​​Chapter Five

“Even after a short trip, good to be with my super family, and Chloe has tea prepared, perfect.”
“I thought to put the travelers in a different space from the one they left. A small tea ceremony. I am so glad Nikko’s parents opened the second Japanese market nearby, I can get everything authentic. The bakery is wonderful.”
We deconstruct from travel, circle the low table, Chloe serves omogashi, sweet buns and dumplings, first. The sweet is to enhance the flavor of the thick matcha, called koicha, which can be tart. Tea ceremony does not offer sweetened tea. Then we enjoy higashi, tiny sweet crackers, before the thin usucha she makes next.
Nikko plays shamisen and Chloe dances, fan fluttering, shy smile for her audience. Afterwards she plays the flute accompanied by Nikko. It take an hour, a beautiful hour of tastes, gentle music and dance.
Her thoughtfulness serves its purpose, our violence is stressful, worse on the target and they don’t even get invited to tea. If we start to enjoy the work, we’d have to quit. We never revisit trips afterwards unless there is something logistical worth sharing, like swapping cars or a surprise occurrence to watch out for in the future. No brag session about the refocusing itself, we aren’t proud of it.
Cassie and Oceane are particularly fond of tea ceremony. Something in the elegant preparation and service, the tastes of sweet and tart, the geisha dance and simple beautiful Japanese music resonates. Chloe and Amaya were trained as geisha by Nikko’s mom Ari Murakami, a former geisha herself.
Nikko’s dad is from a samurai clan, Soichi is a 9th dan kendo master, He’s called Hanshi, the equivalent of Sabumnim, Master in taekwondo . He agreed, with the encouragement of Ari, to teach us the art of kendo, then he saw something in Chloe and he agreed to teach her. Over my years of martial arts, starting with taekwondo when I was five, I’ve been privileged to learn several varieties.
I’m a 5th degree taekwondo master, master of hapkido, Korean judo. A Shaolin priest and gung fu master and a kendo 5th dan. It takes up to forty years to get to 8th, they don’t award 9th anymore. Fortunately, Hanshi and Mrs. Murakami finally agreed to our protein markers, so while they are in their sixties, barring accident, Hanshi will be around to guide us through the next levels.
Our ethereal girls rise and bow to Chloe, then Nikko, then up the circular staircase to the Wonderland of their minds.
Amaya, “I would love to be in Oceane and Cassandra’s brain. To grasp what goes on in there.”
Janah, “What can you tell us Zi, Chloe?”
Our two Sensitives, if anyone has a sense of what Cassie and Oceane are about, it’s them.
Zi, “Oceane is anoetic, most things are felt not thought, her aura changes with every taste, texture, scent, sound and sight. She’s a kaleidoscope of color much of the time.”
Chloe, “Yes and Cassie is the opposite, crystal blue, wisps of green, both colors of contentment, occasional sparkles that I haven’t been able to associate with anything.”
Zi, “You all sparkle at favorite things, certain intimacies, when Amaya has an insight while writing. Chloe sparkles all the time.”
Amaya, “I am her lover, how could she not?”
We laugh, Amaya does not need self esteem, she is self esteem, Zi continues, “With you all, it’s easy to see what brings about the flickering of white light in the colored aura. But not with Cassie.”
Janah, “Oceane says Cassie creates universes, what it means is unknowable, but I suspect it has to do with that.”
“Cassie says she is not the body, not the person, that she comes from no place and doesn’t go anywhere. That is near precisely what Nisargadatta, Ramana Maharshi and numerous other teachers have said. It’s a thread that runs though most religious or spiritual life, Native Americans have versions. Religions have obscured it with rules and other nonsense, but the core always suggests that we are not what we think we are.”
Janah, “I am what she is, only I mute it. I move to that state occasionally, it is the bliss. I also used it to help a Shadow blow herself up, sort of tough compassion.”
Amaya, “Back to the world of desire, cocktails in an hour, Chloe forced me into an actual deli since Daphne and Dasha were unavailable. Dinner is roast chicken, black bean and corn soup, opening with avocado halves filled with lump crab and tahini dressing. Daphne, you will need to cut the avocado, crab is chilling in the refrigerator. Janah and Ocean will suffer through with just avocado half and tahini.”
Janah, “I can handle it, the soup sounds good.”
“Sy gave me a taste, it is excellent. Dessert-wise we got a chocolate malt cake from Momofuku Milk Bar. Never paid forty two dollars for a six inch cake before. It better be superb. In case it isn’t enough, I added chocolate malt cake truffles, chocolate cake mixed with malted milk, coated in white chocolate and rolled in malted milk crumbs. Enjoy your heart attack.”
Around the table we enjoy half avocado with fat lump crab hunks, the chicken spiced up with a bit of Tonkatsu sauce and crushed red pepper.
Janah, “Soup is superb, what’s the spice Daphne?”
“Curry powder, which we don’t normally favor but this is missing the caraway, the thing we don’t like about rye bread. He’s used turmeric, nutmeg, coriander and pepper. He skipped the Indian version loaded with fenugreek and cumin. Those are the primary reason for the Indian restaurant curry scent.”
Amaya, “You have a dog’s nose.”
It’s true, and a mixed blessing extra, I can smell sickness. Cancer, heart disease, diabetes, the whole gamut. I keep it turned down much of the time, it hardly pays to tell strangers they have heart disease. They would deny, get angry at my presumption, or worse, worry themselves into an attack.

