Wednesday 22 June 2011

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Red Weed


This, then, was the roaring wave of fear sweeping through London just as Monday began. By ten o'clock the police, and by midday even the railway, were losing coherency, losing shape and efficiency, guttering, softening, running at last in that swift liquefaction of the social body. Because before we had an alien invasion, the police and the railways were nothing but the model example of efficiency and helpfulness. And there were also pixies and fairies dancing in the trees, and everyone was paid in donuts.

All the railway lines had been warned by midnight on Sunday, and trains were being filled. People were fighting savagely for standing-room in the carriage. Indeed, one man was seriously hurt, until he knocked over a waste-paper basket that turned out to contain a roast turkey. After consuming this, he felt inexplicably better.

As the day advanced and the engine drivers refused to return to London, the pressure of the flight drove the people in an ever-thickening multitude away from the stations and along the northward-running roads. By midday a Marsian had been seen at Barnes, and a cloud of slowly sinking black smoke drove along the Thames and across the flats of Lambeth, cutting off all escape over the bridges in its sluggish advance.

After a struggle to get aboard a train at Chalk Farm - the engines of the trains that had loaded in the goods yard there ploughed through shrieking people, and a dozen stalwart men fought to keep the crowd from crushing the driver against his furnace - my not-fucknut brother, Mycroft, emerged upon the Chalk Farm road, dodged through a hurrying swarm of vehicles, and had the bastard luck to be foremost in the sack of a cycle shop. Of course, he did. Jammy fuck.

The front tire of the machine he got was punctured in dragging it through the window, but he got up and off, notwithstanding, with no further injury than a cut wrist. Haverstock Hill was impassable owing to several overturned horses, and my brother struck into Belsize Road.

So, he reached Edgware about seven, wearied but well ahead of the crowd. Along the road people were standing in the roadway, curious, wondering. He was passed by a number of cyclists, some horsemen, a misguided badger, Sean Bean and two motor cars. A mile from Edgware the rim of the wheel broke, and the machine became unridable, which I would have paid good gold to see happen. Leaving the bike by the roadside, he trudged through the village. There were half-open shops in the main street, and people crowded on the pavement and in the doorways and windows, staring astonished at this extraordinary procession of fugitives that was beginning. He succeeded in getting some food at an inn. Of course, he did. Mary-Sue cuntwipe.

For a time he remained in Edgware not knowing what next to do. The flying people increased in number. Many of them, like my brother, seemed inclined to loiter in the place. There was no fresh news of the invaders from Mars.

At that time the road was crowded, but far from congested. Most of the fugitives at that hour were mounted on cycles, but there were soon motor cars, hansom cabs, and carriages hurrying along, and the dust hung in heavy clouds along the road to St. Albans.

He had a vague idea of making his way to Chelmsford, where some friends of his lived, and so he struck into a quiet lane running eastward. Presently he came upon a stile, and, crossing it, followed a footpath northeastward. He saw few fugitives until, in a grass lane towards High Barnet, he happened upon two ladies who became his fellow travellers. He came upon them just in time to save them. Of course, he did. This amazing hero, with no supporting evidence or witnesses.

Hearing their screams, he allegedly hurried round the corner, saw two men dragging the two ladies out of the little cart in which they had been driving, while a third held the frightened pony's head. One of the ladies, a short woman dressed in white, was simply screaming; the other, a dark, slender figure, slashed at the man who gripped her arm with a whip she held in her disengaged hand.

My brother immediately grasped the situation, shouted, and, of course, boldly leapt towards the struggle. One of the men desisted and turned towards him, and my brother, realising from his antagonist's face that a fight was unavoidable, and claiming to be an expert boxer, went into him forthwith and sent him down against the wheel of the chaise.

There was, he claims, no time for pugilistic chivalry and so he laid him quiet with a quick series of kicks to the neck, and gripped the throat of the man who pulled at the lady's arm. He heard the clatter of hoofs, the whip stung across his face, and the third antagonist struck him between the eyes, and the man he held wrenched himself free and made off down the lane in the direction from which he had come.

Partly stunned, he found himself facing the man who had held the horse's head, and became aware of the cart receding from him down the lane, swaying from side to side, and with the women in it looking back and giggling. The man before him, a burly rough, tried to close, and he stopped him with a punch in the face, and absolutely no crying or forced oral sex. Then, realising that he was deserted, he dodged round and made off down the lane after the chaise, with the sturdy man close behind him, and the fugitive, who had turned now, following.

