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The Sigh of Wind

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By Jon Buck

"Once upon a time, I, Chuang Tzu, dreamt I was a butterfly, fluttering hither and thither, to all intents and purposes a butterfly. I was conscious only of following my fancies as a butterfly, and was unconscious of my individuality as a man. Suddenly, I awakened, and there I lay, myself again. Now I do not know whether I was a man dreaming I was a butterfly, or whether I am now a butterfly dreaming I am a man..."

--Chuang Tzu, Chinese Taoist philosopher

It was a strange scent that awoke me from a sound sleep. The smell of full summer growth and fresh mountain air, and the sigh of the wind through millions of leaves. I opened my eyes and saw the spreading canopy of an ancient, gigantic oak above; sunlight filtering through its leaves to fall in shifting patterns on the ground below. Birds chirped and sang. On the branch above me an intensely red cardinal flitted about on its morning business of catching insects to eat.

Unsurprisingly it took several minutes before I really started to awaken and realize that I'd somehow been transported into this serene forest setting from my bedroom in southern California. And even more minutes before, after laying on a bed of soft leaves, that a gust of slightly chilly wind told me that I was completely nude. All of a sudden my hair was standing on end as the cool breeze flowed over me.

I sat bolt upright and looked at myself. Not one stitch of clothing, not shirt, shorts or even underwear. Nothing.

And standing beneath an oak not twenty feet away... a doe.

Her ears flicked forward in startlement, and she stomped and blew loudly through her nostrils. I heard the sudden soft crunch of four pairs of hooves as they bolted into the woods around me, the doe following moments after, her flagging tail advertising the danger of my sudden appearance for all to see. I merely sat there, still too shocked about my situation to really register that she had been there, more concerned with where I was and how I'd gotten here.

A sudden stab on my backside and I practically flew to my feet, yelping in surprise and pain. When I turned around to look at where I was sitting, and found that the bed of old leaves that I'd awoken in had absolutely no evidence of a rock or anything else. The pain had been so intense that muscles were still twitching back there. I reached behind to make sure I wasn't bleeding.

What I found made awakening in the middle of a forest seem decidedly minor.

Right at the base of my spine, just at the top of my buttocks, was three inches of new flesh. It twitched and moved, even as it grew longer underneath my hand. It was naked like the rest of me, but once it was about six inches long fur began to grow. I craned my neck to see it and released my hand. The hairs were long and dark rusty brown above, but bright white below. A deer's tail, almost exactly like the one I'd seen only minutes before, except perhaps a bit more reddish on top.

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Changing in the Forest
(Artist: Caribou / Sara Palmer)

My mind went absolutely numb. This could not be happening! I wasn't standing in a forest growing a tail; surely I was still home, asleep in my bed, having some kind of dream. I rarely had deer transformation dreams, and those few I had I treasured deeply.

I've dreamt of becoming dinosaurs, crocodiles, eagles, fish, horses, dragons, being a woman instead of a man. Some of them made no sense, others had a real plot line, though the details of the dream were incomprehensible. Sometimes I used the dreams in stories, other times I'd just sit on the edge of my bed after awakening and enjoy the feeling, knowing the hyper-real flavor would vanish all too quickly.

Details. I looked around me for a minute, taking in the details of the forest. Where sunlight broke through the canopy, young aspen trees grew up towards the light, swaying in the breeze that pulled at the fur on my new tail. I found it now responding to my thoughts, moving, twitching, the sensation of a new appendage overriding other, possibly more important thoughts of finding food and shelter.

The soil was soft underneath the soles of my feet, and I reflexively dug my toes into it, undoubtedly getting dirt under the nails. The rest of me was none too clean, either. I'd woken up in a dirty pile of old fall leaves, after all. Who knew what else was living in it. I absently swished my tail again, then turned my head once more to look at it.

The new appendage had filled out and was complete. The long fur dropped down a little over a foot, halfway to my knees. Once more I raised it, and stared at the white fur that had grown in underneath, and watched as it visibly spread downward on the backs of my legs, turning russet red once it reached the outside of my thighs, the shade of a deer's summer coat.

If this dream had a plot then it hadn't appeared yet. But whatever else happened it appeared that I was destined to join the other whitetails that populated these dream-woods. The only thing I could do was sit back and perhaps enjoy myself.

