"I don't think we want to be standing around here when the cops arrive," I thought out loud.
"Can't Tara just reset the clock and make this all go away?" Jean asked.
Blue Tara replied, "I can not alter time and space I did not create. I can not undo what the furies have done."
"That poor lady," Michael said wistfully, looking over at the broken body of the barista.
A flash of brilliant white light burst thunderously out of the clear blue sky and encompassed the body of the unfortunate barista. She vanished. Blue Tara put her right foot up against her left knee and stood on one foot. She spread her arms and twirled. Her stunning crystalline blue naked body dissolved into a glowing blue orb and the form of Princess Tara coalesced in the air, wings spread, flapping. She settled on my shoulder. As if by magic, in fact because it was magic, the square filled with students and faculty and visitors going about their business. Only one remnant of the battle with the furies remained. The toppled coffee cart still laid on the pavement, the gleaming chrome espresso machine dented and broken. Don't know what the cops will make of that, I thought to myself. Their problem, not mine. We didn't stick around to find out. We retreated to Michael's office.
Once we settled into chairs and caught our collective breath, I checked to make sure everyone was okay and not injured. Our tattered and torn clothing assured me that the events of the afternoon really did happen.
"What were those creatures?" Jean finally asked.
"Furies," Michael replied. "The four brothers who encountered the cliff of crystal and transformed into feathered ogres. Specifically, there's Qoaxqoaxual, the giant raven. Hoxhok, the giant crane. Gelogudzayae and Nenstalit, the condors. Calling them giant would be redundant. Servants of Hamatsa. His eyes and ears. Hamatsa saved them from certain death at the hands of their own people in exchange for serving him."
"But that was how many centuries ago," I responded, somewhat dubiously. "How can they still be alive?"
"In the spirit world time is meaningless in the sense we understand it," Michael replied. "Just ask Tara. Plus, Hamatsa possesses the Water of Life. He can reanimate the dead and bring them back to life. Time and again. For all intents and purposes, we're talking about immortality."
"Crap," I succinctly stated. "How do we fight something that can't be killed?"
"That's what we need to figure out," Michael replied. The shamans were able to keep Hamatsa in check with their magic. They never were able to completely defeat and destroy him, but certainly keep him in check."
"Of course, we have something the shamans didn't," I responded.
"We have the Taras." I brushed my hand over Princess Tara's head. Tara purred in reply. "We still need to get Tara the turndun, and there's also the matter of the crystal you mentioned."
"I haven't been able to make an appointment with the lab director," Michael said.
"We can't wait on him," I replied. "We need to get into the lab as soon as possible. If today is any indication, we have a very limited window of opportunity to do something to stop Hamatsa's plans, whatever they entail. He's clearly on to us, and he's going to use every means at his disposal to try to stop us. And he seems to have some pretty unsavory allies." Michael blanched.
"You saw the vault," Michael said. "How do you expect to break into it without the director's key?"
"We have something better than a key. We have Tara."
"Yeah, so?" Michael replied.
"You remember how Tara transported us from your office here to my apartment? And back again?"
"So did that actually happen? I mean physically? Or did we just visualize it? If that's the case, I don't see how that's going to help us. And even if Tara could physically transport us into the lab, we still need to get into the vault."
"Tara?" I asked, stepping Tara off my shoulder onto my hand. I looked into her black fiery eyes. I saw a reflection of my face. "Tara?" I repeated.
A blinding white light seared my eyes, and a thunderclap seemed to shatter my head. I fell to the floor in anguish. Either Jean or Michael screamed. Or they both did. I opened my eyes and tried to make sense of my surroundings. Gleaming white steel cabinets towered over my head. We were in the Burke Museum. Specifically the lab in the basement. Blue Tara stood in front of me in her crystalline blue naked form. Michael struggled to get up from the floor. Jean rocked on her back on the floor with her hands clasped over her ears. I took her hands and pulled her up. Margarita leaped from the floor into Michael's arms.
"I don't think I want to be your friend anymore," Jean said. I couldn't tell whether she joked or not. I hugged her.
"Sorry sweetie. There's no getting used to this. I know."
Then another noise. An insistent and obnoxious ringing, like a fire bell in my head, assaulted my ears.
"Oh God!" Michael exclaimed. "We set off the alarms."
