Short Story

Today, I’m posting up my short story I wrote for Ruby.  Hope you like it!  I would love any constructive feedback.  Okay, and heartfelt praise. Thanks!  Spoiler alert:  it’s about unicorns.  Don’t freak.  No one dies.

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Ruby and the Unicorns

 

Once upon a time there was a little girl named Ruby.  She lived with her father, mother and big brother in a house smack dab in the middle of the woods.  Ruby was a lovely child, with large lustrous eyes and a bright smile.  She was well-loved by her family, even her blue-eyed big brother, who showed his great affection for her by picking her up and turning her upside down on a regular basis.  Ruby was not a fan of this particular move.

If Ruby had one wish, it would be to have her very own unicorn.  She checked out books from the library about unicorns.  She talked about unicorns.  She drew pictures of unicorns with limpid eyes.  She dreamt of them.  They were in Technicolor – purple, pink, blue and green.  They nuzzled her hands with their muzzles and let her lead them on silver leashes.

It all started with a bedtime story her mother told her.  For Ruby, her mother recalled stories of unicorn sightings around the world.  She herself had seen one once.  This was Ruby’s favorite tale.  Her mother had been a girl then, about Ruby’s age.  She was on a road trip with her family and glimpsed a unicorn galloping across a field, its horn proudly held high.  The ebony unicorn raced into the wind, mane rippling, a picture of strength and inscrutable mystery.  Her mom had never forgotten it.  Indeed, who would forget such a sight?

Ruby yearned to see a unicorn for herself.  She learned all about their habitats.  She discovered what they liked to eat and when.  She considered setting a trap for one but dismissed it as being too cruel.  She settled for unicorn posters and toy ones with big eyes and long, rainbow manes.

It should be stated here that her brother, Zac, thought the whole thing was ridiculous. He teased her about her obsession every chance he got.  Sometimes he called her Uni-girl.

“Unicorns aren’t real.  You should ask for a puppy or a kitten.  You’re more likely to get one of those,” he advised practically.  Really, little sisters were so gullible. Then he went back to his computer games, creating worlds out of thin air.

Ruby could not stomach such a thought.
Since it was summertime and no school days loomed, Ruby’s parents encouraged her to sleep when she felt sleepy and not to push too hard to get there.  She needed to play quietly in her room, however; that was their only stipulation.  Often she drew pictures to help her on her journey to slumber.  Sometimes she wrote songs or gazed out her window at the bright moon.  She named the moon Marguerite because she liked the name.  When the moon was full, the luminary received her whole name.  When in crescent or half moon form, she was Maggie.  Less moon, less name.

Tonight, Ruby was having a hard time getting to sleep.  She had a lot on her mind.

“Marguerite,” she sighed.  “Will I ever get to see a unicorn?” She gazed into the moon’s full bright face, searching for an answer.  Marguerite, true to form, held her peace.

Suddenly, Ruby saw a flash out of the corner of her eye.  What was that?  She turned her head to the left.  A shooting star?  Ruby often made wishes on them.  She didn’t see anything falling in the velvet-black sky.  There it was again, on the right side.  She peeked out her window.  Nothing.  The backyard merged directly into the woods, no border except the unseen property lined written on the deed.

All of a sudden, she saw it – a unicorn, panting, head down in a momentary posture of repose.  It shook its silvery mane.

A unicorn!

What?

Ruby squealed with delight.  She jumped up from her window seat, nose pressed against the glass.  Desperate to be closer to her dream, she eased the window open and peered down.

The unicorn was not alone.  Suddenly, a foal stepped into view, tossing its head.

Ruby held her breath.  Then she pinched herself.  Ouch!  She was awake.  For once, it wasn’t a dream.

She watched, hardly daring to move.  The full-size unicorn was the mom.  The foal was her baby.  The mother unicorn caught sight of the baby and dodged away.  The baby chased her.  Then the baby ran and the mother chased her.  On and on in the moonlight they raced, horns glistening, bright white coats gleaming like shooting stars in the inky night.

