It was the first cool evening of late summer, when your jacket still smells faintly of the musty closet where it slumped away the hot months. My wife and I were walking the dogs in the woods behind the house. We were wearing headlamps, and I was thinking about how we made this walk in fading daylight only a few weeks ago.
We were at the point in the walk when we usually turn around and head home. My light picked out two bright green stars in the brush: eyes, watching us. They vanished and reappeared as a deer stepped out from between trees.
He was taller than the dogs but very thin; his antlers had just begun to divide, and they looked as if they were coated in peachfuzz. The dogs, surprisingly, were oblivious to his presence. He took a couple steps toward us, his head lowered.
"Ha ha. He's stalking us," I said.
"Weird," my wife said.
The eyes shone. The deer stepped on to the path and moved a few feet closer. Unfazed by the dogs, he regarded us intently.
"He really is stalking us," I said. Joking. Sort of.
We started home, casting an occasional look back, our headlamps swiveling around like anxious lighthouses. The path made a long, indirect curve back toward the house. The deer did not follow on the path, but turned into the woods beside us.
"He's trying to cut us off," I laughed.
Until the eyes appeared in the trees just behind us. The deer stepped forward, raised and lowered its head, moved closer.
I should mention that I grew up in a very rural, forested area. The nearest neighbors were over a quarter-mile away, and the next closest were well over a mile and a half. I've done a lot of camping. I've spent a lot of time in the woods, in the dark.
But there is a primitive part of your brain that lights up when a creature is methodically following you in the night, and it doesn't help your brain when the creature's eyes are glowing demonic green. So, while I was telling my reptile brain to chill out, I was also wondering with increasing urgency if I was about to engage in hand-to-hoof combat with a crazed woodland rogue.
Then, magically, we passed a certain point, and the deer made a break behind us, running across the path and back into the woods. I realized we'd been in his way the whole time, walking on his well-worn path like someone driving slowly in the passing lane, and he'd been trailing us in hopes of swerving around us and continuing on his way.
I was just glad I didn't make a run for it.