In some parts of the world one might go into the first house in sight and pick up a convenient firearm.
Hampstead was not like that; it was a highly respectable suburb, unfortunately. There might possibly be a
sporting gun to be found somewhere, but I would have to hunt for it. The only thing I could think of was
to keep him in sight and hope that some opportunity would offer a chance to deal with him. I broke a
branch off a tree, scrambled back over the wall, and began to tap my way along the curb, looking, I
hoped, indistinguishable from the hundreds of blind men one bad seen wandering the streets in the same
The road ran straight for some distance. The redheaded young man was perhaps fifty yards ahead of
me, and my party another fifty ahead of him. We continued like that for something over half a mile. To my
relief, none of the front party showed any tendency to turn into the road which led to our base. I was
beginning to wonder how long it would be before they decided that they bad gone far enough, when an
unexpected diversion occurred. One man who had been lagging behind the rest finally stopped. He
dropped his stick and doubled up with his arms over his belly. Then be sagged to the ground and lay
there, rolling with pain. The others did not stop for him. They must have heard his moans, but probably
they had no idea he was one of themselves.
The young man looked toward him and hesitated. He altered his course and bore across toward the
contorted figure. He stopped a few feet away from him and stood gazing down. For perhaps a quarter of
a minute he regarded him carefully. Then slowly, but quite deliberately, he pulled his pistol out of his
pocket and shot him through the bead.
The party ahead stopped at the sound of the shot. So did L The young man made no attempt to catch
up with them-in fact, he seemed suddenly to lose interest in them altogether. He turned round and came
walking back down the middle of the road. I remembered to play my part, and began to tap my way
forward again. He paid me no attention as he passed, but I was able to see his face: it was worried, and
there was a grim set to his jaw. I kept going as I was until he was a decent distance behind me, then I
hurried on to the rest. Brought up short by the Sound of the shot, they were arguing whether to go on
farther or not.
I broke that up by telling them that now I was no longer encumbered with my two I.Q. -minus
watchdogs we would be ordering things differently. I was going to get a truck, and I would be back in
ten minutes or so to run them back to the billet in it.
The finding of another organized party at work produced a new anxiety, but we found the place intact
when we got back. The only news they had for me there was that two more men and a woman had been
taken with severe belly pains and removed to the other house.
We made what preparations we could for defense against any marauders arriving while I was away.
Then I picked a new party and we set off in the truck, this time in a different direction.
I recalled that in former days when I had come up to Hampstead Heath it had often been by way of a
bus terminus where a number of small shops and stores clustered. With the aid of the street plan I found
the place again easily enough-not only found it, but discovered it to be marvelously intact. Save for three
or four broken windows, the area looked simply as if it had been closed up for a weekend.
But there were differences. For one thing, no such silence had ever before hung over the locality,
weekday or Sunday. And there were several bodies lying in the street. By this time one was becoming
accustomed enough to that to pay them little attention. I had, in fact, wondered that there were not more
to be seen, and had come to the conclusion that most people sought some kind of shelter, either out of
fear or later when they became weak. It was one of the reasons that one felt a disinclination to enter any
I stopped the truck in front of a provision store and listened for a few seconds. The silence came down
on us like a blanket. There was no sound of tapping sticks, not a wanderer in sight. Nothing moved.
"Okay," I said. "Pile out, chaps."
The locked door of the shop gave way easily. Inside there was a neat, unspoiled array of tubs of butter,
cheeses, sides of bacon, cases of sugar, and all the rest of it. I got the party busy on it. They had
developed tricks of working by now, and were more sure of their handling. I was able to leave them to
get on with it for a bit while I examined the back storeroom and then the cellar.
It was while I was below, investigating the nature of the cases down there, that I heard a sound of shouts
somewhere outside. Close upon it came a thunder of trampling boots on the floor above me. One man
came down through the trap door and pitched on his head. He did not move or make another sound. I
jumped to it that there must be a battle with a rival gang in progress up there. I stepped across the fallen
man and climbed the ladderlike stair cautiously, holding up one arm to protect my head.
The first view was of numerous scuffling boots, unpleasantly close and backing toward the trap. I nipped
up quickly and got clear before they were on me. I was up just in time to see the plate-glass window in
the front give way. Three men from outside fell in with it. A long green lash whipped after them, striking
one as he lay. The other two scrambled among the wreckage of the display and came stumbling farther
into the shop. The pressed back against the rest, and two more men fell through the open trap door.
It did not need more than a glimpse of that lash to tell what had happened. During the work of the past
few days I had all but forgotten the triffids. By standing on a box I could see over the heads of the men.
