The story

The idea is that the first writer (week 1) starts setting the scene for a story, introduces a few characters(up to 4) and defines some existential surroundings for them (word limit of 1000). Each writer who follows the first writer (week 2 and after), will have the opportunity to take it forward during their week. They can work with the characters already introduced in the story and have the option of creating up to 2 new characters. These extensions to the story would have to be under a maximum of 1000 words. This will be replicated by the writers each week, along with their regular posts. The time limit for each story will be 8 weeks (8 writers).
Please Note: This is an optional aspect to the usual entries that you make on the blog.
WEEK 1: (Lance Burson Edit)

Catwoman and Batman

I’m not mad anymore, now that I think about it. I just wish she hadn’t led me on with such an elaborate plan. We were supposed to be movie stars. This is why Facebook should be blown to hell. I hadn’t thought about any of this till her name and her picture showed up. I waited on her. I followed through like she said. Twenty three years ago, today, June7, 1988, I sat in a blue Chevy S-10 pick up truck with everything to my blessed name in the back. It was the break of dawn, no later than 6:30 in the morning. It had gotten Georgia hot. I rolled the windows down, nibbled some beef jerky, swigged a hard bottled coke and waited. She never showed, so I went home. I guess I should explain.

I grew up in the sticks. The town was called Daily, Georgia, about 50 miles due north of Atlanta. Daddy sold farming supplies and equipment. Mama worked at the county tag office. There was nothing to do in the town. Everyone’s grandparents were farmers. Most kids’ parents were 9 to 5 types that made just enough money to get by. Sunday through Thursday, people were in their homes by 8 o’clock. Friday nights were about the high school football games. Saturdays were trouble. At least, that’s what my family called them. There were 7 places to eat, 6 places to drink, and two places to go to jail. My folks asked me to stay away from two of those three. For the most part, I did.

I went to high school in Daily. We were The Fightin’ Planets. I swear on a stack that’s true. Apparently the town was co-founded by a relative of one of the guys that first published the Superman comics in the 1930s. The football team’s uniforms were blue and red and yellow, just like the alien freak from Krypton. I played running back, poorly, all 4 years for Daily. I was more of a Batman guy.

Sophomore year at Daily High, I walked into my second period math class. I hated math. I hated class. I hated teachers. I hated Daily High. I didn’t hate the new girl. Catherine Johnson moved to town from Asheville, North Carolina. She had coal mine black hair, soft white skin with teeth that matched. Her eyes were like hazel or something. They changed all the time, like cat’s eyes. We liked each other and not much else. She told me to call her Cat. She was my partner in crime from day one; Catwoman to my Batman.

We did everything together. Calling us best friends is kind of an insult. We were more than that. Cat talked about three things; getting out of Daily, being an actress, and never being apart from me. I talked about Cat. Starting from the first day of our senior year we plotted our escape. We would graduate with grades good enough to go to college if we wanted. Then we would pack everything we had into my ’83 Chevy and drive to Los Angeles. We agreed to give double middle fingers to Daily while I drove with my knees.

The morning of graduation, we met at the edge of town, near our favorite spot, the statue of the Planet. It was the size of a Volkswagon; silver, and sat inside of a brown holder so you couldn’t touch it without falling off and breaking your neck. We’d sit out by the Planet on Friday and Saturday nights, picking out places on the globe where we’d travel once we were famous. That morning we finalized our deal. Then she did something she had never done before. She kissed me a lot different than she had before.

“I love you, Brandon Batman Wayne. I love you forever.”

I should have known right then that the whole thing was crap. I don’t remember telling her “I love you” back. That probably scared her away. Maybe she chickened out because her parents got wind of what was happening. I didn’t hear from Cat for over a year. By then I was in school for business, up north. She was somewhere down south taking fashion design.

There it was, on facebook. Her pictures, her life twenty-three years later, and a friend request like nothing ever happened. Catwoman and Batman never got together in the comic books. Batman drove something a lot better than a pickup truck with a bad transmission that couldn’t have made it across Alabama. What was I thinking?

