WEDNESDAY OCTOBER 9 – TOWN MEETING
Since the sanctuary at New Hope is much bigger than the school auditorium, and especially since the town now had power and cars were running, we had decided to put a couple of signs up at the school telling everyone to come to the church instead. Clyde decided to leave Rod Weaver at the school to direct people how to find us. He told Rod to wait half an hour until around 10:30 or so for any stragglers who might show up, and then join us at the church. It would likely be an irritation for everyone, but it really was the best solution.
Like Mitch, the small size of the school auditorium had been worrying me too. Sarah, Lilly Duncan and her twin sister Byllie made two huge signs which we stapled to the front and side doors of the school. Rod waited in the squad car out front, ready to direct people to the church. By 10:30, the Church was pretty much filled. If the stated church capacity was 600, then I estimated we had at least that many here, give or take a few. Rod decided to wait an additional 15 minutes, so he was the last one to arrive. He slipped in quietly around 10:45.
At 10:15 we decided to go ahead and begin. We had all agreed yesterday that since it was Will’s church, he should chair the meeting with Clyde and Mike – the two remaining town selectmen assisting.
Will brought the meeting to order with a prayer and an invitation for everyone to join him every Sunday at 10:00 for Bible study and worship. Next we took a count of how many people were in attendance. We handed out slips of paper asking everyone to write their names, addresses and number of people in the household, including phone numbers if they were willing to give them. We would collect and tally them after the meeting. We also asked for the names of anyone under the age of 18 so we could determine the number of youth left in town. Among ourselves, we already knew there weren’t going to be any children or infants left here.
From somewhere in the church, Will had found a slender wooden podium and put it in the center of the stage. He had also removed all the musical instruments – all except the keyboard.
We had gotten there early to make sure we had everything in order: plenty of pens and paper for those who might want to take notes, along with the slips of paper so we would be able to determine a more accurate count. Finally, before handing the podium off to Clyde, Will announced that from now on New Hope would become the hub of the community – the community center – since neither the schoolhouse nor our tiny City Hall offered enough space. City Hall was a two-story building. The mayor’s office, the city judge’s office, and the town’s courtroom were located upstairs; the police department, small dispatcher’s cubicle, chief’s office, and the 4-cell jail were located downstairs. There was less space there than at the elementary school.
Will Farrell took time to give a brief summary about the rapture and who was taken in it. He didn’t elaborate or go into detail, but simply said that he would be teaching in detail on this subject in his sermon this coming Sunday and that all who were interested were welcome to come join him. He told them they could come in their regular attire, and urged those who had them to bring their Bibles and a notebook and pen with them so they could take notes.
Acting Chief of Police Dewey Upshaw, who would be speaking on behalf of Mayor Potts, sat onstage along with the mayor, Clyde and Mike.
Mayor Potts had already told Clyde and Mike that he’d be there to lend support and the authority of his position, but that he did not want to speak. He said he’d back whatever they had decided. We weren’t surprised. We all knew Roy Potts would have had a heart attack if he had to actually contribute anything. Nobody minded. As I said before, he’s a genial man whose only desire was to be mayor. We appreciated his support, though, because his presence along with the other town leaders did give the people a sense of solidarity and normality in a completely abnormal situation. Their presence made a good showing of a functional town government that was demonstrating leadership in the midst of uncertainty.
Pastor Will gave off an aura of calmness. It became clear that he was going to be a stabilizing presence as well. I didn’t know Will Farrell before all this happened, but the Will we met Monday was light-years away from the clownish, phony, self-serving man Vinnie Sawyer had described to us. God was already changing people in dramatic ways, myself and my friends included.
After Will’s opening prayer and announcements, Dewey Upshaw took the podium to speak for a moment. He told the people assembled that after consulting with Mayor Potts (who sat there sagaciously nodding his agreement), because of the disappearance of Chief Reggie Porter it had been decided to reinstate Clyde Norris as Chief of Police, and that he, Dewey, would return to his role as Assistant Chief. With that done, Clyde took the podium and laid out our security plan.
