Pairings/Characters: Bruce Wayne, Dick Grayson, Jason Todd, Tim Drake, Stephanie Brown, Various OCs
Fandoms: The Twilight Zone and DC Comics
Series Notes: This series will collect stories from different fandoms that fit the Twilight Zone theme. Entries can be found here.
Genres: Challenge, Holiday, Horror
Warnings: Major Character Deaths, Gore, Violence
Summary: Bruce’s sins come back to haunt him.
Date Of Completion: October 15, 2016
Date Of Posting: October 24, 2016
Disclaimer: I don’t own ‘em, DC does, more’s the pity.
Word Count: 3042
Feedback welcome and appreciated.
Author’s Notes: Written for my 2016 DCU Fic/Art Halloween Challenge. Prompts: Black, Haunted House(s), Ghosts/Spirits/Apparitions, Cemeteries/Graveyards/Mausoleums/Tombs, Blood, A Dark and Stormy Night, Gotham City.
“You’re traveling through another dimension, a dimension not only of sight and sound but of mind; a journey into a wondrous land whose boundaries are that of imagination. That’s the signpost up ahead—your next stop, The Twilight Zone.”
“Consider, if you will, the man standing at the gates of his abandoned ancestral home. Bruce Wayne, born to wealth and power, is a man driven by survivor’s guilt after the murder of his parents right in front of his eyes when he was still a child. His Mission as the dread Batman requires a laser-like focus…or tunnel vision. What does that single-minded obsession do to a man, or to those around him?
Bruce Wayne is about to find out on this Halloween Night…in the Twilight Zone.”
Bruce stared through the iron gates at the old mansion that seemed to sag with an air of despair. His hands were curled around the spikes of the rusting gates as rain fell in steady sheets. He could hear the tempest-tossed ocean as it surged below the cliffs.
The gate was padlocked but he picked the lock expertly. He walked through the opening of the gates, letting them clang shut behind him. He trudged up the sidewalk with his hands jammed into the pockets of his black raincoat, weeds poking up through the cracks of the neglected walkway.
Stepping up to the sagging porch, he tried the door. A push was all it took to open it as the padlock was missing, the creak echoing through the decaying foyer.
He paused just inside the door to observe the peeling wallpaper, scuffed and moldering floor, and empty alcoves where marble busts once perched. The pier table that used to be in the center of the foyer was tipped over and pushed against a wall, one leg broken off and missing. Cobwebs hung from the chandelier and ceiling.
Bruce though sadly of how Alfred had always kept the floor polished and the grand staircase’s balustrade gleaming. He turned down the hall and passed ruined and ransacked rooms to reach the library.
Inside this room were books scattered on the floor and spilling from the bookcases. Bruce bit his lip at the destruction of rare old tomes. He was relieved to see the painting of his parents unharmed and touched the gilt frame, looking up at their calm and happy visages, ignoring the picture of his childish self standing by the chair his mother sat in. He spent several minutes staring at the painting, then crossed over to the grandfather clock and opened the front, revealing the passage down to the Batcave.
The familiar smell of damp mustiness wafted up the passage as he stepped onto the stone steps. He was careful as he descended. Sometimes the steps could be slippery.
The Cave was filled with computers, all of which were silent. Bats still squeaked up in the cavernous ceiling. Endless darkness stretched off into the distance. Tons of rubble blocked all the tunnels that branched off from the main chamber. Somewhere under the detritus was the Batmobile, the Robincycle, and the Batplane and Batboat, all quaintly named but eminently practical. He missed how handy all the machinery had been.
“You know, I really miss that cycle.”
Bruce whirled, his jaw dropping as he saw an apparition floating twenty feet away from him.
The apparition smiled. “Very good, Bruce.” His yellow cape floated out behind him as if blown by a strong wind.
Bruce stared, a part of him wanting to laugh as the apparition sparkled.
“Why are you wearing your Robin costume? You…”
“…died as Nightwing? Just keeping with the theme, Bruce.”
“You’ll see.” Dick floated toward the stairs. “Let’s go upstairs. There’s nothing for us down here.”
Bruce looked pensively at the Cave, his gaze settling on the computer workstations. A mug with a smiley face was collecting dust next to a keyboard. It had been Dick’s favorite mug.
