Jacob Lawrence, "Harried and the Promised Land No. 8" (1967)
Jacob Lawrence, Harriet and the Promised Land No. 8. A Plan to Escape (1967)
Can a Game Be Literature?

Mark's Pages

Thirty Nine

Mary Ann's fingers and toes tingled with freezing cold. The air seemed greasy and somehow electrically charged. Her eyes struggled to pierce an unnatural darkness filled with spiraling incense rising from tapers shaped like goat's heads placed around the cavern. The chorusing sound of deep-throated chanting reverberated from walls of rock. There was a smell of decay and electrical sparks. Her eyes became acclimated, and this is what she saw.

A black-draped altar stood at the center of the space. Upon it Ginger lay naked with knees raised: a beautiful woman with red hair and green eyes. Twelve naked figures formed a pentagram around her: The Old Ex-President, Cap the Knife, Poppy, Potty Mouth, Turd Blossom, the High Prophet, the Howells, the Reverends Jerry and Pat, the Professor, the Skipper.

Behind them the remaining newcomers observed in groups, sometimes chanting, sometimes watching. Someone turned a heavy spit over a raging grillfire: for a moment Mary Ann's mind drew the ghastly image of a human baby roasting there. Along the far wall were cages confining children with milk-carton faces. The floor was covered with a blood-red rug. On the ceiling was something large and dark.

Poppy stepped forward, holding the Host. Derisively he spat upon it. The greasy, moist, electrically-charged quality of the air increased sharply. The light became harsh, threatening, like the glint of a sword, in the way that schizophrenics often describe light as a hostile or destructive force. Standing between her open legs he placed the Host upon the expectant thighs of the Bride of Satan.

"Stop it!," commanded Mary Ann.

With a gasp the Twelve stepped back, mouths agape. The chanting ceased. In the quiet the sound of crackling grillfire filled the cavern. But on the ceiling the dark form waiting there began to move, creeping stealthily along the sheer cold rock.

Mary Ann focused her attention overhead. The creeping thing was of spider-form, cloaked in shadow, spinning threads of poison silk as it advanced. Mary Ann's eyes crossed and lost focus, as if commanded not to see. She felt herself losing the will to move. It was Lloth, Queen of Parasites, grinning with the ancient face of the Old Ex-President's Wife. Intuitively Mary Ann understood that if she hesitated another moment she'd never move again.

She turned her back, and the spell snapped like a broken thread. A great cry echoed from overhead, like the cackling of a gleeful predator. Falling forward she ran panting toward the cave entrance. But from that she recoiled in horror: a pair of eyes were there, ghoulish and obscene, carved on the door; wherever she stood, they followed with cruel mocking malice. For its own purposes the Guardian had allowed her in; it would not allow her out. She could not pass.

Panting, she turned in despair. The demon Queen advanced toward her patiently, throwing sticky strands of spider silk forward as she came. She turned again: the Guardian held the door. There was no way out.

But Mary Ann was a practical girl, a farmer's daughter, raised to be resourceful. Before her heart beat twice, she focused her complete attention on the voice of her intuition, and it instructed her. She drew a pentagram on the floor, point facing north, and stood inside it. In her imagination she called forth keen clear images of those she loved most in this life: her father and mother; her horses; a boy she'd known; Gilligan. Her emotion swelled, and she focused it to razor sharpness. Her love surged forth like a flowing fountain. She pictured it as a current of flaming white light, shaped like a dazzling sword of beauty and power. Crying "I will live!," she raised it high overhead. Crying "I will pass!," she brought it down, smiting the Guardian with all her strength.

There was a shower of white and silver sparks. She heard two wailing cries of despair: from the Guardian, cloven in defeat; and from the spider Queen. The earth shook. Heavy stones fell from the ceiling. There was a gust of air which to her surprise smelled clean inside this dismal place. There were grasping hands upon her. Her mind grew dim, and as her sight faded she saw tapers shaped like goat's heads wavering, sputtering, and dying, while huge stones, cold and sharp like gnashing teeth, fell from overhead.

And so the world ended, neither with a bang nor with a whimper, but with a backhand slap of indignation.