The Unicorn Club
by Andy Hollis
©2000 Andy Hollis -- all rights reserved
I kicked a stone along the dirt path, and waited for the puffs of dust to clear before I chased it. The path wound its way through the city park and several acres of woods, and I hoped find a little relief from the heat. The air conditioning at school crashed and I had the afternoon off.
After brushing trash off a park bench, I sat down and kicked at an old candy wrapper. I sighed, and shook my head. The mounds of litter in the park would soon take over, but it gave the squirrels something to play with. Someone really should do something about the garbage, but it wasn't going to be me. I watched a couple of the tree rats fight over a paper cup before I stood up again with a frown on my face.
I swore I heard someone call my name, but I couldn't see anyone. I started walking for home when the call came again, louder, and this time I heard it only in my thoughts. I looked around again then set off in the direction I thought the call was coming from.
The urgency in the message made me break into a run. I crossed the main road and spotted something white laying in a ditch about fifty yards down the road. I ran harder, but stopped as I found a barrier in the way. I reached out and touched the air. A force field? I've watched enough Star Trek to guess what it was but I never thought I'd find a real one. I tried again, and found I could push my way through the barrier as if I was walking through Saran Wrap. I felt the field stretch, then pop.
Silence. I looked around amazed at the sense of utter peace I felt. I couldn't hear a single bird or even the rustle of a breeze. For the first time I took a good look at the ditch. I had to blink several times and rub my eyes, but the vision did not vanish.
A unicorn lay on it's side, panting against the ground. My mouth dropped open to my knees. The creature had a milky white coat with a snow-white mane and tail. It's hooves looked like burnished gold while the horn -- the horn was indescribable, a swirl of ever-changing colors that gave me a headache to watch.
The unicorn raised its head to look at me. "How old are you, boy?"
"Twelve, and I'm in the seventh grade," I said automatically. "I'm Brian."
"Too young by far but what can I do?" the unicorn said and lowered its head again.
I knelt down by the animal's side. "Is there anything I can do to help. You look hurt..."
"No, not hurt. My kind lives just short of forever and my time has come. We are so few now..." He raised his head and pressed the tip of his horn into my forehead.
Although I felt pressure and blood running down my checks I didn't feel any pain, or even the slightest concern about what was happening.
"It is done. You were the one to answer my call, and now the one selected to take my place. Guard this land well, boy. I have cared for it since -- well long before humans ever came here. I would have liked to teach you, but the call did not reach you in time. You are the unicorn now, and you have just short of forever to learn the job."
"Me?" I said. "I'm not a unicorn. What am I supposed to do?"
The unicorn closed its eyes and quickly faded away. I stood up and wiped tears from my eyes. A second later I heard the real world return with a loud hiss. The blood stains from the hole in my forehead faded from my clothes.
Birds chattered over my head, and I heard something else.
"We welcome the new unicorn. We welcome the new unicorn."
Right over my head I spotted a pair of squirrels, but -- this was crazy. It was impossible. I must have had a touch of sun stroke or something. Unicorns -- talking squirrels... I hurried back to the path to head for home.
I trotted for a few yards when a red fox stepped into the path in front of me. "Unicorn, I need your help. My vixen is hurt and I have been waiting for you."
"A talking fox isn't as bad as talking squirrels, but what am I supposed to do? I'm not a veterinarian."
"But you are the unicorn," the fox said as if expecting that to take care of everything. I could see the panic in the animal's eyes.
"Where is she?"
The world spun around, and I found myself nose to nose with the fox. I looked back at myself. "I'm a fox. But that's impossible." I bounced around on four legs for a moment. The weirdest thing about this was I didn't feel any different. It felt right to stand on four paws and to have a tail stretching out behind me. It took a moment longer to adjust to a new world of smells and sounds.
"Follow me," the fox said and took off into the woods. We ran for what seemed like miles before I found the battered vixen partially hidden in the dry under brush.
"The new unicorn is here."
"What happened?" I asked sniffing the vixen. She looked in bad shape.
"Dogs," the fox said. "Dogs caught her and almost killed her."
The world spun around again and I found myself standing on four longer legs. I snorted and lowered my head to touch my horn to the vixen. I felt the power flow then stepped back to watch the fox heal. She stood up and shook herself off.
"Thank you, thank you," the male said bouncing around his girl friend. She gave me a wide grin.
"Thank you, too," she said. A second later I shrank back down to fox to let her lick my nose.
"I am at your service, unicorn," the male said. "You are new at this and I can help."
"Tonight. I do not like being out in the daylight like this. I will know where to find you."
With another thought, I changed into a bird, a robin I think, and spread my wings to fly home. Flying was fun but I still felt too stunned to really enjoy it. I ran inside, yelled out, "Hi, Mom," then ran to my room. She was on the phone, as always. Making another of her -- deals. Ever since Dad left she hasn't wanted to get a real job, but she does act like a real wheeler-dealer, a mover and shaker -- well, whatever.
I closed and locked my door, sat down on the bed then muffled a scream in my pillow. I had met a unicorn; no problem with that except unicorns don't exist. I was now a unicorn too, and I could not only understand animals but change shapes as well. This couldn't be happening, but... I walked over to my closest, and moved the clothes off the door to uncover the mirror. With a thought, I changed back to unicorn.
This was incredible. I could look at the swirling lights and colors in the horn without getting headache now, but I took a good look at the rest of me. Not bad, I thought, for a horse. I didn't have a beard like I thought I would. I did not have goats' hooves, but I did have a milky white coat and snow white mane and tail. Something was wrong. I couldn't place it, but something was wrong. I knew I wasn't an expert on horses or unicorns for that matter but I shook my head and thought about changing back to me.
