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By D. Paul Fonseca

             I can't say for sure what woke me up.  An odd noise clicked in my room, a scratching sound like claws against the wall.   My head throbbed with pain as I rubbed at my eyes and tried to open them, but it was difficult.  A crust had formed on my eyelids.  The sheets around me felt dry and starchy. As I came to, I knew that something was wrong.  

             The room slowly came into focus, but I failed to recognize my surroundings. It was dark and too quiet.  My apartment on Market Street was never this quiet. I sat up in bed, held my head in my hands, rubbed my eyes and took a look around.  This was definitely not my apartment.

            I sat at the edge of an unfamiliar bed and nausea swept over me.  Where was I?  Scant moonlight peered through the partially drawn, dark gauzy curtains high up on the wall before me. Unsure if I had the energy to go to them and look outside, I pulled back the sheets and stood up, naked.  Had I been with someone?  I couldn't remember. Sex? With who? This idea was really messing with my head. Why couldn't I remember?

            Nausea swept over me and my side reeled with sharp, angry pain. It pulsed between my ribs, tore at my very soul, a pain I had never known.  I put my hand to my side and felt as though my chest would fall open. A long, deep gash ran along the entire left side of my ribcage like somebody had taken an ax to it.  To me?  I looked at my hand.  Blood, black by the light of the moon, slicked my palm like grease. I could even smell it, rotten and dank.

            Sitting back down I realized I should be dead, yet I didn't remember where I was or how I had gotten here. The muscles in my legs felt tight and dry.  I drew in a long, deep breath.

            My eyes slowly acclimated to the darkened room and a large door appeared opposite me. A window set directly to my left and up.  It was closed and the curtains were drawn.  The floor froze my bare feet and felt like concrete or large stone tiles, and I still didn't recognize the place.

            I stood and shivered, pulling the sheets up around me.  It was painful, slow progress moving across the room to the door and when I came upon the doorknob, I found it was locked from the other side. I should have guessed that, and maybe I already knew it from the knot of dread building inside me. I sat myself down on the icy floor, kicking the sheet under my butt.  I would have cried then except for the fact that my tear ducts felt empty. Instead, I closed my eyes and waited.

            Hours crept by.  Darkness covered everything.  Despair closed in while the night and its silence taunted me with the ever changing shadows playing across the walls from the light through the window. After a time, I drifted off to sleep, hoping I'd wake and find that this was all just a dream; just a terrible, painfully, realistic dream.

            As I slept, shapes and color played though my head.  Memories appeared as brief images, a bar. Bright lights and loud music drifted in. There were so many people there.  I sat at a large round table and thumbed through a book I'd found in the hallway of my apartment.  It was a hardbound illustrated journal and the text was written nearly exclusively in some foreign handwriting.  Where'd it come from?

             Angus, an old friend of mine, was sitting beside me having a drink and laughing hard, his bright and colorful tattoos shown in the dim light like graffiti.  Good old friends like him are hard to find.  We sat in our local Haunt, Gilly's, for the umpteenth time this year.  It was steak night.   I loved that bar.  I could almost call that place home. 

            The book was filled with pictures, drawings, actually.  But, writing filled the margins in a language that was foreign to me. Images shifted. A flash of a woman filled my mind. I couldn't see her face in the shadows of the club, but I'd known her from somewhere before.

             Then, we were walking.  It was dark.  The wind was blowing.  She kissed me.  Her big, dark eyes enchanted and haunted me...then more kissing.  A warm fireplace crackled. We were in her apartment on Fifth and Island, overlooking the ball park. She had gone out looking for me that night.  There was something urgent in her voice and she'd eventually talked me into going back home with her.

            We made love in her bed for hours, taking our time like there was no world but our own. There was something so different about her.  I knew her. I'd known her a lifetime. Yet now, in that memory, I couldn't see her face.   

            Something woke me from my dreams. A perfume filled my nostrils like flowers on a breeze. I woke slowly. My eyes opened with a crust of tears, making me wince and I struggled to rub them clear. It hurt. Someone put their hand on my shoulder and I jumped back, hitting my head against the wall.

            "Oh, are you alright?" a girl's voice came at me as though through a megaphone.  My head was pounding.

            I focused my burning eyes. Before me, a tiny angel of a woman knelt over me.  Her dark locks of hair fell gently over her bare shoulders.  She had skin the color of sand. She was naked and carrying a green marble bowl of water in her slender hands.  As soon as I acknowledged her she smiled at me and stood up.  Her small taut breasts bounced and for a moment she looked like an enchanted fairy.  This was not normal. I didn't know this girl.

            All a once I realized the horror of last night was real.  I looked around and had to assume I was somebody's captive.  Through the window, light passed into the room, faint and mysteriously unnatural.

            "Where am I?"  I asked, choking out the words though the dryness of my throat.

            She offered the bowl of water to me and smiled back, passively ignoring my question.  "Drink this" she said.  "You will feel better. It's water."  Her hands helped support my own as I drank deeply. The smell of the stone bowl gave me the strangest sensation, a feeling that was electric, a feeling of raw life.  It was a good feeling.

            When the bowl emptied, I looked up at the girl and nearly smiled, thankful for the small gift.  I was still shaken.  How could I not be?  She took the bowl into her arms, holding it close to her like a good book.  It was then I noticed the markings on her arms and legs and even over her face and stomach.  They were subtle changes of color like smears of diluted paint.

            Her eyes caught my appraisal and she smiled again sensing my curiosity.  "They are stains from the petals of a hundred flowers" she said.  "It's tradition."

            "Whose tradition?"

            She made a face with her eyes pointing over her shoulder towards the door as if to indicate that we were somehow being watched.  Her eyes pleaded with me.  I began to understand that she was at the mercy of someone higher than herself.  I nodded.

