Camille was stirred from her sleep by the single beam of early morning light that shined through the window curtain. Sleeping fully clothed and brimming with excitement had not allowed her much sleep, but few eleven year-olds needed the full night’s sleep their parents demanded they get. She moved slowly, partly due to the lack of decent sleep but mostly to keep her parents from waking up.
Wearing the cargo pants she did most of her exploring in and a durable white shirt over a blue one-piece bathing suit, Camille crossed the room and picked up her backpack. In the pack was three peanut butter sandwiches she made the night before, several bottles of water, a waterproof flashlight, and a towel. She threw the backpack over her back and headed out of her bedroom to the front door.
The door slid open silently at Camille’s light touch. She squeezed through the small opening in the door and slid it closed again. Her shoes, with the rest of her family’s, were outside the door but Camille was too excited to put them on now. She grabbed the shoes and jumped off the porch, her bare feet landing on the dirt road leading to her porch. The excitement of youth, fueled by adrenaline, carried her down the street with a huge smile on her face. Camille’s plan had been perfectly executed and in no time she would be on the beach.
When she felt she had run far enough, Camille walked over to the side of the road. She was out of breath but still careful enough to go though the procedure of turning the shoe over, slapping it, shaking it, and then finally looking into it. There were plenty of bugs and other creatures that would love to take a bite out of little girls, or at least that’s what her parents told her.
“Camille,” a voice behind her asked. The little girl spun around quickly, shocked to see Mr. Ramirez behind her with a water hose. In an instant her world was crushed. All of her planning, all of those days and nights thinking through exactly when she would run and how she would get out of the town and onto the sandy beaches. Now, those plans were for naught because she forgot about Mr. Ramirez waking up early to water his vegetable garden.
He looked carefully at her and somehow managed to hold in his laughter. Before him was a girl dressed in very cliché but nonetheless adorable explorer garb, holding a shoe with laces dangling, looking guiltily over her shoulder. Mr. Ramirez, now nearing 70, put a finger to his mouth and turned his back to Camille. Her eyes were still fixed on the old man, not sure what to expect. When the hose turned on, she quickly put her shoes on and continued running down the road and out of the village.
The sun was up well above the horizon now and Camille’s parents were likely now finding the letter she left on her nightstand.
Going to the ship. Be back tonight.
The beginning of the beach was in sight, encroaching slightly on the moist, fertile soil farther inland. Not many flowers grew here but there was plenty of shin-high grass and even an occasional tree. The trees Camille was most familiar with were the ones in and around the village with thick trunks and small leaves. It was because everything was so different down by the beach that she loved it, especially the trees with tall, narrow trunks bending toward the ocean with leaves that were bigger than her.
Camille walked towards one and began brushing away an area next to the trunk. Her classes taught her that there weren’t many poisonous or aggressive creepy-crawlies near the beach, but she also learned not to assume anything. One of her friends forgot to check his shoe one day and ended up in bed for a week. He also lost two toes.
Sitting down, Camille allowed herself to relax. She opened her bag and pulled out a sandwich and a bottle of water. It couldn’t be seen from here, but the shipwreck was the most captivating thing Camille had ever seen. There were plenty of stories about it, some of which she heard in school and others told to her by the oldest of the villagers. She never gave the stories much thought not because she lacked imagination, but because she wanted to see it for herself.
With half of the sandwich eaten and a bottle of water consumed, Camille was on her way again. The empty bottle and remaining half of the sandwich went into her bag and the march to the wreckage continued.
The clearing that Camille used to enter the beach was one of only two clearings near the beach. The area between the beach and the inland were densely packed with the trees Camille loved so much, making the walk even more enjoyable. The sound of the ocean easing onto the sand and the leaves gently rustling in the wind was soothing, but the sun on her back invigorated Camille and filled her with determination. She stopped thinking about the punishment her parents would give her an hour ago and now the only thing on her mind was clearing the upcoming bend.
Camille had only seen the wreck once during a class trip. Her school took all of the seventh grade students on a boat tour of the ship. The boat never got close enough to make out any details. Instead, the teacher would tell the story all of the children had heard a thousand times before they turned ten. An eleven year-old needed more than just tales and fables, and Camille was going to have it.
The bend was finally just a few minutes away, but Camille subdued her excitement. She didn’t want to run and consume any energy, or fall and hurt something that would force her to return home. In only a few minutes she would be closer to the ship than any of her friends had.
To take her mind off of it she did a quick inspection of herself. Her clothes were fine and her shoes were holding up, even though they were starting to get sand inside of them. Camille didn’t want to take them off, figuring she would empty them before going into the ship.
