Saturday, March 25, 2017

Blue Tara; Or, How Is a Hyacinth Macaw Parrot Like a Tibetan Goddess? Dead Tree Edition

Princess Tara is thrilled to announce that Book One of the Princess Tara Chronicles: Blue Tara; Or, How Is a Hyacinth Macaw Parrot Like a Tibetan Goddess? Now Available in a Dead Tree Edition. Just click on the link to get your copy:


Princess Tara apologizes for the tree.

Princess Tara Chronicles: Blue Tara; Or, How Is a Hyacinth Macaw Parrot Like a Tibetan Goddess?


Chapter Ten
Part One

I had the damndest dream. I dreamed that I stood one hundred forty feet in the air on top of one of the red brick monoliths in Red Square. Jean stood on one of the other monoliths. She was trying to scream. But Hamatsa had his arm wrapped around Jean's neck and was choking her. As I cried out Hamatsa bared his fangs and prepared to take a bite out of her neck. A good ten feet on air separated the two monoliths we were standing on. I backed up as far as possible and took a running start and jumped as if my life depended upon it. Because it clearly did. Somehow I cleared the space and landed on the other monolith. I bashed Hamatsa in the face with my elbow and grabbed Jean as I leaped for the third monolith. With Jean's extra weight it was impossible to make the distance. We tumbled through the air arm in arm and plummeted toward the pavement. Blackness surrounded us. In this dream it seemed to me as if we were flying. In the blackness of night I couldn't tell if we were flying downward, or upward, or straight away. I just wanted to fly with Jean. For all of eternity. I told her I loved her.

When I regained consciousness the next morning I found myself sprawled out on the sofa. I flung myself up. Michael had fallen asleep sprawled across the sofa. Princess Tara napped on her perch, one foot tucked up under her feathers, her beak behind her wing. I shook Michael awake. "Tell me it was a bad dream!"

Two pizza boxes sat on the kitchen table, unopened. I noticed a plastic sheet taped across a gaping hole in the bay window. Margarita lay curled up asleep at Michael's feet, apparently no worse for the beating she took. Cats and their nine lives, I thought. I picked up my phone from the floor, hoping beyond hope for a message from Jean. I found one text message. It was not from Jean:

"You have something I want. I have something you want. We should meet. H"

I dropped the phone and felt my legs give out from under me. I fell onto the couch to keep from falling on the floor. "Whatever have I got myself into?" I thought out loud. "Goddamn Charlie!" But I knew it wasn't Charlie's fault.

"We've got to free her," Michael said.

"No shit," I replied. I picked up the phone and typed out a reply to the text message:

"When and Where?"

"How in the world did they find us so?" Michael continued.

"Oh, who knows? They probably tracked my cell phone, I'm guessing. Or maybe they just did a Google search. I've been advertising my coffee. Wouldn't take a rocket scientist to zero in on me. I've been begging people to come find me, for chrissakes!

"However are we going to find Jean?" Michael asked.

My phone beeped with a notification alert. "I think they're just going to tell us."

"What?" Michael replied, eyes wide in confusion.

I looked at the message and read it out loud to Michael:

"Red Square. Midnight. You and Blue Tara."

"Fuck it all!" I exclaimed.

"What's the matter?"

"We've got about twelve hours to break into the Suzzallo Library and steal the Boas field notes, and figure out how that crystal works."

"We may not need to," Michael replied.

"What?"

"I'm not usually noted for being the voice of reason, but hear me out. Hamatsa knows we have the crystal. He doesn't know that we don't know how to use it. He's got to respect the fact that we might know how to use it."

"But we have to respect the fact that we know that we don't know how to use it," I replied.

"Yes, but advantage ours. Assuming Hamatsa knows that shamanism is my field of expertise, he's got to give us the benefit of the doubt."

Tara flew off her perch and landed on my shoulder. "We don't have much time," she said. At dusk I need to use the turndum to call the Garuda from the top of one of those monoliths at your school. This Hamatsa has amassed great magic. Even more than I imagined possible. We can not fight him alone. I need help from the other Taras to stop him."

"The turndun is back in Michael's office," I said. "And my truck is parked in the campus parking garage."

"Grab the pizza boxes," Tara said.

I did. In an instant Tara bent time and space to take us back to the U Dub. Getting off the floor of Michael's office, my head pounding, I set the pizza boxes on Michael's desk. As my head cleared I said to Tara, "One of these days you've got to teach me how to do that. Would sure save on gas."

"It's easy," she replied. "If you ever accept that you can live in more than one reality at a time. All you need to do is visualize two places at once and connect them together. Piece of cake, as you say. Maybe one of these days you'll buy me a cake?"

"Help me get Jean back, and I promise I will."

Michael and I left Tara and Margarita in the office to feast on the cold pizza while we ran out to reconnoiter. Red Square seemed perfectly normal.

"No sign of Deportation Police," Michael said. A new coffee cart with a different barista sat parked by the steps to the Suzzallo Library. A bearded guy wearing purple and gold U Dub sweat pants and shirt.

"They probably don't want to attract attention," I told Michael. We walked up the steps into the Suzzallo Library. "Look," I said, pointing to an electronic reader board hanging in the entryway.

"Burke Museum temporarily closed for repairs," the board read.

"I bet," Michael smirked.

We walked into the massive cathedral of learning, with its soaring gothic ceiling sixty-five feet tall. I used to love working in this space during my U Dub teaching days. We headed for the Special Collections room at the back end of the reading hall. The Special Collections room consisted of a big open glass enclosed space divided in two, a collections room and a reading room. Michael recognized the receptionist.

"Hi Nancy," he greeted her.

"Hi Michael." She smiled at me. "It's been a while. Not doing any research these days?"

I remembered Nancy from my teaching days. Very attractive middle-aged woman. Jewish. Fluffy short black hair. Engaging brown eyes. Brilliant smile between full rouged lips. Buxom. Snappily dressed in a wool skirt and Pendleton jacket.

"Oh you know," Michael replied. "Heavy teaching load this quarter."

"Too bad," she said.

"I am looking for materials for a senior seminar I'll be teaching fall quarter on Northwest Coast Kwakwaka'wakw," Michael lied. "Special Collections has the Franz Boas field notes from Fort Rupert that cover the topic. I'd like to look at those."

"Franz Boas? With an S?" Michael nodded. "Let me look." Nancy ran a quick search on her computer and wrote down a reference number. "Okay. It should be over here." She walked up to the first row of collection stacks and counted down to the appropriate cabinet. Right away I noticed a bright red sticker taped over the lock.

"Oh, sorry Michael. This cabinet is restricted for security purposes. I'm not allowed to open it."

"Security purposes? What the heck does that mean?" I asked Nancy.

"Could be anything. Unfortunately I'm always the last to know. I just work here, you know."

"That's okay Nancy," Michael replied. "I'll take it up with the librarian and see what we can work out." We walked out of the library back out onto Red Square.

"That's okay Nancy?" I said with some annoyance to Michael.

"Not to worry. Now we know which cabinet it's locked in. We'll have Tara break us in tonight and get it out.

"In case you haven't noticed, Tara is going to be a little bit busy tonight. And so are we. And that wouldn't give me anywhere near enough time to go through the material."

"Yes, but it will give us an advantage. It's a matter of perception. If Hamatsa thinks we know something we don't actually know, we can use the not knowing to our advantage. We'll do what we can," Michael said.

