"Taaqtumi” is an Inuktitut word that means "in the dark”—and these spine-tingling horror stories by Northern writers show just how dangerous darkness can be. A family clinging to survival out on the tundra after a vicious zombie virus. A door that beckons, waiting to unleash the terror behind it. A post-apocalyptic community in the far North where things aren’t quite what they seem. With chilling tales from award-winning authors Richard Van Camp, Rachel and Sean Qitsualik-Tinsley, Aviaq Johnston, and others, this collection will thrill and entertain even the most seasoned horror fan.
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Inhabit Media Inc. (Iqaluit) P.O. Box 11125, Iqaluit, Nunavut, X0A 1H0 (Toronto) 191 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 301, Toronto, Ontario, M4P 1K1
Copyright © 2020 Inhabit Media Inc.
Iqsinaqtutalik Piqtuq: The Haunted Blizzard © 2020 Aviaq Johnston; The Door © 2020 Cara Bryant; Wheetago War II: Summoners © 2020 Richard Van Camp; Revenge © 2020 Anguti Johnston; Lounge © 2020 Rachel and Sean Qitsualik-Tinsley; Utiqtuq © 2020 Gayle Kabloona; Sila © 2020 Kirsten Carthew; The Wildest Game © 2020 Jay Bulckaert; Strays © 2020 Malcolm Kempt
Photography: CRP / Shutterstock.com, goldnetz / Shutterstock.com, eAlisa / Shutterstock.com, Piotr Krzeslak / Shutterstock.com, Espen Solvik Kristiansen / Shutterstock.com, Stas Malyarevsky / Shutterstock.com, Vishnevskiy Vasily / Shutterstock.com
Editors: Neil Christopher, Kelly Ward, Grace Shaw, and Kathleen Keenan
Art director: Danny Christopher
All rights reserved. The use of any part of this publication reproduced, transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, recording, or otherwise, or stored in a retrievable system, without written consent of the publisher, is an infringement of copyright law.
ISBN (mobi): 978-1-77227-331-1
The wind blows without mercy against the building, making the students chatter with excitement. We ignore the teacher and run to the big, turquoise-trimmed windows. Looking outside, we see the telltale signs of a blizzard: the growing snowdrifts, the snow blowing across the ground, people struggling to walk against the wind. We also see—well, don’t see is more accurate—other signs of the blizzard. Buildings and landmarks missing on the horizon as the approaching storm obscures them in its white and violent embrace.
There is a high-pitched beep, then the PA system crackles as the voice of the school secretary comes out alternating languages from Inuktitut to English. “Due to the sudden change in weather, school is cancelled until further notice. For students with older siblings at the high school, you must wait to be picked up before leaving. Please notify a parent or guardian once you arrive safely at home!”
Anything that our teacher may have said is lost as all thirty of us exclaim in delight and rush out of the classroom to get our jackets on and leave. Within moments, I am bundled up into my snow pants, my winter boots, and the parka my auntie made for me this year.
A stampede of students storms out of the school from all exits. I am among the grade sevens, the last grade before we move on to the high school uptown. We are at that age where we are old enough to leave the school on our own, even if we have a sibling at the high school.
We burst from the recess door where a playground is protected by the u-shape of the school’s courtyard. We usually call it the kindergarten playground because it is safer and easier for teachers to watch as they shiver in their Canada Goose parkas. The day is already darkening, as we barely have sunlight for more than a couple hours in the winter. A twilight has taken its place in the sky.
The playground is nearly abandoned as the younger kids in lower grades wait inside for their parents or siblings to pick them up, and other older kids leave through other exits with more direct paths home. We older kids run in haphazard directions, excited to go home to do whatever we want: watch TV without parental or sibling intervention, eat all the snacks left in the fridge or cupboards, sneak around to see what our parents might be hiding in their bedrooms.
The wind blows sharp snow pellets against my face. It stings my eyes, but my body is filled with such jubilance that I don’t care. Ulii, Nita, and I all run toward our section of town together. We live near the breakwater on the shoreline, the iksarvik. Our houses are all close enough together that we can get most of the way home before splitting up.
Ulii is the first to separate. Her brother is smoking a cigarette on their porch, bundled into a shabby coat. He must be freezing. He isn’t wearing gloves or mitts, and as Ulii arrives at the steps, we can hear him berating her for no reason, as he always does.
