As the sun set in the distance, the boy continued to hide. He had concealed himself in a wooden box which was around three feet high and six foot across. It had stood in this spot on the hill side as long as anyone could remember. This slope represented the edge of the world for most that lived nearby, bordering the dust that lay beyond the United Zones. William had been playing hide and seek with his friends for more than two hours now and he was beginning to wonder if they had forgotten him. It had happened before. William was not the most popular of his friendship group and had been forced to walk home alone from distant hiding places many times before. He pretended not to mind this but he did. He had been raised as an orphan. His parents had found him one day, not far from where he was currently disguised, wandering in shorts and sandals in the edge land of the dust. He had no recollection of where he had been, and only the vaguest grasp of language. To this day, he did not know when his birthday was. His founders had guessed at him being around about three when he was discovered, which would make him about ten now. William always longed to be accepted since his receipt as a dust covered wretch and felt that this image had clung to him in every conversation and encounter of his life.
As he pondered the fairness of this situation, he heard the faint sound of voices approaching the box and slid belly first towards a small crack in the front to gain a better view. He had hoped it would be his friends, making their way up the hill to find him or tell him that the game was over because he was the best at hiding that they had ever seen. After all, they say there is a first time for everything. If not them, he had at least expected his mother to be calling him for his dinner but those shapes in the distance sounded far too deep in pitch to be either his mother or his friends. Their voices rolled and tumbled like the wind through a valley and although he could not yet make out what they were saying, he could tell they applied a great degree of gravitas to whatever it was.
As they drew closer William could see that they were all very tall and dressed in black cloaks with their faces covered, an appearance that was shared by all but one of the men who were approaching. Their lighter counterpart dressed in a white shirt with black trousers and boots. As he walked he kept his hands behind him, as if in deep contemplation William thought. As the men neared the box William decided that, as opposed to exposing his hiding place and also risking getting in trouble for being so close to the dust unaccompanied, he would sit and wait for these men to pass by before heading home for the night. He had left it too late for and kind of secluded escape and was intrigued by their presence, if mildly terrified at the same time.
Much to William’s surprise, when the men reached the box they stopped dead and continued to talk in the deep hushed tones they had been floating across the hillside. William strained his eyes at his vantage point to try and get a better view of the figures but to no avail. All he could see clearly was the boot of one of all black figures. It was made of a thick, industrial looking leather and had a stream of clasps running up the side holding the main pieces together. At the ankle there was a metal plate onto which were etched the words ‘P.Officer: Shaw. Uphold the status.’ William had heard of the ParaOfficers. Everyone he knew held a dual relationship with them, being scared of them, but also thankful that they were there. William had always found this very puzzling but had been discouraged from discussing the subject much further than this and had never felt the desire to press his parents any further.
The men stood by the box, talking for what seemed like an age to William although he could not make out a single word they were saying. Aside from the depth of tone in their voices the men were speaking in a strange tongue, similar to that used by the preachers who wandered the settlements spreading their version of The Word. The preachers all differed in what they saw as the ultimate truth but from what William could see, the level of guilt and anger was something held in common.
There were a series of thuds on top of William’s hiding box and more conversation, this time from almost directly above. William’s heart quickened as the men stood over him muttering in this secret tongue. They had found him out, he knew it for certain. He must be out past curfew by now, and the officers were sure to flail him for it at the very least. If only he had run when he first saw the men he could have made it back to his mother in time. He might even have been able to slip in through the grate by his window without her having noticed. Instead now he was trapped and the men were on top of him.
He couldn’t make out anything more than the faint impression of them through the slits in the roof of the box but he could see that there were three, one in the centre flanked by two others. The talking continued but grew in volume and speed with a quickening tempo that chilled William to the bone. A rapping on the wood began in time with the chanting, and grew louder and louder as the phrases elapsed. He was sure that any moment the men would leap into the box and seize him. He was done for. Then with a crash and what felt like an earth shattering thud, a square hole appeared in the roof of William’s box, through which tumbled a pair of black booted feet. They jiggled, the man was hanged and William screamed.