The 12 Labors of Hercules include numerous instances of impossible animals. For instance, the Cerynean Hind was sacred to Artemis, and could outrun arrows and the spring of traps. Hercules had to present it, still alive, to his taskmaster.
Animals like me do not speak, but if we could, we would tell you about my brother, the legendary boar and how he plagued the king of the mountains. My brother the boar ravaged ground, tearing up crops and eating it, and spears bounced from his back and men died at his tusks and walls tumbled before his fury. A man was sent after him in the skin of a lion. The two, brother and man, wrestled until winter came, and snow fell and all the mountains of the world were red with both of their blood and struggling.
To him, the man in the skin of a lion, he was in a battle with a terrible monster, determined to drag it back to a menagerie of wild beasts and mysterious things from the deep places of the world.
To him, my brother, he was in a battle with a terrible beast that had come from the unfriendly places to claim the mountain for good, tear down the trees that fed my brother acorns, and replace it all with bitter wheat and fruit that tasted rotting-sweet on his tongue.
I had already escaped by the time they were fighting. The man with the skin of a lion had captured me. I had tripped upon a trap laid for me. I ran and ran, and was faster than the trap, but I was supposed to escape the trap and jump into the falling nets, when I leapt from the nets I was supposed to leap from I jumped into a hidden lake that caught me with a splash of water. I could not run so quickly underwater, and he sailed over in a swift canoe to pull me up between his legs. He pressed me down, placed a boot on my throat and held me still. I had never been captured all the long years of my life. I was so fast, death could not catch me, but here he was, looking into my face with his double eyes – at once a man and a lion, an in-between thing at the birth of what his people would call a grand, glorious civilization built by clearing trees and moving mountains and remaking the ground like industrious ants.
What is the difference between a deer and a caribou? What is the difference between a dog and a wolf? In this, I mean to suggest that a man with a lion’s skin and a boar with tusks like giant teeth are one and the same to me, when they grapple with each other, because neither look like deer.
In their battle, the way for the man to win against my brother was not to pin the boar to the ground where the four mighty legs pushed hard against the dirt, but to lift the creature up, and let him dance and writhe against the mountainous clouds. This is also how the boar would win. He would lift the man in the skin of a lion up to the sky on his terrible tusks, and allow the man to sink down, flailing like a rag.
Who wins? I cannot say. I do not know. An animal leads an animal to the gate of the king. An animal leads an animal to the sea and throws him in.
To me, running past so fast they did not know I was watching, I looked into the face of a king, and it was horrible because it was so much like my own. Two eyes. Two nostrils flared, and four limbs sprouting from a body that stood wrong with a single line of back. The kings’ eyes were almost deer-like, as if there was an emotion there, behind the eyes, that I could understand: fear and jealousy and guile. The mouth was almost deer-like, with teeth and lips and gums. There’s a tongue in the head like mine. They eat plants with flat, broad teeth even as they wrap grape leaves over chunks of flesh for their canine front teeth.
Who is to say what he is? Could it be my brother the boar, that holds me down, and leads me to this gate and king?
I had another brother boar in the wild, far larger and wilier than this. It was the size of a mountain and its tusks would lift the roof of houses like leaves of grass. The hunters came for him, too, thousands of them at once. This boar lived on a different mountain. He walked down from the foothills, charging with all his weight behind him, racing in a straight line.
He was so powerful and proud.
He was not faster than an arrow.
He was not faster than a spear.
When he died, no one could eat of his flesh it was so old and hard and gamey. Even the maggots curled away from the open wounds in the ribs.
They were so proud to have slain this boar.
I was running away from them all, the noise and shouting.
What I wanted was to be free of this struggle of men to take the hills away from lions and boars.
Since the death of this boar, the creatures of the wild have gotten smaller, tamer. The lions fled south. The wolves were kept as pets. The great bulls chew cud in fields and wait patiently to be led to the knives that sacrifice them to holy things they do not see or smell or feel.
I run. Deer run. We always run. It is our way. We have never stopped running from these gated and closed places in the hills. This is why I am sacred to a hunting goddess: my children always run away as fast as we can. We are so fast.
I pass into the future when I run the fastest that I can. I fall into the past when I run faster than that. I run faster than time.
I see how the boars shriveled up into sows, guinea pigs, and hamsters, and then tinier things.
After this, as tiniest things, they escape into the hills my brother boars could not hold against the men that came for them. Only then, escaped, the tiniest things rise up.
People, too, will grow until they are too big. They will have bellies the size of mountains, and huge, meaty arms. They will tear trees up in their tantrums, and throw rocks into the water, crying and crying because they will never be gods, never be more than animals like my brothers and me, who feel pain and suffer and bleed and weep and die.
Call them beautiful, build mighty tombs and monuments to the dead, pray at every alter to every god and goddess while the bears will still walk the edge of the forest waiting for the weak and the slow and the easy and the lions will linger in the long grass wondering how easily they could pick off the young in the playground and the packs of wild dogs will get bigger and smarter and bigger and smarter…
I run so fast that I can go wherever I want to go, whenever I want to go.
There’s a field where I’ve met myself a million times in a single summer. If I could talk to myself, I would have so much to say. But we do not speak to each other. We are deer with swiftest hooves and horns. We are sacred animals. What would it matter if I could speak to myself, a thousand years ago? What is there to say other than this: all the beasts will build up their best societies, and all societies will collapse.
All our brothers and sisters will walk away from all these futile devices, and return to agriculture.
They will tumble away from agriculture as crops fail and new insects learn to eat old plants. They will have to forage, again, like I do, wherever I run to find the sweetest grass.
They will all be foraging, with no businesses to run or toil beneath, and no books to teach them truths that must be rediscovered again in sweat and blood or else be lost, and no programs to bother reaching out a robot hand to ours and no power plants to send the bill collectors after anyone, or even men in lion skins to present their prize to the king of Thrace.
We will all be foraging.
There will be tribes.
The tribes will want to leave messages for each other that will look like heiroglyphics on stone walls.
This is what will happen to us, and to everything with us.
Also, the sun is a finite thing, and even if it is a slow burn, it is the only burn in the whole, wide world.
I run so fast that none may catch me except for only once. I run so fast I pass through the narrow places in time, and the thin walls of things.
I look for fields, always the fields with the sweetest grasses, ripe and green and no ticks hiding there to fatten on my flanks.
I run to spring. I run to summer.
That is what I would say if I could speak.