A Moonlight Chase - a short story by R. Thompson
Down through the streets, hooves pounding, breath, small gasps of cloud expelled into the air, racing, heart beating within a chest; it wouldn't be long now.
No....they will catch her soon.
She raced down the paved streets, ducking into a yard, across two grassy plains that held nothing of interest to her if she had been hungry, no, this was artificial turf, she should not have come this far into the land of those who hunted her, who sought her, who wanted her for what she could never be for them.
The sounds of her pursuers faded away as she crossed another lawn, leaped a fence, ran over another road, the sound of her hooves sounding too sharp on the black top, too loud, they'd find her for sure... But the footsteps were gone now, all she could hear was the sound of her own breath, of her own heart, the hooves on the grass now, it faded away, she could fade away now, there was a small stand of woods here, but it wouldn't be able to hide her during the daylight, only this moonless night would be able to hide her slick, white body and the magic that it held within.
She was a unicorn. Probably not the last, she had seen others like herself far, far, to the north. She had heard stories from the humans that there were so few of them now that no one believed they existed. Well, perhaps most didn't. Some wanted to believe, and she'd seen enough t-shirts and posters and small, porcelain figurines to prove that, but she doubted they would actually think she existed. It was okay. The humans who once hunted her no longer did. They wouldn't believe what they saw, blinking twice, the vision of the lovely unicorn there and gone, only a blink of the imagination, really. She didn't mind. It wasn't as if she missed them...
No, that was a lie. She did miss them. She missed the small girls with their flowing hair and the flowers they braided together into her mane. She missed the laughter of the young boys as she took them for rides in the forest. She missed the old women who would ask her help with curing the sick. Those were the days she missed the most, and it was the reason she came here, tonight, of all places, to see, if perhaps things had changed enough to go back to those days. But, they didn't see her. Not all of them, only a few...this man with a rifle being one of them.
What were those weapons he held? Did he think he was seeing what he saw? Or did he think she was an albino deer? Probably the later, she mused. He sent one shot up into the air and it missed her. Not that it would have stopped her, the weapons of mankind had long ceased to hurt her. She was immortal, a whisper, a light breeze, a ghost perhaps. But not so effervescent as to float away into nothing, but not substantial enough to be hurt by a mere bullet.
He had given chase, and she had allowed it, not so much out of fear but out of the chase, of the game. The horseman chasing the fox in the woods. Although they had stopped that long ago as well. The only proof of the old hunt was in the ancient tapestries that were woven so long ago. Were these the same humans that used to capture her kind for luck? There were terrible stories, but most of them were false. Her kind wasn't so easily taken down, taken apart, and sold for it's magical items, although the rhino... They had seen better days, their magic stripped away and for what? A piece of fingernail? Nothing. Her ancient ancestors would weep for the poor creatures who had long since lost their magic.
The unicorn brushes through the small stand of trees and came out into yet another small neighborhood. These dwellings for humans were compact, house next to house with barely a patch of inedible grass in between. Some had fences, others did not, but they were stacked next to one another like so many dominoes. She felt sorry for them. They had forgotten what it was like to live in the woods. They had forgotten how to grow things, to feed themselves, to see one another as special beings. There were no voices speaking to one another around communal fireplaces, no happy singing their children to sleep. Instead, there were murmurs and flashes of lights from televisions.
She started to turn, noticing the moon was now rising in the East. If the hunter was still out there, he would surely spot her white hide when the moon rose. But a sound in the thicket surprised her. She turned back, wondering of the sound, a snap, a murmur, and then a purr.
"Who goes there?" She asked, not sure if the creature understood her language.
She needn't have feared a lack of understanding though, as the creature came into the moonlight, sulky and black as a shadow. The cat brushed up against her hoof. "It is I, your majesty. What brings you to a place like this?"
The unicorn blinked her pale, violet eyes, seeing the cat better now as the moon rose. It was solid black but for a few white hairs upon its chest. "I'm no majesty, small creature. But I am a traveler who has run into a bit of a chase tonight and hoped to find some place where I might sleep. Do you now of a place nearby one such as myself could nap in peace for a short time?"
Rumbling now, the cat intertwined itself around her foreleg, then the other and then replied, "I can do better than that, I could show you a place, but you would need to give me a ride, as I do not travel as fast or as far as easily as one such as yourself." It stopped circling and came to sit, looking up at the unicorn, eyes slowly blinking in interest.
"I do not see why not," the unicorn replied, "Jump upon my back and tell me where to go."
But cats are still magical, and the moment she said it, he disappeared. The unicorn stomped her hooves, turning around herself, looking for the beast, not feeling it upon her back, nor sensing its presence. "Darn beast..." She muttered. "Cat! Where did you go?"
There came no reply, and not a rustle of leaves within the small wooded area, nor sound of the creature running away. The unicorn sighed, knowing that besides having the nine lives that humans always swore cats had (they did) but they also could, what did humans call it? Teleport. Yes, but it was more like they could hop out of time and into time and reappear somewhere else. Humans only glimpsed this from time to time when they thought a cat was in one room and it appeared in another, or perhaps they wondered how a cat could escape and they would see it outside even though they just knew it was inside.
Unicorns occasionally partnered with the creatures, but depending on their age, how many lives they'd had, and how wily it might be, they couldn't always be trusted. However, the unicorn felt that if it had even bothered to speak to her at all, there must have been some chance that... there, there it was, up ahead. She tilted her head forward and walked toward the creature, "Is that you, cat?"
