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That this was happening in Chamberlain, in Chamberlain, for God's sake, where he drank iced tea on his mother's sun porch and refereed PAL basketball and made one last cruise out Route 6 past The Cavalier before turning in at 2:30 every morning. His town was burning UP.
Tom Quillan came out of the police station and ran down the sidewalk to Doyle's cruiser. His hair was standing up every which way, he was dressed in dirty green work fatigues and an undershirt and he had his loafers on the wrong feet, but Doyle thought he had never been so glad to see anyone in his life. Tom Quillan was as much Chamberlain as anything, and he was thereintact.
'Holy God,' he panted. 'Did you see that?'
'What's been happening?' Doyle asked curtly.
'I been monitorin' the radio,' Quillan said, 'Motton and Westover wanted to know if they should send ambulances and I said bell yes, send everything. Hearses too. Did I do right?'
'Yes.' Doyle ran his hands through his hair. 'Have you seen Harry Block?' Block was the town's Commissioner of Public Utilities, and that included water.
'Nope. But Chief Deighan says they got water in the old Rennet Block across town. They're laying hose now. I collared some kids, and they're settin' up a hospital in the police station. They're good boys, but they're gonna get blood on your floor, Otis.'
Otis Doyle felt unreality surge over him. Surely this conversation couldn't be happening in Chamberlain. Couldn't.
'That's all right, Tommy. You did right. You go back there and start calling every doctor in the phone book. I'm going over to Summer Street.'
'Okay, Otis. If you see that crazy broad, be careful.'
'Who?' Doyle was not a barking man, but now he did.
Tom Quillan flinched back. 'Carrie, Carrie White.'
'Who? How do you know?'
Quillan blinked slowly. 'I dunno. It just sort of ... came to me.'
From the national AP ticker, 11:46 Pm:
CHAMBERLAIN, MAINE (AP)
A DISASTER OF MAJOR PROPORTIONS HAS STRUCK THE TOWN OF CHAMBERLAIN, MAINE TONIGHT. A FIRE, BELIEVED TO HAVE BEGUN AT EWEN (U-WIN) HIGH SCHOOL DURING A SCHOOL DANCE, HAS SPREAD TO THE DOWNTOWN AREA, RESULTING IN MULTIPLE EXPLOSIONS THAT HAVE LEVELLED MUCH OF THE DOWNTOWN AREA. A RESIDENTIAL AREA TO THE WEST OF THE DOWNTOWN AREA IS ALSO REPORTED TO BE BURNING. HOWEVER, MOST CONCERN AT THIS TIME IS OVER THE HIGH SCHOOL WHERE A JUNIOR-SENIOR PROM WAS BEING HELD. IT IS BELIEVED THAT MANY OF THE PROM-GOERS WERE TRAPPED INSIDE. AN ANDOVER FIRE OFFICIAL SUMMONED TO THE SCENE SAID THE KNOWN TOTAL OF DEAD STOOD AT SIXTY-SEVEN. MOST OF THEM HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS. ASKED HOW HIGH THE TOTAL MIGHT GO HE SAID: 'WE DON'T KNOW. WE'RE AFRAID TO GUESS. THIS IS GOING TO BE WORSE THAN THE COCONUT GROVE.' AT LAST REPORT THREE FIRES WERE RAGING OUT OF CONTROL IN THE TOWN. REPORTS OF POSSIBLE ARSON ARE UNCONFIRMED. ENDS.
11:56 PM MAY 27 8943F AP
There were no more AP reports from Chamberlain. At 12:06 AM., a Jackson Avenue gas main was opened. At 12:17, an ambulance attendant from Motton tossed out a cigarette butt as the rescue vehicle sped toward Summer Street.
The explosion destroyed nearly half a block at a stroke, including the offices of The Chamberlain Clarion. By 12:18 A.M.. Chamberlain was cut off from the country that slept in reason beyond.
At 12:10, still seven minutes before the gas-main explosion, the telephone exchange experienced a softer explosion: a complete jam of every town phone line still in operation. The three harried girls on duty stayed at their posts but were utterly unable to cope. They worked with expressions of wooden horror on their faces, trying to place unplaceable calls.
And so Chamberlain drifted into the streets.
They came like an invasion from the graveyard that lay in the elbow creek formed by the intersection of The Bellsqueeze Road and Route 6; they came in white nightgowns and in robes, as if in winding shrouds. They came in pyjamas and curlers (Mrs Dawson, she of the now-deceased son who had been a very funny fellow, came in a mudpack as if dressed for a minstrel show); they came to see what happened to their town, to see if it was indeed lying burnt and bleeding. Many of them also came to die.
