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Moldering

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Time and decay,
Day after day,
Rots the soul,
And cobwebs
The mind.


Neil J. Garrick
"Cobwebs Of The Mind"
1981 C.E.

I shook my head. The Manor was beginning to molder beneath us as Master Bruce had forbidden the usual weekly cleaning crew a year ago. Really, his paranoia was becoming quite tiresome. Nevertheless, I attempted some dusting as I ran the feather duster over the furniture in the library.

A stray feather fell to the floor and I reached down, my bones creaking. Snatching the feather, I groaned as I straightened my aching back. The years were taking their toll. I could feel it in every inch of my body.

As I left the library, I tried to ignore the cobwebs that were festooned in the corners. I could try climbing a ladder to get at them, but after last month’s fall, I would pass. I still could feel the bruises on my back from that particular disaster.

I entered the kitchen, but even my favorite room in the house failed to cheer me. I prepared a very simple meal for my lunch. I had given up trying to get Master Bruce to eat. It went against my grain to constantly throw out uneaten food, so I stopped trying to tempt him with culinary delights. The Master subsisted on coffee, strong and bitter. I would not even call it living on coffee. Master Bruce was no longer interested in the living.

I sat down heavily at the table with my bread, cheese and tea. There was no one else to cook for anymore. I watched the rain run down in rivulets on the windowpanes.

Jason had died a horrific death at the hands of the Joker, and had suffered an equally-horrific resurrection. His mind irretrievably warped, he was lost to the family and would not return.

Young Master Tim had cracked under the strain of losing his parents, friends and his sense of worth. He was being cared for in a fine institution, but he would never be Robin again.

Even Miss Stephanie had seemingly met with an ignominious fate. Callously treated by Master Bruce for daring to consider herself a Robin, it was thought she had been killed by Black Mask after gruesome torture. She had returned but had faded away from the superhero circle. No one knows where she is now.

Oracle had retired, her spine deteriorating and leaving her in a state of constant agony. She was now in a sanitarium with doctors attempting to find a treatment. She could barely think, let alone admonish her former boss on the path that he was taking.

Miss Cass had been turned into a ruthless assassin by Deathstroke and had vanished, too ashamed to face her family after her recovery from the behavior-altering serum.

And Master Dick? He had tried, even in the midst of passionate arguments, to get through to Master Bruce, whose guilt over his Robins was pushing him toward the abyss. The final time, he had been physically pushed away. I remembered the young man trying to smile despite a split lip and bruised face.

Always smiling.

“Oh, all right, I might try again, but not for awhile.”

He never got the chance to try again. Concentrating on his leadership of the Titans, Brother Blood had captured him. It had not been an easy death.

Master Bruce had finally broken his no-killing rule. Brother Blood and his viperous brood had been destroyed. No one knew the Bat’s role in the destruction, and I always kept my counsel, of course, as a good servant should.

I finished my meal and poured a cup of the bitter coffee. Returning to the library, I opened the grandfather clock and slowly went down the stone steps to the Batcave.

Bats’ wings fluttered high overhead as I approached the main computer console. The Master was hunched over the computer keys like some mad organist. Data scrolled with dizzying rapidity on the screen.

I wordlessly set the white mug with the Wayne family crest by Master Bruce’s elbow. I glanced at the computer screen with dozens of pictures arrayed and black X’s over a majority of them. The crossed-out pictures included the Penguin, Riddler, Black Mask, Harley Quinn and the Joker. The X crossing out Brother Blood’s visage was blood-red.

“I know all their weaknesses. They had better not get in my way,” muttered Master Bruce. He was probably unaware of my presence or felt safe. I always kept his secrets, as a proper butler should.

Images of Green Arrow, Black Canary, Green Lantern, the Flash, the Martian Manhunter, Wonder Woman and Superman flashed on the screen.

I paused. I knew that Batman kept files on every superhero, including how to take them down if they went rogue. I felt a chill skitter down my spine. Even the bats' rustlings sounded uneasy.

“Master Bruce…”

He did not reply. He was totally focused on his work.

I tried again and was ignored or unheard. I was unsure of which. I slowly turned away, listening to the Master jabber about Kryptonite, fire and the color yellow. I trudged up the stone steps.

Upstairs, I quietly closed the clock and shivered. The dampness of the Cave never seemed to leave my bones these days.

I went back into the kitchen, taking my coat off the rack and wrapping a woolen scarf around my neck. I stuffed a pair of gloves in my pocket and went out the door.

A single, forlorn Jack O’Lantern sat on the stoop. There were two more on the front veranda, a shadow of the multitude of Halloween decorations in the past.

When young Master Dick came to live here, he brought joy to this gloomy place. Jason tolerated the festivities, Tim was amused but cooperative, and Stephanie was as enthusiastic as Dick. Cass was merely puzzled.

