batman: and the truth shall set you free

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic


Five days…

That’s how long it took for the Joker to kill the woman I love, Selina Kyle, known as Catwoman, my son Damian who the world knows as Robin, and the man I considered my second father, Alfred Pennyworth.

It only took five days to destroy my world.

Now it’s my turn.

I will kill the Clown. 

For the past thirty-six hours, I've lived in the Batmobile, searching the dark nooks and crannies of Gotham City for the Joker. Yet, a serial killer with green hair, a plastered white face, and red lips wearing a purple jacket and pants has seemingly disappeared from the face of the Earth.

All the Clown is doing is delaying his inevitable death.

A beep from the vehicle's communications system erases all thoughts of my revenge, and I press a button showing a live video feed from the dining room in Wayne Manor. The dinner table's prepared for two. One seat is empty. In the other seat is the smiling face of the Clown raising a glass of wine to the camera.

Emotions take over as I slam my foot on the accelerator.

I accept your invitation!

***

Ten long minutes later, I speed into the Batcave under the Manor. The Clown has a baseball bat standing next to several destroyed computer systems. He looks at me, laughing, as I hit the brakes.

I leap out of the Batmobile and charge.

The Joker just smiles and casually tosses the bat away.

That was a big mistake, Clown. 

I attack with a series of punches and kicks using a hybrid form of boxing and martial arts. But to my surprise, the Clown not only blocks each strike but counters with a series of attacks that I can barely avoid.

I leap back to reassess. The Joker's a street fighter, a dirty one at that. Yet he attacks, mimicking my fighting style. One that took me years to master.

Two can play that game, Clown.

I attack once again—only this time as the Joker would. My strikes are wild and chaotic, with punches and kicks coming from awkward and weird angles, barely allowing a defender any chance to block.

Yet, he deflects each strike with a calm practiced precision I’ve never seen him exhibit before. In the next instant, he becomes the attacker and I the defender. And unlike the Clown, I'm quickly forced backward by his onslaught. I block an incoming strike only to discover at the last moment it's a feint. Two punches and a kick to my head make me crumble to the floor.

The Joker’s infamous laugh echoes through the cave as he advances on me. I force myself back to my feet and prepare for his upcoming strikes.

Instead, he just points his hand like a gun at my head. "Remember, Bats. It's all your fault."

His words pierce my skull like a knife. I fall to my knees, and the next thing I know, I'm in an open grassy area about twenty feet off the main road. To the right is a car smashed headfirst into a tree. To the left are the bodies of my mother and father, dead from gunshots to the head. The man who shot them, Edward Nygma, pulls my father's hair forcing his head up, then shoots him a second time. Satisfied, he turns and walks toward me, pointing his gun.

“This is all your fault.”

I fearfully shut my eyes as the last thing I hear is a gunshot.

***

My eyes open to find myself crying on the floor in the Batcave.

“Damn, you’ve looked better, Bats.”

I try to shake the cobwebs and fear from my body as I force myself to my hands and knees.

“I see you’ve upgraded your aromatic narcotics.”

His response is a loud laugh followed by a kick to my stomach that takes my breath away.

“Ya know, for a genius, you're not very smart. Tell you what, Bats, let's play hide and seek. If you want answers, you have to find me."

Helpless, I watch as the Clown hops on the elevator platform, then takes out a device and presses a button. Instinctively I shrink back, expecting explosions. Instead, I hear music. It's a familiar tune, yet the name escapes me. But as the song plays, four words float through my mind: traveling in a world.

“Just a song to soothe the mind, Bats."

With the push of a lever, the platform moves upstairs to the Manor.

***

It takes a bit, but I finally catch my breath, stand, and take the platform up. The song is now playing throughout the house. Not loud, more like background music. It’s so damn familiar, yet I can't remember the name.

The platform stops, the bookshelf slides open, and I’m in the master study with one step. I crouch into a defensive posture expecting an attack. A glance reveals no Clown, but I see a new addition to the room. A chessboard on my desk with the white pawn two squares in front of the King. A typical first move in chess.

I look at the board with a smile. At three, I had a 250 IQ with a photographic memory. I was a genius. The problem was that growing up can be difficult when you're three with a high IQ. All I wanted was to play with computer software. On the other hand, my parents wanted me to interact with others.

Enter chess.

My father introduced me to the game to meet other kids with presumably high intelligence. It didn't work. Within weeks I was beating Gotham’s top Grandmasters. But after a few months, I became bored with the game. The problem was that chess is based on a finite number of pieces with limited moves. It was all mathematics to me. After several moves, I could tell if I should play for a win or a draw. The game becomes no fun when you already know the outcome.

