Scarecrow in Oz
by Ran hardin


Scientists are still not sure why it is we animals must have sleep. I've read the various theories, most of which boil down to "we sleep because we get tired." I sometimes wonder if there isn't something more spiritual involved, either a recharging of positive energy, or a discharging of negative energy. Or both. All science knows for sure is that if we don't sleep, we become increasingly irrational, paranoid, and demented, until we die.

Except for me, that is. I've not slept for a single moment in over six years.

I'm not an insomniac. I understand them, but I'm not one of them. I simply don't sleep. I can't sleep. I can lay down and close my eyes, but nothing more happens. The closest I can get is through meditation, and I am thankful for the reprieve it provides.

Insomniacs frequently speak of their relationship to the night, as if it were a living entity. Some have befriended it, some fear it, some despise it. I know the night very well: we understand one another's motives, both pure and otherwise, and we enjoy each other's company. The night assists me in my work, and I in turn mourn its passing each dawn. It's not that I don't enjoy a bright sunny day, or even a cloudy, rainy one: I like days as much as the next person. But the night brings a greater introspection, a greater solitude, and as I've always been of a solitary frame of mind, this condition suits me well.

It's 11:00 p.m., early enough that the night still dallies with its casual acquaintances. The few of us who are truly close to it smile patiently at the transient nature of those relationships. (I purposely say "it" when referring to the night: anyone who refers to the night as a woman knows only half of its true nature.) A bit reluctantly, I begin to clean my brushes, running an analytical eye over what little I've accomplished on the canvas this evening. Twenty-four hours each day are at my disposal, but it seems I do so little with them.

I felt all the worse for taking the time for my art because of the resurgence in crime that has occurred now that so many metas have gone to combat the carnage in Ireland. Rats are cautious, but they're persistent, and if the cats like Omega and Blur go away, the rats will soon crawl from their holes to feast. I've even been compelled to show myself in the daylight hours to help stem the tide -- a thing I normally avoid, since fear is my most potent weapon, and the sun diminishes all fears.

Almost all fears. I wince, thinking of Ireland and the suffering inflicted by the Royal Elite.

But even a sleepless man needs to rest at times, and so my attempts to paint this evening, which bore such small fruit. I finish cleaning up, and remember to grab the disposable camera from the glass of my kitchen table before climbing out a window to the old iron fire escape. It overlooks an alley which is truly a benighted place, one of the reasons I chose this particular loft. Any
security lights which once glowed here were long ago shot out and never replaced.

I take a few moments to sit cross-legged on the cool metal latticework, visualizing my task for tonight. I find it keeps my head clear during later, more stressful moments to concentrate on my objectives beforehand, for reasons which will become clear shortly. The night waves to me as I do, but it's busy with the pub crawlers and the self-styled "night owls." It'll be in touch, later.

It's time to transform. As always, it fills me with fear, dread, and an anticipatory rush of adrenaline and pleasure. I've watched myself undergo this change in the mirror, and it's a horrifying and beautiful thing. I wish I could paint it.

It only takes a moment. At first it hurt terribly, but over the years, it has become as simple as taking a breath. And when I exhale, I'm different.

Now I begin to feel my mood lighten. My spirits lift. Time to have some fun -- LA, city of darkness! The city is a playground, a big dark jungle-gym built just for me, up the fire escape, over the chimney, dancing the edge of the roof, cartwheel-backflip-triplesomersault, to the next rooftop! Everything, all around me, I feel it, all connected and one with everything, please -- hold the mustard, pile on the relish!

I don't have an "alter ego." No, this is pure id that surges inside me, a tide of impulses and primal sensations, filling me with an awesome power, and a frightening sense of freedom. There's also the extra sense I acquire in this form, impossible to describe beyond saying it's an awareness of everything around me, concrete and steel and flesh and wind. I leap over the edge of the building, casually stretching out one arm to grab the protruding brickwork beneath the cornice as I go over, knowing it's there to grab. I dangle by one elongated arm for a moment, suspended in darkness.

Stretch the body, work it, work it, c'mon girl! Let go! Free-fall! This wind ain't whistlin' Dixie in my ears -- hey, look, it's a sidewalk, crouchin' at my feet, time to go

As I plummet through the darkness, I'm struck by my cavalier attitude towards the demise that rushes up towards me from ten stories. With a shrug of my mind, I change direction and location, and I'm back in the alley, sailing horizontally towards the wall. My arms and legs change the hurtling momentum into a tumbling run, ending with a high leap back to the roof of the building. I'm laughing as I dangle my feet off the edge, and I wonder who hears me and what they think of the sound.

