Ideas are like cocaine. Touch a willing receptor, and the victim will never escape. We had gathered around the grill at the Harancourts' Labor Day party, drinking gin and tonics, and talking about the deer. At night they strolled across the lawn, snacking on bushes and plants. Then, like squads of marauding cavalry, they fanned out to terrify dogs, delight children and destroy every garden in our neighborhood.
"It's against the law to shoot them," Ty Renner the lawyer said.
"What about poison?" suggested Paul Kincaid, the orthopedic surgeon, who lived down the hill from Louise and me. He often came home late from the hospital and complained about deer in the road.
"You'd kill every dog in the neighborhood," retorted Angie Harancourt.
Mid-forties, she sported the layered blond hair and glistening nails that distinguished habitués of the finest local salons. Working beside his father at the grill, her son Derek grimaced. Six months of family therapy with me had only intensified his hatred of his mother. When she arrived after a pedicure wearing cardboard tongs to separate her freshly varnished toes, I thought he would strangle on his disgust.
"I have a client in the suburbs who uses a crossbow," the lawyer said. "From up in the trees. It's perfectly legal."
"How horrible!" exclaimed Dawn Martin, a frazzled platinum blond with a flair for Jaguars and bathrobes during car pool. "What if the children saw?"
Derek smirked; he would love to watch someone shoot a deer with a crossbow.
"Then they've won," George Harancourt concluded, slapping another steak on the grill. Tall, hard eyed and brutally fit, the biggest developer in the city didn't like to lose. "The laws protect animals, not us."
I caught the edge in his voice, the driving, inconsiderate power that had shoved his wife aside and driven his son to drugs. Lacking his father's cunning and cruelty, Derek could only escape through cocaine.
"What about spears?" I said to turn it all into a joke.
"Right," laughed Eddie Martin, Harancourt's business partner. A foot shorter than George, Eddie mimicked him in everything: clothes, cars, a wife with the same build and hair, and a twin mansion overlooking the river. "The cops couldn't get us for that, could they, Ty?"
Their lawyer laughed and headed back to the veranda for another drink.
"The Humane Society would never allow it," Angie snapped.
Derek looked up from the grill, delighted to see his mother and his psychiatrist in conflict outside the office.
"It was just a joke, Angie," I said to calm her.
Then Louise turned the conversation to dahlias, and everyone seemed to relax. Sometimes my wife is better at group therapy than I; she had that worn, gray expression that distressed women find comforting. I wasn't even sure George had heard me, until we were lining up for the steaks.
"I know a guy who has a metal working shop," he said to me, lifting a T-bone onto my wife's plate. "I could ask him to make them."
"Make what?" asked Louise.
"The spears," he replied. "What about it, Carl?"
He looked straight at me.
"Are you in?"
Derek skewered a steak and held it over my plate.
Maybe it was the alcohol, maybe the night air, and maybe his damned arrogance to challenge me in front of my patient and my wife.
"Yes, George," I said. "I'm in."
"Great." He slapped my arm. "We'll talk later."
Derek dropped the steak onto my paper plate. It was so hot it burned my hand.
From the Harancourts' veranda, the terrace stretched like a dark green tarmac into the evening sky. Beyond lay the river valley, curling through the trees toward the downtown bridges. When the fireworks began, we watched the far away bursts like Valkyrie hovering over a battlefield. Fascinated, we forgot the hillside that sloped down to the parkway five hundred feet below, and the creatures that waited there for our little show to end.
As Louise and I walked home, we heard something behind us. Turning, we saw a huge stag, two does and four fawns trotting toward us.
"Look, Carl," she whispered, gripping my hand. "Aren't they beautiful?"
At the last minute they separated like dancers and passed us on both sides.
"How could anyone want to kill them?" she said.
"I was just joking, dear."
They disappeared ahead of us down the lane. When we got home, the dog was barking wildly.
After our dog Lonnie turned eight, he stopped going on walks with me. He refused to go outside unless Louise opened the door and said, "Look, Lonnie. There's a kitty!" There must have been something insincere in my voice; he wouldn't do that for me. One evening, after the dog had stayed in all day because of rain, we all went for a walk, Louise holding the leash. We were just turning around at the Harancourts' drive, when Derek came running down to us. Thin calves sticking out of his cutoffs, he looked like he should have spent the summer at band camp instead of rehabilitation.