"We've got to act fast," I said. We ran to the vault at the back of the lab.
Blue Tara took my hands in hers. "I can't do this alone," she said. "I can bend time and space into this box, but I can't pick up the turndun. I need you to do that with me, if you're willing to take the risk."
I recoiled from her. She continued, "To be safe, we need to hold each other. Tightly. And follow the bend of time and space into this box. I will lead you, but you must not under any circumstances let go of me. There is danger because I have not seen the inside of this box. I can't have you materializing inside a solid object." You got that right, honey, I thought to myself. "Describe the space inside to me," Tara said, looking at Michael.
"It's an empty vault. Inside there's a steel table, in the middle of the room. The turndun is sitting on the table inside a small steel box."
"Nothing else?" Tara asked.
"I don't believe so," Michael replied.
"You don't believe so?" I cried out, seriously annoyed. "This is my life. . . and Tara's. . . our lives, we're talking about." I looked at Tara.
"You'll be okay. . . pretty sure," Michael replied.
"For this to work," Tara said to me, "you need to take your clothes off."
"What?" Jean said, her eyes wide in surprise.
"What?" I echoed.
"We're running out of time," Tara insisted. "Take off your clothes." I ripped my clothes off and dropped them on the floor. I stood naked.
"Now what?" I asked. Tara put her arms around me and pulled me to her. Her one breast stuck into my chest. She kissed me. I blacked out. I opened my eyes. I couldn't tell if moments or hours had passed. Tara still held me. We stood in a black hole. Tara's glowing crystalline blue skin provided the only light in the space. The heat from her body seeped into mine and infused me with a sense of euphoria. I did not want her to release her grip on me.
As my eyes adjusted to the blue light I realized we were standing next to a steel table. A steel chest stood on the table. Presumably it contained the turndun. "Pick up the box," Tara told me, taking her arms off of me. I picked up the chest. It was not small or lightweight.
"Now what?" I asked Tara.
"Hold on to the box with all your might," she told me. Tara stepped up behind me and put her arms around my chest. Her breast rubbed across my back. She kissed my neck.
"Did I really need to take my clothes off?" I asked Tara.
"No, not at all," she replied. "I just wanted to see you naked. Whatever you do, do not drop the box."
Before I could reply a burning white thunderclap knocked me senseless. Again, I couldn't determine how long I lost consciousness, or if I even did. As I regained my senses I realized Tara and I were back standing in the lab, with Tara's arms still wrapped around me. Thankfully, I still held the steel chest in my arms. Then I realized we had company. Lots of company.
Only thing more embarrassing than finding yourself naked in front of people you know is finding yourself standing butt naked in front of a whole bunch of people you don't know. People with guns. Thankfully the alarm no longer blared. But Jean, Michael, and Margarita were surrounded by a squad of black clad Deportation Police, with short gun barrels mounted on big machine guns pointed at them. And then pointed at Tara and me. The odds did not seem to favor us. I set the steel chest on the floor and threw my clothes on fast as I could before someone with a gun told me I couldn't.
A short balding man with a scruffy stubble of a beard holding a long stick instead of a machine gun stepped out in front of the goons. "Oh my God," Michael whispered to me. "A magic harpoon. Death stick. Kills anything it's pointed at."
The short man stepped up to me and said, "You're taking something that doesn't belong to you."
"I guess it's a matter of interpretation," I suggested. He swung his stick and clocked me alongside my head. I staggered and almost fell to my knees. I could feel blood rolling down the side of my face.
Before the short man could finish swinging his harpoon Tara grasped her battle axe with one hand and pulled me out of the way with the other. She swung the axe and separated the short man's head from his shoulders. The head bounced onto the floor and rolled down the aisle as the body toppled over. Blood spurted out from the neck turning the front of a gleaming white steel cabinet bright red.
Without thinking I grabbed the harpoon before it hit the floor and pointed it at the nearest goon. He simply collapsed. Dead. "Get down!" I yelled, as I swept over the goons with the harpoon. They toppled over like a line of falling dominoes. The last couple of goons standing managed to fire a few short bursts from their machine guns harmlessly into the ceiling as Margarita whirled over their heads slashing their throats with her giant steel claws. An eerie quietness gripped the room.