There were three triffids in my field of view: one out in the road, and two closer, on the sidewalk. Four
men lay on the ground out there, not moving. I understood right then why these shops had been
untouched, and why there had been no one to be seen in the neighborhood of the Heath. At the same
time I cursed myself for not having looked at the bodies in the road more closely. One glimpse of a sting
mark would have been enough warning.
"Hold it!" I shouted. "Stand where you are."
I jumped down from the box, pushed back the men who were standing on the folded-back lid of the
trap, and got it closed.
"There's a door hack here," I told them. "Take it easy now."
The first two took it easy. Then a triffid sent its sting whistling into the room through the broken window.
One man gave a scream as he fell. The rest came on in panic and swept me before them. There was a
jam in the doorway. Behind us stings swished twice again before we were clear.
In the back room I looked round, panting. There were seven of us there.
"Hold it," I said again. "We're all right in here."
I went to the door again. The back part of the shop was out of the triffids' range-so long as they stayed
outside. I was able to reach the trap door in safety and raise it. The two men who had fallen down there
since I left re-emerged. One nursed a broken arm; the other was merely bruised, and cursing.
Behind the back room lay a small yard, and across that a door in an eight-foot brick wall. I had grown
cautious. Instead of going straight to the door, I climbed on the roof of an outhouse to prospect. The
door, I could see, gave into a narrow alley running the full length of the block. It was empty. But beyond
the wall, on the far side of it, which seemed to terminate the gardens of a row of private houses, I could
make out the tops of two triffids motionless among the bushes. There might well be more. The wall on
that side was lower, and their height would enable them to strike right across the alley with their stings. I
explained to the others.
"Bloody unnatural brutes," said one. "I always did hate them bastards."
I investigated further. The building next but one to the north side turned out to be a car-hire service with
three of its cars on the premises. It was an awkward job getting the party over the two intervening walls,
particularly the man with the broken arm, but we managed it. Somehow, too, I got them all packed into a
large Daimler. When we were all set I opened the outer doors of the place and ran back to the car.
The triffids weren't slow to be interested. That uncanny sensitiveness to sounds told them something was
happening. As we drove out, a couple of them were already lurching toward the entrance. Their stings
whipped out at us and slapped harmlessly against the closed windows. I swung bard round, bumping one
and toppling it over. Then we were away up the road, making for a healthier neighborhood.
The evening that followed was the worst I had spent since the calamity occurred. Freed of the two
watchdogs, I took over a small room where I could be alone. I put six lighted candles in a row on the
mantleshelf and sat a long while in an armchair, trying to think things out. We had come back to find that
one of the men who had been taken sick the night before was dead; the other was obviously dying-and
there were four new cases. By the time our evening meal was over, there were two more still. What the
complaint was I had no idea. With the lack of services and the way things were going in general, it might
have been a number of things. I thought of typhoid, but I'd a hazy idea that the incubation period ruled
that out-not that it would have made much difference if I bad known. All I did know about it was that it
was something nasty enough to make that red-haired young man use his pistol and change his mind about
following my party.
It began to look to me as if I had been doing my group a questionable service from the first. I had
succeeded in keeping them alive, placed between a rival gang on one side and triffids encrouching from
the Heath on the other. Now there was this sickness, too. And, when all was said and done, I bad
achieved only the postponement of starvation for a little while.
As things were now, I did not see my way.
And then there was Josella on my mind. The same sorts of things, maybe worse, were as likely to be
happening in her district.......
I found myself thinking of Michael Beadley and his lot again. I had known then that they were logical;
now I began to think that maybe they had a truer humanity, too. They had seen that it was hopeless to try
to save any but a very few. To give an empty hope to the rest was little better than cruelty.
Besides, there were ourselves. If there were purpose in anything at all, what had we been preserved for?
Not simply to waste ourselves on a forlorn task, surely?
I decided that tomorrow I would go in search of Josella and we would settle it together.
The latch of the door moved with a click. The door itself opened slowly.
"Who's that?" I said.
"Oh, it is you," said a girl's voice.
She came in, closing the door behind her.
"What do you want?" I asked.
She was tall and slim. Under twenty, I guessed. Her hair waved slightly. Chestnut-colored, it was. She
was quiet, but one had to notice her-it was the texture of her as well as the line. She had placed my
position by my movement and voice. Her gold-brown eyes were looking just over my left shoulder,
otherwise I'd have been sure she was studying me.
She did not answer at once. It was an uncertainty which did not seem to suit the rest of her. I went on
waiting for her to speak. A lump got into my throat somehow. You see, she was young and she was
bcautiful. There should have been all life, maybe a wonderful life, before her. And isn't there something a
little sad about youth and beauty in any circumstances?
