by Allen McGill
Vince couldn't believe what he'd just heard. Without taking his eyes from the new Emerson radio standing across the room, he stood and called out: "Honey, come in here, quick!"
Viola came to the door from the kitchen, a wisp of dark hair dangling from her pompadour. She stood, wiping her hands on a dishtowel, a not-too-pleased look on her face. "What is it?" she asked, sounding tired.
"This guy on the radio," he answered. "Somebody named Wells is saying that Martians have landed in Jersey, and they're destroying everything in sight! In Jersey! Right across the Hudson from here!"
"How many beers have you had?" Viola asked. "I thought I hid all but two of 'em."
"Listen, I'm tellin' ya! I was listening to the weather report, when they changed it to music. Then somebody broke in, yelling that a meteor had landed in Jersey killing fifteen hundred people. But the meteor turned out to be a metal cylinder, a Martian space ship, and that Martians were killing everybody with death rays!" He pointed to the Emerson.
Viola, turning pale, flipped the dishtowel onto a shoulder and listened. It was true. Poison gas was spreading quickly outward along the ground in all directions, the radio said, meaning that it would cross the river and be in Manhattan in no time. The sound of explosions and screaming panic came through the speakers, depicting the horror more clearly than if it were visible.
"Vince," she called. "Get some facecloths and soak them. We can put them over our face to stop the gas."
"Right," he answered, reaching for the phone. "Just as soon as I can get through to the police. I tried a few times, but the line's busy--what's all that noise?"
He stretched the phone line to its limit to look out the window. People filled the street, yelling, some with cloths over their mouths and noses. "Where are we supposed to go?" he heard. "Where can we hide? Can't anybody help us?"
"The line's still busy," he said. Hanging up the phone, he rushed to the bathroom to wet cloths for both of them. He remembered the reports of poisoned gas in the trenches during the war in Europe, and shuddered.
As he returned to the living room, the sound of banging on the door to the apartment began, growing louder. He tossed the cloths to Viola and rushed to answer.
"Oh, thank God you're here," Charlie, their next-door neighbor and friend gasped, his eyes wide and bloodshot. "We gotta get out of here, but we don't got no money. The banks have been closed for hours. Can you lend us some? Or, buy something from us? Anything? Clothes, furniture, radio, anything? We won't need any of that stuff. We're sure as hell not coming back here!"
"Charlie, we haven't got any money either. Why would we?" Charlie's near panic began to erode Vince's determined calm. "And if the Martians are coming, why would we want your stuff anyway?"
A semblance of logic seemed to penetrate Charlie's consciousness. Face drawn, he turned without another word and left.
"What should we do?" Viola asked, her tiredness forgotten, replaced by controlled fear. "People seem to be heading for Central Park. Why, I don't know, but at least it's someplace away from here." Her voice quivered toward the end of her speech, a tear paused for release in the corner of an eye.
"Central Park's a wide open space," Vince said. "I think we'd be better off on the roof. If they come, they'll have to reach us, which won't be easy if we're ten-stories up."
Viola's tear slid down her cheek "I'm scared," she whispered. "I didn't know I could be so scared."
"It's ok, honey," Vince said, taking her into his arms, trying to soothe her trembling. Viola was normally a strong-minded, independent woman. But this was far from a normal situation. They had never before held each other in this manner. For love, sure. Passion, often. But for survival? No, this was a new experience for both of them. "I'm kinda scared, too," he admitted. "But don't worry. I won't let anything happen to you. I'll give my life before I'll let any thing hurt you."
Viola looked up at him, seeing a new Vince, a wonderful one. She couldn't speak, but her trembling lips managed to curl into a smile and she nodded without taking her eyes from him.
"Besides," Vince added with a forced light chuckle, "we're gonna beat those damned Martians down anyway. We're Americans! Hell, we're more than that. We're New Yorkers!"
They laughed together at the silliness, but clung to each for a few moments more before separating.
Since they were going to spend God knew how much time on the roof, they took heavy clothes from the closet to protect them from the late October blasts of cold wind. Too, they gathered all the drinkables they could find, ignoring the meager liquor supply they had. If the end was coming, they didn't want to be too drunk to recognize it...or protect themselves against it, if that were at all possible.
The time came when they were ready to leave their home, their security, as they'd thought, for the "refuge" of a rooftop. They looked around at their own personal favorites in their own good time, took hands and left.
It was just after nine at night when they passed through the heavy metal door to the roof, joining a few others from their apartment building. Some wanted to talk, but most remained silent. All settled down to wait through the long, cold hours. Occasionally, someone would look toward Jersey and listen for sounds of warfare.
Vince and Viola sat against a wall, wrapped in the heaviest blanket they owned, closer than they'd ever been in their lives. "You are quite a man, my Vince," said Viola. "Quite a man indeed."
They were still awake when the chill, sharp rays of dawn streaked across the city rooftops. And with the dawn came, also, the news that the "Martian invasion" was a hoax.
After the embarrassment, the world would return to normal. It would seem as if nothing had changed--for most people.
About the author:
Originally from NYC, Allen now lives in Mexico. His work has appeared in NY Times, The Writer, Flashquake, Cenotaph, Modern Haiku, many other publications.