The fog glows diffuse and red. LEDs provide the pulse that crosses the darkness of the countryside. The glow from the break lights carries itself within the cold mist and warps in the frosted air. There is only stagnation, countless vehicles in the dark.
Laura taps her steering wheel, her eyes fixed on the break lights illuminating the interior of her car. An involuntary sigh drifts from her lips. She is stuck here. How did this happen? How did she find herself on the slow path to nowhere?
‘I told you we should’ve avoided the motorway’ says Kieran.
Laura sucks on her teeth and tries to stop herself from responding to Kieran. She hates it when he does this.
‘I told you that the radio said not to join the motorway at this junction.’
There are just too many “I told you’s” for Laura to tolerate these days.
‘Well, we did, Kieran! You suggested that we might as well stay on the motorway, so here we are.’
‘We’ll never get to Mom’s in time!’ Kieran huffs and looks outside at the darkening sky.
Laura feels the mood change. The long droning silence replaced with hot air. She wishes that she had said nothing. The red light symphony blinks and the cars ahead begin to move. As she listens to the frustrated engines groan, she returns to numbness, a numbness that allows her to accept her exterior existence, but nothing more. She can feel a remnant of a happier time. Laughter. Joy…
‘Badger!’ shouts Kieran.
Her mind snaps back and she follows Kieran’s pointing finger to a dark furry object on the curb, still and lifeless, the night hiding its ills. Laura quickly looks away.
Kieran sniggers through his nostrils. ‘oooh! Not good. Not good. That must have been painful for the furry beggar!’
‘Don’t be so repulsive!’ snaps Laura.
‘Why am I being repulsive? I’m just watching the wildlife, that’s all… and there’s a fox!’
‘Kieran! Grow up, for God’s sake! Why don’t you do something useful, like finding a way out of this traffic!’
Kieran flicks through the options on the Sat-Nav and shakes his head. ‘Okay, okay. What’s your problem today, you’re in a right grump?’
Laura knows there is something wrong, but winding all her feelings into a single sentence is impossible. She looks up at the few stars that glimmer in the sky and knows that there is one thing on the top of her list that is bothering her…
Kieran slaps the Sat-Nav onto the dashboard. ‘There. Done. Happy now? Come off at the next exit!’
She missed her chance to tell him. His arms are folded now and he’s glaring out of the passenger window. He was so much happier when they first met. They used to talk about the future. Moving away from all this. Now, now life is stasis. She knows he’s still in there, isn’t he?
Laura puts her hand on his knee and he turns around reluctantly. She see’s a glimmer of the man she once knew.
‘You’re right, there is something bothering me. I’ve been thinking about work, the commute into the office. The people. I think I might… I was thinking of handing in my notice.’
A warm blanket of relief wraps around her shoulders as the words leave her lips. She hates working at the solicitors. It felt wrong from the very first day.
Kieran’s jaw hangs open. Frown lines forming. ‘Quit? How can you quit? How will we afford to pay for anything?’
‘We can survive on our savings and your salary for a couple of months while I find myself a new job’ she says.
Kieran huffs and taps his chest. ‘So I can pay for everything, can I? Why should I? You earn a good wage at that firm. Why throw it away?’
The glimmer of the man she once knew disappears rapidly, and she finds herself getting angry. Money. Why is money so important to him these days? She fights against her barbed tongue. She holds in a breath and tries again. ‘They belittle me at work. They don’t care about any of the legal cases. They don’t want me there, and I don’t want to be there.’
Kieran just stares out of the window. His fists tightly tucked under his shoulders. ‘Just come off at this junction up ahead’ he grunts.
Car lights flash across the hedges.
The light passes across the fallen.
An eye misting over.
The light fades.
I stand vigil in the dark.
The cold air on my breath.
I see the life fade and drift away into the night’s sky.
There are too many of us dancing.
The dance of the dead brings imbalance.
So many lost in such a small space of time.
Surviving is everything.
It will stop.
