Saturday, April 22, 2017

Book Two of The Princess Tara Chronicles, The Princess Witch, Chapter Two

Coming This Summer

Chapter Two
Part One

The old lady slowly made her way down the sidewalk along Ballard Avenue, couple blocks short of the old Ballard City Hall bell tower, a salute to the once free city of Ballard. She walked slowly, aided by a cane. One halting step after another. Short, severely bent over, she appeared so frail it seemed a good gust of wind might blow her over. Her white bushy bouffant hair stuck out in every direction giving one to wonder how she managed to stand up at all to the weight of such a massive hairdo. White boots and white pants matched her hair and sandwiched her black coat. She held a long black flight feather in her free hand.

As she approached an intersection a good Samaritan passing by stopped to ask if she would like her help to cross the street.

“Why thank you, young lady,” the old woman said, bending up to look at the young woman. “That would be so nice of you,” she said in a voice so soft the young woman could barely hear her. The young woman reached out to take the old lady’s arm. The old lady touched the young woman with her black feather. Just like that, where a good Samaritan had stood reaching out to take the old lady’s arm, the young woman vanished. In her place a large black crow danced a circle on the pavement in front of the old lady, cawed wildly, and took flight, flying over the adjacent building and out of sight.

“Mind your own business honey,” the old lady cautioned, too late to help the young woman.

The old lady hobbled across the street only to find a huge puddle of rainwater blocking the sidewalk thanks to a clogged storm drain. She halted and looked indecisively up and down the sidewalk. A middle aged man walked up behind her and asked the old lady if she needed help the negotiate the puddle.

“Thank you young man,” she said.

“You flatter me,” the man responded. “I’m not that young anymore.” He reached out to take her arm. She touched him with her black feather. Just like that, the man disappeared. A mallard duck appeared in the puddle, paddling circles in the water. A homeless man who had crouched in a nearby doorway for shelter from a rain squall screamed and ran away down the sidewalk.


∆∆∆

Jean stopped by my apartment after she closed her coffee shop, not long after Michael and I returned from our trip to Charlie’s Bird Store. She looked delectable in her tight black jeans and white cashmere sweater. I thought to myself that Jean wore cashmere well.

“The strangest things have been happening here in Ballard today,” she blurted out soon as I opened the door.

“I’m happy to see you too,” I replied with a grin as I bent over to kiss her. “Come in and have some pizza,” I told her. “There’s someone you need to meet.”

Jean walked into the kitchen with me. “Oh. My. God! She exclaimed. Her face froze in shock as she stared at Red Tara, sitting at the dining table with Blue Tara and Michael, feasting on pizza and beer, with Margarita at Michael’s feet chewing on a slice of pizza as well. By now I had the pizza place across the street trained to have a couple of pizzas ready for me every day.

Jean could not stop staring at Red Tara. Which is understandable because I mostly couldn’t stop staring at Red Tara, even with a totally naked crystalline blue skinned Amazon warrior goddess with a battle axe sitting next to her.

“Red Tara saved my butt at the U Dub,” Michael said. “She also appears as a red macaw, which for some inexplicable reason is called a greenwing macaw.”

“That’s because they have green feathers on their wings,” Jean replied.

“Only certain people can see Red Tara for who she is,” I added. “Michael told me that the students on campus could only see the red parrot, and not the red four-armed goddess that we are priviledged to see.”

“What happened that caused her to need to save your butt?” Jean asked Michael.

“One word. Kinqalatlala.” Michael replied. “Oh, and the lalenox. Two words, I guess.”

“Lalenox?” Jean asked with a puzzled expression on her face.

“Zombies who kill people just by touching them.”

“Which is why I’m here,” Jean said.

“What is why?” I asked.

“There’s been the strangest goings on here in Ballard today. People are disappearing. One of my customers said some homeless guy was screaming about an old lady who turned a man into a duck just by touching him with a feather.”

“Oh shit,” Michael said.

“Yes?” I was almost afraid to ask.

“Sounds a lot like a hadaho,” Michael replied. “A powerful witch that can transform people into birds and other animals.”

“Just terrific,” I said. “First Kinqalatlala. Now this. They’re coming after us.”

“There’s more,” Michael replied. “Hadahos can also transform stone and statues into animate beings as well. They can create their own zombies.”

“Why are they coming after us now?” Jean asked, as she grabbed a beer out of the fridge and joined us at the dining table.

Red Tara finally spoke. “They are not coming for you,” she said. “Not yet. They are creating chaos. They want to sow fear. Keep us off balance. We need to keep our focus on our plan to defeat Hamatsa.”

“Which is?” Jean asked.

“You must enter the city of the dead and find the tlogwe.”

“Wait. What? I must enter the city of the dead?” Jean responded, perplexed. “What city of the dead? And why me? And I thought nothing would surprise me anymore.”

“Not you Jean,” I replied. “She means me. She’s talking about underground Seattle. The Taras seem to believe the source of ultimate power to defeat Hamatsa is buried below old Seattle, down in Pioneer Square.”

Jean stared at Red Tara and Blue Tara for several moments. “Can’t we get you some clothes?” she finally asked. “All this nudity is disconcerting. Are all the Taras naked?”

“You know,” I replied. “I said something along those same lines earlier. But apparently parrots have feathers to cover themselves with.”

“But they’re not wearing feathers now, are they?”

“Clothes just get in the way during battle,” Blue Tara interjected. “You should try our way sometime,” she said to Jean. Jean’s face turned red as a beet.

“I’m not really interested in joining a nudist colony,” she replied. “And Seattle’s just too damn cold and damp to go around naked.” Jean looked at me. “This must be a male wet dream,” she smirked. I could feel my face flush. “I knew it!” she exclaimed. “You guys love this.”

“Not to change the subject or anything,” I responded, trying exactly to change the subject, “but we need to focus on the matters at hand. Shouldn’t we be out looking for this old lady that Jean’s talking about? Especially since she’s right here in Ballard?”

“It would be pointless,” Red Tara replied. “These ghouls can change their shape at will. The hadaho most likely already has taken a new form. No. We need to keep our focus on finding the tlogwe.”

“What’s a tlogwe?” Jean asked.

“The source of ultimate power,” I replied. “Given by the spirits to those brave enough to enter their realm.”

“That sounds ominous,” Jean said. “And I’m almost afraid to ask. But where is this spirit realm? And who’s going to be dumb enough to take on this mission?” I raised my hand.

Old Seattle was built on a Duwamish Indian burial ground,” Michael replied. “Somewhere under Pioneer Square. And someone who is not me needs to go down there to find it.”

“We went to see Charlie today,” I added. “There may very well be an old smugglers’ tunnel under his shop that will lead us into the buried city.” I took Jean’s hand in mine. “You feel like doing some spelunking with me?” I asked her.

“I will go spelunking with you,” Blue Tara interjected. “What exactly is spelunking?”

“Sure,” Jean replied. “I’m off tomorrow. So yes, I’d love to spend the day with you looking for zombies and monsters in dark and dangerous tunnels. What could possibly go wrong?”

“I will go with you,” Blue Tara stated. “To protect you,” she added, with what I sensed to be an unnecessarily gratuitous tone in her voice.

“Kurukulla will stay with your friend Michael to protect him.”

I shrugged. “I remember reading in history books about a time long long ago when knights errant wandered the land protecting damsels in distress.”

“How quaint,” Blue Tara replied.

“I am beat,” Jean said. “I want to call it an early night.” She looked at me. “I don’t suppose your bedroom door has a lock on it?”


Part Two

The next morning Blue Tara did her time and space bending trick to send Michael, Margarita, and Red Tara back to Michael’s office at the U Dub. We left Aboo, the blue and gold macaw, to guard the apartment. Then Jean and I, along with Princess Tara, hopped into my truck and drove down to Pike Place Market. We arrived early enough, well before the shops opened for the day, before Charlie’s Bird Store opened, so finding a parking spot proved no trouble at all. In fact, I parked directly in front of the original Starbucks. Princess Tara became very animated when she spotted the coffee shop. Jean and I were ready for coffee too, so we walked in with Princess Tara on my shoulder.

I sensed that Princess Tara was ready to disappear half the line in front of us, mostly office drones, if she didn’t get her coffee. Too early yet for the tourist crowd. I asked Jean to order for us while I grabbed a table out front to keep Tara from an unnecessarily precipitous action.

Thankfully Jean came out with three cups of coffee, and set two iced Americanos in front of me. I smiled at her. Without so much as a thank you, Tara ran down my shoulder, hopped onto my lap, and dunked her beak in the coffee.

“I don’t suppose the spirit world offers any lunch amenities?” I joked.

We sat in silence for a few moments drinking our coffee and watching the disparate market vendors setting up their shops for the day. The flower mongers arranged their strikingly beautiful flowers with colors so bright they almost seemed painted. Tee shirt vendors arranged shirts with their Seattle scenes. Deli workers cleaned and filled their display cases. As I looked down the line of stalls, I noticed a frail old lady with a cane gingerly making her way across the cobblestone pavement near the flying fish booth, aiming toward the brass pig. She sported the whitest and wildest crop of hair I had ever seen on any woman. Or man. Then I noticed what appeared to be a long black feather in her hand.

I grabbed Jean’s arm and pointed. “What was that you were saying about an old lady turning people into birds just with the touch of a feather?”