I stopped, and stared at my reflection again. I lowered my head and checked underneath me from one end to the next. I was a girl. I changed back to me and dropped my pants. I was a boy as a human but a female unicorn. That didn't make any sense at all. The unicorn was a...
I couldn't remember looking but if that one was female and I turned into a much younger version of her... This was going to be a real headache figuring everything out.
I walked over to my window, opened it checked out the nearest tree. "You," I said pointing at a squirrel. "Front and center, please."
"Me?" The squirrel squeaked. "Me?" Two seconds later the tree rat was sitting on my windowsill. "How can I help, unicorn?"
I tested something else. I opened my hand and watched half a dozen peanuts appear in my palm. "You can pass these out."
Two more squirrels scrambled up to my window. "Can we help? Can we help?"
"No, but thanks. I tossed a couple handfuls of nuts out the window and got rid of the rodents. I opened a notebook on my desk and jotted down a note. If I had to learn this job I had better keep notes. Rules, I needed some sort of guidelines about this and the first had to be -- Unicorn rule number one: don't feed squirrels.
I wandered out to the kitchen and immediately found unicorn rule number two: don't eat meat.
"I'm going to out this evening," Mom said from behind me. She held out a twenty-dollar bill. "You want to call out for pizza?"
"Yeah, that's great. And a movie?"
"Okay, but -- I'd better make the call. What do you want?"
"All veggies for me. I think I'm going to be a vegetarian from now on."
"You? You would give up hamburgers?"
With a loud sigh, I nodded. "Don't want to have clogged arteries before I'm a teenager. Do you know anything about unicorns?"
"Don't have time now, sweetheart, but you could try the Internet when I get off the phone. Brian, what's that noise outside? Sounds like it's coming from the back yard. Check it out, will you?"
"Right. Sure, it could be robbers or muggers and you want me to check it out?"
"In the middle of the afternoon? Scoot."
I walked outside through the kitchen door and then peeked through the fence to the back yard. Besides the squirrels there had to be a dozen cats, dogs and assorted creatures waiting underneath my window.
"What are you guys doing here?" Next mistake -- they all started talking at once. I had to hold up my hand, line them up and handle the issues one at a time. What did I look like? A free clinic? All the animals there wanted to me to fix their hurt paws or untangle fur or offer a free meal and comfort. After all, I was the unicorn.
"What was it?" Mom asked when I finally managed to get back inside.
"Some dogs and cats and a raccoon were in a fight. It's okay now."
"The pizza will be here any minute and I'm off in about five minutes. Give me a kiss, and I just heard that you won't have school tomorrow either."
I gave her a peck on the cheek. "Great news. I'm going to be busy tomorrow so don't worry about me."
The stack of books weighted twenty tons, I thought, as I carried them to the nearest table. The library had dozens of books on unicorns and even more stories in anthologies but -- I had to go through them all.
A night out with the foxes was fun, and I would do it again, but I still hadn't learned anything about my job.
The problem was that the books told me what a unicorn was, and I knew that, but they didn't go into what a unicorn did. I turned a page amazed at the artwork I had found, but..."
"Well, well, well. And just what are you doing here?"
I lowered my book and stared at an elderly man that was only three inches tall. He stood on the table, smaller than some of the books were thick. "Homework."
"But with all these human books, and this place?"
I looked around the room, saw no one looking this way, and shook my head. "I don't do pixies."
"I, my good beast, am a leprechaun, and I'm seeking you out because I need a way home... If you would be so kind."
"A plane ticket to Ireland? What do I look like? A bank?"
"To the fairy lands of course. What are you, dense?"
"No, just new to this and there isn't anyone around to teach me -- except you of course."
"Teach you what?"
I gave the little person a wide grin. "My job. The unicorn that did this to me is gone and it looks like you're elected, if you would be so kind."
"Tell me what sort of a job would a unicorn have except to be sending folks like me back home on request. You know leprechauns and unicorns have always had a tight bond in that respect. Unicorns always do whatever the leprechaun asks them to, if you follow me."
"Of course. It's like a tradition. Take that as your job description my lad, and be happy with it. There now, I've taught you everything you need to know about being a unicorn so send me home."
"Sorry, but I can't. For one thing, as an American unicorn I wouldn't think of it -- without the appropriate payment, and for the next I don't know how."
"Oh, bloody... Excuse me, are you really as young as you look?"
"I'm twelve, does that count?"
"Too young by half if you ask me. What good is it for a unicorn to pass on to someone still in the nursery? We'd better go back then. Come on now, I haven't got all day about this."
"Go on back where? I'm kind of busy what with tiny people interrupting me from my research."
The leprechaun shook his head. "Perhaps I had that coming, but this is important. I need to take you to see my pal, the wizard. Oh, and don't give me that look, my good beast. John's all right for an American wizard and he isn't the mercenary that American horses are."
"Okay, but could he help me about unicorns?"
"As much as any I'd say. Now step lively, lad. Since you don't wear shirts with pockets in them any more I'll ride in this." A small leather shoulder pouch popped onto the table.
I started to pack the leprechaun in the bag when he jumped up from the table and touched me on the forehead. "Ow. What did you do that for?" I reached up to rub the spot when I found a rather hard lump. "Uh oh, is that what I think it is?"
"Of course, what did you expect. It's growing in nicely at that."
I concentrated as hard as I could about getting rid of the horn, but nothing happened. The little man laughed at me.
"You can hide it, of course, but you can't change it. Do you have any idea how much raw power is stored in that horn? Here, I'll do the magic the first time. There, no one can see the horn but you and me now. Touch it again and feel the way I did it."
