This one is for Joanna.
“I should very much like to go on an adventure. Just a small one. Just once.”
It was summer and although eight o’clock, it was still quite light enough to read the newspaper in the front parlour as Simon Judges did at the moment his wife, Joanna, spoke out.
He looked up over his paper at his wife, half expecting from the tone of her voice and the context of her words to find her gazing wistfully past his shoulder, out of the window and at some imagined African vista perhaps. But instead, Joanna (‘Dear Jo’ as he liked to call her in their own company) was frowning at one of the girls stockings and jabbing it with a darning needle.
He considered his wife a very capable woman, more level headed and capable than many men that he knew but being a seamstress was not one of her strong suites.
“Beg pardon dear?” he asked.
She prodded the stocking once more in vain before setting the whole endeavour down on the arm of the chair.
“I would like to go on an adventure,” she said, ever so slightly sulkily.
Simon smiled warmly.
“Is that you speaking Dear Jo or is it Mr Haggard?”
“Don’t tease Simon, you read the very same dreadfuls I do!”
He returned to his paper, still smiling behind it.
“I’m very sure Mrs Jackson would not approve you reading them.”
Mrs Jackson being the very prim and extraordinarily proper widow who lived in the terraced house next to the Judges.
“Ohh, Mrs Jackson can go hang!” retorted Joanna as Simon chuckled and considered filling his pipe for one more smoke that evening.
“I take it that the girls settled in well?” he said, referring to their daughters, Daisy and Martha, who were indeed, sound asleep in their cots upstairs.
His wife did not respond.
Simon once again looked over his paper at his wife.
She was starring intently at the front page.
“Have you read that?” she asked.
Simon turned to the front page and read the head line she indicated.
“Oh that? Some stuff and nonsense in Woking. I expect we’ll hear no more of it than this. Probably a hoax of some sort.”
Simon was not the sort of man to tell his wife to ‘stop worrying her pretty little head about things’ but he did realise that she was increasingly having a pre-occupation with wild flights of fancy. The life of a housewife to an office clerk who worked in the city was not enough for her. She read voraciously of expeditions and adventures, both real and imagined. A bank holiday spent at the sea front in Brighton was perhaps the most adventure the Judges family would have in a year and this was not up to muster.
She had mentioned travelling abroad and Simon had pointed out that that sort of travel was not something either of them would be able to afford, nor did either of them speak a lick of French or any other foreign language for that matter and then, of course, there were the children to consider.
It wasn’t that Joanna was totally unhappy with her lot, she loved her husband and home and adored her children, she just wanted something more than baking bread, beating rugs and darning socks.
Simon had read the news paper story she had pointed out on the train home and dismissed it after a few paragraphs, not bothering to read on. He didn’t want her to be alarmed, although, he reasoned, it would take a great deal to alarm Mrs Judges. She was renowned for a cool head in a crisis. She had single headedly averted a fire when the hearth spat an ember onto the rug in the back room and also insisted on taking a trap, on her own, to fetch the doctor when Daisy had run a dangerous fever, Simon having broken an ankle two days previously while playing cricket.
“Stuff and nonsense,” he re-iterated and returned to reading the notices in the paper.
That night, Joanna stole out of bed and went to the pantry and the bureau in the back room.
She packed a few items and placed them, folded in a cloth, like a bindle easy for carrying slung around her, in the coal shed before creeping back into the house.
She crept into her daughter’s bed room and looked at their sleeping forms and listened to the small noises of their slumber.
“I hope your daddy is right..,” she whispered to herself and went back to her room, slipping into bed beside her snoring husband.
She gripped the edge of the sheet and tried not to dwell on the headline she read earlier that evening, but her mind would not allow her to forget the words, nor could she really understand why they filled her with such foreboding…
A MESSAGE RECEIVED FROM MARS – REMARKABLE STORY FROM WOKING
The next day began like many others.
Simon left for the train station just after seven o’clock and Joanna set about her daily tasks around the house.
