I was ten years old and I was lonely.
I sort of hated the world. My parents divorced one year past and it wasn’t really one of those nice friendly divorces either. I’m sure it wasn’t the worst. I’d heard much worst from some of my school friends. Some kids lost one parent altogether, and that didn’t happen to me. But they were… Icy. They weren’t the yell and scream type. But they had this terrible cold way of avoiding looking at each other. Refusing to talk to each other at all. If they did speak it was one word answers and as fast as possible. Dad would call and when mom saw him on the caller ID, she handed the phone to me. No outwardly mean things said by one in the others’ absence. But just constant little jabs that neither of them thought I as smart enough to even pick up on.
I knew I should be happy I still got to see both my parents and both of them had nice homes for me to sleep in. But everything changed, and in typical ten year old fashion, it was the end of the world to me.
Not to mention, the way that I found out my parents were splitting up was waking up one morning to two strange men in my room, taking my dresser. It was movers, moving me and Mom out. Really sort of terrible way to find out your life the way you understood it was over.
Dad quickly sold the house and also moved. To a different city than me and Mom. It wasn’t far away, but I didn’t know anyone there. It didn’t seem like there were a lot of kids in the neighborhood where he lived. His house was nice, but it was so quiet. Dad was a chill guy who worked a ton of hours through the week, so on weekends, a lot of times he just liked to relax.
There was only so much watching television in his upstairs den that really interested me. So, I found a forest.
After I found the forest, I started to really like going to Dad’s new house. It was the neatest weirdest little forest hidden nestled in between the back fences of many yards that backed up to one another. It was this tiny little thicket of trees, but once you went inside, it seemed like a giant forest.
Dad’s neighborhood was a big suburb in a metropolitan area. I imagined that once long ago, it had all been forest, but my little forest was all that remained after the concrete jungle took over. Despite the close proximity of a busy highway and many, many houses, once I stepped into my forest, it was like all that slipped away and time shifted all the way back to a time when there weren’t many people in the world. Maybe no one else but me, even. All the sounds and smells of the modern world were magically shut out by the tangle of limbs and brush of my little forest. The sound of wind in the trees was my favorite sound in the world and under the pleasant chatter of the bird song, I felt safe and peaceful in my little forest.
I would take books to my forest and spend a whole day reading there in the quiet that smelled like honeysuckle and pine needles. Sometimes I packed myself little picnics and took them with me. It seemed every tree in my little forest was perfect for climbing and I always got higher into the limbs there than any other trees I’d climbed before. It felt like I was a hundred feet in the air, brave and free.
My dad appreciated my love of the outdoors and even began to let me take a little tent and camp in my little forest upon occasion.
It was the tail end of summer when I met her.
The heat had just begun to drain from the days. The chill had not yet reached the rays of the sun, but it was something you could somehow smell in the air by then. I was reclining on a low hanging tree limb, eating grapes and reading books. The birds chattered overhead more than usual as they prepared for their long journey south. Leaves had begun to fall and I heard them gently make contact with the earth all around me as I read.
And then, I heard the unmistakable sound of a horse winny.
I startled and dropped my book which thunked down lightly into a pile of leaves and brown needles. I heard the low noise again along with some sort of disturbance in the leaves as something moved it’s… Hooves?
A little afraid to look, I turned my legs to the side and slid off the tree limb, landing easily on the ground. After another winnie and more shuffling, I finally turned around. And I saw the most amazing thing I’d ever seen in my life.
She was a unicorn, tall, majestic, towering over me. She stood among two fir trees, ten or so feet away from where I stood. Her coat was jet black but that wasn’t even the most remarkable thing about this remarkable creature. A beautiful design of bones was woven into her fur. She was like a sugar skull character; some sort of character from Mexican folk art, but fully live and standing right before my very eyes. Even her face had the outline of a skull. Every vertebrae was detailed down her back. Every rib, perfectly symmetrical down her side. There was an outline of the bones in her long and powerful legs. Her mane was snowy white, wispy and so long that it dusted the ground. Same with her tail that waved out behind her dragging in the dirt behind her hind legs. Her black eyes shone, dazzling and wize. And her horn… It must’ve been two feet long and a shining metallic silver.
I gasped, unable to do anything but to stare.
Finally, the unicorn bowed her head once then raised it once more to meet my eyes and then did the craziest thing I’ve ever experienced in my entire life. Crazier even than meeting a unicorn in real life.
“Hello,” said the midnight colored unicorn. “My name is Bones. Pleased to meet you.”
