Copyright 2010 by Gary L. Pullman
After he and Julia consummate their newfound love for one another, Barbie telephonically communicates with Colonel Cox, asking for two helicopters to be sent to the dome.
In the methamphetamine lab behind WCIK radio, Phil (“The Chef”) Bushey and Andy Sanders make plans to resist anyone that Big Jim may send against them, The Chef advising the selectman to aim for their enemies’ heads, since they are apt to be wearing body armor. The Chef has donned the white cross on a rawhide string that Julia saw in her hallucination at the dome generator.
Ollie Dinsmore awakens to a quiet house. Outside, cows in need of milking sound their distress. Ollie cannot find his father, Alden, anywhere, until he approaches the closed door to the room in which Ollie’s grandfather, suffering from the late stages of cancer, died. A note on the door reads, “Sorry. Go to town, Ollie. The Morgans or Dentons or Rev . Libby will take you in” (925). Inside the room, dead father lies supine on the same bed in which Ollie’s grandfather died. After getting sick, Ollie feeds the cows. Then, he decides he will go to the dome and pitch rocks against the invisible barrier. Later, he will return to the farm and bury his father’s corpse near his mother’s grave.
Following Big Jim’s orders to locate Barbie and his supporters, Special Deputy Carter Thibodeau ascertains that Piper Libby Pete Freeman, Tony Guay, and Rose Twitchell are all absent and unaccounted for. He wants to determine whether Rusty Everett is also missing, so he stops by the Everett house. Thurston Marshall is in the backyard, playing with the four children, Alice and Aidan Appleton and Judy and Janelle Everett. Carter viciously twists Linda’s arm behind her back, demanding to know Rusty’s whereabouts. She finally convinces him that she doesn’t know where her husband is, and, after sexually assaulting her, Carter leaves Linda.
Piper allows Norrie Calvert to make contact with the dome generator, and the girl verifies what Barbie has suspected: the aliens who have imprisoned them under the dome and who observe them over a distance of light years, are sadistic extraterrestrial children. Although the aliens hear Norrie when she asks them why they are keeping them prisoners and observing them, the townspeople’s captors, she says, didn’t bother to answer her question because they “just didn’t care” (935). As Piper and Norrie discuss the extraterrestrial youth, the helicopters requested by Barbie arrive.
Troops unload the helicopters’ cargo: “dozens of Air Max fans with attached generators” (936). Colonel Cox is unable to transport any fans to “the [Highway] 119 side” (937) of the dome because the aircraft cannot enter the airspace above the barrier. Barbie briefs Colonel Cox as to what is happening under the dome.
As Linda Everett and her charges, Judy and Janelle and Alice and Aidan, wait for Thurston Marshall to snip sections from the lead roll behind Burpee’s department store, “a police loudspeaker” announces a new restriction upon the townspeople: “CARS ARE NOT ALLOWED ON THE HIGHWAY! UNLESS YOU ARE PHYSICALLY DISABLED, YOU MUST WALK” (942). It seems that daily, and even more often, the freedoms that the people of Chester’s Mill take for granted are taken away, without due process, as Big Jim Rennie and his cronies continue to take advantage of the crisis represented by the descent of the dome. Again, the parallels to the Obama administration’s continuing power grabs, although probably unintended by King, are hard to miss. Thurston insists upon leaving the metal snips at the scene, in case others need them, but he forgets to do so, stuffing them into his belt. Remembering Carter Thibodeau’s sexual assault against her, Linda, exasperated at Thurston’s slowness, jerks the shears from his belt to return them to their hiding place herself and, as she does so, “a vehicle slid in behind the van, blocking access to West Street, the only way out of this cul-de-sac” (943). At first, because Linda has been afraid of Carter or other police officers cutting off their escape from town, the reader assumes that the vehicle may be a police car; however the vague way in which the omniscient narrator describes the means of transportation (as a “vehicle,” rather than as a police car) implies that there is no cause for such an assumption.
As the townspeople walk toward the Dome Visitors’ Day meeting place, Carter joins Big Jim in the selectman’s air-conditioned Hummer, and, as the politician characterizes the people he serves, his contempt for his constituents and fellow citizens is as plain as his arrogance (an arrogance, one might add, that seems more typical than not of many actual elected officials and bureaucrats): “They want food, Oprah, country music, and a warm bed to thump uglies in when the sun goes down” (944). Carter’s new status is demonstrated when Big Jim invites the police chief, Peter Randolph, who passes by, to join them, but to sit in the back, not the front, seat.
