To Touch A Unicorn
By Angela McGill
The unicorns were the first to arrive. I swear it’s true. On a spring day after a violent thunderstorm, a rainbow appeared, and over it, thousands of unicorns galloped onto my family’s farm. Instead of the unearthly beauty often depicted in mythology and art, these animals were thin with dull coats. They milled around a short time, then broke off into herds trotting away from the farm. Some did not leave but limped into our pastures to graze.
A little over twenty-four hours later, the rainbow dissipated as the last unicorn’s hooves touched the ground. By then, news cameras were everywhere. Reporters and their crew tried to follow them, but it soon became clear the unicorns did not want to be bothered; they vanished, transporting away.
General mayhem took over. There were shouts, screams, fainting (my aunt Tilly was prone to such things), and shoving to get away. For all we knew, one of them could reappear right in the middle of one of us, creating a fusion of human and unicorn flesh. However, no one was hurt except for a few scrapes, and, much to my brother’s disappointment, there were no monstrous hybrids created, like human heads sitting on top of unicorn bodies.
Once it was decided there was no danger, several brave souls tried to get closer to see how the animals were disappearing. Pop! Pop! Pop! It became a familiar sound that night and into the following days. Each one had a different way of leaving, like stomping their hoofs, shaking their head, or swishing their tail. Nothing elaborate, unless it was a herd; herds always left by rainbow.
Even though we had no answers to give, it didn’t stop news stations and reporters from asking the same questions over and over as they tramped all over my parent’s property. They did not care what we said; they were happy to make up their own responses.
The most hurtful speculation was when we were accused of being witches who summoned the unicorns as our familiars. Someone else offered the theory that we used ritual magic to open a gate to a parallel universe through which the herds came. There was even speculation that the appearance of the unicorns heralded the end of the world. Several religious groups were disappointed when the apocalypse did not immediately occur. Whatever facts the scientists stated or fantasy the media came up with, it all came down to one question: why were they here?
Those first days were chaotic as everyone adjusted to the reality of unicorns. Before too long, every state in the nation had more than one herd. We had four herds of our own to settle in with us, much to my delight.
Because the unicorns first appeared on our farm, scientists arrived to do all sorts of tests, asking us all kinds of questions. They kept asking what I saw and where the rainbow came from. I always told them I didn’t know; for the most part, that was true. I might have seen something, but I wasn’t sure.
My father wasn’t too pleased with all the unicorn commotion. Every day, operations had to be changed to accommodate the scientists and government agents swarming the farm. He understood tests had to be run and the nation’s safety secured, but he did get frustrated. When dad complained, my mother told him to be grateful they didn’t just take over the farm and kick us out.
The government decided the farm was not a national threat when they could not find a portal to another world on our property. They left after a couple of months. Dad could not have been happier. They did leave us a phone number to be used only for emergencies, such as if another portal opened.
Most of the scientists left, except a few who paid to rent a shack for observation of the unicorns. The money was used to start a new internet business. The scientists cleared it as ordinary stuff, but dad knew an exciting new discovery when he saw it: unicorn poop.
Unipoo was sold in many forms, such as a fertilizer or even art. It amazed me when people bought anything unicorn related, including shellacked Unipoo made into a lamp or sold in a plain container with a simple label. I heard there were some people using the stuff as a medicinal remedy. Ewww. A disclaimer was included with the package, just in case.
Even better, my father realized he could charge tourists a fee to view the herds. Giving tours was my favorite thing to do. We sold T-shirts, jewelry, and refreshments on the side. A year later, my parents had a nice little nest egg and enough money for my brother and I to go to college.
As time went on, the unicorns regained their health. Huge animals, they looked like Clydesdales, except for the horns growing out of their foreheads. Their coats weren’t just a uniform white as depicted in mythology, books, and the movies. Colors ranged from blonde to ivory white in the fillies and mares, while the stallions tended to be darker in color, ranging from chestnut to black.
Unicorn eye colors were not just brown but green, blue, and I swear, I saw one with purple eyes. As captivating as their eyes were, what fascinated everyone, were the horns growing in loose or tight spirals from their foreheads. The stallions’ horns were estimated to be one to three feet long and grew to a point; the mares’ or fillies’ were shorter with a blunter tip.
Horns with more than one color were wondrous to see, some of them with as many colors as a rainbow. Stripes, polka-dots, patches, or a blending of colors were among the many varieties I saw. Each unicorn’s horn was unique.
The animals grazed, frolicked, and dozed under the open skies. For the most part, they ignored us, but if we got too close–poof! Appearing somewhere else on the property, they continued grazing as if nothing happened.
Everyone wanted to catch one, but, of course, no one did. Not even the virgins, though some mythology books said they could. It never worked, but it didn’t stop people from trying. That included my older brother, Jeff.
