‘Hunting Unicorns’, Jo Thomas

Illustrations © 2013 Lisa Grabenstetter



 [ Wardens, © 2013 Lisa Grabenstetter ] “One of us needs to get married,” said Callum.

“One of us?”

I looked around my round house. Who would want to live here? The only signs of modern life were Callum’s and even they were out of date. Parish wardens don’t get paid enough to have the latest things.

“We can’t both marry her, Sioni.”

“Her?”

“I’m not attracted to men,” he said.

“And I’m attracted to women, am I?”

I put aside the clay bowl, crushed herbs soaked and clinging to the bottom, and stood up.

“Oh, come on,” Callum said, “It’s not like you care about sex most of the time, anyway.”

I picked up the yew bow and quiver from beside the doorway and pushed aside the leathers that held out winter. There wasn’t even a faint buzz of spring in my blood. My appetites were so low I couldn’t stomach having Callum on the same side of the fire, let alone touching. No wonder he was thinking about bringing another woman into my house.

“We’re not getting any younger,” he said, picking up the battered PDA, the rifle that should be retired and a plastic bottle of water. “Don’t you want kids?”

I didn’t say it but the answer was “no”. Otherwise I wouldn’t drink my herbs every morning.

At the oak that marked the strongest encroachment of the Otherworld, we started the day-long circuit that marked the Parish bounds. I could feel the Otherworld through the boundary, a warm tingle like spring, summer and autumn all at the same time. On the other side, the sap rose, had risen, had spent and fallen again.

I watched Callum, watched his heart pound so the pulse at his neck jumped visibly as he keyed in the measurements I worked out, watched his body respond to the rising sap, but that was where the shared experience ended. The Otherworld brought only spring to Callum and the other wardens I’d known. I could take it or leave it.

One day, I told myself as I did every day, I would be brave enough to step through, to go home. Why else could I feel summer and autumn as well as spring if I wasn’t supposed to be on the other side of the boundary? Fear always stopped me.

We stopped where we started, Callum almost panting and me ready to indulge the pleasant buzz. I could feel the heat from him, the nearest warm body. We were both lucky to have working partners we could indulge the side-effects of the parish warden work with. It was a shame he was so damned unlike-able.

“Sioni,” he husked.

He stepped unsteadily away from the boundary, white knuckles gripping the PDA. Those two steps was still within my sensing range of the Otherworld and the tingle remained.

“Sioni … ?”

Feeling playful, I swept his legs out from under him as I dropped the bow and quiver to one side. He landed badly.

“Oof! What the hell did you do that f—”

But I didn’t let him finish his complaint. I was too busy pulling down his jeans, tugging, pulling, getting things how I wanted them. He groaned and shifted and grabbed back holding on to my hips as I rode out the buzz.

I gasped and collapsed over Callum as he grunted away his last bit of energy. As usual, his eyes were closed, thinking of someone with more curves, and I just stared straight ahead.

We weren’t a proper couple. We were colleagues who happened to live together and abused each other’s bodies with the side effects of work. I never stopped him going out and sleeping with other women. Technically, I was the other woman.

“We’re not looking for your Miss Right,” I said as my breath returned.

“Our Miss Right.”

“I very much doubt it.”

I dismounted.

“I bet your list of criteria is a mile long.”

“So we’re asking a lot. She’s got to fit in with our lives,” said Callum.

“And service you at night because I have no libido, and keep house for you.”

Once a day apparently wasn’t enough, nor the promise of a voracious appetite in true spring.

“For us,” Callum said.

I snorted. Then I searched for something Nature could provide to clean myself with. I settled for a handful of very cold snow and tried not to wince. To make myself feel better, I grabbed more and dropped it on Callum’s crotch.

“Bitch!” he snarled, patting the snow off.

“It’s not fair to anyone. If you want a woman to keep you so badly, move out of my house and get one.”

His answer was a measured, “Be logical. Your hut’s the best place to work from.”

So he’d been thinking about it a while. Long enough to decide that life was best for him where he was.

“Better still, just move out anyway,” I said.

“Look, I know it’s going to be about as difficult as looking for a unicorn,” he said.

Another snort. “Try rocking horse shit. I’m quite prepared to believe any mythical beast exists.”

Callum looked towards the Otherworld boundary and crossed himself. How would he feel if I told him I thought I came from the other side?

“Miss Right, on the other hand, is not a mythical beast,” I said. “She just doesn’t exist.”


