Copyright 1989, S Hartwell

(I must have been reading apocalyptic SF books when I had this dream; maybe "War of the Worlds" by HG Wells. This is written down as it happened, with only minor editing for continuity and giving names to characters who didn't seem to have names in the dream. It began in London ….)

I believe that at first the otherworldly visitors took no more notice of us than we do of ants, and their invisible forces flattened our cities just as a man might level a lawn, regardless of anthills and the homes of the existing inhabitants. They flattened our cities with disturbing thoroughness but at first made no attempt to destroy the milling, scurrying people who fled from the destruction. We could not even see the hand that levelled the cities, it struck invisibly, smiting tops from buildings and steeples from churches and then it moved on It wasn’t until the armed forces tried their might against the strange ‘foe’ that we too were annihilated. The aliens realised that we were no harmless ants and they began to destroy us just as we would stamp on the biting ants spilling out of a ruptured anthill.

All this is mere conjecture as I did not stay to witness the final fall of the cities. Like all the others, I ran aimlessly to escape the madness, hoping that there would be a refuge in the countryside where the aliens would not find us. On that day it seemed that the whole human race ran as a single being towards the stations and the underground stations, the airports and the river-ports, in fact to any form of transport which would take us away from the capital. I realised that it would be safer underground and became one of the thronging thousands heading for the tube-trains, hoping to hide in Essex if not further away from our devastated capital city.

The escalators down to the platforms were packed solid with people fighting their way downwards and the air reeked of their panic and of piss. I kicked and fought my way down the overloaded upward escalator, hoping that it would not give way under me and joined the crowds on the platforms for the outward trains. Train after train screamed past, with people hanging from the doors and between carriages, desperate enough to risk death in the tunnels than to stay behind in the ruins. We screamed for them to stop and people surged forwards only to fall beneath the wheels, but the drivers had over-ridden the automated controls and they sped by unheeding. Some of the crowd leapt forward at the doors which were wedged open by the solid mass of humanity, but I do not know whether any of them made it or whether they too fell under the wheels as they passed through the tunnels.

It seemed that all the trains from the central routes had been diverted onto routes out of the city and none came back to collect more passengers. I dread to think of the crashes at the ends of the tunnels as trains failed to stop in time and ploughed into deserted carriages abandoned at the termini of the lines. It seemed odd, therefore, that when an ancient museum-piece tube-train creaked and groaned into the inward bound platform that few of us got on. Perhaps they were afraid that trains would crash head-on in the tunnels, forgetting that in this mass panic no-one wanted to come into the city. I was surprised that a train this old would even run on modern lines since modern trains had switched from DC motors to AC motors. Maybe it was an enthusiasts train which normally ran on one of the disused sections of line sold off to subway train clubs. How long before the power supplies died and the trains groaned to a halt in the tunnels?

The journey on this ancient vehicle was long and uncomfortable as it travelled in reverse back out of London. The uncertainty made the journey seem longer than it was and the discomfort was due to the fact that the windows and air vents had long since rusted shut and the doors, which had been open when it had arrived, slammed shut with a noise like doom itself. It was not until the driver himself prised open the doors at the end of our journey that I realised how lucky I had been to trust myself to this unorthodox form of travel, the wrong way up a one-way tunnel in an antique tube-train converted to run on modern tracks. When we did halt, I was surprised to find that I was not in Essex but on the Hertfordshire side of the Herts/Essex Border and that we had travelled for most of our journey along tunnels which had long been closed and for the most part forgotten and which, in some cases, were secret wartime tunnels. Someone had been planning for days like these.

It wasn't until later that I learnt about the secret tunnels. It would seem that in the heyday of tunnel building, a tunnel to Hertfordshire had been excavated along with other tunnels, also closed, which were to link London with other towns. When this rather ambitious tunnel was nearly completed, part of the roof had caved in through lack of proper support and there was no equipment then in existence which would re-open it. The workers' train had been trapped in the cut-off section of the tunnel and it and the stations built along this route had been a well kept secret until a minor Civil Servant, researching the history of the underground network prior to a programme of expansion into the Midlands, had read the reports of the accident. In secrecy he and a few trusted friends had restored the tunnel using their own funds and had restored the old train to working order, powering the train rather than the rails. I believe the main reason for all of this was in case of nuclear war but his strange ideas were to save the lives of a number of people caught up in a different kind of catastrophe.

When the doors had been opened a good few of my fellow travellers had rushed off to find the exits and I fear that a number of them never did find a way out since the exits are well hidden both on the inside and the outside. There was no real platform, only a catwalk leading to a flight of metal steps since this part had never got to the stage of being a station. I hope that some of the others did get out and managed to hide in the villages.

Alec had strange tastes in living accommodation as his ‘home’, which he called the crypts, was below the ruins of a church and its main entrance and exit was a door into the side of a flight of stone steps outside the ruins. The ruins themselves were very impressive although I have doubts as to whether it was anything more than a folly in the form of a scaled down Gothic Cathedral, complete with the restored oak doors and elegant sculptures around the walls. The door in the side of the steps was also the exit of the railway which was virtually a private line to Alec’s doorstep. The door was open when we saw it, so hopefully some people did escape; when it did shut it moved silently on well oiled hinges and it made barely any noise.

