H.P. Lovecraft’s ‘The Pac-Man’

“It was no common series of mischances which had made me lose my way in this roofless, unseen tangle of corridors. Far from it. Beyond doubt, the place was a genuine maze—a labyrinth deliberately built by these hellish beings whose craft and mentality I had so badly underestimated.”
– H.P. Lovecraft, In the Walls of Eryx

“Wakka Wakka Wakka”
– The Pac-Man


I woke to find myself lying upon a hard, polished surface in a dark, stygian place consumed by a most wretched and ravenous hunger.  Of how I arrived at this unhappy fate I could only speculate:  had I been blinded by some vicious assailant and left here to starve?  Was this Hell? Or – more prosaic and yet more terrifying in its aspect – had I been stitched-up once again by those vile scoundrels from the Miskatonic Polytechnic Rugby Union Club?

The darkness was absolute and impenetrable, as though both moon and starlight had been extinguished from the night-black sky by some vast cloak of pure obsidian that had been draped over the firmament and painted black with several coats of black emulsion.  The hunger, too, was quite unprecedented.  I yearned – oh, how I yearned! – for some scant morsel of sustenance from the unforgiving gloom.   I thought of Thomas de Quincey and his infamous Diary of an English Opium-Eater, in which he described a grub-craving so profound that he could “steal a sticky bun from the pocket of a tramp.”

I thought of my fiancé P_____ – what had become of her?  Would I ever gaze lovingly again at her pretty round face or touch those golden locks held in place by that enormous red bow?  My lovelorn morbidity was cut short, though, by a shaft of incandescent light that tore through the hitherto relentless gloom.  Dazzled momentarily – with phosphorescent dots erupting before my eyes – I gasped as the spark ignited and blue light cascaded all around me.  I stood between two shimmering walls of electric-blue neon that seemed to form a corridor of sorts, and something about the scene reminded me of a strange and disturbing passage from the dreaded Necronomicon of Abdul Alhazred in which he gave a vivid account of a regrettable stag weekend in Amsterdam.

The dazzle-induced dots slowly dissolved from my field of vision, although a few stubbornly remained, like uninvited relatives who can’t take a hint.  They seemed to be arranged in Indian-file along the polished black floor of this neon-framed passageway.  Alas, this was no mirage!  Cautiously, I reached down and inspected one of these strange anomalies: it was off-white in colour, roughly spheroid in shape and had a distinctly tacky texture, as though it had been dipped in some blasphemous blend of chipgrease and ectoplasm. Perhaps my sway of reason had been irrefutably shaken by circumstance, but in spite of its strange and eldritch appearance it looked quite tasty – not unlike a donner kebab late on a Friday night. Desperate with hunger and with scant care for self-preservation or gentlemanly conduct, I greedily wolfed it down.

As I gingerly chomped my way along the now-illuminated passageway, I soon discovered that it formed part of a maze. My first impression was of a vast, neon-lit Cyclopean network of unimaginable scope and scale that embodied monstrous perversions of geometric laws. Upon closer inspection, however, it was actually quite small.

And then I heard it.  Objects shuffled and slithered in the distance, unseen as yet, but unmistakably ancient and terrible in nature.  They seemed to come from an antechamber at the centre of this somewhat uncomplicated labyrinth, and I was gripped by a most primitive sense of dread and foreboding.  The hackles rose at the back of my wide neck, icy beads of sweat erupted across my ample forehead and I felt a most terrible sinking sensation at the pit of my spherical stomach.  I may even have let off a fart.

Of my first glimpse of the vile abominations I have this to say: they were a quartet of slime-spewing, protoplasmic monstrosities draped in membranous cloaks of red, orange, lilac and powder blue.  Their very presence was a ghastly affront to every known law of nature: it was as though Michael Winner had arrived at a fancy-dress party in the guise of Shirley Temple. They were, without doubt, the fiendish “Shoggoths” described in the ghastly, grisly and gruesome Necronomicon of Abdul Alhazred

[which later spawned the hit Broadway musical, ‘Lulu and Cthulhu Go Wild in Honolulu’].

And their eyes – egad, their eyes! – what can be said of them?   They were immense, bulbous protrusions that seemed to stretch impatiently from their sockets, twitching with atavistic fury as they scoured their surroundings for something to devour, or, at the very least, to glare at with menace. They put me in mind of the famously mad-eyed comedy actor Marty Feldman, or of the famously mad-eyed British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher.

And now, all eight of those hideous eyes were glaring menacingly at me!

As they advanced towards me with preternatural haste I ran like cheap mascara, eating clumps of pseudo-food without slackening my pace and pausing only to lick the occasional dropped crumb from the polished floor (though terror-stricken beyond my wildest imaginings, I was still feeling quite peckish). Left I turned, then right and left again, and all the while my relentless pursuers pursued me relentlessly.

