This has been sitting half finished on my hard drive for the past...um...three months; ever since I started reading Bright Nova's story 'Asylum' and I only just now dug it up to finish it. Mostly because I'm putting off updating the other stuff that I've had lying around for God knows how long. Nothing like procrastinating on one thing in order to push yourself into completing other things. I love the way my brain works (or doesn't...depending entirely on who you ask).
You know what I just realized? This is my sixtieth story posted on this site...huh. Wow.
Monica McCall was not an obsessive person by nature. Never did she pick a single thing over which to obsess, nor did she have any uncontrollable urges to do things that would've seemed illogical to the casual observer.
Well, that wasn't entirely true. There was a single, minor compulsion that she had.
She preferred to call it a quirk, but some people would have called it a compulsion. However, Monica's definition of compulsive behavior differed from those of most other human beings. She called her need to complete a crossword once daily a quirk because she controlled it, it did not control her. She didn't have to finish the Gotham Times crossword every day by midnight, she just liked to, that was all.
The habit developed by chance nine years earlier that hadn't faded over time. Monica had always been an active child, much preferring to devote her time to athletic pursuits rather than academic, and had never even picked up a crossword puzzle before then.
It was early June, four days after her thirteenth birthday, when she broke her knee and tore a tendon playing soccer. She quickly found herself trapped in bed with her leg in an ill fitting brace, under doctors orders not to move for fear of doing herself worse damage.
Being an impetuous, stubborn teenage girl, she hadn't listened to him and tried to get out of bed two days after the break.
True to his word, she did indeed to herself further damage. If you looked hard, you could still see that she limped ever so slightly when she walked, though she tried to cover it.
After her foolish attempt at walking, she found herself practically tied to her bed, forbidden by her parents to so much as think of getting out of it. So, Monica found herself trapped inside the confines of her bedroom for an entire summer with nothing to do.
You would think that it would be heavenly to be waited on hand and foot, day in and day out, with your parents at your every beck and call, allowed to watch endless amount of TV and eat as much junk food as you wanted.
You would be wrong. Monica thought it was positively hellish.
For a start, daytime TV sucked. There was nothing on but stupid talk shows and soap operas.
And while there was a certain amount of entertainment value to be had in watching two people beat each other with folding chairs (be they real people or actors), it got old unbelievably fast.
If that wasn't bad enough, she didn't even have any school work to keep her mind busy. That might have relieved some of the tension and stir craziness that was trying to overtake her, but as it was, there was nothing to do with her brain. She had already finished all the books she'd been given for Christmas (Christmas in the McCall household was a holiday of books, books and more books), and none of them were good enough for her to be bothered to read them again.
After the first week, Monica started to wonder if her brain was trying to atrophy and leak out of her ears. It certainly felt that way.
It was on a Sunday morning shortly after that when her father came in to check on her. She was already in a foul mood and was not any state to stand his cheer.
Her bad attitude lasted only long enough for her to notice that he had the Gotham Times tucked under his arm, then it dissipated and was replaced by pleading to be allowed to read it.
Mister McCall, who had only been able to deny her a request four times before in her short life, quirked an eyebrow curiously and handed his daughter the newspaper.
After all, he was only going to look at the business section anyway...and she wouldn't disturb it.
After Monica was left alone with the newspaper, she did what any other girl her age would have and flipped to the educational section. Namely: The Comics.
But it wasn't Garfield that caught her attention like it usually did.
Instead, it was a plain black and white box printed on the opposite page.
Intrigued, and with nothing better to do, she read a few of the clues and found she knew the answers. Quite a few, in fact. Monica's interest was piqued and she immediately snapped up a pencil from her bedside table and started work immediately on the clues she knew.
While there were several clues she knew the answers to, her original assumption that the ones in between would fill in on their own was incorrect. There were far more that she didn't know the answers to than the ones that she did, and she made more mistakes on that first puzzle than she cared to admit later on.
Monica even begged her mother to drag the huge dictionary down off the shelf that was at least twelve inches tall and six inches thick, because in the very back it contained a crossword puzzle dictionary.
She spent three days on it. Three of the longest days of her life.
But they were also three of the most satisfying. When she filled in the final clue (thirteen across, clue: three captains, solution: Ahab, Nemo And Hook), a sense of accomplishment that didn't equal that of scoring a goal on the field washed over her.
It was a euphoric feeling and she quickly became addicted to it. She demanded the crossword puzzle out of the Gotham Times every day after that and finished them all one at a time.
She started out giving herself three days to complete them, but as she got better, she cut that time down to two days, then down to one. Once she accomplished that, she challenged herself by seeing how quickly she could complete it within that single day's timeframe.
It was a trend that carried over to adult hood.
In fact, she prided herself on her eight year record of completing the Gotham Times crossword every day by midnight without fail.
Sadly, however, it looked like that winning streak was about to be broken.
By one of the simplest clues she'd ever come across the answer to which just refused to come to her.
Maybe it was because she was stuck at work in the Common Grounds coffee shop, trying to sneak in a little bit of puzzle time during her breaks.
Maybe it was because she hadn't had time to work on it first thing this morning because she was running late and had been trying to play catch up all day long.
Or maybe it was because she was fried out from the long night of movie watching the night before.