Princess Tara pulled her beak out of the coffee cup and ran back up onto my shoulder. Pinning her eye at the old lady she let out a screech right in my ear that almost burst my eardrum.

The old lady reached the brass pig and touched it with her feather. Imperceptibly at first, the brass pig started to move. It raised its head slowly and then took a halting step forward. People rushing by halted and stared. The old lady turned and pointed her feather directly at us.

The gigantic pig pawed the cobblestones with its hoofs. First one foot. Then the other. No longer was the pig frozen in brass. The animal raised its head and looked directly at us. It started snorting. Then it charged.

We sat only a short block away from where the statue had stood. In just moments, before we could react, the animal charged two-thirds of the way down the block directly towards us. The hooves clanked on the cobblestone, getting louder as it got closer. I swear I could see the animal madly snorting as it approached. I jumped out of my chair, knocking over the coffee cups. I grabbed the table thinking to upend it as some sort of barrier.

Gunshots rang out behind us. The front legs of the charging pig buckled and its head plowed into the cobblestones only a few feet from where we stood. Charlie stood next to us with his 45 Smith and Wesson in his hand, pointed at the pig’s head. Princess Tara jumped on the table and screeched. I covered my ears with my hands and closed my eyes from the pain of the noise.

“You folks okay?” I heard Charlie ask. “I saw the princess perched on your shoulder from down the street so I thought I’d join you for coffee. Whatever in hell was that thing, anyway?”

I opened my eyes and looked around the market. There was no sign of the old lady. The pig once again stood frozen in brass unmoving in front of the famous flying fish booth. Three cups of coffee stood unspilled on our table.

“Looks like Tara reset the clock,” Jean said.

“Did you disappear the old lady?” I asked Tara.

“She disappeared herself,” Tara replied. “Her magic is too strong for me.”

“Disappear who?” Charlie asked. “What just happened.

“I think Michael called that a hadaho,” I replied. “A witch that can turn stone and statues into living beings.”

“Maybe,” Charlie said. “But my friends Smith and Wesson can turn them back into stone.” He patted the 45 on his hip.

“You have a permit for that?” I asked.

“Don’t need no stinking permit, son. Washington State allows open carry. At least they used to, before the new regime.” Charlie pointed at our coffee cups. “I sure could use a cup of joe, though,” he said.

“Don’t know about joe,” I replied. “Will an americano do you?” Charlie nodded. I purchased an Americano for Charlie and we headed down the Pike Hill Climb to Charlie’s shop. I stopped momentarily at the brass pig and patted its snout for good luck.

Not having a clue what we might encounter below the streets of Seattle, I brought along a day bag with a couple of flashlights, extra batteries, some rope, a few Cliff Bars, and a couple bottles of water.

For once Princess Tara did not resist entering Charlie’s store. Once inside, Charlie said, “I want you to take my 45.” “Better to be safe than sorry. Only thing is, you have to promise to bring it back to me, or don’t bother coming back at all. Understand, son?”

“We’ve got Blue Tara with us,” I replied. “What do I need a 45 for? It’s been years since I’ve even fired a gun. This isn’t the Wild West.”

“You sure? What would you call that brass pig coming to life and charging you? If I hadn’t shown up when I did. . . “ Charlie pulled the pistol out of its holster. “It’s not rocket science, as they say.”

He showed me the gun. “You’ve got the clip release. Safety. Slide action.” He demonstrated the various functions. “And I’ll give you a couple extra clips to put in your bag.”

“I’ll take the pistol,” Jean said.

“What?” I responded in shock.

“I know how to shoot. My family were big hunters when I was growing up. Spent most weekends during summers at the family cabin practice shooting with my brothers at varmints out in the woods.” Jean took the holster and belt from Charlie. “Better that someone who knows how to use a weapon uses the weapon. Less chance of accidents that way.”

I began to feel rather inadequate, but I knew better than to argue the point with Jean. She put on the belt and holster. Damn, I thought. She looked hot packing heat.

“You sure you don’t want to go down there with us?” I asked Charlie.

“No thanks, boss. I’ve still got the shop to run. And I hate dark confined spaces. And I don’t mind saying, I’m scared of ghosts.” I gave him a look of surprise. “Yes, even me at my age. There’s powers and mysteries in this world that people are better off not messing with. I’ll stay here and watch the door, so at least you know there’s nothing sneaking up behind you. You’ll just need to worry about what’s in front of you. Godspeed, son.”

Charlie dropped a ladder down into the basement through the trap door. Princess Tara spread her wings and jumped off my shoulder. She twirled through the air, creating a pulsating orb of blue light which coalesced into Blue Tara.

“My. Oh. My!” Charlie exclaimed, staring at Blue Tara in all her naked Amazonian glory. “I am so sorely tempted to join you.”

One by one we climbed down the ladder. Blue Tara’s glowing crystalline blue skin bathed the basement in an eerily surreal light, as if we were entering another dimension. Jean and I failed to realize as we stepped toward the darkness before us, we were in fact entering another dimension.


∆∆∆

Charlie dropped the trapdoor shut over our heads and I pulled the flashlights out of my pack for Jean and me. At the back of the damp and muddy basement we found a heavy wooden door sealed by a large steel lock.

“This would be your department, Jean,” I said.

“Cover your ears,” she replied. She pulled the pistol out of the holster, aimed at the lock, and fired. The lock exploded in a clowd of metal shards. I hoped that Charlie didn’t hear the gunshot over the din of the birds in his store. I gave the door a kick and it creaked open.

“God I hate that sound,” I said. “Makes it sound like we’re in a horror movie.” I shined the flashlight into the passageway. About six feet high and three feet wide. Looked like a mining tunnel with a line of posts and beams holding up the ceiling and walls of the tunnel. And off we went.

I immediately lost any sense of distance as we made our way toward the ever receding darkness. The tunnel grew larger the farther we walked. Eventually the rock and mud floor turned into broken pavement and cobblestones and we found ourselves walking on one of the old city’s original sidewalks. The tunnel’s walls gave way to jagged stone and rotten timbers.

An open doorway led into what appeared to be another basement. Jean and I shined our flashlights around the room. I stood stunned into silence. This was an historian’s dream come true. Instead of being empty and desolate, furniture filled the room. Mud stained and covered with dirt and cobwebs, but furnished none the less. Chairs. Tables. Even an old tattered sofa tucked in a corner.

“Nice antiques,” Jean finally said.

“Damn,” I replied. “Now I know where I can get furnishings for the St. Charles Hotel. Too bad this isn’t a shopping trip.”

“There’s another door over here,” Jean called out from the back of the room. I pushed the door open and we entered another room, not dark but softly lit by a partially buried skylight in the ceiling. More furniture. Chairs. Reading tables. A couple of tattered settees. Broken hookas. We had stumbled into an opium den.

Blue Tara stuck a pipe into her mouth. “Should you be doing that?” I asked.

“Just checking,” she replied.

“I’m surprised you even know what that is,” I said.

“There are many methods to expand the mind,” she replied. “I will show them to you someday.”

Another door. Another basement room. Jean screamed. I ran up behind her. She stood in the doorway shining her flashlight at a chair in an otherwise empty room.

Someone sat in the chair. Dirty black hair. Pallid scalloped white skin. What appeared to be a tattered canvas bag for a shirt.

“He looks dead,” I observed. Blue Tara walked around the body.

“A lalenox,” she said. “A warrior of the spirit world. We are on the right track.”

“Is he dead?” Jean asked.

“He looks dead,” I replied.

Tara grabbed her battle axe and with one quick blow lopped off its head. The body remained sitting in the chair. “It’s dead now,” Tara said.

“No blood,” I said. “It must already have been dead. Wonder how long it’s been sitting here? And why?”

“A message to those like us who pass,” Tara replied. “And a warning.”

I kicked the chair and the body toppled onto the floor.

“We must continue on,” Tara said.

Another doorway led onto a street, paved with cobblestones. Old sailing ships used cobblestones for ballast. When they docked in Seattle to pick up timber and logs, Seattle’s primary export, the ships dumped the cobblestones on the beach giving Seattle free paving material for its first streets. We looked up and down the street, lined with partly ruined timber store fronts on concrete and stone foundations. I imagined I could hear the sounds of a piano playing in the distance.

“Listen,” I said. “Do you hear that?”

“Hear what?” Jean replied.

“I thought I heard a piano playing.”

“Stop that,” she said. “You’re freaking me out. You’ve watched too many John Wayne movies.”

"Or Twilight Zone episodes," I replied.

We walked down the street for about a block before we found it buried in rubble. Storefront after storefront seemed to be filled with abandoned furnishings.

“This used to be street level before the Great Seattle Fire,” I said. “After the fire, this was all filled in and covered over, and what had been street level became basements for the new city built on top of this.”

“Apparently not all filled in,” Jean replied.

“I never in my life would have imagined how well preserved this would be,” I said. “It’s like walking into a time capsule. Every historian’s dream come true.”

“Why don’t more people know about this?” Jean asked.

“Probably for safety reasons,” I replied, as clouds of dust and rocks rained down on us whenever the ground shook from the traffic over our heads.

With the street blocked by rubble we ducked into another storefront, what appeared to have once been a saloon. A long bar stood against a wall covered by a long busted mirror. Wooden tables and chairs lay broken and scattered across the floor. An antique player piano stood against the back wall. I tapped a couple of the keys and the room filled with discordant sound. “Needs tuning,” I said.