Her light brown skin was holding up against the sun for now. She was never burned by the sun the way some of her lighter friends and classmates were, which she found to be useful in her adventures. Sometimes she would go with a group of friends into the forest on imagined pirate raids or simply to play hide-and-seek, which she would excel at due to her darker skin and short black hair. Jeremy, a very light skin boy who she shared a kiss with once, always got caught first. She’d usually be the one who caught him.
The trees and brush that obscured the ship from view fell away as Camille finally cleared the bend. In a cove with very few rocks stood a wreck so tall that Camille hurt her neck looking to the top of it. Dull black material covered an incredibly smooth oval shape that was broken in half. From where Camille stood, she saw gashes in the side of the ship where time had slowly begun to erode the ship’s form.
She stood for a moment in awe. The most impressive thing she had seen until now was City Hall, a four story building that was, like much of the village, built out of wood and some other material she didn’t quite understand yet. But this ship was proof of something greater than her own imagination could conceive of. She started walking again, even more determined now to discover something new and unique.
The nose of the ship was about twenty feet off the ground, so far as Camille could tell. The ship looked like a rock one could find in a river, worn away by the tide until it was smooth and round, not at all like the boats she watched her father make.
Only this ship was not smooth at all. The surface was pitted and even had tiny holes in it. Camille couldn’t believe that something like this could ever float. From what she could tell, there was no paint or decoration on the outside of it, no place for a sail or a motor, and not a single window. Nothing about it looked natural, especially its size. Everyone in the three villages could fit in it.
In the shade of the hull she ate one of the whole sandwiches in her bag and drank another bottle of water. Camille figured she would leave the half sandwich from earlier as a snack for when she was inside the ship. While she ate she looked for a way in. Unfortunately, the only one she found was in the water about a third of the way to the back. It was a hole about ten feet wide and four feet tall, enough for her to climb in.
Finished with her lunch, she again put her trash in her backpack. She began getting undressed, putting her shoes in last and moving the waterproof flashlight to the top of the bag. Luckily, the backpack itself was waterproof enough that her clothes would likely stay dry. When she was ready she walked carefully into the gentle ocean tide.
Memories of the ocean came back to Camille as she waded into the cold water. She’d only been to the ocean a few times, mostly with her parents. They told her why the ocean was salty and why the fish were scared of her. Her mom would read a book while Camille and her dad tried desperately to build a sand castle that would stand on its own. The trips to the beach were always fun and they let Camille swim farther into the ocean than the other children’s parents would allow, but being on her own was something Camille always favored.
The water was now getting too deep to walk in. Camille leaped from the still shallow ocean floor and began swimming toward the opening. All children learned to swim in the meandering Crystal river, but, much to Camille’s dissatisfaction, she was the most average of the swimmers in her class. Still, the tide was not strong and it was less than a minute before she reached her destination.
The gap was not what she expected. There was no way into the ship from here. Instead, Camille saw spaces between the outer and inner wall of the ship that were either empty or filled with a material that looked like it could be used to stuff a bed, most of which was water-logged and moldy. There were four or five such layers that looked like what was used to insulate houses. Camille reached in and touched the inner wall, feeling a cold and unpleasant surface. Whatever the ship was made out of, it had no life to it even though it was the smoothest thing she’d ever felt.
The young girl was now divided for the first time in her young life. Maybe there was nothing to see here and she should head back. She looked to the shore, and then to the back of the ship and the vast ocean beyond. She decided to continue.
Kicking off of the ship, Camille paddled away from the ship to get a better look at her options. A little off the surface farther down the ship was another hole, one that she could definitely reach. She swam to it, only now starting to feel tired from swimming and treading water for so long. Out of breath and desperate to sit down, Camille reached the hole and stretched out a hand.
She grabbed on and held for a moment, catching her breath. Camille lifted and grabbed with her other hand, only realizing after pulling herself out of the water how jagged and sharp her handhold was. It wouldn’t cut her, she knew, but it was nonetheless uncomfortable.
This hole definitely led into the ship. Light from the midday sun reflecting off of the water shined into the ship, illuminating a hallway and a wall. In order for Camille to get in, however, she would need to cross the two or three feet of the spaces Camille noticed earlier and then squeeze into the ship through a hole just big enough for her body to fit through.
Camille planned, then lifted a second time. She planted her knee, careful not to cut it on whatever this ship was made out of. About a foot in front of her was a beam that she put a hand on, then another hand, and finally her other knee. She moved forward to another beam, testing it with her weight before she stood up on it. She took the time to look around and saw some of the water-logged cloth from earlier that was dry. Camille touched it and saw that it was some kind of paper, only thick and more like a sack one would put potatoes in.
The little girl took the time to giggle at how unusual everything about this ship was before she thought more seriously about how to get into it. In the wall before her was a hole that would normally be easier for her to climb through. It was the size of a small window, but there was nowhere for her to stand except for the beam she now stood on, probably a foot away.
