Don't Sing, Don't Shine

The rain poured down over Gotham's crooked teeth just after midnight, a futile attempt to clean the dirt from beneath the city's fingernails. The downpour splashed across and streamed down rooftops, shuttered windows, fire escapes – slowly making its way into the underbelly of the metropolis where the rats swarmed like the Plague. On an oblong island in the middle of the river (Gotham's breastbone) was a foul maze of houses piled end over end, a cancer scorned by the snub-nosed wealthier citizens living in the penthouse apartments of the shinier parts of the city, where poverty was almost a myth.

Somewhere within this anthill of rundown homes and burning oil drums, a third-story door banged open, accompanied by a panicked scream. A woman tumbled out onto the rusty fire escape from her studio apartment, clutching a bundle to her chest. She held it close to her heart with one arm while gripping the railing with the other as she descended, her breath coming and going quick gasps. The rain drenched her hair and went into her eyes, soaking through her nightclothes in seconds as the steps swayed slightly beneath her bare feet.

Above her, a burly man stepped out of the apartment from whence she had come. His eyes followed her as she spun around and around down beneath him, getting closer and closer to the ground, and he let the words fall from his lips beneath his breath. "And if that mockingbird don't sing…" He tossed the long carving knife he'd taken from the kitchen to his other hand and headed down the clanging iron steps after her. "Papa's gonna buy you a diamond ring…"

Her bare feet hit the cold wet concrete just as he reached the second landing. She kept her head down and, without looking back, began to run, shielding the bundle from the rain as much as she could. A couple of dirty, unkempt men smoking joints on the sidewalk wolf-whistled as she dashed past, her toned, sinewy body easily seen through her pale blue, sodden flannel.

Far behind her, the man's shoes hit pavement and he calmly quickened his pace, taking long strides and enjoying the weather. "And if that diamond ring don't shine… Papa's gonna buy you a five and dime." He watched the woman's hunched form dart through the rain onto a bridge – the main artery leading out of the Narrows towards the heart of Gotham. A slight frown passed over his chiseled features before he followed her onto the overpass. Her legs were much shorter; she couldn't get far.

His shoes echoed loudly as he strode, almost idly, after her, one hand in his pocket and the other wrapped comfortably around the glinting blade, splattered with the sky's glassy blood. "And if that five and dime goes broke… Papa's gonna buy you a billy goat." As the woman made it off the bridge in the distance, he pulled his leather jacket tighter and picked up speed again, honing in.

The rough skin of the city digging into the soles of her feet, she pushed on, darting into an alley across the road. She could get lost in the network of backstreets; she could lose him. She could. A soft protest came from the bundle as she scampered into another alley and was swallowed in a shadowed alcove. Out of breath and out of sight, she pressed the bundle closer to her breast and begged him to keep quiet. He mumbled and shifted his head, contented that the jostling had stopped and taking comfort in the sound of his mother's racing heart.

The man ducked into the trash-strewn alley after her, whistling quietly as his eyes scanned the shadows for the flutter of a damp nightgown. "And if that billy goat don't butt…" His hoarse voice bounced off the towering alley walls, a ghostly chorus echoing his words. He stopped at the narrow mouth of the second alley, a leering smile crept slowly over his lips. "Papa's gonna buy you a scraggly old mutt…" His slow steps reverberated on the dark walls as he edged into the shadows, a small bounce slipping into his gait. "And if that scraggly old mutt don't bite…"

And just then, almost like a crack of thunder, a baby's laugh shattered the eerie quiet of the alley.

The woman dashed out of the shadows directly in front of him and streaked in the other direction, the infant's phantasmal chorus of glee chasing after them. The man's face split into a fully-fledged grin. With the warring echoes whirling around them, he caught up with her in seconds. She fell, nearly crushing the bundle, and scraped her arms across the pavement. The man reached forward and lifted her by her hair; she screamed, contributing her own voice to the choir, and left her son on the ground.

The carving knife flashed, and the man sung, "Papa's gonna teach you how to fight!"

And then it was over.

The man tilted his head and observed. The black, mixing in with rain, was spreading from beneath her crumpled form, nearing the wriggling bundle of swaddling on the wet ground. He stepped over her legs and picked up his son as the echoes faded away, bouncing him slightly in his cradled arms.

"Hush, little baby, don't say a word. Papa's gonna buy you a mockingbird…"

The baby regarded him with chocolate eyes, and his unearthly chorus of high-pitches giggles filled the alley.


Reviews, anyone?