A gibbous moon illuminated hazy ground fog as they drove along M-72 West, looking for the landmark that would lead them to the two-track into Ed Troyer’s farm. It was only ten miles to the Mennonite’s property, but the trip was chock full of sideways roads and bendy trails. Mauro drove cautiously as Don navigated through Aldo’s handwritten directions.

“So Unc says I don’t have the upper lip for a mustache. ‘Killer, your lip’s not flat enough. The hair don’t lie down,’ he says. What the hell’s that mean?”

Mauro lamented, glancing at Don.

“Watch the damn road, please,” Don replied. “Unc’s just busting your balls. There’s porn stars don’t have mustaches as good as yours.”

Mauro sniffed, “Really? Hey, thanks.”

Driving with caution, he squinted at the odd shapes the headlight beams created. Don nudged and pointed the way through false turns and wrong bends.

“Look for a pair of wagon wheels, and then it’s right at the second fork. See, Unc drew a little fork?” Don said, pointing at the crude map.

“That’s a fork? They all look like forks! Why couldn’t we just take the highway?” Mauro said, trying to decipher and drive simultaneously. His headlights shone twenty yards ahead. Thicker fog seemed to ooze from the deepening woods, as if it were a living entity. “Remember the Angel of Death in the Ten Commandments—”

Don braced the dash. “Look out!”

Mauro locked up the brakes. The car skidded on wet oak leaves and stopped five feet from the biggest buck either of them had ever seen. Behind the deer sat a pair of overgrown wagon wheels, just as the map indicated.

“Holeeee… ” Mauro’s voice was sotto voce as they stared at the buck, whose presence seemed apparitional. It couldn’t have inspired more awe had it been made entirely of gold. “Look at that rack! It’s gotta be—”

“Eighteen points?” Don whispered. “Mauro, it’s not even moving.”

The deer stood there in all its majestic height, 250-plus pounds worth. It was as if it was saying to them, “You want me? You think you can? Well come and get me….” Steam puffed from its black muzzle.

Its coat was a silvery-brown, greying like an aging Indian chief. The animal turned once, raised its head and then with an effortless leap, seemed to evaporate as quickly as it had appeared.

“Was that real?” Don asked in utter shock.

Mauro had already crawled over the back seat into the cargo area of the Cherokee. “Let’s go get him,” he said, simultaneously starting to uncase his bow.

“He’s gone. C’mon. Let’s get into the stands. He ran into the forty we’ll be hunting from. We’ll have a better chance of getting a look at him in there than if we track him now. He’s spooked. Besides, look,” Don pointed to the rusted wagon wheels. Mauro glumly acknowledged the antiques. “It’s only a half-mile from here to the guy’s house,” Don said. Indeed, in the distance was a modest, white farmhouse. Its kitchen lights were on, glowing squares in the dark.

Mauro peered into the stand of trees the monster had crashed through.

“Man he was beautiful. I’ve got to … ” Mauro stopped himself. He got back behind the wheel. Still shaking from the near-collision, he drove past the wagon wheels toward the farmhouse.

Photo(s) by Illustration by Joe Borri, www.skidmorestudio.com