The Gift

By Jon Sleeper and Brian Eirik Coe

Based on a true novel by Helen Hoover, The Gift of the Deer

Hello everyone,

The following story has been in the works for quite a while. A little over a
year ago, while looking in a used book store, Brian found a book called "The
Gift of the Deer". He sent it to me. It remains one of the most powerful
books I have ever read.

The both of us decided that it would make a very book story to base a TBP story
on. This is the result.

It just goes to show that animals can be human, too.

- Jon Sleeper


I jotted a few notes on the clipboard. "Mrs. Ford, your
eyes are looking pretty good this year."
The spry elder woman blinked a couple of times out of
amusement. "Don't they always? Men always fell for my
baby blues. And I keep telling you to call me Liz."
I smiled. "Then you do have another problem. Your eyes
are green, Liz."
She drew back in exaggerated shock. "Really? When did
that happen?"
I laughed and looked once more at her chart. "Like I
was saying though, your eyes are fine. You still have
that cataract, of course, but it hasn't progressed in
years. It's also not yet affecting your vision. So
there isn't any need to surgery at this point. But we
will want to look at that again next year."
She nodded as I helped her out of the exam chair. "I
can't say that I'm unhappy to hear that. I could never
stand the idea of surgery."
I led her out the door and into the waiting room. "Why
don't you take a look for a new set of frames while I
finish off this paperwork. Paula will be able to help
you in a moment."
As Mrs. Ford stepped into the waiting room, I heard her
husband say in a hushed tone, "Liz? Take a look at
I didn't pay much attention and stepped into Paula's
domain behind the reception desk, handing her the sheet.
"Here you go. We're going to need to order new lenses
and frames. She's in a bit of a hurry, though. She's a
writer, and her last pair came apart."
Paula looked thoughtful. "I could call..."
Mrs. Ford walked up to the desk, her expression
troubled. "Doctor? Can I ask you something?"
I frowned a little and nodded. "Of course."
She beckoned for me to come around the partition into
the waiting area. Pointing at a picture on the wall,
one that her husband was intently studying, she asked.
"Can you tell us were you managed to find that?" Her
voice was had a slightly awed tone.
Most of the pictures in my office I would have had no
idea. Almost all are relatively generic framed posters
of various types, mostly in a nature theme. The kind
that you'd find duplicated in dozens of shops, but were
always wonderful to look at. I'd always felt that there
wasn't much point in good vision if you didn't have
beautiful things to look at.
But this picture was different. It was a family photo
of sorts, even though the casual observer might not have
realized that. Laying on the ground was a whitetail doe
nestled next to two spotted fawns. Standing over her
was a younger, but obviously not mature, doe. The scene
was being watched over by another deer, this one a buck
with a full rack.
I nodded. "Sure, but it's not a poster print or
anything. It's a blow-up from a digital photo taken for
the newspaper last year."
They both looked at me surprised. "Last year?" asked
Mr. Ford. He looked back at the picture. "That's
"Why's that?"
Mrs. Ford reached out to the glass and touched the image
of the buck with a trembling hand. "That buck is dead.
He has to be." She whispered.
I shook my head. "No, that's not a normal buck. That's
a SCAB friend of mine and his family. The whole family
has SCABS. It's a very rare case. Actually, it's
Ade Ford tapped the glass over Jon's picture. "Dr. Coe,
I don't know how, but he is the spitting image of a buck
that used to come around our place years ago." He traced
the pattern of white around the eyes and neck. "This
looks exactly the same." He pointed to a tiny, almost
invisible nick near the tip of an ear. "He had a nick
here to. We saw him up close a lot, and I took a lot of
pictures of him."
I looked intently at Ade Ford. I didn't know him that
well beyond his being a patient here. He was a SCAB,
but you wouldn't know it to look at him. The only area
affected with him were his eyes, and that was even for
the better. At almost seventy years old, the man had
vision better than any normal human. The advantage of
having the eyes of a hawk. Ade was also a photographer
and nature painter of some note. If anyone had an eye
for detail, it was probably him.
Mrs. Ford sighed. "Wait, Ade. It's not him." She
pointed to the scar on Jon's shoulder. "He never had
anything like that."
Now I was shifting uncomfortably. "Actually, he got
that shortly before he came back."
"Came back?" they asked, almost in unison.
"He came down with SCAB's very early in the epidemic.
He was changed into a deer someplace in West Virginia
and was stuck that way for about twenty years, with no
memory of being human. Someone shot him with an arrow
that year, and the pain brought some of his humanity to
the surface."
Ade looked back at the picture and then at his wife and
then back to me. "Was he still in West Virginia when he
was shot?" he asked.
I shook my head. "No, he was about fifty miles south of
Ade looked almost ashen. "That would explain so much."
He whispered. He looked at me intently. "Doctor, some
years ago, we rescued a starving buck near our house up
in the mountains. He stumbled into the clearing around
our house barely able to walk, trembling." Ade
shuddered at the memory.
"We saved him," continued Liz, "fed him until he was
well." She smiled, "Then we couldn't get rid of him."
Ade smiled at the memory. "Can we meet your friend?
We'd really like to know if this is the same buck."
I shrugged and looked at my watch. "Well, Jon's going
to be stopping by in about three hours for lunch. If
you want to meet him, you might want to come back here
around noon."
Mrs. Ford looked at her husband. "Is that enough time
to get to the house and back? We should bring your
Ade looked at his own watch reflexively and then started
guiding his wife to the door. "It is if we burn rubber.
Let's go. We'll be back by noon!" he shouted over his
I shook my head and walked back to Paula's desk. She
was staring at me a little oddly. "What?" I asked.
"Do you think those people are for real?" she asked
I shrugged. "I think they think they're for real. I'm
guessing that they'll get home and take another look at
the pictures and realized that they were wrong. No big
deal. I mean, you have any idea how many whitetail deer
there are in this area?" I looked at my patient list
and back at the empty waiting room. "No show?"
Paula nodded. "Just called and said he'd be late..."
The opening door interrupted us both as a patient walked
in. Over the next few hours, I almost completely forgot
about the Fords.
That was until they hustled through the door about five
minutes to noon carrying a satchel. "Are we late?"
asked Ade.
I didn't get a chance to respond. Liz drew in a shocked
breath as she looked out the tinted window looking out
over the parking lot. A deer, with a fawn in tow, was
making a direct line for my office door.
Jon and son had arrived for lunch.
It didn't start as a nightmare. In fact, it was
anything but. There was a cabin in the woods,
surrounded by snow. This was a place I knew was safe
for me. A place associated with food and love. The
perfect place to watch my fawns grow up.
I was proud of my sons. They had perfect antlers their
very first year, and I'd watched them from a distance as
they practiced their sparring skills. They would do
well when another buck came around to challenge for one
of the many does in the area. There was only one doe
for me, though.
She would come into Heat, soon. And she would accept no
others than me. We loved each other very much, in a
deer sort of way.
But that serenity was soon shattered.
And then I was running.
I didn't know from what or who, but the feeling was of
all four cloven hooves digging into the snow covered
ground. Away from some danger behind my wildly flagging
tail. That wouldn't otherwise be unusual, but I was
running not from a predator. But from...
Oh God...
I didn't...
Please. I didn't want to... They...
My wife's voice echoed out of the stark whiteness of my
dreamscape. "Jon! Jon wake up! You're having a
Maxine's gentle hands awoke me. But I was nearly awake
anyway. I took a deep breath and opened my eyes. I was
already in morph, and used my hands to wipe away the
tears. "Thanks, love."
"I'd gone to check the boys, and when I came back you
were rolling around on the bed. Be glad we sleep on the
floor. That's the third night running, you know." She
sat down next to me, and gave me a hug and a lick-kiss.
"Anything you want to talk about? I think I caught you
at a later point this time."
Her scent, mixed with the light smell of our twin boys,
was very comforting. I sighed and looked around the
bedroom. There was nothing in it that would especially
help me in forgetting what I'd just experienced. Just a
nightstand, dresser. The pad that Maxine and I slept on
in full deer form. A mirror on the wall behind the pad.
Then there was the ionized-air scent removal system that
we used throughout the house.
To my mind, that system always made the air smell ever
so slightly like blood.
A scent that I could very much do without at that
moment. "What time is it?"
"About time to get up anyway. Don't you want to talk
about it?" she asked, massaging my tense shoulders.
I relaxed a bit under her care. "Maybe later. I need
some time to digest this. I don't really remember it
very clearly..." In fact, I was left with just the
*feeling* of the dream. Nothing specific. I was
quickly stuffing it down into a corner of my mind.
"I've got Jimmy today, right?" I asked, changing the
"Yes. It's your turn today." Because Maxine and I were
such cautious parents we'd never even looked for a
babysitter for our kids. Sure, Grace could look after
herself. She was a sturdy ten year-old. It was our 18
month-old fawnboys that we worried about. They were a
hoof-full to say the least! So to spread the stress,
Maxine and I traded. The Big Boss let me have one of
the boys in my office, but wouldn't allow them both. So
we compromised. "What time are you meeting Brian for
"Noon, of course," I replied. "I've got a half day
today, so Jimmy and I were going to spend it at Holiday
Park afterwards. He needs to spend some time in the
city." We made sure that our boys spent as much time
among humans and cities as woods and animals. Maxine
and I liked balance in our lives.
"Just make sure you take his tether. Do you want the
carrier today?"
I shook my head. "No, I'll be in morphic most of the
time." The tether kept him from running off. James was
the more active of the twins and preferred four legs
more than two. He generally stuck his nose into every
nook an cranny because of his overdeveloped sense of
curiosity. The both of them could walk on four hooves
in full from nearly from the moment they were born, just
like natural fawns. It was the two-legged form they
still had problems with.
The morning routine was pretty much the same. I went
and got Grace out of bed, Maxine fixed breakfast for her
while I grazed a section of the lawn (which actually
wasn't grass, but a kind of "weed" that was very tasty),
supplemented by a bowl full of beechnuts, acorns, cedar
buds, raspberries, maple leaves, and carrots. *Always*
carrots. I couldn't describe it, but carrots always
gave me a certain feeling. It was that morning that I
realized that that feeling was associated with last
night's dream. I paused eating to consider it. Maxine
was looking at me. "We'll talk about it this evening,
She stomped a hoof once on the carpet, in effect saying
"We'd better!"
When I picked up Jimmy that morning and put him on my
knee, he said "Daddy!" in a bleating voice, and hugged
me. I licked him behind his ears once, then went on to
groom the rest of his face the same way, like Maxine
often did; an instinct so primal to all of us that we
normally thought nothing of it. He giggled at the
grooming and returned the lick, completing a sort of
"bonding" ritual. It was certainly one of the more
intimate aspects of being a deer that I liked. Bryan
said they were growing a bit faster than human children,
and both of their vocabularies were growing daily.
Though they were basically at the "babbling" stage and
would be for several months.
I attached Jimmy's fifteen-foot tether to a belt around
my and his waist and fell to four hooves. Jimmy was
already that way, and I saw that Maxine had Adam in a
carrier on her back. Now ready to go, Jimmy got up off
the floor where he'd been patiently waiting and we left
the house.
Briefly, I stopped in the hallway and looked in the
mirror on my way out. A thirteen point rack! My best
yet. The local trees certainly felt it often enough at
the spots where I marked territory. We were in the
suburbs far enough that I occasionally saw natural deer;
so I had to make sure that any bucks who came around
knew the local doe was taken.
Considering our three kids already, Maxine and I had
decided that having more would be a bad idea. While
neither of us did anything *drastic* about it, we were
assured that the methods we both used were completely
effective. Considering that the first climax of the Rut
had just passed with no signs of additional family
members on the way, we were much encouraged that
Maxine's second estrous period in the middle of December
would turn out the same way.
It was a special time of year for the both of us.
Thanksgiving was in two days, which would make it nearly
three years since I'd first found Grace alone in the
forest. And soon after that, Maxine. My love.
Word had long been settled into a normal pattern. Jimmy
got his corner with toys to play with while I focused on
work at my desk. His human words and happy sounds were
often mixed with fawn bleats of joy. My son normally
spent the first hour or so sniffing out every corner of
my department. Jared and Inan (my two colleagues)
never seemed to mind.
With the three of us watching over him he would come to
no harm. Once I heard a bleat and went to go see what
he'd seen. Someone had moved a desk since last he'd
been in, and he'd wanted to tell daddy. His memory
seemed to be getting better daily. After his
exploration he generally rested on his pad in my office
and chewed his cud (while I chewed mine at my desk) and
then slept for a few hours.
A hoof-full at times, but he knew when daddy didn't want
to be bothered. He was very well-behaved. Most of the
Because when he *wasn't*, the whole floor knew it.
Fawns can bleat quite loudly.
I put out the forecast for the evening edition and sent
the relevant info to Jared, who managed the weather part
of the Paper's web site. And then at 11:30 it was time
to leave for Brian's shop for lunch. I went onto four
legs and nudged Jimmy once, attaching his tether to my
waist band before I did so. "Time to go, son." I said
through my vodor. He stood up on gangly legs and
followed me out the door.
The sight of a buck and a fawn walking through the
downtown district of any big city would draw a few
stares. However, I trotted this route often enough that
the shop owners knew me and Jimmy. But even so we still
drew a lot of odd looks from others. As a result he
stayed close to me as we trotted through the streets.
Twenty five minutes later I was trotting up to Brian's
storefront. It was then that I smelled it.
Two scents. Scents so hauntingly familiar that I
stopped in my tracks. Frozen. I took a deep breath,
nostrils flaring. My ears twisted this way and that,
perking forward after each complete search, then starting again. I'd
automatically fallen into my
"caution" mode. Muscles poised to move if danger showed
itself. The scents came from a truck parked in front of
Brian's storefront. Jimmy, sensing my sudden change of
mood, got very close to me, nearly under my tail, but
not enough to be intrusive. I walked forward one step,
tail switching back and forth, looking left to right,
nostrils flared. And then I saw the older couple inside
the store.
The scent, combined with the sight of their faces,
nearly floored me. It was as if a window had opened in
my mind. And I remembered it all. A single moment of
total recall. It was so shocking my jaw seemed to hit
the blacktop, and I collapsed onto the pavement in
shock. Only an urgent licking behind my ears would keep
me from losing consciousness completely. Jimmy helping
The familiar scents got stronger and I was aware of the
couple now standing above me, Brian briefly held
something foul-smelling under my nose. That started me
awake. I looked up groggily at the couple. They
smelled so incredibly familiar that I surprised myself
when all I could say was: "Would you happen to have any
"Is-- is-- is that your friend?" asked Liz in a
faltering voice.
I nodded as I removed my lab coat. "That's him." I
handed the coat across to Paula who hung it on a peg.
"He's got a fawn with him," said Ade matter-of-factly.
I smiled and nodded. "That's one of the twins. The
other's probably with his mother." I squinted a little
at the spotted form trotting stiffly alongside Jon. "I
_think_ that's Jimmy, but I'm not..."
My voice trailed off as Jon abruptly stopped. He was
only a few feet from the door standing in an empty
parking space next to the Ford's beaten old pick-up.
Jon was suddenly in caution mode, looking slowly to the
left and right. His ears were turning every which way,
like he was trying to identify the source of his
feeling. For a split second, he seemed satisfied that
all was well and took a cautious step forward.
Then he simply collapsed to the pavement, a look of
shock on his face.
