I AM ANNIE
People think that nobody could ever live in a world where they have no senses... but I disagree. That would be me, after all... but I guess it's easy for me; I don't really have a body.
I can't see the light of the cell I'm in; I have no eyes. I can't hear the footsteps of the warden as he passes by; I have no ears. I can't feel the rough, cold cement beneath me; I have no skin. I can't smell the meals that I'm fed, nor can I taste them; I have no nose or mouth. All I can do is think and remember...
I suppose I could tell my story again... I don't know why I should; I'm my only audience. Ah, well... I don't have anything else to do, after all...
I used to have those things. For a little while, I was just like other people, acually... I walked the streets, hearing the click of my shoes on the pavement, the cars passing by, and dogs barking out of windows. I felt the chill of the night wind as it came in off of the harbor, making the hairs on my neck stand up straight. I smelled the exhaust of trucks, and also the broilers from the restaurants as they made their evening orders; those made my mouth water. I didn't realize all of this at the time; I was too worried. I had amnesia; I couldn't remember things. Heh... It's funny... Back then, I could do all of that, but I couldn't think. Now I can't do anything BUT think.
My first memories are of wandering out of the darkness, and into the night, my path lit only by two spiraling, shining lights. Before that was nothing... I guess I could call it my "birth." Still, people aren't born knowing how to walk or talk, like I was. I knew a few things. I knew that a street was cement and stone, and I knew what water was, and I knew the name of the city where I wandered. What I didn't know, though, was more important: my origins, and my life before that moment. I didn't remember my name, either... if I even had one. All I had was a feeling in... well... I guess I'll call it my stomach. I had to keep moving. Someone was chasing me, and I had to... no... I wanted to get away.
For the first week or so, I wandered through the city at night. Somehow, I felt like whoever was after me wouldn't come in the daytime, so I had a chance to sleep. I would find a quiet place in a nook or an alley and take a nap, pressing myself against the wall and hoping nobody saw me. When people did, they looked away quickly. I guess it's because I looked homeless... and I was.
Eating was a tough job. I had to do that at dusk, between when I woke up and when I started moving again. Without money, I had to find food in other ways, most of which were restaurant dumpsters. I would grab a crate and stand on it (I was a short kid), then reach in and see what there was. It was a ghastly sight, and the stench was awful. The rats and bugs usually beat me to the good stuff, so I was left with things like day-old bread or slightly-browned apples. Thinking about it now, I wonder why I had to eat... but I guess I was human enough to need to.
This went on for a couple of days. My mind was so frazzled, I kept going around the town in circles, knowing I had to get away, but never figuring out how. I hoped some kind stranger would appear and show me, but none ever came. Each day, I got more worried I would be found... by whom, I didn't know, but I didn't want to meet him.
One night, I got into trouble, though; I was walking down an unfamiliar path when a gang of bikers surrounded me. I didn't know what they wanted, but the looks in their eyes made me want to run... but they had fast motorcycles, and they cornered me whichever way I went. I had nowhere to go...
Just then, though, someone else came: a boy about my age who wore a red vest and a yellow cape, and a black mask over his eyes. With super-fast moves, he made the bikers go away. Of course, I didn't know who he was, either, so I ran when I had the chance.
I froze at the entrance of an alley, though; a police car had pulled up, and its flashing strobe light reminded me of the lights I had first seen. He caught up with me then and asked me who I was, but I fled without answering. If I had known who he was, maybe I wouldn't have... I collapsed in another alley and fell asleep; the scare had been too much for me.
The next night was the start of the end for me. I had wandered to a bus depot, thinking maybe I could sneak on one (yeah, that's a brilliant idea) when the masked boy appeared. Again, he approached me, and again, I ran...
...Right into the path of an oncoming bus. I wanted to move, but my body wouldn't listen; my feet locked in place, and my eyes stayed wide open. I remember screaming as the mechanical monster came at me, its yellow eyes coldly locking onto me.
Suddenly, I was flying through the air, someone's arm clasped tightly around my waist. When I landed, I looked up and saw the masked boy. He had used a grappling hook to swing in front of the bus and save me.
"Are you all right?" he asked.
Something inside me snapped. Was I all right? I was wandering a city I didn't know how to leave, I had no memories, I had no name, I had almost been crushed by a bus, and now a complete stranger was asking if I was all right. I broke down right then and there; I grabbed him and sobbed uncontrollably, not caring who saw me.
