October 2, 2009, 5:13 pm
Filed under: literature, Mysteries

The most surprising thing about the antlers was how much it bled when one was broken off. The blood was hot and it splashed red over my ear and shoulder. Why are the people most unwilling and unable to fight given arms and forced to? I looked up at my opponent in the blue, he’s younger than me. He was smiling. He was smiling because he won and he broke me and I was bleeding. There was no point to this contest.

The grass around the clock tower was green and short and coarse, and for a moment I registered the brown dirt beneath. The shock and pain arrived then. My vision went fuzzy and dark and I vomited, and I could still feel him looking at the back of my head, content and pleased with his work.

That morning I woke up and something was wrong with the world. Grass grew up in the halls and all the architecture was stones and living rock. I walked barefoot through the trees and my friends and comrades commented on the antlers growing out between the strands of long brown hair on both sides of my head. I sat on the parking deck and looked at the water tower, and thought about fighting. There’s no one anywhere who’s really worth fighting, not in this context, not when the world had grown so quiet. When everything we were and built started drifting backwards and sideways.

I have dreams of orca whales and owls but I wake up in fear.  There’s no framing for the fear, it’s irrational but it’s there.

I get up, get dressed, and there are antlers growing from my skull. Not stumpy ones either, biggish ones, a little like an adolescent stag. I immediately know what they’re for, fighting. Why am I being armed? What quarrel are these bone knives here to resolve?

The day passes normally. I ride the bus; I drink orange juice; I sit in class. Everyone has about the same situation as me. I see plenty of other students with horns or antlers, each dealing with it in their own way. Most of them felt the same peace and normality about the whole thing that I did. There were a few though that didn’t take it as well.  One boy just denied that he even had them. We pointed and showed him and held up a mirror, all he said was that didn’t care if we had antlers, but he “wasn’t like that.” Another group just tore off all their clothes and ran into the forest. We never saw them again except late at night standing in the road and looking nostalgic and terrified.

I recline on the steps of the clock tower and watch my peers go about their day, some moving in safe groups, others out on their own, and a few of them in pairs. I was jealous but I’m not sure of whom, the ones in pairs or the ones choosing to be alone, their antlers the largest and strongest.

My opponent approaches me in the summery haze, I recognize him immediately. I understood those tender limbs and quick eyes in an earlier time, but that time is now over. This is why he wants to fight: he lied to me and I rejected him.

We clash. We beat and bite and converge. Blood and sweat and it’s over quicker than you’d believe. I should have won but I didn’t; my horn is broken. I want to gather up the pieces but they sicken and terrify me, so my roommate does.

I survive but I’m very badly injured.  The antler begins to grow back; it is covered with a thin membrane of soft skin called velvet which will supply blood and oxygen to the maturing bone. When it gets large enough the velvet will shed and the horn will be revealed, dry and lifeless. It’s only considered finished growing and mature once it’s dead.


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