The shoe on the other hoof

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.