Note: Not suitable for younger readers
“Yes, very nice,” Kim said. “Ouch! Your foot’s supposed to go in the stirrup, Nicole, not my face.”
“You’re not looking! Look!”
Kim turned to see what her niece was pointing at. “At what?”
“The pretty white pony!”
The only four-legged creature Kim could see behind her was a dog ambling lazily across the field. Deciding to humour Nicole, she turned back smiling and said, “Yes, it is pretty, isn’t it? All right, you’re all ready to go.”
Nicole turned her attention back to her horse and rode off at a trot. Kim watched, waving very time Nicole turned in her direction. They were the only ones out on the field today, but a prickling ran up the back of her neck. She swept the field with her eyes, turning right around to see behind her, but there was nobody there. Only the dog, now asleep.
Scolding herself, Kim went back to watching Nicole, who was now taking Pebbles over small jumps, and applauded her each time.
Something nudged her hard in the shoulder, knocking her off-balance. Kim yelped as she fell forwards onto the dirt. “Ow!”
Sorry, said a voice. I didn’t mean to hurt you.
It took Kim a moment to realise that the voice had been inside her head. She rubbed her hands off on her jeans and got to her feet again before turning around, to find herself almost nose-to-nose with a startlingly white horse.
Hello, it said. You can see me now?
Kim’s mouth fell open. Her eyes travelled slowly upwards and fixed on the horn protruding from its forehead. “Uh … yes.”
She shook herself, and opened and closed her eyes a few times to make sure she wasn’t imagining it. The unicorn swished its tail and pawed the ground, waiting impatiently for her to say something. In the end Kim settled for “Um, hello.”
It didn’t answer. We need your help.
Kim blinked. “We? What?”
To stop a great injustice, it said. I can show you.
Before Kim could get her head around what was happening, her surroundings—the field, her niece, even the sky—had disappeared and she was standing in a dark room, the unicorn beside her. It was huge, like a giant warehouse, filled with contraptions that were spinning and pumping. The high-roofed building with filled with metallic slicing and grinding. The floor was slippery with something dark.
“What is this place?” Kim whispered. “How did we get here?”
The unicorn didn’t answer her, but at that moment a man moved into sight, dressed in a cleaner’s uniform and wielding a mop. He walked right through them and began clearing up the mess they were standing in.
Kim shuddered and stepped backwards. She didn’t know what was going on, and she decided she didn’t want to know. “Take me back, now.”
I can’t. The unicorn’s eyes were filled with sorrow. You have to see the reality.
Perhaps out of the determination not to be lectured on reality by a unicorn, Kim didn’t respond, and stayed silent as the nearest conveyer belt to them began moving. The unicorn nodded towards her. Take a look.
Bottles and bottles were being churned out of the machine. Kim moved close enough to read the label. A logo consisting of heart surrounded by the slogan For smoother skin was printed at the top, followed by text.
One capful (taken by mouth) enough to sustain your young looks for 24 hours. Do not exceed this dose. Price: £499.99. Batch number 33284.
“Youth potion? You’re joking. This stuff exists?”
And at what a price, the unicorn said. Look.
At the opposite end of the factory, a large set of doors had just opened, and a van sporting the youth potion’s logo was reversing backwards. It stopped and the doors were opened by workers. Inside, at least ten unicorns were crammed into the space. They were led out by workers, trotting obediently behind them, and led out of sight.
“Why don’t they escape?”
They don’t understand, the unicorn beside her said miserably. My species is innocent—we trust everybody. To our cost. It looked sideways at Kim. Do you hear them?
Kim shook her head. “No.”
She was frozen to the spot. She wanted to run over and stop them, save them, but her legs were rooted to the spot. And she knew, somehow, that she would not be able to do anything.
You have to hear them.
“What?” The last unicorn was being led to its death. “No, I don’t want to!”
I’m sorry, but you have to. Before she could duck out of the way, the unicorn had speared its horn right through her head—it slid through as if it was a ghost, but from the moment they made contact, Kim’s head filled with screams of fear and agony, screams that sounded very, very human. For a split second before she wrenched herself away, hell echoed in her head. Tears were already pouring down her cheeks.
“Why did you do that?” she choked, backing away.
Because now I know you will help them.
When Kim awoke, she was screaming herself for at least a minute before she realised where she was. After breathing deeply for several more minutes to try and calm herself down, she made her way shakily into the kitchen and started brewing a very strong coffee.