I think he felt my unhappiness. He just stood there, letting me cry until I was out of tears. Then he asked: "why did you run yesterday?"
I wanted to give him a sensible answer, but I couldn't. Who would believe me if I said I could sense that someone was chasing me? "Please..." I said quietly, pushing away from him. "I just... have to keep moving. Someone's after me."
I hoped he would let me go, but he stayed. "What's your name?" he asked, just like before.
He would ask my name, wouldn't he? I wanted to run, but he had just risked himself to keep me from being flattened; he deserved an answer. "I... don't remember," I answered honestly.
He was quiet for a moment. "...Don't worry, we'll improvise," he said with a cheerful grin. He glanced around and spotted a child getting onto a bus; she was clutching an old doll. "Annie!" he said to me. "How about that?"
Annie? It filled me with a strange feeling... and not a bad one, for a change. He wanted to know my name, and gave me one because I didn't have one... and it was a nice name, too. Annie... Homely, but warm and caring. I liked it, so I shyly nodded and said he could call me that. He said his name was Robin, and he smiled again; that smile put me at ease. Something about him told me I would be safe with him...
...But the warmth in me suddenly vanished. Something behind him caught my eye; a huge, buff, ugly man lumbered out from under the depot and came right for us. "Hey!" he yelled, locking eyes with me, "do you know how long I've been looking for you?! You were supposed to come right back!!!"
My blood froze. Was this the person I was running from? I had never seen him before, but his gaze terrified me.
Robin stepped up, protectively putting an arm in front of me. "Who are you?" he demanded.
"I'm her father, punk!" the man shouted, charging right at us. His fist shattered a stone bench.
Robin had seen enough; he leaped at him, but the man was too big and strong to be stopped. He caught Robin in a harsh grip and held him fast. I whimpered and backed away. I didn't want to go with this man; couldn't anyone stop him?
Suddenly, a black shadow dropped down on the man and knocked Robin loose. Whoever he was, the man took off. The shadowy man ran after him, but Robin lingered. "Stay here," he snapped, then ran after the others.
I don't know what anyone else would have done, but I tore out of there faster than I had ever run before. I raced through the city, taking wild turn after wild turn, not knowing where I would end up; I just had to put as much distance between that man and myself as I could. I ran until daybreak, when I staggered to an alley and slumped against the wall, greeting it like an old friend. The sun was up; I could sleep. I had a dream that replayed itself over and over. The frightening mammoth that called himself my father chased me through the streets, getting closer and closer... I looked around for help, but nobody was there. Robin's voice burst in my brain, saying only the name he had given me: "Annie... Annie..." I think I woke up crying.
Night fell again, and I was off. Part of me wanted to go looking for Robin- to see if he was OK- but fear had the better of me and I resumed my wandering.
As I walked, though, I found myself thinking about him. Why was he following me? There must be thousands of people in this city... why would he be interested in me? I was a nobody; one of the homeless people that others just look through. Why would he bother watching out for me, specifically? It gave me a new feeling... He made me feel safe. It was a bit weird... but it was a weirdness I actually didn't mind.
Whatever the case, that man was scary. I didn't want Robin getting hurt because of me. The next time I saw him, I would have to tell him to stay away... Yes, I made up my mind to do just that; there was no sense in dragging someone else into my problem... especially this kind, friendly boy.
And suddenly, he was walking down the street towards me. I hid in an alley next to a theater, cursing my shyness. He walked by and stopped, looking around. Had he seen me? I wondered if he was searching for me... I was glad that he was OK, but still... I didn't want to know if that man was still around. He might also be mad because I didn't stay, like he'd asked. Should I say something? Should I just slink away?
I fought with myself for what seemed like aeons, then decided I might as well speak; surely he would understand. "Y... you really shouldn't be following me," I blurted, surprising him. "He'll hurt you, too!"
He turned to me, and I saw nothing but relief on his face; I guess he HAD been looking for me. "I just want to help you," he said.
"But..." I said, stepping out of the alley, "why?"
He chuckled. "Well, my dad wasn't exactly a prize, either," he admitted.
So, that was it; he could sympathize with me... No wonder he was concerned. Touched, I put my hands on his. "Really... You're the first person I remember who cared that much," I said.
He gave me that smile again, and all my worries melted away. I couldn't help myself; I leaned up and kissed him on the cheek.
