(masculine voice, a dream)
A native fisherman at the market had called it “The Island of Lights.” No one lived there, he said, and no one fished nearby. From the mainland, only a dim glow could be seen on very clear evenings.
A missionary at the Post Office informed me that the government had cautioned traffic to the small island after sundown due to a report that a group of curious tourists had disappeared after an overnight camp-out on the Island of Lights.
“Has there been any official exploration?” I enquired, more than a little intrigued. “Surely the Australian or American governments have looked into it.”
“There are stories,” the missionary agreed. “Personally, I think it is a combination of swamp gas and fear. Superstition is a strong influence here.”
A year later I returned with my brother, a couple of friends, and a boat-load of equipment. Swamp gas or alien encampment, we were intent on discovering the truth.
It was late afternoon and the Pacific sun warmed our backs as we left the palm-shaded harbor. A steady westbound wind made the ocean choppy and my backbone felt the jarring slap of every wave.
Acquiring a vessel for our venture had not been easy. Every boat owner we approached had refused to consider the trip, no matter how high a price we offered. Finally, in desperation, we bought a used boat from the shoreline golf course owner, with the intention of reselling it after our expedition.
My brother Will sat at the motor, his sun-browned arm directing our course across the waves. Beside me sat our friend Ron, and ahead of us, at the bow, was Leon, who had joined our expedition at the last minute. Leon had been only a brief acquaintance before the trip, but the money he brought along allowed us to buy the boat and some of the equipment we needed.
“Looks like any other island,” Will commented behind me as we drew near enough to see the coconut palms and white sand beach. “It’s beautiful here.”
“Maybe we’ll find gold,” Leon added hopefully.
We beached the boat on a rather steep shore and unloaded the equipment. The sun would set in an hour, and I was impatient to get some daylight recordings to compare with the after-sunset recordings later.
Will was carrying an ultra violet sensor rigged to a camcorder that he had put together himself. Ron had brought a light-gathering scope optimized for infrared and paired with a sport camera. We planned to record body mass with a motion detector that swiveled and worked like a radar. Heat readings would be caught with a sensor, but not recorded. I carried three types of cameras; digital, polaroid, and old fashioned 35mm camera with high ISO film.
The cooler temperatures of late afternoon were pleasant to work in, and we had our equipment up and functioning within ten minutes. The island was only about seven acres in size so we had thoroughly covered it before the sun disappeared behind the horizon. I startled a few birds nesting in the bushes, but that was all the life and activity we discovered.
“Asqueroso,” was Leon’s disgruntled analysis as he sprawled on the beach with a cheap, local SP beer. He poured the disappointing liquor slowly into the sand and repeated in his native language, “La cerveza estar asqueroso!”
“It’s not dark yet,” I replied. “All the stories say the lights appear after the sun sets. Give it five more minutes.”
Will got up and followed me back into the bush, carrying the ultra violet sensor camcorder. I leaned against a large rock and looked into the thickest part of the island. At first it didn’t register with my brain. I was familiar enough with lens flair to not pay attention to it, but now I was seeing it everywhere and I wasn’t looking through a camera.
Still unsure, I glanced down, into the shadows behind the rock, and distinctly, clearly, I saw a form swimming in the shadow near my knee. It looked somewhat like a jellyfish. I was hesitant to alarm it, so instead of shouting, I spoke quietly, trying to make my voice carry across the thirty feet to where Will was standing.
“I see them.”
I looked up at the gathering shadows and saw other light forms swimming and floating gracefully. Some were small, the size of a softball, but shaped more like a floating creature of the sea. Others were larger, the size of a dolphin or seal, and shaped hydro-dynamically, as though for speed. None of them were familiar, just vaguely similar to creatures of the sea. Floating. Swimming. Suspended in some fluid we could not see. I watched a long fish-like creature swim into one last ray of sunlight and disappear.
“I’m not getting any readings,” Ron spoke from behind me.
“We gotta leave, guys,” Leon said from the edge of the bush. He was staying as near the boat as he could get without actually leaving us. “We don’t know what’s going on here. We gotta go. This is probably dangerous. Come on.”
“There is no body mass or motion detected,” Ron commented, ignoring Leon. “How is that possible? Where did they come from?”
“Why do they come out at night?” Will added. “Where were they before sunset?”
“They’re beautiful,” I whispered, reaching out toward the one at my knee. It moved away a little, obviously aware of me, but not afraid. When I held my hand still, it moved closer again, and slowly I put out a finger and touched it. Or tried to. My finger went right into the body of light, as though it wasn’t there.
“I can’t touch them.” Will said, echoing my thoughts. “My hand goes right through.”
“Don’t touch them, man!” Leon was backing away. “Remember those other tourists didn’t come back. We could die here, dudes! Let’s go now, or I’m going without you!”
I looked up and saw more light forms had appeared and were growing brighter in the deepening darkness. They seemed aware of us and I realized that they were gathering, congregating around us.
“He’s right,” Ron said, his voice growing hoarse. “We don’t know what we’re doing. Jake, Will, let’s go. Now.”
The others backed out of the bush, back onto the beach. I put my hand out into the light creatures gathering around me. They seemed to like the palm of my hand. I closed my eyes, trying to sense them, to feel them. I thought there might be a faint tingle in the center of my palm and at the very tips of my fingers. I opened my eyes and saw little jelly-fish-like forms grouped all around my hand, as though they were feeding there.
“Jake!” Leon practically screamed from the boat. I looked over my shoulder to see the others were all loaded. I turned reluctantly and walked through the lights to the boat. The whites of Leon and Ron’s eyes reflected the electric blues and greens of the ethereal life forms on the island.
We’re seeing the colors that are still visible at about twenty to thirty meters under the ocean surface, I thought to myself as I shoved the boat into the water, and looked back again.
We were forty feet off shore and Will had started the motor when I realized the equipment bag was not in the boat.
“Where’s the bag?” I asked Leon.
“I accidentally left it, man. Forget it. Let’s get out of here.”
“The whole reason we came is to get those recordings,” I protested, slipping overboard. “I’ll go back and get them. Just stay here.”
“Jake!” Will and Ron protested at the same time.
“You’re insane!” Leon shouted. “You’re gonna get us killed!”
I swam until my feet touched bottom and then waded to shore, glad for an excuse to go back again. Dozens of the lights had congregated near the shore and floated there, watching my return. I waded out of the water and bent over to pick up the abandoned equipment bag that lay on the sand. When I straightened up again, I saw a new form, larger than a horse, crouching in front of me.
Crouching, I thought. It was the only form that appeared to be touching the ground. It had four legs and webbed feet, and a body that reminded me of both a large cat and a lizard. The creature’s tail was long and disappeared into the bush behind it. The large, transparent blue eyes stared at me, and for the first time, I felt a chill of fear run down my spine. I sensed intelligence in his gaze. If I was in danger, it would be from this creature, the one who surveyed me now.
“You were here all along, weren’t you?” I whispered. “The darkness is your light, and in the light you hide.”
Leon was screaming from the boat, insisting that they should leave me and fighting Will for control of the motor. I heard Will take a swing at him, and the sound of the firm connection of fist-and-chin followed by complete silence.
I stared into the blue eyes of the creature before me; understanding seeped into my slow mind at last. I dropped the equipment bag on the sand and let it lay there. The large creature before me appeared to relax and step back a little.
“Glow in peace,” I said, and smiled at my own attempt at humor. Then I turned around and swam back to the boat.