My mouth fell open as I gaped at her. The voice was like a song from long ago. Soft, peaceful, mesmerizing.
Bones giggled. “It’s alright, dear one. Don’t be frightened. I mean you no harm.”
Despite her somewhat creepy appearance, it was hard to believe a unicorn would ever mean anyone any harm, and I believed her. “Hello,” I replied in the tiniest possible voice.
“What is your name?” Bones asked.
“Um, uh, my name is Sharon,” I admitted shyly. I was always a little embarrassed of my name. I knew that it had once been a popular name, but to me it seemed old fashioned and therefore boring.
“Oh what a lovely name,” Bones replied.
I shrugged. “Thank you,” I said shyly.
“What’s the matter? Don’t you like your name?”
“It’s just old fashioned and out of style.”
Bones giggled. It was a soft, whimsical sound. “Oh now, that’s nonsense, I’m afraid. It’s a lovely name at any time.”
Bones was so beautiful, and so enchanting that it didn’t even seem strange to be standing here talking to a unicorn, let alone that it turned out unicorns exist. Let alone that she was a black unicorn with bone fur. Let alone that she could talk. A magical creature I’d never imagined even in my wildest dreams, and here she was, real as could be. Yet, she made it seem like just another day in my little forest.
She asked me what I’d been reading and I picked up my book and showed her. We spent the rest of that afternoon talking and getting to know one another. Bones was a marvelous friend with magical stories of castles and princesses, wizards and dragons, everything you’d expect a unicorn to know about. We stayed together until the daylight began to bleed out of the sky and in the distance, I heard Dad calling.
“Who is that?” Bones asked.
“It’s my dad. He lives nearby.” My face fell dejectedly. “I have to go home.”
Bones also sounded sorrowful. “Oh. Alright then. It was quite nice to meet you. Goodbye.”
“What will you do, Bones? Where will you go?”
Bones’ face moved in an odd way that made her almost look as though she were smiling. “I’ll go back to my land.”
“Will I ever see you again?”
“Of course! The next time you visit the little wood, I will come back.”
My heart sank even more. “I have to go home after dinner tonight. I live somewhere else, with my mother. Could you visit me there?”
“Oh dear, I’m afraid not. Only my land, and here in the little wood. Those are the places I can go.”
I felt like crying. “It will be two weeks before I come back. I’ll miss you so much, Bones.”
Bones stepped forward just as my dad called again, sounding a little annoyed this time. She nuzzled my cheek with her snout. It sent a shiver down my spine as Bones was very cold. “Don’t fret, sweet girl. I will be waiting. Now, you’d better run along.”
With tears streaming down my face, I turned and ran home.
Bones became my best friend. So much so, that I began to withdraw from other friends. I started making excuses to spend extra time at my dad’s and then whenever I was there, I stole away to the little forest. As the last leaf fell, and the snow began to fly, my mom and dad had begun to speak in whispers about how I was “retreating from reality,” and that I was clearly not adjusting to their divorce. I heard words like “regressing.” My grades were slipping because I couldn’t keep my mind of Bones. But my family and teachers all thought that I was depressed. I didn’t care or argue with them, I simply waited for all the moments that I could get away to the forest.
The fact was, I was no longer depressed in the slightest about the divorce. With Bones in my life, I had never been happier.
One evening, I’d stayed late in my little forest. My dad had had to run in to his office and left me alone after dinner, promising to return by bedtime. He would absolutely kill me if he knew I’d gone to the forest alone at night, but I couldn’t miss an opportunity for extra time with my friend the unicorn.
“Bones,” I said, when I knew it was nearing time that I should get back home. “Could I go to your land with you?”
Bones bowed her head and snuffled. Plumes of steam blew from her nostrils. “I’m afraid not, dear. That would not be prudent.”
“Why not? I could just go for a visit with you and then come back!”
Bones shook her head sadly. “No dear, that isn’t how it works, I’m afraid. My land is so lovely, that if a human goes there, she will become enchanted and never leave.”
I stared into Bones’ lovely dark eyes. An enchanted land with my best friend? Well… Maybe I wouldn’t want to leave. I said as much to Bones.
“Sharon, for this evening, we’ll not think of it any further. Go home before your father gets there and finds you missing. Your parents would be devastated. Don’t even speak of such things.”
I went home that night as Bones asked of me, but I fell asleep dreaming of a magical land.
I became obsessed with going to Bones’ land. She reminded me many times that if I went to her land that I could never return, and that it simply wasn’t an option. But by the time Christmas came and went, I was so fixated on the idea of joining her in her land that I was losing weight. My grades were so bad that I might be held back the following year. My parents were making me see a counselor. By then, I was ready to escape.
