|A Virgin with a Unicorn,|
|c. 1604-05, by Domenichino.|
Portivaul is looking for a virgin. No, it's not what you think. He needs someone innocent and pure to attract unicorns. Once plentiful in the King's forest, a vast expanse of oaks, the population of unicorns is dwindling from excessive poaching. As a magical animal, every part of the carcass is valuable on the black market. Portivaul claims that he is working for the King, doing a census and evaluation of the unicorn population, at least that what he tells Narissa, the desperate young girl who offers to be his virgin. Narissa agrees to be unicorn bait, not surprising as she was willing to sell herself for three coppers. Portivaul gives her five gold coins as an advance. They catch a glimpse of a unicorn on their first night in the forest and Narissa can talk of nothing else. Portivaul soon wearies of her enthusiasm. The next day, Narissa stands quietly in a clearing while Portivaul hides in a tree with his crossbow. He's told Narissa that the unicorn poachers are dangerous men and he is armed for their protection. A unicorn comes after waiting all day in a cold autumn wind and Narissa is transfixed. Portivaul watches Narissa's reaction and recalls the first time he saw a unicorn as a young boy, baiting them for his father, a unicorn hunter. They find two traps in the clearing. Portivaul says the traps are to break a unicorn's legs so that it can't run away from a hunter. Narissa demands that they hunt the unicorn hunters but Portivaul cautions against it. The next morning, Portivaul finds Narissa and his crossbow gone and begins a desperate search in which he'll find much more than unicorns and an innocent girl. "The Unicorn Hunter" speaks of loss and the power of innocence and the miraculous to overcome it. Narissa turns Portivaul's heart, taking him back to a time when he too appreciated the beauty of creation, embodied in the unicorn, for its own sake.
"For a Handful of Crowns," by Milo James Fowler in Linger Fiction
What if the Soviets had won the Cold War? What if a mysterious green cloud had washed over the United States of the early 1970s, leaving every American dumb, as in unable to speak, and unable to use their feet for walking? What would happen to all the shoe stores? If you're curious and don't mind some disturbing imagery, check out "For a Handful of Crowns." Milo posted on his blog that this story might be too disturbing to read. After hearing that I had to read it. "For a Handful of Crowns" centers on a boy and girl in Soviet-occupied America, crawling around a nursing home filled with desiccated cadavers. They can't talk so they have to use sign language to communicate. They're searching for crowns. I thought at first that crowns referred to British coins, kind of like A Fistful of Dollars, but it actually refers to dental work. They're after the gold which they can trade for food at a Soviet army commissary. All of this is illegal of course but tolerated. I won't spoil the fun by listing all the gross imagery except for one.
Jennifer’s eyes reminded him of cheese. Something about the way they oozed cream while she argued her point, like they were liquefying and he had to quick find some tortilla chips while the stuff was fresh.
This image echos throughout the piece. Is there any hope for people reduced to such desperate circumstances? Is there any hope if they can trade a handful of crowns for some cheese and chips? Maybe.