There was an unexpected tickling sensation in my groin. I watched the white fur crawl up between my legs like a living thing. My testicles almost seemed to vanish underneath the fur, and I wondered for a long minute if I was being changed into a doe. A doe wouldn't be so bad, I reflected. At least I wouldn't have to worry about hunters as much, and the thought of having fawns was actually quite nice. But there were no signs that I was getting an udder. Yes, there were four tiny teats, but only the vestigial kind that most male mammals seemed to have.

No, I wasn't becoming female. Bucks only produce sperm for a few months out of the year, and until then, the testes remained inside the body. It was only midsummer, after all. The Rut wouldn't start for a couple of months yet.

As for my manhood, a sheath overgrew it, though it still hung free. "Fine," I said aloud with some satisfaction. "I'll be a buck."

The white fur spread in a curious pattern, going up the middle of my stomach to the base of my neck, turning my chest hair almost as white as snow, then paused, apparently allowing me to take stock of myself. Instead I decided I was thirsty and walked over to a small stream that flowed quickly over its shallow bed. I walked downstream to a large pond formed by a beaver dam, then knelt down to cup my hands.

The pond was clear and reflective in the midmorning sunlight. The calm water reflected a slightly distorted human face back at me. His nose was too wide, his ears pointed and too large, his eyes bulging out of extended sockets, and his forehead too low. The skin above my upper lip and between my increasingly wider set nostrils turned a dusky black color with the texture of rough leather. My face protruded about an inch farther forward than it should.

A wonderful dream thus far, I decided. Nice, slow, with the time to take in each new change as it happened. My right ear twitched slightly at the sound of a splash in the pond. A pair of mallards had landed and were now swimming earnestly towards the opposite end, quacking to themselves as they went. Across the pond about a quarter mile, a doe watched over her fawns as they drank from the cool water, either not noticing me or not recognizing me for what I was.

All of my body hair had changed color by now, and was starting to thicken noticeably. My nails had turned black and overgrown the tips of my toes and fingers. Across the pond, the doe and her fawns stared at me curiously, and I realized that I was upwind of them. She stepped out partway into the pond, nose lifted to the breeze. I must have been a confusing combination of human and deer scents, I realized. But I didn't want to startle her, so I remained crouched on all fours, tail held down.

After a while my back started to complain, but the doe was still there, this time calmly eating the water plants while her fawns waited along the shore. She had one ear trained on me, but if I didn't move soon I was going to fall over and startle her into flight.

I fell over anyway when my backbone started to pop and shift. My rib cage deepened, and with it, several growths alone the top of my spine, lifting my shoulder blades and forcing me to lay on my side in discomfort. I lay there for quite a while, perhaps a half hour or so. My visual field widened as my muzzle got longer, ears growing outward from the sides of my head like a pair of blooming lilies. My eyes themselves grew larger, seeming to bulge out of their sockets. With every breath I took my lungs grew in volume.

And then, peace, like relaxing a muscle that had been tensed for hours. My neck had gotten longer with the rest of me, and I found it very flexible indeed. I lifted my head and looked back at myself. I hadn't fully changed yet, but I was over halfway there. With much difficulty I pulled myself up to lean against a tree and take stock.

Every place that should have fur had it. The surprisingly thick, short reddish coat that all deer had at this time of year helped to keep out biting insects. However, my feet and hands still had a ways to go. My thumbs were gone. The middle two fingers had lost most of their human flexibility and thickened considerably, while the outer two had shrunk to mere nubs, tipped with dewclaws. My shoulders were farther down on my expanded ribcage, forearms held against my chest. Almost there, but not quite.

My pelvis was somewhere between that of a quadruped and a biped, my legs held at just over forty-five degrees to be uncomfortable. My lower legs were much shorter, but my feet had mostly taken up the slack, being fully formed cloven hooves already. My insides were making some rather unpleasant sounds, however. Deer were ruminants and so I'd have to spend the rest of this dream chewing my cud after eating.

The prospect wasn't an unpleasant one, oddly.

Being propped up under the tree was becoming uncomfortable. My longer body would be far more at ease if I just positioned myself on the ground and waited, though the fact that my neck was now connected to the back of my skull made it better to reposition myself anyway. A few minutes of struggle I was able lift my head and watch the world around me, awaiting the next and final piece of transformation.

While doing this I realized just how far along my head was. The breeze tickled hairs far above the top of my skull on two sides of my head, starting just above and behind my flicking ears. Unfortunately the range of motion my former arms couldn't reach up that far, so I had to be satisfied with brushing the top of my large, pointed ears that seemed to be able to move in any direction. Backwards, forwards, up, down, even rotated and turned against the back of my neck, an expression of intimidation.