The vehicle that cuts off Linda and her passengers is the hospital’s ambulance, van driven by Douglas Twitchell. Rusty has telephoned the medical staff and told them to abandon the hospital and get out of town. Accompanying Rusty are Ginny Tomlinson, Gina Buffalino, and Samantha Bushey’s baby, Little Walter--more of King’s remnant of the townspeople, his chosen ones who will help to defeat the human evildoers who have corrupted Chester’s Mill and the sadistic aliens (if aliens they actually are) who have isolated the town under the dome so they can watch the horror show. When she’s told that Main Street is impassible, Linda says she has no intention of driving down that artery, because it passes the “cop shop” (947) and specifies her route, which will be via West Street to Highland. The reader wonders whether Linda’s conveying of this information will be significant or whether it is just the sort of idle chatter in which human beings, under stress, sometimes engage.
Chief Randolph insists upon leading the attack against the methamphetamine lab, to which Big Jim agrees, although the politician insists (several times) that he attack the site by way of the access road that leads through the woods, so as to be able to blindside The Chef and Andy Sanders. (The reader immediately anticipates that Chief Randolph will not do so and will consequently jeopardize his mission). The reader also learns, as he or she probably surmised much earlier, that Big Jim plans to replace Pete Randolph with Carter Thibodeau as the new police chief. Indeed, Big Jim hopes that the present police chief will be killed in the raid.
With Carter’s mention of the stale air as he entered Big Jim’s Hummer (“The air smells like a frickin ashtray” ), King reminds his reader of the worsening atmosphere under the dome, and he does so again, as Linda and her passengers, leaving town, almost encounter Big Jim, and she swerves off the street: “She parked on someone’s lawn, behind a tree. It was a good-sized oak, but the van was big, too, and the oak had lost most of its listless leaves” (949).
Once Big Jim and Carter return to Town hall to watch their fellow citizens congregate at the Dome Visitors’ Day site, Linda speeds out of town. Big Jim has ordered Carter to instruct Thurston Marshall that he is forbidden to leave town, and Carter hopes that he may also have another opportunity to sexually assault Linda, but, as his quarry escapes, he will be too late to accomplish either Big Jim’s or his own mission.
As the townspeople gather at the Dome Visitors’ Day site, it is apparent that many are unprepared for a day in the sun. They fail to bring protection from the sun’s rays, to bring drinking water, and to refrain from eating foods that will make them thirsty later in the day. Big Jim’s failure to provide portable toilets or emergency medical personnel, equipment, and vehicles is also apparent. The day is shaping up for catastrophe, just as Big Jim hopes and intends. Still, Special Deputy Henry Morrison does his best to keep order and provide needed services, even dispatching Special Deputy Pamela Chen to the school for a bus to use to transport the sick and lame, if not the lazy, back to town at the end of the day. The lack of crickets’ “singing” (958) advertises, once again, the devastating effect that the dome is having on the town’s enclosed atmosphere.
As they watch the townspeople assemble at the Dome Visitors’ Day site, The Chef and Andy Sanders, armed with military assault rifles and hand grenades, make last-minute plans to stand off and defeat the attackers they believe will come to shut down the amphetamine lab. The Chef will hide inside “the Christian Meals on Wheels truck” and engage their attackers if they arrive by way of the access road, as he suspects they may, while Andy will keep watch “out front” (960). If either of them whistles, the other will run to his aid.
Barbie and the others atop Black Ridge watch the townspeople trek toward the Dome Visitors’ Day site and observe the hospital ambulance as it makes its way up the mountain, toward the McCoy cabin. Barbie, Joe McClatchey, and Julia Shumway say that they can feel the aliens watching them.
Big Jim and Carter also watch, on television, as the crowd surges forward, crushing the ones in front against the side of the invisible dome. Special Deputy Morrison and his fellow lawmen fire their pistols into the air, restoring order, as they order the crowd to spread out along the side of the dome rather than to bunch up against it. Stephen King’s favorite news source, CNN, and three of his favorite journalists, Wolf Blitzer, Anderson Cooper, and Candy Cowley (Dome Visitors’ Day is such a huge event that it takes all three reporters’ talents to cover the story properly, it seems), report the happening.
