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The Horned Horror

Every boy at the lunch table was leaning forward. Steve was almost drooling, his mouth hanging slack. Julian picked at a pimple while staring at Jeff. The others were equally entranced, half-eaten cheeseburgers and cartons of milk forgotten.

”What’d she say to that?” Steve asked. Jeff leaned back in the stiff plastic chair.

“‘Say?’ Not much! Just like a little, ‘oooh!’ sound. But her hands were all over me.”

“No way!” said Julian.

“Oh, yeah. She practically yanked me down onto the bed. She was all, ‘My parents won’t be home for hours!’”

“Man!” said Steve.

“And it was hours, like she said. We had time to do it over and over. But when her parents finally did come home, man, I had to hustle to get my clothes back on in time! Then I go downstairs, and I’m all, ‘Hey, Mr. and Mrs. Cook.’ And Sandy was just, ‘Thanks for helping me with my project.’”

“‘Project’!” barked Steve. “I could get behind a project like Sandy Cook!”

“Behind, in front, all over,” Jeff nodded. “Pretty nice.”

The boys shook their heads in admiration and envy. But the next morning, the unicorn showed up.

#

It looked just like the pictures in the storybooks, or on the posters in little girls’ rooms: searingly white, a long, curly mane of fine hair, and a yellowish, twisted horn springing out of its forehead. Smaller than a horse, bigger than a goat.

Jeff saw it as soon as he stepped out in the yard. He dropped his school backpack onto the grass.

“Whoa.”

The unicorn looked at Jeff, tossed its mane, and trotted over to him to nuzzle his hand. Jeff looked helplessly back at his house, but his parents had left for work long before. He turned back to the unicorn. “Well, hi, there, I guess,” he said. He patted the unicorn’s neck, and stroked the horn. “Whoa. Man, I wish I had a cellphone. I could take a picture.”

But he had no cellphone. And his parents had already left, and couldn’t drive him, so if he didn’t get moving he would be late for school. He picked up his backpack and moved toward the garage, keeping his eye on the mythical beast. He looked away just once, to locate his bike and drag it out. He thought the unicorn would be gone when he looked again, but it was still there, watching him with large, liquid eyes.

Jeff climbed onto the bike. “Man, who’s going to believe this?” He started pedaling slowly down the driveway. The unicorn followed. “Hey!” Jeff pedaled faster. The unicorn kept up with him, tireless and graceful. It followed him all the way to school.

#

At school the unicorn was a big hit. The boys kept a wary distance, either fearing its horn or sensing that this was a girl thing, like pink sweaters or cuddly stuffed bunnies, but the girls came forward, exclaiming. They ran their soft hands over its neck and shoulders, ran their fingers through its mane, cooed and made kissy sounds.

“Hey! A unicorn? Cool!” Jodi Whitsel was in Jeff’s Spanish class. He had made sure to sit next to her, because she had a reputation, but so far she hadn’t seemed to appreciate his snide comments about the teacher or their classmates. Now she came hurrying up to the unicorn.

As she came near the unicorn balked, blowing hot air though its nose and waving its horn. It skittishly moved off a few paces, looking at Jodi.

The other girls looked at Jodi, too.

“Stupid thing,” Jodi said, crossing her arms. “Probably got lice, anyway.” She turned away.

The girls looked at each other, at Jeff. He shrugged. “Nice unicorn,” someone said.

Jeff turned and saw Julian next to him.

“Hey, didn’t see you,” Jeff said. “Yeah – a babe magnet! Too much –” he smiled and gestured at all the girls, who had returned to their kissy noises and horn fondling.

“That thing been following you?”

“Yeah. Since this morning, anyway.” “I heard. Huh. Look. Here comes Sandy.”

“Oh. Yeah.”

Sandy got off her bus, saw the unicorn, and clasped her hands in front of her. “Oh, that’s just so cute!”

“I wonder if the unicorn will let her pet it?” Julian said.

