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Part 2

By Daniel BradburyPublished 2 months ago 17 min read
His pulse thundered in his ears as he gripped the door handle...


The television screen flickered into life for what would be the last time, casting a pale glow across the carpet in the half-light of Reggie's motel room. The shot framed the feet of the remaining counselors facing inward in a tight circle. Reggie could hear snatches of agitated conversation but wasn't able to pick out anything specific over the fizzing and warbling of the old celluloid. The shot began to pan upward, but there was a loud smack as something hit the top of the camera and it pointed back down towards the red earth. "Turn that fucking thing off! What's wrong with you?" Fox hissed. "Listen, would you believe that any of this shit was real if there wasn't video evidence?" Beetle spat back in response. "You saw what happened! He was torn to pieces. There's nothing out here that can do shit like that, especially to a two-hundred-and-fifty-pound brick shithouse like Chris. Something is seriously fucked..."

"That's not what's bothering me." Snake's voice became audible from somewhere out of the frame. "You do frontier work for as long as I've been doing it, you see some weird shit. It doesn't happen often, but predators do get forced out of their natural habitats. If Chris had been killed by a bear, or a cougar that had been pushed out here by some new housing development or whatever that would be one thing, but bears and cougars don't kill quietly. Would've woken up half the camp." He paused, seeming to consider whether or not he should give voice to his next thought.

"But?" Beetle attempted to lead him.

"That isn't what's weird about this." Reggie thought he could hear a slight quaver enter into Snake's voice. "Around Chris's...around his body, what did you guys notice?"

"His boot prints?" Beetle offered. "It looked like there had been a struggle."

"Right." Snake sighed. "But what wasn't there? What was the scene missing?" There was a brief silence, broken by Fox, his voice nearly inaudible. "What did you say?" Beetle pressured.

"Tracks." Fox spoke again, louder this time. "There were no tracks around his body. The only prints in the area were from Coyote's boots." The counselors fell into a long silence. "So," Moth's voice threatened to disappear in a nervous gulp, "what does that mean? What are you trying to say, man?"

"What I'm trying to say is that we're up against something new. I know how to handle bears and cougars. I don't have the faintest fucking idea what did this to Chris, and that frightens me." Moth, steeling himself, spoke up. "Look, we can worry about what happened to Coyo...to Chris later. Our first responsibility is to these kids..."

"Look, these kids can go..." Snake uttered before being cut off by Moth, the youngest counselor nearly doubling his speaking volume.

"The rendezvous point is on the highway at the end of Buck Tank. If we start walking now and push through the night we could potentially make it there by morning. We need to get the kids away from...whatever did this as soon as possible."

"Man, who died and made you king?" Snake growled.

"Nobody's saying you have to stay, man." Fox countered. "None of this is in our contracts. If you want to take Coyote's horse and make tracks for basecamp nobody here is going to stop you." There was a pause as Snake considered the idea. "I feel like I ought to mention though," Fox continued, "the only people this thing has actually killed, if we're assuming it's what got that girl Jennifer, have been out on their own at night. Maybe running for the hills when you're a day's ride from civilization isn't the best call." Snake spat and cursed, acknowledging Fox's point whether he meant to or not.

"Any other disagreements?" Moth sounded more authoritative the more he spoke. The group was silent, save for one of the men spitting loudly. "Alright then. Let's saddle up and break camp. Tell the kids to just leave their tents. If we're going to make it to the highway by the morning we need to leave now."

This tape was different from the other two. The respective atmospheres of MOVE IN DAY and COYOTE had been tense, yes, but compared to BUCK TANK CANYON it was like the difference between a summer breeze and a mistral. The campers, normally complaining about the hike or talking among themselves, were almost completely silent. Reggie didn't think that the counselors had actually told them anything about Coyote's death, but they were more than old enough to figure out that something was profoundly wrong. They were frightened, some of them visibly so. When the eye of the camera passed over their faces it revealed sunburnt masks of disquiet, refusing to meet its gaze. Their youthful energy and indignation seemed to have been drained from them, consumed by the same sun that drank the water from the red earth beneath their feet.

In the other tapes, the camera had often focused on the faces of campers and counselors, capturing jokes and insults. Maybe the scurrying form of an animal as it crossed the trail. Now, it was almost exclusively trained on the lip of the canyon, pausing only to peer nervously around the bends. The counselors rarely spoke if they spoke at all, Fox staying completely silent, and every sound that couldn't be explained by a hoof striking a rock introduced a subtle tremor to the camcorder's unblinking vision.

