Belief is a powerful thing in any case, allowing for the election of presidents with no right to govern, cult followings and mass gatherings, and the courage to stand in front of a crowd to sing while oblivious to the sound of one’s own voice. In certain specific cases, mostly undocumented, belief is a danger to everyone.
Parker and Trent, aged thirteen and fourteen respectively, were big believers in a small town surrounded by an expanse of woods. They weren’t devout Christians. They didn’t believe in Santa Claus – though that might have been preferable to the alternative – nor did they believe in true love or happily ever after. They believed, instead, in something wicked, something new, something developed on an Internet forum.
Following the events of their most important summer, archivists refused to write the being’s name. It resembled a man in a black suit, but for its elongated stature, impossible tentacles, lack of facial features, and the outward pressure that it forced into observers’ minds that something was incredibly wrong. Parker and Trent were its Proxies in the world, and they had found the boy that their master demanded: Alexander Hewitt-Smith.
Alexander was fifteen, but small, and a little slow. His parents had travelled with him around half the world, tearing his schooling to shreds in the process. He was in the same classes as the Proxies, held back a year to catch up. It wasn’t working.
None of the boys were ever considered to be popular. Parker was short and bug eyed and always looked like he was up to something. Mischief had been his companion from the day people stopped wanting to spend time with him. Trent was big and brutish, with a face that looked it’d been beaten with a shovel; he was smarter than he looked, which didn’t help his case either way. And Alexander was new, from a wealthy family, with no idea how to talk to kids his own age.
They were made for each other.
On June 18, 2016, Alexander was invited to Parker’s house for a sleepover. He arrived an hour after Trent, missing the boys’ entire ritual of perusing the latest updates about their master online. New sightings. New stories. New videos. Even the fake ones got their blood boiling. Old web series captured the essence of panic, supplied dramatized information on the capacity of their master’s power and reach, his habits, his abilities, his other Proxies.
The word ‘fiction’ meant nothing to Parker and Trent.
They had, by all accounts, a normal sleepover. They spoke about people in their class. They watched a parent-approved movie. They ate too much junk food and drank too much soda. Alexander went to sleep first.
Parker and Trent did nothing to him. They didn’t need to.
On June 19, they went into the woods. Alexander was tired and wanted to go home, but the Proxies wanted to show him their secret hideout in the woods. No such thing existed. Theirs was not the sort of town to have a secret hideout that only the two most unpopular teenagers in the school knew about, but Alexander was new enough not to know about that.
He followed them with a pain in his stomach, reluctant but desperate.
He lost them when they decided to play hide and seek. They didn’t ask him, they didn’t speak to him, and they didn’t warn him. They just vanished from sight, leaving him alone in the woods by himself, calling their names desperately. Their version of the story held up: they were just playing a game.
The unofficial story, the one that couldn’t be explained or believed, was that Alexander Hewitt-Smith had been taken by the Proxies’ master. That he’d seen the black suit and been reminded of his former butler, and thought he’d been saved. That, when he was too close to run away and too small to fight back, he had been wrapped up in tentacle arms and whipped away in the blink of an eye.
His footsteps disappeared in the woods. Officially, he was missing without a trace. Unofficially, and off the record, he’d been taken somewhere humankind had never set foot, where no force on Earth could access without approval or permission, knowledge and belief.
For three days and three nights, the area where Alexander’s footsteps ended was so heavily irradiated that the search party were coming down ill. After the seventy-two hour time frame in which the odds of finding him alive were still relatively high, the search party was disbanded. Parker and Trent, as innocent minors, could not be charged. There was no blood, and no body. There was no murder.
But there had been a sacrifice, and there had been cause for alarm. More popular boys would have been the subject of scorn when they returned to school. The Proxies were feared.
On November 27, Alexander’s birthday, the Hewitt-Smiths were murdered in their house. They had set a place for Alexander every single day in the hopes that he would come back. They had bought a birthday cake for him. He’d been bought a new bike.
Autopsy reports indicated that the assailant had been short. There had been no break-in, leading investigators to suspect that the couple knew their killer. The blade that had cut the birthday cake had been identified as the murder weapon. It contained three sets of prints, one for each member of the family, including Alexander. Three slices had been cut. One – neither of the parents’ – had been eaten.
Too strange to record, too worrying to include in the report, were the signs of radiation poisoning on both victims.
They were found the next day when a concerned neighbour found their front door open, Alexander’s new bike missing, and blackened blood staining the floor. Newspapers reported a murder-suicide. No one mentioned the bike, or the radiation.
No one noticed a fifteen year old boy cycling away from the scene, or the man who watched it from the woods.