The tops of tall trees bent earthward as Gilligan led the community toward the volcano. Angry winds lashed the jungle, which slapped and stung their faces like enraged hands.
"There!," cried Gilligan to Turd Blossom and the Old Ex-President's Wife. The wind blew back his words. Pointing, he shouted, "The caves run deep underground, from that rocky spot just above the tree line!"
The cave shelter was ready. Before their strike Gilligan and Mary Ann had completed it, sacrificing their rest, working hard into the night. There were storerooms with provisions for several weeks, and there were sleeping rooms for the entire party. A common room with a simple hearth was closest to the cave entrance, reached through a narrow tunnel. The walls were lined with baked-clay bricks, and Mr. Howell's trunks of cash, and more baked-clay bricks. A great round stone could be rolled into place, stopping the entrance tight like a cork stops a bottle.
"I know that!," cried the Old Ex-President's Wife, disdainfully. With purpose and great force she shoved Gilligan off the trail, leading the party herself. Gilligan was astonished by her strength, landing on his backside to one side of the path. Mary Ann helped him up. They followed the others as best they could, holding to each other in face of the gale.
At the cave entrance the villagers had stopped. A group of about a dozen stood together near the doorway. To the amazement of Gilligan and Mary Ann they were naked, grouped around the entrance. The stone was rolled to one side; the entrance was open.
"What's going on?," cried Mary Ann. "What are they waiting for?"
Gilligan shrugged. They ground their way forward, step by step, approaching the door.
The sounds of voices reached them, faintly, distorted by the storm. It sounded like, "God is dead." But, that couldn't be right.
Gilligan shouted, "I think they're praying!" Marry Ann nodded as they fought forward one more step.
"God is dead," Poppy chanted, leading the ceremony.
Wind howled in the ears of Gilligan and Mary Ann.
"God is dead," repeated the congregation in chorus.
Mary Ann and Gilligan were no longer able to move forward. They stood huddling against the wind, trying to catch the words.
"God is dead: we are all absolutely free," Poppy intoned in rhythmical accents.
Leaves flew into the faces of Gilligan and Mary Ann.
"God is dead," repeated the congregation, accentuating the weird, hypnotic beat. "We are all absolutely free."
Sticks and stones cut the faces of Gilligan and Mary Ann.
"Prepare the pentad," Poppy commanded.
Mary Ann saw that a blood-red rug lay before the entrance. She looked at Gilligan quizzically: they hadn't put that there. He shook his head. The congregation knelt to draw figures in chalk: a pentagon, with a triangle on each side forming a star.
"I-O," Poppy chanted raptly.
"I-O," the congregation replied.
"I-O, E-O, Evoe," rose the chant.
"I-O, E-O, Evoe," replied the chorus in cadence.
An ashy, acrid taste gathered in the mouths of Gilligan and Mary Ann. Their fingers and toes became cold. The air seemed greasy, moist. There was a distant smell of electrical sparks.
"I-O, E-O, Evoe, HE!," screamed Poppy.
"I-O, E-O, Evoe, HE!," came the reply, in voices subtly become bestial.
A mighty peal of thunder cleft the suffering heavens.
"Ol sonuf vaoresaji," Poppy intoned, now more softly.
"Ol sonuf vaoresaji," came the chorus.
"It is accomplished," Poppy said. "We may pass the Guardian." They slipped inside, followed by the rest of the community.
Struggling, Gilligan and Mary Ann brought up the rear. But as they neared the entrance, the Old Ex-President's Wife emerged, barring their way.
"Sorry," she said, smiling her patient smile, and her quiet voice carried perfectly above the howling gale. "Looks like there's no room at the inn."
To their astonishment she rolled the great stone stopper over the entrance all by herself, easily, with one hand. When it was nearly in place she left a small gap, just wide enough for her to pass through. Disappearing back inside she waived a final waive, and the stone rolled snugly into place, pushed from inside.
A huge palm frond blew past them, tossed like a child's toy. Red lighting rent the jet-black sky.
The two of them pushed at the stone with all their might. It refused to budge. They were locked out, with the end of the world upon them.