Tag Archives: short stories

Antlers

It was when Claire woke up on Christmas morning that she discovered her husband had grown a pair of antlers. It had started a few days earlier. Buck had been complaining of a headache, and within a few hours there were two sizeable bumps on his forehead, the bruised skin tight and shiny. Claire assumed he must have hit his head during one of his regular late-night drinking sessions, and thought no more of it. But now there were two small, but very definite velvety buds protruding from his hairline. She was almost certain that they weren’t there the night before.

It had been Buck’s idea to drive up to the cabin for Christmas. He had an almost obsessive preoccupation with hunting, and a day off from his job at the power plant meant that he could indulge in his passion. It was a long drive up to the forest. Buck switched the radio to a country station and hummed along tunelessly for a couple of hours, scratching at his forehead from time to time. Claire glanced across at him and was convinced that the bony bumps had grown another couple of inches during the course of the journey.

Finally they reached the cabin. Stretching her aching back, Claire gazed around at the beautiful wilderness. It was a cold morning, and a thick frost lay on the ground. Off to her left, Claire heard a coyote calling. “Goddamn coyotes better not be after my deer,” grumbled Buck, snatching his shotgun from the footwell of the truck. “Don’t stand there doing nothin’, get the bags inside.”

Claire made coffee and busied herself with the unpacking while Buck generously laced his mug with whiskey. Out of the corner of her eye Claire could see him absent-mindedly rubbing his head against the doorpost. He disappeared into the living area and when he returned a few minutes later, she was amused to see that he had cut a couple of holes in his baseball cap, and fitted it over the antlers, which by now were considerably longer.

Buck was, by nature, a bully, and like all bullies he liked to have an audience to witness his natural cruelty. By late morning Buck had harvested his first deer, hauled it back to the clearing outside the cabin and propped it up on its back using two large stones to hold it in place while he dressed it.

Buck got his kicks from the kill; he didn’t want the beasts for food or hide, he simply enjoyed destroying them. He couldn’t even be bothered to clear up the chaos he left behind, he just hacked off their antlers, ripped out the guts with his skinning knife and left the corpses to rot where they lay.

It sickened Claire. This time, Buck made her stand and watch while he gutted the poor creature, forcing her to hold the bucket while he dropped in handfuls of steaming entrails, laughing at her obvious distress. He clasped her face with his bloodied hands, smearing her cheeks with the slick wetness, his meaty breath making her gag as he kissed her full on the mouth, “Merry Christmas darlin’,” he drawled, taking a long swig from the ever-present bottle of Jim Beam which he kept on the porch, “Rudolph ain’t lookin’ so smart now, is he?” Once the gutting was done, Buck took the bucket of offal and emptied the foul contents under the trees, leaving it for the coyotes. “Merry Christmas, you sons of bitches!” he sneered.

Back at the cabin, Buck paused from washing the blood off his forearms to look in the mirror. Something was different, but he couldn’t work out what it was. His head felt heavy, but he decided that was because he hadn’t had enough to drink. Grabbing a beer from the fridge, he pushed past Claire as she stood in the doorway and lurched back out onto the porch.

Claire stood alone in the darkening room and wondered how on earth she had ever gotten into this situation. Her husband was a pig. Over the years Buck had manipulated and denigrated her to the point where she had eventually lost any self-confidence she had, and she no longer had the energy to fight back. She looked out at Buck who had slumped into a battered chair, where he spent the afternoon taking pot-shots at anything that moved within a 200-yard radius. By the time it grew dark the trees were hung with jackrabbits, scrub jays, ravens; even the odd skunk had joined the deer carcass, which in a moment of uncharacteristic enthusiasm Buck had dragged back to the cabin and strung up from the branches of the nearest pine tree. Buck thought it was hilarious. He stumbled into the cabin, gripped Claire by the arm and forced her to look out of the window at his handiwork. “Christmas decorations” he grunted to Claire, as she gasped in horror at the gruesome display.

As the moon rose overhead, Claire heard the coyote again. After a few moments she heard another, barking in response to the high-pitched squeal of its young. “There must be a pack of them,” she thought to herself, as the howling grew and echoed across the forest.

Later that night, Claire lay awake listening to the sounds of the wilderness. She heard the coyotes snuffling and scratching at something beneath the window. Beside her, Buck was muttering in his sleep, tossing and turning, and restlessly rubbing his head on the pillow. Claire shifted quietly over to the far side of the bed; Buck’s antlers were quite large now, and were taking up rather a lot of room. He would be angry if she woke him, Claire thought, so she turned on her side and tried to go back to sleep. Moments later, she woke with a start. An intense howling filled the room and Buck leapt to his feet in confusion. “Damn coyotes,” he snarled, pulling on his jeans and grabbing the shotgun from where he had left it, loaded, next to the bed. He threw open the cabin door and peered out into the dark. With some difficulty he tilted his now magnificently-antlered head and edged sideways through the door, closing it quietly behind him. The howls grew louder, until Claire could feel the cabin walls shaking. Then without warning the howling stopped, to be replaced by low-throated growls growing even closer, until finally, silence.

