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Rated: 13+ · Fiction · Fantasy · #723167
A group of hunters stumble upon something extraordinary...

         “It wasn’t my fault!” BJ yelled, pacing around the campfire nervously. "Don’t you think I’d change what happened if I could?”

         His blue eyes begged us to believe him. He carried a stunned expression, like a man who had just been sentenced to death. “Oh, I know what you're thinking. You think I’m the one who caused all this. Admit it, you blame me for everything!”

         He stopped in front of me, then reaching down, grabbed the open flaps of my jacket and half-pulled me out of my chair. “I killed you! I really killed you, man. You’re supposed to be dead!” Looking embarrassed, he quickly released me with an apologetic look, then studied me closely with a perplexed gaze. “Why? Why aren’t you dead?”

         “I . . . I don’t know, BJ. I guess it just wasn’t my time.” The words sounded false, even to my ears. The truth was I had been dead--should still be dead. It felt like, and my heart told me, I was living on borrowed time.

         BJ turned and walked back to his camp-chair. He plopped down heavily into it and shook his head. “I’m sorry, Bill. So, damn sorry. It just really eats at me sometimes, you know?”

         “Hey, man, no one’s blaming you for anything," I said. "Pass the whiskey. Let's get this party started!”

         I looked across the smoking campfire at my three friends. It was hard to believe it had been a whole year since last we were together. It felt like we had never left. “This is supposed to be a good time, right? So, lighten-up! I didn’t drive all the way from L.A. to stare at a bunch of depressed and ugly mugs.”

         It was our annual bow-hunting trip. No matter what was going on in our lives, no matter what we were doing, when the time came, we dropped everything and came back here to the same mountain, the same lake, on the same day every year. We'd been doing it for over twelve years. It bonded us together.

         What were we really looking for? At one time I thought I knew. It was like an instinctive urge to go back in time to the very moment it all began; to perhaps catch another glimpse of the magic and wonder we had all experienced that day.

         We never talked about it openly . . . at least, not until we were all gathered here. In my mind it still felt like a dream you try to remember but just can’t seem to get the sequence of events in the right order. Of course, I knew what had happened was real, no matter what the others thought. Hell, it had happened to me, and I still carried the mark to prove it--a forelock of brilliant white hair. One thing was for sure, whatever occurred that day, whatever we each experienced, had somehow tied us all together in some magical bond.

         The secret stayed with us. Besides, who would believe it? We hardly believed it ourselves.

         Doug was the youngest of our group, tall and wiry, with jet-black hair. He kept to himself mostly. A bachelor, who went out of his way to keep his private life private. “The more inaccessible you are to others,” he told us, “the more you retain your personal power. You guys with all your cell phones and credit cards, you’re accessible to anybody who wants to know anything about you. All they’d have to do is just punch up your name on the Internet. Me . . . I like to remain a mystery--like these mountains--these woods.”

         Doug Shotts was full-blood Cherokee and he prided himself on his heritage. His grandmother had raised him by herself on a reservation in Oklahoma, and though they were very poor, Doug’s early life had been rich with tribal stories and old Indian customs. He had an uncanny ability to survive off the land, and was the best damn hunter and tracker I’d ever seen. It was funny how the rest of us would get literally crippled from our extended tramps through the wilderness, but Doug always appeared to be more refreshed than when we first started.

         When the Vietnam war came, the Army used him as a scout. But like most veterans, Doug came home different somehow--hardened and more quiet. Yet, the youthful spark in his eyes now held a mystical secret within them that Doug chose not to reveal; and when you looked into those eyes, you would get the uneasy impression that you were already supposed to know what the secret was but were missing it somehow, and so his fatidic gaze left you with the feeling of being incomplete as a person.

