You pull on your shoes. They have mud on the edges, on the soles, strands of hay and little gray rocks pressed and stuck firmly in the grooves of the sole. You collect your notebook; yellowed paper, 3 HB pencil held in the spring which binds it. You pack your bag. Put it on. It rests against your shoulders. The camera’s strap goes around your neck.

You step out of your hideout in spring 1998, Empeza, Gerund, and your steps thump over the flat sun-warmed rock of the artificial pathway until you reach the street and it is 2054 and the sky is flat and black and blue. You stand on the chilly avenue of 5th Northern Gerund and smell the faraway scent of marigolds, looking over the silhouette of the white-painted church to the flat yellow fields beyond which disappear within the dark. You head out; not in any particular rush, even if it might’ve been worth it. You are, have been and will be, tracking a deer.

It has a black snout and large depthless eyes; its antlers have never fallen yet but neither have they fully grown. It had been on your lawn when it happened. Tearing out the wildflowers, snacking on the green-gold overgrown grass you hadn’t bothered to mow, ears restlessly moving forwards and backwards in anticipation of a threat but still unprepared for what’s to come and what came and will. It’s an old deer now. Its body is young, like yours, and old, like yours, and it’s mind lost, yours as well, at least you hope so. It had (has) been travelling quite erratically, afterall. Whether it is avoiding you specifically, you have no idea.

The softly green rye rustles; the entire field, and your path that rests within it, and you pull out your clock and compass and know that at a certain point, a line, a fracture, it will be evening of summer 1998 like yesterday and the day before it. You stop within the field, an invisible wall in front of you; barely able to see the horizon. You don't carry a flashlight.

One step forward.

The sky is yellow and red as the sun had sunk below the horizon only a day ago. The tracks in the field are clear for you to see.

In February 2024 you find its footprints in the muddy ground of a road in an abandoned town; almost abandoned. There is a woman sitting on the porch of a house in a green plastic chair, watching you impassively, a cigarette flashing like embers from between her full lips. She nods to you. You nod to her. She picks up a bottle that stands next to her seat and holds it out; you shake your head. She shrugs and puts it back down to its place and stares off into the middle-distance, cigarette smoke wafting around her face, curling in spirals of white and orange in the porch’s light that with the softest and most wistful of realizations strike you as strangely beautiful.

A few months later one street over; the sky lit up by that abomination you refuse to acknowledge; you finally see it wreathed in red and gold, sniffing the snowdrops through a rusty chain-link fence. It looks up when your heel clamps against asphalt without you meaning to; its large black depthless eyes aimed right at you, judging you, your danger, your capacity for destruction. Don’t run, you mouth, don’t run. We understand each other.

It shakes its head; like humans would nod. Huffs.

Turns around and runs away in graceful leaps, vanishing with the rustling of grass into the 30th of January 2031 where time runs backwards.

It smooths out the wrinkles of your skin, gives strength back to the tired muscles of your young-old body. The deer leaves no tracks here; it is against the nature of this reality. In the morning of January 29th 2031 you leave that place, that city going through a perverse recovery from annihilation, and begin your search anew.