We ran across Red Square to a Bartell Drugs across the street from the campus to buy a case of beer and a spool of rope. The beer for us, since we faced a long night. The cord for the turndun.


Part Two

A great man once famously said, "Flying is the art of getting tossed at the ground, and missing." In my dream I was flying. Or more accurately, plummeting toward the ground. Me and Jean. Arm in arm. We were flung toward the ground. And missed. And thrown up again. And flung back toward the ground. Repeatedly. And repeatedly. At some point it my dream it seemed to me we wouldn't miss. Or was this really a dream? If this wasn't a dream, how long could Jean and I keep flying before we smashed into the pavement? And why was it so dark in my dream?

Right at dusk we trouped out from Michael's office to Red Square. Me, carrying the crystal and turndun. Tara perched on my shoulder. Michael carried the magic harpoon. Margarita strolled along bringing up the rear. Thankfully, Red Square seemed unusually deserted. At this time of the evening students generally were off eating dinner or home cramming for tomorrow's classes.

"Why do you suppose the goons haven't raided your office?" I asked Michael.

"Probably because they don't know about it," Michael replied. "One of the university's best kept secrets. The department doesn't like to advertise its academic slums."

Step One. We nonchalantly walked into the Suzzallo Library. You would think two adult males accompanied by a parrot and a cat, and carrying some unusual items such a harpoon, a rather large crystal, and a slab of wood would draw some notice. The students working or studying in the library mostly had their heads buried in their books, laptops, or mobile devices.

Except for some confused glances from some passing students we walked uninterrupted across the great reading hall to the Special Collections room. Of course, being after hours, the room was closed and locked for the night.

"Okay Tara," I said. "Do your thing." Tara bent time and space to connect where we stood out in the hall with the collections cabinets inside the locked room. Apparently I was getting used to this, because I only suffered a slight dizziness as Tara bent time and space. Unfortunately, any noticeable noise accompanying the time and space bend got drowned out by the blaring alarm bells inside the Special Collections room. The students studying in the hall probably noticed us suddenly standing inside the locked room. If not Michael and me, they certainly noticed a rather large crystalline blue skinned totally naked Amazon with a battle axe strapped to her waist. Several students walking by the room dropped their books and belongings as they stopped and stared.

"Do what you need to do," Tara said. She grabbed the turndun from Michael. And just like that Tara and Margarita disappeared.

"Well, thanks a lot!" Michael exclaimed.

"Oh shit!" I replied. I looked out at the crowd of students gathered by the windows of the Special Collections room gaping at us. I took the harpoon and smashed in the lock on the cabinet hiding the Boas field notes, and pulled the cabinet open. Inside I found half a dozen leather bound legal size note books. I pulled one out to check its contents. Page after page of notes meticulously written in German, English, and Kwakiutl. "Jackpot!" I exclaimed.

"How do we get out of here?" Michael asked nervously, agitated by the crowd of students watching us from outside the room. I could see sweat pouring down his brow.

"Easy. Door's locked on the outside. Not the inside." Sizing up the situation we faced, I yelled at Michael, "Take the notebooks." I grabbed the harpoon and the crystal. Running up to the door, I turned the latch and pulled the door open. We ran out with our loot. The crowd parted like the Red Sea to let us through. I hoped to Hell that Tara could make this all right again before the night ended. Otherwise this wouldn't do my academic reputation any good at all.

We ran out into the square. No one tried to stop us. "Take the notebooks back to your office," I told Michael. "Start going through them and find the key to this crystal. I hope you read German."

"Ya sure ya betcha," Michael replied.

I ran out to the monoliths looking for Tara and Margarita. "Damn!" I found Margarita huddled next to one of the monoliths, hissing. Hissing at a squad of Deportation Police laxsa that surrounded her. I counted six goons. Each packing a machine gun. Taking a chance, I bluffed. I held the crystal out before me and lowered the harpoon. Five of the six goons dropped their machine guns and ran away into the night. The sixth goon just stood there. "Sorry buddy," I said. "Downside to being a zombie. You're not very quick on the draw." I pointed the harpoon at him. He collapsed to the pavement. Dead. Margarita growled and whirled, and loped off his head with one of her giant steel claws.

"Where's Tara?" I asked. Margarita stretched up the side of one of the monoliths and meowed. I looked up. The top of the monolith one hundred and forty feet in the sky was lost in the blackness of the night.

Then I heard the strangest sound I have ever heard in my life. A vibration more than a noise. A vibration that began to pulse. The pulsating vibration caused by a spinning airfoil, the turndun. The vibration pulsed and grew in intensity as the turndun twisted and spun round and round at the end of its cord. Round and around the top of the monolith. Up and down. Round and around. The vibration kept growing in intensity as the twisting and spinning increased in speed. The vibration took on a physical form that starting pounding me and the monoliths. Margarita howled. I dropped to my knees and clamped my hands futilely over my ears. I can't do much more of this, I thought to myself. Soon the vibration rattled every cell in my body. The vibration shook the very foundations of the monoliths and it seemed to me that they began to sway. I feel over on my side. Just when I began to think the vibration would drive me insane, the sky appeared to explode in a blinding flash of light that turned night into day. Like an atomic bomb going off. The pavement shook as if we were riding out a Cascadian earthquake.

And then stillness. Absolute quiet and absolute darkness. I felt strong hands gripping my shoulder and pulling me up off the pavement. As my senses returned I realized Blue Tara was standing before me. I threw my arms around her. She kissed me. The heat radiating from her glowing crystalline blue skin seeped into my body and gave me a renewed sense of purpose.

"I am so sorry," Tara said to  me.

"Sorry? About what?"

"The turndun is lost. The vibration caused it to dissolve into atoms. I can only hope that it served its purpose to awaken Garuda while we still have time."

"I don't care about the turndun," I replied. "I only care about rescuing Jean."

I saw shadows moving out of the corner of my eyes. Margarita growled. I heard the rustling of wings. Large wings. Out of the darkness surrounding the monoliths four feathered creatures appeared, as if coming out of a dense fog. The four furies. Qoaxqoaxual, the giant raven. Hoxhok, the giant crane. Gelogudzayae and Nenstalit, the condors.

Qoaxqoaxual, the giant raven stepped forward and fluffed its feathers. "You are early," it said. "My master demanded your presence at midnight."

I grabbed the harpoon, but Tara restrained me. "Are they worth your friend's life?" I raised the harpoon, but I noticed that Tara took hold of her battle axe.

I stepped toward Qoaxqoaxual. "How is this going to go down?" I asked the giant raven.

"My master is prepared to trade your woman for that witch," the raven said, pointing an immense wing at Tara. I glanced at Tara. She stood expressionless.

"How do I know my friend is okay?" I asked.

"I say so," the giant raven replied.

"Not good enough," I insisted. "I want to see her." I started to lower the magic harpoon.

"Raise your weapon," a voice out of the darkness demanded. I peered into the blackness of the night, searching for the source of the voice. Three figures emerged by the monoliths. My heart raced.

"Jean!" I cried out. I instinctively wanted to run to her, but Tara grabbed my shoulder.

"Careful," she whispered in my ear.

Jean appeared out of the darkness. I thought I could see tears in her eyes. A tall man with disturbingly pale yellow scalloped skin and gleaming red eyes stood next to her, his arm wrapped around her throat. A tall svelte dark skinned woman stood behind him.

"Hamatsa!" Tara exclaimed.