"They're here!" he exclaimed. "Dad and Eddie are waiting. Come on!"
"What are you talking about, dear?" Louise asked.
"The spears, Mrs. Elliot. Come on!"
Derek ran up the lane toward the developers' mansions, as happy as when his father bought him a motorcycle for his sixteenth birthday. That was just before George went to Derek's room to tell him to turn down the stereo and caught him snorting cocaine.
"I thought you said it was a joke," Louise called back to me, as the dog pulled her after the teenager.
When I was a resident and she was a psychiatric nurse, her sympathetic listening attracted me. Twenty-five childless years later, however, the relationship had reversed. Now she spoke incessantly and I listened as long as I could, before moving away to do the dishes or find the TV program.
At the top of the lane, I saw Derek run across the lawn toward his father and Eddie Martin. They had set up a target on a bale of hay. While the two men talked, something in their hands flashed.
"This is ridiculous," whispered Louise as we approached.
"Try this one, Carl," Harancourt said, handing me a spear.
It had an ash shaft about four feet long and a beautifully shaped thin blade.
"It's for throwing," he explained. "The longer ones are for going one on one with them."
Both he and Martin held long thrusting spears with wide blades. Several throwing spears lay on the ground.
"Have you all gone out of your minds?" Louise exclaimed.
"I researched them," George continued, running his finger down the blood groove in the blade. "It's OK to touch it, Louise." He offered her the shaft. "It's surgical steel."
She recoiled as if he had offered her a serpent. He turned to me.
"Go ahead," Derek urged me. "Try it."
It almost throbbed in my hand.
"I'm taking Lonnie home," Louis snapped, jerking the dog away.
"Just like a football," Eddie Martin said.
"Did you hear me, Carl?" Louise called over her shoulder.
At the few parties or hospital functions we attended, that was her signal to disengage. I leaned back and threw the spear as hard as I could. For one lovely second it flew straight at the target, then dropped flat into the grass.
"You'd better stick to psychiatry," she said. "You'd never make it as a hunter."
Derek tried to catch my eye, but I looked away. I finally understood how a mother could taunt her son into addiction.
Like a coach with a player who missed an easy shot, George Harancourt put his hand on my shoulder.
"Like you're going for a long bomb," he said. "Watch."
He picked up a throwing spear, stepped back like a quarterback looking for a down field receiver and threw. The spear arched into the golden sunset and sliced into the white circle above the bull's eye.
"You're getting there," Eddie said.
He picked up another throwing spear and hurled it at the target, almost making up in force what his partner had in finesse. The spear struck the lower blue ring and hung quivering in the hay.
"Go get 'em, Derek," Harancourt called to his son.
The boy ran across the lawn to the target. When I looked around, Louise and the dog had disappeared. We spent the next hour practicing. Just before it got too dark, I hit the target on the outer ring, knocking the bale over.
"Way to go, killer!" Eddie Martin cried, and George slapped me on the shoulder.
As the new moon rose over the river valley, we sat on Harancourt's porch drinking beer. When I finally got home, Louise was in bed, and Lonnie was too tired to get up.
Everyone in the office commented on Derek's progress that fall. From a surly, sulky teenager he became a bright, focused young man, eager to share his enthusiasm for life. Only in the family sessions, when he and his father discussed the hunt while Angie raged between them, was the dynamic clear.
At home, Louise was elaborately calm. She addressed me in the same tone as I spoke to a recalcitrant patient in the office. The night I tried on my camouflage outfit and black hunting boots, she laughed at me again.
"What if your patients saw you now?" she sneered.
"Two of my patients will see me," I countered. "It's healing their relationship."
"What about our relationship?" she demanded in the same tone Angie used with Derek.
"It's just something to do in the evenings, Louise. Maybe if you were interested in the theater or music, we could do something together."
She looked at me as the deer would look the instant the blade struck home.
George, Eddie and Derek were waiting at the top of the lane with the spears. In the dull moonlight, I saw Harancourt and his son had black paint under their eyes.
"The wind is from the river," Harancourt said. "We'll wait here, where they can't smell us."
