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Tales of Terror

My Friend The Murderer
The Case Of Lady Sannox
The Horror Of The Heights
The Leather Funnel
The New Catacomb
The Terror Of Blue John Gap

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

A Scandal In Bohemia
A Case Of Identity
His Last Bow
My Friend The Murderer
Silver Blaze
The Adventure Of Black Peter
The Adventure Of Charles Augustus Milverton
The Adventure Of The Abbey Grange
The Adventure Of The Beryl Coronet
The Adventure Of The Blue Carbuncle
The Adventure Of The Bruce-partington Plans
The Adventure Of The Cardboard Box
The Adventure Of The Copper Beeches
The Adventure Of The Dancing Men
The Adventure Of The Devil's Foot
The Adventure Of The Dying Detective
The Adventure Of The Empty House
The Adventure Of The Engineer's Thumb
The Adventure Of The Golden Pince-nez
The Adventure Of The Missing Three-quarter
The Adventure Of The Noble Bachelor
The Adventure Of The Norwood Builder
The Adventure Of The Priory School
The Adventure Of The Red Circle
The Adventure Of The Second Stain
The Adventure Of The Six Napoleons
The Adventure Of The Solitary Cyclist
The Adventure Of The Speckled Band
The Adventure Of The Three Students
The Adventure Of Wisteria Lodge
The Beetle-hunter
The Black Doctor
The Boscombe Valley Mystery
The Brazilian Cat
The Case Of Lady Sannox
The Crooked Man
The Disappearance Of Lady Frances Carfax
The Final Problem
The Five Orange Pips
The Gloria Scott
The Greek Interpreter
The Horror Of The Heights
The Japanned Box
The Jew's Breastplate
The Leather Funnel
The Lost Special
The Man With The Twisted Lip
The Man With The Watches
The Musgrave Ritual
The Naval Treaty
The New Catacomb
The Red-headed League
The Reigate Puzzle
The Resident Patient
The Stock-broker's Clerk
The Terror Of Blue John Gap
The Yellow Face



The Horror Of The Heights








The idea that the extraordinary narrative which has been called the
Joyce-Armstrong Fragment is an elaborate practical joke evolved by
some unknown person, cursed by a perverted and sinister sense of
humour, has now been abandoned by all who have examined the matter.
The most macabre and imaginative of plotters would hesitate
before linking his morbid fancies with the unquestioned and tragic
facts which reinforce the statement. Though the assertions
contained in it are amazing and even monstrous, it is none the less
forcing itself upon the general intelligence that they are true,
and that we must readjust our ideas to the new situation. This
world of ours appears to be separated by a slight and precarious
margin of safety from a most singular and unexpected danger. I
will endeavour in this narrative, which reproduces the original
document in its necessarily somewhat fragmentary form, to lay
before the reader the whole of the facts up to date, prefacing my
statement by saying that, if there be any who doubt the narrative
of Joyce-Armstrong, there can be no question at all as to the facts
concerning Lieutenant Myrtle, R. N., and Mr. Hay Connor, who
undoubtedly met their end in the manner described.

The Joyce-Armstrong Fragment was found in the field which is
called Lower Haycock, lying one mile to the westward of the village
of Withyham, upon the Kent and Sussex border. It was on the 15th
September last that an agricultural labourer, James Flynn, in the
employment of Mathew Dodd, farmer, of the Chauntry Farm, Withyham,
perceived a briar pipe lying near the footpath which skirts the
hedge in Lower Haycock. A few paces farther on he picked up a pair
of broken binocular glasses. Finally, among some nettles in the
ditch, he caught sight of a flat, canvas-backed book, which proved
to be a note-book with detachable leaves, some of which had
come loose and were fluttering along the base of the hedge. These
he collected, but some, including the first, were never recovered,
and leave a deplorable hiatus in this all-important statement. The
note-book was taken by the labourer to his master, who in turn
showed it to Dr. J. H. Atherton, of Hartfield. This gentleman at
once recognized the need for an expert examination, and the
manuscript was forwarded to the Aero Club in London, where it now
lies.

