I am going stalking, with my father, and together we are going to hunt for deer in the depths of the Scottish highlands. This is partly some kind of male bonding exercise over rifles and blood and whisky, and partly because my father wants to get away from his wife, and partly because he enjoys the taste of fresh venison. We are met at the estate we're going to stalk on by the gamekeeper. He is sixty-four, and his face has a square-jawed reliability that is comforting. His is palpably rugged and his patched, mismatched clothes make me appreciate, in a flush of shame, how very green my new jacket is. The gamekeeper treats my father and me with a wry tolerance that rapidly thaws to open good humoured amusement at the way we play at being countrified, which is to say, ineptly. Whilst running a scornful eye over my beard and ponytail, he runs us through what we're using – a Winchester .270, Remington shells and a Zeiss scope. We do some target practice and I remember to shoot between heartbeats, and at a hundred yards I score a perfect bull's eye.

The gamekeeper's estate is a valley about four miles end to end, five hundred yards deep, covered in heather and fringed by a loch on one side and mountains on the other. The heather flowers are pink and white and purple and home to grouse and huge furred caterpillars. The deer are wild, and whether or not you'll find any is down to luck and a gamekeeper's skill. To get around, the gamekeeper uses his unapologetically cuboid truck, made up of a 2CV, a Landrover, plywood, and sheet metal. About halfway along the valley floor, the gamekeeper stops abruptly, gets out his Victorian telescope, and peers, faraway. Aye, he says, his burr thick to the point of self-parody, there's twenty-seven of them on that ridge, and they're facing east. Deer can detect you in three ways: they can see you, hear you, and smell you. This means that to stalk successfully you must approach them from downwind, slowly, and through good cover.

For two hours we traverse the valley side, moving from one peat bog to another, silently. The day is windless and overcast – this means that our smell may or may not carry. Windless it worst, because it is unknowable. A set wind you can always walk into, but with windlessness you risk being scented a mile distant. The deer seem improbably large silhouetted on the ridge. We must be very close, but ten minutes later I ask and we are still four hundred yards off, but now we are stuck too far off to shoot but with no cover to move closer under. A sudden mist drops and we dash the next two hundred yards over open ground covered by impenetrable cloud. When we reach the next peat bog, the deer have started to move again, but now towards us, and at seventy yards the herd is dangerously close, because a panicked herd is bad news to be too near to. So we drop back down the hill, and retrace our steps, and then get closer to the deer again, and then drop back again, and so on. I am sweating heavily and worry that this frantic running just makes us smell stronger. Finally, as the mist clears and a heavy rain sets in, the gamekeeper stops still just underneath the crest of a contour.

The gamekeeper motions me up onto the hummock, and points. There above me are eighty deer, moving slowly across us. I have no idea how far away they are, but seeing first hand a herd, a real live herd of wild, unowned animals takes my breath away for a few seconds. I lift myself towards the rifle. By the time I've found the stag I've been told to take, I've lost my footing and have slid down, and brought myself back up again. The rain has coated my glasses and both ends of the sight and I cannot see. I lift my hood to protect my face, but all the water that has gathered on it just courses down off it and finds its way into my shirt. The stag has now moved much too far away, and so to compensate I have to aim a few inches high to hit his heart. At a kilometre a second, a few inches is a lot of compensation to make. I am aware that the trigger is far too light for something this important. And then everything stops, and the bullet has left me, and I close my eyes. Because even though at last the thing has started, or finished, I can't tell which it is.

Whether it's the wind or I jerk the trigger or I just aim badly, I hit the stag about six inches behind its heart, in its lungs. The whole herd starts, and the hillside is cleared fast. The stag sways but doesn't drop. Aye, he says. He'll be drowning in his own blood about now. Don't worry; it's about par for the course, and there's nothing that can be done. I shouldn't have asked you to take such a long shot, but you made good of it, don't worry, let's have some sandwiches while we're waiting. It seems that my father is getting out sandwiches at a fantastically busy rate. I watch the rain beading on my jacket sleeve. The beads of water are so tiny, so irrelevant: I wish I could just sit here and watch them. I can hear my father eating his brie and tomato scones – it seems very loud. The gamekeeper goes to make sure the stag is dead and a second shot sounds through the valley. And then I go to see.