“First o’ all,” said Clyde in that hard mountain brogue, “We need ta address several issues that need ta be dealt with today while we’re all t’gether. I’ll speak ta th’ situation from a safety an’ security perspective, then young Mitchell Graham is gon’ ta address some other thangs we all need ta be aware of. As most all y’all know by now, th’ police force is down by half since th’ vanishin’s occurred early last Thursday mornin’. Both Chief Porter an’ officer Bucky Thompson are among th’ missin’. Now whether or not you b’lieve what Pastor Will said ’bout th’ rapture bein’ th’ cause o’ these disappearances – which fer th’ record, I do b’lieve is th’ cause – what we’re here ta do t’day is ta form a plan ta deal with th’ situation as it stands, regardless o’ what th’ cause was. Iff’n this ‘event’ as we’ll call it… iff’n it was th’ rapture, then we kin expect that what happened here has also happened everwhare.”
There was a rumbling in the crowd; apparently there were a number of those present who weren’t buying the explanation about the rapture being the cause of the vanishings, but Clyde quickly quelled the incipient discord and got the meeting back on track.
“What I’d like ta do is tell y’all what we’re gon’ do ta beef up th’ security fer the town. Th’ first thang we need ta do is replace th’ two officers that’re gone. I’ve already talked ta two men I want to add ta th’ force as sorta temporary auxiliary officers. These boys’ll act as backup fer me, Dewey, an’ Rod as needed until we kin find permanent replacements. We’ve asked Bobby Thorpe an’ Willy Jackson ta serve. Both o’ them has agreed ta hep us out till then. Regardless o’ what y’all thank happened, what we as a town has got ta do is ta deal with th’ situation that is. We’ve got ta deal with th’ aftermath of it regardless. Here’s what’s almost certainly gon’ happen sooner rather than later. We kin expect a heap o’ people good and bad to be showin’ up here, ‘specially now that th’ power’s back on. Many o’ them will be decent folks who’re gon’ be desperate ta git outta th’ cities; folks lookin’ ta find a safe haven. On t’other hand, a goodly number o’ the ones who will find us are likely ta be troublemakers: drug addicts, an’ worse.”
Clyde paused, wrinkling his brow and pressing his lips together. “…Men, after th’ meetin’ t’day, I’d like ta meet with anyone interested in joinin’ Bobby an’ Willy. I want all y’all ta hark ta what I’m sayin’. Stay vigilant. Keep a close watch but don’t go playin’ Wyatt Earp. We’re still Americans, an’ we still abide by th’ law o’ th’ land. So iff’n you got a level head on yer shoulders, an’ yore willin’ ta follow orders – mine an’ Dewey’s orders – an’ uphold th’ law; iff’n ya kin show us you kin handle a gun without killin’ yerself or any o’ th’ rest o’ us, then we need ya, but only on th’ terms me an’ Dewey set out.
“An’ by th way,” Clyde said, taking on a much sterner tone of voice, “from this day on beginnin’ right now, consider this town under martial law fer th’ foreseeable future. This is now in effect fer everybody exceptin’ these here ones:
#1 – whatever deputies, fer want of a better word, we add who are on patrol.
#2 – those workin’ on a farm like them out ta Amos’ place who need ta be out afore th’ sun comes up ta tend ta livestock. But that exception applies only on farm property itself.
#3 – the medical staff o’ th’ clinic, an only then in emergencies. Everyone, an’ I do mean everyone else is ta be in yer homes from 6:00 PM ta 6:00 AM.
Translated that means from dusk ta dawn. What this boils down to is this: iff’n it’s dark outside, you ain’t s’posed ta be!” Clyde said in his sternest voice. “It’s th’ only way we kin hope ta secure th’ town.” Clyde then took his seat beside Mayor Potts.
Mitch took the podium next. While Mitch spoke, I was again amazed to see a stronger, more confident, more mature man emerge. Mitch too was changing from the slightly reticent, somewhat geeky young guy we knew into a man of confidence and leadership. The rapture, and most especially God’s hand upon our lives, was changing us all.
“I want to begin,” he said, “by laying all the cards, so to speak, on the table so that we all clearly understand as best we can what we are dealing with as individuals, families, and as a community. Like Clyde said earlier, there are issues we aren’t going to be able to flinch away from; serious issues we are going to have to deal with sooner rather than later.
