One Life In Gotham City
by Mathew D. Rhys
The earth heaved as with labor that night. Buildings toppled and streets buckled. Unimaginably, an earthquake had come to Gotham.
Marian and I had just found a kidnapped girl when the quake hit. We were in a rundown hotel in the Cauldron and it was bound to collapse before long. We agreed she would take the child to her parents, while I stayed here to help evacuate. Whether by luck or the hand of God, I was able to get the residents out before the building fell, but it collapsed just as I walked out
I worked in the Cauldron for the next twelve hours straight. Siphoning the strength of those around me, I kept a fevered pace. Marian found me in the early afternoon, and I thanked God she was safe. We worked together then as we always did, pulling people from rubble, administering first aid, and the like. In that first week after the quake, we uncovered more dead bodies than live. Chalk it up to the aged buildings of old Gotham. We dug through one apartment and found an old couple crushed in each other's arms.
That night something changed. Marian's eyes, that once saw me tenderly, looked blankly at me. I didn't know what to think, whether I'd hurt her, or if she was tired, or if all the death was just too much for her. Regardless of the reason, she became distant, and it worried me
Weeks passed, as did months. Marian and I were on patrol when we heard. With grace and agility, she leapt from rooftop to rubble, a jungle cat in its own forest, while I covered the ground. The announcement came through the emergency-band radios we carried, and my heart sank. Congress had decided that as of January first, Gotham would no longer be part of America.
Marian jumped down and landed in front of me. She looked into my eyes for a moment, and I thought I saw a tear. Then she turned her head away. "You're staying, aren't you?"
"What do you mean?" I asked.
"When they close-off the city. Going to stay, aren't you?"
"Gotham is my home; where else would I go?"
After I said this, she turned and began to walk away. I called after her, "Marian!" She stopped, but did not turn. "The government's pulling out, but lots of people won't. You can stay with me. Help me. Please," I pled.
"Stay?" she said and I could hear her holding back a stiff sob. "How can I stay in a place like this? It took my sister, it took my life, and when it curls up to die, you want me to stay and try to bring it back?"
"But I love you, Marian."
I saw her wince mildly. "Don't ever call me that," she said. Then she leapt from car to window to rooftop and vanished into the city.
I am Anger. I am Vengeance. I am Pagan.
For every woman injured and every woman beaten, I will mete out retribution. No longer are we the weaker sex. No longer are we fodder for men's violence. This is war, and men are the enemy.
At least that's what I thought.
I first met John that night on Blackgate Island. He was just some gym teacher playing at hero, all balls, no brains. I saw his name in the news from time to time and it seemed he was really a hero, despite being an overly testosteroned jerk.
I met him again when we happened to be tracking the same white slave ring, and he surprised me. He wasn't some dumb jock. He was smart and he really cared about people, especially kids. We started working together on cases. We were really a good team.
And most surprising, we became lovers. I hadn't planned it-- never really wanted it. After what happened to my sister Sondra, I had been convinced men were pigs. But John treated me like an equal-- a partner-- but more so. He made me feel there was more to living than revenge. He treated me like he thought everything I did mattered, and soon I began to feel the same way.
One night we were staking out a warehouse in Chelsea. John and I sat crouched behind a roof top air-conditioning unit. I looked over to him. "John, why do you do it?"
"What 'it'?" he asked.
"The vigilante thing."
He looked at his feet and smiled. "Oh, that." He looked back over his shoulder at the stars as if he was listening for something. Then he said, "I was named after my grandfather, ya' know. He was kind of an odd guy-- a hippie before there were hippies. During the Second World War he was a CO--a conscientious objector. He ended up working in a medical unit in California.
"He was a real man of the earth, too. He and Grandma moved to Gotham in '52, and Gramps started the first community garden in Robinson Park. He'd get up at four every morning, March to October, to tend that thing before going to work at the refinery. Every Saturday he would take my cousins and me down to the projects to deliver produce.
"One damn-cold March morning, he hauled my fourteen year-old butt out of bed to help him gather tomatoes. He was nearly eighty years old and I could read the pain on his face as he'd bend down. 'Gramps,' I said, 'Why do you do this? I mean, I know it's hard on you, and those people never even say thanks.'
"Gramps looked straight at me with his sun-hardened face. 'Son,' he said, 'the best, the most important things in this life will cause you pain. But sometimes a man must do what he can.' And then, without another word, he went back to work.
"I didn't give it much thought at the time, but Gramps' words have always stuck with me. 'Sometimes a man must do what he can.' I guess that's why, because I can."
I realized then why I was with him. He made me feel safe. Not safe in a physical way (I could take down anyone who tried anything). No, my heart felt safe. I had never wanted anything more than I had wanted that.
