StrangeArk blog
Cryptozoology, BioForteana, Zoological Oddities, Unusual Natural History

Spirit Island

Captain Henry Toke Munn

I have told this story to only a few people, and my attempt to get a hearing before the Natural History authorities, both in New York and in London, completely failed, the secretaries treating me in pretty much the same manner. 'Oh yes,' they said indulgently, looking at my card, 'that's all right. We have heard about it, and we'll take the matter up sometime. But don't call again; wait till we write you.' Then they rang, and one of the attendants was told to show me round, if I cared to see the place, and put me on the way to where I was staying. Of course, they thought I was a crank.

I publish the narrative, therefore, rather reluctantly, accepting the fact that it will not be believed, but with a hope that it may inspire some credulous and courageous naturalist, with a taste for adventure, to visit Spirit Island, and return with a live or a dead specimen of what I saw there. If he can do this, his name will go down in history, and the museums—and the circuses—of the world will grovel at his feet for its possession. But he needn't ask me to accompany him.

In 1914 I was sent to the Arctic by my employers (a London firm well known in the mining world) to investigate certain localities for alluvial gold, and others for tin ore. In 1914-15 I wintered at Ponds Inlet, the north-east end of Baffin Land—lat. 72.48° N., long. 76.10° W. I made the investigations according to my instructions, and in August 1915 returned to the depot to await the arrival of my ship. By 15th October no ship had appeared, and I knew I was in for another winter. I had with me a Scottish lad to look after the depot in my absence—for the Eskimo will steal if no white man is about, and we were not short of supplies.

In the event of the non-arrival of my ship, and a second winter being enforced, I had been asked to try to investigate a certain locality on the north coast of a large island, known as Prince of Wales Land, about five hundred miles west of my depot. This island lies at the southwest end of Barrow Strait, and between Peel Sound and Franklin Strait to the east and M'Clintock Channel and M'Clure Strait to the west. It can be seen on any Arctic map.

I set out from the depot in February, with seven natives and three dog-sleds, leaving orders for the ship to come for me to Leopold Island in Lancaster Sound if I did not return before the ice broke up. My party were Panne-lou, my head man, who drove my sled with ten dogs; Akko-molee, who had his own sled and team of nine dogs; and Now-yea, who also had his own sled and eleven dogs, four of which were only three-quarter-grown puppies. Each man had his wife, without whom no native will make a prolonged journey, and Akko-molee had the only child in the party, a lad of about eleven years old, named Kyak-jua.

A word as to my natives. Panne-lou was a steady, reliable fellow, a good seal-hunter and dog-driver. His wife, Sal-pinna, was a disagreeable, cross-grained—and cross-eyed—woman, but capable and a good worker. Akko-molee was taken mainly because he was a native of Admiralty Inlet, two hundred miles west of my depot, and had hunted bear on the North Somerset coast. He was only moderately useful, and very inclined to sulk on any provocation. His boy, Kyak-jua, was a capital little fellow, the life of our party, full of energy, and a great favorite with all of us. I had given him a .22 rifle, and he was constantly getting me ptarmigan and Arctic hares with it when we were on the land. His mother, Anno-rito, was a quiet, pleasant woman, and entirely devoted to her boy.

Now-yea, my third native, was an active merry little man, willing and tireless, but irresponsible and very excitable. His number two wife (he had a couple), In-noya, was the best woman, and eventually proved to be the best man, in the party. I shall have more to say about her later on. Now-yea had left his number one wife and four children, all of whom were hers, at my depot, and I had agreed to provide for them till our return.

The pay, arranged before starting, consisted of tobacco, sugar, tea, and biscuit for the trip—or as long as our supplies lasted and to each man, on our return to the depot, a new rifle, ammunition, a box (twenty-two pounds) of tobacco, a barrel of biscuit, some tea, coffee, and molasses, and a spy-glass, or some equivalent if they already had one; also some oddments, such as cooking-utensils, day-clocks, needles, braid, scented soap, &c., for the women, and ten pounds of tobacco to each one. These were regarded as high wages by the other natives, of whom I could have had my pick, but they were fully earned, and many extras I threw in, as the sequel will show.

My outfit—besides the supplies already mentioned—consisted of twenty pounds of dynamite, some caps and fuse, also one of these new, very small, 'Ubique' batteries, six short drills, and a two and a half pound hammer. We had a rifle per man, and one spare one—all single shot .303 carbines, except mine, which was an ordinary English service magazine-rifle; plenty of ammunition; a complete sailing-gear for each man, and two spare harpoons and lances; a hand-axe for each sled; native lamps for cooking and heating, and cooking-utensils. We had ogjuke (bearded seal) skins, for boot-soles later on, and seal-skins and deer-skin legs for cold-weather foot-wear, plenty of dressed deer-skin for stockings and socks, deer-skin blankets and heavy winter-killed hides to sleep on. We all had new deer-skin clothes, and expected to get young seal 'white coats ' for wear on the return journey, when the others would be too warm.

My medicines were a flask of brandy, some tabloid drugs and antiseptics, a few bandages, and some surgical needles and thread. My personal luxury was a few dozen of the excellent 'Cambridge' soup-powders. I took a small kayak (skin canoe) as far as Leopold Island for sealing later, if we had to wait there, and also a tent.

One item of my outfit, a small Kodak camera, I was unfortunate enough to smash hopelessly a few days before starting. I shall for ever regret this disaster—for such it proved to be—and the irremediable loss it occasioned me.

This is not a story of Arctic travel, so I will omit the details of the journey. My route lay through Navy Board Inlet, and thence west along Lancaster Sound to Prince Regent Inlet, crossing to Leopold Island, and over the North Somerset Land—which is a flat tableland in from the coast—to Peel Sound and Prince of Wales Land. We had to make about six hundred and twenty-five miles of travelling, though, as I have said, it was only five hundred miles as the crow flies, and, of course, we had to depend on sea and land animals for ourselves and our dogs to live on, and for blubber for light, cooking, and warmth. Such journeys are made every winter by some of the Eskimo, either when visiting other parties or on hunting-trips, and are by no means unusual.  The main, indeed the indispensable, thing being to find seals, halts of a day or two are made for the purpose.

