First Season At The Unicorn Ranch
NOT A WEEK AFTER HE CONTACTED ME, after the invitation via letter, I made the three-day trek, climbed the mountain, and found the compound at the Unicorn Ranch. I moved in with only my sleeping bag, a few clothes, a knife, two empty notebooks, two pens, and a toothbrush.
Also, a single packet of opium incense, as well a can of coconut soda and a bottle of vodka (that evening's celebratory libation/first aid).
He seemed almost surprised to see me. He showed me around. We gave each other a good once over twice. He looked better than I remember from our growing up days. He offered a modest repast. Root vegetables and kielbasa. We clinked clean-ish glasses across the oversized wooden mess hall table.
Then, rather exhausted, he sighed and said "Early day tomorrow..."
I almost had a second thought about it, then. If I’m doing the right thing. But he needed help.
I stayed up for another hour in my sleeping bag. Hands behind my head, thinking. Listening.
THE MIGRATORY PATH LEADS THEM HERE. For the next few months, in the weak pink of dawn, we trudged out thru the diamond fields up to the terrace where they graze. All the shimmering glints underfoot, close to searing on our boots and leg hairs. Every day I marveled at the heat despite the mountain air and the sapphire sky — broad and clear.
The terrace: a pasture teeming with sorghum and wheat. The waterfall fortified with mica. Food and drink.
Chalk on leather mitt mounted powder-puffs can be rubbed onto their coats to keep the bugs away. This also makes them brighter and softer, while drying their sweat, which can also be collected and distilled into a potent hallucinatory concoction.
The pails of lemongrass milk we yoke out to slake them will be the same to pick up their poo: pink for girls, blue for boys. Noisome as a teenage pageant winner's bedroom, it reeks of very horny flowers with a pollen fetish. If left uncollected, the deep pheromones attract an unsavory population... I'm not talking about the diamond lice that we inspected their horns for each day...
Around the end of the first week, I caught sight of several postings. Icons depicting human-on-unicorn chasing and copulating with red slashes thru them. Another said explicitly "EXTREME DANGER: NO VIRGINS!”
"You didn't tell me about the virgins," I said to him that evening after supper.
“Virgins,” he exhaled a mild disdain. “They don't have the limp."
"Be careful. If they fall in love, they will follow them anywhere. Off the farm, anywhere."
"There's an imperceptible limp we have. Virgins don't. They are usually mostly..."
He trailed off and stared toward the window filled with night. Losing himself in some loneliness I hadn't realized was so bad.
"More than a limp, they're dangerous. Any undue attention to this place is dangerous."
He acknowledged me over the shoulder, but didn't look up. The dishes provided ample distraction.
I finished my tea and stared into the bottom of the cup. There was still so much I would probably never know. Surprisingly, he continued.
"When they started coming, I fell in love with one of them. Maybe a few. Deflowered them only to have it backfire on me..."
This time, we made eye contact.
When he lifted the last flatware from the soapy water I was behind him. I wrapped my arms around and put my nose into the cloth over his back. Dust from the mountain mixed in with his own healthy musk.
Just then, I'm glad to be myself, in my own body with my own feelings. And not a virgin, whatever that was. Not scared, and not wanting to be anywhere else.
"Want to go for a ride?"
He motioned me down some steps thru a big wooden curved door I hadn't noticed until then.
The Jeep was massive. Diamonds helpless in its tire treads.
"Why haven't we been using this beast to get up to the terrace?!" I balked.
"This 'beast' takes a lot of energy. Besides I'm running out of biofuels. Trying to get it to take diamond dust and uni-leavings as propellent, but the agglutination efforts haven't been successful. Yet."
We are breaking off onto a trail I don't recognize. Down the east face of the mountain with its bracing pine-laced air. It is just about pitch, even with the indigo cast of the headlamps. A blanket of mist has risen thinly. I see shapes I can't make out until we are almost on top of them, and then they are huge and blinking lazily. We slow down amidst a line of massive radio dish towers. I gawked, speechless. Breathless.
"A repellent sound barrier. Virgins also have an auditory frequency we've lost. Plus some other weaknesses… these protect the entire mountain. Some make it through anyway..."
Sometimes the way he spoke made my hair stand on end. Even without his blue eyes bright and coming right at me, underlit by the Jeep's dash gages.
NIGHTS LATER IN BED I CONFESSED TO HIM: a mild telepathy from the animals has started to affect my dreams. I kept seeing the ghost of the unicorn that went over the waterfall.
