War of the Zombies


f25WAR OF THE ZOMBIES by Robert Perkis

BOOK ONE

THE COMING OF THE ZOMBIES

PROLOGUE

Dear Reader: I put this account to paper with full knowledge of the zombies who attacked us and hence refer to them throughout as zombies. However, at the time we had no idea who or what we were dealing with.

CHAPTER ONE

THE EVE OF THE ZOMBIE WAR

Today may be the last normal day.

Who knew? Who among us would have believed in the early years of the twenty-first century that this nation was being watched hungerly and closely by electronic eyes and ears keener than man’s and yet as flawed as his own; that as men busied themselves about their various concerns they were being scrutinized and studied, perhaps almost as narrowly as a man with a microscope might scrutinize the transient creatures that swarm and multiply in a drop of water. With infinite complacency men went to and fro over this country about their little affairs, serene in their assurance of their empire over matter. It is possible that the infusoria under the microscope do the same.

No one gave much thought to the other nations as sources of danger, or thought of them only to dismiss the idea of attack from them as impossible or improbable. It is curious to recall some of the mental habits of those departed days. At most some small number of fools fancied there might be other men over in Asia, perhaps inferior to themselves and ready to welcome a missionary enterprise. Yet across the oceans, minds, intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic, regarded this country with envious eyes, and slowly and surely drew their plans against us. And early in the twenty-first century came the great disillusionment when we discovered our economy was based mainly on delivering pizzas to each other.

North Korea must be, if our hypothesis has any truth, a much older culture than our civilization; and long before our country populated, agricultural life in N.K. must have begun its course. Nor was it generally understood that since N.K. is older than our country, with scarcely a fraction of the superficial arable area, it necessarily follows that its population is not only more distant from time’s beginning but nearer its end.

The general loss of agricultural nutrients that must someday overtake our nation has already gone far indeed with our neighbor. Its physical condition is still largely a mystery, but we know now that even in its agricultural region the midday temperature barely approaches that of our desert winter. Its air is more attenuated than ours, its inland seas have shrunk until they cover but a third of their surface, and as its slow seasons change huge snow caps gather and melt about their mountains and periodically inundate its temperate zones.

That last stage of exhaustion, which to us is still incredibly remote, has become a present day problem for the inhabitants of N.K. The immediate pressure of necessity has brightened their intellects, enlarged their powers, and hardened their hearts. And looking across oceans with instruments, and intelligence’s such as we have scarcely dreamed of them having, they see a glimmer of hope, our own abundant country, green with vegetation and blue with clean water, with a cloudy atmosphere eloquent of fertility, with glimpses through its drifting cloud wisps of broad stretches of populous country and narrow, ship crowded rivers.

And we men, the creatures who inhabit this country, must be to them at least as alien and lowly as are the monkeys and lemurs to us after drinking deep from the well of their own propaganda. The intellectual side of man already admits that life is an incessant struggle for existence, and it would seem that this too is the belief of the minds over in N.K. Their country is far gone in its nutrient depletion and this country is still crowded with life, but crowded only with what they have been taught to regard as inferiors. To carry warfare East is, indeed, their only escape from the destruction that, generation after generation, creeps upon them.

And before we judge of them too harshly we must remember what ruthless and utter destruction our own people has wrought, not only upon animals, such as the vanished bison and the dodo, but upon its inferior races. The Tasmanians, in spite of their human likeness, were entirely swept out of existence in a war of extermination waged by European immigrants, in the space of fifty years. Are we such apostles of mercy as to complain if the zombies warred in the same spirit?

The zombie facilitators seem to have calculated their attacks with amazing subtlety their mathematical learning is evidently far in excess of ours in this arena and to have carried out their preparations with a well nigh perfect unanimity. Had our instruments permitted it, we might have seen the gathering trouble far back in the twentieth century. All that time the zombie wranglers must have been getting ready.

Reported prior to the first outbreaks a great light was seen by satellite on the pitch black darkness of unlit N.K. and then by other observers. English readers heard of it first in the ezine issue of Natural Nature dated August 2. I am inclined to think that this glare may have been the casting of the huge gun, the vast rail gun barrel sunk deep into the mountains of their nation, from which their projectiles were fired at us. Peculiar markings, as yet unexplained, were seen near the site of that outbreak during the next two orbits.

The storm burst upon us three months ago now. As the population of N.K. protested in their opposition to our excessive way of life, Jarvile of Sumatra set the forums of the astronomical exchange palpitating with the amazing intelligence of a huge outbreaks of incandescent gas upon the peninsula. They had occurred towards midnight of the twelfth; and the spectroscope, to which he had at once resorted, indicated a mass of flaming gas, chiefly hydrogen, moving with an enormous velocity towards this the Americas. This jet of fire had become invisible about a quarter past twelve. He compared it to a colossal puff of flame suddenly and violently squirted out of deep pits, “as flaming gases rush out of a gun.”

A singularly appropriate phrase it proved. Yet the next day there was nothing of this in the papers except a little note in the Daily World Telegraph, and the world went in ignorance of one of the gravest dangers that ever threatened the human race. I might not have heard of the eruption at all had I not met Thomas online, the well known astronomer, at State College University. He was immensely excited at the news, and in the excess of his feelings invited me up to take a turn with him that night in a scrutiny of satellite photos.

In spite of all that has happened since, I still remember that vigil very distinctly: Thomas moved screen shots about, invisible but audible. Looking into the computer screen, one saw a circle of deep blue and the little round planet swimming in the field. It seemed such a little thing, so bright and small and still, faintly marked with transverse stripes of super highways, and slightly flattened from the perfect round. But so little it was, so silvery warm a pin’s head of light! It was as if it quivered, but really this was the satellite vibrating with the activity of the propulsion jets that kept the planet in view.

As I watched, the planet seemed to grow larger and smaller and to advance and recede, but that was simply that my eye was tired.

Near it in the field, I remember, were three faint points of light, three telescopic stars infinitely remote, and all around it was the unfathomable darkness of empty space. You know how that blackness looks on a frosty starlight night. In a telescope it seems far profounder. And invisible to me because it was so remote and small, flying swiftly and steadily towards me across that incredible distance, drawing nearer every minute by so many hundreds of miles, came the Things they were sending us, the Things that were to bring so much struggle and calamity and death to the earth. I never dreamed of it then as I watched; no one on earth dreamed of that unerring projectile.

That night, too, there was another jetting out of gas from the distant nation. I saw it. A reddish flash at the edge, the slightest projection of the outline just as the chronometer struck midnight; and at that I told Thomas and he took my place. The night was warm and I was thirsty, and I went stretching my legs clumsily and feeling my way in the darkness, to the little alcove where the water fountain stood, while Thomas exclaimed at the streamer of gas that came out towards us.

That night another invisible projectile started on its way to the Americas from N.K., just a second or so under twenty four hours after the first one.  I remember how I sat on the table there in the blackness, with patches of green and crimson swimming before my eyes. I wished I had charged my e-cigarette to smoke by, little suspecting the meaning of the minute gleam I had seen and all that it would presently bring me. Thomas watched till one, and then gave it up; and we lit the smoking lantern and walked outside our houses. Down below in the darkness were hundreds of people, sleeping in peace.

He was full of speculation that night about the condition of N.K., how they couldn’t light their houses, couldn’t even feed their people let alone undertake an immense construction and scoffed at the vulgar idea of its inhabitants who were signaling us. His idea was that meteorites might be falling in a heavy shower upon the area, or that a volcanic explosion was in progress.

Hundreds of online observers saw the flame that night and the night after about midnight, and again the night after; and so for ten nights, a flame each night. Why the shots ceased after the tenth no one has attempted to explain. It may be the gases of the firing caused the zombie facilitators inconvenience, the device had broken or they had fired their lot. Dense clouds of glowing smoke or dust, visible through powerful satellite telescopes on N.K. as little gray, fluctuating patches, spread through the clearness of the area’s lack of electric illumination of the atmosphere and obscured its more familiar features.

Even the bloggers woke up to the disturbances at last, and popular people of note tweeted comments appeared here, there, and everywhere concerning the volcanoes in N.K.. The seriocomic periodical Sporting-Times.net, I remember, made a happy use of it in their political cartoon. And, all unsuspected, those projectiles the zombie facilitators had fired at us drew earthward, rushing now at a pace of many miles a second through the empty orbital decay of space, hour by hour and day by day, nearer and nearer.

It seems to me now almost incredibly wonderful that, with that swift fate hanging over us, men could go about their petty concerns as they did. I remember how jubilant Markham was at securing a new photograph of the planet for the illustrated website he edited in those days.

People in these latter times scarcely realize the abundance and enterprise of our twenty-first century internet. For my own part, I was much occupied in learning to ride my new mountain bicycle, and busy upon a series of papers discussing the probable developments of moral ideas as civilization progressed.

One night (the first projectile then could scarcely have been 5,000 miles away) I went for a walk with my wife. It was starlight and I explained the Signs of the Zodiac to her, and pointed out Venus, a bright dot of light creeping zenith ward, towards which so many telescopes were pointed. It was a warm night. Coming home, a party of excursionists passed us singing and playing music. There were lights in the upper windows of the houses as the people went to bed. From the railway station in the distance came the sound of shunting trains, ringing and rumbling, softened almost into melody by the distance. My wife pointed out to me the brightness of the red, green, and yellow signal lights hanging in a framework against the sky. It seemed so safe and tranquil.

CHAPTER TWO

THE FALLING PROJECTILES

Then came the night of the first falling shell. It was seen early in the morning, rushing over Los Angles eastward, a line of flame high in the atmosphere. Hundreds must have seen it, and taken it for an ordinary falling star. Albin described it as leaving a greenish streak behind it that glowed for some seconds. Denning, our greatest authority on meteorites, stated that the height of its first appearance was about ninety or one hundred miles. It seemed to him that it fell to earth about one hundred miles east of him.

I was at home at that hour and writing in my study; and although my French windows face toward the West and the blind was up (for I loved in those days to look up at the night sky), I saw nothing of it. Yet this strangest of all things that ever came to earth from outer space orbit must have fallen while I was sitting there, visible to me had I only looked up as it passed. Some of those who saw its flight say it traveled with a hissing sound. I myself heard nothing of that. Many people must have seen the fall of it, and, at most, have thought that another meteorite had descended. No one seems to have troubled to look for the fallen mass that night.

But very early in the morning poor Thomas, who had seen the shooting star and who was persuaded that a meteorite lay somewhere on the common ground, rose early with the idea of finding it. Find it he did, soon after dawn, and not far from the sand pits. An enormous hole had been made by the impact of the projectile, and the sand and gravel had been flung violently in every direction over the land, forming heaps visible a mile and a half away. The woods were on fire eastward, and a thin blue smoke rose against the dawn.

The Thing itself lay almost entirely buried in sand, amidst the scattered splinters of a fir tree it had shivered to fragments in its descent. The uncovered part had the appearance of a huge cylinder, caked over and its outline softened by a thick scaly dun-colored incrustation. It had a diameter of about thirty yards. He approached the mass, surprised at the size and more so at the shape, since most meteorites are rounded more or less completely. It was,  however, still so hot from its flight through the air as to forbid his near approach. A stirring noise within its cylinder he ascribed to the unequal cooling of its surface; for at that time it had not occurred to him that it might be hollow.

He remained standing at the edge of the pit that the Thing had made for itself, staring at its strange appearance, astonished chiefly at its unusual shape and color, and dimly perceiving even then some evidence of design in its arrival. The early morning was wonderfully still, and the sun, just clearing the pine trees was already warm. He did not remember hearing any birds that morning, there was certainly no breeze stirring, and the only sounds were the faint movements from within the cindery cylinder. He was all alone on the common.

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

For a minute he scarcely realized what this meant, and, although the heat was excessive, he clambered down into the pit close to the bulk to see the Thing more clearly. He fancied even then 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.

And then he perceived that, very slowly, the circular top of the cylinder was rotating on its body. It was such a gradual movement that he discovered it only through noticing that a black mark that had been near him five minutes ago was now at the other side of the circumference. Even then he scarcely understood what this indicated, until he heard a muffled grating sound and saw the black mark jerk forward an inch or so. Then the thing came upon him in a flash. The cylinder was artificial–hollow–with an end that screwed out! Something within the cylinder was unscrewing the top!

“Good heavens!” said Thomas. “There’s a man in it–men in it! Half roasted to death! Trying to escape!”

At once, with a quick mental leap, he linked the Thing with the flashes upon the N.K. continent.

The thought of the confined people was so dreadful to him that he forgot the heat and went forward to the cylinder to help turn. But luckily the dull radiation arrested him before he could burn his hands on the still glowing metal. At that he stood irresolute for a moment, then turned, scrambled out of the pit, and set off running wildly into town. The time then must have been somewhere about six o’clock.

He met a cabbie and tried to make him understand, but the tale he told and his appearance were so wild his hat had fallen off in the pit that the man simply drove on. He was equally unsuccessful with the bar owner who was just unlocking the doors of the tavern by the bridge. The fellow thought he was a lunatic at large and made an unsuccessful attempt to shut him into the taproom. That sobered him a little; and when he saw Masterson, the local journalist, in his garden, he called over the palings and made himself understood.

“Masterson,” he called, “you saw that shooting star last night?”

“Well?” said Masterson.

“It’s out on the Woking commons ground now.”

“Good Lord!” said Masterson. “Fallen meteorite! That’s good.”

“But it’s something more than a meteorite. It’s a cylinder–an artificial cylinder, man! And there’s something inside.”

Masterson stood up with his spade in his hand.

“What’s that?” he said. He was half deaf in one ear and used one of those $29 hearing aids as seen on TV.

Thomas told him all that he had seen. Masterson was a minute or so taking it in. Then he dropped his spade, snatched up his video camera, and came out into the road. The two men hurried back at once to the common, and found the cylinder still lying in the same position. But now the sounds inside had ceased, and a thin circle of bright metal showed between the top and the body of the cylinder. Air was either entering or escaping at the rim with a thin, sizzling sound.

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

Of course the two were quite unable to do anything. They shouted consolation and promises, and went off back to the town again to get help. One can imagine them, covered with sand, excited and disordered, running up the little street in the bright sunlight just as the shop folks were taking down their shutters and people were opening their bedroom windows. Masterson went into the coffee shop at once, in order to tap into the Wi-Fi hub to email the news to his editor. The newspaper articles had prepared men’s minds for the reception of the idea.

By eight o’clock a number of boys and unemployed men had already started for the Woking common to see the “dead men from N.K..” That was the form the story took. I heard of it first from my newspaper boy about a quarter to nine when I went out to get my Daily Chronicle . I was naturally startled, and lost no time in going out and across the Woking bridge to the sand pits.

CHAPTER THREE

ON WOKING COMMON GROUND

I found a little crowd of perhaps twenty people surrounding the huge hole in which the cylinder lay. I have already described the appearance of that colossal bulk, embedded in the ground. The turf and gravel about it seemed charred as if by a sudden explosion. No doubt its impact had caused a flash of fire. Masterson and Thomas were not there. I think they perceived that nothing was to be done for the present, and had gone away to breakfast at Masterson’s house.

There were four or five boys sitting on the edge of the Pit, with their feet dangling, and amusing themselves–until I stopped them–by throwing stones at the giant mass. After I had spoken to them about it, they began playing at “touch” in and out of the group of bystanders.

Among these were a couple of cyclists, a jobbing gardener I employed sometimes, a girl carrying a baby, Greg the butcher and his little boy, and two or three loafers and golf caddies who were accustomed to hang about the railway station. There was very little talking. Few of the typical people in America had anything but the vaguest astronomical ideas in those days. Most of them were staring quietly at the big table like end of the cylinder, which was still as Thomas and Masterson had left it. I fancy the popular expectation of a heap of charred corpses was disappointed at this inanimate bulk. Some went away while I was there, and other people came. I clambered into the pit and fancied I heard a faint movement under my feet. The top had certainly ceased to rotate.

It was only when I got thus close to it that the strangeness of this object was at all evident to me. At the first glance it was really no more exciting than an overturned carriage or a tree blown across the road. Not so much so, indeed. It looked like a rusty gas float. It required a certain amount of scientific education to perceive that the gray scale on the Thing was no common oxide, that the yellowish-white metal that gleamed in the crack between the lid and the cylinder had an unfamiliar hue. “Extra-national” had no meaning for most of the onlookers.

At that time it was quite clear in my own mind that the Thing had come from the N.K peninsula, but I judged it improbable that it contained any living creatures that survived the landing. I thought the unscrewing might be automatic. In spite of Thomas, I still believed that there were men or their bodies inside. My mind ran fancifully on the possibilities of its containing manuscripts on dvd, on the difficulties in translation that might arise, whether we should find coins and models in it, and so forth.

Yet it was a little too large for assurance on this idea. I felt an impatience to see it opened. About eleven, as nothing seemed happening, I walked back, full of such thought, to my home. But I found it difficult to get to work upon my abstract investigations.

In the afternoon the appearance of the common had altered very much. The early editions of the evening papers had startled the area with enormous headlines:

“A MESSAGE DELIVERED FROM N.K..”

“REMARKABLE STORY FROM UFO NUTS,”

and so forth. In addition, Thomas’s text to the Astronomical Exchange had roused every observatory in the three states.

There were half a dozen bar flies or more from the old Woking railway station standing in the road by the sand pits and a rather lordly limo. Besides that, there was quite a collection of bicycles. In addition, a large number of people must have walked, in spite of the heat of the day, so that there was altogether quite a considerable crowd–one or two well dressed ladies among the others.

It was glaringly hot, not a cloud in the sky nor a breath of wind, and the only shadow was that of the few scattered pine trees. The burning grass had been extinguished, but the level ground towards the town was blackened as far as one could see, and still giving off vertical streamers of smoke. An enterprising food truck vendor in the next town had sent up his son with a truck-load of hot dogs and soda.

Going to the edge of the pit, I found it occupied by a group of about half a dozen men–Masterson, Thomas, and a tall, fair-haired man that I afterwards learned was Stent, the famous Astronomer, with several workmen wielding spades and pickaxes. Stent was giving directions in a clear, high-pitched voice. He was standing on the cylinder, which was now evidently much cooler; his face was crimsonand streaming with perspiration, 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 Thomas saw me among the staring crowd on the edge of the pit he called to me to come down, and asked me if I would mind going over to see Mr. Hilton, the land owner.

The growing crowd, he said, was becoming a serious impediment to their excavations, especially the boys. They wanted a light railing put up, and help to keep the people back. He told me that a faint stirring was occasionally still audible within the case, but that the workmen had failed to unscrew the top, as it afforded no grip to them. The case appeared to be enormously thick, and it was possible that the faint sounds we heard represented a noisy tumult in the interior.

I was very glad to do as he asked, and so become one of the privileged spectators within the contemplated enclosure. I failed to find Mr. Hilton at his house, but I was told he was expected from the city by the six o’clock train; and as it was then about a quarter past five, I went home, had some coffee, and walked up to the station to waylay him.

CHAPTER FOUR

THE PROJECTILE OPENS

When I returned to the common the sun was setting. Scattered groups were hurrying from the direction of the towns, and one or two persons were returning. The crowd about the pit had increased, and stood out black against the lemon yellow of the sky–a couple of hundred people, perhaps. There were raised voices, and some sort of struggle appeared to be going on about the pit. Strange imaginings passed through my mind. As I drew nearer I heard Stent’s voice:

“Keep back! Keep back!”

A boy came running towards me.

“It’s a-movin’,” he said to me as he passed; “a-turnin’ and a-turin’ out. I don’t like it. I’m gettin outa here!”

I went on to the crowd. There were really, I should think, two or three hundred 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 some one.

“Keep back!” said several.

The crowd swayed a little, and I elbowed my way through. Every one seemed greatly excited. I heard a peculiar humming sound from the pit.

“I said!” said Thomas; “help keep these idiots back. We don’t know what’s in the confounded thing, you know!”

I saw a young man, a smart shop assistant manager in town I believe he was, standing on the cylinder and trying to scramble out of the hole again. The crowd had pushed him in.

The end of the cylinder was being screwed out from within. Nearly two feet of shining screw projected. Somebody blundered against me, and I narrowly missed being pitched onto the top of the screw. I turned, and as I did so the screw must have come out, for the lid of the cylinder fell upon the gravel with a ringing concussion. I stuck 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 had the sunset in my eyes.

I think everyone expected to see a man emerge–possibly something dressed a little unlike us local men, but in all essentials a man. I know I did. But, looking, I presently saw something stirring within the shadow: grayish billowy movements, one above another, and then two luminous reddened disks–like eyes. Then something resembling a gray arm, about the thickness of a walking stick, reached up out of the writhing mass, and wriggled in the air towards me–and then another.

A sudden chill came over me. There was a loud shriek from a woman behind. I half turned, keeping my eyes fixed upon the cylinder still, from which other gray arms were now projecting, and began pushing my way back from the edge of the pit. I saw astonishment giving place to horror on the faces of the people about me. I heard inarticulate exclamations on all sides. There was a general movement backwards. I saw the assistant store manager struggling still on the edge of the pit. I found myself alone, and saw the people on the other side of the pit running off, Stent among them. I looked again at the cylinder, and ungovernable terror gripped me. I stood petrified and staring.

A big grayish 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 rotting leather.

Two large dark-reddened-colored eyes were regarding me steadfastly. The mass that framed them, the head of the thing, was rounded, and had, one might say, a face. There was a mouth under the eyes, the lipless brim of which quivered and panted, and dropped saliva. The whole creature heaved and pulsated convulsively. A lank hand and arm appendage gripped the edge of the cylinder, another swayed in the air.

Those who have never seen a member of the walking dead can scarcely imagine the strange horror of its appearance. The peculiar shaped mouth with the absence of lips, the incessant quivering of this mouth, the sniffing through the remains of its nose, the tumultuous moaning wheeze of the lungs, the horrible indescribable stench of the creatures, the evident heaviness and painfulness of movement due to whatever affects their disease has on these things–above all, the extraordinary intensity of the reddened eyes–were at once vital, intense, inhuman, crippled and monstrous. There was something fungoid in the waxy rotten skin, something in the clumsy deliberation of the tedious movements, unspeakably nasty. Even at this first encounter, this first glimpse, I was overcome with disgust and dread.

Suddenly the monster vanished. It had toppled over the brim of the cylinder and fallen into the pit, with a thud like the fall of a great leather sack of rocks. I heard it give a peculiar thick moan or groan, and forthwith another of these creatures appeared darkly in the deep shadow of the aperture.

I turned and, running madly, made for the first group of trees, perhaps a hundred yards away; but I ran slantingly and stumbling, for I could not avert my face from these things.

There, among some young pine trees and furze bushes, I stopped, panting, and waited further developments. The common round the sand pits was dotted with people, standing like myself 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. And then, with a renewed horror, I saw a round, black object bobbing up and down on the edge of the pit. It was the head of the assistant manager who had fallen in, but showing as a little black object against the hot western sun. 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 could have fancied a faint shriek had reached me. I had a momentary impulse to go back and help him that my fears overruled.

Everything was then quite invisible, hidden by the deep pit and the heap of sand that the fall of the cylinder had made. Anyone coming along the road from Woking would have been amazed at the sight–a dwindling multitude of perhaps a hundred people or more standing in a great irregular circle, in ditches, behind bushes, behind gates and hedges, saying little to one another and that in short, excited shouts, and staring, staring hard at a few heaps of sand. The food truck stood, a queer derelict, black against the burning sky, and in the sand pits was a row of deserted vehicles.

CHAPTER FIVE

THE ZOMBIES MAKE THEIR MOVE

After the glimpse I had had of the zombies emerging from the projectile in which they had come to our fair land from their country, a kind of fascination paralyzed my actions. I remained standing knee-deep in the grass, staring at the mound that hid them. I was a battleground of fear and curiosity.

I did not dare to go back towards the pit, but I felt a passionate longing to peer into it. I began walking, therefore, in a big curve, seeking some point of vantage and continually looking at the sand heaps that hid these new-comers to our town. Once a lash of thin arms, flashed across the sunset and was immediately withdrawn, and afterwards a thin rod rose up, joint by joint, bearing at its apex a circular disk lens for a periscope or video camera that panned with a wobbling motion. What could be going on there?

Most of the spectators had gathered in one or two groups, one a little crowd towards town, the other not so much. Evidently they shared my mental conflict. There were few near me. One man I approached, he was, I perceived, a neighbor of mine, though I did not know his name–and accosted. But it was scarcely a time for articulate conversation.

“What ugly brutes !” he said. “Good God! What ugly brutes!” He repeated this over and over again.

“Did you see a man in the pit?” I said; but he made no answer to that. We became silent, and stood watching for a time side by side, deriving, I fancy, a certain comfort in one another’s company. Then I shifted my position to a little knoll that gave me the advantage of a yard or more of elevation and when I looked for him presently he was walking towards Woking.

The sunset faded to twilight before anything further happened. The crowd far away on the left, towards town, seemed to grow, and I heard now a faint murmur from it. The little knot of people towards the other way had dispersed. There was scarcely an intimation of movement from the pit.

It was this, as much as anything, that gave people courage, and I suppose the new arrivals from town also helped to restore confidence. At any rate, as the dusk came on a slow, intermittent movement upon the sand pits began, a movement that seemed to gather force as the stillness of the evening about the cylinder remained unbroken. Vertical black figures in twos and threes would advance, stop, watch, and advance again, spreading out as they did so in a thin irregular crescent that promised to enclose the pit in its attenuated horns. I, too, on my side began to move towards the pit.

Then I saw some cabbies and others had walked boldly into the sand pits, and heard the clatter of pistons and the grid of wheels. I saw a the lad driving off the food truck. And then, within thirty yards of the pit, advancing from the direction of town, I noted a little black knot of men, the foremost of whom was waving a white flag.

This was the Deputation. There had been a hasty Woking City Commission meeting, and since the occupants of the pit were evidently, in spite of their repulsive forms, possibly ill, badly injured intelligent creatures, it had been resolved to show them, by approaching them with signals, that we too were intelligent and friendly.

Flutter, flutter, went the white flag, first to the right, then to the left. It was too far for me to recognize anyone there, but afterwards I learned that Thomas, Stent, and Masterson were with others in this attempt at communication. This little group had in its advance dragged inward, so to speak, the circumference of the now almost complete circle of people, and a number of dim black figures followed it at discreet distances.

Suddenly there was a flash of light, and a quantity of luminous greenish smoke came out of the pit in three distinct puffs, which drove up, one after the other, straight into the still air.

This smoking flare (or flame, perhaps, would be the better word for it) was so bright that the deep blue sky overhead and the hazy stretches of brown common towards town, set with black pine trees, seemed to darken abruptly as these puffs arose, and to remain the darker after their dispersal. At the same time a faint moaning sound became audible.

Beyond the pit stood the little wedge of people with the white flag at its apex, arrested by these phenomena, a little knot of small vertical black shapes upon the black ground. As the green smoke arose, their faces flashed out pallid green, and faded again as it vanished. Then slowly the hissing passed into a humming, into a long, loud, droning noise. Slowly a humped shape rose out of the pit, and the ghost of a beam of moon light seemed to flicker about it.

The delegation continued its advance toward the pit until reaching the edge. Gray arms eagerly reached up as if to assist their decent into the pit.

The small group was there on the edge one moment, gone the next. Followed by the most horrible screams and cries for assistance, that will remain with me for the rest of my life.

I stood staring, not as yet realizing that this was death leaping from man to man in that little distant group. All I felt was that it was something very strange. An almost noiseless rush, and a man cried out fell headlong and lay still, gray creatures staggering and falling on top of the body.

All this had happened with such swiftness that I had stood motionless, dumbfounded and dazzled by the flashes of moon light on events in the pit. Had that death reached out for me, it must inevitably have slain me in my surprise. But the moment passed and spared me, and left the night about me suddenly dark and unfamiliar.

The undulating common seemed now dark almost to blackness, except where its roadways lay gray and pale under the deep blue sky of the early night. It was dark, and suddenly void of men. Overhead the stars were mustering, and in the west the sky was still a pale, bright, almost greenish blue. The tops of the pine trees and the roofs of town came out sharp and black against the western afterglow. The zombies and their appliances were altogether invisible, save for that thin mast upon which their restless camera wobbled.

Nothing was changed save for that and a terrible astonishment. The little group of black specks with the flag of white had been swept out of existence, and the stillness of the evening, so it seemed to me, had scarcely been broken.

It came to me that I was upon this dark common, helpless, unprotected, and alone. Suddenly, like a thing falling upon me from without, came–fear.

With an effort I turned and began a stumbling run through the grass.

The fear I felt was no rational fear, but a panic terror not only of the zombies, but of the dusk and stillness all about me. Such an extraordinary effect in unmanning me it had that I ran weeping silently as a child might do. Once I had turned, I did not dare to look back.

I remember I felt an extraordinary persuasion that I was being played with, that presently, when I was upon the very verge of safety, this mysterious death–as swift as the passage of light–would leap after me from the pit about the cylinder and strike me down.

CHAPTER SIX

THE ZOMBIES IN THE PIT

It is still a matter of wonder how the zombies are able to slay men so swiftly and so silently. Many think that in some way they are able to generate an intense paralyzing fear such as the wildebeest that goes limp in the jaws of the lioness.

That stray night nearly a dozen people lay in who knows what condition under the moonlight about the interior of the pit, chewed and torn beyond recognition, and all night long the common was deserted.

The news of the massacre probably reached the nearest three towns about the same time. The shops had closed when the tragedy happened, and a number of people, shop people and so forth, attracted by the stories they had heard, were walking over the bridge and along the road between the hedges that runs out at last upon the common. You may imagine the young people brushed up after the labors of the day, and making this a novelty, as they would make any novelty, the excuse for walking together and enjoying a trivial flirtation. You may figure to yourself the hum of voices along the road in the gloaming. . . .

As yet, of course, few people in Woking even knew that the cylinder had opened, though poor Masterson had sent a messenger to thecollege communications center with a special recording for an evening broadcaster.

As these folks came out by twos and threes upon the open, they found little knots of people talking excitedly and peering at the wobbling camera over the sand pits, and the newcomers were, no doubt, soon infected by the excitement of the occasion.

By half past eight, when the Woking Deputation was destroyed, there may have been a crowd of three hundred people or more at this place, besides those who had left the road to approach the zombies nearer. There were three policemen too, one of whom was mounted, doing their best, under instructions from Stent, to keep the people back and deter them from approaching the cylinder. There was some booing from those more thoughtless and excitable souls to whom a crowd is always an occasion for noise and horse-play.

Stent and Thomas, anticipating some possibilities of a collision, had tweeted from town to the C.H.I.P.S. barracks as soon as the zombies emerged, for the help of a company of State Troopers to protect these strange creatures from violence. After that they returned to lead that ill-fated advance. The description of their death, as it was seen by the crowd, tallies very closely with my own impressions: the three puffs of green smoke, the deep moaning note, and the flashes of gray arms.

But that crowd of people had a far narrower escape than mine. Only the fact that a hummock of heathery sand intercepted the view of the zombies saved them. Had the elevation of the pit floor been a few feet higher, none could have lived to tell the tale. They saw the flashes and the men falling to invisible hands, as it were, moon lit through the twilight. Then, with a moaning note that rose above the usual droning of the pit, the arms swung close to their ankles and missed.

In the sudden thumps, moans, and cries of the Woking delegation, the panic stricken crowd seems to have swayed hesitatingly for some moments. Then came a crying from the crowd on the common. There were shrieks and shouts, and suddenly a mounted policeman came galloping through the confusion with his hands clasped over his bullhorn, screaming , “RUN!”

“They’re coming!” an incontinent woman shrieked, and suddenly everyone was turning and pushing at those behind, in order to clear their way to townagain. They must have bolted as blindly as a flock of sheepeople. Where the road grows narrow and black between the high banks the crowd jammed, and a desperate struggle occurred. All that crowd did not escape; three persons at least, two women and a little boy, were crushed and trampled there, and left to die amid the terror and the darkness.

CHAPTER SEVEN

HOW I REACHED HOME

For my own part, I remember nothing of my flight except the stress of blundering against trees and stumbling through the weather. All about me gathered the invisible terrors of the zombies; that
pitiless sword of fear seemed whirling to and fro, flourishing overhead before it descended and smote me out of life. I came into the road and ran along this to the crossroads.

At last I could go no further; I was exhausted with the violence of my emotion and of my flight, and I staggered and fell by the wayside. That was near the bridge that crosses the canal by the Skunk Works. I fell and lay still.

I must have remained there some time.

I sat up, strangely perplexed. For a moment, perhaps, I could not clearly understand how I came there. My terror had fallen from me like a garment. My house keys were gone, and my cell phone had burst away from its fastener. A few minutes before, there had only been three real things before me–the immensity of the night and space and nature, my own feebleness and anguish, and the near approach of death. Now it was as if something turned over, and the point of view altered abruptly. There was no sensible transition from one state of mind to the other. I was immediately the self of every day again–a decent, ordinary citizen. The silent common, the impulse of my flight, the starting flares, were as if they had been in a dream. I asked myself had these latter things indeed happened? I could not credit it.

I rose and walked unsteadily up the steep incline of the little bridge. My mind was blank wonder. My muscles and nerves seemed drained of their strength. I dare say I staggered drunkenly. A head rose over the arch, and the figure of a workman carrying a basket appeared. Beside him ran a little boy. He passed me, wishing me good night. I was minded to speak to him, but did not. I answered his greeting with a meaningless mumble and went on over the bridge.

Over the railway arch a train, a billowing tumult of intense white headlight, thin diesel smoke, and a long caterpillar of lighted windows, went flying south–clatter, clatter, clap, rap, and it had gone. A dim group of people talked in the gate of one of the houses in the pretty little row of gables that was called Oriental Terrace. It was all so real and so familiar. And that behind me! It was frantic, fantastic! Such things, I told myself, could not be.

Perhaps I am a man of exceptional moods. I do not know how far my experience is common. At times I suffer from the strangest sense of detachment from myself and the world about me; I seem to watch itall from the outside, from somewhere inconceivably remote, out of time, out of space, out of the stress and tragedy of it all. This feeling was very strong upon me that night. Here was another side to my dream.

But the trouble was the blank incongruity of this serenity and the swift death flying yonder, not two miles away. There was a noise of business from the Skunk Works, and the electric security lamps were all alight. I Stopped at the group of people.

“What news from Woking common?” said I.

There were two men and a woman at the gate.

“Eh?” said one of the men, turning.

“Are you Canadian? What news from the common?” I said.

“‘Ain’t yer just been there?” asked the men.

“People seem fair silly about the common,” said the woman over the gate. “What’s it all about?”

“Haven’t you heard of the men from N.K.?” said I; “the creatures from N.K.?”

“Quite enough,” said the woman over the gate. “Thanks”; and all three of them laughed.

I felt foolish and angry. I tried and found I could not tell them what I had seen. They laughed again at my broken sentences.

“You’ll hear more yet,” I said, and went on to my home.

I startled my wife at the doorway, so haggard was I. I went into the dining room, sat down, drank some wine coolers, and so soon as I could collect myself sufficiently I told her the things I had seen. The dinner, which was a cold delivery pizza, had already been served, and remained neglected on the table while I told my story.

“There is one thing,” I said, to allay the fears I had aroused; “they are the most sluggish things I ever saw stagger about. They may keep the pit and kill people who come near them, but they cannot get out of it. . . . But the horror of them!”

“Don’t, dear!” said my wife, knitting her brows and putting her hand on mine.

“Poor Thomas!” I said. “To think he may be lying dead there!”

My wife at least did not find my experience incredible. When I saw how deadly white her face was, I ceased abruptly.

“They may come here,” she said again and again.

I pressed her to take a wine cooler, and tried to reassure her.

“They can scarcely move,” I said.

I began to comfort her and myself by repeating all that Thomas had told me of the impossibility of the zombies establishing themselves. In particular I laid stress on the health effects of being packed like sardines into a shell and fired from a rail gun across the ocean must cause great difficulty. Both The Times and the Daily Telegraph , for instance, insisted on it the next morning, and both overlooked, just as I did, two obvious modifying influences.

The atmosphere of the americas, we now know, contains far more oxygen or far less CO2 (whichever way one likes to put it) than does N.K. mostly denuded of green plant life. The invigorating influences of this excess of oxygen upon the zombies indisputably did much to counterbalance the disreputable condition of their bodies. And, in the second place, we all overlooked the fact that while zombies possessed zero mechanical intelligence their facilitators had prepared the projectile with the necessary accessories to assist their zombies in a pinch.

But I did not consider these points at the time, and so my reasoning was dead against the chances of the invaders. With wine and food, the confidence of my own table, and the necessity of reassuring my wife, I grew by insensible degrees courageous and secure.

“They have done a foolish thing,” said I, fingering my wineglass. “They are dangerous because, no doubt, they are mad with hunger.”

“A cannon shell into the pit” said I, “if the worst comes to the worst will kill them all.”

The intense excitement of the events had no doubt left my perceptive powers in a state of enthusiasm. I remember that dinner table with extraordinary vividness even now. My dear wife’s sweet anxious face peering at me from under the cream lamp shade, the white cloth with its silver and glass table furniture–for in those days even philosophical writers had many little luxuries–the crimson-purple wine in my glass, are photographically distinct. At the end of it I sat, tempering nuts with a electronic cigarette, regretting Thomas’s rashness, and denouncing the shortsighted timidity of the zombies.

So some respectable dodo in the Mauritius might have lorded it in his nest, and discussed the arrival of that ship full of pitiless sailors in want of animal food. “We will peck them to death tomorrow, my dear.”

I did not know it, but that was the last civilized dinner I was to eat for very many strange and terrible days.

CHAPTER EIGHT

FRIDAY NIGHT

The most extraordinary thing to my mind, of all the strange and wonderful things that happened upon that Friday, was the dovetailing of the commonplace habits of our social order with the first beginnings of the series of events that was to topple that social order headlong. If on Friday night you had taken a pair of compasses and drawn a circle with a radius of five miles round the Woking sand pits, I doubt if you would have had one human being outside it, unless it were some relation of Stent or of the three or four cyclists o the people lying dead in the pit, whose emotions or habits were at all affected by the new-comers. Many people had heard of the cylinder, of course, and talked about it at their leisure, but it certainly did not make the sensation necessary to attract the interest of the supermarket tabloids.

In LA that night poor Masterson’s tweet describing the gradual unscrewing of the shot was judged to be a hoax, and his newspaper, after emailing for authentication from him and receiving no reply–the man was killed–decided not to print a special edition.

Even within the five-mile circle the great majority of people were inert. I have already described the behavior of the men and women to whom I spoke. All over the district people were dining and supping; Working men were gardening after the labors of the day, children were being put to bed, young people were wandering through the lanes love-making, students sat over their books.

Maybe there was a murmur in the village streets, a novel and dominant topic in the ale houses the TV cable being down, and here and there a messenger, or even an eye-witness of the later occurrences, caused a whirl of excitement, a shouting, and a running to and fro; but for the most part the daily routine of Woking, eating, drinking, sleeping and cheating each other, went on as it had done for countless years.

At the Woking junction, until a late hour, BART METRO trains were stopping and going on, others were shunting on the sidings, passengers were alighting and waiting, and everything was proceeding in the most ordinary way. A boy from Woking, trenching on Smith’s monopoly, was selling papers with the afternoon’s news. The ringing impact of trucks, the sharp whistle of the locomotives from the junction, mingled with their shouts of “Rocket Men from Korea!”

Excited witnesses came into the station about nine o’clock with incredible tidings, and caused no more disturbance than drunkards might have done. People rattling East peered into the darkness outside the bus windows, and saw only a darkness broken by the occasional street lights.

A curious crowd lingered restlessly, people coming and going but the crowd remaining, both on the Woking bridge. One or two adventurous souls, it was afterwards found, went into the darkness and crawled quite near the zombies; but they never returned. Save for such, that big area of common was silent and desolate, and the chewed bodies lay about in the pit all night under the stars, and all the next day. A noise of moaning from the pit was heard by many people.

So you have the state of things on Friday night. In the center, sticking into the skin of our old planet Earth like a poisoned dart, was this cylinder. But the poison was scarcely Working yet. Around it was a patch of silent common, smoldering in places, and with a few dark, dimly seen objects lying in contorted attitudes here and there.

Here and there was a burning bush or tree. Beyond was a fringe of excitement, and farther than that fringe the inflammation had not crept as yet. In the rest of the world the stream of life still flowed as it had flowed for immemorial years. The fever of war that would presently clog vein and artery, deaden nerve and destroy brain, had still to develop.

All night long the zombies were moaning and stirring, sleepless, indefatigable, at work upon the trench to the surface they were making ready, and ever and again a puff of greenish-white smoke whirled up to the starlit sky.

About eleven a company of soldiers came through town, and deployed along the edge of the common to form a cordon. Later a second company marched through to deploy on the north side of the common.

Several officers from the national guard had been on the common earlier in the day, and one, Major Eden, was reported to be missing. The colonel of the regiment came to the bridge and was busy questioning the crowd at midnight. The military authorities were certainly alive to the seriousness of the business. About eleven, the next morning’s papers were able to say, a squadron of marines, two swat teams, and about four hundred men of the national guard started from the state capital in Sacramento.

A few seconds after midnight the crowd on the road, saw a star fall from heaven into the pine woods to the northwest. It had a greenish color, and caused a silent brightness like summer lightning. This was the second cylinder.

CHAPTER NINE

THE FIGHTING BEGINS

Saturday lives in my memory as a day of suspense. It was a day of lassitude too, hot and close, with, I am told, a rapidly fluctuating barometer. I had slept but little, though my wife had succeeded in sleeping, and I rose early. I went into my garden before breakfast and stood listening, but towards the common there was nothing stirring but a lark.

The mailman came as usual. I heard the rattle of his jeep and I went round to the side gate to ask the latest news. He told me that during the night the zombies had been surrounded by troops, and that field guns were expected. Then–a familiar, reassuring note–I heard a train running.

“They aren’t to be killed,” said the mailman, “if that can possibly be avoided.”

I saw my neighbor gardening, chatted with him for a time, and then strolled in to breakfast. It was a most unexceptional morning. My neighbor was of opinion that the troops would be able to capture or to destroy the pit critters during the day.

“It’s a pity they make themselves so unapproachable,” he said. “It would be curious to know how they lived in N.K.; we might learn a thing or two.”

He came up to the fence and extended a handful of strawberries, for his gardening was as generous as it was enthusiastic. At the same time he told me of the burning of the pine woods about the golf links.

“They say,” said he, “that there’s another of those blessed things fallen there–number two. But one’s enough, surely. This lot’ll cost the insurance people a pretty penny before everything’s settled.” He laughed with an air of the greatest good humor as he said this. The woods, he said, were still burning, and pointed out a haze of smoke to me. “They will be hot under foot for days, on account of the thick soil of pine needles and turf,” he said, and then grew serious over “poor Thomas.”

After breakfast, instead of working, I decided to walk down towards the common. Under the railway bridge I found a group of soldiers–sappers, I think, men in sharp round berets, professionally dirty camouflage jackets unbuttoned, and showing their olive shirts, dark trousers, and combat boots coming to the calf. They told me no one was allowed over the canal, and, looking along the road towards the bridge, I saw one of the local men standing sentinel there. I talked with these soldiers for a time; I told them of my sight of the zombies on the previous evening. None of them had seen the zombies, and they had but the vaguest ideas of them, so that they plied me with questions. They said that they did not know who had authorized the movements of the troops; their idea was that a dispute had arisen at the National Guard HQ.

The ordinary sapper is a great deal better educated than the common soldier, and they discussed the peculiar conditions of the possible fight with some acuteness. I described the video camera to them, and they began to argue among themselves.

“Crawl up under cover and rush ’em, I say,” said one.

“Say what!” said another. “What’s our cover against this ‘biting business’? Stick to their ribs? What we got to do is to go as near as the ground cover will allow us, and then drive a trench.”

“Forget your trenches! You always want trenches; you ought to have been born a rabbit Snippy.”

“Ain’t they got any lips, then?” said a third, abruptly–a little, contemplative, dark man, smoking a cigarette.

I repeated my description.

“Monsters,” said he, “that’s what I call them. Talk about fishers of men–fighters of fish it is this time!”

“It ain’t no murder killing creatures like that,” said the first speaker.

“Why not shell the darned things straight away and finish them off?” said the little dark man. “You can’t tell what foreigners might do.”

“Where’s your shells? The field guns haven’t arrived yet.” said the first speaker. “There ain’t no time. Rush them, that’s my strategy, and do it at once.”

So they discussed it. After a while I left them, and went on to the railway station to get as many morning papers as I could.

But I will not weary the reader with a description of that long morning and of the longer afternoon. I did not succeed in getting a glimpse of the common, for even the church and water towers were in the hands of the military authorities. The soldiers I addressed didn’t know anything; the officers were mysterious as well as busy.

I found people in the town quite secure again in the presence of the military, and I heard for the first time from Marshall about the tobacconist, that his son was among the dead in the pit.

The soldiers had made the people on the outskirts of town lock up and leave their houses.

I got back to lunch about two, very tired for, as I have said, the day was extremely hot and dull; and in order to refresh myself I took a cold shower in the afternoon. About half past four I went up to the railway station to get an evening paper, for the morning papers had contained only a very inaccurate description of the killing of Stent, Masterson, Thomas, and the others. But there was little I didn’t know.

The zombies did not show an inch of themselves. They seemed busy in their pit, and there was a sound of moaning and an almost continuous streamer of smoke. Apparently they were busy getting ready for a struggle. “Fresh attempts have been made to signal, but without success,” was the stereotyped formula of the papers. A sapper told me it was done by a man in a ditch with a flag on a long pole. The zombies took as much notice of such advances as we should of the lowing of a cow.

I must confess the sight of all this armament, all this preparation, greatly excited me. My imagination became belligerent, and defeated the invaders in a dozen striking ways; something of my schoolboy dreams of battle and heroism came back. It hardly seemed a fair fight to me at that time. They seemed very helpless in that pit of theirs.

About three o’clock there began the thud of a gun at measured intervals from some distance away. I learned that the smoldering pine wood into which the second cylinder had fallen was being shelled, in the hope of destroying that object before it opened. It was only about five, however, that a mechanized mobile field gun reached our area for use against the first body of zombies.

About six in the evening, as I sat at tea with my wife in the sun room talking vigorously about the battle that was lowering upon us, I heard a muffled detonation from the common, and immediately after a gust of firing. Close on the heels of that came a violent rattling crash, quite close to us, that shook the ground; and, starting out upon the lawn, I saw the tops of the trees about the Oriental College burst into smoky red flame, and the tower of the little church beside it slide down into ruin. The pinnacle of the mosque had vanished, and the roof line of the college itself looked as if a hundred-ton gun had been at work upon it. One of our chimneys cracked as if a shot had hit it, flew, and a piece of it came clattering down the tiles and made a heap of broken red fragments upon the flower bed by my study window.

I and my wife stood amazed. Then I realized that the crest of Maybury Hill must be within range of the zombies’ gas tubes now that the college was cleared out of the way.

At that I gripped my wife’s arm, and without ceremony ran her out into the road. Telling her I would go upstairs myself for the box she was clamoring for.

“We can’t possibly stay here,” I said; and as I spoke the firing reopened for a moment upon the common.

“But where are we to go?” said my wife in terror.

I thought perplexed. Then I remembered her cousins in Loggerhead.

“Your cousins!” I shouted above the sudden noise.

She looked away from me downhill. The people were coming out of their houses, astonished.

“How are we to get to there?” she said.

Down the hill I saw a squall of troopers drive under the railway bridge; three headed through the open gates of the College; two others dismounted, and began running from house to house. The sun, shining through the smoke that drove up from the tops of the trees, seemed blood red, and threw an unfamiliar lurid light upon everything.

“Stop here,” said I; “you are safe here”; and I started off at once for the tavern, for I knew the landlord had spare van. I ran, for I perceived that in a moment everyone upon this side of the hill would be moving out. I found him in his bar, quite unaware of what was going on behind his house. A man stood with his back to me, talking to him.

“I must have a more money,” said the landlord, “and I’ve no one to drive it.”

“I’ll give you twenty more,” said I, over the stranger’s shoulder.

“What for?”

“And I’ll bring it back by midnight,” I said.

“Lord!” said the landlord; “what’s the hurry? I’m selling my fatted hog. Twenty more, and you bring it back? What’s going on now?”

I explained hastily that I had to leave my home, and so secured the van. At the time it did not seem to me nearly so urgent that the landlord should leave his. I took care to take the van there and then, drove it off down the road, and, leaving it in charge of my wife, rushed into my house and packed a few valuables, such plate as we had, and so forth. The beech trees below the house were burning while I did this, and the palings up the road glowed red. While I was occupied in this way, one of the troopers came running up. He was going from house to house, warning people to leave. He was going on as I came out of my front door, lugging my treasures, done up in pillow cases. I shouted after him:

“What news?”

He turned, stared, bawled something about “crawling out in a thing like a dish cover,” and ran on to the gate of the house at the crest. A sudden whirl of black smoke driving across the road hid him for a moment. I ran to my neighbor’s door and rapped to satisfy myself of what I already knew, that his wife had gone to LA with him and had locked up their house. I went in again, according to my promise, to get my wife’s box, lugged it out, dropped on the tail of the van, and then jumped up into the driver’s seat beside my wife. In another moment we were clear of the smoke and noise, and driving down the opposite slope of Maybury Hill towards old town.

In front was a quiet sunny landscape, a grape field ahead on either side of the road, and the Maybury Inn with its neon sign. I saw the doctor’s Buick ahead of me. At the bottom of the hill I turned my head to look at the hillside I was leaving. Thick streamers of black smoke shot with threads of red fire were driving up into the still air, and throwing dark shadows upon the green treetops eastward.

The smoke already extended far away to the east and west–to the Fleet pine woods eastward, and to the west. The road was dotted with people running towards us. And very faint now, but very distinct through the hot, quiet air, one heard the whirr of a machine-gun that was presently stilled, and an intermittent cracking of rifles. Apparently the zombies were setting fire to everything within throwing range.

I am not an expert driver under stress, and I had to immediately turn my attention to the van. When I looked back again the second hill had hidden the black smoke. I hit the gas until miles lay between us and that quivering tumult. I overtook and passed the doctor halfway.

CHAPTER TEN

IN THE STORM

The wife’s cousins live in Loggerhead about twelve miles from Maybury Hill. The scent of hay was in the air through the lush meadows beyond Pickford, and the hedges on either side were sweet and gay with multitudes of dog-roses.

The heavy firing that had broken out while we were driving down Maybury Hill ceased as abruptly as it began, leaving the evening very peaceful and still. I assumed the zombies to be destroyed, but why take chances as the area would be disrupted for some time. We arrived without misadventure about nine o’clock, and the van had an hour’s time to cool down while I took supper with her cousins and commended my wife to their care.

My wife was curiously silent throughout the drive, and seemed oppressed with forebodings of evil. I talked to her reassuringly, pointing out that the zombies were tied to the Pit by sheer weakness, and at the utmost could but crawl a little out of it; but she answered only in monosyllables. Had it not been for my promise to the innkeeper to return the van that day, she would, I think, have urged me to stay in that night. Would that I had! Her face, I remember, was very pale as we parted.

For my own part, I had been feverishly excited all day. Something very like the war fever that occasionally runs through a civilized community had got into my blood, and in my heart I was not so very sorry that I had to return to Maybury that night. I was even afraid that that last fusillade I had heard might mean the extermination of our invaders. I can best express my state of mind by saying that I wanted to be in at their death.

It was nearly eleven when I started to return. The night was unexpectedly dark; to me, walking out of the lighted passage of her cousins’ house, it seemed indeed black, and it was as hot and close as the day. Overhead the clouds were driving fast, albeit not a breath stirred the shrubs about us. Her cousins kept both porch lights lit. I knew the road intimately. My wife stood in the light of the doorway, and watched me until I jumped up into the van. Then abruptly she turned and went in, leaving her cousins wishing me good travel.

I was a little depressed at first with the contagion of my wife’s fears, but very soon my thoughts reverted to the zombies. At that time I was absolutely in the dark as to the course of the evening’s fighting. I did not know even the circumstances that had precipitated the conflict. As I came through, I saw along the western horizon a blood-red glow, which as I drew nearer, crept slowly up the sky. The driving clouds of the gathering thunderstorm mingled there with masses of black and red smoke.

The streets were deserted, the power was out and except for a candle lighted window or so the village showed not a sign of life; but I narrowly escaped an accident at the corner of the road to Pickford, where a knot of people stood with their backs to me. They said nothing to me as I passed. I do not know what they knew of the things happening beyond the hill, nor do I know if the silent houses I passed on my way were sleeping securely, or deserted and empty, or harassed and watching against the terror of the night.

From San Romero until I came through Pickford I was in the valley of the Winds, and the red glare was hidden from me. As I ascended the little hill beyond Pickford Church the glare came into view again, and the trees about me shivered with the first intimation of the storm that was upon me. Then I heard midnight pealing out from Pickford Church behind me, and then came the silhouette of Maybury Hill, with its tree-tops and roofs black and sharp against the red.

Even as I beheld this a lurid green glare lit the road about me and showed the distant woods towards Addlestone. I felt a tug at the wheel. I saw that the driving clouds had been pierced as it were by a thread of green fire, suddenly lighting their confusion and falling into the field to my left. It was the third falling star!

Close on its apparition, and blindingly violet by contrast, danced out the first lightning of the gathering storm, and the thunder burst like a rocket overhead.

A moderate incline runs towards the foot of Maybury Hill, and down this we rattled and squeaked. Once the lightning had begun, it went on in as rapid a succession of flashes as I have ever seen. The thunderclaps, treading one on the heels of another and with a strange crackling accompaniment, sounded more like the working of a gigantic hydraulic stamping machine than the usual detonating reverberations. The flickering light was blinding and confusing, and a thin unseasonable hail smote gustily at the windshield as I drove down the slope.

At first I regarded little but the road before me, and then abruptly my attention was arrested by something that was moving rapidly down the opposite slope of Maybury Hill. At first I took it for the wet roof of a car, but one flash following another showed it to be in swift ungulating movement. It was an elusive vision–a moment of bewildering darkness, and then, in a flash like daylight, the red masses of the old abandon Orphanage near the crest of the hill, the green tops of the pine trees, and this problematical objects came out clear and sharp and bright.

And these Things I saw! How can I describe it? A monstrous creature, taller than most men, striding between the young pine trees, and smashing at them aside in its career; a walking engine of glittering decay, striding now across the heather; articulate ropes of rotting arms dangling from it, and the clattering tumult of its passage mingling with the riot of the thunder. A flash, and it came out vividly, heeling over one way then the next, to vanish and reappear almost instantly as it seemed, with the next flash, yards nearer. Can you imagine a drunken madman staggering forward as if continuously stumbling down hill, tilted and bowled violently along the ground? That was the impression those instant flashes gave.

Then suddenly the branches in the pine wood ahead of me were parted, as brittle reeds are parted by a man thrusting through them; they were snapped off and driven headlong, and a second huge creature appeared, rushing, as it seemed, headlong towards me. And I was driving hard to meet it! At the sight of the second monster my nerve went altogether. Not stopping to look again, I wrenched the steering wheel hard round to the right and in another moment the van had heeled over upon its side; the windows all smashed noisily, and I was flung sideways against the door.

I crawled out almost immediately, and crouched, my feet in a puddle of water, under a clump of furze. The van lay motionless axle broken and by the lightning flashes I saw the black bulk of the overturned van and the silhouette of the wheel still spinning slowly. In another moment the colossal creature staggered by me, and passed uphill towards Pickford.

Seen nearer, the Thing was incredibly strange, for it was no mere damaged human driving on its way. Creature it was, with a ringing metallic stride, and long, arms, glittering with the slime of decay. It picked its road as it went striding along, and the brazen helmeted head that surmounted it moved to and fro with the inevitable suggestion of a person looking about as the monster swept by me. And in an instant it was gone.

So much I saw then, all vaguely for the flickering of the lightning, in blinding highlights and dense black shadows. I knew unease the Japanese must feel when Godzilla passes by without stepping on their house.

As it passed it set up an exultant deafening moan that drowned the thunder–“Arrrrr! Arrrrr!”–and in another minute it was with its companion, half a click away, stooping over by something in the field. I have no doubt this Thing in the field was the third of the ten projectiles the Koreans had fired at us…

For some minutes I lay there in the rain and darkness watching, by the intermittent light, these monstrous beings moving about in the distance over the hedge tops. A thin hail was now beginning, and as it came and went their figures grew misty and then flashed into clearness again. Now and then came a gap in the lightning, and the night swallowed them up.

I was soaked with hail above and puddle water below. It was some time before my blank astonishment would let me struggle up the bank to a drier position, or think at all of my imminent peril.

Not far from me was a little one-roomed squatter’s hut of wood, surrounded by a patch of potato garden. I struggled to my feet at last, and, crouching and making use of every chance of cover, I made a run for this. I hammered at the door, but I could not make the people hear (if there were any people inside), and after a time I desisted, and, availing myself of a ditch for the greater part of the way, succeeded in crawling, unobserved by these monstrous creatures, into the pine woods towards Maybury Hill.

Under cover of this I pushed on, wet and shivering now, towards my own house. I walked among the trees trying to find the footpath. It was very dark indeed in the wood, for the lightning was now becoming infrequent, and the icy rain, which was pouring down in a torrent, fell in columns through the gaps in the heavy foliage.

If I’d had half a brain, if I had fully realized the meaning of all the things I had seen I should have immediately worked my way round through back streets and so gone back to rejoin my wife at Pickford. But that night the strangeness of things about me, and my physical wretchedness, prevented me, for I was bruised, weary, wet to the skin, deafened and blinded by the storm.

I had a vague idea of going on to my own house, and that was as much motive as I had. I staggered through the trees, fell into a ditch and bruised my knees against a plank, and finally splashed out into the lane that ran down from the College. I say splashed, for the storm water was sweeping the sand down the hill in a muddy torrent. There in the darkness a man blundered into me and sent me reeling back.

He gave a cry of terror, sprang sideways, and rushed on before I could gather my wits sufficiently to speak to him. So heavy was the stress of the storm just at this place that I had the hardest task to win my way up the hill. I went close up to the fence on the left and worked my way along its planks.

Near the top I stumbled upon something soft, and, by a flash of lightning, saw between my feet a heap of black broadcloth and a pair of boots. Before I could distinguish clearly how the man lay, the flicker of light had passed. I stood over him waiting for the next flash. When it came, I saw that he was a sturdy man, cheaply but not shabbily dressed; his head was bent to the side an apparent bite taken from the shoulder, and he lay crumpled up close to the fence, as though he had been flung violently against it.

Overcoming the repugnance natural to one who had never before touched a dead body, I stooped and turned him over to feel for his heart. He was quite dead. Apparently his neck and shoulder area had been bitten multiple times. He appeared withered. The lightning flashed for a third time, and his shrunken face leaped upon me. I sprang to my feet. It was the landlord of the Spotted Dog Tavern, whose conveyance I had taken.

I stepped over him gingerly and pushed on up the hill. I made my way by the police station and the College towards my own house. Nothing was burning on the hillside, though from the common there still came a red glare and a rolling tumult of ruddy smoke beating up against the drenching hail. So far as I could see by the flashes, the houses about me were mostly uninjured. By the College another dark heap lay in the road.

Down the road towards Maybury Bridge there were voices and the sound of feet, but I had not the courage to shout or to go to them. I let myself in with my security key, closed, locked and bolted the door, staggered to the foot of the staircase, and sat down. My imagination was full of those striding monsters, and of the dead body bitten and smashed against the fence.

I crouched at the foot of the staircase with my back to the wall, shivering violently.

CHAPTER ELEVEN

AT THE WINDOW

I have already said that my storms of emotion have a trick of exhausting themselves. After a time I discovered that I was cold and wet, and with little pools of water about me on the stair carpet. I got up almost mechanically, went into the dining room and drank a little bourbon, and then I was moved to change my clothes.

After I had done that I went upstairs to my study, but why I did so I do not know. The window of my study looks over the trees and the railway towards the commons. In the hurry of our departure this window had been left open. The passage was dark, and, by contrast with the picture the window frame enclosed, the side of the room seemed impenetrably dark. I stopped short in the doorway.

The thunderstorm had passed. The towers of College State University and the pine trees about it had gone, and very far away, lit by a vivid red glare, the common about the sand pits was visible. Across the light huge black shapes, grotesque and strange, moved busily to and fro.

It seemed indeed as if the whole country in that direction was on fire–a broad hillside set with minute tongues of flame, swaying and writhing with the gusts of the dying storm, and throwing a red reflection upon the cloud-scud above. Every now and then a haze of smoke from some nearer conflagration drove across the window and hid the zombie shapes. I could not see what they were doing, nor the clear form of them, nor recognize the black objects they were busied upon. Neither could I see the nearer fire, though the reflections of it danced on the wall and ceiling of the study. A sharp, resinous tang of burning was in the air.

I closed the door noiselessly and crept towards the window. As I did so, the view opened out until, on the one hand, it reached to the houses about the train station, and on the other to the charred and blackened pine woods. There was a light down below the hill, on the railway, near the arch, and several of the houses along the Maybury road and the streets near the station were glowing ruins.

The light upon the railway puzzled me at first; there were a black heap and a vivid glare, and to the right of that a row of yellow oblongs. Then I perceived this was a wrecked train, the fore part smashed and on fire, the rear passenger cars still upon the rails.

Between these three main centers of light–the houses, the train, and the burning woods–stretched irregular patches of dark country, broken here and there by intervals of dimly glowing and smoking ground. It was the strangest spectacle, that black expanse set with fire. It reminded me, more than anything else, of the pottery kilns at night. At first I could distinguish no people at all, though I peered intently for them. Later I saw against the light of the station a number of black figures hurrying one after the other across the line.

And this was the little world in which I had been living securely for years, this fiery chaos! What had happened in the last seven hours I still did not know; nor did I know, though I was beginning to guess, the relation between these terrible colossi and the sluggish lumps I had seen disgorged from the cylinder. With a queer feeling of impersonal interest I turned my desk chair to the window, sat down, and stared at the blackened country, and particularly at the three gigantic black things that were going to and fro in the glare about the sand pits.

They seemed amazingly busy. I began to ask myself what they could be. Were they intelligent creatures? Such a thing I felt was impossible. Or did a radio transmitter sit within each, ruling, directing, using, much as a man’s brain sits and rules in his body? I began to compare the things to human machines, to ask myself for the first time in my life how a aegis destroyer or diesel engine would seem to an intelligent lower animal.

The storm had left the sky clear, and over the smoke of the burning land the little fading moon was dropping into the west, when a soldier came into my garden. I heard a slight scraping at the fence, and rousing myself from the lethargy that had fallen upon me, I looked down and saw him dimly, clambering over the palings. At the sight of another human being my torpor passed, and I leaned out of the window eagerly.

“Hist!” said I, in a whisper.

He stopped astride of the fence in doubt. Then he came over and across the lawn to the corner of the house. He bent down and stepped softly.

“Who’s there?” he said, also whispering, standing under the window and peering up.

“Where are you going?” I asked.

“God knows.”

“Are you trying to hide?”

“That’s it.”

“Come into the house,” I said.

I went down, unfastened the door, and let him in, and locked the door again. I could not see his face. He was hatless, and his coat was unbuttoned.

“My God!” he said, as I drew him in.

“What has happened?” I asked.

“What hasn’t?” In the obscurity I could see he made a gesture of despair. “They wiped us out–simply wiped us out,” he repeated again and again.

He followed me, almost mechanically, into the dining room.

“Take some bourbon,” I said, pouring out a stiff dose.

He drank it. Then abruptly he sat down before the table, put his head on his arms, and began to sob and weep like a little boy, in a perfect passion of emotion, while I, with a curious forgetfulness of my own recent despair, stood beside him, wondering.

It was a long time before he could steady his nerves to answer my questions, and then he answered perplexingly and brokenly. He was a howitzer driver in the mechanized mobile artillery, and had only come into action about seven. At that time firing was going on across the common, and it was said some of the first party of zombies were staggering slowly towards their second cylinder.

The gun he drove had been parked in position, in order to command the sand pits, and its arrival it was that had precipitated the action. As the howitzer gunners went to the ammunition rack, at the same moment zombies swarmed out form the pit behind him, there were zombies all about him, around all the gun crews, biting and dragging men to the pit, he soon found himself lying under a heap of dead men.

“I lay still,” he said, “scared out of my wits, with the top half of a sergeant atop of me. We’d been wiped out. And the smell–good Lord! Like dead rotten meat! I was hurt across the back by the fall of the bodies, and there I had to lie until I felt better. Just like parade it had been a minute before–then stumble, bang, swarm!”

“Wiped out!” he said.

He had hid under the dead bodies for a long time, peeping out furtively across the common. Some men had tried a rush, in skirmishing order, at the pit, simply to be swarmed out of existence. Then the monster had risen to its feet and had begun to walk leisurely to and fro across the common among the few fugitives, with its helmeted head turning about exactly like the head of a cowled human being. One arm carried a complicated metallic case, about which green and red flashes scintillated like a modem, and out of the funnel of this there was a short sword like appendage.

In a few minutes there was, so far as the soldier could see, not a living thing left upon the common. The troopers had been on the road beyond the curvature of the ground, and he saw nothing of them. He heard the zombies rattle for a time and then become still. The giant saved the train station and its cluster of houses until the last; then in a moment the zombie bridgade was brought to bear, and the town became a heap of overrun ruins. Then the Thing shut down the attack somehow, and turning its back upon the artilleryman, began to stagger away towards the smoldering pine woods that sheltered the second cylinder. As it did so a second slimy monster levered itself up out of the pit.

