Night. Dark, cold, moonless. The presence swims through it like a fish, driven by the oldest greed of all, hunger.
Light, warm and inviting. A house in the midst of the emptiness. A warm, safe haven.
He arrives a few nights later, a deceptively-youthful man. Were it not for the eyes, he would have passed as normal. The eyes, though, were those of a predator.
His clothes are tatters and a half-century out of style. Lately, his sense of fashion has lost its urgency to other, more pressing, concerns. Since the war and the Enlightenment, the anonymous cities have largely been abandoned in favour of tiny, close-knit villages where strangers are noticed and mysterious deaths carefully investigated. Once, ages ago, he had tried to feed in such a place, and it was only by the mercy of some dark god that he had survived. The hard-taught lesson had been well-learned; his existence now consisted mostly of travel and rodent-blood. It wasn't pleasant; it was an existence.
He smiles in anticipation, revealing his fangs. Two minds, humans, are in the house and myriad of lesser minds, rodents and birds, infest the barn and wheat fields. Beyond that, he is alone.
Still, caution is ingrained. He makes a thorough inspection of the farm. The barn houses a truck and some automated farm equipment. Behind it is a shed which, from the quiet buzz it emits, he concludes contains the farm's generator.
Satisfied, he heads toward the house. It's large, twenty rooms at least and most of them dark. A ring of what he takes to be lamp-posts surround the house. They, too, are dark.
Pressing himself against a shadowed wall, he examines the minds inside.
One is an adult, sitting on a chair in front of a desk, calculating her harvest's value on a computer. She is awake, conscious and full of the sort of confidence that almost always spells danger.
The other, though, is a child. She sleeps in a darkened upstairs room. The hunter grins.
Climbing the wall in absolute silence is child's-play. The window is latched shut from the inside. He pushes it open with his mind and is about to slide the window open when he notices the light.
One of the lamps ringing the house has switched on. He stares at it with reverent fascination. Then, for some reason he can't explain, he climbs back down to the ground and walks toward it.
At a half-meter's distance, it fills his view with its pale-blue glory. The lamp is only slightly higher than his head. His face frozen in a rapturous grin, he reaches toward the light. His hands touch wire, completing the circuit and shattering his awe with high-current electricity.
He tries to pull back and finds he can't. Still, it's no concern. This toy called electricity won't kill him. He decides to wait it out.
By the time it does let him go, his blackened body is incapable of movement. Only then does he realize his helplessness. There's no way he'll regenerate quickly enough to be able to move before sunrise. Screaming, too, is out of the question.
The computer brings up a window, covering her spreadsheet. She reads the message quickly and contemplates going out with a hammer and stake. But the weather report calls for clear skies tomorrow so she decides to let the sun do the dirty work.
The sound of small feet on the stairs brings her out of her chair. "What's the matter?"
"I heard a noise."
"Go back to bed, honey. That was just a mosquito hitting the bug zapper."
"It was too loud for a mosquito."
"It was a really big mosquito. Now go back to bed."