Still…  

After a quick inspection for traps, I smile and move the pawn in front of the bishop on the King's side forward two squares. I always did enjoy the Sicilian defense opening for black.  

Then the room started spinning.

Damn you, Clown!

***

Another hallucination.

I’m in the study, but my desk has been replaced with a large rectangular table holding two lamps in the shape of dragons. The table's littered with maps, pencils, notepads, and tiny miniatures of Dungeons and Dragons figures. Around the table are several teenagers, each with their own copy of the fifth edition D&D core rule books. 

Everyone watches as a young girl takes a deep breath, then rolls a single 20-sided dice across the map. When it stops, the number 18 is on top, and the room erupts into a roar of cheers. The group looks across the table, and rising out of a chair is a nine-year-old version of me.

“You have scored a critical hit killing the last remaining frost giant guarding the entrance to level five. Thus I, Mathias, of the Honored Viper Clan, grant you and your group access to the level six dungeons. Congratulations.”

The room erupts into another round of loud cheers. Yet with all the noise, that unknown tune still plays in the background.

A bit of envy rolls over me as I watch everyone laugh and cheer. I never had friends or events such as these. I was too busy creating software for Wayne Enterprises.  

How I wish this were my childhood.

My younger version turns his head toward me and smiles.

Can he see me?

With a broad grin, he walks up to me and throws a punch.

It connects, sending me several feet backward.

***

My back hits a wall, and the room shifts back to the master study. I shake my head to see the Joker laughing as he holds up a fist.

Well, it’s a Joker, just not one I recognize.

This Joker is more… clownish. He still has bright green hair with a white face and red lips. But now he’s wearing purple pants, a matching blazer with an orange shirt, a green bowtie, and topped off with a wide brim purple fedora.

He’s so different… yet so familiar at the same time.  

This Joker throws a wild haymaker that's easily blocked. He punches again, adding a kick afterward. I deflect both and counter with a punch that sends him backward three steps. As I'm ready to leap at him, he pulls a Smith and Wesson.

“You ever dance with the devil in the pale moonlight?”

His words ignite sharp pain, and my hands cover my head in a foolhardy attempt to make it go away. Images now flash in my head of that Joker and I fighting in a bell tower. A fight that never happened. Combined with the unknown tune, those images are causing havoc in my mind.

The Joker laughs, fires a wild shot that hits a lamp, then runs out the door and up the stairs to the second floor.

My mind is still a mess as sharp stabs of pain rip through my skull. A noise from the second floor brings me back to the here and now. My pain vanishes, replaced by the memories of those I’ve loved whom the Clown killed; it gives me the strength to stand and run up the stairs after him.

I will end this.

There are several rooms on this floor. But I don’t have to guess which one the Clown occupies. He’s waving at me with that silly ass smile from the movie room just before closing the door behind him.

My first instinct is to crash through the doors, throw smoke pellets, then tackle him.

But that’s what he’s expecting, so let's change things a bit.

I still crash thru the door as expected. But, instead of throwing smoke first, I charge in and dive to the side and then toss smoke pellets to his left. A second later, I throw a Batarang to his right.

The Clown avoids the pellets and steps to the right. When he does, he walks into the thrown Batarang, which slices his cheek open. As blood flows down his face, I bull rush him, slamming my shoulder into his midsection and ramming him into the wall.

I hear air leave his body and then throw a punch that connects with his mouth. As the Clown falls backward, the damn tune gets louder. The next moment, his body changes to another version of the Joker. This version is darker than the last iteration. His face is still painted white, but now it's cracked and peeling like worn-out paint on a wall. His lips are also painted red but scarred from each side of his mouth to his ears. I grab him by his purple trench coat and punch him again.

This Clown just smiles as his back slams into the ten-foot-wide movie screen. “Why so serious?”

The tune becomes deafening. And that's when everything starts to make sense. It's not just the narcotics in the air causing the visions; it's the tune itself. That music is the primer for these drug-induced images.

New plan. Get rid of the music. Get rid of the visions.

I look to see this darker version of the Joker laughing, and my mind snaps. Now I throw nonstop punches at his head and body. I never give him a chance to mount any defense. I just keep attacking. In less than a minute, he's a bloody mess. My final strike is a knee to his chin that sends him back into the wall.  

Beaten and bloodied, the Joker pulls a small pencil-like device from his jacket pocket. The Clown grins with his thumb, ready to press the top. “I wonder what this is.”

“Let me guess. Press the top, and somewhere in the city, people die.”

“You're half right, Bats. Press the top, and Wayne Manor explodes. Only you and I die.”

