Stallion | J.T. Townley

By that time, the affliction was already spreading. So no shocker Charlene come busting into The Leaping Stag, all in a tizzy, asking was Randy stepping out on her.

“It ain’t what you think,” I said, leading her over to a booth in the corner.

George Strait was on the jukebox crooning, “You Look So Good in Love.”

“What in hell is it then, Dale?” Her mascara was smeared around her blue eyes, but she still looked like a little slice of heaven. “Freddy tells me he ain’t been to the ranch in three days.”

I motioned she should hold up a sec, then went and got a bottle of Johnnie Walker Black Label and a couple glasses. Boys at the bar was swilling Dr. Peppers and belching sparkly rainbows, nubs on their foreheads glistening in the dirty fluorescent light. It always started the same way. I tried not to pay them no mind. Went back to Charlene and poured us a stiff one. Beautiful thing, watching Charlene drink.

She wiped her lips and patted my hand. “What’s going on, Dale?”

I pretended to listen to the music, though I was actually marveling at the whole situation. I poured myself another shot, shaking my head. The whiskey was liquid fire going down.

“See that poster over yonder?” I said, pointing at one of them scrambled hologram jobs. Should’ve pulled it off the wall already, given the situation, but folks seemed to get a kick out of it. “Left of the stag?

Charlene gazed around the bar. “What in hell’s Pink Clover?”

“Ladies’ drink, what I glean.”

“And?”

“What else you see?”

“A horse, right?”

Boys at the bar laughed and laughed. It sounded like whinnying.

I nodded, trying to be encouraging. “Take another look, darlin.”

Charlene stared hard, then got up and sidled halfway across the bar. If them boys noticed, they wasn’t letting on nothing. She studied that 3-D poster like there’d be a test on it tomorrow. When she slipped back into the booth, a smile shadowed her lips.

“Ain’t just a horse,” she said. “It’s a goddamn Pegasus.”

“Unicorn.”

“What’d I say?”

“White unicorn in a mountain meadow of pink clover, to be precise,” I said. “Goddamn rainbow arcing through the sky.”

She took another quick peek. “Yep, exactly.”

“Leastways, that’s what they tell me,” I said. “I never could make them things out.”

Charlene lit a Marlboro Red. “What’s this got to do with Randy?”

Boys at the bar whinnied and neighed, rainbow light strobing around them. Clint Black come on the juke, singing “A Good Run of Bad Luck.” Charlene smoked her cigarette like it was a race.

“Randy seem different lately?” I asked.

She crumpled her butt in the ashtray and said, “He ain’t been home all week, Dale. Plus, I been working doubles at The Wagon Wheel for the past month. So you gonna tell me who he’s sticking his pecker into? Or do I gotta guess?”

I poured us both another stiff one. Charlene didn’t touch hers.

“Y’all are friends, Dale. Plus, if he ain’t told you, you’re bound to heard sumpin, way people in this town talk.”

I screwed the cap back on the bottle. “Hold your horses, I’m getting there.”

Charlene lit another cigarette, then set it in the ashtray and let it smolder. She messed with her blonde locks and looked expectant. I didn’t know how to say what needed to be said. I knew I was stalling, so, finally, I let her have it.

“Randy’s turned into a unicorn.”

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Last Saturday, Randy come in with Hank, Larry, and Miguel. It was Hank’s fortieth, and they was looking to tie one on. Spirit of camaraderie and friendship, I spotted them a couple-three rounds of Wild Turkey. I couldn’t tell Hank from a hole in the wall, truth be told, but me and Randy was buddies, had been since I first come out here from Abilene.

Back in his prime, Randy’d been a bona fide bronco-busting legend. Career come to an abrupt halt five or eight years back when he busted up his leg in a nasty tumble. Now he walked with a limp but could still sit a horse, so they give him a job out at the K-Bar Ranch. Though me and horses didn’t get along, I’d been following rodeo for years, so I knew Randy by sight soon as he stepped into The Leaping Stag. I bought him a beer, we chewed the fat, eventually he invited me out to the house for supper. Pretty quick we was all fast friends, him, me, and Charlene.

