Unexplained Impressions in the Snowfall

Flake

February the 8th, 1855. As the sun sets and day turns into night, a heavy snowfall lands on the neighbourhood of Exeter. The winter has been far colder than usual, and the snow that evening settles on that of the night before, and the night before that, refusing to melt. Before sunrise, the local residents begin to stir as the new day begins.

But something strange awaits them out in the snow.

Hundreds upon hundreds of mysterious tracks are found. Around four inches long and three inches across, the tracks resemble that of a hoof, and lay between eight and fourteen inches apart, in single file. When traced, these tracks have a combined length of over fifty miles. Even stranger, whatever left these prints seemed undeterred by any obstacle. The tracks continue, unbroken, over snow-topped roofs and frozen rivers, high walls and haystacks.

More hoof-marks are found the next night. And the next.

At a loss for an explanation, the locals dub them ‘the Devil’s footprints’, on account of their cloven nature.

The people grow fearful, and, for a time, refuse to go outside after midnight. Eventually, as with all such events, things return to normal, and the incident passes into local legend.

Several theories are proposed to explain the prints, ranging from the tracks of wood mice, whose leaping exploits leave a mark that resembles a cloven hoof, to an ‘experimental balloon’ accidentally released by workers at nearby Devonport Dockyard.

As is typical of such theories on the paranormal, all of these possible explanations solve one problem, but inadvertently raise another.

For instance; leaping mice may explain the shape of the prints, but even the most energetic of mice in the warmth of spring cannot leap onto the roof of a house in a single bound.

An escaped balloon, with its trailing ropes and errant shackles, may solve the issue of the tracks being made on raised surfaces, but it is unlikely that those tracks would be as uniform as the ones seen at Exeter that morning. Indeed, one would expect to find drag marks at least somewhere along the trail.

Perhaps it was the work of badgers, or even an escaped kangaroo from a private menagerie. Perhaps it was the work of unnamed ‘pranksters’, that much maligned but never identified group who are so easily blamed for such occurrences.

Or perhaps, just perhaps, something unknown really was stalking the fields of Exeter those dark and snowy nights.

But all this happened over a century and a half ago and, without a repeat of such an event, it is unlikely we will find answers in the here and now.

However, a curious account was bought to my attention a few years ago that, while not exactly the same, is similar enough to allow parallels to be drawn with the events of 1855.

SnowyField

June 1st 2016

Amanda Banford is a cheery woman, with a big smile and a motherly demeanour. She invites me to her house, a small but cosy two-up two-down in the Nottinghamshire village of Bunny, to discuss her ‘funny little tale’, as she puts it. Over numerous cups of tea and endless offers of cake that I eventually give up declining, she recounts her story. Her dog, a friendly Jack Russell terrier named Barnabus, loiters by my feet, gratefully hoovering up any crumbs the moment they hit the floor.

‘It happened a few months back, in January, those few days when it snowed really heavily. I like it when it snows. I like how quiet it gets. It’s so… peaceful, you know? 

‘It was early, maybe four, half four. Barney was barking like mad. He’s not normally like that. He’s a silly little thing, but not a barker. Are you, Barney? No, you’re not. You’re a good boy.’

She picks up the little terrier, fussing over him and, much to my surprise, smothering him with kisses before placing him back on the ground.

‘Anyway, I put my robe on and went downstairs, and I noticed how cold the house was. It was so cold I could see my own breath. I got into the kitchen where Barney was yapping away and would you believe it? The back door was wide open.

‘Now most people’s first thoughts would be something like ‘oh no! I’ve been burgled!’ but all I could think about was something my Dad used to say; ‘if you have the heating on but leave a door or window open, you’re paying twice: once to heat in here and again to heat out there.’

‘I bet your parents used to say something similar. Cake?’

She thrusts another slice of Victoria sponge at me. I take it and ask her to continue.

‘Okay. As I was going to the back door, I noticed there were these big, wet footprints on the floor. Bare footprints, like some fella had just stepped out of the bathtub. They started by the fridge and then walked across the kitchen, straight out of the backdoor.

‘I picked up Barney and took a look out into the garden. The snow was quite deep at that point, at least a good few inches. The footprints carried on, in the snow. You could see the outlines of the toes and everything.’

What did you do next?

‘Well, I was intrigued, I suppose. So I get dressed, popped Barney on his leash, and went out into the garden. I thought I’d kill two birds with one stone; take Barney for his walk and see wherever this barefooted chap ended up.

‘Now, this is where it gets odd.

‘I followed those footprints, by the light of the streetlamps.

