Wednesday 9 February 2011

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Red Weed


Saturday lives in my memory as a day of suspense and laundry. I had slept only a little, though Enid had succeeded in nodding off, and I rose early. I went into my garden before breakfast and stood listening, but towards the common there was nothing stirring but a lark.

The milkman came as usual. I heard the rattle of his carriage and I went round to the side gate to ask the latest news. He told me that during the night the Marsians had been surrounded by troops, and that big guns were expected.

“They aren’t to be killerised, though,” said the milkman, “if that can possibly be avoided.”

I saw my neighbour gardening and, unfortunately, he saw me. He's one of those neighbours who are all right, but you don't really want to chat with them for any length of time. My neighbour, Mervyn Bushfire, was of opinion that the troops would be able to capture or to destroy the Marsians during the day.

“It’s a pity they make themselves so unapproachable,” Mervyn said. “It would be curious to know how they live on another planet; we might learn a thing or two.”

He came up to the fence and extended a handful of cat faeces. Enid and I didn't actually own a cat, but for reasons long since lost to the mists of time, we had to pretned that we did to the Bushfires. I gratefully accepted the moist pile whilst he told me of the burning of the pine woods about the Byfleet Golf Links.

“They say,” said he, “that there’s another of the cylinders fallen there. This lot’ll cost the insurance people a pretty penny before everything’s settled.” He laughed with an air of the greatest good humour as he said this, and I had to join in in that someone's-just-made-a-joke-at-the-office-it-isn't-funny-but-society-says-a-stony-silence-would-be-awkward-rather-than-an-appropriate-way-of-teaching-people-that-they're-not-fucking-funny way. The woods, he said, were still burning, and pointed out a haze of smoke to me.

After breakfast, I walked down to the common. Under the railway bridge I found a group of soldiers — sappers, I think. Men in small round caps, dirty red jackets unbuttoned, and showing their blue shirts, dark trousers, and boots coming to the calf. I chatted with these soldiers for a time; I told them of my sight of the Marsians on the previous evening.

None of them had seen the aliens, and they had but the vaguest ideas of them, so that they plied me with questions. The ordinary sapper is a great deal better educated than the common soldier, and they discussed the peculiar conditions of the possible fight with some acuteness. I described the Heat-Ray to them, and they began to argue among themselves.

“Crawl up under cover and rush ’em, say I,” said one.

“Get aht!,” said another. “What’s cover against this ’ere ’eat? Sticks to cook yer! What we got to do is to go as near as the ground’ll let us, and then drive a trench.”

“Ain’t they got any necks, then?” said a third; a short, contemplative man, smoking a pipe.

I repeated my description.

“Sounds like they're practically an octopus.” said he.

“Why not shell the darned things strite off and finish ’em?” said the little dark man. “It's the only way to be sure.”

So they discussed it. After a while I left them, and went on to the railway station to get as many morning papers as I could, as Enid is a fiend for Sudoku.

But I will not weary the reader with a description of that long morning and of the longer afternoon. I did not succeed in getting a glimpse of the common.

I got back to lunch about two, very tired for, as I have said, the day was extremely hot and dull; and in order to refresh myself I resorted to dipping my testicles in cold tea. About half past four I went up to the railway station to get an evening paper, for the morning papers had contained only a very inaccurate description of the killing of Odison, Humid William and the others. But there was little I didn’t know. The Marsians did not show an inch of themselves. There was a sound of hammering in the pit, and an almost continuous streamer of smoke.

Apparently they were busy getting ready for a struggle. “Fresh attempts have been made to signal, but without success,” was the stereotyped formula of the papers. A sapper told me it was done by a man in a ditch with a flag on a long pole. The Marsians took as much notice of such advances as we should of the lowing of a cow, or the latest publicity stunt from Katie Price.

I must confess the sight of all this armament, all this preparation, greatly excited me. My schoolboy dreams of battle and heroism came back. It hardly seemed a fair fight to me at that time. They seemed very helpless in that pit of theirs.

About three o’clock there began the thud of a gun at measured intervals. I learned that the smouldering pine wood into which the second cylinder had fallen was being shelled, in the hope of destroying that object before it opened. It was only about five, however, that a field gun reached Chobham for use against the first body of Martians.

About six in the evening, as I sat at tea with Enid in the summerhouse, I heard a detonation from the common, immediately followed by a gust of firing. Close on the heels of that came a violent crash, quite close to us, that shook the ground. Running out onto the lawn, I saw the tops of the trees about the Oriental College burst into smoky red flame, and the tower of the little church beside it slide down into ruin. The pinnacle of the mosque had vanished, and the roof line of the college itself looked as if a hundred-ton gun had been at work upon it. One of our chimneys cracked as if a shot had hit it, flew, and a piece of it came clattering down the tiles and made a heap of broken red fragments upon the flower bed by my study window.

“We can’t possibly stay here,” I said; and as I spoke the firing reopened for a moment upon the common.

“But where are we to go?” asked Enid, in terror.

I thought perplexed. Then I remembered her cousins at Leatherhead.