Now, I want to emphasise the fact that Prince of Wales Land is by no means what literary people call a terra incognita, at least so far as the coast-line is concerned. Parry discovered it a hundred years ago, and Roald Amundsen sailed his famous little ship the Gjoa down Peel Sound and Franklin Strait when he made the North-West Passage. No natives have been found on North Somerset or on Prince of Wales Land, though hunting-parties visit North Somerset occasionally.

I had not told my destination to the natives beyond North Somerset, and when we arrived at Leopold Island, and I unfolded my plans in the igloo that night, there was great consternation. We should starve; the ice would go out and leave us stranded there; and, lastly—here was the real hitch—it was a 'bad' country.

'Why bad,' I asked, 'when you say none of you have been there?'

There was a pause before Panne-lou said reluctantly, 'It is full of Torn-ga [bad spirits]; we are afraid of them.'

It took me half the night, talking and cajoling, before I overcame this absurd objection. Finally they consented to go on, but stipulated that we should travel close to the shore at Prince of Wales Land, to which I, of course, willingly agreed.

A small building, once full of stores, stands on Leopold Island. Naturally, it had been completely looted by the natives, but it served excellently to store our kayak and tent in, out of the weather.

I will relate one incident of the journey, as it shows the stuff one member of our party was made of. The day after we left Leopold Island we camped on the tableland of North Somerset, and I decided to stay a day there, and try for some deer, both as a change from seal-meat, of which we were all tired, and also to provide a 'cache,' or store of meat against our return.

I sent the three men off with all the dogs early in the morning; not feeling very well, I remained at the igloo. I had taken my rifle to pieces to clean it, and had all the parts in my lap, when I heard a cry outside, and Sal-pinna said, 'Quick! He says a bear.' My rifle was, for the moment, useless, so I plunged out of the igloo to get the spare rifle, which was always in In-noya's care in the other igloo. Outside I saw little Kyak-jua, about a hundred yards away, running for his life towards the igloos with a very large bear within fifteen or twenty paces of him. In-noya was out of the igloo, with the rifle, running towards them. I did not think the boy had a chance, for he was directly between the rifle and the bear, and one blow of those formidable paws would have brained him, but suddenly In-noya called sharply, 'Tella-peea-nin; tella-peea-nin' ('To the right; to the right'). The boy, instantly divining he was in the line of fire, doubled to the right like a hare. A shot rang out, and the bear roared with pain, then turned and savagely bit his hind-quarter, which had been hit. The next instant he was charging full tilt at In-noya. She had dropped on one knee to shoot, and, without moving, coolly levelled her rifle again. So close was the bear when she shot, and laid him dead with a bullet in his brain, that as she sprang on one side the impetus of his charge carried him half his length over where she had knelt; the record was written plainly on the snow.

I asked In-noya later why she did not fire sooner. 'I had only taken two cartridges, when I ran out of the igloo,' she said indifferently, 'and I had to make sure of him.' It was as fine an exhibition of coolness and steady nerve as I have ever seen.

We reached my objective on 25th March, crossing Peel Sound from North Somerset in one day's travel of about forty-five miles. We kept very close to the Prince of Wales Land shore, and I noticed we always built our igloos now on the land, even if suitable snow was not so handy as on the ice, though we often had to negotiate some rough ground-ice before getting to shore.

A very disastrous mishap occurred the day after we arrived. Seven of our dogs, divided amongst the three teams, ate something poisonous they found along the shore, and died the same night; three more were very bad, but recovered. I cannot imagine what an Eskimo dog could find to poison him in his own country, but this was certainly the cause of death. The natives, of course, blamed the Torn-ga, and were greatly disturbed.

By 27th March I had seen all I needed to. The reported tin-vein was a vein of iron pyrite ore. I do not know who started this yarn about tin, but the description and locality of the vein agreed so closely with the data given me that I have always concluded the information was found in one of the private logs of the old Arctic voyagers, perhaps one of Parry's or Ross's crews.

Seals had been very hard to find since we crossed Peel Sound, and our dogs were getting hungry, so, after wasting the 28th looking for seals, which refused to come to the breathing-holes we found, we started the return journey on the 29th, and reached the north-east end of Prince of Wales Land on the 31st, only getting one small seal in that time.

About fifteen miles north of Prince of Wales Land lies a large island, and Panne-lou volunteered the information that the Eskimo name of it was 'Spirit Island'; but he could not, or would not, tell me anything more, the subject being strictly taboo by him, and also by the others.

When we left the next morning early, a south-east breeze was blowing up Peel Sound, and it looked as if it would be a fine day for the crossing. We had made only about half-way over when one of those sudden Arctic storms swept down on us, shutting out all sight of land at once. The natives had a discussion whether to go ahead or return, and decided to push on. Panne-lou complained he was feeling ill, and was on the sled all day. Soon after the storm broke, the wind must suddenly have changed, for by five o'clock no land came in sight, and the storm was increasing in violence every minute. Panne-lou became very ill, so there was no alternative but to camp where we were.

Next morning it was blowing a blizzard, and Panne-lou was delirious and in a high fever. Even if it had been fit weather, it would have killed him to move him.

This part of the Arctic lies north of the Magnetic Pole, and the compass variation is nearly one hundred degrees; it is so sluggish and unreliable that it is quite useless for making a course in thick weather. We did not know, therefore, if we were north or south of our course.

That night—1st April—the first two dogs disappeared. My log says: 'At 11 P.M. dogs suddenly started howling; thought it was a bear, but dogs stampeded to igloo door much afraid. Suddenly one gave a queer stifled yap, and about same time door broke and dogs tumbled pell-mell into igloo...' The 'door' is a block of snow set up on the inside of the igloo. Now-yea and In-noya were sleeping in my igloo, to help nurse Panne-lou—for he had to be constantly watched—and as soon as the row started Now-yea, at In-noya's instigation, jumped up, and throwing his kouletang (deer-skin jumper) on the floor of the igloo from the snow sleeping-bench, stood on it naked—Eskimo always turn in thus—and held the snow 'door' till it broke in his hands, letting the dogs in.