"You're going away from here?" she said. It was half question, half statement, in a quiet voice, a little
"I've never said that," I countered.
"No," she admitted, "but that's what the others are saying and they're right, aren't they?"
I did not say anything to that. She went on:
"You can't. You can't leave them like this. They need you."
"I'm doing no good here," I told her. "All the hopes are false."
"But suppose they turned out not to be false?'
"They can't-not now. We'd have known by this time."
"But if they did after all-and you had simply walked out?"
"Do you think I haven't thought of that? I'm not doing any good, I tell you. I've been like the drugs they
inject to keep the patient going a little longer-no curative value, just putting it off."
She did not reply for some seconds. Then she said unsteadily:
"Life is very precious-even like this." Her control almost cracked.
I could not say anything. She recovered herself.
"You can keep us going. There's always a chance-just a chance that something may happen, even now."
I had already said what I thought about that. I did not repeat it.
"it's so difficult," she said, as though to herself. "If I could only see you ... But then, of course, if I could .
. , Are you young? You sound young."
"I'm under thirty," I told her. "And very ordinary."
"I'm eighteen. It was my birthday-the day the comet came."
I could not think of anything to say to that that would not seem cruel. The pause drew out. I saw that she
was clenching her hands together. Then she dropped them to her sides, the knuckles quite white. She
made as if to speak, but did not.
"What is it?" I asked. "What can I do except prolong this a little?"
She bit her lip, then:
"They-they said perhaps you were lonely," she said. "I thought perhaps if"-her voice faltered, and her
knuckles went a little whiter still-"perhaps if you had somebody
I mean, somebody here.. . you-you might not want to leave us. Perhaps you'd stay with us?"
"Oh God," I said softly.
I looked at her, standing quite straight, her lips trembling slightly. There should have been suitors
clamoring for her lightest smile. She should have been happy and uncaring for a while-then happy in
caring. Life should have been enchanting to her, and love very sweet....
"You'd be kind to me, wouldn't you?" she said. "You see, I haven't
"Stop it! Stop it!" I told her. 'You mustn't say these things to me. Please go away now."
But she did not go. She stood staring at me from eyes that could not see me.
"Go away!" I repeated.
I could not stand the reproach of her. She was not simply herself-she was thousands upon thousands of
young lives destroyed....
She came closer.
"Why, I believe you're crying!" she said.
"Go away. For God's sake, go away!" I told her.
She hesitated, then she turned and felt her way back to the door. As she went out:
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"You can tell them I'll be staying," I said.
The first thing I was aware of the next morning was the smell. There had been whiffs of it here and there
before, but luckily the weather had been cool. Now I found that I had slept late into what was already a
warmer day. I'm not going into details about that smell; those who knew it will never forget it; for the rest
it is indescribable. It rose from every city and town for weeks, and traveled on every wind that blew.
When I woke to it that morning it convinced me beyond doubt that the end had come. Death is just the
shocking end of animation; it is dissolution that is final.
I lay for some minutes thinking. The only thing to do now would be to load my party into trucks and take
them in relays into the country. And all the supplies we had collected? They would have to be loaded and
taken too-and I the only one able to drive. . . . It would take days-if we had days.
Upon that, I wondered what was happening in the building now. The place was oddly quiet. When I
listened I could hear a voice groaning in another room, beyond that nothing. I got out of bed an hurried
into my clothes with a feeling of alarm. Out on the landing, I listened again. There was no sound of feet
about the house. I had a sudden nasty feeling as if history were repeating itself and I were back in the
"Hey! Anybody here?" I called.
Several voices answered. I opened a nearby door. There was a man in there. He looked very bad, and
he was delirious. There was nothing I could do. I closed the door again.
My footsteps sounded loud on the wooden stain. On the next floor a woman's voice called: "Bill-Bill!"
She was in bed in a small room there, the girl who had come to see me the night before. She turned her
bead as I came in. I saw that she had it too.
"Don't come near," she said. "It is you, Bill?
"I thought it must be. You can still walk; they have to creep. I'm glad, Bill. I told them you'd not go like
that-but they said you had. Now they've all gone, all of them that could."
"I was asleep," I said. "What happened?'
"More and more of us like this. They were frightened."
I said helplessly, "What can I do for you? Is there anything I can get you?"
Her face contorted; she clutched her arms round her and writhed. The spasm passed, and left her with
sweat trickling down her forehead.
"Please, Bill. I'm not very brave. Could you get me something to-to finish it?"
"Yes," I said. "I can do that for you."
