Flight of Fancy — New Short Story

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Flight of Fancy

Catherine Mesick

Sara smiled to herself as she stepped out of the house.

The morning was bright and clear and warm, and though it was early September, fall felt a long way off.

This morning it felt like summer would last forever.

She stooped down to double knot her sneakers, and as she did so, she happened to glance at the local paper, which was lying on the step.

The front page of the Daily Brew showed a picture of a little girl who looked just a bit like Sara had at the same age. She had curly dark hair and dark eyes and a big smile on her face, and even though the photo was in black and white, Sara could see a bright sparkle in the girl’s eyes.

According to the caption, her name was Melissa Miller, and she was eight years old.

And she had just seen a unicorn.

As the article below the picture detailed, Melissa was not alone—numerous other children also claimed to have seen a unicorn. And if the accounts could be believed, they’d all seen the same one—slender and stately with a shimmering white body and mane and silver hooves.

Not to mention the spiraling silver horn that rose from its noble head.

The author of the article took a gently amused tone when describing the children and their stories, and Sara found herself smiling, too.

But even as she smiled, Sara felt a distant tugging at the back of her mind, like an old memory.

She saw a sunlit meadow, a riot of flowers, and a shining white figure—a horse with a horn—standing in a silvery haze.

Sara pushed the image away. It felt like a memory, but it wasn’t one. It was—as her mother would have said—a flight of fancy. She’d had them ever since she was a child, and as she’d reached her twenties, they’d become less and less frequent.

But apparently they still weren’t gone.

Sara sighed to herself. She knew that the false memories—like the sightings of the unicorn by the children—were just figments of their respective imaginations.

She knew very well that the images in her mind weren’t real.

But she thought that it would have been nice if they were.

Sara knew there was no point in wishing—fantasies belonged in fantasy land.

She paused for a minute to put the paper in the house.

Then she went out on her run.

Sara jogged along a path that wound through leafy trees, and she passed by a tiny, trickling creek. The path was popular with joggers and cyclists alike, but this early in the morning, there was no one out on the path but her.

She continued on, enjoying the beautiful weather and the equally beautiful scenery, and then she passed into a tunnel that ran underneath a busy road.

Sara ran just a little bit faster—her favorite spot was on the other side of the tunnel, and for some reason on this particular morning, she couldn’t wait to see it.

It was, in fact, the same spot where many of the children had seen their unicorn.

As she ran through the tunnel, however, she thought she saw someone following her. There was a side entrance to the tunnel that came in from a nearby park, and people sometimes used that entrance to join the path Sara was already on.

She glanced behind her, but no one was there.

There would have been nothing wrong with it if someone had been behind her—plenty of people joined the trail that way without nefarious intent. But she still felt as if someone was watching her, and she turned around again.

The tunnel had quite a few large, concrete columns that supported the heavy roof overhead, and Sara thought for just a moment that she’d seen a sudden movement near one of them.

But no one stepped out from behind the column, and Sara stood for several long moments staring at it.

Then she moved on.

Soon she broke free of the tunnel, and she plunged into a little wooded area.

Up ahead was the best part of all.

She ran through the trees for a little while, and then the trees gave way to a broad meadow.

The meadow was lush and green, and wild flowers of all kinds grew as far as the eye could see.

It was in just such a meadow that Sara had seen her imaginary unicorn. And it was in this very place where she now stood that a number of the children had seen their own unicorn, too.

She paused for just a moment to take in the lovely view.

There might not have been any magic in the meadow—but it had a charm all its own.

As Sara gazed over the broad, flower-dotted expanse, she thought she spied something white and shimmering off in the distance.

She squinted at it—it looked very much like a horse.

There was a sudden rustle behind her, and a man emerged from the trees. He was dressed in jeans and a T-shirt, which really weren’t ideal for jogging, and he was clutching a camera—not a phone—but an actual camera.

“So you’re the one behind this,” he said.

He raised his camera and snapped a picture of her.

“Behind what?” Sara said.

“Behind the unicorn hoax.”

He snapped another picture.

“Stop that!” Sara’s hands flew to her hair. “Don’t take pictures of me! My hair gets frizzy when I run.”

“Don’t worry,” the man said. “You look beautiful. And the curly hair just makes you look more goddessy.”

“Goddessy?” Sara said. She stared at the man before her, incredulous.

He had light brown hair and gray eyes that seemed as if they could see right through everything.

And he wasn’t bad-looking, either.

Still, Sara couldn’t quite tell if he was making fun of her or not—the steely, intent look on his face blotted out all potential signs of humor.

But his face did say one thing very clearly.

He thought he’d caught her at something.