First of all, I want to be on the record as both Clyde and Pastor Will have done, by saying that I too am 100% convinced that the vanishings were indeed what the Bible calls the ‘rapture of the Church.’ Now we don’t have time to get into the theology of that today, but even if you don’t believe it, I strongly urge you to come Sunday and listen to Pastor Will. At least be willing to hear him out. This is an event that is unprecedented in all of human history, and you owe it to yourselves and your community to at least hear him out. No one is going to force you to believe in anything you choose not to accept. Nevertheless, the rapture does explain the reason that infants, children, and others like Toby Barnes who, as you know, was mentally handicapped, are gone and why others like ourselves are not. Pastor Will is going to address all of that on Sunday.
Now, the other part of the events that happened last Thursday,” Mitch continued, “was that, in addition to the vanishings, we also experienced something like an EMP event. If you aren’t clear on what an EMP is, Will and I have printed out a short explanation of it, and we’ll hand them out to anyone who wants one at the end of the meeting. In short, an EMP – Electromagnetic Pulse, is a disruption in the magnetosphere – the protective electrical field that surrounds the earth. An EMP can… well, let’s say “short out” the earth’s protective electrical field, frying and damaging anything electronic unless such things have been hardened, protected, beforehand. That’s a very simplified explanation, but it gives you an idea.
What an EMP does is that it disrupts the magnetic field over the area affected by it, the result being that anything electrical or that has electronic components is fried – they will no longer work. Cell phones, computers, household appliances, and cars built after, say, the late 1970s won’t run because they have electronic components that can be damaged, sometimes permanently by a strong enough EMP, depending on the severity of the electromagnetic pulse. There are two sources for an EMP: one is a high-altitude nuclear blast. Now this is not the same thing as a nuclear bomb being dropped on a city. This is a nuclear blast detonated at high altitude over a particular area. In an EMP detonation, there is no damage done to people or building structures as there would be in an actual nuclear strike.
Depending on where an EMP is targeted, the strength of it, and altitude at which it is detonated, it can affect a small area or an area as large as the entire United States, providing the burst is high enough and strong enough. The second type of EMP is caused by CMEs – coronal mass ejections, what we call solar flares. If the CME is powerful enough, say an X class, it too can do the same type of damage that a high- altitude nuclear detonation can produce; but like the nuclear one, the CME will only target the area that was exposed to it.” Mitch paused and took a sip of bottled water.
“The point I’m getting at is this: in either a nuclear high-altitude detonation or a CME, the resultant EMP will only affect the areas that were targeted, or in the case of a CME, the area of the earth towards which the coronal hole was facing when the flares ejected. The thing we need to understand regarding what has occurred here is this:
NEITHER of those events can disrupt or affect the entire world at the same time. Both can only affect places where they are targeted, if you will. This is a very important distinction. Now, even though we don’t yet have outside confirmation that the vanishings that many of us firmly believe to have been the rapture are global in scope, we fully expect that the vanishings we’ve experienced here in Norrisville, and the area affected by this EMP event will have happened worldwide. Furthermore, it is our contention that this EMP-LIKE event is in some way directly related to the disappearances.” He paused to let everyone digest what he’d said before resuming.
“See, in a normal EMP event, whether solar or nuclear, only certain areas would be affected, not the entire earth. Also, in a normal EMP event, the power may not come back for months or possibly even years if it were strong enough. The same goes for cars. What we’ve experienced here seems to be an anomaly. It’s not behaving the way an EMP would behave, even though some of the effects seem to mimic an EMP. I, we, believe that the EMP-like effects that we’ve experienced are directly related to the disappearances that we are convinced is the rapture. I won’t go into my theory or conjecture of how I think this relates to the vanishings now because we have other more pressing issues to deal with today; but later, maybe at our next town meeting, I can elaborate more fully if anyone is interested in hearing. We plan to have town meetings here at New Hope Church and Community Center every Wednesday at 10 AM for all who are able and wish to attend. We can elaborate and discuss all this further at those meetings.
