“I am a forest, and a night of dark trees: but he who is not afraid of my darkness, will find banks full of roses under my cypresses.” – Friedrich Nietzsche
He was king in a realm of none. Over his emaciated body, he wore the worm-eaten hide of an animal found dead. His long brown hair was messy and tangled. The bottom of his feet had turned into thick soles of leather from walking on sticks and stones. His face was dirty, and his beard had grown down onto his heaving chest. He leaned against the spear and watched a stag white as snow. It still had its antlers with more prongs than he could count from where he stood. He had pursued it for two days as he followed the tracks in the thin layer of powder snow. It had not rested. Neither had he.
The instincts raged wild in his heart. The longing for killing something substantial animated his malnourished body. His diet of berries and fish was abundant during the summer. However, with winter, they withered and were hidden beneath snow and ice.
He migrated further south every day. Yet, the cold always seemed to be breathing down his neck. Every day and every step separated him evermore from the black mountain. The silhouette of which he still could see looming in the north. A mirage he had pursued for multiple moons. And now there was a growing barrier of freezing death, keeping them apart. He felt its winds raw against his skin. He felt the cold of the earth creep up his bones through the feet.
His prey went into the mountains, and so did he. It was colder there, and the thicker layer of snow made the tracking easier as he did not need to be as close to the animal and could rest when needed instead of keeping its phase. He chased it into the valleys of birch and then higher to where only conifers and mosses could live.
On the fifth day, he caught up. The stag stood in a grove grazing as if the great hunt was all forgotten. It scraped away the snow with its hoof and uncovered the moss hidden beneath. He crept closer as it ate of the little life there were left off the once exuberant summer growth. There were clouds in the air from his breathing. It was deep yet calm, measured, and timed with the minute movements of the animal. He froze as it lifted its head to look around. He watched its ears while it ate, as if they told the tale of the animal’s innermost thoughts, hoping he was not in them.
There was a boulder. Big enough to hide behind and close enough to throw the spear. He crawled there on his belly and rested his back against it. There was silence. All but the scuffing of hooves and the faint wind in the trees and mountains. He waited for a while and got onto his knees and peeked over at the stag. It was still grazing with its broadside turned toward him. He tried getting into a position allowing him to throw the spear with enough force to kill. There were none without revealing himself.
The stag turned its rump and took a couple of steps away from him. It stopped to graze on a patch of moss still visible through the snow. He clenched his jaws and tightened the grip around the spear. The animal took a few more steps away from him. He lifted the spear and readied himself for the throw, and waited for the perfect moment that never came. The stag lifted its head and looked at him for the blink of an eye before it fled into the forest. He threw the spear, but it fell short and astray.
Fuck! His shout echoed throughout the valley, and birds took off from the top of a tree. The stag was gone. He fetched the spear and went to the edge of the forest, and followed the tracks.
That evening, he collapsed into a heap of frustration and fatigue. He lay on his back and looked at the clouds pass him by until night came. The falling snow had almost covered him before he managed to get up onto his knees. He went into the edge of the forest and collected sticks he arranged on the ground. Then he took out the fire tools from his bag and began working. The sticks were moist, and it was midnight before he got a fire started. The first fire for many days. He heard the howling of some animal not far away, and he crept closer to the fire and hugged his spear throughout the night.
When he woke, all that was left of the fire was smoldering coals with a ring of bare ground around them. He ate the remaining crabapples and dried fish in his bag and regained enough strength to take on the journey down the mountain.
The snow had covered yesterday’s tracks. He spent a while searching for the way back before going into a grove. There he studied the growth of the branches of the trees and the lichen on their trunks. At nightfall, he looked the stars, and set off along the by starlight illuminated path down the mountain. It took him until morning to get back to the valley where he had thrown the spear. There was no sign of the animal. He continued.
At dawn, he came upon the stag’s tracks and followed them. They went down the same way as they had come up the mountain a couple of days earlier. Soon they intermingled with paw prints. The competition reawakened his bloodlust. He followed them astray from the intended path. The terrain became evermore ragged, and the tracks ended at a crevice. Curiosity urged him to look down. There, unreachable, was the stag stuck between the narrowing walls. Suffocated from every breath that had let it slide down deeper. The antlers were broken. He watched it for a while before continuing down the mountain empty-handed.