Jonathan Crane sat in his cell one night, counting sticks of straw. The guards had not managed to clean it all up after his last escape attempt, but they had, after two months, granted him nights without restraint for good behavior. The thin, tall man sat with his back against the wall, spine straight, legs reaching out long in front of him. With his neatly trimmed brown hair and thin-framed glasses sitting atop his long nose, he looked more like a professor than an inmate, even in the standard-issue orange Arkham Asylum inmate uniform.
His singsong count, however, somewhat skewed his composed appearance.
Buckle my shoe . . . "
In the cell next to him, Edward Nigma scowled. He lay on his stomach atop his unadorned cot, a newspaper crossword puzzle spread out in front of him. A guard had just smuggled in the paper earlier in the evening, and it had taken Nigma more effort than expected to sneak a crayon in from the activity center (pointed objects were rarely seen in Arkham). Edward loved the smell of new newspaper, the inky and dry scent that went along with blank squares waiting to be filled in. He was trying to best his previous record of completing a giant puzzle in under three minutes, but, well, even geniuses of his caliber were not immune to distraction.
Pick up sticks . . . "
Edward broke the tip off his green crayon in a moment of annoyed pressure. Irritated to no end, he shouted at the wall between them,
God, it's LATE!"
For a moment, there was absolute silence. Edward smiled smugly, "Hmph", and leaned over his crossword again. Just as he was filling out some squares with the woefully dull crayon, a cold voice murmured into his ear,
A big, fat hen."
Edward's crayon streaked across the page as his shoulders hunched in fright, and his heart skipped a beat. He lifted his head and looked around the cell, but it was empty. Though his eyes remained wide, he told himself that Crane had spoken through a crack in the crumbling old walls, nothing more. Still, it would not be a good idea to provoke him.
Crane went back to counting. Nigma put the puzzle away under his mattress and lay over the bed with a sigh. He hung his head down the edge, guillotine-style, and he stared regretfully at the rough cement floor.
"What are you counting, anyway?" he asked sullenly, rolling onto his back now. "Let me guess, your IQ points?"
"Don't be ridiculous," Crane sniffed. "No. The patients. My patients. Here."
"How unimaginative," retorted Edward. "Question: What runs in circles but never retraces its steps?"
Silence. Mistaking this for a lack of an answer on Crane's part, Edward grinned smugly. He waited for just the right moment, and then announced, "Answer: A clock! It's always the same circle, but it's never the same time twice!"
Crane did not respond.
"The numbers repeat, but every day is different," Edward explained. "Too obscure for you? Linear time?"
Edward became giddy with triumph, as Jonathan said nothing, picturing a confounded look on the ex-psychiatrist's stern face. He rolled onto his stomach again, looking at the wall, and gloated, "Oh ho ho! I'm disappointed in you, doctor. That was an easy one!"
More silence. Then, "I have never . . . treated you, have I, Mr. Nigma?"
Edward's smile froze. "Eh?"
"Patient number, let's see-" There was the sound of shuffling and scratching, as Jonathan fumbled with the straws. "Patient number twenty-one. Now, when can I pencil you in for an appointment?"
Nigma stared at the wall, no longer smiling. His blood had run cold. "Y-You have no sense of humor, Dr. Crane!" he laughed, unable to hide his mounting fear. "I was just-"
"Two-o-clock on Friday will be fine," Crane said, believably professional. "I look forward to seeing you. Thank you, Mr. Nigma."
"You're not a psychiatrist anymore!" Edward yelled at him, climbing off the bed and sitting directly in front of the wall. "That was what I meant by the clock riddle! You have no practice, no patients! Your time is over!"
Edward dropped on hand and knee to speak into the cracks in a weak spot of the wall. "Do you hear me?" he hissed. "Crane? Crane!"
"Dr. Crane is out for the night. Please call back in the morning."
Edward just stared, aghast. Too proud to plead, he got to his feet haughtily, straightening his dusty Arkham uniform. "H-hmph! You're all talk!"
Regardless, Edward lay on his bed for a long time without sleeping that night. It was true that he had never been "treated" by the Scarecrow, but he knew the man's fear gas was enough to nearly break Batman. If Gotham's self-proclaimed protector had fears he could not conquer, Nigma knew that he stood no chance of overcoming the effects of the fear gas. He had always felt small in the world, small and afraid … afraid of so many things …
No, Edward told himself. No, no, no. I'm not. I'm too smart to be afraid of phantoms in the night! It's the fear of being afraid. That's how he weakens people, gets them ripe for the plucking of their sanity. Well, I won't fall for it. Not me, the most brilliant mind in the asylum!
I am the one puzzle he will never figure out!