Whatever the reason, it was nearing midnight and she was no closer to figuring out what the answer was than she had been six hours earlier.
Of course, with the coffee shop empty, she had a little more time to focus on that final clue but with the hands on the garish neon clock growing ever closer to the twelve that would signal closing time, she held out little hope that she would complete her quest in time.
How she had allowed herself to be convinced to come in on her day off and work 'till closing, she had no idea. She chocked it up to the scintillating offer of overtime pay because it was the holiday season and no one else would come in to work. Why the coffee shop stayed open this late was a mystery anyway, after all, hardly anyone came in for espresso at eleven thirty except the bums with a little pocket change who needed something to warm them up before heading off to sleep on the nearest park bench.
"A riddle," she said to herself aloud, staring at the sheet of newspaper spread out on the front counter with such feverish concentration that it might've burst into flames under her gaze.
Six letters. Six tiny letters. Six itty bitty unimportant letters that, for the lack of being able to figure out what they were, were going to break her eight year record of perfection.
Those six little blank boxes were fast becoming the bane of her existence.
All of the words that came to mind didn't fit in the spaces provided.
The bell on the front door tinkled merrily, the sound barely scraping through the jumble of synonyms that were jiggeting about in her brain and someone approached the counter.
"A cup of coffee, if you please."
Monica blinked and pulled herself out of her reverie as she turned towards the coffee machines situated behind the counter, "What sort did you want? Cappuccino, mocha, espresso?"
"Alright, just a second."
Damn. She had everything but regular coffee available. She'd have to make some more.
"It'll be a couple of minutes," she said unhappily, "I'm going to have to brew a fresh pot."
"I can wait," the patient answer came from behind her.
Monica started measuring just enough coffee beans for a single cup and then set them in the grinder.
"A crossword puzzle, eh?" The customer asked with interest over the sound of the coffee grinder.
Damn. Damn him for reminding her. Monica glanced at the clock and saw there were five minutes left before her self imposed deadline was up. Damn. Damn. Damn.
"Yeah," she answered politely, knowing that every minute this guy was in the shop was another she wouldn't get to work on her puzzle, "I've been trying to finish it all day."
The grinder stopped and Monica fished out a coffee filter from under the counter, "I've been kinda obsessed with finishing the Gotham Times crossword every day by midnight since I was a kid."
Wait...why the hell was she telling a complete stranger about her not-a-compulsion-compulsion? Monica shook it off and went back to work.
"Hmmm." He sounded genuinely interested, "The Gotham Times is a puzzle of some difficulty for the average citizen."
"I wouldn't know," she answered as she unceremoniously dumped the coffee into the coffee machine, "I just like puzzles."
"I'm somewhat of a puzzle aficionado myself," he replied, sounding rather amused, "But I don't suppose you'd be willing to take the assistance of a perfect stranger in this endeavor..."
Monica bit out a laugh, "Are you kidding? If the Riddler himself came in here and offered to help I'd probably kiss him just so long as I get the damn thing finished." She cringed and amended, "Uh...pardon my language."
"Consider yourself pardoned," he answered, sounding even more amused than he had moments before.
The customer was silent then as the coffee finished brewing and Monica was left alone with her thoughts.
Monica quickly filled a Styrofoam cup to overflowing and turned to hand it to the man at the counter, "Did you want cream and sug-"
She very nearly dropped the cup when she saw who she'd been waiting on.
Well, not exactly the Riddler. He wasn't in full neon green regalia, but it was most definitely him. She'd seen his arrest photo on television several weeks earlier when he was released from Arkham Asylum.
For the life of her, his real name escaped her and she was left to stare at him, jaw gaping and mind careening off in half a dozen directions; not all of them directions she was comfortable about admitting to.
"An enigma," he said, eyes sparkling brightly in the florescent lighting so much so that they were almost frightening to look at.
Monica blinked a few times as she tried to wrap her head around what that could have possibly meant, "Huh?"
"The crossword," he answered as he reached across the counter and took the cup from the stunned clerk.
"Oh," she said lamely.
He reached into the pocket of his pine green coat and for a moment, Monica panicked.
This was the Riddler.
He was a former insane asylum patient.
An evil mastermind!
A paying customer?
Three dollar bills were plunked down on the counter, and Monica stared at them.
"Keep the change," he said cheerfully with a twinkle in his eye that she didn't like very much.
Still dumbstruck, Monica nodded for half a minute before she finally managed a gravelly, "Thanks."
He gave her a polite nod and started out the door.
"I'll be back to collect what else is owed me sooner or later," he called back over his shoulder, looking positively delighted with this turn of events.
The door clicked shut and Monica watched the little bell as it jiggled until it was perfectly still once more.
It took her a solid five minutes to regain enough of her senses to realize what payment she had jokingly promised to the Riddler if he'd help her to solve that thrice damned crossword puzzle.
If the Riddler himself came in here and offered to help, I'd probably kiss him.
A/N: I dunno...was it too fluffy? I think it was too fluffy. Not as fluffy as feeding Scarecrow soup, but...well, I couldn't do that to Eddums (why am I calling him Eddums O.o?...Nova's bad influence strikes again). Well, at least I'm starting to get a foothold in the Batsy universe, even if it is a rather fluffy one...