Out in the middle of New Mexico, where the fertile Rio Grande river valley cuts through the foothills of some unknown mountain range, and desert gives way to a lush pine forest, somewhere along the road from Roswell to Alamogordo, you’ll find the most curious and horrible kind of deer.
Easily 10 feet high at the shoulders, with antlers like fulgurite and a pelt dark as a dawn thunderstorm, lumbering along through the engelmann spruce and blooming forbs, it’s an easy monster for your mind to refuse to see. You’ll likewise be forgiven if you don’t realize you’ve heard it– its bellow like the engine brake of a Mack truck hauling WonderBread down the deserted strip of highway that cuts through the ancient demon’s homeland. And as that metallic yawp echoes through the trees, you’re reminded it’s time to get going, time to return to road and head back to civilization. But if you are one of the few who don’t know when to turn away and run, one of the unfortunate travellers the deer descends upon, it’s a sight you won’t soon forget.
Weaving in and out of the penumbra of the forest, these stags work in terrible pairs, one jabbing down with the jagged points of its antlers, impaling fish or badgers or rabbits (or even the family cat if you’re not careful), then rearing up low while the other dines off the carcasses hanging there in the uneasy stillness. It’s a tenuous partnership, broken and forgotten as soon as the feeding frenzy has run its course. But it’s those antlers you’ll see first (everyone does– well, everyone who’s still able to talk about it without screaming)– a pair of bone white fractals stained with blood and dripping sinews of recent kills. As your eye follows these shards of living lightening from their blood-soaked tips against the dark sky down to their base in the beast’s skull, you’ll see a curl of bone snake down each side of its head to frame the eyes– dark red stones reflecting beams of black, a look that absorbs the warmth and light from everywhere around and gives nothing but chilled darkness in return. A quick saccade to rip your stare away from theirs, and you’ll see its mottled pelt– or not see it, rather, consisting of fur the color of a nightmare’s shadow, and you’ll blink and shift your eyes just to remember that it’s still there, watching. Finally, if a terrible grace compels you to continue looking, you’ll get to the legs, the terrible legs– a pair of erratic sugar-glass forelimbs capped with jaundiced sickly paws in front belie the powerful haunches at the back, ripped muscular thighs ending in the enormous cloven hooves befitting this demon of the summer night. As you stand there, dumbstruck with fear, trying to make sense of what you’re seeing, the monster will rear back, gouging the sky with its great bloody rack to wrench its body upright onto those mighty hind legs. And no matter how horrible the image seems when you think of it now, when you see it ambling towards you on two legs, like a bruised and hulking man, you’ll wish you’d never had sight at all.
And when two of these brutes fight — these dark, walking, bloodstained, screaming brutes– why it looks for all the world like they’re dancing– two great undergods waltzing in the moonlight.
And that’s The Dancing Deer of Ruidoso.
This is the first vignette from my little collection of stories, Terrible Travelogue, Part 1: The Southwest. Ideally, I’ll find an illustrator for these and kickstart a little chapbook-eqsue thing, maybe take it to Staple and Zinefest and whatnot. So if you’re an illustrator, holler at me.