The Stranger: Generation

In the fifth story about the Stranger, our hero is getting old. It is time to hand the herd off to younger and more capable deer. Only who is more capable? After a series of disasters and personal tragedies, the Stranger is left hurt both physically and mentally. He plans are left in ruins, and he finds he has to begin all over again. How he can adapt to these calamities will test the strength and resolve of the Stranger.

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5. THE PRICE

 

 

It was early evening several days later when the old deer walked back onto the meadow. He was alone. He looked around. Despite the noise from the Man cave during the day, there was no sign of Man now. There were no light from there. The place was cold and dark. He sniffed around and found no hint of danger. He felt safe and it looked safe for the herd. He knew the herd be feeding soon.

He stood in the middle of the meadow and called outward as loud as he could."HERE, ALL COME HERE," he called.

He was summoning, calling a gathering of the herd. He had not discussed it with his family or his friends. At this point he did not care what they thought. He had lived his life here doing his best to take care of the herd. That could not continue, especially now. He had done all he could, and it was not nearly enough. Others would need to decide what to do now.

He repeated the call twice more and waited. He was winded by the calling, another good reason to do what he was going to do.

In ones and twos they came out of the forest. The doe and their growing fawns, the yearlings, the herd males and the few senior males. His herd all came out. He saw Bambi, Faline, and Claris coming out together. All looked surprised at his summons. Out came Balo, Stena, Delon and Balene her fawn from this year. From another part of the forest came Carie along with Stuben and Stelar. The last to arrive was Galin and his family who stood together  yet away from the others since they were not part of his herd. From the edge of the Man path forest he saw movement. He could not see who it was, but it was likely his son Stabo, and his family along with Young Faline. Bambi, Faline and Claris started to approach, but he motioned them to stay back. This was for everyone in the herd and he wanted all of them to hear it at the same time. When he was sure everyone was there, he started.

"Thank you for all coming," he said as loudly as he could. "I need to make an announcement."

He took a deep breath, there was only one way to say this. "I have decided that due to my age and my many failures, I can no longer be your herd leader."

There were gasps, moans and pleas coming from his friends, family and most loudly from the herd. The comments were mostly all the same: "No!" 

"Thank you, but what I have said is the truth. I am getting too old to be a good leader and it is time that I go. I have been proud to be your leader and I hope what I have done  has protected the herd. My greatest joy has been in watching this herd grow and be healthy, not like other herds have. Some herds were starved because of poor leaders. In this herd we have no sickness, there is food for all, and we have lost none to winter. We have lost only a few with the hunts. I hope what I did was able to save as many deer as possible. I have done the best I could."

He stopped for a moment to let that past, there was silence from all. "I had hoped to ask you to accept Balo as the new herd leader. I cannot do that now. You have all heard the arguments coming from my family on who should be herd leader. Those arguments should make it clear to you that I was not able to teach them that it is the herd that comes first. Therefore I have no one to recommend to you to take my place. This has been my greatest failure to the herd because I cannot provide you with someone to take the herd leadership," his voice started to choke. He had to clear his throat and his eyes which were starting to tear. "Some deer like Bambi's son Gorro, and my son Stabo have learned these lessons and have gone on to be good leaders for their own herd. Many of my family have not. I have tried showing them what to do, and I have failed despite many seasons of teaching them. The fact that I could not teach them this simple item, is my own greatest failure that I take full blame for. For this failure, I tell the herd that I am truly sorry, and this is another reason why I should go."

He had to stop as his voice cracked in his throat. This was worse than telling Bambi about Veron's death. He felt almost ready to vomit, but he could not stop now. He fought to get control of himself and finish.

"The herd must decide now who will be leader. I will tell the herd that Balo has more experience than anyone except Bambi and myself, but it is up to the herd to decide that. Other members of my family have said they should be leader. I am sure you heard them argue about it. Just who you pick as leader, is up to you, but think carefully. The life of this herd depends on your decision. Because of my failures, I will not remain in this forest. I no longer deserve to live here. I plan to go to my son Stabo and live out the rest of my life in the Man path forest.  I am sorry this has happened, and again I take the blame for it. Goodbye, I shall miss all of you."

With that he turned around and walked away. The herd must now decide. He walked toward the Man path forest alone. He heard voices call out from behind him, but he no longer listened. They did not need him. He had done the worse thing possible a deer could do. He left his herd without leadership. That was still far better than have him stay and try to fix things. Most likely he mess it up even more. Despite everything he had tried to do, he had mostly failed in his responsibility of herd leader and he knew it. He walked into the Man path forest and found a small thicket. He felt so weary. There was a very small stream nearby. He drank, and emptied himself and without eating, lay down and almost collapsed onto the ground. The last thing he thought before falling into a deep sleep was, it would probably be best if he did not wake up.

