Disclaimer: I don't own Jonathan Crane, or the Scarecrow. Happy?
1. The scarecrow
The bus growled past, bathing him liberally in red silt. Jonathan stopped abruptly and got out his handkerchief, waiting for the dust to settle a little so he could attempt to wipe off his glasses. They had been his grandfather's and would slip and slide freely about his head if they were not anchored with something like a rubber band, which he often had to resort to. They didn't have money for new glasses.
He wasn't sure if he had imagined the giggle as the bus went by, if anyone had seen his lonely, shambling figure on the road. Later he would claim tardiness, but the truth was he just didn't feel like riding today. He wiped his mouth on the sleeve of his overlarge flannel shirt, green eyes contemplating the horizon. It was three miles to the high school from his house, and it wasn't on the way to anything. Some days the driver didn't even bother to swing by.
He began walking, uneven, awkward steps. He sometimes daydreamed about rounding a hill and coming upon the bus stuck in a ditch, sticking out of the earth like a screwed-out cigar, doors jammed shut. In the vision he smiled benignly as he strode past, nodding at his classmate's screams for help. It gave him a small prickly feeling of warmth.
When he really came to the top of the hill, there was nothing by the side of the road but a dead dog. He felt a pang of sadness, then mild shock that he could still feel such an emotion for anything anymore.
It had been dead quite a while; his bus hadn't hit it, or at least not today. The dog lay where it had been thrown, posed as if hit in mid-leap. It was a little pathetic.
It wasn't a local mutt, a patchwork of different breeds dangerously inbred, but a border collie. The coat was glossy, no ribs showed through the sides and there was no knifing out of the hip bones. This dog had been kept, fed regularly, someone had taken care of him. Someone had loved him.
Suddenly a cawing sound drew his attention. A swarm of black carrion-birds descended on the carcass, crowing rustily. The crows around this region were known for their unusual size and aggressive tendencies. They would strip the bones clean, perhaps. Then no one driving by would have to look at the sad little dog carcass and feel guilty as if they'd hit him themselves.
He crouched for a moment, studying. Then he picked up a rotted fence pole and charged at them, echoing and amplifying their cries. They scattered, and he stood not three feet from the dog. He paused again for a moment, but only for a moment because the birds were regrouping. He shucked off his shirt and gingerly wrapped the dog in it, now only in his baggy jeans and the piece of rope he used for a belt. He turned resolutely and trekked up the hill, back toward home.
2. Mental illness(1)
Dr. Crane, now Professor, sat in a condemnable little streetside café and stirred his disgusting tea. The other professors had been ecstatic to have him, showing how very little they knew. Coming into psychiatry and psychology because of their own demons, they wore their disorders on their sleeves. The Dean and his inferiority complex, Henderson and his not-so-latent homosexuality, Fitch and his peculiar brand of sexual deviancy that might be worth a promotion or two in the future. People were ridiculous.
He rested his cheek on one hand and gazed out the streaked window.
Gotham he had hardly expected to be different, but it was a surprise to find out just how…boring it could be. For an introduction to the city's unique approach to psychology, he'd been taken along on a case study, on of Gotham's myriad serial killers. Waylon Jones, aka "Killer Croc" had a habit of goring his victims much like a bull crocodile, "victim" meaning anyone in his way. Crane's excitement had given way to impatience, then to apathy. Croc wasn't a real killer with an MO, he was just a homicidal brute who used fists that happened to be tipped with claws. A dumb animal, much like his namesake.
The sun was setting over the dingy skyscrapers, the pestilent haze of pollution made it closer to the color of a healing bruise or a plague abscess than your traditional sunset. Even night had an almost yellowish miasma that showed in halos around the street lights, the colour of corruption. He felt right at home.
The jocks jeered him and rubbed shoulders with each other like a pack of Mandrills. Even the lacrosse team beat him up, which did nothing for his last remaining shred of self-esteem. He slunk down the school halls, slump-shouldered and alone. The girls twitched their clothing away as he passed, afraid that some of the red dust that still clung to him would ruin their pleated skirts. In the antiseptic hallway swimming with bright colours and faces, he was like a dead leaf skittering in the wind.
Snatches of conversation needled him, pretty girls crinkled their noses at the mention of the outcast. He tripped over a protruding foot and went down immediately, vertical to horizontal with no in-between. Rough, snickering laughter echoed in the hall, Jonathan counted to ten and checked if his nose was bleeding. It was.
