And when you give me your clothes
and when we're lovers at last
fresh air perfuming your nose
there will be teeth in the grass
there will be teeth in the grass
there will be teeth in the grass
—“Teeth in the Grass”, Iron & Wine
There’s a man running towards him. Overweight, balding. Shirt plastered to his body with the rain, dripping pink with watery blood. He’s probably never run as fast in his life as he is running right now. Batman sights down on the man’s chest.
“I need an hour,” he says into his radio, waiting for the man to get closer. His voice is muffled from the respirator over his mouth, but he’s not willing to take it off at the moment.
“I can’t promise anything.” Gordon sounds tight, stressed. Batman can’t blame him.
“We can’t just leave them in there. I can’t.” The man is only fifteen feet away now, feet splashing on the wet pavement, but Batman waits and tries to ignore the fact that his hands are not steady. The point of the gun is swaying. If he’s very, very lucky, he’ll hit the man dead in the chest and sever the spinal column. If he’s not, he’ll waste a bullet in the man’s chest and have little time to shoot again before the man is on him. He’d aim for the head but the head is an awfully small target for an inexperienced shooter, and that’s the thing. Batman has never been a big fan of guns.
“I know. I’ll try. Go as fast as you can. Good luck.” Gordon signs off without waiting for Batman’s reply.
Batman squeezes the trigger and the man stumbles. It’s not a spinal column hit because he doesn’t drop, but it must have impacted with enough force to slow his stride. Batman squeezes the trigger again and this time the man goes down, crashing to the ground and sliding. Batman scrambles backward, avoiding the man’s flailing arms, and sends the last bullet into the man’s skull. The man goes still.
Three bullets to drop one zombie. This isn’t good.
He’s inside the gate at Arkham Asylum, at the end of the long driveway. Water is running down the driveway towards him and flooding into the streets. The top of the building is wreathed in fog. The gates are closed and locked. The guards are all gone, evacuating with the rest of the city. The streets are crammed with people heading out of the city in any way they can. Many of them have abandoned their cars in the streets and are running, dragging children and luggage. There are gunshots out there. There is screaming.
And there is rain. Oh, how there is rain.
Batman peels his soaked cape from the backs of his thighs and starts up the hill. The Tumbler is parked on the other side of the gate. He had had to leave it there or else force his way through the gates, and he would rather not breach the gates just yet. There will be more of the infected in the asylum, if that guard is any clue, but he would rather not have an open gate at his back.
He’s halfway up the hill when his radio crackles again. “I’ve got you one hour,” Gordon says. “Then they’re blowing the bridges. It doesn’t matter who’s in Gotham by then. I can’t convince them otherwise.”
“I’ll be out there,” Batman says firmly.
“Do what you have to do.”
Batman reaches the front doors.
The first sign of the infection happens among the homeless, and the authorities are never really sure where it comes from. They probably won’t ever know. It spreads so quickly that the city is lost in two days.
All it takes is exposure to infected fluids like blood or saliva. Any contact with open wounds or with sensitive tissues like the eyes or mouth and you’re gone. Conversion happens within minutes, and then you’re out to infect as many people as you possibly can. Biting, scratching, spitting, vomiting. You feel no pain. You have no conscious thought. Zombie’s a misnomer, really, since you’re not dead, but everyone’s seen the movies and everyone knows what this is.
Bruce isn’t out as Batman that first night, which is a mixed blessing. He hates the idea that he wasn’t there to help—he entertains the notion that he could have done something to change the way it started—but on the other hand he probably would have been infected before he knew what was going on. He goes out the second night, after making Alfred evacuate on the family jet. Alfred doesn’t want to leave without him and Bruce finally has to resort to sedatives to get the man on the plane, but he feels a lot better when the plane gets off the runway and into the air.
So the second night he’s prepared. He manages to get his hands on some guns and ammunition, although he hates it more than anything else. He’s practiced at the shooting range before because it’s a skill he knows he should have, but firing a gun at real live people is something that he has never in his life wanted to do, except for that one time with Joe Chill that he doesn’t like to think about anymore. It makes something break inside him the first time he pulls the trigger at something other than a paper target.
It gets easier after that.
The front doors of the asylum are hanging wide open. The frame is splintered, as if someone battered their way out. Batman pauses in the doorway, dripping with the rain. It’s dark inside.
He was expecting darkness, and he came prepared. The night vision goggles give everything a greenish glow. They serve the added bonus of protecting his eyes from splattered fluids, just as the respirator is protecting his mouth. The entrance is empty of people. Wire mesh gates cover all exits from the room, although one of them is hanging open. It seems that the electricity is out.
