Wednesday 17 November 2010

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Red Weed


I found a little crowd of about twenty people surrounding the cylinder, which lay in a huge hole in the ground in the middle of Horsell Common. I have already described the appearance of that colossal bulk. Go back and read it
here, if you’ve forgotten. And for God’s sake, pay attention.

The turf and gravel about it seemed charred as if by a sudden explosion. No doubt its impact had caused a flash of fire. Humid William had gotten bored within minutes of dragging me there to stare at his discovery. I think he figured that nothing was to be done for the present, and had gone away to breakfast at Bjorn’s van.

There were four or five boys sitting on the edge of the pit, with their feet dangling, and amusing themselves by throwing stones at the giant mass. I told them to stop being such fucking wussies, and gave them my Storm Bolter to play with, which they then used to explode conkers with for the next hour or two.

A crowd was slowly building around the site of the cylinder's impact. Amongst these were a couple of cyclists, a jobbing gardener, a girl carrying a baby, Gregg the butcher and his little boy, Greggs the baker, and some golf caddies who often hung around the railway station. There was surprisingly little talking. Few of the common people in England had anything but the vaguest astronomical ideas in those days – hey, there were more important things to worry about like...oh...The X Factor. Most of the bovine crowd were staring quietly at the flat end of the cylinder, which was still as Humid William had left it.

Some of the crowd moved away while I was there, and some others people came, drawn by both the spectacle of the craft from Mars, and the sound of Space Marine Terminator fire. After a while, boredom got the better of me and I clambered into the pit for a closer look. I thought heard a faint movement under my feet, but the top had certainly ceased to rotate.

It was only when I got close to it that the strangeness of the cylinder was at all evident to me. At first glance it was really no more exciting than an overturned car or dead badger. It looked like a rusty gas float. I figured that the grey scale of the thing was no common metal, that the yellowish-white colour that gleamed in the crack between the lid and the cylinder had an unfamiliar hue. “Extra-terrestrial” had no meaning for most of the onlookers. You know, apart from that movie with the smiling turd.

It was quite clear to me that the thing had come from Mars, but I doubted (at the time) that it contained any living creature. The unscrewing must have been automatic, I figured. I felt an impatience to see it opened, so that everyone could get on with typical British business...queueing and talking about the weather, for example. About eleven, as nothing seemed happening, I wiped the blood from my Storm Bolter and walked back to my home in Maybury.

By the afternoon the common had altered very much. The early editions of the evening papers had startled London with enormous headlines:




and so forth. In addition, Humid Fucking William’s call to the Astronomical Exchange had roused every observatory in the three kingdoms. There was altogether quite a considerable crowd gathered on the common. One or two fit birds, but mostly dorks.

It was glaringly hot, with not a cloud in the sky, and the only shadow was that of the scattered pine trees. The burning heather had been extinguished, but the level ground towards Ottershaw was blackened as far as one could see, and still giving off vertical streamers of smoke. An enterprising pikey had sent up his son with a barrow-load of green apples and ginger beer.

Going to the edge of the pit, with the intention of lighting my cigar from the still hot cylinder, I found it occupied by a group of about half a dozen men. Amongst them, were Bjorn, Humid William, and a tall, fair-haired man that I afterwards learned was Aryan Odinson, the Astronomer Royal, with several workmen wielding spades, pickaxes and – carried by one confused individual – a lathe. Odinson was giving directions in a clear, high-pitched voice. He was standing on the cylinder, which was now evidently too cool to light my cigar. His face was crimson and streaming with sweat and something seemed to have irritated him.

A large portion of the cylinder had been uncovered, though its lower end was still embedded. As soon as Humid William saw me among the staring crowd on the edge of the pit he called to me to come down.

“Can you go over and see Lord Hashbrown?” he asked, cold Pot Noodle visible on his lapel.

I looked from William to the cylinder and back again, resigning myself to the fact that there was never going to be an ordinary day in my life. “Why?”

“It’s the crowd. They’re becoming right pests – especially the young ‘uns. I was hoping we could get a barrier put up to keep the people back.”

“Wouldn’t shouting ‘Run! It’s gonna blow!’ have a similar effect?” I asked, wondering why the fucking hell it should be my job to go all the way to Lord Hashbrown’s. I didn’t even own a car, and Enid was getting tired of carrying me everywhere.

He dropped his voice. “Don’t say that. There’s still some noise if you’re up close. We don’t know how thick the shell is – so those could be really loud noises in actuality.”

“Yeah, or, metal cooling.” I said, clambering back out of the pit and heading in the direction of Lord Hashbrown’s manor. “Am I the only one who’s attacking this with a modicum of common sense?”

I failed to find Lord Hasbrown at his house, but I was told he was expected from London by the six o’clock train from Waterloo; and as it was then about a quarter past five, I went home, had some tea, punched the cat, and walked up to the station to waylay him.
Words: Brad Harmer & H.G. Wells


The Last Battle has started. The seals on the Dark One's prison are crumbling. The Pattern itself is unravelling, and the armies of the Shadow have begun to boil out of the Blight. Perrin Aybara is haunted by spectres from his past. To prevail, he must find a way to master the wolf within him or lose himself to it for ever.
Meanwhile, Matrim Cauthon prepares for the most difficult challenge of his life. The Tower of Ghenjei awaits, and its secrets will reveal the fate of a friend long lost. The end draws near. It's time to roll the dice.

Thanks to our friends at Little, Brown, we've got a copy of the new The Wheel of Time novel The Towers of Midnight to give away! For your chance of winning, send your name and full postal address to before midday on Wednesday 24th November. The first name of the electronic hat will win this awesome prize!

PLUS: Two runners-up will win a copy of the preceding novel The Wheel of Time: The Gathering Storm - out now in paperback from Little, Brown!

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