“By my second year in the forest, I was only turning two, but, of course, I didn’t know that. I wouldn’t have learned how to tell time and the days and the weeks, and the months and the years, or if I would survive living here for as long as a decade or more. And I did. How? It’s all thanks to the deer.”
I don’t know why I was left here. All I know is that this is where my life began. Right here in Birchwood forest. I can remember how I woke up here, the sun shining down on my face when I was very small. I remember how I sat up and looked around, and it felt like everything around me was a fresh start. This was the only place I remembered. The only place I ever knew as home.
It all started the day I woke up in the Birchwood forest. I was all alone. At first I was scared. Scared of this strange new place. Scared of being alone. Scared of myself. But then I realized that if this is where Earth put me, where Earth wanted me to live a life like this one, then this is the life I have to live.
Ever since the day when I woke up here, I tell myself that this is home. I don’t have any other history behind that. Just that this is me, this is where I belong. I wasn’t living in luxury, alone in the forest. I couldn’t bring myself to eat anything other than leaves, which I carefully expected for any signs of insects. Eventually I thought I might starve. The only source of water I could reach was a stream, the tinkling sounds of rushing water musical relief to my ears. By my second year in the forest, I was only turning two, but, of course, I didn’t know that. I wouldn’t have learned how to tell time and the days and the weeks, and the months and the years, or if I would survive living here for as long as a decade or more. And I did. How? It’s all thanks to the deer.
If it hadn’t been the fate that the deer had found me, I probably wouldn’t have lasted another week. They had watched me for awhile and saw me abandoned. They came on my second birthday, and ever since then, they had been my family. They found me sobbing under one of the youngest birch trees, the leaves and twigs and grass not been a filling enough diet, and I didn’t think I would survive the next few days like this. I looked up and saw a deer standing over me, looking into my somber face. Then something strange happened. Something I thought no human would ever be able to do. The deer/. It spoke to me. Not the way animals do in fantasy stories-through my mind. It was like a voice was softly speaking to me through every cell in my body. I could feel it vibrating through my heart, my soul, my head, to the tips of my fingers and toes, and all throughout my body. I could make out what the voice was saying, now, as the deer drew closer. I know you’re afraid. I hiccuped a reply. I opened my mouth to speak, but I didn’t even have to. The words rushed out through my head, not through my mouth. Y-yes. I stuttered through my mind, my new way of speaking difficult at first. Yes I am.
The vibrations bounced back to me with the deer’s response. You don’t have to be. And ever since that day, I was one of them. I was one of the deer. Raised by them and lived like them, and learned the ways of the deer. I later found out the name of the deer that found me alone. Sage. I loved that name. Just like the plant my mother used to cook with before she abandoned me. I miss the smell of that beautiful plant. And from that day forward, my name–was Twig.
In this instance, I am reminded that I am loved and probably was, even before I was found by the deer. Maybe Poppa and Momma didn’t want to abandon me, all alone, in the forest years ago. Maybe it was for my own sake, I thought, chewing on my thumbnail, maybe I was in danger, or, someone was coming to take me away! No loving family could let that happen, that’s for sure.
I resumed positive and tried to focus on learning how to crack open a charcoal nut, a special type of vegetation that grows in the forest. I dropped the nut down on the rocks by the stream and waited for it to hopefully split open and the creamy inside would pour out. Unfortunately, this didn’t work the first time.
Sage gave me a look that clearly meant, “Be patient.”
I had to try it five more times until I got it right. Learning in the forest was harder than I expected. Grass, bark, twigs, and berries were all a part of a deer’s diet. I had to learn to live like them, so that was what I had to eat, too. I delved into studying the ways of survival. Now knew what was edible and what wasn’t. Now that I knew how to survive here, I wasn’t afraid anymore. However, I had always been afraid of what I am once I found out exactly what powers I have, but the deer helped me. This is what I mean: At the age of five, I discovered that I was a deer shapeshifter.
One day, when I was down at the stream washing my face, I spotted a fox den and noticed three pups. Where had their mother gone? (It had been obvious that their mother had gone in search of food.) I crawled carefully over to the den and peered inside. I gasped as I noticed that one of the pups wasn’t breathing and leaned in closer. The two other pups growled at me and slowly backed away. I hesitated to do so, but I scooped up the pup in my arms and pulled it closer to me to see what was wrong. There was blood everywhere.
