“You’ll find it in the records that on Tuesday, May 7, the Earth’s orbit passed through a cloud of comet debris,” says Bill Masen in the first chapter of The Day of the Triffids. “You can believe it, if you like—millions did.”
Unlike those millions of awed spectators, Bill did not witness the bright green meteor shower that blinded all of humanity. Ironically, Michael was recovering from an eye operation, having sustained an injury from a poisonous plant called a “triffid.” But while he didn't see the bizarre phenomenon himself, he does see its aftermath once he removes his gauze the following morning. And the state of London's population—stumbling, sightless—surely isn't the result of “comet debris.”
As it turns out, blindness isn’t the only consequence of the meteor shower: The triffids that injured Bill have grown taller, hungrier, and more violent.
Since the triffids' first appearance years ago, Michael has made a career out of them. Now an employee at a firm that extracts valuable triffid oils, he's come to believe that they're the product of a Russian biological experiment gone wrong—though no one can be sure. With a taste for flesh and an average height of seven feet, the triffids can uproot themselves and attack their human or animal prey with venom. Thankfully, removing their stingers seems to keep them under control. Until now…
Published in 1951, The Day of the Triffids is a classic of post-apocalyptic science fiction that has echoes of H.G. Wells’ The War of the Worlds. From Stephen King to Arthur C. Clarke to the creator of 28 Days Later, John Wyndham's depiction of a nightmarish war between man and nature has inspired countless artists—in addition to several film, radio, and television adaptations.
The following excerpt of the novel takes place after Bill rescues Josella Playton, a woman who also did not lose her eyesight, from a blind attacker. Together, they begin to understand that the world and triffids they knew have become much more dangerous...
Read an excerpt of The Day of the Triffids, and then download the book.
"And what,” I said at last, “just what, do we propose to do now?”
“I must get back home. There’s my father. It’s obviously no good going on to try to find the doctor now—even if he has been one of the lucky ones.”
She seemed about to add something, but hesitated.
“Do you mind if I come too?” I asked. “This doesn’t seem to me the sort of time when anyone like us should be wandering about on his or her own.”
She turned with a grateful look.
“Thank you. I almost asked, but I thought there might be somebody you’d be wanting to look for.”
“There isn’t,” I said. “Not in London, at any rate.”
“I’m glad. It’s not so much that I’m afraid of getting caught again—I’ll be much too careful for that. But, to be honest, it’s the loneliness I’m afraid of. I’m beginning to feel so—so cut off and stranded.”
I was beginning to see things in another new light. The sense of release was tempered with a growing realization of the grimness that might lie ahead of us. It had been impossible at first not to feel some superiority, and, therefore, confidence. Our chances of surviving the catastrophe were a million times greater than those of the rest. Where they must fumble, grope, and guess, we had simply to walk in and take. But there were going to be a lot of things beyond that…
I said: “I wonder just how many of us have escaped and can still see? I’ve come across one other man, a child, and a baby; you’ve met none. It looks to me as if we are going to find out that sight is very rare indeed. Some of the others have evidently grasped already that their only chance of survival is to get hold of someone who can see. When they all understand that, the outlook’s going to be none too good.”
The future seemed to me at that time a choice between a lonely existence, always in fear of capture, or of gathering together a selected group which we could rely on to protect us from other groups. We’d be filling a kind of leader-cum-prisoner role—and along with it went a nasty picture of bloody gang wars being fought for possession of us. I was still uncomfortably elaborating these possibilities when Josella recalled me to the present by getting up.
“I must go,” she said. “Poor Father. It’s after four o’clock.”
Back in Regent Street again, a thought suddenly struck me.
“Come across,” I said. “I fancy I remember a shop somewhere here…”
The shop was still there. We equipped ourselves with a couple of useful-looking sheath knives, and belts to carry them.
“Makes me feel like a pirate,” said Josella as she buckled hers on.
“Better, I imagine, to be a pirate than a pirate’s moll,” I told her.
A few yards up the street we came upon a large, shiny saloon car. It looked the kind of craft that should simply have purred. But the noise when I started it up sounded louder in our ears than all the normal traffic of a busy street. We made our way northward, zigzagging to avoid derelicts and wanderers stricken into immobility in the middle of the road by the sound of our approach. All the way heads turned hopefully toward us as we came, and faces fell as we went past One building on our route was blazing fiercely, and a cloud of smoke rose from another fire somewhere along Oxford Street. There were more people about in Oxford Circus, but we got through them neatly, then passed the B.B.C., and so north to the carriageway in Regent’s Park.
Where they must fumble, grope, and guess, we had simply to walk in and take. But there were going to be a lot of things beyond that…
It was a relief to get out of the streets and reach an open space—and one where there were no unfortunate people wandering and groping. The only moving things we could see on the broad stretches of grass were two or three little groups of triffids lurching southward. Somehow or other they had contrived to pull up their stakes and were dragging them along behind them on their chains. I remembered that there were some undocked specimens, a few of them tethered, but most of them double-fenced, in an enclosure beside the zoo, and wondered how they had got out. Josella noticed them too.