At the entrance to the estate graveyard, I looked back. The Manor loomed up against the darkening sky as dusk fell.

It looks like a decaying haunted house.

The iron gate creaked as I pushed it open. I walked into the graveyard, the headstones old and worn, the etched letters and dates soft-edged and fading. Heavy gray clouds hung over the nearby ocean. A fine mist sparkled in the air. I could feel it on my skin like fine cobwebs. I proceeded to the section where the newer headstones rested.

I bowed at the polished black stone bearing the names of Thomas and Martha Wayne. The stone angels clasped their hands in impassive prayer. A mourning dove cried its haunting song.

I went to the pink marble headstone a few feet away, these angels just as impassive but somehow less solemn, glittering in the mist. Three names were etched into the stone.

“Master Dick, I am sorry.” My hands were jammed into my pockets. Wind blew, rustling the dead leaves littering the ground. “He is…unreachable.”

I sighed, almost too tired to be weary. I slowly reached down and plucked a weed from the base of the headstone. “He will not listen to me,” I whispered. I straightened. “Oh, he’s targeting the Justice League now.” I remembered how excited Dick had been when he had first met Superman all those years ago. “This cannot continue.”

I returned to the Manor.

& & & & & &

That night I rocked gently in the Adirondack rocker I kept in my room, a gift from Masters Bruce and Dick several Christmas seasons ago. I looked at the pictures on my small pier table: Thomas and Martha Wayne and their little boy; Bruce newly graduated from Harvard; Dick as a young boy, smiling of course; Bruce with his arm around Dick in the next photo; Jason with his arms crossed; Tim contemplative; Stephanie smiling and Cass enigmatic. Finally, a photograph of all of them except for Jason. Bruce and I were in this family photograph.

The small clock on the mantelpiece ticked in the silence, the rocker’s slight creaking keeping pace with the clock. As moonlight streamed in through the windows, I could hear the roar of the Batmobile as it left the Cave.

All that night I rocked in my rocker and looked at the framed photographs. I finally went to bed, and on the edge of sleep I heard the Batmobile return. I turned over and finally slept.

& & & & & &

I awoke mid-morning. I used to get up much earlier, but it did not matter anymore. There were no children to get off to school, and the Master no longer went into Wayne Enterprises. Lucius Fox ran everything now.

I showered and dressed and ate a light breakfast. The door to the master bedroom was closed so the Master was getting at least a few hours’ sleep.

I went down to the Cave and saw the scribblings on a yellow legal pad by the keyboard. I could barely make them out, but the words Green K were clear enough and underlined. Shivering, I picked up the empty coffee mug and returned with its dregs upstairs.

& & & & & &

Later that evening, I brought down a steaming mug of bitter brew. Master Bruce never acknowledged the embossed mug or me, simply muttering and scribbling, his hair uncombed and his face unshaven. The Justice League pictures were back on the computer screen. I quietly left, pausing at the foot of the stairs as I briefly looked back, but he never turned around. I turned my back and headed upstairs.

& & & & & &

One Week Later

I puttered around the graves, whistling a jaunty tune. Back at the house the Jack O’Lanterns glowed and tiny pumpkin lights now adorned the frame of the front door. Colorful leaves were twined around the pillars.

Here in the graveyard I tended the flowers planted in the freshly-turned earth in front of the well-tended headstone. The day was bright and sunny, the trees with leaves still colorful. I walked over to the next headstone and smiled, the sun warm on my skin.

“It was a grand funeral. Despite him becoming a hermit as of late, the family name still drew the crowds and coverage. Clark Kent was here, and so were old friends like Oliver Queen, the Gordons, Miss Prince…so many! A pity he could not appreciate them more, but you know how he was. Well, he is at peace now.” I flicked some stray leaves off the top of the pink headstone. “Now I must get back and await any trick-or-treaters. Charming custom, one you enjoyed for many years.” I rested my hand on the cool stone. “He should have listened to me.”

I bowed slightly and returned to the Manor. In the kitchen I opened bags of candy and poured the contents into a plastic Jack O’Lantern. I would place it on a table by the front door.

Tomorrow the cleaning crew would return and resume their regular weekly visits. The Manor would be worthy of its name once again.

I had disposed of the belladonna before calling Jim Gordon a week ago. The Commissioner had viewed the body in the master bedroom, pronouncing it regrettable. I had agreed.

I took the white coffee mug with the Wayne family crest, smashed it with a hammer, and placed the shards in the trash. No need for this particular mug anymore or the traces of what could be found in it.

The doorbell rang and I went out to the foyer to answer it as a flurry of bats and robins flew over the graveyard.