Margin: Exploring Modern Magical Realism

S H O R T   S T O R Y
DEERCAT
b y   j i m   b e r t o l i n o   ~   b e l l i n g h a m ,   w a s h i n g t o n

I WAS driving alone through a national park when I saw ahead about 200 feet, on the left side of the road, a fawn stuck in some dense bushes. It was struggling. I pulled over, jumped out and hurried to it, wanting to help it free. Dense brambles, like blackberry bushes without foliage, had the deer trapped, but it stopped struggling when I reached under its belly with one arm, the other over its back, and gently pulled it up and out of the tangle. I was surprised at how little it weighed, and how silky it felt. It seemed to be a very young doe, not a fawn. Her legs were shivering gently as I placed her in the grass, facing away from the road.

I said, "Go on, go ahead. You're okay now." But she didn't take a step, just looked over her shoulder at me. I thought if I walked back to my car she would probably leave, but she accompanied me, head and neck touching my hip. When I opened the driver side door she leaped inside. I was shocked, yet pleased. I climbed in behind the wheel and drove off, very excited about what had happened and not at all sure what to do next.

Within a half mile or so one of the park rangers passed me in a green truck going the other way. The ranger obviously noticed the deer in my car, because he quickly turned his truck around and came up behind me with emergency lights flashing. I pulled over and he ran to my open window.

"Hey! You can't take that deer out of here! Get in my truck -- and bring the deer."

I got in on the passenger side, putting the deer between me and the ranger. I had my arm around her, and she was nuzzling my face. I tried to tell the ranger my story, but he didn't seem to want to hear it, averting his face when I described how the doe had followed me and then jumped in my car. After a few minutes of silence, he said, "You're coming home with me -- they gotta see this."

Judging from how he looked, and by his accent, I knew he was Native American, and sure enough, before we had gone far he turned down a reservation road and pulled into a big gravel parking lot with a few houses and shops scattered around three sides. The river and a crude boat launch were on the open side.

Kids came running as we got out of the truck. I stood there with the deer leaning against me, looking up at my face. The kids were very excited and full of questions. I tried my best to answer one question before being barraged with five more.

An old man, who impressed me as being one of the tribal elders, came up to touch the deer, then stood in front of me with the ranger, talking about anything but the animal. They were being very witty, and every now and then appeared to sneak looks at the deer.

It suddenly occurred to me that they were showing off for her, that they thought she was a spirit deer, because no normal deer would act the way it had, and I guessed they wanted to impress the spirit -- maybe to make a connection.

Meanwhile I needed to get home; my wife was expecting me, and I wanted the ranger to take me back to my car. He told me to wait in his truck, that we'd be going soon. Getting in, I discovered the deer was following me in like it had before.

One of us must have bumped the emergency brake or knocked the transmission out of gear in the process, because the vehicle began to roll backwards, toward the boat ramp into the river. I was trying everything I could think of to stop it, but nothing worked. The ranger, his elder friend, and the kids were all running after us as we picked up speed. I was worried for both myself and the deer, and decided we had to jump.

With one arm I gathered up the tiny animal by enclosing all four of its legs, and with the other arm, I threw open the door. We leaped clear just as the truck went splashing into the strong current. I turned in time to see the top of the truck disappear under the surface, turning from dark green to bright yellow.

The others surrounded me with oddly pleased expressions on their faces. I looked down and was very surprised to see the deer had changed into a completely white cat, with silky, short hair.

The next thing I knew the bright yellow truck was being driven up another ramp about 100 yards down river, engine roaring, water splashing off the sides and out the rear bed. I turned to the ranger and, shaking my head, asked "How the hell did you do that?"

"I told my uncle if he could get the truck out of the river he could have it. He can do anything he puts his mind to!" and the ranger laughed.

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