The Enchanted Stingray
Growing up in a secluded bay in New Zealand, is an enchanted life for any sea creature. The water is crystal clear and warm. There is plenty to eat and the sun shines through the surface, making the corals grow all the colours of the rainbow.
The young stingray in this story grew up in such a place and had a wonderful life. She had two great parents, that loved and looked out for her. A colourful coral playground, with plenty of little fish to play with. Life couldn’t have been better.
There was just one thing that darkened her days: the shadows. The shadows came with creatures from the land. They brought nets with them and cast them into the water, scooping up whatever they could catch. Any fish, weed or crustacean that ended up in those nets was never seen again. The shadow creatures also left behind them strange, poisonous objects that floated on the sea surface and stopped the light getting through, sometimes suffocating the fish or stopping the coral growing. Occasionally an object sank to the sea bed and leaked poisonous toxins into the water and sand. Any fish that got too close to it, or tried to eat it, became sick; very, very sick.
“Whatever you do,” the young stingray’s parents’ taught her, “Stay away from those shadows.”
The young stingray learned to fear the shadows. She stayed far away from them and far away from the shore they came from. But it wasn’t easy. More and more shadows came, more and more often. And their poisonous objects started to fill the waters.
Then, one terrible day, the young stingray returned home from playing with her friends.
“Mum! Dad! I’m back,” she called. But there was no answer. Thinking they must be out for a swim, she waited for them to return. She waited and she waited and she waited, until the waters became cool and dark. Night fell and still her parents hadn’t returned.
The next morning the young stingray asked every fish she knew, “Have you seen my parents?”
The fish shook their heads sadly. None of them wanted to tell her what they all knew;
her parents had been taken by the shadows.
When the young stingray realised what had happened she cried. “Why!? All they ever did was help others. Why would the shadows take them?”
The young stingray couldn’t make sense of it. She sank to the bottom of the seabed and cried and cried and cried. When her friends came to see her, she shimmied under the sand and refused to speak to them. How could she carry on, when her heart was broken. From her new home, on the bottom of the sea floor the young stingray watched the shadows come and go, taking whatever they wanted and leaving behind nothing but filth.
“Oh great Sea Guardian and Sea Maiden,” the young stingray prayed. “Help me teach these monsters a lesson. Please send a great wave to destroy the shadows, for good.”
The young stingray prayed the same prayer every day and every night for three days and three nights. On the third night she woke to see the Sea Maiden floating in the waters before her. The Sea Maiden was a Goddess; adorned with bright corals and shimmering shells. Her hair, weaved with tendrils of seaweed, floated in the water behind her. Her body shone with iridescent scales.
“Come with me, little stingray,” the Sea Maiden said. “We will find the answer you’re looking for.”
The young stingray rode on the Sea Maiden’s back, out of the bay, away from the shore, to the open ocean. They travelled all night to the deepest, darkest waters where no living creatures ever swam. They arrived in the waters of the dead.
The young stingray had heard of stories of the under-water-world. She had always thought it would be scary, full of ghosts and skeletons, so she was surprised to find the place teeming with colour, beauty and happy, joyful fish.
“You can stay here for a day,” the Sea Maiden told the young stingray. “Then I will return to take you home.”
The young stingray wasted no time in looking for her parents. She looked amongst the coral. She hunted through the shells. She seeked in the caves and finally found them on the sea bed.
“Mother! Father!” the young stingray was delighted to see them again and they were delighted to see her. They showed her around the under-water-world, the crystal caves, where fish sing, the spiral rainbow, where fish dance and the eternal gardens, where fish eat.
“I’m so sorry the shadows took you,” she said.
“Don’t worry about us,” her father told her. “We’re at peace.”
“But why did they have to take you?” she asked.
“The shadows need us,” her mother said. “Like you need the shrimp. Life supports life.”
The young stingray frowned. She did not want to think of herself as like the shadows. “I never take more than I need,” she said.
“The shadows need guidance,” her father said. “They don’t respect life.”
“Come with us,” her mother said. “We want to show you something.”
So the young stingray followed her mother and father into a tunnel at the bottom of a mountain. The tunnel went this way and that, down deep into the earth. The young stingray felt like she was swimming forever. Finally the tunnel opened up into a cavern filled with green light.
“Where are we?” she asked?
“This is the realm of mother earth,” her mother said, “the creator of all things.”
“Her power and magic come from deep within the earth, here we can see a little of it.”
The young stingray could feel the waves of power in that green light.
“Little one, the earth has a gift for you,” her father said. “You have been chosen to be a guardian of the waters. To watch over the waters and teach others how to respect the oceans.”
The young stingray was humbled. “Me?”
“If you touch this rock,” her mother, pointed to a rock shimmering with green light. “You will receive the earth’s power.”
The young stingray looked at her parents. “But can’t I stay with you?”
Her father smiled. “If you prefer.”
“You can eat the food in the eternal gardens and never leave.”
“But we will still be here, when your job is done,” her father said.
The young stingray made up her mind. She swam over to the rock and rested on top. Immediately, she felt the eternal power of creation flowing into her. It was the same power that created the under-water-world, the same power that flowed through her parents and the same power that had given her life. It was what had made the oceans and the shores, given life to the fish and the creatures behind the shadows. With just one touch, the young stingray saw the true connection between all life. She understood that the creatures were not bad, just misguided. The power soaked into her, turning her from a young stingray into a wise, enchanted stingray. Beautiful green swirls made patterns across her back and within her, all the power of creation flowed.
Promising to return, when her job was done, the enchanted stingray travelled home to the bay in which she was born. When she arrived, she was horrified to find more shadows, twice as big as any she had seen before. The enchanted stingray saw them cast net after net after net into the bay. No fish could escape. There were so many nets they would surely empty the waters of fish altogether. They had to be stopped.
The enchanted stingray flapped her magical wings. A huge wave swelled up underneath every one of those shadows and poured the creatures within into the water. The creatures spluttered and splashed and swam for the shore. All except one. He did not swim, he spluttered and splashed and sunk to the bottom of the ocean floor.
The enchanted stingray dove down to speak to him. Using the magic of creation, she gave him the power to breathe and speak underwater. He looked at her confused and scared, like a fish in moonlight.
“Am I dead?”
“Not yet,” she said.
“Where am I?”
“This is the world you hunt,” she said. She showed him the bay; the colourful coral, the fish playing together, the way they looked after each other and respected each other. “You throw down your nets and you take, take, take,” she said. “You take too much.”
The creature’s eyes filled with tears. “We’ve been greedy.”
“You leave poisons in the water,” she showed him how sick it made the fish.
The creature bowed his head. “I’m sorry,” he said. “We’ll do better.”
“Take only what you need,” the enchanted stingray told him. “Respect the waters, respect life.”
The creature promised he would. So the enchanted stingray returned him to shore. She watched him speak to his friends, explaining what he’d seen. For a time things improved, there were less shadows, there was less poison.
But the enchanted stingray could not leave the bay and join her parents. Slowly the shadows came back. The creatures forgot the lessons she had taught them, so she has to stay to remind them, whenever they forget, to respect the waters and respect life.
(When you’re near the water you may be lucky to catch a glimpse of the enchanted stingray, make sure you’re not the reason she has to stay).