9. People Like Me

The outskirts of Gotham City gave way to miles of New Jersey greenery. The mansions of the rich were situated on lush wooded acres, and Arkham Asylum was situated on a small island separate from the mainland. Farther out there was farm land, mostly commercial. Near this land, Jed Robertson had made his home.

Jed was a retired commercial airliner pilot who still loved to fly. He had settled with his wife in an old house near the farm land, and built a private hangar nearby. He owned an aerial applicator, which was a small plane converted for use in spreading farm chemicals or seed by air. He took jobs from any of the many farms in the area, and made a healthy living doing what he loved in the sedate countryside. After a life of terrorist threats, lunatics trying to rob or commandeer planes out of Gotham, and other such colorful events, Jed was thankful to have found some peace.

Tonight was no different. He sat up with his wife in their living room, watching TV by a roaring fire and the lights of their Christmas Tree. Outside, a light snow was falling. The night passed in warm, quiet comfort, and Jed was nodding off when his wife said something. The middle-aged man blinked himself awake, and took a sip of the cup of soup he had been drinking before dozing off. It was cold.

"Jed, did you hear that?"

It was the question every husband dreaded. He smiled casually, as men had done for generations, trying to convince both of them that fear was something to be laughed at.

"Oh, it's just the snow," Jed told her, glancing cursorily out the window. "It's building up out there. Probably knocking stuff about."

It was almost left at that, but then there was a metallic scraping noise. Jed's smile faded. The room felt chilled despite the fire.

"Okay, guess I'll go see what's the matter," Jed said, his pretense of indifference wavering. He got to his feet, stretched his arms. "The hangar door might be loose. Probably the cold getting at the plane."

His wife only nodded. Jed got into his boots and heavy winter coat. He put his plaid hunting cap on his head, and then went upstairs as quietly as possible for his gun. He was unable to slip out with it, as his wife was waiting at the bottom of the stairs for him.

"It's nothing, hun, don't you worry," Jed assured her. He gave her cheek a kiss. "I'll be back in a sec."

"Should I call the police?"

"No, I'm sure it's nothing they'd need to deal with," Jed said. No, he was thinking, his head swimming. No, God, please no. There were enough frantic calls to the police in Gotham City. I never want to have to go through a crisis with a phone in my hand again.

The night was still and serene. Though Gotham could be seen on the horizon in all its angular, sky-grazing glory, it was still as far away as a dream. Jed was reassured by the distance, and he went crunching through the snow towards the plane hangar. The door was ajar, and he was relieved to think his theory might have been correct. He cradled the gun on one arm and pulled the large metal door up completely.

"Hark! Are those sleigh bells I hear?"

The voice startled Jed so badly that he nearly fell to the ground in his stumble backwards. He remembered himself, and took up the gun. His hands were shaking as he pumped the shotgun. He squinted into the dark hangar, trying to find a figure to aim at.

"Oh, no, no sleigh bells. No jingle bells, either, or silver bells even. Where's your holiday spirit? You should be jingling away at this time of year!"

He came out from behind the plane, slithering boneless as a snake. He was very tall, rail-thin, and so white that he looked dead in the faint light from the hangar's front bulb. Jed aimed the shotgun in his direction.

"You're that clown," he said. He can't be here. He can't be. He belongs in Gotham. This isn't Gotham. "What do you want? We don't want any trouble."

"Why—neither do I!" the Joker said, pressing his fingertips to his narrow chest. He spread his arms out wide then. "It's the season of peace and good will towards fellow men! I only came to collect on that good will, my fellow man."

"What are you talking a—Hey, don't move! You stay there!"

"Well that's not very peaceful," the Joker said, giving the gun a disdainful look. He took another step forward. "No, that is definitely ill will. And after I left you all such a lovely gift!"

"What do you—"

A scream broke through Jed's hearing. His heart skipped a beat and then came back pounding too hard, too fast. It was his wife's voice screaming, and now it was … laughing?


Jed forgot all about the clown. He raced back to his house, the shotgun useless in his hands. He burst through the door. His wife was slumped beneath the Christmas Tree, an unnatural, hideous smile on her face, her eyes lifeless. He opened his mouth to scream for her, but the gas was sucked into his lungs when he did. The scream tumbled out as a broken, hysterical laugh. It was the last sound the man would ever hear, his own voice laughing even as the tears came pouring out of his eyes.

But this isn't even Gotham. I left the city. I left it. I left …

The Batmobile zoomed through the outskirts of the city like a demon of the night. The Joker had murdered a middle-aged couple that owned a one-man, one-plane crop dusting business. The woman had dialed the police before she had died, and the operator had patched the call through to the GCPD the moment she heard the woman's dying laughter. Batman was driving out to where the plane would be heading.

He found it flying low towards the city. He set the car to auto-drive and opened its hood. He climbed out onto the top of the car and readied his grappling hook gun.

