Concept Art Writing Prompt: The Rabid Unicorn

Illustration for article titled Concept Art Writing Prompt: The Rabid Unicorn

We kick off our October writing prompts with a gruesome sight: a once-noble unicorn gone utterly rabid. What story can you spin about this sick and terrifying creature.

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"The Rabid Unicorn" is a piece by Minna Sundberg, whose gorgeous webcomic A Redtail's Dream we featured last week. As always, we invite you to come up with a story inspired by this image and post it in the comments.

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laurendavis
Lauren Davis

Marie had been tracking the unicorn for days, following the scent of rotting wood and death cap mushrooms until it was almost overpowering. Even the people in Ponce sensed it, she knew. They didn't know what it meant, but the loam filled their nostrils and shook their viscera with a fear they had long forgotten. They had been polite enough when it had come to lodging her in the morning, but they skimped on the morning toast and tea and hurried her out the door. Whatever she was hunting with her longbow and her boots nearly worn through at the soles, they wanted it dead, or at least chased farther afield.

She'd last caught up with him in the forests near Knob's Corner, too close to human civilization for comfort. She'd borrowed a pot and a ladle from a fishwife and beat them together, hoping the sound would drive him deeper into the woods. Instead, he'd rolled his bloodshot eyes toward her and charged. He'd gotten so close that she could see the bits of animal flesh stuck between the unicorn's brown and bloodied teeth before her mare found the sense to bolt in the opposite direction. Neither Marie nor her steed dared to slow down until they'd crossed two streams and she'd convinced herself that the only heavy breathing in her ear was her own.

She'd followed a trail of carcasses to Ponce. Most were small, rabbits and pheasants unlucky enough to cross the unicorn's path, but once Marie found a doe, half-eaten just off the main road until the unicorn found more interesting fare: a farmer and his flea-chewed jenny. Fortunately, it seemed the creature's sickness would pass only to another unicorn. While his victims were bones and shreds of entrail dragged across dragged across the mud, at least their deaths were swift. Marie touched her fingers to a bloody patch of dirt and inhaled the smell of walking decay.

She finally spotted the unicorn a day's ride from Ponce. A fox lay speared upon its horn, and the unicorn was snapping at its limp body. The sickness had worn away any sense in the creature's brain. The carcass would probably remain there until it slid off on its own. While the unicorn was distracted, Marie quietly slid an arrow from her quiver and readied her bow. She breathed and counted the arrows in the unicorn's hide. There was the one in his left flank from the time she'd caught up with him in an apple orchard and he'd turned and fled at the last second. There was one in his neck, a desperate shot to distract him from a child who had stumbled into his path. And there was the first one, the symbol of her wavering hand, now nothing more than a broken shaft six inches to the right of his heart.

If this were a different story, Marie would have spotted an arrow among all of her failures that she did not recognize, perhaps fletched with bright blue feathers, two inches closer to the killing bullseye. A second rider, a handsome hunter would burst from the trees and together they would take down the unicorn once and for all.

Something did emerge from the trees, but it was not a human rider. It was another unicorn, coat shimmering silver with health. It took a tentative step toward the sick unicorn, violets unfurling from each hoof print. Humans could detect the sickness, could feel the wrongness of it. But unicorns could not; that was how the sickness spread.

Marie pulled back on her arrow and froze. She had two choices: she could try to frighten the health unicorn off and miss a chance at killing the sick one, or she could try to kill the sick unicorn and risk seeing the other infected.

She held her breath and let the arrow fly. It whistled through the air for mere moments before grazing the healthy unicorn's cheek. The beast raised its silver head and screamed an angry whinny at Marie before vanishing back between the trees. The sick unicorn gave chase, but Marie knew it would be no match for its healthier cousin. She sighed. She'd have to begin her hunt for the sick creature again. But at least she hadn't failed another unicorn.

As the sick unicorn sped into the forest, his bones creaking and tendons snapping from wear, Marie spotted a wooden, heart-shaped tag swinging from his neck. It was caked with mud and slime, but Marie knew all too well what the tag said. She had put it there herself.

Singed into the wood in a young girl's tentative scrawl, it read, "Bijoux."