Saturday, February 3, 2018

Book Four of the Princess Tara Chronicles

Coming Spring 2018


Chapter One Part One

Princess Tara and I sat on a metal folding chair outside my favorite Seattle coffee shop, Caffe Umbria, in the center of the quaint old fishing village and mill town of Ballard, my neighborhood in north Seattle. I sat on the folding chair, leaning back against the shop window. Princess Tara sat on my lap studying a cup of coffee, an iced americano in a plastic cup, on the table next to us. I gazed across the street at the old Ballard City Hall bell tower purposely avoiding the stares of customers marching into or out of the coffee shop. I tried to pretend there wasn’t a gigantic gorgeously blue parrot sitting on my lap trying to carry on a conversation with me about my coffee.

Princess Tara pinned one of her big black eyes directly at my face. Because her eyes were set on opposite sides of her head she could only pin one big black eye at me at a time. This made the eye pinning even more disconcerting to me. I kept my eyes focused on the crows cavorting on the bell tower. Princess Tara dropped her head and seized my thumb with her beak. She squeezed. Hard.

“Ouch!” I blurted out. I dropped my gaze to Princess Tara’s huge black beak squeezing my thumb. With the equipment to exert three hundred pounds per square inch, that beak could take my thumb clean off, if she wanted to. Thankfully, she generally did not want to.

“I want a frappuccino,” Princess Tara insisted. She knocked her beak against my iced americano. I yanked my thumb out of her beak and grabbed the cup before it fell over. I looked up. A young couple standing next to the table looked down at me. They held hands. Their free hands held coffee cups they had just purchased in the shop. I studied their hands. Dark skinned. Probably Middle Eastern. Most likely Amazon or Microsoft techies. The woman flashed a brilliant grin at me. “What a beautiful bird,” she said. “Does it talk?”

I stared up at her face, her gleaming ivory smile. Of course the bird talks, I thought to myself. The woman just heard her talk. Maybe she thought I was a ventriloquist. “Oh yeah,” I finally replied. “When she wants to.”

“Can you make it talk?” the man asked.

Princess Tara cocked her head to look up at the man. “Can’t you see we are trying to drink our coffee?” she exclaimed. The man jumped back a step. His coffee sloshed out of his cup and across his coat. The woman’s grin morphed into a frown. She danced away, pulling her boyfriend with her. They parked at the table farthest from us. The man kept staring back at me uncomfortably.

Princess Tara yanked my thumb to bring my attention back to her. “I want a frappuccino,” she repeated.

I glared down at her as I picked up the cup and took a sip of my iced americano. “They don’t have frappuccinos here,” I insisted. “Anyway, I drink americanos.” I set the cup on the table. Princess Tara’s head dropped to the cup. Her beak bopped up and down like one of those plastic dunking birds.

“Coffee can’t be good for your parrot,” a woman’s voice reproached me. I looked up. A woman stood next to the table, coffee cup in her hand, looking down at me. More precisely, she stared down at Princess Tara. “Should your bird be drinking coffee?” she continued. I made a mental note not to sit at the table next to the door again. Especially this time of day, too late for the lunch crowd, too early for the after work rush, when the tables were mostly empty.

Princess Tara raised her head and shook coffee off her beak. She cocked her head and pinned a coal black eye on the woman. “Mind your own business,” Princess Tara flatly said.

The woman laughed. Not the response I expected. She set her coffee latte down and swung a chair around from the adjacent table. She slid into the chair before I could respond. “Did I hear that right?” she asked, her eyes fixed on Princess Tara in bemusement. She looked up at me. “You’re not a ventriloquist or anything like that?” she asked as she peered into my face. I glared back into her eyes. What is she? A goddamned mind reader? I pondered. She extended her hand across the table. “My name’s Circe,” she added.

I reluctantly took her hand. “Jason,” I replied. A shock, like static electricity, jumped from her hand to mine. I reflexively tried to yank my hand back. She gripped my hand in hers.

“Sorry,” she said. “I think it’s the unusual dryness for Seattle this time of year. I get static shocks everywhere.”

“No problem,” I lied. Her deep blue eyes captivated me. Deep blue as the cobalt blue of Princess Tara’s feathers. Penetrating as a winter rain squall blowing off Elliott Bay. Princess Tara clamped down on my thumb again. “Ouch!” I exclaimed. I pulled my hand out of Circe’s grip.

“Finally some decent coffee,” Princess Tara said. She hopped off my lap onto the table and scampered to Circe’s cup. She plunked her beak into the latte.

“Careful that’s too hot!” Circle cried out. She tried to pull the cup away. Princess Tara batted Circe’s hand away with her beak. “Just like a hyacinth,” Circe quipped as she flashed me a broad smile.

“You know what a hyacinth is?” I asked, my surprise reflected in my voice.

“Of course,” Circe replied. “I have one of my own.”

“What?” I exclaimed. Princess Tara’s head popped up. Her wings stretched across the table, nearly knocking my coffee cup over.

“That’s right,” Circe said. “A sweetheart named Abigail.”

I stared at Circe in bewilderment over my iced americano. Lithe. Unnaturally red hair. Short cropped to give her a tomboyish cast. Gold chain wrapped around her neck with some kind of stone talisman hanging from the chain. Rings of every imaginable variety adorned her fingers. Sterling. Gold. Hemp. Leather. Jade. Brass. Copper. None that appeared to be a wedding ring. She looked thoroughly northwest. Blue jeans. White tee shirt. Brown down vest. Blue fleece jacket. No discernable makeup.

