house. She had got up early to do the milking, as usual. The sky outside her bedroom window was gray,
but when she went downstairs she found everything there in complete darkness. She realized that should
not be so and turned on the light. The moment she saw leathery green leaves pressed against the
windows she guessed what had happened.
I crossed the bedroom on tiptoe and pulled the window shut sharply. Even as it closed, a sting whipped
up from below and smacked against the glass. We looked down on a thicket of triffids standing ten or
twelve deep against the wall of the house. The flame throwers were in one of the outhouses. I took no
risks when I went to fetch them. In thick clothing and gloves, with a leather helmet and goggles beneath
the mesh mask, I hacked a way through the throng of triffids with the largest carving knife I could find.
The stings whipped and slapped at the wire mesh so frequently that they wet it, and the poison began to
come through in a fine spray. It misted the goggles, and the first thing I did in the outhouse was to wash it
off my face. I dared not use more than a brief, low-aimed jet from one of the throwers to clear my way
back, for fear of setting the door and window frames alight, but it moved and agitated them enough for
me to get back unmolested.
Josella and Susan stood by with fire extinguishers while I, still looking like a cross between a deep-sea
diver and a man from Mars, leaned from the upper windows on each side of the house in turn and played
the thrower over the besieging mob of the brutes. It did not take very long to incinerate a number of them
and get the rest on the move. Susan, now dressed for the job, took the second thrower and started on
the, to her, highly congenial task of hunting them down while I set off across the field to find the source of
the trouble. That was not difficult. From the first rise I was able to see the spot where triffids were still
lurching into our enclosure in a stream of tossing stems and waving leaves. They fanned out a little on the
nearer side, but all of them were bound in the direction of the house. It was simple to head them off. A jet
in front stopped them; one to either side started them back on the way they had come. An occasional
spurt over them, and dripping down among them, hurried them up and turned back later comers. Twenty
yards or so of the fence was lying flat, with the posts snapped off. I rigged it up temporarily there and
then and played the thrower back and forth, giving the things enough of a scorching to prevent more
trouble for a few hours at least.
Josella, Susan, and I spent most of the day repairing the breach. Two more days passed before Susan
and I could be sure that we had searched every corner of the enclosure and accounted for the very last
of the intruders. We followed that up with an inspection of the whole length of the fence and a
reinforcement of all doubtful sections. Four months later they broke in again.
This time a number of broken triffids lay in the gap. Our impression was that they had been crushed in
the pressure that had been built up against the fence before it gave way, and that, falling with it, they had
been trampled by the rest.
It was clear that we should have to take new defensive measures. No part of our fence was any stronger
than that which had given way. Electrification seemed the most likely means of keeping them at a
distance. To power it, I found an army generator mounted on a trailer and towed it home. Susan and I
set to work on the wiring. Before we had completed it the brutes were through again in another place.
I believe that system would have been completely effective if we could have kept it in action all the
time-or even most of the time. But against that there was the fuel consumption. Gas was one of the most
valuable of our stores. Food of some kind we could always hope to grow, but when gasoline and Diesel
oil were no longer available, much more than our mere convenience would be gone with them. There
would be no more expeditions, and consequently no more replenishment-s of supplies. The primitive life
would start in earnest So, from motives of conservation, the barrier wire was charged for only a few
minutes two or three times a day. It caused the triffids to recoil a few yards, and thereby stopped them
building up pressure against the fence. As an additional guard we ran an alarm wire on the inner fence to
enable us to deal with any breaks before they became serious.
The weakness lay in the triffids' apparent ability to learn, in at least a limited way, from experience. We
found, for in-stance, that they grew accustomed to our practice of charging the wire for a while night and
morning. We began to notice that they were usually clear of the wire at our customary time for starting
the engine, and they started to close in again soon after it had stopped. Whether they actually associated
the charged condition of the wire with the sound of the engine was impossible to say then, but later we
had little doubt that they did.
It was easy enough to make our running times erratic, but Susan, for whom they were continually a
source of inimical study, soon began to maintain that the period for which the shock kept them clear was
growing steadily shorter. Nevertheless, the electrified wire and occasional attacks upon them in the
sections where they were densest kept us free of incursions for over a year, and of those that occurred
later we had warning enough to stop them being more than a minor nuisance.
Within the safety of our compound we continued to learn about agriculture, and life settled gradually into
On a day in the summer which began our sixth year Josella and I went down to the coast together,
traveling there in the half-tracked vehicle that I customarily used now that the roads were growing so
bad. It was a holiday for her. Months had passed since she had been outside the fence. The cares of the
place and the babies had kept her far too tied to make more than a few necessary trips, but now we had
reached the stage where Susan could safely be left in charge sometimes, and we had a feeling of release
as we climbed up and ran over the tops of the hills. On the lower southern slopes we stopped the car for
a while, and sat there.
