Steam crept up from the sewers, dimming my view to the sky framed by enclosed buildings. I didn't know where we were, but the disposition of the apartments, the smells of suburban pollution in the air and the tightness of those numerous alleyways I crossed with Joker's fingers carving into the soft flesh of my arms - sometimes gently, sometimes jealously as if he knew what kind of thoughts I considered -, all made me think of home. Home... if ever my abode held such meaning, it hadn't done so anymore for a long time now. How curious, that the chill up my spine told me I'd feel safer in Arkham surrounded by all those lunatics than out in my own house - out in the open, as it felt - and vulnerable to the fancies of the psychopath at my side. All the while he dragged me to God knows where, I whimpered softly.
My heart skipped a beat; in line with the distant, growing sound of a repetitive, dull rhythm of thumps filling the night air. I knew for a fact that we approached a club house, I had heard the idiotic noise many times on my way back from the asylum. The otherwise despised place, then, took my breath away with a much expected glimpse of hope.
But even hope itself had more than abandoned me, spread cowardly away by the firm grip Joker's fingers held over my resisting self. It was hard to believe he would willingly take me near so crowded a place, and yet he did. Hard to believe, then, that he trusted my imposed submission so much: the glowing, alternating and psychedelic lights came into view through the alleyways, penetrating the blurred seams of my panic and making me numb with a sudden shot of adrenaline. My chance lay there, a few struggles away... and struggle was precisely what I did as soon as we passed in front of the small, noisy place – a small crowd danced and chatted on the outside of the narrow entrance door – I begun to thrash and moan, fighting for my freedom from the peculiar-looking clown. The psychopath looked oddly surprised, then exasperated at my sudden retaliation - the unexpectedness of it served as my biggest advantage. When all my strength proved little effective against Joker's, however, I had to employ my voice: Adrenaline rendering me fearless of the gun he concealed behind his belt, I screamed for help, shrieking so loud I thought my vocal cords might burst, all so I could be heard through the infuriating music.
I did get heard, I suppose. In the struggle I fell to the ground, with Joker's hand still firmly gripping at my side. After the struggle, I thought I saw him raise his hand to strike me, but stopped, his eyes fixed on the small crowd that now stared. I fell on my back over the wet pavement and, trembling with the commotion, put all my strength into a kick I couldn't afford to miss – it hit Joker in his stomach, forcing him to bend over the affect area and recklessly let go of me. I slipped and slithered, and finally managed to get myself up on my skittish feet, feeling the whole of my heart throbbing tightly inside my throat, its deafening sound pounding in my ears. I felt the brush of Joker's hand touching me frantically more than once, but somehow I escaped their temporary clumsiness and, with little confidence in my running abilities, penetrated the crowd. The illusion of hearing him crack a maniacal laugh followed me in.
My heels resounded against the metal stairs, echoing on the hard walls as I climbed into the dark club. 'NOT FAST ENOUGH, NOT FAST ENOUGH' was all I could hysterically think, hearing the loudness of my rhythm casting me into despair and anticipating the pain of getting captured again. I couldn't waste this chance – I would never get one like it!
The stairs opened briefly into a dark, crowded enclosure where blue rays of light flashed sickly, and continued to a third unknown floor, leaving me with the torment of choice. I chose to fall into the agitated, jumping crowd, pushing my way through them to as deep as I could manage, away from the stairs and from the door and away from Joker's easy reach. The loud, pounding music drowned away any sound I could use to measure his approach, and the darkness blinded me to see if he had bothered to come after me... but at least both elements served me just as well. I kept pushing through the people, agitated and panicked, until a few minutes had passed to retrieve some of my reason. Then, I began to plead for help.
"Sir, please!" I begged in the dark. "Ma'am, you gotta help me!" I besought, touching strangers, approaching my lips to their ears, speaking loudly, fearfully of who might hear it... but, like in a nightmare, no one listened! Some moved spasmodically, their faces dropped, their eyes closed, like dumb or numb zombies destitute of intellect. Those I had little qualms, at that level of despair, about pushing rudely out of my way and ignoring it as they tripped over their own stupidity, falling upon someone else and directing me a curse. No time to pay them any mind – moving on, I called upon a big bulky man of excessively toned muscles, one I never would have approached in different circumstances. The scorn I secretly felt for the vanity those type of people nurtured died in face of the hope of protection the big build suggested. When the man refused to listen, I pulled him by the arm – in response, his eyes met mine, as if he hadn't even noticed me until then... and they frowned, surveying my frame with what looked like disgust, before looking away.
