Thursday, October 6, 2011

It's Good to be Afraid -- 06, October


The scarecrow stepped off the raft behind Jack. Jack was moving his lantern left and right, turning the scenery around them into an aged yellow painting. From behind, he heard the cracking of bones as the shrouded figure of Charon extended his skeletal hand.

“Jack, a few coins,” The scarecrow said.
“Huh? Look who yer asking,” replied Jack.
“I know exactly who I'm asking. That's why it was polite of him not to make us pay in advance, and it is exactly why I know you have coins in your pocket right now.”
“We're about to bring him plenty of business. Maybe he should do us a favor now, aye?” Frustrated, Jack dug in his pocket and removed a few pence, then tossed them toward the scarecrow. “Only because I know ye'll never shut up.”

The scarecrow paid the river man, and the two parties moved off in opposite directions-- Jack and the scarecrow headed off into the woods, as the river man poled his raft back into the shadowed water. On the hill above them, the lighted windows of their destination reflected off the water below.

The pair worked their way up the hill, weaving between trees and vegetation. The rain-loosened soil made climbing treacherous, but exposed roots provided ample footing.

“So that's it,” Jack said as they reached the top. “The old nuthouse. What do we do now?”
“It's not my plan. We have to wait for her to show up.”

The two camped out behind the treeline, waiting as the night passed. It sprinkled once, briefly. Jack folded his arms tightly across his stomach and stayed near the weak warmth of the cinder in his lantern. The scarecrow was indifferent to the cold.

“What are ye made of this time, anyway?” Jack asked.
“I'm flesh, as always,” answered the scarecrow.
“Nah, I know ye got flesh and blood on ye, but yer still a scarecrow at heart.”
“Straw, mostly.” The scarecrow admitted.

“I remember the one time, ye was stuffed with mostly corn. Ye was scritch-scratching everywhere ye went.” Jack laughed. “Do you think, then, yer made of enough straw, this cinder could set ye ablaze?”
“Not when I'm wet from the rain, Jack. Why would you even suggest it?”
“Enough years on this Earth, you get curious about things.” Jack held the jack o' lantern aloft and angled it toward the face of the scarecrow, who promptly turned away.

“There's hardly need for us to fight, Jack.”
“Yeah, ye know where that goes,” Jack said, raising his chin and reclining his head. What had once been a deep gash was now a mass of scar tissue. “Hard to turn me neck correctly now. Ye said wasn't no need to fight then, too, but ye did.”
“Anyone would, when pressed.”
“I made $20 on a bet that night.”
“That was a silly wager, Jack. Carrying around a pumpkin and your head simultaneously would keep both of your hands filled. How would you hold onto your money?”

“Gentlemen!” a voice startled the both of them.

A dark figured seemed to materialize from the shadow of a tree. Jack flipped his lantern around to shine on the woman, but the scarecrow knew who she was immediately.

“Countess Borsala,” the scarecrow said, standing. He bowed slightly.
“Ah, Amy,” Jack said, recovering from his start.
“That's Ambrus, you child” the woman replied. “Or should I call you Stingy?”

The scarecrow doubted many people would refer to old Jack as “Child.”

“Go ahead if it please ye. I trademarked it. I'll be making 12 pence every time ye say it!” Jack laughed.
“I don't believe you have a strong grasp of copyright or trademark law,” Ambrus responded.
“Well, ye can call me what ye like, and I can call ye Batsy, how about?”

“You've made enough noise for tonight, Jack. Both of you gentleman have, for that matter. If the security personnel inside that building were more alert, our business here would be at an end.”
“It would be nice to be done with it,” Jack suggested.
“You're only prolonging it,” the scarecrow told him. “Please go on, Ms. Borsala. What is our task?”

“Gentlemen, There is a man from within I wish to recruit to our cause.”
“Someone from the institution?” the scarecrow asked.
“A patient?” inquired Jack.
“A madman,” responded Ms. Borsala.
“Is a madman really something one can recruit?” asked the scarecrow.
“He is a man of a most singular purpose,” Ms. Borsala said. “A singular purpose which has, whether he knows it or not, already aligned our goals with his. He's far inside, under lock and key. Even without the lock, as you both know, I have no permission to enter the premises.”

“Ye want us to check him out for ye,” Jack theorized.
“What is his name?” asked the scarecrow.
“No name is known for this man,” replied Ms. Borsala.
“What does he look like?”
“He has yet to choose a face for himself. His purpose is so singular, his identity is entirely lost.”

“So, the madman,” Jack said. “He's under armed guard, I'm sure.”
“The most stringent.”
“'Tween the two of us, scarecrow's the most killer.”
“Only when needs be,” the scarecrow reminded him once again. “Locks, bars, guards-- getting in may be one thing, but retrieving this madman would be another.”
“Just the same,” Ms. Borsala said. “I leave the task to you.” And then she was gone.

Jack felt something flitter past him. “She just drops the order and leaves,” he said.
“She has many responsibilities,” the scarecrow reminded him.
“So what are we supposed to do?”
“We delegate. Everyone has their place in the world. I know someone perfect for this one.”

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