‘They went down the garden, out into the street, all the way into town, and then out into the fields.

‘I must’ve followed them for hours. I didn’t have work that day, so it wasn’t a problem. The further they went, the more I wanted to know what this guy was doing, walking about barefoot in the snow in the early morning.

‘The sun had just started to come up when I got to the end of the tracks. They just stopped, right in the middle of a field.

‘Literally, step, step, nothing. No more footprints. I couldn’t believe it. 

‘There were no other signs of anything anywhere nearby. I mean literally nowhere near. The only other prints were those behind me, the ones that me and Barney had made. It was like this guy just vanished, or was lifted up into the air, you know? Poof! Gone!

‘I was more than bamboozled, let me tell you.

‘Cake?’

Fortunately, Ms Banford was quick enough to take some photos of the last few footprints on her mobile phone, before reporting them to the local constable.

He too followed the tracks. He too was unable to explain how they came to such an abrupt end.

The constable estimated that the tracks covered at least eight miles.

Footprint

So what was the identity of this mysterious, barefooted nocturnal visitor? Why did his journey begin in Ms Banford’s kitchen? And what was his ultimate fate? Did he just vanish? Or was there some other agency at work here?

There are similarities that can be drawn between the incidents at Bunny and Exeter. However, unlike in the case a hundred and fifty-odd years ago, I feel it is reasonable to conclude that whatever occurred in that small Nottinghamshire village, it was not the work of leaping rodents, rogue balloons, fugitive kangaroos or even those ever-resourceful yet unidentified pranksters.

A local reporter did actually come to interview Ms Banford the following day, taking a copy of her photographs, and nodding sympathetically at her ‘funny little tale’.

The paper did not run the story.

It seems mysterious footprints in the snow no longer elicit the same excitement they once did.

Dr Thomas Gotobed

I remember my Nan telling me all about the Devil’s footprints when I was a kid, it seems to be one of those things that has been absorbed into the nation’s consciousness. Also vanishing individuals is fast becoming a recurring theme in the good doctor’s notes. Where do all these people go?? – C.R. 

‘Strange Effects’ out in the Desert

aceofclubs1

The submarine U-122 was a type IXB U-Boat of Nazi Germany’s Kriegsmarine, active during the early years of World War 2. She was launched on the 20th of December 1939 and commissioned roughly three months later under her first and only commander, one Korvettenkapitän Hans-Günther Looff.

In June of 1940, she disappeared without trace.

Her last reported location was approximately 56.00N, 10.30W, apparently returning to her operational base just west of Cape Finisterre in Spain. Historians speculate that she may have been sunk by a collision with the British steam tanker the San Filipe on the 22nd of June, or by depth charges launched from the HMS Arabis on the 23rd.

Either way, U-122 was declared lost with all hands.

u-boat1

In 1978, 33 years after the end of the war, nearly five thousand pages of translated U-Boat logs and diaries were released by the United States Office of Naval Intelligence. These documents were seized by Allied forces in the April of 1945 at Castle Tambach in Coburg. They consist of a daily narrative detailing operations, intelligence reports, claimed successes and losses, organisational matters, and discussions of tactical and strategic issues.

I must confess, I was not planning to peruse them: naval operations are not my primary interest. However, a few weeks ago, a colleague of mine at the Royal Navy sent me a package. Within this package were excerpts from these logs. Several passages that my colleague believed I would find interesting were highlighted. I shall reproduce these highlighted passages below:

16th June 1940

Situation:

[12.40]   Korevettenkapitän Looff reports that the Halo has been successfully retrieved and secured. U-122 is homeward bound via the Jormungand route. Expected date of return, June 30th. Radio traffic to be kept at a minimum during this voyage.                                                                                            

#

       19th June 1940

Situation:

[21.10]   Korevettenkapitän Looff has broken radio silence to report that the crew of U-122 are experiencing ‘strange effects’. The crew are blaming the Halo. Looff is concerned about morale and is requesting passing the Halo on to another vessel on the Jormungand route to complete its journey.

#

 Command:

[22.20]   REQUEST DENIED.

#

20th June 1940

Intelligence:

[03.00]   Reports of U-112 engaging and sinking enemy cargo ship.

Situation:

[03.15]   Korevettenkapitän Looff is reminded that the safety of the Halo is NOT to be compromised under ANY circumstances.

[22.20]   Multiple attempts to contact U-112 have been unsuccessful.

#

 22nd June 1940

Situation:

[00.45]   Garbled transmission received from U-122. Several voices talking all at once. Dive alarm heard sounding erratically in the background. Transmission ends abruptly. No further contact.

