There it was, up there on a green plate in bright white letters the words, "Raccoon City." Harley Quinn laughed at it as she gunned her Harley Davidson motorcycle (TM) towards the exit a mile up ahead. Raccoon City! It wasn't as funny as Mianus, Connecticut, or Mud Butte, South Dakota, but it still made her laugh every time she saw it written on a map or a sign.
That was probably why her Puddin' had gone there... assuming it wasn't all some sort of trick. Well... the note she'd received with the name "Raccoon City" scrawled on it had come to her by way of a boxing glove spring-loaded inside a package she'd ordered. Damned thing had nearly broken her nose... so, of course it had been a trick, the kind her Puddin' would've loved, especially after disappearin' like he'd done...
Still, what kinda name was Raccoon City for a serious municipality? Was it overrun with raccoons? Were raccoons like people there, walkin' around in little brim hats and trenchcoats? Was a raccoon the official mayor?
She had a feelin' she knew the sorta place Raccoon City was, the past fifty miles had made it pretty clear. Not a damn car in sight, not even a tractor trailer makin' a long haul through to Nowwheresville; Harley felt like one of those biker chics ridin' around after the end of the world with nothing but highways and byways as far as the eye could see.
She rode down the exit ramp wondering what the hell a byway was supposed to be, gunning the motorcycle's engine as loud as it would go. Her gas gauge said she was about to be running on fumes and so she kept her peepers peeled for a filling station. Stranded on the side of the road outside of nowhere was a bad look for a biker clown dressed in black and red leathers complete with cap and bells.
Another ten miles and she saw it, the city, a black jagged edge just under the purple sky. Maybe Raccoon City had been built by raccoons, it was so damn far from the highway. Harley pulled into the next gas station she saw, a little box building that was mostly windows with two gas pumps out in front beneath a high awning. Last stop before the end of the world, she thought, pulling the bike up next to a pump. Her ass hurt from the long, long ride and she winced on the dismount, casually casing the joint as she did so. There was only one guy on duty, some skinny dude with slumped shoulders who probably wanted to die.
She filled the bike's tank and considered pullin' a good old fashioned drive-off, but then decided it might be more fun to go in and pay. No sense in raising a ruckus just yet, there would be plenty of time for that soon enough, especially if Mr. J was around.
She wasn't wearing her makeup, but figured her leathers and cap and bells would be plenty to freak the cashier out. She grabbed one of those Hostess Sno Balls packages and went to the counter, thinking she'd ask him if he thought the pastries would look good on her tits, but then she saw his face.
"Holy unpaid sick-days, you look like hell, kid," she said, dropping the Sno Balls on the counter.
He stood with his mouth hanging open, his bleary, wet eyes red with spider veins. "jussthegas," he said.
"No, I want a damn Sno Ball, too," she said. "Christmas in October, ya know."
She slipped him a ten. Slowly he gave her change for a fifty. "Bank error in my favor," she said, skipping out to her bike before the half-dead clerk realized his mistake. She stole a glance at him before speeding back onto the road, doubting he'd live finish his shift. She hoped whatever he had wasn't contagious and briefly wondered if she aught to call someone on the guy's behalf... she then laughed hysterically.
She desperately needed to see her Puddin'.
The closer the city got, so did thoughts of just what the hell she was going to do when she got there. She had to admit that she'd been doing a awful lot of magical thinking since leaving Gotham. Her cloudy fantasies of Mr. J rolling out the red carpet for her as she rolled into town were burning off fast. She needed a plan, a hideout, some connections. Raccoon City — Ha, ha! — didn't seem like the kinda place with a strong criminal element, unless one counted bribes to the local Planning Commission, which she didn't.
She was starting to feel antsy again as the buildings came closer and closer together, as she crossed a bridge into the city proper and found herself on a deserted avenue with half the streetlights burnt or busted out.