Jean walked over to the goons and cried out, "Look at their faces!" Michael and I hurried over to look. We saw faces bleached white like parchment. Faces scarred with bulging black veins. Bloodshot eyes sunken in their sockets.
"Laxsa," Michael said.
"What the hell?" I asked.
"Laxsa. Warriors of the spirit world. Living dead. Zombies, for lack of a better word. No telling how many lives these laxsa have lived. If they get killed, Hamatsa simply brings them back to life with his Water of Life."
Blue Tara grabbed her battle axe and walked up to the goons. One by one with a single swing of her fierce blade, she lopped their heads off. We quickly backed away as a pool of blood covered the floor. "What are you doing?" Michael screamed.
I knew. "Hamatsa can't restore life to bodies without heads. That's the only sure-fire way to kill them. But we're taking the magic harpoon with us, just in case. Now we've got a fighting chance."
"We should leave," Tara said, pointing out the obvious.
"Not without that crystal," I said. "Is it locked in here?" I asked Michael.
"It's on display upstairs in the Kwakwaka'wakw room."
"Lead the way!" I grabbed the steel chest with the turndun and we ran up to the main floor. Don't think I ever appreciated how spooky a museum could feel after hours. I definitely did not want to spend a night in one.
Running onto the main floor we entered the dinosaur hall, replete with recreations of towering dinosaur skeletons. It pleased me to no end to know that Hamatsa could not bring these monsters back to life. Running through the dinosaur and geology exhibits, we entered the ethnographic wing. Dioramas of native American life, the reimagination of precontact civilizations throughout the Pacific Northwest, greeted us.
Michael lead us to the Boas crystal on display with other assorted ceremonial and decorative artifacts collected by Franz Boas at Fort Rupert. A glass case protected the crystal. Not for long. I swung the steel chest against the side of the case, showering the floor with a cascade of glass fragments. A new round of alarm bells shook the hall. I yelled at Jean to grab the crystal. Pillaging a museum just did not seem to me to be an appropriate activity for an historian such as myself, even a retired one. I tried to shake off the feelings of remorse and regret. The alarm bells threatened to turn my brain to mush.
"Tara. Get us out of here. . . " I barely finished speaking the sentence.
When I came to I found myself on the floor of Michael's office, the steel chest with the turndun still in my arms. Michael and Jean struggled to get up off the floor. Jean held the crystal in her hands. Michael used the harpoon as a crutch to lift himself up. Margarita lay curled up on her sleeping pad next to Michael's desk, licking her fur. Princess Tara sat perched on the back of a chair.
I set the steel chest on Michael's desk. "Now we're getting somewhere," I said. "How about you stick that harpoon in a corner somewhere, so it doesn't accidentally get pointed at someone," I suggested to Michael.
"I'm guessing there has to be intent involved. Intent to kill," Michael replied. "It can't always just be on, can it?"
"Well. Let's not take any chances, okay? Open up that chest and show us the turndun."
Michael walked up to the chest and released the latch holding the lid secure. He opened the lid and reached into the chest to pull out a simple slab of wood. Gleaming polished red cedar. Maybe two feet long by half a foot wide. Not quite an inch thick. Heavily serrated edges. Sort of reminded me of an airplane propeller. It looked brand new.
"What the fuck? That's it?" I said, looking at Tara. "How can that be an antique? It looks like it just came from Home Depot. We left a trail of bodies for a piece of a board?"
"The radiocarbon dates don't lie. This piece of board is at least thirty-five thousand years old. This is solid red cedar. Heavy as a rock."
"Well, okay then. How does it work?"
"We tie a long cord on to the end of it," Michael replied. "The longer the better. The cord is twisted tight as possible and then the turndun is launched overhead. As the cord untwists it spins the turndun while the turndun swings around horizontal or vertical circles, making this incredible noise that can be heard for miles. Pulsing the noise, horizontally or vertically, works like ancient Morse Code."
I picked the turndun up. Michael wasn't kidding. This slab of wood seemed much heavier than wood ought to be. But I assumed this wasn't just any slab of wood. "What do you think, Tara?" Tara flapped her wings and hopped onto my arm. She took a small bite out of the edge of the turndun with her huge beak.
"This is not just a piece of wood. This is the turndun of the gods. Older than you know. This instrument will broadcast even to the netherworld where Garuda sleeps. Once I awaken Garuda, I can summon the Taras. Then we face the Winalagalis."