The storm continues to thicken as Nita and I keep trudging home. We stopped running just outside the playground, our excitement dwindling, and we are now leaning forward into the wind. Our heads are turned to the ground, our hands holding onto the fur trim of our hoods to keep the wind from blowing them off our heads. We slide from the middle of the road where the wind is strongest to walkways between houses where there is more cover.
We reach Nita’s house next. Its humble frame is surrounded by hunting equipment strewn across the ground. The equipment had been tied onto her grandfather’s qamutiik, but the wind has loosened the grip of the rope, and the tools are being swept away. Her grandfather’s husky is bundled into a ball on the porch to stay warm.
Nita’s grandmother is staring out the window, waiting for her arrival. Once she spots us outside, she rushes to open the door.
“Atii, tuavi!” she calls out in Inuktitut. She can’t speak English. “Come on, hurry up!” is what she said.
Nita rushes up the stairs and I continue on my way home, but her grandmother calls out to me again. “Inu!” she calls. “Stay with us! It’s too dangerous . . . this storm is full of bad things!”
“I’m okay, Grandmother!” I answer in Inuktitut. Having grown up copying Nita, I call her Grandmother, too. “I will be home soon!” I tell her.
She keeps calling after me, but I’ve gone too far. The wind distorts and carries her words away.
I walk around a mound of snow built up by snowplows. The wind rests for a second, and I finally look up from the path I know by heart. I can see my house from here, elevated a metre off the ground on stilts drilled deep into the permafrost.
In the fleeting quiet, something feels wrong. I stop walking for a moment and look at the path ahead of me. Everything seems normal. I look behind, and there’s nothing—
There’s a shadow.
Something squeals from my throat and I start running. The wind soon picks up speed and sharpens, piercing my ears as I run.
I remember what Nita’s grandmother shouted at me, and I want to kick myself for not listening. Her voice echoes in my mind. This storm is full of bad things.
There are blizzards all year long. Sometimes they come only once a month, but often they come more frequently. Sometimes they destroy things in town, blow the doors and roofs off buildings, cover tracks in the snow that hunters need to follow on their way home, and bury precious equipment until the snow melts in the summer.
This blizzard is different though. Elders tell us stories about blizzards all the time, about their danger and about the things they do to our homes and our people. Once in a while in Inuktitut class, an elder will tell us about a storm that fits itself in among the others. Once in a long time—years and decades in between—this blizzard comes back. It roams through our land, bringing something with it. The elders never tell us what it brings; ghosts or creatures or perhaps it is simply the shadow that I caught a glimpse of in that second. They just say to find shelter and to never be alone.
This storm is full of bad things. She had tried to warn me.
I am running, but barely moving. The path behind my house feels like it’s turning into a tunnel as the wind picks up again, and I’m fighting against the air.
I hazard another look back, and the shadow is still there. It looks like a person. It’s following me, but the wind is slowing it down, too.
Finally I am close enough that I can touch the side of my house. Reaching the stairs, my feet finally have traction and I climb up the steps as quickly as I can. I lock the door as I make it inside, flicking on the porch light.
A gust of wind howls up the stairs outside. There are no windows in the porch, so I can’t see if the shadow has followed me here. I’m too scared to move as I lean against the door, hoping the lock and my weight can keep me safe and secure. The house is empty and dark.
Ring! Ring! Ring!
The phone rings from the living room. I’m still stuck in the porch, frozen.
What was it?
The phone keeps ringing until the answering machine picks it up. After the beep, I hear my mother’s voice. “Panik? Call me when you get home, okay? I’m stuck at work. The weather is too bad outside.”
My mom’s voice makes me feel safe again, so I head to the living room still wearing all my outdoor clothing. I flick on each light I pass: the hallway, the kitchen, the living room.
I dial my mom’s office number. She answers on the first ring. “Panik?” she says.
“Hi Anaana,” I say.
“Are you home?” she asks, but she gives me no time to answer because she already knows I’m home. She saw our phone number on the caller ID. “Inu, are you alone? Ataata is going to try to get home, but he has to wait for everyone to leave so he can lock up at work.”
“Yeah, I’m alone.” I tell her.
“Okay,” she says. The wind is booming against the house. It’s getting harder to hear her voice. “You have to stay inside; it’s too dangerous. I already heard that the roof of the Northern is being blown off.”
