Saturday, November 18, 2017

“In her eyes” by Rebecca McTavish

Heather knew she was in trouble when the water turned to glass and she was still only half way across the bay. She was racing the sun to the horizon but her shoulders ached with each stroke. Without her glasses, she felt acutely vulnerable. Her nearsightedness blurred the oranges and reds of the fall foliage lighting the shore ablaze.  
A late afternoon swim had seemed like a great idea in light of the unseasonably warm temperatures. She needed to stop hearing the gunshot and seeing his bloody eye in an endless loop.
Earlier, while gardening, the rustle of pine needles had alerted Heather to an unexpected companion. Looking up from her bed of hydrangeas, she had found a young buck watching her, not 20 feet away.  She struggled to disentangle the image; parts were all wrong. The buck’s early-budding antlers were caught in the hammock, so tightly twisted that the hammock resembled a clothesline. Though the deer sat on his haunches, his back leg stuck out at an unnatural angle.
As she approached, she could see that his left eye was bloodshot, a window to his pain. She sensed his desperation and stopped short of the hammock unsure of how long the buck had been there and how his fight-or-flight instinct might manifest. Watching him, a rind of sadness settled at the pit of her stomach. He was a beautiful animal, unaware of the human implement that had stood in his path. Heather, his inadvertent hunter, had set the snare. She felt his powerlessness, and her own, as she went to the cottage to call for help.
She swam faster, hoping to outpace her memories. While she glided with her left arm, she turned her head, sipping air from the corner of her mouth. Her right arm posed to strike.  
Zach, a representative of the nearby wolf centre had driven up the driveway in a compact European style pick-up, followed by O’Brien, a police officer, in his cruiser. Zach was tall, edging on 6’5, in his late 20’s with a dark beard. O’Brien was middle-aged and balding, his uniform neatly pressed, hands on his hips. Both had a gentle confidence to them that denoted years of experience. 
The two men followed Heather down to the hammock. The deer was as still as when she had left him, though he had managed to reorient himself 180 degrees. His fractured leg now shielded underneath his body. He could have passed for dead, save for the gentle swaying of the hammock in time with his breath.
In the water, Heather tried to level her breath, to keep her strokes even.
“Stand up-a-ways, please,” said O’Brien, “In case the bullet ricochets.” Zach and Heather obliged. O’Brien held his pistol aloft, steady, aiming between the buck’s antlers. Heather braced herself. O’Brien fired.
The deer’s body went limp; his left eye had rolled back into his head. Only the red was visible, an unblinking siren. Zach and O’Brien chatted amicably as O’Brien held the antlers and Zach cut-away the threads of the hammock. O’ Brien shifted the antlers from left to right, though the deer’s head remained still. “This ol’ boy had a lot of fight in him,” said O’Brien. “You can see here that the scalp has been torn from the skull.” He repeated the gruesome action of wiggling the antlers. “Must have ripped it off when he tried to free himself!”
Heather’s eyes expanded to contain her shock. O’Brien scrambled to assuage the situation. “Now we did the right thing,” he said. “This guy may even have been struck by a car, and wandered here in delusion. We’ve seen that before.”
“You’ve seen other deer get trapped in hammocks?” Heather asked.
“Well, no, but certainly a lot end up on the side of the road.” O’Brien looked down as a mark of punctuation, putting an end to the conversation. Heather appreciated his sentiment, though she doubted the buck had tussled with a car. His hide was unmarred.
Within minutes Zach had finished cutting the deer’s antlers loose. “Ready, on my count. One, two, three,” he said. Zach and O’Brien each hoisted an antler and started dragging the 200-pound carcass up the gravel path towards the truck, a trickle of blood left in their wake. Soon the buck would be fed to the wolves. His hooves made sickening clicks of protest as the two men climbed the flagstone steps.
The familiar drone of a motor brought Heather back to the open lake. She had misjudged how much daylight was left and cursed herself for being so irresponsible. At this point she would be invisible to boats passing by. She shuddered, envisioning a propeller tear through flesh. Heather slowed her front crawl and scanned the lake’s surface. 
The drone grew louder, but she did not see any boats. Heather followed the sound and looked up. There, above her, making a beeline in her direction was a float plane. It was coming for her, the fronts of its pontoons like beady eyes staring her down. She inhaled as much air as her fear-constricted lungs would allow. Then she dove, deep into the cold waters. 

The darkness was disorienting. She swam and swam, the adrenaline supplanting her need for oxygen. She felt like she had been submerged for minutes, hours even. Whatever light had been in the sky didn't follow her into the depths. Terrified that she was swimming in the wrong direction, deeper into the abyss, Heather fought her impulses and simply let herself float. Her natural buoyancy brought her to the surface. It was pitch black, save for the twinkling lights of the cottage, beckoning her home. Water streamed down her face; tears of relief, she thought.
Heather was confused to see that the plane had already vanished. The lake had repaired its glass ceiling.
When she emerged from the shower, Heather was cloaked in steam. She cleared a section of the mirror with her forearm. Through the haze her reflection stared back at her, she gasped. Her left eye stood stark red against her garish complexion. She leaned in. Every blood vessel had released its wares into her eye, like a poppy cultivated by the underwater pressure. A cold chill knotted her spine. She tried to forget, still, the plane looming overhead flashed through her mind. Her recollection was embodied as a full body shiver that she could not shake.
As the wee hours of the morning crawled closer, Heather let the coals burn down. Her unease had not subsided and she hoped that sleep would offer some refuge. The lone candle flickered in the great room, ready to be blown out, but Heather found she had no breath. Instead, drops from her sopping wet hair extinguished the flame. With the fire’s exit, Heather’s senses were heightened. A rhythmic creaking drew her attention to the window. Cupping her hands to combat the glare, Heather looked out onto the lawn. 
There, regal in the moonlight, was her buck. His red eye honed-in on hers, his back leg jutted out bearing no weight, a clean bullet wound oozed between his antlers. Heather was filled with a familiar sinking feeling at the sight of him, like she had already sunk.

Rebecca McTavish  is a young professional, currently living in Mississauga, Ontario. She has started writing in her spare time to explore her interests in authoring different types of fiction. This is Rebecca’s first short story. 

See Brian Henry's schedule here, including writing workshops and creative writing courses in Algonquin Park, Barrie, Bracebridge, Brampton, Burlington, Caledon, Collingwood, Georgetown, Guelph, Hamilton, Ingersoll, Kingston, Kitchener, London, Midland, Mississauga, Newmarket, Orillia, Oakville, Ottawa, Peterborough, St. Catharines, St. John, NB, Sudbury, Thessalon, Toronto, Windsor, Halton, Kitchener-Waterloo, Muskoka, Peel, Simcoe, York, the GTA, Ontario and beyond.

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