This story is by Kristin Johnson and was part of our 2018 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
A respectable pre-WWI stately home, abandoned, rundown but still elegant, with a long narrow meandering driveway. Dr. Scott Packer, late thirties, pulled back overgrown shrubbery from the sign that read: “AUROCH MANOR HEALTH SPA–WHERE WELLNESS BEGINS.”
Scott pulled his lab coat close around him to protect against the whipping autumn wind. “I’ll just bet,” he said in response to the sign.
Scott’s wife Sandy stuck her brunette head out the window of their sporty cactus-green coupe idling at the bottom of the driveway inches from the rusted gates that gaped open wide enough for one person on foot. Sandy raised her phone aloft. “No signal?” Scott asked.
“No,” Sandy said. “Are you sure this is the place? I pictured something more institutional-looking.”
“Could be worse. Could be…”
“…the Overlook Hotel?”
Scott laughed at Sandy’s quick response. Yes, he picked a classic movie screening of “The Shining” as their first date and Sandy never let him forget it.
Sandy surveyed the place with an architect’s eye. “I don’t even want to think about how much upkeep there is.”
“I won’t be responsible for that—”
“Just my upkeep as usual.” The lines around her eyes crinkled with humor but her face looked solemn. “Which was the final selling point of this deal. Curing me. Can’t we park closer?”
A voice from an intercom half-concealed by the overgrowth said, “No.”
The cheerful voice clashed with the ominous setting. Sandy’s face would do justice to Edvard Munch’s painting “The Scream.” Scott retreated and nearly tripped over his sensible Vans brown shoes. The voice from the intercom continued. “I’m Laura. And I hate to sound Gothic and all, but y’all must come inside before dark. Oh, and leave the car.”
Sandy stood beside Scott in two seconds, an amazing feat considering the cane and her leg that dragged. “Am I hearing right?” he asked.
Sandy nodded, her pixie face grim. “So am I. She said ‘y’all.’ Which means they’re watching us.”
The mysterious Laura said, “Y’all only have three minutes to get inside.”
“Who are you?” Scott asked.
“Laura Kardun from the Auroch Foundation. Your secretary and I have been in touch. Please. Hurry.” No more cheerful tone.
“Just let us get our bags,” Scott said.
“You now have two minutes forty seconds to get inside to safety,” Laura said.
A red light flashed in the air above them. What the hell?
“Our drone will guide you in,” Laura told them.
Hoofbeats sounded in the distance, to the left, down the expanse of green hill on which the mansion rested. Insistent hooves. Then a shadow fell across the hill. A horse’s shadow—with a horn.
Scott took Sandy’s arm. “Two minutes twenty seconds,” Laura said. “Y’all are like molasses.”
Sandy gasped. “Is that a unicorn I’m seeing?”
A black horse the size of an elephant galloped up the hill. Drone-light-red eyes flashed in its otherwise normal equine face. A long curved horn stuck out and reminded Scott of a cruel-pointed scimitar. The creature screamed, lowered its head and bore down while its hooves tore up the grass.
A black unicorn.
Scott pushed Sandy through the gate despite the cane and limp.
* * * * *
The mansion’s foyer, chock-a-block with discarded antiques and debris, reflected Scott’s inner chaos.
Scott caught his breath. “You were saying about upkeep? Watch your step.”
Sandy cradled the head of her cane and Scott hugged her. “Honey, I’m not made of china. You don’t have to help me,” she said.
He felt her bones, impossibly frail, the fracture in her wrist from six months ago. Sandy broke so many bones Scott had to sit the neighbors down and tell them he never hit her in his life. “Why are we talking as if we didn’t see what we just saw?”
Laura Kardun’s voice echoed from somewhere in the house. “Y’all saw it? Then you should get in your car and go.”
Sandy struck the wall with her cane, her eyes full of fear. “You just told us to get inside. What was that thing?”