In Gotsbjury in April somewhere between 2020 and 2024— you judge from the torn signs and long-unused models of cars and cracks in the road— you spot the deer walking around the block, its head bobbing. It walks through the open doors of a townhall and you join it, creeping in through the backdoors, a hallway with a moss-green carpet, a broom and an antique lamp with the motif of WW2 planes. Its hooves echo on the marble floors of the man-made hall devoid of people, its eyes surveying the floor and then the walls, that relief of a field of hay with workers dutifully fulfilling their endless yearly task of creating life only to cut it down over and over. You wonder what it thinks of it; its ears flitting from one side to the other, its snout moving like a dog’s; it shakes its head, the fur on its neck taken along for the movement like a field of grass in the wind. It grunts, and the deep-throat noise— an almost roar for even if the beast that makes it isn’t a predator, it has enough fury— echoes in the auditorium and dissipates outside into nothing. Just briefly, it had shaken the walls and the floor and the soul in your body. Just briefly, it had been new. You creep forward, snapping a few photos with your camera, trying with your heavy boots to thomp as little as possible; the linoleum betrays you anyway, your mark of life an inherent disadvantage. The deer stares right at you, its ears aiming to listen, its snout moving. It bows its head and stomps its hooves, like it’s going to run, like it’s going to run and run you over, sink those unfinished, never-mature antlers into the fragile meat of your body as if time won’t heal it to meaninglessness. You reach out with your hand, and the muscles around its neck and back pull as it steps backwards, reverberating within the room that had once held a hundred and then some people and in the nebulous nonexistent moment of the now holds only the two of you, and you think Don’t run. We need each other. When it happened, that nebulous it that shattered time into a non-linear mess of past and present and future existing without rhyme or reason within one universe that cannot possibly accommodate them all, you had lived alone; when it happens you will live alone and the deer will be the only living thing you notice; not the jay in the pinetree or the green-gold bugs or the spider on your bedroom wall, but the deer, snacking on the daisies within your garden. Your time will shatter and it will be the only thing which will shatter in the same time; which has shattered in the day of June 2030 you cannot exactly remember only that each time you stare at the sun in the years before you remember how it will feel when you are in the garden staring at that deer and the sun dies above the both of you. The deer runs away, as always. Right through the open door, only stopping once to stare back once it crosses the threshold. You know it is only accessing danger, but some part of you yearns for acknowledgement. You hope it’s leading you. Leading you somewhere better. Green-gold fields and a world that’s whole; sun in a clear gray sky.
Above 1963 in Josaiah, Conecna, flies a bird you noted before for it flies constantly in a single spot, left to right, left to right, left to right; an unfortunate soul stuck in a time loop, in an irreversible cycle that is bound to repeat no matter what it does. You’ve never seen any people to whom this has happened; you only shiver with discomfort whenever you think about it. Time going faster or slower or utterly fucked has never influenced your perception; it was fixed, biologically, a limitation bestowed upon you by the faults of your body. You can only wonder the horror that the bird must feel; repeating the cycle, never becoming thirsty or hungry or tired; knowing it is caged in the open air and nothing can help it. Betrayed by the sky, by its own wings, by the sun that was meant to warm it. You shiver once again and move on; the bird’s shadow passes over the ground like the planes on that antique moving lamp when you spinned its decorated cover around its axis. Left to right, left to right, left to right. It cries out sometimes. The air smells of vapor and smoke coming from an electrical plant in the distance to your left, but when you try to walk towards it you end up in 2000 BC when the sky is clear in the cover of night and the forest chirps softly.
You snap a photo, then two, as the deer stands on a hill in 1984 in the low-hanging sun that shines over the small yellow hills; it’s a pretty shot, not the best lighting but definitely atmospheric. An air of melancholy. Pint of loneliness. You appreciate when a picture has feeling. A photo is, afterall, nothing more than the preservation of raw visual reality; for a machine incapable of feeling the picture would only consist of a lone deer and the hill it stands on under the fading light, but you with your imperfect, feeling mind prone to subjectivity see the negative space around the deer, the way it stands within the gold ratio of the top-right corner with its head hanging low surrounded by nothing but fields. You can say with complete confidence that this deer is lonely, even without the insider knowledge of the animal mind. Maybe the deer is content. Maybe it is fearful. In