There was a diner with its lights on, one of the brightest being a pink neon sign that read "Emmy's," and "Open." Harley was pretty hungry now that she thought about it and a pair of Sno Balls weren't gonna tide her over for long. She rolled her Harley into the parking lot and parked it next to a dumpy little Softail, the only other vehicle in the lot besides an old Jeep. She wanted a burger as big as her head. A full stomach would help her think and maybe, just maybe while she was eatin' it her Puddin' would send her a new clue. Hopefully one that wouldn't leave her with a black eye, a dislocated arm, or questions to answer from police.
She left the cap n' bells in her rider bag, swapped it for a .357 revolver which she left prominently displayed on her hip in case some midwest truck driver with a torture dungeon in the back of his rig got any bright ideas.
Walking into Emmy's she thought the diner might be in fact closed, that or someone had overdone it with the mood lighting. Given the place looked like something the 50s had forgotten to flush, she doubted it. And speaking of having forgotten to flush, what was that smell? She held her nose, looking for a waitress or someone she could say "Pee-ew!" to in a loud, obnoxious voice, but there was nobody to irritate.
Well, almost nobody. There was someone in the kitchen, moaning and banging into stuff. A lecherous grin spread across Harley's face as she jumped over the counter, hoping to catch a waitress and a cook having sex. She had a bangers and mash joke for just such an occasion and had been worried she'd never have cause to use it.
"Hey! Whose leg to I gotta hump ta get a dece... what the hell?"
The only one getting action from the cook in the kitchen was the big white door to the freezer. The cook, a wide, bald fella, was up against it pawing at it and moanin', smearin' it in dark blood and other weird juices. A stinkin' wave of rot hit Harley's nose and she almost puked. She almost puked again when the cook turned to look at her. She'd thought the guy at the gas station had looked like death warmed over, but this guy looked like death run over by a semi, left on the highway to bake and ooze. His cloudy, lifeless eyes fixed on her and he peeled himself away from the door to come stumbling towards her, arms up to grab.
She drew her revolver and shot him between the eyes, blowing the back half of his head all over the white freezer door. He hit the ground like a trashbag stuffed tight with rotten hamburger, the stink of him bursting open making Harley's head swim.
"I'm gonna hurl," she said, about to do just that when the freezer door burst open and out came a woman. She nearly tripped over the dead chef, her disgust swiftly turning to fear as she looked down the barrel of the .357.
"Don't shoot!" said the woman, throwing up her hands. She was young, maybe a sophomore in college, dressed in a red vest and red denim shorts. Her ponytail needed to be retied. Harley Quinn suspected this was the rider of the Softail out front.
"Don't tell me what to do," said Harley. "What the hell is this guy's problem? Besides me havin' blown his head off, of course."
The woman looked down at the dead man and shivered. She'd been in that freezer for a little while, it seemed. "I-I don't know. I just got here, the city, it's... he attacked me, I ran in there..."
Harley lowered the gun but didn't holster it, seeing the woman had a large hunting knife in a sheathe on her belt. Pretty looks aside, she had "tomboy" written all over her. Harley wouldn't be surprised to hear she had a brother in the Special Forces or something.
"Come on, let's get outta here," said Harley.
"Okay," said the woman, having rapidly composed herself. Harley was wary, but glad. She was in no mood to deal with a screamin' damsel in distress.
They went outside and stood in the parking lot, looking up and down the street for signs of life. There were none, only distant noises that might've been anything.
"Who are you?" said the woman, looking Harley up and down under the weird, pink light from the diner.
"Name's Harley Quinn," she said.
"I'm Claire. I came here looking for my brother, Chris. He's a member of the police department's STARS team, I think..."
"I hate cops," said Harley, opening the cylinder on her revolver to replace the bullet she'd spent.
Claire narrowed her eyes at Harley, who opened up her motorcycle's side-bag and rooted through it, finding the makeup kit she wanted. Harley had seen enough weird things back in Gotham City that she had little trouble accepting something was off about Raccoon City, something that made paying lip service to normalcy unnecessary and maybe even deadly.
"You hate cops?" said Claire, as Harley covered her face in white greasepaint.
"Can't stand 'em," Harley said, enjoying the look slowly spreading across Claire's face. Harley was good at putting on greasepaint fast and even better at getting her domino mask on straight the first time. She finished it all off with bright, red lipstick and grinned broadly at Claire. "What? You ain't never seen a clown before?"
