I saw it through a veil that hung before my eyes like the gauze drop-curtain used at the back of a theater – hazily a little. It was neither a human figure nor an animal. To me it gave the strange impression of being as large as several animals grouped together, like horses, two or three, moving slowly. The Swede, too, got a similar result, though expressing it differently, for he thought it was shaped and sized like a clump of willow bushes, rounded at the top, and moving all over upon its surface – "coiling upon itself like smoke," he said afterwards.
Certain stories settle upon me. I can read or listen to them over and over again without losing interest. Indeed, fresh revelations appear on the second, or the fifth or the twentieth exposure.
One such tale is "The Willows", a short story by Algernon Blackwood written in 1907. I have a reading of it on my mp3 player in my car; it's been there for eight months and never gets erased while other stories and plays come and go. Whenever the player selects it, I listen again and do not skip.
It's a horror story than avoids the cliches of many stories written before and since. Beginning as a tale of travel, it slowly embraces a supernatural element that is increasingly and powerfully developed by the narrator, all the more effectively because this protagonist, one of two men, fights desperately to apply some rational explanation to the inexplicable.
The setting, the willow-infested marshes surrounding the Danube river downstream of Bratislava, appeals to my own love of great rivers and the wilderness that surrounds them. It's a wonderful story, and one I am thankful to have discovered.