Short story competition winners

Gabrielle McCulloch, runner up general section

It took a while for the Mahurangi Matters short story competition to hit its stride, but after extending the deadline and printing a few reminders in the paper and online, entries flooded into our Neville Street office …

Judges had their work cut out selecting the top stories from several outstanding entries.

Judges for the general section were Mahurangi Matters book reviewers Mary-Liz Corbett and Karen Sollitt and, for the teen section, Matakana teen fiction writer Jenni Francis.

The judges’ final choices were:

General section:
Winner: Scattered Thoughts by Bo Blazey, currently travelling
Runner up: Wharf Jumping by Gabrielle McCulloch, of Algies Bay

Teen section:
Winner: Mahurangi Kaitiaki by Jodie Shaw, 13, of Warkworth
Runner up: Treasure Hunters by Briar Minson, 15, of Wellsford

Jodie Shaw, winner teen section

Briar Minson, runner up teen section

Judges praised Scattered Thoughts for holding their interest from the first paragraph. The judges wrote: “The author’s ear for realistic dialogue between a couple who love each other was right on the mark. It was funny and moving – although there was a sense of unease that something was not quite right. The local area was woven in well with the storyline.”

They also praised Wharf Jumping for its portrayal of events that youth can relate to, including love, break-ups and “realising what two friends really mean to each other”.

In the teen section, Mahurangi Kaitiaki was singled out for its good humour, endearing characters and good dialogue and Treasure Hunters was commended for its well developed structure and plot and the well imagined conflict between the protagonist and secondary character.  

Bo Blazey said the inspiration for his story came after talking to a friend whose family was having trouble agreeing where to scatter a loved one’s ashes. He is currently travelling in Europe and joked that he planned to spend his prize money on wine, women and fast cars in Paris.

Gabrielle McCulloch said her story was prompted by memories of jumping off Sandspit Wharf.

Jodie Shaw was inspired by Warkworth’s corroded metal statues of birds and wondered if there could be a story behind them. Briar Minson was gripped by the idea of finding treasure somewhere in New Zealand.

Both Jodie and Briar are considering making writing a full-time career, perhaps in journalism, authoring books or screenwriting.

General section winner Bo Blazey won $400 and teen winner Jodie Shaw won $200. The runners up each received a $50 book voucher.   

Judges said the best entries told a story, had believable characters, introduced conflict and had a resolution that was satisfying to the reader.

They said other stories struggled because there were attempts to be too clever and literary, they contained too much descriptive writing or the writer was uncertain how to finish. But they said none of the entrants should be discouraged.

“Go for it. Write as much as possible and keep entering the competitions,” judges said.

Scattered Thoughts, Wharf Jumping and Mahurangi Kaitiaki are published in the following pages.

Mahurangi Matters was unable to secure a picture of Bo Blazey prior to deadline.