The man snapped another picture.

“Look—who are you?” Sara asked.

“My card.”

The man took out his wallet and extracted a small, cream-colored business card.

Sara looked it over.

“Greg Chapman,” she read aloud. “Award-winning, international journalist.”

She looked up at him. “And you work for the Daily Brew?”

She let the words hang in the air.

“It’s a better paper than people realize,” Greg said quickly. “And anyway, I’ve just caught you.”

“Caught me at what?”

“Doing that.” Greg pointed behind her. “How does it work? Do you glue the horn on somehow?”

Sara turned. The horse-like shape that she had glimpsed earlier was coming toward her.

She could see now that it was undoubtedly a horse.

And there was a spiraling silver horn rising out of its forehead.

“But that’s a unicorn,” Sara said, startled.

“Yes—that’s what you’d like us to think, isn’t it?” Greg said. “Now I need to get a few facts. What is your name?”

“Sara,” she murmured. “Sara Segal.”

The horse with the horn continued to move toward her.

A wondrous sense of peace and happiness radiated off the creature, and its silvery hooves barely made a sound as they trod the grass. Its silky white mane seemed to float in the air as if carried by a soft, unseen breeze, and its large dark eyes were full of mildness and kindness.

But most amazing of all was that horn.

It really was a unicorn.

Sara was having trouble wrapping her mind around that.

A memory stirred—she saw the old meadow once again, heard silvery laughter.

But Sara shook her head. This was no time for a flight of fancy.

Not when there was one right in front of her.

Greg was just raising his camera to take a picture of the magnificent creature when a white mist began to rise up around them.

As the mist grew thicker, the unicorn suddenly bolted.

Then Sara disappeared.

When she reappeared, she was standing in a different place.

It was now night. She was standing in a dark meadow—though whether it was the same meadow she had just left, she couldn’t have said.

There was a ring of tiny lights around her in the grass—red, blue, and green, and standing next to her was Greg.

He looked very startled.

Sara heard the rustle of soft cloth behind her, and she turned.

A woman in a gold-colored gown was walking toward her.

The woman had long golden hair and pink rosebud lips. She wore a rose-colored jewel around her neck that shone as brightly as the lights in the grass, and her face was so radiantly beautiful that it, too, seemed to shine.

Beside her walked two children—a girl and a boy with tight, coal-black curls and cherubic faces.

The mist that had surrounded Sara and Greg was gone.

And Greg continued to look more and more startled each minute.

The golden-haired woman and the two children reached the new arrivals, and all three of them bowed.

Then the golden-haired woman straightened and fixed Sara with her brilliant blue eyes.

“Welcome to our meadow, my princess. I am Queen Rina, and my attendants are Princess Xia and Prince Storm.”

Uncertain what to do, Sara bowed also.

“Thank you—your majesty. How did we get here?”

The curly-haired children covered their mouths and giggled.

The silvery sound seemed very familiar to Sara, and she frowned as a memory tugged on her mind.

“Why, the mist brought you, my princess,” the queen replied. “That is how we always travel between realms.”

“And why are we here?” Sara asked. She hoped the question sounded polite—she wasn’t sure what the protocol was when talking to a queen.

This time there was no laughter.

The queen’s lovely eyes grew sad, and the two children bowed their heads.

“For many moons,” Queen Rina said, “a unicorn has graced our meadow. But lately she has gone missing.”

“Missing?” Sara said. “But she’s right here.”

She glanced around.

The unicorn was no longer with them.

“Oh,” Sara said. “She was right here—she was walking up to us.”

She glanced at Greg for confirmation, but he just gave her a bewildered look.

Sara turned back to the queen.

“Why didn’t you bring her along with us?”

“Alas, we cannot,” the queen replied. “The unicorn has powerful intrinsic magic, and if she doesn’t wish to go, then she will not. She can shrug off any spell she wishes.”

“Oh,” Sara said. She wasn’t sure how to frame her next question. “So then she’s avoiding you?”

The silvery laughter returned.

“No,” Queen Rina said. “It’s nothing like that. She’s looking for something, and she won’t return until she finds it.”

“Do you have any idea what she’s looking for?”

Queen Rina fixed Sara with a piercing stare. “None whatsoever. We were rather hoping you could tell us.”

“Me?” Sara said, startled.

She looked over at Greg, who was now staring up at the sky with his mouth open.

Sara turned back to the queen.

“How could I possibly know?”

“You’ve met before.”

“We have?”

“Yes. You and our unicorn are old friends. She visited you several times when you were a child.”

Sara drew in breath to deny it, but she suddenly stopped.

A memory tugged at her mind again—the same one as before.

