"I need more triple sec," Bea says, violating the no-talking rule.
I rise on my hind feet and knock antlers with her.
"Ow," she says, holding her chin.
The chin straps are poorly designed, as are the synthetic antlers. There's no velvet to scrape off. There's not enough heft.
I kiss Bea's chin, which is a little red, but fine.
"Why am I even wearing antlers?" she asks.
Rutting is about male-on-male antler attacks first, I want to remind her, then male-female stuff. There are only two of us, so ... buck up.
"I don't want to rub against the bark anymore." She peels back her camo long underwear to reveal the scrape on her hip.
I don't complain about the ice baths or getting buried with ants and earwigs -- all the zombie-reenactment stuff -- but it's not the time to bring up the double standard. I unlatch her antlers with my hooves. We can still do this, I think. Sherbet-y colors ripple the lake and our breaths steam the air with ruminant desire.
I scrape the cold ground with my front hooves and inhale the piney black dirt before leaving my scent.
"Do bucks do that? Lift their hind leg when they pee?" She's backing toward the rental cabin, where there's more triple sec and a hard-drive full of zombie porn.
I lower my rack and chase Bea around a birch a few times.
"This is messed up," she says. She puts a hoof between her thighs and tugs it off. She takes the others off with her hands. "I'm not feeling it."
Maybe it's the hooves and antlers on the ground, or me and all that I've lost recently -- my love handles, my job, my bio dad. The signs of shedding, the shed. Bea removes her silk top and slides her long undies downward. We watch individual lightning strikes, blue and white, between her legs and underwear. I touch her thigh and feel a zap.
"I'm dark on the inside," she says, as a reminder. We've both been reading a lot of Nietzsche and fasting.
I shake the rattle bag of antlers. It's the sound of two deer colliding, but also connecting on a primal level.
"Look," she whispers.
A white-tailed buck moves toward us from the shadowy end of the lake. It's downwind and can probably smell my urine and Bea's Lady Speed Stick.
I have ten points and it has six, but I let it lead. I match it head-tilt for head-tilt, leg lift for leg lift. It's hard because my front legs are so much shorter than my back legs. We're circling.
The suddenness and coldness of Bea's naked body on my back feels like a dowse of lake water. The weight and pressure nearly knock me over, but my hooves hold firm.
The buck's neck and cheeks pulse, as if it's going to vomit at the sight of a female mounting a male. A throaty grunt comes out instead, along with a cigar billow of steam. This buck, it seems, is interested in Bea, me, or us.
"Oh, dear," Bea says sweetly, as if she's got a new appreciation for me or deer or all living things. And then the buck charges.
Bea runs toward the cabin, leaving me in my hooves.
It's me the buck wants. Its rack moves up and down, mostly bone, with rough patches of velvet.
I am dark on the inside, but I'm game. I'm always game. I lower my rack and race to meet the buck, eyes on the ground, the ground I've marked as my own.