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The Deer and the Hunter

By Daisy Sanchez [Winner: Best of Show]


I knew those woods like the back of my hand, you could ask anyone I knew. I spent so many of my afternoons in the forest, whether I was scaling the side of a cliff or riding wild river waves in a kayak. The forest wasn’t just a place to me, it was my friend. I never thought that the woods would hurt me, but that was all before I met him.

I remember the day so vividly, like it was engraved into my brain with a pocket knife. The sun was hidden behind translucent clouds scattered about the baby blue sky. I remember it being cold for California, especially for the middle of July. I could feel twigs crackling below my mud-stained boots, and I could smell the fresh pine from the trees wafting in the wind. I was hiking up a steep, narrow hill that I was very familiar with. I took a liking to that trail for its isolation and solitude, I rarely ever saw hikers take on the trail, meaning I got to enjoy the view at the top of the mountain all by myself. After a few more heavy strides up the hill, my eyes were met with a pale blue sky speckled with smoke colored clouds above me, and a sea of green pine trees below me. I practically dragged myself to the edge of the cliff, with my heavy backpack and clunky boots slowing me down. Looking down at the woods from that high made the hikers below look like ants, and it made the trees and bushes look like pieces of broccoli. I took in a few deep breaths, inhaling the morning dew and absorbing the silence around me.

“Oh, sorry. I didn’t know anyone else would be up here.” I heard a burly voice behind me. I turned towards the voice, shocked. The last thing I was expecting to hear up here was a voice, I didn’t recall seeing anyone else on the trail. When I turned, there was a man standing a few feet away from me at the edge of the trail before the portion of the cliff that I was on. He was very tall, probably six-foot-three at the very least, and had an athletic build. He had a full, cocoa colored beard and dark brown eyes under bushy eyebrows. He was wearing a tight, blue shirt with navy blue splotches on his chest from his sweat, and gray shorts that hung below his knees.

“No, no, don’t be sorry I uh- I wasn’t expecting to see anyone else up here, I don’t remember seeing anyone else on the trail on my way up.” I giggled nervously. He didn’t respond for a few seconds, he simply stood there and stared at me. I could hear his sweaty hands crumpling the paper map in his hand, and I could hear the deep breaths he was taking. Everything about him made it clear he was not an experienced hiker.

“Yeah, I uh-” he glanced behind him and waved his finger above his head, “I took a wrong turn uh, kind of in the middle, and then uh, it took me down this really weird trail. Yeah uh, guess I should’ve listened to my mom, she always told me ‘never get yourself lost in the woods’ as a kid.” He forced out a laugh as he wiped sweat from his forehead with the back of his hand. I didn’t say anything, I just slowly nodded my head and shot him a smile. There was a strange eriness in the air that got stronger the more he talked, but I didn’t let it show on my face.

“Well, I’ll get out of your way. I’ve been up this mountain a bunch of times so I’ll let you enjoy it on your own.” I said as I gestured to the view over the edge of the cliff, and began to walk away from the edge.

“Wait, well, you don’t have to leave. I don't want you to feel like you need to leave. I’m-I’m Dale, sorry, I didn't introduce myself. I don’t think I caught your name.” He said while creeping towards me as I was still walking away. I took a small, quick step back, and raised my open palm to him so that he’d stop walking towards me.

“I-uh, I never said my name. I’m uh- I’m Claire.” I lied. My name is June. I’ve never met a Claire in my life, but I was not about to give this man my real name.

“Wow, Claire. That’s very pretty. I think I had a teacher in, oh I don’t know, must’ve been second grade who’s name was Claire Holston. Man, she was a riot!” he forced out another chuckle, and nervously stroked his beard as he continued to inch towards me. That was it. I was done keeping him comfortable with small talk.

“I’m sorry, I have to get going, it’s getting dark soon and I don’t wanna hit traffic.” I disguised my uneasiness with another giggle. I could hear twigs and rocks under his shoes, crackling louder and louder the closer he was getting.

“No no, really, you should stay. Maybe we can uh, walk back down the trail together later or maybe camp out up here, just, you should stay.” He said with more urgency than the previous statements. I could hear his fists crumbling and squeezing his paper map into a ball, like he was starting to get mad.

“Please, I have to go. It was nice meeting you, enjoy the view.” I spat out to him, and sped past him to get on the trail to head back to my car. I accidentally bumped his shoulder with mine when I passed him. I felt sorry, because for a second I thought that he really was just trying to be nice, but then in the next second, I felt sorry that I was stupid enough to turn my back towards him. Before my foot could even hit the trail, I felt a sweaty fist crash against the back of my head, and I collapsed forward onto the ground. My body met the forest floor hard, like a car crashing into a brick wall. I was facing up towards the sky with my back on the muddy trail, and it was like I was blind for a few seconds. I was only seeing red and blue splotches. I gasped for air that never came. I mustered up a scream, but before I could push it out, he slapped his palm over my mouth, and placed his other hand under my lower back to lift me forward over his shoulder, but he struggled. I had to act quick. I bit down on his hand, hard. That made him pull it away and stumble back, clutching it. I sprung onto my feet, and with impaired vision, sprinted as fast as my legs could carry me onto the trail, and into the woods I went.

