They Speak

They say such things aren't real.

This is a lie.

I sat in the cold, thirty feet up in a tree when hunting,
.264 magnum in my lap, anticipation building.
My fingers usually freeze.
And I can never feel my toes.
But there's a sense of peace to be found,
way down in the woods, where one
may be accosted by squirrels and thrushes,
and sunshine dapples the leaves below.

Except for that day.
The light was dying and I still couldn't feel my toes.
But the trees were too silent.
No fat gray squirrels in the underbrush.
No thrushes or woodpeckers thumping around.
Everything was silent and I was alone.

Hunting is cathartic,
but it's also more than that.
It is a way of life,
and I have been going since age six.
There's nothing quite like the final moment,
that split-second you pull a trigger.
A buck was my target on every hunt,
but does are okay for good meat.

Except for that day.
There was nothing cathartic about that day.
Because the woods were silent.
And when I finally did see antlers,
they weren't attached to a white-tail deer.
They rested on a humanoid head with dead eyes.

Deer are beautiful creatures.
They are graceful, fast,
with slender limbs and liquid-dark eyes.
Sometimes I sit in a stand just to watch them,
because they are clever and quick
and deer are beautiful creatures.

This thing was not a deer.
And it was not beautiful.
It was nine feet tall and emaciated,
gray skin and a face with no nose.
Its arms ended in dirty claws and hung awkwardly.
The joints of its knees bent backwards.

White-tail deer have dark eyes,
gentle and friendly.
Deer are dangerous, true,
but they aren't aggressive.
White-tail deer have friendly eyes,

This thing was not a deer.
It had white, filmy eyes.
They were corpse-like and dead.
My hands shook around the rifle.
Because those eyes were looking at me.

The woods are never silent.

I couldn't hear a thing.

Rule Number One of Hunting reads thus;
Never aim at something you don't intend to shoot.
This rule prevents injury,
and it keeps everyone safe.

I lifted the .264 magnum and aimed.
Right between the prominent ribs on its gray chest.
The thing tilted its head in a stare.
I knew I was not the predator here.
The hair-pin trigger gave way beneath my index.

Guns are loud,
and this is a fact of life.

The shot made no noise.

I'm used to killing animals.
You do it quick,
one shot and no pain.
No muss, no fuss, and no suffering.
Deer usually realize they're dead.

This thing was not a deer.
And it did not die when I shot it.

Deer can run after you shoot them,
because adrenaline is a tricky thing.
They are powerful creatures, despite being prey,
and sometimes they'll run nearly 200 yards before dropping.
But they always end up falling.

This thing was not a deer.
And I watched as red-black poured from a hole in its chest.
It just looked down for a second.
Then it looked back up at me.
I panicked because there are only two left.
And I cursed my father's Rule of Three Bullets.

My scream is distinctive,
all high-pitched and shrieking.
It tends to carry,
especially when I'm outside.

I opened my mouth and screamed.
There was no sound.

I am not afraid of the woods,
because there is always something nearby.
Respect nature and it will respect you,
that's what my Dad always said.
I live by this rule, and it has
failed me yet.

The thing turned around and walked the way it came.
I sat in the stand and cried for twenty minutes.
But I somehow got down.
My hands were shiny red and stiff with cold,
taut around my precious rifle.
I had never run so fast before.
Or since.

They say monsters in the woods aren't real,
just wives-tales,
things to keep little children awake at night.

This is a lie.