Chris Till

3. The Elves of Santa Cruz, California

In Stoner Noir on April 27, 2010 at 4:19 pm

On May 15, 1985, a bomb disguised as a three-ring binder exploded in a computer lab at the University of California at Berkeley, maiming a student. The FBI deemed the bombing the work of the Unabomber, his second bombing of the year.                          

St. George Hotel

      “Hey, I’m here to see Zen McDougal,” Isaiah told the desk clerk at the St. George Hotel. On the wall, a prominent “Visitors Must Check In” sign was posted.

      “And you are?” asked the young clerk in a south Asian accent. Located on the Pacific Avenue Garden Mall in downtown Santa Cruz, the St. George was an historic three-story residential hotel.

      “I’m his nephew Isaiah,” he replied, lightly touching the scar on his left cheek.

      “I see. Zen ‘checked out,’ but he left a note for you.” The clerk surreptitiously glanced around the lobby, then stepped back from the desk and returned with a sealed envelope. A handful of white-haired men, seemingly suspended in amber, populated the half-dozen old couches around the spacious lobby. Looking around the lobby again, the desk clerk slid the envelope to Isaiah. “To ISAIAH” read the only address.

      “What is this?” asked Isaiah. Looking nervous, the clerk shrugged. Isaiah carefully opened the envelope and read the note.

Dear Nephew,

      Welcome to California. So glad you made it. I’ve reserved a room with a view of the Avenue for you.

      Unfortunately, my dear consort Ayloni and I had to leave town rather abruptly due to an uninvited visit by the local constabulary. Please find my dear colleague Rhion under the Soquel Avenue bridge some evening. Just follow the sound of the wooden flute…

      We do look forward to seeing you soon.

      May the Blessings Be, With all the love in the world,

      Your uncle, Zen

      Still standing frozen at the desk, Isaiah looked up at the clerk with consternation. The clerk nodded sympathetically.

      “I am Cyrus. I like Zen very much, but my father was quite upset with what happened. If you meet my father, do not tell him that you are Zen’s nephew. Would you still like the room?”

      “What happened?”

      “That’s not really for me to say.”

      Isaiah shrugged weakly and checked in at the righteously low price of $13 a night. His second floor room had ten foot high ceilings and a shared bathroom and shower lay the hall. A pair of tall windows overlooked Pacific Avenue and its mall.

      Tired, Isaiah pulled a chair up to the window and watched the colorful parade beneath him on the Avenue. Hip college kids, grizzled old hippies, and wealthy yuppies criss-crossed: some shopping, some lounging, and some just looking. Isaiah listened to a black hippie guitar player across the street playing “Horse with No Name.” A half-block away he could see a grim man dressed as a clown, sitting on a bench facing the St. George and smoking.

Rhion

      “Please find my dear colleague Rhion under the Soquel Avenue bridge some evening. Just follow the sound of the wooden flute.

      That evening, Isaiah made his way down Pacific Avenue and turned left on Soquel Avenue. A bridge over the wide San Lorenzo River lay in front of him. As he approached the bridge, a dark figure emerged from the dimness beneath the bridge. He wore a dark cloak with a peaked hood. Seeing Isaiah, the dark figure scurried back beneath the bridge.

      The bridge was a modern concrete and steel four-lane roadway. Isaiah stood on the sidewalk at the edge of the bridge, peering into the blackness under the bridge. Several cars passed at moderate speeds with headlights on.

      A soft wisp of melody seeped from under the bridge. “Follow the sound of the wooden flute.”

      Before Isaiah could summon the courage to step off the sidewalk and walk down the embankment below the bridge, the flute stopped. As Isaiah leaned forward to see into the darkness below the bridge, he felt a warm, but strange, presence behind him. Quickly turning, Isaiah was surprised to come face to face with the hooded flutist. He had snuck up behind Isaiah, having apparently emerged from the other side of the bridge and crossed the street to surprise him.

      The hooded flutist had pale skin and long straw-blonde hair flowing from under his hood. With pale blue eyes fixed on Isaiah’s eyes for a moment, the hooded flutist dramatically turned away and made his way down the sidewalk, again playing his flute.

      “Rhion?” Isaiah called out. The hooded flutist stopped but only cocked his head to the side. Isaiah took several steps towards him. The hooded flutist turned.

      “Isaiah?” he asked.

      “Yeah, man. I’m Isaiah, Zen’s nephew from Illinois.”

      “Well, then, you’re my brother,” Rhion said warmly, grinning and giving Isaiah a hug. He smelled pleasantly of incense, the precise scent of which Isaiah could not place, and high grade cannabis.

      “Right on. Yeah, I just got into town late this morning and Zen’d left a note for me at the St. George. Like… what happened?” The two stood under a street light on the sidewalk. Rhion’s flute disappeared inside his dark cloak.

      “What happened?” Rhion echoed. Looking into Rhion’s phenomenally pale blue eyes felt somewhat disconcerting because his pupils were the size of tiny, sharp pins. Isaiah shrugged.

