Takala and the Lake Monster
The children of the village stood in front of the chief, anxiously waiting for him to call their name. A light breeze moved their buckskin clothing around them, and the sun hung low in the brightening sky.
The chief stood proudly outside his wigwam and addressed the small gathering of children. “Today, some of you will become adults. Those I choose shall be given a new name, and from then on will leave childhood behind.”
Takala stood near the back and gritted her teeth.
It’ll be today; I can feel it!
She wished her mother and father were there to see it, but knew they had important jobs to do around the village. Still, she looked for them in the small gathering of adults standing outside the Meeting Circle.
At sixteen, she was the oldest child amongst them. Many of her friends had moved on and been given adult duties. Even her younger brother had shed his childhood name the year before. Takala’s cheeks burned at the thought.
Her friend, Kai, shuffled from foot to foot beside her. He leaned close to her ear and whispered, “Do you think the basket you made is enough to get you a new name?”
Takala paused before nodding. “It has to be. It took me many days to weave, and it’s large enough to fit ten fish. Even my mother said that it was the biggest and most beautiful basket in the village.” She held her head high and kept her face placid, but her stomach twisted.
The chief clapped his hands together, and the fidgeting children straightened, training their eyes toward their leader. The chief paused and looked at each of them before continuing, “Aiyana, step forward. You have worked with your mother and the other women in the field to provide the tribe with enough corn to last the season. You will now be called Sháńdíín, named after the sunshine you worked so hard under.”
A tall girl in front of Takala moved, a wide grin across her face. Her feet kicked up dust as she stepped eagerly in front of the chief.
The chief offered Aiyana, now called Sháńdíín, a flawless black and white feather. She thanked him and stood to his left, holding the gift gently.
The chief continued to call the names of children until only a few remained in the circle. Takala and Kai hadn’t moved, but Takala’s body leaned towards the chief, expecting him to call her name any moment. But the ceremony finished, and Takala’s feet remained rooted to the spot. A few moments later, everyone moved around her to attend to their jobs.
Kai tugged gently at the sleeves of her dress. “Come on, we’d better get back to work. My father needs me to repair his fishing net,” he said regretfully.
But Takala was frozen with shame and despair. Why wasn’t she called? She sighed and let Kai take her hand and lead her toward the wigwams on the outskirts of the village.
Kai continued to hold her hand as they walked along the dirt path and turned his head to face her. “You know, it’s not so bad being a child. My father and the other hunters have to deal with the horned serpent that lives in the lake. It has the power to drag men into the lake before killing them with the magical diamond in its head. No one can stop it, but the tribe needs the fish, so the men keep returning. I’m glad I don’t have to face the beast yet.”
Takala stopped in her tracks and took her hand from his, making the skinny boy turn to her.
“What it is?” Kai asked before his eyes widened. “Don’t even think about it!”
But Takala had already decided. Hope ignited inside her. “Bring me one of your father’s nets and a spear. I’ll meet you outside my family’s wigwam.”
Kai crossed his arms in defiance, but his resolve softened when she placed a firm hand on his shoulder.
“This is my last chance to prove myself. I’ll slay the lake monster and claim my name. Don’t try to stop me, Kai, because I’ll do it with or without your help,” she said, giving him her best glare.
Kai sighed, and his shoulders sagged. “Fine, but you need to be careful. Why are you going to your wigwam?”
Takala was already bounding away but shouted over her shoulder, “Getting ready for war.”
Without another word, she turned and rushed to her family’s dwelling. Relieved to see it empty, she rummaged through her father’s belongings. Seeing the buckskin bundle under the pile of skins and furs, she tugged it open and pressed her fingers into the red powder. She found a small lump of buffalo fat inside another bundle, and she mixed the two together to create a bright red paste. She pushed her beads and braids from her face and used two fingers to brush the paint across her closed eyelids.
Sometime later, Kai called for her. Takala walked into the warm wind and saw Kai holding a large net in one hand and spear in the other.
Kai stumbled over his words at seeing her. “Wow, you look scary.”
“Good,” Takala said as she touched the red paint across her face. “It will give me strength to slay the horned serpent.”
Kai was silent before he closed his eyes and nodded. “Okay, but I’m going with you.” He took a step in the direction of the lake, but his foot caught a hole in the net, and he crashed to the ground.
Takala helped him up and shook her head with a smile. “You’re so clumsy! No, I must do this alone.” She took the spear and bundled the net, now untangled from Kai’s foot, under her arm.
“Stay here. I will bring the monster’s head soon enough.”
