Read an Excerpt From C.J. Cooke’s A Haunting in the Arctic

We’re thrilled to share an excerpt from brand new horror novel A Haunting in the Arctic by C.J. Cooke, available now from Berkley.

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.

We decide to explore the abandoned village of Skúmaskot on the other side of the bay. It takes us almost an hour to walk there. It’s not actually that far, maybe a half-mile loop, but the snow is deeper on the far side than it is on the beach, nudging right up to the shore. Fresh virgin white that comes up to our waists, huge chunks of ice floating in the bay.

It isn’t completely frozen, though, as the sea cuts rivulets through, so we can’t skate across. We have to climb up the side of the volcano to find a pathway, and even there we’re forced to zigzag up and down the valley to avoid the geothermal steam pumping out of the earth.

When we finally make it to the village on the other side, we discover that there are about thirty buildings, not just the ten that I had counted from the other side of the bay. The older buildings are traditional torfbæir, turf houses, constructed out of flat stones and turf, with grassy A-frame rooftops that are doused with snow – more like igloos than turf houses. Leo is able to climb up there and film the old turf beneath the snow.

Snow has clogged the doorways, though we could enter some of the tin huts that were still standing. They’re empty, save some bits of turf. We manage to pull some of it out and carry it back to the ship for the fire.

The next morning, it’s snowing, and the air inside my cabin is so cold it stings my face. Leo lights the fire bucket and Samara makes hot tomato soup for breakfast, dishing it into our plastic bowls. I don’t question it. It’s a relief to hold something warm in my hands, and the flames that begin to lick the sides of the oil can feel so good that I think for a moment about the fire gods worshipped by ancient tribes. I would worship this oil can, and this soup, simply because they bring respite from the biting cold.

We eat in silence, too cold to speak. But after a few moments, Jens gets up and says he’s going outside for a walk.

‘Are you off to do some filming?’ I ask.

He shakes his head, not making eye contact. ‘Just a walk. Got to stay fit.’

‘If you’re not taking your drone,’ Samara says, ‘could I borrow it? Just for a little bit?’

Jens raises his eyebrows, and I wait for him to say no.

‘I was going to film more of Leo’s stunts,’ Samara explains. ‘But I kind of thought it might be cool to alternate between the headcam and the drone this time.’

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A Haunting in the Arctic

A Haunting in the Arctic

C.J. Cooke

‘Sure,’ Jens says. ‘Do you know how to use it?’

Samara nods. ‘I think so. I’ll look after it, I promise.’

He takes out the controller and sits down next to her, giving her the low-down on how to manoeuvre it.

‘How about I film from the ship?’ I say. I’m feeling warmer, now, and outside the fog is beginning to lift. ‘We can cut between the three shots. Get some wide shots to create more perspective.’

‘Sounds great,’ Leo says.

Samara and Leo head off towards the rocks at the far end of the beach. It’s still light, though just barely. I’m glad I suggested filming from the stern of the Ormen—the waves are spectacular, rising up to the deck like charging horses before spreading across the black sand as a fine white lace, and the trio of lava rocks sticking out of the sand look epic against the purpling sky. They look like guardians, watching over the ship. A dramatic canvas for a dramatic scene, in other words.

I wait while Leo stretches his calves and Samara sends the drone further up the bay, capturing landscape footage before he starts.

I set my coffee mug on the ground and begin filming; my thinking is that I will capture more than I need and edit accordingly.

When I press ‘record’, though, I notice a third figure on the beach, about ten feet away from Leo. A woman, judging from the slight curve at the waist and the long hair.

I stare and squint, determined not to lose sight of her. It’s her, the woman I saw the first day. I open my mouth to call out, then decide to keep filming.

Leo has stopped stretching, his hands on his hips, his face turned to her. Samara turns back, too, clutching the controller and the drone. I watch with intensity. They’re talking to this woman. I give a small laugh. Thank God. I’d thought I was seeing things before.

She’s not wearing a hat or coat, though, and it’s freezing. I can see her dark hair and what looks like a pale jumpsuit or dress. I lower the camera quickly, wondering if I should go and help. But then Leo turns to me and waves, like he’s inviting me to come and join them. Maybe the woman needs help.

