I love my fiancé, I do, but...

I realise it's not just him. I've seen others from there react in similar ways, but that doesn't change the fact that they all clearly have issues. I remember one time when I was in Dulles airport and this guy leapt up and turned over a table...because a piece of mushroom had landed on his plate.

He ran through the terminal, screaming and shouting, and ended up getting arrested.

Another time, in LA, a woman stood in the street, sobbing...over a pizza sign. We asked her what was wrong and she kept saying "'Shrooms. Shrooms." Nothing else.

People from Gotham are weird, even those who lived there years ago and have since fled. They're weird, but I love him. I love him, but after last night...

I knew he hated mushrooms – lots of people do, that's why I didn't think too much of it before – but to react in such a way...to do what he did...

God, that was disgusting.

It doesn't make sense. He was happily eating away, commending Mom on her cooking over the past few days, having seconds. Everything seemed great. Perfect, even. Okay, she was wrong to have done what she did, I know, but to throw up...to force himself to throw up while sitting at the table.

We needed to have words, he and I.

Sam, this is getting ridiculous.

I know. I'm sorry.

You made everyone throw up. At the table. Everyone.

I know. I didn't mean for that to happen, but your Mom-

Do not blame my Mom! Don't you dare.

She shouldn't have done that.

It was chicken and mushroom soup!

I know! But I don't eat mushrooms! I can't!

The hell you can't. You ate them fine on Friday. Don't you dare! Don't you dare try to throw up, Sam!

You don't understand.

Then explain.

I-

Ex-plain.

It irked me that he wouldn't look me in the eye, but as he sat there, hunched on the edge of the bed, staring at his twitching hands, I needed to know. He didn't look at me as he spoke, and his voice was soft and kept wavering, but he told me his story...

"It didn't happen overnight – us Gothamites are a pretty damn resilient bunch – but it did end up happening. Bit by bit. Slowly but surely.

"Mushroom soup just isn't a dish in Gotham anymore.

"Okay, some places will still serve it, but they're few and far between, and they're usually catering for outsiders...and the cooks and prep staff, they're usually outsiders, too.

"For a while it wasn't just the soup – pizzas, pasta, stir fries, anything that had mushrooms would be turned away or removed from the menu. I think it got to the point that most of the shops wouldn't even stock the canned soups anymore, let alone actual raw mushrooms.

"It's all his fault. That damn clown.

"We got it the first time. Eventually. We understood the joke. Sort of. The Laughing Gym and the Laughing Jim. It was very funny. When we got it. It was harmless. It was distracting. It was actually quite good.

"Lieutenant Gordon was being promoted to Captain. Davenport was hosting a big party, inviting Gotham's social elite, as a 'thank you' to Gordon and the GCPD for saving his life from some bloodthirsty cult leader or something. The police presence was huge - granted, most of them there were off-duty, but everyone felt safe, secure, and happy. That was the point of the party: to show that Gotham was getting brighter.

"So there was James Gordon, making his way to the stage, when he paused on the steps. It was only a second or two, and no one really noticed, but he paused again as he walked to the lectern. He was shaking a little and this time people did notice, and some, I think, even wondered if he was crying.

"No one really remembers the speech but everyone remembers the laughter. Everyone remembers him gripping the lectern and chuckling. Everyone remembers him apologising and laughing, over and over and over again.

"We knew it was him straight away, we just didn't know how he had done it.

"The whole venue was quiet and all you could hear was James Gordon laughing like a bestial loon.

"That was the first time. No one was hurt but no one understood, then, what the joke was. So he explained it and we got it. Sort of. Laughing Gym and Laughing Jim.

"It was harmless. A laugh. A sort of 'don't forget I'm around'.

"A couple of months later and he did it again, only it wasn't to just one person that time. It was a dozen council members who had been set to vote on a redevelopment proposal or something on a disused amusement park. The place was a dump and the city needed more housing, and what we ended up with was three councilmen hospitalised and no one any wiser as to how. None of them had eaten the same food – not even from the same place.

