For Ike Randall, time slowed down considerably the moment the pole hit the line. He saw the current arc, a brilliant white flash, and the involuntary muscular contortions on the faces of the victims. The pole leaned heavily on the power line, which sagged but did not snap. He wanted to look away, but could not even blink. Had Cindy Jenkins not run toward her husband and the other men, he might have stayed there much longer.
The sound Cindy made–primal, almost inhuman–rose above even the cracking and sizzling of the electrocution. She darted from her porch, moving for the accident, heedless of the live wire. Ike dropped his beer and intercepted her, practically tackling her in the street. She flailed and kicked as he moved her back to the side of the road. Her son had gone back inside; Ike could see him collapsed in the foyer, shaking. Ike looked around for help, but he could see only screams and tears. Only Tina Novak had her cell phone out. He hoped she was calling 911.
When she realized he was too strong for her, Cindy went slack in his arms, her words not as loud but still incomprehensible. He pulled her into her house, stepping gingerly around her crying boy and sitting her on a chair in her dining room, on the other side of the house. Then he closed the curtains in the front parlor. She didn’t need to watch her husband’s corpse burn. Finally, he helped Sammy to his mother, who clutched the child with white knuckle despair. When he was sure the desire to run to the scene had left her, Ike stepped outside and closed the door.
No emergency crews yet. How many minutes had it been? Too many, yet not enough. Dusk had arrived. The streetlights were on. The fallen bodies were fully engulfed in flame now, acrid black smoke rising from charred, blistering skin. They were dead, had been since the voltage passed through them, but death was apparently not indignity enough.
The first ambulance arrived a few minutes later, followed by one of the Brad-Web Volunteer fire trucks. Men in rubber boots and reflective gear blocked off the road. Then everyone waited for the power company to cut the juice as the air grew foul. There were no police on scene yet; the state police barracks was at least twenty minutes away.
Restlessness gnawed at Ike. He could do nothing to help the firemen, did not want to go home to sit with this outside his door. And he definitely did not want to hear Cindy Jenkins wail again. He turned south on Main Street and began walking.
There were dozens of people arriving, some from curiosity, some to help, a few wondering anxiously if one of their relatives had just died. He passed them, moving on the uneven and ill-kept sidewalk past the B.W. Superette and the post office. He climbed the small hill that led out of town, noticing as he reached the sidewalk’s end that the streetlights had finally shut off. The process of extracting the bodies could begin.
At the top of the hill, he left the road and moved down a path into the woods. About a hundred yards off the road sat a small triangular stone obelisk, long ago painted white, though that paint now peeled off in strips. The marker denoted the intersection of Pennsylvania, Maryland, and West Virginia, but few came to see it. He sat down on the grass and leaned his back against the side inscribed WV. The burnt men, their hysterical widows, the humming current–none of that was here with him in West Virginia. Only the smell and the sound of sirens dared cross state lines.