The waves sweep lazily as two hunters set out early in the morning. Their boat skids across the ocean’s surface like sunlight off a blade. Natsiqsiuriatuuk. Those two hunt ringed seals named after the beautiful rings mottling their fur.
The hunters scan the horizon for the familiar bob of a head. Despite living the majority of their lives underwater, seals have to come up for air sooner or later. And when they do the hunters’ will be waiting, rifle in hand. However, this early in the season seals lack the winter fat that makes them float once shot. So the hunters use a long hook called a niksik to haul in their catch before it can sink. At the foot of the boat, beside the niksik, lay an unaaq or harpoon for whaling. Fastened to a thin line at the tip of the harpoon a sharp detachable head called a sakkut perches. In some dialects, sakkut is also the word for bullets. In the end, they both serve the same, ultimate purpose.
“Your woman won’t go hungry today!” Carson says with a grin. “One shot! Be all she wrote!” Jesse scowls behind the boat’s wheel. This was not the first time Carson had made comments about his girlfriend, Stefanie. When all three of them were together tension thrummed in the air like a buried cable which made a black volt of insecurity creep up Jesse’s spine. Something’s got to give.
“Don’t worry, I’ll take care of her.” Carson smiles patting his rifle. Jesse’s eyes roll as the engine revs.
Arching overhead, the sun burns. A tiny dark head breaks the surface. “Two o’clock!” Jesse says pointing. “Let’s go, one shot!” Carson sights down his rifle to see a small, black head slip beneath the waves. “Damn!” Carson spits. “Stef’s goin’ hungry after all.”
“He’ll be back.” Jesse says thin-lipped as he eyes the rifle. “He’s curious.”
“Yeah, well, we know how that went for the cat.” Carson grumbles.
“He kept coming back.” Jesse chuckles and they both share a laugh.
The hunters had grown up together and it felt good to be reminded of that once and a while, despite how odd things had become between them. Getting old was weird.
“Eleven o’clock!” Jesse exclaims. Carson spins, sights, and fires in one expert, fluid shot. However, when the bullet skips down the waves past the seal Carson pauses, studying his rifle, “You been playin’ with my gun or what?”
Jesse scoffs and spins the wheel. Inhaling, deep emerald fills his lungs. He can taste seaweed, algae, and stone. Studying the waves, waiting for the seal, Jesse can’t help but wonder, how long could the seal stay down there?
“Three o’clock!” Jesse yells. Carson peers down his sight, holding his breath. The boat dips with the waves as the small head appears in the crosshairs. Carson exhales and the seal’s head snaps back in a spray of foam and blood.
“DAMN!” Jesse yells as the boat motors. When they stop, Carson grabs his niksik and peers over the edge. “Where’d ya go?” He turns to the other side. “Tricksy seal.”
In the distance a head bobs out of the water. Jesse grabs his binoculars and laughs. “Your friend doesn’t seem to care half his head’s missing!” Carson brings the binoculars to his face.
“... the hell?” He whispers as the hideous thing slips underneath. “Atii!” He sneers between his teeth as the boat presses on. Chasing after the seal, soon they navigate icebergs adrift from lord knows where. The hunters stare at the frozen monoliths and wonder - how far have they gone?
The boat slows, the ocean is eerily calm. The air thrums quietly like a gentle storm; damp and electric. “Twelve o’clock!” Jesse’s shouts behind his binoculars. His voice drops, “He’s making fun of us now.” Carson peers down his scope and holds his breath as the seal bobs. An eye drips languidly from the seal’s half dead skull.
A grisly flap of skin hangs from its ruby skull. Raw violence issues out of the hole of its face. Carson exhales and pulls the trigger. What remains of the seal’s head explodes into the waves in a burst of sun and gore. The seal bobs once more then slowly falls back into the water. Carson slowly looks up from his rifle and turns to Jesse. Jesse does not meet his gaze, only stares out grimly as he throttles the engine.
Yurak Undead Seal (2023)© THE ARTIST
As the boat slows, Carson grabs the niksik. Jesse takes the rifle in an absent daze. Something’s got to give. Jesse inhales deeply and the scent of blood is thick in the air. Copper. Iron. Seaweeed. A sinister undercurrent charges his grip. Something’s got to give. “It's gotta be dead!” Carson blurts over the side of the boat. “It’s got to be right here!” A whisper escapes Jesse’s lips.
“Here.” Carson turns as the rifle butt cracks across his face. Dumbfounded, Carson looks up to his friend’s cold gaze peering down the business end of the gun.