Never had a nightmare left her so shaken, she thought. Now she was awake, she knew it wasn’t real—of course it wasn’t. But it had still felt more real than any dream, good or bad, she had ever experienced … and she could not get the unicorns’ dying screams out of her head.
The doorbell rang as she poured the coffee out, and she heard her neighbour call through the letterbox. “Kim, it’s Mrs Moore. Is everything all right?”
Argh. She had probably woken the whole street. Kim hurried to assure Mrs Moore that everything was fine, she had just had a bad dream, and to go back to bed. After the neighbour had left, Kim stood by the phone for a full minute, wrestling with herself, before picking it up and dialling.
First she tried her sister, but changed her mind and hung up after the first ring. Alice was a heavy sleeper, all calling her would do was wake her niece. She tried a couple of friends, none of whom picked up. She tried her mother, and again no go. Finally, she had no-one left to try but Jonathon.
Her boyfriend of all of three days, and one not particularly brilliant date, Kim was half hoping he would sleep through like the rest, and jumped when she heard his sleepy voice on the other end. “Hello?”
“Um, Jonathon? It’s Kim.”
There was a pause. “It’s three in the morning. Am I dating a narcoleptic?”
“No. I just—needed someone to talk to.”
“Why, what’s up?”
“Nothing … well, just a bad dream.”
“Do you want me to come over?” Jonathon was now sounding suspiciously wide awake.
“If you don’t go getting any ideas,” she replied. “I just want someone to talk to.”
There was a pause. “Okay, I’ll be there in ten.”
After he hung up, Kim abandoned her coffee and pulled some clothes on. By the time Jonathon knocked on the door, she was curled up, fully dressed in three layers, on the sofa with her rapidly cooling mug, another coffee busy brewing in the kitchen.
“Do you call your boyfriend every time you have a nightmare?” Jonathon asked as she let him in. “Hey, nice place.”
“No,” Kim said, somewhat defensively. “This one just—freaked me out. A lot.”
“Want to tell me about it?”
Kim offered him the fresh mug of coffee and he joined her on the sofa, his brown eyes boring into hers.
“It was about unicorns.”
He raised an eyebrow. “Unicorns? You had a nightmare—about unicorns? Doesn’t sound that horrible to me.”
“They were being skinned alive in a factory.”
Now he winced. “Okay. Point taken. That’s definitely not pleasant dreaming material.”
Kim sighed, staring into her mug. “I didn’t actually see the skinning part, but I heard them. The screams.” She paused. “I can’t get it out my head.”
“Yeah, but it wasn’t real,” Jonathon said. “Just some bonkers part of your imagination that wants to torture you.”
“That doesn’t really help.”
“Anyway, it felt real. It was even a real factory.”
That caught Jonathon off-guard. “What?”
“You know that one a few streets away, near the station? With the heart logo?”
“It was there. The logo was the same, and when the doors in the factory opened I saw the station out of them. I didn’t realise when I was having the dream, but afterwards …”
“Lots of dreams use real places, doesn’t mean the dreams are real,” Jonathon said.
Kim bit her lip. She was beginning to wonder if she was crazy, but the more she thought about the dream, the more real it felt. Normal dreams, no matter how good or bad, start to disappear after waking up—if anything, this one was becoming clearer in detail.
“You like adventure, don’t you Jonathon?”
He blinked at her. “What? Oh, no. Please tell me you’re not thinking what I think you’re thinking.”
“You can’t know what I’m thinking,” Kim said, having jumped off the sofa and beginning to search the hall drawers for a torch. Jonathon, who hadn’t moved, watched her in fascination through the doorway.
“You’re thinking of breaking into the factory to make sure your dream isn’t real. Right?”
Kim whirled around triumphantly, torch in hand. “Do you have a better idea for making sure?”
“It was a dream, Kim. Dreams are not reality. That factory does not kill unicorns.”
“How do you know? Do you know what the factory actually makes?”
At this Jonathon hesitated, but only slightly. “I don’t know, face cream or something. Why are we even having this conversation? Unicorns aren’t real.”
“How would you know, if they were invisible?”
“All right, now you’re officially crazy.”
“I’m checking out the factory,” Kim said. “I’m doing it now, with or without your help. If you were any kind of responsible boyfriend, you’d come with me to watch my back.”
“Does that mean no?”
He groaned. “All right, but if we get caught, I never want to see you again.”