“Three white wines,” said the bar staff, a woman, “Chilled.”

“Thank you,” Kluai Mai said as her glass was placed before her.

“Thank you,” Thaksin echoed. Her long, slender, black fingers touched the stem of her glass and slid it closer.

Teddy stuttered, his “thank you” choked by his shyness.

“That will be all,” Kluai Mai added.

The bar staff would have retreated but Thaksin touched her arm gently with folded fan.

“Excuse me?”

The sweet, gentle whisper sent a shiver through Kluai Mai. Thaksin rarely spoke but when she did it was more erotic than any touch. Well, any touch but hers.

“Yes?” the bar staff replied.

“The two who just entered … ?” Thaksin probed.

The bar staff waited after the pause, too ignorant to realise the question was complete, the rest of the words implied.

“Who are they?” asked Kluai Mai.

The greying one fit in perfectly here but the honey-brown one would look odd just about anywhere, with the combination of leathers and fur cloak to keep out the winter.

“The parish wardens,” was the answer. “I’ll be behind the bar if you need anything else.”

“Thank you,” said Kluai Mai, and she sipped from her glass.

“Thank you,” echoed Thaksin again.

Teddy said nothing.

“It would be easier if you learnt to talk to women,” said Kluai Mai. “If only to tell them you’re not interested.”

“It’s not all about sex,” he protested.

Kluai Mai put down her glass and slid one finger-tip up the stem and through the condensation forming on the side.

“Of course not,” she said and she smiled as she held out the now damp finger-tip.

Teddy looked away as Thaksin unfolded her fan, putting it between Teddy’s view and Kluai Mai’s hand, and bit the damp finger-tip. The red flush was most amusing.

“I have no interest in sex, Kluai Mai, and I wish you’d stop performing in front of me. It’s embarrassing.”

“Why?” Kluai Mai asked and Thaksin chuckled. “It’s fun.”

“I thought you were… you know,” hissed Teddy.

“Oh, I am,” said Kluai Mai. “There are plenty of things to get up to without penetration you know.”

“And that makes a difference?”

Kluai Mai leant forward. “Of course. I must be pure to catch a unicorn.”

Teddy looked unconvinced. It had been necessary to persuade him to let Kluai Mai read his father’s journals—not that she would have taken “no” for an answer once she’d realised he was the son of the Great Explorer. Of course, he only allowed Kluai Mai to hold the books if she stayed in sight.

“Just think,” she said with a happy sigh, “We’re following in your father’s footsteps.”

Thaksin had written Teddy’s essays and coursework for a whole academic year to pay for it. It was worth it.

Teddy sipped his wine, looking away and refusing to talk.

“We should talk to the wardens,” said Thaksin.

Teddy looked at the two wardens again. His colour, still not returned to his usual English Rose, heightened when the brown one turned exceptionally green eyes on him.

He looked away and grumped. “It’s not like they’re going to show us where to find—”

“They don’t have to. Your father’s wank material gives enough directions that we can find the grove,” said Kluai Mai.

Teddy took a gulp of wine. “So we don’t need them.”

“They can show us how to get into the Otherworld,” Kluai Mai said.

Thaksin remained poised over her drink, hands and fan now folded demurely in her lap.

“Teddy, call them over.”

He put his glass down as untidily as he’d grabbed for it, spilling drops on the table. His gait as he left the table could best be described as “stomping”.

“He sulks,” Kluai Mai said.

Thaksin sipped and said nothing.

“At least he’s admitted that an expedition is more fun than lectures. The adventure of a lifetime! A chance to do something great that will be talked about for years.”

But there was no answer because Teddy was coming back with their two new friends.

“May I introduce my companions, Kluai Mai and Thaksin.”

“Hello,” Kluai Mai said.

Thaksin smiled and nodded.

“And this is Callum and Sioned.”

Callum, the grey one, leant over Kluai Mai’s then Thaksin’s hand—“enchanted”—and Sioned, the brown one, simply nodded.

“The bar staff said you’re the wardens,” said Kluai Mai.

“Really?” laughed Callum. “Well, we can’t tell you anything. What happens in the Otherworld stays in the Otherworld.”

Sioned hooked her thumbs through a real leather belt. “Rangers do the expeditionary work.”

“Sioni, we don’t know what these three charming young people want. They’re probably just curious about what parish wardens do.”

“All we want is to watch you work. We’re curious about it,” said Kluai Mai.

Teddy flopped back into his chair and had another gulp of white wine. “Warm. Yeuch!” The glass was pushed away.

