Short Story Exercise: The Search for Buried Treasure

(rolled a D12, pulled that number of assorted Rory’s Story Cubes, shook ’em up, dropped on table and arranged in order they fell top to bottom, wrote short story)


Silas cursed under his breath as the magnet plunged deeper into the mud. He pushed his boots into the soggy ground on either side of the red horseshoe, laced his gloved hands around the bend, and pulled. He grunted and pushed with his legs, pulled with his hands. But the magnet would not let go.

“More water,” Silas muttered.

Shannon shook her head at her husband, but poured another bucket full of water over the magnet anyway. “Ask me, the mud’s just goin’ to make it worse.”

“Nobody asked you!” Silas stamped the water into the ground. “Give me that, what is it? A stick?”

Shannon handed him the piece of wood she’d been using in her boredom to draw circles in the dirt. Silas jabbed holes into the ground around the magnet. That just might work, Shannon thought to herself, knowing she’d never say such a thing out loud.

On his knees now, Silas forced the magnet back and forth in the mud, pulling upwards. With a satisfying thlock! the magnet popped out of the mud sending Silas toppling over onto his back. He howled with laughter and clutched the muddy thing to his chest. “Only took three hours!” he hollered. “How long did Seamus say he tried?”

“Couple a days,” Shannon said.

Still laying on the ground, Silas raised the magnet and handed it to his wife.  “Here, put it in the saddle bag. Don’t want it stickin’ itself back in the mud!”

Shannon took the thing and was surprised by its heavy weight. Skeptical as ever she lowered it into Silas’s saddle bag and fastened the clip. “Will amount to nothin’, ask me.”

“I’ll remind you a that when we dig up the gold and spend the rest a our days fartin’ through silk!”

“Yes, dear,” Shannon said. She gathered up the bucket and the shovel and packed everything back onto the sled. Silas went to the hand-crank water pump to rinse as much mud off himself as he could while Shannon pulled her leather gloves back on and retied the bonnet under her chin.

“Did you fill the canteens?” Silas asked as he mounted his horse.


He gave a curt nod to his wife and said, “If you can keep up, we should reach the tree by supper time.”

“I’m right behind you,” Shannon said, stepping into the makeshift travois and tying the poles to the belt on her hips.

Silas mounted his horse and rode off at a gallop. Shannon adjusted the brim of her bonnet to shield her eyes from the sun, then stepped forward pulling the sled behind her. The further ahead Silas rode, the more relaxed Shannon became. Her strong back and solid thighs could, and had, pull the travois clear until the next morning without so much as a water break. She knew her young sister would have bawled at the thought of doing such work, but Shannon saw it as a refuge from the demands of her life. Alone with her burden, she was free to gaze at the passing wildflowers, sing her favorite hymns without Silas mocking her wretched voice, and occasionally she even dared to unhook the load so that she could roll in the prairie grass and pick wild berries.

Following Silas’s trail was easy. He was chasing the sun and never gave a moment’s thought to covering his tracks. Shannon came upon him just as the sun was beginning to set. He had lashed the horse to a nearby fallen log and laid out his blanket to take a nap beneath the enormous sycamore tree that was their destination.

Shannon settled the sled and watered the horse. She found an old fire pit and quickly got two small logs smoldering in order to cook their supper. By the time Silas awoke, she had laid out their camp and had a pot of beans with shredded pork ready for him to eat.

“Thank you, wife,” Silas said after a few bites. “I see you’ve had a productive day.”

“Was a nice walk,” she agreed. “When’s the big show?” she asked, gesturing towards the tree with her spoon.

“When the moon’s out, that’s when.”

They finished their meal. Shannon shared some of the raspberries she’d picked that afternoon with her husband, then she tidied up the dishes and checked that the horse was fed and clean. For his part, Silas circled their campsite with his rifle at the ready, scouting for any hostiles who might interfere with his search for the gold. Satisfied, he stowed his weapon and retrieved the magnet from his saddlebag.

They sat by the fire and waited for the moon. When the silver glint of the crescent moon satisfied Silas, he rose and walked towards the great tree with the magnet held in front of him like a divining rod.

“Map says it be two feet from the ground, but the tree ought’ve grown since then!” Silas called out.

“Being that it’s a mystical thing, surely it’d stay in the same spot,” Shannon countered.