So Randy brought Hank and the boys in, and they got good and drunk. They played eight ball till they couldn’t find a pocket no more, then took a turn at the dartboard. Like to put their eyes out, I shit you not. Punched a half-dozen holes in my wall before Hank bounced one of them things off a biker’s leather vest. Shouting and shoving had already started when I stepped in. I got pretty good insurance, but still.

Thereabouts was when that jumbled hologram poster come into the picture. I lured them boys back to the bar with another round, and drinks on the house patched things up with the Llano Demons. Better than watching them trash the place and gut Randy and his buddies with dull switchblades. But tonight was costing me plenty. While them other boys was trying to puzzle out the poster, me and Randy had us a little powwow.

“Gotta cut y’all off after this one,” I said.

He nodded into his bourbon.

“Had a gander at your tab lately, Randy? Sucker’s a mile long.”

“Don’t worry, buddy.” He was sloppy and slurring. “I’m good for it.”

“So you keep telling me.”

Johnny Cash growled about that “Ring of Fire.”

“Least say you’re gonna pay sumpin down tonight?”

Randy made a big production of the whole thing, digging for his wallet, flipping it upside down. “Don’t get paid till the end of the month,” he said, swallowing a laugh.

I tasted bile in the back of my throat, and I wagged my head in disgust. “Chickens gonna come home to roost, Randy.” I smiled but didn’t mean it. “I can’t carry you forever.”

But he was already up off his stool, staggering toward his buddies. They still hadn’t had no luck puzzling out that poster, though they was throwing out all kind of cockamamie guesses: flying saucer, mermaid, jackalope, you name it.

“Y’all are full of shit,” said Randy.

“Then what is it, smartass?” Hank asked.

“Goddamn what’s-it-called, is what it is.”

His buddies thought that was a riot, laughing and giving him hell. But when the racket subsided, Randy swallowed a belch and said:

“A stallion, is what I mean.”

“Bullshit,” said Larry.

“Kind with the horn,” Randy explained.

“You mean a rhinoceros?” said Hank.

“Or is the horn between his legs?” Larry asked.

But Miguel looked dead serious. “¿Es un unicornio?”

“Hit the nail right on the head, Miguel,” said Randy, smiling big as Christmas. “It’s a goddamn unicorn.”

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Charlene showed up at The Leaping Stag the morning after I broke the news to her. Must’ve been ten in the a.m. I wasn’t even open yet.

“Lemme in, Dale!” she shouted, pounding on the door.

I had a morning routine of coffee and inventory and Willie Nelson, and I didn’t care to be interrupted. But when I seen who it was, I was happy to make an exception. I flipped the locks and swung the door wide.

“Everything alright, darlin?”

Charlene slipped past me, dragging the smell of hot asphalt in behind her. She stopped in the middle of the room, unlit Marlboro dangling from her lips. Her angelic features was knotted up in confusion.

“Where’s it at?”

“What’s that, sugar?”

“The poster, that’s what.”

“Finally took her down after we jawed yesterday.” I stepped across the creaky floorboards and touched Charlene’s arm. “Lemme get you a little sumpin to calm your nerves.”

She leaned into me, and we listened as Willie sang “Always On My Mind.” Then she wrapped her arms around my neck and wept into my chest. I didn’t know what to do, but I held her in the morning sunlight streaming in, dust motes waltzing around us. After a spell, Charlene calmed down and said:

“I seen him, Dale.”

“Randy?”

“Last night. I was tossing and turning in bed when I heard sumpin, a crash or thump. Being in that house alone makes me nervous.”

I led her gently over to the bar and sat her down. Then I went around to the other side and poured her a cup of coffee spiked with Jameson’s. She took a sip, then kept on talking.