Part Three

Hamatsa whistled. Nanes, the monster grizzly bear, lumbered out of the darkness to stand at his side, like a very large puppy. Hamatsa placed a gloved hand on the monster's head. I noticed a jagged scar across the side of its face where Tara's blade had slashed it.

Michael came running out of the darkness yelling, "I've got it. I've got it! I found the secret word." He stopped when he realized we had company. "Oh my God!" he exclaimed. "It's Hamatsa."

"Who's that other woman with him?" I asked.

"Most likely that would be Kinqalatlala, his slave. His procurer of bodies."

"So are you going to tell me the magic word?" Michael whispered in my ear. "That's it?" I said, startled. "That's the magic word? You sure? He nodded.

"Pretty sure."

"Oh, don't start with that again," I groused.

"Hey, I didn't have a whole lot of time to work with. I did the best I could."

"And I thank you for that," I replied.

"Is Jean okay?" Michael asked.

"I'm hoping so. They just arrived."

"What's the plan?"

"Plan? What plan? I'm just making this up as I go. What's the plan, Tara?"

Tara looked at me. "You must be prepared to act when I give the word. Do exactly as I tell you to do. Understood?"

"Yes ma'am," I replied.

His arm around her neck, Hamatsa forced Jean to step forward. "This woman means something to you," he said. "To me she's just flesh."

"They told me you were all dead!" Jean cried out. Hamatsa choked her.

"Silence!" he demanded.

"We never gave up on you Jean," I told her. "We're going to get you out of this."

"The only way you will get her out of this is by giving me Blue Tara. You disobeyed my command to come here at midnight. I should punish you for that." Hamatsa bared his fangs and glanced hungrily at Jean. "I have not enjoyed dinner tonight yet."

"Well, you and me both, buddy. And seems to me you're a bit early for our soiree as well."

"I assumed Tara would try to summon her coven to assist her in executing her nefarious plans. You think those witches want to help you? Let me assure you they only seek to help themselves. They use whatever people they can to help them achieve their goals. And then they discard them."

"And what would those goals be?" I asked Hamatsa. My fingers tightened their grip on the harpoon.

"Domination, of course."

"Isn't that your goal? And the goal of the one called Winalagalis?"

"You have been misled. I serve our Dear Leader. He only wants to secure peace and prosperity for his people. Resistance is futile."

"Yeah, that sounds familiar. But you're not getting Tara. And you're not going to harm Jean." I took a deep breath. "So here's the deal. You're going to release Jean and I'll let you get your pasty putrid face and your menagerie out of here with your heads intact." I slowly lowered the harpoon.

"Go!" Hamatsa ordered his overstuffed teddy bear Nanes. The monster charged at me baring its gigantic ivory incisors. The creature caught me off guard before I could aim the harpoon. I jammed the end of the harpoon into its teeth and down its gullet.

"Die! You fucker," I yelled.

The monster clamped its teeth down on the harpoon and snapped its end off. I spun around desperately trying to avoid its fangs as the creature lunged past me. Before Nanes could stop and turn to charge me again, I pointed what was left of the harpoon at its gigantic head. The creature did not attack. I realized that a battle axe protruded from its skull, planted squarely between its eyes. The monster groaned and collapsed on the pavement.

"So much for following my instructions," Tara scolded me.

Sometimes being tall is a disadvantage. I swung the harpoon right over the top of Jean's head and smashed it into Hamatsa's face. He staggered backwards and Jean jumped free of his choke hold.

"Are you okay?" I asked her, taking her hand. She nodded. The four furies encircled Hamatsa and Kinqalatlala as Hamatsa howled in pain from my blow.

"You will pay for this!" Kinqalatlala exclaimed. "Laxsa! Take them." Four squads of black clad Deportation Police laxsa emerged from the darkness, forming a tight box around us. Machine guns pointed straight at us.

"Take them alive," Hamatsa ordered. Big mistake. That gave us the advantage. We could kill goons with impunity.

The goons started firing their weapons and charged us. Wait, I thought. What happened to taking us alive? I felt a strange sensation in my body. Not the sensation of being riddled with bullets, but the sensation of seeming to become detached from my own body. To become detached from my own reality. As if I observed another me in another dimension.

I watched with some amusement as streams of bullets passed harmlessly through my body, and Jean's body, and Michael's and Tara's and Margarita's bodies, as if through thin air, and smashed into the monoliths. I looked quizzically at Tara. "I took us out of their time and space ever so slightly," she said with a wink.

The goons emptied their magazines, and Tara shifted us back to their reality. They had no more bullets in their machine guns to fire at us. I lowered the magic harpoon and swept it over the lines of goons. They collapsed where they stood. Thankfully the harpoon still functioned in its truncated version. The furies spread their wings and running into the darkness took flight and disappeared into the black night.

Hamatsa took a glass canister out of his pocket and smashed it on the pavement. A black cloud roiled up and a mist rolled out in all directions, covering the pavement, like liquid nitrogen released on a movie set. As the mist touched each dead goon he stirred and jumped back on his feet.

"Water of Life," Michael said.

"Reload your weapons!" Kinqalatlala yelled at the goons. Tara swung her battle axe at two of the goons closest to her and lopped their heads off. Magarita whirled with her steel claws and took off the heads of two more goons.

The others aimed their machine guns at Tara and Margarita. I dropped the harpoon and grabbed the crystal. Extending it over my head, I chanted,

"Hoi'p. Hoi'p.

Hoi'p. Hoi'p."

The laxsa froze. The crystal began to glow. At first barely perceptibly. Then brighter. Finally, a brilliant translucent light emanated from the crystal and bathed the monoliths with a blood red hue.

Hamatsa covered his face with his gloved hands and retreated into the darkness. Unexpectedly, Kinqalatlala dashed forward and dived at me, knocking the crystal out of my hands. Qoaxqoaxual, the giant raven, swooped out of the black sky and latched onto Jean's shoulders, and pulled her into the air screaming. I screamed. Jean disappeared into the darkness. I heard the screech of a large bird in my ear and felt powerful claws grab my shoulders and lift me into the air. One of the condors grabbed me and we flew seemingly straight up. The furie set me down on top of one of the monoliths and took off into the darkness. As I struggled to gain my bearings I realized Hamatsa and Jean stood on the next closest monolith. Just like my dream.

Hamatsa put his arm around Jean's neck, choking her. With his other gloved hand he pulled her shirt collar away from her neck and bared his fangs. I didn't even think. I ran across the monolith I was perched on and jumped with all my might. I just managed to clear the space. My momentum propelled me straight into Hamatsa. I smashed my elbow into his face, knocking him back. He lost his grip on Jean.

I grabbed Jean's hand. "Jump!" I yelled. We jumped for the third monolith, hand in hand. We failed to reach it.

We flew through the darkness, hand in hand, arm in arm, just like in my dream. I couldn't tell if we were plunging toward the pavement, or plunging toward the sky.

"I love you!" I yelled at Jean.

"I love you!" I heard her reply.



Epilogue

I seemed to have a dream within my dream. Overbearing darkness suddenly changed into blinding golden light. So blinding I still couldn't tell if Jean and I were plummeting toward the pavement, or the sky.

A magical figure of immense proportions appeared. So large it filled the entire sky. So large it appeared to be above us, and below us. In front of us, and behind us. The immense figure of a majestic and fearsome bird. The blinding light emanated from the massive bird's golden body. Its white face and massive beak gave it the appearance of an eagle. An eagle with a golden crown. Its blood red wings spread across the horizon.

