Jack the Unicorn

It had been there an hour, or maybe two, or six, and no one had noticed. Not that the unicorn was invisible or lurking; no one saw it because everyone knew unicorns were extinct. Except one. This one. Jack.

Jack was getting very tired. He fancied a bag of oats or better a bucket of single malt. His coat was dusty but his horn glittered brightly. SUV’s drove by.

One of the SUV’s was tarted up with ever so many off-road gadgets that its owners enjoyed showing to their neighbours and might actually use someday. It zoomed along carrying three people in fair comfort: a father reading the maps, a mother driving, and – alone in a welter of gear in the back – Cynthia.

Cynthia, not knowing what she was looking for, looked out into the dark and saw Jack.

‘Mom, Dad, a unicorn!’ is what she did not cry out.

Cynthia was not born yesterday. For all she knew the unicorn might have been, so she did not want to startle it by calling out ‘Unicorn!’ What she did shout was, ‘The bridge is out!’

Mom slammed on the brakes. Dad explored the dash the way a mole would: eyes shut, hands and nose all over the tasteful plastic and wood trim.

The SUV shuddered and stopped with its brakes squealing with the sound a unicorn makes when it can’t help laughing.

Jack laughed; he could not help it. Dad looked at Mom. Mom looked in the mirror, at Cynthia.

‘Sorry,’ said Cynthia, ‘I was dreaming I still had braces.’

The other SUV’s kept to the tarmac, speeding up to pass Mom and Dad and Cynthia in their vehicle parked mostly off the road.

‘Afraid we’ll ask for help,’ Dad said.

Mom looked at the traffic. Cynthia looked as Jack. He was really there, ten metres from the rear bumper. In the grass. In the shadows.

Standing out, thought Cynthia, with that signal horn on his brow, and with those ruddy muddy eyes. ‘Can you hear me?’ she mouthed soundlessly.

‘Of course not,’ Jack answered, ‘but I lip read. Any single malt in there, then?’

There was, actually. Bottles and bottles of single malt, one open and mostly empty. Mom said traffic frightened her too much to attack it sober.

‘Why?’ lipped Cynthia.

‘Horsepower,’ answered Jack. He laughed, not unattractively, and the ayre leaked out of the SUV’s tyres.

‘I think we’ve got a flat,’ Dad said, quick as a whelk.

‘Yes,’ Mom answered, ‘and a house in Provence. We won’t get there tonight sitting here on our berm.’

‘I’ll fix it,’ Dad said, moving as if he were about to get a move on, up tools, and open the door.

Mom, as he had hoped, beat him to it. She cleared her open window to land noisily outside. She popped the spayre tyre from the back of the SUV, looked at each wheel and squealed, ‘They’re all flat!’