I barely heard Liz Ford cry out in shock as I raced for
the door. "Paula!" I yelled, "Get help!" From the way
that he fell, I was sure that he'd been shot.
I was at his side a moment later, scanning for a tell
tale sign of a bullet wound, but didn't find one. He
was still breathing, so much to my relief, he was still
alive. "Jon? Can you hear me?"
Jimmy, who'd initially been scared away to the limit of
his tether by his fathers sudden collapse, confidently
walked forward and started licking his father on the
I realized that Paula was at my side. "What happened?"
she asked.
I took the first aid kit from her and popped open the
top. "I don't know." A thought occurred. "Do you see
an animal control truck or officer around here?" Jon
_was_ in full-morph form, and at times he'd been
harassed by animal control officers who thought that he
was just a deer. He could have been tranquilized.
Paula stood at full height and started scanning the
shopping center. "No, nothing."
I found the vial of smelling salts and snapped the
capsule, waving the foul-smelling mass under his nose.
"Jon? You okay?"
He snorted loudly and brought his head up a fraction of
an inch. To my surprise, his half open gaze focused
directly on the Ford's, who were standing on the
walkway, watching. "Would you happen to have any
Ade took a step forward and knelt down in front of Jon.
"Oh my God." He whispered. "It is you."
I unhooked the fawn from the harness. "Paula, take Jimmy
in. Jon? Can you stand?"
Shaking his head slightly, he started to struggle to his
feet. He shifted to morphic. "I-- I think so."
Wobbly, he tried to pull himself up. I reached down and
gripped him by the shoulder until he was on his hooves.
I helped Jon up the sidewalk where he let go of me and
stood by himself. His attention turned to the Ford's
again. "I know you, don't I?"
Liz came forward, smiling from ear to ear, but her eyes
tearing. "We thought you were dead." She said as she
hugged him.
Confused, he patted her on the back and looked at me.
"What's going on?" He looked around frantically.
"He's inside with Paula, don't worry." I said quickly,
"But why don't we all go in and sort this out."
All three seemingly dazed, they followed me back into my
waiting room and took seats. Jimmy laughed from behind
us where he was playing with Paula. She'd been around
the twins enough though their lives that neither
associated her bear scent with danger.
Jon looked to make sure that Jimmy was all right and
then back at the Ford's. "How could I know you? I just
don't remember you."
Ade opened the battered leather case. "Liz and I live
in a cabin out at the edge of the national forest south
of here. We retired there some years back, her to take
up writing and myself to take up nature art." He flipped
through a couple of photos and slid one out of the
stack. "Some years ago, during a particularly bad
winter, we discovered a starving buck around our cabin.
He was struggling to move though the snow, shivering.
He wasn't going to survive the week, much less the
He handed the picture to Jon, whose eyes got wide. I
leaned over and looked for myself. The animal in the
picture was scrawny and looked tired. But it was
undeniably Jon.
Liz smiled. "We called him Adam. He was our friend for
five years..."
I'd named one of the twins Adam. For some reason, when
they were born the name had leapt out at me. It had
just seemed so _right_ a name for some reason. And now
I knew that reason. Because to these people, _I_ had
been "Adam". A starving buck that by chance alone had
stumbled on these two generous humans, and was saved by
I stared at the photo of myself--it was undeniably me--
and shook my head. "Brian, could you do me a favor and
call my wife? I think she needs to be here about
now..." Brian got up and went to the phone, while I
continued to stare at the photo.
The background was a world cloaked in deep snow. It
made me shiver just looking at it. The picture had
obviously been taken from inside, because in the
foreground was a window pane. In the middle, it was me.
I looked too thin and my fur coat was so ragged I was
amazed that I'd even lasted long enough to even get to
the cabin. My ribs and hip bones could clearly be seen,
and even the skin on my face just seemed to hang on my
skull. I was looking straight at the camera, my left
ear cocked backward. As if I was waiting for them to
_do_ something.
I started to flip through the other photos in the
portfolio. There I was, muzzle buried in a pile of
cedar branches. Eating the tasty leaves, and looking
much stronger. "That was about two weeks later," the
woman said. "I'm Liz Ford, by the way. And that's my
husband, Ade."
I looked at them, smelled their oh-so-familiar scents,
and back at the photo. Our van arrived in the parking
space just out front a couple minutes later. Maxine had
arrived with Adam, who was being carried in her arms.
"Jon, is something going on?" she asked me, looking at
the couple. I sighed, and without looking up from the
photo I was looking at, handed her the one of me
starving in the snow. "Oh my God... this _is_ you,
isn't it?" Maxine nearly gasped.
"This is your wife?" Ade said, awed. "She isn't, uh..."
"No," Maxine replied. "I used to be human. About two
years ago I contracted SCABS and I am as you see me now.
I'm Maxine, by the way."
"Nice to meet you," Liz said. "And who is this that
you're carrying?" I looked up to see Liz stand up and
rub Adam behind the ears. He liked that. "My, he's
cute. But I didn't think that children could contract
"We've all got dual genomes," I said absently. "Human
and whitetail. We're probably the only ones of our
kind. And his name is Adam, by the way."
"How very appropriate," Ade said. "Do you remember
anything at all, Mr. Sleeper?"
"Call me Jon," I replied, smiling. Then I looked back
at the photo. In that moment, it was as if a window had
opened in my mind. I shivered at the suddenly
remembered cold. Hunger suddenly gnawed at my stomachs.
Brian had a bowl full of things like nuts and acorns
that was _supposed_ to be decorative. But they were
quite edible to me. "Better," I said after I swallowed.
"Are you remembering something, Jon?" Maxine asked.
I nodded, and looked at the Fords. "It's still all
foggy, but I remember you two. You saved my life. If
not for your generosity I would be quite dead. Thank
In that moment, the memories swelled within me.
So penetrating, that through my ragged fur coat, I felt
it's sting like a thousand tiny needles. But above even
My bones creaked, muscles ached. What was left of them,
in any case. It gnawed at my stomachs, which had not
known any real food for a couple months. A
comparatively minor injury during the Rut, along with a
year with little rain, had kept me from reaching the
same food that other deer could. The snows had come
early, too. So I was nothing but a bag of skin and
I staggered through the forest, the only sound the soft
_crunch, crunch_ of my hooves in the nearly hock-deep
snow. I was too hungry to care how much noise I made.
Every once in a while I'd be overtaken by a fit of
shivering. When it passed I felt much weaker than
before. What should have been a life-saving method of
warming me up was only sapping me of more strength. So
I wandered, looking for food. I really didn't care
where I got it, pr what it was, just as long as it was
edible. I even would eat meat, if necessary.
_Nature must have it in for me..._ I thought with the
vagueness of my lack of sentience. Briefly I fell
against a tree, and righted myself, and pushed onward.
_I survive eight Rutting seasons, and am done in by a
simple jab to the shoulder! Mother would be... moth..._
It felt it odd at the time. Because natural deer _do_
have memories of sorts. What felt odd was I didn't
seem to remember that my mother was a doe. That was
silly, of course. And yet that feeling had always been
with me.
I stopped and caught a whiff of wolf-scent. I'd smelled
it off and on over the past few days. This scent was
newer than the rest. The recent snow had blanked out
any paw prints, but the pack-leader had marked his
territory nearby. The scent was at least two days old.
_It's only a matter of time before they get me..._ I
thought. _But they won't get me without a fight!_ As
if to mock me a shivering fit shook me and I nearly
passed out. Only by sheer willpower did I stay on my
feet. Because I knew that if I did fall unconscious,
that would be the last time.
No way.
I staggered onward, coming up against what looked like a
break in the trees, when I felt it. For the first time,
warmth; coming from some unknown source. But then the
wind shifted, and I recognized the scent all too easily.
Two-legs. Odd and scary creatures, I thought. And
some... I'd lost many herdmates to the loud noises that
came along with them. So as a rule I stayed far away.
But this time it was different.
When I saw the boxy thing that was where two-legs seemed
to spend most of their time, I saw what _looked_ to be
food nearby, so I made a beeline right for it. I barely
had the strength to pull up the little plants. I barely
noticed the three two-legs standing not too far away,
inside the place where I could feel the warmth coming
from. Behind a clear film of something, unless my
vision had gone with my muscle tone. And then I heard a
soft *click* sound...
For a moment I made as if to run, like I always had.
But as I started my body said *NO!*, and hunger warred
with raw instinct.
Hunger won out.
I dropped my head and ate every morsel I could find,
hearing odd noises from within the boxy place. They
were noises that I assumed two-legs made. The little
stalks of food gave me hope that there just might be
something else around. I sniffed along near the box,
and where the voices were the loudest, I looked up.
There they were again. Though I didn't realize it at
the time, a choice had been made about me by them. And
as I dropped my head again to continue my search, I
heard a soft noise. "Adam is a nice name," said a man's
voice, though I didn't understand it. The noises that
the two-legs made usually meant trouble But not this
time, it seemed.
Using my reliable nose I searched ever nook and cranny
around the cabin for any speck of food I could find. A
frozen asparagus stalk, raspberry canes, and just out of
reach, out near the front of the cabin, green cedar
branches. I didn't have the strength to even briefly
get up on my hind legs and pull at the branches. I
panted from the exertion of trying for a while, then
spotted bones hanging from a tree. I pulled them down,
eating some of the smaller ones, then scented some other
food. Meat-food. I licked at it through a thin,
metallic-tasting thread, getting a little. I pawed for
And when two of the humans came out of the cabin, I
tried to do what deer always do. My "meal" having
energized me even a little bit. But it didn't work. I
staggered, my body once more telling me *NO*, and
stiffly walked off into the woods with what dignity I
had left to me.
As it got darker, I found I'd reached a crossroads.
Two-legs were bad news in general. But what could I do?
Stay here and starve, the tasty cedar out of reach, or
perhaps live, even with several two-legs around. What
could I do? I'd never been faced with a choice before.
Once it grew dark enough, I looked up into the sky. I
was greeted by a sight such as I rarely saw, and it
stirred a part of me that was sleeping. One awed word,
_aurora,_ flashed through my brain. It was a marvelous,
flowing curtain of green that swept from horizon to
horizon. Like a waterfall of light.
The curtain slowly changed from green to red. The red
of blood. The forest looked bathed in it, the snow
glittering in it. But it was still green in the
direction of the cabin. And to all forest creatures,
small or large, carnivore or herbivore, green could only
mean life.
So it was really no choice at all.
I walked towards the cabin, and was rewarded with the
incredible scent of green cedar. It was as if I'd been
pulled by some force towards that *food*. I buried my
muzzle in it, and began to eat. Eat and eat and eat. I
ate until my first stomach was full, and then some more.
Then the wind started to pick up. So I found a place
nearby the food, and settled down in the snow to sleep.
Later, a light awoke me. I smelled a hare right near
me, but ignored him. I looked into the light. I saw
the female standing in that light. The wind was picking
up and snow was starting to blow around in little swirls
of powder. Through that, I saw her face. The corners
of her mouth were turned up in an odd expression. She
mouthed something.
Then sleep came upon me.
Jon had stared at the wall as he recounted the tale. He
seemed more surprised than anyone else to have the story
to tell.
Liz Ford looked briefly at her husband before starting
her tale...
Ade rubbed his hands together over the fireplace.
"Remind me again why we moved out here?" he asked with a
Liz opened the oven door and started to slide the turkey
out. "Because we both hated the city." She reminded him
cheerfully. "And don't deny it, you love it out here."
Ade chuckled and moved to give her a hand. "That I do.
When did you say Karl was going to get here?" The
moment he said it, there was a loud thumping on the
door. Ade stepped over to the kitchen door and opened
Karl Eicher was something of a hermit. He'd lived in
the area most of his nearly sixty years, and the last
fifteen of those alone since his wife died. He was a
friendly sort who knew every detail about these woods
and delighted in sharing that information with anyone
who needed it. Now the jovial old man was struggling to
get through the door with a large gunny sack.
Ade grabbed it from him and ushered him in. "Merry
Christmas, Karl! I'm glad that you could make it."
Karl stripped off his heavy leather gloves. "Merry
Christmas to you, Ade, Liz. Wouldn't have missed it."
He gestured to the bag. "Open it up." Ade opened the
sack and found a couple of small, carefully wrapped
gifts and a few jars of preserves. He started to speak,
but Karl stopped him. "Don't even say I shouldn't have
brought it. You both know that you've been waiting for
those jars."
Liz chuckled. "Thanks, Karl. But you still need to
show me how to make my own preserves. I can't get mine
to come out like yours."
Karl nodded. "I just need to show you where to get the
berries." He pointed at the jars. "Every last berry in
there is wild grown and hand picked. Nothing like it."
He winked. "I know where to find berries even the deer
can't find."
The sound of a pot boiling over caused Liz to race into
the kitchen, the two men on her heels. She quickly took
the lid off and peered in. "Your timing is perfect,
Karl. Looks like the carrots are boiled." She gestured
to the platters of food around the kitchen. "If you two
would be so kind as to set the table, we can eat."
Dinner long over, the trio sat around the fireplace and
drank coffee. The cozy mountain cabin was really the
perfect setting for a Christmas celebration, even when
the winter had already been so hard.
It was during a lull in the conversation that they heard
it. It wasn't much, almost drowned out by the sound of
the wood burning in the fire. But Karl knew what it
was. "Sounds like someone's outside. Listen." The
Fords heard it then, the sound of crunching snow. They
all quickly jumped to their feet and ran to the window.
"It's a deer!" said Ade with some relief. "I was afraid
it might be a person."
"Poor thing." Murmured Liz. "It looks half starved."
Karl kept watching the animal in the courtyard. It was
obvious that the animal was desperate. It pawed at the
earth where the garden had been until the snow covered
it. "He's pretty far gone." He looked carefully at Liz
and Ade. "It might be most humane to put him down." He
said quietly.
Liz looked at him sadly. "Isn't there something that we
can do? It's Christmas..."
Karl looked at he and smiled warmly. "We can try,
certainly." His chuckled. "If he's willing to be
helped, you'll end up with a pet, you know. You might
never get rid of him."
Ade stepped away from the window and grabbed his camera
off the dinner table. He returned and snapped a picture
as the buck was looking sadly in his direction. He set
the camera down and looked at his wife. "Let's start
giving him the leftovers. We'll see what we can do."
The buck was eating now from the small plate of scraps
Liz had accumulated while she was cooking. Little was
ever thrown away in this cabin. Anything not eaten by
the Fords generally found it's way into the mouths of
the local animals.
As the buck ate, Ade and Karl got as close as they dared
and set down more. The leftover carrots and corn from
dinner, a few wheat rolls, some fresh grapes that Karl
had somehow managed to bring. Only when they stepped
back did the buck seem to notice their presence, so
intent was he at the food.
Ade smiled. "We should give him a name."
Karl nodded. "How about Adam?"
Liz smiled. "Adam."
"Adam is a nice name." Said Ade.
The buck stopped a moment, and looked up at the trio.
The look was the blank stare of a curious animal. Or
was it? Liz swore, if only for a moment, that she saw a
flicker of something across that animal face. But she
dismissed the feeling almost as soon as she felt it.
It had looked almost like gratitude.
They retreated to the cabin, both for the warmth and so
as to not frighten their new guest. Karl started
immediately giving them advice about caring for Adam.
He ran through the kinds of food to try and not try.
After a few minutes, he happened to look up as the buck
was leaving the clearing. Karl nodded at him. "I'm
sure that he'll be back. If you'd like, we can try to
get some cedar right now for him."