She smiled. “I didn’t mean to interrupt you. It’s just that you don’t see too many hyacinth macaw parrots around. You don’t mind do you?”

Are you kidding? I thought to myself. “Quite all right,” I replied. “You seem to have made a new friend,” I added, nodding at Princess Tara, her beak back to bopping into Circe’s coffee.

“Seriously,” Circe said, “should your bird be drinking coffee? I’ve heard it’s bad for parrots.”

I peered at Circe over my coffee cup as I took a sip of my iced americano. “I guess a little coffee never hurt anybody. You better grab your coffee though, before Princess Tara drinks it all,” I quipped.

“Princess Tara? She’s royalty?” Circe gingerly reached her hand toward Tara’s beak and took hold of the cup. “She’s a she, then?” Circe pulled the coffee cup back to her. Princess Tara flung her head up and shook the coffee off her beak.

“Yes. And yes. She’s a she. She’s also a real princess. Her parents are a Duke and a Duchess.”

“Cool. How long have you had her?”

“Just a few months actually.”

“And you take her out without a harness? Her wings clipped?”

“Oh no. She’s fully flighted. She flies when she wants to.”

“My God!” Circe exclaimed. “And you’re not afraid she’ll fly away? I’d be scared to death to take Abigail out of the house.”

“Princess Tara’s always come back so far,” I chuckled, more wistfully than humorously.

“Where’d you get her?” Circe stretched her hand across the table and placed it on my arm. “Sorry to give you the third degree.”

“Oh, I’m used to it. Got her at Charlie’s Bird Store down at the Market.” True Seattleites simply referred to the famous Pike Place Market as ‘the Market’.

“I know Charlie,” Circe replied with a grin. “That’s where I buy Abby’s food.” Circe offered her coffee latte to Princess Tara. Tara fluffed her feathers up and retreated to my lap. Remarkable, I thought. I’d never seen Tara refuse coffee before.

“Abby?” I queried. “That’s your bird’s name? And she’s a she, too?”

“Yep. Abby. Short for Abigail. She’s also a female.”

I felt Princess Tara’s claws clamp into my thigh. “You live here in Ballard?” I ventured. Over Circe’s shoulder I noticed the Middle Eastern couple jump to their feet and hurriedly gather their possessions. Princess Tara hopped onto the table. She stretched her head up. Her feathers stuck out like a giant blue pincushion.

“Hold up!” a voice commanded. The Middle Eastern couple froze. A trio of cops strode up to them. Not blue clad Seattle Police. A trio of black clad federal Deportation Police. Black boots. Black pants. Black shirts. Black coats. Black bullet proof vests. Only part of their uniforms not black were the words


ICE
POLICE

stamped across the back of their coats in big white block letters. Born out of chaos and fear, perfectly suited to become Dear Leader’s personal Praetorian Guard.

The Middle Eastern couple turned to face the cops, their heads drooping submissively. “We’re not doing anything wrong,” the man pleaded. Circe pivoted in her chair to take in the scene.

One of the three goons put his arm out and shoved the man backwards. “That’s for us to decide!” he barked. The cop stepped forward, arm extended. He pushed the man back into his chair. “Stand up!” the cop ordered.

To say I was surprised to see Deportation Police in Seattle would be a gross understatement. More like astonishment. The goons had made themselves scarce within the city limits following the recent collapse of Dear Leader’s puppet regime. With the restoration of the lawfully elected mayor, loyal Seattle Police assisted by the Washington National Guard flushed the Deportation Police out of the city. The appearance of uniformed Deportation Police on the streets of Seattle this soon after the restoration of civil government could only be interpreted as a provocation by federal authorities.

“Stand up!” the cop demanded again. Thoroughly perplexed, the man rose to his feet. The cop shoved him back into the chair. Tall. Gaunt. An unusually pale face even by Seattle standards. His head capped with a shock of unruly white hair. Eyes hidden under black wraparound sunglasses. “Stand up!” the cop barked at the visibly distressed man. The cop grabbed the man’s shoulders and pulled him to his feet. “Stand up when I tell you to stand up!” he snarled. I thought I caught a glimpse of a fang protruding through his lips. The cop’s gloved hand whipped out and struck the man on his chin. The man fell back into the chair and toppled over onto the sidewalk.

The young woman screamed. Circe rose out of her chair. I reached across the table to grab Circe’s arm. Circe looked at me quizzically. I shook my head and mouthed the word ‘no’.

The young woman turned to assist her friend. One of the other cops seized her shoulder and spun her back around. His gloved hand smacked her in the side of her head and knocked her across the curb onto the street. Circe jumped to her feet. “What are you doing?” she cried out. The third cop pulled his machine gun off his shoulder. I put my hand to my face. This day was not going to end well, I thought to myself. I peeked through the fingers of my hand. One of Princess Tara’s coal black eyes burned back into mine. Circe ran to the woman sprawled across the pavement and pulled her to a sitting position. Blood trickled down her neck from a nasty bruise across the side of her face.

“Mind your own business,” the tall cop responded, “before I arrest you for aiding and abetting.”