“I wish you wouldn’t do that,” Jean said. “It’s creeping me out. Not sure if we want to be announcing our presence down here.”

“Sorry. Point taken,” I replied.

“This way,” Blue Tara said, standing at an open doorway behind the player piano. We peered through the doorway. Instead of another basement we found a vast cavern which stretched into the darkness beyond the reach of our flashlights.

“How is this possible?” Jean asked.

“We are at the heart of the old city,” Blue Tara replied. “We are about to enter the realm of the ancients that once claimed this place. The realm of the spirit world.”

“Are you talking about the old Indian village?” I asked.

“We are about to enter a place where the laws of your physics and reality no longer apply.”

“Terrific,” I said. “I suppose there’s no turning back?”

“There is no turning back if you ever hope to find the tlogwe. There is no turning back if you ever hope to defeat Hamatsa. Our only hope is to go forward. If we go back all will be lost.”

“I was afraid you were going to say that.”

“Oh come on,” Jean said. “Buck up. Do you think Indiana Jones ever backed out of an adventure. How many historians ever get the chance to relive history?”

“Well, none actually,” I replied.

“So you’ll be the first,” Jean said. “Put your name into the history books for sure.” She put her arms around me and kissed me. Long and hard.


Part Three

We moved on into the cavern. At first total darkness beyond the reach of our flashlights. We seemed to be walking on forest floor. Grass and brush covered small meadows between towering pine trees.

“How is this even possible?” I asked.

“Open your mind,” Blue Tara replied.

I heard the sound of a large gathering of people in the distance. Shouts and cries interspersed with what sounded like chanting.

“We are coming to the village of the ancestors,” Blue Tara said. “Be on your guard.”

Soon we saw the lights of several large bonfires. Billowing flames tossed menacing shadows across the cavern from people dancing around the fires. A magnificent Duwamish longhouse stood before us. The front decorated with a fierce double-headed serpent brilliantly painted in red and black and yellow. A totem, at least twenty feet tall, stood in front of the long house. On the totem four frightening winged ghouls stood on top of each other. The four furies, the giant raven Qoaxqoaxual, who feasted on the eyes of Hamatsa's victims. Hoxhok, the giant crane, who cracked open the skulls of his victims with his great beak and devoured their brains, and the two condors and feathered grizzly bears Gelogudzayae and Nenstalit.

“Turn off your lights,” Blue Tara ordered. “Do what I do. And only do what I do. Understand?”

“Yes ma’am,” I replied.

We slowly approached the longhouse. No one seemed to take notice of us. Not the dancers. Not the audience. Not even taking notice of a tall naked crystalline blue skinned glowing Amazon witch with a battle axe. Blue Tara motioned us to the back of the assembly and stood with her right foot resting on her left knee. Jean and I sat on a log lying on the ground to watch the ceremony in progress, as if we belonged there.

A cleared piece of ground between the bonfires in front of the longhouse served as a stage. Four men walked onto the clearing. They wore western clothing. Tattered, soiled, and torn. Their faces blackened, eagle feathers covered their hair. Each of the four men carried a menacing lance.

Four other men entered the stage. They wore grizzly bear hides for cloaks and grizzly bear skulls on their heads. They held bear claws in their hands. A solitary figure walked onto the stage behind the grizzly bear dancers. A tall man with long disheveled black hair, he towered over any of the other men on the stage. Scaly pale yellowish skin under a red cedar bark cloak. The flickering light from the bonfires highlighted his gleaming red eyes. I practically swallowed my tongue in surprise.

“Hamatsa!” I exclaimed. Jean grabbed my hand.

“Quiet,” Blue Tara admonished, in a whisper.

I sensed Hamatsa’s burning red eyes staring straight at me. The people sitting around the bonfires took up sticks and commenced beating time on planks they held in their laps. The four grizzly bear dancers lifted Hamatsa on their shoulders and paraded around the square. Once. Twice. A third time. And again. They commenced to chant to the beat of the planks:

“We follow Hamatsa to the ends of the world.”

Then they paraded back the opposite way around the square, chanting:

“Hamatsa made me a warrior.
Hamatsa made me pure.
I destroy life. Hamatsa is a lifemaker.”

The grizzly bear dancers and the men with the lances rushed out into the audience and seized four people, two men and two women, who they dragged onto the stage, screaming and struggling. One of the grizzly bear dancers slashes the throat of one of the prisoners with a razor sharp bear claw, and the man falls to the ground which pools red with his blood. The other three captives immediately stop struggling. Hamatsa walks up to each person, opens his mouth revealing glistening ivory fangs, and rips their necks open. They fall to the ground. After a few moments writhing in pain they lie still. Dead. Hamatsa pulls out a flask from under his cloak and sprinkles a clear liquid over the bodies. The four people on the ground, previously dead, stir and jump onto their feet, their faces wild with fright. Unrestrained, they run into the darkness.

“Water of Life,” I observed.

A solitary man enters the stage and walks up to Hamatsa. A shaman, the man wears deerskin leggings and a chilkat blanket boldly embroidered with a double-headed serpent. He wears a crown of red cedar bark and holds a rattle carved in the shape of a serpent’s head. The man takes handfuls of eagle feathers out of a bucket filled with eagle feathers and tosses them over Hamatsa’s head. Hamatsa begins to dance. First slowly. Then frenetically. He begins his dance crouched down, then slowly raises his body until he is dancing standing straight up.

The shaman swings and shakes his rattle in wide circles over his head for about ten minutes while the assembly beats time on the planks on their laps, crying:

“Wai, hai, hai!”

Then the shaman signals the assembly to stop beating their planks. Deep silence grips the scene. Silence so deep it seems I can hear hearts beating. Hamatsa begins to chant the cannibal song:

“Ham ham amai, ham ham amai, hamai, hamaima, mamai, hamai hamamai.
Ham hamam ham am ham am amai hamei hamamai.
Ham ham amai
Ham ham amai
Ham ham amai
Ham ham amai.”

The shaman steps to the front of the stage and cries out:

“Great is the fury of this great supernatural being, Hamatsa. He will carry men on his arms and torment them. He will devour skin and bones, crushing flesh and bone with his teeth.”

A loud murmur breaks out from the assembly as the dancers step to the side of the stage making way for four fierce creatures to step out of the shadows and into the light. The four furies. Qoaxqoaxual. Hoxhok. Gelogudzayae. Nenstalit. They are followed onto the stage by a striking svelte dark skinned woman with piercing black eyes and long black hair. A woman who is totally naked.

“Oh. My. God!” I cry out inadvertently. “Kinqalatlala!”

She steps in front of the furies and signals the grizzly bear dancers. They drag a woman, also totally naked, onto the stage. The woman seems drugged and unresponsive. She needs help standing up.

Kinqalatlala steps up to the woman. She raises her hand to the woman’s face and her hand turns into a narrow steel blade. Kinqalatlala thrusts her hand through the woman’s chest, and the woman falls to the ground dead. Bending down Kinqalatlala slashes the woman’s chest with her hand. She buries her other hand into the chest and rips out the heart, holding it over her head, blood dripping onto her face and outstretched tongue. Hamatsa steps up to Kinqalatlala and takes the heart and commences to eat it. The assembly picks up their sticks and begin to beat time on their planks once again while the furies fall on the dead woman. Qoaxgoaxual the giant raven pecks out and eats the woman’s eyes while Hoxhok the giant crane splits the woman’s skull with his giant beak and sucks out her brains. Then the furies rip her flesh and devour her body.

Jean takes my hand. I can feel her body shaking in fear. I am stunned into silence. Not one muscle on my body so much as twitches.

The assembly begins to chant:

“Wa ha, wa ha, wa ha, wa ha, wa ha, hai ya, ye he, ya ye, yay a, wa ha, wa ha, hai ya, ye he, he ya, ye ha, ye ha, ye ha, hoip!”

Hamatsa sits on a cedar bark mat while continuing to devour the dead woman’s heart, his face coated with blood. Kinqalatlala dances around Hamatsa. She takes some burning cedar bark and shakes it over Hamatsa’s head, showering him with sparks. The grizzly bear dancers accompanied by the warriors with the lances return to the stage and pick Hamatsa up on their shoulders, carrying him into the darkness, followed by the four furies, dragging their victim with them.

Jean and I sit looking at each other in stunned silence.

“The dead live beneath the real world,” Blue Tara said.

Kinqalatlala dances back onto the stage, sweat and blood on her naked body glistening in the flickering light of the bonfires. She dances directly to where Jean and I sit, and grabbing my shoulders pulls me up on my feet and onto the stage. She commences to chant:

“I keep down your wrath, great cannibal Hamatsa.
I keep down your whistles, great cannibal Hamatsa.
I keep down your voraciousness, great cannibal Hamatsa.
You are always devouring property, great cannibal Hamatsa.
You are always devouring food, great cannibal Hamatsa.
You are always devouring heads, great cannibal Hamatsa.”

Kinqalatlala put her arms around my shoulders and pulled me to her. Her breasts stick into my chest. As I struggle to break free of her grip I see Jean trying to get to her feet, but Blue Tara takes her arm and restrains her. Kinqalatlala puts her hands on my face and swipes her tongue across my lips. I can taste blood.

I finally manage to break free and stumble back off the stage as the four furies reappear out of the darkness to surround Kinqalatlala. I sit down on the log with Jean and Jean puts her arm around me.

“How can she know who your are?” Jean asks. “If this is the past, she hasn’t met you yet.”

