Without thinking, Daniel thrust his hand into a nearby column and pulled out a handful of coasters.
He aimed at the creature, wound up and —
"No, thank you,” the creature said peaceably, its calm voice causing Daniel to halt mid-throw. “I already have plenty of those.”
In shock, Daniel dropped the coasters and realized he hadn't been hallucinating: the monster could speak.
At the same time, a silent avalanche of papery discs tumbled over Daniel: the column he had plucked the coasters from had collapsed.
Dumbfounded by the creature's speech, Daniel, up to his neck in coasters, was too surprised to pull himself from the pile.
"As you can imagine," the creature said, "collecting coasters is fun at first. But the appeal doesn't last. Each coaster is identical.”
“What,” Daniel said.
The “what” wasn't a question; it was a statement of Daniel's utter incomprehension. The same creature that had earlier tried to disembowel him was now giving him hobby advice.
Daniel stared open-mouthed at the pulsing form hanging above his head like a blunt, fat, living stalactite.
Then the creature tilted its body 45 degrees, almost as if cocking its head in thought, and said, "If, however, you do enjoy collecting many identical items, I am sorry if I implied it was not a source of amusement. I meant no offense.”
It spoke in a soothing, reasonable tone, one without a hint of pride or condescension; the voice wouldn't have been out of place coming from a therapist Aye or a sentient pop-up ad.