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Conversation with a Dying Unicorn

by Ken Pick


The rumble of the garage door closing two floors down vibrated through my bedroom, followed by Steve's motorcycle fading in the distance. With him gone to work, I could put in a couple hours without distraction before I had to crash for the night and go back to live-action Dilbert in the morning.

March was my month to catch up on my backlog of furry art projects, and I was finishing up the one original amid the xeroxed-and-inked copies of my doodle pile that I was sending off for a try at the conbook for the next AnthroCon. And deadlines for the conbook and at work had to coincide.

AnthroCon's theme this year was "Join the Furry Revolution!", and from the imagery on their Web page - Betsy Ross as a raccoon - they obviously were thinking "American Revolution." As soon as I'd downloaded the detailed solicitation for conbook art, my mind had gone fiendish in a way it hadn't in a long time. They wanted "Furry Revolution" art? They'll get a Furry Revolution - just not the one they're expecting!

I'd forwarded a copy of the conbook page and release form to Eric Blumrich - he drew his "revolutionary imagery" from the First Russian Revolution; that ought to be good for a few fried brains on the conbook staff. Steve had suggested a parody on Latin American banana republics and Clint something based on an Andrew Swann novel, but my neurons were already exploding down another path, prodded by memories of Tale of Two Cities, The Scarlet Pimpernel, and Here Comes a Candle. Why should Mary Hanson-Roberts be the only one of us to tap French Revolution imagery?

In all my life, I've only had one story, one possible paranormal experience, and two other pictures burst full-honk into my mind like this one - straight into my head, demanding to be drawn. A melodramatic, sort-of-Gothic horror piece - an anthropomorphic unicorn, traditional Western symbol of purity getting the chop during the Reign of Terror. Striking on the surface - the black silhouette of the guillotine looming over the white figure of the unicorn - and symbolic on a couple of levels, my commentary on attitudes both inside and outside the fandom.

I'd never done a unicorn before, but this one came out surprisingly well - sort of a Stephanie Peregrine style, with a facial expression mixing shock and dread that had come about completely by accident I'd dressed her in some simple generic period garb I remembered from my SCA days, and (after a hurried e-mail warning from Blumrich) given her enough points of difference from Vicky Woman's "Empress Alicia" that no one could possibly confuse the two. Which, of course, guaranteed that some fanboy would. Even more striking when traced and cleaned-up, late at night on that light table at Kinko's with nobody else in the store, afraid someone would see it and get the wrong idea.

And now, I was puffing the final touches on the piece. Actually, two pieces - an inked black-and-white version, Victim of the Furry Revolution, for the conbook and a color version, The Age of Reason Has No Need of Unicorns (L'Age de Raison n'a pas Besoin de Licornes), for the art show. I had just put my signet and date on the former - dated using the French Revolutionary Calendar - and was getting the release forms ready when the Reality Barrier broke.

"Why?" The voice was female, sweet and musical - and coming from inside the room, behind and to the left, from the direction of my bed.

"HUH?" I spun the desk-chair around, homing on the voice.

She was sitting on my bed. The unicornette, exactly as I had drawn her - white fur, disheveled golden mane, liquid golden eyes, petite cloven hooves, white peasant-blouse top and coarse white skirt soiled with prison dirt, hands/forehooves/whatever lashed behind her back and a large cork stuck on the end of her golden horn.

"If I am to be executed, Monsieur, I should at least know why."

"You - You're real?"

"Non, Monsieur." She shook her head, golden mane falling half-over her eyes. "I live only in your mind, and there -" She angled her horn toward my drawing table and the artworks. "- I am about to die."

A tulpa - an imaginary construct that somehow jumps over Planck's Wall into reality? Or just my neurons gang-firing from sleep deprivation and stress? Or subconscious storytelling making the jump into consciousness, like Clint's characters telling him "how it really happened"? But in a full-sensory hallucination? The last time anything remotely resembling this had happened - "Thirty Seconds Over Narnia", that possible paranormal experience - it had come in the form of a vivid mental image, not an apparently-solid critter materializing in front of me.

"You created me, Monsieur, and in creating me you condemn me to death," she continued. "What crime have I committed to deserve la guillotine, to 'sneeze into the sack' before a cheering mob?"

"N-none; you're - innocent." Like so many others, from Paris to Phnom Penh, in the two centuries of revolutions patterned after the French.

