Before and After

They came at night, through the streets of all the cities, worldwide. The world population dropped 40% the first few nights, before the humans figured it out. They were Hunters, and they prowled the earth at night. As the sun rose, they would scurry off to what whatever hole in the ground they occupied. Heaven forbid you came across one, or your death would soon follow.

They weren't hunting for food, though. It took even longer for the humans to learn this. Their true motive wasn't clear, but one thing was: they were spreading. A man would go outside after dark, just to pee or investigate a noise. Then, you'd hear the clicking, the rustling of leaves on trees and bushes, and the man would be taken, scooped right up off the ground. Seemingly vanished, the man would return, several nights later, to the very door of his home. But he would be different.

Your neighborhood banded together. Lights were put up around the neighborhood edges. The Hunters didn't like the light too much, and it was easier to see their dark bodies against the light. Old Christmas lights, oil lamps, even flashlights were used to watch the woods carefully for movement. Families stayed in their homes, and those who were old enough to defend would watch over the elderly and kids. You were in charge of a group of girls, two houses over. Their mother was taken in the beginning, before humans learned.

Life went on as normal during the day. School and jobs functioned, society was alive and well. You went to the store to buy food for your family, as well as the girls. You maintained your job as a truck driver, transporting packages between warehouses and pickup locations. The only difference was that sometimes, people would stop showing up. A teacher wouldn't come to class, a regular customer to a restaurant would stop coming, and everyone just knew.

The Hunters seemed to only want humans. All attempts to bait them with dead meat and food failed, and all the animals were unharmed, despite having nowhere to hide at night. They only wanted people for some reason. Whenever they took someone, the person would come back later, in a new form.

You saw it firsthand. One night, you were in the kitchen, doing the previous day's chores. You couldn't sleep because you were on guard duty. You saw movement out of the corner of your eye, through a window. You looked up to see a figure walking down the neighborhood's entry road. It was far too small to be a Hunter, and as it stepped into the light, you realized it was Franklin Wright, owner of the house across from yours, taken just two days ago.

He slowly made his way over to his house, and you just watched. At first, he looked normal. You thought for a moment that he had actually survived, and was coming back home. You ran over to your front door and cracked it open. Frank heard it and turned around. 

Frank stared at you with empty, glazed eyes. His pupils were so dilated that you could hardly tell his eyes weren't completely black. His face was dead, his expression grim. His lower jaw hung uselessly below his head, so his mouth was hanging open. Once the shock of seeing his face so dead dissipated, you were overcome with an instinct to close the door.

Frank lowered down on all fours, like a dog. He used his feet to launch himself forward, galloping toward your house. You slammed the door shut and locked it, leaning against it with all your weight, praying that he wouldn't bust right through it. You heard Frank's hands slapping against the asphalt as he barreled towards your door, then a sickening thud as he slammed headfirst into it. 

The sound was like a melon being smashed with a hammer. You were almost afraid to open the door. Eventually, you just went upstairs and looked down from the guest bedroom window. Frank's headless body was lying motionless on your welcome mat. The remains of his head were splattered on the door, and the ground surrounding his body. You could make out a caved-in skull still attached to Frank's neck.

The noise attracted the attention of your neighbors. Your phone immediately blew up with calls from everyone, wondering what the noise was. You told everyone to stay inside, and relayed what you had just seen as lightly as you could, leaving out the more gruesome details. After everyone understood what happened, they were much more careful. Several families boarded their windows, afraid the taken would come back to plow through the weak points. 

As time went on, it happened less. Less people were taken, and so less people came back to haunt the living. You didn't know what happened to those who came back, or why they did. From your experience with Frank, you didn't want to know. It was important to stay up to date on the Hunters and how they hunted, but you didn't want to lose your humanity for the sake of staying alive.

Eventually, the Hunters became dissatisfied. The humans had understood their patterns and now barely any viable hosts were easily taken. Nobody was outside anymore, they were all hidden in their concrete fortresses. So, one night (coincidentally another night where you were awake and on guard duty), the Hunters tried something new.

You were reading a book, you don't remember which one. Most of the details are blurred, but you remember this: you had a feeling of comfort and safety in that house, reading that book, a feeling of comfort you would never get back. 

You heard a scream pierce the air, and recognized it immediately as one of the girls you were watching. You leapt up, and raced for the front door. As you stepped outside, your stomach dropped into your shoes. One of the Hunters had thrown itself into the front window of the girls' house. Before you could think about it, you started sprinting for the window. 

You jumped inside to see the youngest girl, Elizabeth, crying under a table. There was broken glass everywhere, but she didn't look hurt. You couldn't worry about her yet, as there were two more girls and a monster in the house.

You ran upstairs, yelling the girls' names. You heard a scream from the downstairs bathroom, and nearly fell down the stairs trying to get there. Your heart was pounding, you were sweating, and between the monster's growls and the girls' crying and screaming, it was a rush and a blur. You bounded into the bathroom, just in time to see a Hunter looming over one of the girls.

You'd never seen one before. You didn't see the one that took Frank, and they mostly stayed away from the neighborhood. Sure, you heard stories from people who had seen them, but this was worse than anything you could have imagined. The beast was tall and lanky, with arms and legs like wiry hoses that connected to a clump of flesh. On that clump of flesh sat a large head, with a jaw that opened wide, revealing several rows of teeth. It was black as coal, save for the deep red of its claws, three at the end of each appendage.

In the face of death, all you could do was stop and stare. It opened its mouth and howled. You had heard howls before, but only from a distance. Up close, it was loud, piercing, and painful. You stumbled backwards, and the monster shot forward. You were held by your arms in its claws as it sprinted for the front window. You fought like bloody hell to escape, but the Hunter only tightened its grip. It jumped through the front window and ran for the trees, with you in tow.

At this point, you were still very much awake. You could hear the others yelling for you, but they couldn't do anything. You felt tree branches graze you as the Hunter practically flew over the ground, running away from the neighborhood. Eventually, it was satisfied with its location. Somewhere in the darkness, in the coldest, most dead part of the night, it dropped you on the ground and delivered a bite to your neck. In any normal circumstances, you would have died. The Hunter's teeth severed multiple arteries and tore a mouthful of flesh from your neck.

But these weren't normal circumstances. The Hunter bounded off, leaving you on the ground. Your face was twisted with pain, and you were unable to move. Blood poured from your neck until there was nothing left in you. After a few minutes of agony, you faded out, assuming you were dying. But when you woke up, the pain was gone. You couldn't feel your neck anymore. You moved your arm to try to pick yourself up, only to find that you couldn't feel that, either. 

You were light as a feather and couldn't feel a thing. For a split second, you were in a state of total bliss. Then, you were snapped back into the world by a new pain, somehow worse than the neck wound. It was a pain in your stomach, a hunger unlike anything you'd felt before. You knew immediately what you hungered for. You needed blood to fill your body again. You needed human blood to save yourself.

You were strangely aware of everything in motion around you, as if your senses were heightened. You were painfully aware of the pit in your stomach. You tried to remain sane and keep your thoughts under your control, but soon a very primal impulse took over, telling you one thing:

Find food.