It was the memory of the meadow—and the unicorn.

“I had sort of a dream once,” Sara said slowly.

“It wasn’t a dream.”

“What do you mean?”

“It really happened,” the queen said. “The unicorn chose to show herself to you. Amongst my people, that makes you royalty.”

Her eyes shifted to Greg.

“And he must be your prince.”

Sara glanced over at Greg, who was now staring open-mouthed at the queen.

“Who? Greg? He’s no prince—he’s a reporter.”

The queen frowned just a little.

“He looks like a prince. But perhaps he has forgotten his crown.”

“I’m sorry—your majesty,” Sara said, still uncertain how to address the queen. “But you seem to have made a mistake. I don’t think we can help you.”

“But of course you can. The unicorn chose you. She has shown herself to you, and now only you can help her.”

“Forgive me for disagreeing,” Sara said, selecting her words carefully again, “but what about all the children that have seen her recently? We can’t all have been chosen to help her.”

“No indeed,” the queen said. “When children see the unicorn, it is a great benediction—as I said, they become royalty. But when a grown human such as yourself sees one, it means she has chosen you for a quest.”

“A quest?”

“Yes. You must help her find what she is looking for. And now farewell, my princess. Your quest has begun.”

“Wait!” Sara cried. “Who are you exactly? What are you queen of?”

But the mist was already rising around Sara and Greg, and the next thing she knew, she disappeared.

When she came to herself again, Sara felt as if no time had passed. She was lying somewhere soft and warm, and she heard someone murmuring.

She realized she was the one doing the murmuring, and she sat up quickly.

“Wait!” she cried again. “What are you queen of?”

“Queen?” said a nearby voice. “Sara, are you okay?”

Sara looked around quickly.

The queen, the children, and the meadow had all vanished.

She was sitting in a hospital bed, and her best friend, Janelle, was sitting nearby.

It was Janelle who had spoken, and her large, dark eyes were full of concern.

“Sara, are you okay?” she repeated.

“Yes, I’m fine. How did I get here?”

“You were found in a meadow near a bike trail, and there was a—”

“Greg!” Sara said suddenly.

“A man lying nearby, also unconscious.” Janelle frowned. “What were you doing out there?”

“Well, there was this mist—and a unicorn. And the mist took us to see a queen. I think she may have been queen of the fairies.”

“Queen of the fairies?” Janelle looked doubtful.

“Yes—and she wanted me to go on a quest. Or was it both of us?”

Sara looked around.

“Where’s Greg?”

“The guy you were found with?”

“Yes.”

“Well, they’d hardly put him in the same hospital room with you,” Janelle said. “I imagine he’s got his own room somewhere else.”

Sara started to get out of bed.

“I’ve got to find him.”

Janelle rushed to her friend’s side.

“Whoa. You should get back in bed. You’ve only just woken up.” She paused. “Who is this guy anyway?”

“Greg? I have no idea. I think he’s a reporter.”

“You don’t know who he is?”

“No.”

“Then what were you doing out in a meadow with him?”

“I think he was following me.”

Janelle looked concerned. “He was following you?”

“Yes.”

“And you want to find him?”

“Yes.”

“Why?”

Sara sighed softly to herself. As she looked around her surroundings, doubt was rushing in. The white sheets, the smell of cleaner, the murmur of voices in the hall—everything seemed so normal that she was finding it harder and harder to believe in the little scene in the meadow.

Maybe she’d just been having another flight of fancy.

But a little sliver of hope still remained—the slenderest thread.

“I’ve got to find Greg,” she said. “If he remembers it—”

She let the words hang in the air.

She started to get out of bed again.

“Just wait a minute,” Janelle said. “Sit back, and I’ll go find the doctor. Let somebody take a look at you before you go running off.”

Sara grumbled a little, but she got back into bed and waited while her friend hurried off.

Janelle soon returned with a white-coated physician, and after an examination and a few tests, Sara was free to go.

The first thing she did was head straight down the hall, looking for the nurses’ station.

“Hey, wait,” Janelle said. “Where are you going?”

“I’m going to find Greg!”

Sara heard Janelle muttering to herself, but she kept going.

She did soon find the nurses’ station and inquired after Greg Chapman.

He had already been discharged.

“Come on,” Janelle said. “I’ll take you home.”

“But—”

“You can look for your friend from the meadow later.”

“But I don’t know where to find him,” Sara said.

“Maybe that’s for the best,” Janelle replied.

It was Saturday, so Sara had the entire day to rest and recuperate from the “incident” as Janelle called it. Her friend stayed with her for a little while, and Sara received quite a few texts and phone calls from people Janelle had called from the hospital.

