Scarecrow Has a Gun

by Michael Paul Kozlowsky

Never trust other people’s memories, and watch out for your own

Although we’ve all seen The Wizard of Oz, few of us recall that the Scarecrow is holding a gun in the haunted forest. Strange it may seem, but this sort of thing happens all the time. Something jarring—something right in front of our faces—escapes our memory altogether, no matter how many times we witnessed it.

This new novel is the story of a man’s ongoing struggle with tormenting lacunae in his own memory. Tortured by his inability to remember details of his wife’s murder—even though he was an eye witness—Sean Whittlesea pins hopes on a high-tech device purportedly able to provide him with accurate access to every detail of his past.

A haunting question emerges through Sean’s quest for answers. Are we the masters of our memories, or are we their helpless pawns?

Scarecrow Has a Gun will be available, online and wherever fine books are sold, on August 2, 2022.

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Born in Bronx, New York, Michael Paul Kozlowsky is a former high school English/Film teacher and, writing as M.P. Kozlowsky, is the author of four children’s books — FROST, JUNIPER BERRY, ROSE COFFIN, and THE DYERVILLE TALES. He lives in New York with his wife, two daughters and a rescue beagle named Huxley, and when he’s not reading or playing chess, he continues to write everything from poetry to screenplays to short stories, journalism, philosophy, and books for readers of all ages. SCARECROW HAS A GUN is his first adult novel, a work constructed in the aftermath of a chaotic and failed attempt to capture the trials and tribulations of his childhood, which continue to haunt him until this day. He struggles endlessly with memory’s torturous stranglehold over him, as, so he believes, do we all. He still dreams of one day becoming a stand-up comic.

For more information, visit MichaelPaulKozlowsky and connect with Michael on Linked-in, TwitterInstagram and Goodreads.

“With writing that’s both sharp and dense, Michael Paul Kozlowsky’s Scarecrow Has A Gun is a labyrinthine mystery that feels as if David Cronenberg and Don DeLillo had collaborated on a Philip K. Dick adaptation. It’s a gut-punch meditation on the way our brains process mediation, memory, trauma, and grief. On the surface, this is a twistedly unexpected sci-fi whodunnit, but hidden within these pages is a brilliant exploration of our reliance on videographic media to convey our morals and emotions. Like trying to remember something deeply forgotten, Scarecrow Has A Gun isn’t easy––but damn…it’s rewarding.”––Tex Gresham, author of Sunflower, Heck, Texas, and This Is Strange June (10/20/2021)

“This engrossing and inventive novel entertains on multiple levels. It’s a mind-bending mystery, in which the pursuit of the truth about his wife’s murder threatens the main character’s trust in his powers of perception and his very sense of self. It’s a horror-show-worthy take on corporate ambition, overreach, and villainy. Above all, it’s an unforgettable exploration of the power and limitations of memory, and of how rarely it tells the full truth. Michael Paul Kozlowsky has crafted a haunting, captivating novel.”–Beth Castrodale, author of I Mean You No Harm, Marion Hatley and In This Ground. (11/22/2021)

“What an original and captivating sci-fi read! Not only did it really make me think about memories and how they affect us, I was eager to see where it would all lead to and itching to get to the big reveal. I did crack a couple of the puzzles but I was only scratching the surface as there were reveals upon reveals. I totally loved the real life references and often found myself so intrigued I had to then go search for confirmation and further information. Things really ramped up towards the end and I was glued to the text. I enjoyed the dark undercurrent and found the ending deeply satisfying as well as super clever.”–Caroline Lewis, Librarian at St. Jospeh’s College Mildura, Victoria, Austraila. (11/24/2021)

“Makes one wonder about are memories of what you believe or are they less /more. It is definitely a mystery with sci-fi and some real thoughts to ponder. How our memory remembers grief, happiness and the black box has him confused. The ending is wild. Good, get you some of this deep read.”–Edna Gadoury, Opened Books.com (11/24/2021)

“There is a great mystery at the heart of the story. You are dropped in, not quite in media res, but with the same questions and blanks as the narrator about his past and the truth of the Widower’s Club. It is a very fun way to have both the reader and character try to uncover more about the plot. When I got to the end I was very happy with the way the book resolved the plot without feeling the need to put a bow on every little mystery and question…As the reader, you can truly feel as if you are in the mind of the character…It works wonderfully to sound like you are listening to someone’s nascent thoughts …Overall, this is a very good book that I highly enjoyed reading. As a first foray into non-YA fiction, Michael Paul Kozlowsky has made a very impressive showing. I personally will be watching for his next book to read!”–Christopher Orr, Goodreads.com (11/07/21)

