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.
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.
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."
"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.
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.
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.
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.
"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.