“Hey, what the…” Carson surrenders. Blood trickles down his brow. “W-what’s going on...”
“I’ll tell you what’s going on,” Jesse tightens his aim. “Stef, hmm?” Burnt gunpowder wafts into Carson’s eyes. “Don’t fuckin’ lie to me. You know what I mean.”
“Nothing’s going on, you’re my friend I’d n-” Carson’s words stumble. Jesse snaps the rifle bolt back. The ejected case bounces and raps across the deck sharply.
“DON’T FUCKING LIE TO ME!” Jesse screams, his eyes shimmering white.
“W-we were gonna tell you!” Carson blubbers, his hands over his face. “I’m sorry! I don’t… you're my...” Tears streak down his face. Jesse’s grip wavers. “You were my...” Carson cowers and shrinks. Now, Jesse sees him. Really sees him, the same loud-mouth, lonely kid he grew up with, dying for attention. Jesse lets the barrel drop. His gaze shifts upwards and lingers over sunlight, waves, and silence. His breath shudders. The surface ripples. In the water something stirs. Jesse’s eyes narrow.
Underneath, a shape vague, dark, and immense swims beautifully, elegantly. Jesse stares reverently. His hand stretches out quietly to his friend. Carson takes it slowly, cautiously. As he stands a tusk breaks the surface, its body slender and brown. A narwhal. Jesse quickly leans over the edge. He raises his rifle and aims point blank. The deafening crack of an empty magazine snaps both hunters’ heads around. Carson turns to his friend, his eyes wide.
“You didn’t know it was empty, did you?” Jesse stomps past Carson, grabbing his unaaq. Carson mutters underneath his breath. “No wonder she’s cheating on you.” Jesse glares at his friend before his gaze turns to his sakkut. He sees its bare line coiled in the prow.
“We’ll deal with that later!” Jesse yells as he motions towards the floats on the side of the boat. “Tie a float on! Quick!” Carson turns his head and dives for the line. He slams a bright float down beside himself. Jesse grumbles as he stands, unaaq raised. “Guess we’re both assholes.” Spiraled ivory pierces the dark. “Hurry!”
“Don’t wait on me!” Carson yells as his hands blur with the line. The narwhal swims closer. Closer. Jesse arches his arm back for a painful moment before tearing it down in one explosive roar. The blade strikes true, piercing the whale’s side solidly. The sakkut slips into its flesh, planting itself firmly. The whale’s high-pitch, atonal scream howls through the water. The line tears like lightning out of the boat. As he is finishing with the line something splashes across Carson’s face. He wipes at his eyes. Red smears glaze his palms. Puzzled, he looks up and is both stunned and terrified. Bobbing upright in the waves, the dead seal faces him. Its fractured spine glistening brightly beneath gnarls of curdled flesh. Hot gore gurgles out of its headless throat.
“Atii! The line!” Jesse yells as the coil suddenly thrashes about the boat like a whip and slashes across Carson’s eyes. He screams as his hands cover his face. Blood surges between his fingers. Jesse reaches for him when suddenly the line coils about his arm, drawing tight, instantly pulling him into the ocean. The waves swallow him whole. Underneath, Jesse can only watch helplessly as the narwhal’s tail disappears into the deep dark. He turns his head underwater and watches his tiny boat dwindle above. In awe and terror he sees Carson’s body crash into the waves clutching his eyes. Sinking into the dark, Jesse absently thinks he sees a small seal swimming gleefully about the wreckage of his boat.
Yurak Drowned (2023)© THE ARTIST
Jamesie Fournier enjoys exploring his culture through writing. His work has appeared in Inuit Art Quarterly, Red Rising magazine, Northern Public Affairs, Kaakuluk magazine, and the anthologies Coming Home: Stories from the Northwest Territories and Ndè Sı̀ı̀ Wet’aɂà: Northern Indigenous Voices on Land, Life & Art. His debut fiction, The Other Ones, was published in 2022 with Inhabit Media. Born and raised in Nunatsiaq - the Northwest Territories - Jamesie currently resides in Iqaluit, NU learning his culture’s language, Inuktitut.
Yurak is a multidisciplinary artist based out of Iqaluit, NU. They create from all mediums their hands can touch to spread colourful imagery, with a darker edge shown through their linework. Typically their digital art depicts genderfluid portraits embellished with kakkiniit/tunniit. Their work pours from their own identity as a non-binary Inuk and Kichwa visionary.
This series was made possible with the generous support of the Canada Council for the Arts.