A man is running.
There is one Christmas I remember most vividly from my childhood.
It is too dark to see his face, though I know you are searching for it. His motions are erratic; stumbling.
Every year, my mother would leave a brand new ornament for the family tree on my bedside table as a surprise. I would wake to a small figure, smiling back at me through the mirror-smooth clear film of a wrapped cardboard package.
He is falling, and so very afraid.
Some years, it was a cartoon character in the box. Some years, it was a sports mascot or logo on a string. I remember a couple of large orbs in varying color, too – my favorites at that particular time.
At some odd moment during the year, my mother would ask, “What’s your favorite color, Bruce?” And when Christmas would come, she had always picked out exactly the right one.
Not me, he thinks. It isn’t me.
That Christmas, I awoke to a tiny white box on the table. In haste, I tore back the lid and threw out the tissue paper inside, only to find that the box was empty.
In a flash of lightning off the wet-slick pave, you believe you can maybe make out a familiar pair of eyes. From a nearby puddle, the chin takes shape as your eyes adjust.
“Not me,” he says, aloud. Breathless: “It isn’t…me.”
Confused, I called out to her. She found me distraught, and picked up the pile of papers on the ground – unwrapped from them a small, intricate porcelain figurine. The right wing had broken off when it had hit the hardwood.
It was a beautiful angel.
It’s not just the storm, now. The lights, behind, are red and blue.
Panic forces the man over a nearby fence.
I began to cry, ashamed of my behavior, and I apologized for destroying her gift. But my mother rubbed my cheek, and she took me into the kitchen with her, forging the angel back to whole with a tube of super glue and careful fingers.
His leg catches on hidden barbed wire. It rips at his flesh, and he screams in pain.
“We must never overlook the littlest things, Bruce,” she told me. She stood the angel upright on the table, and turned it to face me.
It was a woman, and she held a trumpet to her painted lips – raised it to the ceiling in a minute exaltation that extended past her golden halo ring.
Losing balance, he bounces sideways off the chain link. His skin rips free, and his skull cracks in loud staccato from the brick wall.
My mother smiled.
“And even when we do,” she said, “there is always time to fix it.”
The lights close in on Harvey Dent. The swirling lights, red and blue. Opposite ends. Upside down. His cheek is in shadow, there, and then not. The bulging eyes shine on; do not move.
Not me, he thinks.
That was the last Christmas I spent with my mother.
…It isn’t me.
* * *
I crank the wheel hard, and the car, tuned to the finest touch, screams in protest as it momentarily skips the asphalt, turns me horizontal and blind; then it fishtails onto the main highway, headlights trained for the rising white exhale of chilled uptown Gotham.
It’s breathing. From my low seat, I can see it rise and fall.
The living city.
“Robin,” I say, and the dash envelopes my periphery in blue light.
Jason’s voice is disinterested: “Bruce.”
“Batman,” I say.
“It’s a secured line, Bruce,” he says.
“Batman,” I say.
“I could read off your social security number on here,” Jason says, “and nobody—”
“Batman,” I say.
“Bruce Wayne: 245-34-64—”
He sighs. “Sure…what do you need?”
My fingers graze the number pad beneath the illuminated screen; pull the grid over and over and up, then back down. I hone in on two red dots, side-by-side on the map. Zoom in closer. Send the image back to the Batcave computer screen where he should be sitting.
“What are the scanners saying for this cluster, chum?” I say.
The buildings grow over the night skyline by what appear millimeters at this distance. Jason is quiet, and over the headset, I hear a few faint clicks, then muffled, mechanical voices on the police radio. This goes on for half a minute, and I hear him switching between the open and closed frequencies by the time the city is over my head, and still approaching.
“Still here, Batman.”
He groans. “Hearing…snippets about a police chase aaaand…an ambulance?”
Still a bit slow, but he’s double-checking his scanner codes to get it right. I confirm the coordinates.
“Wait,” he says. The scanner drone increases in strength, and I hear before he says, “It’s Harvey.”
“Two-Face, HIMS-self, Batman.”
Odd. “Doing the chasing?”
“Ap-PAIR-ently, not so much.” Jay adds the emphasis; waits for a reaction. His voice gets excited. “Should we prep the bike?”
I shake my head – don’t let him hear me smile. “Not tonight, chum,” I say. “Did you finish your homework?”
The headset grows quiet again. “…Almost.”
“A thorough education is the most important tool in a crimefighter’s repertoire, Robin.”
He considers an argument for a beat, but instead just gives me another sigh.
“Yes, sir.” He silently throws back live city-cam maps of the scene.
“Finish your calculus, and we’ll stakeout tomorrow night,” I say. A feed from the police computer transmissions, now. “Deal?”
