"Qikiqtaaluk, 1962. The sun falls below the horizon and won't return for months. You wander the broken shoreline, wary of your mother's stories about the qalupalik. Fish woman, stealer of wayward children: she dwells beneath the ice."
-Premise, Beneath FloesI've known of Beneath Floes for a long, long time now. Having discovered that it was a hypertext story, I felt it perfect to write about during National Novel Writing Month, an event I'm taking part in for the fourth year in a row.
As of 5:21 AM, I have finished the game, and I'm so excited to tell you about it.
I can be a history nerd sometimes. That's a pretty rare sometimes (science is more my thing) but there are times when I can absolutely geek about about a piece of history. In my opinion, the old ways of the people of Qikiqtaaluk, or Baffin Island in Canada's Nunavut province, are some of the most fascinating things to read and learn from. A society once thriving in lands that most would never venture even visiting due to extreme conditions whose methods and lifestyles got shaken up by settler influence, leaving the cultural remnants in shambles for decades to come until more recent attempts at revival of stories, methods, and language.
Beneath Floes is one of those beautiful efforts. Written by Kevin Snow and illustrated by Patrick Bonaduce, Beneath Floes is a horror story with sobering, down-to-earth teachings to go along with it.
From a meta perspective, the premise is simple: A mythical creature called the qalupalik lurks beneath the icy floes, threatening to take under with her children who are disobedient, straying away near the edges of the ice. And who are you? As disobedient as they come, doing all the things your parents thought you never would. Go you.
The story in Beneath Floes is told from a narrator who knows exactly who you are: a child, one in need of consolation while the terrors of the story - your story - unfold. While told in a way that a parent would tell a child a scary story on an October night, the interactivity of the story and with the narrator is an endearingly creepy aspect. To advance through the story, different parts of the text are highlighted and clickable. Some are there to scroll through with options, the first example being the color of the moon as the story begins (I chose blue). Later interactions involve taking steps into danger, one at a time, or witnessing ice crack under you as you realize your oncoming doom.
A Distance of Space
Told as a thing of lore, Beneath Floes was expected to have quite a bit of metaphorical matter in it. However, these were not only well-timed, but they were all too real about the time period depicted in it.
Within the story, you as a character encounter several evidences of the world outside Qikiqtaaluk, like a can and a comic book. These items are approached with much mixed thought. The can is detested, tossed away, banned from one's own perspective by the tosser themselves. The comic is taken into a little more consideration, but leads to rather dire consequences for having taken interest in it.
So speak the differences between people and cultures within society. "What future do I create when I tell tragedies?" the narrator muses after reflecting on the space between stars, at first concluding that the distance of space ("Get it?") is "a warning to the future, to understand the history of the social distances between us". And as the threat of the qualipalik becomes a bigger and bigger hazard for your mistakes, the lesson feels no less true.
Another Night, Another Story
Something I personally appreciated very much about Beneath Floes is that it took the old ways of telling horror and made them scary again. I needed no extreme disfigurations, no jump scares or scary music
I think modern-day horror could take a real lesson from Beneath Floes about how horror can stick with a person's psychology without the flashiness that it can carry with it today. Keeping tension raised through wit and word and interest rooted strategically can be just as effective as your good old jumpscare-in-the-dark, and a combination of the two could produce something stellar.
Blue Moon Sets
Latitudes lower, I'm in a place where the sun rises and sets all year, the days neither all-bright nor all-dark. The moon quickly sets on my early morning game and write, and with new understandings (and a new publication, to boot!) I'm set forth upon my day. I adored spending my morning with Beneath Floes, and I suggest that it should be taken a peek at by anyone interested in a good story with an uplifting, soothing narrator - but a scary someone lurking behind the lines. Don't you walk too closely to her.
TL;DR 10/10 Spectacular penguin joke at the halfway point