This etext was produced from "Astounding Stories" December 1931. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.
The White Invaders
A Complete Novelette
By Ray Cummings
Out of their unknown fourth dimensional realm materializes a horde of White Invaders with power invincible.
A White Shape in the Moonlight
The colored boy gazed at Don and me with a look of terror.
"But I tell you I seen it!" he insisted. "An' it's down there now. A ghost! It's all white an' shinin'!"
"Nonsense, Willie," Don turned to me. "I say, Bob, what do you make of this?"
"I seen it, I tell you," the boy broke in. "It ain't a mile from here if you want to go look at it."
Don gripped the colored boy whose coffee complexion had taken on a greenish cast with his terror.
"Stop saying that, Willie. That's absolute rot. There's no such thing as a ghost."
"But I seen—"
"Over on the north shore. Not far."
"What did you see?" Don shook him. "Tell us exactly."
"A man! I seen a man. He was up on a cliff just by the golf course when I first seen him. I was comin' along the path down by the Fort Beach an' I looked up an' there he was, shinin' all white in the moonlight. An' then before I could run, he came floatin' down at me."
"Yes. He didn't walk. He came down through the rocks. I could see the rocks of the cliff right through him."
Don laughed at that. But neither he nor I could set this down as utter nonsense, for within the past week there had been many wild stories of ghosts among the colored people of Bermuda. The Negroes of Bermuda are not unduly superstitious, and certainly they are more intelligent, better educated than most of their race. But the little islands, this past week, were echoing with whispered tales of strange things seen at night. It had been mostly down at the lower end of the comparatively inaccessible Somerset; but now here it was in our own neighborhood.
"You've got the fever, Willie," Don laughed. "I say, who told you you saw a man walking through rock?"
"Nobody told me. I seen him. It ain't far if you—"
"You think he's still there?"
"Maybe so. Mr. Don, he was standin' still, with his arms folded. I ran, an'—"
"Let's go see if he's there," I suggested. "I'd like to have a look at one of these ghosts."
* * * * *
But even as I lightly said it, a queer thrill of fear shot through me. No one can contemplate an encounter with the supernatural without a shudder.
"Right you are," Don exclaimed. "What's the use of theory? Can you lead us to where you saw him, Willie?"
"Ye-es, of course."
The sixteen-year-old Willie was shaking again. "W-what's that for, Mr. Don?"
Don had picked up a shotgun which was standing in a corner of the room.
"Ain't no—no use of that, Mr. Don."
"We'll take it anyway, Willie. Ready, Bob?"
A step sounded behind us. "Where are you going?"
It was Jane Dorrance, Don's cousin. She stood in the doorway. Her long, filmy white summer dress fell nearly to her ankles. Her black hair was coiled on her head. In her bodice was a single red poinsettia blossom. As she stood motionless, her small slight figure framed against the dark background of the hall, she could have been a painting of an English beauty save for the black hair suggesting the tropics. Her blue-eyed gaze went from Don to me, and then to the gun.
"Where are you going?"
"Willie saw a ghost." Don grinned. "They've come from Somerset, Jane. I say, one of them seems to be right here."
"Willie saw it down by the Fort Beach."
"Yes. Just now. So he says, though it's all rot, of course."
"Oh," said Jane, and she became silent.
* * * * *
She appeared to be barring our way. It seemed to me, too, that the color had left her face, and I wondered vaguely why she was taking it so seriously. That was not like Jane: she was a level-headed girl, not at all the sort to be frightened by Negroes talking of ghosts.
She turned suddenly on Willie. The colored boy had been employed in the Dorrance household since childhood. Jane herself was only seventeen, and she had known Willie here in this same big white stone house, almost from infancy.
"Willie, what you saw, was it a—a man?"
"Yes," said the boy eagerly. "A man. A great big man. All white an' shinin'."
"A man with a hood? Or a helmet? Something like a queer-looking hat on his head, Willie?"
"Jane!" expostulated Don. "What do you mean?"
"I saw him—saw it," said Jane nervously.
"Good Lord!" I exclaimed. "You did? When? Why didn't you tell us?"
"I saw it last night." She smiled faintly. "I didn't want to add to these wild tales. I thought it was my imagination. I had been asleep—I fancy I was dreaming of ghosts anyway."
"You saw it—" Don prompted.
"Outside my bedroom window. Some time in the middle of the night. The moon was out and the—the man was all white and shining, just as Willie says."
"But your bedroom," I protested. "Good Lord, your bedroom is on the upper floor."
But Jane continued soberly, with a sudden queer hush to her voice, "It was standing in the air outside my window. I think it had been looking in. When I sat up—I think I had cried out, though none of you heard me evidently—when I sat up, it moved away; walked away. When I got to the window, there was nothing to see." She smiled again. "I decided it was all part of my dream. This morning—well, I was afraid to tell you because I knew you'd laugh at me. So many girls down in Somerset have been imagining things like that."
* * * * *
To me, this was certainly a new light on the matter. I think that both Don and I, and certainly the police, had vaguely been of the opinion that some very human trickster was at the bottom of all this. Someone, criminal or otherwise, against whom our shotgun would be efficacious. But here was level-headed Jane telling us of a man standing in mid-air peering into her second-floor bedroom, and then walking away. No trickster could accomplish that.
"Ain't we goin'?" Willie demanded. "I seen it, but it'll be gone."
"Right enough," Don exclaimed grimly. "Come on, Willie."
He disregarded Jane as he walked to the door, but she clung to him.
"I'm coming," she said obstinately, and snatched a white lace scarf from the hall rack and flung it over her head like a mantilla. "Don, may I come?" she added coaxingly.
He gazed at me dubiously. "Why, I suppose so," he said finally. Then he grinned. "Certainly no harm is going to come to us from a ghost. Might frighten us to death, but that's about all a ghost can do, isn't it?"
We left the house. The only other member of the Dorrance household was Jane's father—the Hon. Arthur Dorrance, M.P. He had been in Hamilton all day, and had not yet returned. It was about nine o'clock of an evening in mid-May. The huge moon rode high in a fleecy sky, illumining the island with a light so bright one could almost read by it.
"We'll walk," said Don. "No use riding, Willie."
"No. It's shorter over the hill. It ain't far."
* * * * *
We left our bicycles standing against the front veranda, and, with Willie and Don leading us, we plunged off along the little dirt road of the Dorrance estate. The poinsettia blooms were thick on both sides of us. A lily field, which a month before had been solid white with blossoms, still added its redolence to the perfumed night air. Through the branches of the squat cedar trees, in almost every direction there was water visible—deep purple this night, with a rippled sheen of silver upon it.
We reached the main road, a twisting white ribbon in the moonlight. We followed it for a little distance, around a corkscrew turn, across a tiny causeway where the moonlit water of an inlet lapped against the base of the road and the sea-breeze fanned us. A carriage, heading into the nearby town of St. Georges, passed us with the thud of horses' hoofs pounding on the hard smooth stone of the road. Under its jaunty canopy an American man reclined with a girl on each side of him. He waved us a jovial greeting as they passed.