Scattered Thoughts

A short story by Bo Blazey

Our bay at Tawharanui was looking like a giant tourist poster slapped on the world, all blues, greens and sharp, metallic sunlight. It had taken me three years to choose this perfect day.
‘Remember when we got naked and naughty on that grassy bank over there? You were so worried about someone seeing us, but I eventually managed to distract you.’
‘Rudey.’
‘Yeah, but it was fun. Wish we could do that again now.’
‘Well that’s not going to happen, is it?’
‘Guess not.’
I sat cross-legged on the grass, looking out at God’s ruler line between the contrasting blues of ocean and sky. The only clouds visible hid at the edges like fur trim on a cobalt coat.
‘You know I slept with another woman last weekend, don’t you?’
‘I had a feeling.’
‘My first in three years.’
‘Was it someone I know?’
‘No. Someone new. I couldn’t have done it with someone we both knew.’
‘How was it?’
‘I cried.’
‘You didn’t!’
‘I did. I couldn’t help myself. I thought I was going to be okay, but as soon as we had finished and I had just passed her some tissues, the tears started flowing and I got a big bowling ball of pain, guilt, loss, longing, all that shit, right in my chest. And I started gasping, sobbing and even laughing
at myself.’
‘Poor woman. She must have been terrified.’
‘She hasn’t called me back in the last week. Do you think that’s a bad sign?’
I laughed until I suddenly felt that familiar spiky ache creeping up from my stomach to my chest to my eyes.
‘I’m working up to an epic cliché here, you know ... “the salt of his tears mixed with the salt of the ocean”.’
‘So, don’t cry. It’s been three years. Haven’t you cried enough by now?’
‘I’m not sure what enough is but certainly a lot. I’ve been much better. Before last weekend’s embarrassing episode, it had been at least two months since my last outburst.’
‘That’s pretty good. What launched that one?’
‘Seeing an old yellow scarf in the Hospice shop.’
‘Why?’
‘That first night you slept over at my place, and we went to the movies at Matakana the next day. You wore the yellow scarf my mum had knitted for me.’
‘Oh yeah, I remember that. And that was enough to set you off?’
‘It was. When I went next door to get a pie at Savan’s, they must have thought I was on drugs because my eyes were so red.’
I lay back on my towel, felt the thick kikuyu mattress beneath me, closed my eyes and listened to the susurration of the waves. The sea made pebbles chuckle and clunk as it shoved them up the shore and then slurped them back down again. Gulls circled and cried, wounding my already delicate soul and layering nostalgia upon melancholy. The yellow scarf, childhood mudflats, walking at dusk on the beach, watching you try to control your hair and getting frustrated. I talked about your bosoms a lot, but I loved your hair.
‘It might be time.’
‘It’s long past time really.’
‘Yeah, I know, but it’s not easy.’
‘Just wade into the water, open the tin and let it go.’
‘That’s the thing, though ... letting it go means letting you go.’
‘You’ve already let me go. I didn’t give you a choice.’
I rummaged in my backpack for the old, rusty biscuit tin, the one with the flowers of New Zealand on it, the one you loved but it made anything stored in it taste metallic. I carefully removed the Sellotape that sealed the lid and placed the tin on the grass beside me. I looked at the faded flowers for a while, choosing my favourite – clematis – and tried to remember yours. A liquid gasp crept up my torso again when I couldn’t remember which it was. I looked out at the sparkling bay, exchanged a couple of loud inhales/exhales and stood, picked up the biscuit tin, and walked purposefully towards the ocean.
‘You’ve thought about this.’
