the Arkansans still living in its shadow,
and the wide impact we'll be witnessing for years to come.
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In July of 2015, the population of Gothic, Arkansas was estimated at just over eighty-thousand. The city had been trapped in recession ever since the closure of its largest employer, Gothic University, in 2003. Nonetheless, some remained hopeful that the city would recover and flourish as a capital of the region.
My name is Fiona van Dahl, and I was among them. I grew up in Gothic, and worked as a reporter and critic at The Arkansas Republica until that fateful week in the summer of 2015. My husband and I were among the tens of thousands of refugees who have since been derided in the press for begging return to our ruined city. With every repeated misconception, every rumor, every slander, we drift further from ever seeing our home again.
Hence, I have created this document as a reference, for any conversation in which understanding the Gothic Disaster is key. All times given are in Central Standard Time (Gothic local time). I will update this guide as more resources and images become available. Email me or tweet @FekketCantenel if you would like to contribute.
We begin with a timeline of events.
Saturday, July 25, 2015
Early in the day, the National Hurricane Center first noted that the conditions necessary for a tropical cyclone were assembling in the Gulf of Mexico.
Sunday, July 26, 2015
According to the Gothic Police Department’s dispatch logs, at approximately 9 PM, the 9-1-1 system was flooded with panicked calls. Witnesses claimed that several buildings near the city center had collapsed, kicking up a cloud of dust and debris.
Police converged with ambulances at the scene. Guided by statements from frantic onlookers, officers approached cautiously. One reported over the radio that a large animal had fled down an alley, carrying a screaming man in its jaws.
Just then, personnel on the scene were set upon by a swarm of what would later be nicknamed ‘swastika’. The radio band filled with alternately screaming, gunfire, and silence. Dispatchers worked furiously to establish order.
Contact was finally reestablished with officers in the field, who reported many large, dangerous animals on the loose in the city center. Their disjointed descriptions spoke of roaring maws, dinosaurs, giraffes, swastikas, all shaped from a black needle substance that barely reacted to gunfire.
Gothic Police Chief David Summers sent more officers to evacuate the area, then sent out a call to nearby Tulsa, Oklahoma, requesting the assistance of their SWAT unit.
Monday, July 27, 2015
Thanks to a rapid response from Tulsa’s mayor and dispatchers, TSWAT’s armored van was on its way to Gothic, lights and sirens blazing.
Local media dashed back and forth across the city, capturing footage of responders rushing toward the chaos, pedestrians escaping in crowds, gunfire in the distance, ambulances screaming away into the night — and, more and more, the monsters that had sparked the chaos.
Casualties were pouring into Gothic Community Hospital’s tiny ER. When they ran out of beds, they were forced to roll out mats, and then sheets. News cameras captured scenes of crushed limbs amputated in hallways, head injuries held in check with wadded gauze, and rooms used as cramped morgues.
On the internet, insomniacs and the eastern hemisphere caught the scent. International media picked up the story, reposting smartphone footage of the disaster as fast as civilians could upload it. Social media sites were flooded with frantic attempts to contact loved ones inside the city.
TSWAT waded into the fray and were barely able to hold back the tide of monsters, many of which were undeterred by bullets.
The president was awakened and advised that a large-scale attack was in progress, and that he and the First Family would be moved to a safe location.
“—non-stop coverage of the Gothic Disaster.”
Dramatic news stinger music.
“—speaking live to a witness who has just been evacuated from the Gotham, Arkansas Disaster—”
“—exclusive footage sent to us by viewer Chris—”
Interview with expert who speculates about event.
“—had a live feed, but we’re being told that the feed has gone down, so we take you instead to—”
Parents in Gothic were notified that school had been canceled.
A CDC squad in HAZMAT equipment arrived to contain the evacuated city center. TSWAT finally pulled back, having sustained heavy losses. The steady stream of monsters had momentarily tapered off.
Various government think tanks assembled in their offices across the country. They checked online and were immediately inundated with video and photos of the disaster, all of which they would need to analyze, annotate, and argue over. Break room coffee makers were hurriedly started, and boxes of energy drinks were set out.
The internet was ahead of them by half an hour. Even the most graphic footage was being passed about on social media sites usually reserved for chatting with Grandma. The userbase of a major image board had already assembled an online spreadsheet in which to collect notes.
Though all of the monsters (or ‘sharps’ as they quickly become known) appeared to be made of a black, needle-like substance, their ‘species’ differed widely, from lamprey-mouthed to hippo-like. But the internet’s darlings were the swarms of vicious ‘exes’, their segmented legs forming what could only be called a swastika.