I head across the deck quickly and climb down the ladder, my mind racing. Who is she, and how long has she been out here? How has she managed to survive these temperatures without proper clothing?

By the time I climb down the ladder, the woman is no longer there. Leo and Samara are walking back towards me, chatting. The woman is gone.

‘Did you get it?’ Leo says when I reach them.

‘Oh my God, tell me you got that backflip off the big rock,’ Samara says to me. ‘I think I messed up with the drone. It was incredible, wasn’t it?’

I open my mouth but realise I’m too confused to answer.

‘You OK?’ Samara asks. ‘You look like you saw a ghost.’

I give a nervous laugh, and their faces fall. ‘Who were you talking to?’ I ask.

‘Who?’ Samara says.

I tell them both what I’d seen, just minutes before – a woman standing between them. They looked like they were all chatting. I thought maybe she needed help. She wasn’t dressed like the rest of us, all wrapped up in puffer coats and woolly hats. She was wearing a long, pale dress, no hat.

Leo and Samara turn back to stare at the spot on the beach with the rocks.

‘When?’ Samara says. ‘Where is she?’

I feel awkward, and I see Leo’s gaze hardening.

‘But you got the footage, right?’ he asks.

‘She was literally right here,’ I say, ‘where you both were standing by the rocks.’ I pull out my phone to show him.

I rewind the footage right to the beginning. Leo and Samara appear on the screen but there’s nothing of the woman. I try again, then zoom in.

‘Where?’ Leo asks.

I can feel myself growing flustered. Samara and Leo are sharing looks while I rewind the footage. Where the hell is it?

‘I really did see someone,’ I say. ‘It looked like you were all talking. I have no idea why it didn’t film…’

Leo’s expression darkens. ‘Are you fucking with me?’ he says.

I snap my head up. ‘No, I’m not.’

I feel so confused, I keep rewinding the footage, as though the woman will appear again. Why isn’t she there? I saw her on the screen. I know I filmed her.

Samara puts a hand on his shoulder to reassure him. ‘How about we go back and I’ll get it from the ship?’ she says.

Leo looks up. ‘The light will be gone soon. We can do it tomorrow.’

‘I must have been mistaken,’ I say quietly, my cheeks burning. Leo throws me a look of disgust before turning and heading to the Ormen.

Inside, I feel embarrassed all over again. Jens is back from his walk and is making a coffee.

‘Hey,’ he says. ‘You get the footage?’

‘No, we fucking didn’t,’ Leo says, and storms off to his cabin.

‘I think I’ll go for a walk,’ I say.

‘You want company?’ Jens asked.

I still feel too embarrassed. ‘I’ll be fine,’ I say. ‘I’m just heading along the beach.’

The truth is, I have a small torch in my pocket, and I am heading back along the beach specifically to check out the big rocks where I saw the woman next to Leo and Samara.

I don’t know what I’m looking for, exactly. But I know I saw something. I suspect I’ll find that the rocks are angled in a way that creates a shadow, and even though it’s getting dark I have this urge to see it up close and piece together the puzzle.

The sea is roaring and hissing, the powerful waves punching down on the sand. I try to keep clear of the tide in case I get dragged out by a rogue wave – I know the drill – so it takes a while until I can step up on to the rocks and check them out.

Up close, they are exactly as they appeared from the Ormen, only bigger and rougher, no sign of shadow casting or hidden contours.

I understand a little more now why Leo was disappointed that I didn’t capture his backflip; they’re huge—one fall and he’d have broken his neck.

I walk back to the ship, defeated and angry at myself. Leo hates me now, I’m pretty sure of it.

I brought my motion sensor module, which attaches to the camera and forces it to turn towards movement; I usually use it when there are predators about.

Now, I set up my camera on a tripod and position it at the window of the main cabin that overlooks the beach. The sensor is super sensitive, and it makes the camera record the first ten seconds of whatever it picks up. I think I’ve done this for myself more than anything else.

‘What’s that for?’ Samara asks when she sees what I’m doing.

‘To film the horses,’ I say. ‘I saw them the other night, galloping across the beach.’

‘Really?’ she says. ‘I’ve not seen any.’

The truth is more sinister than horses.

I need to prove to myself that I saw what I saw.

From A Haunting in the Arctic, published by arrangement with Berkley, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC. Copyright © 2024 by C.J. Cooke.

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