A lone dear walks hesitantly through a shadowy wood. Though the hour is nearly midday, it more closely resembles the last dying light of dusk than the height of the afternoon. Not a single beam of sunlight forces its way past the impenetrable tangle of forest canopy to reach the floor. It is dark, cold, and eerily quiet.
The deer freezes. He hears something. His ears strain. His muscles are tense.
He hears it again. His head snaps around, and eyes immediately focus on the source of the possible threat.
The toad croaks at the deer.
He relaxes and continues his uneasy search for food through the dark forest
“Dude, you need to chill out!” yells a disembodied voice.
The deer tears off as fast as his legs can go, instinct instantly taking over. His lungs gulp down air to feed his pounding heart and burning muscles. The woods flit past. Trees turn into green blurs as the deer effortlessly weaves and dodges through the thick underbrush.
He doesn’t hear his pursuer. He turns around to try to catch a glimpse of the assailant. There is nothing but the swiftly retreating forest behind him. Cognitive thought slowly retakes control of his brain as thoughts begin to flash rapid-fire through his mind.
“Maybe I’ve outrun my attacker,” thinks the deer. “Maybe I’m safe! Maybe I’ve escaped! Maybe I’ve…”
He runs headlong into another deer.
“Dude!” exclaims the second deer. The two disentangle themselves. They rise from the ground. “What the hell??”
“I’m really sorry, sir,” replies the first deer timidly. “I didn’t see you, and I was scared, and there was a toad…”
“Ah! I’m just joshin’ ya!” exclaims the second. He has a voice like a bullhorn and does not speak so much as announce his words. “Don’t worry ‘bout it! The name’s Gary. Gary the Deer! What’s your name?”
“Um, I’m Steven. Steven the Deer, I guess…”
“Great!” interrupts Gary. “We must be related! What the hell are ya doing in this dark, freakin’ forest?”
“I, uh, I was looking for some food.”
“Ya don’t say!”
There is a brief pause. Gary’s huge smile and emphatic look convinces Steven that he does indeed expect him to say something.
“I do say…”
“Well you’re not gonna find any food in these dark-ass woods! Come on! I’ll take ya to my herd!”
Steven looks irresolutely around the forbidding forest, at Gary’s earnestly congenial expression, and then back at the forest.
“Um, ok. Sure.”
The two start walking. Gary leads and Steven follows. Gary’s booming voice reverberates throughout the forest, bounces off the trees, and echoes back at the two companions.
“Aw, you’re gonna love it, Steven!” proclaims Gary. “We live in this huge freakin’ meadow, and there’s all this grass, and you can eat all ya want! It’s amazing!”
“That sounds really nice…”
“Oh, and the other deer are great! They just leave ya the hell alone. And then mating season starts, and ya fight with the other steers, and ya have tons of sex. It’s freakin’ awesome!”
“It sounds pretty good…”
There is another pause in the conversation while Steven decides whether or not he should agree with Gary once more. Before he can make up his mind, the two emerge onto a large, lush meadow. Steven blinks repeatedly while his eyes adapt to the sudden burst of sunlight.
Surrounded by forest, and roughly the shape of an oval, the field gradually rises to a small knoll on the opposite end from where Steven and Gary exit the woods. Thirty to forty deer graze lazily upon a rainbow of dazzlingly arrayed wildflowers and grasses.
“This place is gorgeous,” murmurs Steven breathlessly.
“Hell yeah, it is!” replies Gary. “Come on! I’ll show ya around.”
The companions walk from under the under the shade of the trees and into the bright grassland.
“Like I was saying,” starts Gary. “Everyone kinda does their own thing. It’s all really chill. Most other deer don’t really bother ya. Ya can do basically anything…”
“What are they doing up there?” asks Gary, pointing to a tight knot of twelve deer at the top of the knoll.
“Oh, uh, those guys. Yeah, I don’t think ya’d want to meet those guys.”
