“I'm at a loss how to proceed,” Michael said to Jean, as they sat outside Jean’s coffee shop the next morning drinking coffee. Michael, Jean, three macaw parrots, Blue Tara in her Princess Tara form, Red Tara in her greenwing macaw form, Garuda in his blue and gold macaw form, and Margarita in her black cat form. Red Tara perched on Michael’s shoulder. Garuda perched on Jean’s shoulder. Princess Tara sat on the table top with her beak dunked in an iced latte. Margarita sprawled out in the sun on the edge of the sidewalk adjacent to the street. They tried to ignore the crowd of people gathered behind the coffee shop’s front window drinking their coffees while staring at the menagerie outside.
“We’ve got to go back through the tunnel at Charlie’s store and find our way back to the Indian village,” Jean replied, as she sipped her latte. Jean looked the picture of northwest chic in cargo shorts and a checked flannel shirt. Michael couldn’t help admiring her long slender legs as she sat cross-legged next to him at the table.
“But is this going to be a ghost hunt? What can we do for someone who’s dead?”
“I don’t know that he’s dead,” Jean said. “And apparently dead doesn’t mean what it used to mean,” she added. “Anyway, I’m going back with or without you.”
“What do the Taras have to say about any of this?” Michael asked.
“More coffee,” Princess Tara replied. “Please.”
“That was a serious question,” Michael responded. “What do the Taras think we should do?”
“Drink more coffee,” Princess Tara said. “When we are ready we will return to the spirit world. We must continue the search for the tlogwe. Wherever the tlogwe is, your friend will be close by.”
“Seattle is overrun with Deportation Police,” Michael said. “Shouldn’t we do something about that?”
“Our numbers are too small,” Princess Tara replied. “Their numbers are too great. We must await the remaining Taras to join us. We need to keep our focus on Hamatsa and his slaves. Once we defeat Hamatsa then these side shows will collapse by their own dead weight.”
“I’m guessing classes at the U Dub have been suspended for the duration,” Michael said. “What have I got to lose? However, I need to get back to my office so I can change into some appropriate clothes and grab the magic harpoon,” he said as he reached for his coffee.
Princess Tara screeched so discordantly Jean dropped her coffee cup. Red Tara hopped onto Jean’s shoulder. A red hand seemed to materialize out of thin air and catch the cup before it could shatter on the pavement, placing it back on the table. Jean craned her neck to look up at Red Tara’s gleaming white face and smiled. Before she could say ‘thank you’ Michael vanished and almost instantaneously reappeared, wearing hiking boots, blue jeans, and a flannel coat. He cradled the magic harpoon in his arms.
“Wow!” Michael exclaimed. “Can I finish my coffee now? Please warn me before you do that thing.”
Margarita growled and jumped up on her hind legs, peering into the sky. Princess Tara ruffled her feathers and stood erect, head tilted to the side, her gleaming yellow eye searching the heavens. Michael and Jean heard the slow flapping of immense wings well before the creature appeared in the sky overhead.
“Oh. My. Lord!” Michael exclaimed.
“What is it?” Jean asked, jumping to her feet.
“I don’t believe I’m seeing this,” Michael replied. “Ancient Indian legends call this creature a gagit. An immense flying monster with gigantic razor sharp claws and teeth. A monster covered with black greasy hair instead of feathers. It’s a pterodactyl. A flying eating killing machine.”
“My God!” Jean exclaimed. “How big is that thing?”
“Big,” Michael replied. “The largest of the pterodactyls, called a Quetzalcoatlus, had a nearly forty foot wingspan, big as a fighter jet.”
The gagit spread its wings and lazily circled overhead, slowly descending with each circle in the sky.
Aboo, the blue and gold macaw, screeched and hopped onto the table next to Princess Tara. “The creature is not a bird, and not of this world,” he said. “I have no influence over its actions.”
“I thought pterodactyls were extinct,” Michael said. “Along with all the other dinosaurs.”
“Apparently not,” Jean replied. “Actually dinosaurs did not go extinct. You’re looking at three of them here. Parrots are living dinosaurs, the oldest of the avians, so it’s no wonder there’s a pterodactyl flying overhead.”
“Should I try shooting it down with the magic harpoon?” Michael asked.
“It is just trying to scare you,” Princess Tara replied.
“It’s doing a good job,” Jean said.
“One gagit can not harm us,” Princess Tara responded.
“How do you know there’s only one of them?” Michael asked. “It might be a scout for a whole flock of those suckers.”