‘Do you think my job is any different? Do you think I love working with the idiots in the shop. The phone calls. The emails. I just tolerate them’ bellows Kieran.
Laura sighs as she turns right at the junction. She longs to hear the man who once said he would die for her. The man who would protect her, no matter what. Where has he gone? ‘I don’t want a job that I tolerate. These people, this job, It’s not me, don’t you understand? I never wanted this.’
‘Well what do you want, Laura?’
A good question. What does Laura want? She knows there is nothing to latch onto, just a feeling. She thinks back. She smells flowers. She feels the breeze in her hair. She hears her parents calling her back to the cottage…
… Her grand parents cottage…
… She hasn’t thought about them for years. She remembers trying to name every sheep on the farm…
‘Laura! For Christ’s sake, the turning is right there!!’
She lurches the car onto the slip road and onto the minor road.
This place smells of death.
Things are so hard now.
So few come back each night.
These loud, fast roaring things.
We run from them.
Why should we run?
They want to see the end of us.
This place gave us life.
We hide in the shadows.
We run through the light of the stars.
Their light will not overcome us.
‘I just don’t know what’s gotten into you at the moment. How do you think surviving on my salary alone would work? Explain it to me, go on.’
Like a schoolteacher, he demands. ‘Justify your thoughts!’ No, why should I? No, not now, maybe he doesn’t understand. She finds a small corner of inner calm and tries again.
‘Remember when we use to talk of getting away from all this? Remember? We talked about visiting Trevor in New Zealand. We talked about emigrating.’
Kieran shifts his mouth around the question, frowning and looking at Laura as if seeing something incomprehensible. He remembers the conversation, so long ago. He sniggers and shakes his head. ‘That’s your solution? That’s what you want?’
Laura’s foot presses down on the accelerator as Kieran’s tone switches to condescending.
‘It’s not the first time we’ve talked about it’ she says quietly.
Kieran laughs out loud and mutters under his breath. She cannot accept this. ‘What?!’ She snaps.
‘That was ten years ago. We were kids. We probably talked about it while eating Pick n’ Mix, for Christ’s sake.’
She slams the accelerator down to the floor.
‘I don’t know what’s got into you tonight. It’s time you came back to the real world.’
The car rages on.
This place has changed.
My brothers and sisters, my family, we have met here in the waning of the sun for as many years as I can remember.
Every season there are less of us.
They have started to build.
Our green has been destroyed.
We are chased and hunted.
So few of us, now.
There will be none of us to meet for the rut next season.
Those of us that remain know this.
We will cease to exist.
The humans have forgotten the code that binds us.
My antlers are heavy now in these, my final seasons.
They weigh a burden on me, on my hollowing frame.
I see it in the moonlight.
I hear it in the woods.
The moment is upon us.
It tingles through my body.
It smells of minerals.
The moment will honour our code.
It reforms us all.
In the moment I will take back all those that we have lost.
I will walk onto the human’s black shiny river, where they hide inside their noisy metal predators.
Rushing, roaring and angry.
So many of us lost on the black rivers.
All lost crossing the black rivers.
They will all be reborn through me.
A stance has to be taken.
I am one, but I embody many.
The shadows that dance around me are together.
They are with me.
This stagnant and deathly place will be reversed.
The light that shimmers in the distance.
The gathering noise.
It will end.
The street lights disappear behind them and walls of dense dark trees engulf the landscape. Night turns to something more solid.
The real world? How dare he speak of the real world! Is that where he thinks he lives? Buying suits, shoes and pointless gadgets, Is that the real world? She thinks of their debts and loans. Their finances are so tight, but he can’t stop spending. She’s tried to tell him, but he never listens. They end each month in debt. She considers whether that is the point Kieran is trying to make. Maybe he’s right. Maybe they can’t afford for her to hand in her notice. If only he spent less… then… oh, what’s the point. She thinks of the countryside again, of the sheep in the fields. Things were simpler back then. There weren’t so many things to deal with…
‘How can we even be discussing this?! Emigrating? Seriously? What about my Mom? Have you considered that?! There is no way I can leave her alone. She must be worried sick by now.’