"God, you guys, try being a little more humane!" His arms were gripped firmly and he righted himself, pulled upward by this angel of mercy. His rescuer was Sherry Squires, who tried to cover her shock and disgust at who she'd rescued. One of the popular clique, trying to be "nice", descending all the way to his level to bring him some modicum of comfort. He detested hypocrites.
He smiled gently at her and mimed dusting himself off, showing pale palms to her mockingly. A nervous smile twitched her lips, her eyes had too much contempt and pity, damn it, not enough fear. She could learn. They all could.
Dr. Crane reclined at his desk and tried in vain not to appear bored. The man on the couch issued forth a stream of hopes, insecurities, paranoid fantasies. He really shouldn't be in here, a textbook violent neurotic with tendencies to antisocial personality disorder, but Arkham had yet to receive most of the "fun" criminals. Now he was just stuck with this man, an outwardly timid engineer who just so happened to have an obsession with a children's book.
Dr. Crane scratched an x on the grid in his legal pad and twisted his mouth at the corners, fuming. His association hadn't been by choice, and he didn't escape into his little storybook world when real life reared its ugly and horribly complicated head. The man just wanted to go back to a time that had never existed, a happy and carefree childhood spent solving puzzles and being left alone. It was getting increasingly difficult for him to separate fantasy from reality, he might even be close to a breaking point.
Crane shut his notebook with a sigh. Sometimes this job was only a series of petty victories, ones that brought almost no joy but kept you going.
"…and she hardly even notices me, and I see her every time she goes to lunch when she walks past my desk–"
"Very intriguing," he cut the patient off, "but I propose this plan of action the next time she gets near…"
And he told him how to get her attention. It wasn't the right way, the honest way, or the sane way, but it would work. It would put an end to the man's pointless therapy, which was going nowhere at its own leisurely pace. It would work, just not in the way most people would consider therapy to work. Those people were blinded by their simplistic values of "right" and "wrong", and would keep the man suspended in his own infantile malaise for years before he broke. Crane was merely hasting the natural end, which was never going to be happy, frankly.
The man left his office that day, trembling slightly with excitement, muttering to himself. He was not back.
A week later, Gotham found itself the proud possessor of a new "theme" villain. Calling himself "The Mad Hatter", he used sophisticated mind-control technology to perform criminal acts. Crane, sipping his morning coffee, read the article and shook his head slowly. Some people were just plain crazy.
5. Mental Illness(2)
He sits at the dissection table, tuning out the droning whine of the teacher's voice. He fingers a foil-wrapped scalpel and gazes about the room.
Jackson Grey doesn't even pretend to listen, just continues his sniggering conversation with two football players who look like their collected IQ wouldn't fill a cup.
George Dunstan is yucking it up, mocking the teacher's exaggerated gestures while his back is turned. Oh, George is so funny.
Bo Griggs is paying attention, surprisingly, brow furrowed with the massive effort of thinking. The light glances off the slick black of his hair. Every girl wanted Bo.
And her, sitting with on leg resting crosswise on the other, chewing her lower lip. Jonathan fills his eyes with her, marking down the details, imprinting her face on his mind. How did the old saying go, the first obsessions are the most memorable?
She twitches a bit of hair from her face and frowns in concentration. Jonathan mimicks this subtly with his own face, peeking out at her through the forest of his bangs. Her pen rolls to the edge and falls, swearing silently she bends to pick it up and catches his eye.
To his own surprise, he shoots her a smile. A pale ghost of it spreads over her face, fighting with a look of nervous anxiety. He turns back to his books, smiling quietly at nothing in particular.
Jonathan sits still hearing the ticking of the clock and the ripping of time from space, his nose itches but he can't get a hand to scratch it.
He sits on the bed and stares at the wall, eyes so dry they feel like granite lumps in their sockets, but he can't blink, he can only stare.
It's been twelve days since they locked him away, shut away in this gray prison, the shade of gray his underpants took on after too many washings.
They've cut off his arms with a straitjacket. They've cut off his hands from each other. They've cut off his legs with their beatings. They've cut off his brain with too many drugs, too many pills administered by force, too many injections so he looks like a junky.
They said he was dangerous, but the word has no meaning in here. He's been cut off as a human being, within these walls he is the sum of his component parts, he's a mouth to be fed, an arm to be stuck again and again.
He's sweating feverishly now, a few years ago someone came in with a floodlight to shine in his eyes but the pupils were too contracted already, all they got was disappointment.
His heartbeat is irrhythmical, it thumps in his lopsided chest like a piece of furniture on a heaving schooner, he'd throw up but his stomach is empty. He can taste bitter and rot, and his teeth feel loose.
