The Unicorn Rebellion.
For story 100 we are going with a novella. Just for the occasion of it! For fun! The picture books will resume tomorrow.
A writer came to Sophie’s school to do a talk.
“Who likes Rugby?” he asked.
Ten hands went up. Two boys were so happy they wrestled.
“Who likes Australian Rules?” he then asked.
About 12 hands went up. A few rugby boys booed.
Who likes…” he paused. “UNICORNS?”
Every girl’s hand went up, as if they were so excited they might pee.
Sophie was impressed! It was as if the writer knew something. When it came to question time, she asked; “Why are unicorns so popular?”
The writer paused, looked at her for that second too long, as if he knew more than he’d ever tell.
“I don’t know,” he said.
Sophie went home, her head full of doubts. ‘I saw it,’ she thought. ‘I did, the other day, and two days before that.’ Then, she doubted again. ‘I imagined it, surely. But, what if? Who’d believe me?’ she fretted. Then, she wondered; ‘Why did the writer ask that? Why so soon after I’ve seen what I’ve seen?’
Summer was long, it was still light when Sophie ate dinner, not saying a word. She went to her bed, looking at the bush behind her home, as long shadows grew into lines filled with streaks of soft, fading light.
There it was again!
A glimpse here, half a second there, just visible through the trees. A pink unicorn, muscles rippling as it ran through the shrubs.
Sophie ventured out into dusk. Everything seemed to be falling with the light. It was scary, as if a door was shutting on all things safe. It was exciting, the very sort time was when anything was possible.
She stalked her imagination through the bush. Only, it wasn’t her imagination. A broken branch here, a hoof-print there, at the very least there was a horse nearby.
Then, in a clearing, she saw it, tall and proud, shifting its weight as it walked. Its skin had an almost-glow, and, when it turned its head, there the horn was; spiralled and long. In plain sight of the fading light.
“Bejeebers…” Sophie whispered to herself.
Then she noticed an old lady with wiry white hair, dressed in black, waiting at the other end of the clearing. The lady beckoned the unicorn with a bunch of small carrots. ‘That was my idea!’ Sophie thought. Carrots, or sugar cubes, or an apple.
When the unicorn ate the carrots, it jerked, and bucked, and resisted invisible forces! The old lady had no teeth. She laughed, making a black hole.
“Oh…” Sophie gasped, aloud.
The unicorn stopped its thrashing and turned. The old lady glared, then let out a shriek. The black hole that was her mouth seemed to grow until she was three crows, that flew up into the approaching night.
The unicorn bolted.
Sophie was left alone in the bush, very afraid.
The writer’s name was Fred. Sophie looked him up and sent a message through his web sight.
“I’ve seen one,” she said. Nothing more.
There was no reply. She fell asleep at her computer, feeling like a clown. Yet, the sound of incoming mail woke her near midnight.
“Why…?” it said.
“I saw one,” Sophie repeated.
“You said. Why?” the mail asked, again.
“I don’t understand.”
“Nature is not like they portray it in cartoons and kids books. Lions, even kings, eat people, mice spread disease, cats kill birds. Unicorns are wild and want to be free. Why did it let you see it? Nobody ever asks that.”
“I don’t know. Do you?” Sophie typed, but there was no reply.
Sophie went to the library and studied unicorns. It was strange. None of her friends ever researched them. They just took it as fact they were wonderful and would love little girls.
The books said many unicorns had goat’s heads, or goat-like beards. They existed in mythology for centuries, as if they were as old as imagination. Or were real.
This was all old people’s stuff. Boring. Sophie could feel there was more to unicorns than facts.
She read on.
Unicorns were horses with a horn, not a lot was written about that. Horses were alpha, they fought each other, biting, kicking, bullying. In the wild they could be lazy, easy, but fierce too. She wondered what a unicorn’s horn was for?
She read more – about their powers, about human interaction.
“No…” Sophie gasped. “People eat them?”
But her voice was too loud.
“Check it out! Little weirdo is looking up unicorns!” Julie Scree sneered, to her friends.
“Haha, what would she know!” Jacinta Butterboogs laughed.
“Freak, you know nothing,” Susie Sourlips scoffed.
That dusk, Sophie watched out her back window, thinking about those three awful girls, how they always teased her, hounded her. How they were mean and sour because she was shy. She wasn’t sure why she never told other girls she had seen a unicorn. Maybe she simply knew they would never believe her. But there was something about those three, they were so confident, the way they scoffed; “What would you know.” It really felt as if they did know more.
