Content warning: family tragedy, grief, harsh language
They came out of the mirror.
Late in the night, while the town lay sleeping, they came out of the mirror and took Peter.
In the morning, he was simply gone. There was no note, no ransom demands, no indications of foul play, no evidence of a break-in. He was just gone. His parents pled to the news cameras, called everyone they knew, screamed in hoarse voices at police and FBI who were equally baffled. The boy was just gone, vanished in his pajamas, leaving no trace.
Four weeks later Sarah disappeared.
Four weeks after that, it was Billy.
On each night of the new moon, the town’s population decreased by one.
When Arlene vanished, the panic started in earnest.
Preparations were made with distant relatives to send the children away during the next dark night. Strangers, never kindly greeted in Newhurst, were almost savagely shown the door. The gun stores in nearby towns did their best business in years. The FBI, the state police, the sheriff’s department and the local chief stationed themselves in unmarked cars throughout the village. The local news stations set up their antennas, the national networks eagerly anticipated word from the vigil.
When the moon rose black into the night sky, there was not one child left in Newhurst.
In Elmwood, just under ten miles away, little Mikey Strayhorn went missing. His parents found his pacifier on the bathroom floor.
John Smith did not work for the FBI, not any more at least. Once upon a time he was a profiler out of Quantico, putting his expertise to work training the next generation at the Behavioral Science Unit when he was approached by an Agent. It took him three and a half weeks to make up his mind, see to his affairs, and walk away from his life. His untimely "death" made the severing of what ties remained a disturbingly simple matter.
Despite not having been a federal agent for more than a decade in the waning summer of 1994, he had forgotten nothing of his time with the Bureau and played the role far better than some of his peers at the Agency. Despite possessing a fine analytical mind and several technological advantages, John Smith had to admit he was just as clueless as the SAC and similarly frustrated when the Elmwood police department reported the Strayhorn disappearance. Things were certainly getting interesting.
"Affirmative," chirped Elaine in John Smith's ear. It made him jump but nobody else was around to notice.
"Hello Elaine," John thought, "I didn't realize you were with me. How are you?"
"I am very well, John, thank you for asking. All of your vital signs are well within normal bounds."
John took that to mean, "You seem well," so he thought, "Yes, I feel fine. Have you had any more ideas on how the perpetrator is getting in?"
Elaine had already exhausted all mundane theories as the program continued to receive further information. The only possibility remaining was that the perpetrator was already in the house when it was locked up for the night and somehow managed to leave with the child by some means other than either doors or windows. It made no logical sense. Because Elaine was tightly constrained by the bounds of logic, the computer could be of little use without further evidence. Elaine informed John of all of this and added, "I am sorry, John."
"Me, too," he thought.
Agent Smith piloted his sedan through the cordon and parked between a pair of cruisers. He just sat behind the wheel for a moment, staring out at the officers milling about outside but not really seeing them. He greatly disliked this part of the job. It was why he started teaching in the first place. There would be tears. There would probably be rage—untargeted, impotent rage. He sighed and rubbed a hand across the salt and pepper stubble on his cheek.
He knew that tone. "I'm okay, Elaine," he said quietly to the silence of the car.
"Perhaps you could allow the other agents to take the witness statements and you could receive a report from them," Elaine offered, trying to be helpful, as always.
"No," he mumbled. "No, it's fine." With that he pulled his aging bones out of the seat and strode towards the door with his game face on.
Mrs. Strayhorn was in hysterics. Her husband held and rocked her, simultaneously attempting to console his wife and answer what seemed to be unnecessarily repetitive questions.
"We were," the man began and paused, looking up, when Agent Smith stepped inside. "We were watching a movie," he sighed and then kissed the top of his wife's head. "Untamed Heart, if that matters," he added. "She thought she heard something and asked me to go check," he paused, clearing his throat, "on Mikey. He wasn't in his crib. Like I said, we freaked out, ran all over looking."
"Was anything out of order," Smith asked while doing a very good job of not cringing at the sound of the woman's tortured wails barely muffled by her husband's t-shirt.
"Our fucking son is missing," he snapped. "That sound 'out of order' to you?" His wife's wails increased in pitch.
Smith did not react, simply looked at the younger man and awaited an answer, his grey eyes looking at a point on the distraught father's forehead.