There was no discussion of the matter. Ade and Karl
immediately grabbed the clippers and a utility ladder
and started climbing a couple of the more sturdy cedar
trees around the cabin. It wasn't long before they had
a pile of branches, still green despite the recent snow.
They set them up near the edge of the clearing around
the cabin. As soon as they were finished, they retired
back to the cabin to wait.
The trio were now standing in the warmth of the kitchen
looking out the window and the artificial cedar stand.
The conversation over the last couple of hours had
eventually drifted away from the starving buck and onto
more mundane topics. Then Karl pointed out the window.
"He's back."
The Fords turned to see Adam with his face buried in the
cedar, eating as fast as he could. As if his life
depended on it. Ade raised his camera and snapped
another picture.
Liz smiled and touched the glass. "Welcome home, Adam."
The picture wasn't as clear as the first, but Jon stared
hard at it as if trying to get every detail. The buck
in the photo was still starving, but had now found
himself in a place of safety.
The tears started to well up in my eyes as I stared,
running down my furry cheeks with every blink. "I can't
believe this. Why didn't I remember this before?" I
stood up on shaky legs, wiping the tears for my eyes.
"If you'll excuse me for a moment, I need something to
drink." I didn't wait for them to respond, I just stood
up and stiffly walked to Brian's restroom.
I turned on the faucet and filled the sink with water,
then splashed my face with it. I was panting from the
stress of it all. Amazed that something that had
happened so long ago could come back with such
astonishing clarity. I looked at my face in the mirror,
and saw the nick in my ear. The same as the buck in the
Somehow, seeing my own reflection confirmed my own
memories. There was a knock on the door. "Come in," I
said in a neutral tone.
Grace had arrived, someone had thought to call the bar
and ask one of my friends to pick her up from school for
Maxine and I, since we were tied up here. She was ten
years old now, but acted a bit more mature than her
classmates of the same age. Bryan thought this was due
to her coming into her "Yearling" stage of growth. Her
body was one deer year old. She'd started to menstruate
about a week before Halloween. And like her mother, she
only did so for three months out of the year in the
fall. She was even starting to act like a teenager...
which was probably scarier than anything else. "Are you
okay, Dad? I just got here. Mom said you've been gone
for fifteen minutes."
She didn't call me "Daddy" anymore, and I missed it a
lot. But then, everybody grows up, I supposed. Even my
two little bucks would eventually get their first set of
antlers, then I'd have to teach them how to spar.
Something I was _really_ looking forward to, in a sad
sort of way. "I'm okay, Bigears."
"Who are those old people out there? They have a bunch
of pictures of you."
"Grace, those 'old people' saved your dad's life. They
fed me when I was hungry. I felt safe with them for
years, which was why I kept going back to them when my
mind was off in limboland."
Grace's ears twitched a couple times, I'd probably gone
a bit too deep into things, but that couldn't be helped.
She smelled a bit confused. I kneeled and hugged her.
"I'm sorry, daughter of mine. Just think of Liz and Ade
as a kind of aunt and uncle you never knew you had."
Grace lick-kissed me behind the ears and made a happy
sound. "Goody! I've always wanted an aunt and uncle!
Mom was an only kid, you know. Can we go back in?
I laughed and stood up, holding her hand in mine. I
looked at her critically. "I think so. I think I'd like
you to hear the story I'm telling, too." I let her go
and stood up, taking her hand in mine. "Let's go meet
your aunt and uncle, shall we?"
"Definitely!" she said happily.
I gathered that they hadn't really spoken to each other
when Grace had come in the door. But we decided to
pause before going into the waiting room where everybody
else was. Liz was holding Adam in her lap, trying to
help him drink down a safety-cup of apple juice. He
wasn't cooperating very well. "No!" was sprinkled with
deer bleats. Liz had an oddly soft expression on her
face, and she didn't mind his squirming. "Can I ask a
personal question?" Liz asked Maxine, who nodded. "How
much do you all act like deer?"
Maxine's ears twitched and she suddenly looked very
thoughtful. "Well, it's really hard to quantify,
really. I do things that seem so natural that I don't
notice them. That scares me, sometimes. And I actually
gave birth to the twins as a normal doe. And after
that... well..."
Jimmy suddenly bounded in from the other room, where
he'd been playing with Paula. He didn't seem to notice
Grace and I standing in the hallway, because he went
right between us without stopping. Adam bleated happily
and shifted to full deer form while Liz was still
holding him. As quickly as she could she put Adam down
the fawn immediately dashed to meet his brother.
The two of them sniffed each other's noses, licked each
other's ears, then started to prance around the room.
However, an optometrist's office isn't the best place
for that. "Excuse me," Maxine said to the others. She
then stood up and stomped a hoof on the floor. The
twins immediately stopped their cavorting and ran over
to her, bedding down at her feet. Maxine smiled and
rubbed the both of them behind the ears once.
"Instincts *do* have their advantages, though."
Liz and Ade looked amazed. "I can see that," Ade said.
Then he looked in the direction from which Jimmy had
come running, and saw us. "Well, there's the young lady
who sped by us so fast."
Grace and I walked into the room. I suddenly felt an
incredible amount of pride. "Ade, Liz, I'd like you to
meet my adopted daughter, and the light of my life.
This is Grace."
Grace's expression lit up, and she let go of my hand,
skipped over to Ade, and sat on his lap. "Hi Unc!" she
said exuberantly, and planted a lick-kiss on his cheek.
Then she laughed a happy little laugh, and sat down next
to her mother.
The look on Ade's face spoke volumes. He looked (and
smelled) surprised, happy, and embarrassed all at the
same time. "Uncle?" he said, bewildered.
I sat down so Grace was between Maxine and I, and Adam
moved a bit to he was laying under my leg next to the
couch Brian had in his waiting room. A sudden memory
hit me. "Well, we _did_ sort of adopt each other all
those years ago, didn't we?"
It turned out that my choice to stay near the two-legs
was a good one after all. When the side of the cabin
had opened up, and then the female started to place
things outside of the opening, I really didn't know what
to do at first. That changed once I smelled what was
most definitely something edible. I waited for the
other two two-legs to go off into the woods, then I
decided I couldn't wait any longer. Whatever she was
putting out next to the opening smelled too good to pass
I was probably a bit closer to her than I should've
been. But I really didn't care. Hunger still drove me
to do things that other deer would consider crazy. I
stood very close to the opening, and she put down
several things that smelled good. They were warm, too.
And I ate every bite. Then I came to something that
smelled and tasted so good, that my life was changed
forever. At the taste, a single word crossed my mind.
I looked at her, putting as much joy into my expression
as I could. They tasted so good I wanted to prance
around, but even though I now had a full stomach, it
would be some time before I could even think of doing
that. I ate heartily, then spent the rest of my time
resting nearby.
And then I made the most incredible discovery of my
I could _ask_ for food when I wanted it! It was a very
simple thing. I'd just walk up to the opening then tap
a forehoof on the hard surface in front of it. The wall
would then open up, and then I only had to wait as the
female two-legs put out all sorts of things. They were a
nice supplement to the cedar that the male two-legs
would somehow get for me.
Once I followed him into the woods. He was using his
forehooves to carry a long branch that had some sort of
thing on the end. He would reach up with it, then
there'd be a "click" sound that would sometimes startle
me, and a branch would fall into the snow. He would
then look like a walking tree as he would somehow carry
the branches in his forehooves. Amazing!
I stayed a good distance away, though my hunger nearly
drove me mad. I knew two-legs were generally a Bad
Thing. Though these _particular_ two-legs I found I
could very much make an exception for. There was just
some feeling I had about them that enabled me to trust
them. Trust. I didn't trust anything. Nothing. To
trust something that wasn't another deer meant that
either I wouldn't eat, or I'd be eaten. That was the
way of things.
But not with these two strange two-legs.
Time passed, and the days were filled with the wonderful
feeling of having a full stomach, and cud to chew. I
even found myself begin to relax a little. I'd found
the perfect spot under that tree where all that cedar
was always placed. That way, if I got hungry again, I'd
just stretch out my neck a little then munch on a bit
more. Paradise.
Every day I'd come for my meal. The food I was given
wasn't what I was used to. But my hunger was slowly
being replaced by a sense of contentment. And when I
wasn't eating, I was watching the two-legs watch me.
Often they weren't hardly beyond the reach of my
forehooves. But I felt in no way threatened by their
presence. Often they would make noises at each other,
which I would listen to as I ate.
Of course, I never let them get within touching
distance. That was another thing entirely.
The food eventually gave me most of my strength back. I
was no longer shivering every time the wind blew. I had
the energy to use my hooves to protect my food from the
red squirrels, who always would try to steal what they
could. Their stealing was becoming less and less every
day as I got stronger.
I even got used to the smells and sounds of the two-
legs. There was a large expanse of water that became
hard in the cold nearby. Often two-legs would sit on
logs, and holding sticks in their forehoof-things,
occasionally making a whooping sound that would set me
at a dash for safety at first. That happened several
times before I learned that they were probably just
doing what I began to call "two-legs things" that I
couldn't _possibly_ understand anyway. Not that I
didn't give them any attention, but an ear turned in
that direction worked just as well.
As long as they were upwind of me and could smell
exactly where they were, I didn't really care.
But the one thing I didn't get used to were the wolves
that would occasionally skirt the area. Only insane
deer don't heed *that* scent.
The instant I smelled them I was on my hooves. I turned
my ears left and right, taking deep breaths. They were
far off, still. But I decided I wasn't going to wait
for them to get any closer. I'd lost too many herdmates
because they ignored what their noses were telling them.
As I found my way towards a place where I could try to
dash for safety, I ran across the trail of a doe and two
fawns. One fawn was a buck, the other a doe. The
mother smelled familiar to me for some reason. The
fawns suddenly took on a much greater significance in
that moment. Then I smelled the wolves again, and
forgot all about them.
I made myself as invisible as I could manage. Even
though I was still hungry and thin, the food I'd been
given by the two-legs had given me enough energy that I
felt I could spend a while away from them. Just as long
as it didn't last too long.
I never slept a wink. Eventually, the night came. Then
the Silver Orb replaced the Golden one. The effect was
incredible. Shadows vanished in that light, and the
world took on an unreal quality about it. I felt like I
was a kind of 'nothing'. Only my own hoofprints in the
snow linked me with the world around me.
There was a sudden howling. I knew that howl. The
wolves had found prey and were chasing it to other
members of their pack. I'd been chased by wolves a
couple times in my life. The first time I'd escaped by
sheer chance and the second time had been a hoof in the
nose of any wolf that got too close. I rotated my ears
and looked up out of my hiding place in order to
pinpoint the sound. It was then that I heard the
terrified bleat of a fawn.
It was coming from the direction of the cabin, and the
hardwater that was close by.
I found myself irrationally heading towards the danger.
I just _had to know_ what was happening! Were the two-
legs okay? The doe? The fawns? My hooves crunched
through the snow on a trail before I really knew what I
was doing, my hot breath making puffs of white cloud as
I made my way through the ever present snow. I heard
the fawn bleat again, my fur stood on end at that sound.
It was down near the lake now, and moving straight out
towards the frozen shore.
Very soon there'd be one less fawn in the world.
It wasn't quick. The bleat took on a note of such stark
terror that gave me shivers of terror. I then crossed
the trail of one of the fawns, and found a scrap of
memory about what was going on. The trail of this fawn,
however, was going in the opposite direction. Twins, of
course. But I smelled no wolf-scent on the trail of
this one. But the scent of the doe was nowhere to be
The wolfpack was small, I knew. I'd scented perhaps
only five members. There might be others, of course.
But it was a small pack, I was sure. That was why
they'd only chased the one fawn. They were more sure to
get their prey if they focused on one. And by the lack
of sound now coming from the hardwater, it was a
foregone conclusion that the fawn was dead.
Such is the way of things for both deer and wolves.
I turned and walked towards the cabin, following the
scent trail of the remaining fawn. His tracks were far
apart, telling me that he (the scent was of the buck
fawn) had been running full pelt. No wolf tracks or
scents were present. So he'd been overcome by the pure
panic of the scents of the Predators. I knew that
feeling all too well. But I had the experience to know
when they were no longer a danger.
The tracks of the fawn went right across the small
clearing where the two-legs' cabin was situated. The
scent trail was much stronger now. I could smell it
even over the swirling snow that normally damped out
every scent. Now I was smelling my own scent, only a
few hours old.
Then I heard a bleat, and quickened my pace.
The two-legs stood all dressed up in the skins that they
wore. I only gave them a single glance, as the scent of
the fawn was suddenly so strong that I knew exactly
where he was. Behind my tree, near the fresh cut cedar.
He was so scared he didn't even know to be afraid of the
two-legs. Which, when I thought about it for a moment,
was a good thing. I didn't want him running away. He
was too young to be without his mother.
I felt a sudden peculiar feeling that I'd never felt
before. And I realized that this fawn might perhaps me
my own flesh and blood. The sudden insight made me do
something that perhaps no buck had ever done before.
I approached the fawn slowly, as he was on legs that
were still shaking with fright. He bleated once more,
louder this time. He didn't seem to know what I was at
first. But I certainly wasn't his mother. He backed up
so his rump was against a pile of wood. He was almost
afraid of me, so I moved so he'd have time to absorb my
presence. Then I took the next step. I nuzzled him,
and licked behind the ears. That done, I waited by his
side for him to react.
It seem an eternity. The two-legs waiting and watching
nearby were completely speechless. I gathered it was an
unusual condition for them, but I only gave them a
single glance to make sure they weren't going to make
any sudden moves.
Then what I was waiting for, happened. The fawn timidly
lifted his head, and liked me on the side of the face.
I felt a sudden warm feeling all over. I gave him one
more lick on the face, then we went to look for his
mother. Together.
Maxine nuzzled me as I finished my latest memory. She
licked me on the neck and behind my ears. Then she
whispered, "I knew you couldn't have let that fawn fend
for himself."
Liz looked thoughtful. "Perhaps that was a bit of your
humanity showing through?"
I considered it, but it didn't take long to dismiss it.
"I really don't think so. I was nothing more than a
deer at the time. Non-sentient, I think."
"Perhaps it doesn't matter," Brian added. "I've known
you a long time, Jon. I'd think your personality would
show through no matter what."
Ade was flipping through the photos that he brought. He
gave me one of myself, the doe, and the fawn. I was
watching while the two ate the cedar at a place farther
away from my tree. In the picture, the fawn looked like
there was nothing holding up his forepart. He had odd
coloring for a deer, his forelegs were white to just
above the middle part of his legs. "We called him
'Snowboots'," Ade said. "And the doe we didn't yet give
a name. Not until the next year, at any rate. She was
such a cautious mother that I wonder how you ever
convinced her to come to the cabin to eat."
Maxine was looking at the picture of the doe. In most
of the photos, the doe's ears seemed permanently locked
in opposite directions: one forward, and one back.
Maxine suddenly smelled a little bit jealous. "Problem,
dear?" I asked.
She glared at me for a second. Then she started
actually to laugh to herself. "I'm sorry, love. I'm
being silly, aren't I?"
"Yes, you are," I said with mock sternness.
"How did she react when you brought Snowboots back to
I thought about it. Hard. But nothing would come.
There was a week or so that was blank of memory. "I
wish I could tell you all. Perhaps Liz and Ade can fill
in some other details."
"You don't want to know." Murmured Ade from his place
under the sheets.
Liz froze in her tracks and looked over at him. "What?"