"Oh, I've got it, and thanks."
The wizard lived about a mile from the library. I'd never think of a wizard living in standard split-level in the suburbs, but the leprechaun insisted this was the right house. I walked up to the front door and rang the bell?"
A moment later a tall, and rather young man answered the door. "Sorry, I have all the papers I need."
"It's me, John. Move aside and let us in."
"Tim? Timothy, what are you doing back here?" I followed the wizard inside and took the seat John pointed at. "Well?"
It's not that bad, my lad. Not bad at all. We have a problem here. I was on my way home like I told you, but you know how long that takes and how it drains my power reserve."
The leprechaun snapped his fingers. "That's why I had this brainstorm I did. I thought why should I go through all of that to get home when yon beastie could do it and not work up a sweat."
"Yon beastie?" John demanded. "Please, excuse him, son. I'm sure he didn't mean that the way it sounded. Don't be rude to the child, Tim."
"Don't fooled by the lad's scruffy schoolboy exterior, John. Under that disguise is the new unicorn."
"Unicorn, John, pay attention. I don't like repeating myself."
"And just what do you mean by unicorn?"
Timothy snorted. "You don't know? It's a type of horse with a bloody great horn sticking out of its forehead."
"I know what a unicorn is..."
"Then why did you ask? I swear you humans are getting to be worse every time I make the crossing. What sort of wizard are you that you didn't feel the passing yesterday?"
"I felt something, but what are you talking about?"
"This boy is the new unicorn. I asked him to send me home, but that's the problem. He needs someone to teach him what a unicorn is and how to use his powers. That's why we're here."
The wizard peered at me for a moment. "Okay, son. What happened?"
"I'm not sure, sir. I was on my home from school yesterday, and I found a unicorn."
"Let me get this straight. You found a unicorn?"
"Yes, sir. It's a type of horse with a bloody great horn sticking out of its forehead."
"Very -- witty. I got that part. Then?"
"I tried to help, but he or she jabbed me in my forehead with that horn and told me I was the new unicorn. He -- died before he could tell me what that meant. I started for home when a fox asked me to help his vixen. She'd been caught by dogs and almost died, but she was a real fighter. I helped her of course, but that's when I found out I could change into a fox."
"I see. This was a normal fox?"
"I guess. I've always liked foxes but I've never been able to talk to them before."
"And you changed shapes?"
"Yes. I changed into a fox first, then into a unicorn so I could heal the vixen and when she was better I turned into a robin to fly home."
"I suppose that beats walking, but would you care to show me how you can change?"
After I shrugged off the shoulder bag, I stood up and changed to unicorn. "Like that."
"That is a bloody great horn," John said and reached out to touch it. I shied away from him.
"Don't be a fool, John. You know how it is with unicorns. You are not qualified to touch one."
"You mean that's for real?"
"Aye, it is. Only a virgin can touch a unicorn. Anyone else winds up with an ass' hoof instead of a hand. You can change back again, lad. I think he's convinced."
"That I am. Okay, but what do you need from me?" John waited until I had re-taken my seat before offering me a Coke.
"I know what a unicorn is, sir. I don't know what a unicorn does. The other one didn't have a chance to fill me in. He said he was the land's guardian and now I am but how do I guard it and from what? And every animal in my neighborhood thinks they can come to me with all their problems because I'm the unicorn."
"I don't know either. Until a moment ago I never dreamed that unicorns were real. I've had enough experience with magic now, and the fairy realm, but I've never found a unicorn nor have I ever met anyone that has. Have you tried calling to another unicorn?"
"No, can I do that?" I asked, excited by the thought.
"According to some of the legends I've read."
With a thought, I closed my eyes, and tried reaching out with my thoughts to anyone else. I felt my forehead getting uncomfortably warm, but I kept concentrating. I did feel a tickle from very far away.
I tried focusing on that tickle. A full-grown stallion appeared in the room snorting. He stood up and pawed the air in front of the wizard.
"What have you done. You had no right to take me from my lands, wizard. You had..."
"Stop, I brought you here," I said standing up. The unicorn stared at me for a second then did the most perfect double take I had ever seen.
"Well, hello, beautiful!" At last, he dropped down to all fours and nuzzled my face.
"Don't even think it, mister."
"Don't play with me, I beg you. I have never seen such a lovely sight in my life. When you are grown I will be yours forever."
"Excuse me, sir," John said. "Our young friend here is new to this. He needed someone to teach him how to be a unicorn, and he called you."
"Thank the light for that. I felt the passing yesterday, but I never dreamed I'd find this waiting for me. It has been so long since we have had a new unicorn. I will do everything I can to help you, my dear."
"That's a relief. Can you send this leprechaun back to the fairy lands so I can see how it's done?"
"Your command." The unicorn's horn started to glow. He drew a door in the air and opened a path to a different world.
"Much obliged," Timothy said and quickly vanished through the opening.
"First," the unicorn told me, "let's get rid of that ugly human body of yours."
"What do you mean? I like this body. It's the only one I have."
"But you are one of us now. You have no need for that shape, and it is hardly becoming, my dear."
"I keep this shape. Thanks, John, I'll -- see you around." Before the man could answer I was called to follow the stallion away. I changed to unicorn and left.
I felt the same envelope of silence surround us as the unicorn led through the wizard's front door. We shot into the air like a comet, blazing golden light behind us like a tail. In seconds I could see the earth as a globe spinning around in its course as others joined us in the gallop. From the far reaches of the world the unicorns came until the herd numbered twenty.
