Hunter's Moon

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Author: Jon Buck

It was cold and quiet up in the tree stand. Trying to remain as still as possible thirty feet up on a leafless oak, exposed to the unseasonably cold fall wind wasn't exactly Anne's idea of fun. But hunting had been a thrill ever since her father had taken her out when she was twelve. There was something she just couldn't put her finger on, an intimacy with nature. Hunting was practically a family ritual.

Sitting in his own tree about two hundred feet away, Marcus Pullman was also focused on remaining quiet. He'd already seen several deer, but could never get a bead on them in time. There were many bucks with large racks, but he resisted pulling the trigger on his brand new rifle. They were out to get a doe, not a buck. He liked to think of himself as a wolf, culling the herd so it would become much healthier. He thanked Becka Higgins, a girl who was also in the gun club his girlfriend and he belonged to. She had recommended this spot highly.

While waiting he reached into his pocket and pulled out a small box, opening it. A small diamond glinted in the late afternoon sunlight. It wasn't much, but it was all he could afford. He kept on repeating the phrase in his mind. Anne, will you marry me. Anne, will you be my wife? Anne... Their relationship was already three years old. He had bought the ring almost a year before, at first quite intent on proposing. But now he was reduced to waiting for the right moment that never seemed to present itself.

As a couple they weren't much to look at, both in their mid-twenties, dark-haired, and with no more than an Associate degree. To any other man Anne was vanish-into-a-crowd average, and his previous girlfriends had always complained that he should shower more often and keep his patchy beard trimmed. They said it made him look like a "scruffy animal". But Anne had never complained. She even liked his name. His father had been a history nut and had named him Marcus Aureleus Pullman. The only things he knew about him was from the movie "Gladiator".

Movement below. Marcus put the ring away and put the gun sight up to his eye, aiming carefully at a doe that had come into the small meadow where he was staked out. She was just standing there, idly nibbling on a dead twig. A large animal, she had obviously already birthed quite a few fawns. But for a half instant before he pulled the trigger, Marcus swore he saw her wink at him.

Over in her tree Anne heard the shot, and then Marcus yelled for her to come down and help him. I wish he'd ask more politely. But I guess I'd be feeling the same way... They usually only took a single deer between them. The year before Anne had been the one, and it was only fair that this year that her boyfriend-nee-fiancée should have his turn But she couldn't help but feel a little pang of jealousy. She hadn't seen anything all day.

They field dressed the animal, leaving its innards for the coyotes to snack on. Once back at their shared house--they did indeed live together--they'd skin it and take the best cuts of meat for steaks, then make jerky out of the rest. They were typically in venison jerky for months afterwards, and Marcus made it perfectly. He was all smiles as he pulled the dead doe on a wheeled cart back towards their aging Ford F150 pickup. "She's a beaut, isn't she?"

"You sure got her good," Anne agreed. "Awful lot of blood, though. It's going to take some washing to get it out of our clothes." And my hands. Geez, it even got under the gloves. "Maybe when we get home we can try the medieval 'Unmaking' ceremony I found in that book."

"What?" Marcus was slowing down a little. He'd gotten even more blood on himself than Anne had, and now looked a little sick.

"Are you coming down with something?"

He shrugged noncommittally. "I felt fine an hour ago."

"Well, there's some medicine in the truck with the camping gear."

They were on their way a half hour later, bouncing along a dirt track towards the paved main road that was at least five miles away. But Marcus was getting worse. He looked like he was positively in pain. By then Anne was feeling a little sick, mostly to her stomach, thankfully not enough to keep her from doing the driving. But they were still at least a mile from the main road. "Do you need more Pepto, hon?" she asked, thinking she could use some for herself.

"I think I'm coming down with the flu," he replied, beard looking scruffier than normal. It also had an almost reddish tint to it, Anne put it to the encroaching sunset. "Glad it happened after our yearly thing, though."

"So am I," she agreed. Theirs wasn't a perfect relationship, but she loved him all the same. She was hoping he'd eventually get over his cold feet. But then, she'd been hoping that for two years. They had met at a gun club meeting three years before and found a mutual interest in hunting. Since then, every year for the past three they had taken a single doe. Not a buck, there were plenty of hunters out to plug the perfect animal and take the head as a trophy. All they wanted was food.

