The Hysteria Was Real is a short story by LN Denison we reproduce it today to commemorate the 80th anniversary of a very famous radio broadcast...
30 October, 1938: the day of the CBS radio broadcast of ‘War of the Worlds’
It’d just turned 10:00pm, eastern time. The streets of Grover’s Mill were filled with people panicking about a series of news bulletins that’d been broadcasted between the times of 8 and 9pm, warning of alien attacks all over the world. I took no stock in the ramblings of mad men. It wasn’t as if they hadn’t been warned, that what they’d been listening to was a work of fiction, nothing else. They’d been told countless times during the broadcast that it wasn’t real, but still they chose to create mass hysteria as they ran through the streets, waving their arms frantically in the air.
I found the whole scene highly amusing and tried to stifle a laugh as I walked by. I mean, how gullible can some people be to believe in symbiont creatures from Mars, coming to our little planet and trying to occupy us. It was a ridiculous notion: one I took great pleasure in dismissing straight away. It didn’t matter how many times I heard it, I still didn’t believe that there was life on Mars. With that thought in mind, I carried on with my nightly constitutional, removing my head from the game for a few moments. I took in the same surroundings, as I did every night. Maybe, in hindsight, it wasn’t such a good idea going through the cemetery that night, not with so many crazies’ out and about. The moon cast eerie shadows over the gravestones, which gave me goose bumps, and forced me to hurry along, as the bitter night chill snapped at my face.
I climbed through the hole in the wall the other side of the cemetery, and headed in the direction of home, almost going full circle. The sky was clear, to the point of seeing every constellation in all their glory, shining down on me as I stared up at Ursa Major. My concentration was suddenly broken, as I spied a shooting star in the corner of my eye. I hadn’t seen one in a while, and this one was a doozy; larger than life and full-on. I watched, and waited for it to disintegrate into the atmosphere, but for some strange reason, it carried on burning, hurtling towards the Earth’s surface. That’s no shooting star. I needed to follow it. Could it be that I was wrong all along, and there was life beyond planet Earth? I let my curiosity lead the way as I followed the descending streak.
My heart began to race, as I kept an eye on what appeared to be a fiery, egg-shaped vessel heading towards Grover’s Mill. With wide-eyed terror, I realised that the object was heading straight for my home, no one else’s, just mine. I ran as fast as I could, keeping my eyes locked on the trajectory of the ball of fire. I suddenly realised that all the kooks and crazies, weren’t so kooky and crazy as I first thought. And what was supposed to have been a radio play, read by a twenty-one-year-old actor by the name of Orson Welles, was actually a reality. Orson Welles was not a name that I was familiar with, but he had managed to convince the majority of Grover’s Mill, that the threat was real, and now, I too was beginning to believe that Alien lifeforms existed.
I rounded the corner, and watched as the ball of flame made its final, speedy descent, which was then followed by a crashing, shattering sound; then a billow of smoke. I knew that whatever it’d hit was now a pile of rubble, how could it not be otherwise? I turned into my street, only to have my worst fears realised. I placed my hand over my mouth in horror as I looked upon the object, and the pile of rubble where my home once stood.
A few minutes passed, more people had gathered around the object, which on looking at it, was a diameter of around 100 square feet. Then suddenly, the top of the vast object began to unscrew; groaning and scraping as it slowly twisted open. With a clang, the top fell to the ground, followed by a plume of steam. The silence from the crowd was deafening. We all waited for something else to happen, and then it did. What looked like a periscope, slowly ascended from the steam, swivelling its head this way and that. It appeared to be scoping its surroundings, scoping us. A strange glow started to manifest as the machine rose higher, vacating its holding cell, letting out a piercing, deafening screech, which began to cause me a great deal of discomfort, perforating my ear drums, and everyone else’s around me. Was this to be our end? I was beginning to think so.
The Alien machine had completely detached from the belly of the beast, and began to buzz into action. Laser beams shooting in all directions, vaporising anybody that stood in its way, indiscriminately, mercilessly. Was I next? I was going to make sure that I wasn’t. I started to run back towards the cemetery, but it would seem that I wasn’t fast enough, as I felt the Alien being’s ray start eating into my skin, disintegrating my flesh and bones. Suddenly, I felt nothing, the burning had stopped, for some reason I’d been spared from the ray’s penetrating beam, but I didn’t know why. I truly thought I was a goner, and then I woke up, startled by the sound of Orson Welles voice. The broadcast of the War of the Worlds had only just begun.
LN Denison is a writer of near-future dystopian sci-fi. You can catch up with her on Goodreads, Facebook and Twitter.