Last Saturday, Harry killed a Unicorn. It happened on Route 531, in a stretch of road where the woods crawl up right next to the highway. Harry was driving home from the bar when the creature darted out of the woods and collided with him. He had no time to react, and the car skidded for several feet after the impact.
In a panic, he inspected the damage. The Unicorn was a crumpled mess of white fur and blood. Its horn had been wrenched from its forehead, near the base, and had impaled itself into the car’s front grill. Harry yanked it out with a grunt and threw it into the woods.
There were no witnesses, as far as he could see, and he didn’t want to stop and call the cops. I can’t pass a sobriety test, he thought to himself, and it’s late enough as is. So…
“Sorry,” he said to the creature, still gasping. “Good luck.”
He drove the rest of the way home without incident, and silently thanked his luck when he found his wife sleeping. He poured himself a glass of water, and slipped into bed.
On Sunday morning, Harry examined his car. He was surprised to find the horn still attached to the front grill. Questioning his memory, he yanked it out with some pliers, and smoothed up the grill as best he could with a hammer. The rest of the damage was minor, and he knew that he could find a lie to explain the minor bumps and nicks.
Concerned about the engine, he took the car out for a test drive, and found that it drove fine. Relieved to be in the clear, he decided to keep the horn, and spent the afternoon watching football.
On Monday, at the office, Harry did some research on the Internet. Unicorns were mythical beasts, he learned, whose horns provided their owners with protection against various evils. The horn itself, a dull, gnarled spiral, was acting as a paperweight on Harry’s desk, and looked quite powerless.
However, when his boss approached him in regards to a project, he soon found out that the horn compelled others to tell him the Truth. It shook insistently during their conversation, and each question that Harry asked his boss was answered by honest and self-damaging evaluations of the company’s mismanagement. Shocked at the words coming out of his mouth, Harry’s boss quickly retreated to his office, and did not seek Harry out again that day.
Tuesday night, Harry found out that he was now also immune to poison. After an argument during dinner with his wife, he went to sulk in the den. As the evening wore on, he slowly guzzled a bottle of wine, and then a tall glass of Scotch, each having no effect. As he drank, he noticed the horn pulsating with each sip, doing the hard work that his liver used to do, he supposed.
Unused to the sobriety, it took him a long time to fall asleep, and when he did, he dreamt of the Unicorn’s silent, pleading eyes.
On Wednesday, deciding that he would rather live a life with lies and poison than without, Harry called in sick to work and, beer in hand, spent the afternoon trying to obliterate the horn. Despite his best efforts, he found that no tool he owned could even scratch it. He buried the horn in his backyard, but upon entering his garage, was surprised to find it wedged in his pocket.
So, he spent an hour disposing of the horn at various store dumpsters. Each time, upon arriving home, he found the horn waiting for him, sometimes in his pocket, sometimes on his side of the bed, but always there.
On Thursday, he had dinner with his wife. Throughout the years, their Thursday night meal had been a tradition. In the past few weeks, despite the slow erosion of their marriage, his wife had been increasingly insistent about keeping this ritual, and that night he found out why.
As Harry ate his wife’s meatloaf, he felt the horn throbbing in his pocket, indicating, in his mind, the most deadly of poisons. The throbbing became unbearable as he sipped at his glass of water. He noticed a guilty look in his wife’s eye as he squirmed, and suddenly, realization dawned on him.
“How long has this been going on?” he asked, eyeing the glass in front of him with suspicion.
“For a month,” she said. “It’s very slow acting, so that there’s no trace afterwards.” She avoided his eyes. “You had about two weeks left.”
“Why would you want to kill me?” he asked.
And, bound by the Unicorn’s horn to tell the Truth, she told him everything, holding nothing back. She mentioned his many recent transgressions and deceptions. Most of all, she told him how much he’d changed since they got married, owing to his gradual descent into alcoholism. She said these things matter-of-factly, without emotion or accusation.
He didn’t ask her any more questions, terrified of what she might reveal.
Friday night, Harry checked into a motel after work. He spent a few hours at the motel bar, hating the fact that he couldn’t get drunk, but still needing to feel a glass in his hand. Afterwards, lonely and despondent, he drove to the spot on Route 531 where the accident occurred. Any trace of the creature had been washed away by rain, but Harry thought he saw a faint red stain in the pavement glaring off his flashlight beam. He threw the horn into the woods, out of habit, but was not surprised to find it waiting for him back at his room.
And then, on Saturday night, Harry went back, one more time, and hid in the trees until he saw approaching headlights. He waited for the correct moment, hoping that his timing was right, and darted out into the cold highway.
Charles Bush is a college research administrator in upstate NY. His fiction has appeared in Anotherealm, Flashes in the Dark, and Flashshot.
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