Today we are featuring Inklings Book Contest 2021 finalist Isabelle Ling! Isabelle finished 7th grade this past school year. We hope you enjoy Isabelle’s story!

By Isabelle Ling

In the middle of an expansive misty forest full of dark mossy trees and ominous hanging vines lay a rather large clearing. It was the home to Enolho people for centuries. Nearby a whitewater river with a jolting cold taste flowed all the way to the ocean. Enolho people shared the land with many free-roaming animals, like deer and elk. 

In the tribe village, a girl was playing with her deer hide doll. It was very skillfully crafted and sewn together. Her parents named the girl Hausu but she, only 6 years of age, wasn’t happy with it and made everyone call her Serina.

Serina was patiently waiting for the men to return from the hunt. Finally when her father led the team back, he gripped a glossy oakwood bow in his right hand and dragged a long piece of redwood tree trunk in his left hand. Serina dashed toward the men as her long dark hair swept behind her. 

“Father, what is the trunk for?” asked Serina with her gentle brown eyes wide open. Her father bent down to greet her as her small frame made him appear ever taller.

“We are going to build a boat from the trunk. Serina, would you like to come?” 

Serina, being a wild adventurous young girl, agreed immediately and ran off with him.

Serina and her father split the large tree trunk in half, hollowed out the pieces, and smoothed the surfaces. From a smaller tree, they carved out two pairs of oars. The work was laborious but the thought of boating soon away gave her enthusiasm to complete the boat quickly. 

On top of that, her father said, “We should pick a good day to have a spin on the sea.” This made Serina go ecstatic, as normally she could only row on the lake.

On the sea, Serina was having a blast. This was way better than any boat ride on a lake. She and her father sailed for quite some time before Serina suddenly felt thirsty. Naturally, she leaned aside to cup her hands into the ocean to get some water. But her father stopped her. 

“Stop it, Serina.”

“Why not? Why can’t we drink water from the ocean? I am really thirsty, Father.”

“You just can’t.” Her father retained his calm and continued, “From generation to generation, parents tell their children not to drink from the ocean. The ocean is tainted by other tribes like the volcano people. It brings bad luck to us all. So don’t drink from it!”

“But I am thirsty. Just a sip?”

“No! Besides, I can see the shores. We can rush back.”

Serina, still unsatisfied, wondered if there was a reason why she mustn’t taste ocean water. Some of her play pals had told her they disobeyed the order and found how nice it tasted. 

What if the ocean tastes different from stream water? She constantly wondered. I guess I will never know. Her curious young mind was very focused on it and throughout the boating trip back, she was pondering about it. 

That night, Serina was tired out but felt happy overall. She pulled the covers and fell fast asleep. In the middle of the night, a distant roar woke Serina. Then came a few more, each one louder than the one before it. They seemed to be miles off. She got up and looked out through her window opening. She then saw her tribemates already assembled in the clearing. With torches in their hands, they were looking worriedly to the east.

“The roar came from Bear Village. The bears are blood-thirsty creatures and have taken out some of our warriors.” Her father explained grimly in a hushed voice. The warriors seemed to be getting ready to fight but made an effort not to wake up the rest of the tribe people. 

Bear Village was often brought up as a warning to teach children to be good or they would end up there, dead! Most children would panic at the thought of the bears but not Serina. She could not help but wonder what bears were like. 

She ran out to her father and the men and asked, “Father, can I come? Do you need help? I want to check out Bear Village.” She immediately went silent at the castigating look of her tribemates and realized that clearly, the bears were feared.

“We Enolho people don’t come near Bear Village. Only the warriors can go there to defend our safety. So return to bed, Serina.” Her father said sternly. It was the end of the discussion. 

A few weeks later, on one sunny afternoon, Serina was playing with her doll once again. But she could not forget about what her father said. It was very bizarre. Suddenly she heard a faint roar in the distance that seemed like it could be from a bear. She looked out but no one else seemed to have heard. Tribemates were busy so Serina figured that no one would probably notice if she went off for a while. 