"But of course I am innocent, Monsieur," she said, getting the hair out of her eyes with a toss of her head. "I am a unicorn, Non?" She rose off my bed, the futon mattress rising as her imaginary weight left it, and stepped over to my drawing table, her hooves sounding daintily on the carpet. Eyes wide with wonder; she looked over the furry art hanging on the wall; then bending down, she pulled the lamp around with her horn and studied both unicorn-and-guillotine pictures intently.

After a moment she spoke again. "So why must I die unjustly? Do I represent something or someone you hate? Am I a martyr for some cause I know not what? Or do you simply wish to see a unicorn beheaded?"

"No, unicorn - I'm not completely sure myself." I reached out to touch her on the shoulder; she felt solid, and warm. "If there's any reason, you're there because you're a unicorn and what unicorns represent."

"Explain, s'il vous plait?"

Great Where do I start? I tried to tell her how she first came to be, how the image of a unicorn going to the guillotine had come out of nowhere into my head and wouldn't let go, how everything had just fallen into place when I'd gotten the details on AnthroCon's theme and conbook.

How I'd poured myself into a picture for the first time in years, and how it had drained me afterwards, and how anything that could have that effect had to have power in it.

About causes gone lunatic, from Liberté, Egalité, Fraternité! to Prohibition to militant anti-smoking to Save the Fill-in-the-Blank to whatever was the latest Important Cause of the week, and how the perfect Utopian omelet always required smashing more and more eggs.

About my hyperactive, runaway imagination that had spaced me out until I was well into my twenties, and how that awe and wonder had worn down over the years - like my father; who had lost his ability to dream by the time I was old enough to notice.

How imaginary critters like her had been a part of that imagination as far back as I could remember -classic Poul Anderson and Andre Norton "aliens" with fur and tails, mythical critters like herself, a noble young white lion, a one-shot skunkette glamor-actress, two-legged talking beasts of every species. Then my own critters; imaginary playmates becoming safe rehearsals for how to act on dates which never came, finally growing into full-fledged characters and stories and art as I aged, all expressing what C. S. Lewis had expressed the best:

You had an animal with everything an animal ought to have - glossy coat, liquid eye, sweet breath, and whitest teeth; and added to all that, as though Paradise had never been lost and earliest dreams were true, the charm of speech and reason.

And how those "earliest dreams" had become "adult" nightmares - like that "furban legend" of a Blumrich rant, the one everybody claimed to have seen but nobody could produce a copy of, the one that goes on and on about all that these creatures of the imagination could do or be and ends with "And all you can think of doing with them is to draw them with their clothes off."

And how dealing with the fandom - the Muckers, the yiffy-boys, the Spandex Commandoes, the way over-the-top lifestylers, with only the occasional thinker amid the droolers and foamers and wankers - had worn me down.

"But they're not human! They're Furry!" The cry of the fanboy always used to justify sick and twisted behavior of or towards the critters they've created - just like "But I was only role-playing my character" always justified any sort of treachery in D&D. Never uplifting the critters to their level and beyond - transcending the animal - instead of seeing how low they could go with them. Even animals eat, sleep, and play as well as rut.

If insanity was part of these times, we'd embraced the madness as thoroughly as Paris 207 years ago. Our mobs of fanboys howling for spooge, up to and including stuff that would make the Marquis de Sade vomit. Our factions and denunciations, our Girondists and Jacobins, our high-sounding Robespierres, our gloating Heberts, our vicious Marats.

And me? I'd come into this like Lafayette only to wind up with a rep like Dr. Guillotin, the part of me that could dream those "earliest dreams" slowly dying in writer's block, artist's block, stories sitting half-complete and art commissions sitting unsaturated for years. Until her.

Vive la Revolution de Pelage.

She listened quietly, with an occasional flick of her tail. When I finally finished rambling, she spoke again, thoughtfully.

"I believe I understand. I am the innocent who finds herself in the path of a cause so 'righteous' as to justify any evil. I am a creature of imagination, who cannot possibly exist in an 'Age of Reason', so I cannot be permitted to live. And to you, mon createur, who can see virtue only when embodied in such creatures of imagination, I am something else."

