Jervis Tetch sat by himself and tried not to be noticed. Not that it was difficult. All his life Jervis had been a nobody. Being ignored was his natural state of being. Not like the Mad Hatter… No! He stopped himself. That was a fantasy, an illusion he'd created. He was Jervis Tetch, the nobody. He sighed. He'd have to get used to being ignored again it seemed.
"Do you play?" He looked up surprised. A tall lanky figure stood over him. He stared blankly up. The man repeated himself with a bored air.
"Do you play?" The voice spoke of disinterestedness and weariness. Jervis wondered briefly if it was the medication or simply being locked up here. The man sighed in disappointment and began to turn away.
"Um… I do play." This earned him a raised eyebrow and a curious glance. After a moment's consideration the man sat opposite him.
"Well, you can hardly be worse than Two-Face."
"Two-Face?" Jervis queried while setting out the pieces.
"Yeah. He decides every move on the toss of a coin." The man opposite was idly glancing round the room, giving Jervis a chance to look more closely at him. He didn't recognise him from the rogue's gallery and for that he was grateful. They were all psychopathic madmen and Jervis didn't want to get mixed up with them. The man sitting with him looked normal enough, if overly tall and somewhat scrawny… but then this was Arkham. His opponent suddenly looked back at him and Jervis smiled nervously.
"White first." With a start, he looked down at the board to consider his strategy. Not knowing his opponent, he decided to keep things simple to test his strength, so to speak. As he moved his first piece his companion spoke again.
"You're the 'Mad Hatter', aren't you?"
"Jervis Tetch," he replied firmly. His doctor had been quite strict that if he wanted to make a full recovery and get out of here then he had to resist thinking of himself as the 'Mad Hatter'. And he did want to get out of here.
"I see they've been giving you 'the speech'."
"They give it to everyone when they arrive." He waved a hand dismissively as with the other he deftly took one of Jervis' pawns. His eyes met Jervis' again but this time there was a glint in them. "They're just trying to use your fear against you."
"Most people live their lives in fear. Fear of not being accepted, fear of doing the wrong thing… basically the fear that other people will see them as they really are." He leant across the board. "And if you reject your fear? Break free from it's restraints? They lock you away." He sat back.
"I don't think that's true." His companion raised an eyebrow again.
"We're locked away because we've done bad things. Because we… lost control."
"Lost control… or regained control? Society is governed by myriads of rules. Oh, not just the laws, but social etiquette and pack instinct and hundreds of other built in responses, programmed into us from earliest childhood. But why should we obey them? Because everyone else does? Because we're told to? Because we fear what will happen if we don't? History is littered with men who've dared to look beyond the accepted and challenged the status quo. Now they're revered but in their own time they were often called mad."
"But many of those called mad then, were mad." His companion smiled.
"And who defines madness? The ignorant masses? The elected representatives? One man's madness is another man's genius." Jervis couldn't think of a smart reply so he considered his next move in silence. For a few moments they continued quietly, then Jervis' thoughts were interrupted again.
"I am but mad north-north-west; when the wind is southerly, I know a hawk from a handsaw." His companion watched him with interest.
"There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so." Jervis agreed, carefully moving his rook. His opponent nodded, apparently pleased with this reply.
"You are not wrong, who deem, that my days have been a dream."
"All that we see or seem is but a dream within a dream." Jervis replied.
"'Tis wonderful what fable will not do! 'Tis said it makes reality more bearable." Jervis thought a moment, playing piece held suspended.
"But what's reality? Who has it's clue?" He carefully placed the piece and began again. "I can repeat poetry as well as other folk if it comes to that -" That made the man laugh. It was an odd laugh but Jervis was pleased to get such a good reaction.
"Well played! Perhaps we'll play again another time." The taller man stood up. Jervis leant back in his chair and considered the chess board abandoned in front of him. In a couple of moves he'd have had his king cornered. Somebody didn't like to lose, he thought with a smile.
Across the room his companion was scowling at another prisoner who had apparently said something inappropriate. Jervis saw him whisper something and the other man visibly paled. A guard also noticed.
"Alright Crane. Back to your cell." Jervis cocked his head to one side. Crane? He'd heard that name before. His eyes widened as he suddenly remembered. The Scarecrow. Jonathan Crane.
The quotes above are from 'Hamlet' – Shakespeare, 'A Dream Within a Dream' – Poe, 'Don Juan' – Byron, and 'Through the Looking Glass' – Carroll.