Circe jumped to her feet, her face flushed red with anger. The cop towered over her. She craned her head back to yell at the cop. “You don’t have any jurisdiction here!” The cop grabbed Circe’s arm. “Stop it!” Circe screamed. “You’re hurting me.”

I jumped to my feet and pushed the table away. The coffee cups flew over the side. Princess Tara squawked and leaped into the air, her wings extended. The third cop pointed his machine gun at me and racked the charging handle. I could see him squeeze the trigger. Circe could too. She screamed. I put my hands out defensively and pressed my eyes closed. Princess Tara screeched. I waited for the burst of machine gun fire. I heard. . . nothing.

“What the fuck!” Circe exclaimed.

I opened my eyes. The Middle Eastern man pulled his friend to her feet and the couple ran down the sidewalk. Halfway down the block he took one hurried glance back over his shoulder at me, his face frozen in terror. I glanced up and down the sidewalk. The Deportation Police goons were gone. As in vanished. Disappeared. No cops. No black uniforms. No machine guns. Princess Tara rested on one of the tables, one foot tucked up into her feathers. One coal black eye followed me like a shadow. I breathed a sigh of relief.

Circe rushed over to me and grabbed my arms. “What just happened?” she asked breathlessly, her face blanched white as a Cascade snowpack.

I peered into her frightened eyes. “You don’t want to know,” I replied. I gave Princess Tara a questioning glance. Tara returned her inscrutable glare.

Circe’s hands gripped my arms. “I saw a blue woman,” she offered, her voice quivering. “A glowing blue woman,” she added haltingly. Circe’s deep blue eyes burrowed into mine, digging for answers. My eyes returned her gaze shyly and sheepishly. “You know something. What the fuck just happened?” Circe repeated.

“I don’t know,” I replied, truthfully. I honestly didn’t know. “My eyes were closed,” I clarified. “I thought that cop was going to shoot me.”

“This blue woman appeared out of a flash of blue light,” Circe added. “A completely naked blue woman.” I could feel my face flush. Circe’s eyes turned wide as saucers. “A completely naked blue woman with glowing blue skin. I saw her fling a huge axe at the cop with the machine gun. His head flew off his body. It rolled down the sidewalk. Then there was another flash of blue light and the blue woman, the cops, the head, they all disappeared.” I smiled weakly. Circe shook my arms. “You know something you’re not telling me.”

“I see you met my house mate,” a woman’s voice interrupted. Princess Tara squealed and hopped off the table onto the outstretched arm of a woman standing on the sidewalk next to us. Reasonably tall. Attractive. Athletic build. Pale Seattle skin. Long brunette hair tied back in a ponytail.

Circe glanced at the woman and dropped her hands from my arms. “Hi Jean,” she said, her face brightening. “You missed all the excitement.”

“He’s mine, you know?” Jean replied, nodding at me.

My eyes glanced back and forth between Circe and Jean in confusion. “You know each other?” I stammered.

“Hi hon,” Jean said to me. I smiled as my eyes ran up and down her toned body. Damn, she made the most casual clothes look good, I thought. She was decked out in black jeans. Blue cashmere sweater. Navy blue pea coat. Red Saucony running shoes. A red silk scarf wrapped around her neck. Linda Jean was her name. Her friends called her Jean. I called her my girlfriend. “Are you okay baby?” Jean asked me, a worried look on her face. She put a hand on my shoulder. I peered into her brown brooding eyes. I tried to collect my scattered thoughts. “I’m glad to see you too,” Jean smirked.

I stepped to Jean’s side and threw my arm over her shoulder. “Sorry sweetie.” I warily leaned over Princess Tara and kissed Jean. “I’m happy to see you too,” I added. “But the weirdest shit just went down.”


Chapter One Part Two

“What’d I miss?” Jean asked.

“I need to sit down,” Circe said. She sat down in her chair. “What I really need is a beer,” she said, to no one in particular, “but I’d settle for an espresso.”

I sat down. “How do you two know each other?” I asked.

“Are you kidding?” Jean replied. “Circe is my house mate.” Jean grabbed a nearby chair and dragged it over to the table. She slid onto the chair.

“I don’t think you ever told me who your house mate was,” I replied.

“Of course I did. Didn’t I?” Jean responded.

Princess Tara hopped onto the table. She tilted her head to peer up at Circe. “Did someone mention coffee?” she blurted out. Circe and Jean laughed.

“Someone needs to explain to me how it is this parrot talks this well,” Circe said. “You really are a ventriloquist? Right?” she added, gazing at me.

“Guess we could all use some coffee,” I said, wanting to change the subject. I started to get up.

Jean grabbed my arm to stop me. “My treat,” she offered. She jumped up and disappeared into the coffee shop.

“Frappuccino,” Princess Tara called out after Jean had already slipped through the door.

Circe’s deep blue eyes burrowed into mine. “How do you do that?” she asked.

“So you’re Jean’s house mate,” I deflected.

“I am. She’s never told you about me?”

“Not so much as your name,” I said. “Just that you’d probably kill her for being absent so much.”

“Actually I enjoyed having the place to myself. And her parrot is such a sweetie. He was no trouble at all. That’s why I decided to get my own parrot.”

“Jean never told you why she was absent so much?”

Circe winked one of her cobalt blue eyes at me. “Just that she met this incredible guy.”

“Really?”

“So you’re the guy?”

I thought I saw a glimmer of a snicker creep across her face. “Sorry to disappoint you.”