I was back from the drugstore in ten minutes. I gave her a glass of water and put the stuff into her other
She held it there for a little, without speaking. Then:
"So futile to have lived at all-and it might all have been so different," she said. "Good-by, Bill-and thank
you for trying to help us."
I looked down at her as she lay. I felt very angry with the stupidity of death. A thousand would have
said: "Take me with you"; but she had said: "Stay with us."
And I never even knew her name.
It was the memory of the redheaded young man who had fired on us that conditioned my choice of a
route to Westminster.
Since I was sixteen my interest in weapons has decreased, but in an environment reverting to savagery it
seemed that one must be prepared to behave more or less as a savage, or possibly cease to behave at
all, before long. In St. James's Street there used to be several shops which would sell you any form of
lethalness, from a rook rifle to an elephant gun, with the greatest urbanity.
I left there with a mixed feeling of support and banditry. Once more I had a useful hunting knife. There
was a pistol with the precise workmanship of a scientific instrument in my pocket. On the seat beside me
rested a loaded twelve-bore and boxes of cartridges. I had chosen a shotgun in preference to a rifle-the
bang is no less convincing, and it also decapitates a triffid with a neatness which a bullet seldom achieves.
And there were triffids to be seen right in London now. They still appeared to avoid the streets when they
could, but I had noticed several lumbering across Hyde Park, and there were others in the Green Park.
Very likely they were ornamental, safely docked specimens-on the other hand, maybe they weren't.
And so I came to Westminster.
The deadness, the finish of it all, was italicized there. The usual scatter of abandoned vehicles lay about
the streets. Very few people were about-I saw only three who were moving. Two were tapping their
way down the gutters of Whitehall, the third was in Parliament Square. He was sitting close to Lincoln's
statue and clutching to him his dearest possession- a side of bacon from which he was hacking a ragged
slice with a blunt knife.
Above it all rose the Houses of Parliament, with the hands of the clock stopped at three minutes past six.
It was difficult to believe that all that meant nothing any more, that it was now just a pretentious
confection in uncertain stone which would decay in peace. Let it shower its crumbling pinnacles onto the
terrace as it would-there would be no more indignant members complaining of the risk to their valuable
lives. Into those halls which had in their day set world echoes to good intentions and sad expediencies the
roofs could, in due course, fall; there would be none to stop them, and none to care. Alongside, the
Thames flowed imperturbably on. So it would flow until the day the Embankments crumble and the water
spread out and Westminster became once more an island in a marsh.
Some eight hours spent searching the district left me clue-less, arid despondent. The only logical place I
could think of to go was back to the University Building. I reckoned Josella would think the same-and
there was a hope that some others of our dispersed party might have drifted back there in an effort to
reunite. It was not a very strong hope, for common sense would have caused them to leave there days
Two flags still hung above the tower, limp in the warm air of the early evening. Of the two dozen or so
trucks that had been accumulated in the forecourt, four still stood there, apparently untouched. I parked
the car beside them and went into the building. My footsteps clattered in the silence.
"Hub! Hullo, there!" I called. "Is there anyone here?"
My voice echoed away down corridors and up wells, diminishing to the parody of a whisper and then to
silence. I went to the doors of the other wing and called again. Once more the echoes died away
unbroken, settling softly as dust. Only then, as I turned back, did I notice that an inscription had been
chalked on the wall inside the outer door. In large letters it gave simply an address:
That was something, at least.
I looked at it, and thought. In another hour or less it would be dusk. Devizes I guessed at a hundred
miles distant, probably more. I went outside again and examined the trucks. One of them was the last that
I had driven in-the one in which I had stowed my despised anti-triffid gear. I recalled that the rest of its
load was a useful assortment of food, supplies, and tools. It would be much better to arrive with that than
empty-handed in a car. Nevertheless, if there were no urgent reason for it, I did not fancy driving
anything, much less a large, heavily loaded truck, by night along roads which might reasonably be
expected to produce a number of hazards. If I were to pile it up, and the odds were that I should, I
would lose a lot more time in finding another and transferring the load than I would by spending the night
here. An early start in the morning offered much better prospects. I moved my boxes of cartridges from
the car to the cab of the truck in readiness. The gun I kept with me.
I found the room from which I had rushed to the fake fire alarm exactly as I had left it: my clothes on a
chair, even the cigarette case and lighter where I had placed them beside my improvised bed.
It was still too early to think of sleep. I lit a cigarette, put the case in my pocket, and decided to go out.