"...Hey! But you said you don't remember anything!" he suddenly retorted.
I cracked up; I HAD said that, hadn't I? Either I was getting amnesia about my amnesia, or being around Robin made me say weird stuff. Whatever was going on, I liked the feeling.
Offhand, I glanced up at the sky. The theater had big, shining lights waving around in front of it, and they swayed in the red dusk. As I looked at them, my smile faded; I remembered the lights I had first seen, crawling out of wherever I had come from. "...Those look so familiar..." I said aloud.
"You remember something?" Robin asked quickly. "You've seen lights like this before?"
I thought hard about it. Yes, I had seen lights like this... but they were higher up and swirling; maybe on a tower or something... The ground hadn't been even, either; more like rocks.
I must have been thinking out loud, because I saw Robin grinning. "I know just the place," he piped up, grabbing my arm. "Come on!"
He led me across town to the bay, where we stood on a rocky outcropping. He pointed up at the tall, black lighthouse that stood across the bay; its beam shot out into the night, swirling around itself over and over. He looked at me. "Does that ring a bell?" he asked.
It sure did; all at once, a barrage of memories fell on me. I'd seen the lights, yes, but I felt like I had been lower than the hill. I raced down to the water's edge and looked around. There was a series of large pipes jutting out of a cliffside beneath a large building. My mind locked onto them. "Those pipes!" I announced. "I think I've been in them!"
Robin got us into the pipes and we started exploring. They were dark and reeked of chemicals, but I was more excited than afraid; I was going to figure out what had happened to me, and Robin was right there to help. Could it get any better?
Robin had his doubts. "I dunno..." he said, glancing around suspiciously, "if this is where you lost your memory, we could be walking into major trouble."
For a change, I smiled at him. "It's different this time," I said with a wink. "You're here to protect me."
Just then, we met a hole. Shocked, I grabbed him and held on as we shot down a wet tube and splashed into another system. The chemical stench was even worse down here, and there was even an toe-deep stream of goodness knows what.
"...Are you all right?" Robin asked me again as I let go. I nodded. After all of this was over, I wanted to tell him how grateful I was for everything.
Suddenly, my gut leaped; something was wrong. "...He's here," I whimpered, and inched behind my protector.
From the shadows of the tunnel stepped the big man again; he looked even angrier now. "I knew you'd be back," he growled, advancing on us.
It was scary enough to see this man, but what happened next almost gave me a heart attack; his entire body... melted. His skin, hair, and even his clothes all collapsed into the same mucky, earth-colored substance with malicious, yellow eyes. "Now, quit screwing around and get over here!" he barked at me.
I couldn't speak, but Robin could. "Clayface!" he announced as he glared at the monster. "What do you want with her?!"
"Stay outta this, kid!" the thing called Clayface roared, coming even closer.
I don't quite remember what happened next; I covered my eyes and backed away as Robin drove Clayface back a bit. The next thing I knew, he grabbed my arm and told me to run. We raced away, but Clayface was fast. Part of his body shot overhead and formed rock-solid jail bars before us. Robin pulled out a weapon and slashed through them, sending clay chunks every which way; some of it got on me as we ran.
Robin and I tore through the pipe as fast as we could go. I could hear Clayface cursing and throwing himself at us, but we made it out of the pipes and into a chemical plant. We rushed up some steps to a catwalk over dozens of gunk-filled vats, where Robin let go and knelt. Not knowing what else to do, I knelt, too, putting my hand on his shoulder. Just then, I noticed the clay on my knuckles. To my shock, it began to disappear... or rather, it sank into me.
Reality hit me like a wet towel in the face. Clayface was after me because... I was Clayface, too. I remembered exactly what had happened. Clayface, after he had fallen into the ocean during his last bout with Batman, had drifted to this chemical plant. Something they were pouring into the bay must have reformed him, but he was weak and disoriented. He had formed me to scout for him, to find out where he was... I was supposed to come right back, because Clayface needed his entire self to be as strong as he could be. Somehow, though, I lost my memory after I left him... and that's where I started off. My heart sank like a stone. I had no memories before then because... well... I hadn't existed before then... and if I was just a part of Clayface... then that meant I wasn't even a real human being. My existence was a lie.
"Why is Clayface after you?" I heard Robin say, and then he turned and saw the rest of the clay sink in.
I didn't want to meet his eyes; I felt empty inside. "I... I AM Clayface..." I mumbled.
