Author: Julian Miles, Staff Writer

The pavement shimmers gently in the afternoon heat. The baristas have been reduced to serving nothing but iced coffee.
Alec looks up to see someone with a vaguely familiar face take the seat opposite, then a waft of cigarette smoke makes him sneeze.
“Ah, you’re sensitive.”
The man now sharing his table stubs his cigarette out in the sugar bowl.
“Do I know you?”
Eyebrows raise: “Username ‘Peacemonger’. You did say to come find you.”
Alec sighs. Another troll. Will he be able to get rid of this one without police intervention?
“Peacemonger? I thought you were joking.”
The man frowns: “Disappearing people is no joke. Ergo, when you disagree with my contention and issue a challenge, for me to ignore either could be taken as tacit agreement. Therefore, here I am, and… 944,013.”
“Which is what, exactly?”
“The number of humans who disappeared without trace in the last year, worldwide, as of the last midnight in this time zone.”
Alec saves his document and closes his laptop.
“That’s precise. I doubt even the various interested organisations could provide that. Especially for anyone who disappeared yesterday. How can you be sure they’re gone for good?”
Peacemonger smiles. Alec sees he’s had cosmetic dentistry: his upper outer incisors appear to be canines.
“Surely the question is ‘how do I know’ rather than ‘how can I be sure’?”
Alec grins: “I presume you’ve come to prove it.” Under the table, his thumb hovers over the ‘Call the Police’ icon on his mobile phone. He’d written the app himself after a previous troll hunted him down.
“I am, and by using one of the theories you challenged. See the corner behind me? It’s the one Susan Ceczyks rounded a minute ahead of her boyfriend, nine years ago. When he rounded the corner, she was gone. You contend she ducked into a vehicle. I say a dimensional anomaly whisked her away to fight for her life in the Sleastax system. I also said the anomaly is cyclic, and selective. Therefore, if I venture round that corner in six minutes time, I will vanish. All I ask is that you follow one minute behind to witness my proof.”
Alec stares at the maniac in an ill-fitting three-piece suit. He’d known that alien abductions and unexplained disappearances had a dedicated, factionalised following. He hadn’t realised the number of lone nutters who regarded logical investigation of their pet disappearances worthy of offline confrontation.
“So, if I tail you round that corner in a few minutes time, you’ll be satisfied?”
“Yes. I shall simply leave you to work out how to report the revelation I will have shown you.”
Alec shakes his head slightly and he finished his frappé. If necessary, he can run back here. The server collecting the empties and the one cleaning the floor look beefy enough to fend off this lunatic.
They sit in the sun, Alec pretending to busy himself with his phone to avoid further conversation.
“It’s time.”
The man gets up and walks to the corner, then stops and looks back at him.
Let’s get this over with. Alec walks to the corner, stopping a couple of metres short when the man raises a hand.
“Remember: you follow in one minute.”
Alec nods.
The man turns the corner and disappears from view. Alec waits a little while – less than a minute – then follows.
Peacemonger lights a cigarette and walks off, a wry smile on his face. Works every time.
Alec sprawls in maroon sand, his laptop embedding itself nearby. The crowd hoots and howls, waving their tentacles enthusiastically.