The second monster followed the first, and at that the artilleryman began to crawl very cautiously across the hot grassy ash towards town. He managed to get alive into the ditch by the side of the road, and so escaped. There his story became ejaculatory.

The place was impassable. It seems there were a few people alive there, frantic for the most part and many bitten and clawed. He was turned aside by the fire, and hid among some almost scorching heaps of broken wall as one of the zombie giants returned. He saw this one pursue a man, catch him up in one of its slimy arms, and knock his head against the trunk of a pine tree before taking a bite. At last, after nightfall, the artilleryman made a rush for it and got over the railway embankment.

Since then he had been skulking along towards Maybury, in the hope of getting out of danger LA-ward. People were hiding in trenches and cellars, and many of the survivors had made off towards the hills. He had been consumed with thirst until he found one of the water mains near the railway arch smashed, and the water bubbling out like a spring upon the road.

That was the story I got from him, bit by bit. He grew calmer telling me and trying to make me see the things he had seen. He had eaten no food since midday, he told me early in his narrative, and I found some peanut butter, jelly and bread in the pantry and brought it into the room. We lit no lights for fear of attracting the zombies, and ever and again our hands would touch upon bread or jar.

As he talked, things about us came darkly out of the darkness, and the trampled bushes and broken rose trees outside the window grew distinct. It would seem that a number of men or animals had rushed across the lawn. I began to see his face, blackened and haggard, as no doubt mine was also.

When we had finished eating we went softly upstairs to my study, and I looked again out of the open window. In one night the valley had become a valley of ashes. The fires had dwindled now. Where flames had been there were now a red glow with streamers of smoke; but the countless ruins of shattered and gutted houses and blasted and blackened trees that the night had hidden stood out now gaunt and terrible in the pitiless light of dawn. Yet here and there some object had had the luck to escape–a white railway signal here, the end of a greenhouse there, white and fresh amid the wreckage. Never before in the history of warfare had destruction seemed so indiscriminate and so universal. And shining with the growing light of the east, three of the slimy giants stood about the pit, their heads rotating back and forth as though they were surveying the desolation they had made.

It seemed to me that the pit had been enlarged, and ever and again puffs of vivid green vapor streamed up and out of it towards the brightening dawn–streamed up, whirled, broke, and vanished.

Beyond were the pillars of smoke and fire about towns in the distance. They became pillars of bloodshot smoke at the first touch of day.

CHAPTER TWELVE

WHAT I SAW OF THE DESTRUCTION

As the dawn grew brighter we withdrew from the window from which we had watched the zombies, and went very quietly downstairs.

The artilleryman agreed with me that the house was no place to stay in. He proposed, he said, to make his way LA-ward, and thence rejoin his battery–No. 12, of the Artillery. My plan was to return at once to Pickford; and so greatly had the strength of the zombies impressed me that I had determined to take my wife to New Haven, and go with her out of the county forthwith. For I already perceived clearly that the country about LA must inevitably be the scene of a disastrous struggle before such creatures as these could be destroyed.

Between us and Pickford, however, lay the third projectile, with its guarding giants. Had I been alone, I think I should have taken my chance and struck across country. But the artilleryman dissuaded me: “It’s no kindness to the right sort of wife,” he said, “to make her a widow”; and in the end I agreed to go with him, under cover of the woods, northward as far as Mogk Street before I parted with him. Thence I would make a big detour to reach Pickford.

I should have started at once, but my companion had been in active service and he knew better than that. He made me ransack the house for two pint pocket flasks, which he filled with whiskey; and we lined every available pocket with zip locked packets of biscuits and slices of meat.

Then we crept out of the house, and ran as quickly as we could down the ill-made road by which I had come overnight. The houses seemed deserted. In the road lay a group of three bodies close together, apparently struck dead; and here and there were things that people had dropped–toys and stuffed animals a clock, a flip-flop, a suitcase, and the like poor valuables. At the corner turning up towards the post office a little SUV, filled with boxes and small pices furniture, heeled over on a flat tire. A jewelry box had been hastily smashed open and thrown empty under the debris.

Except the lodge at the old Orphanage, which was still on fire, none of the houses had suffered very greatly here. The zombies had taken the easy route and passed. Yet, save ourselves, there did not seem to be a living soul on Maybury Hill. The majority of the inhabitants had escaped, I suppose, by way of the old Brooks Road–the road I had taken when I drove to Pickford–or they had hidden.

We went down the lane, by where the body of the man in black had lay, it was gone missing, and broke into the woods at the foot of the hill. We pushed through these towards the railway without meeting a soul. The woods across the line were but the scarred and blackened ruins of woods; for the most part the trees had fallen, but a certain proportion still stood, dismal gray stems, with dark brown foliage instead of green.

On our side the fire had done no more than scorch the nearer trees; it had failed to secure its footing. In one place the woodmen had been at work on Saturday; trees, felled and freshly trimmed, lay in a clearing, with heaps of sawdust by the sawing-machine and its engine. Hard by was a temporary hut, deserted. There was not a breath of wind this morning, and everything was strangely still. Even the birds were hushed, and as we hurried along I and the artilleryman talked in whispers and looked now and again over our shoulders. Once or twice we stopped to listen.

After a time we drew near the road, and as we did so we heard the rumble of tires and saw through the tree stems three soldiers in a Humvee riding slowly towards town. We hailed them, and they halted while we hurried towards them. It was a lieutenant and a couple of privates, with a stand and case, which the artilleryman told me was a satellite phone.

“You are the first men I’ve seen coming this way this morning,” said the lieutenant. “What’s brewing?”

His voice and face were eager. The men behind him stared curiously. The artilleryman jumped down the bank into the road and saluted.

“Howitzer destroyed last night, sir. Have been hiding. Trying to rejoin the battery, sir. You’ll come in sight of the zombies, I expect, about half a mile along this road.”

“What the dickens are they like?” asked the lieutenant.

“Leaders are rotting slimy giants in body armor, sir. Seven feet high. Strong legs and body like ‘a football player, with a mighty great head in a helmet, sir. The rest are a disgusting rabble that were packed in like sardines.”

“Get out!” said the lieutenant. “What confounded nonsense!”

“No, sir, you’ll see, sir.” and the artilleryman began a vivid account of the attack. Halfway through, the lieutenant interrupted him and looked up at me. I was still standing on the bank by the side of the road.

“It’s perfectly true,” I said.

“Well,” said the lieutenant, “I suppose it’s my business to see it too. Look here”–to the artilleryman–“we’re detailed here clearing people out of their houses. You’d better go along and report
yourself to Brigadier-General Heinlein, and tell him all you know. He’s at Waybridge. Know the way?”

“I do,” I said; and he ordered the vehicle southward again.

“Half a mile, you say?” said he.

“At most,” I answered, and pointed over the treetops southward. He thanked me and rode on, and we saw them no more.

Farther along we came upon a group of three women and two children in the road, busy clearing out a laborer’s cottage. They had got hold of a little hand truck, and were piling it up with unclean-looking bundles and shabby furniture. They were all too assiduously engaged to talk to us as we passed.

By next station we emerged from the pine trees, and found the country calm and peaceful under the morning sunlight. We were far beyond the range of the zombies there, and had it not been for the silent desertion of some of the houses, the stirring movement of packing in others, and the knot of soldiers standing on the bridge over the railway and staring down the line towards town, the day would have seemed very like any other Sunday.

Several farm wagons and carts were moving creakily along the road to Addlestone, and suddenly through the gate of a field we saw, across a stretch of flat meadow, a battery of six 105 mm cannon standing neatly at equal distances pointing towards Woking. The gunners stood by the guns waiting, and the ammunition carriers were at a business like distance. The men stood almost as if under inspection.

“That’s good!” said I. “They will get one fair shot, at any rate.”

The artilleryman hesitated at the gate.

“I shall go on,” he said.

Farther on towards Waybridge, just over the bridge, there were number of men in khaki fatigue jackets throwing up a long rampart, and more guns behind.

“It’s bows and arrows against the mob, anyhow,” said the artilleryman. “They haven’t been swarmed yet.”

The officers who were not actively engaged stood and stared about the trees southwestward, and the men digging would stop every now and again to stare in the same direction.

Fleet Town was in a tumult; people packing, and a score of National Guard, some of them dismounted, some in Humvee, were hunting them about. Three or four big black government SUV and step vans, with black and orange hazard circles, and an old school bus, among other vehicles, were being loaded in the village street. There were scores of people, most of them sufficiently sabbatical to have assumed their best clothes. The soldiers were having the greatest difficulty in making them realize the gravity of their position. We saw one shriveled old fellow with a huge box and a score or more of flower pots containing orchids, angrily expostulating with the corporal who would leave them behind. I stopped and gripped his arm.

“Do you know what’s over there?” I said, pointing at the pine trees that hid the zombies.

“You think I’m stupid? Space men from Korea that want to eat us! They eat cats and dogs over there not people, at least not that I’ve heard recently.” said he, turning. “I was explaining these plants are valuable to me and require constant care.”

“Death!” I shouted. “Death is coming! Death I say!” and leaving him to digest that if he could before being digested himself, I hurried on after the artillery-man. At the corner I looked back. The soldier had left him, and he was still standing by his box, with the pots of orchids on the lid of it, and staring vaguely over at the trees.

No one in Waybridge could tell us where the headquarters were established; the whole place was in such confusion as I had never seen in any town before. Cars, vans, pickup trucks everywhere, the most astonishing miscellany of conveyances. The respectable inhabitants of the place, men in golf and boating costumes, wives prettily dressed, were packing, river-side loafers energetically helping for a fee, children excited, and, for the most part, highly delighted at this astonishing variation of their Sunday experiences. In the midst of it all the worthy vicar was very pluckily holding an early celebration, and his bell was jangling out above the excitement.

I and the artilleryman, seated on the step of the town fountain, made a very passable meal upon what we had brought with us. Patrols of soldiers–here no longer guardsmen, but grenadiers in camouflage were warning people to move now or to take refuge in their cellars as soon as the firing began. We saw as we crossed the railway bridge that a growing crowd of people had assembled in and about the railway station, and the swarming platform was piled with boxes and packages. The ordinary traffic had been stopped, I believe, in order to allow of the passage of troops and guns to Medley, and I have heard since that a savage struggle occurred for places in the special trains that were put on at a later hour.

We remained at Waybridge until midday, and at that hour we found ourselves at the place near Shepherds Folly where the rivers merge. Part of the time we spent helping two old women to pack a little cart. The river has a treble mouth, and at this point boats are to be hired, and there was a ferry across the river. On the Shepherds Folly side was an tavern with a lawn, and beyond that the tower
of Shepherds Folly Church–it has been replaced by a spire–rose above the trees.

Here we found an excited and noisy crowd of fugitives. As yet the flight had not grown to a panic, but there were already far more people than all the boats going to and fro could enable to cross. People came panting along under heavy burdens; one husband and wife were even carrying a folding plastic table between them, with some of their household goods piled thereon. One man told us he intended to try to get away from Shepherds Folly station.

There was a lot of shouting, and one man was even jesting. The idea people seemed to have here was that the zombies were simply formidable human beings, who might attack and sack the town, to be certainly destroyed in the end. Every now and then people would glance nervously across the way, at the meadows towards Hertsey, but everything over there was still.

Across the river, except just where the boats landed, everything was quiet, in vivid contrast with the Callie side. The people who landed there from the boats went tramping off down the lane. The big ferryboat had just made a journey. Three or four soldiers stood on the lawn of the inn, staring and jesting at the fugitives, without offering to help. The tavern was closed, as it was now within prohibited hours.

“What’s that?” cried a boatman, and “Shut up, you fool!” said a man near me to a yelping dog. Then the sound came again, this time from the direction of Hertsey, a muffled thud–the sound of a gun.

The fighting was beginning. Almost immediately unseen batteries across the river to our right, unseen because of the trees, took up the chorus, firing heavily one after the other. A woman screamed for no apparent reason as is their nature. Everyone stood arrested by the sudden stir of battle, near us and yet invisible to us. Nothing was to be seen save flat meadows, cows feeding unconcernedly for the most part, and silvery pollard willows motionless in the warm sunlight.

“The soldiers will stop them,” said a more sensible woman beside me, doubtfully. A haziness rose over the treetops.

Then suddenly we saw a rush of smoke far away up the river, a puff of smoke that jerked up into the air and hung; and forthwith the ground heaved under foot and a heavy explosion shook the air, smashing two or three windows in the houses near, and leaving us astonished.

“Here they come!” shouted a man in a blue jersey. “Yonder! Do you see them? Over yonder!”

Quickly, one after the other, one, two, three, four of the armored zombies leaders appeared, far away over by the little trees, across the flat meadows that stretched towards Hertsey, and striding hurriedly towards the river. Little cowled figures they seemed at first, going with a rolling motion.

Then, advancing obliquely towards us, came a fifth. Their slimy armored bodies glistened in the sun as they wobbled swiftly forward upon the guns, growing rapidly larger as they drew nearer, closely followed by their terrible swarm of death. One on the extreme left, the remotest that is, flourished a huge arm high in the air, and brought it down to point at the town with a load moan.

At sight of these strange, swift, and terrible creatures the crowd near the water’s edge seemed to me to be for a moment horror-struck. There was no screaming or shouting, but a silence. Then a hoarse murmur and a movement of feet–a splashing from the water. A man, too frightened to drop the suitcase he carried on his shoulder, swung round and sent me staggering with a blow from the corner of his burden. A woman thrust at me with her hand and rushed past me. I turned with the rush of the people, but I was not too terrified for thought. The terrible swarm was in my mind. To get under water! That was it!

“Get under water!” I shouted, unheeded.

I faced about again, and rushed towards the approaching zombie, rushed right down the gravelly beach and off headlong into the water. Others did the same. A boatload of people putting back came leaping out as I rushed past. The stones under my feet were muddy and slippery, and the river was so low that I ran perhaps twenty feet scarcely waist-deep. Then, as the zombie towered overhead scarcely a couple of hundred yards away, I flung myself forward under the surface. The splashes of the people in the boats leaping into the river sounded like thunderclaps in my ears. People were landing hastily on both sides of the river. But the zombie leader took no more notice for the moment of the people running this way and that than a man would of the confusion of ants in a nest against which his foot has kicked. When, half suffocated, I raised my head above water, the zombie’s helmet faced the batteries that were still firing across the river.

In another couple of moments it was on the bank, and making strides wading halfway across. The knees of its legs bent at the farther bank, and in another moment it had raised itself to its full height again, close to the village of Shepherds Folly (who names these places?) Forthwith the six guns which, unknown to anyone on the right bank, had been hidden behind the outskirts of that village, fired simultaneously. The sudden near concussion, the last close upon the first, made my heart jump. The monster was already rising as the first shell burst six yards above the helmet.

I gave a cry of astonishment. I saw and thought nothing of the other four zombie monsters; my attention was riveted upon the nearer incident. Simultaneously two other shells burst in the air near the body as the head twisted round in time to receive, but not in time to dodge, the fourth shell.

The shell burst clean in the face of the Thing. The helmet bulged, flashed, was whirled off in a dozen tattered fragments of red meat and gray flesh and glittering metal.

“Hit!” shouted I, with something between a scream and a cheer.

I heard answering shouts from the people in the water about me. I could have leaped out of the water with that momentary exultation.

The decapitated colossus reeled like a drunken giant; but it did not fall over. It recovered its balance by a miracle, and, no longer heeding its steps and with the camera now rigidly upheld, it reeled swiftly upon Shepherds Folly. The living dead intelligence, the zombie within the helmet, was slain and splashed to the four winds of hell, and the Thing was now but a mere zombie of a zombie intricate whirling to destruction. It drove along in a straight line, incapable of guidance of its own or remote handlers. It struck the doors of Shepherds Folly Church, smashing them down as the impact of a battering ram might have done, swerved aside, blundered on and collapsed with tremendous force into the river out of my sight.

A violent explosion shook the air, and a spout of water, steam, mud, and shattered metal shot far up into the sky. In another moment a surge wave, like a muddy tidal bore but almost scaldingly hot, came sweeping round the bend upstream. I saw people struggling towards shore, and heard their screaming and shouting faintly above the seething and roar of the zombie’s collapse.

For a moment I heeded nothing of the heat, forgot the patent need of self-preservation. I splashed through the tumultuous water, pushing aside a man in black to do so, until I could see round the bend. Half a dozen deserted boats pitched aimlessly upon the confusion of the waves. The fallen zombie came into sight downstream, lying in the river, and for the most part submerged.

Thick clouds of vapor were pouring off the body, and through the tumultuously whirling wisps I could see, intermittently and vaguely, the gigantic limbs churning the water and flinging a splash and spray of mud and froth into the air. The arms swayed and struck like living arms, and, save for the helpless purposelessness of these movements, it was as if some wounded thing were struggling for its life amid the waves. Enormous quantities of a ruddy-brown fluid were spurting up in noisy jets out of the neck.

My attention was diverted from this death flurry by a furious yelling, like that of the thing called a siren in our manufacturing towns. A man, knee-deep near the towing path, shouted inaudibly to me and pointed. Looking back, I saw the other zombies advancing with rapid strides down the riverbank from the direction of Hertsey. The Shepherds Folly guns spoke this time unavailingly.

At that I ducked at once under water, and, holding my breath until movement was an agony, blundered painfully ahead under the surface as long as I could. The water was in a tumult about me, and rapidly growing hotter.

When for a moment I raised my head to take breath and throw the hair and water from my eyes, the mist was rising in a whirling white fog that at first hid the zombies altogether. The noise was deafening. Then I saw them dimly, colossal figures of gray, magnified by the mist. They had passed by me, and two were stooping over the frothing, tumultuous ruins of their comrade.

The third and fourth stood beside him in the water, one perhaps two hundred yards from me, the other towards Lakeham.

The air was full of sound, a deafening and confusing conflict of noises–the clangorous din of the zombies, the crash of falling artillery, the thud of trees, fences, sheds flashing into flame, and the crackling and roaring of fire. Dense black smoke was leaping up to mingle with the steam from the river, and as the zombie irregulars went to and fro over Waybridge the impact of the shelling was marked by flashes of incandescent white, that gave place at once to a smoky dance of lurid flames. The nearer houses still stood intact, awaiting their fate, shadowy, faint and pallid in the steam, with the fire behind them going to and fro.

For a moment perhaps I stood there, breast-high in water, dumbfounded at my position, hopeless of escape. Through the reek I could see the people who had been with me in the river scrambling out of the water through the reeds, like little frogs hurrying through grass from the advance of a man, or running to and fro in utter dismay on the towing path.

Then suddenly the shells of the artillery came leaping towards me. The houses caved in as they dissolved at its touch, and darted out flames; the trees changed to fire with a roar. The zombies flickered up and down the towing path, picking off the people who ran this way and that, and came down to the water’s edge not fifty yards from where I stood. They swept across the river to Shepherds Folly, and the water in their track churned like boiling mud. I turned shoreward.

In another moment the huge wave of zombies had rushed upon me. I screamed aloud, and scrambled out of their way, half blinded by mud, agonized, I staggered through the leaping, filthy water towards the shore. Had my foot stumbled, it would have been the end. I fell helplessly, in full sight of the zombies, upon the broad, bare gravelly spit that runs down to mark the angle of the two rivers. I expected nothing but death.

I have a dim memory of the foot of a zombie coming down within a yard of my head, driving straight into the loose gravel, grinding it this way and that and lifting again; of a long suspense, and then of the four dragging the debris of their comrade between them, now clear and then presently faint through a veil of smoke, receding interminably, as it seemed to me, across a vast space of river and meadow. And then, very slowly, I realized that by a miracle I had escaped.

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

HOW I FELL IN WITH THE DEACON

After getting this sudden lesson in the power of American weapons, the zombies retreated to their original position upon Woking common; and in their haste, and encumbered with the debris of their smashed companion, they and their horde no doubt overlooked many such a stray and negligible victim as myself. Had they left their comrade and pushed on forthwith, there was nothing at that time between them and LA but batteries of light mobile artillery, and they would certainly have reached the city in advance of the tidings of their approach; all communications being down due to what we later suspected to be an E.M. Pulse. As sudden, dreadful, and destructive their advent would have been to LA as the earthquake that destroyed San Francisco a century ago.

But they were in no hurry. Projectile followed projectile on its inter orbital flight; every twenty-four hours brought them reinforcement. And meanwhile the air, military and naval authorities, now fully aleart to the tremendous power of their antagonists, worked with furious energy. Every minute a fresh gun came into position until, before twilight, every copse, every row of suburban villas on the hilly slopes about Kings Nose and Richmond, masked an expectant black muzzle. And through the charred and desolated area–perhaps twenty square miles altogether–that encircled the zombie encampment on the common, through charred and ruined villages among the green trees, through the blackened and smoking arcades that had been but a day ago pine spinneys, crawled the devoted scouts with the hardened satellite phones that were presently to warn the gunners of the zombie approach. But the zombies now understood our command of artillery and the danger of human proximity, and not a man ventured within a mile of either cylinder pit, save at the price of his life.

It would seem that these giants spent the earlier part of the afternoon in going to and fro, transferring everything from the second and third cylinders–the second in Addlestone Golf Links and the third at Pickford–to their original pit on the common. Over that, above the blackened heather and ruined buildings that stretched far and wide, stood one as sentinel, while the rest abandoned their vast wanderings and descended or fell into the pit. They were seemingly hard at work there far into the night, and the towering pillar of dense green smoke that rose therefrom could be seen from the hills about.

And while the zombies behind me were thus preparing for their next sally, and in front of me Humanity gathered for the battle, I made my way with infinite pains and labor from the fire and smoke of burning Waybridge towards LA.

I saw an abandoned boat, very small and remote, drifting down stream; and throwing off the most of my sodden clothes, I went after it, gained it, and so escaped out of that destruction. There were no oars in the boat, but I contrived to paddle, as well as my hands would allow, down the river, going very tediously and continually looking behind me, as you may well understand. I followed the river, because I considered that the water gave me my best chance of escape should these giants return.

The misty water from the zombie’s overthrow drifted downstream with me, so that for the best part of a mile I could see little of either bank. Once, however, I made out a string of black figures hurrying across the meadows from the direction of Waybridge. Hartford, it seemed, was deserted, and several of the houses facing the river were on fire. It was strange to see the place quite tranquil, quite desolate under the hot blue sky, with the smoke and little threads of flame going straight up into the heat of the afternoon. Never before had I seen houses burning without the accompaniment of an obstructive crowd. A little farther on the dry reeds up the bank were smoking and glowing, and a line of fire inland was marching steadily across a late field of hay.

For a long time I drifted, so painful and weary was I after the violence I had been through, and so intense the heat upon the water. Then my fears got the better of me again, and I resumed my paddling. The sun scorched my bare back. At last, as the bridge at Walton was coming into sight round the bend, my fever and faintness overcame my fears, and I landed on the bank and lay down, deadly sick, amid the long grass. I suppose the time was then about four or five o’clock. I got up presently, walked perhaps half a mile without meeting a soul, and then lay down again in the shadow of a hedge. I seem to remember talking, wonderingly, to myself during that last spurt. I was also very thirsty, and bitterly regretful I had drunk no more fresh water when I had the opportunity. It is a curious thing that I felt angry with my wife; I cannot account for it, but my impotent desire to reach her worried me excessively.

I do not clearly remember the arrival of the deacon, so that probably I dozed. I became aware of him as a seated figure in a black jacket with soot-smudged white shirt cuffs, and with his upturned pasty clean-shaven face staring at a faint flickering that danced over the sky. The sky was what is called a mackerel sky–rows and rows of faint down-plumes of cloud, just tinted with the midsummer sunset.

I sat up, and at the rustle of my motion he looked at me quickly.

“Have you any water?” I asked abruptly.

He shook his head.

“You have been asking for water for the last hour, there’s none to be had around here.” he said.

For a moment we were silent, taking stock of each other. I dare say he found me a strange enough figure, naked, save for my water soaked trousers and socks, scalded, and my face and shoulders blackened by the smoke. His face was a fair weakness, his chin retreated, and his hair lay in crisp, almost flaxen curls on his low forehead; his eyes were rather large, pale blue, and blankly staring. He spoke abruptly, looking vacantly away from me.

“What does it mean?” he said. “What do these things mean?”

I stared at him and made no answer.

He extended a thin white hand and spoke in almost a complaining tone.

“Why are these things permitted? What sins have we done to deserve this? The morning service was over, I was walking through the roads to clear my head for the afternoon, and then–fire, earthquake, death! As if it were Sodom and Gomorrah! All our work undone, all the work—- What are these zombies?”

“What are we?” I answered, clearing my throat.

He gripped his knees and turned to look at me again. For half a minute, perhaps, he stared silently.

“I was walking through the roads to clear my brain,” he said again. “And suddenly–fire, earthquake, death!” Followed by “The Lord will send a plague to all the nations of the world that fought Jerusalem. Their flesh will rot where they stand, their eyes will rot in their sockets, and their tongues will rot in their mouths. The people will be stricken by a great panic, and they will attack one another. Prophet Zechariah [14:12-13]”

He relapsed into silence, with his chin now sunken almost to his knees.

Presently he began waving his hand.

“All the work–all the Sunday schools–What have we done–what has Waybridge done? Everything gone–everything destroyed. The church! We rebuilt it only three years ago after valley fires and mudslides. Gone! Swept out of existence again! Why?”

Another pause, and he broke out again like one demented.

“The smoke of her burning goeth up for ever and ever!” he shouted.

His eyes flamed, and he pointed a lean finger in the direction of Waybridge.

By this time I was beginning to take his measure. The tremendous tragedy in which he had been involved–it was evident he was a fugitive from Waybridge–had driven him to the very verge of his reason.

“Are we far from Sudsbury?” I said, in a matter-of-fact tone.

“What are we to do?” he asked. “Are these creatures everywhere? Has the earth been given over to them?”

“Are there any surviving towns near?”

“Only this morning I officiated at early celebration—-”

“Things have changed,” I said, quietly. “You must keep your head. There is still hope.”

“Hope!”

“Yes. Plentiful hope–for all this destruction!”

I began to explain my view of our position. He listened at first, but as I went on the interest dawning in his eyes gave place to their former blank stare, and his regard wandered from me.

“This must be the beginning of the end,” he said, interrupting me. “The end! The great and terrible day of the Lord! When men shall call upon the mountains and the rocks to fall upon them and hide them–hide them from the face of Him that sitteth upon the throne!”

I began to understand the position. I ceased my labored reasoning, struggled to my feet, and, standing over him, laid my hand on his shoulder.

“Be a man!” said I. “You are scared out of your wits! What good is religion if it collapses under calamity? Think of what earthquakes and floods, wars and volcanoes, have done before to men! Did you think God had exempted Waybridge? He is not an insurance agent.”

For a time he sat in blank silence.

“But how can we escape?” he asked, suddenly. “They are invulnerable, they are pitiless.”

“Neither the one nor, perhaps, the other,” I answered. “And the mightier they are the more sane and wary should we be. One of them was killed yonder not three hours ago.”

“Killed!” he said, staring about him. “How can God’s ministers be killed?”

“I saw it happen.” I proceeded to tell him. “We have chanced to come in for the thick of it,” said I, “and that is all.”

“We are in the midst of it,” I said, “quiet as it is. That flicker in the sky tells of the gathering storm. Yonder, I take it are the zombies, and LA onward, where those hills rise about Richmond and Kings Nose and the trees give cover, earthworks are being thrown up and guns are being placed. Presently the zombies will be coming this way again.”

And even as I spoke he sprang to his feet and stopped me by a gesture.

“Listen!” he said.

From beyond the low hills across the water came the dull resonance of distant guns and a remote weird moaning. Then everything was still. A turkey vulture came droning over the hedge and past us. High in the west the crescent moon hung faint and pale above the smoke of Waybridge and Shepherds Folly and the hot, still splendor of the sunset.

“We had better follow this path,” I said, “northward.”

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

IN LOS ANGELES

My younger brother was in LA when the zombies fell at Woking. He was a medical student working for an imminent examination, and he heard nothing of the arrival until Saturday morning. The morning papers on Saturday contained, in addition to lengthy special articles on the Korean Peninsula, on life in Asia, and so forth, a brief and vaguely worded texted message, all the more striking for its brevity.

The zombies, alarmed by the approach of a crowd, had killed a number of people with a rapid fire stiching gun, so the story ran. The message concluded with the words: “Formidable as they seem to be, the zombies have not moved from the pit into which they have fallen, and, indeed, seem incapable of doing so. Probably this is due to the harsh effects of their transportation method.” On that last text their leader-writer expanded very comfortingly.

Of course all the students in the crammer’s biology class, to which my brother went that day, were intensely interested, but there were no signs of any unusual excitement in the streets. The afternoon papers puffed scraps of news under big headlines. They had nothing to tell beyond the movements of troops about the common, and the burning of the pine woods between Woking and Waybridge, until
eight.

Then the LA Gazette , in an extra-special edition, announced the bare fact of the interruption of telephone communication. This was thought to be due to the falling of burning pine trees across the lines. Nothing more of the fighting was known that night, the night of my drive and back.

My brother felt no anxiety about us, as he knew from the description in the papers that the cylinder was a good two miles from my house. He made up his mind to run down that night to me, in order, as he says, to see the Things before they were killed. He dispatched an email, which never reached me, about four o’clock, and spent the evening at a movie theater.

In LA, also, on Saturday night there was a thunderstorm, and my brother reached Quatloo in a cab. On the platform from which the midnight train usually starts he learned, after some waiting, that an accident prevented trains from reaching Woking that night. The nature of the accident he could not ascertain; indeed, the railway authorities did not clearly know at that time. There was very little excitement in the station, as the officials, failing to realize that anything further than a breakdown between Fleet and Woking junction had occurred, were running the theater trains which usually passed through Woking round by Soft Water or Guildford. They were busy making the necessary arrangements to alter the route of the Southern and Long Beach Sunday League excursions. A nocturnal newspaper reporter, mistaking my brother for the traffic manager, to whom he bears a slight resemblance, waylaid and tried to interview him. Few people, excepting the railway officials, connected the breakdown with the zombies.

I have read, in another account of these events, that on Sunday morning “all LA was electrified by the news from Woking.” As a matter of fact, there was nothing to justify that very extravagant phrase. Plenty of LAers did not hear of the zombies until the panic of Monday morning. Those who did took some time to realize all that the hastily worded articles in the Sunday papers conveyed. The majority of people in LA do not read Sunday papers.

The habit of personal security, moreover, is so deeply fixed in the LA mind set, and startling intelligence so much a matter of course in the papers, that they could read without any personal tremors: “About seven o’clock last night the zombies came out of the cylinder, and, moving about under a huge body armored leader, have completely wrecked Woking station with the adjacent houses, and massacred an entire battalion of the Guard. No details are known. machine guns have been absolutely useless against their armor and the unarmored zombies; the field guns have been disabled by them. The zombies appear to be moving slowly toward LA. Great anxiety prevails; earthworks are being thrown up to check the advance LAward.” That was how the Sunday Sun put it, and a clever and remarkably prompt “Zombie Survival Handbook” article in the
Sporting-Times compared the affair to a crackpot menagerie suddenly let loose in a village.

No one in LA knew positively of the nature of the armored zombies, and there was still a fixed idea that these monsters must be sluggish: “shambling,” “staggering painfully”–such expressions occurred in almost all the earlier reports. None of the messages could have been written by an eyewitness of their advance. The Radio and Television Stations. Sunday papers offered separate opinions as further news came to hand, some even in default of it. But there was practically nothing more to tell people until late in the afternoon, when the authorities gave the press agencies the news in their possession. It was stated that the people of Walton and Waybridge, and all the district were pouring along the roads LAward, and that was all.

My brother went to church at the Foundling Hospital in the morning, still in ignorance of what had happened on the previous night. There he heard allusions made to the invasion, and a special prayer for peace. Coming out, he bought a newspaper . He became alarmed at the news in this, and went again to Quatloo station to find out if communication were restored. The buses, cars, cyclists, and innumerable people walking in their best clothes seemed scarcely affected by the strange intelligence that the news venders were disseminating figuring it the usual scare mongering. People were interested, or, if alarmed, alarmed only on account of the local residents.

At the station he heard for the first time that the rail lines were now interrupted. The porters told him that several remarkable messages had been received in the morning from Fleet and Hertsey stations, but that these had abruptly ceased. My brother could get very little precise detail out of them.

“There’s fighting going on about Waybridge” was the extent of their information.

The train service was now very much disorganized. Quite a number of people who had been expecting friends from places on the South-Western network were standing about the station. One gray-headed old gentleman came and abused the South-Western Company bitterly to my brother. “It needs showing up,” he said.

One or two trains came in from Richmond, Putney, and Kings Nose, containing people who had gone out for a day’s boating and found the locks closed and a feeling of panic in the air. A man in a blue and white blazer addressed my brother, full of strange tidings.

