“The Hind” by Ian Hamilton

The Hind is a menace. Big game bursting through the seams of a cheap suit. He comes chargin’ into the barroom, nostrils flaring, teeth gnashing. His antlers scrape the ceiling. He lights a smoke with your lighter and forgets to give it back. He takes a mouthful of peanuts and knocks the bowl to the floor. Smash. Drunk. Eyes yellow. Mouth foaming. You tell him to get lost but he just dances in the broken porcelain and sings a surly rhyme about your mother.

Spittle falls from his face and it’s on to the next table till he finds the folks he’s looking for. They’re in the back, by the pool table, and they’re not looking for the Hind tonight, but they’re not doing an especially good job of avoiding him either. The Hind sits down in the shadows and switches to tequila ’cause it’s within reach. Sometimes he just goes on sitting in the shadows all night, puffing on tobacco and not bothering a soul. Other nights a hoof comes down on a shot glass like a piston, reducing it to sand under a thousand pounds of venison. It sounds like gunfire. Like a starter’s pistol. Bang! Nico’s head rockets up from the table, a napkin stuck to his forehead by sweat. Sobriety. Clarity, momentarily. And hunger. His guts scream. He peels the napkin from his forehead; someone scrawled a cock on the thing and the mirror image is stuck to his face like a temporary tattoo. Tom’s teaching a Korean girl to play pool in his broken, boozy, half-practiced Korean and his stilted, staccato, half-shouted English. She doesn’t understand him but it doesn’t matter ’cause she already knows how to play. The Hind whispers into Nico’s ear about fried foods. Fatty foods. Foods that tighten the belt and quicken the heart. He starts shouting their names aloud like he’s calling roll at the Old Country Buffet. Waffles! Donuts! Pizza . . . I said pizza, damn it!

It’s Darry’s shot but he’s busy giving a gassy speech about the Beatles. They’re the fookin best. We know. Name a better fookin band. We can’t. Go on then, do it. We said we can’t. And don’t say ‘The Stones.’  We weren’t going to. I mean I like the Stones, but they just don’t compare. Know what I fookin mean?  They do, but Darry goes on acting like they don’t until he remembers that he’s hungry. Did someone say pizza? I’d fancy a pizza. Nico, pizza? Mate, is that a penis?

The Hind snorts and spits and he’s pushing the boys into the street with his pointed crown. Tom follows them out, seething and alone. He bought the lady three cheap drinks, but cheap drinks only impress cheap ladies and she wasn’t his type, apparently. Liam starts kicking a can down the street and saying that he’s some famous footballer before Darry punts the can away. No, you’re just a fookin wanker! Charlie and Nico talk about movies while Darry and Liam discuss soccer and Tom hates life while he sucks down a cigarette. An old lady with the curved posture of an apostrophe sells them mini pizzas in Dixie Cups and the fake cheese is still bubbling when the Hind shoves the things at their mouths. Tongues burn, enamels run and hide. The boys wash it all down with rice beer that’s colder than it is good, and it’s not especially cold. Crush. Slam. Spark. The Hind lights up Tom’s cigarette. This is boring. I’m fucking bored. The Hind’s words fall from Tom’s mouth with a cloud of smoke. Charlie and Nico go prattling on about movies black and white. Slow and long. Strange and foreign. Darry’s buying another pie. These fookin things are fookin lovely. The Hind sets his sights on Liam, or Tom does. Liam is drunk. Liam is malleable. Liam, you know you want to go to the club. Liam lifts a cigarette of his own and the Hind has a match lit before the butt hits Liam’s lips. I ain’t going to the club, mate. Not again. Tom looks to Darry for support but he’s halfway back to the old lady and her cart of scalding pizza cups for round three.

Let’s do it! Charlie can barely stand, but he wants to dance. Let’s do it, let’s go. Liam points his smoke at Charlie’s chin. They’ll never let you in, mate. You’ve got cheese on your face. Still got a dick on yours, Nico. Nico licks his thumb and tries to rub the dick from his head. Charlie doesn’t touch the cheese; he just stares at Liam with charcoal eyes, black as the Hind’s. I’m not a—fucking. . . . You’re a fucking cheese face!  Liam takes a drag from his cigarette. I’m a what, mate?  Darry stumbles back with his pizza. What are we fookin doing, Tom?

We’re going to the club!

Oh, I’m not drunk enough to go to the fookin club. . . .

Then we’re going to get good and drunk first!

Charlie stares at Liam like he’s lunch. I don’t know what you’re on about, mate. It’s just a bit of cheese. And at the mention of cheese, Charlie snaps. He drops his beer and before it hits the ground he’s tackling Liam to the street. Liam tells him to stop but he’s not talking to Charlie anymore. He tells him to stop again and the Hind’s black eyes stare back, saying, Make me. A few of Charlie’s wayward fists graze off Liam’s shoulders before Darry pulls him away. Tom and Nico howl with laughter and Liam is outraged until Charlie buys a beer and makes amends. All is forgotten and the Hind bounds down the street with his hooves click-clackin’ against the asphalt and the boys on his back, a-whoopin’ and a-hollerin’. Every whim, the Hind indulges. When Tom and Liam want cigs, the Hind buys ’em a carton and they toss them to strangers like a drunken parade. When Nico wants a can of beer, the Hind talks him into a glass bottle ’cause they’re more fun to smash. Nico counts coins with one eye shut while Darry tells the terrified clerk that she’s beautiful and Charlie vomits into the recycling bin. The Hind waits watching in the street, under the neon lights, and when he gets restless he taps a hoof against the glass and wordlessly beckons the boys back out into the street. Smash!

