So this is the last chapter that I have written - as in, there should be more to finish the story, but it is currently unwritten, and I have no idea how many more chapters there will be. Hopefully that won't be a problem!

I was going to update on Friday morning, at 6:05 am no less, right after I'd registered for my 2010 fall classes. I was feeling magnanimous right then, but also very sleepy. And as you probably can guess, I opted for sleep. I was at the Mills Hafla party when my friend convinced me that I have to post to my stories before the end of today, so I am. You should all thank her! You're really lucky I'm following through though - today was Room Draw and boy, was it a MESS!

By the way, any Mills women out there?

This chapter is dedicated, as always, to my made-of-awesome beta-reader, the Kiyomi half of Banana Rum, and to the woman who got me the last single room on the entire campus. Thank you!


CHAPTER ELEVEN [smoldering]

The room he hauled me into was strangely surgical and white; I'd gotten so used to his outwardly messy style, that it was odd to finally see something so clean. To me it was clear that he'd taken special pains to keep the space itself, tidy; like it held some special importance to him. A place where he could let out…whatever it was underneath all that crap he put on.

The room contained far less clutter than the room we'd occupied so briefly in Montana – no broken down bar stools, ripped apart fleur-de-lis, or dirty beds. Instead the walls were whitewashed and pristine but for the rare smudge of black or red. There was a small twin bed pushed into a corner with white painted metal bars for the headboard and footboard. The bed was made with obsessive precision, not even a wrinkle dared show its face. At its foot was a folding metal chair with disturbing ropes laced to the legs and back.

Next to the bed was a large window, the panes of glass were painfully polished, so much so that it seemed that the streaks from the constant wiping were etched into them; across the room I hazily noted a large white cabinet with an equally enormous padlock on the doors.

If there had been a sign on the cabinet, it would have said, "DANGER" in neon red and flashing strobe lights sounding an alarm all while a generic female voice alerted mechanically, "Warning. Stay away. Territory is perilous." While my brain duly noted this 'dark aura' emanating from that area, my body wasn't exactly up to speed with the rest of me.

After all, it was a mysterious force of nature and nothing else that was managing to keep me standing. That willpower was rapidly slipping though.

Joker stood me against a wall with more of a degree success in this endeavor and went to grab the metal chair, still keeping an eye on me the whole time. He picked up the chair and set it in the middle of the room, facing the window. The direction the chair faced probably wasn't supposed to mean anything to me, I'm sure, but it unintentionally did.

It was pointing toward the window. Toward freedom. It was like his subconscious or alter ego or whatever it was felt guilty and was trying to give me a way out. Or I was reading too much into his actions. Either way, it was almost like the chair and the window were urging me to go to them. "Escape." They begged with me. "Just throw open the window and jump. Throw the chair at him, Run. Run. Run."

I knew deep down that this was my last attempt to escape the Joker- to leave him behind for the witness protection program and a new life for a long while. It would be like jump starting a car. To ever hope again, when I failed this time, I would run out and someone would have to give me some of theirs.

It would be more sensible to others to save my hope, tuck it away and savor it and let it sustain me for the longest period of time possible. But I wasn't that kind of person. I wasn't the type to bide my time with these sorts of things. I needed to try. Just once more.

I began to take wobbly steps away from the wall, hoping my legs were recovered enough to survive what I wanted to do. The more spaces there were between me and the wall the faster I walked, like I was back in the parking lot and there was nothing to stop me. Until, of course, two arms grabbed for and caught me and swung me around till I was plopped into the chair.

"Ah, ah, ah." Joker's face was close again and I could smell the singular, powdery scent of his make-up. "No running off now, y'hear?" His voice was a parody of good will.

I scowled absently, unaware if I was doing so at him or at the general situation. I was scared of course, I was very scared. But there was still some part of me that held back from the fear, like a tiny little glass ornament hidden in the hollow of my chest; just underneath my rib cage. There was still some irrational part of my mind that refused to accept this as reality.

I kept expecting for cops or a video camera or people from work to jump out and shout (respectively), "Freeze!" or "You're on Candid Camera!" or "Surprise!" Somehow I still couldn't accept this as total reality, as my fate.

"Uh oh. Someone's in a bad mood." Joker secured me to the metal chair with the ropes that were attached to it. I struggled with the bonds, and an outsider would have termed my effort as half-hearted. But the after effects of my running escape attempt and my return were still with me.

"I hate you." I needed to say it just once. Just once. His eyes darkened in response. "I've hated you since the first moment I saw-"

My words were stopped by his fist. The blow to my jaw was forceful enough to tip me to the side so that the chair rocked and fell over. Another blow to my head, this time from the hard floor, followed. I felt frantically around my mouth with my tongue, checking for loose teeth, when the loud throbbing in my head faded.

Fortunately, there were none, as I'd always found bloody, knocked out teeth particularly sickening in the movies; still, I'd bitten my tongue and my saliva tasted faintly like a shiny copper penny and salt.

Joker, unaware of my thoughts, patted my cheek. "Oops!" He hauled the chair and I into the proper position. "I think that I was a little too forceful there. But perhaps, you should keep your nasty mouth shut. Maybe then, I can control myself."

I only looked down at my lap – trembling legs and metal chair. Joker began to walk back toward the cabinet. I didn't look up as the padlock jingled and a key was inserted into the grooved slot and turned. The lock opened with a click and the door swung open with a creak.

I supposed no self-respecting cabinet in what closely resembled a bad horror film would open soundlessly.

