Monday, March 23, 2009


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.


  1. Smoke fills the cave.

    The Beast is dead.

    I think.

    I want to make sure.

    It won't get up. It won't kill again.

    The Beast is dead.



    I am covered in gore. I am covered in ash.


    I am falling.




    Am I here or am I there?

    Where is where?


    The man stands up, his clothes practically granting him natural camouflage. Black coat that extends to his knees. Black stirrup pants, black boots with steel spurs. Black leather gloves and vest that cover a dark grey button-down shirt. He deftly swoops down to pick up his wide-brimmed black hat. He places it on his shaggy brown hair, growing longer from lack of upkeep, that brushes quietly against his several day stubble. He wipes his mouth with a faded grey kerchief around his neck.

    Caleb looks around at his new surroundings, trying his best to absorb everything in.

    Stones, beach, fog, those funny sea creatures he hasn't seen since... since a child? The sight: fog, thicker than any fog he's seen, thick enough to blot out the sun. The smell, strange blend, bittersweet, dead happiness. The taste, the feel... chicken broth?
    A sensation runs over him. A giant crutch. A large hand holding his mouth open, another spoon-feeding him soup.
    No, the sensation's gone.
    The fuck am I?

    He glances around, smiling at the American flag in the distance.


    He pauses.
    Smiles again.
    An idea.

    He hops over a few of the stones to find a relatively dry patch of rocky outcropping, then pulls his rifle and holster off of his shoulder.
    Time to think.
    I ain't got no whiskey and I doubt there's a good Dope Den here.
    Time to think.

    Taking off his coat, he lays it on the ground. Removes a glove to test the dampness of his coat, satisfied, removes his gun belts and gently lays them on his coat, taking off his other glove in the process.
    This could be a dream.
    He picks up his rifle and unloads all the cartridges. Pain shoots through his right shoulder as he remembers:
    The bear's death-throe.
    Death throw?
    Silent snickers.

    He eyes each bullet of his .44 Winchester Repeater before, satisfied, returns them to their rightful place.
    So I'm not dreaming, as I still feel pain.
    He pulls out fistful of .44 cartridges from his bandoleer, eying them and shaking them for dampness.

    So if it's not a dream, what is it?
    He replaces one handful and pulls out another.
    This ain't no dope high.
    Too vivid.

    He winces as he tosses a water-soaked cartridge over his shoulder.
    Smiling, and, of course, I'm in pain, and I'm not overcome with laughter.
    Eyes on a .44, blows on it, shakes it, and returns it to his gun-belt.
    At least, not yet.

    He replaces all his rifle bullets into their belts, smoothing them out as he gingerly places his Winchester into its' holster.

    So what else could it be?
    He goes to his left gun-belt, taking apart his .45.
    Did the bear kill me?
    He looks through the barrel of his pistol before he replaces it to it's gun.
    And so, this is, what, the afterlife?
    Snickering again, he pours the rounds out of their chambers. Eying them, he replaces them, along with the chamber, back into his .45.

    Bad time for me to find religion.

    Caleb laughs aloud, but quickly quiets himself down as he hears how his voice quietly echo. Hunkering down he scans the area. In the distance, one of The Herd returns his call.


    He lays still for what seems like an eternity. No other noises are made.
    Better watch myself.
    He spins the chamber of his .45 close to his ear then returns it to it's belt before carrying on with the last of his weapons.

    He takes his knife from it's sheath, eyes it, returns.
    He goes for his other .45 gun belt.
    So, I'm not dreaming, I'm not high, I'm not dead... what's left?

    Caleb is able to keep himself from cursing as he spins the chambers of his other .45, water and soggy bullets falling out.
    Is this all an hallucination?
    And if so... now what?

    He lets that thought swim in his head as he checks the remainder of his bullets on his final gun belt.

    He stands slowly, scratching his head with the barrel of his revolver.

    The American Flag.

