He stood in silence and listened. As he concentrated, the fluorescent lights’ humming gave way, and he began to hear the minds in the rooms around him.
He heard two of his brothers in the room to his right, both still small and weak, but he ignored them for the time being. He was hungry, and needed to focus on his hunt. He would share his kill with them when he was done, and they would grow more powerful. One day, if they survived long enough, they would grow as powerful as he was.
He kept listening, until he found an immature Sister in a room to his left.
She was still small like his little brothers, with just four limbs and one head of dark brown hair. She fled before he entered the room, and he slithered after her, forcing his way through the doorways.
The Sister turned a corner and he lost sight of her, so he stopped and listened. He tried focus on her and tune out other sounds, but noise buzzed around him; below him he heard more of his brothers, more of his prey, and a few others that would prey on him. Above him, he heard–
Wait. Above him? That wasn’t right. There shouldn’t be anything above. There was never anything above.
Limitless blue skies and relentless sun. Brown-green waves crashing on an empty beach, two thousand feet below. A smiling man with a white mustache. A crowd, bustling with excitement, watching little airplanes looping through the sky. A basement smelling of oil and fuel.
He shook one of his heads. The thoughts from above didn’t make any sense. They weren’t like anything else he’d heard in this place. They didn’t belong.
Falling, struggling for control. Shouting over the thumping roar of pistons. A thick, dark green fog that swallowed everything. The sound of metal against metal. An impact. Fires flaring up, then fizzling out.
His curiosity overcame his hunger. He reached up, tearing ceiling tiles loose until there was an opening large enough for him to squeeze into. Then he crawled up the wall and began to slam his limbs against the concrete roof until it gave way.
The source of the strange thoughts was standing on the roof. She stared at him, and he stared back.
She looked almost like his usual prey–small, humanoid, two arms, two legs–but something was off. With her tin-colored hair and lined face, she looked as though she had aged, but that wasn’t possible unless…
“You’re real,” he said.
“I’m human, if that’s what you mean,” she said. Her voice was raspy.
For a moment, he considered devouring her. He was still hungry, and after what her kind had done to him, tearing her limb from limb would have provided him some small comfort.
His curiosity won out again.
“Why did you come here?” he said.
“Come here? Why the hell would anyone come here?” She shook her head. “No, they sent us here. I don’t know how, but I know it was them.”
A man in a linen suit, fanning himself with one hand. A blonde woman, her clothes elegant, her face twisted in rage.
He had only seen their faces in photographs, but they were all too familiar.
“Me too,” he said.
She stared up at him. “I don’t understand.”
“Me either,” he said.
“This is the longest conversation I’ve had with one of you,” she said. “Usually by this point, you start snarling and slithering after me.”
“I still might,” he said. “I haven’t decided yet.”
“Well, try to warn me first if you decide to go that route, okay? Give me a sporting chance?”
“I probably won’t.”
“I didn’t think you would.” She shrugged. “Can I ask why you haven’t tried to kill me yet?”
“I was curious,” he said. “Can I ask why you’re not more afraid?”
“Oh, I’m way past afraid.” She sighed. “I’ve been in this place for… I don’t even know how long. Months? Years? I was afraid for a while, but I’m just tired now.”
He nodded the head closest to her. “I felt the same when I first got here. Scared, then tired. If I didn’t have my brothers…”
“It must be nice to have someone,” she said.
“You’re alone?” he said.
“I had Dad for a while.”
The man with the white mustache, this time with a wild beard, his clothes in tatters. A Sister, laughing through all her mouths as she slithered at him, her limbs snaking toward him. Cold, paralyzing terror.
“You lost him,” he said. “I’m sorry.”
She smiled without humor. “Condolences from a monster?”
“I mean it.” He extended a limb toward her. “I’ve lost people too.”
She took a step backward, eyeing his limb warily, and he retracted it.
“Your brothers?” she said.
“Yes. Some of them to the Sisters. More of them to your kind.”
She looked up at him in silence for a few moments.
He reached out to her again, and this time, she didn’t step away.
“Oh, what the hell,” she said, extending her hand to him.
As gently as he could manage, he wrapped his limb around her outstretched hand.
“This is weird,” she said. “Really weird. But it’s nice at the same time. Since I lost Dad, the closest thing I’ve had to conversation has been those–what did you call them?–Sisters telling me all the gruesome ways they plan on ripping me apart.”
“I’ve ripped many of them apart, if it’s any consolation.”
“It’s not, really.” The woman grimaced. “But if that was your twisted way of trying to make me feel better, I do appreciate it.”
“I have a friend I think you’d like to meet,” he said. “He’s not with me now, but I think he’d want to meet you too. If he says he wants to, I might bring him to meet you sometime.”
“No offense,” said the woman, “but I’ve met friends of yours, and…”
“This one is a little different. Trust me.”
“I’ll have to take your word for it,” she said.
He unwrapped his tendril from her hand and pointed.
“One more thing. There’s a place if you walk that way, kind of like a…” He paused for a moment, trying to remember the word. “A village. It’s empty, but there are lots of little buildings and places to hide. You might be safer there.”
“Thanks,” she said, “but I prefer to stick around here.”
He heard the prey he’d been chasing earlier beneath him, searching for her Sisters.
“I have to go,” he said.
“So soon?” she said.
“I’m hungry, and I’m sure you’d rather I devour a Sister than come after you.”
“Yeah,” she shrugged. “I guess I would.”
“Besides, I don’t think that friend I mentioned would approve.”
He began to crawl through the hole he’d created in the ceiling. He could see the Sister now, but she hadn’t spotted him yet.
“Wait,” the woman said.
He stopped, and turned his heads toward her.
“What’s your name?” she said. “If you have one, I mean.”
He reached for her hands and felt her tense, but she didn’t resist. He arranged her hands so her fingers interlocked.
“I don’t understand,” she said.
“That sign. That’s my name.” He held up some of his limbs, indicating his lack of hands. “I can’t say it anymore.”
“Do all of you monsters have names like that?”
“Not all of us, no,” he said. “What about you? I know all of your kind have names.”
“Nancy,” she said. “My name is Nancy.”