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

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