Wow. My Joey Martin skin’s got some crazy acrobatics installed. I mean, Mom brings me to her gym several times a week, but that’s all straightforward cardio and weights. As far as I know, I can’t perform a cartwheel, handspring, or wall-jump to save my life—but that’s exactly what I’m doing as I gymnastic away from the crazed ex-husband chasing me. I dodge between stalagmites, hop over gears, scramble effortlessly onto the lip of that darkened tunnel at the back of the dungeon. Turning around, I brandish my dagger, legs planted firmly, hair and loincloth whipping in an unexplained wind. With a conviction of mind and body that would’ve made the ape man himself proud, I shout, “Ungawa!”
Surprisingly, the dude chasing me has stopped below, his mouth open, his eyes wide. He starts backing off.
Huh. This Tarzan stuff really works.
In fact, it’s not just my dude who’s suddenly looking thunderstruck. Everyone’s stopped in their tracks, faces frozen into various configurations of awe and terror—
Something ominous shifts from inside the tunnel.
—oh, wait. It’s not me they’re looking at.
It’s what’s behind me.
I glance over my shoulder. Emerging from the shadows is a twenty-foot-tall, two-headed reptilian monster with tentacles for arms and a body made of…smelly gorgonzola cheese?
“Theo, look out!” Eva cries.
I want to freeze. I want to cast aside my stupid toy knife and curl up on the ground with my hands over my ears, my eyes scrunched shut. These are the evolutionary survival instincts passed down from my parents and encoded in my DNA (go figure)—but a split second before enacting them, Rush’s “Face Up” starts playing in my head, and a calm detachment floods over me. I’m not sure how or why. Maybe it’s a feature of my skin, or maybe it’s my CBT training kicking in during a moment of need. All I know is that suddenly I’m animated once again, darting out of the way of the demogorgonzola’s tentacles as it tries to swipe at me. I leap from the tunnel lip and run over to where Eva’s tied up, am somehow able to cut through her bonds with my dagger. Freed, she falls awkwardly into my arms, gives me the biggest hug I’ve ever gotten from a girl who’s not Mom—and before I can overthink it, I pull back just enough to plant a big, fat one right on her lips. Then, letting her go, I hoist my dagger above my head in triumph as Alex Lifeson’s frenetic guitar solo kicks in. I feel just like Link from The Legend of Zelda whenever he’s just found a piece of the Triforce.
I’ve paused the friggin’ dungeon.
During this momentary reprieve, Ernie looks up from where he’s been blubbering on the floor and locks his eyes with my crotch. “Dude.”
“Huh?” I ask.
“Your loincloth just flew off.”
I glance down at myself.
I really, really need a better special move.
The demogorgonzola resumes its path toward us, busting through both rock and wood as if either were no more substantial than cardboard. The husbands are now fleeing for their lives. Well, all but the youngest, who makes a half-hearted attempt at grabbing Eva. She’s ready for him, though, and uses his momentum to perform this ridiculously effective over-the-shoulder throw, depositing him right into the tentacles of the demogorgonzola. His screams are bloodcurdling and brief, quickly replaced by the sound of bones crunching, sinew snapping.
Eva’s eyes threaten to pop out of their sockets. “Oh, my Gawd, I didn’t mean for that to—”
“Come on!” I shout, and grab her by the hand, hustle her over to where Jan’s helping Ernie up.
“How did you do that?” he asks Eva, looking impressed.
“I am a wrestler,” she replies.
Vertical again, Ernie immediately starts huffing toward the stairwell entrance.
The remaining husbands have beaten him to it, however, and are now working together to lower some kind of wrought iron gate.
“Don’t you dare!” Ernie screams at them.
The rest of us also run for the stairwell—but it’s too late. By the time we reach the entrance, the gate has been completely lowered, the husbands watching intently from the other side.
Ernie claws uselessly at the metal bars. “Bastards! Crypto-cocks! Let me out! I’m fat and unhealthy! I’ll give your cheese-pet indigestion! Take the others! They’re all lean meat, especially the Czech!”
Eva punches him in the shoulder. “Seriously, Ernie?”
I turn and face the interior of the dungeon, my back and butt pressing against the cold metal of the gate. Beyond a vague self-consciousness about my nakedness, I can honestly say I don’t give a shit that I lost my loincloth, because the demogorgonzola is just about finished eating the youngest husband, and it’s got its eyes set on dessert.
“I don’t want to die!” Ernie crumples to his knees and starts bawling.
Eva looks me in the eye, takes my hand, squeezes. “We’re not going to die…are we?”
I want to tell her something reassuring, something meaningful— “I love you.”
She lets go of my hand. “What?”
Just then Jan’s phone rings. He takes it out, checks the caller ID. “It’s Beta.”
“Help us, Beta!!” Ernie wails.
Jan puts the phone to his ear. “Yeah? Uh-huh.” To me: “He says he’s got access to Thrill-Kill’s server, but he’s not sure if shutting it down will end the program, or you and the program.”
I swallow. “End me?”
“He says he wants you to re-enter the server, then exit gracefully.”
“What, like with a fucking pirouette?” Ernie asks, wobbling to his feet. He tries to grab the phone. “Get us out of here, Beastmaster!”
“Basically, not by accident,” Jan clarifies.
The demogorgonzola is closing in.
“Okay, fine, let’s do it!” I blurt. “Upload us now!”
“He says to upload us now,” Jan explains to Beta.
“Yes—now! Right now!”
“Beta wants to know if you’re absolutely sure—”
“Yes! I’m sure! Now, now!”
I grab onto the others.
They grab onto me.
Jan holds up his phone.
Lowers his head and bites his lip as the demogorgonzola, now within tentacle’s reach, lunges at us—
The dungeon winks out of existence.
Is replaced by the black-and-white jungle set of RKO lore.
I let go of the others, several things becoming immediately apparent: I’m still Joey Martin (my loincloth has reset itself, thankfully), Eva’s still in her undies—but Jan and Beta have been skinned as Rokov and Cheeta, respectively. Ernie…he’s MIA.
“What happened to His Fatness?” Jan asks after a beat.
That’s when the enormous elephant standing behind us stamps its foot and swears under its breath.
Here’s some adjacent ridiculousness: