Wednesday, 1 December 2010

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Red Weed

EPISODE IV: THE CYLINDER OPENS

I returned to Horsell Common at sunset. Scattered groups were hurrying from the direction of Woking. The crowd about the pit had increased - a couple of hundred people, perhaps. There were raised voices, and a struggle appeared to be going on about the pit. As I drew nearer I heard the voice of Aryan Odinson, the Astronomer Royal:

“Keep back! Keep back!”

A ginger-headed boy came limping towards me, and I instinctively clotheslined him.

“It’s a-movin’!” he gasped as crumpled to the ground. “A-screwin’ and a-screwin’ out. I don’t like it. I’m a-goin’ ’ome, I am.”

I clipped him around the ear for poor grammar and went on to join the crowd. There were really, I should think, schnufty-fufty people elbowing and jostling one another, the one or two ladies there being by no means the least active.

“He’s fallen in the pit!” cried someone.

“Keep back!” said someone else.

The crowd swayed a little, and I shoulder-barged my way through. Everyone seemed greatly excited. I heard a peculiar humming sound from the pit.

“Professor von Bolt-Thrower!” said Humid William; “Help keep these tossers back! We don’t know what’s in the bastard thing!”

I saw a young man, a shop assistant in Woking I believe he was, standing on the cylinder and trying to scramble out of the hole again. The crowd had pushed him in. Personally, I thought this was hilarious, and wished I’d had the foresight to bring my BB gun.

The end of the cylinder was being screwed out from within and nearly two feet of shining metal was now projecting. Somebody bumped against me, and I narrowly missed being pushed onto the top of the screw. I turned to deliver a gut punch and, as I did so, the screw must have popped out, for the lid of the cylinder fell upon the gravel with a ringing bang. Or a banging ring. One of the two.

I slammed my elbow into the person behind me, and turned my head towards the Thing again. For a moment that circular cavity seemed perfectly black.

I think everyone expected to see someone emerge—possibly something a little different from ourselves, but in all essentials a man. Looking closely, I presently saw something stirring within the shadow: greyish billowy movements, one above another, and then two luminous disc-like eyes. Then something resembling a little grey snake, about the thickness of a walking stick, coiled up out of the writhing middle, and wriggled in the air towards me—and then another. I patted my pocket, checking my vortex grenade was still in place.

There was a loud shriek from a woman behind. I half turned, keeping my eyes fixed upon the cylinder, from which other tentacles were now projecting, and began pushing my way away from the pit. There was a general movement backwards from the people, too. I saw the Woking shop-owner struggling still. I found myself alone, and saw the people on the other side of the pit running off, Aryan Odinson among them. I looked again at the cylinder.

A big greyish rounded bulk, the size, perhaps, of a bear, was rising slowly and painfully out of the cylinder. As it bulged up and caught the light, it glistened like wet leather.

Two large dark-coloured eyes were regarding me steadfastly. The head was rounded, and had a face, of sorts. There was a mouth, the lipless brim of which quivered and panted, and dropped saliva. The whole creature heaved and pulsated convulsively. A lank tentacular appendage gripped the edge of the cylinder, another swayed in the air. At least, I really hope it was a tentacular appendage.

Those who have never seen a living Martian can scarcely imagine the strange horror of its appearance. The peculiar V-shaped mouth with its pointed upper lip, the absence of brow ridges, the absence of a chin beneath the wedgelike lower lip, the incessant quivering of this mouth, the groups of tentacles, the tumultuous breathing of the lungs in a strange atmosphere, the evident heaviness and painfulness of movement due to the greater gravitational energy of the earth— above all, the extraordinary intensity of the immense eyes...Even at this first encounter, this first glimpse, I was overcome with disgust and dread, not dissimilar to my first viewing of John Prescott.

Suddenly the monster vanished. It had toppled over the brim of the cylinder and fallen into the pit, with a thud.
I lit my cigar from my blowtorch, and cocked an eyebrow at the cylinder. “Well, that takes care of that alien invasion. Bitches should know better than to mess with Professor Rutger Awesomness von Bol...”

I heard it give a peculiar cry, and forthwith another of these creatures appeared darkly in the deep shadow of the aperture.

I turned and, running bravely, made for the first group of trees, perhaps a hundred yards away.

There, among some pine trees, I stopped and waited to see what would happen. The common around the sand pits was dotted with people, standing in a half-fascinated terror, staring at these creatures, or rather at the heaped gravel at the edge of the pit in which they lay. After a moment, I saw a round, black object bobbing up and down on the edge of the pit. It was the head of the shopkeeper who had fallen in, in silhouette. Now he got his shoulder and knee up, and again he seemed to slip back until only his head was visible. Suddenly he vanished, and I heard a girlish shriek. I had a momentary impulse to go back and help but dismissed the notion as anti-Darwinist.

TO BE CONTINUED...
Words: Brad Harmer & H.G. Wells

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