“We will deal with whatever comes,” Princess Tara replied.
Sweeping ever lower, the immense size of the creature quickly became apparent. Twenty foot wings pounded the air with each flap, sounding like a giant pile driver in the sky. The creature’s menacing teeth and claws glinted in the sunlight. Dropping nearly to treetop level, the creature let out a cry that shook the windows of the shops below. Crowds of people on the sidewalks who had stopped to stare at the pterodactyl screamed and ran for shelter. The pterodactyl dived to the ground and caught a man trying to dash across the street. Grabbing him by his head, the creature flipped the man into the air and swallowed him whole with its huge beak.
With a screech Red Tara leaped off Jean’s shoulder and whirled to the ground, a four armed red skinned Amazon goddess holding a long bow and arrows in her hands. Before the gagit could extend its wings and take flight Red Tara nocked and released an arrow from her bow. The arrow slammed into the creature’s head squarely between its eyes. The gagit stumbled and charged at Red Tara. A blinding blue dervish appeared at Red Tara’s side. Blue Tara raised her battle axe over her head with both of her hands and flung it at the monster. The blade whistled as it whirled through the air and struck the gagit in its skull. The gagit stumbled and fell forward onto the pavement. The creature tried to push itself off the ground with its wings. Red Tara nocked and released another arrow from her bow which split the arrow in the creature’s forehead. The creature collapsed to the ground, and did not move again.
“Look at the size of that thing!” Michael exclaimed, holding the magic harpoon at the ready as he slowly approached the pterodactyl. “Is it dead?”
“You better hope so,” Jean replied, “if you’re going to stand next to it.”
Michael backed away to a more comfortable distance.
“Oh, for chrissakes!” Michael exclaimed as the sky filled with the deafening sound of pounding wings. Everyone looked up. Two more gagits, pterodactyls, appeared overhead. Then another two. Then four more. And then another four. Soon a score or more of the hairy flying monsters filled the sky, blotting out the sun, the pounding noise from their gigantic flapping wings drowning out all conversation on the ground. Aboo, the blue and gold macaw, Lord Garuda, commenced screaming in response, with a scream of his own that threatened to burst already endangered eardrums.
One of the pterodactyls began to circle and rapidly descend to the ground. The gagit landed on the street near the body of the dead pterodactyl. This pterodactyl had a rider mounted on its long neck, a rider that literally was a skeleton. A living skeleton.
“Oh. My. God!” Jean yelled. “What is that?”
It’s Bokwus, Chief of the Dead!” Michael cried out. “Stay away from him. Anyone he kills becomes a ghost slave in his army of the dead.”
Michael pointed the magic harpoon at the ghoul, as Bokwus dismounted from the neck of the pterodactyl. Bokwus turned and stepped toward Michael. “You can not kill that which is already dead,” he said.
Michael stumbled backwards, almost dropping the harpoon while tripping over the curb. “What do you want?” Michael asked.
“My master has commanded me to take the witches that you protect,” Bokwus said, pointing at the Taras.
“That I protect?” Michael stammered. “Geez, are you ever misinformed. Stay back!” Michael demanded, once again pointing the magic harpoon at the skeleton stepping toward him. “Die!” Michael commanded. “The skeleton kept stepping forward.
“Your weapon is useless against me.”
Blue Tara stepped in front of Michael, battle axe in her hand. With one swing of the battle axe she separated Bokwus’ skull from the rest of his skeleton. The skeleton crumbled to the ground as the skull rolled to a stop at Michael’s feet. He swung the magic harpoon as hard as he could and smashed the skull to pieces.
“If he wasn’t dead before, he is now,” Michael boasted.
“Hamatsa is not as smart as he thinks,” Blue Tara replied.
Bokwus’ mount, the pterodactyl, began to flap its wings and run down the street trying to take flight. Red Tara nocked an arrow in her long bow and released it at the creature. The arrow struck the gagit in the back of its skull. The pterodactyl banked to its side, furiously flapping its wings, as it crashed into a storefront, shattering the window. Pushing against the building with its wings, the creature attempted to push itself back out of the wreckage. Lifting her battle axe over her head with both hands, Blue Tara flung the axe at the monster and split its head open. The gagit collapsed onto the sidewalk. The pterodactyls in the sky banked to the south and flew out of sight in the direction of Mt. Rainier.
“Glad I don’t have to clean up that mess,” Jean said, looking down the street at the wrecked storefront with a pterodactyl as big as a fighter jet in the window.