“So?”

Kluai Mai gritted her teeth.

Callum leant in to his companion. “Sioned, would it hurt to be a little nicer?”

Sioned looked at him and raised both eyebrows.

“We’re students,” said Teddy, “And we’re doing some research. This village was mentioned in some papers and we wanted to know more about it.”

Callum laughed. “This village? Really? Why?”

“Unicorns,” said Sioned. “Why else?”

Callum looked at her, as if the reference was out of place.

“You know?” asked Teddy.

“Apparently so,” Sioned said.

“You know what they’re talking about?” Callum asked.

“Medieval history,” Sioned said. “You never heard the one about the prince who won the throne because he was so virtuous a unicorn followed him everywhere?”

Callum shrugged and took a long draught of his beer. “Oh. Good.”

Kluai Mai smiled. The warden didn’t know about more recent history, was ignorant of the Great Explorer’s work. But then she was a country bumpkin and had no idea what sort of stories occupied Academia.

“You’ve studied this? The prince and the unicorn?” she asked.

“Not really,” said Sioned, “There are eight villages whose names were close enough to the same when that prince found the unicorn. They still have similar names.”

“How do you know?” asked Teddy.

“I’ve been to them,” Sioned said.

“Why?” asked Thaksin.

“I was found on the boundary before being taken into care. Took me a while to find the right parish.”

“A foundling returned home,” said Kluai Mai and she leant forward. “How romantic.”

Sioned shrugged.

Ungrateful, insensitive, senseless. How could anyone be so unexcited about such a special beginning?

“We’d like to walk the boundaries with you tomorrow,” Kluai Mai said.

“There’s no law that says you can’t, even if everything we find is already a matter of public record.”

Callum said, “Don’t be so rude to people, Sioni. Why don’t you stay with us?”

Kluai Mai considered. He obviously wanted her but his partner would ensure he accepted no for an answer. Or Teddy and Thaksin would. “You’re too kind.”


The wardens’ hut was so backward it didn’t even have a toilet. It had what Sioned described as “the jakes”—a long narrow trench dug into the earth. Thaksin had found it easy to time things to make sure no-one was around to see her shame. She couldn’t even bare to share this part of herself with her beautiful Thai orchid, so how could she bear to have someone else around?

“Ugh,” Sioned grunted, followed by, “Sorry.”

Thaksin froze, skirts around her waist, exposed. “‘Ugh’?”

“‘Ugh’ as in I’ve only just hauled my arse out of bed and didn’t expect company.”

Thaksin adjusted her skirts to hide more of her body.

“Room for another one over the jakes?” Sioned asked. “I’m busting.”

Thaksin averted her eyes as Sioned stepped over to straddle the narrow trench. “I-I-I’m done,” she stuttered out a moment later and scurried back to the hut.

She did her best to avoid Sioned after that, hiding in the loft level that the other woman had cleared up just for the visitors the night before.

“Breakfast,” called Sioned when she came back in. “And I know you’re awake.”

“Bitch,” muttered Teddy.

There was a louder echo of the same sentiment from Callum below them.

“They don’t need to come with us. We don’t need to go with them,” Sioned said. “This isn’t even a favour. All they want is to go into the Otherworld and they’ll go whether we take them to the boundary or not.”

“We should go with them,” said Callum.

“We’re wardens. We’re supposed to stop them, not take them for a tour.”

Kluai Mai straightened her clothing and made as graceful an entrance as climbing down the rustic wooden ladder would allow. Thaksin followed, then Teddy. Callum watched Kluai Mai as if she were breakfast, though he didn’t say anything.

The five of them stayed silent until they were stood in a pocket of woodland.

“The Otherworld is through there,” said Sioned, pointing at a tree.

“Through?” asked Teddy.

“We’re not going with them,” Sioned said to Callum.

“We don’t need you to,” said Teddy. “You were just the easiest way of finding the best crossing.”

Callum shook his head. “We can’t let them go alone.”

“This is no time for unicorn hunting, of any kind,” said Sioned, “And we know nothing of what’s over the boundary. We’re wardens, not rangers or researchers. And you know what’s likely to happen to you all on the other side.”

“Well, I’m going,” said Callum and he looked at Kluai Mai.

“I don’t want this unicorn,” said Sioned.

“I do,” was Callum’s reply.

Sioned looked at the ground. The honey-brown skin flushed. “I can’t walk the boundary on my own. I—I have needs.”