Suddenly, Ruby had an idea.  She crept out of her window, tucking up her nightgown, going down the side of the house via the trellis, and dropped onto the cool grass.  She wanted to be even closer.  She followed the bushes around to the edge of the woods and hid behind a large oak tree.  Now she was close enough to touch them.

All of a sudden, she realized something.  They were talking to each other.  The unicorns!

“Mama,” said the smaller unicorn.  “I’m getting tired.” The little one yawned.

“Alright, darling.  Let’s get going,” her mother said tenderly.

Then they both froze.  They sensed Ruby watching them.

They both looked at her in unison as if cued by some unseen conductor.

Time stood still.  Ruby didn’t know what to do.  She looked back at them, drinking in their luminous presence.

Finally, she broke the spell.

“Hi”, she said tentatively.  “I’m Ruby. I-I live up there.” She pointed to her bedroom window, still open, backlit by her bedside lamp.

Wonder filled their eyes.  A human was…talking to them?  What now?

Mother unicorn recovered first.

“Hello, Ruby,” she said in a gentle voice, a small smile creeping into her voice.  “My name is Anastasia and this is ́Etoile.  Nice to meet you,” she finished.

Ruby could only stare.  Unicorns.  In her backyard, practically.  And talking to her!

Etoile stared back.  She shyly hid her muzzle in her mother’s flank.  She knew nothing of humans, especially ones that talked!

Anastasia took control.

“Ruby”, she said kindly, “what are you doing outside this time of night?”  Apparently, mothers would be mothers, no matter the species.

Ruby considered.  Would this mother tell her mother?  No.  She didn’t suppose it worked that way.

“I couldn’t sleep.  I saw you chasing each other from the window. I’ve never seen unicorns before – ever! – and I had to get a closer look,” she gushed.  Great joy filled her heart.

Anastasia chuckled, the warm sound emanating from deep in her chest.

“We are rare.  You’re lucky you spotted us.  We don’t generally get so close to human habitation.  Purely an accident we ran so far tonight. It was so beautiful, the moon shining down like a twin sun.  Well, we got carried away.”

Etoile nodded her head excitedly.  “It was such fun!  Mama and I don’t usually stay up this late, either.  That is, I don’t.” She pouted a bit and stamped her little front foot to make her point about bedtimes not really being necessary for her.

“Where do you live?  Can I come see you?  Will you come again?” Ruby had so many questions.

“We live on the other side of the forest.  And…I don’t know.  We can come see you here.  I think that would be safer for us,” Anastasia suggested.

Ruby thrilled to her very soul.  More time with the unicorns.  And she didn’t have to sneak up on them this time, either.  They wanted to see her and get to know her, too. The talking part really helped; she didn’t have to guess things about them. Amazing!

They made plans to meet again tomorrow night, if the weather was good.  Ruby had so many questions, but she put them aside for now. There would be time enough for answers when they met again. By now, the Marguerite was starting to set over the trees, casting everything in deep shadows.  They said their goodbyes.  Anastasia and Etoile headed back into the dark woods and home, Etoile a little unsteady on her feet.  Ruby, tired now herself from all the excitement, climbed back up the trellis, through the window and into her welcoming bed.

She laid her head on the cool pillow and was out inside of two minutes.

In the morning, she wondered if she had dreamt it all.  She noticed that her feet were grimy.  She smiled to herself.  She met unicorns last night. It did happen!

The next night she could hardly wait for the day to end.  She wished the sun down, the moon raised.

“Come on, come on,” she whispered impatiently to no one in particular.

Her father remarked on her hurried departure to bed.

“Someone’s ready for bed early,” he noted.  She usually dawdled, getting extra drinks of water, requesting another song or story.

“Uh, I’m really tired tonight,” Ruby replied, and then forced a yawn.  She was worn out from trying to hasten the day.

