The Gift of the Amygdali

'Batman' short story in the style of a 1980s comic book script about the Scarecrow and the gifts no one appreciates: pain/guilt/fear/anxiety.
topics: fiction, psychology
created: 29 Oct 2017; modified: 12 Jan 2019; status: finished; confidence: log; importance: 0

[Gotham. Night. A few stars peep through the smog.]

[On any ordinary summer night, the Tombs Gotham Waterworks would be silent as their namesake, save for the gurgle of water passing through to a parched city. But not tonight, for the Scarecrow is on the loose and the Caped Crusader hunts the darkness!]

[A hallway of large pipes. Sharp shadows hide the nooks and crannies. The hint of a cape - or wing? - around the corner.]

[Closeup. The mask of the Scarecrow, hunched over a nest of open pipes and knobs.]

SCARECROW: What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow / out of this stony rubbish? Son of man, / you cannot say.

[Flash to Batman, eyes asquint, watching an empty corridor intently for come what may.]

SCARECROW: There is shadow under this red rock, / come in under the shadow of this red rock…

[Batman lunges, swinging from a bat-a-rang, crossing from catwalk to catwalk, hiding under a dock.]

SCARECROW: I will show you something different from either / your shadow at morning striding behind you, / or your shadow at evening rising to meet you…

[Batman freezes, silhouetted against a cathedral-like circular window by a floodlight turning on. That light was new.]

[Back to Scarecrow. He has taken off his mask. He looks like your favorite uncle or college professor, in another life, perhaps. He has lifted up his palms to his face as if he were praying, were it not for the reddish powder heaped in them.]

SCARECROW: I will show you… fear in a handful of dust.

[Scarecrow blows downwards, gently. The powder mixes in the pipe, swirls, drains, and is gone, leaving a stain like rust.]

[From out of nowhere the Masked Avenger plummets downward, roundhouse punching the Scarecrow, sending him flying.]

[Closeup. He is late, and angry.]

BATMAN [angry]: What have you done?

SCARECROW [triumphantly]: You’re too late. This is the center of the entire water network, the fear sensitizer is already spreading through Gotham. Soon everyone will see the true horror of reality; and nothing can survive the truth. Gotham is finished!

[Batman scowls and shakes his head.]

[But Batman knows the Scarecrow is right. The nerve agent would spread within minutes, especially with the heat wave!]

[The vigilante’s cowl suddenly lifts.]

[An insight strikes Batman! The Scarecrow was a consummately careful researcher before he went bad. Would he really have created a water-borne fear toxin… without a fear antitoxin?]

[Batman kneels, rummaging through the bags, searching… searching… finding!]

[The Scarecrow, now trussed up by Robin who is keeping a watchful eye on him, staggers up, receiving a gut punch for his troubles.]

SCARECROW: Wait - wait, no - ugh!

[Ignoring his self-serving cries, Batman empties two bags of blue powder into the same pipe.]

[One to negate the fear toxin, and one for good measure.]

BATMAN: Pray this reduces the damage, Scarecrow.

SCARECROW: You fool. You have no idea what you’ve done.

BATMAN: I’ve saved the city.

SCARECROW: No. You’ve destroyed it.

[The Gotham skyline.]

[A well-dressed businessman looks at his cards in an elegantly scarlet-gold underground casino, suited thugs in the background.]

[Dan Sparrow didn’t get where he is now by not taking risks or by boozing when he needed to be sharp. Just water for him, thank you. Tonight, he feels good about his luck with cards - very good.]

[A Mustang streaks through the empty streets. A closeup of the speedometer reads 160kph. It swerves around a corner, almost flipping. Gripping the wheel, a young man grins a crazy rictus.]

[After a quick dinner, Rick Barlow decided to run an errand across town. There’s so little traffic that he punched it up… and up… and up some more. He is exhilarated - what could be better than this? Driving through a summer night while the stop lights streak by?]

[The inside of a cozy apartment. A young housewife is watching a talk show on TV; through the door we see a bath with steam rising and a small child in it, and flames licking a pot on a stove in a kitchen through the other door.]

[Mary Willet is juggling cooking dinner with bathing James and watching Johnny Carson. She pauses to watch one bit satirizing Russia. How funny! Why not watch a little longer? There’s nothing to worry about.]

[A middle-aged man stretches out in a lounger on the roof of an apartment building, glass of tomato juice in hand, smoking a fat blunt.]

[Ever since he was a child, Pete Gloop dreamed of flying like a bird, but he had bad eyes. Idly, he sees a cardinal - so rare in the city these days, he muses - fly from roof to roof, and wonders if he can still long-jump like he did back in high school…]

[A small bare hotel room, lit by a single hanging bulb. A not-unattractive woman in a dress contemplates a bottle of Tylenol on her bed stand.]

[Hannah had nothing to live for after Hector left her. But that unknown country from whose bourne no traveler returns, puzzles the will, so, she’s here. Now she thinks again of it, and is no longer paused by what dreams may come.]

[Outside on the street. It is a sultry hot summer night, and Gotham is a pressure-cooker. Even the young men, strutting in their crimson Converses to their boomboxes, lack their usual insouciance and are on edge tonight. A group of gangsters enjoying dancing in the water of a fire hydrant they’ve repurposed look at each other. Switchblades flick out. They move out.]

[They’ve remembered unfinished business elsewhere.]

[City skyline.]

[Across Gotham, weary men and women are realizing, for the first time in their lives… they live in a world without fear. They’re not anxious about crime, retirement, or going to Hell. But what they don’t yet realize about this world is… they’re already in Hell.]

[The outside of the Tombs. Dark as ever. The night is long, without a star in the sky.]

[Inside. The Scarecrow lies silently in front of Robin, looking at Batman hunched over the pipes.]

ROBIN: I can hear a siren - sirens.

[Robin looks uncertainly at Batman.]

ROBIN: Shouldn’t - shouldn’t we do something?

[Batman turns away to look at Robin.]

[Closeup. Batman is smiling?]

BATMAN: No, Robin, old chum, I’m… afraidnot.