Chapter 3

It was 21:25, the night shift manager was nowhere to be found, and neither were any of his employees.

Alan stood at the front of the store, his tabletshell tucked under an arm and fingers pressed to his temples. Steve was sitting on top of one of the shelves and bouncing her sneakers against it while Zap paced in front of the checkout lines. To’mas, whose shift extended into the night, was the only employee not on edge; he instead ran a mop up and down the aisles and hummed an Ellis Manteaux song.

Halfway through one of his paces, Zap halted and gestured violently with his pointer finger. “They’re watching the ethcast, aren’t they.”

“They’re watching the ethcast,” Alan confirmed, his voice saturated with resignation and his fingers drawing little circles against the side of his head.

“That’s so scrambled I can’t even say!” Zap exploded. “It’s not going anywhere!”

“C’mon man,” Steve said sarcastically. “Don’t you know it’s more HD to watch it live?”

“Fucking Shadowflames.” Zap muttered, kicking the ground. “Fucking Ghost Blade.”

“Hey, leave Ghost Blade out of this,” To’mas said from the aisle, his tone defensive. “I like Ghost Blade.”

“This is so stupid. I have places to be,” Zap groused.

Steve smirked. “I bet you don’t.”

“I do!”

“I bet you don’t. I bet you have homework.”

“I always have homework,” Zap retorted.

“I bet you want to watch the end of the ethcast,” Steve taunted.

“I don’t! I’m not even going to watch the saved version!”

Enough!” Alan barked, his eyes squeezed shut, then spoke a little more quietly. “Not now. Please.”

There was a moment of awkward silence before Steve spoke. “Do you have somewhere to be, Alan?”

“Yes,” Alan said, finally taking his fingers away from his head.

“What is it?”

“A thing,” Alan said. “I have a thing to get to, and I’m going to be late to the thing.”

Steve snorted, and then resumed kicking the shelf with the back of her feet. After a moment’s pause, To’mas’s head rounded the corner of the aisle. He was smiling. “Okay, so this sucks. We know that. So: who wants to play Dry Ice Hockey?”

“Do we have enough brooms for that?” Zap asked.

There was a pause.

“There are extra in the manager’s closet,” Alan said, actually cracking a very small smile as he held up his key.

The employees all bolted for the back.