Chapter Twenty-Two: Outbreak Part Three

Editor’s Note: death, obviously, is certain for all of us. Yet the human desire for remembering persists. No one wants to die without their story told. For the living, the stories remind us: that which has disappeared has not diminished in importance. Those who are gone mattered. This is basic, human stuff. Why else would I be writing this history of Vine, the town hidden by God’s Chosen? In a bureaucratic sense, records exist for this reason. A driver’s license means a person has reached a certain age and demonstrated a certain capability. As far as both human storytelling and bureaucratic records go? 1926-27 might as well not exist. We know the hospital continued to operate because there are patients listed on admissions records both in 1925 and 1928, but we don’t have records of 1926-27. 

Again, outbreak deniers point to Vine’s achievements: the railroad. Remodeling the church. The very creation of the Seminary exchange program, which persists to this day. Call me crazy, I think massive gaps in records, especially during a time when there’s evidence of mass death with no singular defined cause, is not a time of prosperity. No matter the monuments left behind. 

So we proceed again with sources others might call to question and the most extreme rigors of historical research might not accept. Yet there is a story of God’s people here, and the Word of the Lord must be told: 

The Hermit’s Tale Of Rock

Rock was a healer it

is said: that Rock could start a fire from stick

our eyes had seen it

guiding single cans of beans into meals for a week…

light Rock was a generous man did not charge a cent for services…

one day it came to pass Rock was afflicted

day full of illness for the healer who had soothed others

Rock with blood swelling his joints blood swelling his eyes

will Rock survive? 

be still, watch: Rock elbow-crawls into the forest of Vine

betrayed by his feet

there lay Rock three day three night 

in agony lay Rock

front to back he slowly began to heal himself rid himself

of impurities with help from the Lord he built even though

weak he built a foundation a small shelter & a spring no

witnesses but the Lord a spring bubbled up byside Rock’s shelter

God gave Rock a miracle yet there was Rock

alone so a dog now there is an animal who

knows to end suffering licked Rock’s wounds in

truth Rock was healed on Vine’s mountains

Editor’s Note: the knowledge of the Hermits of Vine is oral tradition. Some written communication exists in the form of colored markings left on trees, rocks, caves, fenceposts, etc. Not dissimilar to the Hobo’s Code. I am told this is the first time this information has been written down and have been given explicit instructions to reproduce as is. I am told enjambments and stanza breaks convey meaning to Hermits, an unseen language of subtle perceptions and twists of emotion that are privy only to those who know how to interpret the writing. 

Gregory Shepherd Pilt And Other Captains of Industry Receive Their Inheritance

Now it was in those days that those who possessed intelligence and fortitude to do what was necessary could indeed become Captains of Industry. It was also true in those days—as it remains today—that those who were born into great fortune were often charged with maintaining their forefathers’ legacy. As Vine was a consecrated land for God’s chosen people, it was the responsibility of the people to maintain the land inherited from God. So to was it that the children of Captains of Industry were charged with continuing and increasing the profits of the companies their fathers founded. 

Now it was true in those days that the people of Vine were beset by plague, that an outbreak of disease had begun to saddle the people of Vine with swelling and bleeding and pain and difficulty breathing, and that very often death resulted from a bout with the illness. It was because of these conditions that the people of Vine allowed their virtue and righteousness in regards to work to slip and backslide. Now it was in those days that the Captains of Industry could not find enough workers to fulfill quotas and projections. 

Now it was in those days—as it was for the Third Elder Council turning over to the Fourth—that many Captains of Industry, many of whom had built companies on their own backs, went to be laid in the Holy Funeral Site, and turned their companies over to their sons. One such son was Gregory Shepherd Pilt, who inherited his father’s rail company. 

Red Hendricks and His Road Crew

Now it was in those days that parallel to the development of the new railroad was the rise of the automobile in Vine. Enough noise had been made about these horseless carriages as the way of the future that the upper class of Vine was all but using their cars to check the mail in the morning by 1928. Sensing a need, Red Hendricks went to the Council and proposed paving the roadways of Vine, citing easier travel for cars and even livestock, as smoother roads would be easier on the poor beasts’ bones. Red stressed that his crew were old WWI boys, they knew a thing or two about safe infrastructure, having blown up so much of the Germans’. Thus were Red and his road crew commissioned to build roads throughout Vine. 

Now it was in those days that the people of Vine still harbored superstitions that might be thought of as old-fashioned. But each mile of road that Red’s crew paved—seven miles in all, in the center of town—some violent calamity was visited on some poor soul in the crew. After the first mile, a crewman lost a finger, slammed in a car door. After the second mile, a crewman broke his leg, falling down a hill. After the third mile, a crewman broke his arm, slipping on a puddle caused by a leak in one of the trucks. After the fourth mile, a crewman was struck deaf, thanks to a short-fuse dynamite malfunction. After the fifth mile, a crewman was struck blind, thanks to unexpected gravel spray. After the sixth mile, a crewman lost a leg, mangled when a car on an already paved road lost control. After the seventh mile, a crewman was killed, run over by a car while walking to buy the rest of the crew celebratory Coca-Colas at George Polk’s General Store. Red, for his part, did not believe in curses. His sons and their sons went on to run Red’s Road Crews, which to this day is the number one provider of infrastructure repair in Vine. 

