"You keep behind me." Don led us now, with his gun half raised. "Don't talk when we get further along, and walk as quietly as you can."
The narrow path followed the bottom of the cliff. We presently had the open sea before us, with a line of reefs a few hundred yards out against which the lazy ground swell was breaking in a line of white. The moonlit water lapped gently at our feet. The cliff rose to our right, a mass of gray-black rock, pitted and broken, fantastically indented, unreal in the moonlight.
"I seen it--just about there," Willie whispered.
Before us, a little rock headland jutted out into the water. Don halted us, and we stood silent, gazing. I think that there is hardly any place more fantastic than a Bermuda shorefront in the moonlight. In these little eroded recesses, caves and grottoes one might expect to see crooked-legged gnomes, scampering to peer at the human intruder. Gnarled cedars, hanging precariously, might hide pixies and elves. A child's dream of fairyland, this reality of a Bermuda shorefront.
"There it is!"
Willie's sibilant whisper dispelled my roaming fancy. We all turned to stare behind us in the direction of Willie's unsteady finger. And we all saw it--the white shape of a man down near the winding path we had just traversed. A wild thrill of fear, excitement, revulsion--call it what you will--surged over me. The thing had been following us!
We stood frozen, transfixed. The shape was almost at the water level, a hundred feet or so away. It had stopped its advance; to all appearances it was a man standing there, calmly regarding us. Don and I swung around to face it, shoving Jane and Willie behind us.
Willie had started off in terror, but Jane gripped him.
"There it is! See it--"
"Of course we see it," Don whispered. "Don't talk. We'll wait; see what it does."
We stood a moment. The thing was motionless. It was in a patch of shadow, but, as though gleaming with moonlight, it seemed to shine. Its glow was silvery, with a greenish cast almost phosphorescent. Was it standing on the path? I could not tell. It was too far away; too much in shadow. But I plainly saw that it had the shape of a man. Wraith, or substance? That also, was not yet apparent.
Then suddenly it was moving! Coming toward us. But not floating, for I could see the legs moving, the arms swaying. With measured tread it was walking slowly toward us!
Don's shotgun went up. "Bob, we'll hold our ground. Is it--is he armed, can you see?"
"No! Can't tell."
Armed! What nonsense! How could this wraith, this apparition, do us physical injury!
"If--if he gets too close, Bob, by God, I'll shoot. But if he's human, I wouldn't want to kill him."
The shape had stopped again. It was fifty feet from us now, and we could clearly see that it was a man, taller than normal. He stood now with folded arms--a man strangely garbed in what seemed a white, tight-fitting jacket and short trunks. On his head was a black skull cap surmounted by a helmet of strange design.
Don's voice suddenly echoed across the rocks.
"Who are you?"
The white figure gave no answer. It did not move.
"We see you. What do you want?" Don repeated.
Then it moved again. Partly toward us and partly sidewise, away from the sea. The swing of the legs was obvious. It was walking. But not upon the path, nor upon the solid surface of these Bermuda rocks! A surge of horror went through me at the realization. This was nothing human! It was walking on some other surface, invisible to us, but something solid beneath its own tread.
"Look!" Jane whispered. "It's walking--into the cliff!"
There was no doubt about it now. Within thirty feet of us, it was slowly walking up what must have been a steep ascent. Already it was ten feet or more above our level. And it was behind the rocks of the cliff! Shining in there as though the rocks themselves were transparent!
Or were my senses tricking me? I whispered, "Is it back of the rocks? Or is there a cave over there? An opening?"
"Let's go see." Don took a step forward; and called again: "You--we see you. Stand still! Do you want me to fire at you?"
The figure turned and again stood regarding us with folded arms. Obviously not Don's voice, but his movement, had stopped it. We left the path and climbed about ten feet up the broken cliff-side. The figure was at our level now, but it was within the rocks. We were close enough now to see other details: a man's white face, with heavy black brows, heavy features; a stalwart, giant figure, six and a half feet at the least. The white garment could have been of woven metal. I saw black, thread-like wires looped along the arms, over the shoulders, down the sides of the muscular naked legs. There seemed, at the waist, a dial-face, with wires running into it.