“Looking forward to a smooth INTEGRATION into the case, Batman,” he says, but I can tell he’s disappointed. “Already DERIVING the best possible solutions.”
I can’t help but chuckle at those.
“Keep an ear to the radio, but don’t stay up too late,” I say. “Listen to Alfred—”
“Don’t you mean ‘Penny-One’?” he throws back, with a laugh. I nod at the screen.
“Over and out.” He clicks off his set.
I fire the afterburners. They kick me even lower in my seat. I enter the urban midnight with a roar; set the coordinates on my GPS.
“Over and out.”
* * *
“Are yew…scaaaared yet?”
The voice is high and airy – a drawling breath through grass bandages – and it molds into the approaching silhouette which, beneath the blindfold, is not entirely humanoid. It’s too thin, and the neck seems too long and too bent, as a giraffe under excess cranial weight – anthropomorphic – and where the face should be, halfway, over the line of the nose, the creature grows wide and thin as a blackened wormhole, then pitters to a cone up back the crown of its head.
There begins a ticking noise in the background. Mechanoid. Space crickets.
Click. Click. Click.
Suddenly, it sounds like the expelling of a long, tired breath.
“If it helps you,” the creature says in an empathetic whisper, “I’m alwaaaays scared. If it helps you say it too, I mean… ”
* * *
The Batmobile’s shockwave sensors sound near-on synchronous to the earth shifting sideways, the reverberations coming in from my right-hand side; and I hear the armour plates slide in from the window and wheel wells to protect the inside. Locking the machine into autopilot the blue light moves to red, and I begin my scans of the processor systems, first for damage (Nothing significant.), and then for the exact location from which the explosion has emanated.
I’m kicked to the compacted side wall as the car hits a corner, keeping its path for the Dent crime scene.
“Computer,” I say.
“Batman?” the car replies.
“Are we under attack?”
I brace myself with both hands on the roof, avoiding a sparking loose wire next to my pinky finger.
“Negative, Batman,” the computer reads. “Blast epicenter appears to triangulate at the Exhibition Wing of the Maxwell Lord Museum of Art, Downtown Gotham.”
The computer’s answer is drowned out as the overhead radio flips on. “Master Bruce?”
“Hey! Why does he get to call you ‘Bruce’?” Jay’s voice comes in from behind.
“Are you alright, sir?” Alfred says. “The Bat-computer is picking up enaction of the system’s explosion protocols.”
“Fine, Alfred. We may have a more…pressing…matter at hand.” I’m thrown to the opposite wall by the autopilot, groaning. “What was the name of that…exhibit currently showing at Lord’s Museum?”
“Sir? Is that really relevant?”
“The name, Alfred,” I say.
“It’s…a local artist, I believe. The newspaper called it ‘The Sum of All Fears.’”
“Just as I thought,” I say. “Stand by, both of you. Computer.”
The screen lights up. Jay has sent a copy of the exhibition advertisement to my screen, along with several crowd shots from the Gotham Gazette’s entertainment section piece on the grand opening.
Artist’s name: Boris Rathbone.
Medium: Oil painting and wax sculpture.
Theme: Re-imaginings of classic monster movie posters and their life-size character designs.
Holy HAY-makers! he has written.
“Watch those sharp turns. And reroute to the blast epicenter…”
I hit the steering wheel on a hard stop; then the car begins to pick up speed in reverse, hits the brake again, and slides back forward, as I take hold of the controls. My boot punches the floor.
“…I hear burlap is flammable.”
* * *
“FREE ADMISSION FOR ALL!” Scarecrow screams, and the fingers that fold the wide-brimmed straw hat down over his woven earholes fall. He looks up and is suddenly dancing tall – smiling, arms spread as wide as they can go amidst the newly-formed window in the side wall of the Maxwell Lord Museum of Art.
Tiny flakes of stucco fall about him like a calamitous winter snow, and not even the scythe he takes up in his right hand can reach the other end of the orifice as he swings it about in circles, around and around and around.
At the edge of the room, the blindfolded security guard shrieks from his rolling chair. He believes he is tied to that chair, but he is merely sitting there, straight as a board. The fear toxin has him believe that he is trapped in an unrelenting darkness – a darkness of which he has been most afraid since he was a young boy. He is blind. He is that child. He is crying.
An extremely lifelike wax statue of Wolfman stares out at the world from over the villain’s shoulder, rather aloof to the wanton destruction about him. Green vapour streams waft out like fog, up his ankles, then jump his boney kneecaps, and converge past his inverted hips. The sickly fog blows out into the street.
The guard’s shrieks begin to line up in a steady beat, to which Scarecrow is soon tapping his feet. He turns back to the scene and starts to wave his scythe as a conductor’s baton. A steady humming builds in the back of his hollow reed throat, whistling past his lips and wheezing burlap strips until he is singing.
