Today’s winter tale comes from English ghost story writer Algernon Blackwood (1869-1951): “The Kit-Bag.”
What happened afterwards that night happened, of course, to a man already excited by fear, and was perceived by a mind that had not the full and proper control, therefore, of the senses. Outwardly, Johnson remained calm and master of himself to the end, pretending to the very last that everything he witnessed had a natural explanation, or was merely delusions of his tired nerves.
Blackwood is perhaps best known for his short stories “The Wendigo” and “The Willows,” two examples of what you might call “nature-horror” (and they are also quite close to folk horror). Many of Blackwood’s stories are about the tension between the splendor of Nature and its capacity — even willingness — to harm. This idea of Nature as implacable and terrifying is very much like Lovecraft’s “cosmic horror,” in that it suggests the the awful things that lurk just beyond our known human world. To me, Blackwood’s treatment of this theme is even more effective than Lovecraft’s. Blackwood also wrote a series of short stories about the occult investigator Dr. John Silence, which I very much like.
“The Kit-Bag,” though, is a classic ghost story, in the M. R. James or E. F. Benson vein. Johnson works for a law firm that has just won the acquittal (by insanity) of an especially vicious murderer. Worn out by the case, and obsessed by the killer’s evil face, Johnson plans to recover by spending his Christmas holiday in the Alps. Assuming he manages to finish packing for his trip.
The kit-bag referred to in this story is a sack-shaped heavy canvas bag that opens at the top. It often has brass rings along the open end to thread a drawstring, or a bar for carrying the bag. It was commonly used by the military, for sports, or for rugged outdoor travel in the early twentieth century. It holds a lot, but it looks rather awkward to transport. I’ll take a backpack over a kit-bag, any day.
A list (with links) of the winter tales I’ve shared in previous years is on my Winter Tales page.
Bottom photo: Rifleman John Neale of the King’s Royal Rifles, leaves his unit in Brussels, 9 February 1946. Source: Wikipedia