Wednesday 23 February 2011

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Red Weed


Leatherhead is about twelve miles from Maybury Hill. The scent of hay and dog shit was in the air through the lush meadows beyond Pyrford, and the heavy firing that had broken out while we were driving ceased as abruptly as it began, leaving the evening as quiet as a mouse. A dead mouse. We got to Leatherhead without misadventure about nine o'clock, and the horse had an hour's rest while I took supper with my cousins and commended my wife to their care.

Enid was curiously silent throughout the drive. I talked to her reassuringly, but she answered only in two monosyllables, one of which was “off”. Had it not been for my promise to take the innkeeper's cart back, she would, I think, have urged me to stay in Leatherhead that night. Her face was very white as we parted.

For my own part, I had been excited all day. War fever had got into my blood, and Sabaton into my ears, and in my heart I was not so very sorry that I had to return to Maybury that night. I was even afraid that that last expolosion I had heard might mean the extermination of our invaders from Mars. I was owed my schnufty-fufty million dead Marsians...

I started to head back home at about eleven in the evening. The night was unexpectedly dark and it was fortunate that I knew the road. My wife stood in the light of the doorway, and watched me until I jumped up into the dog cart.

I was a little depressed at first about my wife's fears. She had been my closest confidant, best friend and ammo-belt feeder for years. As I came through Ockham I saw along the western horizon a blood-red glow, which as I drew nearer, crept slowly up the sky. The driving clouds of the gathering thunderstorm mingled there with masses of smoke.

Ripley Street was deserted, and - except for a lighted window or so - the village showed no signs of life. As I travelled, a lurid green glare lit the road about me and showed the distant woods towards Addlestone. I saw that the driving clouds had been pierced as it were by a thread of green fire, suddenly lighting their confusion and falling into the field to my left. It was the third falling star! There would still be plenty more for a-killerising, yet!

At first I regarded little but the road before me, and then abruptly my attention was drawn to something moving rapidly down Maybury Hill. At first I took it for the wet roof of a house, but one flash following another showed it to be in swift rolling movement. It was an elusive vision—a moment of bewildering darkness, and then, in a flash like daylight, this problematical object came out clear and sharp and bright.

A monstrous tripod, higher than many houses, striding over the young pine trees, and smashing them aside. A walking engine of metal; articulate ropes of steel dangling from it, and the clattering tumult of its passage mingling with the riot of the thunder. A flash, and it came out vividly, heeling over one way with two feet in the air, to vanish and reappear almost instantly as it seemed, with the next flash, a hundred yards nearer. Can you imagine a milking stool tilted and bowled violently along the ground? Okay, basically, it was nothing like that. That’d be a fucking retarded way of putting it. What they were like was bloody great three legged tripedal stomping hodge-podge maximisers of death-n-fire.

Suddenly, the trees in the pine wood ahead of me were parted, snapped off and driven headlong, and a second huge tripod appeared, rushing headlong towards me. At the sight of the second Fighting Machine, I wrenched the horse's head hard round to the right...the dog cart heeled over upon the horse; the shafts smashed noisily, and I was flung sideways and fell heavily into a shallow pool of water.

I crawled out almost immediately. The horse lay dead and by the lightning I saw the overturned cart, its wheel still spinning slowly. In another moment the Fighting Machine went striding by me, and passed uphill towards Pyrford.

Seen nearer, the Fighting Machine was driving on its way with its long, flexible, glittering tentacles (one of which gripped a badger). The hood that surmounted it moved to and fro with the inevitable suggestion of a head looking about. Behind the main body was a huge mass of white metal like a gigantic fisherman's basket, and puffs of green smoke squirted out from the joints of the limbs as the monster swept by me.

As it passed it set up an exultant deafening howl that drowned the thunder , "Ooolah! Oooolah!". In another minute it was with its companion, half a mile away.

For some minutes I lay there in the rain and darkness watching these Fighting Machines moving about in the distance. I was soaked with hail above and puddle water below. It was some time before my blank astonishment would let me struggle up the bank to a drier position.

Under cover of the pine woods I pushed on, towards my own house. It was very dark indeed in the wood, for the lightning was now becoming infrequent, and the hail, which was pouring down in a torrent, fell in columns through the gaps in the heavy foliage. I staggered through the trees, fell into a ditch and bruised my knees against a plank, and finally splashed out into the lane that ran down from the College Arms. I say splashed, for the storm water was sweeping the sand down the hill in a muddy torrent.

Near the top I stumbled upon something soft, and, by a flash of lightning, saw between my feet a heap of black broadcloth and a pair of boots. Before I could distinguish clearly how the man lay, the flicker of light had passed. I stood over him waiting for the next flash. When it came, I saw that he was a sturdy man, cheaply but not shabbily dressed; his head was bent under his body, and he lay crumpled up close to the fence, as though he had been flung violently against it.

Definitely not screaming, I and stooped and turned him over to feel for his heart. He was quite dead: his neck broken. The lightning flashed for a third time, and his face leaped upon me. I sprang to my feet in alarm. It was the landlord of the The Goat and Boat, whose cart I had taken.

I stepped over him.

I made my way at last to my own house. Nothing was burning on the hillside, though from the common there still came a red glare and a rolling tumult of ruddy smoke beating up against the drenching hail. Down the road towards Maybury Bridge there were voices and the sound of feet, but I had not the courage to shout or to go to them. I let myself in with my latchkey, closed, locked and bolted the door, staggered to the foot of the staircase, and sat down.

I crouched at the foot of the staircase with my back to the wall, shivering bravely.


Words: Brad Harmer & H.G. Wells

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