#

 Command:

[23.59]   UNACCEPTABLE. CONTACT WITH U-122 MUST BE RE-ESTABLISHED IMMEDIATELY.

#

1st July 1940

Situation:

[12.00]  U-122 declared lost along with all on-board. Fate of the Halo unknown.

 #

 

I have acquired the complete records, and, having read through them, I can find no further mention of the ship U-122 after this point, nor her mysterious cargo, the item rather ambiguously titled ‘the Halo.’

But the sinking of a submarine during war-time and allusions to its peculiar burden are, in and of themselves, no sign of the paranormal.

However, within the package from my colleague was a further document; the contact details of a gentleman named Eustace Hayes.

ladybegood1

4th February 1996

Eustace Hayes is a tall man, in his early sixties, with arms like tree trunks and skin stained by many a year out in the sun. I meet him in the bar he currently owns in Hue Province, central Vietnam. He was stationed here as a Technical Sergeant for the United States Air Force during the Vietnam War, and became part of the small contingent of American serviceman who stayed on after the conflict was over.

Back in the May of 1959 he was stationed at Wheelus Air Base in Tripoli, on the coast of Libya.

He invites me to sit on a small plastic stool by a low table topped by a sticky sheet of plastic. A young waitress brings us a crate of bottled beer and a bucket of ice, and in a slow but booming voice that seems to push through the humid air between us, Mr Hayes shares his story.

“The previous year, I think it was November, a group of surveyors for BP reported seeing a downed aircraft out in the desert, miles from anywhere. Top brass didn’t take them seriously at first. Why would they? There had never been any reports of missing US airplanes in the area. I think they assumed it was either a mirage or a classic bit of British leg-pulling.

“But as the months went by, more and more people began to mention it. Apparently the location of the wreckage was now being marked on maps for the next batch of oil surveyors.

“Well even the CO couldn’t ignore that.

“I was an Airman at the time, and I got sent out with the first search team. And we found it, right where they said it would be. It turned out to be the wreck of the Lady Be Good.”

mapdesert

The Lady Be Good was an American Heavy Bomber. Following a raid on Napels in April of 1943, she disappeared on her return to Soluch Field in Libya. She was assumed lost in the depths of the Mediterranean Sea.

Mr Hayes continues:

“It was amazing. She was split in two, but apart from that she was in almost perfect condition. You would think that fifteen or so years of just sitting there in the desert would’ve fucked her up. But the machine guns still worked, as did the radio. There was even a flask of tea on-board. It seemed drinkable too, not that we tried it.

“But that wasn’t the strangest we saw out there.” 

I ask him what else they found as he knocks back his beer and opens another on the edge of the table.

“Well, one of our crew noticed that there was something else on the horizon. Something glinting just over the dunes.

“Now, remember that I told you that the wreck was being marked on maps, right? Because it was a landmark, visible from the air, yes?

“Following that line of thinking, if there was something bigger out there, also made of metal, then logically that too would have been noticed.

“So, we travelled about 20 miles to the north-northwest, towards whatever this thing glinting in the sand was. I don’t think any of us were prepared for what we found.

“It was a submarine, just sitting there on her side. A German U-Boat to be precise. I recognised the insignia on her hull. And she looked to be in pristine condition. She even had her number stamped on the conning tower: U-122.”

Mr Hayes goes on to tell me how he and his crew circled the submarine, taking photographs and making notes. It’s hatch was open, but there were no signs of life, except for a set of bones about half a mile away, wrapped up in the remains of a Nazi captain’s uniform.

“It was really bizarre. It looked like whoever this man was, he’d climbed out and was crawling away across the sand. But maybe it was just the way the body had fallen.

“As I was looking over the skeleton, Sergeant Caine climbed into the sub, through the hatch. He was only in there for a minute or two, but when he came out he was trembling, and his face was as white as a sheet.

“I’d known the Sarge for a few years, and he was as tough as shoe leather. I knew he’d seen some pretty nasty shit back in the Pacific. But whatever he saw in that sub must’ve really, what’s the expression you Brits use? ‘Knocked him for six’, yeah, that’s it.

“He was mumbling under his breath. Muttering about strange things, things that didn’t make any sense.

“He was a mess. So we decided to pack up our gear and return to the base.

“The Sarge was shaking all the way home. And he was ice cold. Bear in mind that we’re in the middle of the desert, in May.”

Mr Hayes opens a third beer.

“I know what you’re gonna ask me. You’re gonna ask where the photos are that I took.”

I must confess, that was one of the questions on my mind.