Soon, as daylight began to get tired, there was movement in the shrubs. A powerful leg, a thrashing main.
“It’s back…” Sophie whispered. Then, she realised even though the unicorn still had that aura, that glow, its hide was aqua. Had it changed colour? Was it a different unicorn? Was the pink one already caught?
She watched as the aqua unicorn bucked and whined and resisted invisible forces in fading light, then saw three crows descending…
Sophie wasn’t brave, at all. Yet she ran across her back yard, over the firebreak, through the bush in time to see the unicorn, braying wildly, as it was sucked into a big hessian bag held out by the old lady. Then was gone.
“She’s seen us again!” the old lady squawked. “So what? She’s a little creep. No-one will believe her! Do something! You do something! Oh, for the…” she rambled, then threw the hessian bag across the clearing.
The last thing Sophie saw was its opening, black as night, vast, impossible, yet swallowing her whole.
Sophie fell without falling. There was nothing to give her bearings. No sides, no light, no ground, no noise.
Gradually, she heard wild breathing, and turned to see the aqua unicorn running through the void. Only it wasn’t running. Without earth beneath it’s feet, the unicorn’s legs galloped without going anywhere at all.
Being that close, she could feel its fear, its anger. She reached over to touch the muscle of its shoulder. Nothing she could ever imagine had such beauty and power.
“I’ll save you…” she said, without knowing why or how.
What a silly thing to say, from a lost little girl! Then, she heard a voice in her head, strong, proud.
“Don’t touch me!” the unicorn replied.
“These are our stables,” Julie Scree said with a smile.
Inside, unicorns ate hay, and slept and preened, while bluebirds braided their hair.
“These are our paddocks and yards,” Jacinta Butterboogs waved her hand.
The grass was deep green, perfect. Flowers bloomed in fields.
“And these are our rainbows,” giggled Susie Sourlips, only this time she wasn’t sour, not at all. Each of the girls was lovely, both confident and inviting.
“We’re going for a ride, you should come,” Susie said. “We’ll canter over that rainbow,” she pointed to a magnificent band of colour on the horizon.”
Julie gave Susie a friendly head tilt. “I don’t think she’s ready for that yet, are you, Sophie?”
Sophie thought carefully.
“No,” she replied.
This was every little girl’s dream, perfect. Strangely so.
“Maybe later you can brush one of their mains,” Jacinta suggested.
“Lovely,” Julie smiled, and three unicorns bowed for them to step up and ride, bareback, one with wings, through the sky.
Sophie noticed the unicorn under Susie Sourlips was the pink one – hansom and obedient, galloping at great speed.
Susie laughed, hunching over the unicorn’s neck beautifully, without stirrups or whips, just releasing its strength, as if born to ride. She looked invincible, in love with the world. They all did as they took to the sky.
Only one voice, small, in the back of her head, stopped Sophie swooning with the joy of it all.
“Help us…” it rasped, then was gone.
Then a man approached.
“I’ll show you your quarters,” said the writer, Fred, dressed like a stableboy.
This was all too much for Sophie!
“How do I get out of here?” she wailed.
“Ssh,” the writer said.
Sophie looked at her quarters, impossibly small. She wasn’t silly. Whatever was happening, those three girls, Julie, Jacinta and Susie, weren’t her friends.
“Go to the police if you’re worried,” the writer mumbled under his breath.
Sophie looked left and right.
“There are none,” she wailed. “And what would I tell them?”
“Not real police…” the writer moaned, and was gone.
Sophie lay down on her stable hand’s cot and woke in her bed. She wasn’t slightly foolish enough to believe it had just been a dream.
When she went to school, one look at her, and the three girls knew it, too. There was no point in any of them pretending otherwise. This was scary, petrifying!
“How did you get your power?” Sophie asked. “To see these things, do these things?”
“Are you going to be a problem for us?” Julie Scree smiled, way too nice.
“Don’t you want to one day ride a unicorn?” Jacinta Butterboogs asked, with too much care.
“It’s every little girl’s dream,” grinned Susie Sourlips.
And in that moment, Sophie knew. They had eaten a unicorn, just like legend told, to consume its magic as their own.
“You beasts,” she muttered under her breath.
“Maybe we should introduce her to the Ghost?” Julie said.
Whoever the Ghost was, Sophie knew she had to act, real fast!
“No, no, I don’t mind. Anything, as long as I can ride a unicorn! I want to real bad!” she said.
It was no lie, Sophie had always wanted to ride a unicorn, more than anything, her whole life!
“Okay then, horse groomer. We will see you on dusk,” Jacinta said. “Just step into the bush behind your house and close your eyes.”