    He shrugs, takes his spurs off, places them in his pockets, and heads over there in a quiet fashion, pistol drawn.

  2. Fat, black bugs the size of horseflies scurry under the stones as he approaches.

    It's difficult to move stealthily, because with every step the stones grind under his boots. He must be killing those bugs by the hundreds.

    The man keeps the sound of the herd to his right and the American flag ahead of him. In time, the seal-like cackles recede into the waves and the man notices that he is alone, except for the bugs. There are no plants in this landscape, only the stones, the cliffs, those buildings.

    He's hungry - what is there to eat here? In hindsight, Caleb remembers that there was no driftwood, no dead things, not a speck of seaweed on the beach.

    Only stones being forever washed by sweet smelling waters.

    What did the bugs eat?

    Not the right flag. The breeze pulls the flag out once, twice, three times. 35-stars. Let's see. Thirty-seven states in the Union: Nebraska joined in '67, Nevada in '64, West Virginia in '63, and West Virginia was number thirty-five. It's been at least thirteen years since that flag's been planted. The breeze from the sea moves it, but only gently. It's not worn. The buildings are plain fronts built into the cliff. There are no signs, and only one of them has a door. It's wooden and dusty, but still on its hinges. The place does not look decrepit in the least – perhaps it hasn't been abandoned long?

    The building without a door has no windows until one gets to the very top, where there is a square opening and a wooden platform. From the platform – which looks jury-rigged like a tree house – two ropes are looped around pulleys and stretched upwards into the fog.

    The man drew his gun and approached the door. He listened. No noise. He opened it wide in one throw.

    "My balls!" someone yelped.

    Caleb put the barrel of his gun in the direction of the cry, trained it on a little man, curled into a ball in the corner of a workshop of some kind. Most were stones bound together with bits of wood that looked like that had been scavenged from somewhere else, and all tied together into pulleys and wheels and bands.

    The man held out his arm. It was a white man, his hair was wild and shoulder length and grey. He cried, "Fucking balls, my shit's all spread out! Don't come, no you fucking big black bug, don't come!"

    Tomahawks bound together make a water wheel. Two stones were suspended on lines over a piece of flint . . . it was an ignitor? Did he make all this? The man cowered even more deeply, hiding his face in his own lap. "Fucking asses and you filthy Cibecue wankers all on my balls! You shit mouthed pussies come in here waving your bug guns all over and yelping like injuns and . . .

    "Fucking shoot me! I'll do whatever you say!" Despite his demand he did not cease to hold his arm out protectively. In his other hand, Caleb could make out the blade of a knife.

    One of the cobbled-together things was different from the others. It was mostly metal – brass probably. It supported a silvery crystalline shape in a ring which was held by means of a pair of cantilevers at a short distance away from the rest of the contraption, which consisted of a box and a gauge. Behind the gauge, there were two columns of three buttons each. They were labeled in familiar Arabic numerals:

    6 1
    5 2
    4 3

    "Just don't take any more of my face!" cried the man. "Stop taking my face! Stop it! Stop it stop it stop it . . ." his words descended into unintelligible wailing and his arm fell to his side.

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  4. Caleb lowers his weapon, but keeps it at the ready. You can never tell with the mad.

    "Hey, hey, easy friend, easy. I'm not here to shoot you or, uh, take your face. I'm not from around here. I'm just curious about the-... the surroundings," he says. Caleb's eyes keep darting back and forth between the crazed man and the various contraptions and devices.

    Caleb smiles. His stomach growls. He takes a gamble. "Say, friend. This is pretty impressive work. How 'bout we sit a spell and you tell me about what you've made here. I'll cook us up some food if you show me where your stores are."

    I hope this works, the mad usually like to talk about their creations. And I hope he has food that isn't... isn't bugs or a human foot.

  5. "Oh fuck's sake and by Ceaser, by my darling heart!"

    He quivered.

    "Stash is in the next room." He flung his free arm in the direction of wooden, and completely typical, door at the backside of the room. "In the fanger, in the box."