"That one put some people on edge, but it was more because of the police clampdown rather than anything he had actually done.

"The third time was bad. You must have heard about it. It was a pizza party for the Mayor's kid. There had been some hoo-ha the week before with the Calendar Man and someone with some condiment fixation but no one had heard anything from him since Gaggy was caught trying to steal some artwork.

"Gaggy.

"It always weirded me out that he had this little sidekick. Gagworth A Gagsworthy, a wannabe art connoisseur so eager to impress him.

"Anyway, Gaggy had been caught, Calendar Man was back in prison, Gotham was quiet, and then he went ahead and did that.

"A pizza party.

"You know the twisted thing about it all? The police knew about the mushrooms after the incident with Gordon. They knew what they were looking for with the councilmen. They knew but they didn't tell us. They didn't tell us, and two kids died.

"Mushrooms.

"Even then they didn't tell us. They kept making it out to be food poisoning. Technically, sure, but if we all knew what to look for...

"The fourth time almost didn't get reported. I saw it happen, though. I was walking through Robinson Park when the laughter started. There's a rota of soup kitchens there every evening, and most people don't pay them much attention. Ivy even leaves them be.

"Ah, man, Ivy. She was fuming when she clocked on to what he done but, you know what? She actually helped out and provided an anti-toxin. 'No one dies after eating in my park,' she said. Well, that's what the police said she said. It didn't work out, though. Nineteen people died because of that evening. Sixteen homeless people, one woman and her two kids.

"The mushrooms didn't just make you laugh like a loon, no. Turns out that the more you had in your system the more dangerous things were for everyone. Hallucinations, paranoia, aggression, hunger, laughter...

"It was the fifth one when they finally admitted he had done something to mushrooms. I think some people knew before then, and some from the first one – smarter people, the ones who truly got the joke. People like me, no, we didn't really understand. We didn't think it affected us. We weren't rich or elite or spoilt or poor. We were normal, and, sure, he'd likely kill us as soon as look at us, but we weren't something he would bother with.

"Then he proved us wrong."

[He looked at me then and...and I was quite taken aback by the pleading look in his eyes.]

"I love you, but I don't understand how you can't understand. The whole damn country knew what he did!"

[And then I remembered, and I felt guilty. They said that more than two hundred and fifty people died as a result of his...joke, and hundreds more were hospitalised. I remembered and I felt guilty but I still wanted Sam to explain why he did what he did. Bad as things had been that time it didn't justify him being this way.

He didn't say anything for a little while; he just stared at his hands and shook his head a little. I needed to know, though, and I needed him to tell me so I could understand, so I leaned against the dresser and I waited.]

"It was years later when it happened. Two or three, I suppose. It was part of a revival programme. After all the crap we had been through it was something we needed. They went ahead and set up an 'All New World Fair' at the old amusement park. He didn't do anything for months as they set everything up. Actually, he didn't do anything for years when they announced it, and maybe that's how he got us so bad. We were looking forward to it – it was going to put Gotham back on the map in a way he and the others like him couldn't do: it was going to make Gotham look great, the way we knew her to be.

"I was there on opening day, and it was fantastic. The exhibits and rides and 'the visions of the future!' Absolutely amazing. We were so proud – we did it. Gotham.

"I was there on the last day, too. I was there when the levers were pulled and the rides wouldn't stop. I was there when the laughter started and the screams were silenced.

"It wasn't just there, though. It was across the city. They only ever really reported about the deaths at the fair, but there were so many others. So many.

"Because of him and his mushroom joke."

[He slumped and seemed to stare at the floor from between his fingers.]

"It was all a joke to him."

[He fell silent and I waited. I watched him and waited but he didn't do anything. He just stared at his hands, and the longer he stared at them the angrier I got.]

Sam. Tell me.

You don't understand.

Help me to.

I don't want to lose you.

Don't be ridiculous.