The spreadsheet was initially titled ‘DATABASE OF MONSTERS’, then ‘DATABASE OF SHARPS’, then briefly ‘THANK YOU BASED SHARP’, and at one point ‘don’t mind me, just walking my sharps ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)╯╲___卐卐卐卐’.
I am assembling a visual guide to the various sharp species and would appreciate any emailed or tweeted contributions. Here is a description of each major species. To date, all known species are entirely black.
- Swastika: At rest, takes the form of an X between 3′-6′ (1-2 meters) tall. They are almost definitely blind, but have incredible senses of smell and vibration. When one wants to start moving, it ‘hinges’ one of its bottom ‘legs’ like a knee, tipping in that direction. As its ‘arm’ comes down, it ‘hinges’, continuing the rolling motion until all four limbs are bent, resulting in a startling swastika form. They hunt in swarms, rolling into targets in order to stab their legs into them and feed using tiny mouths.
- Giraffes: Shaped like a brontosaurus with no tail. Its round main body, which can be 4′-12′ (1-3.5 meters) long and houses its brain and essential organs, is held up by four unbending stick-legs capable of surprising speed and agility. Its long ‘neck’, roughly the same length as its body, is capped by a round, lamprey-like mouth strong enough to pick up a human. Their screeching roar induces violent nausea in most humans. Again, this species is thought to be blind but extra-hearing and -smelling.
- Dragons (Helix): One of the rarer and thus least-understood species, and the only one known to be capable of flight. Its body consists of long, straight, bone-like structures laid out in parallel, connected through by a flexible and incredibly powerful spine. It achieves flight by rapidly spinning its body in a helix to ‘twist’ up into the air, and can also perform complex mid-air maneuvers. Its shape has been compared to that of a wood spinner (video, gif). It attacks by dive-bombing its prey, skewering the victim on its sharpened front-bones. Have been observed attempting to mate with a helicopter (destroying both), indicating their mating is performed mid-air. Sensory abilities unknown. Most specimens are between 6′-12′ (2-3.5 meters) long from tail to tip, not counting bones.
- Worms: The only species known to burrow underground. Takes the shape of a massive, maggot-like worm that bursts up through the ground to swallow prey whole. Reports conflict on whether they have teeth or merely a digestive maw. Rescued human victims were covered with third-degree burns from digestive fluids; skeletonization is estimated to take less than twelve hours. All observed specimens are huge, at least 3′ (1 meter) wide and 12′ (3.5 meters) long. Their presence is signaled by their loud burrowing and foul smell.
- Herbivores: Compared to the carnivorous monsters commonly listed, these are relatively harmless and only ever attack when threatened. They almost always travel in herds, with a remarkably familiar family structure of bulls, cows, and calves, and graze on plant matter for sustenance. Their bodies resemble a combination of bear (with adult cows coming to a man’s shoulder), hedgehog (for the black spines that comprise their bodies), triceratops (for their stumpy legs and the vicious crest of needles that sweeps back from their forehead), and other animals.
At a press conference, the governor declared a state of emergency and called in all available units of the Arkansas National Guard. He also ordered the evacuation of Gothic’s north side.
The president appeared afterward, broadcasting from a secure location, and encouraged the citizens of Gothic to remain calm and obey safety instructions from police and soldiers. He reassured evacuees that the situation would be resolved efficiently and that they would then be able to return to their homes.
Multiple units of the Arkansas National Guard entered the city and worked to evacuate affected areas, contain the sharps still emerging from the city center, and assess options going forward.
After a day of fighting, the Guard troops were forced to fall back and expand the quarantined area by several blocks in all directions. Sharps continued to swarm them, resulting in heavy casualties. Ventures into the affected area were almost impossible, and exploratory drones were quickly mistaken for prey and destroyed by a newly-emerging flying species of sharp. Helix-shaped and huge, they would glide high into the air and then dive-attack, impaling anything in its path. A squadron of Air Force jets was sent to engage them, but the sharps were agile in the air and counterattacked ferociously. The squadron barely escaped without casualties.
The quarantined area was expanded by three more blocks in all directions, encompassing the middle half of the city.
The president deployed several hundred Army troops to Gothic, including an Army Special Forces detachment specializing in combat reconnaissance. In order to facilitate their mission, he declared martial law in Gothic and hinted that a city-wide evacuation may be necessary.
Tuesday, July 28, 2015
Army troops arrived in Gothic and began setting up for reconnaissance missions into the affected area. Though Arkansas National Guard troops assisted the Highway Patrol in facilitating evacuation traffic, roads out of the city were locked with constant jams, delaying Army movements.
