'They will,' she said. 'I set it up.' it won't even be close. Why do they keep applauding? What's going on in there?'
'Don't ask me, babe.
The school song suddenly roared out, full and strong on the soft May air, and Chris jumped as if stung. A soft gasp of surprise escaped her
All rise for Thomas Ewen Hiiiiyyygh. . .
'Go on,' he said. 'They're there.' His eyes glowed softly in the dark. The odd half-grin had touched his features.
She licked her lips. They both stared at the length of jute cord.
We will raise your banners to the skyyyyy
'Shut up,' she whispered. She was trembling, and he thought that her body had never looked so lush or exciting. When this was over he was going to have her until every other time she'd been had was like two pumps with a fags little finger. He was going on her like a raw cob through butter.
'No guts, babe?'
He leaned forward. 'I won't pull it for you, babe. It can sit there till bell freezes.'
With pride we wear the red and whiiyyyte
A sudden smothered sound that might have been a scream came from her mouth, and she leaned forward and pulled violently on the cord with both hands. It came loose with slack for a moment, making her think that Billy had been having her on all this time, that the rope was attached to nothing but thin air. Then it snubbed tight, held for a second, and then came through her palm harshly, leaving a thin burn.
The music inside came to a jangling, discordant halt For a moment ragged You continued oblivious, and then they stopped. Then was a beat of silence, and then someone screamed. Silence again.
They stared at each other in the dark, frozen by the actual act as thought never could have done. Her very breath turned to glass in her throat.
Then, inside, the laughter began.
It was ten twenty-five, and the feeling had been getting worse and worse. Sue stood in front of the gas range on one foot, waiting for the milk to begin steaming so she could dump in the Nestle's. Twice she had begun to go upstairs and put on a nightgown and twice she had stopped, drawn for no reason at all to the kitchen window that looked down Brickyard Hill and the spiral of Route 6 that led into town.
Now, as the whistle mounted atop the town hall on Main Street suddenly began to shriek into the night, and falling in cycles of panic, she did not evert immediately to the window, but only tamed the heat oft under the milk so it would not burn.
The town hall whistle went off every day at twelve noon and that was all, except to call the volunteer fire department during grass-fire season in August and September. It was strictly for major disasters and its sound was dreamy and terrifying in the empty house.
She went to the window, but slowly. The shrieking of the whistle rose and fell, rose and fell. Somewhere, horns were beginning to blast, as if for a wedding. She could see her reflection in the darkened glass, lips parted, eyes wide, and then the condensation of her breath obscured it.
A memory, half-forgotten, came to her. As children in grammar school, they had practised air-raid drills. When the teacher clapped her hands and said, 'The town whistle is blowing,' you were supposed to crawl under your desk and put your hands over your head and wait, either for the all-clear or for enemy missiles to blow you to powder. Now, in her mind, as clearly as a leaf pressed in plastic,
(the town whistle is blowing)
she heard the words clang in her mind
Far below, to the left, where the high school parking lot was - the ring of sodium are lamps made it a sure landmark, although the school building itself was invisible in the dark -a spark glowed as if God has struck a flint-and-steel.
(that's whew the oil tanks are)
The spark hesitated, then bloomed orange. Now you could see the school, and it was on fire.
She was already on her way to the closet to get her coat when the first dull, booming explosion shook the floor under her feet and made her mother's china rattle in the cupboards.
From We Survived the Black Prom, by Norma Watson (Published in the August, 1980, issue of The Reader's Digest as a 'Drama in Real Life' article):
... and it happened so quickly that no one really knew what was happening. We were all standing and applauding and singing the school song. Then - I was at the usher's table just inside the main doors, looking at the stage - there was a sparkle as the big lights over the stage apron reflected on something metallic. I was standing with Tina Blake and Stella Horan, and I think they saw it, too.
All at once there was a huge red splash in the air. Some of it hit the mural and ran in long drips. I knew right away, even before it hit them, that it was blood. Stella Horan thought it was paint, but I had a premonition, just like the time my brother got hit by a hay truck.
They were drenched. Carrie got it the worst. She looked exactly like she had been dipped in a bucket of red paint. She just sat there. She never moved. The band that was closest to the stage, Josie and the moonglows, got splattered. The lead guitarist had a white instrument, and it splattered all over it.
I say: 'My God, that's blood!'
When I said that, Tina screamed. It was very loud, and it rang out clearly in the auditorium.