Chapter Six

Daria finally has the Shadow search engine ready. She, Eloise and my code hacker mom devised algorithms to search a flood of news stories from local papers, the NSA, online news and police reports. It overlooks common criminal activity and cherry picks the unusual.
Shadows tend to be overconfident, some are paranoid, but when you can take a mind at will, it’s more likely make you feel secure and powerful than afraid. The program searches for stories of missing children, particularly missing then pop up someplace apparently unhurt but blank on what happened.
In a similar way, it looks for unexplained bank withdrawals, brokerage accounts drained with no memory of the owner doing it or where the money went. Teens in therapy with vague flashbacks about sexual activity with dad, mom or a sibling. Any blank period of time that isn’t the result of a head injury or other physical anomaly. How does vague memory of potential incest get in the news? It doesn’t, but the NSA has all your email, and if your therapist’s notes are in the cloud, they have those too.
If the story is reasonably How does vague memory of potential incest get in the news? It doesn’t, but the NSA has all your email, and if your therapist’s notes are in the cloud, they have those too., and the person affected isn’t suffering from an already diagnosed mental disorder, like hearing voices, manic, depressed or prior history of blackouts, we dig deeper. It isn’t always possible to trace whether or not a Shadow is in the mix in individual cases. What the program looks for are patterns of events, a strong suspicion a Shadow is operating in the area.
When that happens, a couple of us hit the road or the sky and see what turns up. How we search is more complicated. We don’t know who we’re looking for, could be an old man or a middle aged woman. Taking minds has a lengthy training process, a teenagers isn’t likely to be good at it, our teens are the exception that proves the rule. We’re looking for thirty at a minimum, more likely forty plus. Shadows don’t wear a gang tat, or colors, well, except charcoal to black. And people can’t see that unless they are Sensitives, like Zi and Chloe, or our other trackers, birds. They see the same auras Sensitives do and can spot Shadows in a heartbeat. Even better, Sensitives needs to be within twenty or thirty feet, birds can see the aura from a hundred yards.
Janah can talk to animals, I am more limited, but I can chat with more sophisticated birds, eagles, owls, falcons, raptors, birds that feed on other animals.
We can’t just fly to some city and drive around waiting to see if one of us spots a Shadow. But we can tell the birds what we want and they do the wing work. They do it because they really don’t like most humans, they think humans are insane, killing themselves and animals for no reason that makes sense. Wild animals would be happy for humanity to die of a virus, or just blow ourselves up.
They do respect the few that can communicate, and they understand that Shadows are the worst of the worst. They will help find Shadows if we ask, otherwise they know to stay as far from the Dark Ones as possible.
Dasha, Dahfoney, you will come to workshop, we haf maybe Shadow for keeling.
**housekeeping alert** Italics mean we are talking mind to mind
I go upstairs, Eloise and the twins are looking at a screen, we have so many screens, laptops, IPads, androids, flat screens, life is like watching a perpetual movie. Cassandra already thinks we’re all watching a movie we make up from moment to moment, projected on the screen of our brain.
Daria, “Pattern of suspicious activity in Houston Texas. Four children missing for three days, then found wandering the Galleria.”
“Over what period of time?”
“Six months. Similar story, three girls, one boy, all between eight and ten, boy was oldest. No memory of where they were or with whom. Police have kept the story close, it isn’t a news item yet.”
“Works in our favor, if it was public it might spook the Shadow, if it’s a Shadow. They could have been drugged by a normal perv.”
“No trace of drugs.”
“Sexual activity?”
“Hard to prove . The girls were not penetrated, as least no busted hymen, hard to prove anything with the boy. None had so much as a bruise.”
“A talented Shadow could speed up healing just like we do.”
“Parents verify they kid had the injury prior to.”
“Okay, whoever’s taking them isn’t into physical abuse, or into child rape?”
“No, but one girl had a trace of semen in her hair.”
“Ah, not good.”
Dasha, “We will got to Houston and you will talk to birds Dahfoney.”
We have to recruit birds who live where the activity is, they know the territory and may already know of Shadows, Dark Ones, in the area.
Janah, what do you want to do?
Go to Houston, we have to follow up or the search program is pointless.