I hit accept.

Things online always start out good. You say hello, you comment each other pictures, then you even exchange phone numbers and email addresses over private message. Most of the time, nothing comes from it. People grow up, get busy, and don’t ever take chances.

Cat was divorced. So was I. She had two pre-teen girls. I had one. In some ways, Cat changed a lot from high school. In others, she was stuck in time. She still dreamed big and talked bigger. The worst mistake I made was answering the phone.

“Hey my Brandon Wayne, I’ve missed you.”

I wish I could tell you I told her to go play with the Joker. Hearing her voice made my body feel warm and helpless. I was back to 1988 in that Chevy.

“Hey Cat, I can’t wait to see you at lunch.”

 WEEK 2:(Ann Stanley edit)

What was I thinking, saying yes to lunch with Brandon? I should have known better, but I gave in to that fluttering in my stomach when I heard his voice on the phone. I wanted to pretend I was still cool, just like I’d thought I was, before fashion school, two kids, and a divorce, so I called him “my Brandon Wayne,” as if I owned him. I’d thought long and hard about how to set the hook, so I flirted a bit, that day on the phone, but I never meant to actually meet with him so that he could find out how much I’d slipped down that uncool ladder.

I bragged that I’d gotten my degree in design, which sounds very glamorous, but I didn’t admit that I couldn’t make any money until I took a job making wedding gowns and prom dresses in someone else’s shop. That’s what I do these days. It can be fun, but most brides want one or two classic designs, which means a lot of sewing and refitting and not much creativity. Seems like all I’ve done for the past three months is take out seams because the bride was sure she’d lose weight before her wedding and insisted on one size too small, or because we need to hide that little bulge in the middle of her belly.

As soon as I got off the phone, I knew that I should call Brandon back and cancel our plans before he could see what a failure I’ve become or ask me why I never showed up graduation morning. I started to dial him again, but I couldn’t. What excuse could I give?

In a definitely uncool way, I spent days figuring out what to wear for our lunch date. I think I drove my employer crazy asking her which dress made me look the thinnest. Even though I couldn’t really afford it, I got a trim and had gold highlights put into my brown hair. I tried to tell myself I was just nervous about admitting to the truth about that last day of high school. I had woken up at five to the smell of the cinnamon rolls my mother baked for our journey, got dressed, and then sat on the bed, unable to move, no matter how hard I told myself that he would be devastated. As the hours passed, I believed that in one more minute I would start walking, but I never did. I stayed there until Mom called me to dinner. I realized that day that I was a fraud. I have never been Catwoman.

I almost didn’t recognize him, when I saw him sitting by the potted fern in the atrium of that Middle Eastern restaurant. I should have turned and left right then. I am not sure why I looked through the window at him for so long.

He had gone from being a skinny weed of a boy to a stocky man in a business suit. Balding across the top, he reminded me so much of my ex-husband that I felt instantly disappointed. I wished that I hadn’t spent so much time planning my moves.

My only defense is that I would have left, if he hadn’t seen me.

I still am surprised he recognized me so quickly. I wish he hadn’t.

“Cat!” he waved at me from where he sat, then leapt up and bounded out of the restaurant door and caught my arm as I hurried away. “This is the place! It’s so great to see you!”

“Batman,” I said, softly, almost crying. Two more seconds and I would have gotten away.

Instead, I turned around and hugged him. He gently wrapped his arms around me. By the time he released me, I had replaced the tears with the bright smile I saved for the ugliest of brides. “How is the Bat Cave?” I asked.

Week 3 (Geraldine Clark Hellery edit)

The conversation stopped and started. The usual ‘how’s the family?’ questions being covered before they had even ordered. The conversation lulled to not-quite awkward silence, with Cat looking hopefully towards the kitchen every time the door opened, but their starters did not appear. The waiter silently deposited their drinks and they each took a large grateful gulp, a large glass of wine for Cat, beer for her Batman.

