Disclaimer: I do not own the rights "Batman" or any of its characters, including Scarecrow, nor do I own any rights to the comics or the films. I own nothing!
A/N: Loads of thanks to my wonderful beta, Slytherin Head.
The basement of Arkham Asylum has been dark and empty for decades, abandoned ever since the hospital received enough money to renovate. The cells are old, requiring keys instead of numbers to open, and there are no security cameras to monitor the halls. The staff never ventures into the basement; the rooms and cells remain unused, serving as a mausoleum to Dr. Amadeus Arkham's era.
All of these factors make the basement the perfect place for Dr. Jonathan Crane to work on his project.
In the basement interview room Crane is preparing for his experiment. Tonight will be the first time that he has tested the gas version of his fear serum; although the toxin is still in its early stages, Crane is sure that it will prove to be effective at penetrating the already frail mind of an Arkham patient. He places his briefcase on the room's large table and retrieves a small vial from his pocket.
Crane holds the vial up to the light, admiring the way the smoke dances and floats in the small glass container. Smiling with satisfaction, he gently places the vial on the table and turns to open his briefcase.
He turns back just in time to see the vial roll off the table before it crashes to the floor and shatters.
His eyes widen.
He has barely registered the thought before he begins to cough. As the room fills with a thin, white fog, his head begins to pound and he drops the mask and pulls his shirt over his mouth in a vain attempt to shield himself from the inevitable. His eyes water as he wildly waves his arm, trying to disperse the smoke, knowing it is too late.
The door! His eyes wildly scour the room, searching for his only means of escape. But between the increasingly thickening fog and his blurring vision, he cannot see anything, and he extends his arm past his body, searching for the door handle. He lurches forward and his stomach connects with the table, taking his breath away and causing him to crumble to the ground. He clutches his stomach and shuts his eyes, trying to keep himself from heaving. He desperately wants to scream, but his lungs are on fire and his tongue feels thick and heavy. His ears are ringing and he lies still on the floor, defeated. He's going to die in this room, suffocating on his own failed experiment.
The irony of the situation does not escape him.
Crane closes his eyes and prepares to die.
He feels something brush against his hand and he jumps, his eyes flying open. He is met with a blinding bright light, and he squints, raising his arm to shield his vision. The floor underneath him has changed; instead of cold, hard tile, Crane feels dirt and clumps of grass. He blinks several times, wiping tears from his face. His eyes adjust to the light, and he can see a bright blue sky, the sun vivid and unobscured by clouds. He rises to his feet, crushing clumps of dirt underneath his shoes.
His breath catches in his throat as he gazes forward.
Crane is standing in the middle of a cornfield, surrounded by seemingly endless rows of corn. He is dwarfed by the tall green stalks, their rich, gold tips contrasting with the blue sky. A small breeze sweeps through the field, and the stalks dance in the wind, the rustling of their leaves the only sound in the otherwise silent field.
He steps forward, pushing a stalk aside.
"Hello," he says in a quiet voice, unsure if he wants anyone to respond.
Trying to keep himself from shaking, he takes a deep breath. "Hello!" he yells. His voice echoes throughout the field, bouncing off the cornstalks, filling the sky.
He is met only with silence. He turns around and stops dead in his tracks.
A few feet ahead of him stands a scarecrow, towering over him, casting a shadow over the cornfield. Motionless and inanimate, he is fastened to his wooden cross, imprisoned with old rope and nails.. Straw pokes through his dirty clothes, and an old, beaten hat rests on top his head. A wide grin is stitched into his burlap face; two small buttons act as his eyes.
Crane is overcome with a sense of dread. He wants to turn around and run, but fear of being swallowed by the endless cornfield keeps him glued to the spot.
Something underneath the scarecrow's head moves, straining against the burlap.
Crane's heart is pounding, threatening to burst out of his chest. Sweat pours down his forehead and he swallows against the lump in his throat. Fear paralyzes him, and he is unable to move, unable to run, unable to scream.
The small mass moves again, threatening to tear through the fabric.
Crane fights against his fear, willing himself to take a slow step backwards.
The scarecrow's head rips open, and an impossible number of crows fly out, releasing themselves from the gaping abyss that was a grinning burlap face. Crane screams and falls to the ground, shielding his face with his hands. The birds peck at him savagely, their beaks ripping his clothes and breaking his skin. He buries his face in the ground, inhaling dirt, and tries to wave the crows away, weakly flailing his arms. Unaffected, the crows continue their assault. Stinging grains of dirt hit his eyes as Crane drags himself forward, embedding his fingernails into the soft ground. Tears run down his cheeks as the crows pull at his hair, their claws sharp against his scalp.
"Help!" he screams, "Help me! Please! Someone!"
The once blue sky is now black, filled with crows and the horrible sound of cawing.
Crane manages to pulls himself to his feet. Shielding his eyes he runs forward blindly. Cornstalks whip at him, scratching his already bleeding skin. The birds follow him, their bodies brushing against his face, the sound of their flapping wings filling his ears.
"Stop it!" he begs, sobbing. "Stop it, please! Leave me alone! Stop-"
He trips and everything goes dark.
Crane wakes up on the ground, but instead of dirt and grass beneath him he feels hard tile. He rolls over and slowly opens his eyes. A familiar fluorescent glow washes over him. There is no sun, no blue skies, no corn stalks. Only the soft, artificial glow of light-bulbs.
Crane brings his hand to his face to remove his glasses; He stops mid-gesture, staring at his hand. It is clean; there is no dirt under his fingernails, no scratch marks from the corn stalks. Crane sits up, examining his clothes. They are in the same condition as before his trip to the cornfield. No rips or tears, no blood stains; not a thread is out of place. Lifting up a foot, the bottom of his shoes yield the same results: not a speck of dirt, not a blade of grass. Nothing. Absolutely nothing to indicate that he was anywhere but this room.
The whole thing was an hallucination; a hallucination he had created.
A low, raspy laugh escapes Crane's lips.
Those few hellish moments were more vivid than any nightmare he has ever had. He had felt the sun as it beat down upon him, the sweat as it poured down his forehead, the blood as it burst through his skin. He had seen the bright blue of the sky, the rich, dark brown of the earth, the deep black of the crow's feathers. He had felt pure fear when the scarecrow's mask burst, unleashing the crows. He had felt real pain, real terror.
Smiling, he realizes he can make others feel those things as well.
His formula needs some work-his hell in the cornfield had lasted only a few minutes—but it won't be much longer before he'll be able to debut his fear gas to the unsuspecting citizens of Gotham. Perhaps he'll start with his place of employment; it would ironic and fitting to turn the Arkham psychiatrists into shrieking, drooling lunatics. In the mean time, the patients will suffice; his experiments over the past year have remained undetected and proven fruitful.
Crane rises to his feet, leaning against the table for support; he is still weak from his ordeal. He gazes into his open suitcase, and his eyes land on his mask. Images from the cornfield flash through his mind and his knees buckle; he lowers himself into a chair and takes a deep breath.
Scarecrow has played an active role in Crane's nightmares for a long time.
And soon, he'll appear in everyone else's nightmares too.