She sniggers at this sudden concern for his mother. He doesn’t normally have anything nice to say about her. Kieran met his brother recently to discuss their inheritance and has ensured that they both travel to meet his Mother each weekend since.
‘What about your Mum? You’ve never been interested in visiting her before!’ Damn! She was too quick to respond. She shouldn’t have said it.
‘What’s that supposed to mean?!’ he snaps.
She tries to stop herself from carrying on, but she fails ‘You’ve tried to avoid her for years’. It is too late. That antagonistic formula has been coded into the air.
‘Are you trying to say that I don’t care about my Mum?’
‘No, that’s not what I meant.’ She knows that statement isn’t entirely true, but she wants to calm him down.
Kieran’s fist crashes down on the dashboard making Laura’s back shudder in panic from the sharp noise. His fist pumping also announces that Laura’s attempt to calm him down hasn’t worked.
‘How dare you say I don’t care about my Mum’.
His voice is different now. Gritty and low. These moods come more frequently now. She knows that he does it to scare her. That charming young man, buried somewhere inside this vessel. Is she such a bad girlfriend to cause this?
‘Go on, quit your job. See if I care!’
It has gone too far. He wants to burn everything. She doesn’t want this attitude from him. She doesn’t want more arguments. She turns to face him, glancing across the dark road.
‘Kieran, please. Don’t react like this’
‘Why the hell not?’
‘Of course you care about your Mum… Of course you do.’ She ponders the unthinkable. ‘Okay, I’ll…’
No. She doesn’t want to say it. It takes every ounce of her being to burn away the only hope she has left. She looks up into the night sky wishing she was else where.
‘…I’ll stay in my job. Until something better comes…’
This is when it happens. Kieran see’s it first. His arms quickly cover his face and he moves his head back. Laura takes longer to react. The image is too large and too close. Her feet slam down onto the pedals and the car screeches, gliding across the road. Skimming noises, rubber smells and an uncontrollable force. The tires wheeze and patter on the tarmac as the car stutters.
The metal beast approaches.
Its light burns my eyes.
It roars for my blood.
I feel a moment of fear, sharp and cold.
It fills me with the urge to run.
Like so many others before me.
The final flinch.
I defy the fear.
All of it.
This is the moment.
It glares with all seeing eyes and I glare back.
All those that we have lost.
They all glare back.
The humans have gone too far.
The car sways from side to side and Kieran leans over Laura, forcing his hands onto the steering wheel and pushing her aside. He tries to straighten the steering wheel. Laura see’s the stag in the middle of the road. The image is so fast it appears like a cardboard cut-out. Immobile. Its eyes shimmer in the headlights. Laura tries to force the steering wheel back from Kieran, but he maintains his powerful grip. Every fiber of her being wants to avoid a collision with this animal, but she can’t force Kieran’s hands from the wheel. No. She can’t let this happen. She will never forgive herself.
The car hurtles forward.
The stag is metres away from the bonnet, standing stony still.
The stag raises his front legs and plummets them onto the tarmac.
A deadening thud hammers from his hoofs and shudders the surrounding trees. They sway at an unnatural speed. The car suddenly stops still, no shaking, no creaking, nothing. The smell of burning rubber stops. The noise of bearings shattering stops.
Laura’s heart pummels her chest. Her hands outstretched towards the windscreen waiting for it to shatter across her face. Any moment she expects it to cave in. The moment never comes. She can still see the stag. Kieran’s hand is still fixed on the steering wheel; his eyes locked on the animal.
The stag returns his gaze. He can see the choice that this human has made.
This metal killing machine that the human hand created is more precious to him than another life.
Than my life.
To crush my bones is an acceptable outcome, rather than risk damage to this metal box on wheels.
The least effort.
Minimal risk to his life and the female’s.
You would never survive in my world.
Laura shuts her eyes, still waiting for the inevitable crash; she knows it will happen.
Her heart beats in short bursts.