         It had been Doug’s idea for all of us to learn how to bow-hunt. He felt that killing a deer with a gun was for hunters that didn’t know how to show respect to the natural laws of nature. So, he painstakingly taught us how to track and kill game the right way--the Indian way, “the way God intended,” he had said. Under his tutelage, we all became excellent marksmen. As a joke we even called ourselves the “Merry Men.”

         But we were far from merry anymore--we were obsessed.

         The whiskey bottle was passed around and the four of us talked about old times and earlier hunts. Every now and then I would catch one of them glancing at the tuft of white hair that sprouted at my hairline--it was really the only proof that remained from our shared encounter.

         “Man, I love it up here,” said Bob, under a huge burp. “This is the life! Good friends, good whiskey, and plenty of good food.” He drank heavily and passed me the bottle.

         “You’d like it anywhere as long as the food was good,” said BJ, who still appeared to be sulking.

         “Well, if we run out, you’ll be the first one we eat, tow-head!”

         It was never a good idea to make fun of Bob, especially about his size; he could become quite ornery when riled.

         “Don’t you worry none,” I said reassuringly to BJ. “I brought plenty of steaks along--more than even Bob can eat.”

         Big Bob McCurley looked as if he weighed 300 hundred pounds and stood all of six-feet-four. He had a personality like a drunk Kodiak Bear, and you never quite knew if he was playing around until he grabbed hold of you, but in all honesty, he had a heart of gold.

         Bob and I had grown up together--neighbors really, and he looked after me like a big brother through most of my childhood. He had always been a little slow on the uptake about things which had caused him to get held back a couple of grades in school. Naturally, I took him under my wing, which turned out to be beneficial for the both of us.

         When we got older, I helped him startup his own auto shop just outside of Madera. Bob worked it into a successful business and made double-sure he paid me back every cent I ever loaned him. I guess old Bob’s probably the best friend I ever had. In a word, I’d call him . . . noble.

         The sound of a breaking twig in the surrounding darkness got everyone’s attention.

         “Probably just a raccoon,” I said, as I took another big slug from the bottle and passed it. Everyone except Doug turned back toward the fire with that explanation. He continued staring into the darkness as if he expected something to walk out. Finally, he broke his gaze, then took a drink from the bottle of Jack Daniels.

         This had become our usual ritual with first night at camp. We never capped the booze, but just kept drinking and passing it along until it was gone.

         I checked my watch. It was close to midnight and ten yards out from the campfire you couldn’t see a thing. The four of us sat huddled around the orange and yellow cocoon of firelight.

         “Maybe it was a deer,” ventured BJ. “Coming out to greet us just so we don’t have to climb all those steep mountains in the morning.”

         “Well, that’d be awful damn considerate of him, wouldn’t it?” teased Bob. “What are you gonna shoot it with, BJ? You don’t even have your fancy, super-duper hunting bow strung yet. Or are you just gonna throw an arrow at it?”

         “Hell, I read once that the Indians used to hunt with rocks," BJ said. "They’d make a perfect throw right at the animals head, if it hit ‘em, the sucker’d drop dead right there on the spot. I bet I could do it.” He laughed sullenly then, but his mood was changing as the level of whiskey in the bottle began to drop.

         “Yeah, right, BJ. We all know what a great shot you are,” chuckled Bob.

         Nobody laughed.

         It had been BJ’s poor aim that set-off the sequence of events that day. Actually, it had been more my fault really, since I had jumped into his line of fire. But if given the choice again, I’d do the exact same thing.

         Barry Johnson, or BJ as we called him, had been my investment broker for the past twenty-some-odd-years. He was about forty-five years of age with a head full of white-blond hair. BJ was a good hunting buddy, he always had plenty of dirty jokes he couldn’t wait to tell, and out of all of us, he was the one who always kept in touch; a three-time divorcee that couldn’t seem to hang onto his money or his women. But BJ was smart--a financial wizard really, and over the years he had made me a lot of money. His problem was that he could brilliantly manage just about anybody’s portfolio, except his own.