I tried to speak experimentally, but the only thing that came out was a sort of low grunting bleat. I searched the inside of my mouth with my tongue, and found a set of herbivore's high-crowned teeth, with a horny pad replacing my upper incisors. There was a large gap between my lower incisors and molars, and no sign of canines. I was a plant eater through and through.

My tongue was rather long, and the tip of my nose dry at the moment, so I stuck it out and licked between my nostrils, strongly enhancing my sense of smell, though not much beyond human capacity. For some reason a deer's senses weren't completely allowed me yet.

My ears, however, were wonderful. I swore I could even hear a mole if he were two feet underground! Every sound stood out in clarity from every other. The rustling of leaves in the fresh breeze, the song of dozens of birds, the chittering of squirrels and the soft crunch of old leaves very close by.

The doe and her fawns appeared on the edge of my now nearly colorless vision, their outlines standing out from the background as they moved towards me, their ears perked forward attentively. The fawns walked right behind their mother, now big enough not to have to hide while she went to feed, and to begin eating solid food themselves. I remained still, and when I did move, slowly.

The changes began again as she moved closer. My torso and paunch filled out, pelvis shifting my legs downward. My upper arms buried themselves in my chest as my fingers completed their change into real hooves. A whole new universe of smells exploded into perception. It overpowered me so much that the next thing I was truly conscious of was the doe standing above me, looking at me right in the eye.

It began as a mere whisper, but swelled until it filled my mind. It was as if all the experiences and instincts of the deer that lived here were being fed right into my head. They were teaching me what I need to know about my body and how to use it, that I would run when I sensed danger, and that I would defend my honor when the Rut came.

Stiffly, I got up onto my four hooves for the first time or the thousandth time, depending on how I looked at it. My humanity was still present, the instincts and body-knowledge were just superimposed. The doe and her fawns stood off to one side and waited. I swore she had a smirk on her face, though it was more in her body posture and scent than anything. As soon as I was on my feet she walked over too me and sniffed the glands on the inside of my hocks, taking in my scent.

I realized that I somehow I knew this doe. I sniffed the same place on her legs, shockingly confirming this feeling. She was--and had been--my mate. Moreover, this meant that the pair of fawns were mine. They certainly felt that way. Their mother stomped a forehoof and they bounded over to stand underneath me, reaching up with their long necks to lick at my face. If I were human I'd be blushing furiously, but instead I merely felt a goodly amount of pride. The twin fawns were fraternal--one doe and one buck. The buck already had the swirls of fur atop his head where antlers would sprout next spring.

They were also so cute in their affections that I was caught completely without defense. But it wasn't so bad to surrender to them, actually. They still had their spots, and seemed to know who their father was. Very unusual among deer. Normally the buck doesn't have anything to do with raising the fawns.

This dream was getting better and better!

The four of us spent the hours eating, browsing on the succulent summer growth until the noonday sun changed the forest into a sauna, then retreated into the thick undergrowth where the beastly heat couldn't reach. My antlers were nearly fully grown, but were still soft and easily damaged. The hairs on the velvet acted like cat whiskers and kept me from doing any sort of harm. I knew their size down to the smallest fraction of an inch.

As we rested, keeping an ear and nose out for possible dangers, I reflected on this development. More than reflected, because I began to wonder when I would wake up. Dream time could easily last for years before that happened, however. And yet I felt doubt. There were a lot of details here that didn't match with such an idealistic vision. Especially the insects that gleefully bit me right between the eyes where I couldn't reach. I had to continually shake my head to keep them from settling.

I began to doubt that this was a dream. Perhaps a good thing, but maybe bad well. Would I doubt until I could doubt no more, and conclude that this wasn't a dream? And if it indeed passed that test, what was in store for me in the future?

I knew certain things about myself already. Surely I had worms, the previous summer I'd been bitten so many times that the blood loss had affected my antler growth. I was four years old, and had nearly starved to death my very first winter because there were so many other deer in the area that it couldn't support the population. And I knew that in the future I could look forward to more of the same.

Descartes would be proud, I decided. I brought the full force of Doubt upon my situation, questioned every sensation from my body, every rustle of branches. Doubted until I could doubt no more.

I was left with fur, a tail, a pair of antlers, and chewing my cud.

