A short story—gripping, touching, and life altering.
Find out what happens to the Morris family during their visit to the great Tennessee Smoky Mountains.
By Carol Carroll
Mark pulls off the road and parks in front of the best-looking log cabin I have ever seen here in the foothills of the Smokey Mountains. The dark green, metal roof, the gleaming log walls, and the wide front porch that travels the whole distance of the front side call out to me. I’ve been looking forward to this restful vacation for months. Finally, a time to relax and catch up on some much-needed down time. Life has been so hectic lately with trying to juggle work, school, family, and the house, I’m nearly exhausted. My shoulders actually sag from the weight of recognition. I am tired. But now I have a whole week to kick back and let the world and all its troubles go by.
I look across the front seat of the SUV at my husband and smile. When was the last time Mark and I spent some really good, quality time together? I can’t even remember, it’s been much too long, I know, and I intend to remedy that on this vacation. Car doors slam as Jillian, Stacy, and Daniel start for the front porch.
“Whoa there,” Mark hollers. “Nobody goes in empty-handed. We have a lot of stuff to haul in!”
“Ah, Dad, can’t we just go in and see the place first?” Danny calls back.
“It only takes a minute to grab a couple of things to take in with you. Come on.”
My three dejected teenagers shuffle to the back-end to help unload. I shake my head. Whatever happened to my energetic helpers of years gone by? Where are those children who couldn’t wait to be included in every little thing that went on? Mark caught my attention and rolled his baby blues at me. I grin at him and hope he’ll see the humor in the situation.
The inside of the cabin is every bit as welcoming as the pictures we had seen on the internet. Everything is clean and shiny from top to bottom. I look at the stone fireplace and long to sit in front of a crackling fire. To be undisturbed for an hour or two would feel like heaven.
“Mom, I’m hungry,” Stacy calls from the top of the stairway.
“So am I, what are you fixing for lunch?” I ask.
“Me? I don’t cook!”
“Well you do this week. We’re all sharing the chores as well as the fun around here. Come help me unload the groceries and see what we can put together while Jill and Danny help your father unload the rest of our things.”
Just as soon as the table is cleared and the last dish is put into the dishwasher, Danny looks at Mark. “You said we could go on a hike after lunch. Can we go now?”
“Sounds good to me… get the kinks out after that long car ride.”
The girls quickly second the motion. Only I beg off. “Ya’ll go ahead. I’m going to sit on one of those padded, reclining, lawn chairs on the porch and read until I fall asleep. A nap sounds like just the ticket for this gal this afternoon.”
Mark smiles and hugs me. “Okay, you get some rest. You deserve it. We won’t be gone too long, maybe an hour or two.”
I pick up the novel I’ve wanted to read for weeks and start for the front door. “You guys have fun, and be careful out there in the woods.”
“No need to worry about us, Mom. We’ll stay on the trails. See you later,” Mark says. They all walk past me and down the porch steps. With a smile and a wave I plunk down in a soft, comfy chair and stretch out. Peace and quiet, it’s almost too good to be true.
I must have dozed off almost immediately, for the next thing I know, the sound of a loud, cracking noise stirs me. Is that thunder? Another boom follows right after. I turn my head toward the noise. Is that thunder or a rifle shot? I stand up to look around. The sky is clear and bright. It must have been gun shots. I hope they weren’t anywhere near Mark and the kids. How long have they been gone anyway?
I walk inside to check the clock. Half past two. They should be back soon. Deep furrows line my brow. I go out the sliding door to the patio. “Mark! Mark, can you hear me?” No answer. I yell louder. “Mark… Danny… Jill… Stacy! Answer me!” Not a single response do I hear. I walk out to the edge of the clearing. I stare into the woods, trying to detect any movement. My ears strain to hear footsteps on the path. Not a sound anywhere. I try calling again. “Mark, if you can hear me, call out. I’m worried about you.” Still no answer to my plea, they must be too far away to hear me. My eyes start to water. Stop it, you are making too much of a couple of gun shots. They’re out there in the woods enjoying themselves. I try to make myself believe my own thoughts. I reluctantly go back to the cabin to wait and watch the clock.
“Mom, Mom, come see what we found!” It’s Danny’s voice. He’s excited about something. I hurry outside to see what’s going on. Right behind my eager, young son is his father, carrying a tiny fawn. It still has its spots and looks like a newborn. My mouth drops. “What… where did you find that little deer for goodness sake?”
Jill answers before Mark has a chance. “We found a dead doe laying in the meadow, Mom, and right beside her was this little one. We couldn’t just leave her, she needs our help!”
“Bring her in. Is she hurt?”
“Not that I can tell,” Mark responds. “But I bet she’s hungry. I don’t know how long her mother had been dead.”
“I heard two gun shots some time ago. Did you see any sign of a bullet?” A slight nod from Mark tells me all I need to know. I quickly say, “Jill, warm some milk. Stacy, get a clean sock out of your suitcase. We’ll see if we can get her to suck. Danny, find a blanket for this little one.”
We coax some nourishment into the orphan, and then let her fall asleep on the warm blanket next to the back door. Jill whispers, “What are we going to do with her. It’s against the law to keep her, isn’t it?”
“Yes, it is, but we can’t let her go. She’d never survive,” I answer my eldest child.
Mark speaks up. “It’s getting too late to take her into town. We’ll keep her here tonight and take her in to the sheriff in the morning.” He gives me his serious ‘I’ve made up my mind look’. It’s settled.
The whole family keeps vigil over our tiny charge all night long. We are determined to take care of her until we can get the right kind of help. We all fall in love with the fragile creature. Danny and Stacy beg to keep her for our own. They have to accept that it just isn’t possible.
When morning comes, we drive to town. We are quiet and in low spirits. It breaks our hearts to hand her over to the authorities.
“What’s going to happen to her?” Stacy asks the deputy on duty. Big tears form in her eyes.
“Don’t you worry, miss. You took good care of this youngun. She’s gonna be jus’ fine.” I need to believe him as much as the kids do.
Mark scoots us back out to the car before it can get any more upsetting for all of us. The drive back to the cabin is silent. When we step back into our vacation home, Mark gathers us together. “We shouldn’t be sad, you know. We saved that fawn, we took good care of her, and now she’ll grow up to be a healthy doe one day. We can be happy for her.”
“That’s right,” I add. “You kids can be proud that you rescued her. Now, I think we all could use some sleep. Last one to bed is a rubber ducky!”
The rest of our week may turn out to be far less eventful, but when it’s time to leave, we’ll take special memories of a darling, baby deer home with us to treasure forever.