There has been no time for a proper evacuation of Gotham. As of last night, it has been every man for himself, and that means that the inmates of Arkham Asylum aren’t going to be escorted out of here. The main argument Batman had heard in favor of this idea was that the inmates will be safer locked in cages, and once the authorities are able to regroup and take back Gotham, they can return for the inmates as well. It is a weak excuse, but one that panicking officials were willing to accept if it meant they’d be able to get out of Gotham early.
If Batman hadn’t seen the infected claw through a police barrier as if it were made of paper, he might have gone with this plan, but he knows that no amount of bars and wire mesh is going to keep these inmates safe, and he can’t leave them here to die. They’re people, and they’re mentally ill. If anyone needs help on this island, it’s them.
The inmates are held in two wings, male and female. Each wing has two wards, for moderate and maximum security. He heads for the female ward first, turning right at the end of the main hall.
The gate to the female wing is locked, which is a good sign. It might mean that no infected have gotten in this side yet. He cuts through the lock with wire cutters and pushes the door open. It screeches on its hinges.
The sound echoes like a scream down the corridor and he freezes where he is, listening. Somewhere down the hall ahead of him, there’s a clatter, then silence. He glances behind himself and steps through the door, then eases it shut behind himself. It lets out a groan.
At least he’ll know if he’s being followed.
He checks the ammunition in his gun and waits a moment longer, knowing he doesn’t really have a lot of time to waste. The minutes are ticking away. He’s already wasted four minutes just coming this far. Fifty-six minutes before the bridges blow.
Taking a deep breath, he starts forward down the hall again, his steps silent. He keeps his head moving, scanning the hall back and forth for any sign of movement. The respirator makes his breathing loud, but he’d rather be wearing it than not if he comes face to face with a projectile-vomiting infected.
Twenty feet down the hall, it forks again. Both forks are blocked with mesh gates, and the gates are shut. To the left is maximum security. To the right is moderate.
Batman sets his wire cutters to the lock on the right-hand door. The second the cutters snap through the lock, a door slams open at the end of the hall. Batman drops the wire cutters and grabs for his gun, nearly fumbling it.
A woman in Arkham red comes sprinting down the hallway towards him. Her eyes are as wide as they can go and there is blood dribbling down her chin. She lets out some sort of screeching noise and, down the left fork, something else answers her.
Batman aims the gun but he can’t pull the trigger. The wire mesh is too small for a bullet to pass through, and the ricochet could send it anywhere.
The woman hits the door without stopping, her head cracking into the door painfully. She vomits at him, blood splattering the door, before stumbling backwards. The door bounces open.
Most of the blood doesn’t make it through the mesh, although a fine mist clings to Batman’s skin and he spares a second to send a prayer of thanks to the goggles and respirator. Then he takes two giant steps back and aims through the door as the infected woman regains her balance. The bullet hits her in the collarbone. The second hits her in the face. She’s down.
There is already another woman at the other gate, spitting and screaming. Batman jolts backwards in surprise. He had been so focused on shooting the one woman that he hadn’t even noticed the other. He swings around to aim at her but then lets his gun arm drop. He’s not opening that door, and she probably won’t be able to get through it on her own. He’ll be back for her.
He steps over the corpse on the floor and draws a mental map of the asylum in his head. Arkham is not a giant place, and there are only twenty inmates in each ward, for a total of eighty in the entire asylum. They’re stored two to a room in the moderate security ward, so the cells only take up one hallway.
Three of the doors are open and the cells are empty. Batman moves slowly down the hall, peering into each cell. When he reaches the next, someone slams into the door, fingers pushing through the mesh. She’s infected, and her cellmate is dead on the ground. There is blood all over the outside of the door, as if an infected person stood at the door and vomited blood into the cell.
Batman looks back down the hall the way he came, then up towards the part he has yet to explore. He checks his ammunition again and takes a breath through the respirator.
“Hello?” he calls.
The response is immediate. Infected start screeching in four of the other cells. He moves down the hall and glances into one of the remaining two cells. A woman hangs by her neck from a homemade noose. Batman can’t blame her.
In the last cell, a woman is huddled on her cot, hugging her knees. A corpse lies on the floor in front of her, a sheet wrapped around its head, and the woman has blood on her hands.
“Hello?” Batman says again.
She raises her head. Tears are staining her cheeks.
“Are you real?” she says.
“I’m going to get you out of here,” Batman says. “Was your cellmate infected?”
The woman nods jerkily.
“When did that happen?”
The woman takes in a shaky breath. “They got her through the mesh two hours ago. I had to—I had to strangle—” She starts to cry.