"T-there's a man...!" I began to sob, chocked by my lack of success, my voice trembling and failing as pride bled away with despair "You have to help me, there's a man after me..."
There's a man... I repeated incredulously as I noticed their apathy. No one cared! I was but a nuisance, an unwanted interruption to their numb, robotic dancing, an unsightly apparition... Of course! – I touched myself – my hair was a mess of an undone bum, my glasses crooked, my makeup certainly smudged across my face from those shameful tears I couldn't help but continuously cry, my lab coat soiled with those filthy streets... I probably looked insane! A mere drug addict hoping to share what they each had taken that night, a beggar for their narcotic bliss. How rageful I felt then! I, doctor Harley Quinzel, looked down on by those brainless monkeys... But rage must wait until a more appropriate time to manifest, survival was my current aim! I slid further into the aloof crowd, the spasmodic song and lights seeming to distort reality into further panic, and I reached for the first cellphone I could see hanging from the back pocket of someone's pants. I began to dial emergency, eager and hotly ignoring whatever it was the owner aggressively shouted at me. When he tried to retrieve it, his words failing to reach my ear one way or the other, I began to escape. When he reached me, I tried to explain – I desperately talked, desperately begged, all to naught. The rude, ignorant beast threatened me with violence, yanking the device from my hands and leaving me sobbing, begging for help.
"Oh I'll help you, dear!" Joker's delicate voice fell upon my ears – I made it out easily throughout the music – and his arms embraced me, pulling an unresisting, surrendering and weeping self to him.
I had gotten so close, only to fail... my heart could hardly overreact anymore. Despondency hit like a rock under Joker's condescending smile: he knew it would be so. He knew I'd hope for, but find no help in there – when this light struck, alighting me, and my face changed with the realization, he saw it, too, and began to laugh.
The music remained the same – a repetitive, sickly beat. So did the lights: they glowed in perfectly timed intervals, only my psychotic capturer decided they would look better when cast through a purple hue, and proceeded to the bloodied panel under the deceased technician to adjust it according to his taste, all the while being careful not to let go of me again. Up there, the music wasn't so loud, the smothering heat of the crowd couldn't reach me, but I could see them down there, moving drunkenly and happily in their folly. How bitterly I watched it when they started to laugh – part of me wanted to look away, to escape the violence, the murder...but other part envied the pleasure they found, the gas that made their unknown deaths suddenly so hilarious. I averted my eyes, seeking unconscious shelter in Joker's perfumed, cold and hard chest. The awareness that I sought solace in my torturer's bosom made me shiver with aversion, but it didn't last long: Joker made a point of moving my face back to the window, holding it there so I could see as people danced and shrieked into hysterical laughing.
"Watch it closely, Harley..." he suggested with the composed seriousness of a health professional making a prescription "The collective ecstasy... the ultimate bliss! Think of them like matchsticks, dear: they're burning brightly now!"
