Alternative Culture Magazine


Alternative Literature





by Matt Sarnecki


Soft stars begin to fade in the early morning sky. Our eyes float downward and find an eagle perched on top of the world. Tiny spots spiral around the bird's eyes, which pierce the fading darkness. Her head swivels to the east and to the west before craning down to the world below. The bird's eye view reveals that she is resting on top of an immense tree, in the center of a small round clearing, atop a hill, nested in a grand ring of misty mountains. The tree's unique branches reveal fat lush leaves and sparkling golden berries. In the open area below, we catch a glimpse of strange markers in the ground, circling the trunk of the great tree.

A tiny insect tiptoes across the great green span of a leaf and comes to a giant sphere of shimmering liquid. It bows before the orb.

Above, the white crowned creature opens its sculpted beak and cries. The sound cleaves the calm air and echoes into the forest below.

The drop of dew quivers as the voice of the eagle ripples through the air. The glowing horizon is captured in the drop of water just before it rolls from its precarious place upon the intricately webbed leaf. The little bug manages to hold on. The one drop becomes many as the dew trickles from leaf to leaf on its way to earth.

Time slows as a drop of the collective water hits the puddled ground. The drop plunges into a small pool of perfectly calm water. Tiny round droplets spring and spiral into the air as smooth rings emanate from the epicenter of the water dance. We follow one of the rings as it pulses and expands towards the edge of the pool. As it strikes the lip, one droplet is sent over the edge, into the smallest tributary not known to man. The trickle zigs and zags down a gentle slope before emptying itself into a narrow coursing stream , which empties itself into a swiftly flowing river. A perfectly round blue stone bulges up from the riverbed. Alongside the east bank are hoofprints. Alongside the hoofprints are small bare footprints.

Tracing the footprints backward, though a small patch of forest, we find a small abode nestled into the sloped hillside. The round earthy clay home bulges from a foothill top, surrounded by a circular garden blending into the surrounding forest. A dark arched entryway leads inside. Blackness, stillness.

A peek to the east reveals the glowing crust of mountain ranges lining the horizon, pregnant, the rising sun reaching up and over. The first beam splits the sky wide open.

As orange light drips over the land, it descends over the small home, reaching into the darkness. At the same moment a figure appears in the archway. The light flows into a pair of ancient eyes clouded but glowing, peeking out and widening behind the wrinkles of timeless skin. A woman emerges into the warm light.
She rolls herself forward as if floating seated cross-legged and upright in a crudely fashioned wheelchair, metal absent. She is covered in a red soil brushed shawl, her silver hair spirals downward from her head. Tiny spring gnats dance in and out of her nesty hair.

The sun rises above the horizon. The old woman cautiously rises to her bare feet. As her heels touch the ground, a strong gust of wind moves through the orb shaped windchimes hanging in the garden.

From under her shawl, she pulls out a handworn walking stick. An intricately carved snail rests atop. She grips the smooth wooden shell and walks to her garden, her hand out to the array of plant life surrounding her home.

The wind blows. The old woman's nostrils flare. She turns her attention to the east, upwind. A giant elk emerges from a lip of high grass. Tiny birds play in his antlers as he notices the old woman. Both of them calmly enjoy deep breaths of brisk morning air. The elk rubs his antlers in a thick patch of flowering red hibiscus, stirring their wild scent into the air. The woman's cheeks glow as she catches the flowered kiss of air.

The birds return to the elk's antlers as he disappears into the forest.

The old woman turns to the hilltop and starts upon a red soiled footpath, which stems from the circular garden. Up she goes, slowly, methodically, into the thick greenlit woods.

Tiny wild flowers open to the rising sun as it dapples the woman's path. A golden round shelled beetle starts up the base of a stalk. The forest floor springs up after each careful step the old woman takes. The sound of flowing water emerges in the distance. The beetle labors upward. New leaf buds open. The insect reaches the base of a magnificent white flower atop the stem. It climbs over the lip of the soft white petal and clings to the pistil as it drinks the sweet nectar inside.

The woman touches and feels her way through small openings in the thicket, reaching the bank of a sparkling stream as the sun rises higher into the mid-morning sky.

The old woman cups her hands into the water and the sun's reflections dance on her wrinkled face. She brings her hands up. As the clear liquid touches her lips, the faint cry of the eagle rips across the sky.

She sips from a calmly swirling pool of clean water. Her reflection is perfectly still before she dabs some water on her head and cheeks. She smells and tastes her wet hand...and becomes slightly puzzled, perhaps nervous. Dry leaves rustle. She turns upstream, sniffing, sensing...something. Then it is gone.