People had stopped singing and everything was completely quiet. I couldn't move. I was rooted to the spot. I looked up and there were two buckets dangling high over the thrones, swinging and banging together. They were still dripping. All of a sudden they fell, with a lot of loose string paying out behind them. One of them hit Tommy Ross on the head. It made a very loud noise, like a gong.
That made someone laugh. I don't know who it was, but it wasn't the way a person laughs when they we something funny and gay. It was raw and hysterical and awful.
At the same instant, Carrie opened her eyes wide.
That was when they all started laughing. I did too. God help me. It was so ... weird.
When I was a little girl I had a Walt Disney storybook called Song of the South, and it had that Uncle Remus story about the tarbaby in it. There was a picture of the tarbaby sitting in the middle of the road, looking like one of those old-time Negro minstrels with the blackface and great white eyes. When Carrie opened her eyes it was like that. They were the only part of her that wasn't completely red. And the light had gotten in them and made them glassy. God help me, but she looked for all the world like Eddie Cantor doing that pop-eyed act of his.
That was what made people laugh. We couldn't help it. It was one of those things where you laugh or go crazy. Carrie had been the butt of every joke for so long, and we all felt that we were part of something special that night It was as if we were watching a person rejoin the human race, and I for one thanked the Lord for it. And that happened. That horror.
And so there was nothing else to do. It was either laugh or cry, and who could bring himself to cry over Carrie after all those years?
She just sat there, staring out at them, and the laughter kept swelling, getting louder and louder. People were holding their bellies and doubling up and pointing at her. Tommy was the only one who wasn't looking at her. He was sort of slumped over in his seat as if lied gone to sleep. You couldn't tell he was hurt, though: he was splashed, too bad.
And then her face ... broke, I don't know how else to describe it. She put her hands up to her face and halfstaggered to her feet. She almost got tangled in her own feet and fell over, and that made people laugh even more. Then she sort of ... hopped off the stage. It was like watching a big red frog hopping off a lily pad. She almost fell again, but kept on her feet.
Miss Desjardin came running over to her, and she wasn't laughing any more. She was holding out her arms to her. But then she veered off and hit the wall beside the stage - It was the strangest thing. She didn't stumble or anything. It was as if someone had pushed her, but there was no one there.
Carrie ran through the crowd with her hands clutching her face, and somebody put his foot out. I don't know who it was, but she went sprawling on her face. leaving a long red streak on the floor. And she said, 'Ooof!' I remember that. It made me laugh even harder, hearing Carrie say Oof like that. She started to crawl along the floor and then she got up and ran out. She ran right past me. You could smell the blood. It smelled like something sick and rotted.
She went down the stairs two at a time and then out the doors. And was gone.
The laughter just sort of faded off, a little at a time. Some people were still hitching and snorting. Lennie Brock had taken out a big white handkerchief and was wiping his eyes. Sally McManus looked all white, like she was going to throw up, but she was still giggling and she couldn't seem to stop. Billy Bosnan was just standing there with his little conductor's stick in his hand and shaking his head. Mr Lublin was sitting by Miss Desjardin and calling for a Kleenex. She had a bloody nose.
You have to understand that all this happened in no more than two minutes. Nobody could put it all together. We were stunned. Some of them were wandering around, talking a little, but not much. Helen Shyres burst into tears, and that made some of the others start up.
Then someone yelled: 'Call a doctor! Hey, call a doctor quick!'
It was Josie Vreck. He was up on the stage, kneeling by Tommy Ross, and his face was white as paper. He tried to pick him up, and the throne fell over and Tommy rolled on to the floor.
Nobody moved. They were all just staring. I felt like I was frozen in ice. My God, was all I could think. My God, my God, my God. And then this other thought crept in, and it was as if it wasn't my own at all. I was thinking about Carrie. And about God. It was all twisted up together, and it was awful.
Stella looked over at me and said: 'Carrie's back.'
And I said: 'Yea, that's right.'
The lobby doors all slammed shut. The sound was like hands clapping. Somebody in the back screamed, and that started the stampede. They ran for the doors in a rush. I just stood there, not believing it. And when I looked, just before the first of them got there and started to push, I saw Carrie looking in, her face all smeared, like an Indian with war paint on.
She was smiling.
They were pushing at the doors, hammering on them, but they wouldn't budge. As more of them crowded up to them, I could see the first ones to get there being battered against. them, grunting and wheezing. They wouldn't open, and those doors are never locked. It's a state law.
Mr Stephens and Mr Lublin waded in, and began to pull them away, grabbing jackets, shorts, anything. They were all screaming and burrowing like cattle. Mr Stephens slapped a couple of girls and punched Vic Mooney in the eye. They were yelling for them to go out the back fire doors. Some did. Those were the ones who lived.
