A/N – There's a favorite author of mine here on FFN, and she writes for the Nolanverse Batman fanfiction section. She goes by the name HoistTheColours, and she happens to be a favorite author of mine simply because she writes good Joker stories. VERY good Joker stories. Very good, satisfying, believable, perfectly characterized Joker stories. Stories that actually dare to make the Joker the frightening monster he's always been; stories that don't try to soften or humanize him. Great stuff! Anyway, she wrote a little story called High Speed, in which a Pre-Joker Joker kidnaps a woman on a train – and she brilliantly pulls the reader right into the action by writing it all in the Second Person POV. Despite the cheesiness factor Second-Person often has, that story conquers it, managing to be very fast-paced, very action-packed, and actually quite frightening. It's so good, you really do feel like you're the one trapped with a madman who wants to do Lord knows what with you.
Of course, she has other great stories besides just this one, but that story in particular is what inspired me to write this, which I literally wrote while waiting at the bus station for my bus and further elaborated on in-between classes at College. I very much respect HoistTheColours and her work, and I also wanted to pay a little bit of tribute to her as well as test my mettle on something new and try to pull the reader directly into it, just as I pull myself into a story when writing it. And to top it all off, I also wrote this to answer the question, "Just what does it feel like to laugh yourself to death, anyway?", because I'm curious like that…
Disclaimer: I do not have any claim on DC Comics' characters, and I wrote this story purely for pleasure and the entertainment of you lovely people. I don't own the Joker, but I do own the concept for this story, and I'd love to see more little Joker vignettes like this in the comics proper. Oh, and this is not the first time I've written for Comic!Joker (the only other time I have is in my short story Resuscitate), but I would appreciate it if you didn't flame me all the same. I'm trying to carve out a little niche here, since I haven't seen tons of interest in the Nolanverse area for a while…
"In literature, the result of a fictional character's words possessing a significance that the audience (and sometimes other characters) understands, but that the speaking character does not."
- From Wikipedia's definition of Dramatic Irony
I hate this job, you think, blinking your eyes blearily. There's no way in Hell you'd even be working this late here at the plant if the manager hadn't told you to stay tonight. You're barely able to focus on filing, you're so tired, and since the company switched to decaf coffee for so-called "worker's health reasons", it's been hard going to even stay awake. Too bad you forgot that energy drink, sitting in your refrigerator at home. You hate drinking that stuff, but hey, beggars can't be choosers, after all – and nobody can say it doesn't do the job.
You glance at the clock again and sigh. Seriously? You're only a filing assistant. A glorified cubicle drone, maybe with the added bonus of getting to see whatever weird chemicals people order and speculating on just what someone with no laboratory or metal-working background needs with 8.5 Molar Hydrochloric Acid, anyway. Regardless of that, though, all you do is file paperwork, and it's such tedious, easy work. Why do you of all people need to stay until past midnight, again? Oh, right, because the company's just gotten another large shipment of raw chemicals that need processing and you always have a horrible amount of paperwork to file whenever a new shipment comes in. Honestly, you'd rather be dead than spend any longer in this dump.
The stack of paper to your right looms tower-like, immense and unconquerable in one night's work. Even if you stay all night, you won't get anything done; you're just going to have to finish up the rest tomorrow anyway. And of course, you're just about the only person here, except maybe a few guards. Ever since some of the local crackhounds found out that some of the chemicals here contained just what they needed to make their chosen poisons, the company's needed to beef up security. Of course, not even that stops some of the more persistent ones, but hey – that's what you get for doing business in Gotham.
Something catches your ear, it sounds like soft footsteps, but you assume it's a guard walking around and think little of it. The more paperwork you can get organized tonight, the less you'll have to do tomorrow and the sooner you can get home to your kids. You barely have time to see them anymore; your boss is such a tyrant. But hey, a job's a job, even if it's a shitty one, and you're not about to give it up just because you're bored. Money is money, after all…
The footsteps continue. They're coming towards you, towards the front desk, from down the hallway that leads to the front doors of the building.