“Just the two of us? What game are you playing, Clown?

“Game? Let’s call it: Whatcha gonna do? If I leave this house alive, I will kill again. I might get locked up for a bit, but I’ll escape. I always do. And then, next to driving you, dare I say… batty, my next biggest joy in life is the sound of people begging and pleading for their life just before I pull the trigger, stab them, or whatever comes to mind.”

His words fill me with a rage I never knew I possessed. I step forward, but his thumb moves slightly closer to the trigger, stopping me.

“However, I'm giving you a choice this time, Bats.” Joker holds the device in front of him. “You press the trigger, and it's just you and I that die. Don't, and you will be the reason so many others will die. Whatcha gonna do?”  

A warm calm settles over me. I take off my mask and cowl, then smile as I cover the Joker’s hand with mine while placing my thumb over the trigger.

“You don’t have the guts, Bats!”

“In the past, you would have been right. But now, Gotham's lost too much. I've lost too much. I'm tired, Clown. I’m tired of the endless fighting, pain, and loss of those I love. I'm tired of the endless cycle we've created. But in your madness, you've given me an out. You’ve given me a chance for… peace.”

“Then what are you waiting for, Bats? Kill us!”

I briefly drop my head, then look up with a smile. "Yes. I think I will. Goodbye, Joker.”

My thumb presses down, and the Manor’s foundation shake as the explosions start a second later.

The Clown laughs as he takes a step backward. When he does, Robin, Catwoman, Alfred, and even Commissioner Gordon, appear to the left and right of the Joker. Each one is stepping backward with the Clown. With each step, a different version of each one appears and disappears.

Each new version brings with it flashes of memories that are both foreign and familiar at the same time.

Joker shouted. "If you want to view paradise, simply look around and view it.

The Clown's last words send a chill of understanding through my body.

The song! Oh my God! The song! I understand!

The last thing I see is the flare of another detonation.

***

It’s a strain to open my eyes. Everything’s blurry, but I'm in a room lit by the soft glow of two elegant and familiar dragon-shaped lamps on a small circular table. Things are still out of focus, but sitting at the table is a well-dressed man, late fifties, reading a book. I focus hard and then smile. “Al…fred?”

I startle my long-time guardian, and he rushes to my side.

“Master Bruce.” Alfred grabbed a cup with a straw. “Don’t try and talk. Your throat must be dry as a desert. Take a sip and gather your strength.”

I reach out, and I'm shocked to discover the hands of a ten-year-old wrapping themselves around the cup. I try to play off my shock, but Alfred notices. His hands cover mine to help.

“Welcome back to the land of the living, young Master.”

The water is cool and refreshing. It gives me enough strength to look around. I'm in my bedroom, but it's now a hybrid bedroom/hospital room. I take another sip as fuzzy memories try to break through. 

“I don’t understand.”

I watch Alfred’s eyes drop a bit. “You’ve been in a coma.”

I watch him fight a losing battle to tears that drop from his face. A moment later, my eyes can't hold back the tears. "How?"

“Long story short, someone was stealing money from various Wayne Enterprise accounts. Small amounts off the top that no one would notice, of course. But over time, your father found something strange was happening with certain overseas accounts. So, he set up a large and very fake account that only he knew about. Lo and behold, someone was transferring money out of that account a few weeks later."

My hands clenched in anger. “Edward Nygma.”

"The very same. Since you had created several software programs to prevent this from happening, your father brought this to your attention.”

“I ran a scan and discovered it was Nygma.” I take another sip to steady myself. “Father called the police, but Nygma got away.”

"Sadly, yes. A few days later, Nygma ran your car off the road.”

"I remember. We hit a tree. When we left the car, Nygma shot my parents. He pointed the gun at me, but as he pulled the trigger, several police cars arrived. The lights from their vehicles distracted him. Instead of my chest, Nygma shot me in the side of my head."

“Correct.” Alfred began. “Shortly after that, the Doctors induced a coma to reduce brain swelling.”

A tidal wave of memories slams me. “It’s all coming back. Nygma found a backdoor because of me! I didn't double-check everything when I installed the program into the Wayne Enterprises systems. I was in a rush. I wanted to get back to creating the next D&D adventure for my friends. I was overconfident and left a backdoor open.” Tears streamed down my face. “It’s my fault! I caused the death of my parents!”

“No, it’s not! You were nine years old.” Alfred tried but could not control the anger in his voice. "Your mother and I often told your father he was pushing you too hard. Sometimes he just forgot that you were a child. The deaths of your parents were not your fault."

A long minute of silence passed before either one of us spoke.

"Please forgive my outburst, young Master."

