This week’s flash fiction challenge from Chuck Wendig is about Right vs. Wrong.
I decided to kill two birds with one heat ray and made it a brief glimpse in the War of the Worlds-verse that I have been playing around with in a short story and a novel.
In this world, the Martian attack in H.G. Wells’ landmark novel happened as he described it. But they didn’t just attack England, and as you might expect, the attacks change the course of history just a wee bit, so things are different when the Martians return to attack again.
More on these stories later. Here’s the flash story:
People acted like the invasion came out of nowhere, but that was only because they weren’t paying attention. The newspapers had stories about scientists spotting things flying from Mars weeks before they landed and started walking around on three legs.
Folks are just stupid.
Cletus knew it was coming. That’s why he was getting ready for them even before they starting falling from the sky two weeks ago. That’s why he and the boys are out here, fixing to catch themselves one of these three-legged bastards.
It’s right down the road, crossing where it did the previous two nights.
“O.K. Darrell, light it up.”
Darrell lit the big pile of kindling, and flames shot up a good ten feet. Cletus watched the alien walker stop and turn, and then start striding in their direction. He motioned for the rest of the men to take their places in the woods on each side of the road.
He waited. It kept coming. He stepped in front of the fire and waved his arms, knowing it wouldn’t fry him like it did those soldiers in Wheeling. It was hungry and wanted him alive.
“C’mon you ugly bastard! C’mon! C’mon you son of a bitch!” He kept waving his arms and then picked up his ax and started shaking it.
The tripod sped up, covering fifteen feet with each stride.
And it stepped right into the pit they dug.
He had guessed the height almost perfectly. The legs were completely inside the hole, right up to the bottom of its steam boiler body. The wiggly metal arms splayed out on the ground, exactly where he wanted them. Cletus leapt forward and brought the ax down on the one with that deadly weapon. The papers called it a “ray gun,” whatever that means.
There was an opening right at the bottom of the device, where there was a hinge that allowed it to swivel and point. Cletus brought the ax down once, twice, three times. The gun went off, firing to his left and taking out a tree. Someone screamed. Dammit! He told them to stay away from this side!
The gun fell away. He went to work on another tentacle. It came off even easier. He checked on the men on the other side. The tripod’s arms were cut off over there too.
They did it. They caught the bastard.
The tripod starting hooting like a giant owl. “Alooo! Alooo!” Short blasts that hammered at his ears. Darrell ran up to something that looked like a horn and smashed it with his sledge. It stopped.
“Was it calling for help?” Darrell said. He mouth hung open, and he stepped toward the woods.
“There won’t be any help. This is only one we seen. We have enough time. Bring the cart over.”
Two of the men led the mule over and positioned the cart in front of the boiler-shaped body of the Martian craft. Cletus climbed up and faced the metal cylinder.
There were two windows on the front of the cylinder that made up the body of the tripod. They were round, like the portholes on the ship his cousins had arrived in from Ireland. Cletus swung the ax back, ready to smash through one of them when he saw a latch that seemed to attach the dome-shaped cover to the cylinder. He lowered his weapon, flicked the lever, and lifted the cover. Nothing could have prepared him for what he saw inside.
The creature inside was gray. It looked like a sack of wet clothes that was left in the summer heat too long, bulbous and bulky and covered with some kind of mould. It was almost as big as a black bear, but with the dark, expressionless eyes of a dumb farm animal, like a cow. It had long arms, like the ones they cut off the tripod, on either side of its body. They laid on what looked like controls for the craft. For a moment Cletus couldn’t find a mouth until he saw little feelers next to a profane slit that had no lips or teeth.
“We got you now, you bastard.”
The creature gurgled. Even though gray seemed to be its natural color, something was off. It didn’t look right, even though Cletus wasn’t sure what “right” would have looked like.
“You’re gonna tell me where the rest of your people are, and how we’re going to get ’em.” Cletus looked for a place to grab the creature, but couldn’t find a spot he wanted to touch.
“Anybody down there got any gloves?”
“What do you see? Is there a Martian in there? Bring ‘im down!” Darrell yelled.
“Yeah, but I don’t wanna touch it. It looks diseased.”
“Diseased?” Darrell climbed onto the cart and looked. “Eugh.”
The creature gurgled again.
“What’s wrong with it?”
“Where are your people?” Cletus yelled this time. He hit the creature with the ax. It gurgled again.
“Tell me! I know you can talk!”
“You do?” Darrell asked.
“You think they can build something like this without talking?”
“Well, probably not, but that doesn’t mean they talk like us.”
“Shut up, Darrell.”
Cletus pulled his handkerchief out of his pocket and grabbed one of the creature’s arms with it. He laid it across the edge of the cylinder and raised his ax over it.
“I’m gonna take your arm. You better talk.”
Darrell giggled. Cletus lowered the ax and looked again. One of the eyes seemed to be trying to focus on him.
“Last chance.” He raised the ax.
It gurgled, and the arm started to move, and the stopped.
Cletus raised the ax higher. “I mean it.”
Nothing. Darrell was looking at Cletus.
Cletus cut the arm off at the edge of the cylinder. The creature let out a moan, and a small amount of gray blood trickled from the stump.
It’s head, or the part of it that looked like a head, rose, and both dull black eyes met Cletus’. The creature sighed, the eyes closed, and the head dropped, face down, into the cylinder.
“It’s dead. Is it dead?” Darrell said.
Cletus poked it with the edge of his ax. There was no response. His cheeks felt warm, and his stomach felt like he had swallowed a stone.
“What are we going to do now?” Darrell asked.
“Shut up, Darrell.” Cletus jumped off the trailer and looked away.