NINE/ELEVEN:20 — Velvet Steel

I owe this story to my friend N—–, who relayed the most important detail in our college years. Everything else has been changed to my liking.

It is dedicated to my own evasive deer.

I –

His father bought him a bicycle to labor around the farm. That was his way; for all the livestock, for the house they had, with all its rooms and siblings, for all summer vacations he knew they could have taken, it was always something necessary.

Still something about their work infected him. Wanting to match his father in more than just the close-cropped brown haircut and brown leather boots and the way his small hand fit in the large, leathery, glove-like one at prayers at meals. Having learned how to pray after spreading hay and mucking out and attending to the water he would sit and pray for them too as fellow creatures. At dusk he would visit the fawns just old enough to be sequestered from their mothers and watch them frolick, and a few footsteps past dusk, when the vision starts to change, he could squint and see their fast-disappearing white spots twinkling like yawning stars. You could walk out into the field and let the corn shelter you and see a fistful of stars whenever you liked, but he liked his breathing ones better.

He rode that bike to the junkyard and measured the distance between headlights on cars and wrote it down in his brown notebook, a gift, with make and model and color, even though the color didn’t matter because he was of the age where he still had a hard time telling what truly mattered apart from what didn’t, and he generally picked things that seemed to matter to his mom and dad and a few other things he liked that were on the TV and that he read about and that seemed enough of a makeshift moral vehicle for him. Through a bungee-cord spiderweb a battery was affixed to the back of the bicycle and wires ran up the middle beam to two spotlights that were meant for community theatre received from the high school the next town over (and, he was reminded, a gift). The two lights were rigged to a long wooden pole so the power of the bulbs wouldn’t burn his hands when he was working long nights with his brothers and it could be removed before he rode it anywhere and saw anybody with his wobbling battery and lights, which he fancied as clever, but also pretty safe, since he was supposed to be a car when the lights were on but he didn’t want to look like a car when he just wanted to look like a bicycle. Empty roads let him pump his legs and lend their blank space to his thoughts. Enough, at least, to think this.

It was all really quite pleasant and good work til the favorite got out with the rest of them.

II –

“ok, yeah, well, I gotta go- I think- I think we’re going to dinner soon? It’s like at some shitty diner in town. They only have two restaurants here. There’s a McDonald’s but it’s, like, thirty-three miles away-”

“—-”

“Well NO you idiot the car is a disaster. It might be totaled. Anyway they told us it was undrivable and apparently they’re shipping parts in from all over the nation and blah blah blah… This is such a headache… and now we’re wasting money with the AirBnb…”

“—-”

“ok yeah well I really gotta go. I know. I love you too. We can go out the next time you’re in town ok? mkay bye.”

“##########“

“HIII! OH my gosh yes I have to tell you about this. This is what I’ve been texting you about, like, all day.”
“====”

“NO I’m still not in fucking Charlotte yet. We’re like STRANDED here in the middle of nowhere on this stupid tour. In this awful motel. I never should have let them talk me into this. I don’t care about their conference or meeting or whatever I just wanted to get out of town for a few days…. I didn’t even bring any of my swimsuits but there’s a pool here and there’s some kind of red algae in it and you know that’s going to get ALL over everywhere and do something awful to me. It’s going to like get me pregnant. It’s such a backwater… town it doesn’t have a name on like Google Maps but the thing we’re closest to is… Poplar Cove. Apparently.”
“====”

“Yes this is what happened. We get off on an interstate exit and all of a sudden we’re on this terrible like twisty road- it’s like- it’s like a cartoon it’s so comical this road is… some of it is paved and some of it is GRAVEL as we’re going up and down what seems like this insane mountains….

and the trees are so close together they appear to be black-hooded figures crowded around the car, with thick dark-green brooms ready to sweep you away at any moment- beneath the listless branches clad all over in eyes, or in an even more perverted Argus, like ears, so that they’re listening to you whisper about them and they are whispering back, whisk whisk, whisk, yes, yes, yes, sweep, sweep, sweep. Do the switchbacks, you wonder, have a more subtle and sinister meaning than the literal that the automobile demonstrates- that you switch back and forth between only a few different pre-rended backgrounds of foliage, with only the odometer and differences in road topography to tell that you were progressing. An overhead view would see the trail like the edges of a puzzle piece that does not fit in with the others. All this starts to wear on you as somewhat cartoonish. Like the trunks and branches will fall and the relieved pimple-faced students will come out, stretch their limbs, and throw their costumes back in the closet, laugh along with you- How silly! How could you be fooled by such a simple stage act? And yet every tree kept its rapt upright attention because the prima donna had not yet arrived, and they were all fearful of her wrath, and her sorrow. And yours the fiery chariot of transport soon arriving.

