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Anirniq: An Inuit Ghost Story (Part Three)

Almost hypnotized by the distant glow, by that ghost-light that spun and bobbed over the dark mound, the boy stared for a time. Between fear and cold, he became unaware even of his own shaking. It was not until he heard a pitiful whine that he suddenly remembered the dogs. If the ghost had harmed or killed them, he might not be able to get home.

He began to creep out of the tent, his gaze ever locked upon the distance. Using the abandoned tents for cover, he wove his way toward where the dogs and kamotik lay. He felt weak with relief when he finally came within sight of the dogs, seeing that they were fine. Balled up in terror, eyes stark and wild, they had obviously been panicked by the ghost's passing. But the ghost had not attacked them.

The boy immediately set to preparing the dogs to leave. From his new position, he could more clearly see the mound over which the ghost-light hovered: a single grave. It was old, and its rocks had been scattered, so that scavengers had been at it. He remembered, then, what his angakoq had once told him about human souls that became inverted, hostile toward the living because taboos concerning disposal of their bodies had not been observed. This spirit was probably one such perverse anirniq, the offended dead.

The dogs were just about ready to go, when soft tones seemed to flow into the boy's ears. It was that same, mournful voice that had first warned him about the ghost. Now it said,

"Boy ... boy ... hide yourself ... the ghost is coming ..."

He was torn between heeding this protective spirit and trying to finish readying the dogs to leave. He decided that whatever the warning voice represented, it must be wiser than himself, so he abandoned the dogs and sled, and raced back toward his hiding place.

Just as he got there, the air was torn by a hateful cry ? the ghost returning. The boy summoned enough courage to turn and look, and saw that the light had left its place over the grave, and was speeding toward the camp. As it approached, it increasingly took on the ghastly semblance of a human form ...

The boy dove into the tent just as his dogs, noticing the ghost's approach, erupted into a chorus of terror. But he had not hidden for long when the gentle, warning voice again spoke to him, saying,

"Boy ... boy ... the ghost has seen your footprints, and knows where you are hiding."

In response, the boy desperately wormed his way in behind some old, hanging skins, hoping they would cover him. Just as he did so, a green glow filled the tent. The boy could hear frenzied breathing, like that of an animal, and the ghost's guttural voice muttering,

"Skin, fat, where?"

And there were the sounds of skins being shuffled about the tent. The boy tried to make himself as small as he could. He even thought about dashing out, perhaps racing the ghost to the kamotik. But even his breath froze in his throat when he saw a single, glowing hand, its fingers desiccated like dried meat, its nails long and broken, pawing about only inches from his knee. Numbly, he watched as the skeletal digits groped about for him, then finally withdrew. And after a time, even the glow subsided from the tent, as the ghost gave up and returned to its gravesite.

When the boy thought he had given the ghost enough time to return, he fled the tent with all the speed he possessed. In seconds, he was again readying the dogs. Periodically glancing up from his work, he could see that the ghost-light again danced in the air over its grave.

At last, the boy leapt onto the kamotik. No crack of a whip was necessary, as the dogs forced the sled forward in a horror-induced burst of speed.

Minutes later, racing along, the boy felt that something was wrong. While he should have felt relief at leaving that forsaken encampment, his stomach felt leaden. The hairs on the back of his neck were prickling. Turning, he saw the streaming ball of bilious light, winding its way through the air behind him.

The ghost was chasing him.

(Continued in Part Four at )

(Back to Part Two at )