Orange Dawn - Chapter 12

John Clark Smith
On the fourth day after our return to the hut, Tosh led us down the path to Harding. Aphra and I followed without hesitation. My heart was beating quickly. Peirce was close behind, his tail wagging. 
Everything had been planned, Tosh said. Glen had wanted Aphra to be out of danger in the preceding weeks of turmoil, but now he wanted her to experience the events in Harding and to be with her mother.
What he hadn’t anticipated was how long desperate people will cling to their old ways. He’d expected them to rebel much sooner after the long months of living under the orange shroud. They had taken much more punishment than he could have believed.
On Glen’s advice, we used a tunnel that ended in the basement of a building a few blocks north of the square—the result of an extension that Glen himself had created. The building was conveniently located across the street from the jail where Glen was held. 
Several chairs, stacks of new paper, and a copier were in the room. 
“Now what?” I asked, as we sat in what appeared to be a large supply room with two chairs and a couch. There was one dim light in the center. Aphra and I sat on the couch. Tosh took one of the chairs.
“Next we tell the authorities that a bomb had been planted in the jail and would be detonated unless they release Glen.”
“Seems like a hopeless request,” I said. 
“Not really, at least in Glen’s mind. Whatever the authorities choose, the plan succeeds. If they release him, he’s out of jail. If they don’t, but are afraid the bomb will kill others, then they’ll vacate the building. If they vacate, that opens up the possibility of escape. If they ignore the threats entirely, he has a backup plan, but I’m not sure what that is.”
“But there’s more, right?” Aphra said. 
“Yes, we rally to create a massive demonstration outside the jail.”
“We?” I asked.
“Well, not Aphra and I. Glen says I’m too old and he doesn’t want Aphra, a child, walking the streets now and facing possible harassment. Aphra and I will stay in the basement to copy and hand out stacks of the flyers to the distributors. Peirce will be tied up so that he doesn’t run off.”
“Who are these distributors, other than me?”
As in so many of his plans Glen was precise and had considered every detail long before he was jailed. He had arranged for two groups. 
“I’m not sure,” Tosh said, “how Glen brought together the people in these groups.”
“Abe, Paul and my mom helped him,” Aphra said. 
“Anyway, one group will go out into the city to draw people to a demonstration at the jail by distributing the leaflets and convincing people. Glen partitioned the downtown area into sections. Each supporter takes a section. The other group is to stay around the jail and manage the demonstration.”
“Sounds pretty dangerous,” I said.
“The police might question or arrest some of you, Glen says, but the police force and the Guard can’t be everywhere and shut down every corner.”
In this view, Glen had a less positive view of the police and Guard than they deserved. 
I selected a section of seven blocks from the corner of Elm and Second Streets to Elm and Seventh Street, approximately six blocks from the jail, and eight blocks from the City Square. Immediately, once out on the street, I noticed that the orange and the chaos had taken their toll not only on the citizens. A certain lethargy or apathy seemed to have fallen on the police and Guard. Several Guardsmen and police walked by me and said nothing. One soldier did stop me, but he didn’t mention the curfew and didn’t ask for identification. His concern was weapons. Another seemed interested and took a flyer. 
Others were less tolerant. On one of my trips, a group of three blocked my way.
“Give us the flyers!” they shouted. 
Glen had prepared a little speech for us to repeat. As I handed out the flyers and walked my territory, I said:
“Look around you. Do you see how the orange is diminishing? It’s working. Come to the jail to celebrate and demand the release of prisoners.”
“It’s diminishing because Ben Jr. has figured it out,” one of them said.
I repeated my words to others listening to me.
“Those prisoners belong in jail,” the harasser shouted back. “They defied the government.”
I tried to walk around them, but two of them grabbed me and pushed me to the ground. The other took the leaflets and threw them into the trash. 
This happened several times. Supporters sometimes came to my aid.
But not only the attitudes of the people had changed. On my first visit to Harding, the city had the look of a picturesque mountain town, extremely organized and pristine. Every road was watched. The curfew was in force. There was full participation at registration. Now registration was poorly attended because many were confined in the factory prisons. Now there were obvious gaps in the security. Had I not been distributing the protest literature, no one would have paid any attention to me. Outsiders were hardly important now. No building downtown had escaped some sort of defacement. No street was without scars. 
I saw dark figures painting on the once glistening white wooden or brick structures. Graffiti covered windows, monuments, and bridges. You could hear the quick slush of the paint brush and then the footsteps running away down the dark streets whose bricks had been smashed with sledgehammers and axes. I saw streetlight posts bent down and bricks being thrown through shop windows. Constantly you would hear glass in buildings and on cars being broken. There were gashes and smashed-in doors and walls. Many streets had no lights. I saw a quaint old police station boarded up and painted with graffiti, then covered, then painted again. Had the building not have its identity carved into its face, I would have thought it was an abandoned building. A police station in the heart of the city was now ready for demolition.
