The three girls had taken it upon themselves to make sure the poor mute scarecrow had a good time. They'd dragged him around the party, forcing him to participate in all the stupid little activities they came across.
Well, nearly all of them. Dorothy had been the only one to go bobbing for apples, since she was the only one not painted or masked, and for some reason the Tin Man...er...Woman hung back when it was time to have their fortunes told. (The fortune-teller had assured the Scarecrow that he'd have great success in a professional enterprise soon and had given him a funny look when he nodded enthusiastically at her.)
The necklaces were gone. More people had attended the party than he'd planned on, and some had already left with their necklaces still around their necks. Well, at least he'd get most of them, he consoled himself as the girls yammered on about all the other costumes. Maybe some of them would still be in range of the signal from the remote when the time came. Yes, there'd be fear in the streets...
Dorothy was shaking his arm again. Lips clenched tightly with anger, he deliberately peeled her fingers off of him and firmly placed the offending hand at Dorothy's side. "It's almost time for the costume contest!" she exulted, grabbing his hand. "Let's go get a good spot by the stage!"
With an internal sigh of disgust, he followed her across the crowded floor. After the contest winners were announced, he thought, he'd press the button and then get home. He was so tired that he wasn't even certain he could manage to run away if the Batman showed up, and that was dangerous, bordering on suicidal. He'd rest during the contest and then he'd have some real fun.
The crowd compressed around him until he barely had enough space to stand in. A rag doll's yarn wig brushed teasingly along his arm. A bird-like thing behind him kept poking him in the neck with its beak, rubbing the rough cloth of his mask against his skin and making him think of the itchy neck of Arkham's straitjackets. He was not amused.
He suffered through the endless round of awards for Best Original Costume, Best Re-creation, Best Individual Costume...they all blurred together into one big lump of who cares? in his head. Crane waited impatiently for the moment when it would all be over. The crowd would disperse a bit, he'd get near the door, and then the real festivities of the evening could begin. Dorothy suddenly started bouncing nervously on her toes as the MC approached the microphone again.
"Will the following groups please come to the stage," the speakers blared. "Arnold Rimmer and the Red Dwarf crew..." Cheers erupted from his left as a pair of men in khaki uniforms, one of them badly stained, clambered up onto the stage accompanied by a girl in red, a robot, and a man in a zebra-striped coat. "Rincewind, Sam Vimes, and the Lancre Coven..." Four witches in various stages of roundness fought their way through the crowd, tailed by a man in battered armor and knee britches and a tattered wizard in red. "The Ricardos and the Mertzes..." A pair of couples that looked as if they'd strolled straight out of the fifties helped each other up onto the little raised platform, which was now almost filled to capacity. "And last but not least, Dorothy Gale, the Tin Man, the Cowardly Lion and the Scarecrow!"
He froze as Dorothy squealed directly into his ear. She forced her way through the crowd and looked over her shoulder to make sure he was following her.
He wasn't. He wasn't with them, he wasn't competing in a costume contest, and he wasn't about to get up on stage in this ridiculous set of rags so everyone could gape at him. "Come on!" she yelled to him over the noise of the crowd.
"Yeah, go on, Scarecrow!" The crowd reached out to help him on his way. A forest of eager hands pulled at his clothing and gently shoved his back, steering him toward the stage. Panicked, he tried to brush them away, but the swarm of gloved and painted hands was unstoppable. The crowd finally let him go as his kneecaps connected softly with the edge of the stage.
In one swoop, the trio of girls had him by the arms and pulled him up onto the stage. He straightened his shirt and tried to look as dignified as possible as they jostled into their spot between Sam Vimes and Arnold Rimmer.
The remote bounced gently against his leg as he shifted away from the fictional copper. Anyone who chose to dress as the Commander of the Watch was someone he was not anxious to get close to. "Fourth place goes to..." the announcer called, waving his bit of paper. "The cast of I Love Lucy!" The foursome shrugged good-naturedly, accepted their certificates, and returned to the crowd. Ah, now there was some breathing room...The three groups spread out a little bit more.
"Third place goes to...the crew of Red Dwarf!" Five more people got their certificates and trotted back to their spots. The Scarecrow shifted position once again, hoping no one noticed the remote swaying wildly in his pants. The lining in the pockets must be going, he thought. He hoped it held out until the end of the ceremony.
"Second place goes to..." The MC made a show of squinting at the paper. Bastard, the Scarecrow thought, and it was only then that he realized he actually cared who won this contest. It hadn't seemed important before he was in the running for first. Still, how could his little group win over that other group, who had obviously ransacked their source material for every little nuance of detail they could come up with? Nothing of theirs looked like it had come from a store. The man in armor was even carrying some kind of elaborate hand-made dragon puppet!