‘Yes, I have. I’ve read too many stories about disastrous gusts of wind so I figured I would just swim out a wee way, sink the tin under the water and then pop the lid.’
‘You’ll get it all over you.’
‘Maybe, but not if I’m careful. And it will wash off by the time I swim back in.’
‘Keeping the tin?’
‘Keeping the tin.’
‘Go on then.’
I waded in up to my knees, stopped, looked around, suddenly a bit nervous about someone coming down to the shore and seeing me, maybe asking what I was doing. I checked the bay end to end – grey pebbles, pinky sand, lush, grassy amphitheatre – but I had the beach, the bay, the world to myself . . . to ourselves. A couple more steps took me to waist-deep, and I floated the tin on the surface of the water beside me. A slow, flushing panic rose up to cloud my brain; I wasn’t ready, it wasn’t the right thing to do, the day wasn’t right, you wouldn’t approve.
I grabbed the tin and waded back to shore, speed-breathing with fright, and sat myself down on the pebbles at the water’s edge. Breathe in the sun, breathe out the pain. Breathe in the sun, breathe out the pain. I knew how to get myself back under control but it took a while.
‘Are you OK?’
‘I will be soon.’
‘Just relax. Go with your instincts. It’s all fine.’
‘Easy for you to say.’
‘Yes, but you just need to do this and move on.’
‘I know you’re right, but it’s hard. It just is.’
‘Take your time, keep the sun out of your eyes and be yourself.’
I laughed at that, one of my favourite movie quotes, and you can’t have a panic attack and laugh at the same time. So, taking yet more deep breaths, I grabbed my tin and headed back into the water, determined, blanking out all thought besides that of lying on my back, kicking my feet and paddling out to deep water with a biscuit tin perched on my chest. Satisfied with the depth of blue beneath, I floated the tin beside me and eased one corner adrift with my fingers.
‘Careful now.’
‘I know. I’m just making sure it’s going to be easy to get the lid off.’
‘Maybe let a little trickle of water in so that it will be easier to sink.’
‘Always with the unsolicited advice. Some things don’t change.’
‘Sorry, just want you to be happy.’
‘Yeah, well, the better this goes, the less happy I will probably be so how about that for irony.’
‘Stop over thinking it. Just do it.’
So, I did. I lifted the corner up a little more, let in a slow trickle of water to replace the air inside the tin, and eased it down under the surface. A small wisp of grey dust rose out of the gap and swirled like a liquid ghost, and, that image being too much to dwell on, I quickly flicked off the lid and let your remains go for a final, eternal swim. I gently kicked backwards, swirling the tin a little in the water as I went to dislodge the ashes from all the corners, leaving a cloud behind me like a terrified squid. And I was terrified and elated and incredibly sad and relieved and confused.
I lay back down on my towel and sobbed for a good ten minutes, big chest-raking, snot dribbling, eye-puffing sobs. Then I ran out of water, breath and inclination.
‘I’m so proud of you.’
‘I’m tired. I think I’m in shock.’
‘You did well, and what better place and day than this.’
‘You’re still here.’
‘Of course. I’ll always be here. I’m not some dusty old ashes in a rusty old tin.’
‘I love that tin.’
‘I know you do. I love it too.’
‘I love you. Really, truly, deeply, forever and I’m still really pissed off you died.’
‘Understandable.’
‘Actually, I think I’m starting to get some vague sense of relief.’
‘That’s because you probably should have done this two years ago.’
‘Yeah, I know. Maybe I’ll ring that woman back and see if she wants to go on another date.’
‘Slow down tiger.’


