Taken from The Daily Prompt (Jan. 5) : Call Me Ishmael
The red stag broke cover unexpectedly.
I could see its body jump onto the shoulder in my near-sighted headlights, could nearly see the tension in its hindquarters as it went to make another leap. I ran off the road as I tried to swerve around it in the oncoming lane; the front tires were too bald, my reaction time in the fog too slow. There wasn’t a house in sight.
The embankment was shallow, but the ditch deep and wide — wide and deep enough to ensure that I wouldn’t be driving home anytime soon. I freed myself through the passenger-side door; the fog was damp, thickening, but not yet chilly. There was no wind, to my comfort, when I climbed the embankment and stood at the edge of the road, hoping to see the cloudy reflections of lights from an approaching vehicle on this remote stretch of County Road 4. As I stood, the thought occurred to me that any incoming lights might mistake me for a red stag and repeat my action, or worse, actually run into me. Living out here, it didn’t take long to learn that many drove the roads recklessly. I even did so on a usual basis.
My cell phone had been lost or stolen at the bar my coworkers and I frequented on many evenings before going to our “outside space,” home, away from the rigors of a fast-paced environment. I was sure I had it in my pocket when we went in, sure I had it sitting on the table as we ordered a round or two, just in case my wife would call to tell me that dinner was once again getting cold, though she and the kids had eaten it hot. I had always been sure.
“I’m heading out now. Sorry, lost track of time.”
But there was no phone call; my coworkers joked that I was running late, that my wife should be calling soon. I knew they were right — my internal clock having become adjusted to the daily reminder, as well as the two beers I sipped before going home — and went to call home. I wanted my family not to worry, and was worried at the sudden shift in routine. It was not on the table, nor in my pocket. I had my friends call the number, listen for the ringtone; I felt my pockets inside and out as I sought the familiar shape and feel of the phone. Nothing. (I would have been happier to have an answer, either from a friendly person who would ask where I could meet them, or an opportunist who would say, ” I found it, it’s nice, and it’s mine.”) So, I bid farewell, and prepared to face the double onslaught of lukewarm food and the face of a woman sick with worry.
And then that damn stag.
I began walking, thankful for the dull light of the moon through the vapor and trees. It would be a long walk through the fog. I favored the caution of drivers unfamiliar with the road who would likely notice my silhouette, and feared the common travelers who would hardly notice the thud of my body in the thickening haze. I moved slowly, not as sure of myself on the shoulder as in the space between the white and yellow lines. I strained my eyes in the fog, looking ahead for the lights of a house or approaching car. I strained my ears for the sound of a car coming behind me, too nervous to turn around, lest I stumble down the embankment myself. It leaped onto the shoulder not five feet in front of me, and I gave a startled yelp.
That damn stag.
I paused, waiting for it to continue across the road and pass by me unawares. But, it’s silhouette — it’s large body, regal stature, elegant, pointed antlers — remained. I could hear its hooves on the pavement as it plodded one foot then another, hear the grunts of its breathing. Then it turned its head toward me, that great rack coming into full view. It sniffed at me, as if I were as large a nuisance in his world as I thought him to be in mine — damn stag — and then moved slowly toward me. I shivered as he approached, though not from the chilling air; unwilling to let my fear agitate the creature, I remained still. The touch of his head against my shoulder was gentler — the smell of his coat and breathe more wondrous — than I would imagine from a wild animal. There was a moment where his large eyes met mine, and there seemed a thankful understanding. Then, brushing gently past me, the stag moved across the road and down the embankment on the other side.
Author’s Note: I’ll leave the story here. Though I must let you know this is a fictitious tale inspired by the DP, I will give a quick synopsis of the end: the narrator did eventually find a house off a short driveway along C.R. 4. He was able to call a tow, as well as his wife. The former returned the vehicle safely home, while the latter was ecstatic to see her husband safe and sound. The narrator retold the tail to his awe-struck wife over a reheated dinner of roast pork, carrots, and homemade mashed potatoes. The red stag, as far as anyone knows, is still alive and well.
I also recommend the novel, Finn Mac Cool, by Morgan Llywelyn — the first sentence of which begins this post — to anyone who might ask. I loved this book so much, I actually read it out of its binding.
- Famous Irish Myths and Legends (famous101.com)
- The economics of Scotland’s deer (bbc.co.uk)
- Red stags in yellow (flickr.net)
- In pictures: Deer rutting season trails off for another year (dailyrecord.co.uk)