He did wake up, but it was late in the day. He could see light setting from his left. He had spent most of last night and today out here by himself. Soon another night would start. Part of him said he should just leave and go deeper into the Man path forest. He should go alone. If he lived to get there, he be an unknown, just be another old male there ignored by the others until he was gone. If he did not live through the crossing, well that would not be the worst thing. He did not think he could do any more good here. 

He heard a twig break to his right. Someone was coming up next to him. He got up and turned quickly. There were several deer coming toward him. Not what he wanted company, but it was clear they already knew where he was.

“Here,” he called out.

He watched Bambi, Faline and Claris approached and lie down next to him. Behind them came Stabo, Gena and Young Bambi.

"You should have talked that over with us," Bambi said.

"No," he said curtly. "This was my problem and my decision alone. I made it."

"Why," was all Claris said sobbing.

 “"Why?" he asked as if it was obvious. "After all this time and they still have not learned,” he said in a low voice. “I have failed miserably as a teacher and as a herd leader. Now every deer in both forests knows my family is ready to fight each other to see who comes after me, as if any of that matters to them. Why should they listen to any of us, especially me?”

“As you said with Geno, the fault was his and not mine,” Bambi said. “The fault is theirs and not yours, I really did expect more out of Balo and Stena, and even Carie. You have done all you could.”

“I have done nothing,” he said loudly. “And I have done all I am going to. The herd does not need me any longer. I did the only thing I could so and that was call for a gathering and then tell everyone that I am no longer herd leader. They will have to choose another one.”

"Well that did not happen," Faline told him bluntly. "After you left, Balo, Stena and Delon started blaming Carie and Stuben, who blamed them. Things got so bad, Bambi had to step in and tell them all to keep quiet as if they had not done enough damage. Both Stuben and Delon got so mad at Bambi, I through they would attack him, until Balo stepped in, but even he was angry. He was very angry at you. He told me that after all this time you did not trust him. I tried to explain, but he did not listen. The gathering broke up with no decision on leader."

Galin, Galene, Gertan and Garla came with us and are sleeping near Stabo. With the exception of Young Faline and  Karlene, everyone came here."

Finally Claris looked at him. “All this will do is cause Balo, Delon and Stuben to get into a fight. You heard them. They may kill each other.”

“Oh yes,” he said plainly. “I certainly succeeded there. They can pound each other’s tails into the ground. They can kill each other almost as quickly as the bear. I taught them well there. They learned to avoid man well. They learned to give orders quickly. The most important thing however that I was supposed to teach them, that they were all working for the benefit of the others: that I failed in. In failing that, I failed in everything else. I knew they all be better off without me.”

“You cannot mean that,” Bambi said out loud. “This herd is much better off with you here. Maybe better off than when I was herd leader here.”

He looked into his close friend’s deep black eyes. “That may be true, but what happens after me? Who continues to lead? They cannot all be leaders. Balo has the experience, but he and Stena wants Delon to follow him. Carie wants Stuben to follow me because he is my son. It is not them that need to make the choice. It is the herd that decides and that is the one thing they do not understand. If they force themselves on the herd, then they are no better than Tarro or Razor, and that I also failed to teach them.” He dropped his head low and closed his eyes. “I feel useless.”

"You are not useless," Stabo added. "You taught me, you helped teach Young Bambi and Gorro. I do not understand this all myself. I thought my sister and Balo was smarter than this. Carie I am not so surprised."

 "So now what?" Young Bambi spoke up. "We stand here and let Stuben and Delon kill each other."

"I cannot stop them from doing that," he said looking up at the young deer. "I am afraid all I have done is insure this will end in blood."

There was no more said. Claris snuggled in close to him and Bambi and Faline lay together in front of him. Stabo, Gena and Young Bambi left them alone. He felt very tired and very old and very weary of his life here. He was thinking about that when darkness passed over him.

“Clang,” he head from below him. That brought him awake. “Clang,” he heard again.

“They are doing something with the Man cave again,” he said, “

The other three looked at him as if asking what he intended to do about it. After a few moments he took a deep breath. “Very well I will go take a look after dark.”

During the day it had become cloudy and the wind shifted to blow from the Man path forest. The sky had darkened over. Soon the rain came. A soaking warm rain fell on them. The rain continued for a short while and then stopped and the hot sun came out and dried everything again. The ground was dry by the time the greater light started to fade.