None of it matters anyway. His head swims away from his body and the universe has swum away from him.
The door swings open, but his eyes can only make out black shapes against the impossible brightness. He'd shiver if he could move. There is a pinprick in some dim and distant world, and his eyes close, burning red-hot.
He opens them and he's alone, the room is bare, the world is bare and he has always been alone. Someone screams for a while. His throat hurts.
He sits slumped on the bed, hearing the ticking of the clock but assigning no meaning to it, his brain a whirling dervish that dances just out of his reach, his nose itches but he doesn't have a hand free to scratch it.
The Joker was once again splashed over the front pages, grinning in lewd colours from every cover. Dr. Crane walked puffing to work, considering buying one before shrugging it off. The newspapers in this city were sub-tabloid, once your leading story for three weeks is a man-bat vigilante there's not much below you.
Still, he sneaks glances at it every newspaper stand he passes. Still…
What would it be like to live the Joker's life? To be completely free and uninhibited by morality, to have no psychological boundaries, to be an agent of chaos…
No, he decided while waiting at a stoplight, not chaos. Fear.
A bus passes by him on the crosswalk, he imagines he can see them inside, noses squashed up against the glass, jeering. His mouth crimps and his hand grips his briefcase a little tighter.
What kind of childhood would the Joker have had? He wondered. Imagine getting that on your couch. It would be a fascinating, though ultimately fruitless effort. The man was such an ingenious sociopath he could probably cut his reality to fit the person he was with. He was a hollow vessel, a manikin with a hole of endless depth inside…
He had to put a hand over his eyes and lean against a telephone pole for a minute. What had happened to make him so dizzy all of the sudden? He shook himself and kept walking.
Whoever the "Joker" was, Jonathan would never get to interact with him personally. No, such delicate matters were better left up to the local vigilante force. He could see the Batman now, square jaw, chiseled physique, cruel mouth. A sour, clenching hatred bubbled up in him suddenly, and he nearly gasped.
Was this how Dr. Jonathan Crane acted? Jonathan, not Ichabod. He was no ungraceful fool, to be made the butt of jokes. He was a man, and a doctor, and a brilliant psychologist. The others were nothing.
Still, he thought as he walked by a sandwich board with the luridly bright colours of the Joker ready to drip off the page. Still…
8. Mental Illness(3)
Any high school dropout can tell you that the very definition of insanity is repeating an action over and over again and expecting a variant result. Jonathan has yet to hear this, but when he does, far too late, the bitter irony will strike him as funny.
She stands in a cluster with her friends, all similar hair, dress, facial features but only one is her, and as he draws close he can tell she's relating something distressing.
"–and he's been gone for three days and he's never been outside our yard before, I just worry so much–"
Oddly enough, Jonathan thinks he can follow this conversation.
One of her friends catches wind of him and shoots him a glare, like he was a raccoon digging in her garbage. The others scent blood in the water and turn to him, faces one collective frown. But she isn't looking at him, he notices.
"What the hell do you want Ichabod?" Snarls one. He sidesteps the question and the girl. Sherry, not so deep in her own misery she can't see the world around her, looks at him. She flinches, but doesn't tell him to go away.
"You were talking about a dog, weren't you?" He says softly, face betraying no emotion.
"How the hell do you even know that?" another clique harpy screeches, "Gawd, you were eavesdropping–"
"Yes." Sherry whispers, almost inaudibly. He gives her a cryptic smile.
"When the sun goes down I may have something to show you." He murmurs, and then walks away confidently. It wasn't a date, but he would see her again.
The bus roars away later that evening, and he stands on the crest of the hill, admiring the sinking sun. Someone clears their throat, and he takes a moment to savor the feeling of triumph before turning. She stands on the opposite side of the road, tugging absently at the hem of her skirt, chewing her lip.
"I didn't think you'd show." She says. "I thought you'd…" she trailed off, a million scenarios stillborn in her mouth. He just smiles and shakes his head, setting off for the farm. He can hear the uncertain patter of her feet as she trots behind him, he slows up just a bit.
They reach his home and keep going, to the barn beyond. It was deep shadow inside, and smelled the worse for wear. He allows her a moment to catch her breath before showing her inside.
The barn housed nothing but rusted farm equipment now, and graying hay that turned damp and rotten as you dug inside. There was something new on the floor, though, a bright blue tarp wrapped around something small and bulky. He lifts the edge and listens to her gasp, keeping his eyes on the high window.