The details were so clear that they seemed substantial, real. Yet the figure was so devoid of color that it could have been a light-image projected here upon these rocks. And the contour of the cliff was plainly visible in front of it.
We stood gazing at the thing, and it stared back at us.
"Can you hear us?" Don called.
Evidently it could not. Then a sardonic smile spread over the face of the apparition. The lips moved. It said something to us, but we heard no sound.
It was a wraith--this thing so visibly real! It was apparently close to us, yet there was a limitless, intervening void of the unknown.
It stood still with folded arms across the brawny chest, sardonically regarding us. The face was strangely featured, yet wholly of human cast. And, above all, its aspect was strangely evil. Its gaze suddenly turned on Jane with a look that made my heart leap into my throat and made me fling up my arms as though to protect her.
Then seemingly it had contemplated us enough; the folded arms swung down; it turned away from us, slowly stalking off.
"Stop!" Don called.
"See!" I whispered. "It's coming out in the open!"
The invisible surface upon which it walked led it out from the cliff. The figure was stalking away from us in mid-air, and it seemed to fade slowly in the moonlight.
"It's going!" I exclaimed. "Don, it's getting away!"
Impulsively I started scrambling over the rocks; unreasoningly, for who can chase and capture a ghost?
Don stopped me. "Wait!" His shotgun went to his shoulders. The white shape was now again about fifty feet away. The gun blazed into the moonlight. The buckshot tore through the stalking white figure; the moonlit shorefront echoed with the shot.
When the smoke cleared away, we saw the apparition still walking quietly forward. Up over the sea now, up and out into the moonlit night, growing smaller and dimmer in the distance, until presently it was faded and gone.
We thought so then.
The Face at the Window This was our first encounter with the white invaders. It was too real to ignore or treat lightly. One may hear tales of a ghost, even the recounting by a most reliable eye-witness, and smile skeptically. But to see one yourself--as we had seen this thing in the moonlight of that Bermuda shorefront--that is a far different matter.
We told our adventure to Jane's father when he drove in from Hamilton about eleven o'clock that same evening. But he, who personally had seen no ghost, could only look perturbed that we should be so deluded. Some trickster--or some trick of the moonlight, and the shadowed rocks aiding our own sharpened imaginations. He could think of no other explanation. But Don had fired pointblank into the thing and had not harmed it.
Arthur Dorrance, member of the Bermuda Parliament, was a gray-haired gentleman in his fifties, a typical British Colonial, the present head of this old Bermuda family. The tales or the ghosts, whatever their origin, already had forced themselves upon Governmental attention. All this evening, in Hamilton, Mr. Dorrance had been in conference trying to determine what to do about it. Tales of terror in little Bermuda had a bad enough local effect, but to have them spread abroad, to influence adversely the tourist trade upon which Bermuda's very existence depended--that presaged economic catastrophe.
"And the tales are spreading," he told us. "Look here, you young cubs, it's horribly disconcerting to have you of all people telling me a thing like this."
Even now he could not believe us. But he sat staring at us, eyeglasses in hand, with his untouched drink before him.
"We'll have to report it, of course. I've been all evening with the steamship officials. They're having cancellations." He smiled faintly at me. "We can't get along without you Americans, Bob."
I have not mentioned that I am an American. I was on vacation from my job as radio technician in New York. Don Livingston, who is English and three years my senior, was in a similar line of work--at this time he was technician in the small Bermuda broadcasting station located in the nearby town of St. Georges.
We talked until nearly midnight. Then the telephone rang. It was the Police Chief in Hamilton. Ghosts had been seen in that vicinity this evening. There were a dozen complaints of ghostly marauders prowling around homes. This time from both white and colored families.
And there was one outstanding fact, frightening, indeed, though at first we could not believe that it meant very much, or that it had any connection with this weird affair. In the residential suburb of Paget, across the harbor from Hamilton, a young white girl, named Miss Arton, had vanished. Mr. Dorrance turned from the telephone after listening to the details and faced us with white face and trembling hands, his expression more perturbed and solemn than ever before.