He began to hum tunelessly to himself as he worked, pushing this and that around and tossing things about in the inner compartments. "It's obvious that you dislike me. You say, you hate me." Joker called over his shoulder as he bent over the bureau's inner drawer. "But I haven't done nearly enough to deserve that." He straightened up and turned around. "I will now."

In his hands was a device most wicked in my eyes. The first part was innocent enough – just a little ace of spades shaped out of iron; flat on one side with a curved handle on the other side. In his other hand was a much more devilish instrument – one of those long, powerful, industrial-sized lighters, used for barbeques and oh, I don't know, space shuttles. He was flicking the open flame back and forth across the metal; turning it into an even pale red. It went to an even scarlet, and then gradually, a steady primary red.

I felt…paralyzed. I felt…like I wanted to move but I couldn't. It was the opposite of the way I'd felt in the van. It was the terror. It was the stillness of the horror. It was the bonds of the chair that held me but not. I couldn't move. I couldn't move. I couldn't think.

Joker stood in front of me, directly in the window's path and blocking most of my light. I thought I could detect a hit of concern in the back of his eyes, but it was masked with anger, confined in rage. "Consequences." His voice was rife with…righteous fury.

"Every consequence requires vengeance to repay it." He leaned closer and I could feel the heat of the flame pass over my skin. His mouth was to my left ear. "Vengeance." His teeth nipped out and bit my ear sharply; I curled my lip but couldn't bring my body to do anything else.

The metal was now a beautiful, sanguine red, the temperature of the metal rising faster than I'd thought it could. But the spade shaped plate was so thin, now I supposed it wouldn't take much to heat. Though he was wearing gloves the heat must have hurt him, as I imagined it was much stronger than the protection mounted by the gloves, but he didn't show it in his eyes. Soot from the flame was blackening the fingers of one glove in wispy, ghostly patterns.

Joker moved his head around to my right ear, enjoying the symmetry of the moment. His hair was tickling my cheek. "Every…thought of vengeance turns into revenge." I was biting my lip when he paused. "What do you say to that?"

My eyes shut momentarily and my lips tingled as blood underneath the thin veneer of skin prepared to move the tissue. "Revenge is a dish best served cold." Yes, I actually said it.

He laughed though his flame holding hand never wavered on the metal. "I never really got that saying princess. But you wanna know what I think? I think that revenge is always best in the fiery, hellish, unending heat of passion."

I swallowed sluggishly. "Passion isn't unending."

He turned his eyes more directly on mine and only his scars smiled. "Isn't it?"

A thin silence covered us, like liquid plate glass cooled and hardened over our forms. In the interim we stared at each other; the flame cast flickering shadows over his face and I knew that what he needed to say to me was not yet through. Not over. I tried to think of something to say – anything to halt his grim ambitions. To stop him, to save my own life. A late, last ditch attempt.

My search, as before, was fruitless and all it succeeded in doing was sharpening the desperation of the situation. The most I could come up with was "Stop, please." At the same time I knew such a weak phrase wouldn't help me at all. That nothing I could say would stop the psychopath standing before me with such a sad, determined gleam in his eye. Once more I couldn't do anything.

Helplessness washed over me in a second tidal wave; I felt a sense of fate, of destiny, of kismet flooding me and I blinked slowly for a second closure. The muscles in my chest and around me rib cage contracted in short, tight, painful bunches. I was guessing at my end and I was guessing it was going to come in only a few minutes, if not seconds.

"Revenge is for the purpose of remembrance." Joker's face was by my left ear again. "Everything is remembrance. It was all for you to remember!"

In movements I didn't care to try to follow, the flame fell back. His hand jerked forward. The hot metal pressed against my neck, just underneath my left ear.

My scream's prelude was a gasp, and my eyes widened. The metal was searing, burning, melting away layers of skin that sizzled before it was incinerated. My nose tingled with a sickening smell, like ham cooked far too long or the last bits of charred beef falling off the grill.

I was shuddering under the cherry blushing metal. He held it in place only a little longer, then withdrew the brand; but there was no relief in its absence and my vision began to waver. It was reality. It was true. This was everything and all. I could no longer escape the unholy realization: there was no hope.

A fissure in the glass ornament sheltered by my ribs spread and widened its fingers to cup the round plane of it – it became a spider web over the surface. Cracks in the glacial ice or a frosted windowpane. I felt it open and begin to break apart inside.

I took another breath and felt it completely fall to pieces. The shards flew out from the vulnerable, open, shredded center and seemed to imbed themselves in my flesh. They were the creeping ropes of venom slinging themselves onto my muscles. They were the last gasp of breath at the bottom of the ocean.

Just knowing it was gone made me choke on the air and drop my head, horrified. I knew what I felt. I knew what that feeling meant.

There was no hope.

There was no one to save me.

There was no police force to come get me.

There was no hope.

This was real and I was going to die.

And there was nothing I could do about it. Nothing I could do at all.

"Remembering is payback. And payback is a bitch."

I screamed.

END OF CHAPTER


Just a note, I was going to have him brand her with an electric branding iron, but a friend of mine convinced me that there wasn't anything existing that would fit my purposes. Of course, it wasn't until this was written and edited that she found something like it online. For sale. Why would you sell something like that so casually? Its so crazy...

Just so you know, two of my reviewers attempted to guess my age - one guessed too young (16 and in college?) and the other guessed to old (not 20). Now where does that put me? Two guesses....

Review, please! Please!