Claire stepped slowly backwards towards her Softail.
"Seriously, have you seen a clown here before? Besides me, I mean?" said Harley. "I'm lookin' for my boyfriend, he's also a clown, you see. You'd know him if you saw him."
"You're the only clown I've seen," said Claire. "Well, goodbye, then!"
"Not so fast," said Harley, raising the .357. "Seriously, slow down, you're gonna run right into those things."
Claire turned. Lurching across the parking lot were a dozen people, their mouths and chests covered in blood, faces sagging and dead.
"Hop on, I'll give ya a ride into town," said Harley, mounting her bike and starting it up. The engine roared as the people coming towards Claire let out dreadful moans. The poor, terrified young woman was briefly frozen where she stood, clearly wanting to jump on her own bike and be gone, but no longer wanting to be alone in what was clearly a city infested with zombies.
Claire took the more interesting option and jumped on the back of Harley's bike as she rode it out of the diner parking lot and down the long, dark street, speeding past lurching shapes on the sidewalks and darting around the ones staggering between the white lines.
"Where to?" said Harley. "You know this place, donchya?"
"Not well," said Claire, shouting to be heard over the bike's engine and the wind whipping past them. "I was going to go to the police station to ask about my brother."
Harley rolled her eyes. "Didn't you hear me say I hate cops? This might come as a shock, but I got a few warrants out for my arrest, ya know."
"I don't think that's going to be a problem," said Claire as they rode further into the city.
For Harley, it was easy to see what had happened. Something had turned Raccoon City's residence into zombies who were now busy eating the rest of the population. From the look of things the zombies had already won. The power was out on more blocks than not and half of those were on fire or had already burned down. Harley was glad she was on a bike, even if it offered little protection she could weave around car wrecks and zombie picnics, following Claire's shouted directions. Aside from the occasional cries of "Oh, my God!" and "Jesus Christ!" Claire kept a level head in spite of it all. Claire didn't know it, but Harley had thought about it and decided she wasn't going to shoot the girl once they were within sight of the police station.
"It's down this street," said Claire.
Said street had been a warzone. Spent shell casings, broken glass, toppled wooden barriers, bodies — Or at least the remains of bodies left inside wrappings of torn clothes — littered the street. Up ahead was the entrance to the Raccoon City Police Department, washed in white floodlights.
"Aw, crap," Harley said, rolling to a stop in front of a wall of police cars. Her bike couldn't fit past them. On the other side of the barrier was another battlefield, one where the rotting cannibals had fought the law and the law hadn't won. A rotters were still roaming around, many of them half-eaten cops who'd risen after the main group had moved on, hopefully not inside the police station.
"Hang on, hang on," said Harley as Claire went to climb over the hood of one of the police cars blocking the sidewalk. Harley rooted through her side bag again, grabbing items she had a feelin' she might need. Harley, no stranger to trouble, suspected it was going to be a long night once she set foot inside the police station.
"You don't have a spare gun, do you?" said Claire.
"What do I look like, the NRA? See if one of yer dead cop friends has one lying around."
Claire scowled and Harley made a mental note to watch her more carefully. For a normie this Claire person was handling this all pretty well, too well in Harley's estimation. Most people would've been out of their minds by now, riding a motorcycle with a clown through zombie-infested streets.
Claire's search came up with a shotgun and a handful of spare shells she stuffed into her pocket. Harley had all the items she needed on a little utility belt, a setup she'd cribbed from a certain caped do-gooder more annoying than any cop ever thoughta bein'. The last thing she took was her Louisville Slugger, a heavy one she'd kept tide to the back of the bike. No doubt one solid smack could dislodge a brain from its stem and drop one of these shambling meatbags easy-peasy, no bullet necessary.
"Alright, let's see who's home," said Harley, stepping over the corpses littering the grounds outside the police station, a mix of cops and civilians. The double doors of the main entrance were smeared with blood and other nasty fluids, making it look to Harley like some kinda last stand had occurred out here. She thought the doors would at least be locked, but they weren't.