Meantime I had slipped on my kouletang and some deer-skin stockings, and, as soon as the door was clear of dogs, cautiously crawled out with my rifle, expecting to find an unusually bold and hungry bear at our 'store-house,' a small snow-house built against the side of the igloo, containing the meat, blubber, harness, &c., which the dogs might damage or eat. As a rule rifles are kept outside, to prevent the frost coming out of them; but the natives insisted that they must all be taken inside that night.

I saw or heard nothing; it was a very dark night, and the drifting snow was blinding, stinging the eyes like sand. I crawled back, half-frozen, and we put up another snow door. The other igloo, fifteen or twenty yards away, had the same experience, so there must have been two visitors, as we each lost a dog at the same time.

The blizzard lasted three days, and though we built porches for the dogs in front of igloo doors and shut them in, we lost two dogs each night in the same mysterious manner. The 'doors' were always broken inwards, and a dog quickly and neatly snatched away. Obviously no bear was doing this, for his methods would have been more clumsy.

On the third night I made a hole in the igloo over the 'door,' and as soon as the dogs yelped put my rifle through and fired three or four shots into the porch. Next morning Akko-molee's dog was gone, but outside our porch our dog lay dead. His neck was broken and his throat torn out.

By this time the natives were completely demoralised, with the exception of In-noya. Now-yea sat shivering, as if with ague, the whole night, and Sal-pinna was little better. She had trodden on a knife-blade in the igloo, and cut her foot so badly that I had to put seven stitches in it. In Akko-molee's igloo they remained in their blankets all the time, and he would hardly answer me when I called to him.

Meanwhile Panne-lou improved but little, and I kept him alive on a few spoonfuls of brandy-and-water every hour. On the third day the fever had abated, but he was still wandering and semi-conscious.

There was good excuse for the natives. An igloo is not the slightest protection against an attack; an arrow or a lance would go through it like paper. It was a trying job, therefore, to sit inside expecting something—one could not tell what—to happen. For the natives, who believed implicitly it was the Torn-ga, it was worse than for me. In-noya, however, never lost her self-control, and she and I fed and watched Panne-lou in turn.

On the morning of the fourth day—3rd April—the storm had blown itself out, but there was a dense fog, and we could not see more than a hundred yards or so. The natives would have harnessed the dogs and left at once, in spite of my urging that it would certainly kill Panne-lou to do so, but until it cleared they did not know which way to go, for till we saw some land, or even the stars to steer by, we were completely lost.

Akko-molee said the fog showed there was open water not far away, and vaguely opined it was a bad sign. A pressure-ridge was behind the igloos; in fact, it was at this we found snow suitable for building. I asked Akko-molee to walk in one direction along it for a short distance with a sealing-dog to try to find a breathing-hole, as we were completely out of feed, and the poor brutes were starving. I would walk down the pressure-ridge in the opposite direction for the same purpose. I arranged we should both return the moment the fog cleared. Now-yea, who was much too shaky to go away alone, was to remain at the igloo on guard.

Akko-molee demurred at first, but finally consented to go, adding, 'Only a very little way, though.' In-noya looked after Panne-lou, who was now sleeping quietly and in a profuse perspiration. I made some soup for him, gave her a few instructions, then left with my sealing-gear and rifle, leading a dog.

It was nine o'clock in the morning. I walked. along the pressure-ridge for eight or ten minutes, when, to my surprise, I came to open water. The tide ran strongly in Barrow Strait, I knew, and the gale must have opened the ice up. We had, therefore, got far to the north of our course to reach the floe-edge, as the ice fast to the land is called. The water seemed to be of some extent, but the fog made it impossible to see how large it was. As the floe-edge is generally very irregular, deep bights forming in it where the moving pack exercises pressure, it would be very dangerous to move before we saw where we were.

It was a mere chance that we had not driven into the water or on to the moving ice in the blizzard. Seeing a seal in the water a short distance from the pressure-ridge, I let the dog go, as I did not need him, and he ran back to the igloo; I then sat down and waited for the seal to appear. Presently I shot one, but found the tide was running away from the floe, and I lost him, so I waited till it turned, which it did in about three hours. I then shot two seals; though I had to wait another hour before they came in to the floe. By this time a fairly strong tide was running under it.

As I was tying the seals together to drag them back to the igloo, I caught through the fog, in the direction of the pressure-ridge, a glimpse of a man walking down to the water's edge. It was only an uncertain impression, for the fog shut him out immediately. I rather wondered why Akko-molee had followed me, but remembering I had sent the dog back, supposed that had to do with it.

When I arrived at the pressure-ridge, I saw nothing of Akko-molee, but leading down to the water were large drops of blood, and at the floe-edge lay a little deer-skin mitten; it could only have been Kyak-jua's. The snow was packed as hard as a pavement by the gale, so it was no use to look for tracks on it, but right at the water's edge, where it was softer and wet, was an odd-looking track, rather as if it had been made by some gigantic bird with webbed feet. The claw-marks did not show, as the toes overlapped the edge of the ice.

What did the blood mean? Flow came little Kyak-jua's mitten to be there? I felt sick at heart as I quickly thought it over. A tragedy had happened, I was sure. I ran back to where I had left the seals, about sixty yards from the water's edge; hastily buried one in the snow to keep it thawed, cutting a hole with my sheath-knife for the purpose; threw the other on my shoulder—they were both small seals—and ran towards the igloo. The tell-tale drops of blood stopped about three hundred yards from the floe-edge.

At the igloo I found Now-yea pacing back and forth before the door, shouting 'spirit-talk,' and nearly crazy; Anno-rito, the boy's mother, inside unconscious; and In-noya gray-faced and crying quietly, but faithfully tending Panne-lou as I had told her. My arrival upset her for a moment, however, as she cried out, 'I thought you had gone too.' I shut up Now-yea by cuffing him, and sent him into the igloo, where he sat and shivered.

