I feel like I actually cut the story of my unicorn encounter in half on Wednesday, because to be honest, I was floating. It was like… I mean it was like being high, almost? But not foggy at all, and not exactly euphoric, just like… wow, I really don’t know how to explain it, it was too layered to really explain, but here’s the most important thing:
I wasn’t afraid. I wasn’t afraid of anything, and listen it was felt awesome.
It’s also INCREDIBLY unrealistic to be afraid of nothing. Maybe even counterproductive. Because just because I didn’t happen to be afraid of what would happen should Billy Ace finds this magical creature that casually straddles the line of life and death, doesn’t mean that there aren’t serious potential consequences to that face off.
Like, okay, maybe it would be fine.
But maybe he’d scoop her into a burlap sack and carry her off with him and suddenly possess the power to bring anyone’s loved ones back from the dead. Like, I’m sorry, once you control the ability to genuinely, no-consequences, raise the dead… you pretty much own everything. No one can stand up to you at that point, what you can offer them is too valuable.
And if there’s one thing I know, having had that creature inside my head, is that she has no discretion about who she raises. To her, life is life.
So anyways, the second half of my interaction with the creature in the woods:
I emerged from the cave to find everyone waiting for me anxiously.
When they asked me what happened, I just smiled serenely and explained to everyone that Billy Ace had every right to approach this place and ask for what he wants, the same as anyone else does, which was CLEARLY not what the Hawthornes were expecting. Neal went as far as to check my temperature with the back of his hand on my forehead.
“I’d like to call him,” I said while Neal studied my face for signs of internal damage. “We should facilitate this meeting.”
He blanched. “What?”
“You really think the creature who raises the dead can’t handle the likes of Billy Ace?” I asked.
“She has a point,” Julian said.
Neal did one of these 😔😳 and said, “The same creature that five idiots locked in their basement? That creature?”
Which is actually a good point, like just because when you’re a unicorn you don’t happen to care about about being briefly detained in a cellar, doesn’t mean that you aren’t in fact detained in a cellar, you know? Although, having shared brain space with her, I’m guessing she actually saw that situation as a nice time getting to know MY BEST FRIEND.
But at the time I was still floating on an ocean of calm.
“It isn’t our responsibility to protect her,” I said. “And her power is hers to use.”
Neal’s mouth sorta fell open a little bit. Then he said, “yeah, okay, you’re right. We’ll track down his number.”
We literally had him on the phone within the hour. We used a burner — which honestly seems like overkill, since all he’d have to do to get our number is ask the Allens, but we’re entitled to our spite.
“Do you want to do the talking, Shiloh?” Neal asked as the phone rang.
And I was still essentially high, looking through the eye of the universe, so I said, yes.
Billy Ace picked up like this: “This is Will.”
Will, huh? Not Billy? Interesting.
“Hi Will,” I said. “This is Shiloh. You’re in my hometown.”
He hesitated. “I am, yeah,” he said after a moment. “How did you know that?”
“I know what you’re looking for. I’ll help you find her.”
WHY though? Like, he was here looking for the unicorn, why couldn’t I just LET HIM LOOK? Surely I didn’t have to SHOW HIM WHERE SHE WAS, right???? I could have just MINDED MY OWN BUSINESS.
That unicorn calm’ll go straight to your head.
I told him to meet us the next morning at the gas station.
It would have been nice if, by the next morning I’d had a little bit less perspective again — like I wish I could tell you that when I woke up yesterday morning I was myself again and said oh yeah, I can just let this play out, I don’t have to assist it.
Alas, I had strange dreams all night, and I woke up on a wave.
We waited for Billy Ace in the parking lot of the 7-11.
“Are you sure about this?” Neal asked.
At the time I was sure, I was full of this inexplicable, serene sureness that makes absolutely no sense, and in retrospect, what on EARTH were the Hawthornes thinking?
(They were trusting me, that’s what they were thinking. WHY were they doing that?)
Billy Ace turned up at the 7-11 right on time and alone. We didn’t even ask him to come alone, he just did it.
We all took that as a good sign.
We didn’t talk to him at all we just drove and he followed us. We didn’t take him to the coven cottage, obviously, we hiked in from the logging roads. Billy Ace carried in one of those little camel hiking backpack things in and looked like a total douche but I didn’t think anything of it. I just assumed he was showing off his wealth with his unnecessary $150 backpack for a short walk. Seemed in character.
When we made it to the clearing I realized very briefly that I wasn’t sure how to call my unicorn friend, so I just gestured at the archway and said.