Too much time passes.
Far too much time.
She is scared to look.
Time passes further.
She grips tightly to the steering wheel as she opens her eyes.
The stag is glowing. The light from the headlights is absorbed and reflected into a golden aura. The light builds from the stag’s chest until all of its body throbs with warm golden light. The light shimmers around the animal like pollen drifting into the air from a flower. The golden light floods across the road and through the trees, eliminating all shadows. The light intensifies. Laura feels a tingle in her ears and a humming that gets louder.
Kieran holds his hands over his ears as the noise swirls around him. Laura can see that he is in pain. Kieran says something to her, but she can’t hear the words over the bright noise. Kieran moves over the passenger seat and pushes his foot down on top of Laura’s, forcing the accelerator pedal down. She tries to fight him, but her movements feel like she is swimming through tar.
I feel the moment flowing through me.
These humans, they do not understand us.
Their negligence is a tally.
We have kept count for a long time.
The male still resists.
He is trying again to use the metal beast to defend himself.
He dares stand before me?
In the moment?
Kieran screams an empty shout as he forces the car into action. Laura can feel the slow pressure of Kieran’s foot pushing down on her ankle, forcing it to the side. She yells, but no sound comes.
This ignorant male, this stupid human.
He still defies us.
The stag sniffs the air and he puffs up his powerful chest and raises his head to the sky. A deep rumble reverberates from his throat, shaking the ground. The noise is like ice breaking.
Laura feels the pressure on her skull. The pressure builds, and she wants to escape her skin. She sees Kieran screaming, but still no sound permeates.
The rumbling from the stags throat shakes the car and it starts to strip away from around them both. The strips of car peel back and cascade into metal dust and drift into the air; first the body of the car and then the interior. The car seats dissolve to nothing and they both find themselves sitting on the ruptured tarmac, facing the glowing stag.
Laura reaches for Kieran’s hand. Her perception and faith in all things was being rewritten. Kieran reaches towards her.
Now you see, human.
Now you feel The Moment.
Before all of us you cower down.
Finally, you are on your knees.
One of you is reminded.
The shimmering stag moves towards Kieran. Its eyes locked on him. Kieran moves closer to the ground, protecting his eyes from the light.
As the stag gets closer, his light gets brighter. Through all the brightness Kieran can still see the stags eyes. Dark, brown and judging.
Laura drags her shaky body across the tarmac. She throws herself in front of Kieran, hiding her eyes as she does so. The stag grunts and his light brightens. The light becomes solid and pushes Laura back to ground. She drops to the tarmac, back where she started. She shouts to Kieran; she tries to tell him to run.
Kieran is like a statue, kneeling; his hands defending his face.
The stag lowers its head and bends its legs.
One strong breath.
A thump of hoofs.
He charges, head down, towards Kieran. His antlers jutting forwards. Towards Kieran. Laura shouts, but all sound falls to silence.
The stag pushes his front legs up at the last moment, raising his whole body above Kieran. His antlers crash through Kieran’s chest.
Laura’s heart stops.
There is no blood. There is no movement. Kieran remains as a statue.
There is a moment of stillness, then a gentle breeze blows across the road. Kieran starts to dissolve into a rainbow of metallic particles, from his chest outwards. They swirl up into the night sky, until every particle of him is airborne.
Kieran is gone, but no one has ever been lost in such a beautiful manner.
The stag lowers his mighty head and stands still, shaking the multi-coloured dust from his fur.
Laura can’t cope with this, this mournful beauty she has witnessed is unbearable. She feels the tears running down her face and looks at her hands reaching out towards where Kieran knelt, mere moments ago.
The stag snorts and stands up straight once more. He fixes his bright gaze on Laura.
Laura thinks that she can still see Kieran’s silhouette on the road. It fades. He is like a sunspot on the eye.
The stag’s brightness desolates the shadows until the shape of Kieran is gone. She has no more breath in her lungs. No more tears.
The stag towers over her and grunts. The squealing of the lights deafen her. “Stop it, please, stop!” she cries.