      “The forces of darkness have moved in,” Rhion said, furrowing his brow. Isaiah nodded knowingly, but didn’t understand.

      “There’s a war on one of the astral planes,” Rhion said, watching the headlights of a car pass. “You smoke herb?”

      “Heck yeah, man,” replied Isaiah. Still standing under the street light, Rhion passed Isaiah an empty black stone bowl. The headlights of a passing car illuminated a slender four-inch quartz crystal pendant strung around Rhion’s neck.

      “Uhh, I don’t have…” said Isaiah.

      “I know. Just showing you the bowl. Nice, huh? Let’s go down by the river. I’ll bring you up to date.”

      The two made their way down the river bank and settled into the grass. The San Lorenzo River was wide, slow, and dark. Draining the Santa Cruz Mountains to the east, it was in its last mile before emptying into the Pacific.

      “So what’s up with Zen?” asked Isaiah, as Rhion packed the stone bowl from a leather pouch.

      “The forces of darkness have made an advance, but shall be reversed. Light always prevails.”

      “Right. So where is he? And Ayloni?” Isaiah watched as Rhion methodically pinched and spread the flower buds before packing them into the pipe.

      “Matches?” asked Rhion, holding out his hand.

      “Uh…” replied Isaiah, checking his pockets.”I don’t think so.”

      “I got a half-broke lighter,” Rhion said, producing an old-fashioned metal lighter from inside his cloak. Rhion raised the pipe to the four directions then to the river and the sky.

      “Blessings,” he said, handing the pipe to Isaiah. “Go ahead, you first.”

      With difficulty, Rhion got the lighter working and lit the pipe for Isaiah. Isaiah hacked out the smoke, coughing.

      “Wow,” said Isaiah, eyes watering, handing the pipe to Rhion. “That is some sweet bud.”

      “Blessings,” said Rhion, taking a hit and holding it. In the night’s darkness, the river didn’t seem to move at all, but only drift in a slow spiral.

      “Rhion. So what happened? To Zen?” asked Isaiah. Rhion fixed the pins of his pale blue eyes on Isaiah.

      “The constabulary moved in on Zen. The marshals searched his room when he wasn’t home. They found some illicit sacraments. Zen and Ayloni got back to the St. George while the search was going on. The desk clerk warned them away and they took off into the Mountains. He’s still free, though…”

      Rhion passed the pipe back to Isaiah. Isaiah took a smaller hit.

      “Damn, that sucks. I just got a letter from him like last week.”

      “How much do you know about the astral war?” asked Rhion, in a conspiratorial whisper.

      “Uhh, well. Not much, I…”

      “Okay, see, I’ll bring you up to date real quick,” Rhion interrupted. “Two years ago, there was a coup within ANEEZA. ANEEZA? You know, the spiritual path that we follow? Or that we used to follow?”
      “Right.”

      “A cabal of black magicians seized control. Since then, they have rampaged on a certain astral plane, running amuck, wreaking havoc.”

      Rhion paused to take a big hit. Isaiah watched the shadows of headlights play along the bridge’s railing. He nodded, trying to understand.

      “What is the great hermetic truth?” asked Rhion, sitting up straight and gazing across the river theatrically. Isaiah stared at him uncomprehendingly.

      “I’ll tell you: ‘as above, so below,'” said Rhion, answering himself. “As there is great conflict on a certain astral plane, so there is great conflict here on the physical plane.”

      “Geez,” said Isaiah, taking the pipe from Rhion. “What illegal sacraments did the, uh, constabulary seize from their room?”

      “The great medicine. The Liberating Sacrament of Divinity itself.” Rhion’s eyes narrowed to needles, piercing Isaiah.

      “Man, this is intense,” said Isaiah, pulling his arms into this shirt sleeves and hugging himself.

      “I see stars all over you,” said Rhion, nodding. “Zen said you were a powerful crystal warrior.”

      “Stars? Yeah? Uhhh…”

      “Speaking of which, this is for you. You can pay me later. Ten bucks’ll do.” Seemingly from nowhere, Rhion produced a crystal necklace similar to his own and handed it to Isaiah. A three-inch quartz crystal pendant with a leather wrap at the top hung from a leather cord.

      “Thanks, brother,” Isaiah said, putting it on.

“Now you’re in the Inner Circle. The Inner Circle is the circle of truth,” pontificated Rhion. “Through the Inner Circle, we are all connected, like leaves upon the same tree. Beneath the same sun. Pretty good smoke, huh? Let’s do another. One good smoke deserves another.”

“Cool. So, I gotta see Zen. I came all the way out here. You know where he is?”

“Zen is everywhere,” said Rhion, packing another bowl from his leather pouch. “I do know that he was really looking forward to seeing you. You seen the clown on the Mall yet?”

“The clown on the Mall? I don’t think so.”