Quiet until now, Jean spoke up. "I don't know about anyone else, but I'm starving. Can we go get something to eat and put off saving the world for a couple of hours?"
Tara fluffed out her feathers and spread her wings. "Pizza!"
"So what do we do?" Michael asked, guzzling his beer.
"I think we have a new line of work," I offered.
"How about you, Jean? I don't know if they'll be able to make you, but eventually they probably will."
"I got a feeling pulling espresso shots for a living is going to seem very dull and mundane after what we've been through," Jean replied. "I agree with you. I think we've got a new line of work. If you'll have me."
"Are you kidding me?" I slid across the couch and put my arm around Jean's shoulder, kissing her. "We're a team." I started to kiss her again but the door bell rang. "Pizza's here." I got up.
I buzzed the outer door open and walked over to the apartment door. I reached for the door knob. The door blew open in my face, knocking me on my butt. A monstrous creature, a cross between a bear and a giant, burst through the doorway and slapped me with an immense paw as I tried to get up. The force of the blow knocked me back into the kitchen. Jean screamed. Michael jumped up from the sofa and cried out, "Nanes! The cannibal grizzly bear."
The creature bounded into the living room on all four limbs, then reared up on its hind legs. Its head hit the eight foot ceiling in my apartment. Its long brown matted fur rippled in waves across its body like a wheat field in a summer breeze. Baring its murderous ivory fangs and letting out a roar that rattled the windows, the creature looking and smelled the picture of death. With claws. The most foul and putrid odor filled the apartment. As I struggled to regain consciousness, I desperately tried not to gag.
Tara and Margarita sprang into action. Everything happened so quickly it seemed to me I was watching one of those slow motion 3D computer generated action movies.
Margarita whirled at the beast and her steel claws slashed at its neck. As large as a vengeful Black Tara could appear, the grizzly ghoul easily was twice her size. The creature caught Margarita with a blow from its paw and sent her flying through my bay window. Margarita screeched as the glass shattered and she fell to the street below.
Blue Tara coalesced out of a pulsating blue cloud and flung her battle axe at the monster's gigantic head. The blade glanced off the side of its head and bounced to the floor at my feet. Blood streamed down the creature's fur from a long gash in its skull. Blue Tara ran at the creature, grabbed it by its neck, and attempted to wrestle it to the ground. With one thrust of a giant paw, the bear flung Tara off its back and across the room. Tara's head slammed into the wall and she crumbled to the floor. I climbed to my feet and picked up the battle axe. I could barely lift it with both hands.
The monster spun into the living room and knocked Michael backwards over the sofa. With a blow to her head, it knocked Jean against the wall. She fell to the floor, apparently unconscious. I screamed and flung the battle axe at the creature with all my might. The butt of the axe struck the creature's head and bounced off. The monster scooped Jean's limp body up from the floor with one limb, and scampered for the door on three legs.
Margarita reached the door first, charging up the stairs. She swung one of her steel claws and cut a gouge through the creature's neck. Jean fell to the floor as the creature batted Margarita across the room. Regaining consciousness, Tara scrambled to her feet and grabbed her battle axe. She raised it over her head with both hands and prepared to fling it at the monster.
The creature placed one of its immense ivory claws at Jean's throat and spoke, "Halt! Or she dies and suffers a fate worse than death."
"Oh my God!" Michael cried. "It's going to turn her into a zombie."
Without thinking I ran toward the creature, but didn't manage to take more than two steps. Tara grabbed me and pulled me to her. "No. You can't stop Nanes. Not if you want your friend to live. As long as she's alive we have a chance to save her. If she dies, we have no chance. And if she dies at the hands of Nanes, she faces a fate much worse than death."
I looked at Michael. Michael appeared white as a ghost. My heart pounded so hard I thought my body would explode. Sweat stung my eyes and I could barely see. The creature picked up Jean's unconscious body again and backed out the door and down the stairs. I stumbled to the window to catch a glimpse of a man, not a monster, dumping Jean into the back of a white panel van. The man jumped in. The engine started up. I heard tires squeal as the van darted into the street.
Watching the van slip around the corner and out of sight I lost all feeling and sensation in my legs and limbs. Any connection between my brain and my muscles ceased, and I collapsed to the floor. Tara rushed to my side and took me in her arms and held me.