We spread out in the trees on both sides of the lane. Unless I had known the others were there, I could have been alone on the edge of the world. Hiding behind an oak, I held the spear against my chest. I had never known a night so quiet or excitement so intense. Sometimes I heard a car in the distance or a garage door opening. The only movements were blowing leaves. I was almost asleep when I heard Derek breath deeply. Coming toward us across the black terrace were two does and four fawns. They halted just out of range like soldiers on night patrol, each looking in a different direction. Satisfied they were alone, the larger doe stepped toward the lane.
The long bomb, Harancourt had said. Like a ballet dancer on a brightly lit stage, the doe could not see who was watching from the pit. Twenty yards, fifteen, I was drawing back to throw when two spears streaked through the moonlight. One plunged into her throat and the other struck her chest. Amazed, her front legs buckled, and she collapsed on her side. The others froze; how could the dark that nurtured them strike out? In that second, I threw my spear at the closest, saw it start and crumple, and felt the stomach-churning jolt of the kill. The other deer bolted for the hillside.
"You got one, Dr. Elliot, you got one!" Derek cried.
We ran to the deer. It was a fawn not four months old, panting and staring at us with wide black eyes, kicking at the shaft in its side with one hind foot. I had never seen anything so beautiful die.
"That was my kill," Harancourt said angrily to Eddie Martin. "She was in my zone."
"Don't get so bent out of shape," his partner replied sullenly.
"Dad!" Derek called. "Our deer won't die."
Harancourt came over, pulled out the spear and thrust it into the fawn's throat. Its flank stopped heaving, and everything relaxed.
"You should have waited until it was closer," he said.
"It's just a fawn," Eddie sneered.
"At least he made his own kill," Harancourt retorted.
He gripped the shaft so tightly his hand shook Men can share the same business, even the same woman, but not the same kill.
"Don't be so pissed off," Eddie said.
George threw the spear down and knelt beside the doe.
"I said I was sorry," Eddie sulked.
"Help me with this," Harancourt snapped. "We have to get it back to the garage."
The partners grabbed the doe's hind legs and started dragging her up the lane. Derek helped me lift the fawn onto my shoulders. Then he picked up the spears and followed us across the lawn. George and Eddie Martin stopped beside the garage.
"Let's finish the job," Harancourt said, drawing his hunting knife.
Eddie Martin drew his knife and knelt beside him.
While Derek watched, the developers gutted the doe without speaking. Then George handed his knife to his son and told him to do the fawn. The boy hesitated.
"You have to learn how to do it," his father said. "Watch."
Taking the knife again, Harancourt ripped the fawn open from the anus to the throat.
"Now you do it," he said.
Derek plunged both hands into the deer's entrails and lifted them onto the ground.
"Now let's have a contest and see who can skin their deer fastest," Harancourt said.
Neither Derek nor Eddie Martin had ever skinned a deer.
"Cut around the neck and the shoulder, just like you're unzipping its coat," Harancourt said.
Derek wasn't strong enough to pull the hide off by himself. His father knelt beside him to hold it down while I yanked the skin off. I had never seen them so close.
"Isn't anybody going to help me?" Eddie complained.
Without speaking, George held the doe until his partner had yanked off its skin. While Eddie Martin and Derek were stuffing the guts into garbage bags, George and I hung the carcasses in the air-conditioned workroom to drain and cure. Then we sat on Harancourt's front steps and drank beer.
"You did real good for a beginner, Doc," George said as I stood up.
Leaving the spear and the carcass with Derek, I shuffled down the lane like a lineman singled out by the quarterback after a close game.
I had never been so tired when I got home. When I went upstairs and turned on the lamp on my dresser, Louise was still awake.
"What have you done?" she gasped.
My hands and arms were black with blood.
"Don't ever touch me again," she said.
That fall I learned how to grill. While Louise picked at a salad or talked on her cell phone with her support group, I grilled venison on the deck and drank beer. In the office I finally understood why so many of my male patients knew more about barbecue sauce than about their families. Asking for a recipe was a better way to build a therapeutic alliance than delving into their deepest secrets, where every shared shame only separated us farther. Even the dog came outside with me again after I started tossing him scraps. When it was too dark to read, I changed into my fatigues and went hunting.
