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Day of the Triffids [Secure eReader]
eBook by John Wyndham

eBook Category: Science Fiction
eBook Description: "All the reality of a vividly realized nightmare," The Times of London wrote of John Wyndham's terrifying post-apocalyptic thriller Day of the Triffids, published in 1951. The novel is often labeled science fiction, but it might best be described as a completely unnerving fantasy, even at the distance of half a century- for nothing dates this story of a world rendered helpless by a frightening, unearthly phenomenon. Triffids are odd but interesting plants that seem to appear in everyone's garden. They are curiosities, but little more, until an event occurs that alters human life--what appears to be a meteor shower, spectacular at first, turns into a bizarre green inferno that has blinded virtually everyone and rendered humankind helpless. Even stranger, spores from the inferno have caused triffids to suddenly take on lives of their own--large, crawling vegetation that uproot themselves and roam about, attacking humans and inflicting agony. William Masen happened to escape being blinded in the green inferno--he was hospitalized with his eyes bandaged following surgery--and he is now one of the few humans left who can see, who can avoid being attacked by triffids, who might be able to save mankind from the chaos and possible extinction threatened by this cataclysm. Day of the Triffids is generally held to be John Wyndham's finest novel, and it was his first significant work. His style has been described aptly as "speculative fiction." The real power of Day of the Triffids is not in its pure invention but in its matter-of-fact depiction of bizarre phenomena occurring in the midst of day-to-day life. The narrative voice of William Masen is calm and reasoned throughout as he describes the ongoing nightmare and his attempt to prevail, recalling the struggle from an almost historical perspective. Wyndham tells a mesmerizing story in Day of the Triffids, one that has lost none of its quiet terror.

eBook Publisher: RosettaBooks, Published: 2002
Fictionwise Release Date: December 2002


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Chapter 1
The End Begins

When a day that you happen to know is Wednesday starts off by sounding like Sunday, there is something seriously wrong somewhere.

I felt that from the moment I woke. And yet, when I started functioning a little more smartly, I became doubtful. After all, the odds were that it was I who was wrong, and not everyone else -- though I did not see how that could be. I went on waiting, tinged with doubt. But presently I had my first bit of objective evidence -- a distant clock struck what sounded to me just like eight. I listened hard and suspiciously. Soon another clock began, on a hard, decisive note. In a leisurely fashion it gave an indisputable eight. Then I knew things were awry.

The way I came to miss the end of the world -- well, the end of the world I had known for close on thirty years -- was sheer accident: like a lot of survival, when you come to think of it. In the nature of things a good many somebodies are always in hospital, and the law of averages had picked on me to be one of them a week or so before. It might just as easily have been the week before that -- in which case I'd not be writing now: I'd not be here at all. But chance played it not only that I should be in hospital at that particular time, but that my eyes, and indeed my whole head, should be wreathed in bandages -- and that's why I have to be grateful to whoever orders these averages. At the time, however, I was only peevish, wondering what in thunder went on, for I had been in the place long enough to know that, next to the matron, the clock is the most sacred thing in a hospital.

Without a clock the place simply couldn't work. Each second there's someone consulting it on births, deaths, doses, meals, lights, talking, working, sleeping, resting, visiting, dressing, washing -- and hitherto it had decreed that someone should begin to wash and tidy me up at exactly three minutes after 7 A.M. That was one of the best reasons I had for appreciating a private room. In a public ward the messy proceeding would have taken place a whole unnecessary hour earlier. But here, today, clocks of varying reliability were continuing to strike eight in all directions -- and still nobody had shown up.

Much as I disliked the sponging process, and useless as it had been to suggest that the help of a guiding hand as far as the bathroom could eliminate it, its failure to occur was highly disconcerting. Besides, it was normally a close forerunner of breakfast, and I was feeling hungry.

Probably I would have been aggrieved about it any morning, but today, this Wednesday, May 8, was an occasion of particular personal importance. I was doubly anxious to get all the fuss and routine over because this was the day they were going to take off my bandages.