"Sorry," Mr. Strayhorn said, hugging his wife a bit tighter. "I don't know, everything looked normal, I guess. I didn't take an inventory, you know?"
There was something, John was sure of it. "Even the smallest detail might be important, Mr. Strayhorn. Anything you can tell us that stands out to you at all could help." But not help find your son. John was sure of that. Whatever had taken these children was certainly not human, otherwise he wouldn't be here.
"Theresa found," Mr. Strayhorn said, eyes welling up. He gritted his teeth, his jaw muscles flexing beneath his skin as he bit back on the pain. "Found Mikey's pacifier in the bathroom. I was sure he had it when we put him down." Theresa's wailing devolved into great, hacking sobs that set teeth on edge.
John nodded. "Anything else?" He hoped there wasn't. He needed an excuse to get away from the woman's grief.
Mr. Strayhorn rocked his wife back and forth, cooing to her. He shook his head and roughly swiped at his tears as if they burned him.
John nodded again and briskly walked down the hallway. All of the doors were open and all of the lights were on. The bathroom was the third one on the right. The pacifier was gone. Little matter, probably only baby spit to be claimed from it. A tech almost collided with him as Smith strode into the small, tiled chamber.
"Whoa! Sorry, Agent..?"
"Smith. Find anything?"
"No prints, windows latched. Room looks clean."
Smith nodded and stepped aside to let the lab rat pass. Alone for the moment, the distance barely dulling the sound of a mother's soul dying, John took a deep breath. The bathroom was pale blue tile beneath creamy white walls. There was a bathtub along the east wall, a vanity across from the door and a stool opposite the bath. The floor was blue-flecked white linoleum. A towel rested in a heap next to the sky blue tub; two more hung on the racks. There was a well-used bar of soap in a seashell-shaped dish on the sink beneath a small rack from which matching toothbrushes hung. The blue rug in front of the vanity was bunched against the base. The toilet water was yellow and a small fold of toilet tissue hung lazily in it. Black fingerprint powder stained almost every surface. The room smelled vaguely of cinnamon and urine.
It had to be here, his gut told him as much, but how? John checked the windows and, not only were they latched, they were painted shut. There were no loose boards, no vents large enough to admit anything but a newborn which the Strayhorn boy was not. John looked at himself in the mirror. A tired, old man stared back. His once-black hair continued its march to the rear of his scalp while it simultaneously edged far closer to steel. His eyes were bloodshot and deep creases threw his features into sharp relief. He had never been handsome, no, but he had sure as hell seen far better days than this.
“Agent Smith,” came a man’s voice from behind him.
Smith turned to face the Special Agent in Charge. The man’s profile floated in the air on the right side of Smith’s vision, one of the benefits of a heads-up display. “Agent Garrison. Any new developments?”
“I was hoping you’d have some for me, you being the specialist, and all.” The way the SAC said specialist made it sound like interloper.
Smith couldn’t fault him that. He was an interloper. Billed as a man with much experience in what appeared to be impossible crimes, Smith was very much an outsider here. Still, there was work to be done. What Smith couldn’t tell the SAC was that this case would never be solved, not officially. The children would never be recovered, the parents forever wounded by the loss. Smith would eventually just disappear as quickly as he had appeared with none of the federal agents any the wiser for the experience. Sure, the disappearances would stop. They would have to. But no perpetrator would ever be brought to justice. It would go down in the books as yet another unsolved mystery. Officially.
Smith would have to solve this with Elaine’s help and put a stop to it somehow. He could call for backup, but it was frowned upon. Each Agent was expected to be totally self-sufficient. He would once again place himself between the ignorant masses and the awful things that occasionally surfaced to predate upon them. He would succeed or he would die.
Sometimes he wished it was the latter.
“Right now I’m as stumped as you are,” Smith lied. “I’ve seen some crazy things, but this pretty well takes the cake,” he fibbed. “As soon as I get some sort of handle on all of this, even if it sounds completely preposterous, you’ll be the first to hear it. At this point, even wild theories might get us to the truth.”
“Fuck truth,” Garrison said quietly as to not be overheard by the greiving parents. “I just want to find those kids. Alive.”
Smith just looked at the younger man, letting his habitually mournful expression do the talking.
“Shit,” Garrison breathed, shaking his head and just walking away. The young and hopeful hate hard truths.