         “Come on guys, you know it wasn’t BJ’s fault,” I said, defending him. “Besides, I’m the one that walked into his line of fire.”

         “Yeah, well any damn fool could’ve seen that it wasn’t no deer,” Bob said, accusingly and feeling his liquor. “Hell, the thing was as white as snow!”

         “Oh, I get it,” BJ said, looking hurt. “After all this time, the truth finally comes out.”

         I looked BJ in the eyes and softly said, “I’ve never blamed you. Never.”

         “Well, well, well, the big celebrity speaks,” said Bob, bitterly. “Are you actually defending the guy that killed you, Bill?” Bob shook his head in disbelief. “You know, what happened to you wasn’t one of your goddamn fantasy stories. It was the real deal! And I don’t take it lightly, nor have I ever been able to forget it. If it had been one of us lying on the ground with an arrow in his head, I’m sure you’d feel the same way too.”

         “All right, guys!” Doug abruptly said. “We’ve gone through all this crap before. What’s done is done. We’re here to have a good time, remember? Now let’s just drop the whole damn thing and get some shut-eye.”

         But I couldn’t let it go.

         We needed to hash this thing out. I could feel the pent-up frustration--and the booze was starting to kick in.

         “You upset over my success, Bob?” I asked. “Does it bother you that people like to read my books?”

         “You know what, hotshot? You never wrote a story in your entire life, until after what happened. You changed somehow after that creature touched you. It gave you something--something special.”

         “Yeah. It gave me back my life, Bob. You know that. What the hell’s gotten into you, anyway? I can’t believe you’re jealous of my success.”

         Bob tipped the bottle again, drinking deeply, then spit a mouthful into the fire. The strong whiskey sizzled like searing flesh and shot blue flames up into the sky.

         “I ain’t jealous of nothing,” he said. “I’m just saying that all of our lives have changed since then. Hell, there’s not a day goes by that I don’t think about it. It’s like a bad dream I keep reliving over and over again inside my head.”

         Bob looked into the fire. His shoulders drooped slightly and he hung his head. “Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat. And I hear myself calling your name. I’m like, screaming to you, ‘Look out! Look out!’ But you never hear me in time. And then I see the blur of the arrow as it strikes your head.”

         Bob kept staring into the fire as if it held him in a trance. “I’ll never forget the look on your face--a startled kind of look--like it wasn’t happening to you at all, and blood’s just a'gushing out of your head even as you crumbled to the ground in front of me.”

         He drank again.

         “But that’s not all. Right where you were standing, that damn creature now stands--staring right through me! Straight into my very soul, I tell ya. Its eyes are fixed on me like a magnate, and they grow larger and larger until they fill up my mind with its thoughts. God, then it shows me things--evil, terrible things!”

         Bob sighed heavily and coughed, wiping the spittle from his face with his shirt sleeve. “This whole thing’s not over,” he said, looking at me knowingly. “I sense it wants something from us. Something we took from it, and now the damn thing wants it back!”

         “Jesus, Bob,” I said. “I had no idea you were struggling so much with this.”

         “You all right, big guy?” asked Doug, walking up to him and slapping him on the back, and then taking the whiskey bottle.

         “Yeah . . . yeah, I’m fine. I just want all this to end. No more dreams." He sighed heavily. "No more damn dreams.”

         “I remember seeing it run-off and disappear through the trees,” Doug said, lighting up a cigarette. “It looked so beautiful--it was truly magnificent. Then I heard Bob yelling for help, and I saw Bill lying on the ground, his head cradled in Bob’s lap. There was blood everywhere and Bob was applying pressure to the wound with his hunting cap. BJ was about twenty yards back, down on his knees, crying.”

         Doug stopped then looked sadly at me. “Bob picked you up and carried you all the way back to the campsite. But we were two miles back into the wilderness, and by the time we reached camp there wasn’t anything we could do for you--you had already lost so much blood.”