“Hamatsa is desperate,” Blue Tara said. “He’s throwing everything he’s got at us. He’s coming after us. It’s a sign of how much he fears us.”
Michael noticed that a crowd of people had gathered on the street, staring and pointing at the Taras. No doubt they had never imagined, let alone seen, a naked glowing blue skinned Amazon warrior with a battle axe, or a four armed almost naked red skinned witch with a long bow.
“Say,” Michael said. “Maybe we should get out of here. You seem to be attracting a lot of attention,” he added, looking at the Taras. Perfectly understandable attention, he thought to himself.
“You are right,” Blue Tara replied. She screeched, and Michael found himself on his knees in the Ballard apartment inside the St. Charles Hotel trying to protect his ears with his hands, along with Jean, Margarita, Aboo, and the three Taras, Blue, Black, and Red. Jean took Michael’s arms and helped him to his feet.
“My head just can’t take much more of this,” Michael insisted. Michael stepped to the bay window and looked up the street to the crowd of people gathered around the dead pterodactyls. “They’re going to have some wild stories to tell their grandkids,” he said. Then, looking down, he cried, “Oh, shit!”
Jean and the Taras rushed up to the window. Jean looked down at the sidewalk and screamed. “I thought you killed it!” she cried.
Bokwus stood on the sidewalk across the street from the St. Charles Hotel, looking up at the window. Passersby screamed at the sight of the living skeleton, and ran.
“There may be more than one,” Michael said. “They all look alike.”
“You crushed its skull,” Jean replied.
“He did say you can’t kill what’s already dead.”
“I need a beer,” Blue Tara said, walking back to the kitchen. “As long as we stay together Hamatsa’s ghouls can not harm us. He is trying to distract us and confuse us. We need to stay focused on our plan to search for the tlogwe.”
“How many other kinds of monsters are out there?” Jean asked. “Are we safe here, what with a living skeleton spying on us?”
“There is safety in our numbers, as long as we stay together,” Blue Tara replied, grabbing a can of Rainier out of the fridge. “You need to get us some more beer. This is the last can.”
Once again Blue Tara screeched without warning and Michael slapped his hands over his ears and squeezed his eyes shut to try to shut out the pain of the head popping screech. The din of hundreds of squawking and shrieking birds assaulted his eardrums. Hesitantly he opened his eyes. They were back at Charlie’s bird store, all except for Aboo, the blue and gold macaw. Blue Tara stood in front of Michael drinking her can of beer. She handed Michael the magic harpoon. “Do not lose this,” she commanded. “It may save your life.”
“Lordy! Lordy!” Charlie stepped up to the group, hands on his hips, admiring the two naked and almost naked Amazon witches. “Did you folks see those giant birds that flew overhead? They even scared my birds. You could hear a pin fall in here when they flew over.”
“They’re not birds,” Michael replied. “They are gagits. Flying monsters. Pterodactyls. Living dinosaurs.”
“What were they doing?” Charlie asked.
“They were coming for the Taras,” Michael replied. “We killed two of them.”
“The Taras killed two of them,” Jean interjected.
“Right,” Michael added.
“We need to return to the city of the dead,” Blue Tara told Charlie, polishing off her beer.
Hamatsa had his gloved hand on my neck and he squeezed so hard I almost passed out. His body reeked of the stench of death.
“Master,” Kinqalatlala entreated him.” “He is our best chance to capture Blue Tara. If you destroy him we lose that chance.”
Hamatsa released his grip on my neck and I collapsed to the ground. He reached down and grabbed my shoulders and pulled me to my feet.
“This pathetic excuse of a man does not deserve another chance,” Hamatsa said. “However, I give him to you as a play thing to do with as you wish. On the condition you complete my instructions.”
“Yes master,” Kinqalatlala replied.
Hamatsa pushed me into Kinqalatlala’s arms, turned, and disappeared into the longhouse. Kinqalatlala put her arms over my shoulders and pulled me to her. She licked my lips and stuck her tongue into my mouth. “Kiss me,” she commanded. “You heard the master. You are my slave now.” I stood unmoving. “Kiss me, or you’ll be damned to Hell!” She pressed her breasts against my chest, her lips against my lips, and her tongue against my tongue. I squirmed out of her grasp and pushed her away from me.
“Shouldn’t we be looking for the tlogwe?” I asked.
“We have all of eternity to search for the tlogwe. You are dead. Or have you forgotten?”
