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Featured Indie Horror Short Horror Stories

Anna Byrne: Chapter 03 – The Boy, the Beast, and the Kayak

I remember when I was younger, I must have only been five or six–I was sitting next to my father in the auditorium at the local University and I was watching my old moosehide boots as I swung them back and forth, playfully trying to hit the floor with my toes. My father lovingly draped a blanket over my lap, I think he mumbled something about, “in case you get chilly.” I remember the anticipation that I had as I sat there, waiting for people to come on stage–I knew that I was in for a treat. My father regularly took me to the University in town, we had made a sort of tradition out of it, as if he were trying to expose me to as much of the culture of Alaska as he could. I always enjoyed attending those student led performances, I guess it reminded me of when my grandmother would tell me stories when I was a baby. I barely remember the wrinkled smile of my elder now, but even a glimpse of those memories brought me feelings of warmth and safety.

I remember that I hadn’t had to wait for long before a University student came on the stage, she was dressed in traditional Inuit regalia and sat down on a stool in the middle of the stage. I had been mesmerized by the woman’s coat, it was made of caribou skin and trimmed in wolf fur–it looked so soft and warm, and the beading that decorated it was so beautifully colored. I vaguely remember the Inuit student clear her throat several times, it was almost as if she did so self-consciously, then she tapped on the microphone that was set up in front of her. I remember grasping my father’s hand as I sat next to him, jittery and excited; he squeezed my hand back to let me know he was also excited for the show.

Foggy morning in Baffin Bay, Canada
Photography by Jennifer Latuperisa-Andresen

“I want to thank you all for coming today,” she adjusted the microphone to better capture her voice, “today I will be telling you a story about the Inuit people from Baffin Bay, this particular tribe had to deal with another tribe of people known as Tornit–here we call them the Alaska Bushmen. I heard this story from my aanaq when I was younger. I know she would be happy to see how many of you are here today to carry on this oral tradition.” The woman on stage cleared her throat once again, adjusted herself one last time in her seat, then began her story.

“It was a quiet summer morning in fish camp on the coast of Nunatsiarmiut (new-naht-saw-me-oot), the repetitious chirps of sandpipers in the distance announced a change in the tide, and the people in the camp moved about in a soft and polite manner,” just as the first words came out of her mouth, several people joined her on stage, all dressed in regalia, faces covered in character masks. The men carried their traditional drums while the women carried their dance fans–my childlike joy gave me away and I gasped in awe, my eyes glossed over as I became entranced with the wondrous spectacle before me.

“Tulugaak (too-loo-gawk) opened his sleep-crusted eyes laboriously, rubbed them clean, then blinked several times to clear the morning’s fog. He realized what day it was, bolted upright in his bedding, and went to scramble out of his seal-skin tent. When Tulugaak stumbled out of his tent while attempting to adjust his seal-skin boots, his distraction nearly caused him to land squarely on top of his best friend. Nukka (newk-ka) who greeted him with an appreciative groan, had been patiently sunning herself, awaiting the time her master would finally arise for the day.

Excitement overtook Tulugaak, who couldn’t believe he had overslept on such an important day, his kayak was ready to take out into the bay and fish with his father and the other men. Nukka’s tongue lolled out in a lazy yawn, her stark white body stretched downward, which readied her for the day. She fell in step behind Tulugaak as they both started off toward the shore. He would never get sick of the brilliant summer greens that revealed themselves on the mossy, overgrown boulders and thickets that were humming with life. The salty air tickled his nose as they got closer to where his mother and sister had breakfast ready; a cacophony of gulls overwhelmed the squeaky chirps of the sandpipers. The sun reached ever higher into the sky, though it wasn’t even half-way to its final destination for the day. Clouds wisped through the sky, a brief reprieve on an otherwise unnaturally warm day.

Nukka was the first to see Anana (ah-nah-nah), Tulugaak’s mother and, having caught the smell of food on the light breeze, perked her ears up and kicked up the sand and rocks behind her as she broke into a run. Tulugaak could see her greet his mother with an audacious, playful bark. Nukka was nearly finished with her food by the time Tulugaak sat down to eat. His sister, Namak (nah-mahk) teased him for his lateness, but his mother simply handed him a bowl of dried fish and seal oil. While he was mid-mouthful, his mother brushed his disheveled black hair to the side with her hand, then made it clear he was to hurry to shore.