“Checked all the locks, then wandered around the dark, empty house. Kept telling myself there was nothing to be afraid of. Then I looked out the window, and right there, in the full moonlight, was Randy. His hair was all white. Goatee, too. Had him this horn pushing right out his forehead.”

Charlene took another sip of Irish coffee. I held my tongue. She needed to get this off her chest.

“Middle of the night, but I kept seeing these flashes of rainbow light. Randy himself was kind of lit up, too, all sparkly silver. Then I seen them. These two girls, both of them half-naked and in heat. Randy was chasing them around the backyard. They was all laughing and having a big time. Took me a minute of goggling, but I recognized them. One was Preacher Jimmy’s daughter.”

“No shit?” I said.

“Other was Mike Tanner’s hellion.”

“Cassie Mae?”

“My jaw dropped, Dale. Ain’t neither one of them girls over fifteen.”

Charlene gulped her coffee down, and I poured her a refill. “Then what happened?” I asked.

“They was romping and cavorting all over the backyard. Laughing so loud, you could probably hear them clear to El Paso. Jennie next door called to ask could we keep it down, they had to work in the morning.”

“That ain’t Randy,” I said. “That’s just his unicorn self.”

“He’s a cheating bastard, and before all’s said and done, I’ll have his balls.”

“That ain’t no kind of attitude to take, Charlene.”

“Is that right?” she said. “Just what type of attitude should I take, Dale?”

Willie and Merle started warbling about “Pancho and Lefty.”

“I didn’t want to stand in that window,” she said. “Only I couldn’t move, like I was paralyzed, hypnotized—”

“Comafied?”

“I couldn’t believe my eyes, Dale. First there was the one horn, then out come the other, and he was taking them both on. Sumbitch always was a stallion, but what happened to our wedding vows?”

“You just stood there and watched?”

“Seeing them girls buck-naked and writhing kindly snapped me out of it. I grabbed the .12-gauge, threw on the floodlights, and fired off a couple rounds.”

“Goddamn, Charlene! You shot Randy?”

She chuckled into her spiked coffee, but there wasn’t no mirth in it. “Surprised I didn’t, all things considered. But dead’s too good for Randy. Anyway, if I’d been aiming, it would’ve been at them two little tramps.”

We let the music fill the silence between us. I was trying to get my head around the whole thing. I’d accepted that Randy was a unicorn, and his buddies was well on their way, too, but I didn’t know a helluva lot more than that. Still, I was pretty certain I needed to take charge before this whole thing got ugly.

“I want you to unload your shotgun and lock it in the gun cabinet.”

“It was just to scare them, Dale. I ain’t fixing to shoot nobody.”

“All the same, Charlene. Unicorn or no, Randy’s still your loving husband.”

“My ass.” She crossed her arms and pouted for a minute. “But fine, no guns.”

I stroked her hand, trying to keep my eyes off her cleavage. “Then I want you to go back home and stay there.”

“But I can’t just—”

“Take some time off waitressing if you have to. No matter what it looks like, this can’t be easy for Randy. He comes home, he’s gonna need you to be there.”

Charlene didn’t say nothing, swirling the dregs in her cup. Hank Williams started in on “Your Cheatin’ Heart,” which I didn’t remember pushing the button for.

“I know you’re scared and confused. Hell, so am I. But we’re gonna figure this thing out, okay?”

“If you say so, Dale,” said Charlene.

It was plain as day she wasn’t convinced, but what else could I tell her?

“Before I go,” she said, “mind if I take another look at that poster?”

“Not a problem.” I scurried back and pulled it out of the walk-in. I didn’t know where else to hide the thing.

She grabbed it and a bottle of Jack Daniels and sauntered past me toward the backdoor. “Bring a light,” she hollered over her shoulder.