“Two days later some ‘agency’ types turned up. Serious men in black suits wildly inappropriate for the climate, just like you now.” 

He smiles and winks at me.

“These fellas took everything; our photos, our notes, the lot. They made us sign something saying we would never talk about that damn submarine, or they’d throw us in jail without a trial.

“I’m not too bothered by their threats now. Hell, I’m an old man. What are they gonna do? I suspect they thought that no-one would believe us anyway.

“It was never mentioned again on the base. I went out there again a few weeks later. There was no sign of the submarine. Or that she’d ever even been there in the first place.

“And I never saw the Sarge again. Do you know what the top brass said when I asked about him? They said ‘don’t ask.'” 

To say this is a frustrating end to this case would be an understatement. But as I decide to wrap things up with Mr Hayes, he goes off upstairs and brings back a crumpled and yellowing piece of thin card.

“I’ve never shown this to anyone before. Hell, I’ve never even told anyone about it. I took it out of the uniform the body was wearing. Do an old guy a favour; don’t look at it here.”

We spoke for a little while longer as we finished our beers. As I was saying my goodbyes to Mr Hayes and thanking him for his hospitality, he shared something else with me about that day in the desert.

“As we were packing up our stuff, I noticed someone had written something in red paint on the side of the sub’s hull, in foot tall letters. At least I hope it was paint.

“It was in English. It said: ‘stop toying with things you do not understand’.” 

With this final piece of information occupying my thoughts, I returned to my hotel, where I duly unfolded the document the former Technical Sergeant had given to me.

It was Kriegsmarine identity card. The name stamped on it was Korvettenkapitän Hans-Günther Looff.

u id1

This case poses many questions: Was that really U-122 that Mr Hayes and his colleagues found in the desert? If so, who or what on Earth could possibly possess the kind of power required to move her to the middle of the desert? And why did she go unnoticed for so long, indeed, if she was even there for all that time? Who were the ‘agency men’ who appeared so soon after it’s sighting? What, if anything, was the nature of U-122’s cargo, the mysterious ‘Halo’? Could the ‘strange effects’ experienced by her crew, and possibly Sergeant Caine as well, have been some kind of radiation poisoning? And who was the intended recipient of the curious message daubed on the craft’s hull?

Finally, where did this misplaced U-Boat go? Surely moving almost a thousand tonnes of submarine during peacetime would be substantially more difficult than during the chaos of World War 2, which in itself would be a Herculean feat.

Sadly, without further information, it seems the fate of the U-122 will have to remain an enigma.

Dr Thomas Gotobed 

There was a post-it note with the words ‘Nathaniel Defoe??’ written on it attached to this file – C.R.

A Message from Persephone

card3

Tucked away in the back of the good doctor’s journal was an envelope. The envelope contained a card, and inside that card was a handwritten message:

My Dearest Thomas,

1,000 years ago, mankind knew the Earth was flat,

500 years ago, we knew that the Sun went round the Earth,

6 months ago, you knew there was no such things as ghosts.

Can you imagine what you might know tomorrow!!

All my love, and best of luck in your spooky new job,

Persephone xxx

I have no idea who this Persephone is. I haven’t seen her name mentioned in any any of the other files or journal entries I have read. Yet another mysterious name to add to the list, I guess.

The message written in the card seemed familiar to me. After some digging around on the internet, I found that it is remarkably similar to a speech given by the character played by Tommy Lee Jones in the 1997 film Men in Black.

The envelope from the journal is postmarked July 1987 – C.R.

He Who Has the Deer’s Antlers

Antlers2

7th October 2015

Jemma Harding is an entertaining woman, with striking red hair and the enviable ability to spin an interesting tale out of the most mundane of events. She is a journalist, and twenty years ago she was the European correspondent for a major British broadsheet.

Several weeks ago a colleague of mine asked her to get in touch with me, to share an incident that occurred to her in 1996, in the South-West region of France.

We meet in a riverside wine bar in Stratford-upon-Avon, away from the seemingly endless throng of tourists.

It takes some coaxing and a glass or two of red wine to prise the following account from her.

“I was travelling down to Bayonne, to meet my family. It was my brother’s birthday and they have a little châteaux down there. I decided to drive there, rather than fly. I thought as I was going to be spending a lot of time with my siblings and their kids over the next few days, it might not be the best idea to travel with them. You know what families are like. I mean, I love them, but a whole week in each other’s pockets? No thanks.

“I stopped over in Bordeaux to visit a friend before setting out on the final leg of my journey. I’d done this trip before, but I’d never travelled to Bayonne on this route, so most of it was new to me.