Before I went into the Russell Square garden I looked it over carefully. I had already begun to become
suspicious of open spaces. Sure enough, I spotted one triffid. It was in the northwest corner, standing
perfectly still, but considerably taller than the bushes that surrounded it. I went closer, and blew the top of
it to bits with a single shot. The noise in the silent square could scarcely have been more alarming if I had
let off a howitzer. When I was sure that there were no others lurking I went into the garden and sat down
with my back against a tree.
I stayed there perhaps twenty minutes. The sun was low, end half the square thrown into shadow. Soon
I would have to go in. While there was light I could sustain myself; in the dark, things could steal quietly
upon me. Already I was on my way back to the primitive. Before long, perhaps, I should be spending the
hours of darkness in fear as my remote ancestors must have done, watching, ever distrustfully, the night
outside their cave. I delayed to take one more look around the square, as if it were a page of history I
would learn before it was turned. And as I stood there I heard the gritting of footsteps on the road-a
slight sound but as loud in the silence as a grinding millstone.
I turned, with my gun ready. Crusoe was no more startled at the sight of a footprint than I at the sound
of a footfall, for it had not the hesitancy of a blind man's. I caught a glimpse in the dim light of the moving
figure. As it left the road and entered the garden II saw that it was a man. Evidently he had seen me
before I heard him, for he was coming straight toward me.
"You don't need to shoot," he said, holding empty hands wide apart.
I did not know him until he came within a few yards. Simultaneously, he recognized me.
"Oh, it's you, is it?" he said. I kept the gun raised.
"Hullo, Coker. What are you after? Wanting me to go on another of your little parties?" I asked him.
"No. You can put that thing down. Makes too much noise, anyway. That's how I found you. No," he
repeated, "I've had enough. I'm getting to hell out of here."
"So am I," I said, and lowered the gun.
"What happened to your bunch?" he asked. I told him. He nodded.
"Same with mine. Same with the rest, I expect. Still, we tried
"The wrong way," I said. He nodded again.
"Yes," he admitted. "I reckon your lot did have the right idea from the start-only it didn't look right and it
didn't sound right a week ago."
"Six days ago," I corrected him.
"A week," said he.
"No, I'm sure- Oh well, what the hell's it matter, anyway?" I said. "In the circumstances," I went on,
"what do you say to declaring an amnesty and starting over again?"
"I'd got it wrong," he repeated. "I thought I was the one who was taking it seriously-but I wasn't taking it
seriously enough. I couldn't believe that it would last, or that some kind of help wouldn't show up. But
now look at it! And it must be like this everywhere. Europe, Asia, America-think of America smitten like
this! But they must be. If they weren't, they'd have been over here, helping out and getting the place
straight that's the way it'd take them. No, I reckon your lot understood it better from the start."
We ruminated for some moments, then I asked:
"This disease, plague-what do you reckon it is?"
"Search me, chum. I thought it must be typhoid, but someone said typhoid takes longer to develop-so I
don't know. I don't know why I've not caught it myself-except that I've been able to keep away from
those that have and to see that what I was eating was clean. I've been keeping to cans I've opened
myself, and I've drunk bottle beer. Anyway, though I've been lucky so far, I don't fancy hanging around
here much longer. Where do you go now?"
I told him of the address chalked on the wall. He bad not seen it. He had been on his way to the
University Building when the sound of my shot had caused him to scout round with some caution.
"It-" I began, and then stopped abruptly. From one of the streets west of us came the sound of a car
starting up. It ran up its gears quickly and then diminished into the distance.
"Well, at least there's somebody else left," said Coker. "And whoever wrote up that address. Have you
any idea who it was?"
I shrugged my shoulders. It was a justifiable assumption that it was a returned member of the group that
Coker had raided-or possibly some sighted person that his party had failed to catch. There was no telling
how long it had been there. He thought it over.
"It'll be better if there's two of us. I'll tag along with you and see what's doing. Okay?"
"Okay," I agreed. "I'm for turning in flaw, and an early start tomorrow."
He was still asleep when I awoke. I dressed myself much more comfortably in the ski suit and heavy
shoes than in the garments I had been wearing since his party had provided them for me. By the time I
returned with a bag of assorted cans, he was up and dressed too. Over breakfast we decided to improve
our welcome at Tynsham by taking a loaded truck each rather than travel together in one.
"And see that the cab window closes," I suggested. 'There are quite a lot of triffid nurseries around
London, particularly to the west."
"Uh-huh. I've seen a few of the ugly brutes about," he said offhandedly.
"I've seen them about-and in action," I told him.
At the first garage we came to we broke open a pump and filled up. Then, sounding in the silent streets
like a convoy of tanks, we set off westward with my truck in the lead.
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