's 2014 Horror Write-off:

" The Qallupilluit "

Submitted by Nicholas Dennison

Like all the other children in our camp by the sea, my brother and I had grown up on stories of the Qallupilluit. Hideous, pale, misshapen creatures with long swathes of seaweed for hair, row upon row of small, needle-like teeth set in a mouth too large for their round little heads; long, thin limbs that were deceptively strong and fingers with a grip that was unbreakable once they had you in it. It was said in the stories that although they wore furs like humans, walked upright like humans, and could even speak like humans, all of this belied their true nature as they spoke only with the voices of their previous victims and lived only to kidnap children to stay with them under the sea ice.

There were some stories in which the Qallupilluit would eat the kidnapped children instead, but I preferred the stories in which they didn't. I liked to imagine that the Qallupilluit were trying to be human, copying our clothes, our steps, and our words, but they were missing that mysterious, vitally human element and so needed children to teach them. The thought of a small child holding lessons for such creatures would make me giggle while the elders told their stories, which was frowned upon, so I did my best to keep those thoughts to myself.

There was one elder I liked, though, because she didn't just tell me to be quiet and listen when I giggled. She asked me after one particular story what I was always giggling about, and because she was the only elder who had ever asked, I told her. She gave me a bemused smile, but I saw a touch of sadness in her eyes as she wagged a crooked finger at me and told me to banish such thoughts from my head. She told me not to pretend that the Qallupilluit could be taught to be human, that they were unchangeably dangerous and to even entertain the thought that they could be otherwise was to flirt with a cold and eternal sleep below the waves. I went home that day a little shaken; her voice had taken on an unnervingly serious tone as she had said that, but I put it out of my mind with the thought that the Qallupilluit weren't real anyway, and my little thoughts about how they might be were harmless.

A few days later, as Father was preparing to leave on another trip, my little brother was once again trying desperately to convince him that he was old enough to go. Father once again denied all of his pleas, but this time, he gave my little brother some hope in the form of a promise for a hunting trip this same time next year. My little brother was overjoyed and immediately began running from tent to tent to tell everyone in the camp all about it. I had known about this trip for some time now; I had overheard Father and Mother discussing it late at night after they thought we had both fallen asleep. All the same, his excitement was contagious, and all four of us danced around the fire that evening in celebration.

We saw Father and the rest of the hunting party off the next morning along with the rest of the camp, with my little brother waving the most enthusiastically of anyone. As soon as they left, he set about practicing the hunting techniques that Father had taught him, making sure that the spare equipment Father left behind was in working order-the knots in the nets had to be tied properly, the spearheads firmly attached to their shafts. Mother and I let him busy himself with these tasks; Mother mended some holes that he had worn into furs he was quickly growing out of and I began stitching together some furs to make into new, proper hunting attire for him for next year .

A particularly angry blizzard tore through the camp and the surrounding area that winter. Father and the rest of the hunting party were delayed in their return, and my little brother was as worried about Father as he was excited about their future hunting trip. Mother and I tried to console him, to convince him that the likes of this blizzard was nothing Father hadn't overcome before, but he was having none of it. During this blizzard, a particularly loud gust of wind woke me to the sight of my little brother's sleeping area vacant, with the furs Mother had mended and Father's spare hunting supplies missing. Mother herself was nowhere to be found as well; I learned later that Mother, once she discovered my little brother was missing, had gone from tent to tent to form a search party. Nonetheless, with no one around, I felt it was my duty as the older sibling to go out and find him myself lest he freeze in the blizzard.

As luck would have it, not only did I find my little brother not too far from the camp, but he himself was within sight of the hunting party he had set out to find. They had been quite close to the camp when he left; they had headed directly out onto the sea ice to hunt for seals. I heard him call out to Father just as I was about to call out to him, and Father and the hunting party turned just in time to see the ice beneath my little brother's feet give way as he plunged into the chilling water. What they didn't see in the whirling snow, however, was the pale, claw-like hand that had broken the ice in the first place, grabbed my little brother's ankle, and pulled him below.

No one believed me when I told them what I saw. They said the ice had just broken under his weight, that the Qallupilluit were just stories that parents told their children to keep them away from the ice. Father blamed himself for not being able to save him, Mother blamed herself for being unable to find him, and I blamed myself for thinking my thoughts about the Qallupilluit, that I had dared them to prove just how inhuman they were. Together, Father and Mother built a small inukshuk out of stones lying around the camp so the effigy could keep his spirit close to home. I couldn't talk to them about what I saw; the only person I could confide in about the event was the elder I had spoken to before. She was the only one who gave my story about the event any more than a passing thought.

