Quantum Unicorns

Chuck Wendig’s flash fiction extravaganza this week is on unicorns.


Quantum Unicorns

“Here,” he said and handed me the gun. “You probably won’t need it, but you never know.”

I looked at Harry as he stood in front of the gate. He wore your standard explorer’s outfit, the full safari getup with the hat and the monocle.

“Why the monocle?” I asked.

“Because,” he said. “It adds to the illusion.”

“What illusion?”

“Just take the fucking gun,” he growled. “And put these on.”

He handed me a black leather bag. I holstered the gun and set the bag on the ground. The clasp came undone and I found myself blinking back tears.

“Absolutely not,” I said. “You have to be fucking kidding me.”

“Do you want to see the goddamn unicorn or not? Or are you going to go back to your daughter and tell her you got nothing?”

I dug a hand into the bag and pulled out the spandex pants. They were rainbow colored with bright sequins lining the crotch. No picture for an eleven-year-old was worth this.

“Christ,” I muttered.

“Just do it.”

The GENCORP LABS sign hung over us. It was midnight and I was beginning to understand how Harry made so much money on the side as a janitor.

I slipped into the leotard. It was snug.

“Now the wings.”

“Oh for fuck’s sake.”

“Listen,” he said, grabbing me by the collar. “There are going to be other people in there. They are going to see you. It is going to see you. Now, if you want to live, I suggest you listen to me and follow my instructions to the letter.”

“Other people?”

“Yes,” Harry said. “You know what they say about running from a dragon, right?”

“What? No. What–”

“You don’t have to outrun the dragon. You just have to outrun the dwarfs.”

I slipped the cheap plastic butterfly wings over my shoulders. I muttered something about dragons and midgets. When I finished I looked at Harry. He gave me a once over and turned to face the hatch.

“Now remember what I said.”

“But you never said there would be dragons.”

Harry visibly sighed as he turned around to face me. “There aren’t dragons, Charlie. There might not be anything. There might be a big pit with Jell-O. There might be a ring of faeries–in which case you’ll fit right in. The point is that once we go in, whatever it perceives you to be, is what it will become… or something related.”


“Yes.” He looked impatiently at the clock. “Ok listen. You remember the quantum variables I told you about, Schrödinger’s cat and all that?”

I nodded.

“This is like that. Once something has been observed it changes its state. This is the same thing… sort of. Now are you ready?”

I nodded again and Harry placed a hand on the thick metal handle.

“We’re good to go,” he said into an intercom.

After a pause, there was a hiss, then a faint clunk. Steam poured from the massive room as Harry strained against the handle. Slowly the door opened, as thick as a bank vault. Inside was darkness.

“That’s good,” he said. “That’s means it’s sleeping.”

We stepped inside as the great vault door closed behind us. From the opposite side of the room I watched another vault door open and a pair of figures appear. One of them waved to us. Harry waved back.

“Fucking amateurs,” he muttered under his breath. He then yelled to them. “When it wakes up, just go along with your script.”

The figure waved again and Harry mumbled something with more swear words.

“Ok, here we go,” he said as the lights came up.

From the other side of the room I heard the other people say their lines: “Hark! Hath thou seen the beast?”

“Why no, dear Chancellor,” said the woman. “I cannot think why it doth slumber.”

“What the fuck are you doing?” hissed Harry.

The figure broke character and said, “We thought it would make the experience more authentic.”

“Just stick to the fucking script and hope it didn’t– well shit.”

There was nothing in the center of the room. Then there was light.

Then there was a unicorn.

It stood completely still, looking pretty much as you would expect from the books. A green forest sprouted around its hooves as it glanced slowly from me to Harry, then to the people not ten yards away from us.

“It’s cute!” said the lady, her face glowing in golden light emitted by the creature.

“It’s not a unicorn,” said Harry. “It only thinks we want it to be a unicorn.”

“But look at it!” said the lady raising her camera. She wore a bard costume. Why couldn’t I have been a bard?

“What are you doing?” Harry yelled. “We have equipment for that.”

“I just want a pict–”

There was a blur, and then one of the silhouettes slowly split in two. Wet splats echoed through the room as the man turned slowly to see what had happened to his–wife? Sister? Aunt?

“Get back,” said Harry. “All of you!”

As I stepped backwards, the man continued to turn… and turn… a scream crawled from his strained throat as his body twisted three, four times, resembling something like a cinnamon twist.

The door hissed and I felt hands pushing me out and down. Something warm and soft brushed past my leg. A horn flashed and then another scream came from somewhere on the other side of the room.

I landed hard on the floor, panting, my crotch wet from my own piss. Harry was on top of me, holding my head down with one hand and pounding the emergency button with the other. Air from the hatch brushed my cheek as it closed with a clunk.

After a few moments, Harry rolled over and, staring at the ceiling said, “And that is why you never fucking go off script.”

(c) 2011 Marlan Smith

5 responses to “Quantum Unicorns

  1. Scary, weird, and really good. So much colourful action in so few words. And a shape-shifting monster. It’s brilliant! 🙂

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