Dusk was a long way off. Sophie went to the library and looked up ‘mythical police’. There were too many strange creatures involving too much study in too short a time, most of which were not real. She closed her eyes and pointed. Her finger landed on ‘bunyips’. Weird Australian beings that, according to legend, lived by billabongs and scared or ate people who drifted into their path.
They looked like whatever you imagined, bits and pieces of Outback animals sewed into the one body, mostly.
“Psst, what are you looking me up for, cobber?” a voice behind her said.
Sophie crouched to be on eye level with a library air vent.
“Bunyip?” she said.
“Yep. I’z scratching my arse in here. Sure is hot, ‘ay mate?”
Sophie was surprised at how unsurprised she was. Se could feel it – when you get a toe-hold in magic, it flood in. You open its door.
“Do you know what’s going on?” she asked.
“Strewth! Who doesn’t, sister?” the bunyip scoffed. “I mean, unicorns, that’s mega stuff!”
“Can you help?” she asked.
“Crikey no!” the bunyip spat. “Phew-ee! I’m an Aussie, Indigenous, actually. Straight from the Dreamtime. I’m local, sista. Little girls wanting to ride unicorns, every nation has them! That’s far too universal for me!”
“I know writer person, why won’t he help?” she asked.
“Core, that’s easy, ya galah,” the bunyip scoffed. “His thing is stories, ya get it? He can hang around the edges, but he ain’t no little shiela skid lid, dig?”
“No. I don’t understand you. Sorry, you’re too Australian for me,” Sophie confessed.
“Unicorns, stupid. If yas want ‘em to be saved, it has to be a little girl. That’s you. Someone who won’t blab. That’s you, again. You’re too shy. Yet you believe! All he can do is nudge yas this way or that.”
“It’s up to you, sista, if you’re brave enough,” the bunyip said. “And the unicorns, I guess.”
“Oh,” Sophie said. That was a lot to ask. “I still don’t know WHAT is up to me! What do I have to do?”
“She’ll be right,” the bunyip insisted. “Don’t go too near the water next time you’re Outback. I’ll scare yas to death,” it added, and was gone again.
Sophie brushed the pink unicorn’s main, making a point to not touch its neck, nor any other part of it. Yet, unlike the aqua one in the wild, it seemed to want to be touched, and ridden, and fed and led.
“Help…” a small voice pleaded inside her head.
It worried and stressed her, all day. Some unicorns could make rainbows, others make grass green and flowers bloom, many could fly. These were their powers that made little girls swoon. Some lived in gaps in time, that, if you rode them, you could pry open, and live in, too. Places like this, where there was no worry or stress.
Or so it seemed, until she realised at least one unicorn could talk in people’s heads.
Sophie followed the ‘voice’ around back of the sheds, to where she heard other voices. Schoolgirls.
“It’s the only one he can’t break,’ Julie Scree complained. “It’ so pretty, I want it so bad! It HAS to be my friend!”
Sophie looked into the middle of the holding pen. A ghost-like image of a bushman, made of billowing campfire smoke, was using a bullwhip on the aqua unicorn, pulling it in with reigns. Every time the unicorn tried to stab, gouge or stomp its way free, the blows went through the man, meeting nothing but air.
The ghost pulled and wrenched and whipped and tortured. The unicorn screamed…
“This is the last of them,” Julie pleaded. “You HAVE to tame it!”
The ghost whipped, he whipped!
“What will you do with them all?” he barked.
“Hide them in toys, and movies, and cute children’s books,” Jacinta insisted, fascinated with the battle in front of her.
“Make them into what we want,” Susie said.
Sophie watched the froth on the unicorn’s nose, saw the blood on its chest, the fear in its eyes. Felt its pride in not breaking when all others had.
She had no idea if these three girls were really a witch, or the witch was pretending to be three little girls. Maybe, sometimes, they were one and the same. Either way, she knew one wrong word and it might be her in that pen, facing the ghost. She was as trapped as the unicorn.
The poor beast wobbled, the ghost whipped it more, then raised its whip one last time…
Sophie couldn’t just stand by!
“No!” she cried, running into the yard, tears streaming down her face, as she jumped on the unicorn’s back.
The unicorn bucked and kicked frantically.
“I will NOT be ridden!” it wailed inside Sophie’s head, as if it preferred death. As if all mythology might indeed first die.
The three girls laughed so hard they became crows, then an old, toothless lady, then back again. Shadows grew. All light turned dark.