“There’s hosts of people driving into Kings Nose in cars and pickups and things, with boxes of valuables and all that,” he said. “They come from Molesey and Waybridge and Walton, and they say there’s been guns heard at Hertsey, heavy firing, and that soldiers have told them to get off at once because the zombies are coming. We heard guns firing at Hampton station, but we thought it was thunder. What the frack does it all mean? The zombies can’t get out of their pit, can they?”

My brother could not tell him.

Afterwards he found that the vague feeling of alarm had spread to the clients of the underground subway, and that the Sunday excursionists began to return from all over the South-Western link at unnaturally early hours; but not a soul had anything more than vague hearsay to tell of. Everyone connected with the terminus seemed ill-tempered.

About five o’clock the gathering crowd in the station was immensely excited by the opening of the line of communication, which is almost invariably closed, between the South-Eastern and the South-Western stations, and the passage of special trucks bearing huge guns and Humvees crammed with soldiers. These were the guns that were brought up to cover Kings Nose. There was an exchange of pleasantries: “You’ll get bitten!” “We’re the Zombie Hunters!” and so forth. A little while after that a squad of police came into the station and began to clear the public off the platforms, and my brother went out into the street again.

The church bells were ringing for evensong, and a squad of Salvation Army ladies came singing down the road. On the bridge a number of loafers were watching a curious brown scum that came drifting down the stream in patches. The sun was just setting, and the sky scrapers rose against one of the most peaceful skies it is possible to imagine, a sky of gold, barred with long transverse stripes of reddish-purple cloud. There was talk of a floating body. One of the men there, a reservist he said he was, told my brother he had seen flickering in the west.

In Canal Street my brother met a couple of sturdy vendors who had just been rushed out of Fleet Street with still-wet newspapers and staring placards. “Dreadful catastrophe!” they bawled one to the
other down Canal Street. “Fighting at Waybridge! Full description! Repulse of the zombies! LA in Danger!” He had to give three dollars for a copy of that paper.

Then it was, and then only, that he realized something of the full power and terror of these monsters. He learned that they were not merely a handful of small sluggish creatures, but that their leaders were minds controlled from afar, big swaying armored bodies; and that they could move relatively swiftly and swarm their minions with such ferocious power that even the mightiest gun crews could not stand against them.

They were described as “vast spider net like swarms, nearly a hundred or more per swarm, capable of the speed of a fast walking man, and able to shoot out a gas of intense stink.” Masked batteries, chiefly of field guns, had been planted in the country, and especially between the Woking district and LA. Five of the zombie leaders had been seen moving towards the river, and one,
by a happy chance, had been destroyed. In the other cases the shells had missed, and the batteries had been at once annihilated by the swarms. Heavy losses of soldiers were mentioned, their reanimation as zombies not mentioned, but the tone of the dispatch was optimistic.

The zombies had been repulsed; they were not invulnerable. They had retreated to their triangle of cylinders again, in the circle about Woking. Scouts with satellite phones were pushing forward upon them from all sides. Mobile guns were in rapid transit from the north; among others, long railway mounted guns of ninety five tons. Altogether one hundred and sixteen were in position or being hastily placed, chiefly covering LA. Never since WWII had there been such a vast or rapid concentration of military material in the area.

Any further projectiles that fell, it was hoped, could be destroyed at once by Black Ops teams using high explosives, which were being rapidly manufactured and distributed. There was even crazy talk of pulling the flying wing out of mothballs due to its role in some old invasion movie, that was quickly nixed. No doubt, ran the report, the situation was of the strangest and gravest description, but the public was exhorted to avoid and discourage panic. No doubt the zombies were strange and terrible in the extreme, but at the outside there could not be more than two hundred of them per shell against our millions. (Little did we know the nature their infectious bite would have on that ratio.)

The authorities had reason to suppose, from the size of the cylinders, that at the outside there could not be more than three hundred in each cylinder–fifteen hundred altogether. And one leader at least was disposed of–perhaps more. The public would be fairly warned of the approach of danger, and elaborate measures were being taken for the protection of the people in the threatened southwestern suburbs. And so, with reiterated assurances of the safety of LA and the ability of the authorities to cope with the difficulty, this quasi-proclamation closed.

This was printed in enormous type on paper so fresh that it was still wet, and there had been no time to add a word of comment. It was curious, my brother said, to see how ruthlessly the usual contents of the paper had been hacked and taken out to give this place.

All down the street people could be seen fluttering out the pink news sheets and reading, and the walk was suddenly noisy with the voices of an army of hawkers following these pioneers. Men came scrambling off buses to secure copies. Certainly this news excited people intensely, whatever their previous apathy. The shutters of a map shop in the walk were being taken down, my brother said, and a man in his Sunday raiment, lemon-yellow gloves even, was visible inside the window hastily fastening local and regional maps to the glass.

Going on along, the paper in hand, my brother saw some of the fugitives from West Curry. There was a man with his wife and two boys and some articles of furniture in a pickup truck such as greengrocers use. He was driving from the direction of Golden Gate Bridge; and close behind him came a limo with five or six respectable-looking people in it, and some boxes and luggage. The faces of these people were haggard, and their entire appearance contrasted conspicuously with the Sabbath-best appearance of the people on the buses. People in fashionable clothing peeped at them out of cabs. They stopped at the Square as if undecided which way to take, and finally turned eastward along the Rand. Some way behind these came a man in workday clothes, riding one of those old-fashioned mopeds with a small front wheel. He was dirty and white in the face.

My brother turned down towards the south, and met a number of such people. He had a vague idea that he might see something of me. He noticed an unusual number of police regulating the traffic. Some of the refugees were exchanging news with the people on the buses. One was professing to have seen the zombies. “Slimy gray football player on roids, I tell you, shambling along like men.” Most of them were excited and animated by their strange experience.

Naturally the bars were doing a lively trade with these arrivals. At all the street corners groups of people were reading papers, talking excitedly, or staring at these unusual Sunday visitors. They seemed to increase as night drew on, until at last the roads, my brother said, were like New Years Eve. My brother addressed several of these fugitives and got unsatisfactory answers from most.

None of them could tell him any news of Woking except one man, who assured him that Woking had been entirely destroyed on the previous night.

“I come from Fleet,” he said; “man on a bicycle came through the place in the early morning, and ran from door to door warning us to get away. Then came soldiers. We went out to look, and there were clouds of smoke to the south–nothing but smoke, and not a soul coming that way. Then we heard the guns, and folks coming from Waybridge. So I’ve locked up my house and come on.”

At the time there was a strong feeling in the streets that the authorities were to blame for their incapacity to dispose of the invaders without all this inconvenience.

By this time you very well might be wondering why our jets’ air to air and ground based surface to air missiles had not blown the projectiles out of the sky. Actually they tried, those missile that still worked despite deferred maintenance bounced off the thick metal hide like popcorn balls. Turns out such missiles are only good for knocking down their thin skinned kindred. Authorities decided mobile infantry ground pounders could handle a handful of zombie cylinders . . .

About eight o’clock a noise of heavy firing was distinctly audible all over the south of LA. My brother could not hear it for the traffic in the main thoroughfares, but by striking through the quiet back streets to the river he was able to distinguish it quite plainly.

He walked from West Side to his apartments near Jovovich Park, about two. He was now very anxious on my account, and disturbed at the evident magnitude of the trouble. His mind was inclined to run, even as mine had run on Saturday, on military details. He thought of all those silent, expectant guns, of the suddenly nomadic countryside; he tried to imagine hundreds of zombies biting people and couldn’t.

There were one or two bus loads of refugees passing along Boil Street, and several in the Maple Road, but so slowly was the news spreading that Oak Street and Park Place were full of their usual Sunday-night promenaders, albeit they talked in groups, and along the edge of King’s Park there were as many silent couples “walking out” together under the scattered fluorescent security lamps as ever there had been. The night was warm and still, and a little oppressive; the sound of guns continued intermittently, and after midnight there seemed to be sheet lightning in the south.

He read and re-read the paper, fearing the worst had happened to me. He was restless, and after supper prowled out again aimlessly. He returned and tried in vain to divert his attention to his examination notes. He went to bed a little after midnight, and was awakened from lurid dreams in the small hours of Monday by the sound of door knocking, feet running in the street, distant drumming, and a clamor of bells. Red reflections danced on the ceiling. For a moment he lay astonished, wondering whether day had come or the world gone mad. Then he jumped out of bed and ran to the window.

His room was an attic and as he thrust his head out, up and down the street there were a dozen echoes to the noise of his window sash, and heads in every kind of night disarray appeared. Inquiries were being shouted. “They are coming!” bawled a policeman, hammering at the door; “the zombies are coming!” and hurried to the next door.

He switch on the radio, as usual there was nothing on but trashy talk radio shows about entertainment, religion and politics, no mention of zombies, the communications gate keepers would not allow it.

He’d have turned on the TV except as a hard Woking student couldn’t afford the time sucker, and therefore didn’t own one.

The sound of drumming and trumpeting came from the Abbany Street Armory, and every church within earshot was hard at work killing sleep with a vehement disorderly tocsin. There was a noise of doors slamming, dogs barking and window after window in the houses opposite flashed from darkness into yellow illumination.

Up the street came racing a closed stretch limo, bursting abruptly into noise at the corner losing a fancy hubcap, rising to a clattering climax under the window, and dying away slowly in the distance. Close on the rear of this came a couple of cabs, the forerunners of a long procession of rapidly moving vehicles, going for the most part to Farmingdale station, where the North-Western special trains were loading up, instead of coming down the gradient into Easton.

For a long time my brother stared out of the window in blank astonishment, watching the policemen hammering at door after door, and delivering their incomprehensible message. Then the door behind him opened, and the man who lodged across the hall came in, dressed only in shirt, trousers, and slippers, his suspenders loose about his waist, his hair disordered from his pillow.

“What the devil is it?” he asked. “A fire? What a devil of a row!”

They both craned their heads out of the window, straining to hear what the policemen were shouting. People were coming out of the side streets, and standing in groups at the corners talking.

“What the devil is it all about?” said my brother’s fellow lodger.

My brother answered him vaguely and began to dress, running with each garment to the window in order to miss nothing of the growing excitement. And presently men selling unnaturally early newspapers came bawling into the street:

“LA in danger of suffocation! The Kings Nose and Richmond defenses forced! Fearful massacres in the Valley!”

And all about him–in the rooms below, in the houses on each side and across the road, and behind in the Park Terraces and in the hundred other streets of that part and westward and northward and eastward, and, indeed, through all the vastness of LA–people were rubbing their eyes, and opening windows to stare out and ask aimless questions, dressing hastily as the first breath of the coming storm of Fear blew through the streets. It was the dawn of the great panic. LA, which had gone to bed on Sunday night oblivious and inert, was awakened, in the small hours of Monday morning, to a vivid sense of danger.

Unable from his window to learn what was happening, my brother went down and out into the street, just as the sky between the parapets of the houses grew pink with the early dawn. The fleeing people on foot and in vehicles grew more numerous every moment. “Black Smoke!” he heard people crying, and again “Black Smoke!” The contagion of such a unanimous fear was inevitable. As my brother hesitated on the door-step, he saw another news vender approaching, and got a paper forthwith. The man was running away with the rest, and selling his papers for a dollar each as he ran–a grotesque mingling of profit and panic.

And from this paper my brother read that catastrophic dispatch of the Regional Commander-in-Chief:

“The zombies are able to swarm in enormous numbers many of whom appear to be former residents of recently attacked towns and villages. They have smothered our batteries, destroyed Raccoon City, Kings Nose, and Wimbledon, and having turned their populations are advancing slowly towards LA, biting and eating everyone on the way. It is impossible to stop them. There is no safety from the horde but in instant flight.”

That was all, but it was enough. The whole population of the great six-million city was stirring, slipping, running; presently it would be pouring enmasse northward.

“Zombie swarm!” the voices cried. “Fire, earthquake, get out, get out now!”

The bells of the neighboring church made a jangling tumult, a car carelessly driven smashed, amid shrieks and curses, against the fire hydrant up the street sending up a gusher. Sickly yellow lights went on and off in the houses, and some of the passing cabs flaunted high-beam headlights. And overhead the dawn was growing brighter, clear and steady and calm.

He heard footsteps running to and fro in the rooms, and up and down stairs behind him. His landlady came to the door, loosely wrapped in dressing gown and shawl; her husband followed.

As my brother began to realize the import of all these things, he turned hastily to his own room, put all his available money–some ten twenties along with a few singles, fives and tens altogether, into his pockets, and went out again into the streets.

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

WHAT HAD HAPPENED IN CURRY

It was while the deacon had sat and talked so wildly to me under the hedge in the flat meadows near Hartford, and while my brother was watching the fugitives stream over the bridge, that the zombies had resumed the offensive. So far as one can ascertain from the conflicting accounts that have been put forth, the majority of them remained busied with preparations in their pits until nine that night, hurrying on some operation that disengaged huge volumes of green smoke.

But three certainly came out about eight o’clock and, advancing slowly and cautiously, made their way through Fleet and Pickford towards O’Bennon and Waybridge, and so came in sight of the expectant batteries back lit against the setting sun. These zombies did not advance in a body, but in a line, each perhaps a quarter mile from his nearest fellow. They communicated with one another by means of siren like moans, running up and down the scale from one note to another.

It was this howling and firing of the guns at O’Bennon and San Romero Hill that we had heard at Upper Hartiford. The O’Bannon gunners, unseasoned artillery volunteers who ought never to have been placed in such a position, fired one wild, premature, ineffectual volley, and bolted on foot through the deserted village, while the zombie, walked serenely by their guns, stepped gingerly among them, passed in front of them, and so came unexpectedly upon the guns in Paintball Park, upon which he destroyed by swarm.

The San Romero men, however, were better led or of a better mettle. Hidden by a pine wood as they were, they seem to have been quite unsuspected by the zombie nearest to them. They laid their guns as deliberately as if they had been on parade, and fired at about a thousand yards’ range.

The shells flashed all round him, and he was seen to advance a few paces, stagger, and go down. Everybody yelled together, and the guns were reloaded in frantic haste. The overthrown zombie set up a prolonged ululation, and immediately a second glistering giant, answering him, appeared over by the trees to the south. It would seem that a leg had been smashed by one of the shells. The whole of the second volley flew wide of the zombie on the ground, and, simultaneously, both his companions brought their hordes to bear on the battery. Hastily dropped ammunition blew up, the pine trees all about the guns flashed into fire, and only one or two of the men who were already running over the crest of the hill escaped.

After this it would seem that the three took counsel together and halted, and the scouts who were watching them report that they remained absolutely stationary for the next half hour. The zombie who had been overthrown crawled tediously out, a large slimy gray brown figure, oddly suggestive from that distance of a speck of blight, and apparently engaged in the repair of his support with a splint. About nine he had finished, for his helmet was then seen among the trees again.

It was a few minutes past nine that night when these three sentinels were joined by four other zombies, each carrying a thick black tube. A similar tube was handed to each of the three, and the seven proceeded to distribute themselves at equal distances along curved line between San Romero Hill, Waybridge, and the village of Sed, southwest of O’Bannon.

A dozen rockets sprang out of the hills before them so soon as they began to move, and warned the waiting batteries about Dither and Escher. At the same time four of the leader zombies, similarly armed with tubes, crossed the river, and two of them, black against the western sky, came into sight of myself and the curate as we hurried wearily and painfully along the road that runs northward out of Hartford. They moved, as it seemed to us, upon a cloud, for a milky mist covered the fields and rose to a third of their height.

At this sight the deacon cried faintly in his throat, and began running; but I knew it was no good running from a zombie, and I turned aside and crawled through dewy nettles and brambles into the broad ditch by the side of the road. He looked back, saw what I was doing, and turned to join me.

The two halted, the nearer to us standing and facing Sudsbury, the remoter being a gray indistinctness towards the evening star, away towards Dogwood.

The occasional moaning of the zombies had ceased; they took up their positions in the huge crescent about their cylinders in absolute silence. It was a crescent with miles between its horns. Never since the devising of gunpowder was the beginning of a battle so still. To us and to an observer about O’Bannon it would have had precisely the same effect–the zombies seemed in solitary possession of the darkling night, lit only as it was by the slender moon, the stars, the afterglow of the daylight, and the ruddy glare from San Romero Hill and the woods of Pesky.

But facing that crescent everywhere–at Stain, Hounds Tooth, Dither, Escher, Oakham, behind hills and woods south of the river, and across the flat grass meadows to the north of it, wherever a cluster of trees or village houses gave sufficient cover–the guns were waiting. The signal flares burst and rained their sparks through the night and vanished, and the spirit of all those watching batteries rose to a tense expectation. The zombies had but to advance into the line of fire, and instantly those motionless black forms of men, those guns glittering so darkly in the early night, would explode into a thunderous fury of battle.

No doubt the thought that was uppermost in a thousand of those vigilant minds, even as it was uppermost in mine, was the riddle–how much they understood of us. Did they grasp that we in our millions were organized, disciplined, working together? Or did they interpret our spurts of fire, the sudden stinging of our shells, our steady investment of their encampment, as we should the furious unanimity of onslaught in a disturbed hive of bees? Did they dream they might exterminate us? (At the time no one knew their food requirements.) A hundred such questions struggled together in my mind as I watched that vast sentinel shape. And in the back of my mind was the sense of all the huge unknown and hidden forces LAward. Had they prepared pitfalls? Were the powder mills at Hounds Tooth ready as a snare? Would the LA-ers have the heart and courage to make a greater Leningrad of their mighty province of houses?

Then, after an interminable time, as it seemed to us, crouching and peering through the hedge, came a sound like the distant concussion of a heavy gun. Another nearer, and then another. And then the zombie beside us raised his tube on high and discharged it, bazooka wise, with a heavy thunk whoosh report that made the leaves heave about. The one towards Stain answered him. There was no flash, no smoke, simply that loaded detonation.

I was so excited by these heavy guns following one another that I so far forgot my personal safety and my abused hands as to clamber up into the hedge and stare towards Sudsbury. As I did so a second report followed, and a big projectile hurtled overhead towards Hounds Tooth. I expected at least to see smoke or fire, or some such evidence of its work. But all I saw was the deep blue sky above, with one solitary star, and the white mist spreading wide and low beneath. And there had been no crash, no answering explosion. The silence was restored; the minute lengthened to three.

“What has happened?” said the curate, standing up beside me.

“Heaven knows!” said I.

A bat flickered by and vanished. A distant tumult of shouting began and ceased. I looked again at the zombie leader, and saw he was now moving eastward along the riverbank, with a swift, rolling motion.

Every moment I expected the fire of some hidden battery to spring upon him; but the evening calm was unbroken. The figure of the zombie grew smaller as he receded, and presently the mist and the gathering night had swallowed him up. By a common impulse we clambered higher. Towards Sudsbury was a dark appearance, as though a conical hill had suddenly come into being there, hiding our view of the farther country side; and then, remoter across the river, over Walton, we saw another such summit. These hill-like forms grew lower and broader even as we stared.

Moved by a sudden thought, I looked northward, and there I perceived a third of these cloudy black mounds had risen.

Everything had suddenly become very still. Far away to the southeast, marking the quiet, we heard the zombies moaning to one another, and then the air quivered again with the distant thump of their tubes. But the earthly artillery made no reply.

Now at the time we could not understand these things, but later I was to learn the meaning of these ominous mounds that gathered in the twilight. Each of the zombies, standing in the great crescent I have described, had discharged, by means of the bazooka like tube he carried, a gas canister over whatever hill, copse, cluster of houses, or other possible cover for guns, chanced to be in front of him. Some fired only one of these, some two–as in the case of the one we had seen; the one at O’Bannon is said to have discharged no fewer than five at that time. These canisters smashed on striking the ground–they did not explode–and incontinently disengaged an enormous volume of heavy, inky vapor, coiling and pouring upward in a huge and ebony cumulus cloud, a gaseous hill that sank and spread itself slowly over the surrounding country. And the touch of that miserable miasma, the inhaling of its pungent vapors, was death followed by reanimation as zombies to all that breathed it in.

It was heavy, this vapor, heavier than the densest smoke, so that, after the first tumultuous uprush and outflow of its impact, it sank down through the air and poured over the ground in a manner rather liquid than gaseous military nerve agents, abandoning the hills, and streaming into the valleys and ditches and watercourses even as I have heard the carbonic-acid gas that pours from volcanic clefts is wont to do.

And where it came upon water some chemical action occurred, and the surface would be instantly covered with a powdery scum that sank slowly and made way for more. The scum was absolutely insoluble, and it is a strange thing, seeing the instant effect of the gas, that one could drink without hurt the water from which it had been strained.

The poisonous miasma did not diffuse as a true gas would do. It hung together in banks, flowing sluggishly down the slope of the land and driving reluctantly before the wind, and very slowly it combined with the mist and moisture of the air, and sank to the earth in the form of dust. Save that an unknown element giving a group of four lines in the blue of the spectrum is concerned, we are still entirely ignorant of the chemical nature of this substance.

Once the tumultuous upheaval of its dispersion was over, the black smoke clung so closely to the ground, even before its precipitation, that fifty feet up in the air, on the roofs and upper stories of high houses and on great trees, there was a chance of escaping its poison altogether, as was proved even that night at Streets Cobsham and Dither.

The man who escaped at the former place tells a wonderful story of the strangeness of its coiling flow, and how he looked down from the church spire and saw the houses of the hamlet rising like ghosts out of its inky nothingness. For a day and a half he remained there, weary, starving and sun-scorched, the earth under the blue sky and
against the prospect of the distant hills a velvet-black expanse, with red roofs, green trees, and, later, black-veiled shrubs and gates, barns, outhouses, and walls, rising here and there into the sunlight.

Then the fourth cylinder fell–a brilliant green meteor–as I learned afterwards, in Bush-league Park. Before the guns on the Richmond and Kings Nose line of hills began, there was a fitful cannonade far away in the southwest, due, I believe, to guns being fired haphazard before the black vapor could overwhelm the gunners.

So, setting about it as methodically as men might smoke out a wasps’ nest, the zombies spread this strange stifling vapor over the LA-ward country. The horns of the crescent slowly moved apart, until at last they formed a line from Hamwell to Fulci and Boyle.

All night through their destructive tubes advanced. Never once, after the zombie at San Romero Hill was brought down, did they give the artillery the ghost of a chance against them. Wherever there was a possibility of guns being laid for them unseen, a fresh canister of the black vapor was discharged, and where the guns were openly displayed the ever growing horde was brought to bear.

By midnight the blazing trees along the slopes of Richmond Park and the glare of Kings Nose Hill threw their light upon a network of black smoke, blotting out the whole valley of the LA River and extending as far as the eye could reach. And through this two zombies slowly waded, and turned their hissing moans this way and that.

They were sparing of the horde that night, either because they had but a limited supply of trained zombies for its production or because they did not wish to destroy nature but only to crush and overawe the opposition they had aroused. In the latter aim they certainly succeeded. Sunday night was the end of the organized opposition to their movements. After that no body of men would stand against them, so hopeless was the enterprise. Even the crews of the Coast Guard Cutter-boats and destroyers that had brought their quick-firers up the river refused to stop, mutinied, and went down again. The only offensive operation men ventured upon after that night was the preparation of land mines, torpedos and pitfalls, and even in that their energies were frantic and spasmodic.

One has to imagine, as well as one may, the fate of those batteries towards Escher, waiting so tensely in the twilight. Survivors there were none. One may picture the orderly expectation, the officers alert and watchful, the gunners ready, the ammunition piled to
hand, the limber gunners with their Humvee and armored personnel carriers, the groups of civilian spectators standing as near as they were permitted, the evening stillness, the ambulances and hospital tents with the wounded from Waybridge; then the dull resonance of the shots the zombies fired, and the clumsy projectile whirling over the trees and houses and smashing amid the neighboring fields.

One may picture, too, the sudden shifting of the attention, the swiftly spreading coils and bellyings of that blackness advancing headlong, towering heavenward, turning the twilight to a palpable darkness, a strange and horrible antagonist of vapor striding upon its victims, men and donning gas masks to no avail near it seen dimly, running, shrieking, falling headlong, shouts of dismay, the guns suddenly abandoned, men choking and writhing on the ground with and without gas masks, and the swift broadening-out of the opaque cone of smoke. And then night and extinction–nothing but a silent mass of impenetrable vapor hiding its dead until they rise and join their walking dead companions.

Before dawn the black vapor was pouring through the streets of Richmond, and the disintegrating organism of government was, with a last expiring effort, rousing the population of LA to the necessity of flight.

CHAPTER SIXTEEN

THE EXODUS FROM LA

So you understand the roaring wave of fear that swept through the greatest city in the world just as Monday was dawning–the stream of flight rising swiftly to a torrent, lashing in a foaming tumult round the bus and railway stations, banked up into a horrible struggle about the shipping in the river and harbor, and hurrying by every available channel northward and eastward. By ten o’clock the police organization, and by midday even the railway organizations, were losing coherency, losing shape and efficiency, guttering, softening, running at last in that swift liquefaction of the social body.

All the railway lines north of the river and the South-Eastern people at Cannan Street had been warned by midnight on Sunday, and trains were being filled. People were fighting savagely for standing-room in the carriages even at two o’clock. By three, people were being trampled and crushed even in Bish Street, a couple of hundred yards or more from Liverpoo Street station; revolvers were fired, people stabbed, and the policemen who had been sent to direct the traffic, exhausted and infuriated, were breaking the heads of the people they were called out to protect.

And as the day advanced and the locomotive and bus drivers refused to return to LA, the pressure of the flight drove the people in an ever-thickening multitude away from the stations and along the northward-running roads. By midday a zombie had been seen at Bairnes and Nobles, and a cloud of slowly sinking black vapor drove along the river and across the flats of Jamesbath, cutting off all escape over the bridges in its sluggish advance. Another bank drove over Eating, and surrounded a little island of survivors on Castle Hill, alive, but unable to escape.

After a fruitless struggle to get aboard a North-Western train at Chalker Farm–the engines of the trains that had loaded in the goods yard there plowed through shrieking people, and a dozen stalwart men fought to keep the crowd from crushing the driver against his machine–my brother emerged upon the Chalker Farm road, dodged across through a hurrying swarm of vehicles, and had the luck to be foremost in the sack of a cycle shop. The front tire of the machine he got was punctured in dragging it through the window, but he got up and off, notwithstanding, with no further injury than a cut wrist. The steep foot of Comstock Hill was impassable owing to several overturned semis, and my brother struck into Bedsore Road.

So he got out of the fury of the panic, and, skirting the Edgewaver Road, reached Edgewarer about seven, hungry and wearied, but well ahead of the crowd. Along the road people were standing in the roadway, curious, wondering. He was passed by a number of cyclists, some horsemen, and two motor cars. A mile from Edgewarer the rim of the wheel broke, and the machine became unridable. He left it by the roadside and trudged through the village. There were shops half opened in the main street of the place, and people crowded on the pavement and in the doorways and windows, staring astonished at this extraordinary procession of fugitives that was beginning. He succeeded in getting a cheezburger and fries at a diner.

For a time he remained in Edgewarer not knowing what next to do. The fleeing people increased in number. Many of them, like my brother, seemed inclined to loiter in the seemingly safe place. There was no fresh news of the invaders.

At that time the road was crowded, but as yet far from congested. Most of the fugitives at that hour were mounted on cycles, but there were soon motor cars, cabs, various suvs, pickup trucks and limos
hurrying along, and the dust hung in heavy clouds along the road to St. Harryhausen.

It was perhaps a vague idea of making his way to Chumsford, where some friends of his lived, that at last induced my brother to strike into a quiet lane running eastward. Presently he came upon a stile, and, crossing it, followed a footpath northeastward. He passed near several farmhouses and some little places whose names he did not learn. He saw few fugitives until, in a grass lane towards High Barnet, he happened upon two ladies who became his fellow travelers. He came upon them just in time to save them.

He heard their screams, and, hurrying round the corner, saw a couple of men struggling to drag them out of the little Fiat in which they had been driving, while a third with difficulty held the steering wheel. One of the ladies, a short woman dressed in white, was simply screaming; the other, a dark, slender figure, slashed at the man who gripped her arm with a metal framed purse she held in her disengaged hand.

My brother immediately grasped the situation, shouted, and hurried towards the struggle. One of the men desisted and turned towards him, and my brother, realizing from his antagonist’s face that a fight was unavoidable, and being an expert kick boxer, went into him forthwith and sent him down against the rear wheel of the auto.

It was no time for pugilistic chivalry and my brother laid him quiet with a kick, and gripped the collar of the man who pulled at the slender lady’s arm. He heard the rumble of tires, the purse stung across his face, a third antagonist struck him between the eyes, and the man he held wrenched himself free and made off down the lane in the direction from which he had come.

Partly stunned, he found himself facing the man who had held the door handle, and became aware of the vehicle receding from him down the lane, swaying from side to side, and with the women in it looking back. The man before him, a burly rough, tried to close, and he stopped him with a straight blow in the nose. Then, realizing that he was deserted, he dodged round and made off down the lane after the Fiat, with the sturdy man close behind him, and the fugitive, who had turned now, following remotely.

Suddenly he stumbled and fell; his immediate pursuer went headlong, and he rose to his feet to find himself with a couple of antagonists again. He would have had little chance against them had not the slender lady very pluckily pulled up and returned to his help. It seems she had had a revolver all this time, but it had been hidden under the seat due to the state’s silly ass laws, when she and her companion were attacked. She fired at six yards’ distance, narrowly missing my brother. The less courageous of the robbers made off, and his companion followed him, cursing his cowardice. They both stopped in sight down the lane, where the third man lay insensible.

“Take this!” said the slender lady, and she gave my brother her revolver.

“Go back to the car,” said my brother, wiping the blood from his split lip.

She turned without a word–they were both panting–and they went back to where the lady in white struggled to hold back her fright.

The robbers had evidently had enough of it. When my brother looked again they were retreating.

“I’ll sit here,” said my brother, “if I may”; and he got upon the empty front seat. The lady looked over her shoulder.

“I’ll take the wheel,” she said, and laid the purse along the side of the seat. In another moment a bend in the road hid the three men from my brother’s eyes.

So, quite unexpectedly, my brother found himself, panting, with a cut mouth, a bruised jaw, and bloodstained knuckles, driven along an unknown lane with these two women.

He learned they were the wife and the younger sister of a brain surgeon working at Stiffmore, who had come in the small hours from a dangerous bitter case at Pinzer, and heard at some railway station on his way of the zombie advance and realized the true nature of his patient. He had hurried home, roused the women–their family had dumped them on him two days before–packed some provisions, put his spare revolver under the seat–luckily for my brother–and told them to drive on to Edgewarer, with the idea of getting a train there. He stopped behind to tell the neighbors. He would overtake them, he said having some important business to finish in Pinzer, at about half past four in the morning, and now it was nearly nine and they had seen nothing of him. They could not stop in Edgewarer because of the growing traffic through the place, and so they had come into this side lane.

That was the story they told my brother in fragments when presently they stopped again, nearer to New Basil. He promised to stay with them, at least until they could determine what to do, or until the missing man arrived, and professed to be an expert shot with the revolver–a weapon strange to him–in order to give them confidence.

They made a sort of encampment by the wayside, and the car became hidden in the hedge. He told them of his own escape out of LA, and all that he knew of these zombies and their ways. The sun crept higher in the sky, and after a time their talk died out and gave place to an uneasy state of anticipation. Several wayfarers came along the lane, and of these my brother gathered such news as he could. Every broken answer he had deepened his impression of the great disaster that had come on humanity, deepened his persuasion of the immediate necessity for prosecuting this flight. He urged the matter upon them.

“We have money,” said the slender woman, and hesitated.

Her eyes met my brother’s, and her hesitation ended.

“So have I,” said my brother.

She explained that they had as much as thirty thousand in gold krugerrands, besides a hundred dollar bill, and suggested that with some of that they might get upon a train at St. Corman or New Basil. My brother thought that was hopeless, seeing the fury of the LA-ers to crowd upon the trains, and broached his own idea of striking across country towards Seattle and thence escaping from the country altogether.

Mrs. Elphinstone–that was the name of the woman in white–would listen to no reasoning, and kept calling upon “George”; but her sister-in-law was astonishingly quiet and deliberate at defining reality to here, and at last agreed to my brother’s suggestion.

So, designing to cross the Great North Road, they went on towards Barnet. As the sun crept up the sky the day became excessively hot, and under foot a thick, whitish sand grew burning and blinding, so that they traveled only very slowly. The hedges were gray with dust. And as they advanced towards Barnet a tumultuous murmuring grew stronger.

They began to meet more people. For the most part these were staring before them, murmuring indistinct questions, jaded, haggard, unclean. One man in evening dress passed them on foot, his eyes on the ground. They heard his voice, and, looking back at him, saw one hand clutched in his hair and the other beating at invisible things. His paroxysm of rage over, he went on his way without once looking back.

As my brother’s party went on towards the crossroads to the south of Barnet they saw a woman approaching the road across some fields on their left, carrying a child and with two other children; and then passed a man in dirty black, with a thick stick in one hand and a small pomeranian in the other. Then round the corner of the lane, from between the villas that guarded it at its confluence with the high road, came a little car and driven by a sallow youth in a sports team cap, gray with dust. There were three girls, factory workers, and a couple of little children crowded in the car.