Then Willie turned us off the road. We climbed the ramp of an open grassy field, with a little cedar woods to one side, and up ahead, half a mile to the right, the dark crumbling ramparts of a little ancient fort which once was for the defense of the island.
Jane and I were together, with Willie and Don in advance of us, and Don carrying the shotgun.
"You really saw it, Jane?"
"Oh, I don't know. I thought I did. Then I thought that I didn't."
"Well, I hope we see it now. And if it's human—which it must be if there's anything to it at all—we'll march it back to St. Georges and lock it up."
She turned and smiled at me, but it was a queer smile, and I must admit my own feelings were queer.
"Don't you think you're talking nonsense, Bob?"
"Yes, I do," I admitted. "I guess maybe the whole thing is nonsense. But it's got the police quite worried. You knew that, didn't you? All this wild talk—there must be some basis for it."
Don was saying, "Take the lower path, Willie. Take the same route you were taking when you saw it."
* * * * *
We climbed down a steep declivity, shadowed by cedar trees, and reached the edge of a tiny, almost landlocked, lagoon. It was no more than a few hundred feet in diameter. The jagged, porous gray-black rocks rose like an upstanding crater rim to mark its ten-foot entrance to the sea. A little white house stood here with its back against the fifty-foot cliff. It was dark, its colored occupants probably already asleep. Two rowboats floated in the lagoon, moored near the shore. And on the narrow strip of stony beach, nets were spread to dry.
"This way, Mister Don. I was comin' along here, toward the Fort." Willie was again shaking with excitement. "Just past that bend."
"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.
The night promised to be clear. The moon would rise, just beyond the full, a few hours after sunset. It was a warm and breathless night, with less wind than usual. Most of the people crowding the streets and the restaurants were in white linen—themselves suggesting the white and ghostly enemy.
* * * * *
Mr. Dorrance was occupied at the Government House. Jane, Don and I had supper in a restaurant on Queen Street. It was nearly eight o'clock and the crowd in the restaurant was thinning out. We were seated near the street entrance where large plate-glass windows displayed a variety of bakery products and confections. Jane had her back to the street, but Don and I were facing it. Crowds were constantly passing. It was near the end of our meal. I was gazing idly through one of the windows, watching the passing people when suddenly I became aware of a man standing out there gazing in at me. I think I have never had so startling a realization. It was a man in white doeskin trousers and blue blazer jacket, with a jaunty linen cap on his head. An abnormally tall, muscular man. And his smooth-shaven, black-browed face with the reflection from the restaurant window lights upon it, reminded me of the apparition we had seen the night before!
"Don! Don't look up! Don't move! Jane, don't look around!" I whispered, almost frantically.
I must have gone white for Don and Jane gaped at me in astonishment.
"Don't do that!" I murmured. "Someone outside, watching us!" I tried to smile. "Hot night, isn't it? Did you get a check, Don?" I looked around vaguely for the waitress, but out of the tail of my eyes I could see the fellow out there still peering in and staring intently at us.
"What is it?" Don whispered.
"Man watching us! See him out there—the right-hand window! Jane, don't look around!"
"Good Lord!" murmured Don.
"Looks like him, doesn't it?"
"Good Lord! But I say—"
"What is it?" murmured Jane. "What is it?"
"Waitress!" I called. "Check, please. There's a man out there, Jane—we're crazy, but he does look like that ghost we saw on the Fort Beach."
If the fellow knew that we had spotted him he gave no sign. He was still apparently regarding the bakery display in the window, but watching us nevertheless. I was sure of that.
The waitress gave us our check. "Nine and six," Don smiled. "Thank you. But didn't you forget that last coffee?"
The colored girl added the extra sixpence, and left us.
"You think that's the same—I say, good Lord—"
* * * * *
Don was speechless. Jane had gone white. The fellow moved to the other window, and Jane had a swift look at him. We all recognized him, or thought we did. What necromancy was this? Had one of the apparitions materialized? Was that ghost we saw, this gigantic fellow in doeskins and blazer who looked like a tourist standing out there at the window? Were these ghosts merely human enemies after all?
The idea was at once terrifying, and yet reassuring. This was a man with whom we could cope with normal tactics. My hand went to the pocket of my blazer where I had a little revolver. Both Don and I were armed—permits for the carrying of concealed weapons had been issued to us this same day.
I murmured, "Jane! There are the Blakinsons over there. Go join them. We'll be back presently."
"What are you going to do?" Don demanded.
"Go out and tackle him—shall we? Have a talk. Find out who he is."
"No!" Jane protested.
"Why not? Don't you worry, Jane. Right here in the public street—and we're both armed. He's only a man."
But was he only a man?
"We'll have a go at it," said Don abruptly. He rose from his seat. "Come on, Jane, I'll take you to the Blakinsons."
"Hurry it up!" I said. "He's leaving! We'll lose him!"
The fellow seemed about to wander on along the street. Don brought Jane over to the Blakinsons' table which was at the back of the restaurant. We left our check with her and dashed for the street.
"Where is he? Do you see him?" Don demanded.
He had gone. But in a moment we saw him, his white cap towering above the crowd down by the drugstore at the corner.
"Come on, Don! There he is!"
We half ran through the crowd. We caught the fellow as he was diagonally crossing the street. We rushed up, one on each side of him, and seized him by the arms.
Tako, the Mysterious
The fellow towered head and shoulders over Don, and almost that over me. He stared down at us, his jaw dropping with surprise. My heart was pounding; to me there was no doubt about it now; this heavy-featured handsome, but evil face was the face of the apparition at whom Don had fired as it hung in the air over the Fort Beach path. But this was a man. His arm, as I clutched it, was muscularly solid beneath the sleeve of his flannel jacket.
"I say," Don panted. "Just a minute."
With a sweep of his arms the stranger angrily flung off our hold.
"What do you want?"
I saw, within twenty feet of us, a policeman standing in the street intersection.
"I beg your pardon," Don stammered. We had had no time to plan anything. I put in:
"We thought you were a friend of ours. This night—so much excitement—let's get back to the curb."
We drew the man to the sidewalk as a physician's little automobile with two soldiers in it waded its way slowly through the crowd.
The man laughed. "It is an exciting night. I never have seen Bermuda like this before."
Swift impressions flooded me. The fellow surely must recognize us as we did him. He was pretending friendliness. I noticed that though he seemed not over forty, his close-clipped hair beneath the white linen cap was silver white. His face had a strange pallor, not the pallor of ill health, but seemingly a natural lack of color. And his voice, speaking good English, nevertheless marked him for a foreigner—though of what nation certainly I could not say.
"We're mistaken," said Don. "But you look like someone we know."
"Do I, indeed? That is interesting."
"Only you're taller," I said. "You're not a Bermudian, are you?"
His eyes, beneath the heavy black brows shot me a look. "No. I am a stranger; a visitor. My name——"
* * * * *
He hesitated briefly; then he smiled with what seemed an amused irony. "My name is Tako. Robert Tako. I am living at the Hamiltonia Hotel. Does that satisfy you?"
I could think of nothing to say. Nor could Don. The fellow added, "Bermuda is like a little ship. I understand your inquisitiveness—one must know everyone else. And who are you?"