It had seemed that something had attacked the fox pup and somehow had gotten into the den. The pup was dead. I had heard a sound from somewhere in the distance. The trotting of paws. The mother fox was close by. I carefully set down the pup’s limp body. I quickly ducked out of the den, and prepared to run. But, it had been too late. The fox was getting closer and closer, and broke into a run. I ran for my life, but I had never been that great at running.
Suddenly, I felt a tingling sensation come over my body. I kept running and running, as the fox picked up speed. The more space I put between the fox and me, the better. But the tingling sensation reached the top of my head to the tips of my toes and all throughout my body. Then, I felt something on my skin, like snowflakes were landing on my arms and legs. My feet turned icy cold, and my hands, too. I looked back and saw the fox racing after me. I looked down at my feet and saw that they had been replaced with gleaming black hooves. I shrieked and looked at my hands to make sure nothing was going on there, but it wasn’t like anything else was going to make hooves on a human any less surprising. There were hooves on both my hands instead of human fingers. Then, I felt my body arch forward until I was running in the position of a dog (now that I think about it, like a deer). I felt big furry ears and antlers sprout up upon my head. This is where I had realized what was going on. I–was shapeshifting into the form of a deer.
The fox really seemed to have a death wish for me! I thought, as the sweat dripped down my face. Still in deer form, I was trotting away at such a speed that I felt as if I was flying. It was wonderful to be in deer form! A thought struck me then. I couldn’t let the fox chase me back to the herd! I would put all their lives in danger, and they won’t ever deserve that, not after saving my life. I flew myself around a turn and crouched low behind a huge rock. I thought I would surely be dead deer meat, and I really would be if I died as one. My heart had been pounding in my chest, and my legs shook as the fox drew nearer. I watched from the huge boulder as it sniffed the ground, trying to track my scent. Sweat dripped down my forehead, and the nerve racking thought of dying as something I only was once in my life and having my deer bones being crushed to bits kept floating back to mind. Eventually the fox gave up and stalked away, not happy with its loss of prey.
Well I certainly was. I let out the breath I was holding, which I didn’t realize I was, as I was hiding from the fox, worrying about whether or not I would be torn apart by fox jaws.
I walked back to the young birches that the herd lived in. What had just happened to me? I had thought.
Later on I realized that maybe if I ripen this raw power, I’ll be able to shapeshift when I want, not only in a scary situation. I had thought. As I carved my skill for shapeshifting, I realized that if I practiced hard enough, I would be able to shift whenever I wanted to. I realized that when I was in danger with the fox that day, my shifting powers came because I needed saving. So, I practiced hard enough, every day, and soon was able to master the skill of shifting by the time I was nine years old.
Two years later…
One night, on my eleventh birthday, I was up in one of the birch trees that I had carved my initials on, which meant “Twig has climbed this tree” and spotted a light– shining– from a little ways outside of the forest. Then, I spotted something miraculous. There was a garden in the front of the house with lettuce and tomatoes and all sorts of delicious foods for the deer and I thought that if I could reach the garden, I could bring back food for the herd and me to have. I jumped out of the tree and quietly crept over to where the garden was, and sneaked closer to the beautiful garden. I thought I would be able to reach in and grab as many vegetables as I wanted to without being caught, but it was harder than it looked. As I drew nearer, I could see that there was a fence surrounding the garden. It was tall and spiky and it looked like it would be impossible for me to climb over it.
“Oh, honestly, this is to easy!” I smugly said to absolutely no one around me. I stood on my tiptoes and extended my fingers and arms in front of me. I thought about what a deer looks like, the tall white antlers and the slender hind legs. I pictured the whole body of a deer, every single descriptive part about one. This is the way the deer trained me up. Now I do it as if it’s as simple as plucking a flower from the soil. It’s a sweet sadness, happy you have a pretty flower to stick in a vase and stare at it just to admire its beauty. But then again, you miss how you saw the flower, innocent and sweet-smelling, and you know that it will eventually wilt, and you will want to return to what it was before, sorry for taking a life and want to plant another. That’s how it is with me. I can’t bear myself to stay in this form too long, for I know that this isn’t really who I am, I’m the girl who lives with a deer herd, not a deer who has found other deer to live with.
That’s Sage’s title.
With my human form swept away like the tide, I take passion in carefully making sure I use my deer form wisely, only to collect food in a simpler way, so that in case I’m ever near civilization, people won’t send me away!
