Chandra walked through the apartment one more time. It was old, but well maintained, and clean. “What do you think, Monique?”
Her daughter shrugged. “It’s all right.”
“The park is right outside our door.”
Monique didn’t even look out the window. “Yeah.”
Chandra gave the realtor a nervous smile. The woman knew their background. Foreclosure. Bankruptcy. Chandra hadn’t enough money to buy a gift for Monique’s twelfth birthday.
“It’s hard, moving to a new city,” the realtor said to Monique. “But you should know, the centennial unicorn migration is coming up this summer.”
Monique’s eyes lit up for the first time in months. “Unicorns?”
The realtor nodded and smiled, and averted her eyes.
Chandra was weary to her bones. Daniel’s death and the money problems had sucked the joy out of her, but watching Monique’s face in that moment, she suddenly wanted nothing more than to give her daughter something to smile about again. “We’ll take it.”
Two months after moving in, the unicorn mares began drifting down from the mountains. Tourists had invaded the town, but they had to watch miles further down the valley, and in specially located quarters, so as not to disturb the unicorns. Chandra thought herself lucky, landing an apartment along their migration path.
“We have a great view,” Chandra said as Monique joined her on their ground-floor balcony.
Monique fiddled with their old camera. She sat on the edge of her seat. “I hope we get a good look at them. Oh! I can see them.”
The unicorns moved through the parks and open spaces of the city, headed towards the river and the caves where they met the stallions and bred before disappearing back into the mountains for another hundred years.
Other people sat on their balconies like Chandra and Monique. Their apartment complex was filled with folks from all over, many of them with girls around Monique’s age, and none native to the area. It had eased Chandra’s mind, knowing that Monique had so many new friends, although she couldn’t understand why none of the locals wanted to live here.
“Here they come, Momma,” she said, her voice filled with awe.
The unicorns crested a hill and thundered through the long, narrow park. Chandra wasn’t sure which view was more beautiful, the unicorns, or her daughter’s beaming face.
Then one of the mares broke off from the herd and leaped onto a first-story balcony where a young girl watched. The unicorn speared the girl and tossed her over the railing where more of the creatures fell upon her, followed by the sounds of bones crunching and flesh tearing.
Monique screamed. Chandra shoved her daughter into the apartment and locked the door behind them. No sooner had she pulled the curtains closed than a unicorn shattered the glass door, sending shards flying everywhere. Blood and bits of flesh stained the mare’s snow-white face and legs.
“Jesus,” Chandra said. She kept herself between Monique and the beast and herded her daughter backwards, towards the kitchen. “In the pantry. Shut the door.”
“Momma — ”
The mare snorted and rolled her eyes, prancing through the living room, her steps shattering the coffee table, the TV, and and old family photo. Behind Chandra, Monique sobbed, but the girl stepped into the pantry and closed the door.
Chandra grabbed a knife and brandished it. “You can’t have her.”
The beast lowered her head. That horn ended in a point sharp as an ice pick, and already a gory mess covered it. Chandra’s stomach turned. She didn’t stand a chance against the unicorn, not even if she had the sharpest knife in the world.
She’d already lost her husband, her old life, even her pride. Now this beast wanted to take the only thing left to her, Monique.
She didn’t see the unicorn anymore. She saw the debt collectors, the guy who repo’ed her car, the co-workers and family members who thought she’d made a mess of things when it was all too complicated to pin on any single person or action. She saw the lonely nights spent awake, worrying until it gnawed her stomach raw. She saw how everybody wanted a part of her and took it until she wasn’t whole anymore. She saw herself slinking away to start a new life.
And now this beast was trying to rip that apart, too.
She roared, and for a moment, she felt like a lioness with claws bared, and she charged the unicorn.
The mare squealed and backed hastily out of the apartment. She scrambled at the balcony railing, trying to get over. Chandra sliced at the mare’s hindquarters. The unicorn squealed again and made a desperate lunge. Chandra made another cut.
“Get out of here,” she yelled, waving the knife.
Blood flowed freely from the gash as the mare leaped over the railing and ran to join the others.
Chandra cracked open the pantry door. Monique sat in one corner, curled tight as a ball, sobbing. Chandra flicked on the light and shut the door behind them. She set the knife down, pulled her daughter into her arms, and rocked her.
“It’s all right,” she whispered.
The unicorn blood glimmered on the knife, bright red with sharp pinpoints of light scattered through it. There was magic in that blood. It must be worth enough to buy their way out of this town, pay off Chandra’s remaining debts, and get a belated birthday gift for Monique. Chandra let out a deep breath, and smiled.
Rebecca Roland lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico where she writes primarily fantasy and horror. Her first novel, Shards of History, is forthcoming from World Weaver Press. Her short fiction has appeared in Uncle John’s Flush Fiction and in Stupefying Stories, and she is a graduate of the Odyssey Writing Workshop. When she’s not writing, she’s usually spending time with her family, torturing patients as a physical therapist, or eating copious amounts of chocolate.