It was 2:50pm when the group walked through the wrought iron gate marking the entrance to Coldessi Park. Two small spotlights illuminated the metal sign arching over the gate that bore the park’s name. They followed the bending sand and gravel path through the tangled hedges that separated the park from the city.

The gravel gave way to bare earth as the hedges revealed a nearly flat plain dotted with boulders and ancient trees. A square building – the old Coldessi Manor – rose above the treetops in the northwest corner of the park.

“Look!” Sakari shouted, pointing at something. A crowd of roughly fifty people wandered between the rocks and trees. They were little more than shadows in the moonlight. Sakari ran toward them. “C’mon, David!”

David and the others slowly followed after Sakari. Thanks to the long climb out of the Coldessi Boulevard subway station, none of them had the energy Sakari did.

Sakari ran first to a pair of people sitting on a boulder. The others could hear their voices – a boy and a girl from the sound of it – but not their exact words. As the group caught up to Sakari, they saw that the boy and girl looked to be Bern’s age. The dark-haired girl wore a beret. A pair of headphones hung around the ashen-haired boy’s neck.

It wasn’t long before the pair on the rock noticed Sakari’s companions. The ashen-haired boy motioned to Sakari and asked the group, “Is he yours?”

“In a sense, yes,” David replied.

The ashen-haired boy stood and crossed his arms. “Well, well. You showed up after all.”

“You doubted me?”

“Given what happened last time, yes.”

“Fair enough.”

The girl with the beret hopped up to greet the skater and his sister. “Rianne, Bern, you’re here too?”

“Freaky, right?” Bern answered.

“I’m just glad we’re together again,” Rianne said.

“So who are your new friends?” the girl with the beret asked. “Sakari introduced himself earlier, but…”

Bern introduced the other pair of siblings. “Cara and Mia. Met ‘em on the subway.”

“Hi,” Mia said as she and Cara waved hello.

“Hello. I’m Shavonne,” the girl with the beret said.

She quickly elbowed the ashen-haired boy. He rubbed his arm then took the hint to introduce himself. “Nico,” he told the newcomers.

“Are you sisters?” Shavonne asked them.

“How’d you figure that out?” Mia answered.

Something in the distance caught Nico’s eye. “Don’t look now. We’ve got company.”

Everyone ignored Nico’s warning and saw four people approaching them. At the head of that group was a woman in a khaki business suit. As they got closer, the newcomers realized that all four were adults. The businesswoman looked much older than Cara. Her tightly curled hair was cut so short that it resembled sheep’s wool.

The businesswoman greeted them. “Hello. Are you new?”

“Six of us are, yes,” Cara answered, resuming her role as leader.

“A pleasure to meet all of you.” She shook Cara’s hand. “I am Tanya Richmond. I was elected leader of the survivors. We’ve all been summoned here, as I assume you have been?”

“You mean that text message? Yeah, we got it.”

“If you need anything, we’ve gathered supplies in the center of the park.” Tanya pointed to a knot of people guarding something at the foot of a massive tree. “It’s not much, but we’re happy to help.” Turning to Nico and Shavonne, Tanya said, “It looks like you know these people. Are they the friends you’ve been waiting for?”

Shavonne told her, “Well, half of them are. The other three we’ve just met.”

“We crossed paths on the subway and decided to stick together,” Cara explained.

“I see,” Tanya said. “Well, I’m glad you made it here safely. Though I must ask – do you have any information regarding who or what sent those text messages?”

“That’s what we were going to ask you guys,” Sakari answered.

Cara looked to David. His story was the closest thing to an answer they had. When he didn’t speak up, she told Tanya, “I’m afraid all we’ve got is wild speculation and theories. Do you happen to have any clues?”

“All we have been able to glean is that the text message came from a local number. We have an IT specialist among us, and she was able to trace it back to Kesa Industries.”

“Kesa Industries?” David whispered into his hand. He knew that company. He began to wonder if something had happened to the people. Was their front compromised?

“Hm?” Nico asked, overhearing.

Tanya took notice of Nico and David. “Did you say something?”

David could only say, “Uhh…” He wasn’t comfortable with the sudden attention.

No one saw the clock strike 3pm.

©2021 Joyce Lewis. All rights reserved.