         He grew quiet for a moment and his eyes shone with that mystical quality. “I agree with Bob. The creature definitely wants something from us. I can feel it.”

         “The creature?” BJ said. “You can’t even call it by its name! Look, that bastard has cursed us--cursed me!”

         “Calm down, all of you,” I said.

         “Oh, sure, calm down. Easy for you to say. But I can’t calm down! That’s the whole point!” He took the bottle then and tipped it to his mouth, drinking it like water. “You guys wanna know why I can’t keep a wife?” he laughed, nervously. “I’ll tell you why. It’s because ever since that day--I can’t get it up to save my life, or my marriage. I’m impotent! There, you happy? Now I’ve said it. Now you all know.”

         BJ’s eyes searched our faces--he waited to here someone laugh, but no one did. With his arms tightly folded across his chest, he kicked at one of the stones surrounding the campfire. “It’s like I’ve been cursed, man. Cursed! Now everything I touch turns to crap. Do you wanna hear something funny? Huh? I'll tell ya something funny. I sit at home alone at nights and just load and unload my damn gun.” He looked and spoke like a man who had nothing to lose. “You know what I mean, right? Just looking at my gun and wondering, what if?" He ran his hand through his hair, but it stopped and balled itself into a fist which he pounded on his head. "But I can’t do it. I don’t have the guts!” BJ laughed peculiarly then--more at himself than anything else. “You wanna know something else?” he said. “The only time I really feel like my old self is when I’m out here with you guys. The rest of the time my life just sucks!”

         “And we’re glad your here,” I said, taking the bottle and lifting it toward the sky. “All of us. Together again.”

         “Together again!” they hailed in unison.

         BJ lit a cigarette. “I’ve even been to see a damn psychologist, but his lame-brain opinion is that I’ve had a trauma of some kind and I need to work it out. Hell! A trauma? If only I could tell him the truth--tell him what really happened. But then they’d probably throw me in a padded cell.” He looked at me--pleading. “I know it sounds terrible, but maybe if you had just stayed dead, then killing myself would have been a whole lot easier.”

         ”Aw, come off it, BJ.” I said trying to cheer him up.

         “I mean it! I wish to God I had never laid eyes on that four-legged monster. The son-of-bitch haunts my dreams! He’s destroyed my life--just like I tried to destroy his.”

         “Why did you try to kill it?” I softly asked.

         “I--I don’t know. I guess I thought that if I could kill it, then we’d have the proof that it actually existed. Otherwise, who was gonna believe us, right? At the time, it was too fantastic for even me to believe. So, I--I took the shot. Then everything in my life changed,” he said. “And it will never be the same again.”

         We sat in stunned silence.

         The fire was burning down so I grabbed a couple of logs and chucked them in. The red hot embers shot into the sky, and for a moment, I could have sworn they formed an outline of the magical beast. My eyes tracked the burning ash as it floated off into the black sky.

         “I remember when I first saw it,” I said, dreamily, staring into the smoke and fire. “We had just crested a large hill and I saw movement in the dense undergrowth off to my left. I took the lead and circled my way around signaling to the three of you that something was up ahead. I quietly moved through the thicket, and then I saw it--a beautiful white stallion.

         “At first, I thought that it might be a runaway or something that belonged to some rancher. God, it was magnificent! Pure white, with a mane so long it covered its entire neck. Its head was down, grazing upon some new grass. I don’t know why, but I immediately felt the urge to capture it. I thought that if I could just get close enough, I could get my belt around its neck.

         “Suddenly, it raised its beautiful head and looked directly at me. That’s when I saw the horn.

         “I couldn’t believe what I was looking at! It’s gotta be a fake, I thought. There are no such things as unicorns, right? I remember thinking, ‘the horn--its gotta be glued on. Just somebody’s idea of a prank.”