Batman glances at the two names on the door. “Are you Janet or Sherry?” he asks.
He thinks back to the list of inmate names that he had memorized. The name is familiar. Sherry drowned three of her children in the bathtub in a fit of postpartum depression. She’s not a threat to him, he doesn’t think. And she’s had more than enough time to turn if she’s going to. It looks like she managed to escape infection.
He unlocks the door and opens it. “We’re getting out of here. You can come with me, or you can try to get out on your own. I warn you, I’m going to be searching the whole rest of the asylum.”
Sherry looks around and gets up. “I’ll come with you,” she says in a tiny voice.
They make it through the rest of the moderate security wing and into the maximum security. It seems to have suffered the same casualty rate. They find one other survivor, a woman named Rebecca who is a paranoid schizophrenic. She is muttering to herself and doesn’t seem to notice their presence, but they manage to convince her to come with them.
Batman has to kill six more infected as they travel. His hand doesn’t shake as much when he holds the gun now, but he still misses more often than he hits. He’s gone through half of his ammunition already.
They head back out to the original fork in the hallway, where the women’s wing meets the men’s wing.
“You can wait here if you want,” Batman says. There is a guard station here that is empty, the door hanging open. “I’ll come back out this way. Lock the door and don’t make any noise. If I’m not back in…” He glances at his watch and blanches. “…Ten minutes, get out of here on your own and head for the bridges. They’re blowing the bridges in twenty minutes.”
Sherry nods mutely. She and Rebecca edge into the guard station and shut the door. Batman hears it lock behind them. He leaves them.
He reloads his gun as he strides towards the men’s wing. His cape is not dripping with water anymore. The view out the windows is unrelenting gray. He holds the gun in a two-handed grip and approaches the fork where the moderate and maximum security men’s wards separate.
He goes straight for the door to the moderate wing, popping the lock and shoving the door open without waiting. Someone comes running for him and he keeps walking forward. He empties two bullets into the oncoming infected inmate, hesitating only long enough to ascertain that the inmate is dead before continuing.
“Hello?” he shouts, aiming down the hall. Screams answer him. A cell door crashes open and someone comes shrieking out. He puts two bullets in him and starts forward.
“Batman!” someone shouts. Batman whirls around. A face is peering from a doorway. He recognizes Jonathan Crane clutching at the door of his cell.
Batman approaches cautiously. Crane’s eyes are wide and he’s shaking, but whether it’s because of the infected or because of Batman is unclear. “Thank God,” he says.
Batman peers past him into the cell. Crane’s cellmate, a man named Fred, is sitting on his cot.
“Are either of you infected?” Batman asks.
Crane shakes his head desperately. “No,” he says with a terrified laugh. “Not yet.”
Footsteps clatter at the end of the hall. Batman turns and aims. A guard is racing towards him, his mouth bloody. Batman fires into the man’s chest three times, then is forced to scramble backwards when the man keeps coming. He fires twice more and finally the man crashes to the ground.
Batman returns to the cell and unlocks it. “Go out the exit or come with me. I just need to search the maximum security wing.”
“You’re insane,” Crane says, stepping out of his cell. “Can I have a gun?”
“How do you expect me to defend myself?”
Batman gives him a look. “Stay with me and I’ll defend you. I’m not giving you a gun.”
Crane glances over his shoulder at Fred. Fred, if Batman remembers correctly, is a pedophile. Batman has no sympathy for the sort, but he’s not saving these people because he likes them or because he approves of what they did.
“I’ll stick with the Bat,” Crane mutters with a giggle.
They clear the moderate security ward and head for the maximum security. Batman is moving faster now. He cuts through the lock and kicks the gate open. “Get out here!” he shouts.
It’s a mistake.
A guard must have hit the switch to open the doors to all the cells at some point, because all the doors in the ward are open. Infected pour into the hallway from open cells. Fred lets out a little shriek and runs back the way they came.
“Let’s get the fuck out of here!” Crane gasps.
Batman opens fire. The infected make a wall of flesh in the hallway, coming towards him. He empties his gun into the crowd, then backs up, reloading. He shoots again. Two infected go down hard enough to trip up the ones behind them. The still living infected claw their way over the fallen, fixated on Batman.
Batman fires again and again, still retreating. Crane has cut and run already. Three more infected go down, and there are two behind them. Batman pulls the trigger as fast as he can. The gun clicks on empty. He ejects the clip and slams another home.
The last infected falls at his feet. Crane and Fred are gone down the hallway. Batman waits, his chest heaving.