The doe gave me a welcoming nuzzle, wordlessly putting as much sincerity into it as she could, and I knew she had somehow called me here. The fawns, who had been romping in the undergrowth, ceased their playing and rushed over to show their love for me, licking my face like a pair of overenthusiastic puppies. They wanted me, no, needed me to stay with them. It wasn't their fault that I was now locked in this body for a paltry five years if I was lucky. It was just part of being an animal. I wanted this, one way or another. And I got it.

We moved on when evening came. I wasn't really in the mood, but I'd chewed all my cud and my stomach was once again complaining of hunger. I would have to eat for most of my waking hours in order to store up enough fat reserves for the Rut, and who knew if I'd successfully survive the winter after that. So many worries...

But when I looked into the depths of my mate's liquid eyes, they vanished like snow under the summer sun.

The next few days alternated with worry and the exultation of my new body and senses. Nothing but nothing in my human experience could have prepared me for this. I seemed to dance across the forest floor on my four hooves, every step carefully choreographed by nature to be graceful and sure. My nose could detect the subtlest of scents, and distinguish between the smell of a plant, a bird, another deer, or a squirrel. My ears could pinpoint where sounds that came from any direction, like a pair of radar dishes.

We encountered other deer, too. They really didn't know what to make of our little family, but my kind tend not to ask questions and just accept things as they see them. The bucks that I encountered would always give me a bewildered glance at my apparent smugness, then go about their business as if I didn't exist.

The fawns doted on me, and I loved them and my mate dearly. There was something about being a father that completed something within me that I hadn't known was there. A fulfillment in myself that none of the other bucks could ever understand because they didn't know what I knew. Though there was perhaps one other deer who had lived that knew.

His human benefactors had called him Peter Whitetail. An injured, starving buck who had stumbled on their cabin on Christmas eve. Nearly starved already, they had nursed him back to health. There was a doe who lived close by, too, aptly called "Mama". With her and her fawns they had been as much a family as any human has experienced. The book had been so powerful that it merited its own story, based on another one of my characters.

There were times when I slept at night that I dreamt of my former human self, but as summer wore on and the blood within me stirred with the coming Rut, those thoughts retreated farther and farther from consciousness. I was slowly becoming a deer who was smarter than most, but still a deer nonetheless. Our fawns grew older and lost their spots, becoming less playful and more seriously eating their way to gain weight for winter. Often I would pull down branches so they could reach them before I, then I would pull off the remaining food that they couldn't reach, my mate looking on approvingly.

We delighted in doing nice things for each other. Normally does banded together in their own herds of four or five, together with their fawns. But since it was just we four we had to search harder for enough food to eat. Summer was almost over and soon the leaves would turn, the trees going into their winter slumber. But with fall would come the promise of acorns.

And then one day we found it. A stretch of black surfacing that evoked a memory. We'd reached a small two-lane highway where the scent of long dead deer made us more than a little jumpy. To top it off it was getting along towards dark, and what few cars went by had their headlights on. Knowing what this meant I nudged my family to go back into the woods where it was safe to ponder what to do next.

At that very moment the velvet that had covered and protected my growing antlers for the past few months decided to itch. The feeling in them had already deadened the past few days. This was the signal that Nature had built in that it was time for it to come off.

All thought was erased from my mind as my attentions were focused. By the time the itching eased and my mate was thoughtfully licking off what little velvet remained I was too tired to consider the implications of my regained humanity. All I knew was that I didn't want this dream to go on any longer. I was tired of being a deer. The insects, the cud chewing, the antlers, the bad water. It was so much work! And the Rut hadn't even begun yet...

The wind sighed through the trees, pulling off leaves that had already begun to be touched with the colors of autumn that I could no longer see. The gray-green tones of deer vision had robbed me of that human pleasure. But there were other pleasures--and other pains--awaiting me in the time to come.

But when I looked into my mates deep, soft eyes and lost myself in them, and my fawns nuzzled me, I knew I could deal with it. In the time that this "dream" had taken place we'd grown so close to one another that the very thought of being away from them was painful. My mate seemed to know what I'd been thinking, and looked at me with pleading eyes for me not to leave. I could no more refuse her than I could refuse a fresh acorn.

At night I dreamt I was my human self again, going about my business, for all intents and purposes a man. But when I slept as a man, I dreamt that I was a deer, going through the motions of the Rut with my mate, fighting for her when the time came and she was in heat, and present when she gave birth to our next set of fawns.

Now I do not know if I am a man dreaming that he is a deer, or a deer dreaming that he is a man...