"You're going to see how cold it is. You don't want to
Liz chucked and cinched her robe tighter. "I was just
thirsty and going to the kitchen. Go back to sleep,
Ade rolled over and looked at her, the light from the
moon glinting off his eyes. "Okay, but don't blame me
if you realize how cold it is."
Liz chuckled again, but didn't respond. She knew a hint
when she heard it. Walking into the small living room,
she stoked the wood fire a bit, adding a couple of logs.
She paused long enough to get a glimmer of warmth from
the glowing red embers before walking into the kitchen.
The cabin was small and really not designed for living
in this time of year. In fact, as Liz checked the old
mercury thermometer, she was sure of it. The one above
the sink showed that it was nearly cold enough in the
kitchen to make ice on the counter. Liz thought about
turning on the oil stove, but she discounted it right
away. Their supplies of oil were really too low. What
they had needed to be conserved for cooking and
emergencies until the fuel truck could make it down the
country road.
Liz thought about moving out into the supply cabin until
then. When she and her husband had first bought land in
these pristine woods, it had been a nearby log cabin.
It was old, some thought constructed sometime shortly
after the Civil War, but the walls were thick and solid.
It was also dark and depressing. The walls had been
stained at some point with the darkest wood sealant
around. A few days later, they had discovered that the
neighboring cabin, a summer home, was also for sale.
They bought it instantly. Their intention had been to
move into that cabin and use the old one for a
Then they discovered in the first winter that it had
indeed been a summer home. It was totally lacking in
They still spent most of their time there, the summer
home simply being far nicer than the log cabin, but in
the bitter winter they took refuge in the log cabin.
Ade had even managed to finally get the last of the roof
fixed so that it no longer dripped.
Liz felt the heat from the fire in the living room begin
to seep into the kitchen. Rubbing her hands together,
she looked out the window into the bright moonlight.
She smiled. Adam was there, asleep.
He didn't always sleep near the cabin, he seemed to have
at least one other spot to bed down in. Neither Liz or
Ade had managed to find it, but they didn't want to look
too hard. Liz looked away long enough to grab a small
glass and pour water into it. By the time she looked
back at Adam, he was no longer asleep.
Liz stood still in the kitchen, worried that her use of
the tap had awakened him. Adam had shown at times that
he could hear them clearly in the cabin, after all. But
no, he wasn't looking at the cabin at all. His nose was
in the air, testing. Soon, he was on his feet. All of
his attention turned toward the lake. With a nervous
prance, he bounded out of the clearing.
Liz stood there puzzled for a few minutes. Something
had definitely spooked Adam, but it was nothing that she
could make out. She walked back into the bedroom,
sipping her water absently.
"What took you so long?" asked Ade, concerned.
Liz blinked. "How long was I gone?"
Ade pointed his chin at the clock on the nightstand.
"At least half an hour. I was about to get up and go
looking for you."
Liz smiled as she climbed back into bed. "About to?"
He hugged her as she lay beside him. "Eventually. It
_is_ cold in here."
Her smile faded. "I was watching Adam for a few
minutes. Something has him spooked." Ade didn't have
to say a word, because the answer came in on the wind.
The howl of a wolf.
Liz blanched. "Oh no! I forgot about them!"
Ade rolled out of bed, pausing only to slip on his heavy
robe. "Wolves. I'm surprised that we haven't seen them
earlier this winter."
Historically, wolves were eliminated from these parts by
ranchers before the Endangered Species Act was even a
thought. After the turn of the century, and before the
outbreak of the Flu stole the worlds attentions, wolves
from breeds in Canada were relocated here. Partly it
was to restore the ecosystem. Partly it was to control
the population of deer.
Like Adam.
"You don't think that they'll find him, do you?" asked
Liz with concern.
Ade sighed and hugged her. "Liz, Adam is young and
strong. He can outrun them. But even if he doesn't..."
His voice trailed off sadly and he finished with a
Liz nodded. Even after a few years in the woods, after
taking care of so many animals that had passed on, she
still couldn't divorce her feelings toward the animals.
Each one became family, but in the last few weeks Adam
had taken a special place in her heart. "Should we do
Ade looked at his wife. "Even if we could, we
shouldn't. We're already too involved with the animals
around here. Too many of them seem to depend on us."
He hefted his camera. "This is the only thing that I'll
shoot a wolf with."
Liz didn't respond, but she understood. She knew as
well as anyone that there was nothing wrong with the
wolves. They wouldn't hunt Adam unless he was
There was another howl. Closer this time.
"The lake." Whispered Ade.
They walked into the kitchen, the only window that even
faced the lake, and peered out. It was a futile
gesture, though. The tall growth of trees blocked the
view. They could hear the distant bleating of a fawn
from the same direction, and both their hearts sank.
"They chased it out onto the ice." Continued Ade. "The
deer can't get away."
Deer hooves were great for running on solid surface or
through the detritus of the forests, but on the slick
surface of the frozen lake the advantage was the wolf.
Their leathery footpads gave them traction that the deer
There was a final bleat, and then silence.
No words passed between Ade and Liz for a long time.
They stood by the window and waited for... something.
They didn't know what they wanted to see. They knew
that Adam was alright, it wasn't likely two wolfpacks
would be hunting so close together. They just wanted to
see _anything._
Finally, something did show itself, if only for a flash
of a moment. A form raced across the small clearing
into the bushes on the other side. The light from the
full moon was bright enough to make out what it was. "A
fawn?" asked Liz incredulous.
"The other one." Replied Ade. "The brother or sister of
the one that just..." he stopped and returned to watching.
They hadn't gotten a good look at it, but it seemed to
stop in the heavy bushes near the edge of the generator
Ade debated going out and trying to get a photo of the
fawn, something he'd wanted for years. But it was only
a passing thought. There was no reason to terrorize the
poor thing anymore than it already was.
It wasn't long before there was something to take a
photo of. Adam returned. He was still nervous, his
ears twitching back and forth, but he seemed intent on
something. He followed the trail of the fawn to the
"I've got to get a photo of this." Whispered Ade. He
quietly slipped out the front door, his wife on his
The fawn backed away from Adam slowly, bleating again in
terror. Adam seemed to know why, and he stopped.
Slowly, the fawn calmed, but he didn't come forward from
the woodpile. After a few moments, Adam reached out and
licked him on the face.
Slowly the fawn seemed calm. Eventually, the pair
walked from the woodpile into the forest.
"What the hell just happened?" mused Ade. "Bucks don't
do that."
Liz smiled and tugged at her husband, bringing him back
into the slightly warmer house. "There is something
strange about our Adam. You think it was his fawn?"
Ade shrugged. "I doubt it. Bucks don't usually stick
around. They're more of the Casanova or Clinton
They closed the door and went back to bed. "You get a
good picture?"
Ade's face fell. "I forgot!" he exclaimed. With a
sigh, he placed the camera back on the dressing table.
"Maybe it's for the best. I'm not sure I could've taken
a good one without a flash. But I think I've got an
Jon looked long and hard at the ancient Christmas card.
It had yellowed with age, but the importance was the
black and white woodcut-style artwork on the front.
Depicted in intricate detail was the scene that the
Fords had just described. The fawn, standing in front
of the woodpile now, being gently licked by Adam.
Ade grinned. "I think I have another reason to thank
you, Jon. That Christmas card paid for our supplies the
next year." He ran a finger over it. "You and
"Snowboots?" asked Jon, quietly.
Liz nodded. "That's what we called him. His front legs
were pure white. To this day, we haven't seen another
like him."
Jon absently nodded, numb. "Me neither."
Maxine hugged him more closely. "You okay, Jon?"
He nodded. "I remember it so clearly now. I-- I think
that they were mine."
"Did the fawn ever find his way back to his mother?"
asked Paula. I glanced back to the reception desk,
unaware that she'd been listening so intently.
"He did." Ade said. "But we didn't see it. The next
morning we left the cabin to follow the tracks in the
snow. By that time, we found Adam--- I mean Jon's
tracks and the fawns near the cedar. Later, we found
the mothers tracks with one fawn following in fresh
snow." Ade smiled. "I imagine that she was confused.
Bucks don't always take well to fawns."
Liz nodded. "Jon was unusual." She looked at Ade.
"Remember Friend?"
Ade chuckled. "Oh yeah." He took the book from Jon and
started going quickly though the pictures.
"Friend?" asked Jon, confused.
Ade didn't look up from the book as he went quickly
through the photos. "You wouldn't know him as Friend.
We started calling him that when we first saw him with
you." He stopped turning the pages and pointed.
We all crowded around and looked. It was another buck,
one that was clearly not Jon. Even in the photo, taken
apparently from the porch of the Ford's cabin, it was
clear that he was colored differently. He had some long
healed scars on his ribs, but the thin streaks of white
were clear through the heavy fur. At the instant the
photo was taken, he was looking at Ade curiously,
standing over the patch of cedar. Jon's ears moved
forward a little. "I-- I don't remember him."
Ade shrugged. "You knew him once, but don't know how
long you spent with him. You apparently met him just
before the start of spring."
A few weeks had passed since the incident with the
wolves. The deer in the area were safe from them for
the time being. They had retreated to the far less
populated far side of the lake before the ice got two
thin to cross. The combination of homes and roads that
surrounded the areas was usually an effective barrier to
Adam had returned to the tree soon after that, but he'd
started bringing a friend along.
"There she is." Whispered Liz, pointing into the trees.
Ade squinted. "I don't... Oh, there!" he said a little
too loudly. The doe's head popped up and looked at the
human pair only a few seconds before she moved off into
the woods, her fawn Snowboots in tow.
Liz playfully slapped her husband. "You scared her."
"Sorry. But she'll be around. It seems that she likes
the food as much as Adam." He hefted his camera. "I
hope that I get a chance to see the fawn again before he
gets too much larger. I really want a photo."
The couple returned to their cabin to warm up over a cup
of hot coffee while they waited. They expected a long
delayed supply run any time, so they didn't want to
stray too far from the cabin. To kill the time, Ade
went back to his artwork. He was putting the finishing
touches on a Christmas card drawing he hoped to sell.
Liz prepared lunch.
"Hey! Honey, come take a look at this." Called Ade
softly from the bedroom, where his work table was
Liz set down the can of boiled ham and followed his
voice. She found him looking out the window, camera in
hand. "Adam's back, and he brought a friend."
Liz peered though the dirty glass and saw that Adam was
standing face to face with another buck. "They don't
_look_ too friendly, do they?" Indeed, the newcomer was
snorting and stamping while Adam watched. Finally, Adam
reared back and kicked outward. It seemed like he
missed intentionally, but the point was made. The
newcomers head dropped a little, almost too little to
tell. They both walked over to the Ade's cedar patch
and started eating.
"That was interesting." Commented Liz. "I never saw
them fight out of rutting season. Neither of these two
have antlers anymore."
Ade shrugged and made for the door. "I don't know, but
I've stopped trying to figure Adam out. Let me take a
few pictures. The delivery truck will scare them off
when it gets here."
Liz went back to preparing lunch while Ade snapped photo
after photo from the deck. Though Adam would let him
get almost to touching distance, Ade knew better than to
annoy the newcomer. More than that, he looked more
belligerent that Adam.
That was made clear when Snowboots, without the
protection of his mother, carefully came out of the
bushes. He'd gotten larger in the last few weeks and it
seemed was being weaned away from his mothers teats. He
hesitantly reached his muzzle forward to nip at the
green cedar leaves.
That was seemingly too much for Friend to stand. He
leapt the few feet between them and started stomping the
earth in front of the suddenly terrified fawn.
Snowboots turned to run, and Friend nipped him on the
neck. As he broke and ran, Adam finally intervened.
Leaping between the pair, Friend stopped his attack and
Snowboots was able to escape.
This situation didn't seem to sit well with Friend, who
snorted and stamped around Adam for several minutes.
Strangely, he seemed to ignore the aggressive buck until
he was done eating. Only then did he look up and stamp
himself. Friend seemed to take the hint and backed off,
letting Adam walk away to chew his cud under his
favorite tree.
Liz joined Ade on the porch. "What was that about?"
Ade snapped a few more pictures of Friend. "Don't ask
me. At least I've got a lot of good pictures. I'm not
sure that anyone would believe us otherwise."
Liz and Ade watched the two bucks for half an hour
before they both looked up the direction of the road and
then vanished into the foliage. Only once they were
both long gone did the human couple hear the approaching
delivery truck.
"We saw you with Friend a few times before spring really
came onto us." Explained Ade. "I'm not sure when we
named him that, but we never saw him away from you."
Liz continued. "Once spring came, you two moved out of
the area, I guess for better pastures. You came back
the next winter. We never saw Friend again."
Jon looked distantly at the photo, seemingly not aware
of the rest of us for the moment. Slowly, he reached
out and traced the photo. "He didn't live the rest of
the year. I remember now. We stayed together for the
next few months." His voice was now as distant as his
look. "But come fall, he had a perfect rack." He
shuddered. "I don't know when it happened, but I
eventually found him dead with an arrow sticking out of
"I'm sorry," comforted Maxine.
He shook his head. "No, it's okay. It happened."
"We don't know where you were those few months, but a
few days after it snowed the following fall, you arrived
Jon's lips pulled back in a smile, though his gaze was
still distant. "I remember that..."
The Rut is nothing but a blur. But, as would surprise
most humans, fights are rare. Even before the start of
the season bucks jockey for position in the hierarchy.
After all, the less fighting one has to do, the more
energy there is to chase down does.
Or, in my case, one particular doe.
The moment I'd scented her Heat I knew it was the same
one with whom I'd mated the year before. Her sweet
scent was too familiar, and led me onward into the
territory of certain lesser bucks that would move out of
my way. I had the biggest rack in the area, so only
rarely did I ever have to do more than give my
"opponents" a Hard Look before they dashed away.
There were certain advantages to being the Big Buck in
the area, after all. Though there were certain
disadvantages as well.
As I followed the scent of the familiar doe, I came upon
another scent. Humans, combined with the overdone
_attempt_ to hide their scent. Something that hardly
worked, at least for a buck of my experience. I'd had
so many narrow escapes over the years that I knew every
single trick that the human hunters did, and how to
avoid them.
I followed the scent of the doe to its source. Every
once in a while I would stop in my tracks and lip-curl
to drink in her Heat-scent. I found her standing on the
edge of a meadow, looking at me coyly from behind a
medium sized bush. She was waiting for me, we both knew
it. She'd spurned all other comers just so *I* would
have the privilege of giving myself to her, as I had at
least twice before.
What we felt was as close to love as deer could ever
get. Though the word, as humans understood it, didn't
quite fit.
I trotted up and licked her face in greeting; she
likewise groomed me around my ears. A sensation which
tickled a lot. I snorted and nuzzled her neck.
The mood set, she and I walked off into a private place
in the woods.
Afterward, I suddenly had concerns there were closer to
my immediate welfare. The Rut has progressed, the Heat
had passed for most does, and with it, humans were
flooding the forest. The population of other deer was
falling at the same time. This was something new, and
very alarming. That is, more alarming than what is
normal for a prey animal.
I *had* to find someplace safe. Somewhere that there
were no humans to bother me while I found the place
where I could last out the coming winter. Already the
winds that blew were cold. Snow had fallen for the
first time nearly two weeks before; patches still
covered the ground in places.
After leaving the doe, I wound my way as deep into the
undergrowth as I could. The area was a mix of thick
woods and wide meadows, perfect for deer such as myself.
And perfect for humans to find deep cover.