I took another sip of whiskey. “I’d never seen a more extraordinary animal in all my life. And it just stood there, staring at me; its nostrils flared and sniffing the air for danger. I dropped my bow and held my arms open to show it I meant no harm. Its large eyes stayed glued to me--looked right through me. And then, I don’t why, but I got this feeling that it had been waiting for me. Waiting for this exact moment.

         “I slowly extended my hand so that it could smell me. It took a cautious step forward--shaking its head and snorting, as if it would rear-up at any moment. I didn’t move, I just held my hand out in front of me.

         “And then it took another step and I could feel its hot breath on my hand as it smelled me. That’s when I heard BJ approaching from the right. The unicorn heard him too, and turned, ready to bolt. I saw BJ bear down--about to shoot. Instinctively, I jumped in front of his line of fire. I remember it felt like I got hit in the head with a hammer--and then that’s all I remember.” I took a big slug of the bottle feeling emotionally drained.

         “It was nightfall when we finally got you back here to camp,” Doug said. “BJ built a fire while Big Bob applied a bandage that he got from his first-aid kit in his jeep. You were a mess. The arrow had glanced off the side of your head. But it was a hunting arrow and the point was razor sharp. It had hit you right at your hairline, slicing your head open like a melon. Like I said, there wasn’t much we could do. Bob wanted to load you up in the jeep and race a hundred-miles-an-hour down the mountainside to some doctor.

         “But I saw the way you looked--the color of your skin. I’ve seen a lot of dead guys in Nam, and I know what they look like. Your spirit had left you--you were dead, my friend. I checked your pulse to make sure, but couldn’t find one.”

         “But the unicorn--what about the unicorn?” I asked.

         “Well, that’s the really strange part,” explained Bob. “The damn thing followed us all the way back to camp. We could hear it walking through the underbrush, just out of view. Then finally, it came out into the open. It walked right up to us, bold as you please; studying us for a moment, as if it were sizing us up.”

         “I tried to scare it off, but it reared,” added BJ, “pawing its front legs at us until we backed away from your body. It scared the shit out of me.”

         “Then it came over to you,” Doug said, looking me straight in the eyes. “It put its head down and smelled your hair like it was your pet dog or something. Then he pointed that damn horn right where the arrow had struck, and touched you with it.”

         “At first nothing happened,” Bob said. “Then the air started tingling with electricity. I could feel my hair standing up, and my body felt like it was being pulled in every direction at once. It was really weird.

         “Then this bright blue lightening shoots right out of its horn! It surged through your entire body from head to toe. You were actually glowing this crazy blue color. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. It was like . . . I don’t know--like magic.”

         “The unicorn backed away then,” Doug said. “And staggered off into the forest on weak legs. He didn’t look quite right--kind of tired, or drained, or something. Its head was hanging down as it stumbled off.

         “I knelt down beside you and looked at the wound. It was gone and your head looked completely healed. There was no scar--nothing. Just that white spot of hair where the horn had touched you.”

         “Then we heard you moan, and you started to move,” finished BJ. “Damn, if you weren’t alive! We were totally freaked out.”

         “At the time,” Doug said, “we were so excited that you were alive again, we couldn’t think about anything else. It was like you were given a second chance or something. It wasn’t ‘til later though, that my dreams made me remember what had really happened, and by then it was just too unbelievable to even consider as being real. It became more of a nightmare that I tried to push out of my mind. I think I was more afraid that if I talked about it, the magic would simply go away and you’d be dead again. Like the time you had left was just borrowed time.”

         “Borrowed time . . . yeah, I can relate to that,” I chuckled. “I remember waking up with you guys kneeling all around me. I felt like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz.”

         They all laughed at that.

         “I swear! As I woke up, I actually felt like I was in that old movie, you know, when Dorothy opens her door for the first time and everything turns to color. It was like that--like my entire life had been in black and white up until that instant. I could sense the life in everything around me. I could see auras emanating from your faces, from the trees--the grass. It was truly amazing. My entire body quivered with an energy I had never known before.”

