These last few weeks I’ve been working on a short story called "The Treasure Hunter" that I will be utilizing as an instructive tool to reveal some of my behind-the-scenes creation process!
While crafting the story, I realized some of my creative experiences in writing it were topics not readily discussed in the writing craft sphere.
These topics are almost overlooked, rather de-emphasized, and far too valuable to not not talk about!
So, today and next week’s post will be a reversed before and after.
I want you to see the end product before I discuss how "The Treasure Hunter" evolved into its final version.
What’s the short story about?
Set in space, "The Treasure Hunter" is an adaptation of "Sleeping Beauty" focusing on the male character’s perspective!
Originally, the story format took a more contemporary direction until I approached it with a very specific artistic goal in mind and created the narrative-heavy version here. If this doesn’t quite make sense, I promise all of it will be fully explained in part 2!
"The Treasure Hunter"
Kristin N. Bradley
They called him the Treasure Hunter. Not because he sought hidden fortunes, those proverbial lairs brimming with gold coins and jewels. Good gracious, no. They called him that because he could find people. The ones gone missing. The ones thought lost forever. They were the gems he looked far and hard to find across the galaxies.
There was only one rule, of course, to what he did. The people he helped had to be in genuine need as all that mattered to him was restoring unity. His work was of such a nature—exploring and searching the ends of the universe—that it was easiest to be alone. And he didn’t mind being alone. He was quite content about it as returning the beloved to their families brought great joy to his life.
Now, one fine spring day, after having stopped over in an unfamiliar galaxy on his way back home, rumors of a forgotten daughter made their way to his ears. These rumors—more legend than fact—were unfamiliar to him, despite having been to nearly all the galaxies in the universe. In fact, the longer he listened, the more fantastical they seemed to grow as the local residents had some spare time on their hands.
One hundred years prior, or maybe it was more like five hundred, a young woman had been kidnapped by a jealous uncle. He had hoped to use her as leverage to overtake her parents’ rule. Some believed he was a radical lunatic and others assumed he was a secret mage. Ultimately, the jealous relative failed in his endeavors and, as retribution, placed a curse upon the young woman.
Some thought she had been turned into a celestial body, ever present, yet too far away to be recognized. A few believed she had been transformed into a comet, streaking across the sky and never seen again. Others suspected her uncle had made her disappear outside of the universe but that was, of course, impossible. Not even mages have that sort of power.
Time passed, as it does, but the young woman remained hidden. Most assumed she had died a long time ago and retold the tale for talk’s sake alone, but there were a few skeptics who still buzzed that she was alive.
As the Treasure Hunter sat listening to these eager murmurings, he found himself wondering if the stories were true. What if she was alive and all alone? It seemed her people no longer sought her whereabouts. Of course, that was understandable—one hundred or five hundred years of searching seemed rather extreme considering a person’s general lifespan. But he was the Treasure Hunter. He had faith in the slightest possibility. He was born for this.
Sorting through all he had heard, he determined the forgotten daughter was somewhere in the same galaxy in which he had stopped over. It seemed unlikely she was elsewhere as the stories hadn’t spread into the other galaxies.
For the next several months, he explored the galaxy. He befriended and questioned the locals, who were spread out over asteroid belts, dwarf planets, and sun stations. He flew near odd-clustered stars and through empty space. He scanned sunspots and starquakes and black holes. Nothing.
After some time, he came back upon a barren planet, grey and smooth and flat. It was surrounded by multiple small moons. His original exploration had turned up nothing, but he let his ship cruise slowly, weaving around and in between the moons before he flew down to the planet.
The Treasure Hunter nearly missed it. It looked as if one of the moons had a solid, grey, domed bump on it. But did it? He felt his eyes were playing tricks on him. As he passed by the moon twice more, he saw the dome reappear and disappear again. Nearly imperceptible.
He took his ship down to the surface for a closer look. He landed near the dome and climbed out to examine it on foot. It seemed to shift from being nearly invisible to matching the color of the moon’s surface and then back again. He had never seen anything like it.
Even through his suit, the Treasure Hunter could tell the dome had a quiet, impossible energy about it. He touched the dome. It was soft and cool and thick, like a sturdy jelly. He stuck his gloved hand into the dome wall. The jelly was clear, but he couldn’t see his hand inside it. He pulled his hand back out and the wall closed up as if it had never been there.
He knew the depths of the dome were waiting to be explored, so he put his hand back into the wall and let the rest of his body follow. He could only see grey jelly all around him. It pressed up against his helmet visor and made the front from the back and the left from the right indistinguishable. He pushed forward, taking one definite step after the other. A few meters later, his hand broke through to the other side.
