“What have I said about elbows on the table?”
Jenny looked guilty. “Sorry, Mom,” she said.
“Jenny's in trouble!”
“David!” Marcia glared at her son until he subsided, then turned to apologize to their host. “I am so sorry,” she said. “You took all the time to invite us here, make a really nice brunch and then the kids can't even be on their best behavior.”
“It's all right,” The Bloodstained Maw said. “I know how kids are growing up.” Its mouth grinned open even wider, revealing rows of razor sharp teeth and a void of emptiness behind it. “Of course, when I was that age--”
“Ha!” The Abyss Dweller said. “We all remember how you were. Gnawing bones and leaving them on the floor where anyone could just trip over them. And the stains you left—your mom always asked my mom how she raised such a good brood when her own were--”
The Bloodstained Maw screamed.
“Should we be going?” Marcia asked uneasily. Jeremy had already collapsed from the eldritch horror of it all, his eyes gaping wide into nothing as the terrors of the abyss worked their way into his skull. He'd be fine in the morning, though, once he had an aspirin or two.
“Oh, they'll be fine,” Rachel whispered to her. “You know how it is with your best friend. You have to clear the air once in a while to really get the tension out.”
And sure enough, Marcia looked over to see The Abyss Dweller laying one gangly companionable limb on his friend's back? Shoulder? Marcia really wasn't sure about the anatomy of it all. “I'm sorry,” the Abyss Dweller said. “I shouldn't have brought up your parents, knowing what a trigger they were.”
“No, you're right,” the Bloodstained Maw said, retracting a row of teeth. “I was a horrible child.”
“Now that I don't believe,” Marcia said. “No child is horrible.”
“See what I mean?” The Bloodstained Maw nudged its friend. “This is why I simply had to have them in my basement. They're just so hard to resist.”
“Tell me about it.” The Abyss Dweller's limb reached out and hooked Rachel, bringing her to its clutches. “I knew as soon as I saw this one that they were something special.”
Rachel smiled. “You and me both. I mean, after the screaming and initial existential terror.”
The Abyss Dweller chuckled, its laugh stirring their primal animal sense of fear in the humans that told them they should run away. Instead, Marcia sipped her mimosa. “I'm just so happy you agreed to meet up with me.”
“Well, you didn't give me much choice.” Rachel elbowed the insidious monster playfully. “Between the constant nightmares and the fact that you had my best camera--”
The Abyss Dweller looked down abashed. “I'm sorry,” it mumbled. “I did want to return it to you because I know how much that means to you. You take such wonderful photos.”
“We should check out her next exhibit,” The Bloodstained Maw said enthusiastically. “I've had so much fun attending Marcia's PTA meetings that I think is bound to be fun as well.”
“Really?” Marcia felt a warm glow that either came from the flattery or from the copious amounts of alcohol. “Well, I'm glad you were able to attend them. I think they really appreciated your treats the last time around, considering they had to put up with Peggy's terrible brownies for so long.”
“Oh, it's nothing,” the Bloodstained Maw said. “I'm just glad to finally be able to cook for someone beside myself again. It's so hard making all this food and then you have to eat it all before it goes bad. I swear I'm going to need to go on a diet one of these days.”
“No!,” they all said in unison, Rachel adding, “Look, everyone knows they're all just fads anyhow. One day they tell you red meat is bad, the next day, flour, and before you know it, you can't eat anything but air.”
“Exactly.” The Abyss Dweller nodded. “If I had to give up the infinite unending terror of all mankind--”
“Well, why don't we meet up to start running or something? It'd be much safer in a group and I think if we go early enough in the morning, we could get it out of the way before work.” Marcia opened up her phone to add it to her calendar. The service in the basement was surprisingly not terrible – maybe rips in the fabric of time and space had great reception.
“That's a great idea,” The Bloodstained Maw said. “I've been meaning to work on improving my speed and I'd really love to stick it to the Basement Wolf.”
The Abyss Dweller drained its mimosa. “You as well? I swear one of these days, I'm going to--”
“Rip its head off?”
“Drown it in its own blood!”
“Jenny! David! It is rude to interrupt.” Marcia scolded them once again. “Honestly, it's because they're so excited. They're normally much better behaved than this.”
“Oh, I know.” The Bloodstained Maw smiled at them indulgently. “I've watched you for so long. I've seen your dreams and your fears and the secrets you whisper late at night. I've crawled into your mind, wormed my way to the center of it and darkened every corner until nothing is left but myself. Also, if they're good, maybe next year, I'll take them with me when I go see the Friend from the Void Plains.”
“Just make sure you don't have the Friend from the 12th Dimensional Body Hive with you at the same time.” The Abyss Dweller snorted. “Learned that one the hard way.”
“Can we Mom?” Jenny turned her pleading eyes upwards. “I promise we'll be good.”
“Maybe,” Marcia said. “But you'll need to convince your father too.”
“I don't think he's waking up anytime soon,” Rachel said, toeing his body. “At least he's not like Sam. Took him a full week before he'd start gibbering.”
“Ex-roommate,” The Abyss Dweller said. “Devoured his brain when he wouldn't shut up.”
“I don't remember that,” Rachel frowned. “I thought he just moved back in with his ex-girlfriend.”
The Abyss Dweller and The Bloodstained Maw exchanged looks. “Or that,” The Abyss Dweller said. “Either way, it's much better he's gone.”
“Oh, I think someone's sleepy,” Marcia said. “I really should get the kids to bed. Jeremy too.”
“We're not tired,” Jenny protested. “Another hour--”
“No, your mother is right,” The Bloodstained Maw said. “You really should welcome the dark embrace of oblivion. You've got school tomorrow.”
“Nope,” Marcia said. “Now get your butts off to bed.”
Jenny and David got up. “Good night,” they chorused.
“Good night, kids,” The Bloodstained Maw said. “I'll see you in the morning. Or possibly sooner, depending on the recesses of your mind.”
The kids walked off into the never-ending darkness of the hallway.
“Make sure you don't let the awful noises coming from within the pantry keep you up.” Marcia shook her head. “It knows they have to get up early tomorrow.”
The Bloodstained Maw patted her hand, leaving some ichor dripping from it. “Don't worry,” it said reassuringly. “They'll do great.”
“Well, I think it's our cue to leave as well,” The Abyss Dweller said, taking Rachel's arm. “We've got a big shoot tomorrow.”
“Really? Who's going to be there?” The Bloodstained Maw leaned forward, intrigued.
“The Headless Land Swimmer and the Living Telephone Pole both said they'd be there. And I think the Humanoid Rabbit said it would stop by if it had time in between classes.”
“That's great!” Rachel beamed. “I wasn't sure they were going to make it,”
“For you,” The Abyss Dweller said. “I'd make them do anything.”
It tangled Rachel up in its embrace, waved goodbye, and leapt through the hole in the ceiling, vanishing into its depths.
The Bloodstained Maw finished its drink, and then for good measure, everyone else's. It looked at Marcia, blood and orange juice dripping from its gaping mouth.
“That was nice,” Marcia said. “We should really do this again.”