A Haunting in the Arctic

A Haunting in the Arctic

by C. J. Cooke
A Haunting in the Arctic

A Haunting in the Arctic

by C. J. Cooke

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Overview

A  deserted shipwreck off the coast of Iceland holds terrors and dark secrets in this chilling horror novel from the author of The Lighthouse Witches.

The year is 1901, and Nicky is attacked, then wakes on board the Ormen, a whaling ship embarked on what could be its last voyage. With land still weeks away, it’s just her, the freezing ocean, and the crew – and they’re all owed something only she can give them...

Now, over one hundred years later, the wreck of the Ormen has washed up on the forbidding, remote coast of Iceland. It’s scheduled to be destroyed, but explorer Dominique feels an inexplicable pull to document its last days, even though those who have ventured onto the wreck before her have met uncanny ends.
 
Onboard the boat, Dominique will uncover a dark past riddled with lies, cruelty, and murder—and her discovery will change everything. Because she’ll soon realize she’s not alone. Something has walked the floors of the Ormen for almost a century. Something that craves revenge.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780593550205
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 02/27/2024
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 49,132
Product dimensions: 5.10(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

C. J. Cooke is an award-winning poet and novelist published in twenty-three languages. She teaches creative writing at the University of Glasgow, where she also researches the impact of motherhood on women's writing and creative writing interventions for mental health.

Read an Excerpt

Nicky

I

May 1901

Dundee, Scotland

Nicky woke to gold morning light effervescing in the eaves of her parents' house. It was May, but in this small room winter lingered, the old fireplace unused on account of the coal stains that had ruined the stair carpet.

She pressed her feet on the floorboards, heat from the downstairs fire held in the wood, slowly creeping into her bones. The mirrored door of the Georgian wardrobe threw back the white fangs of her nightdress collar, two dark curtains of her unpinned hair framing her face. Recently, her temples had begun to shimmer with strands of gray. She was only twenty-seven, and at forty-nine her mother Mhairi still had a vivid red crown, even when she removed her hairpieces. But they said gray hair was the flower of worry, and she had spent the last twenty months in two halves-her body here in Dundee, installed in her parents' house like a child, and her mind with Allan in the Transvaal, fighting the Boers.

She frightened herself by struggling to recall the exact line of his jaw, the texture of his palms, his smell. Her own husband. So far, marriage had not been as she expected.

But then, she had not expected a war.

She washed quickly by the sink, fastened her corset, slipped her petticoat and dress over her head. Then she pinned up her hair, clipping two long ringlets that had come from her sister's head just above her ears. Her own hair was poker-straight; not even the hottest iron produced a lasting curl.

It was Monday-the day Allan's letters arrived at their house on Faulkner Street. The postman came at nine, which was yet two hours away, but on Mondays she took the chance to spend the day there, beating the rugs and airing the rooms. It had been her mother's idea for her to move back into her parents' home while Allan was dispatched-a woman living alone was indecent, whether wedded or not-but she had surprised herself by how indignant she felt at this requirement. Wasn't war indecent? And yet. There was certainly nothing wrong with her childhood home-Larkbrae was one of the finest homes in Dundee, sitting proud above the Tay-but she felt she had moved backward in time into her old life.

The main reason she went, aside from collecting mail, was to feel the embrace of her marital home, and all its promise: a future with Allan.

From the floors below, a voice sailed through the shadowy hall. "Wheesht, now. I've got you!"

She rushed downstairs to find her father, stooped over, his shirt and waistcoat unbuttoned, revealing his vest. Something was clasped between his palms, his strong arms held at right angles as he addressed whatever he held. His hands were covered in soot. Then, sensing her there, he looked up and tilted his chin. "Open the door."

She turned and unlocked the storm doors, watching as he inched past, two small wings poking through the gaps in his hands. He had caught a bird, and from the soot marks on his forearms and vest she gathered it had fallen down the chimney.

"Steady, now," he said, stepping out onto the porch with his arms outstretched. He lifted his top hand away to reveal a sparrow crouching in his palm. A second later, it shot off toward the trees.

Her father clapped his hands together as he looked after it, and she watched him carefully, unnerved. George Abney wasn't a man to care about small things, and never a man inclined to save a creature that had fallen into the grate. He looked like he'd not slept all night, still in yesterday's shirt and waistcoat, his eyes shadowy and the gray hair at the sides of his head ruffled.

"Are you well, Father?" she asked.

He kept his pale eyes on the garden ahead, searching after the bird. "Yes," he said. "I think I am. I think I am." He turned to her. "Have you time for a word?"

She raised her eyebrows, certain now that something was amiss. Her father never sought her out, never asked to speak to her. They were too similar, her mother always said. Each as headstrong as the other, long grudges held.

"Is something the matter?" she asked, following him slowly along the hall to his office at the other end. He didn't answer, but she noticed he walked as though carrying an unseen stone on his back, weary from wrestling all night with the cares of his mind. Except her father never worried, never struggled. George ran one of the oldest and most successful whaling companies in Scotland, and he did so by being bullish and fierce, and sometimes cruel. Whaling was as perilous as it was necessary, for without blubber the streets and the factories would lie dark. A venture of blood and bone to sequester light.

Though George never ventured out on the ships, he had his own tempests to weather, such as the loss of three ships in as many years, and all his profits with them. The newspapers had taken pleasure in printing their speculations about the finances of Abney & Sons Whale Fishing Company, with hints that the crew of George's only remaining ship, the Ormen, were set to down tools in protest at their conditions.

Inside George's office, the heavy curtains were still drawn from the night before, walnut paneling and bookcases cocooning them. A lamp on his desk set an amber glow across his face, and when he closed the door she saw he was troubled, a crease deepening in his forehead.

"I want to apologize," he said, moving to his desk.

"For what?"

"I did something a few days ago that I deeply regret," he said, looking down at something. A letter. "But today, I shall put it right."

She frowned, wondering if she had missed a conversation. "Put what right?"

He pulled out the desk chair and sank into it as though the metal inside him had splintered. Should she call her mother, or her sister, Cat? Was he having a heart attack? There was a glass of water on the table next to the sofa; she passed it to him, watching nervously as he raised it to his mouth with a trembling hand. Then she pulled up another chair and sat close.

"Papa?"

She didn't know what else to say. She couldn't bring herself to touch him. They'd not touched in years. She knew he loved her in that deeply unacknowledged way that their family seemed to love one another, and she was suddenly moved by the thought that he might die.

"The company is folding," he said, dabbing his mouth with a handkerchief. "I've not told your mother. You're not to say a word."

The words landed like stones. The company? He couldn't mean the family business.

"I won't tell a soul," she said, staggered now by the realization that she was the first to receive this terrible news. He hadn't told her mother. Of course not. It would devastate her if it was true.

"We may need to sell this house," he said, nudging papers across the desktop with his fingertips, a general tabling his battle strategy. "I've written to Uncle Jim."

"For what reason?"

"To see if he would help us move to Toronto."

"Toronto?"

She'd suspected things with the company were tricky, especially after the last ship sank in the Arctic. Many said that Dundee was going the way of Aberdeen, whaling no longer profitable. The lost ships weren't being replaced.

But this was something else. Her father wasn't one to panic. He was never afraid.

"You need to be careful," he said, coughing hoarsely into his fist. "I'm going to put things right. But I need you to keep out of sight for a while."

She reeled. Out of whose sight, exactly? How would the collapse of the company put her in danger?

"Papa," she said again, touching his arm. "What things? Why do I need to keep out of sight?"

He held her in a long look, his eyes softening. "You used to sing as a child. You had such a beautiful voice. My little songbird. Why did you stop?"

She searched his face, her thoughts cartwheeling.

"You had such a lovely voice," he said, his voice a whisper, and she felt his hand against her cheek. He hadn't touched her when Morag died. Not even at the graveside, when she fell to her knees.

He turned away and waved a hand, his voice hard again. "Go on, now. We'll talk more later."

She felt panicked, the strangeness of the situation forming a hard knot in her throat. "What is it you're going to put right?" she asked as he made for the window, throwing open the curtains. A spear of light thrusted through the room.

"Go on," he said again, and she knew he would say no more.

Outside, she saw a bird in the branches of the old willow tree that poured down to the path. A sparrow, she thought, its wings still clotted with soot.