With her tongue sticking in my mouth I almost had forgotten I was dead. This certainly was not anything like what I ever imagined death might be like. I was relieved that Jean was not here with me.
“Assuming you find the tlogwe,” Kinqalatlala said, “what do you intend to do with the magic it will bring you, if it is granted to you?”
“Are you kidding? It should be obvious. Destroy Hamatsa. Destroy the Winalagalis. Bring down Dear Leader. Destroy you.”
“Why would you do that, even if you could?” Kinqalatlala asked me, putting her hands on my shoulders. “Hamatsa wants to save your world. Dear Leader only wants peace and prosperity for his people. I wish you no harm,” she added as she quickly kissed me.
“Would you stop that,” I responded. “Hamatsa is trying to subjugate my world. Dear Leader is a self-absorbed narcissistic megalomaniac who has substituted a cult of personality for government.”
“We could be friends. And allies,” Kinqalatlala said, kissing me again.
“Oh, for chrissakes!” I grabbed her arms and pulled her to me and pressed my lips against hers, kissing her as hard as I could. “Is that what you want?” I asked, pushing her away from me.
“It’s a start.”
“We could never be allies, let alone friends, as long as you serve Hamatsa. Hamatsa wants to destroy the Taras. I can’t have that.”
“The Taras are witches. They have bewitched you. You need to beware the Taras. You don’t understand the kind of forces you are allied with. As far as Hamatsa is concerned, I have already explained to you my relationship with Hamatsa. And how we can help each other.”
“I will help you search for the tlogwe, only because I don’t think I have any choice in the matter. But one way or another, I will destroy Hamatsa. And you!” I turned and walked into the longhouse.
“Where are you going?” Kinqalatlala asked.
“I want to see where Hamatsa disappeared to.” I looked inside. The longhouse sat completely empty. “There must be some kind of portal in here that allows Hamatsa to travel between the world of the living and the world of the dead.”
“Hamatsa’s magic is beyond your comprehension,” Kinqalatlala replied. “You are only avoiding the task at hand to search for the tlogwe. I know you are stalling in the hope that the Taras rescue you. But it is a lost hope.”
Well, I could hope, I thought to myself. “Fine,” I said. I stepped out of the longhouse and started walking into the forest behind it.
“Where are you going?” Kinqalatlala asked.
“What do you think? Searching for the tlogwe.”
“But where are you going?” she repeated, as she ran after me.
“Searching for the tlogwe.” I stopped and faced her. “I don’t have a clue which way to go or even what I’m looking for. So I’m just going to go and hope for the best. Unless you can point me in the right direction. This way looks as good as any,” I added, pointing into the trees.
Kinqalatlala took my arm in her hand. “Brash actions can have undesirable consequences,” she said. “You should not just charge off into the unknown without a clear idea of what you are doing and where you are going.”
I got the distinct impression that Kinqalatlala was the one stalling now.
“You know something,” I said. “You should just tell me.”
“If only it was that simple,” she replied. “You need to prove yourself first.”
Now I knew that Kinqalatlala knew something that she wasn’t telling me.
“You’re talking in riddles now,” I said. “I’m not very good with riddles.”
“Life is a riddle. And death is a riddle. To find life requires solving the riddle of death.”
Kinqalatlala took my hand in hers. “The future is a riddle. Don’t you wish you could see your future? See if you have a future?” If you help me I can show you magic that will not only let you see your future but shape it.”
“I seriously doubt such magic exists,” I replied. “Or you would already know where to find the tlogwe.”
“You do not know that I may already know where the tlogwe is.”
“There’s an old riddle about the future,” I replied. “I never was, am always to be. No one ever saw me, nor ever will. And yet I am the confidence of all, to live and breath on this terrestrial ball.”
“There is another old riddle,” Kinqalatlala responded. “What begins and has no end? What is the ending of all that begins?”
“That’s easy. Why, death of course.”
“But all I have shown you should convince you that is not true. Death can have an end just as life can have an end. I can give you the magic to allow you to travel between life and death.”
“Yes. But at what cost? To be your slave for the rest of eternity?”
“There are worse fates.”
“Not many. And why would you want me for your sex slave? I’m just a retired history professor. There must be all kinds of studs and jocks in the world you could corral into your stable.”
“But none as special as you,” Kinqalatlala replied. “Of all the studs and jocks as you call them in your city, Blue Tara picked you. That is the riddle I want most to solve. Why did she pick a goofy retired history professor?”
“Goofy? What does that mean?”
