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The second day of the plague dawned hazy and red, the air sharp with smoke from fires that had burned throughout the night. A gray veil hung over the city, a stagnant inversion that kept the sharpness from rising or blowing away.

Rudy closed the window and let the curtain fall, wondering how many bodies had gone up in smoke during the night? How many he was taking in with each breath?

He turned and looked at his wife, still sleeping.

His hair and clothes smelled of the pyre, a greasy, queasy smell that he was unlikely to forget. He wondered about taking a shower and decided he could use one. The street was quiet and he could be in and out in five minutes; as cold as the water was, five minutes would be about all he could take.

When he came out — still toweling, trying to rub the goosebumps away — Aimee was awake, sitting up in bed with her robe on. She told him the children were still sleeping, that she’d just been in their rooms to check on them. He nodded and dressed himself quickly in fresh, clean-smelling clothes.

“Are you hungry?” she asked, looking at him as if it were a perfectly normal Sunday morning. “Should I fix you some breakfast?”

Rudy considered it, tempted, and shook his head. He reminded her that Larry and Shane were going into town. He would need to help them get the motorcycle ready, make preparations… a bowl of cold cereal with powdered milk would be enough, and he could make that himself.

“In that case,” she yawned, “I think I’ll sleep a little longer.”

He kissed her and went downstairs, leaving the rising sunlight for the subterranean feel of the rooms below. He checked the doors and windows, satisfying himself that no one had tried to break in during the night, then sat down at the kitchen table with a bowl of Cheerios and some leftover pineapple, which he ate straight from the can. The water from the faucet looked murky, unsettled, and he dumped it down the drain without tasting it, thinking God knew what might have fallen into the reservoir.

He mixed the milk with bottled water and ate quickly, depressed by the dim surroundings. When he was finished, he put the dishes in the sink (not even wanting to rinse them with the dingy tap water) and, taking the pistol Aimee had left atop the entertainment center, went outside to see if Larry and Shane were awake yet.

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