No word sets fear in the hearts of Nunavut tribes' elders like winter. For many other words come along with winter. Hunger, desperation, cold, death. Everyone recognizes it as the season when all evils break loose and plague the poor Inuit people. What they all fear, however, never bothered you in the slightest. You find yourself rather fascinated by winter, you might even consider it your favorite out of all the seasons. When winter comes and the air grows even colder than usual, an unimaginable force urges you to abandon your home. Cursed land, they say, but what is cursed to them is blessed to you. And so you venture out to walk the empty, barren wastelands and tundras, the dark evergreen woods, the snowy hills and far beyond. You are compelled to go further than ever before, all the way up to them, all the way up to their homes.
As you leave your lair you look up into the grey skies above. The gentle snow that peacefully made it's way down to earth has now turned into a raging blizzard. Perfect. You love blizzards. Walking through the snow you notice something. You are not leaving any tracks behind. That does not surprise you in the slightest, though. You never have been leaving any tracks in the snow, nor has any of your kind for that matter. A benefit of living neither Here nor There, you think to yourself. Here being this world, of course, and There being... well, the other one. It was months since you had a decent meal and your hunger is now greater than you ever remember it being. As you move through the dark and gloomy woods leading away from your lair you suddenly hear a snapping of the twigs and some clumsy movement. You are not alone. Another hunter is in these woods, looking for prey. But as soon as you lay your eyes upon him you realize he is inferior. You observe him from behind a tree. He is stumbling through the snow, covered in his furry overcoat. In his hand a bow, in other, a couple of arrows. Surely he is searching for a caribou or a fox, something to satisfy his hunger. As you look at him you can't help but laugh. This is what they would probably consider an awe-worthy display of unmatched skill. If you weren't so hungry maybe you would have played a game or two with this pitiful creature, eventually giving him a hare or a piece of meat for your own amusement, but you have no time for such nonsense at this moment. Your growing hunger urge you forward. You step out in the open, preparing to pounce. He looks in your direction, but he cannot see you- another grace of existing in between Here and There. You leap over him with ease and continue to move in a new direction. The hunter turns around suddenly, confused. He could swear he saw something in the corner of his eye fly over him, bigger than a bird but inexplicably agile. For a slight moment he is halted dead in his tracks, but he quickly moves on, for cold is already biting through the thick furs he is wearing and he is yet to catch anything. He is oblivious to your presence, the poor thing.
This encounter did not present you with prey for you have no interest in consuming that one. Far too big, and probably more than a little chewy. But what it certainly did give you was some useful information. The way that this so called "hunter" came from must be the very way leading to the place he calls home, and that is where you intend to feast. You pick up the pace. Your speed is incredible, your movement graceful. On the snowy ground no man or beast can outrun you. That is why they all fear you.
The winter had become rather cold, colder than the elders had anticipated and the food ran out sooner than you hoped. A skilled hunter that you are you knew it was your duty to go out and bring back some more meat for the tribe. Nothing could grow in this inhospitable climate so the only source of food came through the hunters who did their best to provide. The elders, your fellow hunters, your family, they all counted on you and you wouldn't let them down. Being as experienced as you were you knew that the usual hunting grounds would be vacant in the middle of the winter so you didn't bother going there. The caribou had migrated elsewhere, where they can find some food and shelter from the weather, so you decided to make your way to the north toward the old forests that your people seldom visited on hunting trips. You of course hoped to find a caribou in the forest, an old specimen incapable of putting up a fight or a young one that got separated from the herd, but deep down you knew the chances of that were slim to none. A smaller animal would do. You just had to catch something, anything. You mustn't return empty handed. At home your wife and your young child patiently await your return.