“Will this road take us around Edgewarer?” asked the driver, wild-eyed, white-faced; and when my brother told him it would if he turned to the left, he whipped about at once without the formality of thanks.

My brother noticed a pale gray smoke or haze rising among the houses in front of them, and veiling the white facade of a terrace beyond the road that appeared between the backs of the villas. Mrs. Elphinstone suddenly cried out at a number of tongues of smoky red flame leaping up above the houses in front of them against the hot, blue sky. The tumultuous noise resolved itself now into the disorderly mingling of many voices, the gavel grind of many wheels, the creaking of overloaded springs, and the staccato of horns. The lane came round sharply not fifty yards from the crossroads.

“Good heavens!” cried Mrs. Elphinstone. “What is this you are driving us into?”

My brother stopped.

For the main road was a boiling stream of people, a torrent of human beings rushing northward, one pressing on another. A great bank of dust, white and luminous in the blaze of the sun, made everything within twenty feet of the ground gray and indistinct and was perpetually renewed by the hurrying feet of a dense crowd of men and women on foot, and by the wheels of vehicles of every description.

“Way!” my brother heard voices crying. “Make way!”

It was like riding into the smoke of a fire to approach the meeting point of the lane and road; the crowd roared like a fire, and the dust was hot and pungent. And, indeed, a little way up the road a villa was burning and sending rolling masses of black smoke across the road to add to the confusion.

Two filthy men came past them. Then a dirty woman, carrying a heavy bundle and weeping. A lost retriever dog, with hanging tongue, circled dubiously round them, scared and wretched, and fled at
my brother’s shouted threat.

So much as they could see of the road LA-ward between the houses to the right was a tumultuous stream of sweaty dusty dirty, hurrying people, pent in between the villas on either side; the black heads, the crowded forms, grew into distinctness as they rushed towards the corner, hurried past, and merged their individuality again in a receding multitude that was swallowed up at last in a cloud of dust.

“Go on! Go on!” cried the voices. “Way! Way!”

One man’s hands pressed on the back of another. My brother stood at the car’s bumper. Irresistibly attracted, he advanced slowly, pace by pace, down the lane.

Edgewarer had been a scene of confusion, Chalker Farm a riotous tumult, but this was a whole population in movement. It is hard to imagine that host. It had no character of its own. The figures poured out past the corner, and receded with their backs to the group in the lane. Along the margin came those who were on foot threatened by the wheels, stumbling in the ditches, blundering into one another.

The cars and larger vehicles crowded close upon one another, making little way for those swifter and more impatient vehicles that darted forward every now and then when an opportunity showed itself of doing so, sending the people scattering against the fences and gates of the villas.

“Push on!” was the cry. “Push on! They are coming!”

In one cart stood a blind man in the uniform of the Salvation Army, gesticulating with his crooked fingers and bawling, “Eternity! Eternity!” His voice was hoarse and very loud so that my brother could hear him long after he was lost to sight in the dust. Some of the people who crowded in the cars stupidly blew their horns and quarreled with other drivers; some sat motionless wondering if they were soon to become a zombie buffet, staring at nothing with miserable eyes; some gnawed their hands with thirst, or lay prostrate in the bottoms of their conveyances their eyes bloodshot.

There were cabs, buses, cars, trucks, beyond counting; a mail truck, a road-cleaner’s machine marked “City of Dead Dog,” a huge timber hauler crowded with roughnecks. A brewer’s delivery truck rumbled by with its two near wheels splashed with fresh blood.

“Clear the way!” cried the voices. “Clear the way!”

“Eter-nity! Eter-nity!” came echoing down the road.

There were sad, haggard women tramping by, well dressed, with children that cried and stumbled, their dainty clothes smothered in dust, their weary faces smeared with tears. Some with wounds we would later learn were bites, causing consequences down the road. With many of these came men, sometimes helpful, sometimes lowering and savage. Fighting side by side with them pushed some weary street outcast in faded black rags, wide-eyed, loud-voiced, and foul-mouthed. There were sturdy workmen thrusting their way along, wretched, unkempt men, clothed like clerks or shop keepers, struggling spasmodically; a wounded soldier my brother noticed, men dressed in the clothes of railway porters, one wretched creature in pajamas with a coat thrown over.

But varied as its composition was, certain things all that host had in common. There were fear and pain on their faces, and fear behind them. A tumult up the road, a quarrel for a place in a vehicle, sent the whole host of them quickening their pace; even a man so scared and broken that his knees bent under him was galvanized for a moment into renewed activity. The heat and dust had already been at work upon this multitude. Their skins were dry, their lips black and cracked. They were all thirsty, weary, and footsore. And amid the various cries one heard disputes, reproaches, groans of weariness and fatigue; the voices of most of them were hoarse and weak. Through it all ran a refrain:

“Way! Way! The zombies are coming!”

Few stopped and came aside from that flood. The lane opened slantingly into the main road with a narrow opening, and had a delusive appearance of coming from the direction of LA. Yet a kind of eddy of people drove into its mouth; weaklings elbowed out of the stream, who for the most part rested but a moment before plunging into it again. A little way down the lane, with two friends bending over him, lay a man with a bare leg, wrapped about with bloody rags. He was a lucky man to have friends.

A little old man, with a gray military mustache and a filthy black frock coat, limped out and sat down beside the trap, removed his boot–his sock was blood-stained–shook out a pebble, and hobbled on again; and then a little girl of eight or nine, all alone, threw herself under the hedge close by my brother, weeping.

“I can’t go on! I can’t go on!”

My brother woke from his torpor of astonishment and lifted her up, speaking gently to her, and carried her to Miss Elphinstone. So soon as my brother touched her she became quite still, as if frightened to ruin her good fortune.

“Ellen!” shrieked a woman in the crowd, with tears in her voice, “Ellen!” And the child suddenly darted away from my brother, crying “Mother!”

“They are coming,” said a man on horseback, riding past along the lane.

“Out of the way, there!” bawled a Hummer limo driver, towering high; and my brother saw the stretch limo turning into the lane.

The people crushed back on one another to avoid the limo. My brother pushed the Fiat back into the hedge, and the man drove by and stopped at the turn of the way. It was a limo, with axles for a double pair of wheels, but only one axle was fixed in place. My brother saw dimly through the dust that two men lifted out something on a white stretcher and put it gently on the grass beneath the privet hedge.

One of the men came running to my brother.

“Where is there any water?” he said. “He is dying fast, and very thirsty. It is Tom Garrick.”

“Tom Garrick!” said my brother; “the actor?”

“The water?” he said.

“There may be a tap,” said my brother, “in some of the houses. We have no water. I dare not leave my people.”

The man pushed against the crowd towards the gate of the corner house.

“Go on!” said the people, thrusting at him. “They are coming! Go on!”

Then my brother’s attention was distracted by a eagle eye Fleagle faced man lugging a small handbag, which split even as my brother’s eyes rested on it and disgorged a mass of sovereigns that seemed to break up into separate coins as it struck the ground. They rolled hither and thither among the struggling feet of men and horses. The man stopped and looked stupidly at the heap, and the fender of a cab struck his hip and sent him reeling. He gave a shriek and dodged back, and a bus tire shaved him narrowly.

“Way!” cried the men all about him. “Make way!”

So soon as the cab had passed, he flung himself, with both hands open, upon the heap of coins, and began thrusting handfuls in his pockets. A truck rose close upon him, and in another moment, half rising, he had been borne down under the truck’s wheels.

“Stop!” screamed my brother, and pushing a woman out of his way, tried to block the truck.

Before he could get to it, he heard a scream under the wheels, and saw through the dust the rim passing over the poor wretch’s back.

The driver of the truck blew his horn at my brother, who ran round behind the truck. The multitudinous shouting confused his ears. The man was writhing in the dust among his scattered money, unable to rise, for the wheel had broken his back, and his lower limbs lay limp and dead. My brother stood up and yelled at the next driver, and a man on a black horse came to his assistance.

“Get him out of the road,” said he; and, clutching the man’s collar with his free hand, my brother lugged him sideways. But he still clutched after his money, and regarded my brother fiercely, hammering at his arm with a handful of gold. “Get a move on! Go on!” shouted angry voices behind.

“Way! Way!”

There was a smash as the bumper of a suv crashed into the car that the man on horseback stopped. My brother looked up, and the man with the gold twisted his head round and bit the wrist that held his collar. There was a collision, and the black horse came staggering sideways. A hoof missed my brother’s foot by a hair’s breadth. He released his grip on the fallen man and jumped back. He saw anger change to terror on the face of the poor wretch on the ground, and in a moment he was hidden and my brother was borne backward and carried past the entrance of the lane, and had to fight hard in the torrent to recover it.

He saw Miss Elphinstone covering her eyes, and a little child, with all a child’s want of sympathetic imagination, staring with dilated eyes at a dusty something that lay black and still, ground and crushing into a grease spot under the rolling wheels. “Let us go back!” he shouted, and began turning the Fiat round. “We cannot cross this–hell,” he said and they went back a hundred yards the way they had come, until the fighting crowd was hidden. As they passed the bend in the lane my brother saw the face of the dying man on the swale under the privet, deadly white and drawn, and shining with perspiration. The two women sat silent, crouching in their seat and shivering.

Then beyond the bend my brother stopped again. Miss Elphinstone was white and pale, and her sister-in-law sat weeping, too wretched even to call upon “George.” My brother was horrified and perplexed. So soon as they had retreated he realized how urgent and unavoidable it was to attempt this crossing. He turned to Miss Elphinstone, suddenly resolute.

“We must go that way,” he said, and turned the Fiat round again.

For the second time that day this girl proved her quality. To force their way into the torrent of people, my brother plunged into the traffic and held back a cab, while she drove the Fiat across its head. A truck locked wheels for a moment and ripped a long splinter of molding trim from the side. In another moment they were caught and swept forward by the stream. My brother scrambled into the car and took the wheel from her.

“Point the revolver at the man behind,” he said, giving it to her, “if he presses us too hard. No!–point it at his radiator.”

Then he began to look out for a chance of edging to the right across the road. But once in the stream he seemed to lose volition, to become a part of that dusty rout. They swept through Chirping, Hooterville and Whistle Stop with the torrent; they were nearly a mile beyond the center of the town before they had fought across to the opposite side of the way. It was din and confusion indescribable; but in and beyond the town the road forks repeatedly, and this to some extent relieved the stress.

They struck eastward through Hardley, and there on either side of the road, and at another place farther on they came upon a great multitude of people drinking at the stream, some fighting to come at the water. And farther on, from a lull near East Barnet, they saw two trains running slowly one after the other without signal or order–trains covered with people like the railways in India, with men even atop the cars behind the engines–going northward along the Great Northern Railway. My brother supposes they must have filled outside LA, for at that time the furious terror of the people had rendered the central terminal impossible.

Near this place they halted for the rest of the afternoon, for the violence of the day had already utterly exhausted all three of them. They began to suffer the beginnings of hunger; the night was cold, and none of them dared to sleep. And in the evening many people came hurrying along the road nearby their stopping place, fleeing from unknown dangers before them, and going in the direction from which my brother had come.

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

THE BATTLING BETSY

Had the zombies aimed only at destruction, they might on Monday have annihilated the entire population of LA, as it spread itself slowly through the home counties. Not only along the road through Barnet, but also through Edgewarer and Waltham, and along the roads eastward to Southend and Boomtown, and south of the river to New Deal, poured the same frantic rout. If one could have hung that cool morning in a hot air balloon in the blazing blue above LA every northward and eastward road running out of the tangled maze of streets would have seemed stippled black with the streaming fugitives, each dot a human agony of terror and physical distress. I have set forth at length in the last chapter my brother’s account of the road through Chirping Barnet, in order that my readers may realize how that swarming of black dots appeared to one of those concerned.

Never before in the history of the world had I seen such a mass of human beings moved and suffered together. The legendary hosts of Goths and Huns, the hugest army formations the world has ever seen, would have been but a drop in that current. And this was no disciplined march; it was a stampede–a stampede gigantic and terrible–without order and without a goal, six million people unarmed and unprovisioned, driving headlong. It was the beginning of the end, the rout of civilization, of the massacre of mankind.

Directly below him the balloonist would have seen the network of streets far and wide, houses, churches, squares, crescents, gardens–already derelict–spread out like a huge map, and in the southward blotted . Over Eating, Richmond, Wimbledon, it would have seemed as if some monstrous pen had flung ink upon the chart.

Steadily, incessantly, each black splash grew and spread, shooting out ramifications this way and that, now banking itself against rising ground, now pouring swiftly over a crest into a new-found valley, exactly as a gout of ink-jet ink would spread itself upon blotting paper towel.

And beyond, over the blue hills that rise southward of the river, the glistening zombie leaders went to and fro, calmly and methodically spreading their poison cloud over this patch of country and then when it had served its purpose, taking possession of the conquered country and fresh recruits.

They do not seem to have aimed at conversion or extermination so much as at complete demoralization and the destruction of any opposition. They ruined any stores of ammunition they came upon, cut every wire, smashed every cell tower, and wrecked the roadways and railways here and there. They were hamstringing mankind. They seemed in no hurry to extend the field of their operations, and did not come beyond the central part of LA all that day. It is possible that a very considerable number of people in LA stuck to their houses through Monday morning. Certain it is that many died at home suffocated by the Black Smoke turning LA into a land of the dead.

Until about midday the Port of LA was an astonishing scene. Excursion boats and shipping of all sorts lay there, tempted by the enormous sums of money offered by fugitives, and it is said that many who swam out to these vessels were thrust off with boat hooks and drowned.

About one o’clock in the afternoon the thinning remnant of a cloud of the black vapor appeared between the arches of Golden Gate Bridge. At that the Port became a scene of mad confusion, fighting, and collision, and for some time a multitude of boats and barges jammed in the northern arch of the Golden Gate Bridge, and the sailors and bargemen had to fight savagely against the people who swarmed upon them from the river front. People were actually clambering down the piers of the bridge from above.

When, an hour later, a zombie appeared and waddled down toward the river mouth, nothing but rubbish and wreckage remained floating about.

Of the falling of the fifth projectile I have presently to tell. The sixth shell fell at Wimbledon. My brother, keeping watch beside the women in the Fiat in a meadow, saw the green flash of it far beyond the hills. On Tuesday the little party, still set upon getting across the sea, made its way through the swarming country towards Coldchester.

The news that the zombies were now in possession of the whole of LA was confirmed. They had been seen at city hall, and even, it was said, near Hollywood and Vine. But they did not come into my brother’s view until the morrow.

That day the scattered multitudes began to realize the urgent need of provisions. As they grew hungry the rights of property ceased to be regarded. Farmers were out to defend their cattle-sheds, granaries, and ripening root crops with fire arms in their hands. A number of people now, like my brother, had their faces eastward, and there were some desperate souls even going back towards LA to get food.

These were chiefly people from the northern suburbs, whose knowledge of the Black Smoke came by hearsay. He heard that about half the members of the government had gathered at Fiddler’s Green, and that enormous quantities of high explosives were being prepared to be used in automatic mines across the Midland corridor.

He was also told that the Midland Railway Company had replaced the desertions of the first day’s panic, (the government shot every tenth striker) had resumed traffic, and was running northward trains from San Cameron to relieve the congestion of the home counties.

There was also a placard in Chirping Ogar announcing that large stores of flour were available in the northern towns and that within twenty-four hours bread would be distributed among the starving people in the neighborhood. But this intelligence did not deter him from the plan of escape he had formed, and the three pressed eastward all day, and heard no more of the bread distribution scheme than this promise. Nor, as a matter of fact, did anyone else hear more of it. That night fell the seventh star, falling upon Rosewater Hill. It fell while Miss Elphinstone was watching, for she took that duty alternately with my brother. She saw it.

On Wednesday the three fugitives–they had passed the night in a field of unripe wheat–reached Chumley, and there a body of the inhabitants, calling itself the Committee of Public Supply, seized the Fiat as provisions transportation, and would give nothing in exchange for it but the promise of a share the next day. Here there were rumors of zombies here and there, and news of the destruction of the Waltham armory ammunition dump in a vain attempt to blow up one of the invaders.

People were watching for zombies here from the church tower. My brother, very luckily for him as it chanced, preferred to push on at once to the coast rather than wait for food, although all three
of them were very hungry. By midday they passed through Tingleshame, which, strangely enough, seemed to be quite silent and deserted, save for a few furtive plunderers hunting for food. Near Tingleshame they suddenly came in sight of the sea, and the most amazing crowd of shipping of all sorts that it is possible to imagine.

For after the sailors could no longer come up the river, they came on to the coast, to bring off the people at a hefty profit. They lay in a huge sickle-shaped curve that vanished into mist at last towards the land. Close inshore was a multitude of fishing boats–Canadian, U.S. and Mexican, even old steam launches brought back into quick service from the junkers to yachts, electric boats; and beyond were ships of large magnitude, a multitude of filthy colliers, trim merchantmen, cattle ships, passenger boats, petroleum tankers, ocean tramps, an old white star transport even, whale watchers, neat white and gray day liners from along the blue coast across the black water my brother could make out dimly a dense swarm of boats chauffeuring with the people on the beach, a collection which also extended up the coast.

About a couple of hundred feet back from the water front along the beach road sat a tank, almost to my brother’s perception, like a big toad This was Battling Betsy a W.W.II Sherman tank lovingly maintained by the local National Guard unit. It was the only tank in sight, apparently all our modern tanks were in the Middle East waiting to be destroyed because we couldn’t afford the cost of bringing them home and the war profiteers preferred the Government buy new then refurbish used.

At the sight of the sea, Mrs. Elphinstone, in spite of the assurances of her sister-in-law, gave way to panic. She had never been out to the coast before, she would rather die than trust herself friendless in a foreign country, and so forth. She seemed, poor woman, to imagine that the Mexicans and the zombies might prove very similar. She had been growing increasingly hysterical, fearful, and depressed during the two days’ journeying. Her great idea was to return to Stiffmore. Things had been always well and safe at Stiffmore. They would find George at Stiffmore. In every zombie zombie holocaust there will always be someone to make things worse.

It was with the greatest difficulty they could get her down to the beach, where presently my brother succeeded in attracting the attention of some men on a coastal steamer from the pier. They sent a boat and drove a bargain for three thousand dollars for the three. The coastal steamer was going, these men said, to Seattle.

It was about two o’clock when my brother, having paid their fares at the gangway, found himself safely aboard the excursion boat with his charges. There was food aboard, albeit at exorbitant prices, and the three of them contrived to eat a meal on one of the seats forward.

There were already a couple of score of passengers aboard, some of whom had expended their last money in securing a passage, but the captain lay off the pier until five in the afternoon, picking up passengers until the seated decks were even dangerously crowded. He would probably have remained longer had it not been for the sound of guns that began about that hour in the south. As if in answer, the tank fired up her engine. A jet of diesel smoke sprang out of her exhaust pipes.

Some of the passengers were of opinion that this firing came from far away, until it was noticed that it was growing louder. At the same time, far away in the southeast the upper works of three Coast Guard Cutters rose one after the other out of the sea. But my brother’s attention speedily reverted to the distant firing in the south. He fancied he saw a column of smoke rising out of the distant gray haze.

The little coastal steamer was already churning her way eastward of the big crescent of shipping, and the low Pacific coast was growing blue and hazy, when a zombie appeared, small and faint in the remote distance, advancing along the muddy coast from the direction of their foulness.

At that the captain on the bridge swore at the top of his voice with fear and anger at his own delay, and the screws seemed infected with his terror. Every soul aboard stood at the bulwarks or on the seats of the steamer and stared at that distant shape, perspective making appear higher than the trees or church towers inland, and advancing with a leisurely parody of a human stride.

It was the first zombie my brother had seen, and he stood, more amazed than terrified, watching this Thing advancing deliberately towards the shipping, waddling farther toward the water as the coast fell away. Then, far away beyond an abandon couch, came another, striding past some stunted trees, and then yet another, still farther off, wading deeply through a shiny mudflat that seemed to hang halfway up between sea and sky. They were all stalking seaward, as if to intercept the escape of the multitudinous vessels that were crowded between their foulness and the haze. In spite of the throbbing exertions of the engines of the little day cruiser boat, and the pouring foam that her twin screws flung behind her, she receded with terrifying slowness from this ominous advance.

Glancing northwestward, my brother saw the large crescent of shipping already writhing with the approaching terror; one ship passing behind another, another coming round from broadside to end on, ships whistling and giving off volumes of exhaust, even some sails being let out, launches rushing hither and thither. He was so fascinated by this and by the creeping danger away to the left that he had no eyes for anything seaward. And then a swift movement of the steamboat (she had suddenly come round to avoid being run down) flung him headlong from the seat upon which he was standing. There was a shouting all about him, a trampling of feet, and a cheer that seemed to be answered faintly. The steamboat lurched and rolled him over upon his hands.

He sprang to his feet and saw to starboard, and not a hundred yards from their heeling, pitching boat, a vast white bulk like the blade of a plow tearing through the water, tossing it on either side in huge waves of foam that leaped towards the steamer, flinging her propellers helplessly in the air, and then sucking her deck down almost to the waterline.

A burst of spray blinded my brother for a moment. When his eyes were clear again he saw the monster had passed and was rushing landward. Big steel upper works rose out of this headlong structure, and from that single big funnel projected and spat a smoking blast shot with fire. It was the Coast Guard Cutter #23 driving headlong, coming to the rescue of the threatened shipping.

Keeping his footing on the heaving deck by clutching the bulwarks, my brother looked past this charging leviathan at the zombies again, and he saw the three of them now close together, and standing so far out on the beach that their biped supports were almost entirely submerged. Thus sunken, and seen in remote perspective, they appeared far less formidable than the huge steel warship in whose wake the steamer was pitching so helplessly. It would seem they were regarding this new antagonist with astonishment. To their controlor, it may be, they weren’t trained for navel warfare. The Cutter fired no gun, but simply drove full speed towards them. It was probably her not firing that enabled her to get so near the enemy as she did. They did not know what to make of her. One shell, and they would have sent her crew to their forthwith with the black gas tubes.

She was driving at such a pace that in a minute she seemed halfway between the steamboat and the zombies–a diminishing black bulk against the receding horizontal expanse of the Pacific coast.

Suddenly the foremost zombie lowered his tube and discharged a canister of the black gas at the Cutter. It hit her starboard side and glanced off in an inky jet that rolled away to seaward, an unfolding torrent of Black Smoke, from which the Cutter drove clear. To the watchers from the steamer, low in the water and with the sun in their eyes, it seemed as though she were already among the zombies.

They saw the gaunt figures separating and rising out of the beach water as they retreated shoreward, and one of them raised the black gas tube launcher. He held it pointing obliquely downward, fired and a bank of gas sprang just above the water at its touch. It must have blown through the ship’s ventilators like cigar smoke through a cheap restaurant.

A flicker of flame went up through the rising steam, and then the zombie reeled and staggered and a great body of blood and flesh shot high in the air. The main gun of the Battling Betsy sounded through the reek, going off again and again, and one shot splashed the water high close by our steamer, ricocheted towards the other fleeing ships to the north, and smashed a smack to matchwood.

But no one heeded that very much. At the sight of the zombie’s collapse the captain on the bridge yelled inarticulately, and all the crowding passengers on the steamer’s stern shouted together. And then they yelled again. For, surging out beyond the white tumult, drove something long and white, the Black Smoke streaming from its bridge, its ventilators and funnels.

She was still alive without captain or crew now victims of the gas; the steering gear, it seems, was intact and her engines working. She headed straight for the beach at full throttle where a second zombie stood, and was within a hundred yards of him when the Betsy’s gun came to bear. Then with a violent thud, a blinding flash, the Thing appeared to leap forward. The zombie staggered with the violence of the high explosive round in its back, and in another moment the flaming wreckage of it’s body, still moving forward with the impetus of its pace, struck a beach bolder and crumpled up like a thing of cardboard. My brother shouted involuntarily. A boiling tumult of sea fog hid everything again.

“Two!” yelled the captain.

Everyone was shouting. The whole steamer from end to end rang with frantic cheering that was taken up first by one and then by all in the crowding multitude of ships and boats that was driving out to sea.

The foggy mist hung upon the water for many minutes, hiding the third zombie and the coast altogether. And all this time the boat was working its way steadily out to sea and away from the fight; and when at last the confusion cleared, the drifting bank of black vapor intervened, and the Coast Guard Cutter #23 could be made out as having been driven by a dead hand hard upon the beach, nor could the Battling Betsy or third zombie be seen. But the Cutters to seaward were now quite close and standing in towards shore between zombies and our steamboat.

The little vessel continued to beat its way seaward, and the Cutters receded slowly towards the coast, which was hidden still by a marbled bank of vapor, part fog, part black gas, eddying and combining in the strangest way. The fleet of refugees was scattering to the northeast; several smacks were sailing between the Cutters and our steamboat. After a time, and before they reached the sinking cloud bank, the patrol ships turned northward escorting their ragtag fleet, and then abruptly went about and passed into the thickening haze of evening southward. The coast grew faint, and at last indistinguishable amid the low banks of clouds that were gathering about the sinking sun.

Then suddenly out of the golden haze of the sunset came the vibration of guns, and a form of black shadows moving. Everyone struggled to the rail of the steamer and peered into the blinding furnace of the west, but nothing was to be distinguished clearly. A mass of smoke rose slanting and barred the face of the sun. The steamboat throbbed on its way through an interminable suspense.

The sun sank into gray clouds, the sky flushed and darkened, the evening star trembled into sight. It was deep twilight when the captain cried out and pointed. My brother strained his eyes. Something rushed up into the sky out of the grayness–rushed slantingly upward and very swiftly into the luminous clearness above the clouds in the western sky; something flat and broad, and very large, that swept round in a vast curve, grew smaller, sank slowly, and vanished again into the gray mystery of the night. And as it flew it rained down darkness upon the land.

BOOK TWO

THE EARTH UNDER THE ZOMBIES

CHAPTER ONE

UNDER FOOT

In the first book I have wandered so much from my own adventures to tell of the experiences of my brother that all through the last two chapters I and the deacon have been lurking in the empty house at Hartford whither we fled to escape the Black Smoke. There I will resume. We stopped there all Sunday night and all the next day–the day of the panic–in a little island of daylight, cut off by the Black Smoke from the rest of the world. We could do nothing but wait in aching inactivity during those two weary days.

My mind was occupied by anxiety for my wife. I figured her at still at her cousins’, terrified, in danger, mourning me already as a dead man. I paced the rooms and cried aloud when I thought of how I was cut off without cell phone service from her, of all that might happen to her in my absence. My cousin I knew was brave enough for any emergency, but he was not the sort of man to realize danger quickly, to rise promptly.

What was needed now was not bravery, but circumspection. My only consolation was to believe that the zombies were moving LA-ward and away from her.

Such vague anxieties keep the mind sensitive and painful. I grew very weary and irritable with the deacon’s perpetual exclamations; I tired of the sight of his selfish despair. After some ineffectual remonstrance I kept away from him, staying in a room–evidently a children’s home schoolroom–containing globes, forms, and powerless notebook computer. When he followed me thither, I went to a attic storage room at the top of the house and, in order to be alone with my aching miseries, locked myself in.

We were hopelessly hemmed in by the Black Smoke all that day and the morning of the next. There were signs of people in the next house on Sunday evening–a face at a window and moving lights, and later the slamming of a door. But I do not know who these people were, nor what became of them. We saw nothing of them next day. The Black Smoke drifted slowly riverward all through Monday morning, creeping nearer and nearer to us, driving at last along the roadway outside the house that hid us.

When at last we looked out again, the country northward was as though a black snowstorm had passed over it. Looking towards the river, we were astonished to see an unaccountable redness mingling with the black of the scorched meadows.

For a time we did not see how this change affected our position, save that we were relieved of our fear of the Black Smoke. But later I perceived that we were no longer hemmed in, that now we might get away. So soon as I realized that the way of escape was open, my dream of action returned. But the deacon was lethargic, unreasonable.

“We are safe here,” he repeated; “safe here.”

I resolved to leave him–would that I had! Wiser now for the artilleryman’s teaching, I sought out food and drink. I had found oil and rags for my scraped skin, and I also took a cap and a flannel shirt that I found in one of the bedrooms. When it was clear to him that I meant to go alone–had reconciled myself to going alone–he suddenly roused himself to come. And all being quiet throughout the afternoon, we started about five o’clock, as I should judge, along the blackened road to Sudsbury.

In Sudsbury, and at intervals along the road, were dead bodies lying in contorted attitudes, birds, cows, cats, dogs and horses as well as men, overturned vehicles and luggage, all covered thickly with black dust. That pall of cindery powder made me think of what I had read of the destruction of Pompeii. We got to Hamtown Court without misadventure, our minds full of strange and unfamiliar appearances, and at Hamtown Court our eyes were relieved to find a patch of green that had escaped the suffocating drift. We went through Bushy Park, with its deer going to and fro under the chestnuts, and some men and women hurrying in the distance towards Hamtown, and so we came to Tickleme. These were the first people we saw.

Away across the road the woods beyond Hammer and Petershame were still afire. Tickleme was uninjured by either zombie or Black Smoke, and there were more people about here, though none could give us news. For the most part they were like ourselves, taking advantage of a lull to shift their quarters. I have an impression that many of the houses here were still occupied by scared inhabitants, too frightened even for flight. Here too the evidence of a hasty rout was abundant along the road. I remember most vividly three smashed bicycles in a heap, pounded into the road by the wheels of subsequent cars. We crossed Richmound Bridge about half past eight. We hurried across the exposed bridge, of course, but I noticed floating down the stream a number of red masses, some many feet across. I did not know what these were–there was no time for scrutiny–and I put a more horrible interpretation on them than they deserved. Here again on the Surrey side were black dust that had once been smoke, and dead bodies–a heap near the approach to the station; but we had no glimpse of the zombies until we were some way towards Barnes.

In search of provisions we broke into a town house that appeared to have been well sealed against the black gas. Gaining entry we found the doors and windows professionally sealed with indian rubber gaskets. We found a charnel house. They must have invited friends and family into their “safe house”. Everyone inside was dead. They had left the flue vent open allowing the black gas to gain free access. The stench of death had permeated the food stocks, we took nothing away.

We saw in the blackened distance a group of three people running down a side street towards the river, but otherwise it seemed deserted. Up the hill Richmound town was burning briskly; outside the town of Richmound there was no trace of the Black Smoke.

Then suddenly, as we approached Phew, came a number of people running, and the upper portion of a zombie fighting-leader loomed in sight between the houses, not a hundred yards away from us. We stood aghast at our danger, and had the zombie looked our way we must immediately have perished. We were so terrified that we dared not go on, but turned aside and hid in a shed in a garden. There the deacon crouched, weeping silently, and refusing to stir again.

But my fixed idea of reaching my wife would not let me rest, and in the twilight I ventured out again. I went through a shrubbery, and along a passage beside a big house standing in its own grounds, and so emerged upon the road towards Phew. The deacon I left in the shed, but he came hurrying after me.

That second start was the most foolhardy thing I ever did. For it was manifest the zombies were all about us. No sooner had the deacon overtaken me than we saw either the fighting-leader we had seen before or another, far away across the meadows in the direction of Phew Lodge. Four or five little black figures hurried before it across the green-gray of the field, and in a moment it was evident this zombie pursued them. In three strides he was among them, and they ran radiating from him in all directions. He used no black gas to destroy them, but picked them up one by one, bit them and set them back down.

It was the first time I realized that the zombies might have any other purpose than destruction with defeated humanity. We stood for a moment petrified, then turned and fled through a gate behind us into a walled garden, fell into, rather than found, a fortunate ditch, and lay there, scarce daring to whisper to each other until the stars were out.

I suppose it was nearly eleven o’clock before we gathered courage to start again, no longer venturing into the road, but sneaking along hedgerows and through plantations, and watching keenly through the darkness, he on the right and I on the left, for the zombies, who seemed to be all about us. In one place we blundered upon a scorched and blackened area, now cooling and ashen, and a number of scattered dead bodies of men, chewed horribly about the heads and trunks but with their legs and boots mostly intact, fifty feet, perhaps, behind a line of four stripped field guns and smashed gun carriages.

Shawn, it seemed, had escaped destruction again, but the place was silent and deserted. Here we happened on no dead, though the night was too dark for us to see into the side roads of the place. In Shawn my companion suddenly 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 moldy cheese. There was, however, water to drink; and I took a hatchet, which promised to be useful in our next house-breaking.

We then crossed to a place where the road turns towards West Lake Woebegon. Here there stood a white house within a walled garden, and in the pantry of this domicile we found a store of food–some assorted canned goods, two loaves of bread in a pan, an uncooked steak, and the half of a ham. I give this catalogue so precisely because, as it happened, we were destined to subsist upon this store for the next fortnight. Bottled beer stood under a shelf, and there were two bags of pinto beans and some limp lettuces. This pantry opened into a kind of wash-up kitchen, and in this was firewood; there was also a cupboard, in which we found nearly a dozen bottles of burgundy, canned soups and salmon, and two boxes of biscuits.