Circe’s face blushed. “Oh, not at all.”

Jean walked out of the shop with three cups of coffee in her hands. She set the cups on the table. An iced americano and two lattes.

“Apparently I’m not what you led Circe to believe I looked like,” I smirked. Jean dropped into a chair and picked up a latte.

“Which one is mine?” Princess Tara asked.

“See. Like that!” Circe exclaimed. “How does she do that?”

“Some parrots are just better talkers than others,” Jean suggested, glancing at me.

“Even your grey parrot doesn’t talk as well as Tara,” Circe replied. Princess Tara waddled across the table and dunked her beak in Circe’s latte. Circe grabbed the cup. “Here, we can share,” she offered.

“You never told me your house mate got a parrot,” I scolded Jean.

“I was going to,” Jean replied defensively, “but stuff kept getting in the way.”

“A hyacinth of all things,” I added.

“I’m sorry sweetie. I meant to tell you.” Jean took my hand in hers. “Now what were you going to tell me?” Jean’s brooding brown eyes questioned mine. I frantically tried to figure out what I could safely tell her without telling Circe anything she’d be better off not knowing.

“A bunch of Deportation Police goons assaulted an immigrant couple that were just minding their own business,” Circe blurted out.

Jean stared at Circe in surprise. “There was more,” I suggested.

“There was a naked woman with glowing blue skin,” Circe interrupted. “And a big axe.” I looked down at Princess Tara. Her head bopped up and down into Circe’s latte.

“Deportation Police? In Seattle?” Jean replied, with a sideways glance at me. “What happened to the cops?”

“One of the cops tried to shoot us. . . Tried to shoot Jason,” Circe stammered.

Jean gasped. She took a look down the sidewalk. “What happened?” she asked.

“The naked woman took the cop’s head off with her axe!” Circe exclaimed. “Then they disappeared. Vanished! The naked blue lady. The cops. The head. They all simply disappeared.” Circe’s face turned red as a beet. “I’m not making this up!” she insisted.

Jean took Circe’s hand. “I believe you,” she said.

“You do?” Circe replied.

“Yes.”

Circe looked at me. “What the fuck is going on? You know who that naked blue woman is? Don’t you?”

I took a long sip of my iced americano and stared into Circe’s pleading eyes. I knew there was a reason I didn’t want to get up this morning, I thought to myself.

“Yes I do,” I finally replied.

“Jason!” Jean exclaimed. “I wanted to keep Circe out of this.”

“Out of what? Circe responded, her voice expressing her bewilderment.

It was never a good sign when Jean called me by my real name, but I pushed my luck. “She deserves to know,” I replied. “It’s not a good sign that the Deportation Police are showing themselves in the city again.” Jean glared at me with the iciness of a Rainier glacier. “Something is happening. We need to alert Michael and Charlie.” Michael was my good friend and office mate from my teaching days at the U Dub, Seattle speak for the University of Washington. Charlie was the Charlie of Charlie’s Bird Store, where I first encountered Princess Tara.

“So who is the blue woman?” Circe insisted.

“You’re looking at her,” I replied.

“What?” Circe jerked her head up to stare at me. “Who?”

“Princess Tara,” I clarified, nodding at the bird bopping her beak into Circe’s latte. “Princess Tara is Blue Tara,” I added. “The mother of all the Taras.” Circe’s jaw dropped to the table.


∆∆∆

Michael cared to teach the banalities of the Peloponnesian War as much as his Western Civilization 101 students cared to learn it. Which was not much at all. Michael couldn’t stop staring at the clock hanging on the back wall of the lecture hall wishing for the long hand to drop to six so the bell would ring to end his class and put him out of his misery. Dr. Michael Bulgakov was probably my best friend not named Jean, and my former office mate from back in the days when I struggled to achieve tenure at the U Dub. Thanks to winning the lottery, I gave up on an academic career. Michael labored on, like Sisyphus pushing the proverbial boulder of tenure up the academic mountain. Michael epitomized the adjunct professor. Average height. Balding. Chunky in all the wrong places. Clark Gable mustache. Reading glasses he tried to hide from his students. He favored khaki cargo pants and Ralph Lauren polo shirts under his corduroy jacket, clothes he scavenged on regular trips to Goodwill.

“Professor?” a young lady asked from the front row, her hand waving in the air even though she sat directly in front of Michael. She was one of only two students sitting in the front row of the history lecture hall on the second floor of the U Dub’s Denny Hall, the history faculty building. That is, any faculty not struggling to achieve tenure. Michael knew that the other student sitting in the front row was the woman’s boyfriend, so not a history buff.

Michael glanced at his seating chart. “Yes, Mandy. You have a question about the Peloponnesian War?”

Several students sitting in the back rows of the lecture hall snickered. Except for the young lady and her boyfriend, the entire front half of the lecture hall sat empty. The windows flung wide open to welcome a gorgeous early Seattle spring afternoon served as explanation. Most of the students actually in attendance stared at their tablets and cellphones, or gazed out the window daydreaming of spring.

“Do we need to know any of this for the test?” the young lady asked innocently. A male student in the back row guffawed, drawing a scowl from the lady’s boyfriend.

Michael closed his eyes and dropped his chin to his chest. He peered up at the student. “Anything in my lectures is fair game,” he replied. Class evaluations would soon be due. Michael wondered if telling her she should be taking notes would be too condescending?

