An excerpt from Dateline: Atlantis


Gabriel hurries to the first pyramid, which is so thickly encrusted with barnacles, shells, and crustaceans that it’s barely recognizable as stone and masonry. It looks instead like a giant sea palace, fashioned by crafty dolphins and deft ocean turtles. Rounded and softened by the constant ocean currents, the pyramids have none of the sharp angles associated with the Maya culture. They look like lumpy sandcastles ready to dissolve back into the surf.

The guide chips at the coating on the walls until he reaches bare rock. They catch a glimpse of Maya glyphs. They are unmistakable, although completely unreadable to the Anglos. Gabriel taps at the rock until he finds the complete phrase.

“Jaguar prize,” he says.

Clicking and whirring fill the reporter’s ears as Garret records the moment. In a second, what has been covered for centuries is now written in light in Garret’s mechanical box.

They spend the afternoon exploring the pyramids, four in all. Three of them are small, fifty feet or so in height, and appear to be ceremonial structures, for the restored artwork depicts activities sacred to the Maya: bloodletting, vision-questing, hunting. Garret asks about the human sacrifices. Gabriel throws down a small hammer and walks away.

“The Spanish used sacrifice as an excuse to wipe out the Maya culture,” Amaryllis whispers to Garret as Gabriel disappears behind some rock. “The Aztecs gave everyone a bad rap. The Maya rarely resorted to human sacrifice.”

“The pyramids were supposed to be altars…”

“Forget it, Garret. The pyramids were astronomical structures.”

“I was taught…”

“They taught us all wrong…”

By the time they work their way to the final pyramid, Garret fills his camera bag with used film and digital chips. Nearly out of ammunition, he loads his final chip. He needs to take his shots wisely now, for the last pyramid, a huge structure, looks to be much more than a ceremonial center. Amaryllis’ skin begins to sizzle. She realizes the pyramid has a narrow opening.

Gabriel is inside when they squeeze through, climbing slowly up the dripping staircase. Inside the pyramid, the air is torrid and the walls seep a lichen-laden fluid. In the dark, aided only by the occasional flicker of Gabriel’s flashlight, they climb what could be one hundred feet. At the apex is a tiny chamber containing a jaguar-shaped throne, encrusted with jade. Steal it. Sell it now on the black market and we’ll be richer than a computer baron. No one would ever know.

“Look at the floor,” Gabriel hisses.

Beneath Amaryllis’ feet are square limestone blocks. Gabriel points at a crack that has split a stone in half. In the gap, something shines for his flashlight. She creeps on her hands and knees to the gap and views a glistening, iridescent material.

“Mica,” Gabriel says, still whispering. This glassy mineral means more to him than twenty jade jaguars. The journalists trade confused glances, but the Mexican man offers no explanation. Now, Amaryllis wants to know everything. What is this world? Who could have built it? And more than anything else, how can she get this story? It is sure to win her the prizes and acclaim she’s been working for all her adult life.

###

This morning the sea has changed. Yesterday, it was cobalt blue with small, creamy white eddies swirling in the distance. Today, the little milk-colored tempests have stopped. Once stirred up by recent storms, sand has returned to the ocean floor, leaving the sea sparkling and limpid. Amaryllis doesn’t know why, but she has a sudden urge to be out there where the sea and land have an uncertain boundary. She wants to see where the edges lie.

She slips into a bathing suit. She’s not uninhibited enough to jump in au naturale, not with Garret along. And certainly not with Gabriel able to pop up, unseen at any time. She frets over her Victorian mindset, until she dips her toe into the Caribbean. It swirls warm as bathwater, even now, in January, two weeks after the solstice.

As she pulls herself away from the shore, she allows her muscles to loosen and she floats on the waves. She begins to imagine a series of networked cities, all ancient, joined by Maya ceremonial roads. She envisions the pyramids as new and fresh, covered with red paint and golden ornamentation. Inside a priest sits on a jade jaguar throne, holding an orb, clear and immaculate, searing with radiant power. The priest hums and chants syllables of majesty that cause the air to vibrate. He holds the sphere to the sky. Power surges from the orb, through the pyramid to its base, charging the atmosphere of the city with a purple glow. The priest raises his eyes, and she recognizes Gabriel’s stare.

Pain jags through her big toe and she stops, gasping and splashing in the water, realizing that in her daydream she’s gone too far. The water has dropped off to a great depth, yet Amaryllis’ foot touched rock. Where is she? On a sandbank? She peers through the spring-like clear water to find a wall. Well, not really a wall, but something long, solid and man-made.

She dives underneath the waves. Next to her is the tip of a giant stone structure. It widens as it plunges down to the ocean floor, filling her line of sight. She surfaces and swims toward the top of the rock. Amaryllis fights for breath as the waves roll up toward her chin and away. She dives again. The structure is a pyramid, without a doubt. It can’t be a natural formation. Its lines are too regular. The stones used to fit the pyramid together are huge—twenty-ton boulders at least—yet they are meshed with knife-edge precision. She can’t get her fingernail between them. Another thing occurs to her: this pyramid is not built in steps, but is smooth-sided like the monuments of Egypt.

