December 1, 2020

The White Deer

by Ian Madison Keller

“My father thought it was nonsense, but my mother believed in the curse.”

Fairies can kiss my white-tailed ass. I never liked fairytales, even before I found out that fairies were the ones responsible for my “condition.” As soon as I was old enough to talk, I peppered my parents with questions about why I couldn’t go play outside like the other children. At first my mom placated me with vague platitudes of “when you’re older” but eventually the truth came out.

I’ve been cursed by a fairy. No really. There was even a video of the fateful event. My mom let me watch it after finally letting it slip one day. I think it was after watching one of those Disney movies where the fairies were helpful and kind.

The video was taken at my first birthday party. My parents had invited anyone and everyone who was anyone. All the famous celebrities had vied to attend. My dad’s a successful movie star. Well, my mom too. They both had been made famous in the same debut, playing the Prince and Princess on a mega-famous TV show. It had been the talk of the tabloids when they ended up getting married for real. When I came along the media dubbed me Princess. The nickname stuck.

Anyways, my parents turned my first party into quite the event of the season. Everybody brought gifts. You can see them, piled in the corner of the video. Jewelry, perfume, statues, stuffed animals, and more. Lots of stuff inappropriate for a baby, if you ask me.

At first, the video focuses on me. The view pans around to the room as a woman sweeps in all dramatic like. She’s older, in a layered red dress with poofy skirts that fall all the way to the floor. A mask shaped like a crab covers her face except for her eyes. Still, you can tell her age by the tight-highness of her voice, the wrinkles and age spots on her hands, and the slate-gray of her hair that’s pulled into an intricate bun on the top of her head.

She rants about not being invited to her own god-daughter’s birthday party. The overhead lights begin flickering on and off as the woman storms across the room. You could tell the person behind the camera is terrified, the way it bounces all over. You can even hear his muttered cursing in the background. Still, my parents hired a professional. He keeps filming.

The woman gets to me where I’m sitting up in a high chair, birthday cake smeared all over my face and hands. My mother throws herself between me and the woman. “I’m sorry I forgot to invite you. I made a terrible mistake. Please don’t take it out on my baby.”

Then come the fateful lines. “Very well.” Her back is to the camera now, but you can hear the sneer in her voice. “I’ll let the child live. After all, my magic worked so hard to help you create her. Still, there must be a price to be paid. If she sees sunlight before she is married, a terrible fate will befall her.”

My mother falls to her knees, crying, as the woman in red laughs. In the flickering lights, it’s hard to tell, but it looks like her form withers and shrinks until she vanishes altogether. If you play the video frame-by-frame, there was a brief point, a single frame long, where I’d swear she was a crab. But my mother disagrees.

That was the end of the video. Or at least the part my mom showed me. But I could hear the way, before my mom turned it off, that the guests started to laugh as the lights come back on. They probably thought it was a prank. But my mom knew better.

This next part, the why, I didn’t get till a few years later. We were in the kitchen of our underground house – no sunlight remember –cooking dinner. Well, mostly I was cooking under my mom’s instruction, as she slowly finished off a bottle of wine. My mom got drunk, and admitted that after trying and failing to have a child, they tried fertility treatments. They’d sunk millions in that, with no success. At least until they tried some “alternative” treatments involving a mushroom fairy ring and a summoning spell. She confessed that they’d both been very high and not a little drunk. Apparently it had been uproariously funny when they dreamed that a self-proclaimed fairy had actually answered their summons. Quite the hallucination! Especially the way her form wavered from crab to woman and back again inside the circle of mushrooms.

She thought it a coincidence when nine months later I was born. But then, at the party, it all came back to her and she knew it hadn’t been a dream. My father thought it was nonsense, but my mother believed in the curse.

At least I had the Internet. I took all my classes online, and my tutors Skyped in if they couldn’t come in person. It did get a little lonely. When I watched TV shows where the classrooms are filled with kids my age, I couldn’t help but feel a little bit jealous. It wasn’t like I never saw anyone in person. Mom and Dad continued to do movies, and I got to go to quite a few of the release parties, since they usually didn’t start until after dark anyway. And sometimes my parents would throw parties at our house, in the regular, upstairs part. The underground part was our little secret, since no one else believed my mom about the curse.

In my spare time, I read every bit of lore, legend, and tale about fairies I could find, looking for a way out.

