It is 7 months later, July 2027. Lauren awakes in the middle of the night to the smell of burning; she grabs her pack and yells at Cory and the boys to run. Intruders have driven a truck through the neighborhood gate. Lauren believes they are pyro addicts; they are bald, with skin painted in bright colors. Lauren falls to the ground and Cory and her brothers run ahead of her. She sees dead bodies everywhere, grabs her pack, and keeps running. As people are shot around her, Lauren is crippled by their pain. She manages to get out of the neighborhood and stays crouched in the darkness, careful not to make a sound. She wonders if Cory has her gun, and wishes that she had it herself. Lauren walks toward the hills, terrified. There she finds an old, burned out house and hides in the garage until morning.
The dramatic opening to this chapter marks a major turning point in the plot. While the intrusion of pyro addicts may seem shocking, there have been many clues building up to this moment. Just as Lauren once predicted to Joanne, the neighborhood gate has been destroyed, annihilating any last semblance of security and normalcy. Indeed, Lauren’s prediction that an event like this would take place allows her to react quickly, escape the chaos, and hide out in a relatively safe place. However, just as she was alone in preparing for disaster, so is she alone in her escape.
In the morning, Lauren wakes up and knows she must go home, but is reluctant to do so. That evening, she starts a new diary entry. She feels “dazed” and wants to run away, but forces herself to write. All the houses in the neighborhood have been burned. There are strangers picking through them who Lauren doesn’t recognize. The floor is strewn with ash-covered bodies. Lauren peers at the body of a bald, green-faced woman, and another person wearing Cory’s shoes tells her to leave the body alone, saying: “She died for us.” Lauren wants to kill that person. Lauren goes into her own bedroom, which is completely destroyed. She quickly bundles together clothes from her father’s room, taking other items such as dental floss, soap, and petroleum jelly. She also finds at least one outfit each for Cory and her brothers, including shoes.
Overnight, Lauren’s neighborhood has been transformed from a place of comfort, community, and solidarity into a wasteland populated by strangers scavenging their way through the ruins. The fact that Lauren sees a woman wearing Cory’s shoes does not bode well for the fate of Cory and Lauren’s brothers, but for now Lauren remains naïvely hopeful that her family have survived and that she will be able to reunite with them. Note that Lauren must pose as a scavenger in order to keep safe among the others, and therefore must once again suppress her true feelings about what has happened.
Outside, the garden that Cory so carefully tended has been destroyed. Lauren grabs the few vegetables she can and shakes lemons from the tree. She also manages to snatch the money packet buried in the ground and quickly hides it among her other items, which are stuffed inside a pillowcase. Leaving her house, Lauren sees Richard Moss lying dead and naked in a pool of blood. She sees other neighbors also lying dead, old people and children alike, and girls who have been raped before being killed, one who was only 8. She sees Michael Talcott’s body and hopes that Curtis is still alive. She is desperate to find her family.
The brutality with which the neighborhood has been destroyed and its residents massacred is a distinct contrast to the garden Cory devotedly grew and the careful precision with which Lauren’s family hid their money and emergency supplies. People like Lauren’s family try their best to create and sustain lives in the midst of total chaos and destruction—yet is this endeavor always doomed to fail?
Someone calls Lauren’s name, and she turns around to see Zahra Moss, Richard’s youngest wife, and Harry Balter. They are clinging to each other and are both covered in blood. Zahra says that “everyone’s dead,” but Harry says there must be some other survivors. Lauren asks if they’ve seen her family, and Zahra says that—like her daughter—they are all dead. Zahra explains in broken sentences that while a man held her down and raped her, she saw Lauren’s family being killed. The three of them sit for a long time, talking, before eventually getting up and walking toward Lauren’s garage. On the way, Harry collapses and throws up. Zahra explains that he helped her escape from the man who was raping her, but that he was badly beaten as a result.
Lauren’s encounter with Zahra and Harry is bittersweet. The fact that at least some members of the neighborhood survived is reassuring, as there remains an automatic sense of solidarity and mutual support between the three of them that clearly does not exist in the bleak wilderness of the outside world. However, this sense of hope is tarnished by the fact that Zahra reveals that Lauren’s family are dead. On the other hand, at least Lauren can be certain of their fate, and won’t face the uncertainty that characterized her father’s disappearance.