What we need to do now is to determine how we can all pull together as a community. I, we, are convinced that as soon as we get news in from the outside; as soon as the President or whoever is in charge addresses the nation, we are certain that the news will confirm that this has been indeed a global event, and that the aftermath of it is what we must prepare for as best we can for as long as we can. If we plan now, we can maybe get a little ahead of the curve.” Mitch grasped the podium and leaned slightly forward, raising his voice a tad. “Here are the main areas that the town needs to be aware of and pull together to deal with:
(1) TOWN SAFETY AND SECURITY – Clyde has already touched on that. He told me earlier that he has one more announcement to make before we all adjourn, but for now, let me go on.
(2) TOWN-WIDE FOOD AND RESOURCES: AVAILABILITY, INVENTORY, AND DISTRIBUTION – Mike Harper, Eva King, Carter Grant and Byllie Duncan are in charge of inventorying the town food and clothing supply. This will include forming food and clothing scouting parties to go into the homes of those we’ve already identified where people are among the missing. This may sound heartless or even criminal, but I assure you that it’s not. If this is a global event, then in big cities there will already be chaos. Supply and distribution services for food, medicines, and just plain everyday items we take for granted such as napkins, toilet paper, toothpaste, laundry detergent, gasoline for cars and trucks, ALL of that and more will already have been severely disrupted, if not halted altogether. Make no mistake; in the cities, chaos will have already reached frightening proportions: rioting, looting, robbery, murder; you name it. Supply for goods and services may already be impossible. This will include deliveries from trains, trucks, planes and other transport that distributes goods,” Mitch said, keeping eye contact with the crowd.
The severity of our situation was finally beginning to dawn on everyone assembled there as it had on us earlier. I saw faces round as moons with wide, staring eyes, their collective gaze focused intently on Mitch. The atmosphere became solemn. He had their undivided attention now.
“We need volunteers who will be willing to work with Mike and Eva, Carter and Byllie. We also need those who have gardens to coordinate with them. Eva and Carter also need some help out at Amos Brazele’s farm. We need volunteers to help with the harvesting; and if we are able, planting next spring. If there are any of you women (or men for that matter) who know how to can food, we need to can, dehydrate, smoke, or somehow preserve all usable meat and produce. Men, we need to hunt, fish, and help Carter and Mike slaughter a couple of hogs at Amos’ place. Then we need to preserve as much as we can. Winter is coming, and we are all in this together for as long as we are able.
(3) HEALTH AND MEDICAL CARE – As you may or may not know, Doctor Barnett is among the missing. We do know that Lilly Duncan who worked at the clinic with Doc Barnett as his nurse is still here. We don’t have another doctor in town, but we do have Terrell Tyler who, as y’all know, is an EMT. We also have a newcomer who is here with us now, Sarah Arrowood. She was here visiting her brother Dan, who, along with his wife and little daughter, are also among the missing. Before the rapture, Sarah worked as a trauma nurse at Emory University Hospital Midtown in Atlanta, Georgia. Sarah has agreed to work with Trail…I mean Terrell.” Mitch blushed and continued.
“Terrell, Lilly and Sarah will be setting up and inventorying the clinic. Please bear in mind that Terrell is not an MD, and we don’t know what shape Iverson Baptist may be in if anyone should need more extensive medical care. It’s very likely that even if Iverson Baptist is functional now, we won’t know how many of its staff still remain, or how long the hospital will remain operational once the supplies run out there. This is just another reason we need to pull together to become as self-sufficient as possible. Anyone who would be interested in helping them out, let Terrell know. Any vet techs, CNA’s or any veterinarians for that matter, would be useful and very much welcomed.
(4) DEALING WITH THE DEAD – This is the last, for now, and least pleasant topic, but it’s one of the most important. There have been at least 23 people, maybe more by now, who have succumbed to illnesses or, sadly, in some cases, suicide since last Thursday. Clyde has already organized and some of us have conducted a sort of census of the town, from the town limit coming in from Iverson on route 25, all the way out to Lickskillet Road. As you may have seen, many houses have an X marked on them in red tape. These are houses that have been identified as homes of people who are among the missing. These will be the homes that the Food and Resource Committee will be checking out to gather food, clothing, weapons, toiletries, medicines – anything that can be useful to the community of Norrisville. We have designated the elementary school as headquarters for resources and storage, and the clinic for all things medical. We also need anyone willing to help Bobby Thorpe and Mike Harper secure the ground floor windows of the school so that what we store there is safe and out of sight from people coming into town from outside whom we may not know. Check with Bobby if you can help.
