Deer Run When They See Our Eyes
Woodhouse had been dead since December and nothing was right, not even the scarecrow. We made it out of two broomsticks and a styrofoam head we got from the wig shop off highway three down in Yazoo City. The scarecrow stood over our squash blossoms and donned some of Woodhouse's old clothes: a tattered flannel, camouflage pants, a sweat-ringed Stetson. But the deer came every night. They nibbled at the blossoms and stomped among the vines.
It was Leonard's idea to modify the scarecrow. "We need to make it a scaredeer," he kept saying. So we went to Dollar General and found some leftover Halloween makeup hidden behind Easter candy and Fourth of July balloons in the seasonal aisle.
I didn't tell Leonard how stupid all of this was. Things had become strange between us. Our conversations were terse, transactional, and we often misunderstood what the other said, like trying to communicate under water. For a while I thought he hated me. Without Woodhouse, Leonard and I would never have been friends. But now he was gone and it was just Leonard and me at the deer camp. We spent all our weekends together, patching the cabin's leaky roof and tending to the squash Woodhouse had planted a year ago. It wasn't even hunting season.
That afternoon, Leonard yanked the scarecrow from the ground and brought it inside. He popped the styrofoam head off the stick and handed it to me. "Give it some eyes," he said. "Deer run when they see our eyes." I had no idea how to draw eyes, but I grabbed the tiny plastic applicator and started with black dots for pupils. Then I made big blue irises around the pupils. I filled the whole eye area with blue iris, but it still didn't look like a real eye, so I drew long, exaggerated eyelashes.
"Those aren't eyes! Those are eyeballs, you fucking idiot!" Leonard barked. "You didn't make any eyelids. Those just look like eyeballs bulging from a face." He was laughing now.
I looked at my eyes. He was right. They had no lids. "Deer don't give a fuck about eyelids, Leonard," I said.
"Deer recognize faces. You'll see," he said without looking up from the table.
I asked him what he was making but he didn't respond and continued molding putty with his fingertips. The putty was supposed to make spooky wounds for a zombie costume, but I could see Leonard was forming a pair of lips. He sat back and admired his work, then asked me to hand him the head. Leonard carefully applied the lips, which suddenly appeared enormous and voluptuous. They were three-dimensional and slightly parted, a model's pout. They were wrinkled, glossy, and a deep maroon color. They looked nothing like actual human lips, and yet there was something life-like about them. As I stared at these lips, the word "orifice" kept repeating in my head.
"What do you think?" Leonard asked.
"Wait. I'm not done." Leonard grabbed my applicator and worked like a mad genius. He shaded the cheekbones of the styrofoam head so that it looked gaunt—hungry in spite of its voluptuous lips. He darkened the eyes and wrinkled the forehead. He even added a little blush to the cheeks and created nostrils with dark black circles under the nose.
"What do you think?"
That night I dreamed it was I who found Woodhouse beneath the deer stand back in December. From a distance, he looked like a lump of camouflage on the ground. I could only make out the steel blue barrel of the rifle lying next to him. I kept walking and walking, approaching the lump, but it never became a body or a face. It just remained a lump of camouflage, although I knew Woodhouse was there.
I woke up panicked and went into the kitchen to get some water. There was Leonard, staring out the window. He was looking at the squash, at the scarecrow. At first I thought he was admiring his masterpiece, but then he said "They just don't give a fuck." I turned to see deer standing in the garden under the yellow floodlights. They nibbled the blossoms and stomped the vines. They stood all around the scarecrow, which stared back at us with its bulging blue eyes and wrinkled lips, pouting helplessly. Suddenly Leonard was trudging out into the garden. Deer scattered in all directions as Leonard tore the scarecrow from the ground. Then he made for the truck and threw it in the backseat of the cab. I ran after Leonard and jumped into the passenger seat just before he took off. We didn't say anything. We just drove around, the three of us, in the darkness. The scarecrow hadn't worked. We didn't know what to do with it. We drove and drove and finally stopped at something that might have been a lake, and threw it in.
J.D. Hosemann's stories have appeared in The Kenyon Review Online, New World Writing, The Hong Kong Review and others. He lives in Jackson, MS and teaches English at Tougaloo College.