Too Many Long Boxes!
   
   

End of Summer
 

Oz

story and art by Cyndi Smith

Oz, by Cyndi Smith

It was supposed to be a date, a kind of pre-birthday dinner. My first attempt at getting a life after my failed attempt to marry Kory. Nearly six months ago. God, I needed a friend. I quit the Titans, lost Kory, and found out about Jason's death all in the same year. Nightwing was semi-retired, only coming out of the closet when I got so bored I thought my head would explode. On the up side, Bruce's and my father-son relationship is has improved, I now merit two grunts a day when I go by the manor. Thank God for Alfred and Babs-- I think I would have gone nuts by now. Maybe that is why I showed up nearly a half an hour early today.

"Barbara is due home any minute, son," The commissioner said. He had me hovering for an hour and a half. We even played a game of chess; I let him win.

"I don't have a clue what is taking that child so long." The commissioner stood up taking my glass of tea with him. I tried to object, but he insisted. He was no sooner in the kitchen when the door bell rang. I'll get it, sir," I heard myself volunteer. As I swung open the door time seemed to slow to a crawl.

I wasn't ready for what I saw.

FLASH

I wasn't ready for what I heard.

BAM, BAM.

The sound echoed repeatedly as I found myself falling for what seemed forever.

FLASH, FLASH.

I couldn't breath.

FLASH.

I couldn't focus. My mind filled with a red haze as lights kept flashing in my eyes. I couldn't move. My back felt as if someone was dumping boiling hot water on it. His face was swimming in and out of focus, as his laughter joined the resonance of gun fire in my mind.

FLASH.

He begins to move me around. I can hear Jim scream something about them hurting me and about me being just a boy.

FLASH

They're moving me again.

FLASH

And again.

FLASH

And again.

I hear them beating the commissioner. I wanted to tell him I was ok, that the pain faded along time ago, but I still couldn't breathe. The red haze and sounds in my mind grow darker and darker only to be invaded by a flash of light and that God-awful laughter. It seemed like forever before the light returned but the laughter turned into a scream, an angel-like Cry for her father. He wasn't here. They took him. I wanted to tell her, but I still couldn't breath. I felt her warm hand against my face. That's when panic set in I had to tell her. It was the Joker, Babs. Get out of here before he comes back. But only one word escaped my parched throat. JOKER.

I hear her plead with me to lie still. I tried that but he kept moving me. The flashes of lights were back but now they were a brilliance of blue and red. I hear new voices; some of them I recognize, others I can't tell. They're talking about blood and seizures and I.V's and crash carts. Is no one listening to me? He is loose; he could be around the corner .I'm talking about the JOKER.

CLEAR

BAM, BAM

I can't get my eyes to open very far, but hrough the little slits I still see it.

FLASH.

Only this time it is accompanied by a beep.

FLASH

BEEP.

As my mind tries to wiggle through the darkness, I find myself feeling alone and scared.

FLASH

BEEP

I try to swallow my fear but instead find myself gagging on it; I tried to fight it but the fear wouldn't let go.

"Master Richard, Master Richard."

FLASH

BEEP

FLASH, FLASH

BEEP, BEEP

It was Alfred-- I could feel his hands on my bare shoulders gently pushing me back down

FLASH, FLASH

BEEP, BEEP

"Master Richard. You must calm yourself."

FLASH

BEEP

"You are on a respirator. Don't fight it; let it do the work for you."

FLASH, FLASH

BEEP, BEEP

HISSS

I calmed down only to let the darkness claim me again.

FLASH

BEEP

HISSS

One day I will remember how to open my eyes all the way. I hear movement in the room. It's Bruce. Ever the gentleman, he acknowledges the Doctor that must have come into the room.

FLASH

BEEP

HISSS

Most of their words are muddled in the sounds of the machines around me. I hear them say something about a good prognosis

FLASH

BEEP

HISSS

Removing the respirator.

FLASH

BEEP

HISSS

Beginning physical therapy.

FLASH

BEEP, BEEP

HISSS

What are the chances? I hear Bruce say. I think the pause scared him as much as it did me.

FLASH

BEEP, BEEP

HISSS

Doctor, tell me; will my son ever walk again?

FLASH

BEEP, BEEP

HISSS

"NEVER"

FLASH

BEEP, BEEP

HISSS

"NEVER"

FLASH

BEEP, BEEP

"NEVER"

BEEP, BEEP, BEEP, BEEP, BEEP, BEEP

I awaken in a cold sweat, reach for that damn alarm clock that keeps beeping and consider tossing it before I get the thing turned off. My heart is still pounding like it is desperate to get out of my chest. I drag my dead legs off the side of my bed and lower myself into the chair substitute for them. It's been two years to the day since the shooting.

