For the second night in a row that Unicorn was up on the Butte hollering at the moon. Reed lived in the shadow of the Butte on the edge of town. Across his property line the Old Forest ran wild. The Unicorn’s heckling echoed through the fields of barley and in through Reed’s Venetian shutters. If he didn’t do something, and do it soon, that doggone Unicorn would keep him up all night, again.
“Gosh darndit!” Reed rasped, “How am I supposed to get any friggin’ sleep around here with that pointy headed horse flappin’ his dumb lips off? And who does he think he is cussin’ like that, there’s a town ordinance against it.”
“You’re not lookin’ for answers, so I’m not sure why it is you phrase everything as a question.”
“Oh shush. I’m not lookin’ for an argument, Veldma, my quarrel is with that horse.”
“I sure wish you’d take it up with that horse then.”
“This isn’t driving you crazy?”
“My sanity is not in question, and it’s a heck of a lot easier to block him out. Ask him to quiet down.”
“I just might,” Reed didn’t need to turn on the light to know Veldma was giving him The Look. He regretted making the threat. Not only was a cold wind blowin’, but occasionally wolverines would find their way into the ditch and harass each other in the dark. But what could he do? “I’m goin’.”
“Not without shoes you’re not.”
Wolverines were indeed harassing each other in the ditch. Reed gave them a wide berth and ducked under the fence that separated the back yard from the acre of scrub nestled around the Butte, a monolith of red rock at the back of his property. Reed had a double barrel shotgun slung over his shoulder. If he squinted he could make out a silver silhouette denouncing the hangnail moon.
“You suck! You’re nothing but a loser satellite! I’ve seen stinkier cheese at the supermarket you hack!”
By the time Reed pulled himself up over the last outcrop he was slick with sweat. Every breath produced a painful wheeze. The Unicorn was no longer shouting and had backed to the far side of the Butte. But when the Unicorn realized all that racket was just a farmer in a bathrobe, he relaxed and said, “Hey what’s up, you the guy who lives here or whatever?”
“This is my place, yes,” Reed managed between shuddered breath, “you’re on my land.”
“Correction, I am on capital G’s land, because we’re all just renting. Am I right? My names Rayzhawn.”
“Reed Ranston Riley, I own this farm. I’m not sure what your problem is mister, but you can’t come around here yelling like that. I need sleep, my wife needs sleep. I’m here to inform you, Rayzhawn, that all this yelling has got to stop.”
“Hey man, relax, alright. Is that a gun?”
“Yes, it is. Don’t worry about this okay, I brought the shotgun because wolverines get to messin’ around near the house. God only knows what else is lurking around here at night. We got chickens, see, and they attract a lot of predators.”
“Still man, whoa. I’m out here tryin’ to do my thing, and here you are sneaking up on me with a gun, at night.”
“Just get out of here.”
“Where do you expect me to go?”
“Anywhere else. I don’t care. Just not here, alright? You’re being too loud.”
“I only have four beers left. I’ll keep it down,” Rayzhawn, at fourteen hands with pale glowing fur and a curlicue horn that sparkled, whispered, “I promise.”
“I don’t believe you.”
“C’mon man, you don’t even know me.”
“I know you’ve been up here every night this week screaming your head off.”
“I’ll shut up. I’ll finish my last four beers quietly, I’ll sit down and chill, okay man? I promise.” To prove his point, Rayzhawn cracked a beer with exaggerated care, resisted the urge to slurp the rising head, and lay down in a patch of flowers.
Reed was silent a long time. At last, he nodded. The wolverines were done messin’ by the time Reed got back to the house. He kicked off his boots and stuck the scatter gun in the umbrella tin. The old bed frame squeaked.
“What did you tell him?”
“I told him to shush up. He didn’t have no problem complyin’ after he saw the heater on my shoulder.”
“The gun scared him off?”
“I scared him off Veldma, I didn’t need no gun.”
“Did you ask him what was the matter?”
“Is he gone?”
“Don’t worry about the Unicorn alright, he’s up there but he’ll keep quiet.”
“You let him stay?”
“Yes! Just go to bed already and leave me alone. I went out there. I talked to him. He didn’t have anywhere else to go, and he only had four beers left. I told him if he kept quiet he could stay. He won’t bother us anymore, believe me.”
“That was very sweet of you Reed. Thank you for taking care of it.”
The Unicorn kept his promise but Reed couldn’t sleep. Why hadn’t he followed through and kicked the Unicorn off his property? He’d found it difficult to maintain eye contact. The fact that the Unicorn had been drinking made Reed uncomfortable. Why hadn’t he asked the Unicorn what was wrong? He tossed and turned all night.