I had the impression--though not actual memory--that
this year there were more humans in the woods than
there'd ever been before. The scent of Death was in the
air, as well as the acrid smells of humans that smelled
suspiciously like other deer. Occasionally the sounds
of an apparent fight would filter though the trees. If
I hadn't already done my duty for the season I might've
gone to investigate.
I calmly made my way through the undergrowth, stopping
to search under certain oak trees for any acorns the
raccoons, squirrels, chipmunks, and other deer may have
missed, and not having very much success. Every single
tree had been picked clean. I had to content myself
with eating some of the maple leaves that were falling
to the ground. Not the best eating, but good enough.
A sudden feeling of uneasiness flowed over me. I lifted
my head up, sniffing the air, ears moving to detect the
danger that I felt. There breeze was slight, coming
from where the sun drove away the darkness. A sudden
*thunk* in the tree trunk right above my head wall all
it took. With a kick of my hind legs I was off and
running, away from danger. Away from the short,
straight branch that'd suddenly appeared in the tree I'd
been feeding under.
Safe! I had to find someplace safe! Where I'd be
assured of food... Just like...
Last winter.
I skidded to a halt, but the memory kept on running, so
I had to chase it. Into the woods it seemed to go,
running faster than I could really keep up.
Last winter.
LAST winter. And the two humans who fed me, kept me
from starving to death.
It wasn't all that far, I knew the area quite well.
Perhaps even better now that I had this newfound sense
of "past" and "present". I knew with certainty how to
find my way back to the cabin, and the carrots I knew
awaited me. My mouth watered as I walked quietly though
the snow that had fallen the night before, intent on
going the direction I knew the cabin was. I didn't
actually know I was going the right way, it simply felt
The scent of the declining Rut hung in the air; there
would be many does expecting fawns in the spring. I
couldn't help wondering if my erstwhile mate had
conceived. My mind wandered and I found myself wishing
that she might let me witness their births. Something
I'd never really thought about before. Tomorrow, next
spring, next year. It all made some sort of sense, now.
Then, a single wisp of a greasy, musky, sweet and sour
scent came to my attention. I barely missed it; it was
rather windy so it was snatched out of my nose almost as
soon as it came. But it was enough to fix the
direction... I hoped. I decided to take a chance and
follow it. Several hours later I was rewarded. Just
over a small rise was a familiar log cabin, smoke rising
from a stone tree to one side. I almost galloped down
to the door.
Thoughts of carrots danced in my head as I tapped my
antlers against the wooden thing blocking the opening.
After a short while the female opened the door, looking
and smelling rather surprised. The heat wafting out
from the interior surprised me, and I was rather cold,
so I moved in just a little bit farther.
A certain feeling overcame me, there was a scent here
that I just couldn't place. It smelled like... smelled
like... something. I searched for what few words that
I knew and could find none that really matched. I
pondered this for a short while before the female
stopped being so startled and moved to find me something
to eat. Among those things were Carrots.
I gorged myself and walked back over to lay underneath
my tree, content.
The next few days I stuck my head in that cabin many
times, listening to the sounds that the humans made to
one another. I noticed that he would make some sounds,
and she would make some others in return. Once, in
apparent response to some of these sounds, the male went
over to where lots of food-smells came from and brought
over more a mushy white kind that I wasn't too fond of.
But what startled me most of all was that their scents
remained more or less constant during this exchange.
Was it possible that humans could communicate with each
other with sound alone? The question required more
research, I decided. Having decided this, I ate my
carrots and went back to my tree to chew my cud. Before
long a new sound came to my ears. I jumped to my hooves
and scanned with ears and nose, trying to pinpoint the
source. It came from the cabin.
I _almost_ bolted for cover, but there was something
about it that had a ring of familiarity to it. There
was a sort of pattern to the sounds, not unlike a scent
trail that another deer might lay in his tracks. I
carefully edged towards the opening where I could see
the female working next to a glowing light that had
patterns on it. She was moving her body to the pattern
of the music.
Music? Another word. A word that brought forth others:
beat, radio, notes, guitar... Their meaning escaped me
for the most part, but I knew they all had to do with
the music that came from the cabin. After a while it
stopped, and the female went into another space to do
something else mysterious.
The opening appeared in the side of the cabin, the male
appearing with a bag of food. He spread some at the
foot of a tree not too far from the opening. I watched
him walk away a distance on those two legs of his, then
hunger took over.
As the days passed and the show got deeper I heard the
same music over and over again. The sounds stirred
something deep within me. I suddenly felt a profound
feeling of loss that shook me to the core of my being.
The fact that I couldn't place what it was I had lost
didn't help very much. What in the world might I have
lost that made me feel this way? A favorite acorn tree,
Of course, that was it. Or was it? The only thing I
could do was actually get up and *do* something* about
it. I began with the area around the cabin, sniffing
around the bases of trees, pushing things placed around
the cabin and looking underneath. All the while the
female continued to play that same music over and over
and over again. Until it was imprinted in my brain...
"...I've been searching for something... something so
undefined... that it can only be seen... by the eyes of
the blind... in the middle of the night..."
My antlers fell off while I was searching one day in the
woods. I looked at them rather forlornly, impressions
of the largest rack I'd had yet flashed across my brain;
thoughts that were shoved aside as I realize that I'd
have another rack growing come the time that the snows
were melting. That one thought made me happy, so I
continued searching.
Whatever I was searching for remained stubbornly hidden,
though. But there were also places where I couldn't
check to see if the missing thing was there. Whenever I
came to the cabin for my daily meal of carrots and other
food I'd stick my head inside as far as it would go,
both soaking in the warmth and sniffing to see if
whatever-it-was might be there. The two humans were
rather puzzled at this, I could tell.
But then, these two humans seemed puzzled at a lot of
things. Like the way I would watch them as they brought
cedar for me to eat by the base of my tree, or when
they'd put down small piles of other foods underneath
other trees. There were times when I wanted to touch
them, too, just to be sure that they didn't have
whatever I had lost. But that wasn't proper for a deer;
though I did decide that it wasn't all that
uncomfortable to get within touching distance.
Humans really aren't that that bad once one got to know
them, I decided. They _had_ saved my life, after all.
It was the least I could do, I supposed.
Eventually I had to expand my search out into areas away
from the relative safety of the cabin. I'd smelled the
traces of other deer at times, though they all went in
the direction of what was quickly becoming a winter
Yard, where all might find food for these lean times.
With my newfound memory that was slowly extending
further and further into the past I knew that this
winter was no better than the last. There would be a
lot of starved-to-death deer and other animals by the
time spring reawakened the world.
Inevitably one of the trails I found was of a certain
familiar doe. With her was the scent of two young
bucks. I stopped in my tracks and put my nose into the
hoof prints of all three of them. There was a note of
urgency in their smell.
Suddenly a horrible image flashed through my mind. My
mate, starving and emaciated, her ribs showing, standing
with her back hunched; her--my--fawns nearly dead. My
fawns. They had to be...
I found them standing under a cedar tree, she was
standing on her hind hooves, doing her best to reach a
branch that was just out of reach. I stopped and
stomped a forehoof to announce my presence, since the
wind was from the wrong direction. They didn't look
nearly as bad as the image I remembered, but I didn't
like the way they shivered. It wasn't all that cold.
The two little bucks were a study in contrasts. One was
clean, neat, alert to his surroundings; he noticed my
coming before his mother did. His brother was quite the
opposite. He looked in better shape, shivered less, but
looked rather shaggy; and at the same time stood there
with a kind of indifference to his surroundings. If he
didn't shape up right away he'd be wolf food.
She was startled, but not displeased, by my sudden
appearance. My mate trotted up and licked my face not
unlike she might do to one of her fawns. Then she
smelled human on me, and backed off, completely
I turned around a couple times to show her just how good
my condition was. That there was food enough for the
four of us. She wasn't convinced, and shied away,
nudging the shaggier fawn when he failed to follow. I
stomped a forehoof and snorted.
She didn't respond to that so I dashed in front of their
paths, pleading with them by lowering my head nearly to
the ground, ears angled backwards. After what seemed
like an eternity she finally came and licked me behind
my ears. Success!
Then, to my surprise, she walked around to the other
side of me and pushed me towards the fawns. Those two
definitely didn't know what to make of me. I hadn't
seen one of my fawns this close for quite a while.
I suddenly realized that I'd found, in part, the thing
I'd been looking for.
Liz leaned back on the couch, smelling thoughtful. "Is
it possible that Mama was a SCAB also?" She looked at
her husband.
During my tale my time limit had expired, so I was in
non-morphic form. My boys were likewise and had decided
that their father made a very good pillow. My vodor was
turned down low. "I've given that some thought, Liz.
If she was a SCAB then our children might have turned
out like the twins. All of our fawns were natural--I
guess you could say--deer."
"Well, what about those feelings you had for each other?
Weren't they rather human?" Brian said.
I thought about it, then shook my head. "I don't think
so, my friend. I had these feelings even before my
sentience started to reawaken. And then there's always
Mama, herself."
Maxine was giving me an oddly compassionate look. "She
does seem to have been very unusual for a 'mere'
I rested my head in Maxine's lap. "I don't know how
you'll feel about this, love, but I consider her my
first wife..."
She only chuckled warmly. "I see I have a tough act to
follow, then." She kissed me between my pedicles.
It was well dark outside by now. My first stomach
growled, awakening the boys, who immediately started to
bleat their hunger. They got up on their hooves,
freeing me to get up as well. "Perhaps we should
continue this back at our house? Perhaps over dinner?"
I said to Liz and Ade.
Brian's couches weren't all that comfortable even for
normal humans, at least not for the amount of time for
the older couple had been sitting there. Brian was
normally very prompt with his patients. Liz smiled.
"We'd love to, Jon. Thank you very much."
A couple of hours later, everyone gathered again at the
Sleeper home. After Maxine, with some help from Liz,
put the twins to bed, we all gathered in the kitchen.
Maxine opened the fridge, then put a hand to her
forehead. "You're not going to believe this, but I
forgot we don't have much food here for normals." She
smiled and looked at everyone. "I doubt any of you want
cedar or beechnuts."
Ade chuckled. "To tell the truth, we've sometimes
survived on the bounty of the woods. But," he said with
a wink, "if you've got a phone book around here, I'll
just order something."
Ade, Liz and I settled on calling a take out chicken
place that delivered, nixing pizza and Chinese because
the strong smells might disturb the fawns in the next
room. While we waited, Maxine prepared a salad for her
and Jon.
"What brought you out to that cabin, anyway?" I asked
after a while. "I thought that area was pretty much
Liz nodded. "When we found it, it was," she said. "It
was really a very fast decision, really. We both had
good jobs in the city, Ade worked for Finch and
Backlage, the ad agency, and I'm actually a trained
chemist, but we hated it. We spent so much time wrapped
up in our work that we barely knew each other anymore."
"What changed?" asked Maxine.
"The Flu, for one," answered Ade. "We didn't like the
way things looked like they were headed at the time. At
the height of the epidemic, we both got sick. I almost
"When he was on his feet again," continued Liz, "we went
up to the lake for a rest. By that time, tourism was
dead up there. Only one lodge was still open, and we
were the only guests."
Ade nodded. "Up to about the turn of the century, it
had actually been growing, but the Martian Flu hit the
area harder than most. Killed 200 out of a population
of 350. Most of the survivors moved off."
"That was 2009, and we just fell in love with the area.
We came again in 2010 and stumbled across a cabin for
sale. Wasn't much to look at, but it was sturdy. We
bought it with the intention of making it a weekend
place. By the time we'd spent a few days there, we
decided to stay for good." Liz smiled. "That's when we
went looking for some other place to live."
"The log cabin was quaint, but a mess," interjected Ade.
Liz nodded. "We found the summer place next door was
for sale a couple weeks later, and bought it instantly.
Moved all our furniture in there the next day."
Ade chuckled. "Too bad we didn't think to ask some
questions first." He shook his head, "The place was a
summer cabin, that's for sure. Useless in the winter.
Thankfully we realized that in October, before it got
too cold."
"The log cabin was our savior, built when Lincoln was
still a lawyer in Illinois," Liz said with a laugh.
Ade took over. "It wasn't _that_ old, but it looked it.
Sturdy as hell, though. No lights, no phones, no gas.
Woodburning stove in the kitchen and a fireplace. Walls
as thick as a bank vault and sealed with tar.
"It smelled like varnish," said Jon suddenly. "Varnish
and oil."
"I'm not surprised you remember. The inside of the
cabin had decades of oily buildup on the walls, took
_years_ to clean it all off. Literally. Underneath was
an incredibly thick layer of varnish." She picked up
one of the photo albums and flipped through it a few
pages until she found one of her and Ade with another
couple taken inside. "This is the winter cabin."
She touched the photo, then let her finger slide down
the plastic covered page to the lowest picture. It was
a snapshot taken through a window in the middle of
winter, frost thick on the edges of the glass.
"Brother," she breathed. A tear formed at the edge of
her eye. "He always did that when we didn't put out
what he liked. He loved oatmeal, believe it or not.
Dried oatmeal."
Ade smiled a little sadly as he looked at the picture.
"I've been on this Earth for 70 years, but I don't
remember a winter like that. It was more like living in
a storybook."
"A time of simple pleasures," mused Liz.
Ade was the first one to see them that morning. As he
stood over the wood stove, trying to coax the percolator
into giving him an early cup of coffee, his gaze slipped
up through the window. After the nights light snow, he
had expected to see just Adam laying under his tree
awaiting his own breakfast.
Instead, he bounded into the bedroom. "Liz! We've got
Sleepily, she rolled over on the bed. "Unless it's
someone with a search warrant, tell them to leave me
Ade smiled. "I think Adam brought his kids for a
Liz lay still for about half a heartbeat, then sat bolt
upright. "What?"
Ade nodded as he grabbed her fleece robe off the chair.
"He's out there asleep with a doe and two fawns. I'll
bet they're his!"
Liz pulled the robe on, not pausing to put on slippers,
and jogged into the kitchen. By the time she was there,
the four deer had stood up and were snuffling the ground
for food. She shook her head. "I don't believe it.
I've seen that doe before, though. What'd we start
calling her?"
"Mama," she said wistfully. "She's awfully skittish
around people. How'd Adam do that?"
Ade shrugged on his overcoat. "I don't know, but I
think I'd better put something out there. If we have
these three as a permanent additions, we'll need to get
more corn."
"Probably so," replied Liz. "And carrots if they take
after their father."
Ade walked out the back door to the storage shed while
Liz threw on some warm clothes and rummaged through the
leftovers that she had on hand. There were still a few
canned blueberries from the night before, as well as a
handful of overripe cherries. She tossed the lot onto a
large platter and stepped carefully out the front door.
Adam perked up instantly, taking a few steps forward
before he seemed to realize that none of the others were
following. He turned to see Mama hovering at the edge
of the woods, a look of near panic on her features. Her
fawns still hovering at her side. Liz set down the
platter a safe distance from Adam and slowly backed her
way to the house.
Smelling the air a few times, the buck took a few steps
forward and looked back again toward the doe and her
fawns. She was still standing very still, but seemed to
have relaxed slightly. Cautiously, she took a couple of
steps forward and her fawns followed. Adam led her
toward the platter, but himself didn't stoop to eat the
offered fruit. Instead, he watched over the doe and her
fawns while they, cautiously at first and then with more
vigor, ate every morsel, then licked the nearly frozen
juice away.
