Anything But Ordinary
The baby had been extracted from his mother's womb late at night beneath the familiar shroud of smog that blanketed Gotham twenty-four-seven. It was a successful C-section, and the next morning, when the young brunette awoke, she held her son for the first time. Nothing frightened her more than the looming prospect of single motherhood, and unfortunately for her it was no longer just a prospect. It was a reality.
The infant blinked slowly, staring up at her with wide chocolate brown eyes. He hadn't cried yet, not even when he took his first breath after being suddenly unwrapped from the blanket of warmth that was her protective body. This confused her, but she sent it to the back of her mind, convincing herself that he was just naturally content. So much the better.
The baby grew, as all offspring are wont to do, and it seemed that in a blink of an eye, he was sitting in his high chair in their apartment kitchen, a bouncing eleven-month-old that his mother had grown very proud of. He would be handsome once he'd reached adulthood, she was sure of it. She gave his round, soft head a quick, gentle stroke before going back to slicing a fat carrot into small chunks that he could eat once they'd been cooked and softened. Preoccupied as she was with her financial and time-management problems that were the results of working two crappy jobs, she didn't notice the knife cutting too close to her finger until a splotch of red contrasted against the orange surface of the vegetable.
A loud giggle behind her made her turn. Her son was smiling the widest grin she had ever seen on his face, gazing at her happily with his eyes nearly popping out of his head.
"What do you find so funny, kiddo?" she asked him.
He giggled violently.
The boy trotted alongside his mother, clasping her hand with an iron grip. He had achieved a strapping six years, and his unusually long legs had no trouble keeping up with his mother's quick stride. They were late for his biannual check-up at the Gotham Central Clinic.
His calm chocolate eyes spotted a stray cat slinking along the edge of the building, heading past them. Without a word or a pause, the boy slipped out of his mother's grasp, snatched a large rock from the ground, and with precision launched it into the air. The cat let out a yowl of pain as the rock struck the bull's-eye, bruising it terribly if not giving it brain damage.
"Hey!" the mother shouted. She grabbed his shoulder and spun him around to face her. "Why did you do that?"
He shrugged. "Felt like it."
"Honey, you can't just hurt others because you feel like it!"
He shrugged again.
After several attempts at getting a reaction out of him, the mother gave up, deciding that she'd have to figure out a way to punish him later. She'd found that, despite what the other mothers in her neighborhood told her, spanking did nothing when it came to knocking some sense into him. As they regained their pace, she didn't see the silent smile that decorated his triumphant face.
The boy had gone to school with the rest of them, although his teachers weren't sure what to make of him. He would start chuckling quietly to himself at points when there was obviously nothing entertaining about his surroundings. His grades weren't the most disastrous they'd ever seen, but he was far from the teacher's pet.
He was sent to the school counselor after tripping a classmate of his in the seventh grade. Her head had struck the side of his desk on the way down, knocking out a front tooth. The only sounds louder than her cries of pain were his cackles of elation at the sight of her bloody mouth.
Within minutes, the boy sat complacently in front of the counselor, his fingers resting on his knees, one foot absentmindedly twitching. The bespectacled woman in the other chair seemed to be trying to think of what to say as he regarded her with calmly unblinking eyes.
"Are you going to ask me if I'm sorry?" he finally said after several silent minutes.
The counselor seemed relieved that he'd thrown her an opportunity. "What are you sorry for?"
He raised his eyebrows, traces of a smile gracing his thin lips. "I didn't say I was."
She didn't like his voice. It was high-pitched and a little squeaky, with a hint of a serpentine hiss. "You do know that tripping Rachel and laughing at her was wrong, though, don't you?"
He shrugged, leaning back and lacing his hands behind his head. His legs stretched out across the floor in front of him, making him seem to grow before the woman's eyes. "Right, wrong, who cares? Who draws the line?"
The counselor was startled at his questions, and did her best to respond without seeming frightened. "You think it's right to hurt others?"
"I never said it was right. I said who cares."
"Do you not care?"
He flashed an impish grin. "Now we're getting somewhere. Keep going – you're on a roll."
"Why don't you care?"
"You're drawing your own conclusions."
"Maybe if you were actually paying attention to this conversation, you'd notice that I haven't answered a single one of your questions."
The counselor changed topics. "I'd like you to think of why you wanted to trip Rachel."
"Who says I wanted to?"
"Then why did you do it?"
"Call it a 'spur of the moment' thing."
She scribbled nervously on her clipboard. The boy's smooth attitude set her off, and she didn't like the strange, dangerous subtleties in his features. "How are things at home? Is the relationship between your parents working out?"
"Parent," he corrected her.
"I see. Is it your mother or your father who's absent?"
He grinned again. His voice rose a notch. "Daddy's locked away in Arkham…"
"Do you ever see him?"
She turned away from his flashing smile.
"I'm sorry to hear that."
She wasn't sure if she was. She wondered briefly what he would be like if he did see his father and was influenced by their relationship. Then she wondered if he actually had what you could call relationships with anybody. This kid didn't need a counselor – he needed a psychiatrist and a padded cell. Or a straitjacket. That might work.
It was no secret that the boy had confused his mother his entire life. She didn't understand what the twelve-year-old found humorous every time he would fall into a fit of quiet laughs, his chest contorting with freakish joy. Once he could breathe again, she'd always ask him what exactly it was he was laughing at, but he'd smile and succumb to another fit.
It was late October when she returned from work at the usual time in the evening. She shut the apartment door behind her, and laughter reached her ears. Frowning, she guessed that he was just in one of his fits of humor, but today his chuckles were particularly gleeful. She had been getting increasingly worried about him and had taken the school counselor's advice to schedule an appointment with a psychiatrist the next week to see if he could be cured of his unnatural euphoria. She made a mental note to call the office and see if the meeting could be moved to tomorrow.
She entered the kitchen, where his usual seat was empty. The snickering echoed from down the hall in the direction of the bathroom, steadily progressing into the most violent, gut-wrenching laughs she'd ever heard. She followed the sounds down the corridor, stopping in her tracks at the bathroom door. A scream tore from her throat.
The boy was hunched over in front of the sink, clutching his spasming belly in maniacal bliss as blood dripped down his cheeks and out of his mouth. There were already large smears of crimson on the sink and floor, and a knife from the kitchen rested in a small pool on the tiles. He looked up, unable to control his delight, and his mother saw with horror that he had sliced almost clean through his cheeks, creating an ear-to-ear grin etched in his flesh. Blood dripped down his face onto his clothes, spattering her as he laughed like a hyena.
"WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?" screamed his mother, wondering what she had brought into the world.
Between the piercing giggles, he forced out four words, slurred through his distorted mouth:
"I—can't stop—smiling! I can't—stop—!" the rest of his sentence was swallowed by his next bout of shaking excitement.
He retrieved the knife from the floor and held it above his head, flashing his red and white teeth as he advanced upon the woman who had given him life.
"Let's put a smile on that face!"
A minute later it was over.
He skipped past her, carefree as he let his blood dot the carpet. "I can't stop smiling! I can't stop smiling!" he shrilled. "What doesn't kill you makes you stranger!"
He banged through the door to the fire escape, not really sure of where he was going or what he was doing, but not really caring either. Life was too good – why worry? He stumbled down the clanking staircase, clinging to the rail and trying to get air in his lungs between fits. His mother stared after him, grinning.
"What doesn't kill you makes you stranger!"
Still laughing, the child disappeared into the dark streets of Gotham.
Author's Note: Okay, what'd you think? Review? Pretty please? Pretty please with the Joker on top?