I stand as still as stone, ears pricked towards the trees. Mist curls around their trunks, swirls in the darkness in between. Water laps at my hooves.
I snort, my nose twitching.
I’m sure I heard something. A stick breaking, leaves crunching underfoot. All I can hear now is the burble of the stream and the panicked beating of my heart. Far off in the distance a plover keens.
Long blades of light slice through the canopy above, impaling the shadows. Little golden motes hang in the air, hover in front of my eyes. I stare past them 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 pine and decaying leaves rushes my senses.
I flick my tail.
Noise bursts from the trees, shattering the quiet. I jerk my neck to see a bird lunge into the air, its wings thrashing, grasping for flight. Leaves shower down from the branches, an explosion of colour. Tree frog green, sunlight yellow, chestnut brown.
My heart jolts. Relief shoots through my veins. That must have been what I heard, a damn 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 down 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, knocking my legs out from under me.
Teeth tear into my flesh, rip at my throat. I scramble to regain my footing but plummet to the ground. My hooves kick uselessly at the air.
The weight presses down on me. I cannot move. My breath whuffs, wet and sticky, where my throat used to be. I stare up at the trees. Blood leaks out of me, soaks into the earth. The sky, blue and endless, winks at me through the leaves.
And then I see a face. Green eyes mocking me. A wide mouth grinning, smeared red with blood. I scream but no sound comes out.