******

I've learned how to travel rapidly without being seen, up on the rooftops of the city. My quick tread is silent, my leaps great, and with a blink I'm gone from one roof and appear on the next, sometimes in mid-leap or mid-tumble. It adds to the mystique of the urban legend I've become -- half guardian angel, half bogeyman. (I have found that doubts concerning my actual existence only make my appearances that much more startling.)

It is exhilarating and private, my rooftop dance, and I only stop to get my bearings when I notice my shadow, called into being from the lights of a billboard. My altered shadow, that is.

The angle of the light causes my shadow to appear even more elongated and distorted than my body actually is, even though I'm now two meters tall, and my arms and legs are thin and long to abnormal dimensions. My clothes are black and ragged, and the shadow of the huge, floppy hat on my head looks like a wizard's miter from the light's distortion. I quit asking myself where these clothes come from long ago. They come when I transform, and vanish when I return to normal.

Scarecroooooooowwwww this ain't the Kansas-Nebraska Act any more, darlin', and anyway they broke up a long time ago, except for the state fairs whipped by the whiplash smile of The Night when money and cotton candy flow like water under the Rainbow Bridge and it's time to Ragnarok ‘n' Roll, daddy

I strike a scarecrow pose, arms akimbo, admiring the shadow, and throw my body into a kabuki statement of surprise. Introduce it, express it, end it, all in controlled slow-motion. I wonder for the one-thousandth time what my father would think of me as I am now, a white-faced kabuki nightmare, perfect in movement but so strange in form

I make my way across the city, swinging, climbing, blinking on and off of rooftops, alleys, water tanks, light poles, anything that is unusual and challenging to climb or balance upon. I seek a particular alley rat who calls himself "Nurple" for reasons I hope I never learn. He knows me and fears me, which is how I prefer my relations to criminals both petty and grand.

Nurple is a creature of habit, and at this time of the evening I find him at one of his favorite windowless bars. The walls are thin, and I feel his presence within. So I crouch on the roof and wait, trying hard to sit still -- not an easy thing to do when the power of the night infects my every joint and muscle with the urge to move, to jump, to tumble I can feel the rats in the walls and the cars humming by on the street below, a big, invisible mandala.

Before too long, Nurple gets up and moves to the back of the building, where the restroom is. Sensing no one else in the room, I blink in, literally catching Nurple with his pants down.

"Shit!" he says, and I laugh at the symmetry of his exclamation. It stinks in here, the same stink it has likely held for decades. What plaster remains on the wall is covered in graffiti, and the toilet is almost a museum piece.

I slowly reach within my tattered black jacket and withdraw a huge folding fan made of some light but tough black metal. I don't know where this comes from, either. I snap it open, waver it like a Southern debutante, and bat my slanted purple eyes at him.

"Whatchy'all doin', sugah?" in Gone With the Wind style, and Nurple is as pale as the porcelain and kneel before your porcelain deity, baby. "Babble blabble blabble," he makes me laugh when he can't talk right but a Mexican hat dance oh God what about those Guadalajara nights when the tequila's as high as an elephant's eye and the gringos are lookin' for love

Nurple yanks his pants up and stumbles out of the stall, mumbling something about personal privacy. I dance over to a shadowy corner, crouching and shrinking my body down until I am entirely hidden.

"The number," I whisper, making my voice seem like it comes from beyond the grave.

"Don't know," he stammers, and the grayish stubble around his mouth quivers a little. He is terrified, and I feel guilty, but fear is the only language we have in common. I speak it fluently.

"You promised me," I growl, and I grow a little, back almost to full size. Nurple's eyes are as big and dark as bowling balls; he's never seen me change my size before. I grow more, now larger than usual, reaching out one of my moon-white, clawed hands.

"I didn't hear it!" he cries. I continue to grow, stopping only when I hear the flimsy floor groan beneath what is now four times my normal weight. I stretch my talons out to him, and he backs up, but his back hits the wall and my hand keeps coming, my arm now six feet long (and the tattered sleeve of my coat somehow still covering it). I grab him by the front of his greasy denim jacket and pull him to me, nose-to nose.

"Twenty-five!" He shrieks. "Twenty-fuckin' five!"

I instantly shrink back to normal size, do a little pirouette, and pat him on his head. I fold up the fan and stash it back in my coat, put one finger to my mouth and giggle like a schoolgirl. Exactly like a schoolgirl. His fear palpably increases. The threat of the unknown and the unexpected will remain within him long after the threat of physical violence has ebbed away.