I followed with a book of matches. It was already hotter than blazes outside. Mesquite smoke wafted toward us from Billy Goat BBQ. Charlene spread the poster out on the concrete slab near the dumpster, weighting it down with empty beer bottles, then soaked it with whiskey. I passed her the matches. Took her a couple-three tries, but she got one burning and dropped it on the thing. The booze caught instantly, blue flames licking up at us, and the poster wasn’t far behind. Only it melted more than burned, crackling and balling up, leaving a smear of scorched pink on the pavement. Plasticky fumes wasn’t doing us no favors. I brought out a pitcher of water and doused it down once the flames went out.

“Place to start, anyway,” said Charlene.

I nodded. “Now you get on home. I’ll be in touch shortly.”

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After Charlene left, I kept the CLOSED sign in the window and took me a little trip over to the public library. Told Ms. Libby what I was after, she helped me uncover some useful materials. Found out all kind of particulars. Unicorns went back all the way to the ancient Greeks, maybe even further. Since that time, them things had been written about by all kind of folks: medieval monks, 16th century poets, famous headshrinkers, even goddamn Leonardo what’s-his-name. You get the picture. Thing was, everybody had a different opinion about the creature’s looks, behaviors, powers, you name it. But they all said it was more or less a stallion with a horn growing out its forehead. They also had the same ideas about the best way to catch one: virgins. Still, I didn’t find nothing in all them books about how to fix somebody suffering the unicorn magic. There wasn’t no talk about spells or potions or elixirs at all. Nothing.

What I could tell, Randy was on a one-way trip.

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Drove over to Charlene’s the next morning to break the news. She opened the door with an unlit Marlboro in her fingers, hair all tousled, practically falling out of her bathrobe. We sat down at the kitchen table over coffee. I told her what I’d learned, and she couldn’t hardly believe her ears.

“How young?” she asked.

“I don’t follow.”

“We talking little girls or what?”

“Didn’t rightly say.” I pretended to sip my coffee, but I was admiring Charlene’s lovely neck. “But them girls you seen Randy with was fifteen at least, right?”

Charlene chewed on her lip for a minute, but the tears come anyway. I slid around the table and pulled her up against me, wrapping my arms around her. She didn’t fight it none. Just the opposite, she leaned into me so I could smell her lavender lotion and feel her body heat. The July sunshine poured through the window, shimmering in Charlene’s blonde hair. I don’t know how long I held her for. I just wanted it to last and last. After a time, she gazed up at me with them liquid blue eyes, tears still streaming down her cheeks.

“Dale, you think you could stay out here with me? Just till we get Randy back?”

I planted a kiss on her forehead and give her my warmest smile. “Happy to, darlin,” I said.

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Don’t ask me how, but that affliction kept spreading, so there was unicorns running wild left and right. Barrett Waters, president of Pecos National Bank, was seen chasing his babysitter down the street sporting nothing but a slick new horn doused in rainbow light. Apparently, somebody also observed William Trowbridge, attorney-at-law, gamboling down Main Street, hair glittering white, a couple-three teeny-boppers squealing out in front of him. I personally witnessed a pair of plainclothes cops harassing some middle school girls right out on the corner in front of The Leaping Stag. Wouldn’t have thought nothing of it—no horns or white manes showing—except by now I could spot that silvery gleam in their eye. The sparkles and rainbows flashing over their heads was a dead giveaway, too.

Charlene wasn’t happy when I give her the update. She knit her brow, studying her chipped nail polish. “I don’t get it,” she said. “We already torched the poster, but it ain’t made a lick of difference.”

“You don’t know that for certain,” I said, running my hand over the sofa’s worn upholstery. “Might be a whole lot worse right now if we hadn’t.”

Charlene shook her head, tossing her blonde locks around. She wasn’t trying to be sexy, but she couldn’t help it none.

“Anyhow, we can’t get bogged down with causes, darlin,” I said. “We got effects to worry bout now.”

Outside a dog was barking, some kids having a giggle-fit.

“What’re we gonna do?” Charlene said.

