Tosh didn't rush me though my sandwich—plain roast beef, provo, and mayo, mercifully free of sprouts, tabouli, wheat-grass juice, or anything else. The pickle was good. Besides, I was hungry.
Tosh led us around the dining hall, past the upper quad, down the hill and across the road that led up to the fire station and the fire trails, then struck off to the right up the hill into the redwoods. I'm glad that he seemed to know where he was going, but not only had I never been there before, it was dark to boot. But we didn't go very far before Tosh slowed down. I squinted out into the dark and saw a domed shape, something like an igloo (although of course there was no snow).
“Tosh, what are we . . . “ he stopped me with a raised hand and led us on, slowly.
As we got closer to the shape, I saw that it was some kind of low . . . I dunno, a hut? Someone had taken a bunch of branches, twigs, vines, and other stuff I couldn’t see and woven them together into a dome-shaped shelter, nestled inside a circle of redwoods. Through the dim light coming from inside, I could see that a number of colorful streamers, non-functioning christmas-tree lights, and other colorful bets of fabric had been woven into the shelter. Tosh led as around to a small opening.
“Hey, it's Tosh. Anyone home?”
“Hey Tosh!” said a voice from inside, a bit rough and gravelly. ”Yeah, c'mon in, man!”
“Got a friend with me.”
“No problem, man; it's all good.”
“Thanks.” Tosh started to crawl through the small entrance, and I followed him. Inside was a small round space, maybe 6 feet across. There was a rough-woven rug of some kind sitting on top of a soft floor of redwood duff. Over on the side opposite the entrance was a youngish, tallish, thinnish guy leaning up against a full-sized backpack (rather than the daypacks most students carried around). He hand long, lanky, hair that was, as far as I could tell in the dim light of his Coleman lantern, a dark blonde color. His backpack was old, patched, and bulging, and I could see a bedroll peaking out from the behind the small of his back. A paperback was open face-down on the rug beside him, and his legs were stretched out in front of him. His clothes were pretty dirty, but he wasn't too rank despite the fact that he clearly slept outdoors a lot without benefit of regular indoor plumbing use. He gave us both a friendly smile.
“'sup, man?” he asked Tosh.
Tosh greeted him, not giving a name nor introducing me. While they made a bit of small talk, I glanced around; the shelter had all kinds of decorations hanging from the branches above—crystals, christmas ornaments, pendants that had pentacles on them, and plenty of other items that I couldn't recognize in the dim light. It looked like someone had taken a run through a flea market and grabbed every kind of hanging object they could find and dangled the results from the ceiling of the hut. It couldn’t have looked more hippie-like if it had had a lava lamp in the middle of the floor.
I began to get the point about “elves”.
“So anyway,” Tosh said, clearly getting to the point (and snapping me back onto the task at hand), “I've been wondering if you seen anybody kinda weird around the last few months.”
I boggled at what might seem as “weird” in this context, but kept quiet. The elf nodded thoughtfully and tilted his head to the side. ”Yeah, I've heard stuff, but haven't seen anything myself. What do you have in mind, man?”
“A single guy hanging around, but not being from around here, you know. He'd look like he didn't spend nights out in Elf Land ever. Nice clothes, probably. Someone who wouldn't stand out in any of the classrooms or campus offices.”
YOU ARE READING
A Study with SlugsMystery / Thriller
It is the early 1980s, and women are disappearing from the university campus in Santa Cruz, California, home of the Fighting Banana Slugs. The local police and state investigators are baffled, and so solving these crimes is left to a dope-smoking...