The load was flopping around a lot more than it should. Anne thought that it was the rutted, pot-holed road that was doing it, but something felt strange. The ropes had been tied very tightly. Her hopeful fiancée was almost doubled over with this head resting against the dash. I'll have to get him to the emergency room...

Was it food poisoning? They'd eaten canned food all weekend, including a dented can of corned beef hash that she was sure was okay. As her stomach started to roil she cursed herself for being so sure. They were at least thirty miles from the nearest hospital. "Think we're in range enough for the cellphone?" said Marcus.

"Maybe, but they're in the bags in back. I'll have to stop." She felt hot and was sweating under her winter coat. Her skin was starting to itch like crazy with what felt like a bad rash, concentrated at four points on her lower abdomen. After stopping alongside the road, she left her husband and walked around to the back, then opened the shell's rear window.

Looking back at her, sitting cross-legged where the body of the doe once lay, was a woman. She was wrapped in a blanket, and had the strangest eyes Anne had ever seen. They were... like a...

A doe's.

"So," she said with a smile. She had a familiar face, but Anne couldn't quite place it at the moment. It was missing something. "Where's that handsome stag of a boyfriend of yours?"

Anne was so startled that she nearly forgot just how bad she was feeling. The itching had moved from her stomach to spots on her nose, ears, and at the very top of her behind. The doe-eyed woman just smiled at her as she stumbled backwards, nearly falling down in the process. Anne's wits finally returned and she recognized her. "Becka? What... how did..."

Becka Higgins kept smiling. She invariably wore dark glasses to the gun club meetings, now Anne knew why. "That was a nice shot he made, too. I was 'dead' in seconds."

More itching, this time around her nipples. She absently reached up to scratch them and found that her breasts didn't nearly fill her bra. In fact, she was nearly as flat-chested as a man, and her nipples were simply gone. Her ears twitched.

The passenger-side door came open. Out stumbled a man with a distorted head, furiously trying to unto his pants, already having thrown off his jacket. Anne watched with morbid fascination as with each passing moment, her boyfriend's head came to more and more resemble a buck's. Antlers were branching out from the sides of his shrinking forehead, just above and behind his growing ears. And once his pants and underwear were off, Anne couldn't help but notice the tail. It was bright white underneath and flagging back-and-forth. The woman looked at him through a window. "Handsome, and getting better looking by the moment," she said in a dreamy voice. "Oh, I would follow his example. You're going to join him in a few minutes," she said offhandedly, not taking her eyes off of Marcus.

Anne suddenly became aware of a lot of aches and pains, and the sweat that matted her hair to her head even as it started to change. She took the advice because it made too much sense not to. Once she reached her T-shirt she noticed that her torso seemed longer, deeper. Her breasts were completely gone, replaced, she found out, by an udder that had appeared between her legs. There were four prominent teats where once there was nothing, covered in a thin coat of long white fur.

By now Marcus was having trouble standing on two feet, and he no longer had real hands. The changes that were happening to her head and the rest of her body drove rational thought from her mind. Her sense of smell exploded into thousands upon thousands of different scents; she felt her hands--forehooves, now--touch the ground, new tail swishing. Most color bled out of her vision, replaced by an unreal sharpness to every rock and tree, in a huge field of view. She could see the tips of her ears without thinking about it.

When she finally regained her faculties--and none seemed to be lost--she found her boyfriend-now-stag seemingly admiring his antlers in one of the pickup shell's windows. Anne realized she was, after she took a moment to look back at herself, a doe. What else would I be? Becka still sat on the edge of the truck's opened rear gate, but she didn't quite look the way she used to. She now appeared in a form that aesthetically mixed deer and human features.

Anne blew through her nostrils and stamped a forehoof at her. She heard herself say, "What in God's name are you?" although her lips didn't quite form the words. She heard English, yet seemed to have spoken mostly though body language and what was probably scent.

"I had hoped you wouldn't panic," she said. "But it should be obvious what I am--and what you now are. A weredeer."

"But you were dead!" Marcus declared with a snort-stomp of his own. "We even..."