“Okay, sweetie.” Her dad tucked her in, prayed for her and sang her a song.  He kissed her soft cheek and left the room.  She closed her eyes dutifully in case he was looking back at her…

Alone at last!

The moon, still Marguerite, was just starting to peek up over the tops of the trees.  Ruby bounced out of bed excitedly.  She gazed out her window, scanning the forest for any unicorn sightings.  She sat back, disappointed.  What if they didn’t come?  Did they forget about her?  Maybe her imagination had tricked her.

Then, there they were.  Anastasia picked her way out of the trees, Etoile right behind her.  They tentatively looked up at Ruby’s window.

Ruby lit up.  She waved at them excitedly.  She quietly opened the window and shimmied down to the ground.  This time, she wore her shorty pajamas.  No sense being tangled up in a nightgown.

The moon’s glow made it as bright as daylight outside.

“Hi!” she said excitedly.

“Hi, Ruby”, Etoile said shyly. She still didn’t quite know what to make of Ruby and her enthusiasm.

“Ruby, it’s good to see you,” Anastasia said, nodding her head.

Ruby had so many questions, she didn’t know where to start.  Anastasia – and sometimes Etoile – answered every one.  They lived in the woods.  Etoile  – French for “star” – got her name because of the black star-shaped mark on her forehead.  Etoile’s father, a French import, chose her name. Yes, there was a small colony of unicorns that lived together.  They moved from one area to another, seeking fresh grass and clean water.

“Ruby, would you like to ride on my back?” Anastasia asked.  “I can show you some places in the woods you’ve never seen and we can talk freely away from the house.  This way, you won’t get tired of walking.”

Would she!

“Oh, yes, please!” she replied.  She had hardly dared to hope she might get to do such a thing. She didn’t know if unicorns could be tamed like horses, despite all the resemblance.

Unicorns, she discovered, didn’t age like regular horses.  They lived for hundreds of years.  They saw several ages of man come and go.  They were hard to kill, having amazing recuperative powers.  They shed bullets like a snake sheds its skin. In the past, men hunted and captured them to be battlehorses for their numerous wars.  The unicorns didn’t want to participate in that anymore, so they went into hiding.  This was one of the reasons they needed to stay hidden.  Also, their horns held enormous power. Anastasia couldn’t – or wouldn’t? – tell Ruby exactly what her horn could do and Ruby didn’t press the issue.

All Anastasia would say was, “It’s better that you don’t know.” Ruby figured she could learn about it in time.

Etoile, Ruby ascertained, was about Ruby’s age – 9 years old.  Anastasia’s age she never figured out.

Ruby rode along on Anastasia’s back, up and down with the terrain.  Her legs hugged the unicorn’s flanks.  No saddle meant she had to hold on tightly.  She gripped the glowing mane as they walked deeper and deeper into the gloom.  But Anastasia was sure-footed.  She never stumbled once.

As with everything Ruby gleaned, she kept it to herself.  She knew her brother would say she was crazy.  Her parents, she thought, would believe her.  But she wanted to keep the unicorns safe.  And in this case, safety meant total secrecy.  It was so hard to keep it all in.  She wanted to tell someone, especially her best friend Rebekah.  Nobody would believe it!

“Wouldn’t Rebekah love this!” she cheered inwardly as they came upon some other unicorns, drinking from a brook.  Anastasia merely nodded at them politely and kept moving.  The small herd stared in disbelief at the human riding on her back.

Night after night they rambled through the deep woods, talking and sharing.  Etoile grew more and more friendly.  Sometimes, Ruby rode on her back instead of Anastasia’s.  The unicorns taught Ruby some of their songs like “Into the Twilight” and “Song of the Echoes”.  Ruby was enchanted by the rich harmonies the two female unicorn voices could produce.  It sounded like freedom.

She dreamt of unicorns after these rambles.  She wanted so to be one of them, to be part of their number.  The tether of family and school and friends seemed to choke her.

Then one day, later in the summer, her father took her aside.

“Ruby, I have some news!” he announced.

Ruby listened attentively.

“We’re moving!”

Ruby was stunned.  Moving?  Where?  But why?  Her heart dropped within her.

“I got a promotion.  We’re moving to Toledo in two weeks.  Aren’t you excited?  They have great schools there, arts magnet schools and everything.  You could focus on that if you want.  They even have science magnet schools that Zac might enjoy.  Ruby, did you hear me?”

Ruby stared off into space.  She had no good answers.  She could not swallow.  She could barely breathe.  Move away from her equine friends?  Her heart would break.

That night, the moon was merely Maggie.  She climbed slowly out of her window in the dim light.  Etoile and Anastasia were already waiting for her.

“What’s the matter, Ruby?” Anastasia asked, a slight frown just below her forelock.

Ruby tried to find the words.

Etoile looked puzzled.

“We’re…moving,” she exhaled at last.

The unicorns looked stunned. Anastasia recovered first.

“Oh, Ruby, we will miss you so!” She nuzzled Ruby’s cheek, where a tear already made a path.

“No!” yelled Etoile.  “I don’t want you to go!  I finally have a real friend, and now this.”  She sobbed openly, seeking comfort in her mother’s side.  Ruby reached out to stroke her.

“Ruby, what in the world are you doing? Step away from that animal!”

Ruby’s father stood silhouetted in the doorway.  He had heard voices and come down to investigate.

Ruby froze.

He directed his glare at the small grouping.

“I mean it, Ruby.”

She backed away from her friends, her face a picture of agony.

“Is this what you’ve been doing every night?  Talking to these – these – horses?  Go into the house.  Now. “

Ruby slunk into the house, head down, eyes averted.  She felt horrible about deceiving her parents and deserting her friends.  Tears poured down.

“Sir,” Anastasia said, hoping to head off any further hostility, “we meant no harm.  In fact, Ruby is a dear girl.”

The man considered a moment. He peered into the darkness.

“You’re…talking.  A talking unicorn.  Good grief.  I must be crazy.”

A long pause ensued.

“No,” Anastasia continued.  “We really are unicorns.”

The man, kind-hearted despite his fierce words, considered.

“May I come closer? I would really like to talk with you.”

Etoile looked up.  During the kerfuffle, she’d hidden behind her mother.  She peeked over her mother’s back.

“Yes,” Anastasia replied.

Ruby’s dad left his anger on the front step.  He stepped carefully on the soft green grass, eyes on the mythical creatures on the edge of his property.  Finally, he was right in front of them.

“Hi,” he said shyly.  “I am sorry I scared you.  I didn’t know what you were.  I wanted to keep my girl safe.  She’s the world to me, you know.”

Anastasia smiled.  Of course she knew.  She was a parent.

“Your family is moving?  When is that?”

Ruby’s dad told her the details, what it meant for him and the family.  Ruby’s mom would be able to go back to school and get her literature degree.  Big changes were in store for all of them.

“But if you want…” He hesitated.

“What?” Etoile asked quickly.

“Well, Ruby could come back and visit you.  It’s not that far away.”

Ruby’s dad called her mom out.  Her mom, hesitant at first, was overjoyed to finally realize her own childhood dream and meet a real unicorn. Zac, skeptical, kept rubbing his eyes in amazement.

The unicorns thought that sounded like a wonderful idea.  In fact, it seemed a good idea to Ruby’s parents to rent the house out instead of sell it, so they could come back in the summers and visit the unicorns whenever they liked, the whole family.

So that is what they did.  Ruby, her mom, dad and big blue-eyed brother relocated to Toledo for the school year and spent their summers in their old home.  They got to know the unicorns well, the entire flock.  Zac even found a chocolate brown unicorn named Marcus who became his good friend.  Ruby loved that she finally had someone to share her secret with.  And the unicorns loved knowing that people could be trusted.

For generations after Ruby, her family summered at that home.  Rooms were added on, renovations occurred.  The secret of the unicorns remained.

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