It started with the occasional kid disappearing from over-religious towns in Southern USA. The parents, they'd tuck little Misty-Su...

   It started with the occasional kid disappearing from over-religious towns in Southern USA. The parents, they'd tuck little Misty-Sue into bed, slink off to their own little dreamland, and by the time they woke, the sheets they'd wrapped around their daughter would lay crumpled on the mattress. Her clothes would still be laying there, there'd be no way in or out of the room, she'd just be gone. This happened with five or six children - the Summer months of 2010 were filled with reporters camped outside of family homes; press conferences with crying mothers; daytime TV appeals for their safe return. Theories of runaways, paedophiles, suicide pacts and wild animals occupied the discussions on every chat show. Not a street corner could be turned without a Missing Child poster, even here in London.

   Summer gradually morphed into Autumn without a child being uncovered, without a single body being found. For a while, we all foolishly thought it was over. Who or whatever possessed these children in that far off land wasn't giving them back, and no more were vanishing, so to us, the trouble was long gone. That is, until whole villages in the third world were robbed of their children, overnight. Until whole classes of schoolchildren in China would dissolve into thin air while their teachers turned to write on the chalkboard. Until child actors from Who's That Robot? on some American kid's TV channel failed to show up for filming. Suddenly, the internet was alive with rumours. Spontaneous Human Combustion, they said. A deadly pandemic, they said. Secret pacts propelled by Facebook and MySpace, they reckoned.

   A lockdown was placed on all social networking sites - no message, wall post, comment or request could be sent without being monitored for suspicious content in some government building. Television documentaries profiled all the missing children so far, and attempted to establish the kind of mind that would take them. Extracurricular activities were cancelled indefinitely. Air Force planes scanned jungles, rainforests and deserts for hotspots, camps or hideouts. The war on terror was quickly forgotten. The world began to revolve around missing children. And just before Christmas 2010 was when they noticed the pattern - all these children, these victims, they were all from religious families. Families with faith. Be it Islam, Judaism, Christianity, Sikhism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Jainism, Taoism, Confucianism or fucking Gnosticism, these kids were all disappearing from religious households. None of them were disappearing Atheists.

   Just as the disappearances spread through Europe, overtook Russia, infected Australia, reached the shores of England, that's when the accounts of daylight child robberies were documented; publicised on the news, in cartoons, in re-enactments. The day would always be cloudy. The dark clouds would break apart, be torn by some force, and a blue sky would momentarily be seen to sit above them, serene and beautiful and alluring. A light, a blinding light, whiter than anything anyone had ever seen, would beam through this gap and onto the children. The smell of cinnamon, of roses, of freshly baked bread would fill the air, and a calmness would spread through everyone present. Standing there, docile, blissful, these people would watch as their children were pulled by this light, gently and slowly, until they were above the clouds, which would close as fast as they had broken.

   The case was solved. This was the work of some deity. Whatever higher power was governing this world, it was claiming our children back as its own, and we were powerless, and we should feel lucky to have given them up for a higher purpose. Suddenly, it was a social faux pas to still be in possession of your child. Atheists were converted. School was resumed, as a food bowl for this wonderful lord we now had direct contact with. Hymns would fill the streets. Tens, hundreds, thousands of children under 12 went missing every day, and for the first time in human history, this was celebrated wildly by their parents. At local parks, "Heaven Parties" were held with an open invitation to any children living within 5 miles, where they could attend and watch their friends be "saved" - since that's what they were now calling it - and hope to be saved themselves. Nobody thought to question the theory, and nobody quelled the fears of our children, who were just terrified of being taken away from their parents.

   For me, it happened in the shopping centre, in late Spring 2011. As Emily and I walked from the bank to Primark (where everything was now half price, due to nobody knowing for how long they had to cater for their children), a warmth surrounded us. Cinnamon filled the air. I smelt Parma Violets. I smelt my childhood. I smelt cut grass and fresh rain. Emily holding my hand, a balloon in her other hand, she began to raise off the floor. Instantly, I was happier than I had ever been. My child was chosen. She was to be one with the Lord. I was no longer a bad parent. We were absolved. I turned to look at the sky, at the blinding white beam that reached like a greedy hand and drenched my beautiful 6-year-old daughter in warmth and sparkle. Emily began to cry as my arm, still gripping her hand, reached up above shoulder height, pulled by her gently rising body. As she was dragged too high for me to reach any longer, she began to scream, wailing, distraught, and I could only smile at her through misty, tearful eyes, as she was lifted higher and higher and the happiness engulfed me and I wanted to tell her she was going onto a better place but I couldn't get any words past the lump in my throat and out of my mouth. Still flailing her arms, still reaching out for me, for her mother, Emily was dragged past aeroplanes, past flocks of birds, past the clouds, and out of my sight. Emily, my beautiful Emily, my perfect gorgeous charming daughter Emily, was saved.

   Of course, if we knew then what we know now, we wouldn't have given up the children of Earth so easily. If there had been something we could've done, we would've done it. If killing our children was the only answer, I'm sure we would have obliged. If we knew this then, OK! and Hello! and Closer and Heat and The Sun and Nuts and The Daily Mail and Sky News and all the other corporations would have paid a lot less for stories from parents of the saved. As parents, we wouldn't have been so selfish. We would've prayed for cot death. But no one suspected that our children would be sent back to us mutated, mutilated, inflated, engorged with alien slime, sewn together into beasts seventy feet tall; still screaming, still as tormented as when they were taken. These beasts, they fell from the sky in the harsh, black Winter of 2011. They landed on their knees, if that's what they are, and stood slowly, and wandered every major city looking for buildings to destroy and blood to spill. They stomped, they pushed and they pulverised anything in their path, as the screaming faces of our children stared out at us from every inch of their skin; our kids' eyes a luminous green, their lips ripped off and revealing blackened, bloodied teeth, their eyelids removed so that they could never shut out the pain they were enduring. None of us saw this coming.