“Oh my god!” a student cried out from the back row. Mandy, her boyfriend, and all the other students in the class turned in their chairs with the hope of escaping the Peloponnesian War.

“Is everything okay?” Michael ventured, somewhat shocked at the reaction to his simple comment that his lecture material might appear in the test.

The student who cried out bolted out of his chair. “The Deportation Police have seized Sea-Tac Airport!” he exclaimed. “The feds are blockading the city of Seattle.”


∆∆∆

Princess Tara raised her head out of Circe’s latte and pinned one of her coal black eyes on Circe. “I am Ekajati,” she said.

Circe jumped back in her chair so forcefully she almost tumbled over backwards. Jean grabbed the back of the chair to steady it. Circe stared back at Princess Tara’s coal black eye, her own eyes wide in wonder. “You don’t think you could have told me there was something different about Jason’s parrot?” she asked, her voice reflecting her exasperation. She directed the question at Jean, not Princess Tara.

“The less you knew, the better,” I responded sheepishly on Jean’s behalf, staring into my iced americano.

“How is this even possible?” Circe muttered.

“There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy,” I replied. If Hamlet only knew, I thought to myself.

“I’m not sure which is worse,” Circe said. “Knowing it wasn’t a hallucination? Or knowing there exists a world beyond my wildest fantasy?” Circe put her hand out to Princess Tara’s beak. Tara rubbed her black beak against Circe’s fingers.

“Tara likes you,” Jean smiled.

“I’m almost afraid to ask,” Circe continued, staring at Tara. “Are there more of them? More of her?”

“There are twenty-one Taras,” I commented.

“What?”

“And that’s not the half of it,” Jean added. “There is a world of demons and monsters that threatens ours.”

“Not to mention pterodactyls,” I quipped.

“What?” Circe’s face turned several shades of white more pale. “What are you caught up in?”

“Sorcery. Witchcraft. Magic,” I replied. “Take your pick.”

“You have got to be kidding!” Circe exclaimed. This is Seattle. The twenty-first century. This isn’t Hogwarts.”

“Hell is empty. And all the devils are here,” I replied.

“There are forces at play so unspeakably evil,” Jean interjected, her eyes cold as ice cubes, “the very existence of our world is threatened.” Circe’s mouth gaped wide open.

“Fortunately, we’re not alone in this fight,” I added, trying to assuage Jean’s frosty warning. I reached across the table and caressed Princess Tara’s head with my fingers. Tara cocked her head toward me and purred.

“I’m guessing the Deportation Police aren’t just police?” Circe asked.

I peered up over my iced americano at Circe’s face. At least her face showed some color. “Your life is never going to be the same again,” I said.


∆∆∆

Michael didn’t even bother dismissing his Western Civilization 101 class. Most of the students ran out the door when the news about the federal incursion broke. The few students remaining gathered in a cluster at the back of the lecture hall to gawk at news bulletins on their electronic devices. The young lady in the front row pulled out her western civ textbook and thumbed through its pages searching for the chapter on the Peloponnesian War while her boyfriend stared out the window.

Michael gathered his lecture notes and scurried out the door to head back to his office in the subbasement of the U Dub’s Suzzallo Library. Michael enjoyed some small comfort as he passed the offices of the tenured history faculty with crowds of students standing outside their doors demanding their time and attention. It was a rare student who could even find Michael’s office buried in the depths of the old gothic library building. Michael preferred it that way.

As Michael popped out the door of Denny Hall into the fragrant spring sunshine a black cat scampered out of the bushes surrounding the building to greet him. Michael bent down to scratch the cat’s head as he scurried along. The cat raced after him, scrambling between his legs. Margarita. Michael’s office cat. Known by a very few to be a shapeshifting witch. Black Tara. The Tara of vengeance.

Michael glanced up into the unusually cloudless spring sky as he dodged the cat scampering between his legs. A big red parrot with luminescent green outstretched wings glowing in the bright sun gracefully glided in circles over Michael’s head. A greenwing macaw. Michael smiled. The parrot’s name was Kurukulla. Red Tara. Another shapeshifting witch. The Tara of sensuality and seduction.

“Beautiful bird, professor,” a young lady commented to Michael, looking up into the sky, as she rushed past him.

“If you only knew,” Michael quietly smirked in reply. Michael had gained a reputation among the students as the Dr. Doolittle of the campus. Margarita and Kurukulla followed Michael around the campus between his office and classes as much as the weather permitted. Originally mostly derisive, the label quickly became a badge of honor. Michael didn’t mind the extra attention his female students conferred on him for his eccentricity. A couple of his colleagues even referred to him as Dr. Doolittle at department meetings.

Michael rounded the corner of the Suzzallo Library onto Red Square just as a convoy of unmarked black armored SWAT vehicles rumbled onto the plaza. Red Square got its name not from any particular political leanings of the student body, but from the red brick that paved the square. The vehicles screeched to a halt and their doors flung open. Students and faculty going about their business on the square stopped to stare. Cops decked out head to foot in black body armor jumped out of the vehicles, machine guns in their hands.

Michael froze in his tracks. Deportation Police. Margarita arched her back between Michael’s feet and growled. The uniforms were unmarked but Michael recognized the cops for who they were. His lecture notes slipped out of his fingers and captured by the wind blew across the square. Michael’s brain frantically tried to process the scene unfolding in front of him. It seemed to Michael he was an unwilling participant in a computer game he had no interest in playing. His brain couldn’t accept the reality of what his eyes saw.

