The April 26 supply run, approved by the Gilead Survivors Committee and executed by a five-truck armed convoy, was a great success according to those who were part of the mission. After a multi-stop trip into Bethel,
Randolph and along Highway 12 in between the two towns, the participants brought back medicine, fuel, ammunition, firearms, and some types of foodstuffs that are difficult to procure locally.
Although the mission was generally uneventful – there were no confrontations, at least – several of the 15 people who executed the mission did report a disturbing lack of life in Bethel and Randolph. “It seems things have gotten pretty bad since the power and phones went out a few weeks ago,” said Jennifer Godin, an EMT who helped guide the mission when it came to procuring drugs and other medical necessities. “There weren’t any corpses on the streets anymore, but on the other hand, the only signs of life we saw anywhere were a couple of glimpses of people in windows in Bethel village, and they looked like they were trying not to be seen. And then there was somebody who yelled something at us in Randolph when we were at Patrick’s Place.”
Steve Jones, a retired antiques dealer who was on the mission, said the person in Randolph yelled something like, “F—ing traders!” or “traitors,” or something similar. “I don’t know what he was trying to say, but nobody came near us,” Jones said. “I guess it was a good idea Rich [Bennington] had to make sure we were all visibly armed and watchful of our surroundings.”
Since the Pandemic hit the U.S. last November, there has been an emerging consensus in the Gilead that people and neighborhoods are on their own. This sentiment has been bolstered over the last two weeks by accounts of Gilead residents who had enough fuel to drive to stores and other public places and found them to be deserted, except for a few dead bodies. The conclusion reached by almost all survivors in Gilead has been that residents must assume the worst and procure as many resources as possible to enable the area to weather the lack of government and commercial goods and services.
“Until we find out whether this de-population is just in our area, or if it’s more widespread, we need to act as though help won’t be coming from outside for a long time,” said Rich Bennington, who conceived the resource-procurement mission. “I wouldn’t automatically assume that this phenomenon is nationwide, but when the New York Times and Wall Street Journal websites weren’t updated for four days before the power went out, that drove it home to me that this is a very big problem.”
A consultant for private security firms, Bennington said the mission was distasteful, but necessary. “It’s sad that it had to come to this,” said Bennington, who is also a veteran of the Afghan wars, “but it’s obvious to me that it’ll be a while before things get back to normal, and I’d hate to have survived that G—-mned virus just to starve to death in my own house.”
Bennington’s thoughts on the subject are not unique. At an informal meeting of Gilead survivors – mostly those who contracted the disease and survived, and a few who seem never to have gotten sick – the sentiment was almost unanimous that Gilead residents had to look out for themselves, even if that meant resorting to activities they never would have condoned before the apparent collapse of the commercial and governmental infrastructure.
“If we still had electricity, or phones, or even a working store and gas station, I wouldn’t have considered the actions we eventually decided on,” said Jim Nash, a former journalist and public relations consultant. “I mean, let’s be honest – we were looting places, plain and simple. But we could be some of the last people in the whole damned state, and I don’t think any of the corpses we’ve seen over the last few weeks – God rest their souls – are going to mind if we try to go on living.”
The Gilead Survivors Committee – the group of 17 local residents representing most household with survivors in the Gilead – gathered at the home of Bennington and his husband, Stanley Lyon, to hear the plan and vote on it. The group’s decision was a unanimous approval of the plan, which was drafted by Bennington, Lyon and Nash.
Bennington urged the group to assume the worst, even while expecting nothing bad to happen. This meant treating the mission like a military expedition, keeping an eye open for ambush, theft, or simply random acts of violence. During the traveling portions of the mission, each truck included armed riders in the cabs as well as in the beds with the cargoes, with each rider responsible for watching a particular direction. At each stop, the drivers stayed in the cabs, ready to start the engines and take off at a second’s notice, while a perimeter was formed around the entire group and its precious cargo. Others went inside the stores to identify and bring out the necessary goods.
“Getting the fuel oil was what took the longest and caused the most worry,” said Bennington. “If we hadn’t been getting the oil from restaurants, we would have been back in four hours or so, instead of the 10 hours it took.” But, he also noted, the fuel oil is also one of the most important things for Gilead to have, so there was little choice in the matter.
Samuel Chambers, owner of the dairy at the end of the Gilead, wholeheartedly agreed with Bennington’s assessment. “I think it’s clear to everyone that if my dairy doesn’t keep working, we’ll lose the best hope we have of staying alive for the long-term,” Chambers said. “I don’t think anyone wants to be out in those fields cutting and baling hay by hand.”