Home for the Holidays
by Jace Ridley
When I was a young child, there was nothing I loved more than to read and to play outside. I was very lucky. My book collection was expansive because of my father, who was a writer, and there was a large field down the road from the house I grew up in. I used to take my books and read in the uncut parcel of lawn and wildflowers that had grown there.
I’d often go to play in the tall grass and blooming dandelions, staring into the sky. In my mind, the clouds became battleships and armadas fighting for control of the wide blue openness. Then as the sun faded the clouds became stars, each pinprick of light an entire new world in my mind, I would dream of what that world was like.
After midday rain showers, the field would be wet and refreshing, giving home to opalescent shimmers of color and soft breezes that wove through the grass like a snake and brushed my skin so softly that it felt like a fairy’s kiss on the moist surface of my cheeks. I remember those times as if they happened yesterday, and sometimes I miss them more than words can say.
One such day, after a long rain, I hadn’t quite made it to the field when I spotted a rainbow. The rainbow was brighter than any I had seen before, in shades of vividly tactile colors that seemed unnatural. It was stunning. It was the most beautiful thing that my young self had ever seen.
I started to run at full speed toward the field, wanting to find the end of that rainbow and stand in the technicolor light. And if finding the end of that rainbow meant meeting a Leprechaun and ending up with a pot of gold for my trouble, then so much the better.
I darted toward the field as fast as my small legs could carry me, and arrived in short order. The green grass was exactly what I expected: heavily dewed with wet dandelion heads peeking out between thick blades. But the rainbow didn’t end there like I thought it had. It went further, deeper into the trees that bordered the forest beyond.
I was always told never to venture into the woods because things lived within that could hurt me, and plants grew in there that my mother said would “snatch me up.” She was always very worried about things snatching me up, as she used the phrase whenever I went anywhere with which she had concerns.
I had a decision to make. I could either obey my mother and give up my search for the rainbow’s end, or take the chance and keep going. What could possibly be in the woods that I, being all of nine or ten years old, couldn’t handle myself? I didn’t know, but I decided almost at once that no man-eating plants or large jungle animals lay beyond the field. I decided to go on, to walk into the forest, and find my rainbow.
I took my first steps with a touch of apprehension. This was the first time I had ever placed so much as a toe beyond the edge of the field, and I would be lying to say I wasn’t a little scared. I was more than scared. I was terrified, and as I moved deeper into the woods, losing sight of the field behind me, the feeling of unease wavered back and forth in my stomach.
All around were ancient, gnarled trees teeming with primordial energy and dripping from the rain with liquid starlight. Above, a green canopy allowed for only a hint of the daylight that shined above. They seemed mysterious and magical, full of fairy tales and songs, as if at any moment a unicorn may trot out from behind the nearest bush to greet me.
And then a funny thing happened: A Unicorn trotted out from behind a nearby bush as if to greet me.
It’s face was majestic and perfect, with a long silvery-white mane and glowing, golden eyes. A horn protruded from it’s forehead the color of irridescent pearl that shimmered with color in the small flecks of light that penetrated the umbrella of the leaves above. It was, in every way, the mythical animal I had read about in books.
And it was standing directly in front of me.
There was a kindness in those golden eyes, and a gentleness and demeanor that made me feel safe again. And quietly, without words, I thought I heard something in the back of my mind that could only have been it’s voice.
Don’t be afraid, it said. Don’t be afraid.
“I’m not afraid.” I said out loud, and the gentle creature tilted it’s large angular head in the closest thing I could imagine to what it would look like smiling. The head shook softly then, as if to wave me forward, and it turned around to face the woods again.
I approached with an outstretched hand. I wanted to touch it, to make sure it really existed. I wanted to know I wasn’t imagining this. More than that, I wanted to remember everything for when I finally went home. I knew I would have to go home eventually, and when I did, I wanted to know that I would never forget that I had seen and touched a real unicorn.
I walked at it’s side for awhile as we trod deeper into the magical forest. Beside my guide, I felt no fear. I watched the woods carefully as we walked. I could see the small animals that ran around the forest floor, and the mystical energy that flowed between the roots and rocks with a serpentine nature.