Serina’s mind went back and forth arguing about whether or not to go. The impulsive side won and Serina started running towards the noise, as fast as her small but strong legs could carry her. Growing up, she would love to run with the wind. She loved the feeling of the ground beneath her, her long hair whipping behind her, and the pitter-patter of her bare feet on the dirt and grassy ground. The roar sounded closer, as she leapt over a bubbling stream. Soon what came to view was a dashing village in a clearing. Instead of the dry crackly huts that she was used to, these homes were many smooth and dark stone caves. Surrounding the village were bushes filled with ripe and juicy berries.

Yikes, thought tired Serina, I have entered Bear Village. She wasn’t exactly sure if she was excited or scared. All the horror stories her aunts told her flashed back. Tiny hair at the back of her neck stood up to remind her to tread carefully ahead. Ahead?! Serina confirmed with herself. She could not help it.

After an hour or so of searching, she stumbled on a big tree. Serina thought it was an odd-looking oak tree, so she climbed up as she would usually do for acorns. Suddenly, the tree swayed, then rocked and even roared. The roar could be heard perhaps a mile away.

“Oh no, this is NOT a tree!” Serina yelped in a scared voice. It was a big grizzly bear that threw her down to the ground with thick leaves from the past years. The bear yawned and stretched as if it was waking up from a lengthy winter nap. When the bear stood up completely, his furry torso seemed intimidating and his neatly sharpened claws made him even more so. Serina regretted and said to herself, This is the precise moment I leave this world.

“What are you doing in my humble home?” said a low but soft voice.

Serina couldn’t believe her ears or eyes. “Am I hearing what I think I heard? Are you going to eat me? Am I dead already?”

“Don’t be silly,” reaffirmed the low, soft and comforting voice.

“Wow, a talking bear! Nice to meet you. Well,” Serina said slowly, “I heard a roar and I thought maybe my tribemate is getting attacked and needs help! Here I am. My name is Hausu but call me Serina. Wait– how can you talk in my tongue?!” It isn’t every day that you could see a bear speaking to you. 

After a long pause, probably studying this human girl in front of her, the bear said, “Yes, we are always able to talk. To the spirit-minded listeners, that is. That makes you one great listener. By the way, my name is Little Bear. We bears are very peaceful. Only one bear was ever mean, but he ran off a long time ago. As they say, one bad acorn ruins the whole bunch.” 

“Hmm, if it were up to me, I would call you Giant Bear.” Serina chuckled. She found it curious as her original name, Hausu, means yawning bear waking at dawn

After another pause, Little Bear said, “Sorry about the roars. I thought I was going to fall.” 

Serina soon found that Little Bear was a funny and friendly companion. And with that, they were best buddies, more so than any other tribe friend her own age. 

Together they went on many fun and exciting adventures through the forest and down the coast, and they were both really good at keeping secrets. Little Bear taught Serina to catch fish and to reciprocate, Serina taught Little Bear to set snares.

Soon came Serina’s 7th birthday. Her father gave her a newer, less worn down boat but with a fresh coat of dark green paint, made from many leaves. The green paint made the boat look so nice, and Serina ecstatic. She enjoyed the birthday present so much that she took Little Bear on a boating trip on an early morning – to avoid being seen. The gentle fall breeze was soothing and the orange and red trees were drifting down.

On the boat, Little Bear timidly said, “I have a gift for you.” 

Serina was so happy she didn’t expect any more gifts.“Oh, how kind of you!” exclaimed Serina. 

So Little Bear pulled out a clay oval jar. On the side of the jar marked the words “Bear Village.” Oh, it was something passed from generation to generation. Little Bear carefully opened the jar, inside of which lay white sand-like grains except this had an odd sparkle to it.

The bear explained, “This is something we call salt. It is edible and the taste is really interesting, almost tangy. We usually take a tiny amount with lots of water to make drinks that quench our thirst. If you eat it directly, it’d hurt your tongue. I have no idea as to how it was made. Better keep it safe!”

