DAMNED || LANDEL'S INSTITUTE

A Multifandom Asylum RPG


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Nightshift 50: Staff Training Area
there once was a girl from
toxicspiderman wrote in damned
[from here]

The training room let on little of Landel's management style besides the megalomaniac sadistic bullshit refrain S.T. didn't need to rehash, even to himself. Except that he believed in putting his toys away at the end of the day. There was a stack of the corporate padded chairs that were comfortable for just long enough for them to look like they spent real money when the investors showed up. S.T. ignored them and kept exploring.

A bunch of computers with more of those pancake-thin monitors -- no way could you fit a CRT in twice that space. A computer store over in Hacker Square (better known as Kendall) had been trying to hawk 1K CD 'data solutions' to passersby. By now, maybe even cut-rate training rooms rated video-capable drives. He'd come back to them.

When his flashlight hit the dummy in the corner, he didn't jump. He walked over, and poked it in the chest. It wheezed in the manner he hadn't heard since his last Red Cross water safety training montage. Which meant -- jackpot. A quick grope around the dummy (only anatomically correct where it counted, i.e. lungs) turned up a box of latex gloves, which he tucked under his arm before moving on to the main show. A projector cart that would make any middle school auditorium proud. Complete with two black boxes for all their twentieth and twenty-first century video needs.

"Bingo. Seen an outlet?" Oh, right. "Little white round thing on the wall with three slots. Don't stick your fingers in it." He started wheeling the cart into the middle of the room.

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The Scarecrow stood by the door a moment after being ushered inside, still concerned about Depth Charge. In good news, it had looked like he and his friend had been preparing to make a break for it just as Sangamon got the door open; in bad news, the witch was probably still out there, waiting for new victims. The more the Scarcrow visited the Horrible Hallway, the more reasons he found as to why it was so horrible. There just wasn't a good thing about it!

Well, there was no use worrying about it now- Depth Charge was the sort who could take care of himself in a tight spot. For now, there were other matters: one concern presented itself immediately as Sangamon shined his light around the room, its beam suddenly illuminating a figure in the corner. The former strawman was startled until he recognized it. "Oh!" he said loudly, returning his voice to a whisper immediately afterward as it crossed his mind that the witch in the hall could be listening. "We ended up here last night. That fake person in the corner gave us an awful fright."

While Sangamon found the player (or it seemed he'd found something they could use, player or not), the Scarecrow set to finding an outlet. He clicked his flashlight on, giving it a shake as he aimed it at the walls, looking them up and down. "On the wall, three slots... on the wall..." His light hit something near the floor that fit the description. "Over here!"

A Scarecrow, scared by a plastic doll. The jokes just wrote themselves, man. S.T.'s two-eyebrow salute of increduality was swallowed by the darkness. By the time he'd unwrapped the cord from its moorings, his expression was neutral. It was, in fact, an outlet. When he plugged in the cord, a few red lights lit up like the welcome-home brigade of rooftop building lights welcoming low-flying airplanes (and bored small-craft captains) back into Boston Harbor.

Eject buttons hadn't changed. S.T. put the disc in. The player spat it back out. He flipped it painted-side up, and it ate it without further comment. Then he turned the TV on. It was already on Channel 3 or whatever -- a high-resolution lion was mugging for the camera. S.T. found the remote and muted it.

"You sure you want to see this?" He knew what he'd do. Roll the picture and find some popcorn. Watch to see if his hands started getting see-through. But family history had never mentioned screwing in a 30's movie theater, so he was probably safe.

Hovering over Sangamon's shoulder, the Scarecrow watched closely as he fiddled with the player (so that was what one looked like- it didn't seem very remarkable, though the strange lights shining from it did set it apart from just any old box), set the movie on a platform that came out of it, turned the movie over once, then sent the platform into the machine a second time. How complicated! He never would have thought you'd have to do all this turning and readjusting of the movie in order to see it.

More surprising than the fake person and the player itself was when the larger box atop the cart came to life with a moving picture of the most ferocious lion he'd ever seen. Now that was a king of the jungle- not that the Scarecrow would tell Lion, of course. Frightening beast aside, the former strawman marveled at the movie being exactly as described- a moving picture. Incredible! It was just like the night of his experimentation, except a lot less horrific and unnerving. He wasn't watching himself, though if what Sangamon had told him earlier was true, he would be shortly. He felt a knot in his middle, discomfort creeping into him. He was fighting both curiosity and homesickness- he had to know more!