“He’s with the dark forces. Stay away from him. Don’t let him see us together. If he follows you, lose him.”

Isaiah nodded, arms still inside the sleeves of his shirt. The river smelled like thick mud. A woman’s voice shrieked from a car passing on the bridge then faded into the night.

“You take first hit,” said Rhion, passing the pipe to Isaiah. As Isaiah took the pipe, he saw the apparition of a pale electric star on Rhion’s forehead. Or maybe it was just a piece of glitter.

“Blessings,” said Isaiah, raising the pipe to his mouth.

“You like DMT? I got some for sale,” said Rhion. “Pharmaceutical quality.”

“Yeah? I heard of that stuff. It’s like acid that lasts half an hour.”

“Less.” Isaiah passed the pipe to Rhion. “It takes you deep inside Faerie Mountain. Straight to the Hall of the Elfin King himself.”

Rhion gazed at Isaiah with his oh-so-strange pale blue eyes. It seemed like he never blinked.

“I wanna try it. I’ll take whatever. A hit or dose or whatever.”

“It’s fifteen. Ten for you. Smoke it on top of some bud. I’ll throw in the bud. One hit.”

“Cool, man.” Rhion passed the pipe back to Isaiah and they sat in silence.

“Look,” said Rhion, furtively. “Truth is, Zen and Ayloni are holed up in a cave in the Mountains. Meet me tomorrow at the city bus terminal. 12:30. The 35 bus. And don’t act like you know me.”

“Okay,” said Isaiah, exhaling a giant hit. “Like ignore you?”

A large black bird flew slowly down the river towards the ocean, several feet above water level. At least, it looked like a bird to Isaiah. Its long wings flapped methodically and powerfully.

The Library

The next morning, Isaiah wandered around the top of the Mall. Standing outside the St. George, he admired its Spanish Colonial architecture and orange roof tiles. At the top of the Mall stood an old ornate clock tower. On a hillock overlooking the top of the Mall stood the white cathedral and bell tower of the 200-year-old Mission Santa Cruz.

Ambling around the Pacific Garden Mall felt delightful. Built as a combination Main Street and outdoor mall, leafy trees and blossoming flowers grew in abundance. A colorful parade of California lovelies, street musicians, and healthy-looking bums made their way up and down the triple-wide sidewalks. Only buses passed on the street.

In front of the gorgeous Beaux Art-style brick Cooper House, a very old woman in rainbow clothing stood smiled at Isaiah as he passed. She looked like she was about to start dancing on the sidewalk, if only someone would provide music. In front of the bank, a block from the St. George, a man dressed as a clown sat on a bench, smoking and looking both bored and malevolent.

Soon, Isaiah made his way over to the Santa Cruz Library on Church Street. There, he headed straight to the periodical section. In the Santa Cruz Sentinel from two days before, he found the article.

LARGEST LSD BUST IN A DECADE

Last night, Santa Cruz Police executed a search warrant at the St. George Hotel on Pacific Avenue and uncovered a stash of just over 144,000 doses of LSD. The occupant of the room, Benjamin Alexander McDougal, 32, is still at large.

“We have not seen this volume of LSD in a decade,” said Police Sergeant Maurice Porcino. “We intend to prosecute this crime to fullest extent possible to protect our youth from this dangerous mind-poison.”

Unconfirmed reports indicate that the LSD is of an exceptionally high quality. In past years, LSD seizures in Santa Cruz County have involved low-grade LSD, typically mixed with methamphetamine or other adulterants.

“There has been some righteously pure acid on the streets this summer,” said one source, familiar with the local illicit drug market. “It’s like the old-time 60s acid. Puts you face to face with God herself.”

      “Poor Zen,” Isaiah said to himself, looking around the library. Many of the denizens appeared to be older, bearded, and semi-homeless looking gentlemen.

Heading Up into the Mountains

     At noon, Isaiah made his way to the bus station on Pacific Avenue. Sitting on a bench next to a wealthy looking green-haired punk rock girl with a Walkman on, he waited for Rhion and the number 35 bus.

      The bus pulled up at 12:24. As various folks got on the bus, Isaiah waited with no sign of Rhion. At the last minute, the punk rock girl got on.

      At 12:30, the bus driver shut the door of the bus. No Rhion. The bus pulled away. No Rhion.

      Isaiah sat on the bench for another half-hour until another 35 bus came and went. No Rhion. He fished an empty New Coke can out of a trash bin and walked back up Pacific Avenue.

DMT

      Sitting in the chair by the windows, Isaiah fashioned a pipe out of the can. He pushed one side of the can in on itself to make a bowl-like depression then pushed half a dozen small holes into the depression with a safety pin. Finished, he tossed the can pipe into his backpack and slung the backpack over his shoulder. As he headed out of his room, he almost bumped into a man standing directly outside his door.

      “Uh, hey,” said Isaiah to the man. The man had very long, very straight black hair parted down the middle and an odd angle in his eyes.

