Copyright 2010 by Gary L. Pullman
The military has a new approach to taking down the dome: “an experimental acid” that is powerful enough to “burn a hole two miles deep in bedrock.” At 9:00 PM, the “hydrofluoric compound” is to be poured over the dome “where Motton Road crosses. . . Into Harlow,” Colonel Cox tells Julia Shumway, asking her to deliver his message to Colonel Dale (“Barbie”) Barbara.
Unwisely, the Reverend Piper confronts Samantha Bushey’s attackers, Frank DeLesseps, Carter Thibodeau, Melvin Searles, and Georgia Roux, who dislocate her shoulder and shoot her dog, Clover. The commotion attracts diners, including Colonel Dale (“Barbie”) Barbara, who arrive just in time to see the pastor being arrested. Barbie yanks Piper’s arm back into its socket, and the Chief of Police allows her to go to the hospital, ordering her to return tomorrow for questioning: those whom she confronted have accused her of assault, just as she has accused them of raping Samantha Bushey (or in Georgia’s case, accessory to rape).
Physician’s assistant Rusty Everett, meanwhile, confronts Big Jim Rennie concerning how a hospital propane tank has come to be installed in the town hall’s supply shed. Probably, Rusty’s confrontation of Big Jim is no wiser than Piper’s confrontation of Samantha’s attackers. In any case, it gains nothing, for Big Jim says he has no knowledge as to how the propane tank ended up in the town hall’s supply shed, any more than he knows where the rest of the hospital’s surplus propane might be. He interrupts his meeting with Rusty to answer a summons from the police chief, promising to “investigate” the matter that Rusty has raised.
The fall of streaming pink stars occurs, just as the children, during their seizures, foresaw, and King devotes several scenes to this phenomenon, presenting it from the perspectives of various characters to ensure that the event is as spectacular and awe-inspiring to the reader as it is to the residents of Chester’s Mill who witness it. First, the town librarian, Lissa Jamieson, and the newspaper owner and editor Julie Shumway see the fall of the stars, reporting what they observe to Colonel Cox, with whom they are in contact through the dome as the military prepares o douse the barrier with the world’s strongest acid: “they had smeared out of clear focus and turned pink. The Milky Way had turned into a bubblegum spill across the greater dome of the night (433). Twitch grabs Rusty Everett as the physician’s assistant is getting apple juice for his latest patient, the Reverend Piper Libby, and drags him outside the hospital to observe the heavens: “It was filled with blazing pink stars, and may appeared to be falling, leaving long, almost fluorescent trails behind them” (435). Rusty feels a chill along his spine as he recalls that “Judy foresaw this. . . ‘The pink stars are falling in lines’” (436). Likewise, in their borrowed house, Thurston Marshall and Carolyn Sturges, who have assumed custody of the Appleton orphans, Alice and Aidan, witness the falling pink stars that Aidan had also foreseen during his seizure: “Alice and Aidan Appleton were asleep when the pink stars began falling, but Thurston Marshall and Carolyn Sturges weren’t. They stood in the backyard of the Dumagen house and watched them come down in brilliant pink lines. Some of the lines crisscrossed each other, and when this happened, pink runes seemed to stand out in the sky before fading” (436).
The phenomenon might seem paranormal, or even supernatural, but, both Colonel Cox and Thurston Marshall assure their listeners, Julia Shumway and Carolyn Sturges, respectively, that the incident has a natural explanation. “As it comes north,” the colonel tells Julia, “the jet [stream] passes over a lot of cities and manufacturing towns. What it picks up over those locations is collecting on the Dome instead of being whisked north to Canada and the Arctic. There’s enough of it now to have created a kind of optical filter. I’m sure it’s not dangerous” (434). The reader may not be as certain, especially since King touts his novel as a cautionary tale concerning the effects of unbridled environmental pollution. Julia isn’t as certain, either, for she says, “Not yet,” asking, “What about in a week, or a month? Are you going to hose down our airspace at thirty thousand feet when it starts getting dark in here?” Carolyn is also concerned about the falling pink stars. “Is it the end of the world?” she asks Thurston. He assures her that it is not, and that there is a perfectly natural explanation for the phenomenon: “it’s a meteor swarm” that they are “seeing. . . through a film of dust and particulate matter, Pollution, in other words. It’s changed the color” of the swarm. Uh, oh!