"If that isn't right, honey," I say in my schoolgirl voice, leering at him, "I'll find you. I'll find you, and I'll bruise you once for every number you're off, ‘kay?" I giggle again, and from the twitching around his fear-widened eyes, I know I have made my point.

I feel someone approaching the restroom, and I compose my distracted thoughts for another alteration. I call this one "Derek," as it's loosely based on someone I knew in art school. Suddenly I'm a tall Caucasian, with a brown ponytail, dirty jeans and an old AC/DC t-shirt. I throw my hands up in scorn and surprise as a fat man comes rolling in through the door.

"The hell, Nurple?" he says accusatorily.

"Jesus," I spit, in a rich baritone. "What the fuck's wrong with this freak?"

Nurple looks like he is close to fainting.

"Goddam crackheads," I mutter, zipping up my fly and strolling into the bar. I turn for a moment after I walk by the fat man, and catch Nurple's fear-wide eyes. I briefly allow my eyes to revert from Derek's brown back to my purple, and give him as malevolent a wink as possible.

"Fuckin' go home, Nurple," I hear the fat man say as I leave.

Beer, glorious beer! lubricant of American society, opener of minds, mouths, and legs, thank you O Great Osiris for handing us this legacy of lamb in mint sauce with shallots, anchovies, truffles, pate, and two fried eggs on top of Uncle Spam

I quickly leave the bar, avoiding the distracting overload of sensual input that even such a filthy place as this presents. No one notices as I walk out, and no one cares. I walk the street for a block or two, although it is difficult with the urge to jump and dance twitching in my legs. I pass another block, and the night beckons to me from an alley. I revert to my scarecrow form, and salute the night my benefactor. Time to move quickly -- I have a sale to get to.

******

Carpenter Industries makes things. I have no idea what it is they make, but they make a lot of it, enough to have at least twenty-five warehouses for it. I have to be more careful as I approach, for the roofs are low and featureless, and I imagine I'm not the only one traversing them tonight.

I shrink down as small as I can get -- about the size of a doll -- and crawl around, blinking in and out until I find the right warehouse, and establish where the outside guards are. Three of them, grim-looking yakuza thugs, hunkered down with walkie-talkies and automatic weapons. The night grins and settles about me, hiding me.

I find number twenty-five and blink in on the opposite side of the roof from where one of the guards watches. I flatten myself and look around. No cars, windows blacked out. Someone here knows what he is doing. I sense inside, and there is something more in this warehouse than gears or computer parts. I cannot sense light or shadow, but there are pallets of boxes and crates, and enough room behind them for me to easily hide. I blink inside, and listen to the hushed babble of Japanese voices. There are at least thirty people in the warehouse's main floor (several of them with guns), and another seven in aseparate area.

"Honored guests," a man begins in Japanese, "Welcome. We are all under some time constraints, so let us begin." I sense this man is older, thin, but with a presence about him. "Our first item up for bid is Tomoko. She is nineteen, with beautiful hair and figure as you can see"

A dazed Japanese girl is half-dragged out by another thug. Her feet drag the ground, and she is trying to speak, but unable to form words.

The tidal waves of id rush within me, but this time there is no pleasure, only anger.

The auctioneer continues his palaver, inviting the potential bidders to examine her more closely. Then the auction begins, and someone just listening might assume it was an antique vase being put up for bid, and not a human being. As the price escalates, I grow to my usual size and make ready, noting the locations of the thugs inside, with their big guns. I dig inside my jacket and find my little disposable camera.

"$47,000?" the auctioneer asks. "Going once, twice sold--"

I choose this moment to blink in, right next to the auctioneer. "--to the lowest bidder," I finish, my voice a gravely hiss. Holding up the camera, I take a picture of the collected bidders while elbowing the auctioneer in the stomach.

Time for a Holy War, daddy, and let not the screams of the innocent prevent you from smackin' down the guilty. I don't like your boots, man, so have one of mine -- in the face. One for you, one for you, ooh a knife, use it for spreadin' hot Wellhouse butter over your prison biscuits and oh you dropped it when you fell against that wall nice kick and here won't you borrow mine for a moment

The would-be slave owners are running everywhere, and another two thugs burst from the waiting room where the girls are screaming in confusion and fear. They level their weapons at me, and fire. I withdraw my fan, snap it open, and pose, balanced up on one foot. The bullets bounce off the fan with a tenktenktenk sound that has its own unique music. I hear the door open behind me, and realize the men outside have been summoned. I blink back behind the crates, and hear one of the men cry out as he is hit by several bullets meant for me.