"...What?..." Robin asked softly.
I told him the whole story, finally looking up at him. He looked just as confused and scared as I had minutes before. I felt like I had just punched him in the stomach. I wanted to apologize, but... what could I say?
He shook his head furiously for a second, then put his hands on my shoulders. "Well... we can deal with that later," he said. "Right now, we have to get out of here!"
He still wanted to protect me, after what I had told him? I didn't understand. "Why?" I asked sadly. "Don't you see?... I'm not real..."
"That's right!" Clayface's brutish voice came from behind him. We turned and saw the monster coming towards us. Robin backed up, still protecting me.
"I... I don't know what to do anymore..." I admitted.
"There's nothing you CAN do," Clayface growled, extending his hand to me. "Now that's enough. Come home."
Come home? Become a part of him again? Become part of an insane criminal? But then, I guess I was him anyway, so...
Robin, though, wasn't convinced. He shoved me away. "Run!" he ordered. "Whatever you do, don't let him touch you!"
"I warned you, kid!" Clayface snarled, "stay OUT OF IT!!!"
I heard Clayface's body gurgling and twisting; a fight was starting. I ran, but I almost didn't know why. If I was a part of Clayface, then I didn't really exist... and even if I did run, he would keep chasing me. It wouldn't be much of a phony life, on the run all the time... but then there was Robin; he was so nice to me, he treated me like a real person, and even now, he didn't want Clayface to get me... I was torn. What was I going to do?
I heard a loud clang behind me and turned to look. I was horrified; Clayface had Robin in a four-handed death grip, ready to push him over the side into whatever deadly toxins were in the vat below. Robin was struggling, but he couldn't get away; Clayface was too big. I heard Clayface laughing; he was enjoying the torture. Was I really a part of that?
Robin was almost over the edge now. I felt a tear run down my cheek, and then I knew what I had to do... what I wanted to do. I may have been a clay doll, but Robin was my dearest friend- my only friend- and I was not going to let Clayface kill him. I had to do the only thing I could...
I turned and charged at Clayface. "HEY!" I yelled, picking up speed, "I'M THE ONE YOU WANT!!!"
I heard Robin yelling for me to stop, but I was going to fast. I leaped and barrel-rolled into Clayface, knocking Robin free. My whole body burned with pain, and I gasped from it. Clayface must have been in pain, too, because he was screaming just as much. Pain? I was a part of him... Why would re-assimilating bring pain?
Knowing that my fate was sealed, I struggled to turn and face Robin. If I was going to die, the last thing I wanted to see was him. He looked absolutely mortified at the scene; I imagine it looked pretty disgusting. He must have been heartbroken that I would do this, after everything he'd done for me... I wanted to say I was sorry, but I didn't have much time.
I forced myself a little ways out of Clayface one more time; the last thing I could do was show I wanted him safe. "RUN, Robin!" I screamed, and then Clayface's form dropped over my eyes. I heard Robin scream my name, and then there was nothing. I felt my arms and legs and neck disappear, and then I stopped breathing. There was nothing but darkness and silence.
I don't know how long I've been here now... All I can do is think, like I said before... I have once again become Clayface, one of the most dangerous criminals in Gotham City. What was my body is being used to kill and steal. I guess I feel a little guilty about that. I wanted to save Robin, but by giving up like this, I think I may have been dooming countless others...
Wait... Wait a minute...
I can still feel...
And I can still think?
Shouldn't my mind and heart have broken down like the rest of my body?
All this time, and I didn't realize that I could still feel and think?
But... that means...
I don't understand... but losing my memory back then must have let me make new ones... my own ones...
...Memories that Clayface can't assimilate.
I'm Clayface, but at the same time... I'm still Annie.
No... Clayface is Clayface, and I am Annie.
And if I'm still Annie...
Then I guess I'm real after all.
...Sorry, Robin. I'm sorry I said that...
I want to get out of here.
I'm going to get out of here.
I don't think Clayface knows. That's good.
When I have a chance, I'll escape.
It'll be hard, and Clayface will probably come after me again, but I'm not afraid.
I can think, and I can feel. He didn't destroy me, and he never will.
I'll get out, and then I'm going to find you...
Because I want to thank you...
You helped me realize that I'm more than a pawn of Clayface...
Because you named me, Robin. You gave me a name.
With a name, I can't be anybody else.
I can think, and I have a name... so I'm real.
Yes... I'm real...