My practice started to change, too. When Derek and his parents came in for therapy, the boy and his father moved their chairs close to me. Angie, isolated, refused to participate.
"If you're just going to talk about hunting again, I'm leaving," she said.
Derek and his father were silent. There was nothing they wanted more than for her to leave.
"It's better to talk about something Derek is passionate about," I said.
Angie stalked out. Harancourt looked like I'd just saved his son's life, and I felt the same wild relief as when I passed my boards and would never have to take another test again. Derek smiled. Like a judo fighter matched against an implacable opponent, he had finally found how to break her hold.
We laughed and talked for the rest of the hour. As I walked them to the door, George had his arm around his son's shoulder. On our next hunt I took George aside and told him they didn't need to come back again. Derek made his first kill that night. With his father and me watching proudly, he slit it open, splashing himself with the rich warm blood.
I will never forget the night I got my first stag. Harancourt had stationed us in the trees above the lane like a picket line in the dark ages. Derek stood just a little to the rear with a thrusting spear in case one broke through. It was Indian summer, and I was sweating through my fatigues. Then a cloud slid away from the moon, and the deer emerged from the night like an unfamiliar shadow on an x-ray. Disbelieving, we stared into each other's eyes. Slowly, slowly, I was drawing back to throw, when a car turned onto the road below us. The stag realized he was not alone and leapt to the side as I threw. The spear caught him in the left shoulder. Like a running back hit by a lineman, he stumbled, then darted forward. Derek lunged out of the dark, but the deer zigzagged around him and sprang down the hill.
"Shit!" Derek cried. "I missed him!"
A hard thump! breaking glass and the car swerved and crashed, bathing us in its headlights.
"Come on!" I cried, and we ran through the trees toward the lights.
Paul Kincaid's Lexus had leapt into the hillside and smashed its beautiful grill into a tree. Something covered the windshield.
"It's the deer," Derek said.
The buck was upside down across the hood, its head turned backwards into the broken windshield. I ran to the door.
"Paul!" I cried, yanking it open.
Mouth open, he was staring into the dead stag's eyes.
I touched his shoulder, but he didn't move. Then I saw the antlers had pierced his chest.
"Son of a bitch," Eddie Martin whispered.
We heard another car coming up the road. Harancourt reached inside and turned off the lights. Stepping back, he pulled the spear out of the deer's shoulder.
"Go home through the woods," he said.
We all understood what he meant. Hunting accidents are difficult to explain when the intended prey kills a bystander. Ty Renner's legal system would never understand that the thrill of the hunt is more important than any one life.
The dog must have known I was coming through the yard and didn't bark. Maybe the blood and the fear silenced them, too. Red and white lights were flashing through the trees, and the police radio grated loudly in the fall air.
"Have you killed someone?" Louise demanded as I climbed into bed.
I didn't answer.
"I'm leaving you, Carl," she continued. "I have a lawyer."
"Do you want the house?" I asked for something to say.
"No," she replied. "But I'm taking the dog."
That was the longest night in my life, lying there listening to her sob. I got up early to let Lonnie out, but he cringed at the door.
"Get the kitty!" I yelled savagely, and he bounded into the yard.
"You don't have to yell at him," Louise said, clutching her housecoat to her breasts.
"Here, Lonnie," she called from the door. "Mommy's here. It's okay."
Several minutes later, the dog loped onto the porch carrying the Renners' cat in his jaws.
"Keep him," she screamed. "I never want to see anything that reminds me of you again!"
That was the last time Louise spoke to me. She moved into a friend's apartment that afternoon. When I saw her at Paul Kincaid's funeral, she turned away before I could make eye contact. I found an empty place beside Dawn Martin. Neither of the developers was at the church.
"You were with George and Eddie that night, weren't you?" she whispered.
Her eyes were red and her makeup smeared from crying. I nodded.
"It's all right," she said, taking my hand. "I shouldn't have been there, either. It's a judgment on all of us."
She gripped my hand throughout the service. When Lori Kincaid walked out after the casket with her children, Dawn leaned against my shoulder and sobbed. I had read in the newspaper that she had found him, but I didn't realize until then that he had not been in surgery that night.
"I'd be happy to see you, if you think it would help," I said.
"Thanks, Carl." She squeezed my arm. "I think it would."