“She’s in there.”
Before we go any further, I want to make very clear what this looked like from the outside:
I hadn’t spoken a single word to anyone the entire walk out here. Billy Ace had followed us out into the woods without a word to any of us, and when we parked at an evidently random place on old abandoned logging roads, he asked where we were going, and the Hawthorne’s only response was to gesture at me as I started out into the trees.
Then we walked for like 20 minutes and when we arrived at a small clearing, I looked up at him with my one black eye, pointed down into a dark thicket and said, “she’s in there.”
It was creepy, is what I’m telling you. Like we were fully in the middle of a creepy case, except that I was the creepy part.
Billy Ace hesitated.
And then, from within the thicket, that slowly rising, soft white light.
Usually I would have stared at the light, but my very zen alter ego watched the rising awe in my companions faces instead.
The Hawthornes had never seen her. From the looks on their faces, they’d never seen anything remotely like her.
But it was Billy Ace that fell onto his knees, expression slack. She walked directly up to him, and watched his face as he reached into that expensive backpack of his and pulled out what was unmistakably an urn.
My heart sank.
As I watched he opened the top of this urn and turned it upside down, so that the contents spilled into a small mound in the dirt.
I know what he was hoping for. Of course I know, what wouldn’t I have tried last year to get Madelyn back. I’d have done anything.
But surely, surely he had to know that there was nothing she could do with a pile of ashes.
Or at least, that’s what I was thinking, watching this play out.
I was wrong. As I watched, she bent her head, touched her horn to the dust and out of it, a tree came shooting upwards. First little more than a silvery little reed, than sudden bloom of reaching branches, and then leaves — but not in the right place, not growing from the branches, but growing from the roots? And stranger still, the tree didn’t seem to have grown into the ground, leaves unfurling each with a soft rustle, like a whispering breeze.
When the movement stopped, there was a tree floating suspended at the center of the clearing, roots reaching upwards towards the sky, leaves rustling quietly towards the earth. It was glowing softly, a soft, silvery light.
We all stood there, gazing at it, awestruck.
And then Billy began to wail.
I didn’t understand what was happening at first, because the miracle of this upside down tree was taking up all the space in my brain. But Billy was on his knees, surrounded by those faintly glittering leaves, hands bunched in the dirt, wailing with that deep, profound agony and rage I actually recognize.
“No,” he cried. “Bring him back! You were supposed to bring him back!”
He whirled on me, expression contorted with rage.
“This is what you offer me?” He surged to his feet, and lurched towards me. “A tree? This is what magic offers me? What use is this?”
He was in my face, shouting, grabbed me by the shoulders to shake and only then did it dawn on me that maybe bringing him to see the unicorn was a bad idea.
Neal tried to push between us but Billy whirled me away from him.
“Make it fix this,” he was snarling in my face, shaking me and as he shook me, all that foreign calm began to dissipate hahahaha.
“If she could have brought him back, she would have,” I managed, as Neal finally wedged between us and I fell back from him.
“You need to cool off,” Neal snapped, putting a solid hand on his shoulder and pushing back. Billy’s face twisted with rage and made to lurch back towards me and ran square into Julian.
“This is what you asked for,” Julian reminded him, placing himself between Billy and me. Neal glanced over me, checking that I was okay and I nodded mutely.
The creature, her magic done, had already retreated back to her thicket so it was just us in the clearing.
“Come on,” Julian said after an uncertain moment. “Come on, we’re going. It’s time to go.”
Julian had to turn Billy Ace by the shoulder and nudge him out of the clearing. Behind us the tree hung there, glowing faintly, leaves whispering, barely brushing the forest floor.
Billy wanted nothing to do with us after that, he just got on his car, slammed the door and drove off without waiting for us.
The Hawthornes were quiet, watching me cautiously in the mirror as if waiting for me to fall apart.
I didn’t feel like I was falling apart. Instead, I was just feeling the scope of the world coming back into place, remembering my own perspective, separate from the unicorns.
From that creature’s perspective, yeah — everything is going to be fine. There is no such thing as permanent harm. Nothing is truly good or bad. Life and death are on one spectrum, neither better or more desirable than the other. There is only change and our ability to adapt to it.
But see, I’m not eternal. I don’t have magic. I don’t have time to wait for the slow shifting of the universe to right itself, and there’s no way for me to know how Billy Ace’s rage will change our little world.
It’s been quiet since yesterday. We’re not leaving town yet, just in case.