"We believe that you can only get to Heaven through the salvation of Jesus Christ," said Blonde Teacher. "Do you believe that?"

"Yes, but -" Maestra started.

"Hey! No Spiderman!"

Some powerful playground juju had turned the twenty children into a hundred. Thirty boys were racing each other up the slides. Billy had become Spiderman. It was getting dangerous.

"Geez, these kids. I don't know where they get this stuff from. What were you saying, hon?"

Maestra tried once more, but Blonde Teacher wasn't letting go of the ball.

"You can't get to Heaven without Jesus working for you. You know that, right?"

On the other side of the playground, a war was brewing between the Defenders of the Rope Ladder and the Crusaders of the Curly-Cue Slide. The armies eyed each other grimly and exchanged ritual taunts.

"Uh-oh. You gonna get that, hon?"

Maestra stood up slowly and went to intervene. Blonde Teacher looked up at the gathering clouds and wondered if it was going to rain.

Some kind of pervert with porcupine-spike hair pushed a stroller up to the bench and sat down near Blonde Teacher. He removed a little girl from the stroller and began to bounce her on his knee. Too young to run up the slides or become Spiderman, she shook a rattle at Blonde Teacher and eyed her with suspicion.

"Don't look too hard. You'll get nightmares," Blonde Teacher defended herself. The porcupine-haired pervert glared at her, and took the girl away to play with helicopter seeds. She immediately ate one.

Something like smoke, like shadows, like chalk drawings on asphalt, slithered in pastel pink and green under the bushes surrounding the playground.

Maestra was back, having narrowly averted the war. The hundred children had become a legion, swirling widdershins and clockwise in a pagan dance around the jungle gym.

"You accept the divinity of Jesus Christ, right?" Blonde Teacher pressed on as if Maestra had never left the bench. The little girl, seeing her father looking at Blonde Teacher again, quickly ate another helicopter seed, and the chalk shadows boiled up through the foliage of the bushes. They looked like children's drawings of long, lithe dogs with big triangle teeth.

Jason had become the new avatar of Spiderman. The jungle gym was Times Square, dazzling with computerised signs.

"Of course I do," said Maestra.

"Sure you do. Then it makes sense that you need His salvation to get into Heaven." Blonde Teacher's astounding leap of logic was quickly followed by a faint thud and a loud wailing. "Oh, these damn kids. What are you doin' over there?" She stood and looked over the myriad children, seeking the source of the interruption, but saw only the porcupine-haired man's daughter looking happily back at her. She was annoying, but she didn't seem to have made any loud thuds.

"Keep staring, kiddo, your eyes are gonna cross." She sat back down again.


The wailing continued, and the little girl watched Blonde Teacher unrepentantly, while her father brushed some dirt off her pants.

"I'll go check that out," said Maestra.

"Yeah, all right, hon. Hey! I told youse guys, no Spiderman!"

The hero dropped from the bars, disappointment adding pounds to his weight. A Jedi army was assembling around the back of the jungle gym.

"Fucking kids," muttered Blonde Teacher, rummaging in her purse.

The little girl's father was looking across the playground, distracted by the wailing, and she seized her chance to eat one more helicopter. Columns of chalk smoke billowed out of the bushes, and huge, ravening chalk dogs sprang out and sunk dagger-like cartoon claws into the grass.

The porcupine-haired man looked back at his daughter, finally noticing her illicit meal. "Don't eat those, honey. They aren't good for you." Behind him, three enormous hell-hounds drawn in chalk leapt over the low fence and tore Blonde Teacher apart. The wailing stopped immediately, and the laughter and yelling of a million children hard at play rose once again over the largest, most beautiful jungle gym on Earth.

Maestra returned to the bench, wondering if Blonde Teacher would still be interested in proselytizing. She was very tiring sometimes, Blonde Teacher, but she almost always lost interest after a while. Maybe she would have found a new topic to belabour.

But Blonde Teacher was gone. Good riddance, thought Maestra. Not like she was any use anyway. Never wanted to touch a child or remember his name except to yell at him. She had probably gone off to buy a coffee or something, typically not even bothering to let Maestra know or ask if she wanted anything. Maestra sat down on the bench and watched the man with the anime hair play with his daughter, who was stubbornly gripping a bunch of helicopter seeds in one hand. Maestra smiled.

Spiderman swung to the apex of the jungle gym. A whisper of pink chalk smoke dissipated against the clouds.

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