I saw other things in the wood as well. I saw fairies flittering about in a game of fairy tag, and a herd of centaur off in the distance hunting deer. I saw them watch my passage beside the unicorn with soft eyes, and look on wondrously as if they’d never seen a human before – much like I’d never seen a centaur. I felt the trees move and heard them speak in low, guttural tones of creaks and bristling leaves, and I understood everything they said. I saw all of these things through the eyes of a child and never once did I question it. I questioned nothing as I stood beside the unicorn.
And finally, after what felt like hours of walking through the woods, the unicorn brought me to a small clearing that glowed with colors I had never seen – colors that have no human names. In the clearing there was a small lake sitting beside a flat rock, and on that rock, clear as the colors of crayons in a box, was the end of my rainbow. There was no leprechaun and no gold, but I didn’t care. There was only serenity here. It was, perhaps, the most perfect place in the world.
I climbed upon the rock as the unicorn sat in the grass a few yards away, and I bathed in the magnificent, opulent hues of the rainbow’s end. It felt like being wrapped in a warm blanket and I decided then that I never wanted to leave. I knew I would have to, but until that moment came I didn’t want to think about it. I wouldn’t waste a second here.
I hung my clothes on a bared branch and swam in the color bathed lake beside the rock. I climbed back upon the rock and laid again in the embrace of the fairy world as my unicorn companion looked on, amused. I turned to face it, and those golden eyes appeared to be glowing in the field of light.
Now I wanted to ask questions….questions only the mind of a child would think of or remember, and I’d be hard pressed to recount them now. I wanted to know everything. As the afternoon sun moved across the sky, I knew I would have to leave soon. I wanted to know how I could come back but when I asked, the unicorn gave no answer.
“How will I find you again?” I tried a second time.
We have always been here, a silken voice came in the back of my mind.
A short time later, I had to say goodbye to the clearing. Night was coming on soon and I was ushered from the clearing quickly by my chaperone. I had a feeling in the pit of my stomach that if I hadn’t left then, I would never be able to. My unicorn wouldn’t have allowed that, I gathered, and so I was walked away and back to where the gentle beast and I first met. It gave me another golden look in the dusk light that now surrounded us. The look was a goodbye in whatever language it is that unicorns speak.
I walked back the way I came and onto the green field. The raindrops had warmed and dissipated away, and the sun was going down quickly. I took a last look around for the day and started my walk home. I ate my dinner, famished from my tavels, took a bath, though I really didn’t need one, and finally went to bed. That night, I dreamed of the clearing, of my unicorn, and of rainbow’s end.
The next day, I returned to the field by the woods, my gateway to the Fairy World. There was no rain, and no visible mark where I had entered the forest, but I found my way back to where the unicorn and I had met the day before.
It wasn’t there. I walked on awhile, hoping to run across the white maned creature, or the fairies, or even the centaur herd, but none of them were there. Eventually, I emerged on the other side of the wood, disappointed and near tears. Where had they gone? Where was the clearing? So I went back to the field, and I tried again. A second time, there was nothing.
I did this every day for a week. I never saw the unicorn again. I never saw my clearing again. I stopped noticing rainbows, and when I did see one, I never sought the end of it. I was angry, and bitter, and felt very abandoned. I wanted to go back to the clearing, but I was apparently not welcome any more, and I didn’t understand why. I never told my parents. I never had the courage to tell them, even though I think my father would have believed me.
Eventually, I forgot about the clearing. I stopped going to the field. I discovered video games, and cars, and eventually girls. I grew up. I wasn’t a boy anymore, I was a young man. And then I was a grown man. And then I was married, and a father. My children grew quickly and healthy and I read them bedtime stories from Lewis Carrol and E.B. White. I fed their dreams with fantasy and love and small elfen things and talking animals and I never, ever denied them a story.
And then, when my children were still young, my wife and I moved into the house I grew up in. My parents had passed away, and the house was left in my care, and my son and daughter were still growing and dreaming and very gentle. They read nightly, and loved their stories, and playing outside as I did when I was young.
Not long ago, my son, leading his small sister by the hand rediscovered that field I had played in so long ago…and you’ll never believe the story he told me when he came last night from playing in the field after a rainstorm.
We have always been here, said the unicorn.
And they always were.