 Little Bear scooped one palm-full of ocean water and winked at Serina. Serina immediately got it and dropped a few grains of salt. Both took turns to sip from it and laughed a good laugh. “Yummm!” Serina completely forgot about her father’s warnings. If it makes you happy, it can’t be that bad, said Serina later to herself.

When the harsh cold winter came, Serina had to stop visiting Little Bear secretly, especially since all the tribemates were getting sick. Instead, Serina helped the sick with foul smelling herbs as treatment, until she too fell ill. It appeared over half her tribe was sick and the prey was limited too. Most days there would be little to nothing to eat.

The spring promised new crops and better prey; to everyone’s satisfaction, the sick tribemates gradually healed. And Serina could finally visit Little Bear. They were happy to see each other and had much to catch up on. 

Serina and Little Bear went exploring in their dense forest. They had so much fun and stumbled upon a cave. It seemed like a random cave surrounded with thick trees and no living creatures for miles. Without hesitation, Serina rushed in. However Little Bear was more cautious and followed slowly and cautiously. The cave had sparkling crystals at the cave ceiling and lots of cave paintings. Simultaneously, Serina and Little Bear gasped. “Salt paintings!” The cave paintings depicted men and bears having fun, living side by side. 

“Our ancestors were friends!” Serina shouted, the echo bouncing off each wall.

“Why did it stop?” Little Bear asked, “Why did your father and his father tell everyone to stay away from us?”

Serina gave no answer because she was examining the paintings for clues. They looked around and saw, in several paintings, one particularly large bear – much larger than other bears anyway – burning up the human villages and the humans driving away the bears with spears and torches.
“That’s the bear everyone is scared of. He burns up the villages to make the humans follow his orders.” Little Bear said.

“That’s only one bear though. WE COULD BRING BACK WORKING TOGETHER!” Serina was really excited and shrieked, “BYE! I’M GOING HOME TO TELL MY VILLAGE.” And with that, she sped out of the cave, leaving Little Bear behind. Little Bear examined the rest of the paintings. Somehow, it felt like someone was watching as Little Bear shivered. The last picture showed a lone bear hunting and plotting revenge against the villagers. Little Bear ran out of the cave as fast as her paws could carry him. 

Back at Serina’s village, when she was trying to explain everything, everyone got mad at her. It was her duty to protect her village, but Serina was talking with a bear? Nobody believed her and Serina was melancholy. She was determined to prove the whole village wrong.

Little Bear and Serina kept meeting up for exploring and having fun. One day Little Bear and Serina strolled on the beach. The stream flowed into the ocean as usual. The border of Hiking Willow grew on the sandy grounds. A fresh wind blew ever so slightly. Little Bear walked on the soft, grainy white sand, and suddenly, Little Bear howled in pain, “Ow! I stepped on something hard. My paw is bleeding.” As Little Bear groaned, Serina looked around for something to help him. Suddenly, she whipped around and grabbed a chunk of Hiking Willow, and dipped it into the cool stream. She thought of using the salt to relieve the pain so she sprinkled some of that precious salt on the leaves and rubbed it on the cut. That made Little Bear scream like a child. “Shhhhhhhh!” Serina shushed as if some tribemate was nearby. But after a while, it seemed like the salt did the trick.

“Better?” asked Serina hopefully.

“Yes, thank you!” Little Bear happily answered. 

“I knew it’d work!” Serina was happy.

Little Bear peered closely at what made the cut. But there laid a small jar made of thorny vines.

“What in the name of spirits is this doing here? I am going to do something about that!” Angrily Little Bear shouted.

But all Serina curiously said, “Hmm, what is that? I will open that.” So very carefully, together they unscrewed the cap. Inside was a couple of smooth sea glass in various shapes. The sea glass is as clear as water. She put two pieces of sea glass together and tried to look through them.

“My!” Serina said, “The ocean is drawn closer! Perhaps, this is something the spirits meant to give you today.”