I've been in Quad City for nearly two years now. I don't know why I left him. Not really. I tell myself it was for the best. I say he would have come with me if he really loved me. I try to believe he would have thrown me away eventually and I just beat him to the punch. But when the morning spills over the city and I lie alone in my apartment, I alone hold the blame for my solitude.
And I miss him.
A light, hot rain fell that night. Molly Conrad watched the drops splatter in through the broken glass of the Gotham Knights clubhouse. She turned away from the window and walked over to a rough pallet of blankets. Her kid brother Tommy slept, dreaming of baseball and soccer. Molly bent over and tussled the hair on his fevered head. When their parents died in the quake, she had promised she'd do anything to keep him safe, but lately it hadn't worked out the way she had hoped. Tommy had gotten sick, too sick for her to help. She sat down on the floor and mouthed a silent prayer to whatever gods there were.
Loud footfalls and rancorous shouts fractured the rain's soft rhythm. Molly turned to see a half-dozen young men, dirty and stumbling, pour into the large room. Molly could see they had found some alcohol in the ruins. It was always a bad day when they found alcohol. Sometimes they beat her, and they always passed her around.
But they would keep Tom safe and keep them fed. That was the deal.
Eddie, the leader of the group, came over. He kneeled in front of Molly and said, "Hey, baby. You looking good!" She turned away and blandly said thanks. Eddie grabbed her face and jerked it toward him. "Now listen you stupid %#*@," he yelled at her, "You're my &#%, and you're going to like to talk to me." Then he hit her across the face, and she fell over crying. He picked her up and carried her across to the room. Eddie called his boys over.
When they had finished with her, the men left. For a long time Molly lay in sad silence, tears rolling to the ground. She longed for deliverance, for a way out. From across the room, a whisper-weak voice called her name. She stood and walked over to her brother. "What is it, Tommy?"
"I, I had a bad dream."
"Do you want to tell me about it?" Molly sat on the floor next to her brother and touched his small shoulder.
"A yellow monster was attacking me and I ran and ran, but it caught me in its claws. I yelled for Mommy and Daddy, but the ground ate them. I'm scared, sissy!"
Tom crawled into his sister's arms and buried his wet eyes in her blouse. Molly hugged him tight and said, "It's okay, Tommy, it's okay. It was just a dream and it's over now."
Frightened tears streamed down the boy's face. "But the ground really did eat Mommy and Daddy. What if the monster's real too?"
"Tommy, listen to me. I won't let anything happen to you. I swear." Lightning splintered the dark night and thunder flooded through the broken windows. The sound pulled Tom's arms tighter around his sister. They sat on the floor like that for quite a while before the faint skittle-skittle of gravel dancing across the room spun Molly's head around.
The room was thick with shadows, and she saw nothing that would make such a noise. Lightning flared in the sky a second time and she saw the crouched outline of a man and a glisten from his mirrored lenses. Tense, she jumped to her feet and shoved Tommy behind her. "Who-whoever you are, " she stammered, "you'd better not come any closer."
The man stood and stepped toward her. "Don't worry," he said, "I'm not going to hurt you." He stepped in and out of the mottled shadows and Molly wondered at his colorful clothing. As he walked over to her, Joe Public stared at her, shocked. "Molly?" he asked. "My god, Molly is that you?"
Molly looked at him in surprise. "Mr. Pablicatti?" she said, her voice quivering as she recognized her former teacher. Tommy peeked around his sister, staring at Joe in wonder.
"Yes, Molly, it's me," he said calmly. "What are you doing here?"
Molly stoically stared past her former teacher. "My folks died in the quake. We've got no other family and we got stuck on the island after the bridges were blown." Molly averted her eyes. "I had to take care of Tommy, so I found some people that would, if--" She began to cry, her tears lacing her voice with a staccato rhythm. "But now Tommy's sick and I don't know what we're going to do."
She stopped suddenly as John Pablicatti gently turned her face toward his. "It's okay, Molly. It's okay," he said. "I'll get you guys out of here."
"How?" she asked from beneath tear-soaked eyes.
"I'm a hero." He smiled. "That's what I do."
As he said this, Eddie and three others burst into the door. "What the &*#%?" In response, Joe stepped in front of Molly and Tommy, and extended his arms toward the thugs. The men fell to the floor, their muscles unable to support their bodies. Molly, confused, began to ask what had happened, but was plucked from the floor by Joe's strong arms. Together with her brother, Molly was soon flying out a broken window and through the air, in Joe's grasp. Joe softly landed on the ground and set Molly down. Still carrying Tommy, he silently began walking toward the medical camp. Molly followed behind, still quite stunned.