He was only able to partially step out of the solid jelly as a tangled wall of jungle vines pressed up against him. He couldn’t see very far through them but somehow knew they spanned the entire width of the dome. The vines were of varying sizes, some thick, some thin, some extra curly, and a few rather straight, and all covered in fat leaves. They were so thickly woven together he could barely fit his hand through the spaces in between them. He took a thick blade from his side pocket and started cutting through the foliage.
Water drops clung to the vines and leaves, dripping onto him and sliding down his suit. The air was so thick with moisture, it beaded onto the outside of his visor. Every few minutes, he would pause and wipe his visor so he could see clearly. The inside of his suit became stifling. He was tempted to take off his helmet but didn’t know what else to expect inside the dome.
He continued on, slashing and stepping forward, for a long while before he paused and glanced backward. No trail blazed behind him as the jungle had grown back to cover his steps. In fact, the vines were growing and weaving themselves into their respective places right before his eyes. What place was this?
The Treasure Hunter pressed on, going deeper into the heart of the dome. Time seemed to stand still as he continued whacking and chopping at the vines. His arms were starting to grow tired and the inside of his suit was slick.
Soft bluish tinges began to appear in the spaces between the vines. As he worked his way closer, the color became a little more concentrated. He chopped down a thick weave of branches and a jumbled maze of ice stood before him.
Slanted blocks of ice haphazardly stacked upon and around each other. Some were jagged, some were rough and bumpy, and some were slick and smooth. Thick, uneven columns of ice grew between some of the enormous blocks and sharp icicles laced a few of the overhangs.
There were gaps and spaces large enough for him to pass through. He pocketed his knife and hoisted himself onto a slab of ice. It wasn’t melting, despite being next to the jungle. It was as if the dome somehow separated the two extremes from each other.
He wove through a section of long, shimmering icicles and jumped down a few feet into an opening. The moisture on the outside of his suit started frosting over and he had to scrape his visor free. He climbed and wove and stooped and crawled. Despite his constant movement, the sweat from the jungle had quickly chilled inside his suit and made his limbs numb with cold.
He lost his footing on an angled block of ice and slid down, slamming into a column. A few icicles shuddered and one snapped off. It plunged down and grazed the side of his leg. Heat escaped from the slice in the outer layer of his suit and the edges started frosting over. He let ice build around the tear, hoping it would seal shut, but when he moved, his suit shifted and puckered, dislodging the ice patch. There was nothing he could do but continue forward.
The Treasure Hunter climbed down a few more sections of ice and found himself in a narrow canyon of rough ice. There were no routes he could backtrack too—the ice had been either too tall, too slick, or too sharp aside from the route he’d taken. The only way out was up.
He braced his body between the two walls, evenly distributing and shifting his weight as he moved up. Halfway up, a smooth patch caused his arm to lose traction and he struggled to find a section rough enough to brace his arm against. Finding none, he forced all of his strength into his other three limbs and scaled past the slick area, keeping his foot clear. He kept climbing, slowly, meticulously. Reaching the top, he slid away from the edge and stood.
He rounded a thick column of ice and suddenly came face to face with a wall of sand flying and blistering and scratching and cutting. He stumbled backwards in surprise. No sand sprayed across the ice. An invisible barrier kept the two terrains apart. He realized there was no roar of winds and sand clashing together. It was silent. A noiseless sandstorm.
A particularly brutal gust blasted over him as he reached the base of a dune. The wind caught at the gap in his suit, letting sand snap and bite into his leg. The wind ripped the gap wider. It pulled at his leg and buffeted underneath him.
He lost his grounding and found himself being rolled and tossed about, his arms and legs flailing despite his attempts to keep himself small. The wind shoved at him and he found himself briefly airborne before thudding to the ground. He lay flat on his back, trying to catch his breath and slow his heart.
He felt the winds pause fractionally and rolled himself onto his belly. He crawled forward, keeping his stomach in as much contact with the ground as possible. He had moved only a meter before he pushed up against something.
There was nothing there. Only sand flying about. He stretched out his hand and met resistance. It didn’t push back—it was just solid nothing. He inched sideways, letting his hand travel on the solid nothing. An invisible wall.
The Treasure Hunter realized the invisible wall had to be similar to the jungle vines weaving themselves into place behind him. He turned himself around and began his belly crawl again. Keeping his direction straight in his mind’s eye, he pressed on, inching up and sliding down dunes and crawling over plateaus.
His hands and knees no longer felt sandy terrain, but lumpen, sturdy ground. He looked up and realized that he had just crossed into a dark, heavily-wooded forest. He stood, taking in his surroundings.
The sandstorm hadn’t blasted bare any of the trees and saplings lining the edge. Long, spindly branches and tall ferns crisscrossed here and there, but for the most part, the wooded area was easily passable.
