Posted by: Kathryn Hulick | March 11, 2008

The Unicorn

Maine Coast. September 27, 2003.

Foggy Ocean Maine

The barracks was upon them now, thrusting up into the sky, shielding them in shadow.

Something glimmered in the wall.  They both saw it, but said nothing.  The brush crept around them as they moved forwards, snaking around ankles, between toes, inside ears.  Thorns pricked, baby leaves tickled, and red berries crushed.  Here and there, broken glass glittered.  A fallen brick thrust up from the tangle, adorned with faded beer can armor.

“Don’t they know this place is sacred?”  Nora whispered.

“Who?”  Aaron’s mouth was dry.  His breath pulsed in his throat, trapped there.  The glimmer had been quick, just a flash of movement.  Where was it now?  Why wouldn’t it come back?

“Whoever left this trash here.”  Nora kicked at the nearest bit of filth, a pink plastic bottle that might have once held sun screen lotion.

“Shhh, look, Nora!  Look, look there!”  She bent her head upwards, looking up at the formidable brick wall of the barracks, the wall of windows they’d watched from across the bay.  She knew better than to stare directly.  Please come back, please come back, please come back, she prayed, averting her eyes from the arched windows.  She held the white feather in one fist, the slipper shell in the other.

And it came back.  The world slipped slightly—for a moment line and color and depth didn’t quite align and time spun around like a dancer on ice.  The glimmer was everywhere, sparkling and tingling.  It was inside the wall, in the pink plastic bottle, in the sky above, the dirt below, even inside the cousins’ hands and eyes.  Then it spoke.

Wanderers, wonderers, welcome!

The voice swirled around and within, lifting bricks and dust and broken leaves, spinning them through the air, dancing them together.  The feather and the shell slipped from Nora’s fingers, and she watched them twirl higher and higher, lost in the vortex.

Wandered away on the tip of a star, eyes closed gazing at places afar…

The feather and shell dropped into the dust at Nora’s feet, but her eyes were fixed upwards, on the light erupting from the windows above.  She did not see the strange, pointed object feather and shell had become.

Hand in hand, heart in hand, head in heart, home!

The blue light burst all around them, and the voice tinkled with the sounds of a million tiny bells until Nora was sure she would never see or hear anything else ever again.  Her eyes dried but she didn’t dare blink.  The breath trapped in Aaron’s throat fluttered faster and faster, like a firefly trying to escape its jar.

But after a moment, Nora blinked, and Aaron exhaled, and the light and the bells were gone.

Nora squeezed her eyes shut and wrapped her arms tight across her chest.  A sound escaped her lips, a high pitched keen, like a baby bird calling for its mother.  Aaron touched her back, hesitantly, just the tips of his fingers brushing her t-shirt.

“It’s gone,” he said.  She didn’t open her eyes.  The sound became a low hmmm.

“Please don’t do this,” he said.  “It was nothing, ok?  Just… light and shadows.”

“Nothing?!”  Her eyes snapped open, as blue as the light and fearsome.  “That was nothing?  No, Aaron, that was not nothing.  That was everything, I think.  Absolutely everything.  And now it’s gone.”

“It can’t be…”

“What?  It can’t be real?  Then how come we both saw it?”

“But unicorns!”  He sat on the ground.  Sat down with his back against the wall, there where the vines dared not grow.

“We both saw it.”  Her arms were still wrapped tight around her middle, squeezing so hard that her voice came out high and forced.  She swayed slightly, and he saw something glisten on her cheek.

“Are you crying?”  As far as he knew, Nora hadn’t cried since she was an infant.
She shook her head, but a tear dripped off her chin and landed quivering on a white object at her feet.  Aaron reached out and lifted it up—spun it around in his hands.  Its surface was smooth and mottled like the slipper shell, but it was soft and light like the feather, with wisps of tiny hairs silkier than the softest down lining its sides.

“It was a unicorn, wasn’t it?”  When he said the word, he felt it in his mouth like a smooth, white stone, felt the truth of it cascading through his veins, pulsing and thrumming.  He reached up and touched his own cheeks, felt the dampness there.  He held the object out to Nora, who took it, and brushed her cheek against its silky surface.

“Of course it was.”  Her voice was barely a whisper.  He stood up and leaned in close to wrap his arms around her, holding her hands with the unicorn’s horn tight against his chest.

“I’m sorry,” he said, his breath tickling her ear.

“It will come back,” she said.  “It has to.”

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