Six months later, the first girls grew their antlers. Like everything,
they started small. They were just imperceptible mounds under tousled
hair or careful quaffs, little pieces of downy fuzz and bone. No one
noticed them at first, and they went all winter tucked safely under caps
or scarves, out of sight and unremarked upon. It was in the Spring, with
the coming of the warm weather, that they began to grow beyond their
prisons of hair. When that happened, the girls stopped hiding them.
Slowly, their antlers spread and split, branching out forever into the
air. Some girls wore them unadorned, others tied ribbons into theirs,
little things that would flutter and catch the light. They bent over and
their hair came tumbling through in waves. When they sat reading in the
shade of a tree, birds would light on them. The sun shone behind them
and made tangled spiderwebs of shadow in the grass. How long those
shadows were, how far their reach.
Our mothers surveyed them carefully, searching for a first cause: sin,
stupidity, intransigence, all were acceptable. When they had decided,
their judgement was irrefutable. “They were practicing bulimia what
caused it,” they told us and then turned away as to signal that there
would be no more conversation on the subject. Yeah, sure, we had said
but that didn’t stop us from talking. After all, when had it ever
happened like this—normal American girls, defying their biology so
In bars and kitchens, in bedrooms and laundromats, in breakrooms and
multiple-occupancy restrooms, in all places we bent our heads together
to discuss the girls. Some people thought that there was something in
the food or the water. Rumors went around about a new step in evolution,
or some kind of divine intervention (why then, went the rebuttal, did
the antlers reach up—wouldn’t God simply reach down? When posed
the question, our pastors turned themselves away and would not answer).
Still others insisted that it was the direct result of rituals: Satanic,
surreptitious, obscene. Our parents looked out of their windows at the
girls in their summer clothes, walking by and talking about anything at
all, and shut the blinds.
They weren’t many, if you want the truth. Six girls, all told. But they
were hard to ignore with their antlers reaching up into the air, marking
their location at a distance. They started to keep only to themselves,
to move together in a pack. For the girls who had not been altered, the
girls with the antlers provided a complication. They would make their
remarks, but to each other, and kept their distance. Perhaps they feared
them, or perhaps they admired them. No one could say. The boys’ cruelty
required more proximity, but less imagination.
The girls, admirably, were not phased. When confronted, they would look
around at the boys and say, “These are antlers. Maybe next time you
could make the sound of an animal that has antlers?”
“Like what?” the boys would ask.
“What does a deer sound like?”
And the girls would smile and move off together. We loved them, or some
of us loved them and the further away they got the more we found
ourselves drawn to them. Soon it was like they were their own species, a
visiting colony from some other place. When they spoke, their language
came out jumbled and ragged, a collection of stolen sounds on an alien
radio station. We tried so hard to understand them, but they were beyond
us. Those of us that loved them watched them feebly, clicking on their
heels through the center of town, their breath rising and tangling
around their antlers in the cool evening air. Even those of us who
suspected them of some devious intent found them, in those rare moments,
No town, despite its dedication to quietude, can ever be free of
tragedy. So thus, we found ourselves stricken. Margot was shot while she
was walking alone in the woods. A hunter had mistaken her for a real
deer. The bullet that pierced her heart had killed her before she even
hit the ground.
He had begged, the way murderers do, innocence. What had the girl been
doing so far outside of town? In the woods? And with those antlers no
less? And the town had admitted that these were fair and salient points
but the man would have to be punished anyway. He had killed something
that had belonged to us, something that was not his to destroy.
Margot had been beloved, despite her curious growth. Her death sent
people into apoplexy. The other five girls were taken home, locked up in
bedrooms and parlors, fed a diet of pills and cigarettes and cheap
liquor, anything to keep them quiet, anything to prevent them from
crying out about the injustice of it all, that we could not keep them
locked up, away from the world and, more importantly, from each other.
Lise Daddario’s father, in fear and rage, had held his only daughter
down and sawed the antlers off her head with a jigsaw. Their struggle
began at dinner and ended at dawn. When he was finally finished he
slept, thumbs bloody from inexact strokes, the ragged scraps of horn
lying across their kitchen floor. After it was over, his daughter could
only sit and weep, a deep, abiding sound that we knew because the other
girls made it too, like they had become linked on some invisible,
psychic level. They wept in sync, in perfect harmony, at the moment and
time each of the others did. It was only then that we realized we had
tapped into some dark power we could not understand or appreciate. Their
mothers stood on the lawns beneath their windows, looking up, smoking
Lise’s horns did not grow back, so she filed the nubs and shaved off her
hair. A thin scar ran down the side of her head where her father’s saw
had missed and left its mark. Even though she was not like the other
girls, she was still of them. Only she was allowed into their homes,
their rooms, their confidences. Together they sat and spoke in riddles
and secrets, whispered secrets and affirmations, pulled cards from Tarot
decks and muddled over their predictions.
