I stand as still as stone, ears pricked toward the trees. Mist curls around their trunks, swirls in the darkness in between. Water laps at my hooves.
I snort and twitch my nose.
I’m certain I heard something. A stick breaking, leaves crunching underfoot. All I hear now is the burble of the stream and the panicked beating of my heart. In the distance, a plover keens.
Long blades of light slice through the canopy, impaling the shadows. Golden motes float in the air, hover before my eyes.
I stare past into the gloom, searching for something, anything, out of place. A shadow. Movement. Eyes looking back at me.
My nostrils flare, my breath whuffs in my nose. The stink of clover and decaying leaves rushes my senses.
I flick my tail.
Noise bursts from the trees, shattering the quiet. A woodpecker lunges into the air, its wings thrashing, grasping for flight. Leaves shower from the branches, an explosion of color. Tree frog green, sunlight yellow, chestnut brown.
My heart jolts and relief shoots through my veins. It was only a bird.
I snort again, stamp my feet. My hooves click on the wet rocks. Resting my ears flat against my head, I stretch my neck to the water and drink. The liquid is cool on my tongue. With every mouthful I swallow, my thirst ebbs. All I know is peace and calm and satiation.
Until a heavy weight pommels me, knocks my legs out from under me.
Teeth tear my flesh, rip at my throat. I scramble to regain my footing but plummet to the ground. My hooves kick uselessly at the air.
Weight presses down on me. I cannot move. My breath whuffs, wet and sticky, where my throat used to be. I stare at the trees. Blood leaks out of me, soaks into the earth. The sky, blue and endless, winks through the leaves.
Then, a face dominates my vision. Cruel eyes mocking. Wide mouth grinning, smeared red with blood. I scream, but no sound comes out.