A Short Short Story — The Unicorn

‘A Short Short Story’ gives you your daily dose of fiction in a thousand words or less.
 The Unicorn

…A man — a travelling salesman — journeying from one place to another, stops to rest at a third location: a place of no name, character, population, or significance. Suddenly, a unicorn crosses his path and disappears. This in itself is startling — but there are precedents for such mystical encounters; or, to be less extreme, a choice of persuasions to put it down to fancy, until– “My God!” says a second man. “I must be dreaming. I thought that I saw a unicorn!” At this point, a dimension is added which makes the experience as startling as it will ever be. A third witness, you understand, adds nothing further, only spreads it thinner, and a fourth thinner still, and so on, and on — until the experience itself is as thin and as insubstantial as reality; reality, the name that we give to the common experience: “My God, my God!” shouts the crowd. “A horse, with an arrow in his forehead! He must have been mistaken for a deer!” ….And that is the end of all of that. The unicorn or non-unicorn has long since fled into the underbrush. And so the crowd disperses, goes on its separate ways. And the man goes on his separate way as well.


And so, his journey over — or rather aborted — the man returns home. He was on a business trip, yet he never even made it to the second location, never made a sale. The rest-stop, the encounter with the “unicorn” has crossed his wires — frazzled his brains. He enters the doorway, brings in his suitcases, places his felt fedora neatly on the hat-rack, places his leather briefcase at a parallel angle to the entrance-way. He… loosens his tie, wipes at his forehead. “Daddy, daddy!” say his two sons (four years old and five years old), rushing up to him in the foyer. “You’re home early! Did you bring us back any presents?” “No, no…” he says with a grin. He smiles, leans down, and hugs them, and yet his grin cannot quite hide his own abstracted gaze. And his wife notices. For — and we do not mean to generalize about wives in general, but oh well, here we go — wives are very good at noticing such things. They are automatons of noticing; they cannot stop, even should they wish to.


“What’s wrong?” she says. “Nothing,” he says. “Unicorn.” “What?” “Nothing.” “What?” “Nothing.” His wife holds out her hands for her expected embrace; she receives it, but unthinkingly. His children hold out their hands for even more expected hugs (hiding their sadness at the lack of presents). They receive the hugs. His suitcases feel heavier than when he left — how is that possible, how? So. That is done. Dinner is being prepared on the stove. Now — what to do? Who is anyone? Who is his wife? Who is the unicorn? For if you can see a thing once and then still be unsure as to what it is, then who is anyone. And we all only see things once. For him, his wife is his wife; his children, his children. But if things can be seen differently by anyone, then what to do. He wipes at his forehead with a handkerchief. But what to do what to do what to do what to do? Thought Catalog Logo Mark

(…And by the way, part of the first paragraph of this story is from a play by Tom Stoppard, but was not looked up, was in fact written out from memory, so I hope that is not plagiarism, and if it is plagiarism, then I am sorry.)

About the author

Oliver Miller

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