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H. G. Wells
The War of the Worlds 04
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CHAPTER IV
THE CYLINDER OPENS


When I returned to the common the sun was setting. Scattered groups
were hurrying from the direction of Woking, 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-screwin' and
a-screwin' out. I don't like it. I'm a-goin' 'ome, I am."

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.
Everyone seemed greatly excited. I heard a peculiar humming
sound from the pit.

"I say!" said Ogilvy; "help keep these idiots back. We don't know
what's in the confounded thing, you know!"

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

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
a little unlike us terrestrial men, but in all essentials a man. I know
I did. But, looking, I presently saw something stirring within the
shadow: greyish billowy movements, one above another, and then two
luminous disks-- like eyes. Then something resembling a little grey
snake, about the thickness of a walking stick, coiled up out of the
writhing middle, and wriggled in the air towards me-- and then
another.

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

Two large dark-coloured eyes were regarding me steadfastly. The
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 tentacular
appendage gripped the edge of the cylinder, another swayed
in the air.

Those who have never seen a living Martian can scarcely imagine the
strange horror of its appearance. The peculiar V-shaped mouth with
its pointed upper lip, the absence of brow ridges, the absence of a
chin beneath the wedgelike lower lip, the incessant quivering of this
mouth, the Gorgon groups of tentacles, the tumultuous breathing of the
lungs in a strange atmosphere, the evident heaviness and painfulness
of movement due to the greater gravitational energy of the earth--
above all, the extraordinary intensity of the immense eyes-- were at
once vital, intense, inhuman, crippled and monstrous. There was
something fungoid in the oily brown 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
mass of leather. I heard it give a peculiar thick cry, 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 shopman 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 Chobham or 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 barrow of ginger beer stood, a queer derelict, black
against the burning sky, and in the sand pits was a row of deserted
vehicles with their horses feeding out of nosebags or pawing the
ground.


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