Finally! It’s time to throw back ze curtains and reveal my 499 dirty first words.
Bam! 499. I really killed it with that one, didn’t I?
Okay fine, not really. I actually exceeded on the first pass by 12 words. At the time, I (erroneously) thought the first draft rules were a hard 500, so I went back and deleted a whole sentence just to put me back under. But that’s the extent of “editing” I did on this draft. Not that you’ll need much convincing once you read the hollow words down below!
My apologies in advance if you find it a bit confusing. I tend to blow through drafts quickly and wanted to take the story further but quickly ran out of word space. I felt like one of those chefs on the Food Network show Chopped, fingers flying with my eyes glued to that rapidly up-ticking word counter!
With the allowance generously doubled to 1000 words for next week, I’m aiming for more clarification on my self-edited second draft. And dare I say, more characterization. Because that’s a weak point I need some improvement on.
I’ll save some thoughts about the idea for this story below the draft, to avoid “spoilers”. So without further ado, here goes!
The First Draft
He came to me in a midnight clear. An old man in a broken boat, rusty and screaming of tetanus. There was something odd about him. Otherworldly. As if he’d come from another time and place.
I didn’t even hear him arrive. A marvel, as I imagined the clanking noises that old boat should’ve made. Nevertheless, he appeared, quiet as the moon, his bare feet soft on the sand.
I flipped the neck of my booklight back and aimed it up at him, my breathing erratic, my butt glued to the sand. He seemed harmless enough, but didn’t they all?
“Bonjour,” he said, when he came within the dim circle.
“Bonjour,” I replied.
A few more phrases would’ve exhausted my C+ average French repertoire, so I prayed he wouldn’t carry on. He didn’t, thank God. This was a New England beach, and French was a rarity found only in Madame Simone’s fifth period class.
He stood staring at me with bottomless eyes, which should’ve creeped me out, raised the hairs from my skin. It was midnight on a deserted beach after all, and I had nothing but a cheap IKEA lamp and Jane Austen paperback for defense. Mum and Dad were snug in their Holiday Lettings bed, a sand dune away, too far to hear me scream.
But fear doesn’t besiege the faithful, for through Him, I am protected.
I clutched the golden crucifix at my throat and looked the stranger clear in the eyes. I didn’t know him. Yet somehow, I recognized him.
“You must go back, Joan,” he said.
I blinked. “How do you know my name?”
“You are—and have always been—Joan.”
I snapped my book shut and stumbled to my feet, my bare toes gripping the cool sand grains.
“Go back where?”
“Là où tout a commencé,” he said. “To where it all begins.”
When I failed to comprehend, he reached a hand inside his crimson cloak and pulled out a glowing sword, the silver of its blade so fluid, it lit up the dark like twelve moons. He pointed its tip at me, and in an instant, I was bestowed with knowledge. Divine remembrance.
Centuries reeled before my eyes like credits at a movie’s end. All the lives of my past. The hundreds of strings of cause and effect.
He was right. I am and have always been Joan. Jehanne d’Arc. A poor farmer’s daughter called to march an army to victory. An innocent maiden damned to rot in prison. But it wasn’t enough.
“Is this not how it’s supposed to end?” I asked in defeat.
He shook his head. “This time, you must not recant. You must burn, Joan, for true victory. Without France, the new nation cannot rise.”
I stared at the black waters crashing against the rusty old boat that would take me back to the banks of the River Vienne. I knew then my fate at the stake.
But I was not afraid. “Then let His will be mine.”
On a visit to a museum, I was riveted by a stunning painting of Saint Joan of Arc, leading a French army into battle after they liberated the city of Orléans—my hometown’s namesake.
What a mind-blowing historical feat! We’re talking the 1400’s here. How in the samhill did a 17-year-old illiterate peasant girl manage to convince the future King of France to let her command his military force?
Yet that was exactly what happened. And not only that, they went on to successfully reclaim multiple French cities from English rule under her direction. Joan was the tide that turned the Hundred Years’ War around for France, the force to whom many attributed France’s independence.
It could only be a miracle, right? Divine intervention, as she believed? Or perhaps it was magic! Time travel!
All these thoughts crossed my writerly mind as I stood staring in awe at the canonized saint who, still to this day, holds the record for youngest female army commander.
Naturally, my meandering mind wandered down alt hist paths. What would have happened if she hadn’t been victorious? What if France had never been liberated from the English? Would the American Revolution have ever stood a chance without France’s help against a much stronger England? And if not, would the US even exist as we know it today?
Joan of Arc, the butterfly effect.
Joan hung around in my thoughts long after I left the museum. In fact, she was still lingering when Jeni dropped the prompt. And when I saw the rusty old boat and thought about the girl on the beach encountering a strange man from another world, Joan popped up from my subconscious and said, “Ooh, that’s me! And my buddy, the Archangel Michael, who loves to tell me things God wants me to do.”
She has quite the gift for persuasion, that Joan. Which is how my story became hers.
Thanks for reading and see you next week for the revamped second draft!