The houses that are marked with orange tape, as I’m sure many of you have by now realized, are homes where there are dead. We did the best we could Monday to aid those who were still alive – three who were comatose, and one almost so. But as you know, the power did not come back on until late Monday night. Sadly, those who were barely alive when we canvassed on Monday were no longer alive on Tuesday when we checked back.
What we need to establish and deal with as soon as possible is this: what do we do with the bodies of the dead. I want to ask Trail… Aw, shoot y’all,” Mitch said with a grimace, “I can’t remember to call him Terrell all the time; most of y’all know we call him Trail anyway, so that’s what I’m going to do.” That gave everyone a bit of a laugh and made the atmosphere lighter. “I’m going to have Trail explain our decision from a health and safety perspective,” Mitch said, motioning Trail to join him.
“Alright, folks,” Trail began, “we are faced with a grave, no pun intended, potential health issue regarding the disposition of deceased bodies. Now that the power is back on, for as long as it lasts, dealing with any future deaths won’t be too much of a problem. We do have Grey’s Mortuary here, and Grey’s has a crematorium as well as a backhoe that can be used to dig graves. As long as the power remains on, the crematorium will be our most useful resource to take care of any future deaths. We cannot afford to bury people once we run out of cement, grave liners or caskets. The risk of contamination of groundwater is too great.
The problem we are facing now, though, is what to do with those 20 or so bodies of town residents who expired inside their homes, each in different stages of… Here he paused… “decomposition. We must decide how to most safely handle this situation, and we need to do it beginning early tomorrow morning. We can’t afford to wait any longer now that we have power and transportation. Decomposing bodies pose biological hazards. We can’t afford to delay taking care of this now that we have the ability to do so. Dead bodies harbor pathogens such as cholera, typhus, and Hepatitis C among other things.” Trail paused for a few seconds, letting this information sink in.
“Now the safest thing from a biosafety perspective,” he continued, “will be to cremate the remains. I know that some people may have religious or personal objections to cremation; and in normal times, those preferences should be honored. However, our greatest concern has to be the safety of the entire town, and in the case where there are multiple deaths in multiple places, we need to take prudent precautions with the limited amount of help we have available. In the future, even doing this much will become impossible, but we will do our best for as long as we are able.
We are going to need people willing to go in and bag the bodies in suitable wrappings to be brought back to the mortuary to be cremated properly. Those who would be tasked with extracting the bodies ideally would be fully dressed in hazmat suits, wearing Nitrile gloves and full-face respirators. However, we don’t have any of that available here. Still, we cannot risk anyone handling the bodies without some type of protective gear. We can make do, and very safely I believe, with air face filters which Mike already has on hand at the store, and using heavy-gauge garbage bags, heavy quilts or rugs, plastic grocery bags as shoe covers, and thick rubber gloves. Using these substitutes, I believe we will be well protected.
Outside of the small health risks to individuals, if we take precautions,” Trail continued, “we can extract the bodies safely. If we don’t, there is the very real possibility of contamination of groundwater. We had considered just leaving the bodies where they were, letting their homes become their mausoleums, so to speak; but after more consideration and debate, the two nurses and I have decided against that.
Simply leaving the bodies in situ, in the places where they died, we run a much greater risk of animal predation. Wild or abandoned animals, especially black bears, bobcats, and cougars which are plentiful in these hills, would be attracted by the odor of decomposition and would very likely try to break in to get at the bodies. If they gain access to the remains, this will draw them right into our town where they might eventually stop fearing humans and become much more of a threat. We all know that black bears can open doors, even bust them down to gain entry. I, we, think we need to handle this situation before that can happen. As a body decays naturally, the internal gasses can cause it to…well…” Here Trail faltered, seeing the looks on people’s faces.
