Taaqtumi: An Anthology of Arctic Horror Stories
by Aviaq Johnston, Richard Van Camp, Rachel Qitsualik-Tinsley, Sean Qitsualik-Tinsley, Anguti Johnston, Repo Kempt
Published September 10, 2019, by Inhabit Media
Isolation is a mainstay of horror. Whether it is the physical isolation of the setting (a cabin deep in the woods, a mansion on an island) or the mental isolation of the characters (a widow or widower whose grief separates her or him from the community), knowing that help might not arrive in time provides an extra layer of tension for both the characters who might die and for the reader who is anxious to find out what happens next. In the short story collection Taaqtumi, isolation is at its most extreme. For the characters in the far northern woods or on the tundra, the next closest community could be hundreds of miles away, and even modern communication breaks down, leaving the characters utterly alone when facing the horrors of the months-long winter night.
Taaqtumi (an Inuktitut word that means ‘in the dark’) has a special advantage when it comes to horror stories set in the Arctic: many of the writers are indigenous people- Inuit, Métis, or First Nations. Their experience with the realities of the far north, combined with the legends of their people combine to make stories that are different from what readers might be familiar with– and far more frightening.
Among the stories in Taaqtumi, we find the story of a young teen who is home alone in a blizzard where strange and shadowy figures appear in the snow (‘Iqsinaqtutalik Piqtuq: The Haunted Blizzard’ by Aviaq Johnston), the tale of ancient creatures come horrifyingly to life– and spreading rapidly in ‘Wheetago War II: Summoners’ (by Richard Van Camp), a man seeking revenge against those he believes have wronged him in ‘Revenge’ (by Thomas Anguti Johnston), or the story of a tiny family struggling to survive on the tundra after a zombie apocalypse in ‘Uqtituq’ (by Gayle Kabloona).
The extreme nature of the polar climate serves these stories well. In winter, the night lasts for months while in the summer the daylight never ceases, an effect that disorients the mind and body. The weather, too, is disorienting. Blinding blizzards can occur year-round, turning a familiar land into something too strange to navigate. And the melting permafrost hides any number of strange and disturbing things that could rise up at any time and potentially kill us all. And while Taaqtumi shows us legendary monsters, the reality is not so far away. Unknown viruses and bacteria have been slumbering in the northern permafrost for millennia. Thanks to climate change, these viruses could rise up like Taaqtumi‘s myriad monsters. Truth is often not so different from fiction.
And while short story anthologies often offer a mixed back of quality, even the lesser stories contained within this book are eerie and haunting. It’s a toss-up as to whether one might feel brave enough to read this in the dark of a winter night with snow falling all around, or if one should play it safe and wait for a hot and muggy summer afternoon when the sun is high in the sky. Whatever the choice, though, Taaqtumi teaches us that strange doors are better left unopened and that it’s wise to always remember the lessons– and the warnings– our elders taught us.
Thank you to NetGalley and Inhabit Media for providing me a free egalley version of this book in exchange for an honest review. This did not affect my opinion.