Tag Archives: Victorian horror stories

Here’s a scary story that will make you think: Jack London, “In a Far Country”

30 Oct

Well, what a week. I had made an attempt to ignore the news but you know Dave – he sent me a story about the new cop contracts. Talk about scary – this is how these idiots on council and staff just keep ratcheting up the pension deficit – they just gave the cops a raise to pay more of their own share. This is what my dad always called rabbit math, my accountant explained it in his language – they keep raising the base of the debt, without raising the payments enough. It’s this dizzying spiral of debt, the bigger it gets, the more I just want to stick my head in a good book.

At Halloween, I like to read a scary book. After I finished “The Road”, by Cormac McCarthy, I picked up a book of short stories by Jack London.

Sure we all think of “Call of the Wild” cause we had to read that in school. Yeah that’s a great read, I read it with my kids, twice. But London had a fixation with death, and he knew how to put together a good Gothic story. One of the best Gothic horror stories I’ve ever read is “In a Far Country”.

https://www.prosperosisle.org/spip.php?article317#InaFarCountry

Set in the Yukon, this is a story of two guys who get stuck in a small cabin through a very dark winter. It reminds me of a lot of situations from ordinary life – marriage, right off the top of my head. Home ownership, fraught with peril. Parenthood, oh God. Or college dorm life. Or a long car trip, or a camping trip. There’s lots of times in life when you just want to murder somebody.

And how many times have you been involved with a “Happy Wanderer” – somebody who seems to have absolutely no concept of pitching in, helping out, carrying their own weight, or God forbid, pitching in for the group effort. Ever wonder what happens when two such individuals are left to their own resources?

That’s the story of Carter Weatherbee and Percy Cuthfert, two “tin horns” who decide, in mid-life, to undertake a trip to the Yukon. How’d you like to get stuck with these guys? “The two shirks and chronic grumblers were Carter Weatherbee and Percy Cuthfert. The whole party complained less of its aches and pains than did either of them. Not once did they volunteer for the thousand and one petty duties of the camp. A bucket of water to be brought, an extra armful of wood to be chopped, the dishes to be washed and wiped, a search to be made through the outfit for some suddenly indispensable article—and these two effete scions of civilization discovered sprains or blisters requiring instant attention.”

This is so timeless. Okay, maybe most of us don’t have to bring water in with a bucket, or chop firewood, but we’ve sure as hell had roommates or family members who never wash dishes, don’t flush the toilet, leave their crap all over the place. And whenever the bills come up, they complain about their job, their boss, their ex-wife, yeah, we’ve all known Weatherbee and Cuthfert.

So who would be surprised when their party decides, without any apology, to leave them behind in the middle of nowhere. Frankly, they are nicer than some people I’ve traveled with – the two shirks are left in a sturdy old cabin, fully stocked pantry, and a wood lot with enough fuel to last years. They are happy to stay behind as the party slogs ahead to hard work, scanty provisions, and uncertainty.

Things prospered in the little cabin at first. The rough badinage of their comrades had made Weatherbee and Cuthfert conscious of the mutual responsibility which had devolved upon them; besides, there was not so much work after all for two healthy men. And the removal of the cruel whiphand, or in other words the bulldozing half-breed, had brought with it a joyous reaction. At first, each strove to outdo the other, and they performed petty tasks with an unction which would have opened the eyes of their comrades who were now wearing out bodies and souls on the Long Trail.

But there’s some dark foreboding. “The cabin was one of the many mysteries which lurk in the vast recesses of the North. Built when and by whom, no man could tell. Two graves in the open, piled high with stones, perhaps contained the secret of those early wanderers. But whose hand had piled the stones?” Other graves are mentioned, filled at various times. I’m not sure – say you pulled up at a hotel, out in the middle of nowhere, and there were graves in the parking lot?

Another party member’s parting observation: “the Kilkenny cats fought till neither hide, nor hair, nor yowl, was left. You understand?—till nothing was left.” And the other members nod their heads and mush their dogs into the horizon.

It’s a dark and scary story, not unlike Poe. Says a lot about human behavior. Makes you think.