The woods rose up all around me, towers of dead trees and bare branches that grasped my clothing and hair as I ran. I took no notice of their thorns as they scratched through my sleeves and left strands of hair snagged on their limbs.
It was after me, and the dread that fueled my escape was like nothing I had ever felt. I dared not to look back, driven onward by the fear of being caught.
I followed no path yet instinctively darted around the trees, leaping over fallen logs and exposed roots. A half-moon was overhead, an impartial observer to this chase between predator and prey. It offered only a dim reflection of the snow, aiding not only my vision but also that of my pursuer.
The deathly silence of the forest was only broken by the sound of my boots striking the snow and of my own breath, frantic gasps that left trails of condensation in the cold winter night’s air.
The slope of the earth below me changed, and I was soon running downward into a section of trees that thinned out and were easier to see through. At the other end of this section of trees, I saw the house, a rectangular structure that was lit up from within. I ran the final paces, barely striking the ground like a rabbit leaping to its burrow, and upon reaching the porch, I knew I was finally safe.
I had reached sanctuary. I was now aware some boundary existed between this house and the woods, between me and it. It could no longer follow me; it would go no further than the woods.
I turned and faced the creature for the first time. It remained at the edge of the treeline, barely visible in the pale moonlight and forest shadows. I could see it was part human and part beast, bearing the head of a deer with fearsome antlers crowning its image. The upper torso and arms were that of a human, but the rest of it was the form of a deer with four cloven hooves.
We stared at one another, caught in a stalemate. It had lost the hunt tonight, but it was only one of many. That we both knew. The deer creature reared on its hind legs and thundered back into the woods, kicking up slivers of ice and snow behind it.
I opened the front door and walked inside the house, met with the warmth and welcoming light of the fireplace someone had left burning for me.
This passage was based on a dream I had last winter. It occurred during a major winter storm and has stuck in my mind as one of the more unsettling dreams I’ve had.