      “Hey, you wanna buy some food stamps?” asked the man in a soft voice.

“Seven bucks for a ten?”

      “Mmm, no thanks,” said Isaiah.

      “I’m Reemat,” said the man, not extending his hand for a handshake.

      “I’m Isaiah.” Isaiah began to edge his way past the man.

      “I’m from Neptune,” Reemat said, standing up straight.

      “I’m from Illinois. Good luck with the food stamps, man. Maybe some other time. See ya.” Isaiah made his way past Reemat, down the stairs, and out of the hotel.

      At the Soquel Avenue bridge, he called Rhion’s name several times. No response. Making his way down the grass towards the river, he called Rhion’s name again. No response. In the daytime, Isaiah could see a grassy town park on the opposite bank of the river. He made his way back up to the sidewalk and crossed the river.

      Sitting privately down by the river bank in San Lorenzo Park, Isaiah kept an eye on the bridge on the other side of the river to see if Rhion returned. Meanwhile, he pulled out the can pipe and the baggie that Rhion had sold him the previous night. He put the small reefer bud over the small holes he’d punctured in the can then drizzled the white DMT powder over the bud. As he’d seen Rhion do, he raised the can pipe to the four directions, the sky, and the river.

      “Blessings,” he imitated Rhion, then lit it with a match.

      Before he could take the pipe out of his mouth, Isaiah felt higher than he had ever been in his life. He sat frozen.

      Pastel gears appeared in the sky: pale orange, pale pink, and pale rose. They turned excruciatingly slow and seemed to be paradoxically located both beyond and within the sky.

      Suddenly but gently, two, maybe three, short elves stood at his side, ignoring him. Standing just inside his peripheral vision and dressed in working elves’ attire, these elves radiated a mood of mild petulance. For a long while, Isaiah sensed that they had been trying to get organized, but could never quite could get sufficiently organized. The world was a messy place and the elves needed a broom to clean up the mess. They had no broom. They could not find a broom. Perhaps, brooms had not yet been invented in their elfin world. Regardless, the elves knew that things needed to be cleaned up and they could never quite get things cleaned up adequately.

      A handful of minutes, or eons, later, Isaiah mentally returned to the park on the river. Like a statue of a sitting man, he still held the can pipe up to his mouth. Looking into it, he saw that another, much smaller hit remained. He lit it and held his hit.

      Time slowed to crawl. The elves did not reappear, but the shadow of their shadow appeared. Looking into the sky, the pastel gears did not reappear, but the underside of a cumulus cloud caught his fancy. It looked like a cauliflower. Isaiah liked cauliflower. He smiled and mentally returned to the park.

      Near Isaiah, three young children ran down to the riverbank chattering. They threw small sticks into the river then ran back into the park. Isaiah sat by the river and wondered how much time had passed. Fifteen minutes maybe half an hour. Maybe two hours. He didn’t know.

      Isaiah stood up. A tree branch brushed his head. Looking around, there was no tree. The branch lightly brushed his head a second time. He swept his hand over his hair, touching a sparrow as it flew away. It had been trying to land on his head.

      Isaiah looked around, feeling strange. He crossed the river back to Pacific Avenue, heading toward the ocean. After his internal voyage, he felt apart from the people walking and shopping on the Avenue. He felt quieter and not quite of their ilk.

Pacific Avenue wound around for a few blocks and ended at a municipal beach on the Pacific Ocean. Sun worshippers and families crowded the beach. To the south, the roller coaster and carnival rides of the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk amusement park rose.

A wharf led out into the ocean for a quarter mile. Isaiah walked down the wharf watching the white and grey sea gulls dive. One gull swept in towards Isaiah several times, seemingly playful rather than aggressive. At the very end of the pier, he stood watching the ocean in silence for a while, looking for clues. It was truly the end of America.

St. George Hotel, Part Two

That night, as Isaiah sat in the chair by his windows at the St. George, a soft knock sounded on his door. In the inner silence of his post-psychedelic calm, he didn’t answer. Another soft knock sounded and Isaiah answered the door.

“Hey brother,” said Rhion quietly, looking both ways down the hallway then slipping into Isaiah’s room. He wore a white t-shirt, white painter’s pants, and white sneakers. His long blonde hair was pulled back in a pony tail.

“Missed you this afternoon, man,” said Isaiah, shutting the door, feeling slightly miffed. Rhion walked over near the windows but kept himself back as if concerned about being seen from the street.

“I saw you there,” Rhion said, pulling the chair back from the window and sitting down.

“You did?” said Isaiah crossly, sitting on the floor.

“Yup, you were right on time.” Rhion pulled his leather pouch and stone pipe from his front pants’ pocket.

“Yeah, man. So what’s up?”

“The time wasn’t right. The clown was on the Mall, front of the bus station. Did he follow you down there?” Rhion stuffed the pipe full of crystalline green and red flower buds.