I had lots of friends online, and I debated with them about what to do. I needed to get married to break the curse, but, ugh, marriage. Once I hit sixteen, Dad started bringing home some of his teenage costars. Frankly, I really did not see what all the fuss was about. I never really had much in common with them, and they were almost never as cute in person as they were on the TV screen.

My Internet friends would always gasp and wail when I’d tell them this after the parties. “How can you say that about Joshua?” Or “Freddie?” Or whoever the hot new guy was that week.

“I’m just not that into them,” I’d frequently say with a shrug. “Anyway, if I had my wish it would be to meet any of you in person.”

This particular day I was video chatting with Zach. Zach was my best friend, and the one that I really longed to meet in person. She hated her birth name, so she was trying out the name Zach right now.

I lay on my stomach on my bed, head in my hands, laptop set in front of me. Zach was at her computer desk, movie posters plastered the wall behind her head. She leaned back in her chair and put her hands behind her head as she listened to me telling her about last night’s party, and the boy my parents had shoved at me. A boy who’s smiling face stared at me mockingly from one of the posters behind Zach.

“Honestly, Princess,” Zach shoved her keyboard away so she could put her elbows on the desk and her head in her hands, mimicking my pose. “Just pick one and marry him. You can always get divorced after the curse is broken.”

I don’t think Zach believed me about the curse. She played along, but the flippant way she talked about it told me she wasn’t taking me seriously. I groaned and flopped face first onto the covers. “That feels like a copout. Besides, I’m seventeen. Too young to get married. And especially not to movie star. It’s like you’ve never read a tabloid before.”

“You know,” Zach sounded thoughtful. “My school is doing a trip to San Francisco next week to attend the high school national shooting competition. Maybe we can meet up in person while I’m there.”

I glanced up to see the screen, expecting Zach to stick out her tongue at me or something, so I’d know she’s joking. Instead, to my surprise, she looked serious. I blinked at her image on my laptop screen for a few minutes. “You realize LA is in Southern California right? Not anywhere near San Francisco.”

“It can’t be that far.”

I sat up and shifted to sit cross legged in front of my laptop. “This isn’t like your tiny Eastern states.” Not like I’d ever been, but we liked to tease each other. “That’s like an all day drive up there with traffic.” Not that I’d ever been. But my parents had and were always complaining about the traffic. Zach pouted at me and I sighed. She was right though. This was probably our best chance. “All right, all right. I’ll talk to my mom.”

* * *

The next morning at breakfast, I was eating cereal at the island in the underground kitchen when my mom came in. Now or never. “Hey Mom.”

“Yes, Princess?” She opened the fridge and began rummaging through. “I’m listening.”

“One of my Internet friends is coming on a trip to San Francisco next week.” I could practically hear my mom’s frown, even with her back turned me so I rushed through the rest of my proposal. “I want to go up there to meet them.”

My mom emerged from the fridge with her arms full of supplies to make breakfast, and shut the door with the kick of her leg. She dumped everything on the counter next to the stove and got out a pan before answering. “You know that’s not possible. Why not have your friend come to you?”

“It’s a school trip. They can’t leave the group.”

My mom shook her head and cracked an egg into the pan. “Absolutely not. It’s too dangerous until you get married and break the curse. And you’ve shot down every guy we introduced you to.”

“But I’m so excited to meet Zach in person —”

My mom dropped the spatula—startling me so I stopped talking—and turned to stare at me. “Zach? Are you showing interest in a boy?”

I knew it was wrong, but I saw my opening. I bit my lip and blushed. It wasn’t entirely an act. “I am very interested in Zach, yes.”

My mom’s eyes blazed and she clapped her hands. “Wonderful! I’ll call ahead and set up reservations at a restaurant on the waterfront. Alioto’s will stay open late if I ask.”

“Aren’t we both a bit young for marriage? We’re both still high schoolers, after all.” I don’t know what my mom was thinking. I knew I already had her hook line and sinker, but it’d look suspicious if I didn’t put up a token protest.

My mom waved this way with an airy wave of her hand. “Not at all. You meet, and if you like each other I’m sure we can arrange an emergency ceremony that very night.”

My eyes went wide. The train was already getting out of control. “But Zach’s parents—”

“If you do decide to go through with it I’ll fly them out. I’m sure they’ll understand if I talk to them on the phone.” My mom rushed out of the room, in her excitement leaving the egg to burn in the pan on the stove.