         Again there was a long pause in the conversation as we sat stunned with the realization of what had taken place.

         The fire had all but burned down again, so I suggested we turn in for the night. Everyone agreed and slowly, one by one, we climbed into the large tent I had brought. When we finally shut the propane lantern off we laid there in the dark--everyone completely quiet.

         Somewhere in the night, off in the far distance, a horse whinnied.

         The next day we broke camp and prepared to go hunting. It seemed that all the good cheer and camaraderie we had felt the day before had packed up and left us during the cold night. Everyone was in a somber mood as we put our gear together. The thought crossed my mind that we were like soldiers preparing to go into battle, each knowing that some of us would never return.

         “Everybody set?” I asked, my voice sounding flat and puny.

         As Doug walked passed me he said, “You know he’s out there waiting, don’t you?”

         “Yeah, I know,” I said softly. “I can feel him.”

         “Are you sure you wanna do this?”

         “I gotta.”

         Doug spun around and yelled, “All right, then, girls. Let’s do it!”

         We hit the trail and climbed our first mountain. I led the way knowing before I ever left camp where I was going. I think we all did. It took us half the day to get there, but as we broke the crest of a hilltop the four of us stopped and stood there resting and waiting; right back where the whole thing had started.

         “Do you think he’ll come?” asked Bob, quietly.

         “Ah, come on, fellas,” whined BJ. “This is crazy! What are we doing back here?”

         “Would you just shut-up,” said Bob. “He’ll never come if you keep sniveling.”

         “Shhh, wait,” I said, holding up a hand. “I think he’s here already.”

         “No way!” said BJ in disbelief.

         “There!” I said, pointing to a little meadow shrouded in pine trees about a hundred yards below us.

         As if in answer to me having spotted him, the unicorn whinnied and reared-up upon its hind legs.

         Contrary to all reasonable explanation, the sight of the unicorn was incontestable. He strode proudly around the perimeter of the meadow--puissant and as incredible as the first time we had ever laid eyes upon him.

         “He’s calling us,” I said. “Can you feel it?”

         “Yeah, I feel like a goddamn fool for being out here,” said BJ.

         “Shut your trap and get on down the hill,” said Bob in a threatening manner.

         We walked down the hill and soon entered the meadow. The unicorn was prancing about in small circles, flipping its head high, and stopping only to rear, and then whinny loudly at us.

         “Drop your weapons,” I said. “He’s frightened.”

         We dropped our gear at the edge of the meadow, then walked forward into the middle of the clearing.

         “My, God, look at him . . . he’s magnificent!” Doug said.

         “Yeah, but what the hell does he want?” asked Bob, cocking his eyebrow.

         “I think I know,” I said. “It’s what he wanted all along. It’s why he came here in the first place. Stay put, all of you. I’m gonna try something.”

         As I approached, the unicorn immediately calmed down. He snorted and pawed the ground with his right hoof, then flung his head toward the forest. There was no mistaking what the animal wanted.

         I yelled back at my friends. “He wants me to go with him--to his world. You know I have to go.”

         “No way!” shouted Bob. “You ain’t going nowhere, buddy!” He ran forward, the others following closely behind. They formed a barrier between me and the unicorn. The animal became frightened and bolted toward the edge of the forest.

         “It’s the only way to end this thing,” I said. “Like this unicorn, I don’t belong here anymore. I’ve been living on borrowed time. You said so yourself. I was supposed to die that day, remember? You guys all know that. The unicorn has come to take me home.”

         “Jesus, Bill, are you crazy?” asked Bob. “Do you know how insane that sounds?”

         “Look, I belong with him now,” I said with a conviction I had never felt before. “I’m sure it’ll be all right. Don’t you see? All the stories I’ve written have been about his world. They’re real. Everything. It’s all real!”

