A story for a dark winter’s night…
A long time ago, just yesterday…when I was just a wee little river nymph of maybe 10 or so, we lived in a little town (barely more than a village, really) in an old white house with black shutters, where my mother grew roses and lilies in the yard. Behind the house, across a small road, there was a swamp where, I was convinced, a unicorn was known to visit…
Now, my mother tried to convince me that there was no such thing as unicorns, not really, but let’s be honest; when you’re the daughter of a witch and a river some things are just not to be believed. A unicorn visited the swamp and that was that. I just needed to wait long enough and I would see it.
I would go out into the swamp in the early morning before the mists were burned off by the sun, and in the evening as the last rays of daylight sank into the shadows, day after day, week after week, month after month, but still there was no sign Yet my stubborn self persisted.
One day, after months of nothing but failure (though a developing appreciation for the sunrise and sunset) , I decided to try something different. I went up the road to where a feral apple tree grew and I picked the best apples I could find, reasoning that unicorns were distantly related to horses and horses love apples so unicorns probably did too, but were likely more interested in wild apples instead of the boring ones from the market. I stashed the apples where my mother wouldn’t find them (she didn’t approve of my habit of eating them, because they were probably full of worms and she didn’t believe that I could tell which ones had worms and which ones were fine, and besides, you can just cut the wormy bits off and the rest of the apple was fine and well, it was just easier to hide them) and went on about my day, secretly planning.
That night, when I went to bed, I pretended to fall asleep and, when I was certain that it was late enough for everyone else to be asleep, I quietly crept out of bed and, taking my stash of feral apples, snuck out of the house and out into the swamp.
It was a full moon that night, or near enough, and so I didn’t really need to carry a light to find my way through the small patch of woods and to the edges of the swamp. It was so bright and beautiful, and it looked nothing like I was used to it looking, and it was wonderful. I knew from all of my research that unicorns were drawn to singing and so I sang little songs to the water and the frogs and the summer night’s wind and watched the light play on the water while I sat on a small rock that was the perfect size and shape to sit comfortably on for hours.
The mosquitoes were, to be honest, more than a little annoying, but I was determined to ignore them.
I admit, I got a little bored after a while, and noticed that there were an awful lot of frogs around the water’s edge…green frogs, wood frogs, pickerel frogs, tiny little peepers, and of course, great croaking bullfrogs. I fed them some of the mosquitoes that were trying to eat me, because the circle of life is a beautiful thing and in the swamp sometimes it’s eat or be eaten, and I had Opinions about being on the menu. Besides, it never hurts to have friends in watery places.
Then, after a small age, I heard a faint splash in the distance. I stopped singing to listen, in case I was mistaken, but then it came again. This was it. I knew it. As the sound drew closer, the frogs and crickets grew quiet, and so did I. There was a Feeling in the air, like something magical approached. I was as still and quiet as a mouse, and as I watched, I saw a faint glow shimmering through the grasses and water-logged trees. It was here! The unicorn! Any moment it would step through the grass into view and I would see it in it’s pale, moonlit glory, and I would offer it one of my carefully chosen apples and it would accept my offering and eat it and I would be the first river nymph in generations to befriend a unicorn and…
*CROOOOAAK CROOOOAAK CROOOAAK*
There was a frantic splashing and the sound of hoofbeats running into the distance. Angrily, I looked down at the edge of the water at the base of my rock and there I met the flat, bored gaze of the one who had chosen that, of all moments, to decide to announce TO A UNICORN that this bit of swamp was his.
A big, fat, bullfrog. Unrepentant and shameless. I HAD JUST FED HIM MOSQUITOES AND HE HAD BETRAYED ME. I glared at him, and he just looked at me, unblinking. I wished owls on him. I wished herons and turtles and weasels on him. He was unmoved by my wrath, treacherous thing that he was. I threw an apple at him but he dodged and stared at me from a little further down the shore.
I knew that there was no chance of the unicorn returning again that night, and besides, it was getting early and I knew that the longer I stayed, the more likely it was that I would be caught and get in trouble for wandering off into the night. Leaving the remaining apples for anyone else that might come by, I crept out of the swamp and snuck back into my bed before my absence was noticed.
I tried a few more times, but never again did I hear the unicorn nor see the gentle glow of it’s horn, as it made its way through the swamp.
To this day, I still blame that frog for scaring it away.
Never trust bullfrogs. They will always betray you, no matter how many mosquitoes you give them.
(Originally posted on Patreon at https://www.patreon.com/riversdaughter.)