From outside the cabin door came a strangled cry, suddenly cut off.

First thing the next morning, Claire loaded up the truck and headed back down the interstate, humming along to Christmas tunes on the radio. There had been no sign of Buck that morning, only an area of flattened grass under the pines where a deer had spent the night. Claire had spotted something shining in the dirt. Stooping, she picked it up. It was Buck’s skinning knife, somehow it must have come loose from his belt. She turned it over in her hand to read the inscription engraved on its hilt. ‘Happy hunting’. Yes, she thought, as she climbed into the truck, perhaps the hunt had been successful after all. “Merry Christmas, Buck” she murmured.

‘Fractured: poems of love and desire’ by Marnie Devereux is available from Amazon worldwide

 

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A trip on the canal

It all seemed so simple. Get fit, save money, save the planet. So when my recently-departed ex asked me if I was interested in buying an electric bike that a work colleague was selling, I leapt at the chance. The father of my children assured me that the bike was almost new, in excellent condition and a bargain at the asking price.

I really should have spotted the warning signs. The first being that an estranged partner does not necessarily have his ex-wife’s best interests at heart, or at least, not necessarily have thought things through in the most practical sense. The new bike arrived – shiny, modern, and…with a very high crossbar. I’d just parted with £400 for a man bike that would be fantastic had I been a 6’ bloke. As a 5’3” overweight 50-something female, this would present a new challenge.

Not to be deterred, I welcomed my new mode of transport into my home. Parked in pride of place in my lounge (it’s a very small house) I read the manual cover-to-cover; charged the battery and set off along the canal towpath for my first six-mile ride to the office. It was heavenly. I saw swans, I saw bunnies. I bade a cheery ‘Good Morning’ to dog-walkers and fellow cyclists alike. The bike was a tad on the large and heavy side, requiring a severe tilt to the left to dismount, but nothing I couldn’t handle. I felt quite virtuous as I arrived at work slightly hot and sweaty but feeling as though I’d made a proper start to my new fitness regime.

So why should my journey home that evening be any different?

Now it’s difficult to get lost on a canal. One route, along one path, beside one waterway. It’s reaching the right bit of the waterway that set the tone for this particular journey. I am a woman who gets lost even with a Satnav; who can read a map, navigate in a car, but not both simultaneously. After some to-ing and fro-ing around the river Tone and it’s neighbouring parkland I eventually got back on the right track. It was heavenly. I saw swans, I saw bunnies. I bade a cheery ‘Thank you’ to dog-walkers and fellow cyclists who let me pass with a ‘Ting’ of my shiny new bicycle bell. Only one more mile to go!

And then I fell in the canal.

Don’t ask me how it happened. But I’ll tell you anyway. The towpath along the Bridgwater-Taunton canal is, in the most part, a good path for cycling. It is well-maintained and in places surfaced to provide a smooth ride. It’s just that in other places it can get rather narrow. I had negotiated my way under the bridges most carefully; the paths narrow considerably and it’s only sensible to show caution. However, my downfall came at a point where a gate closes off all but a very narrow twist in the towpath, and as I slowed down to a snail’s pace and tilted the bike to place my feet on the ground I realised too late that I was setting down on the very edge of the grassy bank which was just a couple of inches lower than the rest of the path. Not a problem, doubtless, for the mythical 6’ fit bloke who would hop off in a trice. In my case, it meant a desperate grab for a piece of fence which eluded my grasp, and the subsequent slow, if not entirely graceful, head-first descent into the very murky, weedy water. I just had time for a quick expletive before disappearing briefly to emerge with a mouthful of canal and one shoe floating off downstream.

Footwear rescued, I pulled myself out by hanging onto that two-faced, sneaky fence which had let me down only a minute earlier, and stood, dripping and covered head to toe in pond weed, next to my bike, which fortunately had remained, unlike me, on the towpath. After a quick mental checklist: ‘No broken bones. Bike OK. Backpack intact. Pride severely bruised’ I couldn’t decide if I was glad or disappointed that no-one had witnessed my unintentional dip in the surprisingly warm primordial soup. In a stoical way that would have impressed my mother I got straight back on my bike and soggily pedalled the remaining mile home, to be met by a welcoming committee comprised of my neighbours and the local farmer, who had just been commenting that he had yet to meet the new occupant of the end cottage. Bearing in mind that I now closely resembled the monster from the swamp, I wiped the pond weed from my face and attempted a weak smile by way of a casual greeting, remembering just in time that he probably wouldn’t want to shake my hand as it would quite likely cause a major outbreak of cholera in the region. ‘I seem to have just fallen off my bike’ I said, limply, as if that explained everything; which it probably did. ‘That’ll be all round the local pub tonight’ grinned my neighbour, as the farmer looked at me suspiciously and took one step backwards before practically running for the safety of his Land Rover.