Twenty minutes later the western horizon began to brighten. "We're coming up on the Quad Cities," Jack said. "Here's hoping we make it through."
He worked the interchange between I-88 and I-80, shocked that there was no sign of law enforcement anywhere to be found. When they finally caught sight of the urban sprawl that made up the dense collection of river towns he figured out why.
The Quad Cities were on fire.
"What the hell?" Emily asked, clutching Nate to her chest. She'd managed to change his diaper, although necessity had forced her to chuck the used one out the window. It was rotting on the shoulder somewhere around Sterling. "It looks like a war zone down there."
"It is," Jack said, catching sight of a convoy of Hummvees and canvas sided trucks making their way down a street. "Looks like they've got the Army out in force."
As they drew closer he made out a line of fire trucks at the nearest edge of the giant fire flanked by what appeared to be more Army vehicles. They seemed no match for the huge conflagration gobbling everything in its path. He could see no activity of any sort nearer to the highway. The Cities' loss appeared to be their gain.
Jack opened the throttle again, worried that his window would soon close. The engine revved, the speedometer swept past 150 to 160. 170.
The Quad Cities were soon in his rear view mirror. He looked in to the bright splotch of the fire, amazed at how it seemed to light the horizon. With mounting horror he realized that it wasn't just the fire brightening the view.
"You know," he said, looking for a way to distract himself from the truth, "This isn't exactly the way I'd visualized my first road trip in this car."
"Me, neither," Emily said absently, bouncing Nate up and down on her shoulder.
"I mean, I kind of figured that I'd be putting on my sunglasses and cranking up the stereo. You know?"
"Yeah. I know."
"I, uh, I think I'll put on some music."
"Okay. Not too loud."
Jack plugged his mp3 player in to the stereo and called up Local H's Twelve Angry Months. Pushed by the music, the encroaching dawn, and his own sense of desperation, he pressed the gas pedal to the firewall and watched the Maserati's tach jump to the red line.
The end came quickly, unexpectedly.
They reached an anonymous leftward curve in the road followed by a shallow downward slope and an overpass. It was the sort of thing a Maserati GranTurismo S could handle easily, even at full speed, assuming the driver was capable and paying attention to the road. Jack was neither. A night of fitful, barely restful sleep followed by over an hour of mind-numbing speed under a cloud of gnawing terror had bent his mind nearly to the breaking point.
It didn't help that at nearly the exact moment the car reached that curve, the first ray of the new day's sunlight pierced the Maserati's rear window, filling the car with radiant light.
Out of the corner of his eye he saw his baby's blue cotton jumper deflate. The world seemed to slow down as he turned toward his wife in disbelief.
Emily's eyes widened. Her mouth dropped open and her lips curled back as a look of pure anguish set in on her face. Her fingers snapped closed, clutching at the impossibly empty pajamas. Her jaw worked slowly, forming the shape of an unspoken word.
The car lurched. Time snapped back to normal.
Jack swung his eyes back to the road in time to see the too-quickly approaching shoulder. Panic took over and he jerked the wheel to the left.
Time slowed once again.
Tires screeched on dry pavement.
The horizon lazily rotated counterclockwise.
They were airborne.
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