‘So,’ they both started at the same time. Laughing, Cat reached for the bread, a buzz running up her arm as she brushed against Brandon’s hand. He snapped his arm away, nearly knocking over his beer, so she knew he had felt it to: the old electricity.

She slowly chewed her bread, this basic act helping to calm the butterflies in her stomach. ‘So,’ she said again as she swallowed. ‘About the day after graduation,’ Cat paused, unsure of how to continue.

Brandon shifted in his chair, his eyes darting to the waiter in an appeal for help, but the waiter was called to another table. Reluctantly Brandon looked at Cat. ‘We don’t need to talk about that,’ he said.

Cat held his gaze for a moment, then dropped it to her wine glass. Damn it! Why did this have to be so hard, she thought, he was my best friend all through high school. I loved him. Or did I? This last thought caused Cat to look at Brandon, to study him intensely. Had she really ever loved him or had it all been a romantic delusion her teenage mind had created. Certainly if she had loved him, truly loved him in that desperate, passionate way Hollywood would have you believe was the only way for romance to be, why had she hesitated when the time had come for her to leave with him? Surely if she had loved him she would have jumped out of bed that day and sprinted to their rendezvous. What had held her in place?

Brandon, growing increasingly uncomfortable under her searching stare, excused himself, weaving through the tables to the restroom. Her train of thought broken, Cat turned her gaze on their fellow diners. There was an elderly couple for whom the menu was proving a struggle and the waiter was calmly explaining the various dishes to them, a set of harried parents with bored looking teens playing on their various gadgets but Cat’s eyes came to rest on a young couple sat by the door. They weren’t talking to each other and they both kept glancing outside. They were both in their late twenties, the girl with long brown hair sprouting various coloured highlights from blonde, through red and even a bit of purple. The girl was nervously biting her nails as her large blue eyes swept around the restaurant, before returning to whatever was of interest to them outside. The biy’s head was shaved and something about his muscled body suggested some sort of military training but there was nothing to confirm this supposition and his leg bobbed up and down to its own rhythm. Cat laughed at her over active imagination as well as the fact that she was projecting her own life and history onto theirs. Within a few minutes she had created a story for that young couple where they were escaping some their ordinary lives, star-crossed lovers like Romeo and Juliet. In fact, in her head that’s what she named them. Romeo and Juliet.

‘What are you laughing at?’ Brandon asked as he sat down.The waiter followed with their starters.

Cat smiled at him and gestured discretely at Romeo and Juliet. ‘I’m just guessing what their story is. They’ve barely said a word to each other and he keeps checking his watch.’

‘Perhaps they are going to a movie?’ suggested Brandon.

‘Not if they’re in this part of town. It’s 40 minutes to get to the multiplex from here. I suppose they could be waiting for a train: the station is only two blocks away.’

‘Yeah, but there’s restaurants closer to the train station. And this isn’t really the sort of restaurant where you pop in for a quick bite before you travel,’ Brandon was intrigued now and they were both relieved not to be discussing their shared past. It was far better to continue with the distraction of Romeo and Juliet.

Picking at their starters they continued guessing what the story between Romeo and Juliet was.

‘Perhaps they are running away from their respective partners.’

‘They might have robbed a bank and are waiting for their get-away driver.’

‘They’re refugees hiding from the police.’

‘Could they be famous? Movie stars going incognito?’

‘No, I think they are spies like in that American TV show. He’s her handler and she’s just given him the intel. Now they’re scared they are going to be caught,’ said Brandon.

‘Now you’re just getting ridiculous,’ laughed Cat. They had finished their starters and the waiter had piled plates steaming with different food in front of them. The smell of spices mingled with the wine, causing Cat’s head to spin. She grinned at Brandon. ‘I’ve missed this Batman,’ she said finally.

Brandon gave her that special grin she knew he only used for her. ‘I have too, Catwoman,’ he said. He was about to continue when his attention was drawn to the couple by the door. ‘Hang on,’ he whispered conspiratorially, ‘Something’s up with Romeo and Juliet.’

