused as he opened it. “Do give my regards to Ms. Martha.”
Thomas pushed the iron bar gate open and walked into the small cemetery. A leaf littered cobblestone path ran through, ending in a small circular sitting area on the far side. As he walked, he read the names of his ancestors and long dead relatives on the tombstones that stood in little rows on either side of the path. The grass was overgrown with many of the stones beginning to grow green and brown moss. It was nearly winter, a few days from the first snow fall he guessed. His gardener wouldn’t touch the grass again until the spring. The last sets of tombstones were the most recent. On his right were his own parents: Gabriel and Nancy Wayne. Dead before his own son was born. They’d never known their grandson. And each November, he’s reminded that he barely knew him either. He would’ve turned 20 today.
A metal park bench faced the sun as it set behind a tombstone that was about four feet tall. A small relief of a child’s face in profile was carved above the name. Thomas sat down and silently stared at the stone.
A beloved son
He had read that inscription more times than he could remember. His breath rose in a cloud of steam as the evening chill began to bite. Smoking was one of the first vices he’d given up all those years ago, but he longed for a soothing breath of nicotine every time he sat on this bench.
His son was a very inquisitive and happy child. He devoured everything from fine literature to scientific history with such enthusiasm. Even his tutors couldn’t keep up with the child’s appetite for learning. “At this rate,” Thomas and his wife always joked in company, “He’ll be a better surgeon than me!” The memory was bittersweet in Thomas’ mind. Speaking about a future that would never come for his son.
A stiff breeze blew through the graveyard and the pile of colorful leaves blew from the base of the gravestone. Underneath them was a small bunch of white daisies. Thomas rose, stepped forward, and picked up the bouquet. A thin purple ribbon held them together and a white folded card was tucked behind the knot. He pulled it out and a green playing card fluttered down to the ground. He picked it up and stared at the jester like clown illustration on it, then looked back at the other piece of paper and read:
What did the clown say to the grieving father? Let’s put the fun back in funeral!
A cloud of scribbled laughter surrounded the joke. Thomas grimaced at it as he folded it back up and replaced it and the flowers at the base of the gravestone. He then walked back through the cemetery and to the mansion, dreading his next engagement.
His body ached as he pulled on the tight, sculpted leather suit. The black material protected him from stab wounds and most bullets, but did nothing to resist the blows he received. The black cloak fell to the ground around him. It was cumbersome at times, but was still invaluable to him. Instinctively, he reached for his utility belt hanging on the wall, but quickly stopped himself. Not tonight. Nearly five years of wearing the suit and donning his alias, he left it behind only once every year. Thomas Wayne checked himself one last time, then went and got in his car, shifted into gear, and drove out.
The black car quietly rolled along Park Row’s deserted street. Well meaning citizens avoided the street unofficially named “Crime Alley” where many of Gotham’s thieves and degenerates called this place home. Once it had been a booming market, comparable to Times Square or Piccadilly. Now, the boarded up windows and spray painted tags marked it as a scabbing wound on the city. The Batman turned his car down an alley a few blocks away from his destination. He parked it and got out, comfortable that the pitch black shadows of the alleyway would conceal it. He then emerged from the alley and walked down the sidewalk, taking care to stay in the shadows as much as possible.
They had gone to see “The Great Dictator” for Bruce’s tenth birthday. The boy had been a big fan of Chaplin and so they made a night of it at the theater. A truly funny and moving film, they all enjoyed it. And as they walked out from under the marquis, Bruce was laughing as he recounted the jokes and slapstick. His parents smiled and Martha’s hand gently squeezed her husband’s arm as they walked with their son. Their car was waiting for them a few blocks down from the theater. When they passed the alleyway beside the theater, a hand shot out and grabbed the boy and pulled him in. Thomas and Martha yelled as a man emerged, pressing the muzzle of a revolver against the child’s temple.
“What is this?” demanded Mr. Wayne.
“What’s it look like,” sneered the man. “It’s a stick up. Now, give me all your valuables, or the kid gets it. Cash, watch and all your pretty wife’s jewelry. Now!”
“Daddy,” Bruce cried.
“It’s okay,” Thomas said as he quickly took off his cufflinks and watch and reached for his wallet. Martha sobbed as she removed her earrings and twisted off her diamond wedding ring.