The snow is deep, making any sort of movement difficult. You are making more noise than you'd prefer, but it's the only way to move forward. On the bright side the blizzard should be covering most of that noise up, giving you an opportunity to sneak up on an animal. You are experienced with the bow and have no doubt that you could hit the prey if you were to spot something, but it seems that luck isn't on your side. You haven't come across a single animal for the past hour or so. You decide to venture further into the woods, despite what the elders had told you. The feeling of unease hits you almost immediately, but you do your best to shake it off. It is then that you notice something odd. In the corner of your eye, on a nearby hill just behind a tree you see a caribou standing and observing you, but as soon as you turn to face it, it disappears. Was it ever there in the first place? Your mind must be playing tricks on you. Your hunger paired with the cold have surely taken a toll, you started seeing caribous where there are none. You consider returning for a short while, but you know that you must push on. You mustn't lose hope. As elder Amaqjuaq often said: "The caribou will hide behind the very first hill you decide not to climb." You prepare to move on when another hallucination flashes in the corner of you eye. A shadow, flying over you. Could it have been a bird? No birds can fly during this kind of weather and you know that. You slowly proceed, but your feeling of unease has now turned into full blown dread.
There it is. It took you a while, but you finally found it. The small village in which the hunter's kin live. Long ago they were your kin, too, but that was so long ago that you could no longer recall what it felt like and to be honest, you had no wish to associate yourself with these weak and cowardly beings anyway. They hid in their fur-covered homes, praying silently that the winter would end, unlike you, a mighty hunter. For a moment you sit there, at the very edge of their village, observing with utter disgust. At first nothing moves, but then you notice a small figure at the other end of the village. Running around in circles and jumping around is a small boy, one that couldn't have seen more than 5 winters by your judgement. You listen carefully and hear him sing a song, such a jolly song. It is strange to hear a happy voice in the midst of a winter blizzard, unnatural even. It intrigues you, it makes you come closer to it's source. You are a hunter, after all, and this is an opportunity you simply can't pass up. You silently move between their homes. Now that you stand so much closer to the little figure you notice it's striking resemblance to the man you noticed in the woods just a short while ago. It even wears a similar fur coat, albeit smaller. How sweet it looks, hopping around in the snow. You can practically feel your mouth watering.
It is time for you to earn your meal. Your hunting tactics are different from that of a polar bear in many a way. While the great and mighty bear uses his brute strength and persistence to end the struggle of his victims you have a different, more devious approach. Your victims rarely struggle.
Incredible, your luck may have turned for the better after all. Just when you managed to catch two decent sized hares and a fox, you spot a baby caribou on the top of the hill. You are slightly nervous as you aim the arrow and pull the bowstring back, but as soon as you release relief engulfs you. With a single well placed arrow you end it's life. It is not much, but it can last your family and the rest of the tribe for a couple of days, weeks maybe, at least until this horrible blizzard blows over. Then you can go out again, or some other hunter can do so instead. All you need to do now is make your way back, and do so as quickly as you can. Despite your hunting success you still can't shake that feeling from earlier. You could swear upon your son that you saw a caribou out there, staring you down. Not a baby caribou like this one, a big caribou, huge even. One so unnaturally big that it couldn't have been real. And then the shadow that you saw speed over you just a moment later. Even now you feel odd, disoriented. Despite you being the best navigator in the tribe it takes you a moment to gather your thoughts and, with incredible mental strain, figure out your way. Ever since you came to this new area you felt this unpleasant sensation of being watched. You hurry through the snow, back in the general direction you came from.
"Come over here, boy! Come see the caribou!" comes a voice from outside. It sounds funny due to the blizzard. Something about it is out of the ordinary, but no living man could put his finger on it. Nanurjuk, the boy's mom, jumps in excitement. It is her husband's voice she hears coming from outside the igloo. He must have returned with food! There is no doubt about him being the best hunter in the tribe. She hears her son's joyous words as she quickly grabs her coat. Once more the voice calls out, but more distant this time, as if he was leaving in haste and urging his son to follow him.
"Come, it's just over here, in the woods. Help me carry it to the village, quickly now."
She dons her furs and storms out to embrace her husband, help him carry his catch if it proves too heavy of a burden for their little son. At first she can't see anything upon leaving the igloo, due to the blizzard. She looks around, toward the woods. A scream echoes throughout the village.
