August 22. There’s a notice in the post office about a big meeting regarding the coming school year. Miranda is looking forward to school, both because it will give her life a purpose and because it hints at preparing her for a future.
Miranda is hopeful in this entry, as school means working toward something, and working toward something means she has a future—an uncertain idea lately.
August 26-27. Now that she knows what school will entail, Miranda angrily reflects back on how hopeful her previous entry was. She’s just come from the town meeting where it is announced that since half of the school population and more than half of the school staff won’t be returning, they’ll only be opening two schools in the fall. The districts have been told to expect no help from the state and will not be able to provide any bus service, electricity, or lunches. They have some heat now, but it is expected to run out by mid-September. Miranda learns a great deal from the crowd’s reactions to these announcements. She hadn’t realized how few people were left in town, and it seems like most people are as bad off, if not worse, than her family.
While Miranda’s mood often varies from entry to entry, it’s rare for her to reflect on what she’s written before. In this entry she does, and she’s furious that she dared to hope that her life could still feel structured or normal in any way. She scorns how optimistic she sounded just a few days before, especially in the face of the stark reality of what remains of her town and their resources.
Once home, Miranda realizes they use gas for their stove and water heater. Laura reassures her they can use the woodstove for both, but Miranda wonders which is more likely: starving or freezing to death.
It takes awhile for Miranda to apply the people’s panic from the meeting to her own situation, but when she does, Laura already has a solution.
Since all students are given the choice between homeschooling or attending either of the open schools, Laura says she’ll support whatever decision Miranda and Jonny make.
Laura granting her children the autonomy to make their own school decisions is her way of recognizing the ways they’ve grown and matured.
August 28. Miranda’s watch has stopped. She realizes this isn’t a big deal since she doesn’t have a schedule or a real need for time, but she finds it disorienting, especially since she can no longer look at the perpetually gray sky to help determine time of day. Also, there was a killing frost overnight. The Evanses gather all of the vegetables that can be harvested, but it isn’t much. And if it feels like late October in August, they’re nervous about what the winter will bring. Also, they’re no longer able to get any signals on the radio. Matt suggests this is because the radio stations ran out of electricity, but Miranda fears it means more dire things for the larger world. She ends by wondering how they’d even know if Howell, PA was the last place on earth.
Every aspect of this chapter adds to Miranda’s disorientation. She can no longer depend on seasons, time of day, or even the belief that the world outside her small town continues to exist. With the rapid loss of so many fundamental “truths,” it’s understandable that Miranda is feeling bleak about the continued existence of civilization as a whole.
August 29. Miranda has a scary encounter on her way into town to visit the library. While biking down the empty streets, she hears laughter and sees a pickup truck with five armed men—two of whom she recognizes. Evan Smothers was a classmate of hers and Ryan Miller played sports with Matt. The men are stealing the plywood off the fronts of boarded up stores and then looting the insides. The scene makes Miranda think of Sammi and black markets and men who take and demand payment. Even though she’s terrified, she backtracks to the police station to report the crimes—only to find that the police station is empty and no one answers her frantic knocks.
For the first time in this novel, the threat is not from the natural world, but from other people. This shift is terrifying for Miranda—that she’d feel unsafe in her hometown in the middle of the day. Her expectation that the police still exist and would be willing or able to save the day is a demonstration of how, while her perspective has shifted with regards to many survival aspects of her life, she’s still struggling to make sense of day-to-day changes.
Since Miranda already knows from Peter that the fire station has been closed, she doesn’t try there, but instead heads to the hospital. Instead of being able to walk in to see Peter like last time, she is stopped by armed security guards at the door. They tell her they’re privately hired to keep people from stealing food, drugs, and supplies, and that they assume the police have moved south with their families. They also advise her that it’s no longer safe for females to be unaccompanied in public—that someday she “might go out for a bike ride and never come home.” Miranda is terrified the whole way home. She doesn’t know what she’s going to do about getting to and from school, and doesn’t say anything to Laura about her fears.
Rather than reassure her, the security guards become the cause of one more fear for Miranda. They also represent another impediment between her and help, as she is no longer able to walk into the hospital and see Peter. She realizes that soon she may not be able to go anywhere on her own, which is part of why she doesn’t tell Laura, but the bigger reason is that Miranda is still trying to make sense of what has happened to her and the guards’ advice. Her perceptions of the world are changing so rapidly, it’s hard for her to keep up.
August 30. Laura asks Jonny and Miranda for their decisions about school. Jonny has chosen to be homeschooled, but—to Laura’s exasperation—the question causes Miranda to burst into tears and run from the room. Matt comes to find her and she explains to him about the men in town and how she doesn’t want to tell Laura and cause her more worry. Matt agrees with the guards that Laura and Miranda shouldn’t go out alone, and shares that he also feels trapped since he can’t go back to college—and doesn’t know if there’s even a college to go back to. He also volunteers to walk Miranda to and from the school. Her first day will be tomorrow.
Laura assumes that Miranda’s emotional outburst is just her being dramatic, and it shows maturity on Miranda’s part not to correct her because she’d rather take the hit to her reputation than cause her mother to worry more. Miranda also makes the wise decision to attend school at the elementary school because the route to it is safer than the one through town to the high school—where she’d much rather be.