On the outside of the dome, the soldiers are unable to prevent the arriving family members and friends from “stampeding” toward their trapped loved ones, and “one” visitor is “killed in this stampede and fourteen. . . injured, half a dozen seriously” (964). Others, implanted with “various electronic medical devices” are killed by the dome itself.
King’s omniscient narrator’s description of the nearly riotous manner in which both the dome’s visitors and victims act, stampeding like wild cattle, or sheep without a shepherd, recalls Big Jim’s characterization of his constituents as “ants” or “sheep” that need to be taken care of by more responsible leaders, or “shepherds.” In his depiction of the men and women inside and outside Chester’s Mill, King seems to agree with Big Jim’s assessment of human beings. Many of his characters arrive without water or proper protection from the sun. They have given little thought to the best foods to bring. Overcome by their emotions, they rush forward, crushing or trampling one another, when there is no need to behave in such a mindless and injurious fashion. Possessed of a mob mentality, they react only to gunshots and profanity. Without someone, whether it is Deputy Henry Morrison or Big Jim Rennie, many of the townspeople would be unable to take care of themselves or their families. It is only the few, King implies, who are able to fend for themselves: cunning, but self-serving and unscrupulous men of audacious daring, such as Big Jim; those who have police or military training, such as Barbie, Henry, and others; those who have the love and compassion that it takes to put the needs of others, such as family members and friends, ahead of their own safety and welfare; and, curiously, those who, like Ollie Dinsmore, have endured great suffering. It is as if having lost his family, Ollie’s eyes are opened to the absurdity of life, both in big and small matters. When he sees seventeen-year-old Mary Lou Costras carrying her infant son to the Dome Visitors’ Day site, Ollie “wonders if she’s insane, bringing a kid that small out here in this heat, without even a hat to protect its head” (953), a point that is seconded by Henry:
“I think there’s a Red Sox hat in the back of my car,” Henry says. “If so, would you take it over there?” He points to the woman Ollie has already noticed, the one with the bareheaded baby. “Put it on the kid and tell that woman she’s an idiot” (954-955).In viewing the congregating townspeople, Ollie’s loss and grief also allow him a detached, if not entirely objective, rather resigned and, perhaps, cynical view of Dome Visitors’ Day: “Ollie thinks what a slow, sad walk they are going to have once the hoopla’s over” (953). He then returns “to the job at hand,” the burial of his father, who committed suicide last night or early this morning.
King may well be right in his assessment of crowd psychology; both psychologists and other writers, including Mark Twain (in his portrayal of the mob that Colonel Sanders turns away in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn), offer similar observations. He may also be right in declaring that some judge others by themselves, as the rather foolish Police Chief Pete Randolph does in having assumed that Deputy Freddy Denton would be angry at him for assuming command of the methamphetamine lab raiding party, a tendency that, King suggests, is illogical, given to error, and potentially risky: “He has expected grief from Freddy for taking over the head honcho role but there is none (Peter Randolph has been judging others by himself all his life), but there is none)”; instead, the wily Freddy thinks, “This is a far bigger deal than rousting skuzzy old drunks out of convenience stores, and Freddy is delighted to hand off the responsibility” (965). Again, King is on the money in this observation , too, but it’s one that he doesn’t apply to himself, apparently, because his fiction is littered with references to pop culture experiences, artifacts, and events that he seems to believe his readers have also experienced and either enjoyed or not, as King himself has enjoyed them or not, and, of course, he is stridently insistent that CNN is the best (and maybe the only authentic) news source in America, if not the world, and that Wolf Blitzer, Anderson Cooper, and the rest of the CNN team can deliver the story better (and, of course, more truthfully) than any other reporters on the planet. Of course, an author must judge others--his characters--by his own personal attitudes, beliefs, emotions, ideas, values, and biases, because he or she is the one and (usually) only individual on hand with whom to consult as he or she writes a novel. The “others” whom he or she thus “judges” are, after all, mere creations of the author’s own imagination, including his or her evaluations of real persons’ conduct and speech, since fictional persons are always based, to some degree, on actual human beings. When King, in “judging others by himself” gets it right, he’s a masterful psychologist; otherwise, he tends toward self-indulgence and personal prejudice. The fact that he gets it right only part of the time is what will probably prevent his acceptance by scholars as a truly great writer, although, on the other hand, it’s doubtful that many of them would classify him as a mere hack. King is more like Edgar Allan Poe was judged to be, by James Russell Lowell, “three-fifths genius and two-fifths sheer fudge” (A Fable for Critics), and, as such, will likely occupy the middle ground between the extremes of the literary genius and the literary hack. Still, in all, that’s not a bad place to be for a writer who admits that his work is “the equivalent of a Big Mac and fries.”