Rocky Inlet off of the bay
Photography by Pawel Kadysz

Tulugaak finished his bowl with voracity, grabbed his net and found Nukka at his heels once again; they both dashed down the slope to the inlet where they kept their kayaks. Nukka stopped for a moment to curiously bury her nose in a small hole that had been hiding amongst the stony beach and emerged with a terrified and squirming collared lemming. Nukka unceremoniously bit down on the rodent before she caught up with her master. When Tulugaak arrived at the kayaks, his smiling grandfather presented him with a spear. He couldn’t believe his grandfather was giving him his lucky spear—it was a gift he felt he could never repay.

The men of the village, who were irritated by his lateness, barely acknowledged him as they all began to hop into their kayaks. Tulugaak, determined to not hinder them further, struggled to get his own kayak into the water, his body buzzing in anticipation. Today was the day. Nukka, upset that she was not going with him, sat down next to his grandfather in resignation, as he and all of the other hunters paddled out of the inlet and into the expansive bay.

Seal in the water
Photography by Alex Glebov

Small schools of fish passed under his kayak, which he quickly scooped up with a skillful turn of his net in the water then dumped three fairly large char at his feet. Tulugaak was even more confident in his first trip than he could have imagined, being out on the mild waves of the bay was invigorating and he felt like a true hunter for the first time. He heard his father holler from the front of their formation of kayaks, there were seals lounging in the water closer to the cliffs, feeding on the fish that were running with the tide.

His father was the first to reach them, he saw him let loose his spear, taking advantage of the opportunity when it presented itself—two men joined him in pulling the first successful strike back to his father’s kayak. The hunt progressed quickly, before long there were several strikes, all of which resulted in a nicely weighted down kayak. Tulugaak was as anxious as ever, his knuckles white with tension around his grandfather’s lucky spear—he saw a flash pass near his kayak and before he realized what he was doing, his own spear let loose from his hands. Within an instant, he felt the spear pierce the seal he had so haphazardly aimed for and he let out a triumphant yawp.

The men joined in on his celebratory cries, his uncle who was beaming with pride, was among the two closest men to him that helped him bring his seal aboard. Although this was exactly what Tulugaak had hoped would come of his first hunt in the bay, it wasn’t at all what he was expecting—such luck on his first trip out could only be explained by the spear that his grandfather had so lovingly bestowed upon him. The rest of the trip was a blur, although he would later remember helping another man pull his own catch in, he couldn’t recall paddling home.

The rest of the night passed fairly slowly, he had been drunk on success when they had reached the shore and it only began to wear off when he saw his mother and sister gut his catches and prepare them for storage. Tulugaak’s father and grandfather soon joined them all around the fire for dinner, Namak had brought her story knife to the circle and entertained them all with stories about their neighboring tribe, the Tornit.

Namak told them all about how one of them had recently stolen away with the kayak of one of the other men in the village, her narrative continued to become less and less friendly until their father suddenly scolded her. He did not want any of them to invite a run-in with a Tornit, the reputation for the devious nature of the monsters was well known in their village. Namak stowed her story knife away obediently, her father kissed her forehead, said his goodbyes for the for the evening, and stated he would be gone by early morning on his caribou hunt.

Their impish grandfather leaned in close to the two children, his voice was soft and low—he continued on with Namak’s story and several others before their mother finally caught on to his mischiefs. Anana looked over at them all sternly which caused their grandfather to chuckle and take his leave for the night. The fire in front of Tulugaak cracked loudly, it brought him back into the present, the fire’s embers were still hot and bright, but they were beginning to die out. The smoke, which hung heavily around their heads, made him weary—his sister stifled a yawn and they were both promptly shooed off to bed.