“Time is relative,” Blue Tara interjected. “The past is present. And the present is past. You must drop the constraints of your linear reality.”

“Maybe we should get out of here,” I said. “Quit while we’re ahead.”

“We can not leave without the tlogwe,” Blue Tara replied. “Otherwise, all is lost.”

“You keep saying that, but how and where do we find the tlogwe? And how will we recognize it if and when we find it?”

“Patience,” Blue Tara said. “We need to get into the longhouse. We may find the answer we seek within.”

“I don’t think the furies are going to stand by and simply let us walk in,” I replied. “So how are we going to get in?”

I shouldn’t have asked. Blue Tara screeched and I found myself inside a large dark timber structure, on my knees, with my hands pressed over my ears. So much for getting used to this time space bend thing I thought to myself. When I opened by eyes I saw Blue Tara helping Jean to her feet. The blue glow from Tara’s crystalline skin gave a nearly empty hall an eerie ethereal effect. Fantastical demons and serpents were painted on the walls in colors so vibrant the figures seemed to be alive. Jean took my hands and helped me to my feet. We were not alone.

Hamatsa stood in the center of the room, his sickly yellow scalloped skin turning blue from Tara’s glow. “What you seek is not here,” he said, baring his fangs.

“How do you know what we seek?” I replied.

“You seek what you can not have. The source of ultimate power. Ultimate power to destroy me and stop the Winalagalis.”

Kinqalatlala appeared at Hamatsa’s side. “Only those who have tasted death and entered the spirit world are able to seek the ultimate treasure,” she said.

I could still taste the blood on my lips from Kinqalatlala’s kiss, but I thought better than to tell her that.

“Only those who have tasted death can achieve everlasting life,” Kinqalatlala added. “Ultimate power and everlasting life rests with those who can take life and restore life.”

“You’re just mad we whooped your ass,” I replied, probably with more bravado than warranted in this situation. “Don’t think we can’t do it again,” I added, as I stepped to Blue Tara’s side.

“There are no defeats or victories,” Hamatsa said. “What matters is who prevails in the end.”

Do not underestimate the power of the Taras,” Blue Tara replied.

“You do not understand power,” Hamatsa said. “Until you gain the power to control life and to control death you will have no power against me.”

Hamatsa signaled into the darkness of the longhouse. The grizzly bear dancers appeared carrying a large cedar box. They brought in logs and sticks and constructed a bonfire in the center of the longhouse, and ignited it with a burning feather stick from the bonfires outside. Kinqalatlala stepped into the cedar box and lay down. The grizzly bear dancers covered the box with a large plank. They lifted the box and placed it on the fire. Kinqalatlala could be heard chanting inside the box:

“I keep down your wrath, great cannibal Hamatsa.
I keep down your whistles, great cannibal Hamatsa.
I keep down your voraciousness, great cannibal Hamatsa.
You are always devouring property, great cannibal Hamatsa.
You are always devouring food, great cannibal Hamatsa.
You are always devouring heads, great cannibal Hamatsa.”

The box quickly caught fire and became engulfed by the flames. After a few moments Kinqalatlala’s chanting ceased. The cedar box burned fiercely for about half an hour and everyone of us just stood and stared. Me, Hamatsa, his attendants, Jean, and Blue Tara. Not uttering a sound, we were mesmerized by the flames consuming the cedar planks of the box. I did not hear one scream or cry from Kinqalatlala trapped inside.

Eventually the box collapsed in ashes and the flames died out. The grizzly bear dancers took sticks and brushed through the ashes, kicking Kinqalatlala’s charred bones to the side. Hamatsa piled the bones in a small pyramid and placed Kinqalatlala’s skull on the pyramidion. He produced his flask containing the Water of Life and poured it over the pile. The shaman appeared and removed his chilkat blanket, placing it over the bones.

Hamatsa began to chant:

“Ham ham amai, ham ham amai, hamai, hamaima, mamai, hamai hamamai.
Ham hamam ham am ham am amai hamei hamamai.
Ham ham amai
Ham ham amai
Ham ham amai
Ham ham amai.”

I practically swallowed my tongue when the blanket began to rise off the ground and a human form took shape beneath the cloth. Hamatsa and the shaman each took a corner of the blanket and pulled it off the body. Jean screamed. I stood dumbfounded. Kinqalatlala stood unharmed and alive before us. She stepped up to me.

“Until you are willing to face death you have no power over us. Are you willing to face death?” she asked me, pointing to the ashes of the cedar box.

Not really, I thought to myself. Not knowing what to say I said nothing. I certainly did not want to go through the fire ritual I just witnessed.

Blue Tara stepped up to Kinqalatlala, holding her battle axe in her hand. “There is more than one way to die,” she said. “Are you willing to face death at my hand?” she asked, raising her battle axe. The four men holding the lances scrambled out of the darkness to surround Kinqalatlala, their lances pointed at Blue Tara.

“You may control death,” Kinqalatlala said, “but you do not control life. That is your weakness. And that will be your downfall.”

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Jean pull the 45 Smith and Wesson out of her holster.

End of Chapter Two

Saturday, April 15, 2017

Our First Author Reading

It's About Time Writers Reading Series, Seattle's Ballard Public Library, April 13, 2017




Saturday, April 8, 2017

Book Two of The Princess Tara Chronicles, The Princess Witch, Chapter One


The Princess Witch; Or, It Isn't As Easy To Go Crazy As You Might Think

Introduction

I must finally have gone over the edge to totally batshit crazy. There could be no other explanation. No other explanation for why the cannibal warlord Hamatsa's procurer of bodies, the svelte seductress Kinqalatlala, was standing before me with her razor sharp hand stabbed through my chest while her tongue pushed into my mouth. No other explanation for why I stood frozen in shock while blood streamed down my legs. My blood. No other explanation for why my girlfriend Jean lay unmoving and unconscious on the pavement, No other explanation for why a tall naked muscular Amazon goddess with glowing crystalline blue skin let out a screech that threatened to burst my head.

Well, wait. There could be one other explanation. It could be that I was dead. It could be that I now resided in the spirit world. Crazy or dead. This day was not going well.


Chapter One
Part One

When I awoke from my dream I stood safely on the U Dub's, University of Washington's, Red Square. My girlfriend Jean stood at my side. Well, we didn't stand directly on the red brick that gave Red Square its name. We stood on the outstretched blood red wing of the King of the Birds, Garuda. The blood red wing stretched down to the pavement from the bird's massive glowing golden body that filled the sky above us, turning night to day.

I took Jean's hand and we jumped off the wing onto the brick pavement. I could barely contain my joy at seeing Jean alive and standing next to me. I could barely contain my joy at finding myself, and Jean, alive and well. As well as could be expected after our tussle with Hamatsa one hundred and forty feet in the air on top of the red brick monoliths in the middle of Red Square.

Bathed in Garuda's golden light, Jean looked to me to be a statue of a Greek goddess. Her long flowing brunette hair, her ruby red lips, even her pale Seattle skin, shined brilliantly bathed in Garuda's golden glow. I pulled Jean to me and kissed her.

I'm beginning to think that my act of kissing my girlfriend is Blue Tara's signal to let out one of her head popping mind numbing screeches that signals her bending time and space. In this case, bending time and space between the U Dub's Red Square and my apartment in the old St. Charles Hotel in Seattle's downtown Old Ballard neighborhood. Blue Tara's habit of bending time and space between two points, first, the point she's standing at, and second, the point she wants to be standing at, is a nifty trick of hers to transport us instantaneously from the first point to the second. One moment we're standing in Red Square, a humongous golden feathered god with a white eagle's face and blood red wings that span the sky above us. The red brick of Red Square strewn with countless bodies. Dead and decapitated bodies. Black clad Deportation Police ghouls. Laxsa. Warriors of the spirit world. Zombies. Undead. Whatever word you prefer. The headless ones, they truly were dead. The others fortunate enough to still have their heads attached to their bodies, they could be brought back to life by the cannibal warlock Hamatsa with his magic Water of Life. And go on to fight another day for Dear Leader and the New American Order.

Like I said, one moment we're standing in Red Square. The next moment, in my Ballard apartment, suddenly crowded with me, Jean, my girlfriend, my buddy and old teaching colleague Michael, Mike's black cat Margarita, Black Tara, one of the twenty-one Taras, a coven of warrior witches, lead by my Tara, the hyacinth macaw parrot Princess Tara, Blue Tara. Blue Tara, when she was not a frighteningly beautiful six foot plus tall musclebound glowing crystalline blue skinned Amazon warrior with a battle axe, a totally naked glowing crystalline blue skinned Amazon warrior with a battle axe and one striking yellow eye and one pendulous breast, with jagged scars across her face and chest where her second eye and second breast should be. When she's not that, she's an exceedingly large cobalt blue feathered parrot with a huge black beak and penetrating yellow eyes, a hyacinth macaw parrot named Princess Tara.


And we seem to have added to our company on this time space bend. Now I found in my apartment along with Princess Tara another macaw parrot, a large flamboyantly colored blue and gold macaw parrot. A blue and gold macaw parrot that looked suspiciously like the one that originally steered me to Charlie's Bird Store at Seattle's Pike Place Market, where I first encountered Princess Tara.


We stood staring at each other for a few moments trying to gain our bearings. Blue Tara, my Tara, broke the silence first.

