Too Many Long Boxes!
   
   

End of Summer
 

The Other Batman

By Bill Kte'pi

He felt weak - even weaker than usual. Selina and Bruce Junior were dead. His wife raped and shot in the throat during a carjacking, his six month old son bludgeoned in the head with the butt of a gun to stop him from crying.

Guns. It was always guns.

His parents had been shot when he was a child, the gun so close he could have reached out and touched the barrel, the bullets so loud and the muzzleflash so bright he'd been struck with hysterical deafness and blindness for weeks after. Alfred, his parents' butler, worried that the incident had sent him into autism, and the fear wasn't unfounded. Bruce had lost interest in paying attention to the world, heard only the voices in his head, and saw only the happy memory he replayed for himself of the movie his parents had taken him to hours before they were killed - Zorro.

On the inner screen, Don Diego de la Vega donned his domino mask and sash and flayed the evil-doers alive, inscribing his Z across their chests - always flashing a charming smile to the audience as he did so. His lips moved, but Bruce couldn't hear what he said - all he heard was the voice - "The pearls, goddammit, give me the pearls!" - and gunshots.

He disappeared into this inner world for most of two months, drawn out only by chance. The son of a visiting family friend, one of many recruited to console him, left an issue of the Shadow Mystery Magazine lying on the table. Bruce flipped through it and began to read - the first sign of interest he'd shown in anything other than blank walls and his own hands. Alfred immediately sent for more - the Shadow, the Spider, the Green Hornet - and when Bruce had finished with those, reading at an almost frantic pace, he ransacked his father's library, reading through - despite the difficulty, given his age - The Scarlet Pimpernel, Scaramouche, The Count of Monte Cristo, Nero Wolfe, Sherlock Holmes, and Auguste Dupin.

Alfred and the family physician quickly discovered that Bruce would respond to them while he was reading - brusquely, as if dealing with a distracting itch. He'd nod when asked if he'd like lunch, he'd ask where his books were if they'd been moved, and he was more than happy to explain the nature of his current read - "It's about being patient," was his summary, at age six, of Dumas' Count of Monte Cristo.

Little by little, he returned to the outer world, and by the time he reached adulthood, anyone who did not know him well would have considered Bruce Wayne to be usual in all respects. Control of his father's company remained with Robert Finger, Bruce never showing any interest in business. He made a respectable living penning suspense novels that were sold mainly in grocery stores and airports, dipping into his inheritance only when sales were slow and when Alfred reminded him that the larder could use restocking.

There were only two people who could really claim to know him intimately - Alfred, while he was living, and Selina Kyle, his agent and wife. And even they, if pressed, could only say that Bruce seemed "distracted." He never told them that every night was filled with black and white dreams of bullets streaking Z's across his parents' chests. He never explained his prohibition against Selina wearing or purchasing pearls, although he gave her free access to his bank accounts in all other respects. They never knew where he went, one weekend a month - to firing ranges all around the country, where he'd spend hours on end firing shot after shot at silhouetted targets in a vague fugue, eventually becoming so accurate a shot that he made it a practice never to attend the same range twice. The startled attention he received made him nauseous with discomfort.

Alfred died shortly after Bruce Junior's birth, and the manor now seemed cold, preternaturally ancient - a mausoleum where the dead outnumbered the living. There was no room in which he could be alone - his father haunting the study, his mother the sitting room, Alfred the kitchen, Selina the bedroom, and Bruce Junior the foyer. He sat for long hours in the dark of the basement, a large expanse of rough granite walls which - for reasons his father alone could have explained - had never been furnished or quite completed. Unlit lamps hung from the ceiling like stalactites and the only noise was the persistent hum of the water heater - and the gunshots echoing in his head.

Nothing was right. In his other world, crime had a face - it was justice that wore the mask. Criminals weren't random figures who struck, ran, and got lost in the guttershuffle of the city - victims weren't consoled by distant detectives who said "Chances are they'll be picked up for another crime, at any rate." Evil was leering and gaudy, and easy to pick out of a crowd - like a bloody-toothed clown in a church. Justice struck and rode off into the sunset, or faded into the nocturnal rooftops. Bruce Wayne was a man trapped behind the looking glass.

He had tried, when depression and crushing impotence began to set in, to slip back into that world he'd discovered as a child, the world inside his head - but he couldn't return. It was a Neverland into which grown men were denied entry. He lacked the cowardice of a suicide. There seemed only one obvious course.

He fastened the strings of the domino mask tightly behind his head, loaded his pistol, straightened his flak jacket, and left the manor.

All characters are ™ DC Comics
This story is © 2000 by Bill Kte'pi.
 
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All Characters are ™ DC Comics
This piece is © 2001 by Fanzing and the persons credited above.
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