the Doe

He’s been hunting her for months now.

It’s an unhealthy obsession for someone like him. Someone who should be retired, resting in an armchair, reminiscing about his childhood. But what else could he do? She was just so perfect. Vibrant and striking in her every step, fresh and frisky, alive, as if she existed merely to taunt Death.

No. He could not let her go, not when he’s this close.

Now he can see her tail, a clean white tuft of fur underneath her polished brown coat. Even in the light rain, it shines. The rifle burns in his hands. She’s right there. But it’s too early- he doesn’t have a clear shot. She’s right there.

He grips his gun tighter, breathing deep and slow. A sprinkling rain masks his scent, but he’s still dabbed urine on his boots and rubbed pine needles all over his garments. There can be no mistakes in hunting. He’s learned that too many times.

For fifteen minutes he stands perfectly still, watching the doe shuffle about, nosing in the damp foliage for a quick snack. Her tail swishes from left to right, like a metronome, and her ears turn at the slightest noise. She was always so careful.

He recalls his failures, hundreds of attempts, getting so close only to be heard, smelt, seen, sensed… Always two steps ahead of him. Was this going to be another failure? What if she turned around right now, big black eyes looking straight at him, piercing his disguise? And then she’d run, legs kicking, hooves pushing her back into the wilderness, away from here, away!

She stops, mid-mouthful and re-positions her ears.

Better not think about that now, maybe she can smell fear, too. The world resumes as she continues to eat, and he watches her behind the cover of shrubbery. The rain shushed the ground. And slowly, she moves.

Shuffling across the floor of the woods, the doe inches clear of the tree blocking his shot. The hunter does not react. Hoof by innocent hoof she steps, closer, closer and closer yet. Heart pounding a trained rhythm the hunter maintains his irrepressible calm. The doe’s behind was about to clear the trunk entirely. All that remained hidden was her tail.

No mistakes today.

He frames her in his scope, rifle having risen soundlessly. She was none the wiser. The hunter finds his shot, a clear line from the tip of his gun to just behind her front leg. It was all too perfect.

He draws a habitual breath, braces himself for the recoil, and pulls the trigger.

Lead rips through the air, its first and last flight.

Her ears perk up too late, and she manages half a jump before the bullet tears into her flesh. Instinct overpowers pain, and she bolts, legs kicking, hooves pushing her towards the wilderness. A final performance of her vivacity.

The hunter releases his breath. He’s messed it up. He’d blown it. Everything was perfect, yet her reflexes had misplaced his shot. Well, he hadn’t expected any less, but the disappointment of imperfection still tasted sour. Deer could run for hours with a gut shot, and he had no doubt she could run for more. There will be time now. There will be time to reflect, to think, to wallow in his victory as she limbers off to die.

His mother had told him to wait at least six hours before tracking gut shot deer, while his father believed it good luck to wait for 24. In his youth the hunter followed his mother’s advice with an edge, too impulsive and impatient for long waits, but as he aged the hunter found his father’s luck never failed. So as her shadow disappears and he finishes admiring her form, he wastes no time in noting his location and setting off for home.

When he reached his car, the gentle sprinkling had turned into a battering shower. After securing his equipment safely in the boot, he found himself in the driver's seat, hands resting on the wheel as he listened to the rain.

He’d shot her, the doe.

He’d planted a kiss of lead in her belly and watched her run. Soon, time will take her, and tomorrow he’ll come back to find a cold carcass, her life having slipped away during the night. Then, the world will go on, like the conclusion of any other hunt. Is that all that happens next? He wasn’t sure what to do with himself. Everyone chases perfection, but what do they do once they’ve caught it?

To the woods he offered this question- what was the purpose of this? Isn’t it all meaningless? Even the doe, vivid and wild was no match for the determination of death.

The woods stood silent, beaten by the wind and rain. Even the rain! That rhythmless drumming… Each raindrop falling to the earth and later evaporating, brought back to the skies in some imitation of resurrection, only to fall again.

He sighs and starts his car. There wasn’t much time to waste, he had to get up early tomorrow to collect his spoils. The car carries him through the storm, engine roaring, wheels turning him towards his home, away from the woods. Away.