Maybe the whole ward is dead. Maybe he should just turn and go. He resists the urge to glance at his watch. There can’t be more than ten minutes before the bridges blow. Sherry and Rebecca should already be running for the bridge. If he goes now, he might make it.
Batman takes a deep breath and it wheezes in the respirator. He closes his eyes for just a second, just long enough to steady himself. Then he opens them again. He steps on one of the bodies.
He clambers over the bodies. Infected are too bloodthirsty to play dead, and he trusts his armor to withstand a bite. He reaches the other side of the pile and stands straight in the hallway.
He has two clips of ammunition left. Twenty bullets. Once that’s out, he is going to get out of here whether or not he’s searched the rest of the asylum.
All of the cells are empty. He glances in each one and keeps going. When he reaches the end of the hall, he takes a breath. The only thing left is solitary confinement.
He pushes open the door at the end of the hall and steps quietly through. This hallway is dimly lit. Something moves at the end of the hall. Batman pauses, watching the infected man wander down the hall, his head turning slowly from side to side. The three doors to the solitary cells are hanging open.
Something screams. The scream is choked off abruptly. The infected at the end of the hall jerks up his head and stares down an adjacent hallway, then starts to run in that direction. Batman breaks into a sprint.
At the end of the hall, the doors of the dining hall hang open. The infected disappears inside. Batman reaches the doors and scans the room. There are two infected at the far end of the room, attacking someone. The third infected is running toward them. Batman fires twice and the running infected falls. He steps into the room.
Something crashes into him and rides him to the ground. Batman catches a glimpse of a bloody face before teeth clamp on his mask. He fires three times into the body mass, frantic. The infected on top of him lurches and goes limp. He kicks the body away and rolls to his feet, adjusting his mask.
There is only one person standing in the other end of the room, covered in blood. Batman raises his gun and starts to squeeze the trigger, then stops. Light flashes off the knife the inmate is holding in his hand. Batman raises his eyes to the inmate’s face.
The Joker stares back at him. In the night vision goggles, his eyes are flat white and the blood on his face is black. His Arkham reds are soaked with the stuff. He is crouched over the bodies of the infected, waiting.
Batman waits as well. In the back of his head, a mental clock is ticking down, but still he waits.
He wants to pull the trigger.
He wants it so badly.
“I’m not infected,” says the Joker after a moment, his lips curving up. “And neither are you.”
Batman says nothing. His finger is cramping on the trigger. He slowly eases it off and lowers the gun.
“We need to get out of here now,” he says, his voice hoarse. He waves the gun towards the door. “They’re blowing the bridges.”
“They’ll be so pleased to see us run across the bridge,” the Joker says, but he comes forward. Batman watches the Joker squeeze out the door into the hall, and then follows him.
As soon as they clear the dining hall, Batman glances at his watch. He has four minutes left to get out of here. He swears.
“Let’s go,” he says, and breaks into a run. The Joker jogs after him. They reach the hallway with the pile of bodies and scramble over it, then keep going.
Crane is waiting in the entrance hall, pacing. When he sees Batman he looks relieved. “I didn’t think you’d—” he starts, then sees the Joker. His face falls.
“Run for the bridge as fast as you can!” Batman orders him. The door to the guard station is still shut. Batman bangs on the door to the guard station. “We’re leaving,” he shouts.
Sherry’s face appears in the window and she nods. She pulls the door open. Rebecca is huddled next to her, looking terrified.
“Thank god,” Sherry says. “I didn’t think we’d make it without you.”
“Out, out, everybody out,” Batman says, urging them to the door. Fred doesn’t need any more encouragement. He and Crane lead the way and the two women follow. Batman and the Joker take up the rear. Batman pulls off his night-vision goggles.
Outside the doors, it seems as if the air had turned to water. The rain is slashing down on the pavement, turning the air gray. Batman triggers the controls on his utility belt and the Tumbler fires a volley at the fence. The gate blows with a loud, vibrating bang, bursting open.
There is a constant screaming on the wind, and Batman can’t tell where it’s coming from. Shapes are moving in the street but he can’t see them clearly. Anyone who was capable of it must be already off the island.
Fred is first out of the gate, and the infected swarm him, pulling him down. Batman draws his gun to fire into the crowd, but then doesn’t. Fred is already bleeding and there are more infected than he could ever take down with the ammunition he has left.
There are too many of them to fit in the Tumbler, and the Tumbler won’t make it through the streets in time anyway, not with all of the abandoned cars. Batman leaves it there. Crane gets past Fred and the other infected, running blindly. The rest of them follow as the infected take Fred down like a gazelle.
