Wednesday, 6 April 2011

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Red Weed


The fighting was beginning. Almost immediately batteries across the river to our right, unseen because of the trees, fired heavily one after the other. A woman screamed. A baby cried. A cat barked. Everyone stood struck still by the sudden battle, yet nothing was to be seen save flat meadows, cows feeding unconcernedly and posing for Pink Floyd albums.

"The sojers'll stop 'em," said a woman beside me, doubtfully. A haziness rose over the treetops.

"Sorry, the what?" I asked. "The sojers? What exactly is a sojer? Are you missing teeth or just stup...oh. Cerebral palsy, huh? Sorry."

Then suddenly, away up the river, a puff of smoke jerked up into the air and hung; and forthwith a heavy explosion shook the air, smashing two or three windows in the houses near, and leaving us astonished.

"Here they are!" shouted a man. "Yonder! D'yer see them? Yonder!"

Quickly, one after the other, one, two, three, four of the armoured Marsians appeared, far away over the little trees, across the flat meadows that stretched towards Chertsey, and striding hurriedly towards the river.

Then, advancing obliquely towards us, came a fifth. Their armoured bodies glittered in the sun as they swept swiftly forward upon the guns, growing rapidly larger as they drew nearer. One flourished a huge case high in the air, and the ghostly, terrible Heat-Ray I had already seen on Friday night smote towards Chertsey, and struck the town.

At sight of these terrifying creatures, there was no screaming or shouting, but a silence. Then a hoarse murmur and a movement of feet—a splashing from the water. A man, too frightened to drop the franking machine he carried on his shoulder, swung round and sent me staggering with a blow from the corner of his burden. A woman thrust at me with her hand and rushed past me. I turned with the rush of the people, but I was not too terrified for thought. The terrible Heat-Ray was in my mind. To get under water! That was it!

"Get under water!" I shouted, unheeded by the hyper-violent and stupid masses.

I faced about again, and rushed towards the approaching Marsian, right down the gravelly beach and headlong into the water. Others did the same. A boatload of people came leaping out as I rushed past. The stones under my feet were muddy and slippery, and the river was so low that I ran perhaps twenty feet scarcely waist-deep. Then, as the Marsian towered overhead scarcely a couple of hundred yards away, I flung myself forward under the surface. People were landing hastily on both sides of the river, but the Marsian machine took no notice. When I raised my head above water, the its Heat Ray pointed at the batteries that were still firing across the river, and as it advanced it swung loose what must have been the generator of the Heat-Ray.

In another moment it was on the bank, and in a stride wading halfway across. The knees of its foremost legs bent at the farther bank, and in another moment it had raised itself to its full height again, close to the village of Shepperton. The six guns which had been hidden behind the outskirts of that village fired simultaneously. The sudden near concussion, the last close upon the first, made my heart jump. The monster was already raising the box generating the Heat-Ray as the first shell burst six yards above the hood.

I gave a cry of astonishment. I saw and thought nothing of the other four Marsian monsters; my attention was riveted upon the nearer incident. Simultaneously two other shells burst in the air near the body as the hood twisted round in time to receive, but not in time to dodge, the fourth shell.

The shell burst clean in the face of the Thing. The hood bulged, flashed, was whirled off in a dozen tattered fragments of red flesh and glittering metal.

"Boo-yah!" shouted I, with something between a scream and a cheer.

I heard answering shouts from the people in the water about me. I could have leaped out of the water with that momentary exultation. Explosions are - as has been agreed for many years - for the win.

The decapitated machine reeled like Amy Winehouse; but it did not fall over. It recovered its balance by a miracle, and, no longer heeding its steps and with the camera that fired the Heat-Ray now rigidly upheld, it reeled swiftly upon Shepperton. The living intelligence, the Marsian within the hood, was slain and splashed to the four winds of heaven, and the Thing was now but a mere intricate device of metal whirling to destruction. It drove along in a straight line, incapable of guidance. It struck the tower of Shepperton Church, smashing it down as the impact of a battering ram might have done, swerved aside, blundered on and collapsed with tremendous force into the river out of my sight.

This was awesome.

A violent explosion shook the air, and a spout of water, steam, mud, and shattered metal shot far up into the sky. As the camera of the Heat-Ray hit the water, the latter had immediately flashed into steam. In another moment a huge wave, like a muddy tidal bore but almost scaldingly hot, came sweeping round the bend upstream. I saw people struggling shorewards, and heard their screaming and shouting faintly above the seething and roar of the Marsian's collapse.

For a moment I heeded nothing of the heat, forgot the patent need of self-preservation. I splashed through the tumultuous water, pushing aside a man in black to do so, until I could see round the bend. Half a dozen deserted boats pitched aimlessly upon the confusion of the waves. The fallen Marsian came into sight downstream, lying across the river, and for the most part submerged.

Thick clouds of steam were pouring off the wreckage, and through the tumultuously whirling wisps I could see, intermittently and vaguely, the gigantic limbs churning the water and flinging a splash and spray of mud and froth into the air. The tentacles swayed and struck like living arms, and, save for the helpless purposelessness of these movements, it was as if some wounded thing were struggling for its life amid the waves. Enormous quantities of Marsian poop were spurting up in noisy jets out of the machine.