The Treasure Hunter knew he was close to the center of the dome. He took out his knife and proceeded forward. He felt a fallen branch give under his foot. No cracking sound emanated. He continued deeper into the woods, the dimness becoming thicker and almost weighty.
Something caught at his foot and he stumbled. A thorny vine. He continued walking, noticing they protruded from the needled dirt in clumps and patches. The further he went, the more concentrated they became.
A forbidding briar hedge rose before him. Vines reached the underside of nearby treetops, curling around their trunks and hanging down their branches. Fat thorns and little white buds dotted them here and there.
He cut at the briars carefully. The fallen greenery made for lumpy terrain as he moved deeper into the hedge. He glanced behind him. Two walls of thorny branches framed the dim path he had carved. All of the branches and vines stayed on the ground. Nothing grew back in place behind him.
He was getting closer.
There were no longer little white flowers on the vines. Pink and red buds had taken their place. He could see them growing deep into the mounded sides of the briar patch. They varied in stages of bloom, but none were fully open.
He pushed on, clearing away the briars with greater urgency. Bright shades of pink and red peeked through the branches in front of him. He chopped them down. A curtain of fully opened pink and red roses hung before him. The open roses traveled into both sides of the patch. Slips of light danced between a few of the leaves.
She was behind these vines.
When the Treasure Hunter parted them, he saw something he hadn’t expected. His heart skipped and he wondered if he was in a dream.
Walled by green vines, an enclosed grassy area stood before him. A stone path led to an elaborate bed framed by green briars. A young woman lay under the thorny bower. Her chest rose and fell in peaceful slumber.
This was her, the forgotten daughter.
His heart flooded with bright warmth. She was the most glorious creature he had ever beheld. Exquisite and lovely and radiant and breathtaking. A wonder he had never before encountered.
He put away his knife and removed his helmet. As he stepped into the enclosure, the green walls exploded into pink and red color, the roses unfurling in succession towards the forgotten daughter’s bed.
The collective rustle of hundreds of petals shifting made their way to his ears. An expectant shiver traveled down his spine.
Roses opened at the base of her bed and traveled up. The bower of empty vines burst with fat blooms, nodding gently above the young woman. The thick scent of roses swirled around him. The entire space was now enrobed with vivid, lavish color. What magic was this?
The Treasure Hunter approached the young woman and knelt by her side. He removed his gloves and gently touched her hand. She stirred a fraction. He felt the smallest of vibrations rumble in the ground. It traveled up the bed, making the roses shiver.
The Treasure Hunter took her hand in his. In that instant, he knew her hand belonged in his, had belonged there for ages, and should never leave.
The forgotten daughter stirred. Her breathing changed from that of deep slumber to that of wakefulness. Her eyes slowly opened and focused on him.
He looked at her and smiled. He knew they were meant for each other. He didn’t know how he knew, just that he did.
The young woman smiled back.
“You found me.”
The Treasure Hunter laughed nervously. “Yes, that’s what I do. I had to find you! I knew…somehow, I knew you were here.”
The forgotten daughter sat up and dangled her legs over the edge of the bed. Her bare feet skimmed the grass. “I thought I was dreaming of your touch at first”—she squeezed her fingers more firmly around his—"but realized what I felt was real.”
Her eyes sparkled. “I’ve been waiting for you.”
The Treasure Hunter felt his face turn pink. He didn’t know what to say. All this time he had been looking for her and hadn’t even known it.
She wobbled a little as she rose and he snugged his grip, steadying her. When she was secure, he expected her to let go of his hand, but she didn’t. She turned and touched a few of the blossoms above her bed, pulling one close to her face. She plucked it off the bower.
“How do you know I’m the one you’ve been expecting?” He willed his heart to calm down. They moved to the end of her bed and she sat on the edge of the footboard.
Settling the rose behind her ear, she smiled at him and placed a hand on his cheek. “Because I know who you are!”
She gazed at him openly. “When my fairy godmother altered the curse on me into an endless sleep, she told me only one person could wake me. My one true love.”
The Treasure Hunter’s heart leaped at her words. It was true. He had loved her before he’d even searched for her. He had had to find her, had to seek her out—his undiscovered jewel.
He touched her hair gently. “Well, my love, let’s begin our adventure together!”
She laughed and threw her arms around him, knocking the rose from her hair. “I can’t wait!”
“I’m so glad I finally found you.” He tightened his arms around her and picked her up, twirling her in a circle.
Her elated reply sung its way to his ears. “Me too!”
He had unearthed his glorious treasure. His beloved.
The Treasure Hunter set the young woman down. Excitement colored her face. He picked up the tumbled bloom and noticed the stem was smooth. He resettled it behind his beloved’s ear.