In-noya told me the story succinctly. Kyak-jua had left his mother's igloo to come and see In-noya, for they were great friends. Now-yea as inside, warming himself, at the time; by-and-by Anno-rito called out, and In-noya replied the boy was not there. The poor mother rushed out shrieking for the boy, and on entering our igloo fell unconscious. In-noya did not dare to leave Panne-lou, who was very restless—Sal-pinna was useless—but she made Now-yea go out and look about. The tears streamed down her face, for she loved the little lad dearly. 'It is no good to look,' she sobbed; 'the Torn-ga have taken him.' Akko-molee's dog had returned, and In-noya said she feared for poor little Kyak-jua's father. 'I am going to fetch Akko-molee,' I declared; 'he is not far away.'

As I left the igloo I realised what had happened. Something had been lying hidden behind the pressure-ridge, and had crept close to the igloo. It had swiftly and silently seized Kyak-jua, and as swiftly and silently departed. The dogs, all asleep inside the porch, had given no alarm, the lad himself not made a sound. What manner of beast was this to do such a daring deed? It explained those drops of blood near the water. I at least, knew where the boy had gone, and a fierce anger surged over me when I thought of his merry face, and the happy smile with which he would bring me a ptarmigan, saying, 'For you, kabloona [white man].'

I thought of all this as I ran along the pressure-ridge through the fog, when suddenly I nearly fell over Akko-molee's body. He was lying on his face, dead, with a hole in the back of his skull, from which the brain was oosing. He had evidently been sitting at a seal-hole, and his assailant had crept up behind him. His right sleeve was torn open, and the artery under the arm had been ripped up, but there was no blood on the snow from it.

I felt sick when I realised what this ghoulish murderer had done; he had sucked the blood from the artery till it was dry. The sealing-spear, harpoon, seal-line, and lance were gone, but the rifle rested against a block of snow where Akko-molee had placed it. I left him lying there on the snow; my business was with the living.

I returned to the igloo, to find Anno-rito had been persuaded by In-noya to turn in under her blanket, which she had done, native fashion, with nothing on. She looked up when I took off my mitts and kouletang, and said dully, 'Akko-molee is dead. I have seen him. Is it not so?'

Then I did a fool thing, but I was overstrung and rattled. I nodded 'Yes,' and said, 'He is dead.' There was a silence while you might have counted ten; then, without any warning, Anno-rito sprang up, dived under the low exit of the igloo, and fled shrieking, 'Oo-wonga ky-it; oo-wonga ky-it' ('I come; I come').

I was into my kouletang in a few seconds, grabbed my rifle (without which I would not have gone ten yards), and was after her, but, stripped naked as she was, she could keep her lead. She ran along the pressure-ridge, where I had gone in the morning, and I shouted when I realised a few minutes would take her to the water's edge. I was near enough to see her fling up her arms and spring into the water, and her despairing cry, 'Oo-wonga ky-it,' was borne faintly back to me through the fog. Unhappy Anno-rito had joined her boy and her man.

It was now about four o'clock, and, live or die, Panne-lou must be moved in the morning. I would have left at once, but it was impossible to travel in the fog after dark. If it did not lift, I would try a compass course, uncertain as it was, in the morning, or steer by the breeze, if there was one, away from the open water. If the fog lifted, I would steer by the stars that night.

Meantime the dogs might as well be fed, and, with this in my mind, I pulled out the seal I had left in the snow. The fog was for a moment thinner than it had been, and I had just done this when I saw another seal in the water on the far side of the pressure-ridge. Running to the floe edge, I sat down beside an up-ended piece of ice about ten yards from the water to wait for him to come up again. After a few minutes I leaned forward to look along the floe-edge, peering round the piece of ice. About sixty or seventy yard from me, standing on the ice, close to the water and looking intently at the seal lying near the pressure-ridge, I saw a man—or, rather, a two-footed beast in a man's shape.

He was but that moment out of the water, for it was dripping off him, and even as I looked his body began to turn white, as if the drops had been frozen on him in glistening little nodules. His head was thrown back and he was sniffing the air, as if using his scenting-powers. Suddenly he ran—rather clumsily, I thought, but swiftly and with unusually long strides—towards the dead seal. My brain started working again, and I knew I had him; I was between him and the water.

As he stopped and picked up the seal, throwing it over his shoulder very easily, I sprang out from behind the slab of ice, and he saw me. Without a second's hesitation, and before the seal fell from his shoulder on to the ice with a thud, he was running swiftly and silently at me, a short throwing-lance poised in his right hand. I covered him without haste, and pulled the trigger, but the cartridge missed fire. I jerked in another cartridge, and as I threw my rifle to my shoulder his arm shot forward like a piston-stroke, and I dropped quickly on one knee. As I did so, the hood of my kouletang was thrown back from my head and—it seemed to me at the same instant—I fired.

I suppose the lance, which had struck my hood, threw my aim off, for the shot went high, and broke my assailant's left shoulder, causing him to drop a second lance he held in his hand. But it did not stop him, and before I could jerk in another cartridge he was on me. Dodging the muzzle of my rifle, he seized my left arm above the elbow with incredible strength, for I felt the nails or claws sink deeply into my flesh through my thick deer-skin clothes. At the same time he pulled me towards him and tried to get at my throat with his teeth. I seized his neck with my free hand, and for some seconds we swayed back and forward thus, the blood from his wound drenching me. Flecks of bloody foam ran down from his mouth, and as we tussled he made a snarling growl, as a dog does when at grips with his foe. This was the only sound I heard from him.

We were unpleasantly near the water, so I bent my energies on working back from it, and was able to make some yards farther in on the ice. I soon found it quite beyond my strength to squeeze his windpipe and choke him, the neck being very strong and thick; and although I had the advantage of at least five inches in height, and am over the average of my size in strength, it was all I could do to hold him off me. Had his other arm been whole, he would have torn my throat out with his claws.

We twisted and turned, struggling desperately, when suddenly he relinquished his grasp of my left arm, I suppose for a hold at my throat. As I felt him do so, I pushed him violently away and sprang back. He came at me again like a wildcat, snarling savagely; but I was readier now, and beating down his outstretched hand with my left fist, I landed him on the point of the jaw with all the weight and strength I could put into an upper-cut. It lifted him clean off his feet, and he fell backwards. As he dazedly and unsteadily recovered his feet again, I snatched up the lance he had dropped—for we had reached the place in our struggle—and rushing on him, drove it with both hands and all my might at his heart. He fell dead at my feet.