“I really loved the theme of this book which delved into our memories and how they affect our lives. There was a good mystery as well that had a very satisfying resolution…The idea that our memories are not always how it happened and that we forget so much of the mundane times of our lives really made me think about all MY memories. I was impressed with this book.”–Elisa Hayes, Goodreads.com (11/17/2021)

PART ONE

The Widowers’ Club and its Gifts

THIS, I BELIEVED, I WOULD NEVER FORGET.  The  first time my corporation’s CEO, Mr. Archibald Ulger III, master manipulator of markets, requested my presence alongside my fellow widowers, I was offered —bribed—to attempt suicide before him.

All I had to do was jump through a pane of glass. A leap, a falling man. Eighty-seven stories down, and a certain death—one of only a skeletal handful of life’s fleeting guarantees. These were our instructions, all seven of us. Our path to enlightenment.

“You have before you approximately 78.33 feet,” he told us, “a great enough distance to reach your top speeds, dear widowers, allowing for more than enough inertia to break through the glass and plunge,” he paused, signaling our drop with the silent freefall of his right arm, a single diminutive finger representing each of us, “to your deaths. The runways are cleared and the Manhattan sidewalks are thirsty—rest assured, they will be gracious. New York is the best city in which to die. You have my congratulations in advance.”

He stood with his back to us, Mr. Ulger did. As he delivered his haunted proposition, I could see his right hand clasped firmly at the wrist by his left as he peered out said glass, out at the panoramic view of the spiking Manhattan skyline, the egg yolk sun setting over New Jersey, oozing color across the horizon as if stabbed and running. The sprinkling of office lights—diminished in recent years—were spread like a pox upon the city’s aging and weathered face, while, far below, the exasperated yellow traffic remained insistent in its sluggishness. I saw all this and the filthy sidewalks thinning like the air at this height, outside these floor-to-ceiling windows.

When Mr. Ulger turned to look us over, I laid eyes upon him in the flesh for the first time. I had seen him only on TV, in black-and-white photos in paperback books, in newspapers, and on the cover of several magazines—in fact, it had always been my dream to get him to sign my copy of TIME with his photo looking dramatically off into the distance. He was disappointing in his appearance, as are most great men. He looked to be in his mid-forties, a typical former-boy-genius-turned-asset-wizard, if such a person may be dubbed typical, and dressed the part. He wore a finely tailored midnight blue suit equivalent in price to my car (marked down after several years of brutal and ill-advised use), a gaudy gold watch so rare and relished I couldn’t even attempt a guess at its make and cost, gold cufflinks, gold wedding band, silk tie, and shoes I presumed to be hand crafted in the remotest of areas of an ever-bloating globe. But I wanted more than this. This was to be expected. I wanted eccentricities and oddities, the peculiarities of a detached and privileged life.

And they were there. After searching hard enough, I found them in the random actions of his right hand.

The hand was noticeably smaller than its counterpart, a pale imitation, as if it were never a hand to begin with. It appeared to be drained of blood, shriveled in its death, although it was clear that it was not a fake or prosthetic. The gaunt fingers never ceased writhing. The hand roamed in pockets and out, behind his back, scratching his thick neck hard enough to leave marks—thin red lines. The left kept it in check as much as possible, constantly clutching it, calming its spastic activity, parent and child.

“Not all seven of you will meet your fates, of course. Not today,” he went on. “Only one, if any, will die this evening—outside occurrences notwithstanding; I cannot promise you won’t be pushed off the subway platform this evening, your body mangled in the filth of the tracks, your blood licked clean by the rats long after your corpse had been collected and removed, or mugged for drug money or plastered by a speeding and reckless cab or shot by a stray bullet in some gang initiation, but I can assure you, to fall from this height is a much better death, grander. Let the city swallow you up; let it finish its job. Depart this existence on your own terms.”

Listening to his slick voice—my first opinion on hearing him speak was that his throat must be lined with sterling silver (suck on those spoons long enough and they liquidate)—we were standing where we were told to, evenly spaced apart, each man lined up with an individual pane of glass and plenty of running room.

“Of the seven panes of glass before the seven of you, only one is not shatterproof. The rest, like the one before me …” He reached beneath his desk with his left hand, pulled out a handgun and, without any hesitation, fired at the window. Instinctively, I dropped to my knees, hands atop my head, pushing it to my chest for protection. I never looked to see how the others reacted; I was too scared, too confused. Though I owned a gun, it was the first time I heard one go off. After the firearm was lowered, I returned to my feet and noticed the bullet had been absorbed by the window in a small, motherly hole.

