HELL ON WHEELS

THEO PAIJMANS un­earths some dis­tinctly odd cases of mon­strous clouds that sap the life­force of their vic­tims

Fortean Times - - Contents -

Out­law mo­tor­cy­cle clubs have of­ten em­ployed Satanic iconog­ra­phy to ter­rify main­stream so­ci­ety. STEVE TOASE ex­plores how films and fic­tion have ex­ploited th­ese links be­tween biker cul­ture and the oc­cult over the years to pro­duce some cult clas­sics.

On the evening of 29 March 1892, 10 fish­er­men were pre­par­ing them­selves for a good night’s sleep. It was win­ter fish­ing sea­son in Ice­land, so the men stayed at the shore near the vil­lage of Stokkseyri. The sky was over­cast and wind and rain swept over the hut that gave them shel­ter. Their fore­man left around 10pm and the fish­er­men closed the door be­hind him. The men went to their bunks and fell asleep – all ex­cept two of them. One, Eyjolf Olaffson, would later re­count their hor­ri­ble ex­pe­ri­ences. While they were ly­ing awake, lis­ten­ing to the wind and rain, they no­ticed that one of the men was stir­ring in his sleep, ut­ter­ing strange sounds.

Olaffson and his friend woke the man up. He told them he had ex­pe­ri­enced a “most un­pleas­ant sen­sa­tion”. While he was still grop­ing for words, an­other sleeper be­gan to be­have in the same man­ner, ut­ter­ing whim­per­ing sounds. The three men who were awake lit a lamp and in­spected the cabin, but found noth­ing out of the or­di­nary. A fish­er­man in the bunk op­po­site Olaf­s­son was help­ing him­self to some to­bacco from a snuff­box. Sud­denly the man changed colour and his arms fell to his sides. Olaffson sprinted to the man to re­sus­ci­tate him. Af­ter his re­cov­ery, the man told how “a ter­ri­ble heav­i­ness” had come over him, drain­ing all his strength. He be­came so weak that he could not move but could only make a sound, af­ter which he had be­come in­sen­si­ble.

All through this night and the next, the fish­er­men ex­pe­ri­enced sim­i­lar, in­ex­pli­ca­ble dis­tur­bances. One of them pro­posed bor­row­ing the church bell from Stokkseyri to hang in their hut. This they did, and that night their sleep was undis­turbed. Be­liev­ing their or­deal over, they re­turned the bell; but the thing that dis­turbed their sleep also re­turned. The fish­er­men fled the cabin and took refuge in a nearby farm where their fore­man also slept. Noth­ing trou­bled them here, but for the next six weeks sim­i­lar haunt­ings were re­ported in var­i­ous huts around the area.

What stalked the cab­ins in the area, Olaffson later de­clared, was also seen by some of his hut-mates. It looked like “a bluish cloud of vapour that moved back and forth and some­times glowed. Some were also aware of a strange wind, sud­den, sharp and chill”. Oth­ers saw “a thick, bluish cloud, about an ell high”, and some fish­er­men thought they had seen “a lump, about the size of a small

The fish­er­man told how “a ter­ri­ble heav­i­ness” had come over him, drain­ing all his strength. He be­came so weak that he could not move and af­ter­wards be­came in­sen­si­ble...

saw the cloud at his side: “It moved along the ground with the dogs bark­ing and jump­ing at it – then rose in the air and van­ished.” Bar­low never saw the strange cloud­like thing again 3 In­ter­est­ingly, one of his farmhands, Sa­muel Jones, lived in the house in By­ron Street in Run­corn, that had the year be­fore been plagued for weeks by an an­noy­ing pol­ter­geist.

A faint sug­ges­tion of pol­ter­geist ac­tiv­ity also clings to the strange case of the ‘cloud of smoke’ with two arm-like ex­ten­sions that nearly choked the life out of Mary Win­ters. In 1963, the newly di­vorced Win­ters had just moved into her new house in Mi­ami – but the omens were not good. The cat was ter­ri­fied to walk on the plot of land on which the house was built, while in­side the dwelling lights would go on and off by them­selves and chairs were tipped over by some in­vis­i­ble force. A tree in the yard was struck by light­ning. “It didn’t ooze sap, it oozed blood,” Win­ters re­mem­bered.

One night later that year she was pre­par­ing for bed at around 11.30. She was sit­ting on her bed, tak­ing her shoes off. The door of her bed­room was slightly ajar, and the light was on in the hall­way. “Sud­denly a cloud of smoke seeped into the room and slowly rose to the ceil­ing. It was like a large, tur­bu­lent cloud,” Win­ters re­called. She jumped into bed and pulled the sheets over her head.

