Right as soon as the deer became obligate carnivores we knew we were through. At first maybe very few would admit it but even then it was obvious. Some lamented our bygoneness – like an under-cordial retirement party – apex predators with all their hunger and blood drained, what cages we’ve built for ourselves and how gilt. They argued in articles we bought a la carte: we’ve decayed and it’s our fault, in fact we’ve made ourselves decay because we abandoned our nature which is equal measures violence and striving, restless striving to make everything lesser submit to our violence or submit ourselves to greater violence than we could control. They failed to grasp the nature of the problem, too scarcity-minded or scarce of mind to reckon with abundance.
The story broke as an evolutionary fluke. Any mammal’s genome contains material coding for omnivory. At root, we come from burrowers and scavengers. Animals don’t turn down free meals even though meals are never free. By chance, a small population of whitetail deer in South Dakota had begun to bear omnivorous fawns. At first there was only mutilation of carrion, a handful of research papers about dentition, but finally a fawn observed gnawing at a rodential corpse later recognized as a thirteen-lined ground squirrel.
This was tolerable only if transient, a non-advantageous novelty disappearing within a generation or two. They were already spreading before the year was up and breeding within two. They grew more fully than their peers and searched west for forest cover and things that were dead and dying. The second generation – given the epigenetic response to a taste for blood – was born even more fit for carnivory, at first through subtle changes in limbs, teeth, gut fauna. Complete morphological overhaul came with time, but competition had to reach the steady, gnashing stalemate of an ecological niche before it could.
Actual farmers thought of them like locusts or else like Vikings. There was a difference of opinion between those being descended on and those who only heard about the descending secondhand. For the general public it was the premise of a joke in its early heightening stages. The meat-eating deer are raiding dairy farms and chicken coops. The meat-eating deer are out-competing bucks that don’t eat meat because their diets accelerate maturation. Male meatdeer once mature are gregarious as roaches, but female meatdeer lead normal whitetail lives and opt instead for intermittent scavenging but mostly plant feeding within a few dozen miles of their birthplace. The carnivorous deer are a homosocial insurgent force.
Their life cycle and ethology were hashed out by the same farmers initially raising alarm. They are conceived annually in a stampeding bacchanalia as the far-flung males return to the normal whitetail range and maul any normal males in order to breed every normal female. As part of this mating culling they also hunt their own previous generations, driven by the same homing instinct as the young, woefully unevolved in comparison and basically fodder, year over year. This maintained their rate of transformation and quickly molded them from svelte and hoofed and molared to coiled and clawed and fanged. Mammals are derivative. We contrive ourselves from a long history of source material. This is how a deer can become something other than a deer, something like if a horse were somehow a wolf, and it can take only decades.
And their boundary drew southern and southern. Prey was more varied all the time. Local wildlife had no answer. Every great American big cat was pack-hunted scarce. Packs of wolves were bullied off their catch or caught themselves. Black bears were food but brown bears were mutually assured destruction. Progressively larger farms were razed. Hatcheries, dairies, pigs, sheep, beef cattle. It didn’t matter. They had found a much richer niche than scavenging and we kept it warm for them. By the time anyone who mattered had noticed, the new deer were endemic from the desert to deep past the snowline coast to coast.
But all along there were stories shared at night between siblings or considered with great journalistic remove on the evening news. Hikers missing, cars left running and abandoned, deerpats examined for bone fragments, especially large fragments that might not match prey animals, but the acidity of the stomachs of these things – as inconclusive as it all was, functionally sasquatch, better not to consider. Everyone did all along nonetheless. We thought about our consideration with great objective remove and felt edified. We thought a very long time ago there was a rupture in the plumbing of rote animal existence that caused something or someone to become ensouled. After that there were things like us and things more like animals, and even some things that were mostly like nothing. Obviously we come from around animals and can tell the difference between nothing and something and see what sees back. The whitetail deer was a nothing animal. It could hear and it could recognize pursuit and flee but that was mostly all it did, nothing but fear – this was not an animal with which we deigned to make eye contact. As it hurtled down the pavement at us we never blinked.
They ascended from farms to farm workers and by then what was left was prophecy. Atavism is derivation in reverse. As distantly as we descend, we may be forced to crawl the same way back. In numbers, there wasn’t an environment the new deer couldn’t call home. Walnut brains but in their group dynamic so single-minded, like the focus of anyone or anything’s mind is a function of its smallness. We tried to justify it to ourselves that nobody could have expected this, but it only could have happened this way. Necessary in retrospect like anything. We could not have been responsible and had only one response. First we were eaten, then we went underground; while we were there the world ended. How mammals have always lived.
— Lucas Mancini aspires to dizzying heights. His work has appeared previously on APOCALYPSE CONFIDENTIAL and at Bridge Eight Press. He can also be found on Twitter @margotfakir.