Author's Note: A Halloween-themed one-shot, entailing
Batman's visit to Arkham Aslyum on All Hallow's Eve. Inspiration for
this story comes primarily from the works of Jeph Loeb, Tim Sale, Alan
Moore, and Brian Bolland (Haunted Knight, The Long Halloween, & The Killing Joke), and including events mentioned in No Man's Land. Puicini itself is a real form of divination, and very little liberty has been taken with the process Harvey uses. Enjoy.
In Anoka, Minnesota, the citizens hold a massive parade through the city to honor its status as the Halloween capital of the world.
In Athens, Ohio, a massive street party attracts college students from far and wide to imbibe ridiculous amounts of alcohol and give the local police a chance to exceed quota.
In Cincinnati, a curfew prevents the children from "trick or treating" after dark.
In Keystone City, the Rogues usually break into the Flash Museum and toilet-paper the statues of the villains they don't like—Computron, Eobard Thawne, and the Top mainly. It's one of the more benign traditions Snart has started since Barry left.
In Metropolis, Lois hands out candy dressed in a nurse's whites and waits for her husband to get home from 'work'. If he's not otherwise occupied, Clark dresses as a different superhero every year; last year he got a threatening letter about it from Ollie.
And in Gotham City…the rabble comes out to have their fun. Last year a car was overturned and set aflame on Moldoff. Somebody called in a bomb threat at the Vauxhall Opera House, and Firefly decided it was a good time to torch the life-size model Santa Maria in the harbor.
It's the nature of the night that makes people do these things, I suppose. The shorthand is 'the Halloween spirit.' People believing in ghosts and goblins. The frightening side of life.
Life imitating art. No truer than what I do. Who I am.
A holiday built around human emotions of fear. Apprehension. Darkness.
Here, the gawdy and the cheap drift through the night in a chance for glory. And candy. The few people who feel something close to what I feel fill the streets, acting out their power fantasies. They're alive for one night a year—the law coupled with their sense of theatrics demands no more. And each time Halloween comes to Gotham, they feel alive once more.
I feel alive every night. Powerful.
Especially during Halloween in Gotham.
Each time I touch the night, I live again.
"You ever heard of Puicíní?"
"Puicíní. It's a game. With a twist of divination. Sort of like a Ouija board, except what I'm about to show you works."
"Yes. Looking at the past to divine your future. Care to play?"
It's a poor building with a poor history and a poor record. Overcrowded, underfunded, and an eyesore on an already decaying city. Almost everyone I capture is sent here—and invariably released three minutes later. Prior to inept officials decreeing Arkham was to house everyone the mysterious Batman captured, the only regulars were the Joker…and Harvey Dent.
If Ronald Reagan spoke of a city on a hill, he surely wasn't speaking of Arkham. It embodies everything that can possibly be defined as a failure of this city. The strategy was to cloister desperate and needy men on a hill—away from the rest of Gotham—where they couldn't do any harm to the citizens below. Sometimes, on a stormy night when lightning illuminates the sky like a flashbulb and rain washes over the Asylum in a failed attempt to sweep it off its foundations, a scrutinous eye can see the lights in the Asylum burning brightly. Staring down at Gotham with a scientist's coldness. Watching and waiting to open its mouth and set the monsters inside loose.
On a society that's never ready.
That is why I'm here. The purpose I serve. To protect the people when they can't protect themselves.
The receptionist's desk is just inside the door and to the left, with a tripod sign at the corner reading "you don't have to be crazy to work here--but it helps!"
Right. You do have to be crazy to work here. Otherwise what the Hell are you doing?
Walk down the halls—narrow, so as to avoid potential escapes—hang a left and a right, and you're there. Cell 0751.
"I'm surprised you've never heard of Puicíní, Bats."
"You'd be surprised by how much I don't know."
"Hah. Maybe Batman's not as infallible as they say he is."
"Who is 'they'?"
"The papers. And, sometimes the other inmates. You know how it is. Someone's spent so much time in here; they start to forget what it's like to get beaten by the best. They miss that…healing touch."
"I need saucers. A stack of 'em. A pile of dirt, a cup of water, a quarter, and a bean."
I raise my arm, hailing the on-duty guard. The hallway light, shining through the glass barrier, casts my arm as a shadow against the far wall. Bigger than it should be. I turn my head a degree away from Harvey and see the guard enter.
"Tell him what you need, Harvey."
"A stack of saucers, boyo. A pile of dirt, a cup of water, a shiny quarter, and a single bean."
"You on some kinda scavenger hunt, Dent? What the hell's this for?"
"Humor me, paco." Harvey says with a sigh; he's doing his best to stay detached. To not throw himself into Two-Face. "And get the things I asked for."
Harvey Dent is a good man. I believe this. His life was taken from him by a culmination of forces. Years ago, Salvatore Maroni hurled a vial of acid into Harvey's face as an act of…revenge. Dent was the only thing between Maroni and taking control of the crumbling Gotham underworld.
Harvey is not consistently evil, as the expression goes. He relies on a two-headed coin to arbitrate his actions. Sometimes, it lands on good-heads; Harvey wins. And sometimes it lands on bad-heads; Two-Face wins.
In…another life, Harvey had a wife. And when he became Two-Face, she left him. And when the earthquake hit Gotham a few years ago, he found unrequited love in Officer First Class Renee Montoya. Unfortunately for Harvey, she wasn't interested.
Harvey Dent is a good man. There are few like him…who keep dark so close to light.