The announcer beamed madly from his post behind the microphone. "Discworld! Which means first place goes to the happy folk of Oz!" he screamed over the crowd's roar of approval.
This...no. No, this sort of thing did not happen to him. He'd never won anything in his life. There was clearly some sort of mistake, which would explain why the crowd was going wild. Oh, of course, he was with three relatively attractive girls. That explained it quite nicely. He lingered behind as they stepped forward to accept their prizes.
Dorothy glanced back at him, eyes aglow with pure pride and happiness. "Get up here, Scarecrow!" she called to him as a cheerful lady in cat ears draped a plastic medal around his neck.
He hesitated. Should he?
"Scare-crow," she insisted, pointing firmly at the floor next to her feet.
Someone in the front row heard her. "Scare-crow!" she called approvingly, running satin-covered fingers over her pumpkin necklace. The young man next to her joined in. "Scare-crow!" More and more people were picking up the chant now, making the room echo with the sound of his name screamed to the rafters. "Scare-crow! Scare-crow! Scare-crow!"
They...they were serious? They were cheering for him? This was impossible. This was insane. He was clearly in some kind of hallucinatory state.
What the hell. Who cared if he was hallucinating? This was fantastic. For the first time in his life, Jonathan Crane basked in unadulterated approval. Maybe he wouldn't gas the crowd after all. With a smile that matched the one on his mask nearly cracking his face in half, he stepped forward to join the group, glowing with joy.
It was at this perfect, shining moment that his belt chose to give way, sending his pants down to puddle ludicrously around his ankles. He stumbled over them, spilling to the ground in a heap of lanky limbs.
A shocked silence fell over the crowd. Then, as one, they roared with laughter. Even Dorothy and her friends joined in, clutching one another as they giggled.
Ah, now here was something he was familiar with. The searing pain of humiliation burned across his mind, scorching away any bit of temporary happiness he'd experienced. What had he been thinking? Going along with this costumed charade as if he actually cared, even getting to the point where he'd considered not carrying out his plan? Madness. He boiled with anger as he fought his treacherous clothing. When he'd finally hauled the pants back up to where they were supposed to be, he savagely yanked on the belt until it almost cut the circulation off to his legs.
The crowd was still howling with hilarity. To them, this wasn't a man humiliated at a rare moment of triumph. It was just that silly, clownish scarecrow taking a pratfall to amuse them, and they showed their appreciation by laughing hard enough to bring tears to their eyes.
He pulled the remote out of his pocket. He'd teach them to laugh at him, oh yes, they would pay. Behind the masks and face paint he saw every person who had ever tormented him, the ones who had turned his childhood into a nightmare and his adulthood into a perpetual loop between Arkham and his laboratory. With a look of primal fury on his face, he pressed the button.
He pressed it again. Harder. He slammed the heel of his hand into the button.
Useless. The goddamn remote had broken when he'd fallen on it. He smacked it, pummeling it with his fist and swearing at it to do what he'd designed it for, goddamn it. The tiny pumpkins around nearly everyone's necks failed to burst in an explosion of delicious fear.
Fine. He threw the remote down onto the floor. A loose battery quietly clicked back into place as the small device connected with the boards of the stage. In a fit of pure pique, burning with hate for everyone and everything around him, the Scarecrow brought his foot down hard on it.
The button depressed, and the sound of a thousand popping pumpkins accompanied the sound of a shattering remote driving shards of plastic deep into the sole of his foot. He shrieked, a sound which normally he would have been embarrassed to emit. Thankfully, it was covered by the sound of hundreds of other shrieks and screams as the fear toxin kicked in.
The Scarecrow ripped off his useless, cutesy mask and revealed himself for what he truly was. (Not that it mattered, since the room was full of people in outlandish costumes being warped into terrifying monsters by his fear gas.) No-one even glanced in his direction.
He sank sullenly to the floor. He drew his injured foot into his lap and examined it through the holes in his shoe, picking plastic out of his skin as fear-crazed partygoers rampaged around him. The podium exploded in a shower of splinters as a terrified Lucy Ricardo hurled it at a cowering Arnold Rimmer. He glared through narrowed eyes at Dorothy and her friends who were shrieking and beating someone dressed as a gorilla senseless.
When he'd finished, he leaped lightly off of the stage and shoved his way through the whimpering horde of jackanapes. He slammed the door to the outside open and stomped past the two quivering cops on the doorstep. What a waste of an evening.
"Happy Halloween, indeed," he muttered to himself, tearing the cheap plastic medal from his chest and flinging it carelessly into the alley. It glinted sadly in a puddle as he stalked away.
Author's Note: Karma's a bitch, isn't it? Thanks for reading, and tune in next time to see the Riddler's adventures with one of Gotham's citizens in 'Get Out of My House'!