Underneath us I could see glowing points of lights on the earth's surface that showed the area belonging to each unicorn. Mine was the mid-Atlantic coast from Delaware through the Carolinas.
"That is mine," each unicorn told me, in turn, as an introduction. They had no names as such except for individual smells and thought patterns.
At least I wouldn't wind up being called "Starflower" or "Windwalker" or something. I felt the power around us growing stronger as I was taken on a tour not only of earth but the old fairylands as well.
There, through the various layers of worlds we found more unicorns, of course, those that had decided to give up guardianship for the life of the herd.
For the first time I realized the extent of the unicorn's gift to me. I now had the power to tap into creation itself. The beauty of the moment and the grandeur of the guardians touched me to the bottom of my soul. I could accept myself as a unicorn and part of this intense force of nature, but I had no idea why I was chosen.
I had always been an average kid. I got good grades at school but nothing to brag about. I had friends before, but now I had a herd. I was now part of what seemed to be a losing battle to protect the world from the humans' constant growth.
I had a vision in a blinding flash of light. I saw the unicorns, myself included, reclaiming the earth after the last human was gone, and I knew that perhaps I really did have just short of forever to win the war.
I touched down again deep in the woods a few miles from my house. Now, I felt, I knew what my job was.
Saturday morning I excused myself after breakfast, told Mom I'd be gone most of the day, and took off. I surrounded myself with the unicorn shield, changed shapes and took off for a tour of my area.
Boy, I had a lot of work to do.
I live right in the middle of the Shenandoah Valley. Far away enough from the cities of Northern Virginia to be rural, but still close enough to have easy access to everything. As I moved further and further away from home, I used my horn to claim the land as mine, and to bring back what I could. I knew I could never cover the entire area at once so I would have to divide it into sections and work on one section at a time.
At home again, I grabbed every map I could find of the area, and took them to my room to make a plan. I sketched out what I wanted to do, and ran downstairs for lunch. All I wanted for lunch was another couple of bowls of granola. I knew I was now a growing unicorn, but I hoped I wouldn't lose my taste for other foods. I stopped in the bathroom and screamed at my reflection.
The bump on my forehead now stuck out several inches. I reached up and made the thing vanish again, but I would have to be more careful in the future about checking my appearance.
For the rest of the weekend, I worked at litter removal. I started in the park with a trash bag and a jabber and went from there. I just picked up the litter and dissolved the small stuff, the cigarette butts and organic trash, into component parts.
On Sunday night I took another run with my fox. We ran through the wood with one goal in mind. "Here," he said and sat down on his haunches to scratch an ear. I looked out over the stretch of road and had to agree. A dozen animal trails all converged here to cross the road. And this was where so many bodies were found the next morning.
I built a crossing underneath the road. I made sure the tunnel was large enough for badgers and porcupines. The dogs and the deer would still have to contend with the cars, but they had much more of a chance. I ran through the tunnel a couple of times, packing in the earth and making sure it would withstand the weight from a lot of traffic.
"It's done," I said and marked the tunnel with a touch of power. "I want you to use this too."
"Whatever you say," he said with such an impish grin I had to believe him.
We placed two more crossings along the main road, and I made a note of a few more places that I could get on my way in to school in the morning.
I stared at the mirror not sure if I wanted to laugh or cry. My mouth and nose had grown -- a lot -- overnight. I had the beginnings of a fine muzzle. My teeth looked larger still. No matter how hard I tried I couldn't reshape my face, and I couldn't hide them like I did the horn.
"Are you going to be in there all day? I thought you wanted to leave early." Mom opened the door. "Are you okay in here?"
"Yeah, I was just washing up."
I followed her out to the kitchen. At least she hadn't noticed the changes. I gulped down three bowls of cereal. I grabbed my new canvas garbage bag and jabber and headed for the door.
"Brian? How long has it been since you've seen a dentist? It looks like your teeth are growing much too fast for your face."
I shrugged. "They feel fine, and the better to eat veggies with."
"I guess, but I'll make an appointment."
Great. So Mom had seen the changes and probably everyone else would too. I've been called worse than "horse-face" and no one would see the bloody great horn, but... I went to work.
I had just finished my third cross through tunnel, when I checked my watch and looked up to see a park policeman heading toward me.
"What in the world is going on here, and how did that happen?" He pointed in the direction of the entrance.
"I did that. It's an animal crossing. I followed the animal trail here, and put that in so they can run under the road instead of under tires."
He shook his head and studied my trash bag. "You're the one that's been cleaning up around here?"
"Yeah, I figured someone had to do it so it might as well be me."
"Do you have permits for all this?"
"Sure do," I said. "You'd think they'd be happy to have me cart off this litter and stuff for free, but no." I reached into a pouch in my bag and pulled out two stacks of papers that hadn't been there a moment before.
"It looks in order. Okay, keep up the good work, son."
I had more than enough opportunity to do so. Because of the mounting costs of the air conditioning repair, summer vacation started a week early. I took the time to post signs all over town.
The Unicorn Club
Lend a hand or a hoof.
Keep our parks clean.
Anyone who wants to help
I added a few unicorn graphics, and waited, but I didn't get any takers. During the week I did get a lot of city officials stopping me and asking what I was doing. They all had the same thing to say.
"The city isn't responsible for this. It isn't in the budget at all this year."
"Have I sent anyone a bill? The city doesn't care, but I do, so I'm responsible for it."
One reporter gave me a nice write up in the Sunday paper, but it still didn't get anyone else interested in helping. I also read a lot of letters to the editor using me to complain about the mayor and the city government for not caring about the city grounds.