You peer up curiously just as one of the guards walks past. It's Frank, making his rounds at the front of the building. He's a good man, Frank. A bit of a practical joker at times, but he means well. The man'd lose his head if it weren't attached, though; he's always misplacing his damn keys and they somehow always inevitably wind up behind your desk.
He walks by without incident, and you resume filing. At least Frank can go home when his shift is over – this place doesn't work its guards nearly as hard as the rest of its workers…
You snap your head up suddenly. That's odd, you thought you heard the footsteps again. But that's impossible, Frank just went past and you're the only person around here. The doors themselves are closed and soon to be locked for the night. It has to be an echo from somewhere else in the plant; this place was built so cheaply you wouldn't be surprised if it didn't have soundproofing. Or maybe it's just the misheard sound of thick folders hitting each other, and your mind's playing tricks on you due to your fatigue.
Either way, you resume filing and think nothing of it.
The footsteps stop, and you look up again, this time out of suspicious interest. But no one is there, not that you can tell anyway. And yet you're sure someone is; you can feel eyes on the back of your neck as you turn back to the files…
"Cut it out, Frank," you call flatly over your shoulder. Someone snickers softly in reply, and you roll your eyes. God, it's too late for this; the last thing you need right now is to deal with one of Frank's stupid pranks.
"Dammit, I know you're there, Frank, and it's not cute!"
And now he's ringing the service desk bell. Idiot guards, thinking it's so damn funny to bug you when you're already barely staying awake.
"Seriously, stop," you whine in annoyance. Normally you'd try to talk things out with him or laugh it off like any mature adult, but right now, you just don't care. It's one in the morning and you really just want to go to bed, but you're stuck doing one of the most boring jobs in the world. God, you really wish you'd brought that damn energy drink; just about anything would help you now…
The bell rings again. This time, repeatedly. You hear giggling.
That's the last straw, dammit, you furiously think, fuming silently. The folders you hold slump to the ground, landing on each other with a soft smak. Some of their important contents spill out at random, but you pay no mind as you storm towards the front desk. Time to give Frank a little piece of your mind.
But as you reach the front desk, you can't see any guards. No Frank, no workers, nobody familiar at all, but there is someone there, a man in a long coat and broad-brimmed hat, leaning casually against the wall. It's too dark to see the color of his clothing, but that's not of much importance to you right now. The more pressing concern is what he's doing here, after hours, when Frank just shut and locked the doors not even five minutes ago.
"Can I help you?" you sneer, not even bothering to hide your weariness.
"Yes, I'm looking to pick up a shipment I ordered not long ago," he responds, his tone light and cheerful. You wish you had that kind of cheerful energy this late, but you left your damn energy drink at home, so all you can do is envy his enthusiasm. "I need them as soon as possible, if that's not too much trouble…"
"We're closed for the night, sir," you mumble as you turn away, not particularly caring how impolite you sound.
"Oh, but it's very important I get in and get them immediately," the man insists as he approaches the desk. "I simply must have both chemicals tonight. Any delay could compromise my… research…"
You roll your eyes and sigh. This isn't the first time a science major or lab tech has run into the plant late at night, demanding a certain chemical immediately lest an experiment be indescribably ruined.
"Well, I can't help you," you snap, not even bothering to look at this late-comer. "It's company policy; I can't just let anyone who runs in here take chemicals from storage. We had some crack-seller run in here once and get in the wrong acid; he wound up in Gotham General with severe Sulfuric Acid burns on his arms and torso. We can't afford any more casualties, even minor ones, considering we store things here that can bleach skin, if not eat it away entirely..."
"No?" the man asks, his tone ever so incredulous. "Well, that's understandable, of course. At least I understand it. Very well, in fact. Especially the part about the severe acid burns…"
You frown slightly at that. What in the Hell was this man blathering about severe acid burns for, anyway, and just who the hell is he? That voice seems awfully familiar, too; have you heard it somewhere before…?