We sat in the adjacent kitchen in the dark–for we dared not strike a light–and ate bread and ham, and drank beer out of the same bottle. The curate, who was still timorous and restless, was now, oddly enough, for pushing on, and I was urging him to keep up his strength by eating when the thing happened that was to imprison us.

“It can’t be midnight yet,” I said, and then came a blinding glare of vivid green light. Everything in the kitchen leaped out, clearly visible in green and black, and vanished again. And then followed such a concussion as I have never heard before or since. So close
on the heels of this as to seem instantaneous came a thud behind me, a clash of glass, a crash and rattle of falling masonry all about us, and the plaster of the ceiling came down upon us, smashing into a multitude of fragments upon our heads. I was knocked headlong across the floor against the oven handle and stunned. I was insensible for a long time, the deacon 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 better?” asked the deacon in a whisper.

At last I answered him. 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 suspect 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 brickwork, 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 zombie!?” said the curate.

I listened again.

Our situation was so strange and incomprehensible that for three or four hours, until the dawn came, we scarcely moved. And then the light 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 in gray scale for the first time.

The window had been burst in by a mass of garden molder, 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 drainpipe. 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, stained in the fashion, pale oak, and with a number of copper and stainless vessels below it, the wallpaper 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 zombie leader, standing sentinel, I suppose, over the still glowing cylinder. At the sight of that we crawled as circumspectly as possible out of the twilight of the kitchen into the darkness of the scullery.

Abruptly the right interpretation dawned upon my mind.

“The fifth cylinder,” I whispered, “the fifth shot from N.K., has struck this house and buried us under the ruins!”

For a time the deacon was silent, and then he whispered:

“God have mercy upon us!”

I heard him presently whimpering to himself.

Save for that sound we lay quite still in the scullery; I for my part 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, a dim, oval shape, and his collar and cuffs. Outside there began a metallic hammering, then a violent moaning, 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 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 deacon 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 up and I heard him crawling after me.

CHAPTER TWO

WHAT WE SAW FROM THE RUINED KITCHEN

After eating we crept back to the scullery, and there I must have dozed again, for when presently I looked round I was alone. The thudding vibration continued with wearisome persistence, worst neighbors of all time! I whispered for the deacon several times, and at last felt my way to the door of the kitchen. It was still daylight, and I perceived him across the room, lying against the triangular hole that looked out upon the zombies. His shoulders were hunched, so that his head was hidden from me.

I could hear a number of noises almost like those in a machine shop; and the place rocked with that beating thud. Through the aperture in the wall I could see the top of a tree touched with gold and the warm blue of a tranquil evening sky. For a minute or so I remained watching the deacon, and then I advanced, crouching and stepping with extreme care amid the broken crockery that littered the floor.

I touched the deacon’s leg, and he started so violently that a mass of plaster went sliding down outside and fell with a loud impact. I gripped his arm, fearing he might cry out, and for a long time we crouched motionless. Then I turned to see how much of our rampart remained. The detachment of the plaster had left a vertical slit open in the debris, and by raising myself cautiously across a beam I was able to see out of this gap into what had been overnight a quiet suburban roadway. Vast, indeed, was the change that we beheld.

The fifth cylinder must have fallen right into the midst of the house we had first visited. The building had vanished, completely smashed, pulverized, and dispersed by the blow. The cylinder lay now far beneath the original foundations–deep in a hole, already vastly larger than the pit I had looked into at Woking. The earth all round it had splashed under that tremendous impact–“splashed” is the only word–and lay in heaped piles that hid the masses of the adjacent houses. It had behaved exactly like mud under the violent blow of a large mallet. Our house had collapsed backward; the front portion, even on the ground floor, had been destroyed completely; by a chance the kitchen and scullery had escaped, and stood buried now under soil and ruins, closed in by tons of earth on every side save towards the cylinder. Over that aspect we hung now on the very edge of the great circular pit the zombies were engaged in scraping. The heavy beating sound was evidently just behind us, and ever and again a bright green vapor drove up like a veil across our peephole.

The cylinder was already opened in the center of the pit, and on the farther edge of the pit, amid the smashed and gravel-heaped shrubbery, one of the great fighting-leaders, deserted by its remote master, stood stiff and tall against the evening sky. At first I scarcely noticed the pit and the cylinder, although it has been convenient to describe them first, on account of the extraordinary glittering mechanism I saw busy in the excavation, and on account of the strange creatures that were shambling slowly and painfully across the heaped mold near it.

The mechanism it certainly was that held my attention first. It was one of those complicated robots that have since been called android machines, and the study of which has already given such an enormous impetus to future invention. As it dawned upon me first, it presented a sort of metallic spider with a clear dome on top with what appears to be a living brain inside, with five jointed, agile legs, and with an extraordinary number of jointed levers, bars, and reaching and clutching tentacles about its body. Most of its arms were retracted, but with three long tentacles it was fishing out a number of rods, plates, and bars which lined the covering and apparently strengthened the walls of the cylinder. These, as it extracted them, were lifted out and deposited upon a level surface of earth behind it.

Its motion was so swift, complex, and perfect that at first I did not see it as a machine, in spite of its metallic glitter. The zombie fighting leaders were coordinated and animated to an extraordinary pitch, but nothing to compare with this. People who have never seen these structures, and have only the ill-imagined efforts of artists or the imperfect descriptions of such eye-witnesses as myself to go upon, scarcely realize that living quality.

I recall particularly the illustration of one of the first ebook pdf to give a consecutive account of the war. The artist had evidently made a hasty study of one of the zombie fighting leaders, and there his knowledge ended. He presented them as tilted, stiff bipeds, without either flexibility or subtlety, and with an altogether misleading monotony of effect. The ebook containing these renderings had a considerable vogue, and I mention them here simply to warn the reader against the impression they may have created. They were no more like the zombies I saw in action than a Dutch doll is like a human being. To my mind, the ebook would have been much better without them.

At first, I say, the android handling-machine did not impress me as a machine, but as a crablike creature with a glittering integument, the controlling brain whose refined use of the delicate tentacles actuated its movements seeming to be simply the equivalent of the crab’s cerebral portion. But then I perceived the resemblance of its red eyes, shiny, slimy gray brown leathery integument to that of the other staggering bodies beyond, and the true nature of this dexterous workman dawned upon me. With that realization my interest shifted to those other creatures, the real zombies. Already I had a transient impression of these, and the first nausea produced by their stench no longer obscured my observation.

Moreover, I was concealed and motionless, and under no urgency of action.

They were, I now saw, the most disgusting creatures it is possible to conceive. They were huge round bloated bodies about three to four feet in diameter, each body having above it a face of sorts. This face had remains of nostrils–indeed, the zombies do seem to have had a sense of smell, but it had a pair of very large dark red colored eyes, and just beneath this a kind of fleshless mouth where most had apparently eaten or ruined its own lips. Even as I saw these zombies for the first time they seemed to be endeavoring to raise themselves to their feet, but of course, with the increased weight of all the bites they added to their ruined digestive system, this was impossible. There is reason to suppose that in N.K. they may have progressed upon them with some facility.

The internal anatomy, I may remark here, as dissection has since shown, was almost equally simple human. The greater part of the structure was the brain, sending nerves pulses to the eyes, ear, and tactile sensation to arms and legs. Besides this were the remains of lungs, into which the mouth opened, and the heart and its vessels. The distress caused by their disease and greater body disruption was only too evident in the convulsive movements of the outer skin.

And this was the sum of the zombie organs. Strange as it may seem to a human being, all the complex apparatus of digestion, which makes up the bulk of our bodies, did not exist in the zombies. They were heads–merely heads. Entrails they had none functioning. They did not eat, much less digest. Instead, they took the fresh, living blood and nourishing fluids of other creatures, and passed it into their own veins. I have myself seen this being done, as I shall mention in its place. But, squeamish as I may seem, I cannot bring myself to describe what I could not endure even to continue watching. Let it suffice to say, blood obtained from a still living animal, in most cases from a human being, was run directly by means of a bite into the recipient canal. . . .

The bare idea of this is no doubt horribly repulsive to us, but at the same time I think that we should remember how repulsive our carnivorous habits would seem to an intelligent rabbit.

The physiological advantages of the practice of biting prey for fluids are undeniable, if one thinks of the tremendous waste of human time and energy occasioned by eating and the digestive process. Our bodies are half made up of disgusting sacks of glop, glands and tubes and organs, occupied in turning heterogeneous food into blood. The digestive processes and their reaction upon the nervous system sap our strength and color our minds. Men go happy or miserable as they have healthy or unhealthy livers, or sound gastric glands. But the zombies were lifted above all these organic fluctuations of mood and emotion.

Their undeniable preference for men as their source of nourishment is partly explained by the nature of the remains of the victims they had brought with them as provisions from N.K.. These creatures, to judge from the shriveled remains that have fallen into American hands, were humans with short flimsy, malnourished skeletons (almost like those with rickets) and feeble musculature, standing about five feet high and having round, erect heads, and large eyes in flinty sockets. Ten or twelve of these seem to have been brought in each cylinder, and all were killed-consumed before the surrounding area was searched for food. It was just as well for them, for the mere attempt to stand up for themselves upon entering the U.S. would have broken every bone in their bodies.

And while I am engaged in this description, I may add in this place certain further details which, although they were not all evident to us at the time, will enable the reader who is unacquainted with them to form a clearer picture of these offensive creatures.

In three other points their physiology differed strangely from ours. Their organisms did not sleep, any more than the heart of man sleeps. Since they had no extensive muscular mechanism to recuperate, that periodical extinction was unknown to them. They had little or no sense of fatigue, it would seem. They could never have moved smoothly without effort, yet even to the last they kept in action. In twenty-four hours they did twenty-four hours of whatever work zombies do, as even is perhaps the case with the fracking ants.

In the next place, wonderful as it seems in a sexual world, the zombies were absolutely without drive or interest in sex, and therefore without any of the tumultuous emotions that arise from that difference among men.

It is worthy of remark that a certain speculative writer of quasi-scientific repute, writing long before the zombie invasion, did forecast for man a final structure not unlike the actual zombie condition. His prophecy, I remember, appeared in a long-defunct science fiction publication. He pointed out–writing in a foolish, facetious tone–that the perfection of mechanical appliances must ultimately supersede limbs; the perfection of chemical devices, digestion; that such organs as hair, external nose, teeth, ears, and chin were no longer essential parts of the human being, and that
the tendency of natural selection would lie in the direction of their steady diminution through the coming ages. The brain alone remained a cardinal necessity. Only one other part of the body had a strong case for survival, and that was the hand, “teacher and agent of the brain.” While the rest of the body dwindled, the hands would grow larger.

There is many a true word written in jest, and here in the zombies we have beyond dispute the actual accomplishment of such a suppression of the sexual side of the organism by the disease or caused lack of intelligence. To me it is quite credible that the zombies may be decanted from beings not unlike ourselves, by a rapid redevelopment of brain at the expense of the rest of the body. Without the body the brain would, of course, become a mere selfish controller, without any of the emotional substratum of the human being.

The last salient point in which the systems of these creatures differed from ours was in what one might have thought a very trivial particular. Micro-organisms, which cause so much disease and pain, have either never appeared in zombies due to sanitary laboratory conditions or the zombies plague sanitizes their body of all competing diseases. A hundred diseases, all the fevers and contagion’s of human life, corruption’s, cancers, tumors and such morbidity’s, never enter the scheme of their life. And speaking of the differences between the life near N.K. and our life, I may allude here to the curious suggestions of the red Kudzu vine.

Apparently a portion of the vegetable kingdom in N.K., instead of having green for a dominant color, is of a vivid blood-red tint. At any rate, the seeds which the zombies (intentionally or accidentally) brought with them gave rise in all cases to red-colored growths. Only that known popularly as the red Kudzu vine, however, gained any footing in competition with local forms. The red creeper was quite a transitory growth, and few people have seen it growing. For a time, however, the red Kudzu grew with astonishing vigor and luxuriance. It spread up the sides of the pit by the third or fourth day of our imprisonment, and its cactus-like branches formed a carmine fringe to the edges of our triangular window. And afterwards I found it broadcast throughout the country, and especially wherever there was a stream of water.

The zombies have auditory organs (ears), a single round drum at the back of the auditory canal with high quality hearing to locate prey, and eyes with a visual range not very different from ours except that, according to Philips, blue and violet were as black to them. It is commonly supposed that they communicated by moans and hand/arm gesticulations; this is asserted, for instance, in the able but hastily compiled pamphlet (written evidently by someone not an eye-witness of zombie actions) to which I have already alluded, and which, so far, has been the chief source of information concerning them.

Now no surviving human being saw so much of the zombies in action as I did. I take no credit to myself for an accident, but the fact is so. And I assert that I watched them closely time after time, and that I have seen four, five, and (once) six of them sluggishly performing the most elaborately complicated operations together without either sound or gesture. Their peculiar moaning invariably preceded hunting/feeding; it had some modulation, and was, I believe, in no sense communication but, a signal, not merely the expiration of air preparatory to the hunting body fluid suction operation. I have a certain claim to at least an elementary knowledge of psychology, and in this matter I am convinced–as firmly as I am convinced of anything–that the zombies interchanged thoughts like a hive without any physical intermediation. And I have been convinced of this in spite of strong preconceptions.

Before the zombie invasion, as an occasional reader here or there may remember, I had written with some little vehemence against the telepathic theory. The zombies wore no clothing of choice except the ragged remains of what they had on when turned zombie in N.K. or converted by the black gas. Their conceptions of ornament and decorum were unnecessarily therefore different from ours; and not only were they evidently much less sensible of changes of temperature than we are, but changes of pressure do not seem to have affected their questionable health at all seriously.

While I was still watching their sluggish motions in the sunlight, and noting each strange detail of their form, the curate reminded me of his presence by pulling violently at my arm. I turned to a scowling face, and silent, eloquent lips. He wanted the slit, which permitted only one of us to peep through; and so I had to forego watching them for a time while he enjoyed that privilege.

When I looked again, the busy handling-machine had already put together several of the pieces of apparatus it had taken out of the cylinder into a shape having an unmistakable likeness to its own; and down on the left a busy little digging mechanism had come into view, emitting jets of green exhaust and working its way round the pit, excavating and embanking in a methodical and discriminating manner. This it was which had caused the regular beating noise, and the rhythmic shocks that had kept our ruinous refuge quivering. It piped and whistled as it worked. So far as I could see, the thing was without a directing zombie at all.

CHAPTER THREE

THE DAYS OF IMPRISONMENT

The arrival of a second fighting-leader drove us from our peephole into the scullery, for we feared that from his elevation the zombie might see down upon us behind our barrier. At a later date we began to feel less in danger of their eyes, for to an eye in the dazzle of the sunlight outside our refuge must have been blank blackness, but at first the slightest suggestion of approach drove us into the scullery in heart-throbbing retreat. Yet terrible as was the danger we incurred, the attraction of peeping was for both of us irresistible. And I recall now with a sort of wonder that, in spite of the infinite danger in which we were between starvation and a still more terrible death, we could yet struggle bitterly for that horrible privilege of sight. We would race across the kitchen in a grotesque way between eagerness and the dread of making a noise, and strike each other, and thrust and kick, within a few inches of exposure.

The fact is that we had absolutely incompatible dispositions and habits of thought and action, and our danger and isolation only accentuated the incompatibility. At Hartford I had already come to hate the deacon’s trick of helpless exclamation, his stupid rigidity of mind. His endless muttering monologue vitiated every effort I made to think out a line of action, and drove me at times, thus pent up and intensified, almost to the verge of craziness.

He was as lacking in restraint as a silly woman. He would weep for hours together, and I truly believe that to the very end this spoiled child of life thought his weak tears in some way efficacious. And I would sit in the darkness unable to keep my mind off him by reason of his importunities. He ate more than I did, and it was in vain I pointed out that our only chance of life was to remain in the house until the zombies were done with their pit, that in that long patience a time might presently come when we should need food. He ate and drank impulsively in heavy meals at long intervals. He slept little.

As the days wore on, his utter carelessness of any consideration so intensified our distress and danger that I had, much as I loathed doing it, to resort to threats, and at last to blows. That brought him to reason for a time. But he was one of those weak creatures, void of pride, timorous, anemic, hateful souls, full of shifty cunning, who face neither God nor man, who face not even themselves.

It is disagreeable for me to recall and write these things, but I set them down that my story may lack nothing. Those who have escaped the dark and terrible aspects of life will find my brutality, my flash of rage in our final tragedy, easy enough to blame; for they know what is wrong as well as any, but not what is possible to tortured men. But those who have been under the shadow, who have gone down at last to elemental things, will have a wider charity.

And while within we fought out our dark, dim contest of whispers, snatched food and drink, and gripping hands and blows, without, in the pitiless sunlight of that terrible time, was the strange wonder, the unfamiliar routine of the zombies in the pit. Let me return to those first new experiences of mine. After a long time I ventured back to the peephole, to find that the new-comers had been reinforced by the occupants of no fewer than three of the fighting-leaders and their respective hordes.

These last had brought with them certain fresh appliances that stood in an orderly manner about the cylinder. The second handling-machine was now completed, and was busied in serving one of the novel contrivances this shell had brought. This was a body resembling a milk can in its general form, above which oscillated a pear-shaped receptacle, and from which a stream of white powder flowed into a circular basin below.

The oscillatory motion was imparted to this by one arm of the handling-machine. With two spatula hands the handling-machine was digging out and flinging masses of clay into the pear-shaped receptacle above, while with another arm it periodically opened a door and removed rusty and blackened clinkers from the middle part of the machine. Another steely arm directed the powder from the basin along a ribbed channel towards some receiver that was hidden from me by the mound of bluish dust. From this unseen receiver a little thread of green exhaust smoke rose vertically into the quiet air. As I looked, the handling-machine, with a faint and musical clinking, extended, telescopic fashion, a arm that had been a moment before a mere blunt projection, until its end was hidden behind the mound of clay.

In another second it had lifted a bar of white aluminum into sight, untarnished as yet, and shining dazzlingly, and deposited it in a growing stack of bars that stood at the side of the pit.

Between sunset and starlight this dexterous machine must have made more than a hundred such bars out of the crude clay, and the mound of bluish dust rose steadily until it topped the side of the pit.

The contrast between the swift and complex movements of these contrivances and the inert panting clumsiness of the zombies was acute, and for days I had to tell myself repeatedly that these latter were indeed the remote controlled walking dead of the two things.

The deacon had possession of the slit when the first men were brought to the pit. The first arrived in a group of three, one bound and gagged, for what purpose I did not know. Over the period time we kept watch on the pit, men would continue to arrive in this strange manner. At first the zombies would swarm out and drag the men back into the pit. Later the zombie controllers may have considered this some form of sacrifice and the men were allowed to walk into the pit.

Did I fail to mention the stink of death and decay from the pit that clung to everything, invaded our breath, clothes, food and drink. The undertakers and coroners have a saying, “Don’t leave the room when you have a stinker on the table, or you’ll have to get used to the smell all over again.” I can tell you, we repeatedly searched the remains of the house for a little perfume to dab under our noses.

I was sitting below, huddled up, listening with all my ears. He made a sudden movement backward, and I, fearful that we were observed, crouched in a spasm of terror. He came sliding down the rubbish and crept beside me in the darkness, inarticulate, gesticulating, and for a moment I shared his panic. His gesture suggested a resignation of the slit, and after a little while my curiosity gave me courage, and I rose up, stepped across him, and clambered up to it.

At first I could see no reason for his frantic behavior. The twilight had now come, the stars were little and faint, but the pit was illuminated by the flickering green fire that came from the aluminum making. The whole picture was a flickering scheme of green gleams and shifting rusty black shadows, strangely trying to the eyes. Over and through it all went the bats, heeding it not at all. The sprawling zombies were no longer to be seen, the mound of blue-green powder had risen to cover them from sight, and a fighting-leader, with its legs folded, sat across from the left corner of the pit. And then, amid the clangor of the machinery, came a drifting suspicion of human voices, that I entertained at first only to dismiss.

I crouched, watching this fighting-leader closely, satisfying myself now for the first time that the helmet and armor did indeed contain a giant zombie. As the green flames lifted I could see the oily gleam of his integument and the glowing of his eyes. And suddenly I heard a yell, and saw a long arm from the mech reaching over the shoulder of the leader to the little cage that sat hunched upon the sand. Then something–something struggling violently–was lifted high against the sky, a black, vague enigma against the starlight; and as this black object came down again, I saw by the green brightness that it was a man. For an instant he was clearly visible. He was a stout, ruddy, middle-aged man, well dressed; three days before, he must have been walking the world, a man of considerable consequence. I could see his staring eyes and gleams of light on his rings and wrist watch. He vanished behind the mound, and for a moment there was silence. And then began a shrieking and a sustained and “cheerful” moaning from the zombies.

I slid down the rubbish, struggled to my feet, clapped my hands over my ears, and bolted into the scullery. The deacon, who had been crouching silently with his arms over his head, looked up as I passed, cried out quite loudly at my desertion of him, and came running after me.

That night, as we lurked in the scullery, balanced between our horror and the terrible fascination this peeping had, although I felt an urgent need of action I tried in vain to conceive some plan of escape; but afterwards, during the second day, I was able to consider our position with great clearness. The deacon, I found, was quite incapable of discussion; this new and culminating atrocity had robbed him of all vestiges of reason or forethought. Practically he had already sunk to the level of an animal. But as the saying goes, I gripped myself with both hands. It grew upon my mind, once I could face the facts, that terrible as our position was, there was as yet no justification for absolute despair. Our chief chance lay in the possibility of the zombies making the pit nothing more than a temporary encampment. Or even if they kept it permanently as fort zombie, they might not consider it necessary to guard it, and a chance of escape might be afforded us. I also weighed very carefully the possibility of our digging a way out in a direction away from the pit, but the chances of our emerging within sight of some sentinel fighting-leader seemed at first too great. And I should have had to do all the digging myself. The deacon would certainly have failed me.

It was on the third day, if my memory serves me right, that I saw the boy eviscerated in a gut munching feeding frenzy. It was the first occasion on which I actually saw the zombies feed. Allow me to digress for a moment . . .

Far as we could tell there were three types of zombie. The zombie fighting leaders and the construction machine handlers are thoroughly well chipped and controlled from afar like a high grade military drone. The rank and file zombies are lightly chipped to accept such broad commands through the fighting leaders as, rise, follow, swarm in a direction, return and rest. The zombies created here from bites and the black gas are not chipped and follow the chipped zombies for the most part due we suspect to some sort of apparent herd instinct.

One might be inclined to query how the zombies can be expected to raise an army when they eat their potential recruits? To answer that we must observe/examine how they feed. The zombie has no use for solid food, which festers in their gut, its digestive tract is no longer fully functional. The working remains of the cold blooded zombie system requires bodily fluids along with what nutrients are available there in.

The zombie bites, spits or swallows (to its own detriment) the content of the bite depending on its capability to swallow and then proceeds to suck the wound for blood and fluids. Depending on the number of bites and fluid content removed, the victim will either die and remain dead because not enough fluids remain in the body to distribute the virus throughout or temporarily survive to shortly succumb to the zombie virus and die to be reanimated as a zombie. The black gas transmits the active virus without the bite damage creating fully functional wild zombies behind enemy lines.

Pit zombies were used to scrape out the hollow and as a result are without flesh on the ends of their fingers, in fact their bony fingertips can be sharp as knives allowing them to really dig into a person in search of organs holding remaining bodily fluids.

It should be noted, all too often the N.K. zombie puppet masters would lose control of their charges and no one knows why.

Speculation has considered sunspots, failure of their electrical grid, even zombie attacks at their end. In any regard, the result is rank and file zombies coming out of their energy saving rest mode and going into a body ripping gut munching make no zombies feeding frenzy with no one left behind including children.

After that experience I avoided the hole in the wall for the better part of a day. I went into the scullery, removed the door, and spent some hours digging with my hatchet as silently as possible; but when I had made a hole about a couple of feet deep the loose earth collapsed noisily, and I did not dare continue. I lost heart, and lay down on the scullery floor for a long time, having no spirit even to move. And after that I abandoned altogether the idea of escaping by excavation.

It says much for the impression the zombies had made upon me that at first I entertained little or no hope of our escape being brought about by their overthrow through any human effort. But on the fourth or fifth night I heard a sound like heavy guns.

It was very late in the night, and the moon was shining brightly. The zombies had taken away the excavating-machine, and, save for a fighting-leader that stood in the remoter bank of the pit and a handling-machine that was buried out of my sight in a corner of the pit immediately beneath my peephole, the place was deserted by them.

Except for the pale glow from the handling-machine and the bars and patches of white moonlight the pit was in darkness, and, except for the clinking of the handling-machine, quite still. That night was a beautiful serenity; save for one planet, the moon seemed to have the sky to herself. I heard a dog howling, and that familiar sound it was that made me listen. Then I heard quite distinctly a booming exactly like the sound of great guns. Six distinct reports I counted, and after a long interval six again. And that was all.

CHAPTER FOUR

THE DEATH OF THE DEACON

It was on the sixth day of our imprisonment that I peeped for the last time, and presently found myself alone. Instead of keeping close to me and trying to oust me from the slit, the deacon had gone back into the scullery. I was struck by a sudden thought. I went back quickly and quietly into the scullery. In the darkness I heard the curate drinking. I snatched in the darkness, and my fingers caught a bottle of burgundy.

For a few minutes there was a tussle. The bottle struck the floor and broke, and I desisted and rose. We stood panting and threatening each other. In the end I planted myself between him and the food, and told him of my determination to begin a discipline. I divided the food in the pantry, into rations to last us ten days. I would not let him eat any more that day. In the afternoon he made a feeble effort to get at the food. I had been dozing, but in an instant I was awake.

All day and all night we sat face to face, I weary but resolute, and he weeping and complaining of his immediate hunger. It was, I know, a night and a day, but to me it seemed–it seems now–an interminable length of time.

And so our widened incompatibility ended at last in open conflict. For two vast days we struggled in undertones and wrestling contests. There were times when I beat and kicked him madly, times when I cajoled and persuaded him, and once I tried to bribe him with the last bottle of burgundy, for there was a rain water cistern pump from which I could get water. But neither force nor kindness availed; he was indeed beyond reason. He would neither desist from his attacks on the food nor from his noisy babbling to himself.

The rudimentary precautions to keep our imprisonment endurable he would not observe. Slowly I began to realize the complete overthrow of his intelligence, to perceive that my sole companion in this close and sickly darkness was a man insane.

From certain vague memories I am inclined to think my own mind wandered at times. I had strange and hideous dreams whenever I slept. It sounds paradoxical, but I am inclined to think that the weakness and insanity of the deacon warned me, braced me, and kept me a sane man.

On the eighth day he began to talk aloud instead of whispering, and nothing I could do would moderate his speech.

“It is just, O God!” he would say, over and over again. “It is just. On me and mine be the punishment laid. We have sinned, we have fallen short. There was poverty, sorrow; the poor were trodden in the dust, and I held my peace. I preached acceptable folly–my God, what folly!–when I should have stood up, though I died for it, and called upon them to repent–repent! . . . Oppressors of the poor and needy . . . ! The wine press of God!”

Then he would suddenly revert to the matter of the food I withheld from him, praying, begging, weeping, at last threatening. He began to raise his voice–I prayed him not to. He perceived a hold on me–he threatened he would shout and bring the infected upon us.

For a time that scared me; but any concession would have shortened our chance of escape beyond estimating. I defied him, although I felt no assurance that he might not do this thing. But that day, at any rate, he did not. He talked with his voice rising slowly, through the greater part of the eighth and ninth days–threats, entreaties, mingled with a torrent of half-sane and always frothy repentance for his vacant sham of God’s service, such as made me pity him. Then he slept awhile, and began again with renewed strength, so loudly that I must needs make him desist.

“Be still!” I implored.

He rose to his knees, for he had been sitting in the darkness near the copper vessel we’d been using as the crapper.

“I have been still too long,” he said, in a tone that must have reached the pit, “and now I must bear my witness. Woe unto this unfaithful city! Woe! Woe! Woe! Woe! Woe! To the inhabitants of the earth by reason of the other voices of the trumpet—-”

“Shut the frack up!” I said, rising to my feet, and in a terror lest the zombies should hear us. “For God’s sake—-”

“Nay,” shouted the deacon, at the top of his voice, standing likewise and extending his arms. “Speak! The word of the Lord is upon me!”

In three strides he was at the door leading into the kitchen.

“I must bear my witness! I go! It has already been too long delayed.”

I put out my hand and felt the meat chopper hanging to the wall. In a flash I was after him. I was fierce with fear. Before he was halfway across the kitchen I had overtaken him. With one last touch of humanity I turned the blade back and struck him with the butt. He went headlong forward and lay stretched on the ground. I stumbled over him and stood panting. He lay still.

Suddenly I heard a noise without, the run and smash of slipping plaster, and the triangular aperture in the wall was darkened. I looked up and saw the lower surface of a handling-machine coming slowly across the hole. One of its gripping limbs curled amid the debris; another limb appeared, feeling its way over the fallen beams. I stood petrified, staring. Then I saw through a sort of glass plate near the edge of the body the living dead brain/face, as we may call it, and the large dark red eyes of a zombie, peering, and then a long metallic snake of articulated hand and arm came feeling slowly through the hole.

I turned by an effort, stumbled over the deacon, and stopped at the scullery door. The metal tentacle arm was now some way, two yards or more, in the room, and twisting and turning, with queer sudden movements, this way and that. For a while I stood fascinated by that slow, fitful advance. Then, with a faint, hoarse cry, I forced myself across the scullery. I trembled violently; I could scarcely stand upright. I opened the door of the coal cellar, and stood there in the darkness staring at the faintly lit doorway into the kitchen, and listening. Had the zombie seen me? What was it doing now?

Something was moving to and fro there like the cat’s tail, very quietly; every now and then it tapped against the wall, or started on its movements with a faint metallic ringing, like the movements of keys on a split-ring. Then a heavy body–I knew too well what–was dragged across the floor of the kitchen towards the opening. Irresistibly attracted, I crept to the door and peeped into the kitchen. In the triangle of bright outer sunlight I saw the zombie brain, in its Briareus android of a handling-machine, scrutinizing the deacon’s head. I thought at once that its handler would infer my presence from the mark of the blow I had given him.

I crept back to the coal cellar, shut the door, and began to cover myself up as much as I could, and as noiselessly as possible in the darkness, among the firewood and coal therein. Every now and then I paused, rigid, to hear if the zombie machine had thrust its tentacles through the opening again.

Then the faint metallic jingle returned. I traced it slowly feeling over the kitchen. Presently I heard it nearer–in the scullery, as I judged. I thought that its length might be insufficient to reach me. I prayed copiously. It passed, scraping faintly across the cellar door. An age of almost intolerable suspense intervened; then I heard it fumbling at the latch! It had found the door! The zombie controller understood our doors and latches!

It worried at the catch for a minute, perhaps, and then the door swung opened with a long un-oiled creaking.

In the darkness I could just make out the thing–like a metal elephant’s trunk more than anything else–waving towards me and touching and examining the wall, coals, wood and ceiling. It was like a black worm swaying its blind head to and fro.

Once, even, it touched the heel of my boot. I was on the verge of screaming; I bit my hand. For a time the tentacle was silent as though the controller were on break . I could have fancied it had been withdrawn. Presently, with an abrupt click, it gripped something–I thought it had me!–and seemed to go out of the cellar again. For a minute I was not sure. Apparently it had taken a lump of coal to examine.

I seized the opportunity of slightly shifting my position, which had become cramped, and then listened. I whispered passionate prayers for survival & escape.

Then I heard the slow, deliberate sound creeping towards me again. Slowly, slowly it came, inch by inch, scratching against the walls and tapping the furniture.

While I was still doubtful, it rapped smartly against the cellar door and closed it. I heard it go into the pantry, and the biscuit-tins rattled and a bottle smashed, and then came a heavy bump against the cellar door. Then silence that passed into an infinity of suspense.

Had it gone?

At last I decided that it had.

It came into the scullery no more; but I lay all the tenth day in the close darkness, buried among coals and firewood, not daring even to crawl out for the drink for which I craved. It was the eleventh day before I ventured so far from my security.

CHAPTER FIVE

THE STILLNESS

My first act before I went into the pantry was to fasten the door between the kitchen and the scullery. But the pantry was empty; every scrap of food had gone. Apparently, the zombie had taken it all on the previous day. Were they feeding their prisoners? At that discovery I despaired for the first time. I took no food, or no drink either, on the eleventh or the twelfth day.

At first my mouth and throat were parched, and my strength ebbed sensibly. I sat about in the darkness of the scullery, in a state of despondent wretchedness. My mind ran on eating. I thought I had become deaf, for the noises of movement I had been accustomed to hear from the pit had ceased absolutely. I did not feel strong enough to crawl noiselessly to the peephole, or I would have gone there.