I groped around a bit to find the bell push and let them have a full five seconds' clatter, just to show what I was thinking of them.

While I was waiting for the pretty short-tempered response that such a peal ought to bring, I went on listening.

The day outside, I realized now, was sounding even more wrong than I had thought. The noises it made, or failed to make, were more like Sunday than Sunday itself -- and I'd come round again to being absolutely assured that it was Wednesday, whatever else had happened to it.

Why the founders of St. Merryn's Hospital chose to erect their institution at a main-road crossing upon a valuable office site, and thus expose their patients' nerves to constant laceration, is a foible that I never properly understood. But for those fortunate enough to be suffering from complaints unaffected by the wear and tear of continuous traffic, it did have the advantage that one could lie abed and still not be out of touch, so to speak, with the flow of life. Customarily the west-bound busses thundered along trying to beat the lights at the corner; as often as not a pig-squeal of brakes and a salvo of shots from the silencer would tell that they hadn't. Then the released cross traffic would rev and roar as it started up the incline. And every now and then there would be an interlude: a good grinding bump, followed by a general stoppage -- exceedingly tantalizing to one in my condition, where the extent of the contretemps had to be judged entirely by the degree of profanity resulting. Certainly, neither by day nor during most of the night, was there any chance of a St. Merryn patient being under the impression that the common round had stopped just because he, personally, was on the shelf for the moment.

But this morning was different. Disturbingly, because mysteriously, different. No wheels rumbled, no busses roared, no sound of a car of any kind, in fact, was to be heard; no brakes, no horns, not even the clopping of the few rare horses that still occasionally passed; nor, as there should be at such an hour, the composite tramp of work-bound feet.

The more I listened, the queerer it seemed -- and the less I cared for it. In what I reckoned to be ten minutes of careful listening I heard five sets of shuffling, hesitating footsteps, three voices bawling unintelligibly in the distance, and the hysterical sobs of a woman. There was not the cooing of a pigeon, not the chirp of a sparrow. Nothing but the humming of wires in the wind....

A nasty, empty feeling began to crawl up inside me. It was the same sensation I used to have sometimes as a child when I got to fancying that horrors were lurking in the shadowy corners of the bedroom; when I daren't put a foot out for fear that something should reach from under the bed and grab my ankle; daren't even reach for the switch lest the movement should cause something to leap at me. I had to fight down the feeling, just as I had had to when I was a kid in the dark. And it was no easier. It's surprising how much you don't grow out of when it comes to the test. The elemental fears were still marching along with me, waiting their chance, and pretty nearly getting it -- just because my eyes were bandaged and the traffic had stopped....

When I had pulled myself together a bit, I tried the reasonable approach. Why does traffic stop? Well, usually because the road is closed for repairs. Perfectly simple. Any time now they'd be along with pneumatic drills as another touch of aural variety for the long-suffering patients. But the trouble with the reasonable line was that it went further. It pointed out that there was not even the distant hum of traffic, not the whistle of a train, not the hoot of a tugboat. Just nothing -- until the clocks began chiming a quarter past eight.

The temptation to take a peep -- not more than a peep, of course; just enough to get some idea of what on earth could be happening -- was immense. But I restrained it. For one thing, a peep was a far less simple matter than it sounded. It wasn't just a case of lifting a blindfold: there were a lot of pads and bandages. But, more important, I was scared to try. Over a week's complete blindness can do a lot to frighten you out of taking chances with your sight. It was true that they intended to remove the bandages today, but that would be done in a special dim light, and they would allow them to stay off only if the inspection of my eyes were satisfactory. I did not know whether it would be. It might be that my sight was permanently impaired. Or that I would not be able to see at all. I did not know yet....

I swore and laid hold of the bell push again. It helped to relieve my feelings a bit.

