I read a few stories by Blackwood a couple of months ago (and really, is there a cooler name out there? I mean, come on, Algernon Blackwood!!) and enjoyed them. One of the first things I noticed that made him different was his focus on nature, his more nature oriented settings and the way in which he used the natural world to create his atmosphere of fear and oppression. In this story, he does the same and it was really something. Who among us has never done something stupid in the pursuit of that which is just beyond our grasp, particularly when that thing is a person to whom we are attracted? Who among us has never over extended ourselves to obtain it, a glimpse, a word, a touch? In many ways, for me, this story was about the power we allow others to have over us and once we have granted that permission, our inability to seize it back. I loved how in the end, it is the sounds of the church and of worship that bring our hero, Hibbert, back to his senses and call him back from the beyond place he went to in his own mind. It is the church that becomes his destination for safety and sanctuary. And it is the church of which the demon is most afraid. Too often these days the stories we see or hear portray the church – correctly or incorrectly – as the source of fear and abuse rather than its vanquisher. I like reading about the church doing what it ought to be doing.
Summary: A man in totally taken by the snow and the winter wonderland world of a ski resort. He finds himself ensorcelled by a mysterious woman who skates with him alone one night on a frozen pond and he always is looking for her over the next ten days but she does not appear. He draws into himself, becoming a dullard at parties and a bore in conversation. But then he see her again and she beckons to him to join her in the snow, the cold, the ice, and the chill air. He dons his winter clothes, his skis, and heads out of doors, always following her with her just beyond his reach up and up the mountain all through the night. It is near dawn when he realizes he has reached the summit and then she reveals herself to be some kind of fell demon who has entrapped him. When she cries outs, “This is our home!” you know it is over. But the sound of the church bells and the priest chanting as he takes Communion to a sick parishioner carries to him up the mountain born on a holy wind and it revives him. He manages, only barely to escape, as she chases him down the mountain on demonic skis of her own. He reaches the church and is saved, and later, when men inspired by his mad midnight descent, go up to the mountain to photograph his path, they return having seen only one set of ski tracks.
Personal Fright: 4/10
General Horror/Oppressiveness: 6/10