Cat twisted slightly in her seat, trying to discreetly get a better view of what Romeo and Juliet were doing. Brandon was right, Juliet had stopped biting her nails, Romeo’s knee had stopped bouncing and they were both staring outside, riveted.

Cat and Brandon followed their gaze but couldn’t see what had transfixed the younger couple. The restaurant was situated in a relatively nondescript area: the usual high street shops albeit slightly more exclusive due to the area with a few boutique shops interspersed. Above the shops were privately owned flats with high windows from which the sounds of family life drifted down.

Cat and Brandon looked at each other, mystified as to what could have interested Romeo and Juliet so much.

Then their world turned fire red as the chain store opposite the restaurant exploded.

Week 4 (BM Roper edit)

Now the sound of pneumatic respiration, as if faraway machinery buried deep in the earth. Pumped in and out, a slow, regular, hissing. He sucked harder and the air wouldn’t quite come. Like breathing through a plastic bag: existence squeezed tight and reduced to a single, desperate function.  The machinery became louder, gathered momentum, an approaching train on the tracks. Panicking, striving for breath he sucked harder still and flushed the capillaries in his head with a roar. Then the air came with a euphoric rush and his eyes dilated with light. Soft red light. Sitting up and seeing again, albeit through a soft red veil, he looked around.

The blast from across the street had evidently been forceful enough to rip and twist the guts of the restaurant. In the aftermath chaos had settled, its victims, the restaurant’s patrons, frozen like citizens of Pompeii. The elderly couple and the waiter had collapsed on the floor in a game of twister. The old lady: left hand crushed breadsticks, right foot squashed olives. The old man: right hand torn napkins, left foot gaping bloody stump of the waiter’s neck.

He got up; his eyes focused in the red twilight and stumbled past the glistening entanglement, and on to the next table. A family scene. Mom, Dad and teenage children. The teenage boy was slumped forwards over his phone, which briefly lit up his face with a shrill tweet, and shone through his lacerated cheek. Mom, Dad and sister looked on with wide staring eyes. His sister looked particularly pretty, her eye lashes red as spider legs.

Walking across the room, not knowing where or why, he spotted something under a table. A ragged mop of brown, gold, red and purple. Bending to look, in dread fascination, he saw Juliet in serene repose. Her head listed to one side with a lover’s smile, gaping wide and inviting with slick red lips, to welcome her Romeo. Romeo, poor Romeo, lay nearby – a dagger of glass from the shattered door they had been sitting near impaled neatly in his muscled torso. Perfect presentation, he thought, distantly. Batman moved closer to Romeo and saw the faintest sigh in his chest, followed by one long, last drawn out breath. Romeo’s train had pulled in at the terminal.

Brandon stifled a hysterical giggle, inhaled slowly to calm himself and surveyed the restaurant. It was a modern space, what had been glass walls from floor to ceiling had shattered and imploded inwards like shrapnel. It seemed no one had escaped the repercussions of the blast, well except himself. And the air still hung pregnant with a fine red mist, except it was more like a filter, a cowl over the face of reality. And the red death held sway over all. His mind began to clear though and he thought there was something he was forgetting. Something he should be doing. No clue though. Then he saw a faint glow near Romeo’s body emanating from a dark lumpen shape. Almost fearing to look he flashed his eyes at it quickly and away again. No, it was OK, it appeared to be a rucksack, from the way it was tangled around one of Romeo’s limbs he guessed it belonged to him. News footage of terrorists on buses flashed through his brain, but he dismissed it, the incident had already occurred. He prodded the bag and nothing untoward happened. So he teased the zip and peered inside. It was filled with an array of objects not quite discernable in the gloom. Tipping the bag upside down they tumbled out on the floor. Inventory: a white box with a green medical cross on it, five gold coins, an unidentifiable glass vial with a blue liquid inside it, a silver ring and the glowing thing – a pulsing heart, Chevy red. To the touch smooth and warm, surface shiny like plastic. He picked it up and it emitted an electronic beeping like a heart monitor in a hospital. Then he remembered – Catwoman!

