Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Prompt: Bioluminescent Waterfall

Young Carlos pointed and ran towards the river bank in excitement. Teresa shifted her pack for the thousandth time and wished she hadn’t brought all the underwater photo gear. It felt like a ton of bricks on her back after hiking since supper. Carlos tended to get excited about every little tree frog and millipede, but then she heard the magic word, “bio-luma”, the nickname for the bioluminescents she was here to study.

Jacob was already standing next to Carlos, and he turned back to her with a grin. “Come on, slowpoke! They’re swimming away!” he teased. She pushed forward to stand next to him at the bank and stared. There they were. The glowing creatures – dinoflagellates – that she had first studied in the Bio Bay in Puerto Rica. They were here in the Amazon, and she was the first scientist to see them.

As they watched, the thin trickle of glowing color in the river grew thicker, swirling with the current.  Carlos jumped up and down, “Come on! I show you the way!” He ran along the riverbank, seemingly oblivious to any obstacle in his way.

Jacob cocked an eyebrow at her. “Coming, or can I claim this find for myself?”

Teresa laughed and pushed him ahead of her. “Just try it, and I’ll flunk you.” It was an old joke between them. He had been her student when they met. He dropped the class to ask her out, he switched majors to date her. Ten years later, they were still inseparable. She put her hand on his shoulder. “You just go ahead and knock out any spiders in my way, okay?”

He laughed and followed Carlos at a slightly slower pace, trying to keep the boy in sight. Their guide was enthusiastic and knowledgable, but not always patient with the slow gringos.

They followed the river, and the glowing swirls spread across between the banks. The whole river was alight with color. Teresa gasped, “Jacob, look how many! I can’t believe no one’s been here before now. This is astonishing!”

Jacob stopped, peering ahead. “Teresa, where’s Carlos?”

She bumped his backpack as she pulled up short behind him. She looked around into the dark forest growth that crowded them on either side of the river. She listened, but there was no sound of the boisterous boy. A prickle of unease swept over her.

Jacob had turned back to the river. “Sweetheart, what do you notice about the river?”

She lifted her eyebrows. He rolled his eyes. “Other than it’s glowing.”

She looked again. The water flow was strong, and the turbulence in the current had increased. She had been so focused on the bioluminescents that she hadn’t noticed the river was raging forward, not at all the placid pace it had been back at their campsite.  Its cheerful babble had become a rushing roar that grew louder as they walked. They looked ahead, and Teresa whispered, “Jacob? The river? It disappears up there!”

They held hands, walking hesitantly along the bank. The river simply disappeared ahead of them, with dark forest surrounding its abrupt end. Neither of them had called out for Carlos, and Teresa’s unease had mushroomed into a fear that had her gripping Jacob’s hand tightly in her own.

They came closer to the river’s end, and suddenly, they heard Carlos’ voice, faint and seeming to come from far below their feet. A few more steps, and they reached the river’s end. It plunged abruptly over a waterfall into a cavern. Maybe 100 feet below, there was a huge bioluminescent pool, and Carlos was swimming in it, waving up at them.

“You have to jump! It’s fantastic! Leave your packs. Don’t worry, there are rope ladders to climb out. Come on in!” He called up to them.

Teresa hesitated, but Jacob was already shrugging the pack from his shoulders. As he bent to untie his boots, he looked up at her with a grin. “Honestly, professor. I don’t know how you expect to get first publication rights if you’re still standing there when I jump.”

Teresa made a face and shrugged out of her pack, relieved to set it down. She would figure out later how to get the gear down into the cavern. She pulled off her boots and grabbed Jacob’s hand. They yelled together and jumped off the edge, into the glowing pool below.

TBC (maybe)

Dogs in house:

Time writing:
30 minutes

March word count:


  1. Prompt: Bioluminescent Waterfall

    The sky was bathed in the glow that back home Rhiannon would have called rainbow-light, but on this planet she had no idea what it might portend. Even so, she turned her back to the small red sun and scanned the horizon for a spectrum. The sky was in colour somewhere between olive and slate blue, with a band of lighter turquoise in its lower reaches; the ground which met it was rugged and tawny with occasional dark blotches their xenobiologist believed to be vegetation.

    Yet they had landed first in a tawny expanse, hoping to gather samples from a relatively plain area before encountering any biologicals. Rhiannon scuffed the ground with the heavy boot of her containment suit: it was neither sand nor dirt, more like the rough stony beaches of home, except the stones were jagged rather than water-rounded. That was her second thought of home in as many heartbeats. Was she homesick?

    She pushed the thought away. She was living her dream, grasping the first rung of the ladder of her planned climb up the hierarchy of the interplanetary exploration service. IES chair, someday. That was what she would be.

    That would show them back home. She bit her lip.

    A light breeze sent the smaller particles airborne, and they pattered against her suit like raindrops. In fact, she could almost imagine she heard a waterfall, like those thin streams that would cascade down crevices in the highlands.

    The breeze died down, but sound of her highland waterfall continued. She had to stop thinking of home, before she received visual as well as auditory hallucinations. Although, perhaps it was real.

    "I'm going west," she said into her radio and stepped in the direction of the sound. It was not ten paces before a fissure appeared over the hump of ground's swell. She stepped faster, then knelt at its edge: there was her waterfall.

    It shot out nearly horizontal from a hole in the rock and arced down, a pale blue glowing--she blinked, yes it was glowing--stream of water splashing down far below. The walls of the fissure were spotted with similar glowing blue patches, source of her rainbow-light. It was beautiful.

    She stood, and the rough rocks under her feet shifted. She windmilled her arms, but she was falling, sliding along a suddenly purchaseless surface. She squawked an incoherent yell through her radio, perhaps, unsure if she had triggered the sound pick up. She fell perhaps five meters before coming to rest on a wet, glowing ledge. She pushed herself into the rock wall, heart thumping. She looked up. They would have to winch her out. Her cheeks heated with embarrassment. Not the ideal first expedition for the future IES chair.

    1. Oh, very nice! I love that you took this off-world! Nice character development too. Sadly, the name made me think of the singer. Highland could refer to Scotland, but not necessarily. "That would show them" is a nice leading touch. Great description of the waterfall - I can see it! Love the tumble! Keep going! You definitely have a story here. :)

  2. Oo! I really got into the tension when they couldn't find Carlos. Although the pair of past-perfects right there was a little disconcerting -- I might have left the latter or both as simple past. (A bit picky, I know, but it pushed me out the moment briefly.)

    Nice incorporation of Teresa and Jacob's backstory, too.

    1. Thanks, I toyed with the idea of Carlos trapping them down there, so the menace had a real origin. Yes, thanks for the verb tense suggestion - it can be tricky, and these are usually pretty rough for me. After I post them, I almost immediately want to change something else!