Under the Dome
by Stephen King
At 11:44 a.m. on October 21, 2017, the small Maine town of Chester's Mill is abruptly and gruesomely separated from the outside world by an invisible, semipermeable barrier of unknown origin. The immediate appearance of the barrier causes a number of injuries and fatalities and traps former Army Captain Dale "Barbie" Barbara—who is trying to leave Chester's Mill because of a local dispute—inside the town.
Police Chief Howard "Duke" Perkins is killed instantly when his pacemaker explodes when he gets too close to the Dome. This removes the last significant opposition to James "Big Jim" Rennie, used car salesman and the town's Second Selectman. Big Jim exerts a significant influence on Chester's Mill and seizes the opportunity to use the barrier as part of a power play to take over the town.
Big Jim appoints one of his cronies, the incompetent Peter Randolph, as the new police chief. He also begins expanding the ranks of the Chester's Mill Police with questionable candidates, including his son, Junior Rennie, and his friends. Junior has frequent migraines caused by an as-yet-undiscovered brain tumor which has also begun affecting his mental state; unknown to Big Jim, Junior was in the process of beating and strangling a girl (Angie McCain) to death when the barrier appeared and has killed another girl (Dodee Sanders) by the time Big Jim places him on the police force.
Elsewhere in Chester's Mill, Col. James O. Cox (who is stationed outside of the Dome) calls Julia Shumway, the editor of the local newspaper, and has her carry a message to Barbie to contact him. Cox then asks Barbie to act as the government's agent to bring down the Dome, as it has come to be known. Drawing similarities to Barbie's Army specialization in locating enemy munitions factories, Cox gives him the task of locating the Dome's power source, which is believed to be somewhere in the town. Cox is also able to foresee the small-town political ramifications of such a situation. By virtue of a Presidential order, Barbie is reinstated in the brevetted to the rank of Colonel. Barbie is also presented with a decree granting him authority over the township. However, small-town politics being what they are, this action is not well received by Big Jim and his band of renegade police officers. Around this time, Brenda Perkins, Duke's widow, discovers a file on her husband's computer that lists Big Jim's money-stealing schemes.
As Big Jim covertly encourages and orchestrates unease and panic among the townspeople to build up his grab for power, Barbie, Julia, and some other townspeople attempt to stop things from spiraling out of control. After crossing Big Jim's path on several occasions, Barbie is framed and arrested for four murders. He is accused of killing Reverend Lester Coggins, who laundered money for Big Jim's large-scale methamphetamine operation, and Duke's widow Brenda Perkins, who were both murdered by Big Jim, as well as Angie and Dodee. While Barbie is in jail, other residents track the source of the Dome, using a Geiger counter, to an abandoned farm; the device they find in the middle of the farm's orchard is strongly indicated to be extraterrestrial in origin. The restrictions issued by Big Jim become more severe, and the police force grows more abusive, galvanizing the town and eventually leading some residents to break Barbie out of jail, killing Junior seconds before he can murder Barbie.
The semi-organized resistance flees to the abandoned farm, where multiple people touch the strange object and experience visions. They not only conclude that the device was put in place by extraterrestrial "leatherheads" (so named for their appearance), but that specifically they are juveniles who have set up the Dome as a form of entertainment, a sort of ant farm used to capture sentient beings and allow their captors to view everything that happens to them.
On an organized "Visitors Day"—when people outside the Dome can meet at its edge with people within—Big Jim sends Randolph and a detachment of police to take back control of his former methamphetamine operation from Phil "Chef" Bushey, who is stopping Big Jim from covering up the operation as well as hoarding the more than four hundred tanks of propane stored there (Chef wants it all, explaining, "I need it to cook"). Big Jim underestimates Chef's capacity for self-defense and meth-induced paranoia; he, as well as the now-ostracized head selectman Andy Sanders (whom Chef has introduced to meth use), defend themselves and the meth lab with assault rifles. Many are killed in the ensuing gunfight, and Chef, who is mortally wounded, detonates a plastic explosive device he has placed in the meth production facility. The ensuing explosion, combined with the propane and meth-making chemicals, unleashes a toxic firestorm large enough to incinerate most of the town.
More than a thousand of the town's residents are quickly incinerated on national television, leaving alive just over 300 individuals who gradually die out as the toxic air restricts their breathing. Among the survivors are the twenty-seven refugees at the abandoned farm, an orphaned farm boy, hiding in a potato cellar, and Big Jim and his informal disembowels Thibodeau, only to die several hours later when hallucinations of the dead send him fleeing into the toxic environment outside. The survivors at the barn begin to slowly asphyxiate, despite efforts by the Army to force clean air through the walls of the Dome.
Barbie and Julia go to the control device to beg their captors to release them. Julia makes contact with a single female leatherhead, no longer accompanied by her friends and thus not under peer pressure. After repeatedly expressing that they are real sentient beings with real "little lives," and by sharing a painful childhood incident with the adolescent alien, Julia convinces the leatherhead to have pity on them. The Dome rises slowly and vanishes, allowing the toxic air to dissipate and finally freeing what is left of the town of Chester's Mill.