Grabbing his gear, he resecured her hand and parted the rose-covered vines for her. They didn’t prick at his hands like before either; the thorns covering the outer vines had also disappeared.
The dome was somehow different.
The fallen briars and protruding roots covering the path had disappeared. As they walked, he noticed the pink and red buds set deep into the hedge were now in full bloom, their wide petals brushing against the vines. They gave way to the small, white flowers he had seen before, which now had a radiant hue about them.
The forest was brighter than it had been when he first came through. Clear shades of emerald and jade and mossy brown stained the woods. Small, yellow flowers and young, curling ferns sprouted before them as they walked, dotting the ground with delicate color.
New leaves covered the long, spindly branches. They held themselves out of the way while the tall ferns shifted off to the side, creating an open space for them to walk. The path was shorter than he remembered, and he could see the sandstorm had died away.
In no time at all, they crossed over the invisible barrier separating the forest from the desert. Small breezes swirled about their legs and went ahead of them and scattered, shaping the sand into exotic patterns.
To the left and to the right, the Treasure Hunter could see the sand dunes curve behind them and knew they continued on to create a circular layer inside the dome. Swirls and curls and mosaic shapes decorated the now-still dunes as far as he could see.
As they navigated over small hills and flat stretches, the desert seemed to rapidly shrink in distance the closer they drew to the icy maze. He looked back and saw the patterned sand had become only a handful of paces long behind them, with their feet imprinting the swirls in the sand.
When they approached the next invisible barrier, wide snowflakes started to flutter down over the maze. Slabs and blocks and columns of ice began parting before the Treasure Hunter and his beloved. Rumbling vibrations traveled up his legs as a pebbled path appeared before them. Pale sunbeams filtered through the snowflakes, warming the ground.
As they walked, the young woman let her fingers catch snowflakes and trail along one of the towering walls. He felt a few snowflakes settle on his face, but they weren’t cold.
The trickle of melting water danced in the Treasure Hunter’s ears and he let the sound fill him. He had been content to be alone and now found his beloved had created and filled a space inside him that was delighted to have her.
He could see the jungle nearing quite quickly and felt a balmy pocket of air drift over them. He glanced behind them and saw the ice maze growing shorter in length. Just as the desert had.
The tangled wall of knotted jungle started unweaving as they moved closer to it. Vines and branches and tendrils and leaves jostled into an orderly fashion to make way for them. Buds appeared on the vines and opened into intense shades of pink, orange, and red.
The humidity had mellowed, giving the air a warm, comforting weight. Water drops glistened on leaf edges and he heard a few plunk onto other leaves. The young woman stopped to let an orange flower with frilled edges unfold inside her hand.
The jungle shrunk just as the other terrains had. The Treasure Hunter could see a shifting gap between the greenery and the approaching dome wall. Nearly indiscernible. It appeared to be centimeters away, instead of pressing against the vines and leaves as before.
They stopped, now at the end. The jungle foliage, filled with lush color, towered over either side of the path. Curious to see what the dome felt like without his gloves, he reached out his arm to touch it. Before his hand made contact, the dome’s grey color cleared into an opalescent translucence.
He realized that instead of just centimeters, the dome stretched out far ahead of them. It hadn’t been shrinking. It had been moving with them. Or, her, actually.
He stepped forward, his feet sinking slightly in the moon’s silty, grey surface.
Off to the right sat his ship.
Framed by a backdrop of the shimmering wall of jelly.
The Treasure Hunter started laughing, tears welling in the corner of his eyes. He looked at his beloved. Her eyes were bright as she smiled at him. He pulled her close until their foreheads touched.
“The wait was worth it—to be found by you.”
He cupped the sides of her face. “We belong together. Time can never separate us.”
He kissed her softly. She was his and he was hers and he knew she would be by his side, forever, together, beyond the end of time.
Hand in hand, they took the last few steps needed to reach his ship. He escorted her inside, the hatch sealing behind them. He led her to the co-pilot’s seat and settled into his captain’s chair.
The Treasure Hunter pressed a few buttons and the ship came to life. The soft hum of the engines warming matched the beat of his heart. He had found the most priceless treasure of all time.
He entered a few coordinates into a panel on the dash.
Through the ship’s windows, he could see the dome quivering. The opalescent colors swayed and collided together. He pulled back a handle and the engines blasted in full force.
The ship rose.
The dome erupted into a mist of rainbow hues. The ship broke through the stardust, its engines causing great swirling masses of color, as it took off for home.
Stay tuned for part 2 next week! I’ll be discussing the story's original premise, its evolution, and the role my beta readers’ feedback had in its development!