Slumped on its front, the stag is beautiful. Its eyes are enormous, and a milky film is already covering them. There is blood on the stag's teeth. The horns tower, its pelt is thick but soft to the touch, and for a moment I stand agape. I am unable to confront myself with the fact that is so presented to me. This animal is real and it is in front of me and – and this is strangest of all – I killed it. The gamekeeper, enjoying my shock, sets to work, opening up its intercostal muscles and letting the blood inside run out, an appallingly dark shade of crimson. As he turns this mass, this still-warm, lifeless mass over the air is pushed from its lungs with a low, snorting groan. Bending down, he collects some blood on his hand, and daubs me with it, thickly, until I can feel most of my face smeared with its wetness. As I am blooded, I stand there transfixed, incredulous, reverential. Is this what it takes to be a hunter? A hot, panicked fumble in the rain? I can feel the blood coagulating as a gathering tightness on my cheeks, and every time I smile I can feel the bloodstains cracking, minutely.

Splaying the stag's legs, the gamekeeper tells a funny story about the time an Italian guest fucked a hind he'd shot as a matter of course. I laugh because that's what you do when a story is funny. He runs his knife along the stag's belly and pulls out its intestines, which seem to go on for a very long time. The stag's stomach is bloated with heather. The intestines snap and the gamekeeper swears and cuts what's left out by slicing around its colon from outside. The air smells of blood and shit and wet fur and otherness. This fourteen stone thing lies, half processed and with its blood steaming in the gentle sunlight. I know the arguments for catching your meat this way inside out; I have rehearsed and examined them and they are good ones: rational, fair. And certainly, there's no way I'm about to become a vegetarian – that would be childish. But something in this sight defies reason, and outflanks every explanation I can make.

The gamekeeper goes down the hill to get the truck, and my father and I wait beside the disembowelled creature. In what is perhaps intended as a gesture signifying empathy, my father hands me his monogrammed leather and silver hipflask, and says, when killing an animal, you always feel this real sense of responsibility, don't you? I'm surprised by the swiftness with which a very adolescent anger that runs through me at this. I make a small noise he chooses to interpret as assent, and then he falls silent, perhaps looking at the loch stretched out far beneath us. I am desperate for the truck not to arrive, because once this stag leaves the hill he is irrevocably ours, but while he is sprawled beside me on the pink and white heather there is a feeling of mutability, or at least that what has begun doesn't have to be completed. Before I hear the truck, we are thankfully wrapped in fog again, and its womb of inconsequence and delimitation comforts me.

It is profoundly saddening to travel over uneven ground with a large dead animal. With each jolt of the ground the pliant haunches flex while the tongue lolls absurdly at the end of a twisted neck. The rain is now lashing at us from the bottom of the valley, and the blood on my face mixes with it and runs down, into my eyes and then over my cheeks and the furred swell of my upper lip, underneath which it comes to rest on my tongue, warmly. I am standing in the back of the truck, blinded and unsteady, and this salty pinkish fluid is gathering in my mouth, tepid and nauseating. As it pools there, it tastes as though I have been crying. Suddenly, I am unable to swallow.

The man in the suit had been following him for four blocks now. When Jack had first seen him waiting at the bus stop, he'd looked like just another Wall Street man headed home. He hadn't noticed when the man got up and casually started walking behind him. The first time the suited man registered with Jack was when he stopped at a pay phone and the man stopped walking. He leaned against a building and waited. Jack had assumed he was waiting for the phone, but when he finished his call and started walking away the man followed. When Jack stepped into a deli, the man waited outside. That was when Jack started worrying.

He walked another block and a half, then pretended to look at his watch and realize he was late for something. He began jogging. After a minute, he turned around. The man was calmly sitting on a bench he had not been on when Jack had passed it two seconds before. Jack stumbled over himself, and into a woman carrying a bag of groceries. He muttered his apologies and looked behind him again. The man was standing up with his hands behind his back, looking at Jack and smiling. Jack flagged down a cab and hopped in.

"Thirty-second and fifth, and fast," Jack said as he threw a fifty over the seat.

"You got it buddy." The cab driver took off and began to weave wildly in and out of traffic. Ten minutes later, Jack thanked the driver, got out, and smiled. No one could have followed him. He'd actually had to bite his tongue a couple of times to keep from telling the driver to slow down. He stepped up onto the curb and looked around at the sidewalk. The strange man was not on it. Jack laughed quietly to himself and walked towards his apartment. After he put his key in the lock, he remembered the letter he had in his pocket that he was supposed to mail. He backtracked towards the blue mail box on the curb. When he looked up, he dropped the letter on the sidewalk. The man in the suit was staring at him from across the street. Jack decided enough was enough. He walked across the street without looking for cars.

"What do you want? Huh? Do you have something to tell me?" Jack screamed in the man's face from two feet away. The man just chuckled and slowly raised his eyes to meet Jack's. When they met, Jack's breathing stopped for a few seconds, then came in ragged gasps. The man's skin was pale and wrinkled, but Jack didn't even notice the skin. He noticed the eyes. Where they should have been white, they were a dark gray with no red veins showing. The in middle of they gray circles was something that wasn't quite dancing flames, but was definitely not a pupil. Jack stared for almost twenty seconds, then turned and sprinted across the street. A truck blared its horn as Jack ran in front of it. He fumbled with the lock until he forced himself to calm down and steady his hands. He chanced a glance behind him and didn't see the man.