When word got out that Louise and I had separated, I lost most of my female patients. I hadn't realized so many of them were her friends. In their place came men from drop in centers, veterans, and court referrals for domestic violence. The waiting room smelled of sweat and alcohol. First my social worker, then another therapist left, so I had to do most of the groups myself.
We talked in the conference room until the smoke burned our eyes, and our memories were raw. Middle-aged men who had crept through jungles at night to strangle their enemies with piano wire traded stories with younger men who had waited outside motels for hours to catch their wives with their lovers. Toward the end, they always turned to me, saying: "And what about you, Doc?"
Then I told about the spears arching towards the deer. For them it unlocked memories of firing a grenade launcher over the rice fields toward a running man, or mortar shells dropping from the sky. It was the moment of the kill, when every nerve was stretched thin and time stood still that bound us together. After that, who could drive a truck or pay alimony or stop drinking, when the drink might blot it out or, even better, bring it all rushing back?
After a late night session, my office manager found beer cans in the conference room and quit. My last female therapist and one of the clerks left then, too.
"Go to hell," I cried after them in my mind.
Shifting my practice from HMOs and private pays to Medicaid and Medicare meant they had to go, anyway. Better for everyone if they thought it was over an issue, not just money. Only when the beer went flat and my throat was sore from the smoke did I sense the emptiness at the center of it all. Why did we always have to talk? Why isn't life enough? What was it that kept calling us back to death, luring us to challenge it again? Why couldn't we face it and kill it, once and for all? Even when I made love to Dawn Martin, it was more for the thrill of taking the wife of a man who hunted with a spear than from any passion for her.
On a beautiful fall evening, I was on the deck grilling venison, when the dog pressed against me.
"You'll have to wait," I said.
He whined and pawed my leg.
"What?" I said and turned.
A seven point stag stood on the lawn like a thoroughbred in the winners' circle. I had never seen anything so beautiful and so arrogant. Then I recognized him: the stag who'd pranced past Louise and me after the Labor Day picnic. The bastard knows we've given up, I thought. It saw me, the man, helpless, with my dog cringing against my legs.
"Damn you!" I cried, hurling the cooking fork at him.
It struck the ground at his feet. He didn't move.
Furious, I ran into the house for my spear. Despite slamming doors and the dog, it just stood there, watching. Couldn't he see what I was doing? When I stepped onto the deck again, he was nibbling the last of the lilies. I mattered so little he didn't bother to look up.
"You bastard!" I cried, cursing the dull indifference that mocks and breaks the best men.
Like a German Shepherd taunted by a lap dog, he raised his head slowly. Not even the smell of venison smoldering on my grill bothered him. Amused, he cocked his head as I drew back and hurled the spear. It flew like a finely thrown fastball and cut through the base of his neck into his chest. He blinked once and dropped onto his side. The evening was so still I could hear when his breath stopped.
It was the finest night of my life, with the venison and the beer and the body of my enemy at my feet. When it was dark, I called Derek to ask if he'd help me dress a deer. His father answered.
"I thought we weren't going to do that anymore," he said.
"I had to," I replied and told him how the buck had mocked me.
When Derek arrived, I turned on the back yard lights.
"Where is it?" he asked.
The yard was empty. The boy looked at me as if I was the patient. I went into the kitchen for a flashlight, and we went down the hill.
"It was there," I said, lighting a shiny patch on the grass.
He knelt and touched the ground.
"You got one, all right." His fingers were wet and sticky. "Let's follow it."
"Your father wouldn't want you to."
I had never seen him so disappointed.
"Maybe we should just let it die in the woods, Derek."
And that's what I thought it did. The next day I worked late and bought a casserole and a bottle of wine on the way home. The message light on the telephone was on. Maybe it would be another good night; the only one who left me messages was Dawn.
"Carl," Dawn's voice said. "It was here this afternoon. You have to do something about it. Call me."
I called three times before she answered.
"It was the one that killed Paul," she insisted.
"That's impossible," I said. "It's been dead for weeks."
"It's not dead, Carl. It still has your spear sticking out of it."
"Maybe one of the others," I said.
"Just do something. I can't stand it. You'll have to kill it."
She hung up.