An interesting point about the Dome Visitors’ Day scene, which occupies much of the space from pages 950 to 968, is that there are clear divisions of the action , discernable by which group of characters and which settings occur as the narrative’s action progresses: Special Deputy Henry Morrison, at the site itself; Ollie Dinsmore, burying his father on the family farm; Barbie and his coconspirators at the old McCoy cabin atop Black Ridge; Marta Edmunds watching TV in her Uncle Clayton Brassey’s farmhouse, while the deceased homeowner’s corpse keeps her company; The Chef and Andy Sanders at the meth lab behind the Holy Redeemer Church, awaiting the police’s raid; Chief Randolph and his deputies planning their raid before watching the Dome Visitors’ Day events unfold on TV at the police station (on CNN, of course); the police in transit to the church, having forgotten their helmets and Kevlar vests. To this point in his story, King has tended to subdivide such action into relatively brief, numbered scenes, rather than to include the such potentially stand-alone segments in one, continuous narrative block. One of the effects of this decision is to unify the action while keeping various settings and casts of characters before the reader’s mind, emphasizing that, although divided in purpose, behavior, attitudes, beliefs, attitudes, and perspectives, the townspeople are one community, living in one town--for the present, at least. There is every indication that this solidarity is superficial rather than real and that the threat to Chester’s Mill will soon fragment the town.
King uses the same divide-and-separate tactic with regard to the two platoons of police officers who approach the methamphetamine lab behind the Holy Redeemer Church, where The Chef and Andy Sanders are waiting to ambush their attackers, keeping the reader apprised now of what is happening with one or another of the advancing teams of officers and now of what is occurring with regard to either The Chef or Andy. As a result, the pace is kept brisk and the suspense mounts. King is surprisingly good at describing fight sequences, although, one suspects, he has seldom been in physical altercations and has certainly never participated in either police or military combat operations. The power of the imagination is a wonderful thing, especially when it is bolstered, as King’s often is, by expert consultants and research. The ranks of the advancing police officers are quickly thinned as first The Chef and then Andy decimate their numbers with fire from their AK-47 assault rifles. Among the casualties are Chief Randolph (killed by Andy) and Deputy Freddy Denton (slain by The Chef), the force’s two veteran officers and onsite leaders. They die with the same cowardice that has caused most of the special deputies except Aubrey Towle to flee for their lives. As writers of tales of the wild West are fond of pointing out, it takes a special sort of man to face another armed man--someone like Wyatt Earp or Doc Holliday. There’s a big difference such writers point out, between shooting at unarmed targets or wild animals and facing an armed man who can shoot back an, in doing so, possibly kill his adversary. Courage under fire is a prerequisite to such conflicts that neither Chief Randolph, Deputy Denton, nor most of the special deputies can boast: “They weren’t cops at all, Chef saw; just birds on the ground too dumb to fly”:
With this homily and call to judgment, Chef opened fire, raking them from left to right. Two of the uniformed cops and Stubby Norman flew backward like broken dolls, painting the high trash grass [sic] with their blood. The paralysis of the survivors broke. Two turned and fled to the woods. Conree and the last of the uniformed cops booked for the studio. Chef tracked them and opened fire again. The Kalashnikov burped a brief burst, and then the clip was empty (974).
Frederick Howard Denton, aka Baldy, wasn’t thinking about anything when he reached the back of the WCIK studio. He had seen the Conree girl go down with her throat blown out, and that was the end of rational consideration. All he knew was that he didn’t want his pictiure4 on the Honor Wall. He had to get under cover, and that meant inside. There was a door. Behind it, some gospel group was singing “We’’ Join Hands Around the Throne.”
Freddy grabbed the knob. It refused to turn.