She even got a call from her mother, who was concerned that she’d had another “episode.”

But though Sara tried to push her flight of fancy away, it stayed with her, and she became convinced that it had really happened.

That night she dreamed of unicorns.

In the morning, Sara was more sure than ever that it had all really happened.

She found Greg’s business card in the little zip-up purse that was attached to her key ring, and she stared down at his name and address. There was a phone number, too, but Sara thought it might be better to talk to him in person—she wasn’t sure how he was going to react to what she had to say.

For Sara had decided that she was going to take up the unicorn’s quest.

And Greg, she felt, was part of that quest.

So that was why Monday morning found her driving up to the offices of the Daily Brew.

She’d passed the rest of the weekend impatiently, waiting for the opportunity to see Greg, but now that the moment was here, Sara was nervous.

It was early—dawn hadn’t yet lit up the sky—but Sara figured that newspaper people started work early.

Or at least she hoped they did.

The Daily Brew was housed in a long building, all one level, and Sara was a little surprised at the size—she wouldn’t have thought they’d have the circulation to support a large staff.

But then again, she figured maybe they had a printing press onsite—if newspapers still used those—or maybe they had warehouses or storage space in there.

Whatever the building harbored, Sara paused as she went up to the glass doors at the entrance. She wondered if access to the building was controlled, and she looked around for a key reader. But there was no little panel by the doors, so she pushed on them, and they opened easily.

Sara went inside.

There was a reception desk, but no one was there this early.

So Sara kept going.

She found herself walking into a large open space, and she was immediately hit by the strong scent of coffee. A counter nearby boasted no less than six coffee pots, all busy percolating.

It seemed that the Daily Brew lived up to its name.

Sara kept going.

There were desks everywhere in varying stages of disorder, but most of these, like the reception desk, were empty.

A few were occupied, however, and Sara soon spotted a familiar face.

His light brown hair was rumpled, as if he’d been running his fingers through it, and his gray eyes were focused intently on the screen in front of him.

There was no mistaking the look of determination on his face—Sara remembered it well.

She had found Greg.

She walked over to his desk and came to stand in front of him.

He looked up at her.

For just a moment, he looked puzzled.

Then his face transformed.

He stared at Sara in wonder.

“You’re real.”

Greg’s voice was barely a whisper.

Then it became a shout.

“You’re real!”

He stood up and hurried around his desk.

He reached out his hands toward her, and Sara took a step back.

“Whoa, Greg!” she said. “What are you doing?”

He stopped abruptly. “Sorry. I just wanted to make sure you were real. I thought you were a vision.”

“A vision?”

“Yes.” Greg’s eyes roamed over Sara’s face. “You were so—”

He stopped. “But never mind. You called me Greg. How did you know my name?”

Sara had brought his business card with her, and she held it out to him.

“So I really did give that to you.” He looked up at her. “And your name is Sara?”

“Yes.”

Greg sat down on the edge of his desk. “Wow.”

He looked really stunned, and he continued to stare at Sara.

“Don’t you have the photos you took?” she said. “You took enough of them.”

Greg glanced behind him—the camera he’d used was sitting amongst the clutter on his desk.

“No—there were no pictures. Nothing at all. Just a white haze.”

“But you do remember, don’t you?” Sara said.

Greg laughed a little and looked away.

“I don’t know what I remember. But I do remember you.”

He looked at Sara again, and it seemed to her that he was very different from the way he’d been back in the meadow. He wasn’t nearly so sarcastic or accusing.

“Do you remember why you were there?” Sara asked.

“I, uh—yeah.” Greg laughed a little again. “I was there trying to figure out who’s behind this unicorn hoax.”

He glanced at her sharply. “Why were you there?”

“What if I told you it wasn’t a hoax?”

Greg ran a hand over his hair, rumpling it further still.

“I would have to disagree with you,” he said. “Politely, of course.”

“Politely?” Sara said. “You certainly weren’t polite when you jumped out at me with your camera.”

Greg went just a little red. “I can get very—intense—when I’m pursing a story.”

“Come with me,” Sara said suddenly—she surprised even herself.

“What?” Greg said.

“Come with me and we’ll look for the unicorn together.”

Greg glanced around. “There aren’t many people here, but maybe you shouldn’t say that so loud.”

Sara’s face lit up with an impish smile. “Does that mean you’re afraid to come with me?”

“No—it’s just—” Greg paused. “Don’t you have to go to work or something?”

“I do. But not just yet. We have plenty of time to head over to the meadow and take a look around.”

Greg sighed and pushed away from his desk.

