Posted by: Kathryn Hulick | April 10, 2009

The Red Unicorn

Bailey Island, Maine. October 6, 2007


The colors are nectar. The unicorn learned them before she could walk, swim, fly, or time-slip. Greens and browns for comfort, sweet and cool; tangy yellow, with the bite of energy; bitter but filling black. Purples and blues whisper of sleep and long drinks of water. White has no taste but lifts the spirit.

And red–red is poison. Some darker shades of red merely excite the senses, and pinks do no harm, but pure red cries out danger.

When the unicorn was still small, just a flash of silvery light sheltered in a thicket of calm brown stems bursting with yellow-green leaves, a tiny flower pushed through the soil in front of her nose.

She watched it grow, its tiny leaves peeling out from the stem which sprouted pointy thorns. She couldn’t yet slip through time to watch the flower bursting forth like a deer leaping through the forest, so she had to wait. Watch and wait. Finally, as she drunk it sips of brown, green, and yellow from her tiny clearing, a bud appeared.

Will this be a color I have never seen before? she wondered. Her mother had told her of purples, blues, and the lovely lavender in dreams. Her mother was a sea unicorn, at home beneath the waves. Someday, this unicorn would visit there, but her home would always be the woods around this clearing, her sustanance the colors blooming here.

The bud increased in size, still cased inside a green shell. The unicorn avoided that shade of green for a whole week. She didn’t want to ruin the surprise. What if the flower is green as well? Then what will I have waited for?

Before the flower opened, she found her feet, and tottered a short ways out of the thicket and back again. Birds pulled aside twigs for her, and squirrels chattered directions and dangers. These were the animals she was born to watch over, to guide and listen to and sometimes protect. Not from each other, but from men and machines and disasters. She knew these things from her dreams.

Even in her wanderings outside the clearing, she never saw another flower like the one that had grown in front of her nose. So she never went far, always returning to her home space with urgency. What if it blooms while I am gone?

The flower waited until the unicorn’s horn had just started to grow, a tiny bump as brilliant as a star poking out of the center of her head. It itched like anything, and she was trying to scratch it with a rough stone, when one edge of the flower bud peeled back slightly. A human’s eyes never could have made out the motion, but the unicorn was starting to see through time.

She forgot about her itchy forehead and stared. A day and a night passed, but she didn’t move her eyes. She saw as the flower shed its shell and stretched its petals into the sunlight.

It was red.

Not light pink, or dark, spicy, red, but RED.

The unicorn remembered her dreams of danger, of the one color she must not taste. But what could she do? She was hypnotized by her flower; full of excitement and anticipation for the moment the blooming would finish. She could already taste its color in her mind.

The squirrels and birds chirped and squeaked to each other for many days, where is our unicorn? Then they forgot about her, as tiny creatures do.

The unicorn could only be seen if she wanted to. And for a year after she tasted red, she hid in the shadows around her thicket, scanning the forest floor for more green shoots.

One red flower was not enough. She needed more.

When her mother came in dreams, the unicorn couldn’t hear her. Ocean swells crashed inside her mind like distant humming. All she dreamed was red.

And her horn grew, lengthening outwards with as much slow grace as the flower, until it was a foot long. The unicorn couldn’t see herself, but if she had, she would have run in fear.

Her horn was red.

Time slipped around the unicorn until her forest was old, the first flower long gone, and her body tired and scratched with numerous thorns. She’d urged the red flowers to grow until they twined around her thicket, creating a wall so thick she could barely stand, only take in that glorious shade of red when the buds opened.

She would have stayed there forever, except for a wisp of a memory of a dream.

The colors are nectar. Red is poison.

As her legs ached, her horn throbbed, and her swollen eyes searched around for the source of the memory, she rested her gaze upon a single blade of green grass that had somehow found enough light to grown in the thorny cathedral.

The deep green cooled her skin and eyes. It washed across her skin like ocean water, and she suddenly realized where she was. Trapped!

The unicorn had never used the power of her horn, and now she lashed out in fear, for a unicorn is afraid of nothing except being caught in a cage.

To her surprise, the thorny flower walls burst into flame! Red and orange flared around her, but they it did not char her skin. She walked through the fire and it felt as cool as breaking waves. The orange cleared her mind faster and cleaner than the green.

And she emerged, the world’s first fire unicorn.



  1. The idea of the unicorn feeding on color was so original! This was a lovely short story. I really enjoyed it. this is my first visit to your blog, but not the last.

  2. Glad you stopped by, Susan! This was a sort of side-project to the Star Wall… I’ve been thinking pretty deeply lately about Nora’s stories, and this could easily be one of them!

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