The first two pages of the manuscript are missing. There is
also one torn away at the end of the narrative, though none of
these affect the general coherence of the story. It is conjectured
that the missing opening is concerned with the record of Mr. Joyce-
Armstrong's qualifications as an aeronaut, which can be gathered
from other sources and are admitted to be unsurpassed among the
air-pilots of England. For many years he has been looked upon as
among the most daring and the most intellectual of flying men, a
combination which has enabled him to both invent and test several
new devices, including the common gyroscopic attachment which is
known by his name. The main body of the manuscript is written
neatly in ink, but the last few lines are in pencil and are so
ragged as to be hardly legible--exactly, in fact, as they might be
expected to appear if they were scribbled off hurriedly from the
seat of a moving aeroplane. There are, it may be added, several
stains, both on the last page and on the outside cover which have
been pronounced by the Home Office experts to be blood--probably
human and certainly mammalian. The fact that something closely
resembling the organism of malaria was discovered in this blood,
and that Joyce-Armstrong is known to have suffered from
intermittent fever, is a remarkable example of the new weapons
which modern science has placed in the hands of our detectives.

And now a word as to the personality of the author of this
epoch-making statement. Joyce-Armstrong, according to the few
friends who really knew something of the man, was a poet and a
dreamer, as well as a mechanic and an inventor. He was a man of
considerable wealth, much of which he had spent in the pursuit of
his aeronautical hobby. He had four private aeroplanes in his
hangars near Devizes, and is said to have made no fewer than one
hundred and seventy ascents in the course of last year. He was a
retiring man with dark moods, in which he would avoid the
society of his fellows. Captain Dangerfield, who knew him better
than anyone, says that there were times when his eccentricity
threatened to develop into something more serious. His habit of
carrying a shot-gun with him in his aeroplane was one manifestation
of it.

Another was the morbid effect which the fall of Lieutenant
Myrtle had upon his mind. Myrtle, who was attempting the height
record, fell from an altitude of something over thirty thousand
feet. Horrible to narrate, his head was entirely obliterated,
though his body and limbs preserved their configuration. At every
gathering of airmen, Joyce-Armstrong, according to Dangerfield,
would ask, with an enigmatic smile: "And where, pray, is Myrtle's
head?"

On another occasion after dinner, at the mess of the Flying
School on Salisbury Plain, he started a debate as to what will be
the most permanent danger which airmen will have to encounter.
Having listened to successive opinions as to air-pockets, faulty
construction, and over-banking, he ended by shrugging his shoulders
and refusing to put forward his own views, though he gave the
impression that they differed from any advanced by his companions.

It is worth remarking that after his own complete disappearance
it was found that his private affairs were arranged with a
precision which may show that he had a strong premonition of
disaster. With these essential explanations I will now give the
narrative exactly as it stands, beginning at page three of the
blood-soaked note-book:

"Nevertheless, when I dined at Rheims with Coselli and Gustav
Raymond I found that neither of them was aware of any particular
danger in the higher layers of the atmosphere. I did not actually
say what was in my thoughts, but I got so near to it that if they
had any corresponding idea they could not have failed to express
it. But then they are two empty, vainglorious fellows with no
thought beyond seeing their silly names in the newspaper. It is
interesting to note that neither of them had ever been much beyond
the twenty-thousand-foot level. Of course, men have been higher
than this both in balloons and in the ascent of mountains. It
must be well above that point that the aeroplane enters the danger
zone--always presuming that my premonitions are correct.

"Aeroplaning has been with us now for more than twenty years,
and one might well ask: Why should this peril be only revealing
itself in our day? The answer is obvious. In the old days of weak
engines, when a hundred horse-power Gnome or Green was considered
ample for every need, the flights were very restricted. Now that
three hundred horse-power is the rule rather than the exception,
visits to the upper layers have become easier and more common.
Some of us can remember how, in our youth, Garros made a world-wide
reputation by attaining nineteen thousand feet, and it was
considered a remarkable achievement to fly over the Alps. Our
standard now has been immeasurably raised, and there are twenty
high flights for one in former years. Many of them have been
undertaken with impunity. The thirty-thousand-foot level has been
reached time after time with no discomfort beyond cold and asthma.
What does this prove? A visitor might descend upon this planet a
thousand times and never see a tiger. Yet tigers exist, and if he
chanced to come down into a jungle he might be devoured. There are
jungles of the upper air, and there are worse things than tigers
which inhabit them. I believe in time they will map these jungles
accurately out. Even at the present moment I could name two of
them. One of them lies over the Pau-Biarritz district of France.
Another is just over my head as I write here in my house in
Wiltshire. I rather think there is a third in the Homburg-
Wiesbaden district.