All at once Reggie found himself struck by the question of how many times this scene had played out. How many people had felt the un-deer's breath on their necks? How many had scanned canyon walls and hidden themselves in shitty motel rooms? How many had scoured some record of the creature's violence for a clue as to how it might be stopped, just like he was doing now? Reggie couldn't decide if it was cruel or a blessing to be unaware of the end of one's story. The people on the tape didn't know that their final confrontation with the un-deer was approaching. Did that make them more or less able to enjoy the time they had? There was a flash of static on the screen and Reggie's attention was drawn once more to the television.

When the tape resumed the first thing that Reggie noticed was the sound of breathing. He could hear the distant growl of thunder and a blanket hiss. Rain. The only visual offered by the camera was a cool darkness. The inside of cave? A burrow maybe? Suddenly, there was a familiar clatter as the camera was shifted into a different position. A few more clicks and a soft green image came into focus on Reggie's screen: It was Beetle's face. He began to speak, a terrified whisper that Reggie had to strain his ears to hear fully. "...Jacob Elijah Morrison. I was a guide for a wilderness therapy program here in the desert. On the second day of our hike, something attacked us. It killed Chris. Fuck!" Beetle wiped his eyes, only succeeding in smearing more dirt across his face. "We were en-route to our extraction point at the end of Buck Tank Canyon when it found us again. It started going after the kids. We tried..." his words were swallowed in a quiet sob. "We tried to fight it. Fuck, man. It was just this fucking whirlwind of horns and teeth. I've never seen anything move like that before. Moth was just standing there. I never learned his real name. He was just standing there and in like, this flash, half of him was just gone. It was just gone..." Beetle, or Jacob, began to weep again. "Kara. Things aren't looking good, baby. There's a pretty solid chance that this thing is gonna get me. I'm hiding right now, but I don't know if it's waiting for me out there. I don't know if anybody else is still..." Beetle's words trailed off again. "I love you, Kara. I love you and little Mike. I know it's crazy, but I hope someday you see this. I hope you two know that I didn't..." The eye of the camera snapped away from Beetle's face and Reggie could hear his breathing grow rapid. There was a desperate chorus of clicking sounds as Beetle's hands fumbled for the night vision button. There was a final click, and a dull whirring noise as the aperture of the camera expanded to drink in whatever light was present in Beetle's hiding place. "Beetle?" A voice issued from the green darkness. "Beetle are you in there?"

"Snake?" Even with the camera next to his face, Beetle's reply was hard to hear. "Is that you?"

"Thank god! Dude, I thought that thing killed you for sure."

"Is it gone?"

"Yeah, I think so. I think it got its fill."

"Who all is out there?"

The pause that followed was answer enough for Beetle's question.

"Christ!" The curse came out as a sob. "Everyone?" Another pause.

"Yeah. I think so, yeah." Snake sighed. "Look man, when you come out of there would you do me a favor? Just don't look to your right."

"Jesus Christ. Yeah, okay." There was a scraping sound as Beetle began to drag himself from his hiding spot. What the camera saw as it emerged (from what Reggie could now see was a kind of low rock outcropping) erased his fear for the first time in days. It was Verdun. It was a charnel house. Reggie felt sick, and full of anger. Whatever these people, whatever these children had done, they didn't deserve the end that they were given. It was so utterly unfair. Whatever curse, whatever wound had created the un-deer, why wasn't it sated? Why hadn't it healed? How much blood would the creature need to spill before it no longer hungered? Reggie hated the un-deer. He hated that it had turned him into its prey over something so insignificant as watching a video tape. He hated what it had turned his life into: hiding like a frightened animal in its burrow. He resolved in that moment that he would beat the un-deer, and he would do it with his middle finger raised. Reggie's attention was pulled back to the television by a sudden cry from Beetle. "Shit! Snake, what are you doing, man? Snake? Sna...!"


Maybe you've got the stomach for it...

The pistol was as heavy as a broken heart. The weight of it pulled at Reggie's right hand insistently. "Put me down!" It seemed to say. "You can still run! You don't have to do this!" Reggie opened the cylinder. Five bullets. He didn't know where the sixth was. It didn't matter, in the end.

...maybe you don't...

Reggie held the saber in his left hand. A ridiculous, grim insurance in the event the gun didn't do the job somehow. He tested its weight with a couple of lame slashes and practice stabs. It would have to do. Awkwardly shifting the pistol to his waistband, Reggie opened the door to his motel room and stepped outside. It had reached the point in the night where whether it was Monday or Tuesday was more of a philosophical argument than a matter of objective fact. Quickly, so as not to attract attention, Reggie began to walk towards the motel office.

Maybe you've got the stomach for it...