“That’s right,” said the mugger. “Everything in the lady’s purse and hand it to me. Quick!” They did as he said and Thomas held out the red handbag. The man let go of Bruce’s arm and reached to take the bag. Thinking he was free, Bruce began to scramble away to his parents. The man yelled with surprise and in a fit of confusion trying to regain hold of the boy, he pulled the trigger. The shot was loud and its echoes caused a panic in the street. The small crowds of people ran for cover. The gunman quickly stooped and snatched the bag from the ground where Thomas had dropped it and fled back down the alley. Mrs. Wayne’s screams were like a banshee’s as she fell to her knees.
The bullet had gone clean through the boy’s chest, killing him instantly. Mrs. Wayne cried as she cradled her son and buried her face in his bleeding chest. The sound of ambulance and police sirens steadily grew louder until they were surrounded by flashing lights. Mr. Wayne knelt down and grabbed his wife’s heaving shoulders. Gently he pulled her towards him and after several tries, she finally turned and he held her tight. She sobbed into him as the paramedics checked their son, loaded him onto a stretcher and into the ambulance. And it was as an officer was asking the Waynes to stand that Thomas realized something. Martha’s sobs no longer sounded like crying. He grabbed her shoulders and pushed her up. Her face was pale, mascara smudged and running around her eyes, and their son’s blood was smeared from cheek to cheek around her wide, laughing smile.
The shape of a young child was outlined in white under the streetlight. What was before a chalk outline made by police a decade earlier was now immortalized in glossy marble inlaid into the concrete. She did that. The Batman stood beside it as the memory of that night, and the years of insanity that followed, filled his mind. From the alley behind him came the clicking of high heels on pavement along with quiet, manic laughter. He didn’t look up from his vigil. “Alfred says hello.”
She giggled like a hyena as she stepped out of the alley and into the streetlight’s glow. “Ever the loyal lap dog. Tell me, does he still insist on that porno ‘stache?” The Batman looked up, glaring from under his cowl. While he had changed physically over the years, grown stronger and become more adept at fighting; his wife was unrecognizable.
Her clothes were as brightly gaudy as his own suit was black. The yellow shirt and green vest were silk, sometimes catching the light with a shimmer, while her tailored coat and pants were fashioned from thick, heavy canvas dyed electric purple. He remembered the day he checked her into the Asylum and they had shoved her flailing arms into the white coat. She’d worn it for years. When she’d escaped from Arkham Asylum, two restraint jackets had gone missing, and the next time he saw her, she was wearing this suit. Her strawberry-blonde hair was messily dyed a dark green and hung to her shoulders in severely unwashed curly strands. The clown makeup was so thick that it cracked in her wrinkles and creases. The blood red makeup extended her smile to a grotesque size. But, even with the years of madness distorting her, she still was so beautiful.
She looked him up and down and said through her laughter, “No belt? Mmmm...are you looking to get lucky tonight?” When he didn’t respond, she sneered and thrust out her chest suggestively. “Oh, come on. Why don’t we have some fun tonight? I’ll even let you use a safe word.” The Joker laughed as The Batman’s lips twitched with revulsion.
“I get enough of you ‘fun’ the rest of the year. I’m not here for it tonight.” Her laughter subsided at that and they stood there. After some time, he asked, “Remember when he broke my mother’s antique china?”
“Yeah,” said The Joker. “You grounded him for a week. If I recall, you hated that old set.”
“I did. I told him that and even said I wouldn’t punish him. But he insisted on it. Told me he wanted to fix it.”
“But Alfred had already thrown it out,” The Joker added. “He never wanted to play baseball again, even outside.”
“I don’t think he liked it much.” They paused and The Joker finally looked down at the outline in the pavement. Her dark, sunken eyes filled with tears.
“He...he was a good kid,” she said through her chuckling sobs. “Such a good kid.”
They stood there for a long time. The Batman was silent as he fought the lump in his throat as the Joker oscillated between heaving sobs and insane laughter. When her voice broke, and she eventually regained her composure, he took off his left glove. Without looking at her, he held out his bare hand. After a minute, he felt her soft, ungloved hand slide into his. Her fingers intertwined perfectly in his and they stood there for what felt like a lifetime. As the first flakes of snow began falling, she gently squeezed his hand. He squeezed twice back.
And for a moment, they were Thomas and Martha Wayne again.