The Joker didn’t dream in color or sound or emotion but in a patchwork of sensations, memory and chaotic musings. He recalled a rose lying against a gravestone. It lingered in clear focus. Briefly, he got an impression of red, like when a punch to the face knocked reality off kilter for one thrilling moment. Then the rose returned. Reaching for the flower in the dream, he discovered it had the slippery viscosity of blood. It smeared onto his fingers as he worried the petals with his fingers. He brought his hand to his lips. Wax, paint, and lard sprang to mind: cheap lipstick.
Speaking of which, there was his mother. It was her name engraved on stone. She smiled at him. She was dead. He watched himself tilt his head at the rotting corpse slumped in the rocking chair. Really dead. Did that mean, he wondered, no more peach pie?
He turned at blinked at his sudden entry into a sunlit savannah. It was warm. A rough breeze sent grasses swinging about, brushing against him, a death by histamines waiting to happen. Sniffing, he looked from the blue sky to the gold earth. He breathed in deeply and felt a twinge of anticipation. Of what, he had no idea, but it convinced him that he was no longer dreaming.
The hyena sauntered out of the grass. It licked its chops and eyed him. “Lost?” it asked.
Now, the Joker had held conversations with a Bat prior to this. Not particularly scintillating conversations, but ones with words nonetheless. So he merely shrugged at the animal and answered, “Shoulda taken that left turn at Albuquerque.”
It laughed. In that rolling gales way, diaphragm clenched up against the bowing spine, eyes crinkling, it laughed before straightening and circling around him in a saunter. “Coulda, Shoulda, Woulda. How…human.”
“Human,” he repeated, chuckling at the idea. “Haven’t been called that in a ‘coon’s age.”
“What do they call you now?”
At the question, he dropped into an unkempt attempt at a cross-legged slump and bobbed his head left and right in thought. “Hmm. Murderer. Sociopath. Loony toon. Bat-brained, which I resent by the way; it’s perfectly normal to find a man dressed as a flying rodent in-ter-est-in’. Um, crook, clown, monster…“
“Monster,” it sneered, cutting him short. The animal looked him up and down with its one good eye and gave him a cursory sniff. “You don’t rank.”
The Joker frowned at the ruined, dark eye socket. Why did that look familiar? Then he snapped his fingers and jabbed one of them at it. “I know you! You’re part of that pack I sprung from Gotham Zoo.“ The events of earlier that night flooded briefly into the strange mindscape he found himself in.
“Am I?” Its lips peeled back in a grin, stretching across its long, pointed face. Its ears twitched left, then right, left, then right. “Maybe. Maybe not,” it whined in a high pitch. “Maybe, Maybe not.” It started circling again, repeating, “Maybe. Maybe not.”
Being a thespian of the irreverent sort, Joker got the reference. The hyena stopped all of a sudden and cocked its head, expectant. That was his cue to scream like a little girl.
“Cut the crap, Hamlet!” he yelled instead. “My biological clock is ticking, and I want babies NOW!”
The hyena fell over into the dirt, chuckling. “Impressive superego. What’s your id like?”
“Schizo maniac with penchant for straightjackets.” He cocked his hand into a pistol shape, pressed the barrel against his head, and scoffed, crossing his eyes. “Duh!”
“Schizophrenic… You hear voices?”
He blinked, quieted, slowly schooled his features into an almost proper expression, and replied succinctly. “Everyone hears voices.” Then he reared back, flinging out his arms. “I just happen to be a good listener! I hear the ones whispering…way back. Your average, boring Joe in this situation?” He looked around pointedly at the savannah. “He’s busy thinking…Dream. Dream. Talking hyena? Gotta be a fuckin’ dream. Why don’t you wake up? Idiot. Stupid, stupid, stupid! That’s why Daddy loved Timmy more.” He paused, whimpering, for a moment, then swung up out of the curled fetal pose he had adopted. Popping his spine, he assumed an upright-seat position that even a rotund, hairy-moled airline stewardess couldn’t fault.
“Now, the Bat,” he began, then for the curious hyena’s benefit added, “Brooding dark avenger with no sense of fucking humor.” This garnered him a sage nod. “The Bat-Maaan, he’s stuck in that frontal lobe, thinking…Trap. Altered perception. But why? It’s gotta be about me. Me. Me. It’s always fucking me…Jeez, you give a guy an inch!” The Joker shook his head. “Anyway, he doesn’t listen to that voice in the back growling”—his voice dropped in a chilling guttural snarl—“Sit down, shut up, play nice. Reality check, pal: this ain’t Kansas.”
The hyena ambled forward, tilting its head so its nose pressed against his chin and its eyes, gutted or otherwise, were level with his. “T,”
it whispered in the same wild tone. “I. A.”
he whispered back in retort, “Is. Gotham.”
“Gotham.” It chewed on the word, testing it. “I’ve never been in…Gotham.”
“Says the animal last seen kicking back in Gotham Zoo.”
“It was a holding area, like customs. Or high school. We were just…waiting.”
“For what? Me?”
It pitched its voice and said again, “Maybe. Maybe not.”
“For an animal, you sure got a lot of human culture tumbling around that pointy skull.”
“Previous life. I was a So-Cal reject.”
It pondered. “Usually. Not very often near the end.”
“And now you’re hyena.”
“Usually.” It walked around him out of his range of vision. When he tried to turn, he felt its jaws nip at the nape of his neck, strongly advising him against peeking. “Now, I am…Bultungin
.” There was a sound, a wet crunch, and the voice continued. Only different, because now there was a hot thrum to it, like all this time Joker had been listening to a record but now the singer was crooning to him in person, flesh and blood vibrating to make the sound that in turn shivered down his spine. “But call me Xander,” it insisted in a wry, male voice. “I like you. You have such a pretty laugh.”
With that, the Joker woke up. Across the deserted backroom of the abandoned strip mall pet store, three hyenas stared at him from the other side of a wire mesh. The leader of the bunch blinked its lone eye lazily. The Joker blinked back.
“Bultungin,” he murmured. “Xander.”
The eye was glowing green.
*Writing new dialogue for the Joker is HARD. That said, I think I got him down for the most part.
This is a challenge response for malaga’s “Why So Serious? A Joining of Mocking Laughter.” It’s only going to be three chapters long but will have definite room for a sequel, provided people are interested.
I bow to the masters: Joss Whedon for BtVS, DC and Bob Kane for Batman.