“====”

“Yes. It was so scary. And then an enormous, like, buck? came out of the edge of the woods- and I swear to fucking god- it waited for just like a second- and THREW itself at the car. Tom really did try to stop but it happened in like a microsecond and it was just a huge mess, there was blood and guts everywhere, the car is SO fucked up, but the tow truck came pretty quick and now we’re just stuck here.”

“====”

“The SCARIEST part was that the tow truck cab wasn’t big enough to take all of us some some of us had to ride in like the gross bloody car….”

“====”

“No I was in the tow truck of course. Of course!”

“====”

“Yeah that’s the whole story. It’s supposed to be fixed soon. Apparently they have REALLY good mechanics here or something. They must not have a lot to do out here.”

“====”

“Yeah I think they’re- oh ok- Look I gotta go because- yeah we’re all going out to get something to eat at this diner. We can walk to it, so it’s like, not a big deal…”

“====:”

“Ohmygod of COURSE we’re gonna go when I get back into town…”

“====”
“Oh and I’ll have my swimsuits too. Oh you’re so bad.”

“Ok mbye.”

“##########”

“Hello Andy? OHmigosh I told you I needed to tell you about this trip…….”

III –

You gotta give the fellas at the Car Clinic their cut because the parts are expensive and they say it’s harder to find good labor and they say people aren’t driving as much, they’re flying.

You gotta give the towing fellas their cut and it’s a real pain in the ass because they prefer singles and will take twenties but only if that old biddy at the bank doesn’t feel like giving out singles that day and you gotta explain that to them when you get there and it’s a whole thing.

You gotta let the insurance guys have their cut. All the big guys are in it because they’re all crooks anyway. You got your Allstate guy, you got your Geico guy, you got your Progressive guy, you got your State Farm guy. As soon as they see the name of our place they’re on it like white on rice because it’s guaranteed cash. Frankly the fellas at the Car Clinic and the insurance guys I think have their own that they’re skimming off the side away from me but I can’t prove it and I can’t do anything about it now because we had to really put the screws in a local mom & pop kinda insurance place a year and change back after we explained the whole thing to them and they threatened to go public with it. I mean nobody would have believed them and nothing would have come of it, I mean, it is a legitimate business and it is all cash and we barely have to hide a damn thing. And by that I mean some of the boys wound up having to shoot em.

You gotta pay off the Google guy, you gotta pay off the Apple guy, get them their cuts. That covers pretty much everyone. 

The wife and kids get their cut.
Then you pay for the farm.

Then there’s her.        

IV –

McIlhenny’s Diner, single order received :

two-egg plate (over medium)

two eggs scrambled, one venison link sausage, one biscuit with gravy, one cup coffee

Carolina Platter (two eggs fried one order of hash browns one strip of bacon one venison link sausage one biscuit with gravy two pecan waffles one cup coffee)

one biscuit hold gravy one slice American cheese one venison sausage patty one egg fried (self-assembled breakfast sandwich)  

one additional cup coffee

V – 

Inevitably I caught a kid by loitering on the marbled chapel steps for long enough. It was the first person I had seen outside of the four or five round-the-clock faces. It was a statistical matter- few number of streets, interminable street length, but a local nexus that must, at some point, be visited. He came pedaling from up from the long dusty road and it seemed like his bicycle had seen better days- a sinusoidal wobble to it.

-Hey. Hey kid.

I said it ahead of us, meaning he would have to run over the words in the road to get past.

-HEY KID.

Nearer to us. As fast as possible.

My whole life training to recognize a trap, an injustice, my head still pounding from the crash, a fresh scar on my chest from the tip of an antler swinging wild through the windshield burnt terribly, patched up curbside next to motel shrubbery I could not identify as fake or real… Someone, or something, had sent that massive creature to kill me. My only evidence was irrefutable – it was the first time I had ever detected intention in an unintelligent being’s eyes.

At the head of the dust cloud he’s kicking up I say

-THEY’RE NOT SUPPOSED TO DIE, ARE THEY?

He sped away somehow faster, as if propelled by the ghosts I had summoned, torn up out of my lungs, scraping the back tire with their hot-breathed insinuations. 