Don told him.
"Ah, yes," he smiled. "And so you are a native Bermudian?"
"And you," he said to me, "you are American?"
"From New York, yes."
"That is more interesting. Never have I known an American. You are familiar with New York City?"
"Of course. I was born there."
His contemplative gaze made me shiver. I wondered what Don was planning as an outcome to this. The fellow seemed wholly at ease now. He was lounging against the drug store window with us before him. My eyes were level with the negligee collar of his blue linen shirt, and abruptly I was galvanized into alertness. Just above the soft collar where his movements had crushed it down I saw unmistakably the loop of a tiny black thread of wire projecting upward! Conclusive proof! This was one of the mysterious enemies! One of the apparitions which had thrown all Bermuda into a turmoil stood materialized here before us.
I think that Don had already seen the wire. The fellow was saying nonchalantly,
"And you, Mr. Livingston—are you also familiar with New York City?"
"Yes," said Don. He had gone pale and tight-lipped. I caught his warning glance to me. "Yes," he repeated. "I lived there several years."
"I would like to know you two better. Much better—but not tonight."
He moved as though to take his leave of us. Then he added to Don, "That most beautiful young lady with you in the restaurant—did I not see you there? Is that your sister?"
Don made his decision. He said abruptly, "That's none of your business."
It took the fellow wholly by surprise. "But listen—"
"I've had enough of your insolence," Don shouted.
The man's hand made an instinctive movement toward his belt, but I seized his wrist. And I added my loud voice to Don's. "No, you don't!"
* * * * *
A group of onlookers was at once collecting around us. The giant tried to cast me off, but I clung to him with all my strength. And suddenly we were struggling to keep the fellow from breaking away from us. He muttered a strange-sounding oath.
"Let me go! You fools!"
"Not such fools," Don shouted. "Officer! I say—officer!"
Don's revolver was in his hand; people were pressing around us, but when they saw the revolver they began scattering. The giant made a lunge and broke away from us, heedless that Don might have shot him.
"What's all this? I say, you three, what are you up to?"
The policeman came on a run. A group of soldiers passing on bicycles, flung the machines aside and came dashing at us. The giant stood suddenly docile.
"Officer, these young men attacked me."
"He's a liar!" Don shouted. "Watch him! He might be armed—don't let him get away from you!"
The law surrounded us. "Here's my weapon," said Don. "Bob, give up your revolver."
In the turmoil Don plucked the policeman aside.
"I'm nephew of the Honorable Arthur Dorrance. Take us to your chief. I made that uproar to catch that big fellow."
The name of the Honorable Arthur Dorrance was magic. The policeman stared at our giant captive who now was surrounded by the soldiers.
"But I say—"
"Take us all in and send for Mr. Dorrance. He's at the Government House."
"But I say—That big blighter—"
"We think he's one of the ghosts!" Don whispered.
"Oh, my Gawd!"
With the crowd following us we were hurried away to the police station nearby.
* * * * *
The sergeant said, "The Chief will be here in a few minutes. And we've sent for Mr. Dorrance."
"Good enough, Brown." It chanced that Don knew this sergeant very well. "Did you search the fellow?"
"Yes. No weapon in his clothes."
I whispered, "I saw a wire under his collar."
"Sh! No use telling that now, Bob."
I realized it. These policemen were frightened enough at our captive. Don added, "Before my uncle and the Chief arrive, let me have a talk with that fellow, will you?"
They had locked him up; and in the excitement of our arrival at the station both Don and I had completely forgotten the wire we had seen at his collar. But we remembered it now, and the same thought occurred to both of us. We had locked up this mysterious enemy, but would the prison bars hold him?
"Good Lord!" Don exclaimed. "Bob, those wires—Sergeant, we shouldn't have left that fellow alone! Is he alone! Come on!"
With the frightened mystified sergeant leading us we dashed along the little white corridor to the windowless cell in which the giant was confined. At the cell-door a group of soldiers lounged in the corridor.
"Smooth talker, that fellow."
"Gor blime me, who is he?"
We arrived with a rush. "Is he in there?" Don shouted. "Open the door, you fellows! See here, you watch him—we've got to get his clothes off. He's got some mechanism—wires and things underneath his clothes!"
"Get out of the way!" ordered the sergeant. "I'll open it!"
There was silence from behind the door. The prisoner had been in the cell no more than a minute or two.
* * * * *
We burst open the door. The cell was dimly illumined. The figure of the giant stood backed in its further corner. But at the sight of him we all stood transfixed with horror. His shoes, trousers, shirt, jacket and cap lay in a little pile at his feet. He stood revealed in the short tight-fitting silvery garments. The wires were looped about his arms and legs and he had pulled a mesh of them over his head in lieu of a helmet.
He stood regarding us sardonically. And in that instant while we were stricken with the shock of it, I saw that the figure was fading. It was a solid human form no longer! A silvery cast had come upon it. Another second passed; it was visibly growing tenuous, wraithlike! It was melting while we stared at it, until in that breathless instant I realized that the wall behind it was showing through.
A wraith! An apparition! The vision of a ghost standing there, leering at us!
The soldiers had retreated back into the corridor behind us. The sergeant gripped me, and his other hand, wavering with fright, clutched a revolver.
"But it's—it's going!"
Don gasped, "Too late! Sergeant, give me that gun!"
"Wait!" I shouted. "Don't shoot at it!"
The shimmering glowing white figure was slowly moving downward as though floating through the cell-floor. Its own invisible surface was evidently not here but lower down, and it was beginning to drop. I don't know what frenzied courage—if courage it could be called—was inspiring me. I was wholly confused, but nevertheless I struck Don and the sergeant aside and rushed at the thing.
* * * * *
It was a sensation most horrible. From the waist up it was still above the floor of the cell. My wildly flailing arms went through the chest! But I felt nothing. It was not even like waving aside a mist. There was nothing. I saw my solid fist plunge through the leering ghostly face. I fought wildly, with a panic upon me, against the glowing phosphorescent nothingness of the apparition. My feet were stamping on its chest and shoulders. Then, as it sank lower, only the grinning face was down there.
Panting, and with the cold sweat of horror upon me, I felt Don shoving me aside.
And then the sergeant's shot rang out. The bullet clattered against the solid stone floor of the cell. The acrid smoke of the powder rolled over us; and cleared in a moment to show us the apparition several feet below the floor level. It seemed to strike its solidity of ground. I saw it fall the last little distance with a rush; land, and pick itself up. And with a last sardonic grin upward at us, the dim white figure ran. Dwindling smaller, dimmer, until in a moment it was gone into the Unknown.
As though a light had struck upon me came the realization.
"Don, this is rational, this thing! Some strange science!"
All day we had been vaguely realizing it. Intangible, but rational enemies were stealing white girls of Bermuda. Invaders from another planet? We had thought it might be that. Certainly it was nothing supernatural. These was not ghosts.
But now came a new realization. "Don! That's another world down there! Another realm! The fourth dimension—that's what it is! These things everybody's calling ghosts—it's the fourth dimension, Don! People of the fourth dimension coming out to attack us!"