"It was the disappearance of the airmen that first set me
thinking. Of course, everyone said that they had fallen into the
sea, but that did not satisfy me at all. First, there was Verrier
in France; his machine was found near Bayonne, but they never got
his body. There was the case of Baxter also, who vanished, though
his engine and some of the iron fixings were found in a wood in
Leicestershire. In that case, Dr. Middleton, of Amesbury, who was
watching the flight with a telescope, declares that just before the
clouds obscured the view he saw the machine, which was at an
enormous height, suddenly rise perpendicularly upwards in a
succession of jerks in a manner that he would have thought to
be impossible. That was the last seen of Baxter. There was a
correspondence in the papers, but it never led to anything. There
were several other similar cases, and then there was the death of
Hay Connor. What a cackle there was about an unsolved mystery of
the air, and what columns in the halfpenny papers, and yet how
little was ever done to get to the bottom of the business! He came
down in a tremendous vol-plane from an unknown height. He never
got off his machine and died in his pilot's seat. Died of what?
`Heart disease,' said the doctors. Rubbish! Hay Connor's heart
was as sound as mine is. What did Venables say? Venables was the
only man who was at his side when he died. He said that he was
shivering and looked like a man who had been badly scared. `Died
of fright,' said Venables, but could not imagine what he was
frightened about. Only said one word to Venables, which sounded
like `Monstrous.' They could make nothing of that at the inquest.
But I could make something of it. Monsters! That was the last
word of poor Harry Hay Connor. And he DID die of fright, just
as Venables thought.

"And then there was Myrtle's head. Do you really believe--does
anybody really believe--that a man's head could be driven clean
into his body by the force of a fall? Well, perhaps it may be
possible, but I, for one, have never believed that it was so with
Myrtle. And the grease upon his clothes--`all slimy with grease,'
said somebody at the inquest. Queer that nobody got thinking after
that! I did--but, then, I had been thinking for a good long time.
I've made three ascents--how Dangerfield used to chaff me about my
shot-gun--but I've never been high enough. Now, with this new,
light Paul Veroner machine and its one hundred and seventy-five
Robur, I should easily touch the thirty thousand tomorrow. I'll
have a shot at the record. Maybe I shall have a shot at something
else as well. Of course, it's dangerous. If a fellow wants to
avoid danger he had best keep out of flying altogether and subside
finally into flannel slippers and a dressing-gown. But I'll visit
the air-jungle tomorrow--and if there's anything there I shall know
it. If I return, I'll find myself a bit of a celebrity. If I
don't this note-book may explain what I am trying to do, and how I
lost my life in doing it. But no drivel about accidents or
mysteries, if YOU please.

"I chose my Paul Veroner monoplane for the job. There's
nothing like a monoplane when real work is to be done.
Beaumont found that out in very early days. For one thing it
doesn't mind damp, and the weather looks as if we should be in the
clouds all the time. It's a bonny little model and answers my hand
like a tender-mouthed horse. The engine is a ten-cylinder rotary
Robur working up to one hundred and seventy-five. It has all the
modern improvements--enclosed fuselage, high-curved landing skids,
brakes, gyroscopic steadiers, and three speeds, worked by an
alteration of the angle of the planes upon the Venetian-blind
principle. I took a shot-gun with me and a dozen cartridges filled
with buck-shot. You should have seen the face of Perkins, my old
mechanic, when I directed him to put them in. I was dressed like
an Arctic explorer, with two jerseys under my overalls, thick socks
inside my padded boots, a storm-cap with flaps, and my talc
goggles. It was stifling outside the hangars, but I was going for
the summit of the Himalayas, and had to dress for the part.
Perkins knew there was something on and implored me to take him
with me. Perhaps I should if I were using the biplane, but a
monoplane is a one-man show--if you want to get the last foot of
life out of it. Of course, I took an oxygen bag; the man who goes
for the altitude record without one will either be frozen or
smothered--or both.

