A Whitetail in the Great Room

It’s been a while since I posted on here. I’ve been busy making humans and earning the money to feed them (#overpopulation). So I entered the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction competition to force myself to write some more. They gave us two days to write a suspense story set in a farmhouse that included a corkscrew. And I left it til two hours before the deadline (of course).

I have edited a few glaring typos and grammatical errors from the original submission, because (sheesh). Those bits are in red.

It starts with an argument over a pointless piece of rustic junk, the stuffed head of a whitetail buck. Keith found it in the machinery shed, buried beneath rusted tractor parts. And without asking Angie’s permission, dragged it — this ugly, balding thing, filthy with tetanus — into the great room and mounted it over the fireplace. Improperly, of course.

Their move to the country was supposed to be a change, a new dawn in their twilight years. But in that moment, thirty years of resentment comes spilling out of them both, confirming all her fears. He points to her wrinkled skin and spiteful tongue, she hits back with his slow decline into uselessness and fat, her cruelty, his selfishness, their mutual refusal to touch each other, and their need for something, anything else.

And the stuffed head watches the whole thing unfold, its antlers spreading like witches’ fingers, threating to claw them both into the fire.

It ends as these things always do, with Keith storming out between the half-unpacked boxes, to stave off the waning of his masculinity with guns and Minnesota beer, and his new idiot farmer friend Beau. Or Joe. Or whatever.

And Angie goes to bed. Alone.

Until she’s jerked awake by a screech and the crash of breaking glass, and she’s sitting up clutching the comforter, her throat throbbing like a bullfrog in June.

“Keith?”

His side of the bed is empty, and the night air is twisting her vocal chords, making them elderly and pale. It’s an old woman’s voice, not hers. “Keith? Is that you?”

Another crash. That’ll be the salt-glazed stoneware display, damn it. Keith has stumbled in drunk. Probably shot a raccoon. Or a deer. Or Beau. And upended the cabinet. There’ll be beer, blood and crushed pottery all over the great room floor.

Angie is halfway down the corridor, pulling on her gown, when she hears another booming smash from the great room. Then the tinkle of shattered glass. Then a long, halting scrape.

“Keith?”

Not Keith. An intruder? Angie scolds herself for being a scared old woman. But here, away from people and light and street crime, she is.

Her left hand skitters over the corridor sideboard, searching for anything she can use as a weapon. She gropes an antique clock and a silver tray, before settling on a hand-carved corkscrew. She pulls the handle into her palm and grips it, the lever curling between her fingers like a single, spiralling claw.

And before she can stop herself, she’s beyond the doorway, feeling her way across the back wall and flipping on the lights.

It’s a deer. A great big whitetail buck, hooves skittering on her cardboard boxes and recycled timber, a rent curtain over one antler, and a metal windshield frame tangled around its waist in a grotesque parody of Landseer’s Monarch of the Glen. There are shards of glass embedded in its hide, and blood is leaking from a small black hole in its neck.

It snorts, trying in vain to shake off the bedsheet, and stumbles, punch drunk, over the couch directly towards her. Shelves shudder. Boxes spill. The dead buck’s head over the fireplace is knocked askew, but stays precariously on its perch. And Angie turns her eyes back to the antique corkscrew, another piece of rustic junk, in an old woman’s trembling fist.

Keith drags himself through the driver’s side window pane and takes a moment to clear his head. The fog of beer and testosterone still heavy on his head. Jo-Anne is in the car. She’s slumped on the passenger side, bloody from the crash, but breathing. Alive. What was he thinking, bringing her here?

It takes a moment for him to register that the buck is missing and there are tracks up the gravel drive. Grabbing the rifle from the front seat, he wobbles toward the house. And there it is, through the front window. A whitetail in the great room.

He squints through the sight, the aperture dead between the antlers. And then he shifts his stance, just enough, to turn the sight on his harridan wife.

“Hey”. Angie says, softly, dropping the corkscrew and holding out the back of her trembling hand, like she would to a strange dog. “Hey, there”.

The buck stumbles again, and softens, sniffing the air, all bent angles and violent geometry. But then Keith’s voice tears through, spoiling the moment as usual.

“Angie!” he yells, switching off the safety. “Step slowly toward the window where I can see you”.

He has her now. A clear shot. A new start.

The whitetail lowers its antlers and bleats, flattening its ears and tensing its haunches ready to charge.

“Come on now”, he coos, letting his finger rest heavy on the trigger. “I don’t want to shoot you by mistake”.

And just at that moment, his improper mounting gives way. The old buck’s head falls from the fireplace, startling the deer, setting it rearing up, and turning, and galloping through the open great room window, back to the treeline that separates the farm from the Minnesota wilds.

And as it thunders past, Keith fumbles his gun, sending it clattering to the ground, and shooting himself, point blank, right in his useless gut.

Angie looks from Jo-Anne in the passenger seat, to her gutshot husband to the rifle. Even from here she can smell the beer and sex among the gun oil.

“Help me!” he says, in an old man’s voice, bleeding out all over the deck. “Please”.

And Angie breathes in. And Angie breathes out.

And she goes back to bed.

Alone.

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