The sun reaches its apex in the deep blue space above. The woman leaves the water's edge refreshed yet cautious, traveling along the river, up the hill.

Clouds begin to form in the west. The sun slides down the sky. Tiny leaf stalks bend toward the shifting light. The woman's path steepens. She uses slender white birch branches to pull herself up, chasing the sun in slow motion. The white flower closes around the shadowed beetle, still suckling on the sweet nectar.

The woman nears the top of the hill and pauses alongside the tiny trickle, which was the flowing river below. She disappears into a dense ring of high sage. She emerges into a circular clearing, standing centered in the shadow of a great grandfather sequoia, its branches and roots spiraling out from its massive trunk. Quietude.

Circling the base of the giant tree are several markers and the woman, hands reaching out, goes to the nearest one...a small crafted shell case full of dried nuts and seeds and a tiny stone in front of it with the weather worn etching of a cheerful looking squirrel.

She moves around the circle, revisiting, feeling other small memories, past acquaintances of the forest...a mounded foxhole, a raised patch of whippoorwill in the shape of a slender doe, a stick-made hanging mobile with tiny leaf winged bird replicas.

As her ancient hand leaves the wing tip of one of the sculpted birds, a gunshot explodes and rips the stillness wide open.

The eagle leaps from its nest atop the giant tree as other birds cry and flock into the sky as surrounding trees collectively quiver.

The old woman's face is frozen. Anguish, sorrow. As the echo of the blast fades, she solemnly makes her way to the tree's massive trunk. She grasps the bark and embraces the tree, her breath fading. Another shot rings out, the sound slams into her. She slowly sinks down, her hands losing their grip on the wide strips of bark. She crumbles to the ground as her old body gives way. She lies strained over the large bulging roots.

The woman's chest rises but slows with every breath. The deep orange sun slinks toward the horizon, turning red. The slow sound of her breath fades into the slow labored pounding of hooves coming toward her. They pound in sync together. Her nostrils flair, her breath speeds up slightly.

The familiar giant elk limps toward her. Thick blood streams from a dark hole in his shoulder. He stumbles and pauses but makes his way to her side and collapses.

The old woman musters a little strength and makes the animal's head more comfortable. She reaches her arm over the elk and holds him close. They lay huddled, fetal...until their breath runs out, together.

The last direct rays of the sun disappear but the afterglow fills the sky.


A sharp moonsliver in the darkness.....fades into morning light...again.

The eagle cries as the dimly lit world appears. The sound of moving water fades in as we flow, hovering above the swirling surface of the stream. We pass an oddly shaped blue stone and come to a large square shaped boulder, which rips the flow in two. The smaller stream branches off and flows into the darkness of the early morning forest. It splinters off into four more streams, the last one eventually trickling into an embankment behind the shoulder of a dirt road.

The liquid climbs and babbles over. As it snakes its way across the dirt, a horrible wrenching noise builds. It bellows closer, roaring. A flash of artificial light catches the trickle as it is severed by deep tire tracks, thick tread.

A large rusted chrome truck creeps to a halt, the sky behind it dark but pulsing from a pale hazed glow in the distance.

The cab of the truck is dark. The crickets nervously chirp but are silenced as the door opens, its grinding metal hinges screaming.

A small young man steps out. His boot sinks into the moist ground, the print deep. He slings a pack over his shoulder and pulls out a rifle. He faces westward, his back to the glowing eastern sky, which sheds a bit of light on his weapon as he inspects it. We see the anticipation in his eyes as the last of the cold moonlight lights them. He turns and raises his rifle toward the large hill nested in the mountain valley. He aims toward the top, peering through his electronic scope.

Something moves across his field of vision, blurred in the foreground of his scope. He lowers his rifle and watches in awe as several small elk sneak through the nearby brush. The man fumbles for a box of ammunition in his bag but when he looks up the creatures have disappeared.

The man begins to load the weapon, cupping the large caliber bullet in his soft hand before loading it in the chamber. He quietly closes his truck door and heads up a crooked path. He is on the west side of the foothill and enters into the darkest patch of forest, centered in the hill's shadow.

The man clumsily moves through the underbrush using the barrel of the rifle to swat his way through. He rips apart a delicate spider web and a tiny red arachnid swings around on its thread, landing on the man's left shoulder, immediately curling into a protective ball.