            "You should already know..."  She put her arm on my chest.  "You really are dead."

            I looked at her doubtfully.

            "In case you haven't noticed, your heart is gone."  She proceeded to poke her fingers into my open chest and pulled out small bits of brown debris, still wet.

            I closed my eyes, horrified in disbelief at what I had seen.

            "You will be alright" she said, with pity in her voice. 

            I could tell she felt for me in my desperate situation.  I opened my eyes to her.  "You mean I am going to live again?" I had to ask.

            She stood up, bowl in hand. "No, of course not."  She seemed puzzled by my question.  "It's your turn."

            "What?" I struggled to get the words out. My speech became difficult as had my breathing.

            "I'm sorry."  She laid the bowl down at her feet.  "Let me help you."  Quickly she took her arms and wrapped them around me, quite expressively.  Her face in mine, I could smell her warm scent and the hot clean breath of her mouth as she spoke.  "I'm here to help you through this so you are going to have to trust me.  I am the only person who can help you. It's my job to make sure your suffering is minimal and that you are ready in time for tonight."

            My head spun. I asked her in nearly a whisper, my dry lips pressing against her warm soft cheek. "Tonight?"

            "Tonight" she answered firmly.  "Will you trust me?" Her eyes glimmered, so full of compassion they lulled me.  I felt the warmth of her lips brush my mouth so softly, I nodded in surrender and she kissed me hard. I didn't resist.  It was like life going back into me and the pain eased itself from its hold on my chest.

            She drew back and took my hands in hers.  They seemed to glow.  She took my right hand in hers and held it against her chest.  It made me feel like we were one.  I could feel her heart beating within my chest and blood rushing through my body.  Renewed at last, and for a moment the strength was back in me.

            Just as quickly as it had come it was gone.  She'd released my hand and pulled away, her eyes closed.  She sat before me her hands clasped together so tight her fingers turned white.  Then from between her palms a bright blue liquid formed making a transparent drop cling to the underside of her hands.  It grew larger and larger, still. She lifted her hands high above her head, in a seemingly menacing stance, like someone readying a dagger for the kill.

            I didn't understand. Yet, something within me knew what to do.  I was compelled, you see. Though I knew nothing of the events that were taking place, it was intuition which drove me to respond.  As the liquid grew, it glowed brighter and brighter and as it was about to fall to the floor I leaned into her arms and opened my mouth to receive the magic contained therein.

            It was like honey from the meadows of a thousand blossoms, or more likely, a hundred flowers. I lifted off the cold floor and flew easily around the room, so fast it was ecstasy.  Life had never been so exhilarating!  This could not be death!  So much pleasure, so much joy could not be the end of my life.

            In my flight, my brain was afire. Memories flooded in.  Pieces of this puzzle mended and formed an even more complete picture in my mind.  Then, another flashing memory intruded. A stranger, a man, stared at me with a face that was incomplete.  His right eye was missing.  His nose was bent over like it had been melted, or burned badly.  He smiled and shook my hand. Was I so eager to see him?

           Then another memory, another night, we were all seated at the round table in Gilly's, laughing and drinking.  Angus' face loomed before me.  Then the three of us, Angus, me and the new girl were in Angus' apartment.  Angus was handing the mysterious book back to me, shaking his head.  "Don't do it," he said.   His mouth moved slowly and clearly repeated, "Don't do it."  

           The sudden awareness of hovering over the room shook me and I opened my eyes to see the young woman beckoning me do come down to her.

            I returned to my spot on the floor before her, a smile spread wide across my face.  She stood and nodded, please with the success. 

            I was about to speak but she held a finger to her lips.  A sign to heed, I was sure. She walked over to the door and opened it.  Outside, I could feel the winds picking up, blowing over me in a warm embrace.  The girl ushered me to follow her. I had not expected the door to lead directly to the world outside like this.

            We were high above a city, not my own, atop the highest building I could see.  The sun had begun to set into the west, over the hilltops and it grew chilly by the moment.  The naked woman whom I still did not know by name summoned me to follow her up a ladder she climbed.  At the top awaited a small pedestal.  It must have been barely four feet across.  It was there that she waited for me.  Her beauty was intoxicating.  I flew to her side, feeling lighter than the wind itself. 

            Landing at her side, I could see she had set some task for me to accomplish as she gazed out opposite the sunset.  "Anything, my love." I said.  My voice sounded strange, musical.

            She smiled at me, that lovely warm smile, and I melted. She spoke, "You must stay here until dawn, my love.  It is your turn."  She blew me a kiss and began her descent down from the tower.  I did as I was told and remained on the pedestal.  I watched her leave, puzzled by her request and willing to comply.

            I shouted down to her from the platform in the sky, "It's my turn for what?"

            She stood in the doorway below, looking even more perplexed by my question than the first time I asked. She shouted back.  "Don't you remember?  It's Halloween!   Look at yourself.

            I looked down at my body. "My god!  I am a skeleton!"  Horror sobered me down from my high. Not only was I dead and skeletal, but I glowed a bright blue, like the drop that I drank from her.  I looked at her again questioningly. She shook her head. 

            "No, you are not a skeleton! You are the Scarecrow!"  She pointed her finger at the eastern sky. Then quickly she went inside and slammed the door.

            Scarecrow?  I wondered about the implications of that title.  For half a second and as it came to me, I turned my skull to the approaching darkness and in the shadows my nightmares descended down onto a helpless city.  Demons, frights and angry spirits screamed out at the city with a fury beyond reason and they began their descent.

            I understood then. I knew why I was there.

            "I was the Scarecrow.  It was my turn to protect this city."

© 2023 Mayachrome Press & D. Paul Fonseca

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