For a few minutes I sat down, feeling sick and giddy. I was blood from head to foot, and I saw for the first time some of it was my own, for my arm was bleeding freely enough for it to run down inside my sleeve over my hand. The indescribable horror of the Thing's appearance, the smell of his breath, and the ferocity and courage of his attack, badly wounded as he was, all affected me strongly. More and more I realised that I could have done nothing against him had he been unwounded.

Pulling myself together, I turned the Torn-ga over—so I call him, from this date, in my log, and the name will serve. Sticking out under his left shoulder-blade was a harpoon-head, lashed to the point of an ivory lance with sinew. I set my foot on the body and drew the lance out at his back, and, after cleaning it in the snow, examined it. The harpoon-head was Akko-molee's! I knew it instantly, for I had seen him filing it a few days before. I felt better, somehow, when I had seen this, and turned to examine more fully the body of my grim foe.

He was perhaps an inch over five feet in height, and was covered, except the palms of his hands and the soles of his feet, with short, fine seal-hair of a grayish-brown colour. The eyes were enormous, with no eyelashes, very like a seal's, the hips tremendously developed, and the legs disproportionately long; the instep was very broad and flat, and both the toes and the fingers very long, webbed, and ending in thick nails like claws. It struck me he would have been a truly formidable antagonist in the water. The face was hideous; it had a wide receding jaw, with very prominent eyebrows overhanging the huge eyes, a low forehead, and small furry ears. I noticed, too, the teeth were sharp, the dog-teeth much developed, and the front-teeth of the lower jaw noticeably longer than the others. He had died with his lips drawn back in a savage snarl. Jets of very dark blood were flowing from his breast. The limbs and the body had a smooth roundness that could mean only one thing, but to satisfy myself I drew my knife and cut a gash in the thigh. As I expected, there was over an inch of blubber under the skin, exactly as a seal has.

Behind where I had knelt and fired, an ivory lance was sticking deeply in the hard snow. I looked at my hood—the lance had torn the top off it.

Acting on some impulse, I dragged the body to the floe-edge, and shot it into the water. It floated buoyantly, but the strong tide soon swept it out of sight under the ice; and as its blood-smeared, snarling face disappeared, I thought of little Kyak-jua, and felt glad that some, at least, of the account was paid.

Throwing the seal on my shoulder, I returned to the igloo. There was no one now to take counsel with but In-noya, for the other two only sat huddled up and moaning. Calling her outside, I assured her I was not hurt—she was horrified at the mess I was in—and related what I had done, and how I planned to leave the moment the fog permitted.

These Eskimo know more about this mystery than they will tell, because In-noya shook her head, saying, 'Many will come to-night and kill us, kabloona.' She told me she had put my revolver beside her, adding very quietly she wanted it to shoot Panne-lou and herself with if the Torn-ga broke into the igloo. 'They suck your blood when you are alive,' she said calmly. I had not mentioned what I had seen on Akko-molee's body. How did she know this was their ghoulish habit?

I patted the plucky girl on the back, and told her we should come through the night all right as I had a plan. Fortunately, there was a spare kouletang in my kit-bag. Before I went inside the igloo I took off my blood-soaked garment and threw it away behind the pressure-ridge, explaining to the others that the blood on my foot-gear and deer-skin outer trousers was from the seal. These garments I took off, and started Sal-pinna thawing and cleaning them. My arm pained me, and was still bleeding. Examining it in the unoccupied igloo, I found five claw-like incisions, which had cut deeply into the flesh. I washed them with antiseptic, and In-noya bound them up.

I then shook up Now-yea, made him come out and feed the two seals—saving a meal for ourselves—to the dogs, and carefully ice the sledrunners and get all the harness ready. The dogs would need five or six hours after feeding, but I hoped that by midnight we should have the stars to steer by, and could make a start.

I thawed ten pounds of dynamite, wrapped it up in several pieces of deer-skin, and as soon as it was dusk laid it the full length of my wires along the pressure-ridge, making a track for the wires, and carefully covering it all over with snow. I brought the wires into the igloo through the wall, and connected them up with the battery. Then, shutting the dogs into the porch, I ran a reel of strong thread I happened to have with me round the igloo and porch about ten paces away, setting up blocks of snow some two and a half feet high, and driving into them bits of stick, to which I fastened the thread. As I was short of sticks, I used one of the two lances I had brought from the scene of the fight; the other I put away in a dunnage-bag. Midway between each of the blocks, I ran pieces of thread fastened to the thread circling us, and led them into the igloo through paper tubes, to keep them from freezing to the wall. I then pulled them gently taut, and fastened them to small strips of wood, so that when they were struck into the igloo wall they were bent by the pull of the line; there were five of them. In-noya helped me deftly and intelligently, asking no questions, except what I wanted done. When back in the igloo, I insisted on their finishing the seal meal, and we made a brew of strong tea. Panne-lou was now conscious and free from fever, but utterly prostrated.

It was a nerve-racking watch. I am not sure if I would come through another like it. I had seen now what we were waiting for, and if—as In-noya said they would—many came, if indeed only a few attacked us, I knew now we should have no chance at all, penned up inside the igloo. Yet we should be worse off freezing outside in the gray fog and darkness. I had seen their swiftness and savage determination. How many could we account for before the end came?

Suddenly I remembered there would be a young moon up about one o'clock, and I decided to start then and steer by it, if the weather was clear enough to locate it.

The hours dragged on till nearly midnight. Now-yea and Sal-pinna dozed fitfully, and awoke shivering. Panne-lou slept; In-noya sat beside him, gray-faced and self-possessed, occasionally trimming the native lamp, but with my revolver ever ready at her hand. We whispered once or twice, and listened, straining our ears for some sound outside, till every minute seemed an hour, watching the little bent sticks, and waiting.