Isaiah shook his head in resignation. Rhion raised the pipe to the four directions, the sky, and, this time, the street.

“Blessings,” Rhion said.

“I don’t know, man. I just… I don’t know…” said Isaiah, watching Rhion take a huge hit. “Man, Zen’s in trouble. I read the newspaper today. After my Mom died or whatever, he’s pretty much like the only family I got.”

“He told me about your Mom. Sounds pretty mysterious, what happened to her. The Inner Circle will protect Zen,” said Isaiah, looking at Isaiah knowingly. “All of us in the Inner Circle have been meditating for his safety.”

Rhion passed the still-smoking pipe to Isaiah. The smell of a slight summer rain drifted in through the open windows as it began to drizzle outside.

“Yeah? Cool. So what is the Inner Circle?” asked Isaiah. Rhion ignored him, took the pipe back, and squinted out the window. With his pinky finger, he poked at the burnt buds in the pipe.

“They sell Franz Bardon’s Initiation into Hermetics at the Logos bookstore down the street. I had to sell my copy. You should check it out. He wrote three books on how to develop your astral, mental, and, uh, physical selves to increase your occult powers. I think there’s a hit left,” said Rhion, handing the pipe to Isaiah.

“Yeah, so that’s what the Inner Circle is into?” asked Isaiah. Rhion ignored the question again, squinting out the window. A small wind smelling of rain blew in the windows.

“No, not really, I just like the book. Bardon was a powerful magician. After that, there’s, uh, The Practice of Magical Evolution and, uh, The Key to the True Kabballah. He just lays it all out: elemental magic, sigils, letter magic… Here, man, I’ll pack it again.”

Isaiah handed the pipe back to Rhion. Rhion packed it again.

“Cool,” said Isaiah. “Yeah, so let’s go see Zen tomorrow. I’ll be more careful going to the bus station.”

“If the clown follows you again, go in the front of a store, lose him, and hustle out the back way. Say, you need any money?” Rhion sat with the packed pipe in one hand and a lighter in the other.

“Uh okay. Money? Yeah, actually, I’m getting pretty low.”

“Taco Bell is hiring. Past the bus station on the Avenue. They’ll hire anyone. I used work there.”

“Yeah? Okay. So, we’ll go up to the Mountains tomorrow to find Zen? I had another weird dream about him last night.” Outside the window, the rain grew stronger.

“Blessings.” Rhion raised the pipe to the four directions, the sky, and the street.

“So, the 35 bus tomorrow?” asked Isaiah excitedly. “At 12:30?”

“Just lose that no-good clown,” said Rhion, nodding his head. “And don’t act like you know me on the bus. Just keep an eye on me and get off when I do.”

The Bus

At 12:20 the next afternoon, Isaiah made his way down Pacific Avenue on the still rain-wet sidewalk. Glancing about, he did not see the clown anywhere. A block from the St. George next to the Cooper House lay a narrow pedestrian alley lushly overgrown with flowering vines. Without looking around, Isaiah abruptly ducked into the alley then sprinted through it to Front Street on the other end. Running the rest of the block down Front Street, he looked back. No clown. Keeping close to the buildings, he hurried down Front Street to the bus station.

The 35 bus arrived at the bus station just as Isaiah arrived. Once again, Isaiah could not see Rhion anywhere. Isaiah sat at the same bench as the day before. No Rhion. A dozen folks got on, including a teenage girl with sunshine hair who smiled at Isaiah. At 12:30, the bus driver began to shut the doors. Suddenly, from nowhere, Rhion appeared and darted onto the bus, just as the doors shut.

Alarmed, Isaiah jumped up and knocked on the bus doors as the bus driver released the parking brake. Through the doors, the bus driver looked at Isaiah with annoyance. Isaiah pled with her with his eyes. Finally, she relented and opened the doors. Rhion had sat in the very back seat, slumped down so his head did not show above the windows. He wore the same all-white outfit as the night before and had tucked his hair into an all-white baseball cap.

Isaiah ignored him and sat in front of the teenage girl who had smiled at him. As the bus pulled out, he looked back and she gave him a half-smile.

“Hey,” said Isaiah.

“Hey,” she said, coolly. She had long straight sunshine hair and a look of inner bemusement. After a minute of silence, Isaiah caught her looking at him with a pleasant look.

“How you doin’?” he asked, as the bus passed Mission Street.

“Great,” she said. “How ’bout you?”

“Good. Just visiting out here, never been up in the Mountains.”

“Yeah? Cool. Where you from?”

“Illinois. I just came out here to visit my uncle.”

“Fun. You like it?” Isaiah shifted in his seat and put an arm on the backrest so he faced her. Looking to the back of the bus, Rhion still sat slumped in his seat, with his cap pulled low.

“Yeah, just been here a couple days, but, yeah. You live here?”

“Well, I live up in Boulder Creek, like half an hour from town.”
      Soon, the bus arrived at Highway Nine and began to ascend into the redwood Santa Cruz Mountains.

