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09 May 2011

The Coral Atoll

by Kathleen A. Staley

Belize, Central America


An expert diver Larry Gabb and his associates, John Forbes and Jacques Baynard prepared for the adventure of their lifetimes. They were going to test their latest diving apparatus to explore the coral atolls and the Great Blue Hole, off the coast of Belize. Others had tried to descend to the bottom of the deep vortex but were unable to withstand the pressure. The diving vessel was state-of-the-art and had multiple extensions that resembled arms and legs. The vessel was appropriately named Ananzi- a spider-like creature from Caribbean Mythology.

According to legends, Ananzi was a trickster and a shapeshifter. It was able to change into many forms and had a powerful mind capable of influencing dreams and events. It allegedly collected valuable items from many shipwrecks in the Caribbean. The gigantic creature guarded the treasure in a secret chamber, somewhere under the sea.

Ananzi's favorite thing to do to pass the time was playing an ancient Egyptian game called Astral Planes. The supernatural game was controlled by magic and the moves made while playing had true and sometimes frightening consequences in the "real world".

Larry was convinced that the legends were true after he was told by a Mamba, a Voodoo Priestess that discovering the lair of Ananzi was his destiny. He was at the dock working on his equipment when the strange old woman wrapped in Mayan garb approached him. She looked deeply into eyes, made a sign with her hands and introduced herself as Mumma, named after a mermaid known as the River Maiden. Larry was fascinated with her storytelling and thought her tale was similar to spinning an intricate spider web. Each part of the web was connected with the rest of the network of details.

Mumma told Larry about the legend of the Calabash and the Wisdom of the World. A calabash is a large vessel for storing treasure and goods. They were tightly sealed and the contents remained in a vacuum until the seal was broken. A supernatural creature, Ananzi the Trickster, thought he could gather all the wisdom of the world and hold it in a calabash.

The idea was to render humans incapable of independent thought. Ananzi wanted to control everyone and began causing shipwrecks and hurricanes to frighten the people into submission. When the ships crashed on the jagged coral atoll, where Ananzi dwelled, they were captured and forced to serve the Spider Lord."

"Ananzi presented himself as an enormous, hairy, poisonous spider and held the prisoners in a sturdy web of sticky fibers. The men were hypnotized by the beast and their heads were emptied of knowledge. Thousands of minds were drained into Ananzi's calabash until it was completely full. He was not satisfied and continued to wreak havoc on the many ships coming and going from Belize. He would turn himself into a sea-monster with long tentacles and cause the ships to crash on the sharp coral reefs."

"The situation was ideal for Ananzi because Belize was covered with giant mahogany trees, which was a valuable commodity around the world. In order for the ships carrying the mahogany to pass the coral atoll they had to navigate the treacherous waters around the Great Blue Hole. Ananzi continued to cause the ships to crash and he sent his minions to collect the bodies. Anyone left alive was drained of their knowledge and Ananzi captured their soul in another calabash.

Eventually, he filled all of the vessels available. The Sea Goddess was angry with Ananzi for defiling the sacred Coral Atoll. It was a sanctuary for aquatic creatures known as Nereids. They resembled humans but have characteristics of creatures from the sea. Ananzi's lair was under the sea bed and his constant attacks on the ships caused the destruction of the sanctuary. To punish Ananzi, the Sea Goddess invoked the power of Hurricanes and unleashed mighty storms to stop the travelers from venturing out to sea. Ananzi had no one to control and it forced him to stop the abductions."

"Year after year hurricanes pummeled Belize and the surrounding lands. Crops were ripped away from the soil and many of the giant mahogany forests were destroyed. The rainforest and the eco-system was disrupted and in constant danger from the perpetual storms and heavy winds."

"During a vicious hurricane Ananzi was trapped inside his lair when the walls crumbled. His domain became limited to his small cove of treasure and calabashes, filled with human knowledge. With all of the world's wisdom he was unable to think of a way to escape from his prison."

