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Nuzzling through the sparse undergrowth on an early fall day, the young stag listened attentively for any dangers. His large, fuzzy ears flicked this way and that trying to pick up any threatening noise in the quiet evergreen forest.
This was the white-tailed deer’s first rutting season and he was in top condition. His antlers sprouted from his sleek head like a crown of daggers, ready for battle. His muscles were bulging under his skin and you could see each one move under his smooth, brown pelt.
Suddenly the crunch of dry twigs could be heard as an animal drew closer to the stag. Aware of the intruder he lifted his head and pointed his alert ears towards the sounds, trying to pinpoint its location.
Another stag, older, emerged from the location of the sounds. His antlers weren’t as large, his coat was dusty and bland and his muscles not as muscular, but behind the tired old eyes laid the spark of cunning and experience.
The young stag starred at the older one, obviously bewildered for a moment, and then launched himself, head down, at the hostile, rival deer.
The old buck had only a moment’s notice to brace himself for the impact of clashing antlers. The force of the young stag sent a shiver down the old buck’s body and pushed him back.
Thrashing their antlers, they tried to gash open any place on the opposing deer’s body. Minutes passed and still the match was tied, the young stag had power and the old stag had experience. They clashed antlers, reared with flailing hooves, gashed with antlers and hooves and, all the while, dodged each other’s attacks.
Finally, the young stag managed to lock antlers one last time with the old buck, gave one last mighty push on the old one’s antlers, and the old stag slipped in a large puddle of slippery mud. He flailed wildly trying to get a foot-hold as to avoid being gored by his opponent. Never in his life had the old one experienced a fight as brutal as this.
Sweat made the young stag’s coat shiny and sleek as ever. His breath came in loud gasps as he tried to refill his lungs need for precious air. Slowly he walked over to his opponent who was lying helplessly in the mud that cost him the match. The old buck was too tired to move anymore and was powerless on his side.
Without warning, a shiny, metallic pellet came from nowhere and pierced the old buck’s skull, instantly killing him. Blood started to mix with mud as it poured from the gaping, lethal wound.
The young stag looked in horror as more burgundy blood flooded out the limp body’s head. Confused and exhausted, his instincts willed him to run from the dead deer. Whatever had killed the deer had power beyond any animal he knew. It had killed that deer with one small object that pierced bone and killed instantly.
The long, slender legs raced through the forest as he bounded over fallen logs and mossy rocks. Not knowing where he was going he just let his legs carry him away from the murder.
A tree made a loud cracking noise as bark and wood splintered explosively in all directions. The bullet had missed its mark that time; unfortunately it had sent agonizingly painful slivers into the stag’s body slowing his pace considerably for a moment.
Now panicked, confused, bewildered, exhausted and in pain, the deer became clumsy as his feet felt like lead. Yet, he felt he had to keep to going, he had survived the odds of the wild; he survived being eaten by predators, survived the harsh winters of Canada, survived starvation and drought. If those things that shot pellets could kill him as easily as it had killed the old buck, he would need as much distance between them and himself as possible.
With panic, fear and pain clouding his eyes, exhaustion muddling his thoughts and tiring limbs, he misjudged a jump and stumbled on an old, rotting log.
His body tumbled to the ground with a resounding thud. Dirt, twigs and leaves on the forest floor stuck like glue to his sweaty coat. Even more pain went through his body as twigs and splinters from before were driven deep into his skin, and sensitive muscle, by the fall.
Pain or not, he needed to get up and continue running.
He wobbled onto his feet like a newborn fawn. With his legs shaking beneath him, the stag didn’t think he could go any further. He was panting with the effort of standing. However, impulses of rage and anger now flooded him giving him the power he needed. Lurching forward he ignored his pain and started bounding through the forest again.
Why are they hunting us? We cannot hear them, see them or smell them until it’s too late and we are dead on the forest floor. They use killing techniques I have never seen before and they have the power of fifty cougars! The stag thought in his fury. Questions filled his head about the things-that-hunt-using-flying-pellets. The one he wanted to know the most was why are they doing this?
All of a sudden, memories flooded back to him from when he was a fawn. Memories of tales about these beasts-that-hunt-deer. He remembered eaves dropping on one doe talking to his mum about how she saw these “hunters” go to their kill. “They don’t usually eat it, only taking body parts and skinning the deer leaving the rest to rot,” she had whispered to his mum. Unlike normal predators, they only take the young, strong and healthy – not the old, weak and ill – deteriorating the deer gene pool. Forcing females to mate with the worst stags was causing very sick, frail, scrawny, unhealthy fawns.
Why they did this he knew not. He did know though that he didn’t want to be one of those skins. He had been through too much to die for no apparent reason. He would be a wonderful stag to pass his genes on.
Abruptly his head was slammed sideways as his antler hit a tree. He looked ahead to realise that the forest was getting too dense and if he continued his antlers would get stuck and he would be easy prey for those things.