He knew about this side-effect too, of course. He always knew the right time to admit a secret, even a dirty one. Since I'd arrived, nearly every evening meal included some revelation that kept me up well into the airy silence of the evening.
"I tried breeding Ponycorns, it was shameful," he sighed. "One came to term with no head. That's when I knew I had to stop."
A long pause. "I've had dreams about the waterfall, about gored virgins bleeding gold blood. When I look at the unicorns, I see beautiful creatures capable of so much violence. Which makes them just like us."
Again his eyes seared right through. Being here had been hard on him, and he was asking me to not be a part of the things that hurt.
THE NEXT DAY, I HAD BEEN CANNING PLUMS for unicorn bait when I realized it was taking him longer than usual to do a perimeter sweep of the fence on the far side of the radio dishes.
No sooner had I thought this than I stopped what I was doing at the sound of walkie receiver static. A barely lucid crackle of his panicked voice came thru again and turned my blood to ice.
The only answer to getting to him as quickly as possible was to take the Jeep.
The machine started under me and my guts leapt into my throat. I'd seen him do this precisely once. To muscle the gearstick into drive took more balls than I was sure I ever wanted to have.
Still, the blast of cool fresh air as I bounded away from the compound in this swollen bundle of metal, shocks, noise and urgency was a power hard to describe. I think I know how he felt, though — a hero in his own action film.
The mountain swarmed with smoke. One of the dishes had crashed into another and was licked high up by flames.
He was riding a unicorn, waving his shirt to keep the bizarre skinny hermaphroditic albino wave of grabby virgins at bay.
There were nearly twenty of them. Feral. With heads spinning around as if they were possessed.
It was like watching a painting of the eschaton come to life. A golden god smiting his zooted, screaming, powdered sugar worshipers while atop a steed rising as wild as the very upturned diamond mine upon which the whole tableau cavorted rampant.
"Take off your shirt!!" He screamed as I dismounted.
No clue what this meant, but I fast obliged. I ran toward him peeling my shirt up and away, in nothing now but a plum stained apron and shorts, and very old sneakers I'd borrowed from him.
When they saw my C cups, it was as if their eyes exploded. It all happened so fast, I would otherwise swear I saw blood.
He snatched me up onto the equine myth as the virgins twisted en masse, hollering away.
I had one of those unblinking moments where you're not sure how life managed to drop you here. He howled with laughter and triumph, and I was scared out of my wits with awe.
Clinging half-naked to half-naked, we tore about astride this massive animal that seemed to hover violently as it bucked and careened across the landscape that gave way to the sunset. Like a roller coaster gives way to the horizon only to plunge back into it, over and over.
I remember watching the long alabaster mane whipping and waving like a manic flag, and feeling myself smile...
I DON'T REALLY REMEMBER PASSING OUT AFTER VOMITTING, only to wake up in bed. He sat near the edge and looked at me while I swallowed the offered water. A towel around his shoulders and his wet hair. His hands still stained slightly with glitter and soot.
"Is the fire out?" I manage.
“Okay, so, is the spied ripe fruit of some mature female another queer garlic-to-vampire virgin weakness? You would only know this if another woman had been up here with you."
He smiled the smile of a modest angel. "No. I'm not the only unicorn rancher to have ever held down this compound…"
So much I would probably never know.
For many reasons and no reason particularly, I started crying. He grabbed my hand and squeezed.
"You saved my life!" he shouted in a whisper. "They would have caused a lot more damage than just a fire if you hadn't come. Listen, I haven't made it easy on you here. But I knew I would be doomed to not just die, but to stay the same if I didn't invite you. You saved my life in more ways than one."
ONLY A WEEK LATER, WE MADE A CELEBRATORY SUPPER to mark the end of the galactic migration period. Unicorns visited once every three years or so, in the time it would take them to shift around the universe.
After many nights, and alone under the full moon of the spring equinox, I climbed the talus near the backside of the compound to cull the pomegranates, turnips, and radishes. I went naked but for boots in the wee hours. Soon, diamond dust permeated my hair. Glints went off without shame, proud as galaxies in miniature, under the curve of my boot treads and the soft fur at my kneecaps.
I stood tall. The chill and the pink smell on the air were softly drifting over my goose-pimpled skin. I breathed and looked up to the moon. The mountainside an obsidian pyramid gleaming in the argent light. Looking back horizonward, I thought I could see gold flints of horns leading themselves up, over, away, beyond...
Suddenly, I wasn't sure I knew what to do without them. But it wouldn't be too hard to wait until their return.