"HEEYYYY, BATS!" the Joker called from plane. He was wearing an aviator cap and goggles. "FLYING MY WAY?"

Batman shot the gun. The hook wrapped around the tail of the plane, and he set the line to reel him up. The plane jerked this way and that wildly, as the Joker tried to drop him. Batman held fast to the gun until he was pulled all the way up. They were gaining altitude, but he did not bother looking down. He grabbed onto the plane and climbed up, unhooking the line from the plane and fixing the gun to his belt. The world swayed up and down, the air frigid with the snowflakes flying by.

"Oh, not tonight!" the Joker told him. "It's a silent night, a holy night! All is calm, all is … right!"

The plane dropped and then flew up sharply. Batman held on tightly, unable to climb up to the Joker. He grimaced.

"I've got a lesson to teach them about ho-ho-ho Holiday!" the Joker went on mirthfully. "They're all cheering him on, but he's a Grinch! What's wrong with the world, Bats? I ask you!"

Batman saw the Joker's clown face emblem on the canisters the crop duster was loaded with. He knew what the clown was planning: to spray the city with his lethal laughing poison by aerial distribution.

"Can Holiday give them all this joy and holiday cheer? No!" the Joker exclaimed. He hit the plane's dashboard. "He only cares about checking his list twice, Holiday. But who will save Whoville?"

"Wasn't it the Grinch that did save it?"

"Oh, whatever!" the Joker wave a hand carelessly, and the plane dipped. He took up the steering again. "Oops! Ha ha! It's the most wonderful time of the year! Bats! Holiday doesn't understand that! Not like I do! Because I care! I care about everyone in Gotham, not Falcones or Maronis or macaronis! I'm bringing peace on earth, and joy, joy, hahaha! So much joy! HAHAHAHA!"

Batman had inched his way to the front of the plane. He climbed onto the top of the wing and hung over it. His face was barely an inch apart from the Joker's. He could smell the rancid and sweet breath whistling out between those exposed, horrible teeth.

"You're insane."

"So nice of you to finally notice."

Batman reached under the wing and grabbed the Joker by the front of his aviator jacket. He pulled him out of the cockpit, cutting the harness straps with the sharp edges on his gauntlet blades. There was no time to take chances up here. Batman knocked the clown out with a straight, hard punch to the head. He held him with one hand as he slid into the cockpit. There was a timer on the dashboard, most likely counting down until the laughing poison was dispersed from the plane. It read: [08:00]

Eight minutes, Batman reasoned. Eight minutes to get rid of this plane in a place where the poison won't hurt anyone. Eight minutes and we're miles into the city.


Fortunately, Batman knew the city better than anyone else did. A glance at the buildings flying by and the streets below brought up a map of the district in his mind. He turned the plane upwards and climbed it higher and higher.


Ironically, another person had used this very building a month ago. Floyd Lawton had used the unfinished top floor of this office building as a sniper's nest. Batman now steered the plane into that empty floor, crashing through all the nearly finished renovations. It was a rough landing, but Batman was unharmed. He jumped out of the plane and pressed a hidden button on the inner lining of his mask. A filter mask slid out from inside the mask and covered his mouth. His nose was always protected by the filter in the underside of the nose piece, but this sealed all of his breathing entirely.


It only took him two minutes to disconnect and then deactivate the canisters. If he had been unable to deactivate the canisters, this part of the building was not ventilated, and the poison would not have reached anyone but himself and the Joker. He was protected by his mask, and the Joker was strangely immune to his own toxin.

The Joker was also inexplicably resilient. He had come to, wrenched an iron pipe from the debris, and now he ran at Batman with it. Batman turned and caught the blow on his gauntlet.

"Why do you have to ruin everything?" the Joker complained, trying to hit him again. "It's Christmas!"

Batman caught the pipe and countered the blow with a crushing punch to the clown's midsection. He could feel ribs cracking, and was satisfied by the sensation.

"Bah—" He punched the Joker in the face. "—humbug."

Batman tied the unconscious Joker up and called Gordon. Beneath the mask, Bruce Wayne was still thinking of Bobby. It would be a lonely holiday season for him, he knew, because of freaks like this. It always went back to them, didn't it?

Bruce remembered another holiday season, his first after his parents' murder. The house was decorated as ever, but he had seen none of the finery. He had sat in front of the Christmas Tree for the entire day, not seeing lights or presents. Alfred had been with him, knowing better than to speak in the presence of such grief. Christmas had become a second funeral that year, and all because of Joe Chill.

At least I've saved the holidays for some people by stopping this lunatic, Bruce thought. I hope I've at least saved a little bit of it for Harvey Dent.