On and onward they walked, Joe carefully staying out of sight of the more volatile gangs. As they traveled, Joe could tell Tommy's fever was getting worse. He wandered in and out of fevered dreams and sweated profusely. Joe kept this worry to himself and prayed he could get them to Doc Thompkins' med-camp in time.
Time wore on and as the eastern sky reddened like ripening fruit, Molly spoke up. "Mr. P, what happened back there? At the stadium."
"It's a long story, but I had an-- accident about two years ago."
"So you became a superhero?"
"You could say that."
Before Joe had a chance to respond, a loud, stern voice called out to them, "Ho, there! What have we here?" Joe turned to see a group of ten men at the end of the street. The obvious leader was a thin man using a length of pipe as a cane. He stepped forward in his worn leather pants and bare chest. The rising sun glanced over the ruined city and gave full view of his scarred face. He had been in Black Mask's bizarre cult.
"It seems you have crossed our territory and have yet to pay tribute," the thin man said, his voice laced with playful menace. "That needs be rectified." Behind the man, his fellows brandished automatic weapons.
"Who are you trying to kid?" Joe asked. "Everyone knows there's not enough bullets left in Gotham to fill those guns!" The thin man smiled and gestured to his comrades. The guns flashed and bullets ricocheted down the street. Joe and Molly dove around the corner to avoid the gunfire, Joe still holding Tommy securely. They broke into a nearby building and down a black, smoke-stained hallway. Joe cursed himself as he heard the men enter the building. He reached out and grabbed Molly's arm, pulling her into an apartment.
Laying Tommy's weak form on the floor, Joe closed the door behind him; and placed the dresser and bed against the door.
"What are you doing?" Molly demanded beneath her breath.
Joe held Molly's shoulders and looked her straight in the eyes. "There's no way we are all going to get away from these guys if either of us have to carry Tommy."
"We can't leave him!"
"Of course we can't. Now listen, when I give the signal, you take Tommy and head out the backdoor. It's right through the kitchen," he said with a gesture. "Two blocks down, there is an alley that runs straight to the medical camp. When you two hit the alley, run, and don't stop till you reach the camp, okay?" Molly looked into his eyes confusedly, but nodded her assent. Then Joe turned to Tommy on the floor.
He placed his hand under Tommy's shirt and touched the boy's chest above his heart. He then placed his other hand on the boy's forehead. He closed his eyes. Molly watched in wonder as Joe groaned and sweat began to form in large drops on his forehead. In moments that seemed years, she watched as Joe seemed to wither (if ever so slightly) and Tommy seemed to swell. Tommy's lungs filled with air and the color returned to his cheeks, and, just as he opened his eyes, Joe fell backward.
Joe lay on the ground panting and weak, and then looked up at Molly, mouthing the word 'Go'. She grabbed Tommy's arm and ran out the door. The two children ran hand in hand as they never had. As they entered the alley, they heard feet running after them. Far ahead of them, Molly caught sight of the medical camp growing larger with each step.
Suddenly, Tommy tripped and fell to the ground. As Molly spun around and knelt down to pick him up, she saw the attackers closing fast. The sound of flapping cloth pulled Molly's gaze skyward. From the remnants of the rooftops, a man in white and red fell to the ground between the children and their pursuers. With swift vengeance, the newcomer defeated the attackers. Then he turned to the children, lifted Tommy from the ground, and took them to the camp.
Joe had heard the angry foot falls through the dilapidated building as he tried to revive Tommy. He hadn't known if it would work, but it did. He was barely able to pull himself to his feet when the hoods tried the door, and finding it unyielding, shot it up.
Two of the men broke through the door, and Joe tried to jump from the paths of their weapons, but his legs gave out on him and he took three bullets-- one to the shoulder and two to his right leg. The two men bludgeoned and kicked him while they awaited their leader. Joe's eyes started to grow blurry, and his limbs refused to obey him. Before long, the thin man, who seemed thicker now, stood before him.
"What. The. #&@% were you thinking, Mr. Hero-man? Did you think you could run? From us?"
Joe looked up at the man, and wearily said, "Sometimes a man must do what he can."
The man lifted a gun to Joe's throat and pulled the trigger. The weapon's report was followed by a dense thud as Joe's body fell limp to the floor.
The highly odd Mathew D Rhys is an obsessive storyteller and family man whose wife graciously allows him to prattle aimlessly, and gives him no end of joy in life. He hopes to one day write comics his son can read. You can read his original character fiction at dreamerpress.cjb.net .
All characters are DC Comics
This piece is © 2002 by Mathew D. Rhys
Fanzing is not associated with DC Comics.
All DC Comics characters, trademarks and images (where used) are DC Comics, Inc.
DC characters are used here in fan art and fiction in accordance with their generous "fair use" policies.
Fanzing site version 7.4