"When are the night people coming?"
"Soon. Hurry up."
The two boys, brothers, one sixteen and the other five, Keith and Liam, gathered up their haul of catfish and ran barefoot up the muddy bank, along the path back to the settlement. The sun began to set behind gathering storm clouds. Lightning crackled above them, and the wind swept through bare branches. They scrambled over tree roots and soft loam, leaf litter from two years ago, and the tiny corpses of various animals. The last to go were the birds that had evolved to live alongside humans, the crows and the gulls. The boys were silent, the catfish slapped against their backs. Liam tripped over a root and fell sprawled to the ground.
Keith turned around to see him dragged into a hollow at the base of a old oak tree. Liam grabbed instinctively to the roots, clawing into the dirt. Keith dropped his fish and lunged headfirst for Liam's hands. He grasped and pulled and Liam came free. Long white arms retreated into the hollow with Liam's fish.
"I'm sorry," whispered Liam.
"Come on," said Keith, pulling him by the arm.
They ran through the forest and slackened their pace only when they reached the road. The houses on the cul-de-sac stood mostly as discarded shells, picked clean, and now used mainly as a convenient source of kindling. The street was light garishly by the occasional light of the storm.
They reached their house and their mother met them silently at the door, slamming it closed after them and bolting it quickly. They all withdrew to the kitchen which was lit with a single candle. The windows had long ago been boarded and plastered up.
Keith laid his fish down on the counter next to the sink. His mother counted the catch.
"Is this all?" she said sternly.
"I lost mine," said Liam.
His mother looked at him with slitted eyes.
"I fell," he said, looking downcast.
"He was caught," said Keith quietly. "I got him. They kept the fish."
"They must know we're here," said their mother sighing. "We'll have to go."
"It was just one," said Liam.
His mother tapped the counter with her fingernails, then pulled a butcher knife from her leather apron, and set to work cleaning and gutting the fish. Keith put his arm around his brother, and they all listened to storm as it began to pelt the house, and the wails of the night people, hidden underneath the sound of the rain.