Wharf Jumping

A short story by Gabrielle McCulloch

Jackson got his licence first. He drove to Warkworth every weekend in his red 2002 Mitsubishi Colt. For the first three weeks, I wasn’t even allowed my feet on the dashboard, by the fourth we were throwing left over Maccas fries and iced cokes into the back seat. We ordered hot chips for four, split between two. He counted and slid each coin onto the table, four golds, two small silvers, and a round HMS Endeavour.
‘Don’t forget your change,’ I said, eyebrow raised.
He whacked my arm but my grin didn’t fade.
Each plank of wood along the edge of the Warkworth wharf is inscribed with the name of a person whose money helped build it – Williamson, Scott, Nelson, Scandrett. I walked on top of them, and the Mahurangi River walked beside. Jackson put his arms out.
‘You’ll fall.’
‘I won’t!’ I said and threw leftover hot chips to the seagulls.
Boats clung to the wharf, thick ropes wrapped around and around the mooring. I don’t think I ever saw a single boat out on Mahurangi River. Ducks and seagulls had the water to themselves.
Jackson has a wide face and large hands. He always bet me in thumb war, always lost in arm wrestling.
‘Best of three,’ he’d say. ‘I’ll win next time – best of three.’
Both of his parents are Korean. Jackson is his English name, after Michael Jackson, the King of Pop. I laughed when I first found out, played Thriller from my phone every time he entered the room. Now, he glares when my hands twitch towards the aux cord. Jackson’s Mitsubishi Colt is a strictly No King of Pop Zone.
I spread my arms out, slowly walking along the edge of the wharf with careful balance. Movement. Hands pushed me, my body lurched forward. I felt arms around my waist hurl me up. Green rushed below, nothing beneath my feet. I screamed.
‘Okay, okay,’ Jackson’s hands were raised. ‘I’m sorry! I’m sorry.’
I stepped a metre away from the wharf’s edge.
‘You arsehole! This jacket is new!’
‘I’m sorry,’ he laughed.
I hit his shoulder to shut him up. I hate the water. It’s the weightless feeling of not having solid ground beneath your feet. You’re open above, to the sides, below. You can twist and twist and never see, never know what’s around you. The ocean is full of the uncertain. By the wharf, my chips grew dark and sank into the deep green.
I moved to the city for uni. Jackson didn’t. I was going be a nurse, planned to since I was seven years old playing with my blue nurse’s cap mum found at the Matakana op shop. Jackson took a gap year. He worked hospo in the summer and surfed Omaha on his days off.
I guess that’s where he met Jess. During my first year of nursing, I started dating Eric. Every week Eric would ask if ‘we’ were ‘okay’. ‘You’re distant. Why didn’t you reply to my good morning text? Are you hanging out with Jackson?’
Eric studied Engineering.
‘Engineering boys are sleazy,’ Jackson told me.
I turned to face him.
‘Jess studied engineering,’ I said.
‘She’s a girl – doesn’t count.’
She broke up with him over text. When Jackson told me, his face was as pink and blotchy as a watercolour rose. Turns out she was seeing someone else. I placed my hand over his cheek. It was soft like skipping stones, fuzzy like the plume of a toetoe. He brushed my hand away.
‘No biggie,’ he said.
The last time I saw Jackson cry we were seven. He wet himself while we were watching the Wizard of Oz. All messy face and snotty pillows. He was terrified. His mum had to pick him up before I could finish the movie. Jackson avoided me for a full week. At lunch, he sat with the boys on the soccer field. I had to tell him I still slept with a dummy just to get him to look at me again.
‘Yeah, no biggie,’ I said.
My phone screen lit up the side of my face. It was Eric. You okay? We good? I clicked the ‘off’ button and turned the screen over.
‘Why are you still with him?’ Jackson asked. He was sitting close to me now. His long dark hair curled behind his ears.
‘He’s nice,’ I said. Eric was nice.
‘It’s stupid to stay with someone just because you’re afraid to break up,’ he said.
The pillow on my lap had frayed tassels lining the edges. I twisted them through my fingers, braiding each one into plaits.
It was dark when we drove to the wharf. No one was on the roads, no one ever is at 2am. Jackson parked outside the Warkworth Library. I opened the door and all the heat slipped away to biting cold. It was low tide. The wharf boards were brittle, easy to break. Wooden pillars plunged into the water below. They were covered by a line of green slime and barnacles which cut half way up. It marked the place where the water rises. In four hours the barnacles would be swallowed again.
‘Okay, we’re here. Just jump,’ Jackson said.
I threw my clothes aside, kicking at my jeans which clung to my leg. I pulled my singlet down tight to cover my white belly and flat breasts. Cold air whipped through my hair. Fabric was all I had between me and the water, between all those black waves of seaweed and eels, and crab’s claws. Beside Jackson was a large ‘no jumping’ sign. He leaned against his car, grinning.
‘Go on then,’ he said. Like I wasn’t gonna jump.
I tasted salt. Standing this close to the edge was not helping. I took a step back, bent down like a runner just before the gunshot. Ocean waves were visible in between the cracks of wharf boards, twisting dark, depth unknown. My breath quickened.
‘All right,’ I said.
My toes gripped the floor. Jackson said something that the wind stole. I surged forward, ran, and pushed. Stinging. Salt was in my ears, in my nose. Eyes scrunched closed. Undersea sludge engulfed my feet. It rose around me, sucking in whole. I kicked off the ground in panic. A brown cloud spread through the water, taking me for part of the ocean, twisting my limbs into sea. The water, full of creatures and boat’s hulls and heavy chains and anchors. Frantic. I hurdled my way to the slippery barnacle ridden stairs. Gasping I rose, dragged myself from the water. My body shuddered, moved like waves.
‘I can’t believe you actually did it!’ Jackson said. He stood gaping by the no jumping sign.
‘I said I would.’
He handed me my mermaid towel, the one he kept in the boot of his car.
‘You’re cold.’
He wrapped his arms around me. He was warm – strong – stronger than I remember, stronger than when I bet him in arm wrestling on the floor of his grandmother’s living room.
‘You didn’t actually have to jump,’ he said.
‘But I did.’
The next morning, I put my still-wet clothes in a New World plastic bag and shoved it down the side of Jackson’s car door. My hair was riddled with salt, I hadn’t showered. The lock screen of my phone had five unopened messages, all from my boyfriend, Eric. Jackson stopped driving when we reached Eric’s flat.
‘It’s good you’re doing this in person,’ he said.
I couldn’t see Eric, but there was a light on in his window. He must’ve just woken up. Jackson stayed behind in the car, he rested his chin on the steering wheel. When he saw me looking back, he opened into a small smile. I nodded. Turning back to the door, I knocked.


