Author: A. C. Airone
I closed the book. I periodically re-read Mr. H. G. Wells’s marvelous twenty-five-year-old fictional account of the war waged by Martian invaders on my beloved London and its environs. This time I particularly relished reading aloud the eloquent phrases describing how the least creatures on Earth had conquered the invaders where the best military technology had failed:
“…slain, after all man’s devices had failed, by the humblest things that God, in his wisdom, has put upon this earth….there are no bacteria on Mars, and directly these invaders arrived, directly they drank and fed, our microscopic allies began to work their overthrow….By the toll of a billion deaths man has bought his birthright of the earth, and it is his against all comers; it would still be his were the Martians ten times as mighty as they are. For neither do men live nor die in vain.”
It was a lucid fall day outside and I decided to take a walk. I wanted to breathe the crisp air, enjoy the smell of fallen leaves, see the colors of those leaves that still clung to tree-branches. I had all but entirely shed a nasty cold, of whose insults merely an occasional sniffle or sneeze remained.
My perambulation had taken me as far as Bailey Street, the commercial area three streets over when I began to hear the sound of –
– Air raid sirens?
That is what they most assuredly were, producing a growing cacophony, each one out of step with its fellow purveyors of alarm. I saw people clustering together, many with hands clapped over ears. A few pointed skyward, where dozens, perhaps hundreds, of unfamiliar and impossibly agile flying machines were descending all about. Far above them, yet more dozens emerged from an enormous, flattened sphere: they darkened the upper skies like Biblical insects.
Panic ensued. Shrieking, sobbing, cursing, the people fled.
I felt paralyzed.
One of the flying machines landed close by with a roar, ending with the noise a motor vehicle might make if dropped from a rooftop. All around, I began to hear explosions, and the sirens were silenced one by one.
A door to the craft opened – its operator emerged. Tall, taller than most humans, it walked straight toward me. It was bipedal, upright, and its face had two almost human eyes, but beyond those particulars all similarity failed. Its skin was bluish, its head hairless, its mouth a vertical beak.
It carried a device I could not fathom but which it brandished as a weapon.
It shrieked at me – of course I could not understand it.
I could only hope it would see me as no threat. I confess unashamedly that I was not feeling very brave at the moment.
I felt a sneeze coming on.
Instinctively I reached to my pocket to retrieve a handkerchief. The creature marched two steps closer – very close – and increased the volume and intensity of its incomprehensible demands. With one hand it pointed at my pocket. Clearly, I was not to draw anything from it, not even a handkerchief.
“I am only trying to protect the health of you and – and of others,” I explained, and immediately thought, what a foolish thing to say! The creature repeated its raucous commands. It was now only about two feet away from me, leaning over, its face close to mine.
The sneeze was imminent.
And then I thought. “Fine, old chap. Don’t say I didn’t give you fair warning.”
And I sneezed all over it.