“Let me try,” said Little Bear, taking the sea glass from Serina. Little Bear looked, giving a puzzled expression. “There are six large weird things coming our way! What do you think they are?” Little Bear handed the sea glass to Serina and there were six things coming for the bay. They were big and menacing boats, with white sails on top. Serina shrugged, mystified. 

Later that day, Serina decided to bring Little Bear to her tribe. Everyone was shrieking at the top of their lungs at the first sight of Little Bear. Surprisingly tribemates calmed down when Little Bear and Serina discussed what they had seen. At first, older folks yelled at Serina and her friends ditched her to see Little Bear very closely. No one had ever seen one. Stories from the elders spoke of days of battle and death that came from ships like that. Finally Serina was taken seriously. Everyone was silent, and so was the nature around them. It was decided, the spirits agreed with Serina. 

The village chief spoke at last, “We are under attack. Everyone go sharpen your weapons and prepare for a good fight!” So the warriors packed sharp, black, obsidian arrowheads into their pouches. Females who knew how to fight got ready too. Little Bear thought finally it was a chance to put the paws to good use; Little Bear carried many herbs and sticks to make a hot burning fire. Finally, an army was assembled with five hundred warriors and some of Little Bear’s bear friends, too. 

The next day, the fighters woke up and hid themselves in the bushes near the beach nervously. It had been a very long time since the tribe’s last battle and for many, it was their first one to fight. Not too far from the shore were the six boats carrying the Sinyata volcano people. Their ancestors’ village got destroyed in a volcano eruption and ever since then, the Sinyata robbers turned into ruthless pirates that robbed food and treasures from innocent neighbors on their six boats. They were truly a force to be reckoned with. 

Unfortunately Serina was too young to actually fight, so she and Little Bear went along next to the warriors to get a close watch. As one of the Sinyata’s boats docked and Sinyata’s pirates descended, they were greeted by shots and fires from the Enolho fighters. It was the first blood shed. The Sinyata and Enolho people started fighting and the only thing Little Bear and Serina could do was watch. So they did. Little Bear’s bear friends were talented at fighting and one massive swipe would knock out several Sinyata people. However, more and more Sinyata pirates came out of the boat.

Serina said to Little Bear, “How many people can fit in one boat?”

“Apparently however many and six!” answered Little Bear.

“We better do something different or it’s only a matter of time before my tribemates get killed.”

Little Bear looked around and saw a canoe nearby. Both of them had the same idea. Serina and Little Bear sneaked on it without attracting attention and started rowing. Hopefully no one will see us. thought Serina. They are busy with fighting after all. Suddenly an explosion went off – it was launched from the five boats on the water. It was enough to make everyone on the shore take cover. Little Bear and Serina almost fell out of the canoe.

“Wow!” Serina whispered, astonished, “That is one powerful fire!”

“How do we get them?” asked Little Bear. 

“You can try to push the Sinyata people off their boats!” Serina said. 

“I don’t think I can push them over. It’d be just too heavy for me!” Little Bear sighed. Serina racked her head. The time seemed to stand still. She tried to think of every method of attack she ever learned. Something was stirring at the back of her mind, but she just couldn’t place her finger on it. It was like trying to find something that had been lost for a long time. Suddenly as if a light went on, she got an answer. The salt!

“Oh, I know!” Serina exclaimed. “We can try to sink the boats with your powerful bear salt!“ Little Bear nodded because it was crazy enough to just work. 

“But the salt might not be heavy enough. I only wish the Sinyatas’ boats were smaller.” Little Bear said. Just as they were thinking what to do, thunder and lightning struck. As Little Bear and Serina cowered in their canoe, the air smelt like burnt trees and everything was so bright. After the thunder and lightning ceased, the first thing they realized was that half of the Sinyatas’ boats sank. The other half were also damaged. But the work was not done.

