The ground was soft beneath his feet. It squelched and popped beneath the pressure of his determined stride, and sometimes crunched on a creature that hadn't been able to get out of his way quickly enough. Hadn't been able to, or hadn't wanted toit was hard to tell, in a place like this. Barren, and yet alive in its own way. Wet, always wet, but with a sickly damp that worked its way into his clothes and his hair and his lungs. Flat and endless like an empty chessboard. In the distance stood figures that looked somewhat like trees, except they were too round, too perfect, like the tops of some ghastly fungus. If the man ever paused long enough to stare at them, they might move, just a bit. But it was hard to tell. And the man never did stop long enough.
"Why are you following me?"
This may seem to be a strange question for the man to ask in such a deserted milieu, but there was in fact something with him. It had no shape, or perhaps its shape was simply unimportant. Sometimes it had fangs, sometimes thin, bony arms, sometimes eyes and sometimes not. At the moment it was grey and blue and trailed behind on legs that were long and spindly like the man's.
"I thought you hired me," the thing retorted with the rubbery lips that had just appeared on its flat oval face.
"I did nothing of the sort. And besides, what would I hire a thing like you for?"
"A guide, of course."
"A guide? Do I look lost to you?"
"No." Its face fell. Quite literally, in fact, drooping morosely into the thing's collarbone. "But there's no telling when you might become lost, and you'll be glad you hired me then."
"And besides," the thing went on, its face lifting a little, "that's not the only thing I can do. You know, back in the Burbs I was"
"I don't want to hear it," the man interjected. "I don't care about the Burbs. Do you want to know why I'm out here in this rotting, stinking place and not back there?"
"Why?" it asked innocently.
"Because in the Burbs it's even more rotten and stinking than out here. Do you know why that is?" The man rushed on angrily, so this time the creature had no time to reply. "It's because of you, and all your disgusting friends who roll and slither and crawl about in those revolting bodies of yours. It's unbearable to have to live next to your kind every day, all day, and pretend that you aren't the most vile, most worthless things on this planet."
There was a pause while the man stopped to catch his breath, and while the creature's mind absorbed everything he had said.
"We're not worthless," it finally replied in a slow, shy voice. "I'm not worthless. I have something I'm very good at that can"
Before the creature could finish its sentence something flew from the bog and shot, hissing, straight towards the man's face. It was long and supple, like a snake, except greenish spines ran down the length of its back. Or that's the way it looked to the man, in the instant before his unwanted companion whipped a brand-new arm out, snatched the snake-like creature, and promptly devoured it in one gulp.
The man barely had time to lift up his rifle before it was all over.
"What did you say you were good for?" the man asked once he could move again.
The creature's lips twisted around into something that could have been a smile. "I eat trouble before it eats you."
"Well, then." The man might have smiled back, just a little. Like everything else in that sort of place, it was hard to tell. "You're hired."