Carlin Street was thronged with them, a riptide of them, moving downtown through the hectic light in the sky, when Carrie came out of the Carlin Street Congregational Church, where she had been praying.
She had gone in only five minutes before, after opening the gas main (it had been easy; as soon as she pictured it lying there under the street it had been easy), but it seemed like hours. She had prayed long and deeply, sometimes aloud, sometimes silently. Her heart thudded and laboured. The veins on her face and neck bulged. Her mind was filled with the huge knowledge of POWERS, and of an ABYSS. She prayed in front of the altar, kneeling in her wet and torn and bloody gown, her feet bare and dirty and bleeding from a broken bottle she had stepped on. Her breath sobbed in and out of her throat, and the church was filled with groanings and swayings and sunderings as psychic energy sprang from her. Pews fell, hymnals flew, and a silver Communion set cruised silently across the vaulted darkness of the nave to crash into the far wall. She prayed and there was no answering. No one was there - or if there was, He/It was cowering from her. God had turned His face away, and why not? This horror was as much His doing as hers. And so she left the church, left it to go home and find her momma and make destruction complete.
She paused on the lower step, looking at the flocks of people streaming toward the centre of town. Animals. Let them burn, then. Let the streets be filled with the smell of their sacrifice. Let this place be called racca, ichabod, wormwood.
And power transformers atop lightpoles bloomed into nacreous purple light, spitting catherine-wheel sparks. High-tension wires fell into the streets in pick-up-sticks tangles and some of them ran, and that was bad for them because now the whole street was littered with wires and the stink began, the burning began. People began to scream and back away and touched the cables and went into jerky electrical dances. Some had already slumped into the street, their robes and pyjamas smouldering.
Carrie turned back and looked fixedly at the church she had just left. The heavy door suddenly swung shut, as if in a hurricane wind.
Carrie turned towards home.
From the sworn testimony of Mrs Cora Simard, taken before The State Investigatory Board (from The White Commission Report). pp. 217-218:
Q. Mrs Simard, the Board, understands that you lost your daughter on Prom Night, and we sympathise with you deeply. We will make this as brief as possible.
A. Thank you. I want to help if I can, of course.
Q. Were you on Carlin Street at approximately 12.12 when Carietta White came out of the First Congregational Church on that street?
Q. Why were you there?
A. My husband had to be in Boston over the weekend on business and Rhonda was at the Spring Ball. I was home alone watching TV and waiting up for her. I was watching the Friday Night Movie when the town hall whistle went off, but I didn't connect that with the dance. But then the explosion ... I didn't know what to do. I tried to call the police but got a busy signal after the first three numbers. I ... I...Then ...
Q. Take your time, Mrs Simard. All the time you need.
A. I was getting frantic. There was a second explosion - Teddy's Amoco station, I know now - And I decided to go downtown and see what was happening. There was a glow in the sky, an awful glow. That was when Mrs Shyres pounded on the door.
Q. Mrs Georgette Shyres?
A. Yes, they live around the corner. 217 Willow. That's just of Carlin Street. She. was pounding and calling: 'Cora, are you in there? Are you in there?' I went to the door. She was in her bath-robe and slippers. Her feet looked cold. She said they had called Auburn to see if they knew anything and they told her the school was on fire. I said: 'Oh dear God, Rhonda's at the dance.'
Q. Is this when you decided to go downtown with Mrs Shyres?
A. We didn't decide anything. We just went. I put on a pair of slippers - Rhonda's, I think. They had little white puffballs on them. I should have worn my shoes, but I wasn't thinking. I guess I'm not thinking now. What do you want to hear about my shoes for?
Q. You tell it in your own way, Mrs Simard.
A. T-Thank you. I gave Mrs Shyres some old jacket that was around, and we went.
Q. Were there many people walking down Carlin street?
A. I don't know. I was too upset. Maybe thirty. Maybe more.
Q. What happened?
A. Georgette and I were walking toward Main Street, holding hands just like two little girls walking across a meadow after dark. Georgette's teeth were clicking. I remember that. I wanted to ask her to stop clicking her teeth, but I thought it would be impolite. A block and a half from the Congo Church, I saw the door open and I thought: Someone has gone in to ask God's help. But a second later I knew that wasn't true.