Alec led us along the vaulted passages of his home, deeper into the earth, down wide stone steps and along stone lined halls wide enough to drive a coach through. Finally we descended a flight of ten steps and were walking on carpet. Either side of us passages led off both from the higher levels and deeper down. We were now in what he referred to as the heart of his empire; a combined home and disaster shelter. Food and water had been stored in plenty and there were generators and machinery which hummed gently in the background. Apparently fuel of all sorts was stored at the end of some of the passages and would last longer than our lifetimes. We survivors were all shocked and were only too grateful to have someone else tell us what to do and to be safe. The three of us who had come this far were given hot food and we were shown to rooms were could sleep undisturbed.

Several hours later, I awoke refreshed with the horrors of the destruction fading from my mind. Everything seemed quite unreal as though I was having a dream which I couldn’t shake off. A different person came to show us more of the crypts, his name was David and he was one of the engineers who had helped renovate the tunnels and excavate larger rooms for the generators. Several people lived in the crypts, and were close friends of Alec. Gill ran all communications with the outside world via cable links and fibre-optics; she told us that London had virtually been destroyed although none of could imagine a skyline without St Paul's or the Houses of Parliament, it seemed too unreal though we knew that it was the truth.

Alec himself was usually to be found loping tirelessly along the corridors from one room to another, a lean sandy-haired wraith of a man with a keen instinct for survival. His idea of survival was not the Robinson Crusoe method but survival of the race by the preservation of knowledge and to this effect he had accumulated a vast library telling of the achievements of mankind, our history and evolution along with more comfortable subjects such as the flora and fauna of the British Isles and several books on camping and cooking ‘in the rough’. He was an idealist, but it seemed that we could live here for years on our stores while the aliens built their cities on the ruins of our own. We could tunnel our way toward other cities like ants underground. We would be like the rats living in the sewers of mankind.

For the next few weeks or maybe it was months, since few of us noticed the passage of time, we learnt about the crypts and how we three could contribute to their upkeep. Alec’s own band worked together like the cogs of some great machine and numbered around twenty, perhaps even more, Their plan was not to live forever in the crypts but to extend outwards and maybe one day to reclaim our earth for mankind. The decision to leave the crypts was born of necessity when great rumblings overhead told us of the aliens' activities and their spreading influence. We sat tight for as long as we dared but they must have realised we were there for the crypts began to break open and we had to flee again. Humans had obviously become a vexation to the visitors and were being destroyed wholesale or enslaved.

We fled the crypts into the tunnel and escaped into the main sewer which was one of the large Victorian vaulted creations and had been washed clean by rains and the lack of use. We finally emerged into the upper world in what had once been a town but had now been reduced to smoking ruins with only a few large old buildings still standing. It took most of the morning to climb over the rubble and onto the less blocked road. Behind us we could see the pillars of smoke and ash which funnelled into the sky from the capital city and without hesitation we went in the opposite direction, hoping to find motor transport and stores.

We all carried enough personal supplies in backpacks for several days if necessary. Along the road sat other survivors and refugees, too shocked to say anything of the horrors they had witnessed, many with nothing left to live for having lost their families and their homes. Children cried for mothers who had not escaped and their fathers did their best to comfort them. Women wept for their menfolk and the teenagers stared ahead, too numbed to register any emotion but the hatred of their unseen foes. It was perhaps those young people who came out of it best, being more adaptable than their elders but for now, everyone was shocked and no-one willing to take the initiative.

The town was also full of soldiers who had taken occupation of the few remaining buildings and they informed us that the area was under martial law. They required able bodied men and women to help them fight and the others were to be transported to safer areas and who left the town in army trucks and were not seen again. The rest of us queued, answered and obeyed and I remember little but carrying cartons from place to place; when I slept I dreamt of the smoking ruins and carrying cartons of bones through rubble strewn streets while blank-eyed soldiers looked on.

We were all too dazed to think for ourselves and were only too glad to let someone else tell us what to do and to look after us in return for work. It was not until several of the survivors had died while they worked that I realised how inhuman the soldiers were in their treatment of us. They rarely spoke except to give orders and they did little themselves. Alec too had noticed and he had been pushed to the limits of his tolerance being a naturally authoritative person unused to following endless orders. If we had been pushed too far I dread to think what would have happened to Alec, had we not witnessed a soldier kill a man who refused to carry a crate of chemicals to the trucks. The soldier seemed to glow blue-white and a shaft of light escaped from his finger tips towards the man. A moment later all that remained of the man was a heap of fine grey ash on the ground.

The event shook us out of our dreamlike existence and the people scattered everywhere, panicking and causing the others to panic. Many surely died in the confusion as the white shafts of light crackled out. The aliens had taken the shape of men they knew we would obey and had deceived us into aiding them. I blindly followed Alec, trusting his instincts. I remember running through streets full of glassless shops and jumping over debris and corpses, dodging between motor vehicles of all types, most of which were nothing but charred shells. A bus lay on its side outside a shopping arcade but it was full of jumbled withered corpses with rictus grins. This devastation had always been just around the corner and we had been kept too busy to see it.

I don't know how I came to be lying under a pile of leaves, but I stayed there, silent and trying not to make any movement as someone or something scuffled past me. Whether it was a human or a whatever I did not find out. Then there were hands pulling me out of my leafy concealment into the cab of a truck.

There are five of us now, myself, Alec and one of the engineers are the only ones left from the crypts, with us are two teenagers from the town. What will happen to us I do not know but I have written this down so that something will remain to tell our story even if we do not.

(And it ended there. Awake or asleep I have a vivid imagination, and maybe I had been reading too many alien invasion/humans fight back type books. For a while I was living as part of a human resistance following a rebel leader. It was very real and frightening running for one's life and finding nowhere safe to hide - maybe a paranoid dream.)


You are visitor number: