Diddling with her radio dials, Tatum neglected to see the sign that read, “High-Beams Next Fifteen Miles.” By the time she gave the road her full attention, the deer was already in the headlights. Her swerve was insufficient to miss the animal completely, but she did avoid direct impact.
Tatum was unsure how long she’d been unconscious in her Ford Bronco, as it lay sideways in a ditch near the road. The vehicle’s lights were on and the engine revved loudly. She realized her foot was stuck on the accelerator and had to remove her shoe to depress it. As she did so, she felt a shooting pain in the region of her collarbone. She turned off the ignition and, with more than an ordinate amount of effort, she climbed out from both truck and ditch.
While the road was rather dark, there was still enough light from her headlights to view the carnage. She stood stunned as she stared at the deer’s two halves. Stranger though, than the animal’s having split into two nearly equal parts, was its extreme gauntness. “Skin-and-bones” seemed an accurate description of what lay before her. She knelt before the front-half and realized it wasn’t a real deer. Tatum had hit two men in a deer costume.
She ignored her own pain to examine the men in the deerskin. She unwrapped them and saw that both, though severely scuffed, were still breathing. Tatum retrieved her cell phone from the truck but found there was no available signal. She also withdrew a water bottle and unscrewed its cap.
The man who had constituted the hind's posterior revived instantly upon the water’s contact with his face.
“Are you okay?” Tatum asked.
The man stared back at her but made no sound. She took the bottle to the other man and poured some of its contents on him. He immediately opened his eyes.
“Are you alright?” she asked.
The front man was silent initially, but soon began to move his mouth.
“Are you okay? What is your name?”
The man began to make grunting sounds, more bestial than human.
Tatum looked over at the back man and saw he was now on his feet. Though he was wearing jeans and a flannel shirt, he was trying to get back into the rear part of the deer outfit. As he did so, he was eyeing her cautiously and slowly backing away.
“Hey, where are you going?” Tatum asked. “I didn’t mean to…”
The back man fell into the ditch. He then lumbered up from it onto the opposite bank as Tatum headed in his direction.
“Please come back!”
The man peered out at her from the riven pelt, then galloped awkwardly into the woods beyond. Tatum sighed heavily and went back to the front man.
As she did have some range of motion with her arm, Tatum thought she probably sustained more of a minor fracture in her clavicle than a full break. But her concern for the frightened man before her made her discomfort easy to ignore.
Her efforts to remove the deerskin further away from the front man met with squeals of panic. She tried to recall having heard the sounds deer make, but was unable. She pulled the skin back toward him and he latched on to it like a child might his blanket.
“My name is Tatum.” She reached out to wipe away some blood bubbling from his nose, but pulled back her hand due to the terror his eyes registered. He pulled the deer head over his own. “I will call you Rudolph,” she said.
Tatum went to her truck for her fur coat then returned to Rudolph’s side to await a passerby.
The schooling process was lengthy and demanding, but Rudy was patient with Tatum. He even learned a few words to better assist her—including, “Will you marry me?”
Soon afterward, a dispute arose between them that amounted to a major blowout. Tatum insisted the skin she wore should be that of a doe.
“No, my dearest,” Rudy grunted. How he wished he had the vocabulary to explain that having buckskin on one end and doeskin on the other would never work.
After months of trial and error, and no dearth of marital strife, Tatum ceased trying to circumvent the system. She obtained a buckskin back that fit his front quite convivially.
Together they started toward the forest, and Tatum trusted Rudy to look both ways before crossing the road.
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