The sun was still hanging well above the horizon, but Tulugaak and his sister gave in, they knew it was late enough; it had been a long, exhausting day, but his mind was still racing with the thought of the Tornit. He had never really seen one of them up close, but he knew that was because they weren’t entirely friendly to his people. Namak disappeared into the tent that she shared with their mother, while Tulugaak and Nukka headed back thoroughly unconcerned with their surroundings. Nukka bounced around in a futile attempt to capture a bug that had caught her eye; they were just passing the thicket when Tulugaak heard it.

Spooky foggy forest in daytime
Photography by Ales Krivec

There was a muffled crunch of brush beyond the trees—it wasn’t bright enough in the thicket for him to see much of anything but a blur. Suddenly, he felt his heartbeat hasten, it felt like it was jumping up his throat—what was that? Feeling unusually brave, with spear in hand, his curiosity got the better of him and he stepped into the thicket to get a closer look at what had made the sound. Pretty soon he found himself hiding, pressed against a tree as he spotted the abnormally large and hairy creature creeping toward the edge of the trees. He watched from a safe distance as he realized the brutish creature was attempting to sneak past their camp.

With everyone except, to his knowledge, himself tucked away in their tents, he figured this Tornit was emboldened to help himself to what he liked. Tulugaak fumed, he couldn’t let this creature steal right from under their noses, could he? He felt like both the hunter and the hunted in that moment as he stalked the creature, his palms clammy with sweat, his heart hammered in his chest. What would the creature do if it stumbled upon a tent? Would it harm those who were sleeping peacefully inside? Tulugaak knew he had to continue to follow, as a man now it was his duty to help protect his people.

He was so focused on following that he didn’t realize where he had been led until his feet landed on the rocky soil of the inlet—just then he felt Nukka’s cold nose on the back of his hand, she had been following her master silently the whole time. They watched from behind a few large boulders as the beast loomed over some of the kayaks, as if intrigued by their construction—it didn’t take long for him to decide which one he wanted. The creature hefted it easily over his bulky shoulder, his elongated arms hugged it in place. That was the moment that Tulugaak recognized that the kayak being taken was his own. His blood boiled, his grip tightened around the spear in his hand, and he crouched down as his father had taught him when hunting polar bears the previous winter.

The boy could feel his companion tense behind him, a soft, low growl escaped her as they saw the beast lumbering back toward them, fully unaware that they were there. Tulugaak’s breath was caught uncomfortably in his chest, his heart once again beat rapidly, the hand that gripped the spear began to go numb, but he remained still—he was still hoping that the rumors of their eyesight being poor were true. The Tornit drew closer to their hiding spot and Tulugaak could see the look of pride on the creature’s face, it was twisted into a grotesque inhuman smile–his yellowed teeth broke through his dingy broad cracked lips, his dark demonic eyes sunk deeply under a large furrowed brow. His own kayak had become the prize in some twisted game this beast was playing, Tulugaak had built that kayak himself and it had taken him so much time and effort to complete.

Lost in the rage that continued to build within him, Tulugaak jumped out from his hiding spot, Nukka right at his heels. In his foolhardiness he charged at the creature, spear angled to strike. He didn’t expect the Tornit to grab him up and toss him aside, he didn’t expect to have the wind knocked hard from his body as he slammed into the boulders surrounding them. The Tornit gave a guttural scream, only then did Tulugaak notice that Nukka had hurled herself at the creature, her teeth bared as they sunk into the arm that had so effortlessly tossed her master aside. In the brief moments that Nukka had distracted the creature, Tulugaak had regained a wobbly stance and flung his grandfather’s lucky spear at the injured beast.

The spear flew true, it penetrated the neck of the creature and brought him to the ground hard. The kayak tumbled off the beast’s shoulder like a toy out of a child’s hand, his large hairy hand grasped weakly at the spear in his neck, the loss of blood brought a quick end to him. Tulugaak collapsed in exhaustion and took a breath in what seemed like ages, his head was foggy, his body was weak—Nukka’s blood red face hovered near his own, her cold, wet nose briefly touched his temple and she sat next to him. That’s when they heard the stirred villagers approaching the shore.”

There was a wave of applause that filled the auditorium, the dancers and the storyteller all stood and took a bow, before taking their leave. I looked up curiously at my father, “Da, do you think there really was a Tornit tribe that lived, I mean for real?”

