I slipped between the clamor of the swelling mob outside and the whispers of nearby movement. My silence wrapped around me like loving arms and my hands filled with saw-toothed laughter. The rank smell of fruiting corpses traveled upon the breath of the thing that entered the shadows at the bottom of the stairs. Its movement vacillated between a shuffle and a purposeful gait, outlining a struggle between primal and prudent dispositions. It inhaled deeply, combing the air for signs of prey. A solid bar of light shot through the cellar window and brushed past the face of the creature as the spotlight operator from the water tower adjusted his angle.
The thing’s face was as conflicted as its movements, expressing the extremes of a barely human condition. Its white eyes were sunken into its face like heavy lusterless stones thrown atop a filthy pillow, and they peered no deeper into the world than was necessary to locate objects that would slake their host’s hunger. This most certainly concerned the swollen meats of the dead—more specifically, human corpses. A septic pit of roughhewn teeth comprised the thing’s mouth, which it seemed to favor keeping slightly agape—as if to reduce the distance its jaws would have to open to admit its next meal. The longer I looked upon the thing, the more I detested it. You see, there are two principal attitudes concerning art—first, there is the type of art that seeks to capture reality, reproducing the banality of a ruthlessly pointless world and training the imagination to stray no further than the chiseled borders of it; the second is the type that flees the stagnant environs of a dead world, forever chasing the specter of endless dream, foolishly hoping to catch it. It goes without saying which art I practice, and this creature was clearly the work of a practitioner of the first type of art—the grotesquery was nothing but the isolation and intensification of a single basic urge, embellished only slightly with the coarse appetite of a nightmare. Nevertheless, the creature was undeniably well-made, the attention to detail impressive. Yet the overall aesthetic caused me to dislike the fetid reality that it was obviously designed to reflect.
A second noise emanated from the upstairs as something else entered the house. The peripheral glow of a flashlight frosted the cellar stairs as the second intruder investigated. The first creature immediately recoiled from the invading illumination, shielding its eyes and hissing.
Surprisingly, the thing spoke. “Keep the light to yourssself, you blind idiot!”
The creature from above ignored the insult and croaked back in only slightly less inhuman tones. “Isss he down there?” I was being sought out, and I was sure it wasn’t to congratulate me on my latest work.
“He’sss down here,” said the first. “I’m sure of it. I can sssmell the death clinging to him. Come to me, Family Man. Hiding is for prey.” The taunt was absurd on its face but required a retort nonetheless. I decided I would savor my time with the thing in the basement, so I departed for the creature above me, as silent stairs go both ways. I found the thing clumsily roaming through the filthy kitchen, looking through the cupboards, of all places. The windows of the room were without curtains, and when the creature finally shined the light near the glass, my reflection betrayed my presence directly behind the thing.
The reflection also granted me a brief look at the creature, allowing me to measure the difference between itself and its companion in the basement. It was essentially the same kind of being, differing only by way of its greater share of human features, which were likely diminishing over time—this was typically the case with Post-Darkness afflictions, I had come to learn. The thing quickly spun around and I seized it by the throat, crushing its windpipe before it could marshal any kind of alarm. I didn’t want to spill its blood, as I desired to remain as traceless as possible.
I had packed the dead creature’s body into the small fireplace when I heard more creatures entering through the front and back of the house. A nearby window showed me the restless crowd of townsfolk, composed of creatures much like the ones I’d encountered thus far—except for one. A lean and towering figure passed through the crowd like a praying mantis strolling among tangles of swarming ants. However, these ants seemed to bow to the mantis as opposed to attacking it. They gathered behind this new creature and fell silent. The lanky thing was little more than a shadow standing before the great beam of light that shone down upon my work. It paused to gaze upon the piece, but again I wasn’t sure if my artistic effort was being admired or admonished. I wanted to linger near the window to observe the thing’s conclusion, but the creatures were closing on me.
I decided to exit through the back. On my way out I encountered another creature and dispatched it as I had the first, throwing its lifeless body over my shoulder. As I disappeared into the backyard, I detected the presence of other things moving through the night, far from the crowd and its light. I froze, waiting for the invisible things to make the first move. Within moments, a howl from something both alien and wolf broke through the quiet, issuing forth from the house I’d just abandoned. They found the body I left in the chimney. I was simultaneously impressed with and disappointed in the speed of the discovery--these creatures seemed to excel at locating the dead.
I was already inside another dwelling when a second spotlight burst to life from somewhere on the opposite side of the small town. The lights began falling across houses and trees and yards, hoping to find me blundering about in plain view—as if the one who had made art of their alien hunters, secretly infiltrated their town, and silently killed a number of their kind would be foolish enough to fumble about in the open. No, these creatures were not the smartest of adversaries, though I knew they were only the vanguard of a much deadlier foe—and I would be meeting her soon enough.
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