    Caleb passed by the man and crossed the room. he turned the doorknob. It didn't feel like it was connected to any mechanism. The door came open loosely. Just inside, there was an open crate, and in there were stacks of jars. Some contained pink bits of flesh soaking in what Caleb could only assume was the bluish water of the "Bay". Others were filled to the brim with black insects.

    The man stood up, apparently fearless. His right eye socket was dry and empty. "You smell like" - he sniffed loudly - "Cibecue." He dropped his knife. "Balls. Guess ya hafta shoot me, partner."

    Beyond the crate of potential edibles there was a stairway hewn from the stone of the cliff, leading into the chamber above.

    (Caleb passed a fast talk.)

  6. Caleb rolls his eyes.

    He turns to the Old Man. "Oh shut up. If I'm gonna be shootin' a man, I'll be the one decidin' it. Understand?"

    He steps back into the main room, kicks the Old Man's knife away while pointing his gun at him.

    "Now, if you're a glutton for punishment, you can just do yourself a favor and find your hardest rope and tie yerself to that there chair. And while yer hands and feet do the workin' your mouth best start talkin'. You tell me, where'd you come across this meat? Not the bugs, the meat? Also, what leads up them stairs?"

  7. "Yessir, dude" says the Old man, "Just go an shoot me whenever ya feel like it, tenderfoot. Ain't no escape, just so ya know."

    He grins hugely and points at the jars. "That's fresh Looper gut. They're all over the beach, gruntin' and talkin' to each other, havin' their ridiculous dances in the sand. You didn't see?" He runs into the other room. "Chair's in here. And there's this." He moves jars around in the box and retrieves a length of rope and a smaller jar, crammed with what look like orange preserves. "It's spergum from a baby," the Old Man explains. "Can't kill th' big uns. Balls! Louis got greedy for some meat one day and tried ta do it with a rock." The Old Man draws a finger around his neck like a noose, and then pulls the imaginary knot up, up, up. "Yeech. Like that. Got looped."

    "Upstairs! What's upstairs?" Caleb repeats, gesturing with his gun.

    "Since ya asked. It's just a big hole. Just don't take any more of my face and don't fuckin' smash my balls, and it's your hole. I don't give a shit. If ya don't want me around, ya can always just feed me some lead. Hooey, that's exciting!"

  8. Caleb keeps his gun pointed at the Old Man. He looks at the jar of "spergum" then back at the Old Man.

    "I don't care shit 'boutcher balls or yer face. Now you just hold on a second, I'll be back."

    He heads up the stairs.

  9. Upstairs is a room. The outer walls are put together with bricks cut from the cliff face. The inner walls are, apparently, the cavities from which the bricks were taken. The Old Man could not have done this all on his own - but for how long had the building been here? Natives didn't build anything like it - not that Caleb knows of.

    In the back of the room is a hole. Its mouth seems to have been worked, but Caleb can see that just beyond the opening, there is what appears to be a - the word doesn't feel right - natural cave.

    Its dark. The fog muffles the outside light like it dampens sound. The lantern on the table will be useful - beside that, and a pickaxe, there's nothing in here.

  10. Caleb reaches toward the lantern with his off-hand, only then realizing he's still carrying the jar of "spergum." He sets the jar down, eyes going back and forth between lantern and jar.

    He snickers as he takes out a match from his pocket. Striking it against his leg, he uses it to light the torch (and a cigarette) and get a better look around him.

    He takes it toward the cave and peeks in, though giving it wide berth.

    I think I had me enough of weird caves for now.

    He turns toward the stairs and heads back down, turning off the torch as he does so.

    The Old Man's prattling on.

    Caleb smiles at the Old Man, turning his pistol on him again. "So, friend, how about that dinner I mentioned." He slowly takes the cigarette out of his mouth, simply to add a dramatic pause, "I hope you're a good cook cuz I'd hate to eat alone."