Monday, April 25, 2011
That Little Extra Magic
“I’m telling you, I saw a unicorn.”
Merry kept her professional smile on, while inside her mind blasted Dash. “I assure you, Mrs. Houck, there are no such things as unicorns, not even in backwoods Montana. You probably saw an elk, or maybe a mule deer. At long distances it’s easy for the eye to play tricks.”
“I saw it too. I got it on camera.” Mrs. Houck’s pimply son Harold thrust his cell phone into her face. “It really was a unicorn. Look.”
Merry watched the video, having little choice. There were the usual shaky vistas of the mountains, Harold’s attempts to bring a soaring eagle into focus, and then –
Mrs. Houck was right; even with Harold’s dubious photography, you couldn’t mistake that for a mule deer. Clearly equine, the dark creature galloped effortlessly across a mountain meadow. The sunlight glinted off a bright, silvery spike thrusting out of its forehead.
“Well,” she said finally, “you’ve got me. That certainly does look like a unicorn, doesn’t it?”
Hang it all, Dash, we talked about this.
“It’s why we picked your dude ranch,” Harold said. “Everybody told us about the unicorn sightings. And here it is! It’s real! What do you think it is, a mutant horse or something?”
“I’m not sure what it is. Maybe it’s a myth.” She winked.
“Yeah, well, this myth is going right onto YouTube the minute we get back to the ranch. If this is fake, it’s the best darn fake I’ve ever seen.”
YouTube. Dear Lord.
Merry set a brisk pace back to the ranch. She’d guided her guests into the woods on a nature hike this morning, to show them the breathtaking vistas visible from the ridge above the ranch. Everything had been going so well. Then Dash had to go and pull this stupid stunt again, after he’d promised her and all.
Leaving her guests to the staff, Merry went straight for the corral. The solitary horse within stood dozing, head low, tail twitching idly at flies, the picture of innocence. Merry spotted the dried sweat on his hide, his slapdash efforts at cleaning himself off. The son of a spavined mare.
“Dash,” she snapped. “Get over here.”
The horse raised his head, peered at her and finally ambled over. He nibbled affectionately at her hair. Merry slapped his muzzle away. “Don’t play games with me. We had a really nice nature hike going this morning, until the folks spotted a unicorn. Again. Didn’t I tell you to quit it?”
The horse blinked big liquid eyes at her. Who, me?
Merry sighed. “Where is it? Never mind. I’ll find it myself.” She headed for the barn.
The horse whinnied in alarm. As she entered the barn she heard the creak of the corral gate. She’d have to work fast.
She found what she feared in a saddlebag draped over a stall door in the back. Up close, it looked a lot less imposing: the cardboard innards from a roll of paper towels, trimmed to a point and wrapped in tin foil to catch the sun. An elastic band had been threaded through the bottom like the strap on a party hat.
“Hang it all, Dash,” she muttered.
“It’s good for business,” he said from behind her. “I don’t see the harm.”
“Harm?” She whirled on him. “Those two nimrods the other month had rifles. Looking to bag them a ‘unicorn.’ They could have killed you, Dash!”
He shrugged carelessly. “They never got that close.”
She glared at him. In his human form he was strikingly handsome, in a mustang-rugged sort of way. He sported a broad chest and fine, strong legs in both his bodies. Merry fought to avert her eyes from his naked body. In either form, Dash was hung like a horse.
“It’s good for business,” he repeated. “People want to believe in romance and magic. It’s why they come to a dude ranch. Why not give ‘em something extra? Lure ‘em in with a miracle. It’s working, ain't it? Or would you rather lose the ranch?”
Merry darted toward him and threw her arms around his neck. He smelled of wild horse and sunlight and high mountain meadows. “Hang the ranch. I don’t want to lose you. If you got caught or killed, I don’t know what I’d do.”
“I won’t get caught. I’m good at this. I been doing it a while.”
“You been caught today already. Some kid took a video. He’s going to post it on the web.”
Dash brightened. “There, y’see? Free publicity. Best advertising you could get. Bookings will skyrocket.”
“Quit laughing, Dash. It isn’t funny. You could get hurt doing this.” She brushed his mane away from his eyes. “The ranch isn’t worth it. I’m not worth it.”
“Don’t you ever say that. This is my range too. I’ll do what I have to, to keep it for us.” He emphasized the “us.”
Merry couldn’t help but smile. After seven months she was only now coming to realize what it meant to be claimed by a werestallion. With a touch of mule in him, most like. Well, she could be muley too. “I think the unicorn should disappear for a while. Let the legend grow.”
He huffed out a breath. “Always want to ruin my fun,” he grumbled. “Not even a glimpse? These folks paid good money to maybe catch a peek of a real live unicorn. Give the people what they want.”
“Maybe a glimpse,” she relented. She made a face at the home-made horn she still held. “We need to get you something better. This thing won’t stand up to close inspection.”
“They never get close to me. That’s the point.”
“Let’s keep it that way. You going to be a hand for the rest of the day, or you going back to horse?”
“I think I’ll stay man a while. This being upright just reminded me what I can do with my hands.” He demonstrated, running his hard-as-hoof hands over her body. “Want to take a ride on the unicorn, little lady?”
She couldn’t stop her giggle. His hands weren’t the only thing hard about him, nor was the fake in her hand his only horn. “I should get back to work.”
“It’ll keep. I spent the morning mucking out stalls. Might as well put all that fresh straw to good use.” He guided her into a roomy box stall and shut the door behind them.
Posted by Pat C.