Deer remind people of a lot of things, but around here, the deer are meant only to remind us of one thing in particular.
They look like deer, if you don't get close. They act like deer, if you don't stay long. They're braver than most deer, but people write that off as there not being so many people in these parts. The deer live in the woods, but can be seen around the outskirts of town in ones and twos. Nothing unusual.
But deer around here don't eat. Oh, they'll pretend to. They'll have their heads down and snouts in the grass like they're grazing, maybe they'll even take a nibble of grass or munch on a leaf for posterity's sake. But they don't eat. If you watch them long enough, you'll see them let the green mush drop out of their open mouths. If you watch too long, they'll look right at you as they do it, as if daring you to say something about it. Sometimes you can find piles of the mushed up grass and leaves after they've gone, surrounded by tracks that have too many digits to belong to any deer.
The deer around here don't sleep. Most places, they're active in the evenings. Other places, deer are morning animals. Crepuscular, they call it. Here the deer are always awake. Always. During the day, during the night, and during the hours in between. There's always a pair of them out by the highway, hanging around the town's WELCOME sign. The sign is big with bright gold letters and a painting of a buck's head and neck, with the letters of the town's name resting on the antlers. Nobody can agree what color the buck is on the sign, just like nobody can agree on what color hides the living deer have.
In the wrong light, it's hard to tell what color the deer are. They must be brown. Most people assume they're brown. Deer are usually brown. But the deer here aren't brown. They're not black, or gray, or tan, or beige, or any other color deer should be.
They must be brown.
In the wrong light, the deer don't look like deer. In the wrong light, the deer look like shapes of deer, but made by something that doesn't know what deer look like. Their legs are too long, their bodies too angular, their antlers too big. In the wrong light, the deer's eyes reflect red instead of white or yellow. In the wrong light, the deer's teeth are longer and protrude out from their mouths along the side in a jagged zig-zag, like those of a crocodile.
The deer live in the woods, and only the deer. The woods where the deer live are dark and deep, and though you wouldn't know it if you didn't look it up, they're too humid for the area. The life inside is too rich and green for the golden hills that surround them. The air is too thick and damp. Trees are silent in the woods. No birds call, no squirrels or chipmunks or raccoons rustle or coo or chatter. No rabbits, no snakes. No bears or foxes. Nothing lives in the woods.
Except the deer.
The deer act like deer if you don't stay too long. But if you do, you'll notice how they Watch. They're always Watching, but if you stay too long, they stop pretending they aren't. If you look too long, their eyes are pitch black, gaping holes. Their eyes don't change; they were always that way. But if you look too long, the deer let you see them as they are. If you look too long, a third eye, a true eye, will open between the two on the sides and spill golden light. The longer you look, the more golden the eye becomes, growing brighter and brighter. The longer you look, the wider the eye opens, until most of the deer's face is gone, consumed by the burning eye.
The deer are always Watching, and the creature they Watch for doesn't appreciate visitors.
Deer remind people of a lot of things, but around here, the deer are meant only to remind us of one thing specifically:
To stay out of the woods.