The girls were playing in the garden, periodically running into the house to report fairy sightings, that one sister was antagonising the other and to check on the progress of Joanna’s baking. Martha, in particular, was very much looking forwards to eating a blueberry muffin, preferably as soon as it was removed from the stove.
Joanna baked and thought.
In actual fact, she fretted. She had not been able to put the newspaper from her mind and had hugged her husband just a little harder when he left that morning and told him to be careful.
He smiled and assured her he would be fine.
The girls ran in from the garden once more.
“What is it this time poppet?” Joanna asked Daisy as she tugged on her apron.
“There’s thunder mummy, I don’t want to get wet and Martha is frightened.”
Joanna furrowed her brow.
“Really?” she said, looking from the window. The sky was mostly blue with a few large, white clouds. There was no sign of rain anywhere. The garden path was dry and the window bore no rain drops at all.
“Listen!” said Daisy as Martha let out a sob and clung to her mothers side.
There was a distant, deep concussive boom. A sound that would escape notice amid the chatter of children and a song sung to ones self as you worked.
Another boom followed after a period of several seconds and this too was followed this time instantly by a third.
Joanna wiped the flour from her hands and untangled herself from her children and went out into the garden.
There it was again, louder outside and seemingly not so far away. A short rumble, one you could almost feel.
Then there was a sudden plethora of the sounds followed by single loud boom and then silence.
Later she would find out this was the sound of artillery fire from Croydon, ceasing when the central magazine was found and destroyed.
The sounds had ceased but there continued to be a concussive thud sensation and Joanna became distantly aware of the noise of the window panes rattling in their casements and then a scream, a woman was screaming.
She turned quickly and bent down to the children.
“Girls, wait by the coal shed for mummy. Don’t move until mummy says so and hug each other very tightly. Mummy will be right back, I promise.”
She left the girls, both ashen, Martha starting to cry and darted through the house, down the hall to the front door, which she flung open.
Mrs Jackson ran past, careening into their garden gate and into the road, zigzagging and screeching like a banshee.
Her hair was aflame.
The whole top of her head roared with fire.
Joanna stared in horror for perhaps half a second before she began heading down the path and clutching at her apron.
Her intent was to catch up to the poor woman and forcer her over, knock her to the floor if needed and extinguish the conflagration atop her crown by smothering it with her apron.
All this time, so intent on the horror in front of her was she, that she did not notice that the thudding grew closer, audible now.
She took no more than two steps down the path toward the flaming woman (who now had stopped screaming) when the sun was blotted out and the foot crashed down into the road.
How to describe it? A tall, metal giant, a walking thing the likes of which a housewife from the suburbs could never imagine. It stood on three, long legs. So tall it easily stepped over the terrace opposite as if a child stepping over a fallen branch. The metal horror was perhaps 80, 90 feet tall? It’s high weird body blotted out the sun and turned with a whining, churning noise, as if propelled by machinery. This did not prevent it from the appearance of regarding its surroundings, much like a living thing would move its head in the same way.
The vast foot smashed into the road ahead of her and the now eerily silent Mrs Jackson ran in a strange wide circle around the giant resting limb, almost doubling back on her self before leaning over horribly and collapsing heavily to the ground. As she did so, the rest of her silently and violently burst into flames.
Something huge and heavy swung past Joanna, smashing into and through the low garden wall of the house next to hers on the left.
A long, metallic tentacle, connected to the things body was aimlessly and heavily swinging through the road, operated as if by a blind man, crashing into post boxes and gardens.
Her eyes followed the tentacle back up to the body of the metal terror just as it brought all three of its legs to a halt.
Later she would speak of an odd sensation, as if the thing were taking breath and then there was the horrific horn-like blast that the beasts used to call to each other.
Joanna clapped her hands over her ears and instinctively ducked. So great was the noise that Mrs Jackson’s chimney pot and some of the chimney breast, fell from the roof and crashed onto the path next to the Judges home.