Nothing happened, though, until I met the girl in the clearing. I had moved away from parks and was working on the woods when I found her. I knew the girl from school and she wasn't the type to sit out on the grass for very long without moving. I walked over collecting the litter.
"Hi, Taylor what are you doing out here?"
She raised a finger to her lips and sooshed me. "Be quiet, you little creep. I'm waiting for the unicorn."
I laughed. "That would be me. Did you see my posters for the Unicorn Club?"
"There's a unicorn in these woods -- a real one. My folks are into magic and stuff and I'm going to catch it.
""You?" I said with another laugh. "Come on, Taylor, don't you know the rules? You're not a..."
"Of course I am," she said with a shake of her long brunette hair. "I only fooled around one time and that didn't count."
"Of course it did, and you know it. You're going to be waiting a real long time. But why would you want to catch a unicorn in the first place? Couldn't you just let it alone?"
"I would, but my folks want the horn. They say it's the single most powerful tool in the universe, and they want it bad. Now what am I going to tell them? And how did you know I wasn't a virgin?"
"Uh, Taylor, that's not the kind of secret boys keep."
She stood up. "I'll kill him. I will so totally destroy that little... Have you seen the unicorn?"
"Yes, Taylor, and the dragons and griffins that live in the woods too. I talk to her all the time, and that's why I named my club after her and that's why I know you're wasting your time. She isn't interested."
"Oh, go pick up trash, creep. Just think, you've already reached your career potential."
"And so have you," I said, but under my breath.
To make matters worse, the next day two park policeman and two guys in suits came to my house from the Mayor's office.
"The Mayor is very proud of you son, and he wanted me to give you this award for your initiative and all your hard work on behalf of the city grounds."
Mom sounded impressed. "Please tell His Honor that we are proud to accept. Brian has really taken this to heart and is planning many more improvements to the grounds."
"That's just the point, Mrs. Trent. Mayor Korgan appreciates all your work, Brian, but do you have any idea what a commotion this had made? The Mayor's office has been swamped with calls about having you out there all by yourself doing the city's job. So, from now on, Mayor Korgan is asking you to stop, cease and desist. The city is going to take over trash pick up and removal and place the animal crossings."
"Okay, but when the city gets the bill don't come crying to me about it. I must have saved you guys thousands of dollars."
Since I was out of a job, so to speak, I went out to the woods, found the exact center of the area and started a different task. I changed long enough open a doorway to another world. I stepped through the opening into a quiet forest clearing. At one end I saw a waterfall that must have been twenty feet tall. I was tempted to stand underneath it.
I walked over the river and lowered my head for a drink. I stared at my reflection for a while still amazed by the sheer beauty of the unicorn.
"So you made it through, did you laddy -- oh, well lassie is it? Glad to see you again."
I stared at the leprechaun. "I came here to get away from people, even tiny ones. How are you, Tim?"
"As fine as ever, Miss. I was looking however for a ride back to see our John."
This time, I lowered my head further to jab my horn in his direction. "Tell me something, Tim, what do you see when you look at me?"
"A vision of loveliness to be sure. A fine unicorn filly with such..."
"Cool it. I meant, when you look at me do you see a taxicab?"
"Ah, point taken, Miss, but since you are going back and it is so hard for the likes of me to go through..."
"Gold. Five gold pieces a ride. Sounds like a winner to me."
"You drive a hard bargain, but what would a unicorn as lovely as you need with gold?"
"I'm a part time human, remember, and I can think of a million things I can do with gold."
"But couldn't you just call up all you need with that horn?"
"Of course, but then why should I pay me for a ride? It's your gold I want, not mine. See, I give you something you want and you give me something I want. That's called a trade."
"Highway robbery is what that is called, young lady and don't forget it. I'll pay, but I won't be asking you for help anytime soon."
"I can live with that." I changed back to myself, pocketed the money, and let the leprechaun back into my pouch. "I..." My stomach itched. I scratched and scratched but the itch would not go away. I pulled up my T-shirt and stared at a patch of milk white hair on my tummy.
"Since you will not be needing the gold much longer..."
"I need it now." I walked back through the gate and straight to the wizard's house. I knocked on the door.
"Well, welcome back. Brian, isn't it? Saw your picture in the paper the other day. Makes sense that you would be the one to run a clean up campaign around here. Come in."
"And not even a word for your old friend, Timothy? It's just hello to the beastie and not even a thought about the leprechaun."
"I need your help," I said quickly. I waited until he had closed the door behind me before I pulled up my shirt again. "I can't get rid of it."
"After your rather spectacular exit the last time you were here, I wondered if you even want to be human again. Let's look... You have a spell on your forehead." I dropped it so he could see the horn. "And the beginnings of a tail," he said pointing to a bump I hadn't noticed.
"I don't want to be a unicorn full time. I like being me, I mean, the human me. How can I tell my Mom?"
"I think you had better. I'm not sure if there is much I can do for you, if your magic can't, but try this." He said a few words making the hair and bumps vanish.
"You did it." I said. "What did you do?"
"A simple illusion, only. I don't know if this will help as your changes become more drastic. Being a unicorn doesn't strike me as too terrible a change."
"No, it isn't, but... I'd better get used to the idea. Thanks for the help."
I walked through the park kicking trash out of my way. After a month, the place looked just as bad as when I started. I had yet to see anyone picking up trash, but I just knew the cops would come out of nowhere to stop if me if I tried.
Something was wrong. I hurried back to the woods and down the road until I found a work crew with shovels and a bulldozer. I broke into a run. They were working on my first animal crossing.
"Hey, what's going on?"
