What to do with the dead things watching all around like shepherds abiding in the field? They watch from inside the walls, from inside the car and living room sound systems, from inside the stains on the carpet and the shoes still under the piano. They watch the decorated tree, the absurdity of glass balls and colored lights on a pine tree inside the house. They make it seem bizarre, like the sky filling with fearsome lights and hosts of angels announcing babes in swaddling clothes. And when we go to the manger to look, we find only dead things watching there as well. From the stark white field they watch blankly over the sad, empty barn, the unused sawdust still in the corners of the stall, the untouched hay still dangling in the net.
What to do with all these dead and watching things but to ponder them in our hearts? When will they go away? And if they won’t, how many dead things watching can one person hold? How many, before a person goes insane or dies themselves and begins to watch from inside the things they used to use, from the air within the places they used to live and visit? Even the deer who walked solitary across the lawn in the night, leaves between the long shadows at noon some sad part of itself inside its tracks. Ordinarily, that would not be so, had not so many dead things been watching and whispering the story of the deer into the receptive ears of my imagination.
The deer, a buck it turns out, he came from Wolcott, spread his seed heavily around the region throughout his twelve long years. At three years of age, he’d lost his left eye to one fierce male challenger before establishing himself the superior one in strength and will. There was no mistaking this one-eyed buck for another, for the damage to his face was distinct. Around the blank, sunken place where his eye had once been, and on down to the corner of his mouth, it was dark and furless and the shape of an upside down tear. He’d been identified so many hundreds of times by so many hunters in their seasons of killing, that he’d garnered the nickname “Achilles.”
He was a favored topic deep in the woods under naked moons, in beer- and liquor-soaked hunting lodges all over the state. Hunters who dared to believe, swore they could hear Achilles’ name sizzling from the fires as they pissed them out on their way to drinking their long day shut. And in their fitful, drunken sleeps, they saw Achilles with his garish tear and his great misshapen rack—five points on the right side and three points sprouting myriad other points on the left—trampling them under foot and snorting back laughter over his massive backside. But in the broad daylight when the telling of tall tales resumed and the hot air of them wisped from mouths and froze white on beards, it became a joke to take aim at Achilles’ heel, for surely then he’d be felled.
Achilles was scarred from arrows and bullets that had grazed and glanced off his hide, but he was either too intelligent or too blessed to be killed by mankind. “It was a great grey wolf king that did the honor,” whispered the dead, watching things. On a biting wind that swirled down and up from Achilles’ last tracks in the snow, I heard it was not so much his body, but his will that’d got old. It seems it was more a fight between his will and his survival instinct, than it was between him and the wolf king. And Achilles’ will was just strong enough to win that last challenge that freed his deer soul. He gave his life up quickly and with grace, and the meat of his gigantic body gave the strength of life to a pack of wolves, fattened the bellies of their yearling pups.
The next summer, I saw a daughter of Achilles come out from the woods pushing time, looking back. A big, spotted son of hers followed reluctantly, daring the scent of danger, mistaking it in ignorance for a less evil thing. She pressed the point, and she made a large circle before going back into the woods, to buy them some time. Sure enough, a bit later came the danger, a mangy, dog-like beast running full of purpose, nose to the ground, following exactly and quickly the scent found in the otherwise vacant steps of the mother. When the beast got to her circle, it was stymied for a time, made its own determined, small circles until it zeroed in on the mother’s large circle which it traced back into the woods.
That was the only answer the dead and watching things gave to my question. Only that spring will come, babies will be born, new things will happen and it will be more of the same only different and so profuse that it will overwhelm our senses, overspill our time, and push the old things out the top of our overfull brains. It’s no easy thing, all that goes on, all that washes over us when the tide come in, and all that washes away from us on its way back out to sea. It’s wearing, all this perpetual giving and taking, heating and cooling, flooding and receding until we’re bleached out by the sun, white and waterless, cracked dead wood on battered beaches. But until that day comes, in the meantime of our lives, the dead and watching things, they dare us to live.
Click here for more on prompt “#194 – Dare” from other Sunday Scribblings participants.