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

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Featured Indie Horror Short Horror Stories

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!”

Ghost Tales of the Arctic: The Frozen Spectre

Categories
Featured Haunted Places Horror Mystery and Lore
Haunted Boardwalk
Haunted Boardwalk

One Halloween night, as the sun slipped beneath the horizon, the young children were coming back from their rounds through the little Yup’ik village on the tundra in Southwest Alaska. The teenagers had waited their turn and eagerly squeezed out of their home, as their mother told them they were allowed to leave. They raced through to each of the small houses that dotted the dark, decrepit, and narrow boardwalks that snaked through the village. Not all of them donned costumes and there was still not yet a flake of snow on the ground, a rare occurrence for such a chilly autumnal night. The tall grass line the boardwalk like two moving walls that whispered with the winds that rushed through the spaces between the houses. They grabbed candy within the first house, then came back out and started back off; at each of the doors, they held their plastic grocery sacks aloft, and they became more heavily laden with candies and treats.

After coming out of the fourth house they spotted something strange emerging from the tall grasses onto the boardwalk behind them—it was a traditional Yup’ik parka, the hood was up and the ruff obscured the view of the face within. It wouldn’t have been strange except for the fact that it had no visible feet or hands. The teenagers sprinted to the next house, scared to death and unsure of what the seemingly floating parka had really been, but they were unwilling to say anything about what they had seen to the adults that were now handing them candy.

Ghost Parka
Photography by Joe Leahy

Between each and every stop for candy, the teens stepped outside and the floating parka had appeared again, as if it was just waiting to scare them. They had all grown up hearing the traditional stories of ghosts and ghouls—all meant to teach them to be cautious in one way or another, as a way to keep them safe in their unforgiving lands. They had a sense that they were being pranked—as if to test their knowledge and preparedness, but not a single one of them could muster up the courage to approach the floating apparition or to try to figure out who was toying with them.

The far north side of the village is where the last batch of houses resided—the travel between where the teenagers were and where their last glimpse of the prized sweets laid was a lengthy weaving, dismally unlit sprawling boardwalk. This path took them directly past the hauntingly abandoned teacher’s quarters that the entire village regularly avoided being near and even speaking about in passing. They made their way down the boardwalk towards this last remaining treasure trove of candy, when the little parka appeared behind them once again. One of the teens looked behind them as they crawled into the artic entry of one of the houses and saw its silhouette looming alone between the spirit-infested teacher’s quarters and the house they entered, blocking their dark and dreadful passage home.

The teenagers reappeared cautiously from the house, but the little parka was nowhere to be seen–each house they exited they huddled together in fear that the ghostly figure would leap out of the shadows and attack them from the front or back, but it didn’t. Then one of the teens gasped and pointed, there it was in the darkness beneath a building, huddled behind one of the steel posts that propped it up from the permafrost–it sat upright, waiting for them. All at once, it sprang up toward them with a hideous scream and chased the teenagers down the boardwalk, growls emanated from the unending abyss of the hood. As the spirit overcame them, they recognized the dead black eyes that sat deep in his sunken frostbitten features; it was the village boy whose snow machine had broken through the ice on the river. The boy had then managed to climb out from what would have been a certain death only to succumb to the elements before anyone could find him, only a year prior.

Broken Ice
Photography by Eberhard Gross-Gasteiger

Wendigo

Date of Discovery

While the Wendigo existed in Algonquian oral traditions for many centuries before the Europeans arrived in North America, the first written account of the Wendigo was in a letter from Paul Le Jeune in 1636.

Name

Alternative spellings for the Wendigo are Wiindigoo, Windigo, Weendigo, Windego, Wiindgoo, Windgo, Weendigo, Wiindigoo, Windago, Windiga, Wendego, Windagoo, Widjigo, Wiijigoo, Wijigo, Weejigo, Wìdjigò, Wintigo, Wentigo, Wehndigo, Wentiko, Windgoe, Windgo, Wintsigo. Windigoag is a plural form (also spelled Windegoag, Wiindigooag, or Windikouk.)

In the Native Algonquian language, Wendigo translates to, “evil spirit,” or “cannibal spirit”.

