One more was all it required and then the assimilation would be complete.
The streets are quiet, at least relatively so, rain pattering down to create a haze. Nothing like true silence, no, but the quiet of the city. It is a rhythm the creature has come to understand and it knows how to read the currents in the hush of the early hours. It is along those currents that it becomes aware that its prey approaches.
The man walks alone, foolishly thinking he is safe enough. The lights are bright pools on the pavement, reflected in rippling puddles, giving the illusion that there are few places someone could hide; every so often there is a car that splashes by with the sound of wipers working, offering the delusion that if anything did happen someone could save him. He is well built, certain of his own ability to defend himself and it has made him cocky. Against a human attacker, perhaps he would win.
For the creature, it is irrelevant. In fact, it is preferred. They are all easy prey, at least in small groups. So many humans now are unaware of the last vestige of the refuse of creation that lurks among them, waiting to recycle that which is already created. The humans had been close to success in their desire to wipe out the hunters, but just far enough from it that this man is going to die. Then many more will follow.
It is in the unexpected that the creature waits. Thus when the man sees another figure coming towards him, a hood pulled low over his face, shadowing the features, he thinks little of it. He assumes what he sees is someone like him, someone either going or returning late, someone out in the quiet and enjoying the apparent solitude.
So very, very wrong.
As the stranger draws even with the man an arm snakes out, too fast to see, and the man finds himself lying on his back in an alley. The scent is atrocious, mixes of human waste and refuse, the detritus of life. Damp creeps into his pants, and it is seconds before he can comprehend that he is on the ground in an alley, out of sight, out of the light. They are seconds that he should not have wasted, seconds that might have given him a chance although it is doubtful.
The creature is certain of its upcoming victory and celebratory feast and allows itself a moment of enjoyment. With the assimilation of human traits, human imagination and knowledge, it has also gained emotions. They are a danger, but also an amazing motivator. For pleasure, the creature will drive itself harder. For the knowledge of survival it will be far more ruthless and inventive.
It is aware of concepts like "police" and "forensics," all too aware that even this last kill it requires must be a careful one. It is not yet ready to face a turn of the tables, not yet ready to face becoming the hunted again. Not until it has completed the final stage of assimilation.
Only seconds have passed, and the man is just slowly beginning to push himself to his feet as he spots the stranger coming towards him. How such a slight figure had managed to shove him that hard he could not fully comprehend, but he had a feeling it was all about trouble he did not want.
"Listen, I'll give you my wallet or watch or whatever, but I don't want any trouble. I'll be out of here, I-" was all he managed to say.
With those few words, that sad and unimaginative last speech, the man signs his doom. The creature is upon him before he can anticipate it, movements that suggest something else is wrong with this figure in the hood. The hood falls back and the man stares into a face that is so close to being human that it is more frightening for the similarity. The contours of the face are correct, the jaw and cheek bones, the forehead, the nose. Yet within that face are eyes that are faceted, no lids to protect them. The mouth is stretched just a little too wide, pincers flicking eagerly in and out, ready to extend in order to feast.
His words would have trailed off anyway at that sight, but there was no chance. A hand wraps around his throat, fingers digging in. The man chokes, unable to breathe, unable to scream out the pain. He struggles uselessly for a moment before the creature's figures squeeze tightly enough to penetrate the skin, grabbing a handful of flesh and tendons, blood splashing as it rips away the meat it clutches.
The man falls forwards from the force, tumbling to the ground. His gaping throat is hidden as his face presses into the pooling blood.
A quick sniff, and the creature holds the flesh up to its mouth, what will be its all-too-human mouth soon enough. The pincers shovel the still-dripping tissue inside the lips, slowly ingesting it bit by bit. Gore dribbles down its chin and a piece of skin dangles from a strand that hangs from between its lips. The hands are painted red, dotted with gobbets.
Its eyes return to the body laid out before it, a feast of success. A foot snakes out and with a flick the body flops over, the head dangling back without the tendons in the throat to support it. The smell of bile rises, mixed with blood and offal. The creature inhales deeply, then squats, its legs still jointed wrong somehow, moving in ways that a human's joints do not. Leaning forward, it tears the shirt down the front, revealing a chest. Smooth skin, lightly furred, now marbled and sticky with blood that is beginning to congeal.
Hands spread wide over the corpse's shoulders, and the creature leans forward, its mouth buried at the edge of the gaping tear. The wet sounds of meat tearing, of blood slopping can be heard, muffled by the concrete and the closeness of the walls.
Yes, this will be enough. This will be all that is required to take on all it needs.
Minutes later crunching follows the wet sounds, cracks that are sharp and quick like the sounds of booted feet on stones and twigs. The creature is still hunched over what used to be the body, but little of it is left now.
A few moments more, and the creature stands. Its boots are at the edge of a puddle that swirls crimson in a flash of light as a car passes the mouth of the alley. Rags lie on the ground, a few pieces of unidentifiable detritus lingering among them.
As its hand wipes across its human lips, the creature blinks lids over eyeballs, adjusting to the new sight. A tongue snakes out, licking along the lower lip, finding a smear of blood.
It will have to find a different way back to its lair. Methods will be improved. This was too messy, but it could not be helped. Not this time. It will be better next time.
Now, it is ready.