“I’m sure they’ll be so star struck at finding out who you are that you’ll be able to get away with it, yes,” I muttered to the empty kitchen as I went over and turned off the burner.

* * *

Zach was so excited when I told her that night. “I can’t believe I get to meet you!”

“My mom’s even getting us reservations at Alioto’s for that night.” I told her, still in amazement that my mom had agreed to this. “One hitch though. She thinks you’re a guy.”

Zach doubled over laughing and pulled her shoulder-length hair back behind her head with one hand. “How you doing?” she said with an exaggerated deep voice and pointed at the laptop camera. Then she winked at me. I laughed.

“But seriously,” I said, wiping the tears of mirth from my eyes with my sleeve. “What are we going to do?”

“I’ll think of something.” She grinned at me, bouncing up and down on her chair in excitement. “There’s been something I’ve been aching to try, and this is the perfect excuse.”

* * *

“I wish I could go with you, dear,” my mom said, kissing me on each cheek. The sun had not yet risen, and the chilled morning air made me shiver in my thin shirt. My mom and dad both had movie shoots today, so I was being driven alone to San Francisco by a hired driver. My mom had gotten a special window tinting treatment done on one of her cars so that I could ride in the backseat without seeing sunlight.

“I’m sure I’ll be fine.” I assured her. “I’ll call you from the restaurant once I get there.”

“Please do that.” My mom said and then turned to my driver, Madeleine. “You keep my little girl safe, you hear me?”

Madeleine nodded, looking serious. She was attending dinner with Zach and I as a chaperone. I told Zach last night by phone, and she had assured me again that she had it all taken care of.

“I will, ma’am.”

My mother gave Madeleine a sharp nod and headed for the car idling at the curb that would take her to her movie shoot. We both waved as she pulled away and then Madeleine ushered me towards my specially outfitted car that was sitting in the driveway. I climbed in the back seat, and Madeleine in the front. She put the key in the ignition and pressed a button. The divide between the front and back seats whirred slowly closed, encasing me in darkness. I quickly turned on the overhead light. I shivered as I felt the car rock as Madeleine backed down the driveway and out onto the street.

* * *

The rocking motion of the car on asphalt combined with the inability to look at the windows left me motion sick. Occasionally I used the intercom to message Madeleine and get updates on where we were, since I couldn’t see the street signs. After what felt like an eternity, Madeleine told me, “About forty more minutes. We just passed through San Jose, and are currently driving through the hills outside San Francisco.”

“Is it dark yet? I really need to get out and stretch my legs.” And use the bathroom, but I didn’t need to tell her that.

“Sorry, Princess. In fact, at this rate we’ll get to San Francisco before dark.”

I took my hand off the intercom button, and sat back with a sigh, going back to watching a movie on my iPad. Unexpectedly, I felt the car slow.

The intercom crackled on, and Madeleine’s voice came through. “Got off at a rest stop. Your question made me realize I need a break, and since we’re ahead of schedule I know you won’t mind.”

I huffed. Madeleine had a point. But I felt petty enough that I didn’t reply. A moment later the car rocked as Madeleine’s door opened and she got out. I was jealous as I imagined her walking through the sunshine. I’d seen it so many times in the movies that I could visualize what it looked like.

However, Zach had described to me about the warmth of the sun and how it felt tingly on your skin after a long day indoors. Movies couldn’t simulate that. Maybe Zach was right that I should just get married to the next guy my parents pushed at me. Not like I hadn’t thought about it before. Quick marriage. Quicker divorce. But ever since I found out I was cursed, I’d done a lot of reading about fairies. Everything I read suggested that they were quite literal, and if the curse meant I had to be married for the curse to be broken, if I got divorced it might come back since then I would no longer be married.

I shook my head. All this was speculation anyway. The intercom crackled to life, and I jumped in surprise. I hadn’t heard the driver’s door open, or felt the car shift like Madeleine had returned.

A voice came through the intercom, along with deep breathing. There was a lot of static too, and I leaned closer to hear better. I could almost make out words, as if a heavy breather was sub vocalizing or whispering them. Then to my horror, I heard the whir of a window going down to my left. I scrambled away, huddling down in the footwell, but I couldn’t avoid the piercing rays of light in the small backseat of the car. After a moment there was another whir as the passenger side window and the partition with the front seat both began lowering. There was nowhere I could go.

