“Good thing you packed extra blankets. It’s freezing out here. “ He pulled a stack out of the cab of his pickup and moved it to the box where Clara was pumping up the air mattress.
“Well you know how I feel about blankets. You can never have too many.” Clara pressed on the mattress to make sure it was firm before disconnecting the pump. Mark pulled out another stack of blankets and they turned the truck bed into a functioning bed for the night.
“It’s supposed to be a clear night, too. New moon. A perfect night to lay out.” She kissed him on the cheek. The bed making was delayed momentarily while he held her and kissed her.
They cuddled up under the blankets and talked about their weekend plans, dreams for the future, and briefly argued about the absolute best way to cook an egg. They laughed and snuggled, pressed against each other under a dozen blankets, perfectly content while the sun faded over the horizon and the stars came out.
Clara shivered as the temperature started to drop. “I know how to warm us up,” Mark breathed into Clara’s neck.
“Another blanket?” Clara said, rolling over and unfurling yet another blanket and covering them both with it. He laughed and kissed her and she responded enthusiastically and soon the layers of blankets were coming off as they kept each other warm enough.
They heard a rustling, assumed it was a raccoon or the wind, and chose to ignore it. Neither of those things were worth their time to investigate.
The rustling continued and they heard footsteps but the couple didn’t look up. “Probably just some deer,” Clara whispered. They heard a humming start around them and they froze. The sound was discordant and scratchy at first but it slowly fell into harmony and then held steady.
The couple slowly sat up and peered over the edge of the tailgate. Clara was right. They were surrounded by white tail deer, but these deer had their jaws open and were standing still. They continued to hold the note while a doe stepped forward and spoke. The doe’s voice was gentle, yet commanding.
“We have a proposition for you. Our elite force has been tasked to protect Mother Earth. We have watched you for some time and believe you have what it takes to join our ranks.” The deer’s voices rose higher in pitch. “The work is difficult but the reward is great. We will grant you eternal life in a new deer body. You will never want for anything except for sweet revenge on those that harm the Earth. You will have to leave everything from your human life behind. We know this is a lot,” The deer paused for a moment. “What do you say?” The deer collective’s humming grew softer but it proved to be the perfect thinking music.
Mark looked at Clara. She was the love of his life. She met his gaze, and he saw his love for her reflected back in her own eyes. They would never part. They were soul mates. He knew with absolute certainty that she—
“I’m so fucking in.” Clara threw the blankets off and jumped over the back of the tailgate. She turned to look at Mark. “Babe, there’s no way I’m not going to do this.”
“Then… then I will too! I don’t want to be without you!” He started to work his way out from under the blankets.
The lead doe spoke again, “My apologies, Mark. But this offer is for Clara only. You can take your time to say goodbye.”
Clara turned back to Mark. She looked at him all tangled up in blankets, puppy dog eyes, and mouth agape. She found his hands with hers and they just looked at each other for a long moment. They both tried to talk at the same time, giggled, and Mark said, “No, you first.”
“Babe,” she started, and he smiled, “I love you. I really do. But,” she said, gesturing to the deer, “when your purpose literally shows up to you in the form of talking deer, and you get a chance to become a defender of Earth? A person doesn’t turn away from that.” Mark nodded, letting his gaze and smile drop. “Plus,” she continued, “It’s so cool. Even if it wasn’t a noble quest! Just to be a deer, free, running—no, prancing—around the forest? I’d say yes in a heartbeat. There are honestly a dozen ways this could be less cool and I’d still take the chance, you know? For example, like if they were–”
“Sure, yea, Clara, I get it,” Mark cut her off from listing all the things she would leave him for.
“I probably wouldn’t join if they were rats, though,” she added, smiling softly, like it helped. Her brow furrowed, “God, no, that was a lie. I’m so sorry, Mark. Have a good life, I guess? I hope you find your purpose like I found mine!” She let go of his hands and walked towards the lead doe.
“I’m ready,” Clara said. The doe nodded and knelt down, indicating to Clara that it was time to hop on. The doe collective’s humming gave way to melodic cheering. They radiated joy and actual red light, becoming terrifying and beautiful in one move. Clara was ecstatic.
“We will take you to our interplanetary base where several ceremonies will be held before your transformation,” the doe began to explain, turning toward the woods.
“An interplanetary base?” Clara squealed. “Fuck yes!” She yelled as they rode away.
Mark watched the red glowing collective fading away, trying not to think about how Clara didn’t even look back, but her final words echoed in his ears, “I’m going to be a fucking vengeful deer, y’all! This is the best thing that could ever happen to me!”