A short time later, the eight were sitting around Cara and Mia’s dining table – four in the wooden chairs that matched the table, four in metal folding chairs the sisters pulled out of their laundry closet. They ate Chicken Parmesan off mismatched dishes. Only three of their glasses were identical.

Cara took the container sitting in the middle of the table and shook more Parmesan cheese onto her spaghetti. She said, “Let me get this straight. You’re saying that the world is a cake.”

“Cake?” David replied.

“‘Cause it’s got layers.”

“That isn’t a good analogy.”

“That’s how I always imagined it,” Rianne said.

David shrugged. “Alright. Sure. The world is a cake. Now imagine that cake getting pressed flat. All of those layers would collapse into each other. That’s, more or less, my theory about what’s going on.”

“That the earth is getting flattened?” Mia asked.

“That those higher dimensions I talked about earlier are collapsing into ours.”

“And where do we fit in?”

David twirled a strand of hair around his finger. “Uh… What’s something you bake into a cake?”

Nico listed some ingredients. “Eggs? Flour? Milk?”

“No, no, something solid.”

“Eggs are pretty solid.”

Mia suggested, “Oh! Maybe a pea.”

“The fuck?” Bern exclaimed. “Who bakes peas into a cake?”

“My grandmother makes a coffee cake with raisins…” Shavonne began.

“Let’s go with raisins,” David interrupted. “Now it’s harder to press a raisin flat, not without destroying it. So while the cake-stuff around it changes shape, the raisin stays in roughly the same place, no matter which layer it ends up in.”

Nico concluded, “And we’re the raisins, right? Staying in place while the world collapses around us?”

David nodded yes. “Elegantly put.”

“Wait a minute. I still don’t get it,” Bern said. “Those raisins can only be in one layer at a time.” He pointed at David. “But didn’t you say we exist in multiple dimensions at once? How does that work?”

“You’re already existing in three dimensions. Right now,” Mia told him.

Bern turned to her, surprised. “What?”

“If you count time, then that makes four dimensions you’re in,” Cara continued. “And you don’t just exist in the fourth. You’re constantly shifting positions within it, even while sitting still.”

Bern’s eyes grew wider. “The fuck?”

Rianne leaned over her plate and asked the sisters, “Please don’t crack his brain any more.”

“Actually, they bring up a good point,” David said. “The more dimensions you exist in, the more stress it puts on you. Anybody can handle four without worrying about it. It’s when you start talking about five and more that, to go back to the cake analogy, raisins start getting destroyed.”

“What does that mean for us, exactly?” Sakari asked.

“Remember what you told me earlier tonight? How you noticed that the city was empty?”

Sakari nodded yes as he brought his glass of milk to his lips.

“I’m fairly certain now that was the first time a dimension collapsed, removing a lot of people in the process. My guess is that’s everyone who didn’t have a strong will to live.”

“Will to live?” Nico repeated.

“The will to live and the will to avoid death are two different things. Just trust me on this one.”

“But how do you know that’s what happened?” Shavonne asked.

David chewed his chicken, carefully choosing his words before speaking. “I have a sense for these things. Granted, I didn’t feel it happen the first time. But I did feel it the second time.”

“Second time?” Mia asked.

“That whirlwind in Coldessi Park.”

“So that’s what it was?” Shavonne replied.

Nico remembered. “And all those people turned into Gibberish right after. Because of the collapse?”

Sakari exclaimed, “I was right! Gibberish are people!”

Rianne sunk into her chair, still uncomfortable with that fact.

David explained, “More specifically, they are human souls who resist death but whose imagination has dulled. Having witnessed the transformation yourselves, you can probably see how someone’s mind would quickly deteriorate. In the end, all they have left are their animal instincts.”

“So that’s why they look like animals,” Bern remarked.

Mia slowly pondered a thought aloud. “If you were to put it another way, the only reason why we didn’t turn into Gibberish too is because each of us has…”

David finished the thought with “…a strong imagination. Yes.”

“Huh.” Mia twirled her spaghetti with her fork as the thought pulled her into silence.

Seizing the opening, Sakari asked, “Does that also explain why some of you can do magic?”

“Not exactly,” Shavonne answered.

Nico swallowed his bite of garlic bread before explaining. “We had this magic last time. What we were told then was that our powers were gifts from the guy in charge. He expected us to use them to fight back. We were told that it wouldn’t be a game if we didn’t have a shot of winning.”

“Wow. That was nice of him,” Sakari said.

Nico shot a pointed glance at David. “That’s one way to describe it.”

Cara asked, “Would that explain how we got them this time? Whoever’s the game master now – did they send three of their minions to gift us these powers and kick this whole thing off?”

“The guy in charge was called the Author last time,” Shavonne explained. “Though as far as I can figure, basically yeah. Why else would Shades, Bubblegum, and Mr. N be in the park to meet us?”

“To turn half of us into Gibberish,” Nico answered her.

“Okay. Fair.”

“But that doesn’t sound like Mr. N,” Rianne said.

Bern agreed. “That sure as hell ain’t the Mr. N I know. Though speaking of Gibberish…” He pointed at David with his fork. “…you still haven’t answered my question.”

“Which one?” David asked.

“Why are you forcing us to kill Gibberish? That wasn’t the name of the game last time. So what gives, yo?”

David let out a frustrated sigh. “I said it before. I’ll say it again. I’m not involved. I don’t know what the name of the game is. The sooner we drop this, the sooner we can figure out what’s really happening. Though I admit, hunting Gibberish does look like what we’re expected to do, given those trackers Cara discovered.”

David saw Rianne. She was nearly halfway under the table.

He caught her eye and began gently, “Look. Gibberish were once people. That’s true. But they aren’t themselves anymore. I’m no expert, but I know they’re in constant pain and misery. Even if there was a way to restore their human bodies, their minds would still be irreparably broken. The only way to end their suffering is to remove them.”

Rianne’s gaze fell back onto her plate. She timidly nudged a hunk of chicken with her fork.

“I’m sorry you’ve been dragged into this again.”

“Don’t,” Rianne said, shaking her head. “It’s not your fault that I’m here. But thanks anyway.”

©2022 Joyce Lewis. All rights reserved.