In days gone by, the barren mountains and bleak, rock-strewn pastures of Iceland were roamed by cruel ghosts, enemies of all who lived. Called 'walkers after death,' they were animated corpses, horrible to behold and perilous to encounter. The walkers were most active during the long winter nights; indeed, their presence sometimes grew so unbearable that the living made attempts to fight them. The story of Glam tells of such a battle:
Glam, a man with hair like wolf's fur and staring gray eyes, was a shepherd for a farmer named Thorhall, whose pastures lay in the north of the island. He was surly and violent by nature, and his lonely calling suited them. He met a lonely end: At the farmstead one night, he flew into a fury over some inconsequential matter, strode into a snowstorm, and he did not return.
When the blizzard abated the next day, the shepherd's black and bloated corpse was found in a valley not far away. It was surrounded by bloody footprints, and the farmers muttered that Glam had fought a walker. Shivering in the wind, they piled stones around the body to make a barrow, then trudged home. It could not be said that they mourned him, but they pitied anyone who suffered such a fate.
The burial was followed by fearsome events. That night, Thorhall's horses leaped screaming from their stalls, pursued by something that no one saw. In the morning, the animals were dead, their bones crushed, their flesh torn.
Next, howlings began. Through the winter nights, hoarse wailing raged around the farmhouse, while Thorhall and his family huddled within. And that was not all. Sometimes the roof beam sagged above them and heels drummed on the eaves; dampness ran down the shaking walls of the house and gathered in dismal puddles on the floors. On other nights, something clawed and scrabbled at the door, or in the moonlight outside, a hulking shadow shambled crazily to and from, shaking a thatch of wolf-dark hair. Finally Thorhall realized that what was left of Glam's body had been invaded by the walker that killed him. A siege of the living had begun.
Daylight allowed the family some peace, but winter days in the northern land are short, and Glam returned as soon as darkness fell. The creature was not content with assaulting the house or lurking outside. In the outbuildings and pastures, it killed all that lived. Defeated, Thorhall fled with his family, leaving the farm to Glam.
Summer arrived at last, with its sunlit Arctic night, and then the farm was quiet again and Thorhall reclaimed it. But Glam's power revived as the days drew in. The ghost's autumn ragings were as deadly as before.
Word of the haunting reached the ears of a champion called Grettir the Strong, who journeyed to Thorhall's farm to battle the ghost of Glam. A night came when Grettir waited alone in the hall of the farmhouse, concealed in the folds of a furred cloak.
Hours passed quietly. Then, without even the rustle of a breeze to break the silence, a shadow slid into the room. It was followed by a livid face that turned blindly from side to side, scenting new blood. Grettir made no move.
The thing he saw in the hall had the shape of a man, but it smelled of rotten flesh and it walked in an awkward, lumbering way, as if the spirit within was unfamiliar with the patterns of human movement. It made unerringly for the furred cloak, however, and its great hands clawed and tugged the fabric. Grettir set his feet against a loose floor plank. Glam pulled again, so hard that the cloak and the man wearing it sprang up against the ghost's massive body. The cloak fell away and Grettir stood revealed. He jerked himself free of the grip of the ghost and began to circle it, looking for an opening or advantage. The ghost's great head swung from side to side, following Grettir's movement.
Then mortal and spirit lunged at each other simultaneously, pitting strength against strength. Grettir was a mighty wrestler, so cinfident of his abilities that he left his dagger sheathed even in this deadly battle. The pair struggled in silence, save for Grettir's harsh breathing and the creak and thud of bodies slamming against the house posts and into the walls. Each step Glam took was toward the door: The spirit's strength increased in the cold night air. Every move Grettir made was to keep the battle in the house, within the walls of the living.
Back and forth they lurched and tumbled, and the fight began to go to Glam. Slowly the ghost wrestled the man to the door. It towered there at the border of its world, its back to the air, and its relentless hands pulled Grettir into its embrace. Grettir stood like a pillar, feet braced against the threshold stone, hands against the frame.
The fighters swayed thus for moments more, while the mortal's strength ebbed and the ghost's grew. Then Grettir tried his last hope. He released his grip on the doorframe and leaped forward into Glam's straining arms. The ghost was overbalanced and fell backward to the ground just by the door. Grettir sprang up at once, but the creature lay still, flat on its back, its white, blank eyes staring up at the moon.
The sight of those eyes drove the strength from Grettir. Unable to draw his dagger, he stood helpless by the ghost of Glam. But the creature was defeated by the fall at the man's hands. It rose to a sitting position in the doorway and spoke in harsh, clicking tones. It said that Grettir would be friendless for the rest of his life and that he would see always through the eyes of Glam.
To stop the voice, Grettir struck. His dagger glittered in the moonlight; a gaping wound opened in the ghost's white throat. His hand gripping the leathery neck, Grettir called for Thorhall, who crept from the place where he had hidden during the fight. Thorhall stared while Grettir cut off the head.
Together, the men burned the body, and when it was reduced to ash and the last acrid smoke had drifted away, they buried the fragments in a spot where neither human nor beast would be likely to venture. Glam never tormented Thorhall again.
As for Grettir, he took his leave, much thanked by the farmer. But Grettir was a changed man, for he had absorbed something of the ghost, as the ghost had said he would. His temper grew short and his manner sullen. He fought with other men and hated their company; he was as impatiently evil-tempered as Glam had been in his shepherd's life. Yet Grettir feared to be alone. He saw more than his companions saw, especially in the dark, and the things he saw were foul, gibbering phantoms, always around him, always reaching for his hand. He saw, people said, with ghost's sight. Unfit to live with anyone, unable to live by himself, terrified of the dark, he passed his few remaining years in misery and died despised. In the end, thus, the ghost was the victor.