"I had a good look at the planes, the rudder-bar, and the
elevating lever before I got in. Everything was in order so far as
I could see. Then I switched on my engine and found that she was
running sweetly. When they let her go she rose almost at once upon
the lowest speed. I circled my home field once or twice just to
warm her up, and then with a wave to Perkins and the others, I
flattened out my planes and put her on her highest. She skimmed
like a swallow down wind for eight or ten miles until I turned her
nose up a little and she began to climb in a great spiral for the
cloud-bank above me. It's all-important to rise slowly and adapt
yourself to the pressure as you go.

"It was a close, warm day for an English September, and there
was the hush and heaviness of impending rain. Now and then there
came sudden puffs of wind from the south-west--one of them so gusty
and unexpected that it caught me napping and turned me half-round
for an instant. I remember the time when gusts and whirls and air-
pockets used to be things of danger--before we learned to put
an overmastering power into our engines. Just as I reached the
cloud-banks, with the altimeter marking three thousand, down came
the rain. My word, how it poured! It drummed upon my wings and
lashed against my face, blurring my glasses so that I could hardly
see. I got down on to a low speed, for it was painful to travel
against it. As I got higher it became hail, and I had to turn tail
to it. One of my cylinders was out of action--a dirty plug, I
should imagine, but still I was rising steadily with plenty of
power. After a bit the trouble passed, whatever it was, and I
heard the full, deep-throated purr--the ten singing as one. That's
where the beauty of our modern silencers comes in. We can at last
control our engines by ear. How they squeal and squeak and sob
when they are in trouble! All those cries for help were wasted in
the old days, when every sound was swallowed up by the monstrous
racket of the machine. If only the early aviators could come back
to see the beauty and perfection of the mechanism which have been
bought at the cost of their lives!

"About nine-thirty I was nearing the clouds. Down below me,
all blurred and shadowed with rain, lay the vast expanse of
Salisbury Plain. Half a dozen flying machines were doing hackwork
at the thousand-foot level, looking like little black swallows
against the green background. I dare say they were wondering what
I was doing up in cloud-land. Suddenly a grey curtain drew across
beneath me and the wet folds of vapours were swirling round my
face. It was clammily cold and miserable. But I was above the
hail-storm, and that was something gained. The cloud was as dark
and thick as a London fog. In my anxiety to get clear, I cocked
her nose up until the automatic alarm-bell rang, and I actually
began to slide backwards. My sopped and dripping wings had made me
heavier than I thought, but presently I was in lighter cloud, and
soon had cleared the first layer. There was a second--opal-
coloured and fleecy--at a great height above my head, a white,
unbroken ceiling above, and a dark, unbroken floor below, with the
monoplane labouring upwards upon a vast spiral between them. It is
deadly lonely in these cloud-spaces. Once a great flight of some
small water-birds went past me, flying very fast to the westwards.
The quick whir of their wings and their musical cry were cheery to
my ear. I fancy that they were teal, but I am a wretched
zoologist. Now that we humans have become birds we must really
learn to know our brethren by sight.

"The wind down beneath me whirled and swayed the broad cloud-
plain. Once a great eddy formed in it, a whirlpool of vapour, and
through it, as down a funnel, I caught sight of the distant world.
A large white biplane was passing at a vast depth beneath me. I
fancy it was the morning mail service betwixt Bristol and London.
Then the drift swirled inwards again and the great solitude was
unbroken.