Physical Description

The Wendigo
Artwork by Mary Farnstrom

It’s tough to pinpoint exactly which version of the Wendigo is more authentic–some portrayals of this beast simply call him a formerly human, but now a frozen monster. Artistic depictions of this version generally present an inhuman, gray-sallow skinned creature with a ghastly mouth full of sharp teeth, long jagged claws, as well as a set of large, dark, sunken eyes. Other characterizations of the Wendigo show him as a monstrous malformed buck, whose head is mostly just a skull with bits of fur and flesh rotting and falling off.

Origin

The Wendigo is most famously known as being from the Algonquian Native American tribe, but it’s also known to be in the legends of the Chippewa, Ottawa, and Potawatomi tribes as well.

Mythology and Lore

Windigo of the Ojibwe First Nation’s People, Retold by S. E. Schlosser

The storm lasted so long that they thought they would starve. Finally, when the wind and swirling snow had died away to just a memory, the father, who was a brave warrior, ventured outside. The next storm was already on the horizon, but if food was not found soon, the family would starve.

Keeping his knife and spear close, he ventured out upon the most-frequently-used game trail, watching intently for some sign, in the newly-fallen snow, of animal footprints or movement of any kind. The forest lay deep and oddly silent under its gleaming coating of ice and snow. Every creature of sense lay deep within its burrow and slept. Still, the warrior hunted, knowing how desperate his family had become.

As he moved through the eerie stillness, broken only by the soft caress of the wind, he heard a strange hissing noise. It came from everywhere and nowhere at once. The warrior stopped, his heart pounding. That was when he saw the blood-soaked footprints appearing on the path in front of him. He gripped his knife tightly, knowing that somewhere, watching him, was a Windigo.

He had learned about the Windigo at his father’s knee. It was a large creature, as tall as a tree, with a lipless mouth and jagged teeth. Its breath was a strange hiss, its footprints full of blood, and it ate any man, woman or child who ventured into its territory. And those were the lucky ones. Sometimes, the Windigo chose to possess a person instead, and then the luckless individual became a Windigo himself, hunting down those he had once loved and feasting upon their flesh.

The warrior knew he would have just one chance to prevail over the Windigo. After that, he would die. Or… the thought was too terrible to complete.

Slowly, he backed away from the bloody footprints, listening to the hissing sound. Was it stronger in one direction? He gripped spear in one hand, knife in the other. Then the snowbank to his left erupted as a creature as tall as a tree leaped out at him. He dove to one side, rolling into the snow so that his clothing was covered and he became hard to see in the gray twilight of the approaching storm

The Windigo whirled its massive frame and the warrior threw the spear. It struck the creature’s chest, but the Windigo just shook it off as if it were a toy. The warrior crouched behind a small tree as the creature searched the torn-up snow for a trace of him. Perhaps one more chance.

The Windigo loomed over his hiding place, its sharp eyes seeing the outline of him against the tree. It bent down, long arms reaching. The warrior leaped forward as if to embrace the creature and thrust his knife into its fathomless black eye. The Windigo howled in pain as the blade of the knife sliced into its brain cavity. It tried to pull him off of its chest, but the warrior clung to the creature, stabbing it again and again in the eyes, the head.

The Windigo collapsed to the ground, bleeding profusely, almost crushing the warrior beneath its bulk. He pulled himself loose and stared at the creature, which blended in with its white surroundings so well that he would not have seen it save for the blood pouring from its eyes and ears and scalp. Then the outline of the creature grew misty and it vanished, leaving only a pool of blood to indicate where it had fallen.

Shaken, the warrior, heart pounding with fear and fatigue, turned for home. He was weakened by lack of food but knew that the storm would break soon and he would die if he did not seek shelter.

At the edge of the wood, he found himself face to face with a red fox. It was a fat old creature, its muzzle lined with gray. The creature stood still as if it had been brought to him as a reward for killing the Windigo. With a prayer of thanksgiving, the warrior killed the fox and took it home to his starving family. The meat lasted for many days until the final storm had blown itself out and the warrior could safely hunt once more.

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Is there anything we missed about the Wendigo? Let us know in the comments section below!