“Why wouldn’t it?”

“Dude, don’t you know what they say about unicorns?”

Sandy reached the group and folded her arms around the unicorn’s neck. The unicorn nuzzled her ear. Sandy pulled back far enough to kiss the unicorn’s horn. Jeff couldn’t look away. “No. What? What do they say about unicorns?”

“Dude – they only hang out with virgins. No one else can even get near.

Jeff turned to look at his friend. “Really?”

“Hey, I not only play D and D. I’m the Dungeonmaster. I know.”

“Oh. So that means Jodi isn’t—”

“Duh. Big surprise. And Jeff…”

“What?”

“The unicorn is hanging out with you. And Sandy.”

Jeff didn’t know what to say.

“You’ll have to tell us again sometime about that project you did with Sandy,” Julian said, slinging his pack over his back and heading to the school door.

#

The unicorn wouldn’t come into the classroom, but it stayed near the school’s front doors all day, waiting for Jeff to come out. Once the janitor tried shooing it away; Jeff saw him through the window, waving his arms at the creature. The unicorn lowered its head, and the janitor left. He had probably decided that the second floor bathrooms needed more toilet paper.

When Jeff was finally released from school the unicorn was still there, and fell in easily next to him as he pedaled his bike, pacing him, natural as the wind. He had to pause on the way home several times. Girls along the way kept begging him for a chance to pet the unicorn.

At home the unicorn trotted into the back yard, and Jeff went to his room to throw his backpack down. He heard his mom drive in, and ran down to tell her about the unicorn. He checked out the back yard, but it was gone. His mom didn’t say anything about a unicorn in the front yard when she came in and hanged her car keys next to the door. So he didn’t say anything either.

Besides, maybe his mom knew what they said about unicorns.

The next morning it was back.

#

At lunch Steve and Julian plunked their trays down on either side of Jeff.

“How’s it going, stud?” Steve asked. “By the way, nice unicorn!”

“Yeah.”

“You know what Julian says about unicorns? That they—”

“Yeah, I heard already.”

Steve looked at Julian and sniggered. Jeff bit off the end of his slice of pizza.

“Man,” Steve said. “You are such a liar. Like any of us actually believed you anyway.”

Jeff felt his face go red. “You want to come pet the unicorn, Steve? Julian? You two would have no problem.”

“Yeah, right,” Steve said. “Like it would even let me get near.” He threw his paper napkin on to his lunch tray and got to his feet, followed by Julian. “See you around, stallion! We’re going to sit with the girls that couldn’t get near your horny horse!”

Jeff was positive Steve hadn’t done anything with anyone, but he couldn’t say a word.

#

Junior year ended with no change, and then the long summer, with the unicorn there when he talked to a girl outside McDonald’s and when another girl’s Frisbee had hit him in the head at the park. There weren’t any girls in the auto parts stockroom where he had a part-time job. He was almost relieved when school started again.

At one point Jeff had hit on a great idea – why not hit on the girls who were always fondling and petting and cooing to the unicorn? It was a babe magnet more effective than any car! But apparently the girls had heard something about him, or about what he’d said about Sandy, and a gaggle of girls would solidify into a pack of scornful glancers whenever he tried to make nice to one of them. It was even worse then, with all the girls around, and he knowing there was nothing he could do about it.

And then there was Jill Thraves. She was was really cute. In Social Studies she would look back at Jeff, chewing on a pencil and with a speculative look in her eye. Everyone said she didn’t waste time. But after school, when he tried to approach her, the unicorn slipped in between them. It faced Jill, blowing air out of its nose, until she left.

Jeff wasn’t stupid. Over the summer he had figured out what he would have to do, and although he pretended that there would be another way out, he knew there wasn’t. This thing had started when he’d made up that story about Sandy Cook, and it wouldn’t end until he made things right somehow.