“Eventually I found myself on this forest road, about two lanes wide, and I hadn’t seen another car for miles. There were trees everywhere, as far as I could see on either side, all these different greens. It was really quite stunning.

“Then I came across something very odd.

“There was a little car stopped in front, longways and kind of half off the road. It’s doors were open and there was luggage scattered across the dirt.

“But that wasn’t the strangest thing.

“I slowed down a little as I got closer, and I saw there was a couple, a man and a woman, laying in the road. They were both still and facing away from me.”

I ask what she did next.

“I wasn’t sure what to do. I knew that I should stop and see if they were okay, but there was something off about the whole thing. It just didn’t look right. Every fibre in my body was telling me to just get out of there.

“I saw that if I went off the road a little I could get around them without hitting them.

“I manoeuvred past them as best I could, with all these alarm bells ringing in my head, then they were behind me, and I picked up speed to get some distance between us.

“I took a look in the rear-view mirror and the couple had got up, and about a dozen or so of these scruffy looking kids had emerged from the trees nearby. They were all glaring at me.

“But in the middle of them, towering over them, was this massive cloaked figure. It must have been about eight foot tall, and it had this weird round mask on, and what looked like deer antlers on its head.

“That was it. I slammed my foot down on the accelerator and I was out of there.

“When I got to Bayonne I stopped at the local police station and told two officers what I’d witnessed.

“They took notes and smirked, muttering something about ‘l’homme qui possède des bois de cerf’

“My family didn’t like the idea of me driving all that way on my own anyway, so I didn’t tell them what I’d seen. In fact, I’ve never mentioned it to anyone except you, and the other woman.”

I asked Ms Harding if she could draw a picture of the cloaked figure, which I have attached to this file.

L’homme qui possède les bois de cerf’ roughly translates to ‘the man who has the deer’s antlers’.

Antlers1

Ms Harding’s story does sound remarkably like a similar tale that did the rounds on the internet recently*, except that particular story takes place on a dirt road in the United States.

There is no mention of the masked man in the cloak.

Considering Ms Harding is a journalist, a respected one at that, along with the obvious distress she displayed whilst recounting her story and the reaction of the local constabulary to her plight, I believe her account has more than a whiff of credibility.

And yet, the fact one tale resembles the other so closely was enough to sow seeds of doubt in my mind.

I elected not to pursue this case further, and, I must admit, I let it slip from my thoughts.

Until recently.

FranceMap

12th July 2016

A few weeks ago, a letter from one Mrs Edith Robinson was forwarded on to me. In this letter, written in a cramped scrawl, the frail octogenarian details her family’s flight from Paris in 1940, under the shadow of the Nazi invasion.

I will quote the pertinent part below:

‘I had been ill with pneumonia and sent to a centre just outside Bordeaux to recover. Eventually, my mother and father came to collect me, so we could catch a boat back to England. The little Citroen we had was absolutely crammed full of our belongings from the flat in Paris. I was amazed how much stuff they’d managed to fit in there.

‘My father had gained a laissez pass that allowed us to travel about unhindered, but the Germans were closing in. When we got to Bordeaux we found we’d missed the boat, but we were informed there was another leaving from Bayonne the next day.

‘On the way there, a storm struck, setting fire to the forest we were heading through. A burning tree fell in front of us. My father managed to swerve around it, but as he did I saw some children come out of the woods and head towards us. They were dirty from soot and smoke. My father just carried on going. I was going to shout at him to stop but I saw his eyes in the rear view mirror.

‘He looked terrified.

‘I turned around in the seat and managed to get a glimpse out of the back window, through the stacks of boxes.

‘There was a man in the road behind us, flanked by children and lit up by the fire. A tall man, in a cloak, with an oval mask and antlers on his head, like a stag.

‘That’s why my father didn’t stop.

‘We never spoke of that night.’

Is it possible what Mrs Robinson witnessed that night was the same person as Ms Harding? I dug out the journalist’s sketch and included it with a letter, thanking Mrs Robinson for her correspondence and asking her if if the subject of the sketch was the same individual she saw that harrowing evening in Bayonne.

A few days later I received a reply. It contained the sketch and a simple note in Mrs Robinson’s cramped handwriting.

‘That’s the chap.’

Maybe there is more to this ‘man who has the deer’s antlers’ after all.

Dr Thomas Gotobed 

* I also recognised this story. I found it on here and Dr Gotobed is correct, apart from the location and the antlered figure, there are many similarities. To be honest, I don’t know quite what to make of this one – C.R.