For the first six months I was in the hospital. Two of them I was chained to my bed after attempting to kill myself. I don't know what happened. I awoke up with tubes everywhere -- the nasal cannula, two I. V. 's in my arm and the three other tubes sticking out of my abdomen. One was used to feed me, two others substituted for my bathroom.I saw myself removing the cannula; it wasn't a life-threatening piece of equipment, it just an annoying piece of plastic that was supposed to make it easier to breathe. The I. V. were simple; the first one I just yanked out--the blood only spurted for a moment. I guess that's when I lost it. I stared at the needle on the end of the bag and watched as the fluids still flowed out of it. As I took out the next one, I removed the tape carefully, but instead of pulling it out like I did the others I pushed in further, slowly pulling it backward,watching as it ripped through my skin. Blood began spurting everywhere. I was in awe of how easy it was to watch as my life fluid flow in every direction.

I heard the scream for a Doctor. I felt someone grab my hand, but at that moment I was stronger than I've ever felt. I tossed who I found out later was Babs across the room. It took Bruce and everything he had to hold me down long enough for them to drug me up.

Three days later I awoke again; this time I was strapped to my bed and remained so until the veins and arteries I severed completely healed. The next two months were spent in the mental ward. I stopped talking; there was nothing to say; no one was listening. I was dead, and no one cared. Everyone came by nearly everyday. Clark. Roy. Wally, Donna, even Kory, I had nothing to say and didn't want to hear them. Bruce came by during the day, and Batman slipped in at night. Yeah I heard him. I saw him, but I didn't care. Jim came by once in a while; think he felt a lot of guilt over this. But I didn't blame him. I didn't know who I blamed at the time until she came into the room.

She spent the morning telling me what was happening in the outside world. Bruce wasn't going to be in today, he had a long night.

"Where were you?" I whispered as she tucked at my bed sheets. She got quiet and looked once around the room.

"I was out too."

"NO!" I yelled, my voice croaking from lack of use "WHERE WERE YOU!"

She looked like a frightened child, but I didn't care.

"WE HAD A DATE, BARBARA. WHERE WERE YOU!"

Tears were flowing from her eyes. "I, I, UH I forgot."

I started laughing, "You forgot." I became hysterical, laughing harder and harder, as her tears fell. "Miss Barbara Gordon, 280 IQ, Miss photographic memory. The one person on this earth other than HIM that can quote every event that has happened on this planet to the last millisecond. Do I look that stupid to you!"

"Dick don't do this," she cried.

"WHERE WERE YOU! BABS."

"I Uh .Jason came by the library to wish me a happy birthday. Cause he was going to be out of town the next day. We. were talking. I lost track of time. . I"

"GET OUT!" I screamed.

"Dick.... Please."

"GET OUT." I pulled my body up despite the cuffs around my arms I felt my shoulders totally dislocate from the sockets but that only fueled the fire. "GET OUT." By this time three orderlies and a doctor were in the room trying to hold me down. They say there are five levels of grief, and I think I have gone through at least TEN of them. I didn't mean what I said; I didn't. I was sorry, and I couldn't take it back. I just wished I had died, with my legs.

The next couple of days were spent well-medicated; the only thing I really remember out of them was I couldn't stop crying. Then one day Alfred came by; he was very displeased by my actions of late. So he said, "There are many people in this world who are not as lucky as you were." He said, "I have to admit, I was as guilty as all of your friends; we all know the importance of your legs to you. And there was nothing we could do about it. But you lived, and for that we were very grateful. I don't know what happened that you felt the need to finish what that bastard couldn't do. The pain in your soul must be great, but son. There was no reason to blame that little girl for what happened that night. There is no reason to blame anyone, but the Joker."

Alfred?" again my first words in days.

"Yes, sir?" he replied.

"Why can't I die?" I asked.

"What on earth are you talking about?" he said sternly.

"I should have died the day my parents did. But I didn't. So many times I should have died, but I didn't. Why." I noticed the quick glance he made across my bed. There was a lady I had never seen before sitting there.

"Why on earth would you want to die?"

"I don't." The tears started "I just want everything to be right. I just want everything to be the way it should be." My tears came back as the old man held my head to his chest. I didn't want to die; I just didn't want to live like this.

Sarah, the lady who was in my room that day, was the head of the psych-ward on duty the day I fell apart. She said that was the day I finally accepted my fate. Soon afterwards she became my personal headshrinker. She said she hates that term; she just prefers being called a good listener. She has become kind of the mother figure I never had in my life. Which is maybe a good thing since I had no control of my emotions and did a lot of feeling sorry for myself. Six months stuck in hospital turns Dicky-boy into a real dick. She got me to my PT on time via my very own set of wheels; she even stayed and sometimes worked out with me. Or stayed and talked me through some of my uncontrolled emotions like when I tossed the physical therapist over my head during a temper tantrum.

