"It is pitch black. You are likely to be eaten by a grue."
The familiar mantra sent a pleasant chill down her spine as she whispered it to herself after turning off the flashlight and putting it into her jacket pocket. They had reenacted the event many times in the fan club, running around in darkened rooms and catching each other, growling and giggling. But tonight, in the cold underground caverns, everything was real.
Mariel waited and waited, stumbling around the muddy cave and tripping over stalagmites. She began to wonder if she had come to the right place. Could it be that the secret map, acquired with such difficulty on the black market, was a fake and the big red "C" marking the spot did not mean "Cafeteria"? She almost resolved to turn on the light again and search elsewhere when the darkness came alive with a distant rumble. Something huge and heavy was moving through the tunnels. The rhythmic thumping sounded closer and closer, echoing off the stone walls. The pungent smell of mud intensified, and she realized she was not alone anymore. There was an eerie, terrifying presence in front of her. Her heart fluttered. She froze on the spot, suppressing the urge to rush wildly towards inevitable fate. It would be more classy to behave with dignity.
But something was wrong. Dead silence filled the cave for a few unbearably long seconds. Then, a deep, hoarse voice growled, "Oh no. Yet another brain-dead wannabee meal."
"Excuse me?" asked Mariel uncertainly. "Are you talking to me?"
"I could just as well be talking to myself. Rocks, moss and slime are capable of more intelligent conversations than you and your kin."
"But you don't even know me!"
"If you confirm that you do not belong to the Grue Adoration Group and have no interest in feeling my stomach from inside, I'll take my words back."
"Well, um..." Mariel fingered her favorite GAG bracelet - it was made of authentic grue fangs and cost a fortune. "You mean you are not about to assault me and brutally devour my helpless body?"
"That's right. Now go away."
"But you're supposed to have an insatiable appetite and consume everything that moves!"
"I am a grue, not a black hole. And these caverns are becoming busier than a spaceport. I can't go anywhere anymore without stumbling upon a bunch of groupies. Half of them are drenched in ketchup and mayonnaise and all kinds of gunk you humans consider savory. The ground is littered with forks and knives..."
"No worries, I knew it in my heart that you prefer a natural taste!" exclaimed Mariel, stealthily dispatching of a souvenir bottle of ketchup hanging around her neck; she had planned it to be a last-minute surprise.
"Can't you go and pester somebody else before I get an ulcer?" said the grue. "I've heard zombies are rather keen on human flesh."
"Zombies," snorted Mariel, "who cares for those rotten sacks of bones? Now a grue, so powerful and fearsome, is a whole different matter! Allow me to quote my poem - 'Grue Me Baby' - it's dedicated to you and I feel so honored to let you hear it in my final hour!"
"No - anything but poetry!" howled the grue.
Oblivious to the plea, Mariel outstretched her arms towards the invisible listener and started to recite: "Oh, to be consumed fully by the growling lurking horror, oh, to be devoured wholly by the terror coming for you, oh the ghastly grisly passion of the slurping, chewing, munching, oh the spinal column crushing, so luscious and crunchy..."
Her declamation was interrupted by horrible gurgling noises. "Is something wrong?" she asked, peering into the darkness.
"Excuse me," rasped the grue, his voice muffled, "I had to throw up."
"You're not feeling well? Is there anything I can do?" inquired Mariel anxiously.
"Getting your pathetic self out of here would be a start," said the grue, "but I envision it to be problematic."
"No way," declared Mariel, "I'm not leaving. I've been waiting so long for this moment! I'm your most loyal fan and admirer, ever since the first Zork was released! I've been skipping classes and working my ass off until I finally could afford traveling to the Great Underground Empire! Please, Mr. Grue, eat me, I promise you won't be disappointed!"
In response, she heard heavy grunting and thumping of the ponderous steps heading away from her, back to the tunnel. Something had to be done, and fast. She thrust her hand into her pocket and yelled: "Mr. Grue, freeze! I have a flashlight and I won't hesitate to use it!"
The thumping stopped. "So it comes down to threats," said the grue.
"I'll do whatever it takes! You know that eating me is a much, much better option than suffering excruciating agony which I can inflict on you with one push of a button."
"You might have a point here," agreed the grue.
"Now if you want to leave this place alive and unharmed, you'll have to eat your dinner first."
"Very well," sighed the grue. "Perhaps an extra snack is not such a bad idea after all."
Mariel breathed a sigh of relief, listening to the steps approaching once again. Still, he didn't seem to be in a hurry. She heard some creaking and clanking in the corner of the cave, along with huffing and puffing, and was instantly suspicious. Perhaps there was a secret exit she had overlooked?
"What are you doing?" she demanded.
"Arranging a dinner table, of course. Did you think that I'm a savage and do it on the floor?"
"Oh, all right. Hope it won't take too long."
"It's ready. Come here."
She staggered towards his voice, probing the air with her outstretched arms until they touched the cold rocks. There was a stone slab protruding from the wall.
"Please get on the table and make yourself comfortable," said the grue. "I'll attend to you in a moment."
She climbed on the slab, her heart almost melting in anticipation of the first touch of the slavering fangs. Or would it be the razor-sharp claws?
However, what followed was a kick to her ribs - and then, her body slipped onto a smooth metal surface and proceeded to accelerate while sliding down the tube. The red "C" on the map stood not for "Cafeteria" but for "Chute".
Screaming, Mariel tried to grab at the walls but to no avail. After several diabolical twists and turns a stream of compressed air propelled her upwards and finally spat her out onto a pile of something soft and stinking of compost. The wind was rustling the leaves of trees, faintly visible in the dark, moonless night. She was back on the surface; her journey to the Underground Empire came to an abrupt end.
Her body was intact, apart from a few scratches and bruises, but her ego was completely shattered. She couldn't believe that the idol of her nightmares turned out to be such a rude, arrogant bastard. How dare he throw her out like a sack of dirty laundry! In a fit of outrage, she tore the GAG bracelet from her wrist and hurled it into the darkness. The word "grue" would never pollute her lips again. Even the most wretched zombie would be a better choice. Speaking of zombies... She mentally recalled the asymmetric elegance of their angular silhouettes, the tender blue and gray shades of their ragged skin, the intriguing depth of their eye sockets. And unlike a dumb grue, any zombie appreciated a good brain the moment he smelled it! Yes, zombies it was from now on. She scrambled up from the compost heap and walked towards the road, holding her head high and humming a Cannibal Corpse tune.
A lovely gruesome death is not easy to attain, but a true romantic never gives up.