Kinqalatlala put her arms over my shoulders. “I’m just teasing you. You are a very special man. And I want to discover what makes you so special.”
“Right now I sure don’t feel special, what with being dead and all.”
“Yes, but you are special even in the manner of your death. Blue Tara chose you for a specific reason. She knew you must die. And she knew you must die at my hand.” Kinqalatlala raised her hand and as she looked at her fingers her hand transformed into a narrow steel blade. She ran the tip of the blade across my cheek. I felt a sharp pain as the blade cut my skin, and I could feel blood trickling down my neck. The blade reverted to her hand and she rubbed my blood across my cheek with her fingers and licked the blood with her tongue.
“Well, I guess I had to be dead to search for the tlogwe. The tlogwala will only give the treasure of the tlogwe to one brave enough to enter the realm of the dead. But it’s not like you gave me a choice.”
“Only someone who can prove themselves worthy of that magic can receive the gift of the tlogwe. And of all the people Blue Tara could choose, she chose you. She thinks you are worthy.”
“When the Taras show up to kick your butt I will ask her why she chose me. Why did Hamatsa choose you to be his slave. And not turn you into a zombie?”
“My master chose me because I am special as well.”
“I am Dluwulaxa, one of those who descend from the heavens. My people reside in a city in the sky. The sky is my world, and the sun is my father. All the heavens serve as our playground where we can fly and soar among the sun and stars.”
“So how did you fall in with Hamatsa?”
“Our weakness is curiosity. My people are safe as long as we stay in our world above the clouds. But on occasion someone of us is enticed to explore the wonders of the world below the clouds. Once that someone was me. And Hamatsa captured me. Once we are forced to descend to your world we take on the form of your people.”
“How does Hamatsa prevent you from simply flying back into the sky?”
“Once we cease being Dluwulaxa, we are no longer able to return to our original form.”
“What is it that makes you special to Hamatsa? Special enough to make you his slave? Are you his sex slave?”
“Hamatsa has no use for sex. He eats people. He doesn’t sleep with them.”
“So what makes you special to Hamatsa?” I asked again.
“I am what you call a shapeshifter. I can take many forms. People. Animals. Objects. I do Hamatsa’s bidding. I procure the bodies he needs to feed on. I root out his enemies and destroy them.” She raised her hand again and watched her fingers transform back into a steel blade.
A revelation struck me as if a light bulb turned on in my head. “You were a bird!” I exclaimed. “You’re a Tara.”
“Bird, yes. Tara, no.”
“Maybe you’re not a Tara. But you know where the tlogwe is. What I don’t understand is, why you need me if you already know where it is?”
“I need you to find the tlogwe. Only those deemed worthy by the tlogwala are able to receive the gift of the tlogwe.”
“You’re talking in riddles again. I’m guessing Hamatsa is preventing you from revealing the location of the tlogwe. . . Or. . . “ Kinqalatlala’s piercing black eyes drilled into my brain. “Hamatsa is the tlogwala.”
You’re going to need more than that stick to take on the demons,” Charlie told Michael, “if you’re going back underground into the spirit world.”
“This is a magic harpoon,” Michael replied. It kills anything it’s pointed at. Anything smaller than a pterodactyl anyway.”
“Just in case, I brought in some hardware from home. I was a Boy Scout a hundred years ago, and I still believe in the Boy Scout motto, ‘Be Prepared’.” Charlie walked into his storeroom and returned with another 45 Smith and Wesson, and a double barreled pump action shotgun. Charlie gave the weapons to Jean and she buckled the gun belt around her waist, and slung the shotgun over her shoulder. “And here’s an electric torch and a bag of extra clips and shotgun shells. That’s a 12 gauge. A double barrel of that will stop Sasquatch. But be careful when you fire it. It kicks like a bucking brahma bull.”
“I’ve fired many a shotgun in my life,” Jean replied. “I know my way around shotguns.”
“You do?” Michael responded.
Charlie looked over the Taras. “I’m guessing you ladies do just fine with the weapons you have. Anything else I can get you before you go?”
“Got any beer?” Blue Tara asked.
“Beer? Why no. But tell you what, honey. You bring your friend back in one piece and I’ll buy you a case of Stella Artois.”
“Is that a beer?” Blue Tara asked.
“Best there is.” Charlie pried open the trap door to the secret basement and dropped the ladder into the darkness. With the light from her glowing blue skin to illuminate the way, Blue Tara climbed down the ladder first, followed by Jean, Michael, with Margarita riding his shoulder, and Red Tara. “Godspeed,” Charlie said as he dropped the trap door closed.
