“The fire pit still smoldered … There was a glowing red heart log, pulsing, breathing the clear fall air as two black circle eyes stared from every direction.”
or “The Masked Spirit” or
“That Which Scared Greer and Greg in the Woods”
Jack was proud of himself, which was a feeling that made him uncomfortable.
“Here are the keys to your vacation home!” their realtor Ginger exclaimed, handing the keys to Diana’s outstretched hand. Her tone was always as bright as her hair, emails covered in exclamation points and LOL’s, which also made Jack uncomfortable.
“Thank you so much,” replied Diana, handing Jack the keys. “I’ll be sure to stop by with some venison jerky.”
“I still can’t believe a lady like you would be into hunting! I would never be able to get up that early, let alone shoot a critter!” Ginger declared, eyes wide.
“Well, we all have our hobbies,” was Diana’s signature response.
“And you don’t hunt, is that right, Jack?” Ginger pried.
“Only for a good deal,” was Jack’s signature response.
Their vacation home wasn’t extravagant, but it was solid, spacious, and most importantly, secluded. There were woods surrounding the house on every side, but behind, they owned 3 acres straight back into the wild, wooded wilderness.
There were broken branches, fallen trees and autumn leaves around the home, so Jack started raking and hauling the wood, starting a fire and feeding it heartily. Diana cleaned the wood paneled home, piling up old things to burn: an upholstered chair, a roll of tar paper, retro insulation, an old plastic babydoll and trike. The fire was unbridled in size and ugly black smoked curled oily from the blue flames, raining poison air coating the forest with damage.
A shadow of red flashed beyond the fire in the shallows of the woods. Again, another flicker of rouge movement. Then not again, so Jack didn’t comment, but he couldn’t help but feel like there was something staring at him through the midnight visibility of the woods, knowing there were many things alive and looking at him.
Diana finished her Merlot and kissed Jack, “Good night. Come up into the woods with me tomorrow morning? I want to check out that tree stand out there.”
“Definitely,” Jack said relaxing, “I want to make sure it’s sound before you go out hunting. Tree stand injuries are the most common hunting accident, followed second to old fat men having heart attacks getting bucks into trucks.”
“Well I’m bringing my gun, for sure, just in case,” said Diana with a laugh, hug and kiss for her husband.
The world is very shiny when you own a new vacation home. Diana cooked Jack a nice breakfast and they headed out the back door. The fire pit still smoldered, a chair arm sat cast aside, charred. There was a glowing red heart log, pulsing, breathing the clear fall air as two black circle eyes stared from every direction.
Diana had her gun holstered, the Ruger Blackhawk hung heavily on her hip. Jack had a few planks, a hammer, and decking nails.
Jack set to work straight away, without taking a moment to admire his new land, still new and unable to gel to the idea that he owned it. Diana hefted her handgun and sited the leaves of her trees, a slash of red, her squirrels, her woods.
A doe, more beautiful than Dega’s ballerinas, strode silently into the clearing, amid Jack’s hammer banging. Diana’s gun pointed at its head, the doe did not blink as Jack stopped banging, Diana’s sites set on a kill.
“Diana, lower your weapon.”
“No. Why would it come when you were being so loud.”
“There is nothing wrong with the dear.”
“There must be.”
Jack hollered and waved his arms. The doe stood her ground, resolute and beautiful, fur shiny Lladro.
A sound like the world splitting apart cracked the sunshine. The doe’s forehead split apart, and Diana’s gun barrel smoked from a shot fired. Blood exploded brains and fur on the leaves and tall grass; the body hit the ground.
“You shot the deer,” said Jack, eyes red.
“Why wasn’t it scared?”
“Why were you?” anger sadness black.
Jack picked up his tools and left the clearing, the smell of the fall fresh air stenched with sweet death and hot gunpowder.
Diana stepped high through the grass and crouched at the deer’s body and picking up each leg, dragged the dead doe down the hill toward her home, crunching through leaves.
A broad chested buck with a heavy rack strode out from the woods toward Diana. She dropped the doe’s hooves as the buck moved closer. The buck let out an aggressive grunt, his hair standing on end. Diana went for her sidearm, but the buck lunged forward, lowering his full antlers and charged, ears pinned back, up on hind legs, it used it’s hooves to pound Diana down to the ground. She protected her face and head from the thrashing of the hooves piercing, slicing, crushing.
Josh heard his wife screaming and raced outside, the screen door slamming, the buck intently thrashing, his wife’s blood spaying every time a hoof landed upon flesh, unrelenting. Josh screamed, a growling, territorial scream. The buck pounced harshly and cracked Diana’s ribcage, punctured her intestines, popped her flesh and bones apart.
Red shadows crackled in the forest, lights flashed like broken leaves in front of Jack’s eyes; he was filled with terror about the future, not the immediate threat. He didn’t move toward the buck, but he didn’t flinch away from its relentless stare, human in its ferocity, animal in its understanding of nature.
Two black circle eyes stared at him from beyond the trees.
The buck stepped over the bloody black pools filling around Diana on its slender mucky murder legs, strode over and stood in the heart of still alive fire, his hooves in burning coals. The fur on the buck’s legs started to ignite, hair incendiary, legs burned to the bone and up toward it’s body until the legs turned to carbon and crumbled, toppling the buck’s body onto the growing flames, flesh and fat oozing disgusting and delicious scent mingled with terror and incredibility.
The black circle eyes moved closer to Jack, slowly, secretly, in their own shadows.
Jack sat heavily on the ground and stared at the top of his wife’s dead head and the underbelly, ribs and bubbling boil of guts, of the buck.
The black circle eyes moved into the brisk sunshine, a large oval outline of half red, half black enclosed the eyes: a mask without body, without face, careening as a part of nature.
Jack reached out to touch the apparition mask, but his hand went through the image neither mind nor body could grasp. Jack and the eyes of the mask stared at each other and the mask moved forward until it covered Jack’s face and disappeared. His cheeks and forehead glowed moon white, smooth, unwrinkled, peaceful.
Jack crawled over to Diana’s pulpy body, his hands wrist high in the blood that pooled around her. He sat back on his haunches stonefaced. He wiped his bloody hands down the left side of his face, red gore dripping from his lashes. He carried himself heavily over to the firepit and raked his hands deep into the wretchedly burning ash. Lifting a palmful, Jack’s eyes remained calm as a many winter buck when a small fire remained burning in his hand. He wiped the ash down the right side of his face, enlivening the skin with crackling black, singing his eyebrows and lips, coating his teeth and searing his tongue.
The red and black face was living yet dreaming, solid yet soft, a mask of an eternal mission. He travelled gently on his way back up through the woods, feet softer, spirit warmly riding the spiral of the early afternoon sun.
The doe still lay where she had been left and The Masked Spirit, with the half red and half black face, Jack, who maybe remembered a life with a woman and gauzy thoughts of a new shelter, touched the doe’s blown apart head and the bone and fur began to knit itself back together, regrowing brains and eyes, thatching together back into gentle perfection. The doe arose and sauntered off, her life the perfect brushstroke of every painting.
The Masked Spirit was weightless in soul and light of foot and travelled through the forest without a sound.
Two old hunters cackled and crackled from a tree stand and The Masked Spirit watched through black shadow eyes. One hunter fixed his scope, another loaded his buckshot. The Masked Spirit shimmied up the tree and onto the tree stand with the hunters. His body seemed translucent in the radiating sunshine, but his face shined with luminance, a mask of the collision of man and nature, bent on riding the chaotic balance.