your photo, frozen and trapped in that one precise second of March 1984, the deer is lonely for you are lonely, and thus you framed it so. A few hours of trekking through those fields and the burned-down forest they turn into in 1214 takes you to a megalopolis of the 23rd century, a vision of the far-off future as incomprehensible as one can be, but the people who smoke and dance in the streets are still people, just like you. The language is a little different, a little too much for your liking and your rural accent that sticks out like a sore thumb amidst their speech coined of no less than four distinct languages, but you make do slamming the bits you know of English with your native tongue and just keep trying until it works. You don’t really have much to say or much to gain; Who are you, they say and your reply becomes a hesitant shrug of I am a photographer; just a man, a man tracking a deer. Why are you tracking a deer, they ask, and there is a hologram of a red-striped agile fish swimming in the air above the street and its glitching green-red light spills onto all of your heads like rain and catches on metal like dying embers. You don’t know if they know what a deer is anymore. When time ends it was with me, you say. I don’t know, you add. They chuckle in that way which tells you they’re as deep into oblivion as you are and lean against the wall with a green-black graffiti proclaiming THE TIME-BREAK WILL NOT BREAK US and say, my dear, that’s drinks for you. It’s a turn of phrase but they still offer you a bottle of something blue and sweet and non-alcoholic. You try to refuse but they won’t listen. Nobody knows, they say, not unkindly, now take the fucking bottle. The neon signs flash against the new-modernist black goliaths of the skyscrapers around you, high above the streets, towering mountains over the small lost alleys where the cement is the same as in 1997. You drink. Someone brings a cube-shaped lamp and when they tap their fingers against its surface, it lights up with the softness of the morning sun and awashes the street-art and the grey where it hasn’t spread yet in soothing blue. The darkened sky reminds you of the night three days after your graduation; the hall you’d been given was the only thing still shining in the obsidian-black of the night once evening set, the only light for miles as you celebrated and drank and mostly just sat around and talked about a whole lot of nothing. This world has a lot of light, this reality is filled with it, but the sky is as dark as the suffocating blanket of the starless Las Vegas of 2014 you’ve stumbled into once and never returned to again. At your graduation party, you hadn’t cared about the stars, but you knew you’d see them were you look out of the window. Here, not at all. As that abomination that killed the sun passes overhead; too quick or too slow, depending on where— when— you go, they turn off all of the lights. It becomes quiet; incredibly quiet. They watch it pass; shredding the uniform blackness of the 23rd century monoliths with fleeting gold; and they are silent during it. Nothing but breaths, soft sighs of awe, the sloshing of liquid; cracking of freed electricity and the distant rumbling noise of planes. It’s against your tastes to join them, but you do. All wise men fear the lightning; but all creatures regardless of wisdom watch it with awe.
The gunshot is a deceptively quiet thing. The gunshot is loud, loud enough to make you flinch but you have bore witness to the June 2030 when the body of time bashed its skull open and splattered blood all over the sidewalk and died. Ends of worlds come quiet but not the fractures of ones; a corpse has no will nor voice to scream but whatever the sun became when it shattered wailed like a lovecraftian newborn of horror and terrible consequence, shrieked like it wanted to shatter the world once more and end it all to bring it to quiet. The gunshot, in comparison, comes and fades to nothing. Even then, your blood runs cold. The deer flinches and shrieks. Leaps. Falls. Dead. A body lying in the snow of a spring somewhen within the 20th century. You freeze. For a long moment, the breath and the next, what you saw echoes like the sound of the gunshot, rings in your mind in ricochets. The animal inside of your brain sees what has happened and fears being the next, and you let it, let it take you as the soul of you seeps out amidst the fragile, wet stalks of spring-grass. You don’t notice the sound of the boots at first; over your own shattered breaths, cut and too quick, your heart hammering and taking your focus away, the thin sheet of nothing falling over your eyes and distancing you from the world. Your eyes are glued to the deer in the snow; at the shore of the river, the trees around it old and their leaves frozen solid. Your eyes have focus for that one section of the world and nothing else and then one second you blink and a man appears next to the corpse, kneeling. An antique gun thrown over his shoulder he confirms the death of the deer, your deer, and all you see is rage. You stumble out of the clearing, out of your hiding place amidst the grass and the bushes with yellow-edged leaves; you storm over and he only inclines his head towards the direction of you but