Frustrated, he skidded to a halt making leaf litter fling into the air. He made a sudden mad dash back to the direction he came; he was now running towards the hunter. Once the forest had thinned out again he planned to quickly turn and keep running.
After twenty meters or so, the forest had thinned comfortably enough and he turned. More time passed as he ran wildly. He began to tire after what seemed like an endless time of running and he knew he needed to rest, drink and eat. Alas, deer can’t run forever. He slowed his pace to a fast walk. Smelling water, he dragged his weary feet as he huffed and puffed towards the tantalizing aroma.
Finally he reached a quiet brook with small blue flowers and bright, lush green grass. The stag took a long, well needed drink from the brook feeling the cool water energising him. He nibbled at the green grass that tasted so succulent at the moment. Quietly he thanked Nature for placing this wonderful sanctuary here.
Because he had felt like he had run enough to escape any predator, he settled down in the longer grass for a nice, quiet nap before he made more progress. He estimated that it would take the hunter a long while to follow his trail to this wonderful place. When the hunter did follow his trail to the Eden, he mused that he would be long gone and untraceable.
Right before he fell into a slumber he thought of the things he would get to do in his life, like pass his genetics on, eat more mouth watering apples, feel cool, refreshing water on his tongue, not waste all the effort he and his mom put into his life, munch on luscious grass in the meadows and he would, hopefully, get to see another sunrise. Hopefully...
* * * *
Ferns rustling awoke the stag. His keen senses had detected the sounds and he was now fully awake and alert. Even with ears straining to hear, there were no more sounds now. Although, he felt like something was watching him. It was making him nervous. He was putting his head down anyway to rest again when the wind changed direction, carrying an awful smell he had never smelled before. It had the acrid taint of the metal-boxes-on-wheels that sometimes roared past him on black paths.
It dawned on him that the metal pellets also smelled this way; he had sometimes found them stuck in trees and, out of mild curiosity, took a whiff of them. With the latter realization, he knew at once it was the strange predator-that-hunt-deer. It had found him.
Launching himself to his feet he planned to dash towards thick, tall undergrowth nearby that would hide him from the hunter.
Before he could make it two leaps he felt a burst of stinging pain just behind his left foreleg. The leg went limp and wouldn’t move. It hung there like a dead, broken branch. With his leg un-moving he faltered in his steps and crashed once more to the dusty, hard, cold, unforgiving ground. Lungs strained as he tried to breathe. But the breath escaped him, seeming to be just out of reach, even though it was all around him. Warmth spread from the place of pain and he looked down to see crimson ooze erupting from the wound.
Strength instantly left his body as he struggled to get up, except he found none of his limbs would obey. With panic he tried to move again, away from the creature that brought this pain, inability to breathe and disobedience of his limbs. He managed nothing but a small quiver in his tail and his head lifted slightly from the ground. The only sound was his unearthly wheezing.
Without notice, he let out a deafening bellow of pain and fear, despair and anger, confusion and panic, helplessness and frustration.
The young stag’s breathing became shallow and choppy. More blood gushed and spilled onto vegetation. What was once green was now dyed a grisly scarlet. When he had only a bit of energy left – and his body had stopped shuddering when he tried to move it – he heard the horrible hunter walk closer and closer.
It babbled sounds, their meaning unknown to the deer. The figure now loomed over the deer, blotting out the brilliant, wonderful, life-giving sun. The backlight shadowed its features and blurred them until they were undistinguishable. It reached for something on the side of its hip and pulled out a long, sharp, metal item that glinted in the sunlight. The hunter crouched with sharp thing in hand near the deer’s head.
The stag wanted to run desperately, run away from this terror. Escape the malicious being that was before him. He wanted to be a fawn again, to feel his mother’s soft, comforting, warm fur. He wanted to feel her love and caring. He wanted to nuzzle his black nose deep into her calming fur and inhale her soothing scent. He wanted her to tell him it would be alright. He wanted anyone to tell him it would be alright.
He also wanted to eat more mouth watering apples, feel cool, refreshing water on his tongue, not waste all the effort he and his mom put into his life, to munch on luscious grass in the meadows and he wanted to desperately see another beautiful, breathtaking sunrise.
The stag’s breathing rattled even more as the hunter inched a little closer to him. The young stag felt something smooth and cold on his neck. Then the sensation melted away into a warm wetness under his chin that ran down his neck onto the green grass and fragile blue flowers.
The big, beautiful eyes slowly shut as the life drifted out of him. It bled away and escaped his grasp like his blood on the forest floor, like the air he tried to gulp.
With one last laborious breath, everything went totally black and senseless for the young stag.
He would never get to eat more mouth watering apples, never feel cool, refreshing water on his tongue, never munch on luscious grass in the meadows and he would never see another beautiful, breathtaking sunrise.
He wanted so very little from life, except he still had it all taken away for reasons he – and most people – will never understand.
The stag had no chance.