Mama raised her head suddenly, ears focused at the side
of the house. Liz could even hear now as Ade made his
way through the fresh snow carrying the heavy sack of
corn. This being more than she was ready for, she
bounded into the woods, her fawns suddenly in tow.
Ade's footsteps stopped a moment, then he continued,
looking around the corner at Liz. "Damn, I hope I
didn't scare them off for good."
Liz watched the buck look back and forth, torn between
the food and his doe before he turned and loped after
her. Liz smiled. "Put out enough for four. We'll be
seeing them all again."
"We saw them a lot that winter," mused Liz. "It was
just a couple of hours later that they all came back
into the clearing."
"That was one of the worst winters ever up there,"
interjected Ade. "There wasn't much food in the forest.
An ice storm devastated the cedar trees, and there was
too much snow to dig for food." He pointed at a picture
of the four deer eating good spread out in the clearing.
"You never seemed to stray far from the side of the
cabin," he said to Jon. "Mama never seemed to get any
more conformable around the humans, though."
Grace pointed at the picture that had started the
conversation, the cute little buck fawn with its nosed
pressed against the glass. "Why'd you name him
'Brother'?" she asked.
Ade and Liz exchanged a glance and shrugged in unison.
"I honestly don't remember," said Liz. "We just
realized one morning that we were always calling him
Pig's brother and it got shortened. Maybe you had to be
there, but it stuck."
"Pig?" asked Maxine with a little smile. "What
possessed you to name him that?"
Ade smiled wider. "Well..."
The camera clicked a few times in rapid sequence. "I'm
glad that the sun is behind that cloud," mused Ade. "If
it bounced off all this snow I'd never get a decent
Liz leaned back a little further in her chair on the
porch and took a little sip of coffee, feeling the heat
of the mug through her gloved hands. "You must have
gone through about three rolls in the last week. How
much of that did you buy before winter set in?" she
"I've got enough for now," he answered in a distracted
tone. "I'll have to go into town when we can move a bit
more, though."
Liz shook her head and turned her attention back to the
deer. Adam was the only one that wasn't eating at the
moment, his attention turned to the woods. He didn't
seem particularly worried about anything, but one of the
four was always watching while the others ate. The doe
ate at one end of the spread out corn and oatmeal, while
the two fawns ate nearly side by side. Abruptly, the
shaggier and fatter of the two fawns started shoving the
other away, greedily eating where his brother had been a
moment before.
His brother stumbled to the snow, letting out a
surprised bleat. Even if it was only momentary, both
the doe and buck immediately turned their attention to
the fallen fawn while the other ignored him and
continued to eat. After seeming to be satisfied that
the fawn was okay, Adam started pushing the shaggy fawn
away from the food to where he had been standing watch a
few moment before.
This was certainly not the first time that this fawn had
been forced to keep watch, even at this young age they
had to learn how to spot danger, but the nearby presence
of the food seemed to be irresistible. He quickly
walked back to the corn and reached down to take a
Adam never let him, instead shoving him harder toward
the watch position. The fawn stumbled a little, but
didn't fall or take the hint. As fast as he was on sure
footing again, he was again trying to eat. This time,
Adam shoved him to the snow and reared up over him.
"God, what's he doing?" breathed Liz.
To the surprise of the humans, the buck didn't come down
on the fawn, indeed didn't touch him. Instead, when he
was back on all fours, he snorted and stamped a few
times, then returned to the pile of food to eat.
The shaggy fawn laid and trembled for a few moment, then
stood and sullenly walked over to the watch position,
looking out into the woods, and stealing the occasional
look at the rest of his clan eating.
Ade clucked his tongue, "It looks like our little pig
finally learned his place."
Liz chuckled. "That fits for him."
Ade lowered his camera. "What does?"
"That name," said Liz, pointing her chin at the fawn.
The newly named fawn turned his attention back to the
pair on the porch, a look of bewilderment on his face.
Maxine flipped through a few pages of the album, seeing
page after page of the buck that would one day be her
husband with the first family he had known in years.
"I'm amazed," she finally said. "You two spent all
winter alone with just deer for company?"
Jon looked at her in false shock. "What are you saying?
I'm not good company?"
Liz laughed. "No offence, my buckish friend, but you
weren't much of a conversationalist in those days." She
shook her head. "No, we weren't alone, though that
winter it was pretty close to it. Karl Eicher, the man
who was there the night we first found Adam, would stop
by periodically. How that old man made it through the
snow I have never been able to figure out. And we did
have visitors from time to time."
"Like who?" asked Maxine.
Ade shrugged. "Hard to say after all these years. Most
of them just stopped in for a few hours. Cross country
skiers, a few snowmobiliers. People like that."
Liz nodded in agreement. "Don't forget the ranger.
Can't remember her name now, but she checked in on us
every couple weeks or so."
"Ranger Gail," laughed Ade. "First or last name, I
can't remember. Took her job _way_ too seriously. Oh,
and we had those guys in the snow tracker."
Liz looked blank a few moments, then suddenly nodded.
"I'd almost forgotten about them! Funny, because they
talked with us so long. Seemed so interested in Adam..."
Her voice trailed off and her face paled.
"What is it?" asked Jon. "What's wrong?"
Brother usually exhibited more caution than his piggish
brother, but when Ade came out with the sack of oatmeal,
he threw it all to the wind. He was bounding toward his
human friend when something in the air seemed to catch
his attention and he stopped. Ade stopped himself and
noted that the other three deer seemed to be intently
interested with something on the road. Without a sound,
all four bounded through the edge of the woods and out
of sight.
Ade chuckled and carried the sack to the porch. As he
set it down, he heard the sound that had scared his
deerish friends. "Honey!" he yelled through the door.
"I think we have company."
Liz stepped out, slipping on her gloves. "Who?"
Ade listened to the approaching sound. "I don't know,
but it sounds like some kind of tank."
As he said it, the tracked vehicle turned through the
trees and up the driveway. The small cab was attached
to a flatbed, it's sides surrounded with wooden panels.
It drove up to the front of the cabin, and the driver
swung open the door. "You the Fords?" he asked over the
sound of the motor. When Ade nodded, the man reached in
and shut off the engine. "Great! We have a delivery
for you!"
Ade and Liz exchanged a look. "A delivery?" Ade asked.
"What are you talking about?"
The man and his friend jumped out of the cab. "The
folks at the grocery store in town asked us to drop off
some supplies for you folks. Said to tell you that it
was a little Christmas gift for you folks and Adam."
Liz smiled, "I don't believe it. I didn't even tell
them I needed anything!"
Ade jumped down the steps and helped the men pull a huge
sack of grain from the bed. "I'm guessing that they
thought we were starving up here."
The big man set a case of canned peaches on the snow and
reached for huge canvas sack of dried corn. "They must
have! It's like you're raising livestock up here."
Liz chucked as she slipped a five pound can of coffee
out of the truck. "Something like that. What are you
folks doing up here, anyway?"
The driver shrugged. "We're into the outdoors, you
could say. Neither of us have been up in these parts
this deep into winter, so we'd thought we'd check it
out." He looked around the clearing. "You folks have a
nice place, too. Are you on the national park land?"
Ade shook his head. "No, but we're pretty close. The
edge of the official national forest is about half mile
down the road."
The big man stacked a case of cans on the porch and
walked back. "Must keep down the unwanted visitors."
Ade shrugged. "A little. I think we don't deal with as
many hunters because of it. Too much danger of
stumbling across the boarder of the national forest, and
the rangers have no sense of humor about poaching. This
time of year isn't a problem, though. It's way out of
season, and poachers don't want to bother with bucks
who've lost their antlers."
The men laughed. "I'm sure," said the driver. "I've
met some of the rangers out here before." He looked
around again. "I heard that you folks have a deer
population out here, too."
Liz nodded. "A few come around. In fact, that's the
Adam that the shopkeeper told you about."
"Must come around a lot if you've named him," mused the
Liz chuckled. "You have no idea."
Liz stopped, her voice quavering.
Ade laid a hand on her shoulder. "You don't really
She turned her gaze up to him. "They knew, because of
me, where to come. They knew it wasn't national forest.
We always thought they'd come straight to the cabin."
"You don't know that," said Ade, soothingly.
"What are you talking about?" asked Maxine, echoing my
own questions. "Did something happen that winter?"
"Not that winter," said Jon, his voice quiet and filled
with sadness. "It was the next fall."
Hot, cold, spring, summer, fall, winter, green, blue,
ground, top, bottom, Liz, Ade... Words. Human words.
To me, they meant very little for the longest time.
They were just sounds that humans made that I never
really paid attention to. The tone of them was much
more important. They could communicate emotion, danger,
and were a very good substitute when the wind was from
the other direction, and I couldn't smell them.
After spring had come to the cabin, it had been time to
move on again. My mate and her fawns went their own
way, sadly. Yet, I knew my place wasn't with them. My
mate would soon give birth to yet more fawns, and she'd
quite pointedly shoved me away when I tried to follow
As I watched the trio leave, the fatter one turned back
towards me and bleated once. It was such a sorrowful
sound that I nearly ran right to him. But his mother
promptly returned and forced him to follow her, leaving
me standing in the forest that was still awakening from
winter's long sleep.
I was heartened by the fact that I _knew_ there always
_next_ winter. I knew quite well that does never roamed
very far. So I left the cabin, left the humans again,
for when the snows would come next.
I knew they would be here, too.
My top priority, of course, was to find food. New
shoots and grasses were always very tasty, and I ate my
way through the forest as I found my way towards my
normal spring stomping grounds.
On the way I met up with a pair of bucks. Quite
naturally I joined the group, taking my place in the
middle hierarchy of our small herd. Only one little
whap of from my forehooves and a bit of stomping had
secured that position, and I had my eye on the number
one spot, though I actually wasn't all that ambitious.
Sometimes it was good to be one-behind the leader.
There would eventually be five of us in our little
group, but that number would quickly be reduced to four.
Very simply, the Head Buck generally acted very brave
and normally got himself killed because he did something
that, to me, was very stupid.
I wasn't the oldest of the five of us because I left
things to chance, after all.
As we moved around our range, eating our way from one
end to the other, we inevitably encountered humans.
Their scents and their voices increasingly permeated the
undergrowth. To my amazement, these four bucks seemed
to have been heading for this place, whatever it was.
During the night, strange light and more voices filtered
through the leaves, along with the acrid smell of wood
smoke. My curiosity overcoming my natural caution, I
took the next step and walked into the clearing.
There were humans everywhere. Tall ones, short ones,
ones that talked in high-pitched voices, others who
spoke in low, rumbling tones. A human-fawn made an
excited sound and made noises in my direction. "Look,
mommy! A deer!"
I vanished into the undergrowth before I really realized
that I'd *understood* what the human-fawn had said! The
epiphany hit me so hard that I slammed into a tree,
knocking myself senseless...
...All I wanted was the perfect spot. Was that too much
to ask? One might think it would be a very easy place
to find in the Appalachian Mountains, especially in the
fall. The hills and valleys of the whole area seemed to
be on fire. Fallen leaves swirled behind me as I drove
on a windy mountain road, a detailed map on the
passenger seat.
Driving in the mountains was quite different than the
flat plains of the Midwest, I decided. My brand new '04
Subaru Outback nimbly met each tight curve. I had to
keep my eyes glued to the road, lest I drive off the
edge of a cliff. "I've _got_ to find a place to stop
around here. There _has_ to be a campground around here
somewhere..." I said to myself.
I found a turnoff while descending towards a small river
valley and had a look at my Thomas Brothers map of the
area. Having been the navigator on the many
stormchasing trips during time at the University of
Oklahoma, Norman, I found pinpoint obscure and hidden
roads to where we wanted to be.
There. At the very bottom of this valley was a little
dashed line, indicating an old dirt road. Once there, I
slowed down to almost a crawl and scanned the seemingly
unbroken wall of vegetation Gold and red leaves were
showering off the trees like rain, the wind whipping
them into swirls and eddies across the aged and broken
asphalt. And then...
There seemed to be a dark tunnel to the side of the
road--a break in the trees--through which the wind was
blowing much harder. If it hadn't been such a windy day
I would have missed it completely. The space between
the trees was barely wide enough to accommodate my car,
but I took it slowly enough so I didn't scratch the
Just past the "tunnel" was a short, but steep, grade
down into a large flat area surrounded by trees. Just
to the right was the rotted remains of a gate, water-
stained up halfway. Once more, it was just open enough
for me to drive through slowly, while I was very
thankful for having 4-wheel drive.
The road curved towards the sound of a rushing river. I
could see the remains of the campsite buildings, their
concrete foundations overrun with moss, grasses, and
other ground-hugging plants. Through the vent came the
smell of what was obviously the old sites of the
restrooms, no longer discernable because of the mud on
the ground, but definitely still smellable. I could
still make out the vague outlines of individual
campsites, so drove over to one close to the river.
It was late afternoon by now, and I was quite ready to
stop for the night, anyway. My feet ached within my
brand-new shoes, and a dizzy spell passed over me. It
took a while for me to compose myself. I _really_ hoped
that didn't mean that I was getting sick again. I'd had
that strange 'Martian Flu' three months ago--just after
graduation--and had been sicker than doomsday for over
two weeks.
Then I thought of the _other_ effect of the Flu, and
took a moment to look at myself. The news had reported
on strange changes in gender, and even species. I
wasn't sure I believed it. Sounded too good to be true.
Besides, nothing like that could _ever_ happen to me.
After the Flu had taken my aunt Ardith and uncle Dick, I
certainly didn't need to be changed into a woman, or an
animal. I had enough problems as it was.
At least now I'd get a chance to use the camping
equipment that my younger brother had given me. I got
out of the car and opened the hatch, and took a moment
to read the instructions for setting up the tent. It
was a simple affair of springy fiberglass poles, put
through sleeves. It was a nice, compact dome tent that
could fit up to three people.
My shoes became increasingly less comfortable as I
finally got everything set up, but I had more to do
before I could relax. I was sweating before I got
everything set up, and the wind didn't help with the
tent, either.
I had to weigh the tent down with everything I could
find. The stakes I had weren't enough. To add to the
trouble, between my third and fourth fingers was a
strange waxy substance. I couldn't tell where it was
coming from, most likely the stakes themselves. But it
smelled oddly like... _me._ As if it were some sort of
fancy cologne.
All the exertion made me feel very tired, and I was
still recovering from that stupid flu from all those
months ago, so I decided to take a breather in the tent.
Gratefully I removed my shoes, the ache vanishing nearly
instantly. I took off my socks to wiggle my toes.
Then I wondered if I'd brought a second pair of shoes
with me. The insides of my ankles were swollen on the
fleshy part, and didn't smell very good. They were
heavy with musk that filled the tent with it's oily
smell. And to top it off, on the outside of my feet,
just above my third toe, was another swollen place about
the size of a dime. This one didn't smell like anything,
I rubbed my aching feet, not wanting to put my shoes
back on. The waxy feeling was between my toes, too.
"Sheesh. Last time I'm ever buying Adidas. I should
probably see a podiatrist about this..." I rubbed the
wax from between my toes and rubbed it between my
The smell was oddly compelling. I took a few deep
breaths, then wiped it on my shirt.
The soil felt very good between my toes as I walked
around the abandoned campground. The wind had died down
to a mere breeze, though it still came in occasional
gusts, which could be heard coming from miles away. It
was as like knowing there was a train coming, and being
able to hear it long before it arrived.
