This is a real place; I walked it while I was out of town earlier this week. It was begging to end up immortalized in one of my stories somewhere, so I let Lian have it, and she went to a few places I hadn’t considered when I was taking that walk. At least, that I hadn’t consciously considered.
“Hard shoes,” Malora had told me. Hard shoes, for a beach with such smooth pebbles? Smooth, round white rocks, from the scrubby thick-needled evergreens right down to the shore where seagulls stood sentry and herons waded past—that didn’t seem worthy of stronger soles. When we walked on them, though, they crunched underfoot and gave under our weight—my weight, at least, as Malora seemed somehow to only move them rather than crunch them. I picked one up to see what was wrong; it was light, hollow, ridged. A dead barnacle. Barnacles deeper than the length of my finger. Barnacles from the treeline to the water. Barnacles as far as I could see. How many dead barnacles had washed up here?
The dead were not limited to the barnacles. Here and there I paused at the sight of something watching me, then realized from the flat of the head that it was a fish skull, empty-socketed, thrown aside by some messy eater; for every picked-over skull there was one that still had a spine, one that trailed flattened scales, one that might still even have had meat on it along with the inedible portions.
“A graveyard?” I asked Malora.
“A battlefield,” she replied. “A decades-long invasion. Only the dead can rule here.”
“The birds seem unbothered,” I said. The gulls were still watching us; we kept to the far side of the barnacles to avoid disturbing them. It seemed more respectful that way.
“Except for that one?” Malora asked, pointing downward. Ahead of us were a few brown feathers, an expanse of perforated white too large for any fish, and a chain of vertebrae bent over on itself. Obviously, logically, it was the work of some predator, but I could not help but imagine the creature—a heron, perhaps, bold enough to leave the water and the far-off sand and walk upon the shells. The hollows of each shell venting forth a wisp of white mist; the wisps rising, surging upon the intruder, overwhelming it, and then this.
And I walked in silence, that my footsteps would announce my presence as little as possible and my voice not at all, in the salty air, under the filtered light of the sun, and still felt as a clumsy intruder next to Malora, whose feet barely disturbed the dead at all.