Following the trail of the original expedition proved easier than expected, because they could simply follow the footprints in the dirt and mud. Then they discovered extra sets of footprints converging on the original prints. Large footprints.
“Everyone be alert,” Blue Tara commanded. “We had company we were not aware of,” she added.
When they retraced their steps into the basement with the dead laxsa, they found the body of the laxsa, still dead, but sitting back in the chair with its head reattached. "Another warning," Blue Tara said. Blue Tara grabbed her battle axe and with one swipe removed it once again.
Coming out into the streetscape from the basements, Michael stopped and slowly scanned the storefronts along the street. “What?” Jean asked.
“Do you hear that?” Michael replied.
“The piano playing.”
“Oh God. Not you too?”
“Not me too, what?”
“Too many John Wayne movies. Next thing you know you’ll be in the middle of a shootout at the OK Corral.”
“That was Burt Lancaster. Not John Wayne. And what do you call that?” Michael responded, pointing down the street.”
Six creatures stood at the end of the block, shoulder to shoulder, clubs in their hands, blocking the street.
"What are they?" Jean asked.
“Dzonoqwa,” Michael said. “Beings of immense physical power.”
Gigantic, the creatures stood easily seven feet tall. Skin hidden under thick mats of greasy black hair that shined like fur. Menacing claws could be seen on the hands holding the clubs.
“Sasquatch,” Jean said, pulling the shotgun off her shoulder. “My brothers and I saw one once years ago when I was a kid. We were hunting varmints in the wilderness east of Rainier. We never told anyone.”
The six Dzonoqwa raised their clubs over their heads and charged, screaming wildly. Jean bent down on one knee, aimed and fired both barrels of her shotgun. The recoil knocked her back on her butt. The heads of two creatures in the middle of the line disappeared and their bodies tumbled backwards. Red Tara nocked an arrow in her bow and aimed at one of the flanking creatures. The arrow pierced its skull squarely between its eyes. The creature stumbled forward and sprawled dead on the cobblestones. Michael aimed the magic harpoon first at one charging Dzonoqwa. Then another. They collapsed. Blue Tara stepped forward with her battle axe raised over her head as the last Dzonoqwa halted about ten feet away from her. Grunting incomprehensibly, the creature waved its club wildly while twisting and turning its head. When it realized its companions were dead the creature dropped the tip of its club to the cobblestones.
“We mean you no harm,” Michael said, holding his magic harpoon at the ready.
“The fuck we don’t,” Jean retorted, pointing her shotgun at the Dzonoqwa’s head.
“Do you understand anything we say?” Michael asked. “Who sent you?”
Looking back at its fallen companions sprawled out across the cobblestones, the Dzonoqwa screamed and raised its club. Before it could take a step forward, Blue Tara swung her battle axe and separated the creature’s head from its body. The body tumbled to the cobblestones at Blue Tara’s feet, which turned red with blood.
“That was impressive,” Michael remarked. “Wonder what that was all about?”
“Hamatsa’s slaves are legion,” Blue Tara replied. “He knows we’re coming and he’s going to do everything he can to stop us.”
“Oh my!” Jean exclaimed. “Look!” she cried, pointing along the street. A skeleton. A living skeleton appeared out of a basement and slowly walked toward Jean and Michael and the Taras.
“Oh shit,” Michael said. “Bokwus again. Chief of the Dead.”
Bokwus stepped up to within a few feet of the group and stopped.
“What do you want?” Michael asked, holding the magic harpoon in front of him.
“I come for Blue Tara,” Bokwus replied. “My master has commanded me to take Blue Tara to him.”
“Fuck that,” Jean said as she raised her shotgun to Bokwus’ skull and pulled the trigger.
Another living skeleton appeared out of a basement door and stepped forward, but not quite so far as the first. “How many of them are there?” Jean asked in frustration.
“More than one, apparently,” Michael replied. “I don’t understand what Hamatsa is doing. They don’t seem to be armed. Or dangerous.”
“Their intent is simply to harass us,” Blue Tara replied. She stepped up to the living skeleton and with one swing of her battle axe lopped off its skull. “We must continue forward,” she said.
Yet another living skeleton appeared in a basement doorway. Michael pointed the magic harpoon at the creature, but the skeleton kept walking forward.
“You can’t kill what’s already dead with that thing, remember?” Jean said as she aimed her shotgun and pulled the trigger. Jean charged into the basement, kicking the bones out of the way. With her shotgun at her shoulder, she scanned the room, ready to fire. Michael and the Taras followed behind her. The room appeared to be completely empty.
