"I'm dying to hear how it went at the U Dub today," Jean said, sitting down next to me. She was casually dressed for a cool Seattle spring day. Black jeans and a dark wool sweater. Her long brunette hair flowed loose over her shoulders.
"Funny you should mention dying," I said.
"Where's Tara?" Jean asked.
"I left her at home. She had a big day. Jumped straight on her perch to take a nap. Only killed two people," I added.
"What?" Jean asked, astonished. "Killed what two people? What are you talking about?"
"Okay, so she only actually killed one person. A cop. Michael's cat killed the other. . . Cop."
"Now you're putting me on," she said, then changed her mind. "No. I know better than that. So what happened?"
"We got into a scuffle with a couple of Deportation Police goons on Red Square."
"Deportation Police? They rarely come into the city. Usually stay out in the country where the turf is friendlier."
"Ever since this Free Seattle movement took hold, the federal goons have boosted their visibility. They were harassing students on Red Square, checking papers and whatnot. Somehow Michael and I got in the middle of it. One of the goons kicked Michael's cat Margarita, and she, well. . ." I paused. "She's a witch. Just like Tara. She took the guy's head clean off."
"Oh my God," Jean exclaimed.
"Turns out she's one of the Taras that my Tara is looking for. Black Tara to be specific. Black Tara is a witch of vengeance, and damn is she didn't deliver some vengeance. Then Blue Tara took the head off the other goon before he could shoot us."
"Wow. The place must have been crawling with cops after that. How did you explain it all?"
"That's the thing. There was nothing to explain. Tara. . . Blue Tara reset time and space back to the starting point. We had been standing in line at a coffee cart. And when it was all over we were back to standing in line at the coffee cart. The goons simply disappeared, like that bag lady. Heads and all. Not even a blood stain."
"My lord. What have you gotten yourself into?"
"Right now, anyway," I said, taking Jean's hands into mine, "I've got myself together with you." I bent over and kissed her. She put her arms around me. My tongue swept across her lips and into her mouth to meet her tongue.
"Oh my," Jean said. "Maybe we should head up to your place before I rip your clothes off here on this bench. I'm off tomorrow, so I can stay up late and play. You hungry?"
"Let's pick up a pizza on the way."
"Sounds like a plan," I said. We dropped into Ballard Pizza across the street from the St. Charles Hotel and picked up a garlic and onion pizza. Thin crust. Olive oil base. Jean's suggestion. A woman after my own heart, I thought. I paid of course. Then we ran across the street to my apartment. I had wine in the fridge.
Tara perked up from her nap once we opened the pizza box and I poured a couple of glasses of cabernet.
"Food?" Tara asked.
"Pizza," I replied.
"Baked bread covered with a sauce and cheese and some veges."
Tara immediately flew off her perch and onto the table. She bit off a hunk of the pizza slice I cut for myself. "Oh yes," she said. "Food. This is even better than caprese salad."
After several big bites she dunked her beak in my wine glass. Wine splashed across the table and pizza.
"So much for pizza," I said.
"Never mind the pizza," Jean said. She took my hand and pulled me up out of the chair. "Come with me."
We walked into the bedroom. Jean kissed me while she unbuttoned my shirt and unzipped my pants. She pushed the shirt back off my shoulders, then pulled my pants down to my ankles. She licked my lips. Then she licked my chest. Then her tongue got lower on my body as Jean dropped to her knees.
"Oh. My. God!" I exclaimed.
"Careful what you say, hon. Tara may hear you."
I held my breath.
"Come to momma honey. What are you waiting for?"
"I'm waiting to see what Tara does."
I didn't wait long.
We took the bottle of wine and climbed into bed. But not to sleep.
I had visions of sleeping in the next morning with Jean in my arms, but the visions were rudely rent asunder when Michael called early to tell me the campus was crawling with Deportation Police. We talked for about half an hour. Well, he talked mostly. I just listened.
"What's going on?" Jean asked drowsily.
"Looks like the feds have put out a news bulletin about our headless goons. They're asking any citizen who knows anything about a couple of missing goons to step forward."
"Yeah, I'm sure people will come crawling out of the woodwork volunteering information," Jean joked.
