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Sam couldn’t make sense of where he was.

One second he had been in a lab, the next second the lab had seemed to dissolve around him, and through some impossibility, he had ended up here.

He wasn’t sure what kind of building he was in, but it wasn’t anything like the parts of the engineering building he’d seen before. It didn’t look like a Clyde Packaging Solutions building at all. Each room was empty of furniture, with yellowing walls and flickering fluorescent lighting that emitted the kind of never-ending hum that wore his patience down to a thin layer. Most of the rooms were damaged somehow, with chunks torn from the walls or gaping holes in the floor. Many of the walls had deep grooves, almost as though some giant animal had been clawing at them.

Sam wasn’t one for gut feelings, but the building felt deeply wrong in a way he couldn’t explain to himself.

“Is anyone here?” he called. “Chelsea?”

There was no response.

He’d been searching through room after room, hoping to find an exit or at least another person, but so far he had found nothing.

“Hello?” he called again. “Is anyone here?”

This time, he heard a faint reply from behind a door in front of him, too quiet for him to make out. He opened the door.

A boy sat in the center of the room, his hands bound behind his back. He was about Sam’s age, with dirty blonde hair that desperately needed a comb. He wore too-tight jeans and a button-up uniform shirt for some fast food place with a grinning cartoon chicken embroidered in bright red on the chest. Dark circles framed his eyes, and scratches and bruises covered his arms. His head snapped up as Sam entered the room.

“Where the motherfuck am I?” he said.

He had an accent, British or Australian or something. It was hard for Sam to tell, because the boy was slurring his speech as though he was struggling to form his words.

“An excellent question,” said Sam. “I was trying to figure out the same thing myself.”

“Ah, okay,” said the boy. “Second question, then. Who the motherfuck are you?”

“I’m Sam.” Sam noticed a name tag on the boy’s shirt and leaned down to read it. It wasn’t a name with which he wasn’t familiar, so he took his best guess at the pronunciation. “I take it you’re… Latch-lan.”

Lachlan. Lach. Lan.” An infuriating smirk spread across the boy’s face, made all the more infuriating by the fact he was wearing a fast food uniform shirt with a goofy grinning chicken.

“Whatever.” Sam frowned. “What kind of name is that anyway?”

“It’s Scottish, dingus.” Lachlan rolled his eyes. “As evidenced by the ‘loch’. As in Loch Ness, Loch Lomond, Loch Lochy–“

“I get the picture,” said Sam. “So you’re Scottish?”

Lachlan’s accent hadn’t sounded Scottish, but it was hard to tell with the way he was garbling his words.

“Do I sound Scottish?” Lachlan rolled his eyes again and let out an exaggerated sigh. “Why is it that Americans can never recognize an Australian accent?”

“You’re slurring your words so much, I can barely understand you. How am I supposed to know what accent you have?”

“Well, excuse me,” Lachlan let out another loud sigh. “I was only drugged, tied up, and shoved into the back of the most sus van in the world. Forgive me if my enunciation is less than flawless.”

Sam started to respond, but he hesitated, unsure how he was supposed to respond to something like that. Lachlan continued before he could finish forming his words.

“By the way, just wondering, but are you going to untie me, or are you just going to keep standing there?”

“Just a word of advice: annoying the one person with the ability to free you isn’t a very intelligent thing to do.” Sam crouched behind Lachlan and began to work on the knotted rope holding his wrists together.

“Eh.” Lachlan shrugged, causing Sam to lose his grip on the rope.

“Would you hold still?”

“Nah,” said Lachlan.

“You really aren’t very intelligent, are you? If you don’t hold still, I won’t be able to untie your hands,” said Sam.

“I’m probably smarter than you.”

“Unlikely.” Sam snorted. “I’m an electrical engineer, and you work at…” He paused to read the back of Lachlan’s shirt. “Chaz’s Chicken Hut.”

“So?” Lachlan turned his head to scowl at Sam. “You thought I was Scottish. And you couldn’t even pronounce my name.”

Sam felt his face grow hot. “Only because it’s a weird name.”