Editor’s Note: I’m almost tempted to make this chapter nothing but side-by-side comparisons of letters and diaries. Read a Captain of Industry, you get Greg Pilt or Bob Swanson talking about “razor-thin margins” and “everybody has to tighten their belts” even if company profits are rising. Read a Preacher, you get missives about “meeting God’s moment” or “the noblest virtue is work.” Read an Elder, you get a mix of both: greed and holy brow-beating. Read anything that survives from an average person living in Vine, and you get this: 

Letter From Constance Miller

Dearest Catherine,

I do not know if this will reach you. What has new construction done to our delivery networks? As strange as Babylon to the captive Israelites, so too is the outside world to me. But what comfort is home! Stephen dead last week, I am meant to face the new world and teach Betty how to live in it alone. The Angel told Mary “be not afraid” but at least the Lord left her Joseph. 

With the leaves gone I can see the creek from my window. The journey of sediment—the unthinking small things of the world swept up in currents, ultimately finding home in the wide open space of the lake. Here am I, one of God’s children, confined to my home with dead husband and colicky child. Afraid of the smell of lemon. Afraid of any outside beyond my own rose bushes. Afraid of the air. To be sediment in the river! You offered me a chance at a journey, I was a fool to decline.

I am sorry to be bleak. We trust in the Lord, little Betty and I. One day we shall be reunited with you if not in this life than the next. It is the will of God, I must believe that.



From the Journals of Ruthanna Gregory, Archivist at the Library of Vine, 1918-1945

Nary a soul has spoken a word in the last week. Not one library patron, not one preacher in the sanctuary, not one street corner whistler. At the Vine General Store, I watched as customers pointed to incongruous items—celery and ham, carrots and milk, with no rhyme or reason toward recipe. Is it possible we all share in this cloud of darkness? I could not remember my own mother’s name at Sunday dinner. When I went calling on Simon Davidson, his neighbor watched me with a curious stare from her porch. The elderly Mrs. Daphne Symrna observed my knocking from her porch. When I walked over to where she sat, cigarette dangling idly from her corner lip and eyes of scowling curiosity, it was some time before we knew one another’s names. It was some time before I remembered why I had come to call (though I of course cannot remember now). It was still some more time before we both remembered Simon Davidson died two years ago. If Simon Davidson is his real name, memory serves? 

I don’t know how I know, but I believe the entirety of Vine cannot recall how to tie their own shoes or button their own coats. Do we have a chart of our own existence? Ages? Anniversaries? Have we always been in Vine, since before recorded time, since the dawn of God’s creation? If we belong here, why can we not remember our names? 

Anonymous Note On A Napkin, From The Gentleman Jim’s Private Archives, Reprinted With Permission

Can’t work. Can’t think. Can’t feel my left arm half the time. Can’t sit at home, what since the wife and kids up and got sick and died. 

So what to do? 

Drink at Jim’s. Go hear Rock speak. Rock with his red shirt. 

Editor’s Note: see, something was brewing in Vine. The people of Vine weren’t simply subject to mysterious disease, they were watching their families and friends and neighbors and coworkers drop dead while the Preachers and Elders and Captains of Industry were saying submit yourselves to God, you have a duty to Vine, work is the highest virtue. Ol’ Ruthanna and Anonymous up there, talking about memory loss? That wasn’t a symptom in the initial stages of the outbreak, but maybe the virus mutated? We might know if anyone in Vine thought to study it at all. 

Elders Wilkinson, Davies, and Adams were the initial importers of citrus. Their sons carried on their legacies. Citrus can still be found in Vine to this day—outbreak deniers will point this out readily, as though immunity can’t be developed over time. No, it was another industry, lovingly backed by a different Elder, that became the biggest flashpoint of outbreak.  

The Friendship of Adam Vance IV and Gregory Shepherd Pilt

Now in those days it was not uncommon for Elders to have close friendships with the wealthier people of Vine. Notable among these friendships was that of Adam Vance IV and Gregory Shepherd Pilt. Elder Vance and Pilt were close since boyhood and came of age at the same time: Vance when his father, Adam Vance III, died from vomiting blood after a bout with illness; Pilt when his father, Bernard Gregory Pilt, died before the completion of the railroad he had agitated to be built. 

The Strike of the Pilt Company Workers

Now it was in those days that many records were lost. It was known that Rock was a labor agitator and it was known that through Rock’s poisonous teachings and carefree rabble-rousing without regard to consequences had led many in Vine to question in their hearts the virtue of hard work. Now it was in those days that while many industries were thriving and the riches of Vine were growing, that the people still complained and were unhappy. 