Crunching, snapping hissing sounds go off as each foot tramples the earth below. The sun rises in the sky and light spills around the young hunter but he remains mostly in shadows cast by surrounding trees. He pauses to rest, surveying the land around him. As he listens, the faint sound of tricking water flits through the trees, but is intruded upon by the humming sound of an insect flying around his head and ears. The noise becomes a sonic and out...louder and softer. He swats at the air but the buzzing bug returns. He swats again and there is silence. He brings his hand around and sees a large mosquito adjusting his needled nose into a protruding vein in his wrist. He watches, fascinated as the insect pierces his skin and begins to fill its body with his deep, purple red blood. The bulging insect retracts its needle and clumsily flies off. The man snaps out of his momentary daze and turns his attention back to the sound of the river.

He approaches the stream in near silence, his eyes twitching back and forth. His glance shoots down and the moist ground reveals hoofprints. He steps directly on top of their imprint, replacing them.

The trees creek as their branches stretch toward the shifting sun.

The man makes his way to the edge of the water, carefully leaning over. He wipes his hands and the grease from his skin mixes into the water. As he splashes water on his neck and face, the tiny spider on his shoulder cowers as gigantic droplets of water crash down around him.

The hunter drinks from his cupped hands, briefly noticing his distorted reflection before he notices something moving along the river, downstream.

He quickly hides and raises his rifle, scanning the area. The reddish brown body of something can be seen through the brush at the water's edge. He wraps his finger around the trigger and waits.

The old woman emerges, her face turns toward him. His finger flinches, then loosens on the trigger but he keeps her in his scope-enhanced sight. As she dabs water on her forehead, the wet spot is exactly in his crosshairs. He lowers the rifle and watches as she scans upstream. He hides behind a nearby outcropping of jagged granite and waits.
She eventually makes her way up the bank. He watches her, puzzled, but his attention returns to the hoofprints once again, only to realize they disappear into the river.

The man slowly begins to make his way along the bank after losing sight of the old woman. As he labors upward, the sun begins its descent into the western sky. Leaves crumple and flowers begin to close. We catch a glimpse of the white petaled flower, which closed around the golden beetle. The hunter's boot crushes it. His foot freezes on top of it. The man's face is also frozen in an awed glaze.

The giant elk appears from behind a gathering of old dying white pines. The hunter carefully raises his weapon as if it was raising itself, his eyes locked on the majestic animal before him. With a light wind in his face, the man puts the elk's head in the scope's crosshairs. The magnification is so powerful that we can see the golden sunlit eyelashes of the animal in the setting sun.

The man's finger creeps onto the steel trigger and begins to squeeze but halts along with his breath as the elk turns and stares directly at him. The stare lasts an eternity but is suddenly broken by the explosion of the rifle. The slug shatters the elk's shoulder, sending the animal reeling and stumbling away from the pain. The elk cries in a low, strained fashion...the first time this animal has ever made this sound.

The hunter stands dazed but slowly regains purpose and marches after the limping animal. He reloads. The elk's front leg buckles and he crashes to the forest floor. The sun descends toward the tree line. The hunter slows as he approaches his wounded and twitching prey.

As he reaches the animal, the man is so focused, his eyes ablaze, that he does not notice a dead tree stump, which he trips over. As he flails forward, he loses his balance and his grip on his rifle, which flips around and lands against an upturned rock. The weapon goes off.

We see the man's eyes as he lands on his knees. They slowly shift from wide and surprised to strained and thin. The space between them crumples, as does his entire body. His neck has been ripped open. Blood flows freely from the gaping wound as he falls next to the elk.

The man begins to shiver and pale as he looks into the dying animal's open eyes. He moves his body alongside the elk. Warmth. He puts his arm around the animal's body and holds it close with a tight grasp on the elk's soft auburn fur. The warm rays of the setting sun peek through the trees and finally shine upon the man's face as his breathing slows...and ceases. The dim glow in his eyes fades to black. The elk's breath also slows...and pauses briefly as the wind blows. Windchimes, faintly in the distance. His large nostrils flair and his breath speeds up slightly. The downed creature uses its fading strength to labor to its hooves, somehow standing upright, and turns toward the nearby hilltop. The top of the great tree stands tall, still lit by the glowing western sun. The elk heads directly into this light, toward the tree.

The man lies still…cold...and getting colder. On his shoulder is the tiny red spider. It crawls over the dead man's face and begins to weave a web over one of his shadowed eyes.

Copyright © 2002 Matthew Holland Sarnecki

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