The Eagle wakes Miles and the Colonel up the next morning and tells them to go to the gym. They think they’ve been caught, and Miles prays that he won’t be expelled so that he has more time to kiss Alaska. The Eagle tells them that they are not in trouble, but that they need to go to the gym immediately because something terrible has happened.
At this point in the novel, the chapter titles stop counting down, and start counting days after. The reader, like Miles, does not yet know what has happened, although all of the foreshadowing in the book is enough for the reader to suspect that Alaska is dead.
The Colonel assumes that the assembly is because Dr. Hyde has died. When they arrive at the gym, they don’t see him, and the Colonel thinks that his suspicion is confirmed. Miles is sad about Dr. Hyde, but can’t stop thinking about what Alaska’s words “To be continued?” might mean. Then Dr. Hyde walks in, and the Colonel realizes that Alaska isn’t in the gym. The Eagle asks if everyone is present and Miles shouts over and over again that they need to wait for Alaska. The Eagle starts crying, and Miles refuses to believe what he now suspects has occurred.
Miles is so preoccupied with thinking about his Great Perhaps with Alaska that he does not focus on the fact that a member of the Culver Creek community has died. He doesn’t struggle to accept this death because Dr. Hyde is old. When he realizes that Dr. Hyde is present and Alaska is not, however, he cannot process even the possibility that she might be dead.
The Eagle finally tells everyone that overnight, Alaska died in a car crash. The room falls silent. Miles runs out of the gym to throw up and is overwhelmed with guilt for letting her drive away. Eventually he decides that she isn’t actually dead and is just playing a prank on everyone. He walks back to the gym and everyone is in total despair. The Colonel lies on the bleachers screaming at the top of his lungs, “I’m so sorry.” Madame O’Malley, the French teacher, tells him that he has nothing to be sorry for.
Alaska’s death is obviously a huge blow to the Colonel and Miles, but its impact is intensified by the fact that they played a part in it. Indeed, Miles feels so guilty that his body has a physical reaction, and he rejects the notion that she could possibly be dead. Any comfort offered to Miles and the Colonel falls on deaf ears, because no one else knows that they let her go.
Miles tells the Eagle that Alaska is just playing a prank on everyone. The Eagle explains to him that he saw her body. She was driving on I-65, where a truck had jackknifed across the interstate. A police cruiser pulled up to the scene and Alaska, drunk, ran straight into his car and died instantly. All Miles can think about is the contrast between making out with Alaska last night and how her dead body must look now.
Miles suggested in his World Religions essay that people can’t bear to imagine their loved ones simply dead (as only a body, without an immortal soul), but now that Alaska is dead, he can only picture her as a rotting corpse. This single moment challenges so much of what Miles thought he knew about the world.
Miles starts running through people’s last words in his head. He knows lots of them, but, he thinks to himself, “I will never know hers.” The Colonel collapses on the frozen ground on their way back to their room and starts to hyperventilate. He and Miles hug, which they’ve never done before.
In the past, Miles has been able to distance himself from death with his game of collecting last words. Now, Miles must face the reality of what death means, and that reality cannot be expressed in a single phrase.