“Please! I’m not riding,” Sophie whispered into the unicorn’s aqua ear. “I’m holding on. I can’t pretend anymore. Help me,” she repeated its words back to it. “Help me escape.”
The aqua unicorn paused. In that second the ghost struck! But a second was all it took to think beyond the pain. The unicorn, too weak to resist, rolled with the blow, though the dust, rising with momentum, and leapt over the fence, Sophie gripping its neck for dear life as it fled!
The aqua unicorn ran! It ran like the wind of stories untold, with such might and thunder nothing could catch it, – not ghosts, not tamed unicorns with girls on their backs, not old ladies with white, wiry hair. Not black crows.
Once they were safe, it threw Sophie clear of itself with a shrug, rearing above her on its hind legs.
“We will NOT be led to freedom by a little girl!” its voice raged. “You are the problem!”
“M… Me…?” Sophie stammered.
The aqua unicorn stomped down. All Sophie could see was approaching hooves…
“Are you okay?” a voice said, inside her head.
It was the pink unicorn.
“You saved me?” Sophie stammered. She was shaken, bruised, still wasn’t sure of up from down.
“No, they lifted you free…” the voice said.
Sophie looked at fairies, darting back into dusk’s cracks, as if they were never there.
“Gumnut fairies,” the voice added. “Very rare.”
The aqua unicorn was weaving its magic of communication. Everybody was listening to each other’s thoughts.
Sophie read the pink unicorn’s mind. It had been docile, scared of the ghost’s torture, accepting of easy gifts, carrots, combed hair, oats. But it had seen the aqua unicorn running! That was all it took to know it was wild at heart, that all mythical creatures are wild. Untameable. Unbreakable, deep down inside. That they are storms, tides! Forces of nature. Imagination’s strength! That it had to be free or whither and die.
“Your horns aren’t weapons, are they?” Sophie asked. “They’re symbolic, they represent honesty.”
But the unicorns ignored her.
“It’s time for a rebellion,” the pink unicorn said in everybody’s head. “A unicorn rebellion!” it brayed.
And it, and the aqua unicorn galloped!
Faster and faster, they gained momentum, strength, gathering other unicorns, freeing them from perfect, boring grass and neatly braded hair, until they were a heard, a thundering stampede!
They leapt over fences and through show yards, the number and force of their hooves turning a bushman’s ghost to dust. They turned to the stables, the pink unicorn aiming square at three schoolgirls with its horn.
The girls panicked! “No,” whispered Julie Scree, as all three of them shifted shape, into crows, then an old lady, a witch, then back again.
They went to run, but Fred bolted shut the stable doors.
Crows, girls, a witch, Sophie wasn’t sure what they were as the unicorn’s horn of truth hit. “Fred, now what?” she called.
But the fairies swooped again, dragging Sophie back through the bush, towards her home.
The last things she saw were unicorns, of all colours, galloping across a distant ridge, hair knotted and wild, free to roam, for good and bad, throughout mythology, to breath fire and carry the gods that pulled the sun across the sky, or meet them in battle, to fight and struggle and be free.
To run without fences until the end of the sky.
Anything less and they would just be horses again. At their heart, they were the freedom we all admired.
Sophie sat at the library computer, checking her emails. Fred wasn’t replying anymore. Maybe without the unicorns to help, he was stuck in their world. Who knew? It had been weeks, and each day Sophie cold feel the magic of what he had experienced drifting further away.
She wondered, in a month or so, if she’d remember any of it at all.
“So how’d yas go?” the bunyip whispered from behind the air vent.
“Good, I guess,” Sophie mumbled back, a bit overwhelmed. “There’s only one thing I can’t figure,” she said. “Where do the gumnut angles fit in? Why did they save me? They’re Australian. Aren’t they, how did you say it; Out of the unicorns’ league?”
“Beats me, mate,” the bunyip burped, with a crooked grin.
Bunyips were the true mystery. Each Aboriginal nation had their own version of what one was. Maybe they really were bush police of some sort?
She watched the shadows in the shaft shift about as it waddled away, the slight sparkle of glittery things flying in front of it, here and there.
Sophie smiled to herself. She knew, for sure, no-one would believe her, so told no-one. But so what? The majority of girls dream of riding tame unicorns, she had touched the shoulder of a wild one, in all its power, as it galloped – full, mighty gate. It was like embracing a waterfall after a storm.
That was the sheer luck of nature’s way. Sophie had seen things she was not meant to, helped them, if only for the second it took to stop a stockman’s whip, and was, oh, so much richer for it!
Even though she knew she would probably never see them again.