The door behind me slides open with a cringing, creaking whoosh. I hear the guard's footsteps echo off the metal floor-plating, and turn my head a degree to see him approach the card table set between Harvey and I. He's carrying a stack of saucers in his arms awkwardly with the cup of water on top of the stack. A Ziploc bag tucked under his right arm carries the bean, the dirt, and the quarter in a mixed solution. He bothers enough to set the stack of saucers and the water neatly on the table, but just throws the Ziploc bag down.
"There," the guard says. "Happy hunting."
The guard turns to leave, and Harvey's eyes narrow sharply, for just a moment and I think he's about to spring out of his chair and club the guard with a saucer. But he only grits his teeth and cracks his knuckles. A veiled threat.
Harvey groans and opens the Ziploc, pulling the quarter and the bean from the dirt and setting them on the table.
"Hand me three saucers."
I follow suit. He carefully lays the quarter in the depression of one, the bean in the center of another. He tips the cup of water over the center of another saucer and lets it empty. When it does, Harvey simply throws the glass over his shoulder.
"If you're unafraid, grab a handful of dirt and empty it out on this saucer." Harvey grabs one from the top of the stack and extends it toward me. I glance at the saucer for a moment, and reach into the bag, grabbing a handful of earth and dropping it indiscriminately on the plate. Some particles slip from the edges and others stay on, forming a mound in the center of the plate.
"Alright," Harvey says, rubbing his hands together. "You're sure you're up to this?"
"Alright. Can't say I didn't warn you though. If the lawyers come, I'll let 'em take their chances with me."
"Fair enough," I reply. "What is it you want me to do?"
"Pull out one of those Bat-blindfolds and slip it over your eyes."
"Trust me," he says frankly, pressing a hand to his chest. "I'm not feeling particularly adventuresome tonight, and I get the sense you're in a position to believe me."
"Great," Harvey says. He stands from his chair and moves to his bed, pulling a pillowcase from the head of the bed. He returns to his chair and wraps it in a tight horizontal strip. "Now, don't get weird on me, Bats."
Even through the triple-weave layering of the cowl, I feel the cloth slide down over my forehead, around my temples, and finally come to rest above my eyelids. Some deep part of me expects Harvey to pull the cloth down to my neck and try to strangle me. And some deep part of me doesn't.
And then, darkness.
In the darkness, I see myself standing next to my mother's nightstand.
"Pearls are for a special night."
"Couldn't we make it special?"
In the darkness, my parents stand on either side of me, holding my hands as we walk out of the theater. Feeling a surge of adrenaline, I pull away from them and leap forward, prodding an invisible sword in the air and declaring Zorro's victory.
And then…a man steps out of the shadows with a handgun leveled at his waist. He points the gun at my mother and goes for the pearls. When my father protests, the gunman angles his weapon at him and fires. To keep my mother from screaming, the gunman fires again.
And I'm left alone. On my knees, in my parents blood.
Harvey's voice brings me back to reality. "What?"
"You've been sitting there for about five minutes. I wanted to make sure you didn't go vegetable on me. The men in white coats might not believe me, y'know."
In the darkness, my parents fade away, and I with them.
"Alright," I hear Harvey say. "Now—"
"Where did you learn this, Harvey?"
"Dr. Nybakken was kind enough to grant me access to the library down in the basement. Wouldn't you know no one's been down there since Valentino came over? They gave some guard hazard pay to be a watchdog while I perused the stacks. Particularly the occult section."
"I didn't know you were a fan."
"When you're inside these walls, Bats, you pick up some new habits. Puicíní itself is from Ireland; guys over there sit around on Halloween and judge their fortunes for the year ahead."
"Is that what this is about?"
"Yep. Hold out your hands. Don't let 'em touch the table. You'll have to bear with me; I'm pullin' this off in a crude way."
I follow suit, and a moment later I hear the sound of ceramic scratching across the table top. He's rearranging the dishes. If I'm right, the bean was the furthest left, the water was in the center, and the water—
"Pick a saucer. Any saucer."
Arbitrarily, I lower my left hand. When I feel the edge of the saucer press against the padding of my palm, I let my hand lay still. "What now?" I ask.
"Take off the blindfold," he says. I can still sense the delight in his voice. Something I haven't heard in…years.
My eyes register the dim light in the cell, and I lower my head to see the line of saucers across the table, taking special interest in my left hand. My fingers stretch across the diameter of the plate, covering the quarter.
"Huh," Harvey says. He reclines in his chair with a slight grin, scratches his head and stares at the situation. "You got the quarter."
"What does that mean?"
"New wealth. As if you needed it anyway, Bats."
Try as I might to resist, I manage to crack a small smile. I stand and offer my hand to Harvey.
"Happy Halloween, Harvey."
"Likewise," he says and shakes my hand. He stands and his right-side eyebrow angles sharply. "But don't you want to know what the other things meant?"
"No," I say.
"What do you think they mean?"
"It doesn't matter, Harvey. They're parts of a whole."
He snickers as I stand and offer him a handshake.
"Happy Halloween, Bats," Harvey says with a smile. He meets my handshake and pats me on the shoulder. "Time to go home and pass out candy and hope you make it to Thanksgiving."
"I'll take your word for it."
"You do that. Meantime, Bats, it's a big world. We're bound to meet again."
I leave the Asylum. And on my way home, I set the car to automatic guidance and stare out the windows. Oak trees and elk trees and pine trees zip by the window, illuminated by the full moon. Parts of a whole.
A cloud rears its head in front of the moon, ready to dump rain across Gotham. And it's on the rainy days, particularly, that I remember the friendship I once had with Harvey Dent. A friendship that ended on Halloween night once, when he killed a man in cold blood. And yet…Harvey Dent's nickname was Apollo. A child of the Sun. He could do no wrong.
As if you needed it anyway, Bats.