"It means nothing, of course. It cannot mean anything."
"What, father?" Jane demanded. "Something about Eunice?"
"Yes. You know her, Bob--you played tennis down there with her last week. Eunice Arton."
I remembered her. A Bermuda girl; a beauty, second to none in the islands, save perhaps Jane herself. Jane and Don had known her for years.
"She's missing," Mr. Dorrance added. He flashed us a queer look and we stared at him blankly. "It means nothing, of course," he added. "She's been gone only an hour."
But we all knew that it did mean something. For myself I recall a chill of inward horror; a revulsion as though around me were pressing unknown things; unseeable, imponderable things menacing us all.
"Eunice missing! But father, how missing?"
He put his arm around Jane. "Don't look so frightened, my dear child."
He held her against him. If only all of us could have anticipated the events of the next few days. If only we could have held Jane, guarded her, as her father was affectionately holding her now!
Don exclaimed, "But the Chief of Police gave you details?"
"There weren't many to give." He lighted a cigarette and smiled at his trembling hands. "I don't know why I should feel this way, but I do. I suppose--well, it's what you have told me to-night. I don't understand it--I can't think it was all your imagination."
"But that girl, Eunice," I protested.
"Nothing--except she isn't at home where she should be. At eleven o'clock she told her parents she was going to retire. Presumably she went to her room. At eleven-thirty her mother passed her door. It was ajar and a bedroom light was lighted. Mrs. Arton opened the door to say good night to Eunice. But the girl was not there."
He stared at us. "That's all. There is so much hysteria in the air now, that Mr. Arton was frightened and called upon the police at once. The Artons have been telephoning to everyone they know. It isn't like Eunice to slip out at night--or is it, Jane?"
"No," said Jane soberly. "And she's gone? They didn't hear any sound from her?" A strange, frightened hush came upon Jane's voice. "She didn't--scream from her bedroom? Anything like that?"
"No, he said not. Jane, dear, you're thinking more horrible things. She'll be found in the morning, visiting some neighbor or something of the kind."
But she was not found. Bermuda is a small place. The islands are so narrow that the ocean on both sides is visible from almost everywhere. It is only some twelve miles from St. Georges to Hamilton, and another twelve miles puts one in remote Somerset. By noon of the next day it was obvious that Eunice Arton was quite definitely missing.
This next day was May 15th--the first of the real terror brought by the White Invaders. But we did not call them that yet; they were still the "ghosts." Bermuda was seething with terror. Every police station was deluged with reports of the ghostly apparitions. The white figures of men--in many instances, several figures together--had been seen during the night in every part of the islands. A little band of wraiths had marched down the deserted main street of Hamilton. It was nearly dawn. A few colored men, three or four roistering visitors, and two policemen had seen them. They had appeared down at the docks and had marched up the slope of the main street.
The stories of eye-witnesses to any strange event always are contradictory. Some said this band of ghostly men marched on the street level; others said they were below it, walking with only their heads above the road surface and gradually descending. In any event the frightened group of onlookers scattered and shouted until the whole little street was aroused. But by then the ghosts had vanished.
There were tales of prowlers around houses. Dogs barked in the night, frantic with excitement, and then shivered with terror, fearful of what they could sense but not see.
In Hamilton harbor, moored at its dock, was a liner ready to leave for New York. The deck watch saw ghosts walking apparently in mid-air over the moonlit bay, and claimed that he saw the white figure of a man pass through the solid hull-plates of the ship. At the Gibbs Hill Lighthouse other apparitions were seen; and the St. David Islanders saw a group of distant figures seemingly a hundred feet or more beneath the beach--a group, heedless of being observed; busy with some activity; dragging some apparatus, it seemed. They pulled and tugged at it, moving it along with them until they were lost to sight, faded in the arriving dawn and blurred by the white line of breakers on the beach over them.
The tales differed materially in details. But nearly all mentioned the dark helmets of strange design, the white, tightly fitting garments, and many described the dark thread-like wires looped along the arms and legs, running up into the helmet, and back across the chest to converge at the belt where there was a clock-like dial-face.