VI –

Total damage report regarding vehicle belonging to Thomas Hilton –

Labor for full vehicular inspection and the following repairs-

Dented rear left panel, repaired, repainted.

Dented rear left passenger door, repaired, repainted.

Punctured rear left tire. To ensure customer safety all tires replaced.

Left headlight disassembled, cleaned and replaced.

Windshield replaced.

Steering column misaligned due to impact with large animal, realigned.

Odometer readout stuck on 0818181 MI, customer insists readout is not accurate, see stapled addendum for notes regarding mileage warranties… replaced all interior electronics.

Oil changed.

Transmission fluid changed.

Airbags replaced.

Antifreeze fluid changed.

Vehicle hood replaced.

All internal engine mechanisms removed, disassembled and cleaned of debris, and replaced.

Interior cleaned of animal viscera.

Air filter replaced. 

Air freshener replaced.

Interior detailed.

THIS SERVICE INCLUDING TOWING SERVICE FROM M.A. Crouse & Assc. TOTALS

$29,996.19

CONTACT INSURANCE PROVIDER FOR COVERAGE AND PAYMENT ASSISTANCE.

VII –

Soft and dawdling, all their stories start, and separated by

their hidden aspect roughly revealed thru one year, gently, flies.

But for her, there was no venn-circled pen, no third side to the field-

and under an avaricious watchman, her servitude was sealed.

The doting, daring nature to advance, furtive stroking in the dark,

but his other lawless leaping scheme kept chimeric love apart. 

A witness to the witnesses, brothers and sisters too-

and to travelers unsuspecting in labyrinthine black and blue.

So when you shed your velvet think of her, a crashing saint,

Who predestined for greater glory, and escaped ignoble fate.

These outward signs do make men blind as they have for ages now.

Interest in sacrifice failed to cover, and now the loans are due-

and an infinite number of degrees between setting free and putting down…

VIII –

Yes and I-

Yes. Well this part of the state has some of the safest roads in the country, we’ve done studies on this-

Gravel? Some of the safest roads in the country are made of gravel, on switchbacks, on elevation changes-

You were driving at night, correct?

Yes and-

Yes could it have been possible your vision was impaired and thus your ideas and assumptions about the makeup of the road are incorrect? That this “gravel” on the road is nothing more than mild road debris which your vehicle according to the last and most recent inspection should have been able to handle?

… I don’t think the roads are as great as you say they are, no. Send your guys back out here to take a look at-

And I think also you should have been able to stop to avoid impact with local wildlife but unfortunately were not alert enough to do so.

I’m telling you again it jumped into the car, practically speaking-

Sir we each have our practicalities to attend to and once again I will remind you it is foolish and unwise to report that an animal intentionally jumped in front of or ran into your car. That is not possible. We have received your previous reports and it is not possible, if you report this to another agent you will be rerouted back to me, because we are experts in this kind of thing and we have never seen any instance of this happening, and it is just not possible.

Those are two different things-

Your premium will have to increase of course. But we are actively negotiating with the auto body shop about the actual amount owed. They really did the best they could given the circumstances. 

Are you… I’m sorry… there’s a dripping… ? … noise over the line….

I have a medical condition. 

IX –

A training day. One breaks out the baked molasses from the mold. One gathers up all the deer into the leaving pen. One gets out the bike with the floodlights and the battery and gets the bike into the rut. The man stands over and watches over all. 

This is how it works. A child brings up a willing innocent to the gate. A long leash goes around the neck – so many of the animals are already docile, waiting their turn. It is passed over to a child on the opposite side- from above, a mirror, the rut the demarcation point, the dividing line; on one side of the mirror a pen teems with livestock, the other one awaiting. The deer knows it is supposed to wait. It is supposed to leave just at a particular time. It is supposed to jump across, heave its body across the void, leap from one reality where it is alive, to the other where it has kissed death with its eyelashes, make its way from one side of that mirror to the other. It is supposed to jump just when the light laps its black shining hooves.

Deer that don’t do this- young ones, stubborn ones, old ones, ones that find themselves in any of the categories, get led back into the waiting pen. One boy marks down what they did on a small pad of paper – they all have a tag in their ear, a name, a spreadsheet name. The ones that jump too early get the same treatment. The ones that jump too late get the same treatment. The ones that leap, that kiss, at exactly the right moment in space, that see light in a big, black, milky eye and know what is expected of them, they are led to the other side. They get dried molasses. They are worthy.