That's when it started to rain ... at least, that's what I thought it was at first. There was water falling all over the place. I looked up and all the sprinklers were on, all over the gym. Water was hitting the basketball court and splashing. Josie Vreck was yelling for the guys in his band to turn off the electric amps and mikes quick, but they were all gone. He jumped down from the stage.
The panic at the doors stopped. People backed away, looking up at the ceiling. I heard somebody - Don Farnham, I think-say: 'This is gonna wreck the basketball court.'
A few other people started to go over and look at Tommy Ross. All at once I knew I wanted to get out of there. I took Tina Blake's hand and said, 'Let's run. Quick.'
To get to the fire doors, you had to go down a short corridor to the left of the stage. There were sprinklers there too, but they weren't on. And the doors were open - I could see a few people running out. But most of them were just standing around in little groups, blinking at each other. Some of them were looking at the smear of blood where Carrie fell down, the water was washing it away.
I took Tina's hand and started to pull her toward the EXIT sign. At that same instant there was a huge flash of fight, a scream, and a horrible feedback whine. I looked around and saw Josie Vreck holding on to one of the mike stands. He couldn't let go. His eyes were bugging out and his hair was on end and it looked like he was dancing. His feet were sliding around in the water and smoke started to come out of his shirt.
He fell over on one of the amps - they were big ones, five or six feet high - and it fell into the water. The feedback went up to a scream that was head-splitting, and then there was another sizzling flash and it stopped. Josie's shirt was on fire.
'Run!' Tina yelled at me. 'Come on, Norma, Please!'
We ran out into the hallway, and something exploded backstage - the main power switches, I guess. For just a second I looked back. You could see right out on to the stage, where Tommy's body was, because the curtain was up. All the heavy light cables were in the air, flowing and jerking and writhing like snakes out of an Indian fakir's basket. Then one of them pulled in two. There was a violent flash when it hit the water, and then everybody was screaming at once.
Then we were out the door and running across the parking lot. I think I was screaming. I don't remember very well. I don't remember anything very well after they started screaming. After those high-voltage cables hit that water-covered floor ...
For Tommy Ross, age eighteen, the end came swiftly and mercifully and almost without pain.
He was never even aware that something of importance was happening. There was a clanging, clashing noise that he associated momentarily with
(there go the milk buckets)
a childhood memory of his Uncle Galen's farm and then with
(somebody dropped something)
the band below him. He caught a glimpse of Josie Vreck looking over his head
(what have i got a halo or something)
and then the quarter-full bucket of blood struck him. The raised lip along the bottom of the rim struck him on top of the head and
(hey that hurt)
he went swiftly down into unconsciousness. He was still sprawled on the stage when the fire originating in the electrical equipment of Josie and the Moonglows spread to the mural of the Venetian boatman, and then to the rat warren of old uniforms, books, and papers backstage and overhead.
He was dead when the oil tank exploded a half hour later.
From the New England AP ticker, 10:46 P.M.:
CHAMBERLAIN, MAINE (AP)
A FIRE IS RAGING OUT OF CONTROL AT EWEN (U-WIN) CONSOLIDATED HIGH SCHOOL AT THIS TIME. A SCHOOL DANCE WAS IN PROGRESS AT THE TIME OF THE OUTBREAK WHICH IS BELIEVED TO HAVE BEENELECTRICAL IN ORIGIN. WITNESSES SAY THAT THE SCHOOL'S SPRINKLER SYSTEM WENT ON WITHOUT WARNING, CAUSING A SHORT-CIRCUIT IN THE EQUIPMENT OF A ROCK BAND. SOME WITNESSES ALSO REPORT BREAKS IN MAIN POWER CABLES. IT IS BELIEVED THAT AS MANY AS ONE HUNDRED AND TEN PERSONS MAY BE TRAPPED IN THE BLAZING SCHOOL GYMNASIUM. FIRE FIGHTING EQUIPMENT FROM THE NEIGHBOURING TOWNS OF WESTOVER, MOTTON, AND LEWISTON HAVE REPORTEDLY RECEIVED REQUESTS FOR ASSISTANCE AND ARE NOW OR SHORTLY WILL BE EN ROUTE. AS YET, NO CASUALTIES HAVE BEEN REPORTED. ENDS.
10:46 Pm MAY 27 6904D AP
From the New England AP ticker, 11:22 P.M.