Nico drops or throws his bottle and the boys stumble into the club. Rollicking drunk. Darry’s mumbling nonsense and won’t stop sneezing. Arrreeght [achoo!] bahys eez toimfur fookin [achoo!] deshco, yee fookin fooks!  Liam nods knowingly and Tom follows the two Englishmen onto the dance floor while Nico and Charlie take to the bar for a shot of whiskey. Two shots. Three. The Hind gives Charlie words for a cute girl in suicide heels. The Hind buys Nico another whiskey, and not a moment later Charlie is rubbing the sting from his cheek and Nico is wiping the vomit from his shoes. By the time they find the dance floor Tom and the Englishmen have their shirts off and are dancing like lunatics. Like a psych ward on club drugs. Madness. Limbs flail. Feet stomp. Fists fly and ten feet in every direction separates them from the angry, confused locals. They are drunk. They are repellent. They are dancing very dangerously, a man says to Nico with a mix of concern and disgust. Charlie throws his shirt to the masses and swings his briefcase around his waist like it’s a hula hoop. It’s okay, says Nico before he strips off his own shirt. They’re my friends!

Skid. Scrape. Palms bleed. Heads throb. The boys are thrown into the street, shirtless. The Hind laughs and it sounds like wind howling through a chimney. He strikes up a match and lights everyone’s smokes. Charlie finds a bottle of soju in his briefcase. Twist. Snap. Swig. Charlie turns the bottle upside down and tucks it into the back of Liam’s pants like a pistol. The liquor pours down Liam’s backside and he tries to run away but the bottle goes with him, of course. He’s soaked. Furious. Red with rage. Tom’s smoke falls from his lips as his hysterical laughs turn to choking coughs.

Charlie runs. Liam chases. Charlie jumps a fence, climbs a roof. Liam climbs the fence, falls to the other side and scrambles up the wall but Charlie’s already a mile away, sprinting down the apex of the sloping roof like a trapeze artist. Liam pulls himself onto the roof and takes off running. Long strides. Heavy feet. Heaving breaths. He’s actually making up the distance when his foot comes down on a loose tile and sends it rocketing from the roof. It flies through the air like a clay pigeon and Liam goes upside down, toppling to the edge of the roof, taking more tiles with him. He claws desperately for a hold but only rips another tile loose as he rolls over the edge. He lands hard in a small garden enclosure and a tiny dog comes slobbering from the sliding door. Nico, Darry, and Tom peek over the fence to see Liam lying in a flower patch, shirtless, bloodied, soaking with soju and playing with a puppy. He looks up at the boys while the dog licks his nose and a smile spreads across his face. Mates, this dog is really friendly!  The dog’s owner isn’t, however. Not at five a.m. with a soggy Englishman lying in her garden. She shouts something in Korean that doesn’t need translating and the boys help Liam over the fence.

They’re walking away when Nico turns back and sees the thing on the roof. Its twisting, gnarled antlers stretch to the sky. Nico squints. The red tie is loose around its neck and its shirt is stained under a threadbare suit jacket. It bangs a hoof against the roof like a jackhammer, smashing shingles, and Nico swears the damn thing is applauding. He’s never seen the beast before, but he knows it instantly and the words come to his lips as naturally as a curse after a stubbed toe. The Hind. He accepts them like a toddler learning to put words to his world. A tree is a tree. A dog is a dog. The Hind is the Hind.

The Hind. It’s the Hind!  he shouts. What’s the Hind?  a voice returns from the darkness. It’s the Hind. You know, the Hind!  Or does he? What is the Hind?  Nico sits up. Springs creak and snap. He’s in bed. Sweat drips from his nose and light spills in through cracks and gaps in the broken blinds. Morning. Light. Headache. What’s the Hind, man?  Charlie’s air mattress squeaks as he sits up. What’s the Hind?  he asks again. Nico rubs his eyes and searches his mind, chasing memories as they evaporate like morning dew drawn back to the ether. What’s the Hind?  It was a thing. It was real just a moment ago, but now it’s nothing and less. Not even a memory. I don’t remember. Charlie stares squinting across the room. You’re fucking nuts. He rolls over and pulls the blanket up under his chin. And you need new blinds. Nico rolls over too, but sleep won’t come. The sun is blinding, the mattress is prodding. He forces his eyes closed and pretends for a while but sleep left with the Hind, or so it seems. He gets up to make breakfast. He checks his wall calendar. It’s Sunday and he has nothing to do. Nico fries an egg and the smell brings Charlie to his feet, yawning and stretching. Oil spits from the frying pan while Nico drinks a liter of water like he just stumbled from a desert. Where did you get this?  Nico crushes the finished bottle and sucks in some air; Charlie’s eyeing the wall calendar. This month’s picture is a deer on a snowy mountaintop; it was supposed to be majestic, but the deer had other ideas. Its head is turned toward the camera and its face is twisted into something like a strained smirk. Like it was trying to shit and ruin the photo. It was here when I moved in. The eggs start to burn in the frying pan but Charlie and Nico go on staring at the deer.

It’s weird.

Yeah, I guess it is.

Do you have any beer?

Ian Hamilton is a writer and filmmaker. He was born in the Midwest but beaconed to Los Angeles by a siren in the smog.

Support Betwixt | Buy this issue