The cops racked the charging handles of their machine guns as they formed a line across the square. Two blue clad campus cops burst out of the door of the Suzzallo Library and hopped down the steps onto the plaza, yelling at the Deportation Police to stop. One of the Deportation Police commanded “Fire!” Bursts of machine gun bullets blew out of the barrels of the weapons and cut down the two campus cops. Students and faculty screamed and turned on their heels to run. “Fire!” the cop yelled again. Several unlucky students tumbled to the brick pavement with another burst of machine gun fire. Most lay quiet, their books and papers scattered about them by the wind. Their red blood seeped into the red brick of Red Square. A couple of the prone students screamed for help as they clung to life. Students and faculty caught on the square by the assault cowered behind the three red brick monoliths that towered one hundred and forty feet into the sky.

It dawned on Michael that he stood exposed on the corner of the square in front of the library building in full view of the cops. He wanted to turn and run but his muscles froze in fear. One of the cops noticed him standing still and aimed his machine gun at him. Before he could pull the trigger an arrow pierced his head directly between his eyes. The cop silently toppled over backwards.

A couple of the other cops broke out of the line of Deportation Police and raced toward Michael. One of them aimed his machine gun at Michael as he ran and pulled the trigger. A second arrow pierced his skull and flung him around. The machine gun fired as he spun to the ground, directly into the line of Deportation Police.

The second cop charging Michael halted when the first cop fell. His face contorted in surprise and confusion as he turned to stare at the dead cop sprawled across the pavement with an arrow sticking out of his head. The cop turned back to stare at Michael. He tried to comprehend how the arrow got from Michael to its target. Michael held his breath. The cop aimed his machine gun. A black dervish whirled out from between Michael’s legs and sprung at the cop. Michael caught a flash of steel claws glinting in the spring sunlight. The cop’s head rolled down his back and bounced on the red brick. The machine gun clanked to the pavement. A gusher of blood streamed out of the cop’s neck as the body collapsed onto the brick to meet its head.


Chapter One Part Three

“Tell me about your bird,” I said to Circe. “What’d you say her name was? Abby?”

“Abby. Abigail,” Circe replied. “She’s a spitting image of Princess Tara.” Circe’s chin rested on her hands while Tara dunked her beak into Circe’s latte. Circe glanced down at Tara and dropped a hand to scratch Tara’s head. Tara continued to dunk her beak into the coffee.

“Where did you get Abby?” I asked.

“Rescued her from this dumpy little bird store in Bothell.” Bothell is one of Seattle’s northern suburbs. Circe brushed her hand back through her short cropped hair, radiantly red in the sunlight. Princess Tara pulled her beak out of Circe’s coffee long enough to nudge Circe’s other hand holding the coffee cup. Circe smiled and returned to scratching Tara’s head.

“Bothell?” I replied. “Bothell is the asshole of Seattle. How did you ever end up in Bothell?” I lifted my iced americano to my lips.

“Strangest thing,” Circe replied. “I haven’t even told Jean this story,” Circe added as she glanced at Jean. “I stopped to pick up groceries one day at PCC. . . “Puget Consumer Cooperative, one of Seattle’s trendy health food stores, “. . . and this guy with a parrot on his shoulder stopped me at the door and told me there was a blue parrot in Bothell I had to see.”

The iced americano slipped out of my fingers and crashed to the table. Princess Tara squawked and jumped onto Circe’s shoulder as coffee splashed across her back. I felt as if my eyes would pop out of their sockets if they got any bigger. Jean grabbed my arm. “What’s the matter sweetie?” she asked, concern etched across her face.

I peered into Circe’s cobalt blue eyes, looking for a shadow, a clue, a hint of some magical power. I thought I saw a bird. “A blue and gold macaw,” I said.

“How did you know?” Circe’s reply jumped at me in shock.

“A blue and gold named Aboo!” I blurted out, a statement, not a question.

“What the fuck?” Jean whispered.

“What?” Circe exclaimed. “How did you know?”

I ignored her query. “Did you have any interest in getting a parrot before then?” I responded.

“Not really. Jean’s got Corky in the house. Really cute bird. I like Corky a lot. But I never intended to get one of my own.”

“So why did you go out to Bothell?”

“I honestly don’t know. I don’t even own a car. I had to rent a truck from U-Haul to pick up the bird and the cage. And then I couldn’t believe how much they wanted for the bird. It was exactly all the money I had saved up. Money I planned to buy a car with.”

“Geez, honey,” Jean said. “You never told me.”

“What made you buy the parrot?” I asked, my curiosity piqued. I feared I already knew the answer.

“The bird talked to me,” Circe replied, her face flushed almost as red as her hair.

“I’ve never heard Abby talk,” Jean observed.

“Not since I brought her home,” Circe replied. “But she talked to me in the bird store.”

“What did she say?” I demanded. Circe jumped in her chair. “Sorry,” I added in a more measured tone. “But this is important. I need to know what she said.”

Circe stared into my eyes. “She said, ‘Get me out of here’.”

“Oh fuck,” I mumbled. “She said ‘Get me out of here’,” I repeated.

“She said one other thing when I got her home.”

My heart skipped a beat. “What’s that?”

“She said, ‘They’re coming’.”


