A Short Story by A.K. Klemm
The fawn folded its new legs beneath the soft tuft of its under belly, collapsing ever so gently into the pallet of leaves under the shadow of the thicket. It was vulnerable, but strangely content, hidden from the dangers of the world beyond the green. The chin rubbed against one of its three hundred white spots, the eyes drooped closed, and the fawn went to sleep.
The doe left her baby tucked in the thicket, confident it would be safe but leery nonetheless. A mother could never be completely sure their babies were safe, but she’d done this before and this was the routine. She wouldn’t be more than a hundred yards off and the fawn would be asleep while she was away, so it wasn’t likely that it would make any noise that would give away its location.
The mother darted off, never to return, unwillingly surrendering her offspring to the woods.
When the fawn awoke, each sound, each danger, the wind, the rain, and all other possible threats forced the deer’s ears to flicker and head to lie flat against its own back. Eyes peered through the foliage, searching for its mother, longing for some kind of nurturing love, while the world outside continued to call its name. Here, little deer, come, come, now little deer…
Leaves rustled, dark turned to dawn and the sun shining through the thicket lent itself to flickering shadows and tricks of light. The spots were an effective camouflage, something to help keep it hidden from the world, but it didn’t fool the eyes of the seasoned hunter.
He approached the thicket in the early light, hoping a doe would dart out so he could shoot. He needed something to bring home to his family, and he was here hunting with others. They were off in the distance, sticking to the trails and paths to the water, following tracks. He was different, he sought out the ones hiding in safety, tucked away.
Quickly, he realized there was no doe. He saw only a small baby deer, shivering in the fog. The shake of the skin rippled up its back, causing the spots on its back to look like a flicker. These spots may seem to be a blemish to such a smooth finish, a lovely coat, but they generally kept the creature preserved for the future. Out of sight. Safe.
The hunter watched for a moment. He and the baby deer made eye contact, taking each other in. She was frightened, of course, but as he lowered his gun she seemed to relax. Somehow she knew what the hunter knew, no harm would come to her while he was present. The hunter’s brow furrowed as a shot cracked in the distance. The fawn ducked her head low with a squint.
For most, a fawn alone does not mean it has been abandoned; its mother is always within earshot, there to protect and guide. Fawns are supposed to learn from their mothers. Sure, like any mammal, they are born with innate survival skills, but their mother is the one that shows them the way. They rely on them completely. But this fawn’s mother was gone. Both fawn and hunter knew that she was suddenly alone. Very alone.
Tiny and frail and being sought out by predators in the wood, the hunter winced at his own involvement. He wanted to protect this tiny thing and here he was – part of the problem. He moved a branch, tucked a few sticks around the opening, and ensured no one else would see what he had seen. No one else would be led here, no one else could spy on his baby deer. Because she was his now. He became territorial. He loved her.
He went home with his party, hung his gun above the mantle, and sat with his family by the warmth of the fire. He didn’t share his adventures in the woods with them, he didn’t tell them what he saw there. The fawn was his secret. He heard a howl in the night and thought of the wolves in the dark. They were rabid and forbidding, the hunter’s mind raced, they’d be looking for meals for their own young. The hunter looked out the window and saw the telltale signs of ice soon to fall from the sky. He imagined what would happen when his friends went out the next morning… Boots tromping down trails, crunching leaves and snow drift, breaking icicles off limbs, destroying what was essentially the little mammal’s front porch… and he vowed to go check on her. The weather itself was a threat. No one is there to keep the baby warm, it must rely on burying itself in leaves, its nest, its nook.
The Hunter’s lover called from another room and, distracted, he left the window, forgetting the baby deer and his promise to himself to check on her. His mind was on more important matters of the heart and she was forgotten.
Despite all that, despite being unguarded, an easy target, improperly instructed on the ways of life… this fawn did not lack instinct. Instinct that told her to lie low, to blend in, become one with its environment and do her best to not raise a fuss or get noticed. She belonged to the woods, and ultimately, she knew that the woods were her threat and her home, her danger and her safety.
It takes a strong backbone to wait so patiently, and the little fawn indeed had a strong one.
Storms raged all around the wood, but the deer had found shelter. Through rain and wind, through lightning storms, and crashing tree limbs, through fires erupting from natural electricity, she knew when to wait… when to hunker down and muster up calm when terrified. The deer, alternately, also knew when to stick her neck out finally and forage for sustenance; and as a three week old could already out run most the dangers the woods threatened. Once fed, she kept a steady habit of retreating back to her nest to rest and save energy to grow. So that she would continue to survive.
The hunter had a caring heart and between distractions would come back to the deer in the wood. He found her nesting place undiscovered by foes and kept a periodic eye on this seemingly timid creature. Every now and then he thought he should try to save her, momentary lapses in judgment urged him to want to take her home. Feed her warm milk, offer the nurturing she had always lacked. Loving souls long to save and be needed, to protect small animals from the scary evils of their existence. Loving souls long to offer shelter, to provide consistency and warmth.
The deer would appreciate comfort and protection; it missed the nurturing it never received. But both hunter and deer knew removing the deer from the wood would be unwise. Left alone she would still manage to grow into a strong force of the forest.
Over time, she found other deer; a herd, a few who accepted her and looked out for her, some of her own kind who she could also look out for. They helped each other the best they could, as a herd will do, though the moment a sound startled them it was always every one for themselves, rather than one for all and all for one. Instinct required this. Survival of the fittest ensued.
To be rescued would have been lovely. To grow up as a pet near a fireplace, cozy and well taken care of, patted and loved like a hound. But then the deer would have been denied the strength gained from stretching her legs. She would have never found her herd, really grown into the doe of the forest she was meant to be. She would have never worked her muscles and grown keen eyesight from fighting for her life every day.
She thrived in the treachery of the forest. She taught herself what was edible and what was not, she watched and learned from the herd what she could when her own experience was lacking. She found her own streams; she frolicked in her own meadows. She found coziness where there seemingly was none. She dodged the bullets of the other hunters and the sharp teeth of the wolves. Time and time again she escaped the terror, found her way to safety some how.
By the end of summer, the deer stood proud. She had lost her spots and earned the right to stand there so tall. She never became the most beautiful – she did not stand out from the forest or her herd; she did not grow to be the strongest – having missed out on important protein from her mother’s milk. But the deer made it. She learned, she grew, and she can protect herself now. She has strong hooves, powerful kicks and she can keep predators at bay.
One day the hunter spotted her in a clearing. She saw him see her, she knew him by his scent. She found a way to both stiffen and relax, comfortable with his presence, but terrified some day soon he wouldn’t lower his gun the same way. There would be mouths to feed, the lover who distracted him that night in the cabin would take priority, something or another would simply be different. They made eye contact, two souls lost in a moment…
She was never rescued, but after all she didn’t need to be – not really. She belongs to the woods.