Disclaimer: Batverse, not mine. CATverse, co-owned. Kinda sorta.
This story is part of the CATverse, the story listing of which can be found at freewebs dot com slash catverse. It takes place in Arc Four, after my story "Wishy Washy."
Trigger Warning: This story contains depictions of claustrophobia. Please be advised.
In retrospect, the Hoppenjan Mortuary and Funeral Home was probably not the best place for Jonathan Crane to duck inside for use as a hiding place while on the run from the police.
Of course, his judgment might have been impaired due to the massive blow to the head he'd suffered not twenty minutes earlier, thusly leading him to the conclusion that a funeral parlor was a perfect place of refuge.
Furthermore, the aforementioned head injury was most likely to blame for the brilliant scheme to climb inside the nearest open casket and close the lid so he would remain undetected by any passers-by.
Now to be perfectly clear, Crane had every intention of staying inside the box just long enough to catch his breath and allow the police to find that his trail had gone cold...
But you know what they say about the best laid plans of mice and men.
As everything else in his life over the past several years had done, this endeavor went in a completely different direction than he intended.
Namely, downhill faster than you can say 'Hell in a hand basket'.
So much so that he would look back on this particular event and wonder if he'd accidentally angered some voodoo priestess somewhere and had brought a curse down upon himself.
After all, there was that little unplanned side trip to New Orleans during Mardi Gras he'd taken not too long ago…and he had run into a wayward group of gypsies…
Well…dosed them with fear toxin was more accurate than 'running into them'. He supposed an enchantment of some sort was conceivably in the realm of possibility.
Or at least it would have been if he believed in such things, of course.
Which he didn't.
Even if it would explain a lot.
It was more likely that his three deceased henchgirls had marked him somehow through their time with him. After all, the arrival of his own personal proverbial 'Kick Me' sign tacked to his back seemed to coincide with their entrance into his life.
But that was neither here nor there. Regardless of why, he still climbed inside a casket with the idea of staying there for a few scant minutes, and wound up falling asleep.
Or perhaps 'passing out' would be a more appropriate term.
Either way, he awoke to find himself in inky darkness and felt more disoriented than he did before.
When Crane moved to lift one of his hands to touch the rapidly growing lump on his forehead, his arm collided with something solid.
Something solid and…satiny.
It took him several moments to recall exactly where he was and why he was there, a few almost panicked moments, before he realized he was still in a casket in the middle of a funeral home.
Most people wouldn't have breathed a sigh of relief at this realization, but Jonathan Crane wasn't most people.
He was safe. The police clearly hadn't discovered his hiding place and-
How long had he been unconscious?
Carefully maneuvering his left arm, he stretched it, bent it just so and brought his wrist up near his face.
Not that this action did much good. He'd turned down the glow in the dark watch that the Captain had tried to give him, deciding instead to stick with his much more dignified leather and silver Swiss watch, which while more aesthetically pleasing than the piece of plastic and rubber that the Captain wanted to force on him, it wasn't much use in pitch blackness.
If he remembered correctly, that had been her argument for having a watch with glow in the dark hands…
"You never know when it'll be too dark to see your watch, Squishykins."
Aside from the fact he didn't want to take anything that could be considered a 'gift' from one of his minions (they had enough blackmail material on him as it was anyway), he'd refused it on the principle that it was a Batman watch.
Now though, in the dark of the casket, uncertain about how long he'd been unconscious, Crane wished he'd taken her up on her offer.
Her offer for the watch. He corrected internally, knowing that if any of his hangers on had heard that last sentence, there would have been much teasing involved with the possible double entendre that he'd inadvertently made.
Crane gruffly pushed all thoughts of them away. It was no big deal that he hadn't taken the watch…he could just open the casket lid a crack, just enough to let the light filter in and hit the face of his watch and-
He pushed on the lid before him with as much pressure as he could muster inside the small enclosure and found-
It wouldn't budge.
Straining the muscles in his back, he heaved against the satiny material again with all his might.
Which didn't accomplish anything other than getting one of his nails hung on a snag in the fabric's weave.
Ok, that wasn't a good sign.
No need to panic. Not a problem. There's got to be a trick to this-
Crane's neck was snapped backwards and his head his the pillow behind it with a thump and for a split second, he was treated to the sensation of weightlessness.
Someone had just picked up the casket he was in.
It was a strange feeling, to be lying on his back with no way of knowing where he was, which direction he was going, or what was going on outside.
The logical, scientific side of him pieced together what little he knew of his situation.
The casket he was inside was moving…
And he wasn't uneven…he was moving rather smoothly, aside from a dip every few seconds, like someone taking a step-
The image of six men in black suits floated to the front of his consciousness.
No, no, no. Surely not. Who would bury an empty casket?
But it's not empty…
But they didn't know that!
Unless there'd been some kind of a mix-up and this casket was-
The rest of that thought was too horrible to even contemplate.