No one, it seemed, was interested in bells. I began to get as much sore as worried. It's humiliating to be dependent, anyway, but it's a still poorer pass to have no one to depend on. My patience was whittling down. Something, I decided, had got to be done about it.

If I were to bawl down the passage and generally raise hell, somebody ought to show up if only to tell me what they thought of me. I turned back the sheet and got out of bed. I'd never seen the room I was in, and though I had a fairly good idea by ear of the position of the door, it wasn't all that easy to find. There seemed to be several puzzling and unnecessary obstacles, but I got across at the cost of a stubbed toe and minor damage to my shin. I shoved out into the passage.

"Hey!" I shouted. "I want some breakfast. Room forty-eight!"

For a moment nothing happened. Then came voices all shouting together. It sounded like hundreds of them, and not a word coming through clearly. It was as though I'd put on a record of crowd noises -- and an ill-disposed crowd, at that. I had a nightmarish flash, wondering whether I had been transferred to a mental home while I was sleeping and that this was not St. Merryn's Hospital at all. The sound of those voices simply didn't sound normal to me. I closed the door hurriedly on the babel and groped my way back to bed. At that moment bed seemed to be the one safe, comforting thing in my whole baffling environment. As if to underline that, there came a sound which checked me in the act of pulling up the sheets. From the street below rose a scream, wildly distraught and contagiously terrifying. It came three times, and when it had died away it seemed still to tingle in the air.

I shuddered. I could feel the sweat prickle my forehead under the bandages. I knew now that something fearful and horrible was happening. I could not stand my isolation and helplessness any longer. I had to know what was going on around me. My hands went up to my bandages; then, with my fingers on the safety pins, I stopped....

Supppose the treatment had not been successful? Suppose that when I took the bandages off I were to find that I still could not see? That would be worse still -- a hundred times worse....

I lacked the courage to be alone and find out that they had not saved my sight. And even if they had, would it be safe yet to keep my eyes uncovered?

I dropped my hands and lay back. I was mad at myself and the place, and I did some silly, weak cursing.

Some little while must have passed before I got a proper hold on things again, but after a bit I found myself churning round in my mind once more after a possible explanation. I did not find it. But I did become absolutely convinced that, come all the paradoxes of hell, it was Wednesday. For the previous day had been notable, and I could swear that no more than a single night had passed since then.

You'll find it in the records that on Tuesday, May 7, the Earth's orbit passsed through a cloud of comet debris. You can even believe it, if you like -- millions did. Maybe it was so. I can't prove anything either way. I was in no state to see what happened myself; but I do have my own ideas. All that I actually know of the occasion is that I had to spend the evening in my bed listening to eyewitness accounts of what was constantly claimed to be the most remarkable celestial spectacle on record.

And yet, until the thing actually began, nobody had ever heard a word about this supposed comet, or its debris....

Why they broadcast it, considering that everyone who could walk, hobble, or be carried was either out of doors or at windows enjoying the greatest free firework display ever, I don't know. But they did, and it helped to impress on me still more heavily what it meant to be sightless. I got around to feeling that if the treatment had not been successful I'd rather end the whole thing than go on that way.

It was reported in the news bulletins during the day that mysterious bright green flashes had been seen in the Californian skies the previous night. However, such a lot of things did happen in California that no one could be expected to get greatly worked up over that, but as further reports came in, this comet-debris motif made its appearance, and it stuck.

Accounts arrived from all over the Pacific of a night made brilliant by green meteors said to be "sometimes in such numerous showers that the whole sky appeared to be wheeling about us." And so it was, when you come to think of it.

As the night line moved westward the brilliance of the display was in no way decreased. Occasional green flashes became visible even before darkness fell. The announcer, giving an account of the phenomenon in the six o'clock news, advised, everyone that it was an amazing scene and one not to be missed. He mentioned also that it seemed to be interfering seriously with short-wave reception at long distances, but that the medium waves on which there would be a running commentary were unaffected, as, at present, was television. He need not have troubled with the advice. By the way everyone in the hospital got excited about it, it seemed to me that there was not the least likelihood of anybody missing it -- except myself.

