Of course, throughout all of this, we are still being followed. By a man in a car. By a man in blue Honda. You know the one.
We stick to the coast, southbound on Highway 1. The dark expanse of ocean threatens on our right, tumultuous under low hanging clouds. Wind sweeps in off the waters and pulls the meadow grass down low. An occasional break in the clouds will turn gray water to green water, but these moments of light are brief. Mostly we drive through an onslaught of muted colors.
My hope is the coastal roads will make it harder for us to be followed. With its winding curves, with its cliffs, hills, and bridges, there is no horizon for the blue Honda to balance on, no easy vantage point from which the aforementioned man can watch us.
Sometimes I’ll pull over and wait for the cars to pass, to see if I can recognize the one who follows. My senses heighten in these moments. A warning tightness in my chest. I watch the cars pass, scrunched down in the driver’s seat. But the man never passes. Suddenly, my senses abate, my heart slows, and a calmness sweeps over me that borders on coma.
I ask Brian for a joint. And a light. I crack open the window — opening the interior to the sound of the waves, the passing cars, the brush of wind against a beard — and I light the joint. Breathing in the smoke, its taste of earth, gives me a sense of oneness with this earth, and it’s this oneness that I tune into. The man waits somewhere behind. He’s tuned into what I’m tuned into now.
Somehow, we’re connected.
He knows where we’re heading. He knows what we’re up to. Shake him or not, he’ll still find us. I pull back onto the road and drive.
Though welcome, there’s another benefit to taking Highway 1 that I did not intend: Brian can find no place to stay on Tinder and therefore has no choice but to stay in the minivan with me. The reception is shoddy, and when he does manage to make a connection, it doesn’t last. This lack of technology on the northern coast feels backward, unsettling. Though we know where we are, we often find ourselves lost. The fog rolls in from the ocean and takes the road. Windswept trees claw inland like skeletal hands.
We drive slow. It’s been over an hour since we’ve seen another car. Brian grows restless next to me, constantly checking his phone for a signal but failing to find one. Neither of us want to stop, neither of us want to get out of the car in fear we’ll lose ourselves to the mist.
A sign tells us we are now
ENTERING SALT POINT STATE PARK.
Our eyes grow weak in the dimming twilight, the headlights doing nothing to break the fog. Another sign, this one for Gerstle Cove Campground. We take this offshoot into the park, follow a short road to the campground loop and drive slow through the fog, looking for a vacant site. Little fires burn around us but fail to illuminate the silhouettes that surround them. It’s too early for a campground to be this quiet.
We pull into a secluded site, complete with picnic table and fire pit, but we don’t leave the car. Mist creeps along the windows. Condensation drips from the high trees against the roof. Brian checks his phone. Still no service.
It’s been four nights since he’s found a place to stay. Four nights since either of us have gotten any sleep.
“I’m cold,” he says, and gets out of the car. He sits at the table, facing the fire pit, and throws up his hood.
“We have wood,” I say, following him out.
He says nothing.
In the pit I stack the firewood into a house, like I’ve seen Brian do. I can’t find kindling so I take my journal and tear out the blank pages, crumpling them up and lighting them before throwing them into the little wood house. The wood doesn’t catch. Brian watches but doesn’t seem to care whether it catches or not. He doesn’t seem to expect it to.
Drops continue to fall from the trees. Slowly, the lights from the surrounding camps go out. Our firewood never catches, downgrading it to just wood. Dejected, I sit next to Brian. “Well—”
Brian says nothing.
Back in the van I lie across the sheets. Darkness spreads through the fog like ink, pressing itself against the windows. Brian is still out there, at the table, I haven’t heard him move. It must be well past midnight when I do hear something. Footsteps passing the car then growing distant.
I pull aside the hanging tapestries but see nothing. There’s no one out there. I slip on my shoes, open and close the sliding door as quietly as I can.
Far away footsteps. Where?
It would’ve been impossible to follow him if it wasn’t for the blue light of his phone. Every now and again he’ll raise it up as if searching for a signal. I use these beacons to track him.
At the other end of the loop there’s a trail that leads away from the campsite, away from the main road. I’m careful to keep a good deal behind, but even more careful not to lose him. The low thunder of waves grows louder. I can taste the salt of the sea. I see nothing. I’m utterly reliant on the brief moments of light from Brian’s phone — illuminated trees between shifting darkness, a Rorschach test with Brian’s silhouette always at the center.
Then the lights stop. I’m groping for a trail but there’s nothing. The winds rush at me from all sides. I bundle myself against myself, but I don’t seem to be all there. I stop walking, listen to anything beyond the wind, beyond the waves that could be coming from anywhere. Had I been walking uphill or downhill? The trees creak against the weight of the fog.
Suddenly, a great swinging glow from beyond the trees, brighter than any phone, any star, any sun, making shadows of the trees and moving them slow and synchronized across my feet. Then the unmistakable roll of tires on gravel. A car door slam. Now the lights are red and receding into the night.