Ms. H. (Sarah) finally sprang me from the hellhole with the help of Bruce, and she moved into the manor with us. He had the manor totally refurbished to be accessible for that damn chair. I stayed there for nearly a month before I began to fall apart all over again. Sarah and Leslie helped, but there were too many ghosts, and some of them I just could not talk about, some I wasn't allowed to. Then one day Bruce did something I never thought I would live long enough to see.

We had taken a "run" through the garden and talked. I told him that unless he looked at the world from this angle he would never be able to understand how I was feeling. He still had his legs; he still had everything he could ever want. He even got me off the "team" two years ago; he fired Robin, but then Nightwing emerged because I couldn't give up what I was, what I had trained all my life to be. Now I had nothing. I was nothing.

Nightwing had died five months after the shooting in a violent explosion that nearly killed Roy Harper; with a Titan witness no one gave it a second thought. Bruce told me he was sorry; he couldn't argue the fact he had everything he ever wanted. We had stopped at the benches in the Cemetery near where my parents were buried, and he sat down

"I fired Robin because I was afraid I would lose you. Two Face nearly beat you to death during the first year you were here. Every day we went out, weather or not you got hurt, I saw that in the back of my mind, but something happened when the Joker shot you, the first time, something snapped. You stopped being the little boy I took in and became my son, and as long as you stayed in this business you were going to be killed. The truth is, I never felt any pain worse than what I felt inside on the day you left. My reactions were childish, but I was scared. When I brought Jason into the fold, it was my attempt to replace my son. For that same reason I began his training as Robin. You were right, I knew he wasn't ready, and it cost him his life and me-- my soul. You were not in costume when this happened, but I still know that I was the reason for it. Joker was trying to drive the commissioner nuts and Kill The Batman, and again you paid the price. God, I'm sorry."

"Bruce, I don't blame you for this; I don't blame anyone," I tried to explain. "Well, I take that back -- actually there is a long list of people I blame right now. But you, Jim, and Barbara are not on the list, and I am tired of looking for blame. I wish I could tell you I can be happy here, but the ghosts are too much . I can't go through the front door without seeing the banister I slid down. Or the chandelier that had to be replaced when I broke the other one the night I swung from it. And I don't care how sound proof you make the caves, I can hear you leave at night. You have been my father for more years than John Grayson was given the chance, and you didn't do a bad job for bachelor, but six months ago I died. The problem is, I can't seem to stay dead. I am too much like my dad. Ask any nut in Arkham. It don't matter what you do, 'ya just can't kill the bat."

After what I thought was the hint of a smile I raced him back to the manor. We were met by Ms "H" who had some how managed to get Alfred to let her work in his rose garden since she was staying here too. Her red hair was hidden in a flimsy cloth hat. She looked at me over the glasses at the end of her dirt-covered nose, flashing that bright curious smile of hers.

"Hello gentlemen, how are we doing this beautiful morning?"

"Don't answer that Bruce" I laughed. "That may be a trick question."

They both started laughing. I started to excuse myself when Bruce asked me to stay. "Sarah I would like to know if you would also take me on as a patient." It was a good thing I was confined to the chair I would have fallen over.

"That would be no problem, Mr. Wayne, since you already sign my pay check," she replied.

"Fine, first things first call me Bruce. And if you would follow me, I would like to give you a clue as to what you have gotten yourself into." He led both of us to the elevator. I started to press the button for the second floor when he grunted at me. I looked over at him like he had lost his mind. Then in the voice he said, "Down." The computer activated, and the elevator lowered until it reached its destination.

As we exited and the lights came on, Sarah began to chuckle in awe. "What have I gotten myself into."

I live alone in the clock tower in Gotham now. Great digs totally refurbished by Crippled R Us with the help of some friends. Sarah talked me into doing it as a frustration release: she and Bruce and most of my friends helped too. Alfred said he was willing to help clean it, but not until we were done destroying it. I drew up the plans, and Harold and I designed the plumbing and electrical systems. Sarah doesn't like when I use the term Crippled. She came totally unglued when she found I stamped Crippled R Us on the bottom of the kitchen counter I made. I told her I thought she needed to find an outlet for all that pent up anger' and I knew a great headshrinker if she needed one. "She laughed and hit me with a wet paintbrush.

I wish could say all is well with the world, but it is better than it has been. Babs and I are talking again. She moved to Bludhaven; it's only across the river, but it seems like forever. She appears to be happy, and I can't ask for more. I still love her and still have a hard time dealing with it. I haven't even attempted to tell Sarah. How do I explain that my one dream of a life outside of the costume was to love and be loved by someone who was now and forever out of reach. I bury myself in work. It helps. I have started College again in the day I am the mild-mannered Law student, but at night, I become the link to the library of knowledge and the World Wide Web for Batman and Batgirl, as well as the JLA and Titans. I am the man behind the curtain. I am the all-knowing all-seeing all-powerful.

Oz.

 
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Artwork and story © 2002 by Cyndi Smith
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