“Why not? They have to be looking at something interesting if they’re all bunched up like that.”
“Uh… look, it’s not that interesting. There’s definitely way cooler stuff around.”
“Oh come on!” insists Steven, already walking toward the other deer. “Let’s just go and see.”
Gary sighs and joylessly tails Steven up the knoll.
They reach the group, and Steven introduces himself.
“Hi there!” exclaims Steven eagerly. “My name’s Steven. I’m new to the herd. What are you doing?”
The deer turn toward this new, unwanted source of distraction only long enough to give it a look that would instantaneously kill most smaller mammals. They turn back around.
Steven staggers several steps back.
“Let’s leave,” insists Gary. “Ya don’t wanna bother with these deer.”
“No,” replies Steven after shaking off the stare and regaining some of his composure. “I want to see what’s interesting enough to make them act like complete jerks.”
“Hey!” yells Steven at the knot of deer. “What are you looking at?”
They do not acknowledge his question or existence.
“Hey!” repeats Steven. “I said, what are you…”
“Go away or we’ll eat you.”
Understandably taken aback, Steven turns to Gary and whispers, “Would they really eat me?”
“Eh…probably not,” responds Gary. “But let’s go somewhere else just in case.”
“I refuse,” proclaims Steven heroically, “I’m not going to take any more abuse from these assholes.”
Steven walks purposefully up to the deer and forces himself through the tight cluster of bodies. Steven’s immense pride in his daring is immediately expunged by what he sees in the middle of the circle: a cross-eyed deer with one antler. He is repeatedly bashing the side of his head against a tree stump.
“What in the world…” gasps Steven. “What, what is that?? What’s happening? Stop! Stop this!”
“Be quiet!” orders one of the other deer.
Gary finagles his way into the circle and next to Steven.
“Yeah, that’s Marquette,” remarks Gary.
Perfectly oblivious to Steven’s horror and Gary’s explanation, Marquette is more than happy to continue bashing his head against the stump.
“What’s wrong with that deer?? Why is he doing that?”
“Shut up!” declares another.
“What’s happening here?” whispers Steven to Gary in a frantically hushed tone. The rhythmic thud of bone smacking wood continues unabated.
“They’re watching Marquette,” he whispers back. “That’s what they do. They’re the Marquette Watchers, or just the Watchers, for short.”
“But who is Marquette? Why aren’t they stopping him?”
“Marquette’s part of the herd. Well, I guess he isn’t really part of the herd. He was in the field when we decided to live here. It’s a really nice meadow. It just happened to come with Marquette. So we put up with him.”
“What do you mean, “put up with him?” Why isn’t someone trying to help him? He’s going to kill himself!”
The stump was slowly turning into a pile of wood chips under the methodically delivered blows of Marquette’s head.
“Oh that?” responds Gary. “Naw, he’ll be fine. He’s always doing stuff like that. One second he’ll be grazing in the meadow, the next second he’ll jump off a cliff, or eat twelve pounds of dirt…”
“Jump off a cliff??”
“Shh!” demand the other deer.
“Oh yeah. Jump off a cliff, or off the top of the tallest pine in the forest. Ya never know with Marquette.”
“What’s wrong with him?”
“He’s got his pros and cons, I guess ya’d say. He might bring every deer in the meadow a tasty strawberry or he might kick ya in the testes. Or, ya know, get it into his head to eat all the newborns in the herd. It’s Marquette.”
Steven’s look of abject horror is interrupted by a sudden silence. Marquette had finished obliterating the stump. He nonchalantly brushes past Gary and walks to the edge of the forest. The Marquette Watchers follow closely behind. He sniffs the air, scratches his hindquarters, and promptly starts copulating with the nearest tree. Gary and Steven are left alone next to the wood chips.
“What is wrong with those deer??” asks Steven.
“The Marquette Watchers?” responds Gary. “They’re supposed to be really smart.”