These woods were his childhood, and his life. All his days spent running through the bushes, tripping over roots and collecting fading leaves… The woods had become a part of him. Or perhaps he had become a part of it. Perhaps, at seventeen, when he first found joy in hunting, he’d also found a place within this ecosystem’s eternal cycle of life and death. Like a raindrop.

Will there always be a hunter in the woods? And will there always be a doe to taunt the hunter?

The rain had no answer.

At home he rests, a wooden cabin that once fit three now housing only one. A shower washes away the day’s wear, and dinner satisfies physical needs. He retires to bed at three past nine.

Laying in bed with no more immediate desires, he finds himself hollow. Survival had never been an issue, but was he actually alive? Endless philosophies slither into thought. He felt full, clean, complacent, but what else was there to life? And now, what else was there to him? The hunt of his life, the perfect prey, finished. How long ago had it been since he first caught sight of her? How long has he been lost in this maddening fixation?

He thinks it was in May that he had been coming back from the woods as usual, head filled with doubts and fear. At the time, he was troubled with his lifestyle, the normality of it all. Every day was the same. Wake up at five, chop firewood, tend to the crops, and then hunt until eight. Stuck in a never ending pattern in which nothing made him feel alive.

That night he had been driving home, confidence fading by the kilometer, when the doe had jumped out in front of him, caught in the blinding headlights of his metal behemoth, frozen. And… maybe it was the light on her fur, her pure white underside, or her nimble legs, how she ever so smoothly leapt out of his way after a few tense minutes. She was so alive. An animated animal bouncing through the woods, surrounded with the prospect of her own freedom, no part of the mind bogged down by anxieties and philosophies. Stupid, and free. A creature that, when given the choice between intellectuality and happiness, chose the latter, and cleverly so. He knew, right then, as she disappeared into the woods. She would be his prize for suffering the wrong choice.

And for the next few months, the quest became a journey. Every day challenged by the same goal- to hunt her down. When he grew frustrated with tracking, there came traps, decoys, pitfalls, and noises to corral her into them. Each plan he made was more elaborate than the last. Yet she evaded every single one of them. There was not a single day they spent unoccupied. Eventually he would begin slipping back to his tracking, except this time he was better. He would get closer, quieter, more efficient. Weeks of setting traps heightened his dexterity and sharpened his sense, and now those days were over. It was really over now.

Already, he was lapsing back into mental stagnation. A part of him wishes he didn’t kill her. If only he’d missed his shot, he’d still be here, frustrated, but with a clear mind. The hunter rolls over in bed. He should be sleeping. It was all history now. Besides, he has to wake up at five tomorrow.

* * *

At two in the morning, the hunter rises to a loud thumping. The sound was coming from the cabin door. Was someone here? Adrenaline brushes his stomach. No way. He hasn’t had any visitors since his parents passed. The most plausible explanation was wild animals, so it was the one he believed. Crushing his excitement and rolling over he tries to sleep again. But a thump turns into a crash, and soon someone, or something was battering at his front door. Curiosity overcomes him.

Grabbing his rifle he goes to answer his cabin’s assailant, who was presently methodologically beating at his door with all its weight. He waited for a pause in the senseless battery and mustered his courage. As it swung open his rifle was already pointed.

No one stood at the end of his rifle. What greeted him instead was a bony shove to his stomach. The force knocks him off his feet, throwing him back. He is scrambling for his gun and his feet when he takes a glance at his attacker, and immediately stops.

It was her. The doe. A whimpering, grunting, bloody mess. Her head was wet and tender, patches of skin beginning to slough off. The hole he’d made earlier had enlarged, now leaking both blood and intestine. Her legs were still kicking. He barely manages a gasp. Why was she here? Now? Animals don’t act like this.

“This is who you wanted, yes?”

A hollow voice rings clear in the night, seemingly coming from every direction at once.

“Who’s there?” He yells. The doe lets out a high pitched grunt.

“Hunter, you know who I am.” The hollow voice rings again.

“I really don’t. Who are you?”

“I am the Woods, Hunter. I am everyone, and I am no one.”