I kept my hand on the battery-handle, and my rifle across my knees. Suddenly a stick straightened with a faint click, and I nodded to In-noya, who touched the other two natives. I lifted the handle and pressed it down smartly. The roar of the explosion tore the silence of the night. The ice shook, threatening to demolish the igloo, and snow fell down on us inside. The dogs yelped with fear once or twice; then came silence. Presently an inarticulate, eerie, wailing cry rang out, distinct and very high-pitched; then silence once more, and we listened, listened. And then I knew how it is men go mad with the strain of waiting for some unseen danger to strike them.

At one o'clock we had some more tea, and I crept outside to see the weather. The fog was thinning fast, and I could see the young moon faintly, low down towards the open water. I knew it rose in the north-east, and gave the word to hitch up the dogs and start. It seemed certain I was giving Panne-lou his death-sentence, but there was probably a more terrible death for him, and all of us, if we delayed. Now-yea worked feverishly; the dogs were divided between two sleds; Panne-lou was rolled like a mummy in deer-skin blankets and lashed on; and we started.

With a match I hastily examined the snow outside the circle of thread, where I had purposely scraped it soft, and could see that only one track had been made. The lance to which the thread had been fastened was gone. The last thing I took out of the igloo was a deer-skin parcel containing the rest of the dynamite, thawed and ready for the fuse and cap, and the six drill-steels and the hammer-head. I put the dynamite between Panne-lou's blankets to keep it thawed. The fuse was marked in half-minutes. Panne-lou knew everything we were doing, and whispered to me, 'The land, kabloona; get the land. Torn-ga will not come there.'

Now-yea drove one sled with Sal-pinna on it. She walked with great pain, the cut on her foot being a deep one. Till daylight I led with the other sled, which In-noya drove. Now-yea had nine and I had eight dogs, but three on my sled were very weak from the poison they had eaten a few days before, and four of Now-yea's were puppies. In-noya handled the mixed team of dogs with wonderful skill.

By three o'clock it was light, and at half-past four the blessed sun rose, dispersing the last of the fog—never did I welcome him more—and there to the south-east of us was the bold coast-line of North Somerset, some twenty-five miles or so away. Behind us lay the north-east end of Spirit Island, and near it, extending far to the eastward, a curtain of mist rose in the still, cold air from the floe-edge, a dark patch of water-sky behind it denoting a large hole of water. Our igloos were not visible, but they must have been very close to the north-eastern end of Spirit Island.

With the bright morning sun shining in our faces; our hearts rose to cheerfulness, and the horrors of a few hours before seemed like some bad dream, till I thought of merry little Kyak-jua, and how I had left his father lying out there on the ice. That was no dream, but a grim reality.

I told Now-yea to take the lead, warning him I would shoot him if he did not stick to his sled, but tried to run away. In-noya also shouted out the message to him, and added on her own account, 'And you know the kabloona does not often miss.' We walked and trotted alongside the sleds, not sparing the whip. In-noya handled it and its twenty-seven-foot lash as skilfully as any native I have ever seen.

Soon after sunrise we came to rather rough ice, which, though not bad enough to delay us seriously, quickly took the ice-shoeing off the runners of the sleds, so that they pulled heavily. The walking was hard and good, and by skilful handling the sleds were steered clear of any large rough hummocks; but this all helped to retard our progress.

By half-past six we were apparently fifteen or sixteen miles from the land and making a good five miles an hour, but some of our dogs were flagging, and presently one lay down, and had to be taken out of the team. Soon after this two of Now-yea's puppies were turned loose, but they followed on, and eventually made the land, unlike our dog, who did not rise again.

At seven o'clock I climbed a piece of ice and had a look back with the telescope. I speedily made out a number of black dots coming in an irregular line along our track; they were about five or six miles away. I ran after the sled and told In-noya quietly—it was no use frightening the others yet. She only glanced at the revolver lying in its case under the lashing, and applied herself to the sled and team. She was the bravest person (man or woman) I have ever met. We halted for two or three minutes to clear the traces, and while this was being done I took the dynamite parcel out, rolled it and the drill-steels and hammer-head into one parcel with deer-skin, and adjusted the cap and fuse, slipping it all under the lashing, ready instantly to be taken out.

As we drew nearer the land I saw the cliffs ran sheerly down to the ice, and thought for a minute or two we were going to be trapped, for the only man who had known the coast was dead—Akko-molee. After a while, however, I picked up a little bay with my telescope, perhaps three-quarters of a mile wide and rather deeper, from the head of which the land sloped steeply back, so I ran forward and pointed out to Now-yea where to steer for. He seemed to have his nerves under better control now, for he answered 'All right' quite cheerfully. Perhaps he thought he could make a race for it, and reach the land alone, if the pinch came, though I may be doing him an injustice. The fact that the natives had dared to come to this region at all, knowing what they did, lent some colour to their reiterated assertion that we should be safe on the land. My reason rebelled, nevertheless, at the seeming absurdity of the idea. If our pursuers could travel on the snow of the ice, of course they could do the same on the land. Yet, somehow, among them the natives had imbued me with a quite unreasonable but firm faith in our salvation could we win terra firma.

At half-past eight the Torn-ga were about a mile away, and coming up on us fast. They were spread in an irregular line extending across our track,: but I was glad to see a number of them were straggling badly. The pace was telling on them, for we must have had a long start. There seemed to be at least a hundred of them.

Presently we came to a small pressure-ridge, and as soon as we had passed it I took the time very carefully; to when the first of our pursuers appeared on our side, it was exactly six and a half minutes. I cut the fuse and lighted it, and laid the smoking parcel down on the ice, running on with my watch in my hand. Ten seconds or so before the charge was due to explode, I stopped and looked back with the telescope. The nearest Torn-ga had reached the parcel and were standing round it, more coming up every second. Those on the flanks had also stopped, and they all seemed to be waiting for one of their number, as they were looking back. Even as I took this scene in, a Torn-ga, fully a head taller than the rest, burst through the knot standing irresolutely about, and gesticulated violently in our direction. As he did so the charge exploded.

When the snow and smoke cleared, I counted six bodies prone on the snow, and saw several more limping away or sitting down, evidently badly hurt. I turned and raced after the sled.