"I don't know about anyone else," she said, "but I'm starving. How about we order pizza?" She walked to the fridge and peeked inside. "Beer. Yes. I want beer," she stated as she reached in and grabbed one of my Rainiers. Tara suggesting 'we' order pizza basically meant I should order pizza. Which I did.


I live on the lower part of Ballard Avenue by the marine supply warehouses. The old St. Charles Hotel is an unimposing turn of the last century two story red brick box. The lower floor long ago had been gutted and converted to self storage. The old hotel rooms upstairs converted to studio apartments, with sun filled floor to ceiling bay windows fronting the street. A few years back as I struggled to achieve tenure at the University of Washington teaching history and archaeology, I enjoyed a small success with the lottery. Enough so that I could give up my pretense of a university teaching career and purchase the old building. I now roast coffee out of one of the storage units below my apartment and enjoy a comfortable income from the storage and apartment rents.

The old Seattle neighborhood of Ballard suits my temperament. Once a free city of Scandinavian mill workers and Yankee fishermen, the town got swallowed up by its bigger rapacious neighbor. The eclectic village of unassuming two and three story Victorian red brick and white frame buildings, home to an assortment of artists, crafts people, bars, marine suppliers, restaurants, and coffee shops, boasted an independent streak reflecting the village's Scandinavian heritage.

I stood in my bay window daydreaming as I looked down the street at the hustle and bustle of the restaurant and bar hoppers scurrying up and down the sidewalk lining the street. Jean walked up to me and put her arm around my shoulder. "A penny for your thoughts," she said. Linda Jean was her name, but her friends just called her Jean. I brushed my hand through her long brunette locks and pulled her to me to kiss her. Reasonably tall, her long brunette hair tied back in a ponytail, she looked athletic without looking like an athlete. She was at that age that was hard to guess. Not young. But not older. Brown brooding eyes matched her hair and gave her a faintly Slavic mystic.

"After what we've been through today, sweetie," I replied, "It'll cost you at least a buck fifty." I could feel Tara's searing yellow eye staring at me.

"I know. I know," I acknowledged. "Pizza." I dug my smart phone out of my pocket and looked up the online order form for Ballard Pizza across the street. Although after the last pizza party I thought maybe I should just walk across the street and pick it up. I ordered a large Greek pizza for myself, Jean, and my Tara. Thin crust. Olive oil base. And a large cardiac arrest meat pizza for Michael, his Tara, and our new friend, the blue and gold macaw sitting on Tara's stand in the window. Delivery.

"Do you ever, like, wear clothes?" I hesitantly asked Tara.

"What need have I for clothes when I have such magnificent feathers?" Tara replied, although she clearly wasn't wearing any feathers at the moment. In fact, she wasn't wearing anything at all except her battle axe.

I walked up to the blue and gold macaw. "Let me guess. Your name is Aboo. You stopped me at the market when I was hell bent on getting a cookie and got me into this mess."

"Hi," Aboo blurted out.

"Aboo did not get you into any messes," Tara interjected, as she walked up to us. "He just helped you along the way on the path you were already traveling.

It dawned on me that a glowing crystalline blue skinned totally naked woman standing in my bay window might attract some undue attention from the street below, so I quickly dropped the blinds.

"You are addressing Lord Garuda. King of the Birds and Messenger of the Gods," Tara added.

"Garuda? That humongous bird that filled the sky over Red Square and saved my ass? That Garuda?"

"Yes," Tara replied.

Stunned, I asked Tara, motioning at Aboo, "How is it a creature that big can fit in such a small package?" The blue and gold macaw parrot perched in front of me by no means was a small animal. In fact, save Tara, he was one of the largest birds I had ever seen. Yet it seemed incomprehensible to compare Aboo to the massive avian god Garuda.

"You are handicapped by your unflexible concepts of time and space," Tara replied. "The constraints on time and space imposed by your reality have no play in my world," she added. "Things that are big can be small. Things that are small can be big. You need to open your mind to the possibilities that there is more to your world than your eyes and your mind alone can show you."

The doorbell rang. I looked out the window to make sure all we were getting this night were two boxes of pizza. I looked at Tara. It was hard not to look at Tara in her gleaming blue crystalline naked glory. "I better go down and get the pizza," I said.

By the time I got back up the stairs with the pizza Tara had reverted to her blue parrot form. We sat around the dining table and attacked the pizza. Tara on my shoulder. Aboo on Tara's parrot stand with a slice of pizza in his food dish. Margarita at Michael's feet chewing on a slice of pizza.

"So now I've got two parrots?" I asked rhetorically, to no one in particular.

"It would seem so," Michael replied. Michael and I were office mates back during my U Dub teaching days. Medium height. Slightly chunky in all the wrong places. Could stand to spend some time in the gym working out. Short cropped brown hair thinning badly and turning white on the ends. Clark Gable mustache. Standard adjunct professor outfit. Khaki pants, polo shirt, and sweater vest.

"I've got my hands full with Tara for chrissakes," I said, with a note of exasperation. "You want a parrot, Mike?" Mike shook his head. "How about you Jean? You sure your African Grey, what's his name? Corky?" Jean nodded. "You sure he doesn't want a friend?"

"Oh, no," Jean replied. "I've got my hands full with my Corky. And I haven't been much of a mommy to him lately. My roommate is going to kill me. If something else doesn't kill me first."

"Just what I need. Two gods. Two witches in my life," I said, craning my head to look up at Tara. "What form does Aboo take when he's not a bird, a parrot?"

"Aboo is Garuda. Garuda is King of the Birds," Tara insisted. "The King of the Birds can take no other form than that of a bird."

"About tonight?" Michael hesitantly asked. "Somebody is bound to notice all the bodies and all the heads littering Red Square, don't you think? Tara?" he asked plaintively.

"Hamatsa suffered a grave humiliation this night," Tara replied. "He will suppress any word or evidence of this defeat before the Winalagalis learns of his failure. He will restore to life the ghouls, the laxsa, with his Water of Life. At least the ones that still keep their heads. The rest he will dispose. The numbers of the laxsa in his service are limitless. But now we know Hamatsa in not invincible."

"What about the crystal and the magic harpoon?" Michael asked. "And whatever happened to the turndun?"

"All lost, I'm afraid," I replied. "The crystal smashed to smithereens when that vixen Kinqalatlala jumped me. I dropped the harpoon after Nanes, that giant grizzly bear attacked us."

"The turndun disintegrated into atoms," Tara added. "But it accomplished its purpose. Lord Garuda is here," she said, turning and bowing towards Aboo.

"Shouldn't Aboo, Garuda, be out calling for the other Taras?" Jean asked. "The other you's?"

"Garuda has already done so," Tara replied. "Now we wait for the Taras to join us as we prepare for the final reckoning with Hamatsa and the Winalagalis, the god of war of the north."

I looked around my increasingly crowded apartment. "You mean there's going to be nineteen others like you joining us here?"

"Not all in your place of abode," Tara assured me. "And not all will arrive at once. They must travel from the far corners of this world where they have been resting to join us here in Seattle."

"Can't they all just do that time and space bending trick?" I asked.

"It is not a trick," Tara replied with a touch of annoyance. "Not every Tara possesses the same magic. The knowledge to bend time and space is an accomplishment that few have achieved."

"But you said you could teach it to me."

"I can try. But I fear you are wedded to a reality that will not allow you to open your mind to the possibility of bending time and space."

"So what do we do next?" Michael asked, to no one in particular, as he walked up to the fridge to grab another can of Rainier beer. "I have classes to prepare for."

"You're kidding? Right?" I replied. "Do you think the goons will allow you to set foot on Red Square again?"

"Your friend is correct," Tara interjected. "He must continue with his life. As must you all. Preparations for the coming gathering of the Taras will take time. Hamatsa has reason to fear us now. He will stay out of our way while he musters his forces. Especially with Garuda on our side. The furies will be powerless against the King of the Birds."

"So we just wait for the Taras to gather and watch to see how Hamatsa responds?" I asked. "But we lost our weapons. The crystal. The magic harpoon. The turndun. We have nothing to defend ourselves with. Besides your battle axe, that is."

"You, my dear boy," Tara said, as she rubbed her huge black beak against my chin. "You will seek the tlogwe."

"Tlogwe?"

"The ultimate treasure. The gift of special powers that the spirits grant those brave enough to enter their realm," Tara elaborated. "But you have need to open your mind. To open your mind to the possibility that other realities exist along with your own. To open your mind to the possibility that you can exist in more than one reality at a time. Otherwise, all is lost."

Great, I thought to myself. No pressure.

And I need to get back to the campus and prepare for my classes," Michael said. "Find out if I've been fired."

"Something tells me you don't have anything to worry about," I replied.

"You mean busting into the lab? Busting into Special Collections? Littering the place with bodies and heads? That kind of worry? That's really not going to look good on my resume when I'm looking for a new teaching job at Southern Podunk Baptist College.

"If what Tara says is any guide, and I'm guessing it is," I replied, " everything that's transpired on campus will be hushed up. You still have the Boas field notes. No telling what other gold nuggets you'll find in there. And you've got Margarita for protection. I assume Tara can time space bend you back to your office?" I looked at Tara. "Better deal that Uber." I handed Michael my truck keys. "My truck is still parked in the visitor parking garage. Just drive it back here in the next day or two once you have a good idea what the situation on campus is."

"Don't be a stranger," Tara said, just before she let out an earsplitting screech. Michael and Margarita vanished as Michael reached for his beer on the dining table.

