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Emily Lavin Leverett

March 2009

Gustav’s Mars

Gustav Holst in 1923. Artwork : This work is in the public domain and can be found on .
Gustav Holst in 1923.

Artwork : This work is in the public domain and can be found on Wikimedia Commons.

I’ve never heard the end of Gustav Holst’s Mars. I came close, once, but then the world ended with the Martian invasion.

Did you know that 70 years before they attacked — to the day — Orson Welles broadcasted War of the Worlds and scared the bejesus out of a ton of people who didn’t know it was fiction? Some people who tuned in after the announcement that it was just a scary piece about Martians actually thought that it was real, and then they jumped out of buildings. All to Gustav’s Mars.

The night the real invasion came, I went to a Halloween concert — you know, classical pieces put on by a reasonably good, citywide band at a local college where I teach. I knew some of the folks in the band and liked the “civic duty” points I get for going. Plus I just love that kind of music.

First, Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor: I closed my eyes and could see Vincent Price or Bela Lugosi, Lon Chaney or Boris Karloff, whichever one it was in those old films, caped and eerie, playing organs like puppet masters pulling strings. Second, Night on Bald Mountain: I could see Fantasia’s demon unfold himself, stretch, and roar.

But cell phones distracted me from all this. Sure, when you’re alone in a broken down car on one of North Carolina’s many narrow, creepy winding state highways, they rock. But not here, not now. Especially the texting. Little flutters of blue and white light and the almost-silent whispers of college student thumbs on keys tore me out of the music even more than the screaming kids in uncomfortable Halloween costumes. At least they provided atmosphere. Who really needs to be connected in the middle of Bach’s Fugue?

Last, Mars by Gustav Holst: Midway through, the building building building drums were lost in a shriek, a scream. Some man — that’s right, a man screamed like a little girl — had gotten a text message. A personal tragedy, perhaps? But more screams followed. He stood up, waving his iPhone as evidence of whatever incoherent truth he tried to force out past his screams. The band stuttered to a halt. More text messages flittered across screens, and more phones rang.

“The Martians have invaded!” the same man hollered. He looked around in the semi-darkness of the auditorium, and, when no one responded, he added, “for real!”

Even the politest of people turned on phones and started confirming the story. The blonde woman next to me clutched her cow-costumed baby to her chest. People in far away places had sent pictures from their own phones. New York flattened. Washington fried. Miami sizzled.

The house lights went up. Flutes and oboes hit the floor. Cymbals crashed to the ground. People scrambled for the doors and climbed over each other, baby strollers, trumpets, French horns, and trombones, and bits of costume to get out.

In a matter of minutes, when the blinding white death obliterated the small college in Fayetteville, North Carolina, Gustav’s Mars would have been at its peak. A thunder of drums and cymbals, brass and woodwind would have ushered us off into white oblivion. Instead, I died alone in an empty, lit auditorium.

I really hate cell phones.

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About the Author

Emily Lavin Leverett

The eyes of Emily Lavin Leverett

Emily Lavin Leverett currently lives in North Carolina where she is a professor of English at a small college. Her areas of interest are Medieval and Renaissance English literature, and she has a particular fancy for romance, Shakespeare, and the poetry of John Donne. She hates writing about herself in the third person because it feels pretentious. When she’s not teaching or doing teaching-related things, she writes short stories and is currently working on a novel — and trying not to let her four cats run the household. She’s failing at that last one. She can be found on the ‘net at

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