1st Place Category 1: Terran and the Deer
Winner Category 1 (Ages 18 to 21)
by Hannah Ascough, Age 19, Canada
Terran and the Deer
From his bedroom window, Terran can see the highway ripping through the marshes, a black line cutting a white hole in the trees. He wants to pull it off like the scabs on his knees and let the dirt grow again.
The marshes outside collect birds and wild music. Terran likes to watch the herons: they teeter on stalks, walk like girls in heels. He’s a heron himself, trying to balance in a body that’s too long and too new, that feels too much. His bony arms hang from shirts that shout “Greenpeace;” he knows global warming is alive, pulsing in the veins of the earth.
Still, Terran would never have left if he hadn’t been in the car the day his father hit the deer.
His father Liam has a straight back and a sturdy grey face weathered by the wind. He used to throw his children into the air to make them laugh with delight. Now his children are older, and he’s busy worrying about the farm.
“Everyone’s going to the grocery store,” Liam will say angrily. “They want foreign apples painted with pesticides, not local stuff.”
Terran never hears these rants. He stays in his room reading the black print of the world news, letting helpless anger flame inside him as he learns about environmental refugees.
“Why doesn’t anyone do something?” Terran will ask aloud. He tries to bring the news to the dinner table, wants to share his worries with his father, but Liam is never listening, always talking about the farm, so Terran keeps the black words and worries to himself.
But sometimes he cries for an egg of a world too fragile to holds its cracks together.
Terran would never have been in the car the day his father hit the deer if his teacher hadn’t gotten him suspended.
“Humans are meant to eat meat,” she’d said. “It’s natural.”
Vegetarian Terran had crept into the classroom afterwards and covered the black chalkboard in graphic white cartoons of bloody animals. Terran has read about the slaughterhouses; he knows all about unnatural animal cruelty. But the teacher had screamed when she’d walked inside and he’d been suspended within the hour.
“What’d you do?” Liam asks later that night. He’s back from hunting—empty-handed, Terran notes happily.
“Argued with a teacher.”
Liam shrugs. “Well, seeing how you’re off school tomorrow, you can come with me to the Halifax market.”
And so Terran is in the car the day his father hits the deer.
They leave early for the city, birds still buried in their feathers. The silence is grey static between them, so Terran watches the trees. In Halifax, he leaves his father to the indoor market and walks outside. The ocean smells rank; he can almost see oil pouring into it. Terran has read about oil spills, about ecosystem disruption and it weighs heavily on his mind like greasy, polluted birds.
The car ride home buzzes by just as silently.
“There aren’t enough trees,” Terran says, looking out the window.
Liam doesn’t say anything.
“It’s harming our atmosphere,” Terran continues. He knows about deforestation, about missing rainforests and lumber mills vomiting white chemicals into rivers. What will they drink, he worries, once the water turns black?
Terran is thinking about rotting water and ecosystems and trees that wither in his mind when Liam hits the deer.
Liam doesn’t see her at first, driving down the dark highway, but Terran does. He watches her sweet bright eyes freeze in their headlights. Terran shouts, Liam swerves, and the fender crashes into her side.
“What did you just do?” Terran yells.
Liam is already outside, kneeling down beside the deer. Her blood is curdling, leaking from her unhinged leg splayed sideways on the black pavement.
“We can fix her, right?” Terran asks anxiously. “We can drive back to Halifax, take her to a vet. They fix deer, I think I read that once, a vet bandaged up a deer and put it back in the forest.”
“This leg is finished,” his father says quietly.
“Yeah, but she can be fixed,” Terran insists, voice rising higher. “We could take her somewhere, right?”
“She can’t be fixed, Terran,” Liam says gently. He goes back to the trunk.
The deer is blinking, lashes twitching on her cheek. Her eyes are so wide that Terran can see the white encircling the black. He needs to apologize, needs to comfort her, but he’s too angry and too sad and he doesn’t know why her future’s ending, hasn’t read why, only knows that she can’t go back to what she was before, that those eyes won’t reflect the light much longer…
And then Liam has pushed him into the car and Terran is covering his ears and screaming. But he still hears the shot as it bounces against the trees, as it cracks the egg a little bit more.
“Had to be done,” Liam says.
Terran is silent.
“It was more humane this way,” Liam says. “We couldn’t fix that leg and she’d have died painfully in the woods. And, Terran…we need the meat. I have to take care of our family too. I had to shoot her.”
“That doesn’t change the fact you hit her in the first place,” Terran spits.
“It’s not always black and white like that,” Liam sighs.
Terran turns his back on Liam then, leans his forehead against the window.
He will spend that winter silently, reading the news and avoiding the freezer where Liam will put the deer. And once the summer comes and Terran is finished with high school, he will spread his wings and fly away from the farm, looking for a future as black and white, as right and wrong, as the deer’s dying eyes.
But Terran will look back as he leaves and see his worried father watching him go. And then Terran will cry his own grey tears, and wish that he hadn’t been in the car the day his father hit the deer.
A native of Kingston, Ontario, I am currently in my second year at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia, where I study International Development and Creative Writing. In my spare time I am an avid fan of the three Rs: reading, ’riting, and running.