"There's nothing to forgive, Alfred."

“What I’ve never understood is where this Batman came from.”

Embarrassed, my head drops a bit. "So, you know about… Batman?”

"Only a little."

“As for where he came from, that's easy," Bruce said. "Self-protection." 

“I don’t understand.”

"When I was in a coma, not every part of my brain was asleep. A part of my consciousness was still awake.” Bruce took a sip of water. “That part of my brain created the Batman… universe, so I wouldn't go mad while in a coma."

Alfred just looked at me in shock.

“How long has it been?”

“Just over a year.”

"A year! To me, it's been a lifetime!”

The beeping of medical equipment from my blood pressure put a worried look on my guardian Alfred.

"Bruce, please try to relax. In the past…."

“The past? I’ve woken up before?”

“Yes, sir. Several times. In the past, you woke up to think this was an elaborate scheme by someone called the Joker. After a time, you shut down and lapse into a coma once again within a few hours, a day at most."

The Joker's name brings a flood of memories. For a moment, I'm overwhelmed by all the different versions of… everyone. I close my eyes and take long deep breaths until the sound of the medical equipment is back to a normal rhythm.

"Impressive." Alfred mumbled.

“What?”

“When this has happened in past awakenings. You become chaotic. You start to scream things like “I’m Batman” or even throw things around or at me.” Alfred replied. “Not this time. You haven't even questioned why you're a ten-year-old, well, now an eleven-year-old boy. More importantly, you're not claiming I'm a stooge working for this Joker fellow. You seem to be more, dare I say, accepting of things."

“So, there’s no Batcave under the Manor?”

"No, sir." Alfred laughed. "But when you're ready, you will have to tell me how you and a young man named Dick Grayson, slid down Batpoles and miraculously changed into super-hero costumes.”

My face flushes with embarrassment as I take another sip of water.

And that's when the Joker leaps at Alfred from the room's shadows.

***

Watching Joker leap out was shocking enough. Seeing him pass through Alfred made me spit the water out of my mouth.

“Master Bruce! Are you alright?”

I watch in amazement as the Clown continues his assault on Alfred. But each kick, each punch, simply passes through my long-time guardian. At one point, the Joker even tries to pick up a chair. But his hands go through it. Frustrated, the Clown turns toward me.

"What the hell did you do, Bats?"

“Nothing!”

"Nothing?" Alfred asked. "Sir, I don't understand."

My head turns from the Joker to Alfred.

Alfred can’t see him.

Joker yelled. “I’m standing right here! How can he not see me?”

Can you hear my thoughts?

Confused, the Joker looked at me. “I… I guess so. Your lips aren't moving.”

Alfred stepped toward the door. “I’ll get the nurse.”

"Wait."

I see Alfred’s concern and throw a quick smile.

"I drank the water too fast, and to be honest; I'm still a bit overwhelmed by everything. I'm alright. Really. I just need a moment to myself.”

"Sir, under the circumstances, I don't think that's wise."

“Trust me.”

"This is against my better judgment, but," Alfred hesitates but finally nods. “ten minutes and no more. I need to speak with the Doctor anyway now that you are awake."

I look at the Clown giving Alfred the finger with one hand and grabbing his crotch with the other. “I got ya ten minutes right here, old man!"  

As soon as Alfred leaves, the Clown stomps at me with a murderous glare. “What did you do?”

“Nothing.”

"Then what the hell am I doing here? In the past, when you killed me, you woke up, and I disappeared. Yet here I am, you little shit!"

“Wait. What do you mean when I kill you? How many times have I killed you?”  

"A bunch." The Joker looks at me confused, then laughs. "Let me break it down for ya, Bats. That high IQ part of your brain that was still awake created me and everything else for one reason. To prevent you from going bonkers as your body healed. When you were ready to wake up, you had to kill me to say hello to the world again.”

“That’s sick.”

“Takes a sick mind to create someone like me.”

His words stunned me to my core.

The Clown grinned from ear to ear, seeing my discomfort. "Think of it like this, since a part of you was still awake in a coma; it was only a matter of time before you went mad or died. So, you went back to the one thing you loved most next to creating software.”

The Joker just smiled, and that's when it hits me. “D&D.”

“Bingo!” the Joker clapped his hands and laughed. “You created an entire world based around that game to stay sane. And like any game, you had rules. But one rule was very specific.”

The Batman doesn’t kill.”

“Correct again! But here's where it gets tricky." The Joker now turned serious. "In your mind, I was the antagonist. And truth be told, I enjoyed it. Pissing you off always made my day. But when your body was ready to wake up, it was my job to kill everyone you loved until Batman broke his rule and killed me."