When. I told In-noya what I had seen, she pressed her lips grimly together, saying, 'It pays a little of the debt for Kyak-jua and Akko-molee.' I inquired if she had looked at Panne-lou lately. I had not thought about him for some time, and it occurred to me that, if he were dead, we would cut the lashings and leave him. She nodded, saying, 'He sleeps,' then went to urging the dogs forward. I noticed the revolver was now taken out of its case and ready for instant action. We pushed steadily on for some time, improving our pace, as the dogs began to smell the land, and when next I looked back I saw about twenty of the Torn-ga five hundred yards or so in advance of the rest.

The dynamite had answered its purpose, and if it came to a fight close in on the land, I at first hoped we could handle these, for I knew I could depend on In-noya. But they drew up on us so steadily I saw this hope was vain, and, with a sinking feeling at my heart, thought of the savage determination the day before of only one of them—and he badly wounded.

Something must be done, however, and thinking it rapidly over, I decided to let the sled go on, and make a stand at a suitable hummock, with my magazine-rifle and the revolver, when they were about three hundred yards away. It sounds self-sacrificing, and all that sort of nonsense, but as a matter of fact it was only plain common-sense; it would be absurd to lose the advantage the firearms gave me by letting them get to close quarters before turning at bay. I should not have mentioned it, however, but for the part In-noya played. I told her my intention, whereon she said, 'Yes, kabloona, but we will take all the rifles, and I will stay and reload for you. The dogs see the land now, and will not stop.' I refused to allow this; but she was quietly obstinate, pointing out that she could do some shooting on her own account, and then reload my rifle while I used the others.

She took the revolver up and put the cord over her head, saying calmly, 'It is settled. Do not speak any more about it. I will take two rifles off the sled when you say the word; do you take the others and the cartridge-bag.' Suddenly she cried quickly, 'Where is the thing which smokes [the fuse]? It will delay them a little.' Fool! I had not thought of it. In half-a-minute I had wrapped the rest of the coil in deer-skin, lighted it at both ends to make more smoke—there was plenty of it—and laid it on the snow. It was quite harmless, but the bluff might go.

The nearest Torn-ga were about four hundred yards away from us, and when they saw the smoking parcel they halted a few seconds, and then made a wide detour on either side of it, allowing us to increase our lead considerably. About this time another of our dogs staggered and fell, but In-noya had been watching him, and whipping a knife from the sled, severed his trace without stopping the others.

Then Now-yea, who was about one hundred yards ahead, called out something, and In-noya said, 'He says he can see the snow in the bay has been flooded—by the late spring-tide, of course—and it is all smooth ice.' She cast a glance back. 'We shall make the land, kabloona,' she said quietly. 'Koya-nimik' ('I am glad'). Glad! Blown as I was, I shouted for joy. 'Hurrah! Hurrah, In-noya!' I said; but she only smiled back, and plied her skilful whip, and cheered on the weary dogs. We were running on either side of our sleds now, even lame Sal-pinna holding on to a lashing and limping gamely along.

I looked back, and could plainly see in the frosty air the smoking breath of the nearest Torn-ga, and got a glimpse of his savage face. He was obviously tired, and, I noticed, ran 'flat-footedly' and ungracefully, but with long jumping strides, which took him over the ground at a great pace. Some of his companions were lame.

When Now-yea reached the smooth ice he ran ahead of his dogs to encourage them—for a moment I thought he was deserting his sled— and they, knowing the land meant rest for them, broke into a tired gallop. Sal-pinna was able to ride on the sled.

Just before we reached the ice I took a snapshot at the crowd, and by a fluke hit one in the leg, and he sprawled over. The others did not stop or take the slightest notice of him, but came doggedly on. In-noya called on the team with voice and whip, and once on the smooth, almost 'glare' ice—save for a few frost-crystals which gave the dogs footing—they wearily galloped, and we could sit on the sled without slowing it down, so easily did it run.

We looked at each other; the hoods and breasts of our kouletangs were white with our frosted breath, and the perspiration was streaming off us. I was pretty well 'all in,' for I had not ridden on the sled since starting; In-noya, whom during the whole journey I saw on the sled only for a moment occasionally when looking at Panne-lou, seemed active and tireless yet.

She woke Panne-lou, and told him we should win the land, and the poor fellow's thin face lit up as he said, 'That is good.' I did not know till later how fully he realised our race from death—and what a death for him!

For the last mile over the smooth ice, which was also slippery going for our pursuers, we almost held our own, though at the ground-ice the nearest Torn-ga was not more than two hundred yards away. Those behind him had stopped and were looking at us! A wave of thankfulness swept over me, for I realised now the truth of the Eskimo's assertion: They would not come on the land.

We were too busy steadying and guiding the sled through the ground-ice to bother about the nearest Torn-ga then, but at the shore, as he still urged doggedly on, I took my rifle and turned. He was only fifty or sixty yards away, and I couldn't miss him. He pitched forward on his face—the same sort of savage, snarling face I had seen at the floe-edge—and lay still. As I live, his waiting companions turned, and trotted leisurely back the way we had come!

As soon as the panting, worn-out dogs had been urged over the shore and a few hundred yards up the rising ground, I stopped and looked back. Every Torn-ga in sight was lying prone. Those on the snow beyond the smooth ice were eating mouthfuls of it, as a dog does when thirsty in winter. A little cloud of steam rose in the air from their bodies. I called out, and both sleds stopped, the dogs flinging themselves down in utter exhaustion.

One more amazing incident occurred before we saw the last of the Torn-ga. As we started across the bay, a large bear came ambling round the southern point and headed for the opposite one. Instantly every Torn-ga was lying motionless, except that they raised their heads occasionally, and looked about as a seal does when out on the ice in spring for sleep. I could not have told the nearest of them from a seal without a telescope. A light land-breeze was quartering from the bear to the Torn-ga, and when he saw the—to him—welcome and, so early in the year, unusual sight, he evidently thought the supposed seals would soon wind him, so charged down at the nearest group, hoping to flurry one and catch him before he slipped down his hole through the ice.