II

Nicky's marital home on Faulkner Street was a brisk twenty-minute walk followed by a five-mile tram ride from her parents' house on Douglas Terrace. She took the road that ran alongside the River Tay to hear the slap of the waves against the shoreline buffer and the call of the gulls. This part of the city was quiet, without the sound of traffic or industry, and without the cacophony of accents that swirled in the heart of Dundee. Russian, American, Indian, Polish-Dundee was a global city, now, nicknamed "Juteopolis" for the boom in the jute trade. It was good for many-sixty jute mills providing jobs for fifty thousand. The poverty that had beaten down generations beginning to ease.

She turned the strange encounter with her father over in her mind, unstitching his words from the fabric of memory as though she might find a hidden chamber inside their echo, a secret meaning.

I need you to keep out of sight.

None of it made sense. Even if the company was going to fold-a catastrophic event-she could find no reason that it should put her at risk. And for her father to share this news with her first, before her mother, or her brother . . . perhaps there was something more insidious at work. Her father's mind unraveling. Yes, that was it. George Abney never said sorry. He refuted, recompensed, or sought revenge. But, as a rule, he did not apologize.

She cut through Dawson Park to the tram stop just beyond the entrance. Ten minutes later, she was sitting on the top deck, admiring the elevated view of the water as they moved along Dalgleish Road. She thought of the Saturdays she and Allan would take the tram into town, always sitting on the top deck like this, high above the traffic. Often it was too busy to find a seat together. The seat now in front of her was empty, and she imagined Allan sitting there, reaching a hand behind him to clasp hers.

Letting her know he was there.

The city was thick with smoke and loud as cannon fire, the earthy smell of jute filling her nostrils. Her mother hated it, refused to go into town when the whale ships set sail for Greenland. There were always crowds at the quayside, waving and throwing oranges on the deck for good luck. Everyone knew most of the sailors were roaring drunk for the departure, and not because they were happy to be leaving-some of them wouldn't return, and they knew it. Disease, drownings, and starvation characterized many a whaling voyage. Even now, when the ships were double-hulled and steam-powered, the journey was no less perilous.

But often, there was excitement.

She had been with her father the day one of his ships, the Ormen, returned from Greenland. It was usual for them to return with a haul of walruses, penguins, and Arctic foxes, but this time they came home with polar bears-and they were still alive. One of the bears managed to break free and roamed the docks, roaring like thunder. She had never seen such chaos. The crowd dispersed like a blown dandelion clock. Some of the shipowners jumped into the Tay, tuxedos and all, black hats dotting the surface of the water. Her father had pulled her onto a side street, but at the last moment she turned back-and locked eyes with the bear.

It was so much larger than she could have imagined, bigger than the lions she'd seen at the circus. Fur the color of whipped butter, eyes like lumps of coal. It was the paws that startled her-plate-sized, with curled black claws that could spill her guts with a single swipe. For the first time, she faced the reality of her own death. It chilled her, the nothingness she saw spiraling ahead. An instinct that superseded every Sunday school lesson and Bible reading she'd ever heard.

That night, and for many after, she had lain in bed, digging her nails into her arm, reassuring herself that she was still alive.

Faulkner Street was a row of narrow terraced houses-like sardines, her mother sniffed-on the east side of the city, close enough for Allan to walk to work. He was a clerk at Camperdown Mill, a job he hated but did out of duty. He had set his sights on becoming a professional footballer, having earned a cabinet full of trophies in his youth, but an accident with an ambulance had left him lame and put paid to his ambitions.

She reached the house at lunchtime, pausing in the narrow hallway to close her eyes and take in the smell that clutched so many memories. Arriving here on the eve of their wedding day, heavy snow on the rooftops, the whole house freezing cold. Making love in the bed upstairs beneath the blankets, the wooden bed frame banging against the wall and Mrs. McGregor on the other side banging back, telling them to shut up. Listening to Allan, naked and drunk, as he played Chopin on the old upright piano by the fire.

Nicky scooped up the pile of letters on the doormat and sifted quickly through, then again to be sure. Bills, a greeting card from her friend Milly, who was working as a governess in London. Nothing from Allan.

She pressed a fist against her mouth, determined not to cry. It didn't mean anything bad, it didn't. Many Mondays passed without a new letter to pore over, to scrape away the worry that congealed over her heart afresh each day. Allan's squadron had probably been reassigned, or the Transvaal postal service had been held up. It didn't mean he was dead.

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