   But now, we're the ones who need to be saved.

    Yesterday, I took a walk through Covent Garden. Usually, the insistence of the tightly packed masses to walk as slowly as they are able...

   Yesterday, I took a walk through Covent Garden. Usually, the insistence of the tightly packed masses to walk as slowly as they are able through the cobbled streets just frustrates me to the point where I start to consider anger management, but the beauty of yesterday's wet cobbled street and the smell of fresh rain just passed invigorated me and put me in a mood where nothing could bother me. For once, I was in no rush, and the buzz of London, and particularly this little square of excitement, was putting a spring in my step. Off to my left, I saw a man juggling Barbie dolls, dressed as a rabbi, while his fairly pretty assistant played Baker Street on a saxophone. The alleyway through the middle of Covent Garden’s grand old piazza was blocked off by a man who was balancing a piano on his head, on which he played the classics of Abba while the crowd clapped along. Making my way around to the right of the piazza, two contortionists were competing to see which could fit into the smaller glass box, and their hats were brimming with donations. Turning the corner, my head still turned to watch them, I bumped into a group of midgets dressed as Elvis, running single file in the opposite direction. Never knowing what to expect as you turn a corner in this place is its biggest charm. As I averted my eyes from the midgets and back to my headed direction, that's when I saw him.

   There wasn't much special looking about him; he was a bit too skinny, I guess. But he wasn't wearing anything spectacular, just a blue tracksuit. He wasn't a mumbling idiot like David Blaine or a charismatic charmer like Derren Brown, he was just a guy. He had a drawstring bag at his feet full of props, or costumes; it could be squirrels for all anyone knew, it seemed like most of the props were emerging from his body, not his bag. But he had his audience stunned, literally speechless. I approached the crowd and joined, but joining this late I was at least 5 people back. Peering between heads, trying to piece together what was happening from his muffled voice and the surrounding gasps, I saw him guess a number from 0 to 1000 in one guess. Tip-toeing, catching glimpses where I could, I watched as he vomited pound coins onto the cobbles. Every ten seconds, the audience would erupt into applause, and the clink of coins into his donation bucket would inevitably follow. After a while, the people in front filtered out, and I was at the front of the crowd, looking out on a semi-circle of gawping tourists and Londoners, and the magician himself.

   He seemed to be working on a catchphrase for himself. Before every trick he'd say, "This one's gonna take your breath away!" but at first, he was wrong. They started out pretty tame; him guessing cards, more pound coins appearing out of nowhere, sleight of hand. Still, the crowd and I clapped our little hearts out. People smiled at each other with looks on their faces that suggested a teaspoonful of sympathy, not greatly impressed. But then his tricks evolved into something a bit more incredible. With a click of his fingers, his ears began to bleed. With another click, they stopped, and he wiped his face with a tissue that had appeared out of thin air. He said, "This one's gonna take your breath away!" and swallowed a mobile phone whole. He squawked his mantra again, and managed to set his entire right hand on fire. Every new trick was that little bit more amazing.

   He started talking about how sometimes, he gets complaints that all his props are false and his feats are simple illusions, so now was his chance to change that. He asked the audience for a cigarette. He held out his hand and gestured harshly, jabbing his open hand at the front row, working his way around the crowd, who didn't fill it until he reached me. I had more cigarettes, I could afford to give him one. He took the cigarette, thanking me kindly, and stood stiff as a board with his legs shoulder width apart in front of the audience. "This one..." he said, "Is gonna take your breath away." And we watched as he opened his eyes as wide as they would go and pushed the cigarette, filter first, into one of his irises. He did it slowly, and pushed until there was no cigarette left. This time, he was right, I was breathless. Completely confused by what I'd seen, I could only stand there slackjawed and horrified. Had he planted a fake cigarette on me? He hadn't touched my bag, there was no way he could have. Like the rest of his followers, I was shocked. Here we stood, standing around this glaring man with a cigarette in one of his eyeballs, his newest disciples.

   It took a while for us all to react, and when we did it came in the form of a slow clap that gradually went from quiet and sparse to roaring and loud. Still stunned, I tried to watch his eye, see if it wasn't keeping up with the other, see if it was false. But it moved, it focused, it was real. It was mind blowing. Eventually, after his bowing subsided and his act was complete, he picked up his bag of props which seemed to have mysteriously grown since I joined the crowd. It looked soft, and wet. Warm, cushiony. It seemed... strange. Most of all, it made me wonder what I'd missed at the beginning of his act. With his other hand, he picked up his bucket, full to the brim with well-deserved donations. Bowing once more, he said, "This one really is gonna take your breath away." And strolled away slowly with his enormous bag over his shoulder, dripping a line of red paint behind him. Still stunned, it took me until he had left my field of vision before I noticed the horrible pain in my chest. It was tight, like someone had pulled a belt taut around my ribs. I was finding it hard to catch my breath, and it looked like the other audience members were too. As we coughed and spluttered, gasped for air, I reached down and lifted my shirt to look at my chest. Struggling to focus between convulsions, I was met by two large scars grinning at me like a pair of stoned teens, and as we stared at each other, me and my chest, a horrible realisation hit me.

   That man had stolen my lungs.