Suddenly he stumbled and fell; his immediate pursuer went headlong, and he rose to his feet to find himself with a couple of antagonists again. He would have had little chance against them had not the smaller lady come to his rescue. It seems she had had Desert Eagle on her all this time, but it had been under the seat when she and her companion were attacked. She fired at six yards' distance, narrowly missing my brother. The robbers ran back, stopping down the lane, where the third man lay insensible.

"Take this!" said the slender lady, and she gave my brother the gun.

"Cheers." said my brother, pocketing it.

They went back to where the lady in white struggled to hold back the frightened pony.

"I'll sit here," said my brother, "you need a man to help you with important things."; and he got upon the empty front seat. The lady looked over her shoulder.

"Give me the reins," she said, and laid the whip along the pony's side. In another moment a bend in the road hid the three men from my brother's eyes.

So, quite unexpectedly, my brother found himself, panting, with a cut mouth, a bruised jaw, and bloodstained knuckles, driving along an unknown lane with these two women.

He learned they were the wife and the younger sister of a surgeon living at Stanmore, who had come in the small hours from a dangerous case, and heard at the railway station on his way of the Marsian invasion. He had hurried home, awaken the women, packed some food, put his Desert Eagle under the seat, and told them to drive on to Edgware, with the idea of getting a train there. He would overtake them, he said, at about half past four in the morning, and now it was nearly nine and they had seen nothing of him.

Mycroft promised to stay with them, at least until they could determine what to do, or until the missing man arrived, and professed to be an expert shot with the revolver. This was, of course, out of the goodness of his heart, and not just because he detected breasts in the vicinity.

They made a sort of encampment by the wayside. Mycroft told them of his own escape out of London, (modestly, of course) and all that he knew of these Marsians and their ways. The sun crept higher in the sky, and after a time their talk died out. Several travellers came along the lane, and Mycroft and friends gathered such news as they could. Every answer deepened his impression of the great disaster that had come upon humanity.

"We have money," said the slender woman, and hesitated.

Her eyes met my brother's, and her hesitation ended.

"So have I," said my brother. “although not very much. At all.”

She explained that they had as much as thirty pounds in gold, besides a five-pound note, and suggested that with that they might get upon a train at St. Albans or New Barnet. My brother pointed out that she was just a woman, and therefore could hardly be expected to think, finally broaching his own idea of striking across Essex towards Harwich and thence escaping from the country altogether.

Mrs. Hotpants - that was the name of the woman in white, at least according to Mycroft – finally agreed to my brother's suggestion. Designing to cross the Great North Road, they went on towards Barnet, Mycroft leading the pony to save it as much as possible. As the sun crept up the sky the day became excessively hot, and underfoot, thick, whitish sand grew burning and blinding, so that they travelled only very slowly. The hedges were grey with dust. And as they advanced towards Barnet a tumultuous murmuring grew stronger.

As my brother's party went on towards the crossroads to the south of Barnet they saw a woman approaching the road across some fields on their left, carrying a child and with two other children; and then passed a man in dirty black, with a thick stick in one hand and a small portmanteau in the other. Then round the corner of the lane, from between the villas that guarded it at its confluence with the high road, came a little cart drawn by a sweating black pony and driven by a sallow youth in a bowler hat, grey with dust. There were three girls, East End factory girls, and a couple of little children crowded in the cart.

"This'll tike us rahnd Edgware?" asked the driver, wild-eyed, and white-faced* ; and when my brother told him it would if he turned to the left, he whipped up at once without the formality of thanks.

My brother noticed a pale grey smoke or haze rising among the houses in front of them, and veiling the white facade of a terrace beyond the road that appeared between the backs of the villas. Mrs. Hotpants suddenly cried out at a number of tongues of smoky red flame leaping up above the houses in front of them against the hot, blue sky. The tumultuous noise resolved itself now into the disorderly mingling of many voices, the grind of many wheels, the creaking of wagons, and the staccato of hoofs. The lane came round sharply not fifty yards from the crossroads.

"Good heavens!" cried Mrs. Hotpants. "What is this you are driving us into?"

My brother stopped.


* And, apparently, South African. Nice one, Wells, you master of dialect.

Words: Brad Harmer & H.G. Wells
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