The Army Special Forces detachment began an incursion mission into the quarantined area.
(Not much is known about what happened after this point. All civilians, including media, were removed from the affected areas and kept at a distance. The governor mentioned the incursion mission at a press conference later that afternoon; immediately afterward, a gag order was apparently introduced, which lasted well into the next week.)
Wednesday, July 29, 2015
Internet, television, and cell reception were lost in the city, and most neighborhoods lost power. Whether these were cut off by providers or disrupted by the invading sharps remains unclear.
The National Hurricane Center began issuing advisories on Tropical Storm Bill, which had just formed south of New Orleans. Its projected path cut up through Louisiana and Arkansas before weakening over Missouri.
Traffic out of Gothic finally lessened as the majority of residents made it out. FEMA set up emergency tent camps for the thousands of displaced who could not afford hotels or, later, find vacant rooms.
Despite a safety-motivated ban on press inside the quarantined zone, two news helicopters from Tulsa flew over the city center, thinking the sharps were only ground-based. Under attack from the flying helix sharps, one helicopter was destroyed, killing all on board.
Thursday, July 30, 2015
Civilians within and without the city waited in agonized silence, listening for any clue to what would happen next and whether they would survive it.
Support poured in from around the world, from individuals and families as well as The Red Cross and FEMA. There was medical aid, and temporary housing, and food.
Prayer went up into every sky, from candlelight vigils and houses of worship. World leaders made declarations of sympathy and offered their aid. In many nations, special ops teams suited up and made travel plans on the off chance they were invited to help contain the quarantine zone.
Friday, July 31, 2015
Tropical Storm Bill reached its peak intensity over Little Rock, Arkansas. Its bands covered the state, pouring down torrents of freezing rain. It continued north, blacking out Gothic’s sky until close to dawn. Military operations within the city were temporarily suspended.
Those in temporary FEMA tent housing were worst affected; several camps flooded and had to be evacuated in the middle of the night.
At a joint press conference, the president and state governor declared a national state of emergency and ordered Gothic evacuated and quarantined. Army and National Guard beat a retreat from the center outward, systematically evacuating the already-deserted outer areas as they went.
According to evacuee onlookers, Army troops were agitated at this time due to loss of contact with the Special Forces detachment, which had been inside the contained zone for days. More troops were arriving to enforce the newly-declared Gothic Quarantine Zone (GQZ).
(This segment of the timeline is based on the testimony of Sgt. 1st Class William F. Drews of the Army Special Forces, delivered later at the now-famous ‘Blue Pulse Press Conference’. Though his version of events has been declared accurate by officials, it has garnered widespread skepticism. Alternative theories will be addressed in Part 4 of this series.)
After staging the GQZ, the Army commanding officer present called for volunteers for a rescue attempt. An armored vehicle was sent into the Zone to attempt to locate the Special Forces soldiers or establish their last known location.
They reached the city center with little resistance and recovered Sergeant Drews, who reported that the rest of his squad had been killed. As they attempted to withdraw from the area, they were overwhelmed by enemy forces, from which only Sergeant Drews escaped alive. By the time he made it to relative safety, he was disoriented, and had no choice but to continue on foot, searching for a way out of the city.
As sunset and night approached, Sergeant Drews decided to fall back on his squad’s official emergency plan — an experimental weapon prepared in the first days of the attack. (It is unclear who developed the weapon, how it works, or even what it looks like. See Part 4.)
Evacuees watching the sunset reported a powerful blue ‘pulse’ from within the city. It generated no wind or sound, and did not appear to affect solid matter at all. It dissipated within seconds; due to a media filming moratorium in place at the time, the event was not captured on camera.
Minutes later, ecstatic Army soldiers let slip to evacuees that the ‘blue pulse’ — later revealed to be the radius of Sergeant Drews’ weapon — had destroyed every sharp inside the city. A convoy of vehicles was dispatched into the quarantine zone, recovered Sergeant Drews a final time, and prepared to end the quarantine.
The CDC ordered that the quarantine be maintained, and began setting up a compound inside the GQZ. The few evacuees allowed back inside were immediately removed once more, and brought reports of new sharp sightings. The weapon’s effect had been only temporary; a steady stream of new sharps was emerging from shadows across the city.
Until it could be determined where the sharps were coming from and how to end the disaster permanently, the quarantine would remain in effect.
Saturday, August 1, 2015
At a White House press conference, the president declared this ‘our first day in a post-Gothic world’.New sections coming soon. To subscribe to updates, click here.