“Looks like we’re traveling.”
Dasha, “Who ees to go?”
“It doesn’t cost us anymore to fly with four than with two. If we find a Shadow, we have to kill him or her. May as well pack up a couple of drones, a dart gun or two. You and Daria, Janah and I for now. I’ll call Blue Sky, we leave in the morning, by lunch we can have the birds on the wing.”
“Da, sisters are gud Shadow peerson keelers, we will find and stick with dart from drone, Oblivion drug will take him out, we can go to nice hotel for vodka and sexy time.”
Good to have a plan, Janah, you can get away?
You think I’m going to skip a fancy hotel and sex with twins?
You have the libido of an alley cat.

I hear a soft giggle, And since I’m away for a few, tonight I’m going to Oceane and Sloane, she and I will put the joy stick to good use.
Nikko tunes in, Sex fiend. Daphne, come to Zi and I tonight, we’ll make you do filthy things for our pleasure.
What a grand idea.

Chapter Seven

We’re at the Hotel Zaza in Houston, six miles from the Galleria Mall, the general area where the children went missing. The hotel is cool, many rooms and suites have their own personality, not cookie cutter identical.
The Black Label Suite is two bedrooms, two baths, large sitting area and a sizable balcony. We need a balcony to gather our flying friends and maybe launch the drone, not things we want to do in the parking lot or by the pool.
Dasha, “Ees beeg place, we will keel Shadow now Dahfoney?”
“Might help to find him first. Let me find our helpers.”
Dasha and Janah unpack, Daria assembles the drone, I’m on the balcony intending.
Intention is how I get the birds to come, they read my intent, curious as to how I can connect and come along to find out. It takes a bit, fifteen minutes, then a pair of pigeons lands.
Janah, you’ll have to deal with the pigeons, I’m waiting on brainier birds.
So I’m dumb enough to connect on their level?

She joins me, sits on one of the patio chairs and crushes a granola bar. While the birds peck the treat, she explains what we’re doing. They fly off to spread the word.
Janah, “They are to come here when they have anything. All we can do is luxuriate and wait.”
A fat black crow lands on the railing, “Thank you for coming.”
Crow, “Where did you learn?”
“From my time with a boy who could talk to all animals. The eagle and owl also taught me in the north.”
“You were well instructed. What do you want?”
“You have seen the Dark Humans?”
“Yes, the worst of your lot.”
“We kill them.”

Head cocks, he’s thinking it over, “Humans kill their own kind all the time.”
“True enough. The Dark Ones, we call them Shadows, prey on the young, steal from others, they can steal a mind, make people do anything. While confused, coerced thinking happens in other forms, religion, patriotism, it’s more voluntary. Shadows don’t coerce, they take control. Other humans don’t even know they exist.”
“You want us to find them.”
“If you will help, we are grateful. If you search, be cautious, we don’t mean to put you in danger.”