Shriek. “It…wasssss a MONSTAH MASH!” Shriek. Shriek.
A shadow swings in an arc from the apex of the hole in the wall, and collides with Scarecrow’s back, throwing him face-first into a glass-encased poster replicate of the horror classic, The Terror. The case shatters, and the shards rain down upon his shoulders. His head is planted straight through the piece of artwork, straw hat and all.
When he turns back, in the streaming moonlight, two pointed ears rise above the wavering lines of white and green.
“More like a GRAVEYARD SMASH, huh, Scarecrow?” I say – voice, puny gravel. In the cowl earpiece, I hear Jay’s voice say, “Good one, Batman!” With a zip, the chord upon which I was suspended returns to my person. I grin (Thanks, chum.), and begin to walk toward my prostrate opponent. The guard, hearing the approaching boot steps in the dark, cries out in greater frequency and with much more outstanding volume.
“Daaaamn you, Batman!” Scarecrow backs away, poster still collared around his neck. “Why. Musssssst. You. Alwaysss. Ruin. My. Grand. Ewpeningsssss.” His elbow cracks into a shrivelling mummy cast, and the bandages catch in his gunny sack material, unraveling the sculpted creature. The under-wax body topples down, pinning him to the floor.
I close fast, and grip the villain’s tunic in my gloved palms, shoving the statue aside. I hoist him up until we are face-to-face.
“Sorry,” I say. “I just prefer to be fashionably late.”
But Scarecrow smiles at this – a slow grin, that pulls up the bags of his brown, crosshatch cheeks.
Suddenly, he flails, and there is a deep stabbing pain in the side of my neck.
My hands slacken, and I feel the needle yank free, as Scarecrow dives for his abandoned scythe. The room spins, and Jay’s voice – “Batman? Batman, can you hear me? Your vitals—” – mixes in with the yelps of the nearby security guard, until they are one and the same. When my vision refocuses, it is the boy who is sitting in that chair; not the guard.
“That’s jewst the thing, thew, Batman,” Scarecrow says. “I’m AFRAID you’re never invited!” As I turn toward his voice, Scarecrow rears back and sweeps the scythe at my unprotected belly, which I just manage to avoid, the blade racing off the Kevlar and drawing first blood.
“Robin?” I slur, looking back at the boy in the chair, who I believe I can hear screaming, now. “Robin, I told you to stay at home! You aren’t ready yet!”
But he is there. And he keeps screaming.
Scarecrow laughs maniacally; swings for me again. “Injectable fear toxin, Batman!” he says, but I don’t understand his words. I manage to sidestep the shining cold steel again. “My, your dreams are different than I remembuuuuur! A new birdie in the nest, perhaps?”
“Batman!” Jay is saying, and I hear static in between (Or is it more screams? The confusion…Why am I so confused?), which then rests on the word, “…help!” The floor is spinning. It is rising and falling; sinking.
My God, I think. Water?
Is Jason submerged?
Have I taught him to swim?
Did I show him how to hold his breath underwater…?
“I’ll be right there, Robin!” I shout. Don’t worry!”
“Will you?” I hear Scarecrow say. I see him stretch up – an icy flash in the sky, and it seems so very far away. “And shouldn’t he? What brings a Papa Bat to his knees?” He swings the scythe down over my head. I fall into a crouch and catch it between the side blades of my gauntlet, just in the nick of time. “My, listen to me!,” he laughs. “I’m beginning to sound like ewld Nygma ahver here…”
He attempts to pull the weapon free, but I trap it with the other gauntlet.
“Batman,” static, “…help!”
Not what it…seems…
Scarecrow kicks my chest, but I’m not moving. I am a rock. He shakes the stifled knee in pain. I survey the room
“Batman!” my com suddenly roars. “Do you need help?”
I push back hard, and the scrawny masked man falls, off-balance, into a nearby pile of rubble. I reach for my utility belt – for the slot three spaces from center mass – and take out my latest batch of fear toxin antidote.
It won’t cure everything, I think, but it’s a start.
“Batman!” I stab myself in the thigh.
Jay’s scream is deafening, and I look over to him in the water chair. I blink hard, and my eyes are watering. I drop the syringe, look down at my hands. They are far away, but coming back at me.
“Penny-…-One!” I shake my head. The second voice is Jay, from the background, annoyed at Alfred for using my real name again.
This has happened before.
I look up. A blindfolded security guard is shrieking back at me from the dark of his chair. There is no water. There is no Robin.
There never was.
I touch my earpiece. “Roger,” I whisper. “All clear. Stand by, Robin and Penny-One.”
“Sir! Thank goodness!” I hear Alfred say. Jay cheers.