“Find a way to get Randy back.” My voice sounded flat. “Ain’t no two ways about it.”

She slipped a Marlboro between her lips, then lit it with a whole lot of care and deliberation. On the exhale, she said, “I’m worried this thing’s bigger than Randy now.”

“I’ll grant you that.”

She took a couple drags, looking pensive as all hell. “We gotta do sumpin,” she said. “This rate, ain’t gonna be a virgin left for a hundred miles.”

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Days drifted by. Them unicorns run amok. By now, I’d been staying out at Charlene’s for a couple weeks. When I got home after closing time one Tuesday night, her room was dark and quiet. I took me a cold shower, then laid down on the pull-out couch, only I couldn’t sleep. Thought it was the goddamn heat, so I cranked up the ceiling fan, but it didn’t help none. Knew it wasn’t the empty bed, I got used to that years ago, back when Angela walked out on me. Whole reason I come out here in the first place—plus, that fiasco with the neighbor girl. Not that big a deal, no charges pressed, but still. Anyway, I tossed and turned for a long time before I ever drifted off.

I had this dream I was a goat-man: goat legs, hooked nose, pointed ears, two little horns on my forehead. Rest of me was regular, only hairy as all get-out. I was in this lush forest, drinking wine from one of them leather pouches. Wasn’t long before I stumbled upon a small herd of shimmering white fillies, grazing in a little meadow of the pinkest clover I ever seen. I hid behind a tree and watched them for a while. They was all bright eyes and gleaming white teeth, horns growing right out their foreheads.

I crept out from my hidey hole. Good thing I was downwind, or they might’ve took off in a stampede. When I got to the edge of the meadow, I starting blowing my flute, this soft, easy melody, lots of repetition. Their ears pricked up. They stopped eating and huddled together a little closer.

Didn’t take long before one of them got curious. That was the idea. She stepped slowly my direction, and a couple-three of her friends followed her. The rest was chattering to high heaven in this liquid language I couldn’t make no sense of, probably warning their friends off, telling them to stay put. Meantime, I kept on blowing my flute. Time the first ones got to me, rest of the herd was moving my direction, already halfway across that pink clover.

Wasn’t long before I was surrounded by them unicorns, all ivory and sparkly, the whole meadow full of rainbow light. I crept around behind one of them fillies, mounted her, and had my fill, playing the same melody the entire time. After that, it was Katie bar the door. Forget one or two: I was going after the whole herd.

I’d laid waste to a half-dozen fillies already when something crashed in the woods behind me. Made my heart jump. I was fixing to mount another one, when out from the forest come the biggest goddamn stallion I’d ever laid eyes on. Forty-five, maybe fifty hands high. Had a goddamn five-foot horn.

He took one look and immediately seen what was happening. Sumbitch didn’t waste no time. He come charging at me like some raging bull, blowing and going. I never sprinted so fast in all my goat-man life. Dropped my flute in the process, which meant the spell was broken, all them little unicorns come back to themselves. Plus, that gigantic stallion caught me out in the open, since I took off in a dead sprint across the meadow instead of into the trees. Talk about a dumbass move. Soon as I got close to the edge of the forest, that sumbitch leapt into my path, and I had to spin on a dime to keep from getting impaled on his humongous horn. By now, all them fillies was in on it, helping corral me for the big daddy. Everywhere I turned, there was one of them horns pointing my direction.

Then they started closing in on me. I could see what was coming. That stallion would let them all have a go at me. They’d gore me over and over till I bled out right there in the rainbow light. Or maybe worse still, that giant unicorn would have his way with me, first with one horn, then the other, before the little ones trampled me to death. Any which way, there wasn’t no escape. They was so close I could smell their bubblegum sweat. One of them spun and kicked me in the gut, and I doubled over into the pink clover. Their whinnies was all snickers. Soon the stallion stood over me, blocking out the sweet rainbow light.

Things was fixing to get ugly.

