The morning haze swept gently across the gristle patches of green and brown. That familiar smell of moistened air that Thomas had drawn from every spring for 300 springs.
These walks were something of a ritual. It was a time of attunement with the mountain that has blessed every living thing within its bounds everlasting life.
On this walk however, the land and his heart were disturbed in a way he didn't think possible. He was lying under a tall oak tree.
Morning sunlight scattering through the leaves and branches casting veins of shadow onto the bed of the Forrest. Brown fur stained with red and a pool of blood drying beneath him.
This was a friend. Thomas had never named him, but those antlers were unmistakable, his "crown" as he'd like to imagine setting him apart from all the other deer he had seen.
It just occurred to him now to call him King, but it was too late.
A potent memory ached, King trotting near the cabin as Thomas was raising its final wall, a snapping of rope left him helpless,
having to trek down again to retrieve more to raise the final wall. King had been watching him from a distance and gently approached at Thomas's moment of distress.
King kicked his hoofs along the edge of the wall,
it took Thomas some time to understand but he lifted it up and as it reached tall enough King's antlers pressed against the wall taking all the weight of it with him.
Thomas secured it and King did not step away until he knew it was.
There was no aging here, but there was a wisdom that grew. All the things in these woods seemed a tad clever, and at first Thomas was hesitant to admit it, at risk of frightening his children.
The way the owls gave a call just before it stormed and how the nests of birds soon came to inhabit the entire crowns of trees.
King had at one time retrieved one his children who had ran off, Elizabeth.
King had heard the calls and came to the cabin where his wife had been clutching one of her gowns on the porch sobbing.
King gently approached as he always did sniff at the gown then gracefully leapt away into the woods appearing at its edge about a half hour later with Elizabeth.
Now his friend laid beneath a lonely oak, having lost the one thing that could never be freely given on this mountain.
Thomas knelt at his side for some time and eventually his family had appeared. The young doe's gathered by their mother, mourning in their own way. They all looked to King, heartbroken.
300 years of an unspoken kinship needed no more words now than it ever had. Thomas went back to his cabin to retrieve a shovel. When he was poking around his shed his wife had come to find him.
A thin flowing sundress that swept with her hair in the gentle breeze.
"What are you doing?"
Her voice so soft and unassuming.
Thomas didn't reply at first. As he looked to his wife for a moment he was prepared for honesty, but her face was molded by years of peace.
So soft and pleasant as it had become after the blessing had blossomed for her. Thomas did not wish to break that.
"I just found a nice path I was going to carve it in a little more."
His wife smiled.
"I can get Samuel to come help you."
Thomas froze for a moment. This dishonesty so alien.
"I wanted to surprise you. Take us all on a walk, maybe tomorrow."
That was plenty for her. She smiled again offered him a drink and took her leave.
Thomas brought the shovel back to King where his family still stood. Thomas looked closer at him. Seeing the burns of fur where a bullet had met him.
A chill rang through Thomas. His friend did not leave this world on his accord. He was taken by force. Thomas arranged some stones at the base of the tree and began to dig next to King.
As he took King to lower him a doe cried out but its mother put her leg ahead of him and he retreated to her side.
Thomas stepped away when he finished filling the grave and stood there silent and then King's family stepped away and then Thomas stepped away and he had seen that the sun was lowering,
and his family would wonder where he was, and if he was lost.
He was lost. Even when he returned home he sat silent at dinner while his children postured him with their proportionally inaccurate reflection of the day's events.
Thomas's wife watched him glance to his children then look away. It caused him pain to see them. It conjured fear and disillusion in his mind of what could be.
Questions kept him awake that night. Cold even with his wife's head against his chest, them both concealed by a heavy blanket.
He watched the ceiling and the morning light grow across it eventually casting its pale blue through the room. He feigned waking when his wife jostled.
That day he conveniently excused himself to work on the trail bringing the shovel back into the woods even though he would never use it.