∆∆∆

Michael wanted to run. To get off Red Square. Get away from the men with the machine guns. His feet, however, were firmly planted on the red brick. In spite of all his commands flowing from his brain, the muscles in his legs refused to respond. Refused to turn his feet around. Refused to flee.

Between the arrows and the errant bursts of machine gun fire, confusion gripped the surviving cops. Most of them hunkered down behind the SWAT vehicles. A couple of cops jumped to their feet as if at an inaudible command and charged the monoliths, behind which hid students and faculty. An arrow whistled through the air and pierced a cop’s head, directly between his eyes. His body somersaulted onto the red brick. The second cop stopped and searched the square for the origin of the arrows. Michael saw him look up toward the top of one of the monoliths. Just as he did, an arrow pierced his skull between his eyes and flung him onto his back. Michael followed the cop’s dying gaze to the top of the monolith. Kurukulla, Red Tara, looked down at him. Not a red and green macaw parrot. A statuesque goddess with blood red skin and a white face gleaming in the sunlight. Not two arms, but four arms. She gripped a longbow in one of her four hands. Another of her four hands nocked an arrow into position in the bow, ready to fly at its target. Lit by the afternoon sun her brilliant red hair glowed like a flame dancing in the wind. A shimmering red cape draped across her shoulder gave her the appearance of a superhero in an action movie.

One of the Deportation Police goons cowering behind the SWAT vehicles spotted Red Tara on top of the monolith and waved frantically toward her. The cops aimed their machine guns in her direction and opened fire. Michael could see bullets tear into the red brick of the monolith a short distance below her. Without even thinking he bent down and grabbed the machine gun off the pavement near the headless cop. Before he stood back up he racked the charging handle and opened fire. Cops screamed as bullets slammed into them. Several toppled over soundlessly, like bowling pins in a bowling alley.

A cop popped up from behind the tail vehicle and aimed his machine gun at Michael. A woman dashed out from the corner of the library building seemingly holding a long steel blade in her hand. Tall. Svelte. Dark skinned. Dressed in black leather from her boots to her coat. Kinqalatlala. A witch. A shapeshifter. The sound of gunfire drew her from Michael’s subterranean office. She didn’t carry a steel blade. She could rearrange the atoms in her hand into a steel blade.

The cop swung around at the sound of Kinqalatlala’s boots pounding on the red brick. Before he could pull the trigger on his weapon, Kinqalatlala’s hand flashed through his neck. His head flew off his shoulders and bounced across the roof of the assault vehicle. The body fell against the rear hatch. As it slipped to the ground a gusher of blood from the goon’s neck coated the black vehicle red.

Michael’s feet finally responded to the urgings from his brain. He ran to Kinqalatlala, Margarita dancing around his feet. One hand gripping the machine gun, Michael threw his other hand over Kinqalatlala’s shoulder and kissed her. Out of the corner of his eye he noticed her blade hand reverted to being just a hand. As his lips kissed hers he realized a deathly quiet had settled across Red Square.

Taking his arm off of Kinqalatlala’s shoulder, Michael steadied his machine gun and peered around the assault vehicles. The Deportation Police goons lay sprawled across the pavement behind the vehicles. Some had been shot down. Most had arrows sticking out of their heads. All were dead. Michael turned to stare up at the top of the monolith where Red Tara stood with her longbow. She was not to be seen. He heard a squawk in the sky above Suzzallo Library. “There!” Kinqalatlala cried out. She pointed into the air. Michael’s eyes followed her hand into the sky. A red and green macaw parrot soared over the library building and lazily looped back around the square.


∆∆∆

“They are coming,” I repeated Circe’s comment. I felt a deep chill at the core of my body, as if the blood in my veins turned to ice.

“What the fuck does that mean?” Jean beat me to my next question.

“I don’t have a clue,” Circe replied. “That’s the last thing I’ve heard Abby say.”

“They are coming,” I repeated slowly, enunciating each syllable. I looked at Princess Tara perched on Circe’s shoulder. “Do you know what that means, Tara?”

Princess Tara cocked her head and pinned one of her coal black eyes at me. “I do not,” she replied.

“Is Abby one of your Taras? One of your sisters?”

“I will not know,” Princess Tara responded, “until I meet her.”

“How is that possible?” Jean asked. “Either you know. Or you don’t know. That is, if she’s one of you.” Instead of responding, Princess Tara rubbed her beak through Circe’s hair. Jean took my arm in her hand. “What does the tlogwe tell you sweetie?”

“Tlogwe?” Circe interjected. “What’s that?”

“If I only knew,” I snickered.

“A magical gift that Jason acquired recently,” Jean clarified.

“A magical gift?” Circe replied. “Seriously? You mean magic like Harry Potter?”

“I don’t think that it’s all that it’s cracked up to be,” I said.

“What does it do?” Circe asked. “What does it let you do? Do you carry a wand?” I felt my face flush as I studied Circe’s eyes for any indication that she was mocking me.

“It’s nothing like that,” Jean replied. “It only lets him do things like stop bullets. Travel instantly through time and space. Talk to dead people.”

“You are shitting me?” Circe exclaimed.

“I’m not absolutely sure what it lets me do,” I responded. “There’s no operating instructions or owner’s manual. No Magic for Dummies handbook.”

“How exactly did you gain these. . . hum. . . magic. . . magical powers?” Circe asked.