Q. How did you know? It would be logical to assume just what you first assumed, wouldn't it?
A. I just knew.
Q. Did you know the person who came out of the church?
A. Yes. It was Carrie White.
Q. Had you ever seen Carrie White before?
A. No. She was not one of my daughter's friends.
Q. Had you ever seen a picture of Carrie White?
Q. And in any case, it was dark and you were a block and a half from the church.
A. Yes, sir.
Q. Mrs Simard, how did you know it was Carrie White?
A. I just knew.
Q. This knowing, Mrs Simard: was it like a light going on in your head?
A. No, sir.
Q. What way it
A. I can't tell you. It faded away the way a dream does. An hour after you get up you can only remember you had a dream. But I knew.
Q. Was there an emotional feeling that went with this knowledge?
A. Yes. Horror.
Q. What did you do then?
A. I turned to Georgette and said: There she is. Georgette said: 'Yes, that's her.' She started to say something else, and then the whole street was lit up by a bright glow and there were crackling noises and then the power lines started to fall into the street, some of them spitting live sparks. One of them hit a man in front of us and he b-burst into flames. Another man started to run and he stepped on one of them and his body just arched backward, as if his back had turned into elastic. And then he fell down. Other people were screaming and running, just running blindly, and more and more cables fell. They were strung all over the place like snakes. And she was glad about it. Glad! I could feel her being glad. I knew I had to keep my head. The people who were running were getting electrocuted. Georgette said: 'Quick, Cora. Oh God, I don't want to get burned alive.' I said, 'Stop that. We have to use our heads, Georgette, or we'll never use them again.' Something foolish like that. But she wouldn't listen. She let go of my hand and started to ran for the sidewalk. I screamed at her to stop - there was one of those heavy main cables broken off right in front of us - but she didn't listen. And she ... she... oh, I could smell her when she started to burn. Smoke just seemed to burst out of her clothes and I thought: that's what it must be like when someone gets electrocuted. The smell was sweet like pork. Have any of you ever smelled that? Sometimes I smell it in my dreams. I stood still, watching Georgette Shyres turn black. There was a big explosion over in the West End-the gas main, I suppose - but I never even noticed it. I looked around and I was all alone. Everyone else had either run away or was burning. I saw maybe six bodies. They were like piles of old rags. One of the cables had fallen on to the porch of a house to the left, and it was catching on fire. I could hear the old-fashioned shake shingles popping like Corn. it seemed like I stood there a long time, telling myself to keep my head. It seemed like hours. I began to be afraid that I would faint and fall on one of the cables, or that I would panic and start to run. Like ... like Georgette. So then I started to walk. One step at a time. 'Me street got even brighter, because of the burning house. I stepped over two live wires and went around a body that wasn't much more than a puddle. I-I-I had to look to see where I was going. There was a wedding ring on the body's hand, but it was all black. All black. Jesus, I was Oh dear Lord. I stepped over another one and then there were three, all at once. I just stood there looking at them. I thought if I got over those I'd be all right but ... I didn't dare. Do you know what I kept thinking of? That game you play when you're kids, Giant Step. A voice in my mind was saying, Cora, take one giant step over the live wires in the street. And I was thinking May P May P One of them was still spitting a few sparks, but the other two looked dead. But you can't tell. The third rail looks dead too. So I stood there, waiting for someone to come and nobody did. The house was still burning and the flames had spread to the lawn and the trees and the hedge beside it. But no fire trucks came. Of course they didn't. The whole west side was burning up by that time. And I felt so faint. And at last I knew it was take the giant step or faint and so I took it, as big a giant step as I could, and the heel of my slipper came down not an inch from the last wire. Then I got over and went around the end of one more wire and then I started to run. And that's all I remember. When morning came I was lying on a blanket in the police station with a lot of other people. Some of them - a few-were kids in their prom get-ups and I started to ask them if they had seen Rhonda. And said ... they s-s-said ...
(A short recess)
Q. You are personally sure that Carrie White did this? A. Yes.
Q. Thank you, Mrs Simard.
A. I'd like to ask a question, if you please.
Q. Of course.
A. What happens if there are others like her? What happens to the world?
From The Shadow Exploded (p. 15 1):
By 12:45 on the morning of May 28, the situation in Chamberlain was critical. The school had burned itself out on a fairly isolated piece of ground, but the entire downtown area was ablaze. Almost all the city water in that area had been tapped, but enough was available (at low pressure) from Deighan Street water mains to save the business buildings below the intersection of Main and Oak a~.