It was a perfect June day, with only a few light clouds flecking a pure blue sky. The sun shone down on
the beaches and the sea beyond just as brightly as it had in the days when those same beaches had been
crowded with bathers and the sea dotted with little boats. We looked on it in silence for some minutes.
"Don't you still feel sometimes that if you were to close your eyes for a bit you might open them again to
find it all as it was, Bill?.. . I do."
"Not often now," I told her. "But I've had to see so much more of it than you have. All the same,
"And look at the gulls-just as they used to be!"
"There are many more birds this year," I agreed. "I'm glad of that."
Viewed impressionistically from a distance, the little town was still the same jumble of small red-roofed
houses and bungalows populated mostly by a comfortably retired middle class-but it was an impression
that could not last more than a few minutes. Though the tiles still showed, the walls were barely visible.
The tidy gardens had vanished under an unchecked growth of green, patched in color here and there by
the descendants of carefully cultivated flowers. Even the roads looked like strips of green carpet from this
distance. When we reached them we should find that the effect of soft verdure was illusory; they would
be matted with coarse, tough weeds.
"Only so few years ago," Josella said reflectively, "people were wailing about the way those bungalows
were destroying the countryside. Now look at them!"
"The countryside is having its revenge, all right," I said. "Nature seemed about finished then-'Who would
have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him?'"
"It rather frightens me. It's as if everything were breaking out. Rejoicing that we're finished, and that it's
free to go its own way. I wonder? Have we been just fooling ourselves since it happened? Do you think
we really are finished with, Bill?"
I'd had plenty more time when I was out on my foragings to wonder about that than she had.
"If you weren't you, darling, I might make an answer out of the right heroic mold-the kind of wishful
thinking that so often passes for faith and resolution."
"But I am me?"
"I'll give you the honest answer-not quite. And while there's life, there's hope."
We looked on the scene before us for some seconds in silence.
"I think," I amplified, "only think, mind you, that we have a narrow chance-so narrow that it is going to
take a long, long time to get back. If it weren't for the triffids, I'd say there was a very good chance
indeed-though still taking a longish time. But the triffids are a real factor. They are something that no rising
civilization has had to fight before. Are they going to take the world from us, or are we going to be able
to stop them?
'The real problem is to find some simple way of dealing with them. We aren't so badly off-we can hold
them away. But our grandchildren-what are they going to do about them? Are they going to have to
spend all their lives in human reservations kept free of triffids only by unending toil?
"I'm quite sure there is a simple way. The trouble is that simple ways so often come out of such
complicated research. And we haven't the resources."
"Surely we have all the resources there ever were, just for the taking," Josella put in.
"Material, yes. But mental, no. What we need is a team, a team of experts really out to deal with the
triffids for good and all. Something could be done, I'm sure. Something along the lines of a selective killer,
perhaps. If we could produce the right hormones to create a state of imbalance in triffids but not m other
things . . It must be possible-if you have enough brain power turned onto the job."
"If you think that, why don't you try?" she asked.
"Too many reasons. First, I'm not up to it-a very mediocre biochemist, and there's only one of me.
There'd have to be a lab, and equipment. More than that, there'd have to be time, and there are too many
things which I have to do as it is. But even if I had the ability, then there would have to be the means of
producing synthetic hormones in huge quantities. it would be a job for a regular factory. But before that
there must be the research team."
"People could be trained."
"Yes-when enough of them can be spared from the mere business of keeping alive. I've collected a mass
of biochemical books in the hope that perhaps sometime there will be people who can make use of
them-I shall teach David all I can, and
he must hand it on. Unless there is leisure for work on it sometime, I can see nothing ahead but the
Josella frowned down on a group of four triffids ambling across a field below us.
"If I were a child now," she said reflectively, "I think I should want a reason for what happened. Unless I
was given it-that is, if I were allowed to think that I had been horn into a world which had been quite
pointlessly destroyed-I should find living quite pointless too. That does make it awfully difficult, because it
seems to be just what has happened.
She paused, pondering, then she added:
"Do you think we could-do you think we should be justified in starting a myth to help them? A story of a
world that was wonderfully clever, but so wicked that it had to be destroyed-.-or destroyed itself by
accident? Something like the Rood, again? That wouldn't crush them with inferiority-it could give the
incentive to build, and this time to build something better."
"Yes I said, considering it. "Yes. It's often a good idea to tell children the truth. Kind of makes things
easier for them later ori-only why pretend it's a myth?"
Josella demurred at that.
"How do you mean? The triffids were-well, they were somebody's fault, or mistake, I admit. But the
"I don't think we can blame anyone too much for the triffids. The extracts they give were very valuable in
the circumstances. Nobody can ever see what a major discovery is going to lead to-whether it is a new
kind of engine or a triffid- and we coped with them all right in normal conditions. We benefited quite a lot
from them, as long as the conditions were to their disadvantage."
"Well, it wasn't our fault the conditions changed. It was- just one of those things. Like earthquakes or
hurricanes-what an insurance company would call an act of God. Maybe that's just what it was-a
judgment. Certainly we never brought that comet."
"Didn't we, Josella? Are you quite sure of that?"
She turned to look at me.
"Are you trying to tell me that you don't think it was a Comet at all?"
"Just exactly that," I agreed.
"But-I don't understand. It must- What else could it have been?"
I opened a vacuum-packed can of cigarettes and lit one for each of us.
"You remember what Michael Beadley said about the tightrope we'd all been walking on for years?"
"Well, I think that what happened was that we came off it
-and that a few of us just managed to survive the crash."
I drew on my cigarette, looking out at the sea and at the infinite blue sky above it.
"Up there," I Went on, "up there, there were-and maybe there still are-unknown numbers of satellite
weapons circling round and round the Earth. Just a lot of dormant menaces, touring around, waiting for
someone, or something, to set them off. What was in them? You don't know; I don't know. Top-secret
stuff. All we've heard is guesses-fissile materials, radioactive dusts, bacteria, viruses ... Now suppose that
one type happened to have been constructed especially to emit radiations that our eyes would not
stand-something that would burn out or at least damage the optic nerve."
Josella gripped my hand.
"Oh no, Bill No, they couldn't.. That'd be-diabolical.
. . .Oh, I Can't believe- Oh no, Bill!"
"My sweet, all the things up there were diabolical. Do you doubt that if it could be done, someone would
Then suppose there were a mistake, or perhaps an accident- maybe such an accident as actually
encountering a shower of comet debris, if you like-which starts some of these thin8s popping.
"Somebody begins talking about comets. It might not be politic to deny that-and there turned out to be
so little time, anyway.
"Well, naturally these things would have been intended to operate close to the ground, where the effect
would be spread over a definitely calculable area. But they start going off out there in space, or maybe
when they hit the atmosphere-either way, they're operating so far up that people all round the world can
receive direct radiations from them....
"Just what did happen is anyone's guess now. But one thing I'm quite certain of-that somehow or other
we brought this lot down on ourselves. And there was that plague, too:
it wasn't typhoid, you know....
"I find that it's just the wrong side of coincidence for me to believe that our of all the thousands of years
in which a destructive comet could arrive, it happens to do so just a few years after we have succeeded
in establishing satellite weapons-don't you? No, I think that we kept on that tightrope quite a while,
considering the things that might have happened-but sooner or later the foot had to slip."
"Well, when you put it that way-" murmured Josella. She broke off and was lost in silence for quite a
while. Then she said:
"I suppose, in a way, that should be more horrible than the idea of nature striking blindly at us. And yet I
don't think it is. It makes me feel less hopeless about things because it makes them at least
comprehensible. If it was like that, then it is at least a thing that can be prevented from happening
again-just one more of the mistakes our very great grandchildren are going to have to avoid. And, oh
dear, there were so many, many mistakes! But we can warn them."
"H'm-well," I said. "Anyway, once they've beaten the triffids, and pulled themselves out of this mess,
they'll have plenty of scope for making brand-new mistakes of their very own."
"Poor little things," she said, as if she were gazing down increasingly great rows of grandchildren, "it's not
much that we're offering them, is it?"
We sat there a little longer, looking at the empty sea, and then drove down to the town.
After a search which produced most of the things on our wants list, we went down to picnic on the shore
in the sunshine-with a good stretch of shingle behind us over which no triffid could approach unheard.
"We must do more of this while we can," Josella said. "Now that Susan's growing up I needn't be nearly
"If anybody ever earned the right to let up a bit, you have," I agreed.
I said it with a feeling that I would like us to go together and say a last farewell to places and things we
had known, while it was still possible. Every year now the prospect of imprisonment would grow closer.
Already, to go northward from Shirning, it was necessary to make a detour of many miles to by-pass the
country that had reverted to marshland. All the roads were rapidly growing worse with the erosion by
rain and streams, and the roots that broke up the surfaces. The time in which one would still be able to
get an oil tanker back to the house was already becoming measurable. One day one of them would fail to
make its way along the lane, and very likely block it for good. A half-track would continue to run over
ground that was dry enough, but as time went on it would be increasingly difficult to find a route open
enough even for that.
"And we must have one real last fling," I said. "You shall dress up again, and we'll go to-"
"Sh-sh!" interrupted Josella, holding up one finger and turning her ear to the wind.
I held my breath and strained my ears. There was a feeling, rather than a sound, of throbbing in the air. It
was faint, but gradually swelling.
"It is-it's a plane!" Josella said.
We looked to the west, shading our eyes with our hands. The humming was still little more than the
buzzing of an insect. The sound increased so slowly that it could come from nothing but a helicopter; any
other kind of craft would have passed over us or out of hearing in the time it was taking.
Josella saw it first. A dot a little out from the coast, and apparently coming our way, parallel with the
shore. We stood up and started to wave. As the dot grew larger, we waved more wildly, and, not very
sensibly, shouted at the tops of our voices. The pilot could not have failed to see us there on the open
beach had he come on, but that was what he did not do. A few miles short of us he turned abruptly north
to pass inland. We went on waving madly, hoping that he might yet catch sight of us. But there was no
indecision in the machine's course, no variation of the engine note. Deliberately and imperturbably it
droned away toward the hills.
We towed our arms and looked at one another.
"If it can come once, it can come again," said Josella sturdily, but not very convincingly.
But the sight of the machine had changed our day for us. It destroyed quite a lot of the resignation we
had carefully built up. We had been saying to ourselves that there must be other groups but they wouldn't
be in any better position tan we were, more likely in a worse. But when a helicopter could come sailing in
like a sight and sound from the past, it raised more than memories: it suggested that someone somewhere
was managing to make out better than we were. . . . Was there a tinge of jealousy there?... And it also
made us aware that, lucky as we had been, we were still gregarious creatures by nature.
The restless feeling that the machine left behind destroyed our mood and the lines along which our
thoughts had been running. In unspoken agreement, we began to pack up our be-longings, and, each
occupied with our thoughts, we made our way back to the half-track and started for home.
We had covered perhaps half the distance back to Shirning when Josella noticed the smoke. At -first
sight it might have been a cloud, but as we neared the top of the hilt we could see the gray column
beneath the more diffused upper layer. She pointed to it, and looked at me without a word. The only fires
we had seen in years had been a few spontaneous outbreaks in later summer. We both knew at once that
the plume ahead was rising from the neighborhood of Shirning. I forced the half-track along at a greater
speed than it had ever done on the deteriorated roads. We were thrown about inside it, and yet still
seemed to be crawling. Josella sat silent all the time, her lips pressed together and her eyes fixed on the
smoke. I knew that she was searching for some indication that the source was nearer or farther away;
anywhere but at Shirning itself. But the closer we came, the less room there was for doubt. We tore up
the final lane quite oblivious of the stings whipping at the vehicle as it passed. Then, at the turn, we were
able to see that it was not the house itself but the woodpile that was ablaze.
At the sound of the horn Susan came running out to pull on the rope which opened the gate from a safe
distance. She shouted something which was drowned in the rattle of our driving in. Her free hand was
pointing, not to the fire, but toward the front of the house. As we ran farther into the yard we could see
the reason. Skillfully landed in the middle of out lawn stood the helicopter.
By the time we were out of the half-track a man in a leather jacket and breeches had come cut of the
house. He was tall, fair, and sunburned. At first glance II had a feeling I had seen him somewhere before.
He waved, and grinned cheerfully as we hurried across.
"Mr. Bill Masen, I presume. My name is Simpson-Ivan Simpson."
"I remember," said Josella. "You brought in a helicopter that night at the University Building."
"That's right. Clever of you to remember. But just to show you're not the only one with a memory: you
are Josella Playton, author of-"
"You're quite wrong," she interrupted him firmly. "I'm Josella Masen, author of David Masen."
"Ah, yes. I've been looking at the original edition, and a very creditable bit of craftsmanship, too, if I may
"Hold on a bit," I said. "That fire-"
"it's safe enough. Blowing away from the house. Though I'm afraid most of your stock of wood has gone
"That was Susan. She didn't mean me to miss the place. When she heard my engine she grabbed a flame
thrower and bounded out to start a signal as quickly as she could. The woodpile was handiest-no one
could have missed what she did to that."
We went inside and joined the others.
"By the way," Simpson said to me, "Michael said I was to be sure to start off with his apologies."
"To me?" I said, wondering.
"You were the only one who saw any danger in the triffids, and he didn't believe you."
"But-do you mean to say you knew I was here?"
"We found out very roughly your probable location a few days ago-from a fellow we all have cause to
remember: one Coker."
"So Coker came through too," I said. "After the shambles I saw at Tynsham, I'd an idea the plague might
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