She'd expected a lot of things to be inside the police station. More bodies, more zombies, more cops, instead there was zilch, nada, nothing. The cavernous lobby was steeped in shadow, lit only by the orange glow of the various exit signs and the blue computer monitors of the receptionist station.
"Helloooooo!" Harley shouted, her voice echoing throughout the room.
"Shhh! We don't know what's in here!" said Claire.
"Cops and zombies, what else would there be?" said Harley, her eyes scanning the room, ready to seize on anything remotely clown-themed. She wanted to believe this was all the sorta thing Mr. J might orchestrate, that he was gonna pop out at any moment and reveal that he'd spent all this time setting up one hell of a joke, but Harley had her doubts. Her Puddin' certainly wasn't shy about killin' hundreds and hundreds of people for a laugh, but a Genocide-by-Joker usually came with a certain sense of style. This, whatever it was, looked like one big, botched punchline.
Harley twirled her baseball bat while Claire went to the receptionist station and fiddled around with the computer. Claire hit some keys and there was a click, the sound of one of the doors unlocking.
She let Claire take the lead into what had probably been the cop's break room from the look of the plce. Harley gasped when she saw the balloons and brightly colored snack boxes, but her mood dampened the moment she saw a paper placard that read "Welcome, rookies!" Someone was having one hell of a first day on the job, she thought as Claire started looking through the side offices.
There was a groan from the corner of the room, one of pain and fatigue instead of hunger. "Well, well, well, look what we got here," said Harley, seeing it was a wounded cop. He was sitting against the lockers holding a blood-soaked towel over his midsection. He stared feverishly up at her, his eyes widening as he tried to bring his gun up.
"Easy, killer, I ain't no zombie," said Harley, realizing her facepaint, hat and mask was off-putting at the best of times, probably more-so during a zombie apocalypse.
Claire came running over, kneeled beside the cop. "It's going to be okay, just hang on," she said. "What the hell is happening around here?"
The cop locked his gaze into Claire, seizing on her as if the sight of Harley was too much for his sanity to bear. "The STARS... they were right all along... the mansion in the hills, Umbrella, creating...monsters..."
Blood leaked from his mouth. He didn't have long. Harley, still no fan of cops, wanted him to live, to tell them more about these mansion stars and Umbrella monsters.
"My name is Claire. Claire Redfield. Chris is my brother... have you seen him? Is he safe?"
"Chris... he left... weeks ago..."
The cop began coughing, huge wads of blood coming out of his mouth. Harley knelt in front of him, leaning on her bat. "Hey, you seen a clown running around here? Besides me, of course? Green hair, white skin, red lips, probably killed a few of your friends?"
If looks could kill, the one Claire was giving her would've taken Harley's head clean off. The cop only looked at her in confusion. "Clowns?"
"Bah, you'd have remembered if ya saw him," said Harley, standing up and wandering over to the snack table while Claire continued to badger the dying cop, peppering him with questions amid lies about him being alright.
"You have to go... there are other survivors... before... before the last attack we thought..." he was struggling to breathe, every movement of his chest brought more blood to his lips and, Harley could see, the red pool he was sitting in was rapidly expanding. "We thought there was a way out through the sewer... down in the basement..."
"Okay, okay, don't try to talk anymore. We'll go find help and come back. You're gonna get out of here, don't worry," said Claire.
"Are you two done already?" Harley said, picking up a pink frosted donut that didn't have any blood on it. She was still hungry.
Claire stood, looking like she wanted to say something but thinking better of it. "Come on," she said. "Let's search the other rooms."
"Okay," Harley said through a mouth filled with donut, wondering if she'd missed some clue left by Mr. J that would tell her where to look for him. If this was all part of a joke, then it was certainly an elaborate one, even for the Joker to pull off; the kind of thing he usually reserved for the Bat himself.
Back in the lobby, Harley looked to the second floor balcony, then up into the shadows of the ceiling, wondering if the Batman of Gotham City might be hiding up there. No one had seen him in a long time, either... maybe this was some sort of game they were both playing, one she'd finally been invited to join.