There’s one thing that Thurston is unable to answer, though. Carolyn asks him how Aidan could have foreseen this event during his seizure, to which question “Thurston only shook his head” (436). To emphasize the mystery of Aidan’s prophetic vision, Carolyn repeats her question, not once, but twice: “How could he know this was coming? How could he know?”
She gets no answer.
Of course, no one knows where the dome comes from, either, or why it has descended.
King includes two additional scenes in which characters observe the fall of pink stars. Most, if not all of the residents of Chester’s Mill observe the strange phenomenon, including Leo Lamoine, “a faithful member of the late Reverend Coggins’ Holy Redeemer congregation,” who interprets the event as the advent of the Apocalypse; Sloppy Sam Verdreaux, who has been discharged from jail; police officer Rube Libby; Willow and Tommy Anderson; Rose Twitchell and Anson Wheeler, of Sweetbriar Rose’s; Norrie Calvert, Benny Drake, and their parents; Jack Cale, “the current manager of Food City” and Ernie Calvert, “the previous manager”; Stewart and Fernald Bowie, of the local mortuary; Henry Morrison and police officer Jackie Wettington; Chaz Bender, a high school history teacher; Second Selectman Big Jim Rennie; Chief Randolph; First Selectman Andy Sanders; Special Deputies (and rapists) Carter Thibodeau, Melvin Searles, Frank DeLesseps, and Georgia Roux; and widower Jack Evans. Other townspeople sleep through the meteor storm: Rusty Everett’s “Little Js,” Piper Libby, Third Selectman Andrea Grinnell, The Chef, and Brenda Perkins. Curiously, the omniscient narrator informs the reader that “the dead also do not see” the phenomenon, so Myra Evans, Duke Perkins, Chuck Thompson, Claudine Sanders, all of whom are “tucked away in the Bowie Funeral Home”; Dr. Haskell, Mr. Carty, and Rory Disnmore, who are “in the morgue of Catherine Russell Hospital; and Lester Coggins, Dodee Sanders, and Angie McCain, who “are still hanging out in the McCain pantry,” with Junior Rennie seated “between Dodee and Angie, holding their hands” miss the fall of the pink stars,
King’s catalogue of the townspeople, the waking, the sleeping, and the dead alike, is unusual. Not only does it remind the reader of the novel’s larger cast of characters, but it also suggests that the story has reached its turning point. Assembling the entire cast intimates that something portentous looms just ahead. There is an eerie sense of change and doom, created largely through the mentioning of the names of both those the reader has met and those who are yet unfamiliar, as if the narrator were calling the reader’s attention to those who will live, those who may die, and those who have already met their deaths. It is as if the reader is given a final glimpse of Chester Mill’s populace, right before a major cataclysm takes place. Something ominous is about to happen, the falling stars suggest, as does the naming of the names of the townspeople and the suicide of Jack Evans, whose self-inflicted death, the reader is told, “will not be the least” (439).
Suspense is high.
While the stars fall, the military douses the dome with the experimental acid. The dome “eats” the acid, and leaves no residue other than “trace minerals. . . soil and airborne pollutants’: according to the scientists on the scene, “spectrographic analysis” indicates that the dome “isn’t there” (441). The government entertains a number of possible theories as to the barrier’s origin, however, despite their ignorance of its composition: it could be the “creation” of extraterrestrial beings, a genius, “the work of a renegade country,” or even “a living thing,” such as “some kind of E. coli hybrid” (441-442). Julia Shumway offers another possibility: “‘Colonel Cox,” Julia said quietly, ‘are we something’s experiment? Because that’s what I feel like’” (442).
Suspense remains high.