Then, just before the first day of school, Lise disappeared. We looked
everywhere for her. The police even got down on their hands and knees in
the church to see if she had wedged herself beneath the pews. She was
simply gone. Her mother cried for the newspapers and her father stood in
their backyard with his arms out, as if he expected God to deliver his
daughter back to him from the sky.
The other girls remained silent and withdrawn. Their numbers had
dwindled, and we began to fear that more losses were imminent. We stood
in vigils outside their houses, holding candles, speaking in low tones
to each other or just out loud with the expectation that someone would
hear us. We looked up into their windows waiting for signs of life. Now
and again a shadow would pass beyond the curtain, pausing for a moment
before moving on. We never really saw them in those moments. They never
appeared to us again as anything more than shadows. It was enough for
them to remain forever obscured from our vision. In our imaginations
they had started to become something else, both ethereal and monstrous.
Lise had been one of the first to appear, the first to be maimed, the
first to disappear. This gave her a special place in our cosmology. We
considered her primary amongst the girls, the first and the best. People
claimed to dream about her. Children said that she appeared to them on
the playground or in the fields beyond the school where the grass was
ratty from ill-care. Some said she seemed stern, others loving. Still
more said that she appeared thin and covered her head and wept. When
this happened, it was considered an ill omen.
Lise’s house became itself a kind of temple, a living sepulcher to the
first girl amongst the first girls. No vigils were held but food was
left, flowers and notebooks full up with prayers or letters begging for
forgiveness. Her father became a peculiar kind of town pariah. We took
him night after night into our homes and listened to his story, to his
excuses, let him cry into our centerpieces, and drink from our liquor
“I just wanted her to be safe,” he would say to us, breaking his bread
into little pieces, and scattering the crumbs everywhere.
“I only wanted her to be—” he would say and trail off, weeping,
leaving us a private moment with which to chew and swallow our food in
Eventually, after he had plied a version of this story with every family
in town, he left us for good. His wife kept the house and burned a
candle in the window every night to let us know she had not forgotten,
would never forget.
Our fever dimmed after that, but never went out. We lapsed Catholic and
Presbyterian, Jewish and Sikh. We gave ourselves over to the girls in
the high windows, took turns holding vigil and looking up eagerly for
any signs of life. But they were not girls any longer, were they? They
were women, fully developed, with their own opinions on film and
sex—what were we to them? Still we looked up, wondered what it was we
wanted, how much of that they would allow us to have.
Then one night the girls disappeared. Their houses were abandoned, their
doors left open. The girls and their mothers had all vanished into the
same ether. Some of us went up to their rooms but found only branches
and dirty leaves. A lone, mournful siren called across the town and we
knew it was time to go home. We shut the places up against the elements
and went there no longer.
Sometimes, when we were alone, we thought we saw fires in the woods, or
heard voices in the dark. If we approached them, they shifted and moved
a little further off. When this happened, we didn’t tell anyone about
it. We considered it a private madness, one that would cure itself. It
was too obscene to be talked about in public, so we put it away in the
back of our minds and waited for it to end.
And then one night we woke and found our rooms bathed in milky blue
light. It crept in from everywhere: the walls, the windows, from under
doors and rugs. We turned on lamps and hallway lights and still the blue
light prevailed. Outside we could see something burning, or perhaps just
luminescing. Each of us, unaware of the others, left our homes and began
to walk. We travelled through a night that was darker somehow for the
light all around us. In the park, near the center of town, we found ten
girls waiting for us, girls we had known, girls we thought we had known.
None of them previously had seemed capable of this kind of deviousness.
We should have known, should have learned. We were about to.
They kept their eyes permanently fixed on the fire before them. They did
not condescend to acknowledge us. Everyone in town had been called;
everyone had come. None of us had been able to stay away. Even the
hunter that had killed Margot was there, blinking uncomprehendingly. We
looked over this tableau, hypnotized by the pillar of flame, reaching up
forever into the night sky, flowing out and bathing us, caressing us,
pulling us in, entrapping us. And it was there, in the glow of that
tremulous firelight, that the girls stripped naked and began to peel
back their skin.