Creative Taxidermy

Alice Sheffer is a freshman who likes to write short pieces and poetry. She’s interested in how short pieces can be impactful despite the small amount of words. Her favorite authors are Italo Calvino, Jane Austen, and Robin Wall-Kimmerer.



When I was younger, I was afraid of the woods. 

My mother would tell me stories about the monsters that lurked behind every bush, tree, and boulder. My brother worsened my fear by saying that in the other village, people went missing, and their corpses turned up mangled. Once, my father returned from the woods with the head of a terrible beast and mounted it on the wall above the fireplace in our little log cabin— I was too terrified to set foot in the room for weeks; the gaping maw of the beast was too much for a child to bear. 

My father took me into the woods when I was thirteen. He said it was time for me to face the fears that had haunted me from my childhood to the start of my teenage years. I froze with dread for the first hour while we were there. But he started showing me the buttery yellow flowers my mother adored, and he told me that they grew in the shade of the towering trees, surviving off the little bits of sunlight that filtered through the canopy. All of a sudden, I knew that the woods weren’t a genuinely inhospitable place if flowers could grow in the almost pitch-black darkness. 

As I grew up, I spent most of my time in those woods, getting accustomed to the colossal trees and leafy ferns. I used to hear tales about the woods, the monster infestations, and the missing people turning up dead. Those were old wives’ tales told to children to keep them inside at night. Some people claimed that there was evidence to prove the truth, but I didn’t believe those stories. And I had a good reason: I had spent so much time in the woods that if there were monsters or mutilated corpses, I would’ve come across them. 

There’s no shame in admitting that the first time I ventured solo into the woods, I was absolutely terrified. It’s typical behavior for a young adult to believe whatever anyone tells her, but I soon came to my own realization that those woods were a safe place to sit and sketch if I stayed on the well-worn path. And for the next many years, those trees became my escape from the monotony of the outside world. 

One morning, I strode confidently into the woods and decided to deviate from my normal route. Rounding a corner when I normally continue forward. I instantly regretted that decision because I was met with the most horrifying sight I had ever seen. One of those monsters, the same one my father brought home and the same one that I convinced myself was just creative taxidermy, was looming over a doe that had fallen on its side. The deer’s flank was ripped open, and its belly was heaving with the effort it took to stay alive. Saliva dripped from the monster’s gleaming teeth and fell onto the ground with heavy splatters, further soaking the already blood-drenched dirt. I looked at the doe’s face and saw the end of a life in those glassy honey-brown eyes that were starting to dim and darken.

I ran.