Ethan Danner is a resident of South-East Arkansas where he is an English student at the University of Arkansas at Monticello. Danner's short stories reflect the southern world and people around him. He explores the minds of the southerners young and old on issues big and small. Ethan has a love for beautiful prose and it shows through in his writing, especially when writing about nature in all its small intricacies.
“The Secrets of the Stag”
Dead leaves crunch beneath my feet as I wander through the woods outside of my grandmother's home. Light from the coming dawn filters through the trees, skinnier, now that autumn has begun. Many of the crimson and yellow leaves still cling to their respective limbs. They cast the wooded air in a haze of fire, a seasonal foliating sunset, symbolizing the end of another year. Many already litter the ground, fallen in the final moments of death giving the world a piece of art, a mosaic, and a poem, not of words, but of scent. Never has death been so beautiful, nor smelled so sweet.
My feet lead me from the trail down into the depths of the reservoir bed, where aquatic life once thrived. Trees and woodland mammals replaced the magnificent coral reefs and myriads of marine life. I take in the woody scene and am an infant among the boles and boughs. As I am a boy to the forest, so is the forest a child to the world.
A creek gurgles at the foot of the depression, cutting a blue path through the forest floor. I wade down into the water, walking until it reaches my waist. Autumn has made the water frigid. Stones stumble over my shoes, their smooth texture apologetic as they go on by downstream.
If there are any fish in the water, they pass me by. They are as strangers on the streets of a city, regarding me in the conscious just enough to avoid disturbing my bubble of existence as well as their own. It is not a fear that keeps them going by, but rather an underlying sense of duty, unperceived even by the arbitrator.
The water is similar, to the fish, but between its banks, it is omniscient and omnipresent. It takes time to recognize those who wade into its waters, leaving its fading mark on any daring to dip a toe below the surface. Yet, as I step onto the opposite side, the water falls off my being and returns to the ground. I leave it behind, as the mark I spoke of begins to fade from my skin and clothes. The water will forget me when it has moved on, whether with its downstream flow or sinking into the ground to wither, but it shall remain in my thought, a constant reminder of what I am and where I come from.
Through the brush, I see a stag. It weaves through the grove of oaks, an entity, both alone but a vital part of the scene, as much as myself, and the berries he eats. He is tall, and I have an urge to go to him, to run my fingers through his dark fur and place my ear to his chest, to hear a beating heart and move with the rise and fall of breath. The stag stands alone with a proud head held high. I see him as royalty; a king adorned in majesty and silent wisdom. He snorts, telling everyone that he is there, that he moves through the forest and breathes. I want to walk with him, to hear what words he cannot say and see what only his eyes have seen.
Though we are apart, I step as he steps, parallel, observing the mannerisms. He fails to recognize me. Cut off from him, I hide behind a partial veil. I see through to him yet it hides me, so long as I do not touch the thin sheets.
A false step lands on a twig, and it cracks beneath me. The curtain falls away, and the stag sees me, as I stand there naked before his eyes. He questions me, an intense deliberation without the utterance of a single sound, save the echo of the broken limb. His dark eyes search me, past me to who I was and where I have been, but also before me to where I am going a sight I cannot see. I hope that he finds me fair, that who I am, was, and will be, deserves to hear the secrets he carry. A discussion on the birth of the acorn and a lesson on listening to the songs of the finches.
The moment ends as quick as it began, the stag does not stay to impart with many any piece of greater wisdom. And, as I watch him drive through the forest, I feel within myself an understanding, that there are words that I will never say, songs I will never sing, and paths I will never walk. It is not a disparaging feeling, to understand there are things I will never know, but rather a motivation. It will be up to me to decide what I do know and to know as much as I desire.
© Ethan Danner