Mahurangi Kaitiaki

A short story by Jodie Shaw

‘Aye! Psst! Aye mate! Mateo!’
A heavily Kiwi-accented voice cut through the babble of chattering children, gossiping parents and water splashing softly against the riverbank.
Mateo looked around curiously, searching for the person who had spoken.
‘Down here!’ the voice whispered again, sounding urgent.
Mateo looked down, but the only thing that he saw was a duck waddling close to him. And then, the duck looked up, and it spoke.
‘Hey, kid,’ it quacked.
Mateo jumped back and the duck flapped its wings, looking startled.
‘Are… are you really speaking to me? And how do you know my name?’ Mateo asked nervously, believing that he might be dreaming.
‘Name’s Roderick, mate, but call me Roddy if you want, aye?’ quacked the duck.
‘Um, I, I don’t think that ducks can have names,’ replied Mateo carefully.
‘Of course they can! Youse humans never ask us. That’s why you think ducks don’t have names. It’s quite rude,’ said Roddy the duck, looking ruffled. ‘Anyway, mate, I’m here to tell ya that the Mahurangi River guardians have disappeared! You have to help us find them. Us being the creatures of the river; ducks, eels, herons, all those animals,’ said Roddy, waddling away from the playground with Mateo walking next to him.
After they had reached the shade of some mangroves, Mateo asked Roddy what he meant.
‘Mahu River guardians? Stolen? I have to find them? What are they?’ he asked Roddy.
Roddy shook his tail feathers impatiently.
‘Look, I said that humans never listen, but you were chosen by the great Māori ancestors of Mahurangi to be the protector of this town, and look after the land, so I know that you can help. I know that it sounds confusing, but it’s true. Every creature of the river needs the guardians for the Mahurangi River to be kept clean. Humans keep polluting it, and without the guardians, the river will dry up, and the creatures will leave. The guardians are a bunch of gods, but they change shapes, so they could just be ducks or eels, or a taniwha – now that would be cool!’ explained Roddy, flapping his wings.
Mateo twiddled his fingers in his pockets; he wasn’t sure that he wanted to meet a taniwha.
‘Don’t be nervous, bro, you were chosen for this. Follow me, I think I know where the first of the three river guardians could be.’
Mateo followed Roddy reluctantly, wondering how stupid he must look talking to a duck. He did, however, want to keep the river creatures healthy and safe; he couldn’t imagine Warkworth without them. Eventually, Roddy stopped near a jetty and swam out.
Mateo was just about to say that he probably couldn’t swim or see well in the murky water, when Roddy paddled into a clump of mangrove trees and up to a big boulder, which he pecked once, as if it was to open up into a secret entrance, which it didn’t. But then, the rock opened up an … eye! A large, brown eye with rocky wrinkles around it, and it stared up sleepily at Mateo, blinking. And then the rock grew a nose, and another eye, and a mouth, and ears!
Mateo wanted to run away, but he didn’t; he was too curious.
‘What is it now, Rodd? You always wake me up … but, hold on!’ said the rock, its tired voice starting to sound excited. ‘That’s the warrior! Has he come to find the guardians?’ the rock asked.
‘Yep, he sure has. So, Rocky, any idea where Tinirau would be? Ya know, god of fish?’
‘Well, last I heard, he was hiding somewhere in this river disguised as a whitebait, but who knows? There’s been so much fishing going on here that he might have been turned into a sandwich. People fishing whitebait just for a measly sandwich to eat. Wasteful.’ said Rocky tiredly, his eyes bleary.
Mateo nodded and Roddy quacked, both agreeing.
‘Thanks for your help, we’ll go look for him.’
And Rocky turned back into quite an ordinary rock.
