The creature came to a slapping, thundering halt. It leaned close to Theodore, leering with wide cat eyes. Its ‘face’ opened with a dozen mouths each lined with flat teeth and dripping with saliva. Theodore tensed as it breathed hot rancid breath over him.
“Oh my goodness!” She spoke with a perky older woman’s voice. “A human! I can’t believe this! We have a human guest! The ad campaign is starting to work!”
The lumbering creature spun on its sprawl of limbs.
“Burt!!” She said. “Why didn’t you tell me we had a human guest?! You should’ve sent word ahead! There’s trash everywhere and that’s not the impression we want to make!”
Burt’s bones were rattling. “S-sorry ma’am! It was just, er, well I just thought I would personally escort the–”
“What if someone else comes through the main entrance while you’re here?!” The creature said. “The welcome committee must always be ready for guests!”
“Of course, Chieftain! I was, ah, I was just making sure they were attended to…!”
“I’ll handle that!” She said. “Get back to work! Get!”
Burt gave a salute and jangled away. The larger ghast turned her attention back toward Theodore.
“I apologize,” she said, wringing her hands together. She resembled a giant hairy potato covered in hair, mouths, and arms. “We aren’t normally this disorganized, I promise. Humans almost never come down here, but we’re hoping to change that. My name is Lindsey. I’m the Elder Chieftain of the Hollows and I’m pleased as peaches to meet you! I’ll have a proper cheese and sausage tray arranged for you at once!”
Theodore managed to stand and collect himself. He told himself that no matter how ugly this thing was she was a citizen and worthy of respect. Better, she was a facet of government. He wiped the spittle from his uniform, steeled himself, and pointed his badge.
“A welcome party won’t be necessary,” he said. “I’m here on official business.”
Lindsey gasped with half its orifices. “Oh my devil! You’re the Ranger Deputy! And you got here so fast! It hasn’t even been an hour since I sent the messenger!” She seized both of Theodore’s hands with numerous arms and shook them in greeting. “Thank you! Thank you so much! I know the crown expects us to handle matters like this on our own, but this is an emergency.”
“…There must be some mistake.” Theodore wrenched himself free from the full body handshake. “I haven’t spoken to any messenger. We’ve come regarding another matter.”
The Chieftain was still as a statue. “…I see.” She glanced around at the crowd of spectators and lowered her voice. “I’m sure whatever brought you is important, but I need to speak with you in private at once.”
Problems were piling up faster than Theodore could solve them. “We’re pressed for time. It’ll need to wait until we’re done with this other case.”
Lindsey flailed her arms and legs. “No, no, no! This can’t wait either! Please! Hear me out!” she turned to the crowd of onlookers. “All of you! Clear off! I’ve got to speak to this man! Off with you!”
The spectators were reluctant to disperse, so Lindsey bowled through them and sent them scattering. She scuttled to the edge of the market and gestured for Theodore and Oboe to follow into a back alley.
Theodore wondered if they afford this distraction. After they were away from the main streets, Lindsey leaned close and whispered with the smallest of her mouths:
“Something TERRIBLE has happened. A ghast has been murdered!”