The movement of the casket paused momentarily and he heard the sound of the casket bottom scraping along something as it was slid smoothly onto a solid surface.
Then he heard the sound of an engine roaring to life and he was moving again in an altogether different way than he had been before.
Hearse. A hearse. I'm in a casket in the back of a hearse.
His skin closed over his ribcage felt all too tight suddenly and he wanted nothing more than to loosen his collar to try and relieve the feeling that he was strangling.
He knew, in some deep part of his mind that was still thinking rationally, that it was all in his head. He wasn't strangling, he was merely having a bad reaction to the realization that he was in a locked casket.
Crane had to think and he had to think fast because if the scenario his mind was concocting was anywhere near reality, he had an undetermined amount of time before he was buried under six feet of earth.
Quickly but carefully moving his hands so that he could feel along the seam where the casket lid met the bed, he searched for any kind of indication that there was a latch of some sort that was keeping him imprisoned.
He found none.
Furthermore, he couldn't feel any air coming in.
No wonder he was starting to feel light headed…his oxygen supply was running out rapidly with no hope of getting more.
Crane tried to push against the lid again, applying more force this time, even going so far as to come very close to throwing his back out of alignment in the attempt (after all, what was a few strained muscles in comparison to being buried alive?), but to no avail.
He still didn't panic.
The man behind the wheel of the hearse would certainly hear his violent thumping on the casket lid and release him…and then it was only a matter of gassing the driver and running in the opposite direction as quickly as his legs would carry him.
Curling his hands into tight fists, the man known as The Scarecrow pounded furiously on the satin covered wood a few inches from his head.
The sound echoed inside the small space, filling Crane's ears and shaking his spine with the vibration that accompanied it.
There. There was no way the driver wouldn't hear that.
Scarecrow told himself he didn't feel a sudden flood of relief that came when the vehicle he was in stopped and the engine was turned off.
Crane palmed the capsule of fear toxin that he'd had up his sleeve and prepared himself to strike, the moment the casket sprang open.
He waited patiently for what he estimated to be two minutes, picturing the face of the startled driver, who'd most likely never had one of his charges thump on their casket but nothing happened.
What little relief he found drained away from him like water from a sieve.
When he heard the scrape of the hearse door opening somewhere behind his head, and he felt his weight being lifted once more into the air by unknown hands on the casket, he realized that this was no time for pride.
This was a time for tightly controlled panic.
The 'Eternal Peace' model of casket had recently been discontinued (there was a defect in the design, apparently...the latches had a nasty habit of popping open at the wrong moment. Sometimes startling the bereaved family in the middle of the burial by suddenly bursting open, tossing whatever funeral bouquets that were on top of the casket aside and baring their loved one for all the world to see) and the Hoppenjan family had hired a transit company to take the defective things to a warehouse on the outskirts of Gotham's industrial district where they could be properly stored until such a time that the company would pick them up and replace them with non-defective caskets.
The company that the Hoppenjan's had hired for the job Big Bob's Movers ('No job is too big for Big Bob!' the side of their fleet of trucks proclaimed) were trustworthy and had a reputation for hiring only the best of the best, so they believed that their load would be delivered to its destination, no problem.
They never suspected that mere days before the load of caskets was to be moved, Big Bob had been charmed by three innocent looking women who professed to having good strong backs and had given them a job.
These three women-at least, in one of their many incarnations-had quite the lengthy criminal records and it had taken a lot of the old Kirk-esque charm to make Big Bob waive the background check that usually accompanied hiring anyone in Gotham City.
Al had refused to admit that she had 'Kirked' anything, what with her unreasoning hatred of William Shatner, but her two companions had quietly agreed that's exactly what she had done.
Regardless, they were now happily, gainfully employed as movers.
Even though they didn't really need to be, now that they'd sold the Sellers emerald...
But, it was a way to keep busy and a way to keep an eye on the goings on in Gotham.
And the pay was pretty good.
And no one noticed when one thing or another from each shipment accidentally got misplaced during transit.
It was a super handy way to pick up equipment...
Really, it was the perfect job.
Not that they were planning on keeping it for very long...staying in one place for longer than two weeks at a time, the three former henchgirls had learned, could be a dangerous thing to do. They had a knack for garnering unwanted attention, without really meaning to.
The semi truck backed into the warehouse slowly, making those annoying 'beep beep BEEP' noises that all semis seem to make, and when it finally stopped, the three women in the front seat bailed out.
"We're gonna be sore after this one," the one who'd been behind the wheel muttered as she gave the handle on the back of the truck a sharp tug, causing the door on it to roll upwards, exposing row after row of defective caskets that they'd loaded.
"Let's just get this over with," one of the others said, shifting from foot to foot anxiously.
"What, you don't like coffins?" The third asked curiously as she helped the first pull down the retractable ramp.
