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The International Writers Magazine:Dreamscapes Fiction

The Deer Trap
• Julie McSmith
The unfortunate fact was that the man had ceased to exist because he could not liken himself to a single character in any movie or on television.

blood in snow

He pondered this in the wood behind his house. It was slated for development the next year. Already they had begun razing the trees and building the squarish mansions that would replace the tract of forest. He wondered, not for the last time why he was no longer supposed to enjoy the sensualities, the visual pleasure of nature.

There was a lot of snow. That day he saw blood in the white whipped cream that covered the floor of the forest. It began in some brambles where the crusted snow had been trampled and mixed with red. The blood continued down the hill like a fragmented scrape in the hide of some alabaster creature. Several times he glanced behind, as if he might behold the hunter before the other could mistake him for a deer, dressed as he was in a brown coat and cap. He wondered why the person dragging the form left this unnerving decoration in the snow instead of loading whatever was bleeding onto something to prevent the mess.

Whoever it was seemed to have enjoyed this process of dragging the bleeding form. The track at last came out at the farm field on the opposite side of the forest, and there he turned back. It had to be a deer. That thought, and then another possibility did not leave his mind entirely.

The luminescent sky of mid-winter shone above him, and the color shifted from late afternoon into evening into night. Iridescent shades of gray in the hill gave way to subtle starlight. Two planets shone out above the horizon where the sun had set. He wished he could write poetry, but he knew he was no good at it. As he followed the long dash of red in the snow he watched it became black with the passing of the sun. He traced the line all the way back to the brambles where it began and the three new housing lots.

The runoff from the melted snow and mud from the bare yards ran as rivulets across the concrete driveways. It reminded him of instant coffee. Returning home, he found his hands much colder than he had noticed before. The skin was bloodless and nearly frozen, and he fumbled with the lock. Then he stumbled into the kitchen and put his hands under cold water. Feeling returned at last, but he still felt blank inside from the shock of seeing the blood in the forest.

The next day he would meet his co-worker from years before who was in town on business. They had not met in ten or fifteen years. He realized it was over five years since he'd last sat across from another person to share a meal. Each repast he ate sitting before his computer screen alone in the living room. There had been offers, inquiries, invitations he turned down. He told himself it was not that he lacked the social graces of someone in his position, but that he preferred the rewards of his workaholic personality.
That was what he told himself, at least, except when he wondered if his participation in social events would just reproduce the same cynicism and discontent espoused by his childhood caregivers.

His mother had descended ever further into the mist of incoherence from the strain of her continuing attractiveness that begot endless attention while committed to a monogamous arrangement. That someone with her charms had married a programmer instead of someone in management only made matters worse. He did not ponder his mother's decision more than once in so many passing moments, because he knew that his mother's marriage choice could have been from natural selection, one mechanically implanted, or one constructed through various circumstances. Furthermore, he knew that his own dialogue was politically useful in that it resolved the cultural conflicts so explosive in his parents' relationship.

He sat before his computer in the living room and ate the biscuit and salad that were his dinner. Midway through he heard a crunch as he chewed some lettuce, and he cursed. He had washed the lettuce several times. He wondered if the sensation was really sand or if he had just forgotten to do the task in his planner again. This was how it always happened: the sand texture appeared in whatever he was eating just when he forgot to do something in his planner at a certain time. This made him eschew using his planner, because he felt micromanaged.

Sometimes it was worse though. He had chipped a tooth last year, too, when he had changed the schedule for the marketing team that was going to the product conference. If he forgot to call someone or was late he would walk outside and see an ambulance picking up a passer-by who'd gotten in an accident or perhaps a tow truck dragging away a crashed car.

Why couldn't someone just call him to say he was behind on the work he had set for himself, or he should have decided something else? What right did these observers really have to manage his use of his personal planner and his private space inside of his house, anyway? For goodness sake, it was just a planner, not a contract with God carved in stone. That was what he told himself, but he knew it was no use trying to explain that to whoever had set up the feedback system. Was it the company he worked for?

At last his thoughts quieted, and he looked at what he had written for seven o'clock. Read a manual for the next day's work and call his friend who was in town on business. The feeling of being manipulated eroded his enthusiasm as he picked up the phone to make the call.

The next day he arrived ten minutes before the appointed time at the bar and grill by the post office. The edifice was a loathsome building made of blocky concrete. It was a heavy structure, hastily built, as if one day the emotions of coercion and drunkenness had coalesced into material form. He imagined that the anti-aesthetic of the building was to offset the gustatory attraction of the lavish entree that arrived.
His colleague used to play basketball before going into business, and even sitting down, the other man's height was apparent. "Man, this place is just like it was out of Rube's Magic," the friend remarked, looking around at the plush couches in the waiting room, potted cactuses and tiny, multi-colored tiles on one wall.
"I thought you would like it. How was your trip so far?"
"I really feel like Ned Selfee," his friend remarked. "It's all a predictability game and a legal battle."
"Ned was on that show Birkmeister's Fullton?" he asked.
"Yes, that's the show. Lot's of office intrigue. You remind me a little bit of the man in marketing, Rocky, on that show, but maybe his style was more formal," his former co-worker mused. "You know, everyone in my office these days has an alter-ego based on that show Bananagins?"
"It sounds like something you'd do."