He'd sit near the tree the veins of shadows shifting through the day watching the grave of his friend like a gargoyle over a cemetery.
Unlike stone he was far from resolute and drifting in and out of fits of sobbing and uncomfortable contemplation of the reality he had now to face.
He thought about his children and their eternal detachment from the full experience of life.
He wondered if something would take them so violently so suddenly even though outside of this mountain they would all be dead.
He went home that night again listening to their stories which had grown to become reminders in the evenings to come of their prison having hardly even began to become a person they would
be able to. The guilt began to haunt him.
Day by day would pass and he would keep his demeanor intact for his family.
A new act had begun for him where he was no way inclined to shatter them and their bliss but contended to quietly suffer and maintain his impression on their lives.
Then he wondered if it was a life. Where no stakes existed except for a sudden exit. A record circling catching the needle playing only the first few moments of a song over and over again.
The daily consistency became a haunting.
Thomas could not know for sure if the animals had grown to understand. Their verdant kingdoms paused in existence seemed to change after King had died.
Perhaps King had more reach than Thomas ever knew and had touched every trace of life on this mountain.
One night a storm had come with no warning from the owls and the next night he stood outside waiting for their calls, scanning the trees and hoping they were still there. They must have gone.
They were never heard for any night ever again.
Then it was the collapsed nests along the Forrest bed, the crowns of the trees silent and still the wind jostling unkempt nests from them. The birds had gone.
He went back to the grave of his friend and it seemed however long had passed the grass should have begun to cover the dirt but it was there,
still with the impression of his shovel as if nothing had disturbed it as if he had burred his friend just moments ago.
Finally, one morning he saw King's family overlooking their cabin, exchanging an unspoken goodbye as they turned and began to descend the mountain.
They had all made the choice he wished to make, but they would just go back the world their kind had always known.
Nature itself was unchanged but Thomas knew humanity was not inclined towards stagnation in fact it was the opposite.
So, they would return to a strange world and begin to live out lives and just as they could adjust they would be growing old and preparing to pass.
They would come with no wonderful knowledge only of the curse of this mountain, which Thomas would never want to pass to another living soul.
Better to glimmer and fade, casting your light against something that could change and grow rather than sit absolute like the space between planets and never having done anything at all.
Thomas had brought with him and old rifle, which had sat in his shed hidden away since he arrived and never retrieved.
To his relief the gun had never been shot, it was dusty and dirty, and the bullets were all still there but when it was darkest he would clean it.
Many years would pass, and he would return to see it just as well as it was that night he had worked on it.
His family would go on being just as they were the day before. The year before.
Thomas sat with this everlasting pain, it did not fade, and it did not change it was just as it was when he discovered King below the Oak tree.
If only they were wise like the animals and could leave and survive and live. He was sure by now Kings children had grown and had doe's of their own.
Grazing woods and fields that were far away from human interference. Eventually coming to rest somewhere quiet and beautiful.
Thomas never had an urge to bring harm to himself or his family. The truth even though far more painful was much easier delivered and he had continued to keep it from his family.
One day he saw nests anew. Small at first but began to grow and encompass the crowns again. Then a call of an owl brought him up at night, then a different one another night as it began to rain.
Thomas brought his rifle one day, to try and scare the animals away. To keep them from being trapped in this moment eternal.
Their machinations had escaped human perception and if Thomas had known then as he did now he would have tried to send them all away. Though it seemed they had realized before him.
He knocked his rifle into trees even fired a shot against his better judgement. They would scatter and retreat only to be seen at different trees just a few hours later.
Just as the sun had begun to settle over the mountain his patrol led him to a lonely part of the forest close to the edge of the mountains.
A rustling captured his attention he turned to see a family of deer led by a Buck that looked at him longingly and someday thoughtfully. They had just breached the woods.
Then they would maybe come close to become close, but Thomas had no desire for such torment.
He raised his rifle, the Buck's ear twitched.