On the twelfth day my throat was so painful that, taking the chance of alarming the zombies, I attacked the creaking rain water cistern pump that stood by the sink, and got a couple of glassfuls of blackened and tainted rain water. I was greatly refreshed by this, and emboldened by the fact that no inquiring tentacle followed the noise of my pumping.

During these days, in a rambling, inconclusive way, I thought much of the deacon and of the manner of his death.

On the thirteenth day I drank some more water, and dozed and thought disjointedly of eating and of vague impossible plans of escape. Whenever I dozed I dreamt of horrible phantasms, of the death of the deacon, or of sumptuous dinners; but, asleep or awake, I felt a keen pain that urged me to drink again and again. The light that came into the scullery was no longer gray, but red. To my disordered imagination it seemed the color of blood.

On the fourteenth day I went into the kitchen, and I was surprised to find that the fronds of the red Kudzu had grown right across the hole in the wall, turning the half-light of the place into a crimson-colored obscurity.

It was early on the fifteenth day that I heard a curious, familiar sequence of sounds in the kitchen, and, listening, identified it as the snuffing and scratching of a dog. Going into the kitchen, I saw a dog’s nose peering in through a break among the ruddy fronds. This greatly surprised me. At the scent of me he barked shortly.

I thought if I could induce him to come into the place quietly I should be able, perhaps, to kill and eat him like a Korean; I had read how visitors to Korea would come across what they would naturally assume was a pet store window only to learn it was in fact a restaurant (some say there are laws against this–not enforced); and in any case, it would be advisable to capture him, lest his actions attracted the attention of the zombies.

I crept forward, saying “Good dog!” very softly; but he suddenly sensed my intent, and being an intelligent creature immediately withdrew his head and disappeared.

I listened–I was not deaf–but certainly the pit was still. I heard a sound like the flutter of a bird’s wings, and a hoarse croaking, but that was all.

For a long while I lay close to the peephole, but not daring to move aside the red plants that obscured it. Once or twice I heard a faint pitter-patter like the feet of the dog going hither and thither on the sand far below me, and there were more birdlike sounds, but that was all. At length, encouraged by the silence, I looked out.

Except in the corner, where a multitude of crows hopped and fought over the skeletons of the dead the zombies had consumed beyond the possibility of reanimation, there was not a living dead thing in the pit.

I stared about me, scarcely believing my eyes. All the machinery had gone. Save for the big mound of grayish-blue powder in one corner, certain bars of aluminum in another, the black birds, and the skeletons of the killed, the place was merely an empty circular pit in the sand.

Slowly I thrust myself out through the red Kudzu, and stood upon the mound of rubble. I could see in any direction save behind me, to the north, and neither zombies nor sign of zombies were to be seen. The pit dropped sheerly from my feet, but a little way along the rubbish afforded a practicable slope to the summit of the ruins. My chance of escape had come. I began to tremble.

Weak, I hesitated for some time, and then, in a gust of desperate resolution, and with a heart that throbbed violently, I scrambled to the top of the mound in which I had been buried so long.

I looked about again. To the northward, too, no zombie was visible.

When I had last seen this part of Shawn in the daylight it had been a straggling street of comfortable white and pinky beige houses, interspersed with abundant shady trees. Now I stood on a mound of smashed brickwork, clay, and gravel, over which spread a multitude of red cactus-shaped plants, knee-high, without a solitary local growth to dispute their footing. The trees near me were dead and brown, but further a network of red thread scaled the still living stems.

The neighboring houses had all been wrecked, but none had been burned; their walls stood, sometimes to the second story, with smashed windows and shattered doors. The red Kudzu grew tumultuously in their roofless rooms. Below me was the great pit, with the crows struggling for its refuse. A number of other birds hopped about among the ruins. Far away I saw a gaunt yellow cat slink crouchingly along a wall, but traces of men there were none.

The day seemed, by contrast with my recent confinement, dazzlingly bright, the sky a glowing blue. A gentle breeze kept the red Kudzu that covered every scrap of unoccupied ground gently swaying. And oh! the sweetness of the air!

CHAPTER SIX

THE WORK OF FIFTEEN DAYS

For some time I stood tottering on the mound regardless of my safety. Within that noisome den from which I had emerged I had thought with a narrow intensity only of our immediate security. I had not realized what had been happening to the world, had not anticipated this startling vision of unfamiliar things. I had expected to see Shawn in ruins–I found about me the landscape, weird and lurid, of what looked like another planet.

For that moment I touched an emotion beyond the common range of men, yet one that the poor brutes we dominate know only too well. I felt as a rabbit might feel returning to his burrow and suddenly confronted by the work of a dozen busy laborers digging the foundations of a house. I felt the first inkling of a thing that presently grew quite clear in my mind, that oppressed me for many days, a sense of dethronement, a persuasion that I was no longer a master, but an animal among the animals, under the zombie heel. With us it would be as with them, to lurk and watch, to run and hide; the fear and empire of man had passed away.

But so soon as this strangeness had been realized it passed, and my dominant motive became the hunger of my long and dismal fast. In the direction away from the pit I saw, beyond a red-covered wall, a patch of garden ground unburied. This gave me a hint, and I went knee-deep, and sometimes neck-deep, in the red Kudzu. The density of the Kudzu gave me a reassuring sense of hiding. The wall was some six feet high, and when I attempted to clamber it I found I could not lift my feet to the crest. So I went along by the side of it, and came to a corner and a rock-work that enabled me to get to the top, and tumble into the garden I coveted. Here I found some young onions, a couple of gladiolus bulbs, and a quantity of immature carrots and a small melon, all of which I secured, and, scrambling over a ruined wall, went on my way through scarlet and crimson draped trees towards Labyrinth–it was like walking through an avenue of gigantic blood drops–possessed with two ideas: to get more food, and to limp, as soon and as far as my strength permitted, out of this accursed unearthly region of the pit.

Some way farther, in a grassy place, was a group of mushrooms which also I devoured, and then I came upon a brown sheet of flowing shallow water, where meadows used to be. These fragments of nourishment served only to whet my hunger. At first I was surprised at this flood in a hot, dry summer, but afterwards I discovered that it was caused by the tropical exuberance of the red Kudzu. Directly this extraordinary growth encountered water it straightway became gigantic and of unparalleled fecundity. Its seeds were simply poured down into the water, and its swiftly growing and titanic water fronds speedily choked rivers.

At Labyrinth, as I afterwards saw, the bridge was almost lost in a tangle of this weed, and at Richmond, too, the river water poured in a broad and shallow stream across the meadows of Hamtown and Tickleme. As the water spread the weed followed them, until the ruined villas of the river valley were for a time lost in this red swamp, whose margin I explored, and much of the desolation the N.K. zombies had caused was concealed.

In the end the red Kudzu succumbed almost as quickly as it had spread. A cankering disease, due, it is believed, to the action of certain local bacteria, presently seized upon it. Now by the action of natural selection, all normal plants have acquired a resisting power against bacterial diseases–they never succumb without
a severe struggle, but the red Kudzu rotted like a thing already dead. The fronds became bleached, and then shriveled and brittle. They broke off at the least touch, and the waters that had stimulated their early growth carried their last vestiges out to sea.

My first act on coming to this water was, of course, to slake my thirst by eating the melon. I never drank any of the water knowing it likely contained raw sewage and, moved by an impulse, gnawed some fronds of red Kudzu; but they were watery, and had a sickly, metallic taste. I found the water was sufficiently shallow for me to wade securely, although the red weed impeded my feet a little; but the flood evidently got deeper towards the river, and I turned back to Morlock. I managed to make out the road by means of occasional ruins of its townhouses and fences and street lights, and so presently I got out of this spate and made my way to the hill
going up towards St. Pal and came out on Pixley Common.

Here the scenery changed from the strange and unfamiliar to the wreckage of the familiar: patches of ground exhibited the devastation of a cyclone, and in a few score yards I would come upon perfectly undisturbed spaces, houses with their blinds trimly drawn and doors closed, as if they had been left for a day by the owners, or as if their inhabitants slept within. The red weed was less abundant; the tall trees along the lane were free from the red creeper. I hunted for food among the trees, finding nothing, and I also raided a couple of silent houses, but they had already been broken into and ransacked. I rested for the remainder of the daylight in a shrubbery, being, in my enfeebled condition, too fatigued to push on.

All this time I saw no human beings, and no signs of the zombies. I encountered a couple of hungry-looking dogs, but both hurried circuitously away from the advances I made them. Near Labyrinth I had seen two human skeletons–not bodies, but skeletons, picked
clean–and in the wood by me I found the crushed and scattered bones of several cats and rabbits and the skull of a sheep. But though I gnawed parts of these in my mouth, there was nothing to be got from them.

After sunset I struggled on along the road towards Pixley, where I think the black gas must have been used for some reason. And in the garden beyond Labyrinth I got a quantity of immature potatoes, sufficient to stay my hunger. From this garden one looked down upon Pixley and the river. The aspect of the place in the dusk was singularly desolate: blackened trees, blackened, desolate ruins, and down the hill the sheets of the flooded river, red-tinged with the Kudzu. And over all–silence. It filled me with indescribable terror to think how swiftly that desolating change had come.

For a time I believed that mankind had been swept out of existence, and that I stood there alone, the last man on earth. Hard by the top of Pixley Hill I came upon another skeleton, with the arms dislocated and removed several yards from the rest of the body. As I proceeded I became more and more convinced that the extermination of mankind was, save for such stragglers as myself, already accomplished in this part of the world. The zombies, I thought, had gone on and left the country desolated, seeking food elsewhere. Perhaps even now they were destroying Sacramento or Fiddler’s Green, or it might be they had gone eastward.

CHAPTER SEVEN

THE MAN ON PIXLEY HILL

I spent that night in the inn that stands at the top of Pixley Hill, sleeping in a made bed for the first time since my flight to her cousins. I will not tell the needless trouble I had breaking into that house–afterwards I found the front door was not locked–nor how I ransacked every room for food, until just on the verge of despair, in what seemed to me to be a childs’s bedroom, I found a rat-gnawed crust and two tins of pineapple. The place had been already searched and emptied. In the bar I afterwards found some crackers and sandwiches that had been overlooked. The latter I could not eat, they were too rotten, but the former not only stayed my hunger, but filled my pockets. I lit no lamps, fearing some zombie might come beating that part of LA for food in the night.

Before I went to bed I had an interval of restlessness, and prowled from window to window, peering out for some sign of these monsters.I slept little. As I lay in bed I found myself thinking consecutively, a thing I do not remember to have done since my last argument with the deacon. During all the intervening time my mental condition had been a hurrying succession of vague emotional states or a sort of stupid receptivity. But in the night my brain, reinforced, I suppose, by the food I had eaten, grew clear again, and I thought.

Three things struggled for possession of my mind: the killing of the deacon, the whereabouts of the zombies, and the possible fate of my wife. The former gave me no sensation of horror or remorse to recall; I saw it simply as a thing done, a memory infinitely disagreeable but quite without the quality of remorse. I saw myself then as I see myself now, driven step by step towards that hasty blow, the creature of a sequence of accidents leading inevitably to that. I felt no condemnation; yet the memory, static, unprogressive, haunted me. In the silence of the night, with that sense of the nearness of God that sometimes comes into the stillness and the darkness, I stood my trial, my only trial, for that moment of wrath and fear. I retraced every step of our conversation from the moment when I had found him crouching beside me, heedless of my thirst, and pointing to the fire and smoke that streamed up from the ruins of Waybridge. We had been incapable of co-operation–grim chance had taken no heed of that. Had I foreseen, I should have left him at Hartford. But I did not foresee; and crime is to foresee and do. And I set this down as I have set all this story down, as it was. There were no witnesses–all these things I might have concealed. But I set it down, and the reader must form his judgment as he will.

And when, by an effort, I had set aside that picture of a prostrate body, I faced the problem of the zombies and the fate of my wife. For the former I had no data; I could imagine a hundred things, and so, unhappily, I could for the latter. And suddenly that night became terrible. I found myself sitting up in bed, staring at the dark. I found myself praying that the black gas might have suddenly and painlessly struck her out of the human realm. Since the night of my return from her cousins in Loggerhead I had not prayed. I had uttered prayers, fetish prayers, had prayed as heathens mutter charms before a math test when I was in extremity; but now I prayed indeed, pleading steadfastly and sanely, face to face with the darkness of God. Strange night! Strangest in this, that so soon as dawn had come, I, who had talked with God, crept out of the house like a rat leaving its hiding place–a creature scarcely larger, an inferior animal, a thing that for any passing whim of our masters might be hunted and killed. Perhaps they also prayed confidently to God. Surely, if we have learned nothing else, this war has taught us pity–pity for those witless souls that suffer our dominion.

The morning was bright and fine, and the eastern sky glowed pink, and was fretted with little golden clouds. In the road that runs from the top of Pixley Hill to Wimbleton was a number of poor vestiges of the panic torrent that must have poured LA-ward on the Sunday night after the fighting began. There was a little antique two-wheeled cart inscribed with the name of Gottfried Lobb, Greengrocer, New Haven, with a smashed wheel and an abandoned locked cashbox; there was a straw hat with holes for the horse’s ears trampled into the now hardened mud, and at the top of West Hill a lot of blood-stained glass about the overturned water trough.

My movements were languid, my plans of the vaguest. I had an idea of going to Loggerhead, though I knew that there I had the poorest chance of finding my wife. Certainly, unless death had overtaken them suddenly, her cousins and she would have fled thence; but it seemed to me I might find or learn there whither the Curry people had fled. I knew I wanted to find my wife, that my heart ached for her and the world of men, but I had no clear idea how the finding might be done. I was also sharply aware now of my intense loneliness. From the corner I went, under cover of a thicket of trees and bushes, to the edge of Wimbleton Common, stretching wide and far.

That dark expanse was lit in patches by yellow gorse and broom; there was no red Kudzu to be seen, and as I prowled, hesitating, on the verge of the open, the sun rose, flooding it all with light and vitality. I came upon a busy swarm of little frogs in a swampy place among the trees. I stopped to look at them, drawing a lesson from their stout resolve to live. And presently, turning suddenly, with an odd feeling of being watched, I beheld something crouching amid a clump of bushes. I stood regarding this. I made a step towards it, and it rose up and became a man armed with a cutlass. I approached him slowly. He stood silent and motionless, regarding me.

As I drew nearer I perceived he was dressed in clothes as dusty and filthy as my own; he looked, indeed, as though he had been dragged through the ditches of Madison County. Nearer, I distinguished the green slime of culverts mixing with the pale drab of dried clay and shiny, scaly patches. His black hair fell over his eyes, and his face was dark and dirty and sunken, so that at first I did not recognize him. There was a red cut across the lower part of his face.

“Stop!” he cried, when I was within ten yards of him, and I stopped. His voice was hoarse. “Where do you come from?” he said.

I thought, surveying him.

“I come from lots of places, Morlock most recently,” I said. “I was buried near the pit the zombies made about their cylinder. I have worked my way out and escaped.”

“There is no food about here,” he said. “This is my country. All this hill down to the river, and back to Claphand, and up to the edge of the common. There is only food for one. Which way are you going?”

I answered slowly.

“I don’t know,” I said. “I have been buried in the ruins of a house thirteen or fourteen days. I don’t know what has happened.”

He looked at me doubtfully, then started, and looked with a changed expression.

“I’ve no wish to stop about here,” said I. “I think I shall go to Loggerhead, for my wife was there.”

He shot out a pointing finger.

“It is you,” said he; “the man from Woking. And you weren’t killed at Waybridge?”

I recognized him at the same moment.

“You are the artilleryman who came into my garden.”

“Good luck!” he said. “We are lucky ones! Fancy you !” He put out a hand, and I took it. “I crawled up a drain,” he said. “But they didn’t kill everyone. And after they went away I got off towards Walton across the fields. But—- It’s not sixteen days altogether–and your hair is gone to gray.” He looked over his shoulder suddenly. “Only a turkey buzzard,” he said. “One gets to know that birds have shadows these days. This is a bit open. Let us crawl under those bushes and talk.”

“Have you seen any zombies?” I said. “Since I crawled out—-”

“They’ve gone away across LA,” he said. “I guess they’ve got a bigger camp there. Of a night, all over there, Hammerhead way, the sky is alive with their lights. It’s like a great city, and in the glare you can just see them moving. By daylight you can’t. But nearer–I haven’t seen them–” (he counted on his fingers) “five days. Then I saw a couple across Hammerhead way carrying something big. And the night before last”–he stopped and spoke impressively–“it was just a matter of lights, but it was something up in the air. I believe they’ve brought a airship to drop black gas, and are trying to use a zombie mech to fly it.”

I stopped, on hands and knees, for we had come to the bushes.

“Fly!”

“Yes,” he said, “fly.”

I went on into a little bower, and sat down.

“It is all over with humanity,” I said. “If they can do that they will simply go round the country.”

He nodded.

“They will. But—- It will relieve things around here a bit. And besides—-” He looked at me. “Aren’t you satisfied it is up with humanity? I am. We’re down; we’re beaten.”

I stared. Strange as it may seem, I had not arrived at this fact–a fact perfectly obvious so soon as he spoke. I had still held a vague hope; rather, I had kept a lifelong habit of mind. He repeated his words, “We’re beaten.” They carried absolute conviction.

“It’s all over,” he said. “They’ve lost one –just one . And they’ve made their beachhead good and crippled the greatest power in the world. They’ve walked over us. The death of that one at Waybridge was an accident. And these are only pioneers. They kept on coming. These green stars–I’ve seen none these five or six days, but I’ve no doubt they’re falling somewhere every night. Nothing’s to be done. We’re under! We’re beat!”

I made him no answer. I sat staring before me, trying in vain to devise some countervailing thought.

“This isn’t a war, it’s a bug hunt.” said the artilleryman. “It never was a war, any more than there’s war between man and ants.”

Suddenly I recalled the night logged into the observatory web site.

“After the tenth shot they fired no more–at least, until the first cylinder came.”

“How do you know?” said the artilleryman. I explained. He thought. “Something wrong with the rail gun,” he said. “But what if there is? They’ll get it working again. And even if there’s a delay, how can it alter the end? It’s just men and ants. There’s the ants builds their cities, live their lives, have wars, revolutions, until the men want them out of the way, and then they go out of the way. That’s what we are now–just ants. Only—-”

“Yes,” I said.

“We’re eatable ants.”

We sat looking at each other.

“And what will they do with us?” I said.

“That’s what I’ve been thinking,” he said; “that’s what I’ve been thinking. After Waybridge I went south–thinking. I saw what was up. Most of the people were hard at it squealing and exciting themselves. But I’m not so fond of squealing. I’ve been in sight of death once or twice; I’m not an ornamental soldier, and at the best and worst, death–it’s just death. And it’s the man that keeps on thinking comes through. I saw everyone tracking away south. Says I, ‘Food won’t last this way,’ and I turned right back. I went for the zombies like a sparrow goes for man. All round”–he waved a hand to the horizon–“they’re starving in heaps, bolting, treading on each other. . . .”

He saw my face, and halted awkwardly.

“No doubt lots who had money have gone away to Canada,” he said. He seemed to hesitate whether to apologize, met my eyes, and went on: “There’s food all about here. Canned things in shops; wines, spirits, mineral waters; and the water mains and drains are empty. Well, I was telling you what I was thinking. ‘Here’s quasi-intelligent things,’ I said, ‘and it seems they want us for food. First, they’ll smash us up–ships, planes, machines, guns, cities, communications, all the order and organization. All that will go. If we were the size of ants we might pull through. But we’re not. It’s all too bulky to stop. That’s the first certainty.”

I assented.

“It is; I’ve thought it out. Very well, then–next; at present we’re caught as we’re wanted. A zombie has only to go a few miles to get a crowd on the run. And I saw one, one day, out by San Lucus, picking houses to pieces and routing among the wreckage. But they won’t keep on doing that. So soon as they’ve settled all our guns and ships, and smashed our roadways, and done all the things they are doing over there, they will begin catching us systematic, picking the best and storing us in cages and things. That’s what they will start doing in a bit. Lord! They haven’t begun on us yet. Don’t you see that?”

“Not begun!” I exclaimed.

“Not begun. All that’s happened so far is through our not having the sense to keep quiet–worrying them with guns and such foolery. And losing our heads, and rushing off in crowds to where there wasn’t any more safety than where we were. They don’t want to bother us yet. They’re making their things–making all the things they couldn’t bring with them, getting things ready for the rest of their people. Very likely that’s why the cylinders have stopped for a bit, for fear of hitting those who are here. And instead of our rushing about blind, on the howl, or getting dynamite on the chance of busting them up, we’ve got to fix ourselves up according to the new state of affairs.

That’s how I figure it out. It isn’t quite according to what a man wants for his species, but it’s about what the facts point to. And that’s the principle I acted upon. Cities, nations, civilization, progress–it’s all over. That game’s up. We’re beat.”

“But if that is so, what is there to live for?”

The artilleryman looked at me for a moment.

“There won’t be any more blessed concerts for a million years or so; there won’t be any Los Angeles Academy of Arts, and no nice little feeds at restaurants. If it’s amusement you’re after, I reckon
the game is up. If you’ve got any drawing-room manners or a dislike to eating peas with a knife or dropping oysters, you’d better chuck ’em away. They ain’t no further use.”

“You mean—-”

“I mean that men like me are going on living–for the sake of the breed. I tell you, I’m grim set on living. And if I’m not mistaken, you’ll show what insides you’ve got, too, before long. We aren’t going to be exterminated. And I don’t mean to be caught either, and tamed and fattened and bred like a thundering ox. Ugh! Fancy fed those brown creepers!”

“You don’t mean to say—-”

“I do. I’m going on, under their feet. I’ve got it planned; I’ve thought it out. We men are beaten. We don’t know enough. We’ve got to learn before we’ve got a chance. And we’ve got to live and keep independent while we learn. See! That’s what has to be done.”

I stared, astonished, and stirred profoundly by the man’s resolution.

“Great God!” cried I. “But you are a man indeed!” And suddenly I gripped his hand.

“Huh!” he said, with his eyes shining. “I’ve thought it out, hey?”

“Go on,” I said.

“Well, those who mean to escape their catching must get ready. I’m getting ready. Mind you, it isn’t all of us that are made for wild beasts; and that’s what it’s got to be. That’s why I watched you. I had my doubts. You’re slender. I didn’t know that it was you, you see, or just how you’d been buried. All these–the sort of people that lived in these houses, and all those damn little office gophers that used to live down that way–they’d be no good. They haven’t any spirit in them–no proud dreams and no proud lusts; and a man who hasn’t one or the other–Lord! What is he but funk and precautions?

They just used to skedaddle off to work–I’ve seen hundreds of ’em, bit of breakfast toast in hand, running wild and shining to catch their little season-ticket tram, for fear they’d get dismissed if they didn’t; working at businesses they were afraid to take the trouble to understand; skedaddling back for fear they wouldn’t be in time for dinner; keeping indoors after dinner for fear of the back streets, and sleeping with the wives they married, not because they wanted them, but because they had a bit of money that would make for safety in their one little miserable skedaddle through the world.

Lives insured and a bit invested for fear of accidents. And on Sundays–fear of the hereafter. As if hell was built for rabbits! Well, the zombies will just be a godsend to these. Nice roomy cages, fattening food, careful breeding, no worry. After a week or so chasing about the fields and lands on empty stomachs, they’ll come and be caught cheerful. They’ll be quite glad after a bit. They’ll wonder what people did before there were zombies to take care of them. And the bar loafers, and mashers, and singers–I can imagine them. I can imagine them,” he said, with a sort of somber gratification. “There will be any amount of sentiment and religion loose among them.

There’s hundreds of things I saw with my eyes that I’ve only begun to see clearly these last few days. There’s lots will take things as they are–fat and stupid; like basket crabs where the basket doesn’t need a lid because when a crab tries to climb out the others reach up and pull him back; and lots will be worried by a sort of feeling that it’s all wrong, and that they ought to be doing something. Now whenever things are so that a lot of people feel they ought to be doing something, the weak, and those who go weak with a lot of complicated thinking, always make for a sort of do-nothing religion, very pious and superior, and submit to persecution and the will of the Lord. Very likely you’ve seen the same thing. It’s energy in a gale of funk, and turned clean inside out. These cages will be full of psalms and hymns and piety. And those of a less simple sort will work in a bit of–what is it?–eroticism.”

He paused.

“Very likely these zombies will make pets of some of them; train them to fetch food, do tricks–who knows?–get sentimental over the pet boy who grew up and had to be bitten. And some, maybe, they will train to hunt us.”

“No,” I cried, “that’s impossible! No human being—-”

“What’s the good of going on with such lies?” said the artilleryman. “There’s men who’d do it cheerful. What nonsense to pretend there isn’t!”

And I succumbed to his conviction.

“If they come after me,” he said; “Lord, if they come after me!” and subsided into a grim meditation.

I sat contemplating these things. I could find nothing to bring against this man’s reasoning. In the days before the invasion no one would have questioned my intellectual superiority to his–I, a professed and recognized writer on philosophical themes, and he, a common soldier; and yet he had already formulated a situation that I had scarcely realized.

“What are you doing?” I said presently. “What plans have you made?”

He hesitated.

“Well, it’s like this,” he said. “What have we to do? We have to invent a sort of life where men can live and breed, and be sufficiently secure to bring the children up, maybe above the frost line in Canada where the winter will freeze these things solid. Yes–wait a bit, and I’ll make it clearer what I think ought to be done. The tame ones will go like all tame beasts; in a few generations they’ll be big, beautiful, rich-blooded, stupid–rubbish! The risk is that we who keep wild will go savage–degenerate into a sort of big, savage rat. . . .

You see, how I mean to live is underground. I’ve been thinking about the sewers. Of course those who don’t know drains think horrible things, like that movie Them about the giant ants; but under this LA are miles and miles–hundreds of miles–and a few days rain and LA empty will leave them sweet and clean. The mains are big enough and airy enough for anyone. Then there’s cellars, vaults, stores, from which bolting passages may be made to the drains. And the railway tunnels and subways. Eh? You begin to see? And we form a band–able-bodied, clean-minded men. We’re not going to pick up any rubbish that drifts in. Weaklings go out again.”

“As you meant me to go?”

“Well–I parleyed, didn’t I?”

“We won’t quarrel about that. Go on.”

“Those who stop obey orders. Able-bodied, clean-minded women we want also–mothers and teachers. No lackadaisical ladies–no blasted rolling eyes. We can’t have any weak or silly. Life is real again, and the useless and cumbersome and mischievous have to die. They ought to die. They ought to be willing to die. It’s a sort of disloyalty, after all, to live and taint the race. And they can’t be happy. Moreover, dying’s none so dreadful; it’s the funking about makes it bad. And in all those places we shall gather. Our district will be LA. And we may even be able to keep a watch, and run about in the open when the zombies keep away. Play stick ball, perhaps. That’s how we shall save the race. Eh? It’s a possible thing? But saving the race is nothing in itself. As I say, that’s only being rats. It’s saving our knowledge and adding to it is the thing. There men like you come in. There’s books, there’s models. We must make great safe places down deep, and get all the books we can; not novels and poetry swipes, but ideas, science books. That’s where men like you come in.

We must go to the best museums and pick all those books through. Especially we must keep up our science–learn more. We must watch these zombies. Some of us must go as spies. When it’s all working, perhaps I will. Get caught, I mean. And the great thing is, we must leave the zombies alone. We mustn’t even steal crumb. If we get in their way, we clear out. We must show them we mean no harm. Yes, I know. But they’re intelligent things, and they won’t hunt us down if they have all they want, and think we’re just harmless vermin.”

The artilleryman paused and laid a brown hand upon my arm.

“After all, it may not be so much we may have to learn before–Just imagine this: four or five of their fighting leaders suddenly starting off–black gas right and left, and not a zombie in the armor. Not a zombie in ’em, but men–men who have learned the way how. It may be in my time, even–those men. Fancy having one of them lovely things, with its gas tube wide and free! Fancy having it in our romote control! What would it matter if you smashed it to smithereens at the end of the run, after a bust outbreak like that? I reckon the zombie masters will open their miserable eyes that day! Can’t you see them, man? Can’t you see them hurrying, hurrying–puffing and blowing and moaning to their other mechanical assistants? Something out of gear in every case. And swish, bang, rattle, whoosh! Just as they are fumbling over it, whoosh! comes the black gas, and, behold! man has come back to his own.”

For a while the imaginative daring of the artilleryman, and the tone of assurance and courage he assumed, completely dominated my weakened mind. I believed unhesitatingly both in his forecast of human destiny and in the practicability of his astonishing scheme, and the reader who thinks me susceptible and foolish must contrast his position, reading steadily with all his thoughts about his subject, and mine, crouching fearfully in the bushes and listening, distracted by apprehension.

We talked in this manner through the early morning time, and later crept out of the bushes, and, after scanning the sky for zombies, hurried precipitately to the house on Pixley Hill where he had made his man cave. It was the old coal cellar of the place, and when I saw the work he had spent a week upon–it was a burrow scarcely ten yards long, which he designed to reach to the main drain on Pixley Hill–I had my first inkling of the gulf between his dreams and his powers.

Such a hole I could have dug in a day. But I believed in him sufficiently to work with him all that morning until past midday at his digging. We had a garden wheel barrow and shot the earth we removed against the outside walls. We refreshed ourselves with a can of chicken noodle soup and wine from the neighboring pantry. I found a curious relief from the aching strangeness of the world in this steady labor. As we worked, I turned his project over in my mind, and presently objections and doubts began to arise; but I worked there all the morning, so glad was I to find myself with a purpose again.

After working an hour I began to speculate on the distance one had to go before the cloaca was reached, the chances we had of missing it altogether. My immediate trouble was why we should dig this long tunnel, when it was possible to get into the drain at once down one of the manholes, and work back to the house and why this house. It seemed to me, too, that the house was inconveniently chosen, and required a needless length of tunnel. And just as I was beginning to face these things, the artilleryman stopped digging, and looked at me.

“We’re working well together,” he said. He put down his spade. “Let us knock off a bit” he said. “I think it’s time we reconnoitered from the roof of the house.”

I was for going on, and after a little hesitation he resumed his shovel work; and then suddenly I was struck by a thought. I stopped, and so did he at once.

“Why were you walking about the common,” I said, “instead of being here?”

“Getting some fresh air,” he said. “I was coming back. It’s safer by night.”

“But the work?”

“Oh, one can’t always work,” he said, and in a flash I saw the man plain for what he was. He hesitated, holding his shovel. “We ought to reconnoiter now,” he said, “because if any come near they may hear the shovels and drop upon us unawares.”

I was no longer disposed to object. We went together to the roof and stood on a ladder peeping out of the roof door. No zombies were to be seen, and we ventured out on the tiles, and slipped down under shelter of the parapet.

From this position a shrubbery hid the greater portion of Pixley, but we could see the river below, a bubbly mass of red Kudzu, and the low parts of Labyrinth flooded and red. The red creeper swarmed up the trees about the old places, and their branches stretched gaunt and dead, and set with shriveled leaves, from amid its clusters. It was strange how entirely dependent both these things were upon flowing water for their propagation. About us neither had gained a footing; laburnums, pink mays, snowballs, and trees of arbor-vitae, rose out of laurels and hydrangeas, green and brilliant into the sunlight. Beyond Kings Nose dense smoke was rising, and that and a blue haze hid the northward hills.

The artilleryman began to tell me of the sort of people who still remained in LA.

“One night last week,” he said, “some fools got the electric lights working, and there was the whole freaking Street and the taverns ablaze, crowded with painted and ragged drunkards, men and women, dancing and shouting till dawn. A man who was there told me. And as the day came they became aware of a fighting-zombie leader standing near by the terminal and looking down at them. Heaven knows how long he had been there. It must have given some of them a nasty turn. He came down the road towards them, and his horde picked off nearly a hundred too drunk or frightened to run away.”

Grotesque gleam of a time no history will ever fully describe!

From that, in answer to my questions, he came round to his grandiose plans again. He grew enthusiastic. He talked so eloquently of the possibility of capturing a suit of zombie fighting leader armor that I more than half believed in him again. But now that I was beginning to understand something of his quality, I could divine the stress he laid on doing nothing precipitately. And I noted that now there was no question that he personally was to capture and fight the great zombie leaders as hero of his story.

After a time we went down to the cellar. Neither of us seemed disposed to resume digging, and when he suggested a meal, I was nothing loath. He became suddenly very generous, and when we had eaten he went away and returned with some excellent cigars. We lit these, and his optimism glowed. He was inclined to regard my coming as an auspicious occasion.

“There’s some champagne in the cellar,” he said.

“We can dig better on this burgundy,” said I.

“No,” said he; “I am host today. Champagne! Great God! We’ve a heavy enough task before us! Let us take a rest and gather strength while we may. Look at these blistered hands!”