He turned a corner, brushing his hand against the rough wooden siding of the motel, trying to calm himself. He froze. There, just outside of the halo of the streetlight, was a small herd of deer. In the center, a stag. Was this it? Like a scene from one of his westerns, his hand inched towards the gun in his waistband. "Not exactly the O.K. Corral." He thought, more as a reflex than an actual joke. He adopted what he imagined would be a good fighting stance, trying to make his body as small of a target as possible. What good it would do, he wasn't sure.

...maybe you don't...

Something was wrong. Why wasn't it attacking? Why were the deer so still? Was there a whole herd of un-deer? His hand trembling, Reggie reached into his pocket for his cell phone. He turned on the flashlight, bracing himself for the attack that would surely come. He gripped the saber so tightly he thought his knuckles would bleed.

Lawn deer. It was a herd of statues.

Reggie's relief was only temporary, recalling the words on the voicemail. "You've probably been seeing deer everywhere. You're not going crazy, that's a sign it's getting closer." With a sick feeling growing in the pit of his stomach, Reggie wondered exactly how close the creature might be. Had those statues been there when he had checked in? Had he just not noticed them while he was parking? There was no way to be sure. Resolved, Reggie walked to the door of the motel office, his pulse thundering in his ears as he gripped the door handle.

Maybe you've got the stomach for it...


Through the lens of the camera, all that could be seen was a rock, falling and then rising again. Falling and rising again. Falling and rising again. "I'm so sorry, I'm so sorry." Snake whispered. Beetle's shouts and pleas became gurgles. The memories, the joys, the wrongs, the triumphs and petty grievances that had all been held together by his flesh fell apart like marbles from a split bag, scattering across the canyon floor in little red droplets.

As suddenly as it had started, it was over. There was only Snake's labored breathing and the patter of a waning rainstorm. "I did it!" Snake bellowed, his rasp echoing hollowly through the canyon. "I did it, you son of a bitch! I did what you asked me!" The wind was his only answer. "Now leave me the fuck alone! We're done, you hear me you fucking freak? We're done!" There was a pause, and he knelt beside Beetle's body. His knee, clothed in blood spattered denim, was the only part of him that was visible in the frame. More softly now, he spoke. "Jake? I'm so sorry, Jake. I really am. I..." Snake struggled to get the words out, "I didn't want to do this to you, you know? I didn't. I'm not a killer. You know that, right? You understand, don't you man? It told me I had to. It told me I could do this or it would... It showed me what it would do to me, Jake." Snake's voice audibly shook as he spoke now. "I couldn't get it out of my head, Jake. I...I still can't. It was the worst thing I've ever seen, man." He began to cry quietly. "After I saw it, I couldn't let it get me, man. I just couldn't. I wish there had been another way." Snake's sobs became louder, wordless. After a while he spoke again. "Don't fucking look at me like that. If you had seen it, if it had showed you what it showed me you would have done the same thing. Wipe that smug look off of your face! You always thought you were better than me! You with your girl back in Reno, playing at being a father. You're nothing! You're a self assured little no-neck prick!" Snake stood up explosively. "You son of a bitch. Maybe if you judged a little less and worked a little harder you..." His speech trailed off into silence. "You know what, it doesn't matter. You're dead. I'm not. Whatever that thing is going to do to you I don't want to be around to watch it. Fuck you." He spat loudly. Reggie could hear the sound of Snake's footsteps fading in to the hiss of raindrops and the soft singing of the breeze through the canyon.


After the blackness of the summer night the light in the lobby felt harsh, almost punishing. With the piercing glare of the LED bulbs, Reggie felt painfully aware of every detail. A window air conditioning unit was noisily threatening to resign in the back right corner of the room. The air stank equally of stale tobacco and attempts to cover it up. There was a wire rack against the rear wall displaying cheery pamphlets. "Visit scenic Oklahoma City!" "Lena's Pizza and Subs" "Know your rights: a Hunter's companion" "Meramec Caverns". There were three paintings hung on the walls. All cheery pastoral scenes, all featuring deer. Two mismatched armchairs, one of them sprouting stuffing from its seat cushion, sat against the right wall of the room. There was a small coffee table between them, sporting a pile of magazines and well used paperback books. Finally, there was the front desk itself. Constructed out of the same brown wood paneling that made up the walls of the room, it sported a hand-painted replica of the motel's logo. Completing the scene, there was a computer monitor on the right side of the desk that was easily old enough to rent a car.

