In the United States of America, in the state of Ohio, about forty-five minutes northwest of Cincinnati, there is a large but sparsely populated farming community known as Oregonia. This area consists of mostly valleys and woods. Flat areas are used primarily for soy and corn fields, and the occasional cow grazing field. There's a small, privately owned horse ranch on the top of a hill on the south end, a river running through most of the district, and a bike trail along the water.
On this bike trail is Oregonia's “Business” District. There are two businesses there, both within a block from each other. The first is the famous Little River Cafe. Famous not necessarily for its food, but for its position next to the bike trail, the river, and the Hill where the famous Oregonia Hill Climb takes place. The next is Halls Market, really only for locals and people who need supplies coming off the river while on a canoeing trip, or bikers who need a bottle of water or sports drink. But there is a third business of a sort.
What's its name? It doesn't have one. It isn't a business so much as it is a man selling antiques out of of his home. It's so obscure that even those who live in Oregonia may not know of it. There was a red house, just opposite Little River Cafe, owned by a man named Old Bill Shawnee. That's not his real name, of course, but it's what everyone called him before he died. What's left of his house has since been demolished, and rebuilt as a small apartment complex.
Before that, Old Bill Shawnee sold Indian paraphernalia out of his home to travelers off the river or bike trial. He was a Shawnee himself, hence the name, but he sold Cherokee and Mohawk and Powhatan relics and antiques to anyone who would buy. He sold dreamcatchers, shirts and clothing, feathered headdresses, beads, and so on. They were as authentic as something you could buy at Wal-Mart, but every now and then, he sold something real. This is a story about one of those somethings.
Those in Oregonia wouldn't buy from him, but they would sell to him. He bought any skins you'd bring him; fox, coyote, deer, and so on. But every kid in Oregonia knew there was one thing he wanted more than anything else, and would always pay a good price for: antlers.
My story begins as most of my stories do. I was wandering around Oregonia. This time, I was with my friend, Adam. He was older than me, sixteen to my eleven, but there were so few kids in Oregonia that it didn't matter. We were exploring one of the many valleys when we got to the bottom. Adam tripped over something, and yelped when he realized it was the corpse of a deer.
We laughed, and then realized it wasn't just any deer; it was a buck. A big one. To this day, the biggest I've seen. Its antlers were perfectly symmetrical, twenty four in total. The deer itself was a behemoth, probably about two hundred pounds, and its brown fur turned white and gray. It had died of natural causes; not easy for such popular prey in a community full of seasoned hunters.
Adam whipped out his bowie knife and sawed the deer's head off at the neck, explaining to me that he was going to sell them to Old Bill Shawnee. We walked until we got to the river, and followed it towards Shawnee's house.
We knocked on the door, and he let us in. His entire house was devoted to selling the illusion he was some kind of Shawnee mystic. Animal heads and dreamcatchers hung from the walls, incense, Indian themed curtains, and so on.
Adam shows him the antlers, and asks for fifty bucks. Old Bill, being a salesmen, tries to work him down. Thirty, he says. Adam wasn't having it. Fifty, he'd reply. It went back and forth for a couple minutes before Bill finally gave a little.
“How about thirty and I give you one of my antiques?” He said. Adam sighed and shrugged.
“What've ya got?” he asked. Bill opened a glass case and pulled out a knife with an antler for the handle. Adam wasn't interested. Bill got the biggest dreamcatcher off the ceiling. Adam didn't have nightmares. Bill got an impressive looking headdress from behind a counter. Adam just gave him a look.
Finally, Old Bill paused, and got a sparkle in his eye. He told us to stay in the living room, while he left. He returned later with the Staff.
“This staff belonged to a Shawnee Medicine Man,” Old Bill said. “He used it to commune with spirits, cure illnesses, cast curses, and all kinds of magical things that no white man should ever know about.”
“It'd make a good walking stick,” Adam said. “Forty and the staff.”
“Deal,” Shawnee said. They shook, he got his money, and he left. He seemed so impressed with his new walking stick. He should've asked for more.
Adam lived at the opposite end of Oregonia. We often met, unintentionally, while wandering the valleys. Occasionally we'd team up to do whatever we were doing, but more often than not we just waved and went our way. It was towards winter when this happened, and I didn't go out as much. But, come next spring, I continued exploring.
I only saw Adam once that spring. Walking along the river, staff in hand. I was on top of a hill when I saw him. I didn't recognize him at first; he was wearing a brown trench coat, a fur cap and a heavy hood. It wasn't that cold, but some people do dress like that out of season, as it helps protect them when they walk through thorns and brush, so I didn't think anything of it. I only recognized him by the staff.