"There's nothing for anyone to report. No one in this reality saw anything," I said. "Tara took care of that."
"Then we haven't got anything to worry about," Jean added.
"There's something else," I said.
"Michael said that several people have been attacked on campus and seriously injured."
"Injured? How so?"
"They were attacked by, get this, giant birds. One lady even had her eyes pecked out. I remember something Michael told me about the legend of the furies. He wants me to come over to the campus as soon as possible. Says he's got some new info for me. Why don't you come along? You can meet Michael and Black Tara. But first, we've got to go and warn Charlie about what's going on."
"Well, okay," Jean said. "But you're buying the coffee."
Jean and I got dressed. I picked up an empty pizza box off the dining table. "No breakfast for us," I said, dropping the box. I stepped Tara up and we went out to my truck.
This time I parked directly in front of Charlie's Bird Store, right in front of a 'No Parking' sign. Tara refused to get out of the truck, so I left her in the cab. Jean and I walked into the store.
First thing I noticed, the shop eerily quiet, in spite of the hundreds of birds packed into the store. I spotted Charlie in the back arguing with a customer. More like the customer arguing with him. Right off, he didn't seem to me to be a parrot kind of guy.
Lanky, almost emaciated. I would have thought anorexic if he had been a woman. Pale skin even noteworthy by Seattle standards of pale skin. Big bald spot accentuated by the remaining hair tied back in a pony tail. Not so much a beard as unkempt stubble. Clothes that might have been in fashion back in the 1980s. As Jean and I entered, he turned to face us. His eyes sent shivers up my spine. Sunken. Badly bloodshot.
Charlie didn't so much as greet us. In fact, he didn't greet us at all. He acted like he didn't recognize me.
"Sorry folks. I'm closed early today. Not feeling well. Think I'm coming down with the flu or something."
I ignored his warning. "Hi Charlie," I said, walking up to him with my hand out to shake his. "Who's your friend?"
"He said he's closed," the man said gruffly, in a voice so guttural I had to play it back in my mind to make sure I understood him. "You should leave," he insisted.
I looked at him. Then looked back at Charlie. "I'm glad I caught you," I told Charlie. "I need to talk to you about Tara."
I thought I saw Charlie mouth the word 'No'. The other man's eyes almost popped out of his head. "Tara? You know Tara?" he asked me.
Charlie interrupted. "Sorry son, I sold Tara to some guy come up from Portland. She's not for sale anymore. Sorry you had to make the trip for nothing."
Jean took my hand. "Maybe we should leave," she said.
"Do what the pretty lady says," the man snarled.
"Didn't you want to buy some parrot food for your African Grey, sweetie?" I asked her. "There's some over there," I said, pointing to the back wall.
I started to walk past Charlie. The man grabbed my shoulder to stop me. "You need to leave," he insisted. I tried to brush his hand off my shoulder, but he gripped so hard I almost fell to my knees in pain. He opened his mouth. Instead of teeth I saw fangs. Jean screamed. He bent over to take a bite out of my neck. Charlie grabbed a cast iron poker he used to open and close his windows and clobbered the man in the head. The man staggered back, releasing my shoulder. He turned and grabbed Jean, putting his arm around her neck. "If you want your precious to live, you will tell me where Tara is." He bared his fangs.
"Don't let him bite her," Charlie yelled. "He'll turn her into one of them."
Jean's knees buckled as the man choked her. I grabbed the poker from Charlie. The front door blew open.
Suddenly Blue Tara appeared in the middle of the room. She grabbed her battle axe, raised it over her head with both hands, and flung it at the man. The axe made an eerie whirling sound before it split the man's head neatly in two. Tara let out an ear-splitting screech. Before the gusher of blood could even hit the floor the man vanished. Into thin air. Just like the goons at Red Square.
Jean fainted. I grabbed her before she could fall to the floor and cradled her in my lap.
"That was a close shave," Charlie finally exclaimed. "Sorry about this mess, boss. Who's your friend? Is she okay?"
"Hope so. Probably scared half to death, I guess."
Jean started to revive. I noticed Tara the parrot perched on her old cage. Suddenly I noticed the din of hundreds of birds screeching and calling again. Everything seemed back to normal. Jean managed to get back up on her feet.