“I have dealt with them before, they kill for pleasure, sparrows are particularly stupid, pigeons trust too much. I have seen them kill dogs and cats for no reason, make them run into the street and watch one of your machines crush them.”
“Didn’t know that, sounds like something a Shadow would do. We are looking for any Shadow, but we are here because we believe one is snatching young ones from this area. To the west a few miles, there is a place where humans go to buy things, they call it a mall.”
“I know it.”
“Children disappear near there, appear a few days later in different parts of the city. If you or the others spot a Dark One, come here. We have a flying machine that can follow you to where you saw him. We also have a small device that we can attach to your leg. It will tell us where you are.”
“Humans are malicious and violent, but they make amazing machines. Smart and stupid at the same time.”

He knows us pretty well.
The crow goes airborne, guess that conversation is done.
Janah, “Let’s find lunch.”
The hotel restaurant is called Monarch, the menu is limited, maybe we’ll try it later, I find Bodegas Taco Shop nearby. Order of jalapeno poppers, tacos with rotisserie chicken, add from a list of the usual suspects, shredded jack, onion, guacamole, pico de gallo, among others. Janah gets a plump veg burrito and poblano pepper soup.
“I see why it’s rated so well, this is good, the chicken is excellent.”
Dasha, “I will make jalapeno popper for Nikko when we are home, she will like.”
Janah, “They are good, vegetarian too, this soup is spicy, she would like it as well.”
“We will haf popper and poblano wiz gud beer and margarita frozen.”
She means at home, no alcohol for lunch today, we’re working. Nicely fed, I pay the tab and we walk to the hotel. No birds await, we can absorb the view or lounge around the spacious accommodations until something happens.
Decide a mini nap is in order, which turns into two hours of zone out, then I get up to make tea only to find Dasha waiting for it to steep. On the balcony with our cups, I mush up a crunchy granola bar and lay out a bowl of water in case the crow shows up.
Ten minutes later a half dozen flap down on the balcony floor, I’m going to need more granola. They peck around, drink from the bowl, Janah crushes another bar and adds it to the dwindling pile.
One crow, a female, reports, “Nothing yet, lots of mean and angry humans, none dark as you seek. We are still searching, too many of you. At the place where people go to buy we follow the flow when people leave their machines and go inside and from inside to their machines. Why do you have machines that leave filth in the air?”
“Don’t get me started on human ignorance, it will take too many suns to explain.”

She flaps her wings once, slowly, like a shrug, “We are following the energy field, but we have to retrace, humans travel out of an area, others come in, the mix changes all day.”
Energy field is the geomagnetic field that runs in arcs from the north to south pole, birds use it to navigate, nature’s GPS.
“All we can ask is to keep searching, have you seen the pigeons?”
“Yes, they’re slower, but persistent. My mate talked to a couple of others, you call them falcon and owl. Eagles are not much around the city.”
“The falcon and owl know how to find us?”

She blinks at me, like I’m too slow to bother with an answer.
“Never mind, it would serve no purpose to talk to them if they didn’t know where to find us.”
“At least you figured it out, less stupid than most of your kind.”

Janah laughs at me.