It is only a quarter mile to the nearest bridge. Arkham is on a small triangle of land wedged in between the Narrows and the rest of Gotham. It is lashed to both by bridges, and connects the mainland by the New Trigate Bridge. Further south is the Vincefinkle Bridge, and at the northeast corner of the Narrows is the Robert Kane Memorial Bridge. Those are all rigged to explode, along with the various railroad and subway tunnels that go under the water.
Batman can see flashing police lights on the other side of the water, gathered around the nearest bridge. The distance is much farther than the Tumbler could ever leap across. The channel foams and froths under the bridge, churned into a fury by the rain and the wind.
Footsteps slap the ground behind them. The infected are gaining. Batman spares a glance back. Six of the infected are closing in. One of them vomits, projecting blood across Batman’s back. He fires at them but none of them go down. He ejects the empty clip and slots in his very last one.
The Joker reaches out to Sherry and grabs her arm. She shrieks and tries to bat him away. His knife flashes and suddenly she’s hitting the ground, her gut open, intestines bulging out. She screams and then the infected are on her. Batman turns back to her but the Joker shouts “It’s too late,” and he’s right. The infected gather around Sherry and momentarily abandon the chase.
“Try that again and I’m taking you out!” Batman shouts. The Joker just laughs, high and frantic.
The bridge is just a hundred feet away. Crane has pulled ahead of them and has reached the bridge. Rebecca is ten feet behind him. Batman hits his radio.
“We’re here!” he shouts into the radio. “We’re crossing the bridge now! There are four of us!”
“Hurry!” Gordon’s voice crackles back. “You don’t have any time! They’re going to—”
The bridge blows. The first explosion rips through the center of the bridge. Batman sees Crane silhouetted against the ball of fire and then the next row of explosives detonates, and then the next. Rebecca, just hitting the start of the bridge, screams and stumbles backwards, but she’s too close. The explosives reach the end of the bridge and she is punched into the air. She hits the ground and slides and then comes to a stop on the ground, dead. Crane has disappeared.
“Not yet! Not yet!” Batman shouts, as if that’s going to make any difference. He can hear echoes of the other bridges around the island blowing. Explosions light the undersides of the clouds.
“I’m sorry,” Gordon says into the radio, despair in his voice. “I tried, I’m so sorry.”
They have run out of time. The infected are upon them. The Joker’s knife flashes as he guts one, but another one latches itself onto his back. Batman shoots at it, not quite caring that he might shoot the Joker instead. The Joker and the infected fall. Batman spins around and fires at the other infected closing in.
There are buildings around them, clustered on the edge of the water. Batman looks up at a fire escape hanging down. If he can get to the roof, he might be able to glide across the water to the other side. It will be choppy and difficult to swim, but he’s a good swimmer.
The Joker gets back to his feet, staggering a little.
“Come on!” Batman shouts, running for the fire escape. He leaps into the air and grabs the bottom rung of the fire escape. He drags himself up.
The Joker follows him. Batman gets fully up onto the escape and then leans down. The Joker’s eyes are still clear and Batman can’t see any sign of a wound. He holds out his hand. The Joker grabs it and Batman pulls him up.
They climb the fire escape, the rain pounding down on them. Infected are gathering under the escape. When they reach the third floor, a window bursts in the second and two infected tumble onto the fire escape. Batman forces himself to move faster, even though his cape is waterlogged and is weighing him down.
In six more flights, they reach the top of the building. Batman drags himself onto the roof and staggers to the edge. The Joker joins him. Batman triggers his wings and the cape snaps outward, slinging water across the roof.
“Get on my back,” he says, staring across the water. The river is too wide, he knows. If he takes the Joker with him, they won’t make it all the way across. Even if he goes alone, he might not make it. He’ll splash into the middle of the river and have to swim. The current might take him out to sea before he reaches the other side.
The Joker doesn’t move. Batman glances back at him. The Joker is staring across the water. Batman follows his gaze.
There is panic on the other side. He can see people fleeing, and people falling. Gunshots echo against building faces. The police are retreating.
“Gordon?” Batman calls into the radio, but there is no answer. “Gordon!”
The first of the infected reach the roof. Batman raises his gun and fires. Five, four, three, two, one, and then the gun clicks empty. He is out of bullets.
“Come on,” he says, and runs to the other side of the roof. He looks out over the city. There is another rooftop nearby that they may be able to make. They won’t get very far without weapons or shelter.
The Joker flings his arms around Batman’s neck and hangs on tight. Batman steps to the edge of the roof and feels the wind blast him in the face. Feet slap in the gravel of the roof behind him. It occurs to him that he should have saved two bullets, one for the Joker and one for himself.
He lets himself drop.