"Just after ten I touched the lower edge of the upper cloud-
stratum. It consisted of fine diaphanous vapour drifting swiftly
from the westwards. The wind had been steadily rising all this
time and it was now blowing a sharp breeze--twenty-eight an hour by
my gauge. Already it was very cold, though my altimeter only
marked nine thousand. The engines were working beautifully, and we
went droning steadily upwards. The cloud-bank was thicker than I
had expected, but at last it thinned out into a golden mist before
me, and then in an instant I had shot out from it, and there was an
unclouded sky and a brilliant sun above my head--all blue and gold
above, all shining silver below, one vast, glimmering plain as far
as my eyes could reach. It was a quarter past ten o'clock, and the
barograph needle pointed to twelve thousand eight hundred. Up I
went and up, my ears concentrated upon the deep purring of my
motor, my eyes busy always with the watch, the revolution
indicator, the petrol lever, and the oil pump. No wonder aviators
are said to be a fearless race. With so many things to think of
there is no time to trouble about oneself. About this time I noted
how unreliable is the compass when above a certain height from
earth. At fifteen thousand feet mine was pointing east and a point
south. The sun and the wind gave me my true bearings.

"I had hoped to reach an eternal stillness in these high
altitudes, but with every thousand feet of ascent the gale grew
stronger. My machine groaned and trembled in every joint and rivet
as she faced it, and swept away like a sheet of paper when I banked
her on the turn, skimming down wind at a greater pace, perhaps,
than ever mortal man has moved. Yet I had always to turn again and
tack up in the wind's eye, for it was not merely a height
record that I was after. By all my calculations it was above
little Wiltshire that my air-jungle lay, and all my labour might be
lost if I struck the outer layers at some farther point.

"When I reached the nineteen-thousand-foot level, which was
about midday, the wind was so severe that I looked with some
anxiety to the stays of my wings, expecting momentarily to see them
snap or slacken. I even cast loose the parachute behind me, and
fastened its hook into the ring of my leathern belt, so as to be
ready for the worst. Now was the time when a bit of scamped work
by the mechanic is paid for by the life of the aeronaut. But she
held together bravely. Every cord and strut was humming and
vibrating like so many harp-strings, but it was glorious to see
how, for all the beating and the buffeting, she was still the
conqueror of Nature and the mistress of the sky. There is surely
something divine in man himself that he should rise so superior to
the limitations which Creation seemed to impose--rise, too, by such
unselfish, heroic devotion as this air-conquest has shown. Talk of
human degeneration! When has such a story as this been written in
the annals of our race?

"These were the thoughts in my head as I climbed that
monstrous, inclined plane with the wind sometimes beating in my
face and sometimes whistling behind my ears, while the cloud-land
beneath me fell away to such a distance that the folds and hummocks
of silver had all smoothed out into one flat, shining plain. But
suddenly I had a horrible and unprecedented experience. I have
known before what it is to be in what our neighbours have called a
tourbillon, but never on such a scale as this. That huge,
sweeping river of wind of which I have spoken had, as it appears,
whirlpools within it which were as monstrous as itself. Without a
moment's warning I was dragged suddenly into the heart of one. I
spun round for a minute or two with such velocity that I almost
lost my senses, and then fell suddenly, left wing foremost, down
the vacuum funnel in the centre. I dropped like a stone, and lost
nearly a thousand feet. It was only my belt that kept me in my
seat, and the shock and breathlessness left me hanging half-
insensible over the side of the fuselage. But I am always capable
of a supreme effort--it is my one great merit as an aviator. I was
conscious that the descent was slower. The whirlpool was a cone
rather than a funnel, and I had come to the apex. With a
terrific wrench, throwing my weight all to one side, I levelled my
planes and brought her head away from the wind. In an instant I
had shot out of the eddies and was skimming down the sky. Then,
shaken but victorious, I turned her nose up and began once more my
steady grind on the upward spiral. I took a large sweep to avoid
the danger-spot of the whirlpool, and soon I was safely above it.
Just after one o'clock I was twenty-one thousand feet above the
sea-level. To my great joy I had topped the gale, and with every
hundred feet of ascent the air grew stiller. On the other hand, it
was very cold, and I was conscious of that peculiar nausea which
goes with rarefaction of the air. For the first time I unscrewed
the mouth of my oxygen bag and took an occasional whiff of the
glorious gas. I could feel it running like a cordial through my
veins, and I was exhilarated almost to the point of drunkenness.
I shouted and sang as I soared upwards into the cold, still outer
world.

