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Part 2, Chapter 21 (Pages 150-156) Summary

Gladney feels as if he has slept for only a few moments before he is awakened by noise and commotion in the barracks. Denise is pounding on his torso to wake him; once he is up, she tries to wake Babette, as well. Everyone around them is dressing and packing and a bell is clanging a warning. The wind has changed and everyone must evacuate.

Now both girls are pounding on Babette, but she simply rolls over contentedly and asks for five more minutes. Outside, the “amplified voice” continues to warn that the toxic cloud has changed direction; Wilder eats a cookie and waits. Denise is frustrated at the repetitive voice and at her mother, who is so slow to respond.

Finally the girls get their mother up on all fours and Gladney goes to use the bathroom and brush his teeth. When he returns, Babette is dressed and the family is heading to the exit. A woman at the door is handing out surgical masks; the Gladneys take six of them and leave.

It is rainy and dark, and everything outside is in confusion as vehicles are trying to escape in a panic. The rain is turning to snow, and Gladney does his best to drive quickly to Iron City, where people are arranging food and water for the evacuees.

The Gladneys hear the rotors and look up to see eighteen helicopters lighting the cloud, “immense almost beyond comprehension, beyond legend and rumor, a roiling bloated slug-shaped mass.” Even worse, the cloud seems to be generating its own storm. Gladney suddenly remembers that he is “technically dead” and is shocked; all he can do is try to get his family to safety.

The Gladneys conduct a typically inane conversation on the long drive to Iron City; they arrive at dawn after passing through several checkpoints where they were given instructions for the evacuation centers. Forty other families are with them in an abandoned karate studio on the fourth floor of an old...

(The entire section is 501 words.)