“A weird name? How is ‘Lachlan’ a weird name?” said Lachlan. “Also, are you done untying my hands yet? For someone who claims to be a brilliant engineer, you don’t appear to have a good grasp of knot theory.”

“First of all, knot theory is the study of mathematical knots, not physical knots in cordage–“

Lachlan feigned a loud yawn. “Wow, I bet you’re a hit at parties.”

“–second of all, the knots in this rope are extremely complex, and I can’t be expected to concentrate when you keep irritating me. And third of all, electrical engineering has nothing whatsoever to do with untying knots.” Sam tugged the ropes free. “There. Got it.”

“It certainly took you long enough.”

“How about a ‘thank you’?”

“Eh,” Lachlan shrugged.

“Oh, I guess I was wrong about you. You are smarter than me.” Sam raised his eyebrows in an attempt to make his expression as condescending as possible. “Your articulate response of ‘eh’ proves it.”

“I can be articulate when I feel like it. I just don’t feel like it.” Lachlan tried to boost himself to his feet, but only managed to pull himself into a squatting position before losing his balance. “Are you going to stand there uselessly, or are you going to give me a hand?”

“I would love to give you a hand, but unfortunately, I don’t like you and I don’t want to,” said Sam.

Lachlan grabbed onto a groove in the wall and hoisted himself to his feet. “You just met me and you already don’t like me?”

“Yeah,” said Sam. “Pretty much.”

“I can’t say I’m your number one fan either.” Lachlan stumbled, clutching the wall to steady himself. “Ow, shit. My legs are fucking fucked.”

“You just keep getting more and more articulate, don’t you?” said Sam. “Who was it who said that profanity is the attempt of a feeble mind to express a powerful thought?”

“Whoever it was sounds like a massive fuckhead.” Lachlan rolled his eyes. “Who was it who said that profanity provides a relief denied even to prayer?”

“Someone with a feeble mind, most likely.”

Somewhere in the distance, Sam heard a sound. It was something between a roar and a screech, somehow deep and shrill at the same time.

“Did you hear that?” he said.

“I didn’t hear anything. What are you talking about?”

“There was a noise. It sounded like some kind of weird animal.”

“Are you sure you didn’t just hear the sound of your own voice?” said Lachlan.

There was another screech, louder this time.

“Shut up. I’m serious,” said Sam. “There it was again. Did you hear it?”

“I didn’t hear any–“

Sam tried not to flinch as the sound echoed through the walls again. It had to be an animal, but it didn’t sound like any animal he’d ever heard before.

“Okay. I did hear that,” said Lachlan. “What the fuck was it?”

Sam tried to ignore the uneasy feeling in his chest. “Some animal. Probably just a cat or something.”

The unnatural-sounding roar rumbled the walls and floor again, this time loud enough to reverberate through Sam’s bones. It was the type of sound that pierced through his head, leaving pain and fog in its wake. He felt his body tense up and hoped Lachlan didn’t notice.

“Have you ever heard a cat in your life? Or does America just have really, really fucked up cats?”

Sam couldn’t stop himself from covering his ears as the shrieking roar sounded again, shuddering the entire room. A door to their right broke free from its hinges and crashed to the floor.

The creature trying to squeeze through the door frame was most definitely not a cat.

It had an oblong, almost rectangular body with smaller sea anemone-like tentacles surrounding it and long snakelike limbs extending from each rounded corner. It had a head in the center of its body, with a wide mouth lined with long interlocking teeth, and translucent skin that revealed the skull underneath it.

Lachlan was already trying to flee, stumbling toward the door on the opposite side of the room. Sam tried to follow, but that sound had stunned him, blasted through his synapses and paralyzed him like an electric eel with its prey.

One of his feet found its way backward in a tentative step, but he couldn’t make himself move any further.

The thing observed them through eyes that looked disturbingly human. When it spoke, its voice echoed through Sam’s bones as much as its roar had.

“I’m hungry.”

The creature lashed out with one of its long limbs and wrapped around his waist.

Too late, he remembered how to move again, stepping backward just as the creature jerked him into the air. The room blurred as his glasses slipped from his face and shattered on the floor.

He thrashed, pulling at the limb encircling him as it lowered him toward the creature’s gaping mouth.

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