Arkham Home for the Elderly
A man approaches a table, the sliver light of mid-morning shines on top of the 64-square board in front of him.
As he sits, a sharp pain runs up his right leg from his knee. The man grimaces as he rubs the tender area where his kneecap used to be while slowly placing 32 chess pieces from his satchel onto the board. Eight pawns, two rooks, two knights, the bishop pair, the Queen and King; the black pieces soon follow.
He looks around the room. Quiet. Quiet souls waiting out the rest of their days. The communal living room begins to fill out with Gotham's retirees - the ones who can afford this lavish centre for the aged, complete with daily spa treatments, three-bedrooom villas and menus created by the team of in-house chefs.
As the man turns back to face the board, he sees his opponent...
In through the entrance to the hall, a frail main is wheeled in by an orderly. The man in the wheelchair is slumped over, his medical gown barely clinging to the gaunt frame beneath. His face completely wrapped in gauze save for openings around his eyes and mouth - dark green eyes peer out from behind the bandage, eyes made darker by the ghostly white skin surrounding them.
The orderly, barely into his teens, set to start at Gotham High in fall, wheels the figure to the other end of the board, applies the wheelchair's brakes and leaves.
If only you knew who this man was, son.
What feels like hours passes until eventually, the man begins to stir.
"H... Hello, Bruce."
The voice strains through broken vocal cords, slightly muffled by the edges of the bandage around his red lips. The man's eye locked onto Bruce's, unrelenting.
"Hi, Jacky-boy," Bruce replies, softly. "How are they keeping you?"
"Quite easily... I can't put up quite as much of a fight as I once could... He... Hehe," the man once known as Joker responds softly. "I do look forward to our visits, Bats. Good to give the hamster in the ole noggin a bit of exercise every now and again."
After a few seconds, the men begin their game.
Bruce, with the white pieces, opens with D4 - moving the Queen's pawn two squares up the board. A strong move, aiming to take control of the centre.
Joker's eyes move down, fixated on the pawn. "You know? It's funny, I've been stuck in this chair ever since you broke my back all those years ago and I can't remember ever being happier for you. As I felt your knee break through the centre of my spine, I thought: Finally, some payback for poor Jason."
"Shut up and play."
"Come to think of it, I broke his back pretty much in the same spot. I wonder where that crowbar is - we could have had a nice little reunion..."
At the rear of the care home, a woman makes her way to the exit door of the kitchen - the way out for kitchen staff inclined to taking hourly smoke breaks.
She retrieves a keycard from her pocket. A keycard she stole from the unfortunately underqualified security guard keeping an eye on the entrance of the building.
The tone is followed by a red LED. No entrance allowed.
The woman looks at the card, wipes off the blood covering the validation code and tries again.
Green LED. Please enter.
"Jokes aside, Bats, I do think you came out on top in the end. After all, you're not the one sitting here with skin literally melting thanks to those damned chemicals."
Joker slowly lifts his right arm, grabbing hold of his King's pawn and moves it two squares to E5.
Risky opening. Joker's first move puts him in danger immediately, giving up a pawn for capture.
Bruce doesn't think very long before capturing the pawn.
"You deserve every second of punishment," Bruce whispers as he looks up. "And more."
"Oh, don't be so dramatic. My body is broken, I can barely talk... or laugh... and you have enjoyed a retirement frolicking around with your butler in Wayne Manor while I - your best friend in the whole wild world - has been rotting away here."
"You're lucky that I didn't let you rot away in Arkham Asylum where you belong. God only knows why. Gordon still won't talk to me because of that decision."
"Doesn't he know that you've always had a soft spot for old Joker, ey? He probably thought it turned into a hard spot every now and again... Ha!" *COUGH*
Bruce looks down at his hands, arthritis nearly rendering them unusable.
Was it all worth it? Barbara, Jason. I couldn't save the people closest to me. And here I sit alongside the man responsible.
"You have one more chance," Bruce says. "Make your move, or I leave and you never see me again."
Joker thinks for a few minutes and reaches for his Queen...
Bruce raises his right hand to his face, rubbing his brow.
What is he doing?
"You're sacrificing your Queen. For what?"
"Well, it's not the first time I've let my favourite lady take the fall."
The woman in the kitchen has finished pouring gasoline over the dead bodies in the kitchen. Their culinary training no match for her ferocity.
Like a spectre, her white body moves over to the industrial stove in the centre of the kitchen; she turns on the gas burners. One, two, three, four. She leaves them on full as she reaches for the box of matches in her rear pocket.
The match strikes.
"This is for you, Puddin'."
The blood drains from Bruce's face as he begins to realise the game is far from over.
"What have you got planned, Joker?" Bruce asks as he attempts to rise from his seat.
"Ha... Oh, nothing special, Bats. One last hoorah from the Clown Prince of Crime all made possible with the help of a plucky firecracker. Harley owed me a favour."
Bruce walks over to Joker, grabbing him by the scruff of his medical gown and lifting him out of his seat.
"What are you talking about?" Bruce shouts.
"Gentle, Bruce..." Joker replies, struggling for breath. "I'm a frail, old man... Hehe."
"Tell me. NOW!"
"Well, I've come to realise that it's the little things that make life all worthwhile. And what better way to end my little life than by giving my fellow geriatric friends the chance to experience what I've been living with for all these years. Their skin will burn and melt off in a matter of minutes and there's nothing you can do to stop me."
ha... haha... ha Ha HA HA HAHAHA HA HA!
Bruce throws Joker back into his chair as he continues to laugh maniacally. Blood begins to spatter though the corners of his mouth, slowly turning into a stream. The gargled laughter resonates throughout the hall.
"Mr. Wayne!" an orderly yells as he runs over to the commotion. "What's happening?"
"Get these people out of here!" Bruce yells back. "FIRE! GET TO THE EXITS NOW!"
Orderlies hurriedly gather the guests into the hallways and make their way to the exits as Bruce heads to the kitchen, the most likely source of an arson attack.
Run faster, old man!
You're so weak and fat. You're not worthy of the Bat anymore.
Bruce tries to drown out the Bat's voice in his head as he rushes to the kitchen door, now within view. The pain in his knees sends shockwaves through his body as the cold realisation dawns on him: what will I be able to do to stop this?
He can still hear Joker laughing in the hall, becoming more and more laboured until... silence.
Still gathering speed, Bruce prepares to bash through the kitchen double-doors with the last amount of strength he can muster.
Bruce's body bounces off the doors and onto the ground.
They've been barred shut.
Bruce quickly gets back to his feet.
"HARLEY!" Bruce yells as he bashes on the doors with his fists.
The doors are hot to the touch. It's too late. The fire is already raging. It won't be long until the explosion kills everyone in the building.
Bruce runs back to the hall. Perhaps Joker has an escape plan that can be used to get everyone out faster.
As Bruce enters the hall, he sees Joker slumped over in his chair. Dried blood all over his chest, a sickly white smile shining through the sea of red.
"All the doors are locked!" Bruce hears one of the orderlies scream from the front door. "None of our keycards are working."
The last thing Bruce hears are the screams of Gotham.
A second of heat and then peace.
"Gotham's citizens were rocked during the early hours today as the historic Arkham Home for the Elderly was destroyed by what seems to be a gas leak which led to a catastrophic explosion. It is this reporter's misfortune to state that no survivors have been found after four hours of searching. We are waiting for confirmation, but it looks as though billionaire philanthropist, Bruce Wayne, was one of the visitors to succumb to the deadly fire. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends. Be sure to stay tuned for up-to-the-minute reporting from the Gotham Gazette. This is Valerie Vale, signing out."
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