I cringed as the first light hit my face. Where the light hit fur began sprouting up, and I screamed at the sensation of it prickling out through my skin. I thrashed and writhed, hitting the door with my back. It opened, or rather someone opened it, and I spilled out onto the asphalt, landing on my back. Looking down at me was Madeleine’s shocked face. I cried and begged for help, but my words came out garbled as my mouth transformed like the rest of me. I held out my hands to her for help, only to see my fingers fuse together and turn brown and hard.

I could feel my legs shifting as well and heard a thump as my shoes fell off. I rolled over onto my stomach and stood up to all fours, balancing on long slender legs and arms now tipped with hooves. I raised my head, flicking my now large ears that stuck out from my head, and then turned my head to look down the length of myself.

I was now a deer, with snow white fur poking out from beneath my jeans and T-shirt. My legs felt constricted in the rough fabric of my jeans. They were already half fallen off, so I pranced about with a little kick of my back legs that threw off the jeans, stumbling as I got used to the way my new legs worked.

Experimentally I flipped my puff of a tail, and it bobbed about on command.

Nothing hurt, and satisfied that all my pieces were there and accounted for, I looked about myself. We were at a rest stop off the highway. There were a few other cars parked in the lot, and a growing crowd of people wandering my way, pulling out cameras to point at me. All I could see, besides the rest stop and the highway, were brown hills full of dry grass and trees.

I felt a sudden urge to get away from the large press of people. Hooves clattering on asphalt, I stumbled away into the brush. Walking with all four legs was complicated, and at first I had to walk in a stiff-legged gait as I concentrated on getting all four of my limbs to move in concert. A while longer and I was bounding along like I’d been born a deer. Now that I had figured out walking, I was able to properly stop and appreciate the sunlight beating down on me. Zach had been right about how warm it was.

Zach. I vaguely remembered her face, but the longer I was a deer, the more I felt like a deer. I caught myself grazing on the dry leaves as I walked more than once. I began to wonder about the cloth around my neck and front half and why it was there. It kept catching on the sun-dried twigs of the trees I moved through. I tried to keep moving north, despite not being able to remember why. The farther north I went, the more houses I spotted. I was drawn to them, but my deer nature was skittish of the humans that moved around those dwellings, and so I avoided them.

As twilight fell, my limbs began to tingle. I found a large evergreen with low branches and crawled underneath, laying down and tucking my long hooved legs underneath me. The reverse of the transformation was slower, but just as painful. Once I was fully human again I lay on the bed of soft pine needles and hugged myself, shivering. I was naked except for the torn remains of my T-shirt.

This was not good. Given my “condition” I’d never been camping or spent really any time at all in the outdoors. I didn’t even have my phone or any way to call for help, since that had been in the pocket of my jeans, which my deer-self had kicked off in a panic. At least I wasn’t hungry. As a deer I’d been grazing on the foliage all day as I walked.

As I lay there trying to think of what to do, I heard a scuttling on pine needles, and sat up in alarm. The sky was the deep purple of twilight, and the light had not yet faded entirely. I squinted my eyes against the gloom, trying to see what was disturbing the dried pine needles. I blinked as a crab crawled into view, the dull brown of its carapace blending in with the dark pine needles. The crab crawled closer, clacking its pincers at me. I scrambled backwards.

The edges of the crab began sparkling and soon the crab’s entire body was engulfed in a blue light. The light brightened and expanded, and when it faded, a woman in a red dress stood there, hunched over, under the bows of the tree. The woman from the videos. The crab mask was pushed high on her head so I could see her face.

“Well, girl,” the woman—the fairy—said, looking down her nose at me. “Your parents thought they could escape the consequences of their actions, but I knew if I was patient that eventually I would see justice done. So lucky that the electrical system of the car shorted out like it did.” She winked at me.

“Justice?” I sputtered, angrily getting to my feet. I kept my hands clasped across my chest in a vague attempt to keep my tattered shirt from showing everything. “How is this justice?” I stomped my foot. “I’ve done nothing to wrong you.”

The fairy shrugged, and twirled, I could see that her feet under her red dress as it lifted were not human feet but crab legs. “Wrong me? No. But your parents never came through on their end of the bargain, and so your life is mine to do with as I wish. Come serve me in my castle for seven years, and in return I’ll see the curse lifted.”