“All right.” He grabbed his camera. “You know, I have a terrible feeling that I would go with you anywhere.”

Sara and Greg walked out of the office, and they got into Sara’s car.

They drove off.

“So we’re going over to the meadow where we first met?” Greg said.

Sara smiled. “What a lovely way to put it.”

“And you really think we’re going to find a real, live unicorn?”

“Yes.”

Greg glanced out the window. “I thought of looking for you back at the hospital.”

“But you didn’t?”

“No.”

“Why not?”

“I thought you couldn’t possibly be real. I thought I dreamed you up.”

“I looked for you,” Sara said.

Greg turned to look at her. “You did?”

“Yes.”

“Why?”

“I believe we’re meant to find this unicorn together.”

Greg sighed. “You say that so matter-of-factly. What makes you so sure?”

“I’ve been told all my life that I’ve been dreaming things up,” Sara said. “But this time I know I’m not. This time I know it’s real.”

She expected Greg to laugh at that, but instead he just looked thoughtful.

He was quiet on the rest of the ride.

Soon they reached the little side path that led into Sara’s usual trail, and she parked the car.

The two of them got out and walked through the tunnel.

Sara glanced around at the pillars that supported the roof.

“The last time I was here,” she said, “I thought someone was following me. That was you, wasn’t it?”

Greg, who still seemed pensive, looked up, embarrassed.

“What? Oh, yeah. That was me. I’m really sorry about that. I realize now that I was acting like a stalker.”

“That’s okay,” Sara said. “You were just doing your job—or what you thought was your job.”

She frowned. “Though you did seem a bit zealous about it. Why were you so determined to disprove the stories of a few little kids?”

Greg was silent for a time.

“Did you say you’d seen a unicorn as a child?” he said at last.

“Yes,” said Sara promptly. “Or at least it’s true that I saw a unicorn when I was a kid. But I don’t know if I said that or if it was the queen who brought it up.”

They had reached the meadow, and Sara stopped and looked out over it.

It was still early morning, and a delicate white mist was lying over the wide, grassy expanse of the meadow.

Sara thought it looked more magical than ever.

She glanced over at Greg, and from the look on his face, she could tell that he felt the magic just as she did.

“Why do you ask?”

Greg frowned. “It’s just that—”

“Yes?”

“I’m starting to remember something. Something I had thought I’d only imagined. I remember the queen a little. And I remember—”

Sara waited patiently.

“I remember that I saw a unicorn as a child, too,” Greg concluded. “I was told I only imagined it—that it wasn’t real.”

He turned to Sara. “I think that’s why I was so determined to prove that those other children hadn’t seen one. I was treating them just as other adults had treated me. I wanted to convince them that there really was no magic.”

“The queen did say that you were a prince,” Sara murmured. “And that you had lost your crown.”

“And those who see a unicorn as a child are royalty,” Greg murmured back. “At least among the queen and her people.”

He smiled suddenly. “You know, I’m really glad I met you. You’ve given me back something I thought I had lost.”

“I’m glad we met, too.”

Sara reached out and took his hand.

They stood for a moment, gazing at one another in the early morning mist.

Then there was a sound of soft footfalls, and the two of them turned together.

The unicorn was walking toward them out of the mist, her body shining and silver pale.

She came to a stop just beside them and regarded them with her mild, dark eyes.

A sense of peace radiated off her, and Sara reached out a hand to stroke her noble neck.

Soon Greg did the same.

“This is what she was looking for,” Sara said softly.

“What?”

“Us.”

They smiled at each other.

The light mist around them suddenly grew thicker, and then Queen Rina and her two child attendants, Princess Xia and Prince Storm, stepped out of it.

The queen approached the unicorn hesitantly.

When the unicorn didn’t run away, the queen became bolder and walked right up to her.

After a moment she, too, placed a slim hand on the unicorn’s neck.

“Thank you,” she breathed, her lovely eyes shining. “Thank you for finding our unicorn.”

The children giggled and ran over to the magnificent creature. They threw their arms around her neck and stroked her shining mane.

In a twinkling, all three of them were on the unicorn’s back, and the unicorn turned toward the heavy, swirling mist.

She galloped into it, and in an instant, all four of them were gone.

The heavy mist disappeared along with them.

Sara and Greg were left standing in the meadow with its now-delicate mist blanketing the grass like the traces of a dream.

The two of them looked around, stunned.

Then they turned to each other.

“What do you say, Princess Sara?” Greg said. “Would your highness care for some breakfast?”

Sara laughed, and hand in hand they went to her car.

******************

© 2019 by Catherine Mesick

Image by Ria Cocoparisienne/Pixabay

******************

Thanks very much for reading!

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