A bit dark and gory after the jump, so proceed with caution.
Humanity has never gripped me like it did that night as I screamed into the lonesome night at a creature that had no more a mind to understand me than it did body able enough to escape me.
I had pointed my flashlight up and down the road at least half a dozen times, both praying no headlights would appear to guest star in my late night grapple with mortality and its intersection with morality while at the same time wishing some grown-up would show up — my dad preferably — to solve the situation I found myself in.
The road is a popular drag for speeders, especially since it runs right behind the high school. If you wanted to show off your car’s acceleration, this was the strip to do it. I vaguely remember riding along with one such crazy adolescent as we passed an assumed adversary on the road, topping 80 or 90 mph down the long, straight two-lane drive.
I, of course, wasn’t going nearly that fast on this night. Maybe five or 10 over, but mostly because this was the final two miles of a seven-hour trip and I badly needed to use the bathroom.
The first doe darted out confidently. I had no chance of ever hitting her, but I slammed on my brakes anyway to avoid what was sure to be the rest of her nocturnal grazing party.
And then there he was, taking a 45 degree angle to the road as if he was going to rush me off of the left side of the road.
I merged left to avoid him, but he refused to stop, choosing instead to barrel into the side of my car.
I shook the steering wheel steadily to keep myself straight, but hardly had to slow down at all.
I didn’t even stop. “No time for that now,” I thought, pining for my bed while looking over at my antenna, which now looked like a crumpled pipe cleaner tossed to the side from some craft project.
The radio hadn’t even skipped for a moment. That’s curious.
“Dammit my side view mirror is gone!” said the voice in my head, finally realizing there was something missing from my car like the final answer in some Sunday comics picture challenge.
I’ll have to go back for it.
But I knew there was one more thing I would need to go back to, as well.
This had happened before, of course. As luck would have it, I had borrowed Peggy’s CRV to taxi Farrell, Jessica and I to Oak Island.
It was when I decided we needed to install a policy, not of warning language, but of strong commands when dealing with highway safety.
“deer…Deer…DEer…DEEr…DEER!!!” was the call from Farrell, which was punctuated by a jolt from the passenger side.
This deer was somewhat larger than what struck Cadence, and was also terribly more peculiar.
There he lie in the road as we looked over the damage to the car. Not too much, but still, of all the cars I could have been driving…
We turned to see our friend lying in the road still, his head poking up and looking around like a massive bird keeping watch over its nest.
Farrell and I had already silently accepted our grim assignment, looking through Peggy’s trunk for some sort of blunt object to end the poor thing’s suffering.
But then he stood up. Straight as an arrow, still looking around as if thinking “What the fuck was that!?”
He stood in this way for minutes, the three of us directing traffic to slow and go around the spectacle that was this four-foot high animal trying to remember why his head hurt so much.
We encircled him later, each daring the other to reach out and touch him, but all fearing one of us would be crazy enough to do it. Messing with a wild animal after we had just bashed his head and body with a small SUV? Don’t tempt karma.
Plus, there’s still the chance we’ll need to use that tire iron on him.
We stood there for three minutes, just staring at him. If we could have, we would have had one of those human-animal seance moments, but seeing as 180 seconds of silence with him reaped nothing, I’m assuming those don’t truly exist.
After that three minutes of nothing, he turned and sauntered off into the woods from where he had originally run out of, almost as if he had grown bored with these three gaping humans who had given him a terrible headache and never even said sorry.
“Maybe that’s what happened this time, too,” I thought to myself as I gathered the three pieces of my mirror and the windshield wiper that had come dislodged.
I pointed my flashlight into the field where he had been heading. “Well, I guess he just kept going,” I concluded. Now that horrible memory from Oak Island was a happy, liberating one. Maybe all of the animals you’ve ever clipped have simply stared off into space for a bit, expecting an apology and then, when they decided you were just a jerk with no manners, just continued along their way.
Not so tonight.
The sound startled me not because I’m afraid of deer, but because this sounded nothing like a deer. It was the sound that any living thing makes as it thrashes in a ditch because, on top of dying, now some asshole is shining a big fucking flashlight into its eyes.
“God damn it,” I thought. Or maybe I was talking at this point. I’m not really sure from here on out which parts I was only thinking and which parts were truly echoing across the dark, silent road.
I put the pieces of my car in the backseat and tried to calm myself as I pressed the trunk button. It has lost its spring release a bit, so I pulled up on it to reveal a couple packs of beer, some gym clothing and a black, shiny crowbar.
I pulled it from the pile and examined its ends. Fuck this was a lot funnier when Marv was holding it.
I went to the ditch and shined the flashlight down into it. After my eyes convinced me he had run away after all, I finally caught sight of him underneath some brush.
He had stopped his thrashing, so I was convinced he had finally succumbed to his injuries, but damn if I didn’t leave the light on him a second too long, allowing my betraying eyes to focus on his still heaving side. He was breathing, laboring to remain alive.
I remembered being stuffed into a booth at a restaurant near The Red and Black offices in Athens, Ga. where Josh Briggs was telling us at the table about a deer he had struck and knocked into a ditch. He described how he, almost automatically, had grabbed a box cutter and leaped into the ditch to cut the deer at the jugular, delivering a quick and dignified end to what would otherwise be a terribly painful ordeal.
I had marveled at that sense of duty and quick action, and had always convinced myself that if I was ever in that unfortunate situation, I too would act swiftly and deliberately in the name of mercy.
But there I was: Staring down into the ditch, wishing each time that the lungs would simply stop — that the deer would understand it was useless. Even if the injuries didn’t kill him, something else would be by to finish him off before morning if he was lucky. Otherwise he would just starve to death.
“Just give up!” I screamed, pleading with him to give up his ghost. Then, I decided to try a different approach.
I shooshed him like I would a baby that was having a crying fit. Maybe that’s the way to ease his suffering, I thought. Dumbass.
I looked up, too, but just for a moment, wishing some divine spirit would sweep through and end this debacle for his sake and mine.
But it’s a rough spot for anyone, let alone someone who no longer truly believes in god. Calling out for help wasn’t the answer, let alone to an unseen, unbelievable entity.
This was my problem and I could solve it. I knew it. I thought of the beard wrapped around my face and remembered that I wasn’t a fresh-faced boy any longer. It was time to take my place among those who act swiftly and decisively because they know in their heart what is right to do and do it, not because it’s easy, but because it’s what is to be done.
I looked down at the crowbar. With no deity above me and a living creature before me whose suffering only I could end, I realized that not only was I no longer a boy, but also, in that instant, I was no longer a man either.
And so I brought down the hand of a god.