I was running now. I was running so fast. The sun was beginning to set, showering the forest with golden rays of sunlight. I knew that I would be in the dark soon, so I could not stop running until I lost him. I could hear him belting my “name” behind me. I could hear him running. I could hear his feet slamming on the forest floor, and the sounds of each step were like bombs falling.

Bam, bam, bam.

His voice sounded distant, but that didn’t make me run any slower.

“Claire! Claire! Get back here, you bitch!” he hollered. His voice echoed off the oak trees and jolted through the forest floor. My legs were sharply aching, and my head felt like it was being stepped on, but I had to keep running. My eyes searched for a person, a ranger, or any form of life around me as I ran, but there was nobody in sight. It was just me, the woods, and him. Hiding was my only choice. I remember on a previous hike that I took that there was a fallen, Giant sequoia tree at the end of the trail I was on. If I could get to it, I could use it to hide, and I could stay there until he left the trail or gave up on looking for me. So I ran and ran, until I saw the gargantuan tree lying on its side at the end of the trail. A boulder the size of a minivan was leaning against the tree’s body, making a triangle-shaped space between the tree and the boulder. I ran as fast as I could towards the tree, and when I got close enough, I got on my hands and knees and frantically crawled into the space under the boulder. I curled into a ball and made sure none of my limbs were in his line of vision, and then I waited. I held my breath as I listened for his footsteps, and sure enough, I could hear leaves crackling under his feet as he slowly crept closer to the tree.

He found me. I’m dead.

“Claire! Where the fuck are you?” he shouted into the woods. I placed my head between my knees and covered my head, and just prayed that he would give up and eventually leave. I could hear his slow, heavy steps circling around the tree, and then I realized he couldn’t see me. He was still on the prowl, still searching for me. I heard him lifting broken tree branches off the ground and throwing them in the distance. He was angry.

“Ya know, I grew up in these woods, Claire.”  His voice faded in and out again as he crept around me. I was trying hard to not breathe too deeply. I could not afford to make a sound.

“My dad used to take me out here every Sunday to hunt with him,” he preached loudly to the woods, “- and I fucking hated it.” I felt a large thud against the sequoia tree.

“He’d make fun of the way I walked, make fun of how I held the rifle, he was a fucking piece of shit.” I felt another thud land against the side of the tree. I realized that each thud was a punch. He was punching the tree while he talked.

“I remember this one time, I had to be about nine or ten, we were out here looking for deer,”


“- and we eventually found one.”


“We saw it all the way from across the forest. It was a fawn. Small as hell, couldn't have been more than a year old.”


“I remember staring at it and thinking, “Oh wow, that deer is so beautiful,”


“And then I looked up at my dad, smiling.”


“While he was looking down at me, he slowly pointed up at the deer, and then mimicked the motion of holding a rifle aimed in the deer’s direction. Then he nodded, and nudged my shoulder twice with his elbow.”


“And I just couldn’t do it. I knew I couldn’t do it. And I started crying really hard, and I remember saying ‘no Dad, I can’t, please no,’ and then he hit me. He hit me really hard.”

Thud, thud.

“Then he pulled the rifle that was strapped behind his back forward into his hands. He loaded it fast as hell, lifted it up, aimed, and shot the deer.”

Thud, thud.

“We walked back home before it got dark, and I cried the whole way there. When we got home, he kept hitting me, and hitting me, calling me a fucking pussy,”

Thud, thud.

“I think about that fucking deer everyday. Every goddamn day!”

Thud, thud, thud.

“Ow! Fuck!” he screamed. The last thud was thunderous. I imagined his hand was nothing but a bloody pulp at that point. He let out a few whimpers, then I heard him take a deep breath.

“A couple months ago, I started coming back to these woods. I would come out here to kill anything I could. Rabbits, foxes, bears, you fucking name it.” he aggressively said.

“But I haven’t been able to find another deer. Not a single fucking deer in this whole forest.” he spat. Then, I heard his hands rummaging in the pockets of his shorts.

“I was ready to give up on searching, but then I was out here one time back in February, and I saw you,” he said. While he talked, I heard his fingers tinkering with something. Whatever it was, it was making a metallic, clicking sound.

“The first time I saw you, oh boy, where do I start? You were jogging on that one trail on the other side of the river. You were wearing a pink tank top, black yoga pants, purple running shoes, and you had these green, wired earbuds in. You didn’t see me, of course, I made sure you couldn’t see me at all. But I saw you, Claire.” he softly laughed to himself, still fiddling with whatever was in his hand.

“Then after that, it was so easy. I would come here everyday around the same time and boom, there you were. I took notes on what you wore, where you hiked, what snacks you’d pack, where your car was parked, where you drove afterwards, which apartment you lived in, I learned everything. I never learned your name, though, not until today.” he sinisterly spilled. I was frozen. The blood in my veins turned into ice, but it did so for two reasons; One, because of what he was saying, and two, because I finally figured out what he was fiddling with in his hand.

