By Ashanti Luke
—Tell me a story before I go to bed, Dada.
—What story do you want to hear?
—The story about Aryal and the Unicorn.
—You always want to hear that story. This will be the 50th time.
—No, just the 47th time.
—You counted? I can’t believe you want to hear it again.
—Come on Dada, I like hearing you tell the story.
—Okay, Okay, for the 47th time. Here goes… A long, long time ago, before the world was as complicated as it is now, in a time when people appreciated their lives and the world around them, there was a growing village bordered by a raging river on one side and a dense forest on all the others.
—How dense was the forest, Dada?
—It was so dense that even during the day the forest was as dark as the darkest midnight, and whenever anyone ventured too far outside the village, they became hopelessly lost. They not so creatively named this no-man’s land ‘Where Angels Fear to Tread.’ Well just on the edge of ‘Where Angels Fear to Tread,’ there lived a beautiful black Unicorn with a golden horn. For as long as anyone in the village could remember, the Unicorn had always lived there, and whenever anyone became lost in the wilderness, the Unicorn would always show up and lead them back to the village. There was a myth in the village—or it was a long passed rumor anyway—that if anyone could speak the name of the Unicorn, he would stay with them forever and lead them to a magnificent treasure. Many people ventured into the forest just to see the Unicorn and all marveled over his beauty and his power. Everyone except Cellius Wormheart.
—Tell me about Cellius. I like the way you talk about Cellius.
—Cellius Wormheart was a blacksmith and owned the largest and toughest safe in the village. Everyone loved him because he kept their gold safe, even though he wasn’t a very nice person.
—Why wasn’t Cellius very nice?
—Well, no one was sure, but some of the elders said it was because his parents spent so much time building the village that they didn’t pay very much attention to him, so he took his anger out on the village. But I think he was bitter because no matter how much he built, or how much money he made, it didn’t make him happy.
—Maybe it was a little of both things, huh, Dada?
—You may have a point there. Either way, Cellius was determined to find the Unicorn’s treasure, so he built an elaborate trap and captured the Unicorn. He then prepared a large pen and kept the Unicorn in the center of the village and charged people to look at him. He made a good deal of money, but it wasn’t enough, so he began to starve the Unicorn and treat him poorly to try and discover the location of the treasure. Meanwhile, the people of the village would accost the Unicorn every day, screaming any name they could imagine at him in hopes one of them would be his real name.
—What happened to the Unicorn, Dada? What happened?
—The bitterness and spite around him, coming from people he had never shown anything but kindness to, changed him. Slowly, he became more beastlike, more hideous, until he was completely unrecognizable as the Unicorn. He began to snarl and snap at people and he tugged at his reigns each day until his legs bled and he collapsed into a bellowing, exhausted heap. People began to question what they should do with the Beast that had once been the Unicorn. No one paid to see him anymore and Cellius had grown weary of him and wanted to kill him.
—He wanted to put him to sleep?
—No, Darius, kill him. People who can’t own up to their own actions ‘put animals to sleep.’ Cellius was many terrible things, but he was no coward. He could not get what he wanted, so he wanted the Beast dead. The village folk would not have it though, until one day, a young boy paid to see the Beast and threw a tomato at him. And while he had turned to his friends to taunt and jeer, the Beast bit down on the boys arm and dragged him through the bars where he devoured him.
—Ouch indeed. Well, the town was outraged, so they barred anyone from entering the tent where the Beast was kept, and the Commissary of the town ordered the Beast summarily destroyed.
—Summarily means in public right, in front of everybody.
—Well,it means without delay, but is usually for all to see. The people were so angry they made preparations to make a fancy ceremony of the whole event. Someone even painted ‘Where even fools fear to tread’ on the outside of the tent, thinking it was a clever thing to write.
—But it was their fault, Dada. Why couldn’t they see that? Why didn’t they just leave the poor Unicorn alone?
—I don’t know Dari. I’ve been trying to figure that one for years. Must take a wiser man than me. So, one day, this little girl wanders near the cage.
—Yes, Aryal. Aryal wasn’t the most beautiful girl in the village, and she didn’t score in the highest percentiles in her school, but she had a kind heart, and she always looked at things for what they were, not what she wanted them to be.
—Why did she think that way when the others didn’t?
—Maybe it was because she wasn’t beautiful. Because she wasn’t smart. Maybe she needed to see things differently just to survive—to know she was more than people saw her as. Well, Aryal wandered to the cage for the first time ever because she was poor, and before the execution, her parents could not afford to take her to see the Unicorn. Not that they would have anyway, for they were angry and spiteful people, and resented having such an unspectacular daughter they couldn’t brag about to their friends. So she went to see the Beast before the execution, and instead of a snarling, angry beast, she saw a sad, wounded creature that was wounded to his very soul by treachery, by ingratitude.
—Maybe she saw a little bit of herself in the Unicorn Beast.
—Quite possibly. Either way, the next day, the day of the execution, Cellius found the cage unlocked and empty. Both Aryal and the Unicorn had disappeared, never to be heard from again.
—What happened? Where did they go?
—Most think Aryal spoke the Creature’s name and he took her away to the treasure and they lived there until the end of time.
—And how did she guess the Unicorn’s name?
—She didn’t guess. She just did what no one else bothered to do. What no one thought to do.
—She just asked.
—So Dada, what do you think the treasure was?
—You tell me Dari.
—I don’t know. Before I guessed gold, money, candy but I’m pretty sure now it wasn’t any of that stuff. I’m beginning to think there was no treasure. Maybe it was anyone who actually could do what they needed to find it, actually had it already.
—You know I never thought of it like that. Maybe you’re a wiser man than me.
—No, Dada. Not me. You know everything.
—Not everything Dari. The wisest man knows what he knows, and what he doesn’t, and is comfortable with those things he can’t. Sometimes, it seems like I don’t know what I should, and I think I know what I can’t. Hopefully, when you’re my age, what you do know will be clear, and what you can’t know will be even clearer, so that what you don’t know can exist in an attainable spot somewhere in between.
—I’m not sure what that means, Dada.
—Me neither, but I think, by the time you’re my age, you will understand much better than I.
Note from Kasma's Editor: 'Where Even Fools Fear to Tread' is actually an excerpt from Ashanti Luke's first book 'Dusk.'