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
Above, the white crowned creature opens its sculpted beak and
cries. The sound cleaves the calm air and echoes into the forest
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
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
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
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
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,
The last direct rays of the sun disappear but the afterglow fills
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
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
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 chime...in
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
The trees creek as their branches stretch toward the shifting
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
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
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
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