The Stranger in the Forest

A strange deer has come into Bambi's forest. Who is he? What does he want. Why does he not even have a name and just how does he know all about Man? He is big, he is powerful, and he is unlike any deer in the herd. With what this deer knows, he may save or doom all the deer in the herd.

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1. A Chance Meeting

The Stranger in the Forest

By

Wilber Arron

 

 

Introduction

In his classic story, ’Bambi,’ Felix Salten set the tale in the German woods of the late 19th to early 20th Century. Bambi and his friends are roe deer. How they related to the other animals and Man is the crux of the story. I am changing that somewhat and putting Bambi in as a North American Whitetail deer somewhere in the forests of the Southern USA. Time period is the 1930s to 1940s. There is no specific place I have in mind for the story. It is a mix of locations I have visited during my life. I am doing this because I think most of my readers will be American and therefore might relate more to this setting rather than some story that took place in the early 1900s in a location that most likely got chopped down ages ago. In this story, I am relining on both Walt Disney’s film mixed with a heavy amount of Salten’s original work. His books were favorites of mine when I was between 6-10 years old. You will see some familiar characters here, but you will not see all of them from the movie and book. The logic I used for this story is that whoever can best advance the story will be use. Those characters that do not advance the story will remain out. There is also an attempt to increase the impact of the story by giving the reader information they may not have been exposed to before. Whereas every kid in my generation saw Bambi the movie as they grew up, I doubt if many of us read the books by Salten. The author encourages you to read the original work by Salten. I am hoping to capture the flavor of both book and film with this tale. I hope you enjoy it.

 

Chapter One: A Chance Meeting

Year 1

“It would be better if you left. No one wants you here now.”

Hilgass’ words still rang in his ears as he stood on the top of the hill. He looked back the way he came. The forest he was leaving was large, and the deer herd was equally large. Despite the size of the forest and herd, it was not large enough where he could live there. He was too different, the other deer too uncomfortable with his manners and exploits. He scared more deer than he befriended despite his best efforts to fit in. Hilgass, the herd leader, had put it plainly; there was no room for him there. He needed to go.

Hilgass and the other senior males of the herd did not try to chase him out. The few males that tired to push him around were still recovering from their injuries. He knew that made even more enemies, but the others had tried to fight him for doe during The Season. They were also the deer that taunted him. He beat them, some of them badly, and took their doe during The Season. He bred the doe and soon fawns he would never know would be born into that forest. As soon as The Season was over, the doe had left him, repelled by his manner. The doe accepted him as a mate, but never as a companion. It was the same in this forest as in the first two forests he tried to live in. He could not blame them. After all, he didn’t even have a name. He was never raised by deer. To himself and the others in the herds, he was, is, and forever would be, The Stranger.

He walked silently down the hill and through the late winter forest. He put his hoofs carefully as not to rustle the dead leaves and let every creature know where he was. The ground was almost clear of snow. Only a few scattered patches of white remained in shaded areas under the tall oak, pine, and maple trees.  Already new shoots of grass were poking through the mat of dead leaves and vegetation from last winter. He could smell the earthy, mossy odor of the dark brown soil as it too woke from its winter sleep. That was a relief.

Although there was usually little snow in the forests, it had been a bad winter with three major snow falls. It had also been very cold, the coldest he could ever remember in his short life of now going into five springs. The grass and leaves died, or were under so much snow that it made them hard to get to. He looked at his long thin body covered in shaggy brown fur he was shedding.  His muscles, usually bulging at the shoulders, legs, and neck, looked wasted. His weight was down, and he felt weak. He was still lucky; he made it through the winter. Many of the older and sick deer had not. The forest was littered with their remains and the remains of other animals that froze to death. The scavengers were still eagerly picking over them.