He turned and followed the apparition up the stone steps. Emerging out into the library, Bruce saw the apparition heading out to the hall.
“Tonight’s Halloween. We have much to do before the Witching Hour.”
Dick, or the apparition, was floating up the grand staircase. Bruce had no choice but to follow, touching the knob at the end of the balustrade. It came off in his hand and he replaced it, but it wobbled.
The second floor was just as depressing as the first floor. The bedrooms were ransacked, pieces of ceiling tile littering the floor in several rooms. The apparition stopped outside of his…Dick’s…old bedroom
“I wish they had left the ship’s model, at least.”
Bruce averted his face from the ruined bedroom, particularly the torn circus poster on the wall featuring The Flying Graysons. “Why are you here, Dick?”
“I might ask you that question. Why are you here, Bruce? You let the Manor fall apart.”
Bruce shifted his feet uneasily. “There was no money to maintain it.”
“Why not?” The ghost’s tone was patient. Dick would appreciate being called a ghost. What difference did it make, anyway?
“I had my Mission.” Bruce lifted his jaw stubbornly.
“You mean you drained the family fortune in your obsession with Batman.”
“You understood my Mission. Of all my Robins, you understood best.”
Bruce could not be sure, but he thought he saw sadness in the ghost’s eyes.
“I remember a Mission that drove us both to go out on Gotham’s streets every night, but I also remember lives outside the costumes. What happened to you, Bruce?”
“You know what happened.” Bruce’s tone was almost accusatory.
“Ah, yes.” A cold gust of wind swept down the hall as Dick held out a gloved arm toward the end of the hall. “Your excuse.”
From the darkness at the end, shadows shifted. Bruce automatically braced himself in a fighting stance, his body going limp as he saw what formed from the shadows.
“Jason,” he breathed.
The boy he remembered was dressed in the original Robin costume, his face stony as his pixie-booted feet hovered mere inches above the mildewed carpet. The light surrounding him was not quite as bright as Dick’s, and Bruce’s heart ached. Jason had never been able to quite measure up to Dick.
“You pushed him. You tried to meld Jason into Dick 2.0, and he couldn’t do it. But did you care? You had lost your sense of individualism. All Jason was to you was a soldier in your war on crime.”
“That’s not true,” Bruce whispered.
“Isn’t it?” Dick’s light flared like summer lightning on the horizon as a storm approached. “You had pushed me away by then. I had to find my solace in Clark as well as my new direction after you stole Robin from me!”
Bruce stepped back, alarmed at Dick’s anger. “I’m sorry.”
Dick loomed over Bruce in sparkling fury. Suddenly he drifted back.
“He doesn’t speak.”
Bruce stared at Jason, whose face was an impenetrable mask. The weight of his failure bowed his shoulders.
Rain drummed on the roof in the stifling silence. Bruce was acutely aware of the smells of mold and mildew, like a cemetery. He shivered.
“But Jason wasn’t your only failure.”
Dick swept out his arm theatrically. The shadows shifted again and formed into his third Robin.
Tim was wearing his updated Robin costume: long pants, boots, and more armor. His light was a little brighter than Jason’s and less than Dick’s but still bright.
“Two-Face flipped his coin and I lost.” Tim’s spectral voice was calm. That serenity had soothed Bruce for many a night, but he was still wary. There was tension there. He was sure of it.
“You were so busy trying to save your old friend Harvey that you forgot about me, your partner. But that was always your pattern, wasn’t it, Bruce? You cared more about the criminals you went after than your hard-working partners. Just collateral damage. That night Harvey threw that acid and it was all over for me.”
Bruce winced as he remembered the awful scream from his partner after Two-Face’s lunge.
“You always are.”
The rain was coming down harder. Bruce could hear it drip from the ceiling, soaking the carpet in the corner. A flash of lightning allowed him to see the window at the end of the hall, streaked with rivulets of rain as the storm raged. He wanted to leave but the sight of his former partners kept his feet riveted to the carpet.
“And, finally…” Dick made his familiar gesture.
The shadows quickly coalesced into a sparkling apparition whose light matched Dick’s.