“Huh?” Anaana says, her relief at knowing I’m home safe has changed her apprehension to disinterest.
“I think I saw something when I was coming here,” I say frantically. “There was a shadow and—”
“It was just someone trying to walk home in the blizzard, Inu.” My mom’s voice sounds frustrated. She sighs. “You and your imagination.”
“I really saw it!” I say.
“Taima. That’s enough.” Her frustration thickens in her voice. “I’m already worried as it is. Ataata will be home soon.”
“Okay,” I say, but my stomach is sinking into my knees and my chest feels like it is being pushed down and squeezed tight. “Bye.”
“I love you, Panik,” she says before she hangs up the phone, all the way at the other end of our island town.
My mother doesn’t know. She’s too grown up to remember the scary parts of our land. The scary things that hide around us. She thinks that the land is nothing more than the science of the space around us, environment and nature. She thinks this is all that lives outside.
For some reason, elders and children know more than adults do, and I wonder why that is. They act like they know everything, as if everything has an explanation. At some point in their lives they forget the stories children are told, dismissing them as fairy tales and myths. They think that the scary women in the ice aren’t real, or that the little folk that you can only see at sunset are just imaginary, or that giants never roamed the earth. Just like all adults, my mother has forgotten all those things the elders had passed down.
But . . . maybe it does make sense that it was just another person walking home in the blizzard. Maybe that makes sense.
I may have been confused. In my memory, I see a tall human-shaped figure, with long limbs, long hair, made entirely of blackness, of shadow.
But maybe my mom is right.
With my growing calm, I decide that my mom was probably right. My dad will be home soon anyway, and if adults are too blind to see the scary things around us, then maybe the scary things can’t see adults either.
I turn on the TV and sit on the floor. Kids cartoons come on the screen. I don’t even like them, but I don’t want to change the channel. The cartoon is full of bright and vibrant colours, and I am beginning to forget the shadows I have seen.
Before long, the blizzard winds tear against the house, and suddenly, I am in darkness.
In the quiet I notice something. Utter silence. The wind outside isn’t booming anymore. Through the open curtains I can see the gusting wind, but I can’t hear its howling cries. In the silence, I notice a different sound emerge. A small, yet frantic sound. A clinking from somewhere inside the house.
Slowly, the sound of the wind picks back up and the small sound is lost in the noise.
Something seems wrong again. The hair stands up on the back of my neck and I look around, trying to find where the clinking noise is coming from. But I can’t.
I look back to the TV and see myself reflected in the dim light coming through the window. The kitchen is visible in the TV’s reflection as well, and for a moment I don’t pay attention to it. The electricity always goes out for a bit during a blizzard. It’s normal enough. I look back at the TV, willing it to turn back on. . . .
Until I realize that there is a shape in the kitchen window. A shadow peering in.
The power comes back on, the lights shining bright as they return. Slowly, I look back to the kitchen window, but I don’t see anything. I stand up and walk toward the hallway.
I look back at the door, brow furrowed and heart racing. For a moment, I don’t seem to know what is wrong as I look at the dark porch. The winds are blowing as loud as ever, the noise deafening, but normal.
But . . .
Didn’t I turn on the porch light?
I feel the breath catch in my throat, no more air coming in or out. I scream and run down the hall to my parents’ bedroom, the farthest from the porch.
The door to their room is open and I am about to run straight inside, but something catches my attention. Staring past the room, to the back door that we never use, something is different about it. It’s been closed and locked shut for years.
The doorknob is shaking, turning back and forth with urgency. That was the frantic little noise I had heard when the power was out. Whatever is outside, it is trying to come in through the door.
I am stranded. Maybe there is more than one of what I’ve seen, at both the door and the window? And somehow it turned off the porch light?
So . . . is it already inside?
I turn around and run toward the one bathroom in my house. There are no windows in there and it is the only room inside the house that locks. I slam the door shut, locking it.
But when I turn away from the door and see the shower curtain drawn, my heart stops. Neither I nor my parents ever leave the shower curtain splayed across the tub. Tears fall freely from my eyes.
I am stuck.
Truthfully, I don’t know why I’m crying, sobbing, screaming in such terror. I don’t know why the shower curtain is scaring me so. I don’t know what hides on the other side.