Reggie felt sick, almost dizzy. He imagined himself ringing the service bell, raising the pistol and firing. He imagined the bullet travelling through the air in slow motion. In horrifying detail, he watched as it connected with the chest, or maybe with the head, of whoever came to answer the bell. "Fuck!" He spat, pressing his fingers into his eyes. Maybe you've got the stomach for it, maybe you don't. The understatement of the century. Reggie took a step towards the bell, his foot dragging through the humid air as though he were walking through mud. The wind at his back became the pull of a hurricane, invisible hands tearing at his hair and his clothes; forcing his feet forward. There was nothing Reggie wanted more than to retreat to his motel room, lock the door and hide. Maybe if he put enough furniture against the door it wouldn't be able to get in? Maybe if he just waited it out the creature would get bored and finally retreat to wherever it came from? He pulled the hammer back on his pistol. No. This was the only way out. Prison, and the guilt of what he was about to do would be better than whatever waited for him in between the un-deer's jaws.

Reggie lifted his hand, his palm hovering over the service bell. His arm had never felt so heavy. A droplet of sweat rolled into his eye, stinging. "Don't put it off." Reggie whispered under his breath. "Just do it. Just fucking get it over with, man." The hand held over the bell had begun to shake. "You do it, the cops come, you get arrested, you go to prison, you're safe. Okay? Just do..." At that exact moment, Reggie heard the door behind him open. He felt the same hunger he had felt in his dream, dashing against his back like the heat of a cruel desert sun.

He turned, and met the gaze of the un-deer.

To call the creature that stood before Reggie in the doorway of the motel office a deer would be like comparing a crooked deep-sea horror to a minnow. It was a terrifying, disgusting aberration of everything that made its species recognizable. Its antlers twisted in on themselves in razor wire tessellations like twin thickets of teeth. Its flesh hung from its body like ill-fitting clothes, draping over the sinister frame of its spine and ribs in a way that almost looked rotten. It had one huge milk-white eye on the left side of its head and a crumpled, oozing hole on the right. Its legs all seemed to be different lengths: their joints bending at weird angles in order to keep the creature's torso level. Worst of all was its mouth. It was difficult to look at directly, somehow wider than the room and longer than the un-deer's body, yet returning to normal size if Reggie focused on it. For the brief moment, barely a heartbeat, the lobby of the motel was utterly still.

Then in a lurching, impossible movement the un-deer charged.

Reggie fired but the shot went wide, burying itself in the top left corner of one of the paintings. Reggie raised his hands in front of his face in a useless, instinctual attempt to guard from the coming attack. Time seemed to move like cold honey, the sword in his left hand whipping upwards, the yawning mouth of the creature rushing forward to consume him. For a fraction of an instant, Reggie was able to see inside the un-deer's mouth, and in the mouth he saw himself. He saw his body pierced by arrows, hung from the branches of a huge white tree. He saw men with strange, exaggerated features tearing crudely at his flesh, their mouths dripping with hunger. He saw a forest, endless and greener than anything he had ever imagined. He saw thousands of faces frozen in anguish, and felt nothing but contempt. In a kind of half thought, the only kind of thought that can be had inches from the end of your life, Reggie felt a profound sadness. A soft sensation of connection traveled up the length of the blade and into Reggie's wrist, but in the midst of the chaos it didn't register. Reggie, eyes shut, waited for the creature's jaws to close around his throat. He kept waiting. He thought there would have been a noise, anguish as it tore into him but there was nothing. He opened his eyes, and for a brief moment was unable to understand what he was looking at. There, at his feet, lay the creature's head. The point of one of its hideous antlers rested against his shoe.

He knew, logically speaking, that he should be happy. By some insane fluke, when he had raised his hands to cover his face in fear the saber in his left hand had been in precisely the right position at precisely the right time to decapitate the un-deer. Purely by luck, he had survived. His life, with its piles of tapes and cookbooks and clothes and records, its weird little house in Kansas City, would continue. Reggie had won. So where was the relief? Why didn't Reggie feel like he had just removed the head of an eldritch monster? Why did he feel so empty?

The sound as the door to Reggie's car shut behind him felt like a kind of period. There was a sense of finality as he turned the keys and felt the engine cough into life. The radio awoke in the middle of playing a song by R.E.M. Reggie reached forward and turned the volume down; for some reason he wasn't in the mood for music. As the highway unfolded before him, Reggie felt something pulling at the back of his psyche. A fragment of a remembered dream, or one of those half-memories triggered by a whiff of perfume or a sequence of notes. He couldn't shake the feeling that he had lost something incredibly important. The air whipped past his car as he made his way home, finding purchase in a crack at the top of the passenger side window and whistling a lonely song. He needed to get that fixed. As he passed through a narrow valley, a family of deer watched Reggie's solitary car making its way east from the shelter of a hackberry thicket. He couldn't see them, of course. The patriarch of the small family stared at Reggie's car, twice-hidden by brush and darkness, his gaze never wavering.

They killed me with arrows.


About the Creator

Daniel Bradbury

Big fan of long walks in the woods, rye Manhattans, Spanish literature, jazz, and vinyl records.

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