In New York, plague. In the Midwest, plague. In Maine, plague with a fifty percent chance of pestilence and survival.
While we’ve been tracking the progress of the virus over the last few chapters, Nick Andros has been slowly getting back at his attackers and finally settling in Shoyo, Arkansas. Namely, by becoming a deputy. Sheriff John Baker has taken Nick under his wing, and is more than willing to help the kid out.
The first half of Chapter Eighteen is the backstory dance, as Nick writes it out for Sheriff Baker and his wife (and by extension, us), about his childhood in the orphanage and of being this scared, angry kid who really couldn’t talk to the world. But here’s the important crux of the chapter: you know how we’ve been following the path of the virus as it’s been spreading from Arnette, but there really haven’t been many civilian cases aside from a few people hacking and wheezing?
The superflu has come full-force in Shoyo, Arkansas, and this is how we see how fast it really works. It’s been told that the fatality comes within 48 hours of exposure, but it felt longer from the other perspectives we’ve seen so far. And now, we’ve got a sheriff who’s already caught the superflu, and then the doctor’s got it and then…
“Dead, all right,” Soames said…”And he’s not the only one. I’ve signed twelve death certificates in the last twelve hours. And I know of another twenty that are going to be dead by noon unless God shows mercy. But I doubt if this is God’s doing…”
Man, it’s chilling. What makes it worse is that we, the reader, know how fast this virus works, how quickly it can spread, but this is the first time we’ve seen it in action. And it’s a little scary.
Doctor Soames also figures out quickly that this isn’t a normal flu (even mentioning that someone saw workmen “saluting each other” as a tip-off that this might be military). Nick, bless him, decides to stay with the prisoners until it’s safe for him to move again.
For as much as this book is the slow build, once things start happening, they really start happening. I just finished rereading Cell, the semi-zombie apocalypse Stephen King, and I couldn’t help but notice how different the two apocalyptic events are. The opening chapter of Cell is the cataclysmic event itself. The same thing happens in The Stand, but the lead-up of the events and society crumbling is so much slower than just one big thing that happens at once.
And so, we get our second close character death, Alice Underwood. This is another example of how fast the virus spreads; we’ve just seen it starting to destroy Shoyo, now it’s reached New York City, and Larry even finds out that his friend Wayne back in LA has the superflu. (This is also the chapter when we first see it christened “Captain Trips.”)
One of the things I picked up on this chapter is that you can really see Larry as Lloyd Henreid’s counterpart. Sure, Larry’s not as bad as Lloyd, but there’s that selfish steak in him. Even while his mother’s dying on the floor, all Larry can think of “Well, that’s my life, it sucks.”
Oh, Larry, if you only knew how much it’s going to suck later on.
You know, I could have very easily taken these last three chapters and clumped them into one big overview post. Things are happening. Things are happening fast.
As much as I’ve complained about her chapters, I will give Frannie credit here—she does have an idea of how she’s going to handle living on her own, and while she and her mother are on the outs, Frannie’s willing to reconcile eventually. I also like that Frannie’s not writing a confessional letter to her friend Grace, but there is this air that “Things aren’t so great, but I’ll talk to you about them soon.” I like that even though she doesn’t know if she’ll keep the baby (and as I’ve mentioned, that option is a moot point), she knows how she’ll get by in the meantime.
But the point of the matter is this: Frannie’s mother is our first victim of the superflu in Ogunquit, Maine. What I like that we’ve seen so far with the characters we’ve gotten to know is that it feels natural for them to get the flu—Alice Underwood and Carla Goldsmith overwork themselves, John Baker’s been running the police department all by himself. Of course, their bodies are going to tire out. I’ve seen this first-hand—my mom worked at a software company for about eight months before she finally quit. At least once a month, she was home sick…and still working from home. My dad and I had to yell at her all throughout that October to STOP WORKING AND GET SOME REST. (Same goes with my brother: comes down with a fever, HE GOES TO BASKETBALL PRACTICE. There are reasons why I have aspirin and flu medication handy at all times.)
And this is where we really see the fear and paranoia set in.
“…So I called the Sanford Hospital and they said their ambulances were out on calls, both of them, but they’d add Carla to the list. The list, Frannie, what the hell is this list, all of a sudden? I know Jim Warrington, he drives one of the Sanford ambulances, and unless there’s a car wreck on 95 he sits around and plays gin rummy all day. What’s this list?”
It’s one thing to be paranoid about a mysterious flu virus and seeing saluting workmen to confirm that suspicion. Peter Goldsmith’s reaction carries a lot more weight. It’s the abnormality of what’s going on, that it’s not just a bad strain of flu, it’s so bad that the bored ambulance driver is actually doing something.
They still did tests on [Stu] here, but they seemed desultory. The schedule had become slipshod. Results were scrawled down and he had a suspicion that someone looked at them cursorily, shook his head and dumped them in the nearest shredder.
Stu’s got way more reason to be paranoid. Despite the fact that the government could at least try to make a vaccine from him (although the excuse is “No, we’re fucked, just leave him alone.”), he’s stuck in a hospital room, waiting for even more bad news. And it also doesn’t help that every test and sample is now done under armed escort. And that the news is reporting a new flu virus:
“….Government health officials emphasize that this is Russian-A flu, not the more dangerous Swine flu.”
Ah, swine flu. I think anyone with Captain Trips would GLADLY take the swine flu over what they’ve got.
The newscaster smiled reassuringly…and off-camera, someone sneezed.
Every election year, I have to stand and listen to my customers ramble on about government conspiracies and how America is going down the toilet and that we should round up all of the commies and kill them. (For the record, I work in a bookstore.) I don’t initiate any of these conversations and most of the time I’m thinking “SHUT THE HELL UP, I DON’T CARE ABOUT WHAT YOU THINK. TAKE YOUR PURCHASE AND LEAVE.” You can tell that I’m really looking forward to the next two months.
Tangent about crappy customers aside, this is my point: I don’t believe in mass conspiracies. I acknowledge that yes, conspiracies exist. I actually like reading about conspiracies, especially the really far out there ones. (Go Google David Icke’s theories sometime.) But because I’m a skeptic, I’m also the one to sit back and think “Well that doesn’t make any damn sense at all.”
So here we are in The Stand, 175 pages in. The flu is spreading, there’s no hope for America. General Starkey and Creighton are being relieved by the president. Starkey’s been popping pills just to keep functioning. And worse of all, the only solution to everything? Do we give Stu over to one of our allies and say “Here, take a crack at solving this?”
“The flu story is the best one, but it is imperative—imperative—that the other side never sees this as an artificial situation created in America. It might give them ideas.”
In other words, CRACK THE FLU VIALS, EVERYONE DIES. Survivors are on their own.
And with the order to start the end of the world, General Starkey goes to the Project Blue cafeteria proper and does the only thing he could probably do at this point. Because really, unless if anyone in the military is immune to the virus, there’s really nothing that they can do at this point.
[Creighton] was going to have to face the President of the United States soon, very soon, but the soup congealing in Frank D. Bruce’s eyebrows worried him more. Much more.