Garfield Lynns stood outside the burning house with joy in his eyes. The flames were leaping so high into the sky that it seemed they could blaze all the way out into space and join with the sun. He would like to see that, a bridge of pure fire stretching from planet to star. The snowflakes melted as they fell into the flames, like moths burning, and the snow on the ground had already been burned away. The air smelled of mist and ash and smoke, smoke, smoke … the exhalation of the flames …

Lynns had never thought to hope for such an opportunity. It had been so long since he had been asked to put on a performance of flames that he had thought his spark of creativity was dead. He had worked for a local film and television production company from sixteen to twenty-six, only to find himself suddenly jobless two years ago. It was too expensive to shoot movies or TV shows in Gotham City these days, and only the top studios survived the death of that industry.

He had tried to get a job at those top studios. For a year and a half, he tried. No one worked flames the way he did, and fire was one thing that would never be killed by the age of CG. Fire was as unique as it was beautiful, and it would cost a fortune to recreate even a glimmer of its true nature in pixels. Though fickle, it was a loyal partner to those who knew how to please it, and even let itself be controlled. Better to set things alight on camera than to bother with faking the effects with cheap computer graphics. He understood this, and he knew how to create those effects with unparalleled skill. Lynns could not understand why no one else could see that he was a gifted pyrotechnics expert, but the job offers never came.

For four months, Lynns had been homeless. Living in his car, desperation had finally broken through his pride and morals. He had seen a gaggle of bums around a fire burning in a trash can and had resolved not to end up that way. He was not a slave to the flames, they were a slave to him.

The jobs had started small. A gang needed a bomb for a robbery. A small business owner wanted his shop torched to collect the insurance. Such tasks brought Lynns enough money to shelter himself in a decent apartment again. Soon, he was relatively well-known in the underground of Gotham.

His big break had come when Sal Maroni had needed a small private crime lab torched. They had been processing evidence in a minor case, and had inadvertently ended up with incriminating DNA evidence linking Maroni to some murder or other. They contacted the GCPD about this lead, and Maroni wanted the evidence gone before Gordon could collect it. He had hired Garfield Lynns to do the job, and he had done it well. Knowing that if he failed Maroni he would lose his career, and possibly his life, Lynns incinerated the place. It was very freeing to be able to make explosions as big as he could, without worrying about actors singing their hair. They would still be finding ashen pieces of that crime lab halfway across Gotham in 2015, Lynns reckoned.

And the people?

There had been people inside the crime lab when it went. He had set the timer for the middle of the night, but several of the damned geeks had returned to do some urgent work. Garfield had clipped out the article of the explosion before he read it, and when he did it gave him a start. Maroni had only given him a pat on the back and told him not to worry, accidents happened. Garfield found this reasonable, after a few bottles of vodka. He had found it to be very sound reason indeed.

Garfield watched the flames lick at the air, hungry for more to consume. He remembered the conversation he had heard while he was fiddling with a device in the back of Maroni's restaurant. The large woman that Sal was in love with, Sofia, had started it:

'Sal, I don't want to do this,' she said said. 'You know me, Sal. I don't flinch. But this woman, I don't know … I'll do it if I have to, but I would be grateful if you would take care of it for me.'

'How grateful?'

'Very grateful, Sal. This grateful.'

Lynns had glimpsed up briefly, and had seen them kissing.

'Yeah, babe. Okay, yeah. I'll take care of it. Don't you worry. You're sure, though? You're sure this is Holiday?'

'Yeah, I am. You know me, Sal.'

'Okay.' Sal had come over and slapped Lynns on the shoulder. 'Hey fire-boy, got a job for ya … '

Garfield Lynns smiled widely. He had done the job, and he had done it well. He thought that his boss would be proud of him. It would make all of the papers. The tiny, modest photo-book that he used to hold his clippings had been a mistake. He would need a scrapbook soon. He would need a big scrapbook.

I can feel you leaving.
I can see you running out.
It's faith.
(Help me)
I can feel you leaving.
It's a tale of what I don't have.
The will to say,
The filth that I became.

So maybe reasons why
I'm losing you, losing you
Are the reasons I can't hide.
But I can't stop running no.

And I fall asleep in the safest places I can find.
I'm losing religion cause I can't find a god that's mine.
And so it's back to the old me,
Killing you slowly and I'm fine.

I can feel you leaving.
I can (ahh fuck it)

We're burning bridges down to the fire below.
Time to let it go.
No you won't.

Maybe reasons why
I'm losing you, losing you
Are the reasons I can't hide.
But I can't stop running.

And I fall asleep in the safest places I can find.
I'm losing religion cause I can't find a god that's mine.
And so it's back to the old me,
Killing you slowly and I'm fine.

Show me something.
Shake me from my haze.
When I need your help.
You never saw me coming no.
Here in my personal hell.

Maybe reasons why
I'm losing you, losing you
Are the reasons I can't hide.
But I can't stop running.

And I fall asleep in the safest places I can find.
I'm losing religion cause I can't find a god that's mine, tonight
And so it's back to the old me,
Killing you slowly and I'm fine.

– "People Like Me, We Just Don't Play" by Emarosa –