We assigned a driver to each car and made sure to load them as evenly as possible. As we drove off, the rumbling and shaking seemed to decrease, only to rise again when we slowed down.
The trip was slow-going, more so than any of our car journeys so far. Vehicles were abandoned in the road and debris was scattered everywhere. I sat next to Matt in the front seat, with the little girl on my lap and another one sitting in the foot well in front of me.
Matt’s hand held mine again as he drove with the other on the steering wheel. Three men were squeezed into the back seat with half a dozen children squirming in their laps. I didn’t like that Nicole had been allocated to another car; I didn’t want to let her out of my sight.
We saw very few people on the way back to Albany. When we did reach the suburbs, the buildings were absolutely destroyed. Houses had been uprooted or were left in crumbled heaps on the ground. The streets were soaked, some still flooded. Great winds howled between the buildings on either side, and the streets had cracked, allowing soil liquefaction to squeeze to the surface.
Bodies lay scattered around the streets, as though thrown there by some unseen force. I turned the radio on and flicked through the channels only to find static before reaching for Matt’s cell phone on the dashboard. It couldn’t find any network at all.
As we came to a point where we should have been able to see the skyscrapers of the city clearly, their absence hit me like a car. Had we not been paying attention to the carnage directly around us, we would have been aware of this much earlier.
“Stop!” I said softly. Then louder. “Stop now!”
I pushed the door open and set the little girl on my seat. Using the edge of the door, I levered myself onto the roof of the four-wheel drive.
“Mouse,” I frantically called into the microphone after reconnecting the battery pack. “Come here.”
She leaped onto the car and joined me where I stood, followed by Nike, Matt and Nicole. Soon, all of the men had parked their vehicles alongside ours and were standing atop their vehicles too.
For a while I couldn't speak. The words just wouldn't come. When I finally forced them out, I could only manage one question.
“There should be a city there, right?” I gazed at the gaping crater in the distance, exactly where Albany had stood only yesterday.