Gordon the Deer, by Jake Buckholz
Gordon stepped through the tall grass in a shower of postdawn light. He cut into a shot of bramble where the light hung dustier and the ground was a cluster of dead leaves. His antlers had lost their fuzz and protruded from his skull in their full glory of the season. Lean deer muscle rippled along his sides, covered in a fine coat of brown fur, spotted with white dots. The underside of his pointed tail and the fur around his asshole was also colored white.
He sniffed the air and looked this way and that way and this way before lowering his head to graze on a clump of grass growing up from the composting leaves. His ears twitched like the satellite dishes of a paranoid tinhatter searching searching searching...and they alerted him to an approach through the trees. Terror darted in his head, but it was not tooth and claw which emerged, but another set of antlers. A rack far superior to his own.
The stag stepped into the clearing and began hoofing the ground. Gordon took his front right hoof and began doing the same in a decision that didn’t feel totally his own. He wondered why he was doing this. Was it for himself, to test his footing, or for his opponent? Should it be intimidating? He didn’t feel particularly intimidated by his opponent's movement, only by the huge rack on his head. Still, he could remember his own father having done the same on several occasions and he tried to imitate that confidence, but a reflection is never a perfect image. There’s always a ripple in the water if you look close enough.
Had this stag come from a place with less food? There was certainly enough to share here. Perhaps there were does around and his opponent wanted to show off. Gordon didn’t sense any, but maybe this male’s nose was as impressive as his rack. He set his face to the grim acceptance of a reluctant hero, or tried to. He found himself wishing he’d practiced this look in the pond’s reflection. He gulped down air and immediately regretted it out of fear it made him look weak or scared. What he really wanted was some testosterone to gulp in preparation for this encounter. A teat full of testosterone.
What does could be watching, if any, in fact, were watching? Gordon thought of Xandi and hoped it was her. He also hoped it was not for he would hate to make a fool of himself in her eyes. He again adjusted his face and lowered his head. Was that too aggressive? His opponent stepped forward and Gordon wanted to step backwards, but feared that would signify a loss even if he didn’t mean it as such. If his opponent lifted his head in victory and trotted off, well what could he do about it? If all the does watching accepted his retreat as a forfeit, well then that’s what it would be. He didn’t step back out of fear of how it might look, but neither did he step forward because he didn’t want to escalate this encounter into something physical. Instead, he stood his ground.
A swarm of insects hovered around him in the still air. Shadows stood frozen in the leafless shade of the autumnal trees. A couple birds chased each other in the air and a squirrel scampered across the scene. Gordon sniffed the air again in an attempt to sniff out the does. There wasn’t really anywhere for them to hide. Without any does around, the whole routine felt remarkably absurd. He wondered what his opponent saw in him. Surely this whole act was unnecessary.
The crack of a stick somewhere in the trees made them both jump. Gordon tensed, ready to flee. He thought the other looked on the edge of doing the same and hoped it so, but he came back around and lowered his head again, so Gordon lowered his, too. He dreaded the jolt of pain that came with clattering antlers together.
Gordon’s mind began to drift and wonder about the number of isolated instances of violence. Violence that only two beings witnessed, the two caught up in it. It seemed strange that it should happen that way. He didn’t know why witnesses seemed to validate it in his mind, but it did, in a way. Quite often, he decided, the loser of these instances, especially in predator-prey type encounters, died and only the one would remember it. But at least predator-prey encounters made a sad sort of truth to him. Predators had to eat. But this, prey-on-prey, he couldn’t comprehend it, and yet here he was.
The fight played over and over in his head before it happened. It wasn’t a fight he could win. He saw that. And it wasn’t even a fight worth winning, for what was there to gain? The two deer eyed each other in that patch of trees amongst a greater prairie. No one played witness to the showdown and finally Gordon did back away. He turned and fled the trees without ever understanding what had happened.