What the Unicorns Saw

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What the Unicorns SawWe found the unicorn in a backstreet behind the Walmart. It was stretched out nose-to-tail along a north-south alignment, like the others we’d been finding lately, its horn a compass point. Lately, we’d been doing a lot of overtime. Lately, we’d been finding a lot of dead unicorns.

In an effort to understand this phenomenon we decided on autopsy. We lifted the corpse onto our shoulders, glad it was 3 a.m., the streets deserted–nobody wants to be mistaken for a slaughterer of innocence. Even dead unicorns shine for a while, so we wouldn’t need torches.

In the stainless silver lining of the autopsy room we sliced deep, breastbone to pelvis, retracted flesh. We found the belly full of portents and omens–none of them positive. We pulled out the entrails and things looked worse: earthquakes and eruptions and specifics of firestorms and famines and civilizations falling and falling and none of them rising. By the end of the small intestine there was nothing left to tell.

We wondered if we ought to alert the authorities. It seemed like the thing to do, but phone calls were left on hold, photographic evidence bounced back, undeliverable. We guessed if they were the kind of people to listen to the warnings of unicorns, there would’ve been a lot less to warn about. We guessed this was just one more thing that the unicorns knew.

When harpies began falling out of the sky, the public started to take some notice, insurance companies arguing that damage from impact by mythical creature could be counted an Act of God, which enraged theologians. People blamed hippies and zoo keepers and feral children and took to looking up as well as both ways when crossing the road.

And when dinosaurs heaved themselves out of the earth, flexing their muscles, their fossilized bones creaking with the weight of new flesh, when carcasses of whales long dead and extinct reanimated and rose languid to the surface of oceans, their lumbering and breaching could not be ignored. Tidal waves swamped cities. People protested that this wasn’t the way the end of the world was meant to go, but the dinosaurs and whales didn’t seem to care.

At the end of the end, as tectonic faults tore across continents, joining volcanoes like daisy-chains, as dragons hunted the red night sky like sparrow-hawks and there were no more protests and no more protesters, no more phone calls and no more phones, we withdrew to a hill outside the molten gash where the city used to be and watched the planet turn in on itself. With the sun in retreat and the laws of physics growing bored of all this, we watched space junk hurtle to earth, we watched dragons and dinosaurs, whales and unicorns, harpies and hippies and theologians falling under its giant metallic hail.

The sky was so clear, as the last waves rushed towards us, we saw constellations bright as searchlights. In the north, we saw Pegasus, the dying star at its nose. We saw what the unicorns saw, how all of this is just how it goes, and there is nothing new under this sun or any other. And the very last thing that we saw was that we were OK with it.


Photo used under CC.




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About Author

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Helen Rye lives in Norwich, UK. She has won the Bath Flash Fiction Award, the Reflex Fiction contest and third place in the 2018 Bristol Short story prize. Her stories have been nominated for Best Small Fictions and the Pushcart Prize, and shortlisted for the Bridport Prize. She is a submissions editor for SmokeLong Quarterly and a prose editor for Lighthouse Literary Journal, and she helps out from time to time at Ellipsis Zine and TSS Publishing.

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