She ran on, leaving her friend behind.
The lake’s clear surface sparkled as it came into view. Trees whooshed past Takala, and the smooth stones on the shore crunched beneath her feet. The sun reached its peak in the sky and shone brightly on her sharp features, making her squint.
A rocky ledge offered Takala a better view of the lake, and she struggled to climb up the wet rock, which nearly made her fall backwards onto the jagged rocks below. Once atop the ledge, Takala peered into the lake’s depths. All was silent except for the gentle rustling of trees and her heavy breathing.
She crouched and laid the spear beside her feet. Picking up a nearby stone, she tossed it into the lake. Takala waited until her knees grew sore and stiff from kneeling on the cold rock. A lump rose in her throat.
As she stood, there was a rippling from the lake. Takala crouched once more and her heart raced. A breath later, the horned serpent’s head rose from the depths and stopped short of breaking the surface.
Takala reeled back and readied her spear, but a distant voice echoed from across the lake and broke her concentration. She straightened and turned to the sound as the serpent launched its tremendous body from the water and opened its mouth to engulf her. Takala’s foot slipped on the rock and saved her from being taken, but the monster wrenched the net from her fingers and swallowed it whole.
The serpent’s long, scaly body rose high above her, taller than the chief’s wigwam. Takala rolled out of the way an instant before the serpent landed heavily onto the ledge. The monster’s body slithered toward her, its gigantic head towering over the trembling girl.
Takala’s limbs felt heavy, but she clutched her spear and pointed it at the serpent. She was about to strike when another shout echoed, closer this time, along with the slapping of shoes on stone and water as Kai treaded carefully along the shore. The object he held in his hand hurtled through the air and towards the serpent.
The rock hit the monster in the side of the head, making it hiss and turn toward him. The serpent moved over the ledge and into the lake, getting closer to the boy every moment.
“Kai, run!” Takala screamed.
Kai’s momentum had already brought him too close to the ledge and he turned but slipped on the rocks, falling heavily. The loud thud of his head on the ground made Takala suck in a breath, and she watched as Kai slid soundlessly into the water.
“Kai, are you okay?” she asked.
There was no reply as Kai’s body sunk into the lake.
The serpent was in the perfect position for striking, but there wasn’t time to both slay it and save her friend.
With a shout of frustration, Takala threw the spear far into the lake, distracting the serpent and giving her time to scramble down the ledge and into the water.
The water was icy, but she breathed deeply and dove into it. Her fingertips grazed Kai’s but slipped free. With burning lungs, she swam deeper. She took Kai’s wrist before he sunk into the unreachable depths, and laboured to drag him to the surface and onto the shore.
Lying him on the stones, Takala shook him. When that didn’t work, she slapped him. “Come on, wake up!”
After a moment, Kai spluttered and coughed up a handful of water. He stared at her with black hair plastered to his head. “What happened?”
Takala laughed with relief and cuffed him around the ear. “You were being stupid and clumsy, that’s what happened. What were you thinking?”
She helped him up and he wobbled on his feet. “I couldn’t let you go alone. The horned serpent is powerful, and I don’t know what I’d do if I lost you,” he said with a quaver in his voice.
She smiled and walked with him toward the village, leaving the lake behind them.
Upon entering the village, the chief and a group of adults greeted them. Takala turned to Kai and rose an eyebrow at his sheepish expression.
“Sorry, I had to tell them! I didn’t want you to get hurt,” Kai mumbled.
She almost punched him, but the words from the chief stopped her.
“Your plan did not work, child,” he reproached.
Takala bowed her head to hide her embarrassment, but Kai stepped forward.
“She rescued me from the beast. I would have died if Takala didn’t pull me from the lake and bring me back to life.”
“Is that so? That was very brave.” The chief looked at her for a moment before inclining his head. He took a black and white feather from another adult and presented it to her.
“Your attempt to slay the serpent was unwise, but you showed great courage in rescuing your friend. You have earned your name, Takala. From now on, you shall be called Helki, for your healing touch.”
Takala’s mouth hung open and she looked from the chief’s face to the smiling adults, then finally to the grinning Kai.
“Go on, take the feather,” he urged.
Takala stepped forward and took the feather with trembling hands. Her words were barely audible as she spoke, “Thank you chief.”
“And you Kai, I commend your wisdom in calling for help. You threw yourself into battle despite being afraid. For that, I give you the name Kitchi, for one who is brave.”
She turned to Kai, now Kitchi, and smiled brilliantly. Then she ran into his arms, finally a woman.
Kategori: Original Stories