The man's former colleague explained, "Yes, our secretary is this really petite, shrewd lady just like Ms. Kandy, and then the fellow in marketing is Hank Fritzer. Then there's the other girl in marketing who is Farly Frankfurter. Our boss is this old geezer who is Jamelle Jenkins."
"And who are you?"
"Can't you guess?" his friend laughed, "Well, at first the people thought I'd make a good Arron Vack. Then they said I was more like Peter."
He paused and smiled. "I can see it."
"Business is good, despite all the market turmoil," his friend remarked, changing the subject. "Actually, it's been overtime and more overtime. I feel just like a drone in that movie Elkman's Office Adventure. Did you ever see that?"
"Well, actually you weren't missing much, but it was still funny," his friend laughed again.
"Yes, you do make a good Peter. So who do you think I'm like these days?"
His friend leaned back, put his fork down, and rubbed his chin with one paw. "I'd have to say that I still couldn't say who you're like. You're almost like Von Wenfelder in Law and Taco, but then I start to think you'd make a better Sam Zeldman."

At the end of the meal he went into the bathroom and looked at his face in the mirror. The features, his nose in particular, had swelled and acquired a bloated appearance. His skin color now had become ruddy to the point of acquiring a purplish hue. Oils tended to make his nose swell, but not usually like this. All he had was a salad, and he did not use the dressing. What could he have been allergic to in the salad? He found it strange his friend had not commented on the condition of his face, which was by his estimation, undergoing a transformation nearing the grotesque. Yet, apparently, it somehow just failed to escape the ordinary, the acceptable.

He felt like he had talked about nothing he wanted to talk about. How good it was to see someone from long ago. Yet, the brevity of the meeting made his true concerns seem impossible to convey without acquiring the appearance of a non-sequitor. All they had talked about again was the same thing they used to talk about: what kinds of characters on TV or in the movies they could compare everyone to.
Sliding back into the seat across from his friend, he found the plates cleared and his friend looking drinking coffee. He commented, "I'm surprised you still haven't found your Paulina Rakefelder."
"Paulina Rakefelder," his friend exclaimed. "I don't think I'd ever want to spend my life with someone like that."
He laughed at his colleague's reply, and said, "You know I signed up for one of those self-franchisee arrangements."
"You, really? Don't you feel like you're selling yourself, man?"

"Not really. It's an anonymous donation, and the way I look at it, they already have my sequence anyway. Why not just put the icing on the cake? I mean, when you buy ground meat to make hamburgers it's not like it's all from the same cow, anyway."
"Don't you believe in biodiversity and natural selection?" his friend pressed.
"It's not like I have this lineage thing to live up to, not like on Terminal Frontier. And it makes more sense, economically, to be a single-consumer-unit rather than part of a dual-unit. I'm busy with different apps all day, anyway."
"Yes, but it's just not the same as a real person," his friend argued. "I mean, who is going to cook you dinner and compare you to Elvin Sanders and talk with you about the movie Way to Blind Heart?
"You're right. And it's true, you lose a lot of affective interaction."

Driving home later, he continued to savor the camaraderie of years before, though the sight of his swelling face in the rearview mirror disturbed him. He decided it had been worth it to see his old colleague. Was this a punishment for being too cynical after his friend started talking about Paulina Rakefelder and marriage? Perhaps. He sighed. If only he could really compare himself to a character on TV or in a movie.

On the turnoff from the main road to the suburb where he lived he saw deer on the side of the road. It was in nearly perfect condition except for a pool of blood near its head and some blood and congealed flesh around its mouth and one side of its face. He wondered if one of the construction trucks hit the animal as it came over the knoll. Looking at it he felt nothing, and he recalled that he had not called the repairman about the boiler.

At dusk again the next day he passed again through the snowy forest, lost in the reverie of the twilit world. The stars sparkled in the black-blue sky and a sliver of a moon hung in a tree. His inability to liken himself to any character of broadcast, projected or networked origin consumed him. Lost in these ruminations as he was, he failed to see the deer trap in the path through the wood. A kind of grill constructed of branches and connected to a bent sapling with a piece of rawhide was set into the trail. He felt his foot caught up in the contraption as the sapling whipped back to smash his head, knocking him unconscious and pinning him to the icy ground. Although unbidden, soon the cold came to finish the job.
© Julie McSmith March 2016
t_visco at

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