And already the real menace had come! At that moment, half a mile away across the harbor on the slope of the little hill in Paget, an army of the White Invaders suddenly materialized, with dull, phosphorescent-green light-beams flashing around the countryside, melting trees and vegetation and people into nothingness!
The attack upon Bermuda had begun!
The events which I have now to describe are world history, and have been written in many forms and by many observers. I must, however, sketch them in broadest outline for the continuity of this personal narrative of the parts played by my friends and myself in the dire and astounding affair which was soon to bring chaos, not only to little Bermuda but to the great United States as well, and a near panic everywhere in the world.
On this evening of May 15th, 1938, the White Invaders showed themselves for the first time as rational human enemies. The residential suburb of Paget lies across the little harbor from the city of Hamilton. It is a mile or so by road around the bay, and a few minutes across the water by ferry. The island in the Paget section is a mere strip of land less than half a mile wide in most places, with the sheltered waters of the harbor on one side, and the open Atlantic with a magnificent pink-white beach on the other. The two are divided by a razor-back ridge—a line of little hills a hundred feet or so high, with narrow white roads and white stone residences set on the hill-slopes amid spacious lawns and tropical gardens; and with several lavish hotels on the bay shore, and others over the ridge, fronting the beach.
The invaders landed on the top of the ridge. It seemed that, without warning, a group of white-clad men were in a cedar grove up there. They spread out, running along the roads. They seemed carrying small hand-weapons from which phosphorescent-green light-beams flashed into the night.
The first reports were chaotic. A few survivors appeared in Hamilton who claimed to have been very close to the enemy. But for the most part the descriptions came from those who had fled when still a mile or more away. The news spread as though upon the wings of a gale. Within an hour the hotels were emptied; the houses all along the shore and the bayside hill-slope were deserted by their occupants. Boats over there brought the excited people into Hamilton until no more boats were available. Others came madly driving around the harbor road, on bicycles, and on foot—and still others escaped toward distant Somerset.
* * * * *
A thousand people or more came in within that hour. But there were others who did not come—those who were living in the score or two of houses up on the ridge in the immediate neighborhood of where the invaders appeared....
Don and I met Mr. Dorrance at the police station within a few minutes after the news of the Paget attack reached us. We hurried back to the restaurant and found Jane still there with the Blakinsons. Ten minutes later we were all in the Government House, receiving the most authentic reports available.
From the windows of the second floor room where Mr. Dorrance sat with a number of the officials, Don, Jane, and I could see across the harbor and to the ridge where the enemy was operating. It was not much over two miles from us. The huge, slightly flattened moon had risen. The bay and the distant little hills were flooded with its light. We could see, off on the ridge-top, the tiny flashing green beams. But there was no sound save the turmoil of the excited little city around us.
"They don't seem to be moving," Don murmured. "They're right where they were first reported."
It seemed as though the small group of light-beams, darting back and forth, nevertheless originated from one unshifting place. The beams, we realized, must be extremely intense to be visible even these two miles or so, for we could see that they were very small and of very short range—more like a hand-flashlight than anything else. How many of the enemy were there? They were men, we understood: solid, human men garbed in the fashion of the apparitions which had been so widely seen.
The patrolling airplane, connected with us here by wireless telephone, gave us further details. There seemed to be some fifty of the invaders. They stood in a group in what had been a small cedar grove. It was a barren field now; the trees had melted and vanished before the silent blasts of the green light-beams. They had, these beams, seemingly a range of under a hundred feet. The invaders had, at first, run with them along the nearby roads and attacked the nearest houses. Part of those houses were still standing, save for the wooden portion of them which had vanished into nothingness as the green light touched it. The people, too, were annihilated. The airplane pilot had seen a man running near the field trying to escape. The light touched him, clung to him for a moment. There was an instant as he fell that he seemed melting into a ghostly figure; and then he was gone.
* * * * *
Fifty invaders. But they were human; they could be attacked. When they first appeared, the nature of them still unrealized, a physician's automobile, manned by three soldiers, had been coming along the bay road at the foot of the ridge. The soldiers turned it into a cross road and mounted the hill. Two of them left it, scouting to see what was happening; the other stayed in the car. One of the enemy suddenly appeared. His ray struck the car. Its tires, its woodwork, and fabric and cushions melted and vanished, and the man within it likewise disappeared. Everything organic vanished under the assailing green beam. The other two soldiers fired at the attacker. He was human. He fell as their bullets struck him. Then others of his fellows came running. The two soldiers were driven away, but they escaped to tell of the encounter.
The airplane pilot, half an hour later, flew low and fired down into the group of enemy figures. He thought that one of them fell. He also thought he was out of range of their beams. But a pencil-point of the green light thinned and lengthened out. It darted up to his hundred-and-fifty-foot altitude and caught one of his wings. The plane fell disabled into the bay near the city docks, but the pilot swam safely ashore.
I need not detail the confusion and panic of the government officials who were gathered here in the room where Don, Jane and I stood watching and listening to the excitement of the incoming reports. For quiet little Bermuda the unprecedented situation was doubly frightening. An attack would have to be made upon the invaders. There were only fifty of the enemy; the soldiers and the police could in a few hours be mobilized to rush them and kill them all.
But could that be done? The thing had so many weird aspects, the invaders still seemed so much in the nature of the supernatural, that Mr. Dorrance advised caution. The enemy was now—this was about ten o'clock in the evening—quietly gathered in the little field on the ridge-top. They seemed, with their first attack over, no longer offensive. But, if assailed, who could say what they would do?
* * * * *
And a thousand unprecedented things to do were pressing upon the harassed officials. Panic-stricken crowds now surged out of all control in the Hamilton streets. Refugees were coming in, homeless, needing care. The soldiers and the police were scattered throughout the islands, without orders of what to do to meet these new conditions.
And new, ever more frightening reports poured in. The telephone service, which links as a local call nearly every house throughout the islands, was flooded with frantic activity. From nearly every parish came reports of half-materialized ghosts. Fifty invaders? There were that many gathered on the Paget hill, but it seemed that there must be a thousand watching apparitions scattered throughout the islands. Harmless, merely frightening, wraiths. But if that little group in Paget were assailed, this other thousand might in a moment cease to be harmless "ghosts."
The astounded Bermuda officials were forced now to accept the realization that this was solid science. Incredible, fantastic, unbelievable—yet here it was upon us. Some unknown, invisible realm co-existed here in this same space. Its inhabitants had found a way to come out.
The government wireless, and the Canadian cables, could no longer withhold such news as this. Bermuda appealed now to Washington and to London for help. Warships would be coming shortly. Passenger liners on the high seas bringing holiday visitors, were turned aside. The ships in the port of New York would not sail for Bermuda tomorrow.
I think that the outside world would have had jeering publics amused at little Bermuda hysterical over a fancied attack from the fabled fourth dimension. But by midnight this night, the United States at least was in no mood for jeering. A message came—reaching us soon after eleven o'clock, Bermuda time—by cable, through Halifax from Washington. The thing already had passed beyond the scope of the Bermudas. White apparitions were seen on the Atlantic seaboard near Savannah. And then at Charleston; and throughout the night at several other points farther north. None materialized into solidity. But the "ghosts" were seen, appearing, vanishing, and reappearing always farther north.