He gave Sangamon a nod and a smile, skimming the words that were appearing on the screen before turning to face him. "Oh, don't you worry about me. I'm enjoying being human, but I can't wait to see my friends again, even if it is just a picture of them. Absence makes the heart grow fonder and all."

"If you're sure.". S.T. shrugged, over-exaggerating.   He was homesick.  Most of them were, with varying degrees of self-awareness.  They'd have had a revolt or a group cry-in big enough to prompt a sprinkler ban if they'd put it on for the matinee.    

Fuck, I knew I forgot something.  Cookies.  What's a movie without illegally smuggled junk food? He shut up before saying anything, in a display of tact the girls (oops, women) at the office would be proud of.  He did, contrary to popular belief, understand sympathy.  He just assumed most people were like himself, and found snide comments more reassuring than group hugs.  The Scarecrow wasn't most people.  He was intent on the screen.  S.T. thought about reassuring him that it wasn't real.  Then he thought about trying to explain the nature of reality to a man born in the damn movie.  He went back to wishing he had some sugar-and-theobromine mood stabilizers, and a place to sit.

One chair went backwards as a footrest, the remote got chucked on another nearby, and Sangamon sat down.  The credits had just finished, and Dorothy was violating leash laws in all-sepia Technicolor glory.  S.T. wasn't watching the screen.  Sure, his face was pointed that way, but he was watching the Scarecrow.  He didn't need to watch.  It'd been forever since the last time he'd seen it straight through, but you couldn't watch late night T.V. without heavy levels of musical exposure.            

Noticing Sangamon was getting himself a chair, the Scarecrow had a seat on the floor, returning his eyes to the screen. The words disappeared, treating them to a view of a landscape the strawman didn't recognize, and- oh! There was Dorothy, and Toto, too! Boy, were they a sight for sore eyes. His face lit up, and he couldn't help but smile as all the worries he'd had about the Wizard Landel and Horrible Hallway and the darkness surrounding them suddenly seemed insignificant. It was really her!

Then was that land behind her the Kansas she wanted to go back to so badly? The Scarecrow couldn't help but feel a little disappointed. Few trees, flat land, but at least there was a field (where, if what she'd said was true, the crows couldn't talk and were definitely afraid of the scarecrows). It wasn't quite what he'd been expecting somehow. He didn't have time to dwell on the appearance of Kansas as more people appeared on the moving picture, addressed as Aunt Em and Uncle Henry.

It was a little jarring how everything moved so quickly in a movie- he couldn't begin to tie together the explanation he'd been given of how they were made in the first place with the movie itself. One moment, Dorothy was talking to her relatives; the next, three more men appeared in the picture. Something about two of them struck him as oddly familiar, but they were pushed immediately from his mind as the third one stood up and spoke.

It was the Scarecrow himself, but not as he'd thought he'd be seeing himself, constructed of loose straw and old clothes. He was human, just as he'd been since his arrival at the Institution.

The former strawman stared, transfixed in utter disbelief, his mouth agape. How was it his human form was in the movie, too? He'd assumed he'd be seeing his original body eventually, but for him to appear as a human, as he looked that very moment, left him perplexed. Dorothy even addressed him as the nurses did- "Hunk," that name that most certainly wasn't his. But how could--

The man disappeared from the screen, snapping the Scarecrow out of his stupor. "W- wait!" he said, standing clumsily. "Who was that?"

Sangamon had learned not to confuse simplicity with stupidity.  It was how he got gnarled generations of lobstermen treating him as their pet expert.  He respected them, and they respected him, and they all listened to the same game on the radio, and that was that.  Besides, a university degree was no litmus test for intelligence.  If pressed he might allow that it amplified the scope of idiot fuckups.

This was a longwinded way of saying he'd fucked up.  If he'd been thinking, he'd have seen this coming and prepped an answer.  Instead, he blinked like incipient roadkill.  "Him?"  He swallowed, and groped for the remote and a nonthreatening explanation.  The screen froze with the Wicked Witch of the bike lanes mid-stroke.  The box wasn't kidding about digital restoration -- the  fact that the tornado was some industrial fans off-stage had never been clearer.  Bingo.  