Not even a headache. Wow, I thought to myself. "So it is possible to get used to your little trick," I said to Tara. "I didn't feel the least bit nauseous that time."

"Call it a trick one more time and I'll trick you right out into Puget Sound," Tara replied with a distinct edge to her voice.

"Sorry," I apologized.

"I need to get some sleep really bad," Jean said, "especially after this beer and pizza. How about we go to bed?" she added as she grabbed my hands and pulled me towards the bedroom. "We can continue this discussion over coffee in the morning once we're rested."

I realized how tired I was as I struggled to take my clothes off. My buttons simply did not want to cooperate with my fingers. Jean stripped and grabbed my belt and pulled me to her. "Let me help you with that," she said as she started kissing me. We climbed under the sheets and Jean pulled the blanket over us. As I started to kiss Jean's body Blue Tara entered the room and slid under the sheets with us.

"What are you doing?" I asked Tara.

"Aboo is asleep on my perch and I don't want to disturb him. I thought it might be more fun to disturb you instead," Tara replied as she rolled on top of me, sticking her breast into my chest. Her lips found my lips, and her tongue found my tongue.


Part Two

Hamatsa seethed with anger following his encounter with Blue Tara at the University of Washington's Red Square. Not even dismembering and eating two female crew members on the flight back to Control in the other Washington could assuage his wrath. Storming into the Control compound in the basement of the Old Executive Office Building, he summoned his slave and procurer of bodies, Kinqalatlala, to his side. Her dark svelte body almost appeared to be an apparition in the dimly lit chamber that was Control. Hamatsa grabbed Kinqalatlala by her neck and forced her to her knees at his feet. "Bow before your master!" he ordered. "Your mission was simple. Stop Blue Tara and bring the man with the parrot to me."

Kinqalatlala kissed Hamatsa's black boots. "I acknowledge my failure, my master. I accept your punishment."

Hamatsa squeezed Kinqalatlala's throat, choking her. "I should make an example of you and feed you to the furies." He released his hold on her. She struggled to her feet, coughing. "Now Blue Tara has Garuda at her side and soon she will convene her coven of witches. You must see that does not happen, whatever the cost. You must hunt those witches down and destroy them. And the man with the parrot. I want his head mounted on the wall of this compound. Do you understand me?"

"Yes master. I will see to it immediately."

"Fail me again, and I will roast you on a spit in the center of this compound and feed you to my men. There will be no afterlife for you. You will cease to exist. Now, get out of my sight!" he exclaimed in a fury. Hamatsa grabbed Kinqalatlala by her neck and literally picked her up off the floor and carried her across the room, throwing her out the door.

Kinqalatlala burst into the Deportation Police holding cells with her two special assistants at her side. A stream of unfortunates, undocumented immigrants trying to make a new home, citizens and activists deemed undesirable by the new regime, people who looked and acted different, passed through the Deportation Police holding cells on a daily basis. There the authorities processed and interrogated them, and then disappeared them. Like they say in the movies, dead men tell no tales.

Kinqalatlala burst into the holding cells with her two special assistants. The din and commotion of shouts and screams and bodies slammed against walls, of guards shouting commands, ceased the moment these three imposing women walked through the door. A deathly silence gripped the room. Kinqalatlala, her dark skin and svelte athletic body accentuated by her black leather boots, black leather pants, black leather vest over a black sweater, long black hair flowing over her shoulders. Every inch a warrior.

The second woman, called Nawalak, towered over Kinqalatlala. An imposing muscular figure of immense size she exuded sheer strength. The dark canvas robe she wore that dragged behind her across the floor, accentuated her girth and size.

The third woman had no name. Her hair and skin gleamed white as a new Cascade snow pack. An albino, her sunken black eyes terrified anyone who looked at her face. And if her albinism didn't cause her to stand out sufficiently, her wardrobe certainly did. Black boots. Red ankle length skirt. Black sweater hanging down below her knees. Red jacket. White gloves. She wore gloves for a specific reason. She was a lalenox, a living corpse. A zombie that could kill simply by touching.

Kinqalatlala shouted at the guards to clear the facility. They didn't need to be told twice. An anxious murmuring ran through the unfortunate denizens of the holding cells as the guards rushed out the door.

The three women walked up to the first cell. Kinqalatlala ordered Nawalak to open the cell door. Nawalak grabbed the bars and pulled. For a moment the door resisted. Then the grating sound of tearing metal as the door sprung open. Five people in the cell, three who appeared Latino and the other two African, three men and two women, pressed themselves against the back wall as if they were trying to melt into the concrete. Two of the women and one of the men dropped to their knees and tried to pray. Gripped with fear no sounds came out of their mouths.

The lalenox walked up to the three people on their knees and removed one of her gloves. She placed her hand on each person's shoulder. First the two women. Then the man. Each slumped to the floor. Dead.

Nawalak walked up to the two men still standing and grabbed their necks with each of her hands and squeezed. Their necks snapped and they too fell to the floor dead. A man standing in an adjacent cell screamed and began pounding his hands on the bars of the cell. Kinqalatlala stepped up to the bars. She put her hand up and looked at her fingers. Fingers became a sharp narrow steel blade. She thrust her hand through the bars of the cell and into the screaming man's chest. He stopped screaming. His face turned a deathly pale, almost as white as the lalenox. Kinqalatlala pulled her hand out of the man's chest and blood streamed down his clothes. Grasping the bars of his cell, the man slid to the floor and slumped dead in a poll of his own blood. Kinqalatlala wiped her hand clean on the man's shirt.

"Very good," Kinqalatlala told her aides. "I have a job for you. We travel out west to a place called Seattle."


∆∆∆

Michael could tell he was losing his Introduction to Western Civilization 101 class. The windows in the history lecture room on the second floor of the old three story gothic brownstone pile called Denny Hall had been flung open to greet one of the first warm and sunny spring days that Seattle enjoyed following a long dark, damp, and dreary winter. After this dismal winter Michael began to appreciate why many of the old buildings on campus had been built in gothic style.

Most of the students stared out the windows, or surreptitiously stared at their mobile devices hidden under their notebooks. A few of the students at the back of the room didn't even try to hide their disinterest in the class.

"So class," Michael said to the students, relieved to see the clock hanging on the back wall wind down to the end of the period. "It's safe to say that the introduction of coffee to the West by the Muslim world fueled the Renaissance. Before the introduction of coffee, the drink of choice throughout Europe during the Middle Ages was beer. Beer for breakfast. Beer for lunch. Beer for dinner." A couple of the students snickered. "No wonder this period is known as the Dark Ages," Michael continued. "People went through life stone cold drunk. Is it any wonder it took hundreds of years just to build one medieval gothic cathedral? The introduction of coffee radically changed the behavior of medieval Europeans, as well as their attitude. Coffee launched the Age of Enlightenment and the Age of Discovery. People got off their butts and started doing things."

The bell rang as a couple of the students laughed at Michael's summation. "Keep that in mind tomorrow morning when you wake up to the smell of fresh roasted coffee," Michael added, to a mostly empty room.

Michael gathered up his lecture notes and books and headed out of the building and back to his office in the subbasement of the Suzzallo Library. But he thought he'd take a detour. A dense pink bloom covered the myriad of cherry trees across campus, and the delectable aroma tickled his nose. Flower beds around campus buildings burst in brilliant color with flowering daffodils and tulips.

Michael took a stroll to the reflecting pond at Drumheller Fountain to take in the spectacular view of Mount Rainier towering to the south. Washington State's tallest peak, as well as an active volcano, the glacier capped mountain shimmered in the sunlit haze that covered the city.

"Such a lovely view," Michael heard a woman's voice behind him say. The voice seemed strangely familiar. Michael turned to see who was speaking to him, and dropped his books in shock. Panic gripped his face and he stumbled attempting to step away from her.

"Kinqalatlala!" he exclaimed. Michael turned to try to escape but found his way blocked by two other fiercesome women. "A lalenox?" Michael asked stunned, staring at the albino.

"You are correct," Kinqalatlala replied. "Show this man your gloves," she told the lalenox. The albino raised her hands. "As long as those gloves remain on her hands you are safe."

"What do you want with me?" Michael asked.

"What do you think?" Kinqalatlala replied. "Blue Tara. And the man with the parrot. And you can go about your business and live in peace."

"I kind of doubt that," Michael responded.

"I have no interest in you," Kinqalatlala said. "I also have no qualms about killing you if you don't give me what I want."

"You'd kill me? Right out here in the open? In front of all these people?" Michael said, gesturing to the students passing by the fountain. Many students passed by the reflecting pond but did not seem to take notice of the strange group gathered around Michael. "They can't see you. Isn't that right? To all of them I'm just a nutjob talking to myself."

"It makes no nevermind to me," she replied. "In fact, maybe I'll start with some of your precious students first, until you give me what I want. Would you like to pick out my first victim? Or do you prefer me to do that?" Kinqalatlala looked around her and started to walk toward a group of students stopped by the reflecting pond.

"Wait," Michael said. "I'll tell you what you want to know."

"No he won't," said a woman who walked up to Kinqalatlala.

"What?" Michael asked, stunned.

