They were black, both of them, with a sheen on their skin like discarded cooking oil under the midnight stars. Twig-thin arms held them aloft as they clung to the trees. They leapt and glided, navigating through the neighborhood branches, tiny shadows flitting between chasms of black. Small sacks made of a coarse material hung to their sides; muted clinks sounded within as they darted from shadow to shadow.
They shambled the brick façade of a house like a ladder, clung to the sill of the window, and faced each other. Yellow eyes blinked. Jagged mouths cracked and crooked teeth glistened under the cold light of the moon. One of them pressed a hard claw against the wood at the center of the window frame, pushing hard enough to scrape free a line of paint as the point scratched along the lock. A smell of ash and sulfur floated through the air. The lock mechanism followed the claw and slid open.
They hopped to the floor on padded feet with tiny thumps and the minute click of claws against hardwood. Small hands pulled at the comforter as they scurried to the top of the mattress. Each took position next to one of the sleepers’ heads. The woman’s red hair spread in dark waves against her sheets; the man’s mouth hung open, and his breath whispered in a low rhythm.
The black things busied themselves with the contents of their bags: hooks and wires and long needles thin like spun silk. They laid these tools on the pillows. A hint of moonlight glowed in the metal. Each chose two long needles with tiny loops at the end and pushed them into the flesh of the sleepers’ necks. The skin puckered, a tiny dimple, and then each needle vanished until only the loop remained. The man stirred, but the woman did not flinch.
They continued their work: more needles—some at the base of the skull, the spine, then the hooks, the wires. They looked at each other again, yellow eyes wet with anticipation. The room filled with the black smell of old fire.
The man jerked upright first, guided by wire. His eyes popped open as did his mouth.
The woman slipped from the bed with more graceful motion. A jagged mouth whispered at her ear.
The man and woman faced each other.
The tug of a wire, and his hand slapped against her face. She reeled, but the thing on her back plucked her strings and forced both hands into fists. One struck the man in the jaw. He staggered from the bed as she stumbled into the hall.
They would need more space to dance.
The black things guided their flesh-puppets through to a room walled on one side by a large fireplace. Clawed hands worked quickly, playing a symphony of sliver strings as the man and woman tore at each other with fists and feet and finally, after livid flesh and torn clothing, teeth. At their masters’ whim, the man and woman watched as their bodies disobeyed; both tried to speak, but only managed awkward gibbers and squeaks from their throats. Tears pressed from their wild eyes.
When the black things at their backs laughed, the sound cracked against the walls like broken glass.
After several hot minutes of their dance, they parted. The man and woman stood naked in the room, beaten and bleeding, panting and clutching at the air. Yellow eyes met over their shoulders, and two black heads bobbed in agreement. The man and woman collided and collapsed, cradled together in a mass of flesh on the rug before the fireplace. Black whispers floated a lullaby, and they slipped into sleep.
Needles slid from their spines, their shoulders, and brains. The black things cleaned their instruments against the rough cloth of their bags and tucked them inside. With a final snap of fingers, a fire flickered in the hearth to warm the naked man and woman as they slept. The tiny click of claws against hardwood sounded again, then the slide of a window closing in the bedroom.
In the morning, the man and woman would wake, cleaving naked to one another with only bruises, cuts, and hushed tones between them and their night dancing. They would weep for the nightmare they shared. But for the time, they slept and dreamed of warmth and closeness, of the crackle of the fire whispered in their ears, and forgot the darkness that lived outside.