I’m going to return to the extract of the witness statement of Doctor [REDACTED].
“The morning of the third day at sea was the moment that we began to fear that we were damned. We began to realise that what we were facing was not simple disease but first we had to deal with the body of the old man.
Since the sea was too rough for us to remove his remains to the deck we cleaned the blood up as best we could and then a couple of the older women volunteered to sew him into a sheet for a shroud. Once that was done we placed him in a corner and then tied the body in place so that it would not slide around as the ship rolled.
The only death was of the old man but more than 30 people had fallen ill. Of those who were already ill only two had grown sicker. As we spoke of our experiences it became clear that every single person who had fallen ill or grown sicker had been visited by a shadowy figure like the one I had seen. Even the old man who died had babbled to his grandson of an Ifrit [a being made of smokeless fire from Arabian mythology].
We did not know what evil we faced and I do not want you to think that we sacrificed our reason lightly. We did not assume that demons or ghosts were plaguing us. We thought we had been drugged. The main argument was not between rational and superstitious explanations. It was between those who thought what we had seen were paranoid delusions brought on by drugs meant to keep us docile and those who thought that the crew were attacking us and our perceptions were clouded by drugs intended to prevent resistance.
There were many who feared that we were being gassed but, as a Doctor, I had a better idea of the difficulty of administering drugs by gas to such a large group of people in such a large area. I felt that it was more likely that the drugs were in the water or the food. I knew that drugs such as GHB and Rohypnol could be delivered that way and can have all kinds of unpredictable effects.
In the end we agreed that those who were already sick would continue to drink the water as the effects of dehydration might cause more damage than whatever drug there might be. The rest of us would take nothing and see if the night still brought terrors.
At the time I knew that this was the rational course to take but even then I had a heaviness in my heart. I suspected that there was something far darker at work. I feel I must say this again. We believe that we were being drugged and perhaps murdered by the very people we had trusted to take us to Europe but I already suspected that this belief was overly optimistic.
And yet that night there was nothing. No nightmares. No midnight screaming. No-one fell ill and in the morning a couple of our patients were even feeling well enough to eat though they were still very weak.
I could not understand it. There had been no new supplies. The sick had been drinking the water we thought had been drugged. And yet some of them were actually better. We began to question the food, but that made little sense as the sick had not been eating and they had been as afflicted with nightmares and hallucinations as the rest of us. We hoped that our problems were over but I do not think that any of us actually believed it.
By the evening one of us, a college professor called [REDACTED] began to theorise that we had been afflicted by Mass Psychogenic Illness. I can still remember when that was called plain old Mass Hysteria. While I had to agree that our collective trauma and the atmosphere in the hold could easily have triggered psychological problems I could not agree with his diagnosis. Three people had died and no amount of hysteria could explain that.
As night fell I had a strong sense of foreboding. I was sure that our troubles were not over. I was actually surprised that I drifted into a peaceful, natural sleep and woke in the morning to find that no-one had died and there had been only the usual nightmares. I almost allowed myself to believe that my colleague had been right and that it had all been in our minds.
Then I heard a howl of fright from the far corner of the hold. From where we had put the old man’s body. I hurried across to find that the body was gone. No-one could remember the last time they had seen it. The ropes that had held it in place had been torn apart rather than cut. I tried to tell myself that the ropes had been frayed and had broken on their own and that the body had simply rolled away but not even I believed that. Nevertheless we searched the hold for over an hour and we found nothing.
I think this is a good place to take a break. More soon.