“Well, my sweet, these legends come from people as a way to explain the world around them–” he told me and then my head tilted to the side, “stories like this one had to have originated from somewhere, otherwise they wouldn’t exist at all. It’s not likely that they just made up a monster that they had problems with in the past, so I have to believe they existed, maybe even still do,” my father explained.

“The way they were described, big and hairy? That sounds a lot like Bigfoot. Do you think they’re the same?”

My father smiled thoughtfully, “I think that’s a very meaningful connection that you have just made, maybe we can look this all up when we get back home.” 

I gathered up my blanket and popped up out of my seat, my grin spread from ear to ear, “Let’s go Da!”

Categories
Horror Mystery and Lore

Ghost Tales of the Arctic: The Red Skeleton

Like many other folktales of the arctic region, Yup’ik folklore emphasized keeping children safe from the elements and the dangers of being alone and ill-prepared. This folktale is no different, but it definitely gave me goosebumps the first time I heard it over an early-winter bonfire.

Red skull wall
Photography by Jayberrytech

A very long time ago, in the Cape Prince of Wales, in a village off the shore, there once lived a poor orphaned boy with no one to look after him—because he had no one to care for him, he often found himself being forced to do the bidding of all the other villagers. Every single villager treated him cruelly, especially when they all gathered in the kashim—the men’s communal building where they gathered to stay warm, eat, and keep company during the cold winter months. One particularly blustery night, while the snow was falling harshly upon the village, the other villagers told him to leave the kashim to see if the weather was getting any worse. Due to the fact that he was an orphan, he had no one to make him skin boots or warm clothes, so he objected. It was too cold and the boy did not wish to go outside but was driven out of the kashim anyway. Upon returning inside, he told the others that it had stopped snowing, but the weather had gotten even colder. Every so often, the men would drive him back out into the elements, just to torture the poor boy.

Finally, the boy came in, stating that he had seen a ball of fire that looked like the moon coming over the hill to the north, but the men simply laughed at him. They accused him of seeing things and told him to go back out and to look again, that he might see a whale coming over the hill instead. When the boy quickly returned inside, he looked scared and reported that the red ball had come nearer to the kashim and that it was right outside of the house. Once again, his words were met with laughter, but the boy was truly frightened and hid within the kashim. As the men were still laughing, a large fiery figure appeared on the gut-skin covering over the vent in the ceiling and it appeared to be dancing. The men were both scared and captivated by the figure and did not notice the figure creeping through the passage into the room on its elbows and knees. The figure was a frightful sight—a human skeleton that with a brief wave of its hand somehow caused all of the men in the room to follow it, as it crawled through of the passage to the outdoors. Under the spell of the skeleton, the men followed it to the edge of the village until every last one of them had died of the elements, at which point it vanished.

 Other villagers returned from fishing to find the rest of the men of the village had died, bodies scattered over the snowy landscape. They entered the kashim finally, finding the orphan boy who recounted the entire story and how the men had died—investigating where the tracks of the skeleton had come from, they followed the tracks through the snow, up the side of the mountain. The tracks ended when they came upon an ancient gravesite—it was the grave of the boy’s father.

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Featured Horror Mystery and Lore

The Qalupalik: Monsters of the Deep

When you think of a mermaid, you may conjure images of a kind-hearted, beautiful half-fish, half-human or the dangerous siren that can lure sailors to their death—however, the Inuit legend of the Qalupalik is a little bit different. The Qalupalik is likewise a creature of the sea, but she is more often thought of as a water spirit, a sea monster, or a demon. In this respect, it is said to be more similar to the Japanese Kappa, a water demon who steals children and consumes them. Folklore recorded from Inuit sources are purposefully vague on whether or not the Qalupalik is the only one of her kind, or whether there are great numbers of these monsters living in the Arctic seas, but she is regularly referenced as being a single creature.