He's going to ruin everything. Again.

Sam.

"I suppose it's easy to say that he was having fun with us when he did the mushroom thing before. It's easy to see it that way. The last time, though, I don't know. I think he was trying to punish us or something. Or maybe it wasn't us he was trying to punish. Maybe it was Him. Maybe.

"It's easy to see it that way, but that doesn't make it easy to...God...I thought it was behind me, for the most part. It's not because I'm weak, you know? I know you might think it – I know others have and do – but it's not because I'm weak. None of us are. None of us. It's just...what he did...what we did because of him...

"If it had just been uncontrollable laughter...but it wasn't. There were hallucinations and things like that.

"I have nightmares sometimes, even though I can't really remember what happened that day. You've seen it – the way I sometimes get – and you've accepted it. You never asked...

"I'm going to lose you. Please, don't look at me like that...don't...oh God...

"We were all having fun and then it went wrong. I saw a video a few months after it had happened...I saw groups of people shouting and laughing and...they were hallucinating. Some of them...with some of them you could tell what they were seeing because they were quite vocal. You could understand their terror...you could understand why they lashed out and tried to protect themselves.

"But for others the hallucinations were different. I don't know why. Truth is that I was afraid to know. I am afraid to know why my hallucinations that day were different.

"What I remember – the little I know – I thought I was a kid again. I thought I was a kid and that someone had taken my action figure and I was trying to get it back. I remember thinking it wasn't fair that this person was taking it from me, and I remember firmly believing it was mine and they weren't allowed to have it.

"My nightmares...I see snatches from that day. I see my hands pulling on the arm, clawing at their hands and trying to get the action figure free. I see my foot kicking out. I see the arm come off.

"That day haunts me...and it isn't just a dream. It isn't. I wish it was. I pray so much sometimes that I could go back and change things. That I can stop it from ever having happened.

"Hallucinations and rage and hunger.

"The hunger...eating a turkey leg. That cartoonish dream of the turkey leg...

"I think...I think that, maybe, if the hunger hadn't been there...sometimes I think that..."

[He looked at me again, and the tears in his eyes only made me see my Mom's tears when he ruined dinner, and he just...]

Tell me, Sam.

"I was vegetarian for a while after that day, until my therapist told me I didn't have to me. Yeah, I had therapy. A lot of us did. Not Arkham level, of course...although sometimes I wonder...

"My therapist was a professor. Bit of a strange guy who somehow knew...everything...but...anyway, he made me accept certain things but he couldn't help with the nightmares and the guilt.

"I got over the meat-hate but...see, I didn't think much of it when others told me people wouldn't understand. I kept thinking and hoping it would never be an issue for me like it had been for them. The support groups...to be honest, they were pretty useless. It's not like alcohol or drugs or whatever, there's something inside us now that none of us have been able to get rid of.

"I know it's confusing. God, I know it's confusing. You didn't experience it. You don't understand. I don't think you ever can.

"Look at me. I'm terrified.

"The Professor, he said it's because we've tied things into them so strongly – that we associate what we did so strongly with them – that, for a lot of us, there's no way we can get over the mushrooms. There's no way we can knowingly eat or touch mushrooms. That, for some of us, there's no way we can even look at them without being torn apart inside."

Sam, just tell me, dammit!

"I thought you were smarter than this...I thought you would realise. Maybe it's my fault. Maybe I...maybe I'm not using the right words.

"The dream...the nightmare...it's real. It's real but it wasn't an action figure."

What?

"It was a hallucination. It's been hard for me to accept it, but it's true. It was a hallucination but it was real. It wasn't an action figure but I did fight with someone over it. I did struggle. I did pull. I did kick and twist and tug...and eat..."

Sam, stop messing around and tell me straight. What the hell is your goddamn problem!

"It was a baby."

[And then it hit me. I knew what it was that he couldn't say. I knew what he kept trying to get me to understand.

I knew what the mushrooms had done.

...and we threw up.]