A soft click greets your ears suddenly. You recognize it as a gun cocking.
Just your luck.
You swallow the lump in your throat and steel yourself to confront the robber. Who just steals chemicals? you think, turning around to attempt a negotiation. Maybe you can get out of here with your life, all you need to do is call the guards and they'll be on this jerk like white on rice…
Your heart jumps a beat in sickly, terrifying shock, and suddenly you remember why your attacker's voice seems so familiar. Of course you couldn't just get a run of the mill crackhound. No, it had to be the Joker, didn't it? It had to be the most notorious homicidal maniac in the city threatening you with a gun for God knows what chemicals to do his dirty work with. It couldn't just be some random burglar, it had to be the Goddamn Joker.
Suddenly, you regret your previous, inconsiderate behavior.
"I d-don't want trouble," you nervously entreat, fearfully backing away from the desk. But as you attempt to run, your foot catches something, and you stumble backwards to land firmly on your rear end.
He smirks in amusement at your escape attempt, and it's barely better than his full grin. His eyes glint with malice as they observe your frightened form. There's no way he's not thinking of some particularly nasty prank to play on you – or worse yet, some terrible, slow method of torture with which to punish you for your insolence…
"No," he tuts in false pity, leaning both elbows idly on the desk and resting his chin on his hands. "No, of course you don't. And to be quite honest, neither do…"
He trails off; there's a slight hint of thought in his venomously green eyes. God, he's tall, you think, fighting the panic rising in your chest at the thought of getting any closer to him. Let's face it, you're not the strongest of people and you're no Amazon, either – he could easily have you pinned in seconds, and then you'd really be in trouble…
"Well, to be perfectly honest with you, I do want trouble," he says, locking his intimidating eyes with your own frightened ones again. "But I want my shipment more."
You get the impression that the grin he's giving you means to be jocular. It fails at this, miserably, instead reminding you of a very, very good impersonation of a shark. Those toxically, hypnotically frightening eyes never leave yours, fixating you feverishly, amused at your feeble attempts to hide your obvious terror.
You desperately want to curl up and hide. But where can you go? If he wanted to, he could easily vault the desk – or pull out a gun and shoot, and there's no way you could ever outrun a well-aimed bullet. As for running away from him… well, odds are those long legs would easily help him gain ground, and that's even if you could keep ahead of him. So you say nothing, instead opting to stay as small and low as you can and hide as much of your trembling hands as possible. After all, what can you say that will convince the Joker to leave you in peace?
"So!" he chirps, breaking the thick silence as easily as slitting a throat. He draws himself to his full height, towering above you imposingly, and folds his hands behind his back. "Can we strike a deal here, or will the cleaning crew have to clean blood out the file cabinets tonight…?"
You swallow the overwhelming lump in your throat and slowly stand back up. He's patiently expecting an answer, after all, and something tells you that he really doesn't like waiting. The air is tense; you can feel its tightness on your skin making all the little hairs on your arms stand up straight. Oh yes, you're terrified, but if you're going to die… well, you might as well as go out with courage, right?
"W-what kind of deal were you thinking of?" You ask, and you're surprised at how very meek your voice sounds. Or you would be, if you were speaking to anyone else in the world but him.
"Well…" he responds, pocketing the gun and leaning in towards you until he's mere inches from your face. "I was thinking of just killing you and taking the chemicals… but I might let you live if you 'accidentally' let me slide through the system…"
He gives you an exaggerated "just between you and me" wink, and you lower your eyes out of both thought and intimidation. On the one hand, he's offering you the choice of life over death in exchange for disobeying company policy. On the other, he's the Joker, and there's no way in Hell you're going to trust him with something like your life. But if you say no, he'll just kill you anyway…
"Well?" he probes, tilting his head ever so slightly. "Do we have a deal or not?"
