But one more came and there was no quitting in the walrus's heart. He mumbled as he worked the sliver of errant wood from the soft of his flipper, just as he had upon removing each of its predecessors. Again, he swore that one more would be one too many.
The work was slow, but after days and days, a thing began to take shape. Where the desert had forever stretched out in every direction beyond the woodpiles and smokefactories and oilsoaked waterholes of his oasis, there now grew a stretch of wooden sea, painted out to the edge in blue and white, vanishing into the dangerous desert sun. There were rocks, too, jagged juts of painted gray, complete with frozen splashes of wooden break bashing against their sturdy forms.
So convincing was the illusion of the sea, that upon pulling the last of the splinters from his scarred and calloused flipper, the walrus lost all knowing of the falseness of his creation. Where the sea remained endlessly still, he taught his ears to know the nigh inaudible creak of aging paint. It was in that sound the tide would rise and the foam would spray.
The desert was not pleased, and the smokefactories, obscured as they were by the great rocks that dotted the artificial beach, were downright furious. Yet for all of that natural rage, the walrus sensed nothing more than the harsh anger of the sea. The blackest of smoke was only the thickest of mists, clinging to the dangerous spires of his imposing stones. The swarms of poisonous fauna that slithered toward the wooden shore along the painted waves were only the spawning wild of the unknown deep, an endless feast for the deluded beast.
In this way, the years were good. He came to know the laws of his world, and all fell into the rhythm of his dream. He grew fat on the flat ocean's bounty, so much so that in time he had only to open his mouth to be nourished. So seldom did he move that he began to forget the great wooden rocks that loomed behind him. So too did he forget those parts of him that made the moving possible. Eventually he remembered nothing of flippers and the flopping. There were only his eyes, from which the universe spread. There was only his mouth, into which the universe poured.
Imagine, then, his concern when the traveler came to his shore. A man, the traveler was far too large to climb into the great walrus's gape, but the creature held it wide nonetheless. Stranger still, was the man's demeanor. It behaved in such a way as to suggest that the walrus was not the center of the world. It behaved in such a way as to suggest that the walrus's beach was not what it appeared to be.
The walrus winced as the man pried up a faded-blue plank of wake. He winced again as the man repeated the action. Over and over the walrus winced, his mind reeling at the insanity of the moment. He considered moving away from the man, down the shore perhaps, but the idea seemed too ridiculous.
Should the center move, the walrus thought, the universe must, in turn, move at equal measure. Thusly, no motion is possible.
So the creature remained still, its mouth held wide for the eventual realization of the man that it existed only to be eaten. The man, however, never came to such a realization. Instead, it built a pile of busted water at the shoreline, and in the waning of the great and boiling sun, it set fire to the assembled planks.
At the sight of those flames, stretching high into the ink of night, the walrus cried. Something fragile had broken, though he was unsure of what it was. In desperation he called out to the interloper.
"Why do you burn my sea?"
The man turned in shock toward the walrus, as if it had not noticed him until now.
"I burn this wood because I am cold. What other reason should there be?"
The walrus had no answer. He'd never considered reason before. Until now, he'd never had occasion.
"Besides," the man said, "there's plenty to go around."
It was true, the walrus supposed. Indeed, if he closed his left eye, the man and his fire disappeared entirely. Through his right eye there was only the pristine field of moonlit blue, and so he learned to keep that eye open, and the other closed.
Weeks passed and all was well. The walrus taught his right eye to see more than it ever had, and he had forgotten about the man altogether. That is, until he felt the man chewing at his side. He couldn't see his attacker, but there was no mistaking the sharp of its teeth. In desperation, the walrus cried out.
"Why do you eat at my side?"
There was a break in the chewing as the man answered.
"Because I'm hungry. Why else?"
The walrus hadn't been hungry in years, but it sounded terrible. He imagined it was as good a reason as any, and set about ignoring the pain. Yet for every inconvenience he decided to tolerate, the man would concoct another, and another, and another; until there was nothing left of the walrus but the minimum required to sustain his existence. And when the time came that the beach and rocks and sea had all been reduced to ash, and the smokefactories and oilsoaked waterholes were all that remained to be seen, the man set about its preparation to depart.
With what little meat remained, the walrus asked, "Why do you leave?"
He had grown accustomed to the man, in spite of the pain it caused.
"Because," the man replied from atop a distant dune, "there is nothing left for me to take."
Next time, the walrus thought, next time I'll build a goddamn fence. And with that, the walrus expired. And with that, the desert was pleased.