The ghostly visitors seemed not aggressive. But Eunice Arton was missing; and by noon of May 15th it was apparent that several other white girls had also vanished. All of them were under twenty, all of prominent Bermuda families, and all of exceptional beauty.
By this time the little government was in chaos. The newspapers, by government order, were suppressed. The cable station voluntarily refused to send press dispatches to the outside world. Don, Jane and I, through Mr. Dorrance's prominence, had all the reports; but to the public it was only known by whispered, garbled rumor. A panic was impending. The New York liner, that morning of May 15th, was booked beyond capacity. An English ship, anchored out in the open channel outside Hamilton harbor, received passengers up to its limit and sailed.
The shops of St. Georges and Hamilton did not open that morning of May 15th. People gathered in the streets--groups of whites and blacks--trying to learn what they could, and each adding his own real or fancied narrative to the chaos.
Although there had seemed so far no aggression from the ghosts--our own encounter with the apparition being typical of them all--shortly after noon of the 15th we learned of an event which changed the whole aspect of the affair; an event sinister beyond any which had gone before. It had occurred in one of the hotels near Hamilton the previous night and had been suppressed until now.
A young woman tourist, living alone in the hotel, had occupied a bedroom on the lower floor. The storm blinds and windows were open. During the night she had screamed. Guests in nearby rooms heard her cries, and they were also conscious of a turmoil in the woman's room. Her door was locked on the inside, and when the night clerk finally arrived with a pass-key and they entered, they found the room disordered, a wicker chair and table overturned, and the young woman gone, presumably out of the window. She had been a woman of about twenty-five, a widow, exceptionally attractive.
Stolen by the ghosts? We could think of nothing else. Was that what had happened to Eunice Arton? Did that explain the reported disappearances of the several other girls? Did this ghostly activity have some rational purpose--the stealing of young white women, all of them of unusual beauty? The conclusion was forced upon us, and with it the whole affair took on a complexion shudderingly sinister. It was not a mere panic of the people with which Bermuda now had to cope--not merely an unexplainable supernatural visitation, harmless enough, save that it was terrorizing. This was a menace. Something which had to be met with action.
It would be futile for me to attempt detailing the events of that chaotic day. We had all ridden over to Hamilton and spent the day there, with the little town in a turmoil and events seething around us--a seemingly endless stream of reports of what had happened the night before. By daylight no apparitions were seen. But another night was coming. I recall with an inward sinking of heart I saw the afternoon sun lowering, the sky-blue waters of the bay deepening into purple and the chalk-white little stone houses taking on the gray cast of twilight. Another night was coming.
The government was making the best preparations it could. Every policeman of the island force was armed and ready to patrol through the night. The few soldiers of the garrisons at St. Georges and Hamilton were armed and ready. The police with bicycles were ready to ride all the roads. The half dozen garbage trucks--low-geared motor trucks--were given over to the soldiers for patrol use. The only other automobiles on the islands were those few permitted for the use of the physicians, and there were a few ambulance cars. All of these were turned over to the troops and the police for patrol.
In the late afternoon an American newspaper hydroplane arrived from New York. It landed in the waters of Hamilton harbor and prepared to encircle the islands throughout the night. And the three or four steamship tenders and the little duty boat which supplied the government dockyards with daily provisions all had steam up, ready to patrol the island waters.
Yet it all seemed so futile against this unknown enemy. Ghosts? We could hardly think of them now as that. Throughout the chaotic day I recall so many wild things I had heard others say, and had myself thought. The dead come to life as living wraiths? A ghost could not materialize and kidnap a girl of flesh and blood. Or could it? Hysterical speculation! Or were these invaders from another planet?
Whatever their nature, they were enemies. That much we knew.
Night fell upon the crowded turmoil of the little city of Hamilton. The streets were thronged with excited, frightened people. The public park was jammed. The hotels and the restaurants were crowded. Groups of soldiers and police on bicycles with electric torches fastened to their handlebars were passing at intervals. Overhead the airplane, flying low, roared past every twenty minutes or so.