"I represent what was worn away in you, what these - pelagists - throw away when they make of their creations less than animals." She shrugged against her bonds. "You do not kill me, they do; your art but records the fact, and my - execution - mirrors what they have done and what they have become." Her voice softened, turned even more thoughtful. "When to be called 'Virgin' is an insult, to whom can a unicorn appear?"

"To me."

"Oui, and you know why." Oh, I knew - all the years of embarrassment and ridicule, direct and indirect. The biggest continuing failure in my life; blindsided by another revolution, saving myself for a marriage that never came.

"Unicorn, I might be able to spare you. I'm no Scarlet Pimpernel, but -" I was babbling now, my stomach doing slow sick backflips. "- I can shred the pictures - or at least not submit them or show them. Nobody will ever see them, and you'll keep your head." I didn't like destroying artwork, any artwork, especially my own - but ink on paper and Prismacolors on illustration board was one thing, but to actually take a living, breathing unicorn-girl - even in imagination - and slice off her head "NON!" A hoof stamped against the carpet, sounding through the room. She shook her head like a stallion in triumph, eyes flashing golden fire; I remembered the earliest tales of unicorns, and how they could vanquish elephants in a one-on-one fight.

"Mon createur, I now know I die for a reason, not just amusement or titillation." She paused, seemed to shrink a bit. "You may take my head."

Anything I said now was going to sound really stupid - especially so to an imaginary critter about to die an imaginary death - but I said it anyway. "I don't want your head, unicorn. I don't want you to die - not after actually meeting you."

"Neither do I, but we both know I must. You drew me for a purpose, and I fulfill that purpose by giving up my life. And with that life you drive home your point" - she tapped my head with the corked tip of her horn - "to the mob. Perhaps some will listen."

"They won't." I had enough experience along those lines - Clint quitting in disgust halfway through his grand story arc, Canuss gone to ground, Blumrich's on-target rants, the pros who'd bailed because of "one fanboy too many", the career-killing reputation of being "one of them!" More eggs cracked for the perfect Furry omelet. Vive la Revolution? Vive la Terreur.

"You don't know that" She shrugged again. "The draw of the card, the roll of the dice - you never know the results before you make the attempt." She took a deep breath, stretching the ropes that bound her; and power entered her voice. "And for whatever purity and virtue remains in you, and by my blood about to be spilled, YOU MUST MAKE THE ATTEMPT."

She stood tall, head high, nostrils wide and eyes blazing. "And I shall be part of that attempt, sealed with the lifeblood of a unicorn. Perhaps my death will bring that part of you back to life."

"Now, mon createur," her voice returned to normal, "I ask one last favor from you, before I go."

"What?" I had learned long ago never to answer "anything" to an open-ended favor - especially when magic was afoot - and physical courage was never one of my strong points. What could she want? She'd refused my offer to spare her; she was a classic unicorn of pre-mass-market Western Christian tradition, not some fanboy spooge-i-corn...

"I know I am not 'real', and do not die 'for real', yet still -" Her voice started to quiver; her expression changing to the one in the picture. "-I am afraid. Embrace me - s'il vous plait?"

I gathered her in my arms, crushing her against me until she stopped shaking, her heart hammering faster than mine at my father's funeral; her breasts pressed against my ribs, her ear and mane tickled my nose and her snout rubbed against my cheek, her tail flicked against my thighs. So unicorns must have lain in the laps of other virgins, so long ago...

"Mon createur?"


"I am honored to have spoken with you, as if I were real." She pulled her head off my cheek and looked at me with great golden eyes. "I came from you, and I am always a part of you. You know Who we unicorns - at least our males - have symbolized in every Medieval Bestiary. You once wrote Stauros how much you 'longed to romp and play with the furries in Aslan's Land'. If and when you do, I pray that I shall be one of them - given substance in reality instead of imagination."

I squeezed her tighter, kissed her on her snout, between the nostrils; her breath smelled like fresh roses mixed with cinnamon. She pulled back, blinked once in astonishment, then raised her head to where our mouths met - para-equine to human - and reciprocated with a long, gentle kiss. Just like my only girlfriend had, on our first date, all those years ago...

"Merci - and adieu." She stepped back, radiant despite the bonds and prison dirt; I brushed her mane back from her eyes. "And now, if you will excuse me, I must go. La guillotine is waiting."

And turning around, with head held high and tail flicking, she walked through the wall and was gone.