Well, this time I won’t be in deer form for any of that. I’ll have to be in form just so I can’t tear open a space in the gate wide enough for me to climb through! Then I’ll change myself back and carry as many vegetables as I can back to the herd. Good plan! I thought, as I slowly and silently began to tear open a whole in the gate, carefully not to wake the possessor of the house. Once I had clambered through the tear in the gate (They really could have put better security on it, any animal would be smart enough to find a way to get through to the garden). I shifted back into my normal self and knelt down to reach for the lettuce and tomatoes and any other delicious vegetables I could find. Once I had enough to feed the whole herd, I took my loaded arms to the gate and tossed everything over. Then, I climbed back through the hole in the gate and grabbed everything up from the ground and with my arms full, I hurried back to the herd.
Sage had warned me not to go out again for if I was found I would be taken away and never able to see the deer again. Of course, I didn’t want that to happen at all, so I went back to feeding on the things we had before I traveled to the garden. One night, I became restless though, knowing that we had too many mouths to feed and I thought the herd needed more food because one morning the deer and awoke to a loud noise in the distance. It sounded like the calling of a stag but at a thousand times louder. Then, a few bushes collapsed ahead of us. Our berry grove! That meant that there would be less food for us all. That couldn’t happen! I wouldn’t let the herd starve. That night, Sage told me that the world was changing and the humans didn’t always care for the forests. They wanted their own ways and didn’t think ahead of time how nature could be affected. Then, I knew that if the world was changing, and if groves were being cut down as Sage tells me, then I needed to do what I had to do.
Later that night, I waited until the herd was asleep and slowly crept past the snoozing deer. As I tiptoed past Sage, I stopped in front of her and whispered,
“I’m sorry, but this will do us all good.”
Then I quietly crept out through the tall bushes, separating me from the tall trees that would lead to the clearing where the house was and where the garden was planted. I crept closer to the garden and, planning to climb back through my hole that I made last week, I noticed that it was boarded up. I only had one other option, to dig under the gate and come out the other side. Sighing reluctantly, I quickly changed form in a flash. I began (I would say clawing, but I have hooves) digging in the ground until I had built a deep enough trench to wiggle my body through.
As soon as I felt fresh air again, I held still and kept my body tucked away in the soil, only exhibiting my ears above ground. I heard a gunshot somewhere in the distance. I gulped. Sage’s warned me about human weapons.
“They could kill a deer in an instant.” She had told me. With my rattling nerves, I crept silently out of my trench, and stalked towards the garden. I changed back into my original form and filled my basket I had weaved from tiger grass a few days after my trip to the garden. I was about to return to the herd when I heard whispering voices coming from the house. As I crept near, I could make out what they were saying. I crouched low under the window and pressed my ear up against the wall. I heard a man’s voice, high-pitched and stupied: “Yes, we must cut down the trees around this house if we aspire to build the town’s shopping mall here.”
My eyes widened as I listened for more.
Another voice, low and demanding, responded, “Certainly. And these trees will make fine
lumber for materials to sell in the main mall.” My heart was racing in my chest. Sweat dripped down my forehead. What would I tell Sage? I wasn’t supposed to be out.
“Shall we have a deadline for when we begin building?”
“In a week we may begin construction,” the demanding voice said. “We have a deal then.” My heart was pounding now and I heard the front door unlocked and click open. I gasped and quickly ran around the corner of the house and pressed myself up against the wall. A skinny man walked down the front steps and out of the cottage.
“Selfish man.” I heard him mutter.
He put his bowling hat over his head and stalked away, his black jacket billowing out behind him.
My breath was coming out in short gasps, and my lungs burned. I was running as fast as I could, but I had to face it. I sucked at running. I was still in shock from what I had just heard from the two men’s conversation. My bare feet burned and my knees ached horribly. I skidded around a corner as the dirt flew up behind me and I coughed as in inhaled the musty air. I reached the bushes were we all lived and gasped in relief. Regret filled my body, but I dropped to my knees and shook Sage awake.
“Sage!! Sage!!” I whisper-yelled, careful not to wake the other deer. Sage blinked open her sleepy eyes, and sat back on her hind legs.
“What is it, my fawn?” (That was Sage’s nickname for me). I clutched at my side, a stitch digging into my skin. I panted, and a sob escaped. I covered my face with my hands as so Sage couldn’t see me crying. Sobs racked my body. I always thought I was brave…
“It’s alright to cry, little one, Sage said as if she read my mind. “Now where were you that you’ve gotten so upset?” I sniffed and didn’t look at Sage as I spoke.
