Inspired by H. P. Lovecraft's vivid mythos.
I got to thinking one day about where the name 'Arkham Asylum' had come from. It occurred to me that Arkham is one of the main cities in Lovecraft's mythos. And then I started to think that wouldn't it be neat if the world of Batman and the world of Lovecraft were one and the same? This would certainly explain the unusually vast number of dangerously insane people present in Gotham. This short story delves into the Joker's past and describes the incident responsible for his fall into insanity.
The House that Smiled
A Batman/Lovecraft fanfiction
The first mistake leading to Jacob Napier's demise was his choice of residence. He was new to the city of Arkham, and he did not place any credence into superstitions. Nor did he question why the selling price of the house was so low; he was a graduate student with a wife and child to care for, so he could not afford to search for any strings pulling the windfalls that brushed his path.
Perhaps if Jacob had been less involved in his dusty texts and their dry discourses on dead gods and forgotten corpses, he would have noticed that something was wrong with the house.
But he hadn't, of course, and so he didn't notice anything at all. And that was his second mistake.
The Napier family moved into the house on a bright summer's day: the same day, in fact, that the local schools had let out for the summer. This was significant for two reasons. The first reason was that the son, Jack, did not have to go to school for three more months, and consequently spent much of his time observing the house. The second reason was that the neighboring children were also not in school, and were therefore available to whisper the local superstitions into Jack's credulous ears.
Jack knew that something was wrong before either of his parents did. But by then, of course, it was far too late.
The house was not a very large one. This suited Jacob well enough; large houses were expensive to heat during the cold winters, and the queer architecture of the house made a wood stove impractical. Its hallways weaved and twisted beneath thick-veined wooden supports that lined the ceiling like ridges on the roof of a dark, reddish mouth. Jacob's study lay at the end of the longest of these strange hallways, muffled away from the rest of the house. Jack never liked going down to the study. He only did so when asked to by his mother, usually to bring his father a late-night snack.
The only aspect of the house that Jack liked was the view. The living room window opened out over the Miskatonic River. Jack liked to sit upon the edge of that window and gaze into the dark waters, seeing nothing in their depths and filling it up with all of the creatures of his vivid imagination.
It started with a feeling of general unease.
Jack wasn't sure if he had always felt something a little off, or if it was just paranoia due to the accumulation of whispers and stories dripping from his new friends' mouths. It wasn't that the house was haunted, per se. There were no stories of ghosts or monsters within. It was just how many people died there. People grew frail and sickly over time, but more quickly and more frequently than one would expect. People grew pale in that house, and their breath rattled like dry wind over cracked bones. People died of illness, madness, suicide, murder.
Jack brought his acquired fears to his mother once. She had been standing in the kitchen, staring out of the window, her thin frame bathed in the yellow light of sunset and her hands submerged into forgotten dishwater. She had smiled down at him and patted his head with her wet hand. He was only eight, and naive even for his age. There was nothing to worry about, she told him. The other children made up those stories just to frighten him. "Now be a good child and bring the soup over on the counter to your father in the study," she dismissed him.
He did as he was told, and he never brought his fears up again.
Not even when he first saw the rafters move.
He was down by his father's study when he first saw it. Something shifted in his peripheral vision. He stopped to turn his head and focus his eyes, and he saw nothing. Jack dismissed it as a startled spider, and walked up to the door of the study. He lifted his hand to the knob, and just by chance he raised his eyes upwards, up to the frame where it met the darkly-veined ceiling supports.
He saw the wood move.
It was subtle, and someone less curious and observant than Jack would have passed it off as a trick of the dim light or a deception of the tired eye. Something about the air around the frame, no, the wood itself, was wrong in a way that Jack's mind was not capable of comprehending.
For a moment, he was too terrified to do anything save stare in horror. The next moment, he was screaming and running wildly back up the hallway, toes digging into the dirty carpet and the soup bowl he had once held now laying upside-down, its cooling contents coagulating in front of the abruptly opened study door.
He said nothing about what he had really seen. A gigantic black widow spider, he said, had been suspended on a sticky thread just before the door. Of course no one ever found the spider. Jack's father was furious, and his mother was tight-lipped and pale with frustration.
Jack would have refused to make any further trips down that hallway if he hadn't known that his mother would simply have to go in his stead. He didn't want her down there, beneath those aberrations, without even knowing that something was there. So he resumed his nightly trek, but always with his head down, eyes firmly on the floor. He never dared to look up. His feet brushed as swiftly as possible without stumbling over the fraying, dank carpet, and as soon as the door parted to accept whatever he had brought, he ran as fast as he could back to the safety of the living room.