The explosion of Tony's Citgo on upper Summer Street had resulted in a ferocious fire that was not to be controlled until nearly ten o'clock that morning. There was water on Summer Street, there simply were no firemen or fire-fighting equipment to utilize it. Equipment was then on its way from Lewiston, Auburn, Lisbon and Brunswick, but nothing arrived until one o'clock.
On Carlin Street, an electrical fire, caused by downed power lines, had begun. It was eventually to gut the entire north side of the street, including the bungalow where Margaret White gave birth to her daughter.
On the west end of town, just below what is commonly caned Brickyard Hill, the worst disaster had taken place. The explosion of a gas main and a resulting fire that raged out of control through most of the next day.
And if we look at these flash points on a municipal map (see page facing), we can pick out Carrie's route - a wandering, looping path of destruction through the town, but one with an almost certain destination: home ...
Something toppled over in the living room, and Margaret White straightened up, cocking her head to one side. The butcher knife glittered dully in the light of the flames. The electric power had gone off sometime before, and the only fight in the house came from the fire up the street.
One of the pictures fell from the wall with a thump. A moment later the Black Forest cuckoo clock fell. The mechanical bird gave a small, strangled squawk and was still.
From the town the sirens whooped endlessly, but she could still hear the footsteps when they turned up the walk.
The door blew open. Steps in the hall.
She heard the plaster plaques in the living room (CHRIST, THE UNSEEN GUEST, WHAT WOULD JESUS DO, THE HOUR DRAWETH NIGH; IF TONIGHT BECAME JUDGMENT, WOULD YOU BE READY) explode one after the other, like plaster birds in a shooting gallery.
(o i've been there and seen the harlots shimmy on wooden stages)
She sat up on her stool like a very bright scholar who has gone to the head of the class, but her eyes were deranged.
The living-room windows blew outward.
The kitchen door dammed and Carrie walked in.
Her body seemed to have become twisted, shrunken, cronelike. The prom dress was in tatters and flaps, and the pig blood had began to clot and streak. There was a smudge of grease on her forehead and both knees were scraped and raw-looking.
'Momma,' she whispered. Her eyes were preternaturally bright, hawklike, but her mouth was trembling. If someone had been them to watch, he would have been struck by the resemblance between them.
Margaret White sat on her kitchen stool, the carving knife hidden among the folds of her dress in her lap.
'I should have killed myself when he put it in me,' she said clearly. 'After the first time, before we were married, he promised. Never again. He said we just ... slipped. I believed him. I fell down and I lost the baby and that was God's judgment. I felt that the sin had been expiated. By blood. But sin never dies. Sin ... never ... dies.' Her eyes glittered.
'At first it was all right. We lived sinlessly. We slept in the same bed, belly to belly sometimes, and O, I could feel the presence of the Serpent, but we never did until.' She began to grin, and it was a hard, terrible grin. 'And that night I could see him looking at me That Way. We got down on our knees to pray for strength and he... touched me. In that place. That woman place. And I sent him out of the house. He was gone for hours, and I prayed for him. I could see him in my mind's eye, walking the midnight streets, wrestling with the devil as Jacob wrestled with the Angel of the Lord. And when he came back, my heart was filled with thanksgiving.'
She paused, grinning her dry, spitless grin into the shifting shadows of the room.
'Momma, I don't want to hear it!'
Plates began to explode in the cupboards like clay pigeons.
'It wasn't until he came in that I smelled the whiskey on his breath. And he took me. Took me! With the stink of filthy roadhouse whiskey still on him he took me ... and I liked it She screamed out the last words at the ceiling. 'I liked it o all that dirty fucking and his hands on me ALL OVER ME!'
She broke off as if slapped and blinked at her daughter 'I almost killed myself,' she said in a more normal tone of voice. 'And Ralph wept and talked about atonement and I didn't and then he was dead and then I thought God had visited me with cancer; that He was turning my female parts into something as black and rotten as my sinning soul. But that would have been too easy. The Lord works in mysterious ways, His wonders to perform. I see that now. When the pains began I went and got a knife - this knife-' she held it up '-and waited for you to come so I could make my sacrifice. But I was weak and backsliding. I took this knife in hand again when you were three, and I backslid again. So now the devil has come home.'
She held the knife up, and her eyes fastened hypnotically on the glittering hook of its blade.
Carrie took a slow, blundering step forward.