His gas crept slowly from the ground and into the air, like steam, and people laughed and danced obliviously to it. The life they would live, if spared – my mind had the freedom to muse – would not look so different from the scene I forcedly watched now, my face framed by Joker's cold hands: I watched quick five minutes of it, a summary of their unintellectual existences, seeking and enjoying pleasures that ultimately amounted to nothing, selfishly numbing their nerves into oblivion of all things responsibility, leading an unproductive, unyielding presence... surviving, merely! If I thought hard about it, I couldn't pity them... They were like cows, the poor things. And for all the help they denied me... why, I could almost feel a rancorous, teary sense of revenge as I watched their bodies dropping to the ground, one above the other, gone suddenly limp after all their laughter. It looked so unnatural and perfectly timed, it was like watching a comedy skit, one I could almost laugh upon. How perverse the realization my mind suggested me then, that the difference between the joker and I at that moment was that he had the courage to act upon his impulses. We were no different deep down, I had once heard a colleague say in college, one I promptly frowned upon: animals, all of us, with our basic instincts all very well preserved, requiring only a poke on the right side to startle into aggression. Those people... I hated them! Joker made sure I would! A psychotic, sharp light shone in his hazel eyes – that light of perverse pleasure held them wide open as he watched, without a wink, his own private massacre unfold. I had seen those eyes times before – when he laughed at my trauma after my house got invaded was one, and another when he egged loudly at the cafeteria as one inmate stabbed another with a make-shift knife from his bed springs... they had always scared me, the unpredictable, disturbing bursts. But now I thought I could see a pattern, a reason, however doubtful, in them... Could it be that... - I frowned, polishing the thought - ...was that the light in the eyes of a man that knew we were nothing but animals? Could it be but the bliss, the irony of possessing such a knowledge and being on higher ground for it? On the front row of life, perhaps? Joker smiled fascinatedly now, his lids narrowing around the fixed pupils, his lips trembling, stretching with impulses of reactions. He looked aroused, I thought, and felt a similar pull overwhelm my insides now that we didn't look so different after all... Now that I had learned I was no superior to him, in my sound state of mind. His eyes traced me, snake-like, and watched my scared, confused glare for a second, before his lips confidently possessed mine. He pulled me under himself over the desk, his entire body irradiating warmth onto me, every trail of his exploring hand creeping up with submissive, unresisting and ultimately thrilling fear. I yielded to his aggressive kiss, allowed myself to discover how overwhelming it felt upon my inexperienced nerves, for I was sure I would in time wake up – certainly, this was one of those disturbing dreams my nights began to conjure after the Joker was assigned to me. His reproachable touch, and the crude pleasure it stirred in me, felt exactly the same as in them.
I awoke from those caresses little able to determine how really intimate they were – how many of those sore parts of my straggling body had actually been touched, how many imagined it with placebo richness. The Joker laughed maniacally as he dragged me down the stairs – sirens had begun to wail in the far distance, interrupting the pull we suddenly had upon each other.
My vision was still foggy, my judgment severely impaired by the unusual progression of that day – its nature still hardly believable at all. The remnants of Joker's gas didn't help my case as we crossed down – one collateral inhale and I felt it sting into my brain like ticklish, tiny needles. A dizzy spell interrupted my forced march; my hands ran with urgency to my temples. The short delay that ensued until Joker would force me onwards again allowed me to send a stray gaze towards the mass of overlapped people on the floor. It still looked like a joke... they still looked very much alive – or at least half so – with the wide grin on their faces and their eyes teary with laughter. One false step and I stumbled upon one of them – a part of the pile came undone, a hand fell limp, dead – confirmedly cold – upon my foot. The cells in there didn't combust with life anymore, they no longer danced frantically like there was no tomorrow... for in truth there was not. Not for them. Nonetheless they all looked pretty pleased about it, and I'd certainly hear no one there complain that their hearts bursted with hilarious glee. A nice way to go, I thought myself, envying their stretched faces, permanently stuck like that until nature would wash the flesh away. A much better death than the one that awaited me in Joker's hands, for sure, so that I needed not pity them, nor they resent me. My selfish, loathing disrespect towards the massacre sent me back to Mr. Muller's lecture, so many years ago. He spoke of humans – the savage, beastly race, caged inside the refinements of society that do nothing but sharpen their inner barbarity; oftentimes channeled through tiny, socially acceptable outlets such as malicious snickering, office gossip and foul play at games. A gentleman can enjoy a laugh while kicking his innocent dog and, if popular enough, still be respected as a sane - eccentric at best - individual... but heaven forbid I, or anyone, ever openly laugh at the suffering of others, especially when purposely inflicted... No, those blatant, honest behaviors are reserved only for the crazy men to enjoy – the civilized must pretend it was but an accident; put on a sad face and weep the death of his mortal enemy and let no one see his enjoyment... Like me, right now, they must pretend the shock of death greatly overlapped the triumph of vengeance, of being proven right where all cruelly refused to believe, or failed to care, for it didn't occur to them it might be their problem too. I kicked that hand aside and felt the rage rise up like a tide from my heart, burning my tightened throat. The entire insight struck me as illogically comical then, pulling a short, loud laugh out of me. The sound bordered on unrecognizable as it passed my sore, swollen cords from screaming with those deadbeats - high-pitched and crazy with Joker's gas.
"Harley, dear, you are starting to come through..." Joker appraised, smiling arrogantly at the discovery and pulling me down with him just when he judged his lethal gas might accidentally give an easy, painless end to me, robbing him of his fun.