After a few more minutes of walking with Roddy, Mateo reached Lucy Moore Park and followed Roddy onto a bank hidden by bamboo.
‘I reckon that I could get him,’ said Roddy, diving down with his fluffy duck butt bobbing on top of the water. He emerged after a few minutes, a whitebait in his bill that he was holding tightly, the small fish flailing around to escape. Roddy climbed the bank, and spat the fish out, wiping his beak on his wing.
The fish continued to flop around, but Roddy convinced Mateo that the whitebait was Tinirau, the god of fish. And it turned out that it was, because it gave one last flop and transformed into a dark-skinned man with magnificent tattoos of the ocean and sea creatures that Mateo had never dreamed of.
The man looked quite grumpy to have been found by Roddy, who was looking as smug as a duck could look.
Tinirau crossed his arms and spoke in a deep voice full of sulkiness.
‘Alright, you found me! Big deal! I was gonna come out of hiding soon enough … and it’s rude to just grab someone like that, Rodd! Anyway, Mateo, nice work. The next guardian is in one of the mangrove patches. His name is Haumia, god of vegetation. I promise to go back to protecting the river, etcetera, blah blah.’ And with that, Tinirau transformed back into a whitebait and flopped back into the river.
Roddy told Mateo that Tinirau’s promise was good enough, and then they walked and waddled off to another mangrove patch that was particularly dense, the twisting trees deep in mud. Roddy and Mateo looked around, searching for Haumia. They had been looking for a while when Mateo noticed a distant noise that he hadn’t noticed before; a frantic chirping noise made by a tiny green and white bird a few trees away; it seemed to have gotten tangled in a plastic bag stuck in the branches of a tree. Mateo hurried over and gently freed the bird, which sat in his hands and looked up gratefully at him. Then it fluttered to the ground and transformed into a man with brown skin and many tattoos of birds and ferns.
‘Ah, choice mate! Thanks for that, my feathers were pretty tangled there! I wouldn’t have gotten stuck there if someone had kept the plastic bag on them instead of chuckin’ it, aye? Thanks for helping me out,’ said Haumia, sounding cheery.
Mateo grinned. Helping out made him feel good about himself.
Haumia then turned back into a bird and twittered.
‘The next god is by the dam under the bridge! His name is Táne-mahuta, god of the forest and all birds. Good luck!’ And then he flew off into the clouds.
Roderick and Mateo walked to the dam. They explored around the place for a long time, but they had no luck. The sun was starting to go down over the tops of the trees, and Mateo would have to walk home soon. Mateo was just starting to wade deeper when he slipped on a rock. He expected to hit water, but instead he found himself rising up on a hard, wet surface like a stone.
Roderick quacked loudly and flapped his
wings, panicking.
‘Mate, you’re standing on top of a taniwha!’
Mateo looked down, and, sure enough, he was on the back of a monster as big as a bus with brown scales and dark, small eyes. The creature smiled at Mateo, showing its many sharp teeth, its powerful legs relaxing as it sat down in the shallow water, Mateo sliding off and landing gently.
‘I am Táne-mahuta, the greatest guardian of the Mahurangi River, and I am glad that you found me, Mateo. Humans have been polluting this river for so long, that the guardians had to go into hiding, but, thanks to you, you found us, and now we can go back to protecting the land,’ said Táne, turning slowly into a man.
And then all three guardians appeared in front of Mateo, bowed, and turned into beautiful birds, flying to different parts around the Mahurangi River and transforming into metal birds where they stand to this day, watching over the Mahurangi River to remind us to do the same.


