If you ever tell yourself to never judge a book by its covers, change your mind if you see this place. See how it looms over you like its consuming the sky. A darkened tower, all manner of ancient stone just ready to crumble and release the madness within. The walls don’t bleed, there’s no “abandon all hope ye who enter here” but it wouldn’t go amiss. The “hitchhikers may be escaping inmates”, that’s always a good one. And always ignore the shadows in the windows. Because none of them are ignoring you.
Usually the home, hospital and eventual resting place of Amadeus Arkham holds 500 mad ones, plus one wooden puppet. Today, it’s 501.
They know me here, the guards and the ones on reception. Hell, it’s like I belong here. No doubt he will remind me of that.
“Another year already, Mr H?” Young Samson, main receptionist. The job’s finally getting to him; to look at him you wouldn’t guess his actual age of 29. There’s too much weariness and fear in the eyes.
“How the time does fly, Eddie.” Time cliches. I’ve got ’em all.
“I’ll take you up to see him meself. One moment while I get Bowles down here.”
“Much obliged.” Thats a slight lie. I’d rather not wait around any longer than necessary. Stand still long enough in here and you’ll become part of it. Part of the laughter. The endless, echoing laughter.
“While you wait, Mr H, Dr Young asked again. Is there anything you can tell us?”
Anything? The whole face-changing time-travelling alien would be enough to grant me my own room, making the types like Tetch and Day look meek. My whole story……sanity wise, I’d be up against ol’ Green Hair…
My psychosis began at the breeding ground of insanity: the heart of battle. He did well, face Seven, to give him credit. Six centuries of continuous war, fighting to protect the Silent Plains experiment and by Ned, I did it. So long as I was there, no-one got past me. Sometimes, not even close.
Now as any veteran knows, war changes people and more importantly it destroys them. That’s after just a few years, mind. I’m talking hundreds, where not even death is a way out, more a revolving door back onto the front line. Faces Five and Six were identical, for Hell’s sake. I fell, wounded, and got right back up again one lifetime shorter.
So, maybe, it’s easier to see why Seven committed the Ultimate Sin. Why he took matters into his own hands and his own life with it. Part of him wanted to see what would happen. The rest wanted to do it five more times and be done.
What came next, I can’t say for sure. My own biology punished me, two fold, bringing me back and into a body without sanity. Call it Nature’s just reward or a cruel fate. I don’t care. I call it a damned nuisance and my enemies deemed it a victory. In lieu of another futile death, I assume they chucked me back into my ship and sent it on its way without a destination. Finally I was free from war, left drifting through space and time with nowhere to be. If only I hadn’t left my mind behind.
That’s what I could tell them. Instead: “Nope, sorry. It was before I knew him.”
“And you visit him anyway? Man, I’d want relatives like you.”
Humans. You’ve got no idea, sometimes.
By now, Bowles arrives. Neither of us speak to one another, only nod. I give the scar decorating his face a glance long enough to being acknowledging, not staring, and we three set off. I’m glad for the escort, even I can never find my way around this place. Too many narrow hallways of cells of lunatics. Panic and Memory never go hand in hand.
“Hey Crazy Eddie! Looks like the Mad Hatter is making a break for it! On stilts!”
Arms as white as ivory shoot out from between the bars of the door to my right. Both grab my coat and slam me round to face their owner.
“Just don’t let him show you down his rabbit hole!”
He laughs in my face, arms shaking me against the metal. Bowles is beside us, trying his best to release the grip on my coat while Eddie shouts into his radio.
Their yells slowly fade into nothingness and time seems to slow around us. For a moment, there is nothing but being eye to eye with quite possibly the world’s number one madman.
I once saw in the eyes of my future self the fires of burning galaxies. This one’s are as dark as the end to everything.
“What are you?”
He grins. Not like a shark or a snake or a piranha or however people have described him in the past. The Joker has the twisted smile of a man willing to find the final punchline to everything and everyone. No matter what the cost.
“Something a million times saner than you my dear. I think you want the skinny fellow down the hall. You and he could have quite the staring contest.”
“I’m not the crazy one here.”
“Hah! If you believe that, you must be!”
Overcome by a fresh wave of hysterics, he releases me of his own accord to crease up against the wall, whooping with laughter. Time catches me up again. Bowles is swearing into his own radio and Eddie seems beside himself, asking repeatedly if I’m okay. I seems easier to say that I am and to suggest we carry on. Reluctantly, Eddie gives me a last glance and moves off, followed by myself and Bowles.
To change the subject, I’m guessing, Eddie tells me that this is my fourth visit. Bless him, it’s actually a few more than that. Four by this face, twice as Ten – “his nephew” – and once as Eleven – “his uncle” – before the Time War really kicked off. “His grandson” seemed to work for me when I got a face that would fit in at Glastonbury.
None of the past visits ended with me helping him, because: reasons, paradoxes, timeline interferences, unbeatable causality rules and all the usual pretentious guff.
And THAT is the old HH, so I say bugger that, much like Womble did to the idea of arriving in Gotham together. While he’s out there, snooping around where it’s safe(r) and learning more about Crime Alley, Wayne Tower and great hills of bat droppings, I have an appointment to make. My own chance to play my own FutureHH. How fun this should be.
“Here we are,” says Eddie.
Here we are. Cell no. 1412. No name tag underneath. He won’t be HH for a long while and the lack of Silent Plains anywhere nearby makes our old name unsuitable as well.
“Want me to come in with you?”
“No,” I don’t, “thank you.” They both know I’d say that. But they have to ask. Think of it as the last bit of protocol before crossing the threshold.
I’d usually be more nervous but I think bumping into the Clown Prince rather knocked that out of me. Seven can’t be any worse than him. Then again…
If you believe that, you must be!
A metallic slam from inside announces the door unlocked.
Welcome, everyone, to the Cell of the Mad Nameless Timelord.
*All else aside, the chosen title is to honour the greatest graphic novel I have ever read. Grant Morrison and Dave McKean, you really knew what you were doing.