The White Stag

They slew a white stag on my eighteenth birthday that had wandered into the park behind the high school. We watched from the window and one girl fainted when they swung the axe and nobody knew why they hadn't just ushered it back into the woods. The principal said they had to because it was a hazard.

It's the neighborhood park I used to walk through to get home. When I walked through it that day all that was left was blood and it was already beginning to rain, siphoning away the pool of blood down the path down into the woods. I followed it. I noticed, perpendicular to this path, the line in the dirt the axe had made as it was dragged. The sound and the force of the axe played in my head over and over and when I finally looked up I wasn't sure where I was. Somewhere in the woods.

I almost turned back in the violet and rose twilight but I heard a cry from deeper in and saw a woman smaller than me shivering under one of the old trees. She was repeating something to herself. I crept closer.

It's hopeless, she said.

Yes, I said. It sounds that way.

She looked up at me. You could try though, she said. That's the thing about hope. It's when it's hopeless that it's there.

No, I said. Think about what you're saying.

I kept walking. I could hear great movement far to the left and to the right of me in the darkness. There were no stars and the darkness of outer space and the darkness of the forest were indistinguishable. I was dizzied and felt like I walked off the ground.

Some time before dawn, I found myself on the other side of the woods. In a different neighborhood, near the college that had accepted me early. I hadn't been sure if I should attend this one. But I was already there. I wasn't sure how I would get back. I was already an adult. I might as well. It seemed for the best. I talked to a janitor, got myself a solo dorm room, and didn't leave it for the entire summer. I would sleep for weeks at a time. I would dream about something made of fingers and eyes, stalking me.

Much later, great disasters befell my old neighborhood. Pestilence. Plagues. Invasions and humiliations. The school was shelled. The woods were burned. Women were dragged into the street by their hair. My parents call me to tell me. They say they want to come stay in my dorm. But they can't find a way out. There's no way out.