He woke up in the wet stone lap of a beach. Black, grey, green stones, smooth and long like tongues, pressed against his skin, against his flesh through his soaked clothes. Heavy, cold tongues. The water licked him.
The man wrapped his fist around a stone, and slid it across other stones. It made a wholesome scrawing sound as it slid. This was real, actual stuff in his hand and not a dream. Scrawing; clattering; shuffling of stones; the sounds of a man as he pushes himself to his feet. Fog, the dark blue ocean, the beach. Was he in San Francisco again – how? How many days had he lost?
With dope, the man was magic: he could turn coin into shit faster than kissin' a duck.
Had he laid his stony philosopher’s hands on Tall’s money – on that dead bear? – and turned it into dope? Had he taken a handful of that black resin and smeared it over the whole, long trail from Arizona to California? Had he rubbed out everything from the Lazy T to the Bay?
Elephant seals? Something like an elephant seal perhaps – this was not the Bay. The breeze was filled with an aroma alien to California – oregano blended with rich, ripe tobacco; and with something rotten but sweet, possibly delectable, like bruised and softened bananas. The chorus moved further away now – if he hadn't heard similar noises for himself in his childhood, he would have been horrified at the reptilian blathering of the creatures, and he would have been unable to imagine anything quite so strange being emitted from a mammalian body, from an animal as big and as real as a horse. But as he took in the sweet, old breeze that glided to him from over the waters he understood that he had not worked his familiar trick upon the trail - and that the voices could not be seals.
The trail had only been as long as a vein of metal in a stone wall in a bear's den. When he had touched the silvery metal, he felt its crystals under his fingertips. They were like sharp stubble, like three days of riding gone by on a man's face. The deposit had felt hairy, but nevertheless metallic, and when he felt these minute crystals under his fingertips, he tripped. He had fallen. He had landed on the beach.
The calls were gone, they had moved away quickly enough, and as a group. Elephant seals did nothing but lay on the beach and scream at one another. He brought a sleeve across his face. Soaked, it smelled of oregano, tobacco, bananas. The water itself emitted the odor and the man was bathed in its perfumes. It was not the Bay. The man's own urge to scream arrived only at that moment, but he did not let the cry escape from his throat. Something reasonable in him told him that he should remain unseen until he had seen more with his own eyes. It told him that his cries might invite the chorus on the beach closer again.
The guns and bullets were all there; hopefully they weren't ruined by the water. He sat down again, facing the direction that the cacophonic herd had gone – beach on his left, fog on his right.
Shortly the fruit-laden sea breeze cleared the air on his left and the man saw a high cliff face. No, "high" was too small. The basaltic stone seemed to stretch on forever in all directions – it did! It was as if the higher-than-high cliff face marked the end of the world. There was nothing above it and nothing at either end. There was only the wall, the beach, and the sea.
And the man.
And the herd.
The wall was much further away than the man had first reckoned – there would be perhaps an entire stony mile to cover before he arrived there. From here, he could see two tall buildings at the base of the wall. Hopi? – they were built right against the wall, and were nearly the same dark color as it. Crowning the one on the right was, ridiculously, an American flag.
It didn't feel like America.