Traditional stories are considered to always serve a purpose. They can teach a lesson or save you from something. They can carry age-old beliefs and customs. And stories also have to be believable and entertaining. My childhood was full of them. I was especially intrigued and terrified by stories of the supernatural. And sometimes, the stories became all too alive.
This happened a long time ago at my grandma's house. It was a dark autumn evening, and just me and my grandma there at the house. My grandpa had passed away in the summer. Suddenly, we heard someone enter the screened porch and start walking towards the living room door. But then the steps turned to the stairs leading up to the attic. Through the window in the door, we caught a glimpse of a dark hooded figure, with nothing but black where its face should have been. I took real fright, but my grandma didn't turn a hair. She listened for a while, waiting if it came back down. The attic was an open space, cold and dark, with nothing special up there. When the walker didn't return, my grandma reached for a flashlight and decided to go check. I was too afraid to stay behind all by myself, so I followed her and teetered up to the attic on the steep stairs, lit only by the dim and faltering beam of her flashlight. We listened carefully, but saw absolutely nothing. “Who are you?” my grandma asked in the Sámi language. No response. Absolutely petrified with terror, I staggered back downstairs to the comforting light of the living room.
I asked my grandma what it was. She told me it was not a living thing. As if that was a proper, comprehensive answer to her small grandchild. But then she added that it wasn’t quite dead either. EEEEK. I slept as close to my grandma that night as I possibly could.
Nearly forty years later, on a Sunday morning at the Skábmagovat film festival, I sat in an auditorium skeptically watching a Greenlandic horror movie. I didn't think I would find it that credible. But when a dark hooded figure with no face turned up on the screen, I could feel myself trying to escape through my seat. Qivittoq. A Greenlandic being possessed by evil forces. Not a living thing, but not quite dead either. Suddenly I believed in every scene of the movie and returned to my childhood.
I remembered the cold attic and the eerie silence. My grandma in her head scarf, braving supernatural forces, armed with only a faltering flashlight. I still don't know if I gained any great wisdom or lesson from that. Perhaps that our stories are real; there's no need to make them up. You can just let yourself believe and wonder. And pass the stories on.
Originally published in the newspaper Lapin Kansa on March 5, 2019; translated and reprinted with permission