He dropped his gun, raised the hand which had been holding it, and screamed: “I surrender! Don’t shoot, I sur--”
Three heavy blows boxed him low in the back. He saw a splash of red hit the door and had time to think, We should have remembered the body armor. Then he crumpled, still holding onto the knob with one hand as the world rushed away from him. Everything he was and everything he’d ever known diminished to a single burning-bright point of light. Then it went out. His hand slipped off the knob. He died on his knees, leaning against the door (975).
He [Andy Sanders] killed both Bowie brothers and Mr. Chicken with his first fusillade. Randolph he only winged. Andy popped the clip as Chef Bushey had taught him, grabbed another from the waistband of his pants, and slammed it home. Chief Randolph was crawling toward the door of the studio with blood pouring down his right arm and leg. He looked back over his shoulder, his peering eyes huge and bright in his sweaty face.
. . . “Please don’t kill me! Randolph screamed. He put a hand over his face.
“Just think about the roast beef dinner you’ll be eating with Jesus,” Andy said. “Why, three seconds from now you’ll be spreading your napkin.”
The sustained blast from the Kalashnikov rolled Randolph almost all the way to the studio door (978).
Aubrey manages to wound The Chef, but is killed by Andy. As Melvin closes in on the drug addicts, they detonate the explosives by pressing a button on the garage door opener that The Chef has rigged as a detonator.
The explosion sets off another, tremendous explosion, this one of the ten thousand gallons of propane that Big Jim and his cronies had stockpiled at the church for use in making methamphetamine. Barbie, watching with the others of his group, think, “Now we’re under the magnifying glass” (982). King’s townspeople turn their attention to the godlike reporters of CNN for word as to what has just happened, but, for once, even “America’s news stars,” Anderson Cooper, Wolf Blitzer, Candy Crowley, Chad Myers, and Soledad O’Brien, are unable to fathom what has just happened--it’s that huge. The firestorm that results from the explosion rolls across the town, blackening the sky under the dome and catching fire to the town and countryside. Pamela Chen recommends that the townspeople who have congregated at the dome board the bus so that they can speed through the advancing firestorm. Although Special Deputy Morrison doesn’t share his colleague’s optimism, he agrees to her plan.
King’s omniscient narrator devotes a length paragraph to describing the vast damage the raging firestorm does to Chester’s Mill. Peace Bride is “vaporized,” the walls of the police department implode before its bricks shower into the air. The statue of the town’s founder is “uprooted,” and “the buildings along Main Street explode one after another,” incinerating Food Town and “rolling down main roads, boiling their tar into soup” (987) as it spreads everywhere under the dome. Big Jim and Carter have taken refuge in the Town Hall’s bomb shelter, but many other residents have nowhere to ride out the fury of the firestorm. The sky is dark with birds trying to escape the inferno, and animals flee, colliding against the transparent barrier, “the lucky animals” dying, “the unlucky ones” lying “sprawled on pincushions of broken bones, barking and squealing and meowing and bellowing” in agony and terror (988).
Ollie Dinsmore helps himself to the oxygen in his father’s death chamber and takes refuge in his farm’s potato cellar.
Barbie and the others atop Black Ridge return to the McCoy farmhouse, Barbie understanding that the firestorm may exhaust the air supply available toy the under the dome.
With “about a dozen townsfolk” aboard the bus, “among them. . . Mabel Alston, Mary Lou Costas. And Mary Lou’s baby. . . . Leo Lamoine” (990), Chaz Bender, Pamela Chen, and Henry Morrison at the wheel, the bus rams through the firestorm’s wall, but, before it clears the fire, “the windows implode and the bus fills with fire” (991).
Barbie and his party reach the dome, where they ask the soldiers to turn on the huge fans the helicopters had transported to the scene, and the fans force a “faint breeze of clean air. . . through the barrier” (994), as the fire continues to burn “behind the,,” its fury unabated.
Whatever could go wrong has gone wrong. In the last fifty pages, King has thrown a Western-style shoot out between a posse and a pair of outlaws and a cataclysmic firestorm at his trapped characters; death and destruction appears everywhere, and the air inside the dome is barely breathable. Even the plants and the animals have not been spared, but lie dead or dying in terror and agony, and, with seventy-seven pages left to read of the story, the reader suspects that the worst is yet to come.