Sharon falls straight down, into the open jaw of the worm. It closes on her, cutting off her final desperate cry.
My mind goes blank. I fall back into the ash and I don't get back up again. I squeeze my eyes tight shut, clamp my hands over my ears. And even then I can still hear her final scream, like it's there inside my head, echoing around. Like it's going to echo forever.
And she's dead. Oh, God, she's dead. I've just seen her die. I've watched her be killed while I hid in fear and did nothing.
Something inside me explodes. Before I know it I'm up on my feet and running, each footfall throwing up a spray of dust. I tear away from the creatures and the worm, away into the smoke. I trip and fall, scramble to my feet, run again. I clamber over piles of rubble, almost twisting my ankle. I slither and slide in the grey snowfall of ash. There's a rock in my throat. She can't be dead. She can't be. But she is.
Heat washes over me, smoke invades my throat. The road surface on which I'm running is buckled and broken, scattered with immense chunks of rubble, broken girders, overturned cars. On my left and my right great towers of broken concrete and metal rear up into the mist. There's fire there too, intense and blood-coloured, smouldering away inside those ruins like a furnace.
My head tells me that I'm running into danger. But I don't care. Nothing matters, not now. Coward, my brain tells me. Couldn't even save her. Couldn't even try. Couldn't even die like a man.
I stop running just in time. Ahead of me the street just stops, falls away like the edge of a cliff. Down there I see broken pipes jetting steam, the crushed shells of cars. The broken ground itself is smoking, radiating heat. Jump, says my brain. Do it. End it. Burn up. It's what you deserve.
You'll be with Sharon.
I stand on the edge. I'm shivering. In my head I'm watching it happen all over again. How she struggled...the worm unfolding from the shadows...the creatures calling towards the sky...the sky speckled with meteors...fire...
I turn and hurl myself into the smoke, away from that cliff-edge drop. I run. I run until my breath feels like glass in my throat. Ahead of me is something that was once a building. Now nothing more than an unstable mass of concrete, a twisted, slumping wreck. I pick my way over piles of bricks, duck under twisted steel girders, crawl when I have to, burrow my way into the wreck like a rabbit into earth. I squeeze myself into the smallest space I can find and only then--only when I am hidden way from the world outside--do I finally allow myself to stop.
Shivers come. Wracking and heavy, as if I'm ill. I lie there, shaking.
Alone. For the first time in years, truly alone.
Slowly, the darkness closes in.