I visited the elder the next day. I couldn't help but go on at length about how it was all my fault, how I should have heard him leaving and stopped him, how I should have found him sooner, how the Qallupilluit had heard my thoughts about them wanting to be human and taken my little brother to punish me for thinking them. By the time I was finished my eyes were red and puffy from sobbing, and the only sounds I could make were sniffles and hiccups. The elder held me as I cried, stroking my hair and comforting me with soft, whispered words, and once I had finished, she offered to tell me of her own encounter with the Qallupilluit.

She had been a small girl when she was taken by them. She does not remember much of the event itself, except that she had been playing dangerously close to the water during the winter. She said being taken had felt much like falling asleep, and when she "awoke", she was back on the ice, watching her own older sister being pulled under by the Qallupilluit. Her older sister had discarded her furs, and they and a small stone lay next to the hole in the ice through which she was being pulled. The elder had scrambled to grab hold of her sister to pull her back up, but one of the Qallupilluit made a sudden move to leap out of the water and pin her to the ice with its deathly cold hands.

It leaned in close and whispered to her with a voice that had once belonged to a boy my brother's age, breath reeking of rotten fish, telling her of the bargain her older sister had struck. She had bashed a hole in the ice with the stone, screaming to the Qallupilluit to return her sister. She had said she would give anything, including herself, in exchange for her, and the Qallupilluit had agreed to this on the condition that she remove her furs to show that she had truly embraced the cold. After she complied, they allowed the elder's sister to lift her out of the ice through the hole she had made.

After explaining the bargain, the Qallupilluit that had leapt out of the water returned to the hole, honouring the bargain and leaving the elder unharmed-the elder's older sister now belonged to them instead, and the elder was theirs no longer. She gathered her older sister's furs and the stone she had used to bash in the ice and returned to the village. Once she returned, she placed the stone onto a small inukshuk that had been built just outside her family's tent. Her parents immediately began treating the hypothermia as soon as they found her, removing the wet furs and warming her up near their fire. She and her family agreed to never speak of the event again, choosing only to tell the rest of the camp that her older sister had perished rescuing her from the ice.

The look on the elder's face as she told me this story was one of great pain, but after hearing it, I knew what I had to do. I thanked the elder, gathered myself, and left, not telling the elder about my plan as I knew she would try to stop me. I did not tell Father nor Mother where I was going either, as they would try to stop me too; I simply returned home to retrieve a stone from my little brother's inukshuk and headed out to the ice immmediately. When I got there, I removed my furs and began bashing in the ice as the elder's sister had, calling to the Qallupilluit to make the bargain. I ignored the biting wind as it whipped my hair around my face and I ignored the blood the stone began to draw from my hand.

The wind that had howled around me since I left the camp fell silent suddenly, though I could still see it blowing snow across the ice. The only sound was the Qallupilluit, singing in unison with the voices of one hundred children, one of which stood out from the others as that of my little brother. They sang of the futility of fighting the winter cold, of the peace of allowing oneself to become one with the ice and snow . The longer they sang to me, the more my mind wanted me to just surrender myself to their lullaby, and the harder it became to remember why I was there in the first place. Sharp cracks in the ice began to form from where I had been bashing in the ice, breaking it and forming a large hole from which a single Qallupilluit emerged, carrying my brother in its unnaturally long arms.

The singing stopped as abruptly as it began, leaving nothing but dead silence. My brother's face was as grey as the Qallupilluit's; he was fast asleep, not even stirring as the Qallupilluit bent over to place him on the ice. As it stood again, shifting in its furs, it surveyed me with its large black eyes and smiled wide and lipless to expose all of its jagged, pointed teeth. It was far taller than Father even with its hunched posture, and I shook violently with both fear and penetrating cold as I endured its gaze. It made a sweeping gesture toward the hole from which it had emerged, and I walked slowly and stiffly toward it and lowered myself in, the Qallupilluit following behind me.

I kept my eyes closed as I did so, even after I was fully submerged. I felt the unbreakable grip of one hundred icy hands pulling me deeper and deeper, but the fear I had felt had vanished, replaced by a calm emptiness. They began to sing their numbing lullaby again, with the water growing colder and colder, but the chill bothered me not and I needed no breath. I felt the tickle of their seaweed hair swirling about me as though feeling it through someone else, with the sensation only leaving when they released me from their grip. They had taken me to the rocky bottom, and I could not swim back up even if I had tried; my arms and legs became heavier and heavier as it became harder and harder to just stay conscious. I listened to the lullaby of the Qallupilluit, and as sleep began to take me at last, I forgot Mother's smile, Father's laugh, and the sensation of my little brother's hand in mine.

I embraced my peace beneath the ice.