“Wow, I think you’re the first real California girl I’ve talked to so far.”

“That’s me. A real California girl. Born and raised. I love it here. Couldn’t imagine living anywhere else.”

“Yeah? I’m Isaiah, by the way.”   

“I’m Naja Aneezman,” she said, extending her hand.
      “Naja?” Tentatively, Isaiah took her hand and shook it gently. Her fingers looked long and slender.

“Yeah, Naja with a ‘j.’ N-A-J-A.”

“I love it. That’s a great name.”

“Yeah, well. My parents were hippies when I was born. ‘Were’ being the operative word.” The road twisted and turned and climbed higher. Isaiah broke their eye contact to watch the landscape passing.

“It’s mostly redwoods, like those,” she said pointing. “And those. Then, there’s some bay laurels, like… that one.”

“Cool, you can be my travel guide.”

“Sounds like fun. Where’s your uncle live?”

“Uh, he was living in Santa Cruz, right downtown, but he just moved up to the Mountains.”

“I’d like to have a place in town, maybe by the ocean, then a little cabin to visit in the Mountains. Or maybe a house in the Mountains and a cabin in town. Or whatever, I guess. Did you know there’s still wild panthers up in the Mountains?”

“Really?”

“I heard one once but didn’t see it. My brother and I were in the state park, we’ll drive by it, and we heard this low moaning. We just kept quiet and walked away from it. My brother got super scared.”

“How do you know it was a panther?”
      “Cause it sounded like this: ‘mooooooooooowwwwwwnnnnnnn.'” They both laughed.

“Hey,” she asked with a crooked smile. “Why wouldn’t the lobsters share their lunch?”

“Uh, why?”

“Because they’re shellfish.” Isaiah laughed. Her blue eyes looked into his with a trippy intensity.

“I love dumb jokes,” she said.

“Me too. Uh, hold on, no, okay, why did the mermaid wear seashells?”

“I do not know why,” she said in a fake German accent.

“Because the b-shells were too small.” As Naja erupted in laughter, a spittle from her mouth landed on Isaiah’s face.

“Oh god, I am so sorry!” she said. Isaiah wiped his face off and smiled.

“Don’t worry about it. People always do that when I tell that joke.”
      “I love that joke. I’m really sorry.”

“No sweat. Hey, check this out. I swear it’s true,” Isaiah said confidentially.

“What?” She leaned forward.

“Like yesterday, I was in that park by downtown, on the river, just hanging out by myself, nothing special, and, out of the blue, a sparrow landed on my head. Boom, like I was a bird’s nest.”

“Wow,” she said, wiping her mouth. “What’d you do?”

“I just stood there and watched it fly away. It was weird.”

“That’s auspicious. Birds trust you. It definitely means something.” In the back of the bus, Rhion edged his eyes over the back windows and watched the cars behind them.
      “Yeah? I don’t know, but another time, when I was a little kid, maybe seven, I was out in the woods and a tiny bird started fluttering in front of me. I put out my hand, flat, like this, and it landed on my hand.”

“Shut up!” she said, looking into his eyes with the intense trippy look again.

“I swear! I stared at it for I don’t know, ten or fifteen seconds and it flew away.”

“You’re the birdman. Cool.” Isaiah sat back in his seat and Naja looked out the side window.

“I gotta be careful or I get car-sick,” she said. “Or bus-sick.”

The bus stopped in front of a Safeway grocery store in the small town of Felton. Some folks got off and some got on. Isaiah watched Rhion, who remained immobile, slumped firmly down in the back seat.

“How far you going?” Naja asked.

“Uh, just up aways further,” replied Isaiah.

“Boulder Creek’s the last stop,” she said. “Where my family lives.”

“Yeah? Never been there.”
      “It’s just a little Mountain town. It’s pretty. The river runs through there. Or the creek, I guess. Boulder Creek. Yeah…”
      “Yeah?” said Isaiah quietly. The bus pulled away and got back on Highway Nine, winding its way up the Mountains. After Felton, the bus passed a state park. Once again, Rhion peeked above the back windows of the bus to survey the cars behind the bus.

“That’s where we saw the panther,” Naja said, pointing at the state park. “Or heard the panther. I think it was a female panther, but I don’t really know.”

“Cool. Yeah… Are a lot of Californians into spiritual stuff? Like, my uncle and all his friends are really into spiritual stuff. It’s all new to me. Or mostly new, I guess.”
      “Like Christian stuff or New Age stuff?”

“Definitely not Christian. I guess New Age stuff.”

“A lot of people around here are into that stuff. Not everybody. My mom’s into that New Age stuff. I’m open minded but, for me, science and numbers make more sense than most of that stuff.”

“Numbers? Like math and stuff?”

“Yup,” she said, stretching her fingers on the back of Isaiah’s seat. “I’m into numbers. I don’t know why, really, but it’s my thing.”

“Hey, to each, his own. So, do you have a favorite number?”