Almost at the bottom of the gentle sloping hill, he saw an opening through a break in the near leafless trees. There was a large meadow in front of him. It lay between this hill and another on the other side of the large clearing. The meadow was surrounded by forest. It was daylight and he saw a few deer like him on the meadow eating the new grass. They must be hungry to risk Man’s killing sticks during the day. Or it could be that like him, they knew Man did not usually kill deer this early in the season. That would come later nearer winter when The Season came upon them. Like him they were thin. No doubt the winter had been bad here too. A small stream ran down one side of the meadow. Another smaller stream came down from the other hill. Two deer were drinking at the smaller hill stream. They looked unconcerned. The grass was only now turning from brown to green. It looked like a nice place to eat, assuming they didn’t try and chase him off. Although he knew the killing of Man did not take place until The Season, he still felt uneasy to put himself in the open in the increasing light of a new day.  

He found a bare spot free of trees and pushing up new grass and warmed by the greater light. He chewed the fresh green shoots swallowing them quickly. His empty stomach was delighted. He ate more and more until an odor of fur, fat, and dead animals came across his nose. He looked up quickly, tense and ready to flee. He strained his eyes and ears to see and hear. There was a bear nearby, or one had come by recently. A bear could kill him with one blow and he had no intention of being near one. He looked over the trees and saw nothing. It looked safe.

There were scents of other deer near here. His nose could pick up many different deer scents: a male, three doe and four or more fawns. The wind from the meadow also brought him odors of raccoons, possums, porcupines, bobcats, baggers and one or two coyotes. These other creatures he could deal with unless the coyotes attacked him in a pack. He went back and bent over and eagerly swallowed more of the first grass of the season. He ate quickly, not wanting to stay in an unfamiliar place for a long time. He would chew his cud later.

After eating for sometime he felt satisfied. He knew he had to get his weight and strength back to survive. He was not going to let himself get run down by a black bear, or slashed by some bobcat, or torn to pieces by the coyotes. There was also his concerned not to have some senior male deer beat him because he was weak. He vividly remembered being beaten like that when he was a yearling. As he was finishing, his nose caught the whiff of fur followed by the strong scent of a male deer. He lifted his head and turned his large body around in a snap. An equally large and imposing male deer walked into the small opening. This deer moved quietly like he did, and that was rare. He only heard the male when he was on top of him. The male was about his height and built, but perhaps a bit larger. Nice looking face, sleek body, and heavy muscles not nearly as wasted by the winter as his were. From the large bumps on his head, he could tell this male have a large rack by the time of The Season.

“Greetings,” the male said in a deep powerful voice. “I am Bambi, the leader of this herd.”

He looked straight into the black eyes of the male. “You are very quiet,” he answered looking at the male carefully. They were still a long way from the time of The Season, so there was no need for fighting. Still, that did not stop some deer from pushing their weight around.

“So are you, I did not hear you except for the chewing,” Bambi said also eyeing him carefully. “You are new here. I would remember a male like you.”

He nodded, “I am from over the hill. I was looking for new grass to grown back my muscles. It has been a hard winter,” he went on. “I need to gain weight and strength before the bears decide they want to eat me.”

Bambi shook his head no. “Not too many bears around here. Most have been killed by Man.”

“All it takes is one and you end up in someone’s stomach,” he went on.

“True,” Bambi said. “Still I have not seen you or smelled your scent in this forest before. Your scent is different, not like any deer in my herd.”

“I do not belong to a herd,” he said knowing how strange that would sound.

Bambi stared with disbelief, “No herd,” the big deer repeated. “It is not wise to be alone.”

“I have lived alone all my life,” he answered almost with a moan.

“That is not good,” Bambi said with certainty. “We deer exist better in a herd where there are many to warn of danger. Alone, you have no one to look out for you. Most deer do not live long when they are alone. You have done well to live this long.”

He felt like saying you have to live alone when no herd wants you, but decided to keep quiet for now.

“Are you going to stay in this forest?” Bambi went on.

He knew what Bambi was thinking; was he a threat? “I do not know,” he answered truthfully.

Finally Bambi just said it. “You will be strong by The Season, will you challenge me?”

Then he would be the herd leader. As if he needed to add to his problems. “No,” he told him. “Most herd leaders I know end up inside Man caves. Besides, I do not need to be a leader to get my doe. They come to me during The Season. If someone challenges me for them, I may have to hurt a few of your herd males.”

Bambi stepped back looking at him with a puzzled stare. “Man caves?” Bambi asked.

