The Merciful Deer Woman Of The Forest, Who Ends The Suffering Of Those Who Seek Her by Eliot Li


She’s under the dragon blood tree, in the full light of the moon, sprigs of antlers atop her head, casting shadows on the forest floor.

She’s been waiting. For you.

“Your loneliness, unbearable?” she asks.

You meet her soft eyes, under dark tresses of hair cascading down her chest.

“No one to mourn you, after you’re gone?”

She reaches her hand out for you to take, her fingernails pointed like tiny white daggers. Does she use those? Your courage deflates.

Until you remember the vast, gnawing loneliness you won’t ever escape. The sleepless nights when your heart races and you can’t quiet your mind.

You grip her hand tight.

She leads you along the banks of a glistening brook. The flashing scales of fish swirling in the water, like shiny medallions.

“I’m basking in your aura,” she says. “Your gentleness, your sweetness.”

This is not how you see yourself. You feel old and brittle, unlovable. But in her presence, you believe maybe there is something beautiful within you.

“I’ll miss it when you’re gone,” she says.

The way she moves through darkness, in her tan dress made of pelts.

She asks you to divulge your secrets. Things you’ve never said to anyone.

You tell her how decades ago, in a college dorm, you lost your virginity to the silvery Wiccan girl who slept her way through the freshman class. You don’t flinch when you say how days later, the University Health doctor examined you, for the diseases she gave you.

“What a scared, innocent boy you must’ve been,” she says. “How could you ever trust anyone with intimacy again?”

You tell her how you’ve never loved anyone, except for your mother.

You watched your mother, as she wasted away from the cancer devouring her insides. How she begged you to take her home so she wouldn’t die in the hospital. How after you wheeled her past the threshold of her house, she fell silent, taking shallow breaths, slowly and slower, until she ceased breathing altogether. How when your mother was gone, you lost the only person who ever loved you.

The deer woman of the forest says nothing. She just sobs. It touches you to hear her. How could you have lived this long without anyone ever crying with you like this?

With each secret you tell, the glint in her eye grows, like hunger.

“What do you really want?” you ask.

“Beauty that disappears in a flicker. Longing that lives on, forever.”

You walk with her along the rushing water. You hold her wrist, and feel the blood thrumming under her skin.

She turns to face you. She undresses you. She pushes you down onto the forest floor, the tips of her nails leaving crimson pinpricks on your chest, the crunch of dry leaves and seed husks beneath your back.

“Wait,” you say.

Her fur is warm and thick, along her thighs and shins, down to her ankles, between her hooves. It tickles your skin.

“No,” you say, your hand against her chest. “Just a little bit longer.”

She moves on you, slowly and slower. Your fear grows.

“Stop,” you say, trying to push her off. Her grip on you only stiffens. She curls her lip. Her face tenses.

You can’t get free. You stop trying.

She twists her body, and it’s over. The awful dread comes over you, the moment finally here.

“Please,” you say. “Another day together. A week.”

She says nothing, just her deep breathing.

You think it one last time–no one to mourn you, after you’re gone.

And then piercing pain, under your ribcage, her hands slithering like hungry worms inside your abdominal cavity. You cry out for her to end this. To dig deeper. To find an artery and tear it out.

But she’s just gently rippling her fingers around inside. Luxuriating. Slowly and slower.

“Kill me now!” you scream.

“Not yet,” she whispers, her eyes closed, her face tilted up to the night sky. “Just a little bit longer.”


Eliot Li lives in California. His work appears in Passages North, Maudlin House, SmokeLong Quarterly, Fractured Lit Anthology II, Pithead Chapel, CRAFT Literary, and elsewhere.


Published 6/18/23

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