“You mean you don’t want to, not that you can’t. And you can always take matters into your own hands,” sneered Callum.

Thaksin had the feeling this was a conversation often repeated but not quite this way. Callum enjoyed saying the words too much, as if Sioned was being forced to eat them.

“I can help,” said Callum to Kluai Mai, “I can protect you from the worst in the Otherworld. I can show you how to cope with—”

Sioned found her voice again. “You’ve never been there, Callum. Neither of us have.”

“Warden training covers everything,” he insisted.

“Neither of them are interested in you,” said Sioned. “And they won’t add you to their couple.”

Callum walked forward and knelt before Kluai Mai. She was so small, and he was so tall, that his head almost reached her shoulder though he was on his knees. He took both of Kluai Mai’s hands in his. Thaksin wanted to ignore the little hand gesture that meant “let him be”.

“Let me come with you,” Callum said—begged, even.

“There’s no law that says you can’t,” said Kluai Mai.

She turned and walked towards the invisible barrier. Thaksin, anxious not to lose sight of her, hurried after. Only to drop, screaming in agony, clutching her abdomen.


There was spring, and there was summer, and there was autumn. There were even a few plants at rest in what might be called a brief winter. There was a sound like wind through leaves that made sense to me—“The seedling that walks returns a sapling”, “Sapling, come and ease me”, “Sapling, come and let me ease you”, “Sapling, ignore the rising sap until you are ready”—but mainly there was the black girl, the one who’d answered to Thaksin, curled in a ball and screaming.

“What’s wrong?” I asked.

“H-hurt—” was all she managed.

“Look after her,” said Kluai Mai, “We’ll be back.”

The little bitch pulled a book from a pocket and flicked through pages as Teddy and Callum flanked her. The only one who really knew what the Otherworld would bring was Callum with his smug grin and growing erection.

“You’re going to leave her here?” I asked, holding Thaksin’s screams against my shoulder.

“We don’t have time to sit around and wait on menstrual cramps,” Kluai Mai said. Then to Teddy, “You see the dryads? Like your father did?”

“See what?” asked Callum, but he was ignored.

Teddy nodded but he wasn’t looking at the odd, not quite human bodies that called me “Sapling”. “They’re even more obsessed with sex than the rest of you.”

Not entirely true. There were plenty of the shapes—small-breasted, golden women and narrow-chested, golden men standing near trees—simply calling out for “Sapling”. Maybe a third of them cupping their small breasts or rubbing their groins. The result of that on some of the apparently women was… disturbing.

Kluai Mai laughed. “Sex is survival.”

Callum laughed along with her, an obedient pet focused on possible reward. Teddy hmphed, but he followed Kluai Mai when she turned and walked off. Callum didn’t even look at me as he walked along with them, leaving me with a trans girl and writhing wood spirits that called me “Sapling”.

“Yeah. Menstrual cramps,” I said, thinking of this morning over the jakes.

“She doesn’t know,” the girl managed through gritted teeth and sobs against my shoulder.

“Don’t tell me you faked period pains.”

“No.”

“So she’s just an insensitive bitch. Okay.”

The girl pushed away from me. I reached out to touch her shoulder but she shrugged me off. If it weren’t for Kluai Mai, she could have been my unicorn.

“Your name isn’t Thaksin,” I said.

“It’s better than the one I was born with,” she countered.

Now she was only shaking with the remnants of pain. Whatever had hit her passing over the Otherworld boundary was fading.

“It’s not the name you chose,” I said.

“No.”

Thaksin stood on shaky legs.

“Here, let me help.”

But she slapped my hands away. She felt her abdomen and groin. “I—I’m a girl!”

“I knew that already,” I said.

“I don’t need surgery,” she pulled her skirts up to look at the change. “Kluai Mai can see me. I—”

I shrugged. “Wait until you’re back in the real world.”

“I beg your pardon?”

“There is a reason the magic of the Otherworld separated from the human world,” I said, thinking of the years I wasted not knowing I was allergic to “man-made”, then the years I’d wasted being too scared to walk over the boundary to find out why. “There’s nothing to say you won’t still need surgery when you return home.”

The tree spirits continued to move around and talk to me. A weird thing to see nature’s seasons mixed—and almost humans acting on it alongside their plant bodies. There were others, smaller and less human-formed flitting about the smaller plants but I barely recognised them.

“Do you see them?” I asked.

“See what?”

I wasn’t sure. “Wood spirits, I guess.”