The female cries for mercy.
What mercy have we ever been shown?
The stag moves his antlers closer to her head and roars deep and low.
Laura shudders as the noise shakes her knees. She has to run, she has to get away, but her legs won’t move.
She has the fear.
The freezing fear we have all felt.
Now she knows.
Now she knows what it feels like in the final moments.
An incomprehensible end.
She can see the bright mass lowering its head and bending its front legs.
‘This can’t happen.
Not when there is so much left to do.
My God, all of this?
What did it all mean?
I never got to tell him.
We had years to tell each other what we really wanted.
I had years to tell him how I felt, but now I don’t even have seconds to think.’
Her mind drifts back to the cottage, to the sheep in the fields. She is naming them all. Lucky, Drifty, Hedgehog, Fluffy. So many of them to name.
The sheep suddenly take flight across the field. Scattering in all directions. She hears her name: ‘Laura!’ A dog barks and barks. She hears her name again: ‘Laura!’ The sheep converge into one white fluffy arrow and soar across the grass towards her. So fast, they don’t see her. She doesn’t know what to do.
She hears her mother’s voice behind her with a frantic tone ‘their running right for her!’ Her neck shivers. They will run through her. She will be pushed to the ground and paddled with sheep hoofs. She can’t run, they are too close. She raises the palm of her hand towards them and shouts with all her might. They are so close that she could touch them. They must hear her.
The mass of white fury parts into two and the speeding wind smashes into her face. The flurry of white fur and black legs runs around her and reforms. They didn’t harm her. she feels her mothers arm on her shoulder and she can hear her reassuring tears.
Laura’s memory fades into the blinding light of the stag’s charge.
His judgement is final, immovable. The charge is unstoppable.
Laura shouts as he she forces power into her legs and she stumbles to her feet. She pushes her palm out towards the stag and shouts, she shouts for everything she has. All of her anger and tension flows into one primal noise. The stag thunders closer to her, but she doesn’t stop shouting.
The stag slows, cantering and trotting to one side, skidding the final steps until his antlers are in line with her face.
This female is not what I thought.
‘You killed him! Why?!’ Laura screams.
The stag roars louder than before, but this time she doesn’t falter, she shouts louder too.
‘I said why?! Answer me! He didn’t harm you!’
The stag trots away and turns back to face her, grunting.
She does not kneel.
She stands against me in The Moment.
How dare she!
She mourns the male.
I have smelt his kind before.
Their anger trained on their loved ones.
‘I never got to tell him! I was trying to tell him…’
Laura collapses on the road. Her body convulsing, tears rolling through her fingers.
‘…that I don’t love him anymore.’
A long slow breath streams from the stag’s nostrils and for the first time he looks away from her.
‘You took that away, why?’ Laura cries.
Something changes. The light from the stag starts to fade.
The Moment is coming to an end.
The justice I sought for my kind will never come.
All this human can do is ask ‘why’.
So lost in themselves.
They can’t escape.
They can’t even see their own pain.
Laura wipes away the tears and tries to calm herself. She stands up.
‘You’re right. I couldn’t see it. I couldn’t see what he was doing to me.’
The stag scuttles backwards his ears pricked up.
How can she hear me?
How can she understand?
‘All the anger he was harbouring, was that all going to be directed at me, one day?’
The stag doesn’t answer. His light is fading away.
I remember watching the life leave my mothers eyes.
I remember seeing my son being struck by one of the machines.
So much hatred has fuelled me.
I have hated the humans for so long.
I remember more.
I remember jumping frosty streams and chasing my brothers.
Feeling the gentle thump of my mother’s heart as she slept.
I remember every sunrise.
I remember meeting doe’s that I have loved.
I remember seeing my children stagger to their feet for the first time.
All of my family.
Is this how they want me to honour them?
Laura sees his memories floating past her like burnt pictures drifting through the dark. She looks up at the stars. ‘We have both been hiding from ourselves, haven’t we?’