Steven gives Gary a look that he usually reserves for those who insist their feces taste like raspberries. The violent rustling of an unfortunate fir threatens to drown out Gary’s voice.
“I’m serious!” insists Gary. “They spend their whole lives watching Marquette. They’re incredibly good at it. They do nothing else. Literally. If we didn’t bring them food, they’d starve to death.”
The rustling stops. Steven turns around and immediately meets Marquette’s cross-eyed gaze. His nose is an inch away from Steven’s.
“Uh, what do I do?” asks Steven after he had been staring into Marquette’s unblinking eyes for what felt like an eternity.
“Shut up, you!” commands one of the Watchers that had formed up behind Marquette. “This is important!”
Marquette lets out a long, slow fart.
Steven cannot even protest before Marquette bites him viciously on the nose and walks away.
Steven screams hysterically. His attacker stands passionlessly a few feet removed from his victim, completely absorbed in looking directly at the sun.
“What the hell is wrong with that maniac!?” cries Steven.
“That is the Great Marquette!” retorts one of the Watchers disdainfully. “And tomorrow it will snow!”
Half the Watchers let out a jubilant shout.
Steven looks at the sky through tears of rage and pain. Not a cloud in sight. The weather is scathingly hot and humid.
“Are you as crazy as that damned psychopath?” says Steven. “It’s hot as hell!”
“What’s your name?” asks the same deer.
“Steven the Deer, I guess…”
“False! Your name is now Steven the Fool! I am Adam. Adam the Vastly Superior and Good Looking—leader of the Free Marquettiers. We know that the only way to manage Marquette, and benefit the herd, is to allow him complete freedom throughout the meadow to do as he pleases.”
“You are as much a fool as this Steven!” cries another of the Watchers. “I am Carl the Intellectually Brilliant Lover—the leader of the Control Marquettiers. We seek to constrain Maquette’s actions so as to protect the herd.”
“Nay, Carl!” decries Adam. “Only your stupidity could possibly compare to Steven’s moronic dribble. If we attempt to control Marquette, he will never again bring us strawberries!”
“And if we don’t control him,” retorts Carl. “Then he’ll just go around kicking us in the testes and eating the newborns!”
“That happened once!”
The leaders continue their heated argument while Marquette rolls onto the ground and starts chewing on his front right hoof. Seemingly forgotten, Steven turns to Gary and asks, “Why are they fighting?”
“Oh, they’re the leaders of the two factions of Watchers,” replies Gary. “They spend their days arguing with each other and making all sorts of predictions about the future based on what Marquette happens to be doing at the time.”
“Are they ever right?”
“Carl once made a prediction that it was going to rain after Marquette swallowed 37 pinecones in an hour.”
“And it rained?”
“Technically, it was already raining.”
“He said that lightning was going to strike a tree in the forest.”
“Two weeks later.”
“You are a pompous, self-righteous dunce!” declares Adam the Vastly Superior and Good Looking. “You know nothing of Marquette or how he affects the herd!”
“And you are a blindly pretentious buffoon!” spits back Carl. He shakes with anger. “Your interpretations of Marquette’s actions have been disastrous!”
“Ha! You’re one to talk!” responds Adam. “Your analyses have led to nothing but calamity.” The tone of supreme self-satisfaction rises markedly in Adam’s voice. “Just like the time Marquette ate 12 wild flowers and you predicted that it would hail.”
“My modeling was sound,” stammers back Carl. “There were unforeseen variables that skewed my predictions…”
“Erroneous!” bellows Adam. “Even an imbecile knows that hail only falls when Marquette eats 19 wild flowers in a row—unless he first eats 46 blades of grass and tries to attack his own shadow. Then it will drizzle!”
Adam’s acolytes cheer at their leader’s great rhetorical coup. In the meantime, Marquette is busy biting at a huge, buzzing beehive hanging some eight feet off the ground at the edge of the clearing. Carl regroups and launches his verbal counterattack.