Seven years? That felt like an eternity. And what would happen to Zach, and my parents, while I was gone? I glared at the fairy in defiance. Not to mention knowing what I knew about fairies, I knew there had to be a catch. “No.”

The fairy clacked angrily, and I looked at her hands to see that they had turned back into claws which were rapidly clacking open and closed. “Fine then. Another week as a deer should soften you up.” And with that she disappeared in a sparkling twinkle of light.

Shivering, I lay back down and cried myself to sleep.

A crack of gunfire shattering the morning brought me fully awake. The sun had already risen and I’d changed back into a deer as I slept. Gunfire meant people, and people meant help. Shooting also reminded me of Zach and her competition. The deer part of me wanted to run from the sound, but today I was able to hold onto myself more, overcome my instincts, and force myself towards the sound.

I bounded quickly through the forest on my four legs, following the narrow game trails other deer had carved through the forest. The sounds of gunfire grew louder as I crested the hill. Below me was a shooting range set into the base of the hill. I moved out onto a rise so I could look down at the humans below me. My tail flicked up as I stared down at the group with my sensitive ears pinned to my head in a futile attempt to lessen the crack of the gunfire.

I felt drawn to the little people milling below, though I couldn’t say why. I backed off the rise and wound my way down the hill, pushing through the brush. Not surprisingly, none of the game trails came close to the shooting range.

A tall fence encircled the property. I could maybe have jumped over it, but I was still not entirely used to my four-legged form. Besides, I didn’t want to accidentally get shot. I pushed out of the brush and came into a parking lot. Several buses were in the lot, each one had the banner of a different school on it. As I looked towards the door, a group of teenagers spilled out. They were led by none other than Zach. I recognized her immediately, even with her hair cut short and her chest bound flat.

The teenagers all piled to a stop, gasping and pointing at me. The sun beat down on me from high in the sky, and my deer nature screamed at me to run. But Zach’s staring face drew me to her. Walking slowly, each step was a slow fight against my deer instincts.

Zach was so handsome. Better looking in person even than she had been over video chat. I walked up until we were nose to nose.

Zach stared into my eyes, her eyes wide, her breathing fast and hard. “Princess?” she whispered.

I bobbed my head. Zach reached up to touch me when a door slammed, startling me. I jumped sideways and back, and my deer instincts took over, driving me out of the parking lot and away from the humans.

“Wait!” I heard Zach call out behind me, but it was too late; I couldn’t stop myself from bolting.

A rifle barked and a piercing pain shot up my flank and down one of my back legs. I stumbled, but was able to keep going despite the pain. I staggered, limping my way back into the dry woods outside the shooting range.

“Don’t shoot her!” Zach yelled.

I heard a human stumbling through the woods behind me, which only heightened my terror. I kept going; the sharp copper tang of my blood filled my nose, leaving a trail behind me that the more rational part of myself knew would draw predators to me.

Eventually I collapsed, folding my hooves under me, unable to go any farther. My injured back leg, where I’d been shot, I stuck out to the side. I closed my eyes and panted.

The sun was low when Zach came stumbling up behind me, filthy and sweating in the summer California heat and carrying a compact plastic first aid kit in one hand. She fell to the ground next to me and opened up the kit.

I looked at her dully, the pain making it hard to think. Zach held out a hand towards me, and I craned my neck out to sniff it.

“Princess—” Zach smiled, and I allowed her to pet my nose. “Can I bandage you up?”

I flicked my tail and one ear in amusement and bobbed my head at her. I looked back at her while she worked on my injured leg. My white fur was stained with blood in a trail all the way down to my hoof.

“You’re probably wondering about my outfit,” she said as she worked. I appreciated the distraction of conversation, wincing as she rubbed an alcohol wipe along where the bullet had grazed my left flank. She glanced up at me and smiled, making my heart skip a beat. I flicked my ears and nuzzled her side with my muzzle. She giggled and rubbed me between the ears with her free hand. Then she tugged at her shirt and touched her short hair by her ears. “I dressed as a guy so we could fool your mom. I gotta say though, I really love it!” She giggled and went back to dressing my wound. “I’m using he pronouns now. And I think I want to transition.”

As Zach was taping on the last of the dressing, the sun went down the rest of the way. Zach gasped and fell back as my fur began to shimmer and I transformed. A moment later I lay there as a human again, flexing my fingers to get used to the feel of them after having hooves all day.