"Well there Princess," Charlie said to Tara. "That was quite the show."
Jean hugged me. "Oh my God! What happened to the guy?"
"Tara disappeared him," I replied.
"I thought I was a goner," Jean said.
"You and me both."
"My whole life flashed before my eyes when that blade came whizzing by my nose," Jean said.
"That's the first time I've seen Tara as she really is," Charlie said.
"So who was that guy?" I asked. "And what did he want?"
"Tara of course, boss. He wanted Tara. And he wanted you."
"What did you mean when you said he'd turn Jean into one of them?"
"He's a. . . was a cannibal. And a zombie. Probably created when another cannibal took a bite out of him. He would have turned you and your friend into cannibals, and zombies, if he'd taken bites out of you."
"But where'd he come from? What did he want with you?"
"He served the Winalagalis, I'm guessing. Most likely he was one of his slaves. Looks like the word is out about Blue Tara. He wanted to find you. To find Tara. Somehow they must know about you. You need to watch your back, son. There's a whole world of hurt coming down on your head. And anyone close to you," Charlie added, looking directly at Jean. For the first time I saw fear in Jean's eyes. I just hoped she didn't see the fear in my eyes. I took her hand in mine.
"How about you?" I asked Charlie. "Apparently they know about you too."
"Just a lucky guess, I'm thinking. Being as I'm the only parrot store downtown. And pretty well known. They could just as easily started with Denise's. Or Inca's. Or Apollo's."
"Aren't you worried they'll be back?"
"Next time I'll be ready. They won't catch me off guard again. I'll have my friends Smith and Wesson by my side from now on."
I looked at Jean. "We need to get over to the campus and warn Michael," I said.
"Who's Michael?" Charlie asked.
"We found Black Tara." Charlie shuddered. "Michael is an old colleague of mine at the U Dub who just happens to have a black cat who is a witch. Like Tara."
"You take care of yourself, son. And you take care of your friend here too. Okay?" Charlie patted Jean on her back. "Otherwise I may have to take care of her for you." Charlie winked at me.
"You sure you'll be okay?" I asked Charlie.
"Absolutely. Especially with a 45 on my hip. Now go. Warn your friend."
I stepped Tara up and we ran out to my truck. If that didn't beat all, I found a parking ticket under my wiper blade.
At the summer solstice the Hudson's Bay Company post of Fort Rupert at the northern tip of British Columbia's Vancouver Island is bathed in almost constant daylight. When the sun finally dips into the Pacific Ocean for its short rest, the shaman of the Kwakwaka'wakw people gathers his warriors by the rocky beach on Queen Charlotte Strait. The shaman is resplendently dressed in his ceremonial trappings of his trade. Deer skin leggings and shirt, richly decorated with sea shells and trade beads. He wears a bear skin cloak pulled over his shirt. And over the bear skin cloak he drapes a crisp new green and blue striped Hudson's Bay Company blanket presented to the shaman by the post's chief factor just for this occasion.
The shaman's face is black with soot. Red ochre lightning bolts are painted across the black soot. A red and black painted cedar mask sits atop his head, not covering his face, but looking skyward. The hand carved and brightly painted mask depicts the raven clan that are his forebearers and ancestors, shamans all.
As the warriors gather by the beach, the mournful sound of beating drums breaks the stillness of the night. Even the surf seems to lay down on the beach noiselessly. At the precise moment the sun sinks into the Pacific Ocean on that summer solstice night, the shaman drops his mask over his face and signals for the ceremony to begin. About a dozen warriors walk out of the surf carrying an intricately hand carved cedar log canoe onto the beach. Carved from a single massive cedar log, the canoe is easily twenty feet long. Fierce painted serpent heads adorn each end of the canoe. A large tarp made of bear skins stitched together covers the canoe.
The canoe is placed on the beach at the feet of the shaman, and the bearskin tarp pulled off. The flickering light of several great bonfires casts a strange and magical aura over the gathering. The beating of the drums grows louder and more intense.
The shaman raises his hands over his head and begins an incantation. The drums go silent.