She bobs up and down, diving and surfacing for a quarter of an hour, finding more impossible things. These walls, unlike those of the Maya structures they found on land, are still smooth. They are weathered and pitted, but not covered over with barnacles and seaweed. She sees the remnants of writing carved into the rock near the top, but can’t tell what language it is. It has neither the pictorial intricacy of Maya glyphs nor the simplicity of Roman characters. It has a modern aspect, clean and stylized, proportionally balanced, as if it were a font designed by an advertising agency. Yet, some of the figures recall the ancient themes of the American Indians: swirling vortices, men with large heads, hunting dogs. The most prominent of all symbols is a cross inscribed with concentric circles.

Amaryllis’ strength is nearly gone, but she dives once more if only to give the fullest of reports to her cohorts sleeping back onshore. She slips below the surface and feels along the eastern wall, pulling herself down. She is looking for a dark square she glimpsed before, gaping and black. It yawns at once before her, its edges wavy in the ocean swells. A sea turtle darts in front of her, and she constricts her lungs. She streaks to the surface, gulps a huge lungful of air and immediately she’s at the opening again. Seconds disappear as she measures the portal. It’s just big enough to slip through, but will she be able to get back out? A shining gem illuminated by a sun ray catches her eye. She swishes inside.

With lungs screaming, she scans a tiny chamber, carved from top to bottom with ancient writing. Gold glints from porticos on the sides. A painting is still visible on the ceiling. A carved hand, claw-like and strong, rests on a pedestal in the center of the space. The red hand holds a stone so beautiful, she can’t bear to leave it. In the filtered sunlight that passes through the doorway, the gem dazzles like Venus in the night sky. The morning star—the guide that Amaryllis can rely on. She grabs the jewel.

Through the door, up to the surface, sucking in the air—she’s free. She thrusts the crystal, about the size of a paperweight, in her bathing suit top and swims for shore with a strength she doesn’t know she has.

###

“Amaryllis, please talk to me.”

Gabriel is staring into her eyes, his alarm clear and unmistakable. She sits up slowly, trying to determine what earth she is on. She sees the large gemstone, clear and dazzling, lying on the beach near her side.

She reaches for it, but Gabriel takes her hand.

“I know,” he says and closes his eyes with force.

She reaches a finger to his forehead and is filled with sorrow for things she never knew about this man. He has held the crystal, too. What she knows, he knows. He opens his eyes, and Amaryllis looks inside. He is a lost wolf, filled with an urge to seize something, wandering, ravenous, yet unable to locate the prey. She strokes the hairs just beginning to gray near his ears.

“It’s a recording,” she says. She doesn’t know how she realizes that. She only knows the crystal holds the knowledge of an entire civilization that has been totally obscured from modern humanity. The touch of a human mind opens the enchanted sphere. “Like a CD-ROM. A hard drive.”

Gabriel nods with a sharp jab of his chin. In his apparent anxiety, he seems to breathe with labor, but he speaks anyway, punching out his words.

“They are the ancestors, Amaryllis. They are the ones I’ve been trying to find. Just out there beneath the waves. As the water recedes, we see a new history.”

“The genesis race. The one before the flood.”

She thought this moment would fill her with pride. It would be the time when she’d see herself in headlines, on talk shows, in rewritten history books. But now she senses nothing but confusion. She wanted the truth and now the picture is more complicated than ever. She shakes her head in an attempt to get her bearings.

She begins to reach for the crystal again, but Gabriel snatches her in a furious grip. He holds her so tightly she can hear his breath rasping in and out of his pinched, hawk-like nose. She sees the moisture on his eyelids, she watches his brown eyes darken to a hollow black. For one second, she thinks he is about to kiss her, press his hard shoulders down on her, force her to admit the way blood pounds in her temples when she breathes his scent.

But she has it all wrong. The passion is for the rock. He plucks the crystal from the sand and leaps to his feet.

“It’s got to go back,” he says. “It belongs to them. It’s their truth, not ours.” He runs to the shore and jumps into the surf, heading out to the sunken pyramid.

“Gabriel! Stop! You’ll lose it.”

Amaryllis screams for Garret, bellowing his name in the torrid mid-morning air, knowing she is too exhausted to stop Gabriel. Garret staggers over the rocks from the tent they pitched high in the hills. She points to the surf, where Gabriel is making little progress against a huge, sudden swell of waves.

She sloshes back into the water. Garret dives in next to her, a sleek otter in the aquamarine. She loses sight of him within seconds. Without warning, the water rises up like a sheet of glass, fifty feet behind them. A trembling sound precedes a roar, and the water is everywhere, rushing at them from every angle. Amaryllis swims for the beach, already drained from her morning’s strenuous dives. She grabs at the sandy rock and pulls herself onto a small hillock, then runs for higher ground. She turns back to peer into the torrent, but can’t catch sight of her companions.

on October 17 • by

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