Mumma finished the tale and said "You will find the lair of Ananzi and recover the wisdom of the world. I have seen this in a vision. The world needs the knowledge and power from the calabashes now, more than ever. You must retrieve at least one of the vessels containing human souls. The containers are marked with the symbol of Ananzi- an eight-legged spider pictured inside the design of eternal life the Egyptian Ankh."

Larry was astonished and asked "How do you know all these things?" The old woman smiled, winked and walked away. He shook his head and moment later, Mumma vanished into the air. After that day he planned to take his vessel to the Coral Atoll and hoped to submerge the craft to the bottom of the Great Blue Hole. Visions of shipwrecks, mermaids and hidden treasure filled his thoughts. He devised a plan involving Jacques and John, his loyal friends and crew.

When Larry told them about the story and his plan, they both thought he was crazy. If not for their great friendship, the crew of the Ananzi would have left Belize and put Larry into a mental hospital. Larry searched for Mumma to prove his claim but she was gone and no one else remembered seeing her. Larry insisted that the woman was real and that he was quite sane.

After some persuasion, Jacques and John agreed to accompany Larry to the Coral Atoll. They went on the condition that Larry would navigate the vessel alone and they were going to monitor from the surface. Larry was thrilled to begin the exciting adventure into the Great Blue Hole. No one had ever attempted to reach the bottom except for a group of unfortunate divers from Belize that disappeared in the vortex.

A helicopter was used to carry the Ananzi to the atoll. The ship, Nereid, carried the monitoring equipment and the crew prepared for the descent. All of the devices were working properly and the leg-like extensions were checked. The claws of the extensions served as grappling hooks and could gather objects from the ocean floors. The legs also could be used to crawl up and down steep embankments. The small craft had a cargo hold that could contain a multitude of items.

After everything was checked, Larry put on a special pressure suit to protect his body from the pressure of the deep. The titanium craft was built to withstand depths of many fathoms under the ocean. Sensors on board the Nereid could detect any problems and gathered data from the cameras on the Ananzi. Larry operated the vessel with a computer interface and used the extensions as his own arms and legs. A virtual reality headset and thought waves controlled the actions and his body controlled the crawling function. When the vessel was ready it was lowered into the unknown. Scott and John carefully monitored the descent. Larry was ecstatic as he descended and he knew he had to be extremely cautious.

Two hours passed and the Ananzi was still descending. It had reached an unknown depth, past any depth ever achieved. Larry was amazed that he was still falling into the vortex. The sensors detected the bottom of the atoll ahead and the craft gently landed in a bed of coral and kelp. Larry turned on the interface and the lights. An incredible scene was revealed when the atoll was illuminated. He was inside of an enormous crystalline cavern with shimmering walls. Surrounding the Ananzi was wreckage from hundreds of ships. There was a variety of brightly colored fish and other sea creatures swimming around the barnacle encrusted debris.

Larry activated the crawler and moved toward a shining object protruding from the rocks. The extension was used to remove the object and placed it in the cargo hold. Larry examined a box that had been wedged in a crack between pillar-like volcanic rocks. The strange box was made of mahogany embellished with gold. Runes and symbols from an unknown origin were carved in the cover and sides. Just when he was about to open the box, the walls around him trembled.

The place where the box had been wedged opened up into a huge air-filled chamber. Larry used all the extensions and crawled inside. The sensors monitored the scene and displayed mountains of gold, jewels and several large urns. Piles of mahogany and parts of ships were spread out as far as his eyes could see.

Larry was in awe of the unbelievable spectacle. According to the sensors the cavern registered breathable air. He couldn't resist the temptation to examine the treasure and left the vessel. He leaned over and picked up a gold coin with the symbol of the Spanish Empire. Distracted by the other riches, he put the coin in the pocket of his pressure suit and then proceeded to peruse the contents of the room. A throne made of amber and gold was in the center of what appeared to be an altar in an ancient temple.

Suddenly he had the feeling he was being watched and returned to the craft. From the back of the chamber, a gigantic, terrifying spider emerged. It had fiery red eyes, sharp fangs and pincher claws on its' eight hairy legs. The hideous creature approached the Ananzi and let out a roaring sound. As the sound echoed around the chamber it sounded like bellowing laughter.