then shifts his seat and half-turns, looking up at you, at your frame not that impressive nor intimidating for a man of your size. There’s not a care for the world in the eyes of him, only a bit of confusion. What have you done, you yell. What have you done. I shot the deer, he says, simply. He doesn’t seem to understand why you’d be fuming. Is there any problem with that? It takes all the power in you to not swing your fist right then and there, to not yell back incredulously, to rather growl Who gave you the right. No one, what, you think there’s some endtimes cops for that? You don’t reply. The deer lies within the snow, still unmoving, still quiet, still dead. What’s the problem, man? I’ve been tracking that deer, you say, for years. You don’t look much of a hunter, he answers, his eyes sliding from your shoulder, vacant of a gun like his, to the camera around your neck. A photographer, you correct him, taking offense. Well, man, I’m sorry, find a different deer. Instead of punching him, of taking your fragile fists against his bearded, earnest and utterly unconcerned face, against the sincerity of it, sinking your knuckles into his skin and bearing the consequences, you growl again, Why did you shoot my deer. He shrugs. I was hungry. It punches the breath out of your lungs. You know there’s places where time runs backwards. They’d solve that. You don’t need to kill for it. You don’t need to eat. What’s the joy in that? It’s not about joy. It’s about need. Your fists clench at your sides. He tilts his head, and questions Is it? Did you track the deer because you needed it? Yes. Wiping his hands on his thighs, his well-worn brown trousers. Well then, I guess, I might help you with a farewell. What? Help me carry it to camp, and we’ll make soup. He says, like an offering and an order. Then he stops, frowns, and adds, by the way, I’m sorry. Sometimes things just happen. Wordlessly, you comply. You help him, jaws clenched; in the cold, your fingers start to go numb after only a few minutes. He chatters the whole way through. About hunting. About this place, this forest, this creek. About cooking, and the herbs he’s planted in 1773 not far from his camp, the soup he’ll make from the deer-meat and the carrots and the milk he’s managed to find and preserve in a rudimentary fridge that’d cost him a needle and a nail. He shows you the injured finger as he drives you the rest of the way in his beaten car; the deer a limp weight splayed over the patterned rug in the trunk and you watch him and challenge him to state his point but he never does. He already thinks he’d done so, you think. He’s just waiting on you to get it. You help him skin the deer. You help him cut it. It comes out by accident when you tell him of how you’d seen it on 2030 January when the world died, and with a bloodied knife in his hand and eyes calm and content he says, time has ended, let it go. You tell him of the photographs, and it’s like a river ravine that it pours out if you in the light of the simple fire heating up the metal of the pot, and he chuckles, what? Did you think it would tell you it’s alright? That it understands you? It’s a deer, you know, an animal. They are as lost as we are, still maybe better off. You make a questioning noise; instead of voicing the feeling that churns inside you and burns like shame. He says, they don’t think about this. Or maybe they do, and this is meaningless. We can’t ask them, for sure. I don’t think it’s relevant. He watches the water boil, the vapor curling upwards into the steel-grey sky. What interests me is if it’ll make for good soup. Is that truly all you care about? You ask. A little baffled. Angered still; it’s your deer, that one deer now alive only in your pictures that you still haven’t developed. Lonely in the auditorium. Lonely on a hill. No. Yes. Sometimes we all need to do things that are irrelevant. He shrugs again, and points the knife at you, saying, day by day, we each stay alive. You look like you need it anyway, he finishes. I definitely do. I’m glad to be cooking for someone again. You cut the vegetables. His knives are well-kept, meticulously cleaned things; sharp enough to cut through the hardy plants like air. You struggle with the thin slices, and he shows you how to do it better and tasks you with the eggs next as he talks about the woman he buys them from in exchange for twigs of parsley. You cook the deer. You eat the soup. It’s rich and a little light on salt but the herbs and the garlic make up for it. After you’re done, you play solitaire against one another, conversing quietly until the late hours of the evening about nothing and all, drinking beer from pastel colored mugs that he fishes out of a duffel bag inside his tent. He borrows you a mattress and you sleep under the stars.

You pull on your shoes. They have mud on the edges, on the soles, strands of hay and little gray rocks pressed and stuck firmly in the grooves of the sole, wet and sticky from walking in the snow. You collect your notebook; yellowed paper, 3 HB pencil held in the spring which binds it. You pack your bag. Put it on. It rests against your shoulders. The camera’s strap goes around your neck.

There is no deer for you to track. It seems to you like both agony and freedom.