“And what, pray tell, happened two years ago?”
The Free Marquettiers fall abruptly silent.
“As I recall,” continues Carl. “You announced, in an oh-so-confident fashion, that the herd was in store for a long, mild summer.”
The hive buzzes menacingly as Marquette jumps progressively closer to his goal. The Marquette Watchers are too preoccupied with the debate to notice.
Adam’s voice cracks nervously. “Well, yes, but you see… the metrics weren’t collected in the proper fashion…and several outlying factors prevented me from predicting a proper trend line to follow…”
“As I recall,” interrupts Carl loudly. “We suffered through one of the earliest and most severe winters in memory—a catastrophe brought about by your gross miscalculation! You declared that Marquette had run head-first into an oak tree, when it was clearly a beech!”
Marquette’s teeth snap within inches of the bottom of the hive.
“Your methods, your assumptions, and your theories are wrong,” continues Carl. “And they only bring disaster onto the herd!”
The hive crashes down with a dull crunch, and the air immediately fills with thousands of furious bees. The debate ends. Adam, Carl, Steven, Gary, the Watchers, and the rest of the herd run helter-skelter across the field, screaming, and trying desperately to flee from the swarm of merciless insects. An hour passes before the bees relent from their attack, leaving the deer covered in welts and in tremendous amounts of pain. Adam is the first to speak.
“This is all your fault, Carl! If you had allowed us to correctly tally the number of seconds that Marquette was staring at the sun, then we could have predicted this!”
“Oh, don’t try to blame it on me, Adam!” retorts Carl. “It was your inaccurate count of the number of wood chips by the stump that brought this about!”
“Well, you didn’t record how many leaves fell off the tree that Marquette copulated with!”
“And you didn’t check to see how long he was chewing on his hoof!”
“Oh, stop it!” yells Steven, disgusted with the incessant bickering. Both combatants abruptly cease arguing and turn to him.
“Don’t you see that you are both equally at fault? You are the ones that are closest to Marquette. You follow his movements. You know his idiosyncrasies. You are best situated to warn the herd when he is about turn destructive and prepare them for when he does something beneficial. But instead, you simply spend your days concocting and fighting over grandiose, all-encompassing theories that have no basis in reality! You plaster over them with a façade of scientific observation and measurement, but when they fail you again and again, you excuse their validity and chalk up your mistakes to some incorrect measurement or temporary lapse of judgment. You are both wrong! Your theories are wrong! And yet you cling to them as if they were the most precious objects in your possession. You could do so much good for those around you, but you have forgotten their needs and their trust in your rash pursuit of artificial dogma.”
A deep silence descends upon the Watchers and the herd as a whole. None of the other deer had ever heard someone vocalize the feelings they had silently held for so long.
“I guess you are right,” says Adam, quietly. “You are absolutely right. It is because of Carl’s blind pursuit of that artificial dogma that we find ourselves in these predicaments.”
“No, that’s not what I meant…” starts Steven.
“What?” demands Carl incredulously. “Steven was clearly talking about your baseless theories! You are the one at fault!”
“You’re not listening to what I said…”
“Absolutely not!” interrupts Adam. “Steven clearly stated that your observations and measurements are pointless!”
“No, he said that about yours!”
“Godammit Steven,” exclaims Gary. “Ya see why I didn’t want ya to meet these guys?”
“I do,” replies Steven sheepishly.
“I told ya it was a bad idea!”
“I know you did...”
“And now I’m pissed off and covered in bee stings.”
“I know, I’m really…”
“You’re an ass, Steven.”
“I’m really sorry…”
“We’re going back to the meadow.”
Gary and Steven walk down the knoll and rejoin the rest of the herd. In the meantime, Adam and Carl continue to scream at each other about how many belches constitute an impending hurricane, and Marquette seems perfectly content to jump into a cactus.