"Where is he? Where?" I hear the yakuza cry out. I blink behind one, throw him to the ground, and kick him -- not as hard as I'd like, but hard enough. The others yell, but I'm gone before they can reach me. I sit for a moment, listening to the confusion of yakuza and would-be slave owners.

One man strays too near my hiding place, and I reach out with one elongated arm and drag him to me, smashing my elbow into the bundle of nerves in his neck, and rapping him behind the ear for good measure. Then I blink to the back room, where the girls are. They collectively scream when they see me, even in their drugged state, but I grab two and blink to the roof of the next warehouse over, then back, and again. Six down, one to go.

It's Tomoko, the girl up for auction. She is being held by the auctioneer, a gun to her throat.

"Come out, you devil!" he screams through gritted teeth, whites of his eyes flashing as he looks around. I blink to the highest part of the structure the supporting steel just below the roof.

"Kakashi," I whisper, and all eyes look up to me. "Scarecrow, not devil, slave-trader."

He pales a little. He recognizes the name, and fears it, which is good. But his gun hand remains steady enough.

"Come down!" he shouts, pressing the barrel of the gun against Tomoko's head.

"Very well," I say, and as the remaining yakuza thugs grin, I step from the beam and begin to fall. Tomoko screams, the auctioneer gapes, and as I reach the ground, I blink, reorienting myself to the side of the auctioneer. I hit his ribs feet first, knocking him away from the girl. I roll to my feet, kick one of the thugs in the chest, and vault back over the auctioneer, getting ready to grab Tomoko and take her to the others.

But she's reached her breaking point, and I can't blame her; she's been kidnapped, held for who knows how long under what wretched conditions, drugged, auctioned as a sex slave, and now grabbed by a nightmare. She screams and flails at me.

The auctioneer's gun goes off, and the bullet catches me in my side, not penetrating, but hurting like fire. I turn and rush him, roaring like Behemoth, growing as I run. He squeezes off another shot, but it bounces off the blades of my fan. The yakuza run for it, leaving the auctioneer alone. I pick him up
and squeeze the breath out of him, and even now the wild urges strike me.

Mannequin/slave/prisoner, up against the wall, and down, down, down to toy size, rear back cock the leg high, up, up up, hey batterbatterbatter swing!

Just like the comic books, I think. The auctioneer is crumpled at my feet, but breathing normally. Tomoko takes one more look at me and runs for it. I have to blink in front of the door to keep her from accidentally fleeing back into the arms of her captors. I take her to the others, who are all standing around on the roof, half-frightened, half-drugged. They will be safe there. I go back to the warehouse, find a phone, call the police. I tell them to look under "s" for "slave owners," and place the camera in the appropriate filing cabinet.

I wonder at what the police will say upon arriving -- with several Japanese gangsters and a slave-trader all tied up and suspended from the ceiling, a small pile of broken weapons, and a gaggle of missing-persons cases huddled together on a nearby roof.

I don't know what the police will do with the photograph, or even if it'll turn out. I imagine some very important people were in attendance.

*****

My way home is delayed by several attempted robberies, a gang beating, and an attempted rape. All are halted by a cavorting, shapeshifting scarecrow who frightens the victims almost as much as the criminals. I feel bad for causing such fear among the (relatively) innocent, but it is for the best. The only weapon the scarecrow has to protect his fields is fear, and with so many heroes gone to Ireland to "Fight the Good Fight," the scavengers are bold and plentiful.

I'm weary when I arrive home, not from exertion, but from so much ugliness. The night has no standard of beauty, and no morals. It welcomes both the sinner and the saint with open arms, and provides refuge for anyone, wicked or wretched.

Listless, I turn on the television, but the channels are full of Ireland, and my spirits are further lowered. I have spent my night attempting to correct petty ugliness, and here before me was ugliness on a grand scale. This is the time when other people give up on the day and go to bed, to forget their troubles for awhile, but that door is no longer open to me. The urge to transform back to Kakashi and run the night is strong, but I hear my father's voice, urging the self-control which balances the wild beauty of unbridled passion, the strong leather which binds the beautiful pages of a book. I go to my easel and my brushes, and think about Ginza and the theater. I turn off all the lights save one illuminating a far corner of my loft, and paint shadows until sunrise.
 

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