Treasure Hunters

A short story by Briar Minson

She felt sick already, nausea bubbling in her stomach. The boat known as ‘Kowhai’ tossed in the sea, waves pushing it up and down. There was nothing in New Zealand for Luna. There was hardly anything at all, apart from acres of forest and lots of overly friendly people with bad pronunciation. Luna was used to bustling cities with busy and important people. She didn’t care for these people who smiled and talked to her every time she passed someone or asked a question. But as a treasure hunter she followed rumours, and in New Zealand there was one too good to miss. So, despite the miniscule population, and the lack of good coffees, there was treasure to be found, and Luna was the one who was going to find it.
The air was damp and smelled of fish. Luna hated fish. But there was not much else in the ocean; endless waves and the infinite horizon. She stared out into the sky as the sun sank lazily down. An oxygen tank hung off her back like a limpet, and she pulled on her mask. “Only half an hour mon amie?”
She smiled and nodded. He looked sceptical. Pulling her mask back off, she shot him a glare. “Why don’t you trust me Philippe? I’ve got a timer on, and when it goes off I’ll just swim to the surface, like usual.”
“You don’t listen to your timer. It’s late Luna, we want to go home.”
Luna glanced around at the small team who all turned to look at her and sighed.
“Thirty minutes, you got it. I’ll be right up.” Fitting her mask and mouthpiece back on, she winked and plunged into the deep sea.
The ocean was dark beneath the waves, the cool water sinking into every pore of Luna’s body. A small beam of light illuminated the abyss. The sound of her breath echoed in her head and her heart was pounding in her chest. Despite her love for diving, the sensation of letting yourself drop into the unknown was never something you got used to. The wetsuit stuck to her legs, and her fingers already felt pruny. No sign of her prize. Her timer went off. ‘Already?’ The top of the water spread up over her, beckoning her back to the surface. Luna looked down at the unseen ocean floor and sighed.
“Back already?”
Luna sat on the edge of the boat and tore off her mask.
“It’s been 30 minutes, not a minute more. That’s what I said wasn’t it?”
Philippe nodded, and helped her take off her fins.
“Oui, but we were all prepared to be at least another hour.” He turned away and called up to the cockpit of the boat. “Mark, she’s back.”
A young man, barely 21 stepped out.
“Already? You must be feeling sympathetic Luna.” He grinned at her and she rolled her eyes. Mark was a New Zealander, a hired boy from the small town of Warkworth. The boat was Mark’s as well, and it was safe to say that he was a little sweet on Luna. This made Luna find him more unappealing. Mark stepped back inside, and Luna felt the boat lurch to the left. Her stomach lurched to the right.
“If you’ll excuse me, he’s done it again.” She pulled off her other flipper and sprinted inside, the bathroom door luckily open. Leaning over the small toilet she hurled violently. Luna wiped her mouth with a piece of toilet paper. “Thanks Mark,” she whispered, reluctantly wiping up her lunch.
As she exited the bathroom, the boat was just docking at the Leigh Wharf, the water churning as it hit the rocks and the side of the ship. Luna jumped into the shallow waters, pebbles climbing in between her toes. She pulled the rope and hooked it around a mooring post. A few minutes later they were lugging their equipment and bags up the hill and closer to the town of Leigh. Luna waved to Phillippe and the rest of the crew as they walked to the left and she turned right, Mark jogging closely behind her.
“Luna! Hey, Luna!”
“What do you want Mark?”
He stopped so he was next to her, and she looked up with a forced smile, the way you would when a kid you were with was being a brat.
“I was wondering if you wanna go out for dinner. I know this great place in Warkworth, it’s only 20 minutes away.”
“I don’t have a car Mark.”
“Oh, I do, I’m borrowing my friend’s. I can drive you.”
“Don’t have much money either Mark, I just flew 8,973 miles on an overpriced plane.”
He smiled.
“That’s okay, how about you come back to my place, have an old-fashioned home-cooked meal. How does that sound?”
“Not my style.” Luna kept walking, hastening her pace.
Mark slowed down and eventually stopped.
“Okay, see ya tomorrow Luna.” Luna sighed and turned back, Mark staring after her.
“Twenty minutes huh?”
His face broke into a cheery smile, the blood returning into his cheeks as they flushed red. He practically broke into a sprint to catch up to her and led her to his car – a small white Toyota. She did her best to not look bored out of her mind and she hopped in. The car ride was filled with listening to the radio, Mark talking about his friend and how lucky he was to borrow his car, and Luna talking about her diving experience.
“So, you’ve really found a shipwreck? With actual skeletons in it?”
Luna nodded as she sat at Mark’s circular dining table.
“Yea, but they were so old it was practically just their skulls on a pile of sediments.”
Mark sat down opposite her.
“You are so amazing, you do so much cool stuff. I think I wanna do exactly what you do for the rest of my life.”
Luna smiled and raised her eyebrows as he blushed.
“So, how did you get involved with treasure hunting?”
Mark grinned, his eyes sparkling.
“I’m glad you asked. I’ve always wanted to show someone this.” He disappeared from the room. Luna wondered if she was fast enough to leave before he got back. She probably was but she decided against it, as it would probably be awkward as they work together. He came back in, throwing down a pile of papers and rolled up posters. Luna raised one eyebrow. “What is all this junk?”
Mark sat down again.
“It was my grandfather’s. He was obsessed with this stuff.”
“This stuff?”
“Treasure. I inherited it when he died as my dad wasn’t interested in it. He said there was treasure all around us. Which is what made me join your team.”
Luna pulled open a piece of frail parchment.
“This looks like the East coast of New Zealand.”
Mark came around and looked at it too, his hands shaking.
“It is! Look there’s Great Barrier Island, and Waiheke.”
Luna peered closer.
“If this is the map we’re following, then we’ve been looking in all the wrong places. Look there’s words written all over it, but it’s not in English.”
Mark grabbed the map and paced up and down his kitchen.
“Well, he lived in Ireland for quite some time. So maybe he wrote it in Irish.”
He looked back at Luna who was deciding whether he was serious.
“Gaelic,” she said as she snatched it back.
“Yea, that’s what I meant.”
“So, this map could be leading to the treasure?”
“I guess so, maybe.”
She looked up at Mark and would have hugged him if it wouldn’t have ruined her reputation and if he wasn’t so frustrating. The treasure was real and they were going to find it. Even better, they had a map to it. It needed to be translated for sure, but the treasure was real, they had a map, and they were going to find it.


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