A bitter northerly wind whipped through the bare trees. Branches scraped against each other, leaves rustled, and, far away, there came the clapping of wings as birds took flight. The forest was dead. Nothing but the crows ever visited it anymore, searching in vain for prey that had long ago died or vacated. Even the trees had died, their cores diseased and cankerous. And the source of their poison was slowly spreading, leaching the life out of the grass until it stood pale and dry, falling to ash at the lightest touch. Such was the way of the sickness that had taken the place over. Black Death stood on a knoll at the edge of the contamination, overlooking the trees in contemplation. Even he, who had only been there for a few minutes, could feel the slow drag and pull of it in the bones of his forelegs, as it continued its work ceaselessly. He shifted to break the current, to keep his life inside, touched his nose to the failing grass, and then jerked his head up. He was an ugly brute of a stallion, deformed almost beyond recognition by the same poison that was working its evil on the land here. Pearly, blind eyes looked out on the world from his massive, hideous head, but it was okay because he no longer saw with them anyway. Instead, he viewed the ebb and flow of life, and the spaces where there was none. Bloodied saliva dribbled from cracked lips, where his uneven, jagged teeth bit into them. Festering, rotted holes in his cheeks let air whistle into his mouth, tickling his glands, making him drool continuously. His coat, black, was greasy and clumped, streaked through with dirt, stale blood and, in various places, oozing green pus. His mane hung from his neck in matted tangles, tumbling almost to his knees, and the ends of his tail dragged along the ground, picking up twigs and leaves. There was a thick, fleshy lump grown over his shoulders, bristling with long, bone-like spines, a curious mutation indeed. His body was thin, ribs and hips showing from beneath the skin. Hooves were cracked and broken, left strangely shaped imprints in the ground where he stood. And for all his deformities, he, at least, was still intact. ---- November 2007.