For Day 5 of the 2017 Batfam Halloween Content War: Haunting
Summary: A Gotham ghost story.
(Apologies for the OCs, I promise they’re just the vehicle to spook-central.)
Meredith walked briskly from the bus stop towards her condo. She usually felt safe in Parkly, but it was past 2 AM and the neighborhood was quiet now. Mostly families that went to bed earlier than she sometimes did. She pulled her cowl higher up around her neck and savored the sound of the wind rustling the brown leaves left on the trees. It really was a beautiful corner of Gotham; she’d felt so lucky to be able to afford her little portion of the old row homes here.
Her neck prickled suddenly and she knew someone was behind her. She was already turning to look when she heard the rush of heavy feet, running.
He was a large man, backlit by the streetlight at the corner she couldn’t see his face, only that he was wearing a heavy canvas jacket and boots. Maybe jeans. He must have been hiding behind the last home’s hedge: he was too close to outrun now.
Meredith planted her feet wide and got low to the ground, dropping her bag to free up her hands. With her blood pounding in her ears she sucked in a breath to scream like she’d never screamed before.
A huge black mass barreled across her vision from seemingly out of nowhere. It slammed into her attacker. The barest edge of the whirling black shape’s cape whipped across Meredith’s cheek, feeling for a brief moment like a cut. It hit the large man so hard that he flew across the wide residential sidewalk and into the low retaining wall of her neighbor’s yard. Meredith could hear his skull hit the brick with a loud crack.
All of Meredith’s scream-breath left her in an astonished, loud “Haa-aah” sound. She stood, frozen, until the would-be attacker scrambled to his feet, unsteady, and stumbled away from her in a panic. She picked up her bag and sprinted the rest of the block to her condo, her head swiveling from right to left the whole way, wondering where the vigilante had gone and hyper-aware of every hint of movement in her path, jumping out of the way of a leaf scudding across the sidewalk.
Pounding up the front steps she heard her door unlock automatically, having sensed the device on her wrist, and ran inside, throwing the bolt a hair’s breath after the door said “Welcome, home,” and locked the knob again for her.
Shaking, Meredith threw her bag down and pushed one portion of her drapes aside so she could watch the now-empty street. Still and dark, it belied the commotion of the stalled attack.
Instead of unlocking her wearable or giving the house systems her passcode she called out,
“Skimbleshanks 911,” the emergency override phase that would skip her usual security protocols to call the police.
Meredith was surprised she was able to speak so calmly to the dispatcher.
Officers Ostrowski and Bradley arrived in less than fives minutes, having been patrolling not far away. They recorded Meredith’s statement, stepping out onto the front steps so she could point out the spot where the attack had happened.
“I saw him run off – he seemed disoriented – and I ran home. I didn’t see the other guy again at all.”
She paused and then asked,
“Do you think it could have been Batman? I mean, who else wears that much black these days?”
Shoniqua Bradley looked sharply at Meredith, but her partner Ayden, typing on the small holographic report form lit up before him, didn’t even look up to say,
“No, he’s in Luxembourg with the League, it’s all over the news.”
“Oh,” Meredith managed to hide her disappointment. “But we don’t really have any other capes in Gotham these days,” she mused.
Shoni looked up the street, away from Meredith, her thumbs tucked into her pockets.
“You’re sure he had a cape?”
Ayden glanced at his partner.
“Yeah, it hit me in the face as he tackled the guy.” Meredith raised a hand to brush against the cheek that still smarted slightly.
Ayden paused in his typing. Documenting new vigilantes was a pain in the ass.
“Well, I think we’ll just put him down as a good samaritan,” Shoni said in her Officer Bradley-est voice, and the cops wrapped up their interview, making sure Meredith had a solid security system in place and promising to send a squad car past the historic block of brick homes every hour for the rest of the night.
“’Good samaritan?’” Ayden said as they drove back toward the Parkley route they’d settled on earlier.
“Like you wanted to call in a new cape,” Shoni answered as she steered the car through a crowd of concert-goers that had just spilled out of a theater.
“Like you ever spare me paperwork,” her junior partner shot back, crossing his arms. The soft chatter of the dispatcher interrupted them briefly, but another car answered.
Shoniqua was silent for a bit. Ayden was used to the older woman taking her time to tell him things. He’d been grateful to be assigned to her. It was unusual for officers to stay on the beat as long as Shoni had, generally trading up to a desk job, but she was widely respected by the department.
Officer Bradley knows this city in ways most cops never will, the Captain had said.
“The cape she described doesn’t fit Batman’s current description,” she said finally.
“No,” he agreed. Most of the GCPD was of the opinion that the current Batman was actually female. Or at least feminine. With a sleek, pared down suit. It actually went against current trends in the cape community.
“When I was a rookie…” Shoni started.
Ayden felt a thrill go up his spine: she never spoke about those years at length.
“…my partner took me to meet Old Sal. Miguel Salceda.”
Ayden deflated. He had no idea who that was.
“Old Sal spent thirty years in the force. Had been retired for another twenty by the time I met him.”
She lapsed into silence.
“I bet he had stories.” Ayden prompted.
Shoni ran a hand over her greying, cropped-close hair and turned to look at him. They were driving slowly down another residential street, one that had had a different assault reported a few months before. She looked back out to the road.
“We don’t talk about it much, in the force, but Sal and Cobb – a lot of other cops who’ve been on the job long enough – they think Batman patrols these streets.”
“Well, yeah,” Ayden looked nonplussed.
“Not Batman. The Batman.”
Shoni’s voice was low and gentle. At odds with her usual taciturn forthrightness.
“Just sometimes, usually around this time a year you hear a story like that one we just heard. A huge, swirling cape came swinging out of nowhere and disappeared just as quickly.”
“You mean…a ghost,” Ayden said flatly, “He had to have died a hundred years ago at least.”
Shoni ignored him.
Ayden wasn’t about to tell Shoni how ridiculous she sounded. He shifted uncomfortably in his seat.
“So…what? He’s doomed to roam Gotham with unfinished business? Sounds shitty.”
She laughed, braking for a stoplight.
“I don’t think it’s like that at all. I think he just likes to check in on his city now and then. And he’ll go ahead and help someone if they need it, while he’s here.”
They slid past closed storefronts and quiet homes in silence for two blocks.
“I know this city is weird, but I don’t think it’s that weird,” Ayden said, trying to sound jovial instead of judgmental.
Shoni smiled coldly.
“Sal could tell I longed for the glory days, like most dumb rookies.”’ She resisted throwing a pointed look her her partner.
“Shoni,’ he’d say, ‘The days of some schmuck getting ahold of a nuclear bomb and holding the city for ransom are long gone. No one in funny costumes, hardly, no huge threats. People think this city is tame now, just a regular ol’ Metropolis. But they’re wrong.’”
“He said, 'This city still has teeth. It always has, and it always will.’”
She waved a couple across the crosswalk before turning right.
“'It’s just that one of those teeth is him, now.’”
Shoni looked over at her partner. She knew he knew what she meant about teeth. Gotham cops saw more in a few years than most cops would see in a lifetime. Their overall crime rate might have matched national averages, but the types of crime they got were rarely on par with other cities.
“I didn’t really believe it for a long time, either,” she continued matter-of-factly, “Until I got assigned to Parkly.”
"Every story I ever heard about him – the ghost stories, I mean – they always take place in the fall, always here in Parkly.”
She turned onto Hill Street.
“I guess they didn’t call it Crime Alley in his day for nothing.”