“Princess, it really is you!” Zach pulled me into a hug. I hugged her, or him now, back.

“It is.” As much as I would have loved to hug Zach forever, I pushed him back so I could look at him. “How did you know?”

Zach smiled and touched my check. “I’d know those lovely eyes anywhere.” Zach let his hand trail lower, to the last scraps of the shirt that hung off my shoulders. “Plus, I recognized your shirt. I’ve mentioned it being my favorite one of yours. And when I called your phone after you didn’t show up for dinner the other night, your driver told me a wild tale about you turning into a snow white deer.”

I bit my lip and nodded, unable to stop the tears that sprung up. “It’s the curse, Zach.” I told him about my visit from the fairy and her offer of servitude to take away the curse.

He took off his shirt while I talked and offered it to me. Underneath he wore a second shirt that looked stretchy and flattened his chest. I took the shirt gratefully, tearing off the last of my rags before pulling it over my head.

“What am I going to do, Zach?” I asked, rubbing my injured thigh. The bandage itched on my skin.

“I know seven years seems like forever, but you’d only be twenty-three or twenty-four by the time you serve out your sentence. I could wait for you.” He took my hand and kissed it.

I shook my head. “I don’t trust the fairies. Haven’t you ever read any of the old tales?”

Zach shook his head.

“In almost all the stories, time in fairyland passes differently than in the real world. Seven years there could be seventy, or seven-hundred years back here.”

Zach’s eyes widened. “Oh.” He frowned. “So, you turn into a deer only during the day.”

I nodded my head and touched the bandage on my leg. “That guy tried to shoot me. Why?”

He tapped the breast of the shirt I now wore and scowled. I pulled it out so I could see the logo. It was hard as it was getting darker, but I made out a pair of crossed rifles. “He shouldn’t have done that. It’s not hunting season. I was in a hurry to get the first aid kit and go after you or I would have yelled at him. At least I heard the teacher reaming him out as I was leaving.”

“What are we going to do now?” I shivered and hugged Zach closer. “I’m going to turn into a deer again tomorrow. What if there are other hunters around?”

“Come back to the hotel with me.” Zach cuddled me protectively. “You can stay there during the day, at least for the next few days.”

I shook my head. “I can’t stay locked in a hotel room all day. When I’m a deer, I feel like a deer. I don’t know if I could keep from destroying the room in a panic to get out.”

“Shit.” Zach sighed. “Well, can you meet me here tomorrow at dusk? I’ll bring you clothes and try to come up with a better plan.”

I bit my lip. “What if hunters shoot at me again?”

“They shouldn’t. It’s not hunting season. But…” Zach trailed off as I stiffened and touched my leg. “Your white color does stand out.” He mused. He let me go and scooted back from me to take a handkerchief from the front pocket of his jeans. He carefully folded it up into a triangle and took both ends. “Here.” He got on his knees and leaned towards me, wrapping the cloth around my neck and knotting it at the base of my throat. “The cloth collar should give people pause, at least. I’ll bring a proper collar for you tomorrow. We can say you’re my pet when you are in deer form.”

It was dark enough now I couldn’t quite see the gift properly, but I smiled and reached up to touch the cloth. Zach leaned over me and brought his lips to mine gently for a moment, then sat back.

“You be okay alone until tomorrow night?” he asked softly.

I smiled, although I knew he probably couldn’t see me in the dark. “I will be now.”

* * *

I found a safe spot to sleep under a tree and managed to wake up before the sun rose the next morning, in time to take off my shirt before transforming into a deer, but I left on the crude collar. My leg hurt, but not bad. I spent the day bounding about the hills outside San Francisco, munching on the leaves and grass.

As we planned I returned back to the area near the shooting range as it began to get dark. I found Zach pacing nervously near the spot where I met him yesterday. He wore an outfit similar to the day before, and a bulging backpack sat at his feet.

His eyes went wide as I pranced towards him in my deer form. He hardly dared breathe as I came up to him and nuzzled his shoulder with my muzzle. I was still a bit skittish as he petted me, but as a deer I was more comfortable around him than the day before. He stood with me until the sun went down and I fell to the dirt, my hooves splitting into fingers and my fur withdrawing back into my skin.

He helped me sit up, and retrieved a bottle of water from his backpack which he helped me sip from for a moment before offering me a pile of clean, folded clothes.