This partial collapse seemed to grab the attention of the thing and it’s great cowled ‘head’ began to grate and whine around to look at the house. It shifted it’s monstrous feet and brought two of its tentacles up in front of what Joanna took to be the ‘face’ of the thing. The appendages grasped a box, much like an oversized camera. As she began to back toward her house she took it to be taking a daguerreotype of some sort when she felt, but not saw or heard a massive lance of heat streak down towards the building next to hers.
It was then she ran back through her hallway to her children.
Despite screaming in terror, Daisy and Martha had not moved from the coal shed.
As the roof of Mrs Jackson’s house began to buckle and burn, Joanna paused to reach for the bundle she had secreted in the coal shed, placing it over her shoulder and around her and then scooped Martha into her arms and grabbed Daisy’s wrist.
Behind them the houses windows exploded as they ran for the back gate, the massive head of the machine intent, it seemed, only on burning the buildings and not (she thanked God) the fleeing occupants.
They crashed through the gate and down the path, away from the growing conflagration as the entire terrace became engulfed at first in invisible heat and then fire proper.
Thoughts of her husband crossed her mind. She hoped to high heaven that Simon was safe. Had this thing come from the direction of the city? And when he came home, what on earth would he think when he saw the house burned to the ground? She began to panic, how would she find her husband again? But a sob from Martha brought her mind back to the here and the now.
Her children were her only concern.
They had reached the end of the path that ran along all of the gardens.
She considered the train station but that would mean crossing the end of the street and the path of the metal giant (she could still hear the grinding gear like noise of it’s head turning behind her and the nape of her neck anticipated the sickening burst of heat from that camera thing at any second, her skin crawled when she gave it thought) more over the thought occurred to her that if the machine was destroying houses, it would surely be drawn to the likes of a railway, wouldn’t it?
She quickly turned towards the river, her head crowded with images of the train station, thronging with hapless, panicking refugees.
Sitting ducks as the American would no doubt say.
To the river then.
A quick route out of the suburbs and perhaps some protection from that things heat weapon.
Clutching the children to her, she skirted a tree (they were near the tow path now) and looked back.
The tripod had finished burning the buildings and stood, sentinel like at the opposite end of the road. It called out again and to her horror was answered, albeit distantly, by what she could only assume was an identical machine somewhere upstream of the river.
She needed to flee as quickly as she could.
Joanna bent down to her children and wiped away Martha’s tears, Daisy looked on over Joanna’s shoulder at the metal giant.
“Girls?” Joanna said, “Daisy, look at me…”
Her eldest did as she was told.
“We are going to go on the river soon, we’ll have a ride on a boat, wouldn’t you like that?”
“What about daddy?” Martha asked, all red eyes.
Joanna swallowed hard.
“We’ll see him soon, I’m quite sure of that.”
Daisy was staring, doe-eyed at the tripod again, fear seemed to of left her and had been replaced with strange fascination instead, Joanna hated it.
“But where was the muffin?” Martha asked.
Joanna smiled and almost laughed but stopped her self, she felt sure if she laughed, she would also cry.
“I think it’s gone my darling, I’m sorry. Mummy will buy you another one, I promise.”
She kissed her daughters head and then looked into Daisy’s eyes.
“Daisy? Are you ready to go?” she asked.
Daisy broke her gaze upon the machine and looked at her mother and nodded her head.
Joanna looked down at the bundle she carried and unfolded it.
Some bread, cheese, cold meat wrapped in grease-proofed paper, a wallet containing a little money and lastly the gun.
Simon’s old service revolver, kept out of sight in a locked drawer of the bureau in the back room. Clean, smelling of oil and with all six chambers loaded.
She chided herself for not remembering water but then, uneasily, she thought that in the days ahead, the gun may prove more useful.
She starred back at the hateful, glittering monster that had destroyed her life and given her the adventure she had never wanted, not like this.
She gripped her children’s hands, tightly in hers and set off for the river.
I’ve always had a life long fascination for War of the Worlds so quite enjoyed writing this one.
Simon, if you’re out there fella, sorry, I don’t fancy your chances of getting out of London much…