We’re back there. Right after.
Hillary seemed fine except for her eyes. I’ll rephrase: she looked baffled. There was soot all over her. Her jacket was in the stadium. You could see the stadium through the yellow smoke. It had become a mesa. The match stink was stronger. She sat on a boulder outside the blackened and flaming ruins of Des Moines. I’ll rephrase: just past the cliffs that had been Des Moines. Her boulder was cooler than the ground.
“I don’t see why my use of that word in particular should astonish you,” said Donald. “It contained several syllables, yes, but its meaning wasn’t complex. I would be more surprised by my use of the word ‘complex,’ which has only two syllables.”
“No, Donald,” she said. “The mud that you smeared on your head—”
“You mean my hair,” he said, “upon which you may tug if that would be convincing.”
“It’s on fire.”
Donald leaned against a stone pillar. He was sooty, too. Small flames sprang from his scalp. His hairline wasn’t perfect. He tilted his head forward.
“Go on,” he said. “Tug.”
Hillary pulled back. Donald looked smug about it. She stood up, smacked soot from her hands, and walked past him. That satisfied him. Then he saw that she was leaving. After a spin off the pillar, a jog to catch her, and several deep breaths of smoke, he was coughing, out of breath.
“Where are you going?” he asked and then gasped.
“The purpose of walking in any direction is not apparent,” he said. His breath was back. “There’s no world anywhere.”
“The blast came from New York,” said Hillary. She kept her stride. “If there’s anything left, it’s west.”
Donald laughed and caught himself on his knees. The fires on his scalp were spreading. A pair of them merged.
“It’ll be a long walk, I promise!” he said, then looked up. She flickered in the yellow smoke. “Wait up!”
He ran again. This time he waited for his breath.
“I said it may be a circular walk, but you may not have heard the witticism. Around the globe, you see?”
“That seems misguided,” he said. “If the blast reached here from New York, it likely reached further. I am unable to maintain your pace, and we have only begun.”
“I saved your life. Do what you want with it.”
“I am not walking west,” he said, and stopped. “You must journey alone.”
He popped his knuckles one at a time. He got three pops from most fingers, two from one thumb and one from the other. The fires on his scalp had joined into two large columns that looked like horns. He held his ground until the smoke blotted her out.
“Wait up!” he screamed.
He caught up. The ash had grown deep. It was to their knees. They waded, stirring it into the air. The ground had been rising. It was steep now.
“Can I ask you something about periods?”
“You are the last woman on Earth, I’ve been speculating about this, there is no one else to ask, and I have a thoughtful question about periods.”
She stopped. She still faced west. They stood on a small hill.
“I was a candidate for the presidency,” she said, more disappointed than angry.
“As was I. Please. My question about periods is profound.”
“You were not a presidential candidate,” she said, calmly. She turned to him. “I was, an historic one. You were a clown, a bogeyman, and a symptom of rising fascism. If you had won, surprised even your fans with your thoughtful inauguration speech, and done a pretty OK job for eight years, you would not have been a president.”
Donald sank into the ash. He was tired. His scalp was a single flame.
“I got your goat,” he said.
“I get everyone’s. Then they can’t think straight. They stop listening. They counter the wrong arguments and look stupid, no matter how smart they are. My guys stay my guys. It was how I was going to win. I even got your goat at the debate.”
“I let you get my goat,” she said, “so the crowd would let me be angry.”
Silence. Donald’s head kept burning. You could hear it. You could smell the meat.
“Why a fascist state?”
“They wanted one,” he said. “Why blame Hitler alone for giving the German people the terrifying world that they asked for?”
“That’s bullshit. And you talked nuclear war. That was end-of-the-world talk. No one asked for that. You might have won. The ash might be early.”
“Yeah, look at it,” he said. Then he did. Their hill was ash. Around it was burnt plains, the cliffs of Des Moines behind, the horizon mostly fire. “Look. Then tell me that no one asked.”
Silence. I’ll rephrase: Donald screamed.
He dug up a rock and scraped flame from his scalp. It fell into the ash and birthed neon blue smoke. He dropped the rock. There were small fires left. He patted them out with his hands and then sat, sucking through a wince, up to his waist in ash. What was left of his scalp was blistered and black, but he had scraped off most of the skin. An orange syrup seeped out of his wounds. It oozed down his forehead.
Hillary faced west. That horizon wasn’t burning. She waded through the ash.
“An hour ago this planet held seven billion people,” she called back without looking. “One madman is still not a majority.”