He gripped his rifle tight, the coarse leather of his brown deerskin gloves wrapping about the gleaming steel of the barrel. Spotted from a distance, he looked like another Bigfoot sighting, fur covering the full length of his body, from head to toe. Encased in his own trophies from bygone conquests, he was now on the trail of another, ears pricked in tense anticipation, his quivering breath misting before him in a cloud of warm vapor. The black wood of the forest curled about him, the long, dark branches of ash pointing gnarled, accusatory fingers at his blasphemous appearance. Moments ago, beneath these very branches, had been his prize. A flash of black fur, then a rustle in the leaves, and it was gone. Now he looked about him, wary of the slightest whispering of the wind, the slightest particle of dust that floated before him. His finger was tensed upon the trigger, ready to send his quick, painful judgment into the sinews of that- no, his – stag. He had seen stags before: white harts, brown bucks, but never anything like this. He didn’t know what it was, that thing. It wasn’t like the rest. It had sneered, he had been sure of that. Sneered like something that knew, and maybe that was why he needed it, why he thirsted for it, why he longed to see the hot lead of his bullet pierce its gleaming black hide. He wanted to see those black antlers, raised to high heaven like some grotesque Tower of Babel, come crashing down at his feet. He felt something growing inside him, and his breaths became quick and unsteady, the mist coiling about him in long white wreaths. He needed this kill. As he made his way through the labyrinth of black trunks, he held his gun tighter, his hands squeezing the life out of the wooden stock. Had his gloves always been black? He couldn’t remember now, but – wait – movement! Out of the corner of his eyes! There! Just there! He darted through the dense tangle of black branches, making his way into a clearing. There, among the blackened stumps of fallen giants, stood the stag, great blasts of steam issuing from its moist lips, its hooves tenderly pawing the soft black earth. As he entered the clearing, it turned its head, fixing its eyes upon his face. He felt them reach deeper and deeper, sifting through his thoughts, shining their black lights upon his secrets. It knew. Ablaze with fury, he raised his unsteady hands, the trembling barrel of his gun now level with the eyes of the buck, who serenely returned the dark gaze of the long barrel. A shot. The forest rang with the force of the blast, the discharge echoing throughout the dark wood. And yet here the stag stood, its antlers higher than ever, the abhorrent sneer still upon its face. He hadn’t misfired, he certainly – blood? His eyes stared in shock at the dull pewter of his barrel, splashes of blood on its cold surface. He looked down at his arms. Black antlers. Down to his stomach. Black antlers. There! There! They grew longer in the moonlight! Weak, now…fading…that sneering stare…black…the forest…black, and Nature wept, cradling him in her arms.