Margarita trailed into the basement on Michael’s heels. She growled and spun into the air as another living skeleton burst into the room behind them. The black dervish flashed her claws of steel and separated the skeleton’s skull from its body.
“Bokwus is persistent, if nothing else,” Michael remarked.
“We are almost there,” Jean called out from the back of the room. She stood looking out another doorway. The Taras walked through the doorway as Michael followed behind.
“Oh my God!” he exclaimed, looking out onto a forested landscape, the realm of the dead. “How is this even possible?” He looked back at the empty basement, and stepped through the doorway. “It’s like we just stepped into another dimension,” he said.
“You are correct,” Blue Tara replied. “We have entered another time and space. Hopefully the same time and space your friend is lost in.”
“Now you’re starting to scare me,” Michael responded.
“You’re scared?” Jean replied. “You should have witnessed what we witnessed the first time here. Then you’d have reason to be scared.”
“We need to stay together,” Red Tara remarked.
“Kurukulla is correct,” Blue Tara replied. “We can protect each other. If you get separated,” she added, looking directly at Michael, “there is nothing we can do for you. You would be at Hamatsa’s mercy.”
“Hamatsa has no mercy,” Red Tara responded.
“Where do we go from here?” Michael asked.
“Looks like we just keep following the trail,” Jean replied, as she pointed into the trees.
“Oh shit!” Michael exclaimed. Another living skeleton stepped out of the forest. This one was not alone. An army of white phantoms appeared out of the trees behind it, stretching as far as could be seen in either direction. “The army of the dead. We’re fucked.”
The living skeleton, Bokwus, Chief of the Dead, stepped forward. “I come to take Blue Tara,” he commanded.
“What do you intend to do with Blue Tara?” Michael replied.
“My master has commanded me to bring Blue Tara to him.”
“What do we do now?” Jean asked.
“The army of the dead can’t be killed,” Michael replied.
“Well, we’re not giving up Blue Tara,” Jean responded, as she aimed her shotgun at Bokwus’ skull and pulled the trigger.
Another living skeleton emerged from the forest and stepped through the line of phantoms. “I come to take Blue Tara,” it repeated.
“Anybody have any ideas?” Michael pleaded. “This could go on for an eternity. Eventually we’re going to run out of ammo.”
“We ignore them,” Blue Tara replied.
“What?” Michael and Jean responded simultaneously.
“We ignore them,” Blue Tara repeated. The army of the dead can not be defeated. But we are not dead. The army of the dead has no influence among the living. As long as we stay alive the army of the dead can not harm us.”
“Are you sure?” Michael asked dubiously.
“We continue forward,” Blue Tara replied. “We will find out soon enough if I am right.”
“If you are right? I’m not reassured,” Michael said. “What if you’re wrong?”
“We will know soon enough.” The Taras commenced walking forward. Blue Tara held her battle axe ready, and Red Tara her long bow. Michael and Jean quickly ran to catch up, with Margarita at their heels. They walked past Bokwus, who turned to watch them as they passed. They walked through the line of phantoms. Michael swept his hand through one of the apparitions. He felt a slight tingling, but figured it could just as well be a case of nerves as anything else. As they stepped into the forest they heard Bokwus repeat his refrain, “I come to take Blue Tara.”
Kinqalatlala took my hand in hers. “We must leave,” she told me.
“That’s what I planned to do,” I replied, “Until you stopped me. I wish you’d just tell me where the tlogwe is. Where is Hamatsa? Is Hamatsa the tlogwala?”
“You do not understand. We must leave before they find us.”
“Before who finds us?”
“Your friends are on their way to rescue you. We must not allow that to happen.”
“What?” I exclaimed. “Bull! Shit! I’m going to stay right here until they get here. I knew it!” I cried out. “I knew Jean and Blue Tara would come back for me.”
“You do not understand,” Kinqalatlala repeated. “They can not help you. They do not possess the Water of Life. If they take your body back to their world, all hope is lost.”
“You mean if they take me back to my world. And how do you know they are coming. You haven’t left my sight. Are you telepathic or something?”
“This is your world now,” Kinqalatlala replied. “Their world is no longer your world. You are dead to them. You are dead to your world. You are dead. You must continue the search for the tlogwe. If they find you they will only find your dead body.”
“Tell me where to go, for god sakes,” I replied, exasperated.
