How to Build a Unicorn

Edited by L. D. Lewis

Copyedited by Chelle Parker

June 2020

Listen to this story, narrated by Victor Ramos:

Step One.

Visit all the butcher shops with your purse jingling a pretty tune.

They’ll try to sell you the tender cuts perfect for sizzling on the grill or for cooking slow over the fires of the eternal damned. The cuts grass fed, grain fed, blood fed. See the marbling here, exquisite. See how the blood shines there, like rubies.

You don’t want those.

You want the tough, the gristle, the fat, the offcuts, and sweetmeats. The pieces well aged on the bone rather than in the butcher’s enormous cool store where hocks and heads are strung on hooks, their eyes glazed with What did I do to deserve this?, rumps quivering under a good slap.

You want the bones that can be ground up for bread.

The butcher shrugs and takes your coin. He doesn’t mind making bank off the waste.

Step Two.

Sneak into the glue factory under the splinters of two dark new moons.

Barrels of hooves and vats of unctuous paste in various stages of aging fill the great hall. From the high scaffold, you choke, sniff, hock, and spit into the vats too far gone for you to salvage, taking delight in tainting the pot with long, thick, bitter gobs.

Separate the unicorn hooves from the centaur, satyr, and minotaur, muttering under your breath how anyone can get them confused, you don’t know.

Take the perfect, the split, the ones filed to nubs, and the ones that could slice a man’s throat. Put the ones riddled with nails and shoes into special silken sacks; soon you will shred your fingertips removing the unnatural iron.

Step Three.

When the moons are full of themselves and whispering dark nonsense, hie thee to a cemetery.

No, not one of those burial sites with straight rows and broken teeth.

Offer a bow from the waist to the upright boughs who hold the girls safe until they’re ready to spit vengeance upon the world: the Madonnas; the sex workers; the trans girls; the black, brown, and bruised girls.

You’ll find them stuffed between the roots of the greatest queens, forming the O horizon. There’s one, left in the shape of the snake they thought her to be. Another bent at a right angle to fit the space. Another bent in half, her curve gentle and neat. Yet another laid out cruciform.

Once you’ve cleared the mud from their mouths, the ejaculate from between their legs, and the bullshit from their ears, tell them there is no magic wand in this world or the next that can turn their blood from clean to dirty.

Let them rage it out and work that salt, acid, and heat back into their fat so that their blood runs cold.

Sit with them as they plunge needles into their veins and let it all run rose red into neat plastic bags. Offer them hot tea and chocolate biscuits to bring their sugar up to socially-acceptable levels.

Make sure they don’t keep giving until all the iron is pulled from their bodies. Their voices are enough to be the scythe that reaps what is sown.

Sit with them as they weep and the night feeds them morsels of tasteless dreams.

Step Four.

Try not to cry.

Cry a lot.

Collect your tears, as they are the perfect solution with which to refill the venom sacs behind the unicorn’s teeth — a reminder to those who don’t check a gift horse that their bark is as bad as their bite.

Step Five.

When the sky has been ruined and they blame you for it, steal back the rainbow.

You’ll need a sledgehammer to break through the glass.

By the time you’re finished, you’ll be an expert at cutting rainbows to the perfect second in the arc, so that the flow of mane and tale will ripple and shine.

This is not vanity. Like a cat, the tail is for balance. Like a warrior, the mane is for armour.

While time is haunting you — you’ve been here before, you’ll do it again — precision is key. Inventory carefully every bottle of sunlight you captured before it disappeared behind the grey-brown halitosis.

Then break them.

Weave the rainbows with this shattered crystal while it’s still warm. Have plenty of bandages available. You will cut yourself.

Don’t clean the blood from your weaving. It is as an excellent binding agent.

Marinate for a millennium.

Step Six.

Say his name three times.

Then, without hesitation, walk into his office and scrape the gold off his maggoty, white walls.

Strip it from skin and buildings and statues. Sneak into morgues and pull it from the teeth of the dead. Slip it from their fingers and wrists as you shake hands in board — ugh, bored — meetings and charity events. Wander into forts and reserves, invisible as air, and break economies by taking what you fancy. It’s what you’re owed.

But don’t bother removing it from toilets. You don’t need that shit.

Teach the girls who want to how to slip through high society, where their pale or ashy skin and haunted eyes are always the life of the party. Show them how to breathe undeath upon stretched necks and empty ears and corpulent offshore accounts until the gold simply falls into their cold hands.

Become the spinster you’ve always been. Ignore the tales that say you don’t have the skill.

Spin that gold into fine and tough thread. Then make more. You’re going to need it.

Step Seven.

When the moons hide their shameful expressions from you, pluck the stars from the sky and fashion them into eyeballs.

Polish the eyeballs with water distilled from the seas of change and cloth cut from the velvet power of a righteous scream.

Step Eight.

Dive into the hay and find the needles fashioned from the recycled nose points of nuclear warheads.

By the light from the eyes of the girls gathered in a circle, puzzle the pieces of meat and hoof back together with neat, tight gold stitches. Attach sparkling mane and tail, pop in the eyeballs, inject the girls’ blood, and stuff any saggy corners with straw.

Don’t bother with a hide; it will grow back of its own accord. Let them see how the machinery really works, blood and guts and all.

Step Nine.

When that asshole tooth fairy is too busy counting his money, wander into his lair and take his horde.

Feed them to your unicorns and allow them to chew it over.

History is happy to forget a unicorn’s horn is an evolution of teeth. Those molars you grind together as you attempt to hold your anger in check fuse and twist, tunnelling up through the skull until they erupt triumphant as a beacon of prismatic light, a weapon of caste eruption.

Step Ten.

Bake at a fury hot as ten thousand suns.

Step Eleven.

Let your unicorn army stand for three days at the enemy’s gates while the enemy scrambles to wash the best porcelain, polish the silverware, and hide the crystal.

Break all their carving knives while they secretly calculate the profits from the aphrodisiac they think will come from ground-down horn.

On the dawn of the fourth day, when they finally open the gates with a painted-on smile, leave.

You’re not there to fight their wars for them. You’ve got better things to do. Like saving god from themself.

Step Twelve.

Best served ice cold.

© 2020 AJ Fitzwater

About the author

AJ Fitzwater

AJ Fitzwater is a dragon wearing a human meat suit living between the cracks of Christchurch, New Zealand. Their work has appeared in Clarkesworld Magazine, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Shimmer Magazine, GlitterShip, and more. A collection of Cinrak the Dapper, Capybara Pirate stories will be out from Queen of Swords Press in April 2020, and the WW2 shapeshifter Land Girls novella No Man’s Land from Paper Road Press in early 2020.