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Antler Hell

“And just like a deer in the headlights, that little bugger stopped in his tracks and started crying. That’ll teach him not to mess with my gear anymore!” exclaimed the hunter.

His friend Harry guffawed louder than a gun firing a bullet.

“Well, anyway, I should get going. Thanks again for those furs, Harry!”

“No problem! Where ya off to?”

“Headin’ up north to the hunting grounds. Good time for deer hunting!”

“Sure is, good luck! Those darn creatures are fast, but you’re faster. You’ll have some fresh antlers on your wall in no time!”

The hunter laughed and waved goodbye to Harry. He left the lodge and strolled up to his red pickup truck with all of his countless hunting equipment in the back. The trees surrounding the clearing swayed in the breeze, and the grass bent and danced like a gymnast.

The truck engine revved up, and within a couple minutes, the hunter was driving down the dirt road running through the forest and to the hunting area. His head was mostly empty as usual, with nothing but the thought of a new trophy in his mind.

When he got to the hunting grounds, he hopped out of his truck and went over to the back to grab his gear. “Hmm, which gun should I use today?” muttered the hunter. After all, he had plenty of choices. He decided upon a bolt-action rifle. Heaving up the case with the rifle in it, he set off to find a suitable spot.

After searching for thirteen minutes, he noticed a lone stag about 300 yards ahead. A victorious smirk formed on the hunter’s face, but faltered slightly when he felt a heavy, pounding sensation on his head, like a migraine. Ah, must be a headache, he thought.

Quietly but eagerly, he knelt down and opened the rifle case. His eyes widened in shock and his mouth hung open like a papaya sliced in half. The case contained no bolt-action rifle. Instead, two antler-shaped imprints were placed right where the gun was supposed to be.

The hunter flew into a panicked frenzy, frantically scanning his surroundings. But his efforts were futile. Not a single trace of the rifle remained. Suddenly, he remembered the stag he noticed earlier. He stood up to check if it was still there, but his head banged into a tree branch.

He fell back down onto the ground and stopped in his tracks. That tree branch was over two feet above his head if he was standing up.

Utterly bewildered, he raised his hands to his head and felt two branching protrusions. His heart seemed to be pounding out of his chest.

Subconsciously, his eyes moved to the imprints in the open rifle case. As he continued to feel those new protrusions on his head, he traced the shape of...antlers. No, it couldn’t be true. The hunter hoped it wasn’t true. The hunter prayed it wasn’t true. With shaking hands, he took the survival tool he always had prepared from his pocket and flipped out the emergency mirror.

The second he caught a glimpse of his own antler-shrouded head, he dropped the mirror and screamed as if his heart was on fire.

He screamed, and screamed, and screamed, and with every second that passed, his screams sounded more and more animal-like, until they became nothing but a raucous bray. His eyes darted around wildly, then fixed themselves on the shape that appeared in front of him.

The mysterious creature’s shadow bathed the hunter’s form in darkness. Meekly, he surveyed the thing from bottom up. It was a stag. The very stag that he hungered to shoot down was towering above him.

Except instead of antlers, the stag had a web of guns on its head. They were all linked together to form a shape reminiscent of...antlers. Still shaking, the hunter narrowed his eyes to examine the guns more closely.

There was no mistake about it, those were his guns: the bolt-action rifle he planned to kill the stag with, his favorite semi-automatic shotgun, countless pistols, and everything in between.

“Actaeon Hunter,” said the stag, “your fate was sealed the moment you left that lodge.”

If Actaeon screamed as if his heart was on fire earlier, now he screamed as if his favorite guns, trophies, and equipment were on fire. Except this time, it was truly an animal’s wail. With his lips moving around pointlessly, he tried to speak, but no words came out.

“It’s no use. You’re as good as a deer in the headlights now.”

Actaeon froze. That was his line. Then, a jarring observation seized his mind, smothering it in rage and confusion. The stag didn’t only use Actaeon’s lines, he used Actaeon’s voice.

“Realized what’s going on yet, you malevolent idiot?”

By reflex, Actaeon tried to speak again, but failed, as expected.

The stag laughed with pleasure and cruelty.

How disturbing, thought Actaeon, some disgusting creature laughing in a human voice? And not just any human voice, my voice! He frantically looked around for a weapon he could use to expel this phantom from his conscience.

“It’s no use, I’m just as real as those antlers on your head. Speaking of antlers, why not fight me? You have a weapon.”

What kind of joke is this? Antlers aren’t a weapon! Still, I suppose I’ll have to use them.

Actaeon stood up and attempted to ram his head into the stag’s neck, but it moved out of the way far too fast for him to react.

“Too slow. Besides, do you really want a bullet to your head?”

He looked up and saw a pistol aiming straight at his forehead, nearly touching it.

“Just kidding, I’m not going to kill you…”

Actaeon breathed a sigh of relief.

“…yet.”

His eyes nearly sprung out of his head in shock, like a jack-in-the-box.

The stag laughed again. “Alright, alright, if you want to live, sit down and listen to me.”

He obeyed, scampering onto the mossy ground.

“My name is Venator. I know you’re shocked. Deer are just brainless creatures, existing solely for the purpose of hunting, so why would I have a name? Well, I have a name because I wanted a name. I have a name because, contrary to your beliefs, I am a being with a life that means something. That’s what you brainless hunters never understand. Every time you kill an animal for your own personal gain, you’re taking a life. And what for? Some antlers to display on your mantel, a stuffed head to hang on your wall, fur to have some comfortable clothes, like your ridiculous friend Harry Pilosus? How would you feel if I shot you down right now and stuffed you? Of course, I could, and you would be helpless. Hah, antlers. They are beautiful, but how does nature expect us to defend ourselves against hunters with antlers? Now you know how we stags feel. If you give up the hunter’s life and swear to harm us no more, I will restore your voice and remove your antlers.”

As Venator gave his speech, more thoughts raced through Actaeon’s head than ever before in his life. This is ridiculous, I must be hallucinating. I hit my head on the tree and it affected my mind, that must be it. But...on the slim chance that this is real, I want my voice back. And my guns. There’s no chance I’m quitting the hunter’s life, but how would this beast know that? Besides, how would it kill me? It can’t hold a gun.

Actaeon stood up and chuckled. He nodded his head in agreement.

“So, you agree to my terms?”

He continued nodding. This beast is remarkably easy to trick, he thought.

Without warning, Venator rushed up to where Actaeon was standing and kicked him with unforeseen strength up against a tree. He lifted his right leg and removed the bolt-action rifle from the web of guns on his head.

“You lie. If you were truthful, my curse would have lifted the moment you started nodding. You have sealed your doom. I know, I said that you shouldn’t kill animals for your own personal gain, yet here I am, about to kill you. Except I’m not killing an animal for my own personal gain, I’m killing an animal to save the lives of my brethren. You see the difference? Ah, of course you don’t. Goodbye, Actaeon Hunter. Or should I say, Actaeon Prey.”

Venator aimed the rifle straight at Actaeon’s heart. With a thunderous blast, the once-hunter lay dead with no trace of humanity left over except his tainted blood, trickling down his body to water the moss.

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