The screams are like nothing I've ever heard in my life: the screams of people being burned alive, cooked up like lobsters in a pot as the superheated water of the river slops up over its banks, spewing steam, scalding and burning and drowning. It's terrible, terrible, and I know that it's only good fortune that separates us from that suffering mass. I'm sure that I can almost feel the billowing cloud of steam on my back.
The alley widens out briefly then narrows again. At the far it appears to open out onto a main road: I can see people running back and forth. We burst out into the chaos, still hand in hand.
"This way," says Sharon, and we turn to the left and start running up the street. The screams of all those poor burned people on the riverbank are still echoing inside my head. How long can we keep running? How long before something like that happens to us?
"Wait," I say. I pull on Sharon's hand and she stops running. I drag her over to the side of the street and we huddle against a wall there. Another impact shakes the ground, somewhere close. Fresh screams tear through the air. "We have to get somewhere safe," I say.
"But where?" Sharon's almost crying, her face a mask of fear and horror.
"Somewhere below ground," I say. "Somewhere sheltered."
Sharon bites her lip and nods. She's so beautiful in that moment, so precious that I can't stop myself from kissing her. I never knew before how much she matters to me. The kiss is hurried, clumsy. I squeeze her and then let her go.
"The underground," she says. "If we can get to a station..."
"Okay," I say. I crane my neck and look around, searching for something which I recognise. Across the street is a shop that I remember passing sometimes on my way back from work. I know where we are. The nearest station is only two blocks away. "This way." Grabbing Sharon's hand once again, I set off towards it.
The impacts seem to be coming quicker now. I hear three before we're anywhere even near the station, and when I glance upwards the sky is dark with smoke and streaks of yellow fire. We pass a group of men and women covered in blood, looking dazed and helpless as they try to get their bearings. We pass an unconscious man lying on the pavement, ignored by the crowd. Perhaps he's dead, I think with a shiver. Even if he's not, what can we do to help?
The underground station comes into view. Me and Sharon head for it, weaving our way between stopped cars. The two sets of stairs leading down into the station are choked with people. A solid mass of them that's not moving an inch, and that's growing every second. The faces of the people on the stairs are white and terrified. I can see at least some of them struggling to get out, trapped by the press of those behind them. A policeman stands at the entrance, bellowing orders and waving directions, ignored by everyone.
Me and Sharon stop short of the crowd. "We can't go in there," says Sharon. "David, we can't."
She's right, of course. It makes me feel almost sick with fear to have to stay out in the open, but the underground is a death-trap. I picture what it must be like further down. Stifling, airless, dark. I've heard all too often on the news about people being crushed to death during a panic. We can't risk it.
"We'll have to find somewhere else," I say, hearing the weakness in my voice. Another earth-shaking impact.
Oh, God, I think, don't let me die out here.