“After months and months of hard work, I decided that I was finally ready. So today, I woke up extra early and I drove down here. I set up camp behind some bushes at the bottom of the trail and waited there for a while. After a couple of hours, lo and behold, there you were. I watched you hike up the trial, and when you were about halfway up the mountain, I started hiking up behind you. And now, here we are.” he said in a low, rumbling voice. I heard his hands tinkering with the object again, and then finally, I heard him cock the pistol.

He has a gun. He has a gun, and I do not.

            “You remind me of the deer, Claire. You remind me of the deer. And if I could go back to that day with my dad, I would’ve shot that deer with no hesitation, Claire!” he said hysterically

            “But I can’t go back! I can’t fucking go back and change it!” he yelled, followed by an outpour of sobs.

He sniffled, and quietly said, “So what I have to do is recreate it. I’m gonna recreate the scenario, because I’m not a fucking pussy anymore.” he said with a sharp rasp in his voice. I could hear the bullets in the gun rattling. That meant that his hands were shaking.

“Because you are the weak one, Claire. You’re the fucking deer in this scenario!” he roared. I had to get out of there. He was going to find me, and I had to find a way out.

“You’re the fucking deer Claire!” he howled.

I quietly grabbed a baseball-sized rock by my leg, and took a deep breath.

“You’re the deer!-” he screamed at the top of his lungs. I planted my feet flat on the ground, clenched the rock in my hand, said a prayer and-

“-and I’m the fucking hunter!” he bellowed.

I catapulted onto my feet and lunged out from under the rock. I struck the back of his head with the rock, and he collapsed to the ground. He dropped the pistol and cradled his head in his hands. I fell to the ground with him. My body was limo with exhaustion, but I could not give up yet. My vision was blurry, and I couldn’t see where he dropped the gun, but I knew I had to find it fast. While he was groaning in pain on the ground, my hands were running up and down on the forest floor searching for the gun, and then I finally felt its cold handle meet my fingertips. I slid the gun into my hands, and that's when I heard him get up behind me.

“Claire!” he shouted with a throat full of anger.


It felt like it happened in the blink of an eye. I don’t remember aiming the gun or pulling the trigger, I just remember the sound. The sound left a ringing in my ears that rattled my brain. I remember seeing him fall on his back, and I remember the river of blood that leaked out of him onto the grass while he shrieked in pain. I remember slowly walking over to and looking down at him. I felt my arms go numb, and the gun fell out of my hands onto his chest.

The next thing I remember doing was running. I was running through the pitch black forest. I ran like a deer being hunted. I remember the forest being deafeningly quiet as I ran. There were no birds chirping, no squirrels rustling, no crackling leaves, nothing. All I could hear were the shallow breaths I was taking as I ran, and that was it. After miles, I made it to the top of a hill that let me see across the whole forest. My eyes scanned the green terrain around me, and I was finally able to see the main road through the darkness. I had never been so happy to see a fucking road in my life. I darted down the hill and sprinted towards the road with the last bit of energy that I had. I was so ready for the nightmare I was living to be over, but before I got to the road, I heard a blood-curdling shrill behind me.

“Claire!” he screamed. I turned frantically, and there he was. I could not believe it. He was hobbling down the hill towards me. His shirt had turned a deep blue color from all of the blood. He was covering the gunshot wound on the left side of his chest with his right hand, and he was holding the pistol in his left hand. I remember watching him lift the pistol at me from afar, like it was happening in slow motion. When his arm was fully straight, I heard the bang, and waited for the bullet to strike through me, but nothing happened. Instead, I watched him fall forward and collapse face first on the hill. I saw red and blue flashing lights dancing on the hill and trees behind him.

Then I heard a siren, and a husky voice behind me yelled, “Ma’am! Are you alright, ma’am?” I turned around and saw an ocean of policemen and cop cars on the main street. The cars were lined up like tanks ready for war, and the sirens were spewing red and blue light all over the forest. The relief that washed over my body was serene. Tears squeezed out of my eyes, and I ran down the hill and collapsed in the nearest officer’s arms. The officer wrapped his right arm around me, and recited something into his walkie talkie on his left shoulder.

The walkie talkie then said, “Copy that, sending medics over now.” with a robotic twang.

“Alright ma’am we’re gonna get you medical attention, okay?” the officer said while I sobbed into his shoulder, and he lightly rubbed my aching back.

“What's your name, ma’am?” he softly asked.

“J-June.” I said with tears in my throat.

“My name is June.” I repeated.

I haven’t been back to those woods since. You could ask anyone I know. I’m more aware of my surroundings now. When I'm out hiking, I take note of who’s around me, who’s watching me, and who I’m with. I still ride wild river waves and scale the sides of mountains, I just do it with friends now. I try not to think about that day in the woods if I can help it, but when I go hiking now, I always carry a bag of berries and wild grass in my bag in case I come across a deer or a fawn. Everytime I see a deer, I try not to think of him, I try to think of myself, and how that day in the woods, I was the hunter, not the deer.


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