CHAMBERLAIN, MAINE (AP)
A TREMENDOUS EXPLOSION HAS ROCKED THOMAS EWIN (U-WIN) CONSOLIDATED HIGH SCHOOL IN THE SMALL MAINE TOWN OF CHAMBERLAIN. THREE CHAMBERLAIN FIRE TRUCKS, DISPATCHED EARLIER TO FIGHT A BLAZE AT THE GYMNASIUM WHERE A SCHOOL PROM WAS TAKING PLACE, HAVE ARRIVED TO NO AVAIL. ALL FIRE HYDRANTS IN THE AREA HAVE BEEN VANDALIZED, AND WATER PRESSURE FROM CITY MAINS IN THE AREA FROM SPRING STREET TO GRASS PLAZA IS REPORTED TO BE NIL. ONE FIRE OFFICIAL SAID. 'THE DAMN THINGS WERE STRIPPED OF THEIR NOZZLES, THEY MUST HAVE SPOUTED LIKE GUSHERS WHILE THOSE KIDS WERE BURNING.' THREE BODIES HAVE BEEN RECOVERED SO FAR. ONE HAS BEEN IDENTIFIED AS THOMAS B. MEARS, A CHAMBERLAIN FIREMAN. THE TWO OTHERS WERE APPARENT PROM GOERS. THREE MORE CHAMBERLAIN FIREMEN HAVE BEEN TAKEN TO MOTTON RECEIVING HOSPITAL SUFFERING FROM MINOR BURNS AND SMOKE INHALATION. IT IS BELIEVED THAT THE EXPLOSION OCCURRED WHEN THE FIRE REACHED THE SCHOOL'S FUEL-OIL TANKS, WHICH ARE SITUATED NEAR THE GYMNASIUM. THE FIRE ITSELF IS BELIEVED TO HAVE STARTED IN POORLY INSULATED ELECTRICAL EQUIPMENT FOLLOWING A SPRINKLER SYSTEM MALFUNCTION. ENDS.
11:22 PM MAY 27 70119E AP
Sue had only a driver's permit, but she took the keys to her mother's car from the pegboard beside the refrigerator and ran to the garage. The kitchen clock read exactly 11:00.
She flooded the car on her first try, and forced herself to wait before trying again. This time the motor coughed and caught, and she roared out of the garage heedlessly, dinging one fender. She turned around, and the rear wheels splurted gravel. Her mother's '77 Plymouth swerved on to the road, almost fishtailing on to the shoulder and making her feel sick to her stomach. It was only at this point that she realized she was moaning deep in her throat, like an animal in a trap.
She did not pause at the stop sign that marked the intersection of Route 6 and the Back Chamberlain Road. Fire sirens filled the night in the cast, where Chamberlain bordered Westover, and from the south behind herMotton.
She was almost at the base of the hill when the school exploded.
She jammed on the power brakes with both feet and was thrown into the steering wheel like a rag doll. The tyres wailed on the pavement. Somehow she fumbled the door open and was out, shading her eyes against the glare.
A gout of flame had ripped skyward, trailing a nimbus of fluttering steel roof panels, wood, and paper. The smell was thick and oily. Main Street was lit as if by a flashgun. In that terrible hallway between seconds, she saw that the entire gymnasium wing of Ewen High was a gutted, flaming ruin.
Concussion struck a moment later, knocking her backwards. Road litter blew past her on a sudden and tremendous rush, along with a blast of warm air that reminded her fleetingly of
(the smell of subways)
a trip she had taken to Boston the year before. The windows of Bill's Home Drugstore and the Kelly Fruit Company jingled and fell inward.
She had fallen on her side, and the fire lit the street with hellish noonday. What happened next happened in slow motion as her mind ran steadily onward
(dead are they all dead carrie why think carrie)
at its own clip. Cars were rushing toward the scene, and some people were running in robes, nightshorts, pyjamas. She saw a man come out of the front door of Chamberlain's combined police station and courthouse. He was moving slowly. The cars were moving slowly. Even the people running were moving slowly.
She saw the man on the police-station steps cup his hands around his mouth and scream something; unclear' over the shrieking town whistle, the fire sirens, the monster-mouth of fire. Sounded like:
'Heyret! Don't hey that ass!'
The street was all wet down there. The light danced on the water' Down by Teddy's Amoco station.
And then the world exploded.
From the sworn testimony of Thomas K. Quillan, taken before The State Investigatory Board of Maine in connection with the events of May 27-28 in Chamberlain, Maine (abridged version which follows is from Black Prom: The White Commission Report, Signet Books: New York, 1980):
Q. Mr Quillan, are you a resident of Chamberlain?
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