He ran, lurching back to the spot he had risen from. She was there, his Catherine. He took her in. Of course, a small dribble of blood oozed from her porcelain neck.  Her cat’s eyes glinted out form behind an ashen edifice – lifeless.  Then something especially odd happened. The red heart, almost forgotten in his left hand, started to beep more persistently and to his… well he had no real emotions left, but let’s say shock… a reciprocal red outline was pulsing with the same resonance in Catherine’s chest. Intuitively he placed the heart on her chest and it melted. Just sunk through the front of her dress and disappeared like a setting sun. And as its rays faded the light in the restaurant refreshed and became daylight. Regular, bold as you please daylight, streaming in as if God had a runny nose. The veil had lifted.

Catwoman sat up tossing her coal black hair. “I’m glad you figured it out Batman. You’ve got to help me remember my past”. He screamed. She took his hand and squeezed. “It’s OK look”, she said and showed him her neck. No blood, just porcelain white skin. “We’ve got to get out of here, I don’t know if there’s a time limit but I don’t want to take the risk”. Pulling him to his feet she led him over to door that had shattered over the ill fated lovers. Let’s go through here. He obeyed, his mind happy to follow simple instructions. Better than trying to make sense of this strange place he had awoken in. Heading out the door they were repelled back, an invisible barrier. They tried a fire exit at the other end of the restaurant – same thing. They even tried climbing through a gaping throat of shattered glass frontage into the street outside, where the foundations of the chain store could be seen smouldering, but no dice.

“Don’t worry Brandon Wayne honey, there must be a way out. Oh would you look at that, the darndest little door”. He looked and indeed there was a door, an old-fashioned wooden one, ostentatious as oak, right there in the middle of the restaurant. Set in a frame but surrounded by thin air. Oh and a giant yellow arrow bobbing above it.

Catwoman slinked up to the door, Brandon trailing her, and it swung open. Framed in the doorway was one rocking dude. Leather jacket, classic denim jeans and brilliant black hair greased all the way back to the 50s.

“Hey cool cats. I see Romeo and Juliet have opened the portal with their reality bomb. The answer to Catwoman’s past lies behind this door. You want to know why she didn’t turn up for that date in 88 Batman? Step through. There’s a rip in reality as ferocious as a hot rod and only your union can heal it. Your relationship is the key, find out what went wrong, why she didn’t turn up, help her remember. But beware there are sinister forces hell bent on the end of all things. Romeo and Juliet won’t be the only agents to try and stop you. Oh and remember those things you found in the rucksack, they just might come in useful”.

Week 5 (James Turner edit)

Cat and Brandon looked at each other and shrugged. What had they got to lose? They stepped through the ostentatious portal, past Rocking Dude and into the Castle, as Brandon would call it later. And there would be a later. They weren’t going to die. Not yet. Not if they played their cards right.

Cool. Damp and cool. Echoey and cool. High ceilings, as if giants lived there, or people in power lived here, or worked here, or just met here to give orders to lesser people to do the work. A grand staircase led upwards to the left, its walls hung with gilt-framed portraits of the once-powerful dead.

“What century is this?” breathed Cat, catching hold of Brandon’s arm.

“Never seen anything like it, outside of virtual reality,” said Brandon. “Look at that crim—”

“Hey! You!” came Rocking Dude’s voice behind them. “Who said you could come through?”

Cat and Brandon swiveled. There stood an oldish tallish man, hair longish and greyish, largish eyes, dressed simply and uncoolly as you like, plain brown and dark grey, no printed words, and no rips or charred bits.