The stag lets out a slow grunt and falls down onto the tarmac.
The Moment is leaving me.
My years are spent.
I don’t want all this to end in anger.
I am afraid.
Laura moves towards the stag as soft orange and gold particles drift from his furry coat and flow out and scatter in the breeze. She places her hand on his chest and feels his heart beat. His heart beat feels cushioned and tired. ‘It’s okay, no one will harm you here.’
The stag looks at the human.
Why is she here?
Now she stands vigil.
I can see the shadows dancing.
My family circle us.
Laura watches the shadow deer prancing around them both. So many of them. So much energy. Each playfully nudging and leaping around the stag. She has never seen anything so beautiful.
She can feel an ending, maybe this is her time now too?
The stag groans and licks her hand as the shadows around them race faster and faster, moving closer. The stag’s brightness flows out of his fur and swirls into the air above them both. The shadow deer push the particles up into a vortex of whirling rainbows.
Laura’s feels the wind blowing around them. She doesn’t know what comes next. She holds her hand on the stag’s chest and watches his big brown eyes.
The stags vision fades away and he sees this human and the life that pumps through her veins. The same blood. The same air. This person’s life must change.
One of the shadows moves out of the swirl and bows its head to him. He recognises her instantly. He has waited for so long to see his mother again.
Laura gasps as the shadows suddenly flow through them both and particles of light surrounding them flash.
The air rushes through her hair.
Like the sheep.
Like the charging stag.
Like the shadows.
The night moves, races and changes. The golden particles drift up into the sky until they turn into stars.
Laura feels a strange tingling in her neck as she fixes her eyes on the few stars twinkling in the sky.
‘I told you we should’ve avoided the motorway.’
She jolts as she hears Kieran’s voice.
She’s back in the car.
Back in the traffic.
The country road has gone.
‘I told you that the radio said not to join the motorway at this junction’ says Keiran.
The breath races from her mouth as she sees Kieran sitting beside her.
Kieran looks at her puzzled. ‘What? What’s up with you, why are you looking at me like that?’
Laura wraps her arms around him and holds him tight. Kieran freezes, confused. She whispers into his ear. ‘I’m so glad you’re still here.’
Kieran recoils. ‘That was a bit sudden. What’s wrong with you?’
She unclips her seat belt and turns towards him. ‘I just can’t believe you’re still here. What happened…’
The look of puzzlement on his face is comical, but sad.
She looks into his confused eyes and knows that he doesn’t understand.
He’ll never understand her.
She thought he did once, but she knows now what must be done.
‘Kieran, I’ve been meaning to tell you something for a long time, but I didn’t know how. I’m so sorry.’
Kieran points out at the cars moving in front of them ‘come on! The traffic is moving, we’ve got to…’
‘Pay attention, Kieran! I’m only saying this once!’
Kieran’s finger feebly drifts to his side.
‘I’m unhappy Kieran, I’m unhappy with how things are. I want more than this. I don’t think we should see each other anymore.’
Kieran’s face turns to a frown. ‘What? What are you on about?’
The cars behind them start to beep their horns.
Laura smiles and kisses him on the forehead. ‘I’m sorry’ she whispers.
Laura opens the driver’s door and steps out of the car.
Kieran calls after her as she walks onto the motorway to the sound of beeping horns. Kieran doesn’t know whether to follow her or stay in the car.
Laura looks back through the dense traffic and smiles as she see’s the stars above the gridlock.
She walks away from the car and with every stride she feels her nervousness drift from her shoulders.
She feels the anger wash away.
The numbness shred.
Kieran’s calls and the car horns become a soft soundtrack in the landscape. She looks up at the wooded bank beside the motorway and sees a mass of shadows leaping through the undergrowth. Five deer move out into the moonlight and look down at her. She waves at them and they quickly dart away into the fields beyond the break lights, far from the gaze of human eyes.
The traffic moves around Laura’s abandoned car, Kieran still sitting in the passenger seat, and the traffic moves on through the night. Places to go, people to see, lives to lead.