Wednesday, 9 November 2011

How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Red Weed

EPISODE XVIIIb: UNDER FOOT


It was nearly eleven o'clock before we gathered courage to start again, no longer venturing into the road, but sneaking along hedge-rows and through fields; watching keenly through the darkness for the Marsians. In one place we blundered into a scorched and blackened area, and a number of scattered dead bodies of men, burned horribly about the heads and trunks, but with their legs and boots (and, thankfully, wallets) mostly intact; and of dead horses. And a pigeon.

The town of Sheen, it seemed, had escaped destruction, but was silent and deserted. Here we found no corpses, though the night was too dark for us to see into the side roads of the place. Father Irritating consistently complained of faintness and thirst, and we decided to try one of the houses.

The first house we entered, after a little difficulty with the window, was a small semi-detached villa, and I found nothing eatable left in the place but some mouldy Cheese Footballs. There was, however, water to drink; and I took a large fire axe, which promised to be useful in our next house-breakerising.


We then crossed to a place where the road turns towards Mortlake. Here there stood a white house within a walled garden, and in the pantry we found a store of food — two loaves of bread in a pan, an uncooked steak, and half a ham. I give this catalogue so precisely because, as it happened, we were destined to subsist upon this store for the next fortnight. Carlsberg Special Brew stood under a shelf, and there were two bags of haricot beans and some Pepperami. This pantry opened into a kind of wash-up kitchen, and in this was firewood.

We sat in the kitchen in the dark and ate bread and ham (an rustic pizza, I guess), and drank beer. All in all, there are worse ways to spend an alien invasion that threatens society.

Father Irritating, who was still restless, was now, oddly enough, wanting to press on, and I was urging him/holding him in a Boston Crab when something terrible happened.

"It can't even be midnight yet..." I murmured, and then came a blinding glare of vivid green light, and then followed such a concussion as I have never heard before or since. Almost simultaneously came a thud, a clash of glass, a crash and rattle of falling masonry all about us, and then the plaster of the ceiling came down upon us, smashing into a multitude of fragments upon our heads. I was bravely knocked headlong across the floor against the oven handle and stunned. I was insensible for a long time, Father Irritating told me, and when I came to we were in darkness again, and he, with a face wet, as I found afterwards, with blood from a cut forehead, was dabbing water over me.


For some time I could not recollect what had happened. Then things came to me slowly. A bruise on my temple asserted itself.

"Are you all right?" whispered the priest.

I sat up.

"Don't move," he said " The floor is covered with smashed crockery from the dresser. You can't possibly move without making a noise, and I fancy they are outside."

We both sat quite silent, so that we could scarcely hear each other breathing. Everything seemed deadly still, but once something near us, some plaster or broken brick-work, slid down with a rumbling sound. Outside and very near was an intermittent, metallic rattle.

"That!" said the curate, when presently it happened again.

"Yes," I said. "But what is it?"

"A Marsian!" said the curate.

I listened again.


"It wasn’t a Heat-Ray," I muttered, and for a time I was inclined to think one of the great fighting-machines had stumbled against the house.

Our situation was so strange and incomprehensible that we scarcely moved until the dawn came. The sunlight filtered in, not through the window, which remained black, but through a triangular
aperture between a beam and a heap of broken bricks in the wall behind us. The interior of the kitchen we now saw for the first time.

The window had been burst in by a mass of garden mould, which flowed over the table upon which we had been sitting and lay about our feet. Outside, the soil was banked high against the house. At the top of the window-frame we could see an uprooted drain-pipe. The floor was littered with smashed hardware; the end of the kitchen towards the house was broken into, and since the daylight shone in there, it was evident the greater part of the house had collapsed. Contrasting vividly with this ruin was the neat dresser, the wall-paper imitating blue and white tiles, and a couple of colored supplements fluttering from the walls above the kitchen range.

As the dawn grew clearer, we saw through the gap in the wall the body of a Marsian, standing sentinel, I suppose, over the still glowing cylinder. We crawled into the darkness of the scullery.

Abruptly the right interpretation of the things dawned upon my mind.

"The fifth cylinder," I whispered, "the fifth shot from Mars has struck the house and buried us under the ruins!"


For a time Father Irritating was silent, and then he whispered:

"God have mercy upon us!"

I heard him presently whimpering to himself, like a big fat gay.

Save for that sound we lay quite still in the scullery. I scarce dared breathe, and sat with my eyes fixed on the faint light of the kitchen door. I could just see the curate's face. Outside began a metallic hammering, then a violent hooting, and then again, after a quiet interval, a hissing, like the hissing of an engine. These noises, for the most part problematical, continued intermittently, and seemed, if anything, to increase in number as the time wore on. Presently a measured thudding, and a vibration that made everything about us quiver and the vessels in the pantry ring and shift, began and continued. Once the light was eclipsed, and the ghostly kitchen doorway became absolutely dark. For many hours we must have crouched there, silent and shivering, until our tired attention failed...

At last I found myself awake and very hungry. I am inclined to believe we must have spent the greater portion of a day before that awakening. My hunger was at a stride so insistent that it moved me to action. I told the curate I was going to seek food, and felt my way towards the pantry. He made me no answer, but so soon as I began eating the faint noise I made stirred him to action, and I heard him crawling after me. Prick.

TO BE CONTINUED...

Words: Brad Harmer & H.G. Wells
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