"Garuda," I said to myself.



Not The End

Stay tuned for Book Two of the continuing saga of the Princess Tara Chronicles. And Princess Tara thanks you for your support!

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Princess Tara Chronicles: Blue Tara; Or, How Is a Hyacinth Macaw Parrot Like a Tibetan Goddess?


Chapter Nine
Part One

"I don't think we want to be standing around here when the cops arrive," I thought out loud.

"Can't Tara just reset the clock and make this all go away?" Jean asked.

Blue Tara replied, "I can not alter time and space I did not create. I can not undo what the furies have done."

"That poor lady," Michael said wistfully, looking over at the broken body of the barista.

A flash of brilliant white light burst thunderously out of the clear blue sky and encompassed the body of the unfortunate barista. She vanished. Blue Tara put her right foot up against her left knee and stood on one foot. She spread her arms and twirled. Her stunning crystalline blue naked body dissolved into a glowing blue orb and the form of Princess Tara coalesced in the air, wings spread, flapping. She settled on my shoulder. As if by magic, in fact because it was magic, the square filled with students and faculty and visitors going about their business. Only one remnant of the battle with the furies remained. The toppled coffee cart still laid on the pavement, the gleaming chrome espresso machine dented and broken. Don't know what the cops will make of that, I thought to myself. Their problem, not mine. We didn't stick around to find out. We retreated to Michael's office.

Once we settled into chairs and caught our collective breath, I checked to make sure everyone was okay and not injured. Our tattered and torn clothing assured me that the events of the afternoon really did happen.

"What were those creatures?" Jean finally asked.

"Furies," Michael replied. "The four brothers who encountered the cliff of crystal and transformed into feathered ogres. Specifically, there's Qoaxqoaxual, the giant raven. Hoxhok, the giant crane. Gelogudzayae and Nenstalit, the condors. Calling them giant would be redundant. Servants of Hamatsa. His eyes and ears. Hamatsa saved them from certain death at the hands of their own people in exchange for serving him."

"But that was how many centuries ago," I responded, somewhat dubiously. "How can they still be alive?"

"In the spirit world time is meaningless in the sense we understand it," Michael replied. "Just ask Tara. Plus, Hamatsa possesses the Water of Life. He can reanimate the dead and bring them back to life. Time and again. For all intents and purposes, we're talking about immortality."

"Crap," I succinctly stated. "How do we fight something that can't be killed?"

"That's what we need to figure out," Michael replied. The shamans were able to keep Hamatsa in check with their magic. They never were able to completely defeat and destroy him, but certainly keep him in check."

"Of course, we have something the shamans didn't," I responded.

"What's that?"

"We have the Taras." I brushed my hand over Princess Tara's head. Tara purred in reply. "We still need to get Tara the turndun, and there's also the matter of the crystal you mentioned."

"I haven't been able to make an appointment with the lab director," Michael said.

"We can't wait on him," I replied. "We need to get into the lab as soon as possible. If today is any indication, we have a very limited window of opportunity to do something to stop Hamatsa's plans, whatever they entail. He's clearly on to us, and he's going to use every means at his disposal to try to stop us. And he seems to have some pretty unsavory allies." Michael blanched.

"You saw the vault," Michael said. "How do you expect to break into it without the director's key?"

"We have something better than a key. We have Tara."

"Yeah, so?" Michael replied.

"You remember how Tara transported us from your office here to my apartment? And back again?"

"So did that actually happen? I mean physically? Or did we just visualize it? If that's the case, I don't see how that's going to help us. And even if Tara could physically transport us into the lab, we still need to get into the vault."

"Tara?" I asked, stepping Tara off my shoulder onto my hand. I looked into her black fiery eyes. I saw a reflection of my face. "Tara?" I repeated.

A blinding white light seared my eyes, and a thunderclap seemed to shatter my head. I fell to the floor in anguish. Either Jean or Michael screamed. Or they both did. I opened my eyes and tried to make sense of my surroundings. Gleaming white steel cabinets towered over my head. We were in the Burke Museum. Specifically the lab in the basement. Blue Tara stood in front of me in her crystalline blue naked form. Michael struggled to get up from the floor. Jean rocked on her back on the floor with her hands clasped over her ears. I took her hands and pulled her up. Margarita leaped from the floor into Michael's arms.

"I don't think I want to be your friend  anymore," Jean said. I couldn't tell whether she joked or not. I hugged her.

"Sorry sweetie. There's no getting used to this. I know."

Then another noise. An insistent and obnoxious ringing, like a fire bell in my head, assaulted my ears.

"Oh God!" Michael exclaimed. "We set off the alarms."

"We've got to act fast," I said. We ran to the vault at the back of the lab.

Blue Tara took my hands in hers. "I can't do this alone," she said. "I can bend time and space into this box, but I can't pick up the turndun. I need you to do that with me, if you're willing to take the risk."

I recoiled from her. She continued, "To be safe, we need to hold each other. Tightly. And follow the bend of time and space into this box. I will lead you, but you must not under any circumstances let go of me. There is danger because I have not seen the inside of this box. I can't have you materializing inside a solid object." You got that right, honey, I thought to myself. "Describe the space inside to me," Tara said, looking at Michael.

"It's an empty vault. Inside there's a steel table, in the middle of the room. The turndun is sitting on the table inside a small steel box."

"Nothing else?" Tara asked.

"I don't believe so," Michael replied.

"You don't believe so?" I cried out, seriously annoyed. "This is my life. . . and Tara's. . . our lives, we're talking about." I looked at Tara.

"You'll be okay. . . pretty sure," Michael replied.

"For this to work," Tara said to me, "you need to take your clothes off."

"What?" Jean said, her eyes wide in surprise.

"What?" I echoed.

"We're running out of time," Tara insisted. "Take off your clothes." I ripped my clothes off and dropped them on the floor. I stood naked.

"Now what?" I asked. Tara put her arms around me and pulled me to her. Her one breast stuck into my chest. She kissed me. I blacked out. I opened my eyes. I couldn't tell if moments or hours had passed. Tara still held me. We stood in a black hole. Tara's glowing crystalline blue skin provided the only light in the space. The heat from her body seeped into mine and infused me with a sense of euphoria. I did not want her to release her grip on me.

As my eyes adjusted to the blue light I realized we were standing next to a steel table. A steel chest stood on the table. Presumably it contained the turndun. "Pick up the box," Tara told me, taking her arms off of me. I picked up the chest. It was not small or lightweight.

"Now what?" I asked Tara.

"Hold on to the box with all your might," she told me. Tara stepped up behind me and put her arms around my chest. Her breast rubbed across my back. She kissed my neck.

"Did I really need to take my clothes off?" I asked Tara.

"No, not at all," she replied. "I just wanted to see you naked. Whatever you do, do not drop the box."

Before I could reply a burning white thunderclap knocked me senseless. Again, I couldn't determine how long I lost consciousness, or if I even did. As I regained my senses I realized Tara and I were back standing in the lab, with Tara's arms still wrapped around me. Thankfully, I still held the steel chest in my arms. Then I realized we had company. Lots of company.


Part Two

Only thing more embarrassing than finding yourself naked in front of people you know is finding yourself standing butt naked in front of a whole bunch of people you don't know. People with guns. Thankfully the alarm no longer blared. But Jean, Michael, and Margarita were surrounded by a squad of black clad Deportation Police, with short gun barrels mounted on big machine guns pointed at them. And then pointed at Tara and me. The odds did not seem to favor us. I set the steel chest on the floor and threw my clothes on fast as I could before someone with a gun told me I couldn't.