He rested with them there until the greater light had set. Then they got up and moved to the edge of the Man path forest. The last thing he wanted was to talk to the others right now. The lesser light had risen as they approached. He walked into the open meadow and looked. He saw the Man cave, but it was dark except for one small flickering night light. He saw a Man animal there that was also dark and not moving. There was no movement on the Man path or around the Man cave. The increasing wind was blowing strongly in his face from the Man cave. In the sky, he could see distant flashes of light in the sky. It looked like a storm, but it was far off. The wind also brought a lingering scent of Man, but he could not smell any dogs. The wind also brought a scent of what smelled like a skunk which put him on alert. It made him wonder if there were any Men there.

“It is strange,” Bambi said. “I would think I smell more of a scent of Man. There are no dogs here. I also do not like the smell of the skunk, yet I see no sign of Man."

By now he heard the approach of another deer. This one was quieter. It was Stabo. There were others with him.

“I am not that old were I cannot smell you anymore," he said out loud. "This presence of Man concerns all of us here along with the rest of the herd. You should all look at this.”

Slowly and silently they all came up near him. Stabo, Gena, Young Bambi with Galene, Galine with Charlene and Garten with Karlene, and Koren with Garla.. “Very well,” he said  “Look out on the Meadow and tell me what you see?”

He watched them all look at the Man cave. They are breathed in large quantities of air through the noses. They all looked and Stabo spoke.

“I smell the light scent of a skunk. That means Man wants to trick us again so we will get close to them so they can kill us.”

That may be true,” he answered, “But the wind is blowing and blowing hard from the Man cave. If they were hiding there, we could smell them. Also remember the skunk odor Man has used before was strong, this is weak.”

“Last season when Man came early to kill birds, they had a fire going outside and they burned the birds on that fire before eating them,” Young Bambi said. “I smell no fire and I smell no odor of burning meat.”

“That is true, and we heard no thunder sticks today, so Man was here, but not hunting.”

“Then could he come here just to sleep and go elsewhere to hunt?” Koren asked. “He has done that in the past.”

“That is also possible,”  he said calmly.

“When Man hunts  birds he uses dogs,” Claris spoke up. “I do not hear, see, or smell any dogs. If the dogs are not here then Man is not here,”

He smiled and nodded his head. “That is the point I was noticing. I see a Man animal, but it is cold and dark. If Man has left, why would it be there? I have not seen him leave one of his animals behind.”

It was then he heard it: a light breaking of branches and another whiff of fur and fat He looked at Bambi who smiled at him. He looked at the others who we studying in front of them so much they did not notice anything else. What was he doing here.

He called out loudly. “What do you think, my old friend. ”You know you are getting better in moving without being heard or smelled.”

“Thank you Stranger, but I see I am not good enough for both of you,” the bear’s voice called from behind them.

All the deer except Bambi and him jumped up and away. The others looked to be ready to flee.

“If the Bear was here to kill a deer, he could have already easily done so,” he said to the others.

The bear stopped several lengths away still mostly hidden by the trees and bushes. “I heard what has happened. I heard your family arguing almost at my den, and I heard your call last night. I was close enough to listen to what you said. I think you are foolish if you truly believe that."

He walked over to the hidden  black mount much to the distress of the others. They could not look past their fears, especially Galin's family, but he could not blame them. "I wish I could believe that, but I cannot deny what has happened. It was my responsibility to teach them. I failed."

The bear came out in full view. Galine and his family backed away; however Bambi, Faline, and Claris stayed where they were. The bear was huge, looking twice as big as him standing there. He came up until he was less than a length away from him.

"It was your responsibility to teach them," the bear growled. "It was their responsibility to learn. They did not and that makes it their failure, not yours. You have taught others and they have learned. One of those others was me. I learned, Stabo, Gorro, Gena, the younger Bambi learned from you and you in turned learned from us. You did what you had to do, they did not. I said your purpose here was to make thing better for all in the forest. This you have done. Even the other animals in the forest have watched you and learned how to avoid Man better. They even learned how to avoid me better which is why I will go back over the hill shortly."

He swallowed hard and then walked up and nuzzled the bear on the side of his face. A something that brought a gasp from Galine. "Thank you, my friend," he said barely getting the words out.

The bear rubbed the side of his face. "Your Claris is right, everyone sees the good you have done except you."

He saw Bambi walk over and face out into the meadow. "The skunk smell is getting worse," he said with concern.

He nodded to the bear and walked over next to his oldest friend. Bambi was right, the skunk smell was worse. There was also a flickering light inside the Man cave, yet there were no Men around.

 “We do not know what is happening here,” Bambi added. “We do not know if it is safe for the herd. We will need to find out.

 “Then how do we know if the meadow is safe?” Galin asked.

“We cannot know by standing here, but I can think of one way to find out,” he told him and stepped away from the others. “The rest of you stay here,” he ordered.

