World of Unicorncraft

Everybody down on the floor! This post is a hijack!

Actually it's more of a re-purposing. I needed somewhere to post this short story so that I could submit it to the Terrible Minds Flash Fiction Weekly Challenge.

Basically it just had to be about Unicorns. Oh and less than 1ooo Words

The Hand and the Maiden

Jethro had good eyes.

Even though they were still 3 days ride from Darwin he could see the end of the line - the new train tracks built out from the port meeting the workers shanty building them in from the outback. There’d be trains this way before the season was done.

No point going into the worker town. Jethro could probably get a beer but he’d just as likely get in a fight and he’d have to spend the whole time with an eye open for his maiden.

Instead he pitched camp out in the desert, same as usual. He lead the unicorns to a dusty creek and checked it for crocs. Then he dug a short trench and pulled the wagon up over the top of it for her latrine. Finally as the sun was going down he built a fire. Jethro was careful. This was when most unicorn men got themselves killed. He was done before the moon came up.

The wagon had a compartment where the maiden lived. The door was bolted and padlocked with a drawer to pass meals through. Jethro put a bowl of stew, a hunk of pan-bread and a mug of tea into the drawer and knocked, twice, on the wall. He heard her stir inside. The drawer slid back. She didn’t say anything. He didn’t expect her to.

They weren’t supposed to talk at all. Company regulations. It was bad idea anyway. Once Jethro had seen the hand of a maiden as she pulled in her meal. He could still see it if he closed his eyes. A bad idea.

Regulations are one thing but the job is something else. Herding unicorns was hard, lonely and dangerous work. It had rules of its own. Old rules like nature. Water runs downhill. Don’t lose your maiden. If she gets sick or crazy you got to fix her or get far enough away before sunset. Nature wont dock your pay. Nature just carries on without you.

So Jethro talked to his maidens. You could keep tabs on them that way. This one didn’t say much. He could hear her crying sometimes but they all did that. Mostly Jethro just talked his mind for his own self.

That night he lay in his cot at the front of the wagon and told her about the railroad. What it meant. It wasn’t going to be two dozen unicorns led by wagon anymore. They’d have hundreds at a time in endless trucks. Darwin would explode with money and great mountains of ground-up alicorn on the docks. Hell, if they could freight the horns fast enough in iceboxes they wouldn’t even have to move live unicorns at all.

Jethro realized he was shouting. He stopped short. The moon was up. The unicorns stood beyond the campfire regarding him implacably. Nothing moved.

“They wont need us anymore,” Her voice was like an unused riverbed.
“I guess not,” said Jethro “Wont need maidens if they can keep the beasts locked up.”
He waited, not breathing. Would she speak again?
Jethro sighed.
“No, not good. You’ll be on the scrap heap.”
“We both will.”
They fell quiet then. Jethro lay on his cot. Thinking about nothing. He wondered what her hands were like.

“Do you remember the rock?” she whispered.
“What rock?”
“You told me about it one time. They broke it.”
That had been a long time ago. They drilled through a mountain for the railway. Turned out to be one big rock and as they cut it the whole piece cracked. No use to anyone after that. They had to go around. He’d been happy. Told the maiden at the time about it all night. How it would slow down the railway.
“That was you?” Jethro asked.
“It was me.”
That maiden, this one, hadn’t spoken after that. Just cried. He’d thought she was sad for the mountain. Or some such.
“That’s when I knew I wasn't going to make it,” she said, "'l'll die in this box."
He understood. The stars swam a little behind his hands.
“So what’s good?” he wanted to know.
It was her turn to sigh. Long and tired.
“Others I guess. No more like me. That’s some kind of good.”

Jethro stood up. He took the shovel slammed it against the lock.
“What are you doing?” she cried.
He didn’t answer, just kept pounding at the lock. The unicorns rumbled in the darkness.
“You can’t come in here.”
The shovel blade bent but the lock came partially free. Jethro jammed the shaft behind it and wrenched the thing right off the door. Breathing heavily he slid back the bolt.
“Keep away.”
The tiny room smelled terrible. A single shard of moonlight penetrated. The maiden was cowering in the farthest corner.
“Don’t touch me.”

He stood back, then, from the door. He moved towards the restive unicorns as close as he dared.
“You can come out, now. I ain’t going to hurt you.”
For a long time nothing happened. Then the maiden stepped, blinking into the moonlight. She wore a dirty white dress. Her skin was wrinkled and her spine was bent. Her legs were veiny and weak.

She stumbled and Jethro took a step towards her. She screamed, a raw animal noise that stopped him in his tracks. She crabbed away from him towards the unicorns, they parted for her. Jethro felt the blood heat of the animals behind him. A sharp horn pressed into his back.

"Wait," he said as evenly as he could, "We need to stick together."
The maiden stared at him. She was bathed in the moonlight glowing off the unicorns. One bent its neck and she scrambled astride it.

"It's too late for us," she said, "Too little and far, far too late."
The unicorn behind him moved slightly. He felt the horn enter his left shoulder blade.

Then, as he watched her ride away, it broke his heart.

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