“I…I went back to the garden,” I said with a sigh. Her hazelnut eyes widened. I knew that look. To encourage me to go on. I looked up, finally, and told her about what I had overheard from the two men. “What are we going to do?” I said softly, watching as Sage stares wistfully into the distance.
“We must move the herd to another forest,” she said, determined.
“No!” I shrieked, the word echoing off the tall trees.
“Twig, there’s no other way to be safe. We can’t stay here and hope our home doesn’t fall on our heads. We will have no sources of food and nowhere to live.”
“That’s exactly why we need to stop this!” I yelled. The other deer arose to the sounds of yelling. “No, we can’t leave!” I exclaimed. Some of the young deer came over to me and nudged me with their small snouts, as if to say, “It’s going to be alright.” I gave them a sympathetic smile and looked up, ready for a fight. “I’m sorry. But Sage, you saved my life. This– this is how I can repay you. And It’s about time, too,” I said, a sensation of melancholy overcoming me. “Twelve years later.” I stood up, my hands balling into fists. “I won’t let this go on. It has to go down.” Then I turned on my heel, deaf to Sage’s “Wait!”
I knew what I was doing. I was going to go up to that horrible man and tell him that there is a herd of deer living in the forest, there are foxes and woodpeckers, there are chipmunks and woodchucks, there is life itself and he just wants to cut it all down. I will not let that happen. As I grew nearer to the house, I noticed how nervous I was. I took a deep breath and knocked. I looked down at my rags. I look like I’m not even taken care of! Of course I am though! By the deer!
Before I could make another remark on my clothes, the front door swung open and a man with greasy black hair and a lopsided tie approached me.
“What do you want?” He growled. It was the man with the low and demanding voice!
I gulped. “I was wondering if I could have a quick chat with you about the current events?” I asked in a weak voice. This guy was scarier than I expected!
“Do you mean the new mall? Are you here to…complain?” He demanded.
“Actually, yes!” I said with as much positivity as I could muster. “Do you realize that you are building insanity smack in the face of nature?!”
He had no answer for this demanding question, except for a forced, “Come inside and explain yourself.” The man dragged me by the front of my shirt forward into a musty room, where three things startled me. One: a mean-looking dog with fangs that formed an underbite. He growled at me, must have been smelling the deer. I slowly inched away from him. Two: the skinny man with the high-pitched voice was cowering in the corner! I gave him a questioning look which he returned. Three: A girl, about my age, sitting on a ripped up couch, looking reluctant as she held a cup of tea which smelled as the fumes of rotting eggs. She smiled at me, a smile which I did not return. I turned to the low voiced man.
“What is your name?” I demanded of him. “And why should I have trust in telling you any personal information?”
He growled. “It’s Barney.” The skinny man said, smirking at him. ‘Barney’ glared at him and turned a bright shade of pink. The girl on the couch let a laugh escape, and I almost laughed with her when Barney rounded on her. “You may address me by Mr. Barns!” He yelled, wheeling on me.
“Seeing as I have no respect for you-,” the girl shoved her fist in her mouth to force back a giggle, “–I will address you as Barney. Do you realize that you’re planning to build buildings and malls smack in the face of this forest? There are herds of deer living here, foxes in their dens, and all sorts of animals that rely on living and surviving here in this forest.”
“She’s right,” said the man with the high-pitched voice. “If there’s so much life here, then we must find a better place to build our houses and malls, or not build them at all.”
“Yes, I agree with that,” said the girl on the couch. This time I returned her smile. I smiled at the man in the corner, too.
Barney turned pink and exploded at all of us. “Fools!” he yelled. “Who cares about what lies in the forest? We planned all this work out and now we will finish it!”
“No you will not!” I protested. “A great herd of deer live there! I live there!” Everyone stared at me.
“You live there?” the girl asked. I flushed red and had to say something, so I admitted how I lived in the forest ever since I was a baby. After I finished the story of how the deer found me and took care of me, everyone was shocked at my tale.
“No children should be living in the forest!” Barney exclaimed. “We’ll send you off to a proper school and a proper home.”
“No!” I yelled. “I have to live with the deer! They saved my life, I have to protect them!”
“Now don’t fuss, you’ll be happy there,” said the man in the corner.