For them to talk to me like this… Why had they pushed me into the human world as a baby? Did I have a tree?

“Dryads? No,” Thaksin replied. “Why would I? Only men can.”

I considered that.

“What am I?” I asked the trees.

“A sapling that walks.” “Child of the yew tree.” “Ours.”

I shuddered. Yew trees were typically two-sexed, bearing both male and female flowers. I was probably capable of pulling a penis from my clitoris like I’d seen some of the dryads do.


Kluai Mai leafed through the journal and checked against the map she’d drawn out from the entries.

“Your father went this way.”

She pointed to the right of an ancient tree with a trunk large enough to fit a dining party in the rotting centre.

“Your father enjoyed this trip a lot.”

Teddy sniffed. “Can’t say I am.”

Kluai Mai laughed. The Otherworld was making her feel horny and she agreed with Teddy’s father about pass-times. A shame she couldn’t see the dryads.

“Well, you don’t appear to have his interests.”

“There’s not exactly much to enjoy,” said the greying warden, despite the hard-on he wasn’t bothering to hide. “Just woodland plants all out of sync. The birds and animals must be hiding from us.”

He walked up to the ancient tree and touched part of the moss covered bark. “Lovely old yew, though.”

“That’s what Teddy’s father said,” Kluai Mai said, thinking of the write-up. Maybe it was worth another look.

“That’s good to know,” said another voice, Sioned.

Kluai Mai looked up from the papers. “You’ve caught up.”

Sioned nodded but Thaksin ran forward and gathered Kluai Mai into an uncharacteristic bear hug. If it hadn’t been so important to focus on the hunt, Kluai Mai might have pulled Thaksin to the floor but now it was just a nuisance.

“Thank you, my sweet. Clearly, you’ve recovered.”

Thaksin hesitated and dropped back.

“She’ll be back to whatever normal is when you’ve finished… whatever this is you’re doing,” Sioned said.

Kluai Mai sniffed. “Thaksin understands the hunt is important and we have limited time. Don’t you, dear?”

Thaksin nodded. The poised young lady Kluai Mai expected her to be, rather than the excitable puppy she’d caught up as.

“Nice yew,” Sioned added, shifting her attention the ancient tree. “Hello.”

“Hello,” said Callum, “Yeah, it is. Don’t get many like this on our side.”

Sioned looked at him, her eyebrows raised as if she hadn’t expected him to speak. “No. Humans tend to cut them down.”

“We need to keep going,” said Kluai Mai. “We need to be in the clearing by dusk.”

“Father took two days,” said Teddy.

“Your father was busy having sex with almost every dryad in existence, if his journal is to be believed.”

Sioned looked at Teddy. She muttered, “A half-brother?”

“He would have got there a lot sooner if he could have kept his trousers up,” Kluai Mai added, ignoring Sioned’s nonsense.

Teddy flushed.

“What’s the matter?” she added. “Don’t you want to prove you’re just as good as your father?”

Teddy started walking in the direction she’d pointed out earlier and the others followed. Sioned trailed behind, pausing to say “goodbye, mother,” to the old tree. It only proved just how odd the warden was.

About mid afternoon, Sioned asked, “Callum, do you see the dryads?”

Before Callum could speak, Teddy laughed and Kluai Mai answered for him. “Only men of royal blood see them.”

“All men of royal blood? The way some of them put it about, that should be over half the male population,” said Sioned.

“Just some of us,” said Teddy. “Like some inherit blue eyes and some don’t.”

Sioned nodded. “So when did your father come through?”

“About thirty years ago,” Kluai Mai answered.

Sioned nodded again and said, “Of course.”


Thaksin hadn’t expected the light to last after it fell beneath the canopy of the trees but it had, just weaker and greener than before. As they reached a clearing, the light turned orange-red with sunset.

“We’re here,” breathed Kluai Mai. “The unicorn’s watering hole.”

Where it ran away from Teddy’s father because he liked dryads too much. Thaksin would have liked to have seen a dryad but was glad there were no further temptations to turn away from Kluai Mai. The background levels of lust had been almost enough to stay with Sioned instead of rejoining the Thai orchid. Dryads might be more than her concentration could handle.

“If we’re waiting for an animal,” said Callum, “Then we’d better find some brush to hide behind.”

“Downwind of the clearing,” said Sioned.

The two wardens skirted the edge of the clearing—a bit of stream with hoof prints carved out of the mud, a patch of grass and herbs cropped low—and Thaksin followed more clumsily, distracted by Sioned’s fluid movements.