Darkness extends out from behind the curtain, it dims the light to almost nothing. The wind is shaking my house violently, as if in a hurricane, a tornado, a flood, an avalanche. I can’t see anything in the darkness, I can just feel the floor shaking beneath me as I crumple down, trembling as hard as the shaking house.
A voice I have never heard before speaks, scratchy and hoarse, “Qanuikkavit?” it says. “What’s wrong?”
“Anigit! Avani!” I cry into its darkness. “Get out! Go away!”
A laugh echoes out, “Qanuikkavit?” It keeps asking.
There is a scratching noise, metal against metal, as the shower curtain is pushed aside.
The door stood alone against the backdrop of the tundra. It was white, almost lost in the endless field of snow. The only thing that stood out was the black doorknob. Joamie blinked hard. He turned off his snowmobile, threw his shotgun over his shoulder, and approached cautiously. Up close it looked like any regular door, except that it was standing alone in the middle of the Arctic. He gently touched the sides, sliding his hand underneath to feel the space be
tween the door and the ground—it wasn’t attached. He shivered and took a step back.
“What in God’s name?” he said.
Joamie had left his house that morning at roughly six a.m. It was springtime. The sun had just begun to peek over the horizon, giving him a precious few hours of light. He was hunting polar bear, although he would bag a wolf if he saw one: the Northwest Territories Hunters and Trappers Association offered $150 for the pelts, and he could use the money. But after nearly two hours, Joamie had managed to kill only one Arctic hare. Not much, he thought. But better than going back empty-handed. The daylight had already begun to fade. He had skinned the animal with his knife and put the red flesh in a plastic bag. After securing his catch to the back of his snowmobile, he’d driven off toward the village.
And then he’d seen it.
As Joamie stared at the door, he noticed the world around him had grown eerily quiet. Usually the wind was stinging his face, but it had stopped blowing. Everything around him was silent, unmoving. Without knowing how it happened, Joamie found his hand on the doorknob. A bad taste formed in his mouth, and his stomach was in knots. He fought hard against the urge to open the door. He had a feeling deep in his gut that this was something unnatural. Something evil. He used all his willpower to remove his hand and ran back to his snowmobile. He took off for home without looking back.
He arrived home, breathless and shaken, just as the darkness took over and hurried into the house with his catch. His grandmother, Ethel, was sitting at the table sewing beads onto a moosehide jacket. Joamie stood in the kitchen, snow falling off him in heaps that melted into puddles on the floor.
“Take off your snowsuit in the entrance,” Ethel said.
Joamie went into the kitchen, threw the hare into the sink, and went back to hang up his clothes to dry. When he came back, his grandmother was filling a pot with water. She could tell from the look on her grandson’s face that he was upset.
“I found something,” Joamie said.
Ethel waited for him to continue speaking, but he just stared at her, his eyes wide.
“What?” she said finally.
“I couldn’t bring it back with me. It’s not something . . . I have ever seen before. I mean I’ve seen one before, but not like this.”
“You’re talking crazy. What did you see?” Ethel asked.
“There was a . . . a door. It was just there all of a sudden. It looked like it was floating.”
Ethel looked at Joamie askance. What he said sounded insane. He expected her to laugh or cry because her grandson had lost his mind. He noticed her body stiffen. She stood for a moment, unmoving, as though she were transfixed.
“Did you touch it?” she asked.
Joamie nodded. “Just lightly.”
“Did you open it?”
“No. But I . . . I wanted to.”
Joamie stared intensely at his grandmother. Her face was contorted in fear. He had never seen her look like that before. She spoke slowly, in a hushed voice.
“Joamie, you must not open that door. You understand? If you see it again, you do not open it.”
“Where did it come from? Why did I see it?”
“I don’t know.”
“What happens if I open it?”
“Listen to me, Joamie. You leave it alone if you ever see it again. That’s all we’re going to say about it.”
Ethel shook her head and turned away. She took out a bag of flour and began busying herself. “Do you want some bannock with dinner?”
“Gran? I . . .”
Joamie sat down at the kitchen table, swallowing his questions along with his fear. “Yes, you should make some bannock. Maybe take out the jam too,” he said.
Ethel smiled and began to hum. “We need to go to church this Sunday. We haven’t been in a while. I saw Father Gagnon at NorthernMart. He told me we have been missed.”
Joamie nodded his head in agreement. His grandmother had been a practising Catholic since missionaries had arrived in the village when she was a child.