My attention was diverted from this death flurry by a furious yelling. A man, near the towing path, shouted and pointed. Looking back, I saw the other Marsians advancing down the riverbank. The Shepperton guns spoke this time unavailingly.

At that I ducked back under water, holding my breath until it was agony, and blundered painfully ahead under the surface as long as I could. The water was rapidly growing hotter.

When for a moment I raised my head to take breath and throw the hair and water from my eyes, the steam was rising in a whirling white fog that at first hid the Martians altogether. The noise was deafening. Then I saw the colossal figures magnified by the mist. They had passed by me, and two were stooping over the frothing, tumultuous ruins of their comrade.

The third and fourth stood beside him in the water. The generators of the Heat-Rays waved high, and the hissing beams smote down this way and that.

The air was full of a deafening and confusing conflict of noises: the clangorous din of the Marsians, the crash of falling houses, the whining of a teenager, the thud of trees, fences, banjos, sheds, pets flashing into flame, and the crackling and roaring of fire. Dense black smoke was leaping up to mingle with the steam from the river, and as the Heat-Ray went to and fro over Weybridge its impact was marked by flashes of incandescent white, that gave place at once to lurid flames.

For a moment I stood there, breast-high in the almost boiling water. There were worse ways to spend your birthday, after all. Through the reek I could see the people who had been with me in the river scrambling out of the water through the reeds.

Then suddenly the white flashes of the Heat-Ray came leaping towards me. The houses caved in as they dissolved at its touch, and darted out flames; the trees changed to fire with a roar. The Heat-Ray flickered up and down the towing path and came down to the water's edge not fifty yards from where I stood. It swept across the river to Shepperton, and the water in its track rose in a boiling weal crested with steam. I turned shoreward.

In another moment the huge wave, well-nigh at the boiling-point had rushed upon me. I let out a brave scream and I staggered through the leaping, hissing water towards the shore. I fell imperiously, in full sight of the Marsians, upon spit that runs down to mark the angle of the Wey and Thames.

I have a dim memory of the foot of a Marsian coming down within a score of yards of my head, driving straight into the loose gravel, whirling it this way and that and lifting again; of a long suspense, and then of the four carrying the debris of their comrade between them, now clear and then presently faint through a veil of smoke, receding interminably, as it seemed to me, across a vast space of river and meadow. And then, very slowly, I realised that by a miracle I had escaped.

And had somehow acquired a franking machine.

Words: Brad Harmer & H.G. Wells
You can become Brad's "friend" on Facebook, or you can "follow" him on Twitter. Depends how creepy you want to sound really.


Two Marvel icons fight side-by-side once more as Captain America becomes Captain America And Bucky #620, co-written by Eisner Award winners Ed Brubaker (Captain America) and Marc Andreyko (Batman: Streets of Gotham) with art by acclaimed illustrator Chris Samnee (Thor: The Mighty Avenger) for only $2.99! From the trenches of Nazi-occupied Europe to the halls of Avengers Tower, Bucky Barnes has seen it all! Now, learn the whole truth about this life spent in the crosshairs – and the secrets of a future primed to explode like a powder keg.

“What was Cap like in the early days, before WWII started? This is a question I've wanted to explore for years. And of course, the whole series ties directly into what's going on in Captain America and Fear Itself, and sets up future plans for [CLASSIFIED],” said Brubaker. "Getting to work with Marc and Chris, of course, is the cherry on top, since they're both doing brilliant work here."

Co-writer Andreyko explained, “Getting to explore unseen pieces of Bucky's history, from WWII through today, is an absolute blast. Being able to contribute to the Captain America legacy is an honor and a privilege and I can't wait to see the readers' reactions!”

There’s a similar thrill for artist Chris Samnee, who revealed, “The scripts I've gotten from Ed and Marc so far have been outstanding. I'm doing everything I can to live up to all the work they're putting into these scripts and pushing myself to make these pages the absolute best work I can muster. And having Bettie Breitweiser handling colors on these issues really take my stuff to another level. She's an amazing talent and I couldn't be happier with the pages I've seen from her so far.”

Some heroes are born great and others made great. But a select few must go through hell before they discover what kind of hero they can be. Can Bucky find his place in the Marvel Universe before his past finds him first? Leap into battle with the man who would be the Winter Solder this July when Captain America And Bucky #620 opens a whole new chapter in the history of both Fighting Avengers!

Produced by Jerry Bruckheimer and directed by Rob Marshall, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides captures the fun, adventure and humor that ignited the hit franchise—this time in Disney Digital 3D™.

Johnny Depp returns to his iconic role of Captain Jack Sparrow in an action-packed tale of truth, betrayal, youth and demise. When Jack crosses paths with a woman from his past (Penelope Cruz), he's not sure if it's love—or if she's a ruthless con artist who's using him to find the fabled Fountain of Youth.

When she forces him aboard the Queen Anne's Revenge, the ship of the formidable pirate Blackbeard (Ian McShane), Jack finds himself on an unexpected adventure in which he doesn't know who to fear more: Blackbeard or the woman from his past.

The international cast includes franchise vets Geoffrey Rush as the vengeful Captain Hector Barbossa, and Kevin R. McNally as Captain Jack's longtime comrade Joshamee Gibbs, plus Sam Claflin as a stalwart missionary and Astrid Berges-Frisbey as a mysterious mermaid.

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