There is a grey room, poorly furnished, dark save for the flickering street light that shines through the cracks in the barred windows. It's cold outside and the wind whistles about, sneaking in under the door and turning loose papers about in its curiosity. Rain pounds on the windows in its jealousy.
The door is thrust open, giving the wind free reign, and everything not bolted down is blown away. A shivering, gangly figure shambles inside. He pushes the door closed once more, rests his back against it and his shaking knees nearly give in. The wind whines outside, lamenting the loss of its playthings. The man pushes onward with a limp, looking likely to fall. A trembling hand presses against his abdomen, red peeking through his fingers.
He takes one step, two, then collapses to the floor. He lies there, panting and writhing. One arm reaches out and pushes weakly against the ground, just managing to raise his face off the floor. He crawls along until, breathless, he reaches an overturned table. He takes hold and uses it to climb to his feet. His hat remains on the floor, water seeping out of it.
He stands still a moment, his vision blurring. Then he pushes himself off, aiming for a corridor that seems miles away. He stumbles and falls against the wall. He leans onto it and soon he is walking, one laborious step at a time. He passes a metal door, another, and now his is not the only pained breath. Behind him he leaves a trail of straw and a smear of red on the wall. The trail comes to an end at a desk, before which waits a merciful chair. He drops into it with a pained hiss.
His hand crawls over the wood, turning on a lamp, crumpling numerous papers before reaching into a prop skull. He drags his hand back, a small key grasped in his fingers. It fits on the second try and he turns it, pulling out a drawer. He lifts up a medical kit, drops it onto the desk. A needle is dipped into alcohol, the bottle almost tipping over. He raises his shirt, moves a shaking hand to the deepest gash. The needle bites into flesh, thread trailing after it.
Someone whimpers and begs for help in a low, broken voice. It sounds like his own, but he knows it not to be. A surge of hateful pride runs through him and he finds a twisted smile on his lips. He knows, he thinks to himself, that he would never utter such pathetic words. He is beyond them, in his place outside humanity, and he does not expect or want help. Such things became impossible a long time ago, before memory. He is snarling with bitter joy, beside himself. The pain of the needle brings him back. The gash is sutured, he moves to the next. His head throbs and his vision swims, and he realizes he still has his mask on. He is too tired to take it off.
Besides, it has a purpose. It helps him concentrate, keep the lesser emotions at bay. He has no use for fear and there is no point in wishing the pain away. The needle travels. His grunts and his panting are met with whimpering and random statements and imploring appeals for mercy never delivered.
Finally, he is done. His fingers run over skin pale as bone and partially obscured by dried blood. He is cold and shivering and he wonders if he will ever succeed. One of the voices down the hall gives a long, aching moan, asks if there is anyone out there. "Come soon," it says, in a wholly different timbre, and he is sure it is death itself. He rests his head on the table.
He raises it again, and realizes the light has gone out. He feels exhausted, even more so than before. The wind has picked up, moaning outside the windows. His test subjects follow suit, groveling for punishment or the touch of people long gone. He feels uncomfortably small in this echoing chamber. He shakily gets to his feet and starts moving, feeling the cold gnaw at his bones. He shuffles out into the hall and stops outside one of the cells. He knows he should not do this. Such an unplanned interruption will alter or even ruin this phase of his research. Somehow it feels unimportant.
"You are alone," he says. "What hope can others bring you, if you cannot live with yourself?"
There is no answer. The subject has not heard him. He slides down and sits, resting his back against the cell door. Its inhabitant starts muttering again, this time of the cold and unthinkable memories of the past, along with the countless people that he envies.
"The past shapes you but does not define you," he says. "What use is constantly reliving the pain of your past, if you do not think of the future?"
There is no answer. He has not been heard. His many wounds complain as he breathes, his whole body feels brittle. The subject in the next cell is screaming, threatening everyone that is after him in one breath, the whole world in the next.
"Revenge is satisfying," he says. "But what is the use of hate? If you hate the whole world, you will inevitably hate yourself."
There is no answer. His deathly intoned advice goes unheard. The subject on the opposite end of the hall groans and tries to bargain for his life, naming his dream and all the good it can do in this world.
"Goals are important," he says. "But how worthless is your life if one goal is all it has to its name?"
There is no answer. He slumps further down and feels his consciousness leaving him. The room gibbers around him and he is dizzy, among all the voices he is unsure if his is silent.
He raises his head again and realizes everything hurts. It seems some of his stitching has come undone. The subject on the other side of the door knocks on it and whispers: "Is anyone out there?"
He gets up stiffly and faces the person, feeling dazed and confused.
"I am here."
The man does not scream.
"Thank god. I can't take being alone. I felt like I was losing it." The man pauses. "How did you end up here?"
He leans on the wall, resting.
"I don't know." There is a short silence. "Does my face not bother you?"
The man's frantic eyes stare at him.
"No. Any human face would look beautiful right now. I've never felt so alone."
He stares back, confusion and pain mingling in his thoughts.
"I… think I can relate. I feel… as if my whole life has been a mistake. I think…" He pauses. "I want to be human. This isn't really my face. It's a mask. It's nothing but folly. A mark of madness. It will doom me."
The man pinches his hand, fighting to stay lucid.
"Oh. You can take it off. It's okay."
He lowers his head.
"Perhaps…perhaps I will."
His fingers grasp the rough fabric and the mask slowly comes off. The air is cold against his skin. He looks up.
He is met by hoarse screams tearing at his eardrums. He jerks back, feels an icy cold spread inside him. Soon the whole hall is screaming unreservedly. He falls to his knees and his whole body trembles. His head hangs back. His mouth hangs open. He feels the darkness wrap around him, and he drowns.
The Batman enters the cold and dark compound, wind and rain at his back. The air is alive with the sound of human despair. The noise leads him to a hall filled with screaming innocents. In their midst the Scarecrow kneels, bloodied arms limp by his sides, his skeletal body and pale face contorting as he howls with unhinged laughter.