“No, papa, I think she’s happy here. But I also think that you shouldn’t be planning with this terrible man-,” she gestures to Barney. “-to chop down the Birchwood Forest.” It was pure relief to hear her say that. “I mean, if you think about it, you just destroy a chain of life! How would you feel if someone came into town, kicked us out, and replaced it with skyscrapers and tall buildings, and we had to make a long journey to find a better life, and be scared all the while and anxious you wouldn’t be able to find a perfect way to be at ease again? You can’t do that to the animals living in the forest! I agree with–what’s your name?” She asked me. I blushed at the fact that she even wanted to name and, as a matter of fact, my name is Twig, and she probably has a name that has nothing to do with nature or anything strange, probably a really pretty name.
“I’m Brooke. Named after that stream in the forest you live in! And that’s my father, he goes by Mr. Dave.” She gave me an ear to ear grin. This time, I returned it. “I’m Twig,” I said shyly.
“That’s a great name!” She examined.
“Thanks.” I muttered. “Now who’s with me? Are we going to stop this insanity or what?!” I felt like I was rousing a bunch of protesters. I felt so positive I thought I was going to burst. Barney, through all of this, was standing, his mouth hanging open, shocked. He shook his head.
“I will not stand for this. I am heading into town now to borrow a trencher. These trees will be gone by thursday.” At that point, I couldn’t stand it anymore.
“I’ll be right back.” I whispered to Brooke. She nodded and gave me a promising look. As Mr. Dave and Barney argued, I tiptoed back and out of the house. I turned on my heel and ran. I had to get Sage! I shouldn’t have left her all alone with the others! They need to be safe! And they can’t be when Barney is planning to rip apart our home! I headed for the the grove were we slept, racing along in the deer form (I had shifted as soon as I left), and was now racing along a dry path, my hooves clicking in the dirt. I almost collided with Sage, who seemed to have the intention of racing after me. “Sage!” I exclaimed. I tried to convince them, “I met a girl named Brooke who wants to help me save the forest, along with her father and one other man who completely disagrees with us and still won’t let us keep the forest the way it is.”
“For the first time I’m going to try to fight back with you. We will make sure our home isn’t destroyed. Change back into your human form, so they won’t suspect anything.”
I heard a voice in the distance. “Twig!” It called out. I spun around and saw Brooke and her father racing after me. Sage backed a few steps away.
“You told them your name?” she whispered.
“It’s okay, those people don’t want the forest to be teared down. They want to help us.”
Then Barney emerged from the cottage and came running after us. “He–doesn’t want to help. He just wants to be selfish and unfeeling.” I glared at the long shadow of Barney striding across the clearing of trees drawing nearer to us.
“What is this vermin you are standing by?” He questioned, looking up and down Sage. I could see in Sage’s face the terror of standing in the presence of a human as horrible as this. I, for one, was shocked at these words.
“Excuse you? How heartless can man get if they haven’t grown up knowing the importance of nature in this world? The very deer who saved my life, who, if it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t be here, wouldn’t be speaking to you in this moment, the mere presence of me but a faded existence. I bet you want that, don’t you, me to be a dead goner. Than take me, take me instead of them, instead of the forest. I reached my hands out wide. I’m all yours. Just let them be.”
Sage stepped in front of me, nudging me back.
“No,” she whispered. “I’m so sorry I got you into this mess. And I’ll get you out, I promise.” I said.
“I can’t do that!” Barney exclaimed, taken aback. “I can’t kill a human child instead of chopping down a random forest to make way for the new! Those options do not go together.”
“In my world, they do. But, then, if you are too nervous to take my life instead of theirs because you think society will rat you out for murder, then leave us all. Build your malls, your homes, your tall–rectangular things–somewhere else, in a clearing where you don’t have to chop down my world.” A few minutes ticked by.
“Please,” a tear ran down my cheek. “You don’t know how much this means to me.” Finally, the words came out that would change my life forever. Barney put his head in his hands.
“Fine. Go live whatever life you want to.”
Five Years Later…
It was my last day to deliver food to Twig before I moved away. After today she would go into town when she needed to. I took the small satchel of food I tied it up to all tall tree, throwing the rope around it. As I pulled the rope up so no animals would eat it, I remembered the girl I met five years ago, and heard her tinkling laugh somewhere in the distance. She must be riding Sage. Or living in the tree house I helped her build last year. I will miss her so, so much.
“Goodbye, Twig.” I whispered into the forest.