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Bleat by Bleat

Melissa Martini

'Bleat by Bleat' was originally published in Faded Fur and Stripped Skin with Bottlecap Press.

Melissa Martini (she/her) is a short fiction writer and Capricorn from New Jersey. She studied Creative Writing in both undergrad and graduate school at Seton Hall University. Currently, she serves as Founder & EIC of Moss Puppy Magazine. She can be found @melissquirtle and her publications can be viewed at She has three dogs, all of which are fluffballs.

I shake the ticks from my fur as a deer, gnawing at the remaining stragglers. I curl up on my own front porch, the light I left on illuminating the lawn. The evening’s rain hasn’t dried yet and each wet blade is glistening under the stars. Being a deer isn’t so bad. On full moon nights like these, I appreciate nature, strolling through the forest and nuzzling my nose against squirrels and rabbits - but hunting season starts in a week, so by next month’s full moon, things won’t be so calm.

Instead of worrying about what hunting season will bring, I look up: the full moon is bright white, sparkling selenite against a navy backdrop. My fur is slightly damp from rolling around in a field of flowers earlier, but it’s refreshing rather than uncomfortable, keeping me cool in the storm’s lingering humidity.

Behind me, Cooper opens the front door and takes a seat on the top step. I rest my head on his thigh. He pats my head gently, scratching behind my ears. His fingers are rough - I know this - but against my fur, they feel thick and smooth. He’s younger than me by a handful of years, but he takes care of me during full moons - keeps an eye out for bears while I’m a deer and massages my limbs when I transform back into a human.

“You know, Sara,” Cooper begins, his fingers trailing from between my ears, down my neck, to my spine. “I think your little white spots line up with every beauty mark on your back.”

I bleat to let him know I heard him and acknowledge what he has said, not because I’m in any kind of distress, but because I can’t speak. I feel his fingers poke at each speckle, lightly fluffing the fur there. I crane my neck to lick his arm, and he laughs.

We sit together on the porch until sunset, and he holds me as I transform back into a human, my fur retracting into my skin and leaving me buck naked. My head still rests in his lap, cheek pressed against the denim of his thigh. He’s sound asleep. I nudge him awake slowly - he might not be a deer, but he still enjoys nature just as much.

The sun rises slowly, an iris of fire surrounded by golden petals aching to reach out towards deep ocean blue. Cooper runs his fingers through my hair, cupping my shoulder and squeezing lightly. I can feel the callouses now against my skin. I reach around to take his hand, my fingers sore from spending the night as hooves. My knuckles are stiff - they told me I was too young for arthritis, so Cooper milks each digit in lieu of prescription painkillers.

Dawn tickles my bare body into visibility, so Cooper wraps his arms around me and lifts me up. I can walk on my own, but Cooper carries me inside and lays me in bed, covering me with a comforter. He cooks me breakfast: eggs scrambled softly, still a tad runny in between the fluffy folds; toasted sourdough bread with crispy crust and a chewy center; and coffee, strong and black, bitter against my tender lips.

My face always hurts the most, changing its shape the most during transformations - my nose often feels bruised and broken the morning after, my eye sockets sore and my lips slightly swollen. The skin on my cheeks stretches itself into a snout, elastic and settling back into place. Cooper plants kisses along my jawline as I eat, making his way to my forehead.

Cooper is a hunter who doesn’t hunt. He used to hunt, of course, before I got cursed, but has since changed his ways. He still carries a shotgun, putting on a show during hunting season and protecting me against bears if necessary, but we are both vegetarians now and let bugs out instead of squishing them.

I don’t know how I got cursed, or why I turn into a deer every full moon. Cooper claims it’s karma - the universe punishing him for his past as a hunter who 𝑑𝑖𝑑 hunt - and he apologizes to me every chance he gets. He’s wrong, though, because the curse sits heavy inside of my heart as if it wants to drag me down into the dirt with it, bury me and force me into a premature decay. The curse is wholly mine. I can feel it in my bones, brittle and threatening to break whether I’m a human or a deer.

I finish breakfast and Cooper clears my plate away for me, washing the dishes as I roll over in bed. He gently pulls the comforter down to reveal my back, lightly massaging my muscles. He presses his fingertips into my skin and I wonder when he learned acupressure - until I realize he’s counting my beauty marks, comparing them to my speckled fur.