Legend of the Inuit Siren

Qalupalik, the Inuit Siren or Mermaid
Photography by Li Yang

In Alaskan and Canadian Inuit culture, there are Arctic ocean-dwelling creatures known as Qalupaliit (kah-loo-pah-leet)—unlike other mythical mermaids and sirens, there is absolutely nothing attractive about the Qalupalik. Despite the persistent popular mermaid princess culture that surrounds much of the lore of this aquatic creature’s cousins in lore, the Qalupalik (kah-loo-pah-leek) is not described as having any pleasant features, let alone an amenable demeanor. Wraith-like in appearance, her long black hair is perpetually plastered to her sallow, slimy, scaly skin—her ghastly despondent face is paired with her dark and hollow eyes. These creatures are often depicted as having fins that jut out of their heads, backs and arms, and their webbed feet and hands are topped with long sharp claws—all of this is enough to strike terror into the hearts of the children that the Qalupalik preys upon.

The Qalupalik is rumored to reek of sulfur—you know, the smell of rotting eggs? So it’s curious that she would ever get close enough to someone without them noticing, but adventurous children who don’t heed the warnings of their parents are the ones she seeks to claim; she hums beautiful melodies to lure them to the icy banks of the ocean’s shore where she snatches them up and stuffs them in her amauti, a duck-skin coat similar to a parka with a pouch for young children to be carried in. It’s quite normal for Inuit parents to caution their children about the dreadful Qalupalik and they would do so frequently, telling their children that if they hear the humming noise near the shore that the Qalupalik is near. Unfortunately for children, the humming is similar to that of a Siren’s song, as it is meant to entice children to come closer to the shore or out onto the dangerously thin ice.

Those who have sighted the Qalupalik report that these creatures can only be seen for an instant before they are gone, but the child victims of the Qalupalik would not be as lucky. She would leap out from under the water, sink her shark claws into their flesh and drag them forward into the water. It is said, once she seizes a child, she takes them down to the freezing depths of the ocean where she either eats them, or takes them away enchanting them with sleep and feeding off of their youth so that she may remain young forever; the child is never to be seen or heard from by their family again. Alternatively, the child would get a brief glimpse of the face of the Qalupalik, which might resemble a woman’s face that had turned green and bloated from rotting and under the sea—this child would experience their last few moments of life in pain as the freezing water rushed into their open, screaming throat, and feel the blood in their veins freeze as they heard the distant voices of their family, crying out their name.

So what purpose does the myth of the Qalupalik serve for the Inuit society? Well, the harsh arctic environment within which the Inuit people live is terrifying and dangerous; within a community that works so hard to survive, the parents and elders used storytelling as a way of aiding in the upbringing and survival of the children of the village. Essentially, the use of scare-tactics was a way for children to avoid the dangerous aspects of their environment when they were alone,. The story of the Qalupalik was created to encourage these children to fear to be alone near the dangerous shores of the sea, where they could easily fall prey to the natural elements by either drowning or dying from hypothermia.


Qalupalik, Inuit Siren, stalks the shores
Photography by Jana Sabeth

Tales & Traditions: Qallupilluit

The Central Eskimo (1888) recorded by Franz Boas

An old woman lived with her grandson in a small hut. As they had no kinsmen they were very poor. A. few Inuit only took pity on them and brought them seal’s meat and blubber for their lamp”. Once upon a time, they were very hungry and the boy cried. The grandmother told him to be quiet, but as he did not obey she became angry and called Qallupilluk to come and take him away. He entered at once and the woman put the boy into the large hood, in which he disappeared almost immediately.

Later on the Inuit were more successful in sealing and they had an abundance of meat. Then the grandmother was sorry that she had so rashly given the boy to Qallupilluk and wished to see him back again. She lamented about it to the Inuit, and at length a man and his wife promised to help her.

When the ice had consolidated and deep cracks were formed near the shore by the rise and fall of the tide, the boy used to rise and sit alongside the cracks, playing with a whip of seaweed, Qallupilluk, however, was afraid that somebody might carry the boy away and had fastened him to a string of seaweed, which he held in his hands. The Inuit who had seen the boy went toward him, but as soon as he saw them coming he sang, “Two men are coming, one with a double jacket, the other with a foxskin jacket” (Inung maqong tikitong, aipa mirqosailing. aipa kapiteling). Then Qallupilluk pulled on the rope and the boy disappeared. He did not want to return to his grandmother, who had abused him.