“So what’s the plan?” I asked him breathlessly as I got dressed. I pulled the shirt on first, then sat down and put on the pants. Before I stood up he offered me a pair of flip-flops.

“I didn’t know your shoe size and I forgot to ask yesterday, sorry,” he said as I stood and slipped my feet through the flip-flop straps. They were a little big, but serviceable. “Come with me,” he said, taking my hand. We began to move down the trail, down the hill towards the shooting range. “I’ve been thinking about the curse and how to break it.”

“We can’t,” I said. “I’d have to get married to break the curse.”

It was light enough I could still see the smile on his face. “I know, that’s the idea.” He wouldn’t say anymore, no matter how much I pressed him as we hiked down the hill. We came to the blacktop and turned, following the curve of the road down into the parking lot of the shooting range. There was only one bus remaining in the parking lot, with a gaggle of bored teenagers hanging around outside it. They looked up at our approach, as if expecting us.

One of them stepped out of the group and approached us, a dark-haired girl with glasses. I had seen her pictures before on Zach’s Facebook page. His friend Emily.

“Everything’s ready inside,” she said to Zach before turning to me and thrusting her hand out. “Hi, you must be Princess. I’m Emily.”

Zach paused long enough for me to shake her hand. “Nice to meet you. What, exactly, is going on?”

“Inside, you’ll see!” she said with a big smile, dashing ahead of us to open the door to the shooting range’s shack.

Inside had been decorated with white streamers and balloons. A grocery store cake decorated with white frosting sat on a glass counter filled with guns and ammunition. Two adults, a man and a woman, wearing an outfit almost identical to Zach’s stood inside, along with a portly man who wore a green polo shirt with the shooting range’s logo on it.

They all introduced themselves to me, but I was so overwhelmed that I blanked on all their names. The woman flourished an official looking piece of paper at us.

“I am now officially licensed to perform weddings in the state of California!” she announced proudly. All pieces fell into place. I squealed and whirled around to hug Zach. He hugged me back tightly. Then he let go and dropped to one knee in front of me, pulling a little ring box out of his pocket and presenting it to me.

“I know it’s sudden, and we’re young, but will you marry me, Bright Heart?” he blurted out, his voice shaking. I winced at his use of my official name. There were many reasons I preferred the nickname Princess, the main one being my official name was stupid. That’s what you get with movie star parents who did a lot of drugs when you were younger. That, and evil fairy godmothers. All in all, I could’ve done without either one.

I wiped the tears from my eyes, and fell to my knees in front of him and wrapped my arms around his shoulders. “Yes,” I whispered into his ear around the lump that formed in my throat.

Crying, he hugged me back, the ring box digging into my back. The ceremony was short but sweet. The teacher led the ceremony, and we both said our “I do’s” before Zach slipped the cheap plastic ring on my finger, and then we kissed while everyone clapped. Pieces of the grocery store cake were passed out on paper plates. Then we all trooped out to the bus. I didn’t let go of Zach’s hand the whole time.

Zach and I sat next to each other on the bus, I rested my head on Zach’s shoulder and admired the ring on my finger in the light of the passing cars. It was ugly, but it was mine and I loved it. “Don’t we need our parent’s permission to get married?” I said softly, hoping the ceremony had been enough to break the fairy’s curse.

“Nope,” Zach laughed softly. “Not at seventeen.”

The bus dropped us off in front of a hotel, and we all retired to our rooms for the night. I called my mom from Zach’s room, and told her where I was. Of course she’d believed Madeleine when she’d been told about my transformation, and had had searchers out looking for me near the rest stop. But they hadn’t realized I’d gone so far north. My mom wanted to drive over right then, but I was so tired. We told her we’d see her in the morning, and then we both went to bed. Zach spooned me and it felt right. I never wanted anyone or anything else.

I guess I figured that’d be the end of it. But no. I woke up the next morning in the throes of transformation. Suddenly, Zach had to deal with sharing a bed with a very large and very confused white doe. There was a lot of shouting, mostly from Zach, and bleats of terror, mostly from me.

I sprinted around the room that was suddenly far too small for my long, gangly legs. Zach managed to herd me into the bathroom, cornering me, and grabbed my head, petting me between the ears and whispering soothing words until I settled down and stopped kicking.

I rolled my eyes at him, still terrified. I hadn’t been prepared for the transformation, and my deer instincts had taken over completely. But the smell of him combined with his soft talking eventually calmed me down.