The sensors inside the ship warned of impending danger and began to receive telepathic messages from the creature. Over the speaker Larry heard a distinct voice, one that he had heard before. He soon recognized it as the voice of "Mumma".

Through the interface the voice sounded "Ha Ha Ha! I knew you would come to rescue me from my prison! Welcome to the lair of the Spider Lord. All these riches are yours if you take me to the surface world. I have been here for many centuries. I am Ananzi the Trickster and I tricked Mumma the Nereid to help bring you here. Your vessel can carry me if I change into another form. You must help me and as a reward you will be given the Calabashes of Knowledge and Wisdom. I will give you anything you desire if you take me but if you refuse you will be added to my collection of souls and will remain here forever.

Larry was shocked and believed he was hallucinating from the depth. He trembled at the sight of the hideous creature. Knowing that "Ananzi" was a trickster he asked "How do I know that you will fulfill the bargain? You said yourself you are a trickster and can change shapes. I can only take you without the treasure. How will I get my reward once we reach the top of the atoll?"

The creature was silent for a moment and transformed into the form of the Mamba Priestess, Mumma. She had the torso of an old woman and the abdomen and tail of a fish.

The voice came through the speakers in dolphin-like sounds. She said "You can bring me in this form as the oldest living Nereid or Mermaid. You will be famous and rich. You can return to the lair and take all the treasure you desire. I promised you will not regret it."

Larry Gabb was no fool and would not be tricked, even if it was a vivid hallucination. He pretended to go along with the strange request and decided to trick the trickster. He agreed to help Ananzi if he could open one of the urns containing wisdom. Ananzi agreed and turned to retrieve the first Calabash of Knowledge. It was presented as a show of good faith.

Larry examined the large urn from inside the crawler. The urn was lifted and turned around by the clamps. It was highly unlikely that the urns really contained "Knowledge" but apparently Ananzi believed it was true. The creature was distracted by the idea of gaining freedom and wandered away to collect personal items.

Larry didn't want any of the cursed treasure stolen from the dead. He believed the urns and the treasure would lead to disaster and realized that the Spider Lord was imprisoned for a good reason.

While Ananzi was distracted, Larry carefully manipulated the grappling hooks and started to crawl away in the craft. As Larry moved the vessel out of the cavern and back into the water, Ananzi, the Spider Lord reverted to its' natural state. It shrieked in agony as the opening to the cave closed and the trickster was once again trapped inside. He used the crawler to start the slow ascent to the top of the atoll. The controls stopped monitoring and he had no idea how deep he was. As the vessel slowly rose to the surface he wondered how he was going to explain the unbelievable story.

Onboard the Nereid, Scott and John worried about Larry. They lost contact with him after three hours of descent. The signal returned when the Ananzi and Larry were almost to the top of the atoll. The vessel was hoisted out of the vortex and Larry was grateful for making it back alive.

Excitedly Larry started to tell his friends about the Spider Lord and the Calabash of Knowledge but noticed the puzzled looks on their faces. He said "I know you won't believe me but I swear, everything I'm about to tell you really happened."

When he finished telling the tale Jacques said "Okay Larry, that's it. When we get back to Belize you are going to see a doctor. You must have suffered from the bends and had hallucinations from the depth of the vortex."

John added "Yeah mate. You need help! The Spider Lord, oh please. You expect us to believe that load of crap? I'll make the appointment myself. We're your friends and believe us. You really need see a Psychiatrist."

Not wanting to be thought of as a complete lunatic, Larry admitted he must have imagined the incident. Jacques and John were relieved and set the coordinates to return to Belize. Sulking, Larry returned to the Ananzi to lock it down for the trip. He removed his pressure suit and found the Spanish coin. Inside the hold was a gold and mahogany box containing a game board, amulets, whale tooth dice, illustrated playing cards and a set of ivory wands. On the inside of the box lid were the directions for playing a bizarre and ancient game of chance called Astral Planes. He hid the game and made sure no one ever played it and told no one about the coin or the discovery, deep inside the Coral Atoll.

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