I stand tall, and the power flows back to my limbs like fresh blood – the strength one gains after a period of long cower. I itch for action – for contact. The wind blows my cape around me, sentient, a crawling black urchin; my skin: the spectral symbiont. I can feel the light casting my silhouette in a mirror shadow.
“Last call, Scarecrow,” I say, turning back to the scene. The grin returns. “And look at this mess. Were you born in a—”
But he is gone.
Jay giggles into the headset. In the corner, the blindfolded guard continues to scream.
* * *
“Batman. Nice midriff.”
I enter the Dent crime scene from overhead – hunch into the black above Jim’s head. My presence will only be a distraction to the other officers trying to do their jobs.
“Heard something about a hole in the side of a museum,” he says. “Guessing that was your doing?”
Around Jim’s feet, a bouquet of golden Marlboro butts sprout from the concrete.
Another in his finger. Pack’s open in his breast pocket. Ash collecting on his left boot.
Chain smoking again.
“Scarecrow,” I say. Don’t let him see that I’ve caught his tell. “I called it in. There’s a security guard there who’s suffered some pretty extensive mental trauma. He’s sedated, now; mind’s in a scramble, though. Ambulance is on the way. I took a copy of the security footage for myself.”
“Fine, fine,” he says. “And the perp?”
I stay silent.
“Next time,” he says.
“Shouldn’t have had to be a next time,” I reply.
“We all have our—” but he stops short, takes a deep drag and tosses down his current butt. He knows it’s not what I want to hear. He flicks a Zippo from under his long coat. In the same motion, another stick has grown out under his lip, behind his hand. Surprisingly quick. Addict’s reflex.
“Wanna see the scene?” His moustache is red fire in the overcast – brings me out, into the open, like a circling firefly. “He’s…not right, Batman. Prepare yourself.”
“Sure.” I get a twinge of pain. Gordon usually calls Harvey “Two-Face,” too. Makes it easier to distance himself from the old district attorney. From an old acquaintance.
From Harvey. My old friend…
And now I notice Jim’s hand is shaking.
Small sparks dance like magic from his fingers.
I’ve seen real magic. Something has him spooked.
Or it’s bad.
…It’s probably bad.
“Tell me what happened, Jim.”
He hollers at the officers on-scene and waves them off to the side. I try to object, but he won’t hear it. We’re in a back alley; shining wet brick, approaching a chain-link fence.
“Received a call of an officer in pursuit sometime after 10. Said it was Two-Face – you know he’s wanted at the moment?”
“When isn’t he?” I say. We both grin, but it’s more formality.
Stab. Harvey. My old friend.
“But he’s running down the road, plainclothes,” Jim says. “Pyjamas, actually. Appears to be unarmed. Diaz says he was running—”
“New recruit.” He motions back over his shoulder at one of the parked cars. “She was on the beat – called in the pursuit. She didn’t realize it was him until she got closer. Was going to ask him if he was alright, then caught sight of him. Says he was running long before she rounded the corner – long before she even had her lights on. Stumbling all over the place, like he was—”
“—scared,” I say.
“Bingo,” he says. “But what scares a hardened criminal so bad that he’s in his knickers in the middle of the night?”
My cape reaches down, around my boot. Jim shivers. There’s a bloodstain painted down the wall to our right – you can only tell by the phosphorescent crime scene spray still left there; glowing, dripping. An ambulance sits, idle, on our left, backed in next to a bulging white sheet.
“Why aren’t these ambulance lights on?” I say. Feel a sudden panic. “Tell me what’s wrong here, Jim.”
“How about I show you?” Jim takes another whiff of the cigarette, but sighs the smoke back out almost immediately. He reaches for the corner of the sheet, not hesitating when he pulls it back.
Harvey. My old—
I see it. In that moment, I do. Not the wound or the blood. Not the blank stare. Not the horror in the lines of his forehead or the state of his limbs, stuck in these odd, curling angles by rigor mortis, like he’s trying to ascend a ladder. I see what Jim saw – what has him so shaken.
A man is running
I see his face.
“…the littlest things.”
His dead face.
“There is always time to fix it.”
And upon it, there are absolutely no scars to be seen.
TO BE CONTINUED…
Issue 2 – Catlike Reflects
C.D. DyVanc currently lives in the Midwestern United States. He is an award-winning journalist, and, in his free time, enjoys jumping out of airplanes, reading comic books, and being the epitome of the living dad joke with his wife and stepson. His works have appeared or are upcoming in Drunk Monkeys, Rue Scribe, Dream Pop Press, and Five:2:One’s #thesideshow. His chapbook, rhi(n.)oceros, won the 2017 Midwest Chapbook Contest, and is currently available through Greentower Press. You can find his horrible use of GIFs on Twitter (@CDDyVanc), if you’d like.