“Cut the cryptic bullshit,” he spat, grabbing his gun and getting to his feet. “Show yourself!”

There was a loud rumbling. It sounded distant. In the rain, behind the doe appeared a figure. What looked to be an amorphous mass, tall like a man, with antlers like a buck. It slithers closer.

The hunter points his rifle at the thing. “What do you want from me?”

“Nothing, Hunter. In fact, I wanted to give you something.”

When the hunter stays silent, it approaches. With the head of a deer it stares at him. What appeared to be hooved legs stuck out of its back, dangling loose, but twitching every so often. Otherwise its body was coated with (or made of?) a thick, shadowy substance, although the darkness hid its true nature to him.

“We were born of the Woods. We must return to it.”

It inched closer.

“Stay away!”

“Do not be scared, Hunter. We are old friends.”

“I don’t know you,” he hisses. Adrenaline pumps through him, but for some reason, this creature did look familiar. The doe writhes on the ground, and attempts to headbutt him again, but she is too weak.

“I’m sure you do,” it says with an eerie timbre, “You see this doe here?”

He grips his gun tighter.

“It is you. It is a life, a soul, a person like you.”

“She’s a person?” He laughs nervously. The doe grunts loudly.

“She was, once. All of them were.”

“You’re telling me I killed a person? You’re telling me they were all people? That’s what you came here to do?” the hunter’s will was swaying. This thing, it was familiar to him. Its hollow voice, its deranging appearance. He’s known it sometime before.

“I came here to offer you a choice, Hunter.” The doe grunts loudly. The thing continues. “You obsess over life’s simplest concepts. You desire perfection, precision, and yet you yearn adventure. What is there to life? You think. It’s painful to bear such intellectuality, is it not?”

The hunter has no answer.

“You bear the guilt of what I just told you. You believe me, but deny it. I know you too well.”

“So what if I do?” The rifle burns in his hands, this time not of anticipation. He grips it tighter. “So what if I like to think about such things? It’s just any other measly subject ain’t it?”

There was the rumbling again. Now it feels more like a mocking laugh.

“We are born of the Woods, we must return to it.”

The thing’s body stretches. It drips and coalesces before a hand reaches out from its center, clutching a geranium. It holds this out to him. He recoils.

“Take my hand, Hunter. We shall return to the Woods together.”

“What is this?”

“A choice you wish you had taken, long ago. Take the geranium, and tell me what you want the most.”

A choice…?

The hunter reaches for the geranium. It watches him. The doe, whose fur was now peeling off in patches, flesh decomposing at an alarming rate, bleats and snorts.

Taking the geranium in his hand, the hunter looks up at the thing. Its limb melts back into its body.

“Speak, Hunter. Speak.”

His eyes darted around his cabin, and what he thought at that moment, I do not know. The rotting doe however, was still grunting and writhing. Her grunts became higher in volume and pitch, struggling, forming something.

“I don’t want to think anymore. Not until the day I die.”

There was a distant rumbling.

“Well said.”

Two limbs form and pick him up by the armpits. Warmth floods his body and numbs his brain. A brown fuzz was beginning to form on his skin, and his arms grew thinner and longer. A million thoughts were racing through his head, but he paid no attention to any of them. He feels his mind slipping away.

The rotting doe appeared to panic. Her legs kicked with less intensity now, breathing fast and shallow. Focusing all her attention to her throat she tries again.

“O… oan..t…”

He looks at her again. A doe. Just a doe. Nothing more. She opens her mouth.


The thing sets him down again, only he was no longer there. It was just a Doe. A young, vivacious Doe. She sniffs the air with curiosity.

“Come along now, Doe” the thing says. “You have to go home.”

The Doe turns and runs, legs kicking, hooves pushing her towards the Woods, away from an ashen skeleton. The skeleton looked familiar, or it would have, if she could care.

She ran. She ran and ran and ran. Just a Doe, vibrant and striking, running down a road in the rain. She was almost there. Almost there, when suddenly a vehicle speeds around the bend and brakes just in time. Caught in the blinding headlights of the metal behemoth, she froze. A few tense minutes of soundless staring pass between her and the strange car, before she snaps out of her trance, and bounces away into the night. Away.

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