Clementine knew she shouldn’t have left the party just as soon as she did it, but through some combination of stubbornness and pride she kept on walking. This stupid party her boyfriend – ex-boyfriend – had dragged her to was all the way out in the boonies. She should have known it was a stupid idea when he said they would have to drive, and she had known it was stupid when the drive took forty minutes, all down winding, unlit roads that took them to some unnamed hamlet. Her head ached from the way she had gritted her teeth the whole ride, waiting for a deer to come bouncing into their headlights and crashing into the windshield, or for the road to just up and disappear around a bend and leave them crashing down a hill.
Once they had made the party she relaxed. It was a nice looking cabin, well lit, with a pool and a bonfire going in the back. Lots of people, and she knew some of them. She took the first beer offered to her and drank half of it in under a minute. Jason had just patted her on the back. He knew she was afraid of driving, especially at night. But maybe he had been right to make her come out. The party looked fun, and if she drank enough she could sleep through the drive back to campus.
Then, two hours later, she had pushed open a door thinking it was the bathroom and found Jason wedged between Cerise Cunningham and some brunette she’d never seen before. So busy they never even noticed the door open, or Clementine’s staring. Maybe they noticed the door slamming shut. She never stopped to find out. She never stopped. She went to the front of the house, pulled her coat out of the pile on the couch, and went out into the night. If anyone had tried to stop her, Clementine hadn’t heard over the sound of her tears and her rage.
If it hadn’t been for the nearly full moon she wouldn’t have been able to see anything. Clementine hugged the side, walking the edge of the pavement like a tightrope walker. All it would take was one car, one truck, not expecting anyone on the road – rightfully so! – for her to be thrown into the woods. Going back felt like crawling back. What were her options? Pretend she saw nothing and ride the whole way back with that cheating scumbag? Or get in a fight right there and potentially get left behind? No thank you, and no thank you. She was fairly sure they had passed a gas station not long before reaching the house, she only had to get there and then she could call-
Rustling leaves disrupted her thoughts and made her spin. The leaves had been rustling this whole time, yes, but this time it hadn’t been the wind. Probably an animal. This didn’t comfort her like it was supposed to. This whole time, walking the road, she had been afraid of getting hit by a car. She hadn’t even thought of animals. What was out here? Bears? Wolves? Cougars? Clementine swallowed hard as her eyes kept searching the darkness. She’d heard about people crossing cougars. You never knew they were there unless they wanted you to.
Clementine took a deep breath. She knew it was there, whatever it was, so it couldn’t have been a cougar. Probably. And the sound hadn’t happened again. She’d spent enough childhood summers with her grandparents in the country to know sometimes even small animals could make big noises, especially in the dark of night. It could have been a raccoon, or even just a squirrel. It took effort to make herself turn back around and start walking, and more effort to keep her pace steady.
The sound again, and again, and Clementine allowed herself to keep walking until she heard clicking on the pavement behind her. Startled at the new sound she whipped around, and with buttery relief realized she was looking at a deer. It was hard to make out the details with only a clouded moon, but even a child could recognize that shape. Just a dumb deer. Probably more scared of her than she was of it. Clementine even managed to laugh just a little bit before the clouds passed away from the moon.
It’s just a deer.
But every inch of her skin was crawling and itching, even the inside of her mouth and her eyes.
It’s just a deer.
But there was a new ringing in her ears that she couldn’t shake that sounded like a combination between machine grinding and mosquitos.
It’s just a deer.
But there was a tightness in her back and a watery feeling in her belly.
It was just a deer. That was what her senses were telling her. But some other part of her – the most primitive part of her brain, or, maybe, her soul – was telling her otherwise. She swallowed hard, and took a step back. And another. And if the deer-thing followed her, if she had to see it move, she knew she would go insane.
It didn’t move. But it was watching her. Flat eyes. It wasn’t afraid. It wasn’t anything.
It isn’t anything.
Clementine almost threw up.
She stopped. The road was bending. If she went any farther she’d lose sight of the deer, lost behind the trees. She didn’t want to be anywhere near it. She didn’t want to not know where it was, either. Not when the deer would clearly know where she was.
How long did she stand like that before they came? It was still dark. There was still a moon. Beyond that, she didn’t know. She didn’t know much of anything when the car came to a stop next to her, brakes screeching. The car had whipped around the deer like they’d never even seen it.
“Clementine? What are you doing out here? Clem?”
She glanced at Luanne, leaning out the passenger side window, for only a second before her eyes went back to the deer.
It wasn’t there.
Without invitation or hesitation she threw herself into the back of the car, slamming the door behind her.
Luanne and Todd looked at each other, then at her.
“Jason’s looking for you, you know.”
“He was fucking Cerise.”
Todd let out a low whistle and, “Yikes.” Luanne hit him.
The hairs on the back of Clementine’s neck stood on end.
“Can you just drive, please?” she said, unaware she was crying.
Todd shrugged and sat forward in the seat. As they drove away from the curve in the road the crawling and the buzzing and the tightness fell away. Luanne climbed into the back seat and sat next to her, patting her hand. Clementine didn’t even realize she had been falling asleep until the realization shot her with panic and she sat upright, making Luanne scream.
Deer don’t walk on two legs.