Kinqalatlala and her two aides turned and stared at the newcomer. Easily six feet tall. Blood red skin from head to foot. Brilliant white face. Just as Michael had seen Blue Tara do, she stood on one foot like a parrot, her right foot lifted and placed against her left knee. Flaming red hair highlighted gleaming black eyes. She wore a red cape draped over her shoulder, which covered only one of her breasts. She had not two arms, but four arms. A long bow slung over her back along with a quiver of arrows.



A student passing by stopped and stared at the woman. "Nice bird," he said. "Is it yours?" he asked Michael.

"Bird?" Michael replied, totally confused.

"Your red bird," the student continued. "Is it a macaw? Won't it just fly off?"

Michael alternately stared at the student in stunned silence and stared at the red woman with four arms.

"Beautiful bird," the student added as he walked away.

"I like your bird," a girl walking by added, as she smiled at Michael.

Michael suddenly realized the students did not see what he saw. "You're a Tara!" he exclaimed to the red woman. "The students don't see you the way I see you. They see a parrot. Right? Not a woman with four arms and a long bow strapped over her shoulder."

"She's a witch," Kinqalatlala interjected. "Red Tara." Pointing to the lalenox, she commanded, "Take her out!" Before the lalenox could take two steps toward Red Tara, she whipped off her long bow and nocked an arrow into place, and pointed it at Kinqalatlala's head.

"I don't think so," Red Tara said. "I am Kurukulla. I protect the weak from demons and wicked spirits." Weak? Oh geez, thought Michael to himself. "You will not harm this man."

"You think you can stop us?" Kinqalatlala asked. "With your puny bow and arrows? Nawalak!" she summoned her gigantic aide.

Red Tara turned her bow and released the arrow. It sunk into Nawalak's skull, right between her eyes. The force of the arrow knocked her backwards onto the ground. She fell with a loud groan and did not get up. Before Kinqalatlala or the lalenox could move Red Tara nocked another arrow into place. "Do not underestimate what I am capable of," Red Tara replied. "My arrows can not be stopped. Once released, they never ever miss their mark." Red Tara stepped between Michael and the witches, her arrow pointing at Kinqalatlala's head. "Walk away," she told Michael. "I will protect you. Walk away now."

The hell with walking, Michael thought. He scooped up his books and lecture notes and ran from the fountain. As he ran onto Red Square he stopped and turned to see if he was being pursued. He gaped at the brightest colored parrot he had ever seen flying toward him. Brilliant red feathers covered its body. Green feathers highlighted its wings. Piercing black eyes set in a white face. A red macaw, called a greenwing macaw by some (Ara chloropterus), flew up to him and landed on his shoulder. "So this is how the students see you," he said. Thankfully Michael saw no sign of Kinqalatlala and the other two witches.


"Do you know about Blue Tara?" Michael asked the parrot. "And about Black Tara? My cat?"

"You must take me to them as soon as possible," Red Tara said.

"I don't suppose you do the time and space bend like Blue Tara does?" Michael asked.

"I do not possess that magic," Red Tara replied. "My powers reside in matters of the flesh, not in matters of time and space."

"Well, I guess I'll take you to Blue Tara the old fashioned way. I'll drive." Michael stopped into his office long enough to drop off his lecture materials and grab the truck keys, as well as Margarita, and he drove the three of them over to Ballard as fast as possible.


∆∆∆

"Oh. My. God!" I said when I opened the door of my apartment to let Michael and Margarita in. "Another parrot! Oh my. Where in the hell did you get a greenwing?"

"Meet Red Tara," Michael replied.

“It is my honor and duty to answer Lord Garuda’s call to action,” Red Tara said, spreading her wings and bowing to the blue and gold macaw Aboo perched on Princess Tara’s parrot stand.

Princess Tara, who had been napping on top of her perch, let out a screech at the sight of Red Tara, spread her wings, and lept into the air. Halfway across the living room she whirled like a dervish and a gleaming blue orb appeared, filling the room with a cloud of blue light. The light coalesced into Blue Tara. Seeing Blue Tara, the red macaw whirled off Michael's shoulder and landed on the floor in her four armed form.

"Greetings Ekajati!" Red Tara exclaimed.

"Greetings to you Kurukulla. Welcome to Seattle," Blue Tara replied as she bowed to Red Tara.

"So this is the man?" Red Tara asked. She walked up to me and put two of her arms over my shoulders and her other two arms around my back. My body shook when she touched me as an electrical charge of pure sensuality swept through me. Her black tongue flicked out of her mouth and swept across my lips. Like the wicked witch in the Wizard of Oz I felt I was melting. I sensed a sensuality emanating from Red Tara unlike anything I had ever felt before. I wanted to bury myself in Red Tara's body and surrender to her every desire.

Blue Tara grabbed my arms and pulled me away from Red Tara. "We are Taras," she told Red Tara. "We fight the same enemy. But remember this. This man is mine. You will not unleash your magic and your wiles on him. Or you will answer to me. He is not a plaything for you to enjoy."

This is different, I thought. In all my life I had never experienced women fighting over me. But I wasn't sure that having goddesses fight over me was necessarily a good thing.

"You will focus your energy on Hamatsa and the Winalagalis," Blue Tara added. "Do not ever cross me. Do you understand?"

"Apologies, Ekajati. Sometimes I can not help who I am." She bowed to Blue Tara.

Blue Tara turned to me and placed her hands on my shoulders. "Do not ever even think about it," she demanded. "You do not know what Red Tara is capable of. You do not understand how she is able to manipulate men like you."

Men like me? I thought to myself. Now I really wondered what kind of shit I'd got myself into.

Part Three

Chicago had Mrs. O'Leary's cow. Seattle had Jonathan Back's glue pot. On the afternoon of June 6, 1889, Jonathan Back accidentally overturned his glue pot while framing one of the booming city's new timber buildings common for the period. He attempted to extinguish the burning glue pot with a bucket of water. Water on a grease fire simply spread the fire. Mr. Back called for Seattle's volunteer fire department. Yet a fairly small city at the time, the volunteer firemen responded quickly but made the mistake of hooking up too many hoses at once. Water pressure failed, and with no water to fight the fire the flames raged through the city's mostly timber structures. The Great Seattle Fire destroyed thirty-one square blocks before the fire finally burned out.

In the rush to rebuild, the city fathers made the decision not to clear out the rubble from the burned buildings. Seattle's founders had established the city on the only level ground at the head of Elliott Bay, mudflats at the mouth of the Duwamish River. The site of an ancient Duwamish Indian village and burial ground.

In response to the Great Seattle Fire the city fathers ordered the basements of the ruined buildings of the city to be covered over and new construction of stone and brick to be built on top of the ruins. The old basements and passageways were covered up, sealed, and soon forgotten by polite society living on the surface. However, a certain segment of the population of the boom town of Seattle thrived in the old catacombs out of sight of decent Victorian society and the law. Smugglers, bootleggers, opium dealers, women of the night, and the few surviving Duwamish Indians who grew up in the old Indian village and refused to leave their traditional home.

Over the next few years stories of strange goings-on in the dark catacombs filtered up to the streets above. Murders. Suicides. Ancient Indian ghosts. Demons and cannibals. Polite society often repeated these stories for sheer titillation or to scare the children of the good citizens of the city. Stories guaranteed to catch the interest of a young German archaeologist just starting his academic career in the New World.

After spending the winter of 1896 at Fort Rupert on Vancouver Island, the young German archaeologist Franz Boas stopped in Seattle on his long trip back east to return to his teaching position at Columbia University. In the spring of 1897 Boas found Seattle to be a boom town bursting at the seams with the outbreak of the Klondike Gold Rush. Would-be prospectors and gold miners, and the merchants and con men, and women, who mined the miners packed the unpaved streets of the booming city. Canvas tents and Conestoga wagons set up temporary shops in any space available, even in the middle of streets and intersections. Prospectors who dreamed of gold strikes scurried from tent to shop to secure the supplies they would need in the frozen north prior to booking passage on the overcrowded steam ships docked in the harbor waiting to steam north to Alaska.

As an archaeologist and scholar of civilizations, Franz Boas found the hustle and bustle of the boom town enthralling. He sought out the few Indians still living in the city, quite conspicuous selling old Indian artifacts and baskets on the board sidewalks. Their stories of an ancient Indian village buried under the city sparked Boas' interest. The city's German brewers plied Boas with tales of Indian ghosts and demons waylaying indiscreet prospectors and citizens who stumbled into the old catacombs.

Boas determined to explore the ruins of the underground city. He couldn't believe his good luck when he encountered an old Duwamish Indian woman living in a dilapidated fishing shack on the beach. The old woman turned out to be Princess Angeline, the daughter of the famed Duwamish Chief Sealth, better know as Chief Seattle, the city's namesake, who ceded the land Seattle was built on to the city's founders.

Princess Angeline eked out a living fishing and selling baskets to the Klondike bound adventurers. Bent and wrinkled, in her last days, she walked with a cane wearing her favorite red head scarf and a brown shawl over her squat body. She regaled Boas with stories of the tribe's legends and ceremonies, demons and monsters. Many of her stories and legends revolved around the old Indian burial ground above the mudflats where the city was established. Encouraged by Princess Angeline's stories, Boas determined to find his way into the catacombs. He was astonished to learn from the old woman that a tunnel existed right behind her shack leading into secret passageways which in turn led into the old ruins. Secret passageways utilized mostly by smugglers sneaking tax free Canadian liquor off ships anchored in the harbor to quench the thirst of the Klondike bound prospectors.