At four and a half feet, Camille wasn’t sure that she would be able to make it. She took a closer look at the hole and realized that whatever the inner wall was made out of was not as sharp as the stuff from outside. Taking a risk, she leaned forward and reached out, grabbing edge of the hole. It would be easy for Camille to climb in.
She took the backpack off one shoulder at a time and tossed it through the gap before, with an exhalation of determination, pulling herself into the ship.
It was pitch black but Camille’s backpack was right next to her. She fumbled with it, trying to find the opening. After what felt like an eternity of fiddling around, Camille reached in and pulled out her flashlight. She pushed the button and the hallway was illuminated with a cone of white light.
To Camille’s left and right were walls that didn’t match. On the left side, the direction of the back of the ship, some sort of square grid pattern was fastened onto the same smooth surface that seemed to comprise the entire inside of the ship. To her right, evenly spaced fixtures running vertically ran down the length of the hallway that extended before her. Above and below her were smooth surfaces with some paint on them that, Camille thought, would serve better as walls than what actually were walls.
She picked up her backpack and looked around one last time, this time noticing to her right a ladder that was facing sideways and going into a three foot diameter tunnel in the wall, easy to miss in the darkness of the ship. *Why would anyone turn a ladder sideways?
Camille took several steps into the ship, throwing the backpack over her shoulder and shining the flashlight ahead of her. Looking around was unusual for her; Camille had never been anywhere this dark in her life and coordinating the flashlight to move with her eyes was difficult. She decided she would no longer move her eyes independent from her head, hoping to make moving the flashlight easier.
Something moved in the ship. She didn’t see it, making her frantically search the hallway. Maybe she was scaring herself.
No, there was definitely a noise. It clearly sounded like an animal scurrying ahead of her.
“Who’s there,” she called out, hoping for a response.
Another noise, this time closer, was the only thing Camille needed to hear to convince her to run away.
She dropped her flashlight and ran to the opening, shoving herself through head first. With her legs dangling inside of the ship Camille realized she may have made a mistake. The beam was too far away for her to reach. Even outside of the ship Camille could hear the noise getting closer, and, more desperately than before, Camille shook and reached for the beam. She just grazed it with a finger, and then two.
Camille took a deep breath. She knew that if there was ever a time for her to commit that this would be it. She lunged with as much of her body as she could and grabbed the beam with both hands. Her ankles were hooked on the inside of the hole and in a panic Camille pulled one of her feet up and out, then kicked off of the inside wall of the ship. The kick was so strong it sent her forward, scraping her right arm against the outside wall and into the water.
It was a bad scrape. Camille looked at her arm as she tread water, seeing that much of the outer layer of skin from her upper arm was gone. It was bright pink, bleeding a little, and now the ocean was starting to make it burn. Her backpack was gone.
For the second time today Camille tried to catch her breath. She closed her eyes, thinking she heard someone call her name. She was panicking and needed to relax.
Then she heard her name again, still soft and distant. She turned around to see where it was coming from but saw no one until the boat from her class trip emerged from behind the ship. She couldn’t see who was on it, but they were definitely calling out her name.
When she saw who was on the boat she expected to be yelled at and punished in ways too frightening to comprehend. Instead, when she was pulled out of the water, Camille was hugged by her parents so tightly she couldn’t breathe. She didn’t realize until they let go to look at her face that she was hugging them back, crying.
“Are you ok,” her mother asked, tears in her eyes.
Camille nodded, her throat incapable of making a noise.
Her father looked her in the eyes and said, “You’re never doing that again, do you hear me?”
The other people on the boat were deckhands and the captain. It was a small boat with a single mast that needed very little work to maneuver and the crew were already planning their turn, though it would take them by the ship again. Camille had to say something.
“There’s something inside the ship, don’t go near it.”
Camille’s parents looked at her. “What are you talking about, Cami,” her mother asked.
“Inside…inside the ship, there’s something in there.” She was talking while trying to catch her breath.
One of the deckhands came over and asked, “You mean you actually got inside?”
Camille nodded and her parents just stared at her.
The deckhand, a young man with dark skin and shaved head, smiled. “Good job, kid. No one’s been in there for a hundred years. Think you can show people how you got in when you get back?”
Camille looked at her parents. Her father smiled and her mother nodded. She was still frightened and a little unsure of what had happened in the ship and what would happen now, but when the pride began to lift her spirits, the young girl realized she had done something unique. Maybe that was why she ran off on her adventures, or maybe she just liked to have fun.
The big, brawny hand of Camille’s father rested on her shoulder. Gently, he said to his daughter, “You’re grounded for life.”