A herd of deer in the mist. It reminded me of a writephoto story from this time last year, in fact 6th December… The photo is the prompt from New2Writing.com, the story itself veers off slightly. I can see this character returning another time. This one is just over 800 words.

a very foggy morning: through the fog a herd of deer can just about be seen

Scene and Herd?

Matthew was scrolling through his Contacts. Surely there was someone he knew who had overcome this problem? Plenty of CEOs, NGO officers, Wildlife Trust people, even the Country Sports Association–no they probably wouldn’t be any use. A few sons and one daughter heading for peerages, like himself, but they usually looked to him for guidance on their own estates.

It had been blowing up since late August, mainly complaints from the local gamekeepers that their pheasants were all moving into his woods. Well, his dad’s woods, but when your dad’s the duke, and you’re the eldest son, it’s yours to take care of from an early age.

Everyone agreed that the woods were ideal pheasant habitat. Plenty of cover from low-growing bushes; rich humus in the soil from the sustainable management of native trees. There were partridge, too, the red-legged mostly, but up on the heath he’d seen a small group of native grey partridge. That was a bonus point in his rewilding list.

The controversy over the deer appeared to have been won. The deer were not for shooting. They might remind people of soggy days out on Scottish moorland, and the thrill of the chase, but these were a herd in their back garden. No stalking involved. Hardly sporting. That was an easy win for him, although he knew that in time there’d have to be a culling plan. That would lead to a small supply of venison. He was hoping to keep it to a bonus for visitors and the people of the estate, but it depended on numbers. His deer would increase and multiply, just as a herd should. Even split into two or more herds; he’d earmarked a couple of places they could keep themselves separate. A problem for five years’ time.

The trouble at this stage was that his father could not see the harm in allowing shoots on the estate. He’d explained many times: either you’re managing for sustainability and rewilding, or you’re running a game reserve. He was not putting his name to a game reserve, and neither should the Duke. He’d brought out all the publicity about their successful rewilding progress: the presentations at conferences, the articles in Horse and Hound, The Field, Country Life, Estate Management and even Vogue. Then there was the deposition in the Lords, and the invitation to the Biodiversity Summit…

What he needed, apart from the Arab chappie coming for another visit at Christmas, since he was totally sold on the idea, was another highly influential person to join the Duke’s table, even for an hour. Maybe just for cocktails…

He paused his scrolling. He looked at the name and sighed. Last year he might have plucked up the nerve to call him, or just email him. This year… well, he would have thousands of other commitments on his plate.

He put his mobile in his pocket and wandered off. It was a muggy November day, plenty of low-lying fog that wasn’t going to shift before dark. It would probably be as good as dark at three, unless you were outside. A quick tap of his weather app confirmed sunset was just after four. A few more taps and he found that it would be dark twenty minutes earlier on those Scottish moors. 

He could see the deer, grazing quietly under the trees. The late autumn meant there were still clusters of leaves hanging like mittens, weirdly floating above the animals. Usually you could just make out the gaunt fingers of bare branches.

Who could he ask to which seasonal event to give the local farmers a stir; someone the neighbouring estates would look up to. Someone who would verify Matthew wasn’t a tree-hugging idiot.

Oh heck. He pulled out the mobile and tapped. He really ought to alter the contact name. Later.

It rang. 

“The person you are trying to contact is not available. If it is urgent, please leave a message after the tone, otherwise contact 09767 544221.”

He took a deep breath. “Er, your majesty, it’s Matthew Herring, ___shire’s son. I’ve a problem with local landowners needing a higher presence at our annual do to convince them about the ___shire estate plan. Have you any idea of who would rank high enough, higher than dad, in their eyes, anyway. I’ve two weeks to find someone.” He gave his number, just in case, and finished the call. 

He must be mad. Well, Charles must have someone at Highgrove who was still carrying on the work. Maybe even someone at Balmoral now. He would know someone impressive enough. Just give a name to a footman, and he might get called back.

He gazed at the deer until he realised he couldn’t see them any more. Seen but not heard.

He heard the text message blip on his mobile, though. Asking exact date and time. He sent the information, and wondered.

(c) J M Pett 2022


Herd | #writephoto Flash Fiction
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