Wednesday 3 November 2010

How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Red Weed


That night came the first falling star. It was seen early in the morning, rushing over Winchester, a line of flame high in the atmosphere. Hundreds must have seen it, and taken it – like you would - for an “ordinary” falling star. Bjorn described it as leaving a snotty spurt behind it that glowed for some seconds, although he may have been talking about Humid William. William, for his part, stated that the height of its first appearance was about a hundred miles. It seemed to him that it fell to earth about a hundred miles east of him.

I was at home and pretending to work in my study; and although my windows faced towards Ottershaw, I saw nothing of it. This strangest of all things that came to earth from outer space must have fallen whilst I was, visible to me had I only looked up as it passed. What can I say? Farmville is addictive.

Some of those who saw its flight say it travelled with a strange whooping sound. I myself heard nothing like that. Many people in Berkshire, Surrey, and Middlesex must have seen it, and, at most, have thought that another meteorite had descended. No one seems to have bothered to look for where it landed that night. Such is the apathy of people towards Marsian invasion.

But very early in the morning, Humid William - who had seen the shooting star and who was persuaded that a meteorite lay somewhere on the common between Horsell, Ottershaw, and Woking - got up early to look for it. Soon after dawn, he found it. To be fair, it wasn’t hard.

An enormous hole had been made by the impact of the missile, and the sand and gravel had been flung violently in every direction over the heath, forming heaps visible schnufty-fufty miles away. The heather was on fire, and a thin blue smoke rose against the dawn. After that, it seems somewhat stupid to be excited about finding it.

The thing itself lay almost entirely buried in sand, amidst the scattered splinters of a fir tree it had smasherised to fragments in its descent. The exposed part had the appearance of a huge cylinder, caked over with earth. It had a diameter of about thirty yards. William approached the missile, surprised at the size and shape, since most meteorites are more or less round. It was, however, still so hot from its flight that he couldn’t get very near. A noise within the cylinder he ascribed to the cooling of its surface; for back then, we didn’t think they could be hollow. I mean, even now...who would build a space shuttle designed to crash?

Then, he suddenly he noticed with a start that some of the ashy incrustation that covered the meteorite was falling off the circular edge. It was dropping off in flakes. A large piece suddenly came off and fell with a sharp noise that brought his heart into his mouth.

Not being the brightest of chaps, he didn’t realise what this meant for a full twenty minutes. Then, although the heat was excessive, he clambered down into the pit close to the bulk to see it more clearly. He thought that the cooling of the body might account for this, but what disturbed that idea was the fact that the ash was falling only from the end of the cylinder.

He figured that, very slowly, the top of the cylinder was rotating. Even then he scarcely understood what this indicated, until he heard a muffled grating sound and saw the top jerk forward an inch or so. Then the thing came upon him in a flash. The cylinder was hollow, with an end that screwed out! Something within the cylinder was unscrewing the top!

“Gosh!” said William. “There’s a man in it! Maybe even men in it! Half roasted to death! Trying to escape!”

At once, with a quick mental leap, (unusual for William, no argument there) he linked the Thing with the flash upon Mars.

The thought of the confined creature was so dreadful to him that he forgot the heat and went forward to the cylinder to help turn, fortunately for him, the heat stopped him before he could burn his hands on the still-glowing metal. He then turned, scrambled out of the pit, and set off running wildly to Bjorn’s Burger Van. Unfortunately, he found me, along the way.

“Professor von Bolt-Thrower,” he called, “you saw that shooting star last night?”

“What?” I asked, lighting my cigar from a flaming hedgehog.

“It’s out on Horsell Common now.”

“What is?” I asked.

“The fallen meteorite!”

“That’s nice, William. I’m needed in the basement now, okay?” I said, before pretending to walk down a flight of stairs behind the hedge.

“But it’s something more than a meteorite. It’s a cylinder! An artificial cylinder! And there’s something inside.”

This sounded interesting. I stood up with my Thunder Hammer in hand.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

He told me all that he had seen. We hurried back to the common, and found the cylinder still lying in the same position. But now the supposed sounds inside had ceased, and a thin circle of bright metal showed between the top and the body of the cylinder.

We listened, tapped on the scaly burnt metal with a stick, and, meeting with no response, we both concluded the man or men inside must be insensible or dead.

“They’re either insensible or dead.” I said. “Cribbage?”

By eight o’clock a number of boys and chavs had already started for the common to see the “dead blokes from Mars.”.

Words: Brad Harmer & H.G. Wells

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