The Red Weed gushed and wriggled in the weak current like seaweed in all my childhood lakes. I sank to a little above my ankles into the rank, purplish water, but I’d been covered in Red Weed for days. My skin, my clothes, my hair… it didn’t matter now.
Manhattan was so big. I knew how big it was, and I’d traveled so much farther, but it wasn’t big like the countryside. It was clustered. Maybe big isn’t the right word. Maybe it’s much. Manhattan was so much.
The Martians had only contributed to that so much while they’d stomped around, plowing down buildings and leaving the pavement cracked and thrown around. Even the most wrecked of the buildings didn’t feel torn down, they felt scattered, and it just added to that sense of so much.
I can’t tell you how many bodies I saw. It must have been in the thousands. They smelled only of the Red Weed that pooled around them, choking their scent with its own turgid death.
Above me, peering from motionless eyes, were the Martian fighting machines. One of them had fallen and smashed an already-wrecked building. Its slimy pilot was splayed out on the broken pavement in two foaming pieces, that smile still stamped on its distorted face. Instead of the deep red Penny had described to me when she’d dissected the creatures, its blood was a reddish-yellowish mix, with lumps of foaming white interspersed. It reeked of pus and illness, a huge popped pimple frothing in the ruined street.
I saw their spires, too, their replacements for our skyscrapers. They seemed to sway in the light wind. Creaking like titanic floorboards under foot, their wretched cargo melted like yellowed wax in the sun’s growing light, relieved of their suffering at last.
At first, there was a sort of silence. Only animals dared to make noise now - somewhere a cricket chirped, a rat squealed - only animals and the Martian structures, their builders snuffed out. A gust blew particularly strong and I heard an enormous creak as a spire - woven through the twisted remains what was once the centerpiece advertisement of Times Square - caved under the weight of its sagging, bloated death and bent, slowly and gently like wire, until its distant top was dragged from the clouds and into the city. It touched down on the partially-intact roof of an apartment building with a wet thud. For a time it was just me and these noises, me wandering the corpse of Manhattan, trying to pick out which streets were which without any signs to go by.
And then people began to emerge. Slowly at first, a straggler here or there from an advertising firm’s basement or the shelled-out remains of a high rise. We made a sort of connection, those of us who came out first, locking eyes and sharing a cathartic terror dulled by more than a week under their fist. Then they started pouring out as the news spread. Huge crowds from the subway tunnels - they’d formed a sort of network trying to branch out and connect the city’s survivors, I later learned - flooded the streets, and I was swept along with the crowds toward the city’s heart.
Lafayette Campus was bustling with survivors. I ran to the edge, almost tripping into a gutter, and gazed over the enormous wreck. Almost every building had been turned to rubble, streaked in that black chemical dust.
I was just about to shout out for her, and then I saw her.
We circled each other for a moment, almost unable to believe what we were seeing. I must have looked like hell to these people who had spent the last week underground, able to bathe in at least some capacity. Penny looked pristine, if a little sweaty.
It wasn’t like in the movies. There was no running into each others’ arms, no tearful reunion. I think we felt too much to cry. We just… walked up to each other. And then we hugged, and we didn’t let go for a long time.