“A shapeshifting black witch bestowed them on me.”

“Not I know you’re pulling my leg!” Circe exclaimed. She jumped back in her chair and put her hands out on mine and Jean’s arms. She glanced back and forth between the two of us. She dropped her hands. “Oh my god! You’re serious.”

“I’m still a novice at this,” I muttered.

A grin cracked across Circe’s face. “Can you do a magic trick?” she blurted out.

“Circe!” Jean exclaimed. “It’s not like that.”

“I’m sorry. Just asking. Make something disappear.”

“It doesn’t work that way,” I insisted. I honestly didn’t have a clue what way it worked.

“Sorry,” Circe said. “My bad.”

“So nothing?” Jean asked me.

“I haven’t even thought about the tlogwe,” I replied. “Thinking about it gives me a serious headache. I try to put it out of my mind.”

“Maybe it’s time,” Jean responded.

“I need to meet your bird,” I told Circe. “I need Tara to meet your bird.”

“Certainly. We just live up in Salmon Bay Park. You want to come up now?”

“I think it might be better if you bring Abby to my place,” I replied. “I need to get ahold of Michael. . .”

“Michael?” Circe interrupted me.

“Old friend and office mate from my days at the U Dub. He has Margarita. . .” Circe’s eyes gave me a questioning look. “He has Black Tara and Red Tara. They need to see Abby too.”

“Black Tara and Red Tara?”

“Witches and shapeshifters. Princess Tara’s sisters.”

“Oh my,” Circe said. “What have I got myself into?”


∆∆∆

We finished our coffees and walked the short distance down Ballard Avenue to my apartment in the northwest corner of the old Saint Charles Hotel, a turn of the last century two story Victorian red brick pile. I bought the building with my lottery winnings. Originally a working man’s hotel, what might better be called a boarding house, the dowdy dame had been run down and converted to a mini storage a while back. I fixed up the building and converted the upper floor to apartments.

I gave my truck keys to Jean. She and Circe drove home to pick up Abigail. After they departed I turned my cellphone on and found myself inundated with urgent messages from Michael and Charlie. I fired up my tablet and perused the Internet for updates regarding the federal blockade of Seattle.

Turns out, while I had been having coffee with Jean and Circe, Dear Leader declared martial law and the suspension of the Constitution. He also elaborated on the federal blockade of the resistance strongholds on Seattle, Portland, and San Francisco. Surrounded by water as it is, the action in San Francisco was more of a naval blockade. Federal troops occupied Sea-Tac Airport, as well as the Portland and San Francisco airports. Also, the feds apparently shut down Interstate 5 between the Canadian border and Los Angeles.

Michael informed me that the U Dub had been locked down by campus and city police in an attempt to placate the feds. Seattle’s mayor announced in a news broadcast that he received assurances from Dear Leader that the assault on the campus had been carried out by rogue elements of the Deportation Police not sanctioned by federal authorities. The mayor mentioned that talks were underway with Homeland Security to work out a solution to the crisis amenable to all sides. Also, those strange reports of a red skinned woman with a longbow on top of one of the Red Square monoliths were most likely hallucinations. The mayor added that campus police killed the rogue cops in a firefight, with the sad loss of two of their own brave officers.

Charlie told me he needed to stay with his birds and that he knew nothing about a hyacinth macaw parrot named Abigail. I had Princess Tara do her time and space bending magic to time and space bend Michael, Kinqalatlala, and the two Taras, Black and Red, from Michael’s office in the subbasement of the Suzzallo library to my apartment on the upper floor of the old Saint Charles Hotel. Once the black witch Kinqalatlala decided to shack up with Michael, Michael decided to accept my offer to move into one of the empty apartments in the old hotel, and stop living in his subbasement office. Michael also found commuting to work via Princess Tara’s time and space bending magic a whole lot more convenient than taking the bus.

With Red Tara perched on Princess Tara’s parrot stand in my bay window, and Black Tara curled up snoozing under the dining table, Michael, Kinqalatlala, and I, Princess Tara perched on my shoulder, just sat down at the table with some cold Rainiers when Jean and Circe walked in. Circe lugged a very large pet carrier containing a blue parrot that looked remarkably like Princess Tara.

Circe placed the pet carrier on the dining table and opened the door. A big beautiful cobalt blue feathered hyacinth macaw parrot stuck her head out. She pinned one of her coal black eyes on Princess Tara perched on my shoulder. Princess Tara didn’t so much as make a peep. But I felt her claws dig into my shoulder. I put my hand up and rubbed Princess Tara’s head. “What’s the matter sweetie?” I asked. Princess Tara didn’t respond.

Jean darted into the kitchen and returned with a couple more beers. She handed one to Circe. Circe popped the tab and took a drink. She tapped the table top with her fingers. “Come on out Abigail. It’s okay. You’re among friends.”

Without unpinning her eye from Princess Tara, Abigail took one halting step out of the carrier. Then a second. Abby turned and hopped on top of the carrier. She spread her wings and leapt onto my free shoulder. Princess Tara squawked and flew over to Circe’s shoulder. Abigail rubbed her beak against my neck.

I reached my hand up and scratched Abby’s head. She grabbed my fingers in her beak and pushed my hand away. Jean, Kinqalatlala, Circe, Michael, all stared at Abigail. “They are coming,” Abigail blurted out to her assembled audience.

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