A gust reached the campground and set the branches of
the trees asway. Ash, beech, hickory, and other trees
abounded. Maple was most abundant in this particular
spot. The whole campground was carpeted with red
leaves. I could hear the urgent rattle of woodpeckers
and the chatter of squirrels.
I closed my eyes and took a deep breath, taking in the
smells and sounds of the forest. Time was meaningless.
How long I stood and simply listened and smelled I have
no idea. But the smells became more intense and
telling. And I became aware of things I hadn't known
Like... eyes watching me. Deer. I could feel their
presence. I'd always been a bit of a mystic, and even
eight years of scientific education had failed to erase
that. This... this was home, in a way.
And then... a rustle in the bushes. A doe moved
carefully into view, walking carefully into the
clearing. She held her nose to the breeze, and didn't
seem to notice me yet. The doe's fur was a dark brown,
the white rings around her eyes made her look very
expressive as her ears turned this way and that.
Somehow not sensing my presence, she walked over to a
certain tree, sniffed it, licked the bark. It was then
that I saw that the bark had been well-rubbed, the white
sapwood underneath bared.
The wind shifted every so slightly. Her ears suddenly
went nearly vertical, and she looked in my direction. I
could see she was quite confused for some reason. I
stood very still, while she stomped a forehoof and moved
a couple steps my way, then a few more, and a few more.
Eventually, she was sniffing at my hand. And I could
smell her, too.
I couldn't stand it any longer. I reached out to
scratch her ear, which startled her so badly that she
nearly tripped over herself to get away from me.
Leaving only her scent behind.
Her scent.... her scent...
The doe's oddly sweet scent stirred feelings in me.
They were base, possessive feelings best delegated to my
own few-and-far-between girlfriends. To have them for a
*doe* seemed odd to say the least. Disgusting was more
like it. "I'm not a deer," I said aloud.
I suddenly had to blink a lot as there was suddenly
something in my eyes. For a minute I removed my glasses
and rubbed the bridge of my nose, feeling a headache
coming on. The whole experience of having a doe within
touching distance had made me feel quite giddy. Her
scent still lingered around me, so I waited for the
almost nonexistent breeze to take it away.
Before I walked back to the tent, I decided to do one
thing, just for the hell of it. I walked over to the
rub site, and since I didn't have antlers, scraped down
to the bare soil with my feet. Which made me feel oddly
satisfied. A sort of "Jon was here" mark. As I walked
away I was grinning like there was no tomorrow.
The waxy feeling between my fingers had grown. I rubbed
at it a bit more, wiping the yellowish stuff on my
shirt. "Must be sap, or something," I reasoned. And it
certainly didn't smell bad, so I really didn't mind too
Back at the camp, I dug around in the trunk of my car
for something to eat. This wasn't quite the first time
I'd used the camping equipment, but it was close enough.
I cooked hot dogs for dinner, and had a nice dessert of
some Reese's Peanut Butter Cups. Neither sat very well
on my stomach, however.
I settled in my tent, the sun already vanished over the
mountains. Both of the electric lanterns I'd brought
were on, for I'd decided to use the time to look over my
thesis. My literal blood-and-sweat thesis that I'd
spent four years of my life on, and had only gotten a
"C". A goddamn C. But what galled me more was that Dr.
Bernstein, my teacher and advisor, knew where I'd made
my mistake, but refused to even give me a hint.
However, I quickly found that my tolerance for looking
at the thing had dropped into the basement. I opened up
my hardbound copy, and found that all the equations
amounted to a whole lot of gibberish. Not that it was
totally unusual. Long nights of study had often made me
start thinking that the particular thermodynamic
equation I was focusing on somehow equaled "1".
Which was an oversimplification of the whole thing, and
not to mention totally wrong in the first place.
Deciding that I didn't want to look at it, instead I
shut off one of the lanterns, and turned the other one
down low. It was a dead calm outside the tent. The
wind had vanished, and the air was heavy with humidity.
The silver moonlight outside was starting to be obscured
by fog. And in that fog, I heard hoofprints.
Deer. Five or six of them, probably does. The month
being October, it was at least three weeks before they
would come into heat. However, the bucks would be
jockeying for position in their own hierarchies, staking
out the does they hoped would come into heat soonest.
There was a very sweet smell in the air, and the musky
scent of the deer filled the tent.
The humidity was just about unbearable for me. Summer
seemed to have found a hiding place in this valley
because I was suddenly soaked in sweat. So, I removed
my shirt. Then I removed my shorts. _Then,_ not
believing it myself, I removed my underwear, too. But I
felt no relief. It only got worse. The dead air in the
tent wasn't helping any, either.
My ankles started to itch like mad all of a sudden. I
reached down, and in the dim light of the fluorescent
lantern that was hanging from the roof, saw something
strange. The swollen areas on my ankles had enlarged.
I could quite plainly see long white hairs, growing even
as I watched. "Ohgod..."I gasped, suddenly remembering
the name of the secondary effect of the Flu.
SCABS. Stein's Chronic Accelerated Bio-Morphic
Syndrome. Symptoms: Rapid changes in genetic and body
structure, sometimes resulting in death or insanity.
And, sometimes, complete loss of human mental
Just what did "capacity", mean?
I shuddered. I had known what it meant only seconds
before. But it escaped me, now. And then I forgot what
I was worrying about, exactly. Until the waxy spots
between my fingers and toes seemed to catch on fire. I
screamed in pain, startling the deer that were outside
the tent. But they didn't run.
There was now a very definite *hole* between my third
and fourth fingers. A hole from which a yellowish
substance was being expelled. My nails were a shiny
black, and my thumbs had noticeably shrunk into the
sides of my hands.
I stumbled to my feet, intent on getting into my car and
driving for help. But I didn't get two steps until I
collapsed onto the carpet of leaves, breathing heavily,
unable to even move.
The worst part about it was that I could feel my mind
being stolen from me, one bit at a time. A word here, a
memory there. The building blocks of what made me
human, what made me Jonathan David Sleeper were being
eaten away.
There is no pain like forced transformation. Fur spread
all over my body like honey. There was no pause, and I
could not scream, nor make any sound. Every bit of
energy in my body was forced into making a change. But
a change into what?
My mind, delirious from the fever produced by the
change, was nevertheless still aware of the world around
me. I could hear with increasing clarity, the sounds of
cloven hooves softly hitting the leaves of the forest
floor. Since the air was a dead calm, their scents
surrounded me, enticed me, and oddly enough, seemed to
welcome me.
In my delirium I could hear them speak to me. "You've
always been one of us, join us..." Their voices were
feminine, dreamlike in quality, and very welcoming.
Admittedly, I'd always felt that deer and I had a
certain "kinship", of sorts. They'd become my personal
symbol; and while I was in college, I'd collected quite
a few things to symbolized what they meant to me.
Whitetails were dignity, drive, strength, love, and
family. Deer were me and I...
Now I was becoming one of them.
But this wasn't what I had in mind, at all!
Even as my mind was being taken from me, my sense of
Self remained strong. Which was more painful than any
physical change. What was a "car"? Where was
"Oklahoma"? What was my mother's name... What was a
Eventually, as my fingers stiffened into cloven
forehooves, I was left with two words. I. Am. I clung
to them like a security blanket, hopeful that I'd be
able to hold on long enough to be found by someone.
In a brief moment of pause, when the sun was just
lighting up the fog in
golden light, I was acutely aware at what had become of
my body. My head
had not yet been touched, at least, I could see nor feel
a muzzle. Yet, the rest
of me hadn't fared so well.
Splayed out on the leaves was a hideous creature, a deer
with the head of a man. My ears felt large and floppy,
the stirring breeze tickling their hairy interiors. Two
long forelegs, tipped by black hooves, stretched out to
side of my head. Behind a neck that was now attached to
the back of my
skull stretched a long torso, and at the very end, tail
muscles twitched anew.
It was as if I was being given a final chance. But...
what were those...
I smelled the arrival of the does before I could see
them, for I still didn't have the energy to lift my own
head. Yet, this time, their scents seemed to reverse
the terrible energy loss that the change had sapped from
my body. As my energy level rose, I was finally able
to swish my tail. They were calling me... calling... I
had to.. had.... hadtogo.
And then.... newscent. Buckscent. PAIN! HEAD
HURTHURTHURT!!! I! Am! My last truly conscious feeling
was feeling the roof of my mouth with my tongue extend
forward. My brain was compressed incredibly, yet that
wasn't what made me finally lose it to the beast within
that was now without.
Sweetscent. Doescent. Buckscent. Rival! I... Am...
Getup getup! Snort, wheeze challenge. Otherbuck
staredown. I stareback, lookHARD. Otherbuck accept.
I... Am.... Pawground, lower head. Charge! I....
I sighed, the memory of the dream now clear. "I'm sure
you're wondering if I remembered that dream. I'm sorry
to say that I didn't. I couldn't. The knock on the
head was probably the cause of it, but who knows?"
"Did you remember anything at all?" Liz asked,
"You could say that...."
When I came to, my head was spinning and there was a
really intense pain in my antler velvet. I smelled many
humans, and when I opened my eyes, there were several of
them standing and taking pictures of me. "He's getting
up!" one female said. "Move back, everyone."
I jumped to my feet, and made a move to run away, but a
wave of the oddest feeling I'd ever had glued me to the
spot. Kinship. The word, such an abstract meaning, was
completely obvious to me. There was something about
humans that very simply made me want to know more about
I decided that I didn't need to be so close to study
them, however. So I did as instinct told me and dashed
for the woods.
I spent the rest of that spring and summer, making a
sort of study of humans. I learned that all of these
words that had suddenly appeared in my head actually
made more sense when organized into recognizable
structures. Such as "The man ran." Or: "The apple fell
from the tree."
However, though I could _think_ these things, I couldn't
speak them. No matter how hard I tried, I only bleated
or wheezed. It was very frustrating, and for some
reason, didn't seem right.
I knew quite well that I wasn't one of _them._ I had
more pressing concerns than learning basic grammar.
Such as the damage to my antlers. Though slight, I
could feel that they were not growing correctly. The
left side was heavier than the right. But I could not
know quite how bad the damage was...
Until an incredible day that burned itself in my memory.
It was an unusually calm day. There was a small pond
that the four of us normally drank at, across which
ripples flowed at any slightest breeze. But today it
was glassy smooth. So smooth...
Suddenly I was face to face with another buck, looking
up at me from below the surface of the pond. Startled,
I very nearly dashed away. But once more my curiosity
overcame good sense. I carefully walked back and looked
into the pond. What I saw... I saw... How could...?
That was *me*? wasn't it? The right side of his antlers
was strange. He had too many small tines near the base.
He also had, I noted, a very handsomely shaped muzzle,
two perfect ears, and very expressive eyes. He flicked
an ear, I flicked an ear.
There was no question. That was me, all right.
The rest of that summer I felt like I was on the edge of
something. Something so huge and so abstract, that my
mind just balked away from it. Two steps forward, two
steps back.
Eventually my antlers reached their final size, and as
the smell of the Rut was starting to permeate the air.
And with it, the restlessness and shorter tempers of my
fellow herd brothers. Now that the velvet was off, they
were getting quite rambunctious. Even belligerent.
For once, I had more things on my mind than trying to
keep my place in our little herd. And now that the
velvet was off, I remembered that there were some very
important deer over near the cabin. My mate, my sons.
As I made my way towards the cabin, I wondered what my
little bucks would look like. They would be getting
their first set of antlers this year. And since my
memories were only clear back until the kind humans--Liz
and Ade, their names were--had given me the food that
had saved my life.
I would have to find a way to thank them.
The Rut was in full swing by the time I arrived in the
familiar surroundings of the cabin. There was a chill
in the air. The wind was lightly blowing from the
north. My thick winter coat easily kept the growing
chill out, although I could still feel winter coming on
in my bones. I stopped to munch on a few dozen of the
sweet, fallen maple leaves that were just underneath my
I soon came across two scent-trails, a pair of young
bucks. It took a minute or two before I realized that
these two youngsters were _not_ competitors for my
mate's attentions, but my sons. My little bucks, all
grown up. *And* on the trail of a small herd of does.
Their scent trails followed the pattern of a careless
trot, not an hour old. They obviously still didn't
think of each other as rivals, as the tracks themselves
were almost side by side, one giving the other a turn at
being lead every so often. I paused for a moment, and
snorted in laughter. If those two ever expected to get
the does to respect them, they'd have to act with a bit
more dignity!
Their trail finally broke off of that of the does not
too far from the Fords' cabin. All of a sudden the
surroundings were familiar. Over there, along the road,
Ade would often walk for over a mile in the snow and
biting cold to get their mail. The trees bore the signs
of last year's cutting, with some of the lower branches
all around cut cleanly from wondrous tool that other
humans had made.
There was a sudden rustle in the undergrowth, and I
caught a whiff of my little bucks on the breeze. As
they romped playfully into the clearing, it was equally
clear that they were certainly not "little" any more.
The shaggier one now sported a perfect _eight point_
rack! And his brother, a seven-point. For their first
sets! That... that was _incredible!_
Standing just out of sight, I watched them romp and
cavort for a while, my heart swelled with fatherly
pride. They would be quite wanted by the does... if
only they carried themselves with a bit more dignity.
Does loved that.
I caught a brief glimpse-and-scent of the two humans as
I made my way into the clearing, head held high,
strutting proudly. I heard Liz-scent gasp in surprise
at my appearance. My sons were also suitably surprised.
They stopped their tomfoolery and stared for a minute or
so as I made my way past them.
They fell into line behind me, holding their own crowned
heads high and proud, that I wanted to prance and jump
myself! Yet, I kept myself contained until I found the
perfect spot to turn and face them.
My sons were quite handsome, I had to admit. And to my
amazement, they *remembered* me! Once I stopped my
quick trot, the shaggier one--called Pig by the humans--
walked up and licked me behind my ears, which I returned
in kind to both of them. For though we deer didn't have
language in the human sense of the word, we had our own
ways to communicate.
My sons and I spent the remainder of the day until
nightfall, sparring playfully. They had potential, if
only they could learn to control themselves. Enthusiasm
was good, but _focused_ enthusiasm was better! If they
were to win future battles, then I would have to teach
them every little trick I knew.
When night fell, we broke off our playful sparring and
made our way to the cabin. I tapped a forehoof
expectantly on the doorstep, and waited for the
inevitable carrots. I'd only tasted _one_ in the months
since I left this place, and that was a daring run to
steal from a human child, who cried out even as I ran
Carrot. Carrot, carrot, carrotcarrot, carROT... I
rolled the word around in my mind. Carrot. Wanted a
carrot. Why weren't they answering? I tapped on the
doorstep again, then noticed that the cabin was dark. A
plate had been set on the doorstep, but whatever food
might have been there the squirrels had already gotten
to. I licked the plate wistfully, tasting just a hint
of it. I sighed.
I hit the door once with my antlers in frustration...
and it opened.
With great care, I made my way around the furniture,
sniffing for carrots. I could hear the humming sound
coming from where food-smells were the greatest. The
carroty smell pulled me along, having a power all its
own. There was almost no light inside, so I had to rely
on my nose alone. I poked around inside the food-place.
Carrotscarrots... there!
I pulled open the drawer with my mouth, and ate my fill.
When my rumen was stuffed, I carefully closed it again
with a forehoof, then left the cabin the same way I'd
come in. However, this time I made sure the door was
closed. I grabbed a hole of the knob with my mouth, and
pulled on it until I heard a *click*. Closed.
Satisfied, I rejoined my sons, and we went to find a
place to chew our cuds for the night.