"Yes.... it's not safe here..." The cat ran quickly back up between the houses where it had disappeared to, and then hopped lightly onto the unicorn's back. "Head straight down this road, fast as you can, use the front lawns, it will keep your hooves from making too much noise." His claws dug into her shoulders as he braced himself for the run. "Now! Quickly!"
A sound...a new rustling behind her... the unicorn leaped into action, running as the cat directed. She turned at the end of the road, his claws in her shoulders directing her which way to go. She could feel a deep hum at the base of her neck as the cat purred it's excitement. And ever so often she could feel a twitch of the tail as he looked back behind them. "Quickly now, jump over this fence!"
She no longer felt the cat upon her shoulder at this moment, it must have hopped off as she jumped, but she landed softly into a peaceful little garden. The cat was beside her now, standing by her side on a small stone wall. "Now, get down, as low as you can, we will have to wait here for them to go by."
The unicorn did as she was told, kneeling to the ground until she was hidden behind the short stone wall. She could hear voices as well as some sort of vehicle. Humans ran by the fence, not seeing her, they were in the shadow of the house, no moonlight could reach her here yet, it was too low. And the small wall and fence hid her from sight. The cat paced the stone, disappeared for a time, and she could hear more voices of humans, "You've got to be kidding me. Let's go home, there's no deer out here..."
"I swear I saw one... albino I'm sure of it." The voices continued away, and she heard a drift say, "I've heard of them up north, maybe they've made their way down..." Then all was quiet. She could hear her breathing, her heartbeat, the sound of frogs, and the moving of the earthworms in the grass.
"So...was that your trouble?" The cat said after a time.
"Yes, I suppose it was, and I owe you thanks."
"You'll owe me, alright...but I don't need another favor from a unicorn. I've already lived more than nine lives due to the last one, and I think I'm almost ready for heaven." The cat said, jumping back up onto the wall from wherever he had been hiding moments before. "You can stay here probably, for awhile, it's a safe place I've found in this strange place that humans call the suburbs. The humans are good, and they don't own a gun. They feed the birds and they treat the young ones within well."
With the phrase 'young ones', the unicorn's ears perked. "Children?"
The cat laughed. It sounded bright and filled with mirth. "No, no, kittens, my kind. On their first lives, the lot of them. Although in my previous life I lived with one of them. I check on her from time to time. But no... children are a strange mixture of terror and hatred nowadays. They fear every little bump and scratch, but they hate being coddled, but they don't know any better. They aren't raised to learn anything of the land, parents fight, children become filled with disdain and don't understand magic." The cat settled down, hiding its paws from the chilly evening. "I'm sorry, unicorn, but your kind is just a fairy tail now as much as my nine lives are."
"So, why here? Why do you stay here if you hate what they've become?"
"I don't hate them. They give good scratches, and I've been around long enough to know that things could always get better. There's still hope." The cat turned its eyes to the house where a light had turned on and a woman walked to the window and looked out into the back yard. "Because of people like that one. She was good to me once, back in another life. I think she believes that it's me in one of the young cats in her care, but it's not. Very few cats seek the magic that we once used to cling to, that which keeps us alive. But, that's not for now. What are you doing here? You should return to your forest, to your peaceful ways."
The unicorn watched in fascination at the woman in the window as she turned and stroked the head of a cat that was on the table within. "Because...I wanted to see if anyone still wanted to ride a unicorn." She turned her eyes back to the cat once the light inside the house went off again. "I wanted to remember what it was like to be appreciated again. But, I suppose it's too late for that. I have lost my magic, or at least the magic they believed I once had, and now it is just me, and humans only want me because they think I am something I am not. It's okay, I was bored, really, immortality is a long, sad, journey." She set her head down on the ground before her and the cat jumped down onto her back, kneading with its paws and then settled.
"Anyway, I thank you for helping me find somewhere to stay, albeit temporarily. Once the moon sets again I will leave. You have been surprisingly helpful."
The cat purred, and then said, "You are welcome." It yawned, and then with a tail twitch said, "I think I may have decided what you owe me in return."
"Yes?" The unicorn asked, not lifting her head as her eyes were heavy and she wanted to sleep.
"I would like you to take me with you for another ride." The cat said, now closing its eyes as well. "I know how long eternity feels, and if you should like the company, I am old, and my last life is nearing its end." The purr turned into a rattle, and for the first time the unicorn realized it wasn't long for this last life.
"Okay, cat, after this last nap."
"Yes, that would be acceptable," replied the cat.
And the moon rose and the shining white hide of the unicorn almost seemed to turn to crystal. A tired woman peered out through the darkness down at her garden. There's that cat again, she sighed, the one that made the cats she owned pee all over the house. Hopefully it didn't come up to the porch and pee all over the door again, she didn't think she could handle cleaning up another spray fest. But her weary eyes noticed a shimmer... something else out there in the yard. It sparkled in the moonlight, like faint bubbles, fading away before they popped. Was the cat curled up on something? The woman strained to see... But she closed her eyes and rubbed them. It was late, she should go to bed, her husband and cats were waiting upstairs.
"Good night cat..." The woman whispered. "Good night..." She smiled slightly, the moon had risen, giving more form to the shape in her yard. It couldn't be what she thought it was...but it had to be, there wasn't any other explanation. But she was older now. Not young enough to be a child, but not old enough to need the help of the unicorn that slept there. She wasn't a maiden. But that was okay, because no one would believe her anyway.
The unicorn smiled, as well as a unicorn could. Maybe there was hope for them after all, like the cat said.