Wrapped up in his bathrobe, Reed hurdled the pasture fence and jogged across the scrub to the Butte, but the Unicorn was gone. In dawn’s mellow glow Reed had a view of his entire property, could see the sunrise mirrored in Lake Cheeseberry. The Old Forest twisted and tangled into itself with trees whose top branches reached higher than the mountain tops.
Back home Reed put on the kettle, cracked a few eggs into the sizzling cast iron next to four slices of fatback bacon, sprinkled in crushed orange petals he’d picked on top of the Butte, and scrambled it up. When Veldma came into the kitchen, a steaming cup of cherry almond tea and a warm plate were waiting for her.
Reed couldn’t get motivated to do chores. He drank too much coffee. The lack of sleep combined with the excess caffeine rattled through him and he spent the day in a distracted sweaty temper. The sun was near set when he slammed the screen door and barreled into the kitchen for dinner. Veldma had spent her day in the garden and prepared a salad with balsamic dressing she’d whipped up with homegrown herbs. They ate in silence. After a disappointing visit to the bathroom, Reed said, “I’m turnin’ in early!” But he tossed and turned all night, sweated between the sheets, and projected the day’s frustrations onto the Unicorn. He prayed Rayzhawn would show up again tonight and allow Reed an opportunity to redeem himself.
Eventually, he dozed and dreamt he was an ant-sized human, part of the colony, and expected to carry out the same duties as his ant brethren. Trouble was they weren’t respecting the fact that he didn’t have an exoskeleton like they did. He spent the whole dream desperately trying to complete just one simple task without being trampled by monstrous insects. Reed awoke with a start. The silence of his bedroom narrated by a lonely cricket. The nightmare clawed its way into the back of his mind and set down heavy, refused to budge. He could use this anger as a tool. Wrapped in his robe once more, he had an idea.
The spirits were in a cupboard above the sink. Reed pulled down a dusty bottle of Ventriloquist Brand Vodka. The first swill almost burned a hole in his throat. With the help of Veldma’s sun tea as a chaser, he forced down a couple shots, stumbled out the back door, tripped over the pasture fence and fell face first into a patch of tumbleweed. Remnants of tumble-prickers aerated his robe. He kept getting lost. Eventually, Reed washed up on the side of the Butte. Just as he had suspected, a curious little Unicorn horn peeked over the ledge above. Reed wagged his finger and laughed.
The Unicorn was lying in the flowers the way horses do, a lit spliff hung off his lips, an unopened Lite Pilsner between his hooves, “Hey man, nice to see you again.”
“What are you smoking?”
“These flowers are medicinal. I rolled us a little joint. Care to partake?”
“I thought I told you to clear out of here.”
“I’m being quiet.”
“Irrelevant. I told you to move along. This is my property, and I’m the boss of everybody. I don’t want any of that God business because he doesn’t own my land, I do. Everything you see here,” Reed swept his arms in a grand gesture, “I own all it. I maintain it. You? Who the fuck are you?”
“Whoa, are you drunk?”
“You’re just a stupid trespassing Unicorn. You’ll have to be punished,” Reed rolled up his sleeves.
“Calm down. Let’s talk about this.”
“No! I’m sick of people preying on my weaknesses, you included special horse. We’re fightin’, let’s go!”
“I’m not going to fight you, Reed, I’m a pacifist, OW!”
“Look what you did, you bastard,” Reed screamed, “you broke my hand!”
“You’re crazy. I don’t need a view that bad. Good luck with your temper, I’m sure it’ll come in handy during your mid-life crisis, you jack off.” Rayzhawn packed up his beers and surfed away on a holographic rainbow. Reed yelled after him, but the Unicorn was gone, merely a glimmer lost in the trail-mix of constellations.
The next morning Reed awoke atop the Butte with eyes like cracked stemware and a mouth that tasted like moldy cotton. He’d passed out in the flowers and had thrown up in his hair. He cried a little on the walk home.
Veldma had the water on and worked to scrape out the cast iron. She didn’t say a word. She poured him a cup of Dandelion root tea and made breakfast. When they finished eating and cleared the table, she finally said, “All I meant was that you should go say something if he was bothering you. I don’t think it’s healthy to bottle up your anger. You might not be yelling at me, but you’re still yelling.”
“I know.” Reed finished his tea.
“Were you out on the Butte last night?”
“Something like that, yeah.”
She studied the mess of a bandage Reed had wrapped around his busted mitt, “Get your chores finished and I’ll make you a roast for supper.” She smooched him.
Unicorn heart to forgive a miserable old wretch like me. This view is all yours.
On the climb down Reed felt lighter. He sweated through his hangover and finished the chores with enough time to drive into town with Veldma and grab a soda pop. They stayed up a long time laughing and Reed was exhausted when he finally lay down. He dreamt of being an ant and having a protective shell just like everybody else.
Jesse Lee Keeter lives in Seattle, works at a pizza joint, and is a SAG actor. He co-creates the web series &@.