Many records were lost. Workers for the Pilt Company went on strike July 2, 1928. The strike lasted one week before turning violent, most believe a striking foreman threw a brick at a replacement worker’s head, causing a brawl that led to two dead and 18 wounded. Most records are lost.

Now it was in those days that the riches of Vine were growing, and yet the workers went on strike. The workers demanded higher wages, a portion of company money set aside for a communal healthcare fund, and Sundays off. It is believed that the Gregory Shepherd Pilt appealed to his friend, Elder Adam Vance, and the rest of the Council. It is not known if Gregory Shepherd Pilt consulted with Preachers. Many records were lost. 

Adam Vance IV’s Comments On The Strike, Taken From His Journals

…it is, of course, obscene and abhorrent. That these sniveling peasants, dirt and coal smudged on their sweat-glistened bellies, believe they are owed a cent more than their already outrageous wages…but it is bed-time, I shan’t arouse my anger or alight mine heartbeat any more this cursed day. Tomorrow shall be cleaner…

Editor’s Note: a true history, in the style of the Vine histories, would not have so many interruptions. The following is presented in accordance with official records in Vine, though my inability to simply present the events with comment may be why I couldn’t hack it in Seminary. 

Negotiations At Dinner

Good faith negotiations between Pilt, Elder Vance, and the rail workers began over a pulled pork picnic in Elder Vance’s back field. 47 workers gathered to enjoy barbeque, cole slaw, some of Mrs. Vance’s mac and cheese, and of course peach cobbler. The air was warm with the smell of smoked meat and the expansive lilac and daisy garden that the fourteen Vance children kept. No sooner had the workers sat down to dinner, with Elder Vance and Pilt both set to give toasts, than did each and every one of the 47 workers began choking and violently coughing, until each one of them was keeled over, dead in the squish of pulled pork and potato bun. 

Editor’s Note: a true history, in the style of the Vine histories, would not have so many interruptions. Maybe this is why I couldn’t hack it in Seminary, but I don’t think the determination of Who Poisoned The Pulled Pork would hold up in a court of law anywhere else in the United States.

Rock Names Leo Miller

The ghastly scene was met with horror from Elder Vance, Pilt, Mrs. Vance, Mrs. Pilt, and the Pilt children, all of whom were thankfully unharmed. Others on the scene were: a small staff of servers enlisted by Elder Vance to cater the event, and the cooking staff of the Vance home, who numbered six. Also present was Rock, on site as a server, but notable already in circles as a labor rouser and healer; and Leo Miller, on site as a server, but notable in many circles as a labor rouser with a violent, criminal past that had resulted in a two-year rehabilitation period with the Church of Vine. 

The first pulled away for questioning was Rock. He was gone, talking to Elder Vance and Pilt. The conversation went on hours, well past the time originally allotted for labor negotiations, with no other staff interviewed but Rock. 

When Rock emerged from questioning, it had been determined that Leo Miller had poisoned all of the pulled pork, and that Leo Miller had acted alone and out of malice and contempt for his fellow man. 

Editor’s Note: a true history, in the style of the Vine histories, would not have so many interruptions. The simplest person cannot believe that Rock—humble, inspiring, healer, helper of his fellow people, wearer of his red shirt—would show up as a freelance hired server at a labor negotiation so that he could poison (or help poison) a bunch of workers. Maybe this is why I couldn’t hack it in Seminary, but I am shaking with rage while I type this. 

Rock Retires To Prophet’s Bald

Leo Miller was executed, like a witch. There had never been a mass killing like that in Vine. The descriptions of the 47 workers in the Vine Bulletin the following morning mentioned “blood the same color as the barbeque sauce adorning the smoked pork dribbling out of the mouths of some victims” and “the womanly shrieks of Mrs. Vance reverberating off the slumped skulls of the dead men” and included the workers’ names, ages, and surviving family members. In the name of the consecrated land of Vine, Leo Miller was led into a field by the river, bound, and suspended over a massive bonfire, smoking like the pork he had ruined. 

Rock retired to life as a Hermit of Vine. According to Hermit legend, Rock took a vow of silence and spent the remainder of his days in prayer, eating honey and crickets. There was never another strike in Vine again. Many records were lost. 

Editor’s Note: this is, as best as I can tell, all that is known about the outbreak in Vine. Years and records are fuzzy, as I said earlier. Believe the outbreak or don’t. The prevailing outlook is nothing happened, and I guess, long run? Vine continued to thrive. So maybe it doesn’t matter. Maybe countless deaths don’t make history if it’s not some culture-defining battle. Maybe untold mental health scars don’t exist if they’re not acknowledged. Just in case I’m wrong, it’s going in my version of Vine’s history. Believe in the outbreak or don’t. I got a letter from Those Who Veil Themselves. Believe in the outbreak or don’t. People eventually stopped getting so sick. Believe in the outbreak or don’t. Vine moved on. 

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