Chapter Eight

Our Shadow hunters blast off as a unit, granola’s gone and they have more to do than chat with slow witted humans. I fill in for the twins.
Dasha, “Owl makes seemple to find Shadow person, for us anyway. Birds do the work, like Surveillance for Society.”
Janah, “Mrs. Epstein used to say she didn’t know why the Society paid Surveillance teams, the birds were as effective and free.”
“It was her joke, birds have a hard time explaining addresses, and they can’t take sneaky photos and video, or tune in listening devices. But they are great for finding people, particularly Shadows radiating their black auras.”
Dasha, “We can haf now vodka?”
“Sure, I doubt anything will happen tonight, unless an owl shows up, they tend to do their hunting at night. Doesn’t matter, I don’t drink and I’m the owl whisperer. Want big or little dinner?”
Dasha, “Medium, what ees around?”
“The hotel restaurant looks iffy, appears to have a service problem from some of the comments. Wait…here we go, Lucille’s, a short and guess what, southern cooking.”
After cocktails, we head down the street and find a lovely wonder.
Appetizers of fried green tomatoes with seasoned cornmeal, spicy aioli and goat cheese, a hit with Janah and Dasha.
“We will haf fried green at Ultra Violet.”
Two orders of fried oysters with cilantro slaw. Then entrees, organic slow fried  chicken, smoked greens, mac & cheese, bourbon pickles.
Filet Mignon with yams and Madeira creamed collards. And the third, roasted grouper with kale, johnny cake (fried cornmeal gruel with bit of sugar) and marinated heirloom potatoes with lemon cream.
There’s enough vegetables to pass along a nice variety to Janah. The food is well presented and delicious, if you’re in Houston, go to Lucille’s.
Dasha, “John-cake ees gud Dahfoney, why don’t you haf in recipe computer?”
“Ms. Alva never made it, I’d heard of it someplace, but never looked it up. We like grits, one form of cornmeal, no reason we wouldn’t like johnny cake. Want to add that to Ultra Violet too?”
“I will make at restaurant, then staff will try, we will see. We already haf cornbread variety, French bread for poor boy sandwich, gumbo and accompany dinner. Ees gud novelty, maybe only haf sometimes instead of cornbread.”
“That’s a good idea, or an alternative to, your cornbread is a popular item with beans, offer both.”
“Da, better, we can let customer peek one, ees chip enough to make. We will haf tasting for staff, they will decide.”
At the hotel, I find a Barred Owl waiting on the balcony railing. A big bird, two feet long and a four foot wingspan, with soft brown eyes, not the yellow common to many owls.
“Welcome, thank you for visiting.”
“Came to see the human who can talk to us. You have created a stir in our part of the world. The crow said you learned from our relatives in the north.”
“Yes, we have a home in the mountains, lots of owls and eagles, they gave me the gift of their hearing and vision. The owl gave me her grip, I went from normal human hands to strength like your talons, much better.”
“You seek the Dark Ones.”
“I have seen several over the seasons, one recently. I know where he makes his nest.”
“We can follow you with our flying machine but it can’t fly as fast as you, or we can attach a small device on your leg, it will tell us where you are.”

She rocks back and forth, like she’s thinking it over, “Put it on, I will fly with it and see.”
“Daria, I need to attach a tracker to the owl.”
She goes to her bedroom, returns with the small device. It’s a GPS built for birds, used for the obvious, to study territory range and travel patterns.
I strap it on, the owl takes off and circles the hotel, Daria reads the location off her android. The owl floats down to the railing.
“If you go now, wait..is it far?”
“No, to the south.”
“If you go and circle the location, it will show up on our machine. Don’t get close, no reason to get hurt. Return here and I’ll remove the tracker.”

She takes flight, we sit on the balcony and watch the dot travel across the screen.
Dasha, “We will go tonight and keel Shadow peerson?”
“He’s not going to be outside, we would have to confront him at home. Once we know where he is, we can tag him when he goes out.”
Now wait on the balcony at watch progress on the screen. She flies around fifteen minutes, owls at top speed can fly around thirty to forty miles an hour, it varies by breed. I don’t know about a Barred Owl. I do know their territory is generally small, maybe six miles. Why this one is in the city I can’t say, Janah says they generally live in the woods, nest in a hole in a tree. There’s a fair amount of green space in Houston, and a lot of squirrels and rodents, high on the owl’s diet.
The dot stalls, appears almost stationary, then heads back in our direction.
Daria, “I have the spot, I can feed it to the drone, do you want it to fly there tonight and take a look?”
“How far is it?”
“About five miles from here, south as the owl said. The address is in a residential neighborhood.”
She looks up the street, her IPad shows a common string of homes, not luxury, mid-market suburbia. Cars, and a fair number of pickups are parked in drives and on the street.
“No reason, if we knew who he is, or which car is his, we could stick a tracker on it, but we don’t. We need to go in the morning, early, sneak around and see if you or Janah can verify a Shadow. I can always walk the perimeter and maybe draw him out. If he senses a Shaolin, he won’t be able to resist coming after me.”
The owl lands on the railing, “Get what you need?”
“Yes, thank you. We will go in the morning, your help is appreciated, and necessary. We may never have found him on our own.”
“I may show up, curious to see how you deal with him,”
she hops off the railing, and sails away, maybe grab a mouse snack before going to her nest.
“I wonder if she has young at home? Should have asked about the kids.”

It’s near eleven, midnight where we come from, time to sleep.

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