“Stephanie?” Bruce gasped.
She smiled as she somersaulted in the air. She wore the Robin costume with joy, but there was a brittle hardness to her smile. She stopped next to Dick. Her smile was pure sunshine as she looked at Dick, who smiled back at her.
“Hiya, Bruce. Long time no see.” She cartwheeled in a mockery of joy.
“You did your best to discourage Steph, Bruce. You wouldn’t even give her training.”
Dick’s voice was calm. Bruce felt as if it was the Voice of Doom.
“That’s right.” Steph’s light tone grew hard. “When I needed you when Black Mask captured and tortured me, you were nowhere to be found. You didn’t even know I was missing!”
Bruce felt his chest constrict as the weight of his failures pressed down on him. The house he had loved was decaying all around him, and the Robins he had loved were shades, fevered imaginings from his guilty conscience.
“Are we really, Bruce?” Dick asked as if reading his mind. “Are we really just figments of your imagination? It’s Halloween. You know the veil between worlds is at its thinnest this night. And Gotham is Ground Zero, like Salem or New Orleans. It’s when spirits can demand justice from the grave.”
The wind howled outside the house, rattling the windowpanes. It was a mournful sound, entering Bruce’s bones and crumbling them to dust. The ghosts drifted closer.
“You know how much acid burns, Bruce?” Tim asked. “It eats away into your soul as well as your flesh. You know the instant it hits that your life will never be the same.”
“You pushed us away, Bruce,” said Dick.
“Do you know what Black Mask did to me? He has some creative ways to use a drill,” said Steph.
“We wanted to help you. You kept pushing us away,” Dick intoned.
Jason never spoke. He simply stared with baleful eyes.
“I guess I got off easy,” Dick said. “The Joker only put a bullet in my spine. I could have faced a life of being Oracle 2.0. Instead I fell a hundred feet. Shattered every bone in my body.”
The whole house shook as the thunder cracked with ear-splitting intensity. With a growing sense of dread, Bruce noticed the water running down the wall in the corner turning red.
The ghosts of his dead Robins loomed closer. In the gloom of the hall, the light played tricks on his eyes.
Slowly Jason’s costume shredded as bruises and blood appeared on his body, his eyes blackened and his nose twisted crookedly. His limbs splayed awkwardly like a broken marionette without strings. Bruce stepped back in horror.
Next to Jason, half of Tim’s face began to melt, then his arm and leg dissolved and slid off the bones. Stephanie’s face became bruised as her costume became ragged. Blood began running down her legs. Dick’s body twisted brokenly, bruises and blood darkening his limbs.
“We only wanted to help you,” Dick said.
“But you pushed us away,” Tim added.
“You never even acknowledged me,” Steph accused.
Bruce’s throat closed up. He could not speak.
“You cut me out of your life until the Joker shot me,” Dick growled. “You cried over Jason after he was dead. Too late, Bruce. Too late!”
“I screamed for you, Bruce. I needed you!” said Tim.
“Do you know what a drill does in a sadist’s hands?” demanded Steph. “Every time I felt it cut up another little piece of me, I screamed for you.”
“When I fell, I cried out for you, Bruce,” Dick said, sadness tingeing his anger.
Blood was gushing down the wall and flooding down the hall, lapping around Bruce’s boots. Lightning lit up the Manor as his ears rang with the force of the raucous thunder. Heart pounding, Bruce tried to speak but failed miserably. He struggled to breathe as the ghosts of his dead Robins moved closer, a vengeful chorus of anger and pain. The cloying smell of blood was overpowering.
Shrieks mingled with the sounds of the storm as Bruce turned and ran. For a terrifying moment he thought he was running in place as if trapped in a nightmare, but he finally moved, eluding the grasp of cold fingers. His name was torn from spectral throats, stretched out to sound like a ghostly wail as the smell of the grave grew strong.
Hairs standing up on the back of his neck, Bruce barreled down the staircase, his hand sliding down the balustrade. The knob came off and he was sent sprawling across the broken foyer tiles. Gasping, Bruce scrambled to his feet, half-turning to see the shimmering mob advancing relentlessly as blood flowed down the staircase.
