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“I’m dying, Barry. You are too.”She straightens, wipes her mouth.Helena’s hair is falling out, and her breathing sounds ragged and painful.Just like his.“I think we can make it,” he says.“We have to. Why the fuck would they hit Denver?”
“If they unleashed their full arsenal, they’re striking every major city inAmerica, thousands of warheads, probably hoping they’d get lucky and takeout the chair.”“Maybe they did.”They move on, closer to ground zero by the looks of the towering cloud ofash and fire, still roiling and pluming in the indeterminate distance.They pass an overturned school bus, the yellow turned black, the glassblown out, voices crying from within.Barry slows down and starts toward it, but Helena says, “The only wayyou can help them is for us to get home.”He knows she’s right, but it takes everything in his power not to at least tryto help, even with a word of comfort.He says, “I wish we’d never lived to see a day like this.”They jog past a burning tree with a motorcycle and its driver blown intothe branches, thirty feet up.Then a woman staggering hairless and naked in the middle of the streetwith her skin coming off like the bark of a birch tree and her eyes abnormallylarge and white, as if they’d expanded to absorb the horror all around her. Butthe truth is, she’s blind.“Block it,” Helena says, crying. “We’re going to change this.”Barry tastes blood in his mouth, pain slowly encompassing his world.It feels like his insides are melting.Another blast, this one much farther away, shakes the ground beneaththem.“There,” Helena says.The firehouse lies straight ahead.They’re standing in the midst of their neighborhood, and he barelynoticed.Because of the pain.Mostly because it doesn’t look anything like their street.Every house built of wood has been leveled, power lines toppled, treesblow-torched and stripped of every hint of green.
Vehicles have been strewn everywhere—some flipped onto their roofs,others on their sides, a few still burning.It’s raining ash and fallout that will give them acute radiation poisoning ifthey’re still in this hellscape by nightfall.The only movement anywhere is from blackened forms writhing on theground.In the street.In the smoldering front yards of what once were homes.Barry feels a surge of helpless nausea as he realizes these are people.Their firehouse is still standing.The windows are shattered-out, gaping-black eye sockets, and the redbrickhas been turned the color of charcoal.The pain in Barry’s face and hands is exquisite as they climb the steps tothe entrance and move inside over the front door, which lies cracked andflattened across the foyer.Even through the pain, the shock of seeing their home of twenty-one yearslike this is devastating.