I woke up sweaty and hollering. It was on toward dawn. Charlene come stumbling out, girding herself in her robe, face full of concern.

“Goddamn nightmare,” I muttered, panting.

She nodded, smiling down on the tented sheets.

I had a hard-on from here to San Antone.

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Friday night come around, and The Leaping Stag was packed to the gills with cowboys, roughnecks, and bikers, plus a few kids from the high school with pretty convincing fake ID’s. Jukebox was blasting Garth Brooks’ “Friends in Low Places,” and folks was singing along, a few of them even two-stepping or jitterbugging around the cramped space. There was bullshitting at the bar, arguments at the dartboard, bar brawls stewing around the pool table. Pretty much business as usual all the way around.

Except for the unicorns.

They was everywhere you looked, mingling with the normal folks. Unicorns at the bar, unicorns at the juke, unicorns at the goddamn pool table using their horns for cue sticks, basically trashing the felt. Surprised I didn’t recognize none of them. Maybe it had something to do with all the rainbow light and sparkles. Hard to say. One thing for certain, they wasn’t spending no money, since all they wanted to drink was Dr. Pepper. Had to change my free refills policy and start charging double just to break even.

Charlene come over after her shift at The Wagon Wheel. “Lord Almighty,” she said, taking in the scene. “This thing’s gotten completely out of hand.”

“You’re telling me.”

“Randy come in tonight?”

I give her a lame shrug. “Ain’t sure I’d recognize him if he did.”

Then I got busy, serving up Pink Clovers for the ladies, Lone Stars for the men, Dr. Peppers for the unicorns. When it finally slowed down again, I slid over to where Charlene sat in the corner and poured her another bourbon. She knocked it back and winced.

I handed her an ice-cold beer.

“Ain’t nobody notices but you and me, Dale.”

“Maybe they just got a different way of coping,” I said.

Charlene sneered, then took a gulp of beer. “One thing folks in this town do not cotton to is change.”

Hank Williams, Jr. come on the juke, rasping “All My Rowdy Friends (Have Settled Down).” Neither of us said nothing for a while.

“Think it’s them unicorns?” I wondered. “Cast a spell on everybody?”

“Them creatures seem pretty magical.”

“Wonder why it ain’t got to us?”

She sucked on her beer a minute. “Hell if I know,” she said.

Last call came and went, and folks staggered off into the melting night. Charlene set Willie Nelson to singing “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain.” I wiped down the bar, ran the dishwasher, stacked glasses. After a spell, she said:

“We need a plan, Dale.”

“You got that right,” I said. “Any ideas?”

She chewed on it for a minute. “I just want Randy back.”

I cocked my head at her, studying her full lips. “This point, you know that ain’t real likely, right?”

We leaned into the music. I thought Charlene might start crying herself. Hell, my eyes got a little watery, too. But it wasn’t long before Dwight Yoakum come on with “Guitars, Cadillacs” and snapped us out of it.

“This is gonna sound harsh, Charlene, but we gotta drive them sumbitches outta town.”

All of them?”

I swallowed hard. “Ain’t that how it goes? You love somebody, you gotta cut them loose.”

She nodded.

“You said it yourself. This thing’s bigger than Randy now—a whole helluva lot bigger.” I bundled up a trash bag full of empties and set it out of the way. “We let this go, ain’t no telling how much worse it’ll get.”

She forced a smile, and her eyes shone liquid blue in the fluorescents. “I’m all ears, Dale,” she said. “What you got in mind?”

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The plan we hatched was pretty simple. Charlene got on the horn with Freddy out at the K-Bar and explained the situation, then asked could we borrow him and a few of his wranglers for a couple hours Sunday afternoon. Freddy was willing and ready. Seems one of them unicorns snatched up his little girl on Friday night and deflowered her in one of the horse stalls. She was only thirteen, and it like to killed Freddy. Charlene had to talk him down, since he wanted to form up a posse and put a bullet in every last one of them unicorns.