He extends his pallid, bony hand to you warmly, impatiently awaiting your own palm. Or at least the gesture would seem warm if you weren't terrified out of your skull of what exactly he plans to do with you once he has his chemicals… But what choice do you have? It's either a slim chance at life or a certain death…
You swallow nervously and accept his gesture. His hand is very cold, and his grasp is unyielding, almost unrelenting in its pressure. How appropriate, you muse, hoping he takes his time acquiring his 'shipment'. If you're quick, maybe you can phone the police and get out of here before he comes back…
His grasp suddenly tightens further and his grin widens sinisterly. You hear a soft click, and then feel a sharp pinprick, almost like a needle…
And then it hits you.
A sudden wave of nausea crashes over you, blurring your vision and quickly turning to excruciating pain as it spreads like wildfire through each limb of your body. Time slows; cold sweat drenches your forehead and back. There's a vague sound in your ears, a buzzing white noise… but as you listen harder, it shifts to a chuckle, then a giggle, then full-out distorted, cackling laughter. God, it sounds awful! Why won't it stop?
The world warps around you oddly in a dastardly defying of logic and physics, and suddenly nothing makes sense. You can't think; you can't function. Logic has become illogic, matter is created from nothing, the room is both hellishly hot and freezing cold. You cry out in anguish, but hear only the endless mad laughter. The world, your mind, your own body is betraying you, and it's pure torture…
The Joker leans over you menacingly, unclasping his hand from yours. His hand… there's something in his hand; it looks like a needle…
Your eyes widen in horror. How didn't you notice it before? That needle has to be a good foot and a half long…
You shake your head. No, that can't be right, there's no way the needle could be that long, or else he couldn't hide it in a closed fist.
You blink in confusion. Did… did the needle just grow by several inches?
And… and now feet?
You shake your head wildly in disbelief and groan. It's becoming very hard to focus and even harder to stay standing. The hallway behind him stretches infinitely down to the door; the walls meet each other at impossible angles. The laughter continues to ring, wrapping itself around your mind like an insidious viper. God, it's too much, it's all too much; you feel like you're going mad! Dear Lord, why won't it stop…?
You collapse to your knees, trembling in mental and physical agony. It's too much, too much. Your hands… what's wrong with your hands? They look pale, dead pale. Clown pale…
You peer up at your assaulter, pleading for mercy with your eyes. His smile widens impossibly beyond his face, the colors of his suit shift from purple to green to bright neon pink and back, driving you dizzy with their randomness. God, you want to vomit. And where the Hell is that laughter coming from? It's pervasive now, assaulting every sense. You can smell it; it smells like chemical waste. You can taste it, and it tastes like blood.
"Nice doing business with you," he responds cheerfully, grinning down at you darkly. How? you think, shuddering as another excruciating wave of pain cripples you. How can one man smile that much…?
And he turns his back to you, beginning towards the doors you know lead to the warehouse, or at least did at some point in time. But that, you think, feeling reality snap, was a long time ago, in another place, when you knew what up and down were and could trust the walls to join at nice, even right angles…
"If you don't terribly mind," he murmurs, pausing mid-stride to speak a final word with you, "I'll just pop in and pick up that strychnine I ordered. I've been out of ingredients for my toxin for weeks now, and I just used the very last of the last batch…"
You suddenly realize you aren't breathing, and panic grasps you like an icy hand. And just as suddenly, it becomes painfully clear to you where that God-awful laughter is coming from. It's yours. You are the one laughing, cackling the hardest you ever have in your entire life. So hard, it racks your body in rough, painful spasms. So hard, you can no longer breathe…
"Well, someone's a happy camper!" the clown exclaims, leaning against the wall nearest the warehouse doors. "That's what I like to see, you know – service with a smile. And such a good-spirited sense of humor, too! It's almost a pity you won't be around long enough for that promotion…"
And he laughs at you madly, and you suddenly realize your mouth aches horribly. You lift your trembling hands to your face, feeling your mouth. It feels like a grin.
And the last thing you recall before oblivion finally takes you is how ironic it all is.