Phosphorescence

A short story based on a personal experience. I made some stuff up, and exagerated the arrogant side of my personality for entertainment, and changed the name of my friend, but truely the phosphorescence that night was incredible, no exaggeration needed there.

A soft crackling filled the air, a tingling like the sound of soft Summer rain, only fainter, of a higher pitch, and more omnipresent. I was only able to hear it now that the motor was turned off, though I already knew what was causing it: phosphorescence; bioluminescent plankton. I had been coming up to this bay in  the Malborough Sounds for as long as I could remember, but I had never seen it like this before in my life; I wondered if even my mother had, and she had been coming here for fifty years. It must have required a perfect night.

It was strange to feel the total absence of wind more noticeably than the usual whispering breeze. I looked up, and saw that there wasn't a cloud in the sky. It must have been a new moon too, as it was nowhere to be seen. Regardless, the stars shone so brightly up here away from the city lights, that even at one o'clock in the morning I was able to see clearly without a torch.

The sea was so incredibly flat, like an unbroken sheet of glass, with phosphorescence mirroring the stars in the sky above. There was no distant yelling of human voices, no hum of a distant boat, no lapping of water against the bottom of the dinghy. There was no other sound, just the faint, inescapable crackling, just a stillness that brimmed with activity below the water's surface. Tiny flecks of light sparkled beneath me, flaring into existence for a moment before extinguishing as quickly as they come, only to be replaced by another flicker a foot away. I was looking at a night sky that shimmered.

Normally you had to disturb the surface of the water to see a few specks of phosphorescence, and that was if you were lucky. But tonight they were everywhere, glowing by themselves for no other reason than to celebrate the peacefulness of the night.

My serenity was broken by a soft splash, and a line of salt water slashed across my face. Emma drunkenly flicked the end of a thin string of rope into the water to agitate it, causing a cascade of glitter to radiate outwards from the impact. I'd half-forgotten she was even there. I remembered the inflatable dinghy we were in would also need tying up. Moving past her, up to the front of the dinghy, I tied it to the jetty, before pushing the dinghy back out. I climbed to the back and waited for the buoy that I would tie to the back to the dinghy, to slowly get closer. Phosphorescence danced in the wake of the moving hull. I reached out and grabbed the buoy, bringing the rope beneath it to life. Or, more accurately, brought the rope to death. As the rope cut through the water, the plankton surrounding it awoke and illuminated around its surface. It glowed like ghost rope, going down into seemingly unfathomable depths, though I knew it couldn't have been more than ten metres down. I couldn't take my eyes of it, mesmerising me as I tied a reef knot to the buoy without even looking.

Emma ogled at it too, and made oohing noises, before returning to play with the water. She put her arms down into the water, jersey and all. Like a ghost pirate being revealed in the moonlight, her hand transformed beneath the water. I followed suit beside her, though not before rolling my sleeves up.

I don't know how long we spent leaning off the side of the dinghy; time was meaningless in this world.

"I wanna to go for a swim," Emma suddenly said.

"You want go up, get changed, then come back down?" I asked. The bach was a few minutes' walk up the hill.

"No, I want to swim in my clothes." She was being serious. Somehow I wasn't sure sober-Emma would be pleased with this decision in the morning. The night was pretty cold already.

"I'm not so sure that's a good idea." Thankfully she didn't pursue the subject. We returned to fascinate ourselves with the sea.

After a while I noticed that Emma  was just sitting there with her eyes closed.

"Come on, you can't go to sleep here," I said, moving to sit beside her and putting my arm around her; for warmth, not because we were in a relationship. Emma was my best friend; my spy on the other team. From what she told me, sometimes I wondered if she was one of the only girls I knew who didn't secretly have a crush on me.

I was starting to get rather cold, and I imagined Emma would be too, what with her jersey being sopping wet. Or maybe her blanket of alcohol was denying her from feeling the cold.

It was a few moments before she replied, "I have to throw up."

I backed away to the other side of the dinghy. "Over the side then," I sighed. Normally I can't stand drunk girls (or guys for that matter). I think it stems from my disgust at incompetence. Tonight with Emma it wasn't so bad; maybe it was because it was dark enough that I couldn't actually see her throwing up. I could definitely hear her though. I did my best to ignore her and looked up at the stars. I always enjoyed looking at the milky way, the thin band of clustered stars stretching across the sky like a cloud. Sometimes, on the clearest of nights, the band of stars transforms. They did so in my mind tonight, in a moment, realigning themselves to have depth, and I was able to see them as their true shape as a disk galaxy, like the shape that you see in astronomy pictures.

Coming back to Earth, I found Emma splashing water onto her face. I only just noticed now that some of the plankton remained shining faintly on her skin, even out of the water, however they did not last long. The tiny lights left her one by one, and reminded me that we should probably be going too.

"Shall we?" I asked.

Emma nodded, "Yeah, let's go."

I raised to motor before getting off the dinghy. I don't know how she managed to clamber up onto the jetty on her own, because she could barely stand and walk without leaning on me, which made escorting her down the narrow jetty difficult.

We made it to the start of the track, through native trees, that went up the hill to the bach fifty metres above us. The path would be arduous and trialling, but we'd make it, somehow, as long as we had each other. I turned my head to take one last look at the radiant sea behind me, before we plunged into the darkness.

The End

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