First published in Plasma Frequency Issue 13
The horn was a giveaway. Edie tried to draw Mabel’s attention away by pointing at the church spire poking through the mist.
“Look how far we walked. The village looks so tiny. Not bad for a couple of sixty-somethings.”
Her sister was not to be so easily distracted. “Never mind the village. Look.” She gestured into the field.
Edie followed the line of her sister’s arm and tried to keep her shoulders from drooping. “It’s probably fake. Some kind of joke. I bet it’s just a regular horse with a plastic horn fastened on.” She tugged Mabel’s arm. “We should get on. I promised the vicar we’d help with the flowers for the Routledge wedding.”
“We’ll be back in plenty of time for that. Of course it’s real. Plastic doesn’t shine like that. Sometimes, Edith Birkenshaw, I wonder about you.”
“But nothing.” Mabel strode towards the fence. “That unicorn is real. I’d put my bingo money on it.”
Edie opened her mouth to argue, and then closed it again. Least said, soonest mended, Mother always said.
Her sister rummaged around in her voluminous handbag, face scrunched. “I know I put it in here somewhere.”
Taking a deep breath of damp air, Edie gave the unicorn an apologetic look. He lifted his head from nibbling the grass and stared right at her. She shivered, fancying that those onyx eyes could see right inside her.
After several moments of grumbling, Mabel pulled her hand from her bag. “Tada!”
Edie’s shoulders drooped again. “You’re not going to—”
“No, you are. Here.” Mabel thrust out the camera. “Wait until I mount him.” She let go, forcing Edie to take hold or risk dropping it in the mud.
“But, there are rules.” Edie cursed the tremor in her voice. Why did disagreeing with her sister always have to feel like stepping in front of a speeding train?
Mabel glowered from the fence. “What are you talking about?”
Heat spread across Edie’s cheeks and neck. “In all the stories … unicorns … well they won’t have anything to do with you unless….”
“You have to be a virgin.”
“A unicorn won’t let you ride him unless you’re a virgin.” Edie’s voice was barely above a whisper.
“And who’s to say I’m not a virgin?”
“There was that chap from Macclesfield.”
Mabel’s lips pursed into an expression Edie secretly called the cat’s arse. “That was forty years ago. And how would you know?”
“Mother told me.”
“Oh did she now?” Mabel placed her handbag on the stile. “Well, I’ll have you know she caught us before anything untoward happened.”
Edie wished Mother had not caught them. Who knew what a bit of a romp might have done for her sister’s disposition.
“So, if you have to be a virgin, why don’t you ride him?” Mabel faced the unicorn. “Or did you let that man from Batley take your drawers off?”
“I … of course not.” Edie made a rude gesture at her sister’s back. There had not been a man from Batley. There had been one from Scunthorpe, though, and one from Barnsley. She still remembered their faces, and how much she had enjoyed their naughty games in the dark parlour, while Mother slept and Mabel was at bingo.
“Are you listening to me?”
“What?” Edie’s cheeks burned at being caught remembering.
“I’m going to see if he will let me get on. Get the camera ready.”
“Why do you need to take a picture?”
Mabel raised an eyebrow. “You really are as daft as you look, aren’t you? This beauty is going to make me rich. Think about it. A unicorn. How much do you think the newspapers would pay for an exclusive picture?”
Edie opened the case and took out the camera. The unicorn tilted his head and looked right at her. She gasped as visions invaded her mind when her finger pressed the on switch. First, the unicorn surrounded by photographers. Then, shivering in a dark stable guarded by armed men. Last, he looked up at her while men in butchers’ aprons sawed off his horn.
She blinked hard, trying to banish the images.
It’s no use. She stared into the abyss of his eyes. If I don’t take the picture, Mabel will. Another image entered her mind, and she smiled secretly. Of course. She switched off the camera and raised it to eye level.
Using the stile for lift, Mabel grabbed hold of the unicorn’s mane and swung herself onto his back. With her straight back and haughty expression, she could have passed for royalty.
Until he bucked her, head first onto the grass.
“Oh dear.” Edie dithered for a moment, looking from the stile to the unicorn and back to the ungainly, motionless heap that was her sister.
“She’s quite all right.” A warm, deep voice made her jump. “The fall just knocked her out. She’ll come round soon enough.”
“Yes, it’s me.” The unicorn tossed his mane and stomped. “Put the camera away and climb on my back. I’ll take you for a ride through the mist.”
“I’m not a virgin.” Realisation brought a slow smile to her lips. “And neither, it seems, was my sister.” She switched on the camera and pointed it at Mabel, careful to keep the unicorn out of the shot. Her sister would be furious.
“Oh, she was a virgin.” The unicorn threw back his head. “But that old legend is a lie put about by a certain type of virgin who think they’re better than the rest of us.”
Edie stepped over her sister and looked back. “Will she be all right? She’s a bit of a misery, but she’s all I have.”
“I promise. By the time I drop you off she’ll be wide awake and wondering what happened.”
“Won’t she remember?”
“Oh no. They never remember.”