“Prime numbers are my favorite. You know, 2, 3, 5, 7, 11, 13, 17, all that. When I need to calm down, I just recite prime numbers in my head. Weird, I know.”

 “Wow. I guess I have a scientific mindset, too, but, yeah, I’m open minded. Who knows what’s really going on, you know, like what ‘reality’ really is.”
      “For sure,” she said. Isaiah smiled at her and repeated her name inside his head. Naja Aneezman. She half-smiled at him then looked out the window. The small town of Ben Lomond approached. The bus crossed a river and stopped in front of a coffee shop by the grocery store. After pulling away from the bus stop, just before another bridge over a river, the bus passed a stone building that looked like a small European castle.

“Whoa, what is that?” Isaiah asked, looking back at the castle. Below the bridge, a handful of small cottages right on the river also caught his attention.

“They call it the Vampire Castle,” said Naja with a mysterious look. “Supposedly, some like actor who played Dracula used to live there.”

“Cool.”

The bus slowed but didn’t stop at a tiny town named Brookdale, seemingly consisting only of a bar and a lodge. As the bus sped up again, Rhion repeatedly poked his head above the back windows, looking back.

“So, how long you out here for?” Naja asked.

“I’m not sure. Maybe the whole summer. Probably gonna get a job.”

“A midwestern boy on the loose, huh?”

“I guess.”

“So, how’d you get that scar? I’m sorry, is that too personal? It looks kinda cool, though?”

“Yeah? No, it’s fine. I actually don’t know. I got really high a couple years ago and woke up in the bushes with my cheek all bleeding. It healed and now I got like a crescent moon on my cheek.”

“Seriously, you don’t know how?”

“Yup.” Isaiah touched the scar gently with the tips of his fingers and shrugged.

“It makes you look like a pirate. In a good way.”

“Yeah?” As Isaiah happened to glance back at Rhion, Rhion’s hand shot up and pulled the bus wire, which rang a bell, indicating for the driver to stop at the next stop. After pulling the wire, Rhion slunk back down in his seat, but kept his eyes above the back windows, looking back.

When the bus stopped, Rhion darted out the side door. Isaiah stood up and faced Naja.

“Well, this is my stop. It was really fun talking to you, Naja Aneezman.”

“Yeah, maybe I’ll see you again before you leave.”

“I hope so. Bye,” said Isaiah.

“See ya, Birdman.”

He smiled at her and she returned a half-smile. As he bounded off the bus with his eyes on Rhion’s back, he already missed her.

The Cave

Isaiah and Rhion sat on the bench inside the bus stop kiosk where they had gotten off the bus. Rhion looked up and down Highway Nine nervously.

“All right,” Rhion said. “Keep an eye on these cars. If the same car passes, either way, we go back to town… In a couple minutes, start walking up the road. A couple hundred yards up, turn left up the third driveway. I’ll meet you there.”

Only a couple of cars passed the rural bus stop. Finally, Rhion indicated with his hand for Isaiah to start walking. The thick and tall redwoods shaded the two-lane highway such that only erratic shafts of sunlight shone through. Unlike town, the Mountains possessed a stately quiet. Isaiah walked up the highway then turned left at the third driveway and slowed his walk.

After a few minutes, Rhion caught up. A wise and satisfied look filled his pale face.

“I think we’re good. Come on,” said Rhion, hurrying along. The driveway passed one house on the highway then climbed steeply. After several minutes, they passed an abandoned and dusty vintage burgundy Cadillac. Someone had drawn an ‘Om’ symbol in the dust on the windshield. Eventually, Isaiah could see ahead that the driveway ended at a small somewhat decrepit one-story apartment building. No cars were parked in front of it. Before they walked in plain view of the building, Rhion quickly turned left onto a slight path off the driveway.

“Follow me,” Rhion said, climbing the steep path. Isaiah slid once, but Rhion kept climbing, rapidly and sure-footed. Curiously, Isaiah spotted a small banana on the path and bent to pick it up. In his fingers, the banana felt gooey, alive, and had a small pair of tiny horns at one end.

“What in the world?” exclaimed Isaiah, dropping the yellow thing.

“Banana slug,” said Rhion, looking back then continuing the climb.

“Banana slug,” repeated Isaiah, watching the bright yellow slug slowly writhe on the ground.

At last, the path leveled out in front of a rock outcropping that tunneled back into Mountain. Darting into the outcropping, Rhion began lifting stones and snooping around.

“Is this it? The cave?” Isaiah asked.

“ZEN!” Rhion called. There was no response.

“He would have left a note,” Rhion said.

“Uncle Zen!” Isaiah called. Again, there was no response.

The floor of the cave outcropping was perfectly level and smooth. On one edge lay a ring of stones circling a small fire pit. On a ledge on the side, Isaiah found half a dozen fine quartz and amethyst crystals arranged.

“Looks like he might have been here,” Isaiah said.

“Look for a note or something.”

