The boy got his fear of the hospital from his grandfather, who when he came to visit would often complain that his doctor was threatening to chop off another body part. His grandfather was missing two fingers on one hand and a thumb on the other, and the last time he had come to visit he said they were after his foot. So when the boy got sick, and his parents asked him if he would like to go to the hospital, the boy shook his head and said no. Still, he heard his parents outside his bedroom debating whether they should take him anyway. His mother thought it was a good idea, because he was “delirious” and “running a fever,” but his father wanted to wait until morning and see how he was doing then. “And what if he comes to us in the middle of the night?” his mother asked. “Then I’ll take him myself,” his father replied.
That night, the boy had a dream. His neighbor, a nurse, snuck into the house and strapped him to a gurney with ropes and chains. Then she wheeled him to the hospital, where a doctor came into the operating room with an already bloodied knife. “Which limb should I take?” the doctor asked the nurse. “Oh, any of them will do,” she replied laughingly. Then, just as the doctor was preparing to cut off his leg, the boy awoke. He reached for his thigh and found that it was still there. But the boy was still panicked: he got out of bed and ran to his window. Beyond the backyard there were some woods. Deer lived there. Sometimes the deer would come into the backyard and lap water from his mother’s bird fountain. If he approached them slowly, they would let him pet them, but if he came out of the house fast they would run away, back into the woods. To the deer, the woods were a safe place to be, a place where they could hide from threats, and it seemed to the boy that this would also be true for him, that he would also be safe there. He opened the window and climbed out.
He wasn’t sure how far he had gone into the woods when he began to feel tired. His whole body ached, and he didn’t seem to able to see clearly anymore. A fog had set in, but he could not tell if it was real or only in his imagination. Perhaps it did not matter, for it seemed to him now as if he and the fog were becoming one. It was then that he saw a deer. He recognized it by the pattern of white spots on its side as a deer that had come into the backyard, a deer that he had once petted. Now the deer came right up to him. It told him to lie down, and so he did. Then it told him to close his eyes, which he also did. He felt the deer licking his face, and smiled. The deer continued to lick his face until his cheeks grew cold, and then the deer ran off, never to return to the woods again.
Wolfgang Wright is the author of the comic novel Me and Gepe and various short works scattered across the ether. He doesn’t tolerate gluten so well, quite enjoys watching British panel shows, and devotes a little time each day to contemplating the Tao (though not too much, for that would miss the whole point). He lives in North Dakota.