"It is very clear to me that the insensibility which came upon
Glaisher, and in a lesser degree upon Coxwell, when, in 1862, they
ascended in a balloon to the height of thirty thousand feet, was
due to the extreme speed with which a perpendicular ascent is made.
Doing it at an easy gradient and accustoming oneself to the
lessened barometric pressure by slow degrees, there are no such
dreadful symptoms. At the same great height I found that even
without my oxygen inhaler I could breathe without undue distress.
It was bitterly cold, however, and my thermometer was at zero,
Fahrenheit. At one-thirty I was nearly seven miles above the
surface of the earth, and still ascending steadily. I found,
however, that the rarefied air was giving markedly less support to
my planes, and that my angle of ascent had to be considerably
lowered in consequence. It was already clear that even with my
light weight and strong engine-power there was a point in front of
me where I should be held. To make matters worse, one of my
sparking-plugs was in trouble again and there was intermittent
misfiring in the engine. My heart was heavy with the fear of
failure.

"It was about that time that I had a most extraordinary
experience. Something whizzed past me in a trail of smoke and
exploded with a loud, hissing sound, sending forth a cloud of
steam. For the instant I could not imagine what had happened.
Then I remembered that the earth is for ever being bombarded by
meteor stones, and would be hardly inhabitable were they not in
nearly every case turned to vapour in the outer layers of the
atmosphere. Here is a new danger for the high-altitude man, for
two others passed me when I was nearing the forty-thousand-foot
mark. I cannot doubt that at the edge of the earth's envelope the
risk would be a very real one.

"My barograph needle marked forty-one thousand three hundred
when I became aware that I could go no farther. Physically, the
strain was not as yet greater than I could bear but my machine had
reached its limit. The attenuated air gave no firm support to the
wings, and the least tilt developed into side-slip, while she
seemed sluggish on her controls. Possibly, had the engine been at
its best, another thousand feet might have been within our
capacity, but it was still misfiring, and two out of the ten
cylinders appeared to be out of action. If I had not already
reached the zone for which I was searching then I should never see
it upon this journey. But was it not possible that I had attained
it? Soaring in circles like a monstrous hawk upon the forty-
thousand-foot level I let the monoplane guide herself, and with my
Mannheim glass I made a careful observation of my surroundings.
The heavens were perfectly clear; there was no indication of those
dangers which I had imagined.

"I have said that I was soaring in circles. It struck me
suddenly that I would do well to take a wider sweep and open up a
new airtract. If the hunter entered an earth-jungle he would drive
through it if he wished to find his game. My reasoning had led me
to believe that the air-jungle which I had imagined lay somewhere
over Wiltshire. This should be to the south and west of me. I
took my bearings from the sun, for the compass was hopeless and no
trace of earth was to be seen--nothing but the distant, silver
cloud-plain. However, I got my direction as best I might and kept
her head straight to the mark. I reckoned that my petrol supply
would not last for more than another hour or so, but I could afford
to use it to the last drop, since a single magnificent vol-plane
could at any time take me to the earth.

"Suddenly I was aware of something new. The air in front of me
had lost its crystal clearness. It was full of long, ragged wisps
of something which I can only compare to very fine cigarette
smoke. It hung about in wreaths and coils, turning and
twisting slowly in the sunlight. As the monoplane shot through it,
I was aware of a faint taste of oil upon my lips, and there was a
greasy scum upon the woodwork of the machine. Some infinitely fine
organic matter appeared to be suspended in the atmosphere. There
was no life there. It was inchoate and diffuse, extending for many
square acres and then fringing off into the void. No, it was not
life. But might it not be the remains of life? Above all, might
it not be the food of life, of monstrous life, even as the humble
grease of the ocean is the food for the mighty whale? The thought
was in my mind when my eyes looked upwards and I saw the most
wonderful vision that ever man has seen. Can I hope to convey it
to you even as I saw it myself last Thursday?