"Beat it kid, we're trying to fill this in." One of the men said, and I watched as still others tried to shovel dirt into the tunnel entrance. The shovels stopped in mid-air and all the dirt scattered to one side or the other.
"Aren't you the kid that built this?"
"That's me. And no one is filling that in."
"We're under orders from the Mayor's office. We have to close these crossing because they don't meet the new code requirements and then we will start on the new ones."
"Oh, that's just great. The animals around here use them and they don't care if they meet your code. How long will it take you to get the new ones built?"
"We expect to finish in about two years. My company has to do an environmental study to determine the best placement for the crossings and then we need..."
"Two years? But what are the animals going to do in the mean time?"
"Until then they will have to use the road."
I had a clear vision of me, pawing the air, with head lowered, ready to tilt against the bulldozer. "This is too stupid for words." I don't know if the fury I felt showed up on my face, but the men stepped back. "No one is touching these crossings -- period." The power flowed from my forehead.
"What's going on?"
Everyone turned to see a reporter and TV cameraman. "Oh, hi, you're the news guy from channel six. I'm Brian Trent and these guys are trying to close down the animal crossings I made."
"Look, kid, we have work to do, and you are in the way. I don't know what you did here, but you had better stop it."
I told the news guy my story and even showed him the animal tracks at the other entrance while the cameraman took pictures of the crew's wasted efforts. I felt my tail twitching underneath the illusion. "It isn't a big issue but a great story about the city. I'm fighting city hall and this time I intend to win."
As more people gathered to see what was going on in the park, the news guy called the cameraman over and started recording. "This is David Channing with Channel Six news. I'm here today in the Bennett Memorial with a young man intent on fighting City Hall. This is Brian Trent and you may remember a story we did last month about young Brian's efforts to clean up the park."
The cameraman backed off and showed the new batch of litter and debris on the ground.
"Well, Brian, it looks as if you've been falling down on the job."
"Not me, David. I was ordered by the Mayor himself to stop picking up the litter. I wanted to do it, and I must have carted out hundreds of bags of trash from the park and the woods, but that wasn't good enough. The Mayor said he was getting a crew to come out and do the job but I haven't seen them yet."
"And what's going on over there?"
"While I was on the job I dug out animal crossings at six points around the park and the woods. I was tired of seeing so many animals as road kill and I wanted to help. I made the crossings and the number of deaths is down to almost nil.
"Now the Mayor is having those guys fill in my crossings until they can study the issue and build new ones. That's going to take years, and in the mean time the animals will have to use the road again."
"So it looks like all of your hard work has been for nothing."
I felt myself starting to shake. "Not this time. I don't see one good reason why they can't wait until the study is done and they are ready to build the new crossings before they close mine. I'm afraid that the study will show I picked the right locations for the crossings. Two years from now they will just unplug mine, claim all the credit and waste probably hundreds of thousands of tax dollars."
"Do you have anything to say to the Mayor?"
"Yes, I do. Mayor Korgan, maybe you are trying to help and maybe you just don't care, but stay out of this. This is going to kill thousands of animals over the next two years and there isn't any reason why."
"Thank you, Brian." The news guy left me to walk over to the crew.
"You're on the air. I'm David Channing from Channel Six news. Are you the foreman?"
"Larry Thomas, and yes, I'm in charge here." He blinked as I gave him a little nudge about telling the truth.
"Why are these animal crossings being closed?"
"They don't meet the new code," Larry said quickly. "Now up until last week there wasn't a code for animal crossings at all, and I've got to say that the kid did a great job on these. Brian, isn't it? Get yourself a degree in Engineering and you're going places. But, as I was saying the Mayor wants them closed."
"How much is all this going to cost the city?" I asked.
"Forty thousand per crossing, and we've got the contract for all six. Most of the money is going for the study to determine the best locations for the crossing."
"And after the study?" I asked.
"Oh, we're coming right back here, unplugging these tunnels and shoring them up with some bricks. Two years from now no one will remember your work, son, and the Mayor can take all the credit for being so sensitive to the environment.
"They already have a survey showing your tunnels were about a hundred yards away from the real sites so that no one can say we just used them again."
"And this is costing forty thousand per tunnel?" David asked.
"You got that straight. We work for the Mayor's brother-in-law so he can pad the bill all he wants."
"How many contractors put in bids for this work?" David shoved the microphone closer.
"Are you kidding? The Mayor doesn't take bids from anyone outside the family. He gave his brother the litter clean up job at one hundred thousand a year, and you can see the quality of that work. It's the city's money after all."
"What was that?" David said and tapped his ear piece. "The Mayor's office just called the station, and His Honor is on his way here to rebut Mr. Thomas' statements. Back to you, Kevin, and we will be standing by."
"What did I say?" Larry asked.
"Probably enough to get the Mayor and his whole family busted. Can you stick around, Brian?"
"You'd better believe it. I want to hear this, too."
Twenty minutes later the crowd made way for the Mayor's limousine. Mayor Korgan climbed out of the car as the cameraman began shooting again. Several other news people followed in the Mayor's wake.
"This is David Channing reporting live from Bennett Memorial Park. His Honor, Mayor Korgan has arrived and he doesn't seem happy. Your honor? Did you hear the statements made by Larry Thomas earlier?"
"Yes, I did..." He blinked as I gave him a double dose of truth telling, "and I wanted to assure the good people of this city that -- that forty thousand dollars is a very reasonable figure for this kind of work. And that I am going to take all the credit for young Brian's work. Don't give me that look, young man, it's politics, pure and simple."
"Mr. Mayor, is it true that you hired your family for these two projects?"
