Thomas Pluck

The fact that unicorn droppings sparkle iridescent doesn’t make them any more pleasant to shovel than regular old horseshit. There’s a lot of it, and its saccharine scent catches in the throat like cheap perfume.

Miss Nibs has seven of the beasts. Her carriage gathers dust in the barn. The unicorns are ageless, graceful alabaster sculptures long of limb and silken of tail and mane, and I’ve got to shovel their shit for eternity.

Kai-Lun has taken to fouling his trough. Leaves a rainbow slick on the water, like oil. He’s curled up like a cat, having a snooze as I spoon it out. Amalthea bows in the back of her stall, crossing her forelegs. I pat her flank, and she nickers, but her heart’s not in it. She blushes as I scoop out her dainty leavings from the corner, as always.

I get to the last stall, lean my silver shovel on the door, and tap a smoke out of my pack of Maleficent Lights. Snick my silver Zippo and take a drag, slouching against the beam.

“Enjoy the fag, mate. I left you a bloody dung castle in here to clean up. ‘ave one ‘ere.”

That’s Spike.

“Can’t share anymore, big fella,” I tell him. “Fire hazard.”

His leathery nose with its nostrils like billiard pockets peeks out and I blow a smoke plume at it.

“Bloody tease.”

“No manners,” I say. “What, were you raised in a barn?” Only half a pack left, and nights get long and lonely.

“Funny man. For that I’m squeezing out another dollop.”

“Now or later. What’s one more scoop?”

“Getting to you, is it? The Herculean labor?”

“That big old Mary only had to do it once.” I puff a smoke ring at his golden spire. He takes a few stabs at it. “This is more Sisyphean. Endless toil.”

“Could be worse,” Spike says. “You could be pushing dung boulders up and down a mountain.”

“At least there’s that.”

I tap another smoke from the pack, light it off mine, and hold it before his stippled gray muzzle.

“‘Bout bloody time.” He lips it from me deftly, takes a deep drag. Waits for me to pluck it, so he can talk. “That’s the stuff. Old Saint Nicotine. You ever feel guilt, contributing to the delinquency of a symbol of purity?”

“I sleep like baby,” I tell him.

“Don’t you mean a Beauty?”

“You’re the funny one now.”

“Speaking of, how is the old bitch? She nick your cherry yet?”

Spike loves rhetorical questions.

“Course not. I’d smell the stink on ye.”

I let him have another drag.

“Still remember that lovely scent,” Spike says. “Me last day of freedom. That little hussy three stalls down was prancing tail high, the poor dumb thing. Beggin’ for it. And then there was that sparkle in the ol’ nose. Virgin. Nothing quite like it.”

I’ve heard it a thousand times, but I let him go on.

“Like the first clovers of spring. A hint of rain, in the dog days. Or a whiff o’ one of your fags.” His tail whips against the slats of his enclosure. His muscles are surely rippling down his flanks, alight with purple undertones. Majestic, that’s what you’d call him.

“And all of a sudden, I’m rod stiff. She nickers and rolls round in the grass, hikes up and presents herself. And that’s when I know. I trot right past ‘er quivering quim and follow me nose. The day has come. I’d smelt it before, mind you. That zing. But never felt the urge. I work myself up to a gallop. I’m on the hunt. Feel it in my blood. It’s me purpose,” Spike says. “Another puff, mate.”

I give it to him, and he drags greedily.

“I burst into the clearing, toss me mane and neigh triumphant. ‘ere I am, I’m saying.” He laughs. It turns into a neigh and then a coughing jag. He stamps his hooves, works himself out of it.

“And there you are, in the bushes. Looking… sheepish. No offense. Not like a sheep. Filthy things, those,” he says. His horn dips low. “And me, I trot up, and I bow. Like I was told I would. Can’t ‘elp myself.” A ripple runs down his flanks. “‘Cept you’re a fella. And you come out, pat me neck. A thing of beauty, you are. So I lay me horn in your lap. It feels right. Then your fella stomps out, and what’s he say?”

I shake my head, roll my eyes.

“C’mon, now. Do the voice. Me accent’s all wrong.”

I deepen mine as much as I can. “Well, that’s just great.”

Spike laughs, tosses his head back. “His Nibs looked fit to shit himself.”

“That he did.” I stub my smoke out on my boot.

“Pity what the Queen did,” Spike says.

I say it along with him: “Not the King queen, the queen Queen.” He laughs, I don’t.

I hear him sometimes, at night. Down in the dungeon. Shoveling shit’s not so bad after all.

“Think she’ll let him out? When she gets it through her ‘ead, that you won’t turn?”

“I don’t know.”

“The heart wants what the heart wants, Queenie,” he announces. Just a show. She hears everything, anyway.

Spike sighs, I offer the cigarette, he inhales deep. Blasts twin plumes out his nostrils. “Gotta show me how to blow rings, someday, Charming.”

I nod, and pick up my shovel.

THOMAS PLUCK writes unflinching fiction with heart. His stories have appeared in Shotgun Honey, PANK magazine, Crime Factory, Spinetingler, Plots with Guns, Beat to a Pulp, McSweeney’s, The Utne Reader and elsewhere. He edits the Lost Children charity anthologies to benefit PROTECT: The National Association to Protect Children. He lives in New Jersey with his wife, Sarah. You can find him as @tommysalami on Twitter, and on the web at www.thomaspluck.com.

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