"I read too much Poe as a child," the second murmured, "It left its mark. Coffins creep me-"
The second woman went ashen. "Did you hear that? Tell me you guys heard that."
"No. I didn't hear anything coming from inside one of the caskets."
"Now is not the time for jokes, Captain!"
"Who's joking? That's a coping mechanism."
"Who would be dumb enough to climb inside a casket?" The driver asked.
"You mean other than a corpse?"
The second one looked skyward, "I swear I'll never watch another vampire movie as long as I live if that's not a-"
"Whatever it is, it's persistent."
"Do you think we should...let whatever it is out?"
"I don't suppose either of you have a wooden stake, holy water or a cross handy, do you?"
THUNK! THUNK! THUNK THUNK THUNK!
"No, but maybe we should start thinking about carrying some. I mean, this is Gotham after all."
"That makes me feel so much better, Al, thank you."
"Well, you're the vampire expert here-"
"Knowing every line in Dracula: Dead And Loving It doesn't make me an expert!"
"We're not going to find out what's making that noise by standing around here arguing all day."
"Then what do you suggest, Van Helsing?"
"Let's open it."
"No, Captain! What if it's some...thing?"
"What's the worst that could happen?"
And with that, the third woman who'd gotten out of the truck's cab climbed up the ramp and started to search amongst the caskets for the one which was making the racket.
Naturally, curiosity kept her two companions from staying away too long (of which she was secretly glad...she didn't want to go up against...well, whatever was potentially in this thing anymore than the others did), and soon, they were all inside the back of the moving truck, huddled around the noisy casket.
Without a single word being traded amongst them, they all stared at the coffin for a few moments before moving to pick it up and carry it down the ramp and into the warehouse.
The thumping increased tenfold, so violently that they had a hard time keeping ahold of the casket.
At the bottom of the ramp, the carefully lowered the casket to the warehouse floor (at least, as carefully as they could, with its occupant thrashing as much as he/she/it must have been) and then they stared at it.
"Well? Open it."
"I'm not going to open it, you open it!"
"This was your idea, you open it!"
All three women jumped back in unison as the lid to the casket flung itself wide open and the tenant sat up quickly, eyes wild and chest heaving.
"JONATHAN!" Was the startled cry that escaped the three women in overalls and promptly, the man they'd shouted at in shock, fainted.
"I think we killed him."
For the second time that day, Jonathan Crane awoke, flat on his back inside a casket.
This time, however, it wasn't dark and the light that filtered down on him was obscured only by three concerned faces that hovered over him.
"Oh thank God, he's alive." Al muttered, pushing some of his hair out of his eyes.
"Boy you scared us...we thought you were-"
"Never mind what we thought," Techie said quickly, "All that matters is that we were wrong."
They were all wearing overalls and all Crane could think of was Why would dead women need overalls?
His thoughts were disjointed, brought on by the combination of oxygen deprivation and extreme stress, and he suddenly became inexplicably focused on the rings of light around their heads.
That light made them look otherworldly, casting strange halos around their faces.
He forced away the word 'Angelic' when it came to him, because the small parts of his mind that were still functioning properly knew for a fact that if these three were back from the grave, the chances they'd been anywhere that required a halo for admission, were slim at best.
Just a trick of the light...that's all.
Just a trick of the light and the bump on his head...
And before he knew it, darkness claimed him once more, leaving the image of his three deceased henchgirls burned into the forefront of his memory.
The old VW bus that had just been packed pulled away from Big Bob's Moving Company's office (which was, not surprisingly, on fire), with three women in its front seat.
They'd just given Big Bob their very own version of 'two weeks notice'.
Which was more like 'Here's a file cabinet, there's a match, let's see what happens when we put them together!'.
They'd taken great pains to make certain that Jonathan Crane would come to in the mortuary inside a different casket (they painstakingly made sure that it would open without any trouble at all), so that he would believe his ordeal had been nothing more than a hallucination.
It wasn't a very nice thing to do, but at this particular point in time, it had been the best and easiest action they could take.
Once that was done, they went to see Big Bob and get their last paychecks.
It was too bad for Bob that he wasn't around to pay them like he should've been, but he was probably insured.
Either way, the three former henchgirls were now on the move again, only this time, they had more interesting things to talk about than where they were headed next.
"You were white as chalk, I swear. I thought you were going to faint!" The Captain giggled madly, her shoulders shaking at the memory.
"I can't believe you thought he was a vampire," Al added with a cackle that bordered on the evil.
"Shut up and drive, Al." The woman seated in the middle glared straight ahead. "And if you don't want me to start telling tales, Captain, you should shut up too."
"Tales?" Al inquired. "What tales?"
The Captain clamped one hand over Techie's mouth. "No tales. She knows nothing. Shut up and drive, Al."
Want more? The story continues in "Spring Training" by Twinings!