Two steps forward, two steps back. Dreams that had no
meaning, yet I knew they were important. I saw faces,
heard names. All of it so familiar... They were
clearly memories. But whose? Certainly not _mine._
How could they be? I wasn't a human. I could _never_
be one of those two-legged creatures. They were silly-
looking to say the least, and didn't smell too good.
No way I could _want_ to be one of those... why was my curiosity set afire every time I
smelled one?
A familiar feeling awoke me just as the sun came up.
The sort of feeling that sends a shiver up your spine.
When every muscle suddenly goes from relaxed to alert in
an instant. Even before my eyes were fully open I was
bounding off into the undergrowth, where I could hide
and find out just what had awoken me.
The first snow had come that night. Just a light
dusting, not even a hoof's depth. Yet, that's all it
took to transform the world around me, and I could feel
quite a bit more on the way. Pig and Brother were
nowhere to be seen, though I could see the spots where
they had slept nearby, places where the snow hadn't
touched. The leaves that were left on the trees drooped
wetly in the windless morning. All was quiet.
I flicked my ears this way and that, backwards and
forwards. The whole forest was enveloped in a
frightened silence, afraid to move. Sensing nothing
with my ears nor my eyes, I focused on scent. Smell,
the most important sense. I wondered why I hadn't used
it, first.
And then I found the reason why my sons had left. The
scent of two does in heat. Except this scent was
concentrated, purified, refined.
Humans. Humans with guns. I'd been hunted before my
new state of mind. I had vague memories of narrowly
avoiding arrows and bullets. The experience I gained
from those near hits had enabled me to live as long as I
had. I knew the tricks of hunters all too well. And
now, with my new state of mind, it would be even
But my little bucks were only a year and a half old.
They could not know humans, except for Liz and Ade.
They could not know that the heat-scent was too good to
be true.
Desperately, I dashed back over to the spots where they
had slept, and lowered my head to sniff. They had left
just after the snowfall, which couldn't have ended too
long before I'd awoken. Their scents were strong and
fresh. Then I noted the quite obvious sign of their
passage. Hoofprints in the snow, going north.
I followed the trail as quickly and cautiously as I
could, feeling nothing but worry. I risked a careful
trot as the scent of false doe got stronger and
stronger. The tension in the air climaxed, and two
shots rang out. Followed by to bleats of pain that
didn't last very long, and finally, silence once more.
The gunshots had made me skid to a stop in the snow out
of pure instinct. Something that very likely saved my
life. I heard two human male voices filtering from
behind a thicket. "These can't be what? Two years
old?" said one.
"Less than that, Jim. I betcha these are their first
racks! Not bad for a day's work, eh?"
I heard the sound of something heavy being dragged
through the snow. "How much ammo do we have left?" the
second man said eagerly. "And I *told* you to call me
The first man snorted, as I followed them, just out of
sight. "Jim, I'm *not* going to call you that. You're
not a scab. You'll never _be_ a scab. I have no idea
why you'd want to have fur and fangs, anyhoo. How many
doctors have you been to, anyway?"
The subject of that conversation was haunting, even
through the rage that boiled within me. They had killed
my sons! I could smell their blood, which suffused the
air with its metallic tang. Yet... that word haunted
me. Scab... I knew what it meant, but it seemed to mean
something different Then, what the would-be wolf said
next. "I wonder where that big buck is... I want to get
him before we go."
"We've been out here a week already, Jim! How many deer
have we killed? Six? Seven?"
"Aww c'mon, Dave. Just one more and my wolfish nature
will be satisfied."
I never actually thought about my next actions. There
was no moral dilemma. All that mattered was that at
first opportunity I would make those two humans pay for
what they had done with their own lives. All I needed
was time.
Carefully, I watched them from a secluded spot, and saw
they had their guns strapped to their backs. They were
still quite alert, and both smelled like does in heat;
if I hadn't recognized it as too pure, I might've
reacted like my sons. The clothing they were would've
been more effective, if not for the snow on the ground.
Snow... just starting to fall again out of the gray,
gray sky.
They dragged the body of Brother back to their modified
truck. As the snowfall thickened they started the
engine with a growl, then started to make their very
slow way through the trackless woods. I followed.
The snowfall thickened into very nearly a localized
blizzard. The wind howled, making me shiver though my
fur. Any sort of wind made my fur quite ineffective.
Normally, I'd find a sheltered place and curl up. But I
couldn't afford to do that.
The humans seemed to be having a bit of trouble. They
wandered all over the place, through meadows and small
streams, making quite a mess that the snow would
immediately cover up. I followed with growing hope and
interest, staying just out of sight. Visibility was
limited to a very short distance. Everything was
whitened out in the blizzard. However, I blended in
quite nicely in a nearby thicket. I waited...
The first man, the taller one who'd been talking and
doubted his friend was a 'scab', got out first. "Damn
it! You said you knew where we were going! Gimme that
"I didn't bring a compass," the other man replied with
confidence, still in the truck. "My wolfish
He turned his back to me. I crept a bit closer. The
tall human yelled into the truck. "You asshole! You're
" I got ready to charge. "YOU NEVER WILL BE A SCAB!
Now we're gonna die out here!"
I lowered my head, antlers held at the ready, and
charged for all I was worth. Every ounce of anger,
rage, and strength. There was a sickening crunch as the
momentum of my gallop drove the inner four points of my
antlers into his back. He screamed sharply for a
moment, as I felt a warm and wet feeling dribble down my
muzzle. Very quickly, he was limp and silent, pulling
my head down towards the ground. My antlers came free
with an odd sort of slurping sound. I blinked to clear
the blood from my eyes.
When I looked up, I found that the 'wolf' had gotten out
of the truck, and was rather shakily pointing a rifle at
me. I turned to face him, feeling totally fearless for
once in my whole life, hunching my shoulders in order to
look bigger. I took one powerful stride towards him.
"Stop right there! I'll shoot you!"
I could see out of the corners of my eyes that the way
he was holding that gun he couldn't hit the broad side
of a barn. My breath puffed out of my flaring nostrils,
and took another step.
He fired, the shot going wide as expected. I repressed
the urge to shake with laughter. And then the words
game, unbidden, to my lips. "Yyyyouuuu..... Khilled....
My.... Ssssonshss," I rasped.
The scent of panic from the man was so great that it
only fed my grief and rage. He was frantically trying
to unjam his gun. I dashed up and wrenched it from his
arms with a quick sweep of my antlers. The next two
words I rasped would be the last for a long time. "Run.
I cried silently, my head in Maxine's lap hours passed
unnoticed. The memory was so clear to me, now. I had
killed those two men. The first, with my antlers. But
it was the memory of what I did to the other man that
frightened me most.
Eventually, I worked up the nerve to finish what little
more I knew. I took a deep breath. "I must have chased
him for hours, days. I don't remember. When he slowed,
I'd prod him with my antlers. And when he finally
dropped, I prodded his body with my hooves, trying to
make him get up.
"The last thing I clearly remember is the enormity of
what I'd just done hitting me. Perhaps I suddenly
gained my humanity. I don't know. What I can tell you
is that I ran. I ran fast, and I ran long. I ran so
hard that all of my memories were beaten, shattered, and
broken, and I rejoined my fellow deer in blissful
ignorance." I stood up abruptly. "I suppose I should
to turn myself in to the police, now."
Our food sat forgotten on the coffee table in our living
room. Liz shook her head and put a hand on my shoulder.
"Adam--Jon, I mean. Don't be silly."
I flicked my ears, surprised. "But..."
She shook her head. "A year or so later, they found
that truck, with no sign of the bodies of those men.
They just vanished, and certainly weren't alone in that
during that sudden snow storm." She sighed sadly. "And
we'd like for you to know that we share your grief about
Pig and Brother."
I was in non-morphic form, so I couldn't hug her.
Instead I nuzzled her face. "Thank you. You have no
idea how much that means to me." I turned to face my
wife, and then nuzzled her, too. "I just don't know if
I can live with myself... Much less what you think of
Maxine knelt down, then shifted to non-morphic form.
She didn't wear her vodor, and didn't need words to
express her feelings anyway. She gave me a loving lick
behind my ears, then nuzzled my shoulders and side. I
sighed in relief, returning her affections. I looked at
Liz and Ade. "What about you two?"
Liz settled in to finish her tale.
"The National Weather Service reports that a massive
storm that was headed for this area has changed course.
We'll still catch the edge of it, but it will pass to
the north of..."
Ade clicked off the car radio, chuckling. "Oh yeah, I
believe that."
Liz looked up from her notebook. "What, Ade?"
He pointed at the car radio, "That storm they were
predicting is supposed to pass north of us, but I doubt
it. It's already snowing!"
Liz smiled and set the notebook down in her lap. "Okay,
I'll admit it. You were right to go into town today for
supplies. Happy now?"
He smiled, "Very."
They settled into silence while Ade clicked the radio on
to the only other station they could get in this are,
one that played classic rock. They were listening to
the nearly forgotten sounds of the early '90's when the
snow stopped for the moment, leaving a light dusting
over the silent forest. It was only a short while later
that they pulled up their driveway to the front of their
As Liz pulled open the back door of the old Mustang, Ade
spied something on the ground. "Take a look at this."
He waited while his wife rounded the car. "Looks like
we've had visitors." He pointed at some deep track
marks in the soft earth at the edge of the clearing.
"Some kind of tracked truck. They headed up around the
Liz shrugged. "Could be one of the Rangers. They said
they'd try to patrol around here if the storm hit."
Ade shook his head. "I don't think so. These were laid
here before the snowfall today." Suddenly, he looked up
and looked around the front of the cabin. "Where's
Liz's response was cut off by two gunshots.
Ade winced as if shot, then grabbed his wife around the
shoulders and hustled her toward the cabin. "Inside!
Now!" Ignoring the supplies inside the car, they raced
up the steps and into the cabin, slamming the door
behind them.
Pausing only to strip off his gloves, Ade raced to the
phone. "Goddamn poachers..." he muttered loudly. He
grabbed it and hit a speed-dial number. "Gail! I'm
glad I got you. We've got some poachers up here. Could
you..." Liz watched her husband stop, then nod slowly. "I
think so. God, I hope not, but I think so."
Liz left her husband talking on the phone and walked
into the kitchen, stunned. _It's not them,_ she
thought, _It's something else._ She robotically headed
for the refrigerator and pulled open the door.
"What are you doing?" asked Ade from the kitchen door.
"Adam is going to want his carrots when he comes back
around." Liz leaned down and slid open the bottom
drawer. "Where are they?"
Ade frowned and walked over. "We had a half a bushel of
them in there when we left. I remember checking."
Frowning, Liz closed the door and stood up. "Then where
did they... Oh!" She cried, looking at the floor. Ade
followed her gaze to a set of hoofprints impressed into
the ancient linoleum. Liz fought back tears. "Looks
like he got them himself, before..."
The couple silently went to sit on the sofa and wait.
"What do you think?" asked Ade.
Liz smiled as she looked over the fresh watercolor.
"It's beautiful." She traced her finger over the edge
of the canvas. "He's really gone, you think?"
Ade nodded grimly. "Him and all the rest, I think." He
laid his arm around Liz's shoulders, "Deer live short,
hard lives. We tried to forget it, but that's the
She nodded, never taking her eyes off the watercolor of
the whitetail buck looking out from above a shrub. "I
know. That doesn't make it any easier." She walked
into the kitchen, leaving Ade to put away his paints.
Almost instantly, she ran back into the room. "She's
It took Ade a moment to realize what she was saying.
"Mama?" he asked, even as he ran for the front window.
Sure enough, the doe they had come to know as Mama was
looking back at them from the edge of the clearing. She
paused in her observation only a moment to nudge one of
her two half grown fawns back to her side.
"Adam's not gone," mused Liz. "He's right there."
Liz and Ade invited us out to their cabin for
Thanksgiving dinner; we were only too happy to accept.
We followed the older couple up the windy mountain road.
It was all I could do to keep myself from prancing
around like a fawn.
The view out the van's windows as we drove was
disappointingly limited, since I was strapped to the
floor in non-morphic form. Adam was in a car seat,
while Jimmy had insisted on being belted next to his
father. The little fawn boy was sleeping soundly at my
side. Grace had a look on her face that was either
happiness or possibly frustration. Since she was acting
so much like a teenager it hard to tell which. The
scents coming through the vent increasingly smelled like
home. At a stop sign, Maxine turned to face me. "Are
you okay?"
"Feeling better," I replied through my vodor, then
nuzzling my son at my side. I loved my family so deeply
that suicide had never crossed my mind. The only thing I
could do was live with what I had done, or what Adam had
Liz's face appeared out of the window for a moment, then
she opened the side door. "Are you okay? You're not
stuck..." Then she saw the look on my face. Truly, the
woman whom I considered a surrogate mother was very
adept at reading deer expressions. "If you don't want
to come for Thanksgiving, there's always Christmas."
I shook my head. "No, no. I want to come." The vodor
wasn't able to quite convey my sincerity, however. "I
mean it, Liz. This is something I have to do."
The graying woman smiled. "I believe you. It's not
much farther."
"We'll be right behind you," Maxine reassured.
When the van came to a stop my heart started to pound.
My wife undid the safety belts while I nudged Jimmy
awake. My son yawned tiredly and licked me on the tip
of my nose, while Grace looked out at the place had had
been my winter "home" for several years. Getting out,
all of us could smell the presence of at least a dozen
other deer. Liz looked the hoofprints on the moist
soil. "Looks like we've had other visitors," Ade said.
Naturally, I lowered my head and sniffed at the hoof
prints. The deer that'd made them were healthy, at
least. Liz and Ade fed all of those who came to their
cabin. I shifted to morphic form for a brief time to
get a better view of the house. Maxine walked over and
put her right arm around my shoulder. Adam toddled on
his own two hooves at her side. "Thinking about
I shrugged. "Nothing. Everything. Every time I think
my life has settled something new pops up. I'm just
wondering when it'll end..."
"Why would you want it to, love? We've still got..."
she trailed off as, right at the corner of the small
clearing, a buck had appeared. He had a small star-
shaped patch of fur on his muzzle that was startlingly
white. He stared at us with a very confused look on his
face. He had a fine ten point rack, I noticed. Ade and
Liz had named him Starface.
I fell to all fours as he made his way towards me. The
Rut was still on, which made me worried that he might
think I was a rival. But my worries were unfounded.
While the twins stayed near their mother, and Grace
quietly made her way over to the humans, I put one hoof
in front of the other and met my other son in the
We sniffed each other around the face, on the neck. I
groomed his face in a friendly way, he did mine. Then
we sparred a little, the sound of our antlers clacking
together echoing through the clearing. The experience
was immensely enjoyable, and totally indescribable.
Somehow, though I'd never met him, he seemed to know me.
It was getting dark by the time I finally left Starface
to rejoin my family inside the cabin. Inside, I could
see Maxine looking at the painting of myself that Ade
had described, which we'd end up getting as a Christmas
present. On my way there I just happened to walk by a
certain cedar tree. Adam's tree. My tree. I could
smell Starface still ghosting around the edge of the
clearing. My son.
I made a scrape just below the tree, rubbing at the bark
with the rough base of my antlers. The marking
complete, for a short minute I bedded down in the spot
that still seemed very much like home.
For I was home in every sense of the word.

* * *
Copyright 1998 by Jon Sleeper and Brian Eirik Coe. If you want to post this anywhere else, please ask for permission first. Thank you.

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