Claire went through a large set of double doors into some kind of processing area. Two zombies, one a cop, came to greet her, groaning hungrily as they raised their bloody hands. "I got this," Harley said, bringing the Louisville Slugger down on the head of the zombie cop, popping his melon like a... melon. He went down in a heap, as did the other one when Harley swung for the fences and caught him in the side of the head.
"Double header!" she cried, jumping for joy while Claire stared at her in disbelief.
"Okay, what is your deal, seriously?" Claire said.
Harley sneered at her. "What's my deal? It's the Night of the Living Dead and you wanna know what my deal is? My deal is this ain't the weirdest thing I've seen this week, so maybe you aughta just relax and go with the flow, ya know?"
Harley twirled her bloody baseball bat as she crossed the room; she'd only partly been lying. Raccoon City was easily the weirdest thing she'd seen that week... the weeks and months before had been pretty weird, too, but a city of full of zombies was kinda out of the ordinary, even for her.
Beyond the processing room was a hallway where some shit had gone down. A stew of blood and broken glass covered broad parts of the floor, the windows had all been broken in, probably by a horde of zombies that had come through and were now ominously nowhere to be seen. Around the bend was the headless body of a cop.
"That's weird," she said, pointing at the dead man's neck stump with her bat.
"How so, relatively speaking?" said Claire.
Harley cast her a sideways glance, again impressed at how cool the woman was being about all this. "I mean, look at his stump. It's all weird, like his head was twisted off or something..."
Of all the bodies she'd seen that night most still had their heads and the few that hadn't had clearly had them chewed off, leaving ragged, uneven chunks of flesh where their necks should've been. She was no David Caruso, but something told her this little piggy hadn't been killed by zombies.
With a furrowed brow, Claire looked up from the body, her expression of disgust turning to confusion, then fear at whatever she saw down the hallway.
Harley almost didn't see it herself, but then it dropped from the ceiling where it had been clinging like a fly, landing on all four of its clawed limbs and skittering towards them. Red and skinless, Harley only had eyes for its exposed brain. She could puzzle out what the hell the thing was supposed to be after she knocked its block off with her slugger.
"Batter up!" she cried, hoping the monster would be caught off guard by its prey charging towards it instead of running away.
She was wrong and it nearly cost her a chunk of her face. The thing let out a low hiss and out from behind its rows of pointed teeth whipped its tongue. On instinct Harley swung the bat, the rope-like tongue wrapping around the dense wood and pulling her towards the creature. She caught a glimpse of the thousands of tiny, tooth-like barbs all over the thick, meaty appendage before letting go of the bat, wary of being pulled closer to the critter's sharp, swiping claws.
"Hey! Give that back!" she shouted, drawing her revolver.
Claire stepped around her and let the monster have it with a blast from the shotgun. Bits of blood and brain matter went flying and the thing shrieked, but didn't die. Enraged, it came at them. Harley fired, her bullet finding its mark in between what would've been the creature's eyes had it been human. Another blast from Claire's shotgun did the job and the creature did a wild jig on the floor before going limp.
"Well that's new," said Harley, retrieving her bat so she could use it to poke the dead monster. Her investigation revealed little, only that the thing was exactly as it had appeared, a skinless humanoid with claws and an exposed brain.
"Monsters... that officer back there said Umbrella had been creating monsters. I guess he didn't mean just zombies."
Umbrella. They made the best drugs money could buy, and some it couldn't. Harley was rather fond of their line of painkillers, good for everything from period cramps to the morning after Batman beat the shit out of you. That the company was creating monsters and zombies raised more questions than answers; for one, where the hell was the market for zombies and skinless brain-beasts? For two, what did any of this have to do with Mr. J's message?
If Mr. J. even sent it, Harley thought, and not for the first time.
She thought also of leaving the station the way she'd come, hopping back on her bike and getting the hell out of town before things got any worse, or before the army or whoever nuked the place. Claire had already stepped over the dead monster and was on her way out of the hall when Harley decided to follow her.
Two things were certain, someone wanted Harley Quinn to come to Raccoon City and that certain someone wanted her to think they were her Puddin'. If they were, great, and if they weren't... she had a baseball bat.
To be continued...