When I got back from the barn, I saw Ma down at the road. The mailbox is open, but she is kneeling in the gravel with her back turned to me. I don't have to see her face to know she's crying. Some things a son can sense.

It’s been a few months since it all went to hell. October 30, 1938 to be exact. With the winter just around the corner, work on the farm had been eating up the hours. Me and Pa finally got to sit for a few hours after dinner, and we always tuned the Detrola Model 4-J Cathedral to the clearest signal. On a clear night, you could almost get Kansas City. CBS was Pa's favorite. Hell, any clear station was Pa's favorite. He fiddled and fiddled with his new toy until Ma chased him back to his seat.

He always told me that radio would change the world. The day he brought that wood box home was a "step into the future". Ma figured it was a waste of money, but she listened all the same. I didn't really care either way. As we all sat on the day before Halloween, we had a good laugh at the players of the Mercury Theatre on the Air trying to spook people with tales of Martian invaders. I mean, who would believe that kinda hooey, especially on Halloween? The gravelly voiced producer, some Welles fella, came on the air three or four times to say it wasn't a play. Sounded desperate to sell the story, and it ruined the illusion for me. We turned off the radio about an hour into the production, amused but disbelieving.

Turns out nobody really figured on the Martians coming like they did. Even the Army was slow to respond to the monsters that dropped out of the sky with their death rays and poison gas. Everybody thought it was a big Halloween prank. Pa even laughed at the paper the next morning, with its end of the world sized "MARTIAN ATTACK!" headline. Only after we seen the streaking meteors in the autumn sky and turned on the radio after lunch did the ball of ice form in the pit of my stomach. A bunch of the radio stations were off the air, and all the others had the voices of scared men telling impossible stories of horror. Pa made me turn it off before heading to town. "Don't upset your Mother." he said. It was the last time I saw him.

Pa had been in the Great War but he didn't talk about it. When he left for town and didn't come back the next day, Ma was in a state. "Damn fools run off to war again!" she cursed, wailing and carrying on. I gave her a drink of Pa's whiskey to calm her nerves and helped her to bed. When I came back down from the barn at dinner, she was still sobbing in her room. Even had to make my own food.

I took up the chores that had to be done to keep the farm from going to pieces, sneaking the radio at night when Ma went to bed to keep her nerves from any more shock. About a week after Pa left, she went back to her housework. Routine comfort I guess. We didn't talk about the end of the world. At the beginning I had to hide the paper and its tales of invasion and alien monsters destroying the United States, Great Britain, hell, the whole damned globe. After a month, the paper stopped coming. Every night, fewer and fewer stations filled the static on the dial. Earth was losing to Mars.

Ole Doc Jimmy from town came around a week ago and caught Ma in the kitchen while I was tending to the chickens. She asked him all the questions she never talked to me about. Turns out Pa went down to the Legion and marched out of town that first night, to defend his country. Doc told her why he came round just after I came in. Turns out some scientist eggheads figured out a way to kill the Martians. Doc asked Ma if she had caught the Spanish Influenza that killed so many in round here in 1918. Neither of us had. He said that the Army had been working on making it a weapon, and it turns out that the bastards from Mars died in the hundreds in the first test. They saved Detroit before the figured out the problem.

It killed people just as efficiently.

In fact, because they had been messing with it, anyone who didn't get vaccinated was pretty much guaranteed to die. If you survived the first outbreak years back, you had a better chance. The lieutenant who directed the city under martial law had sent the old man out to share a secret. Vaccinations where going to be done, but a lottery for doses was gonna be held. Nobody ever figured we would use the germ bombs, so nobody made much of the vaccine. Now it was far too late. Doc said we would get a card in the mail if we got chosen. Sunday would be the deadline. After that, all you could do was hope for the best. Doc says we have a 50/50 chance, but think he's telling everybody that to keep people from panic. I thanked him for telling us the truth, and Ma showed him the door. We resolved ourselves to wait.

The radio that night spoke in hushed tones about human victories, and of a turning tide. Tales of those giant walking machines falling to Earth and of people dying from a mystery bug filled me with dread and pride. We were winning, but at what price victory? That was the last night I turned it on. All we could do was wait.

There's nothing more depressing than an empty mailbox, especially today.

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