It was a world menace!
* * * * *
At about midnight Mr. Dorrance joined Jane, Don and me where we stood by the Government House windows watching the distant motionless group of enemy lights. He was pale and harassed.
"No use for you to stay here," he told us. "Don, you and Bob take Jane home. It's the safest place now."
The reports seemed to indicate that of all the parishes, St. Georges was now most free of the apparitions.
"Go home," he insisted. "You and Bob stay with Jane. Take care of her, lads." He smiled grimly. "We—all the government—may be moving to St. Georges by morning."
"But, father," Jane protested, "what will you do? Stay here?"
"For a while. I'll drive over by daybreak. I'll keep the Victoria. You have your cycles; you three ride over. Be careful, lads. You have your revolvers?"
"Yes," said Don.
We had no time for leave-taking. He was at once called away from us.
We left the Government House shortly after that, got our bicycles and started for the north shore road. Government Hill, where the road climbed through a deep cut in the solid rock, was thronged with carriages, and with cyclists walking up the hill. Most of the traffic was going in one direction—refugees leaving this proximity to the enemy.
We reached the top of the hill, mounted and began the long coast down. In an hour and a half or less we would be home.... Ah, if one could only lift the veil which hides even the immediate future, upon the brink of which we must always stand unseeing!
The north-shore road had the rocky seacoast upon our left—calm moonlit ocean across which in this direction lay the Carolinas some seven hundred miles away. We had gone, perhaps three miles from Hamilton. The road was less crowded here. A group of apparitions had been seen in the neighborhood of the Aquarium, which was ahead of us, and most of the refugees were taking the middle road along Harrington Sound in the center of the island.
But we decided to continue straight on. It was shorter.
"And there will be more police along here," Don reasoned.
Heaven knows we did not feel in immediate danger. Cycling soldiers passed us at frequent intervals, giving us the news of what lay ahead. And we both had revolvers.
* * * * *
We came presently to the bottom of one of the many steep little hills up which it is difficult to ride. We were walking up the grade, pushing our machines with Jane between us. A group of soldiers came coasting down the hill, but when we were half-way up they had passed out of sight. It chanced at the moment that we were alone on the road. No house was near us. The ocean to our left lay at the bottom of a fifty-foot rocky cliff; to the right was a thick line of oleander trees, heavy with bloom.
Ahead of us, to the right within the line of oleanders, the glowing white figure of an apparition was visible. We stopped, out of breath from the climb, and stood by the roadside.
"See it there?" Don murmured. "Let's wait and watch it a moment."
One may get used to anything. We were not frightened. The figure, no more than twenty feet ahead of us, stood partly within a tree-trunk. It could not materialize there. It was the figure of a man, with helmet and looped wires.
"Not that fellow who called himself Tako," I whispered.
This one was smaller, no larger than Jane, perhaps. He raised his arms as though warning us to stop. We stood gazing at him, undecided whether to retreat or advance. An omnibus carriage coming from St. Georges stopped at the brow of the hill. Its occupants climbed out and began shouting at the apparition, at the same time flinging stones, one of which came bounding past us.
"Hi!" I called. "Stop that! No sense to that!"
* * * * *
Suddenly I heard a rustling of the oleanders at my side. We had no warning; our attention was wholly upon the apparition and the men by the carriage on the brow of the hill flinging stones. There was a rustling; the shadowed oleanders parted and figures leaped upon us!
I recall hearing Don shout, and Jane cry out. Our cycles clattered to the road. I fired at an oncoming white figure, but missed. The solid form of a man struck me and I went down, tangled in my wheel. There was an instant when I was conscious of fighting madly with a human antagonist. I was conscious of Don fighting, too. Jane stood, gripped by a man. Four or five of them had leaped upon us.
I had many instant impressions; then as I fought something struck my head and I faded into insensibility. I must have recovered within a moment. I was lying on the ground, partly upon a bicycle.
Don was lying near me. White figures of men with Jane in their midst were standing off the road, partly behind the bushes. They were holding her, and one of them was swiftly adjusting a network of wires upon her. Then, as I revived further, I heard shouts; people were arriving from down the hill. I tried to struggle to my feet, but fell back.
In the bushes the figures—and the figure of Jane—were turning silvery; fading into wraiths. They drifted down into the ground. They were gone.
Into the Enemy Camp
"But Bob, I won't go back to Government House," Don whispered. "Lord, we can't do that—get in for theories and questions and plans to gather a police squad. Every minute counts."
"What can we do?"
"Break away from these fellows—send Uncle Arthur a message—anything at all; and say we'll be back in half an hour. I tell you, Jane is gone—they've got her. You saw them take her. By now probably, they've got her off there in Paget among them. We've got to do something drastic, and do it now. If the police attacked—suppose Jane is in that Paget group—the first thing they'd do when the police came at them would be to kill her. We can't go at it that way, I tell you."
We were trudging back up Government Hill with a group of soldiers around us. I had revived to find myself not seriously injured; a lump was on my head and a scalp wound where something had struck me. Don had regained consciousness a moment later and was wholly unharmed. His experience had been different from mine. Two men had seized him. He was aware of a sudden puff of an acrid gas in his face, and his senses had faded. But when they returned he had his full strength almost at once.
We realized what had happened. Half a dozen of the enemy were lying in ambush there on the roadside. It was young white girls they were after, and when we appeared with Jane, one of the invaders showed himself as an apparition to stop us, and then the others, fully materialized and hiding in the oleanders, had leaped upon us. They had had only time to escape with Jane, ignoring Don and me where we had fallen. They seemed also not aware of the nature of our weapons for they had not taken our revolvers.
* * * * *
Had they gone now with Jane into the other realm of the Unknown? Or was she with them, over in Paget now in the little enemy camp there which was defying Bermuda? We thought very possibly it was the latter. The giant who had called himself Tako, who had escaped us in the Police Station, had been driven from our minds by all the excitement which followed. Was that Tako the leader of these invaders? Had he, for some time perhaps, been living as he said in the Hamiltonia Hotel? Scouting around Bermuda, selecting the young girls whom his cohorts were to abduct?
The thoughts made us shudder. He had noticed Jane. He it was, doubtless, who as an apparition had prowled outside Jane's room the night before last. And last night he had followed us to the Fort Beach. And again to-night in the restaurant he had been watching Jane. These men who had captured Jane now might very well carry her to Paget and hand her over to their leader, this giant Tako.
A frenzy of desperation was upon Don and me at the thought.
"But what shall we do?" I whispered.
"Get away from these soldiers, Bob. We've got our revolvers. We'll ride over there to Paget—just the two of us. It's our best chance that way. Creep up and see what's over there. And if Jane is there, we've got to get her, Bob—get her some way, somehow."
We could plan no further than that. But to return to Government House, to face Jane's father with the tale of what had happened, and then become involved in an official attempt to attack with open hostilities the enemy in Paget—that was unthinkable.