A short balding man with a scruffy stubble of a beard holding a long stick instead of a machine gun stepped out in front of the goons. "Oh my God," Michael whispered to me. "A magic harpoon. Death stick. Kills anything it's pointed at."

The short man stepped up to me and said, "You're taking something that doesn't belong to you."

"I guess it's a matter of interpretation," I suggested. He swung his stick and clocked me alongside my head. I staggered and almost fell to my knees. I could feel blood rolling down the side of my face.

Before the short man could finish swinging his harpoon Tara grasped her battle axe with one hand and pulled me out of the way with the other. She swung the axe and separated the short man's head from his shoulders. The head bounced onto the floor and rolled down the aisle as the body toppled over. Blood spurted out from the neck turning the front of a gleaming white steel cabinet bright red.

Without thinking I grabbed the harpoon before it hit the floor and pointed it at the nearest goon. He simply collapsed. Dead. "Get down!" I yelled, as I swept over the goons with the harpoon. They toppled over like a line of falling dominoes. The last couple of goons standing managed to fire a few short bursts from their machine guns harmlessly into the ceiling as Margarita whirled over their heads slashing their throats with her giant steel claws. An eerie quietness gripped the room.

Jean walked over to the goons and cried out, "Look at their faces!" Michael and I hurried over to look. We saw faces bleached white like parchment. Faces scarred with bulging black veins. Bloodshot eyes sunken in their sockets.

"Laxsa," Michael said.

"What the hell?" I asked.

"Laxsa. Warriors of the spirit world. Living dead. Zombies, for lack of a better word. No telling how many lives these laxsa have lived. If they get killed, Hamatsa simply brings them back to life with his Water of Life."

Blue Tara grabbed her battle axe and walked up to the goons. One by one with a single swing of her fierce blade, she lopped their heads off. We quickly backed away as a pool of blood covered the floor. "What are you doing?" Michael screamed.

I knew. "Hamatsa can't restore life to bodies without heads. That's the only sure-fire way to kill them. But we're taking the magic harpoon with us, just in case. Now we've got a fighting chance."

"We should leave," Tara said, pointing out the obvious.

"Not without that crystal," I said. "Is it locked in here?" I asked Michael.

"It's on display upstairs in the Kwakwaka'wakw room."

"Lead the way!" I grabbed the steel chest with the turndun and we ran up to the main floor. Don't think I ever appreciated how spooky a museum could feel after hours. I definitely did not want to spend a night in one.

Running onto the main floor we entered the dinosaur hall, replete with recreations of towering dinosaur skeletons. It pleased me to no end to know that Hamatsa could not bring these monsters back to life. Running through the dinosaur and geology exhibits, we entered the ethnographic wing. Dioramas of native American life, the reimagination of precontact civilizations throughout the Pacific Northwest, greeted us.

Michael lead us to the Boas crystal on display with other assorted ceremonial and decorative artifacts collected by Franz Boas at Fort Rupert. A glass case protected the crystal. Not for long. I swung the steel chest against the side of the case, showering the floor with a cascade of glass fragments. A new round of alarm bells shook the hall. I yelled at Jean to grab the crystal. Pillaging a museum just did not seem to me to be an appropriate activity for an historian such as myself, even a retired one. I tried to shake off the feelings of remorse and regret. The alarm bells threatened to turn my brain to mush.

"Tara. Get us out of here. . . " I barely finished speaking the sentence.

When I came to I found myself on the floor of Michael's office, the steel chest with the turndun still in my arms. Michael and Jean struggled to get up off the floor. Jean held the crystal in her hands. Michael used the harpoon as a crutch to lift himself up. Margarita lay curled up on her sleeping pad next to Michael's desk, licking her fur. Princess Tara sat perched on the back of a chair.

I set the steel chest on Michael's desk. "Now we're getting somewhere," I said. "How about you stick that harpoon in a corner somewhere, so it doesn't accidentally get pointed at someone," I suggested to Michael.

"I'm guessing there has to be intent involved. Intent to kill," Michael replied. "It can't always just be on, can it?"

"Well. Let's not take any chances, okay? Open up that chest and show us the turndun."

Michael walked up to the chest and released the latch holding the lid secure. He opened the lid and reached into the chest to pull out a simple slab of wood. Gleaming polished red cedar. Maybe two feet long by half a foot wide. Not quite an inch thick. Heavily serrated edges. Sort of reminded me of an airplane propeller. It looked brand new.

"What the fuck? That's it?" I said, looking at Tara. "How can that be an antique? It looks like it just came from Home Depot. We left a trail of bodies for a piece of a board?"

"The radiocarbon dates don't lie. This piece of board is at least thirty-five thousand years old. This is solid red cedar. Heavy as a rock."

"Well, okay then. How does it work?"

"We tie a long cord on to the end of it," Michael replied. "The longer the better. The cord is twisted tight as possible and then the turndun is launched overhead. As the cord untwists it spins the turndun while the turndun swings around horizontal or vertical circles, making this incredible noise that can be heard for miles. Pulsing the noise, horizontally or vertically, works like ancient Morse Code."

I picked the turndun up. Michael wasn't kidding. This slab of wood seemed much heavier than wood ought to be. But I assumed this wasn't just any slab of wood. "What do you think, Tara?" Tara flapped her wings and hopped onto my arm. She took a small bite out of the edge of the turndun with her huge beak.

"This is not just a piece of wood. This is the turndun of the gods. Older than you know. This instrument will broadcast even to the netherworld where Garuda sleeps. Once I awaken Garuda, I can summon the Taras. Then we face the Winalagalis."

Quiet until now, Jean spoke up. "I don't know about anyone else, but I'm starving. Can we go get something to eat and put off saving the world for a couple of hours?"

Tara fluffed out her feathers and spread her wings. "Pizza!"


Part Three

I found myself and the others writhing on the floor of my Ballard apartment to where Tara had bent time and space. I struggled to my feet and grabbed Jean's hands to pull her up. Princess Tara sat on her perch preening her feathers.

"For chrissakes!" I yelled. "Would you please warn us when you're about to do that. My head can't take much more of that."

"Humans are weak," Tara replied. "I am hungry. Jean is hungry. You and Michael must be hungry." It was a statement of fact rather than a question, and she wasn't wrong. I was starving. Michael nodded weakly.

I grabbed my smartphone and did a quick search for Ballard Pizza across the street. I pulled up their online order form. "Large Mediterranean for me and Jean," I said. Margarita decided she needed to speak up.

"Meat," she simply stated.

"Sounds good to me too," Michael said.

"One large cardiac arrest for the two Ms." I added, "Delivery."

"I need a drink," I said, walking to the fridge and grabbing a cold Rainier.

"One for me too," Tara said.

"It's beer. Beer is an acquired taste."

"Let me acquire it," Tara insisted. I emptied her water dish and filled it with beer. I gave Michael and Jean each a bottle. By the time I turned around, Tara's water dish was empty. I filled it again.

Jean and I sat down on the sofa. Michael plopped himself onto the couch.

"The body count is adding up fast," Michael said. "Did, uh. . . Tara? Did Tara clean up the mess in the lab?"

"I can not undo what the laxsa have done," Tara said.

"I think we can safely say your university teaching career just ended, Michael," I said. "They'll have us on any number of security cameras. They'll ID you right away. And won't take them long to ID me as well."