Ten paces away from the bear the nearest Torn-ga sprang to his feet, and the next instant a dozen of them were at him, hurling their short ivory lances at his side, and leaping back with amazing activity. Each lance brought forth a roar of pain and anger. One of the Torn-ga, who slipped as he sprang away, came within reach of the bear's mighty paws, and was instantly killed by a blow which tore his head half off.

This did not check the others in the least, and in three minutes it was all over. One of them ripped the bear up from throat to tail with a knife, whether of flint, ivory, or steel I could not see, but the next second they were tearing the smoking flesh with their teeth and drinking the blood. I could plainly see with the telescope their fierce blood-stained faces, like a pack of human wolves; it was a sickening sight.

I might have made some long-range practice on them with the rifle, but, to tell the truth, I had had enough of them; I only wanted to get away. They did not take the least interest in our movements now, though they had chased us relentlessly for forty miles or so. I can offer no conjecture why, but they dared not come on the land. Repulsive travesties of human beings though they were, they possessed courage of a very high order; some mysterious law of their being ordained they must live and murder only on the salt sea.

Turning my attention to the sleds, I found In-noya giving Panne-lou some weak brandy-and-water we had placed in a flask in his blankets. She was self-possessed enough, but a few tears stole down her cheeks as she replaced the revolver in its case and fastened the strap. That she would have turned it on herself at the last, when all chance was gone, I have not the slightest doubt. Lion-hearted In-noya, may you get a mate more worthy of you, and some day be the mother of many children filled with your own heroic courage, and cool, resourceful mind; it will be a great thing for your tribe and race.

We pushed on up the rise of the tableland, travelled over it for an hour, built an igloo, and turned in. We were foodless, exhausted, and our eyes bloodshot and red-lidded for want of sleep—but we were safe.

My narrative has already extended in length far beyond my anticipation, and to detail our return is unnecessary. We found deer plentiful, nursed Panne-lou back to life, and reached Leopold Island on 15th April. I might have gone on to the depot, short as we were of dogs, but Sal-pinna's foot required constant dressing, for the stitches had all burst, and neither she nor, of course, Panne-lou could walk. My arm, too, had become badly swollen, and gave me some trouble, the slight wounds I received in the fight at the floe-edge festering and causing me a lot of pain. It was fortunate I had attended to them promptly, as they were undoubtedly very poisonous.

I therefore decided to wait at Leopold Island for my ship. The kayak—In-noya's suggestion, by-the-bye—was most useful, and we were not short of food during our nearly four months' detention there. Personally, I felt I had had enough of the floe-edge, and hunted deer on the mainland; but the natives were unafraid, asserting positively that nothing was ever seen of the Torn-ga east of North Somerset.

It was almost impossible to get the natives to talk about them at all, but during my stay at Leopold Island I dragged a little information out of Panne-lou.

The Torn-ga have been seen lying on the rocks off-shore, but never on the land. He said they bred on Spirit Island, which was 'their land,' but was very vague about it, and stated that no natives had ever come from there who had seen them ashore.

'Have any ever gone there?' I asked.

'Ar-my' ('I don't know'), he replied evasively, adding that they (the Torn-ga) were 'all the same as seals, and lived in the water.'

'Why don't they come here, or to Ponds Bay, if they live in the water?' I asked.

'I don't know,' he replied. 'No one knows about them but the Spirits of the Dead, and it is not good to talk about them at all, lest evil befall you.'

This was all I could get out of him, and I found it just as unsatisfactory an explanation of the mystery as, no doubt, the reader will; but it is all I have to offer from the natives.

On 2nd August my ship hove in sight, and I heard that the Great War had been raging for a year. A few days later we were back at the depot. It was sad news I brought for the Eskimos gathered to welcome their friends home. I do not know if Panne-lou told them the true story. I mentioned it to no one, white man or Eskimo.

I have tried to write this narrative as plainly and as straightforwardly as I could, always remembering it will be read by people most of whom are unfamiliar with Arctic conditions, and the mode of life and travel there. This must be my excuse for often being prolix. I might have added some more pages of details of my journey, but these had nothing to do with the main object—namely, making public the existence of a hitherto unheard and undreamt of animal in the Far North.

A scientific friend of mine returned me the MS. of this narrative with the following pithy comment: 'Liven it up a bit; it's dull enough to be true.' Had I the gift of imagination, and some literary skill, I have no doubt I could improve the story and 'liven it up a bit' with some touches of thrilling incidents to make it far more sensational and exciting—and far less truthful.

Later the same friend commenced to demonstrate to me the absurdity of the idea that the human organism could exist in the water as its habitat. I do not claim the Torn-ga are human, and I know nothing of their organism. Eons ago, before life existed on the land of this planet, it was, we now know, in full swing in its waters, and the lineal descendants of the animals of those unknown ages are the seals, walruses, and whales, which in countless numbers make their home in the icy waters of the Arctic Seas.

I once read in some magazine an account of a fossil skeleton found in Java which was neither ape nor man. Pithecanthropus, they called him. Why may not the seas, where life first began, have some yet undiscovered secrets of primeval life hidden in these lonely Arctic waters, teeming as they are with warm-blooded life? Why! . . . Pah! what's the use? I am no scientist. I cannot prove my assertion with long words; but I know what I have seen, and fought, and killed. I know what gave me the five odd-looking little scars I carry on my left arm, and where I got the small ivory lance of narwhal horn which hangs on my wall. These are enough for me. And I know, too, what the terror of the hunted animal is when Death is following swiftly on its trail.

Let some naturalist winter where I have been, and bring home his specimens—dead or alive. But he will not get an Eskimo from Hudson Bay to Lancaster Sound to stay there with him; and for me—well I there is not enough money in America and Europe together to tempt me to visit Spirit Island again.

Back to Cryptofiction
Air-Serpent | The Biologist's Quest | The Blue Cockroach | Demons of the Sea | The Golden Rat | The Lizard | A Matter of Fact | The Shame of Gold | The Shining Pyramid | A Tropical Horror
Wildmen

Cryptofiction

Bug Cryptofiction

Sea Monster Cryptofiction

Dino Cryptofiction

Sign of the Spider

Beyond the Great South Wall

Killer Plants

Chambers' Cryptofiction

Lost Worlds, Strange Beasts