"Oh, God," says Sharon. "I don't believe it."
The world has turned to dust and smoke. The stuff's so thick I can barely see across the street. The ground is layered with it, like artificial snow. Just visible in the murk is the outline of a car, half-buried under a covering of ash and dirt. We just stand in the doorway and stare. The stuff drifts about us like the heaviest, darkest fog I've ever seen. I can feel it landing on my skin, gritty and dry. I can feel it roiling into my lungs every time I breathe, scouring my throat, filling my mouth with the taste of smoke. It's all I can do not to cough.
I turn and look around. The door we've emerged from is set into a brick wall, and rearing up above us is the broken facade of a building. The glass of the windows is all but gone, leaving behind a complex skeleton of metal and concrete. I can see the edge of a desk hanging out over the void. The ground is scattered with snowed-over lumps that, on closer inspection, I realise are computers and desk chairs and pieces of furniture.
I hear Sharon gasp, and turn to see what she's noticed. At first I think she's staring at a lump like any other, but then I see a hand, sticking out at an angle from the layered dust. A strange, twisted feeling rises up my throat. I grab Sharon's arm.
"Come on," I say. "Let's get away from here."
And so we start to walk. It's difficult, like moving through a heavy snow. Each footstep is a struggle, made worse by the dust that fills our lungs every time we breathe. It's only a minute before both of us are coughing painfully.
Not far up the street we come to a place where a huge piece of rubble has fallen across the road. It looks like a chunk of building, complete with windows, girders sticking out of it at odd angles. We clamber over and continue, only to be brought up short a minute later when we come to a massive crack in the road, at least a metre wide that runs in either direction as far as we can see.
The air is so filthy that neither of us can speak, and so without words I tug Sharon's arm and we set off following the course of the crack. It narrows towards one side of the road, and we're able to step across. We pass more cars, more bodies. We pass the tortured wreck of what was once a building, now little more than a smoking, twisted ruin.
I look at Sharon. She's walking hunched over, her hair grey with dust, looking like a refugee. Her face is pale and frightened. I don't know how much distance we've put between ourselves and the car park, but I know we can't go on much further. The dust is suffocating us, slowly but surely, clogging our lungs and bloodying our throats.
I pull Sharon over to the side of the road, and we huddle there in a shop doorway.
"What do we do?" asks Sharon, her voice made rough by the dust she's inhaled. I hold her, tight.
"I don't know," I say. "I honestly don't."
Just then I hear a distant popping sound. With a shiver, I realise that what I'm hearing are gunshots. There's fighting going on in the wreckage of the city. No doubt about it, we have to get away, get out of the danger zone, out of the smoke, away from whatever it was that came prowling around the car park. But which way should we go? I'm more lost than I've ever been in my life.
"Maybe..." says Sharon, her voice shaking, "maybe we should just stay here. Wait for help to come."
And I realise then that she's scared. As scared as I am: just barely holding herself together. And I know that I'm all she has right now, and the knowledge makes me love her more than I ever have. I squeeze her against me, bury her head in my shoulder, whisper to her that it's all going to be okay. If I can only save her...
We stay that way for a long, long time. Sharon's hands are wrapped around my chest. I can feel her breath on my neck. I don't ever want to let her go.
At last she pulls back from me, a frown on her face. "Listen..." she says.
And just at that moment the noise, the croaking, screeching hiss of a noise comes again, and this time it's right there beside us in the smog, so close it's deafening, so close I could reach out into the mist and touch whatever it is that's calling.