"Conceive a jelly-fish such as sails in our summer seas, bell-
shaped and of enormous size--far larger, I should judge, than the
dome of St. Paul's. It was of a light pink colour veined with a
delicate green, but the whole huge fabric so tenuous that it was
but a fairy outline against the dark blue sky. It pulsated with a
delicate and regular rhythm. From it there depended two long,
drooping, green tentacles, which swayed slowly backwards and
forwards. This gorgeous vision passed gently with noiseless
dignity over my head, as light and fragile as a soap-bubble, and
drifted upon its stately way.

"I had half-turned my monoplane, that I might look after this
beautiful creature, when, in a moment, I found myself amidst a
perfect fleet of them, of all sizes, but none so large as the
first. Some were quite small, but the majority about as big as an
average balloon, and with much the same curvature at the top.
There was in them a delicacy of texture and colouring which
reminded me of the finest Venetian glass. Pale shades of pink and
green were the prevailing tints, but all had a lovely iridescence
where the sun shimmered through their dainty forms. Some hundreds
of them drifted past me, a wonderful fairy squadron of strange
unknown argosies of the sky--creatures whose forms and substance
were so attuned to these pure heights that one could not conceive
anything so delicate within actual sight or sound of earth.

"But soon my attention was drawn to a new phenomenon--the

serpents of the outer air. These were long, thin, fantastic coils
of vapour-like material, which turned and twisted with great speed,
flying round and round at such a pace that the eyes could
hardly follow them. Some of these ghost-like creatures were twenty
or thirty feet long, but it was difficult to tell their girth, for
their outline was so hazy that it seemed to fade away into the air
around them. These air-snakes were of a very light grey or smoke
colour, with some darker lines within, which gave the impression of
a definite organism. One of them whisked past my very face, and I
was conscious of a cold, clammy contact, but their composition was
so unsubstantial that I could not connect them with any thought of
physical danger, any more than the beautiful bell-like creatures
which had preceded them. There was no more solidity in their
frames than in the floating spume from a broken wave.

"But a more terrible experience was in store for me. Floating
downwards from a great height there came a purplish patch of
vapour, small as I saw it first, but rapidly enlarging as it
approached me, until it appeared to be hundreds of square feet in
size. Though fashioned of some transparent, jelly-like substance,
it was none the less of much more definite outline and solid
consistence than anything which I had seen before. There were more
traces, too, of a physical organization, especially two vast,
shadowy, circular plates upon either side, which may have been
eyes, and a perfectly solid white projection between them which was
as curved and cruel as the beak of a vulture.

"The whole aspect of this monster was formidable and
threatening, and it kept changing its colour from a very light
mauve to a dark, angry purple so thick that it cast a shadow as it
drifted between my monoplane and the sun. On the upper curve of
its huge body there were three great projections which I can only
describe as enormous bubbles, and I was convinced as I looked at
them that they were charged with some extremely light gas which
served to buoy up the misshapen and semi-solid mass in the rarefied
air. The creature moved swiftly along, keeping pace easily with
the monoplane, and for twenty miles or more it formed my horrible
escort, hovering over me like a bird of prey which is waiting to
pounce. Its method of progression--done so swiftly that it was not
easy to follow--was to throw out a long, glutinous streamer in
front of it, which in turn seemed to draw forward the rest of the
writhing body. So elastic and gelatinous was it that never for
two successive minutes was it the same shape, and yet each change
made it more threatening and loathsome than the last.

"I knew that it meant mischief. Every purple flush of its
hideous body told me so. The vague, goggling eyes which were
turned always upon me were cold and merciless in their viscid
hatred. I dipped the nose of my monoplane downwards to escape it.
As I did so, as quick as a flash there shot out a long tentacle
from this mass of floating blubber, and it fell as light and
sinuous as a whip-lash across the front of my machine. There was
a loud hiss as it lay for a moment across the hot engine, and it
whisked itself into the air again, while the huge, flat body drew
itself together as if in sudden pain. I dipped to a vol-pique, but
again a tentacle fell over the monoplane and was shorn off by the
propeller as easily as it might have cut through a smoke wreath.
A long, gliding, sticky, serpent-like coil came from behind and
caught me round the waist, dragging me out of the fuselage. I tore
at it, my fingers sinking into the smooth, glue-like surface, and
for an instant I disengaged myself, but only to be caught round the
boot by another coil, which gave me a jerk that tilted me almost on
to my back.