My recollection of their chase is somewhat blurry due to the fact that I was running at the time.  At one stage I chanced upon what looked like an exit, but this perverted threshold only led me back into the maze.  Later, I encountered a somewhat incongruous giant cherry that frustratingly blocked my path, but was – I must admit – rather tasty.

All the while those ferocious miscreants continued to pursue me. I was running out of space, stamina and things to eat when I chanced upon a clump of pseudo-food that was somewhat larger that its counterparts now working their way through my intestinal tract.  It seemed to shimmer, generating a halo of otherworldly radiance quite beatific in nature.  I paused – gazing at this glorious thing, transfixed by its celestial beauty – then gobbled it down with tremendous gusto.

Instantly, my entire body was filled with a most tremendous surge of energy.  It was as though every muscle, vein and sinew had been pumped full of a most potent and vibrant elixir.  I felt renewed!  I felt euphoric!  I felt better than James Brown, who – by his own earnest admission – felt goood.

My vile tormentors, however, did not fare so well.  As I erupted in euphoric epiphany, they all turned a most sickly shade of blue, their malevolent demeanour replaced by a fearful countenance.  Instinctively, I lurched towards the first and – before my very eyes – his cloaked corporeal form dissolved into nothingness, leaving only his ghastly eyes which scuttled off with haste towards the central antechamber. O, sweet respite! The hunter had become the hunted and the hors d’oeuvres chef had become the hors d’oeuvres!  I could not say what was the more delicious: the sweet irony of this turnabout in fortune, or the joy I found in snacking on my foes!

I gave sudden chase to the remaining three, taunting them with barbed, blasphemous curses and obscure Norwegian sea shanties.  I would not normally indulge in such un-gentlemanly belligerence, but there is something about being chased through a neon-lit maze by four vicious ghosts that brings the worst out in a fellow.

It was not to last, however.  After catching hold of my second quarry – who also dissolved in my grip like a big, blue Alka Seltzer – I noticed his first companion return to the fray, restored now to its original hue, form and ferocity and making haste towards me.  Worse yet, the remaining two were shedding their cowardly blue taint in favour of their fearsome shades of orange and lilac. Alas, my starry banquet’s gifts were of a temporary nature, it seemed.  O woeful turn of circumstance! The hunted who had become the hunter was being hunted by his former hunters once again! My spirits sank like a perforated boat and I became afflicted with that sudden and most overwhelming sense of melancholia that mystics, mountain dwellers and touring funk bands refer to as “coming down”.

I ran again, gripped with terror and a desperate craving for second helpings of the “good shit”. In desperation, I tried to outmanoeuvre the ghastly abominations, but either their pursuit had amplified in intensity or my retreat had become more sluggish due to overeating.   I scrambled awkwardly down a passageway with a beast in hot pursuit and took a sharp left, only to find its loathsome comrades blocking my path.  I came to a sudden halt and felt a hot stab of pain throughout my body and something explode inside.  It wasn’t indigestion.

Collapsing to the floor as a savage blur of red, orange, lilac and powder blue descended upon me, I tried to suppress another fart, but failed.  It would be the last thing I’d hear before my world once again turned to darkness.

And then, slowly, I awoke.  Harsh sunlight and fresh air tore me from my hypnagogic stupor and I gradually realised that my pill-popping persecution by those maze-based monstrosities must have been a dark and diabolical dream. I squinted, took a deep breath and tried to recall any pertinent events from the previous evening that might have involved cheese.

It was then I noticed something quite strange.  I was not lying upon my bunk at the Miskatonic Polytechnic Halls of Residence but upon a cold, hard metal surface.  It was a large steel girder posited on a steep incline that formed part of a vast and crooked construction site some seven storeys or so in height.  Before I could consider the Health and Safety implications of such shoddy workmanship, however, I heard a scream.

I leapt to my feet – it was the voice of my sweetheart and fiancé P_____, and her cry originated from directly above me, at the very summit of this ill-aligned structure! She was in a tawdry, dishevelled state the likes of which I had not seen since she’d returned from a raucous Hen Party last semester.  And next to her, eclipsing the midday sun, was a gigantic and terrible beast that seemed to defy anthropological classification.  At first glance it resembled a massive ape, albeit one of monstrous height and girth, and yet – from my vantage point directly below – it was quite evident that the creature was equipped with certain physical attributes more commonly associated with a donkey.

It was, without doubt, one of the beastly “Old Ones” described in the harrowing, hideous, horrendous, horrible, horrid and horrifying Necronomicon of Abdul Alhazred.

And for some inexplicable reason it was throwing giant barrels at me…

Lovecraft's Pac-Man by Tom Lennon

illo by Tom