Tears Of A Clown

Author's Note: Written for the livejournal batfic_contest prompt "Hesitation" in less than 500 words; first posted there on 13 February 2010.

"…but seriously folks, I'm afraid the curtain must now fall on the very pleasant evening we've enjoyed together."

The dozen students stared through terrified eyes as the Joker strode across the stage towards a table set up in the wings. Gagged and bound to individual chairs arranged in a semi-circle, they could do no more than struggle in panic as he returned with several large containers of paint-thinner and began to slosh the flammable liquid across the stage.

"This should really bring the house down, don't you think?"

"That's a good one Puddin'!" Harley giggled, swinging her feet as she perched on the back of a chair in the darkened auditorium hall. "An' you're sure to get better reviews than their crummy show did."

Joker sniffed dismissively. "Quite right, but I think the kiddies have learnt the error of their ways."

He turned to one gangling youth who wore an ill-fitting purple suit, green wig and white facepaint, blotchily pink in places from combining with the blood still seeping from his broken nose. The boy cringed as the Joker switched from jocular to furious in an instant, grabbing a fistful of purple jacket. "You now understand that I don't appreciate people ripping off my act – especially not a two-bit high school show choir!"

Harley shook her head despairingly. "I can't believe they were really gonna do 'Tears of a Clown' as a opener too – it's such a downer."

Joker released his hold on the shoddy impostor and doused the boy's cheap wig with a generous quantity of paint-thinner. He did the same to ten of the other students, pausing as he reached number eleven.

"How's about you do this one, pumpkin?" he offered generously.

Harley clapped and jumped up on stage, eager to play her part. She stared down at the tearful black-and-red costumed girl reproachfully.

"Whoever made your outfit got the colours back-to-front," she tutted, pouring the flammable liquid over the girl's hood-and-tasselled-head, heedless of the quiet whimpering. "That's what you get workin' from flipped around newspaper pictures."

Joker then produced a silver lighter embossed with a smiley face and offered it to a delighted Harley, who flipped the top and thumbed the wheel. A small flame sparked into life.

The dozen students all wrestled with the ropes that bound them, shaking their heads in horror. Several gazed pleadingly at the grinning clown-girl, willing her to stop, but she only had eyes for the eager, toothy smile that followed her as she knelt down and unhesitatingly set the flame against the dusty backing drapes that surrounded the stage. Within seconds the fire was licking at the ceiling.

"Attagirl Harl," Joker drew her into a brief clinch that left her with smeared lipstick and a dopey smile. "Now let's exit stage left before the fire attracts Bat-sized moths."

Neither looked back as they disappeared into the darkened wings of the theatre, leaving the stage to the roar and heat of the flames, and the growing whine of distant sirens.

Author's Note: I couldn't decide whether to go for something funny with this prompt or something more poignant, so I ended up with this weird Glee-meets-Batman idea. Which I thought was pretty amusing right up until the point fire breaks out, so I guess I found a middle ground there!

I left the ending deliberately ambiguous. If you like then Batman turns up with a suitably heroic last minute rescue, or alternatively you can have a tragic crispy-fried show choir. I know which I would pick but I'll keep that hush-hush... ;D