In all my bowhunting years, I’d never killed a Halloween deer before. But at 7:57 a.m. on October 31 a mature whitetail doe lay expired at the end of a short blood trail in the Ozark Mountains of Newton County. This is the same Newton County that’s nested the Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD) outbreak in Arkansas.
CWD is a debilitating, always fatal condition of the deer family that turns them into something like a zombie in the final, sad stages. It’s a prion disease, an ailment caused not by another life-form, like bacteria, and not even a semi-living thing like a virus. CWD is caused by mis-folded proteins. Such a sinister sickness triggered by an innocuous-sounding situation, like you could die just by doing the laundry wrong, makes it even more disturbing.
The specter of eating an infected whitetail was, I guess, in the back of my mind. But I wasn’t consciously worried about CWD. The morning’s hunt had unfolded on a rugged ridge several miles away from the outbreak’s epicenter and the doe appeared to be a healthy gal of more than two years of age. Also, there has never been a documented case of interspecies CWD transfer. There’s lots of science behind this, reaching into concepts of biology that stretch beyond my comprehension, but I trust the scientists.
We ate our first meal from the deer three days after the kill—deer burgers seasoned with garlic, cumin, a little red pepper, and red vinegar then topped with feta cheese, spinach and mayonnaise. They’re my wife’s favorite venison meal. I find them delectable as well, and so I went to bed, stuffed with the bounty of the hunt, and fell into slumber under the warm blanket of satisfaction.
And I dreamt.
Most of my dreams are broken shards of weird images with no discernible storyline. Or maybe there is a storyline but in the soft morning hours, as I try to recollect nocturnal neuron firings, I can never make sense of them. However, that was not the case on this particular morning. The narrative trickled through my mind, gaining strength with every second, along with waves of uneasiness and a latent interest in our master bathroom door.
I remembered that the bathroom door was central to the dream … and then it all came rushing back in vivid detail.
Grunts and bleats emanating from the bathroom woke me as the silhouette of a deer’s head slowly materialized with hazy bathroom light in the background, and a hand that looked an awful lot like a hoof grasped the partially closed door. I jumped from the bed and grabbed the door knob, pulling with all I had as a steady force behind the door pulled against me. The grunting grew louder.
I called for help and my daughter Mackenzie came running into the bedroom with a look of terror on her face. I barked at her to fetch me a weapon, something to kill the dreadful beast that had invaded our home in the night. But instead, she pleaded with me to not harm whatever was behind the door, as she presumed it likely to be the final remnants of her mother after having eaten tainted venison.
“We don’t have a choice!” I screamed, as that horrible truth sank into my soul.
But still Mackenzie stood there, motionless.
“Just go! Now!,” I roared.
Mackenzie ran from the bedroom, tears in her eyes, and quickly returned with what appeared to be every firearm I own. Instead of bringing relief, seeing the arsenal of guns in her arms only brought a deeper sense of despair as I struggled against the unrelenting tenacity of the undead hybrid.
“Damnit, Kenzie! These won’t work!” I cried, “It’s bow season!”