How long could a deer live with a wound like that? Maybe I should call George Harancourt. He'd know what to do. But what would Harancourt think of a man who couldn't finish his own kill? I couldn't let it shame me. Let it die by itself.
The next evening when I got home, the message light was off. Good, I thought. It's dead. I was opening a beer when the doorbell rang. A man in a windbreaker and a uniformed policeman were on the porch. My God, I thought. Derek's done something terrible. Fighting back fear, I opened the door. They seemed uncomfortable with Louise's Chinese wallpaper in the vestibule, but they didn't want to sit down. I had heard from my patients that they acted this way when someone had died.
"I didn't want to call the office, Doctor," the detective said. "I don't like to worry people."
"Is it about Derek?"
The Detective glanced at the uniformed officer.
"Mrs. Kincaid saw a deer in her yard when her kids were getting off the school bus," he said. "There was a spear sticking out of its chest."
I was still holding the beer, and there was nowhere to put it down.
"Funny thing," the uniformed officer said. "When they checked out the deer that killed Dr. Kincaid, there was a wound in its shoulder, like it had been stabbed or something."
"There's a rumor in the neighborhood that some guys have been hunting deer with spears," the detective continued. "You hear anything about that?
"I hadn't heard that," I said, sweating through my shirt.
The detective looked at the uniformed officer.
"That's funny. Somebody told us you were talking about it at the Harancourts' Labor Day picnic."
"Oh, that," I said. "That was just a joke."
"That's what I would have thought, too, Doctor", the detective concluded, looking at the uniformed officer again.
"You have anything else?" I said.
The policeman shook his head.
"Okay, Doc. Have a nice night."
I stood in the vestibule staring at the Chinese wallpaper. Near the mountains in the distance, heads cocked toward the painter, were several deer.
George Harancourt did not have the officers' hesitancy about disturbing me at work.
"Angie just called," he said. "Your deer was at the house."
"It's still there?" was all I could think to say.
"She saw it go down over the hill."
My patients were arguing in the conference room.
"George, I have to get back to work," I said.
"We're going after it. Tonight. Together. Meet me at the house at nine."
In the conference room, a Vietnam veteran was shaking a drug dealer against the wall.
"Don't call me brother!" he screamed.
We started down the hillside single file like Indians: first the developers, then Derek, and then me. The moon disappeared over the ridge, and we crept forward in nearly perfect darkness. Suddenly Derek slipped, and a torrent of stones rushed over the drop off. Everyone stopped. My fingers were numb with cold. As we started forward again, I saw the yellow streetlights along the parkway five hundred feet below. Fear gripped my chest like ice.
Two hours later we found their trail. It's something you sense when the brush starts to separate, and you feel yourself entering a blacker V in the night. We were moving easily when the path widened, and we found them huddled beneath an overhang. Like freshly conjured spirits, the fawns stared at us with startled eyes too new to the world for fear. The does huddled around the huge stag as if to shield him, while a young buck stepped between the herd and us. As Harancourt waved us into a semicircle, the old stag brushed the does aside.
Derek gasped. The spear was still hanging from his chest.
You can also sense when another man is going for your kill.
"He's mine!" Harancourt hissed to Eddie Martin.
As the stag started toward us, their eyes met. Both men were leaning back into their throws, but I was quicker. My spear struck the stag in the chest. George's spear sliced across his neck, and Eddie's caught the young buck in the shoulder joint. He spun into the air like Barishnakov and bolted down the trail as the old stag sunk to his knees. The fawns and does scattered past us like early morning dreams. I started towards the stag.
"You bastard!" Harancourt yelled at me. "I told you he was mine!"
"Fuck you!" Eddie Martin cried, pushing Harancourt's chest with both hands. "The world doesn't belong to you!"
George hit him in the mouth.
"You fucking bastard!" Eddie screamed, drawing his hunting knife.
Mad with fear and pain, the wounded buck crashed into a tree and turned back towards us.
Harancourt backed toward the old stag, reaching for his hunting knife, when the wounded buck came bounding toward him. Seeing his chance, Eddie Martin lunged at his partner. The buck saw the movement and swerved, catching Eddie on his antlers and raising him upside down. For a second they looked into each other's eyes. Then Eddie slashed at his throat with his knife, and the deer collapsed on top of him.