"Gutted me? Believe me, you don't want to know how much energy it takes to grow it all back. It's horrible, but necessary. Anyway..." She slid off the back of the truck, then just as easily onto four hooves, as if she were simply putting on a pair of pants. She walked over to Marcus and sniffed a few times, giving his twelve-point antlers an appraising look. "My, you turned out just as good as I hoped." Marcus flicked his ears and took a step back, surprised but obviously attracted to her.

It was obvious to Anne just why this had happened. The weredeer had wanted her husband for some perverted reason. She felt the need to at least say something. "You can't have him, he's mine!"

"And here I thought we could share him," she said, crestfallen. "See, there are two ways that we weredeer perpetuate ourselves. The first is rather painful and I'd rather not do it again."

"I was wondering why that doe was just standing there out in the open. It seemed too easy," said Marcus. "There was blood all over the place..."

"The blood holds the infection. That's the first method. The second..." She coyly walked up against the stag's side and gave him a little lick on the neck. Marcus gave Anne a rather helpless look, then lip-curled.

"You've had your eye on him for a year!" Anne exclaimed.

"There is no marriage among weredeer," Becka insisted. "I respect your love for him, but I think you should let him have feelings for me also." She licked his ears. Marcus didn't even have the decency to seem like he didn't enjoy it.

Anne couldn't resist it any more. She walked up to Becka and gave her a hard thump on the shoulder with a forehoof. "Stay away from my future husband!" she snorted.

Becka fought back with a light rap on the other shoulder. "He's ours you ninny! Do think we have to act like silly humans? Ha!"

Things went downhill from there.

Marcus simply stood to one side while letting the two does fight over him. He was actually quite happy with himself. What man wouldn't want to be a large, virile stag with two does fighting over him? The irony wasn't lost on him at all. Besides, they smelled incredible, and he really didn't want to come between them. They might decide that he was the object of their anger. Anne had been rather obvious in her hints lately, but they'd always given him cold feet. How would he know if the moment was right?

But now he had to deal with this. Surprisingly he rather liked the idea of being a weredeer. It sort of... fit. Sort of like finding a pair of gloves you didn't know you needed, but now couldn't live without.

He realized there were still hunters in these woods. "Uh... ladies, I think we should find someplace a bit less open, there could be hunters in the area," he grunted. I'm surprised we haven't seen any already...

"We're in no danger here," Becka declared, circling Anne for an opening. "I'm the one who told you to come out here, remember? This is the clan's lands and we control them very tightly..."

"You did this on purpose!" Anne accused, ears pinned to her neck angrily.

"Look, we have to add to our numbers somehow. Werewolves bite people, we don't have that luxury. And besides, you shot me, remember? I can't even tell you how much that hurts. You owe me!"

"And I'd do it again, myself..." Anne snapped.

"Anne, be quiet," said Marcus. His girlfriend (doefriend?) gave him a startled look, but she grudgingly obeyed. He looked at Becka. "That was a dirty trick you pulled, but I'm sort of glad you did..."

"I knew you'd think that," said the weredoe. "I knew the moment I saw you that you were a natural." She gave a derisive look to Anne. "And her, too."

His girlfriend wasn't going to like what he said next. "And I really think I should give Becka a fair shake."

"What?!" exclaimed Anne.

"A fair what?!" added Becka at the same time.

"I meant what I said. Besides, she's rather cute as a human, and smells very nice as a doe. But that doesn't mean I'm going to dump you, Anne."

"Good. Then I'm free to dump you," Anne said, but knew a half second later that she really didn't mean it. And by his smell, Marcus knew also. "Fine."

"Just what I wanted, a love triangle. Now we're living a soap opera," bleated Becka.

"Now that that's taken care of, on to business. Can we even change back?"

"Oh, there's no problem with that. You'll just have to spend a couple nights out of the month in deer form under your auspice--the phase of the moon you changed under. Otherwise we have complete control over our shapes and we can change whenever we feel like it. Well, almost. We sort of have to hide our eyes. They don't look human. And there's the hair, too... It's more like fur. And then there's headlights..."

There seemed to be a lot of "ands". "Okay, okay. Let's just try to get through the night, okay?" The night, the next day, the week, the month... What have I gotten myself into?