* * * * *
At the foot of Government Hill, with a trumped-up excuse, Don got us away from our escort. The night was far darker now; a gray-white mass of clouds had come up to obscure the moon. We cycled through the outskirts of Hamilton to the harbor road and followed it around the marshy end of the bay and into Paget. There had been at first many vehicles coming in from the beach, but when we passed the intersection and nothing lay ahead of us but the Paget ridge we found the road deserted.
We had had our handle-bar flash-lights turned on, but now we shut them off, riding slowly into the darkness. Don presently dismounted.
"Better leave our wheels here."
We laid them on the ground in a little roadside banana patch. We were no more than a quarter of a mile from the enemy now; the glow of their green beams standing up into the air showed on the ridge-top ahead of us.
"We'll take the uproad," Don whispered. "Shall we? And when we get to the top, follow some path, instead of a road."
"All right," I agreed.
We started on foot up the steep side road which led from the bay shore to the summit of the ridge. The houses here were all dark and deserted, their occupants long since having fled to Hamilton. It was enemy country here now.
We reached the summit and plunged into a cedar grove which had a footpath through it. The green light-beams seemed very close; we could see them in a little group standing motionless up into the darkness of the sky.
"Can't plan," Don whispered. "But we must keep together. Get up as close as we can and see what conditions are."
And see if Jane were here.... It echoed through my head, and I knew it was also Don's guiding thought.
* * * * *
Another ten minutes. We were advancing with the utmost caution. The cedar grove was almost black. Then we came to the end of it. There was a winding road and two white houses a hundred feet or so apart. And beyond the houses was a stretch of open field, strangely denuded of vegetation.
"There they are, Bob!" Don sank to the ground with me beside him. We crouched, revolvers in hand, gazing at the strange scene. The field had been a cedar grove, but all the vegetation now was gone, leaving only the thin layer of soil and the outcropping patches of Bermuda's famous blue-gray rock. The houses, too, had been blasted. One was on this side of the field, quite near us. Its walls and roof had partially fallen; its windows and door rectangles yawned black and empty, with the hurricane shutters and the wooden window casements gone and the panes shattered into a litter of broken glass.
But the house held our attention only a moment. Across the two-hundred-foot field we could plainly see the invaders—forty or fifty men's figures dispersed in a little group. It seemed a sort of encampment. The green light beams seemed emanating from small hand projectors resting now on the ground. The sheen from them gave a dull lurid-green cast to the scene. The men were sitting about in small groups. And some were moving around, seemingly assembling larger apparatus. We saw a projector, a cylindrical affair, which half a dozen of them were dragging.
"Bob! Can you make out—back by the banana grove—captives? Look!"
* * * * *
The encampment was at the further corner of the naked field. A little banana grove joined it. We could see where the enemy light had struck, partially melting off some of the trees so that now they stood leprous. In the grove were other figures of men, and it seemed that among them were some girls. Was Jane there among those captives?
"We've got to get closer," I whispered. "Don, that second house—if we could circle around and get there. From the corner of it, we'd be hidden."
"We'll try it."
The farther house was also in ruins. It stood near the back edge of the naked field and was within fifty feet of the banana grove. We circled back, and within ten minutes more were up against the broken front veranda of the house.
"No one here," Don whispered.
"No, evidently not."
"Let's try getting around the back and see them from the back corner."
We were close enough now to hear the voices in the banana grove. The half-wrecked house against which we crouched was a litter of stones and broken glass. It was black and silent inside.
Sidewise across the broken veranda the group of figures in the field were partly visible. We saw ghostly wraiths now among them—apparitions three or four feet above the ground. They solidified and dropped to earth, with their comrades gathering over them. The babble of voices in a strange tongue reached us. New arrivals materializing!
But was Jane here? And Tako, the giant? We had seen nothing of either of them. These men seemed all undersized rather than gigantic. We were about to start around the corner of the veranda for a closer view of the figures in the grove, when a sound near at hand froze us. A murmur of voices! Men within the house!
* * * * *
I pulled Don flat to the ground against the stone steps of the porch. We heard voices; then footsteps. A little green glow of light appeared. We could see over the porch floor into the black yawning door rectangle. Two men were moving around in the lower front room, and the radiation from their green lights showed them plainly. They were small fellows in white, tight-fitting garments, with the black helmet and the looped wires.
"Don, when they come out—" I murmured it against his ear. "If we could strike them down without raising an alarm, and get those suits—"
"Quiet! They're coming!"
They extinguished their light. They came down the front steps, and as they reached the ground and turned aside Don and I rose up in the shadows and struck at them desperately with the handles of our revolvers. Don's man fell silently. Mine was able to ward off the blow; he whirled and flashed on his little light. But the beam missed me as I bent under it and seized him around the middle, reaching up with a hand for his mouth. Then Don came at us, and under his silent blow my antagonist wilted.
We had made only a slight noise; there seemed no alarm.
"Get them into the house," Don murmured. "Inside; someone may come any minute."
We dragged them into the dark and littered lower room. We still had our revolvers, and now I had the small hand-projector of the green light-beam. It was a strangely weightless little cylinder, with a firing mechanism which I had no idea how to operate.
In a moment we had stripped our unconscious captives of their white woven garments. In the darkness we were hopelessly ruining the mechanism of wires and dials. But we did not know how to operate the mechanism in any event; and our plan was only to garb ourselves like the enemy. Thus disguised, with the helmets on our heads, we could get closer, creep among them and perhaps find Jane....
The woven garments which I had thought metal, stretched like rubber and were curiously light in weight. I got the impression now that the garments, these wires and disks, the helmet and the belt with its dial-face—all this strange mechanism and even the green-ray projector weapon—all of it was organic substance. And this afterward proved to be the fact.
 As we later learned, the scientific mechanism by which the transition was made from the realm of the fourth dimension to our own earthly world and back again, was only effective to transport organic substances. The green light-beam was of similar limitation. An organic substance of our world upon which it struck was changed in vibration rate and space-time co-ordinates to coincide with the characteristics with which the light-current was endowed. Thus the invaders used their beams as a weapon. The light flung whatever it touched of organic material with horrible speed of transition away into the Unknown—to the fourth, fifth, or perhaps still other realms. In effect—annihilation.
The mechanism of wires and dials (and small disks which were storage batteries of the strange current) was of slower, more controllable operation. Thus it could be used for transportation—for space-time traveling, as Earth scientists later came to call it. The invaders, wearing this mechanism, materialized at will into the state of matter existing in our world—and by a reversal of the co-ordinates of the current, dematerialized into the more tenuous state of their own realm.
We were soon disrobed and garbed in the white suits of our enemies. The jacket and trunks stretched like rubber to fit us.
"Can't hope to get the wires right," Don whispered. "Got your helmet?"
"Yes. The belt fastens behind, Don."
"I know. These accursed little disks, what are they?"
We did not know them for storage batteries as yet. They were thin flat circles of flexible material with a cut in them so that we could spring the edges apart and clasp them like bracelets at intervals on our arms and legs. The wires connected them, looped up to the helmet, and down to the broad belt where there was an indicator-dial in the middle of the front.
 We were soon to learn also that they were bringing into our world weapons, food, clothing and a variety of equipment by encasing the articles in containers operated by these same mechanisms of wires carrying the transition current. The transportation was possible because all the articles they brought with them were of organic substance.
* * * * *
We worked swiftly and got the apparatus on somehow. The wires, broken and awry, would not be noticed in the darkness.
"Yes. I—I guess so."
"I've got this light cylinder, but we don't know how to work it."
"Carry it openly in your hand. It adds to the disguise." There was a note of triumph in Don's voice. "It's dark out there—only the green glow. We'll pass for them, Bob, at a little distance anyway. Come on."
We started out of the room. "You can hide your revolver in the belt—there seems to be a pouch."
We passed noiselessly to the veranda. Over our bare feet we were wearing a sort of woven buskin which fastened with wires to the ankle disks.
"Keep together," Don whispered. "Take it slowly, but walk openly—no hesitation."
My heart was pounding, seemingly in my throat, half-smothering me. "Around the back corner of the house," I whispered. "Then into the banana grove. Straighten."
"Yes. But not right among them. A little off to one side, passing by as though we were on some errand."
"If they spot us?"
"Open fire. Cut and run for it. All we can do, Bob."
Side by side we walked slowly along the edge of the house. At the back corner, the small banana grove opened before us. Twenty feet away, under the spreading green leaves of the trees a dozen or so men were working over apparatus. And in their center a group of captive girls sat huddled on the ground. Men were passing back and forth. At the edge of the trees, by the naked field, men seemed preparing to serve a meal. There was a bustle of activity everywhere; a babble of strange, subdued voices.
* * * * *
We were well under the trees now. Don, choosing our route, was leading us to pass within ten or fifteen feet of where the girls were sitting. It was dark here in the grove; the litter of rotted leaves on the soft ground scrunched and swished under our tread.
There was light over by the girls. I stared at their huddled forms; their white, terrified faces. Girls of Bermuda, all of them young, all exceptionally pretty. I thought I recognized Eunice Arton. But still it seemed that Jane was not here.... And I saw men seated watchfully near them—men with cylinder weapons in their hands.
Don occasionally would stoop, poking at the ground as though looking for something. He was heading us in a wide curve through the grove so that we were skirting the seated figures. We had already been seen, of course, but as yet no one heeded us. But every moment we expected the alarm to come. My revolver was in the pouch of my belt where I could quickly jerk it out. I brandished the useless light cylinder ostentatiously.
"Don!" I gripped him. We stopped under a banana tree, half hidden in its drooping leaves. "Don—more of them coming!"
Out in the empty field, apparitions of men were materializing. Then we heard a tread near us, and stiffened. I thought that we were discovered. A man passed close to us, heading in toward the girls. He saw us; he raised a hand palm outward with a gesture of greeting and we answered it.
* * * * *
For another two or three minutes we stood there, peering, searching for some sign of Jane.... Men were distributing food to the girls now.
And then we saw Jane! She was seated alone with her back against a banana tree, a little apart from the others. And near her was a seated man's figure, guarding her.
"Don! There she is! We can get near her! Keep on the way we were going. We must go in a wide curve to come up behind her."
We started forward again. We were both wildly excited; Jane was at the edge of the lighted area. We could come up behind her; shoot her guard; seize her and dash off.... I saw that the mesh of wires, disks and a helmet were on Jane....
Don suddenly stumbled over something on the ground. A man who had been lying there, asleep perhaps, rose up. We went sidewise, and passed him.
But his voice followed us. Unintelligible, angry words.
"Keep on!" I murmured. "Don't turn!"
It was a tense moment. The loud words brought attention to us. Then there came what seemed a question from someone over by the girls. We could not answer it. Then two or three other men shouted at us.
Don stopped, undecided.
"No!" I whispered. "Go ahead! Faster Don! It's darker ahead."
We started again. It seemed that all the camp was looking our way. Voices were shouting. Someone called a jibe and there was a burst of laughter. And from behind us came a man's voice, vaguely familiar, with a sharp imperative command.
Should we run? Could we escape now, or would a darting green beam strike us? And we were losing our chance for Jane.
Desperation was on me. "Faster, Don!"
The voice behind us grew more imperative. Then from nearby, two men came running at us. An uproar was beginning. We were discovered!
* * * * *
Don's revolver was out. It seemed suddenly that men were all around us. From behind a tree-trunk squarely ahead a figure appeared with leveled cylinder. The ground leaves were swishing behind us with swiftly advancing footsteps.
Don found his wits. If he had not at that moment we would doubtless have been annihilated in another few seconds. "Bob, we're caught—don't shoot!"
I had flung away the cylinder and drawn my revolver; but Don shoved down my extended hand and held up his own hand.
"We're caught!" He shouted aloud. "Don't kill us! Don't kill us!"
It seemed that everywhere we looked was a leveled cylinder. I half turned at the running footsteps behind us. A man's voice called in English.
"Throw down your weapons! Down!"
Don cast his revolver away, and mine followed. I was aware that Jane had recognized Don's voice, and that she was on her feet staring in our direction with horrified eyes.
The man from behind pounced upon us. It was the giant, Tako.
"Well, my friends of the restaurant! The American who knows New York City so well! And the Bermudian! This is very much to my liking. You thought your jail would imprison me, did you not?"
He stood regarding us with his sardonic smile, while our captors surrounded us, searching our belts for other weapons. And he added, "I was garbed like you when we last met. Now you are garbed like me. How is that?"
* * * * *
They led us into the lighted area of the grove. "The American who knows New York City so well," Tako added. "And the Bermudian says he knows it also. It is what you would call an affair of luck, having you here."
He seemed highly pleased. He gazed at us smilingly. We stood silent while the men roughly stripped the broken wires and disks from us. They recognized the equipment. There was a jargon of argument in their strange guttural language. Then at Tako's command three of them started for the house.
Jane had cried out at sight of us. Her captor had ordered her back to her seat by the tree.
"So?" Tako commented. "You think silence is best? You are wise. I am glad you did not make us kill you just now. I am going to New York and you shall go with me; what you know of the city may be of help. We are through with Bermuda. There are not many girls here. But in the great United States I understand there are very many. You shall help us capture them."
Don began, "The girl over there——"
"Your sister? Your wife? Perhaps she knows something of New York and its girls also. We will keep her close with us. If you three choose to help me, you need have no fear of harm." He waved aside the men with imperious commands. "Come, we will join this girl of yours. She is very pretty, is she not? And like you—not cowardly. I have not been able to make her talk at all."
The dawn of this momentous night was at hand when, with the networks of wires and disks properly adjusted upon us, Tako took Jane, Don and me with him into the Fourth Dimension.
Strange transition! Strange and diabolical plot which now was unfolded to us! Strangely fantastic, weird journey from this Bermuda hilltop through the Unknown to the city of New York!
The Attack upon New York
I must sketch now the main events following this night of May 15th and 16th as the outside world saw them. The frantic reports from Bermuda were forced into credibility by the appearance of apparitions at many points along the Atlantic seaboard of the southern States. They were sporadic appearances that night. No attacks were reported. But in all, at least a thousand wraithlike figures of men must have been seen. The visitations began at midnight and ended with dawn. To anyone, reading in the morning papers or hearing from the newscasters that "ghosts" were seen at Savannah, the thing had no significance. But in Washington, where officials took a summary of all the reports and attempted an analysis of them, one fact seemed clear. The wraiths were traveling northward. It could almost be fancied that this was an army, traveling in the borderland of the Unknown. Appearing momentarily as though coming out to scout around and see the contour and the characteristics of our realm; disappearing again into invisibility, to show themselves in an hour or so many miles farther north.
The reports indicated also that it was not one group of the enemy, but several—and all of them traveling northward. The most northerly group of them by dawn showed itself up near Cape Hatteras.
The news, when it was fully disseminated that next day, brought a mingling of derision and terror from the public. The world rang with the affair. Remote nations, feeling safe since nothing of the kind seemed menacing them, were amused that distant America, supposedly so scientifically modern, should be yielding to superstition worthy only of the Middle Ages. The accounts from Bermuda were more difficult to explain. And England, with Bermuda involved, was not skeptical; as a matter of fact, the British authorities were astonished. Warships were starting for Bermuda; and that morning of May 16th, with the passenger lines in New York not sailing for Bermuda, American warships were ordered to Hamilton. The menace, whatever it was, would soon be ended.
* * * * *
That was May 16th. Another night passed, and on May 17th the world rang with startled horror and a growing terror. Panics were beginning in all the towns and cities of the American seaboard north of Cape Hatteras. It was no longer a matter of merely seeing "ghosts." There had been real attacks the previous night.
There had been a variety of incidents, extraordinarily horrifying—so diverse, so unexpected that they could not have been guarded against. It was a dark night, an area of low pressure with leaden storm-clouds over all the Atlantic coastal region, from Charleston north to the Virginia Capes. A coastal passenger ship off Hatteras sent out a frantic radio distress call. The apparitions of men had suddenly been seen in mid-air directly in the ship's course. The message was incoherent; the vessel's wireless operator was locked in his room at the transmitter, wildly describing an attack upon the ships.
The white apparitions—a group of twenty or thirty men—had been marching in mid-air when the ship sighted them directly over its bow. In the darkness of the night they were only a hundred feet ahead when the lookout saw them. In a moment the vessel was under them, and they began materializing.... The account grew increasingly incoherent. The figures materialized and fell to the deck, picked themselves up and began running about the ship, attacking with little green light-beams. The ship's passengers and crew vanished, obliterated; annihilated. It seemed that young women among the passengers were being spared. The ship was melting—the wooden decks, all the wooden super-structure melting.... A few moments of fantastic horror, then the distress call died into silence as doubtless the green light-beams struck the operator's little cabin.
* * * * *
That vessel was found the next day, grounded on the shoals off Hatteras. The sea was oily and calm. It lay like a gruesome shell, as though some fire had swept all its interior. Yet not fire either, for there were no embers, no ashes. Diseased, leprous, gruesomely weird with parts of its interior intact and other parts obliterated. And no living soul was upon it save one steward crouching in a lower cabin laughing with madness which the shock of what he had seen brought upon him.
On land, a railroad train in Virginia had been wrecked, struck apparently by a greenish ray. And also in Virginia, during the early evening in a village, an outdoor festival at which there were many young girls was attacked by apparitions suddenly coming into solidity. The report said that thirty or more young girls were missing. The little town was in chaos.
And the chaos, that next day, spread everywhere. It was obvious now that the enemy was advancing northward. In Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia, panics were beginning. New York City was seething with excitement. People were leaving all the towns and cities of the area. An exodus north and westward. In New York, every steamship, airplane and railroad train was crowded with departing people. The roads to Canada and to the west were thronged with outgoing automobiles.
But it was only a small part of the millions who remained. And the transportation systems were at once thrown into turmoil, with the sudden frantic demands threatening to break them down. And then a new menace came to New York. Incoming food supplies for its millions crowded into that teeming area around Manhattan, were jeopardized. The army of men engaged in all the myriad activities by which the great city sustained itself were as terrified as anyone else. They began deserting their posts. And local communication systems went awry. The telephones, the lights, local transportation—all of them began limping, threatening to break.
* * * * *
Tremendous, intricate human machine by whose constant activity so many millions are enabled to live so close together! No one could realize how vastly interwoven are a million activities which make life in a great city comfortable and safe until something goes wrong! And one wrong thing so swiftly affects another! As though in a vastly intricate mechanism little cogs were breaking, and the breaks spreading until presently the giant fly-wheels could no longer turn.
If the startled Federal and State officials could have foreseen even the events of the next forty-eight hours they would have wanted New York City deserted of the population. But that was impossible. Even if everyone could have been frightened into leaving, the chaos of itself would have brought death to untold thousands.
As it was, May 17th and 18th showed New York in a growing chaos. Officials now were wildly trying to stem the panics, trying to keep organized the great machines of city life.
It is no part of my plan for this narrative to try and detail the events in New York City as the apparitions advanced upon it. The crowded bridges and tunnels; the traffic and transportation accidents; the failure of the lights and telephones and broadcasting systems; the impending food shortage; the breaking out of disease from a score of causes; the crushed bodies lying in the streets where frantic mobs had trampled them and no one was available to take them away. The scenes beggar description.
* * * * *
And in all this the enemy had played no part save that of causing terror. Warships gathered in New York harbor were impotent. State troops massed in New Jersey, across the Hudson from New York, and in Putnam and Westchester Counties, were powerless to do more than try and help the escaping people since there was no enemy of tangible substance to attack. Patrolling airplanes, armed with bombs, were helpless. The white apparitions were gathering everywhere in the neighborhood of New York City. But they remained only apparitions, imponderable wraiths, non-existent save that they could be dimly seen. And even had they materialized, no warships could shell the city, for millions of desperate people were still within it trying to get away.
The news from little Bermuda was submerged, unheeded, in this greater catastrophe. But on the night of May 17th when the American warships arrived off Hamilton, the Paget invaders were gone.
The menace in Bermuda was over; it was the great New York City which was menaced now. The apparitions which had advanced from the south were suddenly joined by a much more numerous army. On the night of May 19th it had reached New York. Two or three thousand glowing white shapes were apparent, with yet other thousands perhaps hovering just beyond visibility. They made no attack. They stood encamped on the borderland of the Unknown realm to which they belonged. Busy with their preparations for battle and watching the stricken city to which already mere terror had brought the horror of disease and death.
It seemed now that this Fourth Dimension terrain co-existing within in the space of New York City, must be a tumbled, mountainous region of crags and spires, and yawning pits, ravines and valley depths. Jagged and precipitous indeed, for there were apparitions encamped in the air above Manhattan and harbor—higher in altitude than the Chrysler or the Empire State towers. Other wraiths showed in a dozen places lower down—some within the city buildings themselves. And yet others were below ground, within the river waters, or grouped seemingly a hundred feet beneath the street levels.