“It’s a sign, Little Bear!” Serina said gleefully. “The spirits must’ve approved of our ideas! C’mon – let’s finish them.” Little Bear rowed closer to the remaining boats and Serina jumped onto one with Little Bear’s boost.

Little Bear shouted, “Dump the salt!” Very carefully, Serina tipped the salt. Incredibly, more and more salt went on to the boats, more than the container itself, more than what was likely and the boat tipped over. And with a gigantic splash, all the Sinyata pirates were either drowned or killed by the Enolho fighters. 

Little Bear stabilized the canoe and started looking around, but sadly there was no sign of Serina. Tears fell out of the bear’s eye because Serina seemed to have sunk to the bottom of the ocean together with the Sinyata pirates. “Serina––” Little Bear called her name a few times, but there was still no answer. Little Bear was joined soon by other Enolho fighters but to everyone’s sorrow, they couldn’t find Serina. Serina’s bravery and quick thinking saved their land. She perished. Eventually they all gave up and went to sleep. 

Little Bear’s life soon fell into a dull and bleary routine. Little Bear lost all interest in life and had no purpose. In the morning Little Bear would get up and prepare food. All day Little Bear would help out the village doing various tasks, gathering acorns, hunting food, and helping out the villagers. Little Bear had no intention of returning to Bear Village. After all, Little Bear had been mistreated for so long there. The villagers of Serina’s village accepted Little Bear, slowly and cautiously. 

Today was an ordinary day, identical to any other day for the past moon. Little Bear began by hunting for trees that might have acorns. It’s strange how the world goes on, Little Bear thought. Even in grief. I miss my human friend so much, it would feel like someone cut a hole in me. Without Serina, nothing seemed as fun as when the energetic girl was here. 

That night, Little Bear had a nightmare. In it, the lonesome evil giant bear was back. He set everything ablaze and tore down villages and caves. Smoke was suffocating. Everyone was in shock. In the distance, Little Bear could hear people shouting, “The bears have betrayed us! Never trust them.” 

Little Bear woke up with a start, bumping her head against the soft Enolho hut. Oh no, thought Little Bear, that must be the spirits trying to tell me something. And I have to stop it. Little Bear flew out of the hut and ran into Serina’s father. He looked worn and tired. He motioned to Little Bear to come in. 

“Can I speak to you?” Serina’s father said. Little Bear nodded and lumbered after him. After a while, they walked into a clearing in the dark forest. That’s when Little Bear smelled the smoke. Dread curdled Little Bear’s stomach and stirred fear. 

“What happened?” Little Bear said softly. 

“I– your village burned down last night.” He became quiet all of a sudden. “But it wasn’t us! I swear to the spirits.” 

After all that had happened, Little Bear was surprised at how calm Little Bear felt. It was like a dream! Little Bear looked into Serina’s father’s eye and accepted he was telling the truth.

He took a deep breath and continued. “No bear came out and we don’t think anyone survived. I understand how you must feel, and it was just when we might have had a bond between villagers. I’m sure you want to leave, so I’m here to thank you for everything you did for Serina.” 

“It wasn’t enough. She still died.”

“It never is enough isn’t it? We always will try to think of ways to bring her back, but the only way is to move forward.” 

Move forward. Little Bear repeated the words in her head. I have to honor Serina by doing so. It would be what she would have wanted.

Little Bear said, “Can I stay? I mean, if you don’t want me to, it’s fine, but I had an omen in my dream last night about the devil bear burning down villages again. That’s why I came to warn you. And I think I would like to help.”

“Of course you can stay!” Serina’s father said. “And helping the village is what Serina would have wanted. We could really use some help, after everything.” 

“For Serina,” Little Bear said.

“For Serina,” He echoed. There was nothing that could be done to resurrect Serina, but Little Bear could honor her by doing the right thing. And for the first time in such a long time, Little Bear’s heart fluttered with hope, a goal, and a destiny to fulfill.

And with more confidence and hope than ever, Little Bear surged forward and wrapped Serina’s father in a giant bear hug. 

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