Baxbakual goes with me around the whole world. Hiai, hiai, ai, ai, hiai, hiai. Baxbakual walks all around the world. Hiai, hiai, ai, ai, hiai, hiai.
We are afraid of Baxbakual's body which is covered with blood. Hiai, hiai, ai, ai, hiai, hiai. Baxbakual is feared by all because his body is terrible. Hiai, hiai, ai, ai, hiai, hiai.
The incantation continues for several more verses, and stops. The shaman steps away from the canoe. For a few moments the silence is so acute the warriors can hear the beating of their own hearts.
Suddenly movement. Hands appear from the darkness within and grasp the sides of the canoe. A giant figure slowly rises and stands up. The warriors gasp and stagger backwards, as if to retreat into the darkness of the forest behind them. The shaman calls out to them to stand their ground.
Slowly the ogre Baxbakual steps out of the canoe. A giant, he towers over the shaman. The black hair on his body is matted and greasy, so thick it looks like fur. He has not one mouth, not two mouths or even three mouths, but his body is covered with mouths. Hungry red gaping mouths that have not feasted since the previous summer solstice. He starts beating his chest and crying out, "Eat! Eat! Eat!"
Two of Baxbakual's servants appear out of the night sky and fly down to the beach. Qoaxqoaxual, a giant raven, and Hoxhok, a giant crane. "Eat! Eat! Eat!" they cry. The giant raven jumps at the crowd of warriors and with his huge beak grabs one of the men unlucky enough to be standing too far away from the safety of the group, and drags him to the canoe. The giant crane crushes his skull with his great beak and sucks out his brain. The raven devours the man's eyes, and starts ripping his flesh. Baxbakual steps forward and moves toward the warriors.
The shaman jumps in front of the ogre who is at least twice his size, and from under his blanket produces an immense glowing crystal of pure quartz. The shaman places the crystal on the beach directly in front of Baxbakual. The ogre recoils at the sight of the crystal and retreats to the canoe. The shaman raises his arms over his head one more time and commences to dance around the crystal while singing another incantation.
You frightened everyone by your magic, Baxbakual, hia, hia, hia, ya.
You frightened everyone by your wild cry, Baxbakual, hia, hia, hia, ya.
You frightened everyone by your great servants, Qoaxqoaxual and Hoxhok, hia, hia, hia, ya.
You go all around the world, magical Baxbakual. You destroy everyone before you, hia, hia, hia, ya, ya, hia, ya, ya, hia, hia, hia, ya.
As the shaman sings he steadily advances toward Baxbakual, never taking his eyes off of him, forcing him back to the canoe. The birds of fury snarl and hiss, but retreat toward the canoe as well, dragging their victim with them. The shaman picks up the glowing crystal and places it on the ground before him as he advances toward the ogre. Finally he forces Baxbakual to retreat back into the canoe.
At that, the shaman signals the warriors, and two men step forward dragging a naked woman between them, squirming and struggling to get out of their grasp. But they are too strong for her. They drag her to the canoe, and finally lift her up and throw her inside. She screams when she sees Baxbakual, but the screams are momentary. Baxbakual drags the woman into the depths of the canoe, and the screams stop.
A few of the warriors run up and toss the bear skin tarp back over the canoe and the host of men that brought the canoe out of the surf onto the beach lift the canoe up and carry it back into the water. The shaman removes the cedar mask from his head and wipes the sweat off his brow. He turns and walks back toward the village with the satisfaction of knowing his people are safe for another year. The warriors move out of his way. They dare not speak to him.
Sitting incredulous at the back of the beach on this summer solstice night of 1896, watching this remarkable and mysterious ceremony seen by few western eyes, the young German archaeologist Franz Boas could not believe what he had just witnessed. A German Jew with a freshly minted doctorate from the University of Heidelberg, Boas ran away from the rising tide of antisemitism in his native Germany to seek adventure and treasure in the virgin field of American archaeology. He feverishly transcribed notes describing the ceremony he had just witnessed into his field book by the light of the bonfires. Then he noticed the huge crystal of quartz sitting on the beach where the shaman had last placed it, no longer glowing. Jumping up he grabbed the crystal, wrapped his jacket around it, and placed it in his field pack for safekeeping. This clearly was an artifact of great power and mystery worth further study.