“That makes no sense!”

“Sure, it does. To wake up, you had to leave everything behind. That meant nothing you cared for could live. It was my job to set off a chain of events that killed the Bat family. The final straw, killing me, would allow you to return to the land of the living. Nothing could be left behind, love or revenge, in your make-believe world that might hold you back.”

“But I kept going back!”

The Clown paced around the room and became more serious than I’ve ever seen.

“Your mind wouldn’t accept reality. You couldn't live in the real world where you were alone. But there was still a part of you that remembered the Batman universe. That part of you knew you could play God. So, you recreated that world again and again. You preferred that world over the real one.”

“How do you know all this?”

"I'm part of you, dumb-ass." The Clown laughed long and hard. “You know, for a genius, you're not very smart.”

My chin dropped to my chest. “So, I shut back down.”

“Yes, but you knew that sooner or later, you would wake up again. So, you changed the Batman universe each time. Just like you changed the adventures in your D&D game. Hence the different versions of Robin, me, blah blah blah.”

I sat quietly when a stray thought flew at the edge of my mind. “What if I changed things because my mind was trying to find a way to accept reality?”

“I’m not sure I follow.”

I looked at the Joker with a smile. “What if my mind decided the only way to accept reality and stay sane at the same time was to keep you around? A yin to my yang, if you will?"

The Clown was silent for a moment, then began to scream as the truth sank in. "I refuse to be nothing more than a ghost!”

“Who says you have a choice?”

“I’ll kill you first.”

The Joker leaps at me with murder in his eyes and passes right through me.

Now it’s my laughter that echoes through the room. “Who's your daddy, Clown?”

I laughed as the Joker screamed in frustration. I laughed harder when he tried to hit me or pick something up to throw at me. The Joker just passed through everything, which made it even funnier. It was my ultimate revenge after everything he did to me in my head, even if it wasn't real.  

But when Alfred returned with the nurse, the Clown enacted his revenge with his screams or nonstop talking. His antics caused my medical readings to go through the roof. I saw the look on the faces of both the nurse and Alfred. That’s when I understood the truth of my situation.

They thought I was going to lapse back into a coma.

If I did, would it really be that bad?

"Sounds like a plan to me, Bats." The Joker chimed in. “We could go back to Gotham and have a grand ole time. Just think of the things you could change this time around.”   

The Joker’s words contained a great deal of truth. So, I closed my eyes, took a few deep breaths, and thought about Gotham. The first image I see is Selina Kyle, the Catwoman, the love of my life in Gotham.

You're alive!

No words can express my joy as she wraps her arms around me. She presses her lips against mine. A blanket of euphoria covers me as I feel her body against mine. She breaks the kiss and whispers in my ear.

“Don’t let him win.”

I open my eyes and discover I'm still in my bedroom. Shock and disappointment replace the euphoria that was there only moments before.

Until I look around and see no Clown.

I try not to get my hopes up. I call out his name, first in my mind and then out loud. I expect the Joker to leap out from the shadows at any moment. But it never happens. After an hour of peace and quiet, I fall asleep with a smile.

Thank you, Selina.

***

Later that night, the Joker stepped from a dark corner of the room. For the next fifteen minutes, he just walked around and through objects until he stood at the foot of the bed and glared.

That was a cute trick, Bats. How dare you think you can control me! Me! The Clown Prince of Crime. But it does beg the question, since I’m part of your brain, does that trick work both ways? Let’s give it a go, shall we?

For the next thirty minutes, the Joker tried to move fingers, toes, anything.

Nothing moved.

Frustrated, the Clown screamed and tried again for almost an hour.

Still nothing.

Enraged, the Joker threw several punches that did nothing more than pass-through Bruce’s sleeping body.

And a finger on Bruce’s hand moved.

The Clown stepped back.

Did I do that? Wrong question. How did I do that?

He thought for a moment, then smiled. Blind anger.

Now he focused all his anger, all the times that Batman had killed him, into making the finger move again. Failure after failure ensued, but the Clown refused to accept defeat. He was exhausted when another hour passed, but he smiled. Now, not only could he make fingers move, but the entire hand wiggled if he concentrated hard enough.

"It's not much, of course, but it's a start." The Joker smiled as he looked down at a sleeping Bruce Wayne. “If you thought you could dismiss me like a child, think again, Bats. Like it or not, we're closer than conjoined twins. And the way I see it, business is about to pick up.”

The Joker began to sing as he faded into the shadows.  

The fingers are connected to the hand bone. The hand bones connected to the… 

--- END OF STORY---

 

 


Submitted: July 23, 2022

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