“Father, it may not be safe,” Stabo said.

“Another duty of a herd leader,” he said and walked away just inside the trees.

He went forward until he was in the open. The wind had shifted. It was now blowing strongly at his back, yet he could still smell the skunk order. As he walked toward the Man cave it seemed to him the flickering light was getting brighter.  Again the increasing breeze broke only a trace of Man scent. It looked like Man had gone, yet why the light and the Man machine. He continued on until he got as close to the Man cave as he dared. Other than the increasing light from inside the Man cave and the increasing smell of a skunk, he could not detect anything. Part of him told him there was danger here and part of him told him there was none. Man certainly had not behaved like this in the past. As he stood in the open, he saw into the Man cave for the first time. The light was much brighter now. In fact it looked almost like a fire that Man would start to burn his meat. Would man burn his meat inside his cave? He had seen the Men he grew up with do that sometimes, but the fire was always small and in something. This was in the open.  Then he saw it. The light rose up and suddenly he realized it was not a light. It was a fire. The Man cave was on fire. He turned and yelled as loud as he could.

“Fire, RUN!” he called back to the others.

Just then there was a high squeal like some bird in distress and the skunk smell got very strong for an instant. Suddenly a huge bright light appeared in front of him. As it did, he felt something lift him up off the ground and throw him away like he would throw away a piece of dirt caught in his rack. There was a loud crashing noise in his ears. He hit something hard, very hard like a large male stomping on him. He heard several loud pops from inside his left side when he hit the ground. Then he felt nothing.

Sometime later he woke up. He heard a roar in front of him and felt heat on his body. He opened his eyes, but the view was blurry. He saw a huge mass of fire in front of him. The fire was large and already in the trees near the Man cave. He could see the flames were being blown by the wind. The fires were already in the trees going across the meadow. Fires were also breaking out all around him on his side of the meadow and the bear’s side. Trees were lighting on fire everywhere. The bushes were burning quickly. He had to get up. As he tried to move, he found he couldn’t. His whole lower body had a tingling feeling. It was in his legs, in his muscles and even in his neck. His body would not move. He could not turn his body either. He was going nowhere. He was also feeling dizzy in his head.  He was fixed to the ground like an oak tree. He felt something liquid in his mouth. He recognized the smell and taste. It was blood. It was his blood. He was bleeding out of his mouth.

He looked around what little he could and saw fire increasing. The wind was blowing the fire into his forest. It would soon burn his entire forest. It would burn his herd along with it. He had to get his herd out, yet he could not move a single muscle. He was helpless. Again and again he tried to move his legs and again and again they would not move. Something had to be done. The fire was getting bigger by the moment. The smell of smoke was getting stronger and starting to choke him. He then realized this was where he was going to stay. He was going to die here and there was nothing he could do about it. As soon the fire reached him, he’d be just as burnt as the deer meat Man put on the fire. Not only him, but the rest of the herd would be caught inside the burning forest. They would be burnt too. He could show them where to run if he could only move. He had failed his herd again when they needed him the most.

“Stranger,” he heard.

“He looked up and saw Bambi looking at him. “You have to get up, the fire is coming.”

He took a deep breath. “Bambi, I cannot move my body. It will not do anything. I can feel nothing in my legs. You have to go. I cannot run away. You have to get the herd out before the fire blocks their escape.”

Bambi shook his head no. “The others are doing that. They are going to take the herd to the top of the hill on our side and then move them into the Man path forest. I came to get you. You have to get up.”

“No,” he said. “There is blood in my mouth. I am going nowhere.”

“Stranger, the fire will be here soon,” Bambi yelled at him. “If you do not move, you will die.”

“There is nothing that will stop that now,” he said. He was getting tired speaking and it was getting hard to breath. “Listen we told each other long ago what we would do if it was one of us lying in the meadow. Well it is going to be me. You have to go. Maybe you can straighten things out with Balo, Delon and Stuben. I could not. I need you to take care of Claris as you promised. Try and help the others as much as you can. Now leave me.”

He looked down at him, “Please get up,” he begged.

“I tried, my legs will still not move. Now go before the fire gets you too.”

Bambi looked up at the increasing glow and then leaned over and rubbed his forehead on his. “I am sorry my friend,” he said with a moan and left.

He took another deep breath and started coughing. The smoke was getting heavier. At least the herd would get out. He was happy the others would carry on now when he could not do it any longer. Now all he had to do was wait. He could feel heat increasing on his body. He hoped it would not hurt too much. He tried to lift his head, and found he could not even do that now. He started feeling dizzy again. Everything was spinning in his head.

He thought he smelled fat before he passed out, but suddenly everything went dark.

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