Meanwhile, the orange, though diminishing, remained.
The intensity of the citizens’ fury forced me to ask: Did the orange and the policies of Ben Jr. trigger this fury or was this fury ready, with the right catalyst, to burst forth? Something else seemed to be arising from their souls—something seeded long before the orange. 
After Tosh dropped off the bomb note and I had distributed my leaflets about the demonstration, I returned to Tosh and Aphra. We waited in the same building several stories above the basement in another room that Glen had arranged—a small empty room whose windows overlooked the jail environs. It was an excellent vantage point to view all the events around the jail. 
The Monroe County Jail was a four-story square brick cube, one of the first buildings in Harding. For its time it was one of the largest jails in northwestern Pennsylvania and was often used by sheriffs from other counties. The upper three stories had tiny barred windows, the exit and entrance were down a central stairway. Because of its age, the jail had been upgraded with fire exits on the sides of the building. Once the prisoners reached the main floor, they went down a corridor past two locked gates to reach the exercise yard behind the building. Thus the building had two exits: through the front and through the rear. In light of Glen’s plan, where the demonstration consumed the front, he sent the sentries in the rear, around the wall of the exercise yard. They watched and waited while the demonstration was occurring.
An hour after the bomb note was delivered, the police and the Guard marched out to form a corridor to the exercise yard behind the jail—the precise area Glen had anticipated. Encased by a high brick wall on three sides, the yard was a grassy patch pounded into mostly dirt from the steps of inmates. One by one each floor of the building came out to exercise. The yard was full of Guards and prisoners, including Glen, Paul, Melinda and Abe, the Guards making a thick lining around the walls . Another squad in special uniforms entered the building, with dogs and equipment. Their heads were encased in protective helmets. I assumed their task was to find and dismantle the bomb.
The western wall of the yard was close to the river, across from the beginning of the path Tosh had taken to reach the hut. It was also near, I would learn, the entrance to several tunnels. Glen had concealed the plastic explosives under the ground of  the outside wall. It would detonate remotely. When the wall fell to dust, Glen would be gone. A similar plan was being used on the factory prisons. Those walls too would crumble. 
“When will it happen?” I asked Tosh.
“I don’t know. That’s all I know. It’s up to Glen.”
We could also see a lot of the activity in the front of the police building. The demonstrators had created several long lines of people that wrapped around the building, one behind the other, each holding a sign that said, “Release the innocent,” but the crowds chanted, “Justice! Justice! Justice!” In front of them, outnumbered, were two lines of Guard and police, holding up their shields. Behind all of the demonstrators were two flag bearers who had hoisted up large flags bearing the Orange Dawn insignia.
Glen didn’t react immediately. He gave the government the opportunity to release him and the others. The authorities didn’t relent. His demands were those of a terrorist, Ben Jr. said, and they wouldn’t listen to a terrorist.
No one knew who would send the remote signal. The device wasn’t with him in the jail. He told no one this part of his plan in case the person was discovered or betrayed him. Later Aphra explained that the person who activated the bomb didn’t know she was being used for that purpose. She carried the device unknowingly in her purse, but only Glen could trigger it. He set it off by pressing an implanted chip on his arm. 
The sound of the explosion permeated not only the city, but the entire vicinity, setting off a slight tremor and crumbling the western wall. Except for Glen, Abe, Melinda and Paul, all the prisoners were unprepared and the soldiers managed to surround and contain them without injury. Glen and his friends escaped. They vanished so quickly that for a few minutes I thought they was still there in the yard. 
Peirce barked. He noticed what we had missed. In all the commotion, Aphra had left our side. 
“She’s gone into the tunnels after Glen,” Tosh said. “Quick! Go!”
I rushed down the stairs and pushed my way through a crowd of people that now surrounded the jail, past some demonstrators and curious bystanders. I saw the tunnels near the river and charged toward them. I assumed that they were the same tunnels Tosh told me Glen and the others had taken. 
I was frantic. Why would she leave without telling me? Suppose someone had grabbed her, knowing she was connected to Glen? My heart sank from guilt. Most of all, I imagined her hurt or lost in those tunnels. 
When I reached the tunnels, I saw nothing but black space. No left, right or center. Just darkness. If I continued, I would never find my way back. 
“Aphra!” I called out. “Aphra!”
There was no answer. I was helpless. I couldn’t go forward and I didn’t want to give up.