Did this herd leader not know about what Man did to them? “Places where Man lives,” he explained. “They are like caves but larger and more comfortable. Man lives inside of them. It is where they sleep and eat. After Man kills a deer or some other animal they bring them to the Man cave. In the Man cave, Man cuts off our heads, puts them on wood, and then puts the heads and racks inside their caves to show other Men. Then they put the rest of the deer on a fire and eat them. All this time Man is having great fun. Man really seems to like killing deer.”

Bambi looked shocked, “How do you know this?”

He did not know why, but he felt compelled to answer the question. Something he usually didn’t do. “I lost my mother right after I was born. I was too young to live on my own. Before some fox, coyote, or the crows could find me, I was found by the keeper of my forest. He was a Man. He took me in and raised me with this own family. I learned many things living with Man. Most would disgust you as it did me. When I was old enough, I left to live on my own. I have been wandering ever since.”

“You lived with Man and you have no collar?” Bambi added. “I knew a deer raised by Man. He wore a collar and thought Man was his friend. Man later killed him.”

That sounded about right to him. “That is why they take us in so they can raise us until we are large and then kill us. It seems to have something to do with our racks. That is why they come for us at the time of The Season. I have no use for Man. In fact I hate Man.”

“Hate is not the way either,” Bambi said.

How would this deer know? This Bambi had no idea what he had seen while living with Man. He could not recall the number of dead deer and other animals Men brought to the large Man cave. Bambi never saw how the Men laughed, drank, and ate the deer they killed. He had never seen the pleasure on the faces of Men when eating deer. Bambi never smelled the unbearable stink of burning deer meat. He never had Man fawns attack and fight with him. Bambi had never been held in Man vines that were so strong he could not break them. It still filled him with horror. Finally he stared at Bambi.

“I will say what my way is,” he told him.

“As you wish,” Bambi said. “How long will you stay here?”

“For a while at least,” he answered. “Why, do you object?” Was he going to be told to leave this forest also?

“No,” Bambi said quietly. “As long as you do not challenge, or try and replace me, I do not care if you stay.”

“Good,” he said almost with relief. He wanted to walk away before Bambi reconsidered. “Perhaps we will see each other again,” he said pleasantly. “Hopefully there will be plenty of food during the seasons.”

Bambi stood rock steady; he was not done with him. “Do you have a name?” Bambi asked.

“No,” he said bowing his head. “My mother died before she could give me one, and I do not know who my father is. Most of the other deer simply call me Stranger.”

Bambi said nothing, yet continued to study him carefully as if looking for something. “I am sorry for you,” Bambi continued. “You should join a herd. You will live longer.”

He didn’t ask for, nor did he want, Bambi’s pity or approval. He stood up straight and looked directly into Bambi black eyes. “I am not so easy to kill,” he said slowly and deliberately. He was starting to get tired of the questions.

Bambi went on as before. “I can see you are large and strong. You must also be very wary to have lived this long. My herd could use a strong male like you.”

That was different. Most herds were eager to get rid of him. “All the herds I ever tried to join wanted nothing to do with me,” he told Bambi. “They were always afraid of me. I was too different for them to accept.”

“Well I am not afraid of you,” Bambi said lowering his head slightly. “I see strength and wisdom in you, and that is rare in a deer. I can use that in my herd.”

That was interesting, but he was still not sure about this Bambi. There was also the way his body looked, weak and diminished. You never show weakness in a herd; it was a sure way to be attacked.  He knew that from experience. “I will not go to a strange herd until my strength returns,” he told the herd leader.

This time Bambi openly showed his approval. “That is wise, Stranger. When you are ready, come visit my herd. I think you may enjoy it.”

He had never been invited to a herd, only asked to leave them. This Bambi was different. He was not just a deer who kept his position through sheer strength, but with wisdom also. He was intrigued with the offer. “I will think about it,” he said cautiously.

“Very well, Stranger, stay safe,” Bambi said and started to walk away.

“Good day,” he said to the large deer and went the other way. It was clear to him that Bambi was not repelled by him, nor was he afraid of him. He was not like the other herd leaders he ever knew. Maybe this place was different.

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