Bruce turned and yanked open the front door, slamming it shut behind him.
There! They can’t get me now!
But, of course, what obstacle was a door to ghosts? He could smell the blood and damp earth as the wind whipped at his clothes as if bony fingers plucked at the fabric. He ran up the hill and through the dripping iron gates that loomed ahead of him.
He ran harder, bypassing ancient headstones with worn carvings and tilting in sodden earth. He reached the newer headstones and the names flashed by him: Richard ‘Dick’ Grayson. Jason Todd. Timothy Drake. Stephanie Brown.
He tripped and fell, kneeling awkwardly in front of his parents’ headstone. A smaller stone carved with the name Alfred Pennyworth gleamed with rain next to the larger stone with its praying angels.
Bruce gasped as he tried to get up. The names Thomas Wayne and Martha Wayne stood out boldly. And that’s when he saw it.
Where once was smooth marble, a new name was freshly carved in the shiny black stone: his own.
He could not move his limbs as his chest constructed. He heard wings fluttering and a voice saying regretfully, “We can’t forgive you until you forgive yourself, Bruce.”
Bruce hunched over, holding his head as the world whirled around him like a tornado. He closed his eyes tightly as the smell of damp earth filled his nostrils. His howl was snatched up by the wind and the ground trembled. Tears slid down his cheeks as he felt his chest crush under the weight of his endless guilt.
The Halloween storm passed and in the days that followed, rumors abounded. In seedy Gotham dives and bars, the same tales were whispered as the ones told in The Flying Dutchman, one of Gotham’s most notorious holes-in-the-walls close to the docks. A thin, nervous man with a scruffy day-old growth of beard and straggly brown hair streaked with gray croaked, “The Batman’s more ghost than man.”
His beefier companion, a dark bristle of beard on his face, scoffed as he gulped down a dirty glass of cloudy whiskey. “Superstitious crap.”
“Mebbe, but what about the story about that guy with white hair and babbling about sins and forgiveness pounding on the gates of Arkham Asylum, begging to be let in?”
The stout man slammed his glass down with an “Ahh!” as he wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “Right there should tell ya it’s all the bunk. Who the hell in their right mind or out of it would beg to be committed to that hellhole?”
The thin man looked around nervously. “I heard from those who have gone into the Manor recently that there’s bloodstained walls and floors.”
His companion snorted. “You believe that buncha scavengers? Thieves are notorious liars, bucko, who will spin any yarn to ward off the competition.”
“But ya gotta admit, if any place could be capable of somethin’ so creepy, it’d be Wayne Manor.”
“Why? Because the big cheeses who lived there years ago got capped in an alley during a botched robbery?” The big man signaled for another whiskey. “Or because ‘The Prince of Gotham’ squandered his family fortune away on booze and broads?”
“They had a foundation that did good.”
“Had is the operative word.” The big man nodded his thanks to the bartender and picked up his glass. It winked dully in the dim light.
Once again the thin man looked around as if afraid to be overheard and leaned closer to his companion. His voice was low as he said, “They say Bruce Wayne’s name has suddenly appeared on the headstone with his parents’s names.”
“So? People plan ahead, especially the rich bastards.” The big man gulped his drink.
“With the current year as his death date?” The weasel’s hand clenched into a fist on the bar. “Some say his name’s always been there but only with his birth date.”
The big man clonked his glass down next to his friend’s hand. “Lissen, bucko, you’re workin’ yourself up into a right state. Have a whiskey on me.”
The thin man sighed and accepted his friend’s gift.
“It is said that in Gotham, those who walk by the rusting front gates of Wayne Manor always shiver and increase their pace as the old mansion tilts precariously like The House That Jack Built. Whispers trail after nervous pedestrians, and every Halloween, someone always swears that they can hear voices crying, “Bruuuce!!!”, or maybe it was the ghostly standby, “Booo!!!”
Rumors have the habit of growing into stories, especially of the ghostly variety, and over the years those stories are embellished beyond recognition, or perhaps there really is a haunting reality. Perhaps guilt is always what breaks us in the end. The weight of Bruce Wayne’s guilt may have been too much for him.
After all, anything is possible in Gotham…or the Twilight Zone.”