"So what do we do?" Michael asked, guzzling his beer.

"I think we have a new line of work," I offered.

"How about you, Jean? I don't know if they'll be able to make you, but eventually they probably will."

"I got a feeling pulling espresso shots for a living is going to seem very dull and mundane after what we've been through," Jean replied. "I agree with you. I think we've got a new line of work. If you'll have me."

"Are you kidding me?" I slid across the couch and put my arm around Jean's shoulder, kissing her. "We're a team." I started to kiss her again but the door bell rang. "Pizza's here." I got up.

I buzzed the outer door open and walked over to the apartment door. I reached for the door knob. The door blew open in my face, knocking me on my butt. A monstrous creature, a cross between a bear and a giant, burst through the doorway and slapped me with an immense paw as I tried to get up. The force of the blow knocked me back into the kitchen. Jean screamed. Michael jumped up from the sofa and cried out, "Nanes! The cannibal grizzly bear."

The creature bounded into the living room on all four limbs, then reared up on its hind legs. Its head hit the eight foot ceiling in my apartment. Its long brown matted fur rippled in waves across its body like a wheat field in a summer breeze. Baring its murderous ivory fangs and letting out a roar that rattled the windows, the creature looking and smelled the picture of death. With claws. The most foul and putrid odor filled the apartment. As I struggled to regain consciousness, I desperately tried not to gag.

Tara and Margarita sprang into action. Everything happened so quickly it seemed to me I was watching one of those slow motion 3D computer generated action movies.

Margarita whirled at the beast and her steel claws slashed at its neck. As large as a vengeful Black Tara could appear, the grizzly ghoul easily was twice her size. The creature caught Margarita with a blow from its paw and sent her flying through my bay window. Margarita screeched as the glass shattered and she fell to the street below.

Blue Tara coalesced out of a pulsating blue cloud and flung her battle axe at the monster's gigantic head. The blade glanced off the side of its head and bounced to the floor at my feet. Blood streamed down the creature's fur from a long gash in its skull. Blue Tara ran at the creature, grabbed it by its neck, and attempted to wrestle it to the ground. With one thrust of a giant paw, the bear flung Tara off its back and across the room. Tara's head slammed into the wall and she crumbled to the floor. I climbed to my feet and picked up the battle axe. I could barely lift it with both hands.

The monster spun into the living room and knocked Michael backwards over the sofa. With a blow to her head, it knocked Jean against the wall. She fell to the floor, apparently unconscious. I screamed and flung the battle axe at the creature with all my might. The butt of the axe struck the creature's head and bounced off. The monster scooped Jean's limp body up from the floor with one limb, and scampered for the door on three legs.

Margarita reached the door first, charging up the stairs. She swung one of her steel claws and cut a gouge through the creature's neck. Jean fell to the floor as the creature batted Margarita across the room. Regaining consciousness, Tara scrambled to her feet and grabbed her battle axe. She raised it over her head with both hands and prepared to fling it at the monster.

The creature placed one of its immense ivory claws at Jean's throat and spoke, "Halt! Or she dies and suffers a fate worse than death."

"Oh my God!" Michael cried. "It's going to turn her into a zombie."

Without thinking I ran toward the creature, but didn't manage to take more than two steps. Tara grabbed me and pulled me to her. "No. You can't stop Nanes. Not if you want your friend to live. As long as she's alive we have a chance to save her. If she dies, we have no chance. And if she dies at the hands of Nanes, she faces a fate much worse than death."

I looked at Michael. Michael appeared white as a ghost. My heart pounded so hard I thought my body would explode. Sweat stung my eyes and I could barely see. The creature picked up Jean's unconscious body again and backed out the door and down the stairs. I stumbled to the window to catch a glimpse of a man, not a monster, dumping Jean into the back of a white panel van. The man jumped in. The engine started up. I heard tires squeal as the van darted into the street.

Watching the van slip around the corner and out of sight I lost all feeling and sensation in my legs and limbs. Any connection between my brain and my muscles ceased, and I collapsed to the floor. Tara rushed to my side and took me in her arms and held me.


End of Chapter Nine

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Princess Tara Chronicles: Blue Tara; Or, How Is a Hyacinth Macaw Parrot Like a Tibetan Goddess?


Chapter Eight
Part One

Leaving Charlie's Bird Store I hopped onto the Interstate and drove over the Ship Canal up to the U Dub campus as fast as possible without getting another ticket. Tara insisted on getting something to eat since we ran out of the apartment without breakfast. I pulled into Dick's Drive-In and ordered hamburgers and fries. I paid of course. Tara took a bite out of a french fry, and devoured the entire bag. Then she grabbed Jean's bag of fries as well as we drove to the campus.

Walking out of the parking garage I was pleased to see Red Square free of any sign of Deportation Police. Students mingled about, or walked purposely across the square. The same coffee cart sat parked in the same spot next to the steps to the Suzzallo Library. The same tall hijab wearing black woman pulled shots from the espresso machine. Spotting the coffee cart, Tara tightened her grip on my shoulder and tried to steer me to the cart, but I wasn't having it. I picked up my pace around the library building.

Tara suddenly growled and fluttered her wings and feathers. I stopped so abruptly Jean almost ran into me. Tara commenced turning her head in short jerky motions, pinning her eyes and looking around the square. Mostly looking up. I looked up. And I saw Jean looking up.

"What is it?" Jean asked.

"Got me," I said. "What's the matter, Tara?"

"I sense a darkness," Tara simply said, continuing to survey the roof tops of the buildings surrounding the square.

I thought something on the roof of the Suzzallo Library looked odd. "Have there always been gargoyles on top of the library?" I asked, I guess to Jean, since I didn't think Tara would know.

"Wouldn't know," replied Jean. "I haven't been on the campus in years."

With a couple of broad flaps of her immense wings, Tara launched herself into the air and flew up and disappeared over the roof of the library. This time I knew better than to call out to her. A passing student who stopped to watch Tara fly off asked, "Does your bird always do that?"

"Yep," I lied. I didn't know. I didn't have a clue if Tara did that all the time or not.

"It's not going to get lost or anything?" he asked.

"No. She's an experienced flier," I said. That part was true. Tara was an experienced flier, far as I could tell.

"Cool," the student said, as he walked off.

Jean didn't appear as confident. "You sure she's okay?" she asked me.

"As sure as I can be." We stared at the library for a short time. "I'm sure Tara can take care of herself," I added. What the hell, I knew Tara could take care of herself. We walked on to Michael's office.

"Where's Tara," Michael asked, after answering my knock on his door. The door was closed, and locked. Margarita lay curled up on her sleeping pad next to Michael's desk.

"Flying around Red Square," I replied. "There's something not right. I sensed something. And Tara definitely sensed something. So she took off looking for it, I guess."

"Should we go look for her?"

"I think she'll let us know one way or another if she needs us."

"Hi. I'm Jean," Jean said, reaching out to shake Michael's hand.

"Oh sorry," I said. "Michael, meet Jean. And this. . ." I said, pointing to the cat, "is Margarita. Or I should say, Black Tara." Margarita growled ever so lightly while arching her back and stretching her front paws out before her.

"So you know about the Tara thing?" Michael asked Jean.

"Oh yes," she replied. "I've encountered Blue Tara, in the flesh, so to speak."

"You know about the heads? And bodies?" Michael hesitantly asked, glancing down at his cat. Jean nodded. "I don't know how many more heads rolling I can take," Michael said.

