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: 01 Apr 2019; status: finished; confidence: fiction; importance: 5


See also Pain: The Gift No One Wants, Brand 1993; “Guilt: Another Gift No One Wants”, Scott Alexander

Act 1

Gotham. Night. Fading stars peep through the smog.

“On any ordinary summer night, the Tombs Gotham Waterworks would be silent as the broken stones of their namesake, save for the gurgle of water passing through to the City of Fog.”

A hallway of large pipes. Sharp shadows hide the nooks and crannies. The hint of a cape—or wing?—around the corner, through the mess.

“But not tonight, for the Scarecrow is on the loose and the Caped Crusader hunts the darkness!”

Scarecrow [slowly]: “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 [chanting]: “There is shadow under this red rock, / come in under the shadow of this red rock…”

Batman lunges, swinging on a batarang, crossing from catwalk to catwalk, hiding under a dock.

Scarecrow [loudly]: “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. That light was new.

Scarecrow [softly]: “I will show you… fear in a handful of dust.”

Scarecrow blows downwards, gently. The powder mixes incarnadine in the multitudinous pipes, making the green one red, swirls, drains, spirals, and is gone, leaving a stain like rust.

Batman: “Scarecrow!”

Closeup. The mask of the Scarecrow, stuffed with straw—a hollow man draped over a nest of open pipes and knobs, his costume. Back to Scarecrow. 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 indelible traces of red on one.

Batman [angry]: “What have you done‽

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

Scarecrow [triumphant]: “You’re too late. This is the center of the water network, the fear sensitizer is already spreading through the city. The Shadow falls on the twilight kingdom. Gotham is done!”

Closeup. He is too late, and angry. Batman scowls and shakes his head.

“But Batman knows the Scarecrow is right. The nerve agent would spread in 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…”

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

“Would he have created a water-borne fear toxin—without a fear anti-toxin?”

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

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.”

This is the way the world ends

Scarecrow: “No. You’ve destroyed it.”

Act 2

The Gotham skyline.

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

“Dan Sparrow didn’t get where he is now by not taking risks or by indulging when he needed to be sharp, no sir. Just water for him, thank you. Tonight, he feels good about his luck with the cards—very good.”

A Mustang streaks through the empty streets. A closeup of the speedometer in the danger zone. It swerves around a corner, almost flipping. Gripping the wheel, a young man grins a crazed 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 the summer night while the stop lights streak by like dying stars?”

The inside of a cozy apartment. A young housewife is relaxing with her tea & 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 on 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, a king of infinite space—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, among the debris of makeup and cups on her night stand, a bottle of Tylenol.

“Celia had nothing to live for after Hammond 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 streets. 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 dancing in the water of a fire hydrant they’ve “borrowed” 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 worried about crime, retirement, or being damned to Hell. But what they don’t yet realize about this world is…”

This is the way the world ends

“They’re already in Hell.”

Act 3

The outside of the Tombs. Dark, without a star in the sky.

“The night is long.”

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, the Gotham sky behind him now tinged slightly red.

Closeup. Batman is smiling?

This is the way the world ends

Batman: “No, Robin, old chum, I’m… afraid… not.”

Not with a bang but a whimper.

The End.