I turned around and saw the mass of people going in all directions. Chaos! A girl wouldn’t have a chance in that mob. Darkness or the mob. My eyes began to water. What could I do?
“Aphra!” I shouted once more and slumped to the ground.
I returned to the upper room in a sullen mood.
“Well,” Tosh said. “Any sign of her?”
I shook my head.
“She knows the city and the tunnels,” Tosh said.
“It’s a madhouse out there,” I said. “We forget, she’s just a child. I should have kept my eye on her.”
“Don’t blame yourself too much. I’m sure Glen told her what to do.” 
“How do you know?”
“Because I know Glen, and I know how much he loves that child.”
I slumped into a chair. He came over and patted my shoulder. Peirce nuzzled my leg. After a moment I reached down and I petted his head. 
Meanwhile those who were escaping from the factory prisons were flooding out into the streets of Harding, across Harding Bridge and up to the mountains. No one seemed to be restraining them, though it would be futile attempt. The police, the prison officials, and the Guard couldn’t have penetrated that thick wall of people without injuring hundreds.
Others joined the crowd—folks who had stood by amazed at the events but too afraid to protest, as well as local police. They trusted something would happen when they arrived. 
I wanted to stay in the lookout room and hope Aphra would return.
“No, we must leave,” Tosh insisted. “We must follow the crowd up the mountain.”
“But suppose she comes back and we’re not here?”
“Aphra would never come back to Harding in this bedlam. Glen has planned everything in detail. Do you think he’d forget Aphra?”
As soon as the people began to stream out of the city and up toward the mountains, the orange faded rapidly. This realization brought even more people racing up into the mountains. The parade continued for hours. Tosh and I, with Peirce on a leash beside me, marched beside those in prison and street clothes, the Guard, the police, old folk, students, professionals, climbing for their lives. As we reached the top and sat upon the hill side, I saw even Ben Jr. and his family climb. 
The streets, buildings, and homes were empty. The gates of all the prisons were open. Soon the air was totally cleared of the orange mist. No one, including myself, could believe it. Silence. Clarity.
Then spontaneously, an immense sound of joy burst from the crowd. They began to hug each other, to clap and dance, making sounds of happiness and relief. Whatever would come next, this moment, this vision of deliverance, I could never forget. The orange was no more. No day was ever so pure.
In the end, thousands of us stood on mountain ridges, looking down upon the city. We could see the square, the shops, the bridges, the schools, the businesses, the factories, and the train station. People could pick out their own homes. Down there stood their old lives, their memories, what they had built, and what they had become. A woman beside me said she couldn’t imagine walking the streets again. 
So many law-abiding, ordinary people had wanted it all to end, and now it had. The shell of that life was below them, in the valley, and their lives were up here.
Tosh, Peirce and I waited for Aphra. Where was she? I couldn’t fathom why she’d run away. I also worried that in the rush of so many people something might have happened to her.
Peirce jarred me from my anxiety with his bark. I turned around and saw Aphra walking toward me beside her mother, Abe, and Paul. A lump appeared in my throat. I closed my eyes and let out a sigh. Peirce jumped up on Abe and Abe caught him. Then Peirce began to lick his face. 
Aphra ran up and hugged me. 
“Where have you been?” I asked.
“With Glen,” she said calmly. “He had a lot to tell me.”
I looked at Melinda. “He told us to wait for her at the top of the tunnel.”
In the escape from the jail, Glen thought it best if Melinda, Paul and Abe separated from him, in case the police captured him. He showed them which tunnel to follow and was gone.
“He also wanted me to say to you thank you,” Aphra added.

The fate of Glen Harding remained a secret. There were a few who claimed to have seen him on the mountain, but the accounts were contradictory. Only one person knew with certainty where he was, and she had learned to keep secrets.
*
For fifteen years after the orange incident, I wandered around the country, staying briefly in different places, taking different jobs. I couldn’t settle down anywhere because Harding was always on my mind. It haunted me. I did try to visit it on several occasions, but the area remained closed to visitors. The State barricaded the roads, fenced off and paroled the area to keep the curious away. Their plan was to demolish the city. 
In those years Aphra graduated from university with a dual degree in physics and environmental science, and now lived on her own in Virginia. Melinda, Paul and Abe lived in nearby Warren, Pennsylvania. Tosh and Peirce had passed away. Both were buried in the mountains around Harding.
Aphra and I remained in contact. We founded a group, the Harding Lobby, to convince the government to open Harding for tours. For years we pressured officials and kept the orange events in the news and on social media. We tried to constantly remind everyone of its importance. The authorities finally gave us permission to proceed, but insisted Harding remain out-of-the-way, off the main thoroughfare, and without any hotels or restaurants close by. The barricades and patrols would stay. No funds to finance the tours were available. There would be no effort to publicize or designate it as an historical site.