"We witnessed Tara in action this morning," Jean said. "I know exactly how you feel."

"Oh. What happened?" Michael asked.

"At Charlie's Bird Store," I replied. "We stopped to warn Charlie to watch his back. We were too late. Turns out one of Hamatsa's goons beat us there. Almost made zombies out of us."

"Tara split his head open with her battle axe, while he was trying to eat me," Jean interjected. "And then she disappeared the guy. I thought I was a goner."

"What do you mean, almost made zombies out of you? And how do you know it was one of Hamatsa's goons?"

"He tried to take bites out of us, me and Jean," I replied. "I thought I was a goner, too. But Tara jumped in right in the nick of time and saved us. He was a cannibal. The guy had fangs, for chrissakes!"

"Oh geez," Michael said. "This is getting weirder by the day. Any chance Tara could just reset the clock for us to before this adventure ever started? Just let us go on our merry quiet way? Teaching Intro 101 classes just doesn't seem that bad anymore."

"Don't think that's how it works," I replied. "There's got to be a reason Tara picked me. And there's got to be a reason Margarita picked you. Somehow I don't think this is simple happenstance."

"And they know about you," Jean added.

"What?" Michael asked. A look of frightened bewilderment crossed his face. Margarita jumped on her feet and hissed.

"They know about me, anyway," I clarified. "The ghoul at Charlie's was looking for me. To lead him to Tara. Not sure if they know about you. Or Black Tara. But you shouldn't discount the possibility. Or probability."

"You need to be really careful," Jean said. "Believe me, you don't want to end up being zombie lunch." Michael turned white as a ghost.

"You need to protect yourself," I said. "You got a gun?"

"A gun? You kidding me? Michael replied, startled. "I'm a university professor. Not a gunslinger. You taught too much Old West history. This may be the West, but it's not the Wild West anymore."

"It's more wild than you realize," I said. "You need to watch your back, anyway. Maybe you should carry Margarita around with you for protection." I smiled. Margarita growled at me. "So. What's up? You told me on the phone this morning you have new information to share."

"That's right," Michael replied. "You guys have a seat," he said, pulling out a couple of chairs. "I've got a story to tell you."


Part Two

"I dug out my old field notes from my grad school days," Michael commenced. "You probably remember, and Jean probably doesn't know, that I wrote my dissertation on shamanism on the Northwest Coast." Michael grabbed a stack of weather-beaten, dog-eared and tattered field books on his desk. The books sported day-glo hard yellow covers, so if you dropped one out in the field it would be easier to find.

"One of the things I was interested in was the source of the shamans' powers. Why did shamans have supernatural powers that no one else had or could acquire?"

"Don't know that I've ever read your dissertation," I said.

"You and most people. I figured there had to be something more to it than just the song and dance routine that the shamans performed during their various ceremonies. Certainly some of the incantations have powerful magic behind them, but it's not just all abracadabra, like with Harry Potter."

"Love those books," Jean interjected. Michael glanced at Jean with a hint of annoyance.

"Those aren't real you know?" Michael continued, "There had to be an actual source of power the shamans drew upon. Like a giant battery or fuel cell that allowed shamans to perform the miracles they've been documented performing."

"Makes sense to me," I said, not actually sure whether it made sense or not.

"So going through my old grad school field books. . ." Michael picked up one of his field books and flipped through its pages, "I found numerous references, either archaeological or ethnographic. . . artifact or spoken word," Michael clarified for Jean's benefit, "to immense crystals of pure quartz, crystals that glowed white hot. Crystals that seemed to provide the source of the shamans' powers."

"Have any crystals been excavated from archaeological sites along the Northwest Coast," I asked.

"Not intact. But I've excavated shattered crystals, which were generally written off to be decorative or ceremonial." Margarita jumped onto Michael's lap and curled up, purring gently, evidently finding the story of interest. "So I got to thinking about a tale my old grad school professor at Wazzu told me years ago." Wazzu is a colloquial term for Washington State University, the cow college off in the grain fields of eastern Washington. "I thought the story was pretty much bullshit at the time."

"Who was your professor again?" I asked.

"The guy's name was Grover Krantz."

"Oh yeah, the Sasquatch guy." Grover Krantz was an old school archaeologist best known for being a Sasquatch hunter, which pretty much killed his reputation as a credible archaeologist.

"But the guy did some solid work in Northwest Coast archaeology," Michael insisted. "He told me about a field school he attended as a grad student back in the 1950s. He and his prof and a couple of native guides ran an archaeological survey up the Fraser River. They got lost in an early winter storm and while trying to find their way back to camp stumbled upon a cliff of pure quartz crystal. He claimed the storm blew in so hard it actually rained crystals."

"That would be different," I admitted.

"Well, the native guides freaked out and literally dragged him and his professor out of the area as fast as they could walk. They claimed the cliff was cursed and that any natives who ventured in there came to a bad end."

"How so?" I asked.

"They told him about four brothers from their tribe who trekked out on a vision quest years before. They had not eaten in about four days and were becoming delirious. They encountered this cliff of quartz crystal and tried to shelter beneath it when a storm blew in. Quartz crystals rained down and the brothers got covered in crystals. After the storm cleared, the brothers discovered they possessed the miracle of flight, like birds. They soared into the sky and flew around the crystal cliff. They flew in and out of the trees in the forest, and flew down to the coast. Only hours were required to cover the distance that had taken days on foot."

"Well, that could be cool," Jean said.

"Maybe not," Michael replied. "Not having eaten in something like a week now, they found themselves famished. So they flew back to their village."

"Bet that didn't go well," I said.

"When they returned to their village their people couldn't recognize them. You see, they had transformed into giant birds. Into furies. Feathers, wings, beaks, claws, and all."

"Furies?" Jean asked.

"Curses personified, according to the ancient Greeks," I said.

"The four brothers transformed into a giant raven, a giant crane, and a pair of condors, giant birds by definition," Michael said. "They did not possess the knowledge to change themselves back into human form. The only way they could survive was to feed on the villagers. And of course the villagers weren't willingly going to oblige."

"So what happened?" I asked.

"The villagers scattered into the forest to hide in the trees and caves. The shaman organized the warriors into a posse to hunt the furies down. But before that could happen, the Hamatsa took advantage of the shaman's absence to offer the furies a bargain. Not like they had a lot of options. Hamatsa would feed them and protect them on the condition that they serve him. And him alone. The furies would in effect become his air force and do his bidding. His eyes and ears in the sky."

"So this is what we're facing?" I asked Michael.

"By the sounds of it. Students reported attacks by giant winged creatures, giant birds, during the night. One woman even got her eyes pecked out."

"Oh my," Jean exclaimed.

"What if Tara runs into them?" I asked. "Can she handle four ghouls at once?" Margarita jumped onto the floor and started pacing. Michael shrugged. "So if I ever stumble across a cliff of pure quartz I'll be sure to avoid getting covered in crystals. But how does that help us?"

"The crystals are the source of the shamans' powers," Michael said. "That's how the shamans managed to keep Hamatsa and company in check all these eons. And that's how we can fight them."

"By finding the crystal cliff?"

"That'd be nice. But we just need one intact crystal."

"Okay. Where do we get one?"

"There's one right here in the Burke Museum collection."

"There is?"