Boas followed the tunnel into the dark and mysterious passageways leading to underground Seattle. Boas found a secret city buried beneath the boom town virtually intact, replete with furnishings untouched by the great fire that burned off the timber buildings above. Boas wandered from basement to basement through underground passageways poorly illuminated by cracks and partially buried skylights in the ceiling.

Astonished, Boas found not a ghost town within the catacombs, but a living buried city. He encountered other explorers and wanderers. Some lost souls. Many just curious, like him. He stumbled across any number of drunks, prostitutes, drug addicts, and opium dens operated by some of the Chinese immigrants flooding to the city to do the work the would-be gold miners refused to do.

Stumbling into an opium den, a couple of drunk sailors accosted Boas and attempted to rob him. Wearing a suit, tie, fedora, and black frock coat Boas gave the appearance of a wealthy businessman, not the usual denizen of the catacombs. Speaking his native German, Boas pretended not to understand the sailors' demands for money. One of the sailors produced a knife and threatened Boas. Unseen by the sailors, an apparition appeared out of the shadows. Tall, gaunt, pale. Sunken eyes that glowed in the darkness. Without speaking the apparition stepped up to the sailor with the knife and placed a hand on his shoulder. The sailor dropped the knife and collapsed to the floor. Dead.

Boas cried out to the other sailor. "A lalenox! A spirit of the underworld! Do not let it touch you. Its touch is death."

The second sailor froze in terror. The lalenox stepped up to him and touched his shoulder. He collapsed dead as well.

Collecting himself, Boas turned and ran as fast as he could back through the dark passageways, back to the surface and the relative safety of the city streets. Boas collected his belongings and hurried to the harbor to wrangle passage on the first ship sailing south. He did not relax until the ship finally raised anchor and steamed out of Elliott Bay.


∆∆∆

I discovered that the Taras, blue, red, or black, liked pizza and beer. A lot of pizza and beer. It seemed I was to become a very good customer of the pizza place across the street.

Over pizza and beer I listened to Michael recount his encounter with Hamatsa's slave and hatchet woman Kinqalatlala at Drumheller Fountain.

"It seems they're coming after us one at a time," I said. "It's imperative we don't give them that opportunity. We've got to keep one of the Taras with us at all times."

"Sorry," Michael replied, "but I can't have a four-armed naked woman with red skin coming to my classes with me. Don't think the students would be able to concentrate on my lectures."

"But you said the students could not see Red Tara as she really is. They only see a red macaw," I replied. "You could take Margarita with you. She'd be less conspicuous, and your students would probably think more highly of you," I smirked.

Chugging a can of Rainier beer, Red Tara burped. She placed a hand on my hand. "You can not just sit by and let Hamatsa's witches pick you off one by one," she said. "We need to go after them and drive them out of this city until such time as all the Taras are gathered for battle."

Blue Tara took my hand and pulled it away from Red Tara's grasp. "You must find the tlogwe," she said. "That is how we are able to defeat Hamatsa and his ghouls."

"The tlogwe? You mentioned that to me before. Just what is the tlogwe?" I asked her.

"The source of great power. The ultimate treasure presented by the spirits to those brave enough to enter their realm. Because we lost the crystal, we need the magic and power of the tlogwe to fight Hamatsa's magic and power."

"And just where am I supposed to find the realm of the spirits?" I asked. "Without, say, actually killing myself?"

"There is an ancient city at your very feet," Red Tara replied. I glanced at my feet under the dining table.

"There is?"

"An ancient city of the native peoples who lived here before your people arrived. A city buried under your city."

"Seattle was established on top of an old Duwamish Indian village," Michael interjected. "Is that what you mean?" Red Tara nodded. "Underneath Pioneer Square. The original part of Seattle. The part destroyed by the Great Fire of 1889. A very small part of it has been opened up for all the tourists to visit. You've never been in underground Seattle?" Michael asked me.

"I'm to find the tlogwe in underground Seattle?" I replied.

"You're to find the spirit world. The spirit world that will give you the gift of the tlogwe," Red Tara told me.

"You know what?" Michael exclaimed. There was something in the Boas field notes about meeting with Princess Angeline on the waterfront. Something about a tunnel."

"Princess Angeline? Another parrot?" I asked, looking at Blue Tara.

"Princess Angeline, the daughter of Chief Seattle. Boas met with her at her fishing shack on Western Avenue at the foot of Pike Place."

"You are kidding me? Western Avenue at the foot of Pike Place?" Michael nodded. "That's where Charlie's Bird Store is located. We need to pay Charlie a visit."

I drove Michael and the two Taras in their parrot form to Pike Place Market to see Charlie at his bird store, appropriately named Charlie's Bird Store. We left Aboo, the blue and gold macaw, and Margarita, Michael's black cat, to guard my apartment. We found Charlie's open. The sign on the door read 'Come In'. Once again Princess Tara refused to leave the truck, so I walked in with Red Tara on my shoulder. The earsplitting din of hundreds of birds chirping, screeching, and squawking knocked me back on my heels as I entered the shop.

Charlie let out a long whistle when he saw Red Tara perched on my shoulder. A tall wiry black guy with short cropped hair, he fancied himself to be a bird whisperer. "My God, son. That is one spectacular greenwing macaw you've got there. Did you trade in Princess Tara for another model?" he smirked. "I wouldn't blame you in the least."

"Princess Tara's out in the truck," I replied. "She refuses to come in."

"Don't blame her for that either," Charlie said. He walked up to me and stared at Red Tara. "She's beautiful. Guessing it's a she? Looks like a girl bird."

"Charlie," I replied, "meet Red Tara." I noticed Charlie packed a 45 on his hip.

"Red Tara?" Charlie's face brightened like a kid turned loose in a candy shop. "My, oh my. How is it you lucked out?"

"What do you mean?"

"I've been studying up on the Taras," Charlie replied. "Red Tara is the goddess of pure sensuality and desire. Whatever men desire, Red Tara provides." A grin split Charlie's face from ear to ear. "You need a place to park her son, you can park her here with me."

"Okay." I said. "Tell me, do you see a parrot or something else entirely?" I asked Charlie.

"I just see the parrot," Charlie replied. "Have you seen her as she truly is?"

"Yep," I replied.

"Red Tara saved my butt from Kinqalatlala and her lalenox at the U Dub," Michael said.

"Lalenox? What's that?" Charlie asked.

"Living corpses. Zombies. The undead. Take your pick. They kill simply by touching their victims."

"All I see is a bright red parrot," Charlie said. "What does she look like? In her real form, that is."

"Red body. White face. Almost as tall as Blue Tara," Michael replied. "Amazon warrior. Only she's got a long bow instead of a battle axe. Oh, and she's got four arms."

"Four arms. My word boss. You struck gold with this one."

"We didn't come to visit just to show off Red Tara," I said. "Though we did want you to meet Red Tara."

"Why did you come?"

"What do you know about underground Seattle and the old Indian village buried under the city?" I asked Charlie.

"Well, there's that tour that takes tourists underneath the sidewalks. That's about all I know. Never really paid much attention to it. I never go down to Pioneer Square because of all the traffic and all the bums and drunks."

"The Taras told me about something called the tlogwe, a treasure of great power that the spirits give to those brave enough to venture into their realm."

"And that's buried underneath the city?" Charlie asked.

"Apparently underground Seattle is only a small part of it," I said.

"Who would be stupid enough. . . sorry boss, brave enough to venture down into the spirit realm?"

"Well," I replied, looking at Michael.

"Don't look at me," Michael responded. "I've got classes and students to deal with. I can't do it. And I've still got to get through those Boas field notes."

"So I guess that leaves me. And Jean."

"I wish you the best of luck son. And I sure as hell hope you know what you're getting yourself into. The spirit world is not something you should mess with lightly. There is power and mystery there beyond your wildest imagination. What can I do to help?"

"Even hear of Princess Angeline?" Michael asked Charlie. "Chief Seattle's daughter?"

"Oh, I might have. Years ago in school maybe. What of her?"

"She lived in a fishing shack back in the 1890s right here on this very spot."

"No kidding," Charlie replied. "So?"

"Supposedly there was a smugglers' tunnel located behind her shack. A tunnel that tied into the underground passageways that led to the buried city. The old Indian village."

"What does that have to do with me?" Charlie asked.

"Her shack stood on this very spot," I said. "The tunnel was around here somewhere. Very likely it's still here."

Charlie frowned and rubbed his eyes in contemplation. "There's an old basement in the back of this shop that was sealed off years ago before I ever moved in here. The market people warned me to stay out of there. There's a trap door under my floor. I've never messed with it. Come here and see."

Charlie motioned to us to follow him into the back room of his shop where Princess Tara used to reside. He pushed a cage containing a couple of blue and gold macaws to the side. "See here. There's a hole here in the floor for a trap door. Been sealed tight. You can just make out the outline along the floor here." Charlie bent down and stuck his finger in the hole and tugged on the trap door. Nothing.

"Where's the poker you conked that cannibal with?" I asked Charlie. He pointed over to the windows on the west wall of the building. I picked up the poker and jammed its end into the hole and tugged. Still nothing. I stepped Red Tara up off my shoulder and set her on a parrot stand. I grabbed the poker and threw all of my 180 pounds onto the rod. With a horrendous screech the trap door broke away from the floor and popped open. A cloud of damp and fetid black dust blew up into our faces. I lifted the trap door and flipped it open. We stared into the darkness below.


End of Chapter One