He ran down the hallway and up the stairs. Once he was in his apartment, he turned to close and lock the door. Jack swung the door shut, and the man was in the space between it and the wall. The man took a quick side step and cut off Jack from the apartment's only exit.

"Who are you?" Jack whimpered as he walked backwards, looking at the middle of the gray eyes ripple. The man stepped towards him and opened his mouth. His teeth looked like they had been filed down to points, and a sound like a cat hissing came out. Jack turned and grabbed the chair by the small table. He threw it through the window and crawled out onto the fire escape. He started running down, and then saw the man at the base of the stairs looking at him. He ran up to the roof instead. At the top he poked his head over the wall and looked around. The man was not on the roof. He crawled the rest of the way up and walked to the middle. When he heard the clank of metal, he turned around. The man in the suit was slowly ascending the fire escape. Jack stood on his roof, not believing it. The man advanced, and Jack retreated without turning around. The man hissed. Jack looked backwards and saw he was at the edge of his eight story building. He turned back and suddenly the man was inches away, still grinning. Jack fell backwards without thinking, and started falling. The man his stuck out his hand, offering help. Jack started to reach for it, then saw the fingernails. They were at least two inches long, gray, and rotting.

Jack unwillingly jerked his hand back, and kept falling. He turned as he fell, and was facing the ground. The man in the suit was standing on the sidewalk below with his arms out, waiting to catch him.

Stalk (?), n. [OE. stalke, fr. AS. stæl, stel, a stalk. See Stale a handle, Stall.]

1. (Bot.)

(a)

The stem or main axis of a plant; as, a stalk of wheat, rye, or oats; the stalks of maize or hemp.

(b)

The petiole, pedicel, or peduncle, of a plant.

2.

That which resembes the stalk of a plant, as the stem of a quill. Grew.

3. (Arch.)

An ornament in the Corinthian capital resembling the stalk of a plant, from which the volutes and helices spring.

4.

One of the two upright pieces of a ladder. [Obs.]

To climd by the rungs and the stalks.
Chaucer.

5. (Zoöl.)

(a)

A stem or peduncle, as of certain barnacles and crinoids.

(b)

The narrow basal portion of the abdomen of a hymenopterous insect.

(c)

The peduncle of the eyes of decapod crustaceans.

6. (Founding)

An iron bar with projections inserted in a core to strengthen it; a core arbor.

Stalk borer (Zoöl.), the larva of a noctuid moth (Gortyna nitela), which bores in the stalks of the raspberry, strawberry, tomato, asters, and many other garden plants, often doing much injury.

 

© Webster 1913


Stalk, v. i. [imp. & p. p. Stalked (?); p. pr. & vb. n. Stalking.] [AS. stælcan, stealcian to go slowly; cf. stels high, elevated, Dan. stalke to stalk; probably akin to 1st stalk.]

1.

To walk slowly and cautiously; to walk in a stealthy, noiseless manner; -- sometimes used with a reflexive pronoun. Shak.

Into the chamber he stalked him full still.
Chaucer.

[Bertran] stalks close behind her, like a witch's fiend,
Pressing to be employed.
Dryden.

2.

To walk behind something as a screen, for the purpose of approaching game; to proceed under clover.

The king . . . crept under the shoulder of his led horse; . . . "I must stalk," said he.
Bacon.

One underneath his horse, to get a shoot doth stalk.
Drayton.

3.

To walk with high and proud steps; usually implying the affectation of dignity, and indicating dislike. The word is used, however, especially by the poets, to express dignity of step.

With manly mien he stalked along the ground.
Dryden.

Then stalking through the deep,
He fords the ocean.
Addison.

I forbear myself from entering the lists in which he has long stalked alone and unchallenged.
Mericale.

 

© Webster 1913


Stalk (?), v. t.

To approach under cover of a screen, or by stealth, for the purpose of killing, as game.

As for shooting a man from behind a wall, it is cruelly like to stalking a deer.
Sir W. Scott.

 

© Webster 1913


Stalk, n.

A high, proud, stately step or walk.

Thus twice before, . . .
With martial stalk hath he gone by our watch.
Shak.

The which with monstrous stalk behind him stepped.
Spenser.

 

© Webster 1913


Stalk (?), n.

The act or process of stalking.

When the stalk was over (the antelope took alarm and ran off before I was within rifle shot) I came back.
T. Roosevelt.

 

© Webster 1913

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