“We should bait it,” said Kluai Mai, still stood on the edge. “A virgin to lure the unicorn in.”

“I don’t think unicorns are after what you have on offer,” said Sioned.

Kluai Mai ignored the warden and arranged herself on the bank of the stream, her skirts fanned out across the grass. She wetted lust-reddened lips that Thaksin could almost taste.

“This could be interesting,” said Sioned, and Callum cuffed her around the head. “What?”

“She’s a good girl.”

Sioned snorted. “She didn’t give in to the Otherworld spring, then?”

“Oh, be quiet,” Callum hissed.

The orange-red light turned more red and the sun set, invisibly, behind the never ending forest.

Kluai Mai gasped.

“Look,” whispered Teddy, awed.

“I feel sick,” said Sioned and looked away.

“It’s beautiful,” said Callum.

And it was, the golden-white hide gleaming in the last of the day. The black horn dipped and raised as the unicorn saw Kluai Mai and threw its head back to take her scent. It shook its head, snorting, and the flowing mane caught and glittered in the dusk. It bugled, a sound that made Thaksin’s head ring with the unicorn’s anger.

Teddy swallowed and ducked his head.

“You don’t see what I see,” said Sioned. “Teddy, get her out of there.”

“She’s not an idiot,” protested Thaksin.

Sioned snapped. “I don’t care. She’s not the unicorn’s type and she’s going to get herself killed.”

Black cloven hooves tore at the ground as the creature stamped.

Sioned shoved Teddy. “Move!”

He stumbled into the clearing. He righted himself and stood, almost as white as the unicorn’s hide.

“Callum, get the bitch,” said Sioned. “The kid’s too scared to move.”

The greying warden licked his lips and took a couple of deep breaths before pushing himself out of their hiding place. Those two breaths were too long.

Thaksin screamed. “Kluai Mai! No!”

Teddy backed out of the clearing, stumbling into Callum who was frozen in place.

Sioned’s hands clamped on Thaksin’s shoulders.

“I have—” Thaksin struggled. “I have to go to—”

“No,” said Sioned. “If you could see what I see. What Teddy sees…”

Thaksin struggled. The grip got harder.

“But Kluai Mai’s a virgin,” she whispered.


 [ Unicorn, © 2013 Lisa Grabenstetter ] “But it ran away from Father,” said Teddy.

He stared at the unicorn drinking from the stream, Kluai Mai’s blood dripping from the black horn. The light had faded but the golden-white hide still glowed.

“It probably isn’t the same animal,” I said as I held the sobbing Thaksin.

It had been thirty years since his father—presumably our father—had walked this way. Several hundred since another, remoter ancestor had captured the unicorn from the legends. They must both have seen—as we could—the other form. The savage warrior with sharp black teeth, golden tattoos on snow white skin, wild red eyes, and a small black lump in the middle of the forehead.

“I think,” I said over the struggling Thaksin, “That the unicorn had already drunk when your father came across it. Kluai Mai came between it and its desire, the watering hole.”

Teddy said nothing. Thaksin sobbed and occasionally struggled, called for her dead lover. Callum rocked on his knees, head bowed, incapable of saying anything.

The unicorn raised its head, blood and water mingling as they ran from its muzzle—or its chin.

“So what did the prince have, pretty?” I whispered. “I’ll bet the privileged bastard wasn’t a virgin.”

Teddy stepped forward, stood on the edge of the stream and reached out. The unicorn snorted and shook its head. The black horn, lump, thing, touched Teddy’s hand. Then the beast was gone, along with the glow that had become the only real light in the clearing.

“We can’t stay here tonight,” I said.

“No!” screamed Thaksin and she struggled to be free, to run to the corpse of her lover.

I picked her up, hoisting her over my shoulders. “I can find the way back.”

The dryads were telling me, calling me “Sapling” and pointing me home.

“Me, too,” said Teddy.

“Callum? Come on.”

He raised his head, his eyes blank. It wouldn’t be fair to leave him here. It wouldn’t be fair to leave him when we got to the boundary but I would. I’d had enough of him and his world, even if this one was strange to me.

“Come on,” I said again, “Time for you to go home.”

Thaksin continued to sob over my shoulders and I wondered about asking her to stay. Could she bear to live here in the Otherworld where her lover had died? If she went back, would she be back in the body she didn’t want? If she stayed, would I have a chance?


© 2013, Jo Thomas

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