And pursuant to this idea of a holiday, he insisted upon playing cards after we had eaten. He taught me cribbage, and after dividing LA between us, I taking the northern side and he the southern, we played for regional points. Grotesque and foolish as this will seem to the sober reader, it is absolutely true, and what is more remarkable, I found the card game and several others we played extremely interesting.

Strange mind of man! that, with our species upon the edge of extermination or appalling degradation, with no clear prospect before us but the chance of a horrible death, we could sit following the chance of this painted pasteboard, and playing the “joker” with vivid delight. Afterwards he taught me poker, and I beat him at three tough chess games. When dark came we decided to take the risk, and lit a lamp.

After an interminable string of games, we supped, and the artilleryman finished the champagne. We went on smoking the cigars. He was no longer the energetic regenerator of his species I had encountered in the morning. He was still optimistic, but it was a less kinetic, a more thoughtful optimism. I remember he wound up with my health, proposed in a speech of small variety and considerable intermittence. I took a cigar, and went upstairs to look at the lights of which he had spoken that blazed so greenly along the Hollywood hills.

At first I stared unintelligently across the LA valley. The northern hills were shrouded in darkness; the fires near Kings Nose glowed redly, and now and then an orange-red tongue of flame flashed up and vanished in the deep blue night. All the rest of LA was black. Then, nearer, I perceived a strange light, a pale, violet-purple fluorescent glow, quivering under the night breeze.

For a space I could not understand it, and then I knew that it must be the red Kudzu from which this faint irradiation proceeded. With that realization my dormant sense of wonder, my sense of the proportion of things, awoke again. I glanced from that to the sky, red and clear, glowing high in the west, and then gazed long and earnestly at the darkness of Hammerhead and San Spielberg.

I remained a very long time upon the roof, wondering at the grotesque changes of the day. I recalled my mental states from the midnight prayer to the foolish card-playing. I had a violent revulsion of feeling. I remember I flung away the cigar with a certain wasteful symbolism. My folly came to me with glaring exaggeration. I seemed a traitor to my wife and to my kind; I was filled with remorse. I resolved to leave this strange undisciplined dreamer of great things to his drink and gluttony, and to go on into LA. There, it seemed to me, I had the best chance of learning what the zombies and my fellowmen were doing. I was still upon the roof when the late moon rose.

CHAPTER EIGHT

DEAD AND DEADER IN LA

After I had parted from the artilleryman, I went down the hill, and by the High Street across the bridge to Fullham. The red Kudzu was tumultuous at that time, and nearly choked the bridge roadway; but its fronds were already whitened in patches by the spreading disease that presently removed it so swiftly.

At the corner of the lane that runs to Pixley Bridge station I found a man lying. He was as black as a sweep with the black dust, alive, but helplessly and speechlessly drunk. I could get nothing from him but curses and furious lunges at my head. I think I should have stayed by him but for the brutal expression of his face.

There was black dust along the roadway from the bridge onwards, and it grew thicker in Fulham. The streets were horribly quiet. I got food–sour, hard, and mouldy, but quite eatable–in a baker’s shop here. Some way towards Halfham Green the streets became clear of powder, and I passed a white terrace of houses on fire; the noise of the burning was an absolute relief. Going on towards Nu Hampton, the streets were quiet again.

Here I came once more upon the black powder in the streets and upon dead bodies sporting flesh bites that had not turned zombie. I saw altogether about a dozen in the length of the Fullham Road. They had been dead many days, so that I hurried quickly past them. The black powder covered them over, and softened their outlines. One or two had been disturbed by dogs.

Where there was no black powder, it was curiously like a Sunday in the City, with the closed shops, the houses locked up and the blinds drawn, the desertion, and the stillness. In some places plunderers had been at work, but rarely at other than the provision and wine shops. A jeweller’s window had been broken open in one place, but apparently the thief had been disturbed, and a number of gold chains and a watch lay scattered on the pavement. I did not trouble to touch them. Farther on was a tattered bag woman in a heap on a doorstep; the hand that hung over her knee was gashed and bled down her rusty brown dress, and a smashed magnum of champagne formed a pool across the pavement. She seemed asleep, but she was dead.

The farther I penetrated into LA, the profounder grew the stillness. But it was not so much the stillness of death–it was the stillness of suspense, of expectation. At any time the destruction that had already singed the northwestern borders of the metropolis, and had annihilated Eating and Crabwell Corners, might strike among these houses and leave them smoking ruins. It was a city condemned and derelict. . . .

In South Beach the streets were clear of dead and of black powder. It was near South Kingston that I first heard the odd moaning. It crept almost imperceptibly upon my senses. It was a sobbing alternation of two notes, “Argg, argg, Argg, argg,” keeping on perpetually. When I passed streets that ran northward it grew in volume, and houses and buildings seemed to deaden and cut it off again. It came in a full tide down Exhibition Road. I stopped, staring towards Kingston Gardens, wondering at this strange, remote moaning. It was as if that mighty desert of houses had found a voice for its fear and solitude.

“Argg, argg, Argg, argg,” wailed that superhuman note–great waves of sound sweeping down the broad, sunlit roadway, between the tall buildings on each side. I turned northwards, marvelling, towards the iron gates of Sunnydale Cemetery Park. I had half a mind to break into the Natural History Museum and find my way up to the summits of the towers, in order to see across the park. But I decided to keep to the ground, where quick hiding was possible, and so went on up the Exhibition Road. All the large houses on each side of the road were empty and still, and my footsteps echoed against the sides of the houses. At the top, near the park gate, I came upon a strange sight–a bus overturned, and the skeletons of the driver and passengers picked clean. I puzzled over this for a time, and then went on to the bridge over the LA River basin. The voice grew stronger and stronger, though I could see nothing above the housetops on the north side of the park, save a haze of smoke to the northwest.

“Argg, argg, Argg, argg,” cried the voice, coming, as it seemed to me, from the district about Tromaville Square. The desolating cry worked upon my mind. The mood that had sustained me passed. The moaning took possession of me. I found I was intensely weary, footsore, and now once again hungry and thirsty.

It was already past noon. Why was I wandering alone in this land of the dead? Why was I alone when all LA was lying in state, and in its black shroud? I felt intolerably lonely. My mind ran on old friends that I had forgotten for years. I thought of the poisons in the chemists’ shops, of the liquors the wine merchants stored; I recalled the two sodden creatures of despair, who so far as I knew, shared the city with myself. . . .

I came into Oxnard Street by the Golden Arches, and here again were black powder and several bodies, and an evil, ominous smell from the gratings of the cellars of some of the houses. I grew very thirsty after the heat of my long walk. With infinite trouble I managed to break into a fast food restaurant and get food and drink. I was weary after eating, and went into the office behind the counter, and slept on a black Naugahyde sofa I found there.

I awoke to find that dismal moaning still in my ears, “Argg, argg, Argg, arga.” It was now dusk, and after I had routed out some rolls and sliced cheese in the cooler–there was a meat locker, but it contained nothing but maggots–I wandered on through the silent residential squares to Barker Street–Portman Square is the only one I can name–and so came out at last upon Tromaville Square. And as I emerged from the top of Barker Street, I saw far away over between the trees in the clearness of the sunset the helmet of the zombie giant from which this moaning proceeded. I was not terrified. I came upon him as if it were a matter of course. I watched him for some time, but he did not move. He appeared to be standing and moaning, for no reason that I could discover.

I tried to formulate a plan of action. That perpetual sound of “Argg, argg, Argg, argg,” confused my mind. Perhaps I was too tired to be very fearful. Certainly I was more curious to know the reason of this monotonous crying than afraid. I turned back away from the park and struck into Park Place Road, intending to skirt the park, went along under the shelter of the terraces, and got a view of this stationary, moaning zombie monstrosity from the direction of St. Woods Rd. A couple of hundred yards out of Barker Street I heard a yelping chorus, and saw, first a dog with a piece of putrescent red meat in his jaws coming headlong towards me, and then a pack of starving mongrels in pursuit of him. He made a wide curve to avoid me, as though he feared I might prove a fresh competitor. As the yelping died away down the silent road, the wailing sound of “Argg, argg, Argg, argg,” reasserted itself.

I came upon the wrecked handling-machine halfway to St. Woods station. At first I thought a house had fallen across the road. It was only as I clambered among the ruins that I saw, with a start, this mechanical Samson lying, with its arms and tentacle bent and smashed and twisted, among the ruins it had made. The brain dome was shattered. It seemed as if it had driven blindly straight at the house, and had been overwhelmed in its overthrow. It seemed to me then that this might have happened by a handling-machine escaping from the guidance of its remote puppet masters. I could not clamber among the ruins to see it, and the twilight was now so far advanced that the blood with which its vessel was smeared, and the gnawed gristle of the zombie brain that the plague dogs had left, were invisible to me.

Wondering still more at all that I had seen, I pushed on towards Rosewater Hill. Far away, through a gap in the trees, I saw a second zombie leader, as motionless as the first, standing in the park towards the Zoological Gardens, and silent. A little beyond the ruins about the smashed handling-machine I came upon the red weed again, and found the canal, a spongy mass of dark-red vegetation.

As I crossed the bridge, the hooting sound of “Argg, argg, Argg, argg,” ceased. It was, as it were, cut off. The silence came like a thunderclap.

The dusky houses about me stood faint and tall and dim; the trees towards the park were growing black. All about me the red Kudzu clambered among the ruins, writhing to get above me in the dimness. Night, the mother of fear and mystery, was coming upon me. But while that voice sounded the solitude, the desolation, had been endurable; by virtue of it LA had still seemed alive with something, and the sense of life about me had upheld me. Then suddenly a change, the passing of that something–I knew not what–and then a stillness that could be felt. Nothing but this gaunt quiet.

LA about me gazed at me spectrally. The windows in the white houses were like the eye sockets of skull island. About me my imagination found a thousand noiseless enemies moving. Terror seized me, a horror of my temerity. In front of me the road became pitch black as though it was tarred, and I saw a contorted shape lying across the pathway. I could not bring myself to go on. I turned down St. Woods Road, and ran headlong from this unendurable stillness towards Bug Tussle. I hid from the night and the silence, until long after midnight, in a taxi cabmen’s garage in Wells Road. But before the dawn my courage returned, and while the stars were still in the sky I turned once more towards Woods’ Park. I missed my way among the streets, and presently saw down a long avenue, in the half-light of the early dawn, the curve of Rosewater Hill. On the summit, towering up to the fading stars, was a third zombie leader, erect and motionless like the others.

An insane resolve possessed me. I would die and end it. And I would save myself even the trouble of killing myself. I marched on recklessly towards this Titan, and then, as I drew nearer and the light grew, I saw that a multitude of black birds was circling and clustering about the helmet. At that my heart gave a bound, and I began running along the road.

I hurried through the red Kudzu that choked St. Ford Terrace (I waded breast-high across a torrent of water that was rushing down from the waterworks towards the Finny Road), and emerged upon the grass before the rising of the sun. Great mounds had been heaped about the crest of the hill, making a huge redoubt of it–it was the final and largest place the zombies had made–and from behind these heaps there rose a thin smoke against the sky. Against the sky line an eager dog ran and disappeared. The thought that had flashed into my mind grew real, grew credible. I felt no fear, only a wild, trembling exultation, as I ran up the hill towards the motionless monster. Out of the helmet hung lank shreds of brown, at which the hungry birds pecked and tore.

In another moment I had scrambled up the earthen rampart and stood upon its crest, and the interior of the redoubt was below me. A mighty space it was, with gigantic machines here and there within it, huge mounds of material and strange shelter places. And scattered about it, some in their overturned war-machines, some in the now rigid handling-machines, and thousands of them stark and silent and laid in rows, were the zombies– dead !–slain by the putrefaction in their guts and we now know the disease Avion (Bird) Flu Virus against which their systems were unprepared; slain as the red weed was being slain; slain, after all man’s devices had failed, by some of the nastist things that God, in his wisdom, has put upon this earth.

For so it had come about, as indeed I and many men might have foreseen had not terror and disaster blinded our minds. These virus germs of disease have taken toll of humanity since the beginning of things–taken toll of our prehuman ancestors since life began here. But by virtue of this natural selection of our kind we have developed resisting power; to none of the 320,000 virus in the human animal kingdom do we succumb without a struggle, and to many–those that cause problems in creatures, for instance–our living frames are altogether immune except to the Smart Virus that mutate to renew attack. But there was no Avion Flu in N.K. because it had not crossed the animal human barrier except for isolated outbreaks in China, nor was there in the U.S. except for outbreak samples from China’s C.D.C. to our C.D.C. mutated and directly injected into captured N.K. agents frog marched bound and gagged by our also infected volunteers who gave themselves to these invaders directly. As they bit and fed on our volunteers, our microscopic allies began to work their overthrow. Already when I watched them feed they were irrevocably doomed, dying and rotting faster then projected even as they went to and fro. It was inevitable. By the toll of a billion slimy deaths man has marked paid his birthright of the earth, and it is his against all comers; it would still be his were the zombies ten times as mighty as they are. For neither do men live nor die in vain, they live and die in LA.

Here and there they were scattered, nearly fifty thousand counting citizen converted zombies altogether, in that great gulf they had made, overtaken by a death that must have seemed to them as incomprehensible as any death could be. To me also at that time this death was incomprehensible. All I knew was that these things that had been living dead and so terrible to men were totally dead.

For a moment I believed that the destruction of Zhadum had been repeated, that God had repented, that the Angel of Death had slain them in the night.

I stood staring into the pit, and my heart lightened gloriously, even as the rising sun struck the world to fire about me with his rays. The pit was still in darkness; the mighty engines, so great and wonderful in their power and complexity, so unearthly in their tortuous forms, rose weird and vague and strange out of the shadows towards the light. A multitude of plague dogs, I could hear, fought over the bodies that lay darkly in the depth of the pit, far below me. Across the pit on its farther lip, flat and vast and strange, lay the great air traveling machine with which they had been experimenting upon when decay and death arrested them. Death had come not a day too soon. At the sound of a cawing overhead I looked over at the huge zombie fighting leader that would fight no more for ever, at the tattered red shreds of flesh that dripped down upon the overturned armor on the summit of Woods Hill.

I turned and looked down the slope of the hill to where, enhaloed now in birds, stood those other two zombies that I had seen overnight, just as death had overtaken them. The one had died, even as it had been moaning to its companions; perhaps it was the last to die, and its voice had gone on perpetually until the force of its machinery was exhausted. They glittered now, harmless rotting towers of camoflaged body armor, in the brightness of the rising sun.

All about the pit, and saved as by a miracle from everlasting destruction, stretched the great Mother of Cities. Those who have only seen LA veiled in her somber robes of smog can scarcely imagine the naked clearness and beauty of the silent wilderness of houses.

Eastward, over the blackened ruins of the Arnold Terrace and the splintered spire of the church, the sun blazed dazzling in a clear sky, and here and there some facet in the great wilderness of roofs caught the light and glared with a white intensity.

Northward were Bug Tussle and Hammerhead, blue and crowded with houses; westward the great city was dimmed; and southward, beyond the zombies, the green waves of Woods Park, the Hotel Earl, the dome of the Rock Hall, the Rosicrucian Institute, and the giant mansions of Blimpy Road came out clear and little in the sunrise, the jagged ruins of City Hall rising hazily beyond. Far away and blue were the Curry hills, and the towers of the Crystal Palace glittered like two silver rods. The dome of St. Elfman’s was dark against the sunrise, and injured, I saw for the first time, by a huge gaping cavity on its western side.

And as I looked at this wide expanse of houses, stores and factories and churches, silent and abandoned; as I thought of the multitudinous hopes and efforts, the innumerable hosts of lives that had gone to build this human hive, and of the swift and ruthless destruction that had hung over it all; when I realized that the shadow had been rolled back, and that men might still live in the streets, and this dear vast dead city of mine be once more alive and powerful, I felt a wave of emotion that was near akin to tears.

The torment was over. Even that day the healing would begin. The survivors of the people scattered over the country–leaderless, lawless, foodless, like sheepeople without a shepherd–the thousands who had fled by land, sea and air, would begin to return; the pulse of life, growing stronger and stronger, would beat again in the empty streets and pour across the vacant Hollywood Squares.

Whatever destruction was done, the hand of the destroyer was stayed. All the gaunt wrecks, the blackened skeletons of houses that stared so dismally at the sunlit grass of the hill, would presently be echoing with the hammers of the restorers and ringing with the tapping of their trowels. At the thought I extended my hands towards the sky and began thanking God. In a year, thought I–in a year. . .

With overwhelming force came the thought of myself, of my wife, and the old life of hope and tender helpfulness that had ceased for ever.

CHAPTER NINE

WRECKAGE

And now comes the strangest thing in my story. Yet, perhaps, it is not altogether strange. I remember, clearly and coldly and vividly, all that I did that day until the time that I stood weeping and praising God upon the summit of Primrose Hill. And then I forget and missed it all..

Of the next three days I know nothing. I have learned since that, so far from my being the first discoverer of the zombie overthrow, several such wanderers as myself had already discovered this on the previous night. One man–the first–had gone to St. Micro Soft, and, while I sheltered in the cabmen’s garage, had contrived to email to Paris. Thence the joyful news had flashed all over the world; a thousand cities, chilled by ghastly apprehensions, suddenly flashed into frantic illuminations; they knew of it in Dublin, Edinburgh, London, Birmingham, Beijing, Berlin, Moscow all at the time when I stood upon the verge of the pit. Already men, weeping with joy, as I have heard, shouting and staying their work to shake hands and shout, were making up trains, even as near as San Romero, to descend upon LA. The church bells that had ceased a fortnight since suddenly caught the news, until all California was bell-ringing. Men on cycles, lean-faced, unkempt, scorched along every country lane shouting of unhoped deliverance, shouting to gaunt, staring figures of despair. And for the food! Across the Pacific, across the Irish Sea, across the Atlantic, corn, bread, ramen noodles, and frozen pizzas were rushed to our relief. All the shipping in the world seemed going LA-ward in those days. But of all this I have no memory. I drifted–a demented man. I found myself in a house of kindly people, who had found me on the third day wandering, weeping, and raving through the streets of St. Woods. They have told me since that I was singing some insane doggerel I wrote down in san city about “The Last Man On Earth Left Alive! Hurrah! The Last Man On Earth Left Alive!” Troubled as they were with their own affairs, these people, whose name, much as I would like to express my gratitude to them, I may not even give out here, nevertheless cumbered themselves with me, sheltered me, and protected me from myself. Apparently they had learned something of my story from me during the days of my lapse.

Very gently, when my mind was assured again, did they break to me what they had learned of the fate of Loggerhead. Two days after I was imprisoned it had been destroyed, with every soul in it, by a zombie swarm. He had swept it out of existence, as it seemed, without any provocation, as a boy might crush an ant hill, in the mere wantonness of power.

I was a lonely man, and they were very kind to me. I was a lonely man and a sad one, and they bore with me. I remained with them four days after my recovery. All that time I felt a vague, a growing
craving to look once more on whatever remained of the little life that seemed so happy and bright in my past. It was a mere hopeless desire to feast upon my misery. They dissuaded me. They did all they could to divert me from this morbidity. But at last I could resist the impulse no longer, and, promising faithfully to return to them, and parting, as I will confess, from these four-day friends with tears, I went out again into the streets that had lately been so dark and strange and empty.

Already they were busy with returning people; in places even there were shops open, and I saw a drinking fountain with running water.

I remember how mockingly bright the day seemed as I went back on my melancholy pilgrimage to the little house at Woking, how busy the streets and vivid the moving life about me. So many people were abroad everywhere, busied in a thousand activities, that it seemed incredible that any great proportion of the population could have been slain. But then I noticed how yellow were the skins of the people I met, how shaggy the hair of the men, how large and bright their eyes, and that every other man still wore his dirty rags. Their faces seemed all with one of two expressions–a leaping exultation and energy or a grim resolution. Save for the expression of the faces, LA seemed a city of tramps. The vestries were indiscriminately distributing bread sent us by the French government. The ribs of the few dogs and cats showed dismally. Haggard special police with white badges stood at the corners of every street. I saw little of the mischief wrought by the zombies until I reached Beef Wellington Street, and there I saw the red weed clambering over the buttresses of Quatloo Bridge.

At the corner of the bridge, too, I saw one of the common contrasts of that grotesque time–a sheet of paper flaunting against a thicket of the red weed, transfixed by a stick that kept it in place. It was the placard of the first newspaper to resume publication, the Sporting-Times.

I bought a copy for a blackened quarter I found in my pocket. Most of it was in blank, but the solitary compositor who did the thing had amused himself by making a grotesque scheme of advertisement stereos on the back page. The matter he printed was emotional; the news organization had not as yet found its way back. I learned nothing fresh except that already in one week the examination of the zombie mechanisms had yielded astonishing results. Among other things, the article assured me what I did not believe at the time, that the “Secret of Remote Flying Machines,” was discovered. At Quatloo I found the free trains that were taking people to their homes. The first rush was already over. There were few people in the train, and I was in no mood for casual conversation. I got a seat to myself, and sat with folded arms, looking gravely at the sunlit devastation that flowed past the windows. And just outside the terminus the train jolted over temporary rails, and on either side of the railway the houses were blackened ruins. To Hooterville Junction the face of LA was grimy with powder of the Black Smoke, in spite of two days of thunderstorms and rain, and at Crabwell Corners Junction the line had been wrecked again; there were hundreds of out-of-work clerks and shopmen working side by side with the customary laborers, and we were jolted over a hasty rail relaying.

All down the line from there the aspect of the country was gaunt and unfamiliar; Wimbleton particularly had suffered. Walton, by virtue of its unburned pine woods, seemed the least hurt of any place along the line. Every little stream, was a heaped mass of red Kudzu, in appearance between butcher’s meat and pickled cabbage. The Curry pine woods were too dry, however, for the festoons of the red climber. Beyond Wimbleton, within sight of the line, in certain nursery grounds, were the heaped masses of earth about the sixth cylinder. A number of people were standing about it, and some Rangers were busy in the midst of it. Over it flaunted an American Flag, flapping cheerfully in the morning breeze. The nursery grounds were everywhere crimson with the weed, a wide expanse of livid color cut with purple shadows, and very painful to the eye. One’s gaze went with infinite relief from the scorched greasy and sullen reds of theforeground to the blue-green softness of the eastward hills.

The line on the LA side of Woking station was still undergoing repair, so I descended at Fleet station and took the road to Maybury, past the place where I and the artilleryman had talked to the guardsmen, and on by the spot where the zombie had appeared to me in the thunderstorm. Here, moved by curiosity, I turned aside to find, among a tangle of red fronds, the warped and broken van. For a time I stood regarding these vestiges. . . .

Then I returned through the pine wood, neck-high with red Kudzu here and there, to find the landlord of the Spotted Dog Tavern whose van I had taken loan of, had already found burial, and so came home past the college. A man standing at an open townhouse door greeted me by name as I passed.

I looked at my house with a quick flash of hope that faded immediately. The door had been forced; it was unfast and was opening slowly as I approached.

It slammed again. The curtains of my study fluttered out of the open window from which I and the artilleryman had watched the dawn. No one had closed it since. The smashed bushes were just as I had left them nearly four weeks ago. I stumbled into the hall, and the house felt empty. The stair carpet was ruffled and discolored where I had crouched, soaked to the skin from the thunderstorm the night of the catastrophe. Our muddy footsteps I saw still went up the stairs.

I followed them to my study, and found lying on my writing-table still, with the selenite paper weight upon it, the sheet of work I had left on the afternoon of the opening of the cylinder. For a space I stood reading over my abandoned arguments. It was a paper on the probable development of Moral Ideas with the development of the civilizing process; and the last sentence was the opening of a prophecy: “In about one hundred years,” I had written, “no one will care about—-” The sentence ended abruptly. I remembered my in ability to fix my mind that morning, scarcely 28 days later, gone by and how I had broken off to get my Daily Chronicle from the newsboy. I remembered how I went down to the garden gate as he came along, and how I had listened to his odd story of “Rocket Men from Korea.”

I came down and went into the dining room. There was the the loaf of bread, open jars of peanut butter and jelly, both far gone now in decay, and a beer bottle overturned, just as I and the artilleryman had left them. My home was desolate. I perceived the folly of the faint hope I had cherished so long. And then a strange thing occurred. “It is no use,” said a voice. “The house is deserted. No one has been here these ten days. Do not stay here to torment yourself. No one escaped but you.”

I was startled. Had I spoken my thought aloud? I turned, and the French window was open behind me. I made a step to it, and stood looking out.

And there, amazed and afraid, even as I stood amazed and afraid, were her cousin and my wife–my wife white and tearless. She gave a faint cry.

“I came,” she said. “I knew–knew—-”

She put her hand to her throat–swayed. I made a step forward, and caught her in my arms.

CHAPTER TEN

THE EPILOGUE: 28 WEEKS LATER

I cannot but regret, now that I am concluding my story, how little I am able to contribute to the discussion of the many debatable questions which are still unsettled. In one respect I shall certainly provoke criticism. My particular province is speculative philosophy. My knowledge of comparative physiology is confined to a book or two, but it seems to me that Carver’s suggestions as to the reason of the rapid death of the zombies is so probable as to be regarded almost as a proven conclusion. I have assumed that in the body of my narrative. I refer all further questions to the Zombie Research Society.

At any rate, in all the bodies of the zombies that were examined after the war, no bacteria or virus except those already known as terrestrial species were found. That they did not bury any of their dead, and the reckless slaughter they perpetrated, point also to an entire ignorance of living with the putrefactive process. But probable as this seems, it is by no means a proven conclusion.

Neither is the complete composition of the Black Gas known, which the zombies leaders used with such deadly effect, and the source of the shells remains a puzzle. The terrible zombie outbreak disasters at the Eating and South Kingston laboratories have disinclined analysts for further investigations. Spectrum analysis of the black powder points unmistakably to the presence of a graphite molecule, and it is possible that is why all electrical appliance operation and generation ceased instantly when the gas was applied against our mechanized forces, engines stalled, turrets froze, only the antiquated hand cranked guns and turrets continued to function. The black powder combines with argon to form a compound which acts at once with deadly effect upon some constituent in the blood like our conventional nerve gasses. But such unproven speculations will scarcely be of interest to the general reader, to whom this story is addressed. None of the brown scum that drifted down the rivers after the destruction of Shepherds Folly was examined at the time, and now none is forthcoming.

The results of an anatomical examination of the zombies, so far as the prowling dogs had left such an examination possible, I have already given. But everyone is familiar with the magnificent and almost complete specimens in spirits at the Natural History Museum, and the countless drawings that have been made from it; and beyond that the interest of their physiology and structure is purely scientific.

A question of graver and universal interest is the possibility of another attack from the zombies and now zombie dogs and crows. I do not think that nearly enough attention is being given to this aspect of the matter. At present N.K. is in total darkness, but with every return to day I, for one, anticipate a renewal of their adventure. In any case, we should be prepared. It seems to me that it should be possible to define the position of the gun from which the shots are discharged, to keep a sustained watch upon this part of the planet, and to anticipate the start of the next attack in order to drop a nuke on it, with the U.N. Security Council’s permission so far voted “NO” on by China, Russia and Iran.

In that case the cylinder might be destroyed with thermite, C4 or artillery before it was sufficiently cool for the zombies to emerge, or they might be torn apart by sufficient guns so soon as the screw opened. It seems to me that they have lost a vast advantage in the failure of their first surprise. Possibly they see it in the same light.

Lessing has advanced excellent reasons for supposing that the zombies have actually succeeded in effecting a shot at the planet Venus. Seven months ago now, Venus and Earth were in alignment with the sun; that is to say, Earth was in opposition from the point of view of an observer on Venus. Subsequently a peculiar luminous and sinuous marking appeared on the unillumined half of the inner planet, and almost simultaneously a faint dark mark of a similar sinuous character was detected upon a photograph of the zombie disk. One needs to see the drawings of these appearances in order to appreciate fully their remarkable resemblance in character.

While zombies should make excellent space travelers needing little atmosphere perhaps without oxygen, no food or water, can be frozen solid and restored by warmer tempetatures, they are sexless beings so their worth on Venus to N.K. is unknown.

At any rate, whether we expect another invasion or not, our views of the human future must be greatly modified by these events. We have learned now that we cannot regard this country as being fenced in and a secure abiding place for Man; we can never anticipate the unseen good or evil that may come upon us suddenly out of nowhere. It may be that in the larger design of the universe this invasion from N.K. is not without its ultimate benefit for men; (if you kick over an ant hill you get a bigger better ant hill) it has robbed us of that serene confidence in the future which is the most fruitful source of decadence, the gifts to human science it has brought are enormous, and it has done much to promote the conception of the commonweal of mankind. It may be that across the immensity of space the zombies have watched the fate of these pioneers of theirs and learned their lesson, and that on the planet Venus they have found a securer settlement. Be that as it may, for many years yet there will
certainly be no relaxation of the eager scrutiny of the zombie cannon, and those fiery darts of the sky, the shooting stars, will bring with them as they fall an unavoidable apprehension to all the sons of men.

For those who ask, “What of Disneyland it remained untouched, theory is the great leader wanted to visit it. Though operated by zombie cast members it might not have been all that he might have hoped for, though certainly Spooktacular.

What about North Korea, “What happened to North Korea?” it also remains untouched. S.K. Agents inform us the country is deserted. Theory has it the people were at death’s door due to starvation and depleted soil that could no longer grow nourishing food let alone feed the people. It was decided to turn the living death into the living dead enmasse. What a surprise as each zombie that awoke turned and bit a non-zombie.

The huge leader zombies were second string sports figures few would miss from basketball and football enticed with false promises of great wealth and admiration, then diverted to N.K. where they received a surgical brain control implant, allowed to heal and zombified.

The zombie regulars or irregulars as the case may be were selected among those most likely to survive being chipped and shot out of a giant rail gun cannon while packed into a cylinder like cord wood around the zombie fighting leader as cushioning.

The now mostly zombie population of N.K. were driven into the Pacific Ocean by the remaining N.K. Armed Forces. It is estimated it will take years for any of them to complete, if ever, the crossing to the West Coasts of the Americas. Even so Coast Watchers now stand watch waiting just in case.

S.K. Agents dispatched to N.K. find only abandon buildings and an occasional wandering zombie. No one knows where the army went, where the great leader went . . .

Asked to comment on the invasion, a highly placed government spokes mouth (speaking under the cloak of anonymity) said, “At this point, what difference does it make?” When asked to elaborate on their statement, went on to say, “California has been invaded many times. They wander about, plant a flag, declare victory, get bored and go home or stay and file for benefits. Within two years I expect your zombies will be delivering pizzas in thirty minutes or less.”

The broadening of men’s views that has resulted can scarcely be exaggerated. Before the first projectile fell there was a general persuasion that through all the deep of space no viable planets existed beyond the petty ecosystem of our minute sphere. Now we see further. If the zombies can reach Venus, there is no reason to suppose that the thing is impossible for men, and when the slow cooling of the sun makes this earth uninhabitable, as at last it must do, it may be that the thread of life that has begun here will have streamed out and caught our sister planet within its toils.

Dim and wonderful is the vision I have conjured up in my mind of life spreading slowly from this little seed bed of the solar system throughout the inanimate vastness of sidereal space. But that is a remote dream. It may be, on the other hand, that the destruction of the zombies is only a reprieve. To them, and not to us, perhaps, is the future ordained.

I must confess the stress and danger of the time have left an abiding sense of doubt and insecurity in my mind. I sit in my study writing by lamplight sparing the generator and fuel until electricity is restored, and suddenly I see again the healing valley below set with writhing flames, and feel the house behind and about me empty and desolate. I go out onto the Fleet Road, and vehicles pass me, a butcher boy in a van, a cabful of visitors, a workman in a pickup, children going to school, and suddenly they become vague and unreal, and I hurry again with the artilleryman through the hot, brooding silence. Of a night I see the black powder darkening the silent streets, and the contorted bodies shrouded in that layer; they rise upon me tattered and dog-bitten. They gibber and grow fiercer, paler, uglier, mad distortions of humanity at last, and I wake, cold and wretched, in the darkness of the night. I dream of zombies!

I go to LA and see the busy multitudes in Fleet Street and the Stand, and it comes across my mind that they are but the ghosts of the past, haunting the streets that I have seen silent and wretched, going to and fro, phantasms in a dead city, the mockery of life in a galvanized body. And strange, too, it is to stand on the hill at 1313 Mockingbird Lane, as I did but a day before writing this last chapter, to see the great city of sky scrapers, dim and blue through the haze of the smog and mist, vanishing at last into the vague lower sky, to see the people walking to and fro among the flower beds on the hill, to see the sight-seers about the zombie machine that stands there still, to hear the tumult of playing children, and to recall the time when I saw it all bright and clear-cut, hard and silent, under the dawn of dead that last great day. . . .

And strangest of all is it to hold my wife’s hand again, and to think that I have counted her, and that she has counted me, among the walking dead.

End: © 2013 H.G. Wells and Robert Perkis all rights reserved ZombiesPlague.com


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