Bored, I decided to sneak up on him. I made way down the hill, close to the path but not on it. I could, as a young boy, steal through shadows and sneak up on deer, a skill I lost as I got older and heavier. But I was at my peak, then. When I found him, along another path leading away from the river, he was standing in the tall brush.
“I know you're there,” he said, and I jumped in my skin. He didn't even turn around.
“What gave me away?” I asked as I walked closer to him.
“Deodorant,” he replied. I sniffed, and didn't smell my deodorant, but the smell of death. The smell of a rotting corpse. I saw it, lying at his feet. A doe and two fawns.
“How'd they die?” I asked.
“Don't know. I was following them, then they died.”
“They just died?”
“Rivers nearby. Must've been something the water,” I said.
“Yeah. Must be. Been seeing a lot of dead deer.”
“Any bucks?” I asked, looking at his staff. “If I find one, maybe I can get myself a staff like yours from Shawnee.”
“Shawnee doesn't have anymore staffs like this one,” he said.
“He could make another one.”
“No, he couldn't. He could make a staff like this one, but it wouldn't be the real thing. Nobody can make these things anymore.”
“Adam, come on, that staff was probably made in his basement,” I said. “I wouldn't be surprised if he bought it, and there was a made in china stamp on it somewhere.”
“Do you want it?” he asked.
“Nothing,” he said.
“You know, we can skin these and bring them to Shawnee," I said as I crouched down and pulled out my knife. “Yeah, for all three, he'll...” I turned, and didn't find Adam. I hollered out, but he didn't reply. I shrugged. I poked my knife into the fawn, figuring its hide, still with its spots, would be the most valuable.
It was like popping a balloon. Black blood and maggots spewed out, and the deer twitched; I don't think it was still alive, just a death rattle, an echo. The stench was terrible, and the maggots and worms started crawling out of everywhere; from the hole I made to the holes natural in its body. The other fawn and the doe began poring out their infestations as well. I ran away, vomited near the river, and went home. On my way, on the northern path that Adam would've walked, I found another dead deer, a doe. I didn't go near it. It wasn't the only dead thing. Dead birds fell from tree branches, and fish on the top of the river.
“Something In the water,” I thought to myself.
Sometime that week, Adam's car was found alongside South Oregonia road. Flipped over, and rolled into a nearby stream. The police said he hit a deer and swerved. I don't believe that. I would, if Adam was found nearby. But he wasn't. His dad called my family, the night when it happened, along with most of the people in Oregonia. We looked for weeks, scouring the hills, but never found him.
A detective from the county showed up. He found notes in Adam's room that seemed suicidal. The case was never really closed, but then it never really opened, either, as the detective didn't stay in Oregonia for long. He told Adam's parents that he might come back one day.
About a month later, Adam's mother killed herself. His father left the house and moved in with family down south. He let the state have most of the property, but everything that was Adam's went to me. He just hauled it with his pickup truck, and left furniture and boxes on our porch.
Most of the clothes didn't fit, so we gave them to the Goodwill. The furniture we gave to family members, save for one chest which I gave to my sister. He had a .22 rifle and a 16 gauge shotgun, which my uncle bought off me. By the end, all I had left of his was the staff.
The same week, just after everything settled, I heard a car pull up on my driveway. My parents were out, working, and my sister at a party, so I was home alone. I didn't recognize the car, and at first didn't want to open the door, but when I heard the voice, I recognized it.
I didn't open the door all the way, and looked through the crack.
“Mr. Shawnee?” I asked.
“Yes. Max, right?”
“I sold a staff to a friend of yours, Adam. I think you were there when I sold it, actually.”
“Adam's father wouldn't give it to me. Said he was keeping it for when Adam came back. But Adam...”
“He isn't coming back.”
“What do you know about it?”
“I know I need that staff back,” he said.
“I ain't selling.”
“I ain't buying. I can't buy it. I can't trade for it. I need you to give it to me.”
“What? No. No, if you want it, you'll have to buy it. But I ain't selling.”
“It isn't worth anything to you.”
“It isn't worth anything,” I said. “But it was Adam's, so I'm keeping it.”
“I... you can't have it.” He took a step forward.
“I can shut and lock this door, grab my dad's pistol, and be back at this door before you can get through,” I warned. “I'll kill you, Mr. Shawnee, If I have too.”
“I won't hurt you for it,” he said. “I don't want anyone else to be hurt by this damn thing.”
“It's just a staff.”
“No, Max, it isn't,” he said. “It's cursed. It'll do horrible things to you, like it did to Adam. Like it did to me.”