I follow the spots in my eyes toward their origin — a slight downhill grade, the trees opening up — and I come out onto a dirt road.
The trail is here, it ends on one side of the road and continues on the other where there are no trees, just silver grass shuddering in the wind. Beyond that, the ocean. The air is so wet. The moon slides above through a rare break in clouds. I make my way toward the meadow.
Everything is black and gray, but with a tinge of technicolor blue. Only barely though. The light is much more mute than that.
“Brian?” I call out into the wind. “Brian!”
I don’t believe my voice carries beyond me, but instead is swept back with the wind behind me. I climb the sandstone that rises from the meadow before dropping into the ocean. There’s something there, on the wind, something other than the waves. A soft sob, yes, that’s the sound.
Below me to the right is a little cove, and on its beach I see a shadow sitting, hunched in the sand. I call out to him but he doesn’t answer, doesn’t even look up. Using the many pits, divots, and ridges — carved like honeycomb into the stone — I make my way down toward the beach and drop myself onto the wet sand.
The hunch of the figure is familiar, and I know I know him. He hears me coming and looks up.
His voice startles me. I search the darkness for his face, his faded features. Oh.
“Sorry, I thought you were Brian.”
“I thought you were Brian too.”
I sit next to him in the sand and its moisture seeps from my jeans to my underwear.
“Where do you think he went?”
“I don’t know.”
“Do you think he’ll come back?”
“He always does.”
I burrow deeper into myself, into the cold sand, and everything is so cold, even myself. I take myself into myself and tell myself everything is going to be alright.
“Are you sure?”
“I don’t know.”
The tide crawls up from the deep, lapping once at our shoes before scuttling back.
“We should probably be getting back,” I say.
“Yes. Yes we should.”
“I’m glad I have you,” I say.
“Me too. It’s not always so easy to find one’s self.”
The two of us climb back up to the meadow, find the trail where the road cuts through and follow it back toward the campsite. I can barely see myself in the dark, but I’m not all that hard to follow.
“Where have you been all this time?” I ask.
I seem to think for a bit, search my mind for the answer before giving it. “The greatest hazard of all,” I say, “losing one’s self, can occur very quietly in the world, as if it were nothing at all. No other loss can occur so quietly. Any other loss — an arm, a leg, five dollars, a wife, etc. — is sure to be noticed.”
“Who said that?”
“You said that.”
“But who said that first?”
“I don’t know.”
“Brian would know.”
“But doesn’t that make you suspicious, how much Brian knows?”
“I never thought—”
“He knows too much. Where do you think he goes to at night?”
“I don’t trust him.”
“Because you don’t trust him.”
“Yes. I never thought of it like that.”
“You don’t think enough.”
“You’re supposed to help me.”
“I’m not the one who lost me. That was your doing.”
“What do I call you?”
“You can call me whatever you want to call me.”
“But what do you call yourself?”
“I call myself many names, but you’ve called me Knight, you’ve called me Ranger, you’ve called me man in blue Honda, you’ve called me Walker.”
“You’ve been following me.”
“You’ve been following yourself.”
I don’t remember much else of the conversation. How it ends, who leaves whom, which one of us I am when I wake in the morning. I’m left with myself. That’s all I know.
Opening my eyes, I feel full. Stronger, that’s the best way to describe it. The mist still moves through the trees but the rising sun gives it a wet, golden glow. Families are packing up their coolers, breaking down their tents. No one comes to collect payment as our presence here seems to have gone unnoticed.
I’m sitting out the open back of the van, smoking a cigarette from the pack Brian left in the front cupholder. I’m smoking it just like Brian smokes his, looking cool, looking collected, when Brian himself comes strolling down the campground loop smoking a cigarette too. He looks rested, he looks smug, and I realize I was right — he knows too much.
“Hey you,” he says, and sits down next to me.
“Where were you?”
“Walking. Thought you lost me?”
I shrug, as if it doesn’t matter. “The greatest hazard of all,” I say, “losing one’s self, can occur very quietly in the world, as if it were nothing at all. No other loss can occur so quietly. Any other loss — an arm, a leg, five dollars,” I look at him here, “a friend, etc. — is sure to be noticed.”
“Yes,” I say. “But who said it first?”
Brian blows a plume of smoke into the fog. His eyes narrow, his eyebrows shrug, when he looks at me.
“Me,” I say. “I said it first. I said it last. Everyone else, they’re saying my shit.”
He crushes out his cigarette, apparently calm, but his firmness in crushing it says this new revelation has upset him in some way. His eyes don’t quite meet mine when he looks up at me again.
“I am the Alpha,” I say. “I am the Omega. I am Everything that’s ever been said.”
“Well said,” he says.
“So. Shall we?”
We leave the mists behind. And the coast, this California coast, grows golden. The sun is out, high and hot, and it beats down on the hood of the car with such metallic force. The future blinds, there’s a glare. Open the windows, a grit to the air. It’s like black sand in the lungs.
join man next week for journal #36 (in which nothing happens in San Francisco)