Some time afterward the Inuit saw him again sitting near a crack. They took the utmost caution that he should not hear them when approaching, tying pieces of deerskin under the soles of their boots. But when they could almost lay hold of the boy he sang, “Two men are coming, one with a double jacket, the other with a foxskin jacket.” Again Qallupilluk pulled on the seaweed rope and the boy disappeared.

The man and his wife, however, did not give up trying. They resolved to wait near the crack, and on one occasion when the boy had just come out of the water they jumped forward from a piece of ice behind which they had been hidden and before he could give the alarm they had cut the rope and away they went with him to their huts.

The boy lived with them and became a great hunter.


Nunavut Animation Lab: Qalupalik

Nunavut Animation Lab created an animated version of one of the traditional tales about the Qalupalik, just like all of the folklore originating in Alaskan Native culture, there is always a moral to the story. This is an example of one told to children, to inform them of the dangers of not obeying their parents and wandering by the icy coastal waters on their own. Not to be mistaken with her more traditional lore, the video (linked below) describes a circumstance where the child who was kidnapped is rescued by his father, which of course is not what would typically happen if a child were kidnapped by this Inuit monster of the deep.


Mythical Monsters Podcast: Qalupalik

Another excellent resource for this particular mythical beast is Mythical Monsters Podcast who produced this podcast episode entitled “Qalupalik”. Check it out below!


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The Qalupalik by Elisha Kilabuk

The Qalupalik (2011)

An even less traditional take on the legend of the Qalupalik was fairly recently made into a children’s book, but it errs more on the side of child-friendly, where it suggests that despite her frightful appearance, she is rather easily tricked. It’s clear through all of the recent reimaginings of the legend of the Qalupalik that this story is still very widely told within Inuit communities, where the parents and teachers alike share this story with the children of the village in order to protect them from a curious and wandering nature.

The Qalupalik (2011) by Elisha Kilabuk is a mystical Inuit tale that has been reworked from its original well-known narrative. In the original folk tale, the children are always considered the victims and much like the grim nature of the folk tales told by the Brothers Grimm, the story ends without coming to the realization of a happy ending. In this version, we see the new tradition of vulnerable children, or the underdog, outsmarting the monster that happens to be bigger, older, and stronger than themselves; an orphan gets the better of the Qalupalik and survives an encounter with the monster.

This is the first book in the Inhabit Media’s Unikkakuluit Series, which features traditional native folklore being retold in new and interesting ways—while these stories pay homage to the original oral tradition of storytelling, they give the newest generation their own stories to identify with. Despite illustrator Joy Ang creating an incredibly frightening visage for these creatures, her illustrations are incredible and the story they sit alongside can give the meekest child reassurance that even the scariest of opponents will have a weakness that can be exploited.


Works Cited

Akulukjuk, Roselynn. “PUTUGUQ & KUBLU AND THE QALUPALIK.” Kirkus Reviews, Inhabit Media, 7 May 2019.

Houston, James. “Inuit Myth and Legend“. The Canadian Encyclopedia, 04 March 2015, Historica Canada. Accessed 17 December 2020.

Hrodvitnir, Yamuna. “Qalupalik: The Monstrous Inuit Mermaid.” Medium, Medium, 26 May 2020.

INUIT MYTHOLOGY.” Inuit Mythology.

Kilabuk, Elisha, and Sarah Sorensen. “The Qalupalik.” Quill and Quire, 30 June 2011.

National Film Board of Canada. “Nunavut Animation Lab: Qalupalik.” National Film Board of Canada, 2 Dec. 2010.

Oliver, Mark. “11 Mythological Creatures That Reveal Humanity’s Deepest Fears.” All That’s Interesting, All That’s Interesting, 17 June 2020.

Pfeifle, Tess. Qalupalik. 8 Jan. 2019, www.astonishinglegends.com/astonishing-legends/2019/1/7/qalupalik.

“Qalupalik.” Mythpedia Wiki, mythpedia.fandom.com/wiki/Qalupalik.

“Tales and Traditions.” The Central Eskimo: Introd. by Henry B. Collins, by Franz Boas, Smithsonian Institution, Bureau of Ethnology, 1888, pp. 212–213.