“Well, look, we are going to have to face some hard-to-swallow home truths here. We cannot risk bodily fluids running under doors and out into streets, seeping into the ground or into your well water, and we absolutely cannot risk leaving them there where animal predation becomes a risk. Also, some pathogens and germs are hearty and can survive a long time on a decomposing body. It’s not a risk worth taking if it can possibly be helped. Look, I know how ghastly this is to even bring up, but we’ve got to deal with what is not what we wish it was.” Trail paused, and then looked around at the crowd as he spoke.
“Having explained the gravity of the situation we face as best I can, I’m going to ask as many as think they can handle it to join me, Sarah, Lilly, and Pete Grey from the mortuary in forming a body retrieval and disposal committee. We will outfit us all as safely as we are able to do. We will also give each person a jar of Vicks to help with the odor. I will tell you up front that it will be laborious, unpleasant, heartbreaking work; however, we do have two factors going in our favor: First, we only have around 23 or so bodies to remove; and second, the weather is cool, it being early to mid October, so this task won’t be as dreadful as it would have been had we been faced with it in high summer.
We will supply everything you will need. You just need to wear old clothes and bring a change of clothes – underwear and outerwear. The clothes you wear, make sure you are okay disposing of. We will burn those and all blankets, sheets and other burnable contaminated materials. Afterward, we will disinfect with bleach as best we can the areas inside the homes that need it, then we will seal up the homes, padlock the doors, and spray or paint with black paint CONTAMINATED ZONE on each of the houses. That’s the best we can do, and we believe it will be better than just adequate.
There’s one last thing I want to make absolutely clear,” Trail stated with conviction. “We are going to treat the remains of the deceased with dignity and respect. These people were friends, neighbors and possibly family to some of you. They didn’t ask to die in this horrific situation, and I assure you, we will treat their mortal remains with dignity and respect as human beings. What happens to the human body after death is the natural result of fallen humanity. Death and the indignities attendant with it are a reality. We will remember this at all times and not treat this task as some lark, nor will we allow any jokes to be made at their expense. We need as many people as are willing to help, but if you aren’t willing to deal with these poor souls’ remains with the dignity and respect that a human being deserves, then I’d rather not have you. It’s as simple as that.
Now, if we can get twelve people to volunteer, we can rotate. We’ll always go in with two people; and if we can rotate teams, it won’t overtax us all,” Trail pointed out. “Look, I realize that some people just may not be able to handle this task physically or emotionally. There’s absolutely no shame in that. You can help out in other ways. But if you think you can handle it, we surely could use the help. So, with that said, can we find at least twelve volunteers to help me, Pete, and the girls?” Trail’s face was earnest and pleading.
I raised my hand that I would help, as did Clyde, Dewey, Mitch, Carter, Will – and bless her – Eva. I certainly didn’t want to, but Trail’s plea had come from the heart. It moved me. It must have moved others too. We didn’t get twelve volunteers; we got thirty, both men and women. I don’t think I’ve ever been more proud of my fellow townspeople than right then. I also knew that I wanted more than anything to see as many of them as would come to salvation. That burden was so heavy it hurt.
Before we adjourned the meeting, Clyde called for a vote to add two more people to the town council. His nominations were Mitch and Will Farrell. His decision to hold the vote until the end was brilliant. Doing it this way, the people got to see these two young men in leadership roles. As I said before, Clyde may sound as if he’s a dumb country hick, but that hillbilly persona hid a wicked sharp mind. If Mitch could see 10 steps ahead, Clyde could see a mile. The vote by raised hands was unanimous. We adjourned the meeting.
Afterward, we tallied the number in attendance. Lilly Duncan, Sarah and Eva recorded the names, addresses, and phone numbers in a new “Ledger of the Town.” This was what we found:
Before the rapture, Norrisville township had a population of 1,567 souls. After the rapture, we lost 60% of the population; most of them in the rapture but some like Big Mike’s son and daughter, Harp, and the neighbors down from Sarah, the dispositions of those people we just didn’t know. That meant that somewhere around 941 people from Norrisville either vanished in the rapture or were out of town with their disposition unknown post R Day, as we had begun to refer to it. That left us with a population of around 625 as near as we could tell. Taking away the post-R-Day dead, the population in Norrisville now stood around 602, give or take with five teenagers – three boys and two girls around 17-18 years old. This is what was left of Norrisville after the rapture. It was a staggering realization.
(to be continued)