         “No, no, NO!” yelled BJ. “I’m not going to lose you again goddamn it! Not after all the shit I’ve been through. No way, hotshot!”

         “Look, BJ, the unicorn’s stuck here. He can’t leave until I go with him. This is the only way to end it. Can’t you feel that?”

         “Yeah, I know, but not again, Bill. Please, I couldn’t stand to lose you again.” He hung his head. “Take me with you then.”

         “You know I can’t do that, man. It’s not my call.” I looked at the magical creature. It seemed to be waiting just at the edge of the forest. “It’s up to him now.”

         “We’ve been friends a long time," BJ said. "We’re still friends, right? You and me?”

         “That’s right, BJ. We’re still friends. Nothing can ever change that.” I threw my arms around him and gave him a quick hug. “Hang in there until I get back, will ya?”

         “You’re coming back?” Hope shot across his face.

         “If I’ve got anything to say about it I am. Just be here, okay?”

         “All right. I’ll come back every year. Just like always. And I’ll bring the others too.”

         I nodded in agreement. “I’m counting on ya.”

         “I understand what you’re trying do,” said Doug. “It all makes sense somehow. Look, whatever you find over there, if you need help just come and get us. After this, there’s nothing the four of us can’t handle.” He gave me a big hug and slapped me on the back. “It’s been good to know you, my friend.” He looked at the unicorn. “Don’t forget to thank him for me too. He gave us all a few extra years with you, and for that I am truly grateful.”

         “You know, you’re the reason this all got started. If you hadn’t gotten us interested in hunting in the first place, we would’ve never come up here. Everything has happened for a reason. Anyway, that’s what I believe.”

         I stared at Big Bob. “How ‘bout you, big guy? You got a hug for an old friend?”

         “You know I don’t have to go along with this,” Bob said, stubbornly. “I can stop you if I want. I can knock you out and carry your ass right back down that hill.”

         “Is that what you really want to do, Bob?”

         “I’ve done it once before!” he said, choking back a sob. “I carried your sorry ass all the way down this mountain, and by God, I can do it again!”

         Then he broke down and tears welled up in his eyes. “I will never understand you,” he said looking me in the eyes. “I’ve read all your books, you know. Every last one of them. I never told you before. I guess I was a little jealous. What with you starting a successful new career and all. But I thought your stories were fantastic.”

         “Thanks, Bob.”

         “I just wanted you to know that. The fantasy place--the one you describe in your stories, what’s it called--Terracon? Do you think that’s where your going?”

         I slapped my hands down on his broad shoulders. “Yeah, that’s where I’m going, Bob. Don’t ask me how I know--I just know, that’s all.” I hugged him good-bye.

         “You talked about your dreams last night. Well, I didn’t tell you about my dreams. After the accident they became quite real and amazingly vivid. It was as if I was living in two worlds simultaneously. Perhaps, my friend, when I sleep in Terracon, I will dream of this world. And then, just maybe, I’ll dream of you, big guy.”

         “All these years, it was you who looked after me, wasn’t it?”

         “That’s what brothers are for, right?”

         His arms swooped around me and he picked me up in a bear hug so powerful that it nearly knocked the breath out of me. Then he slowly released me and cradled my face in his big hands. After a long hard gaze, he let me go looking embarrassed.

         “I’m sorry. I just want to make sure I remember your face,” he said. “No matter what happens, I never want to forget your face. Or that white lock of hair.” He ruffled my hair.

         “I know I’ll never forget you, big guy.”

         We had said our good-byes, and then I turned and walked toward the waiting unicorn. I sensed an urgency in his movements. His eyes were telling me to hurry. As I approached, he bowed his head low and I immediately mounted him.

         “I’ll be coming back!” I yelled. “Just keep looking for me! I’ll be coming back!”

         I grabbed a handful of long white mane, turned and looked back one last time at my friends. The unicorn bolted forward, and together we disappeared into the low hanging mist beneath the forest.


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