According to everything I’d read, plus what many of us had witnessed with our own two eyes, there wasn’t no better bait than virgins. That took some doing. Randy and his buddies had used up most of them before the second wave of unicorns ever started nosing around. But Charlene talked to her cousins over in Van Horn, since their girls hadn’t been unicorn-corrupted yet. She got the whole thing squared away in nothing flat.

We made sure the town square was clear after church, and we got them girls to hang around on a couple-three benches right smack in the middle. It was already in the nineties, supposed to be up over a hundred by early afternoon. Charlene give them girls parasols so they wouldn’t get scorched, since who knew if them unicorns went for the sunburned look.

We watched the whole thing from the safety of The Leaping Stag, sipping ice-cold beers and waiting. Hank Williams was singing “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” on the juke. Them girls wasn’t out there ten minutes before you could hear the heavy clip-clop of hooves against paving stones. First one, then another, and pretty soon, a couple dozen of them unicorns was moving leisurely toward the center of the square.

“Holy shit,” said Charlene. “It’s working.”

You couldn’t hardly tell them unicorns apart. I swore I spotted Windle who works over to the post office, and Charlene thought she saw Juan, The Wagon Wheel’s best dishwasher. Randy and his buddies must’ve been there, too, but there was too many of them now, and most of them was full-blown unicorns, head to toe. Except for them horns, they looked exactly like a stud of white stallions. That was a disappointment for Charlene. Still, our plan was coming together, them glittery unicorns like moths to the flame.

Soon they was huddling around the virgins, nuzzling their thighs, rainbow light flashing across the sky. The girls was petting their manes or rubbing their horns, plus saying all kind of sweet nothings, just like we coached them. Time Freddy and the other wranglers come galloping in, couple girls was already down in the dead grass with them unicorns, half-naked and willing. They was magical beings alright. But the cowboys was skilled, and they had the stallions rounded up and the girls to safety in just a couple minutes of thundering hooves and twirling lassos.

Then they turned them unicorns and drove them down Main Street. It was a sight to see. They was moving along at an easy clip, Freddy and his wranglers in command every step of the way.

Before they got to the edge of the town square, Charlene run outside. “Where you headed, darlin?” I said, though I already knew. I followed her out to the sidewalk. Figured she’d stop there, but she took off after the herd, pushing through the heat radiating up off the pavement.

She finally called it quits at the edge of town. I stepped up beside her, and we watched the cowboys push them unicorns into a quick trot.

“What’s gonna happen to him?” she asked.

Meaning Randy, of course. I didn’t have the foggiest notion, but I said, “Don’t worry, Charlene. He’ll have a good life out there.”

“Will I ever see him again?”

“He’s among his own kind now.” I gazed at her sympathetic as I could. “It’s better for everybody this way.”

We could hear whistling and shouting. Them boys could sure ride. Hell, if Randy hadn’t gone unicorn, I bet he’d be right out there with them. But facts was facts, and we all got to face them when the time comes. I put my arm around Charlene and held her close. She leaned her head against my shoulder, and we watched Freddy and the others drive them unicorns into a hard gallop away from town. Truth was, it was tough to follow for long in all that heat. Whole thing got liquid and hazy pretty quick.

Tears in her eyes, Charlene blew a kiss and said, “Goodbye, Randy.”

Then I took her hand in mine. She didn’t resist it none. Matter of fact, she gazed over at me with them pretty blue eyes and like to smiled.

“Come on,” I said, giving her a loving little squeeze. “Let’s go into the AC and get us a cold drink.”

And, together, that’s what we did.


J.T. Townley has published in Collier’s, Harvard Review, Hayden’s Ferry Review, Prairie Schooner, The Threepenny Review, and other magazines and journals. He holds an MFA in Creative Writing from the University of British Columbia and an MPhil in English from Oxford University, and he teaches at the University of Virginia.