And as if the radio's comments were not enough, the nurse who brought me my supper had to tell me all about it.

"The sky's simply full of shooting stars," she said. "All bright green. They make people's faces look frightfully ghastly. Everybody's out watching them, and sometimes it's almost as light as day -- only all the wrong color. Every now and then there's a big one so bright that it hurts to look at it. It's a marvelous sight. They say there's never been anything like it before. It is such a pity you can't see it, isn't it?"

"It is," I agreed somewhat shortly.

"We've drawn back the curtains in the wards so that they can all see it," she went on. "If only you hadn't those bandages you'd have a wonderful view of it from here."

"Oh," I said.

"But it must be better still outside, though. They say thousands of people are out in the parks and on the heath watching it all. And on all the flat roofs you can see people standing and looking up."

"How long do they expect it to go on?" I asked patiently.

"I don't know, but they say it's not so bright now as it was in other places. Still, even if you'd had your bandages off today, I don't expect they'd have let you watch it. You'll have to take things gently at first, and some of the flashes are very bright. They -- Ooooh!"

"Why 'oooh'?" I inquired.

"That was such a brilliant one then -- it made the whole room look green. What a pity you couldn't see it."

"Isn't it?" I agreed. "Now do go away, there's a good girl."

I tried listening to the radio, but it was making the same "ooohs" and "aaahs," helped out by gentlemanly tones which blathered about this "magnificent spectacle" and "unique phenomenon" until I began to feel that there was a party for all the world going on, with me as the only person not invited.

I didn't have any choice of entertainment, for the hospital radio system gave only one program, take it or leave it. After a bit I gathered that the show had begun to wane. The announcer advised everyone who had not yet seen it to hurry up and do so, or regret all his life that he had missed it.

The general idea seemed to be to convince me that I was passing up the very thing I was born for. In the end I got sick of it and switched off. The last thing I heard was that the display was diminishing fast now and that we'd probably be out of the debris area in a few hours.

There could be no doubt in my mind that all this had taken place the previous evening -- for one thing, I should have been a great deal hungrier even than I was had it been longer ago. Very well, what was this, then? Had the whole hospital, the whole city made such a night of it that they'd not pulled round yet?

About which point I was interrupted as the chorus of clocks, near and far, started announcing nine.

For the third time I played hell with the bell. As I lay waiting I could hear a sort of murmurousness beyond the door. It seemed composed of whimperings, slitherings, and shufflings, punctuated occasionally by a raised voice in the distance.

But still no one came to my room.

By this time I was slipping back once more. The nasty, childish fancies were on me again. I found myself waiting for the unseeable door to open and horrible things to come padding in -- in fact, I wasn't perfectly sure that somebody or something wasn't in already, and stealthily prowling round the room....

Not that I'm given to that kind of thing really.... It was those damned bandages over my eyes, the medley of voices that had shouted back at me down the corridor. But I certainly was getting the willies -- and once you get 'em, they grow. Already they were past the stage where you can shoo them off by whistling or singing at yourself.

It came at last to the straight question: was I more scared of endangering my sight by taking off the bandages or of staying in the dark with the willies growing every minute?

If it had been a day or two earlier, I don't know what I'd have done -- very likely the same in the end -- but this day I could at least tell myself:

"Well, hang it, there can't be a lot of harm if I use common sense. After all, the bandages are due to come off today. I'll risk it."

There's one thing I put to my credit. I was not far enough gone to tear them off wildly. I had the sense and the self-control to get out of bed and pull the shade down before I started on the safety pins.

Once I had the coverings off, and had found out that I could see in the dimness, I felt a relief that I'd never known before. Nevertheless, the first thing I did after assuring myself that there were indeed no malicious persons or things lurking under the bed or elsewhere was to slip a chair back under the door handle. I could and did begin to get a better grip on myself then. I made myself take a full hour gradually getting used to full daylight. At the end of it I knew that thanks to swift first aid, followed by good doctoring, my eyes were as good as ever.