“What're you talking about?”
“The staff isn't mine. I didn't make it. It was buried in a mound out west. Probably Lakota, I don't know for sure, maybe... Maybe a tribe so old nobody got a name for them.”
“You stole it from a grave?”
“I've stolen hundreds of things from dozens of burial mounds. Collectors, museums, all pay good money for authentic curios. They don't care where it comes from. I don't care how my bills get paid. I stole that staff, along with some knives and other trinkets. Didn't think anything of it at the time, but everything I stole, they been hurting people. I sold a knife to a collector. He disemboweled himself with it. The necklace went to some rich woman in Carolina. She got decapitated in a car accident. The-”
“Do you think I'm stupid?” I asked. “You think I believe in curses?”
“Adam did,” he said. “He came to me, begging me to lift the curse. I can't, I don't think, I wouldn't even know where to start. He tried tossing the staff in the river. I saw him do it, I saw it drift away. He came back the next morning, told me it showed up in his room. He buried it under the abandoned school house on Hollingsworth, and said the same thing. He tried burning it, but it just didn't burn. He tried breaking it, sawing through it, hitting it with a hammer, nothing. He told me he couldn't eat right. He said the meat turned rancid in his stomach. He said all he could eat was corn, and berries, and...grass. He said he'd wake up in the fields, holding the staff, and nothing else. He started wearing a hat, cause his hair was falling off, and...he...” He stopped. It sounded like he swallowed his own vomit. “He had horns! Antlers!”
“You expect me to believe Adam turned into a deer?”
The next thing I knew, I was on the ground. The door bust open, fallen to the side. Old Bill Shawnee stood over me. He tore off his jacket and his shirt, and screamed, “Look at me!”
He had thick, white fur on his chest. The skin on his bald head stretched and was bleeding as a small antler slowly grew out. He grabbed me by the collar and lifted me up. What few teeth he had were falling out, being replaced by bigger, odder shaped ones, and his left eye was solid brown, while the other was still normal. The hand he grabbed me with was almost human; but he now had two fingers and a thumb, and the nails were slowly overgrowing the skin and turning into a hoof.
“Give me the staff!” He yelled as he dropped me. “Give it to me!”
“It's in my room!” I pointed. “Just take it!”
“I can't,” he said, trying to be calm. “If I steal it again, I don't know what it'll do to me. I need you to give it to me. I need you to hand it to me.”
“Fine,” I said. I quickly crawled and managed to get to my feet before I hit my own door. I thought about grabbing my 12 gauge on the wall and killing Mr. Shawnee. But I didn't. I grabbed the blanket from my bed and wrapped it around the staff, and hurried back to him. I shoved it into his arms.
“Take it, it's yours!” I said. He paused for a moment as he held it in his hand. I think he expected everything to snap back to normal. It didn't. He thanked me quietly and left with the staff. He got into his truck and drove away. I never saw him again.
I explained the broken door as someone attempting to break in, but leaving when they realized I was home. It had happened before. Neither the police nor my parents noticed the missing staff, or the blanket I covered it in.
The next week, I walked down to the Little River Cafe to grab some lunch and check in on my mom, who worked there. The Fire Department had been called, and were parked in the Cafe parking lot as they dealt with the fire across the street. Shawnee's place.
The fire had been dealt with, and the cops and firemen were just killing time. I walked up to one I recognized, and who recognized me, and asked what had happened.
“Shawnee shot himself and burned his place down,” He said. “Really sucks, too. I just killed a deer from my stand by my place.” He reached into his pocket. “I was going to come down here tomorrow and sell him the whole thing. Check this out.” He retrieved his wallet and pulled out a polaroid of him holding up a deer. “Albino buck. Twenty four pointer. Guess I'll have a taxidermist mount him instead. I bet I could've gotten a grand out of the damn thing.”
“Where did you say you shot that, officer?”
“You know where that kid crashed a month back?” he asked. I didn't say anything back. I turned away and he continued to boast about his kill.
When I got home, I found a familiar blanket on the back porch. Inside lay the staff. A note was written and stuffed inside. The note was barely legible, like someone had written it with their non-dominant hand, but I made it out:
The note didn't have a name attached, didn't need one. I thought about leaving the Staff there, or maybe taking it somewhere else. I didn't, though. I didn't want to know if it really would follow me if I left it somewhere. I keep it close. Just lying around. In the corner of the room, never drawing much attention. Only a few times has anyone commented on it. I shrug, tell them It was given to me by a dead friend, and that I won't part with it. I don't know why I'm allowed to keep it. I don't abuse the privilege.