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 an-
other, the one or two ladies there being by no means the
"He's fallen in the pit!" cried some one.
"Keep back!" said several.
The crowd swayed a little, and I elbowed my way through.
Every one seemed greatly excited. I heard a peculiar hum-
ming 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 blun-
dered 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 essen-
tials a man. I know I did. But, looking, I presently saw some-
thing 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
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 exclama-
tions 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 petri-
fied 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
Two large dark-coloured eyes were regarding me stead-
fastly. 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 tedi-
ous movements unspeakably nasty. Even at this first en-
counter, this first glimpse, I was overcome with disgust and
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
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, stand-
ing 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 van-
ished, 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 Wo- king would have been amazed at the sight--a dwindling mul- titude 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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