“I’m John Blackslide, kernthrifter, recently retired,” he said calmly. They looked at him, trying to size him up. He didn’t tick a single box. The nose of a geek, yet his knees bent the right way. Clean-shaven. He didn’t seem to belong in any century, let alone this one, whichever one that was. He had the air of a man constitutionally incapable of learning the lessons that knocking around in the worlds (real and cyber) is supposed to teach everybody, and almost always does. He was a loner. He was an introvert. But he seemed unafraid, alert, alive, friendly like a dog. It was as if he had both feet firmly placed in reality, one each side of the hot-rod rupture, but no danger of his body tearing apart at the groin. How did he do it? Answer: it wasn’t something he did, it was simply the place he started from. Not relaxed exactly, but not lost. He didn’t add up.

“OK John. Who said  you could walk through?”

“I could never resist an open door.”

“You haven’t got a scratch on you!” said Cat. “And we thought we were the only survivors.”

“I was in the toilet,” said John. “The walls must be pretty tough, and the door faced away from the blast. Stroke of luck. After the bang I came out and poked my head round the corner and watched you guys.”

“John!” said Brandon, on an impulse, driven by the odd sensation that all his life he had known this impossible anomaly of an oldish man he had never seen before. “You were a kernthrifter, right? Know anything about memory loss?”

“I’m your man,” said John. “What’s the problem?”  What was that accent? Brandon wondered. English? Not quite. Than what…?

“Well, it’s like this you see—” he began.

“OK, OK!” said Cool Dude. “You’re through, you might as well stay through. You go along with Batman and Catwoman here. And Batman, sir, remember what I said about those things you found in the rucksack.”

“Let’s not rely on memory,” said John, sprinting out through the Door, returning in three seconds less than no time with Romeo’s charred rucksack. This was something the three of them would keep noticing—the odd behaviour of time this side of the Castle Door. For three seconds there were two Johns, one with the rucksack and one without. The second John had  sprinted back in through the Door three seconds before the first one sprinted out.

Then the Door closed. At the sound of its closing click Cool Dude chose a key from a bunch hanging on the end of a chain attached to his belt, locked it, and vanished into thin air. In his role as Doorkeeper, he was evidently no longer needed.

Brandon whispered in Cat’s ear, jerking his head almost imperceptibly in the direction of the retired kernthrifter, “What about him?”

“He’s OK,” whispered Cat. Brandon was reassured to have his recent hunch independently confirmed by a woman’s instinct.

No memory of climbing the stairs. Time is linked to memory, and to consciousness, in ways that science has yet to discover. And in no time the three of them found themselves seated on upright leather-upholstered chairs at a polished mahogany table in a tall broad room twenty yards along the corridor at the top of the staircase. On the table in front of them were a silver ring, a glass vial containing an unidentifiable blue liquid, five gold coins and a white box with a medical white cross on it. Cat, Brandon and John contemplated them as if they were crossword puzzle clues, Cat and Brandon brainstorming like there was no tomorrow, and John just doing some contemplating. Cat and Brandon noticed John wasn’t saying much, and looked at him, but something about is demeanour made them feel OK, so they just went on getting nowhere with the brainstorming. The three were going to make a good team.

Meanwhile, and simultaneously, the same three were standing by a double-glazed window in the next room gazing out at the view while the air-conditioning hummed quietly.

“Wow!” said Cat.

It looked like desert. Dead flat, right to the horizon. Nobody in sight. No sign that there’d ever been life. No footprints. No birds. No vegetation. From a cloudless sky the sun beat down on it all as if God was punishing it with a cricket bat for being an atheist. Here and there an isolated boulder cast a short shadow.

Nobody spoke for well over ten seconds. For Cat and Brandon, now they were together, and in their separate lives before, this was something unusual. Even their thoughts were quiet. They just stood and looked. John’s influence, they would conclude later when writing the whole thing up in their joint autobiography, provided “later” stretched far enough ahead. And it was the introvert who broke the silence.

“Is that all sand?”

“What’s that along the horizon?” said Brandon.

A straight, thin, deep blue line stretched right across the scene before them, dividing desert from sky.

“It’s the sea of course,” said Cat.