“It’s the monster we guard, our very own Grecian Minotaur,” Laura’s voice said. “Bartholomew Auroch discovered it in the 1600s in Europe and killed it out of fear, but its essence comes from the devil and wouldn’t die. It stalked the Aurochs from Europe to America. It comes out at night—we let it roam until the dawn. Those it sees at night, it hunts. It kills and feeds—”
Sandy and Scott staggered and both sank down on the steps. “A carnivorous unicorn?” Scott gasped.
“It feeds off souls and essences,” Laura’s voice said. “It will come for yours. And it might harm this house and me in order to get to you.”
“You can’t let us leave.” Sandy’s strength awed Scott. “You can’t just kick us out to die.”
Laura paused. “Then come upstairs.”
“My wife has difficulty—”
The drone with the same gleaming red light circled the foyer. “I can see your wife’s difficulty, Dr. Packer.”
He detected a hint of judgment in that tone. What kind of doctor are you that you can’t heal your own wife or find the answer to her rare bone disorder?
An eerie voice said, “The Black Unicorn can heal her.”
He searched Sandy’s face. “Did you hear what I just heard?”
“Yes. Laura said the elevator doesn’t work. And I can walk up if I go slow.”
“No. The voice said the Black Unicorn can heal you.”
Sandy planted her cane on one of the higher steps and levered herself up in a jerky motion. She managed two steps before she whistled to Scott to come help.
The eerie whisper, indeterminate sex, said, “Only the Black Unicorn can help. Just open the front door.”
A chair-lift creaked down the banister to Sandy, who glared at it with the revulsion she reserved for bad contractors. “I’m not getting in that. It’s only eight steps. We can make that.”
Scott jumped when he heard a pounding on the door and a scrape of something sharp against the stained glass panel in the upper half of the door.
Sharp like the point of a horn.
Laura Kardun, age indeterminate, an administrator crossed with a hippie, appeared out of the dark at the top of the stairs. “Hurry.”
The eerie voice echoed right inside Scott’s ears. “Open the door.”
Sandy heard the voice too, from her shocked gasp. She leapt downstairs with the aid of her cane and stumbled backwards, the equal but opposite movement propelling her. Scott caught her, beloved weight in his arms and the wind knocked out of his lungs.
Laura made it down the steps in two seconds. “Poor thing, is she all right?”
Scott clasped Sandy under her arms and straightened her by inches. She turned and stared down the steps at the door. The sharp object scraped on the glass and someone thumped on the door. Scott saw Sandy’s eyes, which reminded him of people he saw at a Las Vegas hypnosis stage show. Or Danny’s fascinated eyes in “The Shining” when he saw the twin girls.
“Sandy, what are you doing?” Scott heard his voice, breathless.
Laura’s eyes filled with pity. “You should have come in when I said—and left when I said.”
Sandy lurched down the steps. Her leg sagged and her other leg gave out. She crumpled to the step, her face full of pain, and Scott stared at his useless hands that let her slip. Sandy moaned in agony. The I-broke-another-bone moan that tore him up inside.
His hands that couldn’t cure her.
“The Auroch Foundation promised us a lot for taking this job,” he said.
Sandy moved and she screamed in pain. Scott gazed at Laura’s face and read the maybe someday we can cure her there.
“They can’t help you,” the eerie voice said. “Open the door.”
He left Sandy in Laura’s care and raced down the stairs. Laura shrieked at him with the full fire and power of a determined soul.
Scott twisted the brass doorknob and flung open the door. The Black Unicorn filled the door, twenty feet high, and its red eyes blinked, identical to the drone light. His foolish hand touched the thing and felt equine fur, thick and ragged, covering bone and metal.
He glanced back and saw Laura’s triumphant smile. In the eerie voice, she intoned, “We can help you, Doctor. The Auroch Foundation has managed the Black Unicorn for centuries. Easier now with computers, and computer chips that make this gorgeous creature more vital and powerful. And the Black Unicorn is a mite greedy—it wants a sacrifice. But we will cure your wife the way you weren’t able to.”
Sandy smiled at Laura.
The Black Unicorn charged and its hooves crunched. Scott felt unimaginable pain when the beast ran over him. Laura said in her regular voice, “Don’t hurt him too much. We need some of his bones for his wife.”