A subtle wind blew through the forest, the blazing spring dawn light penetrating through the leaves. A dappled green glow lit up the forest floor like a flame, dancing with the swaying of the branches overhead. Pebbles and stones littered the ground as he silently stepped into the babbling brook, almost spilling up over the top of his boots, quiver on his back.
Over the songs of the larks and rush of the stream, he could faintly hear his prey, one which he had been stalking since the break of dawn. A stag.
Stood proudly with its illustrious pelt shining in the sunlight. Its be-speckled coat was gorgeous, matched only by the nobility and beauty of the animal which bore it, with antlers which spread from its head like well-groomed branches of a tree.
Disappointed would he be if this was not a successful hunt and yet, something stirred inside him as he edged ever nearer to it. How sad it would be to see that creature mottled by the blood from its very heart. Such a majestic animal to be taken so cruelty by the need of his for food. But he did not have any other choice.
He walked as softly as he could, the twigs on the floor proving to be his biggest enemy, one wrong step and he would go without dinner for the fourth night on the trot. As it happened it was only a matter of time, soon his foot fell, and, crunch. He had not stepped on a twig but a branch and the sound shattered the silence of the wood like cannon fire. Slicing through the tranquility of morning. It was almost deafening, and it did not fall on deaf ears. No. The stag lifted its head cautiously, and looked around like he was trying to find someone in a crowd. And in the crowd of trees he spotted the boy rooted to the spot.
Countless things happened at once; the stag’s ears perked up, and the next thing that the boy knew it had turned tail and took flight. Simultaneously he had broken into a sprint in hot pursuit. All that he was thinking was that he had to chase this stag. He had to catch this stag. But then in the back of his mind he thought, ‘Why can I not let this beautiful creature go, I need not kill it, I’m sure I will find another.’ Quickly though, the part of his brain which was embittered by hunger and exhaustion quashed this thought, thinking only – I need food. Those primal survival instincts kicking in.
He thundered through the forest, his heart pounding in his ears, trampling small shrubs and the twigs which had first scared off the stag and leaping over the bigger logs. He fixated his eyes on the stag, though they were fleeting glances blocked by trees and boulders. Soon enough though it seemed hopeless, he had lost it. But spurred on by his hunger he kept running, following the tracks, which, with him, had left far behind by the gorgeous beast . Until suddenly he tripped. Falling for what seemed like a life time until finally he hit the ground. Then all went black.
He came to, but after hours, he could tell because the sun was now beating down directly over head. Dazed, he simply lay there, with a trickle of warmth dripping down his face, and falling into the pool of blood in which he lay. Tentatively he raised his hand to the side of his head. A throbbing pain coursing through his temple. As he took his hand away he saw to his horror, a hand covered in blood.
Despite this minor inconvenience he gritted his teeth and, with his resolution set, stood up. Then the world flipped upside down and then back, spinning like a top. He staggered maybe ten yards and then reached out for a nearby tree, missed and then fell to the ground again. But this did not deter him, he got back up and noticed where he was. A waterfall was draped down a cliff like a cloak into the shimmering pool in the valley. Water. That is all that went through his mind. He began to tentatively creep down the hill, grasping at anything he could for support.
His mind suddenly became clear, however, as he saw in the reflection of the pool that beautiful creature. One with a be-speckled coat and sculpted antlers rising elegantly from its head. Bent down and taking a long drink. The very stag which he had stalked this morning. This was the very stag which he had foolishly scared away. This was the very stag which he had chased this very morning. This was the very stag which was the last thing he saw before all went black this morning.
He dropped to the ground, his view only obstructed by the shoots of flowers penetrating through the hard ground. He took his bow from his back and an arrow from the quiver. He cocked the arrow and waited. He could feel his heart trying to burst through his ribcage it was pounding so intensely. He attempted to judge the distance, forty yards. Easy shot.
He took a moment and looked at the stag, gaining his composure. He really didn’t need to kill it did he? The battle in his head between the admiration for the beauty of this stag, and his own primal instincts as old as the Earth which he stood on. He needed food and yet he couldn’t bring himself to kill this creature, such a crime to nature would leave a deep and indelible mark on his soul.
This stag was ultimately just the same as him though, a stranger going through life. It seemed so human in its actions, drinking as he would from that pool. But the cave man inside of him longed for food. It longed for nourishment. And it beat back his instinct to let this magnificent stag go.
Resigned to his fate, he drew back the arrow until the cord was as tight as he could make it. And in that instant, for the second time that day it looked up and locked eyes with him. But it did not run; it too seemed resigned to its fate. Its big doleful eyes made a last plea to the boy. But he simply ignored it.
He breathed in, deeply. And then out again, and just as there was no air left to exhale, he released the arrow.