“So this is one vast beach then,” said John.

“I don’t know why,” said Brandon, “but I get the feeling the tide is coming in.”

Week 6 (Steven Harris Edit)

The water encroached upon them so swiftly it might have been animated. One moment they were admiring that tiny wedge of distant blue, the next they were backing away from the breakers in case their shoes got soaked.

“High tide is perfect for hiding high crime,” chuckled John as he drew out a short-muzzled weapon and pointed it at Cat. “You have to die,” he told her. “Bozo Brandon here can never know why you didn’t turn up that night.”

As if to prove himself less of a bozo than advertised, Brandon used John’s smug declaration as an opportunity to chop the older man heavily on the neck. John crumpled elegantly to the sand, quietly uttering an expletive before losing consciousness. And losing the gun.

Cat picked up the weapon and toyed with silencing John for good. Brandon gave her a fevered look that said “Not worth it.” With a shrug she threw the gun as far as she could out into the oncoming tide.

To the surprise of them both there was no ensuing splash. Instead the gun hit a wall with a dull thud. The horizon was another illusion,
painted sky-blue with a slight hint of encroaching sunset orange.

“Do you think it’s solid or thin like a flat from a movie set?” Brandon asked.

“Easy enough to find out,” she replied and walked on now-painted water to the wall. Tentatively she thrust a fist towards it, relieved when she punched straight through and a ray of white light shone through the resulting hole. Brandon shuffled out on top of the static waves to join her and together they swiftly kicked and punched an opening large enough for them both to pass through. More mysteries ahead? Or some answers at last?

White space. White sky. White floor. White noise softly serenading Cat and Brandon as they tried to work out where on earth they’d ended up now. Or off earth.

“Maybe we’ve ended up in that joke about the white cat in a snowstorm?” Brandon was trying to lift the mood of despair that threatened to mingle with their confusion.

“Well I’m the cat but what are you doing here? And where is the snow?” They both half-smiled but the brightness of the perpetual white light was beginning to hurt their eyes and disorientate their senses.

“Close your eyes,” commanded Brandon. “Close your eyes and think.”

“Think about what?”

“Think back to that day after graduation.”

“I can’t remember…no wait…there is something.” Cat screwed up her eyes, grateful for the relief from the harsh light, keen to discover
more about the fragment of memory that had just popped into a corner of her consciousness.

She could see an image of a silver ring. Just like the one they had left back on the mahogany table when John had seemed to be a friend.
And there was more. A painted smile, a crooked, mocking, sneering painted smile.

“Holy arranged marriages, Batman,” she whispered.

He hadn’t quite heard her. Had closed his own eyes too, unable to take the persistent intrusion of the light. Memories of his own floated
nearby then drifted tantalisingly out of reach again. The image of a vial. What was the significance of that vial? Poison? A means for
star-crossed lovers to…to what?

“Oh dear, remembering now are we?” John had followed them through the wall. He stood menacingly close although he did not appear to have found the gun.

“You can open your eyes if you like,” he said. “The light is on the turn again.”

Cat and Brandon eased their eyes slowly open and found themselves bathed in a far cooler, calmer green, as though forest fronds were
reflecting a benevolent spring sun.
“Not many people make it this far into the game zones,” continued John, admiringly. “Most simply accept that the back story we’ve
implanted into their minds is the only story there could ever be. Is reality, in fact. So what makes you two so different?”

“We’re not apart any longer.” Cat spoke so quietly that Brandon almost assumed she was talking to herself. Then he understood.

“Yes, of course. You’ve kept us apart for twenty-three years because together we can see through your games.”

John’s mouth twisted into a grimace, a parody of a grin, a thin slash of mockery that triggered the final piece of Cat’s memory.

“Brandon,” she said, fists bunched up and eyes full of fire, “Meet my ex-husband. I didn’t recognise him before without his make-up.”

“Your husband?”

“Yes, although he was more of a jailer really. Batman, meet The Joker.”