"I took steps to preserve it, but we are somewhat…lacking in most of the proper chemicals. It is fortunate I found you so soon." He says, savoring her shuddery breaths.
"How…how long has he been like this?"
"I found him two days ago, I fear he made it to the road and no farther."
"And…and you picked him up?" He looks at her now. Her eyes are bright and vulnerable, her tone awed and grateful. He nods and kneels beside her, rolling back the tarp even more.
"The crows were beginning to get antsy, so I decided to bring him here."
"And you picked him up and brought him here." She repeats, as if rehearsing for later. Her voice is breathy, she is beautiful in distress.
"If you would like me to preserve him further, I'd need–"
"No, no no," she draws back, "it's…I just wanted to know what happened to him. I'm…I'm glad you found him and brought him here." Her eyes linger on his face, and suddenly the barn is much too warm. Her finely manicured hand grips a paw, thumb rubbing back and forth steadily.
"I…suppose you'd…l-like to bury him–"
"No." The sound is small and sad in the great dark space. "No. It would… too much trouble to. Besides, my dad would flip out about his prized herb garden, and we haven't got a square inch of dirt free anywhere else."
"No." She says. "I…you've taken enough trouble already. I don't know what else I can do."
He allows himself to blink, eyes burning with long dryness. "Then, if I may make a suggestion…"
They stand around the makeshift pyre later, cannibalized fence posts and tool handles forming a mostly square stack. It was Jonathan who placed the dog on top, gingerly supporting his head and tail, and Jonathan who lit it. She stood back, one hand gripping her skirt, the other hovering under her chin as if waiting to fly to her mouth. The wood was old but dry, and went up fairly quickly. When the flames reached the animal she let out a little cry and dropped her hand, turning her head away and grasping Jonathan's forearm.
He watches impassively as the flames licked and fed on the dog, hearing her quiet little sobs beside him, the tremors from them running up his arms. He would have held her close if she sought comfort in his body, but she stayed where she was, his hand in a white-knuckle grip.
It's dark when she says goodbye, red-eyed and lovely.
"Thank you Ich-Jonathan." She whispers softly. "Thank you."
Jonathan sat at his monumental desk, shredding blotters in his hands. The tick of the grandfather clock was no longer a comfort but an assault, he could feel the time wearing away at his face. There was a stack of papers on his desk for grading, but the silence in his office was so thick and oppressive it demanded tribute.
He had hoped to have so much done by now. He had hoped to be granted tenure, able to pursue more…personal goals. But dealing with the academia was like wading neck-deep through sargassum.
The Gotham Times crossword section lay open in front of him, long solved and used as scratch paper. A spherical brass lamp sat sturdily in the corner of the desk, the base temptingly heavy. He felt like throwing something. He felt like screaming. He felt like going to Sherri Squire's grave and urinating on it.
He felt so…
He had to give a lecture tomorrow, another fruitless effort falling on deaf and stupid ears. His great dream would never be realized, and he would spend the rest of his days here, growing soft and grey, slowly losing his mind. His lungs constricted at the thought.
Surely there must be something? Surely…
The drawers of the thick oak desk were oiled to perfection, silent and smooth as he slid them open. Within lay a treasure, something to make a nice little noise. Let's see how his students liked surprises…
Professor Crane grinned. He could feel the boredom lift already.
The night air is glorious as it pumps in and out his lungs. The night is beautiful and the halos around the street lamps are singing to him as he runs, kicking out his heels and moving faster, faster.
The burlap is scratchy and the eyeholes slide obstructively, he rips the hood off and feels a wonderful chill hit his face.
His body is uneven, running awkwardly as a penguin in flight, but his long, lean legs carve him a path in the thin night air. Ichabod on his thin nag is racing the Kentucky Derby and all the thoroughbreds cough in his dust.
There is pain, pain in his fallen arches, pain in his side, but it's so good to run and run and run and be free in the cold night air.
There is a bag clenched in his fist, maybe it's full of money or jewels but it no longer matters because he's out and he's free and the man in black is chasing him, really chasing him and Jonathan Crane is alive for the first time in his life.
Author's note: finished over a succession of 1 am writing sessions, this is a labor of love and insomnia. I figured I should pay tribute to Crane's canonical origins after playing fast and loose with them for so long. I wanted to give this one a happy ending somehow, though I wasn't quite sure what would be happy and in keeping with the tone of the whole thing. Then one night it hit me, and here you are reading this, the monument to my fatally short attention span. Till next time, kids.