“It’s not going to make much difference to them,” she said.
For the rest of the way there was little to delay us. Within a few minutes I was pulling up at the house she showed me. We got out of the car, and I pushed open the gate. A short drive curved round a bed of bushes which hid most of the house front from the road. As we turned the corner, Josella gave a cry and ran forward. A figure was lying on the gravel, chest downward, but with the head turned to show one side of its face. The first glance at it showed me the bright red streak across the cheek.
“Stop!” I shouted at her.
There was enough alarm in my voice to check her.
I had spotted the triffid now. It was lurking among the bushes, well within striking range of the sprawled figure.
“Back! Quick!” I said.
Still looking at the man on the ground, she hesitated.
“But I must—” she began, turning toward me. Then she stopped. Her eyes widened, and she screamed.
I whipped round to find a triffid towering only a few feet behind me.
In one automatic movement I had my hands over my eyes. I heard the sting whistle as it slashed out at me—but there was no knockout, no agonizing burning, even. One’s mind can move like lightning at such a moment; nevertheless, it was more instinct than reason which sent me leaping at it before it had time to strike again. I collided with it, overturning it, and even as I went down with it my hands were on the upper part of the stem, trying to pull off the cup and the sting. Triffid stems do not snap—but they can be mangled. This one was mangled thoroughly before I stood up.
Josella was standing in the same spot, transfixed.
“Come here,” I told her. “There’s another in the bushes behind you.”
She glanced fearfully over her shoulder and came.
“But it hit you!” she said incredulously. “Why aren’t you—”
“I don’t know. I ought to be,” I said.
I looked down at the fallen triffid. Suddenly remembering the knives that we’d acquired with quite other enemies in mind, I used mine to cut off the sting at its base. I examined it.
“That explains it,” I said, pointing to the poison sacs. “See, they’re collapsed, exhausted. If they’d been full, or even part full…” I turned a thumb down.
I had that, and my acquired resistance to the poison, to thank. Nevertheless, there were pale red marks across the backs of my hands and my neck that were itching like the devil. I rubbed them while I stood looking at the sting.
“It’s queer,” I murmured, more to myself than to her, but she heard me.
“I’ve never seen one with the poison sacs quite empty like this before. It must have been doing a hell of a lot of stinging.”
But I doubt if she heard me. Her attention had reverted to the man who was lying in the drive, and she was eying the triffid standing by.
“How can we get him away?” she asked.
“I’m afraid we can’t—not till that thing’s been dealt with,” I told her. “Besides—well, I don’t think we can help him now.”
“You mean he’s dead?”
I nodded. “Yes. There’s not a doubt of it—I’ve seen others who have been stung. Who was he?” I added.
“Old Pearson. He did gardening for us, and chauffeuring for my father. Such a dear old man—I’ve know him all my life.”
“I’m sorry—” I began, wishing I could think of something more adequate, but she cut me short.
“Look! Oh, look!” She pointed to a path which ran round the side of the house. A black-stockinged leg with a woman’s shoe on it protruded beyond the corner.
Related: How to Survive the End of the World
We prospected carefully and then moved safely to a spot which gave a better view. A girl in a black dress lay half on the path and half in a flower bed. Her pretty, fresh face was scarred with a bright red line. Josella choked. Tears came into her eyes.
“Oh! Oh, it’s Annie! Poor little Annie,” she said.
I tried to console her a little.
“They can scarcely have known it, either of them,” I told her. “When it is strong enough to kill, it’s mercifully quick.”
We did not see any other triffid in hiding there. Possibly the same one had attacked them both. Together we crossed the path and got into the house by the side door. Josella called. There was no answer. She called again. We both listened in the complete silence that wrapped the house. She turned to look at me. Neither of us said anything. Quietly she led the way along a passage to a baize-covered door. As she opened it there was a swish, and something slapped across the door and frame, an inch or so above her head. Hurriedly she pulled the door shut again and turned wide-eyed to me.
“There’s one in the hall,” she said.
She spoke in a frightened half whisper, as though it might be listening.
We went back to the outer door, and into the garden once more. Keeping to the grass for silence, we made our way round the house until we could look into the lounge hall. The French window which led from the garden was open, and the glass of one side was shattered. A trail of muddy blobs led over the step and across the carpet. At the end of it a triffid stood in the middle of the room. The top of its stem almost brushed the ceiling, and it was swaying ever so slightly. Close beside its damp, shaggy bole lay the body of an elderly man clad in a bright silk dressing gown. I took hold of Josella’s arm, afraid she might rush in there.
“Is it—your father?” I asked, though I knew it must be.
Want to keep reading? Download The Day of the Triffids, by John Wyndham, today.
This post is sponsored by Open Road Media. Thank you for supporting our partners, who make it possible for The Portalist to continue publishing the sci-fi stories you love.