When she peeked out from un­der the cov­ers, she saw that the cloud was now right over her head and slowly descend­ing. Win­ters de­cided to get up, but “sud­denly two things like arms on each side came out, and as I started to get out of bed, they grabbed me around the neck. They felt like ice. I was paral­ysed and could hardly breathe.” She slid to­wards the floor, with the ten­ta­cles still around her neck. While the life drained out of her, she heard a sound: “In a soft, low voice that could have been ei­ther a man’s or a woman’s it made a sound like ‘Aaaaaaah’.” The cloud, she said, trans­mit­ted the thought to her that her eight-year-old son would be next. That gave her the strength to switch on the light, with the two arm-like pro­tru­sions still around her neck. The thing dis­ap­peared as soon as the light came on. The whole or­deal had lasted 15 min­utes. Win­ters called a friend, who came over. He saw the cloud as well, when it re­turned an hour later. The light was switched on and the thing dis­ap­peared as be­fore. Win­ters moved from the house, which was even­tu­ally torn down. 4

Th­ese sto­ries of va­porous en­ti­ties with their roots in folk­lore ex­hibit a strange link with the pol­ter­geist tra­di­tion5 and are found in ghost­lore as well. A spirit form, “white, cloud­like and shape­less”, was said to have been seen near a church at Stan­bridge, Dorset­shire: “This floats along the road for about 200 yards, perches it­self on the church­yard wicket, and fi­nally van­ishes un­ac­count­ably. The same form of ap­pari­tion trou­bles Gravel Hill, near Poole.” 6

Some­time in 1950, a Mr Diprose and his son watched in amaze­ment as a “white, shape­less fig­ure” glided from a field, across the road from Dun­stan’s Bridge, into an­other field. “It al­ways van­ished and it doesn’t leave foot­prints. It’s not just mist or fog, be­cause I’ve usu­ally seen it early on a clear morn­ing.” Mr Diprose added that dur­ing the war sol­diers who were sta­tioned there re­fused to use the lane at night. 7

Such sto­ries of form­less, misty ap­pari­tions sug­gest that there may be fur­ther undis­cov­ered tales of vam­piric vapours that in­vade the homes of their vic­tims to feast on their life force. And some­times, th­ese strange clouds even in­flict last­ing in­jury. James Ilor was liv­ing with his brother-in-law and his fam­ily in a house in the town of Ken­ton, Ohio, in the win­ter of 1853-1854. The house was haunted in the most un­de­sir­able way. So plagued were they by pol­ter­geist phe­nom­ena that the fam­ily moved out. Per­haps Ilor should have done the same. One night he saw “a white cloud in the loft over­head”. The cloud floated slowly to the north wall and down to the lower floor, when with in­cred­i­ble speed it made to­wards him. It struck his arm just be­low the shoul­der. “It went through me like light­ning where it coloured the skin of my arm and on my body on each side of my arm just like a light­ning strike.” 8

In 1947, Nick Dani­latos was awarded more than £800 in da­m­ages in a Supreme Court hear­ing. Dani­latos and his wife were trav­el­ling by train be­tween Red­fern and New­ton, Aus­tralia, when a white mist broke his arm. Their cabin win­dow was only slightly open. An­other train was just pass­ing them when sud­denly “some­thing white, trans­par­ent and misty like steam” ap­peared at the car­riage win­dow. Dani­latos felt a smash­ing blow to his arm. “I re­mem­bered lit­tle more un­til I found my­self ly­ing on the seat with my arm bro­ken. I don’t know what hit me. The win­dow was open only a few inches. It was not bro­ken. There were no marks in­side the car­riage,” he re­lated. His wife had heard a hiss­ing noise and a glimpse of some­thing near the win­dow be­fore her hus­band fell. Dur­ing the hear­ing it was sug­gested that the thing might have been a “su­per­nat­u­ral be­ing”. 9 dog”. It was of­ten seen at the win­dow of the hut, where it looked like “a lump with some sort of ten­ta­cles at­tached to it”. The ten­ta­cles would fas­ten onto the pane, “as if it would get in”.

But what was it? Some fish­er­men sug­gested that it was a sea mon­ster or per­haps a ghost that had been in­ad­ver­tently set free. The lo­cal doc­tor and sher­iff in­ves­ti­gated; they found noth­ing, but the haunt­ings con­tin­ued. In­stead of call­ing in a pastor, the fish­er­men turned to old folk wis­dom. In the spring, one Ey­olf Mag­nus­son vis­ited the nearby ham­let of Eyarbakki. He had a rep­u­ta­tion of be­ing able to use ‘words of power’. Af­ter some per­sua­sion, he ut­tered a few verses, ban­ning the ten­ta­cled vapour for nine years; it is said that Mag­nussen did not, or could not, for a rea­son now lost to us, guar­an­tee a longer pe­riod of re­lief from it.

We do not know if the thing that haunted Stokkseyri re­turned in 1901. 1 In the 1970s, the de­scen­dants of the peo­ple in whose life­times the haunt­ings of Stokkseyri had oc­curred, were still liv­ing. 2

Al­though rare, there are other ac­counts of va­porous man­i­fes­ta­tions with ten­ta­cles, prongs or pro­tru­sions and which don’t seem to har­bour the best in­ten­tions. In 1953, Cheshire farmer Her­bert Bar­low en­coun­tered such an en­tity. The farmer had lost 53 pigs in a fort­night and, a news­pa­per claimed, five lo­cal ve­teri­nary sur­geons ex­am­ined the car­casses but were un­able to find a rea­son for this sud­den mass death. Two days af­ter the loss of his last pig, Bar­low saw in his yard “a large black cloud about seven feet [2m] in height, shape­less ex­cept for two prongs stick­ing out at the back”.

A few days later his wife also saw the cloud­like thing mov­ing about in the yard. But it did not stay there. One night, Bar­low found the cloud in their kitchen. De­ter­mined to take a closer look he brushed past the cloud to switch on the light. But then the two prongs touched him on the throat. “They felt solid, like blunt sticks,” he later claimed. When he switched on the light, the cloud had gone. Two days later he saw it again. He was let­ting two dogs out of a shed when they rushed past him, bark­ing fran­ti­cally. Turn­ing, he

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