“So, is your theory right?” I ask, arching my back into his touch. His hands are still cool from the sink water, skin slightly moist. I nuzzle my face against the pillow, the fabric of the pillowcase crisp and clean.

“Mhm,” Cooper responds, climbing into the bed and laying next to me. He wraps his arms around my body and closes his eyes. “I’m sorry you have to go through this, Sara.”

“It’s not your fault,” I insist, running my fingers through his mop of blonde hair. He’s still in yesterday’s flannel and jeans, and I know he struggles to take care of himself when he’s taking care of me. “Why don’t you go shower, honey? You spent half the night outside with me.”

“You’re right,” he mumbles, “Do you want to join me? The warm water will help.”

“It’s okay,” I breathe out. I want to bathe in hydrogen peroxide, the sharp scent filling the bathroom and threatening to suffocate me. I want to slowly sit down in the tub and feel the soft sizzle of bubbles bursting against my skin, fizzling until I can’t feel anything else. “I just want to rest for now.”

Cooper nods and crawls out of bed, heading to the bathroom. I hear the shower turn on, the pitter patter of water lulling me to sleep. I dream of being a deer again, meeting other deer like me - who can speak to me, bleat and bellow by my side into the moonlight. Instead, I’m surrounded by strangers who sniff me and skitter away, smelling nothing but human.

Cooper is cooking again when I awake - mushroom risotto made with foraged wild mushrooms and white wine, served alongside a glass of red. I clean myself up and get dressed while Cooper finishes up dinner, realizing I slept the entire day away. I find a flower petal in my hair and turn it over in my hand, letting it rest in my palm. How it held onto me through the hours in bed reminds me I cannot escape my curse even in sleep.

I pull on a loose night dress and cotton panties, light and airy on my body and soft and silky against my skin. Our home is not large, most of the floors wooden rather than carpeted, a stark contrast for my feet in comparison to galloping in the grass the previous evening. Despite living my day to day life as a human, getting used to everyday sensations always seems to take longer than the other way around, as if being a deer is inherently more natural to me.

We eat dinner sitting across from each other at the dining room table, a candle lit between us, flame flickering in the gentle breeze blowing in from an open window. Cooper stands to shut it in between bites. I lift my spoon to my mouth, the risotto creamy with just enough of a tender bite to it. The mushrooms retained a satisfying snap, savory and slightly spongy. I swirl and sip my red wine, a blend we bought in bulk from a winery downtown.

“Good?” Cooper asks, resuming his seat across from me. His cheeks are slightly flushed beneath his facial hair, a darker shade of blonde than the hair on his head. It is warm in the dining room, and I realize the oven is on in the kitchen. I disguise a sniff as a short breath, tapping into my still swollen olfactory bulb: blondies, pecans, and a touch of toffee.

“Delicious,” I respond, taking another long sip of my wine. “What’s the occasion?”

“No occasion. Just love you a lot.” He smiles as he raises his spoon to his lips. He is lying. The guilt that has been building up within his body is beginning to overflow, and his adamant apologies are no longer enough. “Looked like last night really kicked your ass.”

“I’m fine,” I insist, smiling back at him and refilling my glass. My fingers throb as they grip the wine bottle, still sore. I wince and hope he doesn’t notice, pushing through the pain and aching for the wine to numb me just a little bit. “I had fun. Smelled some flowers, chased a rabbit. Kind of like Bambi, actually.”

“Bambi’s mother dies. It’s one of the saddest movie moments of all time, Sara.” Cooper sighs. “How is living like Bambi your idea of 𝑓𝑢𝑛?”

“Coop, my mom died over a decade ago.” I drop my spoon in my bowl, the neck clinking quite loudly against the porcelain rim.

“I’m just saying,” Cooper wipes his mouth with his napkin, “How are you so… okay with all of this? How can you claim that you ℎ𝑎𝑑 𝑓𝑢𝑛? You come home once a month so sore it seems like you got hit by a car, all because of this curse.”

“I’m 𝑛𝑜𝑡 okay with it, but I am making the best of it. I mean, maybe it’s not a curse, Coop. Maybe it’s a blessing. Like, there 𝑎𝑟𝑒 benefits: I can tell your blondies are burning and you can’t.” I use my thumb to point behind me towards the kitchen, to which Cooper mutters a Shit! before tossing his napkin on the table and running off. I let my face fall into my hands and puff out a sigh.