"Of course. That's part of the game. I set them up in dummy corporations, and it's really simple to fix bids after all. I'm not going to let that kind of money out of my family."
"How much do you get out of all this?" I asked.
"Ten thousand per tunnel and twenty five thousand per year for the litter clean up. Well, I see your point about the litter, son. My brother has always been a lazy son of a bitch. I've already paid him out the first hundred grand on this project and he had better not have spent it all. I don't think he's hired anyone yet, but it will get done."
"Do you always get money back on these contracts?" I asked.
"Of course. Kickbacks are a part of being in politics, and I don't know anyone in city government that isn't getting his share. I didn't spend half a million dollars on my campaign last year for nothing. The suckers -- well should I say taxpayers? -- gave me the keys to the city treasury and I intend to empty it while I'm in office."
I shook my head. "It's one thing to steal from the taxpayers, sir, but what about the animals? Why close the tunnels?"
"I've got to prove that the tunnels we build, if we build them at all, aren't yours. I couldn't stand an audit right now. So, we lose a few animals? You get roadkill all the time and there's nothing we can do about and still keep all that money in my pocket."
"That's all you care about?"
"It's my retirement I've got to think about, son, and not worry about the animals. Go hug a tree if it will make you feel better, but I don't care. And stop giving me that look. Your mother was involved in a lot of these deals."
"Did she know about your kickbacks and everything?" I asked worried.
"No, but..." He snapped his fingers. "It will take that long to make it appear that she did. If you say one word about this to anyone she will take the blame. What would your life be if she's in jail?"
"Mr. Mayor? Do you realize that you've just blackmailed a twelve-year-old boy on the news?" Larry Thomas cut in.
"I'm sure the boys here can be reasonable about that tape."
"What tape?" David said. "This is a live broadcast, your honor. From what I'm hearing from the station the phones are ringing off the hook, and it looks like the network will pick up on this for the evening news. Headline, Bennett City: Mayor Korgan shamed out of office by twelve-year-old. Would you like to tell us, for the record, who else on your staff is taking kickbacks?"
The Mayor started naming names. All I could do was stand there, with a huge grin on my face for the cameras. That will teach them to mess around with this unicorn. My work there was done. I decided to leave the truth spell in place on the Mayor. He needed it.
When I walked in the kitchen door, Mom was waiting for me. From the look on her face I thought I had better duck before she hit me. "What are you trying to do to me? Don't you know that is how I make my money too?"
"But Mom, I didn't do anything -- really. The Mayor was the one that spilled the beans. Didn't you hear what he said about giving you the blame?"
"Yes, I did, but still... Go to your room. I'll deal with you later."
"Can I take a shower first? I really need it." I didn't wait for her reply. I headed for the bathroom and took off my clothes.
I dropped the illusion and studied myself in the mirror. It wouldn't be long before the change was complete, and then what? My legs stretched several inches and my feet starting to feel hard. My tail reached the floor, and my ears were stretching up over my head. Odder still my white coat had covered my chest and even my nipples were gone.
I climbed into the shower and let the water steam. I scrubbed down, but all I could think about was standing under the waterfall I had seen on the other side. I wanted to do that -- a lot. In fact, as soon as I could get back I would. I could just feel the water rushing through my mane and tail.
"Brian, what on earth are you doing in here to make such a racket. It sounds like you're breaking the tub." She pulled back the shower curtain and screamed.
For the first time I realized I had changed to unicorn in the shower and that my hooves were clattering on the non-skid ceramic.
It took a moment, but Mom recovered enough to reach into the shower and turn off the water. "Oh my god."
"Mom, it's me." I changed back to myself and with as much dignity as I could manage I reached for a towel. I started to wrap it around my waist when I screamed. My coat now covered my entire front and nothing was left.
Although I knew that this was going to happen, somehow I never quite believed it. The sight of my smooth crotch made me cry out. "Mom, I'm a girl."
She held me for a moment. "You'd better dry off. What happened here?"
"It's a long story."
"I'll bet it is. Okay, Brian, I'll meet you in the kitchen. I'm going to make some coffee, and I will want a full explanation."
I dressed first in my illusion, then in my clothes. I walked out to the kitchen, grabbed a soda from the fridge and took a long drink.
"Sit down, young man, and tell me why I saw a unicorn in our shower."
When I finished she refilled her cup. "So, you're a unicorn -- a female unicorn. You can change shapes to anything except back into a human. Not only that but you have been to the Fairy realm and you've even carted a leprechaun back and forth. You know a local wizard, and you put a truth spell on Mayor Korgan to make him confess to all those crimes."
"That's pretty much it."
"The only reason you look like yourself now is because of an illusion, and we both saw that you are no longer a boy. You can't change back into your old self, but could you change into a girl?"
"I never thought about it." I concentrated and it worked. I felt my hair grow down past my shoulders as the rest of my body pulled into new curves.
"Oh, Brian, you're beautiful. Perhaps we had better do some shopping for new clothes."
"Not a chance, Mom. I'm not a girl, and I'm not about to wear skirts and things. From the way I'm changing I won't need clothes at all for much longer."
"I understand, but even when you change all the way what are you going to do? Go live in the woods? Sweetheart, you haven't even finished middle school, and as Brianna you won't have to worry about someone seeing through your illusion."
My cheeks flushed. "I could change the paperwork, but..." I had a sudden thought. I closed my eyes and changed back to myself then again, but this time I changed back all the way to a human male. "It worked. I'm me again, at least, for a while. I won't be able to maintain this shape for very long, but enough to make it through school. I don't know anything about being a girl."
"But you have a month and a half to learn. Since you are a female underneath that shape you really should plan for it."