Kim and Jonathon circled the factory as best they could with all the high-security fencing, looking for a way in. Well Kim was looking for a way in, Jonathon was trailing her holding the torch and repeatedly telling her she was crazy.
“Point the torch over there a sec,” she told him. “What’s that?”
Jonathon obliged. “What’s what?”
Kim didn’t speak, for a moment back in her dream. She could have sworn she had glimpsed a white four-legged creature standing just outside the fence.
“Your mind playing tricks,” Jonathon said when she voiced her thoughts. “Can we go yet?”
Kim shook her head and made her way over to where she thought she had seen the unicorn. Jonathon groaned and followed.
“Jonathon! Over here!”
He shone the torch where she directed, and whistled. “Now there’s a coincidence.”
A gap in the wire fencing, big enough for them to crawl through, looked as if it had been kicked in. Kim knelt down.
“You’re joking, Kim. You’re really not going in?”
“That was the point of coming.”
“Well, I had hoped you might change your mind when confronted with the way in.”
“You don’t have to come. Give me the torch and go home.”
“Nice try,” Jonathon said. “I’m not letting you break in alone.”
“I appreciate it,” Kim replied.
“If we’re really doing this, at least let me go first.” Jonathon handed Kim the torch. “Hold it so I can see where the wire is.”
A few dozen wire scratches later, and they both stood up the other side, considering the brick monstrosity before them.
“See a way in?” Kim asked.
“Nope. Let’s try the other side.”
They rounded the nearest corner, and this wall was lined with tall glass windows, grimy and opaque.
“I don’t see a way of opening them,” Kim mused. “And they’re probably alarmed. Keep going.”
Around the next corner stood a staff door, with a security lock.
“Well, we tried,” Jonathon said.
Kim ignored him and started pressing random numbers. Still the red light didn’t flicker.
“Kim. Come on. It’s not worth it.”
She closed her eyes, trying to remember something. And she pressed 33284. The red light disappeared and the green one appeared. Jonathon gaped as she pulled open the door. “Coming?”
“How did you know that?”
“There was a number in the dream. The batch number.”
For the first time, a flicker of doubt appeared in Jonathon’s eyes. “All right. I’m coming.”
This time as Kim entered the factory, it was silent. Jonathon shone the torch around, lighting up conveyer belts and machinery.
“Well?” he whispered. “Does it look the same or different?”
A peculiar mix of relief and, to a much lesser extent, something close to disappointment, ran through Kim, and she sighed. “Different. Very different.”
“So the dream was just a dream.”
“I guess so.”
“You don’t sound pleased.”
“I am,” Kim said. “I mean, I’m glad unicorns aren’t being slaughtered, I’m just—surprised, I suppose. I was expecting something terrible, and it’s just ordinary.”
“Well, we’ve seen enough,” Jonathon said firmly. “Let’s go.”
At the exact moment he spoke, there was a series of clicks simultaneously, from right behind them. Kim and Jonathon froze, then slowly raised their arms in surrender.
“Turn around,” a deep voice growled. “Keep your hands up.”
They slowly turned. No less than a dozen security guards were pointing machine guns at them.
In silence they were frogmarched to an office and made to sit and wait with guns trained on them while the police were called. Jonathon wouldn’t look Kim in the eye.
“Look Alice, I don’t want to talk about it.”
The look Kim received in return could have incinerated her. “Well I think we should. What on earth were you doing, breaking into a soap factory? Did Jonathon put you up to it?”
“So what was going through that thick head of yours?”
“I thought—look, it doesn’t matter anymore. I was wrong, I’m sorry. I’ll pay you back for the bail.”
“Don’t tell me it doesn’t matter!” her sister snapped. “Just tell me why you did it.”
Kim didn’t hear the second sentence, her attention was caught by something moving in the garden. She jumped to her feet and moved to the window.
A unicorn was standing in the middle of the lawn. It was not the one that had communicated with her; this one was smaller, more fragile. Its black eyes bored right into hers and Kim’s breath caught in her throat.
“What is it?” Alice moved to the window as well, but couldn’t see anything. “Kim, hello?” she waved a hand in front of her face.
“I’m sorry,” Kim whispered. She wasn’t entirely sure who she was apologising to or why, but allowed her sister to drag her attention away from the garden. As Alice began a new rant, Kim glanced back out of the window.
The unicorn had disappeared.
Copyright Alex Harlequin 2012