“I guess we should go this weekend,” he said. “You’re one of the most respected elders in the community. You have to set an example.”
Joamie couldn’t help but think her sudden urge to go to church had something to do with the mysterious door. The sickly feeling swirled in his stomach and crawled up into his throat. He swallowed some water and tried to stifle it, forcing it back down. He ate his dinner in silence and went to bed early.
Joamie did his best to forget about the door. Allowed it to fall into the deep recesses of his mind where he had shoved other bad memories, like the time he was beaten almost unconscious by Jackson Bishop, the local bully. Or the image of his mother lying in a casket, her face calm as though she were sleeping. Joamie did his best to keep all his darkest memories buried. Ever since his encounter with the door, he hadn’t been able to keep them out of his mind. They kept bubbling up to the surface, jolting him awake, heart pounding.
The weather changed, and with warmer temperatures came the midnight sun and the best season for hunting. Nearly half the village would spend time harvesting muskox, bison, and caribou.
Early one morning, Joamie’s neighbour Darrell arrived at the door carrying a shotgun. Darrell was a little older than Joamie, in his mid-thirties, but looked closer to fifty. His skin was weathered and cracked, and he had deep bags under his eyes. “Joamie, we’re heading west to hunt for caribou tomorrow. Why don’t you join us? We got a small group together. Going for maybe two or three days. We could use you.”
Normally, Joamie would jump at the offer, but the swirling nausea in his stomach gave him pause. He looked at his grandmother for approval. She was standing behind him with her arms crossed over her chest.
“You’re not going to get better weather than this,” she said, motioning to the sky. “We need to eat.”
Darrell smiled and gave Joamie a friendly slap on the shoulder. “Get your survival gear together. I’ll swing by tomorrow. Early.”
Joamie went to sleep feeling anxious. He tossed and turned, dreaming about the door. In his dream, he was standing in front of it, trying to stop himself from opening it. It was like his hand had a mind of its own. He couldn’t stop himself from turning the knob. The door opened to blackness, a deep, dark abyss that Joamie felt himself being sucked into. It felt sinister. He was propelled awake, sweating and out of breath.
The next morning, Joamie drove his ATV behind the others, carefully scanning the ground for tracks. He hoped for a caribou or muskox; either would have enough meat to last a while. After a morning of travel, the group was hours from the village. Joamie’s eyes scanned the flat landscape continuously, looking for anything that appeared unusual.
It was nearing two a.m. when they finally stopped to set up camp. Normally, Joamie had no difficulty sleeping in the sunlight, but this time, for some reason, he felt an uneasiness he couldn’t shake. While the others slept soundly in tents, Joamie walked away from camp, looking for a spot to relieve himself. He noticed something in the distance. At first, he thought it was a burned-down cabin, but as he got closer his blood ran cold.
It was a door. The door. It looked the same as it had in the winter: standing alone, unfixed to the landscape. He considered waking the other men, but something compelled him toward it. He didn’t want to do it, but it was as though he was not in control of his own body. He found himself approaching, despite the feeling that something was very wrong. There was something sinister about the door. The urge to open it was stronger this time. He put his hand on the knob. He remembered his grandmother’s warning. He pictured her face as he tried to keep his hand off the knob. It was as though an invisible force had taken over Joamie. A deep breath, and he opened the door. He couldn’t help it.
He closed his eyes, half expecting something awful to jump out and eat him. Slowly opening his eyes, he stared through the empty door frame to see the same landscape on the other side. Nothing horrible, no monsters, no demons. He walked back to camp, and, looking over his shoulder, saw that the door had quietly vanished.
Joamie felt unsettled. He told himself he should feel relieved, but something nagged at him. Deep down he knew that couldn’t be it. He felt as though the door wasn’t finished with him. The anticipation of what lay ahead was nerve-racking. He did his best to shove his concern aside and act like everything was fine.
Three days later, the group arrived back in the village on schedule. The hunting party had killed two large bison, enough meat to last a few weeks. Joamie found his grandmother in the kitchen when he arrived home. She was sitting with her Bible in front of her. Reading glasses hung from a string around her neck. She visibly shivered when he walked in.
“We were successful,” he said, smiling as he placed cuts of meat inside the freezer. Ethel sat stone-faced.
“Aren’t you happy? You can make stew tonight,” he said.
“Go into the backyard,” she said.
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