Today's Reading



Once was, once wasn't.

A long time ago, in that forest that lies between the Alborz Mountains and the Caspian Sea, a girl went foraging for mushrooms.

It had rained the day before. The ground was soft and damp, and the air smelled of loam and moss. It was a good day for mushrooms, and the girl had nearly filled her basket with lion's mane and hen-of- the-woods when she heard a sound away off in the trees. It sounded like an animal crying out in pain.

There were leopards in the forest, and jackals, and brown bears. But this girl didn't like to think of any creature suffering. So she set out into the forest in the direction of the sound, to see if she could help. A little ways off the path, in a clearing in the deep woods, she found the source of the cries.

The unicorn was bleeding and scared, its leg caught in a hunter's snare. It was a huge beast, and very wild. The girl had never seen such an animal before, and she knew at once that it was special. She also knew that as soon as the hunter returned to check on his snare, the unicorn would be no more. So she swallowed her fear and crept up on it, as gently and as carefully as she could. To calm it down, she offered it some of the mushrooms she'd picked. And when she felt it was safe to approach, the girl bent down and opened up the trap.

The beast seemed to fill up the entire clearing with its long legs and its sharp, treacherous horn. The girl stood there frozen, too awed and frightened to move. The unicorn looked at its savior for a long time. Then it took a cautious step on its injured leg toward the girl, lowered its massive head, and plunged its horn into her chest, right above her heart.

The girl fell to the ground, and as she did, a piece of the unicorn's horn broke off inside her. The unicorn watched her for another moment, then turned and loped off into the woods, favoring its wounded leg, and was not seen again for a hundred years.

The girl, bleeding and in shock, managed to gather enough strength to return to the village at the edge of the woods, where she lived. There she collapsed and was carried to her bed. She lay there for many days. At first no one thought she would survive. But after a day, the bleeding stopped. And after three days, the pain began to subside. Slowly the wound grew smaller and smaller, until all that remained was a crescent-shaped scar, just above her heart, and a little piece of unicorn horn, lodged between her ribs.

Time passed, and the girl became a woman. She married, and had children, and when they were born, some of them had crescent birthmarks above their hearts too. And so did some of their children, and their children's children, and so on. It's said, though no one can be sure, that some of the girl's descendants are still alive today, and that a few of them still carry that mark on their skin, where the unicorn first touched her.

And it's whispered that maybe, just maybe, there's still a little of the unicorn inside them.



I shouldn't have been working reception.

A veterinary clinic is no place for an impatient person, and I was furious with everything and everyone in the universe. But Dominic needed a lunch break, and the techs were all busy, and as my dad would have said, 'The world does not stop for our feelings, Marjan.' Which left me as the friendly face of our practice. So there I was, praying the phone wouldn't ring, and that the lobby would remain empty for the next half hour, so that I could be angry at the world in peace.

Mainly I was angry about two things. The first thing was the clinic itself. As of three weeks ago, the West Berkeley Animal Clinic belonged to me. I'd never asked for it, and the first week of my sophomore year in high school wasn't exactly the best time to suddenly become the owner of a debt-saddled veterinary clinic. In addition to school, homework, and what passed for a social life, I now had payroll, rent, utilities, insurance, and a bunch of other responsibilities I didn't want. Including covering the reception desk so Dominic could take lunch.

And then there was the way it had happened.

This was my dad's clinic. He was a veterinarian, and he'd owned the place for as long as I could remember. Dads don't normally just hand over their businesses to their teenaged daughters. But my dad wasn't normal. Anyway, he hadn't had much of a choice.

The police weren't sure exactly how he'd been killed. There was no murder weapon, but no one could figure out how a person could have done 'that' with just their bare hands. I heard one of the first responders say that it looked like he'd been hit by a truck. But even that didn't explain the burns.

There were no suspects. There were no fingerprints, no footprints. There was no DNA, no hair samples or skin flakes or anything else you see in the TV shows. There was no security camera footage. There wasn't even a motive that anyone could guess. Nothing had been stolen from our house. Nothing had been disturbed, except in the room where my dad had died.

So that was the second thing I was angry about.


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