“Catch her, Mia! Catch her!” Waving his arms and jumping up and down, he tried to shoo the unicorn in my direction. I was a virgin. Correction, I was an unhappy virgin. It was a stupid idea. But I really wanted to make friends with one, so I agreed to try.
I tried to coax the cream-colored unicorn to me. “Come on, sweetie. I’ve got an apple for you.” I mimed taking a bite. “Yum, yum.” I held it out. “It’s your turn now.” The filly pawed the ground. I held my breath. Yep. She stamped her hoof and vanished. Disappointed, I sat on the ground. “Damn.” My brother stomped over. “Are you sure you’re a virgin?”
I threw the apple at him, bouncing it off his so-called manly chest. “I told you it was a rotten idea, and you’re a dumbass for even asking!” Scowling, he started to reply, but before he could really prove he was a dumbass, the filly reappeared. I jumped up. She danced around in front of us, her eyes wide and nostrils flared. I froze. From the corner of my eye, I saw Jeff do the same. This was new; unicorns didn’t act this way.
She stopped in front of me, pawing the ground. Stepping forward with head lowered, her horn lit up in a whirl of colors. Beautiful. I ignored Jeff’s hiss of, “Mia, don’t.” It was impossible to not touch it. I could not take my eyes away from hers as the colors flowed into me, tingles enveloping my body. Dimly, I understood she was communicating with me.
Time stopped for a precious moment, then started again when another unicorn appeared. Dazed, I watched as the two “spoke” to each other. Colors whirled around the unicorns’ horns. I whispered, “I think they’re talking to one another.”
“What makes you think that?”
“I–I think I understand them.”
“I knew you shouldn’t have touched it. I’m–” The unicorns butted us gently with their heads. Horns no longer lit, they dropped to their knees; they wanted us to mount them. “What are they doing?”
The first unicorn snorted, lighting her horn. Images of fire and death popped into my brain, followed by an image of riding just ahead of destruction. My breath caught. “Get on the unicorn now, Jeff.”
I grabbed his arm, pulling on him. “Just get on now; it’s coming.” Letting go, I turned to the first unicorn and scrambled on. Jeff still hadn’t moved. I screamed at him. “Please, Jeff. Get on now. We’ll die if you don’t.” Face blood red, he gaped at me.
The unicorn stood, and I grabbed her mane to stay on. We circled Jeff, “See, it’s safe. Get on.” He eyed us for a moment, then ran for the other one. Once he was seated, she leaped up, then we rode as I never have before or since. The wind stung my face and whipped through my hair. I wasn’t sure if I should worry more about my skin getting shredded to bits or being snatched bald. I refused to even think about dying. I screamed for the filly to go faster.
We weren’t fast enough. Behind me, I felt a burst of heat. Huge wings flapped overhead, and I looked up, almost losing my seat. Terror pounded my heart. A dragon swooped down. I thought we were goners. Instead, unicorns appeared and diverted its attention.
Screaming, the dragon tore into the courageous unicorns, ripping them to pieces, blood and parts spewing everywhere. Sick and dizzy, I could only turn my head as the screams of the savaged unicorns rang in my ears. I prayed Jeff and I would not be next.
Our unicorns did not slow down. Nor did they look back. As soon as we reached home and slid off, they swung around galloping back to their herd. I sobbed and fell to my knees. My parents ran from the house as the screams of the unicorns punctuated by the roars of the dragon drew near.
A rainbow appeared over our heads. The unicorns ran over it, the dragon chasing them. They disappeared in a swirl of colors and light. Every herd disappeared that night. Some chased by dragons, a few not. Frightened people everywhere saw hundreds of dragons flying overhead.
We were lucky. There was some damage to our farm but no loss of human life. Others were not so fortunate. One video showed a dragon chomping down on a terrified man only to spit him out. A lot of people got angry when a popular newscaster suggested it was because he didn’t taste good. The newscaster had to apologize.
Bodies or parts of the unicorns left behind disappeared. Even though we had images of them, for some reason they didn’t look real; they might have been created from some artist’s imagination. Knowledge of the unicorns’ existence began to fade from people’s minds.
Mass hallucination or elaborate ruses were blamed for the belief that mythical creatures lived for a time in our world. Claims to the contrary were ridiculed. Except for me and a few others like me, as I found out months later.
Memories weakening, my parents closed down their internet business. Customers requesting their money back were promptly refunded. Left over merchandise was trashed or stored in a shed and forgotten. Life settled into one of routine farm chores once again.
I know the truth. The unicorns’ sacrifices are never far from my mind. On occasion, memories of them being torn apart plays on the back of my lids late at night, usually when I’m deep asleep from exhaustion.
Their magic resides in me still. Animals talk to me, and I suspect there are other changes I will learn in time. Once, I was sure I saw a unicorn running in the pasture, but I blinked, and it was gone. There is another thing: I can hear the whispers of the unicorns. I can’t quite understand them; they are too far away. But I know this: they need…something. From me.