Rancid and Running Short Story

Website i09’s weekly Concept Art Writing Prompt inspired me again last week, so below is my story and the artwork of a rabid unicorn that inspired it.

Rabid Unicorn

Rancid and Running

By Kris Bather

“I was once like you.”

“You.” Tristan gulped, and his back legs tentatively retreated. “You were never like me.”

The darkened unicorn snorted; the hot air causing a honey-like substance to droop from his nostrils and onto the jagged corpse open before him. “Maybe not. I was always more…curious.”

“We thought we lost you Ankhan. The herd was worried. We missed you. We still do.”

Ankhan looked at the gleaming creature before him. Once they were similar, yet now they could not be more different. His limp, malting mane, charcoal hide, and eyes, knees and teeth that barley functioned were in blunt contrast to Tristan’s gleaming, magnificent form. They resembled opposing pieces of a chessboard.

Ankhan blinked, and looked at his tasteless meal. Jealousy, self pity and regret became a maelstrom within him. He let out a sigh. “Yet none of you came searching.”

Tristan found confidence to deflect the accusation. “We couldn’t. You know that.”

“Or you’d become like me?” Ankhan smiled, or at least tried to, but with his loose jaw and jutting teeth it only enhanced the horror.

The pause between these two, once equal creatures perpetuated the chasm. Both knew where they were, and what had taken them there.

“Why did you do it? You had everything. I don’t understand.”

“Everything?” Ankhan’s back legs shifted and trembled, forcing him to sit under the shade of the gnarled tree. “Everything but freedom.”

“Were you in a cage? Were you mistreated? Did you lack anything?”

Ankhan barely lifted his head to meet Tristan’s eyes. He now realized the extent of the compassion he had willingly abandoned. Despite Ankhan’s cloudy vision, he could easily discern the sorrow in Tristan’s eyes. “I just wanted to know, Tristan. I wanted to know why we couldn’t come to the hill, why it was forbidden. I had to know if all the generations before us were liars.” He glanced around him at his new dead kingdom. Life was empty. The lack of sunlight kept a constant chill, there was no fruit, or streams or birds. Noise was at a minimum, and the only sustenance to be gained was from large, grotesque insects or from the likes of Ankhan’s current feast – other curious animals like him who ventured into the dark unknown, bound never to return.

“I wish you could come back. We still miss you. We still think about you.”

“Is that why you came here Tristan? To see if I was still alive? Or dead? You can tell the herd, I’m neither.”

A breeze, that bypassed the darkness of Ankhan’s new home, caused Tristan’s snowy tale to flutter. “I..I didn’t come looking for you Ankhan. I was bored of grazing in the same valley.”

Ankhan offered an angry snort. “Don’t get too bored back there, or you’ll end up like me.”

Tristan avoided meeting his glance and looked around himself. He spotted something on the ground, and held it with his mouth for Ankhan to see. An apple, filled with a juice and flavor Ankhan knew of only in memory now. Tristan noticed Ankhan’s hungry stare, and threw the apple up the hill to the dark unicorn’s feet. When it hit the ground, it rotted within seconds, and soon was nothing but ash.

Tristan kicked the dust in front of him in defiance. Ankhan wanted to laugh, but couldn’t quite remember how. “Don’t fret my friend. This is my life now.”

“And there’s nothing I can offer you?”

Ankhan’s limbs struggled to return his body to the upright state. “You can still be my friend. Can’t you Tristan?”

Tristan heard the distant stampede of his brothers and sisters returning from their morning visit to the lake. “Of course, Ankhan.” He turned to follow them, paused and looked back. Ankhan had the realization that he had never seen such nobility. “I shall see you tomorrow.” Tristan galloped down the hill to the warm air and verdant grass. Ankhan witnessed him for as long as his sight would allow, and then returned to digesting the sinewy meal, wondering how long it would be before his next.