Paper Horn

by Mary E. Lowd

Originally published in Daily Science Fiction, September 2020

“”I don’t think she’d love me even if I was a real unicorn,” Tulip said.”

The paper cone I’d taped together from an old piece of algebra homework slipped off the pony’s forehead and landed in the clover at her hooved feet.  Mallory laughed derisively and said, “What were you trying to do?  Play unicorn?”

The pony, Tulip, turned her head away, abashed, but she didn’t say anything.  I couldn’t believe Mallory was lucky enough — and rich enough — to be given a real Smart Pony for her birthday, and still stupid enough to treat that pony like trash.

“Be ready to trot home quickly after school today,” Mallory said.  “The cookies Robo-nanna made were already cold when we got home yesterday.  There’s nothing worse than cold cookies.”  Then Mallory looked at me:  “And what’s wrong with you that you’re out here sitting in the field by the parking lot, eating lunch with my pony instead of in the cafeteria?  Weirdo.”  She stormed off, muttering, “Stupid pony.  Why couldn’t Mom give me a hoverbike like I wanted?”

Tulip scraped a hoof through the clovers, and we both watched Mallory stalk back toward the school.  I offered Tulip a bite of the tofu-sim cheesecake from my sack lunch, but she shook her speckled Appaloosa mane.  I could see she was sad.

Tulip gazed into the distance, past the edge of the school and toward the track where she ran pointless, sad circles while Mallory was in class all day.  “I don’t think she’d love me even if I was a real unicorn,” Tulip said.

I wished I could skip class and ride Tulip, or run by her side.  Mallory would probably throw a fit if I tried to ride her pony.  Even if Mallory didn’t want to.  But she couldn’t stop me from eating lunch in the field where Tulip grazed.

I remembered a line from a song by my favorite band, Unicorns Among Us, and even though I knew I couldn’t sing as well as Rhiannon Glory, I tried, in a shaky voice:  “Shine a light, and whoever sees it… they’re your truest friend.”  My voice choked off at the end.

I wasn’t any good at making friends among the kids at school.  But…

“You’re a good friend,” Tulip said.  She swung her long face toward me, and nuzzled my neck.

“To me,” I said, “you already are a unicorn.”

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