“Right.” Isaiah looked inside the fire pit. No fire smoldered at all, but it looked like a single sheet of notebook paper had been burned on top of the fire remnants. Isaiah could see the lines on it. He tried to pick it up, but it crumbled into ashes in his hand.

“Here it is,” said Rhion, pulling a dry piece of folded notebook paper from under an album-sized flat stone on the ledge by the crystals.

R (and I?),

The Eagles have flown us north. We look forward to seeing you soon. We’ll be in touch via the riverine grapevine.

With all the love in the world, May the blessings be, Z & A

      Resigned, Isaiah and Rhion sat down on the floor of the cave outcropping and gazed across the tops of the redwood trees. Rhion pulled his black stone pipe out and packed it, dusting the top with white DMT powder.

      “Who are the Eagles? Like the rock band?” asked Isaiah.

“Yes, the rock band. Just kidding. No, not the rock band. You know, I was one of the last Americans drafted into Vietnam,” Rhion said. “December 1972. Zen drew a high number and missed it. Yeah… In the summertime, the river in town is much drier. A bunch of Vietnam vets live down in the bottoms camping out. ‘The Eagles.’ Yeah.”

“Okay, but… So, that’s who the Eagles are, huh? A bunch of homeless Vietnam vets?”

“Wanna get high?” asked Rhion, raising the pipe.

“Sure, man. The Eagles, huh?”

“Owe me the ten?”

Isaiah nodded and Rhion raised the pipe to the four directions, the sky and the mountains.

“Blessings,” Rhion said. He took the first hit, making sure to ignite only half of the DMT. Closing his eyes, he handed the pipe to Isaiah.

Isaiah lit it. Once again, he felt higher than the clouds before he could take the pipe all the way out of his mouth.

Looking up into the sky, instead of pale pastel gears, he saw a vast pale pastel architecture behind the sky. It was phenomenally ornate and geometric. Not buildings, but the inner machinery of buildings. Shades of orange, pink, and rose: all pale and pastel.

Gradually his awareness left the sky and settled on his immediate surroundings. He realized that this very mountain was Faerie Mountain. Or used to be Faerie Mountain. Inside was the Hall of the Elfin King. Or used to the Hall of Elfin King. He couldn’t be sure.

On the perimeter of his vision, but within his awareness, elves hid behind the redwood trees, watching him. He couldn’t see them, but he could sense their movements behind the trees. Hiding. Watching. Judging him. Weighing his soul on elfin scales.

Isaiah pulled the pipe away from his mouth. Again, he didn’t know if fifteen minutes or two hours had passed.

Rhion had vanished. Standing up, he found Zen’s cryptic note amongst the crystals and amethyst on the cave ledge and reread it.

“RHION!” Isaiah called loudly. “HEY! RHION!”

There was no response. Isaiah sat down and took a last hit on the pipe. The DMT was gone and it was a reefer-only hit.

“RHION!” Isaiah called again. No response.

      As Isaiah pondered the psychedelic mysteries he had just encountered, a physical calm spread through his limbs. He accepted Zen’s flight. He accepted Rhion’s abrupt disappearance. And he thought of the smiling sunshine-tressed teenage girl on the bus: Naja Aneezman.

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  1. looks like a girl who needs her eyebrows trimmed

    • “Androgynous” Replacements 1985

      “Here come dick, he’s wearing a skirt
      Here comes jane, y’know she’s sporting a chain
      Same hair, revolution
      Same build, evolution
      Tomorrow who’s gonna fuss?

      And they love each other so
      Androgynous
      Closer than you know, love each other so
      Androgynous”

  2. I thought I knew all the people like you in Santa Cruz in 1985,lol..

    • Maybe we did pass each other in those hazy days. I did spend a bit of time around Santa Cruz in the mid/late ’80s, but tried to spin a made up tale. Thanks for reading.

  3. I really, really enjoyed reading The Elves of SCC. Laugh out loud funny in a couple spots and full of great quoteables. I thought the descriptions of the DMT visuals were well done. I’m impressed by anyone who can translate that experience into art or writing. The Elves of SCC strikes me as something that will be published, looking forward to reading it again in the New Yorker etc.

    • ps-You need any money?
      I’m looking forward to using that one.

    • Really? Geez. Thanks very kind. I finished the first draft of the book a couple years ago and haven’t touched it since then. I’ve realized that maybe I should reformat the chapters; I made each chapter sort of self-sufficient like a short story; unfortunately, not having a semi-cliff hanger at the end of each chapter cuts down on the forward momentum of the novel as a whole. Plus, I felt weird, parts are semi-autobiographical, parts are made up, I was concerned that a couple of the people who compose parts of certain characters would be offended by certain fictionalizations. Though they are done as first drafts, I’ve never posted the last two or three chapters about when Isaiah finds Zen. Thanks for the encouragement, I ought to polish it up; I just don’t have the motivation to totally re-edit it like it ought to be.

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