What do two forts share in common? Kaci Hickox, the 33 year-old healthcare worker from Fort Worth, Texas, taking refuge in Fort Kent, Maine. Surely you know of the so-called Ebola nurse and the legal scuffle about quarantining her. As an Aroostook County native born about 70 kilometers (okay, I rounded up) southeast of FK and having traveled widely across the Lone Star State, I know something about the character of both regions. Think independent-mindedness times two, which equals “Don’t tell me what to do”.
The simple story: She volunteered in Sierra Leone, where the disease rages. She returned to the wrong state, New Jersey, which put her in isolation. She fled to one of the most rural and remote areas of the Northeast. Maine’s governor demanded voluntary quarantine. She defied it. A federal judge ruled against the Gov. News reporters who couldn’t find Fort Kent with a Google Map ruined the autumn tourist trade by filling up the only hotel. We all wait to see if she stays symptom free through November 10. Pass the popcorn. The suspense is thicker than a horror flick.
Not Rural Enough
There goes my brilliant backup plan. I thought if this Ebola thing turned out to be for real, and there was an outbreak here in San Diego, I could flee home. Where could be safer than Aroostook County, which is spotted by a few towns and two small cities set against vast timberlands? Northern Maine is the last place to expect Ebola. Thanks for nothing, Kaci. You couldn’t go back to Texas, where there are several reported cases instead? Keep the disease and fear in one place?
Now dad and my other relatives may have to flee here. What misery, eh? Leaving Northern Maine’s annual average 280-centimeter snowfall for sunny San Diego—how difficult a decision is that? Please, folks, bring your own sleeping bags. L.L. Bean brand or you camp in the alley.
I shouldn’t sulk so much about Ebola’s threat. This isn’t the first time the safest place on God’s green earth wasn’t. When I was a grade schooler, we watched short documentaries about what to do during an atomic blast. I thought they were ridiculous. Only as an adult did I understand the threat. During the Cold War, Loring Air Force Base, located about 85 kilometers southeast of Fort Kent, was the continental United States’ closest military installation to Moscow and the first ground zero, if the bombs flew. My home town was within the blast zone. Kaboom, you’re radioactive waste.
Kaci Hickox just brings back cold war fears of death and mayhem to a community where the big news should be this week’s sale flyer from Paradis Shop N Save. “Oh, look, the pork chops are $2.69 a pound”.
Master of Horror
Who would have guessed that Stephen King’s next horror classic would be non-fiction? You couldn’t create colorful characters as appealing as those in this horror story. There’s the defiant pretend Mainer from Texas and her boyfriend, Ted Wilbur, whose last name doesn’t fit Fort Kent. It’s not French enough. But police chief Tom Pelletier is just right. Do you know how many Pelletiers there are around the St. John Valley? Nearly as many as trees. Chris Christie and Paul LePage, respectively governors of New Jersey and Maine, are the perfect comic archetypes for this horror story. If they weren’t for real, Stephen King would have to make them up.
He lives 300 kilometers south of Ebola Central—eh, Fort Kent—in Bangor, so my advice is start writing sooner than later. He wants to write the story not be part of it.
This thriller pens itself. The National Review calls Kaci Hickox a “selfish hero“, observing that if she is so resistant to outside monitoring now, why would she be any less resistant should symptoms appear? “It is a peculiar and repulsive sense of entitlement that is on display in Fort Kent”, Ian Tuttle writes. “That a hero abroad can be a menace at home can be, it turns out, rather true of both generals and general physicians”.
Menace? The woman is Shakespearean. Mike McCormick, my high school English teacher now retired, could spend a full class period discussing a “fatal flaw” like this one. She could be Maine’s Patient Zero, depending on how the story unfolds. The horror angle is obvious: Kaci Hickox goes too far with the civil rights, civil disobedience thing. “It’s my right to be as sick as I please”, meanwhile by spreading pestilence among a population of 4,200. And from there? What’s that saying? “As Maine goes, so goes the nation“.
The Washington Post praises the defiant nurse: “Hickox made a brave, and useful, stink—and, as her bike ride watched round the world demonstrates, continues to do so”. Continuing, Ruth Marcus makes a point I must agree with: “Politicians’ fear of Ebola is more contagious than the disease”. Maybe now, but it’s not November 10th yet.
Bangor Daily News staff writer Julia Bayly, whom is closer to the action and more representative of Maine than most of the commenters, presents a town divided over its quarantine-resisting resident. Maine Public Broadcasting reporter Patty Wight writes that the Ebola nurse has “sparked a backlash from some residents in Fort Kent and from students at the local university, where her boyfriend is a nursing student”.
Independent Mainers may cheer anyone giving the governor a big middle finger, but they also aren’t shy about independently doing what needs to be done. The Ebola nurse broke quarantine by bike riding with her boyfriend, as Maine State Troopers trailed beyond. To protect whom? Local residents from Kaci Hickox or her from them. “Officer, it was patchy ice. I lost control of the car. She shouldn’t have been riding a bicycle this time of year”.
Every great horror story turns on the unexpected plot twist, or in this case character. Kaci Hickox’s civil disobedience spreads Ebola across a quiet community. Five people are infected. She and her boyfriend, the pizza delivery guy, and two of his coworkers. It’s an epidemic!
The U.S. military quarantines with barbwire and machine guns. Suddenly Fort Kent looks like an alien crash site from the X-Files. Say, is that Fox Mulder and camera behind the Moose Shack? Governor LePage begs President Obama to declare a national emergency and send financial assistance. Snow mobile tourism is ruined for the season!
While Americans obsess, someone takes action to protect a great nation. Eh, and not the United States. Isn’t Kaci Hickox’s disposition an international matter? Fort Kent is a border town. Cross the St. John River, and O Canada! The Stephen King version can only end one way. Militant Québécois drop a Russian nuke on Fort Kent, ironically one that was pointed at Limestone 50 years earlier. As for radioactive waste, what do they care? The fallout lands on New Brunswick and Quebec finally secedes from Canada.
Of course being a horror story, radioactivity mutates Ebola and, well…No Canada!
Editor’s Note: For readers not accustomed to metric measurement; Caribou to Fort Kent, 43 miles; Fort Kent to Limestone, 53 miles; Fort Kent to Bangor, 187 miles; snowfall, 110 inches.
Photo Credit: Maria Casacalenda