"I guess, but..." To avoid Mom's glare I changed back to female. This was going to be confusing.
Over the next couple of days I officially changed from Brian to Kimberly and I called up a new set of records from school and everywhere else. I found I really liked the girl in the mirror, although it took longer before I was comfortable with the clothes Mom had bought me.
An emergency election was being held to replace the Mayor and most of the City government. Mayor Korgan was not a popular man about town anymore. I made it a point to attend to the debates between the new candidates, just as I made it a point to start picking up the litter again. I became the second member of the Unicorn Club since my cousin Brian was out of town for the rest of the summer.
"There," Mom said as she came in from the back yard wiping her hands. "It's done."
"Your stable. Judging from your looks you are going to need one, and soon, Kim. I mean, you do make a gorgeous girl, and an even prettier unicorn, but unicorns really should sleep outside, don't you think?"
"I guess, but I haven't changed all the way yet."
She sipped at her coffee. "That's what I've been thinking about."
"Uh oh. Am I going to like this?"
"You should. Look, Kim, you seem to be fighting this change, and that can't be good for you. Have you ever considered changing and getting it over with instead of staying as long as you can in between? As a unicorn you can easily change back and forth to human for a while," she pointed out.
"Yes, but it's still hard for me to accept being a full time animal, and a part time human. I..."
Mom walked over to the cabinets and pulled out a tray. A moment later she covered the tray with oat pellets and mash that made my mouth water. "It's horse chow," she commented as she held the tray just under my nose.
I opened my mouth and started eating. She led me away from the table and outside. All I could think of was chewing on the food, and I hardly noticed as my arms stretched into forelegs. I shook my head, closed my eyes and waited as Mom stood by. As I felt the change finished I lowered my head to finish breakfast.
"That's it. Thought this might do the trick."
For an instant, I saw bands of golden white light cross the morning sky. I felt power from the air and the earth surround me to acknowledge the change. I was truly the unicorn now, and ready for new life. As the power withdrew I let Mom take me over to check out the stable.
"Why don't you just stay like this for a while to get used to it," Mom suggested and I agreed. I still had my duties as a unicorn to follow, but it was easy enough to go about them hidden from the human world.
On the third morning after the change Mom brought three men out to the back yard instead of breakfast. I couldn't believe she would do this to me. I changed shape, and trotted out of my stable whinnying for my feed.
"Isn't she beautiful?" Mom asked. "My daughter found her and brought her back here. Just be careful with her, gentlemen. It's true what they say about unicorns and virgins."
"She is everything you said more," said one of the men. He walked up to me with his hand out. I took the lump of sugar from him, and let me pat me. He took his time examining me, and stood back. "What a waste of a good animal."
"I beg your pardon?" Mom asked.
"Mrs. Trent, let my colleagues take a look as well." The others also examined me and conferred with the first guy.
"It's a pity, but she probably won't live very long."
"What are you saying? She's a unicorn and they live just short of forever."
"Mrs. Trent, when you told us you had a unicorn the other day we thought this would be the case. She is beautiful, but she is a fake. Take a close look at the horn," he said and broke off the tip. Mom screamed. "It's just old bone, Mrs. Trent. See these little scars here on her forehead? Those are left over from the surgery that attached it. Her coat looks natural, but look here at her mane. The roots are showing and they care coming in as black."
"And you can see here," said one of the others. "Her hooves have been gilded and the gold is starting to flake off. It is a shame since she would have been such a beautiful horse. Here," he said and pressed against my forehead. I was ready for this, and screamed in pain. "Infection from the surgery has already set in, and I doubt if there is anything that can be done for her."
"Give our condolences to your daughter and make her comfortable for her last days. We can find out the way out, and thanks."
"But..." Mom glared at me as the men left. "What did you do?"
"Me? What did I do? You were going to sell me to them!"
"No, I was going to be your agent. Do you have any idea how much money you could bring in for us?"
With a thought, I brought in a shower of gold coins. "Is that enough for you? I have powers and powers but I'm not bulletproof, and people would kill -- really and truly kill me to get my horn. How could you do this to me, Mom? I am a unicorn and not a circus side show."
"Oh, Kim, I never meant it like that. We needed the money..."
I didn't wait for her excuse. I opened the gate to my waterfall and ran through it. She could wheel and deal all she wanted now but without me. I was a full time unicorn now, and I didn't need to go back to her. I didn't need to go back to the human world at all.
After an hour under the water, I felt better, changed back to human and went for a swim. I started to climb out on the far bank when I looked up to meet a pair of bright green eyes. A faun stood in the woods waiting for me to get out of the water. He looked to be my age, and he wore nothing but a grin. It was obvious what was on his mind.
"Nymph pretty," he announced.
"Unicorn nasty," I said right back as I changed back. He made room as I walked up the bank. 'What's your name?"
"Never mind." I walked for a while listening to the birdcalls and the chatter from the animals. The faun gave up on me after a while, and I did need the time alone. After a couple of hours I changed to human and walked back through my gate to my back yard. The gold coins were still lying on the grass.
"Mom?" I called out as I walked in the kitchen door. She ran in from the living room and hugged for all she was worth.
"I thought I had lost you."
"I didn't think I'd be back this soon either, but I did cool off. I need to go away for a while. I'm going on a grand tour of all my area, and I'm going to fix what I can and take notes. It would be faster if I went by myself, but we could go by car?"
"Deal. The reporters are still calling for Brian, and I could use a vacation myself."
"Good, if you can stand having me as a unicorn, so can I. There are worse things, but come on. I've got a big job to do and just short of forever to do it in."