"Franz Boas collected one at Fort Rupert in 1896. Boas hit Seattle on his way back East in 1897 just as the Klondike Stampede broke out. There wasn't a room to be had in Seattle for all the gold in Alaska because of the flood of Klondikers. So Boas traded the crystal and some masks and other artifacts he had collected to the university in exchange for lodging on campus until he could book passage back East. All that stuff ended up in the Burke collection. I've seen the crystal. But I didn't think anything of it before. To me and everyone else in the museum it was just a pretty rock."

"Is it locked up with the turndun?" I asked.

"No, it's not. And there's another reason we. . . I mean you. . . " Michael said, pointing at me, "need to get into the Boas field notes. He must have recorded some context for the crystal and some description of how it was used. Incantations and what not that activated it. Clues that will show us how to use it again."

Margarita started clawing at the office door and growling loudly. I remembered what I wanted to ask Michael. "Have there always been gargoyles on the library roof?"

"Gargoyles? What gargoyles?" Michael replied, perplexed.

I jumped out of the chair and bolted out the door. "Hey. Wait up!" Jean yelled behind me. Fast as I ran down the hall, Margarita flashed by me faster.


Part Three

The three of us, and one cat, ran out onto Red Square and came to a screeching halt. It took a moment to gain our bearings. Something was very wrong. For one, we found Red Square deserted. Not one student to be seen going about their business. Then I noticed the coffee cart. Tipped over on its side like a tornado blew through. Paper coffee cups and napkins blew around the square. The contents of several smashed syrup bottles poured out on the red brick. The shining chrome espresso machine lay busted on the brick. I could see no sign of the barista.

I thought to check the gargoyles again. I counted three that I could see. I thought I had counted four when we arrived. I started to turn to ask Jean and Michael to keep an eye out for Tara. A whistling sound caught my ear. As I turned around to try to locate its source, a body came hurtling to the ground from the top of one of the three monoliths adorning the square, one hundred and forty foot red brick towers. The body landed with a bone crunching thud, face up. It was the barista, the African lady with the British accent. Her hijab fluttered to the ground after her. Blood started oozing onto the pavement from her broken body. Jean screamed, "Look at her eyes!" I looked, horrified. Her eyes had been pecked out.

At this, Margarita stood up on her hind legs and howled. I thought I saw movement out of the corner of my eye. I looked up at the gargoyles. Suddenly one morphed from stone to liquid motion and unfurled its wings. Then the second. And the third.

"Get underneath the monoliths," I cried out. Michael and I scrambled for cover. Jean turned to look for the cat and tripped over the barista's body, falling on her knees. I ran to her to help her get up when I heard the swoosh of great wings flapping. The fourth furie, the giant raven, dived off the top of one of the monoliths, where it had devoured the barista's eyes, and spiralled toward the ground. As I struggled to help Jean get up from the pavement, the giant bird reached down with one of its great claws and latched onto my shoulder. I felt myself suddenly weightless. Thankfully I wore a cheap jacket I picked up at Goodwill or some such place. That and I'm probably packing a few extra pounds. But as my feet came off the ground, Jean grabbed one of my legs, and the stitching on one of the arms gave out. I dropped back to the ground, taking Jean down with me. The giant raven flew up with the jacket arm in its beak. Jean and I struggled to our feet and ran for the safety of the monoliths. Then one of the condors, a great hulking beast that looked like an overgrown buzzard on steroids, dove toward us. Margarita let out an ear-piercing roar and leaped at the condor. As the cat whirled through the air, she transformed into a vision of a monstrous feline with claws of steel blades. With one well placed swipe of an enormous claw she knocked the condor out of the air. The condor fell to the pavement and rolled onto its side, stunned. Blood seeped from a jagged tear across its face. Margarita landed on all fours and prepared to pounce on the furie, but the bird quickly recovered and righted itself as the second condor landed by its side. The condors took a couple of halting steps as they spread their wings and launched themselves back into the air.

"We've got to get off the square," I yelled to Michael and Jean for no apparent reason since they were standing right next to me.

Before we could move, the giant crane landed on the square directly in front of us. It seemed big as a giraffe. I grabbed Jean and pulled her to me. The crane took several steps towards us. It seemed to pin its dark penetrating eyes directly at me. "You will call Blue Tara to us," it suddenly spoke. I felt as if my blood had turned to ice water and I started to shake in fear, chilled to the bone, the unfortunate barista's eyeless face burned into my brain.

"Run!" I yelled at Michael and Jean. "I'll distract them." Michael and Jean stood motionless. I grabbed their arms and pushed them away. "Go! Hurry," I yelled. I pushed them off. I turned to face the giant crane. The crane took a step forward and bent its head down as if preparing to attack. I moved first. Without even thinking about the consequences, I ran forward and leaped on the crane's back, throwing my arms around its long neck. The crane staggered under my weight and almost toppled over. It shook its head violently, but its great beak became useless as a weapon against me. Striding across the square, the crane flapped its wings and we were airborne. I was weightless, riding a giant bird, a furie, into the sky.

Michael and Jean ran toward the Suzzallo Library for shelter with Margarita cantering along by their side. The giant raven swooped down and attempted to sink its claws into Michael's shoulders, but Margarita once again whirled into the air and batted the bird away.

The crane flew circles around the square, attempting to shake me off. With my weight on its back, the giant bird could not gain sufficient altitude to clear the buildings surrounding the square, and I began to fear we might crash into one of the buildings and tumble to the ground. I really did not want to become lunch for the furies.

The giant crane started maneuvering toward the monoliths, getting closer and closer with each pass. It dawned on me the bird planned to use one of the monoliths to brush me off its back. I did not see a good end to this dilemma. Approaching the closest monolith, the crane reeled over on its side as it passed by and banked to strike the monolith to dislodge me from its back.

I didn't think. I just jumped. The bird struck the monolith and bounced off. I would have been toast if I had stayed on its back.

I closed my eyes and waited for the inevitable result of free fall. Nothing. No life flashing before my eyes. Nothing. I waited for what seemed an inordinate amount of time. Still nothing. I counted to ten. One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. Seven. Eight. Nine. Ten. Still nothing. So this is what the afterlife was like, I thought to myself. A lot of nothing. Then I thought to open my eyes. My jaw dropped to my feet.

I stood safely and unhurt on the ground. Blue Tara stood in front of me holding my shoulders. In her stunning crystalline blue naked glory.

I heard Jean and Michael yelling as they ran up to me, chased by the four furies. Then a cacophony of cawing drowned out whatever they were saying. I looked up. They looked up. Hundreds if not thousands of crows swarmed the square. Black, beautiful, cawing crows. The crows swarmed the furies like mosquitoes on a moose and drove them off and out of sight.

In the other Washington, the Chief of Control, Code Name Hamatsa, slammed down his phone after receiving a call from the chief of Seattle's Department of Homeland Security. Hamatsa closed his eyes, took a deep breath to channel his anger, raised his arms over his head, and screamed a wall shaking mind-numbing screech. Several agents working within the compound fell to the floor with head-wracking pain.

Off in the distance but closing rapidly on Red Square, I could hear the pulsating wail of police sirens.

"Remind me never to take another day off," Jean said. I took Jean into my arms and hugged her. And then I kissed her. "What was that for?" she smiled.

"For saving my life."

Blue Tara put her hand on my shoulder and pulled me toward her. "What do I get?"

Michael stood behind us, stunned, staring at Blue Tara with his eyes popped open wide as saucers. Margarita sidled up to him and rubbed her head against his ankle, purring softly.


End of Chapter Eight