"Help me!" Eddie cried. "For God's sake, help me!"
Drooling blood, the buck thrashed madly, driving them toward the drop off. Eddie arched backward with all his strength as he struggled to break free. At the last second, he twisted out of the antlers, but the slope was too steep and the ground too hard to hold.
"Shit," said Eddie Martin, watching his fingers slip.
His knife slid over the edge and dropped into the darkness.
"For a deer," he cursed us. "All for a fucking deer!"
He flailed at the branches, then dropped screaming toward the parkway. In the sudden silence, the buck looked at us like a startled child who made baby cry with a kiss. Derek started toward him with his spear.
"Don't kill him," Harancourt said. "We have to make them think Eddie did this all himself."
Every few seconds, the young buck twitched and kicked at the spear in its shoulder.
"Come on. We'll just slide him over after him. Watch those hooves, Derek."
Derek was shoving the buck toward the edge with the shaft of his spear, when I saw the big stag move.
"George," I tried to warn him.
"Fuck you," he said.
Head down, the stag came at him on three legs.
"Derek!" he cried, as the antlers knocked him down. "Derek!"
He slid toward the drop off like a swimmer caught in an undertow, pumping his beautiful catalogue boots for a foothold. As his feet slipped away, he drew his hunting knife and stabbed it into the hillside. His free hand reached out like a trapeze artist the instant before the catch is missed.
"Help me, son!" he cried.
Derek knelt and held out the shaft to him. The stag's blood oozed down over Harancourt's fingers.
"Dr. Elliott," Derek pleaded. "I can't hold it."
I grabbed a tree with one hand and his arm with the other. Leaning on the knife, Harancourt grabbed the shaft with his other hand and started to pull himself up. As he rose, he placed one foot on the knife.
"Hurry, Dad," Derek sobbed.
Then Harancourt had both hands on the shaft and was pushing himself up with his foot. The weight was off the spear; Derek leaned back, gasping for breath. Harancourt was almost to his son when the darkness shifted, and the old stag lurched to his knees.
"Dad!" Derek screamed.
With one last shuddering breath, the stag lunged between the developer and his son, breaking the boy's grip on the spear.
Harancourt stood straight up on one leg on the knife. Slowly, slowly, he leaned backwards into the darkness. One hand held the spear, the other still reached out for his son. Eyes searching the darkness for Derek's face, he fell.
"Damn you!" Derek screamed, drawing his knife.
He dove on the stag like a wrestler, rolling it onto its back.
"Derek!" I cried. "Derek!"
Sirens rose from the parkway, but the boy drove the knife in again and again. He would not stop, not even when flashlights swept through the trees, and the officers called down to us. If they had not pulled him off and taken the knife, he would have died there, too, frozen in the animal's blood.
I still see Derek at an institution for long term care where he will probably spend the rest of his life. It has a campus atmosphere, with spacious dormitories and classroom buildings, and a gatehouse on the drive. From his room you can barely see the fence topped with concertina wire that separates him from the world. Derek likes to look at the wire, because it makes him feel safe. Angie found a service that sends him presents at Christmas and birthdays, and checks every six months to see if he has outgrown his clothes.
If he were able to sleep, his prognosis would be better. Night after night he keeps himself awake, afraid that if he dreams of our last hunt, he will drop into death like his father. If I could teach him to rejoice in the moment he lost everything that bound him to the earth, he would be free. He would be healed. But if I could do that, I would be God.
So I lead group sessions, and grill steaks outside in summer, and wonder if we have all died and gone to hell. At the end of our sessions, my patients always ask me to tell them the story about the boy and his father and the deer, like children demanding the same bedtime story night after night. Somehow this wards off the despair where the nightmares form. I cannot forgive their sins; I can only share my own. So I tell them the story to help them sleep, but I know they will never escape.
There is no one left to hold a neighborhood party. The people who bought the developers' houses are very private. Dawn is engaged to a dot.com entrepreneur and only calls when he is out of town. I have thought about looking for another woman, but then I have a drink and realize it is better for me to be alone. Some nights I walk up the lane to look down at the parkway and wish there were some way I could make it all come back. Then I remember Derek and my veterans and go to bed. I am eager for the dreams to come.