The ones that fail enough times are folded back into the larger herd, sold off to other farmers, made into hides and meat, left behind. They are “legitimate”.

Those that succeed are separated into their own herd, treated better. They are the only ones set out to rut during the season. They are the only ones let out to roam when the moon is especially dim. They know to come back. They are trained to be survivors, to generate additional profit at  little additional cost, their speed and grace perverted toward this end. 

X –

After three days they were allowed to leave the village, consisting of two crossroads, one diner, one general store, one gold-and-red gilded chapel, one tow-truck company, one auto body & repair shop, and a sign that said “C.Q. DEER FARM – LARGEST IN THE STATE – 11 MI.” 

XI –

Break a snowglobe, and you’ll see what could have been the detritus of the birth of a crystal- wet shards of glass mixed with your own blood- debris of your own impatience to crack into a forbidden world. Take those glass edges in your mind and make them softer, like you’re dabbing at the edges of paint with your fingertips. Multiply the pieces by fifty million on a blacktop road. See a double-dented Kia- once from the body of the animal, once from the tree it careened into. Smudge the edges of that too- rumple it up, the steel and frame are comically rumpled, a tardy-for-work shirt rumpled, a bad-idea-on-paper rumpled. See four young people – one woman alit by phone, three men, all academic, one short and federally portly, one nondescript in plaid, one in glasses, slack-jawed, the driver, the dullest. Pan slowly to the heaving doe on the side of the road. In a ditch now. One of its antlers ripped from its head and dangling in the front seat, its skull hanging wide and open. Its eyes do not move. She looks straight up into the sky. She sees what many of us are envious to see in a desperate moment, in a dull, shrouded, smoking horizon. You have not witnessed an accident.

XII –

MY DAD – by Charlie Quinces Jr.

My dad is a very good and hardworking guy. He gets up before I wake up in the morning and he is still awake before I go to sleep. He works all day with the animals while I am at school and when I get home from school I can go play with the deer too. The baby ones are very gentle and when I get older I can work with the bigger ones too. All my brothers help.

Dad runs the whole farm and he shows us how it works. People want the meat of the deer and the skin of the deer and the antlers of the deer and a lot of other parts of them too. So we help and make sure they grow up big and strong just like us. The boys and the girls are separate and the babies are separate too. There are so many that we always have a new pet or we don’t get too attached, but Dad has a pet because he’s in charge and makes the decisions about who stays and leaves. It’s a big beautiful buck with huge antlers and he likes to relax by walking around with him at night and going to their own barn, which is really Dad’s office. He says he won’t take work inside the house. I have my favorites too but I get new ones all the time. The deer farm makes a lot of money so I get an allowance and pretty soon I can work more and more on the farm with everyone and it is a lot of fun. That one time I fell asleep in class and got in a lot of trouble it was because I was working so hard, but I got in trouble anyway. That’s my dad and I love him very much. 

Teacher’s evaluation – I realize your father runs the farm, but the point of this essay was to paint a complete picture of your family member- what does your dad even look like? Do you have anything to say about him and your mom, or his hobbies or interests outside the ranch? Good start but just not enough information for what I asked for. B-

XIII-

Tonight we welcome Dr. Thomas Hilton to the stage, to give a brief introduction and lecture regarding his latest work, Simulacra of Disaster : Seduction and Control via Manufactured Events in the 20th & 21st Century. Dr. Hilton has been the topic of some recent debate in light of his comments regarding certain mass casualty events, and I would request that everyone keep their demeanor civil during the Q&A session, which will come at the end of the lecture.

Dr. Hilton earned a bachelor’s degree in Psychology at Hedermansever College in Mississippi and earned both his master’s and Ph.D. at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, studying Sociology and National Pathologies, respectively. His postdoctoral work began on researching the federal government’s response to Hurricane Katrina but his eye soon turned to events across the United States, culminating in works featured in National Review and The Washington Post and his first published book, Constellations : Impossible Coincidences in the Founding Father Narrative, which has already become a New York Times certified bestseller. This lecture comes with its own set of “impossible coincidences”, as I know you all have been very excited for this event, and between Dr. Hilton’s unfortunate delay due to transportation issues and coordination with the security service, it was postponed past the expected Labor Day weekend event. But, some coincidences are not so improbable after all, as our speaker will now tell you. Dr. Hilton?…………..

Will says – “Every man is the driver of his own destruction, thus the phrase, ‘vehicular manslaughter’.”