You are quite close now. Only a couple of more minutes of walk and you will be at the village at long last. Then you will be able to give the rest what you have caught, return some much needed hope to the tribe. Just like the elder Amaqjuaq always said, the only thing that makes a situation hopeless is people giving up. This winter may have taken a turn for the worse but that doesn't mean that you will in any way--
A blood curdling scream comes from beyond the hill. It is your wife that screams.
Your blood runs cold as you sprint toward the village, with only the worst thoughts on your mind. As you reach the village you drop your burden and rush to your wife.
"My son... my boy..."she keeps repeating through tears and curses.
Other tribe members gather around your wife who is now kneeling on the cold snow, trembling. You kneel beside her and try to gather something out of her incoherent words. You are glad to see her alive and unharmed, for you suspected a polar bear or some other beast had sneaked into the village, wreaking havoc. But when you hear her repeat your son's name with such pain in her voice you quickly look around the crowd. He is not there. You stand up, looking around, shoving your fellow hunters as you do so, calling his name. Where is he?
"Where is he?!" you yell at the top of your lungs, your question seemingly swallowed by the blizzard as your wife erupts into bitter tears once more.
"He was taken into the woods" she responds "holding a caribou's hand and listening to the words it spoke in your voice."
The same feeling of dread overflows you. The caribou you saw on that hill... could it have been? You haven't seen it well enough to tell but something was definitely wrong about it. Could it have been the very caribou that supposedly took your son? That makes no sense, what your wife tells you is that the caribou spoke. No, no. There must be some mistake at play. She must have mistaken the howling wind for a voice and... but why would your son follow it?
You look around, tears in your eyes. Your wife tugs at your coat, pulling you closer.
"With my own two eyes I saw it. And I swear to you by all the Gods, as it entered the woods it turned around toward me, and for brief a moment I saw you looking at me, smiling."
What a tasty meal he shall be, you think to yourself. The best you have had in a long while, perhaps ever. Happily the boy follows you into the woods, hand in hand. You go deeper and deeper, the village now far behind you. You can tell that the boy is slightly hesitant to go that far out but he trusts you enough to continue.
"Is it close, pap?" asks the little fur covered thing.
"Just over that hill" you answer, your voice taking on a more sinister tone.
"And it is big and tasty and will make sure to satisfy your little tummy for ever and ever."
You no longer bother to keep your disguise up, nor do you attempt to match the boy's pace- your hunger is getting the best of you. You move quicker and quicker, dragging the boy behind you. His eyes open wide and his mouth contorts into a hushed scream as he sees you for a brief moment before he loses consciousness. Fur covering your body, you move across the snow using your caribou-like hind legs to run and your arms ending in sharp claws to hold the unconscious boy tight. Your antlers are hitting against the tree branches as you run by, snow melting on your human-like face. You can't wait until you reach you lair once more, for you can finally quench your hunger for months to come. Until the next winter, perhaps.
Ijirait were shape-shifting malevolent spirits of Inuit mythology. They were said to be Inuits who ventured too far to the north during their hunts and got stuck between the world of the living and that of the dead. They were known to target children and hunters alike in their deceits, looking to consume their victims. Ijirait were invisible to the eyes of regular Inuits, only appearing as odd caribous when spotted in the corner of one's eye or alternatively in the form that they desired to take on. Their true form could only be observed by shamans and was said to be that of regular Inuit people with sideways placed eyes and mouth. One of the signs of a hunter approaching Ijiraq's habitat was the sudden sense of disorientation accounted for by the curse cast upon the land Ijirait lived in. Ijirait have not been forgotten for there are numerous claims of their existence to this very day. Some Inuit hunters who didn't stray from their old way of living swear that upon reaching certain areas they felt oddly disoriented, watched or even heard voices whispering curses at them. Multiple hunters from different tribes made these testimonies and the areas they described seem to check out and remain consistent through the stories, the similarity of their experiences making an interesting and slightly terrifying case for the existence of Ijirait.