The Harding Lobby then began to fundraise and succeeded in finding private financing, with Lobby volunteers as guides and caretakers. We offered three commemorative tours each year: when the orange first appeared, when Glen climbed the pole, and when the prisons opened and the residents fled the city.
During those three days a year, the hut would become a visitor center. Tours would start at the hut and continue down the mountains through the paths. The group would walk the streets and imagine how the Harding residents dealt with the orange and see the square where they reported each day. Highlights would be the pole on which Glen stood high above the ground, the Sheffield statue chipped by bullets, and the factory prisons, where we hoped visitors could envision how the government and Guard restricted the residents.
Aphra and I texted and video-chatted often about Harding, excited by the day of the first tour, when the Guard and patrols lowered their barriers. On that day, before the first public tour, Aphra and I went alone with Aphra as the guide. 
We first went to the gravesites of Tosh and Peirce and paid our respects. The sites were close to one of the places where the four of us had sat together and looked down upon Harding during the orange days. Aphra hugged the ground where Abe and she had buried Peirce. It was hard not to wish in some way those days could return. How dear they seem now, when we heard Tosh tell us of the events in Harding and watched Peirce chase after butterflies and squirrels. 
We then hiked down the mountain, into the tunnels, and across the bridge to the city. Though covered with fifteen years of neglect, everything had survived: the jail, the factory prisons, the graffiti, the smashed windows and doors, the bridges, the City Café, the house where Abe, Paul and Peirce lived, the metal grasshoppers, the tunnels, and the original plaques. Only the orange was absent.
Then she led me to the small home of Glen Harding, slightly north of the city near the river, surrounded with firs. It was my first visit. Walking through its few rooms, laden with dust, I saw tables stacked with books on physics, math, science, magic, art, philosophy, and mysticism, and others laden with inventions and scientific instruments, the purpose of which has remained unclear. The house itself was spare and showed little care. Walls required paint. There were a few pieces of old and worn furniture. On the walls were many photographs of scenes and objects from odd vantage points.
“Each of these photographs,” she said, “refers to one of Glen’s schemes ‘to restore nature,’ as he put it.” 
“For example, this one’s about the horse stealing. It doesn’t show the horse, only a tiny section of the yard from where he took the horse.” 
Next she guided me into the basement where what appeared to be a wall of dirt hid an entrance to the tunnels. Then she brought me up to the second floor. At the top of the stairs, was a large photo of Aphra. In the bedroom closet was a hidden attic door that opened upon a circular iron stairway. 
In the center was a model of the valley, mountains, the town, and tiny hand-made figurines of animals. Scattered about the papier-mâché terrain were little replicas of markers, each labeled with a Greek letter, and below each of them were miniature mirrors, prisms, amplifiers, and other unknown mechanisms invented by Glen, all of them directed to the pole in the square. As we stared at the model, an orange-colored light covered it. 
“Do you know how all this works?” I asked.
She smiled.
“I helped him set it up. He created a powerful refractory effect through mirrors and prisms placed throughout the area, and magnification of orange light. The location of the orange light itself he never showed me, but I know that he combined several strong sources in several locations. I always assumed they were in the trees.”
She led me back downstairs and out into the overgrown front yard where we enjoyed the sight of the mountains. While the city had fossilized, the land upon which it stood was becoming increasingly abundant. 
“It’s amazing, isn’t it?” Aphra said. “The mountainsides are slowly filling in again with trees and wildflowers, the streams have more fish than ever and far fresher water; and the forest creatures are slowly retaking their homes. Even the wolf is returning. The forest is creeping in on the city itself.”
“What of Glen?” I asked. My own theory was that he lived out his life in that same area, that he never left the valley where his family had first settled. I had a romantic notion that some future explorer might find his skull and bones in an underground cave, as well as his book that he was supposedly writing.
She shrugged.
If she knew the answer—and I think she did know it—she didn’t share it with me that day.
“Come visit me in Redfield, Virginia next summer,” Aphra said when we parted. “Park in the Appalachian Trail lot near Damascus and walk south to a path that leads up the mountains. Here’s a map.”
*
The next year I followed her instructions. After an hour of hiking I found the path and climbed until I stood on a high point encircled by the Blue Ridge Mountains, close to the border of Tennessee. As Aphra’s map indicated, another path led down to Redfield. I was anxious to see her, but that was only part of the thrill. Looking down over the valley, my eyes were seduced by the bluish-purple haze that was cloaking the town.

[THE END of ORANGE DAWN]

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