I am scared of many things, the man said, but I am not scared of you.
Is that so? it said.
Then why are you trembling?
He had hoped his shaking was hidden by the dark, that it could not see him, but its eyes might be better eyes than his, or its ears. It could have heard the tremor in his throat. He squeezed the hilt of his knife to keep his hand from shaking.
Because it is cold, he said.
Then why are you sweating? it asked.
He had been so certain it couldn't see details in the dark, but some sense, or all of them, must be sharper on it. It may smell him or even taste him on the air. The wondering, wondering what and how it knew, unnerved him.
Yes, a fever, it said. That is a very good answer.
The man could hear it smiling.
What do you want? it asked.
I have a question.
A question, it said. It spoke into his ear, but there was no heat of flesh or breath. Only a kind of cold, and of that, he wasn't sure. Maybe a thicker dark, maybe nothing at all.
Then you should ask, it said. It was further away now, somewhere else.
The man did not speak.
Are you too scared to ask? Have you come all this way to be frightened?
You have a question then.
Why am I here?
To ask a question, it said.
You know what I mean.
There are far too many heres for my taste, it said. If you mean the here of location, because it is my house. For a here of purpose, you said you had a question. If it's the here of being you want, that's something different. I suppose you mean that one. The here of being?
Because I have not eaten you yet.
I live to feed you?
You die to feed me.
But why do I live?
I don't see the distinction you're making.
You do, you do see. You made the distinction. You say I am here to die, fine, but why am I alive?
You live to feed me, you die to feed me, it's the same.
The man could not feel his fingers. He could never see them in the dark but now he could not feel them when one touched where the other should be, when one touched anywhere. He thought he could feel a depression in his face, where fingers might push against his cheek, but he wasn't certain.
Are you comfortable? it asked. Satisfied?
The man could not feel his palms now, or the back of his hands. He had held a knife once, but he could not feel it now. He brushed his cheek and arms across the floor, to feel with them.
Are you looking for this? it asked.
The man listened and heard nothing. He listened and he felt the knife slide into his stomach and out again. He felt hot blood soaking his pants. He heard the knife clatter on the floor.
That was what you were looking for?
The man lunged to the sound of the fallen knife. He could not feel his arms to a place near the elbows. He reached for it with his tongue instead and tasted blood. He licked down the blade, searching out the shape of the hilt. When he found it, he took the hilt between his teeth and pulled his body up. He could not trust the blade to his arms.
You put on a good show, it said.
The man twisted to the sound of its voice, but the sound came from several places and no particular place.
You say I live to be eaten by you? He spoke from the corner of his mouth. The words were wet and round past the hilt of the knife.
I did say so.
You are wrong.
Oh, am I? it said.
Yes. If I had not come here, you would not eat me. You only eat me because I came. Had I gone anywhere else, I would not be eaten.
You did not go anywhere else. You came to me. And this is the point and purpose of you, what you've been building toward all these years, making yourself more flavorful for me.
What about other people? People who did not come? he asked.
What about them?
Why do they live?
To give you something to think about as I eat you.
The man could not feel his legs, or the floor. He did not know if he was standing or kneeling or floating above.
What am I doing? the man said. His mind was clouded and dim.
If you hold still, now, there's just one more bite, it said.