Word had spread, of course. Maybe Steve or Julian, trying to look all sensitive to the girls they wanted to impress, had told. Then it was on Twitter and in Facebook updates, and now Sandy gave him cold stares whenever they passed in the halls. And that was too bad, because he really had liked her. But the unicorn wasn’t even satisfied when Jeff gave Sandy a quick “sorry” after Math.

He’d need to do a whole big apology in public.

It would be painful, sure. People would snigger, guys would think he was a wimp. But afterwards, maybe Sandy – well, OK, not Sandy, that was pushing the fantasy too far – but some girls, they would think he was so brave to confess, and they’d give him a chance. He would be the bad boy redeemed. Girls loved that kind of thing. A week or so of embarrassments, and they would be all over him. This unicorn could be the best thing that every happened to him.

#

After fourth period there would be an assembly in the gym. Some motivational speaker was going to talk about drugs or gangs or something. The whole senior class would be there.

No number of stops at the water fountain could make Jeff’s mouth less dry, and at lunch he couldn’t eat anything. But soon it would all be over.

As his class filed into the gym, Jeff felt like a zombie, his body cold and heavy and distant. He sat in the front row of the bleachers with the nerds, while almost everyone else he knew went back as far as they could, so they could joke and punch without being seen.

Mr. Ellingson, the English teacher, was up in front, trying to get people to settle down. Jeff saw Sandy about halfway up the bleachers, talking to one of her friends.

This was it. Don’t think, just stand up and get it over with.

Jeff counted to ten, then stood up. No one noticed.

He took three wooden steps forward, then turned around. “I have something to say,” he croaked, but no one looked at him. Mr. Ellingson was wading up into the bleachers to talk to some kids who were braying like jackasses. This wasn’t the way it was supposed to be. In all the movies, when a kid stood up in an assembly to say something important, everyone listened, and usually they started a slow clap after he was finished.

“I have something to say,” Jeff said louder, and some people looked his way. “I want to say something about Sandy.”

“Go to it, unicorn boy!” someone called, and there was laughter.

Jeff tried to swallow. “Last year I said some things about Sandy,” he said. “And I guess I kind of exaggerated. I said–”

He looked up, and there was Sandy. She’d gone pale, and she was biting her bottom lip really hard.

Shit. He wasn’t just going to embarrass himself, but her, too; maybe she thought he was going to make up something else now. After all, what could happen to him if he did? He was already the guy with the unicorn.

Then he saw Steve and Jeff, both smirking at him, and a few others near them were nudging each other. Those assholes must have told, told everybody. What a dickwad thing to do.

“All I can say is, she had the nicest tits!” Jeff said, making squeezing motions with his hands. “Mmm – hmm!”

Jeff sat down, and there were some hoots and catcalls. There. He hadn’t actually said he did anything with her, but at least some of the guys would think he did. That was fair. It was a negotiation. Everyone got something.

And then Mr. Ellingson was introducing the motivational speaker.

#

After school Jeff walked out with everyone else. No one said anything. Maybe they didn’t even remember that he had started to say something. He didn’t see Sandy. That was good.

He bent down to unlock his bike, then glanced up. Something was different. Where was the unicorn?

Jeff looked around, not daring to take a breath.

Maybe – just maybe – what he said was enough. Maybe his decision not to actually claim he had done it with Sandy had been the right thing to do, the thing the unicorn was waiting for.

And now, maybe, he was free.

He could talk to girls, any girls, again. But this time he wouldn’t lie, wouldn’t judge the girls just on the easiness of their reputations. He’d get to know them, appreciate them as people. Yeah. He could do that. Oh.

There it was. It came around the corner of the metal shop portable and trotted toward him.

Jeff supposed he would have to live with the unicorn. Maybe it would finally die of old age. Maybe it would get hit by a truck.


“The Horned Horror” originally appeared in Penumbra.

Art by “7089643,” in Pixabay.com.

Recommend0 Simily SnapsPublished in All Stories, Coming of Age, Culture and Current Events, Fantasy, Fiction, Humor, Young Adult (YA)

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