It was New Year’s Eve. My dad was on a date and I was home alone. Mom had asked me to just stay home. School friends had invited me to parties. But I told everyone I would be fine at my dad’s. As soon as Dad was gone, I bundled into my coat and winter gear and made my way through the deep snow until I found myself in my little forest.
I stood in the middle of the little forest, snow swirling heavily around me. “Bones,” I whispered. “Bones, are you here?”
As always, I heard the winny and the shuffling feet of the unicorn, Bones behind me. I spun around and ran to her, throwing my arms around her strong muscular neck. She nuzzled my cheek affectionately.
Then, I burst into tears.
“Sharon!” Bones cried. “Whatever is the matter?”
“I can’t anymore, Bones. I’m so unhappy here. I think about you and going to your land with you nonstop, all the time. Please, please. I want to go to your land with you. I don’t care if I can never come back. I DON’T CARE!” All of my emotions from the last two years of my life spilled violently out of me in a torrent of words and tears.
Bones nodded in her slow wise way. “I see.” She seemed to ponder all I’d said for a long quiet time. I grew colder with every passing second, despite my warm winter clothes. The wind had picked up. The weather channel had called for a possible blizzard tonight. “It must be your choice. I cannot bring you to my land if it is not entirely up to you. It is what you want?”
I wept so hard that I felt sick. “Yes Bones! I’ve told you and told you!”
Bones smiled in the strange way she had. “Very well then, Sharon,” she said, her voice strangely quieter and more even than she normally spoke. “Close your eyes,” she said with just a little bit too much good cheer.
I grinned broadly and gave her one more giant hug. Though Bones had never described her land to me, I envisioned a warm and sunny place, expecting to soon be warmed under a lazy afternoon sun. After the hug, I stood back, and I sealed my eyes tightly closed.
There was a terrible wind then. It whipped my hair up around me, my hat flew from my head. I felt that I would be crushed by it. It whirled in my ears and pounded in my head. My teeth clenched, feeling as though they would break. My body ached, my stomach lurched.
And then, just like that, the wind died. Everything was deafeningly quiet and icy cold.
Hesitantly, I finally opened my eyes. To my shock, I was still standing in my little forest. It was still night. The snow was still gathering quick. Looking around frantically, I happened to look down and what I saw made me stumble.
They were hooves, not feet. Black, with a beautiful pattern of bones snaking up the slender legs.
When I stumbled, I found myself inside a foreign body. A massive body full of muscle. And bone.
A scream built in my throat but what came out was a winny.
I heard a tinkinling peal of laughter. Unaccustomed to the awkward gate of four legs, I did my best to turn toward the sound.
It was me. Standing there in my winter coat, and bending to pick up my hat. “Hello, Bones,” I said.
Captive in the black boney cage, I wanted to cry. I wanted to shout.
“Wh… What is going on? What is happening?”
“It took one hundred years,” said the other me, the human me.
“WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT?” I thundered.
“The curse. I was a little girl once too you know. And I came here to this wood, when it was a much larger, fantastical place. And I became the friend of the unicorn Bones who tricked me into wanting to go to her land. Later, after so many years to ponder what had happened, I guessed that whatever curse imprisoned her in the body of the unicorn could only be broken if the next Bones took the spot voluntarily. But who volunteer to be stuck here in this wood all alone?”
Panic grew in my throat but I had no idea how to express it. I felt like kicking the Bones me, but I hoped to get my body back, so I didn’t want to wreck it. “What about your land? How do we get there?” Maybe all was not lost. An enchanted land might be amazing, whether I was Sharon or whether I was Bones.
Human me threw her head back and laughed. “This IS my ‘land,’ dummy. This forest, where I have been trapped for the last hundred years! You see, I was a human girl once too, tricked by the last Bones. And then she took my body and I’ve remained here ever since. But she’s dead and gone now, and I am free.”
I began to shuffle my feet, violently pawing at the ground. I would tell my father. I would get help. This was going to be OK.
“Bye, bye, Bones,” said the phony Sharon. “Good like finding the next Bones. Hope they don’t cut down your prison!”
She turned and sprinted. I took off after her. Unaccustomed to my new gate and with her head start, she made it to the edge of the little forest before I did.
She kept going. I blasted into an invisible barrier that may has well have been a brick wall. Despite all my massive weight, my power, my strength… The barrier threw me backwards, back into the little forest. Back into the deep snow and the black darkness.
I hurtled to the ground and the impact hurt me down to my unicorn bones.