“Unbreakable,” Mr. Ulger said. “Six of you have absolutely nothing to fear. The glass will not give, and you will go on living. But how?” He snorted. His shaking right hand reached for the punctured glass and fingered the captured bullet like an inverted nipple. He spoke to us while staring out at the sprawling city, the handgun, smoking, hanging from his left hand. “To shed all fear, to know what lies past the end; what does it mean for us, what does it beckon? The welcomed return of the brute, perhaps? A total unburdening? Complete and utter freedom? I am just learning myself.” Licking his lips, he turned back to us, returning his handgun to its rightful place beneath his desk. “I believe I can help you. Like me, you are widowers.” He stared hard at us—through us—as if searching for fragments of himself in our shattered psyches. He never once summoned the widows who worked for him, only widowers, and, in a company of hundreds, we seemed to appear like weeds. “But unlike me, you remain incomplete, fragile and lost men, lost in a muddled middle; I see it, I smell it, you reek of decay and despair, and I feel I must intervene. Not one of you has moved on. You are wandering aimlessly amid the constant chatter of white noise. You serve no larger purpose—I do not fool myself into believing your loyalty lies with this company. Not yet. What have we ever done for you, really? Time’s arrow has pierced you and drags you limply forward, to nothing. So why not reconnect with your lost loves then, or at least risk it here today? Jump. Either way you will end your suffering right here and now. For, you see, if you evade death, the reward …” He grinned here, very briefly, like a blink of the lips, before shifting into a seriousness far beyond death. “And I promise you this.” Then he repeated these words, each its own powerful sentence, driving every syllable into our heads like nails. “It will change everything you know. I do not hand out stuffed animals; I am no mere carnival barker. I am a man with access to your dreams. Past recipients of my gifts have been none other than Hanley Middleton, Mario Marano, Bert Coolgrass, Rudyard Ply, Theo Shinberg. Widowers just like yourselves, no better. Before they received their prizes they were your smudged mirrors, men at the ends of their ropes. And look at them now. Visionaries. There should be no greater need of initiative. Your motivation is in these names.”

And he was right. Those men had become living legends, stars far outside my own stunted limitations. I knew two of them (mere acquaintances) before their wives died and they were summoned with the same letter to the same room in which I then stood. They possessed nothing I didn’t, exhibited no enviable traits, no random displays of genius. To my discernible eye, their minds were no greater, their personalities no more engaging, their faces just as blank, their hearts just as removed. They were me in a different body. Yet, afterwards, I couldn’t keep up. They became abstract. Without ever mentioning what took place on the eighty-seventh floor, they accelerated through the company seemingly overnight, accumulating their millions, jet-setting the world, their meager pasts forgotten. They were the envy of us all. I always wondered how they did it. And now I knew. Mr. Ulger was offering me the same chance at such success.

“Now, those of you who are returning members know I’m not going to impose this upon any of you. No one will be forced to die; I’m not that cruel.” He laughed at this, a charitable chuckle that betrayed the statement. “My gun is away. You all will remain employed afterward. There is no threat here; you need not participate if you so choose. However, with the game about to begin, I must inform you there is only room for one champion today, and so you must act quickly. The game ends at the first touch of glass, whether it breaks or not. All it takes is one of you. The rest need not even budge. And so I implore you all: abandon your thoughts, become the beast. You must not let one of your competitors beat you to the prize. Show me passion, show me the lust for change, the spark of revolution, for this is no trivial reward. I offer you a way out, a new life!”

He ambled to the center of the room, directly in front of his gargantuan mahogany desk, and faced us. It was time.

“Widowers, are you ready? Which one of you has what it takes? Which one of you is ready to evolve?” He looked us over, smirking, then raised his left arm. At his side, his warped right hand twitched in glee. “Such a champion may begin his run … now.”

Hardback: $26.00 US      ISBN:  9781945501784 — First Edition: August 2022
Paperback:  $16.00 US     ISBN: 9781945501814 — First Edition: August 2022
ePUB: $13.99 US              ISBN:  9781945501791
Audiobook: $29.00        ISBN:  9781945501807
Unabridged, (still in production) Production by BeeAudio Ltd. & Imbrifex Books Audio
FICTION/SPECULATIVE FICTION/SCIENCE FICTION