"Wait, you didn't think they really filmed you in the Emerald City, did you?"  Rhetorical question, next. "You'd have seen the cameras.  Dorothy's neighbors reminded her of you guys, so the same actors played you.  Landel just liked the casting choice."  That was about sixty percent bullshit.  Maybe seventy.  More than half, that was for sure.  

S.T. hated relying on other people's gullibility. Even when it wasn't one of the closest things he had to a friend here.  He might be a dick, but he didn't lie to do it outside work.  Where it was for the greater good, and anyone who worked for an industrial chemical giant without thought deserved to have their chain yanked.  S.T. looked at the Scarecrow.  Greater good.  O.K.     

There were half a dozen things wrong with the theory he'd advanced.  Starting with the fact that special effects after fifty years couldn't do that close of a likeness, and building from there.  I can't just it on the psychopathic movie set we're living in.  But is "your entire existence is a morality play for kids" any better?  What's my life?  The creative belch of a screenwriter after too much Jolt and questionable seafood?  "It's complicated." Cop-out. " You want to keep going?  We'll be out of Kansas in a few."         

The Scarecrow stood silently, listening to Sangamon's explanation, his expression a mixture of confusion and mild irritation. His own ignorance seemed to face him at every turn: he knew so little about being human and next to nothing of Dorothy's whereabouts and how to help her. His knowledge of movies and all they entailed was just as minimal, seeing how he'd only learned what they were and how to make them work in the course of a single day. He was only a few minutes into his first one, and he already felt as brainless as ever.

Even worse was that nagging thought at the back of his mind, the seed planted more than a week ago from Dorothy's visit: was Oz really real at all? Or was his entire life truly a figment created in the mind of a sick man who only thought he was brainless? He couldn't deny that the Wizard Landel was up to no good- his brainwashing had turned Mele against him that one night, after all- but at the same time, could everything he said be untrue? Dorothy hadn't forgotten him entirely, as Mele had. She seemed aware of who he was and that he had been- or had thought himself to be- a scarecrow, and she knew about Oz.

Another thing weighing on his mind was the vague feeling he wasn't getting the entire story. It seemed like an awful strange coincidence that the man in the movie could resemble him so closely, well enough the Scarecrow would recognize a body that wasn't really his at first sight. He trusted Sangamon, but at the same time, the pieces just weren't fitting together. Oh, if only he had his brain! He'd be sure to sort it out then!

He looked at the screen again, weighing the options before him, desperately trying to make some sense of it all. "So... the people in this movie aren't really us? Then this was made after Dorothy got back to Kansas?" It made sense that she'd want to tell someone of her journey to an entirely new land, especially one so far away from home. Maybe someone thought the journey was an interesting enough one to turn into a story for a movie, one that could show what a fantastic place Oz was without actually having to go there.

"Yeah.  Something like that." S.T. tossed the remote.  It flipped end over end and smacked down in his hand pointed at the DVD deck.  Player.  Whatever.  

He couldn't leave it like that.  Full disclosure and all that idealistic bullshit.  He couldn't be the suit telling lies on Martin Landel's sewage-drenched behalf.  

"There's more to it," he said, with a tone that probably sounded like a doctor telling the third family that day that it was cancer. "It's a story.  No-one believes there was an Oz, or a Dorothy, or her little dog too."  The remote did a double flip this time, with an accuracy that would make a Sea World dolphin blush.  "Kansas exists, though.  Even more boring than it looks."  He wasn't sure how well he'd take the news -- but someone had to break it to him.  Better a friend was a sentiment best left to soap opreas and pop songs, but he was here.  Place needed a gift shop.  Stocked with Hallmark cards for the crazy.  Seventeen ways to say 'sorry you're fictional, dude'.  "You're not the only one.  Some kind of collective unconscious bullshit.  People from one world show up in the stories of another.  Somewhere we'll all stay forever Jung." It was almost poetic.  Or maybe it just seemed that way when he was just hungry and tired.   

"Look, let's just watch."  He hammered his thumb down on play.  "You can see your friends and tell me how accurate it is." 

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