When they arrived at the half-arch door of the plain white house, there were voices coming from inside.
“That’s weird,” said Mahender. “She doesn’t usually have visitors.”
“Do you know who it could be?”
“No idea. The only other human person I’ve met in this place is this woman called Nancy. But she lives in an aeroplane on top of that giant building. She doesn’t leave if she can help it. I usually bring her supplies from the town. I can’t imagine she’s here.”
“Could it be a non-human person?” said Naomi. “There seem to be plenty of those here.”
“Hi!” said the creature with the tentacle hoop-skirt.
“Nah, she doesn’t really care for my brothers, and she hates Daves.”
“Daves?” said Naomi.
She felt a nudge at her shoulder and turned to see Falcon signing something. One of his brothers translated.
“We ran into one before when we first entered the Pit. It chased us for a while.”
“Oh. Right,” said Naomi. “What about the Sisters?”
“The Sisters are a whole other… complicated thing,” said Mahender. “I don’t think it’s one of them. Maybe it’s one of your friends.”
Naomi shrugged and raised her hand to knock on the door.
“Wait,” said Mahender. “Just one second.”
Mahender leaned toward the tall window beside the door. At first, Naomi thought he was trying to see in the house, but then he started ruffling hair with his hands. When he was finished, he shook his head back and forth, then looked at his reflection again. Then, he did the same thing with his beard. When he turned back to Naomi, the hair on the right side of his head stuck out at an angle that seemed to defy the laws of gravity.
“Well?” He said. “How do I look?”
“Um, were you… trying to fix your hair? Because it… looked better before.”
“Perfect.” He grinned. “I’m ready.”
Okay, then. Weird, but whatever. She had more important things to worry about. She knocked on the door.
She heard footsteps and muffled arguing, then the door swung open.
A short, brown-haired girl stood in the doorway waving at them. She looked far too young to be Mahender’s aunt, and she seemed very familiar. It took Naomi a moment to realize why.
“Angelina? I… what?”
“Hi, Naomi!” said Angelina. “Hi, guy I don’t know!” She stood on her toes to see who else was standing behind them, and her eyes lit up. “Oh! Falcon’s here! And you all must be his… brothers? Hi!”
“Angelina, what are you doing here?” said Naomi.
Before Angelina could answer, a woman rounded a corner inside the house and strode toward the door. She looked enough like Mahender that she had to be the aunt, but she was still a bit younger than Naomi had expected; she only looked about ten years older than him. She guessed it made sense; Mahender had said his aunt had gone to college in the nineties.
The woman pushed past Angelina, causing her to exclaim indignantly, and stood in the doorway, arms crossed.
“Hi, auntie,” said Mahender.
“Hi, idiot,” said the woman. “What do you want?”
Wow. Mahender hadn’t been exaggerating about his aunt being mean.
When Naomi pictured a judgmental aunt, she tended to think of backhanded compliments, or vaguely disparaging questions about her grades or love life. She had some relatives she considered difficult, but she couldn’t picture any of them greeting her with the words ‘hi, idiot’.
She pushed past her nerves and tried to smile at the woman, extending her hand for a handshake.
“Hi, you must be Mahender’s aunt. My name is Naomi.”
The woman accepted the handshake. Her nails were painted, which seemed odd for someone stranded in a place like this. Hadn’t Mahender said his aunt was supposed to be practical?
“I’m Mrs. Sharma,” she said. “You and my useless nephew can come in. Your fabrication friends will have to wait outside.”
Naomi looked back at Falcon, who gave her an encouraging nod.
“Can you tell him we’ll be back as soon as we can?” Naomi asked one of Falcon’s brothers.
The brother nodded a few of its heads and relayed the message.
“Great.” Naomi pushed her shoes off with her heels and moved them to the side with her foot. “We’ll be right back.”