“I’ll do better than that. I’ll show you.” Kinqalatlala whistled, and looked into the sky. Soon I could hear the flapping of enormous wings. Wings pounding the air like pile drivers. Two great winged creatures appeared overhead. Gagits. The pterodactyls. They circled over the trees and glided to a landing in the clearing in front of the longhouse.
With their huge scale covered feet and giant claws they awkwardly stepped up to me and Kinqalatlala, dropping their heads to the ground. Their breath, the putrid stench of death, caused me to take a couple of steps back.
“Mount their necks,” Kinqalatlala commanded. “We will ride them into the sky.” She straddled the neck of one of the gagits, taking clumps of long greasy hair in her hands for reins.
“Do as I do,” she said. Holding my breath, I gingerly climbed onto the neck of the second gagit. “Hold onto their hair,” she commanded.
Turning and taking several halting steps, the creatures flapped their wings and leaped into the air, climbing and banking to the south. I could see Mount Rainier towering on the horizon before me.
“Where are we going?” I yelled at Kinqalatlala over the noise of the flapping wings.
“We are going to the city of the Dluwulaxa. To my world above the clouds. You have much to learn about me.”
“I think I know just about everything I want to know about you,” I replied.
“You need to understand why we should be allies and not enemies,” she said. Like that would ever happen, I thought to myself. I peered over the gagit’s neck and watched the landscape pass rapidly below me. The pterodactyl proved to be much better at flying than I expected. The slow steady flapping of the immense wings made for a smooth ride on the gagit’s neck. Furthermore, the heat radiating from the creature’s body kept me pleasantly warm even at altitude. We were riding well above tree top level, and climbing steadily. Mount Rainier loomed ever larger before us in its glacier capped glory. A massive lenticular cloud obscured Rainier’s peak. The gagits flew directly for the cloud.
The gagits flew a lazy circle around the summit and to my total amazement landed on top of the lenticular cloud shrouding Rainier’s peak. A translucent sheet of crystal at our feet extended in every direction as far as I could see in the cloud. Wisps of cloud drifted over us, giving the scene an eerily surreal aspect. Kinqalatlala jumped off the gagit and took my hand, helping me dismount. “Come with me,” she said, as the pterodactyls flapped their wings and took flight, disappearing into the clouds.
Seemingly appearing out of thin air, a building loomed before us. Translucent crystal walls shimmered white in the blazing sunlight above the clouds. Kinqalatlala led me to the door. I stood mystified in front of the structure. I ran my hand over the cool crystal surface. “The furies,” I said. “Crystal made the furies fly.”
“Come with me,” Kinqalatlala replied. We entered the building. Stepping inside I stopped, stunned. A vast expanse of nothingness opened up before me. As far as I could see. Nothing but sky and clouds. Innumerable birds cavorted through the sky and landed on clouds to rest. Large birds. Small birds. Black birds. Red birds. Blue birds. Green birds. Brown birds. Brightly rainbow colored birds. Flying. Circling. Soaring. Gliding with the wind. Birds stood on the translucent floor preening themselves.
“”Dluwulaxa,” Kinqalatlala said. “Welcome to my world.”
“This is incredible,” I replied, stunned. “This is your home?”
“Yes. These are Dluwulaxa. These are my people.”
“Can they see us? Talk to us””
“Unfortunately, no. Remember, you are not of the living. They do not see us.”
“And there is no way for you to revert back to your original form?”
“There may be one way,” she replied.
“What is that?”
“The one with the tlogwe may possess the magic to make that possible.”
“So that’s why you want me to find the tlogwe. To help you become Dluwulaxa again.”
“And I can help you,” Kinqalatlala replied. I gave her a blank stare. “I can give you the freedom of the sky. If you find the tlogwe and restore me to my world, you would possess the magic to join me in my world.”
“By becoming a bird?”
“By becoming anything you wanted to be. You would possess that magic. You could make a home here in the world of the Dluwulaxa with me. A home free from strife. Free from conflict. Free from want. Free from jealousy. Free from pain. Free from Hamatsa.”
“Shangri-La,” I responded. “But at what cost? By becoming your slave?”
“By becoming my partner.” She placed her arms over my shoulders and pulled me to her, her breasts in my chest. She kissed me. “Every dream. Every fantasy you have could be realized. I could show you a life of perfect freedom.”
“And give up my world to be ground down by Hamatsa and the Winalagalis?” I pushed her away from me. “Lady, I have a life. I want to get back to it.” I turned and walked through the door back onto the cloud.