Tuesday, October 18, 2011

White Stag

The minute Mary saw the thing, she knew it was wrong. 

There was nothing outwardly ominous about it—it was, after all, a small porcelain statue shaped like a white stag. But the feeling of dread that lurched up in Mary’s stomach when she laid eyes on it was impossible to deny. She didn’t like the thing; in fact, she downright hated it.

And of course, her daughter Sarah was instantly drawn to it. Mary and her daughter had gone out for a drive on a warm Sunday morning, and had happened upon a very large yard sale taking place in front of a huge, old Victorian home.

There must have been hundreds of items, and there were half a dozen people mingling about—taking it all in. But out of the hundreds of random items, Sarah had gone right for the white stag. It was sitting on top of a small bookshelf, which was also for sale.

“Mommy, look at THIS!” Sarah had exclaimed, as if she had discovered something remarkable. Sarah held the statue up in her tiny hands and beamed.

“Put that down, honey,” Mary said, trying not to look as worried as she felt. “You don’t want to drop it and break it.”

“Oh, I don’t think that would happen,” came a sand-papery voice. Mary started, turning on her heels. An old man in a red cardigan sweater stood behind her. He wore dark mirrored sunglasses, and his face was grizzled with white beard stubble. 

“Is…is this your yard sale?” Mary said, forcing a smile.

“Sure is,” said the man, grinning with large, rotting teeth. 

“This thing is so cool!” Sarah said, turning the statue over in her hands. “It’s a deer!”

“It’s a stag, actually, little lady,” said the old man. “A white stag, point of fact.”

“Cool!” Sarah exclaimed. Mary looked down at the stag; looked at its blank, sculpted face and its black painted-on eyes. She shuddered involuntarily. What was she being so silly about? It was just a stupid statue—why feel so afraid of the thing?

But she was afraid, and she wanted to grab Sarah by the hand and pull her away.

“How much is it?” Sarah asked.

“Sarah, manners please,” Mary said. It was the only thing she could think to say. What she really wanted to say was “PUT THAT THING DOWN, and come with me THIS INSTANT.”

“Oh, for you, little lady,” the old man said. “One dollar.”

“Oh wow! Can we buy it, Mom?” Sarah said, smiling up at Mary. 

Say no, Mary thought. Say no way. Tell her to put that thing down and get in your car and get out of here…

The old man was smiling politely. He had a pleasant, warm smile—when he wasn’t showing those stained teeth. Mary looked from him to Sarah and then back again.

“Sure,” Mary forced herself to say. She paid for the statue, and they left. The whole ride home, Mary kept casting nervous glances at the white stag, and the white stag looked back with those empty black eyes.

At home, Mary told her husband Tom how nervous she felt about the statue. Tom laughed.

“It’s just a statue, hon,” he said. “Nothing to be afraid of.”

“There’s just something about it…it makes me SO nervous and I can’t say why,” Mary said. The next few months, Mary found her entire world turned upside down. She had been living what she considered an idyllic life—things were near perfect. Then, Tom was in a terrible accident at work. He was the foreman of a profitable steel mill—but the accident was so bad that the doctors said he would never walk again. He lost his job, and his health care benefits were revoked—making the medical bills near impossible. 

Mary’s mother, who had been in wonderful health for her age, suddenly died of a massive heart attack. Only a few weeks later, Mary’s father died of the same exact cause. 

Sarah was doing terribly in school---likely because of the family tragedies going on, the school guidance consoler had said. But she was failing her classes, and getting into fights with other students almost daily. Sarah had once been a sweet, innocent girl; now she came home from school with black eyes and bloody knuckles. It got so bad that she had actually broken the arm of another girl she got into a fight with, and had been expelled. 

Just when things couldn’t get any worse, the company where Mary worked was downsized, and she lost her job—and her health benefits, which were helping to pay for Tom’s medical bills.

Friends would try to help the best they could, and they would all offer their sincere condolences for all the bad luck the family was experiencing. But Mary knew in her broken heart that it wasn’t bad luck—it was the white stag. All the trouble had started the day after she had bought the statue. The entire time, the statue had been sitting on a coffee table, looking blankly at them as their lives crumbled.

As insane as she knew it was, Mary felt that if she got rid of that statue things would be good again. 

First, she threw it out in the garbage. She even watched the trash men dump the can into their truck, and saw the statue crushed. But the very next day, it was back on the coffee table in perfect condition. Next, she tried burying the statue in the park. But again, the next day, it was back where she left it. No matter what she tried—even smashing the thing with a hammer at one point—the statue would always be back in its place the next day.

She tried to find the old mans house where she had bought the statue, but she could never locate it. It was as if the entire house had vanished.

And then, an idea came to her.

“I think I’ll have a yard sale,” she told one of her friends. “We have a lot of old junk laying around here, and heaven knows we can use the extra money.”

So Mary had set up a yard sale on the front lawn, placing random items around the ground with stickers on them listing the price. And in a place of great prominence, she put the white stag. Before the sun had started to set, a woman and her daughter arrived. The daughter, who was the same age as Sarah, went right for the statue.

“Can we buy it, Mom? Can we?” the girl said. Mary saw the look of terror on the mothers face, but Mary’s own face betrayed no emotion.

“H-how much is it?” the mother asked, swallowing. 

Mary smiled--flashing her large, rotting teeth.

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