He considered this, and began to raise and lower the magnet as he circled the smooth trunk.  On his fifth lap, Silas became impatient. The moon would not stay in its proper place much longer and he needed desperately to find the fated spot before the moon moved out of place for another month. He noticed then that Shannon was standing next to him, her face scrunched as though she’d eaten something sour.

“What is that?” she whispered, pointing to a pair of twisted gray knots at eye level in the patchy bark.

Silas tilted his head, then raised the magnet. It shot out of his hands and latched to the tree. Chips of bark fell to the ground as the magnet wiggled back and forth, digging its way deep into the trunk.

“You’ve found it, wife. This is it!”

They watched as the magnet wriggled further into the tree. Mulched wood belched out of the hole, engulfing the magnet fully into the tree. And then it stopped. No more sounds of crunching wood, no more wood dust. Silas looked up to see the moon covered by a wisp of a cloud.

“No!” he raged.

Shannon’s shoulders dropped. Silas ran for the travois, found his ax and hurried back to the tree. He swung it into the hole and chopped away, cursing the moon with every blow. But in the dark, Silas missed his mark again and again. The force of throwing the ax so high gnawed at his back and his hands cramped under the force of his grip. Shannon sat next to the fire and waited for his energy to run out. When it finally did, Silas dropped the ax and retreated to the fire, sinking to his knees in front of his wife.

When his breathing became even, Shannon asked, “Could we burn the tree down?”

He considered that for a moment and said, “No.” He pulled the tattered treasure map from his pocket and unfolded it for his wife to see. “Might not be gold in the tree. Could be another map. Could be…anything. Can’t risk destroying it.”

“I’m sorry, love,” Shannon said, gently rubbing his back. “Don’t think I’d a cared for the smell of farty silk anyhow.”

“You silly woman,” Silas said affectionately. He let her wash his face and his hands, and finally bundle him into his bed roll. He stared at the glowing embers in the fire as Shannon washed his old socks in the pot, and eventually he drifted off to sleep.

Shannon found that she couldn’t sleep that night. She finished all of the washing, brushed the horse, and even whittled a new spoon for herself. But there was still no hint of dawn, and Silas’s quiet snore assured her they would not be leaving anytime soon.

Finally she picked herself up and made her way to the creek she’d heard babbling away all night. She refilled their canteens and, on a whim, stripped down to her underthings and gave herself a bath. When she finished, she lay on a large rock upstream. The chill in the air made her shiver, but the rock itself was warm, as though it still held heat from the sun. Despite the cold and her undressed state, Shannon started to feel dozy. Her eyelids became heavy, and after a few minutes she fell asleep.

Shannon awoke at dawn. The birds were singing and a cold breeze reminded her she wasn’t dressed. She sat up with a start when she smelled frying bacon and warm honey. Scrambling off the rock, she gathered up her clothes and hurried back to their campsite.

“Good morning, love!” Silas called out.

Shannon nearly fainted at the sight of her husband cooking breakfast. She carefully walked back into camp, wondering what trickery this was. Silas rose to his feet and met her halfway. “I’ll take these,” he said, pulling the bundle of full canteens from her hands. “Get dressed, my dear. You’ll catch cold!”

He carried the canteens back to the sled and left Shannon to dress herself in the field. When she finished lacing her boots, she moved to the fire and found a pan filled with crispy bacon and a pot loaded with honey-sweetened porridge. Silas returned and filled a plate with food, and Shannon nearly fainted again when he passed the plate to her along with her new spoon.

“That’s nice work, that,” Silas said of the spoon before filling his own plate with food.

“What’s happened to you?” Shannon whispered.

Silas smiled at his wife, then gestured to the piece of ancient linen Shannon hadn’t even realized she was sitting next to.

“What is that?”

“Found it by the tree this morning.”

Shannon looked to the tree. She stared at the enormous, gaping hole, and the splintered bark surrounding it. Her eyes lowered to the bottom of the tree where the red horseshoe magnet sat on a pile of wood dust.

“Open it,” Silas whispered.

Shannon carefully set her plate on the ground and lifted the cloth to reveal an iron casket with rusty edges and a newly broken lock. Truly curious now, Shannon lifted the lid.

“Oh Silas!” she gasped, her eyes brimmed with tears. She looked across the fire at her husband. He was holding the old treasure map, a flame licking at the corner.

“Won’t be needin’ it anymore, you see,” Silas said with a wink.