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“You should really get a Peloton,” Bonnie said, green eyes bright with the cheer of someone who had discovered a new hobby.

I knew my neighbor meant well. Bonnie wasn’t the type to judge, and she had not once commented on my weight since I had moved to the cul-de-sac 2 years ago. I wasn’t particularly heavy, just curvy. Besides, I already had reason enough to exercise.

I gave her a placating smile. “Nah, I already walk Buster twice a day. Wouldn’t be much point to it. Plus it’s so pricey.”

My chocolate husky stuck his head in my lap at the mention of his name, and I gave him a scratch behind his ears. He wagged his tail appreciatively.

Bonnie and I were sitting at my kitchen table, having our usual Saturday lunch. We tended to talk about anything and everything. Neighborhood drama, news, weather, the latest episode of the newest HBO drama… but today she was hyper fixated on her new Peloton.

I wish I had noticed sooner that something was wrong.

“Oh, but Sarah,” she gushed, not even sparing Buster a glance. “It’s totally worth the price tag, I guarantee it. I’ve been so motivated lately! And the instructors are so… hypnotizing. It makes it so easy!”

“That’s great!” I agreed. “It’s good to find something that makes exercise come easy to you.” I patted Buster’s head, which was still resting in my lap. He was such a sweet boy.

“Are you sure?” Bonnie pressed. She pointed to the corner of my living room that held the bookshelves. “You could put it over there. It would fit perfectly.”

“I’m sure,” I insisted, feeling a little annoyed. She was reaching pretty far with that suggestion. The bike was definitely too big for the current setup. I liked my bookshelves right where they were.

Bonnie shrugged and rose from the table. “Your loss,” she sniffed. “I’ve got some errands to run. See you later.”

She swept out the door with no further pleasantries, leaving me sitting there confused. “Well, that was dramatic,” I muttered to Buster, who licked my hand in response. I chuckled. “You always know just what to say, buddy.”

Over the next few weeks, I noticed Bonnie paying visits to our other neighbors, even surly old Mr. Clevenzen. On Saturdays, she became more and more aggressive in trying to get me to buy one of those bikes, until one day, she stormed out and never came back.

I should never have written it off as a simple obsession.

I saw the neighbors outside less and less. Before, I would run into one or two of them on my walks, say hello, maybe exchange news. Now the place might as well have been a ghost town. When I did have a chance to peek into a window here or there, every single one of them was cycling on a new Peloton.

I started to become paranoid. This wasn’t normal, was it? Was I going crazy? This had to just be some neighborhood fad. It would blow over soon… right?

Eventually, I couldn’t help myself. I dove deep into conspiracy theories online, made a bug-out bag, and bought survival books. I wasn’t experienced with guns, so I bought some pepper spray and a telescopic baton. Surely, I had to be going insane, I kept telling myself, but I did it anyway.

One night, just after sunset, there was a knock at my front door.

Buster sniffed the air and growled. He backed into a corner of the kitchen and hunched over, teeth bared. I checked the peephole.

It was Bonnie. She was in her exercising outfit, but I couldn’t see much more than that. She was standing too close to the door to make out more than her head and torso.

I didn’t answer the door. Instead, I hurried to the bedroom and threw on the emergency backpack. I scrambled in the early dark for the baton, not wanting to turn on the light for fear that she might catch on to what I was doing. This is nuts, I scolded myself. It’s just Bonnie.

I kept the backpack on my shoulders, finally located the baton, and tucked it into a side pocket. She hadn’t knocked again. Buster was still growling. I cautiously walked back to the foyer.

The door swung open.

Fuck. Bonnie still had her spare key. How could I have been so stupid?

She stood in the dim hallway light, staring at me with a disturbingly forced smile on her face.

“You should really get a Peloton,” Bonnie said, green eyes dull and empty of all humanity.

Behind her, in the dark, I could see movement. Other people heading toward the house, maybe. I needed to get out.

“Buster, heel,” I commanded in a firmer voice than I thought possible. I should be able to make it to the back door in time. I knew the area behind my house better than anyone. Buster and I had explored it together often.

I ran, but she was faster.

She landed on my back, dragging me to the ground and pressing the backpack painfully against my spine. I elbowed her in the face, but she merely grunted and ignored the blow. Bonnie was of mindless, singular purpose, trying to pin my arms behind my back.

Bonnie let out a piercing screech of pain as Buster buried his teeth into one of her legs, jerking his head to try and pull her away from me. I managed to throw her off, fumbling to yank the baton out of the side pocket. As she grabbed my ankle, I found my grip and brought the weapon down against her temple. It dazed her enough that she let go on sheer reflex, even as she screamed in rage.

“Come on, boy,” I breathed as I sprinted out the back door. Buster followed me into the patch of woods behind the house. I could hear several sets of footsteps in pursuit, but they gradually faded away as we navigated paths far more familiar to us.

That was the last time I saw that house, or Bonnie. I’m recording this so people know the truth. I don’t know what they’re doing, or why, but this is how it happened. Good luck out there, survivors.

Ariel Cross

Ariel Cross is a fantasy author and blogger with a love for representation and subversion. To them, happiness is a warm glass of mead on a cold day.

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