The next full moon comes, Cooper crossing off each day on our calendar with a thick, black marker. As I strip down, preparing to transform, Cooper pulls on a forest-green tee shirt and camouflage cargo pants, slinging his shotgun over his shoulder. We make eye contact as we get ready, the air in our bedroom heavy as if an invisible weighted blank lay above us.

He takes a couple steps towards me, closing the distance between us. “You know you don’t have to worry about me, right? This is strictly to protect you tonight.” He lifts and sets down the shotgun strap on his shoulder.

“I know, Coop.” I wrap my arms around him loosely, letting my cheek rest against his chest. His hands press against my bare back, fingers trailing up and down my spine hesitantly.

“Can’t you just stay in tonight?” He asks, but we both know I can’t. It’s a compulsion we tried to resist so many times before, but each effort ended in either me jumping through closed windows and shattering glass all over the bedroom and my body, or headbutting the front door repeatedly until he reluctantly unlocked it.

“No,” I whisper, feeling my skin begin to burn. “I’ll stay close by. Don’t worry.” I begin to transform in his arms, and he holds me until I am fully deer. He carries me down the stairs and then lets me loose. I frolic around our front yard for a few moments before heading into the forest. It’s cool outside, flirting with chilly. I dig my hooves into the dirt, brush my nose against tree trunks, and kick at rocks and grass.

As if I’d been building up energy all month, I begin dashing around the forest in small circles, weaving my way through trees and bushes in a desperate attempt to release it. The rush of the wind against my fur is exhilarating, my thin legs flicking as I gallop. I encounter Cooper, stopping short before colliding with his large body.


I bleat quietly in confirmation, not wanting to attract attention.

Cooper laughs. “Do you have the 𝑧𝑜𝑜𝑚𝑖𝑒𝑠 like a god damn puppy?”

I bleat again, followed by a low bellow.

“Alright, alright. No need to get defensive, I was just kiddin’ around. Go on, do your thing.” He gestures for me to continue running, but I nuzzle into the palm of his hand instead as if asking for him to pet me. He obliges, gently kissing the top of my head before I take off again.

I finally slow down in a small clearing, coming to a stop to catch my breath. I hear distant gunshots, but I know Cooper isn’t too far behind me, doing his best to both protect me and give me space. I try not to worry, but the thought of another deer being pierced by a bullet and falling to the ground in a dying heap makes my stomach turn.

The other deer don’t acknowledge me as one of them, despite the fact we are all white-tailed and speckled, white spots adorning our backs. When I encounter them in the forest, their ears perk up, frightened as if I am a human. When I try to talk to them, they flee like I’ve insulted them - I wonder if there are different deer languages, and if my curse provided me with the wrong one for my area, but settle on the theory that they probably know my secret and don’t necessarily want to be involved with me.

Another gunshot echoes through the forest, this time a tad bit closer. I can hear the crunching of leaves beneath heavy boots, and while they sound like Cooper’s, I’m not positive. With the next shot, I hear a high-pitched bleat and get a strong whiff of blood, musky and metallic. The soft thump of a body sets the forest off balance, the air around me suddenly thick and my eyes growing heavy with tears.

My legs begin to give out in a defeat that is not my own, but I am too far from the house to curl up on the porch like I want. Instead, I lay where I am, in the center of the clearing, tucking my face into my body and closing my eyes tight. I hear gunshots coming from all around me, the scent of blood growing in all directions.

When I open my eyes, I have vertigo. I hear a 𝑁𝑜! 𝐺𝑒𝑡 𝑎𝑤𝑎𝑦 𝑓𝑟𝑜𝑚 ℎ𝑒𝑟! before a sharp pinch in my side startles me - I jump up, a heaviness tugging my body back down. I spin around in an attempt to see what it is, but I am dizzy as if I am drunk and stumble to the side. Cooper appears, swatting at my side with the end of his shotgun. He never fires it, but I hear a high-pitched yelp.

A small fox falls from my body, warm blood dripping from the wound it left behind. Cooper palms the wound and carries me home, setting me down on the porch. He rushes inside and comes out with water and gauze, tending to me and wrapping my body up. He’s mumbling apologies as I rest my head in his lap. I close my eyes again.

Another gunshot echoes in the distance, followed by another bleat. Cooper cries. Bleat by bleat, I fall asleep, the apologies, gunshots, and bleats blending together into an eerie lullaby.

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