But still no one came.

On the lower shelf of the bedside table I discovered a pair of dark glasses thoughtfully put ready against my need of them. Cautiously I put them on before I went right close to the window. The lower part of it was not made to open, so that the view was restricted. Squinting down and sideways, I could see one or two people who appeared to be wandering in an odd, kind of aimless way farther up the street. But what struck me most, and at once, was the sharpness, the clear definition of everything -- even the distant housetops view across the opposite roofs. And then I noticed that no chimney, large or small, was smoking....

I found my clothes hung tidily in a cupboard. I began to feel more normal once I had them on. There were some cigarettes still in the case. I lit one and began to get into the state of mind where, though everything was still undeniably queer, I could no longer understand why I had been quite so near panic.

It is not easy to think oneself back to the outlook of those days. We have to be more self-reliant now. But then there was so much routine, things were so interlinked. Each one of us so steadily did his little part in the right place that it was easy to mistake habit and custom for the natural law -- and all the more disturbing, therefore, when the routine was in any way upset.

When almost half a lifetime has been spent in one conception of order, reorientation is no five-minute business. Looking back at the shape of things then, the amount we did not know and did not care to know about our daily lives is not only astonishing but somehow a bit shocking. I knew practically nothing, for instance, of such ordinary things as how my food reached me, where the fresh water came from, how the clothes I wore were woven and made, how the drainage of cities kept them healthy. Our life had become a complexity of specialists, all attending to their own jobs with more or less efficiency and expecting others to do the same. That made it incredible to me, therefore, that complete disorganization could have overtaken the hospital. Somebody somewhere, I was sure, must have it in hand -- unfortunately it was a somebody who had forgotten all about Room 48.

Nevertheless, when I did go to the door again and peer into the corridor I was forced to realize that, whatever had happened, it was affecting a great deal more than the single inhabitant of Room 48.

Just then there was no one in sight, though in the distance I could hear a pervasive murmur of voices. There was a sound of shuffling footsteps, too, and occasionally a louder voice echoing hollowly in the corridors, but nothing like the din I had shut out before. This time I did not shout. I stepped out cautiously -- why cautiously? I don't know. There was just something that induced it.

It was difficult in that reverberating building to tell where the sounds were coming from, but one way the passage finished at an obscured French window, with the shadow of a balcony rail upon it, so I went the other. Rounding a corner, I found myself out of the private-room wing and on a broader corridor.

At the far end of the wide corridor were the doors of a ward. The panels were frosted save for ovals of clear glass at face level.

I opened the door. It was pretty dark in there. The curtains had evidently been drawn after the previous night's display was over -- and they were still drawn.

"Sister?" I inquired.

"She ain't 'ere," a man's voice said. "What's more," it went on, "she ain't been 'ere for ruddy hours, neither. Can't you pull them ruddy curtains, mate, and let's 'ave some flippin' light? Don't know what's come over the bloody place this morning."

"Okay," I agreed.

Even if the whole place were disorganized, it didn't seem to be any good reason why the unfortunate patients should have to lie in the dark.

I pulled back the curtains on the nearest window and let in a shaft of bright sunlight. It was a surgical ward with about twenty patients, all bedridden. Leg injuries mostly; several amputations, by the look of it.

"Stop foolin' about with 'em, mate, and pull 'em back," said the same voice.

I turned and looked at the man who spoke. He was a dark, burly fellow with a weather-beaten skin. He was sitting up in bed, facing directly at me -- and at the light. His eyes seemed to be gazing into my own; so did his neighbor's, and the next man's....

For a few moments I stared back at them. It took that long to register. Then:

"I -- they -- they seem to be stuck," I said. "I'll find someone to see to them."

And with that I fled from the ward.

Copyright © 1951 by John Wyndham


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