Except that the living room was not safe any longer, either. The ceiling of that room also contained the same type of reddish, thick-veined timbers for its supports as did the hallway. Jack did not dare to gaze up at those, either, fearful that he might see them move.
Jack began to spend as much time as possible outside. He left at dawn and came back inside only for dinner and bed. But even though Jack placed himself back within those eerie walls at night, he ceased to sleep. When he did, his dreams were always filled with a thick, wet blackness that smothered his mind and filled his heart with a fearful dread, and he always awoke more tired in the morning than he had been the night before.
His parents slept at night. Jack knew this because he could see them fading away before his eyes, day by day, just as in the stories the other children had told him. His mother, always possessed of a light frame, was now more bone and sinew than muscle. Her breath was unsteady, and she coughed often. His father almost never came outside of his study anymore.
Jack knew that they had to leave the house. He knew this before either of his parents even suspected that something was amiss. They, of course, could not be reasoned with as things were. So he would run away, he decided, but not really. Just far enough that they would have to leave the house to come and find him. Once they were away, they would get better, and then they would see what was wrong.
By the time that he had come to this conclusion, it was too late. The night that he had planned to run away was the night that the horror in the house unveiled itself fully.
He was bringing the nightly snack to his father's study when the smell hit him. Jack reeled from the assault on his senses and stared at the door in front of him. The smell was sour, pervasive, and made him want to retch. He knocked on the door, just as he always did, eager to be rid of his burden.
His father did not open the door.
Jack stood there for a moment longer, his unease growing by the moment and warring with his need to know just what lay beyond.
He felt for the doorknob. It was unlocked. Jack turned it and pushed, and let the door swing open upon a sight that Jack would later block from all conscious memory.
There are horrors in this world, horrors borne of men, horrors that occur every day in most darkened side streets of the world. But this was no horror of man. The sight that greeted Jack was a loathsome pageant of abominations vomited into cracks of our unsuspecting reality from some hideous and inconceivable alien dimension.
Jacob Napier was sitting in his cushioned chair, rocking it creakily back and forth. Around him, everywhere around him, the woodwork was moving. The ceiling shuddered and pulsed, the supports along the walls bent and oscillated to a rhythm abhorrently unnatural. And everywhere, the room was red. And as Jack stared into the room, his humanly inept mind attempting to grasp the sight that his eyes presented him, a low, grating sound joined the creaking of the chair.
Jacob Napier was cackling. Laughing with what was left of his ruined vocal chords. Ruined, clearly, for the sound that clawed its way out of Jacob's throat was alien to Jack. Jacob turned his head, bringing his sunken, reddish flesh into view. Cold fingernails of fear dug into Jack's chest, and he was unable to breathe the foul air once he finally saw. And once he saw, he could never stop seeing.
The movements of the wooden walls, almost illusions of the light, suddenly leaped into clarity. The movements were analogous to a gigantic, raw, sucking mouth, clamping down its bloodstained wooden teeth and slurping the life out of Jacob Napier.
The house was eating him alive.
Jack felt his sanity reel, felt his mind buckle beneath the inconceivable truth. He stumbled and dropped the bowl that he had been carrying.
He went cold as the house paused. As he stared, he could sense whatever entity was inside, he could sense as its monstrous intent shifted away from his father and focused on him.
Jack screamed. He screamed and he ran like a wild thing back up the hallway. He did not dare look up or look back. He knew without even thinking that the thing was following him, snaking its will throughout the house so that it could draw him, too, into its terrible grasp.
Jack heard a shriek, suddenly silenced, from the direction of the kitchen. He did not stop to process the fact that his mother was dead, seized by the ghastly abomination that had claimed his father.
Somehow, he found himself outside, running. The sky yawned open above him, the wood of the house now behind him and falling further and further away. But still he ran. He ran because he could not reconcile his fragile mind with what he had witnessed. His sanity broke in shards and fell to the hard ground, swallowed by the shadows of the house and abandoned.
Jack would leave the city of Arkham with little of his mind left. He would wreathe himself in the squalor of Gotham's slums where he would learn to laugh at everything, even pain. He would adopt the alias 'The Joker', and he would take a razor to his cheeks and carve a permanent smile on his face, though he wouldn't know quite why.
For some reason, he found it funny.