“Leatherhead!” I shouted above the sudden noise.

She looked away from me downhill. The people were coming out of their houses, astonished.

“How are we to get to Leatherhead?” she asked.

Down the hill I saw a bevy of mounted police ride under the railway bridge; three galloped through the open gates of the Oriental College; two others dismounted, and began running from house to house. The sun, shining through the smoke that drove up from the tops of the trees, seemed blood red, and threw an unfamiliar lurid light upon everything.

“Stop here,” said I; “you are safe here”; and I started off at once for nearest pub - The Goat on a Boat - for I knew the landlord had a horse and cart. I ran, for I perceived that in a moment everyone upon this side of the hill would be moving. I found Gavin, the landlord, in the bar, quite unaware of what was going on behind his house.

“Lord!” said the landlord; “what’s the hurry? Forty quid, and you bring it back? What’s going on now?”

At the time it did not seem to me nearly so urgent that the landlord should leave his. I took the cart, drove it off down the road, and, leaving it in charge of my wife, rushed into my house and packed a few valuables, such as the assault cannon, the claymores, Cluedo, the banjo, the .357 Magnum, the white chocolate magnums, the rabbit, my Darth Maul pants, the complete Only Fools and Horses on DVD, the shotgun, the double-barrelled shotgun, the cow-catcher, the assault shotgun, Blood Bowl, various action figures of Mer-Man, the signed photo of Anne Robinson, the Harley Davidson, the two angry badgers, and so forth. While I was occupied in this way, one of the policemen came running up. He was going from house to house, warning people to leave. He was going on as I came out of my front door, lugging my treasures, done up in a tablecloth*. I shouted after him:

“What news?”

He turned, stared, bawled something about “crawling out in a thing like a dish cover,” and ran on to the gate of the house at the crest. A sudden whirl of black smoke driving across the road hid him for a moment. I ran to Mervyn Bushfire's door and checked that his wife had gone to London with him and had locked up their house, pausing only to liberate his cigars on the way out. I jumped up into the driver’s seat of the cart, beside my wife. In another moment we were clear of the smoke and noise, and racing down the opposite slope of Maybury Hill towards Old Woking.

In front was a quiet sunny landscape, a wheat field ahead on either side of the road, and the Maybury Inn with its swinging sign. I saw the doctor’s cart ahead of me. At the bottom of the hill I turned my head to look at the hillside I was leaving. Black smoke shot with threads of red fire were driving up into the still air, and throwing dark shadows upon the green treetops eastward. The smoke already extended far away to the east and west. The road was dotted with people running towards us. And very faint now, but very distinct through the hot, quiet air, one heard the whirr of a machine-gun that was presently stilled, and an intermittent cracking of rifles. Apparently the Marsians were setting fire to everything within range of their Heat-Ray.

I am not an expert driver, and I had immediately to turn my attention to the horse. When I looked back again the second hill had hidden the black smoke. I slashed the horse with the whip, and gave him a loose rein until Woking and Send lay between us and that quivering tumult. I overtook and passed the doctor between Woking and Send.

* It was a cunningly folded dining table, actually.


Words: Brad Harmer & H.G.Wells

PARANORMAL ACTIVITY 2 GIVEAWAY!The sequel to the low-budget blockbuster Paranormal Activity takes place a few months before the events of the first film. Katie (Katie Featherston), the much put-upon leading lady in the original, has a sister living in an upscale Los Angeles suburb named Kristi (Sprague Grayden). Kristi has a new baby son, Hunter; a likable lug of a husband named Daniel (Brian Boland), who owns several fast-food joints; a teenage stepdaughter from her hubby's first marriage, Ali (Molly Ephraim); and a large, friendly dog. As the family gets used to the new arrival, strange noises are heard late at night and when they come home from an outing, they discover the house has been trashed, even though none of their valuables have been stolen.

Daniel responds by installing a security system and a network of surveillance cameras, though that doesn't stop the noises or the Latino housekeeper's insistence that spirits lurk in the home. When Katie and her boyfriend, Micah (Micah Sloat), stop by for a visit, they discuss the strange goings-on with Kristi; the women of the house believe supernatural forces are at work, while the men find that notion ridiculous. That doesn't last long, as the spirits get noisier and angrier, especially when Ali begins doing some research on the subject, and before long the safety of the household is being threatened on several fronts, possibly due to some dirty dealings in the family's distant past.

Thanks to our friends at Paramount Home Entertainment, we've got three copies of Paranormal Activity 2 to give away! For your chance of winning, send your name and full postal address to before midday on Wednesday 16th February, making sure to put "Paranormal Activity 2" as the subject. The first three entries out of the electronic hat after the competition closes will receive a free copy each!

Don't forget to put "Paranormal Activity 2" in the subject line. Incorrectly labelled or blank entries will be discarded.

Paranormal Activity 2 is available on DVD and Blu-ray from Monday 28th Febraury. Pre-order Now!

Entries limited to one per household. Offer open only to postal addresses in the UK and Ireland.

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