Cara, Nico, Sakari, and Shavonne returned from a successful scavenging trip. “The store was dark,” Nico reported. “Power must’ve gone out. Doubt the freezers were working.”

“So I picked up some more frozen staples,” Cara added. The ready-to-bake chicken went straight into the oven, while Shavonne and Rianne shoved the rest of the groceries into the refrigerator. Mia poured the looted jars of spaghetti sauce into a square dish and warmed it in the microwave.

As Cara and Mia fixed dinner, Bern and Nico chilled on their phones in the living room. Sakari and Rianne sat at the round dining table and talked. Shavonne and David sat on bar stools at the island. “Chefs deserve company too” was how Shavonne put it. Cara cooked spaghetti while keeping an eye on the chicken in the oven. Mia laid out slices of bread on a small baking sheet.

Shavonne drummed her fingers against her glass of water. She said, “I saw something in Coldessi Park – something I can’t stop thinking about.”

“What was it?” Mia asked as she cut thin slices off a stick of butter.

“It was Shades. When people were turning into Gibberish, he had this – well, a look like this.” She made her best imitation of Martinez’s pained grimace. “I thought he was about to turn too, but now I’m not sure. I’m starting to think he was fighting something.”

David replied, “That… actually makes sense.”

Sakari overheard and asked, “What do you mean?”

David turned sideways on his stool so he could see Sakari. “You know the creepiest thing about when I was captured? I recognized their faces, but they weren’t acting like people at all. Dead eyes, blank looks, completely silent.”

“Just like those three guys were.”

“All but Shades, if only for a second,” Shavonne added.

Bern spoke up from the couch. “Hold up. You know the people who caught you?”

“I know who they were,” David answered over his shoulder.

Nico leaned over the arm of the upholstered chair he was sitting in and said, “Wild guess. Were they Shades and his goons?”

“The goons, yes. Though I never saw Bubblegum till the park. I can’t help but think that whatever changed his men changed Martinez too.”

Mia shook garlic powder over the pan of buttered bread. “It sounds like he’s been possessed. Maybe they’ve all been possessed.”

“Possessed?” Shavonne repeated.

No one said anything as Mia slid the pan of bread into the toaster oven. Cara dipped her pasta fork into the pot of boiling water to stir the spaghetti again.

Shavonne broke the silence as an idea nestled into her mind. “You know… crap… Holy crap! That must be it!”

Cara burst out laughing.

“What’s so funny? How can you laugh at this?” Sakari demanded.

Cara finished stirring and tapped the pasta fork on the rim of the pot as she listed her reasons. “Phone hacking. Probable manipulation of time, weather, and the subway system. Something I can only call a rapture event. For the survivors, forced shapeshifting en masse into neon critters. Pardon, ‘Gibberish.’ A magical awakening for the rest.” She faced her guests and held up her right hand to show them her brand. “This. Whatever it is.” She turned back to the cabinets and took out a colander. “Honest-to-god performance stats, presumably with a leader board attached. And now some kind of spirit possession is on the table. Not as a joke. And to top all of this off, you’re telling me this isn’t the first time this has happened.” She placed the colander in the sink then looked David in the eye. “Good luck explaining it all, buddy.”

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