I lay with my head resting in his lap. He slumped exhausted over the side of the bathtub. He looked at me, his hair rumpled from sleep and his eyes filled with tears. “It didn’t work…”

A clacking sound in the bathtub caught both our attention. A crab crawled up the side of the bathtub to perch on the edge. A human voice came from crab’s mouth as it scuttled back and forth by Zach’s head.

“Of course it didn’t work, deary,” the crab said in the fairy’s high-pitched voice. The crab cackled and clicked its claws. “You had to have been married before seeing sunlight the first time.”

Being a deer I couldn’t talk, but Zach asked her the question I was thinking. “So she’ll be like this for the rest of her life? Only human at night?”

The crab scuttled close to Zach’s face and snapped a claw at his nose. He flinched back and hugged my head closer. “Impertinent girl.”

“Boy!” Zach snapped back.

“Unless she takes up my offer, yes.” The crab scuttled back down the side of the bathtub. “I’ll come back tonight for your answer.” The tap of crab leg on porcelain faded away, as quickly as it’d come.

Zach let go of my head and stood up to peer down into the bathtub. I did too, my hooves sliding on the slick bathroom tile. The bathtub was empty again. The fairy had gone.

There was a knock on the door leading to the hall. “Zach, everything all right?” It was the female teacher, the one whose name I couldn’t remember.

Zach turned to me and put a finger to his lips. “Wait here,” he said in a whisper. He left and shut the bathroom door behind him. His voice came through the door, muffled, but still understandable. “Fine, Mrs. Derman.”

The teacher responded, but I couldn’t hear her. Then Zachary’s voice came again, clearer. “Princess and I are going to stay here until her mom gets here. I’m going to withdraw from the competition.”

Shouting for a bit, then murmurs. Then I heard the door shut, and the door to the bathroom opened again. “We’ll stay here until your mom gets here. Hopefully she knows what to do.”

She did not. Neither did any of the oracles, soothsayers, or other spiritual and magical advisors that my mom had made the acquaintance of over the years that she called for advice. The three of us huddled in that hotel room, the two of them tried to keep me calm until dark.

Finally the sun went down, and I transformed back to human. My mom hugged me, crying. “Take the service honey. You can’t live like this.”

“No, I already explained this to Zach. I can’t risk losing you. Besides,” I admitted, sitting on the bed between them and taking both her hands. “I actually quite like being a deer. You’ve never felt it. Bounding through the woods, nature all around you. No human worries weighing you down. It’s amazing. I don’t want to give that up.”

* * *

So, I didn’t. When the fairy came back, I told her where to shove it. And she couldn’t do anything about it. It’s in all the old tales if you know where to look. Fairy magic can’t affect you if you don’t make a deal with it. She scuttled about, turning herself into a giant crab and clacking her claws at us, yelling threats. But it was all bluff and bluster. Eventually, she got tired and left, and I went home with my mom and Zach.

My mom bought us a hundred acre property out in the California desert. During the day, I bound around my own private nature reserve with a pretty gold collar around my neck. A few times Zach put a leash on me and walked me around the downtown of the little town nearest our property. Word got around pretty fast that the pretty white doe was his pet and not to be messed with. At night I turn back to human, and get to spend the night with my adorable husband.

Zach still does shooting competition sometimes. I watch them on TV at home, wishing I could be there with him. It’s the only time now I regret my curse. He’s gotten pretty good. Made it to nationals a few times. Brought in enough money from sponsorships that we don’t have to rely on my parents anymore.

I love my life now and wouldn’t change anything. But still, fairies can kiss my white-tailed ass. And if I never see another one, it will be too soon.


* * *

About the Author

Ian Madison Keller is a fantasy writer currently living in Oregon. Originally from Utah, he moved up to the Pacific Northwest on a whim a decade ago and never plans on leaving. Ian has been writing since 2013 with eight novels and more than a dozen published short stories out so far. Ian has also written under the name Madison Keller before transitioning in 2019 to Ian.

His novels include the Flower’s Fang trilogy and the four book award-winning Dragonsbane Saga self-published under Rainbow Dog Press, as well as an urban fantasy series with Fanged Fiction. His work has won a Cóyotl Award and two Leo Literary awards. He is also the new editor of ROAR starting in 2020 with ROAR 11.  More information can be found on his website,  He can also be found on Twitter: @maddiekellerr


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