by Eric Brown
Roberts climbed the hillside and approached the forest, moving stealthily. For the past two hours he'd stalked the wise old stag up the valley, only for it to move off every time he came within range. He'd paid a thousand pounds to tramp the sodden glens for the privilege of bagging his first stag, and now twilight was descending.
The cold wind lessened as he entered the woodland's musty gloaming. A silence descended too, broken only by his footfalls through the dry undergrowth.
He'd left the main body of the hunt behind two hours ago. Lord Carstairs and the rest were tracking along just below the high ridge, hoping to make a kill or two before dinner back at the Hall. Roberts, ever the maverick, had caught a glimpse of a stag on the skyline. He'd kept the sighting to himself and moved off up the glen, following the animal towards the forest.
Its great antlered head would grace the dining-room wall of his townhouse back in London.
Sunlight struck low through the trees, slivers of dazzling gold which made sighting ahead almost impossible. The footing was uneven, an obstacle course of fallen logs and tussocks of fern. He trod with care, his shotgun broken under his right arm.
At one point a male pheasant racketed from the undergrowth, startling him. It sped off low through the trees, making its characteristic, ridiculous ululation, its long rust-colored tail feathers whipping like a sine wave in its own slipstream. Intent on larger prey, Roberts let it go.
Then, thirty yards through the trees, a glimpse of gray....
He paused, controlling his breathing. All was still and silent in the forest. This was what made the cost of the weekend worthwhile: the thrill of the chase, the anticipation of the kill... those eternal seconds when hunter and hunted are connected by something older than time, something elemental. He raised his rifle and took aim at the chest of the stag standing proud, fifty yards away.