The narrator remains in the woods, peering at the pit. “I was a battleground of fear and curiosity,” he writes. Unable to leave but equally unable to approach once more, he walks in circles, trying to catch glimpses of the aliens. Every now and again he sees tentacles fling through the air. He also sees a “thin rod” rise, “a circular disc that spun with a wobbling motion” attached to its top. Eventually, he sees a group of men approach the pit with a white flag, waving it back and forth. This small delegation (which includes Henderson and Ogilvy) wants to communicate with the Martians. As they come nearer, though, an intense flash of light and green smoke and flame issues from the pit, hissing and humming as it shoots the men, immediately incinerating them.
The narrator’s indecision is the result of a mix of curiosity and repulsion, a combination of emotions that is quite common in the face of extraordinary or unfamiliar circumstances. The narrator’s curiosity blossoms even as fear prevents him from going back to the pit. In this moment, then, readers witness how human intelligence and reason can both jeopardize a person and help him or her survive. As such, the mind is cast as both a dangerous thing and an instrument necessary to survival.
Horrified, the narrator sees that this beam of fiery light is shooting all around, burning the heather and the trees and everything in its path. Then, as suddenly as it began, the hiss of the terrible flame cuts out, and the blackish object shooting them slowly lowers into the pit again. In the now “dark and unfamiliar” night, treetops smoke and houses in Woking are reduced to cinder. “The fear I felt was no rational fear,” the narrator writes, “but a panic terror not only of the Martians but of the dusk and stillness all about me.” Incredulous and terrified, he runs away without looking back.
The fact that the narrator suddenly feels his surroundings are “unfamiliar” suggests that his “panic terror” is the direct result of having encountered something utterly foreign and unknown. Because he’s never felt this kind of fright before, he calls it “no rational fear.” At the same time, however, it’s worth noting that his fear is in fact quite rational, since he’s clearly in a very dangerous situation. Whether or not his fear is rational, there’s no doubt that it helps him survive, since it propels him from the pit, thus ferrying him away from danger rather than allowing him to remain in harm’s way.