"As I fell over I blazed off both barrels of my gun, though,
indeed, it was like attacking an elephant with a pea-shooter to
imagine that any human weapon could cripple that mighty bulk. And
yet I aimed better than I knew, for, with a loud report, one of the
great blisters upon the creature's back exploded with the puncture
of the buck-shot. It was very clear that my conjecture was right,
and that these vast, clear bladders were distended with some
lifting gas, for in an instant the huge, cloud-like body turned
sideways, writhing desperately to find its balance, while the white
beak snapped and gaped in horrible fury. But already I had shot
away on the steepest glide that I dared to attempt, my engine still
full on, the flying propeller and the force of gravity shooting me
downwards like an aerolite. Far behind me I saw a dull, purplish
smudge growing swiftly smaller and merging into the blue sky behind
it. I was safe out of the deadly jungle of the outer air.

"Once out of danger I throttled my engine, for nothing tears a
machine to pieces quicker than running on full power from a height.
It was a glorious, spiral vol-plane from nearly eight miles of
altitude--first, to the level of the silver cloud-bank, then to
that of the storm-cloud beneath it, and finally, in beating rain,
to the surface of the earth. I saw the Bristol Channel beneath me
as I broke from the clouds, but, having still some petrol in my
tank, I got twenty miles inland before I found myself stranded in
a field half a mile from the village of Ashcombe. There I got
three tins of petrol from a passing motor-car, and at ten minutes
past six that evening I alighted gently in my own home meadow at
Devizes, after such a journey as no mortal upon earth has ever yet
taken and lived to tell the tale. I have seen the beauty and I
have seen the horror of the heights--and greater beauty or greater
horror than that is not within the ken of man.

"And now it is my plan to go once again before I give my
results to the world. My reason for this is that I must surely
have something to show by way of proof before I lay such a tale
before my fellow-men. It is true that others will soon follow and
will confirm what I have said, and yet I should wish to carry
conviction from the first. Those lovely iridescent bubbles of the
air should not be hard to capture. They drift slowly upon their
way, and the swift monoplane could intercept their leisurely
course. It is likely enough that they would dissolve in the
heavier layers of the atmosphere, and that some small heap of
amorphous jelly might be all that I should bring to earth with me.
And yet something there would surely be by which I could
substantiate my story. Yes, I will go, even if I run a risk by
doing so. These purple horrors would not seem to be numerous. It
is probable that I shall not see one. If I do I shall dive at
once. At the worst there is always the shot-gun and my knowledge
of . . ."


Here a page of the manuscript is unfortunately missing. On the
next page is written, in large, straggling writing:


"Forty-three thousand feet. I shall never see earth again.
They are beneath me, three of them. God help me; it is a dreadful
death to die!"


Such in its entirety is the Joyce-Armstrong Statement. Of the
man nothing has since been seen. Pieces of his shattered monoplane
have been picked up in the preserves of Mr. Budd-Lushington
upon the borders of Kent and Sussex, within a few miles of the spot
where the note-book was discovered. If the unfortunate aviator's
theory is correct that this air-jungle, as he called it, existed
only over the south-west of England, then it would seem that he had
fled from it at the full speed of his monoplane, but had been
overtaken and devoured by these horrible creatures at some spot in
the outer atmosphere above the place where the grim relics were
found. The picture of that monoplane skimming down the sky, with
the nameless terrors flying as swiftly beneath it and cutting it
off always from the earth while they gradually closed in upon their
victim, is one upon which a man who valued his sanity would prefer
not to dwell. There are many, as I am aware, who still jeer at the
facts which I have here set down, but even they must admit that
Joyce-Armstrong has disappeared, and I would commend to them his
own words: "This note-book may explain what I am trying to do, and
how I lost my life in doing it. But no drivel about accidents or
mysteries, if YOU please."





Next: The Leather Funnel

Previous: My Friend The Murderer



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