As a quick reminder, #WriterInMotion is an event where authors are taking a short story from prompt to polished and showing all their steps along the way. This is the first round, which means you get to see my completely unedited first draft. Yep, typos and misspellings included! (eek!) Over the next few weeks I’ll be making revisions to this draft in order to turn it into a polished short story. But before we get to that, I want to share the prompt and my first reactions to it.
This image, of worn, rusted boat wrecked on a desolate shore underneath the starry sky, is our prompt. That’s it. No words, no setup, just the image.
The part that immediately captured my attention is the boat. Shipwreck. Lost at sea. A piece of history waiting to be discovered. It evoked thoughts and feelings that reminded me of some of my favorite shows: Expedition Unknown, Legendary Locations, The Curse of Oak Island, and more. For those unfamiliar with these shows, each involves the quest to solve mysteries of history, unravel legends, and find lost treasure.
A story started to take shape in my head. A ship loaded with stolen Spanish gold, wrecked somewhere along the Florida coast. A historian who learned of the lost treasure and dedicated years to piecing together the clues and finding the shipwreck. And thus, my short story was born.
On a side note: This is completely outside my ‘normal’. If you know me and my work, you’ll know it’s all a heavy mix of high fantasy and romance. This short story contains neither. It’s a contemporary following Jane, our heroine, as she seeks to fulfill her dream (and find a valuable treasure while she’s at it).
Lastly, before we dive into the first draft, I’d love your comments on this story. If you have any suggestions on revisions for my next draft (or if you want to give general impressions), please leave me a note here or on my twitter feed. Thank you!
The Clementine (first un-edited draft, 953 words)
Historian and treasure hunter Jane Gattis bit her lip to hide the goofy grin threating to spread across her face. This was it. The moment she’d dreamed of for ten long years since she first heard the tale of the lost ship Clementine and it’s hoard of stolen Spanish doubloons.
Jane ran her hand along the chunk of coarse wood on the table, the first piece they’d dug up. Aged. Weathered. It looked to be from the right time period. Years of research and hunting, followed by months of waiting for permits and approvals to dig. Finally. Finally they’d uncover the wreck and its legendary fortune.
“Jane!” Adam Scott, her partner in this venture, called to her. Excitement laced his voice as he waved her over.
They’d uncovered just the port side of the ship so far, buried under layers of sandy soil and grown over with brush. It had wrecked here, likely tossed ashore by a hurricane, over 200 years ago.
The blazing Florida sun beat down on Jane as she hurried through the humidity to the dig site. Dark brown planks bowed out from the ground, broken edges like shark teeth where the wreck of time had damaged the end of the ship. If the treasure spilled out before it washed ashore…
The ping and beep of the metal detector in Adam’s hand grew louder, warring with her racing heart for dominance in her ears.
“What have you found?” she gasped, nearly breathless in anticipation.
The rest of their crew gathered round, waiting with eager eyes for the treasure soon to be uncovered.
“We thought you should have the honors,” Adam replied.
Miguel held out a short spade.
“It’s not ferrous,” he continued. “Just a few inches down and large.”
“Non ferrous.” Jane couldn’t hide the press of her lips as she took the tool.
“No, but it could be—”
“A chest.” The blurted thought brought her blazing smile right back, just as brilliant as her auburn hair.
The men around the circle nodded.
Four chests of stolen gold. The treasure they’d been searching for. And to solve the mystery of what happened to the ship of course. The historian in her wouldn’t let her ignore that part. Though it was the promise of gold that elevated this mystery above the others on her lifelong list to solve. And that promise had lured her team out here into the swealtering southern heat as well.
Jane knelt next to the hole the team had already started, the spade shaking in her hand as started to scrape away a layer of soil. Then the next.
Slowly, painfully, she dug the last few inches toward her goal. The air practically hummed with anticipation as her team murmered around her, shifting and craning to be the first to see whatever she would uncover.
The spade struck metal.
Jane’s head snapped up, locking eyes with Adam across the hole. His blinding grin matched her own.
“Brush?” Jane held up her hand. Her request was fulfilled in moments, she didn’t even look to see which member of her team supplied the tool.
The world faded away as her focus limited to the object she painstakingly uncovered, digging out the last of the dirt and brushing away the debris.
Dark. Large. Slightly rounded.
More dirt. More burshing.
Too big to be the fittings on a chest.
Sound returned as her heart slowed. Heat beat against her back as heavy as her disappointment.
“Cannonball?” Adam wiped at the sweat on his forehead.
Jane nodded. “Almost certainly.”
“Well that’s great! Another piece of history uncovered.” He grinned, always the optimist.
Jane forced a smile in return, but her chest felt heavy. Doubt had slipped in, taunting her that this might be another failed expedition. She blinked against the sunlight that swarmed in as the others went back to excavating the rest of the wreck.
“Pass me that metal detector,” Jane said, rising to her feet and dusting off her pants. “We need to scan ever foot of this site.”
Every beep and squeal of the detector sent Jane’s heart racing, her hopes soaring toward the smattering of white clouds above. This spot. This was it. Until she looked at the small screen on the device. Non ferrous. It couldn’t be the gold. Another cannonball. Some chain. Nails. They’d found everything they expected, except the treasure.
A gull cried, drawing her attention to shoreline and the gulf beyond. Light glittered off the top of water, sparkling under the late afternoon sun. Maybe the treasure lay out there, beneath the waves.
Miguel’s call snapped her back to the moment. The heat wrapping around her like a blanket once more.
He waved where he crouched next to a section of the wooden hull, signaling her over.
Jane lay the metal detector on the ground, almost groaning in relief as the ache in her arm subsided. In a moment she stood beside Miguel, but he didn’t look happy. Instead, he shook his head, a deep frown pulling at his lips.
“I’m sorry, miha.” He nodded toward the section of the boat he’d been uncovering.
He didn’t need to tell her the reason for his doure expression. Three letters stood out, carved deep into the wood with hints of dark paint still clinging to their boards.
I. N. D.
Soil still covered the rest, but it didn’t matter. Her shoulders slumped, her throat grew thick. Dirty, worn nails dug into her palm as she wrestled away her disappointment.
They’d found a lost wreck, but it wasn’t the Clementine.
Somewhere along these shores lay the ship of her dreams. Buried. Almost forgotten, but not by Jane.
Another day. Another dig. She’d find it.